A week ago, Beats Audio was certainly not on my radar. I already have some pretty nifty headphones from Grado, a long-time maker of quality audio gear. There's also a set of Bose Quiet Comfort noise-canceling headphones sitting unused in a storage box, so I hardly had a need for anything else. Although this little tidbit might seem a tad strange, I actually don't use "cans" when I'm recording my radio shows. But I still keep headphones around in case I need them; maybe the speakers will die or something.
But this is a story that won't die. I went ahead and recorded the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE,with the expectation I'd have to redo some of it if the rumored deal between Apple and Beats actually went through. But it didn't, and the latest stories on the topic have it that the deal will be consummated next week. I suppose we'll just see how it all plays out. But I am now curious about the company, not just for the headphones, which have had a mixed and highly polarized response, but the music service that is said to be first-rate and better than the competition from Apple, Pandora and other companies.
This is a story that has not been fully told. If Apple is really going after this deal, there has to be a long-range plan that encompasses far more than the current products and services from Beats.
Well, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," who discussed the rumors and possible reality of Apple's acquisition of Beats Audio. He also talked about so-called HD audio and whether the difference — a higher sampling frequency and bit rate — makes a genuine difference in what you can hear.
We were also joined by Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who presented his views about the possible Apple/Beats deal. How does it benefit Apple — or does it? Bryan also talked about those "crazy" iPhone 6 rumors, the prospects for an iWatch, the form it might take, and Samsung's notorious history of copying original technology from other companies.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: After over a two-year absence, long-time UFO investigator and amateur paleontologist Ray Stanford returns to The Paracast to talk about his storied nearly 60-year career in the field. Many of you are aware that Chris personally feels that Ray is probably the most important figure involved in UFO research. He'll discuss the 50-year anniversary of the Soccoro, NM UFO case, which is regarded as one of the most compelling classic sightings of all time. He'll also talk about many of the figures in the field that he has known since the early 1950s, and will give you an update on his ongoing research into the phenomenon. You can also check out this special presentation from Ray, which requires Microsoft Silverlight.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
So it really doesn't matter what Apple does or doesn't do. There will be plenty of fear merchants who will engage in FUD, which is short for fear, uncertainty, doubt. It doesn't matter whether any of it is based on fact. Just make up a story, make it seem credible at first glance, post it, and hope the hint count soars.
So there's a report in a certain online financial publication fretting about what Apple might do should something happen to CEO Tim Cook. What if he becomes disabled, unable to continue to work? What if he meets a premature end? Do we want to dwell on the tragic implications?
Certainly Steve Jobs left us before his time. In a different life, he may have hung on for another 30 or 40 years. Wasn't he concerned about having a healthy diet? But it's also true that nobody can predict what might happen. I have a close relative, someone who seemed as healthy as can be, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and is now fighting for his life. We hope he'll survive because the doctors caught it early, and it hasn't spread, but you get the point.
So when Jobs took a sick leave, then-COO Tim Cook took his place, and did a great job. Each time Jobs was absent, he took over and Apple didn't miss a beat. Clearly there was a plan in place and, when Jobs knew the end was near and quit, Cook took over. I rather suspect his performance as the temporary CEO was carefully evaluated and he passed the audition.
But what will Apple do if they need to get another CEO real fast? Is there a succession plan in place? Without even checking, the article, which doesn't deserve a link here, clearly assumes there isn't one. The author mentions marketing guy Philip Schiller as a worthy replacement, and I have little doubt he could get the job done.
The article states, without any evidence to the contrary, "At some point, Apple's executive team will need to think about what Apple's leadership will look like in a few years."
Once again, there's no evidence whatever that there isn't a viable succession plan in place in case Cook is temporally incapacitated, or if he leaves, is fired, or cannot continue to work as CEO. To think otherwise is downright absurd, since Apple is clearly a forward looking company. The evidence is how smoothly Cook took over from Jobs and gradually molded the company in his own image. This demonstrates careful, and long-term strategic planning, which is, by the way, quite typical for Apple. No doubt there are plans in place in case Schiller and other key executives, even Sir Jonathan Ive, are no longer with Apple.
Other companies might learn from such a clever but supremely logical approach.
But the fear mongering doesn't stop there. There is an article in one of the USA's largest daily newspapers warning that "More and more OS X users are falling victim to various adware and spyware infections," but this is an article with empty claims and no substance.
An adware infection, which delivers annoying, questionable and chronic unwanted ads (other than the ones you see on Google for example), is usually the result of downloading, installing and running an app containing such malware.
This has happened all the time on the Windows platform, but there's not much of a similar history on the Mac. The article refers to one such app, known as Genieo, which is said to take over a browser's start page and redirect it to a search engine polluted with questionable ads.
Where do you get a copy? Well, it's not available at the Mac App Store, nor will you find it in such responsible download sites as MacUpdate. The company behind that garbage has its own site that also doesn't deserve a link.
The real question is whether the claim that a substantial number of Mac users are being infected has any substance. The article quotes a "chief security strategist" from a company that makes security software, so you wonder if the entire article was meant as a pitch for that company's products. Indeed, there is a free "adware removal tool" for which a link is provided. And if you have a spare $49.95, you can buy the company's antivirus app for the Mac.
Do you see where I'm going here?
Clearly this article was the result of a successful public relations ploy, to convince a publication, or a reporter at any rate, to write a puff piece warning Mac users that they need to protect themselves against an alleged malware app that probably never hard of. No doubt there has been some impact, but there are no statistics as to whether the number of victims is 10, 100, or 10,000. Nothing.
The long and short of it is that you should always be careful about downloading apps from unknown and untrusted sources. The option in the Mavericks Security & Privacy preference panel is set by default to allow you to download apps from the Mac App Store and "identified developers," meaning those who are using an Apple security certificate. You have to use the context menu to grant an exception to an app that doesn't pass muster, meaning you have a chance to think twice before you unknown software. You should also avoid the option to install all apps without a warning prompt.
If you just show caution about the sites you visit, the software you download and the email links you click, your Mac experience will be quite safe. And you'll save the $49.95 a certain security software company wants to charge you by making you afraid that the sky is falling in the Mac universe.
It's essentially a certainty that next month's Worldwide Developers Conference will include Apple's introduction of the successor to Mavericks, expected to be known as OS 10.10. Yes, there will be some sort of flashy place name by which it's identified, and I sure hope it's not Yosemite.
Regardless, it's expected also that the next OS X upgrade will include a major overhaul to the user interface, with a simpler, flatter look reminiscent of iOS 7. This doesn't mean that the two operating systems are ultimately destined to merge. Apple has pretty much put the kibosh on that bright idea.
This week, though, the long-awaited 10.9.3 update appeared. It had a long gestation period, with more beta releases than is usually the case, but most of the fixes appear to be minor for most Mac users.
At the top of the list is expanded 4K display support, particularly for the 2013 edition of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. But if you're not into using a 4K display or editing 4K video — and most of you aren't — that feature is of little use.
Another feature restores the ability to sync contacts and calendars via USB, a feature that was removed without explanation from Mavericks. Sure, you could sync via the cloud, but why the limitation? The OS 10.9.3 release also included iTunes 11.2, and the combo, assuming Find My Mac is activated, appeared to produce a curious side effect, which was to make your /Users folder invisible. Yes, it can be restored, temporarily at least, via a Terminal command. It returns on the next restart.
Fortunately, the message got through to Apple pretty quickly. Within a day, an iTunes 11.2.1 update fixed the hidden /Users folder bug, thus restoring things to the way they worked previously. But for a while, I wondered if this wasn't a deliberate move, one in line with a previous decision to hide the /Users/Library folder beginning with Lion.
I suppose Apple might have thought that, by hiding a folder that you might need to fix a problem with a preferences file, for example, they were protecting you from yourself. If you removed the wrong file, perhaps an app will stop working. On the other hand, that folder that Apple decreed as hidden can be made visible easily enough in Mavericks via the Show View Options window in your Home directory.
Aside from the usual spate of security fixes, the only other OS 10.9.3 change of note includes steps to make Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections work more reliably by improving IPsec (Internet Protocol security). If you don't use or care about VPN, however, it's nothing to worry about. But at least Apple continues to show concern for delivering a more secure, more reliable Mac user experience even in cross-platform connections.
On the whole, Mavericks has been a pretty smooth ride for me. The only problem of note was Mail, but most of the worst issues impacted Gmail connections, and I don't use Google's mail system all that much nowadays. I just have it forwarded to my iCloud/MobileMe email account, and I never encounter any problems except for an occasional service outage. But all cloud services have that at one time or another.
This doesn't mean Mail functions without incident. I still get an occasional freeze and crash, and email access may stall temporarily from time to time, but the overall experience is still better than any other email client I've used. I've tried several, and not just Outlook for Mac, and I always come back to Apple's relatively simple email solution. For its flaws, Mail mostly works just fine, and the slowdowns are rare. Would that other companies would consider better solutions.
Yes, I realize some of you are still hoping and praying there will be a genuine 21st century successor to Eudora, one of the original email clients, but that train left the station years ago. I do not regard Facebook, and certainly not Twitter, as viable messaging alternatives. The traditional email system, kept free of the silly frills offered by Google, still works best for me. But just call me old fashioned.
Meantime, unless some real show stoppers arise with OS 10.9.3, I'm mostly ready to set it aside when 10.10 arrives. And, yes, I've read the rumors that a 10.9.4 is under development.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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