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  • Newsletter Issue #769

    August 25th, 2014

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Apple must do this, Apple must do that. You'd think the tech media and some of those alleged industry analysts believe they know more than a multinational corporate powerhouse with a long track record for supreme success. It doesn't matter that Apple continues to report high sales and profits. It's all temporary, it's all wrong, it's all smoke and mirrors.

    Some day, maybe soon, the world will recover from the delayed symptoms of the Steve Jobs "reality distortion field" (which must persist for years I suppose) and recognize that Apple is not what they thought it was. Just you wait!

    Well, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, you heard from cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider. He continued to talk about the platform wars, but he also focused on the continuing demands from the tech media that Apple build cheap gear and why it doesn't make sense. You also heard his comments about the issues facing Google and companies building Android gear and what Microsoft has to do to solve long-standing problems.

    In short, some of these companies want to be Apple, but aren't doing a very good job at it.

    If you are irritated by offensive web advertising, such as pop-ups and interstitials (ads that insert themselves above content on a site and must be dismissed to continue), you'll want to hear from Ben Williams, director of PR for Adblock Plus. He talked about protecting yourself from annoying online ads, and the advantages of the company's free browser add-on.

    To be fair, we run banner ads, and we want you to click through the ones that interest you. It's an important way to generate revenue, but we also try not to be offensive, which means no pop-ups and no interstitials.

    We also presented Kirk McElhearnMacworld's "iTunes Guy," who discussed whether you need gigabit Internet, or even 4K TVs for that matter. He also talked about blind tests pitting CD against higher resolution audio, what lossless audio is all about, and whether most of you can reliably hear a real difference between a CD and a compressed audio file, such as the AAC tracks Apple offers via iTunes.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a special episode featuring UFO/paranormal skeptic Robert Sheaffer. According to his Wikipedia bio, "Sheaffer writes for Skeptical Inquirer (for which he writes the regular "Psychic Vibrations" column), Fate Magazine, and Spaceflight. He was a founding member (with Philip J. Klass and James Oberg) of the UFO Subcommittee of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), and is a fellow of that organization. He is a member of MENSA." In other words, he's a real smart dude, and he'll be asking the hard questions about the potential reality of UFOs.

    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.

    FACT-CHECKING THE APPLE CRITICS

    Back in the 1990s, I wrote a weekly column, "Mac Reality Check," for the Arizona Republic. The column was later picked up for a time by USA Today, and you can guess the subject matter. I wrote 750-1,000 words debunking myths about Macs, and the Apple universe.

    I expected hard-nosed PC advocates to attack me, but the only time I ever got seriously under their skins was when I reported on those bake-offs in which a Power Mac was pitted against an Intel PC and came out ahead. The theory had it that Apple manipulated the figures to look better, though it never occurred to them that one of their cherished PC makers might do the same thing.

    In the end, it was all about running a set of canned benchmarks using Adobe Photoshop and other apps. Nothing was deliberately manipulated so far as I could see. But I had a first-hand look at how emotions could supplant facts and figures.

    Over the years, Apple has been declared dead and buried time and time again. Before Steve Jobs returned after the purchase of NeXT in 1996, that may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Few, perhaps nobody, could have predicted where Apple would be 18 years later and how the product mix would turn upside down.

    Still, one can work full-time correcting the myths being published about Apple even by so-called reliable publications. It may be The New York Times, Forbes or a number of other mainstream outlets. They continue to repeat tired trope about Apple, often disproven again and again, but they are never deterred, and rarely apologize or retract false statements.

    Yes, there are several of us who are busy correcting the falsehoods. You have the anonymous "Macalope" from Macworld magazine, and AppleInsider's Daniel Eran Dilger leading the pack. I also post regular refutations in these columns, and one might hope the critics are on occasion reading these posts and others that correct their misstatements. Or maybe there's another agenda afoot, but I won't try to make predictions.

    So-called industry analysts don't help. So we have IDC severely undercounting actual Mac sales in the U.S. for two straight quarters. Whereas Apple reported gains, double-digit gains in fact in the June quarter for this country, IDC had them in the negative category, at least slightly. Evidently their sampling schemes need to be modified, or at least they should admit to the errors, but that's also true of the media that takes their word as gospel.

    Yet thinking Apple is free of error is just as wrong. You can count chapter and verse where marketing and product decisions went astray. Even when Steve Jobs was running the show, don't forget the Power Mac G4 Cube as an example of form over substance. To the very end, it appeared that Jobs wouldn't admit it was a failure, so when he was asked whether the Cube would be discontinued during the March 2001 media event to roll out the first official release of OS X, he told a reporter that he didn't know what he was talking about.

    It wasn't too many weeks before the Cube was consigned to the closeout bins.

    The antenna design of the iPhone 4 was flawed because it was too easy to hold it with your hands in a position that hurt reception. True, other mobile handsets had the same limitations, but you sometimes had to hold them in a less common fashion to trigger the symptoms. Worse, when iPhone 4 customers complained, Jobs dismissed them all with a sharp rebuke that they should just hold it differently.

    In any case, Apple, for a time, gave away free cases that eliminated the problem, and there were antenna design changes in the iPhone 4S to reduce the reception losses.

    The initial rollout of the MobileMe predecessor to iCloud was flawed because it came about at the same time that a new iPhone and a new iOS were released, thus swamping Apple's servers and causing grief for everyone. And don't get me started about MapGate. The troubled release in iOS 6 perhaps couldn't be avoided, but if it was declared a public beta, the complaints would not have been as severe. Some clever marketing from Apple's corporate communications team could have dealt with this problematic release before things got out of hand.

    The media doesn't help, of course. While the iPhone 4 furor soon died down, except for the wrongheaded claim from Consumer Reports that no other smartphone exhibited similar symptoms, the complaints about Apple Maps remain. The fact that it has become far better over time is largely ignored, just as the media ignores the limitations and random glitches with Google Maps.

    It's Apple's success, by and large, that intensifies media attention, and there's not much that can be done. Well, except for Apple to do a better job to anticipate potential problems and get in front of the story before it gets out of hand.

    You see, whatever Apple does that's right, there are vultures out there who will continue to ignore the facts and fear-monger. To them, corrections and facts aren't allowed to get in the way.

    APPLE'S SYSTEM FONT EVOLUTION

    In the old days, there was a Chicago, a bitmapped font that Apple used for Finder menus and dialogs. It was designed for Apple by Susan Kare, and intended for optimal screen display, at least in the sizes for which actual screen fonts were provided. Otherwise it could become highly bitmapped and ugly, but it was still far better than the PC alternative, particularly in the days before Windows was perfected enough to become good enough.

    Beginning with Mac OS 7.0.1, Chicago was provided as a TrueType font, thus allowing all sizes to be displayed cleanly, and even printed if that's what you wanted.

    For Mac OS 8 and 9, Apple moved to Charcoal, designed by David Berlow of Font Bureau. The results would, at first glance, strike you as similar to Chicago, but more refined,  somewhat thinner, with a higher level of readability that was even suited to display in smaller sizes. The platinum Mac interface for these system versions descended from the failed Copland project, one of several efforts to build a modern OS for the platform ahead of the NeXT acquisition.

    With the arrival of OS X, Apple made even more changes to the system font lineup. Over time, there were enough free bundled fonts installed that many Mac users never had to bother acquiring extra fonts except for graphic designers and for special projects.

    The system menu font underwent yet another change, or refinement, to Lucida Grande, designed by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes. This sans-serif typeface came in several weights and was thus capable of being used for regular documents rather than just menus. But with Apple nothing is forever.

    So we have OS X Yosemite, which is flatter and more transparent, reminiscent of what Apple did beginning in iOS 7. This sea-change is a key reason why some believe Apple is destined to merge the two operating systems over time, though they are both already based on the same underpinnings.

    This time, Apple chose a traditional design commonly used for all sorts of projects from conventional documents to online display. It's Neue Helvetica, a variation of the original Helvetica font that was designed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman, and released way back in 1957.

    Neue Helvetica as a solid redesign, released in 1983 by Dr. Steeple AG, a subsidiary of Linotype, a well known font foundry. It provides a more uniform way to identify each weight, such as Helvetica Neue 55 Roman, which is the essential equivalent of Helvetica Regular.

    Typical of any change made by Apple, the font choices for OS X an iOS are polarizing. I've read claims that Neue Helvetica is less readable than Lucida Grande, and one example showed the former's letter-spacing to be much tighter in smaller sizes. But that's a factor easily controlled and thus not a negative. At least not to some, but it still serves the agendas of the people that Apple can never satisfy anyway.

    Being a long time observer of the font industry and a user of the Yosemite betas, I find the complaints to be less compelling. Neue Helvetica looks fine and I have no problems reading menu labels. While preferences can vary, I do not have any problems dealing with a Helvetica variation in any size.

    The key here is that Apple has a design sense usually lacking in other operating systems. They also license original fonts, rather than use imitations that may have slight variations in artwork and spacing along with a new name to avoid copyright infringement. In the old days, you bought the knock-off fonts to save money, because a single font family from Adobe or other mainstream vendors might cost $100 or more, and a full library exceeded the budget of most individuals.

    So you ended up with lookalikes, which were roughly similar, but a lot cheaper. They were known by such names as Helios, Megaron, Newton or Triumvirate, to name four common examples that were not quite the real thing, originally provided by vendors of old fashioned typesetting equipment. These manufacturers choose to avoid paying royalties to Linotype for the genuine article.

    Another Helvetica alternative is Arial, which originated on the Windows platform when Microsoft embraced TrueType beginning with Windows 3.1. It's also available on Macs for document compatibility. But those who cherish quality fonts find it at best a clunky alternative, although it looks similar enough to Helvetica at first glance to pass.

    By going with Neue Helvetica, then, Apple has combined both the traditional and the modern, and time will tell whether Yosemite emerges as the best-looking Mac OS, at least so far. I suppose the changes are jarring at first glance, but take it from me, you do get used to it after a while, and suddenly older OS X versions begin to seem dated by comparison.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #769”

    1. DaveD says:

      Correcting the falsehoods about Apple is such a never-ending task.

      Over the years, I've come up with a list of tech pundits to avoid reading. Why waste the precious time on bad facts or whiny complaints of what Apple should do? Those with flawed info about Apple that are pointed out by The Macalope should find a better occupation like hauling out waste. Garbage in, garbage out.

      I do read the constructive criticisms. While praising Apple for all the things well done, it is good to point out where it can be done better or exposing major flaws. When Apple truly stumbles, they need to get out there and nip it in the bud.

      Thanks for the historical/background info on Apple's System Fonts. I get to learn who were the other designers as we in the Mac universe know Susan Kare's body of work. Always like the classic look of Chicago. But, I did not mind the transition to a different system font. We all know too well that Apple never stand still.

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