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  • Newsletter Issue #775

    October 6th, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Consider the scenario: A long-time Mac-oriented commentator buys a brand new iPhone 6 and, within days, decides to send it back and return to his iPhone 5s. This isn’t somebody writing a story meant as hit bait, and certainly anything with Apple in the title is apt to garner lots of attention.

    No, it presents a real dilemma for some of you. There are undeniable advantages to larger iPhones, but the four-inch version presents a clever combination of decent display size with the ability to do many things with one hand. Once the handset gets larger, it becomes clumsier and clumsier to work on it with one hand.

    That is a key reason for the decision discussed on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, by commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who explained why he decided to return his new iPhone 6 and revert to his iPhone 5s. He also wondered whether Apple’s recent highly-publicized missteps are caused by taking on too much too quickly.

    Youl also heard about some real world tests of the ability to bend an iPhone 6 Plus from Jessica Hoffman, from SquareTrade, a company that provides extended warranties for a wide variety of tech gear.

    As you see from the Washington Post article, linked above, the test wasn’t performed with machinery, but by people with various skills who manually attempted to bend one. At the end of the day, a bodybuilder on their staff was the only one to succeed. So you have someone in your family who is aching to be a 21st century Arnold Schwarzenegger, keep your iPhones away from them.

    In the third segment, we were joined by Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine, who delivered a preview of the next major upgrade to Windows, known as Windows 10. Why did Microsoft skip a version, and what are the most compelling new features, in addition, of course, to restoring a standard Start menu?

    On the surface, it does appear that Microsoft is desperately trying to run away from Windows 8, but continues to believe in the Windows everywhere myth. Aside from the return of the Start menu and improved window management, there’s not a lot there. Maybe we’ll see more over time, but my first impression of Windows 10 is that it’s just plain boring. But that might be sufficient to convince IT admins to give it a try.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Chris Aubeck, best known as the co-author (with Jacques Vallee) of the excellent book “Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times” that “examines more than 500 selected reports of sightings from biblical-age antiquity through the year 1879-the point at which the Industrial Revolution deeply changed the nature of human society, and the skies began to open to airplanes, dirigibles, rockets, and other opportunities for misinterpretation represented by military prototypes, they reveal that unidentified flying objects have had a major impact not only on popular culture but on our history, on our religion, and on the models of the world humanity has formed from deepest antiquity.” Aubeck was born in London. His interest in the historical and sociological aspects of unexplained aerial phenomena began at an early age.

    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.

    HOW SOON THEY DON’T FORGET

    The other day I read a hit piece about Apple’s alleged poor security. First and foremost on the list was the alleged hacking of iCloud accounts to acquire stashes of explicit celebrity photos. It didn’t matter that Apple reported that these intrusions weren’t the result of any fault with iCloud, but because Internet criminals got ahold of the usernames and passwords of the entertainers.

    I suppose it is difficult for a celebrity to hide their online presence. They will want usernames that are easy to recognize, usually their own names. So you only need to make a good guess about their passwords, and here they need to be strongly advised that such basic choices as “1234” or “password” are non-starters. Apple’s iCloud Keychain can even suggest a secure password that is near-impossible to guess, except by repeated tries.

    Apple has also added brute force protection, meaning you can’t just keep guessing before you are locked out, along with two-factor authentication, which adds an extra layer of protection. So you may be able to figure out the correct password, but the system will also send a keyword via email or to your mobile phone. Of course, if someone has your mobile phone, and you haven’t bricked it using Apple’s Find My iPhone feature, forget about privacy.

    While I have no doubt Apple can always do better to ensure your privacy, you would hope public figures would share in the blame if they aren’t taking reasonable steps to stay as secure as possible. And I won’t get into the wisdom of keeping explicit photos in the cloud. That’s a question reporters aren’t asking, and they should. So, “Tell me Jennifer Lawrence, just what were you thinking?”

    The other issue raised by that hit piece to prove Apple has security problems dates back to the Flashback trojan in 2012, which involved exploiting a security lapse in Oracle’s Java. Now it was claimed that up to 600,000 Macs were infected, but that figure was released by a security software company, Doctor Web. Take note of the source, and you’ll see why in a few paragraphs.

    Regardless of the number of stricken Macs, it didn’t seem as if the malware actually did much of anything, at least at the start, but it made the affected computers vulnerable to a malicious payload that could, in theory, do nasty things. If your Mac had the vulnerable version of Java, you could get the infection by visiting a bogus web site.

    Oracle quickly fixed the problem, but it took about two months for Apple to deliver that fix. Since then, Apple has tightened up Java requirements, so Mac users can get a fixed version of Java promptly rather than wait. They also released a tool that stopped Flashback dead in its tracks, so the number of affected Macs seriously dissipated over time, regardless of the actual number involved.

    So, yes, Apple can be rightly criticized for failing to act promptly, a lesson they clearly learned well, but what has that to do with the current situation?

    Since the article was posted, there has been a malware outbreak that has come to be known as iWorm. It’s supposedly a backdoor infection that, for a time, used Reddit.com as an intermediary to steal user data.

    Over 17,000 Mac users have allegedly been impacted, but that number, as with Flashback, is courtesy of Doctor Web. It doesn’t appear that either figure is being independently verified. It’s not even being questioned.

    I recall a story some months back claiming that billions of online usernames and passwords were compromised by criminal organizations, but that number, originated from yet another security company, and the techniques allegedly used, were never actually explained or proven. But the media believed it anyway, at least at first.

    Not to be overly cynical, but I do wonder sometimes if a security company might be tempted to exaggerate the impact of a malware outbreak to sell product that purports to fix the problem. Despite what that blogger claimed in his article, Apple’s products, both Mac and iOS, are extremely secure and malware infections are few and far between.

    Besides, it’s not that Apple ignored iWorm. Beginning with OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, Apple has supplied a rudimentary anti-malware system, Xprotect, to protect against such things. The detection strings are updated daily, and a fix for iWorm, identified as “OSX.iWorm.A” and “OSX.iWorm.B,” was recently installed.

    Just as important, it’s now reported that you can only get this worm by running a pirated app. That should be a lesson to those of you who seek to find something for nothing; there may be unintended consequences.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean you are forever safe from malware. There will be new outbreaks, and clicking or tapping on the wrong link in an email, or going to a bogus site that delivers malware, could cause trouble. While it appears Apple is more responsive to security concerns nowadays, that doesn’t let you off the hook. Be careful what links you tap, the sites you visit, and set up a secure password.

    Despite what a few ill-informed pundits might suggest, the sky isn’t falling. Indeed Apple (and Google for that matter) have now begun to freak out law enforcement agencies because data on new devices is encrypted in ways that prevent anyone from breaking in. Such moves clearly demonstrate a commitment to security.

    SHOULD YOU WAIT BEFORE YOU BUY A NEW MAC?

    According to published reports citing the usual informed sources, Apple may be planning to hold a media event on Thursday, October 16. In passing, that choice would seem to be unusual for Apple, since product rollouts are mostly held on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. But I’ll accept the date as accurate for the sake of argument.

    With reports that a Golden Master “candidate” for OS X Yosemite has been released, it is quite clear that the final version will be out soon. Whether or not a second GM is needed — and some who have had access to the recent release report a number of unfixed bugs — Apple is clearly moving to get Yosemite out the door. For one thing, the Continuity feature in iOS 8 is severely handicapped without similar capabilities being available on a Mac.

    But the release of a new version of OS X doesn’t ordinarily deserve a special event, so it’s clear Apple would have other things on the table. Chief among them is the iPad. In the previous two quarters, iPad sales declined, but flat or declining sales appear to be true for the entire tablet market worldwide.

    So what’s up? Has the iPad lost its sheen, or is the market becoming fairly saturated, not to mention far longer upgrade cycles than smartphones? It’s hard to tell yet, because two quarters doesn’t necessarily signal a trend. It would be interesting to see whether Apple intends to add some new wrinkles to the lineup. At the surface, you’d get the same basic form factors with Touch ID and faster processors, to match those in the iPhone 6 series, and perhaps cheaper upgrade prices if you want more storage.

    Will Apple be doing anything else to boost iPad sales? What about lower prices, hoping to sacrifice some profits in exchange for higher sales? That has not been Apple’s game so far, although prices have declined somewhat on Macs. If the new iPads are simple refreshes, it may be possible to build and sell them for less without sacrificing margins. I suppose Apple could refine the form factors, or deliver some previously unsuspected hardware improvements to boost sales.

    One key feature might be adding support for an app multitasking system closer in concept to a personal computer, where at least two apps can be run side by side with two or more document windows. Certainly an iPad offers more screen real estate than the original all-in-one Macs and PowerBook note-books, which did offer more traditional multitasking, so the idea makes sense. The reason you didn’t see this feature in the original iOS 8 release is that it may not be ready, or is being withheld until the new iPads are out.

    We’ll have to see.

    There are also reports that a 27-inch iMac with Retina display may be in the offing. The question on the table, though, is whether — or how much — the price will increase over the standard version. It’s possible the new iMac will coexist with a refreshed version of the current iMac, so you can decide whether the higher resolution makes much sense from a price or usability point of view. Remember that, when you use the larger iMac, your eyes are not near as close as on a note-book, or an iPad for that matter, so the advantages may not be so clear-cut.

    Other Mac introductions might include slightly faster MacBook Pros with a Retina display, a new Mac mini after a two-year wait, and maybe a Mac Pro with superior graphics cards.

    New iPads and new Macs certainly count for a lot, but is there another “one more thing…” left in Apple’s arsenal for 2014? Certainly the promises from Tim Cook and Eddy Cue about all the great new products we’ll be seeing have only been partially filled. Besides, the Apple Watch isn’t due until 2015, so is there anything more that might be expected for this year?

    Surely a full-blown Apple smart TV set is no longer on anyone’s radar. I suppose it’s possible, but Apple isn’t a big box company. But what about making deals that would provide a selected group of TV sets from other companies with a built-in enhanced Apple TV module. This is similar to what Roku is trying to do, although only a few low-end manufacturers have signed up. The TV makers are clearly more anxious to push their own software lineups and features, but this is still Apple.

    You might look to Apple’s CarPlay as a possible influence. Apple is supplying software and hardware requirements to car makers — and those who build aftermarket audio systems — but isn’t going to get involved in building their own cars. By the same token, Apple could, I suppose, provide Apple TV hardware and software services for the industry. It may even be possible to swap out the Apple TV module to take advantage of future hardware improvements, since one keeps a TV for quite a few years before upgrading.

    Some suggest Apple wouldn’t get involved with any traditional TV maker, though I suppose they might for sets that meet a set of minimum requirements for picture quality and perhaps built-in audio. When it comes to the Apple TV box itself, however, Apple is reported to be at work, still, on getting entertainment companies and cable/satellite systems to sign up. That, however, shouldn’t halt or delay release of a new model this year, perhaps with 4K or Ultra HD support, with the promise of ongoing expansion of the channel lineup.

    My ideas about Apple’s ongoing TV initiatives may be wrong, but I do wonder whether more brand new hardware or services are forthcoming this year. Or will we close out 2014 by singing “is that all there is?”

    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #775”

    1. Robby says:

      Did ST do the “take both end and try to bend it” type test? If so, it’s not testing what the problem is. I was one of the skeptics, mockers, and critics of Bendgate until I saw a great interview with the guy who first broke the story and with a CR lead tech. He was sensible, reasonable, and not the type just trying to get publicity.

      There does seem to be a structural weakness around the volume button on the iPhone 6 Plus.

      I think Apple is going to have to face up to it. I predict a quiet fix over the next couple of months.

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