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  • Newsletter Issue #789

    January 12th, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Commentator Kirk McElhearn is the sort of easy-going fella that you’d never expect to do anything that might, at least in part, influence someone’s class-action lawsuit. But it does appear that some recent pieces he wrote, about the fact that you’re not getting the advertised storage on your iOS device, might have done just that.

    One of the articles in question covered “bloated” iOS apps, and how much space you really get on your 16GB iPhone or iPad. Now I know Kirk well enough to believe he didn’t expect anything he wrote to be cited as evidence for lawyers going after Apple. While he’s right that Apple should be more forthcoming about how much space is really available on your new iOS gadget, rather than the advertised capacity, the present state of affairs is not unique in the tech industry. Other companies pull the same stunt, while stealing even more of the available storage for the OS, apps and overhead.

    I’ve already mentioned a 64GB Microsoft Surface Pro 3 that leaves you with only 23GB available for your own stuff. But I think a line or two in the fine print would clarify matters in a way that customers wouldn’t be confused. Yet I wonder how many of you are really complaining. I think most of my readers know how things work, though I suppose some people might be confused. If that were the case, however, why isn’t Consumer Reports magazine railing against the practice?

    In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, outspoken commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld’s “iTunes Guy,” first focused his comments on the curious claims from some so-called audio experts that music streamed from different types of hard drives is somehow audibly different. He also explained how his writings were cited in the recent Storagegate class-action lawsuit, which accuses Apple of being deceptive about iPhone storage capacities, and engaging in a scheme to get you to buy more iCloud storage.

    During the segment, I discussed my plans to install an OWC 1TB SSD upgrade in my late 2009 iMac, thanks to the company CEO, Larry O’Connor, who agreed to participate and offer the drive and a full assembly kit for review. After the recent 16GB installation, a speedier hard drive is the only other way to make it run faster. Besides, with a 5-year-old hard drive chugging along, this appears to be the right time to give this box a new lease on life. Installation is a bear, however, and I’ll let you know more shortly.

    We also presented a report about the CES 2015, in Las Vegas, which featured all the latest and greatest consumer electronics goodies, from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. Jeff covered his favorites along with his reactions to the latest 4K or Ultra HD TV sets, curved TVs, and the forthcoming 8K TVs. As usual, Apple, who never attends CES, remained the elephant in the room at many of the exhibits.

    One thing Jeff mentioned in his comments is that more gear that will actually go on sale was demonstrated. Quite a lot of what has been traditionally shown at a CES consists of prototypes or even rougher concepts that seldom see the light of day.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present David Stinnett. David is a biomedical engineer and a 30-year veteran of UFO field work and archival research. He is director of the longest running UFO conference on the east coast, the New Jersey UFO Conference, continuously running for 28 years. Stinnett has been a guest on numerous radio shows and was co-host for the Researchers Live Radio program. He is very active in worldwide UFO research and anomoly research. His research interests include ancient texts, biblical and extra canonical texts, ancient civilizations, astronomy, physics, archaeology and a host of other topics that coincide with the UFO phenomenon.

    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.

    REVISITING THE ALLEGED DECLINE IN APPLE SOFTWARE QUALITY

    All it took was an Apple developer’s complaint about the supposed declining state of Apple’s software to fuel a number of articles saying that things are going from bad to worse. One story had it that, in light of bugs that are never actually mentioned in the article, iOS and OS X software quality may not be quite as bad as Windows, but it was getting closer. So we have the meme here that Apple is releasing too many products and needs to focus more sharply on perfecting new releases before they are posted for download.

    Everyone’s whipping boy is iOS 8.0.1. How could Apple have allowed that wretched thing to pass the QA labs anyway? It doesn’t matter that it was withdrawn a little over an hour after its misbegotten release, and a fixed version came out the very next day. What about those estimated 40,000 users of an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus who had their gear virtually bricked because of Apple’s monumental screw-up?

    All right, you could restore the affected devices, but why the inconvenience? An Apple executive said it was all due to a glitch in the distribution system, which he referred to as the “wrapper,” and that, actually, the update was fine. Version 8.0.2 was said to be the same update, but I suppose with a proper wrapper so that things wouldn’t go wrong. If only those who talked to that Apple executive would have asked him to define what he meant so regular people could understand what really happened. But proper follow-up questions are rarely asked, maybe because they don’t want to upset the interview subject and lose access.

    But aside from 8.0.1, just what did Apple do that was so wrong anyway? All right, so Apple withheld HealthKit for iOS until some fixes were made, but would you rather have a broken feature in a new OS, or just wait a few weeks until the fixed version was out? That appears to be a more responsible approach. Don’t forget Mapgate, which refers to the seriously flawed Apple Maps app that debuted in iOS 6. Unfortunately, that problem occurred in 2012, so it hardly qualifies as supporting the claim that Apple’s software quality went downhill in 2014.

    As I’ve suggested before, if Apple had called Maps a “beta,” as Google quite often does with new products and services, the complaints wouldn’t have been so vociferous. Apple could have invited you to help them improve the quality of Maps. People would get into the act, have a good laugh over 3D images of melted buildings and landmarks, and that would have been that. As it is, some members of the press are stuck in 2012, still believing Maps is seriously broken and that there haven’t been numerous fixes. But today’s Maps is highly functional, and most things really do work extremely well.

    The long and short of it is that the perception of declining software quality is very much a media message, not necessarily a fact. I can go through Apple OS releases going back to the 1980s and find numerous flaws, some quite serious, which had to be addressed with quick maintenance updates. In those days, it would often take weeks or months for the fix to arrive. iOS 8.0.2 arrived the day after 8.0.1 had its brief day in the sun.

    You’d think that the tech media would focus on actual comparisons among tech companies when they judge software quality. So what about all the broken Microsoft patches that make IT people reluctant to use them without extensive testing? Oh well, that’s Microsoft, so you expect broken software.

    In recent years, iOS and OS X upgrades have often arrived with fairly common glitches, such as inconsistent Wi-Fi or other networking performance, battery life issues with Mac note-books and iOS gear, and sometimes problems with Apple’s bundled apps. Don’t forget the 2013 release of OS X Mavericks and Mail’s problems with Gmail.

    This year, Mail is still not quite fully fixed, but it’s better and faster. I still encounter the missing display of the total number of messages in a folder, though that symptom isn’t consistent. It usually takes quitting and restarting Mail to fix it, and since I’ve observed the problem on two different Macs that were released five years apart, I presume that Apple still has some work to do.

    Speaking of flawed releases, have you ever wondered just how many people are using Android 5.0 Lollipop two months after its initial release? It wasn’t a terribly efficient rollout. The first over-they-air updates were released for the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, but were quickly withdrawn for two weeks, evidently to fix bugs serious enough to make it unacceptable. In response to complaints of poor performance — and Lollipop was touted as a release that made Android Snappier — Google released a 5.0.2 update in late December.

    So what’s the uptake of Lollipop? It appears to be a rounding error, still, compared to older systems on the Android platform. One estimate I read at ZDNet, no friend of Apple mind you, had it at 0.1%. Seriously!

    Less than four months after iOS 8’s release, and don’t forget all the complaints about the poor adoption rate, it stands at over 70% at Mixpanel Trends, and only slightly less at the App Store. True, that number is still somewhat lower than the iOS 7 adoption rate at this point in time, but Apple doesn’t have to apologize for a thing.

    Yes, I realize Apple is doing more things at once than ever before — although from a product point of view, other companies release far more in terms of different models — but that doesn’t mean it’s all coming down around them. True, Apple could do better, and I hope they will. But the flaws I’ve seen, aside from iOS 8.0.1 during its brief and tragic existence, are no more serious than in previous years.

    But once a story gets heavy play, it’s hard to refute even if the facts are on your side. So Apple may be deserving of some complaints, but the sky definitely is not falling.

    THE CASE FOR BLACK AND WHITE PRINTING

    Being a tech journalist, I get the chance to review lots of gear. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of printers in here, and I’ve kept the overnight carriers busy bringing in new gear and taking back the stuff I no longer need. From time to time, though, I’ve purchased a printer for long-term use, and had to endure the high cost of consumables.

    In the early days, it was strictly laser, still the most efficient way to produce lots of copies at low cost. But when color inkjet printers became credible alternatives when it came to printing simple text, I jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve had products here from all the major companies over the years, including Apple (when they made printers), Brother, Epson, HP, OKI, Samsung and Xerox.

    I’ve tried hard to save trees, but still find the need to have a physical copy from time to time. With color, I get to see something on paper that approaches what I see on my Mac’s display. When I need to print a color photo, I can still go to Walmart and let them do it, or just buy some fancy glossy paper and do it myself. I’m not sure I save money, but I have full control.

    After sticking with color for years, I decided to look at the most affordable choice, and it’s not a color inkjet, a color laser, or even the Xerox solid ink printer. I ended up returning to where I started, which was black and white laser.

    In the early days, I went through several generations of Apple LaserWriters. Almost without exception, they were reasonably fast, reliable and delivered credible copies. But what does a laser printer in 2014 deliver in comparison to the one I had in 1989? Well, they are certainly far more affordable. For $100-$200, you can really get some excellent equipment, and the cost of regular operation can be extremely low.

    So after I set up a Brother laser printer for a client, I contacted the company’s PR department about what they might have to offer. So I got ahold of an HL-5450DN, which lists for $199.99 but can usually be found closer to $150 at Amazon and other vendors. Compared to the thousands of dollars I routinely spent with those early laser printers, that was a revelation.

    Of course today’s laser printers, except for high-end office models, are far smaller and weigh less than half what those old monsters weighed. I wouldn’t presume to suggest the parts and lifecycles are less, since I haven’t used any current laser printers long enough to know.

    On paper, the HL-5450DN seems to offer just about anything a home user and small business might require, well so long as you can survive with letter-sized or legal-sized output. Brother advertises up to 40 pages per minute output speed, 8.5 seconds until the first page outputs, and a maximum 1200 x 1200 print resolution. The standard paper tray holds 250 pages, and there’s a 50-page multifunction tray suitable for envelopes and such. Duplex printing support is included without having to add extra trays or other gear.

    Of course, specs for speed and print quality have conditions, so in this case, the default setting yields 600 x 600 resolution. There are two higher quality settings, one, HQ1200, supposedly delivers better reproduction of graphics at a slight decline in print speeds, and that’s the one I chose. The visible differences were obvious with simple photos, where the gradations and smoothness of images were superior. Under these conditions, it took maybe 10-12 seconds to output the first page, no doubt because additional processing was needed. But print speeds definitely seemed in the range of 40 per minute of mixed text and graphics from web pages. A 48-page chapter of a 6×9 book in QuarkXPress, with roughly 10 pages of photos and other illustrations, took two minutes and 38 seconds to output from clicking Print until the final page dropped into the output tray. That’s actually quite respectable.

    Overall print quality is what I expect for laser, with sharp text even in smaller sizes. Surprisingly, the Epson WF-3640 all-in-one inkjet I have on hand delivers text that’s near as good, but at a much slower speed. And don’t forget the far higher cost of upkeep.

    And that’s the real advantage of the HL-5450DN. Based on Amazon’s prices for the HL-5450DN and supplies, I calculated how much it would cost for the first 30,000 copies, including the initial purchase (which includes a 3,000-page toner cartridge), another 3,000-page toner cartridge, three 8,000-page toner cartridges, and a single 30,000-page drum unit. It came to 1.86 cents per page. That’s pretty good by any estimate, and it’s far less than you’d pay to print that many copies on an inkjet printer.

    So if you can live without the colors, Brother’s HL-5450DN can deliver crisp output and pretty fast speeds at a reasonably affordable price. As I ponder ways to reduce my print addiction, I realize I could dispense with the printer altogether. But this printer would be an excellent intermediary step. The other is to just reset the print system on my Mac and never add one ever again.

    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    12 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #789”

    1. DJ says:

      Framing the issue of Apple’s software quality in terms of whether it really is worse now than it always has been is dodging the point. Past errors and bugs don’t mitigate the impact of current frustrations; they add to the cumulative effect. Marco’s article didn’t get so much attention only because the press is hungry for anti-Apple material. It rippled through the Internet because it embodied something that long-time Apple devotees have been noticing and hearing about from the family and friends to whom they provide informal tech support. The general perception about Apple products has shifted to the opposite of “it just works,” and while that hasn’t hurt the company yet, it will if they don’t address it. What’s the old line about profits papering over flaws until it’s too late?

      • @DJ, The point isn’t being dodged. The claim is that the quality of Apple’s software, particularly OS releases, has declined. I merely pointed out that the number of outstanding issues is not really worse than it has been over the years. This isn’t to say Apple shouldn’t do better, or can’t do better. I hope they can.

        Peace,
        Gene

    2. DJ says:

      Hey Gene, I hear what you’re saying. I’m sure even a cursory search would turn up plenty of “Apple’s lost it” grumbling every single year. I do still think there is something about this moment that feels different, though. I have no statistical evidence to back it up. All I can is that Marco’s cri de coeur was preceded and echoed by discussions I’ve had with many longtime and newer Apple-using friends. I’ve never owned a non-Apple computer, never owned a non-Apple smartphone, and that’s unlikely to change in the near future. But where I used to confidently tell people on competing platforms to ditch their problems and come over to the much smoother Apple experience, I’ve kind of stopped making that argument. Does anyone feel comfortable making it anymore? Could Apple really air the “Get a Mac” ads poking fun at PC troubles nowadays?

    3. degrees_of_truth says:

      I agree with DJ’s comment. Something is different, and it’s not just media hype. iOS 8 doesn’t bother me as much as Yosemite. And I haven’t even experienced some of the most reported flakiness in Yosemite like wifi problems. I have experienced e.g. repeated Finder crashes from simply dragging and dropping, and backupd process (Time Machine) hanging with a console message about “burning cpu” and then mysteriously working properly if canceled and left alone to try again later. Among the console messages are ones from Apple processes complaining about excessive number of wakeups; one Apple process canceling communication with other, then the other saying it “finally” reestablished communication; an Apple process trying to do something that “isn’t supported on this platform”. Plus of course the annoying lack of responsiveness others have noted: Finder occasionally taking five or ten seconds to do simple things like populating a window with a list of files. (And this behavior on a machine that had none of these issues with Snow Leopard.)

      I suspect the situation is ultimately the result of a combination of overly ambitious iOSification and re-architecting the guts of OS X in a way that now requires a solid state boot disk (which I don’t have). Yosemite is the Windows Vista of OS X, and Apple needs a 100% no-new-features release like Snow Leopard. Or two.

      • @degrees_of_truth, As I wrote this, some 50% of the Mac user base has upgraded to Yosemite. The problems you report are not typical, and may be related to your particular installation or hardware. Further, you do not require an SSD boot disk. No way! I didn’t have SSDs at hand till I got an iMac with 5K Retina display from Apple to review. I have since upgraded my late 2009 27-inch iMac with a 1TB OWC SSD, a review project that required an intense installation process.

        Before making assumptions, first have your system checked, and let us know what really went wrong.

        Or just backup your drive, reinstall your stuff and start over.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • degrees_of_truth says:

          @Gene Steinberg, It’s possible that specific problems are not typical, but those are just a few off the top of my head. Others are shared by posters on other forums, so if they’re not typical, they’re also not unique. It’s easy to find articles and posts listing numerous problems, and people who have unsuccessfully tried clean installs as fixes. Sifting through conflicting experiences, the predominant theme I see is that installing an SSD fixes responsiveness, and nothing else (including adding RAM) does. As far as other problems, that strikes me to be due to code churn with developers spread too thin. An article on arstechnica just today described a hack to replace the new discoveryd process by the old mDNSResponder process to work around a number of problems introduced by Yosemite.

          As I write this, the App Store has very polarized ratings, mostly either 1-star or 5-star, but with about two thirds giving Yosemite the worst rating. FWIW.

          • @degrees_of_truth, I’m not making assumptions as to what might be causing problems for some people. There’s also a report that a 10.10.2 update is in the final stages.

            Again, I did not notice any responsiveness issues on a 5-year-old iMac. Now that we have the SSD, it’s obviously much, much faster due to the storage upgrade. But that would have been true with any OS X version.

            Peace,
            Gene

    4. Peter says:

      As I’ve suggested before, if Apple had called Maps a “beta,” as Google quite often does with new products and services, the complaints wouldn’t have been so vociferous.

      The problem is, I have a choice to use or not use a beta. So my choice would have been to use the “beta” or go without because Apple had just dumped a perfectly good Maps app.

      So if Apple had shipped with the same old Maps app and invited people to download the new beta Maps app (and run it side-by-side with the old one), I’d agree with you. Hell, I’d’ve done that rather than sitting on iOS 6 until Google came out with a Maps app (though I’d use the one in iOS Simulator for a laugh).

    5. Seth says:

      Regarding laser printers: I’ve got a 5450 DN; a decent little machine which I use lightly. The driver’s a little funky at times, the Mac tells me the spool area’s full and then prints anyway. Had a 5250 before; it would go offline and be unable to be awakened on the network without power cycling it. I gave it away – why be bothered? Works fine on USB for someone else. I seriously doubt that either of them will as long as my LaserWriter II which I used for 17 years then gave away – it may still be running for all I know – but then who cares? At $150 a laser printer costs about the same as a Keurig coffee maker with an extra box of pods. The LWII NT cost $3500 in 1989 dollars – about $6800 today. I can get 45 Brother printers for that money. Amazing.

    6. David says:

      There’s nothing particularly special about 2014 or about the 1-year cycle for OS releases. OS X 10.7 Lion was nearly two years in development and yet it was spectacularly slow and full of bugs. iTunes has been everyone’s favourite whipping boy for as long as it has existed and Mail has been doing weird things since Leopard. There have always been bugs and there always will be, but Yosemite appears to be generating a record number of complaints from highly technical people. The experts appear unable to find workarounds for many issues and that has me frightened. My employer must be a little scared too because they’ve told us all to stick with Mavericks.

    7. Alastair says:

      I only upgraded from SL to Mavericks last August, for the simple reason that there was no compelling reason to do so for me before then. Given the WiFi issues that Yosemite is suffering, I see no reason to go there until those at least are remedied.
      The annual upgrade cycle is a curse brought up on us by Corel in the 90s; to that time no one put themselves under pressure that way. The result was the buggiest software you’d ever used, resulting in the phrase ‘banana software—ripens at the buyers’. I wonder why Apple feels compelled to join this circus.

      As Apple is the world’s highest profile brand, every mistake is doubly scrutinized. For this reason alone they should be avoiding making such an unnecessary commitment—no one is demanding new SW at this pace.

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