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  • Newsletter Issue #805

    May 4th, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    All right. An Apple Watch is attractive enough, though I wouldn’t exactly say sexy. It does more than other smartwatches and, evidently, performs better. Very likely initial sales, if the estimates were correct, matched or exceeded that of all other smartwatches, combined, through their entire lifecycles starting with the Pebble. But whether the pace can continue over the long haul is another question. How much of a market is there for such a gadget?

    Meantime, we continued cover the Apple Watch on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, this time focusing on its usability and potential for success. We also presented information on the famous iFixit teardown, featuring Kyle Wiens and Andrew Goldberg, and how the company sent its reps to Australia to get some of the first shipping units to test how easy it is to replace the battery and do other repairs.

    Predictably, the Apple Watch is not so easy to open up, though the procedure appears to be straightforward enough. I suppose when tools are available that you can actually buy, it won’t be so bad, particularly when it comes time to replace the battery. Aside from that and the display, the rest is essentially unrepairable. And so much for hopes and dreams that it would be possible to upgrade an Apple Watch with new innards when the product was refreshed. Or at least that won’t happen with the first version.

    Author and publisher Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, is a runner and one of the key uses for his Apple Watch is fitness tracking. Just how well did Apple’s smartwatch fill that purpose? From my takeaway of this segment, it appears that Adam found a few things that could be improved. Or did Apple just try to do too much too quickly with the first version of the product?

    You’ll also heard from Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who focused his discussions on Apple Watch prospects, and some takeaways from Apple’s record March quarter financials. Can something be done to boost flagging iPad sales? Will more customers come once they get around to replacing the ones they have? And what about a larger model, the alleged iPad Pro?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: It’s time to leave your concept of reality on the front porch. This week we present cutting-edge science writer Eric Wargo. We will be visiting Eric’s fascinating trickster realm of self-fulfilling prophesy generated by us in the future (and other mind-warping what-if scenarios). Eric asks, were both Plato and Jung completely wrong to bark up their particular existential trees? We’ll run the gamut through UFOs, the paranormal and our very concept of reality. How do we take research of unusual events to the next level? What does it all mean?

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our 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.

    OLD APPLE MYTHS NEVER DIE

    On the first day I used a Mac, I was told that it wasn’t suited for real work. I should be using a PC running — then — a version of MS-DOS, or at least that’s what they said. Real PC users shouldn’t be pointing and clicking when they had all that command line goodness.

    Of course, graphical interfaces became acceptable once Microsoft got Windows perfected to the point were it was mostly usable. But that took a few years; Windows 95 is said to be the first adequate version that was embraced by even some departing Mac users. My early experiences writing versions of a few of my books on a Windows PC were nonetheless painful, and those early Windows emulators for Macs were even worse, since performance was so slow.

    But this isn’t a Windows versus Mac critique. It’s about the myths that have arisen about Macs — and Apple in general — through the years, some of which have not changed. So the other day, on a forum devoted to my paranormal radio show, I still saw evidence of the belief that a Windows PC is designed for real work and a Mac for other things. What other things? Well, it has long been true that the Microsoft platform has more games, and thus dedicated gamers have purchased costly souped up PCs to play their favorites.

    So there’s the contradiction. If the PC is better suited for work, why play games on it? In fact, many apps are available in Mac and PC versions, including Microsoft’s. The public beta of Office 2016 for Mac also indicates that Microsoft has strived harder to bring it closer in feature parity to the Windows version. While I realize there are times when you will require Windows to run certain apps not available in Mac form, that situation can often be resolved simply by running a virtual machine rather than a native Windows PC.

    Well, at least if you need to run both platforms.

    The illusion about Macs being unsuited for real work came full bore over a decade ago when I visited a FedEx Office to have some business cards printed. At the time, they had a few PCs on hand on which you could rent time. Well, in casual conversation with some of the visitors in that section of the store, I came across several silly Mac versus PC myths, such as the claim that you needed to use a PC to handle fonts properly in a word processing document. Funny, the truth was long the reverse, although today’s Windows doesn’t seem to have the problems of old.

    To me, however, it was a visit to an alternate reality.

    Nowadays, with PC sales flagging, the Mac’s growth rate has exceeded that of the industry for several years. The Mac is the number two money maker for Apple, and it’s clear the company is continuing its investment in the platform. The 2015 MacBook did not appear out of thin air, and it incorporates some fascinating new technologies developed to reduce the thickness and keep the weight to just over two pounds. Clearly the new keyboard and Force Touch trackpad required extensive and costly development, and the latter has already appeared on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, and even on the Apple Watch.

    The arrival of the first iPhone in 2007 was greeted with jeers. Echoing the complaints about graphical user interfaces, so-called tech analysts complained about the exclusive use of a touch keyboard rather than a traditional mobile handset keyboard such as the one made famous on a BlackBerrry.

    It didn’t take long before Samsung decided to switch from copying a BlackBerry to copying an iPhone, and for Google’s Android platform to follow suit. And don’t forget the failed efforts of BlackBerry to compete with the iPhone with their own touch keypads. So why did they do that unless they saw the wisdom in Apple’s approach to smartphones? I wouldn’t be surprised to see new smartwatches running the Android Wear platform coming with fashionable bands and perhaps build high-end versions made of gold.

    Of course, most of you remember when the iPad was thought of as an oversized iPod touch. But with overall tablet sales declining — yes the iPad isn’t alone to experience a sales drop — there are legitimate questions about the future of these products and whether sales might begin their steady increase again. For now, a tablet may be a PC replacement for some, but just another screen for others.

    Now a recent Apple myth had it that Tim Cook was unsuited to become CEO of Apple, and his perceived “failures” were cited as evidence that the company had lost its creative edge. After all, how could Apple possibly survive without Steve Jobs running the show? Forgotten were the long periods where Cook managed the store when Jobs was on sick leave even before a new CEO was named.

    The failure of Maps for iOS 6 in 2012 was listed as a benchmark Cook failure that wouldn’t have happened under Jobs’ watch. Forgotten was the Antennagate problem, where some people reported poor reception on an iPhone 4 if they held it the “wrong way.” Since that happened when Jobs ran Apple, was it his failure? Did Apple try to be too gimmicky in designing that product’s antenna, or was it something that could happen to any mobile handset when held in a certain way? The fact is the latter, although perhaps Apple could have paid more attention to the problem during development and worked around it better. That’s precisely what they did with subsequent designs that used a scheme similar to the diversity system on a car, where the antenna that picks up the strongest signal is used.

    In any case, there’s no doubt Maps for iOS was a serious embarrassment. Perhaps it should not have been released, or it could have been presented as a beta, which would let Apple off the hook if the limitations were listed. By emphasizing the ability to report problems, which would be promptly fixed, the negative blowback may not have been so severe. These days you don’t hear about those serious issues anymore, but there’s still the perception that Apple’s version of Maps remains seriously flawed and far inferior to Google Maps. In fact, they are quite close under normal use.

    But I would like to see public transportation support under iOS without need for a third-party app.

    A more serious myth had it that Apple’s sales growth had stalled. Although the company failed to meet what may have been exaggerated expectations for a quarter or two in recent years, it doesn’t seem that sales were bad even then. Consider the launch of the iPhone 5 in 2012. Apple reported selling five million units during the launch weekend. But some industry pundits, so called, predicted as many as ten million sales, and thus Apple was hit for failing to reach impossible targets.

    Impossible? Well, Apple reported they couldn’t keep up with demand, meaning they could have sold more had the supplies been available.

    That, plus unfounded reports of severe cutbacks in orders from component makers resulted in Apple’s stock price being hit big time up through 2013. It didn’t matter that Tim Cook explained to the financial community, during a quarterly conference call, that you couldn’t take one or more supply chain metrics and apply them to the actual sales of a product. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so reserved in lecturing industry analysts that they had it all wrong. That may have been one area in which Steve Jobs would have been a more effective communicator in correcting errors.

    Tim Cook is doing better these days, but sometimes you wish his statements would be less measured and more forceful.

    Now as you might know, correcting Apple myths and fact checking erroneous reports or silly speculation can be a full-time job, though several of us do it from time to time. Why bother? Couldn’t Apple do it just as well or far better with their vast resources?

    Well, Apple isn’t into playing the game of instant response except when crises of potential critical importance arise, such as the claim that some celebrity accounts were hacked because of security shortcomings in iCloud. It was more about celebrities not being careful about setting strong passwords, and why would they put nude photos in the cloud anyway?

    Shortly after the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus appeared, Apple refuted clearly false claims that the latter was unduly sensitive to bending. Nowadays, it appears that Samsung does a bit worse with the new Galaxy smartphones, but both are acceptably strong unless seriously abused.

    As a tech journalist who has been at this game for over 25 years, I like to focus on facts, and when the media gets it wrong, I find posting corrections very hard to resist. Breaking through the fog of misinformation may be the best way to get the truth out there. That way, when I post a regular news report, or a product evaluation, it can be presented in the proper perspective.

    So I’m not going to stop!

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #805”

    1. DaveD says:

      Bravo! Nicely done, factual article.

      So where are the cowards today? The pundits, the so-called tech or financial ones who wanted Tim Cook out of Apple. The ones who said that Apple must innovate or die. Making up stories is easy, but totally worthless. I am all for constructive criticism when Apple makes a mistake and Apple has made them.

      A tip of the hat to the early adopters of anything from Apple. Their insight and feedback are quite valuable.

    2. dfs says:

      “the belief that a Windows PC is designed for real work and a Mac for other things”. Yes, but at least up to a point this is Apple’s own fault. At least up to a point, a corporation can control the way it presents itself the world, and therefore its public image. Going back as far as the early history of the company, Apple’s advertising has always stressed the ways its products can be used for recreational purposes rather than business ones. You reap what you sow.

    3. Kaleberg says:

      The iPad is probably the most interesting Apple product in that it is often sold by OEMs as part of a system. Many airlines, for example, issue them by the 100s to their pilots. They show up in stores and restaurants as point of sale terminals. Hotels and high end stores buy them for in store marketing. These are uses that are usually associated with PCs as they are often cheaper and easier to customize. Apple is usually not even considered in the running for this kind of thing, so Apple is likely to keep the iPad around for the same reason they kept the AppleTV around, even when it wasn’t selling well. There is too much to be learned by having a device in a potentially growing market to sacrifice one’s position.

      (I think the Mac Pro is in this position as well. Today’s Mac Pro is tomorrows Mac Mini or perhaps Apple Watch, and the applications will move as the hardware gets more powerful.)

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