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  • Newsletter Issue #872

    August 15th, 2016

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Along with an Apple OS update, there’s usually a bunch of fixes that are security related. Most of those issues probably won’t harm you. They require direct interactions with your hardware, or special circumstances, such as downloading something nasty by mistake, for anything to happen. It’s encouraging to know that Apple cares enough to deal with it.

    But over the years, Apple has been accused, rightly, of not always paying close attention to problems or releasing fixes in a timely fashion. One major example, the Flashback Trojan Horse in 2012, which may have infected several hundred thousand Macs. Of course that estimate was self-serving, from Dr. Web, a company that sells security software. I don’t recall anyone else independently verifying that number.

    In any case, it was actually a problem with Java, which is owned by Oracle. But it also led Apple to jettison its policy of supplying Java, and it was up to Oracle to make it work and push updates. Apple also leaves it to Adobe to fix Flash security issues. But it’s best to ditch both if you can. In the former case, some apps use Java as a cross-platform tool to build usually subpar apps, but a surprising number of supposedly all-Mac apps, such as older versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite, also required Java.

    In any case, regardless of how many Macs were infected by Flashback, Apple took the hint and has since been more proactive in keeping up with security problems. Recent versions of the macOS have included a low-level ability to block some malware, and the deception signatures are autoupdated from time to time. Sandboxing and other protections also help. And now Apple has set up a bounty of up to $200,000 for hackers and researchers who locate and report security problems in Apple products. That’s the sort of initiative that ought to help improve security.

    In any case, on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented outspoken commentator Peter Cohen for a return visit. In a wide-ranging interview, Peter discussed the possible reasons why there has been only one Mac update this year. Is it possible Apple is planning major refreshes for the MacBook Pro and other models come fall? How has the iPhone SE, the smallest model, influenced sales? He also briefly discussed Apple’s new bounty policy, announced at the Black Hat USA 2016 conference, to offer up to $200,000 to those who discover serious security leaks in Apple products. Ongoing rumors about an Apple Car were also discussed, along with the possibility that it may actually be about self-driving technology and not a new car.

    You also heard from commentator and author Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. He talked about the Apple TV, and the efforts by Apple and other companies to provide cord-cutting alternatives to cable and satellite TV. What about the decision of Hulu, owned by several TV networks, to kill the free service and focus on subscriptions only? Josh also discussed the recent failure of Kagi, a payment processing company that managed funds for shareware and other products. He outlined Apple’s decision to pay a bounty to those who discover security defects, and the possible reasons for the late arrival of upgrades for Mac hardware.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: If you need a wake-up call in the dog days of summer, there’s always the one and only Walter Bosley. He’s an  author, blogger, former AFOSI agent and a former FBI counterintelligence specialist. He has covered mass shootings, breakaway civilizations, lost civilizations and more. On this episode, Walter joins Gene and Chris to talk about pop culture, Star Trek and aliens, and today’s messy political environment and its possible relationship to the secret forces that may be in control of world events. We are joined by special guest Alejandro Rojas, of OpenMinds.tv, who engages in a spirited debate with Walter on the reality of breakaway civilizations.

    A CASE FOR UPGRADING YOUR APPLE GEAR

    One thing is certain about tech gear: People are hanging onto their gadgets for longer periods of time. So I know a lot of people who are happily using Macs that are more than five years old. Indeed, just how much incentive is there to buy a new Mac anyway, assuming your existing machine is working correctly? Indeed, Apple helps the process along by supporting older Macs with the latest and greatest macOS.

    So macOS Sierra will work on any Mac from 2010 or later, and a 2009 or later MacBook and iMac. This a pretty large range, even if it’s less than OS X El Capitan. It is true that older Macs will not support certain features, such as Metal graphics and HandOff, the ability to start a task on one Apple gadget and continue it in another. But for most of you, that missing feature won’t make much of a difference.

    That doesn’t mean the experience is necessarily perfect otherwise. Users of older Macs very likely don’t have machines with SSDs, although they are available, even if you have to jump through a few irritating hoops to install them. So the presence of a traditional hard drive will make performance seem more and more sluggish. I can’t say if that phenomenon is the result of the higher resource needs, but it’s not at all unusual. In fact, it’s the main reason why I put an SSD in my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro some time back. Waiting long minutes for startups and agonizing seconds to launch an app became just too much, and it only seemed to get worse year after year.

    Some might argue that Apple deliberately cripples a new operating system so it doesn’t work so well with older gear. That’s supposed to make you want to buy something new. But I think it’s more about adding additional powerful features to improve the OS and deliver superior performance for new hardware, not to mention taking advantage of the latest component enhancements. Backwards compatibility has its limits, and supporting models six or seven years old seems a worthwhile compromise.

    That being the case, perhaps the arrival of macOS Sierra this fall will push the sale of some new Macs. Sure, your computer doesn’t stop working if operating system upgrades are no longer available, but app developers will also force the issue by dropping support for older systems with their newest versions.

    The situation is fairly similar with iOS 10. Although the previous release supported the same hardware as iOS 8, Apple is now cutting out some older iPads and iPhones. And no wonder. My sister-in-law has an iPad 3rd generation, and performance has been extremely sluggish overall with iOS 9; it’ll be worse with its successor. It doesn’t bother her very much, since she’s mostly checking email or using Safari. But for many people, it would be an annoyance, so Apple has removed support for a product first released in the spring of 2012.

    Now one of the reasons Apple has cited for lower iPad sales is that people are hanging onto them longer. I suspect they felt the upgrade cycle would be similar to the iPhone, which is roughly two years. It hasn’t turned out that way, though I suppose the decision to abandon support for older models will convince some people it’s time to buy something new.

    A similar situation exists with the iPhone. Any model prior to the iPhone 5, released in September 2012, will not run iOS 10. Four years may even be more than enough, since iOS 9 didn’t fare so well with the iPhone 4s. That still means tens of millions of users may choose to keep their gear longer so long as it’s compatible with iOS 10. So it’s not as if Apple is going overboard to make your gear obsolete. Again, it appears to be a reasonable compromise.

    Either way, if your Apple gadget still does what you want, and the next operating system upgrade will work on it, more or less, I suppose there’s little reason to upgrade unless the new gear has one or more features you absolutely can’t live without. On Macs, a major improvement, more or less, has been Force Touch on some notebooks, but it’s not anything that’s essential for your user experience, though I imagine some of you will disagree. The 5K 27-inch iMac, and the 4K 21.5-inch iMac, might present a compelling argument that it’s time for a new machine.

    The recent iPhones with larger displays, starting with the 2014 iPhone 6, may also be reason enough for those who haven’t upgraded yet. If you care about a smaller handset, the iPhone SE offers most of the features offered in the iPhone 6s, except for 3D touch, and it’s affordable enough for many people. Indeed, Apple has had problems meeting demand for them.

    Of course, if the economy has hurt your bottom line, that may be reason enough to keep what you have for as long as possible. You could also buy a refurbished model, which comes with a new product warranty. Or you might just choose something cheaper, something used. There are several online stores that sell used Apple gear, and I suppose you can find suitable gear on eBay, so long as the reseller has a good reputation and all. Indeed, I’ve fared quite well dealing with eBay merchants over the years, and the only problem I ever encountered occurred when I bought some fancy perfume for Barbara; it came at a huge discount, which should have made me suspicious. She said it didn’t smell quite the same as the bottle she bought from a nearby department store, but she didn’t bother to return it.

    In any case, new Apple gear that goes beyond a modest refresh might do wonders to boost flagging sales.

    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 #872”

    1. dfs says:

      Apple has a real problem with the Mac: these machines have been on the market for quite a few years and Apple has had plenty of opportunity to polish and refine them. About a year ago, thanks to the generosity of a deceased uncle, I was able to afford a completely maxed-out 27-in iMac, SSD and all, and for the first time I had a machine I could imagine using happily for the rest of my life.

      Are there things about the way it operates I don’t like? Sure, in a lot of ways large and small there are ways in which it runs which annoy me and which I think could and should be done better. But these are all software issues having to do with the OS and its attendant suite of programs. The machine itself is fast enough and powerful enough to handle gracefully anything I’m ever likely to throw at it. And right here is the essence of Apple’s problem: its Macs are so near-perfect and so ruggedly built that the traditional rule of thumb that a personal computer has a three-year lifespan goes flying out the window.

      If Macs aren’t selling all that well, the problem isn’t that the personal computer is becoming obsolete or that people are giving up on the Mac, it’s that they’re so damned good that more and more of us are going to be content hanging on to what we have right now. I’m not sure the iPhone is quite there yet, but I can imagine a time when the same problem will arise, and that won’t be very far in the future.

    2. DaveD says:

      My memory of Mac refreshes was that under Bob Mansfield there were many. Of course, the Mac was Apple’s main focus until 2007. I believe that the lack of recent hardware upgrades and undesirable OS interface changes put a damper on the enthusiasm of looking for the next Mac purchase. I am leading toward to think that Sir Jony Ive had “jumped the shark” with the Mac Pro design and the change for art sake with the graphical user interface.

      It does appear that today’s Macs are more dependable. My experience is solely with Mac notebooks with the initial 1998 PowerBook G3 Series (Wallstreet) lasted only four years. I picked up the second G3 Series model (PDQ) and it had over 10 years of use. I do recall that some iBook models and a few MacBook Pros had graphic issues. The first MacBook models had temperature issue.

      My 2012 MacBook Air is still going strong. Even though it does not have a Retina display, I still enjoy using it every day and having that durability/quality feel.

    3. Ponter says:

      Apple has been very successful in turning hardware into a fetish item. But in the real world, we only use the hardware in order to use the software. The thing I care about most is OS X/macOS. I have a whole workflow built around it and numerous applications — some Apple, more of them third-party, and many Mac-only. Thus it’s been very frustrating the last few years that there isn’t a single Mac in the whole lineup that I really want. They are mostly overpriced; most are not user-repairable nor upgradable by anyone; and with something like the MacBook, they are (like OS X) more and more being deprecated in terms of functionality. (let’s not even talk about the trashing of the pro-level tools.) I guess, per Ive, I’m supposed to admire the stylistic purity of that one USB-C port while I fish around for the right combination of elegant white dongles that will allow me to upload the contents of my SD card into the computer. As for the latest “refresh” of the mini, Apple may as well have just shut the line down rather than insult all us mini fans with The Sealed Box That Can’t.
      Okay, so maybe the MacBook is really meant for the Starbucks set, and the mini is meant for … well, who IS the latest mini for? But such moves, and the recent iPad campaign, tell us all we need to know about how Apple values “trucks ” (I.e. not at all).
      Sir Jony Ive is an art school poser who would have better served us users if he had joined those other art school posers in starting a pop band. He certainly has no idea of how to improve the experience for real computer users. Thin, schmin! I’d rather have a real keyboard, a la Lenovo. I wonder, too, about the rest of Apple senior management. Sure, they make lots of money, if that’s your measuring stick. So does WalMart.
      Not trolling, just venting.
      Disillusioned Long-time Mac User

      • gene says:

        Honestly if you’ve used Macs as you Apple notebooks as you claim, your responses really seem curious. The MacBook, for example, is designed for a specific class of customer that wants something small, convenient, and doesn’t intend to do heavy-duty processor-intensive work or carry around lots of peripherals. So the issue of dongles doesn’t apply. If your workflow is different, there are other models that better serve them, particularly the MacBook Pro.

        In terms of pricing, the situation has always been the same: Macs are mid-to-high-end computers that are comparably priced to mainstream notebooks of similar specs and capabilities. Sometimes Apple costs more, sometimes the competition costs more. In addition, Apple offers a decent free software bundle for everyone.

        If that’s not your cup of tea, fine. But if you expect Apple to alter its marketing plan and product plans based in your specific tastes, you are barking up the wrong tree.

        But I always wonder about people who claim to have used Macs, but concentrate their comments on what Apple is doing wrong and why they prefer a PC, which means you are a PC user just trolling. Have a nice day, but have that nice day somewhere else please.

        Peace,
        Gene

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