THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
It's typical that, if you want to be first on the block for with a new iPhone, you may have to undergo pain for any gain. So if you opted to wait online at an Apple Store somewhere on the planet, you may have encountered several blocks of people who got there first. In a few cases, the arrived days or weeks early, though I hope you had someone replace you in the line while you got cleaned up and rested.
Another way was to be in front of your computer at the moment preorders were available, though that became painful since you probably had to refresh the screen a lot to make it to a workable ordering screen. And there was a huge chance that you still wouldn't get one of the first units to ship. Apple announced four million preorders over the first 24 hours, without exactly saying how long delivery would take for most of them.
I'll have more to say about iPhone launch follies later on in this issue.
As you might imagine, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we covered one of Apple's most important weeks, including the introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and the release of iOS 8. You also heard views about the media freakout over Apple's decision to introduce U2's latest album, "Age of Innocence," free to iTunes customers. In addition, we covered some of the new keyboards available for iOS 8, which add learn and swype functions, and presented a first look on the iPhone 6.
The guests included prolific author/columnist Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who also discussed his views about the decision to discontinue the print version of Macworld, along with Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," whose articles continue to appear in the online version of that publication.
Among those to receive the first batch of iPhone 6 deliveries was, in fact, Kirk. The package arrived at his UK home shortly after 9:00 AM. His initial reactions were supremely positive, and his lifestyle appears to be such that he wouldn't exactly take to the iPhone Plus. The undeniable advantages of the larger display, longer battery life, and having optical image stabilization for videos is overshadowed by the size. Imagine sticking one in your pocket. So it's clear Kirk's decision to get the smaller model was well suited to his needs.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present one of our most-requested guests, Travis Walton. Walton's 1975 UFO abduction encounter, where he disappeared for five days after encountering a flying saucer, has been the subject of back and forth discussions and controversy. His experiences were recounted in his book, "Fire in the Sky: The Walton Experience," and somewhat fictionalized in a 1993 movie of the same name. In November, 2014, Travis is hosting a conference, Skyfire Summit, in Heber, AZ (near where he was dropped off by the "aliens"). The event will feature Walton, Richard Dolan, Stanton T. Friedman, Peter Robbins, Kathleen Marden, Donald Schmitt, Linda Moulton Howe, Tracy Torme and others including Chris.
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.
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT SIZE
When Apple decided — some say relented — to produce two iPhones with larger display sizes, you can say the sucked the air out of the room when it came to the main reason to choose an Android smartphone. The argument was the fact that the iPhone was "stuck" at four inches, which some regard as a too small for such a device.
Of course, there was a time when the original 3.5-inch iPhones were considered large, and the competition sought to find ways to compete. An easy solution: A larger display. But that brings with it other problems, such as the impact to battery life and image quality. Not all solutions worked so well.
So it didn't come as a surprise to see Samsung running ads informing you that they had large smartphones first. Other than to draw attention to the existence of the iPhone 6, I hardly see the value. If you are buying a product now, does it really matter who came first with a feature? After all, there were smartphones before the iPhone even existed, as if that matters, and it's not as if BlackBerry still manages to succeed because they arrived before Apple.
I suppose if I were in the market for a new car, I should therefore consider a Mercedes-Benz first, because Karl Friedrich Benz is credited with inventing the first car powered by an internal combustion engine back in the 1880s. It wouldn't matter whether the lineup included something suited and priced for my needs using this standard. Just as a point of reference, though, the company's Smart division, which makes tiny two seat cars, has models starting at $12,490. Sure, a Smart is not the sort of vehicle you think of when you consider a Benz, but still.
The real comparisons between the new iPhones and the competition cover a wide range, and not just display size. Image quality is reportedly quite good, without the oversaturated colors and other excesses of competing gear. That may be of less importance on smaller devices, but performance in bright sunlight may be the key. None of the existing models that I've tried rate good, and some barely rate fair.
Predictably, Consumer Reports sent mixed signals. While their preliminary evaluation seems positive — these are the best iPhones ever — they remind you that they don't, unfortunately, have as many features as Android phones, most particularly Samsung. Do those features count for anything in the real world? Do they, in fact, exceed what you find on an iPhone with iOS 8 in terms of usability and performance? That's a question that CR continues to overlook in their endless quest to rate by checkbox.
This doesn't mean that some of the features the competition offers aren't useful. Apple has been known to borrow ideas from other platforms, although those ideas are often implemented in a unique way. Again, though, the argument is not about who got their first, because Apple is seldom first in most areas. The argument is about integration, ease of use and reliability. That's a tall order.
So we have some photos taken with an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus appearing online. Apple has not boosted the megapixel count since the 2011 release of the iPhone 4s. But, it wasn't so long ago that pro cameras managed eight megapixels and somehow they performed well. So ahead of just adding more megapixels, Apple is doing things with lenses and image processing to get the best possible image. The comparisons I've seen to clearly put an iPhone ahead of most other gear, even some products with much larger megapixel ratings.
You almost look back at the days of the PowerPC, where Intel gear had higher gigahertz ratings, but seldom delivered better performance, except in the later days where development of the IBM/Motorola processors lagged. This time, though, Apple is perfectly capable of boosting megapixel count, and not doing so doesn't seem to be a matter of cutting corners, although you wonder how much more quality they can eke out of existing camera sensors.
With the second generation Touch ID hardware, and the arrival of NFC with Apple Pay, potential customers are rightly concerned about security. Apple has explained what is being done to protect you from having your data, particularly credit card numbers, usernames and passwords, stolen. There are some things you have to do for yourself, particularly the latter two. Overall, Apple's security record remains better than the competition.
I recall that comment a while back from a Google Android executive that security didn't matter. While Google is following Apple in encrypting data on new Android handsets, these are benefits hundreds of millions of people will never be able to access. Their gear will never get needed OS updates. But that hasn't stopped the fear mongers from claiming Apple has a poor security record.
True, the adoption rate for iOS 8 is lacking seriously behind iOS 7, but as of the time I wrote this article, more than a third of existing iOS devices had already updated according to Mixpanel Trends, which performs that sort of analysis. This despite the fact that compatibility stops with the iPhone 4s, and similarly aged gear. Installing on a 16GB device is a chore if you don't have lots of free space; you are better off installing that upgrade with iTunes. Still, the rate is far higher than Google ever achieves, and it won't be long before the number hits 50%.
Before iOS 8 came out, iOS 7 hit a 91% adoption rate. That won't be possible with the new release, though I can see it hitting the 70-80% range by next year. Of course that won't stop the usual group of Apple critics from declaring iOS 8 a failure. A failure compared to what, other than a previous iOS upgrade that reached farther back to older models for compatibility?
It also appears Apple is working harder to seek out problems and and fix them. Even social network comments are reportedly being monitored as an early warning source of possible bugs. That step raises confidence that iOS 8 will, after a maintenance update or two, be one of the most reliable versions of Apple's mobile OS yet.
It's also true, though, that some will continue to complain that Apple wasn't first with larger mobile displays.
THE CROWDS FAVOR APPLE
One of the biggest stories around the world this week wasn't about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the latest episodes of political gridlock in Washington, D.C. or the start of the fall TV season in the U.S. Instead it was all about the launch of a couple of smartphones.
Now as far as being symptoms of anything particularly important, you have to wonder why so many thousands of people camped out at the Apple Stores where the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus first went on sale. To be sure, some potential customers lined up weeks in advance just to be first on the line and to have a choice of models, storage sizes and colors.
Talk about getting a life! I remember hanging out on those lines during the first couple of years of the iPhone's existence. Then it was never more than a hundred or two at the stores I visited, near Phoenix, AZ. I'd arrive maybe an hour or two before the usual 8:00 AM store opening, take my place in the line, and talk to my fellow travelers. At some point in time, someone from Apple would canvass the lines and take note of the models each person wanted, consulting an inventory to see if their needs could be accommodated.
One year, I drove down to the nearby AT&T factory store, and tried to see if I could get instant gratification. Nobody from the store even came out to inform customers whether the wait was worthwhile, until I caught the eye of one who was just arriving and asked him to check. I soon learned they didn't have enough units in stock, so I raced over — well raced in the sense of running to the car, but still observing the speed limit — to the nearest Apple Store. It was moments before the place was due to open, but the sales person indicated that the model I wanted would be available.
Sure, part of the reason the crowds have grown larger is the fact that demand has increased. It's also true that waiting on those lines might be an enjoyable social event for some, particularly if a famous personage shows up. So if you chose to hang out in front of the Palo Alto, CA Apple Store, you would have had a chance to take a selfie with CEO Tim Cook. He'd even answer some of your questions, which wasn't quite the case when Steve Jobs took those brief shopping tours.
For residents of Sydney, Australia who hung out at the flagship Apple Store in that city this past weekend, they might have been rewarded with the sight of Senior Vice President of Retail Angela Ahrendts. In the old days, when the first stores in the chain opened, I met up with the original retail head Ron Johnson, who today is licking his wounds after his failure to gain traction as head of J.C. Penney.
I suppose the biggest difference in the success of those Apple Store launch events these days is that some people are actually paid to wait on line for days or weeks. They work for gray market dealers who buy up as much gear as they can, and resell them at huge profits on eBay, particularly in countries where a new iPhone or an iPad has yet to officially go on sale.
Perhaps some might suggest they are only cheating, or taking advantage of the impatience of customers who should be able to buy one of these products at the normal retail price if they would only wait.
Now call me old, but it's been a while since I've visited the lines snaking around an Apple Store or the nearby streets. I have found it more convenient to simply place an order online or, after a week or two, at a brick and mortar retailer where I can just buy what I want without any delays. Of course, I do get review gear from time to time, and thus don't have to wait anywhere or place an order, but I have also come to believe that being patient can be a virtue.
Sure, I did attempt to download iOS 8 on Day One, though Apple's servers were slammed and it became an all-day process. For me, the upgrade was otherwise pretty seamless. Other than the occasional crash in Apple Mail, nothing untoward occurred.
As of the first weekend, Apple reported sales of 10 million, compared to nine million last year. No other handset maker has come close. For some Apple critics, however, it will never be enough.
But think about it for a moment: When has Samsung, Microsoft or Google ever generated that level of advance interest for anything they ever produced?
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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