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    DOWNLOAD: On this week's all-star episode, we welcome columnist Kirk McElhearnMacworld's "iTunes Guy," who will explain why he's cut back on his Facebook activities. He'll also profile iTunes 12, the OS X Yosemite-savvy version, and consider whether he should replace his relatively new Mac Pro with a 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display.

    You'll also hear from cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, who will bring you up to date on the platform wars. He'll cover the differing concepts of tablets from Apple and Android, Google's Android Lollipop and Microsoft's Windows 10 operating systems, and why he believes both companies are out of ideas. He'll also discuss why he believes Samsung, the largest maker of Google smartphones, wants to ditch Android.

    Click to hear our latest episode: The Tech Night Owl Live — October 18, 2014

    For more episodes, click here to visit the show’s home page.


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    Newsletter Issue #776

    October 13th, 2014

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So it does appear that iOS 8 isn't quite getting the same amount of love as its predecessor. A "mere" 50% or so of users of iOS gear have upgraded, and the rate of growth has begun to stagnate. So does this mean that the latest and greatest iOS is somehow fatally flawed? What is Apple to do? After all, apps that depend on the new version may not be developed if there aren't enough potential customers.

    Of course, in the real world, a rate of 50%, give or take a few points, isn't such a bad figure, although it's a fair amount less than iOS 7 at this point in time last year. I've mentioned several reasons in these columns, such as the need for more free space for in-device upgrades, which makes it difficult for owners of 16GB gear, unless you use iTunes. Older hardware isn't supported, which reduces the potential number of upgraders, and irritating bugs may have reduced the adoption rate.

    But that is now. As more and more new iPhones, with iOS 8 preloaded, are bought, the numbers will continue to grow. Stragglers might be less skeptical when Apple has released some more bug fix updates. By next year, I expect the rate will be between 75-80% of the iOS user base. This isn't quite the 91% achieved by iOS 7, but Apple has nothing to apologize for.

    Just consider the adoption rate of the latest Android as an example.

    The trials and tribulations of iOS 8 was first up on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of "Take Control of Apple TV" and other titles. He also discussed some of the keyboard options offered for the new mobile OS, and what might come from Apple's scheduled October 16 media event.

    You'll also heard from tech commentator Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and other outlets, who focused his discussion on Apple's ongoing failures to communicate with customers with press announcements, and the endless complications in choosing a new wireless carrier.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Robert Salas, a former Air Force Captain, who will discuss his new book, "Unidentified: The UFO Phenomenon: How World Governments Have Conspired to Conceal Humanity's Biggest Secret." The subtitle of the book reflects the essence of Salas' position on the topic. In a classic case, Salas was on duty at Malmstrom Air Force Base on March 17, 1967 when two UFOs were seen flying near the base's nuclear missile sites. "Over the next half-minute, all ten of their missiles reported a 'No-Go' condition. One by one across the board, each missile had became inoperable." During this interview, Salas will also reveal details of his own UFO abduction experience.

    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.

    WHAT GEAR DOES APPLE NEED TO REFRESH?

    When Apple schedules a media event, there's a teaser, a phrase or two to convey possible hints and drive speculation as to what's to come. But what does Apple mean by, "It's been way too long"? Too long for what?

    Predictably, especially tech writers who cover Apple, are wondering about the products that haven't been updated in a while, assuming they will be, in part, among the bill of particulars. But you also have to wonder just how many product lines can fit into a single session. After all, this event is scaled down compared to the September extravaganza that included the new iPhones, Apple Watch, and a guest appearance by U2.

    So perhaps Apple doesn't have anything near as critical to the company's bottom line, but still there are products that sorely need a refresh. Yet the most common speculation is about the iPad, which had its last refresh roughly a year ago. So that's pretty much par for the course, though I suppose their might be more changes afoot this time to help boost flagging sales. Or it may be a predictable upgrade with the usual faster processors, maybe better cameras, and surely Touch ID.

    But what about gear introduced as far back as 2012? Are they are on the verge of being discontinued or what? Assuming Apple cares anymore, there's always the cheapest Mac, the Mac mini, which could have been updated before now simply by switching out the processor and maybe adding more solid state storage options. The cost of developing such a modest refresh would not have been all that much, so why didn't Apple bother?

    Is it possible some new form factor is in the offing? Maybe to serve as a dedicated media server of some sort, since that's one of the purposes for which a Mac mini is often bought. But people who want a cheap Mac, or are accustomed to low cost PCs and want a very affordable Mac, would tend to be attracted to this model. Or does it's slim form factor convey the image of something that isn't terribly powerful?

    Along with the Mac mini, what about a revised display lineup? The present Apple Thunderbolt Display dates back to 2011, and some wonder whether there will be 4K models for use with a Mac Pro. Isn't four years a little too long? Sure, maybe display technology hasn't advanced very much, and OLED would be too expensive even if was a potential option. What's Apple's end game here, or are they ceding the market to other companies?

    With new Intel Xeon chips launched last month, the E5 V3 product family, certainly Apple could provide a somewhat speedier Mac Pro, along with improved graphics hardware. Price changes ought to be minimal, though it would be nice to see those solid state drives cost less if possible. After all solid state storage is cheaper. But this young in the game for the current generation Mac Pro, you wouldn't expect much or any change in form factor.

    Since the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina display have already had minor refreshes this year, along with lower prices, and the next generation Intel Broadwell chips are only slowly coming to market, there will probably be no more changes right now. Some are suggesting yet another MacBook Air, with Retina display and a thinner case, but other reports claim production will be limited if it happens.

    The iMac might receive a slight refresh, and some suggest a Retina display is in the offing. But it doesn't seem as if you could outfit a higher resolution display without charging a few hundred dollars extra for the privilege, and that includes beefier graphics chips. So maybe there will be two versions. I also question the value of Retina display on a desktop computer with a 27-inch screen, since you'd be looking at it at a distance where the advantage won't be as visible. But 4K support might mean something for those doing video editing, who aren't prepared to make the jump to the Mac Pro.

    There's one more possibility, a 4K version of the Apple TV. If it's the same form factor as the current model, it would be all about the internal components, and perhaps there will be more solid state storage to contain those larger movies.

    Remember that today's Apple TV also dates back to 2012, the switch from 720p to 1080p support, although the A5 chip had a slight revision the following year with no apparent performance difference. Still, there are ongoing reports that Apple is embroiled in making deals with the entertainment companies and the cable companies. But nobody knows for sure what's really afoot. Even if no deal is forthcoming in the near future, that shouldn't stop Apple from upgrading the hardware and dealing with the software later.

    Is that all there is?

    Well, Apple promised to enter multiple new categories this year. Apple Pay qualifies, but Apple Watch is a question mark since the actual product won't ship until early in 2015. So I suppose there could be something else. But the expected agenda is already pretty crowded for a low-key event, assuming all the stuff I've mentioned is on the schedule.

    As with the last media presentation, there will be a live stream. I only hope it works properly this time.

    THE EVER-CHANGING PRICES OF YOUR CABLE OR TELEPHONE COMPANY

    There's always plenty of price competition among cable and satellite providers. But it often seems as if those super cheap prices are temporary, giving you three months to a full year of discounts before you pay the regular price. As the entertainment companies exact more money for content from the cable/satellite companies, the total price keeps increasing unless you are real careful about limiting the channels you want.

    Even then, you can't always be sure that the price you pay on the first month will be the same the next month or the month after that even when a discount plan is in effect.

    If you're still suffering from the side effects of the last economic slowdown, as I am, you no doubt want to keep your monthly cable bill as low as possible. Yes, I tried using an antenna, but I'm a little too far from the nearest large city, Phoenix, for reliable TV reception. Sometimes it's worth just moving to another provider, if you can get one, once the initial discount deal has expired. Either way, you'll confront the fog of ever-changing price plans.

    If you call the cable company's billing department, and dost protest enough, you will find yourself talking to a customer retention rep who might find hidden discounts for which you can take advantage. It costs hundreds of dollars to attract and sign up a customer, so it's cheaper to give you a price break than to lose your business and attempt to find someone else. It's not so easy anymore what with more and more people trying to make do with a regular TV antenna for local stations, and such streaming services as Netflix for the rest.

    Sometimes, you find prices mysteriously increase without rhyme or reason, and you will find yourself confronting the same situation as I do. Every few months, I am fighting DirecTV once again to explain why the bill has suddenly increased without explanation. Just this past month, after paying last month's bill in full, I found a mythical remaining balance added to the total. I've received several incoherent answers as to why and had to fight tooth and nail to correct the balance. There's always a reason, more so if you have the low-end plan that doesn't give them a whole lot in the way of profits.

    You will want also to check the packages offered by the competition real carefully. They don't necessarily offer the same channels in the same service tiers, and if you want HD, you may find that some of the stations you want will only be standard definition on someone else's plan, so you may pay less money or inferior service.

    You may find even more complex situations with your wireless carrier. While the "uncarrier," T-Mobile, tries to keep it relatively simple, efforts by their competition in the U.S. to keep their share of the pie have made the confusing totally incomprehensible. With T-Mobile, you buy a service package, and you pay for your wireless handset separately, often on some kind of interest-free extended pay plan.

    Other wireless companies have jumped into time-payment schemes, but the plans are never as simple. AT&T's "Next" is typical of the breed. You will pay for your handset over a period from 12 to 24 months, and you get early upgrade opportunities. But you still have to pay a basic fee for a shared mobile plan, which includes unlimited voice and text and a fixed amount of data. There is a second fee added to each line on your account, though the reason doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. After all, you are already paying for the service, and you might already be paying a separate fee for the handset. So what's the point?

    AT&T couldn't explain when I asked them, but I've managed to reduce the price substantially at least twice in the past year by taking advantage of revised plans, or just complaining that the price was too high. When you're on a tight budget, you want to fight over every penny and get the best deal you can.

    Now the wireless carriers don't have so easy a job as they used to keeping you a prisoner to their service. They had the early termination fee ax to hold over you, but since such companies as T-Mobile will pay all or most of those fees to get your business, you have the power to negotiate for a more favorable deal.

    With wireless phone service, though, just switching isn't a casual thing, even if you do get a great deal. You may be living in an area where a chosen carrier doesn't offer satisfactory coverage. Imagine the plight in many rural areas with T-Mobile, though the situation is getting better as they expand LTE offerings.

    So if you decide to make the leap, you want to make sure that your fancy new smartphone will get decent reception in and around your home or office, and throughout the areas that you visit most often. At least there are money back guarantees in case you make the wrong selection. Unfortunately coverage maps are usually incomplete, and may not list known dead zones, so it doesn't hurt to ask your friends.

    Yes, prices are posted online, but often with so many terms and conditions and hidden charges and variables that you can't just window shop at the site and sign up for the package that best suits your needs and budget. I've also learned over the years that a former customer who wants to return may suddenly be offered a better package that isn't offered anywhere.

    You might hope such agencies as the FCC and FTC might mandate clearer, more consistent price policies. But the FCC these days is overwhelmed by the net neutrality controversy, among other things, so matters of consistent costs with clear terms and conditions just aren't on their radar.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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