THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
I’ve been using Apple Music since the June 30 debut. For the most part, it works all right I suppose, though I have to tell you that I have had only a passing acquaintance with Spotify, the main rival. It’s perfectly logical to want access to millions of songs, even if you don’t need more than a few thousand. Choices, choices.
Except that it doesn’t exactly work that way. Even with Apple Music, there may be some acts who haven’t authorized streaming, such as the Beatles. It’s not the deal breaker for me, since I have the full Beatles collection, or at least most of the standard commercial releases and not the alternates, outtakes, BBC performances and such. So I don’t feel I’m hurting because Apple has yet to make a deal to bring the library to the new streaming service.
There are glitches. Some of you report problems with corrupted iTunes music libraries. There is also confusion about having DRM attached to the songs you already own. It appears that problem is caused by deleting your own copies and using the iCloud Music Library to download replacement tracks. In that event, with Apple Music activated, you’ll get copies of the songs that will stop playing if the account is cancelled, or you attempt to use an unauthorized device. That’s the sort of confusion that could be prevented if there were proper upfront warnings to new subscribers. As it is, you choose whether you want the single user or multiple user account, and click or tap a few setup circles listing musical genres and artists you prefer.
For me, Apple Music still doesn’t grok my musical tastes. So long as Tom Jones and Barry Manilow are listed, the service’s algorithms still don’t get it. Yes, I’ve selected the option in Music for iOS (sadly not available in iTunes for Mac or PC) that’s labeled, “I Don’t Like This Selection.” Perhaps it’s about allowing Frank Sinatra and Roy Orbison, and the system doesn’t see the distinction.
In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured tech commentator Peter Cohen, Mac Managing Editor for iMore, who gave a reality check about published reports by a market research firm that Apple Watch sales have tanked. Can they be believed? He also talked about the 2015 iPod refresh, and the future of the product. Also on the agenda were the growing pains of Apple Music, reports of problems with iTunes 12.2, and whether the app should be terminated with extreme prejudice and replaced with something different. And what about the next Apple TV?
We also presented columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy” and one of our regulars, to talk about all those reported iTunes problems, particularly corrupted libraries after Apple Music is set up. Is there a way to fix the problem, or must we wait for Apple’s solution? Should Apple finally overhaul the app to make it easier to use? Kirk also discussed the iPod refresh and what it all means, since the iPod is mostly considered to be yesterday’s news.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Paracast favorites Greg Bishop and Walter Bosley are our special guests. Our conversations on the July 12 episode with Marie Jones whetted our appetite for more mind games and conspiracy talk, so who better to dig into the subject than Greg and Walter? Greg Bishop was the publisher of the Excluded Middle magazine and the compilation book, Wake Up Down There; Project Beta, was co-author of Weird California and is the longtime host of Radio Mysterioso. Walter Bosley is a former AFOSI agent and a former FBI counterintelligence specialist. He’s author of the intriguing books, Empire of the Wheel: Espionage, The Occult and Murder in Southern California; and his recent books, Latitude 33: Key to the Kingdom and the just-released The Lost Expedition of Sir Richard Francis Burton. Greg and Walter offer a wealth of knowledge concerning conspiracy, mind-control, secret government tech, and much more! There’s so much here that this discussion will extend to After The Paracast.
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.
ANOTHER REPORT ABOUT THE HIT BAIT GENERATION
You probably recognize the tune. One big way for a site to attract traffic is to include Apple Inc. in the title, even if the article makes only a passing reference to the company. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from an individual blogger or a multinational publishing conglomerate. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t matter if the story is true, half-true or totally false. Just say “Apple-yadda-yadda” and people will pay attention, or at least that’s what they must believe.
That explains why alleged Apple scandals still get coverage even after they are over and done with or were not what they were claimed to be. I mean, do you still want to hear about AntennaGate?
I can give lots of examples, but one immediately comes to mind. The other day, in one of my forums, someone posted a link to last year’s BBC documentary that attacked Apple’s treatment of factory workers in its Asian supply chain. This is old news. The New York Times ran a hit piece about it a few years ago, but the claim is similar. Workers who build Apple’s gadgets are getting slave wages, and working long hours in substandard factories. The number of suicides is, as a result, extremely high.
It doesn’t matter that other tech firms use the same factories, run by Foxconn and other companies, as Apple. If this charge is to stick, even before you look at the facts, it must apply to Dell, HP, and scores of other firms who have opted to build gear overseas to save on manufacturing costs.
Unlike most of the other companies, however, Apple has owned up to the problem and claims to have made huge strides towards improving worker conditions. Salaries have increased by several times, and it appears more and more of these employees are getting something close to a living wage without having to work seven days each week. Apple continues to post updated reports on worker conditions at its site. The current claim is 92% compliance for the 60-hour workweek standard.
To be sure, as wages increase in Asia, it may become more sensible to return production to the U.S. That’s already being done with the Mac Pro, which is assembled in Austin. Foxconn does have factories in this country, but I wouldn’t know how much it would cost to duplicate the facilities Apple uses to build other products. The sheer cost of shipping, particularly in the early days where planeloads of gear travel around the world, may one day make it possible for Apple to set up assembly plants closer to where customers are located.
This would be similar to what car makers around the world are doing now. So if you buy a Honda or Toyota in the U.S., and even a Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and other brands, there’s a high probability it’s built in this country. My Kia is assembled in Georgia using mostly American parts.
Yet another example of Apple fear-mongering is the Apple Watch. Estimates of sales are all over the place, and some media pundits are giving high credibility to a report from a fairly new market research company, Slice Intelligence, that sales of the new gadget tanked in June and July.
That may well be true, but you couldn’t tell from this survey that uses 2.5 million opt-in participants, and claims to measure online sales in the U.S. Do those participants accurately represent the average buyer of tech gear online? Not if it’s a random number of people who decided to surrender their purchase information to a third party. The fact that Apple Watch sales also moved to Apple Stores in June — and Apple caught up with demand — would clearly influence numbers restricted to online purchasing.
Besides, how many people bought an Apple Watch in the other countries in which it is available? Apple gear is highly prized in China, for example, and that country is delivering a larger share of Apple sales every quarter. How did that impact sales?
Of course, Apple can answer all these questions and concerns during this week’s conference call about the company’s performance in the last financial quarter. As with the iPod, Apple Watch sales are hidden in an “Other” category, but if that category reveals a sharp increase in revenue, it may indeed be due to the Apple Watch. From there, financial analysts might be able to get some clues as to what’s actually going on.
But that only assumes Apple won’t say anything, and that might only happen if sales aren’t really that high. Still, even the low estimates from third parties are higher than the original first quarter sales of the iPhone and the iPad. So things have to be put in perspective. Not every Apple gadget is going to have blockbuster sales out of the starting gate, and the Apple Watch is evidently doing better than all the competition — combined — if all the sales estimates, good or bad, or considered.
As I’ve said before on my radio shows and in these columns, I’m probably not part of the target audience for an Apple Watch. I do not feel that I’m suffering when I look at my $12.99 Walmart watch, which has a silver stainless steel case and a silver bracelet fashioned with an unknown metallic material. It continues to keep time within a second or two of my iMac.
What the critics cannot deny, however, is that Mac sales continue to grow at an unexpectedly high rate, in a market where PC sales continue to fall. It’s not even certain that, after all the hype, people will rush to buy new PCs with Windows 10. After all, Microsoft is giving away free upgrades for customers using Windows 7 and Windows 8, although business users, under multiple user licenses, will simply receive Windows 10 as part of their subscriptions.
The real test of Windows 10 is the business world, and it’s a huge question whether or not it will present a compelling alternative to Windows 7 for system admins. Yes, it’s supposedly a leaner, meaner and faster OS, and the new Edge browser may indeed be snappier, safer and more stable than Internet Explorer. But it will take months of testing before any number of companies would consider deploying the update. Meantime, there’s no compelling reason for people to buy new PCs unless they have old computers that wouldn’t do right by Windows 10. And they want it, of course.
At least I haven’t seen very much fear mongering about potential threats to Apple from the next Samsung gadget. The South Korean conglomerate’s smartwatches are selling in the hundreds of thousands, which isn’t so impressive. Sales of the latest Galaxy smartphones are not setting records, despite all the ads and cost-saving discounts being promoted by carriers.
Apple is, these days, earning 92% of the industry’s smartphone profits, despite having less than 20% of total sales. The rest goes to Samsung for the most part. Other mobile handset makers appear to be lucky to just break even, and it’s not that the latest gear from HTC, LG and Motorola are setting the world afire. Microsoft is busy extricating itself from the Nokia handset division acquisition mess that will clearly never pay off.
It also seems that Apple and Samsung are cooperating more and more on supplies for iPhones and iPads, not to mention the newest iPod touch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the last legal skirmish between the two is resolved before long, and they decide it’s more productive to make lots of money together where they can.
In the meantime, the Apple fear merchants will continue to make up stories, or distort facts, in order to explain why they feel the company will fail soon, or in the near future, or sometime.
THE FINAL WORD
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