A Few Things About Apple — Real or Imagined

September 20th, 2017

As promised, Apple released three of its four operating systems on Tuesday. macOS High Sierra will arrive on Monday, September 25th, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Both tvOS 11, for the fourth-generation Apple TV, and watchOS 4, for the Apple Watch, have minor improvements. The world won’t change, although loyal users of both devices will appreciate the fact that Apple’s developers labor away at making them better and better.

Then there’s iOS 11, which is a major update for the iPhone, and most especially for the iPad. Up till now, the iPad’s status as a productivity tool has been questionable. Yes, you can get pretty decent mobile versions of Microsoft Office; Apple’s iWork and other apps do a creditable job of moving the tablet away from being strictly a consumption device.

Beginning with iOS 10, Apple began to chip away at the iPad’s productivity limits, a potential replacement for a notebook computer. With such things as split-screen multitasking, it became more useful.

iOS 11 takes things along another few steps, adding a Dock reminiscent of the one on the Mac, with more robust capabilities to manage multiple apps at the same time. You can drag and drop content, same as on a Mac, and there’s also a Files app that gives you direct access to your documents that includes support for several cloud services, such as iCloud and Dropbox.

So it seems that, in order to allow the iPad to act more like a traditional personal computer, Apple looked to the Mac platform for ideas to adapt. I except that’s going to continue at a time when some folks have complained about the macOS taking on more of the characteristics of iOS.

So maybe there’s a middle ground.

That said, iOS 11 is humming away on all my iOS gear; well, except for Barbara’s iPhone 5c, which can’t run it. But she uses it just for phone calls, so it’s no big deal.

Now about macOS High Sierra: It will be released on September 25th with a key feature missing for some users. You won’t be able to convert to the fancy new Apple File System (APFS) on Fusion drives, at least for the initial release. It’s mostly intended for pure SSDs, but Fusion drives were converted for early beta testers, who now have to roll back their drives to HFS+ via some terminal commands, a backup and a reformat. If you didn’t convert, feel lucky.

At some point in the future, Apple will probably add APFS support to Fusion drives, but you should be able to convert or format a regular hard drive without any issues. One of my backup drives has been using it for a while without incident.

So that’s the reasonable and logical portion of this column.

Now it’s time to look at some more Apple fear-mongering, the threat that our favorite fruit company is going lose its status as something or other one more time.

So a certain analyst for no less than UBS, one Steve Milunovich, claims that the Apple Watch with LTE is somehow destined to dump the iPhone from its vaunted status as “the most important device in our digital lives.”

Just like that. As more Apple Watches are sold, fewer people will rely on the iPhone as a hub machine. As the Apple Watch becomes more capable of working independently, you won’t need a smartphone with which to tether it.

Take a deep breath. It only gets worse.

So the contention here is that fewer people will need smartphones as they buy more fancy smartwatches and other connected gear that may not have even been invented yet. But what if that gear were built by Apple?

Consider this: At one time, the iPod was a huge success with Apple selling tens of millions of them each year. The iPhone arrived, which incorporated the functions of an iPod and other gear, and the iPod began its long, slow descent into obscurity. As of now, the only iPod still in Apple’s inventory is the iPod touch, essentially an iPhone without the phone.

So unlike foolish industry analysts who haven’t a clue about what Apple is doing and why, the company will continue to build and market a product until it’s no longer viable. Then they will move along to the next great thing, whatever it is.

It’s fair to say that no gadget lasts forever. The Mac has had a terrific run, and it has years of useful life left, but there will come a time where other gear will replace it in one way or another. Smartphones could be replaced with contact lenses, I suppose, brain implants and all sorts of other gadgets. Maybe it is true that the Apple Watch will replace the iPhone, and provide a fixed holographic image in place of a large physical display, one that you could manipulate in real time with your fingers. Call it an advanced virtual reality system.

There are lots of amazing ideas that sci-fi writers have envisioned. Consider the products inspired by Star Trek, including the iPad (well perhaps “2001: A Space Odyssey” helped), flip-phones and talking computers. Some scientists are even working on concepts that may result in spaceships using warp drive and matter transportation devices.

Scotty, beam me up!

I have little doubt that there are designers and developers working on what Apple might build five or ten years from now. It is, after all, a forward-looking company. As most of you know, Apple has never been shy about cannibalizing its own gear, meaning that if something amazing is invented, they should be the inventors. If that amazing thing takes sales away from existing products, so be it.

Unfortunately, some alleged industry analysts don’t understand that nothing is forever, even them.

And that’s the way it is.

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