• Newsletter Issue #577

    December 20th, 2010


    So, gentle reader, where do you suppose the Mac OS is going? As I’ve written from time to time in the past, the fundamentals of Mac OS X in 2010 are little different than they were in 1984. The same basic file, folder and menu structure remains similar enough not to confuse someone making the direct trip from then to now, or recovering from an extended sleep.

    The question is whether there is a better way to operate a personal computer. Certainly the iOS, and its growing roster of imitators, are surely simpler, if less encompassing when it comes to the things you can actually do. With Mac OS X Lion, Apple is evidently attempting to migrate a few iOS features, or at least relatively flashy ones. But the real question is whether that’s all window dressing or Apple has something more elaborate in the offing, and I’ll discuss that in more detail in the next article.

    In any case, on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we brought on author Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, who discussed the state of the Mac OS, and just how things might change in the future. The possibilities of cloud-based computing were also explored.

    Columnists Jim Dalrymple and Peter Cohen, from The Loop, had a spirited discussion that expanded upon the state of the Mac OS, and where things are going in the personal computing universe in the next few years.

    All in all, this is the sort of discussion that is a whole lot more fascinating than the usual laundry list of best and worst of products and technologies.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, co-hosts Christopher O’Brien and Nicholas Redfern join Gene to discuss Nick’s provocative new book, “The NASA Conspiracies: The Truth Behind the Moon Landings, Censored Photos , and The Face on Mars.” Explore all the strange theories that surround our attempts to explore outer space.

    Coming December 26: Co-hosts Christopher O’Brien and Greg Bishop join Gene to conduct a special “In Search of the Men in Black” roundtable. Are the MIB real government agents, jokesters, psychic beings, or alien visitors? Along for the ride are Tim “Mr. UFO” Beckley, Claudia Cunningham, and T. Allen Greenfield.

    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 selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    Sometimes you get so busy figuring out what a company has done, you may miss telltale signs of where they are going. Of course, with many of the tech companies, management is often more concerned about how many boxes they’ll sell in the next quarter, rather than a long-term product strategy.

    One area where Apple seems quite different from the competition is that there is a master plan. You may not know what the plan is, and sometimes there are forks in the road, such as the iPhone, which Steve Jobs claims was an outgrowth of the iPad project. Only the iPhone arrived nearly three years earlier.

    What that goes to show is that Apple’s game plan isn’t written in stone. There will be changes, dictated by new ideas that arise perhaps from an existing project, or perhaps customer responses and requests.

    I realize some of you believe that Apple doesn’t care about customers, but it is those customers who made a once-dying company the number one tech firm on the planet. If they don’t buy, Apple listens, yet Apple in the twilight of 2010 is a powerful juggernaut that is fully capable of transforming an industry with unexpected product initiatives, or unique features.

    Apple’s direction for 2011 seems clear-cut at first glance, however. Early on, you will see a version of the iPhone for Verizon Wireless. Some of the fine details aren’t certain, of course. Will Apple hit the ground running with the new LTE, or 4G, technology, perhaps offering support for Verizon’s CDMA as a bridge until the new network is more fully deployed?

    In the past, Apple hasn’t been so quick to jump on new technologies just because they are new. The original iPhone didn’t even support AT&T’s then-fledgling 3G network. Even now, many suggest that AT&T still barely competes when it comes to call quality and freedom from dropped connections, despite spending billions of dollars to expand capacity and reliability.

    Regardless, in most major cities in the U.S., Verizon has a superior rating, so there will no doubt be some AT&T customers who will jump ship when their contracts expire, unless they are willing to endure those early termination penalties. At the same time, existing Verizon customers, who may already be cooling to Android OS gear, might jump at the chance to get a real iPhone, rather than a pretender.

    But the larger event in 2011 is apt to be the arrival of the so-called iPad 2.0, successor to Apple’s breakout tablet computer. As other companies struggle to build something, anything, to compete, the top guesses or next year’s model include a somewhat slimmer, lighter form factor and, at the very least, a front-facing camera. With Apple hoping to spread the FaceTime joy, that seems almost a given. Not so certain is a rear-facing camera. An iPad, after all, would be a clumsy gadget for routine photography and movie-making. That, of course, doesn’t stop competitors from building features that aren’t practical, simply because Apple doesn’t have them. That may be one justification for those 7-inch tablets, which don’t really do justice for such a product.

    One expects there will be new MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and iMacs. Maybe an upgraded Mac Pro will find its way into the product lineup when all-new Intel chips are at hand. Some of the note-books may even follow the MacBook Air and lose the optical drive. But I expect they will, at least, be optional for quite a while.

    The really fascinating Apple story may be Lion. Will the king of operating systems justify its name, or simply offer dessert rather than steak? Yes, there may be another 200 or 300 flashy features to justify asking a full upgrade price. You have already seen the few that are derived from the iOS, but will Apple want to change the ballgame and change the system in ways that’ll bring it into the 21st century in a huge way.

    As I’ve said on a number of occasions, the fundamentals of the Mac OS are relatively unchanged. There have been many variations on the theme, but file management confusion persists. Can Apple help you navigate the sometimes confusing file system more easily?

    That doesn’t necessarily mean a more feature-laden Finder that incorporates some of the sizzle of third-party offerings. Instead, it may require a rethinking of how you manage and interact with your stuff. A file browser with an iTunes-style interface is one possibility, but I rather think the wizards in Apple’s software engineering division can truly amaze us in ways that aren’t yet predictable.

    Can Lion become the game changer that heralds another 25 years of Apple OS greatness? Or will it be ust more flash, with just a tiny bit of substance to satisfy those who want more? That’s the question that won’t be answered until Apple begins to flesh out Lion’s significant features.

    There is always the unknown, another major product initiative. But I rather expect Apple may simply look at the latest Apple TV and attempt to devise ways to remove it from hobby status.


    It’s fair to say that Steve Jobs has never sat down for an interview where he didn’t control the agenda, or at least it seems that way. Even when he appears before the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, at an AllThingsDigital event, you are usually led to believe that Jobs wrote the questions, and is happy delivering the strategically crafted responses for which he is totally prepared.

    That may be an oversimplification. At least Mossberg tries to ask a question that takes you past the basics, and he even attempts follow ups. That in itself is a rarity in what usually passes for tech reporting these days. More often than not, a company’s talking points control the agenda.

    I know when I try to set up an interview with a company executive, those who lead larger firms will have their assistants ask for the list of questions. While I will summarize areas I might cover, I never give that list. I want to allow the response to frame the next question. Sometimes a discussion moves in a totally different direction, simply because the natural flow of conversation takes it there.

    When I interview a fellow journalist, of course, this is seldom a problem, because the best of the breed are quite capable of taking whatever I toss at them in stride.

    Apple’s technique is simply to say nothing. Or respond with a “no comment” or terse answer that seldom strays from a narrow range. Whenever I interview Apple product people, I can see that they are well trained to repeat the company line and little else. They don’t go off message.

    On a few occasions, I’ve actually cornered Steve Jobs at an Apple event and attempted to ask him something. His usual technique to escape responsibility is to mutter a terse response, as he walks away as rapidly as he can. Chasing him would be impolite, although some might suggest I should be more aggressive. However, that behavior would simply cause a corporate communications person to run interference. There’s always one handy.

    And you can’t always take a Jobs response as factual. When he delivered one of his famous one word answers to a customer’s email question about whether there would be a Mac App Store some months back, he said, “Nope,” while knowing full well it was already in the final development stages.

    I would, however, like to see some of the more loquacious CEOs nailed down. Take the often incoherent rantings from Steve Ballmer. He’ll make an outrageous statement that smacks of sales talk, such as the one where the iPhone couldn’t possibly succeed. But when has an interviewer taken him below the surface, to see if there’s anything there past the pompous bluster? I think not, and certainly Ballmer wouldn’t agree to any interview where he didn’t get a chance to tell his side of the story on his terms, however absurd it might seem on further review.

    Some executives strike you as little more than empty suits. Consider one of the dual CEOs from RIM who failed utterly to express a sensible vision for his company during a recent interview. You wonder how people like that rise to the top, but maybe the phrase “do no harm” is sometimes sufficient to cement one’s position as a corporate chief executive. That is, until sales take a dive, in which case an identical replacement will usually be waiting in the wings.


    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
    Business Development: Gil James Bavel
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #577”

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