While Mac OS X Lion seems to be settling down when it comes to lingering bugs and performance issues, following release of the 10.7.2 update, Apple’s latest attempt at building a set of online services, iCloud, is still highly ragged at the edges.
In recent days, I’ve outlined my problems and concerns, and I can only hope Apple will fix the most serious bugs and, even better, allow you to merge your disparate Apple IDs over the next few months. It really ought to happen before iCloud’s predecessor, MobileMe, goes away next summer. You listening, Tim Cook?
Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented prolific author Joe Kissell, author of “Take Control of Upgrading to Lion” and “Take Control of iCloud,” who offered hints and tips for upgrading to Apple’s newest OS, and migrating your stuff to iCloud.
Columnist Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, reviewed the iPhone 4s, and offered an on-air demonstration of the Siri personal assistant. In order to flesh out this interview, I asked Jim, without warning mind you, to stage that demonstration, so you could actually hear the telltale “beep” and Siri’s computerized response. Yes, the voice, that of a female, comes across as decidedly non-human. It’s nothing like the famous voice of the onboard computers on the various “Star Trek” movies and TV shows, which, by the way, was performed by the late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, keeper of the “Trek” flame as it were.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present noted Brazilian UFO expert A.J. Gevaerd, editor of the Brazilian UFO Magazine. He’ll be focusing on the ongoing disclosure of UFO documents by the Brazilian government and the key cases he’s investigated.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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.
Although Wall Street freaked over the fact that Apple sold fewer iPhones in the last quarter than their inflated expectations, few predicted the level of success of the Mac in that quarter. Some 4.89 million were sold, amounting to a 26 percent increase over the same quarter in 2010.
Sure, that increase was not much higher than the increase in the number of iPhones sold. But what’s more significant is that Apple is moving more Macs in a single quarter nowadays than they could sell in an entire year not so many years ago. This is a pretty significant development, considering that PC sales, for most manufacturers, are relatively flat.
Also please take a look at Microsoft’s financials for the last quarter, where earnings for the Windows division were up a mere two percent during the same period in 2010. Sales of new PCs were up roughly 3.2 percent to 3.6 according to estimates. Quarter after quarter, Apple is reporting that the growth of Mac sales are far exceeding the rate reported by most PC makers.
I suppose the numbers make sense. Part of the ongoing migration is no doubt due to the fact that Macs just work better. But it’s also true that more and more people are eschewing PCs and going to tablets, with Apple the major beneficiary. Even Apple admits that Mac sales might have been higher if not for cannibalization from the iPad, but the PC universe is losing out more.
You can see this trend continuing. Year after year, Apple has announced that roughly half of the people buying Macs at an Apple Store are new to the platform. Now I’ve wondered how these figures are derived, and assume there’s some level of surveying at the point of purchase, or when the Macs are registered. I’ll assume they are accurate for the sake of argument.
Some attribute this phenomenon to the so-called “halo effect,” where people who buy an iPhone, iPad, and even an iPod, come to appreciate the relatively smooth integration among all Apple products. So next time they need a personal computer, they choose Mac. Apple recently made the migration process easier by adding a PC transfer feature in the Lion Migration Assistant. This is something that used to be the province of third parties, although the folks at an Apple Store Genius Bar will offer to perform the task for you.
I realize that no migration system of that sort can possibly be perfect. A Windows power user, who reorganizes the locations of their stuff, or who has data from apps for which there is no Mac equivalent, will have some manual labor to perform. But most PC users can pretty much go through the process without encountering any serious issues. It involves installing a Windows Migration Assistant, connecting the two computers, and, with the Lion Migration Assistant, checking a few boxes, and letting the process proceed.
According to Apple, here’s what’s supported: “Lion automatically transfers your home directory folders (music, pictures, desktop, documents, and downloads), browser bookmarks, and user settings, including localization, locale, and customized desktop picture. Lion also transfers your contacts, calendars, and email accounts (Outlook and Windows Live Mail) and puts them in the appropriate applications.”
And, by the way, Apple has long posted advice on the PC migration process on their site, to ease the process even before there was a built-in OS feature perform the transfer.
Granted there are apt to be glitches along the way, and there is going to be a learning curve as the PC user explores the differences between the two operating systems. Some PC users may, in the end, still prefer the Microsoft Way and will thus return to their old computers. Indeed, during the 1990s, when Apple was on the ropes, that’s precisely what happened, as Mac market share tanked, and more and more application developers abandoned the platform.
These days, many ads for computer products and services will mention “PC and Mac,” with the exception of just one key category, and that’s malware protection. You no doubt hear those frequent radio and TV ads for PC fixer-upper products, promising to speed up your computer, rid your PC of malware, spyware, and all the rest of those standard Windows-based irritants. If you check the product specs, there are strictly for Windows users, although the ads generally don’t mention which platforms they support.
Sure, there have been outbreaks of Mac malware from time to time. Some suggest the “obscurity” of the platform makes Macs safer, that the situation will quickly change for the worse as sales and market shares improve. That hasn’t quite happened, although businesses will often still install security software on their Mac systems.
What makes the continued growth of the Mac most intriguing is the fact that Apple doesn’t really invest very much in advertising Macs these days. I’ve seen a rare ad for a MacBook Air, but can’t remember where or when, and this week’s MacBook Pro refresh didn’t even merit a press release. But you sure know about that nifty Siri digital assistant in the iPhone 4s, because Apple is spending a bundle on TV ads to show you how great it really is.
As I’ve said in the past, there will come a time where Mac and PC sales will both fall, as more and more customers rely on mobile computing devices. Some of you might suggest that overall computer sales will improve as the economy grows faster, but I’m not sure about that. I think the die is cast, but for now, Mac sales look to continue to outpace the PC industry. Folks who stood by the Mac for years, as I’ve done, should feel vindicated that they made the right choice.
When the CD first appeared in the 1980s, the promoters of the new digital recording format boasted of “perfect sound forever.” But that didn’t mean you’d suddenly be able to hear an exact replica of the original performance in your living room, or other chosen listening area. What it meant is that the recording wouldn’t deteriorate, unlike an LP record that can exhibit audible wear after just a few listenings.
In practice, CDs do sometimes deteriorate and become unplayable. But the real problem was that, in transferring the sound from the master tape, something can get lost in the translation. In the old days, when engineers made a vinyl recording, they had to fiddle with the EQ, alter the sonic balance, so it sounded better within the limits of the playback format. If you took that same master and made a CD from it, a medium that didn’t audibly alter the original recording, it would be unlistenable.
But the real problem is that you still would only hear an approximation of the original performance (be it a studio performance, or a live one) in your home. Sound reproduction equipment, regardless of cost, was simply unable to perfectly reproduce the real thing, even if the original only existed as a studio-based product.
Some suggest that old fashioned tube amplifiers have a greater ability to deliver a presentation that’s closer to real music. Others suggest tubes are simply applying their own form of EQ. The end result may be pleasing, but not necessarily accurate. But the larger problem is the loudspeakers, and their interaction with your listening environment. And remember that, if you attend a live musical event, you’re not just listening to direct sound but reflected sound too.
Some speaker makers have devised clever ways to deliver what they believe to be the correct sonic balance. First invented in the 1960s, the Bose 901 was originally designed by an MIT-educated electrical engineer, Dr. Amar Bose, to deliver what he felt to be a true simulation of a live performance on your home. The 901, still available after being updated over the years, uses an EQ box to optimize the system for your listening area. But don’t forget that Bose products are also disdained by some diehard audiophiles, who claim the company charges more for inferior gear.
Other speaker systems offer to provide the proper direct and reflected balance in a dipole configuration. Instead of sealing the rear of the speakers, they are left open to allow the sound to bounce off the real wall. Of course, you have to place the speakers carefully for optimum reproduction.
Years ago, I bought a set of speakers that provided this dipole effect, a Carver Amazing Platinum system, consisting of a pair of tall, thin speakers that employed a ribbon for most of the audible range from upper bass to highs, and several subwoofers to handle the bottom of the recorded spectrum. They sounded best with a powerful amplifier or receiver, and the result was simply glorious.
At the same time, many prefer the sound to emanate, as much as possible, direct from the speakers with as few external reflections as possible, relying on any room or auditorium ambiance, real or simulated, to be part of the actual recording.
Now I have long since downsized my possessions. As with many of you, I’ve chosen convenience and price over ultimate quality. About six or seven years ago, I purchased a Bose 3-2-1 GS system, which includes two speakers, a subwoofer, and a control module with an upconverting DVD player (one that converts regular DVDs to simulate high definition). Bose designed this system to allow two speakers to mimic the effects of five, by simulating the effects of surround sound using a technology they call TrueSpace.
I have the system connected to my TV set, and, with the appropriate Blu-ray DVDs, especially action movies with loud special effects, you do actually sense sounds coming from the sides and rear. It’s not quite the same as having those extra speakers in the back of your listening room, but it presents a more user-friendly installation scenario for apartments and smaller homes.
Most of my music listening, however, is done on my iMac, using another Bose system that simulates surround sound, the Companion 5.
But a larger and larger number of people probably listen to music through via earbuds courtesy of their iPod, iPhone or iPad, or similar devices. With decent earphones, the audio quality is actually quite pleasing, but you lose the impact of room reflections, that final frontier of delivering a close simulation of a real music performance.
Now when it comes to faking surround sound, legendary audio engineer Bob Carver was doing that in the 1970s, when he invented Sonic Holography. Nowadays, a number of audio equipment manufacturers have developed similar schemes to emulate the effect or having extra speakers with varying degrees of success.
As to Carver, he’s still at the audio game. His original company, Phase Linear, is long gone, as is a successor company, Carver Corporation. In 2005, Bob sold his interest in a third company he founded, Sunfire, which specialized in higher cost audio systems for music or home theater setups. These days, Bob is building expensive tube amplifiers for his newest company, one that, again, bears his name.
Now I’ve known Bob, off an on, for a number of years, and speaking with him on the phone is always an education. So I’ve asked him to join me on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, on October 29th, to talk about his history in the audio business, and whether we’ve somehow lost our way in the quest to discover perfect sound forever.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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