• Newsletter Issue #639

    February 27th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    The discussion this week in some parts pitted Apple’s Mountain Lion against Microsoft’s Windows 8. On the surface, they seem similar, efforts to infuse desktop computing platforms with elements from mobile platforms. But that’s where the similarities end. OS X and the iOS are still very different animals, although the former is inheriting more and more apps and features from the latter. There’s little indication that they will be merged now or ever, since you interact with them differently.

    Microsoft, however, remains tone-deaf. They’ve added more and more gestures to Windows 8, and took a failed user interface off the shelf, Metro, as the face of the upgrade. Microsoft seems not to comprehend that the public already said no to Metro on the Zune and Windows Phone smartphones, so why would they suddenly embrace it on a PC? There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but I regard Metro as a poor design. It’s not just the arrangement of onscreen tiles, which aren’t bad, but putting thin white lettering on dark backgrounds is not a good idea. Unless you look closely, some of the labels on those tiles are hard to read. But, as I said, there’s no accounting for taste.

    Anyway, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we continued our extensive coverage of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple’s successor to Lion. Apple plans to release Mountain Lion to Mac users by late summer, but many journalists already have prerelease copies, so there was lots to talk about.

    Along to talk about the ins and outs of the new OS were: Jim Dalrymple, Founder, Editor in Chief of The Loop, commentator Kirk McElhearn, and Seán Captain, Managing Editor of TechNewsDaily.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present renowned paranormal investigator Dr. Barry Taff, who has spent decades investigating thousands of cases of paranormal phenomena, has consulted with the U.S. government, business, and law enforcement, and has written such books as “Aliens Above, Ghosts Below: Explorations of the Unknown.”

    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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.

    CREATING BAD PRODUCTS

    Sometimes the best laid plans result in failure. Despite pumping hundreds of millions into an action movie, it gets horrible ratings from both reviewers and the public and tanks at the box office. Retail products that seem to offer loads of innovation simply don’t survive for one reason or another.

    Let’s not forget that the first Macintosh wasn’t a very good seller. It was regarded, at the time, as too expensive, with no way to upgrade or add expansion cards. Steve Jobs may have been ultimately correct in wanting to turn the personal computer into a user friendly appliance, but the 1984 Mac was just a little ahead of its time.

    Despite all the obstacles, Apple held on even after Jobs was forced out. He returned a far more savvy businessperson, recruited or promoted a staff of brilliant designers, engineers and marketing people, and the rest is history. But that doesn’t mean Apple didn’t release some failed products during the second Jobs era.

    A notable example is the Power Macintosh G4 Cube. It looked great. I wrote at the time that its amazing design meant that it deserved to be put in a museum. But I was just repeating a bit of dialog from the action flick, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

    Unfortunately, Apple designed the Cube for the wrong market. Underpowered with limited expansion options, it was pitted against a traditional Power Macintosh minitower in terms of price. The Cube came off second best, and even a deep price reduction couldn’t save it. Despite Jobs’ protestations during the media event to launch Mac OS X that the Cube would stick around, a few weeks later he had to admit the inevitable.

    I like to think that if the Cube came to market for the same price as an iMac, it might have been a decent success. You didn’t expect the iMac to have top-drawer performance, at least then. How things have changed.

    Fortunately, Apple had a compelling bench of successful products to build on, so the end of the Cube wasn’t fatal. The company went on to create the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Any of these could have been abject failures if Apple didn’t get the ingredients just right. They also arrived with what appeared to be long-range marketing plans. Improvements were carefully timed, and the public couldn’t stay away.

    But if the iPhone had bombed in the marketplace, Apple would be a very different company today. When a movie bombs, a studio will just make another movie. But when a company produces products and services that continue to fail, they aren’t going to be long for this world.

    While the iPhone was, according to Jobs, a fork in the development path of the iPad, you wonder if the iPad would ever have seen the light of day if the iPhone hadn’t plowed the road first. The market was ready to embrace the iPad, the sort of mobile computing device that had previously failed to generate significant sales despite being touted over and over again as the next great thing.

    Now you have to think that other companies, seeing how Apple had grown so large, would want to find ways to duplicate that success with their own products. But it’s almost as if those companies reside on another planet, or they are watching Apple through a thick fog.

    Consider those silly Droid commercials that are filled with noisy robotic special effects that tell you nothing about the product itself. Evidently the marketing people simply assumed that an Android, being a robotic creature, must be advertised in a sci-fi motif. They do not understand how to show you what these gadgets can really do.

    Compare that to a typical iPhone 4s spot, where you see what looks like regular people using the Siri personal assistant. They want help to find a destination, they seek the location of a restaurant, or just want the computerized lady to reassure them that they are destined to be great rock stars. It’s all very human, and all very typical of how you or I might use the iPhone. It’s a surefire hit, so why can’t Apple’s competitors copy the concept? Can’t you use voice recognition and get directions on an Android smartphone too? You wouldn’t know it from those dreadful Droid ads.

    Yes, I understand that the Android OS has a larger market share than the iOS, but at what cost? Companies flood the market with models that have differences that are almost impossible to discern, and end up confusing savvy customers who want to get the best product. Or maybe they just grab whatever the sales staff is pushing that week, and hope for the best.

    This doesn’t mean that the companies who build Android gear are incompetent. Samsung, the creator of the Galaxy series of smartphones and tablets, makes great TVs, among the best in the business. They have also become pretty successful in the handset business, though Galaxy tablets haven’t done so well. But they’ve got lots of clunkers in the lineup, such as the oversized Galaxy Note smartphone that one reviewer called “the most useless phone I’ve used.”

    The main problem with the Galaxy Note is the size. Both Samsung, and Consumer Reports magazine are oblivious to the proper size of a smartphone. They both crave bigger, but not necessarily better. Apple could have built a larger iPhone ages ago. They didn’t, not out of ego, but because they believed that some sizes and shapes are just wrong from a customer standpoint. This is why there is no 7-inch iPad, although that doesn’t mean there won’t be a version smaller than the current model some day.

    At least Microsoft had the good sense to try to emulate Apple, first with an integrated ecosystem on the Zune, and now with their efforts to link the desktop and mobile operating systems. But Microsoft has no concept of design, and the ad campaigns are truly pathetic. There’s that one for Windows 7, where a father and son are working on their laptops. The son takes over the dad’s computer for a moment and comes up with some silly animated PowerPoint chart complete with ragged lettering and clumsy special effects. If Microsoft simply wanted to show parent and child getting along, it’s a good image to follow. But it hardly makes you want to go out and buy a Windows 7 PC.

    As Apple moves past the Steve Jobs era, you will find more and more critics telling them that they need to change their ways, or take evidence of a more nuanced leadership to indicate that Apple might pay attention to their silly demands. For Apple to continue to succeed, they must remain steps ahead of the competition. But if the rest of the industry paid closer attention to Apple’s well trod path, maybe they’d learn a thing or two about product development.

    ABOUT SOON-TO-BE-OBSOLETE MACS

    As you might have expected, a new operating system from Apple means that more and more older models will be rendered incompatible. This is one area where OS X is very different from Windows. The system requirements for Windows 7 are basic enough that tens of millions of older PCs are perfectly compatible, although a note-book with a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM will definitely deliver disappointing performance. But it is nonetheless compatible.

    However, a number of Mac users are moaning over the fact that some models as little as four years old won’t run Mountain Lion, at least according to published reports. A notable example is my son’s early 2008 Black MacBook. It runs Lion perfectly well, but the needs of 10.8 are far more demanding. In order to run Mountain Lion, a Mac needs to be able to boot into a 64-bit kernel and possess what is regarded as “Advanced GPU” chipset. These two requirements eliminate models with 32-bit firmware, and older Intel integrated graphics, such as the GMA 950 on my son’s MacBook.

    I do realize there are already hacks out there that will allow you to “induce” Mountain Lion to install despite having subpar hardware. But it may not be worth the effort, and perhaps it’s time for those who have those older Macs to consider an upgrade. Even if you can’t afford a new computer, maybe you can find something in the used marketplace that’s suitable, and perhaps sell off your existing computer to make up some of the cost.

    Now I realize this listing is derived from the original requirements of the first 10.8 developer preview. It’s always possible Apple is going to change things over time to encompass a greater number of older Macs, but that possibility is little to none. In the past, whenever system requirements for a new OS X release have come to light, things never change.

    From Apple’s standpoint, requiring better graphics means that all the new games that are expected to arrive on the platform as the result of Game Center will deliver something better than minimally playable performance. Apple doesn’t compromise on OS releases.

    Microsoft simply wants to sell Windows to as many customers as possible, and thus will provide very light system requirements, even though real world performance may be perfectly awful. Besides, Microsoft earns profits on the sale of software, not hardware. Apple is nowadays selling OS X releases real cheap to ease the upgrade path, but they’d rather sell you a new Mac.

    Now I realize some of you are going to send protests to a company that you have come to regard as more and more profit hungry. Why can’t Apple let Mac users decide if they are willing to accept a certain level of performance with a new OS upgrade? But Apple also wants to add new features that may simply not be compatible with older hardware. That’s the juggling match Microsoft has to play as well. But since Apple produces both the hardware and the software, they can just discard older products where it makes sense to them.

    You may not like it, and you may find ways to work around the limitations, perhaps even force OS X to install on a generic PC. But don’t expect Apple to change.

    THE FINAL WORD

    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
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



    Share
    | Print This Issue Print This Issue

    17 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #639”

    1. Don says:

      Respectfully, driving last year’s automobile model doesn’t mean that your car is obsolete because a new car with a faster engine and a new chip is available. It simply means it’s older. It will still get you where you want to go, although it doesn’t have the newest body. It will still perform all the tasks you want it to do. The gas you’ve put into it all year will still make it run.

      It’s not obsolete until it can’t run the applications you need to run. That won’t happen for years. In fact, it probably will continue to run newer applications or newer versions of applications at least in part. What you’re calling “obsolete” will be a powerful and effective computer for many, many years.

      It may have scratches on the side panel and not be as fast as newer cars, but it’s highly usable and far from obsolete.

    2. Bob Forsberg says:

      Your premise is users of older Macs want to upgrade to a newer OS. For most users, that isn’t true anymore. What is currently working will continue to work for many years to come.

      • @Bob Forsberg, There is no premise. It’s simply a set of facts about Mountain Lion’s system requirements. I would agree that those who have older Macs may not be inclined to upgrade — unless or until they find that the software they run is no longer going to be updated for the OS they have.

        Peace,
        Gene

    3. Brian says:

      There is the other alternative that you might consider.

      Installing Mountain Lion a.k.a. Cougar a.k.a. Puma on a Windows machine. I thought Microsoft would have made it easier by now but as usual their slow as a tortoise because of Baller.

      • @Brian, Microsoft doesn’t build PC hardware, so it would be up to the PC makers to make it easier to install the Mac OS, except that such an installation violates the OS X user license. Apple won’t go after individuals who do it, but they have sure gone after companies who offer such a solution. No PC maker would want to face that possibility, since Apple has already been victorious in the courts on that score.

        Peace,
        Gene

    4. Richard says:

      Gene,

      The 64-bit requirement is not new. That is why a core two duo is presently required to run Lion. As to the graphics requirement, you have to wonder whether it is required to do useful things or is a warning that Apple is going to be using more ‘eye candy’.

      All that said, Apple has never shown much reluctance to obsolete equipment. Just why Apple have chosen not to continue Rosetta has perplexed many people. There is plainly a place for it until someone steps up to replace a number of applications which the developers have chosen not to invest in bring up to date to work wit the current OS.

      Cheers

      • @Richard, 1: The enhanced graphics serve both developers of content creation software and games.

        2: Apple might have also used the decision to drop Rosetta is leverage to get app developers to get with the program. Clearly Intuit listened, because they plan to update Quicken 2007 to support Intel processors.

        Peace,
        Gene

    5. Greg C says:

      It’s all well and good to keep advancing the OS, but some essential stuff can get left behind. I use Phonevalet to screen the dozen or so annoying telemarketing phone calls that come into my office. The company stopped upgrading it as of Lion, and no other company has stepped into the gap. that’s just one example, so if Apple is going to make my life better with a new OS, it better be a lot better or I’ll stick with Snow Leopard until I can’t find a machine that will run it!

      • @Greg C, It appears that’s part of a decision on the part of the publishers of PhoneValet to discontinue the product. Being discontinued, there are not constrained to delivering compatibility updates for newer OS releases. Sure, maybe it’s a nice idea, but it’s up to the developer to decide whether putting into a dead product is worth the bother. Are there any alternatives out there for you?

        Peace,
        Gene

    6. Seth says:

      The point is well taken that one’s older Mac will continue to do what it’s doing now until it breaks and is in no way rendered useless by this latest upgrade.. I can do withoiut buying a new Mac laptop by using my phone or an iPad. MMy 2006 Mac Pro will probably run SL for many more years and if I’m really pressed to use one or another software update I can move to Lion though I’d much rather not. It’s bound to be quite a long time before any of the productivity software I use – FileMaker, Photoshop, Office, a handful of audio utilities – advances to the point where it won’t run under Lion, which my machine can handle, little as I may want to use it. Perhaps by then Apple will have given us back ‘save as’ and a few other things Lion has taken away, or done something with the OS that’s compelling enough to merit buying another Mac. I figure I’ve got time – my 1999 vintage B&W G3 still works just fine and the Pro is a far better constructed machine.

    7. dfs says:

      I, for one, wouldn’t mind carrying around a bigger smart phone if the size brought significant enough benefits along with it. When I compare the 41 megapixel (!!!) camera in the new Nokia 808 PureView with the 8mp camera in the current iPhone and the abysmal excuse for a camera in the iPad and iPad Touch I start thinking maybe I wouldn’t mind shopping for some suits with larger pockets. When it comes to cameras in its portable devices Apple had better wake up to the fact that they are getting left in the dust by the competition (and maybe another one too, involving GPS technology).

      • @dfs, I think you realize, though, that megapixels is only one measurement of the potential of a camera. As a practical matter, unless you’re making big posters, for example, eight megapixels is quite sufficient for snapshots, particularly if the camera software itself is well executed.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • Richard says:

          @Gene Steinberg, @Gene,

          Image quality, as you recognize, is much more complex than a simple pixel count. Otherwise the 41 mp cell phone camera would yield better results than the new Canon 1DX ($7,000), Nikon D4 ($6,000) or Nikon D800 ($3,000).

          An important part of image quality is digital processing of the captured image to maximize the signal to noise ratio and other processes as well as the obvious analog to digital conversion. There are a lot of other factors involved, but what Apple has struggled with is the perception that they are lagging behind in the area of camera phones. It is, at least in part, fostered by the policy of using “yesterday’s parts” all too often, even when “yesterday’s parts” are still decent. It is “buzz” that is lacking in devices where “buzz” is important.

          Photographer and author Thom Hogan has long written about the threat to Canon, Nikon and the rest being cell phone cameras which are good enough for the uses to which people are utilizing them…Facebook and so on where people snap a picture, perhaps process it with one of the many available apps, and post it to the web almost instantaneously. Conventional cameras still require downloading their images to a computer, processing and an internet connection to post it.

          As to the 41 mp cell phone camera, I will be greatly surprised if the reaction to it is anything other than “what would we want this for and besides the pictures don’t look good.” It is likely that processing these images will require a multi-core processor to keep from choking on the files and will probably drain the battery in short order if used much at all.

          Apple should demonstrate the quality of the images which its cameras capture in much the same way that the camera companies do, using “knock your eye out” photographs captured by leading practitioners of the art.

          Cheers

          • @Richard, Apple has pushed the capabilities of the camera in the iPhone 4s, but having pros use it might be a change. In general, though, I expect that mobile phone with 41 megapixels was designed not to deliver the best image quality, but to use the specs as a hype.

            Peace,
            Gene

            • Richard says:

              @Gene Steinberg,

              The “practitioners of the art” need not be professionals. They simply could be people who are “good at it”, preferably some known blogger or whatever. The idea is to show the results of using the product and leave the impression that the prospective purchaser can do that too with the product. It is to generate an “I want that” response rather than someone lcomparing camera A having an 8 mp sensor with camera B having a 10 mp sensor which obviously must be better because it has “more”.

              Cheers

    8. dfs says:

      I know that a 141 megapixel camera is absud (the one with the most mp. I know of is the 60-mp. Hasselblad H4D-60, which lists for a coool $40,000), and this is of course a marketing gimmick. But nevertheless Nokia’s move does dramatically draw consumers’ attention to cameras as a desirable feature, and the point remains that in this respect Apple can’t exactly be described as leading the pack. Here is one way (and, I gather, exploitation of GPS is another) in which the iPhone at least looks like it’s outclassed. So plenty of individual purchasers are going to let this affect their choice. Silly as this may strike you, it’s a commercial reality. And the situation with the Pad and the Touch remains dismal. Maybe in the next few days we will hear of a better camera on the Pad 3. But I can’t for the life of me understand why Apple has not long ago put out a new model Touch incorporating the best features of the current Phone. The only reasonable explanation is availability of necessary parts, but Apple has had plenty of time to solve this problem. The camera is the only feature I can think of that would entice me to replace my current Touch with a new one.

    Leave Your Comment