• Newsletter Issue #723

    October 7th, 2013

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So do you get dizzy from zooming and parallax effects in Apple’s latest mobile OS? Not me, not most of the people I know who have used it, but there are some people who are reporting problems with the fancy graphics on iOS 7. One solution is to reduce the parallax effect with a single setting in General>Accessibility known as Reduce Motion. But it doesn’t control zooming. If enough people suffer from this problem, perhaps Apple will add more options with which to remove the visual excesses.

    In any case, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, brought a laundry list of things to talk about. On the agenda: Why iOS 7’s Frequent Locations feature is a turn-off, the need for an iPad with a larger display, perhaps 12 or 13 inches, why he prefers to rent movies from iTunes and nowhere else, and the foolishness of Microsoft’s decision to be late to the party with tablets.

    The latter was a particularly interesting discussion. It was a case of fiddling while the market burned around them, as Microsoft released the Surface tablet long after Apple and Android tablets came to rule the roost, and finally delivered a product that was little more than a slim note-book, something that customers clearly didn’t want. So far, it seems as if Microsoft is doubling down on a failed strategy, hoping customers will finally decide to embrace their scheme. But don’t expect anything of that sort to happen unless the market changes in ways nobody expects.

    You also heard from Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” Kirk McElhearn, who mainly covered the ongoing problems with iOS 7’s Settings app. He essentially took it all apart and explained what works, and what’s simply confusing. He’ll also talked about the reports of possible motion sickness because of the parallax and zooming effects in Apple’s newest mobile OS.

    Now Kirk does have vision problems that do make him susceptible to some of these nasty effects. So if Apple fixes the problem, it’s a sure thing we’ll be hearing from Kirk about it.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present paranormal investigator David Weatherly. For over 35 years, David has explored the world of the strange, investigating cases around the country and abroad. He has written and lectured on a diverse range of topics including cryptozoology, Ufology and hauntings. He has spent a considerable amount of time investigating and researching Utah’s Uinta Basin — location of the infamous “Skinwalker ranch.” David’s latest book, “Strange Intruders” and the topics he addresses include the Djinn, Slenderman, Black Eyed Beings and much more.

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

    THEY STILL GET IT WRONG ABOUT APPLE

    There’s an old saying that proof of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When it comes to keeping tabs on the tech industry, it’s clear that many so-called journalists and industry analysts might indeed be suffering from some sort of problem. How else can you explain all the falsehoods, which are repeated over and over again despite the fact that many of the falsehoods are regularly exposed?

    But rather than questioning someone’s sanity, many it’s all a matter of inattention. They aren’t reading anyone else’s responses to their rantings, which must mean they are living in a bubble. Sure, I understand some creative people would rather not know what others are saying about them, but a journalist ought to be able to do some basic research.

    But research doesn’t help when there’s an agenda afoot. So someone writes a negative piece about Apple, and the hit count goes way up. The publisher is happy, the advertisers are happy to pay to put their banners on a site with more traffic, and the writers in question are encouraged to keep things going. After all, they can depend on Apple fans correcting their lies over and over again, and they won’t stop until the hit counts go down.

    So we have those articles complaining that, when Apple reports good news, it’s really bad news. Nine million iPhones were sold the first weekend they went on sale? Well, not really. Maybe Apple stuffed the channel, although that wouldn’t explain why so many people who wanted to buy an iPhone 5s couldn’t find the version they wanted. If the channel was being flooded, they’d be able to buy them and get on with their lives.

    The latest scuttlebutt includes concerns about the security features on the iPhone 5s. As with other smartphones, you can set a passcode that reduces the ability to break in, but passcodes can be broken with a little time and effort. So Apple’s next layer of protection is Touch ID, a fingerprint sensor. And let me tell you that it works just great. After a setup process that takes less than a minute, you merely need to engage in a two-step process to unlock your phone from a locked, dark screen. First click the Home button and release with the finger used to configure Touch ID. You can configure up to five. Keep your finger on the button and wait less than a second, and you’re in.

    You get used to this routine after a few tries, as I did.

    So what’s wrong? Well, hackers will tell you that you can still break into the iPhone with a 3D cast or a high resolution printout that matches the fingerprint acquired by, I suppose, dusting the iPhone. But that requires access to the device, or to another source of the owner’s fingerprints. You see where I’m heading.

    These security measures aren’t perfect, but better than what you get from the competition. You can, of course, use nothing and be assured that anyone who steals your iPhone will have access to your data. So which approach is better?

    Well, some of Apple’s critics will just complain that Touch ID is no good because it’s imperfect, and be done with it. They cannot, however, find a mobile handset with a better solution.

    Now we won’t know the full picture of initial iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c sales until Apple releases quarterly financials later this month. Even then, there probably won’t be any model breakdowns. But independent surveys of smartphone activations do indicate Apple is at the top of the heap among the four largest wireless careers in the U.S. So people are buying, and it’s not as if you can be assured that the iPhone 5s of your choice will be available at a dealer chosen at random. They are still backordered and you have to check for availability. If you want to order one from Apple’s online storefront, shipment is still promised for “October,” which may not be helpful if you need one now.

    So much for the iPhone losing its luster.

    But now that it’s been two years since Steve Jobs died, many pundits are assessing the reign of Tim Cook. Despite all the negative currents and competitive pressures, there’s nothing to indicate that his job is in danger. The 2013 iPhone had a successful launch. The critics will claim that Apple needs to revolutionize another industry, again assuming that happened every other day when Steve Jobs was running the show, even though that was decidedly not true.

    Besides, Apple’s product intros are clearly not over for 2013. There’s still the arrival of the revitalized Mac Pro, expected refreshes for the iPod, the Mac mini, and the MacBook Pro, though the fate of the model with a regular display is not certain. There is, of course, the iPad, with expectations of a slimmed down 9.7-inch model, and perhaps a Retina display for the iPad mini.

    And that doesn’t mean there isn’t yet another surprise under Apple’s sleeve in the near future. Remember that Cook talked about major product announcements beginning this fall and continuing through 2014. No single announcement will satisfy the critics, but maybe we’re paying too much attention to their rantings.

    Yes, Apple does deserve criticism at times, sometimes severe criticism. But the criticisms should be honest, not simply made up to get somebody some undeserved attention. Or maybe the most blatant offenders don’t care — or, worse — don’t know what they’re doing wrong.

    THE CABLE AND SATELLITE CUSTOMER SERVICE DILEMMA

    If you respond to one of those many ads from DirecTV or one of their authorized dealers, you can sign up for TV service that includes their high-end Genie cable box, a so-called “Whole-Home DVR.” It’s designed to be your one and only DVR, removing the need to have one in each room; a tiny box called Genie Mini communicates with the main unit. You can also record up to five shows at a time, and that really helps reduce family conflicts. It also helps when you have shows playing opposite each other that you’d like to watch.

    Older DVRs would usually record two shows, so you can see where the problems arise. My TV watching schedule does include a couple of situations where there are three competing programs on the agenda, so the Genie comes in handy.

    Unfortunately, actually upgrading to one was not an easy task for me. You see, DirecTV is happy to sell you the moon and the stars to get you to sign up to a two-year service contract. But if you’re already a customer, prepare to jump through some hoops to get what you want.

    When I first signed with DirecTV, they sent me an HR24 DVR, which appears to date back to 2010 or thereabouts. Although also labeled “Whole-House,” it was limited to recording two shows at a time. Otherwise it worked well enough. DirecTV’s programming interface is reasonably smooth and functional, so I don’t have a lot to complain about.

    So I called their support people and asked about upgrading. Sure, if I wanted to spend $299. “But it is free to new customers,” I protested, suggesting that they should respect the ones they have. I didn’t get into the cord cutting scenario and other reasons why growth in the cable and satellite industries has stagnated.

    Now I have learned over the years that, when Level 1 support isn’t helpful, it’s time to escalate. In this case, I took it all the way to the office of the President of DirecTV, where I was connected to some sort of senior support specialist with a name that I no longer remember. I protested that a loyal customer shouldn’t be penalized with an older, less functional set top box when a new customer, paying the same amount, gets one free.

    My persistence paid off, and I got the Genie box a few days later. From a user standpoint, it is functionally the same as the older box, but being able to record more than two shows at a time was a real plus. You see, the Steinberg family isn’t ready to cut the cord just yet. Going ala carte and using iTunes and Hulu Plus to get most of our favorite shows would end up being far more expensive. That’s why the cable/satellite companies have tens of millions of customers roped in, and when they make a customer conquest, it’s invariably from someone who uses a rival service. Cord cutters are largely of the younger generation.

    Of course, my own experience isn’t unusual. One of my guests on the tech show this week, The Mac Observer’s John Martellaro, ended up getting an upgrade to his DirecTV DVR after suffering the usual song and dance. During the interview, he pointed out that is that customers who want or need to replace their equipment shouldn’t be saddled with gear that’s several years old. A full cable/satellite package can cost upwards of $1,200 per year and sometimes more if you opt for all of the services.

    Alas, DirecTV is not the only offender. Customers of Dish Network or any of the U.S.A’s cable companies will often report similar issues. No wonder customers give them all very low support ratings.

    Unfortunately, these companies live in a world where customer satisfaction is evidently at the bottom of the list, so long as you pay your bill in a timely fashion. Otherwise, they’ll cut you off with nary a warning. I can see where Apple can really make strides here whenever their TV strategy is fully executed. But whether Apple will attempt to replace those services, or simply work with them with a prettier interface, is still a big unknown.

    But they do need real competition, and the alternatives still don’t offer a complete solution.

    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



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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #723”

    1. DaveD says:

      My proposal for the “they” folks who get it wrong about Apple should be rewarded. “They” would get an Enderle Gold Star added to their name on the byline. Each gold star will be an indicator of a wrong (truth and/or facts don’t matter) Apple article written in the past. I would be interested in seeing how many starts after Mr. Enderle’s name.

      @Gene,

      I listened to Tech Night Owl Live “September 21, 2013” podcast. The “Rik Myslewski” segment was very good. What he said about Thunderbolt was a Mr. Spock’s eyebrow raiser. Thanks.

    2. Louis Wheeler says:

      It’s the narrative, Gene, the perceived wisdom to knock Apple. I don’t think Microsoft is paying pundits to disparage Apple anymore, so we have a cadre of volunteers. Many of these “experts” have never used a Mac, iPad or iPhone. Wintel is all they know. This is especially true when Apple is going down a path which diverges from Microsoft’s.

      However imperfect Touch ID is, it is going to get better. It must get better for iBeacons to work effectively. Wintel activists are playing catch-up and they hate that, so they must grouse.

      I see an enhanced function for Touch ID: encryption. As you know, there is no longer any privacy in this world. Is there any way to get it back? Would consumers pay extra to get it?

      John McAfee recently talked about his “dark cloud” device, but I see a possibility for Apple in this. The major advantage of Apple encrypting ordinary messages is that the number of encrypted messages increases to the point where it overloads NSA’s computers. There are plenty of interesting tricks you can play when computers get powerful enough. I don’t believe that the technology is quite there yet, but it is coming. Apple’s servers will accept a hand off of authenticity from Touch ID. That can be used in interesting ways when Apple starts extending that to third parties.

    3. Touch ID fingerprints are stored in the A7 chip, according to published reports. What makes you think it has anything whatever to do with Apple’s iCloud servers?

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Jim says:

      I forget the exact quote, but Tim Cook said that new products, including a new product category or categories, would be released starting in the fall and into 2014. I’m looking forward to those new categories, because whatever they are, maybe finally we can get beyond the Apple no longer innovates canard.

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