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  • Newsletter Issue #725

    October 21st, 2013

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    You may not know it, but Windows 8.1 became available for download this past week. Well, at least the Intel version. If you are one of the very few using the RT version, which comes on the failed Surface tablet, you’ll have to wait a while longer. Microsoft withdrew the update to fix  “a situation affecting a limited number of users updating their Windows RT devices to Windows RT 8.1.”

    What “situation”? Well, evidently difficulty in installing the update.

    Of course, that assumes that users of Surface tablets haven’t simply cast them aside, unused, or returned them out of sheer disgust with this train wreck. As you’ll learn in a moment, Windows 8.1 became a major point of discussion on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    But first, to observe National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we talked to Jason Glassberg, co-founder of Casaba, a noted cybersecurity consultant who spoke about a number of serious hacking threats that might impact more and more consumers.

    Prolific author Joe Kissell discussed his latest e-book, “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks,” and you discovered the best ways to upgrade to Apple’s newest version of OS X.

    We also presented a provocative discussion with Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine, who explained what’s good and not-so-good about Windows 8.1 and the problems facing the Windows Phone and Android platforms. Is Google submitting Android to a dose of benign neglect? And what will Apple introduce at their October 22nd media event?

    I was particularly intrigued with Avram’s views about the future of Android. Supposedly Google’s mobile OS owns the market, but it hasn’t been terribly profitable except for one handset maker, and that’s Samsung. Meantime, Samsung barely mentions Android, as if they would prefer to pretend it really doesn’t exist. But I’ll have more to say on that topic later in this issue.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: The UFO field remains embroiled in the usual group of feuds and other time-wasting pursuits. To provide a reality check, Gene and Chris present veteran UFO researcher and historian Jerome Clark. He has been involved in UFO research since the 1960s and has written a number of books on UFO and paranormal subjects that includes “The UFO Encyclopedia : The Phenomenon from the Beginning (2 Volume Set).”

    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.

    THE DUMB AND DUMBER REPORT

    I suppose I could make correcting false or particularly ignorant stories about Apple a full-time job, and I’d still have to work overtime. So I just do it when I think it’s most appropriate. Between Daniel Eran Dilger at AppleInsider, and Macworld’s Macalope, the job is already getting done quite nicely thank you. But that doesn’t keep me from jumping in the fray when the need arises.

    So I read a particularly dumb post the other day, published on a site run by a major IT publication. You’d think they’d know better, or maybe it was all meant as hit bait. In any case, the writer in question explained why he decided to return his iPhone 5s, and the reasons, if stated accurately, reveal more about the blogger than any problems with Apple’s latest iPhone.

    So why did the blogger in question return a spanking new iPhone 5s? Well, it seems he was disappointed because it wasn’t sufficiently different from the iPhone 5. Now the degree of real differences are certainly subject to interpretation. What isn’t subject to interpretation is that someone who writes for a prominent tech publication should know full well the actual specs of such a product. It should not come out of left field as a surprise.

    Anyone who saw or read a report about Apple’s iPhone launch event in September would know those specs. They would know that the mid-priced iPhone 5c was essentially a repackaged iPhone 5 with a plastic case, a beefier battery and some modest technical enhancements. No surprises there.

    The iPhone 5s, as most of you know, uses the iPhone 5’s form factor with a number of new components, including the 64-bit A7 processor, the M7 motion coprocessor, a somewhat better camera, and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. In the real world, aside from Touch ID, you’d expect it to work  nearly the same as its immediate predecessor, except for a performance boost on some apps, and improved snapshots.

    Whether those improvements are sufficient for someone on an annual upgrade cycle is debatable. In the real world, performance differences are really most noticeable with games and other apps that tax the system. Otherwise, the change isn’t very perceptible. I can demonstrate this anytime I switch from my wife’s iPhone 5c, to my iPhone 5s.

    But did Apple fool anyone into an early upgrade cycle? Hardly. What about the competition?

    Well, the 2013 Samsung Galaxy S4 is perceptibly somewhat faster than its predecessor, the 2012 Samsung Galaxy S3; forget about the curious tricks Samsung uses to boost benchmarks. The display is a tad larger, a difference not noticeable without a side-by-side comparison. They use different versions of Android, and Samsung has loaded the former with loads of crapware. But if you ask whether the upgrade from S3 to S4 is worth the cost, unless you have one of those new-fangled and usually overpriced early upgrade contracts with your wireless carrier, I’d say no.

    So our hit-baiting blogger knew, or should have known, that the iPhone 5s may not be significantly different from the iPhone 5. If he didn’t know, he shouldn’t be writing for a prominent tech publication. If he did know, and made the move anyway, I’d call the decision foolish if he expected more. But Apple barely suffers from the decision to return the iPhone 5s. They will just refurbish the unit and sell it to someone who cares about buying one, and knows what he or she is getting.

    But it’s too early for refurbished, since Apple can barely keep up with demand. Maybe in a month or two. So if you’re looking for a new iPhone, you may have a less-expensive choice if you’re patient. I presume Apple’s rebuilding policy would eliminate any damage that ignorant blogger caused.

    This particular story, however, is typical. The iPhone wasn’t returned because it was bad, or because it was defective. It just wasn’t different enough. But it got the headline anyway, which is probably the real point of this silly exercise.

    Meantime, there are still unsupported claims that the iPhone 5c, which is evidently one or the top two or three smartphones at the major U.S. carriers, is a horrible failure. It’s all because of unconfirmed reports that Apple has cut back on orders. Of course, nobody outside of Apple and their suppliers knows anything about how many units Apple actually ordered, and their expectations for supplies and sales. It’s very possible the initial production rush was about filling the channels so there would be plentiful supplies for customers. After that, production was reduced to reflect ongoing sales — sales that we know nothing about.

    Sure I’m speculating. But when Tim Cook said that you can’t take a few supply chain metrics and assume anything about supplies and demand for an Apple product, believe him. Unfortunately far too many tech and financial pundits aren’t paying attention. And that’s before you look at the stories that were designed to attract traffic rather than convey accurate information.

    Of course, there is that report in a major newspaper that iOS 7 is Apple’s most bug-ridden upgrade yet, but the claim was based on an unsupported claim from a consulting company that, among other things, is paid by such firms as Google and Samsung, but not Apple. Yes, that’s fairness all right, but not in this universe.

    CRYING WOLF ABOUT APPLE

    As you may have noticed, Apple Inc. isn’t exactly out of business yet, but it’s not for the lack of trying from some members of the media and the financial community. While Steve Jobs was still running the show, it was all about his ego and mercurial temperament. How could such a crazy person build a nearly dying company into the world’s largest company, by market cap, on the planet?

    Well, with Jobs no longer around to defend his position, Tim Cook became the victim. Since he was the supply chain guy, and how could he hope to walk and chew gum at the same time, he had no clue about products, or about the ins and outs of developing products.

    So shouldn’t he quit and leave the heavy lifting to someone else at the company? Maybe they should see if Steve Ballmer wants the job. After all, he’ll be unemployed real soon now.

    Of course, a company CEO doesn’t have to know everything that makes a company tick. But that CEO needs to be surrounded by talented people who can handle the other jobs, and the chief executive needs to make sure they are doing what they are being paid the big bucks to do. Just as important, people need to be fired if they aren’t doing the job properly for whatever reason.

    Certainly Tim Cook isn’t afraid to say no, or just leave. The decision to dump Scott Forstall seemed to make sense at the time, and the poor rich fellow has been publicly damned for his inability to play well with others. Alas, such gossip might make it difficult for Forstall to find another gig, unless he is, of course, running the show, in which case it won’t matter.

    As a practical matter, though, we shouldn’t be so concerned about corporate politics, and why one executive is sent packing, and another is transferred or given a raise. Forstall has a right to make a living, even though he is rich enough to sit on the sidelines and drink margaritas in the Cayman Islands, or wherever he keeps his money.

    The real issue is whether Apple is continuing to innovate at a good pace, despite the heightened competition. Besides, there are lots of issues with Apple’s competition that aren’t being considered as much as they should be.

    Take Google. Android may own the mobile handset market, but it’s not bringing large chunks of cash to Google. Development very clearly has slowed, and all we officially now about the next revision of Android is that it’s not version 5.0, signifying a major upgrade, but version 4.4, nicknamed KitKat, after you know what, and thus a fairly minor revision.

    The feature set? I’ve seen a few rumors about improved voice recognition and such, but nothing to indicate anything more than a modest update. Forget about 64-bit support.

    But does that make sense? Why isn’t Google pushing hard to deliver the most compelling upgrade possible? What about working with carrier partners to make sure anyone with a compatible handset or tablet can get that upgrade without waiting months or years, or just being abandoned?

    Does Google even care? Seems they are focusing more on Chrome OS these days. Android inventor Andy Rubin has disappeared into the bowels of the company. That’s hardly a reward for a job well done. Indeed, it may have indicated a plan to deemphasize Android on the long haul, and give more love to Chrome OS.

    The timing may be curious for Google. It also appears that some PC makers may be looking at Android as a potential Windows replacement now that Windows 8 has been a huge failure. But that would appear to have been the goal for the Web-based Chrome.

    At the same time, it’s not that Google should feel confident about how Samsung, the largest Android handset maker, has treated the platform. The media event for the flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone barely mentioned the existence of Android, and Samsung has overloaded the device with their own proprietary and often useless junkware. But with work ongoing to perfect a different mobile platform with Intel, known as Tizen, it may well be that Samsung hopes to exit Android entirely if enough developers can be persuaded to embrace the new OS.

    But Android’s ongoing problems are hardly mentioned. It’s all about Apple’s issues, real or imagined.

    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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