Apple TV. The subject has come up with increasing frequency in recent days. Maybe there’s not a whole lot new material to cover, but the alleged presence of a new model number in a beta update for iOS 7 may indeed indicate that the new model is forthcoming real soon now, and supply chain chatter is increasing.
It’s been months since anything new was launched by Apple, aside from the Mac Pro, which shipped in December. But the first quarter of the year is usually a lull for Apple, though there have been February and March product intros from time to time.
One reason for growing expectations about the Apple TV is that the product, once regarded as a hobby by Apple, has graduated to a featured spot at the company’s online store. That has to say something, and it may presage a greater level of promotion and, one hopes, a new model. It’s been two years since the last refresh of any note, which added support for 1080p video.
So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV.” You learned the ins and outs of Apple’s best-selling TV set top box, along with some nifty tips you may want to try. Josh also speculated on what might come next as Apple attempts to make a difference in your living room.
To me, it would seem support for the higher resolution Ultra HD format would be a given, and the possibilities for a full-blown Apple connected TV less so.
We also featured Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine. He talked about Microsoft’s problems getting users to leave Windows XP, and he also focused on a recent article he wrote for Laptop, entitled “Glasshole or Not? 7 Urgent Ethical Dilemmas for Wearable Tech.”
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris go monster hunting with Lyle Blackburn, who, according to his biography, “is an author, musician, and cryptid hunter from Texas. His books, ‘The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster,’ and ‘Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster,’ reflect his lifelong fascination with legends and sighting reports of real-life ‘monsters.’ During his research, Lyle has often explored the remote reaches of the southern U.S. in search of shadowy creatures said to inhabit the dense backwoods and swamplands of these areas.”
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.
This story may have actually originated from somebody’s satiric column, but bear with me: Consider how Bill Gates has sold a product for over 30 years. That product has become the most popular personal computer operating system on the planet, and even in the twilight of the PC era, a large part of Microsoft’s sales come from selling licenses for that product to computer makers.
Indeed, Microsoft continues to make great profits from operating systems for Windows and the Office application suite. Yet things haven’t gone so well with other products. Losses for the Bing search engine continue to mount, and sales of mobile gear have continued to flatline.
It’s not that the company isn’t trying to find solutions to the endemic problems. What’s more, there’s a new sheriff in town, one Satya Nadella, who has just taken over the CEO spot from Steve Ballmer, who remains on the board. But in a curious move, Nadella is being assisted by co-founder Bill Gates, who will work part-time as a Technical Advisor, or the CEO’s nanny, depending on your point of view.
Now that Gates is taking time away from his extremely worthy philanthropic pursuits, imagine his first day back at the old job. Imagine him trying to set up his office PC with the Windows 8.1 upgrade, and imagine if everything goes wrong.
But there’s nothing to imagine, because that appears to be precisely what happened recently, and it must have been mighty frustrating for him — or embarrassing — or both.
Now one expects that someone smart enough to build a company into a multibillion dollar multinational powerhouse, and make himself the world’s richest person in the process, would surely be able to install one of the company’s flagship process with hardly a second glance. But that’s not quite what happened.
According to a published report, based on a column in The New Yorker magazine that was apparently meant as satire, every time Gates tried to perform the Windows 8.1 upgrade, he’d get one of those obtuse error messages for which the OS is notorious, that there was a problem with the installation and he needed to restart.
The story goes that Gates worked on the problem until lunchtime, when he decided to swallow his pride and call for help from Nadella. Not that it appeared to help. The report quotes a source as saying, “Bill is usually a pretty calm guy, so it was weird to hear some of that language coming out of his mouth.”
Calling the whole sorry affair “a learning experience,” a Microsoft spokesperson was quoted as saying that, for now, Gates would revert to Windows 7.
True or false, remember that even the best satire has a kernel of truth. Besides, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Windows 7. In fact, HP is offering PCs with Windows 7 preloaded, so customers don’t have to put up with the misery of Windows 8. Even 8.1 is described by reviewers as only slightly better, which has been my experience. An Update 1 is under development that will reportedly continue to roll back some of Windows 8’s excesses, and make it a more usable operating system.
You have to wonder what Microsoft will consider for Windows 9, or will that be too late to stem the ongoing erosion of PC sales? Once customers discover that they can cut the PC cord, is there any going back?
I also wonder whether the inability of Bill Gates to perform a simple OS upgrade will serve as the wakeup call for Microsoft to pull out all the stops and make a stronger attempt to fix what’s wrong with the company and its products. Consider again the disturbing fact that nearly 30% of Windows users who actually go online are still using Windows XP. Add to that ATM machines, point-0f-sale devices and other systems that never contact the public Internet, and the total may be staggering.
Update! It has also been reported that some 66 million business users are still running Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 email servers even though support for that version will also be dropped by April of this year. It keeps getting worse.
If anything, Gates and Nadella may just have to sit the company’s executive team in a large conference room and read them the riot act. It’s not that problems installing Windows — any version — are necessarily unusual. But Microsoft staked a lot on remaking Windows, and has failed miserably, just miserably.
All right, the Xbox appears to be successful as gaming consoles go, but that comes at a time when smartphones and tablets are taking a larger share of gaming. The rumors state that the next Apple TV revision may, itself, allow it to serve as a gaming console with an accessory controller. So Microsoft may ultimately be saddled with yet another dying platform on its hands.
Now some time ago, The Night Owl wrote about the Microsoft death watch. I suspect I wasn’t taken very seriously at the time, but just think about what Gates and Nadella went through on the former’s first day back at the office, and think about where things are going in Redmond. It’s definitely not pretty.
In recent days, yet another rumor has arisen that Apple is working on some sort of convergence device, meant to run iOS and OS X. In other words, an all-in-one device that can serve as both tablet and a regular Mac.
Or at least that’s what some are saying.
Now this sort of convergence scheme may, in part, be derived from what Microsoft is trying, unsuccessfully, to do with the failed Surface tablet. Such gear is meant to be used as both a Windows PC and a tablet. There’s even an RT version — perhaps one that’s poised for the chopping block — that uses an ARM mobile processor. It appears at first glance to be the same as the Intel version of the Surface, but is unable to run traditional Windows apps.
Is that the direction Apple is supposed to take?
Now Apple doesn’t ordinarily comment on rumors, specifically, but recent statements from key executives make it clear this is not a direction the company plans to follow. Indeed, CEO Tim Cook has already said that you can’t merge a toaster oven with a refrigerator, which makes it quite clear he doesn’t see a convertible iPad/Mac as a sensible idea.
Recent interviews with Cook, and Senior VPs Craig Federighi and Philip Schiller have, in more exquisite detail, presented the very same conclusions. iOS and OS X will be developed separately, and there are no conversion devices on the horizon. Says Federighi in one recent interview, “It’s obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience? We believe, no.”
So in how many ways must Apple convey the idea that such gear is out of the question before certain members of the media take it seriously? Besides, where’s the evidence such devices will even succeed? It’s not as if PCs that double as tablets have sold in large numbers, even though companies still try to make them. Surface sales are a mere fraction of iPad sales.
In short, where’s the sense in building such a device if there’s no demonstrated need? Why should Apple even try?
For now, Apple has made it crystal clear that the company doesn’t plan to merge iOS and OS X, that they are meant to serve different purposes, that an OS optimized for touch and one optimized for keyboard and mouse must remain separate from the standpoints of usability and function. All right, you can use a keyboard on an iPad or iPhone, but that tends to be a clumsy experience.
Now I would not be surprised if Apple has tried a number of potential tablet and traditional PC form factors in the test labs just to see how they do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean any of those products will ever see the light of day.
It seems, instead, that Apple’s competition, particularly Samsung, will test out loads of configurations, but do much of that testing in public with retail gadgets. That’s why there are so many different sized smartphones and tablets. Rather than decide which form factors work best, they leave it to the customer to sort things out. That, however, may cause little more than fragmentation and confusion as they become test beds for unproven or underdeveloped concepts.
Apple, on contrast, tends to deliver gear full blown. Sure, things have changed from the original iPhone to the iPhone 5s, but the fundamentals were there with the very first version, as they were for iPads.
That, however, doesn’t mean some new computing device won’t arrive some day that will be meant as the replacement for smartphones, tablets, and traditional personal computers. There may indeed be elements of touch, voice, and even traditional keyboard management involved, but that doesn’t mean such a gadget, should it emerge from Apple’s development labs, would merge iOS or OS X. It may indeed offer some all-new OS descended from the first two, or perhaps developed from scratch. I am not about to guess what computing devices we might prefer a decade from now.
But I don’t think such a device will be a Mac or iPad that is the electronic equivalent of a reversible jacket. There might be a larger iPad in the near future, as some speculate, but it’ll still be an iPad. And, yes, I even have a couple of so-called reversible jackets, but there always seem to be design compromises of one sort or another.
But facts and ongoing proclamations of denial won’t stop the media from presuming that Apple is doing everything wrong, that they must build no-profit mobile handsets and convertible MacBook Airs (or iPads) to stay in business. But does anyone really and truly believe Apple will agree to such demands and actually produce one of those things now — or ever?
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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