• Newsletter Issue #745

    March 10th, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It all comes down to this: However successful Apple has been over the years, the company is frequently misunderstood, or judged in the same fashion as other companies. Putting all their commentary eggs in single baskets just won’t work, but it may ease the jobs of some who would rather not think much about what they do.

    Anyone who has spent a little time examining Apple’s history ought to realize that, but it doesn’t work that way in the real world where tech and financial commentators ask Apple to do the things they just won’t do, such as sell products cheaper. Cheaper means lower profits. This sort of thing happens over and over again, and you wonder if they think Apple’s leadership is dumb. But the profit and loss statements say otherwise.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, veteran tech author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, considered whether he should buy one of Apple’s state-of-the-art computing workstations, the Mac Pro, or a mainstream Mac, such as an iMac, for his audio and video work. He also discussed the 30th anniversary of the Mac, his upcoming tech TV show, and whether Dragon Dictate 4 is the ultimate dictation app for Macs.

    You also heard from outspoken commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, who talked about the fear-mongering over the fact that 20% of Mac users are using an OS released in 2009, Snow Leopard. The bill of materials also covered whether Barnes & Noble should kill the Nook e-book reader, why outsiders cannot define Apple’s products, how Apple is exploiting Android’s weakness, and how to make your Mac computing life sane and quiet.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present the yet another wide-ranging discussion with prolific paranormal author and commentator Dr. Joseph P. Farrell, author of such books as “Saucers, Swastikas, and Psyops.” This time, the bill of fare includes such topics as the possible mysterious suicides of prominent bankers, the reported looting of the banking system by so-called “banksters,” a possible “Manhattan Project” to build a flying saucer, the growth of a secret space program using black project funds, and other amazing mysteries and conspiracies.

    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.

    FINDING THE BAD NEWS ABOUT APPLE

    Even when Apple reports record sales and profits for a quarter, there has to be a “but.” It doesn’t matter if that exception involves a huge logical stretch. It has to be there because, well, this is Apple and Apple got to where it is because of a fluke.

    You see, some crazy, mercurial guy named Jobs once ran the company, and he had this magic wand that made up iPods, iPhones and iPads out of nothing, nothing at all. But now that the wand wielder is no longer around to make magic, Apple becomes a “normal” company. It’s time to face reality.

    Now fair stories about CEO Tim Cook will point out that he is smart, talented, and is a great manager. He knows how to express his authority with a hard stare in situations where Jobs might have had a hissy fit. But if it accomplishes the same result, what difference does it make?

    But it leads back to the core complaint, which is that Apple isn’t innovating under Cook to the extent that the company innovated under Jobs. It was as if everything Apple did then was a masterful effort that redefined the industry, but everything Apple under Cook has produced was iterative. You have better Macs, better iPhones and better iPads.

    But is that enough?

    Do they forget that Apple under Jobs brought you the Power Mac G4 Cube? That Apple under Cook brought you the tubular Mac Pro? Which product do you think will have the greatest impact and staying power? Just asking!

    One could be fair and point out that Samsung, during the same period, has released little that doesn’t in some fashion imitate someone else’s product. From smart TVs to Galaxy smartphones, where has Samsung overturned an industry — any industry? Samsung’s reputation was built on producing me-too gear of good build quality that sold for less than the competition. If there was no iPhone, would a Samsung Galaxy S5 resemble the previous industry trendsetter, the BlackBerry?

    The design drawings revealed during that intellectual property trial involving Apple and Samsung make it quite clear how the latter’s design direction changed when the iPhone appeared. The same is true for Google. Would there be Android phones with touchscreens? Or would they have BlackBerry-style physical keyboards without the iPhone to pave the way?

    You don’t have to answer that question!

    In recent weeks, Apple has gotten special treatment yet again, but not the sort of treatment any company would want. So when iOS 6 and iOS 7 updates were released to repair the “gotofail” SSL bug, the first question the media asked was why did it take four more days to release the fix on OS X? Was this some vicious plot on Apple’s part, incompetence, or just the time it took to build a reliable set of OS installers?

    It’s better, I suppose, to just blame Apple. But what about those lingering security leaks documented in Android? When will Google fix them, and if they do, how will they be deployed to owners of Android gear? The answer is that, in large part, they won’t be deployed. There is still no reliable scheme to deliver needed security fixes for the platform to large numbers of users. Besides, isn’t Google more interested in the platform’s “freedom” than security?

    When Apple launched CarPlay at the Geneva Auto Show, one of the first complaints was about distracted driving. Wouldn’t linking your iPhone with a car create the potential for getting into an accident because you’re not paying attention? Did they forget that you can already link your iPhone, or Samsung smartphone for that matter, with most new cars via Bluetooth? Depending on the vehicle, you will be able to take advantage of handsfree calls and perhaps other features.

    In contrast, CarPlay, which operates in a fashion similar to AirPlay on OS X and iOS,  provides greater integration with your motor vehicle’s infotainment system. Working with Siri, it promises to be reasonably simple and reliable. But what about all those other infotainment systems, some of which are just plain unreliable? What about such schemes as BMW’s iDrive, which focuses your attention on a big wheel on the center console to control functions? Does that make it the ultimate driving machine, or the ultimate driving distraction?

    But BMW isn’t Apple, so I suppose there’s no reason to complain, except that BMW is one of the car makers who is supporting CarPlay. But you’ll still have the knob, I guess. CarPlay is essentially an overlay to your car’s existing infotainment system. If your iPhone isn’t connected — perhaps you forget to take your iPhone with you — the system will revert to the standard layout, whatever that is. Does that eliminate the potential for distracted driving? Does it increase the danger?

    Oh well, if it’s not Apple’s design, I guess not, if you believe such nonsense of course.

    GETTING RID OF THE WEAKEST LINK IN THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE — THE DRIVER

    Whether you have a car or truck, any recent model is a fountain of amazing safety technologies. Some vehicles even manage to drive for themselves, more or less, with lane change warnings, blind spot detection, and the ability to adjust the distance between you and the following vehicle when you turn on cruise control.

    Some day, you might even be able to enter the family car, tell it where you want to go, and just sit back and let it do its thing. Of course, laws will have to change, and the technology will have to be far more reliable than the imperfect human driver. You see, if you or I get into an accident — and it’s our fault — well, you know whom to blame. Your insurance rate will go up and, if you violated the law in the process, the authorities will do what they have to do to serve and protect society.

    Sure drivers can do all sorts of stupid things. I bet that every one of you has made more than one mistake that, under the right circumstances, might have caused a serious accident with injury. Cars can compensate, but only so far. But what if you were relieved of the obligation to drive by yourself?

    Indeed, with all that safety gear, the chances for a serious injury have been sharply reduced. Even compact cars have air bags and other safety gear designed to protect you — and sometimes a pedestrian — in the event of a crash.

    But what if you weren’t driving that vehicle that was involved in a traffic mishap? What if you surrendered that task to the car’s onboard computer? What if an accident was caused by malfunctioning software or hardware? Who is responsible? Would it be Google, or Microsoft or Apple, or whoever built the OS, or the vehicle maker, or both? What about the owner who probably will have to sign their rights away to drive that vehicle?

    I bet some lawyers will only be delighted to sign up claimants for class action lawsuits when driverless cars are approved for use. Indeed, reliability will have to be far, far superior to the human driver before such a system can be trusted. Even if an accident was clearly the fault of a normal driver in a normal car, there will be questions that perhaps the driverless vehicle’s onboard systems somehow failed, or otherwise somehow contributed to the accident. Even if they didn’t, lawyers would attempt to prove otherwise.

    Now I have been driving since age 21. I’ve had a few accidents over the years, but nothing that caused an airbag to deploy, and nothing that resulted in an injury. For the most part, I have been the victim not the cause, except for a very few minor fender benders that did little more than damage someone else’s bumper. I know I’ve been lucky.

    Although I don’t make those cross-country trips anymore, I do enjoy driving, and I try to have a vehicle that doesn’t completely isolate me from the experience. I’m also a stickler for proper maintenance, correct tire pressures, and all the little things that have to be done to make sure the vehicle is safe, secure, and fully operational in all respects.

    I do realize, though, that I’m not getting any younger, and I do accept the possibility that, someday (I hope not too soon) I may have to surrender my driver’s license. But living in an area where public transportation is spotty, being without a car, or the ability to drive, will mean a serious loss of freedom. Sure, I am able to walk to the nearby convenience store for a cup of java or a box of tissues, but what about the supermarket? What about a restaurant or the nearest Apple Store?

    Here it’s just Mrs. Steinberg and me. We don’t have a support system with someone who could drive me to my destination. But what if I had a car with a fully enabled automated driving system? I can see the attraction for people who cannot make do by themselves, assuming such a setup was, once again, safe and reliable, not to mention affordable.

    Google and other companies are even now testing driverless cars. Those onboard safety systems that monitor distance from a car, the vehicle’s position in the lane, and whether there are obstacles that surround you, are only the first steps in a long process. Yet there are even affordable cars now that can automate the task of parallel parking, which is never a friendly process.

    How much more does it take to combine these features, and add the onboard systems necessary to take you somewhere without any human intervention whatever, except for instructions of where to go and — perhaps — which route to take?

    I expect you’ll see real driverless cars for sale in the next few years. People who only care about cars as appliances to take you from here to there, or who cannot drive for some reason, will probably lap them up if they aren’t too expensive.

    Today, I would not be a customer for such a system, but it’s possible that, some day, I will be. But it’ll be a choice of necessity. I still believe in driving, and I’d give up that right with extreme reluctance.

    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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