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Newsletter Issue #752

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

In my dad’s time, one often took a job, or started a business, and became a lifer. For the rest of their days, they’d work for that company, or run that business. Well, maybe the kids would take over the business when the parents got old or ill.

Nowadays, people tend to move frequently from place to place for reasons of advancement and possibly location. I’m not including just getting canned from a job, of course.

Before I went freelance, I never worked at any place for more than six or seven years, but a lot of that is due to the fact that my first real job was in radio broadcasting. That’s the sort of profession where jumping from one gig to another in a short period of time is not uncommon. There, working longer than one year on the job was the exception.

So where am I going with this? Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, who spoke about the 24th anniversary of his online publication. He explained how he and his wife and business partner, Tanya Engst, established the publication and how its development followed the development of the web. He’ll also offered a few choice insights into Apple’s history over the years, and he explained how he entereded the fledgling e-book business with Take Control Books.

You also heard from Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, with insights on Apple’s unexpectedly high quarterly financials, along with the reasons why the lower iPad sales aren’t quite as low as they seem at first glance. He also gave a reality check on Android tablet sales, the ongoing problems with Microsoft’s mobile platform, now enhanced with the acquisition of Nokia’s handset and devices division, and his expectations for the rumored iWatch.

Now Daniel is nothing if not critical of the news media, whom he feels are only too quick to take a wrong approach to covering Apple. He points out, for example, that despite the ongoing meme that the iPhone 5c was unsuccessful because Apple got the product mix wrong between that model and the iPhone 5s in the December 2013 quarter, it was actually a hot seller. Indeed, Daniel points out that more copies of the iPhone 5c were sold than the entire output of several mobile handset makers.

After listening to the episode, you may want to check out Daniel’s AppleInsider report on the subject for extensive background information.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present filmmaker Matty Beckerman, who made his directorial debut with “Alien Abduction,” a sci-fi thriller based on the legend of the Brown Mountain Lights. The movie was released by IFC Midnight on April 4, 2014. We will be discussing the role of media in public perception of so-called paranormal subjects and what responsibilities the artist has in regard to accuracy versus. entertainment. Beckerman is the Founder and CEO of Natural Selection, a privately-held, equity-backed motion picture company based in Los Angeles. He has Executive Produced Paul Scheuring’s “The Experiment,” starring Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker.

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 MEDIA ANXIOUSLY AWAITS APPLE’S NEXT TRENDSETTING GADGET

Apple’s stock price soared big time for a single day last week the day after the company released unexpectedly favorable earnings for the March quarter. It was partly due to the fact that iPhone sales really exceeded most analyst estimates, and even the Mac did well. The iPad, well, not so much.

But Apple also pulled what some might regard as a pair of financial stunts to move the stock forward, although there is surely solid value to investors in what they did. First, the stock buyback program was increased by some $30 billion to $90 billion, scheduled to conclude by the end of 2015. The second was an unusual seven-to-one stock split, meaning you get seven shares for each one you own.

Now I’m not a Wall Street investor and I don’t play one on TV or radio, so I won’t presume to second guess the value of such clever maneuvers. Cutting back on the number of available shares in a company makes the remainder more valuable. A lower stock price, because of the split, means that it becomes more affordable for individual and institutional investors. That’s supposed to be a good thing.

Yet these feats of financial legerdemain clearly do not actually increase sales, or open new product categories. It may be important that these steps were taken from a financial point of view, but it doesn’t put an iWatch on your hand, or expand any markets.

So once again the tech and financial worlds wonder what Apple is planning. Yes, there will be updated Macs, yes there will be new iPhones, maybe even an iPhone “phablet” of some sort (though I’m skeptical of such a beast), and the iPad will surely get a more significant update to jumpstart sales.

That, so far, is a given.

It’s also expected that you’ll learn about the next versions of iOS and OS X during the WWDC, which begins on June 2. That early start means that Apple may be ready for earlier introductions of both. While new versions of OS X don’t necessarily presage a new Mac lineup, simply because they don’t always come into alignment, the next iOS will ship with the next iPhone.

The speculation about both is basically centered on specific items. So Apple will likely clean up more of the raggedness that polluted some elements of iOS 7, which gave the feel to some of a rush job. It’s also expected there will be health and fitness apps, or a single app combining both, but that also may be related to the forthcoming wearable gadget that’s still widely expected.

OS X, presumably version 10.10 and apparently known by the code-name Syrah (which won’t be the shipping name), is expected to sport a flatter interface. So it would present a more consistent look compared to iOS 8. It won’t mean an iOSification of OS X, but having a similar look would make it more friendly for those who switch back and forth between iPhones, iPads and Macs. This is part and parcel of Apple’s approach, which is not to merge the operating systems, but to make them work well together.

All right, nothing unusual so far. But what about those promised new product categories?

A piece in a certain newspaper of record makes a big deal over the fact that Apple’s financial moves take attention away from the expected iconic gadgets. That may work for a time, but as time passes, the skeptics will become more vocal. Was it all smoke and mirrors, or is there really something real behind the mask?

That Apple’s R&D costs are going up, that Apple is buying more and more small companies to acquire technology, clearly indicates that something is afoot and that there are probably some intriguing things in the pipeline. But it’s also a lot about timing, and Apple isn’t going to release a product before it’s considered ready, nor at the wrong time of the year, to fuel maximum demand.

So look at an iWatch. If there’s going to be an ecosystem of apps specific to that platform, it may well be that you’ll learn more about it during the WWDC. Apple may demonstrate a prototype, outline the features, and offer developers opportunities to build apps to be ready when the first iWatches ship.

When will that happen? Well, an iWatch is expected to be a fashion accessory, in keeping with some of Apple’s new hires, and therefore the maximum sales opportunity would be during the holiday season. So you’d probably expect a late October release, and I would expect there will be men’s and women’s versions, and possibly fancier, more expensive models that would be classified as jewelry.

Yes, if there is an iWatch in our future, it won’t be like any smartwatch out there. They are all just geeky electronic gadgets for power users. If Apple takes this move, it would be one intended to make the smartwatch an essential product for anyone, meaning it would sport consumer-friendly features, and do lots of things automatically, behind the scenes, so people wouldn’t have to fiddle with a tiny gadget to make it all happen. It will also be nice to look at.

I don’t have any deep insights into the iWatch, but it does seem that one is in the works.

Beyond that, we return to Apple TV, shed of hobby status as a one billion dollar a year business, but the next generation product would hardly fit as a new category. An Apple smart TV yes, but I just can’t see it.

One thing is certain, however. If Apple doesn’t make a move by summer to demonstrate something about the new products on the horizon, the skeptical “show me” clamor will only get louder. But, as I said, I do expect good things from Apple, and that one’s patience will be rewarded.

WHY I STICK WITH APPLE MAIL

I’ve been an email junkie since the late 1980s, when I first began to use AOL. When the Internet spread across the planet, I tried different email clients on my Macs to see which suited me. Eudora, for example, was embraced early as a sort of power users choice, but I never took to it.

My early favorite came from Apple’s former Claris division, known as Emailer. Actually, it originated at a third party company, Fog City Software, and was acquired by Apple. To me, it was really well designed and did everything I needed at the time. One key feature was the ability to access my AOL email, something rare among email clients of the latter 1990s.

Well, the final version of Emailer, version 2.0v3, shipped in January 1998, and I kept using it for as long as possible. With the end of Emailer, some of its key developers went on to Microsoft and worked on Outlook Express for the Mac, a free email app that’s since been discontinued, and it’s clear some ideas also made the transition.

For several years, I moved to Entourage, Microsoft’s paid successor to Outlook Express, although, typical of a Microsoft product, it could be slow, ungainly, and the singular dependence on a monolithic database file for all your messages could cause corruption problems. There were built in tools, still there with Outlook for the Mac, designed to fix such ills. At least Outlook stores actual messages in separate files, following Apple’s approach with Mail. But there’s still a database.

With the arrival of OS X, I played around with Mail, an app that originated on the original NeXT platform that became the core of Apple’s new OS. But it didn’t quite have the features I needed to feel fully comfortable to make the switch.

As the features were fleshed out, and becoming more and more frustrated with the endemic performance and reliability problems with Entourage, I made the switch one day. It was no eureka moment (it’s not a pun!). But I could use Mail to access messages from all my accounts, including AOL, store signatures, set rules — all the things I needed to fill my modest email needs.

True, Mail could be flaky as well, and performance wasn’t always stellar. But its simple interface, and easy set up, kept me there. From time to time, I would try Microsoft’s latest Entourage — and later Outlook. There were features I liked, and it had the veneer of greater sophistication. But the bloat and performance issues persisted. With the first versions of Outlook 2011, I couldn’t even use the app. It would either constantly quit, or fail to deliver my email in a way that made me feel comfortable. That’s really important to me.

True, Mail became somewhat unreliable in OS X Mavericks. Most of that was centered on Gmail, which I don’t really use all that much, so it didn’t impact me. But getting inaccurate unread message counts, occasional freezing and subpar performance, didn’t endear me to the program. The ongoing OS X updates — and a 10.9.3 is expected soon — cleaned it up enough to fill my needs.

Yes, I would like a viable email alternative. I’ve tried everything I can find out there, even Airmail, a somewhat minimalist app from Bloop S.R.L. with intriguing ideas, but ideas that don’t always conform to my well-crafted routines. I do revisit it from time to time, so maybe I will go with it some day.

But not yet. Or maybe I’m just too old to change my ways. But I suppose it’s always possible Apple will lavish some more loving attention on Mail for the next version of OS X and amaze us. Or maybe it no longer matters, and email is meant for our rearview mirrors.

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
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