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  • Newsletter Issue #758

    June 9th, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Like them or hate them, you couldn’t ignore Apple Inc. this week. True, there wasn’t any new hardware, despite early predictions that something was afoot. But what was announced, huge updates for iOS and OS X, probably filled millions of words of commentary around the world. At a time when it was hard to justify previous claims of 200 new features in an Apple OS upgrade, iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite offer an almost endless number of changes and improvements.

    Other than a few complaints about the choice of typefaces — echoing a similar choice with iOS 7 — the initial reaction by the media to Yosemite is encouraging. I won’t, however, repeat anything posted about the developer preview. It’s all too preliminary to warrant serious attention, particularly the usual complaints about slow performance and a large list of things that could work better. It’s probably four months from the final release, so give it some time.

    So on the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused on Apple’s Wordwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which didn’t deliver news of any new gadgets, but delivered was a wealth of information about the forthcoming versions of OS X. In addition to the new look of OS X, there are literally hundreds of new features to discuss, but this week’s episode focused primarily on the highlights, such as iCloud Drive, the new Continuity feature, updated instant messaging capability, and Apple’s move to reduce reliance on Google and such third party services as Dropbox. We also briefly covered some of the enhancements that are making developers drool.

    Predictably, some are complaining about Apple’s new developer toolbox, dubbed Swift, even before apps appear that use the new programming language. That, too, is par for the course with Apple.

    Joining us this week was an expert panel that included author, blogger and commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld’s “iTunes Guy, and Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV.”

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Ted Roe, Executive Director of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena. NARCAP was founded in 1999 by Chief Scientist Dr. Richard Haines and Roe. Their information page says, that, “Through careful planning and execution, NARCAP has grown to be a respected research organization dedicated to studying UAP and aviation safety for the public’s benefit.” Listeners will notice that they refer to such objects as UAP, short for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. The term UFO is not used in their ongoing research, and we’ll focus on the best cases they’ve investigated and, of course, listener questions.

    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.

    MORE NONSENSE ABOUT WHAT APPLE SHOULD HAVE DONE

    There’s a feeling among some segments of the media that the people who run Apple are downright stupid. They shouldn’t be getting millions of dollars in wages and stock options playing with a huge multinational corporation. Let some smart people run Apple, such as the commentators and bloggers who must be frustrated because they aren’t earning the big bucks.

    Of course this is silly. While it’s perfectly fine to state what you don’t like about Apple, or what Apple should do, don’t presume to suggest you know more than Tim Cook or any other executive over there. It’s possible to make mistakes, but don’t presume they are all incompetent.

    Still, there is that unconfirmed report suggesting Apple’s executives didn’t understand the niceties of the streaming music business, didn’t comprehend the differences between Pandora and Spotify, and thus screwed up the launch of iTunes Radio. So they bought Beats Electronics to set things right.

    Just in case you tuned in late, Pandora is the online radio app, whereas Spotify is the streaming music service that lets you pick and choose the tracks you want to hear or download. So iTunes Radio is the former, and Beats Music is the latter. Thus they can, and they will, coexist, although the former will probably get some big changes because of the presence of Beats staffers on the Apple payroll.

    Yet another complaint is that Apple should make more of an effort to play nicely with Windows. The Continuity and Handoff features for OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 allow Macs, iPhones, iPads, and even the iPod touch, to work more closely together than before. If you are working on one, you can easily move on to another and complete your work. Consider this to be among the most important features of the new OS upgrades.

    Predictably, one particular critic wondered why this feature wouldn’t extend to Windows PC users, allowing them to share messages, phone calls, and documents. The logic is that Microsoft, and even Google, deliver apps and services for Apple’s platforms. So what’s Apple trying to do, other than retain the control freak reputation?

    Of course, this argument is foolish. Google’s revenue comes mostly from targeted ads. The cash register clicks when you click — or tap — an ad presented by Google. Microsoft has made forays into hardware, and the Xbox remains successful, but most of the revenue comes from apps and services. Lest we forget, Apple’s sales and profits come mostly from hardware. Sure, iTunes is doing well. The App Store is doing well, but they are there mostly to serve users of Apple gear. Period.

    This doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t make forays into extending support other platforms. iCloud Drive will work on Windows, and iTunes for Windows still plays an important role for PC owners who also have an iPhone or an iPad. But Apple is selling vertical integration. All the products are designed to work well together, which, of course, is done to not only improve the user experience, but make you want to buy more Apple gear.

    If you become accustomed to the Apple ecosystem, and you are satisfied with the environment, you are apt to want to continue to buy Apple when you want a new personal computer, smartphone or tablet. If exclusive features are opened up to other platforms, Apple’s advantage is reduced. The user experience on other hardware won’t be as smooth, and that state of affairs will hardly encourage sales of Apple gear. Few would argue that iTunes for Windows works as well as iTunes for OS X, but it’s still an essential part of Apple’s strategy.

    This is also a key reason why OS X and iOS 8 aren’t opened to third-party PCs and mobile gear. Hardware sales dominate Apple, so why should they kill the golden goose? If you don’t want Apple, go Google, but consider the hoops you may have to jump to integrate with a desktop computer. Microsoft would prefer you get a Windows Phone handset, and owning Nokia’s handset division may be a smart move, assuming sales and profits improve. But Windows Phone isn’t getting much love these days.

    As to developers, Apple touted 4,000 new APIs for iOS 8. If you’re building or updating your apps, you’ll have loads of new capabilities to explore and add to your products. Apple’s Swift programming language is for iOS and OS X, not for Android, Windows or any other platform. But Android’s developer tools are for Android, and Microsoft’s developer tools are for Windows-related products.

    The suggestion that Swift ought to be cross-platform is absurd. Obviously, if developers become accustomed to the new programming environment, they’ll be more inclined to stick with Apple. If it’s as good as Apple promises, you’ll get better, faster, more reliable apps. The user experiences will improve, and more customers will flock to Apple.

    So?

    There’s nothing wrong with a tech company trying to lock in customers, partners and developers. With iOS 8, Apple has opened up the platform quite extensively for third parties. The HealthKit and HomeKit APIs are there for other companies to build products that work with Apple. You’ll be able to install third-party keyboards systemwide, plus extensions that allow apps to talk to one another and add features, not to mention build widgets for the Notification Center.

    At the end of the day, though, it’s all about improving customer experience, and making you want to buy more Apple gear. Nothing wrong with that, so I wonder about the pundits who believe Apple should just give everything away.

    NEW EPSON ALL-IN-ONE INKJET PROMISES NEAR-LASER QUALITY

    It’s a common perception that a laser printer, color or black and white, offers superior text quality. Indeed, it’s often suggested you buy a laser for text documents, and an inkjet for anything that’s more than black and white.

    So text on a even a cheap laser printer is sharp, crisp, and essentially ready for the print shop, whereas text on an inkjet may be thick and fuzzy, even at the higher quality settings. It’s also true that an inkjet tends to cost more to operate, as the costly ink is rapidly sucked away for every copy you print. Of course, when you have to buy four toner cartridges for a color laser, you may think twice.

    For me, it’s actually solid ink and inkjet. The former is an ancient Xerox 8560DN purchased several years ago when one of the online vendors had a huge discount. It is fed with squarish blocks of wax-based solid ink, and is reasonably cheap to run. Print quality is just a smidge fuzzier than laser, but you have to see it magnified to detect the difference. Colors are just shy of the best inkjets, which is why they are popular in real estate offices.

    My inkjet choices have been all-in-one, or multifunction, which combine the printer with copying, faxing and scanning. While compromises are inevitable, the best of the breed deliver scans just short of dedicated gear.

    The downsides of the multifunction are usually print quality, output speed, and the cost of all that ink. Sure, you can get third-party consumables, but you often give up something in print quality. I tried them for a while on my HP OfficeJet 8600 Pro Plus, only to see output quality deteriorate over time. Fortunately, the return to OEM ink cured the problem pretty quickly.

    Graphic artists have tended to favor Epson for the outstanding print quality, but the models I’ve tried tend to favor photos over text. Ink consumption tends to be somewhat high, which means expensive.

    That takes us to the newly announced $199.99 Epson WorkForce WF-3640 all-in-one, which promises laser quality and higher speeds with their new PrecisionCore print chipsets. Print speeds are reportedly boosted by using a higher number of nozzles in a smaller area, which results in a greater ink flow. But Epson is also promising that the costs of consumables for the entire product lineup are from 40% to 50% less than color laser.

    As a practical matter, claims that an inkjet is as good as laser are rarely demonstrated in real world tests. In saying that, the WF-3640 comes mighty close. I printed a good cross-section of text material, and I have to say it I had to look at smaller text with a loupe to see a trace of fuzziness, and that may well be the result of the cheap printer paper I generally use.

    The setup process was routine. There’s a quick start manual that covers the basics. After removing the tape that holds everything together during shipping, I plugged it in, turned it on and installed the four ink cartridges. The software comes on a CD, but is also available online if you have a Mac or PC without an optical drive. The printer went through an initialization process as I installed the software, after which it was ready to roll.

    I didn’t perform any benchmarks. In the default Normal setting, though, output was as fast as any inkjet I’ve used. The scanner is also pretty quick, doing its thing much faster than the HP OfficeJet I’ve used for the past couple of years. The only downside is that, typical of most printers these days, the WF-3640 ships with a starter kit of consumables, which means you’ll see the low ink warnings faster than you expect. Epson does sell an XL lineup of consumables, however, with the promise of three times as many prints. Fortunately I got a spare shipment of the higher capacity spread to use for my ongoing tests, but consumable costs do appear competitive, though I’ll know more when the independent dealers have them in stock.

    The new WorkForce printers come in a number of models for small and large office environments; my test unit is ideal for a home office. At the top of the heap is the 7000 wide-format series for creatives, architects and engineers, which can duplex 11×17-inch paper. The new models will be shipping between now and mid-July. The WF-3640 that I received for review fits in the latter group.

    My initial encounter is quite encouraging. I’ll have more to say soon.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #758”

    1. Paul says:

      The insights in “What Apple Should Have Done” are brilliant–well-reasoned, thoughtful, and on target.

      The section on the Epson printer, though, reads in too many places like a press release from the company, sorry to say.

      You also fell for this (I’m exaggerating, but it’s a key item in Epson’s promo lit and it strikes me as incomplete, even odd, each time I read it):

      “But Epson is also promising that the costs of consumables for the entire product lineup are from 40% to 50% less than color laser.”

      Instead of exploring that, you pivoted to quality of text

      “As a practical matter, claims that an inkjet is as good as laser are rarely demonstrated in real world tests. In saying that, the WF-3640 comes mighty close.”

      The issue, though, is how expensive the printing is. Epson keeps doing a sleight-of-hand comparison–well, it’s legitimate if someone is considering a color laser printer–but we really want to know how expensive the black-and-white printing on it vs. other ink jets and vs. a typical laser. They’re silent about that.

      I almost bought that very printer–attracted by its large paper tray capacity (250) and even 2 trays–and good reviews. However, there’s a big issue in that you can only feed envelopes via the first tray! Meaning you still have to switch paper in and out. Consumable costs are, apparently, quite high, too!

      We ended up with a Brother 470-DW–low-cost (a grand total of $50 after rebates) and it is the most miserly consumer of ink of an inkjet we’ve ever used (and we’ve used plenty). The quality is quite good, too!

      Of course, now I’m sounding like a shill for Brother–have no connection with them, but we were amazed at this guy–well, save for its cheap plastic parts; something that plagues most of the recent printers, including the Epson. Our old Canon MP 610, in contrast, was solidly built–no sense that you were going to break things by pulling out the paper exit tray. Indeed, the Canon’s entire front, solid, opened up automatically to be the tray–unlike the flimsy, plasticky, light-weight things that hardly pass for paper catches!

      • @Paul, Officially, the product is not on sale, so it’s not that I’m able to expand much beyond the manufacturer’s claims beyond some preliminary observations. I cannot compare ink costs until I have seen a range of prices from independent dealers. The main comparison is my HP, and the prices listed at Epson’s site were within a couple of dollars of HP’s. The key is how many copies I get from the Epson, and I won’t have a final answer until I get a low ink warning on the XL version of the black ink. But there are some troubling signs.

        I’d also have to compare those prices to some mid-range color lasers to see how close they come. But my Xerox Phaser 8560DN is cheaper to run. I can get enough ink for 6,000 copies at eBay for $245, a little less than twice the price of a set of XL ink for the Epson or the HP. If either could produce 3,000 copies from that purchase, they’d be comparable, but they aren’t. HP advertises 2,300 copies for its 950XL black ink. Epson appears to be claiming 1,100. If that’s borne out in actual experience, it’ll mean that the Epson’s costs are twice that of the HP. But I really need to go through my normal print routine to come to an accurate conclusion.

        Peace,
        Gene

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