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Newsletter Issue #763


Are you bored with the Apple TV? It’s not as if the product has changed beyond a minor speed bump a couple of years back to give you 1080p capability. Other than that — and a very minor chip change that didn’t alter performance — the improvements have been confined to the software. There are more channels and some minor interface refinements. But nothing that will upend the steaming set-top box business.

Indeed, when I read the press release about the Amazon Fire TV, I had to stifle a yawn. All right, there’s support for gaming, but it’s not as if it will supplant an Xbox One. The rest was mostly more of the same, this time presented as yet another gateway to Amazon’s huge storefront.

If something new is going to come from this space, one hopes it’ll come from Apple, which only recently removed Apple TV from the hobby category. Maybe this fall.

In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV.” Josh talked about his favorite free email service, or at least the one he uses, along with the state of Apple TV and streaming set-top boxes, and what might be needed to bring such products to a new generation of excellence, including advanced game controllers.

We also presented Rob Shavell, CEO of Abine (an online privacy firm), who discussed Face-book’s new tracking policy and why they continue to keep tabs on you even if you have all the privacy settings switched on.

You also heard from author/columnist Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who covered the state of the Mac and his reactions to the prerelease versions of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. And, yes, he’s working on “Dummies” books about both.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present conspiracy theory researcher, Olav Phillips, who covers the entire spectrum of possible secrets about whether some UFO reports are based on sightings of test aircraft, Nazi UFOs, the secret space program and other fascinating tales. Phillips has been featured on nationally syndicated radio and TV shows, and is the owner of The Anomalies Channel, an online video channel with over 26,000 subscribers and hundreds of videos available to Roku players all over the world as well as The Anomalies Network, which is the primary source for his writings and research.

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.


At the same time that I read a report speculating about the feature set of the rumored iPhone 6, there was yet another headline suggesting that Samsung was poised to introduce a smartphone designed to compete head-on, which may be called Alpha. Of course, this is the way of the tech world. Apple puts out something, and tech pundits tout competing products that are intended to be “killers.”

So we had the iPod killer, the iPhone killer and the iPad killer. But none of these killers every actually sold more copies than the Apple gadget they competed with. Yes, more Android smartphones are sold than iPhones. But most are cheap models with which Apple never competes.

When I mention Apple having higher sales, I’m referring to single models, not hundreds of products produced by dozens of manufacturers both small and large. That’s a distinction that isn’t always drawn by commentators who want you to believe that the iOS has been overwhelmed by Android, there’s no room for a more profitable number two, and Apple might as well throw in the towel.

One key Apple advantage is to concentrate on a small number of products that may not cater to every need, but can satisfy most. This approach may make it simpler to design, build and support Apple gear, but it also means that some customers may look elsewhere to satisfy their needs.

So we have the larger smartphones, particularly phablets. Now on the surface, the phablet is not just an awkward name, but an awkward product that attempts to mix the benefits of a smartphone with a tablet. It ends up being too large as a phone, particularly if you are regularly removing it from a pocket or small purse. As a tablet, the display is too small for convenient navigation, being only slightly larger than a regular smartphone. In short, it’s a poor compromise.

But for someone who can only afford one device, it may represent the best possible solution, as it does in Asia, where phablets are extremely popular. So Apple wants to continue to expand in the Asian market, hence I’m not surprised that there may be an iPhone 6 with a 5.5-inch display. Sure, Apple may have been dragged kicking and screaming into developing a larger iPhone, but customers are customers, and there appears to be a reliable market here that Apple will want to fill as the smartphone market becomes saturated.

It’s foolish to think Apple doesn’t consider customer needs when designing new gear. So it also found heavy demand for the iPad mini even though Steve Jobs poo-poohed the idea of a smaller model. Apple made it larger than the 7-inch widescreen versions, with lots more screen real estate, so VP Philip Schiller was able to make a good case for walking back the expectation that there’d be only one sized iPad.

It was also a good move, although iPad sales still declined in the March quarter. Sure, I have no doubt Tim Cook was right in blaming a large part of that decline on inventory adjustment, but sales would still have been lower than the previous year. If there was only one iPad size, would those customers have gone to Samsung or Amazon? Some would have anyway.

But it’s a natural evolution of an Apple product to embrace multiple sizes and configurations for each size. Remember when there was just one iPod? Apple’s difference is that model proliferation is held in check as much as possible. In contrast, there are so many variations of the Samsung Galaxy S5 that I couldn’t name them all, and I wonder how any Samsung executive would fare without a cheat sheet.

Now with the growing possibility that an Apple wearable, presumably to be called iWatch, is poised for a fall release, pundits are looking at existing smartwatches or rumored new products to declare them iWatch killers. Even Microsoft is planning on entering the wearables game, and I recall one pundit claiming that the company must succeed this time because of the failure of Windows 8. But logic dictates that failing once doesn’t mean you won’t fail again, and it doesn’t guarantee that a Windows Watch, or whatever it’s called, is fated to succeed.

Besides, how do you compare products that don’t even exist yet? You can’t just look at existing models and assume the rumored entrants from Apple and Microsoft will fit in the same mold. Well, maybe Microsoft’s would, unless CEO Satya Nadella can somehow browbeat the company’s product designers to accomplish unexpected feats of creativity.

But you certainly expect Apple to approach the market in a different way, partly to address the shortcomings of existing gear. Remember that the smartwatch is far short of a hot ticket right now. Yes, it does seem a decent number of Pebble smartwatches are being sold, but that company can achieve success with a fraction of the numbers required by Apple.

Indeed, Apple’s biggest problem may be just convincing customers that they want a watch in the first place. It’s not that people buy watches in the same quantities as they used to. Apple would also need to attract customers who find existing gear too geeky for their tastes, since many people use watches as jewelry without regard to how well they tell time or what added features are available.

My wife, for example, puts on a watch every time she goes out. She also wears bracelets and rings, but I don’t think she really pays much attention to the watch except as something to enhance her appearance. When she wants to check the time, she takes out her iPhone.

That’s the sort of obstacle Apple will want to overcome if the iWatch does truly emerge as a genuine product. If that happens, it’ll probably be this fall, but assuming that any existing product in that category can outdo Apple is downright absurd. Maybe they will, but let’s see what the iWatch really is first. Predictably that won’t stop the Apple critics who curiously would feel delighted to see the company fail. Maybe they feel if Apple is declared dead often enough, it is fated to come to pass. Or maybe people will stop reading their drivel.


So there’s little doubt that Windows 8 has been a huge failure for Microsoft, more so than Windows Vista, the previous example of good intentions gone bad. At the same time, it’s the twilight of the PC era, so anything that makes someone less apt to buy one is extremely troublesome for the industry.

Certainly Microsoft had to be aware they had a train wreck in their midst, or maybe the company’s product people deluded themselves into thinking customers would adore the new OS once it was released. Otherwise why take an interface that failed in two products and modify it for a third? So we have the tiled interface of the Zune music player, reborn as the tiled interface in Windows Phone.

It’s not that Windows Phone has taken the mobile world by storm, so why use the interface as the influence for the Metro — or Modern UI — look and feel of Windows 8? Surprisingly some of Microsoft’s loyal fans in the tech media had qualms about the new OS once the betas arrived. Evidently Microsoft didn’t get the memo before it was too late to avoid disaster.

That takes us to Windows Threshold, also known as Windows 9, which is due to arrive in the spring of 2015. Well, at least that’s the schedule now. Evidently Windows 9 will be designed to reclaim the ground lost with Windows 8. It sort of reminds me about the critical reactions to Star Trek movies that bore odd numbers in the titles. So we know that “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn,” was a huge hit, whereas “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” had less critical acclaim. And don’t forget “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” which was directed by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. He has never been allowed to forget that bomb, although I don’t think it was all that bad.

In any case, Microsoft is evidently going to do the things people have demanded for Windows 8, particularly emphasizing the desktop environment for PCs equipped with the traditional mouse and keyboard. There will also be a new Start menu designed to reconnect with long-time Windows users.

The core of Threshold, however, is that it will reflect a default interface depending on the hardware. So a convertible PC, such as a Surface Pro, will allow you to switch between Modern UI and the traditional mode depending on whether or not you’re using a keyboard. Mobile devices using ARM or Intel Atom processors will obviously get the Modern UI, at least for the few people who will choose to buy one.

Now I realize all of this is based on preliminary reports of how Windows 9 will shake out. In passing, I understand the logic behind setting default interfaces based on the type of PC you have. But there’s the risk of confusing people who may not immediately realize that their convertible PC without the keyboard will offer them Modern UI instead of the traditional PC desktop they seek, particularly if it works that way on a more traditional PC in their home or office.

Indeed, customer confusion is one of the reasons, among many, that Windows 8 failed. Consider the plight of people who bought a Surface RT, using an ARM processor, which couldn’t run a regular Windows app even though it appeared to be running the same OS as an Intel-based PC. You can see where Microsoft totally failed the user, and they are paying for that mistake.

In any case, there’s no sense trying to review an OS before it even goes in beta, and all the interface and feature elements have been worked out. I will watch how it all plays out with interest. But one thing is sure: Microsoft is clearly going to try hard not to repeat the mistakes of the previous even-numbered edition of Windows.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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