Do you ever use Newsstand? This iOS app was meant as Apple’s solution for digital magazines. You’d have all of your favorite publications available on a single bookshelf for easy reading. Only it hasn’t worked out so well, nor has the dream of all-digital magazines by struggling publishers yet been realized.
I know that I didn’t pay very much real attention to it after the early days, and I wonder how many of you consider it a must-have feature, or one to which you pay no attention.
In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented commentator Kirk McElhearn, Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who explained why he thinks it’s time for Apple to terminate the Newsstand app with extreme prejudice, the possibility that Iliad, a French telecom company, might buy T-Mobile, why you should be cautious about installing the OS X Yosemite Public Beta, and more about the potential impact of the recent Apple/IBM marketing deal.
Did he say cautious? Well, that makes plenty of sense. A beta operating system is an unstable place to be, and you shouldn’t install it on a Mac you use for work, unless you have an extra partition or drive for the installation. That may explain why Apple, last time I checked, appeared to still have slots available for beta testers. Their announced limit was one million, or maybe that limit was quietly abandoned. Meantime, Apple does list the cautions on the beta testing site, so it’s not as if you haven’t been warned.
You also heard from John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, who discussed such topics as how Apple’s “secret war” against Samsung is working, why Apple could get more mileage out of its “slipstream” Mac upgrades, which involve minor refreshes and more favorable pricing, why Apple is going “back to the future” to fight Google, and how the new Mac Pro can use OpenCL parallel processing to explore black holes and perform other high-end scientific computing tasks faster than ever.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: If there was ever a person who could be declared the “dean” of UFO researchers, it might very well be Stanton T. Friedman, a long-time UFO investigator and a nuclear physicist. Friedman is one of the key researchers into the Roswell crash and other events over the years, and has posited a strong case that the phenomenon is the result of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. His recent books include “Flying Saucers and Science” (2008) and “Science Was Wrong,” (2010) co-authored with Kathleen Marden.
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.
Aside from that offhand remark from a long-term client to Apple’s demonstration of OS X Yosemite — “Yuk! — the response to the developer and public beta releases has been mostly positive. Clearly Apple has worked hard to deliver reasonably reliable early seeds with most features mostly functional. It’s also stable enough not to come crashing down over every little function.
With Windows 8, Microsoft’s marketing and engineering teams were clearly asleep at the wheel. They didn’t listen to what the public really wanted — or needed for that matter — and deluded themselves into believing that the tiled interfaces of the failed Zune music players and the stagnant Windows Phone platform would somehow succeed in a traditional personal computing environment.
Well, perhaps for consumers, although they don’t seem to like it either. But the most significant part of Microsoft’s business is the enterprise, and the IT people weren’t listening then or now. Those who aren’t simply struggling to keep Windows XP boxes running after Microsoft withdrew support earlier this year, have migrated to Windows 7. Windows 8? Windows 8.1? Not so much!
With OS X Yosemite, Apple is clearly aware of the fact that Mac users don’t want the fundamentals changed. For over 30 years, the various versions of the Mac OS have satisfied creatives, home users, and the few business users who bucked the Windows trend to adopt Apple’s platform.
While there are significant changes in Yosemite, Apple’s designers and engineers understood that Mac users want Macs, not warmed over iOS gear. But that doesn’t mean Apple didn’t make significant changes to accommodate the fact that most Mac users are probably using iPhones, iPads or both. They rely on these tools for different functions, but need to seamlessly move from one device to another with as little delay or relearning as possible.
So it doesn’t make sense to have a contact list app named Address Book on a Mac, and Contacts on your iPhone or iPad. There’s nothing wrong in using the same name for simplicity sake. From Calendar to Messages to other apps that are shared on both platforms, customers want familiar environments where things just work. When even a few seconds are lost remembering the differing names, that just annoys the customer.
The Continuity features of OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 recognize the fact that someone may begin such tasks as writing email or Pages documents on a Mac and, for whatever reason, need to continue those tasks when they are on the road or at the office, where the iPhone and iPad are at hand. Being able to pass on these functions is critical, although the Handoff features appear to only work on recent Macs with Bluetooth LE installed. But that situation will change over time as more older Macs are replaced, and perhaps Apple will make third-party solutions possible.
It’s also nice to be able to have a Mac and iPhone work together in sending and receiving SMS messages. Right now, if you get an SMS message on your smartphone, you are forced to go back to it to respond. But if that message is passed on to your Mac where you can answer it directly, that’s just one more thing to make your work or play session more efficient. Ditto for the ability to manage that phone call from your iPhone on your Mac.
Yes, this is all part of Apple’s “lock-in” features, which make each device somehow dependent on another, tapping iCloud and the company’s app ecosystem to manage the entirety of your user experience. Some chafe at the perceived limitations, though they are largely confined to the degree to which you can customize your environment or get all the apps you want or believe you need that aren’t offered on iOS.
But most customers really don’t want to spend hours fiddling with settings just to get things to work. Most defaults are kept, so you can go about your business as much as possible. A wise business decision, and the enhanced security and productivity, particularly when businesses adopt iPhones and iPads, is likely a key reason why Apple and IBM are working together all over again.
Having run the Yosemite pre-releases on two Macs, I can tell you that I have actually been able to transfer a fair amount of my work routine without suffering from the lack of a feature, or a stability issue. Most apps I’ve tried run just fine, and, while I might have a quibble or two about the new features, I never feel I’m not using a real Mac. But I still go back to Mavericks for most work; I’m not going to ignore the obvious warnings about a beta OS.
For years, Microsoft had a dream of putting Windows everywhere, rather than consider what customers want or need. That explains the Windows 8 and Windows Phone disasters. For Windows 9, it’s reported that Microsoft will set default environments, the interface formerly known as Metro on convertible PCs and tablets, and a Windows-style desktop interface on regular PCs.
That decision, if implemented, will simply confuse customers even more than they are confused now. Just remember how many Surface RT tablets were returned because customers discovered, to their sorrow, that it couldn’t run regular Windows apps, even though the tiled desktop and other interface elements looked and worked the same as Intel-based hardware.
There wasn’t even a huge warning label!
This doesn’t mean it’s too late for Microsoft to set things right. But they first have to realize what went wrong, and consider the solutions carefully before foisting them on customers who will become even more upset over the results.
One thing is sure: Columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, who hangs his hat at AppleInsider, is nothing if not provocative in his well-researched thought pieces. He clearly enjoys finding holes in the logic of tech and financial pundits and quite often even the mainstream media when it comes to Apple Inc. and their rivals.
Now regular listeners know that Daniel visits my tech show every few weeks with a new collection of information that fractures the conventional wisdom. In recent weeks, he’s discussed the inability of such market research firms as Gartner and IDC to correctly report Mac sales, or even where the iPad stands in the overall PC market, and the tortured methods used to make sales appear to be worse than they actually are.
In his latest AppleInsider commentary, Daniel summarizes a published report from an intelligence firm, Recorded Future, which looked into the changes Al-Qaeda made in response to the Snowden NSA leaks. Clearly these nasties want to shore up their online presence to evade discovery of their terrorist activities.
Their handsets of choice run Android, and the reasons why are fairly basic. The platform is freely available to handset makers, and some, such as Amazon, have simply forked the open source version in order to customize it to their needs. What’s more, it’s easy to bypass Google Play and sideload unsigned apps, the better to keep their evil activities under the radar.
Once Google Play is no longer used, there are also security leaks in Android that can be readily exploited to create botnets and engage in distributed DDoS attacks to bring down a computer network, public or private.
Indeed, many Android handsets are made by smaller companies, mostly in Asia, who aren’t constrained by the more secure controls a responsible manufacturer might put on such gear. They are also quite cheap as well, so even a terrorist on a limited budget can buy all the gear they need for their criminal activities.
Yes, it is possible to jailbreak an iPhone and load up on apps that aren’t acceptable to Apple. But Apple still exerts far more strenuous controls on the platform. I also suspect that if President Obama telephoned his good buddy Tim Cook and requested that Apple take more steps to protect the iPhone and iPad from the terrorist crowd, Cook would be a good citizen and do what was necessary so long as the privacy of the general public was protected.
Another thing the terrorists can be sure about, and that is that those cheap Android handsets will never, ever, be upgraded to repair security issues. It’s hard enough for Google, their handset partners and the wireless carriers, to figure out how to provide needed OS updates as it is.
Now Daniel’s article — and this one — are not intended to fear-monger. We’re simply publishing news about an unfortunate but expected impact of having a mobile platform that isn’t getting much attention to shore up security. It just makes it far easier for hackers to gain control of Android handsets, particularly those running older version’s of Google’s OS, which accounts for the largest number of activated units.
Indeed, even if Google took more steps to ensure security, that wouldn’t change a thing on hundreds of millions of handsets that will never be touched by those changes. There is ripe opportunity there for those who mean us harm to get the proper gear to engage in their hateful activities.
I also expect that you won’t hear from anyone at Google in response to Daniel’s article, or the original report from Recorded Future. There’s also that infamous comment from a Google executive some months back that security wasn’t a priority. But for millions of customers who think otherwise, at least there’s another mobile platform out there that does make credible efforts to protect customers from malware and other security-related ills.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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