• Newsletter Issue #767

    August 11th, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It almost seems that online security may become the impossible dream. So last fall, it was revealed that tens of millions of credit cards were compromised at Target, the large discount retailer. Over the ensuing months, there were even more reports of large data breaches from major vendors. This was not good.

    This week came the story about a massive worldwide security break-in that formed a topic of discussion on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented Rob Dinuzzo, Marketing Manager for RoboForm, a password manager app, who discussed the recent report that a Russian crime ring has somehow amassed a collection of 1.2 billion usernames and password combinations along with 500 million email addresses. How do you protect yourself and your passwords from this intrusion?

    Now to be fair, the original report came from Hold Security, a security film in Milwaukee, but wasn’t backed up by anyone else. According to a story in The New York Times, Hold Security has a solid history of unearthing information about significant hacks. The news came ahead of the annual Black Hat security conference held in Las Vegas this past week.

    So at the least, this unsavory news paved the way to gain attention for the security event. Each year, we learn how so-called Black Hats manage to break into all sorts of sites, operating systems and hardware due to ever-present security leaks. Still, it would be nice to have some independent confirmation, particularly considering the horrible implications if it were all true.

    Maybe we should all go back to landline telephones over copper wire and forget about the Internet. But that genie has long since been liberated, so we have to cope. Or get a reliable password manager app of some sort. For users of Apple gear, there’s always the iCloud Keychain, which does a creditable job of suggesting secure passwords, and managing them smoothly. For cross-platform use, RoboForm is certainly a credible option.

    You also heard from Stephen Baker, Vice President for Industry Analysis at the NPD Group, who covered the state of the smartphone market, why 3D TV failed, the rise of set-top boxes, why iPad sales are flagging, the recent improvement in PC sales, and why he’s not too impressed with the Apple/IBM deal.

    Tech blogger Dann Berg talked about the OS X Yosemite public beta, his efforts to install the iOS 8 beta on a iPad mini, why he believes the patent laws need to be completely overhauled, and whether he’d buy an iWatch if Apple releases such a device.

    It seems clear that, if affordable, Dann would buy one. I’m still on the fence. Apple is going to have to make a strong case for me to consider getting an iWatch, though with Apple you just never know. I never considered getting an iPhone until I had a chance to test one.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present long-time UFO investigator Don Berliner. His books include “Crash at Corona,” written with Stanton Friedman and, with Antonio Huneeus, “UFO Briefing Document: The Best Available Evidence.” Berliner has, according to his bio, written 300 magazine articles and 25 books on aviation history and space, and also worked as a staff writer for NICAP back in the 1960s. He has a wealth of solid information to deliver about the UFO mystery, and he’ll also be answering 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.

    ABOUT NON-EXISTENT APPLE PREDICTIONS

    Consider the situation. There isn’t a whole lot of new stuff coming out about Apple. We’re in that ephemeral hole between the last Apple announcement, a minor MacBook Pro with Retina display refresh and the forthcoming releases of a new iPhone, iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.

    Sure, it appears that a detente may be in the offing for Apple’s ongoing legal skirmishes with Samsung. That they won’t pursue lawsuits outside of the OS is promising, but there are still cases in the U.S. that must be settled before a final peace is at hand.

    Otherwise, you have rumors and more rumors about what Apple is doing next. So-called informed sources are claiming the next iPhone launch event will be staged on Tuesday, September 9. That seems credible, considering last year’s schedule. Also, Apple would surely want to push out the next version soon, assuming there are enough units to sell in quantity, and development of iOS 8 is be complete and ready for release. Or at least ready enough to get something out there that can be fixed later on.

    Now there are a few well-connected journalists for major publications, plus a few others with long ties to Apple, who manage to come up with scoops about new product introductions. One of the best of the breed is The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple, who manages to say a lot with a single word, such as “Yes,” or “Nope.” Thus you know whether or not the latest rumor about an Apple announcement is true or not.

    So it seems that Jim is never wrong, and thus his word is gold.

    Daring Fireball’s John Gruber also has a great track record, so readers hang on his every word as well. But sometimes they hang a little too tightly, almost strangling an offhand remark and praying it signifies something, anything, about the next great Apple gadget.

    So there is the rumored iWatch. Sure, it’s very likely such a beast is on the horizon, so the real question is when it might happen, and what form the product will take, particularly compared to other smartwatches, all of which have been unsuccessful.

    Unlike the iPhone, however, we aren’t seeing prototypes and possible model specs leaking from the supply chain that often indicate the design of the final product. With the iPhone, built in the tens of millions, those leaks are legion, and a trend coalesces close to the release date that’s substantially accurate. Sure, we don’t know all the fine details, such as processor specs and special hardware features, but we know enough.

    So last year, the chatter was all about an A7 processor and some sort of fingerprint sensor. Maybe we didn’t refer to it as Touch ID, nor was it necessarily well-known about 64-bit and the M7 coprocessor, but the shape of the iPhone 5s was clearly going to be identical to the iPhone 5, in keeping with Apple’s biennial schedule.

    So the iPhone 6 is expected to have a new form factor, along with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays, with an A8 processor and other goodies. I would be surprised if this early speculation is wrong.

    But what did Gruber say that got the media salivating?

    Well, perhaps the iWatch will also appear next month? How so? What pithy comments did Gruber make that led to that conclusion? You see when you look at the key paragraph, the sum is less than the parts.

    So we have two paragraphs of distinction to consider:

    It looks like Motorola’s designers tried to draw as much attention as they could to the 360’s stupid flat-tire display shape.

    The only way this could get funnier would be if it doesn’t even ship until after Apple announces their wrist wearable thing next month.

    No, folks, Gruber didn’t reveal that an iWatch is coming out next month by any name, nor is he saying that such a thing is happening. You see, folks, he was joking — he said so — but desperation on the part of the media made it seem as if he had inside knowledge of Apple’s plan for a September launch.

    When you read the sentence in context, you’ll see he was making some snide cracks about Motorola’s lame smartwatch design. I agree that the sentence is somewhat ambiguous in its meaning, so it’s easy for sarcasm to imply a reality that we have not previously heard.

    In any case, should an iWatch come to be, I am reasonably certain that one of those independent journalists with special ties with Apple, or a mainstream news outlet such as The New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, will have solid information to publish before long. Meantime, feel free to return to your normal lives and wait for something that’s really important.

    THE SKYPE SUPPORT DILEMMA

    It’s hard to believe this, but Skype has hundreds of millions of users. That may explain why Microsoft spent some $8.5 billion to buy the company in 2011. The actual user base, though, differs depending on whom you check. So on Wikipedia, it was 663 million registered users as of 2010. A more recent Adweek story, published in 2014, pegged the user base at 300 million, but that may also mean the difference between registered and active.

    Regardless, it appears that Skype is trimming the user base by the simple method of making older versions of the software incompatible. One casualty is Windows Phone 7, but you can probably count the number of impacted users on one hand.

    With OS X, you know that Apple quickly cuts down backwards compatibility. So maybe it was natural that Skype announced that Mac users using an OS prior to 10.6 Snow Leopard would soon lose compatibility. That shoe apparently dropped this week, with reports on a Skype discussion board of the change. If you had an older version of Skype, one that worked with Leopard 10.5.8 or older, you were out of luck.

    Now I should point out that, when this announcement came down, I had just finished recording an episode of one of my radio shows, The Paracast, with a co-host that uses an older Mac that should have been impacted by this change. Only he wasn’t, though I did see a message about him using a version of Skype that was incompatible with the group chat feature. This message appeared while I was having a group audio conversation with him. He was still able to send individual instant messages to me.

    In any case, the stories about the lost Skype support were revealed in the tech media before things changed. No doubt Skype realized there are tens of millions of Mac users who cannot upgrade to 10.6 or later. Why should they be left behind? Sure, most of Skype’s users don’t pay anything for the service, but there are fees for calling regular phones and other services, and I expect some people actually use those low-cost features.

    It is, after all, quite cheap to make overseas calls with Skype. You can also lease a special Skype telephone number for incoming calls from traditional telephones and wireless handsets. Why cut millions of Mac users outout because they opted, for whatever reason, not to buy new Macs?

    In any case, after the initial uproar, Skype backtracked somewhat. If you have a Mac using OS X Leopard, there will be a compatible version of the app shortly that will continue to function. If you’re using OS X Tiger or a previous version, it’s either time to upgrade, if you can, or consider whether the price of losing Skype is sufficient to warrant purchasing a new or newer Mac.

    I presume that Skype doesn’t regard the lost income from discontinuing support of older versions of the software as sufficient to reconsider. It may also be that they want to add features that just won’t work on the older operating systems, and they feel the need to look forward. In the past, Microsoft has been justifiably blamed for retaining too much legacy support, thus hampering the growth of Windows and Office apps.

    In the meantime, though, it’s good to see that Skype appears to be fully functional with the OS X Yosemite developer releases. I’ve spent several hours using the app for various interviews over the past week, and the most significant change I noticed was improved performance. Indeed, Skype launched noticeably faster, which is a good thing.

    Of course, ongoing Apple changes in Yosemite during the development process could render Skype unusable. That occurred last year, when Skype initially failed to run on the OS X Mavericks betas, but that problem was quickly resolved. It does seem Skype’s support people are responsive to such issues, and the developers are quick to release updates.

    Meantime, I wonder if Skype reconsidered because of a public outcry, or they just came to their senses without any outside influence. Either way, the result means that my co-host on The Paracast, Chris O’Brien, should be able to continue to use his vintage Mac for his appearances on the show.

    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 #767”

    1. DaveD says:

      “The Tech Night Owl” is a part of my daily reads along with “Daring Fireball,” “The Loop”, and a few other solid news/opinions sites. I did do a double take when reading that one sentence in Daring Fireball. But, I did recognize that it wasn’t as elaborate as some past statements over the years on potential upcoming products. I was amused (but not surprised) to see some other sites jumped on it making a click bait headline.

    2. Peter says:

      I dunno…I think the Moto 360 looks pretty good, myself. At least compared with other Android Gear watches (Really LG> Really?). Of course, things like this need to be seen, touched, weighed, etc. for any real determination.

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