• Newsletter Issue #787

    December 29th, 2014


    If you want to see how those who engage in fear mongering continue to target Apple, you don’t have far to look. Even the mainstream media picks up some of the questionable memes about Apple. One common misperception is the alleged “Apple Tax,” the presumption you pay more — sometimes a lot more — for something bearing an Apple label.

    Now that might have been true at one time, but not so much nowadays. So an iPhone’s price is comparable to other premium smartphones from such companies as Samsung. Dell sells a 27-inch 5K display for $2,499. They once asserted to PC World magazine it would go down to less than $2,000, but evidently their marketing people didn’t get the memo. Regardless, you get a 5K display from Apple with the computer built in for the very same price. Apple Tax indeed!

    The real issue is whether Apple will sell cheap gear, or gear with little or no profit. The answer is no, despite demands from certain media pundits that Apple is making the wrong move. Clearly revenue and profits show otherwise. It’s also true that you can get some Apple gear at a discount nowadays if you shop around, particularly now that we’re in the post-Christmas period.

    So on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented our 2014 year-ender featuring prolific author and commentator Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. During this session, he commented on the recent fear-mongering story about Apple allegedly forcing unwanted security updates on Mac users. He also delivered some clever low-cost suggestions for your post-holiday tech gear shopping list.

    You also heard from Susie Ochs, Executive Editor of Macworld, who also talked about that story covering automatic updates. She discussed the quality of Apple’s press coverage, whether there is really such a thing as an “Apple Tax,” where you supposedly pay more for a product with the Apple label, and whether the company’s quality control has suffered with the proliferation of products and services.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: As a fitting end to 2014, Gene and Chris present paranormal researcher and broadcaster Paul Eno, co-host of the popular WOON Rhode Island radio show Behind the Paranormal. Paul is a paranormal investigator, author, award-winning journalist, seminary graduate and visionary. His interests include ghosts, UFOs, unexplained creatures, psychics and mediums, the nature of heaven and hell, human origins, and the relationship of the paranormal to history, science and religion. This episode focuses on compelling cases and outspoken commentary about many of the subjects. One thing is certain, and that is that Eno, along with your friendly Paracast crew, are not inclined to accept the usual explanations for these compelling mysteries.

    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.


    From the very first Mac, the all-in-one concept has proven to be highly successful. You didn’t have to mix and match computer, display, mouse and keyboard, though the latter two could be replaced or supplemented. The price you paid for the single box was a difficult, or impossible, upgrade process.

    The original iMac was said to be a key factor in the Mac’s resurgence for its time, but it was a bear to change memory. You had to open the case, and remove an assembly that included just about everything except for the internal components of the CRT display. It wasn’t hard, but annoying. The same couldn’t be said for several generations of Power Macs that required removal of delicate wiring harnesses to get to the memory slots. I recall when Apple marketing people displayed a brand new model with simple access to memory and other components, and received a round of applause.

    After such experiences, I would have thought Apple would recognize that at least some of you may buy the Mac you can afford, hoping to upgrade it later as your needs change, or your credit card balance can accommodate more memory or a bigger hard drive. However, Apple has gone in a different direction, returning to the concept of the original Mac as a closed box computing appliance in the fashion of the iPhone and iPad.

    Take the MacBook Air, roundly criticized at first because RAM was soldiered to the logic board and the flash memory was unreplaceable. Today’s version, at $899, is one of Apple’s highest selling note-books, and people have become accustomed to the fact you leave the job to tearing it down to iFixit.com. If you want more memory and storage, buy a different model. There are no user serviceable parts.

    Now I suppose this might make sense for a consumer note-book. After all, upgrading a portable computer is a delicate process, and it’s not hard to damage something, particularly one of those delicate wiring assemblies. A serviceperson performing a repair is thus forced to replace most everything in a single operation, although it clearly costs a lot more.

    But what about the MacBook Pro with Retina display? This is a relatively expensive, high-end portable computer that is often used on location by photographers, movie makers and other professionals. Wouldn’t it make sense to allow for easy field upgrades? But no. Apple has made it as user hostile to upgrades as the MacBook Air. Not that sales have necessarily suffered, but you have to make the once and final decision about your ideal configuration when you buy one. Second thoughts won’t help.

    For a while, the Mac mini was easy to upgrade, at least for RAM. Hard drive replacements were more difficult, but possible. I wouldn’t suggest that Apple took shortcuts to shave $100 from the purchase price of the 2014 revision, but memory is now soldered on the logic board, thus making it less upgradeable than the original model, which required a putty knife, or something similar, to open.

    The iMac is sort of a mixed bag. The 21.5-inch version has soldered memory. You can change memory on the 27-inch models in a jiffy. I did it a few weeks back in less than five minutes, but replacing the hard drive, while possible, is a bear of a maneuver.

    Take my 27-inch late 2009 iMac. I have been considering whether I should replace the standard 1TB drive with an SSD, and have discussed the process with Lawrence O’Connor, CEO of Other World Computing, a large supplier of Mac upgrade components. OWC has a collection of videos demonstrating the iMac upgrade process. They even supply low-cost toolkits, and will do the installation in their own facility if you’d rather not take any chances.

    Now it isn’t especially difficult if you follow the instructions to the letter, but here are hazards, so you have to be real careful in dealing with some very delicate components.

    For the previous generation iMac, the top of the glass screen is held on with magnets. Using OWC’s tools, it appears to pop off easily enough. The LCD display is held together by a number of Torx screws, and that’s not so hard to handle, but before you pry it off, you have to remove a few of those delicate cable assemblies. Prying out the hard drive and the rest of the cables is somewhat easier, but you want to treat everything with special care and respect.

    Later iMacs seal the glass onto the case with adhesive tape, and the reassembly process, involving replacing the tape, is delicate and I wouldn’t feel comfortable performing such an upgrade.

    But, with O’Connor’s guidance and cooperation, I do plan on installing an OWC Mercury Electra 1TB SSD drive in my old iMac. I’ve watched the video a few times, and have also consulted the instructions from iFixit. My fingers are long and thin, and I have been repairing and assembling electronic gizmos since I was a teenager, so I feel reasonably confident I could perform the task without being left without my primary computing workstation.

    The reason for attempting this upgrade is simple. Having been exposed to a 2014 iMac 5K, I see the advantages of SSD even though the entry-level unit’s storage is a Fusion Drive, a hybrid scheme that incorporates a small SSD working with a traditional hard drive. Yes, the iMac 5K’s CPU should be up to 50% faster than a late 2009 iMac, but in normal daily use, the real world difference doesn’t seem to be that significant. It’s mostly about the drive, where minutes can become seconds.

    Getting more useful life out of a five-year-old box is very much about the drive, which has sustained a lot of wear and tear. I suppose I should be lucky the drive hasn’t already expired, although I might put it in an external case after it’s replaced and use it as a backup device.

    But as I steel myself for the arrival of the SSD OWC is sending my way for review, and that challenging Humpty Dumpty upgrade procedure, I wonder why Apple has chosen such hostile methods to take Macs apart. Yes, I understand about making everything slim and trim and all, but even the techs who serve the Apple Genius Bar must feel uncomfortable having to engage in various awkward maneuvers to fix your Mac.

    And I haven’t begun to consider replacing the battery on an iPhone or iPad.

    Apple has garnered high praise for cutting-edge design and amazingly sophisticated component assembly techniques. These gadgets may indeed just work in most circumstances, and offer exemplary reliability. But customers should be able to make simple repairs and upgrades without entering hostile territory, being forced to engage in complex assembly steps that risk serious damage to your expensive gear.

    Is that what a computing appliance is supposed to be all about? Yes, I know there are alternatives on the other side of the tracks, and a Mac Pro is fairly simple to take apart and upgrade if you can afford one. The real genius, however, would be to introduce a new generation of relatively affordable Macs that are as simple to upgrade as they used to be. Is Apple up to the challenge?


    In November, the final print version of Macworld appeared. This was the first publication devoted strictly to the Apple Macintosh computer, and that it persevered this long in light of the changeover to digital in the publishing industry may be considered almost a miracle. But the handwriting was on the wall for a while, so I wasn’t terribly surprised at the news, except for being sad over the fact that my friends and colleagues who worked for the magazine received pink slips. The UK version, however, remains in print with a different staff and editorial content.

    There is yet another Mac magazine on the newsstands in the U.S. It started up some time after the death of MacUser, taking a more extreme irreverent approach to the subject. MacAddict was fearless in its embrace of the Apple ecosystem, but as the company became more mainstream, a moderated approach was called for. Thus MacAddict became Mac|Life.

    Now Mac|Life is a consumer-oriented magazine concentrating on a more general, less technical approach to Apple gear, software and accessory products. While the newest issue, dated February 2015, is still fairly thick for such a publication, at 96 pages plus the cover, the articles are brief and often lack the specificity the power user demands. But evidently this approach succeeds for the general population, most of whom I suspect don’t routinely visit these parts.

    It also appears that some of the content is simply repurposed from the publisher’s British counterpart, Mac Format. So you see the use of “mains” in reference to an AC outlet as evidence of an article’s origins. I also caught an review of a product, where the price, though listed in dollars in the intro, mentioned pound sterling near the end of the piece.

    Unfortunately in the rush to provide as much content as possible in an issue, it appears the magazine’s small staff has also shortchanged the reader with a distressing lack of important information.

    So in the January 2015 issue, on page 67, there’s a mostly favorable review of the SSDNow V310 960GB SSD. A key criticism of the $650 drive is that “You can buy a 1TB [Samsung] 840 Evo for less.” How much less? I suppose you’re expected to figure that out for yourself or Google the information; it’s $499.99 and Amazon had it for $423.47 last I checked. More important, there’s no reason whatever to pay more than $200 extra for a similar drive with a slightly smaller capacity. That, to me, would make the product deserve far less than the “SOLID” granted by Mac|Life.

    But the real problem is that most reviews and feature articles are similarly superficial. While I understand the space limitations of a print publication, I’m sure a little careful editing would allow them to include the necessary extra details to flesh out an article. A few fact checkers would be helpful too.

    The “Ask” column should be read with a bit of caution. While the advice is mostly spot on, you can follow that advice into some dead ends on occasion.

    Products that deserve a more extensive review also get short shrift. There are just seven brief paragraphs devoted to the iMac 5K. Yes, I realize it’s fundamentally similar to the regular 27-inch iMac with a higher resolution display and a standard Fusion Drive. But this is cutting-edge technology, and it deserves a better break and reasonably thorough coverage.

    The reader in a hurry, however, will appreciate Mac|Life’s approach. Keep it short, keep it simple and breezy, and never bore the reader with too many details. It works for me in one respect, which is to get a preview of some fascinating gear that’s worth checking out. So for me, it’s a start, and that might actually be good enough for many of Mac|Life’s readers.


    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #787”

    1. Matthew says:

      Let us know how the iMac upgrade works out for you. I’m considering doing something similar, but I just feel like I’ll screw it up and end up with a useless pile of computer parts instead.

      • @Matthew, I suggest you check the OWC video, as I did, and watch it several times before you attempt this maneuver. If you don’t feel you’re up to the process, and it’s mostly about being careful it seems, they can do it for you for around $200 or so, depending on the sort of upgrade you want them to install for you.


      • Arnold Ziffel says:


        Matthew, I encourage you to give it a try, after researching, like Gene wrote. I’ve replaced the glass screen on my iPad 3, definitely a challenge, but I was able to do so. Make sure you have a clean environment in which to work with a lot of space for parts, tools, etc. Compared to working on cars, diving into electronics seems so clean and relatively easy.

        Having said that, if you have the spare change around to have OWC or someone else do the work, go that direction.

        Good luck.

    2. Kaleberg says:

      If you are going to use a computer on location, that means hauling it around, and that means you want all the parts soldered in or otherwise as well secured as possible. Ideally, the whole thing should be sealed if that were possible. There is a tradeoff between reliability and flexibility, and Apple has been moving towards increased reliability.

      This is the way consumer design has been moving for decades. Cars, televisions, radios, and computers have all been getting harder to tinker with, but they last longer and are less likely to break down.

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