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  • Newsletter Issue #792

    February 2nd, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So what’s your favorite smartphone size? For me, I’m comfortable with four inches or 4.7 inches, the size of the current iPhone 6. While I find both usable of my purposes, I suspect Mrs. Steinberg would disagree. She’s a tiny girl, less than five feet tall, but she’s accustomed to using a full-sized, 9.7-inch iPad, and thus finds anything smaller to be a little difficult to handle. She has an iPhone 5c, and manages to cope, but I know she would prefer to just hook up the iPad to a cellular plan while on the road and be done with it.

    But what about making phone calls?

    Long and short is that the larger iPhones opened up new markets for Apple, and made their smartphones a more compelling alternative to Android. This appears to be most true overseas. But that doesn’t mean a lot of customers wouldn’t prefer something smaller. The final sales figures will tell the tale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple retained the four inch form factor with a new model when the fall refresh is introduced. It would make sense, again assuming demand is there. You see, the iPhone 5s in September will be the “free” phone with a wireless contract, and thus there will be room for an updated replacement. We’ll see.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, outspoken commentator Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, explained how he got accustomed to using an iPhone 6 Plus after working with an iPhone 5s. He also covered Apple’s amazing financials and some issues involving Microsoft, Windows 10, and other products.

    From industry analyst Stephen Baker, Vice President for Industry Analysis at the NPD Group, you heard his sage comments about Apple’s results. He also discussed the impact of 4K or Ultra HD TV, OLED and other technologies, and why, to the consumer, most of these buzzwords may not really matter when they’re buying a new set.

    My only concern about any of this is the unfortunate fact that, even though the TV industry is pushing hard for you to buy 4K sets, there is not much in the way of 4K content. So maybe the chicken is feeding the egg or visa versa, but I think a 4K Blu-ray format, with a small number of offerings, and more ways to get 4K from streaming services, or even from cable or satellite TV, would jump start the format.

    Even better, prices for 4K sets are coming down. I saw a 50-inch VIZIO P series 4K set for $898 at Walmart the other day. That’s only a $100 price reduction, but it represents a way to get into 4K cheap. But most of what you’ll watch is unconverted content. So assuming the conversion hardware does a good job, you’ll get a better picture, though it’s still not the real thing, and the improvement will be, at best, subtle.

    We also presented news about the latest and greatest version of Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack app, which allows you to capture audio from almost any source on your Mac, with company CEO Paul Kafasis. All our radio shows are recorded using this app, and we can’t say enough good things about the product.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present one of our most prolific and knowledgeable forum posters, a gentleman who calls himself “Burnt State.” As he describes himself, Burnt State is a “self described paranormal aficionado who has grown increasingly skeptical over the years in my quest to try to understand some specific personal experiences. In the process I have been immersed in various aspects of the history of paranormal inquiry to better understand its origin. Trying to separate the actual experience from the effects of paranormal events on human culture are a personal fascination. Specifically I feel that the CE3 experience offers us a way of better understanding its effect on us and could be an indicator of its point of origin.” He’ll talk about his experiences and answer listener questions.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our 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.

    THE “WHY DIDN’T APPLE FIX IT” REPORT

    For some of you, these are trying times for Apple customers. While things should just work, or mostly just work after a bug fix or two, of late there appear to be serious defects that impact an unknown but possibly sizable number of customers that aren’t getting fixed. Before I go on, I have to tell you that I’m not having most of these problems, having run several Macs and iOS devices with the latest and greatest OS versions.

    So the issues I’ve encountered are usually far more subtle, and thus may not rise to the top of a fixer-upper spreadsheet or flow chart and thus may not get fixed anytime soon. So Apple Mail continues to lose the display of the number of messages in a folder. On occasion, Mail for iOS 8 will just quit, or will refuse to rotate when I turn my iPhone from landscape to portrait. For the first, quitting the app and relaunching works for a while, and the solution to the second is the equivalent, to force quit from the multitask menu. I’ve also encountered iCloud sync problems in recent days that Apple support is investigating.

    Unfortunately, the other problems are far more serious for those who have confronted them. The two OS X Yosemite fixes released so far were supposed to repair Wi-Fi connection issues. To some they do. To others they don’t, and thus there are some online remedies posted that are supposed to repair the problem.

    The fixes run the gamut from deleting all the preference files that might impact networking to doing a “Safe Boot,” which involves holding down the Shift key right after the startup chord sounds when you boot a Mac under OS X. This function is kind of, sort of similar to the process of starting with Extensions off under the original Mac OS. After the startup process is complete, restart normally.

    There are other steps to follow if these don’t work, such as redoing your network connections in the Network preference panel. I suppose clearing the air is always a good way to isolate possible problems with your Mac. The steps you’ll find online by and large won’t do any harm, so there’s no sense not trying them. You can add restarting your Wi-Fi router and, perhaps, your cable or DSL modem to see if that repairs the problem.

    If none of these procedures work, there’s always Apple support. I welcome your war stories on whether Apple is still making the effort to find a solution, and how well they’ve succeeded. What troubles me is the persistence of these reports, even after two intended fixes. I can understand that there’s no way to account for everyone’s individual installation and network connections, but you’d think two attempts ought to be sufficient to cover most Mac users who have such problems.

    Of course, I would be curious how many OS X Mavericks users — or users of older OS X versions — have chronic connection difficulties. As I said, I haven’t had these problems, nor have any of my immediate acquaintances. But I have to take the sheer number of such reports quite seriously.

    Certainly, it doesn’t exactly advance Apple’s reputation to have problems of this sort persist months after new OS upgrades are released. There are also supposed to be similar issues — involving both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, on iOS 8 — that afflict iPhone and iPad owners. The latest update, iOS 8.1.3, had a handful of fixes that addressed other concerns, such as reducing the size of the update files that prevented some from installing iOS 8. But most of these people would have been better served to use iTunes for such upgrades. The last update to address Wi-Fi was 8.1.

    Other reported problems with OS X Yosemite are all over the place. Some complain of very slow performance, although I don’t know if that’s consistent or not. I have installed Yosemite on Macs roughly five years old, including a late 2009 iMac, and also a mid-2010 17-inch MacBook Pro. Both were previously running OS X Mavericks, and I didn’t perceive much if any difference in performance. The real change occurred when both had SSDs installed. That made a huge difference, which is expected when you dump a traditional hard drive, and it also explains why most Macs are far snappier nowadays.

    Again, I don’t intend to criticize anyone who has an ongoing problem with an Apple OS. In proportion, they are likely far less than Android or Windows. But that doesn’t make it right, and if there are lingering problems Apple is failing to address, the best approach would be to contact their support techs and make sure they have a chance to check out your setup and see if they can recommend solutions.

    Yet another troublesome component is Continuity, a tentpole feature for OS X and iOS that improves the ways the two operating systems interact with one another. The Handoff feature allows you to, for example, start an email or Pages document on your Mac, and pick it up where you left off on an iPhone or iPad, or the other way around. Phone calls coming in to your iPhone can also be answered on your Mac.

    But Handoff is not without its limitations. Millions of Mac users can’t use it, because they don’t have a Mac with native support for Bluetooth LE. This is something that Apple didn’t exactly mention during last year’s WWDC demonstration of Yosemite, but it was quickly discovered by developers who did a little sleuthing, and some testing, to find the limitations.

    Unfortunately Apple hasn’t been exactly forthcoming about the limitation in the online ad material on Yosemite. When you look at the fine print for Continuity, for example, it merely states, “Handoff requires an iOS device with iOS 8.” A step-by-step support document also overlooks the Bluetooth LE factor, but if you look a little harder you will locate a support document that does list the system requirements. I just wonder how many support calls Apple fields because that document isn’t quite front and center.

    Even worse, you can’t count on consistent performance with Continuity, even if all of your hardware is, in theory, compatible. Consider the fact that a phone call may ring several devices, thus generating a casino-like atmosphere in your home or office, it’s not easy to silence the din on your Mac even if you want to field calls from there. Mrs. Steinberg sometimes wonders why she hears something ringing on her iPad when my iPhone receives a call. So I’ll probably just turn the feature off.

    Even forgetting the noise factor, Continuity still may not work consistently. Author and commentator Bob LeVitus rants about the problems he’s encountered in a recent Mac Observer article. He has hardware that meets the requirements, but reliable performance is not a lock. While the theory of Continuity may make a lot of sense, in practice Apple clearly has some work to do. It may be a case of good intentions going bad, and it’s fair to say that, to some, this oh-so-important Yosemite feature may end up being little more than another complicated annoyance without a lot of practical value.

    I also invite anyone who has had such problems to write me or post a comment so we can continue to cover the story.

    I’m also curious about older versions of OS X and iOS. Sure, the user bases for both are declining rapidly, but how many serious problems remain that Apple never fixed before moving to the next version? If you encountered such issues, did you make a solid effort to work with Apple support to set things right, did you just tolerate them, or rely on online troubleshooting to get things fixed?

    To be sure, perfection is a hollow dream, and that’s especially true with computer software, desktop or mobile. There are far too many features that can misbehave, far too many users and system variations to ensure that everything is consistent. Sure, Apple does better than Android or Windows, both of which cater to people who want to customize their setups to a fare-thee-well. That benefit, such as it is, may be useful for people who want a choice. But choices can also create complications and, with inferior user interfaces, sources for confusion and possible instability.

    Still, Apple is supposed to be above such mundane concerns, but the perception that Apple’s software can be flaky isn’t restricted to tech blogs. The other day I read an article about Apple’s superior design chops that made a point of mentioning that, while Apple wins on style, “The software isn’t exactly perfect.”

    So it does seem that Apple can and should do better.

    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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