So you’d think that lossless audio should sound noticeably better than the highly compressed audio tracks you download from iTunes and other music stores. It’s only logical, right? You discard 90% of the signal, so how could it possibly resemble the original music, even in passing?
That may seem sensible to you, but the fact of the matter is that such compression schemes as AAC and MP3 have been designed to remove only the data you’re not inclined to hear, with greater or lesser degrees of success. AAC, short for Advanced Audio Coding (it’s not an exclusive Apple format) supposedly does it better. The 256K file you download from Apple, particularly those made from recently remastered digital files, are supposed to be near-identical to a CD. Or at least, close enough that you aren’t likely to distinguish the difference in a double-blind test.
So on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured tech commentator Kirk McElhearn, known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who discussed singer Neal Young’s Pono music player, and the claims of greatly enhanced sound that most anyone can allegedly hear. You also heard about Kirk’s experiences when he moved his site to a new host, the successful results, and the changes in iTunes 12.1.
Since the Pono player came out, there have been some published tests indicating that the audible differences between the higher-resolution tracks mastered by Pono and the iTunes versions are extremely subtle or nonexistent. Unfortunately the reviews I’ve read do not mention level matching, since it’s clear that recordings from different masters may have somewhat different volume levels. Even a tiny level difference, a fraction of a decibel, will make one source sound different than the other. Slightly louder can mean the music will seem to have more presence, that it’s more immersive. Once levels are matched, such tiny differences may disappear.
From tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and other outlets, we presented a discussion about the failure of Radio Shack, which recently declared bankruptcy, the ins and outs of the FCC’s new net neutrality proposal, and how a new service for cable cord cutters, Dish Network’s Sling TV, fares in his ongoing tests.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Ron James, longtime “conscious media” producer will return to the Paracast to address a wide-range of subjects that will include, the Paracast+ video channel, The Disclosure Initiative, the future of multimedia education and coverage of paranormal subjects in the 21st Century, evolving understanding of human consciousness, emerging investigative approaches to “haunted sites,” and much much more. We’ll also ask your questions of our guest.
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 other day, I read a column in a tech blog that praised Apple’s performance under Tim Cook and the company’s stellar financial performance, particularly in the last quarter. When Steve Jobs and Tim Cook were compared, it was about the company being managed by an executive rather than an entrepreneur.
So far so good, but you can bet the piece would soon jump off the rails.
When it came to Apple’s pace of innovation over the years, the writer imagined that Apple somehow released the iMac, iPod, the iPod nano, the iPod mini, the iPhone, the App Store and the iPad in quick succession. Why make a fuss over three different iPads? Because Apple, under Jobs, had no compunction about dumping a successful product and releasing a new version. As for the rest, the writer seemed to have forgotten that this rapid pace of innovation occurred over a period of 12 years between the release of the first iMac and the first iPad.
Now the introductory dates of Apple’s products over the years are well known. For those new to tech writing, a few minutes on Google, Bing, or their favorite search engine, would reveal the timelines. Most of the Apple product intros over the years, aside from these singular events, consisted of model refreshes. That can clearly be said about the changes in the iPod over the years. So why are the same foolish mistakes repeated over and over again?
When it comes to cannibalizing products, or discontinuing successful products, consider what happened when the iPhone 6 Plus phablet arrived. How many people bought them instead of an iPad. Sure, a 5.7-inch display is far smaller than even the 7.9-inch iPad mini’s display, and thus navigating through web pages and word processing documents will be more difficult.
But a phablet is one of those devices that can, with compromises, replace a tablet and, combined with smartphone capability, they become highly useful all-in-one or convergence devices. It makes sense to carry one gadget with you rather than two, even if it’s a little large for most pockets and some purses. By releasing such a product, and reducing the price of the entry-level MacBook Air by $100 last year, Apple clearly provided iPad alternatives that, to some, were more useful. Thus people who might have otherwise purchased iPads made a different decision.
Since that decision still provided an income stream to Apple, no harm. To think that Apple in the Tim Cook era is afraid to cannibalize their own gear is clearly not so. So why would a supposedly responsible tech analyst miss this all-so-important and very obvious fact? Well, it’s the same reason why they believe the pace of innovation at Apple has slowed.
Apple Pay? Nothing more than a variation on the mobile payments theme, so even though it has taken off in a big way and is far more popular than similar schemes from other companies, it’s not innovative enough. Apple Watch (the article refers to it by the original rumored name of iWatch) won’t be a huge success, but who really knows?
Don’t forget that the critics also once regarded Macs as toys and not serious personal computers. Clearly the translucent plastics of the original iMac didn’t connote a serious machine. The iPod, the iPhone and the iPad were all roundly criticized as certain failures.
Unfortunately, the tear scribe in question messed up again, big time.
You see, Apple doesn’t so much create new product categories from scratch as provide better alternatives to existing gear. Where markets hadn’t reached their potential, Apple found the solution that jumpstarted industries. How many of you embraced digital music players before the iPod? The iPhone brought smartphones to the masses, and despite recent growing pains, the iPad made tablets credible.
At a time where startup smartwatch maker Pebble boasts of a total of one million sales, it’s clear no one company has succeeded with smartwatches in a big way, at least not yet. If there is a potential for mass market acceptance, it hasn’t happened. Is Apple Watch the solution? I can’t begin to say, though suggesting that Apple needs to find a way to free Apple Watch of its dependence on recent iPhones is, I think, important for long-term success.
Remember how Apple made it possible for you to activate an iPhone and iPad and never, ever, have to tether them to a Mac or PC running iTunes. All right, iTunes may be the solution to installing iOS 8 and some devices that don’t have a lot of free storage, but that’s just a temporary workaround for what may have been an unfortunate developer design decision.
Now it is true that Apple is highly dependent on smartphone sales, and if growth seriously slows in the next few years, there will be concerns over the next act. And can the iPad really grab a larger part of the PC pie? At one time, that seemed a certainly, but as sales decline, you have to wonder. All right, maybe Apple made a better case for the iPhone and the Mac in recent quarters, and perhaps more work needs to be done to find the proper place for a tablet. It’s not that any other company has done better.
Does Apple Watch eventually become a viable smartphone replacement? It’s hard to take that possibility seriously in 2015, but Apple didn’t design the product merely to do minor refreshes every year. There is very likely a long-range game plan at work there, and, again, I don’t think it’ll be obvious until Apple Watch can do all or most of its functions as a standalone device, not dependent on anything but a solid Wi-Fi or cellular connection.
Expecting any less is shortsighted.
Apple Pay may continue to prosper, but its dependence on recent Apple gadgets will limit its acceptance unless it’s made an open standard. But the requirements of a fingerprint sensor — and it appears only Apple can do that properly for a mobile gadget right now — would certainly create complications for other vendors. Or perhaps Apple doesn’t care.
Consider the still-uncertain future for Apple TV. Will it become a TiVO alternative as the front end to a cable or satellite system? Will Apple go the route of Sling TV and other streaming services and provide a TV service to rival Netflix and the traditional content carriers? Is there really an Apple connected TV coming eventually?
Apple has given no clues about what they plan to do with Apple TV. Saying it’s a matter of intense interest doesn’t count. It may well be that, in the short time till things are sorted out, there will be a simple refresh, perhaps to support 4K or Ultra HD, and the real changes in interfaces and features will come later. And don’t forget that Apple can completely overhaul the look and feel of Apple TV without changing the hardware, except, of course, to provide support for gaming where more powerful graphics are essential.
One area where Apple might fail is to miss the next gadget revolution, whatever it might be. Clearly Microsoft suffered by missing the mobile revolution, and they haven’t recovered. Not even the purchase of the handset division of Nokia appears to have helped. At best it gave Microsoft control, at worst it left thousands of Nokia employees without jobs, which benefits nobody except corporate bean counters.
Now I am highly skeptical that fancy goggles or glasses, with 3D or holographic capability, are the ultimate solution. I suppose the sci-fi concept of wiring a gadget direct to your cerebral cortex may be a feasible alternative, if people really want to undergo such a procedure. So you will have your smartphone or Internet of things receptors embedded in your body at birth or when you reach the proper age, and you will never, ever, have to buy a new gadget.
Software can be easily updated, but what about hardware updates? Will you have to undergo periodic surgery to remove the internal components in place of a new Internet gadget? Will there be a single standard, or a number of vendors with different solutions vying for your patronage? What about vendors lining up at hospitals to convince new parents of the right device to embed inside their children?
It’s all the stuff of sci-fi novels now, but I wouldn’t dismiss the possibilities a decade or two from now. Is there a role for Apple to play? Does HealthKit give Apple insight into how an embedded appliance might work? Are there other tech-related markets that Apple needs to keep tabs on? No doubt. Apple has had its ups and downs and has, on several occasions, been declared irrelevant or doomed to disappear.
Right now, Apple is in the driver’s seat when it comes to technology. Other companies occupied that space in the past, and it’s highly likely there’s a startup, here and now, that is destined to replace Apple someday with a better solution that will come to dominate a brand new industry.
But that’s the future, maybe the far future. Besides, few will doubt that Apple has all sorts of gear under development that will knock your socks off. To think they do not realize there are new technologies and burgeoning markets they are destined, or forced, to enter would be foolish. Sure, mistakes will be made, but it’s hard to think Apple won’t be here a decade or two from now — assuming we haven’t been destroyed by a crashing astroid or some other catastrophe — just doing its thing and confounding the critics.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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