- The Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com/newsletter -

Newsletter Issue #797

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

The online world must solely revolve around net neutrality, or at least that seems to be the case for some of our readers. So on the heels of my brief comments on the subject in last week’s issue, partly correcting the fear mongering, I heard from at least one reader who merely repeated the fear mongering that evidently originated in America’s right wing.

So to some people, evidently, the FCC’s net neutrality decision will mean the end of the Internet as you know it, and that somehow we’ll be confronted with unexpected new taxes for some reason or another even though chairman Tom Wheeler says absolutely not!

So the fact that the person credited with being the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, praised the decision seems to be lost on some people. That singular development should be a clear indication that net neutrality isn’t a dangerous thing that will destroy our online world.

Regardless, many expect the issue to end up in the courts again, and the new rules won’t take effect immediately regardless. At least the ISPs will clearly hold off on trying to skirt the rules, and, after a while, perhaps more responsible heads will prevail, and people will see that the Internet is not doomed after all.

Alas, nothing in the decision will help ensure more competition for broadband services. Or less. It will be as bad as it is now.

In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we had a busy plate. Once again, the prospects for an Apple Car were debated, and there was even more skepticism this time. We also cleared up some of the myths about the FCC’s recent net neutrality ruling, and we tried to make sense of Apple Watch models just ahead of the official announcement. You also heard about iTunes 12, iTunes Match and the possibilities for an iPad Pro. We also give you some early reactions to Microsoft’s Office 2016 for Mac Preview. Was it worth the five-year wait? I’m still considering that question.

Our guests included commentator Kirk McElhearn, known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” and cutting-edge columnist Peter Cohen, Mac Managing Editor for iMore.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: After almost a four-year absence, David Hatcher Childress returns to The Paracast. A self-proclaimed “diffusionist” archaeologist, David is the author of nearly 40 books and has traveled all over the world to investigate and research ancient megalithic sites. He also runs Adventures Unlimited Press, which specializes in “offbeat” titles. One of the more recognizable personalities on TV, David has been a “star” of the popular (and controversial) show “Ancient Aliens” since its inception. Since his last appearance on the Paracast he has written several books including “Vimanas: Flying Machines of the Ancients,” “The Enigma of Cranial Deformation” (with Brian Foerster), and a soon-to-be released book on the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia.

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.

POSTPONING A RUMOR

For a company that prides itself on secrecy, Apple certainly gets a lot of press. True, Tim Cook has been traveling hither and yon in recent weeks releasing juicy tidbits here and here. So we learned a little bit more about Apple Watch, but I’ll avoid that subject simply because this column would otherwise be outdated by the time many of you read it.

Instead, I’ll focus on the assumption that other products must be announced at that singular event. Now maybe they will, and thus my efforts to keep the column current will be wasted. While it’s always possible there will be a simple MacBook Air refresh, I’m more interested in the rumored products that seem to have slipping ship dates.

The most common rumors don’t appear to be made up stories. Some of it comes from no less than the Wall Street Journal, an Apple preferred newspaper, so you expect there’s some truth involved. But things can be extrapolated real fast and the story becomes outdated, or just plain wrong. Worse, a story in what is considered a responsible source will be repeated by other media outlets, and each repetition might include some further speculation. The story soon gets out of control.

Take the rumors about a larger iPad, dubbed iPad Pro. The original report spoke of a 12.9-inch model, a size that’s mostly stuck, and there’s been some talk about Apple supplying their own stylus that may be known as iPen or Apple Pen.

Now Steve Jobs, in one of his pithy quotes, said the best stylus was a finger. But putting ink or paint on your finger to jot something down on a piece of paper is not a particularly credible way to deliver precision, so we have pencils, pens, paint brushes — you get the picture. Those of you who have problems managing accurate text in a touch keyboard, which has to be most of you, will understand the complications, especially if you need to create artwork.

So Steve Jobs might have been right in a general sense, but not for a number of specific applications. So who would be a candidate for a larger iPad anyway?

Now I don’t think that Apple is at all interested in a convertible tablet. There won’t be a computer that runs iOS and OS X depending on whether you use the touchscreen or the physical keyboard. It’s not that people are lining up to buy those clumsy devices, and while Microsoft has sold an estimated one million copies of Surface Pro 3, it’s not that it has taken the world by storm. So there will be no combo refrigerator/toaster oven-type device from Apple.

Assuming iPad Pro is meant to be a standalone device that is merely a step up from existing iPads, why would one be needed? One possibility is for content creators, graphic artists, for example, who want another way to manage artwork and find a 9.7-inch display too constraining. There are already input devices that can manage some of this, and perhaps Apple’s own patents will yield clues as to where the company is going.

Sure, you can perform that sort of work with an input device on a Mac using such products as a Wacom tablet. The iPad Pro would provide that sort of functionality within the iOS structure with nothing more than a stylus. So I can see where this would help it reach a specific audience, though not necessarily the mass market, though I can see where some might prefer it to a traditional MacBook Air.

The main problem I see is that iOS is not suited for the sort of multitasking that’s been part of the Mac user experience since the 1980s. You cannot run apps or documents side by side, the sort of multitasking that I would think would be essential. With more and more productive apps coming to iOS that are optimized for the iPad, I wonder why Apple hasn’t devised a way to deliver this essential feature.

One possible reason is lack of available memory to handle this chore efficiently, though the iPad Air 2 supposedly has 2GB of RAM. That ought to be enough, along with some clever iOS legerdemain, to make the process as swift as possible.

In any case, iPad Pro’s alleged shipping date has reportedly slipped yet again, with new rumors that Apple has delayed it because it is taking more time to ramp up production for the larger touch displays. Obviously that’s something that will never be confirmed even if it’s true. But it also gives the media an excise if the product doesn’t appear within their promised timeframe. It’s not their fault, it’s Apple’s.

Besides, if there is to be this side-by-side multitasking or something closer to the way it’s done on a Mac, it may well be that the scheme has yet to be perfected for iOS. We’d have to wait for iOS 9, which is expected to be announced at the WWDC in June for a September release. Well, if the past is the guide. That, I suppose, could be yet another — or the real — reason why you won’t see an iPad Pro this spring.

But I’m just whistling in the dark. None of this may happen as I’ve suggested, or it could come out during the Apple Watch launch event, and this column could be obsolete before some of you are reading it. Yes, I’m hedging my bets, but I do not dispute the concept of an iPad Pro, and I can see where it will have a purpose.

Indeed, the biggest problem with the iPad nowadays is that it has serious shortcomings for productive work. Better multitasking would help, of course, but typing long passages is still best done on a traditional keyboard. Here the third party keyboards, particularly the ones that are embedded in a case, tend to be usable but often clumsy. Surface Pro 3 users would surely agree.

The other potential product is a MacBook Air with Retina display. The latest stories have that product coming out by this summer.

Is there a need for a higher resolution MacBook Air? Sure, but at what cost? The existing models offer decent displays, and they have clearly been embraced by millions of users. At $899, the Air is a superb gateway to the Mac environment. It’s small, slim, elegant and the standard SSD makes it faster for most tasks even if the processor is essentially a low-end Intel i5.

The relatively small size and weight makes a MacBook Air a suitable travel companion, better than a convertible note-book, and usually better for productivity that a tablet/physical keyboard combo. It’s certainly easier to use on your lap, and otherwise more convenient for handling traditional productivity apps, such as word processing or anything that requires using more than one app or document at the same time.

I could not, for example, handle my audio editing workflow on an iPad the way it’s set up now. The process of capturing audio for my two radio shows employs Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba and Skype. Input is via a traditional audio mixer using a USB connection. The editing process incorporates two audio apps, Amadeus Pro and Sound Studio, and requires opening and merging separate files. I realize I could use GarageBand on the iPad for editing, but I wasn’t able to find many solutions for capturing audio on Skype for iOS, or at least ones that are especially useful for my needs.

I can whip through my radio shows quickly on my iMac. I can handle it somewhat less quickly on a MacBook of any vintage because of the smaller display. But I have never found a way to flexibly perform these functions with the same level of productivity on an iPad.

Yes, I suppose improved multitasking capabilities on an iPad Pro would give me a workable alternative, and inspire app developers to offer more useful choices. For now, the iPad’s limitations in this area have no doubt hurt potential sales. Such roadblocks to wider tablet adoption may be key reasons why sales have stalled, in addition to the longer upgrade cycles.

Now as to that rumored MacBook Air with Retina display, the speculation has focused on a 12-inch model, but thinner and thus possibly no larger physically than the 11-inch model. But what about those who prefer a 13-inch MacBook Air? Does Apple give up on a larger configuration? It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense from a logical point of view. What about a 14-inch model that is otherwise no larger in physical size than the 13-inch version because of a slimmer design? That might be an interesting concept.

What wouldn’t be so interesting is having fewer ports. There’s talk of USB Type-C, which would theoretically offer bandwidth similar to Thunderbolt, 10Gbps, and higher power for devices without separate power supplies. Fine, but why would Apple abandon the current allotment of two USB 3 ports plus Thunderbolt? The 13-inch model also has an SDXC card slot. Would ditching them make sense, and would it somehow reduce the size of the unit sufficiently to compensate for inconveniencing customers?

Sure, Apple is notorious for dropping ports when it deems them no longer suitable. But I fail to see the logic of getting rid of USB 3 and Thunderbolt, since the latter is supported on all other Macs. In exchange for a slightly smaller form factor?

Now when it comes to the stories that an Apple TV update is pending, I’ll set that aside for the time being. I think I’ve already covered that subject in previous columns.

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