• Newsletter Issue #802

    April 13th, 2015


    It was impossible to get away from the Apple Watch this week. Whether you care about it or not, the media was all over it. And don’t forget that eccentric hit piece from a certain cable TV news network that attempted to attack people who go into an Apple Store as a bunch of dolts. All it takes is selective interviewing and selective editing — very much the latter — to prove anything you want.

    As you know, the main conclusion about an Apple Watch from the first group of reviewers is that it’s still a luxury, and not something that’s essential to your lifestyle. But it very well might be some day. It’s still early in the game, and, from the apparent early demand, it doesn’t seem as if Apple will have any trouble selling them. But it’s still going to be a hard sell for many, and that includes me, although I do wear a watch.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we offered extensive coverage of the Apple Watch launch. You heard from Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles, who discussed his plans to buy an Apple Watch, and about the use case for the MacBook, Apple’s fancy and super slim note-book that has just one peripheral port. He also talked about a recent report in which Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, used a wristband and gestures to command four robot spiders. We only wonder why Intel believes anyone cares.

    Or maybe they were meant to be prototypes for the Amazon delivery drones.

    You also heard from outspoken commentator Kirk McElhearn, who is also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who recounted his experiences ordering two Apple Watches online. He also wondered why Apple sold out of them so quickly, and why the new MacBook is also back-ordered. Is it all some sort of conspiracy on the part of Apple to hold back inventory to make it appear they were both back ordered? That seems hardly sensible, and it’s hard to believe Apple would give up sales just to convey the image of having a product that’s more successful than it really is.

    We also talked about cheap wireless printing solutions — we both prefer low-cost black and white laser printers — and the recent iTunes 12.1.2 update that restored the original information window. Why did Apple change it and make it worse only to revert to the previous layout?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present “Shop Talk 2015,” where we talk about the issues of the day in paranormal research, and cover the serious questions being discussed in our forums and online. You’ll hear talk about the sad state of UFO research, as your hosts wonder why there’s been little or no progress towards learning much about the cause of this incredible phenomenon. We also feature one of our outspoken forum members, Robert, known to our regulars as Burnt State.

    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.


    I’ll keep this real personal. I do not walk in your shoes, and I wouldn’t presume to guess what your ideal personal computer setup might be. But I have been around note-books since the early 1990s, so I know what I need when it comes to being able to stay connected and get my work done while on the road.

    The first time I had a portable computer, an early PowerBook, the family had journeyed to Maryland to accompany me on a business trip, leaving a few days open for vacation. But I needed to stay close to my ongoing writing assignments. So in addition to the computer, I brought along a portable printer and an external hard drive to back up my files. The hotel offered a wired Internet connection.

    It was a fairly bulky load, and, in fact, it took quite a few years before I became comfortable enough to give up on taking printers with me. These days, I still use a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro and a USB mic for on-site recordings. If printing is needed, hotels usually have an office area where you can get set up. But I’ve managed to survive. Consider this, though, as I consider where Apple stands in this equation.

    For a number of reasons, I haven’t traveled far from home in recent years, except for one short trip to Las Vegas for a family event. With the MacBook Pro and the iPhone, plus a carrying case filled with a mic, earphones and connection cables I seldom use, along with the hotel’s Wi-Fi connection, I had all the tools I needed to be as productive as I wanted.

    Now some of you might suggest that I’d do better to abandon all the extras and take a few days off from everything. Revert to my pre-Internet brain. But I’ve been connected since the late 1980s, and I have not seen a reason to abandon the online world and just hang out on a folding chair overlooking a sandy beach. That’s just not me!

    Still, I’ve managed to reduce the appliances I need to take with me on the road, and, without the need for extra input devices, a printer and extra drives, and free of wires to get online, am I now a case study for the MacBook?

    Well the single peripheral port doesn’t really bother me so much. If I have to do a recording session, I’ll need a USB adapter for the mic, but I can probably survive long enough without a charging cord, although I would leave it in the note-book bag for an emergency. Perhaps I’d consider one of those multiport adapters to let me connect both mic and power cord. I have not seen the need to consider an extra display. I also note that Apple includes a Time Capsule — a Wi-Fi router with a built-in backup drive — among its customization options for the MacBook. They have the right idea.

    I suppose I could become accustomed to Apple’s new keyboard design, though it would be no sweat to bring along my iMac’s wireless keyboard, which has a more traditional feel. But that would just be another appliance to stuff in the case. I’m not even that troubled that the processor’s performance level is closer to a 2011 MacBook Air, though it wouldn’t be that far off from my 2010 MacBook. That should be sufficient to handle basic recording and editing chores without needing to wait all that much for things to process.

    What bothers me most about the MacBook is that the display is a mere 12 inches. Sure, that’s still larger than the PowerBooks I used during the 1990s, and I managed to cope with those smaller displays. I can’t forget that my very first expandable Mac came with a 13-inch Apple color display, and 13 inches in those days was equivalent to 12-inches today. Besides, the current models provide a lot more content to occupy the same amount of screen real estate.

    I’ve become spoiled. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple release a 15-inch version of the MacBook should their goals of a fully wireless environment come about. Apple manages to get these things right, and I know my personal needs for travel are less demanding than they used to be.

    Now some of you might suggest that I just rely on my wife’s iPad when I travel, but I can’t. Yes, I can get an accessory keyboard, but the current iOS doesn’t offer me the audio editing tools and multitasking capabilities I require to be productive. The 9.7-inch display would be tolerable; the lack of productivity apps and features would be the deal breaker.

    The favored tech writers have already been living with MacBooks for a while. Those who normally use a MacBook Air seem to become more accustomed to the 2015 MacBook, assuming they can get past the keyboard with a somewhat different feel. I can see where that can be a deal breaker for some who use different computers, with different keyboards, at home or at work, and thus have to undergo a short period to adapt when switching. Up till now, if you were all Apple and used the most recent keyboards, the note-books and the desktops gave you essentially the same feel.

    I suppose Apple could provide a standalone keyboard similar in design to the one on the MacBook. There are already reports that current keyboards may be backordered, and that Apple is poised to release a new version that’s similar to the one on the MacBook, complete with backlit keys. Well, maybe.

    The biggest argument against the MacBook is the lack of ports. That won’t be much of a problem for me, and I also recall the people who loved the PowerBook Duo, and its external dock, in the old days. Since Apple is using an international standard with USB-C, I’m sure they expect a third-party peripheral makers to produce full-blown docks that will provide all the ports most of you would require when you return to your home or office from the road. Wouldn’t that be the best solution, until you no longer need to connect to anything?

    Would it surprise you that a future version of the MacBook will be able to connect to most anything without need for any cables? From wireless external drives to wireless displays, you won’t need to fret over the things that some complain about today. Future mobile processors from Intel will be far more powerful, so if the Core M family of 2015 doesn’t do it for you, rest assured far better parts will come in time.

    The media doth protest too much about Apple’s decisions. Some might complain that Tim Cook, being the operations and not the product person, isn’t thinking it through and is thus veering from the Steve Jobs playbook for the company. Forgetting for the moment that Jobs urged Cook never to ask what he would do in a given situation, the fact of the matter is that the Apple Watch and the MacBook are harbingers for the future just as much as they are existing products you can order now.

    In that respect, you can compare them to the first versions of most anything that Apple has created. There are flaws, there is unrealized potential, and third-party app and peripheral makers haven’t quite caught up. You may not want to spend loads of money on a version 1.0 of anything, and I respect that decision. It may take a while before, for example, the Apple Watch is powerful enough and flexible enough to meet your needs. I’m not sure it’ll meet mine.

    But I fully grasp, I think, what Apple has planned for the MacBook. Remember that the original Macbook Air, released in 2008, was criticized in much the same way then. It lacked ports, it wasn’t powerful enough, and the price was too high.

    Today the MacBook Air is Apple’s most popular note-book, and only power users would be concerned that it has fewer ports or that it’s not powerful enough to handle the chores they require. So do you then call MacBook a “lighter than air” successor? It seems to make perfect sense that the Macbook Air’s days are numbered, and we have seen the replacement.

    Ot perhaps, as the MacBook becomes cheaper, the MacBook Air will appear in somewhat upgraded form at an even lower price point. Don’t forget the very first model cost $1,799. Today’s entry level model is half that price, and a lot more powerful, with twice the storage. Things change.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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