• Newsletter Issue #803

    April 20th, 2015


    So if you want to order a brand spanking new MacBook, prepare to wait four to six weeks for delivery, at least as of the time I wrote this column. Now that delay isn’t set in stone. Apple often gets products to customers ahead of schedule, which merely makes them look good. But that’s after the frustration of ordering early and still not getting a product that supposedly shipped on April 10th.

    The reviews of the MacBook, and the Apple Watch for that matter, have been decidedly mixed. While Apple is complimented for a brilliant design and rethinking the note-book computer mold, not everyone is enamored of putting up with performance on a par with a four-year-old MacBook Air, and with only a single peripheral port, USB-C.

    But someone who uses a note-book strictly for travel, who wants something light, with good battery life and enough performance to get most routine chores done, the MacBook is a godsend. This is particularly true if your note-book bag, like mine, weighs you down when you have to carry it for a long time, such as walking from the airport entrance, through security, and to the gate from where your flight departs. Apple clearly designed this product for the user who does most things via a wireless connection, and doesn’t need to perform processor-intensive tasks such as video editing and 3D rendering. That applies for most of you, and some of the remaining needs might be served with a full-bore docking station, shades of the Powerbook Duo.

    Now on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, with a big plate of topics. He explained how his skepticism about Apple’s new MacBook was lessened after he had a chance to use one at an Apple Store, and why it’s not a “4-year step backward.” Apple Watch was also on the agenda, as John suggested it won’t be a luxury for long. The topics of discussion also included why iPad sales are faltering, the Microsoft Surface 3 tablet, and Apple’s new association with IBM.

    You also heard from Kyle Wiens and Andrew Goldberg from iFixit. This time they recounted their experiences tearing down the new MacBook, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge, and some Windows gear. Which models are easy to fix? Which models are just messy? They also outlined their plans to take apart the Apple Watch.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present military veteran and prolific science fact and science fiction author Kevin D. Randle, who returns to the Paracast to talk about the state of the UFO field. The discussion will include the ongoing controversy over the alleged Roswell Slides, involving two possible photographs of a creature that some suggest was an alien recovered as a result of the Roswell UFO crash. But does this story hold up ahead of a public tell-all event scheduled for May 5, 2015 in Mexico City?

    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 long and short of it is that, if you believe some people, don’t ever (and I mean never) buy the first version of anything from Apple. It will be fatally flawed, and some of those flaws may not be fixable via a simple software update. So you’ll be stuck with buggy gear for being so damned impatient. If you just wait a few years, all will be right with the world and you’ll get something that truly realizes its potential.

    You can see this with the reviews of the 2015 MacBook. Apple overhauled the note-book computer to become a device that mostly connects wirelessly, perhaps a Mac version of an iPad without the touchscreen. That being the case, the need for hard-wired ports is lessened, which means for simpler circuitry, a smaller logic board, and maybe even a slightly lower price.

    At $1,299, the 12-inch MacBook is thought to be expensive, but is it? The cheapest 11-inch MacBook Air is $899, so that would surely buttress the argument. But wait just a moment! If you add 256GB SSD to match the capacity of the one on the MacBook, the MacBook Air’s price increases by $200. You want 8GB of RAM? Prepare to spend another $100. Remember that RAM can’t be upgraded on this model, so you can’t do it later. But you end up with a purchase price of $1,199.

    If you buy the MacBook for $100 more, you get a larger display that’s Retina. Suddenly an overpriced computer becomes a bargain. Contrast that to the original MacBook Air that arrived with a retail price of $1,799 and was roundly criticized for being overpriced compared to Apple portables in 2008.

    So much for the MacBook-is-overpriced argument. It may even be possible that it’ll get a little cheaper over time, or at least Apple will pack in a faster CPU and a larger standard SSD. For now, the price is quite fair.

    But is the MacBook, being the first version, unsuitable? Well, I don’t expect perfection. A recent article in Macworld covers the unexpected headaches trying to migrate content from a MacBook Air, but I wouldn’t suggest those issues were due to glitches in the configuration, the operating system, or just the confluence of unfortunate accidents that made the process irritating.

    I’ve always used cloned or Time Machine backup drives to restore my stuff on a new Mac. The system has always worked, but I grant some of you don’t have external backup drives, and might want to do a computer-to-computer migration. Without Ethernet as the connection scheme, maybe do it via Wi-Fi, but forget about such reliable standbys as FireWire Target Disk mode, which let your Mac boot as a storage device.

    In any case, the MacBook otherwise seems quite reliable and reasonably snappy, and it’s apparently going to do what it’s meant to do. That is, if you can find one to buy. Just watch how many tech writers begin to rely on them exclusively.

    With Apple Watch, the use case is still under debate. Although there are other smartwatches out there, Apple has made its contender something far more than just a tiny smartphone without the phone. It’s a ground-up response to what some might consider a question that was never asked. But if you are looking to buy a fancy wristwatch, I can’t see anything wrong with considering an Apple Watch.

    I mean, how many extra functions does a Rolex have that make it a more complete solution than an Apple Watch? It doesn’t even come close, though I grant it’s a real fine timepiece. But the closest I’ve come to one, other than seeing them at a distance, is an old fake Rolex that my sister-in-law handed over to me months after her husband died. It’s old and scratched with a broken crown, and I have no idea how close it’ll come to the real thing internally. Some day I might have a watch repair person give it a look over and see if it can be made operational at an affordable price.

    The potential for the Apple Watch won’t be known until supply and demand are lined up. There’s been so much hype, it’s fair to say that loads of people want to get in line, particularly if they don’t find spending upwards of $349 on a wearable to be daunting. While some tech bloggers and so-called industry analysts are quick to speculate how well it’s doing, I won’t take any of it seriously. What really counts is what Apple reports, if they report anything. For now, Apple Watch is supposed to be a miscellaneous item in the company’s financials.

    What might be troubling are the reports of glitches with the review products sent to some tech journalists a few weeks back. Perhaps software updates, operating system and apps, will address the reported slow launches and the apparent inability to get it to come on when you lift your wrist to bring the watch to your eyes. I wouldn’t think Apple wants to have them delivered that way, and I’m sure they have been busy optimizing the software to get the best possible performance out of whatever is in that thing.

    Since Apple Watch is so new, and a lot about the internal chipset isn’t known, I wonder whether it’ll be possible to run, say, Geekbench on it. That may require hosting it on an iPhone, but how would the iPhone’s own performance be separated from the Apple Watch, though you presume it’ll be lots slower?

    One way to gauge the quality of a new product is to check the negatives. Some people who buy an Apple Watch will want to return them because it doesn’t suit their needs. Those who keep them might just want to bitch and moan about things that have gone wrong. But if there’s a trend when it comes to certain glitches — as there was with the Wi-Fi connection issues under OS X Yosemite — you might have a better idea of potential trouble.

    I do not think, though, that Apple will allow the product to ship with serious defects. Performance issues can be addressed early, one assumes, with over-the-air updates. Some units might fail under warranty, and have to be replaced. But that, too, is nothing unusual unless there’s an extraordinary number of them.

    For me, the argument about waiting for version two or three of the Apple Watch is rather more compelling. The MacBook is merely an extension of existing note-book computer technologies, and that includes USB-C. Apple Watch is all-new, and even though Apple has spent — what? — four years and millions and millions of dollars in development, things will have to be refined. It’s an early iteration of new functions and a different way of delivering a mobile computing device. So it stands to reason there are apt to be rapid changes in the first few years, and making Apple Watch a standalone device — free of an iPhone — is surely one that will come about eventually.

    Now just to make it personal: My background as the early adopter of Apple gear has been hit or miss. Yes, I have purchased new models from time to time to be on the cutting edge and stay up to date with my readers and listeners. Quite often, though, getting review gear helped the process along. But while I used Macs at work for several years, I didn’t bring one into my home until 1989. It was a IIcx, loaded for its time.

    To me, however, it wasn’t fast enough, and so I updated to the somewhat faster IIci, Apple’s first 32-bit clean model. I bypassed the first Quadra because I couldn’t afford a new computer, but managed to subsist on accelerator cards. Apple doesn’t make it possible for reviewers to keep the gear sent on a loan, not even at a discount (although that was once true), so I have to find a way to afford occasional upgrades for obvious business reasons.

    I also got an iPod early on, but a review product from Apple, since I never warmed up to having a music player in my pocket. I preferred to just listen to something with real loudspeakers, and even today, I often set the headphones aside for the radio shows and listen to the speakers, at a low volume, so there’s only slight audible feedback.

    My first iPhone purchase was the second version, the 3G, in part because Apple sent me one for a few weeks and I was hooked. I avoided the first version because there was no carrier subsidy, and it wasn’t quite fleshed out yet. But I had several generations of iPads in here for review, until I found one that my wife “adopted,” forcing me to buy her one.

    My inclination with the Apple Watch is to wait a while, aside from exposure to review or loaner samples. Some day I’ll have a new MacBook something-or-other, but I couldn’t tell you which model is destined to replace a 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2010. It may not even be released yet.


    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #803”

    1. dfs says:

      Yeah, I agree that the jury is very much still out on the Apple Watch. I’m waiting to see if it will have at least one feature that might allow me to do something I want to do (I’m getting on in years but still have the strength to fish my iPhone out of my pocket — I mean one unique attractive feature that can’t be duplicated by my iPhone). And there’s another reason I’m holding off. I like a watch with a certain formal dignity, and that means if I buy anything it’s going to be the stainless steel model with the expansion band. But wait a minute, that expansion band costs four hundred and fifty dollars, making the whole thing only slightly less than a thousand dollars, which strikes me as entirely outrageous, something sure to supply ammunition for critics who claim Apple’s prices are too high. To a lesser extent, all of Apple’s leather bands are also a good deal more expensive than they ought to be in comparison with other bands on the market. Today, nosing around on Amazon I found there are a couple of manufacturers who are already marketing third-party bands for considerably less than Apple charges. From one of them I can pick up a stainless steel expansion band for two hundred bucks less. Nicer by comparison, but still outrageous when compared with the kind of mass=produced expansion bands marketed by companies like Speidel. Now I’m betting that over the next few months there is going to be a huge tidal wave of third-part bands, so I could get the kind I want for maybe fifty to seventy-five dollars. To my mind this is a strong reason for holding off temporariliy if I do wind up deciding to buy one. I suspect a lot of other customers will draw the same conclusion, so that Apple might sell a lot of the cheapest models in the Watch and Sport Watch categories, bought by users who prefer to save money by making their own aftermarket upgrade, without selling many of the more upmarket models in these two categories. This may have the effect of cutting into the profits Apple could have reaped, if it had made more realistic decisions about where to place the price points its range of offerings.

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