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Newsletter Issue #809

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

So what about Jonathan Ive’s promotion to Apple’s Chief Design Officer? Does it mean that he’s somehow preparing us for his ultimate departure, by letting go of administrative functions? Or is this what it appears to be, a natural evolution of the work he’s done since the 1990s?

Well on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. The bill of fare included Jonathan Ive’s new job. Is this a promotion, or a way for him to quietly and gently disengage from Apple? You also heard about Apple’s ongoing problems with the antitrust compliance monitor in the e-book price fixing case, Apple’s new same-day delivery system that started in San Francisco, and ongoing problems with Apple’s OS updates. I’ll have more to say about the latter later in this issue.

So what about ordering an Apple Watch, or a full-blown Mac Pro with display and other stuff, and have it delivered to your home or office on the very same day? No traveling to a store, fighting traffic, or searching for parking lots. No need to carry the heavier stuff to the car. Well, you can receive delivery in a few hours — assuming the Apple gear you want is in stock — for just $19 in San Francisco.

Of course, Amazon has the same-day delivery bit going in some parts of the U.S. already. There’s even the promise of providing that service to Prime customers in the Phoenix area, but, alas, not to my zip code. Well, maybe it’s just not safe for their couriers to travel to my neighborhood.

You also heard from Kirk McElhearn, who is also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who recounted his experiences selling used stuff on Amazon and eBay. He also talked about what might be forthcoming in the next Apple TV set-top box, and he and Gene discussed their various tastes in TV programs. Hint: Kirk isn’t a fan of shows about comic book heroes.

Indeed, Kirk never got through a single episode of the Netflix series, “Daredevil,” even though the series got a near-perfect 98% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So he must be one of the 2% then.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Researcher Ryan Skinner returns to The Paracast to talk about his two new books: Tales of the Skinwalker: Stories from Skinwalker Ranch and Skinwalker Ranch: The UFO Farm. As many of our listeners know, Ryan has made countless trips to the Uintah Basin where the infamous Skinwalker Ranch, scene of numerous paranormal events, is located. Over the years, he has collected quite a number of interesting accounts that seem to be centered in the area around the ranch. In his new books, he discusses many of the stories that didn’t make it into the first two books and expands on his ongoing investigations into the mysteries in Utah.

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.

MAKING OS X RELIABLE AGAIN

It’s no secret that the first releases of OS X, starting with the Public Beta in 2000, were shaky. Your Mac suffered from subpar performance, even on the most powerful Power Macs of the time, missing features, and more crashes than you had the right to expect. After all, this was Unix, the industrial strength operating system, so why should you have to put up with so much grief?

Over time, Apple fleshed out the feature set, mostly. Some loyal users of the Classic Mac OS still felt neglected, but Apple chose to move on. Once hardware acceleration support came to the sophisticated interface elements, performance issues largely subsided. With the arrival of 10.4 Tiger, also the first OS X to run on Intel Macs, all seemed right with the world. By 2005, nearly nine years after acquiring NeXT and the services of Steve Jobs, the transition was an unqualified success.

With OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, released in 2009, Apple took a step back and cleaned most of the remaining rough edges. Some feel this was the most reliable OS X ever, but the reason most people use it nowadays — other than hardware limitations — is that it’s the last system to allow you to run PowerPC apps on an Intel Mac.

The Mac universe changed again beginning with OS X Lion, where a few elements from iOS made it to OS X. Some suggested Apple would ultimately merge the two systems, though that prospect remains remote. It was more about consistency, since you were expected to use Macs, iPhones and iPads, and it was a good thing to lessen the need to adapt as you moved from one device to the other. Or at least, that’s what Apple evidently hoped.

With Lion, Apple went to annual upgrades, and ultimately made them free. Other than hardware or app issues, there was no reason not to install the latest and greatest OS X. Apple has also stabilized the system requirements, so some Macs dating back to 2007, the earliest models with 64-bit native Intel CPUs, remained compatible.

OS X Mavericks marked the first version that eschewed a feline name. Apple, instead, went to California place names, and there are plenty of those. Even though I wasn’t enamored of the name given 10.10, Yosemite — because of its connection with an annoying cartoon character — Apple clearly had different priorities. But there was loads of promise, with an amazing amount of new features and enhancements. Aa few of them, such as Continuity, sounded extremely promising. Well, the demonstrations were impressive, but the reality may have been something else.

So the promise of being able to start a letter or document on a Mac, and continue where you left off on your iPhone or your iPad (or the other way around), sounded attractive enough. Before you even consider whether the thing ever worked consistently and reliably, older Macs could not apply. It required Bluetooth LE, and only supported Macs made in 2012 or later.

Yes, the various parts of Continuity are neat when they function, but it’s not a killer app. Besides, Yosemite isn’t really getting the love when you check the reviews at the App Store. The average rating of all OS X versions is 3.5 stars, but it’s only about 2.5 stars for Yosemite. You have to wonder why, because that’s a downright middling rating. Despite the fact that from 60-65% of Mac users are running the current OS, it’s not as if they are particularly happy.

Among the most annoying issues are Wi-Fi connection troubles. With three maintenance updates released so far, and the promise of fixes to this persistent problem, it doesn’t seem to have been fixed. There are published reports that Apple has removed a networking component, discovereyd, blamed for inconsistent Wi-Fi, high resource usage, and poor battery life, in betas of a forthcoming OS 10.10.4 release. In its place is something called mDNSresponder, the name of the component previously used.

Assuming this report is correct — and that the change will persist when the update is released — it would seem that Apple has returned to a tried and proven older technology. It’s not at all clear if that creates any other problems, or even if the code is exactly the same as the version that was part of OS 10.9 Mavericks.

Maybe Apple tried something with pure expectations and ended up encountering unexpected problems. This is not something Apple is about to explain, and I doubt that the reasoning for the change will be explained either. But if Mac users experience more reliable performance in the twilight days of the Yosemite era, it’s better late than never.

But that takes us to iOS 9 and OS 10.11 — and I presume the numbering schemes will remain intact — where there are somewhat contradictory expectations of what’s to come. So we have the rumor that Apple plans to take a step back, and shore up the weaker components of iOS and OS X to make them more stable. iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite are both considered to be more than a little rocky, and problems still persist as we await their successors.

This would be in keeping with the spirit of Snow Leopard, pausing to build a solid core for the future. Besides, it’s not as if Windows 10 really offers so much that’s new to compete against. The next version of Windows is more about fixing the problems introduced in Windows 8 and 8.1, and adding some stuff from OS X, such as multiple desktops (see Spaces) and a screen displaying open docs and apps (see Mission Control). It’s more about making a little seem a lot, similar to Google’s Android M, which adds features that are already present in iOS.

But we also have this statement from Apple VP Philip Schiller in the press release announcing WWDC: “We’ve got incredible new technologies for iOS and OS X to share with developers at WWDC and around the world, and can’t wait to see the next generation of apps they create.”

Now it may well mean that some of these technologies are designed more for stability and superior performance, and do not necessarily provide front-facing features for the two operating systems. It’ll be about things developers care about in moving their software forward. It’s possible repaired features will be presented as something new and different, such as, perhaps, a Continuity 2.0.

While there are already hints and rumors about what to expect, I am not going to get very specific about what I’d like to see. I can give a wish list, and I do mention a few at times, but the last prediction I made that actually came to pass was the fact that OS X Mavericks would be free. It just didn’t make sense to charge even a modest fee at that point.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see more OS X improvements. I still believe the Finder has untapped potential, even though some believe we need to give it up and send it out to pasture. So imagine setting up a multi-tabbed window for a specific purpose, as I do for my audio workflow. Now what if I close the window by error? Do I have to recreate everything from scratch?

The most important new feature, however, is consistent, reliable performance. That means that everything should just work, and not be temperamental or totally non-functional, particularly when it comes to long-standing features. So Wi-Fi should operate without having to egg it on, restart, or just hope the Tarot cards deliver favorable results. That it doesn’t always work in Yosemite still presents a serious problem.

Apple also needs to shore up the way the public beta program operates. With at least one million testers for Yosemite, how does Apple explain why Wi-Fi was allowed to break? Surely at least some testers complained, and their feedback should have been followed more closely; in other words taken seriously. I hope that this program wasn’t done simply for marketing, to make Mac users believe they were trusted parts of the beta process, and not just downloading an OS to feel good.

But please don’t take my suspicions seriously. Perhaps it was a failure of Apple’s Q&A people to record bugs with the correct priorities, and the OS managers to make sure that the critical problems were eradicated before release, not after several maintenance updates.

At a time when Microsoft is making a renewed push to become relevant again, it’s more important that Apple get things right the first time. While loyal Mac users are tolerant, and I’ll grant Windows bugs might be worse, that’s no excuse. PC sales may be lagging, but not sales of new Macs. Apple is clearly investing in the platform, witness the new MacBook, and adding Force Touch to other models. A more reliable 10.11 would go a long way towards cementing the Mac’s reputation for reliability.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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