Although Apple’s stock price dipped during the September 9th media event — something not really unusual — it was up again over the next two days. Perhaps Wall Street came to its senses, but don’t bet on it. Or maybe they got to look over Apple’s announcements a tad more carefully and found more meat there than they previously suspected. But all that was required was to actually read about the new products, and their features, and not make assumptions.
So, no, the iPad Pro is not just a variation of the Microsoft Surface 3. Apple TV has a lot more going for it than you see at first glance, and I still believe makers of gaming consoles have to be freaking. Things will really change, though, when Apple launches a service designed to replace your cable/satellite set-top box. But this won’t happen at once. It’ll take months before you see the potential of Apple TV and how it may come to dominate your living room, and yes I do see some elements reminiscent of the original WebTV before Microsoft bought that company and messed it all up.
Meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we obviously concentrated on Apple’s September 9th, 2015 media event and the extensive range of product announcements. You learned about the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, and whether the new features are compelling enough. We also covered the version 4.0 Apple TV set-top box and the new features, including its gaming potential, but why does it lack 4K support? Also on the agenda was the iPad Pro/Apple Pencil. Is it maybe a little too close in concept to the Microsoft Surface 3? And what might come when or if Apple introduces a subscription TV service?
Our guests included Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles, and tech columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Last year, Kirk returned his iPhone 6, and decided to stick with an iPhone 5s. One reason is that he prefers the 4-inch display. So are Apple’s new offerings enough to tempt him, or does the lack of a smaller display remain the deal breaker?
If you’ve read his blog, you already know the answer. Apple is leaving upgrade sales on the table by not delivering a current 4-inch iPhone. The sole remaining product in that category is a legacy iPhone 5s. It’s a perfectly good smartphone, even though it’s two years old. With a subsidized price of $49 for the 32GB version (16GB is no longer sufficient), it might actually be just fine for many of you — unless you already have something from the iPhone 5 series, in which case you’ve been abandoned for now. Perhaps Apple will come to its senses if sales of the oldest iPhone are better than expected.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: A special “turnabout is fair play” episode where four members of The Paracast forums question Gene and Chris about a variety of subjects, including their early introductions to the world of the paranormal. You’ll hear a lengthy description of a frightening encounter with strange beings, “stick men,” when Chris was very young. This listener roundtable features Burnt State, ChrisJohnsen, Jeff Crowell and Ufology.
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.
While widely reported, this development pretty much went under the radar when it came to impact. It happened during the presentation at last week’s media conference, where Apple introduced the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. And, yes, a lot of what was introduced was more or less predicted by the media for quite some time.
Even the Apple Pencil came as no surprise, although some members of the media preferred to repeat what Steve Jobs said about a stylus when he said that they were signs of design failure. Why not just use your fingers? But, of course, there are times when you need precision drawing that cannot be accomplished without a precision instrument.
And the tech pundits who found something wanting in Tim Cook’s decision to do things that Jobs presumably would not have done forget something important. When Cook was named CEO of Apple, Jobs told him not to fret over what he would have done when making a decision. Cook had to go his own way. Don’t forget that asking what “Walt” would have done crippled Disney for years after their founder’s death.
It’s normal during an Apple media event to introduce third parties to demonstrate products that work in conjunction with Apple’s newest gadgets. So it was natural for Adobe to appear to demonstrate the value of the Apple Pencil, which would work in concert with new software that would make the iPad Pro a more powerful creative tool.
Yes, Microsoft’s Kirk Koenigsbauer appeared to demonstrate Microsoft Office on the larger iPad, with a heavy focus on the advantages of the Apple Pencil. It wasn’t a matter of Microsoft admitting defeat in the age-old competition with Apple, but an expression of the company’s new cloud-based direction under CEO Satya Nadella.
This was the sort of thing you might never have seen when Jobs and Ballmer were running their respective companies. Ballmer famously ranted incoherently about the iPhone and other Apple innovations. Apple would frequently make sarcastic cracks about Microsoft imitating Apple features, such as “Redmond, start your copy machines.”
Microsoft is recognizing the reality that we are in the post-PC era. While overall PC sales have fallen — except for Macs — mobile gear sales have soared. Well, maybe tablets aren’t doing quite as well as expected — and Apple is clearly working hard to jump start the segment with iOS 9’s multitasking features and the iPad Pro — but smartphones continue to dominate. The market winners are Apple and Samsung, and they own the profits. Microsoft, not so much.
So Microsoft’s attempt to become a mobile handset maker — with the purchase of a division of Nokia — didn’t work so well. In recent months, the acquisition has essentially been undone with a huge tax write-off and the firing of thousands of employees. Yes, there will evidently still be Nokia smartphones under the Lumia brand, but nobody is expecting very much to come from them.
All right, it appears that the Surface tablets are doing better, but the market share is a fraction of the iPad’s. So it’s clear that, aside from the Xbox, Microsoft is not a hardware company.
But software and services?
So an iOS version of Microsoft Office, well done for the iPad, appeared long before a mobile version was ready on a Microsoft platform. There’s even a credible Android version out there.
The old Microsoft would have none of this. While the key Office apps — Word, Excel and PowerPoint — originated on the Mac, when Windows took over the personal computing landscape, the Mac versions no longer received the love. The worst occurred when Word 6 arrived in the mid-1990s. It sometimes took longer than a minute to launch even on the fastest Macs. It was developed using something called “P-Code,” a misbegotten scheme to base the apps for both platforms on a single code base. It was a disaster, and the interface was barely Mac like.
All right, Word 6 got better over time when it came to launch times, but nothing could fix the dull, drab, Windows-style interface.
After Microsoft and Apple buried the legal hatchet in 1997, where Bill Gates famously appeared on screen during a Steve Jobs keynote, versions of Office continued to be developed. Mac compatibility improved, but they still lagged behind the Windows versions. Office for Mac 2011, which arrived in late 2010, seemed for a while to be the last release from Microsoft for Mac users. Worse, the initial versions were supremely buggy, particularly the first Outlook email/contact app for the Mac. I recall struggling through several updates before I got one to actually run consistently without crashing.
No matter. Aside from Outlook’s ongoing troubles, Office 2011 was otherwise a decent upgrade, though again you could do more with the Windows versions. For several years, reports that Microsoft was building a new version of Office for Mac consisted of unfounded rumors. But ahead of the arrival of Office 2016 for Windows, the Mac version appeared in beta form early this year. By July, subscribers to Office 365 could download a release version, with boxed versions due out this month.
Office 2016 was clearly designed to allow Mac and PC users to get essentially the same experience. The feature set is a closer match, and the Mac version works pretty well overall, aside from some of the usual Microsoft flakiness. The iOS versions do far more than you have a right to expect from a strictly mobile office suite. Indeed, Microsoft’s demonstration at the iPad Pro/Apple Pencil rollout made a credible case for the larger tablet.
Clearly, Microsoft is taking an adult approach to its partnership and competition with Apple. They are no longer hoping that a crippled version on the Mac and iOS platforms will somehow persuade customers to seek out a better experience on Windows. Providing solid user experiences on all supported platforms means a steady stream of income for Microsoft. A platform-agnostic approach is good business.
Of course, this mature attitude may not be as much fun. Microsoft products are welcomed on Macs, iPhones and iPads. Apple products are welcome more and more in the enterprise, and don’t forget the recent partnerships with IBM and, more recently, Cisco. It may not be quite as exciting, but the customer benefits from having products that work better together.
Now this new climate of cooperation doesn’t necessarily mean that someone from Samsung will appear on an Apple stage to discuss the chip partnerships between the two companies. The remaining legal skirmishes between them in the U.S. have yet to be resolved. But it’s also clear that Samsung still supplies billions of dollars of parts for Apple gear each year. That is hardly poised to change.
But when it comes to Microsoft, the two companies have found ways to work together without so much of the sniping and back-biting. You may not see Apple appear as a partner at a Microsoft product rollout, but both companies are clearly profiting from the current approach. For those who enjoyed those legendary Apple and Microsoft disputes, it’s time to move on.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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