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Newsletter Issue #825

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

True to some predictions, the fourth generation Apple TV will apparently not support 4K based on the posted specs. But it didn’t take long for Amazon to announce an updated Fire TV set-top box that does. How well won’t be known until the product is tested by independent reviewers.

Did Apple make a huge mistake? Maybe not. Apple isn’t always first to support a new technology. Don’t forget that LTE support wasn’t added to the iPhone when it was first being rolled out on wireless networks. A key reason was that the chips used too much power, which would have meant sharply reduced battery life. Poorer performance didn’t seem to matter to other mobile handset makers, but Apple waited until the technology matured before it made the leap.

While the basics of 4K have been around for a while, some of the accompanying technologies, such as the expanded color space, HDR, are still evidently being fleshed out. So it may be premature for Apple to get involved until the situation settles down. Besides, there’s not a whole lot of 4K content available, and Apple might also want to have some fare to offer via iTunes first.

At the same time, the pressure may be on this holiday season, as more and more lower-cost sets are equipped with 4K. At some point in time, Apple will have to embrace the technology, just as they’ve done with the ability to record 4K videos on the new iPhones, and don’t forget editing 4K movies on Macs, particularly the iMac with 5K Retina display.

It may also be possible to add 4K and newer HDMI technologies to the Apple TV via firmware updates. If that’s the case, perhaps there are some surprises in store some time after the new set-top box appears.

Meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we returned to a slew of newsworthy announcements and software releases from Apple. You heard from Peter Cohen, whose writings are found at iMoreMacworld and Tom’s Guide. He talked about the release of iOS 9, the promise of the fourth generation of Apple TV and its lack of support for 4K (Ultra HD), Tim Cook’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show,” and Apple’s latest appeal, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the e-book antitrust case.

You also heard from John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, who discussed the best features of the Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 2. You also heard about the things that Apple does that “some hate and few understand.” The discussion also turned to the “contrarian vision” of the fourth generation Apple TV, why the forthcoming iPad Pro is Apple’s “new guiding star,” and Amazon’s failed Fire Phone, which he regards as “too creepy for customers.”

After we recorded that segment, John wrote a Mac Observer article where he speculated on why Apple has yet to add 4K support to the Apple TV. It is very much about support for HDR, which will offer the most visible improvement on the new sets. As he points out, you actually have to sit closer than eight feet with a 65-inch 4K set to see the improved resolution. Most of us don’t sit so close with a larger screen, or even have a set that big. It’s not the same as how the picture improved when we went to HD. That was significant. Also consider how many companies sell smartphones with higher resolutions than an iPhone’s Retina display. But what good is it if the differences aren’t even visible to the naked eye?

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Rosemary Ellen Guiley to discuss her book, “Guide to Psychic Power,” which is presented as “a complete, step-by-step guide to developing and using your natural psychic power. Every person is born with natural psychic ability, also called intuition. You can easily improve your psychic power. This comprehensive guide…will show you how.” Guiley is the author of nine encyclopedias and over 50 books. She is an internationally recognized expert in the paranormal and the occult.

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.

SOME iOS 9 ISSUES — REAL AND OTHERWISE

The dust is settling, and it does appear iOS 9 may have more glitches than it seemed on the very first day. However, Apple is also reporting that over 50% of the user base has already upgraded. This despite the fact that some have encountered installation glitches that will require restoring your device. Otherwise the iOS 9 upgrade process is less troublesome than its predecessor, in large part because it requires less than a third of the storage space needed for iOS 8. That situation made it extremely difficult for storage-challenged iPhones and iPads to be upgraded last year.

But it’s not problem free. There are reports of crashing apps, which is being blamed on iOS 9. But it may just be that many of the offending apps merely need to be upgraded to support the new OS. I know I found over two dozen ready to upgrade as soon as iOS 9 was installed on my iPhone. Some of these updates were designed to support such new features as improved multitasking, mostly on the more recent iPads, but there were compatibility issues too.

As it stands, and I haven’t gone through each and every app’s features on my iPhone to confirm this observation, it appears just one suffers from a crashing problem. That’s Speedtest X, which is an Internet benchmarking utility. As soon as I start a test, it’s gone. All told, only one incompatible app isn’t so bad, and perhaps some of the other reports of crashing will be resolved with an upgrade that’s already available, or one that’s coming soon. I had a similar problem with the Washington Post’s “Classic” app, but removing and reinstalling took care of that problem.

The other issue is performance. Despite the promise of improvements, it appears to run no better than iOS 8.4.1, and, in the case of older gear, maybe a tad slower. But such benchmarks aren’t across the board. On more recent devices, iOS 9 may be faster at some functions. This may be a matter of fine-tuning, and perhaps the iOS 9.1 update, which was first seeded to developers and public beta testers on September 9th, will fix some crashing and performance issues. Once release versions of new operating systems get into the hands of millions of users, with all sorts of system and app configurations, issues will appear that went unnoticed during the beta process.

But I expect an interim update before 9.1 arrives, at least to resolve the installation issue that essentially freezes the device until its restored.

Another issue may take longer to address, and it all comes out of a statement that Apple CEO Tim Cook made in a recent interview. He was asked whether it would be possible to delete some of the default apps installed on your iOS gear. It’s not as if you need Apple Watch if you don’t have one, and don’t plan to buy one. You’d think iOS is smart enough to recognize an attempt to pair one and proceed to alert you that an iPhone app is required. Why should it be there otherwise? Maybe it’s just a blatant attempt at promotion, though I hardly think most people worry about apps that aren’t relevant to their needs.

Cook said that some of these apps are tightly integrated with certain system functions and can’t be removed without unintended consequences. But others can be, and he promised Apple would look into finding ways for you to do it. Even a few hundred megabytes of extra storage would be helpful if you don’t have a lot of free space.

I suppose one can subscribe to the conspiracy theory that Apple really wants you to buy a 64GB device, and thus only offers 16GB under protest. Some suggest they ought to make 32GB standard, but The Mac Observer’s John Martellaro, who once worked at Apple, suggests there may be technical reasons why that option may not be workable, perhaps due to 64-bit considerations. As a practical matter, the cost to Apple ought to, in theory, be no more than a dollar or two extra. It’s also true that such an option is available on the legacy iPhone 5s, which, by the way, sports Apple’s first 64-bit A-series chip.

True, you can always rely more on iCloud to compensate for insufficient storage on your device. That Apple has essentially halved the price for extra storage is helpful, but offering a mere 5GB free is not. Microsoft’s OneDrive offers 15GB free. For $6.99 per month, you not only get 1TB, but a single-user license for Office. Apple’s 1TB option is now $9.99 per month without any extra goodies. For that price, Microsoft’s OneDrive plan supports up to five users, each of which gets a separate 1TB storage allotment. Apple needs to get with the program.

Now one recent article in a major financial publication used the term “bloat” to describe the proliferation of extra apps for iOS users. Normally bloat refers to increasing the size of an app beyond what efficient coding would dictate. It’s also true that, as a practical matter, an app gets larger to accommodate extra features. But the article ignores such new iOS features as “Slicing,” which means that you only download the code necessary for an app to run on your device. Extra code for other devices isn’t needed and isn’t downloaded. This feature is intended to reduce bloat.

It’s all a part of App Thinning, which also provides an on-demand feature for an app’s resources. That’s particularly useful with games that would be substantially larger if everything is downloaded at once. But if the code for unneeded resources are removed and replaced with the features you need, that can keep things running more efficiently. Of course, it also means you’ll be using more bandwidth, which may be a factor if you want to use your device for gameplay while it’s connected to your wireless carrier. So check the carrier’s site, or the carrier’s app, to make sure you aren’t consuming too much data.

Contrast that to Microsoft’s attempt to devise universal apps for Windows 10 that will run on desktop PCs, convertible PCs, and mobile gear. Will the download process strip the app of resources that aren’t needed to save space? I’ve heard it will, but would love to see more clarification from Microsoft.

The long and short of it is that Apple appears to be taking steps to use as little space as possible, to give you more space for more apps, for photos, videos and other files. There’s only so much you can stuff into 16GB, however, and being able to ditch unneeded default apps would be a great way to free up more space.

I would also suggest that, if your gear is still running out of storage, go through your apps and get rid of the ones you don’t need. It’s quite common for people to download software, particularly free apps, and give them a try. But some are never used again, so they are just taking up space. I go through my iPhone from time to time to do just that, although it has plenty of free space. It’s just a matter of trying to be efficient.

But at least Apple is trying to do the right thing. Too bad the blogger who criticized Apple for bloat didn’t pay attention. Maybe he should check out a Samsung smartphone to see what real bloat is about.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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