The rumored efforts of Apple to set up a subscription TV service, meant for cord cutters, took a curious turn this past week. With speculation that the plans are moribund due to the inability of Apple to reach deals with the entertainment industry, there were unconfirmed reports that Warner Bros. might be for sale. So putting the two together would give Apple access to the immense, classic library of Warner films, TV shows, plus DC Comics, which owns such characters as Batman and Superman, along with Cinemax, HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS and others. For a purchase price that could exceed $100 billion, Apple would own a major entertainment property.
But not Warner Music, which is currently owned by Access Industries. Still, wouldn’t it be a wonderful way to jumpstart a TV subscription service?
Sure, while it would give Apple a leg up on setting up that venture, would spending a boatload of money make any sense? Would other entertainment companies want to sign up with, let’s face it, a director competitor? Well, they do that with Comcast (which owns NBCUniversal), but still.
Besides, this isn’t the way Apple acquires other companies, which usually involves small technology firms, sometimes startups. The largest acquisition so far was Beats Electronics, at roughly three billion dollars. Buying multinational corporations isn’t Apple’s cup of tea, so why would that change, and what would the upside be?
To be able to offer subscription TV? Are Warner Bros. profits so enviable? Even if Apple offered such a service it would, as with other iTunes services, be done with the intent of selling hardware, from Apple TVs, to iPhones, iPads and Macs. But buying Warner Bros. or any entertainment company, lock, stock and barrel doesn’t make any sense.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, who talked about the future of the Mac Pro, how Apple, denied leadership in 4K TV, is hoping to gain traction with an electric car. You also heard a brief debate about whether Apple will really attempt to acquire Time Warner and how that move might restart moribund plans to establish a subscription TV service. John talked about how children can learn how to program on an iPad. He also explained why he loves his Mac Pro.
We also presented a CES wrap with columnist Rob Pegoraro, of USA Today and Yahoo Tech. The main focus: 4K TV. Are customers finally ready to flock to the new high resolution TV format? Rob talked about the latest enhancements that include Ultra HD Premium, which will deliver better color and a wider contrast, which will really make the picture pop. And what about the possibility of affordable OLED TVs, and plans to release a new HD tuner system to allow 4K shows to be broadcast by TV stations? Will the new TV tuners eventually mean the end of existing HD broadcasting? You also heard Rob’s opinions about the prospects for an Apple car.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We explore the amazing theories of alternate realities, parallel universes, as possible solutions to UFOs and other paranormal events with T. Allen Greenfield. In the 1960s, Allen and Gene, during an all-night brainstorming session, first hatched a theory meant to account for many of the anomalous elements surrounding the presence of UFOs in our skies. Allen is a past (elected) member of the Society for Psychical Research and the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (from 1960). He has twice been the recipient of the “UFOlogist of the Year Award” of the National UFO Conference (1972 and 1992).
In recent weeks, I’ve published several articles about Apple’s Magic Keyboard and the iPad Pro. My reactions to both weren’t so favorable, but I decided to give them a second chance. I even asked Apple to extend the reviewer loans so I would have more of an opportunity to reach some final decisions.
I cannot say that my views were changed substantially on longer exposure, though my opinion on one of the products became more favorable. What this demonstrates to me yet again is that writing reviews a little too quickly may yield a first impression that isn’t borne out with extended use. So I find myself concerned over publications that seem to review too many things too quickly, betraying evidence that their writers are churning out too much incomplete copy too quickly.
Since this newsletter is, by and large, the odyssey of one person in the tech world, I try to be careful about snap judgments. When I wrote reviews and feature articles for several major publications some years back, I tried not to rush. I would usually start the review after the initial exposure to a product, but would set it aside for a while and continue to use it. How long would depend on the deadline, but I’d would return to the article and provide a more complete and nuanced reaction. It doesn’t mean I get everything right, but I try to be as fair as possible.
APPLE MAGIC KEYBOARD
I’m not enamored of modern keyboards that are slim and trim with limited key travel. While I realize making a desktop keyboard feel similar to a note-book keyboard eases the switch from one to the other, it doesn’t quite suit my needs. Perhaps it’s because I grew up working on manual and electric typewriters; my favorite was an IBM Selectric II. So the computer keyboards that worked best for me to some extent mimicked the feel of a traditional typewriter.
Apple’s keyboard design, to my way of thinking, reached its pinnacle with the Extended Keyboard II that had its heyday in the early 1990s. It featured solid Alps mechanical switches, and I was able to type fast and accurately. Slim note-book keyboards always felt lacking.
Indeed when Apple ditched the ADB bus for input devices and went with USB, I simply bought an adapter and kept using it. Now the last time I did a thorough investigation in the storage shed, I recall seeing one of those classic keyboards. But I just observed it and moved on; I didn’t consider whether one would work, with a USB adapter, on a current Mac.
Instead, I welcomed the arrival of the Matias Tactile Pro, which used the modern version of those Alps switches, and thus provided a traditional feel, complete with that clacking sound that makes them so annoying, particularly in surroundings that are otherwise serene. So Matias developed the Quiet Pro, which retains much of the feel of the original, but it’s much, much quieter.
I used one for several years until it developed a short circuit of some sort. It would display an error message on my iMac, and MacBook Pro, that there wasn’t enough USB current, so it had to be removed. I tried both a direct connection and a powered USB port with the same result.
When Matias offered to send me a new keyboard, I opted for the Laptop Pro, a Bluetooth version with the quieter keys, but, as with Apple keyboards, it doesn’t have a numeric keypad. At $169.95, it may seem pricey. But don’t forget the Apple’s Magic Keyboard is $99, a huge price increase from the original Wireless Keyboard. In contrast, the Laptop Pro promises from six months to a full year of battery life, instead of up to one month with the Apple. It also connects via a standard USB cable to a Mac or powered USB hub for charging; I used the latter and had no difficulty achieving a full charge in just a few hours.
The only negative, and it’s minor, is that Bluetooth pairing was a tad finicky. I had to actually launch the Keyboard Assistant, available from the Keyboard preference pane, to realize a successful pairing process. In contrast, the Magic Keyboard pairs automatically the very first time you connect it to a Lightning cable and turn it on. It’s a minor distraction.
While I got reasonably flexible with the Magic Keyboard — and I grew to like it more than the original Apple Wireless Keyboard — the Matias was an old, dear friend. and I was happy to use it. The missing keys mean some shortcuts for page navigation take a bit of getting used to. Otherwise, it’s well worth the extra money if Apple’s penchant for limited travel keyboards doesn’t appeal to you.
THE iPAD PRO
As I write this, Apple has said nothing about iPad sales in the December quarter. It’s the quiet period ahead of the release of the quarterly financials on January 26th, so they haven’t even said anything about alleged supply chain rumors of cutbacks in iPhone orders. That has happened before, and then it was simply a misreading of the metrics. But with financial headwinds in China, there are renewed concerns, even though recent reports indicate Apple may be the sole tech company that’s doing reasonably well in that country. In an overall bear stock market, however, Apple’s stock price will still suffer.
Now after several weeks working sporadically with the iPad Pro, I wasn’t terribly sad to see it go. Barbara loves her own iPad, but found the Pro too large for her needs. She played briefly with the Apple Pencil. I touted it as a way for her to satisfy her note-taking habits on an iPad, but she set it aside after a few minutes, and kept putting me off when I suggested she return to it.
My formalized tests with the Apple Pencil certainly confirmed the stellar reviews it’s received, although I am by no means an artist. But it’s supremely flexible with the right software, and the near lack of detectible latency only makes it feel more like a physical pencil, although the iPad Pro’s touchscreen is hardly the same as paper or canvas.
In normal use, without concentrating on apps that task its powerful A9x CPU, the iPad Pro doesn’t feel much faster than an iPad Air 2. It’s also unfortunate that Apple hasn’t really done a whole lot to enhance iOS 9 to leverage the larger display. The desktop app icons are spaced too far apart, and there seems no way to fix that. But the keyboard is nearly full-sized.
So exploiting the iPad Pro advantage is mostly up to third-party apps, and a few were on display at the tablet’s rollout. More apps, for content creation and other productivity chores, are apt to continue to be released in the months to come, particularly if the iPad Pro proves popular.
Some might regard it as a potential 2-in-1 note-book replacement, but it needs a better keyboard. Physically the Smart Keyboard seems attractive enough, but typing is not a terribly comfortable experience. The spacebar seems a little stiff, and so I had a tendency to miss it from time to time. And Apple hasn’t added custom keys for specific iPad functions as third parties have done.
Typing one of these columns on the Smart Keyboard felt uncomfortable, and I made far too many mistakes. I gave it a college try, well a couple of days worth at any rate. The awkward positioning to set up the unit in note-book form always required a little thought, and some trial and error. Maybe a Microsoft Surface does it a tad better, but I wouldn’t consider one of them either.
The iPad Pro, however, may reignite tablet growth for Apple, particularly if artists and businesses buy them in decent quantities. But I’m not yet one of those customers. As I’ve said before, there are no iOS apps that provide the features I require to record and edit my radio shows. That’s done easily on a Mac, so why should I switch?
On the other hand, lugging around my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro on a trip is rather unpleasant. So if I’m ever in the mood — and have the extra cash — I might send it out to pasture and buy the new MacBook. It’s light, and its keyboard feels similar enough to the Magic Keyboard to be an acceptable alternative. Or maybe it’s small enough to allow for bringing that heavy Laptop Pro keyboard with me.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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