I want to be brief about this, because it’s a controversy that will be simmering for an awfully long time. It’s all about the number 53, which is the obtuse error message displayed if your iPhone 6-family smartphone has had its Touch ID replaced improperly, say by an unauthorized repair facility. As you might imagine, it also means that lawyers are lining up to earn paydays suing Apple for alleged crimes against its customers by not allowing them to repair their gear anywhere they want. It’s about control.
Now Apple’s position makes sense. If the repair is done properly, or uses unapproved parts, which might happen if a non-authorized service shop tries, it is the equivalent of tampering with the secure Touch ID system. So Apple states, “We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the Touch ID sensor. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”
The first class action lawsuit, from PCVA of Seattle, has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. There will be more, and as this matter wends its torturous path through the courts, Apple ought to consider a more responsive method of dealing with repairs, or with bricked units that haven’t been fixed in the authorized manner.
The problem is that, even though Apple might be in the right completely, as they appear to be, laws may allow people to have their gear fixed by third parties anyway. Perhaps Apple should design and sell a repair kit that will allow any shop — or the end user — to perform this repair without running afoul of the security blocks. For those who innocently fixed their iPhones at the “wrong” shop for whatever reason, Apple ought to simply fix the affected iPhone and be done with it. But that doesn’t mean it must be done free.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented freelance writer and podcaster Peter Cohen. He covered the “Error 53” controversy extensively, and also talked about the fourth-generation Apple TV, and whether some might have expected too much from it. And what about Apple’s so-far moribund attempts to start a TV subscription service?
You also heard from prolific author and commentator Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. After he and Gene had a brief chat about Texas culture and cuisine, the discussion moved to the “Error 53” controversy and Bob’s take on it. He also talked about cable cord-cutting, admitting that he would actually like to shut off his cable TV service if he could easily replace the programming in other ways. Bob also detailed the course he’s taking in online marketing, and his plans to write a book on how to stop procrastinating when you’re trying to get work done with your Mac. He also introduced his new recording and petition to persuade Apple to overhaul iTunes, entitled “iTunes Must Die!” We played an except of the recording during the episode; we offered the full song in stereo exclusively in the version of the show posted for members of Tech Night Owl+. So this may be the best reason yet for you to become a subscriber.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: A very special episode featuring best-selling fact and fiction author Whitley Strieber. During this session, Whitley will discuss his new book, “The Super Natural,” co-authored with J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion at Rice University, Jeffery Kripal. According to the promotional notes, “[This] book looks at all kinds of ‘impossible’ things, from extra-dimensional beings to bilocation to bumps in the night. They contend that these phenomena are not impossible at all: rather, they are part of our natural world. ‘The Super Natural’ considers that the natural world is actually a ‘user natural world’ — and all we have to do to see this is to change the lenses through which we are looking at it and the languages through which we are presently limiting it.”
Over the years, Apple has had a hard time being taken seriously as a company, even as it rose to the number one spot in terms of market cap. The Mac was regarded as little more than a toy in the old days, and I suspect some still don’t take it seriously. The iPhone? Well, the competitors were too busy aping its looks and feel, so perhaps there wasn’t enough time to claim it couldn’t possibly work.
But that didn’t stop Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft’s CEO, from calling it essentially a worthless product. Famously, Microsoft has been unable to come up with a mobile phone platform that has a ghost’s chance of succeeding. Today, Microsoft is struggling to persuade customers to upgrade to Windows 10. Despite the boast of over 200 million installations, compared to 1.5 billion Windows users, that’s a drop in the bucket. Remember that Windows 10 is a free upgrade as part of a curious program where it may or may not carry a price tag after a year if you don’t get with the program.
Now the main point of this article is not skepticism about Apple, but about people who should know better writing foolish stuff. So there have been recent examples suggesting whether it makes sense for Apple to continue to build Macs. When I read such absurd suggestions, I have to wonder whether to laugh or cry, because the implications are just plain absurd.
On the one hand, Apple is being criticized for becoming a one-product company, since so high a proportion of revenue comes from a single product — the iPhone. That’s a good and a bad thing. It’s good, because an incredible amount of money is involved. It’s the sort of revenue base that would be the envy of any company, even if sales drop as expected this quarter compared to last year.
The criticism is that, if sales of iPhones continue to fall, how does Apple replace that income stream? Well, there’s the iPad, which has experienced falling sales for quite some time. Even with the arrival of the iPad Pro, the floor doesn’t seem to have been reached, yet sales, as they are, are still enviable. It’s hard to fret over billions of dollars of revenue with extremely high profits. So should Apple stop making iPads? Hardly!
But the original Apple product is the personal computer, and the Mac has had a 32-year run. It hasn’t been a cake walk, and there have been loads of missteps along the way. Some suggest Apple is still making huge mistakes. But regardless of Apple’s financial condition over the years — and it got pretty shaky in the mid-1990s — the Mac has remained a dependable product. You use a Mac, you can be rest assured that there will be new operating systems and new models for many years to come. Even when Apple was urged to just give it all up and let you just buy Windows PCs, the Mac has persevered.
Unfortunately, recent comments, one from a site that ought to be sympathetic to Macs, are clearly out to lunch. So the Mac is supposed to be merely a “halo” product that encourages you to buy other Apple gear. That may have happened in the days when the iPod debuted, where the Mac was the main product, and the iPod some sort of silly overpriced digital music player.
Nowadays, however, most people who own Apple gear do not use Macs. Most use Windows PCs in fact, but the iPhone is the halo product that encourages you to explore other Apple offerings. The Mac is one of them, and it thus benefits.
As with other Apple gear, the Mac has a high customer satisfaction rate. At a time where PC sales, except for a few companies, are dropping, Mac sales have mostly risen. Well, in the last quarter they were down, but only by a few percent. It’s a solid successful product.
But it’s not just something that conveys an image to which to aspire. For tens of millions of people, the Mac is a critical work tool. Indeed, all iOS apps are built on Macs, so if you want to develop for a platform with far more users, the Mac is essential for your work.
Consider the person who has, for years, used the Mac as a critical part of their daily workflow. This is not just a plaything or consumption device, but a powerful personal computer used to create documents, perform complicated mathematical calculations, create amazing movie special effects, and perform thousands of other possible tasks where you are limited only by your creativity.
So if Apple’s “halo” product goes away because selling 20 million units a year is unimportant — which is a decidedly foolish comment — what happens to those people who require Macs to make a living? Do they simply drop it all and go to a Windows PC and expect to be as productive? Yes, it is possible to do those tasks with Windows equivalents of the same software, or with different software. Yes, it’s true that today’s Windows is a far better and more secure operating system than it used to be.
But the Mac has remained a unique experience that allows you to complete your tasks with joy and not with dread. It’s an achievement that Microsoft has long strived to imitate without success. Yes, there will come a time when the Mac is an outdated tool that no longer meets the needs of its customers. It will be replaced by something else, something better, and one hopes Apple will provide that solution.
That occasion, however, has not arrived, and it won’t for years to come. The Mac is not just a halo product, except to some uninformed online pundits whose views just don’t jibe with reality.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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