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Newsletter Issue #849

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

There has been plenty of speculation about what a certain iPhone 5c, a work phone used by a terrorist, might contain. Does really have critical information about a future attack, the location of one or more ISIS terrorist cells, or some other critical information the authorities need to keep us safe?

One wacky theory, voiced by a prosecutor, is that the phone contains a “dormant cyber pathogen,” whatever that is. I suppose he means a computer virus of some sort. But I also thought, for just a moment, whether that individual just happened to be a fan of the “Supergirl” TV series on the CBS network. This past week, an episode, entitled “Solitude,” featured a villain who not only hung out in physical form, dressed in silly dark blue garb, but could reduce herself — or itself — to digital ones and zeros and chill on the Internet ready to do mischief. I suppose that would be a cyber pathogen of a sort.

Or maybe the person who came up with this crazy theory was reading too many superhero comic books. Or watching episodes of the “CSI: Cyber” series and taking it seriously.

Maybe it is, after all, just a work phone that was used by someone smart enough not to store incriminating information on it. Maybe the people who distributed that iPhone to an employee should have been smart enough to install a Mobile Device Management system to retain full control, but that would only make perfect sense in a workplace situation.

In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused yet again on the polarizing topic of Apple versus the FBI, as our guests all gave you their opinions about Apple’s fight to prevent being forced to create a special version of iOS that would defeat security controls on a terrorist suspect’s iPhone 5c work phone. The matter was made even more confusing by the ruling from a Federal Magistrate Judge that Apple did not have to break the encryption of an iPhone that may have contained evidence in a criminal case. As the week progressed, other tech companies had filed amicus briefs in the case favoring Apple’s position, while some others filed in favor of the government. You’ll also heard about the possibility that Apple plans to introduce a new 4-inch iPhone — and an iPad Air 2 refresh — in a late March media event.

Our guests included Bill Carey, VP of Marketing for Roboform, a company that makes password management software, cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, and columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and Wirecutter.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Our listeners are just amazing, so we’re proud to present yet another Listener Roundtable, this time featuring such popular forum regulars as Stonehart, Sue and Ufology. The discussion ranges from the state of UFO and paranormal research, and why women are less apt to listen and participate in paranormal forums or attend conventions. You’ll hear about personal case histories, views about such controversial issues as UFO abductions, not to mention musical tastes, and even whether some psychics have genuine paranormal powers. Our guest panel also answers your questions.

MORE SPEC STUPIDITY

So I read an article in a business publication that made some strong pronouncements about the performance of a product that the blogger never actually tested. This is the sort of behavior that I see quite often, and it goes to show utter desperation in trying to make it seem as if one product is better than another. It seems to happen more often when Apple makes one of those products.

In this case, the comparison is between an iPhone 6s, released in September of 2015, and the just-launched Samsung Galaxy S7. Clearly the intent was to demonstrate that the camera system on Samsung’s new high-end smartphone must, inevitably, be far superior to Apple. The article went on to list the specs of the two to present evidence of Apple’s inferiority. Clearly iPhones were attacked as behind being the times, that it was time for Apple to get it together.

Only one thing: The blogger never actually tested anything. He merely assumed, based on the specs, that the Samsung must have a superior camera and take superior pictures. But as Apple has demonstrated over and over again through the years, it’s not just the numbers that count. When it comes to actually taking pictures, an iPhone ranks among the best in the industry.

Take a genuine CPU benchmark, pitting the two chips used in the Samsung, the Exynos 8890 or the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, against Apple’s A9, used in the current iPhones. One test I consulted was run by BGR, using Antutu Benchmark, which reveals that the three chips are within striking distance of each other, with results that probably won’t provide any real world difference. To be fair, a GPU test shows the Qualcomm chip to be considerably faster than Apple’s A9.

However, The actual performance of these graphic chips is controversial, so I’ll withhold comment on that perceived advantage until we see just how the Samsung manages gaming and other GPU-intensive chores against an iPhone. We’ll have to see.

Regardless, chip advances are still moving pretty quick in the mobile world, and there will be a new iPhone come this fall that will purportedly use an A10. So the benchmarks will be run yet again, but it’s not at all clear whether such numbers are truly comparing what an iPhone can do compared to Android. Even if one or the other has a hardware performance advantage, that doesn’t mean the operating system is able to leverage that advantage. Indeed, over the years, Android handset makers have used brute power to compensate for the inefficiencies of the OS.

Other than specs, another way to compare one product with another is the feature set. This is the scheme Consumer Reports uses to make it seem as if Android smartphones are equal to or better than iPhones. But the approach seems downright amateurish, because it doesn’t actually consider how well the features work, if at all. So in theory a Samsung handset with a fingerprint sensor should be the equal of an iPhone with Touch ID. As a practical matter, Apple’s approach seems to work far better as far as speed and accuracy is concerned.

Touch ID’s advantages aren’t easy for an Android smartphone maker to duplicate, since Apple owns the technology. So the rest of the industry must move in their own direction.

Where poorly-implemented features really told the tale was the Samsung Galaxy S5. Remember Smart Scroll, where you could tilt the handset, or your face, to enable scrolling? When I first set it up, it seemed to work all right, until I actually attempted to use it with real email messages and browser text. Tried as I might, it never, ever worked.

Indeed, many of the perceived superior features of the Android handsets may actually fare poorly when you actually try to use them. They seem impressive when you check the bullet points all right, but the software developers never seem to figure out a way to enable them to operate properly.

This doesn’t mean all iPhone features fulfill their promise. Siri had a long gestation period until its voice recognition accuracy became fairly consistent. Apple’s Maps is still regarded as noticeably inferior to Google Maps. In the real world, they are actually not that far apart when it comes to accurately listing the best routes to your destination. Google, however, has done public transit directions far longer than Apple, and far more cities are supported. It may take years, if ever, for Apple to come close. It may not matter, though, if you never use public transportation, or live in a city where both apps have it.

However, the specmanship between Apple and Google will continue. Lazy reviewers, or bloggers, will continue to look at the numbers and make unwarrented assumptions. The same sort of approach is often taken when comparing prices of an Apple product versus the competition. Inevitably, Apple’s average resale price will be compared to that of Samsung or a Dell, and it will be assumed that the former is far more expensive. But when you look at real comparisons, market focus and hardware capabilities, Apple is extremely competitive. It’s just that Apple has traditionally avoided making cheap gear.

I used to run into lots of blowback when I did comparisons between Mac and PC prices. Apple was overpriced compared to PCs, they said. But when I looked at the hardware, and Macs use a lot of the same hardware as a PC, so a spec comparison actually made sense, the perceived price advantage suddenly vanished. Real world prices were quite similar.

It all goes back to the meme that Apple is wrong and the rest of the tech industry is right. It’s too bad for these people that hundreds of millions of customers do not, by and large, believe them. It must be a source of endless frustration.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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