• Newsletter Issue #852

    March 28th, 2016


    It’s not often that Apple can hold a high-profile media event and keep it to under an hour. It’s often twice that, and sometimes the demonstrations are endless. But during last week’s presentation at Apple’s One Infinite Loop headquarters, it actually required some padding to fill out the shorter time slot. There was even a video demonstrating how Apple gear is designed for easy recycling.

    Not that the products weren’t good. The iPhone SE certainly fills a hole in the lineup. After Apple moved to larger handsets, the only way to get a 4-inch version was to buy a legacy product. With its new product, most of the innards are the same or similar to an iPhone 6s. Compromises are few and probably understandable since Apple managed to keep the list price of the 16GB model to $399. That may not seem cheap, but it is for iPhones. This move reminds me of Apple’s decision to to lower the price of the cheapest MacBook Air to $899. More aggressive prices are apt to make the difference to many customers on a budget who are willing to go the extra mile to get an Apple gadget.

    The 9.7-inch iPad Pro clearly demonstrates a major commitment to a platform that appeared to be flagging. But I’ll have more to say about that in the next article, where I speculate on whether Apple can enhance its use case with such improvements; well perhaps with some significant revisions to iOS.

    In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented prolific author and commentator Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus with lots to talk about. He first complained about problems dealing with Microsoft’s One Drive and why he kept getting strange system errors after trying to upload files to the cloud storage system. The discussion moved on to why Apple refused to post his new satiric song, “Why iTunes Must Die!” on iTunes. Bob and Gene talked about Apple dodging a bullet in its conflict with the FBI, and the “printer ink wars” and how to save a bundle on consumables. Bob also explained how his Apple Watch continues to be an indispensable tool for his health and fitness needs.

    You also heard from outspoken columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Kirk discussed what he regards as an advertising scam at Facebook, when you agree to pay for additional traffic to boost a post in your timeline. He also explained why he prefers a 4-inch iPhone, and, therefore, ordered an iPhone SE. There was a brief discussion about Apple’s public conflict with the FBI over a court order to unlock an iPhone 5c used by a terrorist. That order is current postponed as the FBI tries out a third-party’s solution.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Chase Kloetzke, Deputy Director of Investigations and Special Case Manager for MUFON. Chase has a long career that qualifies her as an ace investigator, including a stint as a Master Trainer and Master Instructor with the U.S. Department of Defense. Her background includes assignments with the Department of Homeland Security. Chase is also certified as a private investigator and she is an author of two popular books; Admissible — The Field Investigators Manual,” with Richard Dolan, and a first of its kind children’s book about UFOs, “Are Aliens Really Real?”


    The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s arrival was anticipated with speculation that it would be all or mostly a smaller version of the original 12.9-inch model introduced last fall. That was close to the truth, although the smaller tablet has some enhancements that would cater to people who actually try to do work on them. Key examples include True Tone, which adapts the display’s color rendition based on ambience light plus a wider color gamut. The iSight camera is closer to an iPhone 6s in terms of specs and capabilities, and that better serves both consumers and the enterprise.

    Clearly development didn’t stop with the release of the larger iPad Pro, which will probably gain these and other features when it is refreshed. But the key is that Apple could have saved lots of development dollars with a basic transplant, rather than continue to develop components and product features to perform better and faster. Indeed, the mid-sized iPad Pro, despite the higher price, may become the go-to tablet for businesses who don’t require something larger.

    Well, at least that appears to be the hope, since it is being equipped in ways that people watching Netflix may not be so concerned about, even if it does deliver a better picture. Apple is touting it as a potential PC replacement, and it does seem the hardware is quite capable of handling that chore with benchmarks close to that of the larger model. Those benchmarks put it within striking distance of Mac notebooks of a few years ago, and, according to Apple, most of today’s PC portables.

    But it’s not all about the tablet itself. What about the keyboard? My experience with the original iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard was that it wasn’t very smart when it came to typing comfort and speed. The keys felt awkward, stiff, and I kept missing the spacebar. It reminded me of the worst PC-style keyboards I’ve encountered over the years, and I’m very sensitive to a proper keyboard design. So I use the Matias Laptop Pro with my iMac. It uses traditional mechanical keys without making lots of excess noise, but I also like Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which is based on the one on a 2015 MacBook.

    I didn’t have the iPad Pro here long enough to try some third party keyboards, and I will with the new model should I have the opportunity for a review. I’m really hoping to give it a solid workout as a productivity machine just to see how well it works.

    True, the Apple Pencil is a valuable tool for content creators, and also for other uses that require something akin to traditional handwriting. That, however, isn’t something I need. You do not want to see my pitiful efforts at any artwork beyond fixed shapes. But I did well with diagrams when I wrote manuals for a consumer electronics maker in the early 1990s.

    But if Apple truly wants to push more iPads into the business world, or make it more credible as a laptop replacement, iOS needs to be updated to provide a better platform for developers of productivity software. As I suggested in a recent column, Split View ought to be enhanced on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro to manage four apps, not just two. That might be too much for the smaller tablet.

    In addition, Apple should consider ways to support more functions with iOS sandboxing. Making it easier for apps to easily share data would help. So, for example, I use Rogue Amoeba’s wonderful Audio Hijack to manage my recording sessions on the iMac, combining audio from an outboard audio mixer with Skype and creating a single file containing both audio streams. You can’t do that on an iPad or iPhone, because iOS wouldn’t allow such an app to be developed.

    I suppose I could edit audio on an iPad, however. But I am constantly mixing and matching files as part of the postproduction process for my radio shows. To allow for flexibility, the original audio files do not include the bumpers at the beginning and end of each segment. Yes, there are ways to combine those audio segments on my Mac, but it’s simpler for me to just drop them in while editing. But managing all the separate files is not efficient on an iPad because of the limitations of the way you manage the file system. Third-party solutions help some, but I still think Apple ought to offer the option of a traditional file tree for files from many apps to allow for quick access. Or devise a better way to do it.

    All right, perhaps I’m set in my ways, but I worked for years with typewriters and traditional typography machines before the Mac along, and I adapted quickly enough. I didn’t have any problem discovering the joys of the iPhone, although I never wanted to touch a BlackBerry. Well, I tried and I didn’t like it.

    As iOS continues to mature, it does seem as if Apple is running out of significant tentpole features that will expand its capabilities. Perhaps one solution would be to return to OS X, and add or adapt a few elements that would enhance the iPad’s capabilities as a production machine. Perhaps this would take iOS closer to OS X, and thus make an iPad, to some degree, more similar to the convertible notebooks that pollute the Windows world.

    I suppose what I’m suggesting might indeed take the iPad into the realm of a MacBook with a touchscreen, but not necessarily. Lots can be done with a touchscreen so long as the capabilities are there. I am not averse to making an attempt to take an iPad on the road and relying on it as a replacement for a Mac notebook. I cannot do that now, but that doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t have some better ideas lurking in its development labs.

    But I’m not going to predict whether the expanded iPad Pro family will rescue the product from falling sales. Maybe it will help fuel the long-delayed upgrade cycle, and make it more attractive for businesses, maybe not. Clearly Apple won’t abandon the platform, so let’s see if such hopes are realized.


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

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