• Newsletter Issue #854

    April 11th, 2016


    Imagine any car company receiving preorders for a new model in the space of a week that is higher than the number of vehicles some companies sell in the U.S. in a full year. Some regard the expectations for the forthcoming Tesla Model 3 as in the Apple class.

    But Apple products are cheap compared to a Tesla. We’re talking here about a car that, based on a starting price of $35,000, is in the same league as a BMW 3 Series or an Audi 4. That may be a lot more affordable than current Teslas, which are high-end luxury vehicles. But with average transaction prices expected, according to Tesla, to be in the range of $42,000, it’s still not what most people would consider affordable.

    Yes, there is a Federal rebate in the U.S. of up to $7,500 if you buy an electric car, but that rebate disappears once a company sells more than 200,000 such vehicles. Tesla has 325,000 advance orders for the Model 3, which means people who put down $1,000 refundable deposits. Add to that sales for existing cars by the time the mid-sized model comes out, and many would-be Tesla owners will not be able to depend on any government subsidies. Just a big down payment and a decent credit rating so they can afford the monthly payments, unless they are wealthy enough to pay cash.

    The critics have lots of caveats, which include skepticism that Tesla can ramp up production sufficiently to produce volumes in the hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year. The Tesla factory in Fremont, CA was originally owned by GM and Toyota, and, yes, it was capable of building 500,000 vehicles a year. But Tesla has to expand its new production lines, source the needed parts, and have enough assembly and support people to make it all happen at a pace many times faster than it can now. The number of dealers has to grow to sell and service these cars.

    Tesla has managed to build less than 6,000 cars a month so far, and new models are perennially late. But they do appear to understand the tasks that lay before them.

    Would I buy one? Well, if a miracle occurred, such as an unexpected financial windfall, or an aggressive lease program that put monthly payments at or below the lower end of a compact family car without a down payment. I suppose that could happen, maybe in an alternate universe, but I’m not banking on it by any means.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented author Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. He focused his discussion first on the the possibilities for the Tesla 3 electric car, but Josh wouldn’t buy one either, though I suspect he might consider one as a used car 10 or 15 years after it comes out. He also talked about the lingering Apple/FBI issues, OS X security, and his latest book covering the fourth generation Apple TV. Gene explained why he’s still using the previous model.

    You also heard from commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who discussed the latest security exploit involving Adobe Flash, and why he removed Flash from all his Macs, and only uses the embedded version in the Google Chrome browser. He also commented on the lingering Apple/FBI controversy, and talked up his new iPhone SE and iPad Pro. The discussion concluded with Amazon’s efforts to expand same-day delivery and supermarkets that allow you to place online orders for home delivery in the U.S. and UK.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris discuss movies, TV shows, pop culture and UFOs with Robbie Graham, author of “Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood’s UFO Movies.” According to his bio: “Robbie Graham is a leading authority on the cultural and political interplay between UFOs and Hollywood. He has been interviewed on these subjects for BBC Radio, Coast to Coast AM, Canal+ TV, and Vanity Fair, among others. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications including The GuardianNew StatesmanFilmfaxFortean Times, and the peer-reviewed Journal of North American Studies, 49th Parallel.” Consider how the classic 1951 sci-fi film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” influenced early flying saucer contact claims from George Adamski and others.


    The Apple Watch first began to ship on April 24, 2015. It was launched with lots of fanfare, and its arrival had been predicted for months before the initial demonstration. At first the rumors referred to it as the iWatch, but as Apple moves away from new products with an “i” prefix, the name Apple Watch was inevitable.

    As was the case with the iPod, iPhone and iPad, the Apple Watch was far from the first of its kind to market. As usual, however, Apple offered a superior solution, and, within short order, began to dominate a nascent market. Getting a buzz as a piece of jewelry, rather than just another fancy tech toy, put Apple in a different category from the likes of Pebble, Samsung, and all Google Wear gear.

    Pebble, at least, managed to carve out a place in the market for itself as a cheaper alternative, but with reports that the company is laying off 25% of its staff due to tight money concerns, its future is less certain. Sure, successful companies have their ups and downs, and perhaps this too shall pass. But it may also be that, regardless of price, the Apple Watch has sucked the air out of the market for most competitors.

    It didn’t help that Apple recently shed $50 from the price of its cheapest model, the Sport, which takes it closer to the most expensive Pebble, the Time Steel, which lists for $249.99. For just $50 more, you can get a genuine 38mm Apple Watch; the mainstream 42mm size is $349.

    So Apple has encroached the top end of Pebble’s market and is in the mainstream when it comes to other smartwatches. Sure, you can spend five figures on an Apple Watch, but that’s a rarified atmosphere where mass sales aren’t earned. As these products go, Apple exists in a relatively affordable range.

    Well, at least if it offers something you want or need.

    That’s the real problem with the first generation Apple Watch. It appears to work well enough at what it does, and software updates have reduced early problems with performance and other issues. But it does not, as yet, qualify as an indispensable product for many people. Tech commentators I’ve talked to on my radio show like them, but maybe they don’t exactly love them. They may just be able to accept a regular wristwatch, or no watch at all.

    Speaking as someone who has regularly worn a watch since my preteen days, an Apple Watch isn’t terribly high on my must-have list. Even if I had the spare cash, and I have far more important priorities, I don’t know that I’d care to make that investment.

    Yes, I have carefully studied what an Apple Watch can do, and the extra fitness guidance at my advanced age is certainly worthwhile. True, I do not always get up from my office chair every hour or so to take a breather; the Apple Watch can push reminders to do just that. But I try without having something “tap” on my wrist to remind me.

    I do have a wristwatch. It’s a $12.88 stainless steel calendar watch from Walmart. I bought it last spring after a 10-year-old Guess watch failed. That old watch would stop every few days, and replacing the battery and cleaning out the insides didn’t help. It was time to recycle it and move on.

    With such a cheap watch, I don’t fear premature wear or breakage. It’s easily replaced. As a timekeeper, it’s pretty good, accurate enough to only gain a second or two each month. The calendar, however, isn’t smart enough to compensate for different numbers of days, and thus has to be manually adjusted for February, April, June, September and November. It’s no big deal.

    After roughly a year, though, it has begun to lose time, up to several minutes every week or so, which means it probably needs a new battery. Now I realize that some jewelers will charge upwards of $15 to replace the battery on a watch. The nearest Walmart sell and install one for $6.40 with tax. You can buy the batteries themselves in pairs for less than half that price, assuming you want to go through the annoyance of prying the watch apart yourself, hoping not to scratch something.

    Beyond the spent battery, there are no visible surface scratches on the crystal or the metallic parts, or at least they aren’t readily noticeable. So I will just have to accept the proposition of getting a new battery each year. But if it survives for several years with such basic maintenance, I’ll be way ahead of the game.

    Even if it doesn’t, a replacement won’t break the bank, even for someone who is financially challenged.

    As to the Apple Watch, a second generation model is expected by fall. One report suggests it’ll be thinner, but that might dash hopes for a longer lasting battery, or perhaps for having its own cellular radio and other enhancements to free it from having to pair with your iPhone.

    But it may not be too many years before the Apple Watch does become an alternative smartphone, in which case there will be affordable lease/purchase deals from wireless carriers. It wouldn’t replace an iPhone, but might present a neat option for those who don’t care about large displays, and just want to make phone calls and keep track of their health without having to lug something around in their pockets or purses.

    Regardless of how it develops, an Apple Watch, to me at any rate, is not even close to a must-have.


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

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #854”

    1. dfsxc says:

      The success or failure of the Apple Watch isn’t going to be determined by the watch itself, but rather by the quality, good or bad, of the library of apps available for it. So far, the quality of this library strikes me as somewhere in the mediocre-to-dismal range and provides little compelling reason to buy a watch (esp. for those of us who aren’t physical fitness nuts), although of course this is always subject to change. For any potential customer, it would only take one application to transfer it from the “expensive toy” category to the “indispensible companion” one.

      I’m getting on in years and recently gave in to my wife’s urging that I get a hearing aid (well, one for each ear). I was amazed to discover there is a product I’d never heard of (the one I bought is made by Siemens, maybe other brands exist too). It in essence consists of two parts, the actual in-ear instruments and a kind of round object that hangs around your neck by what looks like a rubber cord but is actually a Bluetooth antenna. Equipped with these, you can operate your hearing aids with a special smartphone app and listen to the tunes on your Bluetooth mobile, and there’s a special dongle that lets your t. v. and/or stereo, your Mac, or any other Bluetooth-equipped device feed its sound directly into your head. iPhone phone likewise get routed to your head, and you can control the whole shebang from a special smartphone app. The sound quality may not be up to the Sennheiser level, but it’s still surprisingly good. It strikes me that a Watch companion app to the one on my iPhone would be a great way to manage these things more easily and unobtrusively. In fact, I’d say the product cries out for such a Watch app.

      Or again, at my age it’s not improbable that sooner or later I might develop a heart arrhythmia, and using the Watch’s biometric capacity teamed up with a specialized Watch app that fed data to my smartphone, where it could be stored until my cardiologist had a chance to review it, would be vastly better than the mobile heart monitors they issue you these days, something about the size and shape of a schoolbox-sized lunchbox, which you carry around by using a shoulder strap. This seems like would be a clumsy nuisance to lug around all day. Maybe the smartwatch could even generate data reports which would be transmitted to my cardiolgist.

      I just mention these things because here are two possible apps which would allow the Watch to make the toy-to-indispensible-companion transition in my particular case. If clever third-party developers could come up with a wide repertoire of apps which addressed the needs of a wide variety of individuals with special needs and individual lifestyles, the Watch would take off in a way it hasn’t yet. After all, it was the wide range of appealing apps that sold the iPhone at least as much as vice versa.

      One final thing. If Apple wants the watch to be a serious tool on which users can assemble collections of apps that make the Watch address their individual needs, that starburst cluster of icons has gotta go. It may look cute but it’s an impossible interface for riding herd on more than a couple of dozen apps. Apple’s ergonomics engineers have an urgent need to rethink the way the Watch displays its apps more appropriate for serious users.

    2. tech-52 says:

      I have the Apple Watch Sport 42mm, and really enjoy it. I can see where people who don’t own the Watch would downplay it. It’s one of those products that you have to own and wear for awhile to really appreciate. Having said that, I will agree that it isn’t a must-have product. Not yet. There are no killer apps yet that will make the masses want to gravitate toward it. For me the fitness tracking is the best part of it. It motivates me to get fitter and keep at it. And because it tracks your heart rate, you get credit for all the activity that you do. Messaging (IM and phone calls) is pretty great, too. Each to his own, though.

    3. Viswakarma says:

      Apple needs to come come with another name for Apple Watch, since it is more than a Watch!

      By calling it a watch Apple is downgrading the product!

    4. John says:

      I got an Apple Watch last summer. I like it and find it useful. I hadn’t worn a watch in decades.

      I find it very useful but not in the must-have category. If I really had to I could replace most Watch functions with the iPhone, but then I’d gave to stop and take my phone out of my pocket to look at the screen. If I’m driving or in a meeting or speaking in front of a group I can glance at a notification without interruption.

      I look at the Apple Watch as Apple playing the long game. Currently the Watch is really good for several niche markets like health care and fitness. Every year the Watch will improve. In five years it will be vastly better and more useful.

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