• Newsletter Issue #855

    April 18th, 2016


    An Apple this, an “i” that. So what is Apple’s next big thing? Well, some suggest it’s going to be an electric car, perhaps in the spirit of the Tesla. Well, maybe not quite the spirit, since a Tesla is a pretty expensive vehicle. Even the forthcoming mid-sized Model 3 is priced above the average car in the U.S. While the entry price is said to be $35,000, a few options will add thousands to the total. Tesla admits to an average transaction price of $42,000. That takes it well into BMW 3 and Audi A4 territory.

    So, yes, Tesla received over 325,000 preorders within a week after the Model 3 was demonstrated in prototype form. But that doesn’t mean all or most of these people will ever take delivery of one. They can still cancel before it ships, and if it ships later than promised (the end of 2017), customers will be justified in asking for the return of their $1,000 deposits.

    But that about Apple? What is Apple planning anyway? Mockups I’ve seen, from Motor Trend magazine and others, show a pretty squared off shape with rounded corners, which seems to argue against Apple’s usual sleek, slim and light approach. I can see where a square box would be more space efficient, but that’s more reminiscent of a small SUV or one of those offbeat compacts, such as the Kia Soul. A Tesla Model 3, in contrast, merely resembles a smaller version of the Model S, which is very much car-shaped.

    It’s a sure thing that the speculation will continue for a few more years before Apple reveals any plans to produce such a beast. Right now, the rumors mention 2020, but Apple would have to submit a vehicle to the regulatory authorities in different countries before it is certified for sale. And where does Apple build one? In cooperation with BMW or another auto maker, or do they construct their own factory? What about dealer networks? Franchises, or company-owned Apple Car Stores? If the latter, they’d probably encounter the same hurdles as Tesla has faced in some states where auto dealer lobbies are powerful.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider. He discussed what you need to understand about the Apple versus FBI conflict over iPhone security and its implications. Daniel also talked about the well-known security shortcomings of the Android platform, that only a small number are using a slow software-based encryption scheme. Sales of iPhones and the high-end Samsung Galaxy smartphones were compared and contrasted.

    You also heard from Jonny Evans, Computerworld’s “Apple Holic.” Jonny talked about the prospects for an Apple Car, and what we might expect from Apple. Does the forthcoming mid-sized Tesla 3 pave the way? Jonny also questioned why Apple hasn’t pushed the fourth generation Apple TV to the educational market, Apple versus the FBI, and how things are being done in the UK. The discussion moved to how Apple has been able to boost Mac market share against Windows, and the growing presence of Macs and other Apple gear in the enterprise.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present David G. Robertson, author of UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age: Millennial Conspiracism. In this scholarly work, the author asks, “How-and why- were UFOs so prevalent in both conspiracy theories and the New Age milieu in the post-Cold War period? In this groundbreaking book, [the author] argues that UFOs symbolized an uncertainty about the boundaries between scientific knowledge and other ways of validating knowledge, and thus became part of a shared vocabulary.” The book focuses on Whitley Strieber, David Icke and David Wilcock. Yes, we know the hardcover edition of this book is extremely expensive. A low-cost paperback edition will be released in 2017.


    I went back and forth about whether to request the smaller iPad Pro from Apple for review. I did evaluate it’s bigger brother last year, and went away somewhat unimpressed. Sure, the Apple Pencil is the best stylus I’ve ever used, but I’m not a graphic artist or illustrator, and I certainly don’t play one in the movies. I use keyboards, and the Smart Keyboard Apple provided didn’t rate so well. The stiff spacebar was particularly irksome.

    Not that I’m against iPads, per se. I can see their value as consumption devices and perhaps a limited purpose notebook computer. With a proper keyboard that provides a feel similar to a that of a notebook, I might actually embrace one for writing, at least for some of my work.

    With that in mind, I was still curious how the 9.7-inch iPod Pro would rate compared to an iPad Air 2, and whether it was truly worth a $100 price increase over the former’s original price. All right, the standard storage is increased from 16GB to 32GB, but that doesn’t $100 make. Maybe $5, but I realize Apple is pumping plenty of resources to make the iPad something more than just a gadget to play some games and watch Netflix.

    In response to my request for a review unit, Apple put together a kit that included an iPad Pro with 256GB storage and a cellular radio. This is the one that you can buy for $1,029. That takes it well into MacBook Air territory, and, though lacking a Retina display, the latter is far more suited to the sort of work I do.

    The package also included the $149 Smart Keyboard, a $49 Smart Cover in yellow, which covers the front of the unit, and a $69 Silicone Case in blue, which covers the rear. The Smart Keyboard, however, is the only wraparound case that Apple makes, so you’re left looking at third parties.

    But the new iPad Pro has its undeniable advantages, and weighing less than one pound sans case is certainly helpful for lugging around.

    I opted to try the Smart Keyboard first, since I wanted to see whether Apple had improved the touch with its smaller input device, and it’s promising. As with the larger iPad Pro, it folds in a special way to reveal the keyboard and hold the unit upright. It’s solid enough on a table but not so comfortable on your lap.

    The keys are smaller, of course, but I was able to type on it with some flexibility. I didn’t run into any difficulties with the spacebar. That may have been more about the different movements my fingers made to put letters on the display, but I went away ultimately dissatisfied. I won’t suggest that it’s Apple’s fault, though. It’s a matter of personal taste, and my keyboard of choice these days is the wireless Matias Laptop Pro, which uses traditional Alps mechanical keys. So you get the full range of keycap travel.

    As to the iPad Pro itself: The A9x processor is somewhat underclocked compared to the 12.9-inch model, and onboard RAM is halved from 4GB to 2GB. But you probably won’t notice much or any different unless you pay close attention. In fact, it probably won’t seem all that much faster than an iPad Air 2 either, until you launch an app, in which case you can clearly see the performance advantage. Web pages are also rendered more rapidly, even though the Internet comes through at the same speed. My tiny amount of gaming also revealed faster, more fluid play, and I don’t think that’s my imagination.

    There is one significant advantage, however, but one that you’d probably notice unless you’ve actually had recent experience with the iPad Pro and a slower, older counterpart.

    It starts with the True Tone display advantage. It’s designed with sensors to measure ambient color temperature. The end result is that the picture seems somewhat brighter outside, but far from perfect in bright sunlight. The wider color gamut also produces more saturated colors, thus a magnificent picture that trumps just about anything I’ve ever seen on a tablet, or any computer display for that matter. But I haven’t been exposed yet to the 2015 iMac, which also sported a wider color gamut.

    Other enhancements include a 12-megapixel iSight camera, similar to the one on an iPhone 6s, with the same Live Photos capability, compared to 8-megapixels on the larger iPad Pro. The front camera has 5-megapixels, compared to 1.2 megapixels on the larger model. You can also make 4K videos on it.

    While I’m accustomed to taking snapshots on an iPhone, I’m not at all comfortable doing so on an iPad, though I can see its undeniable value when it comes to editing those images with the larger display. I suppose I might accept the larger camera after I’ve used it for awhile.

    Both iPad Pros feature a four-speaker sound system. The audio is louder, more robust, and the stereo image changes in accordance to how the unit is oriented. But don’t expect much in the way of bass. Apple has done well, but has not yet wrought a miracle. Still, I wonder if there might be a way to pipe the low frequencies through the internal case via some sort of porting scheme for more oomph. I’ll leave it to the speaker designers in our audience to tell me whether that’s even possible.

    As a portable device, 9.7-inches is more flexible than 12.9 inches. Remember, were talking about screen real estate here that exceeds that of the original compact Macs, and the early generation PowerBook notebooks. So it’s not quite as limited as you might think.

    If you own any version of the iPad Air, the argument to upgrade is debatable. Yes, the enhanced display is clearly superior, as is the improved performance. If you crave an Apple Pencil, you have no options other than an iPad Pro. For those with the oldest iPads that might be due for replacement, this is an argument that is easier to make, except for the new model’s higher price. But if you want to max it out with storage space, suddenly the price difference makes more sense.

    For me, the best argument in favor of an iPad would be the right productivity apps. For that, Apple needs to loosen up or change iOS sandboxing to allow for added entitlements. A key example would be capturing the audio from multiple sources in another app, similar to what you can do with Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack on a Mac. That, and a more direct way to handle multiple files from different apps, is part of the equation. I’d also like to see more choices for audio editing.

    Should the new capabilities come to pass in iOS 10, and new generations of apps appear to support them, I can see where either iPad Pro would make for excellent portable audio production workstations. I’d also like to see a Smart Keyboard that really provides the touch of a MacBook. It’s up to Apple to make these things happen.


    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #855”

    1. DaveD says:

      Thank you for the honest review and assessment of 9.7-inch iPad Pro. I fully agree that if Apple wants to elevate the iPads for true pro-level work, they need similar Mac apps for pro and power users.

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