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  • Newsletter Issue #859

    May 16th, 2016

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I prefer to concentrate on a small number of apps that work best for my needs. While I have Microsoft Outlook for Mac, I continue to stick with Apple Mail. Maybe Microsoft will get around to fixing its email app’s most significant problems, but I doubt it. But they can start by adding support for Apple’s (iCloud) contact list and the emails it’s set to flag. I don’t feel I need to reinvent the wheel to change anything, and none of this is beyond Microsoft’s ability to fix other than preferring to make it fully compatible with the Windows version.

    Then again, Windows users have iPhones too, and so they also use Apple’s Contacts.

    In a column a few days ago, I complained about the new Mac version of WhatsApp. It’s half-baked, requiring a smartphone with the mobile version of the app to work. That makes it quite dissimilar to most chat apps; well, except for support for SMS messaging courtesy of Apple’s Messages and Continuity.

    Other than WhatsApp and Skype, Apple’s chatting app used to be pretty complete until Facebook, in its infinite lack of wisdom, decided to remove support for Jabber, which is how Messages supported Facebook chats. So I had to run yet another chatting app on my Mac that was compatible with Facebook’s messaging system.

    Indeed, since Facebook owns WhatsApp, why can’t it make that app compatible with its own messaging system? Is it possible that, after spending $19 billion on this curious acquisition, they ran out of money to integrate the systems?

    Now on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented publisher/editor Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, who took control of a variety of topics. He talked about the confusing array of chatting apps, including WhatsApp, and it’s peculiar set up process on a Mac and PC, the use case for different Apple notebook computers, such as the MacBook and MacBook Pro, and what Apple might improve to boost sales. The discussion turned to the state of iPad keyboards, and whether Apple should produce one that’s closer in design to a more traditional Mac keyboard.

    You also heard from columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and Wirecutter. The discussion began with Gene’s concerns about unexpected changes in Skype’s option to automatically adjust microphone levels, where the feature was turned on after being switched off. Rob also talked about the controversy over Facebook’s priorities in configuring its “Trending” news list, and he delivered some projections about what might come from the forthcoming Google I/O conference, where the next version of Android will be launched. And what about Apple’s lagging Mac sales? What can they improve to boost sales, or is that even possible?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Preston Dennett, author of “Not From Here” and other books on UFOs and paranormal subjects. In his latest work, he presents ten articles on different aspects of the UFO mystery. According to his bio: “Preston Dennett began investigating UFOs and the paranormal in 1986 when he discovered that his family, friends and co-workers were having dramatic unexplained encounters. Since then, he has interviewed hundreds of witnesses and investigated a wide variety of paranormal phenomena. He is a field investigator for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a ghost hunter, a paranormal researcher, and the author of 17 books and more than 100 articles on UFOs and the paranormal.” And don’t miss a spirited debate involving Chris and Preston and also Gene.

    IS THE APPLE CAR A “JOHNNY CAB”?

    It’s a lot of fun to speculate about a future Apple product, particularly one that has, as yet, not been officially announced. With a dearth of major announcements from Apple, might as well use our crystal balls and ouija boards to figure out where all that extra R&D cash is going.

    The key rumor has it that an Apple Car is under development. You’ve read about the possible locations of the development and test facilities, and the names of some executives who might be working on the project. It is said that personnel have been recruited from major car companies, and even Tesla Motors is said to have waged a hiring war with Apple to grab the best people.

    According to some reports, one Steve Zadesky said to be one of the key executives for what has been called “Project Titan,” left Apple for one reason or another. Spending over 16 years with the company, Zadesky reportedly worked on the iPod and iPhone, but, in 2014, he was named to head the alleged project to create what has been called an Apple Car. Make that Apple Car to employ Apple’s penchant for referring to its products as proper names. Oh, yes, Zadesky was once an engineer at Ford Motor, so he had some car cred.

    So the conventional wisdom, such as it is, has it that the Apple Car will be an electric vehicle that is somehow reminiscent of a Tesla. While the first models might be regular vehicles that you can drive, eventually it will become autonomous, meaning that it’ll drive itself. True, such technology is far from being perfect, but this is Apple. They’d clearly devise a new way to build a car, and overhaul the sometimes contentious buying experience.

    But isn’t Tesla more or less doing that now? You buy the car from a company store, and rely strictly on them for repairs and regular maintenance. The interface is essentially a computer-like display and features are regularly updated, just as one’s personal computer or smartphone receives updates with a new operating system that provides revised or enhanced features.

    If anything, Tesla appears to be following an Apple-style playbook in the way it’s designed and sold. The first models were expensive luxury vehicles, but a forthcoming vehicle, the Model 3, will be more “affordable.” Well, if you take a car with a starting price of $35,000, and an average sale price of $42,000, as affordable. But that puts it in the price range of a BMW 3 Series and an Audi A4, both compact luxury cars.

    Despite a relatively high price of admission, hundreds of thousands of people have plucked down $1,000 as a deposit for a Model 3, which is due to ship beginning in late 2017. The orders can be cancelled, and I suppose many hope there will be discount lease deals to make the purchase possible. It won’t for me, though I can always dream.

    So what is Apple going to bring to the table that revolutionizes the market more than Tesla is already doing?

    Well, I saw someone’s rendering of what an Apple Car might look like, and I suppose it’s all right if you prefer a rectangular box with curved edges. Someone must have spent a little too much time hanging around a Kia Soul. I happen to prefer cars that look like cars and not vans, crossovers or trucks. But maybe I’m a rarity.

    In any case, an artist’s rendering is sheer nonsense at this point. Nobody outside of Apple and its suppliers know what’s being contemplated, and it may well be they are nowhere near a final design, even if an Apple Car is on the way. The rumors have it that we won’t see such a vehicle until 2020 or thereabouts, but that assumes there will be an Apple Car.

    The other assumption is that, despite the expectation of a relatively high price, at least some of you might be able to buy one. All this joy threatens to pass me by, but that’s what happens as you grow old.

    In any case, my friend Bryan Chaffin, of The Mac Observer, suggests in a recent column that Apple won’t be selling you a car after all.

    How so?

    Well, Bryan reminds us of the recent news that Apple has invested $1 billion into Didi, a large ride sharing company in China. Consider it an Asian equivalent of Uber, which is also competing heavily in that country.

    Now Apple doesn’t ordinarily spend that much money to invest or acquire anything. A major exception was Beats Electronics, a $3 billion acquisition that brought with it a successful premium-priced line of headphones, and the technology that formed the basis of Apple Music. You can bet that the purchase wasn’t made just to sell some audio gear.

    So what is Didi going to bring to Apple? Ride sharing? How does that connect to designing a car?

    Well, there are two new trends in auto marketing in recent years. One is car-sharing, based on the timeshare concept, where several people acquire an interest in a car and work out a system in which each shares its use. Speaking as someone who’d never let anyone borrow my car, primarily for fear that it might be mistreated or become involved in an accident, I suppose such a scheme involves a lot of trust. But if you can get access to an expensive luxury car for a low price, it might make sense, particularly if you don’t need a car at your beck and call for most of the day.

    So you take the car to work, where someone at the office picks it up and goes forth to visit clients and manage daily errands. At the end of the day, the car is returned to the commuter to take home. I’m just trying the imagine the scenarios.

    The other concept is ride-sharing, where an individual can turn his or her car into a part-time taxi to get some extra money. Uber comes to mind, and that’s the concept behind Didi. So the company doesn’t actually have to invest in vehicles. Each owner is responsible for maintenance and insurance, and you can expect the latter will be extremely high if the vehicle will be used for commercial purposes. That makes Uber essentially a scheduling company that manages this loose-knit taxi network plus payments to the individual drivers.

    The beauty of Uber is that you pay the company via a stored credit card. You don’t have to hassle with the driver over fares or concern yourself about tips. It’s not required, but certainly some people will want to reward the driver for a job well done.

    So how does this connect to an Apple Car? Well, what if Apple created a ride-sharing network of autonomous vehicles; in other words, cars that are driven by the vehicle’s built-in computer system. You just enter, announce your destination to Siri, and have the fare deducted from your credit card or other stored payment system. Before you depart for your destination, iCloud verifies that you have enough money available to pay for the trip.

    In other words, a cab without a driver. Well, the driver is a computer.

    Well, I got to thinking of the robotic cars in the 1990 movie, “Total Recall,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that movie, based very loosely on a story from Philip K. Dick, the autonomous vehicle was known as a “Johnny Cab.” Rather than talk to a faceless computer, you had a silly-looking humanoid robot handling the driving chores. There was even a manual control, so the passenger could grab ahold of the robot, remove it, and take over the driving for himself. Well, it was a lame attempt at humor.

    So if Apple is going to establish a worldwide network autonomous taxis, would we call them “Siri Cabs”?

    THE FINAL WORD

    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
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #859”

    1. dfs says:

      There’s a huge problem here, arguably mostly psychological but still huge. If Gene is right, Apple seems think it can tinker with the traditional concept of “ownership” with cars just as it has with downloaded tunes and as corporations like Adobe have with software. With the tunes, if you download them you don’t actually own them in the sense that you do if you purchase a physical CD, you’re only leasing them and you can’t do things with them that you can with a CD (for inst., you can’t sell them or leave them to your favorite nephew in your will). With some software, notably Office and the Adobe Creative Suite, you don’t buy them, you rent them and you keep on paying for the privilege of using them. Even for tunes and software there has been a lot of customer resistance to notions like this.

      But if some such scheme were to be applied to cars, there would be the huge difference that you would be dealing with a tangible physical object. Sure, some folks lease cars (in order to drive something better than they could actually pay for, or, if they can manage to get themselves incorporated, which is a lot easier in some states than in others, to reap tax benefits), but, although the car dealerships would love it if everybody leased, for most of us leasing would make lousy economic sense. This is one reason I don’t lease, but another is purely psychological. Deep down, I’m locked into the centuries-old concepts of private property and ownership, which I find to be much more satisfying than any kind of temporary quasi-ownership (my family has a history of buying cars new and then driving them into the ground over a period of many years). Eventually your car loan gets paid off, leaving you with 100% ownership of your heap, and most of us understand and like the concept.

      So the question is, how could Apple imagine it can wean us away from this traditional notion of ownership and the strong preference for it that many of us have, especially regarding major investments like houses and cars? I can’t imagine that would be easy!

      • Dana, you raise important issues. Right now, car-sharing is being tested. It would seem to work better with more expensive models. But I agree with you on one thing, which is that I prefer to own tangible property. I am not about to share my ride with anyone. Call me selfish, or call me tainted by the fact that my son, while a teenager, had occasional accidents, as most teenagers do. These days, I’ll let him drive when he’s in town, but otherwise I wouldn’t let anyone drive my car unless I was physically incapacitated.

        Peace,
        Gene

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