• Newsletter Issue #860

    May 23rd, 2016


    As I get older, I have to think how long I’ll be able to drive. This is not something to take lightly. Here in Arizona, the state’s Motor Vehicle division requires that you renew your driver’s license every five years once you reach age 65. The only requirement, though, is to pass an eye test, achieving at least 20/40 vision in each eye and passing a few other routine tests. Certainly if your vision is worse than that, even when corrected with glasses or contact lenses, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel, although many people ignore that basic requirement.

    Some day, I may have to give up my driver’s license, although I think I’m doing quite well so far. But as I consider the future, I wonder whether autonomous vehicles will be part of the picture. Auto makers are looking into them, Google has test vehicles already on the road in some places, and Apple might be getting into the act by 2020. Well, at least if the rumors are true. It does explain the rapid growth curve of the company’s R&D budget.

    One possibility that’s been mentioned in the wake of Apple’s $1 billion investment in Didi Chuxing, a Chinese car-sharing company that competes with Uber, is that the Apple Car won’t be something you’d buy. Instead, it would be, I suppose, a driverless cab. Perhaps, but that entails a lot of assumptions, and one key reason Apple made that investment, in addition to auto-related technology, is for street cred in China. That’s a critical market where Apple needs to boost revenues again.

    As for me, well, I don’t know if I’m yet prepared to have a computer transport me to the places I need to go. Clearly the technology is far from being perfected. In the U.S., self-driving vehicles would have to be approved not just by the Washington D.C. bureaucrats, but the individual states. It won’t be easy by any means. Offhand, I wonder how the perfect autonomous system will account for the imperfect, illogical human driver in day-to-day trips.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented outspoken commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer. His bill of fare included speculation that the desktop version of Siri will make its debut in the next version of OS X — or will it be rebranded macOS? — this fall. The discussion also covered Apple’s challenge in developing an electric car, and whether it’ll be offered as a car-sharing scheme, rather than sold to individual customers. And what about the cooling iPhone upgrade fever? Is Apple going to deliver a compelling enough upgrade to entice loads of customers to buy the next iPhone?

    You also heard from columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who focused much of his discussion on iTunes 12.4 for Mac and Windows. Has Apple managed to respond to customer complaints about the loss of a full-time sidebar and an increasingly complex user interface? The discussion also included hopes for improving the look and feel of Apple Music, the possibilities for an Apple subscription TV service, and whether Siri will make its debut on Macs with the next OS upgrade. There was also be a short discussion about TV show spin-offs.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a forthright discussion with Kevin D. Randle, a long-time UFO investigator who has taken a no-nonsense approach to investigating the mystery. You can always depend on Kevin to thoroughly investigate a report or a claim to find the facts. The discussion will include the latest on the various mysteries he’s probed over the years, with a special emphasis on the Roswell crash. How does this classic case stand up after a thorough probe of the existing evidence, which is being examined as a cold case? You’ll be surprised at his findings. Kevin is a retired lieutenant colonel who served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and in Iraq as a battalion intelligence officer. He began writing for UFO magazines and eventually moved onto books.


    If you thought Apple was getting a little too much attention before, you haven’t seen anything yet (I avoid the famous ungrammatical version of that phrase). Now that the company’s solid growth has stalled, for at least one quarter and possibly two, there is hyper-attention on everything Tim Cook and crew devise.

    This week, the coverage included Cook’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. You’d think that the Apple CEO’s trip to India involved a visit by a President for the coverage it received. But the four-day visit included launching a development center and making plans to open retail stores in that country. Apple is looking towards India’s growing middle class as a huge potential source of new customers over the next few years.

    Of course, as the world continues to develop, assuming there’s no planet-wide financial breakdown, Apple will soon be out of space in which to grow. But there are certainly hundreds of millions of additional potential customers to be found, and it does seem Apple will go after every last one of them, or at least the ones with enough money to actually buy something.

    Meantime, the discussion continues unabated as to what Apple will do next.

    Some of that discussion focuses on what can be done with existing products. So there’s the next iPhone, but some tech pundits are suggesting it has to be inadequate. How so? Well, it’s not as if Apple has actually announced anything official about it. All we have are rumors, some contradictory, as to what Apple might be devising for the so-called iPhone 7.

    I’ve even read speculation that the upgrade won’t be sufficient to warrant that branding and that, instead, it’ll be an iPhone 6sg or something of the sort. However, that makes even less sense, because it will doom the gadget from the launch date, an admission of failure.

    So even if, as suggested, there won’t be much that’s new in the next iPhone, it’ll look sufficiently different to earn its full version branding. But it’s not fair to assume it won’t be enough because, again, nothing has been announced so far, and there’s little reason to dash hopes without some real evidence.

    Or perhaps the doom and gloom speculation is, as usual, meant as hit bait. But isn’t that an old tune?

    There’s also the Mac, with the suggestion that product upgrades in recent years haven’t been much aside from the usual hardware improvements. Well, there is the iMac with 5K Retina display.

    Otherwise, each refresh means a little more performance and perhaps a frill or two, such as Force Touch. The only Mac upgrade so far this year is the MacBook. It got fast enough to essentially compete with the MacBook Air on performance. But where’s the next MacBook Air? Shouldn’t more Apple’s notebooks have been upgraded by now for 2016? Why the delay?

    While new hardware announcements might come at the WWDC, that’s still intended as a developer’s conference. You might see news of a Mac Pro upgrade, but what about the rest, even the consumer notebooks? However, Apple would be expected to do something before the back to school season, and time is short.

    But if Apple planned major upgrades for most Mac notebooks, it would be worth the wait. Is that the reason sales were down in the last quarter, or is it just possible that there is no reclaiming sales growth in the PC industry? Not all PC makers had lower sales, though. But it may be that those who benefited simply cannibalized sales from those who didn’t.

    The iPad is mostly off the radar nowadays, but I’ve seen some speculation about the supposed Apple Watch 2. Does it benefit from a built-in cellular radio and other components that will free it from dependance on an iPhone? How does putting all that extra stuff in the case impact the price, which some already believe to be too high?

    Well, I suppose Apple could follow the iPad playbook, which is to sell models with or without cellular hardware. That way you don’t have to pay for features you don’t want, and the starting price can be kept pretty much as it is.

    With rumors of an Apple Music overhaul, to make the interface more user friendly, what about that long-rumored subscription TV service? As more of the TV networks get into the act, though, is Apple running out of time? Cable and satellite companies are still hitting the brick wall in terms of growth, but what does Apple bring to the table that you can’t get already? A slim package of channels? That’s already here! A way to store time-shifted programs in the cloud for later viewing? Well, on-demand can serve that function too. It’s about being able to watch what you want when a show is not on the schedule.

    One story had it that Apple wanted to include your local TV channels too for live broadcasts, but that would require agreements not just with networks, but locally owned stations, and there are still some, including independents, which aren’t part of a network.

    I’m focusing on the U.S TV scheme here, and I realize the channel complement and what’s being offered will differ sharply from country to country. Lots of agreements would have to be signed, and it’s a sure thing the broadcast and entertainment companies learned from Apple’s foray into digital music. In other words, the negotiations would have to be far more difficult, and the last word had it that talks were pretty much stalled.

    Or does Apple follow something similar to the Netflix/Amazon Instant Video playbooks, where content is licensed and supplemented with some level of original programming?

    Or maybe it’s going to be all about making the Apple TV work with more of the existing services — including the cable and satellite companies — and let them sort things out.

    Other than expanding services, does Apple have another cutting-edge gadget under development? Is it future Mac, iPhone or iPad that changes the game again? Or something nobody has predicted?

    I will set the Apple Car aside for now, since there’s not a lot that’s new. The suggestion it’ll involve car-sharing rather than direct sales to individual customers is more of the way it’ll be marketed, not what sort of product it’ll end up to be.


    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
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