• Newsletter Issue #862

    June 6th, 2016


    So who needs a Mac Pro anyway? At one time, anyone who required serious computing power on a Mac. The rest of the lineup was fine for consumers and professionals who didn’t need to process lots of digits.

    At least that’s before the Late 2009 27-inch iMac arrived.

    I was using a Mac Pro when it came out, and I considered the possibilities of the iMac and whether I really needed an expensive, ugly, overweight tower computer anymore. I wasn’t doing 3D rendering or heavy duty math, so I went ahead and gave it a try, and never looked back. For what I did, I could not discern any performance difference at all. In fact, it seemed to run faster and, besides, I was able to sell my 2008 Mac Pro, plus a 30-inch Dell display, and have several hundred dollars left after covering my purchase of the iMac, a backup drive, and a couple of bills. Definitely a good decision.

    Since then, the iMac has become an even more compelling Mac Pro alternative. The current model has a 5K Retina display, Fusion drive (combining a mechanical hard drive with a small SSD), a regular SSD, and even more powerful processors and graphic chips.

    So where does that leave the Mac Pro, which was last updated in 2013? It’s a question Apple may answer at the WWDC. So, on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, columnist and podcaster  Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” joined Gene to engage in speculation about the possible new product announcements at Apple’s developer conference. In talking about possible enhancements to Siri, Kirk explained why it hasn’t been terribly successful for him. We also covered the possible future of the Mac Pro, which hasn’t been updated since 2013, whether Apple should extend the iPhone product cycle because it’s harder to find compelling new features, and the possible appearance of Touch ID on Macs. Kirk also talked about his new podcast, “The Next Track,” which recently debuted.

    You also heard an experimental segment featuring Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. After briefly discussing the prospects at the WWDC, we switched to pop culture mode, with the emphasis on DC Comics super hero shows on TV. Ahead of this segment, Gene binged on the 1990’s version of “The Flash,” which starred John Wesley Shipp as the “scarlet speedster.” That show was compared to The CW version, starring Grant Gustin. The discussion moved on to “Arrow,” and its resemblance to Batman, the Batman prequel, “Gotham,” and “Supergirl,” which moves to The CW for its second season after debuting for its first season on CBS. And does the line of demarcation between DC Comics movies and TV, which causes all sorts of confusion, make any sense?

    As I said, this was an experiment. We’ve done pop culture segments before with good listener response. It’s not technology necessarily, but all the shows we discussed use technology to create sometimes magnificent special effects. That’s an area I plan to cover on future episodes.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: One of our favorite guests, Walter Bosley, returns for to discuss the historical record of breakaway civilizations and possible interactions with visitors from space over two thousand years ago. The focus will center on his latest book, “ORIGIN: The Nineteenth Century Emergence of the 20th Century Breakaway Civilizations.”  He’ll also examine the possibility that the crashed airship at Roswell, NM may have been sent by the hidden civilization that coexists with ours. And how do all those legends of hidden races dovetail with the legends of deros and teros from Richard Shaver? Walter is a blogger, former AFOSI agent and a former FBI counterintelligence specialist.


    Perhaps the best evidence of the media disconnect about Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is the usual refrain that it was unsuccessful. No, not because of the attendance. In fact, Apple has to turn developers away, and now uses a sort of lottery system from which to select applicants. Of course, selected high-profile developers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, will always be there.

    But the core premise of the complaint is about the lack of new hardware at most of these events. So it’s mostly about operating systems, developer APIs and development tools. That’s the nasty fact the critics often miss, yet at times there will be news of new hardware. The most recent example was the launch  of the 2013 Mac Pro, a long-awaited refresh to what some believed to be a dying product line.

    Then again, there hasn’t been another Mac Pro upgrade since then, so maybe the skeptics are going to have their wish. But I really expect a new model this year. It may not be a hot seller, but a certain segment of customers expect a powerful workstation with which to do their work. If Apple doesn’t deliver on that promise, you can expect some movement to Microsoft and Windows.

    Or, for now, just sticking with what they have in the hopes that something better from Apple will arrive. Or making do with the iMac 5K.

    So realistically, next week’s keynote would focus first on iOS 10, and the next OS X, macOS, or whatever it will be called; tvOS and watchOS will also be covered.

    Some predictions speak of an enhanced Siri for all platforms, based on the advanced AI technology Apple acquired when they purchased VocalIQ in 2015. According to published reports, it would enable Siri to become a more powerful, knowledgable personal assistant with the ability to respond to queries in context.

    What this means is that you can, say, ask for a neighborhood Indian restaurant, and, based on Siri’s response, request another choice, without actually having to restate the entire question. The more these digital assistants can handle plain English queries, the closer they become to actually becoming useful for a variety of tasks.

    As it stands, Siri, though long out of beta, is seriously flawed. I’m sure most of you have tried asking questions and have gotten incorrect or non-existent responses. Both columnist Kirk McElhearn and I agree that Siri is best capable of managing such simple requests as setting an alarm. Barbara does that every evening on her iPad, but sometimes Siri falls down on the job. So she delivers a response appropriate to someone born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.

    It’s certainly a good time to boost Siri’s capabilities and accuracy. Apple is competing with Amazon, Google and Microsoft, and there are ways in which each of them may be considered superior.

    The big question, though, is just what Apple can add to its flagship operating systems. Rollouts of iOS and OS X — or whatever the latter will be called after next week — tend to be shaky. Maintenance release after maintenance release may fix some problems, and create others. Last year, OS X Yosemite had persistent troubles managing reliable Wi-Fi connections. At last, Apple reverted to an older system file to fix it, but you wonder why it took several updates for it to happen.

    This year, I still occasionally encounter El Capitan Mail’s propensity to just stall for 30 seconds or so. It doesn’t happen every day. It doesn’t happen every other day, but it does seem to occur at inconvenient times, such as when I need to check an old email or send someone an important message. Of course, Apple hasn’t actually officially confirmed my problem can be duplicated. But it has persisted since the early beta seeds.

    I also see that El Capitan still receives a three star rating from customers at the App Store. That doesn’t seem awfully promising. It’s hardly above mediocre if you grant that level to a two-and-a-half-star rating. What’s most troubling is the fact that El Capitan was supposed to be the bug fix and performance enhancement release, with only a few compelling new features. Well, there are lots of changes, but most are relatively minor in the scheme of things.

    Beyond making the operating systems more stable, part of the problem is coming up with features that anyone cares about.

    One feature that is sorely needed is an enhanced Open/Save dialog. If you’ve ever used Jon Gotow’s Default Folder X, which has been around since the 1990s, you can see a number of enhancements long overdue from Apple. But I don’t mean for Apple to steal or adapt Jon’s work. Instead, they should be knocking on his front door with a big sweaty wad of cash in hand with which to buy the rights. Or give Jon a job offer. Or both.

    I have no idea if Jon would accept a deal of this sort, but even the basic rebound function, returning to the last opened file, is something Apple could do if it chose to. But perhaps the main goal these days is to abstract access to the file system, in the fashion of iOS. Or maybe there’s a middle ground that will serve the needs of customers who are flummoxed by the standard OS X file tree, yet still need direct access to files and folders for work or play.

    I’d also like to see Apple loosen or expand sandboxing “entitlements” to allow iOS to do more. Since the iPad Pro is being touted as a potential laptop replacement, it ought to have more of the capabilities of a MacBook. That means allowing apps to take on additional functions.

    As I’ve said on the radio show and written in these columns on a number of occasions, I’m not much of a fan of iPads. It provides the features my wife needs, but I am not able to manage my most important workflow — my two syndicated radio shows — on it. There is no way to, for example, capture sound from multiple sources, including an external mic mixer and Skype, and have files that can be easily edited in any audio app.

    On a Mac, such apps aren’t allowed in the App Store either, but you can buy them from third party developers. You’re not locked out. To do that sort of thing on an iPhone or an iPad would require jailbreaking, which would also create potential security problems. It’s a form of hacking and you shouldn’t have to hack an Apple product to have it take on functions that should have been supported in the App Stores in the first place.

    Perhaps Apple understands all this. I’m sure they do, but I have no idea what priority it’s being given. So I’ll just remain optimistic about the goodies to come out of next week’s developer conference, and its June 13th keynote.


    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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