• Newsletter Issue #863

    June 13th, 2016


    After you see a WWDC keynote, you will no doubt feel, at least in the glow of the aftermath of that event, that Apple has reinvented the wheel yet again. That may be true, or it may be just the result of being overwhelmed by what once was referred to as a “reality distortion field.” Of course, that phrase applied to Steve Jobs, but it doesn’t mean that his lieutenants, who continue to run the company he co-founded, haven’t learned a trick or two or three about getting a marketing message across in a flashy fashion.

    Even the smallest details will seem to become significant. Even the features adapted or borrowed from other platforms will emerge anew in the Apple guise.

    Does any of this matter?

    It does, because Apple has become a powerhouse even if it holds a relatively small minority of the smartphone market — at least outside the U.S. The Mac market is also quite small, but when it comes to premium gear, Apple rules the roost. That is not about to change anytime soon, even though the recent decline in iPhone sales spooked Wall Street and the tech industry, at least for a while. A lot of that, however, is very much the fault of the excessive focus on quarterly results. It doesn’t matter what’s going to happen next year or the year after. It’s all about here and now, which can actually hurt a company’s long-term plans because of this unnatural emphasis on instant gratification.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused almost entirely on Apple’s WWDC, which began on June 13. The most significant predictions were highlighted, including the possibility that the Mac operating system would be renamed “macOS” to conform to the style of the other operating systems, such as iOS. You also heard about the possibilities that a souped-up version of Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, would be launched along with its initial appearance on the Mac. What about updates for iOS, watchOS and tvOS? Is there room for Apple to introduce new hardware at what is usually a software-related event for developers?Note: We fully expect that some of this material will be out of date by the time you read this newsletter, but it was a fascinating episode regardless due to the wealth of background information.

    Our guests included columnist Jonny Evans, Computerworld’s “Apple Holic,” and Sean Aune, director of operations for TechnoBuffalo, an online blog and gadget review site. Jonny also discussed the sudden departure of Tony Fadell, the “father” of the iPod and CEO of Google’s Nest division, which builds intelligent thermostats and smoke detectors. Gene expressed his skepticism about “Internet of Things” gear and whether the added baggage matters for a refrigerator, a toaster oven, and even a washer and dryer.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return visit from  Col. John Alexander. As a cutting-edge theorist on UFOs and paranormal phenomena in general, his views stretch the boundaries of research.” His 2011 book, “UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies and Realities” featured a foreword from Dr. Jacques Vallee and a commentary from the late Tom Clancy. What a juxtaposition, and you’ll learn something about Clancy and his attitude towards UFOs. In addition to theorizing about our paranormal universe, “for the past six decades Dr. Alexander has been directly or indirectly involved in national security affairs. He wrote the seminal articles on non-lethal weapons and has authored studies on a wide variety of complex issues.” All in all, expect a wide-ranging discussion of the most important issues of the day.


    I have been using Macs since the 1980s, first at the office, and a few years later, at home. By the early 1990s, I really got sucked in, by providing support for Mac users on AOL as a forum leader. It didn’t take long before I became a writer focusing on Apple gear.

    My background is not being mentioned to pat myself on the back, but merely to show that I’ve lived in this environment for quite a long time and have encountered all sorts of problems to solve. I’ve seen Apple on the upswing and Apple on the ropes, and I’ve even had a fair amount of exposure to Windows.

    So I think I have a bit of perspective as to how things work, or ought to work, and what might be needed to allow things to work better. Here’s where I think Apple, despite touting simplicity, sometimes makes things more complicated than they need to be. This is the argument often made about Windows, that Microsoft hasn’t a clue about how best to structure an operating system so that it gets out of your way and lets you get some real work done.

    Take Mail. This is a very odd app that made its debut on the NeXT platform, the forerunner to OS X, as NeXTMail. It almost seems as if Apple has left stuff in there from the earliest days, since glaring faults are left unfixed. But I’m not referring to crashes, freezes or other overt evidence of bad behavior. Sure, I’m seeing the latter since installing El Capitan. But it doesn’t happen every day and when it does happen, the stall is usually no more than 30 seconds in length, so I put up with it.

    But the fundamentals of setting up a new account have never been fully implemented. While Mail will get the initial setup mostly correct for major email systems such as AOL, Gmail, iCloud, Microsoft Exchange, Outlook and Yahoo, it doesn’t work so well with a regular POP or IMAP account from your ISP, the email system from a web host, or most other business mail systems. This is true even if the domain is set up so the settings can be automatically recognized. An example of this is putting “autodiscover” and “autoconfig” commands in your site’s DNS settings.

    I know that I’ve had email accounts from a variety of sources over the years, and Mail misses almost all of them. So you’re forced to manually enter the incoming and outgoing server settings, hoping the host or email service will provide all that data for you. Once that’s done, you’re only part of the way there. With IMAP email, you can sync your messages with the server, so you see the same messages on all your devices. Well, if they’re set up properly.

    Apple Mail has a command, “Use This Mailbox As,” which allows you to map the local Drafts, Sent, Spam and Trash folders with their counterparts on the server. If that’s not done, the mail you send may be there on your Mac, but not your iPhone, Mac notebook, or other devices.

    Now it is possible to perform these settings automatically. Mozilla’s Thunderbird manages to get them correct, at least with the email accounts with which I’ve tested it. Mail failed on all of them, and Microsoft’s Outlook for Mac only goes halfway there. After you manually enter the incoming and outgoing servers on services not configured by default, such as Exchange, it usually manages to correctly map local folders to the ones on the server.

    I did try the same account Mail for Windows 10. Microsoft attempts to hide all the power user stuff from users, although you can get some of it if the initial attempt to automatically configure your account fails. In short, it’s no better and, in some ways, worse. Unfortunately, Windows Mail creates its own set of bogus folders for the basic four functions listed above, which only confuses mattes even further. So in addition to the Sent mailbox, which is what the email system I use employs, the Windows email client created a Sent Items folder too.

    In other words, it made a mess.

    Microsoft may believe that it has perfected simplicity with Mail, but the end result merely confuses customers who find their messages are no longer in sync, leaving them without an easy way to resolve the problem.

    Once configured, Apple Mail behaves itself, and in case you’re wondering, iOS Mail is only slightly better. So the Mail, Contacts, Calendars pane in Settings makes it a little simpler to map local email folders to the ones on an IMAP server.

    In case you’re wondering, during my extended foray into Android, I never found an email client that did much or any better. Worse, some of the settings were so granular, I ended up wasting my time adjusting preferences that ought to have been left alone, or set to a default that made some sense from a usability standpoint.

    Some suggest maybe we should just give up on email and go on to something else. But instant messaging is no substitute for classic email, at least not to me. So it’s unfortunate that Apple doesn’t seem to care about getting the fundamentals right on an app that’s been around, in various forms, for over two decades.

    I suppose it’s slightly possible that this article will be obsolete at the conclusion of the WWDC keynote because Apple will announce that Mail has been rethought with a brand new design. But I’m willing to bet that there will be no reason to change a thing.

    My other complaint, one I’ve also previously voiced, is the lack of integration between Apple’s Messages and Facebook’s two chatting systems. I fail to see why WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger remain separate despite having hundreds of millions of users for each. This is particularly irksome. It forces many users to use up to three or more chat apps to manage multiple systems.

    Now it’s not impossible to make an integrated app. Drupe for Android promises to manage Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and SMS messaging in a single app. On the Mac, I found very little help. One app that held out some promise was XustoChat, sold for $1.99 at the App Store. I was also troubled by the fact that it has had no reviews in the six weeks it’s been out.

    As with other apps that support WhatsApp on OS X, you have to have a WhatsApp app configured on your smartphone so they link together. That’s done by capturing the QR code on your smartphone in the mobile app’s settings window. Maybe the $19 billion Facebook squandered on buying this service didn’t leave room to pay developers to eliminate this foolish step and let a desktop WhatsApp do everything without linking to a mobile counterpart.

    Unfortunately, XustoChat doesn’t actually ingrate the two services. It merely puts them in separate chat windows and thus is little better than running two apps. Worse, badge notifications persist even when the message that generated them is read. That’s $1.99 wasted.

    The long and short of it is that Apple ought to be looking into the basic things one does on a Mac, and find ways to simplify setup and usability. I have hopes, but I wonder sometimes if Apple even cares about such things.


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

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    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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