While it has been a while since Apple upgraded most Macs, that doesn’t mean they no longer care about the platform as some critics are suggesting. In fact, Apple appears to be investing heavily in a new macOS, Sierra, and the act of rebranding should also confirm ongoing interest in moving the platform forward.
It might make sense for Tim Cook to offer some reassurance, a short statement reaffirming the company’s commitment to the Mac, and promising that updates are being developed. He doesn’t have to say when or what, just confirm that something is being done and that the drought of new or refreshed Macs will soon be over.
If past is prologue, perhaps there will be a Mac and/or Mac/iPad media event in October. It’s also possible Cook will say something about those plans at the next iPhone rollout, which will likely happen a month or so from now. Major product announcements are not apt to come during the summer doldrums.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented blogger and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” This time, Kirk spoke interactively as he followed the online queue countdown to purchase tickets for two Harry Potter plays in London. Would the display of such information on one’s place in the pecking order serve as an inspiration for Apple’s online ordering system when a new gadget is launched? Kirk also talked about the dangers of inserting an unknown USB stick from an unknown source into a computer’s USB port, and the possible reasons why only one new Mac has been introduced so far this year.
You also heard from Sean Aune, director of operations for TechnoBuffalo, an online blog and gadget review site, who also talked at length about the lack of Mac updates. Is it about Intel’s chips, new designs, the fall arrival of macOS Sierra? Or has Apple become less interested in keeping the Mac up to date? Sean also gave positive reviews on his experiences with a pair of Chromebooks. He talked about their growing presence in school systems in the U.S. You also heard his advice on what to do if one of your accounts, bank, credit card or services, is hacked, as Sean recounted the occasion when someone from the UK hacked his Netflix account and was watching movies and TV shows day and night.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host Micah Hanks, of The Gralien Report, present a listener roundtable featuring Sue and Ufology, two of our long-time Paracast forum regulars. The wide-ranging discussion includes the touchy issue of politics and UFOs, and why the two are often considered together, personal experiences with possible MIBs, Micah’s extensive research into the legend of the Brown Mountain lights in the western part of North Carolina, and the controversy surrounding the Travis Walton contact case. The back-and-forth about the Walton case will cover the contradictory results of lie detector tests he took, and why some researchers have long been skeptical about the case.
It’s almost a given that Apple is deeply interested in the auto industry and might just be working on an electric car, dubbed Apple Car. Or at least that’s what Project Titan was supposed to be about, since it has been populated with veteran car executives from major companies. Why bother to bring such people on board without such a game plan?
From there, the speculation has taken on a few twists and turns, and some of it may be the result of desperation rather than meaningful news. So it was reported that veteran Apple hardware executive Bob Mansfield had taken over Project Titan. Although he lacks auto industry experience, he is skilled at bringing products to market. So it may well be his organizational abilities were needed to get the project back on track. In that respect, he might be Tim Cook’s personal troubleshooter.
Days after Mansfield’s new job was reported, yet another report appeared to point to a different direction for Project Titan as a result of the hiring of Dan Dodge, co-founder of QNX. That’s an OS widely used by auto makers in their infotainment systems.
So instead of developing an electric car, perhaps Apple was focusing, instead, on autonomous driving technology. That would take it closer to what Google is doing, where perhaps Apple would license its technology to the auto industry. Whether this would be strictly software — or involved the sale of tested and approved hardware — obviously isn’t certain. But self-driving requires careful integration with a variety of onboard systems, which would appear to indicate that Apple would have to develop a reference platform of some sort that sets hardware specs for certification.
All right, that sounds a little complicated. It would be something akin that what goes on in the PC world, where Intel has developed a reference platform for so-called UltraBooks. These slim and light notebooks are basically similar to the MacBook Air, more or less.
Sure, Apple already has CarPlay, which displays a subset of your iPhone’s interface on your motor vehicle’s infotainment screen. Google’s alternative is Android Auto, and, rather than just pick one, car makers often offer support for both. Let the customer decide. There’s no sense upsetting potential customers by choosing the wrong platform. But since these technologies don’t involve the steering and breaking systems, the requirements are nowhere near as stringent.
So we’re back to the original question: Is there an electric car in Apple’s future? Is it all about the hardware, the software, or a bit of both? Has Apple even honed in on the end game, or are they still testing the waters?
That Apple is working on some sort of car-related project doesn’t even mean it’ll come to pass. Apple is known to work on a number of R&D projects before deciding what to do. Only a small number of such projects actually result in new products or services. Many go by the wayside, but Apple doesn’t talk about them. Perhaps a project that didn’t pan out will be attempted again at a future time, and succeed.
Sometimes the supply chain might reveal the truth. So there were reports for several years that Apple was going to build a TV set, all based on a few statements from the late Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, “Jobs.” But that may have been nothing more than one of Jobs’ notorious misdirections. Knowing his time was short, maybe he correctly assumed that the tech industry would freak and try to devise responses.
Take that report that Lenovo was planning to build a smart TV set, initially for sale in Asia. That possibility seemed to vanish after a few months. Lenovo does well enough with PCs, and their ThinkPad notebooks, descended from the original IBM designs, are regarded as some of the best out there. But TVs?
Indeed, just what company is making huge profits from them? Sure, lots of manufacturers, and while there are some sets for the well-heeled, most models just get cheaper, or stay at the same price with more features. Profits are slim. So 4K models have become downright affordable, even though the resolution difference, which looks great on paper, is at best ephemeral in real-world use. You really need a large screen or stay real close when watching a smaller set.
In any case, clearly Apple didn’t find a place in a saturated market, though it appears some prototypes might have been sampled. That explains the supply chain chatter that has since shut down. But entering the TV market would represent the polar opposite of what Apple usually does, which is to exploit markets that are not well served. It worked spectacularly well with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and now the Apple Watch. So entering the TV market seemed far less logical.
Now when it comes to TV streamers, clearly the market is still developing, and Apple is working on different angles to set itself ahead of the pack. Well maybe, because it’s not at all certain when the Apple TV is set to soar.
Time will tell.
As to motor vehicles, the value proposition doesn’t make sense to me. As with TVs, it’s a saturated market served by many well-established companies that make varying levels of profit.
Indeed, to meet higher and higher fuel economy requirements, most auto makers will be moving in the same direction, to expand production of electric vehicles. Tesla Motors, which builds electric vehicles exclusively, appears to be the maverick, and its prospects are still uncertain. Missteps, production difficulties, and project defects, not to mention lots of red ink, don’t make you feel very confident. But if Tesla overcomes such problems and can build out the forthcoming Model 3 into a true mass-market car, where would there be room for a similar player? I mean Apple.
There are few hints about what Apple will do next. You can speculate what its interest in augmented reality might be about. Maybe it will result in a separate retail product or, just as likely, new features for existing gear. The R&D budget is soaring, so a lot of things are probably under development, in secret as usual, and maybe too much attention is being placed on Project Titan. It doesn’t mean that’s a false trail, but there are no doubt lots of things going on that may result in fancier Apple Watches, a successor to the iPhone and maybe — just maybe — the ultimate successor to the Mac. And it may not even be the iPad.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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