• Newsletter Issue #873

    August 22nd, 2016


    So what should an “unlimited” data plan really mean? On the surface, you’d think the word should mean what it says, without terms and conditions. But It doesn’t quite worked out that way in the real world. There appear to be different interpretations, depending on the fine print.

    So AT&T has released a new family plan named “AT&T Mobile Share Advantage.” Two main features are designed to protect you against using too much data. One is rollover, meaning that what you don’t use one month is added to the next month’s allotment. This feature, not new with AT&T, allows someone who only occasionally needs extra data to leverage the quiet months without paying more.

    AT&T also promises, “No overage charges if you exceed your data allowances.” It’s a variation on “unlimited” that throttles the speed of your connection when you exceed your limit. So it decreases from the 4G LTE max to 2G. That’s less than 200 megabits per second, not a whole lot faster than old fashioned dialup. You won’t be able to do much online other than to check email or browse simple sites, but at least you’ll have access. While AT&T promises “worry-free data,” you’ll definitely worry if the performance you expect is severely curtailed. I suppose if it happens too often, the poor experience might just convince some customers to buy more data.

    Without doubt, that’s AT&T’s goal in setting up this data scheme.

    In response, T-Mobile and Sprint are offering variations of the “unlimited” theme. One requires you pay more of you want to watch streaming HD video and do online gaming. Otherwise it’s standard-definition. Another “unlimited” plan touts “optimized” bit rates for video, but you just know it’s not going to be HD. So much for the promise of “unlimited.”

    Unfortunately, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the FCC have not helped a whole lot. I’m not in favor of lots of regulation, but one that defines “unlimited” data ought to be on the agenda. So far as I’m concerned, that promise should be free of terms and conditions. Period.

    In any case, on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented commentator and columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Tech and Wirecutter, who discussed, at length, the new wireless data plans from AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, and why “unlimited” data plans are actually not quite “unlimited.” He also talked about the issues involved with municipal broadband, why “everybody is getting hacked,” and the Microsoft’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Now that it’s no longer free, is it worth the upgrade price? What about Microsoft’s shady efforts to force people to upgrade when it was available at no cost to customers?

    You also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. In a special pop culture segment, Gene and Jeff discussed the plans for a musical episode of two of The CW’s super hero shows, “Supergirl” and “The Flash.” Jeff continued to express his concerns about the different DC Comics “universes” on TV and the movies. This is where there are different actors playing such characters as Superman and The Flash. Jeff also talked about Uber’s project to establish a self-driving ride-sharing system and the new efforts to fight spam robocalls by Apple, Google and the FCC.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Renaissance Man Paul Davids, an author, artist, filmmaker and amazing story teller. His latest work is “An Atheist in Heaven,” a follow-on to the DVD “The Life After Death Project,” which is heavily focused on synchronicities. Paul will also talk, at length, about his friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, how he fed them UFO information over the years, and their reactions. He’ll also discuss his long-time friendship with the late sci-fi/fantasy/horror film fan/writer/editor Forrest J Ackerman. Paul will recount his study of possible attempts by Ackerman, a professed atheist, to communicate from beyond the grave. Gene will also reveal the time when, as a teenager, he hosted Ackerman at his parent’s apartment in Brooklyn, NY.


    The Apple Watch has been somewhat of a controversial product. Not that it’s necessarily bad or anything, but some tech pundits were expecting a runaway success. But even the most optimistic assessments of Apple Watch sales don’t point in that direction, though it does fare better when you compare it to the first generation iPhone in 2007.

    The starting price isn’t terribly high. The cheapest Apple Watch Sport, the 38mm model, is $299. This is $50 less than the original price. The 42mm version is $50 more. Compare that to the very first iPod in 2001, sporting 5GB of storage capacity, which cost $399. The big pull was having 1,000 songs in your pocket, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but the iPod quickly gained traction; more so when capacities were boosted and a Windows version became available.

    But the price climbs rapidly, and an Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000. I can’t imagine very many people are buying them, but I can see where Apple gets some street cred in the fashion industry by having devices with five-figure price tags.

    Now as you readers know, I haven’t been very enthusiastic about the Apple Watch. While it has its charms, especially as a fashion accessory, I haven’t felt the need to bust the budget to buy one, at least not with the current generation. For now, I’ll stick with that $12.88 Walmart watch I bought last year. It’s made of stainless steel, and keeps fairly accurate time; fairly accurate means it gains a few seconds each month, and eventually I have to adjust it (as I did before writing this article).

    It comes with a multiyear warranty, but it requires paying half the retail price for service. Walmart replaces the batteries in this area for less than $6.00. So it’s on its second battery now, and I’ll probably consider buying something different next spring. Will it be an Apple Watch? That depends on a few things.

    I’ve had a brief period of face time with an Apple Watch courtesy of a friendly Apple Genius. I had visited the store to replace a busted wireless keyboard. He let me sit there for maybe 15 minutes or so to try it out. I went through the basics, the operation of the Digital Crown and all, but I wasn’t impressed. Yes, it was a rush to judgment, but the key problem was lagging performance.

    The original watchOS software required that apps run from your iPhone, which pairs via Bluetooth with an Apple Watch. That was the main reason for the delay. With watchOS 2 last fall, native apps were allowed, and performance improved, but not enough. The unit I examined at the Apple Store earlier this year was up to date, but still not terribly snappy.

    According to published reports about the developer betas of watchOS 3, performance has improved tremendously. It may be enough to convince some who liked the Apple Watch to learn to love it. That’s important not just in encouraging people to buy new ones when the right combination of features is available, but it will make it easier to persuade others to buy one too.

    To me, the Achilles heel of the Apple Watch is the need to tether it to your iPhone. You are thus forced to carry two devices with you even when you want to use one. While the Apple Watch will be able to perform a limited set of fitness features without a nearby iPhone, it may be too crippled for most users. So it makes you less apt to want to leave your mobile phone at home when going out for a jog. So maybe a Fitbit is a worthy alternative.

    While I never go out without my iPhone in tow, I can see where some might forget to take it on a short trip. But the Apple Watch remains on their wrist.

    Understand that it gets high marks from users, over 90% satisfaction rates, even from those who like them rather than love them. That’s surely enough to encourage Apple to invest heavily in the product. Remember, too, that the first editions of most any Apple gadget is almost always deeply flawed. Consider the limits on the first Mac, one app at a time, and no expandability. Of course, many Macs you buy nowadays can’t be upgraded either.

    Those 1,000 songs on the first iPod were a novelty, but not if you had thousands of tunes and needed to make some hard choices. The original iPhone didn’t even support 3G networking, nor was there an Apple Store. Oh, and AT&T was the only wireless carrier to support them. Verizon Wireless didn’t get one until 2011. Hard to believe.

    But many tech pundits don’t look at the history, so they don’t realize how early versions of Apple gadgets are often limited or flawed in one way or another. Perhaps the major limitation of the Apple Watch is the lack of a cellular radio. That’s a key reason why it has to be tethered to an iPhone.

    It’s not that tiny cellular radios don’t exist, but Apple also has to consider the impact on battery life As it stands now, some Apple Watch users chafe at having to recharge every day or so. There was also a published report claiming that Apple may have been able to add the mobile hardware, but not till the end of the year, too late to include them in a 2016 model. So maybe it’ll happen next year.

    I suppose that an Apple Watch with cellular hardware might be an optional version, a situation similar to the way the iPad deals with the option to support cellular data. So for $100 more, the 2017 or later Apple Watch would be able to act as a tiny smartphone. You’d rely on your iPhone mostly for the larger screen and greater flexibility, but you won’t be crippled so much otherwise without one. That’s when the Apple Watch will come into its own.

    Maybe I’ll even be tempted to buy one when that time arrives.


    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 #873”

    1. dfs says:

      I assume that an Apple Watch not tethered to my iPhone would come with its own teeny-tiny SIM card, right? Which would make the case thicker than ever unless they reduced the size of the battery, and this would be a Very Bad Idea. And along with the SIM card would presumably come its own account with my carrier together with its own not-necessarily-so-teeny-tiny monthly bill, right? I’m in hock to AT&T just about enough already. Add that to possibly unpleasant implications for battery life and I think I’ll stick to my tethered version, thanks anyway. I’m so habituated to carrying my iPhone around in its belt holster that it’s really no problem. So the whole deal sounds extremely unappetizing.

      B. t. w., here’s a tip. The watch ships with display brightness cranked up to the max. Get into its Settings app and you’ll find a brightness option. Turn it down to the minimum (which I found to be plenty bright enough under all lighting conditions) and you may be pleasantly surprised about what this does for your battery endurance.

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