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Newsletter Issue #876


If you’re an Apple developer or member of the public beta program, you had lots of joy this past week. Golden Master versions of the newest operating systems were posted; the public testers received access to iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, not tvOS 10 or watchOS 3. I suppose that’s because failed installations are harder to fix for the last two.

No matter. It has reached a point where, unless you are actually a developer, the public beta program ought to suit. Except for the very first releases of a brand new OS, you’re assured of receiving seeds within one day of the developer seeds, and often the same day.

But don’t forget to observe the usual beta cautions, such as having available backups, and not using a production machine to run a prerelease OS. That didn’t stop me from installing iOS 10 on my iPhone, but the experience has been pretty good overall. And I’m expected to take chances of this sort.

Well, on the day the Sierra GM hit the public beta stream, I decided to go for it. I had installed the betas on a second partition on my 27-inch iMac. In the past, I moved to the primary partition about midway through the beta process, but this time I was concerned about some silly Apple Mail glitches. So I waited.

Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road, so I cleared the beta partition, and installed the GM.

The installation went normally. As usual, the progress bar was erratic in estimating time. I’ll merely state that, with five minutes to spare, I completed the installation and set up my gear to record an interview for The Tech Night Owl LIVE,

I wasn’t challenging the fates, since I had already determined that Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack and Skype would function. In the event something went amiss, I could always switch to my MacBook Pro, which continued to run El Capitan. I also kept a clone backup, so I could always erase and restore my iMac’s internal drive should the worst happen.

I’ll have more to say about Sierra in the days to come, but I didn’t run into any glitches of note. I continued to record segments for the show without any problems, and the editing and posting process went normally.

So this weekend, we presented columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” In pointed remarks, Kirk explained why he’s not terribly impressed with Apple’s explanation for ditching the headphone jack, nor, for that matter, with the iPhone 7, which he doesn’t regard as a significant improvement over previous models. In response to Gene’s remark about the headphone jack being a notorious source of unreliability, Kirk brought up reports of problems with frayed Lightning cables. There was also a brief discussion about the failure of the paperless revolution.

You also heard from prolific author and commentator Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who worked with Gene in setting up the Golden Master version of macOS Sierra. Gene briefly toyed with the Mac version of Siri, not his favorite feature, before the discussion moved to the iPhone 7. Contrary to Kirk’s reaction, Bob explained that he’s impressed with the new features, particularly the camera enhancements that may allow him to leave his DSLR camera home. You also heard Bob’s reaction to the loss of the headphone jack, and Gene talked about Apple’s announcement that it will no longer reveal first weekend sales for the new iPhone. The excuse? That they won’t have enough stock on hand to meet demand, so potential sales can’t be reported.

Sure, right.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Gene and Chris bring back two noted Bigfoot researchers — David Weatherly and Lyle Blackburn. Both are contributing authors in Wood Knocks, a new yearly journal covering Bigfoot research and investigations, which is being published by Weatherly’s publishing company. Both have been on the show before and are considered two of our top cryptozoological researchers. David is also considered a leading “Black-eyed Kids” researcher and Lyle (on his Paracast appearance in 2014) spoke about “Lizard Men” sightings. This episode is designed to bring you up to date on cutting-edge work in these fields.


If you can believe Apple’s corporate spin machine, it took “courage” to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack, a venerable connection port that has been in use in one form or another since the 1950s. On the surface, this seems to be true. Beginning with the 1998 Bondi Blue iMac, Apple began to ditch legacy ports that it perceived had outlived their usefulness. The floppy drive and optical drive also received their walking papers. On mobile gear, the original dock connector gave way to the Lightning port.

Between adapters and external devices it was usually possible to work around these changes. But that didn’t mean that you didn’t have to endure a little pain along the way. While external floppy drives would generally support HD disks, not so for the single-sided or double-sided floppy formats. I still cannot live without an optical drive, but since a client sent me one as a present for my iMac, it’s just a matter of occupying yet another USB port. Thank heavens for hubs.

The headphone jack is obviously a huge deal, however, since it has been installed on perhaps billions of devices over the decades. Building a device with audio output capability that doesn’t have a traditional jack of some sort may indeed be a matter of courage, or the feeling that there is a better alternative. Or it’s time to move everyone to wireless, so adapters are no longer necessary. But Apple didn’t help the cause by supplying wired ear buds with the iPhone 7. Those fancy AirPods are $159, but that’s not out of line compared to some headgear from other companies.

But what about the decision itself? Was it really necessary? Well, if it made it easier to add water-resistance to the iPhone, that would make sense, though I don’t think it would have been impossible otherwise. But getting rid of that extra space also meant the ability to add a second speaker, so maybe the benefits outweigh the pain. Unless you are really wedded to charging and listening at the same time, the inconvenience is minor. Yes, there is an adaptor that will let you do both, but it has two Lightning ports, so you still need Apple’s headphone jack to Lightning adapter, which makes it messy.

It was interesting to see Senior VP Philip Schiller display a black and white photo of a telephone operator in front of her switchboard to demonstrate the longevity of phone and headphone jacks, if only because I made references to the age of the technology in recent columns.

Unfortunately, some members of both the tech and mainstream media seem intent on focusing on vanishing headphone jacks and not much else. So what I regard as the promise of major improvements in the iPhone 7’s camera system aren’t getting so much coverage. In response to all the clamoring for longer battery life, especially for the 4.7-inch iPhone, the promise of two extra hours is very important. The improvements in color rendition will be noticeable, but it will probably not be so significant to most of you. There are other improvements, but these appear to be the most important for the largest number of users — or at least to me.

What is really troubling, though, is Apple decision to stop revealing launch weekend sales for the iPhone. The excuse — and it is an excuse — is that the initial allotment of product is already spoken for, so releasing those numbers won’t reveal actual demand. But that’s been true for years, if you can believe Apple. The frequent comment has always been that more units could have been sold had there been enough supplies.

Now I suppose Apple was not able to match last year’s 13 million units of available product this year, which might also explain the logic behind that announcement. Or perhaps initial demand is lower than last year, which would also be a reason if it’s about making a poor first impression. But some feel Apple may deliberately produce fewer products than are needed just to ensure a backlog. That might be a touchy move, since it’s always possible customers who don’t get instant satisfaction might just put off the purchase until much later. Or, if they are switching from another platform, such as Android, there’s the danger that they’ll just stick with what they have, rather than endure an uncertain shipping delay to jump platforms.

It’s fitting that Apple’s stock price dipped after the announcement that initial sales wouldn’t be revealed. Wall Street doesn’t believe Apple. Still, iPhone sales results for the September quarter ought to deliver some clues about its potential. But having launch week numbers has been a matter of fun and speculation in the past, so it’s unfortunate that they will no longer be provided.

Of course, if sales were really above expectations and ahead of last year, Apple might reveal them anyway.

In any case, regardless of what Apple did with the iPhone 7 — and the capabilities of the A10 Fusion processor appear to be just amazing based on preliminary benchmarks — the media meme is set. It must be a failure, and anything Apple does that seems less than forthright only reenforces that conclusion. iPhone sales would actually have to increase by the next two or three quarters for this to change.

And maybe not even then.

In the meantime, the speculation about next year’s 10th anniversary iPhone has already begun. But bear in mind that Apple isn’t always in the mindset to make a fuss about product anniversaries. Even then, perhaps the 2017 iPhone 8 or iPhone 7s will have an OLED display as rumored. That would be a huge deal if OLED overcomes the main deficiency of the existing technology, which is the inability to deliver a bright picture in sunlight. Otherwise, just what is Apple going to add that would make it sensible to wait for another year before you buy your next — or first — iPhone?


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

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