In recent days, I’ve read stories about the auto industry’s realization that a car is no longer as essential as it used to be. This is particularly true for millennials who live in larger cities and have decent access to public transportation.
My son, Grayson, lives and works in Madrid. Although he’s had a driver’s license since he was a teenager, and the first cars he owned bore the scars to prove it, he’s become a mature and safe driver. Still, he only drives when he’s in the U.S. In Spain, he can travel wherever he wants via bus or train, or in a rare instance, a cab. When he’s not using public transportation, he just walks. A car is not on his radar.
Where I live, outside of Phoenix, it’s a 15 minute drive to a park and ride lot and the closest light rail station. But it’s limited to a single long route, and I’d be forced to walk or use a bus or cab to get anywhere beyond the train stations. Late at night, nothing runs. So I’m stuck with a car, but as I get older, I have hopes for a ride-sharing and/or self-driving system to stay reasonably mobile. The latter appears to be Apple’s current focus with Project Titan.
Without two cars in every garage, the industry will have to find ways to adapt to a very different market. Then again, how many of you would really need a car if you had other ways to get around to do the things you wanted to do? When I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s and 1960s, my parents never owned a car. My mostly stay-at-home mom managed to do the weekly shopping at a nearby supermarket without a car. My dad worked for the city transportation system and thus had free access throughout his life. But there were also busses on nearly every corner, and the nearest elevated train was but a short walk away. He didn’t buy a car until he was in his 70s.
Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, outspoken columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” returned to talk about a variety of tech issues. A discussion about the future of diesel cars in the wake of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal turned to autonomous driving, as Gene wondered when he’ll be too old to drive for himself. From there the discussion veered to the use of robots in fast food restaurants and supermarkets before it settled on Apple’s late-shipping AirPods. These wireless in-ear headphones have become as controversial as Apple’s MacBook Pro. Kirk provided a first take, describing the setup process and his impressions of their sound quality.
You also heard from ethical hacker Dr. Timothy Summers, President of Summers & Company, a cyber strategy and organizational design consulting firm, on a wide range of subjects. He started with extensive background information on the presumed Russian hack of the DNC and Democratic politicians. How was it determined that the Russians were responsible, and not the Chinese or the alleged “400-pound man in his basement”? You also heard about yet another reported hack on Yahoo, involving an estimated one billion accounts. And there’s a real shocker: Is it possible for a hacker to easily “clone” your car’s key fob, to take control of the vehicle or steal it? Dr. Summers explained how it can be done on many makes and models with a device that costs a mere $30, and the best ways to protect yourself.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: For a change of pace, Gene and Chris present Cynthia Hart-Button, who has been a spiritual, business, and personal consultant for over 40 years. She is founder and president of the Sacred World Peace Church and Alliance, and the White Bison Association. Cynthia and her husband Charles are the caretakers of the herd of white bison in Ukiah, CA. She has been recognized for her intuitive knowing and psychic abilities. Through her seminars, workshops, lectures, and private personal and business consultations, she shares he knowledge of metaphysical truths and spiritual insights. She will be asked towards the end of the episode to apply her expertise in analyzing a certain radio talk show host by the name of Gene Steinberg.
Do you remember the “bendgate” scandal? Perhaps not, because it was never a scandal, but some wiseacre got the bright idea to post a video on YouTube showing how “easy” it was to bend an iPhone 6 Plus. That someone was willing to seriously damage one’s expensive smartphone seemed crazy enough, unless, of course, the ad revenues were sufficient to buy a new one and then some. Or pretend to Apple that it wasn’t his or her fault.
But whenever Apple is involved, it’s easy to see a profitable reason to want to create some fake news or a phony scandal in order to generate hits and increase ad revenues. But at the end of the day, there was nothing wrong with the iPhone 6 Plus. It was strong enough to survive normal use, but that didn’t stop others from putting it to the test.
So Square Trade, a company that sells extended warranties online and in stores, ran some informal tests. Since they have to provide repairs in case your covered device is damaged or develops a defect, it was in their own best interests to see, and actually damaging the iPhone 6 Plus wasn’t very easy. That takes us to Consumer Reports, who ran their own tests in 2014, with great fanfare, against competing gear from HTC, LG and Samsung, and pronounced the iPhone’s durability as acceptable. There were no defects at all, but plenty of headlines were generated.
Once CR made its pronouncement, the alleged controversy died down. Apple didn’t really have to do anything, but the iPhone 6’s successor, the iPhone 6s, was manufactured with 7000 series aluminum. Compared to its predecessor, it was nearly unbendable unless subjected to extremely severe stress. Still, putting one of these devices in your back pocket, particularly a “Plus” model, surely enhances the odds of something bad happening.
But CR knows that its ratings are widely recognized as being accurate and trustworthy, even if, in my not so humble opinion, that reputation is not always earned. Any hint that a product fails a reliability test or is regarded as somehow unsafe, gets plenty of attention and leaves company executives shaking in their boots.
Now when it comes to reporting that a motor vehicle may be unduly sensitive to tipping over around a sharp curve, you have to take notice. After all, you want to know you’ll be safe if you have to make a sudden turn to avoid a collision.
When it comes to Macs, I’ve been vocal over the years about the apparent effort by CR to favor a Windows PC. But it’s more than that. The consumer electronics gadget with the most features tends to earn a higher rating, often without regard to how well those extra features might work. Thus a Samsung Galaxy, loaded with junkware and barely workable frills, usually earns a better rating than an iPhone.
On the PC front, CR fails to grasp the very distinct differences between macOS and Windows. It seems to regard them as two sides of a coin that are mostly simila.Thus it fails to assert the case for using one or the other in choosing a computer. Again. the computer with the most features will get the higher score, although a Mac has never been given a “not recommended” rating.
Until now that is.
So ahead of the Christmas weekend, CR posted a blog claiming inconsistent results in battery tests of the new MacBook Pros. This announcement was akin to a major earthquake in the tech world, and the story earned worldwide headlines. In response, Apple delivered a general but lame answer that Mac users should contact Apple if they had any issues with their machines.
Not long thereafter, a tweet from Apple VP of Worldwide Marketing Philip Schiller announced that the company was working with CR to figure out what happened. He wrote that, “Results do not match our extensive lab tests or field data.”
Apple’s battery life claims for its new notebooks are up to 10 hours, based on the test conditions stated in the fine print. CR’s test methodology apparently involves using the default browser to download 10 sites from their servers, rinse and repeat until the battery runs dry. Now if they are pushing the same content over and over again, you’d think the results would be consistent hour after hour, although such an unsophisticated test hardly seems to represent what most would regard as normal use for a notebook computer.
Curiously, three tests on each machine delivered three different results: “For instance, in a series of three consecutive tests, the 13-inch model with the Touch Bar ran for 16 hours in the first trial, 12.75 hours in the second, and just 3.75 hours in the third. The 13-inch model without the Touch Bar worked for 19.5 hours in one trial but only 4.5 hours in the next. And the numbers for the 15-inch laptop ranged from 18.5 down to 8 hours.”
Now it’s not that the MacBook Pro isn’t delivering poor battery life for some users. But I haven’t read any complaints about such a wide variation in test results. Most reviewers, who used their own repetitive testing schemes, found that, as usual, Apple’s battery life claims were pretty much on the mark. What’s more, the recent macOS 10.12.2 update reportedly fixed battery life issues for some users who previously complained.
So what’s going on here?
Clearly if only one source is able to deliver such inconsistent results, and that’s what appears to be the case here, maybe there’s something about that test that is problematic. When CR used the Chrome browser instead of Safari, the results were evidently acceptable and consistent. This appears to mean that the test suite is causing trouble only in Safari. More curious, Chrome isn’t exactly kind to system resources.
CR seldom backtracks on its test results, which means that a third party needs look at its test methodology determine what’s going on. So will Apple be given the chance to attempt to verify the results? I would hope so, since this is a matter that might impact millions of Mac users who might ultimately want to buy a MacBook Pro, and they have a right to know if its power system is defective.
According to one published report, from Bloomberg, Apple had planned to use a more powerful battery, but it failed during product testing. If that’s true — and the story has never been confirmed — it makes sense for Apple to want to stick to a tried and true power source, and attempt to perfect the new system for a future update. Of course, it’s not that Apple has confirmed any of this, although news that a future MacBook Pro has an enhanced battery might confirm it.
Regardless, I’d rather see Apple use a lesser-capable proven design than something that needs further development. That might not deter Samsung or another tech company, but Apple is justifiably conservative about such matters. Indeed, in the days before lithium-ion batteries were adopted for a mid-90s PowerBook, Apple had to revert to less efficient nickel hydride because the new batteries tended to overheat during quality testing. Sounds familiar.
In any case, I hope we’ll know soon enough whether CR’s unfavorable battery tests are anomalous or have uncovered some unknown defect in the MacBook Pro. Will CR have to back down, or will they stick to their guns?
But if the tests only trip up Safari, a Mac-only browser these days and thus never used for PC notebook battery tests, I have to wonder whether the fix was in.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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