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Newsletter Issue #892

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

So are you ready to buy a 4K TV set yet? It may seem that the higher-resolution sets became mainstream during the holiday season. Except for the cheapest models, just about every set you see in consumer electronics stores these days has a 4K on the product label somewhere. What this means is that you get roughly four times the resolution of a regular HD model, and that would seem to be an awful lot.

But if you consider the same logic Apple uses for its Retina displays, you need a TV with a pretty large screen to see the resolution advantage, unless you’re seated fairly close. A sweet spot appears to be a 50-inch or 55-inch model, but where Mrs. Steinberg and I watch TV in our bedroom, it would still be too small to make much of a difference. That, among many reasons, is why 4K TV is not on our radar yet.

Then again, when HD sets first took over, many users were still watching standard definition content. It took a while for critical mass to be reached.

4K really comes into its own on any sized display when it has HDR — usually the more expensive models — a feature that provides richer colors. Think about the wider color gamut Apple has rolled out on the iPhone 7, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, and the most recent iMacs. A TV with HDR will, with HDR content, produce a better picture even if it doesn’t look any sharper.

Getting 4K content is another story. Such streaming services as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix are offering some content in 4K, but you need broadband speeds over 20 megabits per second, and usually a lot more if other family members or friends are sharing the bandwidth in your home. Don’t expect much from your cable company; the satellite companies are a better bet. Ultra HD Blu-ray players are just rolling out, and you’ll probably see a bunch introduced soon at the CES.

Still, with tens of millions of people owning 4K sets, content providers will soon begin to satisfy that audience. But it’s not there yet. Even when 4K takes over — and that will take some years yet — manufacturers are hoping for a next great thing. 8K sets are on the horizon, but the chances that most people will see a difference are slim to none unless they have positively huge — and expensive — TVs in their living rooms. Or maybe a shared virtual reality system that doesn’t require ugly goggles.

Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured noted industry analyst Stephen Baker, Vice President for Industry Analysis at the NPD Group. He began the conversation discussing the success of 4K (Ultra HD) TV sets during the holiday quarter. What about the advanced picture technologies, such as HDR, and what about the dearth of 4K content? The discussion also focused on whether Samsung was hurt at all, in holiday sales, by the exploding batteries scandal that forced the company to discontinue the Galaxy Note 7 phablet. You also heard some positive news about Mac sales for the holiday quarter despite the controversy over the Late 2016 MacBook Pro.

We were also joined by Derek Kessler, managing editor of Mobile Nations, a web portal that runs several popular tech sites. The discussion started with the success of 4K TVs, and whether or not Samsung customers were dissuaded by the failure of the Galaxy Note 7. There was also a preview of the expected hot ticket items at the 2017 CES in Las Vegas, which includes VR gear. Is virtual reality poised to come into its own? What about the connected home — the Internet of Things — and can security issues derail its success? Gene and Derek also talked about smartwatches. and the recent failure of Pebble, a pioneer in the market. Its assets were recently purchased by Fitbit. So are smartwatches now stillborn, or is there hope that the Apple Watch can help move the market to the point where such products become must-haves?

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a visit with entrepreneur Sean Correia, who is involved in a venture known as Anonymous Uprising, which is currently running a crowd-sourcing program to raise funds to attempt ET contact. During this episode, Sean will provide details of this project, which is preparing to launch the world’s first open source, constantly refined, extraterrestrial contact protocols. Sean Correia is the Owner of Phalanx Security Group, or PSG, which provides security services to domestic clients. He’s also Senior Partner of Phalanx Ventures, which deploys the services of multiple subject matter experts and analysts who can help companies substantiate their value proposition to the marketplace.

APPLE — WAITING FOR INNOVATION?

The media is busy tripping over themselves to pronounce 2016 as a bad year for Apple. Supposedly they fell short on the innovation front. One major national daily newspaper awarded a mediocre B- rating as a result. Others were even less disposed towards Apple’s abilities to deliver the goods.

While there are legitimate reasons to criticize Apple, you have to wonder how a company that can generate a couple of hundred billion dollars every year can be so terribly flawed? The implication is that Apple has this cult of hundreds of millions of avid fans that have been brainwashed into buying iPhones, iPads, Macs, and the Apple Watch, not to mention downloading stuff from the app stores and iTunes.

Do you see a disconnect here? Or does Apple’s management still have the ability to generate a reality distortion field to fool people into spending large sums of money on their gadgets? This is certainly an amazing ability that any political candidate would love to acquire. They would win elections by landslides without actually having to compete with anyone for votes.

Now you can certainly attack Apple for its alleged failure to innovate on the Mac platform. But what sort of innovation do you expect? The Touch Bar certainly travels a middle ground into delivering a touch capability while avoiding the implications — and discomforts — of a computer display with a touchscreen. While PC makers have certainly made a big investment in the 2-in-1 form factor, I wonder how many people comfortably sit at their notebook keyboards, and raise their hands to perform mouse or touchpad navigation functions.

I fail to see why it’s not easier to manage such functions on a regular computer keyboard. But convertible notebooks are nothing knew. Microsoft has been pushing that design scheme for years. The main improvements are all about slimmer and lighter gear, and an OS, Windows 10, which is better optimized to handle the switchover from traditional notebook to tablet-style.

Some might point to the Microsoft Surface Studio is innovative. But it’s just a natural evolution of the 2-in-1 computer with a larger display affixed to an all-in-one PC. It’s also very expensive and a hardly a mainstream product. Apple’s iMac with 5K Retina display is definitely mainstream and otherwise functions the same as any other Mac. And with price reductions, it costs the same as its predecessors with regular displays. That’s innovation in a practical fashion — a far better display implemented in a way that benefits anyone who buys one without needing to jump hoops or flip or contort the screen around in different ways.

One thing is sure: Apple’s biggest problem is not the ability to add new features to Macs, but the slowdown in Intel’s processor roadmap. But PC makers overall have the very same problems refreshing their products.

The growth of the Apple Watch was questioned, but nobody is doing any better. One of the original smartwatches, Pebble, is history and so is the company. Apple is evidently still feeling its way with this product. It changed from a piece of jewelry to a fitness product between the original version and the Series 2. That’s a response to how customers are using these gadgets, and there are apt to be further changes.

Even if the Apple Watch never becomes as popular as the iPhone, that doesn’t mean it won’t be highly profitable. Tim Cook claimed great sales for the holiday quarter, despite reports from IDC that they had collapsed in the September quarter. But he was talking of a different timeframe, and it does appear that this product will be around for a long time, unless the market actually disappears, which I do not expect.

Going forward, you may see tricked-out iPhones, with wraparound OLED displays, even though Android smartphones have been there already. The iPad will iterate, possibly take on more traditional notebook functions while still remaining a separate platform. It would be nice to see iOS grow to provide better support for a tablet. As it stands, the iPad can still come across as an overgrown stepchild of the iPhone that hardly works differently except for its display size.

Apple clearly has challenges ahead, but some are no different than other tech companies are confronting. The critics will continue to lambast Apple for failing to adopt features already available in other gear. Apple says it’s interested in VR, but the naysayers will complain that other companies are already shipping such gear.

Unfortunately, they forget that Apple is rarely first to market, but waits for a better idea. Existing VR gear is big and ugly, and still a personal device. Is that the way to go? What about shared experiences among a number of users without the need for glasses? What is Apple doing in its research labs that will move the technology into more practical areas that will better cater to the mainstream customer? It’s not as if we’ll know until the time is right.

But that doesn’t mean Apple is doing nothing, or has lost interest in an existing product. The claim that Apple doesn’t care so much about Macs anymore remains unproven. Whatever you think of the Touch Bar, it is something that definitely presents new possibilities, assuming developers use the platform to innovate in original and compelling ways.

THE FINAL WORD

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

Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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