• Newsletter Issue #893

    January 9th, 2017


    When I wrote about the things that are lacking in macOS recently, I didn’t quite anticipate the extent of the response. It’s clear that many of you are not happy with Apple’s failure to fix the little things. You sort of expect that on a Windows PC, but the Mac is supposed to feature superior fit and finish in both the software and the hardware. When things go astray, they should be fixed.

    Certainly Apple does work on macOS maintenance updates, and they come out every couple of months or so. True, Apple’s release notes are sparse, and things might be fixed that aren’t listed. But there has been nothing about addressing the Finder’s chronic memory problems, where size and position are often forgotten. I suppose that may not matter to many people, but it does to me and others.

    Unfortunately, the tech media, when granted the “privilege” of interviewing an Apple executive, seem just too shy about posing any tough questions. Perhaps they fear they’re going to lose access, but if the media collectively had a spine, Apple would be faced with the prospect of not talking to the press, or just biting the bullet and answering uncomfortable questions from time to time. Certainly Apple’s PR team and key executives are savvy enough to deflect inquiries about future products, but what’s the big secret about the macOS Finder and getting it fixed once and for all?

    Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured tech journalist Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. The discussion began with Gene’s strange story of the problems he encountered installing macOS Sierra on a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro. The segment moved on to reports that Apple is giving the Mac short shrift, and whether such stories have any credibility. Josh brought up the question of whether innovation in the tech industry began to slow down after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011. Or is that just the way the industry was destined to evolve?

    You also heard from independent tech journalist Joe Wilcox, who writes for BetaNews. He recounted the curious tale of the two Late 2016 MacBook Pros that he owns, and the battery life issues he has confronted on both. Yet when he gave one of those notebooks, the 13-inch model, to his wife and reconfigured it with her apps and settings, battery life was constantly within Apple’s estimates. What about the erratic battery life tests reported by Consumer Reports magazine, which decided not to recommend the new MacBook Pros? The discussion moved to the pressing topic of whether Apple’s quality control has nosedived in recent years, as Gene cited the long-term problems with the macOS’ “forgetful” Finder.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Erica Lukes, who is making a return visit to The Paracast to cover some of the recent pressing issues in which she played a part. We’ll also be covering the ever-present question of why more women aren’t involved in the UFO field. Erica Lukes’ passion for the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects dates back to her early childhood. After a series of personal UFO sightings in 2013, however, Erica felt compelled to find out what was taking place in her home state of Utah. She is currently researching historical and current sightings in Utah and is the Communications Director of the International Association of UAP Researchers. Erica hosts a weekly show on KCOR called “UFO Classified.”


    At an age where some might become a little forgetful, I remember it well: Steve Jobs taking the stage and announcing what ended up being the successor to the iPod, which offered your music library in your pocket. The iPhone also offered the Internet in your pocket; essentially a tiny personal computer masquerading as a cell phone with a touchscreen.

    Sure other devices that came to be called smartphones offered browsers. But the iPhone delivered nearly the full experience, except for Adobe Flash. That was supposed to be a huge negative, but it turned out not to be. With HTML5 and creating responsive sites — web pages that were optimized for both desktop and mobile browsers — you weren’t giving up much. Even email was reminiscent of the Mac experience.

    And no wonder. The iPhone OS was built on a slimmed down version of OS X, by, at first, the same development team. That made it quite unlike other mobile operating systems. Instead of managing a clumsy physical keyboard — or the standard telephone’s numeric keyboard — you had a touchscreen with the full monty.

    The first iPhone wasn’t very full featured, however. The App Store didn’t arrive until the following year. At first Steve Jobs talked of web apps, but it’s clear that having native apps created immense opportunities for developers to innovate. Some produced subsets of PC apps, while others found new ways to provide various features. Loads of companies discovered the need of an App Store — and the Google equivalent, eventually — to provide customized apps for customers. So in order to receive rewards for regular purchases at the Circle K convenience stores, I had to install one of their apps.

    It’s a multibillion dollar business now, but it took a while for developers to catch on and do good work.

    Aside from the lack of native apps, the first iPhone didn’t even support 3G wireless networking. That came later. At first, you were restricted to the much slower EDGE network, but, at speeds that averaged 100 kilobits, it was still fast enough to manage tasks that weren’t too demanding of bandwidth. At the time, though, it must have felt roughly similar to dialup.

    If you wanted to use a traditional Mac editing tool, cut, copy and paste, you had to wait for Apple’s iOS developers to sort things out. Some feel it was never quite sorted out, but it works far more flexibly nowadays.

    Lest we forget, Jobs had only modest expectations to that first iPhone. He said he’d be happy if Apple achieved one percent of the global mobile handset market by the end of 2008. They ended up with 1.1%, but they had over 8% of the smartphone market, which then occupied a far smaller piece of the pie.

    Now remember that the iPhone started as an exclusive with Cingular Wireless, which soon became AT&T Wireless. It took years for Apple to gain worldwide distribution at hundreds of carriers. But in anticipation of eventually buying an iPhone, I actually switched to AT&T in 2007, at the end of my Verizon Wireless contract. All right, I had to suffer from worse reception in some areas of Phoenix, and more dropped calls, but that problem eventually resolved itself as more towers were constructed around the valley.

    While I’ve had problems with the HD Voice feature on my iPhone — a digital mismatch that makes the audio sound real slow, the equivalent of playing a vinyl record at the wrong speed — it’s been a long time since I’ve actually had a dropped call.

    I didn’t actually buy an iPhone until 2008. Apple sent me one for review, and when I returned it, I realized the device had become indispensable. Indeed, I no longer used my MacBook Pro in the bedroom. I just left the iPhone on the night table and only went back to my Mac for long messages and a few other chores not suited to a tiny gadget. So I bought one of those things for myself.

    It’s not that I was stingy, but my son, Grayson, moved to Madrid after graduation to carve out a career as an educator, so I didn’t worry about his mobile needs. My wife didn’t care then about having a tiny computer in her purse. She only used a mobile phone for its original purpose, to make phone calls. Indeed, she hardly uses her iPhone 5c for anything else, because she finds the tiny display too small to do much of anything else. But that’s true even for my 4.7-inch iPhone.

    In recent years, some claimed that Apple lost its ability to innovate the iPhone. But if you look at the real changes over the years, you’ll find that’s not quite true. In a year when people didn’t expect much, Siri debuted on the iPhone 4s in 2011, the day before Steve Jobs died.

    But the iPhone 4s was considered iterative, a very minor refresh of the iPhone 4, because the case wasn’t any different. Apple also rejiggered the antenna to be more of a diversity design. Separate antennas and circuitry to grab the signal from the one that got the best quality. This came a year after the alleged Antennagate scandal that afflicted the iPhone 4, which arrived under Jobs’ watch, lest anyone forget.

    Each year, even when the case didn’t change much, there were a few tentpole features that were significant. Touch ID appeared with the iPhone 5s, which otherwise didn’t seem so different from the iPhone 5. The iPhone 6 brought larger form factors, including the iPhone 6 Plus with the 5.5-inch screen. The following year’s “s” revision didn’t seem a whole lot better, but some do like 3D Touch and the other enhancements, including series 7000 aluminum to make it harder to bend. That had to be important to some.

    The iPhone 7 didn’t look much different. Actually, it not only had no headphone jack, but a Home button without mechanical parts. It was also water resistant, and that’s one of its most significant features, other than superior camera electronics. The Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus — the one far more popular than Apple expected — is a marvelous feature for those who can put up with a phablet. I can’t.

    While comparing the 2016 iPhone to the 2007 version reveals significant changes, particularly when it comes to performance ratings that approaches a notebook PC, only a few big changes were made each year with or without a form factor change. The critics continued to attack Apple for failing to innovate, and the iPhone 7 is just another example of a scratched recording that’s been played over and over again.

    According to published reports, Apple may launch a special 10th anniversary iPhone this fall, one with a wraparound OLED display and other enhancements. In the scheme of things, I wouldn’t regard it as a must-have, although putting a 5-inch display in a case not much or any larger than the 4.7-inch version might be tempting. Even if Apple goes that route, the critics will remind us that Samsung did it first.

    That, of course, may be true for lots of iPhone or iOS features. Apple has often done things that way. Let someone else originate a feature and deal with the bugs, and let Apple perfect it.

    Apple is already making a huge deal of the iPhone’s anniversary. That’s quite different from the usual approach. With a trendsetting design, the wraparound display and perhaps wireless charging, an iPhone 8 — or 10th anniversary iPhone — could be a keeper.


    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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