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Newsletter Issue #895

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

The age old question: Should Apple announce a product that it can’t or won’t deliver for weeks or months?

Take the 2013 Mac Pro, which was demonstrated at the WWDC that year, but didn’t ship until the end of the year. Of course, that might have been done as a PR stunt, to show the commitment to the product even though it wasn’t ready to sell. Of course the real concern is that nothing has been said about its successor. The Mac Pro that shipped in 2013, apparently unchanged, is still being sold at the very same price.

We know that the first iPhone was announced months before it went on sale. Here there was no previous model to sell, so the only sales that would be hurt would be the sales of competing products.

But Apple’s usual approach is to announce something that’s shipping right away or in no more than a few weeks. Even then, sometimes things go astray. So the AirPods didn’t ship until December, even though they were announced in September, and were supposed to go on sale the following month. All right, so it’s an all-new product and perhaps unexpected production hangups occurred. Unfortunately, that seems to happen fairly often with the first versions of new Apple gear.

Some pundits suggest shipping delays indicate a failure of Apple’s production and supply chain management process. Is that the fault of CEO Tim Cook, who formerly managed production, or his successor as COO, Jeff Williams? Or do marketing considerations solely dictate when a product is announced even if it’s not going to ship when Apple claims it’ll ship?

Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” After Gene discussed the curious virus-style documents he was receiving from his Brother laser printer — and his solution — Kirk explained why he is bullish on Apple, despite the problems he has with recent products. Kirk continued to complain about Apple’s inability to ship products on time, using the MacBook Pro and the AirPods as recent examples.

You also heard from author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who joined Gene in reminiscing about Apple’s past, in the mid-1990s, when they actually licensed the Mac OS to such companies as Power Computing, who then produced low-cost clones. The discussion moved to Consumer Reports’ controversial tests of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro. At first, due to inconsistent battery life ratings, CR refused to recommend the new notebooks. Once they worked with Apple to trace the problem, where their peculiar testing scheme activated an obscure Safari bug, the rating was changed to recommended. Bob called it hit bait. He also discussed his first self-published book, “Working Smarter for Mac Users” and how the solutions he discovered helped him deal with his own ADHD symptoms.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a double-header. First up is Alejandro Rojas, of  OpenMinds.tv, as we catch up on recent UFO cases. Alejandro also offers a preview of the International UFO Congress, which will be held February 15-17, 2017 in Fountain Hills, AZ. Part II of the episode features Robert Powell, MUFON’s Director of Research and head of their Science Review Board. He is one of two authors of the detailed radar/witness report on the “Stephenville Lights” as well as the SCU report “UAP: 2013 Aguadilla, Puerto Rico”. Robert is also a member of the Society for Scientific Exploration, the UFODATA project, and the National Space Society. This episode also features forum moderator Goggs Mackay.

APPLE’S CRITICS: IS IT ABOUT FAKE NEWS OR ALTERNATIVE FACTS?

While misinformation and downright lies about Apple have been published for years, the act of making things up for a news report or commentary, and deliberately presenting those lies as true, has been labeled as “fake news.” Well, until this past weekend, when a key advisor for a certain political figure used the term “alternative facts.”

But shouldn’t we call such behavior lying?

Yes, there is room for different opinions, and different interpretations of facts. People also make mistakes, but when a statement isn’t true, there should be no equivocation. It’s a falsehood, pure and simple.

Now Apple is not the only party to be the victim of fake news — I will not replace that label with “alternative facts,” since it doesn’t accurately specify that a lie is being told. Or as one TV commentator said, “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

Of course, when the critics pronounce Apple dead and buried, I can only cite the evidence of history to demonstrate the statement is false. There has been variations of the “Apple death knell” for years, but it’s more about crying wolf, since it never happens. Some day, of course, it might, or Apple will go off into a totally new direction. It’s also true that, in the mid-1990s, the critics almost got their wish.

There is also the frequent pronouncement that Apple would do well to follow the suggestions from the critics. So they should go down-market and deliver cheaper gear based on the assumption that market share matters. It doesn’t matter that Apple, despite falling sales in 2016 (we don’t know yet about the December quarter), continues to earn the lion’s share of profits in the smartphone industry. They probably also earn a hefty portion of the profits from global PC and tablet sales.

So is it better to clean up from selling fewer products at higher margins, or more gear for less money? Well, it doesn’t seem as if the latter approach works. Most mobile handset makers do not earn much in the way of profits from such gear. It’s mostly about Apple and less so about Samsung, which appears to do well with its high-end gear, but not near as well as it’s biggest competitor.

Another common argument is one that has been uttered for decades, that Apple should be licensing its operating systems to other manufacturers. The reason is supposedly to expand the market, but that assumes that market share makes a difference. Besides, while Apple at one time charged for the macOS, it hasn’t for several years. All licensing would do would be to cannibalize sales from the products that do earn profits. That’s just as true for iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch.

So why sacrifice revenue under the illusion that market penetration matters? And, let’s not forget the sad experience of Apple’s original Mac OS clone program over two decades ago. Well, I haven’t forgotten, and I’m sure many of you haven’t either, but some critics have poor memories, or don’t do their research.

To be sure, if an Apple product couldn’t gain much in the way of profitable sales, you can be sure it will be phased out over time. That’s probably why there are no displays wth the Apple label on them, nor printers, computer speakers and a number of other products that Apple has discontinued over the years.

There is no longer an Apple standalone digital camera either, but the iPhone has mostly replaced point-and-shoot gear. Sure, an iPhone 7 Plus, with all its charms, doesn’t quite match a DSLR yet, but it might in a few years. Movie producers have already shot footage with iPhones, and TV shows as well, such as an episode of “Modern Family.”

One current argument is that Apple is essentially directionless, and that Tim Cook doesn’t have the vision of a Steve Jobs, and thus Apple is no longer capable of upending an industry. This may be true enough about Cook, but that doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t have other visionaries in the company. Cook mostly needs to be convinced that the ideas from an individual or group demonstrate commercial potential, and fit with Apple’s DNA.

One common excuse is to resurrect the old “what would Steve Jobs have done?” mantra. It’s possible some people who knew him might have a glimmer about what his approach might have been to a current matter, but Jobs, in his final days, reportedly told Cook and other executives not to ask that question. They should do what they feel is best. So nobody knows whether Jobs would have okayed the iPad mini, or the Apple Watch for that matter.

After all, didn’t Jobs say that you needed sandpaper on your fingers to use one of those small tablets? Yes, he did, but he also denigrated the cell phone market before the iPhone arrived, since that was intended to be Apple’s better solution. It’s also true that, unlike much of the competition, the iPad mini had a larger display size and a standard aspect ratio. Thus it has much more screen real estate than the 7-inch tablets that Jobs attacked. That point was driven home by marketing VP Philip Schiller when the mini was first launched.

There have also been stories that Apple doesn’t care much about Macs anymore, that they play the role of the poor handmaiden to more profitable gear. But Apple earns more revenue from Macs than any other product other than the iPhone. Even the iPad grosses less.

Going forward, Apple will no doubt continue to be attacked for failing to make massive improvements to existing products each year, or in coming up with something new and revolutionary. The fact, fortunate or otherwise, is that PCs, smartphones and tablets are good enough at long last. You don’t need to buy a new one every year, just as you don’t need to buy a brand new TV set, washing machine or dryer every year. You wait until the old one drops, or a new model has compelling features that you just can’t live without.

Didn’t Steve Jobs originally present the Macintosh as a computing appliance? It just took a few decades for Apple to get there, so why complain?

Besides, there’s plenty of room for other tech companies to truly innovate and upend an industry? There are promising technologies, such as AR and VR, but the potential for either has yet to be realized by any company. Even if Apple doesn’t jump onto those bandwagons, it doesn’t mean the company is in danger. Not in the least.

THE FINAL WORD

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

Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
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