• Newsletter Issue #896

    January 30th, 2017


    A key area of concern from the viewpoint of an outsider was the  relative paucity of new products from Apple last year. While the usual product refreshes arrived for the iPhone — and even the Apple Watch — the Mac and the iPad played supporting roles.

    So why are iPads hanging around longer? The only new model was a 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro. The Mac situation has been recited again and again. One might be able to forgive the iMac, as Apple waits for new Intel chips to arrive. The Mac mini seems less certain; a 2015 or 2016 upgrade would have only yielded minor improvements, but when it comes to the Mac Pro, there’s no excuse.

    If you look at the Mac Pro’s advertising material at Apple’s site, you wouldn’t know it hadn’t been touched in over three years. The sole change that I can see is a $200 reduction in the price of a 1TB SSD upgrade. Of course, I’d have to check all of the configurations to see what else might be there.

    What’s doubly troubling is that Apple would not have had to pay a lot in the way of development costs to refresh the processor and graphics. Why wasn’t that done? If Apple planned to discontinue this model, it would have been gone by now no doubt.

    We may be only weeks away from an answer, but I do wonder whether Apple might consider a slightly larger model with more internal expansion. The 2013 Mac Pro answered a need that was never asked. Did pro users really need a minimalist replacement for the original cheese grater model? I doubt it.

    Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured writer Steve Guttenberg, CNET’s “Audiophiliac.” Steve covers the home audio beat, and on this episode he focused on such things as the death of FM radio in Norway, whether it’s on the endangered species list in the U.S., and what about HD radio, a digital add-on for AM and FM that delivers enhanced sound? Have broadcasters and audio equipment makers done enough to make you realize this technology — which comes on many new cars — even exists? Indeed, do people even listen to music anymore? Gene and Steve also discussed the so-called vinyl resurgence, as Steve suggested a cheap way for you to begin to hear records again.

    You also heard from “cranky” commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. And why was Bryan in “cranky” mode? He was concerned with the relative lack of new products from Apple in 2016, specifically the Mac platform, where only two models, the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, received refreshes. Bryan also expressed his concerns over the fact that Apple is evidently no longer developing AirPort Wi-Fi routers, and what about the decision to ditch the display lineup and offer an ugly LG display for users of the new MacBook Pro?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present paranormal investigator Joshua P. Warren, who is producing a live, interactive paranormal investigator certification course covering spirits, UFOs, cryptids, ESP, magick and more, which he’s offering online on a one-time basis. The discussion focuses heavily on such topics as the nature of reality, whether we could even recognize the presence of aliens and their spacecraft, and ancient astronauts, the possibility that extraterrestrials visited Earth and interacted with humans more than two thousand years ago. Warren will also describe the possible benefits of the so-called “wishing machine,” a radionics device, as Gene volunteers to test one and report the results to listeners.


    On January 31st, Apple will reveal earnings for the December 2016 quarter, amid expectations for record sales. Why are expectations high? Well, because Apple’s own quarterly guidance, which tends to be conservative, pointed in that direction, with revenue expected between $76 billion and $78 billion.

    If Apple meets those expectations, it should be sufficient even if the sales increase is only slightly ahead of the year-ago quarter. But Wall Street will look to its own numbers, and rate Apple on how well they match. Beating the Street is a huge deal even if their figures have little or nothing to do with reality.

    Apple will also be compared to Microsoft, which evidently did better than the market expected, and it’s clear that the two companies will be compared even though there’s only a small overlap. After all, it’s not that Apple charges for its operating systems or sells gaming systems.

    Still, Microsoft did pretty well overall, reporting earnings of $26.1 billion, compared to expectations of $25.3 billion for the quarter. That’s about a third of what Apple is expected to report, and the major growth was provided by Microsoft’s cloud services, which is in keeping with the game plan to move the company more into the services area, with less reliance on hardware and operating systems.

    Forget about smartphones. Sales for that division fell precipitously by 81%. That’s a total disaster, and it represents evidence that Microsoft ought to give up on the mobile space. There is nothing on the horizon to indicate a turnaround. Compare that to the predictions from some alleged industry analysts over the years that Windows Phone would, by now, occupy the second spot below Android and above iOS in market share. Funny how that worked out.

    Now some members of the media were literally jumping over themselves to find news that might conceivably show Apple in a bad light. So Windows OEM revenue increased by 5%, which isn’t bad. But before you suggest this means PC sales are on the rise, consider this nasty tidbit of information that many members of the media won’t mention, which is that Windows 10 was free to consumers up till last July. After that, you either had to pay the exorbitant retail price or get it with a new PC.

    Some of those sales may have been weighed towards people deciding the might as well replace the old box rather than invest in a new OS. Microsoft probably knows how many, but you probably won’t hear it from them and it’s a question that isn’t being asked.

    Then there’s Surface sales, and here the media really attempted to put a pretty face on an ugly picture. So sales of the Surface product line, which includes the $3,000 Surface Studio all-in-one-desktop, fell to $1.32 billion from $1.35 billion in the year-ago quarter. In order to lessen the impact, one report referred to sales as “resilient,” while another said it “reached” the lower figure, which is self-contradictory.

    Even with a sales drop that small, there have to be problems. The Surface Studio is an expensive piece of kit, and even though Microsoft claims they can’t keep up with demand, there can’t be much demand with lower revenue. Microsoft also claims a record number of people switched from Macs, but the total numbers must also be relatively small. Obviously they will not say how many Windows users went to the Mac platform.

    Indeed, Microsoft’s PC sales are but a fraction of Apple’s. In December 2015, Apple earned over $7 billion from the sale of iPads, and $6.7 billion from the sale of Macs. The Surface lineup includes both.

    Now I’m not going to prejudge what Apple will report for iPads and Macs, but since both ought to be considered in the PC category, the sales picture will be more favorable than you might believe. But the tablet market has long been subdivided to make Apple look worse. Sure, iPad sales have been falling for a while, and that is significant. But they are still high enough to be ahead of the rest of the market.

    Mac sales? Well, we know they were down for the entire year, but if, after the MacBook Pro arrived, they began to increase, that would be positive news. It might demonstrate that Apple should work harder to deliver product upgrades, even if the changes are modest. I understand about the MacBook Pro, which probably took longer to finish because of the Touch Bar. If there is an iMac update by spring, the fact that Kaby Lake chips from Intel were late to appear in quad-core form would explain that lateness.

    As I wrote in the previous article, the Mac mini remains an item of some concern. I think it’s important for Apple to have an entry-level model, for Windows switchers who regard Macs as too expensive, for use as a second computer, or for purchase by people who are on a strict budget. Even fairly low sales ought to be enough to justify its continued development.

    I’ll leave the Mac Pro aside for now. Unless Apple’s executives are asked about it during the quarterly conference call — which is highly doubtful — it may take another couple of months to see what direction Mac upgrades will take. Of course, it would be nice if reporters who get a crack at Apple would just ask these obvious questions. Maybe it’s encouraging that Tim Cook volunteered something about good things going forward in the roadmap for Mac desktops — and he used the plural — but it shouldn’t be surprising if some disbelieve him.


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

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