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  • Newsletter Issue #902

    March 13th, 2017

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Consider a not-uncommon situation. You have a fairly new iPhone. It drops — and it doesn’t matter whose fault it is — and the display shatters. Where do you take it for repair?

    Well, if you have AppleCare, and there’s a nearby Apple Store or authorized Apple dealer, there’s no question where you go. You paid for an extended warranty with terms that’ll allow you up to two episodes of accidental damage, at a cost of $29 US each. If you’re not near a dealer, you can mail it in to Apple.

    But what if you’re in a situation where, whether you have a warranty or not, you need it fixed like now and there’s no authorized repair facility nearby? If you take it to a third-party unauthorized shop, and Apple finds out, and they will if they inspect the unit, the warranty will be null and void. That’s part of the reasoning behind attempts to pass right-to-repair laws in several U.S. states. Such laws would also require Apple and other tech companies to sell parts and provide repair manuals to pretty much anyone who wants them. That way, you can be assured that the shop is using genuine Apple parts and has access to the correct directions on how to do the work.

    Or you can do it yourself if you’re handy with the tiny tools you’ll need to accomplish such tasks.

    Apple’s opposition is two-fold. One is to make sure that repairs are made by qualified technicians. The other is that such laws would turn a state into a “mecca for bad actors,” meaning that hackers and other potential unsavory people would have hardware-level access to Apple gear.

    But isn’t that true now? After all, repair information — and the tools to make such repairs — are already out there, from iFixit and other vendors. The objections are also not unique to Apple. Such companies as Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Nintendo and Sony, along with trade groups, are taking the same position.

    While I can sympathize with possible security concerns, I just fail to see why that situation doesn’t exist now, even without easy access to official manuals and parts. Hackers are always working to find ways to break into tech gear. And what about the rights of the customer to have their possessions repaired anywhere they want without being forced to lose warranty protection? After all, if an unauthorized shop damages your device, it’s on them to make it right.

    In the meantime, Apple is already part-way there. If you have your iPhone’s display fixed by an unauthorized dealer, Apple won’t void your warranty if they are making repairs that they determine are not related to the display.

    Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Kirk discussed his recent purchase of an 8TB backup drive to accommodate his large music library. After a brief discussion of the recent Wikipedia leaks of alleged CIA efforts to hack tech gear, including smartphones and cars, Kirk made yet another criticism of what he regards as the failure of Apple to address the needs of professional users. He explained his ongoing skepticism about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s promises to this customer base. The discussion moved to Apple’s opposition to the right-to-repair bill being debated in Nebraska, which would require that parts and repair manuals be made available to non-authorized dealers.

    You also heard from commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. Bryan is also outspoken about his concerns about Apple’s commitment to the needs of professional users, that the Mac Pro was first launched in mid-2013 and has yet to be updated, yet sells for the same price. He reminds us that Apple only released a small number of new products for 2016, and wonders what might come in 2017. He went on about his skepticism of Cook’s reassurances about Apple’s commitment to pro users. There was also a spirited debate about Apples opposition to a right-to-repair bill, and whether the company should be forced to sell parts and manuals to third-party unauthorized repair shops. Gene maintained that customers should have the right to repair their gear where they want without risking the loss of Apple’s new product warranty.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Available exclusively for Paracast+ subscribers: Gene and guest co-host Erica Lukes take a casual look at Leslie Kean’s approach to writing a book about life after death. Gene wonders if that book kind of got away from her as she confronted unexpected personal experiences while trying to maintain a journalist’s objectivity. There’s brief speculation about possible similarities between near-death experiences and UFO abductions, how such episodes take on cultural influences. Gene questions Erica about her personal encounters, and she recalls some strange ghost-like experiences at a home she once occupied in Utah. When asked what he has experienced, Gene brings up memories of a few things that happened to him as a child that were perhaps not paranormal, but certainly a little curious.

    ANOTHER RUMOR ABOUT CHANGES TO AN UNANNOUNCED APPLE PRODUCT

    It’s getting closer. There’s more and more online chatter about the form and features of the next iPhone. The basic premise is that Apple will offer three models. Two will be minor refreshes of current gear, which means there will be an iPhone 7s and an iPhone 7s Plus. The new features are said to include the usual speedier processors, plus some extras, such as wireless charging support.

    This is to expected, and it’s always possible Apple will add a few things that are, as yet, not predicted. But since the Asian supply chain leaks like a sieve, most of the basics will probably be known before Apple makes an official announcement in September, and I assume that date will hold. Apple would suffer if it’s delayed, although it’s always possible it’ll come earlier. But doing it after Labor Day means that the media event will come after the kids are back at school and vacation time is over for many.

    But this year there may be something extra, one more thing, and that’s a specialty flagship model to honor the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Has it been that long?

    Variously referred to as the iPhone 8 or the iPhone X, this premium model is said to feature special hardware extras that will set it apart, not to mention an appropriately higher price tag for all these goodies. So the starting price may be over $1,000. But before you wonder how Apple will have the temerity to charge so much, don’t forget that the top-of-the-line iPhone 7 Plus, with 256GB of storage, costs $969.

    Other possible features include an enhanced Touch ID feature, embedded into the touchscreen, plus facial recognition and 3D support. So in theory you should be able to unlock your iPhone 8 with your face. Using a mask won’t work.

    One of the more interesting features is said to be Apple’s decision to adopt an OLED display. You can already get one on your Apple Watch and the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, but Apple has otherwise not used this technology. This has driven some Apple critics batty, because Samsung smartphones are using a supposedly more advanced version of the technology known as AMOLED. Full details of Apple’s implementation will become clearer as we get closer to the launch date.

    The rumors fairly consistently refer to an edge-to-edge display. The question mark is whether the display will be curved. But a new rumor has it that Apple has decided to stick with a flat and not curved display. There’s no need to shed any tears.

    As a practical matter, a curved display may seem cool at first blush, but it’s otherwise a silly extravagance that has little practical value. Yes, Samsung uses it, but Samsung also sells TV sets with curved displays, which may work well enough when you’re in an IMAX movie theater, but otherwise it’s just plain silly. But Samsung has often touted features that have little or no practical value.

    Regardless, when you read reports of this sort, you have to remember that the premise is a little silly. Apple has not announced any of the new or updated features for the next iPhones. They won’t until they’re ready. While there may be rumors from the supply chain about products and features Apple might be working on, that doesn’t mean they are correct.

    Unfortunately, some of those rumors lack perspective. During the development process of a new product, Apple is apt to consider a wide variation of potential designs before settling on the best alternative. Different display sizes will be tested, and I suppose it’s possible that curved and flat designs have been evaluated.

    But the rumors imply that iPhone customers are being deprived of the joys of a curved display, and that’s just not true. It hasn’t even been demonstrated that there’s a legitimate need for such a design choice. How many of you want to be able to look at the sides of their phone, to catch a small portion of the image? Is it about possibly having a floating notification text? How many of you want to be able to look at the sides of your iPhone and see something displayed there other than buttons?

    Really?

    It’s not that I long for the days before supply chain links began to overwhelm coverage of new Apple gear. People enjoy learning about the form of a new Apple gadget, about fresh ideas that might be tested to see if they make sense. But the critics will continue to complain that Apple is somehow falling behind the curve if it doesn’t match every single feature you can find on someone else’s product.

    Again, Apple isn’t always first with a new feature. It’s more about making sure that feature has value, and works properly before it’s introduced. So if there is an iPhone 8 with an OLED display, I’m sure you’ll see a video where Sir Jonathan Ive explains how Apple found the way to perfect the design, and provide a superior quality picture. Don’t forget the wider color gamut that already debuted on the regular iPhones.

    At this point, I am willing to accept the possibility that some of the features mentioned so far for the 2017 iPhones will actually come to pass. But don’t forget that a decision to drop or not add a feature during the development process doesn’t mean the final product will be less compelling. It’s just another process story that may not even be true.

    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
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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