• Newsletter Issue #907

    April 17th, 2017


    So 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.” Once again, Kirk expressed his ongoing concerns about Apple’s lateness in admitting that the 2013 Mac Pro was a flawed design, and that they are working on something new, which will evidently not be released this year. Kirk also explained why he’s dissatisfied with current Mac designs, and is planning on assembling a customized macOS computer, a “Hackintosh,” with off-the-shelf PC parts.

    Now one of the more frequent complaints about the state of the Mac is that Apple isn’t building the models people want. The Mac Pro is a key example, and it’s notable that Apple finally realized they had to take it in a different direction. In fact it appears the “modular” Mac Pro being developed by Apple will be closer in concept to the original version. It’ll be something that users can put extra stuff into, and not have to live with massed wiring harness nightmares at every decent attempt at expansion.

    Aside from the Mac Pro, there are other configurations people want that you cannot get when you customize existing models. Some decide to roll their own, which is to assemble their own PC boxes, and install macOS on them. While Apple won’t allow anyone to make a retail business of building Mac clones, so long as you don’t try to sell one, you won’t encounter the wrath of Apple’s legal eagles.

    When you check out the Hacintosh site listed above, you’ll see links that cover a wealth of resources to build your own macOS desktops and notebooks. The site’s home page even features a video on how to install the latest macOS on one of those boxes, but I can’t vouch for the success of such projects — and it’s always possible a new macOS update will bring havoc oton an unsupported system. But it’s clear people are willing to try. I’m curious to see what Kirk comes up with.

    You also heard from tech journalist Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. This week Bryan was in “cranky” mode and explained why he’s upset with Apple’s lateness in announcing plans to update Macs. He discussed the form the promised “modular” Mac Pro might take, and about possible pro options for the iMac. In talking about the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone, Gene outlined the known flaws in the design of its fingerprint sensor, facial recognition and iris recognition features, and the decision not to launch the “Bixby” digital assistant — designed by some of the people who brought you Siri — when the S8 goes on sale. Samsung’s well-known problems were also outlined. There was also a brief discussion as to whether Apple should buy Disney, a move recommended by a global investment banker.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present long-time researcher Stan Gordon, who tells us that he had a busy 2016 investigating sightings of UFOs, Bigfoot and Crypids in Pennsylvania. Says Stan: “Since I began researching and documenting such oddities from across Pennsylvania in 1959 as a curious ten year old boy, many thousands of mysterious incidents have continued to be reported, and such cases occur annually.” He maintains that, “UFO sightings and other strange encounters reported each year that can’t be so easily dismissed,” and you’ll hear about some of the most compelling anomalous reports during this episode.


    For a while now, you’ve been reading rumors about the form and features for the next iPhone. Only this time, it’s not just one iPhone lineup but, if the rumors are right, two. The first will be the standard “iterative” refresh, from iPhone 7 to iPhone 7s and the iPhone 7 Plus to the iPhone 7s Plus. So you can expect some new features, but it’ll look mostly the same, maybe even allow you to use the same cases.

    You can probably predict some of the new features, including a faster CPU, possibly known as the A11 Fusion, improved camera — you know the score. But there might also be support for faster recharging, maybe even wireless charging. That isn’t an original concept either. I remember playing around with a “contactless” charger base at least 10 years ago. It used custom mobile handset cases with rear sensors for charging.

    If Apple goes that route, however, will there be a new wrinkle? What about “real” wireless charging, which doesn’t involve having two metal pieces touch?

    Obviously, not all of the rumors are correct; it’s still about five months away from the expected launch of the 2017 iPhone. Some of those rumors are educated guesses, others might legitimately originate in the leaky Asian supply chain. Still others are made up out of whole cloth. Some don’t even sound reasonable.

    So there was a published report that Apple might push the Touch ID sensor to the rear on the iPhone 8. Say what?

    On the surface, it seems absurd, and it remains absurd below the surface. So Apple is going to deliver a handset with an edge-to-edge display. That’s nothing new either, since Android smartphone makers have already gone that route, which means that doing that on the Samsung Galaxy S8 is nothing new either, although some believe it to be unique.

    Apple allegedly won’t have room for a physical Home button on the iPhone 8, and there wasn’t enough time to develop a virtual version in the touchscreen, so they were allegedly forced to put it in the rear. Or at least that’s the rumor.

    Having a fingerprint sensor in the rear is nothing unique either, since that’s how it’s done on the Galaxy S8. However, since Samsung puts it near the camera lens, it’s just as easy to touch the wrong object, thus smudging the lens. Samsung thus advises you to make sure its clean before you take a snapshot.

    If you look at the history of smartphones, you’ll find stories about other companies putting it on the rear, or on the sides. I saw three Sony models listed with side-mounted fingerprint sensors.

    Now I suppose you can find some degree of logic behind each design decision. When you hold your smartphone, your hand may touch the sides or the rear. But since the Home button unlocks a smartphone, might as well embed the fingerprint scanner in it, as Apple has done. Hundreds of millions of iPhones are equipped this way. Maybe Apple wasn’t the first to offer fingerprint scanning — Toshiba was evidently the originator — Touch ID is simple, efficient and mostly works the very first time. Once you establish the proper rhythm, it’s only natural, and Apple has worked to make it more reliable under more use cases. But if your fingers are wet, wipe them, or expect to enter your passcode.

    I found Touch ID is most flexible if I make multiple scans of both thumbs. I’m also ambidextrous, but even if you’re not, the more data Touch ID has to recognize one of your fingerprints, the better it works.

    That said, it makes no sense whatever for Apple to take a feature that works as well or better than comparable features on other smartphones and move it somewhere else.

    So where do rumors of that sort originate? It doesn’t pass the logic test, but perhaps this blatant example of fake news originated with one of Apple’s rivals, or fans of a rival smartphone. Now I wouldn’t presume to suggest that people who favor the Galaxy S8, with its rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, are responsible. Maybe it’s part and parcel of the claim that Apple is cribbing features from that smartphone to incorporate in the iPhone 8.

    At least the story got some coverage, though I saw plenty of skepticism. At the same time, why should it be necessary to publish Apple rumors that are clearly questionable? Now if a source is sometimes accurate, a claim about a new Apple product or feature may be worth mentioning, just to put the stories in perspective. If different sources independently come up with similar rumors — assuming they aren’t just copying from one another, which is not uncommon — maybe it should be taken seriously. Or at least it should be regarded as a credible possibility.

    Understand, I have no idea if there will be a 10th anniversary iPhone, a so-called iPhone 8. Apple has rarely made a huge deal of product anniversaries. Take the failed Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, released in 1997, which was actually meant to honor the 20th anniversary of the company (it was first incorporated in 1977). At $7,499, it was overpriced and underpowered. When I look at photos of it today, I wonder what inspired Apple to release that ugly thing, but maybe it made a little sense at the time. But not to Steve Jobs, who was quoted as saying that the TAM represented everything that he felt was wrong about Apple before he took back the company that year.

    So Apple’s usual posture would seem to argue against doing a special iPhone this fall. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, and it doesn’t seem that all those iPhone 8 stories are fabricated.

    But it could be the ultimate fake out from Apple. Maybe there will never be an iPhone 7s or iPhone 7s Plus. Maybe Apple will jump directly to the iPhone 8, with an all-new case and edge-to-edge display. It might fit with Apple’s usual approach of keeping product lineups simple. Remember, too, that the iPhone 7 was regarded by some as a subpar upgrade because the case didn’t differ all that much, eternally, from the iPhone 6s. So Apple may be readying a huge change, without splitting up the lineup any more than usual.

    That, my friends, is strictly my own speculation, and it’s not meant to be taken seriously. But it is far more credible than believing that Apple plans to lodge Touch ID in the handset’s backside.


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

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
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