• Newsletter Issue #911

    May 15th, 2017


    This week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we talked, more or less, about the sort of product that Apple will likely never allow, and that’s a macOS clone. Sure, Apple had a brief flirtation with such a program in the mid-1990s, but it didn’t work out so well. The agreements with third-party companies weren’t well crafted. So rather than expanding the Mac market, such companies as Power Computing went right after Apple’s own customers with products that were cheaper, and sometimes with faster CPUs.

    While I suppose one can make the argument that there are types of Macs nowadays Apple isn’t going to produce, so why not give someone else the chance to have a go at it? Although no such thing is happening, that hasn’t stopped thousands of hobbyists from building their own unofficial macOS clones.

    So on this particular episode, we featured tech columnist Rob Griffiths, who has done it twice so far. He introduced you to the fascinating world of the “Hackintosh,” the process of installing macOS on a generic home-built PC. He made the decision to build one because Apple isn’t selling the Mac of his dreams, which in this case means a personal computer capable of stellar gaming performance. He went through the process of selecting the parts he needed for the project, assembling them, and consulting a number of online resources on how to “induce” macOS to install on such computers, along with the lengthy process of troubleshooting glitches and somehow making things run reliably. Rob also discussed the types of computers he hopes Apple will build in the coming months now that the company has made a renewed commitment to the Mac platform.

    You also heard from outspoken columnist/podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” In his quest to replace his aging Mac mini, Kirk also opted to build a Hackintosh, and he explained the reasons for his choices, and the assembly process. You also heard about the Apple Watch and how it works as the hub of the company’s health and fitness platforms. What about reliably measuring your heartbeat to make sure everything is OK? How can it expand to better monitor your physical condition?

    Now when it comes to the Hackintosh, one thing is certain from what Rob and Kirk told us on the show: It is a far cry from plug and play. Just running regular macOS services and apps may require hoop jumping. You may need to enter arcane Terminal commands to activate wi-fi networking and other functions. Using Messages, which sends and receives encrypted content, also requires a clever solution. In the end, most things may work fine, after you spend hours making things stable enough, but the next update from Apple may break things.

    Fortunately, the people who run those Hackintosh sites continue to work on making these computers run as reliably as possible. But it’s a never-ending process, and I suppose there’s always the danger that Apple will make a real effort to shut it down. So long as nobody is setting up a company to sell a Hackintosh, I suppose Apple will continue to tolerate such behavior. Maybe they’ll learn a few things from the types of Hackintosh machines people are most apt to build, but I doubt it.

    More than likely, they expect that such people, once they realize this is not a 100% solution, will decide to buy a genuine Mac after all.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: There’s rarely a time when there’s not a recent book from Nick Redfern to talk about. As much as we want to avoid bringing up Roswell, Nick has reopened the subject in a big way with “The Roswell UFO Conspiracy: Exposing a Shocking And Sinister Secret.” It’s the long-awaited sequel to one of his previous thought-provoking volumes, “Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story” In short, Nick says that the reports of wrecked flying saucers and dead aliens in Roswell were actually cover stories to hide “the far more disturbing picture of what really happened…” It’s a fascinating journey into what may have occurred in the years after World War II, and how the truth has been buried all these years.


    I cannot tell you how many times a tech pundit, or a wannabe, claimed that Apple should be looking to Microsoft for inspiration to make the Mac better. No, not cribbing a few ideas from Windows, which Apple has done from time to time, but from Microsoft’s PC hardware line that’s sold under the Surface brand.

    Did I say Surface?

    So when Microsoft came out with a large 2-in-1 all-in-one PC, the Surface Studio, some asked why Apple hasn’t built its counterpart. But Apple already has a large-screened all-in-one. It’s known as the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. The main difference is that the Surface Studio is fitted with a flexible arm, similar to a gooseneck lamp, so you can move the display around in all sorts of ways, even push it down real low so you can easily hover over it. That’s supposed to be important to artists who can use it as a big drawing tablet.

    I suppose.

    But while Apple is accused of charging too much for its gear, the entry-level Surface Studio, with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB “Hybrid Drive,” the latter similar to Apple’s Fusion Drive, lists for $2,999.99. I saw three Studios listed on Best Buy’s site. Another model, with an Intel Core i7, 32GB RAM, and a 2TB Hybrid Drive, is being sold for $4,199.99. This is well into Mac Pro territory.

    The cheapest iMac alternative starts at $1,799, but it has a regular 1TB hard drive. It’s $200 more for a version with a 1TB Fusion Drive and a better graphics card.

    Sure, you can customize an iMac to be pretty expensive too, particularly if you add a 1TB SSD. But the real issue is whether Microsoft has made a big dent in the PC marketplace with the Surface. But while Mac sales were up a few percent in the March quarter, Surface revenue fell by 26%. But even at its peak, it never grew much above $1 billion, whereas Apple consistently earns several times that amount from the Mac.

    In other to push the Surface to educators, Microsoft came out with the Surface Laptop, which starts at $999. That’s the same price as the 13-inch MacBook Air, although Microsoft trumps it with a high resolution display. But Microsoft didn’t set purchase prices in ranges where cash-starved school systems would give them much attention. Indeed, you can customize the Surface Laptop in ways that will put its price above $2,000.

    And they say Macs are expensive.

    More to the point, why should Apple care about a product line that really hasn’t done all that well? Are there any ideas Apple might consider? Well, not a 2-in-one. Apple has made it crystal clear it doesn’t see a future in that approach. Indeed, while Mac sales rose in the last quarter, it happened despite the fact that only one model received a major upgrade last year. What if there was a new Mac Pro, iMac, Mac mini, and even the lowly MacBook?

    That takes us to the Amazon Echo, its digital assistant appliance. In fact, when Apple’s marketing VP Philip Schiller was asked recently about the Echo, he remarked that it could use a display. While obviously not being influenced by Schiller, the latest entry from Amazon, the Echo Show, has a small display, and can make “hands-free” video calls.

    Its small and ugly form factor loosely resembles the sort of compact TV set of years past that one might put in the kitchen or a patio. While it is certainly cheap enough, at $229.99, it’s not that it’s destined to become a smashing success. At the very least, Amazon could use a talented industrial designer in building those things.

    Since Apple doesn’t have a standalone Siri appliance of that sort, it’s somehow assumed that the Echo is a tremendous success. But according to a survey earlier this year from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), some 8.2 million have been sold from late 2014 through the end of 2016.

    Now to put things in perspective, Apple sold 8.9 million iPads in the March quarter alone. And that was noticeably less than last year, when 10.2 million units were sold. Yet the Echo is cited as a successful product, while iPad sales aren’t taken very seriously anymore. But to be fair, I did see another Echo sales estimate that put the numbers in the 11 million range, and sales supposedly were up sharply during the 2016 holiday quarter.

    Or consider the Apple Watch, another supposedly unsuccessful product, where it appears as many as 3.4 million units were sold in the March quarter. Since Apple hides the real numbers in an “Other Products” category, estimates have been all over the place. But even if the real numbers are closer to two million in a down quarter, were they matched by the Echo?

    Now an Echo is far cheaper than any of the Apple gadgets that sell in much higher numbers. So you really can’t compare them by numbers alone, except to wonder whether Apple plans to build something similar. That would depend on where Apple wants to take Siri, and whether it regards Echo as too restrictive and insecure, even though Amazon lists loads of features that range from messaging to Internet-of-Things functions, such as setting alarms, running home sprinklers, lights, thermostats, garage doors, and so forth and so on.

    But when it comes to messaging, the recipient must also own an Echo device of some sort. With Apple, you have hundreds of millions of people who own gear that supports its messaging platform. With an Echo, it may be 11 million, but no higher.

    Perceptions count for a lot, and perhaps the Echo will catch real big on some day. Or maybe it’ll exist in a niche unto itself as other gadgets pass it by. And I worry how an “always listening” device can be regarded as in any way secure. Just saying.


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

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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