• Newsletter Issue #913

    May 29th, 2017


    A few days ago, I wrote about my tech support odyssey with AT&T wireless, attempting to deal with the matter of getting a special discount to which I was entitled. Even thought I thought I had it resolved, I’m actually still waiting, but I’ll grant that the Memorial Day holiday got in the way. But at least I received a second incentive, a $25 credit, for my time, but I’ll be back on the phone if nothing shows up by May 30th.

    In the meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator/podcaster Peter Cohen. During this segment, Gene discussed his efforts to get decent support from AT&T wireless, which involved multiple phone calls, and frustrating encounters with more than 20 different reps. Gene and Peter also discussed the prospects for new Mac notebooks at Apple’s 2017 WWDC developer event in June. And what about Apple’s decision to deliver subpar gaming performance on the Mac? As a former Macworld gaming columnist, Peter explained what is going on, and what he believes to be Apple’s reasons for not paying attention to the needs of avid gamers.

    You also heard from independent tech journalist Joe Wilcox, who writes for BetaNews. This wide-ranging discussion included Joe’s observations about the quality of the four major wireless carriers in the U.S., as he explained the surprising results of his efforts to switch from one company to another to get better download speeds. Were there any notable announcements at the 2017 Google I/O conference in Mountain View, CA? Was it all about photos? What about the voice assistant platforms from Amazon, Apple and Google? Should Apple respond to the Amazon Echo with its own version? Gene and Joe also talked about the prospects for new Mac notebooks at the WWDC, and is there a possibility that Apple will pull the plug on one of its three notebook models?

    Now there was one peculiar statement from Joe during the episode, about what he claimed was a rumor that Apple was going to discontinue the MacBook, which was first introduced in 2015. If true, it would be a curious move, since the MacBook paved the way for new Mac notebook technologies, and a more minimalist approach. And the keyboard design inspired the Magic Keyboard and MacBook Pro keyboard.

    But I think Joe just got his MacBooks confused, that’s all. The actual rumors out there are about Apple ditching the MacBook Air, which may seem obvious in light of the fact that the 11-inch model was passed on to the educational market last fall. But there is yet another rumor, that sales of the 13-inch version are still good, giving Apple the incentive to pop Intel Kaby Lake processors into it. Maybe there will be a price reduction from $999 to $899. All right, the latter is my rumor, nobody else’s, but the rest is what’s out there.

    Maybe Apple will end up reducing the price of the MacBook to $1,099, and still upgrade the MacBook Air. Apple has done that with Macs before in recent years. So there are lots of maybes, but we’ll know more within days from the time this article is being written, so why bother to speculate any further?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host J. Randall Murphy present Canadian UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski to talk about a new book about a classic UFO encounter that he wrote with Stan Michalak, “When They Appeared — Falcon Lake 1967: The inside story of a close encounter.” Just what really happened? Did a UFO land and cause thermal and/or radiation injuries to the lone witness? Chris Rutkowski, BSc, MEd, is a Canadian science writer and educator, with a background in astronomy but with a passion for teaching science concepts to children and adults. Since the mid-1970s, he also has been studying reports of UFOs and writing about his investigations and research.


    You read the same stuff over and over again. Apple needs to produce this product, that product, or the other product. It has to be now, or Samsung, or Google, or Microsoft — or even Amazon — will run away with the market. Apple will never, ever be able to catch up. So time is short to join the crowd.

    Forgotten is the fact that Apple didn’t get where it is matching the competition. Even when the new Apple gadget is in the same category, it’s never the same. Compare the iPod to any other digital music player of the period. After Apple took over the market, other products attempted to imitate them.

    The classic example is the Mac. When it first showed up, Microsoft and its fans said that the Mac OS was for kids, a pretty toy operating system that couldn’t possibly be used for serious work. That approach continued for years, as Microsoft continued to enhance its own graphical user interface, Windows.

    Sure, Microsoft was imitating the Mac, and there were lawsuits and all. In the end, Microsoft maintained control of the PC marketplace, but Apple never gave up. And Microsoft and PC makers are still attempting to imitate Apple.

    True, there are those 2-in-1 computers, based on the original PC tablet concept, which attempt to bridge both worlds. I suppose some people like them, and many people don’t, or just don’t care. In the end, Apple promises never to combine what it considers to be a refrigerator with a toaster oven, although the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard appear to be moves in that direction. But there were accessory keyboards for iPads from Day One.

    And although Apple is regularly being urged to match this feature or that feature from someone else’s smartphone, they are almost all now built in the image of the iPhone. Before the iPhone arrived nearly a decade ago, the typical smartphone was largely in the image of the BlackBerry, with that clumsy little physical keyboard. I realize many of you got used to them, and you can still buy a BlackBerry in the original mold, although it nowruns Android.

    Over all this, there’s the magic word, “commodity.” PCs are commodity products, and have been for years, which is why Apple must fail. All right, the slim and light models are mostly in the image of the MacBook Air. I saw one of them briefly at an office the other day. For a second, I thought it was a Mac, but when I looked closer, I could see it was small and thin all right, silvery and all, but the cheesy design and build quality gave it away.

    But that has long been true for Windows too. Even as features are added and the interface changes, the basic look and feel still seems clumsy and awkward. Things that take a few steps on the Mac take a few more steps on Windows. Spit and polish are still not quite there, but that’s Microsoft. It’s always been about being almost as good.

    I have even read articles from time to time suggesting that Apple should just give up on the Mac and focus on mobile gear. After all, it’s just a business that produces a “paltry” $22 billion in revenue per year, and therefore it must be insignificant to Apple. After all, isn’t it true that the Mac doesn’t count for as much anymore, that Apple has dropped the ball? Maybe its days are numbered.

    Until you try to build an app for Apple’s mobile platforms, and suddenly you need a Mac to make it happen. While the iPad can certainly take on some productive chores, there are many things that can only be done well on a Mac, or at all. Even if you could develop apps on an iPad, Apple would be foolish to give up on its personal computing platform, and that’s not going to happen for a number of years yet.

    Or maybe Apple should look to the Microsoft Surface for inspiration. Clearly PC makers have, but Microsoft still can’t make it into a successful platform. In the last quarter, sales were down 26%, despite the fact that the Surface Studio, a 28-inch all-in-one desktop with a starting price of $2,999.99, was only introduced a few months ago. Maybe it has its value for some creatives, but I suspect that Apple still sells more Mac Pros than Microsoft sells Studios, and they certainly sell many times more iMacs.

    In keeping with the demands that Apple imitate less successful products from competitors, look at the Amazon Echo. It’s a big thing. Huge. Amazon doesn’t tell you how many they are selling, but loads of people are getting them. You can’t access Amazon’s site without seeing Echos prominently displayed somewhere.

    But what about reports that Amazon has sold about twelve million of them since 2014? Maybe sales were much higher in the December quarter — it is after all the sort of product that one might give as a gift —  but there are even more copies of the Apple Watch out there.

    Oh yes, the Apple Watch, which few take seriously, few love, but it seems that Apple is still number one among so-called smartwatches. Even when the category is expanded to include all wearables, the highly-touted Fitbit has had its growing pains, despite buying off two competitors.

    As to the Echo, there are rumors that Apple might introduce a similar product featuring Siri at the WWDC. But would it actually do anything more more than an iPhone, other than being a standalone gadget with a single purpose? Would it do as much? What about Apple marketing VP Philip Schiller’s statement about the Echo needing a display? All right, there’s now an Amazon Echo Show with an embedded display, but is that how Apple should treat that market if it decided to get involved?

    I’ll set aside talk of augmented reality for now. Let’s see what happens at the WWDC.


    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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