• Newsletter Issue #916

    June 19th, 2017


    Over the years, I’ve attempted to correct all those falsehoods about the prices charged by Apple. While Apple doesn’t play in the cheap realms of the tech universe — well except possibly for the $49 iPod shuffle — that doesn’t mean it charges more or a lot more when compared to the competition.

    Consider the forthcoming iMac Pro, where the critics were quick to pounce on the news about a $4,999 entry-level price. So Apple claimed that a comparable PC box would exceed $7,000, although it appears that you can assemble a build-it-yourself workstation and match or slightly better Apple’s price. Either way, Apple can fairly claim that the iMac Pro is competitively priced.

    The other argument is that Apple charges exorbitant fees for customizing a Mac with extra storage, memory or a more powerful graphics processor. Now when it comes to RAM, you can buy RAM a lot cheaper from third parties, at least for the few models that allow you to upgrade. Most don’t! Even then, when I compared the prices for component upgrades at Dell, I was surprised to see numbers in the same range as Apple’s for the models I checked. That, to me, indicates that Apple is fully aware of what the competition is doing.

    That said, I’d love to see more options to swap out parts on Macs, at least when it comes to RAM and storage. Surely Apple can make things thin and light and upgradeable.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented long-time tech journalist and editor Adam Engst, of TidBITS. During this segment, Gene and Adam had an extensive discussion about Apple’s forthcoming professional Macs, the iMac Pro and the new Mac Pro. Is the iMac Pro, which will start at $4,999 when it debuts in December, overpriced compared to the competition? Will a decked out version cost as much as a compact car? You’ll be surprised at the responses. There was also a discussion about whether Macs are good for hosting web sites, and about cloud solutions for hosting. During this segment, Gene talked about his brief experience using a Mac mini to host all his sites.

    You also heard from prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who talked about a variety of issues related to Apple, such as the Apple Watch and why he wouldn’t mind a slightly thicker iPhone if it came with a longer-lasting battery. The discussion covered the newest Macs, whether Bob plans to buy one of those upgraded models, and what about the future of Apple’s digital assistant, Siri? Bob also discussed the debut of the print version of his latest book, “Working Smarter for Mac Users,” and how it can help you become more productive in getting work done on your computer. Bob had to overcome an ADHD condition in order to become a working writer.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Continuing our coverage of the revolutionary UFO book, UFOs: Reframing the Debate.” We welcome another contributor to the book, MJ Banias. He is a writer, blogger, and theorist with a background in Critical Theory, History, and Cultural Studies who critically and philosophically examines the weird, the strange and the anomalous. He was a former field investigator with MUFON, has been featured on multiple podcasts, and contributes to Mysterious Universe and RoguePlanet. Another contributor to the book, our own Curt Collins, is our guest co-host. During this episode, MJ will reveal his reasons for quitting MUFON, and the panel will discuss the impact of the Roswell case on UFO culture.


    Over the past few months, I’ve written chapter and verse about why I do not use an iPad very much. In contrast, my wife, Barbara, sticks to hers like glue. She is never far from it, and often has it in her hands when she’s walking around the house doing various chores. Or she places it nearby.

    To her, it’s an indispensable tool for managing email, and for checking her Facebook account. In her spare time, she’s an animal rights activist. For such purposes, her iPad is essential. Her iPhone 5c is less suitable, since she has vision problems and only uses it for phone calls.

    In contrast, I have no real use for one right now, and only work with it to help her fix a problem. It’s not that I object to tablets and all, but I can do mobile stuff on my iPhone. The iPad’s larger display ought to make it easier to manage email and write articles such as this, but I just turn to my iMac for such tasks.

    This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider an iPad for productive work, but it’s not suited to my requirements yet. This situation doesn’t apply to everyone, though. If you check the App Store, you’ll see loads of iPad-optimized apps that are definitely intended for productivity. It starts with Office for iPad, and includes selections from Adobe and other companies.

    Those with an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil will find rich opportunities to create illustrations, and the 2017 iPad Pros only make it more productive, largely due to Apple’s 120Hz ProMotion display feature. It’s dynamic to preserve battery life — the refresh rate depends on what you’re doing — and it gives Apple’s stylus a near-instantaneous display. It’s said to be about as close to drawing with a pen on paper as you can get.

    So it does seem that graphic artists will find value in using an iPad Pro thus equipped. It’s also capable of performance that, in some respects, almost rivals the MacBook Pro, making it a cost-effective powerhouse. But it’s not as if there are apps yet that stretch the boundaries, but if these new iPads prove successful, no doubt developers will try to pack more power in their software.

    But it may well be that the iPad Pros were released a little prematurely, mostly because significant improvements to multitasking — and the ability to see the file system in a Finder-style interface — aren’t going to occur until the release of iOS 11. On the other hand, it is possible for you to get a beta version of you’re a registered Apple developer. Public beta testers will get a crack at it soon.

    That said, beta operating systems can be especially troublesome, and depending on one for jobs that help put food on the table is not a practical idea. Better to give Apple a few months to iron out the kinks.

    It would also be real nice to see Apple recognize the contradiction of its toaster oven/refrigerator mantra, and how you confront that dilemma when you use a Smart Keyboard and most third-party keyboards with the iPad Pro. You must rely on the touchscreen for cursor navigation, rather than a trackpad or mouse. That’s the same situation you encounter with a 2-in-1 PC if you opt to type normally and use the touchscreen for other input tasks.

    You can buy third-party keyboards that extend the notebook capability of an iPad with a trackpad. It turns the iPad into a workable alternative, since you approach it in the same way. I would also like to see Apple work out something to answer this need, and I suggest a version of the Smart Keyboard with a slide-out piece that serves as a trackpad. That would allow the product to continue to serve as a cover, yet provide a proper user experience.

    Proper if you agree with Apple that working on a keyboard and reaching up to a touchscreen isn’t the most comfortable working scheme. But that hasn’t stopped Apple from putting you in that situation.

    Does that mean the Night Owl might make the move if I had an iPad Pro, and perhaps a keyboard with a trackpad?  Can I make do with Barbara’s iPad and the proper accessory?

    Not yet. That still depends on when or if the right apps appear in the App Store that address my workflow. Sure, I would have no problem writing these columns in WordPress, assuming I had a proper keyboard. But I also record and edit two syndicated radio shows each week, as you know, and there’s really no way or me to do that job with the current iOS software environment.

    All shows are recorded using Skype, an outboard mic mixer, which connects to my iMac’s USB port, and Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack. This app can capture and mix content from multiple apps, and it’s indispensable for the sort of work that I do.

    Right now, it does not appear that iOS will support the ability of one third-party app to mix audio from another third-pay app plus a USB-based accessory. While I have no idea what Rogue Amoeba plans to do, Audio Hijack isn’t even available in the Mac App Store due to Apple’s sandboxing limits on how apps can talk to one another. Indeed, the current design scheme prevents some Mac developers from providing full-featured versions of their products.

    With the Mac, however, nothing stops you from buying software from any reputable source. You’re not locked in to the App Store. With iOS, you’re constrained by Apple’s walled garden scheme unless you jailbreak your device and open yourself to the risk of security dangers. But if Apple wants the iPad to become a true notebook alternative, things have got to change.

    So while developers can now use developer kits for VR, Siri and other high-profile features, there are other functions that could be added. But Apple has to show the way. There are no doubt loads of possibilities for productive apps on the iPad that few have thought about yet. But the ball remains in Apple’s court.


    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #916”

    1. DaveD says:

      My usage experience of the iPad mini has shown that the device is close to my chest. Propping it up with one hand and touching with the other. My MacBook Air is on my lap and both hands using the keyboard and trackpad which I am more productive and have no need for a touchscreen. With a larger iPad I can see as you stated, Apple needs to improve the experience on both hardware and software for a “true notebook alternative.”

    2. dfs says:

      The fact that Apple offers such a variety of models in such a variety of sizes may reflect a lack of certainty about the market for this kind of product. It almost seems like they are throwing out this plethora of models in the hope that something will catch on, without being quite certain who exactly will want it or for what purposes. If I am right, this hints at a more basic corporate problem which I’ve occasionally mentioned in the past: Apple’s smug and patronizing “we know what’s good for you better than you do” philosophy leaves little room for market research and soliciting input from the public. If Apple KNEW who wants to buy tablets and WHY they want them, then the company might be able to do a more effective job of connecting with that target audience. To my eye, all these various models suggest the kind of thrashing you get when you don’t quite have that knowledge.

      Also, it looks like Apple needs to do a bit more honest soul-searching about whether it actually wants to put out a “true notebook alternative” by equipping it with both a keyhboard and a pointing device (doubtless in the form of a trackpad). Maybe it is afraid of cannibalizing its laptop sales by blurring the lines of demarcation between the two kinds of product? If it is guided by any such weak-kneed thinking, maybe it should get out of the tablet market altogether, because the Surface will surely eat its lunch. Unlike Apple, in making such a “true notebook alternative” Microsoft has absolutely nothing to lose.

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