• Newsletter Issue #917

    June 26th, 2017


    If you bought a product from a company, and it proved to be defective as the result of a known problem, would you seriously consider getting another, even a newer model? Well, The Google Nexus 5X suffers from an issue known as a “Boot Loop,” in which they continue to boot over and over again.

    There is a way to at least halt the process to recover your data, by placing the unit in a refrigerator, but that’s no long-term solution. As a practical matter, if it happens, you need to have it replaced, and LG Electronics, who built the device, is also willing to send refunds. Unfortunately, it appears that an awful lot of devices are suffering from these ills.

    Don’t forget that Google doesn’t actually build smartphones. That train left the station when they sold off the Motorola Mobility division at a loss. So the current Pixel, Phone by Google devices may be designed by them, but they are reportedly assembled by HTC. It’s not quite the same as an iPhone, which is assembled in contract factories hired by Apple. A situation similar to Google’s would be, as an absurd example, having Samsung build iPhones, which, of course, is the epitome of the alternative fact and wouldn’t represent how Apple functions.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented outspoken commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” During this episode, Gene recounted a recent frightening experience, when his car was totaled as a result of being struck at high speed by a truck. The discussion continued with Kirk’s progress report on his home-built faux Mac clone, which is usually referred to as a Hackintosh. Was it all worth it, or is it better to buy a real Apple Macintosh and not put up with things that just won’t work without lots of baby-sitting? You also heard Kirk’s skeptical comments about whether he’s interested in buying a new Mac, and about Apple’s forthcoming speaker/digital assistant known as HomePod, which will ship later in 2017.

    You also heard from columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Finance, Consumer Reports, Wirecutter and other publications. During this segment, Rob recounted his problems with a broken Google Nexus 5x, which succumbed to a known hardware defect, and why he bought a Pixel phone as its replacement, since he favors Android over iOS. Gene recounted his concern with the recent review of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 by Consumer Reports; Rob doesn’t do reviews there. He talked about his next computer, a 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display. You also heard a brief report on China’s version of the CES. The discussion moved to the productivity possibilities for an iPad, or the lack thereof, Apple’s forthcoming move to overhaul the Mac Pro, and the prospects for the iMac Pro, due to arrive in December of 2017 at a starting price of $4,999.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present former FBI Special Agent John DeSouza to discuss his recent book, “The Extra-Dimensionals.” Says the Amazon listing: “Extra-Dimensionality is the key to understanding everything… By everything, we mean all the areas in which we have been deceived to believe the physical world is the beginning and end of all things. ‘The Extra-Dimensionals’ is the stark revelation of where Alien Visitors are actually coming from and to where they are returning. Understanding Extra-Dimensionality is the way to unfold the truth of the paranormal, the spiritual and even the physical world.”


    Let’s talk of perceptions first. The Amazon Echo is considered to be a highly successful product, although, last I heard, only 12 million have been sold since 2014. The Amazon Kindle tablets have also been regarded as successful, although they have had better years, where tens of millions were sold. An IDC survey for the first quarter of 2017 revealed flat sales compared to the previous year. So it was 2.2 million units in both quarters, compared to 8.9 million iPads sold this year. If people bought tablets on price alone, it would seem they favor more expensive gear.

    As a practical matter, a Kindle is largely a media consumption device, with an emphasis on Amazon products and services. It is barely in the same league as an iPad otherwise. Forget about using one for productive work.

    For those who care, Amazon doesn’t actually reveal hardware sales. That data comes from industry estimates, though I’ll accept them as in the zone for the sake of argument. Despite sales that are a fraction of those of the iPad, the Kindle is not generally regarded as unsuccessful. As loss leaders go, Amazon seems satisfied with what they deliver.

    The Apple Watch, however, is considered to be a huge fail. So let’s look at market estimates, based, again, on IDC.

    But while IDC is rating all sorts of tablets in its surveys, the Apple Watch is placed in a super-category known as wearables. It must compete with fitness bands as a wearable. So Apple Watch sales, estimated at 3.6 million for the first quarter of 2017, are rated just a tad behind those of Xiaomi, a Chinese firm, which also reportedly sold 3.6 million, or maybe a bit higher. In the year-ago quarter, IDC estimated that Apple sold 2.2 million units. So this year’s numbers represent a huge increase.

    Regardless, Xiaomi sells fitness tracking wristbands, not smartwatches. So even though the Apple Watch performs such functions, it is, at its core, a smartwatch with a host of features. As a comparison, consider that an iPhone includes the functions of an iPod, but you don’t rate them in the same category.

    The fact is that the Apple Watch is clearly the number one smartwatch on the planet, based on IDC’s tallies. It only becomes number two by a tiny margin because of the questionable category positioning.

    But it’s still regarded as a huge fail.

    Now let’s consider the “successful” Amazon Echo. One estimate, from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, concludes that Amazon has sold 10.7 million units since it launched in 2014. Of that, almost half of its total sales were recorded between November 2016 and March 2017.

    So let’s add the December quarter to Apple Watch sales. According to IDC, Apple moved 4.6 million units, compared to 4.1 million for the previous year. For the two recent quarters, Apple Watch sales totaled 8.2 million units. If Amazon sold 5.3 million Echos during the comparable period, how does that make it more successful than the Apple Watch?

    Can you see the disconnect?

    Then again, Microsoft’s Surface is regarded as a major contender in the PC space — a product that Apple should fear — but sales were down 26% in the March 2017 quarter compared to the previous year. Mac sales were up slightly.

    But the apparent unheralded success of the Apple Watch doesn’t mean I’m about to rush out and buy one.

    So I purchased a $12.88 stainless steel calendar watch from Walmart in the spring of 2015. Last year, I replaced the battery at the same store. With installation by the cashier who specializes in such things, the process cost about half the retail price of the unit. But this leads me to believe that it had been sitting around for a while, because as of late June, it’s still keeping time in a fairly accurate fashion.

    The battery will go again eventually, and then I will have to decide whether it’s time to buy a brand new cheap watch to replace it. So far, I’m not at all tempted to make such a move. As I said, it keeps time fairly accurately, within a few seconds a month, and the case is mostly free of scratches and blemishes. Even the recent accident that totaled my car didn’t cause any damage to the watch.

    But if I had a spare $399 around, the price of a 42mm Apple Watch Series 2, would I buy one?

    Despite the false perception of failure, I do see them in use from time to time. One of the cashiers at the nearby Circle K convenience store showed me hers. I didn’t ask if she bought it herself, or whether she received it as a gift. I also ran into a couple on the wrists of Uber passengers, and I’ve interviewed several tech writers who bought them, very much to stay abreast of current technology.

    In none of these cases have I observed people raving about how wonderful these things are. In general, the few owners I’ve talked to like the Apple Watch, but don’t love them. They don’t spend their time staring longingly at one. It seems to occupy the same set-and-mostly-forget status a regular watch, except when it’s used for fitness or messaging.

    Indeed, Apple appears to have placed less emphasis on the jewelry angle and more on its usefulness to monitor one’s health as of Series 2. But this may just be an example of a new product slowly finding its way in the marketplace. So while Apple Watch sales continue to grow, it is not destined to become an iPhone replacement now, or in the foreseeable future. Unless a future Apple Watch beams images directly to your brain, one should not expect it to be as important as a smartphone.

    However, I do expect that, this year or the next, Apple will offer models equipped with cellular radios. Thus, you’ll be able to use them mostly without being tethered to iPhones and still be able to make and receive phone calls. Sure, it may seem awkward to have to bring the watch to your mouth to talk to someone, but that’s what wireless earphones are for.

    But that didn’t stop Dick Tracy from talking to his wrist. Or maybe the comic book artists who created that character weren’t able to predict the arrival of Bluetooth.

    As for me, even if I had the cash burning a hole in my pocket — and I won’t get into my money woes here — I wouldn’t put an Apple Watch very high on my wish list. Maybe some day, when Apple makes it an indispensable mobile appliance. But we’re not there yet.


    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #917”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      I have a trial lawyer friend who raves about hers. She likes the fact that she can glance at her “watch” and have access to all sorts of information and communications without tipping her hand. It’s discreet. She can look at in a courtroom without breaking contact with the judge or jury.

      The last time I tried wearing a watch was back in college, and every band I tried irritated my skin horribly, so I’m not likely to buy one. Still, I can imagine people buying them and no one else even noticing. They look an awful lot like ordinary watches unless you look closely.

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