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  • Newsletter Issue #921

    July 24th, 2017

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So it appears that speculation about that alleged iPhone 8 has sort of peaked for a while. When I checked the tech chatter this weekend, I didn’t see so many articles about a certain Apple gadget that has yet to be confirmed, but has consumed the rumor machine for over a year.

    Yes, even in 2016, some suggested that you shouldn’t buy the iPhone 7 because it would be a tepid refresh, and you might as well wait for the rumored 10th anniversary edition in 2017 that will be the bee’s knees. As we got closer to the alleged announcements about the next iPhones, supply chain talk appears to have coalesced on such design elements as an edge-to-edge OLED display and perhaps wireless charging. But wireless charging may also be a part of the regular iPhones.

    While using OLED has its undeniable charms and all, I’m not altogether concerned about being able to put the iPhone on top of a charging plate. Plugging in a lightning cable is no big deal for me. Now if the unit could be charged wirelessly, that might be interesting.

    In the meantime, don’t forget that Apple hasn’t said anything about the next iPhones, other than the fact that such expectations might have hurt iPhone 7 sales somewhat during the March quarter.

    That takes us to this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, considered the Apple rumor front, where speculation continues about the rumored iPhone 8 and the alleged problems Apple might be having in finalizing the design for production. But are such reports made by or influenced by bloggers who have been inspired by Apple’s competitors? What about the tepid updates for Apple TV? Has time passed Apple’s set-top box by, or is it possible for the product to be improved enough to realize its potential against the competition?

    You also heard from tech columnist Joe Wilcox, who writes for BetaNews. This time Gene and Joe talked about Microsoft’s sales in the most recent financial quarter, and how it is succeeding beyond expectations at cloud services and Office 365. But is there any significance in the fact that sales of Surface PCs remain relatively flat? You also heard Joe’s observations about the iPhone 8 and whether its potential might overshadow the expected refreshes of Apple’s mainstream models, which will probably be named iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus. With Comic-Con San Diego in force, Gene and Joe had a pop culture discussion, where they talked about super heroes, including Batman and Superman, and having the same characters played by different actors in the TV and movie versions. And what about a rumors that Ben Affleck may be encouraged by Warner Brothers to give up Batman’s cape? Well, OK, he denied that, and he claims he’ll be playing that role for a while.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We welcome investigative writer and researcher Peter Robbins. We’ll be discussing an assortment of subjects, including his investigation into the origins of the UFO ridicule factor; Peter’s theory about how the mainstream press may have been encouraged by the authorities to make fun of flying saucer reports rather than take them seriously. Peter will also discuss the current state of UFO research, where we go from here, and related subjects. In discussing the prospects for disclosure, he’ll offer a balanced view of the body politic and the loss of the age-old spirit of bipartisanship. But does anyone in authority have control over how — or if — the truth about UFOs may be revealed?

    WHY THE NIGHT OWL ISN’T BUYING A NEW APPLE TV

    I received a third generation Apple TV in 2012 as a present. Mostly identical to its predecessor, it sported an A5 chip with support for 1080p video. Since that was the state of the art for its time, I didn’t consider what might come next, but mostly because the Apple TV was not the most important tech gadget in my arsenal.

    Then as now, I used it to rent movies from iTunes and to watch content from Netflix. There were other apps, but I mostly ignored them. The somewhat sluggish multilevel user interface wasn’t conducive to much exploration, and I didn’t have all that much extra time to just play around.

    My day-to-day TV fare otherwise consists of the broadcast networks, and a smattering of cable channels, such as BBC America, FX, ION Television, SyFy, TNT, USA and WGN America. Call me boring, but since all or most of these channels are available via the cheapest cable or satellite packages, I can save some money.

    It’s also about not having endless amounts of free time. If I want to splurge, I can add, say, Showtime for a few months when shows I want to watch are on, and cancel when the seasons are over. But I’m not in so much in a splurging mood these days.

    From the standpoint of an older American, I sometimes wonder whether even the Apple TV made a lot of sense. I could just as well let the Netflix shows accumulate, and only activate it for a few months a year for binging. iTunes doesn’t cost me anything unless I actually buy or rent something, and as I wrote the other day, I’m not at all enamored by the foolish limits enforced on movie rentals by the greedy entertainment companies.

    So you rent a movie for 30 days, but once you start watching, you have 24 hours to finish. Overseas, it’s 48 hours. Why? Well, because… There is really no logical reason, other than to force you to rent the movie a second time or, wanting the freedom to watch a movie anytime you want, buy it instead.

    Is that really helping digital movie sales? I suppose I can wait for them to show up on free cable. All right, I’ll have to put up with the ads, but if I record them on the DVR, I can just skip through them. I just don’t understand the marketing plan. It must be one of those alleged Hollywood accounting schemes.

    That takes us back to the Apple TV and its value.

    At one time, it was actually believed that Apple planned to build its own smart TV set. That conclusion came in the wake of the publication of the authorized Steve Jobs biography in 2011. He was quoted as saying he’d cracked the secret of developing the best TV interface ever.

    To be sure, the TV makers, struggling to make decent profits from sales of commodity gear, freaked. They expected Apple to release a TV set at any time, a smart TV with spectacular features that would upend the industry.

    Year after year, it was expected Apple would deliver something. There were even published reports claiming that Apple actually did test some TV prototypes, but ultimately opted not to bother. It’s a highly saturated market, and perhaps Apple couldn’t find a way to make a difference at an affordable price. Nowadays, there are loads of perfectly good 4K sets, with HDR, for prices starting at well below $1,000. If you visit the consumer electronics section of a Walmart, a big box discount store, such as Costco, or a Best Buy, your eyes will be assaulted by hundreds of working TV sets in different sizes. Unless you look real close, really close, they look about the same.

    But what about that marvelous user interface?

    Well, don’t forget that you usually only see a TV’s interface during the initial setup process, unless a setting absolutely has to be changed. There’s the workmanlike TV menu from a cable or satellite provider, or from a streaming service. So where does Apple make a difference?

    Unless you’re dedicated to cord cutting, trying out one of dozens of channels to find something to watch free or at minimal cost, you may just limit your search to iTunes and Netflix. Coming later this year, you’ll also be able to select Amazon Prime TV on Apple’s streamer.

    Yes, I know that Hulu is expanding its repertoire, and individual networks, such as HBO and Showtime, offer special apps and online subscriptions. CBS All Access will feature a new Star Trek show this fall.

    Each has its own interface, so where does that put Apple TV? With the fourth generation model, you have Siri and a bunch of apps. There are some passable games, but most of the content you want to watch returns to what is already being offered elsewhere. Well, except for iTunes, only available on Apple devices and Windows PCs.

    Today’s Apple TV doesn’t even offer 4K and HDR, though that might change with the next version. The better-selling $109.99 Roku Ultra does include 4K and HDR. The $149 Apple TV doesn’t, nor does its $199 counterpart.

    So are lots of people sitting there with an Apple TV putting Siri through its paces? Are you really so dedicated to the TV viewing experience that you care about figuring out what’s on any of a few hundred different apps in the hope you’ll find a gem? Or do you just put something on and let it play?

    Besides, most of today’s smart TVs already offer Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and lots of other services. You may want to try such streaming services as Dish Network’s Sling TV or DirecTV NOW. But what are they providing that you can’t get with a similarly priced basic cable or satellite deal? That you don’t need a set-top box? Well, you still need the streamer from Apple, Google or Roku.

    Sorry to be so down on these things. But the current Apple TV is not, to me, worth its higher price. It is suggested that Apple hoped to introduce its own TV streaming service, with its set-top box as the hub, but since that hasn’t come to pass, they rushed something out and they’re now trying to flesh it out.

    Now if I had a 4K TV set, I might be looking at the future prospects. Meantime, I suppose Apple TV will sell better when it returns to Amazon later this year. But it’s still too expensive. Yes, I can save $25-$30 if I buy one from an eBay vendor, maybe more, but that’s also too expense for what it does.

    Maybe Apple will find a way to gain some traction from this gadget, but I think it’s gone in the wrong direction. I can’t see how the existing product will ever be capable of conquering the living room, which once appeared to be Apple’s stated goal. Or maybe there’s a successor product in the wings that’ll realize its potential. We’ll see.

    THE FINAL WORD

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #921”

    1. tech-52 says:

      I like the ATV4. I don’t see myself going to 4K anytime soon, so ATV4 lack of support for 4K doesn’t bother me. The Siri support is growing on me. I can say ‘Show me all the movies from 2016 on Netflix’, and ATV4 shows me a scrollable list of movies along the bottom of the screen. I can say ‘Find the movie Lion’, and it will show the summary screen with an ‘Open In’ option. Click that and it shows it’s available, in this case, on both iTunes and Netflix, and let’s me select which app to open it in. The other apps are coming along as well with Siri support. This is what Apple does: it relentlessly marches toward its vision and carries other vendors along with it. Software updates, unlike the other set top boxes, come regularly with updated features. Amazon Prime will soon be available on ATV4 (not ATV3), and I’m looking forward to that.

    2. Chuck says:

      One issue for the future of all these streaming TV gadgets is the intersection of ISP bandwidth caps and the bandwidth requirements of 4K TV.

      For example, Comcast has now implemented a nearly universal 1Tbyte data cap, which sounds like an amazing amount of data, but for streaming video is it not. Their own estimate is that, if you do nothing but watch TV, you can stream 600 hours of HD video, or about 20 hours/day. Sound great right? However:

      1. If you were hypothetically viewing in 4K, that drops to 5 hours/day.
      2. If you have two TVs, now you’re at 2.5 hours/day.
      3. This all assumes that you do nothing else that uses any data.

      With one HD TV, two Mac laptops and two iPhones, my wife and I typically run up 500-800 Gbytes/month, getting pretty close to that one 1 Tbyte cap. A single 4K TV would likely put us over the top. Why so much? Netflix, HBOGo and DirectTV Now, all streaming video apps.

      But, here’s the kicker: If you buy a TV package from Comcast, all the TV data DOES NOT COUNT against the 1 Tbyte limit! Why? That data is on the “managed” network, not the general data network. So, if you think we have net neutrality even now, you’re wrong.

      4K TV is a landmine waiting to explode bandwidth pricing. You’ll either (1) Pay for Comcast’s dreadful set top box and their we-decide-what-you-buy packages, or (2) pay an extra $50/month for more bandwidth.

      A long position on Comcast stock might be a good bet. For the rest of us, its just bad news.

    3. City Dog says:

      Chuck makes some very good points. I’m still using a Gen 2 Apple TV (in spite of the frequent crashes), and even though it only play video at 720, it still looks pretty good to me. (But having grown up with CRT TVs, any flat screen looks good to me!)

      The other consideration is if you have other Apple gear. The ability to AirPlay anything from my iPad, to stream from my Mac via iTunes, to view our photos on the big screen in a number of ways: These all add to the value proposition of an Apple TV. I like Roku, but I’d have to give up all these things to go Roku.

      I almost broke down and got a version 4 Apple TV, but decided to wait and see if version 5 would be 4k/UHD. But Chuck’s comment about bandwidth has me wondering if the whole 4k thing is a trap. It’s not as if 4k would make any difference to my entertainment enjoyment. I’m already happy as a clam with what I have … except for the crashing and other annoyances of technology that’s gone a little long in the tooth. Yes, maybe time to get that version 4. Before it’s too late!

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