• Newsletter Issue #923

    August 7th, 2017


    In last week’s newsletter, I focused heavily on cars. I explained how out of touch my tastes appeared to be  compared to many U.S. buyers, but I didn’t have to look at the sales figures. Yes, they showed growth for crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks at the expense of sedans. Instead, all I had to do was look at the vehicles around me as I was driving about.

    Here in Arizona, the typical family sedan is becoming rarer and rarer. At a time where the focus is on vehicles with the highest fuel economy, I wondered why big and less economical was doing better. Was it meant as a protest towards the focus on the environment, and dwindling supplies of fossil fuel? Or was it the more practical choice, particularly for young families where having lots of room is important?

    Well, VW’s American division has its own answer. They are building more and more SUVs, and the smaller model, Tiguan, is growing a third seat for 2018. Sales of both the Jetta, the compact sedan, and the larger Passat, are down.

    But there are notable exceptions. Tesla Motors claims that it has received over 500,000 preorders for the Model 3 compact electric car. All right, the deposits are only $1,000 and refundable, but that indicates an incredible amount of interest, now buttressed by brief test drives of the first production vehicles by the auto press. But the starting price, $35,000, is a fantasy. Even when the entry-level model ships later this year, you can easily roll up the options, and approach $60,000 for a loaded vehicle. The pricing, as I expected, fairly similar to another Model 3, the one that’s made by BMW.

    Of course, nobody knows for sure yet if Tesla can achieve its ambitious production targets, and if not, they’ll have a disaster on their hands. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    In the meantime, on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented long-time tech journalist and editor Adam Engst, of TidBITS. The discussion began with the recent decision by Apple to discontinue two of the three iPods still being sold, and moved on to Adobe’s announcement that its Flash multimedia platform will be discontinued by 2020. Gene and Adam also talked about Adobe’s failed efforts to create a version of Flash that can run on mobile platforms, such as Android and iOS. With the news that Apple sold one million iPads to the educational market in the June quarter, the discussion focused on the ongoing potential to boost market share against such competitors as Chromebook notebooks, which use the Google Chrome OS. Gene speculated on a mythical iPad Hybrid, which he suggests could combine an iPad with a notebook-style case that includes a keyboard and trackpad. Possible, or just a silly idea?

    In a special encore appearance, you heard from tech journalist Derek Kessler, editor of TeslaCentral.com, as well as managing editor of Mobile Nations. Derek talked about Elon Musk’s Tesla, a line of electric cars that are having a major impact on the auto industry. Derek owns a Tesla Model S, and he covered the advantages and disadvantages of driving an all-electric vehicle. What about the impact of cold weather on the batteries, which can sharply reduce battery life? What about “range anxiety” and finding nearby charging stations before your car runs out of juice? You also heard about the Model 3 sedan, Tesla’s first “affordable” vehicle, which will carry a starting price of $35,000, but will quickly become a lot more expensive with an option or two. Can Tesla meet its very optimistic production targets to build enough vehicles to fill hundreds of thousands of advance orders?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host J. Randall Murphy present James E. Clarkson, the former Washington State Director of MUFON and a highly skilled UFO investigator. During this episode, the outspoken former law enforcement officer will explain, in detail, the reasons why he decided to leave MUFON, for the second time! He’ll also discuss his approach to investigating the UFO mystery, and about some of the cases he’s investigated over the years. For the last 30 years he has studied the mystery of UFOs with the same attention to detail that he applied to criminal investigations. His most recent book is the 2015 edition of “Tell My Story — June Crain, the Air Force and UFOs.”


    To most people, the “fake news” phenomenon is a symptom of the contentious 2016 political campaign in the U.S. Some bloggers discovered they could earn lots of clickthrough ad money by focusing on false content that pandered to one campaign or the other. Posted on Facebook and other social networks, it was often a matter of having a provocative piece linked and retweeted to soon reach tens of millions of people.

    Closing the barn door proved difficult, if not impossible. Even if a story is clearly false — and I’m not going to dwell on the political byplay — people will believe it if it meets their expectations or fears. Sometimes, if you want to refute a story, one questionable response is not to bother with the facts, real or false, but just label it “fake news.” The message is crystal clear.

    So how does fake news relate to our little corner of the world?

    Well, years ago, I wrote a column, “Mac Reality Check” for the Arizona Republic. It was mostly carried on the newspaper’s site, although it did make it to the print version from time to time. For a while, I continued it on USA Today, until their priorities changed.

    As the title implies, I focused those columns on Apple and the Macintosh personal computer. Although I attempted balance, correcting the record was very much a part of the picture. So when false stories were written about the Mac, I was there to correct the record.

    It wasn’t the first time I attempted to correct falsehoods in a tech column. My first published book, in the early 1990s, was “Using America Online,” and thus I was recruited by a long-defunct tech site, MacCentral, to provide an accurate picture of what the world’s online service was all about.

    Internet flaming was in full force even then, and the publisher received loads of complaints, claiming that I was a paid flunky of AOL, working under their direction to write what they regarded as puff pieces. In part, the conclusion was accurate, since I was a salaried forum leader for the service, but I never pretended AOL was anything it wasn’t. AOL management never told me what to say, and its success came at a time when most people were confused and befuddled by the often obscure text-based features of most online services.

    AOL members preferred what made the Mac special. They wanted a simple point and click interface, with everything clearly explained. In fact, AOL debuted on the Mac, in part because it was originally meant to become a consumer version of AppleLinks, which was an online service for Apple dealers and service people. The original name was AppleLinks Personal Edition.

    Well, the column was pulled in just a few weeks. Things got too crazy, but at least I was paid for what I did, plus a bonus for the final column that was never written.

    Now Apple did take a stab at an online service a few years later. It was eWorld, basically a rebadged version of AOL using the same backend facilities. It never went anywhere, and barely managed two years before the plug was pulled.

    It was also a symptom of what was wrong with Apple in those days. eWorld was a service without a purpose, since millions of people already used AOL. At the same time, Apple was producing loads of models that were barely distinguishable with one another. Macs were pushed into consumer electronics stores, where salespeople had minimal training. Since they received their spiffs from PC makers, Macs were often consigned to the back of a store with poor setup and follow through.

    Indeed, this was a key reason why Steve Jobs shepherded the creation of the Apple Store. If the company couldn’t depend on outside dealers to treat the product with respect, might as well show the way and do it themselves. These days, independent Apple resellers — and the Apple sections as such stores as Best Buy — are often designed to partly emulate the setup of company stores.

    Before Jobs returned to the company, Apple did its best to sell itself off to another company, and put itself out of business. The critics who said the Mac must fail were in all their glory. The success of Microsoft’s Windows 95 only advanced the argument. Windows was now almost as good as the Mac OS, and it had many times more apps, so it was high time to give Apple the heave-ho.

    But even when Steve Jobs returned to the company and did what was necessary to fix the company’s ills and put it on the path to growth, the critics didn’t believe it. The iPod? It would soon be overwhelmed by commodity digital music players. When Microsoft’s Zune arrived in 2006, that was supposed to be the nail in the coffin.

    Except that the Zune bombed. But Microsoft retained its controversial tiled interface to use as the main interface element of the doomed Windows 8.

    The iPhone? Give me a break! Where’d Apple get the temerity to build a mobile handset anyway? The industry standard was the BlackBerry, with a physical keyboard. Other so-called smartphones were built in the image of the BlackBerry. The iPhone’s reliance on a touchscreen and a mobile alternative to desktop apps was greeted with extreme skepticism.

    Except for the people who bought them in increasing numbers.

    Despite the fact that Apple has sold over one billion iPhones since 2007, industry pundits look to Samsung as the standard, despite its flaws. It doesn’t matter that Apple sells many more iPhones per quarter than Samsung Galaxy handsets. Samsung must triumph. That’s because they have flooded the market with cheap stuff. Thus Samsung is the market leader.

    So the critics suggest Apple would move lots more iPhones if they’d only sacrifice profits and make them cheap. It doesn’t matter that high-end Samsung mobile gear is priced in the same range. It’s all about the cheap stuff, and one of my fellow travelers, Macworld’s Macalope, recently wrote about one columnist who boasted how he’d saved hundreds of dollars with a cheap Android handset. That columnist still claimed he was an iPhone and iOS fan. Go figure.

    It didn’t matter that the gadget came with loads of sponsored junkware, and in every respect performed worse than an iPhone. Even the camera was nowhere near as good at taking snapshots. It was cheap, so might as well put up with mediocrity.

    That’s supposed to be a good thing?

    These days, the critics are writing tons of verbiage about the real or imagined problems with the mythical iPhone 8. But it should be obvious to one and all at this point that there is no such thing as an iPhone 8. Sure, Apple is very likely working on a 10th anniversary flagship model. What it will be called is anyone’s guess, but it won’t be announced until next month at the earliest. So stories about production problems, missing features and other ills, can be taken with a grain of salt.

    Unfortunately, some of the chronic Apple critics are happy to fear monger and lie about Apple. You correct their fake news, and it doesn’t matter. They just repeat the same false stories over an over again. Maybe it’s due to the fact that, putting Apple in the title, particularly with a negative slant, is sure hit bait. More hits mean more impressions for paid advertising, and thus more income. The truth plays second fiddle.

    As with the other fake news you see nowadays, fact-checks and reality checks are ignored. Once the lie takes hold, it never dies even though it has no connection whatever to the truth.


    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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