• Newsletter Issue #925

    August 21st, 2017


    My conversation on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE with prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, brought to mind something that shouldn’t be ignored. I’ve mentioned it often, but it’s a good idea to keep thinking about it.

    It’s about Apple’s public betas. Although the cautions are obvious, that this is prerelease software that could brick your machine, and that you should do a full backup first, I suspect those cautions are often ignored. After all,  beta testing can be fun, especially in the later stages where the software is coming close to release state and you actually have a chance to experience the new features without system crashes, app crashes, or other untoward behavior.

    Indeed, if you don’t have a spare device, you’re better off not bothering with any betas. It can only breed trouble. Sure, I am willing to take a few chances, because I have backups, and I always make sure I have a way to restore a device if that becomes necessary. But my main Mac won’t be updated to macOS High Sierra until it’s close to release; my aging 17-inch MacBook Pro, from 2010, runs the beta. With the iPhone, I can restore most of it in less than an hour, so I’m not altogether worried. But it’s late in beta cycle for iOS 11, so I suspect most problems have been resolved by now.

    Now during that interview with Bob, you also heard about Google’s overwhelming dominance of the search engine market, and whether it’s possible that they will ever be overturned. Regular readers know that Google paid Apple $3 billion in the past year to remain the default search engine for Safari on iOS and macOS.

    And what about the speculation about a 10th anniversary iPhone, dubbed iPhone 8 in the rumors, which may list for more than $1,000? Bob also explained why he hasn’t bought any new Macs lately. He also presented a special $50 discount offer designed exclusively for listeners of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    In a special encore segment, you also heard from Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles, who did this interview on his new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, using the mic from Apple’s AirPods wireless earphones. There was a long discussion about the value of the iPad as a productivity tool, as Josh explained why the apps he requires for his job are not all available on Apple’s tablet. So he has to use his Mac instead, and Gene explained the problems he has in using an iPad for his work. Microsoft’s move into PC hardware, the Surface, was also discussed. The interview wrapped with a long discussion about the future of Apple TV, and the tepid updates being offered in the next version of the tvOS operating system. Will the next Apple TV support 4K and HDR, the latest technologies used on TV sets? Should Apple build its own TV set, or did that ship sail years ago? Gene and Josh also talked about the possibilities of Apple’s set-top box and whether such gadgets are needed in light of the fact that new TV sets already offer popular streaming services, such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris are joined by veteran UFO researcher Jerome Clark to interview David Booher, author of “No Return: The Gerry Irwin Story, UFO Abduction or Covert Operation?” The book includes a foreword from Jacques Vallee. In 1959, two years before the Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction, a young soldier had a mysterious experience on a lonesome road in Utah, where the arrival of a blazing object was followed by a 24-hour blackout. Just what did happen to Irwin? As Booher details this incredible experience and its possible implications, Clark provides the historical perspective and asks compelling questions to help flesh out this amazing tale and how it impacted Irwin’s life.


    Funny how things have changed. It wasn’t so long ago that the Apple Watch (I know that Apple doesn’t want us to use “the,” but I don’t care) was regarded as an underachiever. Or perhaps even a failure, even though the sales figures were pretty decent for an all-new gadget.

    At first, Apple was regarded as late out of the starting gate, delivering its smartwatch a couple of years or so after other companies had already entered that space. One of the most promising contenders was Pebble, which got its start with a massive Kickstarter crowd-sourcing campaign that raised over $10 million. It was the largest such campaign up through 2012.

    Unlike some other smartwatches, the Pebble was compatible with iOS and Android. It was also cheap, with prices starting at $99. For a time, it appeared as if it would be successful. It went on sale in the summer of 2013. By December of 2014, one million units had been sold.

    All right, that’s nothing to Apple. or even Samsung, but for a tiny startup, it seemed like an awful lot.

    By 2016, the Pebble had lost its luster. After a new Kickstarter campaign failed, the company was left insolvent and it sold itself off to Fitbit. The watches were soon discontinued.

    Was it the Apple Watch, poor product planning, or just the lack of financing to sustain a growing business? It doesn’t matter. Pebble is history. At the same time, Samsung reportedly isn’t selling all that many Galaxy Gear smartwatches. So-called Android Wear gadgets haven’t taken off in any significant way.

    Fitbit? Well, if you consider a cheap fitness tracker, it does all right, but it doesn’t attempt to complete with the rich feature set of the Apple Watch. Indeed, Apple is number one by a huge margin among smartwatches, at least based on independent sales estimates. Apple buries the numbers in the Other Products category, and the actual figures are kept secret.

    That said, it has been estimated that between 30-31.5 million units have been sold since the Apple Watch debuted in the spring of 2015. If Pebble could have managed a tenth of that in its first year or two, it might still be around.

    In any case, the online chatter about the Apple Watch doesn’t speak so much of failure anymore. To keep its sales numbers less impressive, industry analysts will lump it into the “wearables” category, which also includes gear from Xiaomi and Fitbit. But even though they have sold more units than Apple, their sales are dropping. If that pace continues, the Apple Watch will rise above them even if remains in a broader category.

    There are now rumors that the next Apple Watch, supposedly Series 3, will sport an LTE radio, and thus become capable of managing cellular data. It’s questionable whether you’ll be able to place phone calls via a regular wireless network, though you might be able to do VoIP calls on Skype, WhatsApp and similar apps. However, there hasn’t been any confirmation of the feature set. Even speculation about LTE might just be a fantasy, although I do not doubt that Apple wants to go there.

    That said, sales estimates for the Apple Watch are 15 million for this year, and 20 million for 2018. This seems to indicate steady but not stellar growth. So if true, you won’t see the Apple Watch hit iPhone levels anytime soon, or ever. Then again, my sci-fi instincts envision a possible future version that won’t require a display. It’ll just project the image to a device that you wear on your head, but something small enough not to be obtrusive. Well, maybe that’s the far future.

    In any case, the real question is whether the Night Owl is ready to buy one. Forgetting my endless money issues, there’s the question of need. Does the Apple Watch do something that I cannot live without? Well, I suppose the health features might have some value should I develop a chronic disease that requires regular monitoring. That’s not true yet, but I’m old enough for bad things to happen. I imagine, though, that if the Apple Watch were regarded as a viable health appliance, it may just be possible to have it covered by one’s health insurance.

    Imagine Medicare paying for your next Apple Watch.

    On the other hand, I really don’t see a need for it now. It’s not that I am disinterested in fitness. In fact, I exercise six days per week, and I’ve kept up that routine more or less for years. But I have also done that without need for an wearable, so why should I need one now?

    I still have the $12.88 Walmart watch that I bought in the spring of 2015, around the time the Apple Watch arrived. It needs a new battery, and I can get one for less than $6, installed, at the local Walmart. Since the watch’s stainless steel case and crystal seem undamaged, I will probably buy the battery and keep it for another year or two.

    The Apple Watch? Well, if the folks at Medicare considered it vital to monitoring one’s health, that might open a whole new market for Apple. I might even be interested in taking a look-see.


    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
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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #925”

    1. John says:

      Good point about the Watch. It is not a matter of need as much as convience. I’ve had one since they first came out and really like it. There is no single application for which I need this. Rather, there are a bunch of applications which make life easier. I’m older and need to exercise. I track my bicycle rides everyday. I also track my heart rate. I don’t have a target but if something goes wrong I’ll know so I can alert my doctor. Daily I use the Watch to ask Siri for things from simple arithmetic to setting reminders to web searches. I like getting alerts when texts and phone calls come in and I like being able to see the outside temperature and my next scheduled event.

      Everything could be duplicated some other way, but using the Watch is very convenient. I can see this growing steadily more useful as Apple learns more about this and as technology allows Apple to add more features.

      By contrast, there is a huge difference between having or not having an iPhone. It is not just a matter of convenience.

    2. I have the iPhone SE – happy it was introduced, upgraded from a 4 – never considered anything bigger

      that said I’m happy not to have it on me all the time any more around the house and yard

      aWatch 2 does all the phone calls & messages & stock market tracking I’m interested in

      as long as I am within WiFi range I’m happy with just the watch on me – if I go for a walk away from the house I don’t have any internet service anyway

    3. dfs says:

      Well, there is one other selling-point for the Watch (and, I assume, its smartwatch competitors). There was a time when the quality of a watch was largely measured in terms of its accuracy. A fine Swiss watch that will cost you northwards of 25 ,000 (a Rolex Presidential, say, or a Patek Philippe Calatrava) boasts an accuracy in the range of +/- 4 sec. per day, which is about as good as a traditional mechanical watch can do. Then along came quartz movements, even cheap ones can do significantly better. But the kind of timekeeping you get with your computer or mobile device (and also the clock in the front of your t. v. cable box) blows quartz technology out of the water. These are one end of a chain, and at the other end is an atomic clock ( Apple relies on the one owned by the US Naval Observatory). Within the past year accuracy of atomic clocks, which take advantage of the oscillation of the cesium atom, has been doubled to +/- 1 sec. every 600 million years. (Yes, since this works over the internet, there’s a bit of a time lag as the data gets moved down the chain , but Apple and no doubt everybody else introduces a software compensating mechanism to allow for this). If you happen to be an accuracy freak, you can’t beat that! There are three technologies which can bring this accuracy to a watch: radio, satellite, and smartphone-to-watch. There are drawbacks to the first two: appropriate radio stations are only available in the continental US, western Europe, China and Japan, so if you happen to live in Sidney or Johannesburg you can’t use radio watches (and this limits the markets in which mfrs. can distribute them). Satellite eliminates that problem, but both radio and satellite watches require manual resets as we move in and out of daylight savings and when you travel between time zones, and at least on the watch I used to own, a Junghans, this manual resetting is infuriatingly awkward to do. By contrast, the smartphone-to-watch technology is problem-free. There’s something infinitely sexy about wearing a Watch and flying from, say, LA to NYC. When you are about to land at JFK, at about the same time your plane’s wheels touch down you can see your Watch automatically setting iitself to local time. Compared to all the other available uses of the Watch, or the uses we might be able to imagine such as the medical ones, this accuracy issue will strike most folks as humble and maybe even unimportant. But if you measure watch quality in terms of accuracy and ease of us, the Watch is as good a wearable timepiece as ever will exist.. And I find it rather satisfying being able to sneer at a guy wearing a Rolex or a Patek Philippe.

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