When a journalist or a publication receives free stuff for review, should that make a difference? Is there the danger that the review will be made more favorable as a result, in order to continue to receive the freebies? Do manufacturers take people off the distribution lists when the can’t count on positive news?
Is that why Consumer Reports is taken so seriously, despite the big flaws in many of its reviews? After all, CR buys all the products it tests, even if it gives a preliminary report on a manufacturer’s sample. As I wrote in the past, that even applies to costly luxury automobiles.
Now I suppose there might be a temptation to color one’s review if the product is sent at no cost. But I’ve never felt that way. What’s more, with most of the hardware I’ve written about, it has to be returned to the manufacturer — or its PR representative — after the review process is complete. When you’re getting regular shipments of gear, packing it all up and returning it takes time, even if the manufacturer is paying for the shipping. It should not make you feel warm and fuzzy about having something to write about.
To me, it wasn’t about having hardware and software to play with. It was a way to make a living, doing work I enjoyed. Nothing prevented me from being honest about what I wrote. Indeed, when I dinged Apple for the poor picture quality of the PowerBook 165c, the very first color model, in 1993, my editor at Macworld suggested I could emphasize my negative points just a little more. They wanted it more pointed, don’t gloss over the flaws in its passive-matrix display.
In short, I never felt constrained about complaining about something.
In the near future, I will be writing a review of a 2017 VIZIO M-Series 55-inch Home Theater Display. It was sent to me at no cost with the expectation that I’ll be writing about it, but there are no constraints about what I can say. Indeed, I already have a minor complaint, which relates to the phrase “Home Theater Display,” and that means it doesn’t have a tuner.
Sure, most people receive TV from cable, satellite, and/or a streaming service in 2017. They are not putting up antennas for over-the-air reception. But if you do, does that mean you shouldn’t buy a VIZIO? Not so fast! You can buy a TV tuner from Amazon for around $30 or so. It’s still an inconvenience, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some customers were confused about this missing feature.
Does that mean that some people return their new VIZIOs when they cannot find a way to hook up an antenna? I suspect the dealer will just sell them the tuner.
Now during this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I talked to outspoken podcaster and commentator Peter Cohen. We discussed the fate of Apple’s cheapest personal computer, the Mac mini, the downgraded 2014 version, and what sort of upgrade might be in the pipeline in light of positive comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook. Peter explained why he feels that Apple has taken the wrong direction with the mini. Gene and Peter talked about low-end laser printers, and about using third-party toner. A good idea? What about the Apple TV 4K? Overpriced, not compelling enough to boost sales? The segment moved into pop culture, where Gene and Peter discussed Star Trek fandom, TV super heroes and similar subjects, as Gene recalled meeting some of the stars of the original Star Trek series at a convention in 1975.
In a special encore presentation, you also heard from columnist Joe Wilcox, who writes for BetaNews. He explained why he recently switched from T-Mobile to Verizon Wireless, mostly to improve coverage, but is now considering a return to the former. The discussion covered the ongoing dilemma of choosing the right carrier. And what about published reports that T-Mobile and Sprint, the two smallest wireless carriers in the U.S., might be ready to ink a deal and merge? It’s not the first time this has been rumored. Gene and Joe also talked about the new productivity features in iOS 11, and whether they might impact the use of the iPad as a productivity tool. There was also a brief discussion of macOS High Sierra before the conversation moved to the Apple Watch Series 3, which comes in a version with LTE so you can use it to make phone calls without connecting it to an iPhone. Does this big step now liberate the Apple Watch so it can do most things all by itself? Does the future take us away from a big smartphone to a tiny smartwatch?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest cohost Angelo Fiorentino (aka Angel of Ioren in The Paracast forums) discuss Tom DeLonge’s efforts to raise funds for alleged scientific projects and the failed predictions of disclosure. We also explain how Paracast+ subscribers can get special access to the premiere episodes of “Haunted,” a new reality show featuring Paul Kimball and Holly Stevens. Gene also recalls the flamewars from the forum over the years, including Michael Horn and Billy Meier, and Dr. David Jacobs and his dealings with a test subject who complained about his research methods. And what about UFO abductions? Are they, as Angelo suggests, mostly due to sleep paralysis? Gene also repeats his oft-repeated suggestion that Betty and Barney Hill were actually the victims of some sort of government experiment when they underwent their famous UFO abduction experience. And why, with a smartphone camera in almost everyone’s pocket, don’t we have compelling UFO photos nowadays?
When Apple made a surprising deal, in 2014, to work with IBM to deliver mobile apps for the enterprise, it was certainly a sea change from the original dynamic between these companies. Back in the mid-1980s, IBM built PCs running Microsoft’s MS-DOS text-based operating system. This was years before Windows took over, after becoming good enough with the Windows 95 release.
To Apple, IBM was “Big Brother,” yet another faceless corporation delivering gear that was difficult for regular people to use. For the best possible computing experience, they should buy a Mac, with is pretty graphical user interface.
But as PCs became more commoditized, and it became possible to buy near-identical gear from several companies at lower and lower prices, IBM in 2005 sold off its ThinkPad notebook line and other products to Lenovo. Big Blue decided to concentrate on mainframe gear and services. With its Apple deal, not only were special mobile apps developed for the iPhone and iPad, but IBM began to offer employees the choice of Macs over PCs. It was even announced that, although the initial purchase price might be higher, the total cost of upkeep favored the Mac, resulting in estimated savings of $273 to $543 per unit. PCs were simply more complicated to manage.
That’s something Mac users knew for years, but it was refreshing to see a large corporation finally get the memo.
Now in the twilight of the PC era, there is more and more news that Macs are poised to make targeted gains in the world of business. So Surface tablets have been removed as options for employees of Delta Air Lines. This is in keeping with Microsoft’s decision to ditch its mobile business.
In its place?
A Delta announcement says it all: “Beginning early 2018, Delta will equip its more than 23,000 flight attendants and 14,000 pilots with Apple iPhones and Apple iPad Pros, respectively, as the airline transitions to its next generation of flight crew devices.”
Will there be a ripple effect? Will other businesses join IBM, Delta and so on and so forth?
Well, there’s a published report of a new deal between Apple and GE, which will result in developing Predix, the latter’s software platform, for the iPhone and iPad. This means that there will be a Predix-iOS SDK that will allow developers to build new industrial-strength apps.
This move will certainly sell lots of mobile gear for Apple, as the iPhone and the iPad become GE’s preferred mobile gear for employees. With 330,000 of them, that means lots of potential sales.
What’s more, Macs will also be offered, and one expects that, as with IBM, Apple’s computers will quickly gain ascendancy at GE, particularly if savings similar to those at IBM are realized. I’d be surprised if they weren’t.
Indeed, the cost of upkeep has long been one of the Mac’s biggest advantages over Windows boxes. They last longer, and they’re cheaper to run. It also means that some Macs from 2009 and all Macs from 2010 can run macOS High Sierra. Companies hold onto their computers for a number of years with the assurance that they will continue to receive critical security fixes. It also appears that High Sierra is delivering a surprisingly robust experience for people with older Macs.
Indeed, I wonder if Apple’s “late in the game” focus on the enterprise is a reason why recent macOS versions work well on so many older models. That has to represent a deliberate effort to fine-tune the system so the typical slowdowns as computers age doesn’t occur. With Microsoft out of the mobile game, Apple’s end-to-end solutions for mobile and desktop might well boost — or at least sustain — sales of Macs until the world leaves the PC behind completely.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Microsoft’s overwhelming lock on the market is poised to end any time soon, but it may very well erode over time. Where does that leave Microsoft? Well, services are taking an increasing share of its business, so if fewer Windows OEMs are sold in the years ahead, one should have no fears as to its future. And despite being touted as a great thing by some members of the tech press, Surface gear hasn’t really sold all that well. If Microsoft gave it up, it wouldn’t be such a huge loss.
It is interesting, too, that Apple is doing what critics have urged it to do over the years, which is to make a greater push towards the enterprise. To think that it wasn’t so many years ago when it was difficult, or impossible, to make a business case for Apple. How times have changed!
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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