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Newsletter Issue #935


Does anyone still care about the Mac mini? The cheapest Mac, it arrived in 2005 with the promise of a relatively affordable way for Windows switchers to go Apple. It was also powerful enough for people with older Macs to stay up to date while on a budget. I used to have a consulting client who was semi-retired, and thus was reluctant to buy even an iMac; he was on a severe budget. With a cheap display, basic mouse and keyboard, and a Mac mini, he was overjoyed.

Well, not quite. This particular Mac mini suffered from a failed hard drive after less than two years. Out of warranty (he couldn’t afford AppleCare), he was faced with the cost of a new drive, or just buying an Intel-based Mac mini. He chose the former, though he later bought a newer model.

I have since lost touch with him, but I’ve read about the Mac mini being used as a home media server, and even being installed in datacenters where you can host your sites on them. Indeed, I tried it once for a couple of months and had a surprisingly solid experience. The host installed a virtual machine that allowed me to use CentOS, a Linux distribution, with cPanel, a popular hosting control panel. On the surface, the user experience for me was no different.

Performance on all my sites, including this one, was essentially indistinguishable from the loaded Super Micro server our regular host uses. But as our traffic grew, I became concerned that the Mac mini might just not be able to sustain the load, and what happens if there’s a hardware failure? There are no redundant power supplies or other extra components that allow for easy maintenance of a regular server. The mini was configured with an external SSD, however, in case there was a hardware failure. This would allow me to get up and running again in the time it took for the techs at the datacenter to move the drive to another box.

The 2014 Mac mini update was really a downgrade, losing the ability to upgrade RAM, and losing the option for quad-core processors. There it stays, although Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to reassure us how happy they are with the Mac mini, thus dropping indirect hints that a new model is under development.

That takes us to this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where guests included outspoken podcaster and commentator Kirk McElhearn. After Kirk mentioned seeing a performance in a Shakespearean play by Sir Ian McKellen, the subject turned to pop culture. Kirk isn’t a fan of super heroes, even though McKellen was one of the stars of several X-Men films. He is, however, a fan of The Shadow, an old radio and pulp novel character featured in a 1994 movie that starred Alec Baldwin as the titular character. Maybe not a super hero, although The Shadow was capable of clouding one’s mind so they could not see him. That is, I suppose, a super power of some sort. So Gene and Kirk discussed who might play the character if it was brought back.

With Apple CEO Tim Cook making positive comments about the future of the Mac mini, the discussion moved to the future of the cheapest Mac. The apparent backorder situation with Apple’s new flagship smartphone, the iPhone X, was also discussed. Gene mentioned a published report that some iPhone X preorders might have been delayed because customers put freezes on their credit reports as the result of the hack at Equifax that impacted 143 million Americans.

You also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. In pop culture mode, Jeff mentioned The Shadow before moving to a pair of Fox TV genre shows, “The Orville,” a sci-fi series reminiscent of Star Trek with comedic elements, and “Gotham,” the Batman prequel. After Jeff admitted that he hasn’t kept up on the super hero shows on The CW, he explained how he got up early in the morning to place an order for an iPhone X at AT&T’s site. Although he says he appears to have been successful in placing that order, there might be glitches in AT&T’s ordering system. After a brief discussion about the iPhone X’s most controversial features, such as the “notch,” the conversation moved to the future of the Mac mini. Just what sort of upgrade is Apple working on? Will it offer more powerful components to make it more suitable for use as a web server or a low-cost workstation? Does the delay in updating a product last refreshed in 2014 mean that Apple is working on a major redesign?

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present one of our favorite guests, Col. John Alexander. As a cutting-edge theorist on UFOs and paranormal phenomena in general, his views stretch the boundaries of research. Alexander’s latest book, this one published by Anomalist Books, is Reality Denied: Firsthand Experiences with Things that Can’t Happen — But Did. Here, Alexander confronts conventional wisdom with events that, although quite real, seem to challenge the revered “laws of science,” proving them to be wrong or incomplete. The thorny issues of life after death, mind over matter, UFOs, remote viewing, telepathic communications with animals, and more are all addressed from John’s unique perspective. Here physical and spiritual domains collide, providing glimpses of worlds beyond everyday reality.


So let’s look at what’s going on. Apple claims that demand for the iPhone X, due to ship on Friday, November 3rd, as “off the charts.” But that is typical corporate speak from Apple. True, stocks ran out for preorders within minutes, but just how many units did Apple have on hand to ship?

CEO Tim Cook says there will be stocks at Apple Stores if you get there early, but how many? A few dozen for each store? It’s hard to tell, and Apple is not making promises about having sufficient supplies; the question isn’t being answered except by the critics who have cited chapter and verse about alleged production hiccups. That Apple couldn’t ship the iPhone X until weeks after the iPhone 8 series arrived does seem to confirm that it is taking longer for production to ramp up.

After that, there have been confirmed rumors that Apple deliberately reduced accuracy of the iPhone’s Face ID feature due to production limitations. Apple denies the story, originating at Bloomberg, which may actually be contrary to common sense. Developing any new tech gadget, especially one at the cutting edge, is going to entail tradeoffs and compromises. Consider the sacrifices Samsung made with the Galaxy S8 and its facial and iris recognition features that can be defeated with digital photographs. That’s the sort of tradeoff that Apple’s critics won’t mention since it’s not about Apple.

If Face ID meets Apple’s specs of one-in-a-million accuracy, does it matter that the tolerances may have been even higher during the development process? Besides, Apple rarely denies media reports, and usually ignores negative news. But the claim about sacrificing quality to get a product into production is only part of the negative claims made about the iPhone X. It’s been relentless, almost as if Apple’s competitors are serving up the rumors in a desperate attempt to reduce demand.

It doesn’t seem to have worked. Indeed there are reports that people have avoided the iPhone 8 in anticipation of the iPhone X. If you want the mainstream model, you should be able to find one in stock at most dealers in the configuration you want. Indeed, for all practical purposes, it might be a better choice, and not just because of the lower cost. Performance, for example, will be the same, and you’ll have to become accustomed to Face ID and the lack of a physical Home button if you’d rather spring for the iPhone X.

Clearly lots of customers are willing to spread their wings, and I suppose Apple’s sales for the current quarter will be highly dependent on how many iPhone X’s they can get into the channel. Some reports suggest it’ll take until early in 2018 to catch up with demand.

Again, this might be more about fear-mongering. But it’s a sure thing Apple will have something to say the day before the iPhone X ships, when the fiscal 4Q financials are revealed. It is telling this is happening at this point in time. Apple’s guidance for that quarter called for revenue between $49 billion and $52 billion. It’ll be telling just how close they came to the mark.

If revenue is at the high end of those numbers, it may well be that iPhone 8 sales aren’t as bad as some outsiders suggest. Or perhaps Apple’s marketing team had a pretty good idea about demand and adjusted projections accordingly. If Apple misses its guidance — which is not something you expect from this company — it may reflect a worse situation than even they anticipated. Then again, the iPhone 8 was only available for a short time before the quarter ended.

But even if iPhone sales are a little depressed this quarter, they are apt to make up for that deficiency next year, as iPhone X production increases. Apple is not the sort of company that lives quarter by quarter, so if sales are somewhat lower for predictable reasons, so long as longterm prospects are favorable, there shouldn’t be any reason for concern.

The main fly in the ointment here is whether the iPhone X will arrive with any significant bugs. I expect some glitches, because newly designed tech gadgets frequently have bugs of one sort or another. If an early iOS fix resolves them, that shouldn’t be an issue. Even a hardware defect shouldn’t be a deal breaker, assuming only a small number of units are affected. Apple never refuses to replace a defective product, although supply constraints might force customers to wait.

It’s a sure thing there will be loads of attention paid to the upcoming financials. Good or not-so-good, Apple will offer an appropriate amount of corporate spin to analyze. But if loads of iPhone customers announce how much they love them, and supplies become reasonably plentiful by Christmas, all or most concerns should disappear pretty quickly.

Well, except from certain tech bloggers and presumed industry analysts who always regard Apple as a potential train wreck regardless of the facts.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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