• Newsletter Issue #939

    November 27th, 2017


    Self-driving was at the core of the discussions this weekend on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where our guests included outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, who joined Gene in a brief discussion of the decision of Disney/Pixer chief John Lassiter, once a colleague of the Steve Jobs, to take a leave of absence over a possible sexual abuse scandal. What about rumors that an iPhone SE 2 will be assembled in India for distribution in that country? The discussion also focused on the possibilities of Apple’s Project Titan, said to be an initiative to develop technology for self-driving vehicles, in light of a published report that Apple engineers have revealed improvements in sensing the presence of cyclists and pedestrians? What’s Apple’s end game?

    You also heard from commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, who also offered his opinions about Apple’s ongoing work on self-driving. Will this technology be offered as a platform to auto makers? Kirk also wondered if the improvements in iPhone X availability might reflect possible weaker demand as much as improved production. With reports that Apple has postponed the arrival of its HomePod voice controlled speaker system, Kirk suggested that it’s overpriced, and that he can probably buy Bluetooth speakers with better sound for less money, since he’s less impressed with having Siri on such a device. He also joined Gene in discussions as to whether Apple ought to consider building a notebook computer using iOS instead of macOS.

    Now when it comes to autonomous driving, the image you probably have is a motor vehicle that does it all by itself. You enter the car, state your destination, and it’ll take you where you are going safely, swiftly, with the minimum consumption of fuel and/or electricity. If all comes to pass, you might actually be able to buy such a vehicle within the next few years.

    But I’m not even going to guess at the cost of such a vehicle. I expect it’ll be expensive at the start, limited to premium cars, such as an Audi, BMW, Cadillac and so forth and so on. In fact, Cadillac already offers a fledgling self-driving scheme as a costly option for the 2018 CT6. Expect to pay roughly $5,000 for Super Cruise, which can take you along a freeway, sense vehicles around it, and keep the car in a single lane, without needing to touch the steering wheel.

    Super Cruise, in effect cruise control on steroids, is confined to a “limited-access freeway,” and requires that you keep your eyes on the road. If it detects that your eyes are averted for more than three seconds, it’ll flash a warning that you need to take control of your car. There are two more alert stages that include vibrating your seat and giving an audible alert.

    Even if you can afford the price of admission — expect to pay upwards of $75,000 to put one in your driveway — Super Cruise is a fairly limited feature. It’s more flash than substance, and even if one assumes it is well designed and as safe as the reviews indicate, it may not be worth the effort after a few tries. Being limited to specially selected freeway access also means that most of the trips you take will never put you in a setting where Super Cruise can actually function.

    It’s just one example of an early version of self-driving technology. Auto makers are reportedly working hard to be among the first to establish a full-blown system.

    On a related topic, there’s that Uber passenger I drove to the airport this weekend, who told me that he works as a jet pilot for rich people. He claimed that aircraft makers have already made huge strides towards building craft that can virtually fly themselves. Can you imagine boarding a flight where there’s no need for a human pilot? Would you take such a flight?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest cohost J. Randall Murphy present Susan Demeter-St. Clair, one of the contributors to Robbie Graham’s pacesetting book, “UFOs: Reframing the Debate.” Susan is a professional research assistant, author, editor, and PSI experimenter. Her research interests include individual and institutional responses to anomalies and exceptional human experiences, and how they interact and enact change within individuals, groups and large institutions, such as the military. Her life took on the framework of UFO experience after an encounter in 1990, and she considers anomaly studies to be her true life?s work. This discussion runs the gamut of UFO-related phenomena including the extraterrestrial theory, abductions, disclosure, and whether we’ve made any progress in finding solid answers to the mystery.


    Without actually doing a survey, it does seem to me that the iPhone X has been the subject of more fear mongering than any other Apple gadget in recent memory. It has been positively relentless, with story after story about the  alleged reasons Apple chose Face ID as the product’s biometric, its presumed shortcomings, and the alleged problems in improving production yields.

    Many of the arguments against Face ID came from people who never used it. Now that the iPhone X is available at more and more dealers, it’s very possible for these alleged journalists to look at one, test one and see whether it works as advertised. If they work for a publication that can afford to lay out some cash, they can buy one, take it home and give it a full test. At the very least, they can read the dozens and dozens of posted reviews to get a sense of how well Face ID and other features operate.

    For example, is the notch a distraction, or have developers begun to largely work around it? Should Apple have simply set up the display below the notch, rather than have it consume some of the space? Would that spoil the promise of an edge-to-edge display? Does it even matter?

    Regardless, There is no excuse to just make assumptions based on ignorance.

    In the real world, it does appear that Face ID mostly works as advertised. Even Consumer Reports magazine, which appears to be delighted to find faults in Apple gear, concluded that it mostly functioned correctly except for a few edge cases. Besides, Touch ID isn’t exactly perfect.

    In any case, the public will have the final say. Since Face ID is a tentpole feature of the iPhone X, complaints from customers, lower-than-expected sales or other evidence of dissatisfaction, would certainly convince Apple to change things. Maybe they’d have to find a way to embed Touch ID beneath the OLED display. But that does not seem to be necessary.

    Complaints about alleged privacy issues are irrelevant, since the Face ID data is stored in a chip-level secure enclave on the device itself, similar to Touch ID. But I do not pretend to know the intimate details of the level of biometric security on other smartphone platforms. Other than the boilerplate complaints about Google scraping up information about you from Android gear, there’s not a lot said about whether you can depend on the security of the fingerprint sensor of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. It’s already well known that the facial recognition and iris sensors are readily defeated by hackers with digital photos.

    Yet another complaint about the iPhone X is that Apple won’t be able to build enough of them to come close to meeting demand, assuming demand is high. It’ll be back ordered for months, well into 2018, and perhaps presumed lower sales for the holiday season will result in revenues that don’t meet Apple’s guidance.

    At first, it did seem that Apple might have severe difficulty building enough of them. There were so many reports that Apple’s supply chain contractors just couldn’t build enough of the critical parts for the Face ID system. You heard it over and over again.

    Within minutes after preorders began, delays extended to five to six weeks. While Apple had supplies at its stores on the day the iPhone X shipped, the backorder situation didn’t change, until it did. In short order, it was reduced to three to four weeks, then two to three weeks and, this past week, one to two weeks.

    It almost seems possible that Apple will come close to catching up with orders by December.

    Now is there any special reason why the iPhone X is easier to find? Is it possible that Apple badly misjudged demand and that sales are not reaching the levels they expected? Without facts, it’s easy to say anything. It requires no effort.

    One of the respected industry analysts is Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities. He keeps close tabs on the supply chain. When he speaks, people listen.

    So he says that the fact you don’t have to wait as long to buy one is due to Apple’s ability to expand production faster than expected. Kuo says that production has been boosted from 50,000-150,000 units per day before the iPhone X went on sale to 450,000-550,000 units per day now. That’s a lot of product in the channel. Indeed, Kuo expects shipments to end up between 10% to 20% more than predicted for this quarter.

    If an iPhone X is on your radar, you may find it far easier to get one than you expected. At this point, even a wait of a week or two may be acceptable for many customers. It’s very possible that you’ll find one at a nearby Apple Store or a third-party dealer if you call around.

    Few would claim the iPhone X is the perfect smartphone for everyone or even most people. Yes, I know it’s expensive, but most of the complaints from the clique of inveterate Apple critics are just fake news.


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

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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