Once again the HomePod has garnered lots of coverage, particularly when it comes to alleged problems or limitations with its sonic signature. Despite having the ability to auto-configure itself based on your listening environment, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be all in on Apple’s priorities with reproducing sound. I’ve talked to several expert reviewers who judged the HomePod to be somewhat bassy, which also means it’ll seem muddy on some material.
While I don’t have enough experience to make a determination yet, I can see where Apple might have erred in crafting imposing bass into its design in order to show how impressive it can be. This is not an uncommon approach, where a speaker maker might want to excel by exaggeration. Listen to the booming bass, the scintillating highs. You get the picture, but it’s hardly realistic.
I recognize that we all have our preferences, we are apt to hear things differently, so there’s no way one speaker, and one design choice will appeal to everyone. This is why Apple should be offering you the ability to choose the audio character that you prefer. You should be able to say, for example, “Siri, less bass.”
You cannot do that now, because what you get is what you get. Sure, if you choose a source where you can set the EQ, such as iTunes, you can tailor things closer to your taste. One hopes Apple will make that a native ability of the HomePod in a future update. Maybe offer a few fixed EQs and the ability to tailor the audio spectrum even more precisely if that’s what you prefer. I fail to see this as being a difficult problem.
Now making Siri more accurate and more full-featured might be more difficult, but we shouldn’t have to wait for a HomePod 2 for it to improve.
In the meantime, for this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we ran an encore show featuring cybersecurity expert Dr. Eric Cole, Ph.D., who served as Cybersecurity Commissioner for President Obama, the personal cybersecurity advisor for Bill Gates and his family, is a former Senior Vice President at McAfee, and was the Chief Scientist at Lockheed Martin, where he specialized in secure network design advising the Dept. of Defense, the FBI, and the Dept. of Homeland Security. A leading expert on cybersecurity, Dr. Cole discussed consumer protection, major corporate hacks, such as the large-scale intrusion into Equifax that impacted tens of millions of people, and cybersecurity best practices. Dr. Eric Cole’s newest book is “Online Danger: How to protect yourself and your loved ones from the evil side of the internet.”
You also heard from outspoken commentator and podcaster Peter Cohen, who has a lot to say about the recent revelation that Apple deliberately throttles iPhone performance when the battery is deteriorated. Confronted with class-action lawsuits, Apple has not only apologized for not informing customers in advance of what it was doing, but is offering to replace batteries on the affected models for $29 until the end of the year, and release an iOS update, 11.3, which will allow you to check battery health. The difficulty in improving battery technology to make them hold a charge longer and handle more charging cycles was also discussed. Gene brought up the Apple TV 4K, and whether smart TV sets, such as the 2017 VIZIO M-Series display that he’s reviewing, which contains Google Chromecast, lessens the need for a separate streaming box.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest cohost J. Randall Murphy present paranormal blogger Red Pill Junkie (Miguel Romero).As usual, RPJ provides cutting edge speculation about a whole range of offbeat subjects, such as whether there is any connection or resemblance between UFO experiences and psychedelic experiences. What about speculation about traveling across the multiverse, sometimes referred to as the Mandela Effect? In short, RPJ will talk about topics seldom covered in the field. Before he was famous, RPJ was an extra in a music video for Australian band Sneaky Sound. He is also responsible for the design used for The Official Paracast Channelon YouTube, and those special d.j. caricatures of Gene and Chris.
Apple has been criticized from time to time for releasing new operating systems with serious bugs, or important missing features. Coming days after Tim Cook claimed, in a Fast Company interview, that Apple doesn’t release products til they’re ready, it comes across as an empty promise. After all, why advertise and demonstrate something if the deadlines can’t be met?
I don’t mean issuing an update a month or two after the product’s release, such as the original Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus which was, in fact, offered as a beta version in the iOS update in which it arrived.
Instead, I’m referring to features that are delayed for months with uncertain arrival dates, and finalizing Apple File System (APFS) for macOS is a key example.
Under development for years, APFS was designed to replace the aging HFS+, which was essentially a modification of the original file system that debuted on Macs in the 1980s. Optimized for SSDs, APFS was supposed to provide more reliability, improved performance, and higher levels of security.
It debuted for developers in macOS Sierra in 2016, with some key limitations, such as lack of support for Fusion drives on the Mac.
APFS made its uneventful debut with iOS 10.3 in the spring of 2017. Hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches were quietly updated without serious problems. Of course, these gadgets all use storage systems designed by Apple for a small number of models, relatively speaking. So it was far easier to manage the upgrade process than on Macs, with loads of native and third-party storage devices.
So APFS was supposed to make its official debut for Macs with High Sierra last fall. But troubles began early in the beta process, where support for Fusion drives — the same limitation that existed with the developer beta the previous year — still failing. If you used one of the High Sierra betas that converted a Fusion drive, you had to go through an awkward restore process that included issuing Terminal commands.
By fall, Apple announced it would arrive in a “future update.” High Sierra has been around for some five months now, and APFS for Fusion drives is still missing in action. It doesn’t support Time Machine backup drives either, by the way. I converted one of my backup drives, only to have it revert to HFS+ soon as I ran the first backup.
There was no advance notice that such a reconversion would occur, although I’d rather have a reliable backup than fret over which file system was used. But I would have appreciated the notice. If the device isn’t changed back to HFS+, you can end up with a damaged backup.
So what’s the status of APFS? I didn’t expect that question, or any critical question, to be asked of Cook during the Fast Company interview. But it would be nice to have an update on its status for Fusion drives, at least. Perhaps such fixes won’t show up until High Sierra’s successor arrives and maybe not even then. As more and more Macs are outfitted strictly with SSDs, it may not matter so much on the long haul.
Then there’s AirPlay 2, promised last fall with the arrival of iOS 11.
It was originally demonstrated during last June’s WWDC, designed to allow HomeKit to talk to speakers, which helped fuel speculation about the product that became the HomePod. Apple listed a bunch of audio companies whose products would work with AirPlay 2.
When the HomePod arrived early in February, nearly two months late, Apple announced AirPlay 2 would arrive later on and it would allow you to mate a pair of HomePods for improved stereo and perhaps a better simulation of surround sound.
Sure enough, it showed up in the iOS 11.3 beta, which also includes the first iteration of Apple’s fixes for “throttlegate,” in which the performance throttling feature can actually be switched off if you want to take your chances. There’s also a beta version of a battery health display indicating when maximum capacity dips below 100%, and the status of the unit’s peak performance capability.
AirPlay 2 appeared too, for a while, but was evidently pulled from beta 3. It appears it just wasn’t quite ready for prime time, even for testing. With the release of 11.3 expected sometime in March, will it be restored? Will Apple give up on AirPlay 2 until a later release, or will it be postponed for iOS 12?
There are published reports that Apple has pulled some planned features from the next iOS, supposedly to give Apple more time to perfect the rest. I think most of you would prefer to see Apple deliver on promises without undue delays or buggy releases, so this is a good thing, if true. But will Apple admit to such a decision, or will it just stay out there strictly as a source of speculation?
While having products with fewer new features might seem a negative, I hardly think many would complain if the releases become more bug-free.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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