• Newsletter Issue #953

    March 5th, 2018


    I’m not altogether sure why the HomePod once again dominated the discussion on the tech show this week. As much as I love home audio, a smart speaker is not on my list of priorities, although I can see why someone might want to use one for a connected home. But unlike the Amazon Echo series, Apple’s variation on the theme is supposedly more about music listening than playing something in the background. Clearly Apple has expended a great deal of engineering effort to deliver some compelling features, particularly its ability to configure itself to a listening room.

    If such a feature works properly, it is something that may be a revelation to the old-time audio fanatic. In the old days, you might have to spend hours — or days — tailoring a speaker system to your listening environment. You might even do it in fits and starts till things are just right. For most people, maybe it won’t matter, but if you want something more than the basics, correct placement can be key.

    As audio engineers will tell you, figuring out the perfect location for your loudspeakers isn’t always so easy, and one model might be more sensitive to room reflections than others. The HomePod’s setup uses the A8 processor to sort it all out for you. Unfortunately, at least some reviewers claim that Apple did a little editorializing in its choice of the unit’s sonic signature, tending to be on the bassy side. Maybe it’s about showing you how impressive the lows are, but not all source material works so well with exaggerated lows. It’s certainly not something implied in the limited specs or Apple’s promises for HomePod.

    Sure, people hear things differently, and have personal preferences. What’s bassy to me might be a tad deficient to you. Ideally, Apple ought to build in some adjustments to tailor the unit to your needs. You want more bass, go for it. You want scintillating highs, perfect. You can do that with via iTunes if that’s the source material, but wouldn’t it be better to tell Siri what you want and have it delivered to you? Maybe Apple will deliver a better solution with its first software updates.

    In the meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken podcaster and columnist Kirk McElhearn, who focused heavily on his experiences with Apple’s HomePod. He explained the problems he’s had with the product, particularly the bassy response, and problems with Apple’s Siri voice assistant. Will future software updates allow you to adjust the frequency profile of a HomePod, other than with iTunes? What about improving Siri’s recognition accuracy? What about eliminating the problem where it leaves white rings on wood surfaces that are oiled or waxed? Kirk also covered possible future Macs, such as a new Mac Pro and whether there will be an upgrade to the Mac mini, which hasn’t been updated since 2014? Gene continued his suggestion that HP’s Z2 Mini Workstation is a potential future direction for the Mac mini, offering powerful performance at a relatively low cost.

    You also heard from commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, He also talked about the HomePad, and his perception of its sonic quality and future prospects. What about the still-delayed AirPlay 2 feature that was first promised to Apple users in iOS 11 last year? What about the curious disconnect between unproven claims that iPhone X sales collapsed last year, compared to Apple’s own financials that indicated high sales and revenue for iPhones, and reports that the iPhone X was the highest selling model  on the planet during the weeks it was on sale? How do such false stories get started and why do they continue even after Apple reveals the truth? There was also talk about the unexpected success of the Apple Watch which, in 2017, became the number one best selling wearable on the planet. This comes after the Apple Watch was regarded as a tepid performaner in the marketplace for so long.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest cohost J. Randall Murphy present Fortean/paranormal researcher Joshua Cutchin. who takes us on a fascinating journey through the nooks and crannies of the world of the paranormal, folklore and the frontiers of consciousness. Among the cases discussed, the curious UFO contact from 1961 involving chicken farmer Joe Simonton, who claims to have been presented with bad-tasting buckwheat pancakes from short swarthy aliens in a flying saucer, a story that has never been explained. Joshua is the author of two books: 2015’s “A Trojan Feast: The Food and Drink Offerings of Aliens, Faeries, and Sasquatch.” and 2016’s “The Brimstone Deceit: An In-Depth Examination of Supernatural Scents, Otherworldly Odors, & Monstrous Miasmas.” He is also author of the forthcoming, “Thieves In The Night: Paranormal Child Abduction From the Faerie Faith to the UFO Era.”


    Long before the phrase “fake news” began to occupy the nation’s political dialogue, one tech company was constantly the subject of stories often made up out of whole cloth. Not just rumors, but claims that something was factual, or accepted fact, even though the reverse was true.

    I think back to the early days of the Mac. In those years, it was still about a Microsoft’s text-based OS, MS-DOS, and the claim that real people didn’t point and click.

    Until they did, that is.

    So when Microsoft was able to release a reasonably usable version of Windows in 1995, many thought it would be the end of the Mac. It’s not that Apple didn’t help the process along, what with executives who appeared to want to focus more on selling the company rather than making things work.

    For years, Apple became the beleaguered company. Even when revenue soared into the stratosphere, relatively speaking. it had to be a temporary phenomenon. Maybe the alleged “reality distortion field” of Steve Jobs hoodwinked people into believing that Apple’s “overpriced” gear was something special. But what this really implied was that people were stupid, and that they’d follow Jobs as technology’s “Pied Piper” to the ends of the Earth.

    This tact didn’t change even after Jobs died. Or maybe they believed his successor, Tim Cook, was trying to channel Jobs’ alleged mystical powers from the other side.

    But why couldn’t the critics accept the fundamental reality, that Apple built good stuff and sold that stuff at fair prices to satisfied customers? After all, people do like Samsungs too, and even Windows for that matter. Should we suggest that management of Microsoft, Samsung and other companies are also gifted with mystical powers, and that people can’t just express a preference without being attacked for it?

    Now even after the iPhone became amazingly successful, its success was questioned. The smartphone industry would, as the PC industry before it, become commoditized. You’ll be able to buy perfectly decent gear for far less money, and as the technology improved, Apple will find it more and more difficult to devise exclusive compelling new features with which to differentiate itself from the pack. So Samsung and other companies would dominate over the marketplace big time and reduce Apple to irrelevance.

    Only it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. This past quarter afforded Apple number one status in the smartphone space. And that’s from a company that had a relative handful of models compared to dozens with other companies.

    The iPhone X? From the day it was referred to as iPhone 8, it was said to be one huge potential fail. Face ID was a desperate move to substitute for being unable to embed a fingerprint sensor beneath the OLED display which was, by the way, built for Apple by Samsung.

    Besides, expected demand for the iPhone X would be so high people would wait months for them, or maybe give up and buy something else. When demand caught up quicker than expected, it wasn’t because Apple knew how to manage a production ramp, but the result of collapsing sales. Apple might even give up on the iPhone X and not renew it for 2018.

    Or maybe there would just be a new iPhone X and an iPhone X Plus, which means expanding a product line rather than somehow giving up on it.

    Because it turned out that, according to Apple’s financials, it was hugely successful after all.

    The Apple Watch? Well, it debuted with a 10,000 version, but only a few people bought those. Most sales went to the relatively affordable models, but it was still regarded by some as an overpriced indulgence with very little future. Except year after year, more and more people bought them. Between 2016 and 2017 sales rose more than 50%. Somehow this unsuccessful gadget turned up on the wrists of more and more people.

    Sure, an Apple Watch is still mostly an iPhone accessory, although the LTE radio in the Series 3 allows you to more or less dispense with the iPhone for greater amounts of time during the course of a day. Just as interesting to me, at any rate, is that I see more and more of them in my travels. I’m not even looking for them. They just turn up, because people are buying them in greater and greater numbers. The Apple Watch is now the number one wearable on a planet at a time when Fitbit sales are declining, and sales for Xiaomi, another major manufacturer of wearables, have flattened.

    Clearly Apple is onto something, although the critics would rather not admit it. Even if sales continue to soar in the mid-double digits, it won’t be the result of capturing the public’s imagination, but because of a fluke. But if this is a fluke, any company on the planet would love such a stroke of luck.


    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
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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