• Newsletter Issue #954

    March 12th, 2018


    Early in 2017, my son paid a brief visit; he lives and works in Madrid. On a shopping trip to the nearby Walmart, we noticed a store concession where they offered notebook and smartphone repairs. Since Grayson’s iPhone 5c had a battery on its last legs (no sudden power downs though), I asked what it would cost to replace it. Apple’s price at the time was $79, but this repair shop said they’d do it with their own warranty for $39.

    In the end, despite my offer to subsidize the cost, Grayson decided to make do; he bought a new iPhone a few months later.

    Now I’m not at all sure the source of that iPhone replacement battery, other than the fact that it didn’t come from Apple. You see, Apple won’t sell parts to anyone outside of an Apple Store except for an authorized service provider. You can’t get service manuals either, and that’s one key reason for proposed “right to repair” legislation in a number of U.S. states. Some feel Apple is being greedy, while Apple might claim they just want to make sure that repairs are done correctly.

    Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured commentator Russell Holly, managing editor of Mobile Nations, who focused first on the proposals for “Right to Repair” laws in a number of states, including, most recently, California. What about giving consumers the right to buy genuine OEM parts for their tech gear, such as iPhones, and have access to service manuals? Can Apple and other companies void your warranty because you decided to fix your gear yourself, buy gray market parts, and/or have the repairs done at a shop not authorized by the manufacturer? Gene and Russell also talked at length about Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones, recently introduced, and how they might compare with the iPhone X. What about the cameras, and which model delivers the best pictures? Did Samsung improve the quality of its facial and iris recognition features? There was also talk about the HomePod, which has proven to be somewhat controversial when it comes to its audio signature, with some saying it’s too bassy.

    You also heard from very outspoken commentator/podcaster Peter Cohen, who also focused on “Right to Repair” and the upsides and downsides. Peter offered his personal experiences as the employee of an authorized Apple dealer some years ago and how it influenced his opinion about whether Apple and other companies need to allow more repair freedom. There was also a brief discussion about the concept of states’ rights and how it affected customers where such laws vary from state to state. The discussion also focused on the HomePod and its possible value as a smart speaker. Both Gene and Peter explained, at length, why a HomePod is not on their shopping lists right now, and whether Apple could sell more copies if it loosened its dependence on Apple’s ecosystem when it comes to being able to listen to your stuff.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Gene and guest cohost J. Randall Murphy present Robert Schroeder, author of Solving the UFO Enigma: How Modern Physics is Revealing the Technology of UFOs.Among the theories being tested is one called Warped Geometry by a Harvard physicist, which may allow for fast interstellar travel in the extra dimensions. Spectrographic data from actual UFO sightings would confirm if these craft are using technology we are now on the cusp of unraveling ourselves. Robert Schroeder recently spoke at the International UFO Congress in February 2018. He retired from Hewlett-Packard after 26 years in operations and product management, has a BA in math from Rutgers University, an AS in aerospace engineering and a MBA.


    Look, I know how the system works. You say anything about Apple with a negative connotation, and, for some reason, people become interested in reading about it. But I’m not looking for click bait. If that was my game, this site would have far more traffic than it has achieved over the past 19 years. I just try my best to honestly express my point of view, and let the chips fall.

    It’s been a pretty good run overall.

    Now over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to review lots of Apple gear, most due to getting an equipment loan from Apple. But I don’t seek them so often these days, as I prefer to concentrate on the products that I might actually buy if my credit card could support the transaction.

    But this column is less about my Apple wish list, and more about the items that aren’t on it. Now when it comes to iPhones, I might have considered an iPhone X, if the budget would allow it, but I’m not at all enamored of the notch. I’ve played with them, and tried to get accustomed to the design, but I’m not altogether convinced it’s anything more than a temporary solution due to camera/Face ID placement. Indeed there are published reports that Apple might reduce the height of the notch for its 2018 models, and attempt to eliminate it the following year. Yes, I realize the design constraints.

    Overall, though, despite the iPhone X exceptions, an iPhone is an iPhone, and it’s the smartphone of choice for hundreds of millions of people — including me.

    When it comes to Macs, I settled on a 27-inch iMac in 2009. Prior to that I had purchased one the most powerful Macs with a huge display. I had a Mac Pro, the classic cheese grater style, with a 30-inch Dell monitor.

    The new iMac intrigued me, however. Based on its specs, it was very much in the class of a quad-core Mac Pro but with a slimmed down all-in-one case. This was in the days before Retina displays debuted, and I had to consider whether dropping to 27 inches was a sacrifice, and, having looked at the iMac at an Apple store, I decided it wasn’t. When Apple went to the new dead-end design for the Mac Pro in 2013, it was too rich for my blood, and it didn’t offer the promise of any useful performance advantage. I do not use apps that benefit from eight or more cores.

    The same pretty much holds true for the iMac Pro. There is a very distinct audience for that product, and certainly the need for a computer with an entry-level price of $4,999 is also limited. I’m not at all sure what sort of sales are being generated, but Apple appears to be keeping up with orders. You can buy the standard configuration with near-immediate delivery, and wait no more than a week or two for a customized version.

    A new Mac notebook isn’t on my radar. My 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro still works great. It was outfitted with a 500GB SSD and 8GB RAM a few years back. The lack of a Retina display is a letdown for my aging eyes, but I really don’t travel near as much as I used to. It’s mostly used for testing, and then it runs for just a few hours over any given month.

    I might be a candidate for an Apple Watch; might. I’m a senior citizen that’s into health and fitness. My weight has been normal for decades; I actually weigh less than I did when I was 18, and I work out six days a week. But I haven’t considered the need of an accessory device to monitor footsteps or jogs or my heartbeat. My one-and-only watch is the stainless steel one I bought three years ago from Walmart at $12.88. It receives an annual battery replacement, and that’s also an advantage. Do I really need to deposit yet another gadget on the night table to recharge every night?

    If a long-lost relative bought me one for a present, I wouldn’t reject an Apple Watch. I might even change my tune some day if it became more independent of the iPhone and had longer battery life, but not now.

    I’m also no longer a candidate for an Apple TV. My third-generation model sits unused, and my TV watching diet is relatively modest, consisting of broadcast stations, basic cable and Netflix. I receive Netflix via the Google Chromecast feature on my VIZIO 4K M-Series TV, the one the company sent me to review last year. It’s activated with a dedicated button on the remote, the app interface is more than decent for my needs, and I have no big investment in movies and TV shows from iTunes. I can always rent from VUDU.

    So I’m about ready to put the Apple TV on eBay.

    The other device that’s not on my shopping list is the HomePod. I’m an old-time audio freak, but I focus on the TV and the iMac these days for listening to music and radio. My VIZIO sound bar sounds decent enough, and the iMac is enhanced with a small subwoofer, a BassJump 2, which is actually meant for a MacBook Pro but works well enough for my needs.

    So where would I put the HomePod and do I need a smart speaker with a half-baked digital assistant? Maybe I’ve become too much a creature of habit, but I actually wonder just how many people benefit from smart speakers. Sure, maybe Amazon has sold a decent number of them. At a starting price of roughly $40, an Amazon Echo might be a perfect impulse purchase, but I wonder how many people use them day in and day out for listening to music, or just following commands. Will it have staying power?

    I suppose I’d be more intrigued in the HomePod if it had a more open interface, where I could just listen to anything I want without being tethered to Apple’s ecosystem and features. Even the sound bar has a simple Bluetooth interface that works well with my iPhone


    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #954”

    1. KiraK says:

      What Apple products would I buy today if one failed thus must be replaced? An iPhone SE. A MacBook Air. That’s it, and neither product is one I lust over, just one I would buy to get me through the next cycles of product development hoping Apple will eventually make something that interests me again. I am hopeful for the rumored modular Mac Pro that is in the works. But, then again, Apple sorely disappointed me with the trashcan Mac Pro. Not to mention that Apple sorely disappoints with each iteration of macOS. I quit updating my OS quite a while back. The new versions offer nothing compelling at all, and actually suffer from shortcomings (changes) that I’m not keen on. Oh, how I pine for the scrappy underdog of old when Apple delivered the very best it could rather than what was simply good enough or undermined with planned obsolescence. Not perfect products mind you. But it gave a best effort, and a clearly better user experience that its competitors. Now Apple looks more like a blend of Microsoft and Sony. Meh.

      • gene says:

        I don’t really subscribe to the planned obsolescence theory at all. You can still use Macs as far back as 2010 and some from 2009 with High Sierra. Apple is not deliberately crippling older hardware beyond the normal changes you expect with an OS upgrade.


    2. Kaleberg says:

      I’m waiting for a 32GB Macbook Pro with a 2TB or larger SSD. My old 2012 machine is still usable, but I definitely need a lot more storage and more memory and a faster processor would be nice.

      Apple has always been a software company, so the hardware was packaged well but inflexible and rarely at the very top end of performance. I adopt new software features slowly. Some, like speech recognition seem completely worthless, but I’ve been enjoying iCloud for synchronizing and keeping documents with me. I like the convergence of the laptop and the phone / tablet systems.

    3. DK Jones says:

      I hear ya. Planning to get a new quad-core 21.5inch iMac, adding a 2nd display, have nice 4” 2-way studio monitors, and I use a small Wacom pen & touch tablet for my drawing. I stream via another older Mac connected to my HT system. Getting to the age where less is better.

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