• Newsletter Issue #956

    March 26th, 2018


    This week, we focused heavily during The Tech Night Owl LIVE on what I’ve come to call the “Siri Follies,” the endless problems reported with Apple’s digital assistant, and the perception that Amazon and Google do it much better. In the real world, as you might imagine, the truth is far more nuanced

    Yes, Siri has problems, sometimes big problems. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were more perfect, more capable of giving you the answers you want? Is there a reason? Should Apple have opened up iCloud to store more of your personal information to get a more accurate picture of your requests? Do you have to give up some measure of your personal security for a workable digital assistant? What about Apple’s machine learning, which debuted in iOS 11, and is that doing anything to make Siri run more efficiently?

    Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented writer/editor Adam Engst, of TidBITS, who joined Gene to talk about their varying approaches to watching TV. Gene actually cares about the technology, while Adam will more or less accept anything that works. The Apple TV isn’t treated well by Gene, who suggested that at least some sets with built-in smart features are more or less just as useful. There’s also a discussion about the HomePod, and its tendency to sound a little bassy. And what about Siri? Has it truly reached its potential or does it need work? What about a published report that some of the original Siri employees at Apple were unhappy with its direction and how Apple handled its development. Or would it take an improved scheme to handle its higher and higher load on Apple’s servers? Gene suggested an error correcting feature, where you inform Siri when it makes a mistake and give it permission to allow Apple to record the problem.

    You also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, who also focused on the so-called Siri follies. Gene repeated his suggestion about setting up an error-correcting feature to improve its accuracy. Jeff mentioned the recent auction of a job application from Steve Jobs for a six-figure sum, as Gene wondered why anyone would actually care about such a thing, while Jeff reminded us of Jobs’ influence on society. There’s also a pop culture discussion that includes well-known character actors and how they enhance the value of a film or TV show. Focusing on 4K TV, Gene and Jeff discussed the confusion and incompatibilities of HDR. Even if a TV or set-top box supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, not all sets will be able to present content in both formats. To make matters all the more confusing, not all sets support HDR from all HDMI ports, even the ones that are supposed to support these formats.

    I would have thought the industry would have learned from Beta and VHS, and Blu-ray and HD Video (I bet you don’t even remember that one). It’s best for the industry to come up with a more unified method for customers to enjoy new features.

    Yes, I suppose you could argue that Apple is not without proprietary standards, such as lightning. Then again, the company is often on the working standards committees of new technologies, such as H.265 and even USB-C.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Gene and Chris present one of our famous listener roundtables, with this episode focusing on the special appearance of former AFOSI agent Richard Doty. What were the implications of his claims about two Roswell UFO crashes, the presence of an alien visitor and possibility reverse engineered technology? Is any of it true, or was it all or mostly government disinformation to deflect our attention from the “real” UFO mystery? This episode features guest cohost J. Randall Murphy along with long-time listener Michael Allen, who uses his engineering background to provide a number of insights into what Doty said and the possible implications.


    When Apple executive Eddie Cue admitted that the company is developing a slate of original TV shows during an interview at the South by Southwest event in Austin, it was merely an admission of something most followers of the company already knew. Apple is spending one billion dollars to launch the project.

    This week there’s a published report that the first shows will debut a year from now, March 2019. How they will be distributed is still a matter of speculation, though there are surely strong hints on how it may play out. So Apple’s first efforts at original shows, “Carpool Karaoke” and “Planet of the Apps,” were of modest entertainment value, to put it mildly. But they were certainly proofs of concept.

    Apple was clearly convinced, and a launch date a year hence makes sense because quality shows don’t appear magically. There is usually a long gestation process to get even to the first or pilot episode. It’s not just the “Series Bible,” but such chores as script development, set development, costume design and, of course, hiring performers. It can take months or years to complete, so even if the first TV shows debut next year, it probably won’t be all of them.

    But how will they be presented? Probably in the same fashion as the first two shows, as a value-added extra on Apple Music. Maybe it’ll become Apple Music and TV,  completely separating it from Spotify and other music streaming services. Well, unless they, too, care to invest in original TV shows, and that’s way beyond the presumed resources of Spotify.

    Again, this is speculation, but maybe we should look at some statements from long-time music executive and producer Jimmy Iovine. As one of the guiding lights of Beats Electronics, Apple’s purchase of the company brought along about the music service that became Apple Music, and Iovine’s services.

    In a recent interview with BBC, Iovine more or less spilled the beans on what Apple’s planning.

    So Iovine complained about the sameness of existing music services, “The streaming services are all charging $9.99 and everyone has the same music. And it’s really nice. You get whatever song you want, you get your playlists — but there’s got to be more interaction between the artist and the audience. Sooner or later, something has to give.”

    He went on to talk about Apple’s quest for more original content, citing the $6 billion investment in original programming from Netflix.

    I think that sums it up without the flourishes.

    But Apple is hardly likely to set up a streaming TV service in the fashion of Netflix with exclusive content and a large repository of older content. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu have very much filled that space. A premium service, such as HBO and Showtime, merely duplicates what you can already get with your cable or satellite provider. CBS All Access mostly repackages existing programming from the TV network with a very few exclusives, with the centerpiece being “Star Trek: Discovery.”

    Apple Music is already there with 38 million paid customers, plus another eight million sampling the service as of this month. It’s not restricted to Macs, PCs and iOS gear. There’s also an Android version, adding up to a potential potential audience in the billions. As it stands, the percentage of Apple users who have signed up is in the low single digits.

    The rest is obvious. With original TV shows, Apple Music separates itself from the pack. Going forward, if more and more shows appear, maybe the service will be modified, though I don’t see it morphing into a direct Netflix competitor at this point in time, or as a streaming version of your cable company. That space has already been filled with the likes of DirecTV NOW, Dish Network’s Sling TV and others.

    Indeed, I very much suspect that space is already becoming hugely saturated. It started with the goal of cutting the cable cord, being able to get a good range of TV programming without spending a bundle that becomes an ever larger bundle every single year.

    So ideally, someone might subscribe to Netflix and one or two other services. If you live close enough to a decent number of TV stations, you might set up an antenna and get broadcast. Of course, if you live in a smaller city, with maybe one or two stations — or you’re too far from any network broadcast outlet — you could just return to cable for the cheapest package. But being able to receive distant stations is how cable started in the first place before the FCC mandated original programming. You know what happened next.

    I suppose there are distribution techniques I haven’t considered. But I double it’ll be a la carte via iTunes, nor will those shows be restricted to Apple TV or distributed through traditional channels. This is all Apple’s game and Jimmy Iovine has told us all how it’s going to be done.


    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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