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Newsletter Issue #957


On the Apple news front, not a lot has happened since a 2018 entry-level iPad was announced in connection with Apple’s educational event. Sure, there are debates as to whether that, and the rest of the company’s educational initiative. is sufficient to restart growth in that market. Or will Apple continue to lose its presence against Chromebooks?

Sure, Tim Cook said, in an MSNBC interview, that it wasn’t true that the iPhone is only built overseas. He pointed to a number of parts that were built in the United States, such as Gorilla Glass, processors and other components, not to mention all of the developers who created new businesses for themselves, and the additional employees Apple has hired.

As with other multinational corporations, parts and final assembly happen in different countries. The supply chain is far more complicated than certain politicians with illogical and unreasonable agendas can even begin to comprehend.

In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented a very special encore episode, in which we featured outspoken podcaster and columnist Kirk McElhearn, who focused heavily on his experiences with Apple’s HomePod. He explained the problems he’s found with the product, particularly a bassy response, and problems with the Siri voice assistant. Will future software updates allow you to adjust the frequency profile of a HomePod, other than with Apple Music and 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 all those false stories about Apple get started and why did they continue even after Apple revealed 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 came after the Apple Watch was regarded as a tepid performer in the marketplace for so long.

More recently, Apple released an update to HomePod, which supposedly contained the usual bug fixes. But some complained that the sound characteristics may have been altered as well. Since there are different stories, about less bass and other differences, it’s hard to quantify. Maybe if a consistent picture emerges, we’ll see what, if anything, Apple did differently.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Gene and guest cohost J. Randall Murphy feature a wide-ranging interview with the “dean” of UFO researchers, Stanton T. Friedman, who is retiring from lecturing on the subject. He reminisces about his many years of research in the field, and the key issues he still believes should be explored. You’ll also get a rare look at his personal life, such as his stint as a waiter in the Catskills in his youth, and the fact that he had to take dancing lessons. Gene and Randall make a special effort to attempt to take Stanton out of his usual comfort zone to widen the discussion to new areas.


It’s hard to believe that Apple’s response to Google Maps, Apple Maps, has been around since 2012. It was originally demonstrated at the WWDC that June, with release at the end of September. In addition to the usual turn-by-turn navigation, Apple touted 3D artwork and flyovers. Missing were transit directions, so Apple directed you to third-party solutions.

Unfortunately, the debut was a major disaster. Rather than take the responsible route and label it beta as it did with Siri at first, Apple delivered the impression it was a finished product. Far from it. The 3D display was flawed with melted landmarks, where the feature was supported. Directions were hit or miss. I recall a case or two where motorists were unceremoniously deposited onto one-way streets — in the wrong direction.

Apple CEO Tim Cook made no excuses. He apologized and suggested that you use someone else’s navigation app, even Google Maps, until Apple had the chance to fix things up. The executive in charge of the project, Scott Forstall, didn’t sign the mea culpa and was soon gone from Apple. I just wonder how that meeting went.

In the early years, there were even comparisons between Apple Maps and Google Maps, and it actually turned out that navigation accuracy wasn’t really that far apart. Neither was perfect. Apple had clearly made lots of improvements along the way to fix errors. Over time, the improvements included the addition of transit directions in a number of cities around the world. It’ll probably take years to catch up to Google, but the announcements are frequent, so there’s hope.

In short, a mapping app can’t be perfected in a few months, probably not in a few years. Google had its own issues, but the mapping feature was labeled as beta for quite a while, typical of such services. Had Apple done that, and admitted to the limitations, I suspect customers would have cut them some slack.

In recent weeks, I’ve been using Apple Maps liberally, to help in the search for a new place to live. I just look up the location in the browser — Google is the search engine — by tapping directions, and Maps launches a few seconds later, ready to guide me. If I choose directions directly from a site, it’s hit or miss. Sometimes it’s Apple, sometimes Google, and it gives me more of a chance to check out the interfaces and accuracy.

I do ride hailing gigs with Lyft and Uber to improve the cash flow, so I’m regularly exposed to navigation systems to pickup and drop-off points. Lyft offers links to Google and Waze, but has, of late, integrated the former into its driver app. Uber offers its own system, plus the same ones offered by Lyft.

None are perfect. Google has a tendency to garble pickup points, sometimes confusing a destination in a shopping center or an office center with an adjacent housing complex. It also fails to list the name of a business, which can make navigation difficult, because street or unit numbers aren’t always visible.

I recall one situation where an Uber rider wanted to be taken to an exercise facility in an office complex. We rode around for a few minutes to find it. I suggested that she just call them, at which point she went ballistic, got out and walked away in a huff. It takes all kinds.

These ride share services don’t use Apple Maps, but I wish they did. With dozens of trips under my belt, I can attest that, for me at least, the directions were generally on the mark, although I could devise different and slightly better ways to reach a few of the destinations. The interface is, frankly, somewhat reminiscent of Wave. Siri’s chatter is short and to the point. Google Maps and Uber’s “partner” navigation systems are often too wordy at major intersections. When I was conversing with a passenger, I often felt I was competing with the voice assistant.

None of this means that Apple has advanced ahead of Google. It’s clear to me, though, that there’s a major commitment to perfect it, and thus it will continue to get better. Just having more efficient verbal guidance is sufficient to make the trips more enjoyable.

The one significant problem, however, is that when my iPhone syncs with the VW’s Bluetooth system, it silences navigation apps. You can’t have both, and thus I’m apt to unlink the phone when I want to pay close attention to directions. It doesn’t seem to be VW’s fault, since I encountered it with other cars, so maybe it’s a problem Apple has to address.


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

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