THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
We’re at the start of the TV season, but there are already troubling signs for the broadcast networks. Audiences for returning shows are down by millions over the premieres last year. This is especially true for a scripted dramas that have been around for a while, but you have to wonder where the audiences have gone. Are they giving up on broadcast TV and cable, and binge watching something new from Netflix, or Amazon Prime Video?
Are people just sick and tired of current offerings, hoping for something better? Or will audiences return as the season progresses, assuming that nothing better has come along?
With so many choices, it’s hard to pick the right show. While I continue to enjoy traditional broadcast fare, I can see where the stories and the plotting are getting repetitious. Last week, I watched a new show, “Seal Team,” starring David Boreanaz, who previously starred in “Bones” and “Angel.” The setup seemed to be ripped off from lots of shows about military or police teams coming together to go on the mission of the week, and dealing with the usual cliched personal issues. Then again, the ratings weren’t bad.
Now when it comes to streaming fare, it was a big topic of discussion on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented outspoken columnist John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer. This week, Gene and John had an extensive discussion about the Apple TV 4K, and 4K TV. Did you know, for example, that not all 4K movies are really 4K? They are actually upscaled HD movies, and is that may be why Apple got the movie studios to agree to offer them at the same price as 1080P. John explained why Apple TV will remain a “hobby” and its future prospects as a streaming set-top box that costs more than the competition. But what if it provides a safer experience to customers who are willing to pay the price? You also heard about Tim Cook, and whether or not he’s a product visionary, and whether he needs to be for today’s Apple. And what about all those glitches reported with Apple’s new file system, APFS?
You also heard from commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, who also discussed the Apple TV 4K, and why he returned the one he ordered — without ever bothering to open the box. He’ll also talked about the fact that not of Apple’s 4K movies are 4K, and about the downsides of cable cord cutting, such as having to pay for lots of separate services if you want to watch a wide range of TV programming. Gene explained what happened to a 4K TV that Vizio sent him to review, where the delivery person placed it because nobody answered the door at Gene’s home. Even though Kirk prefers the iPhone SE for its size and convenience, he explained why he purchased an iPhone 8 Plus, and why he was not going to wait for the arrival of the flagship and costly iPhone X. There was also a discussion about ongoing problems with APFS and macOS High Sierra.
And by the way, that TV that Vizio sent me for review will be set up in the next few days (I received it as part of their special blogger program), and I’ll get to see its potential. It comes with a Google Chromecast built in, so I won’t need any outside gear to watch streaming shows, other than what is being offered via iTunes. Do such sets make streamers obsolete for many people? We’ll see. After all, Apple is not the only source of digital movies and TV shows. It seems to me that, other than being a part of Apple’s ecosystem, it’s hard to justify buying an Apple TV 4K at a much higher price than the competition. Sure, maybe the picture is a little better than the others, but I dare say most people probably won’t be all that concerned about minor differences.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present filmmaker Paul Kimball to talk about ghosts, hauntings, and the other stuff that he’s working on as part of my new series for Canadian television called “Haunted,” which he hosts along with Holly Stevens. Paul writes, “Whilst I would prefer for this to be a ‘UFO free’ episode, I’m happy to talk about the 50th anniversary Shag Harbour UFO Festival,” and so he does. You’ll also learn about the strange ghost-like phenomena that appears to follow the “Haunted” production crew around as they travel to places where ghosts have been reported. And did Paul receive messages from beyond the grave that may have been sent by the late paranormal investigator and author Mac Tonnies?
BYE BYE AIM
As long-time readers know, I got heavily involved in the online world beginning in October of 1989, when I received a sign-up floppy from America Online. Up till then, I tapped into a CompuServe membership at the office, but it was expensive, costing over $10 per hour during peak terms, and the boss strongly recommended that I only use it when necessary, which wasn’t very often. If you became an online junkie, you could quickly squander a hefty portion of your pay check navigating this text-based online service.
AOL’s ace-in-the-hole was a Mac-like graphical interface, and a $4 per hour price structure (the flat monthly rate came along some years later). Well, I still spent more time than I should, but when I began to hang out in the Mac user forums, one of the service’s in-house producers took pity on me and gave me batches of free time.
Eventually I became a forum helper with a free account. When I was elevated to the post of forum leader, I even received a paycheck. Add to that books on AOL and other topics, plus writing gigs with Macworld and other publications, and the 1990s were rather lucrative for me until the cutbacks began.
Now about instant messaging: One of the joys of the online world was the ability to send little messages back and forth with my online friends in real time. At first, AOL’s chatting feature was limited to the confines of the service, but with the launch of AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM, first available to Windows users in 1997, you could share the joy with anyone who wanted to download and install the app and sign up with a free account.
The 1998 romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, helped to codify email and chatting as part of our online culture. Over the years, third-party apps added AIM support, including Apple’s iChat for the Mac, which was later rebranded as Messages, same as the iOS version.
Indeed, I kept up my AOL account, using the screen name “Gene,” for over 20 years before the account just stopped working earlier this year. When I tried to get help from AOL, they said they actually couldn’t reopen the account because they had no information to verify my identity. Evidently press accounts didn’t migrate in the transition of AOL to its present owner, Verizon.
While you can still download AIM clients, AOL hasn’t really done anything to support them. Beginning with macOS High Sierra, Apple removed AIM support from Messages. These days, most people probably chat via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and, of course, Messages. But for some reason, Facebook evidently no longer supports Messages, which means I have to use separate apps, a real downer.
AOL has taken the hint and will discontinue AIM on December 15th. But there are evidently still people out there who use AOL’s declining dial-up service, it has 2.1 million subscribers according to current estimates. I assume most live in rural areas where broadband access is difficult or impossible. Some long-time AOL subscribers simply run the connection via their broadband ISP. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I can see where the comfort level might be important to them.
What’s so unfortunate about this is that AIM at least tried to present a relatively unified chatting system that people with different gear could use. There are third-party Facebook Messenger clients, and I use one on my Mac, but I’m bummed out that it no longer works with Messages. At the same time, Apple’s Continuity allows me to send and receive SMS messages on my Mac. I also use a macOS client for WhatsApp, which also requires a link with the iOS version to function, primarily because my son, Grayson, uses it for voice chats.
That makes three apps just to chat, plus Skype, which I only use when I’m actually recording a radio show.
I can see marketing reasons why certain chatting apps must be separate. Apple, for example, uses a proprietary system for Messages other than those in SMS format. But none of this conveniences the customer who has to manage multiple apps, particularly if you have contacts who prefer one service or another.
It’s messy. While I realize that the features of one app might be more appealing than another for some of you, this lack of integration is just plain frustrating. Well it is to me. While running three chat apps on my Mac isn’t such a big deal, it’s far less convenient on my iPhone. Whenever I get a ping, I have to stop and check where the message came from.
I’m going to miss AIM for many reasons, in large part because many of my online contacts used it too. But things change and, so far as I’m concerned, not always for the better.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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