This column has been stewing for a while, and a number of things have changed. The most important, from my standpoint, is the fact that, after a year of living in cheap motels, we are back in an apartment. I have a home office area once again, rather than a single table that barely contains my stuff.
I’ve also been doing a lot of work to boost the business. The Paracast has a staff now, not just a cohost. We are all working to build the show, spread our coverage in unexpected ways, and enhance the premium subscription version, The Paracast+.
At the same time, it is time to retire The Tech Night Owl LIVE.
The show debuted in the fall of 2002 as one of the early online broadcasts. In those days, we were part of MacRadio, an alternative network. When Apple premiered its podcasts repository, I made the move alone, because the rest of the MacRadio hosts were slow to make the change. I left the network shortly thereafter; it folded a year or two later.
As I’ll explain more in the next column, Apple, Inc. is clearly no longer a counter-culture company, and a counter-culture radio show is hardly necessary. As Apple transitioned to become a consumer electronics powerhouse, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, the Mac press slimmed. Macworld gave up a print edition in favor of a digital one, but most readers confine themselves, I suspect, to the free site.
MacLife? I’m not sure. It is evidently still available in a print edition, but I no longer receive copies in the mail. I found a Facebook page offering a subscriptions of 5 issues for $5, but the link to which it points only offers higher-priced alternatives. The site is just a sales portal; there is no access to any online content other than to sign up for a newsletter.
Now that Apple is a mainstream company, with plenty of coverage in the mainstream and tech media, counter-culture tech radio seems superfluous. So I’ve decided to focus my attention to boost The Paracast. which is, I suppose, another form of counter-culture show. But I won’t be giving up on tech. The Paracast will also feature futurists and other guests discussing advanced technology.
This column will continue on a periodic basis. There’s still plenty to discuss.
Meantime, we wrapped The Tech Night Owl LIVE with the July 6th episode, which is still available to download along with an archive of hundreds of episodes.
For the last show, we gathered some of our favorite guests to reminisce and talk about the present and the near-future of our favorite fruit company, Apple Inc. It all began with the early days of the Internet, its complexities, and Apple’s path from Macintosh to iPod, to its most lucrative product, the iPhone, followed by the iPad, Apple Watch and beyond. There was also an extensive discussion about the prospects for the success of Apple’s fledgling services, which include News+, a premium version of the app offering access to hundreds of magazines and newspapers, and Apple TV+, in which the company is spending billions of dollars to hire top-flight talent to create original TV shows. Where does Apple+ fit in market currently owned by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other streaming services? Are there already too many for a newcomer to succeed?
Guests for this very special episode included tech commentator and publisher Adam Engst, Editor and Publisher of TidBITS, outspoken veteran tech commentator Peter Cohen, and cutting-edge commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn.
Please Note: Subscribers to The Tech Night Owl+ will be contacted personally about the status of their subscriptions.
On this week’s episode of that other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Randall present the ever-prolific Fortean author, Nick Redfern, to discuss his very latest book, ” Flying Saucers from the Kremlin: UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets.” The book presents a compelling case for deep Russian involvement in the UFO field, which may have included recruiting those infamous contactees of the 1950s to become spies, fabricating the MJ-12 documents, feeding faux claims of alien visitation and more. Is it possible that, in addition with meddling with U.S. elections, the Russians are still involved in spreading UFO disinformation? Nick Redfern is the author of more than 40 books covering UFOs and other paranormal events. He’s been featured on a number of radio and TV shows, and is a frequent guest on The Paracast.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis
First some history: After using a Mac for several years at the office, I installed my first home system in 1989; yes 30 years ago. And boy was it expensive!
The price tag came to over $14,000, which adds up to over $28,000 in 2019 dollars. In other words, in the neighborhood of a well-equipped version of the Mac Pro that Apple premiered during the June WWDC, and a midsized car. Thank the stars for a low-cost lease.
But my first Mac was no high-end model. The setup consisted of a IIcx, a “junior” version of the Macintosh IIx, a 14-inch Apple color display, an Apple LaserWriter II NT and a collection of productivity software that included FileMaker, Microsoft Word and QuarkXPress. I attempted to duplicate the essence of my office environment so I could begin to work at home.
When I tried to buy more software for my brand new computer, I was treated as an oddball at local stores. If they had any Mac titles at all, they were consigned to dusty shelves at the rear; more often than not they were outdated versions. I soon learned that the best source was an online retailer, such as MacWarehouse. That dealer, by the way, has long since been absorbed into CDW.
Apple’s strategic mistakes over the next few years didn’t help. By the end of 1996, with efforts to build a state-of-the-art operating system floundering and sales tanking, the company made its smartest move, which was to acquire Steve Jobs’ NeXT.
While it once sold hardware, the NeXTSTEP operating system was its remaining product. Built on a tried-and-true Unix core, with platform independence, it seemed to be the ideal candidate to resolve Apple’s OS dilemma. And there was always the prospect of Steve Jobs returning to the company that he co-founded.
As most of you know, however, a working version of what became macOS X didn’t premiere until the fall of 2000, and then only as a public beta, retailing for $29.99. The “real” release came in March of 2001, but it was still basically unfinished. Fortunately, you could still use Mac OS 9 to get some real work done.
Each year Apple improved the beast. In 2006, Apple moved to Intel CPUs, after IBM and Motorola failed to deliver the PowerPC CPU upgrades needed to boost performance and support notebooks without huge cooling systems.
But the real changes in Apple began in 2001, with the release of what appeared to be an outlier, a hobby gadget known as the iPod. It was all about having 1,000 songs in your pocket! When iTunes expanded to Windows, things really took off, and Apple was never quite the same.
In 2007, the release of the “ultimate” iPod, the iPhone cemented Apple’s conversion to mainstream status.
At one time, IBM was the “enemy” when it came to a personal computer. These days, IBM employees can choose the gear they want, and tens of thousands of them have selected Macs, iPhones and iPads. Surveys have shown what we knew for years, that the Mac is easier and cheaper to maintain despite a higher purchase price.
Even the Apple Watch, considered a costly wearable, has become more popular than I ever expected. In my travels, I have seen cashiers at convenience stores and supermarkets — earning salaries not much higher than minimum wage — wearing an Apple Watch. Some even have the more expensive Series 4 with built-in cellular capability.
The Apple Watch is at the top of the heap when it comes to wearables and wristwatches, for that matter.
Despite its undeniable attractions, I’ve held off buying one. So I am still wearing the $12.88 stainless steel calendar watch that I bought from Walmart several years ago. Other than a couple of battery replacements, it works just great. Sure, it runs slightly fast, so I have to adjust the time every month; the calendar is brain-dead to months shorter than 31 days.
Apple is mainstream in other ways. CEO Tim Cook is regularly interviewed. He’s even personally lobbied with the President of the United States to get favorable consideration in the trade war with China. So your iPhone still doesn’t cost any more as a result, although that could change due to the acts of a certain mercurial chief executive.
It’s not that Apple doesn’t have a bunch of critics who attack its every move. But their arguments are old news; let’s call them fake news. Every new product represents the wrong direction, and is destined to fail bigly (don’t you hate that word?). The departure of chief designer Jonathan Ive means death to the company, as if he and only he did all the work, including developing the operating systems. Can you imagine Ive managing the iPhone production lines in China?
Facts don’t matter.
Nevertheless The Night Owl Persists
In the meantime, as with the radio show, I see that I’m probably destined to repeat myself if I stick with daily columns. I can take a 10-year-old column, change a few lines and product names, and present it as something new. That’s no way to be creative and to cover the present and future of personal technology.
Even though I have put The Tech Night Owl LIVE to bed, I will continue to speak out in these columns when the need arises, when there are significant new developments to report. And I’m still keeping up to date on things.
As I write this, I’m running the latest iOS 13 beta on my iPhone. I use it for work, both email and phone calls; I knew I am taking a chance. But if things go bad, I can always restore it to the last release version of iOS and my current backup. I have little to lose except maybe an hour or so, but so far I haven’t had reason to regret my decision. The things I need to work, largely email, the phone, Safari and the Lyft and Uber ride-sharing apps, all function normally.
At the same time, I am avoiding the macOS Catalina betas because it will no longer support apps that are all or partly 32-bit. My vintage version of Adobe Photoshop won’t run, nor will a clever utility, The Levelator, which offers a normalize function on steroids for audio files. A single drag-and-drop pass delivers an output file that reduces levels that are too high and boosts levels that are too low. It delivers broadcast-ready content with ease.
While I can buy a Creative Cloud license for Photoshop, finding a cheap or no-cost replacement for the latter has been difficult. I have urged the publishers of Audio Hijack, which we use to capture audio from an outboard mixer and Skype for the radio shows, to consider acquiring or replacing The Levelator with a 64-bit version. The original developer, the Conversations Network, has abandoned the project.
There are other possible replacements to explore, but I’ve yet to locate a suitable option yet that works in much the same way. One option recommended by other hosts out there is an online solution, Auphonic, an audio and video processing service. Auphonic doesn’t just optimize levels, but reduces noise levels and makes other enhancements. To use the service, you have to upload the file to their servers for processing and retrieve it when the job is done. It also means that you have to pay a monthly fee for anything longer than the free two hours of audio that’s provided each month.
To sign up with Auphonic for The Paracast and the supplementary Paracast+ show, After The Paracast, we’d need the 21-hour package, at $23 per month; there are no rollover minutes. I am not happy with adding another bill, even a small one. I will, however, test a single file of less than two hours to compare it to The Levelator.
I’m just a microcosm here: Many of you will have to judge your needs, and your dependence on 32-bit apps, before deciding whether to upgrade to Catalina. Even though Apple has been warning you about apps not optimized for macOS for a while now, that means nothing if you can’t upgrade to a newer version that supports 64-bit. You may be forced to search for an alternative, if there is one.
So much for Catalina, at least for now.
But drastic changes are nothing new for Apple. After moving to Intel CPUs, Apple provided an emulation component, Rosetta, to allow you to use PowerPC apps. That feature was dumped beginning with OS X Lion. Either replace incompatible apps, or don’t install the upgrade.
After apparently losing interest in the Mac for a while, regular updates have resumed. But major model refreshes, such as the MacBook Pro, come with higher prices. The long-delayed Mac Pro upgrade, which will start at $5,999 when it arrives later this year, can be optioned to a point where the price may exceed $35,000. In other words, similar to entry level models of a BMW 3 series automobile, or a Tesla Model 3.
In other words, it’s not dissimilar to what a top-of-the-line Macintosh Iix cost 30 years ago when you allow for inflation. And, no, I’m not signing up.
Despite Apple’s mainstream status, I remain curious about what it’s up to. I still use Apple gear, but I hardly see the need for daily columns anymore. Still, when something of interest, at least to me, develops, you’ll hear from me. You can depend on it!
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that momentum is building for the U.S. government to subject Google and other Big Tech firms to antitrust scrutiny for fears that they have become too big and too powerful.
In today’s digital ecosystem, politicians, political parties, organizations and media all rely on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube to get the message out because that’s where consumers by and large go to in order to consume information.
A Pew report found 68 percent of adult Americans use Facebook, or over 170 million. 24 percent use Twitter, or about 61 million. A separate Pew report found 73 percent, or 185 million, use broadband internet. Statista reports that Google’s family of sites are the most popular in America, with 255 million unique U.S. visitors in March 2019 alone.
So, the internet is indisputably a huge part of the way people are getting information nowadays.
Now, conservatives and Republicans have become alarmed as many of these platforms are censoring and restricting speech that does not coincide with Big Tech’s social justice agenda. Deplatforming is real. Actor James Woods has been censored on Twitter, Stephen Crowder has been demonetized on Youtube (owned by Google) and Candace Owens was temporarily suspended on Facebook before the company did a reversal and declared it “an error.”
Political discrimination is destructive as it creates an incentive to silence your political opponents. Suddenly you have countrymen reporting on one another to get them deplatformed. Is this healthy for a society?
But it is not merely the reporting features that are being abused on these platforms.
Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe released a video on June 24 that showed how the algorithms that produce Google search results (and other machine learning) are programmed with algorithmic “fairness” in mind to prevent, per an internal 2017 Google document, “unjust or prejudicial treatment of people that is related to sensitive characteristics such as race, income, sexual orientation or gender, through algorithmic systems or algorithmically aided decision-making.”
Just throw in political affiliation, philosophy or religion, and one can immediately recognize how Republicans, conservatives or Christians might feel marginalized on social media platforms, but Google did not end up looking into that. A study by Google in 2018 on algorithmic fairness stated, “due to our focus on traditionally marginalized populations, we did not gather data about how more privileged populations think about or experience algorithmic fairness.”
As a Google executive in the video who was quoted in an undercover camera noted, “Communities who are in power and have traditionally been in power are not who I’m solving fairness for.”
But if Google had looked at other groups, they would have likely found that supposedly “privileged” populations can feel marginalized, too. The 2018 study unsurprisingly found that participants expressed, “In addition to their concerns about potential harms to themselves and society, participants also indicated that algorithmic fairness (or lack thereof) could substantially affect their trust in a company or product” and that “when participants perceived companies were protecting them from unfairness or discrimination, it greatly enhanced user trust and strengthened their relationships with those companies.”
The thing is, nobody wants to be discriminated against, and if they are it will affect their perception of the company or companies that are doing it. Deplatforming, censorship and manipulating search and news results undermines trust in these Big Tech firms, and suddenly makes them a problem that many want to solve. No need for another focus group.
So, what responsibility does Big Tech have to foster our way of life and our competitive system of representative government, if any?
I would argue just as much responsibility as they feel to tackle the issue of fairness for historically marginalized groups, if for no other reason than it is good, sound business to cater to all comers, particularly in the political and governmental sphere. Why make enemies? It’s provocative.
Many solutions have been proposed to help there to be a level playing field on the Internet. Some are heavy-handed and appear to miss the target, while others are more narrow.
There is the Federal Communications Commission route, which might seek to make public utilities out of Big Tech companies, and all the regulation that comes with that. Net neutrality springs to mind, although that appeared more focused on throttling broadband speeds due to how much data was being used, whereas the issues today appear to focus on content-based censorship.
There is antitrust approach, whether via the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, that might envision breaking up these large companies. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has come out for this approach. In a recent statement, she said, “As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.”
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts “interactive computer services” from liability of what their users post, and grants them the power to remove items at their discretion they find objectionable. Some have proposed simply removing the liability protections, which would render sites that allow users to write whatever they want suddenly subject to liability of hundreds of millions of users. It would also effectively destroy the Internet, since nobody would be willing to assume the risk of hosting somebody else’s material that might be defamatory.
Some have called for conservatives to boycott these platforms and to take their business elsewhere or to make their own platforms, but what sort of echo chamber would we wind up with? More to the point, to win elections, Republicans have to appeal to independents and unaffiliated voters. You buy ads where there’s ad space to reach undecideds. Insular practices of exclusively only talking to partisans on your side is a recipe for being in the minority for a very long time. It does not grow a political movement to do that.
This author has posited that perhaps Congress could narrowly expand the franchise of protected groups under civil rights to include politics, philosophy and the like (although excluding employment hiring for exclusive organizations like political parties and organizations) and defining interactive computer services as public accommodations so that services cannot be denied on the basis of partisan differences. Throw in banking, DNS resolution, web hosting and email services as public accommodations while we’re at it for good measure.
From the perspectives of the Big Tech companies, surely they have noticed a marked uptick in calls to regulate their firms? Conservatives complain about censorship. Elizabeth Warren is worried about smaller businesses. The calls for regulation are directly proportionate to how powerful these firms have become. Do any of the above options sound profitable or more like a regulatory headache that will cost millions or billions of dollars to manage?
And these are not even things we would normally consider, but throw in the prospect of censorship and suddenly it’s an existential matter of survival. Republicans who might normally defend these companies from regulation might look the other way when it comes up now. See how that works?
The truth is, I’m taking time out of my column to focus on this issue and so are many other organizations that are worried they too could be censored. The platforms we’re talking about have such market saturation that is so pervasive it could be utilized to discriminate on the basis of politics in order foster conditions conducive to one-party rule, which I believe to be dangerous.
More broadly, groups like Americans for Limited Government and political parties depend on a competitive political system to function. If we and others like us were suddenly barred from posting on social media or hosting a website or sending emails, suffice to say we would not function for much longer.
In a representative form of government, political parties’ access to media and their followers are critical to building and growing constituencies, and in the digital age these represent a digital sort of civil rights, and they must be protected in order for that system to continue to exist. One party systems do not respect civil rights. They squelch dissent to consolidate power and they target political opponents and critics of the system.
The great Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli supposed that there were but two forms of government, republics and principalities, perhaps for that reason. One is ruled by the consent of the governed and the separation of powers, and the other by the will and domination of the state and over time needs to instill fear in order to govern.
There are liberal democracies that foster debate, and then there are one party systems that demand loyalty to the state. There’s not much in between.
The alarming trends we’re seeing with Big Tech companies engaging in censorship in the pursuit of “fairness” look a lot like a bid for one party rule. And the thing about one party systems is, once you have one, it’s really, really hard to get rid of it and there’s no guarantee that your favored class will be represented in its leadership. Sometimes those who support the rise of such a system wind up being marginalized by it. Look no further than Elizabeth Warren to see what lies at the end of that tunnel. Is it worth the risk? Be careful what you wish for.
For the very first time in 19 years, I’ve been on hiatus for a while, with only occasional update to this site. I’ve also been going through a painful period of financial instability, which has certainly put a damper on my creative process.
At the same time, the rush of news from Apple hasn’t been nearly as frequent or interesting as it used to be, and repeating the old tropes about tech pundits attacking the company for the usual bogus reasons has become boring.
In this week’s main column, below, I also wonder for the first time about Apple at last becoming a “normal” company, in which its new products may not seem so exciting and innovative as they used to be. But I’ll get to that and its ramifications shortly.
In the meantime, I am working on lots of new articles, including a review of the Beats Studio 3 Wireless headset that debuted last month. I have always been a reluctant headphone user, even going back to the days when I worked in a traditional radio station studio. With its emphasis on style and comfort, I have high hopes for the new Beats gear, and I was able to get a review sample from the manufacturer.
Is the new Beats bass-heavy, as older models were supposed to be? Is it worth its $349 purchase price, the same range as the equivalent Bose Quiet Comfort? I’ll let you know soon.
That takes us to this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, in which we presented a special holiday season segment, featuring security guru Scott Nusbaum, senior incident response at TrustedSec (a white hat hacking firm). Its main focus was a frightening new risk to online shoppers called “formgrabbing.” Nusbaum also explained what this means when you place an order, and how online criminals can gather your personal information, such as your address and credit card numbers and use them to steal your money. Are there ways to protect yourself from this threat? Nusbaum covered the whole gamut of online shopping dangers and how to navigate through the troubled waters.
In a special encore segment, you also heard from commentator/podcaster Peter Cohen, who focused on “Right to Repair” and the upsides and downsides. Peter offered his personal experiences as the employee of an authorized Apple dealer 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 affects customers where such laws vary from state to state. The discussion also covered the HomePod and its possible value as a smart speaker. Both Gene and Peter explained, at length, why a HomePod is still not on their shopping lists, 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 Randall present long-time UFO researcher and author Jerome Clark, who will discuss the third edition of his multivolume magnum opus, “The UFO Encyclopedia.” You’ll learn about the new material, the conclusions that were altered as the result of new research, particularly the Roswell UFO crash and how the case stands after all these years. Indeed, is any reported UFO crash credible? Randall and Jerry also debate the “experience anomaly,” and its impact on certain cases, such as abductions. Are all UFOs physical craft, or are other forces at work here? Jerry is also a songwriter whose music has been recorded or performed by musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Tom T. Hall.
Has Apple become an old, boring company?
Our image of Apple, Inc. has long been that of a maverick company that defies the conventional wisdom and goes its own way. Here’s to the “crazy ones” indeed!
In the old days, the most famous example was the Macintosh personal computer. Where computers in the early days used an arcane text-based interface, paying lip service to color displays, Apple provided a graphic user interface designed to make it warm and fuzzy even to people who couldn’t adapt to the traditional PC.
Steve Jobs always envisioned the Mac as a computing appliance, and the original model actually offered no way for you to do any upgrades to memory and other components. In passing, the Apple of 2018 has mostly reverted to this concept, and what you buy is as upgradeable as your toaster oven. Period!
But Apple really attained prominence with the original iPhone that, in a few years, became the company’s best-selling product. Indeed, its success gave the more critical pundits ammunition to claim that, if iPhone sales declined — and nothing is forever — the company would be in deep trouble.
Each year, the iPhone received upgrades. Even when the new model seemed little different from its predecessor, at least externally, there were plenty of changes inside. Consider the iPhone 5s, which for all practical purposes wasn’t distinguishable from the iPhone 5. But in addition to faster performance and a better camera, it provided the first iteration of Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
If you examine the spec sheets year-over-year, lots of innovative engineering is present. Unlike all other smartphone makers, save for Samsung, Apple designs its own CPUs and, since last year, its own graphics hardware. The proof is in the pudding, as the latest “X” series iPhones tout performance that is in the range of the more powerful notebook computers. The latest iPad Pro promises graphics performance at the Xbox level.
At the same time, the annual double-digit growth of the iPhone is long ago and far away. Except for the poorest third-world countries, most anyone who wants or needs a smartphone has one. So most units sold are replacements, and Apple builds reliable gear and supports it with OS upgrades for several years, which slows the upgrade cycle.
Shorn of the new features, an iPhone 6, running iOS 12, can deliver credible performance that should satisfy most people except for those who require instant response, a better camera, and superior displays. Some features, such as 3D Touch, essentially went nowhere and isn’t even present on the iPhone XR.
Knowing that sales have flattened, Apple has devised other ways to boost revenue, beginning with the $999 iPhone X last year. For 2018, the iPhone XS Max begins at $1,099, and the price goes up fast if you choose larger storage options.
Even though Apple was criticized for ignoring the Mac in recent years, the very newest models are more expensive even as PC makers continue to rush towards the bottom in pricing their hardware. The presence of the controversial Touch Bar meant an increase of several hundred dollars for recent MacBook Pros.
After four years, Apple introduced a new, more powerful Mac mini, but the base price increased from $499 to $799. If you click Customize on Apple’s ordering page, you can increase the price to $4,199, and that’s before you acquire a keyboard, input device and display.
The professional grade iMac Pro starts at $4,999 and maxes out at $13,348 before you get to a VESA mounting kit. Heaven knows what the promised Mac Pro replacement will cost when optioned to the hilt.
This is not to say these prices are too high. When you compare the prices of Apple gear to direct PC competition, it is usually quite competitive. Apple just doesn’t play in the low end of the market.
The new iPad Pros are also more expensive too and so is the Apple Watch Series 4.
What this means is that the average sale price has gone up. So despite the complaints, it’s clear that millions of customers are happy to pay a higher price for a premium product. At the same time, Apple is offering services, such as Apple Music and iCloud, for which you pay monthly fees. The fastest growing segment of Apple’s business is, in fact, services.
Apple realizes that it can earn a lot more money from every satisfied customer.
But has it reached the point where these products have become so sophisticated that most users will never, ever use the new features? As I watched Apple’s Keynote slide shows listing the features of its newest gear at the iPad/Mac event in October, it started to become a blur. Dozens of amazing features, state-of-the-art performance, but how much did it mean for all but a tiny percentage of professionals?
It had a same old same old feel. A slick production, enticing videos to demonstrate the new capabilities and the amazing engineering, and boasting about what you can do with these machines.
This isn’t to say that smartphones, smartwatches, tablets and personal computers are good enough and there’s no need to improve them. As I said, the price of admission is no doubt worth it. By charging more money, and boosting services, Apple earns more revenue. Unit sales don’t matter so much, which is why it joined other companies in no longer revealing them in the quarterly financial reports.
Slick, professional, but is the excitement gone? Has a middle-aged Apple become just another boring multinational corporation? It’s a tricky question no doubt, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about of late.
To understand what the Apple Store meant to me, let me tell you a personal story. In the 1960s, I had a hobby, building radio and general audio gear. Some of it I bought for myself, others I assembled for friends — at no charge. Well, I was a teenager, living at home. I wasn’t rich, but I had a tape recorder and a radio and a mic, so I was mostly happy.
In those days, I made periodic trips to one of the early consumer electronics stores, Lafayette Radio. After going bankrupt in 1980, its assets ended up in the hands of the company that eventually became Circuit City.
After moving to the Phoenix area in 1993, I shopped occasionally at a local Circuit City, but mostly for CDs. If I wanted a new Mac, I went online and saved money. It’s not that Circuit City didn’t carry Macs. They had some, and I remember visiting the retailer a few years later and seeing a few dusty models placed haphazardly on a single display table off to the rear
somewhere. Most had been left off. The few that were running mostly displayed a Hypercard slide show that didn’t really entice anyone to buy anything.
Besides, the salespeople were busy encouraging you to check out the real center of the action, the PC tables.
I recall a report some time later, about Steve Jobs admonishing Apple dealers to give Macs a fair shake. Make that demanding in very raw language. It was, after all, vintage Steve Jobs.
Apple finally decided to go its own way, by establishing its own retail chain. Jobs recruited former Target retail executive Ron Johnson to help him design the new stores.
When the first two Apple stores had their grand openings in 2001, in Glendale, CA and Tyson’s Corner, VA, the tech pundits were skeptical. Other electronics manufacturers, including Sony and Gateway, launched chains of branded stores, but they really didn’t go anywhere.
In large part, it’s because they were just ordinary retailers, only focused on a single brand. So why go to one when you could get the very same merchandise at the same price — or less — at a store with a far greater selection?
Apple’s approach was to customize your shopping experience with a specialty boutique with what appeared to be a remarkably noncommercial approach to retail sales. For one thing, you weren’t confronted with greedy salespeople trolling for a sale. Indeed, nobody pushed you to buy anything, or even to leave if you just wanted to just hang out.
If you had a problem with your Apple gadget, there was the Genius Bar where you could get advice, or authorized repairs by a factory trained specialist.
As a contributor to the Arizona Republic, and later Gannett and its national newspaper, USA Today, I attended two of the openings in the Phoenix area. At the Chandler, AZ Fashion Center, I met Johnson, then Apple’s retail chief. I also got an Apple Store T-shirt.
I remember the opening ceremony, where the newly-minded employees welcomed customers with loud rounds of applause.
In 2002, I received a VIP invite to attend the grand opening of an Apple Store in New York’s SoHo district. I was part of an exclusive group that included Apple executives, even Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller, fellow tech reporters and a smattering of show business types.
While there, I had a chance to speak with Jobs for a few moments before he pulled his usual stunt to end a conversation, which was to walk away in mid-sentence. But I also spent several minutes speaking with the comic actor Tim Allen, who starred in one of my favorite movies, “Galaxy Quest.”
Recalling that the film ended in a way that a sequel might have been filmed, Allen said that one key factor that hurt the effort was a motorcycle accident that actor Daryl Mitchell, who portrayed the starship’s navigator, suffered the previous year. The mishap left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite the handicap, by the way, Mitchell has remained active in show business. These days, he’s a featured player in a hit CBS series, “NCIS: New Orleans.”
But there’s still hope for a “Galaxy Quest” revival on Amazon, despite the 2016 death of Alan Rickman, another star of the cult classic.
Now my feelings about the arrival of the Apple Store in the Phoenix area were mixed. Before they arrived, I made a decent income as a Mac consultant. But Apple could provide much of what I offered, at least to people who didn’t mind carrying their gear to the store, at no charge. It didn’t take long for most of my clients to choose the obvious alternative, even when I lowered my hourly rates.
At first I focused on older gear, mostly Macs that were too old for Apple to provide direct support. As my customers grew older, however, that business mostly faded.
Despite my bittersweet feelings about the matter, I do get to an Apple Store from time to time to check out the new gear. Overall, the shopping experience remains mostly good, but the Genius Bar is often overwhelmed, so you have to reserve a session before you pay a visit.
As to Ron Johnson, he finally left Apple and went on to JCPenney to overhaul the shopping experience over there. But it proved to be a poor fit, and Johnson departed after the struggling retailer’s situation only worsened from his attempts to move them upscale. These days he’s connected with Enjoy, a startup that hopes to overhaul the shopping experience.
On the surface, it may seem that macOS Mojave is an extremely minor update. Other than Dark Mode and the reliance on Metal graphics, it doesn’t seem a whole lot different when you look it over, as I did starting last month. But the mere fact of choosing Metal means that Macs without support for that graphics technology have been made obsolete.
Before Mojave was announced, I had planned (hoped) to test the betas on my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro. Obviously that’s not possible, despite the fact that it has an SSD formatted with the APFS file system. That’s because its graphics hardware, state of the art eight years ago, preceded the arrival of Metal.
A 2012 MacBook Pro, where a Retina display debuted on Macs, works just fine. So do older Mac Pros with graphics cards that support Metal. So, my only option was the iMac. With a Fusion drive, it lost out on the APFS conversion last year, because Apple couldn’t make it compatible. It appeared on the early betas of High Sierra, but was soon pulled.
There was a certain promise from Apple software chief Craig Federighi that APFS support would return in a “future update.” Nothing more was said on the subject until May, weeks ahead of the WWDC and the launch of High Sierra’s successor, Mojave. I wouldn’t assume Federighi expected it wouldn’t arrive till then, but if he knew it would take the full year all along, he wouldn’t admit it.
This time it was clear APFS was expected to work. So, with multiple backups, I was willing to take the chance. If something went wrong, I could just restore the computer.
My only concern at the time was the report from Rogue Amoeba, publisher of Audio Hijack, which we use to capture audio for the radio show, that it wasn’t compatible with Mojave. Apparently the ACE component, used for instant capture, doesn’t work as of this writing. So far, the publisher hasn’t even hinted at when that update will arrive, though it is expected to appear when Mojave is released. I asked their support people if I might make it work without ACE, and the answer wasn’t definite.
Based on experience with previous versions of macOS, where this component had to be updated, I suspect that the main issue would be that I couldn’t capture audio with an app running. Audio Hijack would have to launch it first. If the app is running, it’ll put up a prompt that you click to quit and relaunch the app. Yes, an assumption, but I decided to go for it.
So on a Friday night, I backed up all my content via Carbon Copy Cloner to a second drive. I was ready.
I didn’t monitor the entire installation, except for an occasional glance. When I woke up the next morning, my iMac was running Mojave, and for the most part it didn’t look terribly different. Well, until I launched Disk Utility, and discovered that the drive was indeed using APFS. There was no warning and no option to block it. There it was, and it seemed OK.
I assume Apple has tested Fusion drives to know that it would be successful, and so far Mojave is mostly behaving. I do see slightly speedier performance, and I like the idea of being able to duplicate files to another portion of the drive almost instantaneously.
But what about Audio Hijack?
I launched it, selected my workflow and started a recording. As I suspected, Skype launched and everything went normally. If, however, I started a recording while Skype was running, Audio Hijack would put up a prompt to quit and relaunch. That’s no different from the way it worked before the ACE or instant capture component was developed.
I’m still waiting for an update from Rogue Amoeba — they aren’t sure when it’ll be ready — but I’m happy to accept this very minor inconvenience to produce my radio shows. Now maybe some other features, such as scheduling, are also affected, but I don’t use them.
As for Mojave, it does seem a tad snappier, but I’ll await official benchmarks with the release version. The iMac’s startup takes nearly twice as long, though. It stops a little more than halfway through, and resumes a short time later. I assume that glitch will also disappear from the release version, though I grant that Apple has allowed OS bugs to persist through a beta process in the past.
This week, Apple released developer beta six, which is the fifth beta made available to public beta testers. Within the next four to six weeks, a Golden Master candidate ought to be out, which means that the rest of the development process will mostly involve fine tuning. Once it’s released, Apple will go full steam into the first update, 10.14.1.
In the meantime, I’ve looked over Mojave’s Dark Mode and turned it off. Maybe I’m too set in my ways. Unfortunately, the latest beta has essentially made my Brother printer useless. Whenever I attempt to print a document, any document, the printer driver app displays an error, “Unable to startup session, error =-10.”
I went through the usual troubleshooting routines, including restarting. resetting the iMac’s printing system, resetting the printer, and reinstalling the latest drivers from Brother. They are rated for High Sierra. So this is clearly a problem that Apple or Brother — or both — must fix.
For now, I can’t print, since my other printer, an Epson All-in-One, is at a storage facility along with most of my stuff.
So I’m bummed out a little, though it is time I cure the printing habit, so maybe it’s all good.
As to Mojave, I don’t regret installing the betas. At this late stage, it’s probably in decent shape — well except for that printer glitch. But if you’ve waited this long without fretting over it, you might as well wait for the final release that’ll probably arrive at the end of September or early in October.
What I read last week is so typical of anti-Apple foolishness, but I was hardly surprised. As you know, we’re less than two months away from an expected Apple event to introduce new iPhones and no doubt an updated Apple Watch. Whether or not any other gear will be launched is a question mark, even though new iPads and Macs (in addition to the ones launched last week) are expected.
But it’s not too early for the usual gang of Apple haters to claim that whatever is going to happen is wrongheaded, that the company with the world’s largest market cap is just incapable of doing things right. Or perhaps following the foolish speculation from a wayward and ill-informed blogger. If Apple doesn’t follow the erratic and illogical twists and turns of would-be journalists, they will never succeed. All that’s happened to them so far is some gigantic fluke.
Some day, any time now, the market will self-correct and the “right” companies will retake control.
Any time now.
With that in mind, there has been some new speculation from industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, whose predictions about new Apple gear are often close to the mark. On that basis, There are reports about refreshed Macs, including the long-awaited Mac mini, a new low-end Mac notebook, and refreshes for the rest of the lineup, and the iPad. But there is one wrinkle with Apple’s tablet, an 11-inch model that evidently replaces the 10.5-in model, and the addition of Face ID to replace Touch ID.
So far, we have the 2018 MacBook Pro sporting huge speed and feature improvements, including a six-core CPU and an available 4TB SSD for a humongous amount of money as notebook computers go.
His predictions about the iPhone haven’t changed. There will be two versions of the iPhone X, a minor update to the existing model and an iPhone X Plus with a 6.5-inch display. Prices may drop on the cheaper model by $100, which would leave the bigger handset at the same price point as the previous iPhone X that was regarded as too expensive at the same time it became a top seller. In addition, he predicts an LCD model with a 6.1-inch TFT LCD display. The usual range of older models will probably stick around with lower prices, but what about the iPhone SE?
Speculation about the iPhone updates is enough to send the hater hearts aflutter. Especially the lack of an update for the smallest and cheapest iPhone. Does that mean there won’t be any changes, or maybe the existence of an update has been overlooked so far? Well, there was some speculation about a minor CPU update earlier this year, which has faded.
So does that mean the rumored iPhone SE 2 will never appear?
Obviously the complaint is that failing to produce a low-end model is a bad move for Apple, and thus you can expect abject failure this fall. I don’t pretend to know how many units have been sold so far, though it’s clear most customers appear to prefer the units with larger displays, and, in fact, the most expensive models. But that doesn’t mean that Apple is ignorant of the fact that lots of people still want smaller handsets, and why not satisfy those needs?
The current iPhone SE uses parts from the iPhone 6s, but that’s no reason to panic, for one reason that the distressed blogger overlooks, or maybe doesn’t know about.
As most readers know, Apple is touting huge performance boosts on iPhones with iOS 12, focusing on the iPhone 6 as receiving improvements of 50% or faster. While no promises are being made about the iPhone 6s, one assumes it’ll also receive a decent level of improvement, and you should expect that too with the iPhone SE.
So even without any change, the existing SE should deliver more than enough performance for most users. Sure, the camera won’t change, but it delivers pretty good photos as it is.
But maybe Apple is planning an SE update. While this model is not a huge seller in the scheme of things, even sales of a few million are quite significant and would be substantial for most other companies. A speed bump and camera enhancement, without actually changing the look, would involve at best a minor R&D expenditure to Apple.
Then again, one might raise the very same logical arguments for updating the Mac mini, which hasn’t been touched in four years. That is an even less defensible position, especially since the last revision actually downgraded the model apparently in exchange for a $100 reduction in price. You could no longer upgrade RAM, and the CPUs topped out at two cores. The four-core models that some cherished for use in data centers were no longer available, and Apple never explained why.
Now it; only one Mac line has been enhanced this year so far.
It’s also quite possible that the iPhone SE won’t be changed this year, or that Apple will replace it with something else that’s still relatively small, but perhaps has further enhancements to bring it in line with current models.
But if that doesn’t happen, it won’t signal a fatal mistake for Apple so long as people are still buying the existing SE. Obviously Apple has no obligation to meet the demands of yet another blogger with an inflated sense of self worth.
Since I’ve been largely in cheapskate mode in recent years, I seek ways to save money. I no longer pay $99 to join the Apple Developer Program. At most I miss one or two early previews after the annual WWDC. Otherwise, a public beta release is usually released no more than a day after the developer version, unless there’s something really bad that has to be fixed first.
With the release of the iOS 12 public beta, I went ahead and downloaded it for installation on a late model iPhone. It is possible to restore your device if something goes wrong by downloading a previous version (not to worry, it’s searchable). So I took the plunge.
The first step requires installing Apple’s device profile on your iOS device, so it will be able to alert you, download and install the new releases.
Since this week’s release is the first for regular folk, don’t expect miracles. The final or near-final version won’t be out for two months. That said, my initial experience, after about a day, hasn’t been so bad. The symptoms are largely about flakiness. So sometimes, when I try to delete an email, the Trash icon isn’t there, and backing up through the menus and returning brings it back.
A handful of web pages stay white and never render or refresh, but it’s not consistent. So far, at least, there have been no crashes.
One of the tentpole features of iOS 12 is not something you can see. It’s the promise of faster app launches, faster keyboard display, and speedier swiping to the camera, ranging from “up to” 50-100%. The highest boost is promised for an iPhone 6.
I read an early review of the first iOS 12 release for developers, in which the promised performance leaps were tested. It was a mixed bag, with some of the touted functions coming close to matching Apple’s claims, and some not-so-different. To be fair, early betas aren’t optimized for performance. Better to test this with a final or near-final release.
So I didn’t bother to actually check speeds. My subjective impressions were positive. It seems to boot faster, and most things appear to be snappier. Both Lyft and Uber, which used to take maybe six seconds to load, took roughly three seconds to launch with the iOS 12 public beta. The zooming effect appears faster and smoother, with no overt evidence of stuttering. Most interesting is the fact that, even though I’m at a motel with three megabit Wi-Fi connection, my iPhone didn’t didn’t feel that slow at online access.
Assuming faster performance is all or mostly across the board, it means that the same hardware that worked with iOS 12 will of a sudden run faster. This is very much against the grain, where the oldest supported hardware usually becomes unbearably sluggish with a new iOS release.
Indeed, it’s very likely some people buy new gear not because what they have doesn’t work so well, but because performance has deteriorated so much — and not just because the battery is spent and the CPU is being throttled. Thus, Apple might possibly sell fewer iPhones. But I expect Tim Cook and his team expect people, will be more satisfied that their gear is not exhibiting many overt signs of aging and will be just as inclined to upgrade, or more will stick with iPhones.
I am not considering how well an Android device ages since many of them never receive a new OS release.
I am interested in the FaceTime Group feature as a possible substitute for Skype, at least for audio-only use, but that means that guests for my shows will need to use Apple gear. I’ll keep it in mind.
The added security and privacy features, including a proper password manager and default blocking of social network interactions, are welcome. But they aren’t things people will necessary notice until they began to seriously look around.
I’m also intrigued by yet another promise of a better Siri — last year’s promise wasn’t fully realized — and I’ll give it a chance and see if I can reliably take it beyond simple alarms.
For the most part, you should be able to install an IOS public beta without seeing much in the way of front-facing changes, at least at the start. Although I’ve seen over 200 new or changed features listed, they are largely more subtle than usual. This may be in keeping with the rumor that Apple is focusing more on performance and reliability than adding cool stuff, that some key features are being held off to 2019.
It’s not that Apple plans to say that a new OS release is less than originally planned. But it’s also true that some features may be delayed or omitted because they aren’t perfected. But customers shouldn’t have to wait for months for AirPlay 2 and other promised features either. On the other hand, it may also be possible that this will be the norm, that some things will be rolled out through the year as they are ready. It’s not that Apple has to worry about readying an OS for retail sale.
But even though my initial experiences with iOS 12 are positive, I urge you to be careful about installing a beta OS unless you have a ready backup routine.
I will hold off installing a macOS Mojave beta until it’s closer to release. I no longer have a backup computer, since the next OS won’t run on my 2010 MacBook Pro.
It wasn’t so many months ago when there were loads of reports that Apple’s great experiment, the iPhone X, was a huge failure. Inventories were growing, there were major cutbacks in production. All this allegedly based on reports from the supply chain.
Such blatant examples of fake news aren’t new. It happens almost every winter. After a December quarter and peak sales, Apple routinely cuts back on production from the March quarter. It’s not the only company to follow such seasonal trends, but somehow Apple gets the lion’s share of the attention.
From time to time, Tim Cook schools the media about relying on a few supply chain metrics, reminding them that, even if true, it doesn’t necessarily provide a full picture of supply and demand.
He might as well be talking to himself since he’s almost always ignored.
In any case, the numbers from the December and March quarters painted a decidedly different picture than those rumors depicted. The iPhone X was the number one best selling smartphone on Planet Earth for every week it was on sale. I don’t know if the trend has continued, but Apple has nothing to apologize for.
Now one of the memes presented in the days preceding the arrival of the iPhone X — before the talk about its non-existent failure arose — was that it would fuel a super upgrade cycle. Up till then, the usual two-year replacement scenario was beginning to fade. In part this was due to the end of the subsidized cell phone contract in the U.S. fueled by T-Mobile’s supposedly innovative “Uncarrier” plans. They appeared to represent something different, but at the end of the day, not so different in what you had to pay, at least for the term of your smartphone purchase.
Originally, you’d acquire a cell phone either by buying the unit outright, or signing up for a two-year contract in which you’d pay something — or nothing — upfront and then be obligated to keep the service in force for at least two years. If you cancelled early, you’d pay a penalty to cover what the carrier presumably lost because you didn’t pay off the device.
After two years, you’d be able to cancel your contract without penalty, but if you kept it in force, the price wouldn’t change even though the device had been paid off. It was a boon to the carrier if you didn’t upgrade. But if you did, the two-year requirement would start all over again.
With an “Uncarrier” deal, the cell phone purchase was separated from your wireless service. You could buy it, add one you own to the service if it was compatible, or acquire a new handset for an upfront payment, plus a given amount every month until it was paid off. It was essentially a no-interest loan, but you’d have the right to exchange it for a new device after a certain amount of time, usually 12 to 18 months. This way, the purchase became a lease, and you’d never own anything. In exchange for getting new hardware on a regular basis, you’d never stop paying.
What it also meant is that, once your device was paid off, the price would go down, giving you an incentive to keep your hardware longer if it continued to perform to your expectations.
Now that predicted iPhone super upgrade cycle didn’t occur as predicted. Yes, iPhone sales did increase a tiny bit in the last quarter, but revenue has soared because the iPhone X dominated new purchases, thus boosting the average transaction price. That, too, was contrary to all those predictions that Apple’s most expensive smartphone was way overpriced, and customers were reacting negatively.
How dare Apple charge $999 and up for a new handset?
Rarely mentioned was the fact that Samsung, Pixel Phone by Google and other mobile handsets makers also sold higher-priced gear, but there were few complaints. It’s not that sales were great shakes, but some regarded such handsets as certain iPhone killers, except that Apple overwhelmed these products in sales.
So where’s what’s the latest alleged super (duper?) upgrade cycle about?
Well, according to a published report in AppleInsider, Daniel Ives of GBH Insight claims that “the Street is now starting to fully appreciate the massive iPhone upgrade opportunity on the horizon for the next 12 to 18 months with three new smartphones slated for release.”
Deja vu all over again?
For now Apple has become a Wall Street darling. But don’t bet on that continuing. The next time someone finds reasons, real or imagined, to attack Apple’s prospects for success, the stock price will drop again. Of course, there are other reasons for stock prices to vary, including the state of economy, possible trade wars and other reasons, including investor psychology.
So what is Ives expecting?
He is projecting that Apple might sell up to 350 million iPhones over a period of 18 months after this fall’s new product introductions. Supposedly they will be so compelling that people who might have otherwise sat on the sidelines and kept their existing gear will rush to upgrade.
As regular readers might recall, predictions have focused on a new iPhone X and a larger iPhone X Plus, plus a regular iPhone with an edge-to-edge LCD display. Will there be an iPhone 8 refresh, or will Apple just sell last year’s models at a lower price? What about a smaller model, the alleged iPhone SE 2?
I don’t disbelieve the rumors about the 2018 iPhone lineup, but predictions of super upgrade cycles may not be so credible. People appear to be keeping their smartphones longer, so long as they continue to deliver satisfactory performance. And. no, I won’t even begin to consider the performance throttling non-scandal.
The question is the same: How will Apple distribute all the TV shows it will create over the next year or so. Will it be a supplement to Apple Music, say Apple Music and TV, or will it be a totally different service? Will Apple just offer the shows a la carte, on a series pass, or establish a new streaming service?
Indeed, does the world even need another video streaming service?
Loads of people have Netflix around the world, and it’s producing hundreds of original shows every year. That and its large library of existing content is enough to satisfy many people, but it’s often supplemented by, say, a basic cable or satellite package that provides broadcast channels, a small number of free cable channels, and maybe some other odds and ends. Or perhaps a similar general-purpose streaming service, such as Sling TV from Dish Network or DirecTV NOW!
At one time, Apple was rumored to be working on a streaming TV package, but evidently couldn’t reach a deal with the networks. The reasons are unknown, but some suggest it was mostly about Apple’s stringent demands, a common excuse. By creating its own content, the entertainment companies are bypassed, but it would take years to build a big library, and that would ultimately involve returning to the industry to license content.
But the streaming sector is saturated. There are probably too many services as it is. So I still expect it to be included as part of Apple Music. While some suggest Apple wouldn’t recover the estimated billion dollars it’s spending on its TV project, it plans for the long term, and it doesn’t matter if the existing Apple Music structure doesn’t deliver a huge profit. It’s just one more factor that ties people into Apple’s ecosystem. Apple didn’t make profits from iTunes at first either.
Now on last weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented a special featured encore episode in which we presented Major General (Ret) Earl D. Matthews: He spent three decades at the nexus of big budgets and cybersecurity, including stints as Director, Cybersecurity Operations and Chief Information Security Officer at HQ, U.S. Air Force, and VP for Enterprise Security Solutions at Hewlett-Packard. In his current role as Senior VP and Chief Strategy
Officer at Verodin, Inc., he champions the concept of security instrumentation, a process that continuously validates the effectiveness of each security element in place. During this episode, he covered the gamut of cybersecurity issues that included the privacy issues at Facebook, the DNC hack, along with managing your personal privacy at a time when tens of millions of Americans have had their credit reports hacked. Major General Matthews also revealed two episodes of ID theft that impacted his own family.
You also heard from tech columnist and former industry analyst Joe Wilcox, who writes for BetaNews. During this episode, Joe explained why he regards Apple’s Siri voice assistant as worse than Microsoft’s Skype, despite all the connection glitches with the latter. Will hiring former Google executives help Apple make Siri more responsive and accurate, without sacrificing your security? You also heard about Google I/O and Android P, and about all those fake news reports that the iPhone X was unsuccessful. For two quarters straight, however, Apple reported that the iPhone X was not only its best selling Apple smartphone for each week it was on sale, but the hottest selling smartphone on the planet. Gene shared his 20 years experience with the iMac, which began with the original Bondi Blue model that he beta tested for Apple as part of the former Customer Quality Feedback (CQF) program. You also heard about the Apple
Watch and whether it makes sense for Apple to switch Macs from Intel to ARM CPUs.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: On an anniversary of Kenneth Arnold’s UFO sighting, Gene and returning guest cohost J. Randall Murphy host cryptozoologist and Fortean Loren Coleman. Loren discusses the weird deaths of paranormal authors, Ufologists, Mothman-linked folks, Superman personalities, and celebrities. Do these clusters of deaths have any significance, or is it all about coincidence? Will those copycat hangings involving such notables as fashion designer Kate Spade and comic actor Robin Williams continue? What about the reality behind such creatures as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Thunderbird? Loren is founder and director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.
READY FOR THE iPHONE KEY FOB?
I don’t recall the first time I bought a car with a keyless-entry remote control, commonly known as a key fob. I did some quick research the other day and ran across an item about the 1983 AMC/Renault Alliance as providing support for a remote that allowed you to lock and unlock the doors. But I was never a fan of AMC’s cars.
I also ran across a mention of a 1987 Cadillac Allanté, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at building a two-seater roadster for the luxury brand. It was yet another car in which I had no interest whatsoever.
Now I can’t exactly recall the first car I purchased with one of these electronic gizmos, which are, of course, coded for a specific vehicle. It may have been a Honda Accord, but it still started conventionally. A real key popped out of the fob and the ignition assembly was traditional.
My last two cars, the one totaled last year and the one I own now, have a push button on the center console to turn the ignition on or off. Not so long ago, such a feature was mostly available strictly on expensive cars, but gradually filtered down to the more affordable vehicles.
While those key fobs are supposedly reasonably secure, they aren’t perfect. One of my guests on the tech show some months back, an “ethical hacker,” said you could compromise a key fob for many makes and models with a $35 device. It required being near the fob when it was scanned. I suppose that means they could be hiding in the bushes near a busy shopping plaza.
So is there a way for Apple to help provide a more secure option for a digital key system?
Well, according to a published report in AppleInsider, a new standard for digital keys has been published by the Car Connectivity Consortium, of which Apple is a member. It would allow you to use an NFC-enabled smartphone which includes both high-end Android and any iOS device that has Apple Pay support, to unlock doors and motor vehicles, among other things.
In effect, it would recognize your iPhone and other gear as a substitute for a key fob. Supposedly it’ll offer a higher level of security than existing keyless-entry systems can achieve, and I would believe that for Apple’s gear. Then again, if you can duplicate the data from an existing key fob with a $35 device, I suppose most any secured solution ought to be better. More to the point, however, would be the method by which your mobile handset is activated. Would it require pairing it with your existing key fob, or will automakers and lock manufacturers provide specific support to enable such a feature?
As with any new system protocol, however, it will take a while for you to see it appear. Car makers usually develop new vehicles a year or two out, so it may not happen until 2020; that is, assuming you can’t adapt existing systems, and I suspect you can’t if it requires custom chips to provide added security.
As with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, CCC support may first appear on expensive vehicles and gradually filter down to the models that regular people can afford.
In other words, when the standard finally shows up in a wide variety of cars, I may be too old to care.
Starting with iOS 12, there will be a free feature in Apple’s software that will automatically (and securely) share your exact location data with first responders. I’ve seen a few cynics already crying that Apple will use this information for nefarious purposes but, all of us reasonable folk will instantly see the time and life saving value in the new application.
It takes time to get information from a caller. And then, sometimes the caller needs to be routed which costs - more time. And during an emergency the caller might not have time to spare.
The current problem with mobile phones is summed up on the FCC website:
“While wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, they also create unique challenges for emergency response personnel and wireless service providers. Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address. While the location of the cell site closest to the 911 caller may provide a general indication of the caller's location, that information is not always specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly.”
My understanding is that the nation’s six thousand emergency call centers are - well, outdated. The vast majority of the 911 call centers are still teched out for landlines. And if you call from a landline then the emergency center knows your exact fixed position. Which was great for a very long time. But 70 percent of emergency calls now come from mobile phones. And it sounds like that number is rapidly increasing.
Enter RapidSoS - a company that is focusing on upgrading the outdated call center tech. Michael Martin, co-founder and CEO of RapidSOS says this about his company:
“Last year, more than 10,000 people died when they could not relay fast and accurate information after calling 911. People in danger don’t always have the presence of mind to press the right numbers and explain where they are. But what if your smartphone could do that for you? That’s the idea behind RapidSOS’s smartphone app, Haven. With a single touch, it sends the 911 dispatcher your exact location.”
This upgrade probably won’t single handedly improve the first response rates for most callers because you will have to have an iPhone and you’ll have to have iOS12, etc. - but it will certainly get the ball rolling in the right direction for others to follow suit.
iOS12 will roll out in late 2018.