As if there weren’t enough political fireworks occurring in Washington, you can bet that Apple will find itself involved, somehow. It all started with what I’ve been calling Throttlegate, the faux scandal that erupted when it was discovered that older iPhones, with failing batteries, were running a lot slower.

 

It was easy to attach a conspiratorial angle to this development, the theory that Apple deliberately reduced performance on older iPhones to trick you into buying a new one. But it was also discovered that the mere act of replacing the battery fixed the problem.

 

Apple admitted that it was doing this to regulate power utilization, and thus prevent a possible sudden shut down problem. Supposedly this was done to allow for smoother performance, though it’s obvious that customers should have been alerted as to what was really going on. It’s also curious why iOS doesn’t present an interface to check battery health.

 

The follow-up message was more detailed, with references to support documents that explained battery technology and its limitations in a consumer-friendly way. Apple dropped the price of replacement batteries from $79 to $29 until the end of 2018, but that evidently wasn’t good enough for some. There are a number of pending class action lawsuits against Apple.

 

I don’t think that Apple should be giving away free batteries with normal wear and tear. That should only be done for defective product, though I can still see where Apple wanted to be generous with customers to compensate for not fully explaining what it was doing and why.

On the other hand, anyone who replaced the battery in the month or two ahead of the announcement ought to get a rebate. If someone can demonstrate that they went ahead and bought a new iPhone because they wrongly believed the old one was broken, perhaps they should get a refund. But I can’t see how that could be proven. Perhaps just allow people a few extra weeks to return their devices for a refund.

 

But you know that the powers that be in Washington, D.C. are poised to make political hay of the situation.

 

So there’s a published report that Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who is chairman of the  Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, wrote a letter to Apple demanding an explanation.

 

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Senator Thune stated, “…even if Apple’s actions were indeed only intended to avoid unexpected shutdowns on older phones, the large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency with respect to these practices.”

 

All right, they are being attacked for not properly communicating with customers. Apple isn’t the first tech company to be guilty of not providing adequate support information about a maintenance update. The letter also asks that Apple explain whether models previous to the iPhone 6, or the newest models, will be similarly throttled. And why not give the battery away free?

 

To me, this is little more than political posturing. Apple has already apologized for failing to provide sufficient information, and has promised to do better. There will reportedly be an iOS update this year that will allow you to check battery health on your iPhone and iPad, so you’ll know when it needs to be replaced.

 

But I understand where one might try to gain brownie points, or believe they might, by putting Apple on the carpet. All Senator Thune is doing, however, is just repeating what’s already been written on the subject, including Apple’s promises to do better.

 

Maybe he should be writing to Microsoft and asking why they released a patch for the CPU bug, fixing the Spectre flaw, which bricked some older PCs with AMD chips in them. We’re talking there about computers that were rendered inoperable. Whatever you say about what Apple did, all the affected iPhones continued to work. What about Samsung’s handling of the battery flaws that resulted in overheated and smoking batteries in the now-discontinued Galaxy Note 7? They were recalled twice before the company pulled the plug. Is it because Samsung is a foreign company? Well, its hardware still had to receive FCC certification to be sold in the U.S.

Again, I understand why customers who bought batteries at full price from Apple, or a third-party reseller, should get a partial rebate. But it makes no sense to give them away free unless they are defective and the unit is under warranty, and that’s not what is being claimed. Besides, if there were batches of defective batteries that failed even after the original warranty expired, Apple would no doubt make some accommodation to be certain they were replaced at no charge.

 

I suppose one can suggest that Apple needs to be punished for allegedly misleading customers, although the real “crime” was failing to explain the workaround to deal with the problem of sudden iPhone shutdowns. But it’s not as if the U.S. Congress expects to force a company to give away free smartphone batteries. Maybe call on the Federal Trade Commission next and squander the public’s money on a probe?

 

In any case, I suspect that Cook will probably write to the Senator, make appropriate assurances of good behavior, there will be some headlines and that, as they say, will be that.

 

Peace,

 

Gene

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2018. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 

 

Published in News & Information

Anytime there’s a scandal, it becomes a “gate,” reminiscent of Watergate, the hotel/condominium complex in Washington, D.C. where the 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters led to a President’s resignation. My most important memory of the period was spending the night there once, in my uncle’s home, about a week before the dastardly deed was done.

 

Apple has had a few scandals, though whether or not they were serious is debatable. I don’t recall having any problems with the iPhone 4, although it did lose reception if you held it in a way that covered the external antenna system. Still, “Antenngate” brought enough bad publicity to force Apple to give away free iPhone bumper cases for a while; that move overcame the problem.

 

The bending issue with the iPhone 6 Plus evidently was first spotted when the unit was placed in the rear pocket of someone’s tight pair of jeans.  Call it “Bendgate,” and while Apple and others, even Consumer Reports magazine, claimed that the product was acceptably resistant against such damage, Apple shored up the structure for the iPhone 6s Plus.

 

Now we have what I call “Throttlegate,” the practice if capping performance on recent iPhones when the battery is determined to have seriously deteriorated. Apple defends the move as preventing a potential shutdown when these units are under heavy load, but maybe they should have been more proactive to explain to customers what was going on. So far, at least three class action lawsuits have been filed, and while claims that Apple throttles performance to fool you into buying a new model don’t pass muster, the failure to provide at least a warning message may be enough to force Apple to settle these cases.

 

Typical of such legal filings, lawyers will earn millions. Complainants will end up getting discount coupons for their next Apple purchase.

 

Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator/podcaster Kirk McElhearn. Front and center was the ruckus over reports that Apple was deliberately throttling performance of older iPhones. Kirk gave you his unvarnished opinion of the practice; does Apple deserve to lose those cases? The discussion also focused on Apple in 2017, and the costly iMac Pro all-in-one computer, which is now shipping.

 

You also heard from tech publisher/editor Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who also offered his opinion on Apple’s actions over what Gene calls “Throttlegate.” Gene and Bryan also talked about the value of Apple TV. In offering a brief report on the VIZIO M-Series TV he’s reviewing (see the next article), which comes with Google Chromecast built in, Gene wondered about the future prospects for Apple’s streamer. In pop culture mode, the duo talked about Apple’s reported billion dollar move into TV production, which includes a new sci-fi show produced by Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame. And does Tom Cruise really do most or all of those death-defying stunts in his movies?

 

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Rosemary Ellen Guiley & Michael Brein, co-authors of The Road to Strange: Travel Tales of the Paranormal and Beyond. This collection of 44 true stories tells of travelers around the world who are suddenly faced with ghosts, paranormal phenomena, unusual synchronicities, time slips, magic, visions, past-life connections, premonitions, mystical experiences, mysterious figures, and more. Rosemary, a perennial favorite guest, needs no introduction. Michael is a seasoned traveler and travel writer who has written over a dozen travel guides for those heading out around the world to exotic locals and also has published the Travel Tales Monthly since 2012.

 

FIRST LOOK: 2017 VIZIO SMARTCAST M-SERIES DISPLAY

 

I’ve been previewing this column for a while, ever since I worked out a deal where VIZIO provided the set in exchange for my agreeing to review it. But they put no restrictions on how I should rate the product, so I’m free to do what I’ve done for the past 25 years, which is to give my unvarnished opinion about a tech gadget.

 

This time I ran into a couple of obstacles. Since it was just months after I sustained some back injuries in an accident that took out my car, I asked a neighbor to help me do the heavy lifting, removing my 2012 55-inch VIZIO E-Series and replacing it with the comparably sized 2017 SmartCast M-Series Display.

 

Not that these sets are heavy. The new VIZIO weighs around 36 pounds with the metal feet installed. The other set weighs maybe 10 pounds more. Carrying either wouldn’t normally present a problem, but lifting it onto the stand required some help.

 

The old set has a single base in its center. The new set has two legs at the edges of the unit. But my existing TV stand measures just 41 inches wide, while the new VIZIO’s feet are 43 inches apart. I had hoped to use it with a ZVOX Audio Z-Base 580 soundbase, but it’s just 36 inches wide.

 

Both had to go. Fortunately, I was able to acquire a suitable TV stand, an AVF measuring just shy of 50 inches wide, at a huge discount from a store that was just two days from shutting down for good. VIZIO recommended their highly-rated SB3621n-E8 36″ 2.1 Channel Soundbar, which comes with a wireless subwoofer. Despite selling for $149 or less, this product has received five stars from CNET for delivering surprisingly robust audio quality. The TV lists for $699, but you can probably find a discount if you look real hard.

 

For a 4K set with HDR, that’s fairly cheap, but VIZIO doesn’t cheap out on performance. The specs specify 32 local dimming zones, built-in Google Chromecast, 4 HDMI ports, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and an eight-core CPU to process the picture.

 

So where does VIZIO scrimp to keep the price reasonably affordable?

 

Well, there’s no built-in tuner; that’s why it’s referred to as a “display” and not a TV set. I suppose VIZIO theorizes that most people are going to use a cable or satellite connection if they aren’t relying on the unit’s smart features, or an external streamer, such as an Apple TV 4K or a Roku. If you need to receive over-the-air stations, you can find a suitable tuner at Amazon for $30 or so. No big loss.

 

Unlike the 2016 models, VIZIO isn’t providing an Android tablet. Instead, you can use your own iOS or Android device and set up the TV with VIZIO’s SmartCast app.

 

Instead, I opted to use the supplied remote and install the app later. Other than streaming content, I ran the TV with a Cox cable remote, which can be configured to call up the essential functions of the TV and the soundbar.

 

Typical of VIZIO gear, the mounting of the ports require you to insert the plugs vertically, rather than horizontally. For the most part, I got it to work without much trouble, except for some difficulty in connecting the optical cable from the soundbar, which required a little trial and error.

 

Once you turn on the unit for the first time, you’re taken through a setup assistant that allows you to configure basic settings, and connect to your Wi-Fi network. Here I ran into a glitch, where one character in my password would always echo back as the upper case equivalent rather than the correct lower case. I managed to induce it to work by essentially backspacing and reentering the character. After that, the connection was pretty quick.

 

The onscreen menus are fairly simple to understand and navigate, though you might want to download the full user manual if you plan to manage more than the basic settings; the unit comes with a printed “quick start” guide. The assistant also has several legal proclamations that you are asked to accept. The one that you can refuse is the statement that VIZIO will collect your viewing data. This is something other TV makers do, but VIZIO got attacked for the practice several years ago. Since you’re entering Google’s ecosystem if you plan to use the Chromecast features, it’s something you should expect.

 

After the setup process was done, I had to wait another 10 minutes or so for the unit to update the firmware and software.

 

There are several picture presets. At first, I opted to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation to use Calibrated, which “allows your Display to deliver the most accurate picture quality for most environments.” Later on, I also turned on the Auto Brightness feature, to accommodate the fact that we watch TV in our master bedroom with lights on and lights off. When the lights are off, the only lighting comes from the foyer and the bathroom, so it’s fairly dim. The automatic setting, which has three brightness options, is meant to accommodate such situations.

 

For a brief time I experimented with another setting recommended by some reviewers, Calibrated Dark.  But as the label indicates, it’s useful if you mostly watch your TV in dark surroundings, so even with a higher backlight setting, with Auto Brightness enabled, I ultimately returned to Calibrated.

 

I have no doubt that professional calibration will improve the already excellent picture even further, but most people who buy TVs make do with the existing settings. Most never change the defaults. So I wanted to focus this review on how regular people will use a TV such as this, which means sticking with the presets.

 

I’ll be spending the next few weeks putting the set through its paces with a variety of program material. During the first few days, I concentrated on cable fare, and some 4K content from Amazon and Netflix, such as “The Man in the High Castle” and “Stranger Things.”

 

While TV makers are selling loads of 4K gear, there’s a dearth of compatible content. Cable and satellite companies have made few moves to change that state of affairs, so most of the programming you’ll watch will be scaled up from lower resolutions, and here’s where some TVs fall down on the job. Fortunately, the VIZIO does a creditable job in upscaling, as regular HD shows were clearly sharper, with richer colors. Genuine 4K fare, especially with HDR support, was even sharper and the colors popped.

 

To really see 4K in all its glory, you need a set with a large enough picture, unless you sit real close. Since our master bedroom is relatively small, a 55-inch display is quite enough to see the resolution advantage.

 

Even with HD shows, the M-Series is a revelation. On the old set, blacks were usually dark gray. Here even the labels on the set-top box’s TV guide were deep black. The wider contrast ratio was obvious. Indeed, the deep blacks reminded me of my old Panasonic plasma; well, except for the fact that any LCD LED set, such as the VIZIO, will present a more limited viewing angle.

 

But what about the audio?

 

Well, it’s passable. You don’t expect much in a TV at this price range. Audio was clean enough, but there wasn’t a whole lot of bass, which is to be expected. Here the SB3621n-E8 made a huge difference.

 

Setting up the soundbar was mostly plug-and-play, but the subwoofer needed some extra adjustment. Since the walls in this apartment are notorious for producing sympathetic vibrations when bass is cranked up too high, and I didn’t want to annoy the neighbors, I placed the subwoofer next to the front of the stand. At its default setting, there was plenty of thump with content that provided a decent amount of bass; maybe too much thump. In another room, I could hear and feel the thumping through the wall, similar to the effect of being near a car where the subwoofers are running in overdrive.

 

A properly adjusted subwoofer should enhance the sound, not overwhelm it, so I had to back off on its level with the supplied remote until I reached the sweet spot. Typical of two-channel soundbars, there’s a faux surround sound feature, in this case DTS TruSurround, which expands the width of the soundstage beyond the unit’s 36 inches. It’s not the real thing, but a decent simulation. A crisp midrange means that dialogue is especially clean. I noticed that I could play it at a lower volume than the ZVOX, which will no doubt please the neighbors.

 

In this household, the family’s TV is a constant presence, so I’ll know soon enough how well the VIZIO works with a variety of program material. As it stands, I’m extremely pleased that I took on this review, despite having to replace the TV stand and audio system. When it comes to a TV’s picture, I’m obsessive about quality, and this system, so far at least, deserves my highest recommendation.

 

I’ll have more to say about it in these columns, and on my radio show, in the coming days. In the meantime, another neighbor has offered to take my old set, the stand and the soundbase off my hands for a small sum. I gladly accepted the offer.

 

Peace,

 

Gene

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 

Published in News & Information

You just know that any business wants to reduce its tax burden as much as it can. Without doubt, Apple has a huge number of accountants at its beck and call to find ways to reduce its corporate income tax bills by billions of dollars.

 

But Apple’s methods of handling its taxes have been the subject of severe criticism, more so with the release of the so-called Paradise Papers, leaked to a German newspaper, which contain documents purportedly revealing how the rich and the famous manage their offshore cash. Apple was included in the list, but it wasn’t the only company whose finances came into question. Other companies reportedly include Facebook, Twitter, Disney, Uber, Nike, Walmart and even McDonalds.

 

I mean, it’s a huge list. But with Apple in the crosshairs, the company claimed that the data contained in those papers wasn’t accurate or misleading, that it pays more taxes than any company on the planet, and that it “pays every dollar it owes in every country around the world.”

As the U.S. Congress debates revisions to the country’s complex and confusing tax laws, ways might be sought to convince domestic companies with huge offshore cash hoards to repatriate that money. You also expect Apple to deny that it does anything but obey the law, even if it has to be done creatively. But some corporations pay no tax at all, including GE. So the billions Apple remits might indeed be, as they claim, more than the others.

 

Which brings us to the fact that, a few weekends ago on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn. The main focus was on taxes, and whether Apple is unfairly reducing its corporate tax burden by strategic parking of its huge offshore money hoard. Apple has selected the small island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, which has ties to the UK. Jersey is also the birthplace of actor Henry Cavill, famous for portraying Superman on the big screen.

 

In a series of statements, Apple claims that it pays billions of dollars in taxes every year, and that it is complying with the law regardless of the skepticism about such practices, but Kirk doesn’t believe it. The discussion shifted from taxes to electric cars, as Kirk explained that he owns a Toyota Yaris Hybrid. Among the models mentioned is the somewhat pricy BMW i3, and the new compact-sized Tesla, the Model 3, which is still confronting problems in ramping up production.

 

You also heard from prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who talked about the ongoing fear-mongering from some members of the media about the iPhone X and its Face ID and other features. Bob explained that, despite the advertised backorder situation, he was able to buy one from his mobile carrier and receive it on the day it was released. But will he keep it? He appeared to be skeptical of its perceived advantages, but will make a decision while he still has time to return it for a refund. He said he is also holding off publishing a review while he considers its value. Bob also discussed the use of iPads in major league baseball, and how it may have helped the Houston Astros win the World Series. He also said that you shouldn’t be in a rush to install a new OS on your Mac, iPhone or iPad, and maybe wait a short while to make sure there aren’t any serious bugs that’ll cause you trouble. You can listen to the entire show here.

 

That same weekend on our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present MUFON Executive Director Jan C. Harzan. He discussed the state of UFO research, and what the organization has learned in its 48 years of existence; it was founded in 1969 as the Midwest UFO Network. He’ll also discuss concerns about MUFON’s policies and staff shakeups, and about the reasoning behind the controversial 2017 symposium that featured lectures on the alleged U.S. secret space program and some especially outrageous speakers. Harzan is a 37-year veteran at IBM, and holds a B.S. in Nuclear Engineering. He’s been Executive Director of MUFON since 2013. You can listen to the entire show here.

 

IS APPLE FINALLY GETTING THE LOVE FROM CONSUMER REPORTS?

 

Consumer Reports magazine claims to be incorruptible because it buys all the products it tests and retail, and won’t allow companies to use its reviews in their advertising. On the surface, it all sounds credible. But I’ve long felt that its test results are often unfairly skewed against Apple. Are corporate politics at play?

 

Indeed, Apple has had a curious history with CR, and you can decide whether it’s received fair treatment. Consider the iPhone 4, released in 2010. Do you remember AntennaGate? If you held the handset in a certain way, reception quality would nosedive. You could see the signal strength dip precipitously in YouTube videos of the time, and it appeared to be a potential source of trouble.

 

So Steve Jobs sarcastically remarked that you should hold it differently. That suggestion went over like a lead balloon, so Apple invited the media to a press conference where they actually allowed some of them to tour its multibillion dollar antenna test facility. According to Jobs, other smartphones exhibited similar symptoms when held in certain ways, and Apple posted videos of telling examples, but CR still decided not to recommend the iPhone 4. Other mobile handsets were not similarly downgraded.

 

Although Jobs claimed the phenomenon was due to the laws of physics, Apple still offered free bumper cases for a time, which certainly eliminated the problem. Next year’s model, the iPhone 4s, in addition to the debut of Siri, sported a redesigned antenna symptom designed to reduce signal loss when you held it the “wrong way.”

 

The next purported scandal was BendGate. Amid reports that the iPhone 6 Plus might be unduly prone to bending under such conditions as placing it in your back pocket, CR decided to see if Apple did it again. But they didn’t. Tests indicated that its resistance to bending was acceptable and comparable to other mobile gear. But the following year, Apple made moves to strengthen the aluminum case on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus to make it even more difficult to bend one.

That takes us to the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. CR has a peculiar method of testing battery life that involves loading some test sites from a server repeatedly with browser caching off. It’s not that people use browsers that way, except for development purposes.

 

On the Mac, that involved invoking Safari’s Develop menu, again something few people do in the real world, and deactivating caching. This evidently triggered an obscure macOS Sierra bug that caused repeated loading of web icons. So battery life was inconsistent, and CR said it couldn’t recommend the new MacBook Pros.

 

In turn, Apple realized it had a problem on its hands and reached out to CR. At the end of the day, a minor OS update fixed the problem, and the MacBook Pro achieved extremely high battery rates as a result even if they were, as I said, entirely unrelated to what normal users would achieve. It was, therefore, now recommended.

 

In passing, you can no longer disable the cache in Safari for macOS High Serra, although the cache can be emptied.

 

On the day the iPhone X went on sale, CR placed “secret shoppers” in the lines at Apple Stores to buy a dozen of them. They were quickly added to the test queue.

 

According to CR: “Based on those early impressions, the new iPhone makes good on Apple’s promise of delivering something bigger and better.”

 

In a very positive early review, the iPhone X survived drop tests that have caused other gear, including some copies of the Samsung Galaxy S8, to self-destruct. The OLED display was found to deliver superior performance, “with deep blacks and accurate colors.”

 

Face ID? Evidently CR had few problems with it under normal use. For the most part, it worked as advertised, except for extreme situations where someone pulled a baseball cap down to their eyebrows, caught a look at the iPhone X while it was placed beneath a table, or when glancing at it from the side while driving.

 

Aside from those edge cases, it did seem that Face ID “rarely stumbled.” CR didn’t mention the twin test, where identical or near-identical twins might fool the device. In other words, it was as close to perfect as one might expect for such a product. After all, Touch ID doesn’t work all the time.

 

The magazine’s preliminary conclusion? “With its starting price of $999, the iPhone X isn’t a purchase to take lightly. But it’s worth mentioning that the costs of high-end components—such as OLED displays and 4K video cameras—are pushing other phones, such as those made by Apple’s rival Samsung, closer to the $1,000 mark, too.”

 

It’s refreshing to see a reminder that the iPhone X is not the only expensive smartphone out there. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 costs up to $960, U.S., at some dealers, although there is widespread discounting. On a monthly basis, the price difference between the Note 8 and the iPhone X is may be a dollar or two. Both offer 64GB of storage. True, the iPhone X is much more expensive if you opt for the 256GB model, but Samsung doesn’t offer anything comparable.

 

But I’m not reading endless blogs that Samsung is gouging its customers by selling gear for only a little less than the iPhone X. Only Apple gets dinged for a pricing decision that probably makes sense to the company’s marketers and bean counters.

 

Does this mean the iPhone X will be rated above the previous high scorer, Samsung, when the review is complete? In the past, iPhones have scored a tad lower than Samsung’s gear, in part, due to shorter battery life, so I suppose we’ll see.

 

In the meantime, it’s a promising start, and I’m curious to see where the final rating is set, considering how well it appears to have scored so far. But with CR, there could be a surprise or two that’ll reflect poorly on Apple, or the totals will be weighted questionably to somehow favor Samsung.

 

Peace, 

 

Gene

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 

Published in News & Information

While 2017 isn’t over, Time magazine has already published the list of its “25 Best Inventions of 2017.” Now you’ve probably read about this already, but a little explanation is in store.

 

So after the iPhone X was first announced, the critics lambasted Apple for being late to the party with some of its important features. Take OLED displays, which have already appeared on Android smartphones. It’s important to note that Samsung makes the iPhone X’s display. Whatever you think about Samsung’s penchant for stealing ideas from other companies, it certainly has the chops to build the parts tech companies need, such as displays, memory and other components.

 

Facial recognition is also nothing new, and Face ID was attacked for being insecure and slow even before the critics had a product to evaluate. So even though reviewers, including Consumer Reports, have praised Face ID, there were complaints about privacy and other matters. The difference is that, for the most part, Apple made it work pretty much as advertised. Yes, I know about the problems with twins and some other exceptions.

 

The TrueDepth camera that allows Face ID to work is something altogether new and different from the rest of the pack. You can expect the competition is working full time to somehow reverse engineer this technology.

 

Apple also did away with the Home button, and rather than replacing it with a virtual alternative, which would probably have been the simplest scheme, they devised new iOS 11 gestures to allow you to bypass a physical or virtual button and still get things done. I grant it’s a bit of a learning curve, and it might be confusing to switch back to an iOS device with a Home button, such as an iPad. In the end, you expect the Home button to vanish from those products too as they inherit edge-to-edge displays.

 

When you add all this and other design factors together, it’s no wonder the iPhone X was included among those 25 products.

 

Yes, the Time magazine piece concedes that “some of these features first arrived on devices from Samsung and LG.” But clearly Apple made them work better, which is why it was rated “A Smarter Smartphone.” This is in keeping with Apple’s penchant to take features that originated elsewhere and improve and simplify them.

 

Other top-rated inventions include “Stronger, Safer Football Helmets” and “Guilt-Free Ice Cream.” If you’re dieting, the latter, Halo Top ice cream, touts from 240 to 360 calories per pint. This is in the range of a single slice of pizza from Pizza Hut and Little Caesars, but can you imagine getting a whole pie of decent size with so few calories?

 

Then there’s a sideways elevator! I’m serious, and this is something written about over the years in sci-fi stories. I know I mentioned it in one of my novels.

 

Along with being declared “smarter,” the story about the iPhone X is accompanied by interviews from Apple hardware chief Dan Riccio, and chief design officer Sir. Jonathan Ive.

While those interviews have been quoted elsewhere, call me jaded enough to regard some of the statements about Apple’s design process as corporate spin. Apple only wants you to know of its successes, and how it understood when to drop old features in a product and embrace something new.

 

An example is the headphone jack that was removed from iPhones last year to mixed reaction from customers and critics. We don’t talk about it all that much this year, and Android fans don’t have much of an argument to make in light of the fact that Pixel 2 phones from Google also ship without headphone jacks.

 

This is part of Apple’s DNA, to know when it’s time to remove old features and move on. You can date that practice back to the arrival of the very first iMac in 1998. Apple ditched SCSI, ADB and other peripheral ports, and eliminated the floppy drive. Instead, they embraced USB which, up till then, hadn’t done much on the Windows platform.

 

It took a few years before we no longer relied on floppies, and, with adapters aplenty, you could still use many of those old peripherals until it was time to move on.

 

So today it’s headphone jacks, though they may still exist on the iPad and on Macs for a while. The Home button is clearly on the chopping block, if only to keep the iOS interface consistent among all products. Face ID is also destined to replace Touch ID, perhaps as early as next year, so in that respect the new features on the iPhone X serve as a harbinger of things to come.

Indeed, some day there may not even be a Face ID to unlock your device. Maybe Apple will have an embedded EEG and read your brainwaves instead. While there may be hacker tricks to get around Face ID and Touch ID, brainwaves?

 

No, I have no inside information about Apple’s future plans. Consider my suggestion about brainwaves to be nothing more than a random idea.

 

But Apple is a company known to seek newer and better ways to do things, and ditching old, obsolete features, or features the company deems obsolete.

 

The critics may complain that the iPhone X doesn’t do much that’s original, that perhaps it didn’t deserve the accolades it received from Time. The apparent success of the iPhone X, and how it influences future smartphone designs, though, will probably demonstrate again that the critics are dead wrong about Apple and its abilities to innovate.

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 

Published in News & Information

Let me get to the basics first: Apple’s fourth fiscal quarter financials were a blowout by any reasonable estimate. Up until the announcement, it was believed by many that iPhone 8 sales weren’t so good. Reports that iPhone sales in China were up by a decent margin were taken seriously, however, but regarded as only temporary.

 

The assumption has been that people held off buying new iPhones until the iPhone X was due to arrive. With reports of various and sundry production delays, it was questionable whether there’d be enough supplies on hand to meet demand. It even seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with shipping estimates slipping to five or six weeks minutes after preorders went live; however, there are now reports that units are shipping ahead of estimates, and that shipping delays in some countries, including the U.S., have gone down to three or four weeks. So maybe things are getting better.

 

But lots of things were better than analysts expected.

 

Quarterly revenue climbed 12 percent, to $52.6 billion, a record for that quarter. Net income rose to $10.7 billion, or $2.07 a share, compared to $9 billion, or $1.67 a share, last year. Analysts estimated revenue at $50.8 billion. Beat the Street doesn’t begin to tell the story.

 

Despite skepticism about the success of the iPhone 8, Apple reported sales of 46.7 million units, up 2.6 percent from the year-ago quarter. Analysts expected sales to hit the 46.5 million mark. All this despite the pent-up demand for the iPhone X that couldn’t be filled until this quarter.

But that’s not all.

 

After many quarters of falling sales, the iPad may be on a roll. Sales hit 10.3 million units, up 11 percent from last year. This is the second straight quarter of rising iPad sales, no doubt influenced by the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, introduced at the June Worldwide Developers Conference. According to the NPD Group, the iPad had a 54% share of the tablet market in the U.S for that quarter.

 

Does that mean that iPad sales are destined to soar once again? Well, it’s a start, and perhaps the new multitasking features in iOS 11 are giving Apple’s tablet a new lease on life.

I was particularly interested in Mac sales, though, because two industry surveys didn’t come close to estimating the results accurately.

 

It begins with those published reports of falling sales, or, at best, a slight increase over last year. Gartner claimed that Apple sold 4.61 million Macs for the September quarter, a drop of 5.6%, a little more than the average for PC companies. IDC estimated sales of 4.9 million, an increase of just 0.3%.

 

The reality was something altogether different.

 

So Apple reported sales of 5.4 million Macs, representing an increase of 10% from the previous year. In its quarterly conference call with financial analysts, Apple said fiscal 2017 delivered the highest Mac revenue, ever, and September quarter sales were the best ever for Apple’s fourth fiscal quarter. Educational market sales reportedly grew by double digits compared to the year-ago quarter, despite the competition of cheap gear, such as Google Chromebooks.

 

Clearly Gartner and IDC, both of whom have undercounted Mac sales before, need to evaluate their survey methods, because they failed big time on these estimates. Then again, IDC once suggested that Windows Phone was destined to supplant the iPhone in the smartphone race.

 

The Apple Watch is also doing well, with unit sales up 50% for the third consecutive quarter. It’s reportedly the best selling smartwatch on Earth, but wouldn’t it be nice if Apple consented to deliver exact sales, as they do with other products? Despite the fact that Apple is required by law to deliver accurate numbers, the skeptics will assume there’s some measure of corporate spin around.

 

In fact, I see more and more of them on the hands of people who travel with me on my ride sharing gigs. I’m still happy with my $12.88 Walmart watch, though, which is now on its third battery. Maybe some day.

 

As far as the iPhone X is concerned, the positives come from CEO Tim Cook, who says that demand  is “very strong.” He also reported improved production, saying, “we’re really happy that we’re able to increase week by week by what we’re outputting, and we’re going to get as many of them as possible to customers as soon as possible.”

 

The fact that waiting times are dropping does indicate that production may actually begin to match demand by the end of the year, or shortly thereafter, meaning there will be reasonably plentiful supplies for the holidays. That appears to explain Apple’s optimistic guidance for the quarter, with estimated revenues between $84 billion and $87 billion, and gross margins between 38 and 38.5 percent. Thus it’ll be the company’s best quarter ever.

 

In other notes culled from the conference call, the highly profitable services business grew 40%, and Apple’s sales have doubled in India. The company’s cash hoard soared to $268 billion, an increase of $7.4 billion over the previous quarter.

 

Clearly Wall Street is impressed, with Apple’s stock reaching $173.38, an increase of $5.27, in after hours trading.

 

Peace,

 

Gene Steinberg

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

Published in News & Information

So let’s put this all together now: Apple allegedly sells higher-priced gear than the competition, yet puts significant restrictions on the use of these devices. You have to accept Apple’s ecosystem — make that walled garden — in order to buy Apple.

 

It may, to some degree, be akin to joining a cult where the leaders, managed by CEO (High Priest) Tim Cook, tell you what to do, what to buy, and what to install on your devices. Well, that’s the impression some might want to convey, but it makes a lot more sense to parse these claims and see if there is any factual basis to them.

 

Of course, on the surface, they do seem a bit much. But it’s worth putting the claims through a fact-check process anyway.

 

So the first complaint is about the price, that Apple deliberately charges high prices to gouge customers. They should be charging less, and in fact competing with mainstream gear.

 

Now obviously, Apple has the right to charge what it wants. It’s up to customers to decide if the prices are fair. If not, there are other choices. What’s more, Apple does cut prices from time to time. A key example is the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. Prices dropped until they were the same as the older models with regular displays.

 

For months we heard endless complaints about the thousand dollar price for what became the iPhone X. But it was then known as the iPhone 8 until, of course, the iPhone 7s became the iPhone 8.

 

Take a deep breath please!

 

The price was real, well $999 for the 64GB version is close enough. But since the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 doesn’t cost a whole lot less, well $70 less, the argument that Apple is price gouging seems a tad lame. Sure, it’s more expensive than the Samsung, but the difference is very small if you up for one of those 24-month lease/purchase deals, less than $3 per month.

 

Is the iPhone X worth a little more money? That’s up to prospective customers to decide. If not, Apple might eventually cut the prices. That’s what was done with the original iPhone in 2007.

 

Apple is also attacked for alleged high prices on product upgrades. You want to buy a MacBook upgraded to 16GB RAM, it’s $200 extra. There’s no choice, since RAM is soldered to the motherboard. On the other hand, when you compare the cost of RAM and storage upgrades at Apple with similar upgrades on gear from mainstream PC makers, such as Dell and HP, you’ll find the prices are in roughly in the same league.

 

The real complaint is that Apple only produces a few models where you can upgrade RAM yourself. Technically you can upgrade the storage on an iMac, but you really don’t want to make the attempt. And then there’s the Mac Pro, and the promise of a modular version, easy to upgrade, perhaps by next year.

What about being forced to tolerate Apple’s ecosystem?

 

Well, having products that integrate with one another, and allow you to switch from one to the other and continue your work ought to be a good thing. Similar apps and similar services mean that you can work more efficiently. No other platform can match it! Microsoft tried, but Windows Phone crashed and burned.

 

Isn’t reasonably smooth product integration supposed to be a good thing?

 

Now the walled garden means that you are limited to the App Store on all Apple gear except for the Mac. It means Apple curates the apps, and you may run up against some limits in what you can get. I have complained, for example, about not having the equivalent of Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack on an iPad. It’s an app that lets you capture audio from multiple sources and save them as a single audio file. It’s essential for my radio shows.

 

Since Apple clearly wants to make iPads more useful as productive tools, and the enhanced multitasking of iOS 11 demonstrates that commitment, perhaps some of the limits for app developers will be removed going forward.

 

But limiting you to one official app resource provides a much higher level of security, and at least a basic assurance that the app will run. There are few guarantees on the Android platform with Google Play. To use an outside app source on an iOS device, it has to be jailbroken, which creates serious security vulnerabilities. Android users can sideload apps from other sources if they want.

 

So Apple’s policy probably makes more sense for most people even if some of us chafe at a few restrictions.

 

On the Mac, nothing stops you from running the apps you want, good or bad. The Mac App Store is but one resource. And you can easily run Windows with Boot Camp, and loads of different operating systems via virtual machines. All official, all supported.

 

In that sense, the Mac is far more flexible than a Windows PC. While you can hack some PCs to run the macOS, it comes with lots of babysitting to induce even simple functions to work on a Hackintosh, such as messaging. Some things never quite work without jumping through hoops.

 

The long and short of it is that users of Apple gear have lots of freedom to do what they want, the way they want. I’ve only occasionally run across restrictions in doing what I want on the Apple mobile gadgets I’ve owned, and since Apple has expanded opportunities for iOS developers, some of those restrictions may eventually go away.

 

If Apple’s pricing and ecosystem are too stifling for you, rather than complain about the company’s well-known and highly successful policies, nothing stops you from buying something else. Apple obviously cannot tell you how to spend your money.

 

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Gene Steinberg is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Gene hosts The Tech Night Owl LIVE - broadcast on Saturday from 9:00pm - Midnight (CST), and The Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST). Both shows nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2017. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission. 

 

 

Published in News & Information

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