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

 

----

 

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

----

 

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

This week I heard a surprising announcement from a regular guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. So we presented tech commentator Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today, Yahoo Finance, Consumer Reports, Wirecutter and other publications. During this episode, Rob put the FCC’s decision to abandon net neutrality into perspective, and I’ll have more to say about that shortly. The main question, of course, is whether ISPs will begin to prioritize net traffic, or will the possibility of negative publicity and potential lawsuits postpone — or prevent — any changes for the near future? Rob also discussed the end of AIM, and how this pioneer instant messaging app influenced an entire industry? And do we really need lots of messaging apps to stay in touch with our contacts? Gene laughingly referred to Rob as a turncoat as he explained why he, a long time Mac user, recently purchased a PC notebook to replace his aging MacBook Air.

So why did Rob switch?

 

Well, his response was reasonable. He didn’t want to spend more money for a MacBook Pro, and the recent pathetic upgrade to the MacBook Air didn’t appeal to him. He chose, instead, an HP 2-in-1 notebook. And since, for the most part, he could use the same apps and services on both the macOS and Windows, it wasn’t so big a deal, at least so far. But will he feel the same a few months from now? He laughingly suggested turning it into a Hackintosh, by following the online instructions to induce it to run macOS. But that process may not work on an off-the-shelf PC notebook. Usually, it requires picking and choosing parts tested and found to be compatible, and outfitting a custom-built PC with them.

 

You also heard from tech journalist Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. As the segment began, Jeff complained that his copy of Skype 7 for the Mac was upgraded to Skype 8 without his approval, and he doesn’t like the all-new interface. In an extended discussion of net neutrality, Gene pointed out that more and more cable companies are embedding Netflix into their set-top boxes, perhaps as a move to help reduce cord cutting. As the pair moved into pop culture mode, Gene mentioned the latest reported move by Apple to add original TV content, with a direct-to-series order for a new sci-fi series from producer Ronald D. Moore, whose previous shows include Battlestar Galactica. Jeff explained in great detail why the fabled Star Wars lightsaber would be impossible to use in a real world setting. Gene suggested that the DC Comics super heroes on TV are better than their movie counterparts. And what about having different actors portray such characters as the Flash and Superman?

 

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Alejandro Rojas of OpenMinds.tv for a 2017 retrospective and a preview of the 2018 International UFO Congress and Film Festival. Alejandro is the host for Open Minds UFO Radio show, and emcee for IUFOC. He is also a blogger for the Huffington Post. As a UFO/Paranormal researcher and journalist, Alejandro has spent many hours in the field investigating anomalous phenomena up close and personal. Gene and Chris will also talk shop with a focus on UFOs. There will also be a pop culture-related discussion about what both regard as the sad state of pop music.

 

GETTING IT WRONG ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY

 

Part and parcel of our polarized society is the feeling that, if we accept the other side’s approach, it may be the end of the world as we know it. They wish us ill, and are doing foolish and/or evil things to take us all down.

 

Now I’m not going to dwell on my political viewpoints about the crazy things that are going on in Washington, D.C. except for one thing, and that’s the promise — or threat — that net neutrality is ending soon.

 

As is often true, the facts are more nuanced, and whatever does happen can be overturned by a future FCC, and we start all over again.

 

So this past week, the Republican majority of the FCC decided to undo a move by its predecessor that, among the things, prevented ISPs from prioritizing Internet traffic. What this meant is that these companies could not demand that a high-traffic service pay extra to enter a fast lane.

 

Those who opposed net neutrality, including FCC chairman Ajit Pai, claimed that putting restrictions on ISPs would somehow prevent them from improving and expanding their services. Being forced to allow online traffic to flow freely was somehow an impediment to growth.

I’m not sure I see how, or any evidence that this could happen. But it’s unfortunate that the cable TV talking heads who interviewed Pai — or at least the ones I’ve seen — simply allowed him to repeat his unproven talking points without questioning the logic. There was no request for evidence that what he said was true.

 

Supporters of net neutrality also maintain that it’s not just about getting miserable performance from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, with constant buffering even on a fast connection. What about the streaming startup, a company that wanted to someday compete with Netflix? If they had to pay extra to achieve good performance, it’s likely that they wouldn’t be able to attract venture capital to cover their costs.

 

This, too, may be an overwrought conclusion if we assume things will return to the way they were before the concept of net neutrality ever arose.

 

A key reason for government regulation is not that regulators just need something to do. It’s often in response to a need, to address abuses by private industry. That explains why there are rigid controls covering the approval of a new drug by the FDA in the U.S. It means that pharmaceutical companies have to subject new drugs to a rigid set of tests to make sure they actually perform as advertised without seriously endangering one’s life in the process. Or at least disclose the dire side effects so you know what you’re in for.

 

Net neutrality was a response to something the ISPs did, which was to slow down such services as Netflix, largely because they sucked up huge quantities of data.

 

As of now, Netflix consumes nearly 37% of all Internet traffic, and when you add all the streaming services it’s 70%. That also includes such services as YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Dish Network’s Sling TV and DirecTV NOW.

 

That leaves 30% for the rest of online traffic.

 

From a business point of view, I suppose it made sense to focus on the worst abusers and see if there’s a way to manage the load without inconveniencing other customers. Back in 2014, there were reports that such ISPs as Comcast and Verizon were putting the brakes on Netflix. In turn, Netflix reportedly paid extra in order to deal with the situation, with reports of mixed success.

During that period, you may have experienced constant buffering from Netflix. Loads of complaints from customers and tech companies helped influence the previous FCC to reclassify an ISP as a Title II communications service, thus preserving net neutrality. Prior attempts were blocked in the courts.

 

Despite the new regulations, there were recent reports that Verizon, particularly through its high-speed FiOS service, was once again throttling Netflix and even YouTube. So it seems peculiar that the FCC would believe that ending net neutrality was a good idea.

But what’s also happening is even more interesting. It appears that Netflix is taking a “can’t beat them so join them” approach, which is to strike deals with some ISPs, so their app appears as just another premium channel on a cable set-top box, similar to HBO and Showtime. What this means is that the ISP would, in exchange for offering Netflix without speed restrictions, get a piece of the action. By being part of their regular cable service, the load on broadband bandwidth would be sharply reduced.

 

By including Netflix — and I suppose Hulu and other services can be offered in the same fashion — customers are being offered more attractive cable packages that might help stem the tide of cord cutting.

 

 

While an experiment with Netflix and DirecTV appears to have ended, you can get it on at least some cable boxes from Comcast, Cox, Verizon and other services. You’ll have to check with your cable company to see which hardware it’s offered on, and how much it costs.

 

Now when I checked with the cable company I use, Cox, it appears Netflix is available on their Contour 2 box, but is limited to HD. If you have a 4K TV, you’ll have to still depend  on a smart TV or a streamer, such as an Apple TV 4K, and certain models from Roku and other companies. As it stands, the cable and satellite companies are only testing the 4K waters. Higher resolution means there is less space for other channels, so it may be a juggling act until capacity is boosted.

In any event, despite the FCC’s vote, net neutrality isn’t going away tomorrow. There’s a comment period, and the attorneys general of a number of states are planning to file lawsuits. So this matter may not be resolved for months or years, depending on court rulings and potential appeals. I suppose it’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will get involved.

 

After all is said and done, I doubt the ISPs are going to act hastily, knowing the political winds may likely change with the next administration. In the meantime, if more cable and possibly the satellite companies strike deals with Netflix and other services to offer them premium channels, that might sharply reduce the load on their systems.

 

So they wouldn’t have any motive to throttle anyone’s traffic, and it would also provide an additional revenue stream. Assuming Netflix’s 4K service comes to your cable box, would that influence your decision about cord cutting?

 

So it’s possible that the ISPs and streaming companies could work out reasonable solutions without harming anyone, assuming the price you pay doesn’t change too much. That said, net neutrality offered more than a few ounces of protection against the worst offenders. The suggestion that it may have stifled innovation is absurd. The move to embed Netflix on cable boxes clearly disproves that claim.

 

Peace,

 

Gene

 

----

 

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

It’s fascinating to see how Apple’s entrance in a product category can change things so drastically. So for the longest period, we heard that smartwatches were the next great thing. There were models from a crowdfunded startup, Pebble, and such entrants as Samsung Galaxy Gear.

 

As with digital music players, smartphones and tablets, Apple seemed late to the party, very late.

 

That takes us to this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, featuring J.D. Levite, senior editor of Thrifter.com. Thrifter is a consumer site focused on tracking hot deals on tech and other products, special holiday promotions, etc. This discussion focused on finding the best deals for the holidays, including top grade 4K TVs and the key features that will maximize your enjoyment. Gene and J.D. also discussed the top gaming consoles, media streamers, such as Apple TV and Roku, Bluetooth speakers, and even drones and gear for the connected home. You also heard why Gene remains skeptical about the Internet of Things.

 

But when it came to smartwatches, J.D. said it was yesterday’s news. Few are really interested in them anymore. When you look at recent sales estimates, however, it appears that such wearables may not have gained much traction, except for one product, the Apple Watch. Despite all the skepticism, Apple claims double-digit sales increases in recent quarters. Industry analysts are reporting that the Apple Watch Series 3 is proving to be more popular than originally expected.

 

Apple won’t reveal actual sales, except in generalities because the actual results are buried in the Other Products category. Will that ever change? Maybe if the Apple Watch really takes off and hits a critical mass. Maybe never. I do see more and more people wearing them in my travels, however.

 

In a special encore segment, you also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. In pop culture mode, Jeff mentioned The Shadow before moving to a pair of Fox TV genre shows, “The Orville,” a sci-fi series reminiscent of Star Trek with comedic elements, and “Gotham,” the Batman prequel. After Jeff admitted he hasn’t kept up on the superhero shows on The CW, he explained how he got up early in the morning to place an order for an iPhone X at AT&T’s site. Although he said he appears to have been successful in placing that order, it appeared there might be glitches in AT&T’s ordering system. After a brief discussion about the iPhone X’s most controversial features, such as the “notch,” the conversation moved to the future of the Mac mini. Just what sort of upgrade is Apple working on? Will it offer more powerful components to make it more suitable for use as a web server or a low-cost workstation? Does the delay in updating a product last refreshed in 2014 mean that Apple is working on a major redesign?

 

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a special episode featuring a “great debate” on the merits of the extraterrestrial theory for UFOs. It’s the prevailing theory, that we are being visited by beings from other planets. Does that theory hold up, or are there other valid possibilities as the source of the UFOs?What about hidden civilizations on Earth, other dimensions? You’ll hear about the ins and outs of the evidence and the issues that cause some to doubt that ET is here. The possibilities are vigorously debated by four long-time UFO researchers who are regulars in our forums, featuring Thomas R Morrison, Robert Brandstetter (forum name: Burnt State), Jason (forum name: marduk) and Mike Jones (forum name: mike).

 

 

APPLE AND HOME AUDIO

 

 

Once upon a time, I had a fairly sophisticated stereo sound system, worth well over ten thousand dollars. It consisted of a set of classic flat panel ribbon speakers, the Carver Amazing Platinum, in piano black, and several components bearing the Carver and Sunfire labels. The preamplifier even had tubes in it, so call me retro.

 

Alas, I sold it all in 2006 when I needed to raise cash. But I had reached the point where I seldom listened to it anyway. I spent more time listening to stuff on my TV set; I had a Bose home theater sound system in those days. True, the audio quality didn’t come close to matching that Carver/Sunfire system, but there was the added benefit of convenience. The main system was placed in the living room, and the family and I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there.

 

Since the advent of digital audio, and the amazing and unpredictable success of the original Apple iPod, more and more people listen to music on tiny earbuds. Some will spend money on higher quality gear, perhaps a full-sized set of earphones. But for traveling about, convenience rates above audio quality.

 

Of course, there is always your car’s audio system, and they have become much better in recent years. If you spend a lot of time driving from place to place, you might be pleased at how good they can be. For long trips, pairing it with your iPhone, the ultimate iPod, can give you access to up to millions of songs.

 

While Apple builds premium gear, it has not established a reputation for creating products with superior audio quality. Even the 2014 purchase of Beats Electronics for $3 billion didn’t convey the impression that Apple cared about high-quality audio. Beats headphones were legendary for bloated bass.

 

Indeed, the purchase was regarded as controversial. What did Apple stand to gain from buying a maker of overpriced headphones of questionable quality? Well, there was always the streaming services later rebranded as Apple Music.

 

Did the Beats acquisition result in improved sound quality for Apple gear? Well, I suppose recent iPhones, iPads and Macs can play louder without distortion. But you’d hardly call the audio rich and full. Even Apple’s best selling AirPods aren’t delivering state-of-the-art audio either, although they excel in other categories, such as the tiny size and the seamless integration with the Apple ecosystem.

 

That takes us to the HomePod, a smart speaker system, powered by Siri, which was supposed to debut this month for $349. It has since been postponed until early in 2018.

 

Ever since the first rumors about the HomePod appeared, the tech media has been working overtime comparing it to the Amazon Echo, low-priced speakers that use the Alexa personal assistant to accept commands and make it easier to buy stuff from the world’s largest online retailer.

 

Indeed, there have been privacy concerns that focus on the Echo, and the competing Google Assistant speakers hearing too much and making use of that data to learn which ads to send you.

 

Apple? Well, isn’t Siri inferior to the other digital assistants because of Apple’s policy of protecting our personal information? Indeed, the updated Siri that debuted in iOS 11, which uses machine learning to improve its ability to understand your commands, was compared unfairly to the competition from Amazon and Google even before it was released.

 

Despite sales estimates that are far below blowout, the Echo is regarded by the tech media as a huge success and the industry leader. Apple’s HomePod is dismissed as overpriced, even though only a small number of journalists have actually heard them, and then only for a brief period of time.

 

But what is HomePod anyway? Is it all about home automation, or, perish forbid, listening to music?

 

Few would argue that the audio quality of even the most expensive Echo is nowhere near state-of-the-art. It’s mostly about the digital assistant and not loudspeakers. True, the second generation Echo has pretensions of improved audio quality, with support for Dolby processing, although the specs don’t say which Dolby format is actually being used. Amazon also claims “crisp vocals and dynamic bass response,” but what level of audio quality can you expect in a gadget that lists for $100?

 

The specs of the Echo and the Echo Plus, listing for just under $150, mention a single 2.5-inch woofer and a tweeter. Not terribly impressive.

 

 

An article from AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger touts the “real” purpose of the HomePod, that it’s more about paving the way for the next generation of home audio rather than providing just another digital assistant.

 

According to Daniel, “HomePod uses a 4-inch driver with an incredible 20 mm excursion—possible because of dynamic modeling. This lets it create larger sound with far less distortion than a typical speaker. It also uses six microphones and seven beamforming tweeters to model the size and shape of the room and develop sound tuned specifically for its setting, canceling out echo and beamforming detection of your voice over playing music, all powered by Apple’s custom A8 Application Processor. This isn’t just a Bluetooth speaker with Siri.”

 

I wouldn’t for a moment expect audio quality to exceed that of those huge Carver Amazings that I used to own. That system offered scintillating highs and thundering bass, but it required loads of power to deliver the goods. But Apple is strongly emphasizing the “amazing” sound of the HomePod in its promotional materials.

 

The ability of the HomePod to tailor itself to your listening environment is impressive if true. If you recall the placement considerations of traditional loudspeakers, you’ll appreciate not having to waste time finding the ideal positioning for Apple’s forthcoming smart speaker system.

And the digital assistant?

 

As Daniel suggests, HomePod is very much about home audio. The other features are described in a section entitled, “Listen to what else it can do.” That’s where you learn about the capabilities of its Siri home assistant, and its ability to work with Apple’s HomeKit to manage home automation.

 

Above all, however, it’s about home audio. Indeed, I would love to see what my old friend, Bob Carver, who designed those Amazing loudspeakers and loads of traditional audio gear, thinks about HomePod.

 

Indeed, one of Bob’s early inventions, Sonic Holography, a precursor to Dolby surround sound, may well have been an inspiration for the sort of sonic processing that paved the way for the HomePod and other speakers that can tailor themselves to one’s listening environment.

To be sure, I don’t expect HomePod to be capable of replacing my long-departed stereo system. But I’m getting more and more curious about trying them out. Maybe it’s time for me to start putting spare change in a bottle to see how much cash I can raise in the next few months.

 

Peace,

 

Gene

----

 

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

For several years, you’ve been reading about efforts by tech companies and the major automakers to build fleets of cars that can literally drive themselves. Once the technology is perfected, you should be able to, in theory, enter the vehicle, state your destination to the presumed digital assistant, sit back and relax, and you’ll be taken to your destination, even with stops along the way, with comfort and safety.

 

Nothing to think about; well, except if you have any latent fears that such a system can ever work successfully.

 

In a published report, GM says it will be ready to put fleets of self-driving vehicles into a number of “dense urban environments” by 2019. Development is being spearheaded by Cruise Automation, a company GM acquired in 2016 to rev up development of autonomous vehicles.

Add to that the self-driving vehicles already being tested by such company’s as Alphabet, parent company of Google, Apple and even the largest ride hailing firm, Uber.

 

Indeed, I’ve already seen a few of those automated Uber vehicles, consisting of converted Volvo SUVs, on the roads in and around Tempe, Arizona.

 

Now according to GM, they hope to reduce the cost of running their self-driving vehicles to under $1 per mile by 2025, just eight years from now.

 

What’s GM’s end game? Well, they are planning on taking on Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing systems, with the promise that their self-driving vehicles will cost 40% less per mile than companies who use human drivers.

 

That’s just GM. It doesn’t take into account the fact that Uber and Lyft and other firms are planning on doing the same thing, only they haven’t quite been as specific about their game plans. But the goals are clear, and that is to put human drivers — and that includes taxi drivers — out of work.

 

Ultimately, there will also be fleets of self-driving trucks, meaning that you won’t need human drivers spending hours on end on the road, basically giving up real lives to sit in the cabs all day or night. Well, I suppose they might have some people helping to remove cargos, but you get the picture.

 

That’s then, this is now.

 

These days, several million people around the world, including your humble editor, are relying on Lyft and Uber to provide at least a part-time income to help pay the bills. Some use it for full-time work. Indeed, at a time when the economies of the world are in questionable shape, this is a productive way to generate some extra cash.

 

Right now, both Uber and Lyft claim (or pretend) to be trying to make life better for their drivers. Uber has been stung by corporate scandals, with its CEO, Travis Kalanick, being given his walking papers. It’s in the latter stages of implementing its “180 Days of Change” program, designed to improve life on the road.

 

So in-app support for tipping, something long offered by Lyft, was added several months ago. While drivers aren’t notified where a rider is going until they are picked up, they now notify you if the trip is expected to take more than 45 minutes. This and other new features are designed to potentially help drivers earn more cash.

 

Over the next few years, it may work out fine. But it’s clear that human drivers are going to be yesterday’s news some day. As with manufacturers who rely more on more on robots than people to assemble products, drivers are an endangered species.

 

At first, riders will have the option to choose humans over self-driving vehicles. But when they see much lower prices for the latter, only a few skeptics will choose the former.

 

It may not matter so much to me, as I fully expect to be too old to care when the time comes. But younger drivers have to realize they are engaged in a profession with a hard stop. As I said, that’s just as true with manufacturing. While we fret over the poor working conditions of all those factory workers in Asia who build iPhones and other tech gear, more and more of them are being replaced by machines. Some day, in the not-too-distant future, it may well be that these sprawling factories will be managed by a small number of people managing a huge system of assembly robots.

 

So hopes to bring back manufacturing to the United States, and thus give workers their jobs back, are probably not going to be fulfilled except in a limited number of cases.

 

Now other than the concerns about the fate of drivers for ride-hailing services, I do wonder if the predictions about huge fleets of self-driving vehicles might just be a tad optimistic. Tests so far have been in a limited number of cities with relatively predictable driving scenarios. To stretch that capability to cover entire countries may take a lot longer than the current three to five years.

What’s more, just what will it cost for you to buy one of those vehicles if you don’t want to just hail a ride? For its 2018 Cadillac CT6, you have to pay $5,000 extra for its Super Cruise feature, and that’s for a souped up lane and cruise control system that can only function on a small number of specially selected limited-access freeways. Even when the hardware and software are nailed down, questions of liability, the impact on auto insurance and other considerations, will have to be resolved.

 

So maybe Uber and Lyft drivers won’t be out of work quite as quickly as GM and other companies expect.

 

Peace,

 

Gene


----

 

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

 

----

 

 

 

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.

 

----

 

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

 

----

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

When I wrote about recent Apple partnerships with businesses, I only looked at part of the equation. There’s a lot more to report, but I’ll get to that shortly.

 

Now the closest look I had at the business case for the Mac was a company I worked at during the mid-to-late-1980s. It was a prepress shop, a descendant of traditional typesetting, which output clients’ jobs on a high resolution printing device from CompuGraphic. It was a close cousin to phototypesetting, based on similar output technology, but incorporating Adobe

PostScript for compatibility with documents created by our clients.

 

Despite the fact that the Mac started the desktop revolution, Microsoft still ruled the roost when it came to personal computers. In the days of MS-DOS, Macs were not taken seriously by most business. Point and click was not the way to do real work. Macs were just toys, or best used by artists and entertainers.

 

But I remember one important factor that cemented the dilemma of the PC user. I wanted to set up online chats with an office colleague, who used a PC. I used a Mac app, Microphone plus a modem, and I was able to set it up and begin to run terminal sessions in less than 15 minutes. The fellow at the office told me he was setting up a “shell” on his PC, and he’d have it working soon. Each day he’d tell me he was close. Just a few more things to do, and it would be ready.

Soon became never and he eventually left the company. I lost touch with him then.

 

Once Windows became useful enough for most work, Microsoft came close to killing the Mac. Software companies made Windows versions of their products. True, it was harder to set things up on a Windows PC, and maintaining those boxes was costlier than a Mac, even though the Mac cost more.

 

But the enterprise didn’t get the memo, at least not then.

 

Worse, Apple really didn’t pay attention to the business market except in the areas where the Mac first became popular. This situation existed more or less until the iPhone arrived. As hundreds of millions bought them, customers looked to Macs as a way to ensure a consistent experience within Apple’s ecosystem. Both the iPhone and the iPad had high business penetration percentages, and Apple provided the tools to help IT people to manage deployment of these devices quickly and safely.

 

In recent years, Apple has made notable conquests for Macs in the enterprise. As I reported previously, IBM made a deal to work with Apple to build special mobile apps, and even gave employees the option to use Macs instead of PCs. They also reported something Mac users have known all along, that a company saves hundreds of dollars per device due to the much lower support costs when they switch. It makes up for the differences in purchase price.

 

Many companies also allow their employees to bring their own devices (BYOD), which means that you don’t have to depend on what the IT person gives you. That has only added to Apple’s ability to chip away at Microsoft’s dominance.

 

According to published reports, such companies as Delta Air Lines and GE are now deploying Macs and iOS gear. Other adopters include Capital One, the financial company, Bank of America, Medtronic, Panera and even Walmart. Walmart? The New York City police have given up on Windows phones because Microsoft doesn’t support the platform anymore? They bought iPhones.

 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But isn’t it curious that it’s taken the enterprise over 30 years to realize that Macs are cheaper to run and more reliable? We are in the twilight of the PC area, and Microsoft is no longer a dominant player in all markets it enters. The Windows Phone platform has failed miserably, and is basically history in the wake of Microsoft’s failed acquisition of Nokia’s handset division. Ask the former Nokia employees who got pink slips.

 

At one time the Mac’s market share had declined to what might be referred to as little more than a rounding error in some countries. It’s a lot better now, and when it comes to the mobile space, Windows Phone’s market share is a rounding error since it’s so low. It’s not that Nokia handsets were bad. They were, in fact, well reviewed, or maybe tech journalists cut them too much slack. Clearly customers weren’t buying.

 

iOS gear has clearly helped Apple make unexpected inroads into the enterprise. As companies bought iPhones and iPads, dumping PCs for Macs proved to be a fairly easy process, especially if a company used apps that are available on the Mac. Those that rely on Office should be able to move over without much trouble, although some less-used features might not have been brought over. It helps that Microsoft also offers credible versions of Office on iPhones and iPads.

 

As for apps that aren’t available in Mac versions, the ability to run Windows and other operating systems within virtual machines, such as Parallels Desktop, or via Boot Camp, completes the process. Running macOS and Windows side by side with great performance can clinch the deal.

 

This is, by the way, a key reason why Apple probably will not move the Mac to its custom ARM CPUs. The Mac platform has grown considerably since the switch to Intel. So why switch?

 

Now when I recall my Mac experiences of 30 years ago, I hardly expected it would take all these years for businesses to take them seriously. But it’s better late than never.

 

Peace,

 

Gene Steinberg

 

----

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 can bet that, when reviewing smartphones, Consumer Reports magazine appears to have a blind spot towards Samsung; maybe a few blind spots. How so? Well, I’ll get to that shortly.

Now on the surface, CR ought to be the perfect review source. Unlike most other publications, online or print, it actually buys tested products from retail stores. That includes luxury cars costing over $100,000 if need be. So, in that area at least, it should be incorruptible. Compare that to regular publications that contain reviews, most of which receive free samples from the manufacturers.

Indeed, when I announced recently that Vizio sent me a 4K TV for review — with no preconditions as to how I rate the product — I got a comment from a reader suggesting that my article would somehow be tainted. But I’ve been reviewing tech gear received on that basis for over two decades, and it’s definitely not a factor. Never has been.

But even if there’s a tiny bit of suspicion on the part of some people that product reviews might be slanted if those products are sent free of charge, I am not surprised that CR gets high credibility. So there’s a story from Seoul, South Korea touting the fact that, “Samsung’s Galaxy S8 tops U.S. consumer review.”

South Korea? But isn’t CR an American magazine? Yes, so this story no doubt originated from Samsung, even though a manufacturer is theoretically prohibited from quoting a CR review. So the article mentions the conclusion, not the contents, so even if it was originated from Samsung, the company is off the hook.

According to the latest CR report about smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus gained top ratings by CR. Number three, peculiarly, was last year’s Galaxy S7. Really. So where did the iPhone 8 end up? According to CR, fourth and fifth. Number six was the Galaxy Note 8.

I decided to take a look at the factors that put the iPhones below three Samsungs, including one of last year’s models. Let’s just say it didn’t make a whole lot of sense in the scheme of things, but I’ve had these issues before with CR.

Take, for example, the Galaxy S8 versus the iPhone 8. The former is rated 81, the latter is rated 80. So despite the implications of the article from that South Korean publication, the scores are extraordinary close. A minor issue here, another minor issue there, and the results might have been reversed.

But what is it that makes the Samsung ever-so-slightly superior to the iPhone? Unfortunately, the two reviews aren’t altogether clear on that score. So on the basis of 11 performance categories in which the two phones are rated, the iPhone 8 has six excellent ratings, four very goods, and one good. So in theory the Samsung should have scored better in these categories. However, it has four excellent and seven very goods.

From my point of view, the Apple ought to rate better. More excellent ratings, right? But there is a Good rating for battery life, whereas the Samsung rates as Excellent. Evidently that factor must supplant all other considerations and award the Samsung with a higher total. Curiously, the longer battery life of the iPhone 8 Plus evidently didn’t merit a rating higher than Good either.

Just saying.

But there’s more. It turns out that the iPhone is far more resilient to damage than the Galaxy S8. According to CR, the iPhone “survived the water dunk test and our tough 100 drops in the tumbler with just some minor scratches.”

Evidently, being a rugged mobile handset doesn’t count for very much, because the qualitative ratings don’t include that factor. So the Galaxy S8, according to CR, doesn’t fare nearly as well. The report states, “The screen is rather fragile. After 50 rotations in the tumbler, our experts rated it only fair. The display was badly broken and not working. For this phone, a protective case is a must have.”

What does that say to you? It says to me that the Galaxy S8 should have been seriously downgraded because it’s very fragile; users are forced to buy extra protection for normal use and service. Smartphones are routinely dropped or knocked against things.

To me, it’s barely acceptable. To CR, ruggedness doesn’t matter.

Nor does the reliability of a smartphone’s biometrics count, evidently. As most of you know, the Galaxy S8 and its big brother, the S8 Plus, have three biometric systems. The fingerprint sensor, located at the rear, is an awkward reach. You are at risk of smudging the camera lenses instead. Both the facial recognition and iris sensors aren’t terribly secure. Both can be defeated by digital photographs.

In short, you have a breakable smartphone with two biometric features of questionable quality being judged superior to another smartphone that’s rugged and has a reliable fingerprint sensor. But maybe it has somewhat shorter battery life than the competition. In other words, CR seems to regard battery life above other important factors, but how ratings are weighted, and why potential breakability is not considered, is just not mentioned.

But since CR buys the products it reviews, the serious flaws in its review methods aren’t important. The media that continues to quote the magazine’s ratings without critical comment aren’t helping to encourage CR to change its ways.

And please don’t get me started about the curious way in which it rates the battery life of notebook computers.

----

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
Page 1 of 2

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209

Warning: mysqli_close(): Couldn't fetch mysqli in /home/gcnlive/httpdocs/JW1D/libraries/joomla/database/driver/mysqli.php on line 209