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

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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

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

 

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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 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.

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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

In the old days of the Mac, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the suggestion that they were immune to computer viruses would have been laughed at. It wasn’t nearly as bad as on the Windows platform, but you definitely needed to run antivirus software.

 

I learned that lesson the hard way in the late 1980s when, as the owner of a brand new Macintosh IIcx, I was in search of software. It wasn’t so easy in those days, as most computer stores had PC applications, MS-DOS aplenty, but if there was anything for the Mac at all, it occupied a single dusty shelf usually located in the rear of the store.

 

Well, one day I visited Egghead Software, a long-departed chain with an outlet in Edison, NJ, and I bought Pyro!, a screensaver from a well-recognized utility publisher of the time, Fifth Generation Systems. After installation, one of my apps, QuarkXPress, reported a corruption problem. Well, I downloaded some antivirus software, shareware, and gave my Mac a scan.

 

Sure enough, that screensaver was infected with a virus; I forget which. It was only a few days since I set up the Mac, and thus I hadn’t really done much real work on it. So I wiped the drive, reinstalled everything — except for that screen saver — and all was well. The antivirus software was known as Virus Detective, long since abandoned by its author.

 

Now I’m not at all sure where in the production or sales chain that utility app got infected. I returned it to the dealer, who gave it a moment’s attention and offered to exchange it or give me my money back. I took the latter route, and decided to take my business elsewhere. No reason to take chances.

 

Around 1990 or so, working at a prepress studio, we were processing client floppies to send output to a high-end phototypesetting machine which produced high resolution film or positives. The shop set up antivirus software on all our Macs, and we often ran into a so-called desktop virus known as WDEF. I joined the rest of the staff in gently explaining to our customers how to protect themselves from these things.

 

I continued to run antivirus software on my Macs until the Mac OS X era arrived in 2001. While it wasn’t advertised as free of malware, it was Unix-based and far more secure. Thus most outbreaks were more about social engineering. So you’d click a link in an email or on a site, or download and install something that contained the payload. If you were careful and avoided such traps, you would be all right.

 

Perhaps the worst outbreak occurred in 2012, involving a Trojan Horse known as Backdoor. Flashback, which infected Java. A lot has changed then, and Apple ended up letting Oracle, Java’s owner, handle the updates. It also meant that I opted to stay away from apps developed in this cross-platform environment wherever I could.

 

But it wasn’t always easy or apparent where I’d run across Java. So, for example, I still use an older version of Adobe Photoshop, version 12.1, part of CS 5.5 from 2011, partly because I’m not inclined to want to subscribe and pay forever to keep the latest versions running.

 

However, as many of you with newly-installed versions of macOS can testify, you also have to locate and install an old Java 6 update for Photoshop to launch. Wasn’t it supposed to be a native Mac app?

 

Well, anyway, I don’t run web apps or services that require Java anymore.

 

While there are occasional Mac malware outbreaks out there, I have yet to see the need to install antivirus software. You see, Apple provides its own level of basic malware protection, regularly updated. That’s one way Flashback was eradicated. Businesses who run both Macs and PCs may install security software on the former. But a main reason is that some Mac antivirus apps will guard against PC viruses too, so it protects you against an accidental cross-platform infection.

 

As a practical matter, a good way to avoid possible malware is to only download and install apps from the Mac App Store or from a recognized third-party publisher’s site. It’s not a good idea to just search at random for something cool, because something cool may contain something that’s not so cool. One app that has garnered plenty of complaints is MacKeeper, which offers to provide a host of cleanup and protection functions. But some feel it may cause more trouble than its worth, and it can be difficult to remove once it installs itself on your Mac.

 

One cleanup app that does do what it claims is Cocktail, which basically puts standard macOS cleanup, maintenance and repair functions in a pretty interface for easy access. It’s one of those added ounces of protection that you may never need, but it’s worth a try if your Mac suddenly seems to run a little too slowly for no discernible reason.

 

Otherwise, always be skeptical about emails claiming to be from a business or financial institution that you may patronize. It’s a common way to fool you into going to a bogus site and giving up your login information. If you get a message that there’s a problem with your account, it doesn’t hurt to just go to the firm’s site and login directly and check out the situation. Scam emails pretending to be from PayPal and large banks are all-too-common.

 

If you are careful about downloading stuff, and you watch out for bogus links in email, you’re likely to reduce or eliminate the need for installing security software. I mean, it probably doesn’t hurt to run one of those apps, except that the ones that offer automatic background scanning may also slow down your system or cause some instability. The Mac App Store has some free or low-cost antivirus apps that will do on-demand scanning, meaning you run them when you want, and otherwise they don’t do anything to impact performance.

 

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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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