Displaying items by tag: Apple

Thursday, 26 December 2019 17:43

Gene's Technology Corner: $60,000 and counting ...

It was 1989. After using Macs at the office for a couple of years, I decided that I needed one at home since I had begun to take outside assignment. So I went shopping.

To be sure, a Mac was pretty expensive in 1989 dollars. There were no budget models, but I shopped around and found a good deal from the same dealer who sold Macs to my employer.

After an afternoon’s consultation, I weighed my options, and I decided to take a chance, expecting that the freelance work would cover the costs. So I made a lease deal for a complete system. I acquired the Macintosh IIcx, an “affordable” alternative to the Macintosh IIx. It was maxed out with 8MB of RAM and a 100MB hard drive. Add to that a 14-inch Apple color display (later referred to as a “13-inch display,”, a LaserWriter NT PostScript printer, and several productivity apps, including QuarkXPress and Microsoft Word. The bill came to $14,000.

But don’t forget that my choice of a computer system 30 years ago covered, in large part, the middle of the pack. My budget would not cover the top-up-the-line.

As we close out 2019, that original investment explodes to $29,039.61. For that figure, using Apple’s current lineup, you can buy an iMac Pro, a 16-inch MacBook Pro, a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, an iPhone 11 Pro Max and an Apple Watch Series 5, all fully outfitted and still have nearly $5,000 left to cover sales tax, software, backup drives for the Macs, and some leftover cash for productivity apps.

Not that I have that much spare cash around, but it’s fun to wish.

In essence, the price of Apple gear today is actually lower, in proportion to today’s buying power, than it was then.

And then there’s the 2019 Mac Pro, where you can double that $29,039.61 price tag and still not quite get there to a maxed out system and display. In pricing this ultimate system, I checked every option, including wheels for the Mac Pro and a Pro Stand for the Pro Display XDR. It came to $60,797, again plus sales tax.

To put that figure in perspective, I can order a Tesla Model 3 Performance for $50,815 and a well-equipped BMW Model 3 sedan for $47,341.

Well, you get the picture.

But a Mac Pro is not strictly a plaything for the rich and the famous. For a subset of users, it’s the ideal workstation designed for high-end use, say for scientists and movie special effects artists. A director working on a $300 million superhero extravaganza would not mind at all having a network of $60,000 systems. If they went to other major vendors, such as Dell or HP, they’d likely pay more and still not get all the goodies Apple offers, such as the $2,000 Apple Afterburner card.

We’re talking of a flagship machine here, something designed to showcase the best of Apple’s technology, along with the best hardware from AMD and Intel. Other than the SSD, which has to be tuned to the T2 chip and thus must be changed by an Apple authorized repairperson, upgrades are dead simple. This is quite unlike any other Macs nowadays, where upgrades are impossible on notebooks, and of varying degrees of complexity depending on which desktop machine you pick.

Of course, for folks who hoped for something priced in the range if the original Mac Pro tower, only the entry-level model fits the bill. In other words, Apple has reached heights never before attempted. That, and the pro-level features included in the 16-inch MacBook Pro, clearly demonstrates Apple’s renewed commitment to the professional market.

Regardless, I can feel the ardor of Apple’s critics in criticizing the company for gouging its customers. That has been a typical argument for years, and the fact that Apple earns high profits from selling its gear only buttresses that point of view.

The attacks aren’t just focused on the final price, but on Apple’s alleged exorbitant price for upgrades. While you can easily acquire third-party RAM for the desktops, it’s soldered onto the logic boards for notebooks. Sure, Apple may be able to justify that decision on the basis of increased reliability and the fact that only a tiny percentage of buyers really want to do those upgrades.

Of course, nobody outside of Apple and its partners really has access to such statistics. On the surface, it looks credible. I speak with lots of people using Macs, and rarely hear complaints about the inability to do upgrades. Even with desktops, the RAM upgrade schemes may be hostile to the user, particularly with the Mac mini, the 21.5-inch iMac, and the iMac Pro.

I’m particularly disappointed with the decisions made about the latter, since it’s supposed to cater to professional users who want the simplicity of an all-in-one computer and may not be able to afford, or need, the pricy and more powerful components of a Mac Pro. With the iMac Pro, you have to basically remove the display, an annoying and delicate process, to add or replace RAM.

With the regular 27-inch iMac, it’s dead simple, and can be done in less than five minutes. Maybe it’s a compromise made to encompass the improved cooling scheme for the high-powered components? Perhaps, since I can’t believe that Apple would have made the process so difficult for any other reason.

And when it comes to the price offacgtory upgrades, I’ve done comparisons with gear from Dell and HP, and the costs aren’t altogether different. Third-party alternatives, particularly RAM, can be had for far more reasonable prices.

And one more thing: Even if I had the spare cash, and chose to invest it in a computer rather than a luxury car, I wouldn’t go so far. In fact, I can’t conceive of ever requiring the level of performance achieved by the Mac Pro. It’s not designed for me or most of you. Indeed, if someone offered me the equivalent of $60,000 in purchasing power, I’d get a more affordable car, say for up to $35,000, and allocate the rest for my dream collection of Apple gear, the one described above.

Of course, there have been demands, or requests, for Apple to deliver cheaper gear. But as has been said many many times by many analysts and journalists, there’s no profit in commodity gear. Apple has carved out for itself a profitable market niche.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t want to pay the price — or settle for a refurbished or used Apple product — there are plenty of alternatives if you are prepared to desert the macOS, iOS, iPadOS and watchOS.

 

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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 Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST) and is the former host of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which was on the network for ten years. The Paracast is still nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2019. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

 
Published in Technology

SECOND TIME IS A…

Unlike my previous columns, this article has taken more than a month to write. But it’s not because of fine-tuning the prose. It’s more about events that hadn’t yet reached a successful conclusion.

But let me start at the beginning…

Once upon a time, I would buy a brand new Mac every other year or so. Beginning in the mid-1990s, I added a PowerBook to the mix. In order to help finance the purchase, I would routinely sell my old hardware, and even in the dog days of Apple’s existence, they held their value pretty well.

That was then, this is now. I no longer see the value in upgrading so frequently. Most of the time, the new model is only slightly different — and slightly faster — than its predecessor. I also think of all the money I save by keeping 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro and a 2014 27-inch Retina iMac. When I had a weekly tech radio show, I was even able to trade out radio spots for a new Mac.

These days, I’d have to pay full price (or seek out a small discount), and I’ve grown to appreciate the longevity of Apple gear. Indeed one of the factors hurting sales these days is that people prefer to hang onto their existing devices far longer. So once upon a time, it was common for many people to upgrade to a new smartphone after two years, particularly in the U.S. This was the duration of the usual carrier subsidized deal, after which you could start all over again.

But even after you paid off the device, if you didn’t acquire a new one from the carrier, you’d still pay the same amount. Not such a good deal!

Now customers do buy their gear outright, so there is no compelling reason to replace it so long as it continues to operate. Indeed, with the end of subsidy deals in the U.S., largely because of T-Mobile’s “Un-Carrier” promotion that started in 2013, there are other ways to acquire your device without a big upfront payment. Indeed, some of those plans, such as AT&T Next, allow you to upgrade every year or every two years; you just have to return the old unit after receiving its replacement. Oh, and, typical of leases, you pay the sales tax up front for your fancy new iPhone.

Despite the alternative facts spewed by some cyberbullies, I do not continue to boast about all the brand new gadgets I have. As I wrote in the last issue, my wife has an iPhone 6S, circa 2015, and an iPad Air 2, circa 2014. She isn’t asking about the new models even though she’s not so pleased with the sound quality of her iPad’s speakers..

As you probably know, my MacBook Pro is stuck with maOS High Sierra, 13.3. Fitted with a 500GB SSD some years ago, it is fast enough in handling files, but its Geekbench scores are about a third of what current models can deliver.

It doesn’t sound very promising, but it does get the job done, since so much activity on your Mac is drive-related. Well, such actions as converting an AIFF audio file to MP3 take twice as long as on my iMac, but that’s still acceptable.

But I had to use it as my sole computer for a week recently when the iMac’s hard drive failed. It wasn’t a hard failure at first, just random bouts of spinning cursors, and some performance glitches. But one day, after a restart, it never made it past the startup process.

I couldn’t even get it to start from an external clone backup drive, because the system froze trying to load the internal disk. Apple’s built-in hardware test, however, reported that everything was working, but it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as an Apple repair person would run. I still suspected the hard drive.

After nearly five years of heavy use, it made perfect sense.

Now the current iMac form factor, which debuted in 2012, is, as many of you know, extremely hostile to home tinkerers. While RAM upgrades are quick, replacing anything else inside requires removing the display. The prior version required suction cups and care, but it was a workable process. But in its endless quest for thinner, at least at the edges, Apple’s designers opted to seal the display to the chassis with adhesive strips.

Yes, it’s possible to remove it, and you can even buy new adhesive to seal the unit, but enough was enough. Knowing I’d have to pay the piper for this one, I redirected some cash for less-urgent bills. I took the iMac to an Apple Genius at the nearest Apple Store, located in the Santan Village shopping center in Gilbert, AZ.

The “Genius” ran a more extended hardware test, and it came out OK, but he then ran a test that exercised the hard drive. Within a few minutes, the truth was displayed on the screen. Yes, the drive had failed.

Since it was part of a Fusion drive configuration, the hard drive was maybe twice as expensive as a plain old internal drive. But it was still much cheaper than an internal SSD of similar size. Performance would be noticeably faster than the Fusion Drive, which uses a small SSD for the system and frequently used apps and documents, and the hard drive for the rest. Unless you work with positively huge files, it’s good enough.

I told the Genius that I needed to think about my options for a few minutes, so he went to serve another customer while I pondered my situation. I contacted two authorized independent dealers to get a quote, figuring it should be cheaper.

But it wasn’t, by a long shot. Labor charges were between $125-$150, depending on whether the replacement adhesive strips were part of the price. But Apple exacts a flat rate of $79 plus parts. No wonder independent service shops are complaining.

So you can see which choice I made.

Unfortunately, I had to wait a week for the repair. The store didn’t have replacement drives in stock, and had to order one. They were able to check the inventories of other dealers, and the nearest one that had them in stock was located in Tucson, over 100 miles away. And Apple evidently doesn’t exchange parts with other dealers, well at least one that far away, so I gave the go ahead.

Since I haven’t done much traveling in the last few years, that MacBook Pro hadn’t been used very much. When arriving at the home office, I took it out, and plugged in the accessories that I used on the iMac, including the clone drive. I didn’t connect the Time Machine backup drive, because I wanted to keep the files intact when restoring the repaired iMac.

I also had to download and install the last updates to High Sierra, and then install some apps.

Fortunately, most of the ones I use, including Audio Hijack, were fully compatible with 10.13.

The one good sign: The Levelator, a key utility I use for post-production, actually ran perfectly. On my iMac, running macOS Catalina, I had to run it from a Parallels Desktop Windows installation.

Overall, it took a few hours to fine-tune the setup for my workflow. I was able to manage with the smaller display and fuzzier text; the Retina MacBook Pro didn’t arrive until 2012.

After a week, and on schedule, Apple called me to tell me my iMac was ready. The unit was give an extensive test after the installation, and passed with flying colors. They also cleaned up the smudges on the screen, and vacuumed the dust from the interior. Per my request, the new drive came with Catalina preinstalled. Since I had multiple backups, it wasn’t necessary for Apple to waste time attempting to recover data from the broken drive.

Aside from the differences in the port layout between this iMac and the latest model, it otherwise looked identical.

With fingers crossed, I ran through the startup, and selected a Time Machine backup to transfer my files. It may just be that the external 2TB Toshiba drive was very slow, but it took nearly 10 hours to migrate my stuff.

CHAPTER TWO

For a few days, everything was all right, until a similar problem appeared. I was able to restart, but it ran dog slow.

So it was back to the Genius Bar on a rush basis. But rush to them meant a nearly one-hour wait since no appointments were available until the following day.

This time the diagnosis runs reported a defective SATA cable, so I turned it in for repair.

My request for a “rush repair” reduced the wait time by two days; so much for rushing. When I was notified that the iMac was ready to pick up, the repair person who called told me that they also had to replace the other half of the Fusion drive, the flash drive, in addition to the cable. Well at least they didn’t charge me for labor.

Yes, I did ask the obvious question: Is it possible that the entire problem was caused by the failure of the cable and the flash drive, that there was nothing wrong with the hard drive?  They insisted it wasn’t. Even more curious is the fact that my iMac was supposedly given a thorough test after the first repair, and no problems appeared.

But the excitement didn’t end there. When I got my iMac back, I discovered that they had it loaded with macOS Mojave, against my instructions to use Catalina. As a precaution, I wiped the drive, and used the Internet Recovery feature to get the latest version of Catalina to install, after which I restored my data from a cloned hard drive.

When I called to complain, the repair people gave me some gibberish as to why they felt I was running Mohave. They got it right on the first repair, so I assume they just screwed up but wouldn’t admit it.

So far, my iMac appears to be working normally, but I not happy with Apple. There is no excuse for their failures to get it right the firsts time. It’s not that defective storage devices should be difficult to diagnose. All told, I lost use of my iMac for 12 days between two repairs, and spent hours more doing my own troubleshooting before bringing it in for Apple to each repair.

Now that the storage system is brand new, I hope I’ll be free of hardware problems for another couple of years. Wish me luck.

 

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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 Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST) and is the former host of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which was on the network for ten years. The Paracast is still nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2019. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

Published in Technology

As most of you know, the next version of macOS is named Catalina, or macOS 10.15. But I wonder how long Apple is going to use the traditional number ten versioning before goes to 11, or somewhere.

No matter. Regardless of the naming scheme, Apple has packed the usual bunch of new features. I suppose the most meaningful for the long-term is Catalyst, which allows for a new range of apps that can run on both iPad and Mac. I suppose it’s possible that this is the first step towards switching Macs to Apple’s brand of A-series ARM processors. It also helps developers build apps for both platforms with, supposedly, some tweaking here and there.

One key goal is to help iOS developers create Mac versions without a lot of time and expense.

Another important change — to some it’ll be the most important— is splitting iTunes into Music, Podcasts and TV apps. Your content libraries for all three remain intact, and the online iTunes store will still be there. If you felt that iTunes had become too bloated, too confusing, the new scheme might be welcome. It basically means that you are running apps that originated on the iPad on your Mac. You get a consistent look and feel on both platforms, minus the interface differences.

Honestly, I don’t really care. I have been using iTunes since the days that Apple acquired SoundJam from Casady & Greene.

So where am I gong with this? So I usually install a macOS beta by this point, but not this time, and it’s frustrating.

Hardware compatibility isn’t the issue, as most any Mac released in the last seven years is compatible, along with the 2013 Mac Pro. That leaves my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro in the dust, but it hasn’t been supported for a while. It still works quite well, so I’m not about to send it out to pasture. Even that rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro, which may or may not arrive this  fall at the earliest, won’t be on my shopping list, largely because of its estimated $3,000 price tag.

But my iMac is fully compatible with Catalina.

My problem is Apple’s decision to finally drop 32-bit support, meaning that many older apps simply won’t launch in Catalina. Even an app that is 64-bit, but maybe has a 32-bit help feature, won’t launch. Apple has been heralding the arrival of this change by putting up messages that 32-bit apps were not “optimized” for a Mac when such an app was opened for the first time.

For the most part, it’ll probably make little difference for most Mac users. If an app is still being developed, a Catalina-savvy version will probably be released, and maybe it’s already there. But there are apps that won’t be updated, perhaps because the developer is no longer in business or working on the product.

So here’s my ongoing road towards 64-bit, and I still have a couple of problems.

It means I finally have to dispense with Adobe Creative Suite 5.5.

I have avoided subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Cloud partly because I don’t want to add another monthly bill, and I am no fan of the “pay forever” marketing scheme. For individuals it’s $9.99 for a Photography package that includes Lightroom and Photoshop. Any other single app is $20.99 per month; the full app suite is $52.99 per month.

Now Creative Suite 5.5 is not just 32-bit, but requires a now-obsolete version of Java to launch. I’m trying out Affinity Photo and Pixelmator to see if either, or both, can offer the features I need from Photoshop. So far it’s promising.

But I’ve yet to resolve the audio question. As part of my production workflow for The Paracast, I use The Levelator, from The Conversations Network. As the title implies, it fixes level differences in an audio file, a sort of normalize on steroids. It is designed for drag and drop use.

Our network, GCN, requires 12 separate files for a single episode. But our premium ad-free version for The Paracast+, is combined into a single file courtesy of a scripting app, Stitch, which is supplied as part of the Monbots package offered by Felt Tip, publishers of Sound Studio.

These apps are 32-bit. As far a upgrading to Catalina is concerned, they are the deal breakers.

Now there are other ways, free or low-cost, to combine files in a single batch operation. Felt Tip is also working on a solution, but The Levelator is another story.

Audio apps do have a normalize function, which provides a consistent gain to an audio file. But that feature is nowhere near as powerful as The Levelator. It’s near-perfect, broadcast quality, though it doesn’t do anything to help with background noise.

There are automatic gain control (AGC) plugins that promise to achieve a result similar to The Levelator. But the most promising ones aren’t free. Some podcasters recommend Auphonic, an online audio processing service that optimizes levels, noise and other settings. Auphonic will process up to two hours of files per month free. For more hours, prices range from $11 per month for nine hours to $89 for 100 hours.

As a test, I took a particularly noisy episode of our premium podcast, After The Paracast, and gave it the Auphonic treatment. The process involves uploading to their servers, and when it’s ready, you download the “fixed” version,

I tried two levels of noise reduction, the default(“Auto”), and “High.” The end results were no different from what I could achieve myself with The Levelator and the noise reduction or Denoising feature in another audio editing app, Amadeus Pro. The process involves sampling the noise content (say during a pause between sentences) and basing its fixer-upper algorithm on it.

There is hope for users of The Levelator, however. I was recently informed by someone from The Conversations Network that a true 64-bit person may be possible, and I’m awaiting an update. Obviously lots of people need this app, and I wouldn’t mind paying a small sum to help them keep it going.

Until or unless my audio processing dilemma is resolved, Catalina remains on the back burner.

Update: A support person from Auphonic wrote that the corrected audio file was what they expected considering the issues. But it hardly makes sense to pay for a service that I can largely duplicate myself — well, if The Levelator is updated, or I find an affordable plugin to replace it.

In the scheme of things, not using a new macOS version is not so big a deal. The new features are nice — and I suppose I’ll get used to having to launch three apps to duplicate the functions of iTunes, since I do it now on my iPhone. Catalina will no doubt be faster and more reliable, since that’s been the direction Apple has taken in recent years with mixed results.

But if I never upgrade to Catalina, I won’t lose any sleep over it.

 

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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 Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST) and is the former host of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which was on the network for ten years. The Paracast is still nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2019. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

Published in Technology

This column has been stewing for a while, and a number of things have changed. The most important, from my standpoint, is the fact that, after a year of living in cheap motels, we are back in an apartment. I have a home office area once again, rather than a single table that barely contains my stuff.

I’ve also been doing a lot of work to boost the business. The Paracast has a staff now, not just a cohost. We are all working to build the show, spread our coverage in unexpected ways, and enhance the premium subscription version, The Paracast+.

At the same time, it is time to retire The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

The show debuted in the fall of 2002 as one of the early online broadcasts. In those days, we were part of MacRadio, an alternative network. When Apple premiered its podcasts repository, I made the move alone, because the rest of the MacRadio hosts were slow to make the change. I left the network shortly thereafter; it folded a year or two later.

As I’ll explain more in the next column, Apple, Inc. is clearly no longer a counter-culture company, and a counter-culture radio show is hardly necessary. As Apple transitioned to become a consumer electronics powerhouse, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, the Mac press slimmed. Macworld gave up a print edition in favor of a digital one, but most readers confine themselves, I suspect, to the free site.

MacLife? I’m not sure. It is evidently still available in a print edition, but I no longer receive copies in the mail. I found a Facebook page offering a subscriptions of 5 issues for $5, but the link to which it points only offers higher-priced alternatives. The site is just a sales portal; there is no access to any online content other than to sign up for a newsletter.

Now that Apple is a mainstream company, with plenty of coverage in the mainstream and tech media, counter-culture tech radio seems superfluous. So I’ve decided to focus my attention to boost The Paracast. which is, I suppose, another form of counter-culture show. But I won’t be giving up on tech. The Paracast will also feature futurists and other guests discussing advanced technology.

This column will continue on a periodic basis. There’s still plenty to discuss.

Meantime, we wrapped The Tech Night Owl LIVE with the July 6th episode, which is still available to download along with an archive of hundreds of episodes.

For the last show, we gathered some of our favorite guests to reminisce and talk about the present and the near-future of our favorite fruit company, Apple Inc. It all began with the early days of the Internet, its complexities, and Apple’s path from Macintosh to iPod, to its most lucrative product, the iPhone, followed by the iPad, Apple Watch and beyond. There was also an extensive discussion about the prospects for the success of Apple’s fledgling services, which include News+, a premium version of the app offering access to hundreds of magazines and newspapers, and Apple TV+, in which the company is spending billions of dollars to hire top-flight talent to create original TV shows. Where does Apple+ fit in market currently owned by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other streaming services? Are there already too many for a newcomer to succeed?

Guests for this very special episode included tech commentator and publisher Adam Engst, Editor and Publisher of TidBITS, outspoken veteran tech commentator Peter Cohen, and cutting-edge commentator and podcaster Kirk McElhearn.

Please Note: Subscribers to The Tech Night Owl+ will be contacted personally about the status of their subscriptions.

On this week’s episode of that other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Randall present the ever-prolific Fortean author, Nick Redfern, to discuss his very latest book, ” Flying Saucers from the Kremlin: UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets.” The book presents a compelling case for deep Russian involvement in the UFO field, which may have included recruiting those infamous contactees of the 1950s to become spies, fabricating the MJ-12 documents, feeding faux claims of alien visitation and more. Is it possible that, in addition with meddling with U.S. elections, the Russians are still involved in spreading UFO disinformation? Nick Redfern is the author of more than 40 books covering UFOs and other paranormal events. He’s been featured on a number of radio and TV shows, and is a frequent guest on The Paracast.

Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan 
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

APPLE, INC.: NO LONGER THE CRAZY ONE

First some history: After using a Mac for several years at the office, I installed my first home system in 1989; yes 30 years ago. And boy was it expensive!

The price tag came to over $14,000, which adds up to over $28,000 in 2019 dollars. In other words, in the neighborhood of a well-equipped version of the Mac Pro that Apple premiered during the June WWDC, and a midsized car. Thank the stars for a low-cost lease.

But my first Mac was no high-end model. The setup consisted of a IIcx, a “junior” version of the Macintosh IIx, a 14-inch Apple color display, an Apple LaserWriter II NT and a collection of productivity software that included FileMaker, Microsoft Word and QuarkXPress. I attempted to duplicate the essence of my office environment so I could begin to work at home.

When I tried to buy more software for my brand new computer, I was treated as an oddball at local stores. If they had any Mac titles at all, they were consigned to dusty shelves at the rear; more often than not they were outdated versions. I soon learned that the best source was an online retailer, such as MacWarehouse. That dealer, by the way, has long since been absorbed into CDW.

Apple’s strategic mistakes over the next few years didn’t help. By the end of 1996, with efforts to build a state-of-the-art operating system floundering and sales tanking, the company made its smartest move, which was to acquire Steve Jobs’ NeXT.

While it once sold hardware, the NeXTSTEP operating system was its remaining product. Built on a tried-and-true Unix core, with platform independence, it seemed to be the ideal candidate to resolve Apple’s OS dilemma. And there was always the prospect of Steve Jobs returning to the company that he co-founded.

As most of you know, however, a working version of what became macOS X didn’t premiere until the fall of 2000, and then only as a public beta, retailing for $29.99. The “real” release came in March of 2001, but it was still basically unfinished. Fortunately, you could still use Mac OS 9 to get some real work done.

Each year Apple improved the beast. In 2006, Apple moved to Intel CPUs, after IBM and Motorola failed to deliver the PowerPC CPU upgrades needed to boost performance and support notebooks without huge cooling systems.

But the real changes in Apple began in 2001, with the release of what appeared to be an outlier, a hobby gadget known as the iPod. It was all about having 1,000 songs in your pocket! When iTunes expanded to Windows, things really took off, and Apple was never quite the same.

In 2007, the release of the “ultimate” iPod, the iPhone cemented Apple’s conversion to mainstream status.

At one time, IBM was the “enemy” when it came to a personal computer. These days, IBM employees can choose the gear they want, and tens of thousands of them have selected Macs, iPhones and iPads. Surveys have shown what we knew for years, that the Mac is easier and cheaper to maintain despite a higher purchase price.

Even the Apple Watch, considered a costly wearable, has become more popular than I ever expected. In my travels, I have seen cashiers at convenience stores and supermarkets — earning salaries not much higher than minimum wage — wearing an Apple Watch. Some even have the more expensive Series 4 with built-in cellular capability.

The Apple Watch is at the top of the heap when it comes to wearables and wristwatches, for that matter.

Despite its undeniable attractions, I’ve held off buying one. So I am still wearing the $12.88 stainless steel calendar watch that I bought from Walmart several years ago. Other than a couple of battery replacements, it works just great. Sure, it runs slightly fast, so I have to adjust the time every month; the calendar is brain-dead to months shorter than 31 days.

Apple is mainstream in other ways. CEO Tim Cook is regularly interviewed. He’s even personally lobbied with the President of the United States to get favorable consideration in the trade war with China. So your iPhone still doesn’t cost any more as a result, although that could change due to the acts of a certain mercurial chief executive.

It’s not that Apple doesn’t have a bunch of critics who attack its every move. But their arguments are old news; let’s call them fake news. Every new product represents the wrong direction, and is destined to fail bigly (don’t you hate that word?). The departure of chief designer Jonathan Ive means death to the company, as if he and only he did all the work, including developing the operating systems. Can you imagine Ive managing the iPhone production lines in China?

Facts don’t matter.

Nevertheless The Night Owl Persists

In the meantime, as with the radio show, I see that I’m probably destined to repeat myself if I stick with daily columns. I can take a 10-year-old column, change a few lines and product names, and present it as something new. That’s no way to be creative and to cover the present and future of personal technology.

Even though I have put The Tech Night Owl LIVE to bed, I will continue to speak out in these columns when the need arises, when there are significant new developments to report. And I’m still keeping up to date on things.

As I write this, I’m running the latest iOS 13 beta on my iPhone. I use it for work, both email and phone calls; I knew I am taking a chance. But if things go bad, I can always restore it to the last release version of iOS and my current backup. I have little to lose except maybe an hour or so, but so far I haven’t had reason to regret my decision. The things I need to work, largely email, the phone, Safari and the Lyft and Uber ride-sharing apps, all function normally.

At the same time, I am avoiding the macOS Catalina betas because it will no longer support apps that are all or partly 32-bit. My vintage version of Adobe Photoshop won’t run, nor will a clever utility, The Levelator, which offers a normalize function on steroids for audio files. A single drag-and-drop pass delivers an output file that reduces levels that are too high and boosts levels that are too low. It delivers broadcast-ready content with ease.

While I can buy a Creative Cloud license for Photoshop, finding a cheap or no-cost replacement for the latter has been difficult. I have urged the publishers of Audio Hijack, which we use to capture audio from an outboard mixer and Skype for the radio shows, to consider acquiring or replacing The Levelator with a 64-bit version. The original developer, the Conversations Network, has abandoned the project.

There are other possible replacements to explore, but I’ve yet to locate a suitable option yet that works in much the same way. One option recommended by other hosts out there is an online solution, Auphonic, an audio and video processing service. Auphonic doesn’t just optimize levels, but reduces noise levels and makes other enhancements. To use the service, you have to upload the file to their servers for processing and retrieve it when the job is done. It also means that you have to pay a monthly fee for anything longer than the free two hours of audio that’s provided each month.

To sign up with Auphonic for The Paracast and the supplementary Paracast+ show, After The Paracast, we’d need the 21-hour package, at $23 per month; there are no rollover minutes. I am not happy with adding another bill, even a small one. I will, however, test a single file of less than two hours to compare it to The Levelator.

I’m just a microcosm here: Many of you will have to judge your needs, and your dependence on 32-bit apps, before deciding whether to upgrade to Catalina. Even though Apple has been warning you about apps not optimized for macOS for a while now, that means nothing if you can’t upgrade to a newer version that supports 64-bit. You may be forced to search for an alternative, if there is one.

So much for Catalina, at least for now.

But drastic changes are nothing new for Apple. After moving to Intel CPUs, Apple provided an emulation component, Rosetta, to allow you to use PowerPC apps. That feature was dumped beginning with OS X Lion. Either replace incompatible apps, or don’t install the upgrade.

After apparently losing interest in the Mac for a while, regular updates have resumed. But major model refreshes, such as the MacBook Pro, come with higher prices. The long-delayed Mac Pro upgrade, which will start at $5,999 when it arrives later this year, can be optioned to a point where the price may exceed $35,000. In other words, similar to entry level models of a BMW 3 series automobile, or a Tesla Model 3.

In other words, it’s not dissimilar to what a top-of-the-line Macintosh Iix cost 30 years ago when you allow for inflation. And, no, I’m not signing up.

Despite Apple’s mainstream status, I remain curious about what it’s up to. I still use Apple gear, but I hardly see the need for daily columns anymore. Still, when something of interest, at least to me, develops, you’ll hear from me. You can depend on it!

 

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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 Paracast - broadcast on Sunday from 3:00am - 6:00am (CST) and is the former host of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which was on the network for ten years. The Paracast is still nationally syndicated through GCNlive. Gene’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc. -- Copyright © 1999-2019. Click here to subscribe to Tech Night Owl Newsletter. This article was originally published at Technightowl.com -- reprinted with permission.

Published in Technology

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that momentum is building for the U.S. government to subject Google and other Big Tech firms to antitrust scrutiny for fears that they have become too big and too powerful.

In today’s digital ecosystem, politicians, political parties, organizations and media all rely on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube to get the message out because that’s where consumers by and large go to in order to consume information.

A Pew report found 68 percent of adult Americans use Facebook, or over 170 million. 24 percent use Twitter, or about 61 million. A separate Pew report found 73 percent, or 185 million, use broadband internet. Statista reports that Google’s family of sites are the most popular in America, with 255 million unique U.S. visitors in March 2019 alone.

So, the internet is indisputably a huge part of the way people are getting information nowadays.

Now, conservatives and Republicans have become alarmed as many of these platforms are censoring and restricting speech that does not coincide with Big Tech’s social justice agenda. Deplatforming is real. Actor James Woods has been censored on Twitter, Stephen Crowder has been demonetized on Youtube (owned by Google) and Candace Owens was temporarily suspended on Facebook before the company did a reversal and declared it “an error.”

Political discrimination is destructive as it creates an incentive to silence your political opponents. Suddenly you have countrymen reporting on one another to get them deplatformed. Is this healthy for a society?

But it is not merely the reporting features that are being abused on these platforms.

Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe released a video on June 24 that showed how the algorithms that produce Google search results (and other machine learning) are programmed with algorithmic “fairness” in mind to prevent, per an internal 2017 Google document, “unjust or prejudicial treatment of people that is related to sensitive characteristics such as race, income, sexual orientation or gender, through algorithmic systems or algorithmically aided decision-making.”

Just throw in political affiliation, philosophy or religion, and one can immediately recognize how Republicans, conservatives or Christians might feel marginalized on social media platforms, but Google did not end up looking into that. A study by Google in 2018 on algorithmic fairness stated, “due to our focus on traditionally marginalized populations, we did not gather data about how more privileged populations think about or experience algorithmic fairness.”

As a Google executive in the video who was quoted in an undercover camera noted, “Communities who are in power and have traditionally been in power are not who I’m solving fairness for.”

But if Google had looked at other groups, they would have likely found that supposedly “privileged” populations can feel marginalized, too. The 2018 study unsurprisingly found that participants expressed, “In addition to their concerns about potential harms to themselves and society, participants also indicated that algorithmic fairness (or lack thereof) could substantially affect their trust in a company or product” and that “when participants perceived companies were protecting them from unfairness or discrimination, it greatly enhanced user trust and strengthened their relationships with those companies.”

The thing is, nobody wants to be discriminated against, and if they are it will affect their perception of the company or companies that are doing it. Deplatforming, censorship and manipulating search and news results undermines trust in these Big Tech firms, and suddenly makes them a problem that many want to solve. No need for another focus group.

So, what responsibility does Big Tech have to foster our way of life and our competitive system of representative government, if any?

I would argue just as much responsibility as they feel to tackle the issue of fairness for historically marginalized groups, if for no other reason than it is good, sound business to cater to all comers, particularly in the political and governmental sphere. Why make enemies? It’s provocative.

Many solutions have been proposed to help there to be a level playing field on the Internet. Some are heavy-handed and appear to miss the target, while others are more narrow.

There is the Federal Communications Commission route, which might seek to make public utilities out of Big Tech companies, and all the regulation that comes with that. Net neutrality springs to mind, although that appeared more focused on throttling broadband speeds due to how much data was being used, whereas the issues today appear to focus on content-based censorship.

There is antitrust approach, whether via the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, that might envision breaking up these large companies. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has come out for this approach. In a recent statement, she said, “As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts “interactive computer services” from liability of what their users post, and grants them the power to remove items at their discretion they find objectionable. Some have proposed simply removing the liability protections, which would render sites that allow users to write whatever they want suddenly subject to liability of hundreds of millions of users. It would also effectively destroy the Internet, since nobody would be willing to assume the risk of hosting somebody else’s material that might be defamatory.

Some have called for conservatives to boycott these platforms and to take their business elsewhere or to make their own platforms, but what sort of echo chamber would we wind up with? More to the point, to win elections, Republicans have to appeal to independents and unaffiliated voters. You buy ads where there’s ad space to reach undecideds. Insular practices of exclusively only talking to partisans on your side is a recipe for being in the minority for a very long time. It does not grow a political movement to do that.

This author has posited that perhaps Congress could narrowly expand the franchise of protected groups under civil rights to include politics, philosophy and the like (although excluding employment hiring for exclusive organizations like political parties and organizations) and defining interactive computer services as public accommodations so that services cannot be denied on the basis of partisan differences. Throw in banking, DNS resolution, web hosting and email services as public accommodations while we’re at it for good measure.

From the perspectives of the Big Tech companies, surely they have noticed a marked uptick in calls to regulate their firms? Conservatives complain about censorship. Elizabeth Warren is worried about smaller businesses. The calls for regulation are directly proportionate to how powerful these firms have become. Do any of the above options sound profitable or more like a regulatory headache that will cost millions or billions of dollars to manage?

And these are not even things we would normally consider, but throw in the prospect of censorship and suddenly it’s an existential matter of survival. Republicans who might normally defend these companies from regulation might look the other way when it comes up now. See how that works?

The truth is, I’m taking time out of my column to focus on this issue and so are many other organizations that are worried they too could be censored. The platforms we’re talking about have such market saturation that is so pervasive it could be utilized to discriminate on the basis of politics in order foster conditions conducive to one-party rule, which I believe to be dangerous.

More broadly, groups like Americans for Limited Government and political parties depend on a competitive political system to function. If we and others like us were suddenly barred from posting on social media or hosting a website or sending emails, suffice to say we would not function for much longer.

In a representative form of government, political parties’ access to media and their followers are critical to building and growing constituencies, and in the digital age these represent a digital sort of civil rights, and they must be protected in order for that system to continue to exist. One party systems do not respect civil rights. They squelch dissent to consolidate power and they target political opponents and critics of the system.

The great Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli supposed that there were but two forms of government, republics and principalities, perhaps for that reason. One is ruled by the consent of the governed and the separation of powers, and the other by the will and domination of the state and over time needs to instill fear in order to govern.

There are liberal democracies that foster debate, and then there are one party systems that demand loyalty to the state. There’s not much in between.

The alarming trends we’re seeing with Big Tech companies engaging in censorship in the pursuit of “fairness” look a lot like a bid for one party rule. And the thing about one party systems is, once you have one, it’s really, really hard to get rid of it and there’s no guarantee that your favored class will be represented in its leadership. Sometimes those who support the rise of such a system wind up being marginalized by it. Look no further than Elizabeth Warren to see what lies at the end of that tunnel. Is it worth the risk? Be careful what you wish for.

 

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. He is also a guest contributor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

Published in Politics

For the very first time in 19 years, I’ve been on hiatus for a while, with only occasional update to this site. I’ve also been going through a painful period of financial instability, which has certainly put a damper on my creative process.

 

At the same time, the rush of news from Apple hasn’t been nearly as frequent or interesting as it used to be, and repeating the old tropes about tech pundits attacking the company for the usual bogus reasons has become boring.

 

In this week’s main column, below, I also wonder for the first time about Apple at last becoming a “normal” company, in which its new products may not seem so exciting and innovative as they used to be. But I’ll get to that and its ramifications shortly.

 

In the meantime, I am working on lots of new articles, including a review of the Beats Studio 3 Wireless headset that debuted last month. I have always been a reluctant headphone user, even going back to the days when I worked in a traditional radio station studio. With its emphasis on style and comfort, I have high hopes for the new Beats gear, and I was able to get a review sample from the manufacturer.

 

Is the new Beats bass-heavy, as older models were supposed to be? Is it worth its $349 purchase price, the same range as the equivalent Bose Quiet Comfort? I’ll let you know soon.

 

That takes us to this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, in which we presented a special holiday season segment, featuring security guru Scott Nusbaum, senior incident response at TrustedSec (a white hat hacking firm). Its main focus was a frightening new risk to online shoppers called “formgrabbing.” Nusbaum also explained what this means when you place an order, and how online criminals can gather your personal information, such as your address and credit card numbers and use them to steal your money. Are there ways to protect yourself from this threat? Nusbaum covered the whole gamut of online shopping dangers and how to navigate through the troubled waters.

 

In a special encore segment, you also heard from commentator/podcaster Peter Cohen, who focused on “Right to Repair” and the upsides and downsides. Peter offered his personal experiences as the employee of an authorized Apple dealer and how it influenced his opinion about whether Apple and other companies need to allow more repair freedom. There was also a brief discussion about the concept of states’ rights and how it affects customers where such laws vary from state to state. The discussion also covered the HomePod and its possible value as a smart speaker. Both Gene and Peter explained, at length, why a HomePod is still not on their shopping lists, and whether Apple could sell more copies if it loosened its dependence on Apple’s ecosystem when it comes to being able to listen to your stuff.

 

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Randall present long-time UFO researcher and author Jerome Clark, who will discuss the third edition of his multivolume magnum opus, “The UFO Encyclopedia.” You’ll learn about the new material, the conclusions that were altered as the result of new research, particularly the Roswell UFO crash and how the case stands after all these years. Indeed, is any reported UFO crash credible? Randall and Jerry also debate the “experience anomaly,” and its impact on certain cases, such as abductions. Are all UFOs physical craft, or are other forces at work here? Jerry is also a songwriter whose music has been recorded or performed by musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Tom T. Hall.

 

Has Apple become an old, boring company?

 

Our image of Apple, Inc. has long been that of a maverick company that defies the conventional wisdom and goes its own way. Here’s to the “crazy ones” indeed!

 

In the old days, the most famous example was the Macintosh personal computer. Where computers in the early days used an arcane text-based interface, paying lip service to color displays, Apple provided a graphic user interface designed to make it warm and fuzzy even to people who couldn’t adapt to the traditional PC.

 

Steve Jobs always envisioned the Mac as a computing appliance, and the original model actually offered no way for you to do any upgrades to memory and other components. In passing, the Apple of 2018 has mostly reverted to this concept, and what you buy is as upgradeable as your toaster oven. Period!

 

But Apple really attained prominence with the original iPhone that, in a few years, became the company’s best-selling product. Indeed, its success gave the more critical pundits ammunition to claim that, if iPhone sales declined — and nothing is forever — the company would be in deep trouble.

 

Each year, the iPhone received upgrades. Even when the new model seemed little different from its predecessor, at least externally, there were plenty of changes inside. Consider the iPhone 5s, which for all practical purposes wasn’t distinguishable from the iPhone 5. But in addition to faster performance and a better camera, it provided the first iteration of Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

 

If you examine the spec sheets year-over-year, lots of innovative engineering is present. Unlike all other smartphone makers, save for Samsung, Apple designs its own CPUs and, since last year, its own graphics hardware. The proof is in the pudding, as the latest “X” series iPhones tout performance that is in the range of the more powerful notebook computers. The latest iPad Pro promises graphics performance at the Xbox level.

 

At the same time, the annual double-digit growth of the iPhone is long ago and far away. Except for the poorest third-world countries, most anyone who wants or needs a smartphone has one. So most units sold are replacements, and Apple builds reliable gear and supports it with OS upgrades for several years, which slows the upgrade cycle.

 

Shorn of the new features, an iPhone 6, running iOS 12, can deliver credible performance that should satisfy most people except for those who require instant response, a better camera, and superior displays. Some features, such as 3D Touch, essentially went nowhere and isn’t even present on the iPhone XR.

 

Knowing that sales have flattened, Apple has devised other ways to boost revenue, beginning with the $999 iPhone X last year. For 2018, the iPhone XS Max begins at $1,099, and the price goes up fast if you choose larger storage options.

 

Even though Apple was criticized for ignoring the Mac in recent years, the very newest models are more expensive even as PC makers continue to rush towards the bottom in pricing their hardware. The presence of the controversial Touch Bar meant an increase of several hundred dollars for recent MacBook Pros.

 

After four years, Apple introduced a new, more powerful Mac mini, but the base price increased from $499 to $799. If you click Customize on Apple’s ordering page, you can increase the price to $4,199, and that’s before you acquire a keyboard, input device and display.

 

The professional grade iMac Pro starts at $4,999 and maxes out at $13,348 before you get to a VESA mounting kit. Heaven knows what the promised Mac Pro replacement will cost when optioned to the hilt.

 

This is not to say these prices are too high. When you compare the prices of Apple gear to direct PC competition, it is usually quite competitive. Apple just doesn’t play in the low end of the market.

 

The new iPad Pros are also more expensive too and so is the Apple Watch Series 4.

 

What this means is that the average sale price has gone up. So despite the complaints, it’s clear that millions of customers are happy to pay a higher price for a premium product. At the same time, Apple is offering services, such as Apple Music and iCloud, for which you pay monthly fees. The fastest growing segment of Apple’s business is, in fact, services.

 

Apple realizes that it can earn a lot more money from every satisfied customer.

 

But has it reached the point where these products have become so sophisticated that most users will never, ever use the new features? As I watched Apple’s Keynote slide shows listing the features of its newest gear at the iPad/Mac event in October, it started to become a blur. Dozens of amazing features, state-of-the-art performance, but how much did it mean for all but a tiny percentage of professionals?

 

It had a same old same old feel. A slick production, enticing videos to demonstrate the new capabilities and the amazing engineering, and boasting about what you can do with these machines.

 

This isn’t to say that smartphones, smartwatches, tablets and personal computers are good enough and there’s no need to improve them. As I said, the price of admission is no doubt worth it. By charging more money, and boosting services, Apple earns more revenue. Unit sales don’t matter so much, which is why it joined other companies in no longer revealing them in the quarterly financial reports.

 

Slick, professional, but is the excitement gone? Has a middle-aged Apple become just another boring multinational corporation? It’s a tricky question no doubt, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about of late.

 

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 9:00 pm - 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 Technology

To understand what the Apple Store meant to me, let me tell you a personal story. In the 1960s, I had a hobby, building radio and general audio gear. Some of it I bought for myself, others I assembled for friends — at no charge. Well, I was a teenager, living at home. I wasn’t rich, but I had a tape recorder and a radio and a mic, so I was mostly happy.

 

In those days, I made periodic trips to one of the early consumer electronics stores, Lafayette Radio. After going bankrupt in 1980, its assets ended up in the hands of the company that eventually became Circuit City.

 

After moving to the Phoenix area in 1993, I shopped occasionally at a local Circuit City, but mostly for CDs. If I wanted a new Mac, I went online and saved money. It’s not that Circuit City didn’t carry Macs. They had some, and I remember visiting the retailer a few years later and seeing a few dusty models placed haphazardly on a single display table off to the rear

somewhere. Most had been left off. The few that were running mostly displayed a Hypercard slide show that didn’t really entice anyone to buy anything.

 

Besides, the salespeople were busy encouraging you to check out the real center of the action, the PC tables.

 

I recall a report some time later, about Steve Jobs admonishing Apple dealers to give Macs a fair shake. Make that demanding in very raw language. It was, after all, vintage Steve Jobs.

Apple finally decided to go its own way, by establishing its own retail chain. Jobs recruited former Target retail executive Ron Johnson to help him design the new stores.

 

When the first two Apple stores had their grand openings in 2001, in Glendale, CA and Tyson’s Corner, VA, the tech pundits were skeptical. Other electronics manufacturers, including Sony and Gateway, launched chains of branded stores, but they really didn’t go anywhere.

 

In large part, it’s because they were just ordinary retailers, only focused on a single brand. So why go to one when you could get the very same merchandise at the same price — or less — at a store with a far greater selection?

 

Apple’s approach was to customize your shopping experience with a specialty boutique with what appeared to be a remarkably noncommercial approach to retail sales. For one thing, you weren’t confronted with greedy salespeople trolling for a sale. Indeed, nobody pushed you to buy anything, or even to leave if you just wanted to just hang out.

 

If you had a problem with your Apple gadget, there was the Genius Bar where you could get advice, or authorized repairs by a factory trained specialist.

 

As a contributor to the Arizona Republic, and later Gannett and its national newspaper, USA Today, I attended two of the openings in the Phoenix area. At the Chandler, AZ Fashion Center, I met  Johnson, then Apple’s retail chief. I also got an Apple Store T-shirt.

 

I remember the opening ceremony, where the newly-minded employees welcomed customers with loud rounds of applause.

 

In 2002, I received a VIP invite to attend the grand opening of an Apple Store in New York’s SoHo district. I was part of an exclusive group that included Apple executives, even Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller, fellow tech reporters and a smattering of show business types.

 

While there, I had a chance to speak with Jobs for a few moments before he pulled his usual stunt to end a conversation, which was to walk away in mid-sentence. But I also spent several minutes speaking with the comic actor Tim Allen, who starred in one of my favorite movies, “Galaxy Quest.”

 

Recalling that the film ended in a way that a sequel might have been filmed, Allen said that one key factor that hurt the effort was a motorcycle accident that actor Daryl Mitchell, who portrayed the starship’s navigator, suffered the previous year. The mishap left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite the handicap, by the way, Mitchell has remained active in show business. These days, he’s a featured player in a hit CBS series, “NCIS: New Orleans.”

 

But there’s still hope for a “Galaxy Quest” revival on Amazon, despite the 2016 death of Alan Rickman, another star of the cult classic.

 

Now my feelings about the arrival of the Apple Store in the Phoenix area were mixed. Before they arrived, I made a decent income as a Mac consultant. But Apple could provide much of what I offered, at least to people who didn’t mind carrying their gear to the store, at no charge. It didn’t take long for most of my clients to choose the obvious alternative, even when I lowered my hourly rates.

 

At first I focused on older gear, mostly Macs that were too old for Apple to provide direct support. As my customers grew older, however, that business mostly faded.

 

Despite my bittersweet feelings about the matter, I do get to an Apple Store from time to time to check out the new gear. Overall, the shopping experience remains mostly good, but the Genius Bar is often overwhelmed, so you have to reserve a session before you pay a visit.

 

As to Ron Johnson, he finally left Apple and went on to JCPenney to overhaul the shopping experience over there. But it proved to be a poor fit, and Johnson departed after the struggling retailer’s situation only worsened from his attempts to move them upscale. These days he’s connected with Enjoy, a startup that hopes to overhaul the shopping experience.

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 9:00 pm - 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 Technology

On the surface, it may seem that macOS Mojave is an extremely minor update. Other than Dark Mode and the reliance on Metal graphics, it doesn’t seem a whole lot different when you look it over, as I did starting last month. But the mere fact of choosing Metal means that Macs without support for that graphics technology have been made obsolete.

 

Before Mojave was announced, I had planned (hoped) to test the betas on my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro. Obviously that’s not possible, despite the fact that it has an SSD formatted with the APFS file system. That’s because its graphics hardware, state of the art eight years ago, preceded the arrival of Metal.

 

A 2012 MacBook Pro,  where a Retina display debuted on Macs, works just fine. So do older Mac Pros with graphics cards that support Metal. So, my only option was the iMac. With a Fusion drive, it lost out on the APFS conversion last year, because Apple couldn’t make it compatible. It appeared on the early betas of High Sierra, but was soon pulled.

 

There was a certain promise from Apple software chief Craig Federighi that APFS support would return in a “future update.” Nothing more was said on the subject until May, weeks ahead of the WWDC and the launch of High Sierra’s successor, Mojave. I wouldn’t assume Federighi expected it wouldn’t arrive till then, but if he knew it would take the full year all along, he wouldn’t admit it.

 

This time it was clear APFS was expected to work. So, with multiple backups, I was willing to take the chance. If something went wrong, I could just restore the computer.

My only concern at the time was the report from Rogue Amoeba, publisher of Audio Hijack, which we use to capture audio for the radio show, that it wasn’t compatible with Mojave. Apparently the ACE component, used for instant capture, doesn’t work as of this writing. So far, the publisher hasn’t even hinted at when that update will arrive, though it is expected to appear when Mojave is released. I asked their support people if I might make it work without ACE, and the answer wasn’t definite.

 

Based on experience with previous versions of macOS, where this component had to be updated, I suspect that the main issue would be that I couldn’t capture audio with an app running. Audio Hijack would have to launch it first. If the app is running, it’ll put up a prompt that you click to quit and relaunch the app. Yes, an assumption, but I decided to go for it.

 

So on a Friday night, I backed up all my content via Carbon Copy Cloner to a second drive. I was ready.

 

I didn’t monitor the entire installation, except for an occasional glance. When I woke up the next morning, my iMac was running Mojave, and for the most part it didn’t look terribly different. Well, until I launched Disk Utility, and discovered that the drive was indeed using APFS. There was no warning and no option to block it. There it was, and it seemed OK.

 

I assume Apple has tested Fusion drives to know that it would be successful, and so far Mojave is mostly behaving. I do see slightly speedier performance, and I like the idea of being able to duplicate files to another portion of the drive almost instantaneously.

 

But what about Audio Hijack?

 

I launched it, selected my workflow and started a recording. As I suspected, Skype launched and everything went normally. If, however, I started a recording while Skype was running, Audio Hijack would put up a prompt to quit and relaunch. That’s no different from the way it worked before the ACE or instant capture component was developed.

 

I’m still waiting for an update from Rogue Amoeba — they aren’t sure when it’ll be ready — but I’m happy to accept this very minor inconvenience to produce my radio shows. Now maybe some other features, such as scheduling, are also affected, but I don’t use them.

 

As for Mojave, it does seem a tad snappier, but I’ll await official benchmarks with the release version. The iMac’s startup takes nearly twice as long, though. It stops a little more than halfway through, and resumes a short time later. I assume that glitch will also disappear from the release version, though I grant that Apple has allowed OS bugs to persist through a beta process in the past.

 

This week, Apple released developer beta six, which is the fifth beta made available to public beta testers. Within the next four to six weeks, a Golden Master candidate ought to be out, which means that the rest of the development process will mostly involve fine tuning. Once it’s released, Apple will go full steam into the first update, 10.14.1.

 

In the meantime,  I’ve looked over Mojave’s Dark Mode and turned it off. Maybe I’m too set in my ways. Unfortunately, the latest beta has essentially made my Brother printer useless. Whenever I attempt to print a document, any document, the printer driver app displays an error, “Unable to startup session, error =-10.”

 

I went through the usual troubleshooting routines, including restarting. resetting the iMac’s printing system, resetting the printer, and reinstalling the latest drivers from Brother. They are rated for High Sierra. So this is clearly a problem that Apple or Brother — or both — must fix.

For now, I can’t print, since my other printer, an Epson All-in-One, is at a storage facility along with most of my stuff.

 

So I’m bummed out a little, though it is time I cure the printing habit, so maybe it’s all good.

 

As to Mojave, I don’t regret installing the betas. At this late stage, it’s probably in decent shape — well except for that printer glitch. But if you’ve waited this long without fretting over it, you might as well wait for the final release that’ll probably arrive at the end of September or early in October.

 

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 9:00 pm - 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 Technology

What I read last week is so typical of anti-Apple foolishness, but I was hardly surprised. As you know, we’re less than two months away from an expected Apple event to introduce new iPhones and no doubt an updated Apple Watch. Whether or not any other gear will be launched is a question mark, even though new iPads and Macs (in addition to the ones launched last week) are expected.

 

But it’s not too early for the usual gang of Apple haters to claim that whatever is going to happen is wrongheaded, that the company with the world’s largest market cap is just incapable of doing things right. Or perhaps following the foolish speculation from a wayward and ill-informed blogger. If Apple doesn’t follow the erratic and illogical twists and turns of would-be journalists, they will never succeed. All that’s happened to them so far is some gigantic fluke.

 

Some day, any time now, the market will self-correct and the “right” companies will retake control.

 

Any time now.

 

With that in mind, there has been some new speculation from industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, whose predictions about new Apple gear are often close to the mark. On that basis, There are reports about refreshed Macs, including the long-awaited Mac mini, a new low-end Mac notebook, and refreshes for the rest of the lineup, and the iPad. But there is one wrinkle with Apple’s tablet, an 11-inch model that evidently replaces the 10.5-in model, and the addition of Face ID to replace Touch ID.

 

So far, we have the 2018 MacBook Pro sporting huge speed and feature improvements, including a six-core CPU and an available 4TB SSD for a humongous amount of money as notebook computers go.

 

His predictions about the iPhone haven’t changed. There will be two versions of the iPhone X, a minor update to the existing model and an iPhone X Plus with a 6.5-inch display. Prices may drop on the cheaper model by $100, which would leave the bigger handset at the same price point as the previous iPhone X that was regarded as too expensive at the same time it became a top seller. In addition, he predicts an LCD model with a 6.1-inch TFT LCD display. The usual range of older models will probably stick around with lower prices, but what about the iPhone SE?

 

Speculation about the iPhone updates is enough to send the hater hearts aflutter. Especially the lack of an update for the smallest and cheapest iPhone. Does that mean there won’t be any changes, or maybe the existence of an update has been overlooked so far? Well, there was some speculation about a minor CPU update earlier this year, which has faded.

 

So does that mean the rumored iPhone SE 2 will never appear?

 

Obviously the complaint is that failing to produce a low-end model is a bad move for Apple, and thus you can expect abject failure this fall. I don’t pretend to know how many units have been sold so far, though it’s clear most customers appear to prefer the units with larger displays, and, in fact, the most expensive models. But that doesn’t mean that Apple is ignorant of the fact that lots of people still want smaller handsets, and why not satisfy those needs?

 

The current iPhone SE uses parts from the iPhone 6s, but that’s no reason to panic, for one reason that the distressed blogger overlooks, or maybe doesn’t know about.

 

As most readers know, Apple is touting huge performance boosts on iPhones with iOS 12, focusing on the iPhone 6 as receiving improvements of 50% or faster. While no promises are being made about the iPhone 6s, one assumes it’ll also receive a decent level of improvement, and you should expect that too with the iPhone SE.

 

So even without any change, the existing SE should deliver more than enough performance for most users. Sure, the camera won’t change, but it delivers pretty good photos as it is.

But maybe Apple is planning an SE update. While this model is not a huge seller in the scheme of things, even sales of a few million are quite significant and would be substantial for most other companies. A speed bump and camera enhancement, without actually changing the look, would involve at best a minor R&D expenditure to Apple.

 

Then again, one might raise the very same logical arguments for updating the Mac mini, which hasn’t been touched in four years. That is an even less defensible position, especially since the last revision actually downgraded the model apparently in exchange for a $100 reduction in price. You could no longer upgrade RAM, and the CPUs topped out at two cores. The four-core models that some cherished for use in data centers were no longer available, and Apple never explained why.

 

Now it; only one Mac line has been enhanced this year so far.

 

It’s also quite possible that the iPhone SE won’t be changed this year, or that Apple will replace it with something else that’s still relatively small, but perhaps has further enhancements to bring it in line with current models.

 

But if that doesn’t happen, it won’t signal a fatal mistake for Apple so long as people are still buying the existing SE. Obviously Apple has no obligation to meet the demands of yet another blogger with an inflated sense of self worth.

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 9:00 pm - 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 Technology

Since I’ve been largely in cheapskate mode in recent years, I seek ways to save money. I no longer pay $99 to join the Apple Developer Program. At most I miss one or two early previews after the annual WWDC. Otherwise, a public beta release is usually released no more than a day after the developer version, unless there’s something really bad that has to be fixed first.

 

With the release of the iOS 12 public beta, I went ahead and downloaded it for installation on a late model iPhone. It is possible to restore your device if something goes wrong by downloading a previous version (not to worry, it’s searchable). So I took the plunge.

 

The first step requires installing Apple’s device profile on your iOS device, so it will be able to alert you, download and install the new releases.

 

Since this week’s release is the first for regular folk, don’t expect miracles. The final or near-final version won’t be out for two months. That said, my initial experience, after about a day, hasn’t been so bad. The symptoms are largely about flakiness. So sometimes, when I try to delete an email, the Trash icon isn’t there, and backing up through the menus and returning brings it back.

 

A handful of web pages stay white and never render or refresh, but it’s not consistent. So far, at least, there have been no crashes.

 

One of the tentpole features of iOS 12 is not something you can see. It’s the promise of faster app launches, faster keyboard display, and speedier swiping to the camera, ranging from “up to” 50-100%. The highest boost is promised for an iPhone 6.

 

I read an early review of the first iOS 12 release for developers, in which the promised performance leaps were tested. It was a mixed bag, with some of the touted functions coming close to matching Apple’s claims, and some not-so-different. To be fair, early betas aren’t optimized for performance. Better to test this with a final or near-final release.

 

So I didn’t bother to actually check speeds. My subjective impressions were positive. It seems to boot faster, and most things appear to be snappier. Both Lyft and Uber, which used to take maybe six seconds to load, took roughly three seconds to launch with the iOS 12 public beta. The zooming effect appears faster and smoother, with no overt evidence of stuttering. Most interesting is the fact that, even though I’m at a motel with three megabit Wi-Fi connection, my iPhone didn’t didn’t feel that slow at online access.

 

Assuming faster performance is all or mostly across the board, it means that the same hardware that worked with iOS 12 will of a sudden run faster. This is very much against the grain, where the oldest supported hardware usually becomes unbearably sluggish with a new iOS release.

Indeed, it’s very likely some people buy new gear not because what they have doesn’t work so well, but because performance has deteriorated so much — and not just because the battery is spent and the CPU is being throttled. Thus, Apple might possibly sell fewer iPhones. But I expect Tim Cook and his team expect people, will be more satisfied that their gear is not exhibiting many overt signs of aging and will be just as inclined to upgrade, or more will stick with iPhones.

 

I am not considering how well an Android device ages since many of them never receive a new OS release.

 

I am interested in the FaceTime Group feature as a possible substitute for Skype, at least for audio-only use, but that means that guests for my shows will need to use Apple gear. I’ll keep it in mind.

 

The added security and privacy features, including a proper password manager and default blocking of social network interactions, are welcome. But they aren’t things people will necessary notice until they began to seriously look around.

 

I’m also intrigued by yet another promise of a better Siri — last year’s promise wasn’t fully realized — and I’ll give it a chance and see if I can reliably take it beyond simple alarms.

For the most part, you should be able to install an IOS public beta without seeing much in the way of front-facing changes, at least at the start. Although I’ve seen over 200 new or changed features listed, they are largely  more subtle than usual. This may be in keeping with the rumor that Apple is focusing more on performance and reliability than adding cool stuff, that some key features are being held off to 2019.

 

It’s not that Apple plans to say that a new OS release is less than originally planned. But it’s also true that some features may be delayed or omitted because they aren’t perfected. But customers shouldn’t have to wait for months for AirPlay 2 and other promised features either. On the other hand, it may also be possible that this will be the norm, that some things will be rolled out through the year as they are ready. It’s not that Apple has to worry about readying an OS for retail sale.

 

But even though my initial experiences with iOS 12 are positive, I urge you to be careful about installing a beta OS unless you have a ready backup routine.

 

I will hold off installing a macOS Mojave beta until it’s closer to release. I no longer have a backup computer, since the next OS won’t run on my 2010 MacBook Pro.

 

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 9:00 pm - 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 Technology
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