Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Issue #984

Gene Steinberg

Forum Super Hero
Staff member
***Issue #984***
April 9, 2020


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Apple critics have plenty of ammunition to post attacks, but not because of anything the company has done, or any of its possible failures. It’s in large part very much about the novel coronavirus and its impact on supply chains and sales. Most Apple Stores remain closed, and anyone who actually needs to get their gear fixed, and requires fast turnaround, is going to have a whale of a time getting it done.

That’s true with any tech gadget, but Apple tends to get the lion’s share of attention even if it really isn’t doing anything different from the competition, or even if it’s doing something better.

So if you want a ride into an alternate universe, let’s climb aboard and get going.

But before we get there, let me remind you that some of Apple’s most popular and iconic technologies have come from acquisitions. iTunes descended from SoundJam, one of the early music player apps, which it acquired in 2000. The lead developer, Jeffrey Robbin, came along with the deal and, after 20 years, he’s still employed at Apple, where he serves as Vice President for Consumer Applications.

So Siri, Apple’s A-series processors, Touch ID and even Face ID are, in part, based heavily on acquired technologies.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Apple CEO Tim Cook admits that the company buys at least two dozen companies each year, usually small startups, to acquire technology. But sometimes the acquisitions aren’t so small.

As you know, Apple’s amazing success is based in large part on its acquisition of Steve Jobs’ NeXT in late 1996. The Unix-based NeXT OS became the foundation for macOS. And the return of Steve Jobs to the company he co-founded is very much why Apple stayed in business.

Now most of Apple’s acquisitions pretty much fall under the radar, or are mentioned as a point of references and little else. Few care about the origins of Siri, except for reports that a number of its key executives gave their walking papers allegedly due to disagreements with how Apple developed the world famous digital assistant going forward.

The 2014 acquisition of Beats Electronics was especially controversial. Not because Apple spent more than $3 billion to make the deal. In the scheme of things, that’s chump change to them.

No, it was because it didn’t seem as if a company that built bassy “hip-hop” headphones had any possible synergies with Apple.

Forgetting the audio equipment, a key reason was to acquire Beats Music, which morphed into Apple Music. But what about those headphones?

Well, to its target audience, Beats’ stylish wearables are the perfect solution. But audio purists didn’t take to the emphasis on boomy bass, and that, as they say, was that.

Today, Apple Music is the number two service of its kind, still playing second fiddle to Spotify, at least outside the U.S. Spotify’s main advantage is the free, ad-driven version. Tens of millions choose that option, and there’s an easy upgrade to the paid version, which is priced in the same range as Apple Music.

With Beats in its arsenal, audio engineers worked to tame the excesses in the sonic signature of those headphones, thus delivering a more balanced sonic signature. I got a review sample of the Studio3 Wireless with Noise Cancelling headphones last year and put it through its paces.

As some of you know, I’ve been following the consumer audio scene for decades. I once wrote manuals for an audio manufacturer (the long-defunct Carver Corporation), and reviewed gear for several publications. I’ve also participated in double-blind listening tests, and have a little experience at drums and guitar.

So I probably qualify as a fairly experienced listener. So I putted the Studio3 against a mid-priced Grado, an SR225, which I acquired a decade or two back. Based in Brooklyn, NY, Grado Labs has made high-calibre headphones for years, and still builds phono cartridges.

Now the SR225 has excellent audio quality, what you’d consider a relatively “neutral” sonic signature. But they are damned uncomfortable, and I found myself finding other ways to listen than to wear those things after a while. In fairness, that’s all about personal taste, and I gather most users love them.

In any case, within hours after it showed up on my doorstep, I set up the Studio3 to give it a whirl. As with other recent Beats headgear, it pairs with an iOS device or Mac in seconds, in large part due to its built in ARM-based system-on-a-chip.

As I said, Apple has tamed the Beats’ excesses. The Studio3 is not at all bassy, although the bottom portion of the audio spectrum is quite solid. While the SR225 might sound a tad better, or at least more balanced, the Beats is far more comfortable on my ears. I can wear them for an hour or two at a stretch without notable discomfort.

Nowadays, Apple’s wearables are among the stars in the company’s arsenal. With AirPods, Beats and Apple Watch, the division grows by double digits each year. AirPods are perennially back ordered, and Beats is reportedly among the most popular brands of mid-priced headphones.

So why would anyone claim that Apple plans, or needs, to kill the Beats name and, it follows, its product line?

Well, responding to unproven rumors, one recent tech pundit has decided that Apple must kill the line. That Apple might introduce its own line of over-the-ear headphones is one reason, yet at the same time, there are already Beats alternatives to AirPods, so why should it matter?

It’s not as if Apple is the first company to sell similar products with different branding. In fact, it’s very common. So Brawny paper towels and Sparkle paper towels, are both made by Georgia-Pacific. Ditto for Angel Soft and Quilted Northern toilet tissue.

Need I go on?

Remember, too, that Beats gear has a lot of fans who love the brand, so why would Apple give up this revenue stream? Because they plan on building similar products under the Apple brand? That, as you can see, shouldn’t make a difference.

Yes, it is possible Apple might one day decide that continuing the Beats brand doesn’t make sense, but that would probably require poor sales, and there’s no evidence of any such problem.

Sure, the pandemic is hurting sales of most products other than so-called “essentials.” So Georgia-Pacific and its competitors are working overtime to meet demand. Some day, the economy is expected to begin to recover, but it’s very possible that public tastes will change.

But the suggestion that Apple is poised to ditch Beats is preposterous. Claims that it’s in the cards are little more than click bait, same as other Apple rumors.

Now doesn’t anyone care whether Dell or Samsung plan to discontinue something? I guess not.


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