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  • Newsletter Issue #890

    December 19th, 2016


    This may seem to be yet another sensational hit bait-style pronouncement, but it appears that Apple might be losing some long-time fans of late.

    Take my two guests on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we featured columnist and podcaster  Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” During this session, Kirk remained in “rant mode,” as he discussed the ongoing controversy over the battery life of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, and why Apple chose to remove the “time remaining” display in the macOS Sierra 10.12.2 update. Kirk also explained why he’s keeping his Macs longer than ever nowadays before selling them off. The discussion covered Amazon’s first attempts to deliver merchandise to customers via drones.

    Now normally Kirk would probably be selling his 2015 MacBook and perhaps replacing it with a MacBook Pro by now. But he’s none-too-impressed with the new models, and it’s very much about the higher prices. True, those prices are in line with the original MacBook Pros with Retina displays, which declined over the years, but it seems hard to justify charging more in a declining market. And that’s before you get to concerns about some of Apple’s design decisions, which remain points of ongoing discussion.

    You next heard from commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, who arrived in “cranky mode” this time out. He is concerned over the fact that Apple, despite all its resources, appears to be delivering fewer and fewer new products, far less in 2016 than in 2015. And what about the new MacBook Pro? Does it truly deserve the “pro” label? Bryan wondered whether Apple’s chief designer, Sir Jonathan Ive, needs an “editor” to help eliminate some of the excesses in his designs, such as the apparent obsession with slim and light in place of more important features. What about Apple’s decision to stop making displays, and reports that the AirPort line of Wi-Fi routers will also be discontinued? Bryan also discussed the revelation about yet another data breach at Yahoo, this time impacting over one billion accounts.

    Now when it comes to Apple’s ability to deliver amazing designs even for products that may not, otherwise, seem so far advanced, it’s clear Bryan is perplexed about Apple’s performance of late. During the show, he wondered whether Ive is essentially unchecked in delivering new products. Is Tim Cook, known to be a tough taskmaster, even thinking of putting the brakes on Ive when he is focusing too much on form instead of function? Was it really necessary to make the MacBook Pro slimmer and lighter at the expense of the loss of the MagSafe power adaptor and multiple types of connection ports?

    All right, the new notebooks follow in the spirit of the MacBook, but was that the right move to make in the twilight of the PC era? Is Apple just trying to milk the Mac market for as much as it can before it really collapses? Or will the higher prices come down next year as Apple recoups the original costs of design and setting up production facilities?

    Can we even guess?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Class is in session. Gene and Chris present a rare appearance by Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, one of the few academics seriously researching such strange creatures as Bigfoot. Jeffrey received his B.S. in zoology specializing in vertebrate locomotion at Brigham Young University (BYU) in 1982, his M.S. at BYU in 1984 and a Ph.D. in anatomical sciences, with an emphasis in biological anthropology, from Stony Brook University in 1989 (then referred to as State University of New York at Stony Brook). He has published numerous academic papers ranging from vertebrate evolutionary morphology, the emergence of bipedal locomotion in modern humans and Sasquatch (Bigfoot), and is a co-editor of a series of books on paleontology.


    Over the years, a slew of alleged journalists and bloggers have written stuff about Apple that just isn’t true, or is partly true but quickly goes off the rails. Time and time again, their pronouncements are regularly refuted by a variety of columnists. Macworld’s mythical crypto-creature, “Macalope,” writes columns three times a week demonstrating when yet another online writer is making things up about Apple, or deliberately misunderstanding what they do, most likely to keep the AdSense ad dollars — from click-throughs — coming in.

    What’s most curious about this phenomenon is not the goal of making money, but the fact that you can disprove the phony theories, misleading arguments, and outright lies, over and over again, and it doesn’t make a difference. To them, facts don’t seem to matter.

    So you make the corrections — and I do it too from time to time — and a few days, weeks or months later, the same bloggers return to repeat the same nonsense. So is this all about the ad money, the need for attention — good or bad doesn’t seem to matter — or an honest-to-goodness belief in something that just happens not to be true?

    Since mind-reading is not one of my strong points, despite the fact that I also host a radio show about the paranormal, I wouldn’t care to say. Maybe these people are living in an information bubble where they don’t actually see the criticisms, or dismiss them outright without actually paying attention.

    Of course, none of this should be too surprising. After all, we are living in a “post-fact” world, where the truth, simple facts that most people ought to be able to agree on regardless of one’s opinion, do not seem to matter. You hear or read about this all the time in the political world, where a candidate or officeholder will make claims that are actually, provably, untrue. It doesn’t matter if you have a recording of that politician making the claim he or she claims not to have made. It doesn’t matter if you can easily produce a set of facts that prove it’s all wrong. They just won’t back down!

    Examples? How about the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million, but lost the electoral college tally? Some 52% of Republicans believe Trump won the popular vote too despite the totals that clearly show otherwise. It doesn’t matter which candidate you preferred — or whether you didn’t like either. The vote was the vote.

    Doesn’t that remind you of some of those dedicated Apple critics who seldom get things right?

    Sure, I am not expecting you to agree with everything Apple does, or even care. There’s lots of room for pro and con opinion, and many of Apple’s most severe critics are long-time customers who will vociferously complain when the company does something they perceive to be wrong.

    My personal peeves with Apple are extensive. When it comes to software updates, the release notes seem to provide the minimum amount of information, and not the full details on what’s fixed or its impact. Some fixes aren’t even listed, but are discovered by power users in the normal course of their work or research to see how things have changed.

    Sometimes Apple does things that are downright inscrutable. You’d think that a company with the largest market cap on the planet can manage a pretty large number of product lines and give them all the attention that’s deserved. So why, for example, did Apple discontinue the display division?

    The last model, the Thunderbolt Display, was first released in 2011 but hung on unchanged through the first years of the Retina display era and was never updated. It was left to die on the vine, more or less. What’s more the decision hardly made sense, since Apple delivered excellent displays in various Macs and mobile gear. With the switchover to wider color gamuts in the iPhone 7, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and the iMac, you’d think that Apple was perfectly capable of delivering an excellent standalone 5K display.

    Instead, Apple worked with LG to build one. Now LG is known to provide flat panels for various Apple products, so that would seem a suitable choice. But why couldn’t Apple take the features of LG’s new 4K and 5K displays and put them in an Apple-designed case. Instead, you have to put up with the utilitarian looks of LG’s alternative.

    Worse, you cannot even buy the 5K model yet; only the 4K appears to be shipping. But why doesn’t such a product have an Apple label on it? Because Apple couldn’t sell enough to make a go of it? Well, I suppose that’s the result of charging too much for the Thunderbolt Display. Or maybe sales declined to the point where it didn’t make sense, but wasn’t that the result of not releasing an upgrade?

    What about the future of AirPort? Apple made Wi-Fi popular, and the rest of the tech industry caught up. But the AirPort lineup hasn’t been updated since 2013. Other Wi-Fi routers have exploited later standards that offer faster performance. There’s even a new class of routers, mesh routers, that use several devices that intelligently distribute the signal in a home or office. It may not matter for most home users, but if you live in a large dwelling where the signal drops off from time to time, or in locations far from the base station, you’re left with setting up a second router, a range-extender, to mate with the first. Or you take advantage of the new smart solution.

    Now mesh routers don’t come cheap. You buy a package with two or three units and you may pay up to a few hundred dollars for a system. A Luma Home, which consists of three mesh routers, sells for $299.99 at Best Buy, discounted from $399.99. It promises the ability to automatically tailor itself to the needs of your network, so you don’t have to fret and fuss with trial and error solutions, or deal with arcane network settings.

    Now that’s fine and dandy and all. But why isn’t there an AirPort mesh router? Where has Apple been? Well, the AirPort team is now reportedly working on other products in the company. Maybe Apple believes that other companies are doing good work and there is no place for an Apple solution.

    Or maybe there will be a future AirPort product offering HomeKit services that will overhaul this fledgling market. In the meantime, it makes sense that even long-time Apple fans are concerned over the silence. Apple wants to amaze us, operate in secret, but sometimes they need to convey at least a hint of what’s happening, or the inaction may allow other companies to take over a market before they even admit they’re involved.

    Of course, that assumes the other products are satisfactory, and I’ve yet to test a mesh router system, at least not yet.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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

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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #890”

    1. DaveD says:

      I like your declaration that we are living in a “post-fact” world and am in a total agreement. I think it started when news organizations in broadcast and cable were pushed into making a profit. Where a Fox News became a mainstream outlet to morph opinions into facts. With the internet this blending of opinions and facts got worst. One needs to be a critical thinker to filter out the opinions and assess the good from the bad, the truth from the lie.

      I like to think that my assessment of Apple is balanced or I try to be. The first part of this year, l provided a number of product feedback to Apple. I had provided an occasional feedback over the years and mostly describing my overall positive experience. This year it was different, the tone was more critical with the Mac software directed at Safari bloat, OS X Yosemite instability, and having to downgrade to iOS 8 to regain iTunes 11 syncing.

      I hauled around my 2008 MacBook the other day and it was heavy. A huge difference in weight between that and the MacBook Air. As I step back to look at a bigger picture, the path that Steve Jobs outlined in his “post-PC” piece is ongoing. This comment was written on an iPad.

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