AMITIAE - Thursday 11 August 2016

Cassandra: Mid-Week Review - Anticipation of Apple Releases; and some Other Snippets

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


From the timing of the releases of Apple's OS mix, all due in Fall, to the chatter about new devices reaching new levels, it looks as if the next couple of months are going to be somewhat exciting with the probability of new iPhones and almost all new models of Macs.

One of the difficulties for those writing about Apple and its products, is the lack of direct information coming from Cupertino: Apple just does not tell until something is ready. Eddy Cue said as much when interviewed this week by Rick Tetzeli (Fast Company) along with Craig Federighi, when many areas were covered. The interview takes a long look at Maps and other products. Maps taught Apple a lesson worth learning and it is interesting to read of the corrective steps put into place.

Of course, the iPhone was the best and worst as everything after is compared to that one product and "few things can ever come close to that level of success". For a revealing part of the interview came almost halfway through when Eddy Cue - responding to the idea of mistakes, says,

. . . well, that's our culture. We don't want to tell the world what we want to solve, what we're trying to solve. Why? Because we haven't solved it. Other than trying to make ourselves look cool or good, what's the purpose of that? I don't understand that part of it. So, yeah, there are a bunch of things we're working on that we'd like to solve - some we've been working on for years and we haven't solved, for that matter. I don't feel like we should be tooting our own horns that we're trying to solve that problem, when we haven't really solved it. [My italics]

This goes back to the idea of why Apple never reveals much about what it is working on, and why there is so much speculation, much of which is later proved to be wrong.

The iPhone 6S had no changes from the iPhone 6, remember . . . apart from the different aluminium body, the faster A9 processor, the camera resolution and 3D Touch; so it is no surprise when we are told by the online experts that the iPhone 7 will be a disappointment. For whom? I wonder.

Among the rumours concerning the next iPhone are the date: 7 September; three iPhone models or two; two cameras in one or two iPhones; the A10 processor (what a disappointment that will turn out to be), a new antenna placement (why? . . .); and the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack (Gasp!).

A number of photos appeared this week of what purport to be the A10 processor and these were carried in an article by Jordan Kahn (9to5 Mac) among many online sources. Interesting that he comments about the "much rumored improved camera system" and a redesigned Home button. Reports of those using beta versions of iOS 10 suggest that the behaviour of the Home button on current devices has changed too.

I was not wholly impressed with the rumours about two cameras on the next iPhone as it sounded a bit of a gimmick to me, although Apple rarely follows that path. An article by Tim Moynihan on Wired covering twin camera systems in all phones put this in some perspective for me. His explanation of the value not just two cameras but two processors reminded me of the Argus drone project that used 368 such cameras with their processors to produce 1.8 gigapixel images.

iPhone 6s

Apple personnel have a stock response to questions about upcoming releases: "Apple does not comment on future products". In the absence of hard facts, rumours abound, many of which have little or no basis. We do not know, for example, if the next iPhone will be called the iPhone 7. It would be useful for Apple to change the numbering system as the misconception that the S-series releases are somehow minor iterations, is false.

A cursory glance at technical specifications would show this. For example, the iPhone 6s models had improved cameras, a more powerful processor and other new features, such as the 3D touch screen. But these misconceptions persist, are widely touted online and confidence in Apple decreases. Doom is near, some would have us believe.

Some of the most persistent rumours about the next iPhone from Apple concerns sound output. For several years, headphones and other speaker systems have been connected to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. There are rumours that this connector it to be removed by Apple, which already has many online upset that their third-party headphones will stop working.

The iPhone already has Bluetooth so it is easy to connect a speaker or a headphone system to the device, but Cult of Mac (Killian Bell) reports that a new energy-efficient Bluetooth chip has been designed. The article suggests this is intended for Bluetooth earbuds.

More likely (although still only a rumour) is the idea that the standard port will be removed and the Lightning port used to provide audio output. Not that Apple has announced this at all. It is this that has caused the most comment online, although this would not deter those intending to buy the next iPhone from making the purchase. Should this change occur (and I am strongly in favour of this), earbuds with the iPhones would be supplied with Lightning connectors.

Removing the port would have certain advantages, particularly in the reduction in the numbers of components (thus reducing costs) and allowing either a thinner device, or the space to be used for a slightly larger battery.

However, Apple would need to produce adapters: for connecting to the current audio jack so that users could continue to use preferred equipment; and to allow charging (or other uses) while the earbuds are in use. It is unlikely that these would be free. Similar adapters for other devices are normally priced around $29.

Whatever change Apple makes is bound to cause criticism: new iPhones always do, until consumers start to buy and use them. It is wise not to take notice of early reports when a new product is released. After 7 days or so, a more measured examination will have taken place (iFixit and AnandTech are balanced and undramatic) and sales in the opening weekend - expected to be in mid-September - will give an idea of consumer acceptance.

Apart from all the self-elected Apple experts who have been putting forward the themes that the iPhone 7 is dead (before it arrives), there is also the meme that Apple is ignoring the Mac. Apple is a bit late and a bit quiet on updating Macs, but did anyone seriously doubt that this was not going to happen? Actually, Yes; but we can forget all that now. The writing is on the wall. . .


Apple most certainly does need to produce new Macs; and Apple most certainly will. It is just that the timing is making a lot of online commentators edgy. They may not be looking at the overall situation. New Macs are certainly due, but we know that "in Fall" we will have new version of iOS, WatchOS and macOS. We are certain that the next iPhone will be announced in the next few weeks, while some suggest that an Apple Watch 2 (as well as a revised Apple Watch 1) are coming soon too. With the new macOS due at the same time, it is likely that new Macs will be announced: a little before, a little after or (less likely) at the same time as the iPhones.

But what will we have? Here the rumours tend to break down a little, despite the new MacBook models four months ago with the Intel Skylake processors. It is that 4 month period that is stretching things. If the Skylake was available for use in April, why haven't the MacBook Pro computers seen these? More important, why are the iMacs languishing, why is the Mac mini still unchanged; and whatever happened to the Mac Pro?

These are good questions and may be leading to a decline in sales while users wait in expectation of new devices: the Osborne Effect. After Thanksgiving and the new year period is when Apple expects the highest sales, for business and home users.To make sure the markets are served worldwide, we would expect to see several announcements in September and early October (at the latest).

Rumours about the technical changes in any new Macs are a bit thin on the ground, although one that keeps appearing is the idea of a mini, touch-sensitive OLED touchscreen to replace the Function keys. Ben Lovejoy (9to5 Mac) was surprised to find that 27% of people surveyed would actually like a touchscreen MacBook Pro (not just that OLED feature) but like the many rejecting this, I prefer the built-in touch pad and even have the external track pad for my desktop Mac mini as I find this more usable than any mouse (but keystrokes are quicker).

MacBook range - Image Courtesy of Apple

Intelligence sources look for patterns or information outside the main area of interest to build a picture of probabilities. We do not know for certain that redesigned Mac Book Pro computers are coming, but it is likely as there are reported to be redesigned hinges (among other things). Mike Wuerthle on AppleInsider points out that Jarllytec has reported increased revenues from production of hinges, reported to be for new Macs. The company specialises in Metal injection molding: "The process cuts down on product lead times, reduces costs, and has a significant reduction in waste materials generated by machining. MIM part manufacturers claim that wall thicknesses can be as small as 0.4mm".

Steve Jobs used to face a lot of criticism (as does Tim Cook), but none so much as his Thoughts on Flash letter explaining why Adobe Flash would never be on iOS devices. Despite the derision in mainstream press, a lot of Mac users realised at the time, he was right on the money: anyone who used a Mac would find Flash eating RAM, the Mac would overheat, there were countless crashing problems (when I last had flash installed there were frequent kernel crashes - none since it was removed) and major problems with security. Of course, the critics of that letter later had to eat crow big-time.

This week Kif Leswing on Business Insider reports that Google is to "de-emphasize" this, and "By December, Adobe Flash will no longer be turned on by default in Chrome." I guess that will leave the BBC, MotoGP and one or two porn sites as flag carriers in the main.

This week, there were news reports about burglars at Apple. I had expected this was more likely to be an attempt, rather than an actual break-in as security is so tight there that you need an escort just to enter the front door. However, later reports tell us that laptops were taken. The report by Jordan Kahn on 9to5Mac points out that this was not the main campus. The suspects were spotted breaking in, but it is not clear if they actually entered. Nonetheless, police were in pursuit and arrested one suspect and were still looking for 2 others.

Later reports came from Kif Leswing on Business Insider who put the time at 04:20 (PT) and that the aim of the crime was to steal laptops (new or in use is not stated). A CBS report that includes Flash content (they haven't read the memo), does actually incude the point that "the suspects were able to get away with stolen laptops" ("laptops", plural). That CBS page may have Flash content which did not load on my Mac (I deleted Flash) but it also had a self-loading video which I did not want. I will avoid this content provider in the future.

The most recent report I could find when writing this was from Cupertino Patch that names a Richard Bejarano as the suspect arrested by police in a Starbucks. a sharp-eyed deputy, "saw computer cords hanging from the back of the vehicle and pursued the vehicle for a short distance".


Apple's argument against building backdoors into its operating systems was reinforced this week by Microsoft, although not in a way that Redmond would wish. With its "Secure Boot" policies, there are what is loosely referred to as "Golden Keys" and the Register (Chris Williams) reports that Microsoft accidentally released these; and despite trying to undo the slip, it may be impossible for Microsoft to fully revoke the leaked keys. Evans detailed article includes this timely reminder:

. . . that demands by politicians and crimefighters for special keys, which can be used by investigators to unlock devices in criminal cases, will inevitably jeopardize the security of everyone.

Which is what Apple and a lot of others have been saying for a while now.

In a loosely-related Microsoft security item, Tom Mendelsohn on Ars Technica reports that the Metropolitan Police in London have missed their own deadline on upgrading PCs from Windows XP. They have software on some devices that will not run on newer versions of WinOS and cannot upgrade until those applications are fixed. In the meantime, like the US Navy, they are getting special security releases from Microsoft to keep XP running on some 27,000 computers, after 15 years.

I subscribe to a few technical lists online with the contents arriving via email. I also have a useful application called Little Snitch, that acts like a firewall for outgoing content: checking where my computer is trying to connect. Most links are to be expected, but once in a while I act on too many connections. There are some surprises with the way the major companies want to link to their servers as well.

I find it annoying that some emails have a lot of links but most of the time I let these pass, because I want the content. This week, however, a line was crossed when one technical newsletter to which I subscribed made 27 connections before I could actually read the few summaries of the stories it was linking to. Twenty-seven. Goodbye to IDG's Techconnect Daily.

Unsubscribing was easy enough with a single click on a web page, but there was a sinister, "Your preferences have been saved" afterwards. Why?

I have a disdain for analysts, particularly when it comes to the subject of Apple, most of whom know little about the company as a whole and look at limited features like growth and income. They rarely look at the long-term picture. On Seeking Alpha there is a report of two analysts being interviewed on CNBC about Apple: both giving negative views. The Comments section is always worth reading. Sometimes I even make a comment myself; but one comment (by kad4724) struck me as right on the money: "If analysts actually knew anything, they wouldn't be analysts."

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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