eXtensions - Friday 6 January 2017

Cassandra: Friday Review - Apple Damned if it Does, Damned if it Doesn't Again

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Apple continues having its hit and miss reviews while reporting on mega app sales. CES has been on in Las Vegas and there are some interesting announcements some of which may affect Apple. Locally I am still working round the dire lack of USB-C accessories in Thailand.

Whatever Apple or Tim Cook do, they are wrong in a sort of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" way. An example occurred this week when it was reported that Tim Cook has been accused of being "disrespectful" by turning down an offer to speak to a "committee of governmental officials investigating Apple's tax setup in the country", Chance Miller writes in 9to5 Mac.

Apple decided not to take up the invitation, to avoid any appearance that might be taken as an attempt to prejudice future outcomes, so in this way Apple and Cook are respecting the process completely, but that is not enough for some politicians who think instead that this is some sort of snub. Miller writes, "Sending Cook to Ireland would only cause a rush of press coverage, again putting Apple's questionable tax maneuvering in the limelight."

Taxes Taxes Taxes

On Seeking Alpha at Christmas, I saw a good assessment of Apple's tax situations (at home and abroad) by Alex Cho who has a long-term look at the potential tax liabilities on cash held outside the USA. For the moment only foreign exchange volatilities are likely to affect Apple, but if and when Europe (EU) and the USA change the rules, the effects will need to be reassessed.

This used to be the time of year when many tech journalists would spend a few days in San Francisco for MacWorld before heading off to Las Vegas for CES. MacWorld and the Apple keynotes are no more, but CES is in full swing and at least a couple of Thai journalists are wandering the halls, taking note of the announcements

I have been looking at some of the announcements from Nevada and notice that there are plenty of smart home devices at CES along with a number of other items including health applications that have me interested. Some of these may eventually work with Apple's HomeKit and HealthKit.

Having just found one USB-C hard disk in Bangkok (one: what are the retailers up to apart from selling smartphone cases?) I am alert to this subject. That disk was from LaCie and I see that LaCie is working with Seagate for some more MacBook Pro compatible drives (Ashley Wright, AppleInsider). One of the new drives is in LaCie's Rugged series and there are also drives in the d2 Thunderbolt 3 series, with configurations up to 10 terabytes. "The drive is coming in 6TN, 8TB and 10TB and start at $429.99" and should ship soon, but who knows when they may arrive, if ever here (and at what price).

GMate glucose test A few months ago I looked at a GMate glucose test devices and frightened myself with results I saw. A check at the doctor's showed my blood sugar was within reasonable limits. About the same time I found out that it was possible to detect the helicobacter pylori bacteria (the one that causes stomach ulcers) with a breath test and this can be analysed in Bangkok.

A considerable amount of research is being done currently with chemically sensitive devices to detect changes in levels using electrical sensors, and some of this can be used in health applications. Note also an article on illness detection using breath by Steve Dent (EnGadget): "Simple breath test can detect cancer and 16 other diseases."

At CES, AppleInsider saw the LEVLpro iOS connected device that uses breath to to measure a user's fat burning state, by checking on acetone levels. Data recorded can be sent to health professionals such as is possible with HealthKit apps that are already in use. Currently this device does not offer integration with HealthKit, but the developers are aware of the benefits of this, "and they view it as a natural fit for their product".

A Bluetooth device that attaches to a smartphone and measures radiation was reported at CES by Ben Lovejoy on 9to5 Mac. The Dosime device measures real-time exposure rate and accumulated doses of ionizing radiation from whatever source: natural or human (power stations). This will be coming in February at a cost of $249 from Amazon, but it does not ship to Thailad.

Also announced at CES was a revival of Kodak's Ektachrome film. This type of film produces slides and the output was highly rated when the film was in general use. While the parent company has its problems (and its patents) the film division was reworked with the help of enthusiasts who recognise that film is not dead and is now called Kodak Alaris. Dunja Djudjic (DIY Photography) outlines the information about the announcement at CES adding that this will be available late in the year although pricing is not yet known.

A local user messaged me on Thursday with a link to a video of the Samsung Chromebook Plus and Pro which he sees as where Apple should be going with its tablets and computers, especially with regard to the education market. We have discussed the particular point several times of an ARM-equipped Mac, but I do not totally see the need with the task-oriented approach that Apple is taking. Nonetheless, others do see such a gap in the product lineup and this should be (probably is) considered at Cupertino.

A press release on Thursday from Apple outlined its mega-successful New years Day at the App Store: almost $240 million. This goes with the $3 billion sales for December and $20 billion of earnings for developers in 2016. Not bad for a company that some insist (again) is in its death throes.

Mind you, the Mac side of things is suffering. Although this is certainly in terms of perception, there are also clear gaps. The MacBook Pro that was just released was an essential: Apple couldn't not release a new Mac at the end of 2016 and there was no point waiting for Intel to catch up with suitable Kaby Lake processors. Of course, as soon as January rolls round, Intel announces these processors, so we may expect a MacBook Pro update this year, which in turn will anger those who bought the 2016 MacBook Pro, like me. However, the new processors may not satisfy everyone and Mark Walton on Ars Technica wonders about future development of desktop machines, which may put the comments on the Mac Pro (below) in a different context.

MacBook Pro

A couple of years ago, Apple was number 4 in worldwide shipments of computers, but - in a world that is seeing all PC shipments reducing - has now slipped to fifth and even sites like MacDaily News reporting on this are expressing frustration, although the "criminal mismanagement" line taken in their comments is way over the top. As MacDaily News has noted several times in the past, Apple does not make any decision lightly.

There are certain to be questions and comments on the Mac at the Conference Call on 31 January when Apple releases its latest quarterly figures. We may expect a week or two of really negative articles on Apple from Wall Street-related sources and hangers-on to make sure the share price is depressed.

The two or three Mac models that are giving most concern to commentators are the iMac (an important consumer and Pro machine), the MacPro and the Mac mini. The last two have not had updates for three years or more, with the MacPro not being updated at all since its initial release. Following an online comment by Pro user Chris Adamson who bought one recently, because there was nothing else suitable, even John Gruber (who is one of the most pro-Apple writers around) was moved to comment, "Given his situation and needs, I think he made a reasonable decision. But "capitulation" is exactly the right word."

However, note the comments of Mark Walton on the lack of effort by Intel on its Kaby Lake announcement:

for the enthusiast - where the latest and greatest should perform better than what came before - Kaby Lake desktop chips are a disappointment, a stopgap solution that does little more than give OEMs something new to stick on a label in a 2017 product stack.

AirPods I have been critical of those who comment on Apple products negatively when all they have is input from online sources. We have seen this in recent months with the iPhone 7, which was said to be boring, but apparently has seen excellent sales; with the AirPods which fell out of ears, until people started using them; and with the MacBook Pro which was clear evidence that Apple had lost the plot. I have two of these currently and clearly the plot has not been lost, but then I actually use the bloody things.

Several reports from pro uses appeared online within days of these Macs going on sale (a couple before) and many were negative, although I still fail to see how a few hours (at best) could have them decide the MacBook Pro was dead in the water. Other reports at around the same time were reporting the exact opposite, but the hooray Henries took up the negatives only, including two or three Twitter users here who most certainly did not have these Macs.

A couple of weeks into the distribution worldwide of these new MacBook Pro models and there is a better idea of what they can do, despite the apparent limitations of the RAM (max 16GB) and battery life, which I have not noticed.

A wide-ranging assessment of a MacBook Pro was carried out by Larry Jordan who actually does the job of editing video so needs the power. His comments both positive and negative are balanced and show clearly the capabilities and a few limits of the 15" MacBook Pro he has been using. Like me he also has a 13" 2013 MacBook Pro so the comparisons are similar to what I have been experiencing.

This is a longish read as he looks carefully not only at the mechanics of using the Mac but the philosophy (the intentions, if you like) and includes some useful results from test software. This is well worth a look, especially if all you have read are the "nattering nabobs of negativism" (Spiro Agnew).

There are good commentators on Macs (apart from me) and Paul Horowitz amazes me at times with the valuable technical hints and tips that he keeps producing on OSX Daily. Christian Zibreg is another source for this type of information. This week I found a particularly useful article for me as I am in space-saving mode. With that new LaCie disk I bought, and the backups I have of photo libraries, I managed to save 60GB of space by shifting an Aperture library to external media. Paul Horowitz writes about finding and deleting applications that are large, not used, or both; and the way this may save space. This is a weekend job for me.

On Friday, the two Belkin USB-C to Micro-USB cables I ordered from Amazon arrived at my office and I opened the box of course. I shall keep one in my office and one at home which, along with the adapters I have should keep the older disks all working: plus that new LaCie USB-C disk.

The tragedy here for me is that I had to order these adapters via Amazon and that I have seen only one USB-C hard disk here (I am told there is one other disk) when computers with these new ports (Apple, Dell and HP) have been in the market since the end of 2015. This over-cautious approach by retailers loses tem sales as (like me) many users look online (and overseas) for the products they need and don't bother with the shops here.

Belkin USB-C to Micro-USB cables Belkin USB-C to Micro-USB cables

So much for skill at predictions, particularly when you are proved wrong within two days of making one. A self-elected expert on IT matters, who only makes negative comments on Apple products predicted this week that monitors will stay in the range of 24" to 28" for home use and did not expect to see more 30" models this year. Shall we bid a welcome to the Dell UltraSharp 32-inch Ultra HD 8K Monitor (Greg Barbosa, 9to5 Mac), along with its $4999 price tag. I do not expect to see these here any time soon, but it would be nice to see some affordable 4k or 5k monitors in Thailand.

I made one prediction this year and I was wrong. I expected the date of Apple's First Quarter 2017 results announcement would be 24 January and it is set for 31st.

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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