The Northern Spy
Where's the Beef?
July was expected
by rumourmongers (and to an extent by the Spy) to witness Apple's introduction of a wide range of new products.
No joy for the fans--yet. And with back-to-school purchases immanent, the probability of seeming new things this summer diminishes with each passing day. For some product categories, announcements could still come in the next week and make a difference for September. For others, the wait could extend to next year. Consider:
Every indication is that Apple is about to refresh the MacBook line, at least with a speed bump, likely with a CPU and resolution bump, and possibly with drive and memory enhancements. Unless Apple decides not to go with 4K monitors on the new boxes, the price may remain the same. If they do, look for a price bump as well. If Apple cannot put at least some of these features into the hands of consumers by mid-August, however, there seems little point in announcing until all are ready to ship--so in that case look for a possible slip to October or November.
iMac and MacPro don't really need a refresh, but there could be small changes made at any time. Neither line is tied to the school year, so it's just a matter of deciding when the accumulation of new features warrants an intro, or a silent upgrade documented in the fine print on the store site.
Meanwhile on the OS side, Yosemite has reached public beta. The Spy did install it at WWDC, but found too many compatibility issues with his productivity software, and suffered that embarrassing hack of his server during that time--not that he blames Yosemite, but he was accessing it from there and it could have been compromised too--so he nuked that partition and reverted to the stable Mavericks for the nonce. Because productivity with the many writing projects, classroom and administrative work has to govern his technology choices, he has also nuked being an early adopter. Wait until it's stable.
The quasi-rumour pool has it that production of 5.5 to 6 inch iPhones (iPhad?) is well underway and third parties have already begun accessorizing. An intro will take place as soon as Apple has sufficient inventory at hand to assuage the first two feeding frenzy weeks without delivery slipping to more than a month. Look for an announcement any day now, despite reports of manufacturing issues with the six inch size.
On the one hand, this is a straightforward entry into a new size-form factor. However, given the recent decline in iPad and iPod sales, there's more to this. iCook needs to make a decision on rationalizing Apple's iOS line. Here's at least one scenario: He kills the iPod line except the touch, and Apple reduces its lines to two--iPads with telephony (call them iPhones if you will), and iPads without it--the only other differentiating factor being size, with both available in 4, 4.7, 5.5, 6, 7.9, 9.7, and 12.9 inch screens.
On the one end, expect the smallest screen size to vanish. On the other, a larger iPad (Air) seems a strong probability, along with MacBook Air convergence at that size point. In the middle, Apple needs to fill in the product range, particularly for the Asian market where larger phones are the norm. The Spy would buy the largest PodTouch/Pad device that could fit in his pocket--likely the 6-inch model--though he neither needs or wants a phone.
At the same time, the non-touch iPod seems to be nearing the end of its technology life cycle as the market declines rapidly. But see the next section for a second scenario.
Persistent rumours have it that Apple will enter the smart watch arena in early 2014, mid 2014, or late 2014. Two of those time periods are history with nothing but silence emanating from Cupertino. A more recent story maintains that the iWatch is in production but there are difficulties with screens, and no more than a million can be delivered by an October launch. Maybe. This latter yarn has some ring of possibilityhood to it, but the Spy is having increasing difficulties seeing the point of producing such a gadget at all--except to meet the expectations of brand fans. An iconoclast at heart, he would never buy a "digital" (misnomer if there ever was one) watch.
But, try this: The iWatch replaces the smaller iPods when paired with a set of wireless headphones. The Spy still wouldn't buy one, but at least such a device would have a purpose. However, if the supply chain cannot deliver more than a million in 2014, Apple could well leave it to spring 2015. Perhaps the project should be abandoned altogether.
Here's another long-delayed intro--at least if you follow what has been a persistent story since iSteve famously declared he'd figured out television. Given all the time since, the problems cannot be technical. The Spy assumes Apple has built the device, produced and refined the software, and moved on to new projects (a proper textbook reader, smart sporting goods, medical devices to network with the new software kit, home automation to do the same with that API…some of which may even see the light of day.) So, why nothing in the stores? Content, and delivery of same.
What content provider mouse wants to be the first to ink a deal with the Cupertino behemoth, and take the blame for the eventual subsumption of its whole industry? What content deliverer (cable company) wants to do the same for its industry? So, they all play a colossal game of chicken, hoping that either they can find a way to make a go of their industry after all, or strike a better deal down the road. Not.
The Spy has believed all along that if Apple wants to break this logjam and be true to form in the doing, it needs to control both content production (and historical libraries) as well as the delivery of same, and not just the end-of-line reading device. Time to cut bait and raise your own fish, iCookie. Buy Disney, Fox, Time-Warner, and a cable company, or go into wireless networking on a continental, then a world scale. Sure it would cost billions, but you have more of those than most governments, and at least for the networking, there'd be no worry about anti-trust if you rolled out your own.
Oh, and while you're at it, attaching your own publishing arm to the iBookstore wouldn't be a bad idea either. Either way, cable and conventional (paper) publishing are both doomed, so why not bypass both? No charge for the suggestions.
One behemoth that did, in view of the market numbers, ink a deal with Apple is no stranger to the fold. IBM and Apple have engaged partnerships before. But this agreement is different, for it promises to leverage IBM's cachet with the enterprise to sell Apple hardware and related services into the corporate world--a partnership tuned to the strengths of both organizations.
Note that a successful deal must be about far more than hardware. If the partners are serious, Apple and its developers need to create not only a suite of enterprise software, but a new distribution channel, either a segment of the Apple store or a separate iEnterprise connection. Having the enterprise apps buried in iTunes is not an option going forward. Mark this one down. It could be very big. Hey. Perhaps Apple should just buy IBM. After all, IBM-compatible now equals Apple OS X and IOS, not that dressed up MS-DOS fake called W*nd*ws. And aren't the market numbers interesting? Double digit declines in overal desktop and laptop sales combined with double digit increases in Mac sales. The Spy reiterates his death watch for MS.
On the world scene
the Spy commented decades ago that communications and other technology creating a village out of the world was more likely to stoke long-standing hatreds than to promote understanding leading to brotherly love and friendship between old enemies. In discussing the coming demise of the iron curtain back in the eighties, he opined that once the iron-fisted restraint Russia had laid on Eastern Europe was finally withdrawn, many of those peoples were likely to go back to their age-old hobby of cutting each others' throats. This came true when the artificial country of Yugoslavia broke up.
Today, technology is enabling Russian soldiers operating in with Russian weapons in Eastern Ukraine under the guise of patriot rebels to shoot down civilian planes. Elsewhere, it enables Hamas to rain home-made and bargain basement rockets down upon and rise up from tunnels into Israel in a quest to obliterate that nation and people, if possible. The latter's response seems heavy-handed--from a distance--and as always in war, most of the casualties are civilian.
The Excited States, apparently exhausted by the (failed?) Afghanistan and Iraq experiences at being the world's policeman, has largely retired from the field, and bully Putin (and Islamic militants), themselves now sensing a lack of external restraints, are likewise reverting to form. Given that modern technology enables the delivery of potentially life-sterilizing weapons anywhere in the world, the Western nations should rather be expecting the conflicts in Europe and the Middle East to spread than to be contained.
Note on the one hand that the goal of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the new Caliphate of ISIS is the entire extermination of Christians, Jews, and anyone not complying with their version of religion--peace on their terms, with all dissenters "converted" or dead. The real face of this is playing out in places like Mosul, Iraq, where a long-standing Christian community was extirpated. And, on the other Vlad the Red has never forgotten losing East Germany to the West, and appears anxious to re-establish the old Soviet Union. Should he take over Eastern Ukraine, does anyone suppose he will be appeased? That he will stop? How many countries will he absorb or dismember before anyone tries to contain him?
Meanwhile, nations hostile to the west use Internet technologies to conduct large-scale, systematic, military and industrial espionage at a distance. As the Spy recently experienced, as Nellie once boasted to him, any computer can be broken into, no digitized secrets are safe. Facebook, Apple, and other juicy targets have likewise been victimized. The global default assumption ought to be that every technology will surely be fully utilized to vandalize, steal, and kill. It may also have peaceful uses, but the latter take more work to discover and deploy.
The Spy notes in passing recent articles exposing the fundamental vulnerability of storage devices based on USB, revealing them as security risks for far more than file sharing. The only surprise in that is how long it took to bring the obvious to light. The Spy is reminded of the time he quietly expressed to a technician the need to tighten up email security because of the potential for it to serve as malware. He replied "Nah, can't happen." This one is worse. Hey, and there are also many far more destructive ways to employ technology to deliver death than firing cheap rockets over someone's border.
How can any sufficiently advanced civilization survive when even its own citizens can whip up universally destructive technologies in their back yard or kitchen sink? It was partly to answer this question that the Spy first started writing alternate history science fiction. His answer: only under the restraint of a nearly universal view of morality--which the West once had, but has abandoned. He thinks others need to give these concerns a think. The world situation isn't going to get better any time soon. Technology will ensure that.
And about those peaceful uses. Who of the next generation will create those? To put it a more fundamental way, where's the moral beef? Just asking.
--The Northern Spy
Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
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