Category Archives: Apple

RIP, MacSuperstore



MacSuperstore entranceWhen I moved to San Luis Obispo, CA in 2005, I was concerned about the city’s lack of a nearby Apple Store. But those concerns were quickly erased when I discovered MacSuperstore, an authorized Apple reseller that had been in business since the 90’s. The store offered everything that a corporate Apple Store had to offer, and more, as it wasn’t constrained by the limitations Apple puts on its own stores. MacSuperstore could deal in used products, as well as items from third-party vendors that Apple would never stock in its own stores.

Being the only authorized Apple reseller in the area, MacSuperstore saw steady success. And apparently, the independent store’s good fortunes put MacSuperstore’s locale on Apple’s radar. In 2007, Apple opened the Higuera Street Apple Store in downtown San Luis Obispo. I wrote a (now long-gone) blog post at the time criticizing this decision, as it felt like Apple was moving in on MacSuperstore’s turf and pushing out an established business that you’d think Apple would see as a valued partner instead of a competitor.

The years carried on and MacSuperstore seemed to weather the Apple Store’s encroachment. MacSuperstore even moved into a bigger, fancier location, right next to the new Target store on the west side of town.

But the local market is apparently not big enough for two Apple dealers. Last December, seemingly out of nowhere, MacSuperstore sent this e-mail to customers:

Dear Customers & Friends,

It was August 1998….. the iMac was a week old and MacSuperstore came to life. A little store with big dreams (who else would put “superstore” on a 1,200 sq/ft store)?

Over the years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to providing the best possible customer care along side the world’s best tech products; unfortunately, the industry and the way folks shop has changed a lot, and our efforts to represent Apple have come at a cost. These days, with box stores and online sources heavily discounting the same products, Apple needs the “little guys” less and less.

After much consideration, we have decided to close our doors. In the end, no matter how happy our customers are or great the store looks, a business has to be profitable to survive.

We appreciate the dedication of our customers in giving us a chance to serve you. Seeing the positive impact of technology in the lives of our customers, has been what kept us going these 18 years. It has been a good run, but a necessary ending.

Thanks for everything…

Shane

(The e-mail was signed by Shane Williams, founder of MacSuperstore.)

I was shocked to get that e-mail, as I thought the store was doing fine. I was also concerned about some trade-in credit I had remaining with the store. But MacSuperstore stayed a class act ’til the end, giving me cash on the spot for the trade-in credit, no questions asked.

It’s impossible to say just how much Apple’s influence in the local market affected MacSuperstore’s bottom line. Brick-and-mortar shops are being assaulted from all directions these days, and it’s likely MacSuperstore lost some customers to online sellers. Still, during a conversation I had with a knowledgable MacSuperstore employee on one of the store’s final days, he said that Apple has pretty much stopped licensing independent stores as authorized resellers. He also said that, due to Apple’s own requirements, MacSuperstore couldn’t sell their Apple license to a new buyer. MacSuperstore had bought out several other Apple retailers in nearby markets over the years. All of those stores have since closed, along with the San Luis Obispo shop.

I’ll definitely miss having this unique store in my hometown. Of course, the Higuuera Street Apple Store is likely to be there for years to come. But, that corporate store will never have the heart and soul of that independent reseller on the other side of town.

RIP, MacSuperstore.


Fall Asleep Effortlessly with 2breathe at CES



Getting enough sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle but for some people the problem isn’t just about getting into bed early enough, it’s about falling asleep. Israeli firm 2breathe has developed a smart sensor and complementary app to help those who have difficulty nodding off. Todd relaxes with Erez.

2breathe is a guided breathing system that uses a body-worn sensor to read the breaths in and out. The app records the breathing rate and then using softly-spoken instructions and gentle music, gradually reduces the breathing speed of the wearer. As the breathing rate slows, the soon-to-be-sleeper will get drowsy and fall asleep. In the morning, the app produces a session report, showing the time to snooze and breathing patterns.

The CES Innovation committee though this was a good idea too, awarding 2breathe a CES Honoree Innovation Award.

2breathe is available now for US$179, either direct from 2breathe or other major online retailers. It’s currently only available for Apple iOS devices.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Kanex Wins with the GoPower Watch at CES



Kicking off GNC’s video production for CES, Todd’s at award-winners Kanex with Tracy, who shows off some of their latest accessories for the Apple Watch.

Kanex won a “Innovation Honoree” at CES 2017 for their GoPower Watch, a portable battery charge for the Apple Watch. Priced at US$99 and shipping now, the GoPower Watch will wirelessly recharge a Watch around six times from the 4,000 mAh battery. There’s a USB port round the back for charging other devices too and it’s Apple Certified as well. A mini-version with a smaller battery and smaller price (US$59) is coming shortly.

For those who don’t need to charge on the go, Kanex have a table-top charger for the office or beside the bed coming shortly. It’s US$59 and will be available in February.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Touché Brings Touch Bar to Any Mac



Touche LogoMuch has been said about the new Touch Bar feature on the latest version of Apple’s flagship laptop, the MacBook Pro. Some see Touch Bar as a cool new feature, with unlimited potential for different uses. Others look at Touch Bar as a gimmicky afterthought. Just a new shiny thing in a parade of new shiny Apple things that doesn’t add much in the way of true functionality to the MacBook Pro. The debate is sure to rage on for months (if not years) to come.

Regardless of how anyone feels about Touch Bar, the feature is only available on new MacBook Pros. Apple hasn’t said publicly if Touch Bar, or similar technology, will be added to other Macs in the future. If you’re intrigued by Touch Bar but don’t have the scratch to go out and purchase a new MacBook Pro, you might want to check out a new app from Red Sweater called Touché. The app can add Touch Bar-like functionality to any Mac by providing a graphical representation on screen of the commands assigned to the function keys of a Mac’s active application. (This mimics Touch Bar somewhat, as Touch Bar replaces the function keys on the new MacBook Pro entirely.)

Touche Bar

Touché is a free download and carries these requirements:

Touché requires macOS 10.12.1 or later, but there’s a catch! You must have the very latest 10.12.1, with system support for the Touch Bar. If your 10.12.1 version is specifically 16B2657, you’re good to go. If not, you can update to the required version here. You can confirm you are running 16B2657 specifically, by clicking the version number in the About this Mac panel.

If you’re curious about the Touch Bar experience but don’t have access to a new MacBook Pro, give Touché a try!


Apple: The Thrill Is Gone



Apple LogoBack around 2006 when Apple switched the Mac to Intel processors, Apple started to gain my attention, and several thousands of my dollars.

The Mac was not only a more secure computing alternative, but it also offered fun. Apple computers of about 2006 to 2011 were just plain fun devices.

Sure, Macs were always more expensive than their PC counterparts, but it was arguably a better platform, offering genuine value with those higher prices.

In one of the Steve Jobs biographies, it was said that after he knew he was dying, Jobs worked to leave Apple with about 5 years’ worth of guidance.

Unfortunately, the 5 years is expired. And it is showing. A few years ago I published an article here predicting that Apple would morph into a caricature of Jobs’ worst traits – knowing what the customer “needed” more than the customer, cutting useful features and calling it innovation, etc. Sadly, my prediction has come true. Steve Jobs was brilliant in being able to predict and surf the waves of the parts of the ever-changing consumer electronics market that he chose to compete in. Steve Jobs was successful despite his worst character flaws.

The Apple of 2016 is no longer fun. Something has gone missing. If Apple were your surgeon, you would likely start missing fingers and limbs.

The Apple of 2016 is obsessed with cutting useful features and then making the excuse that they are doing it because they have “courage.”

Up until about 5 years ago you could plunk your pile of money down on a high-end Mac without knowing a thing about it, and rest assured you were getting all the latest and greatest hardware. In 2016 that is no longer true.

The Apple of 2016 is no longer fun.


Did Swatch Kill The iWatch?



iswatchIn news reported by the BBC, it seems that Swatch‘s opposition to Apple‘s application for an iWatch trademark in the UK resulted Apple’s smartwatch simply being branded “Apple Watch”.  Overall, the ruling from the UK’s Intellectual Property Office upheld Swatch’s complaint that iWatch was too similar to iSwatch and Swatch, and shouldn’t be used for watches. Although we can’t be privy to the internal thinking of Apple, one could infer that the inability to claim the iWatch trademark in key markets back in 2014 killed iWatch in favour of Apple Watch when announced in 2015.

The whole ruling is here, but aside from the trademark evidence, decision-making and ruling, there’s some interesting commentary on the use of shell company registrants, in this case BrightFlash USA LLC to hide the actions of Apple. If I read the judgement correctly (and I’m certainly not a lawyer), Swatch had tried to accuse Apple of “bad faith” by using BrightFlash to register the trademark, but the registrar dismisses the complaint and Swatch has to to pay Apple GB£2,767 on balance. You win some, you lose some.


Cygnett Reveals iPhone 7 Details



Cygnett LogoAlthough we are only a few hours away from official announcements on the iPhone 7, some aftermarket suppliers are letting slip details on the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Accessories supplier Cygnett has all but confirmed that the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus designs will have no headphone jack but there’s good chance of two speakers for improved sound quality. Further, their new cases also show a larger hole slightly higher up on the iPhone 7 Plus, perhaps for a more protruded camera area suggesting an improved lens or dual lens. Early iPhone 7 rumours thought that the iPhone 7 might have a dual camera configuration, though this seems to have reverted to a single lens

Cygnett’s Tim Swann also mentioned that while he thought there would be new colour options over the iPhone 6, the actual dimensions of the phone will be similar to that of the 6s and 6s Plus. This fits with what’s been mentioned elsewhere.

There’s been some discussion too as to whether the special connector on the iPad Pro will come to the 7 Plus but Cygnett’s founder didn’t think that was likely as the connector hadn’t appeared on any of the design drawings.

I guess we’ll just have to see what comes out of Apple in a little while….


Bluetooth Versus Wired



Coloud The Snap Active EarbudsFor some months now, persistent rumors have been flying that the next iPhone will do away with the 3.5mm wired headset port. There have been plenty of people arguing both against and for this idea. Some people say that the demise of the wired headset port is inevitable.

As an over-the-road truck driver, I’ve been using Bluetooth devices for years. To be perfectly honest, the majority of Bluetooth headsets suck, regardless of price. They typically suffer from poor audio quality, especially those intended for phone calls.
I have yet to find a Bluetooth microphone that produces anything approaching acceptable quality for anything other than phone calls.

Bluetooth stereo is great for certain uses, such as in the car or for use with certain Bluetooth speakers intended for casual listening.

With this in mind, let’s examine how a smartphone would work without a 3.5mm wired jack for the way people use these devices today.

I see plenty of people using wired headsets, day in and day out. That tells me that, unlike the floppy drive, which was dropped because most software was being shipped on CD-ROM’s, the wired 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT obsolete. The 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT falling into disuse. There are still millions and millions of people using wired headsets with their smartphones on a constant basis. Wired headset use is NOT dropping off.

Modern smartphones are also extremely good high-definition video cameras. While they have built-in microphones, because of the 3.5mm headphone jack it is also possible to plug in a wired microphone. Wired microphones on traditional consumer camcorders have either been absent or an option for costlier prosumer models. Take the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away and the option of plugging in a superior wired microphone goes away with it.

If Apple takes the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away, it doesn’t matter to me, because I don’t have an iPhone and don’t want one. There will be plenty of remaining Android models to choose from that keep their senses.

In fact, there have already been Android smartphones available on the market that leave out the 3.5mm wired headphone jacks. The Chinese company LeEco released three jack-less phones in April of this year. Ever heard of them? Me neither, until I did a search. I don’t get the impression they are burning down the barn with popularity.

I make extensive use of Bluetooth as well as the 3.5mm jack on my phone. I will never buy a phone that doesn’t offer a 3.5mm jack any more than I would buy a phone that doesn’t offer Bluetooth or WiFi.


Losing The Signal



Losing The SignalWe often end up thinking we know the stories behind major and/or tumultuous events that happen during our own lifetimes. One of those revolves around the story of Blackberry. The rise of the iPhone is often thought of as the big downfall of Blackberry, the once wildly popular Canadian phone manufacturer from Waterloo, Ontario. Indeed, the iPhone was involved in Blackberry’s problems, but not in the way people commonly think it was.

I recently listened to the unabridged version of the Audible audiobook “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” written by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. The book tells the story of the seemingly overnight rise of the popularity of Blackberry devices, and recounts the often fascinating step by step details of its spectacular fall into relative smartphone obscurity.

For example, were you aware that Blackberry had two CEO’s? Not one, but two. This highly unusual two CEO arrangement may have served Blackberry well at certain times in the beginning, each CEO having his own respective strengths, but in the end it is generally agreed that this odd two CEO arrangement caused inevitable confusion and dangerous, very damaging paralysis as their personal relationship with each other dangerously deteriorated.

I take from this book that Blackberry happened to come along with the right thing at the right time – a device that could reliably and securely put email in the smartphone user’s pockets on early networks. Blackberry was driven to success by sheer market demand for their product, in spite of their missteps. Blackberry’s success was due in part to the fact that because of the way its system was constructed, it could reliably and securely handle email on highly bandwidth-starved networks. Its popularity started as a business device, and ended up with major consumer crossover demand.

A better idea came along – Steve Job’s iPhone. The iPhone essentially put an entire shrunken computer in the user’s pocket, and started a revolution that changed the face of the market itself. Even so, the iPhone didn’t inflict the most damage on Blackberry, but rather the iPhone concept.

The iPhone reached about 25% overall market penetration in developed markets when at the same time Blackberry was able to sell its less-expensive units into price-sensitive world markets that could not afford the high price of the iPhone. In essence, Blackberry was able to keep going even after the iPhone’s obvious success by replicating its early developed-market successes elsewhere in the world.

What inflicted the most damage on Blackberry sales was the incredible spreading dominance and popularity of Android, which could sell cheaper Android-based smartphones into Blackberry’s price-sensitive world markets, thus ultimately rendering Blackberry irrelevant.

Along the way, Blackberry made a couple of serious, self-inflicted missteps with Verizon that it never recovered from. Blackberry, which had been known at one time for rock-solid hardware, realizing it was losing market share, foolishly started selling faulty products into the marketplace that clearly weren’t fully developed and were highly unreliable.

If you enjoy these kinds of non-fiction books that tell behind-the-scenes stories of things that happened in your lifetime, I highly recommend you give this book a try.


iOS 10 To Come With HomeKit Controller App



HomeKit LogoThe so-called Internet of Things is bringing more and more connected devices into our lives. And as the market for these smart gadgets continues to expand, one question seems to be on everyones minds; How will all of these different products communicate with each other? Some manufacturers have developed their own proprietary products and tools to ensure their own devices will play nicely together. But what if you want smart lightbulbs made by Company X and a smart security system made by Company Y? Will it be necessary to have one “command center” on your network just for each company’s products?

Many companies have stepped into this arena to try and bridge the landscape of connected things. Apple announced its own solution, HomeKit, a few years ago. But there hasn’t been much movement on the HomeKit front since that announcement. Now, it looks like Apple may ship its first HomeKit controller app with the release of iOS 10 later this year. Curiously, this information was discovered in a comment left as part of an Amazon product review:

Word of the new app came from an Apple marketing employee commenting in Amazon product reviews. MacRumors verified the commenter’s identity, and that they were responsible for the comments.

“As I work in marketing for Apple, we test many Smart Home devices, especially for iOS HomeKit integration,” the person said. “The next version of iOS due this fall will have a standalone ‘HomeKit’ app as well.”

No word yet on how HomeKit will actually work but it’s good to know that real progress is (apparently) being made on the system.