What’s the point of music radio any more?I have very ingrained radio habits. I listen to NZ National from 7am till about 1, to catch up on what’s going on in the world from the country’s best journalists, then I switch to Auckland’s BFM, which I prefer for the music, some of the Wired journalistic-style features and, let’s face it, the consistently funniest ads you’ll ever hear. My only gripe with BFM is that some of the DJs think I want to hear them discourse at length about whatever takes their fancy. They’re wrong.
But I was listening to BFM the other day when I realised the DJ was actually playing tracks from Apple Music. I’m not saying I could figure this out due to some kind of extremely fine-tuned musical perception combined with my long time close association with all things Apple, because no – I knew because he said so!
Now, in iTunes, you can listen to radio without even using Apple Music. Open iTunes, make sure you’re on Music, and along the top centre, you’ll see Library (your music), For You (Apple Music), Browse, Radio and Store. Yes, it’s called Radio.
There’s plenty there, and it’s well worth a look, but the difference between that and Apple Music is that Music has you pay a subscription but then it curates to your tastes, even making suggestions to encourage music discovery, which is really cool (Spotify and the like does the same thing).
Which brings me back to BFM. I listen to BFM because about half the music they play, at least, is music I like, and it’s been my primary source of music discovery since the 1980s. With Apple Music, I would get a more tailored experience, discover new music, no ads at all (even though BFM’s are very witty), and no annoying DJs who wrongly assume I will be dazzled by their brilliance about everyday life when all I want them to do is put another track on.
So, radio, it might be time to reinvent yourself and ask once again ‘what do listeners actually want?’
Here we are, all hanging on for new Macs. I know at least ten people in the same boat as me. We’ve been clinging on to our Macs, keeping them running, afraid to upgrade because we know, or at least think we know (while definitely fervently hoping) that a new model is imminent. This goes specifically for the MacBook Pro, which hasn’t had a full update (just some some minor refreshes) since 2012.
It’s worse for Mac Pro users …if there are any left. When that first round Pro tower came out in 2013, it was expensive but hey, it was the fastest and best. However, that didn’t last long and even a year later you could get a higher-specced PC for considerably less. This has been very difficult for Pro users to swallow, and some have even jumped ship to powerful Unix boxes while others must be thinking enviously along the same lines.
It’s not as if other manufacturers failed to notice Pro-user unhappiness, making more easily expandable, higher-specced and cheaper PCs available. The Pro hasn’t been updated in three years. Meanwhile, the excellent, but overpriced (going by the competition’s prices) Apple Thunderbolt display has been cancelled entirely, with no replacement. Luckily there are excellent high-quality displays you can plug in, in their stead, but the Thunderbolt offered some handy extra ports. But there are no rumours that Apple is even looking at a Pro update. Pro users who wanted to stay with Apple have been buying very well-specced 27-inch iMacs instead.
Apple has almost limitless resources, yet seems to have chosen to all but abandon its strongest, and most powerful, supporters.
Leaving Mac lines to languish is starting to affect sales. According to both Gartner and IDC, during the third quarter (3Q) of 2016, Apple shipped five million Macs – down from 5.4 million in the year-ago quarter, according to Gartner or from 5.8, according to IDC: a 13.4% decline. You can’t blame this on sales lost to iPad, since tablet sales aren’t picking up the slack. And there is no way on Earth that a powerful iPad even begins to be able to do what a good MacBook Pro can do, even if the latest iPad Pro outperforms the overpriced, virtually port-free MacBook. The problem, everyone agrees, is the stale Mac line-up.
Of course, the MacBook Pro is strongly rumoured to be undergoing work and everyone has been hoping it will arrive by the end of this October, although that date is getting uncomfortably close. For a professional user, an Air or worse, MacBook just can’t even begin to cut it. With a good MacBook Pro, you really can produce an entire movie, soundtrack and plenty more. It’s a really strong machine. And it has a good array of ports – if Apple cuts these, there will be a lot of disappointment.
The tragedy of all this is that if Apple doesn’t produce something spectacular, the professional crisis will depend and maybe even become a tipping point.
Apple has long been accused of being a ‘walled garden’. This has several meanings. For an Apple user, it means the more Apple devices you have, the better, as they all communicate with each other to make your life easier. They’re all ‘in the garden’, if you will. This metaphor does not suit, say, someone who wants an Android phone but uses a Mac. The other criticism comes from developers: Apple ‘walls off’ its apps and the OS so you have to work within this environment. You can’t modify the environment itself, only the stuff in the flowerbeds. Developers like messing with the system – this represents a type of digital freedom, sure, but it also leads to multiple versions of the system, which is what you have in the Android world. Your app may work on your phone with your OS, but it won’t necessarily continue to work once you change phons or systems. This frustration is much, much rarer in the Apple world.
But, as I sometimes tell groups a little fatuously, a walled garden is more secure (true enough: Apple’s security record remains stellar) and besides, ‘gardens are nice’.
These criticisms have resurfaced lately with iPhone 7, since the only port into the device now is an Apple-designed port, that being the Lightning connector. That means everything interpreted though this port has to be mandated and controlled by Apple, or at least fit its Lightning guidelines. As Engadget points out, to create devices for the Lightning port, accessory makers have to sign up for Apple’s MFi (Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad) program.
However, the same can’t be said of iOS 10. iOS is now much more open than it was three years ago. IOS 7 was a huge visual overhaul, but it was nearly as locked down as the previous versions. The following year, Apple started opening things up. Now, claims Engadget (again) iOS is nearly as open as Android, at least as far as users are concerned. Look at the new Messages, for example: you can add stickers, draw on photos, send your heartbeat and even use other apps from inside iMessage.
I haven’t seen an iPhone 7 yet (anyone got one and willing to comment?).Going by the specs and reviews, it’s a brilliant iPhone in every way. But now we’re already wondering what next year will bring, with even Fortune posting a speculative piece on what Apple might offer for an iPhone. Why? Next year is the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the first iPhone, which appeared and changed everything in 2007.
After Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June, with no product announcements, everyone’s waiting with increasing impatience for new products from Apple. Probably iPhone 7, probably MacBook Pro, which hasn’t had a real refresh for four years. Possibly Watch 2, possibly … it gets vaguer after here. The Mac Pro could do with some love too, but Apple’s unlikely to release too many things at once. I mean, it’s possible, as Apple has the resources to, crikey, build a station on the moon if it really wants to.
But that’s one thing I don’t expect to be announced.
On the boring front, iOS 10 and macOS Sierra are on the way. I’ve seen the betas of these and they offer improvements and refinements, but hardly great leaps. I mean, Siri on Mac? I don’t use Siri on iDevice. I’m sure some people do, but who are they? To me it’s a brilliant gimmick. I only ever use it when I show people. They say ‘Wow!’ too, but I really doubt they go away and use it.
iPhone 7 — The rumours about this have been all over the place. Even the leaked pictures of possible cases vary widely. You have to wonder if Apple has been adding to the confusion here. But almost certainly, the camera will be better. I say this as the camera has been improved in pretty much every prime release of iPhone, and even between some prime and ‘s’ version iPhones, this has happened.
Maybe it will get Pencil support, as why not? However, for me, the whole point of computers and devices is so I wouldn’t have to use a pen or pencil, partly because I can’t draw and partly because my handwriting is so awful, even I can’t read it. But that’s just me: plenty would find that useful, and iPad Pro certainly supports it well. But as other commentators have pointed out, next year is the 10th anniversary of iPhone, and that’s when a truly groundbreaking new iPhone could be expected, rather than this year.
iOS 10 gets rid of the swipe to unlock gesture (boy, is it hard to retrain your fingers here!). Unlocking now is a second press of the Home button. These will therefore wear out quicker, so they need some engineering anyway. Perhaps that’s why there are rumours of haptic feedback, as in the trackpad of the MacBook. Apple’s in that realm already, and is sure to expand that into other Macs, so why not?
Watch 2 — The limitations of the current, initial Apple Watch are: dependency on your iPhone to do the real processing, and general slowness and lag. It seems obvious a new version would improve on these two points as Apple’s engineers get better at smaller/faster, which has always been their forté. The promised new watchOS will place more demands on the hardware, so it will have to be better. How much better? We can’t know yet. But to me, the Watch isn’t truly useful yet, so I don’t have one. Speculation elsewhere talks about GPS radio and a built-in barometer, but I don’t know. In my experience, these ‘well-connected analysts’ are living in the same informational vacuums that we all exist in, when it comes to Apple, despite their protestations to the contrary. But I guess we’ll see.
MacBook Pro — As I’ve said before, it’s likely a new MacBook Pro will have some of the features debuted in the MacBook: a slimmer design partly thanks to a new screen hinge, a bigger high-tech trackpad, but hopefully a decent array of ports, or pro users simply won’t buy them. Along with this, better battery tech, a faster latest-gem Intel CPU, and hopefully excellent graphics cards.
And in future? Orange Peel Investment’s Scott Tzu believes in a seismic sentiment change regarding the upcoming iPhone 7. He thinks the hype surrounding the iPhone 8 will be ‘unbearable’, so Apple could “very well be sitting at all-time highs just 12 short months from now.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of others continue predicting Apple’s imminent demise.
Apple’s Mac has finally joined the slowdown in desktop computer sales.While PC sales declined over the last few years, Mac sales – bizarrely – kept rising, but that’s no longer true. Apple needs to release some very good new models of Macs to gain back some ground, but even if it does, the worldwide decline in desktop sales may mitigate against Apple ever regaining the market share it developed over the last five years.
Model-wise, the MacBook Pro could do with a refresh. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the little MacBook is overpriced and underpowered, but it did debut great new tech that should be put into the MacBook Pro.
A new MacBook Pro I am happy to speculate on. Partly as I need one: my 2012 MacBook Pro is still a speed demon but its battery has dropped to 85% capacity over the years (it’s a hard worker) and, if Apple follows form, a new model with be lighter, slimmer, more powerful and better all round. I’m not sure it will have an OLED touch-bar, as some hope, partly as every rendering I’ve seen of this idea looks butt-ugly to me, and doesn’t seem to fit in with Apple’s aesthetic, but I’m happy to be swayed to the contrary. Filed Apple patents have outlined illuminated touch controls embedded within a MacBook’s chassis, while others protect rights to switchless keyboards and illuminated trackpads. We’ll see.
As for other models, it has been widely speculated that Apple may even drop the little-loved Mac mini completely (I have no opinion on this) and maybe even the Mac Pro. And that idea concerns me.
The real professional users in the Apple world are the people everyone else looks up to. If a really heavy-hitting Mac user advises you on which Mac to buy, you listen. But pros are disenchanted with the round Mac Pro as it’s hard to expand and could do with much better video cards (the PC world is way ahead of Apple here: you can get much better video cards in much cheaper PCs, and that’s actually been tempting pro users to switch to PC).The Mac Pro was a grand machine in its own right – or at least, it was on release in 2014 – but now it needs some love, sure. But deletion? The idea fills me with disquiet.
As for actual Mac sales numbers, Apple Insider has pointed out that Apple’s share of the global PC market took a hit during the challenging second quarter of this year. Apple went down to fifth place among the world’s top computer manufacturers. Analyst firm Gartner put Apple’s worldwide marketshare at 7.1% (this is a lot higher in some markets – here, Australia, the US, Germany …) during the second quarter. That means year-over-year shipments dropped by 200,000 units, down from 4.8 million in 2015. This 4.9% sales contraction may have been the worst performance put in by a top-five vendor, but it’s in line with the 5.2% decline in overall PC shipments. Some of these drops have come from price hikes against the stronger US dollar; that’s certainly the case in New Zealand.
Apple’s iPhone numbers seem solid, still, though, and an iPhone 7 will give sales a boost. I’ve mentioned before that we have a confusion of models these days, and that presents a muddy picture to consumers. Apple could wave a Jobsian clarification wand here to its benefit. I imagine the 5SE will remain in the lineup, and the 6 will disappear while the 6s drops in price, but that doesn’t help the confusion much, does it? Especially if, as one rumour claims, there will be three models of 7 …
We will know in September. Hopefully. It seems a long way away.