• Explore the magic and the mystery!

  • Newsletter Issue #1050

    February 21st, 2024


    All right, I couldn’t resist the pun. But let me put my cards on the table. You see, I have owned a number of Apple gadgets over the years, beginning with a Mac and a LaserWriter. As things go, printers are commodities, so it didn’t make sense for Apple to make them without adding something special to the mix. My printers today are built by Brother and HP, and they are both way less expensive than Apple’s former entries,, and the output quality is way better.

    That said, I did not engage with the Newton MessagePad either. It’s main stock-in-trade was handwriting perception, and nothing is powerful enough to parse my efforts. I suppose the iPad is in essence a linear if a lot more powerful and flexible successor.

    Computer gamers have often been depicted on TV and in the movies as wearing some sort of goggles that presents virtual reality images of some sort of game. They appear to work well enough, but they are otherwise grotesque appliances externally, even though owners may be perfectly content use one, quite willing to experience the immersive existence they provide.

    All well and good, but how does that experience translate to the real world, and is there something Apple can contribute to make it a mainstream product?

    Before I take a look at the Apple Vision Pro — well from a distance — let’s look at how Apple has brought usually user unfriendly gear into the mainstream.

    So take the original Apple computers, such as the Apple I released in 1976. Has it been that long?

    Well, it really wasn’t a full product, but a motherboard. It retailed for a curious price, $666.66, which may have upset some religious people. But I digress.

    The real harbinger of the future of personal computing may have been the Apple II, released in 1976, which had a rudimentary graphical user interface (affectionately known as GUI). But it was nowhere quite as usable for the masses as the Macintosh. While the Mac wasn’t necessarily a huge sales success compared to the old fashioned text-based IBM PC, creatives, such as artists and musicians embraced them. I remember when Barbara was breaking into the music business in the late 1980s, her producer had set up a multitrack studio in his apartment based on a Macintosh SE.

    I’m sure most of you know of Apple’s ups and downs over the years, but a Mac remained a Mac, as Apple went after other tech gear categories to find a better way.

    Take the iPod, introduced in 2001. The claim of having “1,000 songs in your pocket” placed it a leg up on pretty much any other MP3 player at the time. But the most important feature was usability, since it integrated with iTunes for the Mac. In those years, I reviewed competing players, and, when it came to managing downloads on the device, they were almost universally unusable.

    Perhaps the biggest contribution to Apple’s bottom line — ever — was its amazing overhaul to the niche smartphone category. In those days, the BlackBerry was king. It’s main feature was a tiny physical keyboard, above which was a tiny display. But unless you had small or nimble fingers, it was shockingly unusable. While I understand the purpose it was meant to serve, unless you had flexible thumbs, it wasn’t worth the trouble. And let’s not forget the apps, overpriced, under-featured and difficult to use.

    When the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at a Macworld Expo keynote in January, 2007, he said it was a combination of a phone, an iPod and an Internet device, all in one. At its core was a scaled down version of macOS using a touchscreen instead of a physical keyboard. While some might have chafed at abandoning the traditional input device, most got used to it after a while. Besides, it made for the flexibility of not having it visible if you weren’t typing anything.

    The smartphone industry responded with skepticism, until they growing sales convinced them to come up with their own blatant imitations in the form of the Android OS and such devices as the Samsung Galaxy. In some ways, this was a repeat of the Mac versus Windows wars, with the former relatively simple to navigate without a surfeit of features, and the latter providing more ways to customize at the expense of usability.

    Today the iPhone sales usually rate number one or number two among smartphones around the globe; it has helped make Apple a multinational corporation with a market cap that sometimes exceeds $3 trillion.

    At a time where smartphone sales have plateaued, with billions of units in use, what could Apple deliver for an encore? Introduced in 2015, the Apple Watch, Apple wasn’t first to market, but mostly managed to get it right once it was released and fleshed out in terms of features. At first, it was marketed as a fashion device, until buyers helped provide its best reason to exist. Fitness. The higher-end models provide such health-related tools as an ECG, to check for irregular heartbeat, and a blood oxygen sensor (well except for recent models that may infringe on patents). Since I’ve undergone treatment for heart issues — typical for those of us at an advanced age — both are valuable features.

    While the ECG doesn’t have the awkward set of body probes as the traditional EKG setup found at a hospital or doctor’s office, it is apparently just about as accurate in detecting heart issues. Lives have been saved. I’ve also found that its blood oxygen sensor works when the one at the doctor’s office fails. And when both worked, the results were the same. So one hopes Apple will resolve its patent conflict.

    In passing, I find it curious that Apple confronts so many patent lawsuits. While some are surely nuisances, hoping to extract big paychecks from Apple rather than being forced to undergo lengthy legal hassles, others appear to be genuine. With a large team of lawyers on their employment rolls, you have to wonder why they weren’t aware of these potential conflicts. Or maybe they were, and they are playing the odds that there will be no repercussions, or the settlement will be relatively inexpensive.

    Back to our discussion: The Apple Watch remains ahead of the pack. Although you have to pay $200 and up to get one, I’ve seen them everywhere. Even store cashiers working at minimum wage somehow find the way to acquire them. Some health insurance providers offer special deals for their clients, because of their useful fitness and health features. Future models may also offer a thermometer. I suppose it’s sort of a mixture between the famous Dick Tracy wristwatch and the Star Trek tricorder.

    That takes us to the Apple Vision Pro, its response to virtual reality glasses, as if it needs a response.

    As with other Apple gadgets, they were not first to the market, but they are supposedly the answer to those who want to get away from it all with a pair of glasses.

    If that’s your thing.

    The reviews are out, and they are decidedly mixed. One I saw while randomly checking the texts summed it up this way: “Billed as the future of computing, the $3,500 goggles can’t replace a laptop for work. At times, wearing them also made our columnist feel nauseated.”

    And it’s not from some unknown random blogger looking for some hits to generate ad clicks. That’s from The New York Times.

    To be fair, AppleInsider columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, who appeared from time to time on my late radio show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, had a decidedly different opinion. He found it flawed but a useful piece of advanced technology.

    It’s also a very personal device, since it has to be fitted as to size and vision, which means you can’t just hand it off to a family member or a friend unless their eyes are essentially the same as yours. Imagine being in a large family, with parents and four kids. Multiply $3,500 by six and you might stop breathing for a while. While not quite as jarring as the late Google Glass, they are decidedly unattractive and potentially dangerous. You certainly shouldn’t drive wearing a pair, though some will. I’d also worry about walking in the street or at a store while wearing them.

    Imagine the frightened looks from strangers as they see you passing by conveying the look of an alien in a 1950’s “B” sci-fi movie.

    This doesn’t mean Apple Vision Pro doesn’t have a purpose. I would expect that artists, some professionals and even devoted gamers will embrace them. Over time, assuming sales warrant upgrades, they will become slimmer and lighter, and more powerful. Maybe some day I might even want one.

    But not today.


    Gene Steinberg’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Steinberg

    Copyright 1999-2024 Making The Impossible. All Rights Reserved.

    Privacy Policy: Your personal information is safe with us. We will positively never give out your name and/or e-mail address to anybody else, and that’s a promise!

    | Print This Issue Print This Issue

    Leave Your Comment