eXtensions - Saturday 13 January 2024

Saturday Comment: Apple meet Wall Street; Apple Watch Oxymeter - Advantage Masimo; AI Values and Warnings

By Graham K. Rogers


Apple's Q1 2024 report is due soon, but Wall Street is trying to convince investors (and itself) that Apple is doomed. Vision Pro is released on 2 February: there are even negative reports on that. Apple lost its appeal concerning the Apple Watch oxymeter. An update to BBEdit this week included AI features. As well as my own antipathy towards AI for writing and photography, I note that some camera makers are developing a way to confirm original content, with Nikon planning to include additional digital protection.

My speculation that Apple's results would be announced in the last week of January were a week out. "Apple's conference call to discuss first fiscal quarter results and business updates is scheduled for Thursday, February 1, 2024 at 2:00 p.m. PT / 5:00 p.m. ET" which is about 5 am here. I half-expected the headset to be announced before the Q1 2024 results which would have been unusual, but Apple confirmed that the device would go on sale 2 February, with preorders starting two weeks before, on 19 Jan: next week. Since then there have been several articles about the device with some claiming it will be sold out (US-only remember) with others suggesting the number of devices available will be relatively small. At well over $3000 per device, plus more for any lenses needed, this is not a surprise. It is right of Apple to test the waters first.

As well as negative reporting on Vision Pro, Wall Street analysts have kept up the pressure on Apple share prices with more suggesting that Apple is surely doomed, while others followed the rest of the flock in ovine empathy, reducing target prices. There was considerable glee as Microsoft passed Apple for leader in valuation. Wall Street understands Microsoft. At the end of this week, the stock price has risen slowly, despite the artificial headwinds, although there are a couple of weeks to go before Q1 2024.

iMac Dennis's Sellers (MacWorld Today) had some fun with some analysts when IDC reported that Mac sales fell 22.4% year over year in the 4th quarter. Other quarters and the annual figures also showed bad news but sales are expected to rise in 2024. Shortly after this, Sellers wrote, "No, wait, global Mac sales are up 9.3% annually as of quarter four of 2023". Canalys has another view of the world and "there are big differences": instead of 22.4% down, they are 9.3% up and "[the] Mac has 10.1% of the worldwide personal computer market."

The story doesn't end there as Sellers also reports, "Gartner: both global and US Mac sales were up annually as of quarter four of 2023"; with MacDaily News chiming in with more on Gartner: "Apple's venerable Mac took 10% of worldwide, and 16.1% of U.S., personal computer market", although I am unsure why "venerable" is needed. OK the name is old in tech terms, but the devices (M3 now) are fairly quick by all accounts.

I can hardly wait until the M3 iPad Pro is announced, although even this is suffering from negative rumors. Tim Hardwick (MacRumors) reports that a source based in Korea claims the next version will start at a $1500, some 80% up on the current $799, rising to $2000. This would be outrageous by any standards and, if true, would cause many to rethink any purchase, even if specifications were considerably higher (OLED, storage). These prices are higher than some Macs.

M1 iPad Pro

With the Apple Watch story up in the air currently, Stephen Warwick (iMore) tells us that the ITC court which issued the ban on importing the device claims that Apple is wrong to try for an extension of the appeal process which lifted the ban for the time being. That is to be expected and while Apple is trying to circumvent the ban by rewriting the software, which both Masimo and the ITC object to, there is another twist with Florian Muller entering the picture. And this now becomes really interesting.

Mueller is an expert on patent law. I used to follow him until he became more than critical of Apple followed by a political swing to the right which I was unwilling to work through, despite his excellent opinions on patent cases. Warwick reports (with some surprise), that "Mueller highlights some key aspects of the case that seem to show Apple may be the victim of patent trolling, or at the very least abuse, in this case." He adds, "the ITC's attack is gratuitous, disingenuous and irresponsible", but there is more to this and you should read Warwick's article.

Apple Watch 9
Apple Watch 9 showing blood-oxygen complication (top right)

However, on Friday, Dennis Sellers (MacWorld Today) reports that the Appeals Court has upheld two earlier decisions by the ITC, although Apple is still fighting the import ban. As has been reported widely before, Apple is said to be working on a fix (algorithms and more) for the blood-oxygen feature.

A while back, I wrote about the way I still use the AirPort Express router, but regret that this is no longer available for purchase. I also still miss Aperture. Another commentator (the name escapes me) was also upset about the loss of Airport and suggested the decision by Apple was wrong and it was about time Apple redressed this. Now the same idea is being aired by Daryl Baxter (iMore) who links the device with the arrival of WiFi7. As he notes, the Airport Express setup was easy and that is sorely missed. Although I never went for the Time Capsule (router plus backup disk), I had a couple of the routers: the original flat one and the later mini-tower (which I still use). I did try a NetGear wifi6 router, but the experience was not positive and with increasing security worries, I went back to the Apple device. The NetGear router is gathering dust on top of a set of drawers.

BBEdit This week the well known text editing software, BBEdit, was updated to Version 15. This is a paid update, although some features remain accessible after a test period. I have been using applications from Bare Bones Software for years, following my earlier work with TextWrangler. Although the software showed license details, I thought it was about time I updated and paying a developer for good software should not be a problem. I had last updated the license when BBEdit was updated to Version 13, so my payment was just over $40 with VAT. Not expensive for something I rely on week after week.

I also made a donation to Hamrick Software for the long term use of VueScan that I have been using since I bought my Canon scanner. There are versions for Windows and Linux as well as Macs. They also support old scanners that seem to be out of date. Although I had bought the Pro licence, that was a couple of years ago. There are updates almost every week. At the end of 2023, they put out a call for some support and many responded.

The BBEdit update includes several new features including ChatGPT support, plus Minimap, Cheat Sheets, and more (Adam Engst, TidBits). I am not sure I will be using ChatGTP as I am fairly averse to any use of this technology at the moment particularly in relation to writing, but also photography. I note that several camera makers have put together an initiative that will mark work as AI-free, but Nikon is going a bit further with another embedded feature that is available as well as the Content Authenticity initiative: the C2PA digital signature system.

Nikon D850 DSLR Jaron Schneider writes that Nikon and Agence France-Presse (AFP) will work to "verify a new "digital watermark" image provenance function that will act as an additional layer to C2PA. There is some speculation as to whether this will work with current (firmware?) or only new cameras, but it is good to see the concern that camera makers have regarding the veracity of photographs.

I insist that many students steer away from AI for academic output, although I am told that some is now allowed as long as the use of AI (including the extent of the assistance) is included in the acknowledgements. There is also some agreement that helping with emails (saves time) and creating lists are generally acceptable, but this also includes students generating ideas using AI. Don't they have any ideas of their own; and if they can't develop their own ideas why are they studying at university?

As far as photography is concerned I am a bit of a purist there too, although I do acknowledge that even some essential editing tools (particularly the Repair tool) may make use of AI. I am also happy to change the image by cropping, editing and changing to monochrome. Where I draw the line is creating content in an image that does not exist in reality. That does not include artistic rendering where there is some merging of content from different sources: think of Terry Gilliam's fantastic animations, made from several photographs with some skillful editing and rephotographing. That would be done using digital technology these days and AI would be a valuable part of that.

Some photographs have been passed off as original works, but were of people and places that do not exist. This is perhaps why I use film more these days. It is harder to cheat with that. I don't: the image either works or doesn't, and either way I learn something. To add to this, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says, "Art that can be easily replicated by artificial intelligence is "meaningless"" (Lanre Bakare, Guardian). So are photographs and writing.

There is money in this as the valuations of some AI companies shows. Also Getty Images, owners of a massive stock photo collection (I think I have a couple in there) have announced a service that allows members to create AI images from Getty's collection: "[to] generate 100 images, the user will have to fork out $15" (Matt Growcoot PetaPixel). As the article notes, Getty is keen to provide a service that allows users to generate images without fear of copyright complications. After all, they own the images.

Edited digital photograph
Edited digital photograph - AI not used

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. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)


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