Sometimes I wonder if some tech authors are somehow blessed, that they don't experience the trials and tribulations of regular people when they review a product, or even buy one for their personal use. But that's not really the case. We buy this stuff from the same places you do: local dealers, online retailers, eBay.
On last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, for example, you learned about the misbehaving iPhone 3G recently purchased by Rob Griffiths, of Macworld and macosxhints.com. Yes, he purchased it at the regular price from an Apple Store, just as I did. But he has encountered chronic crashes and other troubles that forced him to restore his iPhone four times in the space of a few days.
This isn't to say that the unit is necessarily defective, but the experience was none-too-pleasant for Rob, and I await updates as to whether the fourth time was the charm.
You also discovered how you can harness the power of your Mac to make money with former entertainer Millard Grubb, the editor and publisher of the Macintosh Money Newsletter. Millard delivered several of his cash-generating ideas during the course of the interview. While we were talking afterward, he also gave me what he felt was a surefire suggestion on increasing the income from our paranormal radio show. I'll let you know if we actually try it, and whether our bank accounts really improve.
In addition, InfoWorld Executive Editor Galen Gruman was on hand to explain the good, bad and the ugly aspects of the latest version of QuarkXPress, the venerable desktop publishing application. To be sure, there was more bad than good in his review, but I'll leave it to you listeners to decide if the new features are worth the upgrade.
He also provided some insights into Apple's recent public relations problems. But I've already covered that subject in extensive -- and perhaps exhausting -- detail.
Moving on to another front, on The Paracast this week, meet UFO investigator Philip J. Imbrogno, author of "Interdimensional Universe: The New Science of UFOs, Paranormal Phenomena & Other Dimensional Beings." This discussion will cover a wide range of intriguing evidence that will present an amazing picture of the nature and scope of all of these weird events.
In 1984, I was working in a prepress plant, laboring over traditional cold (or photo-based) typesetting equipment. Instead of looking at a true representation of the printed page, the video display presented text and formatting commands. Yes, with a little practice, you could visualize the end result, more or less. However, these particular devices simply couldn't render a graphical image. It was, as I recall, strictly white text on a dark, nearly black background.
This isn't to say personal computers were that much better in those days. In fact, we had one, a Zenith that, in part, would serve as a proper PC clone, but was actually used primarily to translate data from one format to another. That way, our clients could submit documents created in a word processor, and we could convert them into the unique language used by our Agfa CompuGraphic front ends.
It sure beat retyping everything from scratch.
When it came to actually using PC software, however, that old Zenith was only partly successful. Not all of those PC clones were 100% compatible; some not even close. But there was one area where that old box pleased me no end, the result of the decision of the owner of the company to subscribe to CompuServe.
They were king of the online hill in those early days. Its text-based interface was a little rough, but usable. But don't ask me how much all that online access cost. Remember that you paid by the hour in those days, and I was positively addicted. But I got the work out on time, so there were no complaints.
As to the Apple Macintosh, we acquired one of the first, used primarily for experimentation rather than production. So my exposure was limited, and I didn't really get fully immersed in the Mac universe until I moved to another company, where they actually migrated a large portion of their production to the desktop.
As I've written elsewhere, I didn't actually buy my own Mac until some time later, when it became clear to me that I could increase my income by tackling some desktop publishing chores at home. Thus began a long adventure that continues to the present day.
I had lots of Macs, but never became attached to any of them. There was always a newer, better model on the horizon, one that would run my favorite applications faster. That's in sharp contrast to some of you, who probably have a veritable museum of older Macs in your garage or a closet.
In any case, the experiences weren't always pleasant. Take buying software. Before I settled on a proper work routine with a core collection of applications, I would visit the local computing stores to see what they had. I was regularly admonished that there was actually very little software available or Macs, and the view would seem to be confirmed when I saw a handful of titles catching dust in the back of the store.
But I also discovered such magazines as MacUser and Macworld, and the ads contained loads of listings from catalog houses. Their ubiquitous printed booklets contained lots more, literally thousands of titles covering virtually any area that interested me. I even found a simple-to-use mailing list program that could be used to keep tabs on the subscribers for a small magazine I published at the time, and also format the labels for output on my Apple LaserWriter II NTX.
Yes, I could have used FileMaker, but the other application was more sharply focused, and met my needs almost perfectly. FileMaker was just overkill for me.
In the early 1990s, a lot of things happened real fast that literally changed my life. Since 1989, I had been a "charter member" of AOL, which entitled me to a $1.00 discount for each hour of online. I got caught up in the Mac message boards, and the bills got awfully large. Fortunately, someone in management took notice and kept giving me complimentary hours, before I was finally appointed a forum leader, with a complimentary account to boot.
By 1994, shortly after I got a gig writing reviews and feature articles for Macworld, a publisher asked me to write an instruction book about AOL. Considering that a large portion of AOL's membership was meant for beginners, this seemed to be an exercise in futility.
However, through the first editions of Using AOL, the book went through several printings, and I saw my first reasonably substantial royalty checks. Later on, I added a bunch of Mac-specific titles to my repertoire.
Being a Mac user in those days, though, wasn't easy. It wasn't just the snickers from some people suggesting that the Mac couldn't possibly be a real business computer. Apple did its level best to destroy the platform, by releasing untested products, and buggy operating systems.
I remember, for example, buying a Power Macintosh 9500 and enduring serious freezes from the very first time I started up the machine. It wasn't the hardware, but a bug-ridden system release that, fortunately, was soon replaced with a slightly less crash-prone version. And don't get me started about the silly RAM upgrading procedure, where, as with other Macs of that era, you had to actually remove the logic board itself to get at those RAM slots. Pathetic, truly pathetic.
But I persevered, and never actually considered moving to Windows, although lots of people did. So I got to see Steve Jobs take over Apple and right the sinking ship -- and I suspect it came real close to sinking.
Today, I can't find too many people who aren't considering a new Mac, even if they are long-time Windows users. How times have changed, and I suspect the best is yet to come.
A multinational corporation usually becomes a fat target for real or imagined ills. Sure anyone who feels they have been gypped or otherwise victimized by a company has the right to complain. If the complaints fall on deaf ears, then certainly a legal action of some sort might be considered.
The problem with many of these lawsuits, particularly the ones that aspire to class-action status, is that only the attorneys who filed these actions really see any money. The actual plaintiffs, the people who were supposedly injured by a company's grievous behavior, products or services, generally get discount coupons, assuming they are somehow victorious.
Now as of the time I'm writing this article, there have been three lawsuits filed against Apple for alleged deception in their claims about the iPhone 3G's performance. Not good. However, as I've said before, Apple's fine print makes it quite clear that their representations about twice the speed of the older model are based on network conditions. Indeed, those conditions may vary from place to place, and, in fact, the time of day, network load and weather conditions, among other things.
Indeed, I dare say the folks who live in the hurricane-prone areas of the U.S. are probably getting pathetic wireless performance when the storms hit, for many reasons, including network congestion.
So with all the fine print, you have to wonder what some of these people were thinking when they filed those lawsuits. Now I understand that if a large portion of iPhone 3G users never achieve anything near the promised performance improvements, and 3G performance is reasonably solid in their neighborhoods, they have the right to be concerned.
So far, though, it appears that the network is probably more to blame for problems than the phones. I've seen benchmarks made around the world and published online that bear this out. I've done a few tests myself and I am not at all dissatisfied with the figures, which range from downloads that are slightly above 400K to over 1.4M. This is all within the range I expected when I bought my iPhone 3G.
Yes, there are dead spots around here, areas where other carriers also have connection issues. Indeed, if you took a dozen mobile phones, of different makes and models, you'll likely encounter consistent problems in areas with marginal reception. No doubt one phone would fare better than another. What's more, I have little doubt the iPhone 3G can and will probably improve over time as Apple's firmware improves.
Indeed, in the days after the 2.0.2 upgrade, I've actually seen my iPhone 3G exhibit steady improvement. It was only slight on the very first day, but has since grown more reliable. That actually leads me to believe that, as more and more iPhones in the area are upgraded, the performance of the network will become more efficient. Additionally, I have little doubt that AT&T is fine-tuning its network to handle 3G better, since their network hasn't been around near as long as similar networks in other countries.
To be sure, AT&T has a huge incentive here. They have invested a tremendous amount of money setting things up to support the iPhone, an Apple doesn't want to hear about disgruntled customers who are actually being betrayed by the network and not the phone.
In the end, the iPhone-related legal actions may or may not make it to court. But I don't expect Apple to pay anyone off to get rid of them. That would create a dangerous precedent that could cause them real trouble down the road.
Meantime I wait patiently for the iPhone 2.1 software, where lots more fixes are widely expected. And it may even happen on September 9th, my birthday, when Apple hosts that special event reportedly to release a new line of iPods.
THE FINAL WORD
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