There were lots of expectations about what Apple would announce in last week's special press briefing. An iPod refresh was number one on the list, and there was also speculation about a major iTunes update and news about the iPhone 2.1 firmware update.
In large part, that was it. Speculation about new Mac notebooks and a "one more thing" surprise weren't realized. Whether the limits of the new product introductions, or continued speculation about the state of Steve Jobs' health, Wall Street didn't react too pleasantly about the news, as the stock simply continued its slow downward trend.
Too bad Wall Street fails to realize that the month isn't over, and that there's nothing to prevent Apple from releasing more new products in the next few weeks. No wonder the stock market is such a dangerous playground.
In keeping with the major developments on the Apple front, on last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we entered "The David Biedny Zone" to discuss the news. Has our Special Correspondent seen enough to convince him to buy a new iPod? And what about those "missing" features?
You'll also discovered all the new, improved capabilities QuarkXPress 8, the popular desktop publishing application, with Dan Logan, Senior Product Manager for Desktop Technology at Quark, Inc. In contrast to some reviewers who suggested that this upgrade was bereft of major new features, Logan said that the improved interface and other usability factors constituted major changes for their user base.
In addition, DriveSavers' Mike Cobb explained, in consumer-level language, how and why hard drives go bad, and how a recovery service can get your data back. You even heard a true case history involving a world-famous entertainer.
Moving on to another front, on The Paracast this week, we're joined by UFO researcher Philip Mantle and Wing Commander Alan Turner MBE (RAF Retired) discuss an incredible radar-based UFO encounter back in 1971 and other fascinating aspects of the UFO mystery. During this session, you'll also learn about the International UFO Conference in the UK.
Well, I have to play the cliché game again. You see, three times may indeed have been the charm for Apple's efforts to repair the most irritating bugs in the current generation of iPhone software.
The misery for Apple began on that fateful day when they tried to achieve three holes in one, simultaneously introducing the iPhone 3G, the new 2.0 software, and reinventing .Mac as MobileMe.
In retrospect, I would call it one home run and two outs. Yes, there were some activation issues early on for the first few hours the highly-anticipated iPhone 3G went on sale. Perhaps that was a combination of the overload experienced by both Apple's and AT&T's servers in the states, and similar issues around the world where the hot-selling gadget first went on sale.
Regardless, lots of iPhone users complained, and quite loudly. They reported a litany of problems, including application crashes, excessive numbers of dropped calls, poor broadband speeds, and slow user interface response, particularly when checking your contact list. A few pundits suggested the software reeked of beta, even though it was supposedly a final release.
The 2.0.1 and 2.0.2 updates, offering "bug fixes," evidently failed to resolve the most serious issues. The latter supposedly addressed 3G connectivity issues with wireless phone networks, but results proved to be a mixed bag.
Well, some people over at Apple took note, so the 2.1 update came equipped with a fairly complete explanation of the issues that were addressed.
When you clicked Update in iTunes, you got this listing:
- Decrease in call set-up failures and dropped calls.
- Significantly better battery life for most users.
- Dramatically reduced time to backup to iTunes.
- Improved email reliability, notably fetching email from POP and Exchange accounts.
- Faster installation of 3rd party applications.
- Fixed bugs causing hangs and crashes for users with lots of third party applications.
- Improved performance in text messaging.
- Faster loading and searching of contacts.
- Improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display.
- Repeat alert up to two additional times for incoming text messages.
- Option to wipe data after ten failed passcode attempts.
- Genius playlist creation.
There were also eight security updates at various levels of significance. So you can certainly see where this was a fairly comprehensive set of fixes. However, the 2.1 update lacked the key promised new feature, described as push notification. It was first announced at the WWDC in June, and designed to let such programs as AIM function more efficiently within the confines of the iPhone environment.
According to published reports, push notification was pulled recently during the beta process. While Apple doesn't typically talk about the beta process, they might have postponed this feature to spend more time and resources resolving the bread and butter issues, to make the iPhone run more reliably across the board.
With the pedal to the metal, it looks to me as if Apple has succeeded admirably.
I performed the update in iTunes Friday morning, as soon as I saw an announcement of its existence. Everything went flawlessly, but I went ahead and performed one "voodoo" change in the iPhone settings just out of general paranoia, and that was to also reset the network.
Through the weekend, I drove around the immediate neighborhood to see if the update made any of the promised improvements. To be brief, I'm highly encouraged.
When it comes to actual 3G performance, this can vary depending on the time of day, network conditions and so on and so forth. But I repeated a test done previously in front of my bank. Where I had a low download rate of just over 400K on the original test, and nearly twice the speed after 2.0.2, now it exceeded 1.32M; uploads increased to 161K.
Subjectively, sites render in a snappier fashion too. I also noticed far superior handling in the marginal reception areas in my immediate neighborhood. Where before I would just achieve 1 bar with 3G, with the 2.1 firmware, I got four or five bars via EDGE. That indicates a pretty seamless transition, because a conversation I was holding while driving (and using a hands-free adapter, my friends) in the location where services switch didn't miss a beat. With the original iPhone, by the way, I could hardly sustain a clean connection in the same troubled area, though I grant AT&T might have made some of its own network improvements since then.
Since a wireless phone's connection quality also has a lot to do with the way it interacts with the carrier's network, I expect that the iPhone 3G's performance will only improve as more and more users update to the new software.
The major downsides so far are confined to what the new firmware lacks. There's still no support for cut, copy and paste, and, as I said above, the promised push notification capability has yet to arrive. I also encountered a couple of application crashes along the way,
The general flavor of online comments appears quite favorable. Yes, some people claim nothing was fixed, and a few protest that their iPhones perform worse, or stopped working entirely. But that happens with every update from any tech company. I'd say, based on my personal experiences and what I've read so far, just go for it!
If you live in the Phoenix area, you are lucky when it comes to digital TV. You can use your antenna to get the local stations, or subscribe to any of four alternative sources for TV reception. One is the cable provider, Cox, the second is Qwest, the local phone company, which also partners with DirecTV, and there's also Dish Network.
If you watch the TV ads, you'll see claims and counterclaims that perhaps rival those made by the presidential candidates, and they are likely just about as misleading. Qwest doesn't say much about its "Choice" TV service these days, so you're usually left to choose from the other three.
Now, I have occasionally gotten unsolicited calls from Dish Network pushing their services, mostly because I was one of their customers, once. But their claims of a lower price have failed to be demonstrated in the real world. My Cox bundle, consisting of TV, telephone and broadband, affords a discount that Dish simply cannot match.
They promised many more high definition stations, and that's true. But they fail to deliver when it comes to local HDTV fare, where they ignore the independent stations and emphasize network affiliates.
Right now, cable services are in a bit of a pickle when it comes to HDTV. They are busy upgrading their networks to support greater bandwidth and a different video switching method so all the stations don't have to be fed on the network even when not being selected. Cox is, in fact, planning on performing a system upgrade in the next couple of week to, in part, achieve this goal, but will also cause scattered outages until the work is complete. In the end, it will help them realize the promise of delivering approximately 100 high definition stations by the end of the year or early in 2009.
I hope they're right. With just over HDTV 30 stations now, some of my favorites, such as Sci Fi Channel, remain standard definition. But my Panasonic plasma does scale the lower definition stations fairly well, so the difference in sharpness isn't as drastic as it could be. So I compromise for the time being.
I suppose I could switch to satellite again, and give up the local high definition stations Mrs. Steinberg enjoys, but the real issue is that the cheaper satellite service actually isn't cheaper -- at least for me.
As to their respective marketing departments, well, you have to do your best to push the products and services you have. And if you tire of the chronic high-intensity ads, there's always the fast-forward button.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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