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  • Newsletter Issue #482

    February 22nd, 2009

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    I suppose you can agree with me that the iPhone is a highly-intuitive product. I mean most people manage to figure it out pretty much without any reading matter to guide them along. But that doesn't mean they know how to exploit its power. There are features that aren't so obvious, and trial and error doesn't always reveal them.

    So on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented tips and tricks on how to get the most value out of your iPhone with Ted Landau, author of “Take Control of Your iPhone,” which is now in its second mammoth edition.

    Indeed, Ted is a well-known expert on ferreting out information that isn't readily known, which made this a sold fact-filled segment. 

    In addition, PCMag.com’s Lance Ulanoff was on hand to talk about the miracle of actually putting a TV set on a contact lens. Is this something coming in the near future? Well, not quite. Consider, though, that the technology to deliver on that promise, a flat screen invention called OLED, is already available in the marketplace. Maybe it'll even get cheap enough so most of you can readily afford it.

    You also heard some fascinating insights about how dictation software works, and news about the latest version of Dictate with Andrew Taylor, founder and CEO of MacSpeech. During the interview, Andrew traced his own extensive background as a programmer and how speech recognition had matured over the years.

    On The Paracast this week, Richard M. Dolan, author of "UFOs and the National Security State," which is now becoming a trilogy, returns to talk about compelling UFO sightings and what he says is the ongoing government-led cover-up.

    Coming March 1, 2009: Stephen Bassett, Executive Director of the Paradigm Research Group, sponsor of X-Conference 2009, talks about UFO disclosure and what we know and don't know about the presence of strange craft on our planet.

    Now available! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We're taking orders on The Paracast home page, where you'll find a Buy Now logo, so you can begin the ordering process. They come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." You can get them for $14.95, each, plus shipping and are available in most popular sizes.

    IS MICROSOFT THE CATCH UP KING?

    Let's take a fascinating journey through time, before many of you readers were using Macs or any personal computer for that matter. Back in the 1980s, when most user interfaces were text-based, Apple burst on the scene with the Macintosh.

    Even then, though, they only had a minority share of the marketplace (although larger than it is now), and Microsoft soon decided to build a competitive operating system known as Windows. At first, Windows was just a graphical shell atop DOS, but the intent was similar, and that was to bring personal computing to the masses. And, of course. make lots and lots of money.

    Even before then, Microsoft's approach to the tech business was well-established. Over the years, they have asked government regulators for the right to innovate. But, historically, they have merely attempted to play catch up with existing technology and exploit it to beat out the competition by any means possible. Very seldom -- if ever -- do they actually advance the state of the art, except when it comes to generating record profits from their products.

    That is, except for most anything that strays beyond their original business model, which encompassed software and not hardware.

    When it comes to software, however, Microsoft continues to copy rather than create something new and different. Not so many years ago, for example, I attended an Apple session, the WWDC, where the company boldly put up banners labeled, "Microsoft, start your copy machines."

    That sarcastic crack may have had a humorous intent, but it was also true. It's hard to find any significant  Windows feature that did not, in some form, originate on the Mac.Of course, it's not that Apple hasn't cribbed a few odds and ends from Microsoft, such as adding a clearly-labeled Help menu rather than a silly icon, or even their variation of the keyboard shortcut for switching between applications.

    However, Microsoft doesn't seem to have spent much of its huge R&D budget in the worthy effort of taking operating system technology well into the 21st century. Windows 7, for example, has a Dock-variant. Now, in the scheme of things, I suppose that's superior to the Windows taskbar, but that's not the point.

    You see, the Dock can be controversial. It isn't necessarily Apple's finest achievement either. In a sense it's a modern rendition of the NeXT Dock, taking advantage of fancier display technology and a handful of better ideas.

    When Mac OS X first came out, lots of Mac users clamored for the Classic Mac OS's Launcher, the original configurable Apple menu and other features that weren't always carried over. The Dock wasn't their favorite feature. But that's OK. I think most of you are, by now, accustomed to its advantages and eccentricities, as I am.

    It only took Microsoft nine years to assemble an imitation Dock. But there are other products and features they've managed to imitate in a shorter period of time.

    Take their answer to the iPod, the Zune. Yes, it's been an abject failure. Indeed, the product strikes you as something designed to resemble the iPod built two years earlier. But in that segment, being late to the party doesn't count. Besides, Microsoft's decision to abandon its partners who embraced its PlaysForSure DRM scheme didn't do anything but upset the firms building other so-called iPod killers.

    So the Zune has failed and deserves to fail, even though Microsoft still, officially at least, plans to keep building new versions of their iPod-wannabe until they get it right. I suppose they don't realize that the market for media players has topped out, and people have moved on.

    That takes us to Windows Mobile 6.5, their pathetic effort to catch a buzz and steal some sales away from the iPhone. On the surface, the pictures I've seen reveal a user interface that's designed not to mimic the iPhone so much as the standard Windows PC desktop. However, there will at least be a functional version of Internet Explorer, and I suppose that's not a bad thing for customers who will be saddled with a phone that'll use Microsoft's technology.

    As to touch capability, understand that Apple has applied for lots of patents covering variations of Multi-Touch. It'll be really difficult for a competitor to steal their thunder unless they can somehow discover a different way to touch a screen and make it do things.

    Indeed, with Windows Mobile 6.5, you may end up using a stylus, in the fashion of the Palm Pilot, rather than your fingers. Well, at least the screen won't get quite so smudged, but that's not going to help Microsoft steal Apple's thunder.

    Of course, it's also part of Microsoft's culture to claim that the current product is just a beginning, and better versions are on the horizon. Only they never seem to arrive or, if they do, they don't contain the features that were originally promised.

    You'd think a company that can afford to spend billions and billions of dollars developing technology can somehow set some of the cash aside and figure out how to really innovate, not just as a buzzword, but for real.

    That, however, as I've said before, may require that Microsoft shed its tired leadership and discover a better way to do things. Alas, it may be years before they get the message -- and maybe that revelation won't come until it's too late for them.

    DOES APPLE NEED TO CONQUER THE LIVING ROOM?

    There's a feeling on the part of the tech media that Apple is missing the boat by not finding a way to conquer the living room. By that, they appear to mean devising some sort of conduit that completely integrates the personal computer with your TV set and sound system.

    This seems a worthy goal, and it's also true that the so-called Windows media center PCs have tried and failed capture the marketplace. They strike me, for example, as pathetic attempts to mix the functions of a DVR with a PC. That means being able to receive and record TV programs.

    Somehow, some way, with Apple TV, that dilemma was supposed to be resolved. However, Apple TV, despite sales increasing three times in the last quarter of 2008 compared to the previous year, remains a hobby for the company. If you can believe that claim, then the end game just isn't apparent yet.

    Some have suggested that maybe Apple should make a deal with TiVO and incorporate that failing company's technology in Apple TV. That way, you can receive and record your favorite cable or satellite TV shows too.

    The problem is that TiVO is struggling today because those same cable and satellite companies discovered that they could emulate a usable portion of TiVO's feature set with free or cheap set top boxes. After winning a court battle over intellectual property rights with Dish Network, TiVO evidently feels that they can prosper, at long last, by licensing their technology to these companies. Indeed, Comcast is already deploying a TiVO add-on for their cable boxes in some parts of the country, and Cox Communications is right behind.

    Some suggest that Dish may be forced to make a similar deal, unless they can prove that their current lineup of set top boxes somehow legally sidesteps TiVO's patent rights.

    The upshot of all this, of course, is that there is really no need for Apple to emulate the DVR, since most anyone who wants one already possesses one or more of these devices or can get one easily. The one that I have from Cox, built by the Scientific Atlanta division of Cisco, is quite serviceable. Maybe it doesn't have the bells and whistles of a genuine TiVO, but storage capacity is adequate, approximately 20 high definition shows and hundreds of the standard definition variety. I can easily set it up to record all the new episodes of my favorite shows, even if time slots shift. In other words, it satisfactorily meets my needs, and I bet many of you will agree.

    Apple, on the other hand, focuses its content on iTunes, from music tracks to TV shows and movies. Would it make sense for them to make it possible to receive conventional TV fare on an Apple TV, when they are busy offering alternate content resources? Not to me.

    Now it may well be that Apple is still seeking a direction for Apple TV. Maybe you can extrapolate their intentions from the existing features, and how they may be enhanced. But leave it to Apple to have lots of surprises in the pipeline for Apple TV, and they may not be quite what you expect. With Apple, it seldom is.

    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
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    7 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #482”

    1. zek says:

      I love your articles, long enough to be interesting and usually thoughtful. But Please!!!! Get rid of that ad with horrible kid eating spaghetti or whatever it is. That gets more annoying every time I see it.

      All the best...

      Reply To This Comment

    2. zek wrote:

      I love your articles, long enough to be interesting and usually thoughtful. But Please!!!! Get rid of that ad with horrible kid eating spaghetti or whatever it is. That gets more annoying every time I see it.

      All the best…

      I honestly don't know which ad you mean. We do have a contract with an agency that provides ads in rotation. If you can tell me the name of the advertiser, however, I can omit it from our sites. But I don't see all the ads myself; I'd have to be watching constantly. :)

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    3. John says:

      I can't say that Apple needs to conquer the living room, but this is one looong-time Mac user who is looking (hoping) for an Apple branded solution... and the Apple TV is definitely not it. I have zip interest in renting TV shows or movies. I haven't rented a movie since DVDs arrived. I won't rent what I haven't seen, and if I've seen something once at the theater and consider it worth seeing again more than once, I'll buy it. IMO, renting entertainment is a waste of money.

      I think there is definitely a market for a DVR that works as simple as a VCR, and does not come with strings attached... strings in the form of a subscription to either a TV guide service or to a cable/satellite service. (Which are more services I think are a waste. I never needed a guide/cable/satellite subscription to use a VCR.) All I'm interested in is time shifting over-the-air TV programs... and time-shifting HD programs would be great. Why is such a device next to impossible to find now? That's a rhetorical question... I think we all know why.

      I was all set to buy a Mac Mini with a third party peripheral for a HTPC setup... until I realized that the Mini is way over due for an update, so I figured I'd wait a while.

      But I don't want to wait too long, I'm missing a bunch of shows I like to watch in HD.

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Most people who want quality TV reception have cable or satellite. They all provide DVRs. They aren't always the best, unless they use TiVO technology, but they are reasonably easy to use and efficient. I am sure Apple could come up with a better solution, but I think it would be redundant and not what their core focus should be.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    5. zek says:

      Gene Steinberg wrote:

      I honestly don’t know which ad you mean. We do have a contract with an agency that provides ads in rotation. If you can tell me the name of the advertiser, however, I can omit it from our sites. But I don’t see all the ads myself; I’d have to be watching constantly.
      Peace,
      Gene

      No, sorry, efoodsdirect.com are cool, and you need to earn your crust, it's just the annoying kid with the oversaturated spaghetti and the stupid look on his face and... never mind, it's just me!

      Reply To This Comment

    6. zek wrote:

      Gene Steinberg wrote:

      I honestly don’t know which ad you mean. We do have a contract with an agency that provides ads in rotation. If you can tell me the name of the advertiser, however, I can omit it from our sites. But I don’t see all the ads myself; I’d have to be watching constantly.
      Peace,
      Gene

      No, sorry, efoodsdirect.com are cool, and you need to earn your crust, it’s just the annoying kid with the oversaturated spaghetti and the stupid look on his face and… never mind, it’s just me!

      OK, I know what you are talking about now. Well, they aren't about to change what has, for them, been a successful campaign. But I will send your feedback anyway. You never know.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    7. John says:

      Gene Steinberg wrote:

      Most people who want quality TV reception have cable or satellite. They all provide DVRs. They aren’t always the best, unless they use TiVO technology, but they are reasonably easy to use and efficient. I am sure Apple could come up with a better solution, but I think it would be redundant and not what their core focus should be.

      Well, not to be argumentative, but I have to say the quality of the TV reception I get with OTA beats what I got via satellite for the past three years and the cable reception I've seen on various friends TVs... and I live thirty miles north of Phoenix.

      And from what I've read at various home theater forums, my experience isn't unique at all... particularly as regards HD reception, as it appears the providers noticeably compress HD signals in order to get them thru their pipelines, be they wire or satellite signals.

      I just want a digital video recorder... without the unwanted, unnecessary and extraneous rigamaroles of satellite, cable or TV program guide subscriptions... like I had with my VCRs.

      I agree Apple could come up with a better solution, and that it is not what their core focus should be (THAT ought to be Macs). However, since DVR functionality doesn't exist in an Apple product, I don't see how it's redundant... and it would certainly be a nice option. If Apple allowed this thru an AppleTV hooked to a Mac Mini, I'd buy such a setup in an instant.

      Reply To This Comment

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