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  • Newsletter Issue #542

    April 18th, 2010

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    One problem with being on the top: Lots of bottom-feeders want to take you down, and sometimes they use the media as their accomplice, unwitting or otherwise. So, in the weeks before the iPad came out, most of what you heard was that it lacked multitasking and there was no support for Flash. How dare they?

    Seldom mentioned was the fact that multitasking is only rarely needed. Most iPhone and iPad users won't encounter situations where they will suffer greatly by its absence, though I realize that if you want to stream music from Pandora, for example, you won't be able to do anything else without halting the connection. It's a good thing that Apple has devised a workable solution that, for the most part, doesn't appear to hurt performance or battery life. I say "for the most part," because some apps, such as those requiring GPS, are apt to suck it dry much faster. But at least you won't have to use a task killer or restart your gadget to set things right, as you do with other mobile platforms. Instead, just quit the single app that's most offensive and get on with your business.

    Now on last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the iPad remained front and center, as Apple reported selling 500,000 units the very first week. What this means is that the international rollout was delayed until May and, by the way, be careful about flying to Israel with your iPad, because it is apt to be confiscated, pending an investigation of the product's Wi-Fi capabilities. As they say on my home town of Brooklyn, NY, don't ask.

    But the fact that the iPad isn't yet on sale outside the U.S. didn't stop columnist Kirk McElhearn from having one sent by a friend who lives stateside to his home in France, and so he gave you his hands-on experiences, including a direct comparison with the Amazon Kindle and his evaluation of the forthcoming iPhone 4.0 update.

    Cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, was on hand to address those rumors that Adobe is poised to sue Apple over such problems as the lack of support for Flash on Apple's mobile platform, and the controversial change in the developer's license. This revised agreement evidently blocks using cross-platform tools or Flash to build iPhone apps.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Paul Kimball presents a roundtable featuring science fiction author and filmmaker Paul Davids and paranormal writer Nicholas Redfern to discuss the dysfunctional relationship between Sci-Fi, UFOs and the paranormal.

    Coming April 25: We continue to explore the mystery of Earth-based UFOs and the frontiers of our reality, as expressed by the late Mac Tonnies and others, with co-host Christopher O'Brien and Walter Bosley, Mike Clelland, T. Allen Greenfield, and William Michael Mott.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    GARTNER AND IDC NEED TO GET THEIR FIGURES STRAIGHT

    Without going into all of the boring specifics, depending on which set of estimates you believe, Apple is well positioned to grow the Mac platform or, perhaps, they can't keep pace with the PC industry's resurgence.

    But I will mention two sets of numbers. According to Gartner, Apple sold 1.398 million Macs during the March quarter, while IDC sets the figure at 1.13 million. Houston, we have a problem!

    Now I realize that these figures are strictly estimates, and there's apt to be a fudge factor of several percent one way or the other, but when they differ by over 285,000 units, clearly something is very, very wrong. Should we attack their methodology, or do they have a hidden agenda that results in faulty numbers?

    I am not about to hazard a guess whether either firm is faking figures here. I don't know, but Apple will reveal the actual figures this coming week. In the meantime it's very possible that people who believe that Apple isn't keeping up against Windows 7 might dump their Apple stock, which would serve the greed of financial gangsters who profit from bad news. But it's only a short-term dip most likely.

    Unless Apple reports less-than-stellar quarterly numbers, and the odds are against that prospect, the stock price will likely remain at its present level or increase this coming week. The folks who bought the stocks at the slightly cheaper prices they may have generated with bogus bad news will find reason to cheer at the expense of those who were victimized.

    Now I'm not saying there is truly a conspiracy at work here. It may well be that both Gartner and IDC are, fundamentally, incompetent when it comes to estimating PC sales to anything but an extremely rough degree. In other words, you can't take them seriously and you should definitely not make investment decisions that depend on which analyst you believe.

    One thing is sure, and that is that Apple usually beats the street, unless expectations are unreasonably high. Apple's own financial guidance, what they estimate to earn in a coming quarter, tends to be extremely conservative, but you know when they deliver those numbers, they've already seen trends that developed over a few weeks. They know whether new products or promotional initiatives are in the pipeline and they are smart enough to guess what's probably going to happen.

    Sometimes, though, the public gets ahead of Apple. Take last fall's iMac revision, where Apple couldn't keep up with demand for the 27-inch model. Some might suggest production problems, and that the various screen-related defects were responsible for keeping manufacturing levels low while solutions were devised. But there's no evidence of that anywhere. The fact is that, for the first time in years, you can buy a mid-priced Macintosh and get all or most of the performance of a high-end model.

    I think the last time I could do that dates back to the days of the IIci or early Quadra models, where you could get much of the speed of the most expensive model if you were willing to lose a few expansion slots that few people needed.

    Unless you are using one of the rare apps that can make dual quad-core Xeons sing, a quad-core 27-inch iMac is a marvelous computer. All or most of the screen display bugs are history after four firmware updates. I was never afflicted, by the way.

    What's more, there are apparently no more shipping delays. You may have to wait a few days to get a custom-configured model, but that's par for the course. As I write this issue, the iMac is still listed as the top seller at Apple's online store, even though the newest generation of MacBook Pros began to ship several days ago. Of course, updated figures might change that as demand for the new notebooks improves.

    In any case, I really find it difficult to understand what, other than inertia and a specific corporate purchasing policy, fuels sales of PCs equipped with Windows 7. The latest ads promoting the new OS are all perfectly awful. Someone touts a useless feature of Windows 7, and then declares they invented it! Does Microsoft believe people are this dumb? Or maybe they just don't know any better.

    On the other hand, maybe their focus groups are demonstrating that the campaign has indeed gained traction, but the corporate people who buy most PCs probably don't allow some stupid TV ad, from anyone, to influence their purchasing decisions.

    In any case, maybe Apple would do well to take the same approach they used on occasion when they touted a specific download goal at, say, iTunes, with incremental numbers. Every time a Mac is sold, regardless of which model, you would see the numbers on Apple's site. The same would hold true for the iPad, iPhone and iPod. You'd basically get the numbers that Apple would be disclosing anyway as part of its required quarterly financial statements.

    Yes, there are times these numbers will dip into areas that don't make the company look good, because sales will move in fits and starts however well a product is doing in the real world. But it would likely stop the armchair critics from using bogus numbers to make Apple look bad. Let Apple do that all by themselves if that's how the sales figures turn out, and maybe people who want to invest in Apple stock will have a more accurate benchmark to consult.

    Then again, it's also true that the nasty, noisy negativists who want to declare Apple a villain and a failure wouldn't believe the real numbers anyway.

    NET NEUTRALITY AND REALITY

    Now consider the implications: The FCC wants to prevent your ISP from blocking or slowing traffic from a particular site for any reason or no reason whatever. This means, for example, that they can't keep you from retrieving files from a download site at the speeds you paid for, or prevent you from using an Internet telephone provider rather than your local phone or cable company.

    Unfortunately their initial attempt to put a stop to traffic throttling was struck down by the courts, supposedly because the FCC didn't have the proper jurisdiction. So the FCC has gone back to the drawing boards to change regulations in a way that will pass legal muster, or perhaps revert to a system they previously used, where ISPs were regulated as so-called "common carriers."

    Now the political climate in the U.S. these days is nothing short of insane, and some folks want you to believe that yes is really no, and that policies designed to help you are really secret plots to destroy the country. Without getting involved in any particular political persuasion, the net neutrality initiative has also become fodder for talking heads to rant and rave that it's a scheme to allow the government to control the information you can get online.

    Without pondering the implications, the policy is actually designed to prevent ISPs from managing your ability to access the sites you want, the information you want, and the files you want. Yes, if those files happen to be illegal, or you engage in unlawful conduct online, you will suffer the consequences if you're caught, and your ISP has appropriate terms and conditions about such behavior. Beyond that, you should be free to do what you want.

    The ISPs, who often hold a monopoly or near-monopoly position in a given locality, will complain that they have a right to restrict your access to sites that place too much of a demand on their network, since that costs them more money to manage. On the other hand, you are already paying appropriate fees for access. If that money isn't sufficient to cover their expenses, then they have the right, within the possible limits imposed by state authorities, to raise their rates. These days, a broadband carrier will provide several tiers of service. You pay for the speed and maximum bandwidth you require; if you exceed the latter, they have the right to pad your bill appropriately or cut you off. But that's only logical.

    I would hope that, shorn of the foolish political rhetoric, the ISPs will just show a little common sense and agree, in writing, not to throttle or block legal Internet traffic and that's the beginning and end of it. You don't want governments to get involved, because there's always the possibility of excess or inadequate protections, neither of which help anyone solve a problem. But if the FCC has to find a way to deal with the situation, one hopes it'll be done in the spirit of common sense and in recognition that the Internet belongs to everyone, even if you have to pay someone to achieve a connection.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #542”

    1. dfs says:

      While, being naturally-pro consumer (being one myself), I must admit that the ISP providers do have a legitimate beef when it comes to bandwidth-hogging subscribers. In the first place, it’s possible for a subscriber to act irresponsibly and consume more than his fair share of bandwidth. When, for ex., I originally signed up for high-speed internet, one feature of my contract was that I agreed not to use my account to operate a server. Since my ISP service has changed hands a couple of time since then, I have no idea whether that’s still in force, but I think it’s a good idea to act as if it is. But the next guy might not figure it that way. Second, people are doing things which, although legal and aboveboard, are putting a strain on internet service like never before, the growing popularity of downloading feature-length movies being one case in point, offsite backup services that can store a huge amount of data being another, and the introduction of new mobile devices like theiPad being a third, and I can see that an ISP provider might be nervous that his current system may be inadequate to handle this amount of traffic, which it may never have been designed to carry. So I find my sympathies on this kind of issue are a little bit divided. What’s to be done? Well, I can see two answers. First, the infrastructure needs to be beefed up and speeded up to handle modern demands and anticipate future ones, and although I am rather conservative by nature I am willing to accept the idea that funding this may be beyond the ability of commercial ISP outfits and may require governmental funding. Well, okay. The quality and speed of service in countries we envy, such as Japan, S. Korea, and France were only achieved that way, and I’ll admit that’s a good investment of government money. Second, more practically and immediately, I have absolutely no idea how much bandwidth I myself am consuming, because nobody has given me the tools I need to determine this. I may be a bandwidth hog myself for all I know to the contrary. I’m accustomed to modifying my behavior in other areas for the sake of conserving resources, and if it turns out my use of bandwidth is excessive I’m willing to change my bandwith-consumption habits as well (for ex. by limiting my substantial downloads to off-peak hours). So why, oh why, won’t somebody give me the software I need to monitor my usage pattern and give me a picture of what I’m doing?

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