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  • Newsletter Issue #547

    May 23rd, 2010

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Can you trust Google? That's a loaded question with all sorts of possibilities, some benign, some potentially frightening. Since Google makes most of its income from selling ads, you surrender your right to block those ads when using their services. This is quite all right, I suppose, when a search screen shows targeted ads about the subjects you want more information about, though I expect it can get mighty intrusive when those ads also appear in your email window (at least when you use their Webmail client) or when requesting driving directions.

    Well, there was recently a report that Google "accidentally" acquired data from unprotected Wi-Fi routers while taking street view pictures in neighborhoods around the world. Supposedly this was due to some sort of "experimental" software that they weren't aware they were using. To believe that behavior continued for three years without discovering the presence of this software seems a stretch to me, though it does seem that few people in the media questioned Google's clearly lame excuse. They just published the story, along with the more recent announcement of a new version of Google's Android software and hardware partnerships to build a TV set top box of some sort.

    So on last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, noted security guru Rich Mogull weighed in on that curious episode involving Google and Wi-Fi networks. He also covered the ins and outs of Facebook security, so you know how to best protect yourself on that service.

    Macworld's Dan Moren brought you up to date on the ongoing soap opera about a certain iPhone 4G prototype recovered by an online blogger publication, based on the recently unveiled information provided in a search warrant request by California law enforcement authorities. He also talked about the arrival of Steam for the Mac, an online gaming repository, and whether it means that games on the Mac platform are poised for a real takeoff at long last.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Paul Kimball presents author and TV personality Nick Pope, who used to run the British Government’s UFO Project. You'll hear Nick's views about ongoing disclosures of UFO evidence by the UK government, significant UFO cases and lots more.

    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.

    THOSE WACKY APPLE CRITICS

    It's perfectly legitimate to criticize Apple for a host of reasons. Some of you might feel the company is too overbearing when it comes to enforcing a tight ecosystem on their mobile and personal computing platforms. Others don't like the fact that Apple doesn't sell cheap gear, and sticks to the most profitable price points. They'd rather have a $500 Mac, but at least they can get a reasonable substitute, the iPad, for that price, assuming you can find one in stock.

    In recent weeks, though, a few uninformed alleged tech journalists have come forth to repeat the claim that Apple is losing luster with their customers, and that they are poised to desert, in droves, to other computing and smartphone platforms. This comes as Apple continues to experience record sales and profits, so I trust you see the disconnect between such allegations and plain old logic.

    Whereas it was common in the old days to refer to Apple as a "beleaguered" company, the chatter today is that they've grown too large and they need to be stopped before they — what? — take over the world? I'm not sure from what we're supposed to be protected.

    Certainly you can look at all the speculation dressed as fact and perhaps find a few snippets of accuracy. But, like certain radio and TV talk show hosts that I won't name, they use this scanty evidence as the basis for extrapolation to create the illusion of major developments.

    Consider the allegation that developers are even now abandoning the App Store and seeking solace in Google's own Apps Marketplace. No doubt some are, but there can be a variety of reasons for such decisions. One is that they can't compete against 200,000 apps and are doing what's best for their own bottom lines, so they go to Google, because they might fare better as a possible big fish in a smaller pond.

    Another reason, equally valid, is that they simply don't agree with Apple's requirements for admission to the App Store, or have had apps rejected. I won't presume to guess why a business changes strategy.

    But that doesn't mean that developers are leaving in droves. At best, the critics can find some who are, but the App Store continues to grow, and there are certainly enough products to replace the ones that go away. It doesn't seem as if Apple's standards are really that controversial. The iPhone 4.0 developer contract limits the way apps are coded to ensure not just efficiency and less bloat, but to make it easier for developers to support the latest and greatest features in the iPhone and iPad. That, to me, ought to be a good thing, and Google would do well to emulate this approach, to lean out the crap in their own software repository.

    I mean, is there actually a killer Google app, other than the needed task killer to keep too many multitasking apps from bringing down the system and killing battery life? What about games? There are 50,000 in the App Store, and many come from the major gaming companies. Can you find similar products in the Google Apps Marketplace?

    The other argument brings us back to the exclusion of Flash, and I have yet to see a single critic answer my critical question on the subject, which is can Adobe deliver a version for the iPhone that meets all the objections expressed by Steve Jobs in his very public blog post on the subject? Adobe can try to change the subject all they want. They can point to the version that's been developed for the Android 2.2 OS, but early reports indicate it's far from stable and still doesn't support many Flash-enabled sites.

    If and when Adobe can provide the demonstration that answers Jobs' objections, then they'd have a case. Otherwise they are just blowing smoke and they should be ignored. Indeed, Adobe is now touting the enhanced support for HTML5 in Dreamweaver, so it seems to me they have come to recognize that this is a battle they cannot win and they are reluctantly ready to move on.

    Sure, it will take years for Flash to really vanish from the Web. Loads of sites will have to be recoded, and the work required may be extensive in some cases, whereas just the simple use of straight HTML rather than Flash for navigation menus, ought to be a fairly modest task. Adobe can hope they can prolong the agony by circling wagons around Apple, hoping that, by signing up other companies to use Flash, Apple can somehow be forced to do the same.

    That could have happened already, if Adobe had been able to prove Flash can be made to work properly on an iPhone, and it's clear they can't. Indeed, a recent survey of potential iPad buyers indicated that some 11% are at all concerned about the lack of Flash support, and, as one online writer suggested, maybe some of those surveyed gave that answer simply because they were asked to think up some negatives.

    Another fallacious argument is the claim that Apple's iPhone sales are losing steam, stemming from a recent report that Android OS phones seemed to be gathering momentum, particularly in the U.S. market. Aside from the fact that there's only one model lineup and one carrier for the iPhone in this country, and loads of models and support by all the major carriers with Android OS products, it's also true that iPhone sales are soaring. In the last quarter, Apple reported they had more than doubled over the previous year. That, to me, is good news, even if some prefer to rely strictly on negative talking points.

    In the same vein is the news that the latest crop of smartphones, using Android or otherwise, have more impressive hardware specs. Certainly with new product introductions every few weeks, it's easy for other wireless handset makers to leverage the newest processors and other parts. Apple has only upgraded the iPhone once a year so far, and they don't sell them via spec alone, and even when specs are published, aside from physical dimensions and a few odds and ends, the focus is on the numbers most important to the customer, particularly battery life.

    Those rampant reports about the discovery of recent iPhone prototypes indicate that the next version, expected in June, will have all the expected hardware enhancements, along with iPhone 4.0. The new software will answer the multitasking objections, and performance will certainly be impressive even if you judge by the existing models. I've never felt my iPhone 3GS was slow, because Apple has focused carefully on the OS enhancements that deliver snappy response.

    Obviously the marketplace will decide, in the end, whether Apple has anything to fear from the competition and changing customer tastes. But there's no evidence right now that they are in trouble, even if some of the fear merchants would have it otherwise.

    BILL GATES WOULD NEVER MAKE IT AS A FORTUNE TELLER

    There is little doubt that Bill Gates is great at selling second-rate software and becoming rich and famous. He is not so good at predicting the future, evidently, either with product previews or when he tries to predict industry trends.

    According to a published report in Atlantic, in the 15 years since the publication of his book, "The Road Ahead," he has been shown to be wrong far more often than he was right. Among the key areas where he failed to guess true industry trends, he seriously underestimated the impact of the Internet and how it would take over our daily lives. He also failed to comprehend how Wi-Fi would come to dominate home networking.

    Worse, he was utterly clueless about online shopping. Somehow he expected customers to routinely videoconference with merchants before making a purchase. These days, people buy cars with nothing more than a few clicks and perhaps a brief exchange of emails.

    A main area where he actually got something right was his vision of what has become the smartphone, the marriage of a wireless phone and personal computer. But even here, Microsoft has failed to deliver a compelling operating system and their market share is shrinking rapidly. So you have to wonder why the media takes Gates so seriously when he is often far off the mark.

    In contrast, yet another article demonstrates that, if there is a prophet to be found among the tech industry giants, that person is Steve Jobs. Indeed, if you look through the 13 quotes in that piece, you'll find that Jobs had a handle on not just the industry as it existed back in 1985, but on trends that wouldn't happen until many years later. If this is even a fraction of his visions for the future, he knew, instinctively, how the Mac would mature, not to mention the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad.

    He knew then that many people in the industry can still barely grasp, even his friend/arch-competitor Bill Gates. No wonder he succeeded in taking Apple back from the brink, and placing it just behind Microsoft in terms of sales and market cap. Some suggest that Apple will exceed Microsoft in both categories before the end of the year, and that's not a stretch. Despite the naysayers, there's little to indicate that Apple will hit any serious road blocks as it continues to prosper.

    If there's a downside to all this joy, it's the fact that nobody can say how long Steve Jobs will remain reasonably healthy and/or willing to continue to run Apple. There will inevitably come a time when he will decide to surrender his leadership to someone else. But if he is able to foresee industry trends 25 years ahead, perhaps he already has some good ideas for 2035 that he'll leave his successors to implement.

    But there's one thing to say in Bill Gates' favor, and that's his decision to give away a large portion of his great wealth via his charitable foundation. Maybe he'll even decide to help save this country's moribund space program, and that would be a wonderful legacy for him and his heirs.

    Now let me just end this little commentary with my own prediction, which was made in a science fiction series my son and I wrote several years ago, and that is that Bill Gates would be best remembered not for the PC and Windows, but his great philanthropic achievements. I hope I'm right about that one.

    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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