I'm not much into making predictions about forthcoming Apple products. With the WWDC keynote just a day away, and the world eagerly awaiting the latest and greatest gear from Cupertino, CA according to CEO Steve Jobs, I'm not apt to want to expand the prognostications beyond what most of you already know. There will be a new iPhone announced, a final release date for that upgrade plus iPhone 4.0, along with various and sundry lesser product and service introductions.
There may be a surprise or two in the lot, and for that you might just want to closely examine the pronouncements from Jobs during that AllThingsDigital conference last week. Maybe therein lies a clue, and perhaps it's one where Apple is throwing cold water over the prospects of something or other. Or maybe not.
Meantime, on last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author and commentator Kirk McElhearn ranted about cable clutter and possible solutions to the "rats nest" behind your computer and below your desk. Rest assured, I feel his pain, though I've been working hard to eliminate unnecessary wiring. Kirk also examined the various comments Steve Jobs made in that recent interview.
Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell was on hand to explain why he feels that Apple must seriously consider opening the iPhone platform, and I'll have more to say about that in this week's feature story. He also presented his reactions to that Steve Jobs interview and went on to deliver his fearless reactions to the last TV season in the U.S. along with his expectations for summer and fall.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-hosts Paul Kimball and Christopher O'Brien present veteran UFO researcher Kevin D. Randle, author of "Crash: When UFOs Fall From the Sky: A History of Famous Incidents, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups."
Coming June 13: Co-host Christopher O'Brien introduces UFO/humanoid researcher Albert S. Rosales, who not only brings you up to date on these unusual encounters throughout history, but reports on his own amazing personal experiences.
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.
At last week's AllThingsDigital conference, sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, both Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer were front and center, on different days. Unlike that famous joint appearance between Jobs and Bill Gates, the sponsors of this year's event opted for separate sessions. Or maybe Jobs and Ballmer wanted it that way.
Regardless, in looking over the transcripts from the two events, you could get a pretty good idea of someone who is in total control of his business affairs and one who is cracking at the seams.
This doesn't mean that you should take everything Jobs said as gospel. His pronouncements, however sincere he might seem, are surely self-serving. He isn't going to do anything that materially impacts Apple's bottom line, although it's refreshing to hear him explain why the company he co-founded picks and chooses which markets to enter so carefully.
One of the most significant things to come out of his comments is that Apple cannot be all things to all people. Their vertically integrated, tightly controlled ecosystem may not appeal to some of you who prefer a more "open" environment. This isn't to say that Apple is really that restrictive, but the entire approach remains controversial.
There are always going to be demands for Apple to give you more choices, for otherwise the skeptics might win and hurt Apple's sales significantly. Recently, Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell suggested that Apple ought to build an "Exit," sign, where you can leave the safe confines of the App Store and download and install software from any source you want. Such an approach would mean that you'd probably have to click a few check boxes, and agree that you won't hold Apple responsible if your iPhone or iPad becomes ridden with malware, or crashes repeatedly as a result.
I don't agree, however, with the justification for Jason's request. You see, he was heavily influenced by a coworker who was sadly misinformed about Apple's approach, believing you couldn't open PDF or anything other than Apple's own proprietary formatted files on an iPad. I suppose some people might believe that, although the truth is that Apple's mobile platform is compatible with a wide variety of industry standard technologies. Adobe Flash, if you need to ask, is proprietary.
Yes, perhaps Jason's colleague was unfairly swayed by some of the more slimy tech pundits who continue to manufacture serious conspiracy theories about Apple and its goals to take over the technology world. But that doesn't mean a lot of people believe that way. Most who will buy an Apple mobile gadget never think in those terms. Even the arguments about the lack of multitasking and Flash fall on deaf ears.
In any case, at least you understand the logic behind the decisions Steve Jobs made, because he also seemed pretty forthright about the thinking processes that went into making those decisions, whether you agree with them or not.
Compare that to the state of affairs over at Microsoft.
Certainly you know that Microsoft's erratic CEO, Steve Ballmer, has been unable to parlay Microsoft's success beyond the core operating systems, server products and office suites, except for some financial success with the Xbox. All their other product initiatives have been tried over and over again, in different guises, but they remain unsuccessful. If you take the "buck stops here approach" to corporate leadership, you have to say Ballmer has failed and must accept the consequences of that failure.
When Apple caught up with Microsoft's market cap and then exceeded that figure, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. Microsoft's stock price has remained relatively stagnant for years, because investors have little confidence in that company's future. In a sense, Microsoft is where IBM was situated in the 1980s, on top of the world with no place to go but down.
It didn't seem during his session at ATD that Ballmer has any meaningful strategy to voice to help get Microsoft out of its dilemma. Ballmer clearly doesn't agree with Jobs that the PC era is yesterday's news, again boasting that Windows is on more than 90% of the world's computing desktops. But if the number of those desktops soon starts to decline big time, as more and more people buy an Apple iPad (or perhaps some competing products that use the Google Chrome OS), what is Microsoft to do then?
Even though Microsoft has touted tablet computing for a decade now, there is still no breakout Windows-based product. Just about everything that's out there serves a limited function in a vertical market, such as a physician's office. Indeed, our family doctor uses them, but you feel his pain and that of his assistants as they are forced to switch from stylus to keyboard and back again in order to bring up patient information and make updates. I often wonder what they'd do if they lost the stylus. Would they have to stop the examination and rush to the storage room for another, as the patient sat on the examining table in severe pain?
Yes, I also suppose Microsoft also has to worry an awful lot about Google. Despite unloading tens of millions of dollars in development and promotion, Bing hasn't done much better than its predecessors. Sure, the combination with Yahoo! may deliver an overall boost in market share, but Google is a verb when it comes to Internet search. Microsoft hasn't a clue how to make it better, and those pathetic TV ads don't help. Then again, since Microsoft believes that the best feature of Windows 7 is the ability to pin document windows at the corner the screens, you can well understand why they are in deep trouble, even if sales and profits are still pretty good.
On the long haul, though, when you watch the always optimistic Steve Jobs in action in a public sitting and compare that to the pathetic excuses from the CEO of Microsoft, you can see where these two companies are heading without a road map.
Although the tech media, clearly aching for a compelling announcement about a new tech gadget or service from someone other than Apple Inc., has made a big deal about Google TV, I'm not impressed. For one thing, it's not altogether clear just what advantages are supposed to be brought to the table.
I mean, most cable and satellite appliances are surely capable of letting you search for shows and movies in the somewhat clumsy fashion required of hardware without a keyboard or touch feature. So other than inserting targeted ads and general Internet searching, it's hard to see where Google TV gains an advantage. Trying to manage email accounts on your TV is nothing new. WebTV, before and after Microsoft bought that company, never really gained traction. These days, an iPad is a far more flexible Internet device even to the technically challenged.
Now Google TV is supposedly going to be available as a standalone product from one or more major electronics manufacturers, or as a software update to your cable or TV box. Are you feeling a yawn coming on?
The real question is how many interfaces do you need for your TV, and what purpose do they serve? Apple TV, still nascent and in search of a market, delivers iTunes and other digital content from your Mac and PC. But it's also another box that has to be hooked up to your set separate from the one used to access your cable or satellite service. That's already a source of potential confusion, because it also forces you to select yet another input for that content. It's enough that you also have to push a button to switch to your DVD (or Blu-ray) player, gaming console or your ancient VCR, if you even still have one.
I do understand why Steve Jobs is so skeptical about how you might enhance your TV's features and connectivity without adding unneeded complexity. It's also true that some of the cable companies in the U.S. were supposed to phase in a software upgrade from TiVo for your DVR. But other than some limited testing, years have gone by without any inkling of success. TiVo meanwhile struggles with their own hardware, but licensing is where their only chance for true success lies.
Now having used DVRs from Scientific Atlanta, distributed by Cox Communications, and the ones offered by Dish Network, it seems to me that they all get the job done, even if the interfaces are a little rough around the edges. Normally selecting a show for later viewing is a one or two-click affair, and you can even do a Season Pass sort of arrangement, so you can catch all the new episodes usually without having to concern yourself about whether the network engages in a little time slot musical chairs.
Yes, I suppose TiVo's software is better, but when there are 75% or 85% solutions around for free or a modest monthly fee, there's very little argument left for anyone to buy a separate commercial product and then pay just one more monthly fee for ongoing service. Indeed, TiVo is mostly restricted to cable, except for the on-again, off-again arrangement with the DirecTV satellite service.
For now, I'm perfectly content with the current arrangement. Yes, newer TVs might offer additional programming, such as being able to download movie streams from Netflix and other services — although the latest Blu-ray players from many companies perform similar functions. Beyond that, it would be nice to see a more all-encompassing solution that addresses the interface shortcomings of the current arrangement.
Some are suggesting Apple might some day offer that solution with an all-in-one TV that includes, if anyone still cares by then, a Blu-ray player, 3D, plus integrated connectivity for your cable and satellite services, along with the various download and streaming providers, not just iTunes. Of course, that would require cooperation from the satellite providers; there's already a card-based solution for the cable companies. But the TV market is saturated and a source of low profits for most companies who are still involved.
So where might Apple contribute to your entertainment center? Or should you believe Steve Jobs when he says that Apple isn't smart enough to figure it all out? At least not yet.
THE FINAL WORD
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