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  • Newsletter Issue #561

    August 30th, 2010

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So in the wake of that notorious blog posting from Steve Jobs explaining why Apple was blocking Flash on the iOS, the media, no doubt influenced, at least in part, by Adobe's complaints, went on the attack. Apple was exerting too much control over the platform, it was a power play. The actual points Jobs raised were lost in the subsequent debate.

    That is, until people actually got a chance to see how the latest and greatest Flash fared on the Android OS. Suddenly, it didn't seem Jobs was so far off the mark after all.

    Indeed, on Saturday night's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Avram Piltch, online editor for Laptop magazine, explained why he reluctantly came to believe Steve Jobs that Flash performance is troublesome on mobile devices. While his tests did show Flash working all right on sites specifically recommended by Adobe, other sites produced pathetic performance. More to the point, loads of sites simply wouldn't run properly on devices with a touch-based interface. Jobs said that too, but they weren't listening.

    In the next segment, we had a return appearance from Matt Mullenweg, one of the creators of the popular WordPress blogging platform, who talked about the history of the open source application and plans for the future.

    Noted Mac author and commentator Ted Landau discussed the prospects for a new Apple TV — which some are referring to via its original proposed name, iTV -- and whether Apple should build a new version of the MacBook Air.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents a return engagement by veteran UFO and paranormal investigator Ray Stanford. The bill of fare includes an incredible series of UFO encounters in and around White Sands, New Mexico in 1978.

    Coming September 5 (Rescheduled): Co-host Nicholas Redfern presents an interview with journalist Jason Offutt, who returns to The Paracast to talk about his latest book, "What Lurks Beyond: The Paranormal in Your Backyard (New Odyssey Series)."

    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.

    IS THIS WHY WE SHOULD HATE AT&T?

    Although I'm not regarded by Apple as a top-tier reviewer — in the fashion of a Walt Mossberg or my good friend David Pogue — they do ultimately get around to me and are gracious about honoring my requests for review products.

    This week, for example, I got a big box containing a 32GB iPhone 4 with a pair of bumpers, a Magic Trackpad and a Battery Charger. You'll see coverage of all three in the weeks to come.

    Right now, however, I'm going to discuss everyone's favorite whipping boy, AT&T, the first and still the only U.S. carrier for the iPhone. Yes, I realize that contract is not a forever thing and other carriers will carry the phone too, possibly as early as January of 2011, but we'll cross that bridge later on.

    First and foremost, my experience with AT&T, here in the Phoenix area, has been largely positive. Customer support has always been first-rate, and it does appear they're making an honest effort to improve network reliability.

    At first, there were several dead spots in my neighborhood, places where I knew I'd lose a call. But that's nothing new for wireless carriers around here. There are also nearby dead spots for Verizon Wireless.

    At least, it seems that AT&T made an honest effort to resolve them. In the past three years, new cell towers have been installed, and older ones upgraded. So there are more bars — even with Apple's newer, supposedly more accurate display algorithm — and disconnects are much less frequent.

    But you may live in a city where AT&T's network quality remains substandard. This is particularly true in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs claims it can take up to three years to receive approval and erect a new cell tower. So even if AT&T's intentions were pure — and I realize they exist to make a profit, not add network capacity unless it's absolutely necessary — improving connectivity isn't going to happen as quickly as some of you might like.

    But my quibble with AT&T is not about the network. It's about the lack of a flexible, affordable plan for people who must live, even for a short time, outside of the U.S.

    Now as some of you know, my son, Grayson, is employed as a teacher near Madrid, Spain. Although he owns a cell phone acquired from a carrier in that country, he has wanted to redeploy one of my older iPhones. Unfortunately, AT&T's greedy overseas policies may force him to jailbreak the device.

    Just the other day, I talked to an AT&T rep about the possibilities. To add another iPhone to my service plan would cost $9.99 a month, plus the requisite data plan (now $15 or $25 per month). Then I'd have to pay an additional $5.99 monthly fee for a World Traveler plan that offers "discounted rates" in over 100 countries.

    What do I mean by discounted? Well, rather than pay $1.29 per minute in Spain, the rate would go down to 99 cents a minute. A few phone conversations each day, and my son would soon wipe out a substantial portion of his paycheck to pay for calls placed on his mobile phone.

    I suppose such a plan might be suitable for emergency calls, or, perhaps, for someone who doesn't have to fret over paying a few hundred dollars extra each month. But that's certainly not my situation, nor is it Grayson's.

    Is there no alternative? Well, the AT&T rep said that they wouldn't unlock the phone, but nothing stopped us from jailbreaking, if that's what we wanted to do, and signing up with another carrier. As you know, such a practice is not illegal, although Apple is not obliged to honor the warranty. Then again, since the iPhone in question is no longer covered by a warranty, maybe it doesn't matter.

    In case you're wondering, yes, Verizon Wireless also has a worldwide plan with somewhat more generous calling rates, but you'd still need a special world phone that supports GSM as well as CDMA. Regardless, the price of admission is still outrageous.

    This is pathetic. I can make calls from the U.S. to landlines in many countries for two cents a minute with my current VoIP calling plan. Spending 50 times that amount makes no sense whatever in the 21st century. The wireless carriers need to do better.

    In the end, I suspect that Grayson, if he ops to take that iPhone home with him, will use it strictly as an iPod touch and not activate its telephone features. It's just not worth the trouble, not to mention the price of admission.

    I also welcome your suggestions as to the best ways to use a U.S.-based iPhone overseas without jailbreaking. Maybe Skype (via Wi-Fi) remains the best solution of all.

    THE APPLE CAN'T COMPETE SYNDROME

    There's an unfortunate conventional wisdom that has it that Apple has the wrong business plan and is doomed to being supplanted by smarter competitors. That unfortunate conclusion has persisted since the early days of the original Mac, particularly after Microsoft Windows came to dominate the PC world.

    Using an unfortunately simplistic sweep of logic, it was concluded that closed platforms are bad, and open platforms are good. But that, of course, depends on how open you think Windows really is. Sure, even the lone businessperson who builds PCs in the living room can buy OEM copies of Windows, and legally sell the assembled machines. But you still have to follow the strict terms in Microsoft's software licensing agreement.

    At the same time, only Apple branded computers are legally allowed to run the Mac OS, although there are loads of people who skirt these requirements and install Mac OS X on regular PC boxes too.

    But the fact of the matter is that Apple actually has quite a large market share in the PC segment where it counts, and that's models costing over $1,000. Suddenly the otherwise single digit market share can exceed 90%. It seems almost unbelievable, but it also demonstrates that Apple's efforts to build a successful business and retain high profit margins have succeeded admirably. No other mainstream PC maker comes close, even if they sell more units, because most are frantically chasing the bottom of the barrel.

    More to the point, there are well-known reasons, other than the supposed failure to license the Mac OS, that caused Apple to play second fiddle. I won't repeat them here, but the folks who repeat this complaint need to pay more attention to Apple's missteps in the 1980s and 1990s, including the stupid decision to license portions of the Mac OS to Bill Gates once upon a time.

    More recently, Apple has shined with a closed ecosystem and the iPod. The iPhone may not become the best-seller in its product space — that honor may ultimately go to the Google Android OS simply because there are more carriers and many more models in all price ranges — but Apple will nonetheless retain a hugely profitable share of the market. Even as more and more Android apps appear, how many free ringtones and wallpaper designs do you need anyway?

    I also won't suggest the iPad will always be number one, but contenders using a variant of Windows 7 will go no further than previous attempts. There may be an Google-bred OS powering some of these tablet computers, but Google hasn't demonstrated that they can move beyond the confines of Android and smartphones.

    So long as Apple continues to earn healthy returns, with rapidly increasing sales, in most product categories, I can't see where any sane industry analyst would say the company is doomed to failure. At the same time, there is no reason for Apple to be number one with every single product in order to prosper. Clearly beating Microsoft in market cap demonstrates that oh-so-obvious fact.

    As others have suggested, Apple in 2010 is not like Apple in 1984, even though some spin doctors would have you believe otherwise.

    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
    Business Development: Gil James Bavel
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #561”

    1. [...] Continue Reading… Please Link to Us!<a href="http://www.technightowl.com/2010/08/newsletter-issue-561-is-this-why-we-should-hate-att/&quot; >Newsletter Issue #561: Is This Why We Should Hate AT&T?</a>Related Articles:Consumer Reports Can’t Be All Things to All PeopleSmartphone Makers Caught Lying About Apple!Update! The iOS 4.0.1 ReportAttention Verizon Wireless: Have You Heard of Dumping?Newsletter Issue #531: The iPad Report: The Questions Keep on Coming [...]

    2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by stuart001uk, Gene Steinberg. Gene Steinberg said: Here's our latest Tech Night Owl Newsletter: : Newsletter Issue #561 http://bit.ly/cvJk5O [...]

    3. Ted Wise says:

      According to the carriers, the negotiated international rates are what cause them to charge so much. And data rates are several orders of magnitude HIGHER then voice rates. I don't know how much of that is true, but the end result is that international roaming is prohibitively expensive.

      The only realistic routes to international calling with an iPhone, is to jailbreak a US phone or to buy an unlocked one. AT&T has no problem adding an unlocked iPhone to your account and your son can sign up with a Spanish telecom with one as well. Whether the Spanish telecoms offer reasonable data rates.. I don't know.

      Reply To This Comment

    4. I had a similar problem when I went overseas for three weeks last October. After a long to-and-fro with AT&T's international 'advisor', she finally told me that under contract with Apple, she cannot 'SIM unlock' the iPhone (I had the 3GS then), like they can (on request) any other handset.

      I was forced to use another phone that I bought unlocked from Amazon.com, because I did not want to jailbreak. I did use Skype over Wi-Fi since my contacts were on the iPhone, praying that nobody will place a call to me from the US when I was talking on VoIP. The 3GS did not have a separate disconnect for Wi-Fi and Cellular, and it didn't occur to me to take out the SIM!

      I did write to Steve Jobs, then, to please issue an unlocked version of the upcoming iPhone. Apple has, but not in the US.

      This is indeed preposterous; I know a couple of my friends had their SIM unlocked in other cellphones.

      What Ted says is a good solution. If not in Spain, he can get an unlocked iPhone in the UK. I've read that even if you buy an Orange iPhone at full price, they will factory unlock if you tell them the details about the purchase. It depends on how long your son is going to be in Madrid, because Spanish telecoms may or may not offer a good deal for the length of time your son plans to stay.

      However, when I was in Greece and Italy two years ago, I was able to buy a Vodafone SIM for a very reasonable price per minute, and was able to recharge it on the phone itself. I'm sure similar deals are available in Spain; prepaid SIMs are available almost everywhere in Europe.

      I had one other revelation: Carry an Airport Express on travels, especially overseas. While ethernet is available in homes and hotels worldwide, a Wi-Fi router is not that common everywhere. If you want to use Skype to place calls, you would need Wi-Fi.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. [...] Steinberg laments that AT&T, or any other US carrier, does not offer reasonable international rates, and would [...]

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