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  • Newsletter Issue #585

    February 14th, 2011

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    The other day, I watched a televised report about a school system that planned to adopt Amazon Kindles in place of textbooks, and I wondered why the iPad wasn’t considered, but the answer came soon enough. It seems the issue was cost, since the Kindle is far cheaper. Unfortunately, that decision meant a loss of flexibility, since the Kindle is a reading device, not something on which you can actually write, say, a term paper.

    Well, at least it’s part of a solution to the problem of heavy textbooks and overloaded backpacks. On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, however, we focused on other subjects, though one did relate to the possibilities of the iPad.

    First up was Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, who considered the possibilities of storing all or most of your stuff in cloud-based servers, and also offered constructive suggestions to improve future Macworld Expo trade shows. More to the point, he also expressed concerns about News Corporation’s The Daily, an interactive newspaper that recently debuted on the iPad. To Adam, the interface isn’t well-developed, and needs a fair amount of work. He wasn’t enamored of the contents either, and felt the editorial part of the publication also needed development.

    In the second half of the show, Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus joined us to discuss some of his favorite products from his excursions around the exhibit halls at the last Macworld Expo.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to present UFO and paranormal investigator Jari Mikkola, of The Dimension Zone, who provides a detailed analysis of a series of films, posted online, which purportedly depict a UFO flying over Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

    Coming February 20: Co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to present James Carrion, a former International Director of the Mutual UFO Network, who explains the curious circumstances behind his departure from the organization, and his disenchantment with the state of UFO research.

    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.

    YET ANOTHER EFFORT TO TURN TWO FAILURES INTO A SUCCESS

    So let’s see now. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is the former head of Microsoft’s Business Division, a position he held until September of last year. In passing, he was also CEO of Macromedia before Adobe acquired the company. In a recent revealing memo, Elop admitted that Nokia’s mobile platform is collapsing around them.

    True, Nokia is still the number one maker of mobile handsets, including smartphones, but many of their most successful products are low-end models, and, with Apple nipping at its heels, Nokia has suffered. Profits are declining despite rising sales because they are weighted in the wrong direction.

    The arrival of the iPhone turned the mobile phone market upside down. Before Apple got into the game, such companies as Nokia, with its huge worldwide sales, Research in Motion, courtesy of the BlackBerry, and, of course the Windows Mobile platform, all did pretty well. The Android OS was just something Google acquired and were in the process of developing.

    So consider Nokia’s status, as a fading giant in need of some help fast. So rather than develop their own mobile platform, the better to compete with the iPhone and Android, Elop went to his former bosses at Microsoft, another fading giant that could use a little help. Together, they struck up a deal that would involve the sharing of technologies, and , of course, moving to Windows Mobile 7 as the main OS for Nokia’s smartphones. Was this a match made in heaven?

    Not according to the financial markets, where shares of Nokia’s fell some 1.16 euros, and closed at 7 euros after the announcement was made. Even if you don’t convert those numbers to U.S. dollars, it’s clear investors weren’t impressed by Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft. In turn, Microsoft’s long-stagnant stock price fell by another 25 cents.

    Understand this arrangement is not a merger. While Microsoft will get control of Nokia’s smartphones courtesy of using Windows Phone 7, and some technologies will be exchanged, the two companies will remain separate.

    Now usually deals of this sort involve one successful company acquiring technology — or the whole ball of wax — from a lesser competitor. Such maneuvers are often designed to give the winning company a bigger share of the market. When it comes to a company with a tantalizing technology portfolio, the advantages are obvious if the purchaser really needs what’s being purchased.

    Apple has made strategic acquisitions of that sort that resulted in huge improvements to the company in all sorts of ways. Remember that the fundamentals of iTunes, in the form of SoundJam, were originally acquired in 2000 as the result of a deal with a small Mac software publisher developer, Casady & Greene. Indeed, one of SoundJam’s creators, Jeffrey L. Robbin, currently serves Apple as a vice president of consumer applications.

    But remember that SoundJam was a good product even before it morphed into iTunes. Apple didn’t just grab a digital media app because they needed one. They shopped around for something they could believe in.

    When it comes to Windows Phone 7, although the OS has actually garnered decent reviews, sales during the first quarter were a mere two million. Contrast that to sales of over 16 million iPhones. Indeed, some handsets featuring Microsoft’s latest attempt to build a mobile platform were already discounted by AT&T during last year’s holiday season. Not too encouraging.

    I suppose Nokia might have considered Android, but, with the company embroiled in a patent and licensing lawsuit with Apple, Google might not have been the best partner. As you recall, Oracle is suing Google, claiming that the Android OS infringes on certain Java-related patents. With Microsoft as a partner, Nokia was insulating itself from potential legal skirmishes. Just watch them settle with Apple real soon now.

    More to the point, a partnership with Nokia might serve to give Windows Phone 7 the sort of credibility it needs to become reasonably successful.

    Unfortunately, a tie up of this sort, regardless of the potential, is going to be troubled from the start. It will take a year or more to install Windows Phone 7 in any reasonable number of Nokia handsets. But the agreement has already rendered their existing smartphones essentially obsolete. More to the point, knowing of this deal, will customers also abandon existing smartphones from other makers, such as LG, which feature Microsoft’s latest and greatest?

    Meanwhile, the rest of the smartphone universe won’t be standing still. Over the coming year, you’ll see an iOS 5 release from Apple, the arrival of new versions of Android, not to mention updated gear from RIM and HP, the latter incorporating the WebOS they acquired from Palm.

    Typical of many recent Microsoft initiatives beyond their core PC-related software, their efforts have been too little and too late. As I said, Windows Phone 7 has gotten decent reviews, but it’s a year or two behind the curve when it comes to such niceties as multitasking and other features taken for granted nowadays. All of Microsoft’s competition will be working extremely hard to advance their mobile platforms even further this year and the next. Unless some unexpected miracle happens, Microsoft will be lucky to catch up to 2010 technology by 2012. It’s not that they’ve ever been a fast mover when it comes to innovation. Usually, Microsoft is lucky to come close to matching someone else’s already-obsolete capabilities.

    The other question arises: Did the new CEO of Nokia come to his job as a stalking horse for his former employer? It seems curious that, just four months after his departure from Microsoft, he’s already striking huge deals with them. Curious indeed!

    ANOTHER AIRPORT REPLACEMENT

    As I wrote recently, I was forced to replace my Apple Time Capsule with a partial replacement, a Cisco Linksys E3000 router, when I moved to a new apartment in December. Maybe it wasn’t as elegant looking as Apple’s Wi-Fi solution, but it sure delivered a strong signal over a far longer distance, which was critical to being able to use my iPhone and other gear in the master bedroom.

    The downside of the E3000 is that it doesn’t offer a built-in hard drive, and its network storage feature, which involves hooking the unit up to an external USB-based drive, delivers measurably tepid performance. For the time being, my Time Capsule backups have been diverted to a second external drive, one of those incredibly resilient ioSafe storage devices that are resistant to both fire and flood. So maybe I’m better off.

    In any case, I got a press release last month announcing the arrival of yet another high-performance router from Cisco, the E4200. Aside from a spiffy black case, sporting a center-mounted dark gray band with a lighted Cisco logo, the new router promises an improved “3×3 MIMO antenna array” and higher power amplifiers that are supposed to deliver maximum data transfer rates over even longer distances. As you know, you don’t have to travel far from your router before file transfer rates begin to fall off tremendously.

    At $179.99, the E4200 is priced almost $10 more than Apple’s standard AirPort Extreme, but discounts might be found if you look hard enough.

    The real question is whether the higher-priced spread is worth the investment. My viewpoint, based on preliminary testing of a review unit provided by Cisco, is that it depends. Getting the maximum throughput is going to require Wi-Fi hardware that will only become available going forward. Otherwise, the E4200 is apt to perform pretty much the same as the E3000 for most of you.

    Although I didn’t do extensive measurements, I did notice somewhat faster throughput in my master bedroom, at least compared to the E3000. I did consider, at least for a moment, connecting a USB drive to the E4200, but just about every detailed review of the router says that performance as a network storage device remains pathetic, no better than the cheaper model.

    Some troubling issues appeared during the setup process when I used the warm and fuzzy Cisco Connect app with the E4200. Cisco claims to be aware of these problems, which I demonstrated during a conversation with a member of their tech support staff. It’s strange that this issue, which included unexplainably turning on my iMac’s AirPort connection during the setup process, and then delivering a prompt warning that I had two active connections, was never mentioned in any of the published reviews of the E4200.

    In the end, I got it working pretty well by switching off AirPort and resuming the setup process. But, for a Mac-friendly networking gadget, Cisco ought to have tested it more thoroughly. I’ll only assume my colleagues in the tech media evidently didn’t evaluate the product with a Mac when they wrote their reviews, and that’s unfortunate. I’m sure the folks at CNET and other tech publications have both Macs and PCs in their arsenal.

    Meantime, if you don’t need the extended range offered by Cisco in their E4200 and, to a lesser degree, the E3000, you’ll probably want to stick with an AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule as your Wi-Fi connector of choice.

    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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