We spend so much time talking about products and services, there's not a lot of time left to discuss the issues of corporate values, beyond, of course, making big profits, and enriching executives, workers, and stockholders.
So on our weekly episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we presented John Martellaro, from The Mac Observer, who participated in a fascinating discussion about corporate values, along with a recent decision by Apple Inc. to remove software from the App Store as the result of a petition. Should Apple remove software because the app presents viewpoints with which they do not agree — or with which many of their customers don't agree either? This is the sort of discussion that I hope continues on our show.
Cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, joined us to recount his experiences with a Verizon iPhone, and, no, it hasn't been quite as good as he expected. He also discussed the tragic state of iPad killers, and the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile.
Sascha Segan, Lead Mobile Analyst for PCMag.com, told you why he's not in favor of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, and then discussed the lack of competition for broadband Internet in the U.S.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a rare appearance by Richard Sauder, Ph.D., a researcher who has explored the incredible mystery of underground bases and government conspiracies. Where are they, and what purpose do they serve? His books include, "Hidden in Plain Sight: Beyond the X-Files."
Coming April 3: Gene and Chris present Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Philip Imbrogno, authors of "The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agenda of Genies," which depicts an ancient race of supernatural beings that reportedly exists in a parallel universe.
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.
There's a story this week from CNN that purports to list the best laid plans by Apple's competitors to surround and smother the iPad's momentum. Corporate executives and industry analysts are quoted, and I'll take the story as accurate, since the latest tablets from these companies confirms the story, and clearly betrays their total ignorance of the reasons behind Apple's success.
To their questionable way of thinking, the best way to compete with Apple is just to build as many different alternative models as possible, replete with features that Apple doesn't have. After all, why stick with a 9.7-inch tablet, when you can add models with 7-inch screens, 10.1-inch screens, and any size in between that your chosen flat panel factory can build for you.
If that's not enough, add models with 3D capability. Maybe include a free set of 3D goggles with your purchase. And if letting your fingers doing the walking across the touchscreen isn't sufficient for input, why not add that tried and true stylus? If you're afraid of losing one, just have it connected via a wire, and provide a convenient storage clip on the unit itself. It begins to sound like we're returning to the era of the original Palm Pilot or Apple Newton here, but this has to be a good idea. After all, Apple hasn't done it on their iPads.
Of course, there is that niggling question about apps. Apple has 60,000 tailored strictly for the iPad. Android has a tiny fraction of that, but that's no big deal, right? Developers will soon come on board, and the entire iPad killer ecosystem will soon be in place.
What the rest of the industry seems to forget is that the existing Android Market is a poor substitute for the App Store. There may be loads of apps available, at least for Android smartphones, but most are free, and provide little more than silly ringtones or fancy wallpaper backdrops. There's no worthy equivalent to Pages, Numbers, Keynote, GarageBand or iMovie.
Then again, who cares about productivity anyway? Isn't a tablet computer all about consumption? Well, if that's true, what about those powerful games that have made the iPad a true alternative to traditional gaming consoles? It doesn't appear as if the Android OS can cope. Or maybe it's because there are so many hardware alternatives, not to mention different versions of Android in widespread use, that developers can't focus their efforts to build the best possible product.
In fact, people who use an Android tablet can't even be assured of being able to download and install critical OS updates to fix bugs and repair security lapses. It may take months for the carriers or manufacturers to get around to pushing those updates, and it may not happen, ever. They're going to be far too busy assembling the model du jour, rather than servicing the people who have already invested in an older dead-end gadget.
Instead of focusing all of their creative energies on a single product line, and marketing the hell out of it, these companies are desperately hoping to flood the stores with as many products as possible, imagining that the customer benefits by having many choices, even if the differences are often difficult to discern.
Consider the situation with Windows PCs today, where you can walk on over to your favorite consumer electronics outlet, such as a Best Buy, and find dozens of superficially similar products on display, with little to differentiate them other than minor variations in specs, some of which will deliver little or no benefits to the customer.
The tech industry is hoping that, if they fill the shelves with loads of tablets, they will divide and conquer. Apple will be surrounded by loads and loads of competing gadgets, and the customer will be so confused, they won't know which one to buy, which best serves their needs. So perhaps they'll decide they'd rather have a choice, instead of being told by Apple what sort of tablet computer they truly need.
Now it's been years since Apple played the model proliferation game. Once upon a time, there were so many consumer Macs, from the late and not lamented Performa line, that even Apple's own marketing executives couldn't tell one from the other without a cheat sheet. To his credit, Steve Jobs realized that customers want simple, easily understood model variations. Yes, there are several iPod lines, and perhaps 18 versions of the iPad 2 might seem a trifle confusing to some. But those 18 differences are quite obvious. You can pick white or black, select your storage capacity, and then decide if you want just Wi-Fi or a 3G version so you can sign up for a data plan with your chosen wireless carrier. If you opt for 3G, you can select a GSM version, for, say, AT&T, or CDMA for Verizon Wireless and, perhaps, for the small number of similar networks around the world.
What the critics continue to forget in this spec and feature race is that customers have clearly voted in favor of simplicity, elegance and, dare I say it, predictability? Aside from obvious differences to support the tiny screen on the iPhone, or the larger display of the iPad, the iOS for both is otherwise nearly identical when it comes to the interface and functionality. If you know how to use one, you can easily adapt to the other.
Compare that sensible decision to the way Google has built Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, which is meant to be separate from the smartphone version, for which there is no equivalent yet. Smartphones use older 2.x versions of Android. You can't even be assured the interfaces will be consistent, because manufacturers are apt to have their own ideas.
What CNN's analysis fails to point out is that existing iPad imitations aren't doing terribly well. The Motorola Xoom hasn't set the world afire, despite all the marketing muscle (or at least dollars) behind it. It is already reported that a new model will come June, and, worse, that Motorola is hedging their bets and building yet another OS for future products. So much for confidence in the alleged Android juggernaut.
As I've already said in other columns, tablet makers need to come up with better ideas, not better specs. If they hope to smother the iPad, they need to show some real innovation for once.
Two rumors that appeared this week express some possibilities for when the next major OS upgrades will arrive from Apple. Just a few weeks after the release of the Mac OS X Lion Developer Preview, there are published reports that Apple is rapidly closing in on building Golden Master candidates for final release. A Golden Master, or GM, is programmer parlance for a feature complete version of a product that is being evaluated as a potential shipping version.
Usually, when a GM candidate arrives, the developers are close to the end of the project. Within weeks, the app or OS will be shipping, and it's time to move on to bug fixes, new features, and the next major release.
Now Apple has promised that Lion will land some time this summer, meaning from late June until late September. If they are weeks away from the GM process, that could portend an even earlier release. Don't forget that Snow Leopard arrived several weeks ahead of schedule, and maybe Apple wants to amaze us yet again.
So the speculation about pricing has begun. Instead of the regular price of $129, Apple charged $29 for Snow Leopard because it didn't have all that many new features. It was largely a clean-up release, with several new technologies that, to some degree, still haven't been exploited by software companies.
Since Lion is supposed to be laden with new features, and you know some are derived form the iOS, one might expect to pay full price for a copy. But this is Apple, and Apple is usually less than predictable. It may well be that you'll see the same $29 price simply because Apple wants to have you upgrade as quickly and conveniently as possible. That encourages developers to support the new version.
If that doesn't make sense to the accountants in our audience, remember that most of Apple's profits come from the sale of hardware. A Mac OS or iOS release is meant to add value to Apple's mobile and desktop computing gear. If the OS offers compelling features, more people will buy the hardware, thus fattening Apple's bank accounts. Unlike Microsoft, they don't have to sell a Mac OS release for the highest possible price, because the real revenue comes from other products.
The other rumor has it that Apple has pushed off release of iOS 5, widely expected for the summer, to the fall instead. The alleged reason would be to incorporate expected new cloud-based features for storage and syncing. This is supposedly part of a new MobileMe upgrade that might even make Apple's online service free.
Of course, Apple hasn't actually promised when the next major iOS release would come. You assume it has to be summer based on past experience, just as you assume the next iPhone will arrive in June or July. The iPhone could arrive on time for competitive reasons, but Apple might release an interim iOS version, with a demonstration of the next major release. Or maybe not.
The other rumor has it that an iPad 3 will arrive with iOS 5, possibly incorporating a higher resolution display. That would mean, however, that the claims of Steve Jobs that this is the year of the iPad 2 shouldn't be taken seriously. Or maybe we shouldn't take those rumors seriously, which makes a lot more sense.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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