I suppose the phrase "all Lion all the time" was apt this week on many tech-related sites and even in the mainstream media. Years ago, the release of a new Mac OS wasn't such a big deal except for the Mac faithful; now it's front page news around the globe. Clearly Apple's amazing rise to the top among all tech companies has become the stuff of legend, and stellar sales the last quarter have only added to the company's incredible rise.
It's hard to remember the state of Apple back in the mid-1990s, when they acquired NeXT, Inc., bringing back Steve Jobs, almost as an act of desperation. Only later did it become known that the company was probably months from ruin. But I doubt anyone expected where Apple would be 15 years later, and how Microsoft would be the slumbering, fading giant that had lost its luster.
With OS X front and center, that very subject formed the lead interview on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, co-host of the "Angry Mac Bastards" radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, provided a Lion reality check. He is particularly concerned about depending on online downloads to get software, which may force some users to face bandwidth caps from their ISPs.
Author Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, offered further details about Apple's curious rebranding of Mac OS X to become OS X. He also discussed, in part, Apple's "Style Guide," which offers editorial guidance on how to write about Apple products.
Industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group, discussed Apple's rosy sales picture, and such issues as the ongoing patent rights lawsuits in the tech industry, with the latter forming my next topic in this issue.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present long-time investigative UFO journalist Don Ecker, a forum moderator for The Paracast, and host of the Dark Matters radio show. Ecker will focus mostly on the frauds he has exposed in the UFO field, but he will also bring you up to date on all sorts of incredible lunar mysteries.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt -- Now with New Logo! 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.
So there's a statement credited to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt that Apple is trying to sue its way to success rather than innovate. Curious, and crazy, among other things.
Curious in that the Android OS is obviously heavily influenced by the iOS, and has been from the very first day. Sure, Google acquired Android several years earlier, and it's clear their target then was Microsoft, not Apple. The arrival of the iPhone changed everything. Does Schmidt he really expect people to believe that Apple doesn't innovate?
Sure, it's easy to find telltale influences, or inspirations, in Apple's operating systems. The Window menu, for example, appeared in Windows ahead of the Mac OS. Being able to resize a document from all corners of the screen in Lion was also offered in Windows first, but I don't expect that Microsoft is ready to sue Apple for "borrowing" a few look end feel concepts. And, yes, the new Notification feature in iOS 5 was clearly inspired by the Android OS, but that's not nearly enough to justify Schmidt's claims that Apple doesn't innovate.
At the same time, if Apple truly wants to keep control of their patent portfolios, they are likely to be forced into the courtroom from time to time. Yes, it almost seems as if Apple has kept their legal department working overtime in recent months with lawsuits against a number of companies, including HTC and Samsung.
Yes, they lose from tie to time, or they appeared to lose their recent legal skirmish with Nokia, since they have to pay an estimated $600 million in licensing fees. But it's also possible that the bills would have been higher if Apple hadn't sought legal remedies. Such actions are often settled at some point during the litigation process, and it's quite likely most patent lawsuits are filed fully expecting that result.
But it does appear that Apple will be putting competing companies with Android OS gear in a questionable situation if the victories keep coming. A recent decision found HTC in violation of two Apple patents, and the matter is far from settled.
Even if Apple emerges largely victorious from the various look and feel lawsuits, how do they savor their victories? The actual demand is for the infringing products to be removed from the marketplace, but if those victories are upheld, the losers might seek to just pay Apple to continue to build those products. Or pay fees for the ones already sold, and move on to different technologies for new devices.
There are already reports of handset makers in Asia considering Windows Phone 7 rather than Android for just this reason. So, in the end, Microsoft's stagnant mobile OS might benefit.
You also wonder that, if Google were so confident that Android OS didn't infringe on Apple parents, they'd be standing up for their licensees and getting their own legal teams involved for advice, or perhaps to apply as "friends of the court" to offer some direct legal support.
Consider how Apple legal got involved when a company began to sue some iOS developers for an alleged intellectual property violation. Why isn't Google doing the very same thing? What about Android developers who find themselves at the wrong end of a legal filing? Shouldn't Google do what they can to defend their partners?
So Schmidt's protest that Apple prefers suing to innovating rings hollow. If Google feels Apple is in the wrong, let them demonstrate their beliefs with the appropriately specific legal responses. Talk is cheap, but court filings will at least demonstrate that Google is willing to exercise some level of corporate muscle behind those words.
At the same time, Google and Oracle are still embroiled in a legal dispute over the rights to use Java technology in Android. That goes to the core of the operating system, and if Google loses that round, they could end up paying loads of cash to Oracle.
Worse, if more and more companies find themselves on the losing side of legal disputes with Apple, they might be forced to look into other OS alternatives for their mobile gear. Consider that Microsoft is already getting an estimated $5 per handset for Android OS gear from some companies. Wouldn't those handset makers find it better just to sign up for Windows Phone 7 licenses and be done with it?
Of course, Apple isn't a stalking horse for Microsoft by any stretch of the imagination. Few can estimate the potential of the iOS. After all, with what is regarded as aging product, Apple managed to sell record numbers of iPhones this past quarter. The financial analysts were stumped, but it's clear Apple doesn't have to worry about Microsoft when it comes to smartphones. And don't forget Microsoft's questionable decision to continue to regard tablets as just another type of PC that is meant to run Windows. There's little evidence that they can make up for the failures of the last ten years by repeating the same mistakes.
But when it comes to Android, how long will Google allow their partners to suffer from lawsuits and refuse to back them up? Will they finally step up to the plate, or let Android ultimately die an ignominious death? Or will they try to build new versions that, they hope, don't infringe on anyone's patents?
As it becomes harder and harder for cable companies to attract new customers, what with such competing services as Netflix and Hulu, not to mention iTunes, they are trying to earn more from each customer. Other than actually raising the rates, there's the bundle. That way, they sell you two or more services, adding phone and perhaps Internet to the mix, and you pay less than the usual rate for such packages.
If all the services are well executed, you can get a pretty decent bargain that way. Even when a service doesn't offer its home-brewed TV, such as Qwest, now being transitioned to Century Link after a recent acquisition, they'll generally contract with a third-party to deliver what they cannot deliver. In case of Qwest, it's DirecTV.
So when a close relative downsized to a new apartment, they looked for a decent package for their new residence. In the Phoenix area, other than Century Link, you have Cox, which will usually offer a cheaper bundle. In this case, they opted for a single phone line with included long distance, entry-level Internet (3 megabits down, 384 kilobits up) and cable. For the latter, they added a second tier of service, and some premium channels.
Saving close to $100 over their previous services seemed awfully compelling, but when Cox repeatedly screwed up the basic installation process, they were understandably angry.
Screw up? How so? Don't millions of customers get these same services in Cox's coverage area?
Funny you should ask. You see, after the initial installation, phone service was awful. Sometimes the phones would ring, sometimes they wouldn't. Worse, only one TV could receive more than the basic cable channels. It took three visits to set things right, and I came over to, well, supervise, so they wouldn't get stuck again. You wonder how Cox manages to keep customers that way?
Why was phone service awful? Well, Cox, in my experience, provides an affordable, quality alternative to the traditional telecom, using their standard coax network. Although they used to deploy externally mounted connection modules for telephone service, they've since devised a combo multimedia terminal adapter for in-home installation, dubbed the E-MTA, which incorporates the telephone interface and a cable modem in the same rather thick box. Cool when it works.
Unfortunately, the first two installers failed to connect the external wiring properly; the previous tenant had used Qwest -- I mean Century Link. Once the appropriate fix was made, telephone service was superb, with robust voice quality and reliable connections to local and long distance numbers.
The reason only one TV could receive the higher-level service was the result of a lame decision on the part of Cox's sales team to keep the prices as low as possible without understanding the downsides. You see, they only brought one set top box, and connected that set top box to the largest TV in the apartment. Two smaller TVs had direct connections from the wall socket, meaning only basic cable was supported. The higher-tiers require digital translators, thus they needed two more set top boxes. This would seem to be common sense, but it appears common sense eludes Cox.
Once everything was properly installed, I spent a short time confirming that my relatives were getting the service they paid for. They did have to pay extra for two more cable boxes. Cox also failed to remind them that, if they didn't pay $4.99 a month for a support contract, they'd end up having to pay a $49 fee for each service call. I've encountered that tactic too, where, on my account, the support package kept disappearing. Other than the fact that I have been a demanding customer -- demanding in the sense that I want everything to work as advertised -- it would appear they have no valid reason to screw up my account.
For me, Cox provides Internet and that's it. I'd go elsewhere if I could, but Century Link's ADSL won't work in my apartment until or unless they update the wiring in this complex. For TV, I've found that DirecTV delivers the best pictures. My fax service is online, provided by Nextiva, and Phone Power delivers my two personal/business phone lines. A package of this sort would be a little too complicated for the relatives, who just want one bill from one place, and at the lowest rates possible.
But I do not think Cox is helping their case by delivering miserable customer service.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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