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  • Newsletter Issue #623

    November 7th, 2011

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    According to Apple, the final leg of the iCloud launch, iTunes Match, will be available by the end of October. It didn’t happen, evidently, because some quirks still need to be resolved.

    Once it’s available, iTunes Match will, for $24.99 per year, work with up to 25,000 tunes that you didn’t purchase from iTunes, and supply the equivalent tracks from a library of millions. Regardless of the quality of your copy, you’ll get the 256K AAC version that Apple supplies, and for most people, that ought to be sufficient to provide great audio quality.

    There are questions: What if your music collection includes tunes that you downloaded from a source that’s not quite legal? Does iTunes Match somehow allow you to come in from the cold, not in danger of running afoul of the RIAA or individual music companies? What if you have an older version of a CD, which has since been remastered? Does Apple consider the remastered version in their catalog to be the equivalent? I consider this because I bought the original CD albums from The Beatles in the 1980s. These recordings have since been digitally remastered and enhanced, evidently used as the basis for the ones now available in iTunes. Would this get me, in effect, a free upgrade?

    I suppose the answers will come our way once iTunes Match is up and running. Maybe this week. In the meantime, on our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVEMacworld’s Dan Moren delivered an Apple update in which we talked about the forthcoming iTunes Match service, the prospects for an iTV, or Apple connected TV, and other hot topics.

    Ross Rubin, an industry analyst for the NPD Group, discussed sales trends, the possibilities for an Apple connected TV, and whether 3D TV is ever going to catch on.

    You also heard a mobile gadget update from Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who covered the trials and tribulations of Research In Motion, makers of the BlackBerry, and the prospects for the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris explore the amazing legends of ancient astronauts with Philip Coppens, author of “The Ancient Alien Question: A New Inquiry Into the Existence, Evidence, and Influence of Ancient Visitors.” Did extraterrestrials visit Earth in our early history, and perhaps influence the development of human civilizations?

    Coming November 13: Gene and Chris present long-time paranormal author and researcher Jeff Danelek, author of a number of books that include “The Great Airship of 1897: A Provocative Look at the Most Mysterious Aviation Event in History (Popular Beliefs Controversial).” Were those early UFO reports the result of balloons, dirigibles, or something totally unknown?

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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.

    THE BATTERYGATE MYTH

    To some misguided pundits, Apple’s supposed “Antennagate” scandal last year is an episode they will never live down. Even though other smartphones exhibit signal loss if you hold them the wrong way, meaning that you manage to cover the antennas with those big bad bags of water we call hands, the iPhone 4 got the bad rap. Of course Consumer Reports only reinforced that myth when they falsely claimed that particular device was the only one that had the problem.

    Clearly sales didn’t suffer. Maybe Apple could have done a better job in handling the initial PR fallout, but a media event pretty much set the matter to rest, although giving away free bumper cases for a while didn’t hurt. Maybe a few lessons were learned along the way, and certainly one is the improved antenna design in the iPhone 4s.

    Now when it comes to the iPhone 4s, you have to expect there will be early release bugs. There almost always are with new products of this sort, so it’s inevitable that early adopters will report problems. So within days after the refreshed iPhone got into the hands of users, some complained about subpar battery life. Another crisis in the making?

    As is their wont, Apple didn’t respond on Day One. Their approach is to confirm the existence of a problem, and it’s possible source, first. At the same time, there were published reports that Apple engineers reached out to some customers to work with them to test the conditions under which battery life dropped. This past week, Apple confirmed the problem existed, and that a 5.0.1 update would be made available in the next few weeks to fix some bugs to eliminate that and other early-release problems. At the same time, developer versions of 5.0.1 have already even seeded, to give the App Store software community a chance to test the update before it becomes available to the public.

    Now remember that the iPhone 4s first went on sale on October 14th; iOS 5 arrived two days earlier. Less than three weeks later, Apple announced a forthcoming update to fix the most serious issue reported by users so far. Remember, too, that reduced battery life is also evidently impacting some people who updated their iPhone 4 or iPhone 3GS to iOS 5. It’s not necessarily a bug limited to the newer model.

    In the scheme of things, it appears Apple is doing the right thing. They didn’t respond to the issue until they had some facts to go on, and I have little doubt that they are acting as quickly as you might expect under the circumstances. It would be worse to just rush out an update, only to have to push yet another a few days or weeks later because it wasn’t fully baked before release. That would look worse for Apple.

    In the meantime, there are loads of online suggestions as to how to shut down the background processes that may kill battery life. Even then, it doesn’t appear that a large number of iOS 5 users are experiencing the problem. The battery life on my iPhone 4, for example, doesn’t seem altogether different after the upgrade.

    That, however, hasn’t stopped a certain misguided, maybe I should say dumb, blogger for a major tech site from accusing Apple of stonewalling, of hiding the dirty truth about “Batterygate.” Obviously, the blogger in question doesn’t deserve the publicity, so I won’t mention the name or the source. I would only hope that those of you who are unfortunate enough to read the article will pepper the site with comments pointing out the piece is just plain wrong.

    As I said, Apple does screw up in small and big ways. In retrospect, maybe they could have done something different when testing iOS 5 to better isolate potential battery problems. But it’s not as if developers didn’t have copies of beta versions. If battery life was routinely sucked dry, the problem would have been obvious and reported often enough for Apple to attempt get a handle on the problem. Of course, if the iPhone 4s is more vulnerable to these bugs, and it doesn’t happen very often, it’s understandable that the real problems wouldn’t reveal themselves until the product went on sale.

    I do not pretend to have all the facts, so I’m not going to say that Apple could have done better. Besides, unless you expect to use your iOS 5 device in a setting where you can’t get to a charging station, or a Mac or PC, to recharge the unit, it may only be a minor inconvenience. At least you’re forewarned.

    But consider the plight of the owner of an Android OS smartphone. If an OS bug causes an undue drain on battery life, what’s your recourse? Yes, it’s possible Google will patch the bug, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get that update. Support remains the province of your wireless carrier, not the handset maker, and certainly not Google, and I won’t consider the issue of rooting or jailbreaking the smartphone to get that update. Customers shouldn’t have to put up with that nonsense.

    Now in Android land, if battery life is bad, you can always use a utility to kill a process, to see whether it’s sucking too much juice. This sort of thing may appeal to power users, who want the nth degree of control over their gadgets. But for regular people, it doesn’t make sense, and it makes less sense if there’s a critical OS update impacting security and performance that you can’t get.

    Whatever you say about Apple, about their walled garden or their secretive approach to public information, when something serious happens to one of their products, they will definitely try to do right by their customers. Can you say the same about other handset makers?

    IS SATELLITE RADIO WORTH THE BOTHER?

    Let me age myself again. I remember driving across the country long before satellite radio was a gleam in the eyes of corporate executives and investors. There was no iPod or iPhone, and, when making a long trip, I’d bring a case of CDs of my favorite songs, at least after CDs arrived. I was never a fan of cassettes or 8-track, so I’d just make do with the radio, having to constantly change stations as I left the useful signal area of one and switched to another.

    In this century, the iPod, and convenient connection kits, made it easy to take along all or most of your music library and play your favorite songs through your car’s audio system. But satellite radio has its own advantages, such as being able to hear the same talk show or music channel across the length and breadth of the continental U.S.; well except in tunnels or other areas where there’s no clear path to the satellites.

    I gather truck drivers have really taken to satellite radio, and there are a couple of special talk channels catering to their needs. You can also get regular weather and traffic information for larger cities. For myself, I find the modest investment totally worthwhile, especially since, as a talk show host myself, I enjoy listening to specific shows that are otherwise, alas, only available on local AM radio. AM reception can be hit or miss in and around my home. In my office, for example, I sometimes have to rely on a station’s Internet feed to receive up a signal that isn’t static-laden, and, yes, I’ve tried several fancy radios that promise better reception without success.

    Getting satellite radio is essentially a no-brainer if you buy a new car, or a recent used model. It’s often standard equipment even on lower priced compact vehicles, or it can be dealer installed for a modest sum. The standard new car deal is three months to one year of free service, and, even though Sirius and XM are one these days, the channel lineups remain slightly different. Car audio systems will have one or the other, although they were supposed to merge the systems at some point in time.

    Some of the best parts of satellite radio are the commercial free music channels. Sirius XM has signed up all the famous disk jockeys of old, even New York’s “Cousin” Bruce Morrow, now 74 years young, who sounds almost the same as he did when I was a kid. Yes, it’s the same patter, mixed on occasion with interviews of both new and vintage artists. Other famous DJs are in on the act with their own music specialties, and some artists, such as Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, do their own shows from time to time.

    Just the other day, I was listening to rock keyboardist Keith Emerson talking about his musical history on a station devoted to classic rock. A press of a button, and I could hear a 1950’s crooner with a vintage tune. Another station features classic radio shows, dating from the 1930s through the 1950s, where you can hear “The Shadow,” “The Lone Ranger,” and various and sundry comedy acts of old.

    Now as far as audio quality is concerned, it’s pristine enough, free of noise, although it’s highly compressed with noticeable digital artifacts. Satellite sound is on a par with FM radio in most respects, which means that even the most expensive car audio system can only do so much to improve matters, but it’s more than acceptable for all but serious audio critics.

    It’s not as if free radio is taking satellite and Internet radio sitting down. There is HD radio, where the AM and FM stations are digitized and thus deliver superior audio quality. AM sounds near as good as FM, and FM comes close to CD, assuming the stations aren’t messing up the audio quality with heavy limiting to get more “talk power.” But it also means buying an extra radio, and not all car audio systems support HD. Last I checked, I couldn’t find HD in any Honda sedan, and it’s hit or miss at Hyundai or Kia (some options include it, some don’t). Besides, it’s not as if HD allows a station’s signal to reach a wider range.

    For now, I’m perfectly satisfied with satellite radio, and the price is even more acceptable now that I’ve abandoned Netflix.

    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
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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