This has been a somewhat irritating week. Since "daring" to subscribe to iTunes Match on Tuesday, I have suffered from my iPhone's inability to connect. I keep getting the message that it's attached to a different Apple ID than the one I use for iTunes. This, of course, isn't true, but Apple support has been utterly obtuse about the issue. They claim it is, despite the fact that I sent screenshots that show otherwise, and thus I must wait 90 days to set things right.
Now I understand that iTunes Match is a work in progress, and things will change over time. There are still problems with properly matching one's songs to the ones in Apple's library, for example. But the Apple ID conflict can be a disaster for some loyal Apple customers. They need to figure out a solution, and, in the meantime, do something to try to avoid these 90 day limits. While I understand they might want to reduce the problems occasioned by switching back and forth, an accidental login by a customer, or some problem on Apple's servers, shouldn't result in such an inconvenience.
Since writing columns on my little odyssey with Apple, some of you readers have chimed in with reports of similar troubles. Why am I not surprised?
Certainly, the iTunes Match fallout was just one of the topics covered on our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we focused not just on the arrival and teething pains of iTunes Match, but how the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet stacks up against the latest Barnes & Noble Nook and, of course, Apple's iPad.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: 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.
If you look at the sales figures, you can't help but notice that Google's Android platform is still doing exceedingly well. Yes, Apple continues to chart huge sales gains for the iPhone. Yes, the iPhone 4S is still backordered. But the conventional wisdom from the media is that it's Google's game to lose.
From a pure market share standpoint, maybe they're right, at least until you begin to see why there are more Android phones out there. Suddenly, the picture isn't clear-cut.
Part of the problem is that some commentators want you to believe that the Apple versus Google competition is nothing more than a replay of the old Mac versus Windows wars. There can be only one, as they said in some of those cult movies, but that's not necessarily true. In fact, it's no longer true in the PC world.
At one time, there were a number of PC platforms. Do you remember Atari and Commodore? Some suggest the latter, sporting a spiffy graphical interface, was actually better than the Mac, although efforts by third parties to restore the failed Commodore OS to its former glory, such as it was, were doomed to failure.
But early on, businesses took the safe route, which was to stay with IBM. In turn, IBM licensed MS-DOS from Microsoft, probably unaware that Bill Gates bought the rights for the OS from another company before licensing it to IBM. It's the stuff of legend, but Gates was and is a smart businessperson. The ultimate coup was to make the deal with IBM non-exclusive, meaning other companies could build so-called PC clones.
Some suggest Apple should have granted the rights to the Mac OS early on, but the company's failure to dominate was due to other issues, none of which are worth summarizing here. But it didn't take long for the PC world to be confined mostly to Windows and the Mac, with Linux being largely centered on the server market. However it's also true that, nowadays, Mac sales growth continues to outpace the sales growth of most PC makers. The Mac remains a viable minority platform.
In turn, the mobile handset market is far too large and far too fragmented to ever be dominated by a single player. Apple, Google and, if they can get their act together, Microsoft and RIM, can all succeed admirably with decent shares of the smartphone market. It's possible Amazon may enter the fray, assuming they really want to get involved.
But when it comes to tablets, it's all Apple, with very little presence from other makers. Even if the Amazon Kindle Fire is highly successful, it may carve out a separate market for its own, for pure media consumption devices, particularly ebooks. Amazon is selling them at a loss, reportedly, expecting to make up the difference by selling products and services. They may even be successful, but they may end up simply killing off iPad alternatives rather than substantially hurting Apple.
Now in the smartphone space, don't forget that there are dozens and dozens of products powered by the Android OS, sometimes modified from Google's original code, built by a number of manufacturers. They are available to most any wireless carrier with, apparently, few restrictions.
In turn, the iPhone comes in basically three models with various storage configurations and carrier contracts. There's the 2009 iPhone 3GS, the 2010 iPhone 4, and today's iPhone 4S. The first are available in a minimal 8GB configuration, to keep the prices as low as possible.
When you compare Apple's simple and clearly-defined choices with the "Droid of the day" mess that prevails in the Android OS universe, you can see how incredibly successful the iPhone has become. Even though the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 are older models that do not, when it comes to specs, compete with current Droids and other smartphones in pure benchmark tests, they still register high sales.
The Android market is so fragmented with so many different models that no one maker, other than Samsung, can attain a decent market share. When going into a consumer electronics store or dedicated mobile phone dealer, the customer is confronted with a bewildering array of possibilities. They don't necessarily follow the proclamations in tech media, and have more important concerns. They are just looking for something that seems to offer lots of features at an affordable price, and no doubt sales clerks push specs, which are more clearly defined and explained than the subtleties of usability and interface elegance.
Of course, Consumer Reports and other publications that focus heavily on those specs don't help matters any. In the end, the customer looks for what appears to be the best bang for the buck; that is, if they aren't strictly shopping for an iPhone. With so many choices available, just closing your eyes and picking one from Column A will afford Android a much higher share of the market than Apple.
Customer surveys, however, reveal a higher level of satisfaction with an iPhone compared to any Android-based device. At the same time, Apple does better in customer retention, meaning that once you own an iPhone, it's going to be hard to consider an alternative.
None of this necessarily reflects on Apple's ongoing lawsuits against companies who build Android gear. Again, most people don't read about or care about such things when they visit a store to buy a smartphone.
In the end, so long as Apple can demonstrate consistently high year-to-year sales growth and great profits, it doesn't matter if another platform moves more product. And it doesn't mean that people who don't buy an iPhone necessarily chose Android, Windows Phone, or even BlackBerry because they thought they were better. Such fineries may do not always come into play when choosing a smartphone and a wireless carrier.
Of course, there may come a time when the smartphone market is utterly saturated, but as more and more people in developing nations begin to earn a little extra money, they will continue to seek a better lifestyles and classy tech gadgets. But some day, the smartphone may morph into the next great thing, and the real question is which company will provide that solution. How will Apple answer future market changes? That indeed may be the biggest obstacle CEO Tim Cook may have to overcome going forward.
When I first plotted my return to broadcasting in 2002, I wasn't offered a job by a radio station or network. I hadn't even sought one. But someone wanted to establish an Internet-based radio network, and asked if I was willing to participate and develop a weekly show.
Having worked for a decade as a broadcaster, the performance part of the equation meant recovering old abilities, and rediscovering myself, more or less. It was all a matter of time, energy, and lots of practice. Once I had the format details ironed out, the next step was to build a home-based recording studio on a shoestring.
Since the advent of podcasts, the task has proven quite simple. There are a number of fancy but affordable USB-based microphones out there, and Apple's GarageBand makes it easy for most anyone with a modicum of practice to produce a reasonably professional recording.
But the debut of my first new radio show came before podcasts, and thus I had to improvise. So I visited the neighborhood Radio Shack and acquired a cheap analog mixer and a pair of mics. Actually streaming the show to the network's server involved setting up Apple's QuickTime Broadcaster; they ran QuickTime Streaming Server on their end. So long as my broadband connection was solid, it was a relatively easy process.
The network flagged, so I finally decided to go out on my own. The equipment portfolio has since expanded to encompass somewhat more professional gear, largely because my tech show -- and the paranormal show -- are both syndicated by a traditional network and I need to provide a fairly close simulation to a regular radio studio in my home office.
As a renter, I opted not to invest in installing special implements in my office to reduce ambient noise. Instead, I compromised, relying on a standard single directional or cardioid mic to pick up my voice and reduce unwanted echoes and other annoying artifacts. It's not perfect by any means, and those of you who are sensitive to such things will quickly realize the limitations, but I haven't had many complaints.
Right now, I'm testing a $249 Yeti Pro from Blue Microphones. Call it a hybrid, since it works with a standard USB connection, and also via a professional XLR connection. The audio quality is solid, robust, and you don't have to "kiss" the mic to get good sound. I prefer the standard broadcast setup, where I'm six to eight inches away. Rather than hook it up to my Mac, it's attached to my old Yamaha MG124/4FX mixer.
The headphones come from Grado, one of the few audio companies left that actually designs and builds gear in the U.S. The model they sent me for review is the $299 SR225i, from their "Prestige Series." It has a comfortable foam surround, and offers a rich, accurate sound with solid bass and crisp treble. The SR225i has gotten great reviews from the audio press, and no wonder. And, unlike some other over the ear headphones, you can actually hear what's going on around you, unlike the Bose headphones I'd been using up till now, which attempts to filter outside noises.
The audio for the shows is captured in Skype. It's not the best possible solution, but has the virtue of offering free peer-to-peer calls, and relatively inexpensive paid services to telephones around the world. Connections to traditional phone lines are usually clear and robust, at least when the person at the other end of the hookup is using a landline. Cell phone calls are saddled with the expected digital artifacts, but it still sounds better than the traditional JK Audio professional broadcast audio capture device I had previously used.
Fortunately, some of my guests use regular mics for their Skype hookup, but audio quality still isn't perfect by any means. Sometimes there's distortion and breakup, and I am still limited by the quality of the mics these guests are using. Quite often, it's just the onboard mic on their personal computers, and other times they're using a cheap USB based mic/earphone combo that may sound little better than a telephone.
For software, I am relying on such audio capture apps as Ambrosia's WireTap Studio and Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro to grab the signal from Skype. Basic editing is done in Bias Peak Pro 7.0.3, with an occasional visit to Martin Hairer's excellent shareware app, Amadeus Pro 2.0.5.
GarageBand? I suppose if I wanted to record music, I'd use it. Maybe I'll break out my son's black Fender Stratocaster some day and get back to strumming on it a little. But not today.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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