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  • Newsletter Issue #627

    December 5th, 2011

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    For several weeks, the Night Owl and our guests on The Tech Night Owl LIVE have been discussing the potential of the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, and with good reason. It appears to be the very first potentially compelling competitor to the iPad. Indeed, Apple skeptics have regarded it as a potential iPad killer, even though it has a smaller screen, and is severely limited in terms of features and performance.

    It's also a loss leader, sold at a loss by Amazon in the hope of getting you to buy their content.

    Now there's nothing wrong with selling products for less than they cost to produce, if it brings more profits in the end. Amazon is a good company, and they deserve all of their success. Indeed, the original Kindle inspired an ebook revolution, with loads and loads of customers giving up on physical books in place of the electronic kind. You see, ebooks had been tried over the years, and all of those gadgets failed. Amazon found a workable solution. Maybe it's not the best, but at least it changed the market in a huge way.

    Now you can argue about the best way to read those books, and which gadget you prefer. The E-ink feature on the standard Kindles appears to excel at delivering sharp text, at the expense of being limited to black and white. But such simple steps as turning a page can be slow, halting. Certainly a standard LCD display does that a whole lot better, and Apple seems to deliver the best overall experience with an elegant OS design, and offloading images to the graphics hardware. That's something Google appears to have only begun to master in the current iterations of the Android mobile platform. But the Kindle Fire uses an older version of Android, one never certified for use on a tablet, and thus suffers when it comes to fluidity and overall snappiness.

    Now on this week's episode of the show, we covered the ongoing problems with Apple's iTunes Match, why HP CEO Meg Whitman expects Apple to be the number one PC maker on the planet in 2012, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, including the results of a hands-on review, plus the ongoing problems with the Android and Windows platforms.

    Guests included: Columnist Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, tech writer Lex Friedman from Macworld, and outspoken commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Ed Komarek, a long-time paranormal investigator who is a vocal advocate and self-appointed spokesperson for the exopolitics movement within Ufology. He'll be presenting his views on UFO secrecy, an alleged secret space program, and possible contacts with alien visitors.

    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.

    ANOTHER LOOK AT THE MESSY iTUNES UNIVERSE

    When it comes to software to manage your music and video library, Apple's iTunes has been an amazing success. It was derived from a commercial app, SoundJam, but remains free for Mac and Windows users.

    Sure, iTunes isn't perfect by any means. Some complain of software bloat and performance issues as Apple adds more and more features. Others complain about persistent bugs, or the lack of features that would seem to be expected of state of the art software. In fact, you cannot even select text in iTunes. There are, however, loads of places to click so you can check out and perhaps buy something. Remember, first and foremost, iTunes is the gateway to a huge online storefront.

    Certainly, the success of iTunes is legendary, with Apple in possession of tens and tens of millions of customer credit cards numbers in iTunes accounts. But the way the system is organized only engenders confusion and, with the arrival of iCloud and iTunes Match, the system is only getting a whole lot worse.

    First and foremost, woe be the customer who dares to have more than one Apple ID. While having separate accounts may be useful for different family members, or maybe just because you forgot the login information for the original account, it can be the source of major irritation.

    Consider the problem I encountered recently, where my iPhone 4 somehow was listed as registered by Apple on another of my Apple IDs, and not the one I used for my iCloud account, which is the one I used when I subscribed to iTunes Match. As a result, I kept confronting a warning prompt that, since the iPhone used another Apple ID, I'd have to wait 90 days to change it so I could use iTunes Match and the free iCloud services.

    It took nearly 10 days of back and forths with Apple to demonstrate that I didn't deliberately register the iPhone with the "wrong" Apple ID, and that I deserved a fix. I suppose those of you who have encountered similar troubles can get the same result, if you complain frequently enough.

    I gather this 90-day policy was enacted to avoid the potential of music piracy, which might happen, I suppose, if you keep switching accounts back and forth to transfer music to different libraries. Maybe it was a bone for the music industry to get them to sign onto a deal with Apple, or maybe it's an example of paranoia striking deep. I don't pretend to have the answers.

    Now things would be a whole lot less confusing if you could simply combine your Apple IDs, once you demonstrate that you are the one and true owner of each. That way, there is no problem with using the "wrong" account, and no concerns about 90-day blocks. I expect it will also be far simpler for you to keep tabs on your accounts and check your online payments.

    Will there be a solution? Apple CEO Tim Cook was quoted as telling a customer some time back that they were working on a solution. I hope that quote is correct, and that a workable answer will arrive early in 2012.

    Aside from IDs, there are those ongoing bugs in iTunes Match. You might recall that Apple actually delayed its arrival until early in November, as they continued to beta test the service and a new version of iTunes. Registered developers were regularly warned that their databases would be deleted, and they'd have to have their music libraries scraped again and again.

    One irksome problem is that music tracks that ought to be matched aren't being matched. I can understand that people get their music from different sources, and I wouldn't presume to guess the percentage of legal and otherwise. Scanning these libraries and finding the proper match in the iTunes inventory may require a lot of careful and complex programming. At the same time, if you've merely ripped a mainstream CD, one Apple already offers, shouldn't all the tracks match?

    That's the theory, but it isn't happening that way. The song "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" from the Beatles "Abbey Road" album is a notable example. But I've seen other albums from the Fab Four and other artists where as many as half the tracks on an album aren't being matched. They are, instead, uploaded.

    I have contacted iTunes support to see what they say about the situation. Remember that free iTunes support is via email. If you call Apple, prepare to pay a $49 fee if you hardware is out of warranty, or out of the 90-day limit for free phone support, although you might convince them to waive the fee.

    Since complaining about their problem, I've had two email responses over a period of about a week. The first merely defined the different iTunes Match categories, being "Matched," "Uploaded" and "Purchased."

    When I again carefully explained my problem, they proceeded to tell me that I hadn't purchased the unmatched songs from Apple, which has nothing to do with the nature of my problem. So I tried yet again, carefully spelling out the issues in simple language, and in short sentences.

    Maybe I'll get a response that actually addresses the problem this time. But even if the iTunes Match issues are resolved, that won't get Apple off the hook. If they just owned up to the fact that the database may fail from time to time, and that a fix is being worked on, I think most of you would accept the explanation and move on. It would also be nice to get an official confirmation that we will, some day, be able to consolidate our Apple IDs. And I haven't begun to discuss the problems that occur if your music library has over 25,000 tunes that weren't bought from Apple. Or maybe I'm asking for too much.

    TIME TO DITCH NETFLIX FOR GOOD?

    At one time, Netflix was without peer when it came to online movie rental systems. Being able to rent the movies you wanted and keep them on an extended basis without paying those dreadful late fees pretty much killed the traditional movie rental business. More and more stores closed their doors, and industry leader Blockbuster took a huge fall.

    Every quarter, Netflix would report great financials, and the stock price would soar. They could do no wrong, that is until streaming entered the picture.

    At first, streaming was just a free perk with your Netflix account. You'd still pay fees based on the maximum number of DVDs you had at any one time, but if you wanted to stream movies or TV shows to your TV, set top box, or personal computer, it was incredibly simple. But the selection was mostly awful, consisting of unknown "B" movies, or older flicks for which demand had flagged.

    Clearly Netflix management understood the future, which meant that fewer and fewer physical discs would be shipped, and that most content would be streamed to the homes of their customers. They also had to sign expensive deals with the movie studios to get the rights for grade "A" product. At the same time, the industry forced Netflix to agree to a four-week delay in making DVDs available, to allow more time to sell physical media, and allow cable and satellite providers to collect higher fees of Pay-Per-View.

    What that meant is that movies would be released on DVD and Blu-ray, but your Netflix queue would reveal a much later release date. But that was only a small part of the problem.

    Some months back, in one of the lamer moves in corporate history, Netflix decided to charge a separate fee for streaming, meaning that you'd pay a roughly 60% price hike if you took both services. Now a price hike when the economy is in difficult straits is an awful idea, and that amount caught loyal Netflix customers by surprised. To make matters worse, Netflix planned to offload the media rentals to a second service, meaning you'd have to manage separate queues for each.

    While Netflix management soon realized they had behaved badly and cancelled that foolish service separation scheme, the price hike was retained. Expenses are climbing, and they say they are stuck, but over the next quarter, some 800,000 customers jumped ship. Between Pay-Per-View, Apple iTunes, and those movie rental kiosks at local stores, Netflix seemed on the ropes.

    As to Blockbuster, the remnants of the once high-flying retail chain were purchased in bankruptcy court by a satellite TV provider, Dish Network. There are still physical stores, though hundreds and hundreds have been shuttered, but there's also an online rental service that, for the most part, mirrors the offerings of Netflix, except for one thing: New releases aren't being delayed, at least not yet.

    Prices are also comparable to the DVD-only Netflix service, and you don't have to pay extra for Blu-ray, as you do with the latter. Blockbuster is also offering streaming, but only to Dish Network customers for now. Even better, you don't have to mail your DVDs back to the company; just bring them to a local Blockbuster, if there still is one in your neighborhood.

    No matter. I've signed up for a 30-day free trial with Blockbuster. Over that period, I've added three movies to my rental queue that are still weeks away from being offered by Netflix. If Blockbuster delivers the goods in the same efficient fashion as Netflix, they will get my business. My Netflix account will be history, and, they will deserve to lose my business. No matter what the situation, when a company treats customers badly, they deserve to lose.

    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #627”

    1. Jim C. says:

      The Netflix fiasco is a textbook case of how to do just about everything wrong and totally alienate your customer base. The board ought to fire Reed Hastings, because these problems have his fingerprints all over it. When they raised the price, and threatened to split up the two services, I dropped the DVD rentals and kept the streaming. Having done this, I expected my DVD queue to simply be transferred over to my streaming queue with most of the titles simply being marked not available. But, no, Netflix erased my entire DVD queue...another bad decision among many. What were they thinking...?

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    4. MaryAnn S. says:

      Please keep following the iTunes Match fiasco. While it would be great to consolidate IDs, the fact is there are many families where everyone does not have their own PC and where they do have their own Apple IDs. This is the case for my husband and I. We each buy our own music and apps with our separate IDs and separate user accounts, but the same Mac. Once I signed up for iTunes Match, he was locked out. Please help get this addressed. (If the music industry is so paranoid, they could tie the restriction to an ID with the same billing address rather than one ID, one computer.)

      Reply To This Comment

    5. Dan says:

      With as much play as iTunes match stories are getting on your recent podcasts, I thought this topic might be of some use relevancy to your future discussions interviews:

      I’ve considered buying my dad a new turn table for his old vinyl records so that he can encode them and take the music with him on his iPod. He has turned down the offer stating that a sizable number of his records are too worn to be worth the effort.

      My thoughts are that if I were to encode them for him, perhaps iTunes Match could take these static-laced tracks and replace them with the vaunted 256k versions available in the iTunes store. Since he owns the original media, I would think this would be a legitimate use, the same as a CD, but with more hassle. Do you know if any of your past or prospective interviewees have experience with this scenario? Does Apple’s ‘fingerprinting’ of tracks have any issues with exact track length or noise elements within tracks that would preclude this from working?

      I think there might be a somewhat larger audience of older guys out there that would appreciate this kind of scenario. Maybe more than your ongoing non-answer to mis-matched Apple ID issue ;-). Sorry, had to get that jibe in there.

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