The other day, I helped a friend set up his new Mac mini. The process was routine, until we reached a section in the setup assistant that requested information about the owner's Apple ID. That's where the troubles began, since he hadn't used his Apple ID in years, and had little recollection of what it might be. Rather than sweat the recovery, we just used his current email address. Since he's not an iTunes customer, that should have been it for him.
The next stopping point came when various iCloud options were presented. I summarized the basics of iCloud. My friend's eyes glazed over, although having a backup for his cherished contact list did encourage him, so I set up the account, turned everything on, and left it alone.
To be sure, iCloud's rollout has been somewhat shaky. On this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I brought on veteran Mac author and troubleshooting expert Ted Landau to list many of the problems with the initial iCloud release. He also had some thoughts about the possibility of an Apple integrated TV. And, yes, if the feature set was right, Ted would buy one, even though he already owns three flat panel TV sets. As for me, read on.
Direct from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, discussed some of the hits and misses at the trade show.
Bill Vlahos, creator of InfoWallet, explained how his cross-platform "file cabinet" application can be used to easily organize, store, and access your most private information in one very secure location.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a long-time student of UFO studies, Ray Stanford, who will describe his interpretation of the evolution of "discoids" used in the Missippian game of "Chunkey," from the very first seeming alien craft effigies laboriously produced in magnetic hematite-magnetite, to discoids that became increasingly practical for use in "Chunkey" that was seemingly patterned after observations of anomalous disc-like, domed objects docking with long, narrow things that in this space age we might call "motherships."
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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.
According to published reports from the mainstream media, Apple's contract factories have already begun to ramp up production of the iPad 3 for expected introduction in March or perhaps April. Gone are rumors that the release will coincide with the birthday of the late Steve Jobs, February 24th. Apple simply doesn't observe anniversaries, and one involving their co-founder won't make a difference.
What makes this sort of speculation more intriguing is the fact that it didn't come from a Mac rumor site. One of the more interesting reports, which appeared at Bloomberg, mentions a "high-definition screen," attributing the story to "three people familiar with the product."
Before considering the details, you have to wonder what three people Bloomberg is referring to. Certainly any respectable -- and not-so-respectable -- news outlet will protect sources. But only people who actually work at Apple, or one of their suppliers, would have accurate information to present. It may well be that, as I've long suspected, Apple executives are privately briefing certain media outlets about future product plans, so long as they aren't directly quoted.
Officially, Apple keeps plausible deniability. Predictably, an Apple spokesperson, quoted in the article, said they don't comment on rumors and speculation. They're off the hook, but the message still gets out that the next iPad is going to be one powerful beast.
At the same time, I'm not saying the stories aren't true. Indeed, the early chatter about the bill of materials for the iPad 3 produces predictable results. There will be a higher resolution LCD display, four times as many pixels as the current model, affording a similar Retina Display feel when compared to the iPhone 4 series. This means text will be razor sharp, and the subtly ragged or somewhat fuzzy edges that you see in text displayed on today's iPad 2 won't be detectable at a normal viewing range.
There's some question whether the iPad 3 will be a thinner device, the same shape as the current model, or slightly thicker. The solution reportedly depends on whether Apple will use Sharp's IGZO display technology. If they do, they get a thinner display; otherwise, it has to be thicker to allow for use of a dual light bar that supports a higher resolution LCD panel.
The next expected improvement is a speedier processor, with reports speaking of a quad-core A6 design, one that'll also be used on the iPhone 5 later this year. With faster graphics capability, app switching will be even snappier than it is now, and powerful games will be able to play even smoother with all the fancy features intact. The front and rear cameras will predictably gain more megapixels, and the arrival of Siri on the iPad family is considered a lock.
Reports also suggest LTE capability, support for the higher performance wireless networks being rolled out around the world. To deal with the higher power requirements of the new LTE chipsets, there will be a larger or more efficient battery. This way, if you opt for your wireless carrier's data plan, you'll be able to get battery life similar to what you expected from an iPad 2.
None of this information should be taken as accurate, even though the details have been widely published. But a lot of it is just plain common sense. It doesn't take top secret information, deep background briefings, or reading tea leaves to understand where mobile technology is going and who might exploit that technology.
Certainly there could be surprises, although Apple can continue to make incremental improvements of this sort and continue to sell tens of millions of copies. One open question is whether the iPad 2, or a revised version, will occupy a lower price point when the iPad 3 arrives. At $349 or $399, it might introduce the iPad to customers for whom $499 was just a bit much. It would also make the $200 Amazon Kindle Fire and Nook Color tablets less attractive.
I also remain extremely skeptical about the prospects for a 7-inch iPad. Steve Jobs made it crystal clear that Apple didn't believe that size to be an effective platform for a tablet. His successors at Apple will likely continue to operate in lock step to his vision, so don't expect that to change.
More to the point, although the Kindle Fire reportedly did well during the holiday season, whether the design has staying power is an open question. It may well be that lots of customers bought them because of the attractive price, not because they perceived the Fire to be a better product, or an otherwise suitable alternative to an iPad.
Now when the iPad 3 is released, it is possible there will be some unexpected delights. Apple has a habit of doing the unexpected. But even if the current predictions are all or mostly true, that ought to be sufficient to fuel robust sales.
With Apple casting a huge shadow over the Consumer Electronics Show this week, as usual, speculation increases about whether there will be a large screen TV set in the company's future. That seemingly random remark in the Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Steve Jobs about "cracking the code" of a TV's interface was sufficient to fuel the chatter.
So you saw TV makers introducing more 3D models, adding streaming services and other features in part to defuse Apple's potential threat. Even Lenovo, a large PC maker best known for ThinkPad notebooks, is getting into the TV game.
This reminds me of what happened in 2010, where loads of tablets were announced at the CES in anticipation of the possibility that Apple was going to enter that market. Of course, when the iPad arrived, most of those products ended up stillborn. They couldn't compete.
While tablets hadn't come into their own until the iPad arrived, the TV business is a very mature market. You buy a TV and expect eight or ten years of reliable service before advancing technology and age combine to compel you to upgrade.
In 2008, before the state of the economy got real bad for us, I invested in a Panasonic 50-inch plasma TV. It didn't hurt that I was able to sell an older flat panel set, a Vizio, for several hundred dollars, and the dealer was evidently overstocked with high-definition TVs, because I got a killer price on the Panasonic.
The set is somewhat removed from Panasonic's top-of-the-line models, predates 3D and doesn't offer Netflix streaming, but delivers a gorgeous 1080p picture. If you examine the 2012 models, you will probably find a slightly better picture, but it won't be noticeable unless the sets are placed side by side and you look real close. In other words, I have no compelling reason to upgrade, even if a financial windfall left me with a decent amount of disposable cash.
Besides, our second generation Apple TV offers a decent selection of streaming options, between iTunes, Netflix, and some of the other services being offered. Our DirecTV DVR, now updated with a prettier high definition interface, is reasonably easy to use. Recording a single show or an entire season of new episodes is quite easy. I don't feel that something is lacking, even if I don't have voice recognition or loads of iOS apps to play with.
All things being equal, two or three years down the line, I might be ready to send that Panasonic out to pasture, or see if someone is willing to pay a modest sum for it, if everything is still in good working order. Assuming that Apple has entered the TV fray, a second or third generation iTV might be worth considering. But what could it possibly offer that I don't have now, other than, obviously, a simpler, prettier interface? Would Apple offer a better repertoire of TV content for an affordable subscription price? What about 3D? Is Apple able to solve the problems that currently afflict TV makers who are attempting to induce you to accept those dreadful glasses?
It made sense that Apple was able to succeed with the iPod. The smartphone market was simply waiting to be conquered, and tablets were stillborn. Apple found clever ways to enter markets with loads of potential, and earn billions.
TV sets are another matter entirely. We're talking about appliances here. They are expected to serve for many years, and the market is highly saturated already. Manufacturers are struggling to eke out profits, and prices continue to tumble. Is there room for yet another contender? Forget about Lenovo. Will Apple truly find this market worth bothering with, or will they concentrate, instead, on building a killer Apple TV set top box that'll replace all the rest with a great interface, voice recognition, and all the bells and whistles you can imagine?
I would buy the killer Apple TV set top box in a heartbeat, particularly if it's no more expensive than the current model. When it comes to a large screen TV set, ask me later.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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