While some of you might assume I'm as old as the hills, I actually grew up at the very end of the era of old-time radio, where dramas and comedy shows ruled the roost. It actually all began in the early part of the 20th century, when radio stations and networks began to feature a rich selection of what were in effect live stage plays and variety shows.
Some of those radio shows eventually migrated to TV, beginning in the 1950s. These days those shows, which included the progenitor of today's police procedural, "Dragnet," not to mention "Gunsmoke," regarded as a western for adults, are considered classics. I wonder how many of you remember that they actually originated on radio. And, yes, I realize that the star of the radio "Gunsmoke," William Conrad, a short, stout gentleman, was regarded as unsuitable for the TV version, which stared the six-foot-seven James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon.
Well, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we explored radio's "Golden Age" with Greg Bell, host of Sirius/XM Satellite Radio's "Radio Classics" show, which presents restored recordings of many of your favorite radio dramas and comedies. We discussed the fascinating back stories, plus the technology used to reclaim the audio on these lost gems.
We also presented Neil Ticktin, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of MacTech magazine, who covered AT&T's data throttling problems, and the issues facing developers who want to get their apps into the Mac App Store.
Macworld's Dan Frakes was on board to talk about Apple's next media event, set for March 7th, where the wraps will be taken off the next iPad, plus Apple's new Mac OS, Mountain Lion, which is due to ship by late summer.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Direct from the International UFO Congress in Fountain Hills, AZ, Gene and Chris present special exclusive interviews with Bryce Zabel, a creator of the "Dark Skies" TV series and co-author of "After Disclosure," UFO abduction researcher Peter Robbins, co-author of "Left at East Gate: A First-Hand Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident, Its Cover-up, and Investigation," and Jennifer Stein, Executive Producer of the award-winning UFO documentary, "The Disclosure Dialogues."
Coming March 11: Gene and Chris explore ancient mysteries of advanced beings said to have visited our world in ancient times with Scott Alan Roberts, author of "The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim: The Untold Story of Fallen Angels, Giants on the Earth, and Their Extraterrestrial Origins." Real or fanciful? You listen, you decide!
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.
As I've said in past columns, some media pundits, not to mention so-called industry analysts, believe they know more about the tech market than Apple. So when there's a product niche that's not being filled, they will attempt to make strong cases for why Apple needs to create those products right away.
Now as the iPad's sales began to soar, Steve Jobs said that Apple had experimented with different display sizes, and decided that seven inches was just too small for most of you. That statement came at the time when other companies resorted to the smaller screens in an effect to somehow match Apple's price.
The apparent success of the $200 Amazon Kindle Fire is being cited as a requiem for smaller tablets. If Amazon succeeded, Apple is not only missing the boat, but losing loads of potential sales to tablets with the smaller form factor. Therefore, they must be planning one, if not now, in the very near future.
There are a number of published reports, little more than rumors actually, suggesting that there will be a smaller iPad in our future. But it won't be seven inches, more like 7.85 inches, although I'm not at all certain how anyone arrived at that size, although it may be considered an adequate compromise. If it had the same resolution as the current iPad, 1024x768, pictures and text would be noticeably sharper than on today's full-size model. The smaller size would make it easier for you to hold an iPad in one hand without straining, and maybe there will be almost enough room for easy navigation.
Now some might suggest that it was the massive ego of Steve Jobs that prevented Apple from considering a different sized iPad, and that excuse might explain why there's no 5-inch iPhone, although the latter size has been shown to be extremely awkward for smartphones.
Where do these rumors of an iPad "mini" come from? Well, the usual suspects, often identified as "sources in Asia" who are allegedly familiar with Apple's supply chains, and thus ought to know when Apple is ordering parts for a different sized iPad.
But understand that Apple has probably tested dozens of different sizes and case designs over the years, before settling on the current iPad form factor. So far, just about every single "informed source" report indicates that the next iPad might be a tad thinner, a tad thicker, or the same size as the iPad 2, but it'll still have an identically sized screen. But most agree it will sport a higher definition display, with four times as many pixels, to provide picture that's reasonably close to one's definition of a Retina Display.
That doesn't mean that the next iPad, whether it's the iPad 3, or a rumored iPad HD, will be precisely what the pundits and rumor mongers expect. While it's a sure thing that a few selected members of the media already have the next iPad in their hands, they are honor bound not to reveal details of their experiences yet. If they said something ahead of the release date, they won't be getting any more prerelease product from Apple. So there could be surprises -- although the biggest surprise may simply be the arrival of a new version of the Apple TV set top box.
The argument for a small iPad, other than somewhat more convenience in holding the device, is predicated on Amazon's perceived success. But how many owners of the Kindle Fire only bought them because they were cheap, not because the 7-inch display is any better than a 9.7-inch display. Maybe you wouldn't need to sandpaper your fingers, as Steve Jobs suggested, but the smaller form factor is a whole lot less convenient for the sort of things you do on an iPad. The iPad is, in fact, an almost credible replacement for a traditional Mac or Windows notebook for many customers. A smaller tablet may be all right for reading books and magazines, but not necessarily for doing real work, particularly word processing, audio and movie editing, and so on and so forth.
Indeed, the smaller tablet may be, in many respects, little more than a swollen smartphone in terms of general usability. I know that I spent a small amount of face time on the Kindle Fire a while back. Forgetting the ragged display transitions and other artifacts of an inefficient OS, I found it far less convenient than an iPad.
But it's cheap, and that may be sufficient for many customers.
Apple's response may be just to continue to sell the iPad 2 for $100 less, or perhaps release a version with half the storage of the entry-level model, 8GB, at $150 less. At $349, the price may not be so much of an inhibiting factor even when compared to the Kindle Fire. While 8GB may seem a paltry amount of storage, iCloud may compensate for the difference to a large extent.
I know that, despite having a fair amount of stuff in iTunes, I never come close to filling the storage on my 16GB iPhone 4S. What's more, a recent survey showed a surprising number of people would consider a somewhat stripped down iPad 2, even though they would otherwise not be ready to buy a tablet computer right now.
I realize Apple will offer loads of answers during the iPad media event on March 7th. But I wouldn't presume to suggest they will say anything about a smaller iPad, or have any legitimate reason to consider such a product.
Now if the iPad 3, or whatever it's called, doesn't take off as they expect, or Amazon continues to ring up decent sales figures from the Kindle Fire, maybe there will be a somewhat smaller iPad in our future. But if Apple continues to make great profits from the iPad, they may not have any interest or concern in expanding the product lineup.
Without having any inside information on how this is all playing out within the secured surroundings of One Infinite Loop, I do not believe that Apple has any reason to offer a smaller iPad right now. I will never say never, however. Apple also has a nasty habit of denigrating a product or product configuration, only to deliver just that type of product after a while. Remember that the first Mac mini arrived only a few months after Apple said that they would never build a cheap PC.
You like to think that, when your ISP or cell phone carrier makes a promise about the services you're ordering, that promise will last. But hidden in the Terms of Service of most of these companies is a provision that says, basically, they can change the TOS whenever they want, even the service plans you're still paying for.
The big promise made by AT&T when the iPhone first came out was that you could use all the data you want for $30 a month. That's a promise that experience demonstrated to be difficult to keep. Smartphone customers, particularly those who use the iPhone, were just sucking up far more bandwidth than AT&T and other carriers expected, or prepared for. They pumped billions into expanding their networks, but customers in some larger cities still reported problems getting decent connections.
One by one, with the exception of Sprint in the U.S., the carriers dropped their unlimited plans in favor of tiered packages. Today the $30 you spend for a data plan on AT&T gets you 3GB, but AT&T promised to "grandfather" the original plans, so you could continue to take advantage of an unlimited package. But unlimited doesn't mean that you'll be able to enjoy the same download rate if you fall within the ephemeral 5% of customers who abuse the privilege.
You wonder, though, how anyone can be abusive if you were promised unlimited data. But if you examine the very fine print about the various plans from ISPs, Internet phone companies and other services, even the Web hosts who offer bandwidth without limits, you'll find that, yes, there are limits. Unlimited is seldom unlimited in the real world.
But a certain California customer of AT&T, one Matt Spaccarelli, identified as an unemployed truck driver and student, decided to fight "the man." When he discovered that his unlimited data plan was throttled severely even though he never came close to exceeding 3GB, Spaccarelli took AT&T to small claims court, where teams of lawyers are usually prohibited, and won an $850 judgement against AT&T.
This set the stage for potential lawsuits of a similar sort around the country. AT&T's terms evidently prohibit class action lawsuits, but imagine if thousands of double-crossed customers went after the company. Well, in response, AT&T modified their throttling program so that those with unlimited plans won't see a performance hit until they've used more than the 3GB limit that new customers can buy for the same $30.
Unlimited my eye!
I presume AT&T hopes this will stop the small claims lawsuits in their tracks, but maybe not. You see, there are probably customers out there who still feel betrayed, that they are entitled to enjoy unlimited downloads without speed caps in perpetuity. I don't know the legal ramifications, but it will be interesting to see just how the courts rule, assuming customers of AT&T's unlimited data plans decide they still aren't satisfied.
But knowing that unlimited bandwidth plans seldom exist in the real world, you wonder what Apple is going to do should they decide to offer a cloud-based TV streaming service. Imagine how much bandwidth you'd consume on a TV watching HD shows seven or eight hours a day, and you can see where ISPs and carriers are going to attempt to take advantage of the situation with extra charges, or by throttling or stopping your service. Remember that those who would sign up for such a plan will likely be canceling their cable TV or satellite TV packages, and your ISP usually offers TV packages too. How dare customers cancel their services, and then use more bandwidth at the same price to compensate?
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
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