It was a busy week for the tech industry in anticipation of Apple's expected announcement of the iPhone 5 on September 12. Amazon revised the Kindle tablet lineup, including the launch of a forthcoming 8.9-inch version. In addition, Nokia took another step at attempting to make the Lumia smartphones relevant, but both product intros had some peculiar and questionable marketing attached to them, as you'll see in my next article.
In addition, Intel announced that guidance for the third quarter would be lowered, with an expected seven percent revenue drop. It's all about declining PC sales, particularly in the business market. Intel's statement referred to a "challenging" environment, where it also appears more and more businesses are looking at tablets -- most particularly the iPad -- and smartphones, instead of buying new PCs.
The weakened PC market may not end anytime soon. The glory days for the PC industry could be over, and Apple stands to benefit the most. Windows 8 doesn't seem to be a factor to drive near-term growth after it arrives on October 26. So it may well be that Microsoft's concept of a PC+ era is absolutely wrong. But I have said that already.
Meantime, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, tech commentator Rob Pegoraro reviews the recent IFA Consumer Electronics Unlimited show, which took place in Berlin, and some of the most fascinating gadgets he checked out. He'll also comment on the current developments in the tech universe.
You'll also hear from Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who will also discuss some compelling gear presented at the IFA trade show, along with the newest Windows Phone handsets from Nokia, Amazon's updated Kindle lineup, and the possibilities for a smaller version of Apple's iPad.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a wide-ranging discussion on puzzling UFO events and other unusual encounters that includes reports of UFO crashes at Kingman, AZ in 1953. Our guests include Harry Drew and Ruben Uriarte.
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 many of you know, Amazon's announcement of a new lineup of Kindle tablets has gotten a lot of publicity. But the one irritating fact, one that threatened to make these new tablets non-starters for many potential customers, didn't get so much attention. In fact it was hardly mentioned, but it seems, you see, that the new Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD is ad-subsidized.
Sounds surprising, but it's true, and this is already a "feature" of the cheapest Kindles, designed to lower the purchase price, so you shouldn't be surprised that Amazon would want to spread the "joy." For the Kindle Fire lineup, Amazon will place ads on the lock screen and home screen. I suppose they expect customers to put up with such intrusions in exchange for the lower price tags, but that's a huge question mark. I do wish the media had spent more attention on the ad-driven factor in praising these tablets to the skies.
However, there is now a published report that, yes, customers will be able to remove the ads for a $15 fee. Well, at least it's not $150, but it's still quite clear that the Kindle Fires are being sold at or below cost, in the hope that consumers will make up the difference buying products and services from Amazon.
For the most part, the Kindle Fires are designed as media consumption devices, with Amazon as the primary beneficiary. The app ecosystem remains quite small, compared to Google, and especially compared to Apple. In addition, Amazon is also still basing its OS on an older version of Google's Android, which doesn't help performance. Amazon hopes that they can work around that limitation with brute force, using more powerful processors.
Also, Amazon's release timing is off. While the smaller models will arrive this coming week, you'll have to wait until late November for the 8.9-inch flagship Fire HD. That's not going to help holiday sales, but I realize that Amazon may not have been able to push development any faster. Or perhaps they are pinning their hopes on the 7-inch tablets, since the original Kindle Fire evidently did pretty well last year.
However, it's hard to know how many units Amazon is moving. They claim 22% of the tablet market (though I suppose that could be confined to the 7-inch space), without actually disclosing any real numbers. In addition to omitting the ad-supported factor, Amazon is not being asked the hard questions about the actual sales figures. As far as I'm concerned, Amazon is just blowing smoke, and I'll stand by that until details are forthcoming, but I don't expect to see any.
What's more, if Apple does indeed release an iPad mini this fall, and there appear to be growing expectations that such a product will actually appear by no later than early October, that could really impact the market, such as there is, for smaller tablets. No wonder Amazon and Google rushed in with early produce releases, in hopes of getting the upper hand.
Now when it comes to Nokia, it's fair to say the company's glory days lie in the past. The Windows Phone models haven't done very well, despite some heavy marketing for the former flagship, the Lumia 900. This week, a replacement, the Lumia 920 was announced, which will come preloaded with Windows Phone 8.
But here's the hard part: This new model apparently won't ship until November, which is a bit late for pushing holiday sales. Worse, announcing this product two months in advance will gut sales of the existing model, which is already challenged because the Lumia 900 can't be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. That's an unfortunate limitation of Microsoft's OS, that older models cannot use it. Indeed, it runs counter to the way the traditional Windows OS was built, since even Windows 8 supports PCs several years old with the promise of decent performance.
All right, Nokia shot themselves in the foot, but it only gets worse. You see, one of the most compelling features of this new smartphone is the PureView camera, which comes with image stabilization technology and the promise of superior low-light performance. The former would be great for movies, where holding a tiny gadget steady is an exercise in futility.
I've read an early review or two that praises these features, but evidently Nokia didn't get the memo. You see, their ads were faked, using professional gear rather than an actual Lumia 920 to demonstrate stable movies, and great images in dark surroundings. The fakery was so transparent that enough people were able to see reflections of the camera crews in the photos posted by Nokia.
Yes, they did apologize after being called on the carpet for their deception. Their excuse? They wanted to demonstrate the features, rather than the capability of the Lumia 920 itself. Or perhaps there are still bugs in the camera system that will be addressed before the November release date. Regardless, Nokia likely lost sales due to this clumsy attempt to deceive.
Sure, lots of companies exaggerate or lie in their advertising claims. Nokia got caught, and, in their situation, that doesn't auger well for the potential of the Lumia line. I mean, if they aren't confident enough in their products to accurately demonstrate what they can do, how can you expect a potential customer to feel confident about buying one?
This was supposed to be a blockbuster summer for the movie industry. Headed up by such widely hyped feature films as "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," and a reboot of "The Amazing Spider-Man," how could Hollywood miss? Add to the mix such second-tier action flicks as "The Bourne Legacy," a Bourne movie without Borne, and "The Expendables 2," featuring just about every action star anyone can think of, and it was a sure thing that this was going to be one thrill-packed season.
Well, things started on a positive note. "The Avengers," directed and written by cult favorite Joss Whedon, was a blast. It not only grossed over $1.5 billion, but it was a fun ride from beginning to end. Having not gone to the multiplex for a while, I coaxed Mrs. Steinberg to join me to see the 3D version, and we enjoyed every minute of it. Sure, it was rife with the usual super hero movie clichés in abundance, but an ensemble team of great actors, most particularly Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, and the always-scowling Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, made it all the more enjoyable.
How can you miss with A-list actors when they are given the freedom to chew the scenery?
I also got to see "The Dark Knight Rises," a couple of weeks after the tragic shooting during the film's premiere weekend at a Colorado movie theater. I suspect that, for a time, that awful episode cast a pall on the potential for the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Although the box office take has exceeded that of its predecessor, "The Dark Knight," worldwide, it's running about $100 million less in the U.S.
My son (home from Madrid for a few weeks) and I went to a matinée showing on a regular screen. We didn't bother with IMAX, and the film wasn't offered in 3D. Regardless, we had a terrific time. It was a fitting and proper way to end Batman's journey, and, spoilers in mind, set up the possibilities of a reboot of the character in the future by another director and writing team.
At the start of "The Dark Knight Rises," I saw the first preview of "Man of Steel," the Superman remake that will debut in 2013. It's a darker portrayal of the character, to be sure, with lots of promise and it's again loaded with A-list character actors to flesh out the film that stars British actor Henry Cavill as Superman and Clark Kent.
"Men in Black 3" was a surprisingly touching presumed final entry in this sci-fi action comedy series, with Josh Brolin somehow finding his inner Tommy Lee Jones in portraying the young Agent K. Will Smith was, well, Will Smith. A good time was had by all.
The only other summer film I've seen so far was a movie rental, "Safe," a boilerplate action flick starting Jason Statham as an ex-cop who becomes the savior of an 11-year-old Chinese girl who has the perfect memory for numbers. The plot is a clumsy hodge-podge involving corrupt cops, who are being paid off by both the Chinese and Russian mobs. Don't ask me to explain. But Statham is actually quite a good actor who manages to look totally believable in the action scenes, and still manage a clever quip at the appropriate moment. Indeed, Statham is clearly capable of pulling off a more traditional drama if given half a chance.
Unfortunately, "Safe," which actually arrived a couple of weeks before the start of the summer movie season, only managed a little over $35 million worldwide. Throughout the summer, loads of films underperformed, which means that summer 2012 didn't come close to meeting inflated industry expectations.
It's not that the films were necessarily bad. Maybe the Colorado shooting did make an unknown number of movie-goers reluctant to visit a theater. Or perhaps the selection and the marketing wasn't compelling enough to entice people to pay higher-than-ever ticket prices. Maybe more of you are waiting for pay-per-view or Blu-ray, so you can watch a film in the comfort of your home.
Indeed, with a decent flat panel TV and a proper sound system, the home theater experience has become more and more enjoyable. That's true even though 3D hasn't really gone so far, but even cheap TVs these days are good enough to deliver an entertaining movie watching experience.
Besides, haven't you had enough of $4 diet drinks and equally costly popcorn?. That and higher ticket prices has to discourage a family when the world economy stays in questionable shape. It doesn't help that Hollywood somehow manages to waste more and more money on making movies these days. Does it really cost $200 million or more to make a credible action movie, even if the actors aren't getting the largest piece of that pie? I'd think that a truly creative special effects team could figure out how to provide 95% of the same visual enhancements for half the money. If films were cheaper to make, maybe the owners of movie theaters could also lower ticket prices and make concessions affordable.
No, it's not going to happen. Hollywood is simply hoping for a lucrative fall and winter that will compensate for summer's failings. You'll see such features as "Skyfall," the latest James Bond movie featuring Daniel Craig, and Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
In addition to "Man of Steel," the summer of 2013 will spotlight "Star Trek 2," "Iron Man 3," and even "The Lone Ranger" with Johnny Depp as Tonto. How can it miss, but haven't I heard that before?
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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