With Windows 8 just days away from release, some PC companies are prepared to release gear that they hope will exploit the virtues of a touch interface. But you have to wonder if some of the solutions are so wacky, there's little hope for success. No wonder Microsoft created the concept of the Surface tablet as a "design point," in the hope of giving these companies a little reality check about what makes for a compelling, consumer friendly personal computer. You know, like the sort of products Apple releases.
Well, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Michael Prospero, Reviews Editor for Laptop magazine, who presented brief reviews of two curious notebook computers from Sony that come preloaded with Windows 8. You also heard about the results of a shootout pitting the iPhone 5 against what is perceived to be its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S III.
Now when it comes to those PCs, Sony has long shown a tendency to make flashier computers than other PC box makers. But the Rube Goldberg nature of these new products clearly indicates some sort of extreme desperation. Take the VAIO Tap 20. As the name implies, it's a 20-inch all-in-one computer that makes a clumsy attempt to marry touch with a traditional keyboard and mouse driven product.
At $999, it seems like a bargain, but one with low-end parts. Supposedly, Sony expects families to take this 11.2-pound monstrosity and transport it from room to room to perform various computing activities, such as playing games. But the pathetic integrated graphics reportedly are barely able to handle a casual game, such as "World of Warcraft." The built-in battery manages three hours, 50 minutes, according to the tests performed by Laptop magazine.
Does it somehow demonstrate the virtues of Windows 8, such as they are? Is it a computer that families will embrace in huge numbers because it's large and relatively affordable? Is Sony desperate to prove they haven't an ounce of innovation left? It sure seems that way.
In another segment, commentator Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, discusses the latest news and views about Apple and Microsoft. Will there really be an iPad mini, and how real is the Microsoft Surface tablet?
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris explore the other side of the mysteries of Mars and the Moon with Expat, to provide another point of view of the claims made by Mike Bara and Richard Hoagland about evidence of intelligent artifacts. Expat is the pseudonym of a former producer of TV documentaries for the BBC in London, now emigrated to USA and semi-retired. He maintains a blog called Emoluments of Mars.
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.
Get ready for a huge promotional campaign, as Microsoft begins an expensive attempt to tell you that Windows 8 will somehow miraculously turn the PC universe on fire. Throwing out the baby with the bath water, Microsoft has decreed that the world must be ready to embrace the Modern UI; that's the tiled-based interface formerly known as Metro.
But even if you're the proverbial power user, you will find that you may have to abandon many of the tried and true ways of doing things to embrace Microsoft's questionable vision of the future.
Take such basic tasks as printing, which is traditionally invoked by choosing Print from the File menu, or the Mac and PC equivalent keyboard commands. You'd think that Microsoft would have, in making what's supposed to be a more modern and superior operating system, attempted to make this basic command more discoverable, easier to do, right? Well, that's rarely Microsoft's way.
If you want to Print a document in Windows 8, you use the Charms menu. Printing a Charm? Yes, folks I'm serious. This is not a "Saturday Night Live" sketch about using Windows. It is the real process of printing a document under Windows 8, but let me continue.
The next step is to select the printer you want to use under Devices. Choose More Settings to change printer settings, such as printing in landscape rather than portrait, or using a different paper size. From there you select the number of copies, assuming it's not the default of one, and click (or tap) Print.
Is that supposed to be an easier process in Microsoft's "Bizarro" world? Or maybe the environmental factor is at work here, and not very subtly. So Microsoft is discouraging you from printing by making the process seem awkward. You don't want to waste trees, and by adding a step or two to the traditional Print dialog, you will accept their wisdom.
Or maybe they haven't a clue.
It's been an interesting exercise tracking the reaction of PC pundits to the debut if Windows 8. The feeling of skepticism is palpable. Recently, one news outlet quoted no less than Intel CEO Paul Otellini as telling Taiwan-based Intel employees that Windows 8 bugs will sting customers. It didn't take long, however, for Intel to claim the comments were "unsubstantiated," that any problems, such as driver incompatibilities, will be quickly fixed.
Perhaps Otellini received an irate phone call from Steve Ballmer asking him to shut up, or something less direct. Or perhaps Intel's CEO realized the potential complications to PC makers by speaking out of turn, that potential sales could be hurt, and it's not as if the PC industry is doing all that well these days.
Now there have been suggestions in some published reports that you can blame the shortfall in PC sales on the alleged Windows 8 waiting game, and perhaps for the arrival of products, such as that curious Sony all-in-one, which hope to exploit the virtues of the new OS. Had there actually been some coming soon that demonstrated a modicum of imagination, I'd be inclined to accept the possibility that this assessment is valid. But the evidence of innovation smacks more of desperation, that the PC makers are willing to try just about anything in the hopes that this product or that will somehow gain traction.
As for existing PCs, if you buy one ahead of Windows 8, you'd get the upgrade free. So why bother waiting? Yes, perhaps PC sales will pick up some for the holiday season, at least from consumers, but it's doubtful the hopes for the arrival of Windows 8 have anything whatever to do with it.
The real issue, however, is that if Windows 8 tanks, does Microsoft try to rush out a Windows 9 (or 8.5) to fix the damage? If customers aren't lining up to embrace the Modern UI, does Microsoft beef up the desktop and restore the traditional look and feel?
But the real dilemma is the enterprise. They would be decidedly reluctant to force a company to undergo retraining because Microsoft decided that things had to change in order to advance their questionable PC+ vision.
Yes, I suppose I could be wrong about all this. It wouldn't be the first time that I severely misjudged something in the tech industry. However, five years from now, Microsoft may just be hoping more enterprise customers move to Windows 7. Windows 8 will be consigned to the relative oblivion of Vista.
This past weekend, there was a published report allegedly showing the English translation of a German product listing that included the iPad mini. Although some of the models and pricing seemed questionable, such as an 8GB version for $249 Euro (between $320 and $325 U.S. depending on exchange rates), it did seem as if somebody spent some time and effort to put it all together.
My personal opinion is that the suggested pricing seemed a bit on the high side, although we are looking at foreign exchange rates. The iPad 2 is $399 with 16GB storage. Cutting that in half would probably bring the price down to the $349 level, which means that it would make little sense to deliver an entry-level iPad mini, with the rumored 7.85-inch screen, for only a little less than a full-sized counterpart.
With the sweet spot for the 7-inch tablets in the $200 range, I would think Apple would want to be highly competitive. Apple does better with component pricing, since they purchase parts in huge quantities, so it would appear that they could build the iPad mini for less money than those 7-inch tablets, and leave plenty of room for a tidy profit.
Yes, I suppose Apple would want to keep pricing as low as possible, but there are minimum profits to consider. I suppose $299 wouldn't be out of the ballpark for a genuine iPad, but I wouldn't presume to have a handle on Apple's build costs. On the other hand, $249 would be perfect. A mere $50 premium would really spook Amazon and Google.
There's also yet another published report about a major upgrade to the iMac, with a thinner case. Should such a model appear, the 21.5-inch model may arrive first, with the 27-inch version shipping later due to production ramp up. But the window of opportunity for maximum holiday sales is closing, so it would seem to make more sense to get it all out there well before Thanksgiving, keeping the delay for the 27-inch version as short as possible.
All this for a product that is still just a rumor.
I still want to give you my 2012 iMac wish list, however. In addition to thinner casings, the protective glass cover will be integrated with the display, according to rumors. Maybe that'll make for easier disassembly. My best description for the disassembly process of the current iMac is don't ask. I would also like to see easy access to the internal hard drive, with an available second bay. This is the sort of enhancement that would make the iMac more attractive for content creators who want something powerful yet more affordable than the aging Mac Pro.
One thing you probably won't see is a retina display. The parts would be too expensive, and the need less certain, since your eyes are at a much farther distance from the iMac's display. Or at least, that's my vantage point for the 27-inch iMac.
And maybe I should consider saving for a new one. It appears that Apple has instituted an extended repair program for iMacs equipped with 1TB Seagate drives sold between 2009 and 2011. Or maybe not, since one on my iMac is sourced from Western Digital.
The other potential product is a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. That one would seem to make a fair amount of sense, now that Apple is able to meet demand on the 15-inch version. This new Mac, plus a refresh of the Mac mini, would, with the iPad mini (or nano) truly flesh out Apple's fall product release cycle.
But with the extensive amount of information about the iPad mini and the refreshed iMac, I wonder yet again how well Apple is doubling down on company secrecy. Or maybe the supply chain is just too vast to maintain those secrets. Or perhaps Apple is helping the cause with a few carefully crafted leaks to certain members of the media, who are only too happy to attribute everything to a "trusted source." I've long felt that's being done to keep the chatter going, and if that's true, well, they've succeeded admirably.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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