It's a curious confluence of events. On October 23, Apple will launch one or more new products, the most significant of which is expected to be a smaller iPad, perhaps known as the iPad mini (or nano or even air). Regardless, if the price, as predicted, is kept within the $249 to $299 range, it'll be a barn burner. Amazon and Google will have a huge threat on their hands.
At the same time, there are two other iPad-related rumors. One is that the 2011 iPad 2 will be put to rest, and the other is that the new iPad might be replaced with a newer model, perhaps with a slightly thinner case, the Lightning connection port, and perhaps the A6 processor. These are the sort of changes you'd expect for the 2013 model, but some part numbers have emerged in the rumor mills that seem to reflect another iPad entrant, or maybe those numbers are fakes. We'll see, and I'll have more to say on these subjects in the next article, since developments are coming thick and fast.
On this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, tech journalist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for USA Today and other publications, covers such subjects as satellite Internet, broadband Internet performance (also see my commentary on a recent broadband account change), the possibilities for the iPad mini, the impending arrival of Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface tablet.
Joe Wilcox, Managing Editor of BetaNews, covers the Windows 8 issues, the introduction of the Surface tablet, and Apple's possible plans for the iPad mini and other expected new products.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris have a howling good time with paranormal writer Linda Godfrey, author of "Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America." You'll learn about the legends of humanoid wolves, shape shifters, and possible creatures that materialize in portal or window areas around the world.
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.
Unlike Amazon and Google, which sell tablets at or near the build cost, with the hope of making it up elsewhere, Apple expects to make a decent product on every single product they build. Their margins are among the highest in the tech industry, despite being able to remain highly competitive when it comes to the actual purchase price.
Yes, I realize that Apple gets attacked for the perceived high price of a Mac, but these are all premium models, using premium parts. In the PC world, OEMs continue to race towards the bottom, using cheap components in order to deliver those $500 notebooks. Apple will never play that game, and hence they are regarded by some as a company that charges you more for essentially the same product, even though that's not exactly true.
With the arrival of an iPad mini pretty much a given, there have already been estimates on what it'll cost to build one. Understand those estimates have been made without access to a real shipping product. It's just an educated guess based, in part, on what it costs to build one of the existing iPads, plus estimates on possible new components.
The current figures come in the $200 range. If that's true, then you should expect the iPad mini to be priced in the $299 or $329 range for the 16GB model. I suppose it's possible Apple will release an entry-level edition, at $249, with 8GB storage. This would be only $50 higher than the comparable Amazon Kindle Fire HD and the Google Nexus 7. But it's also true that 8GB is a paltry amount of space if you want to build a decent app collection. It may not be so usable in a real world setting.
But remember that the Amazon and Google tablets have 7-inch screens with 16:9 aspect ratios (same as your standard widescreen TV). The rumored iPad mini will come with a 7.85-inch screen and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Resolution is pegged at 1024x768 pixels, same as the iPad 2, meaning that apps will not have to be modified to run on the smaller product.
So even though the iPad mini, at these estimated prices, will be more expensive, you'll be getting a much larger screen in the bargain. There will be sufficient space for you to comfortably navigate the OS and your apps without having to -- to take the exaggerated claim by Steve Jobs -- sandpaper your fingers.
Since the original rumors about the iPad mini arose, I have been thinking real carefully as to whether I'd want one, aside from review purposes of course. The answer is probably no. I'm comfortable enough with my iPhone and my iMac, and the wife has grown quite accustomed to a standard iPad; I think she'd chafe at a smaller screen size.
But a smaller iPad may be just the ticket for reading books and watching videos. It'll be far easier to take with you on public transportation, and it has the potential of being a superb consumption device. Such a product may even be well suited for educational systems that don't have the budget for the full-blown iPad.
The larger question for Apple, though, is whether the cheaper model will add enough new sales to compensate for the potential cannibalization of the larger tablet. One estimate suggested that five iPad minis would be sold for each loss of a full-sized iPad sale. Well, maybe, but there's also the potential of stealing loads of potential sales from the makers of those 7-inch models, which will merely raise iPad market share to iPod levels.
Certainly, the timing of Apple's announcement is interesting. Microsoft is reportedly budgeting well over a billion dollars to introduce Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, both of which go on sale on October 26. But Apple's event occurs on October 23, and the announcement of quarterly financial results is set for the very next day. Both will dominate the news cycle for a number of days thereafter.
In turn, Google is expected to announce some new Nexus smartphones the following week, again upstaging Microsoft. That doesn't mean Windows 8 and the Surface are both destined for failure, but the message will be drowned in a sea of news from two companies that are regarded as far more relevant. That, and continuing skepticism over the sea change of Windows 8, are bound to create troubles for Microsoft.
Meantime, I'm not just interested in how the iPad mini launch plays out, but the possibility that some other expected products may just appear during the media event, such as a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, and possible refreshes for the iMac and Mac mini.
There's also lingering speculation of a minor upgrade for the new iPad, perhaps with a Lightning port and maybe some other internal refinements. A thinner, lighter case too? And there's also the question of how long the iPad 2 will remain in the lineup, now that there will be another way to get a more affordable iPad. But the prospects any of this will happen are far less certain than the introduction of a smaller iPad.
One thing is certain: The next few days will be quite fascinating for Apple fans, particularly if there are a few surprises to come out of Tuesday's presentation. It's been a while since there was a "one more thing" in their repertoire.
How time flies. Back in the mid-1990s, I took my first foray into getting broadband Internet to my home in Arizona. With the local cable company, Cox, still not providing speedy online access in my neighborhood, I decided to give a promising alternative, Sprint Broadband Direct, a try.
Sprint used a fixed wireless system, which required a tiny roof-mounted antenna to pick up the signal from the transmission center. As I recall, download speeds were quite swift. But as subscriber traffic increased, upload speeds slowed severely, hardly more than dial-up. Finally Cox installed the proper hardware in my neighborhood, and I was relieved. I happily discontinued Sprint.
It didn't take too many years for Sprint to stop signing up new customers. They were early to the wireless Internet game, and the system didn't scale up very well. But the service struggled on for existing customers until 2008.
Over the years, Cox broadband was mostly good, but sometimes hit or miss when equipment failed, or external wiring had to be replaced. The only other option was offered by one of the remaining Baby Bells, Qwest. Once the Qwest's broadband alternative became available to my home, I considered it, but decided that Cox, in those days at least, offered far better download speeds.
Somewhat later, living in a new dwelling in an apartment complex, I caught the ads from Qwest advertising broadband up to 40 megabits download, and decided to give it a try as a much lower cost alternative. But there was another reason: Although the Ultimate service from Cox promised 55 megabits download speeds, actual delivery of such speeds was debatable. The promised upload speed of 5.5 megabits seemed accurate, though.
Let me explain. There are several sites where you can measure your actual broadband performance, such as SpeedTest. As part of test process, SpeedTest pings different servers around the world to find the one with the best possible speed to your broadband modem.
Well, I ran SpeedTest with Cox, and kept getting download speeds in the low 30s. Cox's excuse was always that I had to use their own test server, and when I did, I routinely got figures above the claimed performance level. At the same time, however, actual downloads came within the range that SpeedTest reported.
Unfortunately, moving to Qwest wasn't viable. Even after being told I was "good to go," it turned out that signal strength was subpar in the complex, very much due to the fact that Cox had done the wiring, and obviously it was set to favor their system. Another apartment in which I lived for a while actually excluded Qwest. In contrast, Qwest has, in turn, wired other housing complexes. They can't stop you from using a satellite dish, according to FCC regulations, but there doesn't seem to be any restriction against confining you to one ISP when alternatives are available, which is very unfortunate.
In 2011, Qwest was acquired by CenturyLink. After moving to another dwelling in the Phoenix area earlier this month, I decided to give CenturyLink another try. Their online tools let you check your address to see what services you can receive and, sure enough my address was listed as eligible for the speediest package. Even better, I'd pay about half the Cox rate for the first year, and it would still be much less in year number two and beyond.
The installation occurred last Wednesday. CenturyLink shipped an Actiontec C1000A DSL wireless modem, which delivers essentially the same specs as a standard 802.11n router with four Gigabit Ethernet ports. The modem came preconfigured for my account. Once the service was activated, I was able to step through a simple setup assistant to get the wireless service activated with my preferred network name and password.
Now it was time to put the pedal to the metal. The modem's built-in status display indicated that the maximum throughput of 40 megabits down, 20 megabits up was achieved. CenturyLink's own test tool, run from my iMac, managed 37 megabits down, 18 megabits up, which is still quite good and well within the acceptable range. SpeedTest delivered figures that were also in that ballpark. It was great to be able to upload files four times as fast as Cox.
But what about downloads? Well, I retrieved the latest 10.8.2 Combo update from Apple as an experiment, and the 665MB downloaded twice as fast as it did from Cox. In other words, the real world speeds were far superior, despite the lower advertised download speed.
I measured similar speeds in the master bedroom from an iPhone 4S.
Cox is a standard cable company, whereas CenturyLink uses a DSL variant known as VDSL. The limitation of a DSL service is the distance from the telephone company's central office, or standalone network data point. If you're located too far from either, maximum potential speeds will be limited, although it still may be more than you need.
I'm always happy to get better performance for less money, and if CenturyLink continues to deliver the goods with high real world speeds, I'll be giving Cox the boot real soon now.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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