If you read the Apple-related rumors over the past few weeks, and never read any of the coverage of Apple's media event this past week, you'd still have most of the basics of the product intros. So there was indeed an iPad mini, a fourth-generation full-sized iPad, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, and new versions of the Mac mini and the iMac.
If there was anything surprising, it was the fact that the iPad mini, with a third more screen real estate, is actually lighter than those 7-inch tablets. Some were surprised, make that disappointed, at the $329 starting price. How does Apple dare charge $130 more than supposedly competing small tablets? Well, there is a fairly large real world difference between seven inches and 7.9 inches, and having a 4:3 aspect ratio, rather than a widescreen display, offers a lot more to see when used in landscape mode.
As for the iMac, the rumor sites predicted thin, without the optical drive. I don't recall anything about an Apple alternative to a hybrid hard drive (a regular drive with a solid state cache), known as Fusion Drive. That and the promise of more performance is more compelling than a thinner case, at least in my opinion.
Now on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we covered the extremely busy week in the tech world. At a special media event, Apple introduced the iPad mini, a new iPad refresh, plus several Macs, including a slimmed down iMac. Despite record sales, Wall Street gave Apple some lumps because iPad sales came in one or two million units below analyst expectations. Meanwhile, Microsoft launched Windows 8 and the Surface tablet.
Along to discuss these and other tech issues were: John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, and Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present "Shop Talk 2012," where we answer your questions about anything and everything related to the paranormal and even our personal lives. You'll learn why we need to run lots of ads, our favorite guests, favorite UFO books, not-so-favorite books, and our fearless views about the state of paranormal research.
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.
Anyone who has an ax to grind against Apple would have found lots of fuel for the fire this week what with Apple's new product launches, and quarterly financials that fell short of financial analyst guesses. While Apple is not immune to criticism, these so-called analysts often take the criticisms too far, or they betray a shocking ignorance of the industry they are paid to analyze.
Just the other day, for example, a Forbes magazine contributor, who will go unnamed for the usual reasons, concluded that Apple couldn't justify charging a higher price for the iPad mini, and use "thin" as what he called "a long term strategy you can count on."
Well, obviously Apple isn't just claiming the iPad mini is better because it is thinner. During his presentation at the San Jose media event, VP Philip Schiller made a huge deal over the fact that the iPad mini, by dint of its standard aspect ratio and larger display size, provided a better user experience compared to 7-inch tablets. Consider an iPad mini and a 7-inch Android tablet in landscape mode, and launch the Web browser. With the iPad mini, you get to see an acceptable amount of content, while the Android tablet's display barely shows much more than a site's headers without lots and lots of scrolling.
That is a significant usability issue. Indeed, Apple isn't selling cheap, but a superior user experience at any price. Amazon and Google sacrificed usability and quality to hit a low price. They sacrificed profits too, which creates a curious situation where they must earn money from other products and services to compensate. Maybe that works for printers and razors, but Apple succeeds by getting a fair return from the sale of their products.
Oh yes, Apple was also attacked for others for saying that profits would be less this quarter because of all the start up costs for developing and releasing new products. So we have the curious contradiction of saying prices are too high, yet at the same time suggestions that maybe they should be higher so Apple makes more money from each sale.
While we ponder that supreme contradiction, the Forbes scribe in question complains that the fourth generation iPad refresh breaks "an unspoken covenant that the iPad would be updated once per year."
For those who have not followed Apple carefully over the years, there is no such covenant. That Apple has handled release schedules one way for two or three years doesn't mean they have to always follow that pattern. We had annual iPhone refreshes for several summers until the iPhone 4s arrived in the fall of 2011.
By far the height of ignorance comes from the curiously ill-informed statement about mapgate. The writer in question asserts, "I was hoping Tim Cook would have taken clear leadership of this issue. Instead it was airbrushed away as if it [was] never mentioned…"
He clearly wasn't paying attention, because Tim Cook did indeed to apologize for the serious bugs in Maps within days of the release of iOS 6. He promised Apple would do better, and at the quarterly conference with financial analysts two days after the Apple media event, CFO Peter Oppenheimer did reveal that Apple had made a number of improvements to Maps in recent weeks. He promised that they wouldn't rest until the mapping service met Apple's standards.
Lack of clear leadership? Give me a break!
Or maybe the article was written while the author was sleepwalking, and thus oblivious to the facts.
Now as far as Maps is concerned, I think many of you will see that there have been noticeable improvements, especially to the 3D display. You can actually see the Statue of Liberty now, and bridges don't melt. Navigation accuracy is better, but still not perfect. So, for example, when I map a nearby chain restaurant located in a shopping mall, Siri guides me there, mostly, but cannot seem to recognize the fact that I've arrived.
In all fairness, though, a few hours before I wrote this article, I used Google Maps to guide me to a nearby health food store. Google put me on the right street, but the directions were also more than two miles short of the store's actual location (even though the address was correct). But it's not popular to suggest Google can be wrong when the media meme is to only blame Apple for such ills.
In any case, that curiously misinformed analyst is joining others in questioning Apple's long-term viability. Apple, to them, can no longer grow by leaps and bounds. In their worldview, Apple has become just another tech company. Hence growth will slow severely, and Tim Cook will rest on the company's laurels rather than take any risks. Then again, wasn't the "premature" release of a new iPad a risk? What about the iPad mini and the possibility that sales of the larger, more profitable iPad might be cannibalized? And don't forget about removing the optical drive on the iMac.
For now, I am not seeing real evidence that Apple has changed much beyond having a CEO with less severe mood swings.
So to add insult to injury, Microsoft held yet a another media event the day before Windows 8 and the Surface tablet went on sale. I use the phrase "add insult to injury," because it appears that Microsoft had nothing new to say at the event, so you wonder why it was held.
All they did, according to journalists who were present, was to repeat the same selling points that had been offered over the previous months. If you read the specs of the Surface tablet, there was little to learn, other than the fact that there's a paucity of apps. If you downloaded the public betas of Windows 8, you'd find that not much has changed.
But Microsoft plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince you that their vision of a PC+ era is the way and the truth. You are going to be assaulted with loud and pointless TV ads, such as the clicking, clacking and dancing fools who want you to buy a Surface tablet.
What does the Surface offer other than a kickstand and a cover with a keyboard? I'm not sure. The Windows 8 RT interface is essentially derived from the one previously found on the failed Zune music player, the Xbox 360, and Windows Phone. But what does it allow you to actually do beyond present the image of a thinned out PC netbook? Does it make you want to dance, or does it make you want to rush to the store to return the thing?
Then there was an article in a tech publication, clearly heavily influenced by Microsoft, which wanted to convince you that the enterprise was fully prepared to embrace Windows 8. The main examples included point-of-sale or product presentation systems, where you only need to use a single vertical market app, or watch a demonstration.
Now I suppose Windows 8 would be useful in such situations, since you don't really have to use many of the standard PC functions, nor struggle to navigate from the interface formerly known as Metro to the desktop and back. You won't have to confront the curious control panel interface known as "Charms," nor deal with possible driver incompatibilities.
But Microsoft's clumsy efforts to influence coverage won't change the fact that many businesses are going to object to having to retrain employees to use an OS that is different for the sake of being different. If they are moving from Windows XP, they'd be most likely to embrace Windows 7 rather than confront the Windows 8 mess.
Yes, I suppose it's possible Windows 8 will take off, at least in the consumer market. Microsoft claims a large number of preorders, although a lot of that may be businesses that have ordered new PCs that will, by default, incorporate Windows 8. It doesn't reveal how many of those businesses will just downgrade to Windows 7 when the PC boxes arrive. That, my friends, would be just a bit too embarrassing to admit, but it's a possibility.
Now I do not presume to be able to judge taste. It may well be that people will just adore Windows 8, and that they will line up to buy Surface tablets, at least the ARM-based ones, after the initial demand is filled. Certainly having another viable competitor in the tablet wars is a good thing, and if Microsoft's vision of mobile computing is, in fact, the correct one, more power to them. It would inspire Apple and Google to deliver better solutions.
But I'm so far very unimpressed by Microsoft's promotional efforts and clumsy media outreach. That the media is surprisingly skeptical about the prospects for Windows 8 and the Surface is a refreshing change. It should also serve as a wakeup call for Microsoft to reconsider a strategy that may end up seriously hurting the company's efforts to remain relevant. Win or lose, however, I will agree that Microsoft has shown a surprising amount of courage, or is it just desperation? But whether the era of PC+ is change you can believe in is an entirely different matter.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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