So Research in Motion is Research in Motion no more. It is now BlackBerry, as if anyone cares. After all these years, you'd think that the company's name would not be a factor in the continued success, or lack thereof. Yes, I suppose the original name sounded more like a bicycle company than a smartphone maker, but names don't always have to relate to the product. Consider Apple and, in fact, GoDaddy, as examples of companies whose names do not signify the products or services they provide.
In any case, the public has left BlackBerry behind. Yes, the new BB10 OS and new smartphones, particularly the touch-based Z10, have gotten pretty good reviews. The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, for example, loves the touch keyboard. But pretty good is just not enough when you have two entrenched platforms that pretty much own the market. Windows Phone is also pretty good, and Microsoft, Nokia and AT&T have spent bundles promoting the new handsets, but it's not as if many people care.
In any case, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, tech blogger Roy Choi, managing editor of TechnoBuffalo, discussed the state of the smartphone market, and reported on his hands-on experiences with the newest BlackBerry 10 handsets, including the touch-based Z10. Can BlackBerry's new products reverse the company's trend towards oblivion?
With an update on the state of Apple, and why Wall Street is down on the company, you heard from cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider. Daniel also focused on the state of Apple's competition.
Stephen Baker, Vice President for Industry Analysis at the NPD Group, discussed Apple's ongoing prospects despite taking a drubbing on Wall Street, how Microsoft's Windows 8 and Surface tablets are faring so far, and whether new TV technologies, such as the higher resolution 4K models, are sufficient to convince lots of customers to replace their sets.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present noted parapolitics author Kenneth F. Thomas, publisher of Steamshovel Press, who will deliver the latest developments on the most significant conspiracies of our time, including the Kennedy Assassination, nearly 50 years after the tragic event, the possible connection with UFOs, and other mysteries.
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.
The pundits complain about Apple all the time, particularly the decision to supposedly leave tens or hundreds of millions of potential sales on the table because they won't build a product that answers a specific need. Consider how Apple, by limiting product configurations to the minimum, may not be delivering what the customer wants. Even when there is a customize choice, as there is with a Mac, the variations tend to be fairly limited. Only the Mac Pro appears to give you some solid choices.
When it comes to Apple's mobile gear, other than the choice of carrier, the options are largely in storage capacity, and only on the newest models. With the iPhone and the iPad, Apple keeps a few older versions in the lineup for the benefit of those who want to save money. With an iPhone 4, in fact, if you take a carrier's contract, the purchase price is essentially free.
But there is always a chorus in the media saying that Apple is messing up big time, that they should be selling more alternatives to their most popular product lines. After all, why not fill a demand that clearly exists?
Let's start with the demands for an iPhone with a larger screen. The original display, at 3.5 inches, it would seem adequate, except that many Android smartphones are far bigger. The hottest Samsung handset, the Galaxy S III, sports a 4.8-inch display, yet the physical unit is only slightly wider than an iPhone 4s, and it's taller and thinner. Samsung also uses a horizontal switch for the Home button, rather than a circular button, and, overall, the display occupies a much larger portion of the case.
Apple's compromise was the iPhone 5, with a 4-inch screen, and they were only recently able to build enough of them to satisfy demand. Clearly customers are willing to accept a smaller screen if it comes on an iPhone, and I still don't feel so limited on my iPhone 4s.
But that doesn't stop the media from claiming that Apple is really missing the boat by failing to match the Galaxy S III pixel for pixel. But the more significant suggestion is that Apple should consider a cheaper iPhone for the third world or for customers who won't -- or can't -- get a subsidized plan and don't want to pay a bundle up front.
The rumors of an iPhone mini -- or just a cheap iPhone -- seemed to gain credibility when they were picked up by the mainstream media, but that doesn't mean Apple cares. I have little doubt that Apple would just love to sell more iPhones, but not at the expense of making cheap plastic junk, nor will they pollute the product line with loads of sometimes incomprehensible variations. And, by the way, the Galaxy S III's case, though the unit seems well constructed, appears to be mostly plastic.
Do you recall the mid-1990s, when there were so many versions of the Mac Performa lineup that even Apple executives were probably hard pressed to separate one from another? That situation is common with other tech companies, and Samsung's high units sales for mobile handsets is not because of the Galaxy S III, which still lags behind the iPhone. It's about a vast lineup ranging from cheap feature phones to the high-end smartphones.
Remember, also, that Apple's net profits in the December quarter were more than 50% higher than Samsung's -- the entire company, including flat panel TVs and chips -- so it's not as if Apple's marketing plan is screwed. Apple has never built a product just to have something to sell. If there is going to be a cheaper iPhone, it would have to be something that is not just more affordable, but somehow unique in its own way.
No, I don't pretend to know how Apple should design a low-cost iPhone, anymore than I know how Apple might create a revolution in TV sets, should they choose to enter that market. At the same time, I think most of the people who think they can take over Apple's design studio and do a better job would be in for a nasty surprise if they ever got that opportunity. Apple's success speaks for itself.
Sure, if Apple loses their way, and sales really begin to stall or drop for the key mobile products, you can bet the media and the financial community will be clamoring for Tim Cook's head, as they should be. But there is no evidence that Apple's game plan is flawed. No, the ragged rollout of Maps for iOS 6 is not an example, nor are the flat profits for the last quarter.
If you believe the so-called "conventional wisdom" in the media and elsewhere online these days, Apple's Maps app for iOS 6 is fatally flawed, and Google Maps works just dandy. Indeed, the problems with Maps was confirmed by none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook, who told you to use other apps instead till they got it right.
That meant, for example, that you should even install Google Maps for iOS if you wanted to get the same level of reliability that users of Android handsets routinely enjoy. Following that suggestion, I did install the Google app on an iPhone 4s the day it came out.
In launching it for the first time, I was surprised to see a warning that it was a beta, though that sort of state is nothing new for a Google product. What surprised me even more was the fact that the media, in singing Google's praises to the skies when their iOS navigation app appeared, never mentioned that warning.
Forget for the moment the quality of Google Maps for iOS. Why would that important factoid be excluded? Worse, it seems that the app's flaws are being minimized in comparisons with Apple Maps. When the latter fails to deliver you to the right destination, the screenshots are spread far and wide. When Google Maps fails, well, it's not given near the same level of attention.
Yes, Apple screwed up. Maps came out with serious bugs, yet didn't contain a beta warning level. Some were just cosmetic, such as seeing the Hoover Dam melt in 3D mode. Locations and points of interest were equally flawed, and I realize some of the turn-by-turn navigation guidance was downright wrong.
However, Maps has gotten much better. Most of the destinations I've tried are generally accurate. One of my colleagues recently used Apple Maps to guide him on road trips around Europe through several countries, and he says it never missed a beat. In contrast, I've seen bugs in Google Maps, such as sending me a couple of miles short of a destination, or using accurate but overly complicated route guidance.
But how are things on the other side of the tracks? What about running Google's Navigation app on a Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, running Android jellybean 4.1.1? This is a flagship Android product, one of the best-selling smartphones out there, aside from the iPhone. So I would expect this handset to deliver a high-calibre Android experience.
Well, after getting one for extended review from Samsung's PR people, I went through a setup process that would seem overly complicated compared to getting your iPhone to run. Consider the comparisons between Windows and the Mac OS as an example.
And, to my surprise, when I launched Navigation for Android the very first time, what did I see? You guessed it! A beta warning, which you see depicted in this column at the left. Why is that warning prompt being overlooked by the media? I'd like to know.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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