This week, we probably set a record for the number of guests on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. We had five, covering subjects ranging from social networking to Mac security and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
First up on the episode was Chrysta Olson, Director of Communications for Pheed, a new social networking portal that reportedly combines some of the best features of Facebook, Twitter and other services. Yes, I've signed up, and let's see how this venture sustains itself compared to the competition.
You also heard from Macworld contributor Rob Griffiths, of Many Tricks, who discussed his comparison between Siri voice recognition and Google, and which service delivered faster and more accurate results on the iOS platform.
For a security wrap-up, we presented Jeff Erwin, CEO for Intego, a Mac security software publisher, and the company's senior security analyst, Lysa Myers.
In addition, tech journalist Rob Pegoraro, who writes a weekly column for USA Today, reported on the 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and some of the most interesting mobile gear introduced at the event. He also offered you his views about how wireless carriers overcharge you for international roaming. This brought to mind my brief encounter with a cell tower in Mexico while driving in southern California, and the "Welcome abroad!" text message that arrived from AT&T inviting me to spend loads of extra money on one of their overpriced international roaming plans.
Maybe, instead of investing in gold, we should be investing in international data plans. If that sounds absurd, consider the high charges exacted by wireless carriers if you deliberately or accidentally come into contact with a foreign cell tower.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present TV producer John Greenewald, Jr., founder of The Black Vault, who has scanned hundreds of thousands of documents he retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act, which cover UFOs, the Kennedy assassination and a number of other controversies and conspiracies. He'll also answer questions from our listeners.
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.
In days gone by, when a reporter wrote a story, it was common to examine older material to get a background on the report or on previous reports that may have dealt with the same or similar subject material. On a newspaper, the reporter would examine older editions, the paper's "morgue." These days most of the material has been digitized for fast research.
Sure you just use Google or your chosen search engine to bone up on some background material, except that Internet research doesn't discriminate against real or fanciful stories. But if you check a presumably reliable source, you can find a wealth of material. That assumes the publication in question doesn't charge you a special fee to research older stories.
But some commentators don't bother with the research. They just make things up. Once someone else picks up the original false story, the rumors can spread quickly.
Lest we forget, Apple moved five million of them on the first weekend and, they claimed, would have sold more if sufficient stock was available. Indeed, according to Apple, the iPhone 5 was constrained until December of 2012, which means they had trouble meeting demand. How is that "tepid"?
Even while all this nonsense was being spread by ignorant (or deceitful) commentators, Apple managed to place two iPhones, the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4s, ahead of the highly-touted Samsung Galaxy S3 in sales for the December quarter. So Samsung did well, Apple did badly. That disconnect doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but such facts could easily have been researched by that New Yorker scribe had he bothered to check. Instead, he just made stuff up so that he could lie about Apple's troubled condition.
Supposedly Apple's troubles were worsened by Mapgate, the perception that the flaws in Maps for iOS 6 have hurt Apple's credibility and sales, although there really isn't any evidence for the latter. It's not that iPhone and iPad users didn't have alternatives, which includes Google Maps. But the disparity is being exaggerated. In addition to putting up a warning notice that its mapping service may not be accurate, I've seen Google make frequent mistakes in my travels. Just this weekend, for example, they delivered directions to the nearest Sam's Club warehouse outlet, and got the final directions into the store parking lot reversed. Google said turn right, when I was opposite the store, which was located to my left.
This doesn't mean Apple didn't screw up badly. Perceptions count for a lot, and if they just followed Google's lead and called Maps beta, they'd have an excuse, although that apology from Tim Cook did help. I also see that Maps is getting better on a fairly consistent basis, and I wonder if Apple will be ready to offer a real face-off against Google when iOS 7 appears.
However, if the stock market price means anything, Apple is troubled. Over a third of the market value has been shed in the last few months, after hitting a peak of over $700 a share. Aside from the curious perceptions about Apple in 2012, during which they set sales records, although maybe not quite as big as some analysts predicted without evidence, I suppose there are possible concerns.
So, for example, the competition is introducing more and more new gadgets to compete with the iPad and the iPhone. There was a report that the iPad's share of the market had dipped below 50% in the December quarter. But that number may be bogus. You see, Apple doesn't report sales in the same way as rival companies. Samsung will record a sale when the item is shipped, whether or not that item actually gets into the hands of a paying customer. Apple reports sales as just that, a sale to a real user. It doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine that a company will ship loads of extra product at the end of a quarter to make it seem as if more units were sold.
It's also true that Apple, all by itself, earned 69% of profits in the wireless handset industry. Most of the remaining profits were booked by Samsung, and the rest of the industry isn't faring so well against number one and number two. In fact, there was a recent report that Google is concerned about Samsung's dominance over the Android platform. But since I don't have verification for this claim, I'll just take it as another story, perhaps with a logical reason for being, and little more.
Unfortunately, when the media gets on a kick, however unfounded when it comes to facts, it's going to be hard to turn the tide. Maybe Cook should have fought back at the recent Apple shareholder's meeting. I tend to think that Steve Jobs would not have been so accepting of the situation. Regardless, if Apple corporate communications hit back when erroneous reports appeared that hurt the company's standing on Wall Street, maybe some of these ongoing misperceptions would vanish. Sometimes a "no comment" response only makes things worse.
Several weeks ago, I ventured into the Android universe, after spending over five years with an iPhone at my side. But the migration to a Samsung Galaxy S III was anything but seamless. It is, as I reported originally, similar to the Mac versus Windows argument. Google offers more granular settings that help you customize your smartphone's user experience, but it may end up confusing people who just want the thing to work.
My goal was to attempt to mimic my experience on an iPhone as much as possible, since Android is supposedly copied from the iPhone. More or less, I was able to do that, although Android apps tend to be less reliable and more confusing to use than even the equivalent iOS versions. One reason for this is the fact that Google exerts minimal control over the platform. An app can have serious flaws, and still get released.
Discovering, for example, that InoMail for Android is meant to closely resemble the Mail for iOS experience, I downloaded the free version. There is a paid edition with more themes that doesn't contain ads, though the ads on the free edition aren't really intrusive.
InoMail worked well enough until it stopped after about a day. For some unknown reason, the app became unable to access two of my IMAP email accounts, even though the settings were correct. Removing and adding the same accounts would give me a day of decent performance, after which the problem recurred. Unfortunately, the developer appeared to be missing in action, but within days of my awarding the app an unacceptable (one star) rating in Google Play, the developer surfaced and explained how to send a debugging log to see what was going on. I was also assured that I'd get a chance to beta test the fixed version, but I'm still waiting.
Another email app, AquaMail, worked well enough for a while, and then lost the ability to access my mac.com account. Rechecking and redoing the settings failed to resolve the issue. I could, I suppose, return to Android Email, the one that ships with the OS, but that app has its own shortcomings.
Knowing that Android is not as secure a platform as the iOS, I also subscribed to an anti-virus service, something called AntiVirus Free. This app also has the ability to close unused apps that may consume extra system resources and reduce battery life. You see, power management remains a problem on Android.
When it comes to battery life, the Galaxy S3 supposedly registers close to the iPhone 5, although Consumer Reports claims it is better. But even though I don't run lots of apps, I have to rush the Samsung to the recharging cable more often than on an iPhone. On a few occasions, battery life was abruptly sucked dry within a couple of hours, perhaps because of a runaway process from a malfunctioning app. I never did figure out the cause, however. Whenever the problem occurred, I just restarted the handset, and battery life returned to normal. But it still doesn't quite match up to the iPhone.
Now perhaps CR's test was a glitch, and the original release of iOS 6 did cause battery life issues for some, so perhaps the magazine merely needs to retest the iPhone 5 to set things right. But how many times does CR admit to an error anyway?
Another irritating glitch I've noticed, and it may be purely psychological, is that I just cannot type as accurately on the Samsung's virtual keyboard. For the most part, the layout seems to match the virtual keyboard on an iPhone. The Galaxy S3 has a larger screen, so I should have more room with which to type, but I find that it just takes me longer to write even a short message. I also find myself using Android's autocorrect more often. Again, maybe I'll get used to it over time.
But I also understand why Apple gets higher usability marks than Google's OS. Android's fragmentation, and the decision by handset makes to add various and sundry interface customizations, also harms the user experience. In the end, though, Android has allowed Samsung to become highly competitive in a market that would be otherwise fully dominated by Apple. Customers have more choices, which is a good thing, and it's also true that Apple could learn a thing or two from Google, particularly when it comes to organizing large numbers of apps.
In the meantime I'll stick with the Galaxy S3, and I do look forward to its successor, which will be announced by Samsung at a special media event later this month.
Update: Since writing this article, AquaMail for Android has been updated with a workaround for the mac.com email problem. According to the developer, the situation occurred after a recent iCloud email outage. Regardless of the reason, it does appear that the connection problem is now solved.
Update II: A few hours after the AquaMail update was installed, I heard from the developer of InoMail, who calls himself InoGuru, about a new release to fix my specific email connection problem and some other issues. The cause was evidently the failure to properly delete a trashed message, which caused sync problems with some of my accounts. So far, so good. If the problem is indeed resolved, I'm prepared to grant InoGuru a five star rating. It is definitely the best Android email app I've tried.
THE FINAL WORD
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