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  • Newsletter Issue #713

    July 29th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    In one of my commentaries this week, I wondered why the tech media hasn't paid very much attention to Microsoft's costly failures over the years, such as the billion dollar charge to fix defective Xbox gaming consoles in 2007, and this year's $900 million inventory write-down because they had loads and loads of unsold Surface tablets.

    To be sure, Steve Ballmer has finally admitted that the Surface wasn't doing so well, and that fewer PCs are being sold. Does he have a great plan to fix the problem? Well, just keeping on and throwing money at it clearly isn't working, so one wonders why this guy still has the CEO position. If similar problems occurred on Tim Cook's watch, the media and financial community would be calling for his head, which would make perfect sense. Such is the Apple double standard.

    But that wasn't the only important development in recent days. On The Tech Night Owl LIVE, outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, from The Loop, and iMore, talked about the media's inability to understand Apple. He also provided some important observations about the company's 3rd quarter financials. We didn't always agree with the impact of the numbers, but it's still clear Apple did better than some of the critics predicted — or hoped for.

    Macworld's "iTunes Guy," Kirk McElhearn, discussed his latest book "Take Control of Launchbar," which covers the ins and outs of a popular OS X utility designed to make you more productive. He also discussed Microsoft's ongoing problems in light of having to take a $900 million write-down because of all those unsold Surface tablets.

    You learned about the causes of data loss on iPhones, iPads, Android gear, and Macs and PCs, from a data recovery and cellphone/laptop forensics expert, Russell Chozick of Flashback Data. He also gave you advice on what to do if the worse should happen. In the end, these recovery services can offer emergency but costly assistance when your data is lost due to an accident, damage, or a defective product. But he also admitted that Apple's use of hardware encryption on iOS gear these days makes recovery pretty much impossible with current technology. So be sure you back up with iCloud, so you can restore your data onto a new iPhone, iPad or iPod touch in short order if disaster strikes.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present "The Great Aztec Debate," featuring Scott Ramsey, co-author of "The Aztec Incident: Recovery at Hart Canyon" and long-time UFO researcher Kevin D. Randle. During this debate, Ramsey will argue in favor of reports of a UFO crash in Aztec, NM in March 1948. Randle is a long-time skeptic of the case who attributes the report to two alleged hoaxers who gave the story to the late gossip columnist Frank Scully, author of  a 1950 book, "Behind The Flying Saucers." The book was updated in 2008 with updated material from several authors, including Ramsey.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! 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.

    DOES APPLE HAVE ONLY ONE CHANCE TO STRUT ITS STUFF?

    Ah, some of those tech and financial pundits really shouldn't give up their day jobs. And if being a commentator is their day job, they are clearly in the wrong line of work. But I suppose if their trash delivers high circulations and hits, they can feel vindicated in their desire to continue making things up.

    So, the other day, I read a piece from a writer who claimed that Apple hasn't introduced any new products since last fall. Really? Now in the real world, rather than the Bizarro world in which that writer resides, Apple did a minor update to the MacBook Pro with Retina display early this year. New MacBook Airs arrived in June, coinciding with the WWDC. And let's not forget that developers are now busy testing OS X Mavericks and iOS 7, which are promised for a fall release.

    I realize Apple has not upended a market this week, nor last week, but that doesn't mean the company's promise of major product introductions beginning this fall and continuing through 2014, is not true. At the very least, there will be a new iPhone, maybe even two, if the rumored iPhone Lite or, iPhone 5c (or whatever it'll be called) appears. Let's not forget refreshes for more Macs,  the launch of the redesigned Mac Pro, and, of course, new iPads and perhaps iPods. Is that enough?

    Now if Apple were Samsung, and simply released minor refreshes of all of their gear, the critics would be praising the company to the skies for being so innovative. There is good reason to believe that some scribes have it out for Apple, for some unknown reason. Maybe they dislike being proven wrong so often about the company, but that doesn't give them an excuse to lie, or at least mislead.

    So there is a survey this past week claiming that Samsung's handset profits have finally surpassed Apple. It sounds like a huge deal, but, as cutting-edge journalist Daniel Eran Dilger reported in an AppleInsider piece, the story is just not true.

    Now Daniel does something that far too many journalists do not do in his reporting, and that is research. True, he is clearly biased in favor of Apple, but he is also careful about not making statements that he cannot back up. So in this particular case, it appears that if you don't jury rig Samsung's financials, or ignore the fact that their so-called handset sales also include tablets and PCs, then Apple is still ahead. Maybe not by a lot, but still ahead.

    Yes, it is quite true that Samsung sells roughly twice as many handsets as Apple, but they also play in the low-end market that Apple will never touch. If a company is happy to settle for slim profits, that's a way to get there. This is something the PC industry has learned to their detriment. They decry Apple for selling mid-priced and high-end gear, while at the same time envying the company for knowing which market segments to enter and which to avoid.

    But it's not just deliberately misinterpreting a company's financials. Some pundits simply invented claims out of whole cloth that demand for the iPhone was slipping. Clearly Apple's June quarter delivered decidedly different results. Yes, fewer iPads, Macs and iPods were sold. These are legitimate issues that can be discussed, and there are legitimate questions to ask. Is demand for the iPad slipping, or were last year's results simply inflated by the spring introduction of the third generation model?

    When the expected new iPad arrive this quarter, the results can be fairly evaluated, depending, of course, on how close to the end of the quarter the products appear. If it's the last week of September, for example, there may not be enough time to record sufficient sales to materially impact the quarter.

    But what else is Apple going to do? The Apple TV "hobby" is expanding slowly. Some are touting the Google Chromecast as a potential Apple TV killer, but it's just a media streamer with no built in intelligence to run apps on the device itself. You need a separate gadget, such as an iOS or Android smartphone, or a Mac or PC, to manage your streaming content. There's no remote control either, so this could present a clumsy arrangement. The only third-party content provider is Netflix, and it is reported that highly publicized free three-month trial offer is no longer available.

    Still, at $35, if you don't have a smart TV, a smart Blu-ray, an Apple TV, a Roku or an Xbox, it might be an entertaining casual purchase. But you may grow tired pretty quickly of the awkward interface and lack of features. Clearly Apple has far more expansive plans in mind for their little hobby, but Google's new "toy" will get a lot of publicity early on, until customers realize its limitations. I might even get one myself, just to have something extra to fiddle with, or maybe I'll just continue to regard it as just another tech curiosity.

    But one of the real Apple initiatives that is not getting so much attention is adding iOS support for cars. With millions of motor vehicles offering near-seamless integration with your Apple mobile devices, customers will be more inclined to buy iPhones and iPads. This is a killer app, and anyone who has suffered through the lame Microsoft-powered interface on Ford vehicles will cherish something that's far better. Indeed, the biggest customer complaint against a Ford or a Lincoln these days is not the engine,  the transmission or some other hardware component, but the dreadful software interfaces of the onboard audio and navigation systems.

    But since you won't be able to buy iOS support for your car at your Apple Store, it may not get as much attention as it deserves. But it's a sure thing "Apple Everywhere" has more potential than Microsoft's failed Windows Everywhere efforts over the years.

    WHEN IS SAVING NOT SAVING?

    When you buy a printer, you never stop paying for it unless you use it very little, or at least until the original allotment of ink or toner is used. Printer makers follow the Gillette razor marketing scheme, where you sell the core product for a lower price, and make all or most of the profits from the consumables. Thus we have lots of $49 and $99 printers, which remain cheap until you actually use them. Then watch out, because printer consumables can be extremely expensive.

    This is rather different from the old days. I recall when I had a LaserWriter II PostScript printer from Apple, which I originally acquired in 1989. The price was roughly $3,500, but toner was closer to $100. But I also discovered early on that I could cut the retail price in half if I bought recycled toner, and I really tried to stick with the cheaper brand. But quality was inconsistent, with one cartridge delivering really great output, with deep blacks, while another was hit or miss, with the output looking more mid-gray than black. I bit the bullet and stuck with the OEM variety.

    Over the years, I've tried third-party consumables. I did OK with the toner for a Brother color laser, until one of the cartridges leaked when I removed it from its packaging. Fortunately, I found a good price for authentic Brother product on eBay.

    Well, my current printer is an HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus. It's not the latest and greatest, but it's fast, with really good output quality. Text is as close to laser as any inkjet I've seen, and consumables really aren't so expensive if you buy HP's "XL" version, the one that promises twice the number of copies. It's not unusual for the black cartridge, for example, to deliver from 1,500 to 2,000 copies of mostly text. The number you get depends on the coverage of the printed page. If you're printing photos, or artwork with lots of solid black material, expect much less. But as inkjets go, HP's price per copy is at the lower end of the scale.

    So, for example, the XL black cartridge lists for $36.99, whereas any of the three color cartridges are $26.99 each. While most dealers, even Walmart, charge list, you can save on eBay and other online merchants. Provantage, an online tech supplies retailer, charges $31.53 for black.

    Well, just a few months ago, I strolled past a Cartridge World printer supplies store in a nearby strip mall near Phoenix. The signs on the storefront promised the usual low prices for recycled consumables, and even claimed that a 2008 PC Magazine review found their imitation ink to be as good to HP's.

    The savings were decent, but not exceptional. Black cartridges were $26.99, and color was $19.99. Yes, I could get real close to those prices on eBay if I shopped around, but I'm the sort who waits until the printer stops running before I buy a cartridge. So I tried a few of the Cartridge World variety, feeling somewhat assured by that review, even though it wasn't current.

    At first, output quality seemed fairly close to the OEM ink, but I soon realized I wasn't getting near as many copies. Worse, output quality continued to deteriorate, and I suffered from occasional streaks and inconsistent color. A few cartridges delivered warnings that they were "faulty" or "counterfeit" in HP's utility app, but the Cartridge World people replaced them in short order.

    As printer quality got worse, I replaced the black cartridge with the HP brand as soon as I got a low ink warning. Output quality improved right away, and, after I replaced a couple of the color cartridges, it was back to normal.

    Update: Despite a money back guarantee, the local Cartridge World store claimed the owner had to approve the return; the shop is franchised. He never seems to be there, and a lengthy complaint filed with the corporate site went unanswered. Calls to their Spring Grove, IL. office have yet to be returned. My next plan is to contact their PR firm, alert them about this article, and request a response.

    For now, whether or not I get my money back, I cannot recommend Cartridge World, but I wish they would demonstrate some concern for legitimate customer concerns. The best advice I can offer is the one I have observed most of the time. Test imitation ink and toner carefully, and replace the consumable at the first sign of trouble. If you luck into a good recycling service or retailer, stick with them, particularly if they offer prompt replacement of the occasional defective cartridge. Or just shop around. A few quick online searches delivered prices for HP's ink that were very close to that of the third-party alternatives. I just have to remember to try to stock up in advance next time.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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