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  • Newsletter Issue #719

    September 9th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So does anyone actually care that Microsoft bought up the remnants of Nokia's failing mobile handset business? It got a few headlines when the transaction was announced, but now most of the speculation covers what Apple will introduce on September 10. So the efforts by Microsoft to upstage Apple have apparently failed.

    But it makes sense. After all, Nokia has floundered while desperately trying to sell lots of smartphones featuring the Windows Phone OS. It's not that it's a bad OS and all. Indeed, the reviews are largely favorable. But the public has already decided to go iOS or Android, and the possibility of a third entrant in that market appears none too favorable. BlackBerry, for example, is expected to try to auction itself off later this year.

    And are people going to be lining up to buy a Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch? Oh yes, you've got to buy one of their newest phablets or tablets too, since the Galaxy Gear doesn't do very much by itself. I guess I'll keep my Guess chronograph a while longer. And if you don't bother with watches, there's nothing here to make you want to change your tune.

    Now on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we covered the new Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Is this a keeper, or another pathetic attempt to jump start a market that has yet to show potential? We also covered the possibly desperate decision of Microsoft to acquire Nokia's handset division. Will this move help the failing Windows Phone mobile OS gain a decent share of the smartphone market?

    Along to discuss these issues were Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, who also talked about a compelling eBook his company just published, entitled "Take Control of Your Online Privacy." We were also joined by Macworld's "iTunes Guy," Kirk McElhearn.

    Now let's be fair: Kirk doesn't even have a watch. He simply takes out his iPhone when he needs to know the correct time. In contrast, I've had a watch on my wrist during most of my waking hours since I was 10 or 11. I suppose that makes me a potential customer for a smartwatch, assuming someone comes along and figures out how to do it right. Whether that's Apple or someone else remains to be seen, but I don't think we'll see an iWatch unless it can be done in a way that convinces people to buy one. In other words, Apple has take a very different approach as compared to current products.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present an all-star episode featuring Micah A. Hanks and Scott Alan Roberts. Both will catch us up on their most recent works, which includes Scotty's most recent book: "The Secret History of the Reptilians: The Pervasive Presence of the Serpent in Human History, Religion and Alien Mythos." Micah's most recent book is an out-of-the-box look at: "The UFO Singularity: Why Are Past Unexplained Phenomena Changing Our Future? Where Will Transcending the Bounds of Current Thinking Lead? How Near is the Singularity?" We will also  hear about the second annual Paradigm Symposium to be held October 2013 in the Minneapolis/St Paul MN area.

    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.

    APPLE SKEPTICS PREPARING FOR THE WORST

    Apple can't catch a break! Yes, I suppose it's fair to say that we know an awful lot about what they plan to introduce on Tuesday, September 10. Officially, Apple promises a colorful event. Unofficially, an awful lot of information has apparently leaked about the 2013 iPhone lineup. If you can believe those stories, you wonder how Apple can possibly surprise and amaze.

    So there is the iPhone 5s, a modest upgrade to the iPhone 5, with more powerful parts and, most likely, a fingerprint sensor. The camera will be better, more sensitive in low-light conditions with perhaps more megapixels to keep things sharp. iOS 7 will debut, and it will be snappier with loads of useful features. I suppose there's the possibility of superior battery life.

    Nothing I'm saying here is new. The descriptions of the high-end iPhone have been available for weeks, along with photos of some of the parts. While some of these are no doubt faked, the reports are just too consistent to ignore. This would appear to mean that Apple can no longer keep secrets the way they used to. There are just too many loose cannons in the supply chain, and it's not that Apple can fire these suppliers because some employees spoke out of turn. They'd have no supply chain left.

    Now in previous years, Apple would merely keep older models in the lineup to serve customers who want something more affordable, and perhaps don't care about having the latest and greatest. It's clear that sales of these lower-end models are increasing in proportion to the current product, so Apple is expected to introduce a plastic-cased iPhone 5c, based on today's iPhone 5.

    Those parts have also appeared on the rumor sites, and they show something that appears to be a modest revision to the iPhone 5 configuration. Clad in cheap plastic rather than expensive and difficult-to-assemble metal, Apple is expected to save a lot of money in building them, sufficient to knock a couple of hundred dollars or more over the final purchase price.

    Today, you can buy an iPhone 4 for $450 or maybe a little cheaper if you shop around. The so-called cheap model, the iPhone 5c, is expected to be somewhat less expensive, although I wouldn't presume to guess how much they'll cost to build or what the final price would be. If Apple can bring it in at $349, and make low-cost financing deals in countries where subsidized plans are not readily available, this could be a keeper.

    There may be some surprises, but with carriers blocking out vacation days for the latter half of September, you expect these two models to go on sale on Friday, September 20, with iOS 7 available for download a few days earlier. The only real question would be whether the iPad version will appear then or a little later.

    With all of this information seemingly almost set in stone, you can expect that Apple's critics will pronounce the iPhone 5s a failure, just as they pronounced the original iPhone 5 a failure. Was it a failure? Well, not with five million sold the first weekend, or with unexpectedly large iPhone sales even in the last quarter.

    Indeed, the iPhone has gained slightly against Android competition in the U.S. as late as July. That goes against the media meme that Apple is losing market share and mindshare against Google's OS in this country. Sure, Google is way ahead in parts of the world where there are loads of $80 Android phones flooding the market. There does appear to be a real demand for a lower cost iPhone if Apple can deliver a superior product at a more affordable price. Indeed, there's talk that Apple has already inked a deal with a giant carrier, China Telecom, which could mean sales of tens of millions in the coming year.

    If Apple builds cheap junk, you can rightly say something is wrong, although the critics will praise Apple for choosing market share above profits. But that is not going to happen. There may be a few unexpected things revealed at Apple's media event. There may even be a "one more thing," something that hasn't happened for a long time. But even without much that is unexpected, the so-called "wow" moment, you can bet people will be lining up to buy the new iPhones.

    Indeed, a small number are already waiting, according to a published report. I'm not surprised.

    2013 AIRPORT EXTREME AGAIN DEMONSTRATES THE APPLE ADVANTAGE

    Let me start at the beginning. In late 2012, wanting to cut down on the cost of Internet service, I signed up with the local phone company, CenturyLink, and took advantage of a great 12-month discount deal on a package that offered an advertised 40 megabits down, and 20 megabits up.

    Now CenturyLink uses a variation of DSL known as ADSL (meaning upload and download speeds are different), and it's only available in some neighborhoods in the Phoenix area. Otherwise you're stuck with Cox.

    Regardless, CenturyLink leased me an Actiontec C1000A modem/router, which also provides decent Wi-Fi. However, I ran into peculiar difficulties that appeared to be firewall related, even though the router's firewall was actually deactivated. So I couldn't receive available firmware updates for the Vizio E551D-A0 3D LED TV that I'm evaluating. Vizio said certain ports should be opened to receive the software, and they were. But I wondered if the router was at fault, since I had replaced it twice because of ongoing defects.

    Well, this time, I decided to bypass the Actiontec's Wi-Fi radio, and set up a Linksys EA4500 I had at hand. Now this isn't the latest and greatest. The current Linksys 6000 series routers support the new 802.11ac standard, which promises throughput that may, under ideal conditions, exceed one gigabit. In other words, potentially better than Gigabit Ethernet, although for lots of reasons, you won't get near that speed in practice.

    In any case, I again confronted the reason why I'm turned off by the Linksys online or Java app interface, known as Cisco Connect. Well, I really couldn't use the latter, since I was warned that it only functioned in OS 10.7, not 10.8 or, in turn, a Mavericks developer preview. So I just manually configured it via the browser interface. I turned off the Wi-Fi radio on the Actiontec, connected it to the WAN or Internet port of the EA4500, and restarted both. Preliminary speed tests were little different compared to just using the Actiontec.

    Within the next three days, I received not one but two firmware updates for the Vizio. The latter, version 2.16.3, actually improves upon the set's local dimming feature, making for a more robust picture. CNET claims that picture quality is quite close to the more expensive Vizio M-series. That update and others are now being pushed to owners of Vizio's 2013 E-series sets, so if you're not getting yours, maybe it's the router.

    Now one problem with routers in general is that something that should be easy to configure ends up being more complex than it's worth. That's a key reason why routers may be among the products most often returned to consumer electronics stores. Customers just give up, or stick with the lousy router they get from their ISP. Now, with the Cisco Connect app, a Linksys isn't that hard to set up, but the interface is overloaded with far too many steps, and the sort of experience that reminds me of a poor copy of Windows.

    So when I had a chance to test the new 802.11ac savvy version of Apple's AirPort Extreme, I jumped at the opportunity. Flat is out, tall is on. The upgraded model appears completely redone as a 6.6-inch tall rectangular tube, with curved edges. Connection features are identical to the previous version, consisting of a single Gigabit Ethernet WAN (or Internet) port, plus three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports (for your local gear). There's also a USB 2.0 port for a printer or network hard drive.

    In passing, I wondered about USB 3.0, but I realize the router can't really take advantage of the higher throughput of the new standard.

    Regardless, the setup process was amazingly quick. I removed the cables from the Linksys, and plugged them into the AirPort Extreme. I restarted the Actiontec, by power cycling the unit with the power card, as I plugged in the Apple router. Within seconds, Apple's minimalist AirPort Utility app recognized the new router, and gave me the easiest setup screen of all. I merely had to enter network names for the router and the Wi-Fi network, along with passwords for each (defaults are already there for both). I clicked Next, waited a minute or two, and I was connected. End of setup!

    A similar routine is offered in the Windows version of AirPort Utility, and for iOS gear, such as your iPhone or iPad. No, folks, there is no Android version.

    Yes, you can consult more granular router settings by clicking the router icon in AirPort Utility, and from the status pop-up screen, clicking Edit. You'll then be presented with a fuller array of individual settings to customize. But you needn't bother unless you are involved in bridging multiple routers, or have other special needs. I expect 99% of Apple's customers will never need to move beyond the single setup screen.

    Now my Wi-Fi speeds aren't any faster than the Linksys, at least until I move to the farthest reaches of my little home. That's because I do not yet have any 802.11ac gear. I simply placed the router near the wall shared with the master bedroom, and it just works. All right, at $199.99, an AirPort Extreme is twice as expensive as some other 802.11ac routers. But the price is about average when compared to the best of the competition, which is pretty much where Apple positions their gear.

    Now if you are in need of a new router, consider the initial cost against the ease of setup. And if you're a CenturyLink customer with a problem getting firmware upgrades for some of your gear, don't depend on their outsourced support to help you. They will be clueless. Consider a different router instead.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #719”

    1. DK Jones says:

      I'm still using my original AEBS with 802.11n and have had no issues with my AT&T DSL service. It just worked after the initial set up, how ever many years ago that was. And, I have an AEBS 802.11g network, set up and working great at my church except when there's a bad storm, and then I just unplug it for 30 seconds and plug it back in to be rolling again.

      Reply To This Comment

    2. geo says:

      "That update and others are now being pushed to owners of Vizio's 2013 E-series sets, so if you're not getting yours, maybe it's the router."

      So, does the new Apple Airport work with Vizio software updates?

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on September 9th, 2013 at 3:02 PM:

      @geo, I expect most routers do. The Actiontec C1000a appears to be the exception.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    3. […] Much more, including Gene’s specific router issues, in the full article here. […]

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