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  • Newsletter Issue #729

    November 18th, 2013

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    If you’re used to buying software, and being able to use it forever, or at least until your computer’s operating system or hardware no longer supports it, you may wonder about the rent-forever and pay-forever schemes being perpetrated by some companies. So you have Microsoft’s Live 365, where over a million customers pay annual fees to keep using Office. Stop paying, and your software stops launching once your subscription plan expires.

    The most blatant offender, if this is an offense, is Adobe, which introduced something called Creative Cloud that makes the entire collection available strictly for rent. Sure, if you’re used to paying upwards of two thousand dollars for the Master suite, which has all the apps in a single collection, a fee of $50 per month per user doesn’t seem such a bad thing, particularly if you’re the sort of person who upgrades regularly.

    While the price seems affordable enough, I think of the plight of the budding businessperson, or someone who hits a financial setback and suddenly has to decide whether to pay for food, medicine, or the water bill, or for the apps that will, they hope, keep them in business.

    Of course, Apple may have the better idea, by making consumer apps free, while keeping pro apps relatively inexpensive. But with a rental system, upgrades can be ongoing, rather than restricted to special marketing events where most new features are held off to entice you to buy the upgrade. But I wonder other makers of high-end apps will opt for the rental rather than resale model. Having seen financial ups and downs in my life, I’d rather just buy and be assured that there isn’t a kill switch out there held over my head.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the first segment features author and publisher Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, who discusses some of the known problems with the first release of OS X Mavericks, lingering issues with OS X Mail, and possible email app alternatives. He also talks about the tenth anniversary of the e-book publishing company.

    We also hear from outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, Managing Editor for iMore, who discusses the ongoing problems with OS X Mavericks, the growing move towards apps in the cloud, such as the new iWork suite, Microsoft Live 365, and the Adobe Creative Cloud, and he also offers his views about the sometimes controversial iOS 7 upgrade.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: He’s back. One of the most prolific paranormal authors in the field, Brad Steiger, returns to The Paracast to talk about his new book, “Real Encounters, Different Dimensions, and Otherworldly Beings.” This thick book covers all sorts of mysterious and unpredictable paranormal subjects, and focuses on a whole range of unusual beings, such as ghosts, phantoms, poltergeist, ETs, strange animals and even monsters. Brad was, in fact, on the very first episode in The Paracast in February of 2006 and remains one of our most fascinating guests.

    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.

    THERE IS MARKET SHARE AND THERE IS MARKET SHARE

    Recent numbers have to seem discouraging if you’re a fan of Apple. The percentage of people buying iPads is going down, with Android tablet sales going way up. Of course, the Surface is still evidently going nowhere, but doesn’t this still mean that Apple may be in trouble? After all, how can there be a huge app ecosystem for a product lineup that’s losing its luster?

    The first question is whether those market share statistics are real, and, if so, what they really mean. Numbers can be used in all sorts of ways, and sometimes those ways are deceptive. So we have, for example, the fact that 81% of all smartphones run Android, with the remaining 19% divided among Apple, the falling BlackBerry brand, and other lesser contenders, such as Windows Phone.

    On the surface, this doesn’t seem to auger well for Apple, but didn’t iPhone sales rise at a pretty good clip the last quarter? Didn’t Apple move nine million new iPhones the first week the 5s and 5c went on sale? So what’s going on here?

    No I’m not about to dispute the numbers, but a little explanation wouldn’t hurt. So we have a curious situation where other smartphone makers consider a sale is a sale regardless of profit margins, and thus build as many products in as many categories as possible to move product. There are also millions who, whether they can afford it or not, just want a phone that can be used to make phone calls, and online access, email, apps and all the rest aren’t really important.

    Sure, to people like you and I, that may seem strange, but my sister-in-law and her husband fit into that category. They have a pair of anonymous Samsung phones, and they have never considered a smartphone of any capability. It’s a telephone, period, and the rudimentary contact feature is enough for their needs. They have a handful of family members and friends they need to contact on a fairly regular basis, and that’s it.

    But there are also people who will buy a smartphone strictly because it’s free with a contract, or doesn’t cost a whole lot contract free. Of course, when you examine the specs of these gadgets, you’ll see that they may not even be as capable as a 2007 iPhone, and thus won’t really be terribly useful with any recent version of Android. No wonder the iPhone seems to have a disproportionately high share of smartphone users when online metrics are tallied. Those cheap phones offer a miserable online experience, and are often only used for texting, basic email and, of course, phone calls.

    However, when you look at total smartphone sales, the crap and the good stuff are lumped together. Indeed, Samsung may be the number one handset maker, yet only 30% of the reported sales involve high-end gear priced in the range of an iPhone. Even if you considered them equal — and some regard Samsung as the superior brand, particularly the ones with larger displays — it means that 70% of what the company is selling just doesn’t make the grade.

    Yet sales of Samsung’s high-end smartphones, such as the Galaxy S4, are flat. Although widely advertised, and granted top ratings from such publications as Consumer Reports, the S4 didn’t set the world afire. The iPhone still does far better, even though they are considered to be in the same league. Right now, the most intriguing category at Samsung may be the Galaxy Note series, the phablets that offer displays larger than five inches, and up to six inches and more.

    And, by the way, more than 100% of smartphone profits are divided between Apple and Samsung, with Apple getting the larger share. So where does that leave HTC, LG and even the failing Nokia division that’s being acquired by Microsoft? From a practical standpoint, it wouldn’t matter if 90% of smartphones ran Android if most of those products are just cheap junk that run older OS versions and offer subpar user experiences. Do you think people buy apps for them?

    Now when it comes to tablets, it appears to be the same story. The iPad is allegedly losing luster, although sales were a tad higher in the last quarter. And that was ahead of expected refreshes in the lineup, which occurred this quarter. You expect some customers will hold back if they anticipate something better is coming along, and in this case, the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display are quite superior to their predecessors.

    Most of the tablets sold are low-end garbage, sometimes selling for less than $100. Even if the manufacturers sacrificed all chance of profit to achieve such low prices, what do they offer? Blurry screens? Inferior touch capability? Tepid performance? No wonder a recent survey gave the iPad an over 85% share of online use among tablets. Aside from a few so-called quality tablets, such as a Google Nexus, a Samsung, and an Amazon Kindle, most of them aren’t being used very much. I’m not mentioning the Microsoft Surface here, since sales have been a non-factor so far.

    More to the point, it appears Apple still gets the lion’s share of serious tablet users, and I mean the business world. Microsoft may have made a handful of conquests along the way, but most of the rest of the pack are still on the sidelines, reporting high sales of low-end garbage that really doesn’t make much of a difference to the industry. And, no, I won’t attempt to deal with those so-called “white box” tablets, the no-name stuff that seems to turn up in industry surveys, but not so much in the hands of real customers.

    ABOUT HANDSFREE MOBILE CALLING

    It’s hard to stay away from your smartphone, but you need to keep away if you’re driving. So early on, I looked for handsfree alternatives, such as a Bluetooth headset. But having an onboard system in your car is even better, and more and more motor vehicles offer this option.

    At first, a car phone, or a way to pair your car’s audio system with a phone, was largely the province of costly luxury vehicles, but nowadays even entry-level compacts offer some sort of Bluetooth connection feature, though sometimes as an option. But even if your car doesn’t offer such a feature, even as a dealer-installed option, you will find you can get an aftermarket adapter for as low as $20. Really. So if you crave a genuine car phone system, rest assured you can get one without going broke, even if you have a vintage car that’s barely hanging on.

    Now I’ve had occasion to help friends and family pair their mobile handsets with their cars, when such features were offered. They indulge me to test their new cars,  and that’s helped me to evaluate the state of the art without having to invest in a new car, or begging a loaner from a manufacturer.

    So, back in 2006, I had a chance to work with a high-end midsize car, an Infiniti M45 that cost its owner more than the average U.S. family earns in a year. It was attractively designed inside, with rich wood and all the electronic gizmos you could possibly want, including a Bose audio system that offered faux surround sound. From the outside, however, it came across more as a fancy Nissan rather than an expensive luxury car. And I still feel that way about Infiniti when I look at the latest models.

    In any case, I helped to set up the handsfree system, which involved pairing with the owner’s cell phone, which at the time was a Motorola RAZR. It worked OK enough, though the people on the other end of the call heard lots of background noise, and sometimes couldn’t understand the caller. Understand that any handsfree system of this sort will deliver audio comparable to a speakerphone, since the mic is at least a foot from you, so you’re already at somewhat of a disadvantage.

    I felt somewhat more optimistic when I had a chance to set up an early iPhone on a 2008 BMW 335i. I assumed that the “ultimate driving machine” with a fancy audio system would offer decent quality with a paired phone. It sounded good enough in the car, but the person at the other end of the line struggled. In passing, I wasn’t impressed at all with the car’s built-in Logic 7 audio system.  The subwoofers were placed on the floor below the front seats, and there was nothing “sub” about them.

    But driving dynamics, typical of a BMW, were superb.

    Segue to a 2011 Honda Accord with the company’s Handsfree feature. The fanciest audio system doesn’t offer the moniker of a prestige audio maker, but sounds good enough; better, in fact, than the BMW, with crisp highs, a decent midrange but, typical of many car audio installations, somewhat overwhelming bass. No matter. Pairing was quick enough. Most callers realized it was a car audio system of some sort, though the background noise, while audible, wasn’t oppressive. In passing, I recall the backwards nature of the readout, with an LED display that smacked of the 1980s. I am particularly annoyed by the fact that, when you press the voice recognition button on the steering wheel and give a command, the response, in a surprisingly natural sounding voice, expects you to acknowledge the command with yet another press of the button, and a further command, such as ‘Yes,” or “Dial.”

    The major redesign in 2013 brought with it a more advanced LCD display and a somewhat more elegant interior without the wide swaths of fake wood. For the exterior, Honda borrowed a few design cues from BMW, at least from the sides, but the interior, to me, gives off a rather anonymous veneer.

    In passing, an Accord, though built by a company headquartered in Japan, is, in the U.S.A., very much an American built car. On the units I checked at dealers, based on the sticker, over 80% of the parts are also sourced in this country, which means a Honda is more of an American car than many vehicles from supposedly domestic auto makers.

    That takes us to my most recent extended test drive, with a 2014 Kia Optima, which is yet another family vehicle. Now Kia used to be a poor cousin to parent company Hyundai, until 2011, when the mid-sized Optima received a major redesign by a team headed up by Peter Schreyer, who used to work with Audi, the luxury car maker, and is credited with such vehicles as the Audi TT.

    In any case, the Optima is decidedly different in every respect, although the underpinnings are very much the same as the Hyundai Sonata. The interior is understated and elegant, and controls operate smoothly, conveying a surprising level of quality for a family car. Outside, it almost resembles a futuristic craft, particularly when it comes in bright silver. Kia took advantage of its stunning looks with a TV ad that featured ET driving the car.

    The most popular model in the lineup is the EX which, when you add a Premium package that costs an estimated $3,150, adds a fancy Infinity audio system with eight speakers (no relationship to Infiniti, the car maker), and the usual phalanx of electronic gizmos powered by a UVO eServices infotainment system. By the way, I found that the Kia premium audio system is every bit as good as the costly Bose system in that Infiniti, at least based on my probably fading memory.

    Now UVO uses Microsoft technology to do its thing, and that seemed troubling before I gave it a whirl. You see, Microsoft technology is also used in Ford’s MyFord Touch system, which has been plagued with serious bugs and caused loads of negative ratings for the company’s products. Lagging touchscreens, glacial performance and freezes have been ongoing issues, although software updates appear to have reduced the most serious bugs.

    But it doesn’t seem as if any of those issues impact Kia’s UVO setup. When I paired an iPhone 5s to it, the process was as close to automatic as you can imagine. I didn’t even have to enter a passcode on the handset or the car to allow it to link. In a few moments, it was downloading the iPhone’s contact list, something that appears to happen every time you start the vehicle, so you always have an updated setup, but also a slight delay until you can use it.

    Placing a call is simple as saying, “Call Gene Steinberg in work,” which will proceed to dial my business line. If you disable the confirmation message, the number will just be dialed. It takes a few seconds for the number you’re calling to appear in the onscreen LED. Even better, there’s a virtual keypad you can use to dial up extension numbers or to acknowledge prompts from voice menu systems, though that kind of works against the handsfree factor.

    In passing, the use of the phrase “in work” or “in home” seems a curious choice. It will sometimes recognize “at work,” but not consistently. I haven’t had a chance to ask Kia PR why.

    Call quality appears reasonably good when you consider the speakerphone aspect. A relative whose hearing has seen better days said my voice was clear, with very little background noise, despite the fact that I was driving at freeway speeds. The touchscreen is also reasonably responsive, somewhat akin to the touchscreen on my HP inkjet printer. In other words, perfectly usable, but not quite in the league of an iPhone.

    in the end, I’m very anxious to see what happens when Apple’s iOS in the Car begins to appear on new vehicles. According to Apple, both Hyundai and Kia are among the car makers supporting the technology, which may indicate that UVO’s future prospects may be limited. But at the end of the day, regardless of which technology a car maker uses, a handsfree system is one of those must-have options, even if you have to do it with a third-party add-on.

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #729”

    1. Peter says:

      Oh please, Gene. You’re not dragging out “profit share” are you?

      Please tell me the last consumer product you bought due to “profit share.” Did you research who made the most money off of the car you bought? The toaster? The television? I doubt it–nobody cares about that. Heck, if anything, for some people having the highest “profit share” is a turn-off.

      If I’m an investor, I care about Apple’s “profit share.” As a consumer, I couldn’t care less.

      it appears Apple still gets the lion’s share of serious tablet users, and I mean the business world.

      This one actually made me laugh.

      I’m not doubting it. But I’ll just pull out an old saw from the Mac days. How many of those iPads being sold to businesses are actually doing more than one thing? For example, I read where some airline (American?) had bought an appropriately large number of iPads to put in their planes. These iPads would contain the flight manuals for the appropriate plane. Great idea–no need to spend the fuel to drag around several volumes of books with addendums and things like that. But are these iPads going to be surfing the web? Will they be downloading my great game/utility/finance/lifestyle app? Nope. They’ll have flight manuals on them.

      Way back when, we would point out how many Windows machines were sold that were, essentially, glorified cash registers or shipping terminals. That’s all they got used for–“turnkey solutions” I believe is the term. How many iPads have you seen that are glorified cash registers? Will they be running my great game/utility/finance/lifestyle app? Nope. They’re cash registers.

      Walk into an AT&T store and you’ll see their salespeople carting around iPads. They use these to look up information on the AT&T web site. Will they be running my great game/utility/finance/lifestyle app? Nope.

      I suppose the logic is that I should by a Windows PC from NCR because they make such great cash-registers, huh?

      • @Peter, If a company hopes to stay in business, they need good cash flow (Amazon) or good cash flow and significant profits (Apple).

        As you surmised, the iPad has a variety of functions beyond just sitting there, surfing the Internet and reading digital books. Some luxury car makers offer them instead of thick car manuals. If you’re paying $60,000 for a car, you presume the manufacturer has enough of a margin in there to cover the cost of a $499 iPad.

        iPads are used for point of sale in increasing numbers, of course, but not as much for Android tablets. So, again, what are those tablets being used for? Are they even sold, or is it all just companies flooding the channel and hoping to deal with the fallout later.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • AdamC says:

          @Gene Steinberg,

          Gene, hate to tell you this Apple reports sales to customers and their competitors don’t even report shipments ask Amazon or google and even Samsung.

          So why are you comparing sale figures.

          And why weren’t these supposed bought tablets not reflected in web usage.

          I have been following your stuffs for years and this write up really takes the cake.

          • @AdamC, Actually you are going way overboard. Shipments from the other companies are estimated by IDC, Gartner and other companies make estimates based on profit statements. You didn’t know that?

            Why aren’t they reflected in Web usage? If the sales are real, and the tablets can provide easy Web access, you have to wonder, right?

            Peace,
            Gene

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