• Newsletter Issue #273

    February 21st, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S MAC NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    You’ve heard the old saw about the best laid plans and all that. Well, our February 17th show was ready to go at the appointed hour, but the fates conspired against us. After overcoming some unexplained, non-repeated, system problems, we got on the air 10 minutes late. And you thought that only happened on TV networks.

    In any case, it was better late than never as we welcomed Eliot Van Buskirk, Technology Editor of MP3.com and Rob Pegararo, Personal Technology Editor for The Washington Post. Both interviews covered a host of topics, including Apple’s music products and the prospects for the Mac mini’s continued success.

    On February 24th, we’ll be welcoming Lawrence Chen, author of Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera, Scott Gulbransen, Manager of Corporate Corporations from Intuit, and Steve Cotter from Altec Lansing. As you see, we’ll be covering a pretty wide range of topics for your listening pleasure. And don’t forget, contests are back, so listen and learn how you may be a lucky winner.

    If you haven’t heard the show, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.

    HAS APPLE BECOME MICROSOFT?

    The image of Microsoft is that of a corporate bully, tromping upon lesser companies to dominate the computing industry. The fact that the Department of Justice and European Union have acted against them in various ways has certainly reinforced this impression. Some people, in fact, regard Microsoft as simply unstoppable, that it will dominate the personal computing industry until the end of time.

    Now all I have to say about that belief is this: Nothing is forever. Some day, whether five years or ten years from now, or whatever, Microsoft will no longer be number one, or even relevant for that matter. Whether the victor company will be Apple or an unknown startup that doesn’t even exist now is anyone’s guess.

    For now, I’m not so much concerned about Microsoft as I am about Apple. When it comes to the digital music business, it has moved to the forefront so quickly that the mind boggles. When the iPod first came out in 2001, it came out of left field, a cute-looking curiosity but hardly something that was destined to become a cultural phenomenon.

    Who would have guessed that Apple would not only come to own the digital music industry but face legal actions accusing it of being, in very general terms, a corporate bully?

    Unlike Microsoft, however, Apple isn’t accused of stomping out the competition. In fact, as far as the iPod and iTunes Music Store are concerned, the victory is fair and square. The better product and the better service win, something that doesn’t always happen in the marketplace.

    Instead, Apple is accused of riding roughshod not on its competitors, but on its loyal users, both individuals and dealers alike. So how can this be, and is the company guilty? Well, the courts will decide in the end the truth behind the allegations, but the accusations are nonetheless troubling.

    For example a class action suit filed on February 17th accuses Apple of failing to honor service contracts and warranties, failing to properly license repair and service firms, and selling used computers as new. Another legal action, one you’ve probably also heard about, comes from former dealers who claim that Apple, in effect, forced them out of business in favor of its own retail outlets.

    Now I should point out, in passing, that both sets of legal actions were filed by the same attorneys, J. David Franklin and Alexander Schack. Now that shouldn’t serve as evidence against these lawsuits. In fact, the issues are complicated, and it may well take years to resolve, assuming some sort of settlement isn’t reached. Right now, it isn’t fair to suggest that Apple has done any wrongdoing. Remember, there are two sides to every story, and in this case, probably a lot more than that.

    But perhaps the biggest story of all involves the lawsuits Apple filed against several sites run by Mac loyalists because they allegedly published information about trade secrets, unannounced products still being developed. In these cases, we’re not dealing with dealers who have enough money to pay for attorneys, but small sites run by one or two people; in one case by a college freshman.

    Now some people feel that Apple has no business going after Mac users for any reason, but again we have an issue that is not pure black and white. In this case, the information published apparently came from third parties, who had knowledge of what Apple was working on and apparently violated secrecy agreements to spill the beans. So who are the real guilty people here?

    But there’s another question involved, and that is whether folks who published this information have the right to shield their sources. Are they, in fact, journalists? Again, this is a question that poses some very involved legal issues that are best left up to the courts to decide. I’d rather think the answer is yes, since in these instances, these sites appear to have acted in the same fashion as traditional journalists to ferret out this information, check it out, and publish it.

    But it gets even more complicated than that. Did these sites encourage their sources to break nondisclosure agreements to reveal Apple’s trade secrets? If that were the case, it would indicate possible culpability. But just running a site devoted to Mac rumors isn’t enough. How did the information get to them?

    In the end, Apple’s target is clearly the real offenders, the sources of that information. Bear in mind that any Apple supplier or developer who violates their secrecy agreements deserves the appropriate punishment. But that’s not the issue at stake here.

    It would seem that the sites in question are being targeted, in part, because they don’t have the resources to fight back. If the same information appeared in a mainstream news organization, such as The Wall Street Journal or even CNET, you can be sure Apple wouldn’t be filing lawsuits. In fact, CNET has, in the past, published information about unreleased Apple products, and I haven’t heard of any legal actions. Of course, the stories no doubt didn’t sit well with the folks in Cupertino, but there’s no evidence they did anything to stop it, although it’s possible they complained quietly.

    When it comes to the legal actions against Mac rumor sites, the end result actually benefited Apple, because it started folks talking about the new products. Do you recall the run-up to the Macworld Expo? Major news outlets carried the stories, and the legal filings basically confirmed the stories were true.

    But I don’t think for a minute that Apple filed those lawsuits strictly to get publicity, although the timing seems a little curious. I’m sure company attorneys felt the actions were justified.

    In the end, though, the lawsuits filed against Apple an the lawsuits filed by Apple all raise troubling questions. Now in the end Apple may indeed demonstrate that it did nothing wrong, and it’s also true that no large company can avoid the occasional legal action. But from this vantage point, these developments don’t make Apple look real good right now.

    I just hope everything works out all right in the end. I wouldn’t want Apple to acquire a nasty reputation just when it appears poised to achieve its greatest success.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: MAKING PHONE CALLS ISN’T ENOUGH

    More and more these days, the line of demarcation between a cell phone and PDA has been blurring. It wasn’t so long ago that the typical cell phone didn’t venture much beyond the core purpose of making and receiving calls, except, perhaps, for a rudimentary address book.

    Today, even the very cheapest phones do a lot more than that. The ones you get for free or almost free when you sign up with a service provider include such features as color screens, text messaging and voice dialing. It doesn’t take much of a step up to add a camera, and the ability to download additional ring tones.

    To add insult to injury, the low-cost products are considered “starter phones,” which suggests that you are expected to some day graduate to something more sophisticated. In fact, after a few years, you may end up with half a dozen obsolete phones in a closet somewhere. Cell phones may only remain in use a year or two, and manufacturers count their annual sales in the tens of millions and then some. For example, market leader Nokia recorded sales of over 207 million phones in 2004. They are not going strictly to new cell phone customers; I dare say most of those sales are replacement phones.

    In recent weeks, I’ve had a chance to check out a pair of powerful cell phones, models that sit way up at the higher end of the market, just to see what you’re getting for all that extra money. Now first and foremost, a specific phone may not be available with your service provider, and even if it is, some features may have been disabled for reasons that only the company management can comprehend.

    The first phone I examined was the Motorola RAZR V3, which sells for $499.99 along with a two-year contract at Cingular. This is represented as the pinnacle of phone development for Motorola, and the feature set is almost overwhelming. First of all, it’s a world phone, which means it is compatible with systems around the world. For that price, you get a phone that includes a camera, instant messaging capability, email capability, speakerphone, voice activation, bluetooth, video download and playback and a whole lot more.

    Oh yes, it’s does a pretty good job of handling phone calls too, and that is a fact sometimes lost on phone makers who get carried away with feature bloat. In person, this flip-phone is about half as thick as the competition, tilting the scales at a mere 3.3 ounces. The slim, sleek design is getting raves, and in just about every way I could test, it acquitted itself admirably.

    But do you really want to pay nearly $500 just for cell phone?

    Moving downmarket somewhat, the LG Electronics VX8000 will, according to Verizon Wireless, “change the way the world thinks about mobile phones. It promises a rich and rewarding interactive experience.”

    It had better, when you end up paying either $199.99 or $319.99, depending on whether you opt for one year or two years. Why the difference? Well, cell phone providers subsidize part of the purchase price and give you a better deal to get your business.

    In any case, the VX8000 has its own bag of tricks. There’s a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, which may not seem much unless you consider the fact that most other camera phones in this country have a mere 300,000 pixels. You can’t however, just download the pictures to your Mac, since Verizon wants you to order up its get It Now service, an extra cost option.

    The VX8000’s most interesting feature is support for Verizon’s V CAST service, which lets you download video clips and watch them on the phone’s color screen. The lineup includes short clips containing news, sports, weather and entertainment information. There’s also the requisite voice activated dialing and one of the best speakerphones I’ve ever seen on one of these products. And, of course, basic phone calls come in loud and clear, and the person at the other end of the line might have trouble realizing you’re on a cell phone.

    Oh yes, the VX8000 weighs a whopping 3.88 ounces. You may not think that’s much, but it isn’t quite as sleek as the Motorola.

    But here’s the real question: Do you really need all those extra features? What about just handling calls and keeping a basic address book? I rather suspect that most of the frills largely go unused, but it’s neat to have them around in case you might need them, or just for bragging rights.

    Are they and their competitors worth all the extra money? That depends. If you really want a superior camera phone, the LG VX8000 is a great choice, if your service provider has them. The Motorola RAZR V3 has its own charms, including built-in Bluetooth.

    You pay your money and take your choice. I’d buy either phone if I could afford one, but I really wouldn’t feel inferior if I just had one of those starter phones.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac 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 and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



    Share
    | Print This Issue Print This Issue

    Leave Your Comment