• Newsletter Issue #284

    May 9th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Our May 5th show included the first appearance of noted Mac author Andy Ihnatko, who regaled us with news about his upcoming book, The Mac OS X Tiger Book, his views about the new operating system and other topics. Ihnatko, by the way, also serves duty as film critic Roger Ebert’s computer guru. In the first part of the show, author John Rizzo told us the good, the bad, and the ugly details of Tiger. We were also joined by digital music expert Eliot Van Buskirk.

    On May 12th, the show will feature a special Tiger upgrade seminar with Joe Kissell, author of the new e-book, Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger. We’ll also be joined by John Lowrey, the developer of one of the most popular Mac OS X maintenance utilities, Tiger Cache Cleaner.

    Meanwhile, we’re still holding weekly contests, and we’ve now awarded three iPod shuffles to lucky listeners. This week, we’ll up the odds and give away the 1GB version of Apple’s hot-selling music player. This is a show you won’t want to miss.

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

    ICON STEVE JOBS: THE REVIEW

    Without doubt, the rallying cry in the science fiction sendup of the Star Trek craze, Galaxy Quest, “Never give up, never surrender!” could be applied to the life of Steve Jobs. Most of you know the basic details. For example, Apple’s decidedly brilliant and decidedly temperamental co-founder was forced out in 1985, only to return 11 years later to save the company from itself.

    His life story is indeed fascinating, and it’s presented in a breezy style by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon in the controversial unauthorized biography, iCon Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in Business. Even though the book hasn’t actually shipped as I write these words, it has already caused consternation at One Infinite Loop, and Apple has apparently ordered all titles from the publisher, Wiley, removed from its retail stores.

    The result? Wiley doubled the print run from an estimated 50,000 copies to 100,000 copies. Clearly they recognize the fact that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Fortunately, Wiley’s PR people sent me an advance proof of the book, which is supposedly almost identical to the finished version, except for minor corrections.

    So what is it that Apple doesn’t want us to know, and can it hurt the company or further tarnish Steve’s mercurial image?

    The answer is no. There’s little in iCon Steve Jobs that you haven’t heard before, although you learn many of the finer details of the corporate skirmishes he’s been involved in over the years. The book is essentially chronological, first focusing on Jobs’ life as a teenager in the early days of Silicon Valley. Sure he’s mellowed through the years, but Jobs has always had the uncanny knack of being both nasty and mesmerizing at the same time. You might hate him, but you’d follow him unquestioning on the road to hell if that’s what he wanted. The words “reality distortion field” were apt.

    Young and Simon don’t make much of an effort to attempt to analyze the motives behind Jobs’ youthful indiscretions or the inner demons he had to confront over the years. We know that he was an adopted child who only made peace with his birth mother later in life, that he had a child born out of wedlock and that he rarely indulged in the trappings of wealth, other than to buy a fancy car and a large house. We also know that his private life became decidedly normal after his 1991 marriage to Lauren Powell, which produced three children.

    But the events of his private life happen mostly on the sidelines. Young and Simon devote the large portion of their book to Steve Jobs the businessman. In retrospect, it is very clear that Jobs succeeded as much by his own chutzpah and marketing brilliance as plain dumb luck. After his departure from Apple, he founded NeXT, and built a computer that, despite being a cult classic, ended up as a huge failure in the marketplace. At the same time, Jobs decided to build the NeXT operating system on a Unix foundation, a decision that, in the end, proved to be the perfect decision.

    He also acquired Pixar at an essentially fire sale price of $10 million from George Lucas, who was forced to unload the property to help finance a huge divorce settlement. But Pixar didn’t become successful overnight. Jobs had to fund both Pixar and NeXT out of his own pocket for a number of years, although he had received seed money from both Ross Perot and Canon for the latter.

    Pixar’s attempts to sell a costly computer and software to create computer animations were unsuccessful, and it seemed as if the company would go nowhere. That is until John Lassiter, a brilliant animator who was working at Disney, came onboard. It took a few years for Pixar’s fortunes to improve, and in 1991 the company entered into an agreement with Disney to produce three feature films. With the release of Toy Story, it was clear that the world of movie animation would never be the same.

    The next fateful development in the business life of Steve Jobs was his return to Apple Computer in 1996. The company he returned to was a shadow of its former self, and was, according to reports at the time, only months away from bankruptcy. CEO Gil Amelio brought in Jobs as an advisor, naively unaware that his days at Apple were numbered.

    Young and Simon make it clear that Jobs planned all along to take over the company, and quickly put his own people in charge of hardware and software development. By 1998, Amelio was out and Jobs became Apple’s “interim CEO.”

    A great deal of space is devoted to the falling out between Jobs and the head of Disney, Michael Eisner, and how Pixar finally walked away from a new co-production deal. However, with Eisner due to depart in 2006, there still may be a rapprochement between the two companies.

    The final portion of the book briefly recounts the development and unexpected success of the iPod, and the arrival of the Mac mini. But I finished this short book wanting more. No, I wasn’t expecting more inside gossip about the private life of Steve Jobs in the fashion of the supermarket tabloid. But I was curious how Mac OS X, barely mentioned in this book, evolved from the time Apple acquired NeXT to its official release in 2001.

    Does Apple have anything to fear from this book? Not in my opinion. Whatever his foibles, Steve Jobs emerges as a brilliant man who, despite being knocked down again and again by the fates or perhaps his own unpredictable behavior, picked himself up from his bootstraps and became the most famous CEO on the planet. A rags to riches story? Perhaps.

    In the end, I really believe that Steve Jobs should sit down and tell his own story, warts and all. It would be a truly fascinating read. Until then, iCon Steve Jobs, the Second Greatest Act in the History of Business, while lacking in some of the fine details, still gets my unqualified thumbs up.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: MOTOROLA V710 BLUETOOTH PHONE: CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

    The answer depends on your expectations. If you’re looking for a phone that’s reasonably easy to use, with good sound quality and good reception, you’ll be pleased. If you want a phone to pair with your Bluetooth-equipped car, you’ll also be pleased. If you want that phone to sync with your Mac to share your address book, contact information or photo library, complain to Verizon Wireless for crippling the Motorola V710.

    On paper, the V710 has all the right ingredients. This silver and black flip phone is acceptably cute and tiny, less than 3.7 inches high in fact, and weighs just 4.5 ounces. It sports a 1.2 megapixel camera with a flash attachment, the ability to record and play short videos, a speakerphone, 500-entry address book and, of course, Bluetooth. There’s even a memory card slot, to give you more storage capacity for photos, and ring tones. Battery life is rated at 165 hours standby time, and 173 minutes talk time. Obviously standby time diminishes rapidly as you make and answer calls.

    In the real world, the V710 is mostly successful, and I’ll cover the positives first. Call quality is first rate, as good as any phone I’ve used. In fact, it was a tad better than the various LG Electronics phones that have crossed my path in the past year. If your ears have been battered and bruised by too many rock concerts, though, you might find the volume a little lower than you’d prefer. My hearing is pretty normal, though, and I had no problem hearing a caller, though I had to turn the volume way high for decent audibility. Verizon Wireless has fairly good coverage in the Phoenix metro area, and the V710 didn’t disappoint in that respect.

    Sound quality of the MIDI-based ring tones was quite good, and I could make it ring loud enough not to miss calls even when the phone was situated in its usual spot, in my pants pocket. Unfortunately, the variety of ring styles is somewhat limited, partly due to the fact that those greedy dudes at Verizon Wireless want you to buy the really cool tunes. Clearly the monthly tab for your chosen calling plan isn’t enough to satisfy its stockholders.

    I have never become enamored with camera phones. While they’re sometimes used in movies to provide evidence to capture the villains, I regard them more as a curiosity than something really useful. Of course when those new five megapixel models come to the states, and assuming the wireless providers let you transfer your photos to your computer without the costly red tape, I might change my mind. For now, let me say that the V710 delivers adequate picture quality, but not much more. But this isn’t the reason to buy this phone.

    If you’re seeking a phone that allows for safe, handsfree use in a Bluetooth equipped car, you’re on the right wavelength. Of course, you need the right car, and you don’t have to spend a year’s salary on a luxury vehicle, such as a BMW, to get this feature. I did some casual checking, and found a Bluetooth option on such affordable vehicles as the hot-selling Toyota Prius. Over the next year, you can expect Bluetooth to filter down to even less expensive vehicles.

    Since my Honda and VW aren’t so equipped, I talked to a few local dealers to see if they’d let me have an extended test drive with a loaner vehicle that came with Bluetooth. By chance, I ran into the salesman who sold me that Honda Accord back in 2002. Like most people in his business, he rarely sticks at a single dealership for very long, and was now handling the sales manager duties at Infiniti of Scottsdale. He was, naturally, anxious for me to trade up, but I didn’t put the wool over his eyes. I did promise to mention the dealership if he’d let me spend the day with one of his vehicles; so consider that fulfillment of my promise.

    I wasn’t expecting much but, to my surprise, he selected a Pearl White 2006 M45, an all-new model that is priced in the same league as a Cadillac STS, BMW 5 series, or Mercedes Benz E class. Yes, it’s a little rich for my blood, but who was I to complain?

    Of course, he held onto my VW, no doubt as a hedge against the M45’s safe return.

    I’ll spare you the details about the vehicle itself, except to say it is one that I turned back with decided reluctance. But I can dream, can’t I? In any case, I concentrated on Bluetooth connectivity, and here the V710 performed perfectly. Before “pairing” the phone with the car, I had the unit’s firmware updated to the newest version, 8700_01.40, which supposedly offers the ability to sync your contact list with a PC, provided you buy a connection kit, which costs an extra $39.99. As I said, greedy.

    The networking process was seamless. Whenever I entered the car, the phone was recognized by the car and I was able to use its audio system to make and receive calls. Once I left the car, the handset resumed its normal operation. Voice quality while driving was quite good, but the callers said my voice sounded just a bit hollow. Unfortunately, turning on Bluetooth reduces battery life big time, so prepare to buy an extended capacity battery if you want to take the handsfree route. Or keep a charger in your car’s glove compartment, because you’ll need it on a pretty regular basis.

    Later on, I tried to sync the phone with my Power Mac G5, which shipped with a Bluetooth adapter. I was actually able to pair the V710 with the Mac, but iSync wouldn’t recognize the device. I checked with Apple’s compatibility list, and I learned the reason why. The V710 will only work if you buy that connection kit. As I said, it’s Verizon’s fault, and it’s also Verizon’s fault that we haven’t seen a Motorola phone equipped with iTunes.

    Yes, I suppose I could consider another cell provider, but, in an imperfect world, Verizon Wireless offers superior customer service and a network that surpasses all competitors. But maybe if enough customers complain, the company will loosen its tight reigns on Bluetooth and other features. In any case, the V710 is highly recommended. Just watch for the special online discounts and you can get one for less than $100, with the standard two-year contract.

    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



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