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Newsletter Issue #294

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

Well, we did it! After getting lots and lots of requests to make The Tech Night Owl LIVE available in Podcast form, we made it happen. We even beat our own internal schedule, which was to have it ready by the end of July. You can now subscribe to the broadcast direct from our site, from the iTunes Music Store or a number independent Podcast directories. You’ll not only receive the latest episodes, but you’ll be able to take them with you on the iPod.

Now let’s get back to the show: On July 14th, we entered “The David Biedny Zone,” for another 45 minutes of cutting-edge commentary from the master of the outrageous. We were also joined by noted Mac author Kirk McElhearn, who communicated to us direct from his home office in the French countryside. We’re jealous! The show was rounded out with a discussion about Apple’s latest earnings with noted industry analyst Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research, and Andrew Stone, of Stone Design, told us how easy it’ll be for developers to make their software run native on the new Macs with Intel Inside.

For July 21st, we’ve called upon our favorite troubleshooting wizard, Ted Landau, to bring us up to date on Tiger and other matters. More guests will be announced shortly.

And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes are coming this month.

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

THE APPLE/INTEL REPORT: WHY DO THEY ALWAYS THINK APPLE IS LYING?

First of all, I was seated in the press section when Steve Jobs uncorked the news that Macs would have Intel processors beginning next year. I heard every single word, took copious notes on my PowerBook, and watched the slides as Steve delivered his presentation. It was short, sweet, and to the point. Yes, some of the fine details were missing, but there could be no doubts about why Apple was changing chip suppliers and when it would happen.

Apple’s press people handed out releases on the matter, and, once again, everything was spelled out clearly and concisely. Yet as the news spread across the online landscape, I began to think that maybe I was living in an alternate universe. The keynote they apparently heard and the one I heard were vastly different.

Now maybe it was just me. Creeping old age and all that, perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, I had it right, because a number of credible commentators agreed with me as to what was actually going on. Perhaps other commentators need to rethink their conclusions.

To be fair, different people interpret the same events differently, and personal opinions will vary as well. But some of the reports are based on the assumption that Apple must be lying. Isn’t that pushing it just a little bit?

I understand that corporate spin doctors will want to put a company in the best light. How could it be otherwise? But the spin ought to be based on a core set of facts that shouldn’t be disputed, unless it comes from the mouth of Steve Jobs or his corporate communications crew apparently.

If you believe some of the claims, Apple’s real reason for switching to Intel is not because IBM wasn’t able to supply the right chips in the right quantities. The announcement of new versions of the PowerPC 970 line, the chip known as the G5 on Macs, with dual cores and low power requirements seem, to some, to put the lie to Apple’s justification for its decision. Why force developers to undergo the pain and agony of rebuilding their applications for two processor families if the chips Apple needs will be available from IBM?

First of all, this is a shortsighted conclusion. I’m sure Apple knew precisely what IBM was planning, because Steve Jobs referred to the long-term processor roadmap from both IBM and Intel. He insisted that Apple couldn’t build the products it wanted to build with IBM chips, but he is looking at the long haul, not the next year or two. Lest we forget, the great processor migration will take up to 30 months to complete. You have to consider what parts IBM and Intel will have available by the end of 2007 and on into the future. Today’s products simply don’t count, but certainly you can see where Apple is frustrated.

Sure, IBM has announced new processors. But announcing and delivering in quantity are quite different matters. Here IBM doesn’t have a good track record. Where is, for example, that Power Mac with a pair of 3GHz G5 processors? Steve Jobs promised it would happen by the summer of 2004, and it wasn’t his fault that IBM couldn’t deliver. Don’t assume Jobs was lying. He is not one to preannounce products except with extreme caution, and he made that prediction based on the assurance that the chips would be available.

And just because there will be a lower power version of the G5 available at some indefinite point in the near future doesn’t mean there will be enough quantities to put in a new generation of PowerBooks. It is quite possible, though, that the chips Apple wants from Intel for its laptops will be available, since Intel has a better record of getting its products out on time.

Now let’s look at some of the other claims. One is that Intel chips will power future generations of the iPod with onboard video capabilities and other digital hub products from Apple. This makes perfect sense, since Intel has a wide range of products in its chip arsenal. More to the point, Steve Jobs didn’t specify that products Apple wanted to produce that couldn’t be delivered with IBM parts. No lies here, simply because no specific products were mentioned.

Another claim I’ve heard is that the reason Apple couldn’t get the parts it wanted from IBM is because it made unreasonable demands. IBM allegedly wanted Apple to fund some of the development costs of the new chips, but Steve Jobs said no. Maybe, maybe not. But it’s also true that Apple’s chip requirements amount to only a very small part of IBM’s sales, so there was no real incentive to work a little harder to deliver the right processors on time. From Intel’s standpoint, Apple will be just another OEM customer, with access to the same parts made available to other PC makers. Since those chips will be available in huge quantities for a number of companies, Apple doesn’t have to worry about getting what it needs. Just write the check and Intel ships the parts.

The other day I also read a claim that Apple really requires Intel chips to be compatible with new networking standards supported in future versions of Windows. Mac OS X is supposed to network seamlessly with the Windows environment, so this could be a critical issue. But once again, it doesn’t put a lie to Apple’s announced reasons for the great processor migration.

You see, it’s very possible to take Steve Jobs at his word and even expand on the consequences without accusing anyone of deception. I’m not even accusing some of those commentators with questionable conclusions of lying. Maybe just mistaken, and aren’t opinions a dime a dozen anyway?

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: FIRST LOOK AT THE MOTOROLA E815

The best route to handsfree in the mobile phone arena is Bluetooth. Sure, you can tether a conventional headset and wire to a standard phone. But even if you get accustomed to having a wire hanging from your ear, what if gets caught on a door edge, for example? Besides, don’t you begin to feel a little like an FBI informant with a “wire” to capture the criminal in the act?

So Bluetooth is the answer, and its ability to mate almost seamlessly with the wireless capability in a growing number of new cars is a real plus. But phones of this sort inhabit the higher tier of a service provider’s product line. Even with those vast discounts to get you to sign up for a two year contract, you can expect to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege, right? Perhaps not.

As many of you know, after trying out a couple of wireless services, I settled on Verizon Wireless for its superior combination of reception and customer support. It’s not perfect, but in an imperfect world, it ranks at the top of the heap. That’s not just my personal conclusion. Most customer surveys show the very same result.

Now if you want an ordinary mobile phone with Bluetooth capability from Verizon Wireless, the choices are limited. Forgetting, for the moment, “smart” phones with full-featured personal organizers, there’s one phone from LG Electronics, the newly released VX8100 and the new Motorola E815. In large part the phones offer comparable features, with sizes and weights that closely match. But the there are notable differences. The E815, for example, claims longer battery life, with an estimated 280 minutes of talk time, versus 215 minutes on the VX8100. I don’t consider so-called “standby” time as a significant factor, since each phone will hang on for several days without a battery recharge, unless you talk a lot.

The only advantage the VX8100 seems to offer is its advertised email capability, which the E815 lacks. But I buy my phones to make calls, although a cute ring doesn’t hurt. Here the E815 offers 38 standard issue, while the VX8100 offers a mere 15. Sure you can buy more, but I’d rather have more choices before I decide whether to shell out any extra money. But even if the two phones were identical, the E815 is $99.99 after a $50.00 rebate with a two year contract. The VX8100 is $50 more. To be, the choice was obvious, and when I found I had a $100 credit towards a new phone with my present Verizon contract, I decided to make the move.

The Motorola E815 is the successor to the somewhat flawed V710. Didn’t I give the V710 a favorable review? I sure did, based on its great reception and voice quality. But the 1.3 megapixel camera was merely adequate and battery life less so, particularly when Bluetooth was enabled. In fact, just a couple of long conversations would pretty much run the battery down completely. True, I was able to get adequate battery life by trying the extra capacity variety, but it has the added inconvenience of making the phone both thicker and heavier.

I was pleased to find the E815 is superior to its predecessor in almost every respect. Voice quality is noticeably better, and you can set the volume control louder, the better to hear a caller in a noisy environment, or if your ears have suffered from too many air hammers or rock concerts. Even when paired with a Bluetooth system in a car, the superior audio quality was obvious. A relative with slight hearing loss always complained when I called from a car with the V710; not so with the E815. In fact, he barely noticed I was on a handsfree system.

When it came to the camera, picture quality exceeded that of the V710, particularly in low light conditions. The “feel” of the keys seemed more solid, with a healthy click when pressed. But the one feature that really impressed me was the E815’s superior battery life, even with Bluetooth on. In informal tests, it seemed to run approximately twice as long as the V710 before the “Low Battery” warning indicator appeared. The charging process was also noticeably faster.

Both phones, by the way, use TransFlash cards for added storage for photos and movie clips. Alas, Verizon cripples the ability to exchange data with your computer. Even though the latest iSync software from Apple supports the E815, I can only merge address books wirelessly.

As you see, I’m heaping high praise on the E815. In the scheme of things, it’s relatively cheap. In fact, at least until the offer expires, Verizon Wireless is tossing in the tiny Motorola V265 camera phone free of charge, as part of the deal, and Mrs. Steinberg quickly grabbed it for her purse.

If you use another carrier, you’ll want to check their product catalogs to see if there are similar phones with similar features. Quite often a particular model is only available at one service, although similar products might be found if you compare the specs closely. Unfortunate, and it only makes shopping for your ideal phone that much harder.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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