THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE
I hope this signals a trend. When Grayson and I first put the show together, we had to work hard to get good people to appear. Now, the job is a whole lot easier, because the word has gotten out that a guest will be treated fairly on this show. Yes, I will ask the difficult questions, but I do not savor a confrontational atmosphere, such as the one on, say, The O’Reilly Factor. I believe that if you are respectful yet firm, you’ll get the best information and entertain you listeners too, so I’ve strived to create a relaxed atmosphere.
On last week’s show, we featured noted industry analyst Ross Rubin of NPD Group. He talked about Apple, Microsoft, and the general issues of the consumer electronics industry.We also had another visit with Bob Wiederhold, President and CEO, of Transitive Corporation, whose technology is employed in Apple’s Rosetta technology, which is used to run PowerPC applications on the new generation of Intel-based Macs. The company is under contract with Apple and has to be careful what it says. But within those limits, I was able to get some really solid information, such as the fact that Rosetta will require a 50% overhead above an application’s normal memory requirements to run efficiently.
The show also focused on comparing Mac and Windows computers. Charles Gaba of systemshootouts.org talked about assembling Mac and Windows-based systems for comparison. Rob-ART Morgan, of BareFeats, came onboard to talk about how to do benchmarks that reflect real world use, not artificial statistics.
This week’s show is another all-star event, which will feature Microsoft, noted authors and commentators Adam Engst and Andy Ihnatko, and an evaluation of the forthcoming QuarkXPress 7.0 from desktop publishing guru Galen Gruman.
In case you’re wondering about that other show, “The Paracast,” we have a couple of shows almost ready to roll. We hoped to debut this week, but the site and other elements just aren’t ready, and we’d like to give the show a little promotion ahead of its debut. So we’ve decided to postpone the show’s debut until the latter part of February. Our first guests will include the famous author of over 160 books, Brad Steiger, and the always outspoken Jim Moseley, publisher of “Saucer Smear.” Other guests include long-time UFO advocate Tim Beckley, who is known to some as “Mr. UFO.”
And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, memory upgrades, network music players, video tuner/recorders, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.
If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.
CAN APPLE LOSE IT?
The stories you’ve read in recent months convey the same impression. Apple is virtually unstoppable. Nobody has figured a way to slow down its dominance of the digital music market, and the iPod just keeps selling at a higher rate than analysts predict. With the merger between Pixar and Disney, Steve Jobs may “own” your living room, delivering both compelling hardware and content.
As to Macs, well, more and more Windows users have begun to realize there is an alternative out there that’s both more stable, and, so far at least, relatively immune to malware infections. In fact, last year, an estimated one million of them switched to Macs. Whether it’s the problems on that other platform, or the influence of the iPod doesn’t matter. A customer is a customer.
Despite taking a bit of a bath on its stock prices in recent days because of its conservative sales estimates for the current quarter, it’s widely expected that Apple will do far better than promised. The only possible reason for a pause in sales is the switch to Intel processors, resulting in some little buyer confusion, and the decision of some to wait for their favorite model to be upgraded.
If you believe what some say, Steve Jobs has grown into the man who can do no wrong. He has his fingers in the pulse of the customer, knows what they want, and will micromanage his troops at Apple to build the products that fulfill his vision. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Apple has a staff of brilliant people to deliver the goods.
Yes, everything is on a roll. In fact, for a brief period of time, Apple’s market cap exceeded that of Dell. Now in case you don’t follow Wall Street, the market cap, and the latter is short for capitalization, bases a company’s value on the total price of all its outstanding shares. The figure, as you might imagine, can be regarded as artificially high at times, and not reflect reality. At one time, for example, AOL was worth more than Time Warner, which is how it was able to cement that train wreck of a merger.
Apple’s high stock price, even at its current level, reflects the confidence of Wall Street that it is moving in the right direction. The decision to ditch the PowerPC and embrace Intel, for example, has garnered favorable reviews. Early sales reports of Apple’s new MacIntels are promising, despite one published claim that sales have taken a dip. The iPod is still moving in big numbers, and the so-called iPod killers still haven’t gotten to first base.
But there are treacherous waters out there, competitors snipping at Apple’s heels and the ever-present danger that serious missteps will hurt sales. What kind of missteps? Well, Apple is facing a lot of pressure to rush out its Intel-based products as fast as it can. Once the door was opened, it can’t be shut, and not everyone wants an iMac or the forthcoming MacBook Pro.
The original rumors and speculation about the first MacIntels suggested that the Mac mini and iBook would get the honors. Even though it hasn’t happened yet, you know that it will. So I wouldn’t be surprised to find people holding off their purchases in hopes of an early upgrade to the existing models. What about the 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBook revisions? True, the first iteration of the MacBook Pro may be the most popular model, but some will want the alternative screen sizes.
Now, it’s fair to say that the Mac mini and iBook successors probably won’t have Intel Core Duo processors. They are too expensive, so Apple is probably waiting for the Core Solo, the version of the new chip with a single core, to ship in reasonable quantities. Is all the development work done? I suspect it is at this point. Look how fast Apple switched the iMac over to Intel as an example of how it can be done.
But if there are production delays, and reports of serious early bugs, sales can take a nosedive. Apple’s financial people admitted to a “pause” in sales last quarter as customers waited for Intel-based models. How many of you are lining up to buy a Mac mini or an iBook knowing both will soon be obsolete? This isn’t to say that lapping up those lame duck computers is a bad idea. If you must use Classic Mac applications, and don’t want to hope for a reliable third party solution, and you can live without the performance enhancements of the Intel-based versions with Universal applications, you might as well get what’s available now.
I’m leaving the Power Mac and Xserve out of the equation. They won’t migrate to Intel until later in the year, when later generations of Intel’s processors ship. For now, they perform just great anyway and they are worth what Apple charges for them. At the same time, I can see sales being hit by buyer confusion. But remember that a professional MacIntel will be a pretty inefficient computer until the applications you need become Universal. While Quark Inc. is making a fast transition, you can expect that Adobe, Microsoft and others will take their sweet time getting their applications ported, and you’ll pay a pretty penny in upgrade fees when they arrive.
Another area where Apple might falter is the iPod. It may exude confidence, but it has to keep rolling out upgraded versions to keep its stellar sales pace, as it did last year. Also, one wonders: Is Apple going to embrace the living room with products that better integrate the computer with your TV and home theater sound system? Will its Front Row remote control system gain TiVO-like abilities to record TV shows. What about movie downloads?
These days, the movie studios are still struggling to figure out how to cope with all the changes facing the industry. As it did with the music industry, Apple may show them the way. But the window of opportunity is short, very short.
THE TECH NIGHT OWL: EARLY 2006 PRODUCT/SERVICE UPDATES
Sometimes I’ll write a favorable review on a product or service, but wonder inside whether I’ll feel the same way a few months later. Will something happen, perhaps a customer service issue or early breakdown, to alter my positive first impressions? You never know how a company might rate until you encounter a problem and put its customer service under pressure.
I guess I’m a little jaded too. I’ve had more than my share of bad customer service, with rude and/or unresponsive support people. Worse, in addition to the abuse, the problems I’ve encountered are often left unsolved, and I’m forced to fend for myself.
Fortunately, this update is largely favorable. While one service gets reviews that are a little mixed, despite winning an award for stellar customer service, I had my issues resolved anyway. Here’s the short list:
CANON PIXMA iP5200R: I have been remiss in not reviewing this product before. Like all Canon printers I’ve used, it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It simply goes about its work relatively quietly with exceptional reliability. For a mid-priced photo inkjet, it’s reasonably fast. I’ll ignore the claims about 30 pages per minute for black and white matter, and 24 pages per minute for color. It’s fast enough, however, not to keep you waiting very long for papers to drop into the output tray. This particular model has both built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi, but you must choose one or the other. You can ditch the networking ports for $50 less. I’ll ignore the specs that describe ultra-tiny nozzles in the print head, and miniature droplets. The proof is in the printing, and output quality is quite good in all respects. Text is sharp, and, as Canon claims, comes close to laser-like. It also sports a second paper tray and built-in duplexing, in case you want to print on both sides of the paper in a single operation. Of course I can’t rate Canon’s technical support as a problem-solving resource, because Canon printers have never let me down. As I said, this one just keeps on going without a lick of trouble, and that’s the way I like it.
NETFLIX: The number one online DVD rental firm earns record profits and membership keeps going fast, despite the competition from ailing Blockbuster. With only three exceptions over the past year, I’ve managed to get new releases on the very first day they become available. The first two videos were backordered. The last apparently got lost or delayed in the mail. Here’s where I got a chance to put Netflix through its paces. When my copy of the super hero film, Fantastic Four, failed to arrive after a week, I put in a report for non-delivery using an online form. Would they believe me, I wondered? Within a day, they sent me a duplicate copy, with a note to send back the other one if it ever arrives, and that was that. Actually the original shipment did arrive, a month later, and, no, I didn’t opt to keep it. Fantastic Four was not that good, and, besides, I preferred to be honest. You never know when it might happen again and I suspect too many claims of nondelivery would be greeted with skepticism. Since subscribing to Netflix, I’ve moved to within a block of a local Blockbuster outlet, but my mailbox is still closer.
COX COMMUNICATIONS: So is a J.D. Powers rating for great customer service something you can rely on? Well, cable TV companies haven’t always received great marks for technical support. Cox isn’t perfect and can sometimes try your patience. But it does try. Early on, after moving to a new home office, I discovered that upload speeds on my Internet account took a nosedive. After Cox went through its run of testing, at their headquarters at on site, it seemed the voltage level was too high, which apparently puts transmit and receive rates out of balance. They actually had to reduce the intensity of the signal, and after they did, I again received performance within their rated range. Cox’s digital telephone service continues to work flawlessly, and the digital cable is mostly excellent. I’ve run into one or two glitches with their DVR set top box, the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD. However, the receivers I used from Dish Network were worse, usually requiring regular reboots to function with reasonable reliability. Even better, Cox is actually cheaper. They quoted me a price that was one dollar higher than Dish when I first switched to Cox, but the final monthly price is actually eight dollars less. Now that’s the kind of mistake I appreciate.
Oh, I should mention a surprise encounter with a Cox service person in the field. I was waiting for a tow truck to give my car’s battery a boost when I saw the Cox truck in the adjacent parking stall. We started talking, and when I mentioned that the tow truck was late, he told me that he had a set of jumper cables and would be happy to give my car a boost. Sure enough, it started up in seconds, and the service person refused the tip I offered. I promptly drove to the dealership to have the battery checked to find out why it ran out of juice. As to that tow truck, well, it didn’t show up till an hour later, but that’s another story. In any case, I’m sure the Cox person had other things to do than assist a stranded driver. I doubt the company expects its field staff to perform this type of service, but it did remind me that I’m overdue in buying my own set of jumper cables in case it happens again.
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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