• Newsletter Issue #331

    April 3rd, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Change is a constant companion, or enemy, depending on your point of view. We just switched streaming service providers, to get us more reliable service, and make it easier for you to listen to the on-demand version, that one that plays when you come to the site. We also wanted to be able to reduce the bit rate somewhat, back to 24K, so those of you who have dial-up Internet connections will be able to get reliable reception.

    At the same time, doing so required a code change on the site that we think we made properly, except when Thursday night’s show began, you couldn’t hear it or see a QuickTime Player from the site. Frustration reigned, as the providers Web experts poured through the code to see how we might have messed up. No answer, but we discovered the solution anyway, and, after a while, all was well. The show sounded great, you listeners tell us.

    But this little incident gave us good reason to add a new suggestion on what to do if you can’t hear the live broadcast. Simply open QuickTime Player, choose Open URL from the File menu and insert the following: rtsp://mti.streamguys.net:554/mti.sdp. This should deliver the live show even if something is awry on our home page. You live and learn.

    Our March 30th episode featured author Kirk McElhearn, who lives in France and provided a knowledgeable explanation of the complicated maneuverings involved in that controversial law that is, among other things, designed to open up Apple’s and Microsoft’s DRM for their online music services. Despite what you read elsewhere, this is no slam dunk, and it’ll take a long, long time to resolve one way or the other. Apple Computer’s Laura Metz was on hand to talk about the iMac. Yes, I know some of you wonder why I seem to give an Apple spokesperson “softball” questions, but bear in mind that they are not here to debate us, but inform you about their new products. Asking them questions they simply will not answer is a waste of everyone’s time. Apple will always stay on message, and if you consider that constraint, you can still get an informative interview.

    Recently, Macworld’s Rob Griffiths became the guinea pig in attempting to install Windows XP on his new Intel-based Mac mini. Well, he succeeded, but it took a long time to get things to work properly. He described the trials and tribulations on our show, and some of the nasty letters he got because he took a little too long to attain success. We also heard from Owen Linzmayer, famed author of “Apple Confidential 2.0,” who explained some of the Tiger features that he does not like, and, yes, he also got some negative letters for his efforts.

    We’re still working on the guest list for the April 6th episode, so stay tuned.

    As to our other show, “The Paracast,” on April 4th, researcher Don Ecker, Research Director of UFO Magazine, will be on hand to talk about the legends and possible reality behind the Ancient Astronauts, aliens that allegedly visited Earth at the dawn of human history. Another guest will be announced shortly.

    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.

    THE CASE AGAINST AN IPHONE

    If you can believe some of the rumors, Apple is poised to launch its own mobile phone, an iPhone, some time later this year. If you can believe other reports, it has run into some technology issues and release of the product has been postponed until next year.

    Regardless of which version you subscribe to, it’s clear that, should such a device appear, Apple wouldn’t be capable of spending billions and billions to develop its own cell phone network. Instead, it would lease spectrum from an existing network, such as Sprint Nextel. That is, assuming it won’t just make the phone available to existing companies and let them market the product directly.

    The real question here is whether such a thing makes any sense, and, frankly, I’m having trouble buying into the concept. For one thing, if Apple went with its own service, why would you need to sign up with Apple when you could get similar or cheaper pricing from the network that delivers the actual service? How could it possibly be cheaper, when the provider needs to wholesale it to Apple, and Apple needs to mark it up enough to make a profit, even if it’s a slight profit?

    The most important question, though, is not whether Apple should deliver its own branded network, but whether it makes any sense at all to develop a cell phone. I mean, it’s not as if the industry isn’t already highly successful without Apple’s help. In contrast, the MP3 portable player industry hadn’t done all that well until Apple released the iPod and created a cultural revolution.

    Quality mobile phones have been built and sold for years, hundreds and hundreds of millions of those devices. They are commodity products that are often sold at little or no cost by services to entice you to sign those two-year contracts. Right now, for example, I can buy a spiffy gray Motorola RAZR V3c phone for $99.99 at Verizon Wireless and get a second, identical phone free. Yes, I have to sign the contract and all, but that would get me two of these sexy phones, which provide Bluetooth capability. 1.3 megapixel camera and all the rest of today’s popular features for very little financial outlay. Besides, Verizon has the best network in the U.S., and the best customer service, so I’d be getting a pretty good deal all around.

    Sure, the RAZR V3c isn’t an Apple product, and I have little doubt Apple could deliver a better handset if it wanted to. The user interfaces, for example, of most mobile phones suck. Apple could surely do a whole lot better. But why? Can they truly bring something to the marketplace that people have demanded?

    Yes, I know that Motorola has tried to deliver phones with iTunes twice, and hasn’t done well by Apple. But if you could buy a RAZR with iTunes, perhaps a specially designed version with tiny stereo headphones and a few add-ons, and the price was, say $199.99 with the obligatory service contract, wouldn’t that make a whole lot more sense? Would it gain a bigger market share if the phone had an Apple label on it?

    You see, Apple succeeds with the iPod because it develops and markets an entire package, from hardware to software. Even then the internal workings contain many off-the-shelf parts, a smartly designed case, and superb software and docking capability help deliver a superior system. When the iPod came to market, the rest of the industry hadn’t made much traction. There were no stand-outs, and Apple was able to gain a foothold early own, one that was expanded when it offered support for Windows and debuted the iTunes Music Store.

    Apple can’t do that with a cell phone. It will always be on someone else’s network, even if it had an Apple label on it.

    So why would anyone take the prospects of an iPhone seriously? Well, for one thing, there’s the belief, misguided or otherwise, that convergence between digital music players and cell phones is inevitable. One day, the “experts” tell us, we’ll want to not only listen to our song library but juggle telephone calls on the very same device.

    The mobile carriers see dollar signs. Billions of dollars are earned selling overpriced ring tones, so why not entire songs? You’ve already seen fledgling music networks on the cellular networks, but that doesn’t mean they will suddenly rise up and compete mano a mano with iTunes. Nor does it mean that you and I really want things to work that way, although I’d be the last one to suggest that phones that do everything can’t be successful. Clearly the BlackBerry tells us otherwise, but would you really want to load iTunes on such a device in addition to all the other stuff?

    This is a gray area, and I’m not at all sure that the ideal digital music player has a built-in phone. Better a multifunction radio that receives AM, FM, satellite radio and HD radio. On the other hand, Apple may indeed deliver that iPhone and prove me dead wrong. But right now, I’m waiting to be convinced, and it’s not going to be an easy sell.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: HIGH-END EARPHONES: BOSE QUIET COMFORT 2

    Night Owl Rating: One OwlOne OwlOne OwlOne OwlOne Owl

    My rather unfavorable close encounters with the XtremeMac FS1 High Definition Headphones last week only made me curious to find a product that did provide performance commensurate with a manufacturer’s claims. On a whim, I settled on the $299 Bose Quiet Comfort 2, which promises a near-silent listening environment and superior sound quality.

    Naturally, paying a price that matches the 30GB iPod with video might seem a stretch, and if you cherish something that’s small and easy to tuck away, you will end up disappointed. You see, the Quiet Comfort 2 is big and old fashioned, with thick, substantial ear cushions that are, I might add, supremely comfortable. In fact, after you wear them a while, it’s all so easy to forget you’re wearing them.

    The main feature of the Bose headphones is their sound canceling capability, but it doesn’t attempt to block out all of the ambient noise, so you can’t completely isolate yourself from your surroundings. Instead, it will suppress the low frequency energy and surging noise of aircraft engines and such, and thus is a great companion on a long flight. The fact that it can also deliver superb audio quality is the icing on the cake.

    Despite their relatively large size, the Quiet Comfort 2, its accessory extension cable, and various adapter plugs can fit in the neat fabric covered carrying case that comes with the unit. It’s not quite plug and play, however, because it is battery powered, and you must switch the unit on before use. If you’re concerned about ear damage because you’re playing the headphones too loud, there is a switch on the connection cable that offers Hi and Lo options. You’ll probably need the former for your iPod, although the Lo setting was perfectly suited to my Power Mac G5 Quad and the Mackie DFX-6 mixing console I use for my radio programs.

    Now call me old, call me old fashioned, and you’ll be right on both counts. But I’ve never been completely comfortable with ear buds, in-ear phones and all the rest. They just feel a little intrusive, but that’s just me. Remember, I spent my formative working years at radio stations, and I grew used to wearing headphones hanging for hours on end. Among all the headphones I used over the years, the Bose is as comfortable as any.

    That should be it, but when it comes to Bose, other issues intrude. Perhaps because of its energetic marketing, Bose has polarized some so-called audio purists. They are happy to rag on Bose whenever the occasion seems to warrant, even if the complaints are simply not accurate. Just examining the reviews of Bose products at CNET and elsewhere will give you the idea. The critics say they are overpriced and underperforming, but my personal experience just doesn’t bear out those complaints. But I respect their right to express their points of view, even though they seem more visceral than informed.

    Like most Bose products you buy direct from the company, the Quiet Comfort 2 headphones carry a 30-day money back guarantee. You don’t like it, you return it. But the more I listen to them, the more that possibility fades from my mind. I think you’ll like them too, if you care to give them a try. Sure, they’re not cheap, but they are worth the purchase price and then some.

    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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