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  • Newsletter Issue #396

    July 1st, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Well, I’ve already said that I’m not inclined to want to buy an iPhone, at least not yet, although I being urged by my wife, Barbara, to reconsider (and she’s probably right). But that doesn’t mean they’re not flying off the shelves. In fact, with AT&T reporting it’s nearly out of its initial stock, you can feel assured it’s on the road to a great success. So this week, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we brought you up to date on the iPhone and other up-to-date issues involving Apple Inc. with Macworld’s Jim Dalrymple.

    By the way, Jim already has his iPhone up and running, after a few glitches on the part of AT&T.

    In addition, we presented the the very latest Mac troubleshooting secrets from Joe Kissell, author of “Take Control of Troubleshooting Your Mac.”

    If you are a Windows user, you’ll want to hear the segment we did with Scott Dunn, from Windows Secrets, who says Microsoft has failed to deliver on some of its promises for Vista Ultimate, the most expensive version of its newest operating system. The most interesting aspect of the interview, however, was Dunn’s admission that he really isn’t altogether impressed with Vista and still prefers XP.

    No, there’s no chance that we’re going to persuade him to switch to Macs, but there’s always hope.

    On this weekend’s episode of The Paracast, we had a return visit with Richard M. Dolan, author of “UFOs and the National Security State.” Dolan has a particularly well-rounded viewpoint of the subject, and he talked at length about how our civilization would be impacted if it were revealed that UFOs are real, and are visitors from, well, “somewhere out there.”

    That indeed raises the most important issue of all: If UFOs are real, where do they come from? Are they from outer space, another dimension, or a civilization that coexists with our own right here on Earth?

    Regardless of their origin — and I won’t dismiss the possibility that there are several answers to that question — how would mankind be impacted at the news that not only are we not alone, but that “they” are here visiting us even now?

    Some suggest that disclosure of this information, after years and years of secrecy, would have a devastating effect on our society. Just imagine, for example, how primitive civilizations have, in the past, been virtually destroyed when our own explorers visited them. What about our governments, organized religion, and indeed the vested interests in various key industries, such as energy?

    There are many who suggest that people in various government departments already know the truth, but are keeping it from us in abject fear that their centers of power would disappear rapidly if we all knew the truth about our visitors. There are even those conspiracy theories that the oil industry doesn’t want us to know that so-called free energy is available right now, and that there is no need for high-priced gasoline with which to power our automobiles.

    Why even the automobile itself may be obsolete.

    Of course, we really don’t know what the answers are, but that won’t stop us from speculating about the implications, which is just what we do on this week’s extended conversation with UFO investigator Richard M. Dolan.

    SO WHAT’S REALLY WRONG WITH THE IPHONE?

    As I write this, both Apple and AT&T stores are rapidly running out of their initial stocks of the iPhone, with initial reports claiming some 525,000 were sold over the first weekend. Those of you who expected instant gratification may have to redefine “instant” to encompass days or weeks until new supplies arrive.

    At the same time, the initial reactions, both reviews and user experiences, have been mostly positive. The iPhone appears to do precisely what Apple promised, which is to provide a smooth, well-integrated interface that successfully merges the functions of a wireless phone, portable Internet device and a music player.

    But it also puts the iPhone’s perceived shortcomings into sharper focus.

    Take the complaints about using the allegedly poorer-performing EDGE network instead of 3G. Steve Jobs says that decision was made, in part, because the chips for the faster networking standard use more power and, further, that it’s not supported by all of AT&T’s network.

    One review I read, from CNET, said they just didn’t care, meaning that they’d prefer shorter battery life in exchange for support for the speedier network. Of course, then they could go back and complain about the battery life too. One thing I learned while working at CNET is that they insist you complain about something in your article, even if it’s exceedingly minor.

    Regardless, according to several reports I’ve read in recent days, AT&T has been working to boost performance on its 2.5G network. There have been anecdotal benchmarks talking of speeds in excess of 200K, which is strictly low-end when it comes to broadband, but surely enough for basic Web browsing and email.

    Here, I’m inclined to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. I cannot believe they’re engaged in a conspiracy to cripple the iPhone’s performance without just cause. As to the lack of GPS support, well, mobile phones already can detect your location as part of their built-in E911 capability. So I can see that software might enhance location management and integration with Google Maps, although I’m sure that the tech experts will correct me if I have some of this wrong.

    A lot of the other criticisms are strictly about the software and its limitations. The interface is almost universally praised for being fluid and easy to master. Even the touch keyboard can become second nature after a few days, according to most who have been exposed to it.

    When it comes to the iPhone’s software, the major criticisms cover such issues as lack of built-in support for Exchange email servers and a missing instant messaging client. Integration among some of the existing features has also been criticized, but you get the idea.

    Alas, some of these critics seem to ignore the fact that this is a version 1.0 product. No doubt Apple made sure that only components that were tested and reliable made it into the initial release. More to the point, Apple is booking revenue from iPhone sales on a 24-month basis, which means you can expect a steady stream of software enhancements over that period.

    Since the iPhone is based on OS X, no doubt improvements that are part of Leopard will find their way into the iPhone as well. What’s more, missing features can easily be added via iTunes as you sync your phone. That would include firmware updates to address bugs and/or performance issues, plus a wide range of possible software upgrades.

    You’ve already heard, for example, that Apple is doing some pilot testing on improving integration with business email. This would mean, for example, that Exchange support, beyond basic IMAP, is inevitable. You can also feel reasonably assured that instant messaging will be added before long.

    No, I don’t have any secret information to offer about Apple’s plans. But common sense dictates that the ongoing delivery of software updates will include certain basic applications and features.

    At the same time, Apple isn’t inclined to just throw in the kitchen sink in any of its products. Part of their product artistry is to know what they can leave out, and perhaps leave for third parties to fill. Right now, for example, there is no support for Flash-based media. There have already been commentaries about Apple’s alleged intent to avoid proprietary standards as much as possible, but I don’t think all of their plans are obvious just yet.

    In short, the version 1.0 iPhone has plenty of room to grow, even before a 2.0 version appears. So if you do decide to buy one now, don’t feel it’ll be rendered obsolete right away. True, Apple is apt to add higher-performing hardware components to future models, such as support for the faster 3G networks, but that shouldn’t be cause for you to wait. There will always be something better around the the corner, but it’s nice to know that Apple is apparently poised to deliver lots of software updates over the iPhone’s lifetime with which to make it better and better.

    Now to answer the final question: I am still probably not going to by an iPhone right away, even though I’m thoroughly convinced it is every bit as good as the early reviews say it is. You see, I am reasonably satisfied with my wireless plan at Verizon, and I don’t want to shell out an arm and a leg in early termination fees to ditch it, even if I could be assured that AT&T’s network was every bit as good.

    But things can change over time. There are, for example, online areas where one can trade off a wireless plan when the need arises. So I’ll never say never.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: CAN THE IPHONE SHAKE UP THE WIRELESS PHONE INDUSTRY?

    The other day, I read the text of an alleged reproduction of a rival wireless company’s talking points against the iPhone, and its perceived lack of certain significant features.

    It’s clear that the iPhone is having a much greater impact than any other wireless phone, ever. Look, for example, at the Motorola RAZR, which was regarded as the hot product of its day. Do you recall ever seeing people lining up around the block to buy one, or wireless carriers who didn’t buy the initial shipments complaining about its alleged shortcomings?

    In fact, the RAZR might have looked nifty enough, but it really didn’t offer any capabilities that set it apart from other fancy mid-priced phones. The basic feature sets, including Bluetooth and voice dialing, were available on a number of devices. Since the interface elements are largely dictated by the wireless phone companies, using the RAZR felt little different than using an LG or Nokia.

    What the wireless companies fear about the iPhone is higher customer churn. That’s the number of people who leave a service over a given period of time. The higher the figure, the more new customers have to be signed up to replace them.

    Since most of the people who want wireless phone service already have it, most of the new customers a company signs up are conquests from another company. In fact, as your wireless contract nears its end, you’ll almost inevitably receive more and more offers with special deals if you renew your contract. You see, when that contract expires, you are free to move your business elsewhere without having to worry about early termination fees.

    What’s more, you’ll probably have to buy new equipment.

    For the most part, at least here in the U.S., handsets are tethered to the original wireless provider. True, GSM headsets, such as those used by AT&T and T-Mobile, theoretically allow you to move a phone to a new service simply by swapping the SIM card that provides a company’s connection profile.

    There are unofficial ways to handle such things, but in practice, they’re not used very often. Besides, when you buy a phone from a specific carrier, you’ll be able to take advantage of a lower price if you sign up for the standard multi-year plan. I’m not sure if that’s true of the iPhone or not, but you still have to agree to AT&T’s two-year plan to establish service.

    Forgetting all these technicalities, however, AT&T’s competitors are confronting a serious dilemma. If the iPhone truly becomes the cultural phenomenon its early sales suggest, the other companies are going to be losing business over time. Even if a new AT&T customer doesn’t buy the iPhone right away, they’ll tend to perceive the company as being cutting-edge simply because of their partnership with Apple.

    In time, there will be cheaper iPhones too, and even the $599 price you pay today for the 8GB version may get you a whole lot more a year from now. That’s how the industry works and it presents an even more frightening dilemma for the competition.

    To be sure, Nokia and other companies known for flashy phones are struggling hard to find ways to compete with the iPhone. They might even do pretty well, and if they do, the dreadful interfaces of present-day wireless phones may become a thing of the past. All of this thanks to Apple of course.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech 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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    7 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #396”

    1. […] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. […]

    2. John says:

      One thing I would love to know is what those Verizon executives that were responsible for rejecting the iPhone are doing now.

      They must be either kicking themselves right now, or are being kicked in the ass by their bosses.

      If the iPhone becomes as big of a hit as the iPod – which it probably will – then those executives will look back at their decision as the biggest mistake they’ve ever committed in their professional lives.

    3. On July 2, 2007 at 8:43 am, John said:

      One thing I would love to know is what those Verizon executives that were responsible for rejecting the iPhone are doing now.

      They must be either kicking themselves right now, or are being kicked in the ass by their bosses.

      If the iPhone becomes as big of a hit as the iPod – which it probably will – then those executives will look back at their decision as the biggest mistake they’ve ever committed in their professional lives.

      Executives will never see it that way. Instead, they will find ways to spin the situation to their own advantage, how Apple went with an inferior-quality network, etc., etc.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Peter says:

      As to the lack of GPS support, well, mobile phones already can detect your location as part of their built-in E911 capability. So I can see that software might enhance location management and integration with Google Maps, although I’m sure that the tech experts will correct me if I have some of this wrong.
      I did some looking into this, but it's still mostly informed speculation.
      The E911 has to be accurate to within 150 meters (a little under 500 feet).  The smallest accuracy required is 50 meters–a tad over 150 feet.  Considering that my $130 Garmin GPS Bike Computer is accurate to within 40 feet and is usually less than that (with the occasional glitch) and you'll see that the E911 isn't necessarily an answer to GPS.
      Furthermore, the coordination is not done in the handset but is done by AT&T's network.  It's actually a fairly involved process so it's not something that is done live.  If you call 911 from your phone, the 911 operator will be told your location when the call started but it will not update live.  Essentially, all the triangulation work starts when you make a call.  So if you wanted your current location, the phone would have to send a signal to the network to do the triangulation.
      Not a bad thing, mind you.  I could deal with that in a "What's close to me?" kind of way.  But for driving directions in a big city, I'm not sure the accuracy is good enough for it to actually figure out what road I'm on.  But for "live updating" and accuracy, GPS would be the way to go.

    5. One thing I would love to know is what those Verizon executives that were responsible for rejecting the iPhone are doing now.

      They must be either kicking themselves right now, or are being kicked in the ass by their bosses.

      If the iPhone becomes as big of a hit as the iPod – which it probably will – then those executives will look back at their decision as the biggest mistake they’ve ever committed in their professional lives.

      Of course, the excuse here is that a GPS chip would use a lot more battery power, so this is the compromise — or at least till GPS chips are more conserving of resources. Other than buying a separate navigation device or having your new car factory-equipped with one, of course.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Personally, I’m looking forward to iPhone 2.0 ™ and hopefully a reduced price for both the unit and phone activation and use. I feel like when we went from roof antennas for TVs to not being able to “live without Cable” for over $100 each month for access to reruns.The phone was originally owned by the phone company and we paid a monthly fee of around $10. Can we afford and justify over $100 per month for the convenience of “access anywhere”? Not on my budget. I want “free” as in “freedom”. Speaking of, what about privacy and being left alone in this new “always accessible” world? Orwell’s 1984 apparently is here through GPS and RFID technology. What kind of tracking capability, besides E911, is in the new “gotta have” technology?

    7. They must be either kicking themselves right now, or are being kicked in the ass by their bosses. If the iPhone becomes as big of a hit as the iPod - which it probably will - then those executives will look back at their decision as the biggest mistake they’ve ever committed in their professional lives.

      Well, what would happen if we all turned off our wireless phones for a day. Would we survive? How did we survive when those things weren’t so ubiquitous.

      Yes, Robert, they know where we are and they know what we do, and that, sad to say, is probably just the beginning.

      Peace,
      Gene

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