On the surface at least, the iPhone 1.1.1 update would seem like a good thing. After all, it fixes a few shortcomings with the hot-selling gadget, such as low volume, and also adds some features. What could be wrong with that?
Well, if you hacked the phone to allow it to work with other wireless carriers, the update would turn it into an iBrick. If you simply added some third party software, you can forget about regaining those features unless the folks who were able to jailbreak the iPhone discover new ways to do their thing.
On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, David Biedny, our outspoken Special Correspondent, plays taps for the death of the brown Zune and then wonders whether the independent online release of a new Radiohead album marks the beginning of the end for the music industry’s dominance.
Author and commentator Kirk McElhearn is on hand to explain why he is still unhappy with interface of the latest iPods, despite a pair of recent updates. He also talks about the touchy subject of the effect of technology on politics.
And, in this week’s Web Tips segment, Denis Motova discusses some of the wackiest tech support calls he’s fielded.
st upgrade and problems with WordPress, the popular open source blogging software.
On our “other” show, The Paracast, researcher Dennis Balthaser discusses the mysteries of Great Pyramid of Giza. Was it constructed by an advanced Earth-based civilization in ancient times, or by unknown beings from the stars?
In addition, eyewitness Mike Fortson separates the facts from the fiction on the Phoenix Lights UFOs.
Coming October 21: Long-time researcher Scott Corrales discusses UFOs in Latin America.
From the time we are children, we know how to find a reason for doing something wrong. When you slap your brother or sister, and your mother is justifiably angered, you make the excuse that they hit you first, that you were only fighting back.
Unfortunately, this sort of behavior sustains itself into our adult years, and companies pay corporate communications people to make smart-sounding reasons for foolish behavior. The best of the lot may even work for governments, but this isn’t a political discussion, so I won’t go any further.
The best way for a company to prove its mettle is how it reacts when bad things occur. Over the years, both Apple and Microsoft have had plenty of opportunity to show ways to recover from unfavorable developments, from the failure of a product to catch on, to a serious product defect.
Just recently, Microsoft delivered a particularly lame excuse to reports that they had been feeding Windows updates to customers who had actually turned off the automatic update feature. Their answer? Sorry, folks, it didn’t happen. They must have configured their PCs incorrectly.
Of course, the implication here is that their customers are too stupid to know how to click an off button in a settings panel. But I could be insulting and add that they did buy Windows, which entitles you to be abused in some fashion. Yes, I could say that, and perhaps I just did, but this isn’t an article about platform wars, but rather how the companies behave.
I suppose some of you will now argue that Apple is the king of excuses, that Steve Jobs is a master salesman who could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and a couple of cities in the bargain. He allegedly emits a “reality distortion field,” where you hang on his every word, convinced that it’s all the truth.
Imagine how he’d fare if he did a religious revival show on TV.
But there are times when Jobs can be brutally honest about things, for better or worse. Consider that blog he wrote last February, where he said that the reason you had Digital Rights Management on the iTunes store was because the entertainment companies required it as a condition to making content available.
If Jobs had his way, there would be no DRM. Now forget what ulterior motives might have existed in that utterance. Perhaps he was using it as leverage to negotiate new deals with content providers. Regardless, he was right on the money, and EMI jumped aboard. More recently, Amazon has been experimenting with DRM-free music.
You know the entertainment industry had to be dragged kicking and screaming even into working with Jobs in the first place.
Microsoft? They’d tell you that DRM was good for you, because you are respecting artist’s rights, and not, of course, protecting the greedy music and movie companies who still don’t get online delivery of product.
More recently, Jobs wrote a blog in the wake of the iPhone price reduction debacle, admitting that Apple goofed. To make things right, they’d give a $100 rebate coupon to any iPhone owner who was not eligible for price protection.
In retrospect, did Motorola give you a rebate when prices were slashed on the RAZR? Just asking.
Of course, Apple still got slammed by some people, including tech writers, for doing the right thing. It appears some of those writers want you to believe that cutting prices is somehow the wrong thing to do, and giving you a rebate to boot is worse.
Now when it comes to product defects, Apple is often slow off the mark. To be fair, it may take a while to separate a genuine defect from some rare glitch or customer error, find the cause and work out a solution. In the end, though, there have been extended repair programs and downloadable fixes to address the worst problems.
In other words, in the end, Apple can usually be depended upon to do the right thing.
This isn’t to say that Microsoft doesn’t fix product defects. Take those overheating Xbox 360 game consoles. Microsoft allocated over a billion dollars to fix them. Even with their huge cash reserves, that’s one big write-down to take on any product. If Apple did it, the stock price would tumble. It barely affected Microsoft and never really got all that much publicity.
Microsoft’s biggest problem, however, is that it can’t figure out how to portray itself as a nice company, one devoted to building innovative products. When they introduced a new version of the Zune music player recently, Bill Gates remarked how it was the best they could do in six months, but next year it’ll even get better.
Too bad the corporate communications people at Microsoft didn’t have the smarts or the courage to tell Gates when to shut up. Between him and the rantings of Steve Ballmer, does anyone believe them anymore?
Microsoft’s main excuse in its defense against antitrust lawsuits was that it wanted to be free to innovate. Leave us alone, they said, so we can build the products their customers want to buy. Innovation at Microsoft? Don’t get me started.
So who makes the best excuses? Do you even have to ask?
Now that Apple has, for all practical purposes I suppose, unleashed its holiday lineup of iPods “” and there will probably not be any changes in the iPhone this year “” the conventional wisdom is that Apple will move a huge number of these gadgets by Christmas.
Not I’m not about to rain on your parade, except that there is yet another technology wonder that will be moving into millions of homes before the end of the year, and that’s HDTV. Yes, high definition television.
At one time, HDTV was strictly the province of the well-heeled, or those of you who had a credit card with a large enough margin to accommodate spending thousands of dollars to get a big screen TV with an incredibly sharp and brilliant picture.
However, prices have dropped probably faster than even the TV makers expected, and certainly the consumer electronics stores, which have suffered lower profit margins despite higher sales.
But you and I benefit big time from the turn of events.
Just the other day, in fact, I saw a 50-inch VIZIO plasma TV for less than $1,300 at a local Sam’s Club. Now a few years ago, VIZIO wasn’t a brand on anyone’s radar, but they’ve come a long way in an incredibly short time. You see, they’ve risen to the top of the market by virtue of providing surprisingly good quality and excellent customer support, a combination that has echoed with millions of owners.
VIZIO and other low-cost TV makers have had a tremendous amount of influence on the industry, so even a top-tier brand, such as Panasonic and Samsung, have cut prices until they are just a few hundred dollars extra. Such a deal!
Even better, it’s hard to find a clinker in this batch. You see, both LCD and plasma panels are all assembled by a small number of OEM manufacturers, as are many of the supporting components. Sounds almost like a typical Mac or PC these days.
Sure, there are differences among the TV makers when it comes to quality control, and finding the best combination of components to deliver a good quality picture and reliability.
So when you go shopping for a new TV, you are apt to be confused by the vast number of models available, the confusing and contradictory specs and so forth and so on. The hot ticket these days is “full” HDTV, which means 1080p resolution.
Now only the warring high definition DVD formats support that resolution so far. Indeed, unless you get a set with a screen size over 50 inches, you probably won’t see much of a difference in picture quality between the lower resolution, which is usually 720p, and the 1080p variety, at a normal viewing distances. That is, except the price, where the latter might cost hundreds of dollars extra.
Of course, in time, even the cheap sets will sport the higher resolution, and TV makers will simply look for other methods to differentiate their products.
With expected sales of millions of units, it’s quite possible that TV sales might trump those of the iPod this holiday season. But I don’t think that Apple is going to suffer any.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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