• Newsletter Issue #423

    January 6th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Over the past year, I’ve written a fair amount of copy about some of the erroneous stories published about Apple. It wasn’t from the standpoint of being a fan of Apple’s products, which I undoubtedly am, but simply because I believe in trying to be as accurate as possible in my own writings. Besides, there’s an awful lot of misinformation to correct.

    Unfortunately, some of those alleged tech commentators prefer lurid headlines and text, which seem little better than the stuff you read in those notorious supermarket tabloids. Yes, Apple Inc. has become fodder for gossip, and to hell with accuracy.

    So on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, I took a long, hard look at the false stories written about Apple and their implications with cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger of Roughly Drafted Magazine. Now Daniel has worked really hard to research some of those stories, and it’s truly amazing how the chronic offenders continue practicing their deceptions, year after year, seldom getting anything right. That, my friends, is also an indictment against their publishers for allowing that garbage to see the light of day.

    In anther segment on the show, author and commentator Kirk McElhearn was on hand to talk about the hits and misses of 2007 and deliver his pithy predictions about what to expect from Apple in 2008, beginning with the Macworld Expo in the middle of this month. Can you spell “thin and light” portable Mac?

    And Denis Motova joined me in our new “Tech Junkies” segment to discuss iPod adapters and other cool gear, and that’s just the beginning. We have a BlackBerry versus iPhone discussion on tap for next week.

    On The Paracast this week, we’re featuring author and psychic researcher John Zaffis.

    Coming January 13: Veteran UFO researcher Timothy Good joins us to provide a “meta” viewpoint of the UFO mystery.

    THE NIGHT OWL PRESENTS: A USER’S VIEW OF THE iPHONE

    As you know, I’ve been a long-time holdout on acquiring an iPhone, largely because I have never seen the need for a wireless phone that has anything but the basic features, plus Bluetooth for handsfree connections to the car or a wireless headset. So when Apple came out with the iPhone, I was skeptical.

    On the other hand, I also regard most cell phone interfaces as pathetic, and I’ll have more to say about that in the next article. So this is one major reason why I have not strayed beyond the basics with my handsets. I have other priorities, and as long as the signal strength is adequate, and audio quality is decent, I have remained happy.

    But I’ve been awfully curious as to what makes the iPhone tick, and why it became so popular so quickly. No, it’s not just hype. You see, a healthy majority of the folks who own one adore this wonderful gadget, so I’ve been sorely tempted.

    Finally, I got in touch with my PR contact at Apple and he arranged to send me one to review, along with the requisite press review guide.

    Now, to be blunt, I have mixed feelings about those review pamphlets. On the one hand, they help you focus on the key features of a new product, and sometimes suggest test scenarios. But the lazy writer may sometimes do little more than summarize that information, and then provide a brief comment on how they felt about the product.

    I’m not going to do that, and, in fact, I never did check the reviewer’s guide before writing this review, nor did I read the brief instruction booklet packed with the phone.

    You see, when it comes to a professional productivity application, such as Adobe Photoshop, you do want the advice of an expert who is fully educated on all the nooks and crannies of such sophisticated software. But when you’re dealing with a consumer electronics gadget, it will be put into service by people with all sorts of skills, and reading manuals lies at the very bottom of their priorities.

    Sure, it’s hard to put myself in their place, because I carry too much baggage in terms of writing about tech matters for over two decades. But in this case, I don’t have extended hands-on experience with smartphones. You can, for the most part, call me a novice when it comes to such gear.

    Instead, after unpacking everything, I just connected the charging cradle to my desktop Mac’s USB port, placed the iPhone inside it, and experienced a standard user setup routine. The lone exception here is that Apple activated the phone already, and I chose not to have it put on my account with my own phone number, since Apple expects journalists to return their products after the review period is over.

    As you’ve heard, once the iPhone is connected, iTunes launches and takes you through the ultra-smooth setup process. If you already have an AT&T Wireless account, it should be a pretty straightforward process to add a new line or switch one of your existing lines to the iPhone. Moving your number from another carrier or starting from scratch may take a bit longer, but as you’ll see in the next article, the going was extremely smooth in moving my services to AT&T. It appears they have overcome most of the growing pains in dealing with the avalanche of new subscribers signing up in recent months.

    After selecting the songs and videos I wanted to download the iPhone, I basically let the process continue of its own accord and went back to work. Once the battery was fully charged, I proceeded to give the unit my undivided attention.

    As you know, all of your Mac’s contacts, calendar reminders, Apple Mail email settings and Safari bookmarks are also transferred as part of the setup process. Getting your contact list from another AT&T phone would require syncing with your Mac or perhaps using AT&T’s online backup service, but this is something I did not explore. Your comments or war stories are welcomed.

    Once I lifted the iPhone from its cradle and began to browse through the interface, it delivered a prompt to select one of the active Wi-Fi connections in my neighborhood. I chose my own, of course, and proceeded to login. Now Apple’s touch keyboard has some really clever features, such as predictive text that guesses, usually successfully, what you’re about to type. A keyboard without tactile feedback, you see, is more mistake-prone, so that helps matters considerably. But when it comes to a username and password, you have to be 100% accurate, so I had to repeat the process a couple of times before the login took.

    Now I have rarely used text messaging, and, even then, only to respond to an occasional message from my son. But I have to say that Apple’s virtual keyboard is a gem. So far, I’ve not moved beyond one-finger typing, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve grown accustomed to the layout rather quickly. After a day or two, I was even reasonably accurate and fast on it, but nothing will replace a regular keyboard, at least for me.

    Without doubt, you’ve all ready about the easy online access and visual voicemail. The most important thing about a wireless phone for me, however, is call quality. I need solid connections, good sound, and it’s important that the people at the other end of the connection can hear me loudly and clearly the very first time.

    Although I’ve read criticisms that the volume levels on the iPhone are a little too low, that wasn’t my experience with this review unit, which has the latest 1.1.2 firmware. Audio was clear, crisp, but certainly not altogether different than the LG and Motorola phones I’ve used in my brief time on AT&T. Signal strength, however, seemed more robust than my regular LG, even when the iPhone was placed in my left pocket.

    Pairing with Bluetooth devices is ultra-simple, and that’s the Apple way. I tried it with headsets and auto systems and was up and running in a minute or two. Depending on your auto’s Bluetooth setup, it may or may not transfer your phone’s contact lists. In my case, it did, but your mileage may vary. You may be able to get it to work, however, if your dealer can deliver a newer firmware upgrade for you, or maybe not.

    The best part of my short encounter with the iPhone, however, is that my opinions about getting a smartphone have been totally reversed. Without reading directions and doing little more than playing around with the interface, I was easily able to make this phone my own in terms of settings and operation.

    What’s more, having flexible email and Web access is a huge plus in my book, and I am extremely tempted to seriously consider buying my own iPhone in the very near future.

    In the meantime, I’ll continue to use the Apple loaner until the day they require its return.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE ROUGH AND DIRTY MATCH-UP: AT&T VERSUS VERIZON WIRELESS

    It’s a well known fact, that, among wireless carriers in the U.S., AT&T, the company formerly known as Cingular, occupies the number one spot, followed by Verizon Wireless. It’s also pretty obvious that, of late, AT&T has gained lots of new signups courtesy of the iPhone.

    But being number one doesn’t necessarily signify having the best product or service. Indeed, it’s widely conceded, if grudgingly by some, that the Mac OS beats the pants off Windows, even though Apple’s market share is far, far less.

    By the same token, reader surveys from Consumer Reports magazine indicate that the top cell phone providers are Alltel and Verizon when it comes to system quality and customer support, whereas AT&T lies near the bottom. Only Sprint scores worse.

    Now, my personal feeling has always been that wireless services are almost universally mediocre or worse in all respects. The differences between the best and the worst aren’t all that significant, and your experiences may vary from city to city and, no doubt, from phone to phone.

    Frankly, my encounters with Verizon over the last five years have been decidedly mixed. The network is pretty decent, although I have encountered occasional bouts of bad reception and dropped calls. I suppose that huge network symbolized in the TV spots by large crowds of people aren’t following me around for some reason. Audio quality tends to be decent enough, but clearly digital sourced.

    This is nothing unusual. A mobile phone is basically a two-way radio, and the attendant service inconsistencies are to be expected. Moreover, I suspect the carriers may be somewhat behind in building up their networks to keep up with growing customer demand.

    But I decided to ditch Verizon Wireless and pass on the account to a relative, largely because I was not terribly impressed with the quality of customer service. This is particularly true when it comes to billing irregularities, although other carriers are supposedly even less helpful. It’s sad that these service providers are far too ready to blame the customer rather than admit fault when something goes wrong.

    I chose AT&T instead, largely because, as I said above, I will probably acquire an iPhone some time this year.

    I didn’t expect anything spectacular from AT&T, although I was optimistic that Apple wouldn’t choose a carrier for the iPhone strictly because they got a huge check. Apple no doubt expects AT&T to continue to improve its network and customer service, so iPhone owners get a superior user experience.

    Indeed, my initial encounter with AT&T has been largely favorable. I bought a standard three-phone setup via AT&T’s Web site, taking advantage of rebates, and ending up with an out-of-pocket expense of just $25 plus local tax. Grayson got a vintage Motorola RAZR V3, similar to the one he had used with Verizon. Barbara and I got the LG CE110, a truly compact phone that provides lots of features for its zero price tag, including Bluetooth, a basic VGA camera, instant messaging, a full-duplex speakerphone and a fairly decent contact feature.

    Since I was transferring phone numbers from Verizon to AT&T, the transfer process required a call to the latter’s customer service. I ended up with a polite gentleman who did the number migration and activation in approximately 10 minutes, without missing a beat. That’s a good start.

    AT&T’s user interface isn’t functionally different from Verizon’s, except that it is more bare bones, with few flourishes. It is, however, functional, and I had little trouble setting up my basic contact list, choosing some basic handset settings, and migrating a similar layout to my wife. Grayson said he was able to recreate his contact list of some 80 names on his new RAZR in short order.

    My biggest concern was service quality, and I was quite surprised, actually. For the most part, AT&T delivered on its claim to provide more bars in its signal strength display during my travels throughout Phoenix and enviorns. But where it really shines is audio quality. Grayson and I both agreed that phone calls received via AT&T possess a more robust, almost analog quality, rather than the flat digital veneer that embraces the calls I got from Verizon. I can’t say whether this is attributable to some network improvements in the Phoenix area, or it’s based on architectural differences between GSM technology, used by AT&T and CDMA, which is employed by Verizon.

    This stands in stark contrast to the report by Consumer Reports that AT&T’s audio quality in my area is actually worse than Verizon’s. Maybe they have a different set of standards, or recent improvements have rendered that conclusion moot.

    Of course, we’re early in the game. It’s very possible that my positive feelings about AT&T will vanish over time, and that I’ll be as hostile towards them as I am towards Sprint. That’s the carrier I had prior to Verizon. Then again, maybe Apple knew something when it selected AT&T as the U.S.A.’s exclusive carrier for the iPhone.

    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 #423”

    1. shane blyth says:

      I am from New Zealand and it looks like we will never get the iphone here.. Vodofone is our only sim based carrier and they are seemingly pretty anti the iphone from day 1 for some strange reason so I have just ordered a turbo sim and an iphone off a local supplier and will run it unlocked on vodofone and see how it goes.
      I will only be using wifi to get on the internet as we use some strange system for data here that wont work with the iphone except at some ridiculously slowed down state..
      So maybe i’ll compare my thoughts in a week .

    2. John says:

      Same here. I have used AT&T for a while. I am not thrilled about their privacy policy but technically the network works well. I travel around the country a lot and I have not had any problems with connecting or staying connected. Occaisionally there is a dropped call but that is usually because one of us is passing through a weak signal area like an elevator or a narrow valley while driving.

    3. Steve Zerby says:

      I used to be AT&T, more recently Verizon, and now AT&T again. I live in a very rural location, and Verizon does not work at my house. AT&T does. I hated the sound quality with Verizon. I really disliked talking on the cell at all on their network. Now that I’m back on AT&T I’m much happier with the sound quality, and it works in more areas in my rural location than Verizon did. As you say the voice has a more natural sound to it.

    4. I used to be AT&T, more recently Verizon, and now AT&T again. I live in a very rural location, and Verizon does not work at my house. AT&T does. I hated the sound quality with Verizon. I really disliked talking on the cell at all on their network. Now that I’m back on AT&T I’m much happier with the sound quality, and it works in more areas in my rural location than Verizon did. As you say the voice has a more natural sound to it.

      Thanks for confirming what Consumer Reports evidently overlooked. I only guessed that the improved sound quality might be attributed to newer equipment in my area, but maybe not.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. RobInNZ says:

      Shane:
      Im in NZ too, and obviously am also somewhat disappointed about Vodafone’s attitude regards the iPhone. Vodafone are usually pretty good with regards to sitting on the slighly bleeding edge of the technology curve, but not in this case.

      However, do keep in mind that Telecom (New Zealands previously government owned Telco) are also in the process of rolling out a 3G GSM network. Just for once, they MAY just actually do something good here and pick up the iPhone. But Im not holding my breath.

      As much as Id like to have an iPhone, Im not overly interested in spending considerable $$$ on a device I depend on, and suddenly having it stop working after a firmware rev. Unfortunately that means Im likely to be going down the RIM or Windows Mobile track for a smartphone, as these are what we support at work.

    6. shane blyth says:

      To RobinNZ
      I wouldnt hold my breath for Telecom to get this sorted. My phone died and decided to take the plunge..

      There is no danger in your iphone bombing out in NZ unless you choose to apply a firmware update
      You are in complete control of this. I am going to use turbosim so the phone is in no way software hacked.
      I found buying an iphone in NZ and the turbo sim if you buy it from the right place is cheaper than other smart type phones here. I understand if you are using a windows system at your work you really have no option. It looks like leaked info on windows mobile 7 which will be MS’s next release will be basically a rip off of the iphone.. gone will be the stylus etc.. I have seen a few pics and it is ridiculously similar . Of course how they would get around all apples patents I dont know.

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