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  • Newsletter Issue #424

    January 13th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I’ve talked quite a bit about the iPhone in the past year, but, for the most part, from the standpoint of someone who observed the situation on the sidelines. You see, I actually didn’t have one to call my own. That changed, at least for a brief period of time, when I got a review sample to evaluate for a couple of weeks.

    So I decided to use that experience as the centerpiece of my discussions on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Indeed, I spent extended face and talk time on the topic. First, you heard from noted Mac guru Ted Landau on the nitty-gritty of Apple’s hot-selling gadget. As the author of a forthcoming e-book covering both use and troubleshooting, he had plenty of insights to offer on what the iPhone does well and where it has, well, a few shortcomings.

    In addition, Denis Motova joined me in our new “Tech Junkies” segment to participate in a hands-on comparison between the iPhone and the BlackBerry. Now Denis has only used the iPhone during visits to his local Apple store, but it was sufficient to reveal the contrasts between that device and his own BlackBerry. When it comes to Web access, for example, the iPhone is far, far better.

    In another segment, author Joe Kissell presented the inside details on how best to install Leopard on your Mac, and about proper backup steps.

    You also heard from long-time shareware publisher Andrew Welch, of Ambrosia Software, who talked about his company’s latest products, including WireTap Studio, the very same application we use to record many of the interviews you hear on this show.

    You probably don’t realize this, but I’ve known Andrew since the late 1980s, when he was a college student making some extra money selling shareware. He’s since turned that business into a full-time profession, complete with support and marketing staff. It’s a great success story, and I’m always pleased to talk with Andrew about his newest products.

    On The Paracast this week, we feature veteran UFO authority Timothy Good, who will express his “meta” viewpoint on the extent and scope of the UFO mystery.

    Coming January 20: Skeptical researcher Robert S. Lancaster, who runs a site known as stopsylviabrowne.com.

    A REALISTIC LOOK AT APPLE’S INNOVATION

    Every press release that emerges from Apple Inc. these days includes the following tag line: “Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh.”

    At no time do they claim that they actually invented the first personal computer, although the Apple II made the PC affordable and accessible to a large number of people. I gather Microsoft’s Bill Gates would rather have you believe that his company was responsible for certain inventions in the industry, such as the mouse. But that is strictly an unsupported claim.

    So how and where did Apple actually innovate? Well, certainly there were attempts to develop a graphical user interface before the first Lisa and then Macintosh appeared. The computer mouse was actually invented in the 1960s, and the first iteration was encased in wood.

    There is an urban legend that Apple executives when to Xerox’s famous Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s, saw what they were doing with user interfaces, and judiciously “borrowed” what they wanted to use for their own products. In fact, they paid Xerox for the rights to use certain technology.

    Where Apple innovated here was to meld the previous work of different developers into a cohesive whole, and make it far more user friendly than most any personal computer up till that time. That is the main focal point of Apple’s magic.

    Make no mistake about it. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean inventing something where nothing existed before. The true artist or product designer will take what went before and homogenize and expand those influences using his own native abilities to create something new.

    In the music business, we know that The Beatles didn’t invent rock and roll, nor did Elvis Presley, for that matter. Elvis was heavily influenced by rhythm and blues, combined it with the country and western music of the time, and combined it into his own unique singing style. The Beatles were, in turn, inspired by such artists as Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and all the other artists to whom young people listened in England in the 1950s and early 1960s.

    Now that it’s obvious that Apple didn’t invent personal computers, or graphical interfaces for that matter, what about the other developments that are attributed to their clever designers and engineers?

    Well, take a look at the iPod. Before Apple begat the iPod, you already had portable digital music players, and those music players were able to dock with a PC and download tracks. So what was so different about the iPod?

    Clearly, Apple look at what was wrong with those other players, and worked on solutions for the problems, so they could become more user friendly. By using FireWire (before USB 2.0 was ubiquitous), the iPod was able to get tracks from your Mac (the PC version didn’t arrive till later in the game) a lot faster. A large internal drive meant that more substantial music libraries could be stored.

    Most important, Apple used its expertise in developing user interfaces to make day-to-day operation of the iPod as simple and intuitive as possible. This doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or can ever be perfect. But you have to look at the pathetic state of music players at the time to realize that the iPod had more than just a pretty face.

    In building the iTunes store, again Apple looked at the prior work in that area, and strived to make the process of creating and maintaining music libraries — and later buying music online — as seamless and automatic as possible. In building a Windows version, they simply ported the essence of the Mac edition as much as possible. In fact, more Windows users own iPods today than Mac users, but that is to be expected considering the vast differences in operating system share.

    Before the iPhone arrived, cell phone interfaces were perfectly awful. They largely followed the Microsoft tactic of adding tons and tons of features, without making sure that each was readily accessible and easy to master. As it turns out, a handset with lots of capabilities, such as the Motorola RAZR, is seldom explored to its full extent by most users. You have to dig down deep to make it do more than just the basics, although it’s otherwise a pretty decent phone. I mean audio quality is first-rate, and the latest versions have addressed the original low-volume complaints.

    There were also touchscreens before they appeared in the iPhone. So once again, Apple didn’t invent every element of the product from scratch. Again, they were largely influenced by the successes, and certainly the failures, of previous products, and labored hard to embrace the former and eliminate the latter.

    Despite its relative excellence, the iPhone is still a 1.0 product, and there are lots of things that ought to be improved, and many of the shortcomings will no doubt be addressed as this device matures.

    In addition to building upon the work of others, and finding ways to simplify products, Apple is great at avoiding feature-bloat. So you have iPods without built-in radios, for example. They will also abandon a product that just isn’t working, such as the Cube, and not pour billions into something that isn’t paying its way, as Microsoft does with the Xbox.

    All told, the rest of the tech industry is clearly depending on Apple to show them the way and provide products and features they can, in turn, imitate.

    But they’re late to the game. Microsoft was doing the very same thing 25 years ago.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: OKI COLOR PRINTER: SMALL FOOTPRINT, LARGE PERFORMANCE

    In that recent review of the Lexmark c780 color laser printer, I was quite impressed with its performance and print quality, particularly text, which I felt to be as good as I’ve ever seen in any laser device.

    But it’s somewhat costly and rather large for a home office or small business. In fact, the unit I reviewed, with duplexing and two paper trays, weighed close to 110 pounds, and wasn’t terribly easy to lug to my second floor office location, but I managed.

    In contrast, the OKI C6100dn I’ve also tested weighs a “mere” 64 pounds and is fairly easy to move from one location to another, although you want to make sure that you’re in decent physical condition when going up and down stairs.

    However, it packs a huge amount of performance for its relatively light form factor. Technically, it’s not even a laser, since it uses LED printheads to generate its images. As a practical matter, you probably won’t notice any difference, since it uses toner and otherwise functions identically to a standard laser device.

    The 6100dn’s specs are in the ballpark too, with a print engine providing 1200 x 600 dpi output. What I like about this model is the speedy delivery of the first page after issuing the Print command. OKI says it’s nine seconds for the first page, and up to 32 pages per minute at peak speed. For color, the claimed performance is 11 seconds for that first page, and up to 26 pages per minute. Not too shabby and my subjective impression is that these specs are very much in the ballpark in real world use.

    The initial setup process is straightforward. You can use the built-in USB 2.0 port, or, for workgroup use, the standard 10/100 Ethernet connection port. After setting up the toner, and installing the drivers, I tried a few pages and spent a few moments analyzing the output.

    The OKI C6100 series has been justifiably praised for its color quality, which is a step above just about any color laser I’ve tried, and not far distant from the Xerox Phaser solid ink printers. Text quality was quite good, though tiny print wasn’t quite as sharply defined as on that huge Lexmark C780. In particular, green text seemed a big jagged, something other reviewers have observed but it’s not a significant factor, unless you look real close.

    At $1,049, the C6100dn is an extremely capable printer. If you are on a budget — and discounts can certainly be found — you might want to consider the C6000dn, for $200 less. During my brief tests with that model, I found print quality to be identical, although it runs at a predictably slower speed, rated at 24 pages per minute for black and white, and 20 pages per minute color.

    Either way, you’ll be plenty satisfied when you’re finally ready to graduate from inkjet.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #424”

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

    2. Dana Sutton says:

      This is a good way to look at things. In a sense, Apple doesn’t excel at computer/software/electronic device manufacture so much it as it has a genius for industrial design. So maybe the best way to predict where it might go is to ask “what current electronic devices have the potential to be great but are current being held back by a lousy interface?” Until the iPhone came along, that was true both of cell telephones and of PID’s such as the Palm and the BlackBerry. Apple combined them, rolled in the iPod, and made the result extremely easy to operate. So what other consumer electronic products might benefit from the same kind of improvement? One thing that comes to mind is the information/communication/entertainment center in a modern automobile. These are getting awfully complex and on many cars are very clumsy to use (and therefore too distracting and therefore downright dangerous) and could easily profit from the Apple treatment. What else could be added to this list?

    3. Dave Barnes says:

      Gene,

      Take a look at the Brother HL-4070CDW (color, duplex, wireless) laser printer.
      Fast. Silent while sleeping. Very good print quality.

      ,dave

    4. Kaleberg says:

      While the Apple II wasn’t the first personal computer, what with its number 2 suffix and all, it was a breakthrough, largely because of the introduction of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. There were not a lot of real world applications for personal computers. There were games, basic interpreters, and primitive word processors. Remember, the Apple II didn’t even have lower case letters, which was common among early PCs. (The IIe did). It wasn’t going to replace your typewriter. VisiCalc, on the other hand, opened the machine up for a lot of business applications. If nothing else, you could do inventories, accounting, taxes, track portfolios and a host of other business-y and scientific things, all without really learning to program. People actually had an excuse to buy one.

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