• Newsletter Issue #426

    January 27th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    We made a small, but possibly significant change this week on the home page of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. You see, up till now, when you entered either of our radio show sites, the latest episode would begin to play automatically after a few seconds. Behind the scenes, that process involves a simple code entry when we generate a QuickTime player window. Well, after one person said he was annoyed to hear something he didn’t want to hear play without his intervention, we changed the word “true” to “false,” and fixed the issue. From here on, you have to click the Play button to hear something.

    Now the autoplay feature was first switched on more than five years ago, when we first began the tech show on the failed MacRadio network. We had few complaints, mind you, but not changing this “feature” over the years was simply a matter of inertia. There were other priorities, but it’s finally been done. It’s also now possible to save the episode as a QuickTime file direct from the player window, and I hope that makes listening more convenient for you. Of course, you can still download your favorite episodes from our Archives section on the site, via iTunes or one of the other Podcast aggregators.

    On this week’s episode, we covered, naturally, Apple’s 1st quarter financials and the fallout from its new product announcements at Macworld Expo.

    Columnist Kirk McElhearn appeared to speculate on Apple’s possible CEO succession plans and his reaction to the MacBook Air and other new products.

    For an in-depth look at Apple’s financials and product prospects, we brought onboard Macworld’s Editorial Director, Jason Snell.

    Denis Motova joined me in our “Tech Junkies” segment to explain why he joined millions of other Windows users in ditching Vista and returning to XP. Now Denis is a power user in every respect, and if he couldn’t get Vista to work satisfactorily without constant baby-sitting, imagine the plight of the regular person trying to get Microsoft’s latest OS to run. No wonder more and more Windows users are fleeing that dreadful environment and buying Macs.

    On The Paracast this week, we’re happy to present my old, dear friend, world renowned paranormal author Brad Steiger, who spends an evening that begins with the recent Texas UFO sightings, spirals into various UFO theories, and lands in “worlds before our own.” In between is a pretty no-holds barred, wild, and free-ranging discussion.

    Coming February 3: C. Scott Littleton, Ph.D. discusses the “Battle of Los Angeles” UFO case of 1942, plus UFOs and the paranormal in Japan and throughout human history.

    TURNING GOOD NEWS INTO BAD

    As I was listening to some talking heads debate Apple’s financial prospects on a 24-hour cable TV show this weekend, I had the vain hope that they would provide a needed dose of reality upon the bad tidings surrounding Apple Inc. these days.

    In the end, it was a mixed bag. One financial analyst said Apple was doing just dandy, thank you, while another said Apple’s stock has long been overpriced, and was a better buy at $125 per share. My conclusion is that they really don’t know, but they got on that show because they can provide instant pithy comments on a variety of financial matters that sounded great on TV. It doesn’t matter if they know what they are talking about or not.

    It never does, sad to say.

    But after it became clear that you can’t fault a company for having record sales, despite a basically gloomy economic outlook, the nasty, noisy negatives of the financial and tech press decided to embark in the incredibly wrong-headed search for the missing iPhones.

    So how do you conclude iPhones are missing?

    Well, if you use their fuzzy logic, it’s easy. AT&T reports activating two million of the four million iPhones that have been reported sold so far. Hundreds of thousands of additional units have been activated by the European carriers Apple signed up in the final months of 2007.

    However, and here’s where things get dicey, there may be well over one million phones that can’t be accounted for. Where are they? Well, clearly a number of iPhones were bought by people around the world and then unlocked so they can be used with other carriers.

    Certainly, some remain in the dealer channel, unsold, but how many isn’t certain, since Apple isn’t going to tell you, and I doubt that AT&T and the other iPhone carriers will either.

    You can take the negative approach, which is that well over a million iPhones are somehow catching dust in the supply shelves at various dealers. That may, in part, be true, but it may well be they are seriously underestimating just how many people buy iPhones that are never officially activated by the supported providers.

    While this shouldn’t be interpreted as an example of careful research, just the other day I was at the checkout line at a local Wal-Mart Supercenter. The cashier saw me checking a message on my iPhone (all right, it’s Apple’s iPhone technically) and remarked that he had one that he used with T-Mobile.

    It turns out he was a computer science major at a local college, and was manning the checkout lines to earn some extra cash. He said that he used an unsupported application to simulate Apple’s fancy visual voicemail system on T-Mobile.

    You can’t, of course, take one example and turn it into a microcosm of the entire industrialized world, but there are credible reports that people all around the world are using iPhones in countries that do not have official supported carriers for the product.

    Take Latin America, which has, so far at least, been way off Apple’s radar. How many people are running around with iPhones in the major cities, such as Buenos Aires? Well, take a look at the listings on eBay, for example, and you’ll see loads and loads of unlocked iPhones for sale at various prices, some way above retail.

    As you know, there are people who earn all or most of their incomes moving merchandise on eBay. Certainly, the ubiquity of unlocked iPhones means that a lot of people have them available and, no doubt, lots more are aching to buy one to use in some remote part of the world that Apple may not reach for years — if ever.

    Does this state of affairs represent the solution to the case of the missing iPhones? Possibly. Besides, if they were so plentiful, how come it’s near-impossible to find a refurbished iPhone at Apple or AT&T these days? They were readily available not so long ago.

    At one time, Apple estimated that 25% of the units sold — which would mean one million of the present total — were unlocked. Some suggest that, as jailbreaking tools improve, that number may have exploded to one third and more.

    Of course, it would be nice if Apple would sit down with analysts and answer these key questions once and for all. Would it stop Apple’s stock price from tanking? Would it put an end to the stories that the iPhone is failing fast? Maybe not, but those with a respect for facts above gossip might just sit back and take notice that things aren’t really as bad as they seem.

    But getting them to admit that is another matter entirely.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: WELCOME TO THE MINISTRY OF SECOND LOOKS

    When I first ranted about the limitations of watching a rented movie in 24 hours, I realize that no sane individual would disagree. Of course, that places the entertainment industry perhaps in another category.

    But maybe Apple listened in smoothing the kinks in its iTunes movie rental offering. There are now published reports that, if you start watching a movie and the time limit kicks in, you’ll have the option to resume watching it during that sitting without having it self-destruct. Well, that’s progress, I suppose. But I think a genuine 36-hour window would provide the requisite two evening viewing [eropd that ought to be enough for people who require an extra night to finish a flick.

    Now when it comes to that iPhone that Apple sent me to review, with the release of the 1.1.3 firmware update on January 15th, they relented and gave me another two weeks to evaluate the new features.

    While I’m still firmly convinced that I’ll buy one before long, I am tempted to wait until the true 3G version is out. Yes, Internet access is fast enough with an available Wi-Fi connection, but when that connection drops out, or isn’t available, you revert to the far-slower Edge network. There performance can vary depending on signal strength and location. At its best, it’s usable. But far too often, a site or an email message embedded with pictures may take over a minute to load, and that’s just not acceptable.

    Having onboard GPS is less of an issue with the upgraded Google Maps feature, but I still use prefer to rely on road maps and printed directions. I am not inclined to add a navigation feature to my next car either, since it wouldn’t be worth paying two or three grand for something I might use once or twice a year. Besides, I’ve driven through much of the U.S. without such luxuries, and I don’t get lost all that often.

    On the other hand, when I am relaxing in bed watching a DVD on TV, and the MacBook Pro’s battery is spent, having an iPhone to keep tabs on my email is something you can get accustomed to real fast. So maybe I will buy one anyway, then pass it off to my son, Grayson, when the next version is out. That’s a hand-me-down he won’t refuse.

    As to AT&T itself, the network has continued to work pretty well since I migrated from Verizon Wireless. I encountered a few weak signals in my neighborhood, a condition that afflicted Verizon from time to time also. When I asked AT&T about it, they looked up the cell towers in my area, and admitted that one had been down for maintenance with a power problem. Since then, things have improved somewhat, so maybe they were telling me the truth, although it’s easy to disbelieve customer service people nowadays.

    In any case, I’m not expecting miracles from what is, for all intents and purposes, just a fancy two-way radio system. In large measure, AT&T works fine for me. Very likely that’s the result of working hard to improve their network in the wake of the merger with Bell South. Customer service is decent too.

    But as with all wireless carriers, you may get perfectly awful service from one provider in your city, so you pick another. Too bad the iPhone, minus official unlocking procedures, is currently tethered to one company in the U.S. Whether that’s a good thing or otherwise isn’t predictable.

    Maybe the FCC should be mandating some measure of consistent quality and customer support from the wireless industry. After all, cell phones are often used for emergency communications, and that’s a situation where a dropped car may mean the difference between life and death. And, no, I’m not exaggerating. While I’m not enamored of excess government regulation, you shouldn’t have to choose between bad and worse. There has to be a better way.

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #426”

    1. Adam says:

      “Would it put an end to the stories that the iPhone is failing fast? Maybe not, but those with a respect for facts above gossip might just sit back and take notice that things aren’t really as bad as they seem.”

      The problem is that these people make money by getting us to listen to them. Then they talk to us through the media, which lives on sensationalism. in an election year “Things are OK, really” isn’t a likely headline!

    2. Tom B says:

      “One financial analyst said Apple was doing just dandy, thank you, while another said Apple’s stock has long been overpriced, and was a better buy at $125 per share.”

      And if you trash talk the stock until the gullible sell their shares so said analyst can buy at discount……

      Consider:

      Ebay demand (as you cite)

      Motorola tanking

      RIMM lowering guidance

      Nokia pushing hard on Asia, Latin America to sell units before the iPhone gets in

      Nokia buying Trolltech to help juice their pathetic software.

      The iPhone is doing just fine, thank you. At current rate (4 M/ 6 months) they could sell 12 M instead of the promised 10 M by the end of this year. I think they’ll exceed even 12 M.

    3. Ruhayat says:

      Given that a typical HD movie comes on double sides of a DVD — that’s 8GB — it makes you wonder how long it will take to download a single movie. I’m guessing it will not really be “HD” HD, the way “CD Quality” is with MP3s (apparently, make it 128kb and you’re good to go — unfortunately, I have a Densen power amp coupled to Dynaudio speakers, not an iPod “Hi-Fi”).

      Some form of compression has to take place. But the thing is, with audio it’s less of a problem because many people do not have keen ears or high-end audiophile equipment. With video, you can easily see when the quality has dropped, and seeing it on a 42-inch LCD screen or even bigger projected screen will make it even more obvious.

      This, coupled with the limited window to view what you have, may come back to bite Apple at a time when it seems to be a bit wonky (what with very vocal criticism of the what-should-have-been-like-manna MacBook Air and all).

    4. Dana Sutton says:

      From the promo in the iTunes Store page: “Every movie you download from the iTunes Store plays at 640-by-480 resolution that looks great on your computer, iPod, iPhone, and TV.” I don’t know what’s harder to imagine — how little fun it would be to watch a feature-length move on an iPod or how terrible 640 x 480 is going to look on your 42″ LCD.

    5. thgd says:

      “…Given that a typical HD movie comes on double sides of a DVD “” that’s 8GB “” it makes you wonder how long it will take to download a single movie….”

      Apple appears to be streaming the HD movie rentals not downloading them to a hard disk.
      This way there is never a complete copy of an HD movie left anywhere that could potentially be illegally distributed. This is probably one of the reasons the movie studios agreed to the plan.

      The movies are also sized to the alternate HD standard of 1280 x 720p which makes their data size smaller than full 1920 x 1080p which is distributed on a Blu-ray disk.

      Time will tell if most people will accept this lower quality as good enough. There are sure to be many pro and con arguments.

      You can see Apple’s HD streaming in action by watching the HD version of Steve Jobs recent Macworld keynote speech. Even with a relatively modest broadband connection of 1Mbs it works perfectly.

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