• Newsletter Issue #431

    March 2nd, 2008

    YAHOO FOLLIES

    Over the past week, we’ve encountered serious problems getting this newsletter to those of you who signed up with Yahoo email addresses. Our server returns a message that delivery has been “temporarily deferred.” This is repeated each 24 hours until, after 72 hours, a portion of these messages are returned to us. This means some of the messages get through — although late — and some don’t.

    Our server people have tried to contact Yahoo for an explanation of why requested material of long-standing, a double opt-in newsletter that conforms to industry standards, is handled in this fashion. My own attempts to contact Yahoo using their standard methods for dealing with such situations have fallen on deaf ears, so far at least.

    My suggestion is that those of you who use Yahoo please get in touch with their support and demand an explanation — or simply use another email address. I recommend Gmail.

    Meantime, I will continue to go after Yahoo and try to set them straight, but I welcome your suggestions.

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    All right, we know that Apple introduced speed bumped MacBooks and MacBook Pros this week. The main improvement was the expected move to Intel’s Penryn chip family, which promises somewhat better performance and improved battery life.

    So, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we discussed not just that subject but the sad fate of the venerable email application, Eudora, with Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS. The ultimate question is, of course, whether the world needs another email program. After all, Apple Mail does it for most of you, and Microsoft Entourage fulfills most of your needs if you require decent (if not perfect) Exchange support. Yes, there’s an effort to craft Eudora’s interface onto Mozilla’s Thunderbird, an open source email application, but is it just a little too little and too late?

    You also heard about a new Internet phone service from Timothy Dick, co-founder of VOIPo. I was curious as to how the new service would fare in a crowded market, and Timothy seems to feel that they have a few unique capabilities, since the company also offers Web hosting services and has the infrastructure in place, they say, to support at least the network part of the equation.

    In addition, Denis Motova held forth again about the ins and outs of blogging.

    For another look at the hot new Mac hardware and software, we also presented Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen.

    On The Paracast this week, discover the incredible life story of Dorothy Izatt, who claims to have been in contact with UFOs and UFO entities for over 30 years and has taken some 30,000 feet of motion picture film depicting her experiences. You’ll hear the insights of Frank Longo and Peter Gutilla on the subject. Longo also produced and directed a DVD documentary on Mrs. Izatt entitled “Capturing the Light.”

    Coming March 9: Pilot and UFO researcher Don Ledger discusses the Stephenville, Texas and Shag Harbor, Nova Scotia UFO cases.

    SO APPLE IS SUCCEEDING, OR FAILING OR SOMETHING

    Every time I read an article about how Apple is doing at any particular point in time, finding a consensus is near to impossible.

    One so-called analyst will tell you how Apple’s sales are exceeding expectations and they are poised for a blow-out quarter, while the next will take what appears to be the same set of data and present precisely the reverse conclusion.

    The stock market, of course, walks the proverbial tightrope. Even the merest suggestion of bad news is sufficient to send a stock tumbling, although Apple seems to garner a higher level of extreme reactions than most companies.

    Even the suggestion that far too many iPhones had not been activated was sufficient to create the unfounded impression that boxes and boxes were left unsold in warehouses and in dealer storerooms. None of this was ever confirmed with any verifiable information, but it was sufficient to cause panic.

    Then came the contrary point of view that the numbers were accurate, except that they had been unlocked and resold overseas in regions where there was no official iPhone support. And certainly a fair number are being used here with T-Mobile, the “other” GSM wireless service.

    Now it would seem to me that having so many iPhones in use around the world — even if unlocked — is actually a good thing, because it demonstrates a high demand for the product. Sure, Apple may not make quite as much money, since they don’t get their wireless carrier kickbacks, but a sale is a sale. Would they rather not sell them at all?

    But the iPhone’s popularity or lack thereof isn’t the only controversial issue about Apple’s performance. The iPod is another question mark. Are analysts correct that standalone music players are no longer hot commodities? If so, how does that impact Apple, or are they already taking appropriate steps to move the iPod line beyond its core focus and embrace the so-called “Wi-Fi mobile platform.”

    Now it may well be that some of that vision is hype, but it also makes sense that Apple needs to look to the future, not just to the current quarter’s sales. Of course, Wall Street doesn’t take nicely to long-term strategy, unless it also results in a record-breaking quarter now. You want your stocks to grow in value today, not five years from now. If they seem to be headed in the wrong direction, you dump them and take your losses or whatever profits you gained since the last growth spurt.

    These days, of course, Apple seems to be getting its best press when it comes to Mac sales. It took so long for the company to get a higher share of the personal computer market, worldwide and domestically. They have even risen to the top of the heap all over again when it comes to note-book sales in higher education.

    Clearly Microsoft has seen some pressure. They’ve begun to shave prices off retail Windows Vista upgrade kits, and you don’t do that with a hot product. In comparison, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard costs the same as the original 10.0 upgrade package released seven years ago. Surely, Apple has enough to offer in its newest operating system version to increase the price, perhaps to $159, which would still be an acceptable cost. But they didn’t.

    Sure, you can still find something negative to say about Apple. After all, they still have a “mere” 3% of the worldwide market. Isn’t that a drop in the bucket, or is the fact that Apple has record sales and record profits far more important?

    As I said, what you hear about Apple can easily be taken in a positive or negative fashion — or just somewhere in between. Spin a few facts, add a few unfounded suspicions, and the worst is upon us.

    What concerns me the most, however, is the fact that Apple deserves to be treated fairly in the press. Their good stuff and their bad stuff should be reported accurately, regardless of impact. Then again, with Apple riding high, it’s easy to grab headlines with a story that presents an exceptional viewpoint on the situation, true or false.

    But you’d think that Microsoft, in light of all the unsavory stuff they’ve pulled over the years, is deserving of an equally critical eye. Why, for example, was the story about allocating over a billion dollars to repair millions of defective Xbox 360s given such short shrift? What if Apple had product defects that serious?

    What indeed! But it’s all about getting lots of hits, not about the facts, right?

    CAN YOU SAVE A COMPANY WITH BAD PRODUCTS?

    As you know, the American auto industry is on the ropes. They’ve shed plants, laid off thousands of loyal workers, and hemorrhaged billions of dollars of red ink.

    How this came to pass doesn’t matter anymore, since you can’t change what they did wrong. However, in looking over recent reviews of new cars, I’ve come to a conclusion that isn’t going to please those of you who would rather buy a car made in the good old USA no matter what.

    First off, what constitutes an American car anyway? Well, if it’s local content and local production, surely such models as the Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata would fit the bill on both counts. However, we all know that Honda’s home office is in Japan and Hyundai is in South Korea.

    But American car makers will also assemble their products in Canada and Mexico and have been known to go to Germany and even Australia to get models to bring over here. In all cases, the product’s label says American, such as Saturn’s rebadging of Opel products, so is it the location of a company’s home office that counts?

    Well, after a sad period during which Chrysler was owned by Germany’s Damler-Benz, they are now privately owned by a domestic investment corporation. Is that new state of affairs going to save Chrysler? Well, certainly it hasn’t stopped them from cutting back on products, reducing production, closing factories and trimming the workforce.

    But what about the cars themselves? Can you take any auto under the Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep brand names and successfully pit them against the competition and come away with a vehicle that’s as good as any out there?

    Surely, if Chrysler wants to regain market share, they have to make sure their products compete in the global market against all other companies. They are, after all, a full-line car maker, with everything from inexpensive compacts to moderately priced near-luxury vehicles.

    Unfortunately, Chrysler has little to raise its brands from mediocrity.

    Just the other day, I was checking over the annual auto issue of Consumer Reports, dated April 2008. Now many elements about a car are subjective, and certainly my favorite feature might be something that you wouldn’t like at all.

    However, it’s also true that Chrysler doesn’t have a terribly good reliability rating, at least according to that issue. This isn’t CR, but the readers telling the magazine about their repair experiences with particular brands, and the results are based on millions of surveys received over the years.

    Even where a model, such as the Chrysler 300, has a decent reliability score, it receives at best a middling recommendation. Now I mention the 300 because it is one of those rare cars with sufficient bling to be taken seriously by the rap community, so I suppose you can really look great driving to a fancy restaurant in one. However, the car has always been controversial from a practical standpoint, since the interior is regarded as somewhat claustrophobic with questionable outward visibility. Now I’m not taking CR’s review at face value, here. Both Grayson and I have driven the 300 a time or two and come away with the very same conclusion.

    In terms of interior amenities, fit and finish and so on and so forth, the best of the competition is much better than almost any Chrysler model you can name. When it comes to ride and handling, again CR consigns Chryslers to the rear of the pack.

    So I wonder: How can a beleaguered company come from behind and regain lost market share by attempting to sell inferior products? Sure, your priorities may be different from the overly-practical approach taken by CR, which puts safety, good emergency handling and fuel economy above such considerations as driving excitement.

    However, it’s also clear that the customer, when looking for a new car, seldom puts Chrysler at the top of their shopping list. Will the company ever realize the sad truth that designing, building and selling superior cars is the best route to success?

    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 #431”

    1. john says:

      Sadly, American car manufacturer seem to be more of marketing companies that actual car companies.

      You can see that in their ads. I don’t recall ever seeing an American car company ad that didn’t emphasize the terms of purchase and the special lending rates that they have for their cars. On the other hand, the other manufacturers seem to emphasize the car and its features more than the terms of purchase. I know the examples are extreme, but I don’t ever recall a BMW ad or a Mercedes one talking about the incredible 0% interest on their cars lease or some such bullshit that dominates GM’s, Ford’s and Chrysler’s ads.

      From this simple observation you can tell where the American car companies’ focus is. It’s almost never the car itself. They always try to sell you on how easy it is to get one of their cars and not why you would want such a car.

      When they start actually focusing their corporate attentions on the cars themselves and what people want, only then they may have a chance.

      I’m one of those avowed anti-american-cars customers. I’ve been burned by crappy American car reliability problems often enough that I swore that I would never get another American car. And once they lose the trust, it’s very hard to earn it back.

    2. Tim says:

      Interesting point on American cars, but I still prefer them. By the time I can afford a car, time and mileage have taken their toll on them, and the higher resale value, coupled with the higher parts prices on foreign brands, doesn’t make them a first choice for me. In Kansas City, older Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas are seldom seen, compared to Ford, GM and Chrysler products of the same vintage. The previously mentioned parts prices and rust seem to get to them. That being said, Detroit has a serious problem, American investors and managers with a culture of bottom line first, last and always. I don’t think you’ll find an American assembly worker who wants to do shoddy work, but one could find any number of managers who’ll say 10 words about speed for every word about quality. The problems caused by this attitude will be a particular problem for a new car buyer, especially a mechanically declined person, who’s liable to curse the entire product line of that brand, for decades after the problem item’s out of production.

    3. Richard says:

      I was in Vietnam and visiting Japan for the first time that I was introduced to Japanese cars. Of course, I’d seen Japanese pickups, particularly Datsun and Toyotas. I got into a taxi in Tokyo and said to a buddy, “Hey, they should import these things to the U.S.” I arrived home from Vietnam to discover Japanese cars were everywhere, and also that at some point while I was gone the city of Los Angeles had stopped cleaning the streets regularly, and the state of California had stopped seeding roadsides with flower seeds. Hm.

      I was an early buyer of Toyotas. I owned three in a row, putting a hundred thousand miles on each. I never thought they were better than American cars — the dashes kept cracking on me, even with treating — but they were much, MUCH cheaper. When they stopped being cheaper, I stopped buying. I owned Fords (dependable), Chevies (dependable), and currently own a Chrysler New Yorker (not dependable, and expensive to maintain). I would never buy an American car because it’s American — American cars aren’t American anymore.

      But how is this different from computers, which may be designed in California, but are made in Communist-cum-Capitalist China?

    4. Bill Burkholder says:

      I have driven Toyotas since 1977. I got seven years on ’77 Corolla and sold it for half what I paid for it new. I was hooked. I’ve had an ’84 Celica, an ’86 Cressida, and a ’98 Corolla my daughter will drive when I trade for a Prius later this year. My wife drives a 2000 Sienna. She’s had an ’81 Tercel, an ’85 Cressida, and a ’91 Honda Accord.

      My family grew up with Chrysler stuff. My first car was a 1960 Plymouth Valiant my Dad gave me. It was trash! He drove a ’65 Plymouth Belvedere until it fell apart at 208,000 miles. It was decent. But the ’71 Ford LTD they got to replace it started falling apart on the way home from the dealer! The Toyota Camry they replaced it with in ’84 was the best car they ever owned. They had a Ford Crown Vic they hated, and they now have an Olds Aurora that they’re tired of.

      The Toyotas have all been very reliable, considering I’ve driven them very hard. But I mostly like them because they make sense to me. The ergonomics are right. The gauges and switches are all in the right places. And every time I rent something domestic on a business trip, I’m sad.

      I’m sad because the dorks in Detroit haven’t figured it out… We’re being undercut and over-engineered and out-maneuvered by Koreans and Japanese who figured it out in the 50’s and 60’s while we were screwing it up.

      Frankly, until the unions are dead and the US manufacturers go out of business, I don’t think anyone here will have learned the lesson. As a manufacturing culture, we suck!

      We have a few good engineers, but that’s not going to save us…

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