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  • Newsletter Issue #451

    July 20th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    It seems that only one topic dominated the Apple universe this week, and that was the iPhone. So on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we returned to this gadget’s amazing introduction. Exploring the prospects of the iPhone as a gaming platform was Macworld Game Room columnist, Peter Cohen.

    With a dearth of Mac games, the presence of a fair number from major players in the gaming industry on the iPhone is certainly promising. It’ll be more promising, of course, if sales are appropriately high, for it may even focus attention on the Mac platform itself as a good market for similar fare. Or maybe it’s too late, and, aside from such products as the iPhone, it’s the gaming consoles that’ll get the lion’s share of attention.

    You also discovered AOL’s new Mac and iPhone software, including AIM and AOL Radio, with Product Manager Lee Givens. Lee happens to be a devoted Mac user, and boasts of having some 40 different vintage Apple products at his home, all in fully-functional condition, including an original Macintosh Portable.

    In addition, Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith delivered concise reports on some of their latest product tests. Among the highlights was a great new 30-inch display from NEC, the LCD3090WQXi. Yes, this is not one of the easiest model designations to recall, but I have asked them for a review sample, to see how it fares compared to my Dell.

    As to Apple, well, they are long overdue for replacements to their existing display line. For now, I continue to consider and recommend other options, even if they aren’t quite as pretty to look at.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, meet world traveler Klaus Dona, who returns to The Paracast to talk about anomalous ancient artifacts he has discovered that may indicate the presence of advanced civilizations in our prehistory and perhaps ancient astronauts.

    Coming July 27: Lawrence R. Spencer, “editor” of “Alien Interview,” a work that purports to represent communications with an alien from a retired U.S. Army Air Force Nurse who was reportedly involved in the Roswell UFO case. Our special panel includes UFO investigators Scott Ramsey and Frank Warren. And get your copy free in our Talk About the Show forum.

    WILL MAC MISCONCEPTIONS NEVER END?

    The good news is that Apple is either third or tied for third in the U.S. PC retail market. This is one terrific piece of news for a company that has been given up for dead or eternal irrelevance on dozens of occasions over the years.

    At the same time, all the good press that accompanies Apple’s exalted status in the media doesn’t mean that misconceptions still don’t abound. I suppose getting one’s facts correct takes a lower priority, or maybe it’s just a matter of doing a little research, and they do teach research in journalism school.

    Or at least that’s what my son, a recent college graduate, tells me.

    Of course, it’s easy to assume that publishing erroneous or at least misleading information is part of a grand conspiracy to cast fear, uncertainty and doubt about Apple. We all know about the alleged liberal media, or is that the conservative media?

    No matter. I suppose it’s time to play the reality check game again, although my reality may not be quite the same as your reality. But since this is my playground, I’ll express my point of view, and leave plenty of space, as usual, for comments from my gentle readers.

    Perhaps the most common assumption out there is that Apple sells premium-priced products, with the assumption that their gear costs more than similarly-equipped merchandise. The other day, in fact, I had this discussion with an IT person who writes forum software modifications on the side.

    He boasted that he was able to purchase his brand-name note-book for 30% less than a MacBook Pro with the same standard equipment. The discussion didn’t progress very long until he revealed the truth, that he was getting a 30% discount on hardware due to some special connection with a wholesaler.

    Well, that explains an awful lot, doesn’t it?

    But most of the people who proclaim Macs as expensive computers don’t have such inside connections. They’re just plain wrong. You can do the comparisons any which way you want. The condition is that you pick a brand name PC and equip it as close to the Mac as possible, along with a similar grade of bundled software. That means, also, that you can’t get away with Windows Vista Basic either. No excuses and no home-built alternatives, please.

    Where you might have a point in disputing me, of course, is the fact that there are market segments where Apple won’t venture. Cheap PCs, for example, aside from the almost-forgotten Mac mini. Yes, I know cheap computers are quite popular, but they are often sold as loss-leaders by dealers, in the hope you’ll load up on peripherals, such as a new printer, to make up the profit gap. Besides, many PC makers believe they have to play in all market segments, even if the low-end is seldom very profitable.

    You also realize, I’m sure, that Apple looks carefully at profit margins, and if there isn’t enough in a specific product segment, they will not get involved. That’s why they continue to demonstrate great profits every single quarter.

    I suppose Apple might consider special runs of certain models for businesses that exclude such things as built-in Web cams, but that’s probably as far as it might go. Even that prospect, however, seems doubtful, despite the renewed emphasis on the enterprise.

    The other assumption some pundits make is that Apple is so deeply immersed in its own marketing spin that it chronically lies to its customers. I suppose you can grant them the usual level of exaggeration in their ads. Even if Apple may be the only reseller of Mac OS hardware, that doesn’t mean they aren’t competing in the general PC market against Windows boxes. So they will certainly emphasize their hardware’s advantages, and focus on the PC’s purported shortcomings.

    When it comes to the advertising business, it’s all black an white. Shades of gray aren’t part of the picture, so you can forgive Apple for omitting such fineries.

    A more recent misconception, repeated every few months, is that whenever a potential security lapse is found and exploited, it will soon spread to millions of Mac users. This isn’t to say that Macs aren’t vulnerable to malware. Surely even Unix-based operating systems have their share of security shortcomings.

    However, or now, at least, the few instances of malware that have been discovered are largely confined to the test labs or limited real-world infections. Large numbers of people haven’t been harmed — at least not yet. For now I haven’t installed any security software, although I realize that the need may arise at some point in the future.

    Meantime, I can see where the critics might shout with glee over the Mac’s perceived security shortcomings, as if the sky is about to fall. They might pen lurid headlines as to why IT people ought to be wary of Macs. But the worst fears haven’t been realized — at least not yet.

    I also realize that when a company seems to be sitting at the top of the world, there are vultures around who’ll want to tear them down. Certainly, Apple makes its share of mistakes and they have to release the appropriate updates or otherwise address the problem. Take the messy launch of the service formerly known as .Mac. It was a disaster, and Apple had to offer a 30-day membership extension to compensate.

    Then again, I’m interested in the bad news too. I’m sure it’s easy to find.

    SHOULD WE BLAME MICROSOFT FOR BAD CONSUMER ELECTRONICS INTERFACES?

    When I reviewed a new Panasonic plasma TV recently, I was quite pleased with the picture quality and the features. I was not so pleased, however, with the menu-driven onscreen configuration screens, which struck me as poor imitations of the ones you find on a Windows PC.

    I remember when I first got a fully featured mobile phone, a Motorola RAZR. At the time, I was a customer of Verizon WIreless, and I couldn’t miss the Windows-inspired hour glass that appeared whenever I was waiting for a configuration change to be made.

    But it wasn’t just the hour glass that made the interface reminiscent of Windows. The structure of the menus and the lack of consistency in the organization and labeling of various settings only reinforced this notion. I had to wonder whether the people at Verizon Wireless, who enforces specific interface standards for its products, actually did any form of usability testing to see what was easiest to use.

    Or were they so busy packing on features, useless and otherwise, that such mundane matters as making the handsets they sell simple to manage are somehow forgotten. Again, isn’t that a notorious and well-known characteristic of a Microsoft product?

    But it’s not just consumer electronics that carries Windows conventions with a passable resemblance. Even graphical interfaces for Linux-based operating systems are apt to strike you as poor representations of the conventions first introduced by Microsoft in its efforts to emulate the Mac OS.

    You might labor under the belief that the companies who build electronics want to make them as simple to use as possible, so that you and I can benefit from the huge range of features. Surely if you can’t use a feature, it carries little value, except for another bullet point on the PowerPoint presentation they probably used when designing the product.

    It’s not that they can easily imitate Apple, of course. If they come a little too close, Apple’s legal eagles will quickly find out about it and send them the appropriate cease and desist demands.

    So what are these companies to do? Allow ongoing feature bloat in the hope that such things will sell more product? Or do the right thing, and find a way to make the existing functions more manageable, easier for regular people to master without having to invest a lot of time in the typically poorly-written user guides.

    All this may explain why Apple has gotten so many accolades, and plenty of sales, from the iPhone, even if it does lack some of the capabilities you’ll readily find in the competition. Then again, the very same thing was true about the iPod. If you look at the features, you’ll find other products can do more, but that’s not the point, really.

    And that’s something lost on these consumer electronics makers, at least so far. Besides, with all the huge resources they have at hand, wouldn’t it be nice if they spent a little R&D money to develop a new and better way to do things? It wouldn’t be simple, but it would be one way to end the dreaded Microsoft curse that infects far too many consumer products.

    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #451”

    1. Dave says:

      As far as Mac security, I had a discussion just this morning with a coworker who is in IT at my company. We were discussing VPN connections, and at the mention of me having a Mac, he immediately said that Macs were not any safer than PCs. And of course he used the tired old argument that the only reason Macs don’t have more viruses is because the user base is so small that hackers don’t care. I respectfully disagreed, but couldn’t change his mind, of course.

    2. As far as Mac security, I had a discussion just this morning with a coworker who is in IT at my company. We were discussing VPN connections, and at the mention of me having a Mac, he immediately said that Macs were not any safer than PCs. And of course he used the tired old argument that the only reason Macs don’t have more viruses is because the user base is so small that hackers don’t care. I respectfully disagreed, but couldn’t change his mind, of course.

      Remind him that Apple is now the number three PC company in the U.S., and that’s surely a status significant enough to mean the user base is sufficient to attract virus writers.

      Apple’s sales have grown from roughly 800,000 per quarter to over three times that number in the span of a few years, and while there are still proofs of concept, limited outbreaks, and the usual round of security fixes by Apple, the situation hasn’t changed.

      His argument is without a factual basis.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Al says:

      Every successful exploit of Mac OS X has required either physical access to the Mac in question or social engineering to fool the Mac user into installing the malware themselves. The rare user has installed the trojan even after OS X warned them not to.

      Anti-virus software cannot look for nonexistent viruses . Anti-virus software cannot magically raise your IQ by enough points so that you see through the social engineering. Anti-virus software can only second OS X’s trojan warning. Don’t click on that, it’s a program, stupid!

      Apple and, by association, smug Mac users are such big targets that it boggles the mind that no one has come up with a self propagating virus for Mac OS X. Just maybe it’s a very hard task to accomplish and the few people who would be capable of doing such a thing are too busy writing Mac software.

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