• Newsletter Issue #456

    August 24th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    From time to time, with no expectation of success, I have written to Apple corporate communications and asked to interview Steve Jobs. To their credit, they actually respond to me, but they will clearly never accept that request. However, it’s also true that I have cornered Jobs on a couple of occasions at Apple events, and he does answer a question or two before rushing off elsewhere in mid-sentence.

    Realizing that this quest will never be fulfilled in my lifetime, I decided to choose the alternative. So on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I brought on Daniel Lyons, sometimes known as “The Fake Steve Jobs,” who recently wrote a collection of parodies about Apple’s mercurial chief executive entitled “Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs.”

    Now Daniel is a long-time Mac user, and thus he created his little gems of parody with love and admiration in his heart. He was also a fun interview, willing to riff with me on a variety of subjects quite often having little to do with technology or even Steve Jobs for that matter. He will be joining Newsweek in September, where he will continue to write about technology and, one hopes, he will bring his fake Steve Jobs column out of retirement.

    You’ll also received a special Mac and iPhone update from prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. This time the good doctor focused on the recent difficulties with the MobileMe launch and iPhone reception issues.

    In addition, Rob Pegoraro, the personal technology columnist for the Washington Post, was on hand to talk about the “opaque” Apple and whether they are mismanaging the process of communicating with their customers about ongoing problems. His answer, one with which I agree, was yes.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, meet author and TV personality Nick Pope, who used to run the British Government’s UFO Project. This wide-ranging conversation will run the gamut from the scope of UFO evidence to its meaning and how the public is reacting.

    You’ll also gain insights into Nick’s 21 years of service for the British government, and whether he was ever able to unearth evidence of any genuine secrets about UFOs in the dark recesses of the government’s classified activities.

    THE APPLE CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT REPORT

    One thing is certain: When you build a multibillion dollar multinational company, you can bet the sharks will be after you. Indeed, Apple’s SEC filings routinely list a number of lawsuits in which they’re involved. Some they’ve filed, and others have been filed against them for various real or imagined offenses.

    Some of these lawsuits aspire to class-action status, claiming that Apple has somehow done something to injure a specific group of customers, and they must be compelled by the courts to pay for their horrible misdeeds.

    Recently, one Jessica Alena Smith of Alabama got in the act, filing a 10-page complaint alleging that the iPhone’s 3G network was not as fast as claimed. The action was very much inspired by Apple’s own ads for their hot-selling gadget, promising twice the performance of the original iPhone.

    Actually, Apple’s own site claims a performance boost of 2.4 times, but they also have some very specific terms and conditions in the fine print that provide them with plenty of wiggle room: “Throughput depends on the cellular network, location, signal strength, 3G/EDGE connectivity, feature configuration, usage, the Internet, and many other factors. Throughput tests are conducted using specific iPhone units; actual results may vary.”

    What this means is that there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the same speed boost, and even if you do, it may vary as you travel from place to place. Even such issues as excessive network traffic and weather conditions may conspire to impair performance.

    Clearly the lawyers who took on that case didn’t read the fine print, nor do they seem to have a realistic concept of the way the wireless phone system operates. However, they might hope that, if they annoy Apple enough, the company will just relent and settle and give everyone a discount coupon, and a huge paycheck for the legal eagles to initiated the action.

    Now this isn’t to say that the iPhone 3G is perfect by any means. Since it came out on July 11, there have been two “bug fix” firmware updates, the second of which, version 2.0.2, was, Apple admits, designed to improve connectivity to 3G networks.

    But if you can believe the published reports — and that might be a stretch — the actual problem involves situations where 3G signals are marginal, where the phone is supposed to seamlessly switch back to the slower EDGE network yet sustain a connection. On those occasions, an active voice conversation may fail. If that’s the case, the supposed fix wouldn’t only deal with that specific operational condition and nothing else. It wouldn’t guarantee that the phone would be somehow more sensitive or would otherwise deliver more reliable calls.

    Some have also blamed the 3G chips Apple is using, reportedly sourced from Germany’s Infineon Technologies AG. However, the very same parts are also apparently used in Samsung phones and other products without complaint, so their apparent failure in an Apple product, if there is a failure, would seem a little peculiar.

    Now I’m not saying there are no teething pains with the phone. Remember that the original iPhone had several updates during its lifetime, and you have to expect that it might take a few months before things settle down.

    Indeed, my experience demonstrates, at least to my satisfaction, that the 2.0.2 update actually improved my iPhone 3G’s connectivity slightly. In marginal signal areas, it will sustain a phone call more reliably, and in other locales, the signal strength has increased by a bar or two.

    A few random benchmarks, using the testmyphone.com site, have delivered results that are certainly in keeping with what you should expect from 3G, with downloads ranging from 431 kilobits on the low end and and 1.2 megabits under best case situations. Uploads varied from just under 100 kilobits to slightly above 200 kilobits.

    In the real world, Safari grabs my sites at acceptable to fairly snappy speeds. This compares with the original iPhone, where I sometimes felt it hard to stay awake while waiting for even the simplest site to render. Twice as fast? You bet, and then some.

    In short, 3G speeds in my area, near Phoenix, AZ, are perfectly adequate. However, it’s also true that there are a few areas where cellular reception is marginal. AT&T calls them “moderate,” rather an optimistic euphemism. Unfortunately, their 3G service is far from reliable nationwide. AT&T doesn’t even provide the higher speed coverage in some cities, and in others signal strength varies all over the place.

    As much as you’d like to blame Apple for everything related to the iPhone, it’s not their network. Of course, it’s true there have been reports of connection problems in other countries too, but even there, it still requires direct comparisons with 3G phones from other companies placed in the exact locations, doing the same things, to see if the iPhone 3G is actually producing inferior performance.

    Understand, I’m not making excuses for Apple. In the end, there may be things they can do to enhance network speed and reduce dropped calls. The 2.0.2 update might have been just a quick fix to mollify their customers until more expansive fixes can be readied. Take application crashes, for example, where Steve Jobs is quoted as saying that particular problem will be remedied by an update due some time in September, perhaps the long-rumored version 3.1 that will contain push notification and other improvements.

    In short, when the iPhone 3G’s performance is good, it’s very good and well worth the investment. When it’s bad, it’s just another misbehaving cell phone, of which there are hundreds of millions out there already. Maybe we’re just giving Apple too much credit.

    Regardless, whenever there’s even the slightest hope for a successful legal action, you can bet a lawyer will find a client, somewhere, whose willing to participate in a lawsuit. As if we need any more discount coupons.

    WHERE’S APPLE’S KILLER KEYBOARD?

    One of the best personal computer keyboards ever was Apple’s own Extended Keyboard II. It had the perfect combination of speed, comfort, and reliability. It was also expensive to produce, because of the mechanical key switches, and was eventually replaced by the Apple Design Keyboard.

    Now I realize many of you felt the new version was one huge letdown, although I rather liked the soft touch myself. These days, Apple has decided to remove the differentiation between desktop and note-book almost completely, with its aluminum-clad model. Yes, it’s slim, sleek, and the keys feel for all the world like those in the MacBook.

    With its wireless version, they ditched the numeric keypad, a controversial decision for some, though I find that I seldom use it, and I suppose the desktop space you save might be a plus. However, the lack of dedicated Page Up and Page Down keys is one huge negative, and, so, I’ve never bothered. Yes, the two versions have a smattering of dedicated keys, but nothing resembling what the third parties offer.

    Now I am no expert on the best solutions for keyboard comfort, but I very much feel that Apple’s design philosophy in building their keyboard line focuses in elegant looks, without really considering how your fingers would feel after lengthy typing sessions.

    In the past year or two, I’ve spent some time with the so-called ergonomic keyboards, where they split the keyboards into multiple sections, spanning outward towards the bottom. The theory goes that they will somehow provide less strain on your delicate wrist muscles, and thus help spare you from carpel tunnel or any other ailment of that sort.

    After a week or so, I actually got used to them, more or less, but I still had to reconsider certain key positions consciously, which could conspire to cut down on speed. After decades of using traditional keyboards, I decided one day to give up on ergonomic, at least for now. Since I never unpacked the keyboard from the box in which my Mac Pro arrived, I decided to give the aluminum keyboard a whirl.

    Having another note-book-style keyboard seemed all right and all, actually. The slim form factor looks good on one’s desk, but I felt I was missing something. So I tried yet again, with the cooperation of Logitech, who sent me one of their new $159.00 deNovo Edge Mac Edition keyboards.

    Now you just know a keyboard has to be unique when its name begins with a lower case letter. The shiny black and aluminum-clad case does look snazzy and all, and it the keytops are reassuringly Mac-like, including the Command key, and several dedicated keys that mirror Apple’s own choices for its keyboard line.

    While most of Logitech’s Mac-compatible wireless input devices tend to use standard USB transceivers, this one, befitting its higher cost of admission, is all Bluetooth. Unfortunately it lacks the numeric keypad, which is no great loss in my particular situation, but it does add a a circular scroll pad that lights up when your fingers touch it.

    You can actually use it in place of a mouse, but the reach for the two input switches beneath the pad seems a little awkward to me, so I prefer to stick with my standard mouse, Logitech’s own MX Revolution.

    The most significant feature, according to Logitech, is best described in this sentence: “Logitech’s PerfectStroke™ system, with precision micro-scissors, gives you more key travel than typical note-book keyboards. So every stroke is comfortable, fluid, and silent.”

    I left the trademark symbol in, you’ll notice. In practice, the touch is indeed soft, with longer travel than a note-book keyboard, just as they claim. I dispute “silent,” however, since one or two keys sometimes produce a very slight squeak, though it’s possible, I suppose, that the noise will vanish as the keyboard is broken in.

    In any case, for now, it seems a perfectly comfortable if perfectly expensive wireless alternative to anything Apple has produced so far. And I have to wonder: With all of Apple’s design expertise, how come the perfect keyboard — and mouse for that matter — continues to elude them?

    Or maybe they should bring back the Extended Keyboard II in a new case and be done with it!

    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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    8 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #456”

    1. Adam says:

      Gene,
      I have been wondering about the deNovo Edge. I read somewhere that there was good “backlight illumination” I wonder if this means backlit keys similar to the Macbook Pro/Air kyboards or if it is limited to power and the touch wheel. Could you reply with a report on that?

      I absolutely love my aluminum Mac keyboard and I want to get a 2nd so that I have one at home and one at work. I am considering the bluetooth model, but I don’t move around too much so it is a little hard to justify. I would miss (a little bit) the number pad, but not critically so. One good thing about the lack of that feature, though, is portability. I have taken my aluminum keyboard back and forth to work a few times and even with a full size backpack it barely fits in my bag. Lack of a number pad would help that tremendously. I have to think that this is the “portable” version of the device and thus needed a smaller form factor.

      Back to the one I own for just a moment. Because of the low profile I find that I can easily angle my hands (like a split keyboard which I never get used to) and not need to re-think my typing patterns. I tend to be faster, and my wrists definitely feel better at the end of the day. I am used to a MacBook, so that undoubtedly helped but I really do consider this to be one of the most comfortable keyboards I have ever used.

      Cheers!

    2. Backlighting on the deNovo Edge is limited to the volume slider and the touch pad.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. rjschwarz says:

      Personally I like Sun’s keyboards. They are a little larger but the extra copy/paste/etc buttons on the left hand side are wonderfully useful, far better than using F key combos. Apple controls the software and hardware and could implement such a move really easily and I suspect developers would find all sorts of fun uses for the extra keys. The needs of a desktop are not the same as a laptop and the keyboards should be different unless Apple is hoping to help out the keyboard hardware manufacturers the way the hocky-puck mouse no doubt pushed everyone into buying a proper mouse (with multi-buttons no doubt).

    4. Derek Hagen says:

      Apple’s aluminum keyboard is the best one I have ever used, even better than the legendary Extended Keyboard II. I am not a pounder, so it is perfect for me. Apple’s mouses (mice?) have always fit my hands far better than anything else others have produced. Well, OK, the angular mouse for the Mac Plus was a clunker. Non-Apple mouses have always seemed like clunky bricks to me. The Mighty Mouse is a programmable multi-button mouse. The “buttons” are the left and right side of the top of the mouse. There are other visible buttons on the side. Why do people have a problem with this? I don’t get it.

    5. gopher says:

      Website based network tests are at best ballpark figures, at worst can mismeasure the speed of your connection entirely. Why? It is called backbone. For every hop to the website you are testing, you are hoping your internet access provider has a high speed backbone connection with no excess traffic. Numerous times visiting domains with a function called Traceroute, you discover you are 16 or more hops away from the website you are visiting. That’s 16 different nodes where your access speed can be diminished. Worst yet, the processor and media speed you are using to run those Java based tests may slow down those tests. So when you publish an iPhone speed test site, recognize it may not be the be all and end all speed measure of your iPhone. If the iPhone were capable of FTP, and AT&T provided a website for you to publish cell phone based webpages, you might get a better measure of the speed since the only hop you’d be going over is the Edge or 3G network directly to your website. So someone complaining about network speed should also consider whether or not the rendering engine of the web browser is depending on server based or client based webpage design rendering as well. Suffice it to say if a lawyer did do their homework, they’d learn all this and throw the case out the window.

    6. Larry Harrison says:

      I love the touch of the new Mac aluminum keyboard, but overall I hate it!! They made the USB ports at each end virtually useless. USB sticks that work perfectly with every other keyboard elicit a “not enough power…” message, forcing you to use a port on the back of the computer. Getting around to the back of a 24″ iMac every time you need access to a USB port is no easy matter. Why did Apple have to sacrifice this function- it’s really a step backward.

    7. sunflower says:

      personally I believe Apple’s current keyboard is perhaps the best keyboard ever made. After using a laptop, it is very difficult to type on a desktop keyboard, with they very long keystrokes. The flatter hand position helps my fingers from going numb.

    8. Russ Urquhart says:

      Hi,

      I too really liked the Extended Keyboard. I was lucky enough to find one in a bargain bin at MicroCenter for a dollar. Using an adapter to convert it to usb, I on occasion still use it. (My only complaint with it, was it had indentations on the D and K keys rather than the J and F keys. That used to bug me until i found some very small, thin washers and super glued them to the J and F keys.) My wife didn’t care for the sound it made, so i don’t use it that often around her.

      My other favorite keyboard, is from my favorite keyboard vendor, Keytronix. I don’t know to what degree they still exist, but they used to be BIG in keyboards, until, imo, the people who will use ANY keyboard, killed their market. Now it’s just us who really care about keyboards. Keytronix made a keyboard specifically for the Mac, I think around the time of the first iMac. It has a wonderful feel, and is silent!

      For my mouse, i use my trusty Logitech Marbleman FX. (I think that is what it is.) It was made for the PC about 10 years ago or so, and for some reason was discontinued by Logitech. There must be a following as this mouse goes for $50 and more on Ebay. I had one and bought another for $50, cuz I just think there are a GREAT mouse!

      Now, my question. Why doesn’t someone make an adapter, that i can plug my favorite USB keyboard into, and make THAT keyboard wireless? All the wireless options make me buy their keyboard!

      Just some random thoughts!

      Thanks,

      Russ

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