With much of the speculation about Apple Inc. occurring at the end of last year, we couldn’t settle for just one or two wrap-up episodes. So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE , The Night Owl revisited the issue, by presenting news and views about the tech universe for 2008 and some fearless predictions for 2009.
Ace Mac troubleshooter Ted Landau was called upon to talk about the iPhone, the future of Macworld Expo and some of the things he’d like to see introduced by Apple Inc. As with many other commentators, Ted is skeptical that the Expo can possibly survive very long without Apple’s presence. Remember that Adobe also elected not to participate, which means perhaps the two largest exhibitors are gone.
Is it any wonder why many feel that the exodus is only beginning, and that, try as they might, the Expo concept may be yesterday’s news. Yes, I realize that Expo manager Paul Kent is a hard-working dude, and he and his staff will do their level best to keep it going, but they are going to have to confront insurmountable odds, and I don’t know that they’ll be able to succeed.
Macworld’s Jim Dalrymple also joined us to deliver a progress report on the efforts of his band, Full Throttle, to record a new album and post it on iTunes. He says he’s making great progress, but he nonetheless gave the band some time off to rest and relax before a renewed round of composing and recording. Jim also presented his views about the future of the Expo.
For a view from the Mac security front, security expert Kirk McElhearn was on hand with his year-end/year-beginning viewpoint. He said that the sky may not be falling, but he does suggest that you watch out for potential Mac malware threats in 2009. This means, of course, installing security software, which few Mac users are doing right now. Maybe he has a point, but I just don’t think that time is here just yet.
On The Paracast this week, David and I sat back and talked shop, about the state of paranormal research, the important developments in the past year, and about future possibilities.
It’s quite easy for a tech writer to tell you what a certain company ought to do to become successful or at least remain successful. But the only thing is that if any of us really knew what was really necessary, we’d be making the big bucks as an executive at one of those companies. Instead, we remain in the underclass of overworked writers.
No, we don’t earn huge salaries at such pursuits, but someone has to do it, and that’s how it goes.
On the other hand, some things about a company’s behavior are blatantly obvious, and if you try to take a few lessons from history, it’s really possible to arrive at a few sensible conclusions.
You know, for example, that new Apple products are coming this week. Your expectations might have been lessened by their decision to call in a second act — in the person of marketing VP Philip Schiller — to deliver the keynote at the last Macworld Expo in which Apple will participate.
That would seem to indicate that there is no possible way that Apple will present anything more than a few minor revisions to existing products, and that will be the end of it. But I have a different point of view.
Even where Steve Jobs has participated over the past year or two, he has allowed his underlings to spend a far greater amount of time during a keynote, or special media briefing, to explain the ins and outs of a new product.
Part of the reasoning is simple. Followers of Apple have invested a lot of their devotion to the company in the person of Steve Jobs. But he is just one of over 30,000 people who create and sell all those great products. Sure, the buck stops in the CEO’s office, but there will be far fewer bucks to go around if he didn’t have an extremely talented team to do his bidding and to bring their own ideas for his approval.
Remember, for example, that the original concept for the iPod actually originated outside of Apple, from departing VP Tony Fedell. A lot of what Apple has become since that product first appeared may, in large part, be the result of Fedell’s creative vision and, of course, Jobs’ decision to greenlight the product. What would have happened to Apple without the iPod and, later, the iPhone?
Would they have made as much progress in boosting the Mac platform? Possibly. I mean it’s also true that Microsoft didn’t help matters when they boldly released the long-delayed Windows Vista without key features, in a bloated, buggy state. That explains, in part, why the Mac OS ‘s online market share around the world is now close to 10%, whereas Windows is now below 88%. The rest is divided among Linux and various Unix distributions.
But for 2009, Apple will probably continue to demonstrate that the product is king and the person who delivers the news, whether Steve Jobs or someone else, is not significant. Indeed, it is possible that there will be some significant new products coming soon, although you have to wonder whether they’ll all be announced at the Expo.
Take the 25th anniversary of the Mac, which occurs on January 24th. There was nothing significant for year number 20, so you might not expect anything significant this time either. But Apple doesn’t flourish by failing to meet your expectations. Indeed, it might deliver a huge amount of coverage if, as some suspect, Steve Jobs makes a cameo appearance during the Expo keynote to present that “one more thing” in the form of a new product that truly observes the anniversary.
If Jobs looks healthy and hearty, that might also put an end to the speculation about whether he’s about to depart this plane of existence. More to the point, the worldwide coverage would be sufficient to sell loads of new Apple gear, whatever it turns out to be.
It might also make a lot of sense to get the next version of Mac OS X — Snow Leopard — out the door months ahead of Windows 7. That would give Apple appropriate bragging rights, as would a possible decision to deliver it a lower price — and maybe even free, perhaps with only a modest shipping and handling charge. They could even deliver the upgrade DVDs to their dealers to hand out to customers. These DVDs, however, might only be designed to take a Leopard installation and move it to Snow Leopard. If you wanted a full upgrade, you’d still pay for the full price.
Microsoft, at that point, would have decide the best way to deploy Windows 7. If it is, as claimed, mostly a bug fixed and trimmer upgrade to Vista, with only a few notable new features, could they, in turn, charge the same overwrought upgrade price for a copy? Would they produce six or seven different versions to confuse and confound anyone who still wants to upgrade?
Or would Microsoft learn anything at all from the effort? So far, they seem to believe they can pretty well continue in the same fashion and still trounce the competition.
Whatever Apple does, it would be a mistake to listen to the media, which may often take an elitist view about the situation. Instead they have to look, as usual, at customer demand and deliver products they expect their users to continue to embrace.
Would that mean a major upgrade to the Mac mini, or just the same old form factor with faster parts inside? Certainly, the iMac probably won’t get a huge upgrade, since it has been quite successful as it is, although Apple has been known to toss successful products out the window before and do something totally different.
When it comes to the netbook, they will probably have to provide some sort of solution, but who knows when? Maybe it will end up being a grown-up iPhone or iPod touch. It would probably be a huge mistake just to build a smaller and cheaper note-book computer and pass it off as a genuine response to the Windows products in that space.
Regardless of what Apple does, with or without Steve Jobs, I am quite certain that will be lots to talk about this coming year, and probably, as usual, a few things to complain about as well.
The iPhone 3G that I own at the start of 2009 is rather different than the one I bought last July, the day it was introduced. But it’s not because I’ve hacked the software or attempted to unlock the device. Indeed everything I’ve done with this product is utterly street legal, but that’s just the beginning.
You see, the day the iPhone was released, there were problems from the very first attempt to activate one. Now those problems were resolved within a few hours, since they were due mostly to clogged activation networks. But there was more.
Some users, maybe not a high percentage in terms of the total iPhone 3G user base, complained of connection problems with 3G networks, particularly when marginal signal quality would normally force a switch to the slower EDGE system. In theory, you should just see slower Internet access, but in practice, an active call might be disconnected.
Over the ensuing months, Apple released several firmware fixes, each of which promised improved performance. Indeed, Apple was right on target. Each time I performed the update, signals got better and better. Nowadays, I seldom experience a disconnect, and a recent cell tower upgrade from AT&T in my neighborhood has improved things even more.
This doesn’t mean that everyone who ever had a problem with with an iPhone can safely assume they’ve all been solved. The mobile phone systems around the world are not perfect by any means. It’s arguable whether the situation is worse or better in the U.S., but you have to accept the shortcomings when you choose wireless.
It goes without saying that Apple can’t fix the network. All they can do is improve the way the iPhones interact with the various networks that support the device. But there are still software issues that are crying for a solution.
Number one with a bullet is cut, copy and paste. It hardly seems sensible that a product that is way, way faster than most Macs of even a few years ago doesn’t support such a fundamental text editing capability. Apple admits it’s on their “to do” list, but won’t say when it’ll be fixed.
Macworld 2009? Well, then maybe it’ll be addressed by the time you read this.
Another feature that’s lacking is voice dialing. The free Bluetooth phone that you get along with that two-year contract with your wireless provider has the feature. Maybe it’s not terribly sophisticated, but it usually works well enough to allow you to make a call with a wireless headset. So why not the iPhone? Apple supposedly his superior voice recognition capabilities in Mac OS X, and there’s a Google app that lets you search by voice.
So where’s the disconnect? Why does the iPhone lack these basics, and what about Flash, which is used on so many millions of sites. Indeed, we are in the midst of removing such content from our sites to make them look better on your iPhone and other smartphones that can’t handle Flash either.
As I suggest, maybe in a few days these comments will be moot. But maybe not, and maybe this can serve as the beginning of our hopes Apple will finally fast-track the right improvements to the iPhone.
THE FINAL WORD
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