It’s a sure thing that 2009 was a rough year for the tech industry, and the fact that Apple emerged with records sales and a number of great products is a tribute to smart long-range planning. Many companies are stuck in the current quarter, concentrating on today’s problems, rather than finding tomorrow’s solutions.
In any case, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, joined us for a special year-end discussion, focusing on the new iMac versus the Mac Pro, the iPhone and other hot tech issues.
One thing clear about the new Mac desktop lineup, and that is how Apple has actually managed to find a way to boost the transaction price, by offering a high-end version of the iMac that, for many customers, allowed them to get great performance without having to invest in a Mac Pro. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for a Mac Pro in the lineup, only that Apple has found a way, in a world where sales of desktop computers are declining, to boost sales. Certainly the ongoing shipping delays of the 27-inch model are not strictly the result of any early production problems. The NPD Group has already reported that their surveys demonstrate a tremendous sales boost, which will be more obvious when Apple announces its quarterly financial results.
Back to the show, Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus was on hand to tell us that, as much as he loves the new 27-inch quad-core iMac he’s currently reviewing, he still prefers a Mac Pro for the sort of work he does. He also provided a surprising troubleshooting tip, and listed one of his favorite products from the App Store.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, UFO researcher and talk show host Don Ecker and Robert Kiviat, writer and producer of “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?” and other TV shows on paranormal topics, join us to talk about new Moon discoveries and the lunar/astronaut connection.
Coming December 27: Veteran abduction researcher Budd Hopkins presents Doug, a UFO experiencer, for an exclusive conversation about a wide range of unusual and sometimes frightening encounters.
Coming January 3, 2010: Independent journalist Terry Hansen, author of “The Missing Times,” explores ongoing news media participation in the UFO Cover-up.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
In a little over two and a half weeks since first setting up a 27-inch iMac, custom ordered with the Intel quad-core i7 processor, I have to say that I’m not suffering from any of those niggling bugs reported by some. The images don’t flicker, there’s no band of yellow or other indications of potentially defective hardware.
I can also understand why this new model lineup has been hugely popular with Mac users. At a time when note-books were getting all the love, surveys have shown a tremendous demand for the iMac. Most people who have them are just getting things done rather than fretting over problems.
However, nothing is perfect, and I’ve found a few minor glitches along the way.
One that is particularly troubling is the way my Bose Companion 5 multimedia speaker system, which connects to the USB port, is handled when the iMac drops into sleep mode. Sometimes it’s fine, sometimes the sound just switches off because the speaker has been placed in its own idle mode.
The solution is simple, but nonetheless annoying. I just press the surface of the Companion 5’s remote control and the audio is switched on again. However, the shutdown process also causes Peak Pro 6 to lose its Audio I/O setting if that application is running, and it usually active since it’s one of our main audio editing tools. So I have a second chore to perform before I can return to work.
In case you’re wondering, Apple support had nothing in their knowledge base on the subject. Bose said such behavior was perfectly normal on some Macs, and it involved the way the sleep process handles some USB connections, no doubt as a result of Apple’s recent emphasis on reducing power consumption. That it doesn’t happen 100% of the time is curious, and maybe it will require some sort of fix for Mac OS 10.6 to resolve. However, I don’t see that it rises to the category of a critical issue, so the prospects of that happening are little to none.
Another issue is also annoying but there’s a good workaround.
I happen to be one of the vast majority of people who isn’t offended by Macs with glossy screens. Yes, I can see the reflections if I look hard enough on my 17-inch MacBook Pro. They are somewhat more pronounced on the iMac’s 27-inch screen, but mostly visible on the black frame that surrounds the screen.
My sole lighting source in the office consists of a single 100 watt fluorescent bulb installed in a standard ceiling light fixture. The iMac isn’t being moved and the screen’s brightness level was set to 50%, after which I ran Apple’s Calibrate assistant, in the Displays preference panel, to get a decent color balance.
Unfortunately, any Apple keyboard, or a compatible one that supports the same shortcuts, has two keys that increase and reduce screen brightness. I don’t require that function, but it’s very easy to accidentally touch the key during regular work, or have it happen when Mrs. Steinberg is cleaning the keys.
Sure, I can easily set the brightness back to my preferred level. But I don’t think Apple expects iMac owners to be constantly fiddling with brightness settings after the initial setup, so I went into the Keyboard preference pane and disabled the Display shortcuts. Now, unless the System Preference settings file is somewhat damaged, I won’t make that mistake any longer. But maybe Apple should just put a checkbox in Displays to correctly resolve this issue.
One other interface annoyance is hardware based, one that has existed on the thin panel iMacs for years, and that is the location of the power button. It’s not as if I expect to use it very often, unless the computer is going to be shut down, or sustains a system crash that requires a reset. But why is it stuck in a barely noticeable location at the left rear of the unit, when all the ports are on the right?
Maybe Jonathan Ive or Steve Jobs hoped to establish a balance, and thus chose that location. Maybe there are engineering considerations that require the power switch assembly to be at a specific location on the motherboard, and thus we are saddled with that position. But even if you know where it’s situated, you still have to frequently move your hand back and forth to actually feel it, since the button is recessed.
Oh well, perhaps Apple doesn’t want you to power off your iMac by accident. Maybe they were stung by the Cube experience, where just placing your hand close to its proximity sensitive switch might place the computer in sleep mode by accident.
Then again, if we’re going to criticize Apple for its design choices, I still cannot believe that it’s not possible to build an iPhone or iPod that allows for simple battery replacement and still have a pretty case. On the iPhone, you can certainly pop out the SIM personality card required to configure the unit for your wireless carrier. The slot is barely noticeable and you may not even realize it’s there unless you look closely.
At the same time, the batteries for these products are quite small as well, and surely there’s a way to install up a little pinhole on the case into which you insert a safety pin to pop it open and allow for simple battery swapping. Maybe you wouldn’t want to perform this operation while on the road, but surely Apple’s engineering staff is smart enough to make it happen in their appropriately elegant fashion.
That takes us to the unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro and their extended life batteries. But I’ve done quite enough complaining for today. I’ll get to that one, along with my suggestion that Apple should consider building an iMac with a non-glossy screen, for a future rant.
If you can believe all those published reports that have arisen lately, Verizon Wireless has made or is in the process of making a deal with Apple to carry the iPhone once the exclusive with AT&T ends. The real question is whether any of this is true, and what the impact to the market might be.
In other countries, having the iPhone offered by competing carriers means better deals and much higher sales. While it made sense for Apple to make pacts with a single carrier when the iPhone was an unknown quantity, now that it is a great success in most countries in which it’s offered, exclusive deals aren’t necessary.
Consider that the iPhone is only offered by one wireless company in the U.S., yet the product has managed to attain the number two position in smartphone sales. That’s behind RIM, makers of BlackBerry, which has multiple models sold by all the carriers. Imagine that!
Now when it comes to sales potential, it makes sense for Apple to consider Verizon. After all the company has vaulted to the number one spot in terms of customers as the result of buying Alltel, a regional carrier. Then again AT&T reached its former number one status as the result of mergers and acquisitions.
In the end, though, what’s in it for the customer? Would getting a version of the iPhone that works with Verizon’s network mean a better value for you? Yes, Verizon has a better quality network — though not a faster one — so you should, in theory, get fewer dropped calls. At the same time, if Apple rushes into a partnership with Verizon, they would be building an iPhone compatible with the CDMA network, and that also evidently means you won’t be able to make calls and check your email, or browse the Internet, at the same time. That’s the killer feature that Apple touts for the product on AT&T.
True, Verizon, and AT&T for that matter, are moving to a 4G network known as LTE, but it will take a couple of years for that system to be widely deployed. When it happens, in theory there won’t be so much of a difference since, when it comes to the iPhone, the carriers strictly provide the pipes but contribute nothing to the user interface.
There’s also Verizon’s new draconian policy about selling smartphone contracts that boost the standard $175 early termination fee to $350. They are already facing the possible wrath of the FCC over this issue, but they protest that the phones are expensive and that’s the only way they can sell them real cheap and entice you to sign up for a contract.
Then again, maybe there is no pending deal with Apple and Verizon. Certainly neither company will comment officially, although the latter has reportedly claimed their network is ready to handle the iPhone.
Of course, most of this stuff about contracts and potential deals is sheer conjecture. We do not know exactly when Apple’s contract with AT&T will actually expire. All you are reading are educated or maybe not-so-educated guesses. More to the point, even if the door was opened, would Apple be willing to build a CDMA version and accept the service compromise — the lack of the ability to talk on the phone and perform other functions on the phone at the same time?
Indeed, will Verizon want to pull the same stunt with the iPhone as with other products over which they have more control, and that is to sell them for less and then subject you to a larger early termination fee to compensate?
At the end of the day, I think a lot of what you’ve read consists of speculation, perhaps buttressed by corporate spin delivered on deep background by Verizon’s PR hacks. It won’t happen until it happens, and then you can decide whether moving to Verizon Wireless is worth it or not. That assumes, of course, that AT&T is going to give up without a fight, and don’t forget their early termination fees if you choose to jump ship.
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
Print This Issue