• Newsletter Issue #526

    December 27th, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    It has been a fascinating year for Apple. While still being dinged by certain segments of the media because of alleged high prices, particularly during a worldwide economic downturn, Apple confounded the skeptics yet again. Although sales dipped for a while, that trend was rapidly reversed, as it appeared that more buyers than ever were willing to avoid cheap and pay a fair price for superior quality.

    As the year ended, it appeared that demand was showing no signs of abating for the new iMac. Indeed, the 27-inch model was, as this is written, still offered with a two-week shipping delay, while it appears pretty much any other Mac can be acquired right away. Indeed, the large screen iMac has been a surprising game changer, a product that has melded a consumer computer with the capability of handling many of the chores for which you’d previously buy a Mac Pro. Sure, there’s still a need for the Mac Pro, but a lot of customers, such as your humble editor, consider a quad-core iMac a perfect all-purpose desktop computer.

    Now on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we brought in cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, to discuss some of the bone-headed comments made about Apple over the past year, and his hopes and dreams for an Apple tablet computer.

    We entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent observed the 20th anniversary of Adobe Photoshop and expressed some of his skepticism about the form an Apple tablet ought to take. I’ve expanded further on that topic in my main commentary for this issue.

    You’ll also heard from Josh Kaplan, President of RESCUECOM, a nationwide service provider, about Apple’s latest achievements in a recent repair reliability survey.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, 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 SEARCH OF THE iPAD, iSLATE OR iTABLET

    If the current stories floating around the Internet are accurate, Apple briefly owned the islate.com domain, but it’s now registered with a different company, although one that reportedly has dealt with Apple in the past.

    Regardless of the truth of that domain’s current ownership, the promise of some sort of tablet computer from Apple may have been one of the reasons why the company’s stock price soared to record levels at the end of the past week. Whereas Apple’s previous contenders in new product categories have been greeted with scorn and supreme skepticism, this time the stakes are high that Apple will have yet another winner.

    But that takes us back to the core question, which is what purpose such a product might actually serve. The answer depends on a number of factors that only Apple can answer, and you can bet they won’t say very much until the time is right from a marketing standpoint.

    Supposedly the truth will be upon us in late January, if the rumors that Apple has rented an exhibition hall for a special media event are accurate. Even if the report is correct, that facility may serve other corporate purposes, including introductions or products that we haven’t speculated about, or maybe it’s just a red herring to draw our attention away from the real event, whatever it might be.

    Indeed, I’ve often felt that Apple deliberately feeds the Mac rumor sites with information just to fuel the fires of speculation and keep us talking about them. The people who run these sites may not even be fully aware of the actual sources, mind you, but nonetheless you aren’t surprised when they get things wrong. But you have to wonder how they occasionally get the facts just a little too accurate for comfort, assuming Apple is maintaining the appropriate lid on its corporate information.

    But the entire premise on the impending arrival of an Apple branded tablet computer is based on the belief that they can sell millions of them in the first year and open up new markets for — what?

    Up till now, tablet computers have simply been note-books upon which someone has grafted Multi-Touch capabilities. Usually it’s with a stylus and despite the hopes of Microsoft’s ex-CEO Bill Gates and many others, such gear hasn’t taken the tech world by storm.

    These days, tablets exist comfortably in vertical markets, such as medical offices or in industries where having a portable computer with a touchscreen for convenient data entry seems to make sense. The question is whether it will make sense as a mass-produced gadget.

    Certainly content creators might find reasons to lust after a Mac note-book with such capabilities, particularly in remote settings on a movie set or perhaps even in a special effects lab where lots of shots have to be coordinated. Again, we are talking of vertical market situations that cater to highly-specific business functions.

    But the alleged Apple tablet is supposedly going to be basically a grown up iPhone, using the same operating system, only possessing a larger display and perhaps sporting some touchscreen embellishments, such as tactile feedback. From an app standpoint, many existing iPhone titles might even work fairly well, assuming they are compatible or easily modified for a large screen and a changed aspect ratio.

    However, whether the iTablet or whatever it’s called has a 7-inch screen, as some rumors suggest, or a 10-inch screen according to the latest scuttlebutt, the lure of total portability goes out the window. You won’t be sticking that thing in your pockets, unless you moonlight as a circus clown and have clothing with deep pockets to match. The sheer convenience of Apple’s smartphone will be sacrificed for a larger screen, but what will they gain?

    Some regard this gadget as the ultimate e-book reader, the product that will set that nascent market afire in ways that the Amazon Kindle can never approach. You’ll have a full color screen, ultra sharp text, and easy navigation. Indeed, one possible se such for such a gadget is in schools, particularly in the upper grades and colleges where students are heavily weighed down with loads of thick and expensive textbooks stuffed in their backpacks. Having all that reading matter in a tiny computer that can also be used for note taking and homework assignments may be a true revelation. Certainly it’ll save lots and lots of trees.

    It could also prove to be one measure of salvation for a fading publishing industry, struggling to find better ways to offer books, magazines and newspapers in a portable format that actually provides meaningful income so they can continue to offer content. To enhance this possibility, there are reports that publishers are actually negotiating with Apple for new content delivery deals.

    Another potential function is some sort of media convergence device, incorporating the features of a remote control on steroids, interfacing with something that attaches to your TV set or home theater system. It might even, many years after the original failed, realize some of the promise of WebTV, by providing seamless Internet access on your TV set in a fashion that represents an effective solution. But again this is very loose speculation.

    In case you’re wondering, I have serious questions whether I would be a candidate for such a product. Certainly I’m quite pleased with my iPhone 3GS, although certainly I can see serious limitations here and there, particularly when it comes to flexible text entry of more than a few short sentences. Having a usable tactile feedback mechanism, for example, would surely make typing on a touchscreen more accurate and productive, but that doesn’t mean that I’d spring for a larger version.

    Despite my ongoing skepticism, it appears that the media is ready to embrace an iPad, iSlate, iTablet, or whatever it’s going to be called, with a passion. That and a huge amount of hype might surely fuel high initial sales of such a device, should it truly make its expected debut. But that still doesn’t mean I’m ready to buy one.

    LOOKING AT APPLE’S ONGOING INPUT DEVICE FAILURE

    Some of you might regard Apple’s original Extended Keyboard as the ultimate input device. It had solid keys, a robust click with each keystroke, and to many felt supremely comfortable. Indeed, descendants of that keyboard, from Matias (the Tactile Pro) and Unicomp, still have a small but loyal band of followers.

    That was then, this is now. Today’s Apple desktop keyboard consists largely of grafting the guts of the MacBook keyboard into a separate case. Now if you like the feel of the MacBook, that’s well and good. But if the short touch and limited travel scheme doesn’t appeal to you, Apple doesn’t present any alternatives.

    Their other main input device also presents a problem. The failed Mighty Mouse, renamed Apple Mouse because of copyright considerations, remains in the lineup, but all eyes are focused on the Magic Mouse, which is first and foremost a clever touchpad crafted onto a computer mouse. Again, Apple is letting its note-book expertise influence its desktop products.

    My experience with the Magic Mouse has been mixed. Once you get used to the lack of buttons and scroll wheels, I suppose the concept is interesting, assuming your wrists are willing to cooperate. Mine aren’t. Using the Magic Mouse causes my right wrist to ache after a short period of time. The cursor movement remains too slow, although third-party utilities will speed it up some.

    You have to wonder why, with all of Apple’s design wizardry, they don’t seem to have actually examined the human physique to see why some people prefer one input device to another and how repetitive strains might be reduced if not eliminated.

    Certainly, there are lots of alternatives from other companies. I’ve had pretty good results with Logitech, particularly their MX Revolution wireless mouse, which is a boon for people who prefer to keep their wrists curled when using a pointing device. I’ve rarely suffered a wrist ache with that product, not even after a long audio editing session, where the mouse is my primary tool.

    Oh yes, the Logitech mouse is for righties (I’m a lefty but managed to master the mouse with my right hand). If you’re a lefty, you have to look for one of the ambidextrous models, or one specifically tailored to southpaws. But when it comes to keyboards, Logitech has evidently made some effort to consider ergonomics and comfort. The easy and comfortable key design of the diNovo Edge Mac Edition, for example, is tapered perfectly for my needs. Logitech has patented the name, if not the technology, as PerfectStroke, and I find that my typing style, born and bred on the legendary IBM Selectric all those years ago, seems to have adapted quite well.

    Then again, the problem here is that my concept of input device perfection may not be your cup of tea. At least Logitech gives you choices. Apple has none. It’s take it or leave it, regardless of what provides the best combination of style and comfort in your environment. That concept may be fine for a Mac, where you can customize many of the elements of your computing experience, but not with input devices. Apple needs to talk to a hand specialist or two and get some good ideas for perhaps an alternative lineup that might suit customers for whom the standard offerings remain unacceptable.

    Maybe a truly ergonomic line of input devices may not be as flashy as what Apple offers now, but your wrists will protest far less if you acquire the devices that you need, not what Apple wants you to have.

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #526”

    1. Travis Butler says:

      Then again, the problem here is that my concept of input device perfection may not be your cup of tea. At least Logitech gives you choices. Apple has none. It’s take it or leave it, regardless of what provides the best combination of style and comfort in your environment. That concept may be fine for a Mac, where you can customize many of the elements of your computing experience, but not with input devices. Apple needs to talk to a hand specialist or two and get some good ideas for perhaps an alternative lineup that might suit customers for whom the standard offerings remain unacceptable.

      For what reason? Seriously?

      It’s obvious that Apple needs to have a mouse and keyboard to ship with their systems. I think there’s also benefit to Apple in making the standard keyboard/mouse both distinctive and suitable for a wide range of users. But a wide range of keyboard/mouse designs, as you seem to be suggesting? Apple is not a peripheral company, and I don’t see how one can reasonably expect them to spend lots of money on designing, manufacturing, and inventorying/distributing a broad selection of input devices. A peripheral specialist like Logitech or Kensington sells to the entire market of Mac, Windows, and Linux users; they can afford to crank out multiple niche designs, because those niches are taken out of the entire computing userbase. While Apple might sell some to Windows users, I think it’s safe to say that 95% plus of Apple keyboard/mouse sales are to the Mac userbase; I think that’s simply not big enough of a market to support a lineup of alternative designs. (And while Logitech and Kensington have Mac-specific versions of several of their keyboard designs, all the ones I can remember seeing are slightly modified versions of their standard Windows keyboards.)

      (For the record, I like the current Magic Mouse quite a bit; like the full-size wired Aluminum keyboard and type significantly faster on it than on the last several generations of Apple full-travel keyboards – after a period of adjustment, admittedly – but while I don’t mind having the versions without a numeric keypad, I’m very disappointed there’s no keypad available on the wireless edition. But I also admit most average users will be fine without the keypad.)

      • Understand that I don’t expect Apple to compete with Logitech. But a second set of alternatives to accommodate the needs of those for whom the Magic Mouse is not the bee’s knees and the keyboards aren’t ideal ought to be considered.

        Peace,
        Gene

    2. dfs says:

      I. m. h. o., the Apple aluminum keyboard is a disaster. I hate the generally cheap feel, the short travel and positive “click“ response in the keys, the way it comes with half the f-keys preempted, many for features I don’t want or need, and mine was so flimsy that the space bar crapped out in within a few months. I loved the original Apple Extended Keyboard, used it even on my Mac Pro with an adaptive dongle until pussy lost his lunch on it, taking out the letters q and w. Now I use a Das Keyboard Pro, the best keyboard available (the Mathias is nice too, but too tough to keep clean). So far, I’m not entirely crazy about the Magic Mouse, I find it difficult to make it do what I want when I want but nothing else, so I’ll probably stick to my good old Kensington trackball. Since touch technology is all the rage, I wonder why Apple (or anybody else) hasn’t simply taken the trackpad out of a laptop, put it in a nice plastic box, added USB connectivity, and marketed it as an external pointing device. Would probably go flying off the shelves, so what’s happened to everybody’s imagination? I’d be happy to try one and see if I liked it any better.

    3. npcm says:

      I won’t be a customer for the tablet if/when Apple releases it. I’m a photographer and need serious photo editing capabilities on a laptop, as well as an optical drive to burn backups of pics I take in the field. And considering the pro photo gear I have to haul along, I don’t want to carry yet another device. Yes, on long trips it would save weight since I wouldn’t have to haul books to read while away, but that’s not enough incentive. It might be popular with the netbook crowd who have lighter needs.

      I, too love the iPhone 3Gs and having so much info at my fingertips and in a pocket. As far as keyboards, I’ll stick to wired. I’m not sure about wireless working in Single User Mode on Intel Macs, as my first one will be arriving in January (doesn’t work on my G4s), but I’m not fond of replacing batteries, pairing, and all the other headaches of wireless mice and keyboards. As regards the new Magic Mouse, hmmm. Not being much of a trackpad fan in general, it doesn’t much appeal.

    4. javaholic says:

      It’s fair to say mice haven’t been Apples strong point in product design. I’ve never adapted to an Apple shipped mouse. My Logitech MX800 wired mouse is still my main one at work and the wireless for the laptop. Although Apple appear to have given ergonomics some thought (http://www.apple.com/about/ergonomics) they’re still shipping reflective screens, non-height adjustable displays/iMacs and cables that are often too short. They also seem to have a problem with extended keyboards (I felt the ADB Apple Extended Keyboard II was their best). Maybe the word ‘ergonomic’ is a dirty word in Apples product design vocabulary – particularly if it compromises style.

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