• Newsletter Issue #555

    July 19th, 2010


    I wanted to stop writing about Antennagate. I really did, but that controversial review in Consumer Reports, the iOS 4.0.1 release and Friday’s press conference, changed all that.

    It also altered the way we prepared a recorded version of The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week. We already had a segment “in the can” from Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine, but little of what he said about the issue was outdated. So we left it intact, along with an introductory disclaimer that I placed ahead of the interview.

    Also along for the ride was John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews, The Mac Observer. Now we did John’s segment in two parts. In the first, recorded Thursday, we made a few predictions about what Apple was going to do the very next day. At the same time, John voiced his concerns about how well Apple handled the situation, and to say he wasn’t pleased is an understatement.

    And, by the way, John used to work for Apple, so he has some understanding about the way they work, from the inside.

    The second half of the interview consisted of our instant “Monday Morning Quarterback” analysis, offered just as the press conference concluded.

    In another segment, you learned about a product line of storage devices that is resistant to both fire and flood, from Robb Moore, CEO of ioSafe.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast,co-host Christopher O’Brien presents author and publisher David Hatcher Childress, who talks about his intensive research into advanced ancient civilizations, the possibilities of Ancient Astronauts and whether the Moon is artificial.

    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.


    You could argue that the iPhone 4 antenna debacle was unfortunate, accidental, and that Apple probably brought it on themselves by not responding to customer and media complaints quickly enough. The story got way out of hand, and when 24/7 cable news channels began to make headline hay out of it, you just know Apple’s competitors were laughing loudly and slapping themselves on their backs.

    I also wonder about the sources behind some of the reports that Apple declared false, and it smells.

    Take Bloomberg News, which claimed that Steve Jobs was warned by Ruben Caballero, his chief antenna engineer, about a potentially serious fallout because of the design choices made for the iPhone 4, but ignored them. Jobs says that story was untrue.

    On Thursday, The New York Times alleged that Apple was going to install an internal bumper to address the issue. Again, Jobs said it just wasn’t so. But where did the “newspaper of record” get this story? Where’s their inside source?

    I do not expect the Times or any other publication to reveal those sources, but you have to wonder just where’s this stuff coming from? How could they get it all wrong?

    Now you can certainly conclude that Jobs, despite saying over and over — and yes over again — that Apple loves their customers, is just engaging in corporate spin control. In other words, he’s lying through his teeth, and he did know that there was trouble afoot once the new iPhone got into customer’s hands, but believed that the lure of the “Jesus phone” would be sufficient to guarantee its success anyway.

    But what about that alleged solution reported by the Times? Well, perhaps Apple’s corporate bean counters calculated the high cost of product recalls, redesigns and so on and so forth and felt a few thousand disgruntled customers and the promise of refunds would be sufficient to put the issue on the back burner.

    However, it’s clear Apple is turning their response into a major marketing initiative, witness the special section established at Apple’s site to demonstrate, in word and picture, exactly how easy it is to kill the signal on several popular smartphones. This step goes far beyond a simple press conference and a few releases to back it all up.

    Now I can understand that some media pundits are already dissecting the message and claiming that the secret hand grip used to make smartphones from RIM, HTC, Samsung, and even an iPhone 3GS, are so difficult that most of you wouldn’t employ them in the normal course of events.

    But the fact is that we all have different sized hands and use various positions to hold our mobile handsets. You can’t predict in advance how any individual will hold theirs, except for the fact that the iPhone 4’s unique design makes its “G-spot” so visible people will actually deliberately try it.

    I know I have on several occasions. Indeed, during a visit to the local Sam’s Club pharmacy this weekend, Chad, the lead pharmacist, handed me his iPhone 4, and so I set to employ the death grip. After 15 seconds, the signal dropped from three bars to two, still more than adequate to maintain a phone call and access the Internet.

    In the real world, Jobs claims the iPhone 4 only gets approximately 1% more bouts of dropped calls than the previous iPhone, but speculates that the lack of cases has encouraged customers to use theirs naked. So with 80% of iPhone 3GS customers using cases, and 20% with the new iPhone, you can expect there will be more incidents of people killing a call in a marginal signal area with that dreaded death grip.

    In all fairness, Jobs says it’s a theory and nothing more, but uses it as justification to offer you a free case, at least until the end of September. Apple says they’ll make a decision before then whether to continue the promotion or change it. Consumer Reports, in an unfortunate mischaracterization of Apple’s position, claims it represents a promise of a different solution by then. They seem to believe there will be some other fix, either hardware or software — or perhaps both.

    But nothing in what Apple says implies such solutions are actually possible, although Jobs admitted that they are continuing to explore the situation.

    In the meantime, Apple’s “we cannot change the laws of physics” position is drawing a mixed response from the media. Some take it at face value, while others continue to insist that Apple could do more, perhaps toss the iPhone 4 antenna design out the window and come up with something of which they’d approve.

    Competitors are weighing in already, but they were clearly caught flat-footed by Apple’s direct, scientific approach and online demonstrations to prove their case. So we have executives from the likes of RIM, Nokia and Motorola complaining, alleging they know all about antennas and it’s all Apple’s fault.

    Unfortunately, they haven’t provided any demonstrations to disprove Apple’s evidence and conclusions. Worse, Nokia is simply lying when they say you can use their phones any way you want without negative impact. Their own product instructions, and the labels placed atop the antenna portion of many of their handsets, warns you not to touch the G-spots. So much for Nokia’s lame excuses.

    Now understand we are talking about a mobile communications device here, one as imperfect as any, operating within an imperfect mobile communications environment. The entire system is flawed simply because performance can be seriously altered by the presence of human beings. If we all had robotic arms, it would be different, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to stick our handsets in cases, the better to protect them from us.

    I am not an antenna expert, so I’ll grant Apple some slack here, although it’s clear that facts don’t always translate into beliefs. The evidence and the reasoning all sound quite plausible to me, but if the public turns against Apple, it doesn’t matter if this press conference and all the explanatory backup information are 100% accurate. People will stop buying iPhones, and we’ll see version five a lot quicker than you might have expected.

    But I still wonder whether Apple’s competitors are feeding some of the contrary stories, failing to grasp that they live in the same glass houses.


    After getting endless promotional pieces from Dish Network (the second largest satellite TV provider in the U.S.) about the super deals they were offering, which appeared to be cheaper than cable service from Cox, I opted to sign up last year, when I actually had the cash to make discretionary purchases of this sort. But I kept the package limited to the stations I really wanted to watch, although the standard bundling leaves you with many channels that you just don’t need or care about.

    The initial setup process was flawless, sound and picture quality were near excellent, and I seldom had to deal with their customer service people to actually solve a problem. I also downgraded my service to the bare minimum, to save cash for more pressing needs.

    That takes us to the July 4th weekend.

    Dish was having a special sale on selected Pay-Per-View and On-Demand movies. Just 99 cents each. Well, you can’t beat that, and since the offerings from Netflix were slim that weekend, I decided to give it a try.

    I have only tried one other PPV event, last year, but I expected the process to work in precisely the same fashion. You browse the offerings with your remote, press the Select button and OK a few dialogs. The set top box dials Dish’s servers and, within a few seconds, the movie is ready to watch.

    After getting a “call failure” message a few times, I checked the logs on my VOIP phone company’s site, and found that Dish had been dialed no less than ten times, probably two per attempt. So I contacted their customer support people and asked for help.

    Typical of entry-level support people that are based offshore, they attempted to patronize me by asking me to repeat the same steps I already tried, but they were clueless about a solution. Finally they offered to activate the movie, when I couldn’t accomplish the task via their online control panel.

    Unfortunately, they chose the PPV version, which has fixed start times, rather than the On-Demand offering, which lets you play the flick at your convenience. A second call confirmed that you can only select On-Demand from your satellite box, which, of course, meant that I wouldn’t be able to watch that movie, unless I was prepared to wait for the next scheduled showing.

    I cancelled the order, and, after contacting them once again, I got two free passes. I haven’t yet attempted to see if they actually will work.

    Later on that week, I ran into a weird roadblock trying to make a payment on my account via echeck. The system just wouldn’t accept the transaction, and after going through several support people, ran into one that “faked” it, claiming they had overridden an accidental block on that payment method. That support person, who claimed to work in their “executive offices,” kept insisting that the checking account numbers were incorrect, which, of course, was absurd!

    Later that day, I got the payment to actually work all by myself using their online interface. Evidently they simply had a server issue and were just giving excuses for their inability to actually do something.

    I suppose I could consider returning to Cox, or make another attempt at setting up DirecTV, but I don’t think the grass will be any greener. Customer satisfaction ratings for cable and satellite TV are never very high.

    Besides, there’s always a TV antenna. It’s not that I’m in a mood for luxuries these days, even inexpensive ones.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #555”

    1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daniel Decker, Gene Steinberg. Gene Steinberg said: Here's our latest Tech Night Owl Newsletter: : Newsletter Issue #555 http://bit.ly/aW83oq […]

    2. Richard says:

      I am sorry, Gene, but you can predict how people will use a device. It is called human factors. With regard to how people will, predictably, hold the iPhone, just look at the Apple commercials (I have not seen them recently…I think they may have been pulled) which show every last person in the commercial holding the iPhone in “the wrong way”, what the rest of the world calls “the conventional hold”. Either Apple have totally failed to study this matter over the multiple generations of iPhones are they are being disingenuous.

      We will soon see whether Apple’s “everybody’s phones have this problem” defense is yet another misstep. Several of the companies are responding with denials. It may take a little bit for them to put together their own demos…and, perhaps, lawsuits for disparagement of their products should their testing refute Apple’s claims. This is a high risk operation which Apple have undertaken, which also avoided addressing the ultimate question of whether Apple have designed a product that works as well as it should and whether they tested it adequately. This last part stands to be the most damaging aspect of all if the answer is that Apple did not adequately test the product.

      Steve contradicted himself, in part, when he said that they were aware of the compromised reception/transmission of the iPhone 4 when held…and then later said that there was not a problem. Which is it, Steve? He is beginning to sound like Bill Clinton parsing the meaning of “is”.

      It remains to be seen whether the press conference was merely a means of obfuscating the issue because Steve promised little other than a free bumper (for a limited time). There were no assurances to actually do anything else. Even if Apple find out what the problem may be (assuming that it is a hardware problem for the purpose of discussion) will they actually do anything about it with the iPhone 4 or will the “fix” be to buy an iPhone 5 in a year?

      iPhones have a history of dropping calls. It may partly be an AT&T issue, but, in my own experience with the iPhone 3G the dropped call rate skyrocketed when compared to another phone in the same areas.

      Apple needs to determine the truth of the matter and present their testing procedure so that independent sources can verify the results. There really is nothing particularly “secret” about testing the device.

      • @Richard, At the very worst, Apple bought themselves more time. So if they can actually find a better solution, I’m sure they will. But at least there’s no expectations of one, and a money-back guarantee.


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