• Newsletter Issue #556

    July 26th, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    In the wake of Apple’s Antennagate scandal, the amount of coverage has finally declined. More pressing stories are out there, and mainstream journalists no longer have to fret over Apple’s behavior. Besides, didn’t they also report record sales? So how could you call a company threatened, beleaguered or whatever, when the profits keep rolling in?

    Oh sure, Microsoft managed to do even better, but the gap between their sales and Apple’s continues to close. One or two more quarters, and Apple will supplant Microsoft not just in market cap, but actual sales.

    Meantime there have actually been stories afoot that disgruntled Microsoft employees are pushing to dump CEO Steve Ballmer, and any more quarters with a flat stock price and no workable vision for a future beyond the PC might be sufficient to convince him to retire. It’s not as if he needs the money.

    As you might expect, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE Saturday night, the fallout from the Antennagate brouhaha and Apple’s stellar financials were front and center with two of our guests.

    You heard from commentator Peter Cohen, of the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show, and Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell. During the latter part of the interview, Jason, an avid TV fan and writer on the subject, offered his unvarnished opinions of the summer season and the promise for this fall.

    There’s also report about a serious DNS bug that may cause grief for people using some Internet routers. Our favorite security guru, Rich Mogull, joined us to explain what it’s all about and how you can protect yourself.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-hosts Paul Kimball and Nicholas Redfern present UFO historian Richard M. Dolan, author of “UFOs and the National Security State: An Unclassified History — Volume One: 1941-1973” and “UFOs and the National Security State: The Cover-Up Exposed — Volume Two: 1973-1991.”

    Coming August 1: Co-host Christopher O’Brien presents UFO field researcher Ted Phillips, Director of The Center for Physical Trace Research, who has spent years engaged in on-site investigation of regions where numerous paranormal events occur, including UFOs and strange creatures.

    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.

    WELCOME TO THE MINISTRY OF SILLY APPLE RUMORS

    If you can believe reports from the mainstream media, Apple was poised to announce a software fix for the iPhone 4 antenna problem last week. I’m not referring to a more accurate display of signal strength — meaning fewer bars in many instances — but an actual method to compensate for the effects of using the famous death grip on that device.

    Now it doesn’t matter much that you can create similar symptoms on other phones, including the highly touted alleged iPhone killer, the Motorola Droid X. Facts don’t matter when the public’s perceptions and misguided commentaries count for everything. If you believe it’s true — or close to the truth — that’s all that counts on 24/7 cable news channels and the blogosphere.

    But that software fix report didn’t come from the usual online suspects. Instead, it appeared in The New York Times, the fabled newspaper of record. Hence you had to take it seriously, even though Steve Jobs denied it outright during that special media event at Apple headquarters.

    Also denied was the story from Bloomberg News claiming that Apple’s chief antenna designer protested the decision to use an external antenna system. That, too, seemed credible ahead of Steve’s response, but let’s take the stories to the next level.

    Just this week, there was a report claiming that the real reason Apple postponed shipment of the white iPhone 4 was to implement a hardware fix for the antenna problem. Now if that were true, where would that put the black iPhones? Wouldn’t that be cheating the customers, assuming such a fix was really possible?

    This is the sort of story you might not want to take seriously, because it strains logic. At this point, unless Apple can get a white iPhone out in the next three months, it would be a non-starter for this year, and not a factor in calculating the potential sales impact of the latest and greatest iPhone.

    On the other hand, nothing would stop Apple from a rush release of an iPhone 5 come early next year, claiming some new technological breakthrough that minimized or resolved Antennagate. By putting the feature into a different model, Apple is under no obligation to fix the current product, give you more free cases or even a refund. Progress is progress.

    The problem with stories such as this is whether there’s any reason to even take them seriously. Now it’s possible some honest-to-goodness Apple source offered the information to The New York Times and Bloomberg News on background — meaning they were not to be quoted directly — and thus they went with the report. Normally, though, you’d want to find some independent confirmation, to make sure you’re not being snookered.

    Unless the news source is someone who is a high corporate official known to provide reliable information, a responsible reporter would surely want to make sure they aren’t being used as a patsy to influence corporate decision-making. And I’d hardly regard a supposedly knowledgeable competitor or even a supposed industry analyst as a trustworthy source without the ability to verify the story.

    Not that Steve Jobs would countenance public dissension in Apple’s ranks. I’d expect that if he discovered the true offender, if such a person exists, they would mysteriously vanish from Apple’s employment rolls.

    That is, unless the rumors were deliberately fed by Apple management to mislead the press into expecting something other than what really occurred. You turn their attention to one possibility, they don’t see what’s really happening.

    This isn’t to say that Apple can’t or won’t change the design of the iPhone 4. Steve Jobs might be taken at face value here when he admits his antenna engineering team is always working to improve the technology. Although the free cases and more accurate signal displays are supposed to be it for now, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Apple might ultimately devise yet another fix of some sort, software or otherwise.

    Certainly Consumer Reports, which looks pretty dirty as the result of their closed-minded treatment of the matter, seems to believe such a fix is forthcoming.

    However, if Apple actually decided there was a way to make the iPhone 4 work more reliably when a death grip is applied, without need of a case, they would also confronted with a serious dilemma. A recall would nuke their rising stock price, even though they have plenty of cash on hand to fund a large-scale exchange or repair program. It might also gut sales of the iPhone.

    So the free case program and the promise of full refunds to dissatisfied customers may indeed be best they can offer under the circumstances.

    The larger question is whether a “real” fix is even possible. As you can see, other smartphones can be made to exhibit the same behavior when some sort of death grip is applied. Even the companies that are busy attacking Apple for alleged ignorance about proper antenna design sell products with warning labels affixed to sensitive areas and/or warnings in the manuals.

    To say they look like fools is an understatement. Apple dared reveal their dirty secret. You know the flaw. It’s easy to get around it, but you can bet that the iPhone 5 will use a different antenna system released with appropriate flourish about how Apple’s amazing engineers found yet a better way to smooth signal strength irregularities.

    You also have to wonder whether Apple’s competitors have, in part, been guilty of feeding some of the fake stories. Maybe they channel those rumors through a so-called “independent” industry analyst, who then feeds them to key members of the news media. Because of the stature of these analysts, they are apt to be taken seriously. But you have to wonder how they can claim objectivity about the industry if they are induced to spread such misinformation.

    When it comes to bloggers, unfortunately the standards are lower. There are loads of tech sites out there just begging for exclusives, and they might publish questionable information simply to deliver more eyeballs to their advertisers. But that may well be true of some of the less scrupulous members of the traditional news media, particularly at a time when ad revenue and circulation continues to decline (for the most part at least) for print publications.

    In any case, it’s a sure thing that, after a lapse of a few weeks, the press will have Apple in their targets all over again. There are already reports of constrained shipments for the iMac and Mac Pro, indicating both might be in store for upgrades.

    Come fall, there will be new iPods, including an iPod touch that might even have more in common with the iPhone 4. And what about Apple TV?

    MORE CABLE AND SATELLITE WOES

    In last week’s issue, I complained at length about a problem ordering a 99 cent On-Demand movie from Dish Network. Since then, I’ve spent well over an hour on the phone with their perennially uninformed support people and have had only a half-baked resolution.

    One of the techs, someone in their “advanced” department, suggested that my inability to use On-Demand was the result of using an Internet-based (VOIP) telephone service. Seems that data services have problems connecting and transferring the required information, which also explains why it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to send a fax that way.

    Dish’s solution was to use a “*99” prefix, which supposedly works on Vonage. But the company I use, VOIPo, has no such feature, but they did modify my connection to support a higher “jitter rate,” which is designed to allow such data transfers to function more reliably.

    It didn’t work.

    The tech’s response was to agree to sell me some sort of Ethernet interface at half price, one that I could use to connect my network to the AC wall socket. Several days after placing this order, I got something called DishCOMM, with is actually a device that transfers your telephone connection via your electric wiring.

    Yes, they misrepresented the core function of this device, and it worked no better than the previous telephone-to-AC interface, A Phonex Easy Jack, which the Dish installer gave me originally.

    Now I could, I suppose, just lay 40 feet of Ethernet cable and create another unsightly mess in my home, but I’m more disappointed that Dish can’t sort any of this out. Ah, I almost miss the old rabbit ears.

    On another front, I’ve continued to experience those short-term dropped signals with my Internet provider, Cox Communications. Each time they claim to have devised a solution, it turns out nothing has changed. I have the direct phone number for a field supervisor who is supposedly monitoring the situation. In addition, Cox has begun to credit my account because of the lost service, but it’s hardly compensation when I’m recording an interview via Skype or engaged in an important phone conversation when the signal simply drops.

    As you readers know, I’ve made an attempt to work with the local phone company, Qwest, but their questionable antics when trying to set up high-speed Internet here soured me on the company. I haven’t written them off completely, though, and I’d be willing to accept somewhat slower service if it came with greater reliability.

    So I still wait for a final resolution. I may end up with different providers before long. Or an antenna and smoke signals.

    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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