Some of the new listeners to The Tech Night Owl LIVE wonder why we concentrate so much on Apple. Well, for one thing, that’s the only consumer electronics company that seems to make much in the way of headlines these days. The latest and greatest products from Dell and HP hardly produce a blip on the media’s radar unless some scandal, such as the dismissal of the latter’s CEO, occurs, and when was the last time you read much about anything new and different from Sony?
Sure, there are those 3D TV sets, but, with few opportunities to break out those glasses, not many people are buying. The nascent 3D revolution is still nascent, and the situation may not change until a method is perfected to let you see those eye-popping pictures without the need of glasses.
So we’re back to Apple, which remained in the headlines this past week with a change in the App Store rules and regulations. But that’s not the entire picture.
On Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we did revisit the aftermath of Apple’s media event, which featured the introduction of new iPods and a totally redesigned Apple TV. We also focused on that surprise decision, this past week, to update the App Store rules of the road.
Moving away from Apple, we also presented Avram Piltch, online editor for Laptop magazine, who provided lots of advice on choosing the best smartphone for your needs, and he’s no fan of the iPhone.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-hosts Christopher O’Brien and Nicholas Redfern present a return visit with paranormal author and adventurer David Hatcher Childress, author of “Yetis, Sasquatch & Hairy Giants.”
Coming September 19: Co-host Christopher O’Brien introduces an elder for the Zuni tribe making his first radio appearance, Clifford Mahooty, who will discuss Indian legends, including those involving “star people” who came to Earth in ancient times.
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.
With plenty of justification, it’s common to complain when Microsoft makes changes in the Windows or app interfaces that seem there solely for the sake of change. Well, I suppose you’ll be told that those changes are actually based on focus group studies. You see, Microsoft’s customers wanted them all along. They told them so, but some of the design decisions simply don’t make much sense. How many, for example, really adore those notorious ribbons on Office that will soon come to the Mac?
Now it’s commonly believed that Apple doesn’t survey customers. Steve Jobs and the gang sit back, stretch out, have some cups of java, and decide the user interfaces we are all destined to see on future Apple products.
While that may, in part, be true, how often have you heard Jobs announce at a media event that Apple is fixing something, or introducing a new feature, because you asked for it? Clearly they are consulting customer feedback, using such information as a guide over what to change and how.
On the other hand, sometimes they do things that seem so peculiar you wonder what mindset was responsible for the silly decision.
I don’t dispute the need to fiddle with the look and feel of an app, particularly when it comes to new features. It’s also true that iTunes strikes some as a lumbering beast that needs a diet to make it perform decently on anything but the fastest Mac or PC on the planet.
Now, it’s true that iTunes 10 seems to get going faster on my late 2009 iMac, with the Intel i7 quad-core processor. But it still takes a few seconds for the app window to fully display, despite the fact that my online music and movie library is not terribly large. I will admit it is better than the previous version, but not by much.
The interface fixes, however, just don’t make sense.
You see, we are all used to Mac OS X apps with three tiny buttons for window sizing placed horizontally. For iTunes 10, Apple stacks them vertically. While I agree they might save precious pixels doing so, anyone who has become accustomed to the traditional way of doing things is going to have to retrain their muscle memory.
The icons for your library/device directory have changed from colorful to drab. If shades of gray are your bag, you’ve got to be pleased. If you prefer colors to provide differentiation, especially if your eyesight is a little challenged, forget about it.
If there’s an interface convention that explains the logic behind these changes, I’d love to see it. It doesn’t seem to reflect the current Apple interface guidelines, though you never know what might be in store for Mac users with Mac OS 10.7. In the past, iTunes has served as a harbinger of new Finder features, such as Cover Flow. So maybe we are destined to have those buttons stacked vertically some day.
Of course, if Apple truly does listen to customers, I suppose a sufficient amount of negative feedback would encourage the iTunes developer team to undo those changes.
I’m also on the fence about the huge alterations in the Apple TV. Yes, I realize that Jobs cited customer feedback in deciding to build a more user-friendly, mass-market device that would better compete in a world flooded with cheap set-top boxes and the threat of Google TV.
That you don’t have to sync the gadget with your Mac and PC is a good idea — although you can stream content from either — because, according to Apple, you don’t want computers in your living room. You want to watch TV. If you must perform computer-related chores, well you can bring in your note-book or iPad, and put them away when you’re done. That’s probably why WebTV was a gigantic failure, but you have to wonder why Google thinks the world is ready to revisit that failed concept with Google TV and its promise of Internet access on your flat screen.
I tend to agree with Apple. Yes, I might bring a computing gadget into our bedroom, where our main TV set is located. But having that content and functionality displayed across the room on a TV is just not my cup of tea. If it sounds awkward to you, it is. A TV works best for TV shows and movies, and, to a lesser degree, family photos and videos. I can’t imagine using one to write email. Besides, what is the rest of the family going to do when you are hogging the screen with your personal messages?
Google appears to want to throw lots of darts out there, hoping some will hit the intended targets. Sometimes they will have a hit on their hands, sometimes they will buy that hit, such a YouTube and the team behind the Android OS, but other inventions will just up and disappear. I expect Google TV will join that list.
Apple is still experimenting, hoping to find something that will really click. Maybe Apple TV is the wave of the future, although I’m skeptical, but least they are trying.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of the changes in iTunes 10. Maybe I’ll get used to them, or just let it happen and grumble.
If current sales trends hold steady, it’s very possible that Google’s Android OS will become the dominant player in the smartphone market across the planet. Those who dislike Apple’s closed ecosystem want to pretend that it’s the Mac versus Windows wars all over again, and the open platform must emerge victorious.
Without going into the raw and dirty details about Apple’s history, which anyone who bothers to spend a few minutes on a Google (or Bing) search can figure out for themselves, let me just say that no single company can dominate the wireless phone business. It’s all too fragmented.
What’s more, it’s not a case of one operating system versus another. You see, unlike Windows, not all Android phones are the same, or similar enough to be put in the same category. Since it’s open source, wireless handset makers can change things to their liking, not to mention the carriers who meddle with the interface even further to add their own custom features.
So we have the peculiar situation where Verizon is installing Microsoft’s Bing as the one and only search engine on some of their Android smartphones, thus depriving Google of a decent portion of search-related income. Talk about a smack in the face.
Worse, not all handset makers or carriers let you conveniently upgrade to the latest and greatest OS. The gadgets themselves will have different features. Some will be all-touch. Some will combine touch with a physical keyboard, and individual companies, such as HTC and Motorola, add their own user interface niceties. Well, at least, differences to make them stand apart.
That creates a complicated situation for app developers. Even as Android closes in on 100,000 offerings, there is really little regulation of what’s available. If someone wants to build an app that creates obnoxious sounds, or offers little more than ringtones, so be it. There appear to be few standards to adhere to, so you have a mixture of utter junk along with the few gems put there by responsible software companies.
Worse, because of the differentiation in available OS versions and hardware features, there’s little guarantee that an app will even function on your smartphone. If that’s what people want, fine and dandy, but at least get a money back guarantee to make sure that you can change your mind in case you’re not satisfied.
Compare that to the iPhone, which is built by one company, selling basically two lines of smartphones, last year’s iPhone 3GS and this year’s iPhone 4. The operating system is the same, and all recent models can upgrade to the latest and greatest iOS and gain most of the new features. Absent the missing white version, aside from storage capacity, your iPhone 4 is the same as mine. Developers can depend on that uniformity, so they know that the features they bake into their apps will work for everyone except, perhaps, for the people who have the very oldest iPhones.
iPhone sales is also limited by the fact that Apple is still tied to one carrier in the U.S., even as more carriers are added overseas. There are published reports that situation will change by the start of 2011, and even more speculation as to which carriers will benefit. Verizon Wireless, the number one carrier, can bring millions of new sales to Apple. There are also reports that T-Mobile, the number four carrier, might get an iPhone too.
Some suggest an outside choice would be Sprint, struggling to rebuild and shed a reputation for a poor network and worse customer service. A huge marketing push by Sprint could also reap huge benefits to Apple, and slow the Android ascendancy.
In the end, though, so long as Apple can report healthy sales increases each and every quarter, it makes no difference if the iPhone is first, second or fifth for that matter. As with the Mac, Apple only plays in the market segments where good profits are to be made. Other companies that saturate the storefronts with products that, at best, make a modest return on their investments (such as they are), may sell more product. But that doesn’t mean for a second that Apple is being threatened.
Now some also suggest that Apple loosened the requirements for App Store submissions — and allowed the use of third-party compilers — to slow the Android juggernaut. Others suggest Apple just wants to get the Feds off their backs. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Regardless, robust competition will mean all or most of the products will keep getting better, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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