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Newsletter Issue #564

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

In last week’s issue, I ragged on Apple for the interface lapses in iTunes 10. For the most part, I think you readers agreed with me that Apple made changes that, frankly, didn’t make a whole lot of sense, particularly the use of grayscale icons for the sidebar. Those who are visually challenged are bound to complain.

Well, on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we examined the ins and outs of iTunes 10 for the Mac and PC with author and commentator Kirk McElhearn. It appears Kirk agreed with me to some extent on the interface alterations, but not completely. You also learned why Kirk doesn’t like Apple’s new Ping social networking feature, which appears to serve little purpose other than as a tool to sell more music.

In the next segment, commentator Joe Wilcox, a former tech industry analyst, explained what’s wrong with the recent market share gains recorded for Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and why estimates of smartphone OS market share may be incorrect.

When it comes to search engines, it appears that Bing is mostly cannibalizing share from Yahoo!, which now uses the same search engine. Google’s piece of the pie has hardly changed in the past year.

You also heard from Jim Dalrymple, of The Loop, on the changes Apple made to the App Store, which loosens the requirements for new apps, and lets you use third-party development tools, such as Adobe Flash and special gaming engines, to create those apps.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien introduced 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.

Coming September 26: Co-host Nicholas Redfern takes us on a fascinating journey of UFO information and disinformation with Mark Pilkington, author of “Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs.”

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.

APPLE’S CHANGE OF ATTITUDE

As most of you know, Apple’s is notoriously secretive about forthcoming products, and rarely says much about the beta test process even when a forthcoming product is demonstrated. So you may know that a new version of Mac OS X — or the iOS — is under development, but most of the information about prerelease versions comes from unofficial and unapproved sources, usually in violation of Apple’s confidentiality agreement.

That appears to have turned 180 degrees with a recent announcement that “it is releasing a beta version of its AirPrint wireless printing for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch to members of Apple’s iOS developer program…”

The press release goes on to amplify and extend what Steve Jobs announced at the recent media event where the latest and greatest iPods and Apple TV were demonstrated. So we learn that AirPrint “will be included in the free iOS 4.2 software update in November. AirPrint automatically finds printers on local networks and can print text, photos and graphics to them wirelessly over Wi-Fi without the need to install drivers or download software. HP’s existing and upcoming ePrint enabled printers will be the first to support printing direct from iOS devices.”

All well and good, but the real surprise is that Apple not only revealed the specifics of the new feature, but also explained it was contained in a beta release that had been seeded to developers. That’s a rare, rare thing for Apple to do.

But there’s more.

In a surprise turnaround, Apple recently changed the iOS developer agreement to allow the use of third-party compiling tools, and that even includes Adobe’s Flash, to build product for the App Store. But the reason wasn’t Adobe’s pleas. More to the point, Apple is into gaming in a big way, with tens of thousands of them on the iOS platform, and a market share that has gaming console manufacturers quaking in their boots.

Many of those games use special programming environments. They can’t be built using the one Apple provides, so concessions had to be made. At the same time, loosening restrictions — or at least clarifying them — for app submissions, gives software companies a clearer direction of what’s going to pass muster and what’s going to be rejected.

Up till now, Apple was the inscrutable authority that can ruin a software developer without reason. Indeed, the only recourse for those whose work had been rejected was usually to take the matter public, hoping a sufficient amount of attention from the press would turn the tide. Sometimes it even worked.

In the wake of the long-awaited clarification of App Store standards, Apple has apparently rushed to release some long-delayed apps, including one that supports the Google Voice feature. That appears to be a good thing.

As to why, well that depends on which version you believe. Some suggest the surge of the Google Android OS has forced Apple to consider ways to deal with the competition. Others suggest the recent government probes into Apple’s walled garden might also be responsible.

But the real reason may be one of practicality. Consider that many of the best games can’t be ported to the iOS without the proper development tools. Once the doors are opened, it becomes extremely difficult for Apple to suggest that one tool can be used, but not another.

In addition, having a clearly-defined set of rules for the App Store also makes sense from a practical point of view. I rather suspect one of the reasons why a set of policies wasn’t published up till now is because Apple didn’t anticipate the stellar success of the App Store, and how to deal with tens of thousands of submissions. It’s been a learning process for them, and they had to use the experience of reviewing those submissions as a guide to determine the correct policies.

It’s not as if Apple would admit they are kowtowing to Android OS competition, or the threat of government intervention. That’s not Apple’s way. Whether the forces that caused the change are external or internal doesn’t matter in the end, so long as you’re able to get a richer selection of software from the App Store.

But it sure sounds better for the media to suggest that Apple was dragged, kicking and screaming, into making the right decision.

ANDROID OS AND OPENNESS: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

During my discussion with commentator Joe Wilcox on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I brought up the unexpected consequences of having an open source smartphone OS. Just as the media pundits are delighted over the rapid growth of Android-based phones, some serious downsides are finally coming to light.

While Wilcox said he hadn’t heard very much about a recent unexpected development, it appears that the Android-powered Samsung S Galaxy smartphone has gone on sale for Verizon Wireless without Google’s search engine installed. Instead, Verizon opted to use Microsoft Bing.

Now that doesn’t mean that Google search can’t or won’t be installed as an alternative on such devices in the future. But it also shows the downsides of offering an open platform, one with little or no restrictions for licensees. As far as Google is concerned, that approach may come back to bite them.

You see, Android is available free of charge. Google earns its keep from targeted ads on their search engine and various apps. When other search engines and software are offered, Google loses. In the case of the Samsung S Galaxy, that may be the beginning. Verizon signed an agreement with Microsoft in 2009 to offer Bing as the default search engine on various products.

As the skeptics might suggest, even without a Google option for search, nothing stops a customer from going to the Google site and running the search engine directly. But that’s not the point. Most people don’t change default settings, or seek out alternates online. Regardless of what happens, Microsoft gets a big and unexpected win over Google.

But that’s not all. The open nature of the Android platform also means there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get the latest and greatest OS release on your smartphone. There’s a published report stating that the current update, Android 2.2, known as Froyo, will not be offered to customers of the Droid Eris.

There’s nothing new about that particular dilemma. Google can’t force a wireless carrier or a handset maker to deliver OS upgrades to customers. Some will as a matter of course, others won’t. You want open source, such are the downsides.

And for those who are touting the imminent arrival of Android-based tablets, get ready for yet another shortcoming. How will they handle tens of thousands of apps built for tiny screens?

On the iPad, the app opens in a tiny window, so it looks clean and crisp without jagged edges; expanding the app window to fit the larger screen is an option, not a necessity. As the apps are updated for the iPad, this situation is quickly changing. For the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab, existing apps will simply be stretched across the full size of the display, thus appearing out of focus, with the expected jagged edges.

Now this doesn’t mean that Google can’t update the Android OS with a version more suited to tablets. But it seems clear that may take some time, not to mention waiting for apps to be appropriately updated for larger displays. But the availability of a new OS is no guarantee that early adopters of Android tablets will be able to download that update.

You want openness, you have to accept the good and the bad.

THE FINAL WORD

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

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