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  • Newsletter Issue #566

    October 4th, 2010


    The fallout continues over Apple’s recent decision to loosen requirements for approving software for the App Store. In recent days, some apps that have languished in limbo for months suddenly got accepted, even a couple that support Google Voice.

    No, the official Google Voice version has not shown up as of this writing, but give it time. It definitely will happen, I expect, assuming Google has actually resubmitted it. And, my friends, don’t forget that, despite being competitive in some areas, Google and Apple have various and sundry business partnerships that are bound to continue.

    In any case, on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we explored the recent changes in Apple’s App Store approval process, and some of the critical shortcomings of the Android OS that the tech media rarely discusses.

    Our guests included tech pundit Andy Ihnatko, from the Chicago Sun-Times and personal technology columnist Rob Pegoraro, from the Washington Post.

    What is clear from the varying viewpoints of these two knowledgeable tech pundits is that Android has loads of shortcomings that aren’t serving Google well, particularly the fact that, on some Android smartphones sold by Verizon Wireless, the default search engine is Microsoft’s Bing. That, naturally, comes across as the ultimate insult.

    In other columns, I’ve mentioned the serious lack of proper branding with the Android OS, so much so that each manufacturer and carrier can add their own skin to the interface, and even alter the bundled apps with their own junkware.

    In another segment, you heard a primer on Web hosting, and how to pick the plan that’s right for you, from long-time hosting executive Denis Motova. During this session, you also get a reality check about “the cloud,” and whether you should use that method for your site.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents co-host Nicholas Redfern, who joins us to talk about his controversial new book, “Final Events and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife.”

    Coming October 10: Dulce. The very word conjures up hellish visions of “Nightmare Hall,” bubbling vats filled with human body parts, evil reptoids killing spec op troops invading their underground lair. But is there anything to these fantastic rumors? In this episode, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents Anthony Sanchez, who reveals shocking info about Dulce from a retired Colonel who claims to have worked there.

    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.


    As industry analysts look to the drop in sales of netbooks, there has been the assumption that the people who used to purchase those dreadful shrunken PCs are opting to buy iPads instead. That has been a growing meme in a number of tech columns.

    That is, until a recent survey from the NPD Group indicated it’s really not having that much of an effect. In other words, the iPad is an extra device that more and more people are buying, particularly if they already own other Apple products.

    Until now, it was widely believed that the iPad was actually cannibalizing sales of some PCs, and perhaps even Macs, although the effect to the latter was said to be minimal. The main victim was reportedly those netbooks.

    Suddenly, the belief system has changed, or at least for those who, like me, take NPD Group seriously as a source of legitimate marketing information.

    So if the iPad isn’t having a serious impact on sales of other PC-related gear, where does that place the netbook, and why is interest fading?

    As far as I’m concerned, if you actually examine the situation and grant the customer a sufficient amount of intelligence, the explanation is pretty obvious. Netbooks are junk. In a down economy, the PC industry might have looked to a cheap portable computer as salvation, even though it’s hard to imagine that decent profits can be earned when list prices typically dip below $300.

    The real issue is just what sort of innovation a netbook represents, and the answer appears to be little to none. I mean, it doesn’t take a brilliant corporate visionary to take a note-book, use the cheapest parts imaginable, shrink the screen, cram the keyboard into a smaller space, and get the contract manufacturing plants busy.

    In the first year, netbooks did surprisingly well, considering that they represented an inexpensive way to replace an existing PC, or at least avoid having to buy another full-featured model. You’d think that a netbook would be suitable for email, limited word processing, Web surfing and other chores, and thus would continue to represent a good share of the marketplace.

    That is, until people actually began to use them. While I grant that tens of millions of smartphone users are accustomed to tiny physical keyboards, the one on a netbook is simply a poor imitation of the traditional full-sized version. Along with a smaller screen, tinier hard drive, subpar processing capability, and so on and so forth, the netbook blazes no new ground.

    It’s no wonder that, when Apple was repeatedly asked about a Mac netbook, management predicted buyer’s remorse, and it’s quite possible that flattening sales indicate who was correct. It is, after all, not the iPad that threatens to do the netbook in. It’s the poor design of all or most of these products that’s responsible. As the economy perks up, people are apt to return to traditional PC buying strategies, both consumer and corporate.

    Where the iPad fits in remains an open question. So far, it appears that such gadgets may serve as a second computer, but it’s not at all clear how long that situation will persist. People have only so much time in the day to use their gear, so something has to give. If a PC user finds that the iPad replaces many of the functions of the traditional desktop or note-book, then that’s a potential lost sale. Maybe not now, but during the next buying cycle.

    Remember, too, that the iPad remains a version 1.0 product. It won’t even have a version of the iOS to match the one on an iPhone or iPod touch until next month, but yet customer satisfaction remains quite high, with a notable caveat I’ll mention shortly. Sales are also predicted to be going through the roof, although I do realize it will take another year or two — perhaps longer — to gauge the true impact of a tablet — or slate — computer.

    Indeed, there is one possible troubling sign, which is that later purchasers seem not to be quite as pleased with their iPads as the early adopters. This doesn’t mean that the product is endangered, since the positive ratings are still quite high. It may mean, however, that in the real world, some folks might find themselves not quite as overwhelmed with their iPads as they expected.

    To be blunt, I haven’t bought one, after having used a review iPad from Apple for a month. While I was relatively satisfied with the product, I have not as yet been able to fit it in to my workflow. I’m quite comfortable with my desktop and note-book Macs, not to mention my iPhone.

    The ideal task, a portable computing device to keep with me at night, is better served with the iPhone, since it’s easily managed with one hand. The 1.5 pound iPad is far more awkward to use in that fashion without some discomfort.

    I am, however, encouraged by reports that the next generation iPad will be lighter. The prospect of a 7-inch model doesn’t appeal to me, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it would do well as a gaming device.

    Of course, the opinion of one person doesn’t mean an awful lot in the scheme of things. Clearly Apple has no problem moving as many iPads as they can build. Right now, however, I don’t seem to fit the buyer profile, though that might change over time.


    When you hear someone speaking on a wireless handset on a TV show or movie, the audio quality is almost always first-rate, clear and distinct. But that’s fantasy, and in the real world, you may get a solid connection, but don’t expect the sound to be as good as a landline. Even a cheap wired telephone, the $9.99 model you may still find at a discount store, can be far superior to what you experience with the most expensive smartphone.

    Now Consumer Reports, which has a questionable methodology in testing tech gear, also tends to downgrade audio quality on smartphones, although the distinctions between average and less than average are seldom clearly defined.

    To me, the benchmark should be a traditional landline. Anything less should be unacceptable, although I suppose you might be so delighted to get a connection at all in some places, hearing a voice that’s surrounded by digital haze may not be a serious issue. That is, so long as the words are understandable. If you’re hearing is ever-so-slightly challenged by too many years of loud rock music, and my sister-in-law fits into that category, you may ask the caller to repeat themselves over and over again.

    Considering all the billions of dollars the wireless carriers have spent on their networks, not to mention the efforts at developing the most advanced smartphones by Apple and other manufacturers, you wonder where the blame must lie.

    Now this is not to say that I regard the call quality on my iPhone as inferior, even though Consumer Reports gives it middling marks. On many occasions, the call quality is surprisingly close to the old fashioned analog phone. My digital VOIP office phones also sound as good as any service I’ve used, and I’ve had many over the years in different parts of the U.S.

    But there are far too many times, not just on my iPhone, but on my wife’s Motorola RAZR, where the audio borders in barely audible.

    Yes, I realize cell phones are two-way radios, and that signal quality can vary depending on the strength of the signal. But I see little evidence that the hardware companies and the mobile networks are run by people who care. Well, maybe Apple is an exception, because the call quality on the iPhone 4 is distinctly superior to that of the iPhone 3GS, and on a par with any other wireless handset I’ve used.

    Before you simply blame AT&T, which has network problems in far too many places, let me tell you that sound quality seems no better on Verizon Wireless or Sprint. I have no experience with T-Mobile, and the mobile carrier in Spain that my son uses doesn’t deliver decent audio either.

    I can’t speak for other parts of the world, but the wireless carrier ads I see on TV may tout network quality or the relative freedom from dropped calls, but when was the last time they boasted of audio quality as good as a landline? Evidently, just achieving a solid connection is good enough, and the fidelity of the call will continue to take second place.

    Or maybe nobody cares anymore.


    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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