- The Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com/newsletter -

Newsletter Issue #572

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

The first time I read the announcements about 3D TV, I wondered about the glasses. Did the consumer electronics makers really expect you to wear those dreadful things whenever a 3D movie or TV show was begin shown? Worse, was the fact that they cost more than $100 per pair the utmost expression of greed. Did they expect large families to buy boxes of those things, in case one broke just before a show was about to start?

Putting the cart before the horse, there were really only a handful 3D offerings available; that situation isn’t likely to change in the near future. All that money, for so little result. I’ll cover this in more detail in another commentary for this issue.

On Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we covered a number of topics.

Rob Pegoraro, consumer tech columnist for the Washington Post, came aboard to talk about Apple’s humongous 10.6.5 update, which includes 55 fixes for Adobe Flash, the shaky reaction to 3D TV, and Windows Phone 7.

Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith detailed the magazine’s updated Speedmark Mac test suite, and the test results for the upgraded MacBook Air.

You also learned about the buying best gear for the holidays with Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen, who discussed his favorite Internet phone service, affordable flat panel TVs, Blu-ray players, the first Google TV device, the Logitech Revue, and lots more.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents a rare radio appearance by Dr. Frank Salisbury, a noted scientist and long-time UFO researcher, and author of “The Utah UFO Display: A Scientist’s Report.” You’ll learn about the history of UFO investigation and about the prospects for disclosure in the 21st century.

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.

ARE YOU REALLY WAITING FOR A VERIZON iPHONE?

Change is in the wind. There are more and more stories in the mainstream media that you won’t be forced to sign up with AT&T to use an iPhone in the U.S within a few weeks. But I’ll avoid the issue of jailbreaking the phone and using T-Mobile instead, which one of my friends has done for reasons he’s never been able to explain.

Now it’s not that AT&T is necessarily a bad wireless provider. But they have had trouble building out enough capacity to offer a decent connections in some parts of the country. Complains in such locales as San Francisco are legion, although the company claims they are making progress. Here in the Phoenix area, it works just fine.

While it made sense for Apple to partner with a single larger carrier when the iPhone was just a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eyes, this gadget has joined the iPod to achieve iconic status. More iPhones than Blackberrys are sold nowadays, even though RIM has support from more carriers and has many more models to choose from.

The feeling early on was that Verizon Wireless was offered the iPhone, but refused to give Apple the keys to the store. Verizon wants you saddle you with their own software and custom user interface, even though both may offer substandard user experiences. It would probably be worse than giving the Mac OS a full-time Windows user interface.

The common belief is that Verizon has a great network. That’s what independent studies appear to demonstrate, although one of those studies unfortunately comes from Consumer Reports. But since it was generated on the basis of reader surveys, I suppose you can take it seriously, assuming the questions were appropriately designed.

A Verizon iPhone, in theory, will mean superior call quality, fewer dropped calls, more bars on the signal display. I’ll avoid the issue that AT&T supposedly delivers speedier data downloads. If you can’t make a phone call when you want, that’s the deal breaker.

You can already see evidence that Apple is moving to other carriers. Verizon now offers the iPad, and Sprint is going to supply an adapter case that’ll let you make Skype calls with an iPod touch on their network. Although T-Mobile rags on Apple in one of their TV spots, their executives admit that not having an iPhone has seriously hurt their sales.

It seems almost certain that a Verizon iPhone will probably debut early in 2011, since it seems a little late in the season to offer it now. In turn, Apple will likely make few if any concessions to be on that network.

It’s also possible, I suppose, that Sprint and T-Mobile will get their chances eventually. Certainly the growth of the Google Android platform, despite the well-known fragmentation issue, makes it appear that the iPhone is faltering, even though that’s not at all true.

The figures totaling Android’s supposedly soaring market share are based on combining the aggregate sales of a number of models from different makers, sold by all the major carriers, against a single product line from one company and available on one carrier in the U.S. More to the point, there’s little brand consistency among Android smartphones. Carriers and handset makers are free to alter the interface to suit their needs, and even add junkware apps to hawk various products and services.

Although some dispute this contention, Steve Jobs reminded us, in his comments at Apple’s last quarterly conference session with financial analysts, that developers have to frequently jump through large hoops to build apps that will run on most of those Android smartphones. When you buy one, you can’t even be assured that you’ll have the latest and greatest OS, or that you’ll even be able to upgrade without hacking the device yourself to get a current build.

The real question is how many people who buy Android OS devices really prefer them, or are simply getting what’s available from the carrier of their choice. To a company like Verizon, the handset is a commodity product. That’s why they offer two-for-one sales — other than to flood the market and get more sign ups of course. What you buy doesn’t matter one whit to them, and the differences between supposedly competing models on the Android platform tend to be relatively minor anyway.

You can’t, as I said, depend on a consistent interface and user experience from device to device. With the iPhone, you can, and that’s what’s really going to change the situation at Verizon once they are able to sell them.

THE ILLUSION OF 3D TV

The consumer electronics and entertainment industries constantly hope to catch waves. When super heroes became fodder for A-list movies sporting huge budgets, movie makers were dredging up heroes few heard about, other than rabid fans, hoping to catch blockbuster pay dirt.

Some of supposed “second tier” characters, such as Marvel’s venerable Iron Man, actually became the subject of first-rate action flicks with the proper cast and production values.

When it comes to the means with which movies are developed, Hollywood has had a love and hate relationship with 3D. In the 1950s, there was that famous low-budget “House of Wax,” which vindicated itself by the typically over-the-top performance of its star, Vincent Price, and, of course 3D.

Upon entering the theater, you’d be given a pair of ill-fitting glasses to ensure the proper viewing experience. Yes, the picture was noticeably dimmer, but the eye-popping visual effects were compelling, at least until you got sick of that excessive silliness and returned to normal fare.

The industry flirted with 3D over the years. 2006’s “Superman Returns,” regarded as but a modest success at the box office, had a handful of 3D scenes, heralded with a screen prompt asking you to put on those glasses. It wasn’t worth it. But “Avatar” made 3D credible, simply because it was a natural part of the production. Director James Cameron was clever enough to avoid the ping-pong special effects, and concentrate on reality, or at least as much reality as the mostly computer-generated visuals could provide.

A box office sensation, “Avatar” persuaded the industry that 3D was finally ready for the mass market. Other films, originally shot in 2D, were transformed in post-production. The makers of flat panel TVs decided to jump on the bandwagon, and so they released 3D TVs for your home.

Predictably, they cost hundreds of dollars more than regular sets without the embellishments. Some models contained the requisite glasses, while others made them optional. Regardless, if you needed an extra pair, you had to pay up to $150 each. And I haven’t begun to mention the required 3D Blu-ray player, or the rare satellite-borne 3D fare that may require a separate subscription.

All that expense for so little reward. Only a handful of 3D feature movies are available so far. Even the initial release of “Avatar” on Blu-ray arrived in 2D, and I doubt it made all that much difference in the scheme of things. Yes, the wife and I saw the 3D version at an appropriately large multiplex screen, but the 2D version on our regular TV was no less enjoyable.

According to the industry analysts I’ve talked to, there has been expectedly tepid response to 3D hardware. It’s a chicken and egg syndrome, where there’s little software to be had, and not much will be developed without a decent audience. Most of the time, you’re saddled with an overpriced TV watching 2D.

In the end, 3D probably won’t come into its own until an affordable scheme is devised to deliver all or most of its visceral impact without the need of glasses. But a workable and affordable solution to that dilemma is definitely not imminent. Indeed, it may be that a company out of the traditional consumer electronics loop will ultimately devise a solution.

At the end of the day, I wonder if there might be an Apple TV 3D in our future, not just the set top box, but the full-blown TV offering all the options, including 3D support for appropriate content, and maybe even a pseudo 3D mode for standard fare. That would really start the 3D gold rush. But, the way things are set up now, it won’t happen anytime soon.

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
Business Development: Gil James Bavel
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis