• Newsletter Issue #575

    December 6th, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Within days after I commented once again about the failures of 3D TV, with the main focus on those awful and often uncomfortable glasses, I got a press release from Stephen Blumenthal of 3DFusion that pointed to a possible solution to this problem; no glasses required. Up till then, the industry analysts whom I’ve talked to suggested that it would take several years for that to occur. Maybe Stephen can speed things up.

    So on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I had a short discussion with Stephen about what he’s working on, which basically expands and improves existing technology from Philips and other companies, and holds out a lot of hope. Of course, nothing is ever certain until you can buy the finished product at an affordable price in your local consumer electronics outlet, but I’m hopeful.

    In another segment of the show, we brought back author Karen G. Anderson who returned to discuss some of her favorite, and not so favorite, offbeat iOS apps. With over 300,000 apps from which to select, her choices may not be yours, but she offered some really intriguing ideas.

    We also heard from Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus on why he loved the MacBook Air he’s reviewed, and whether it is truly the harbinger of MacBooks of the future.

    Security guru Rich Mogull joined us to discuss whether it’s possible to take down WikiLeaks, and general security issues, including the recent Mac OS 10.6.5 update that contained loads of Flash fixes. On the first, the onset of events about WikiLeaks almost overwhelmed us. They have had to use a different domain to stay online, and PayPal has opted not to process donations for the site. This is a story that clearly won’t end anytime soon.

    Indeed, and this takes us to our other radio show, The Paracast, there’s actually a report that WikiLeaks is poised to post some heretofore classified documents about, would you believe it, UFOs? We’ll have to see how that plays out.

    On this week’s episode, co-host Christopher O’Brien presents the UFO field’s famous “trickster” himself, Jim Moseley, editor and publisher of “Saucer Smear,” a thought-provoking publication that emphasizes the unique personalities in the field, and their eccentricities.

    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.

    SO WHAT ABOUT THAT MAC CONVERTIBLE?

    Several recent rumors have the Apple watchers scrambling to figure out what’s going on. As usual, some of the stories arose over patent filings, even though the process of securing intellectual property rights doesn’t actually guarantee that you’ll ever see a real product featuring that technology.

    One curiosity spoke of what you might want to consider a “Mac Convertible,” meaning that you’d be able to run it in the same fashion as any other Mac, using Mac OS X. But you’d also have the option to swivel the screen and engage an iOS mode. This would make it roughly akin to a huge iPad with all the touchscreen goodies.

    Now even before you examine the usability of such a scheme, actually doing the development work on this hybrid operating system shouldn’t be such a big deal. After all, both the iOS and Mac OS X sit atop the same basic core system. Moreover, when developers build software for the App Store, they will generally test their work on Macs running Apple’s developer tools, which deliver the content on screen in a special iOS window.

    You might compare it to the legendary Classic environment, which allowed older Mac apps to run in a custom or emulator environment within Mac OS X. But the iOS would be far more native since, as I said, it’s essentially Mac OS X with a different skin and some internal alterations.

    Certainly when you look at Apple’s initial demonstration of plans and schemes for Mac OS X Lion, you can see the clear iOS influence.  Consider Launchpad, a scheme designed to display your app icons across one or more pages, in much the same fashion as they show up on your iPhone or iPad. It’s not that I’m enamored of this feature, but I can see where it will breed familiarity.

    What Apple has certainly learned with the iOS is how to make things simpler to use and way more efficient. The mobile device is serious limited of resources. You can’t just pop in extra memory to run more apps, get a larger display to display larger documents in something akin to their true sizes, or multiple documents and apps to make your workflow more efficient.

    So Apple cannot just ape the iOS on the Mac and be done with it. There has to be compromise, allowing what works to carry over. The rest can be modified as necessary or simply not used. The iOS would certainly inspire Apple to build altogether new features that take greater advantage of this supposed convertible concept.

    It may even be possible to set up a true iOS mode, relying on traditional input devices, such as mouse and keyboard, and have it run on your Mac, if that’s what you want of course. Again, this shouldn’t be a serious programming issue, since developers do it now.

    After all is said and done, the real issue is one of practicality. Having multiple operating system interfaces is one thing, and perhaps the new Mac user graduating from the iOS would find it more comfortable, at least at the beginning.

    On the long haul, assuming that a simple point and click or even a push button on the keyboard activates one OS shell or the other, you can run whatever setup you choose, switch between them at will. Or, perhaps, under Parental Controls, establish an unchangeable setup for a particular user that matches their skill or comfort level. And I assume you’d be running mostly Mac apps regardless, simply because the slimmed down App Store variety are mostly unsuitable for a regular PC.

    The second part of the equation, however, is less certain.

    Is there a practical value for a large touchscreen computer for regular users? I’m not speaking of some custom vertical market or business purpose, but for a mainstream product that will sell to millions upon millions of potential buyers?

    Now I’m sure Apple has done the proper usability testing for this, just as I agree that Steve Jobs was probably right when he made that controversial statement that a 7-inch tablet was a poor form factor. I kind of expect the initial 600,000 or so buyers who acquired the initial onslaught of the Samsung Galaxy Tabs might come to realize this severe limitation pretty quickly.

    So having a 15-inch MacBook Convertible, for example, may be a poor concept, because the screen is probably too large for comfortable touching, even if it’s tilted horizontally.

    You see, Apple doesn’t decide whether to build or not build gear on a whim, or because the mercurial Steve Jobs is in a good mood or bad mood that day. Unlike most other tech companies, they clearly don’t release products simply to find the needle in the haystack that succeeds. That’s, unfortunately, what far too many companies do. They flood the market with loads of stuff hoping something, anything, will catch on. The rest go in the closeout bins, except for Microsoft, which simply gives the failures a shave and haircut, changes the name, and pretends they’re something new.

    Apple also wants to leverage parts among as many products as possible. So the latest iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and even the Apple TV, all share the same processor and a few other components here and there. That helps increase Apple’s economies of scale, so they get the best possible component prices. Their profits remain high, and they can charge fairly and give you lots of value.

    The whole concept of the Mac Convertible, in fact, may have nothing to do with a single product that works as a traditional personal computer, or as a touch-based device. It may be all about the operating system and nothing more. But only Apple knows for sure.

    OUR BROADBAND FUTURE: SO WHERE’S THE SPEED?

    As more and more speedier methods are devised to move data from the cloud to your Mac, PC or mobile device, you have to wonder where it has to go for it to become efficient. The answers may not be so easily gleaned.

    Take, for example, the U.S., where between 14 and 24 million American families don’t have speedy Internet service. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that the service isn’t available to all of them, although that’s true for many. But some people just want to send email and perhaps browse a few news sites without the multimedia niceties (or interruptions). An old-fashioned 56K connection may be quite sufficient.

    In other locales, particularly in rural areas, the wiring isn’t there. Sometimes there’s wireless access, or even satellite. But I’ve yet to hear good reviews of satellite Internet, particularly the uploads, which once required a traditional telephone landline. There’s also latency, the extra time it takes for any command (or request) to reach the satellite and return to you. That may delay matters a few seconds, and forget about using an Internet telephone connection or playing interactive games.

    But even if you do have broadband and pay a bundle for the service, don’t assume you’re getting the advertised level of performance. Here in Arizona, for example, Cox Communications has an “Ultimate” tier, offering up to 55 megabits downloads and five megabits uploads for prices ranging from $90 and up a month, depending on your location and whether you have a service bundle.

    I’ve tested such relatively high levels of broadband and have mixed reactions. Cox does have a speed testing site that, more often than not, will reveal connection speeds that are equal or close to the advertised rates. But if you visit one of those Internet speed test sites, you may find your real world performance is quite a bit less, simply because you are downloading data outside of your ISP’s network.

    It may even be that the only way you can approach the performance level the ISP promises is when you download and upload your stuff inside their confines, and nowhere else.

    Now I also had a brief experience with the other major broadband carrier in the area, Qwest, which uses a modified DSL with so-called “asymmetric” service. This means that the download and upload speeds will be different, emphasizing downloads of course.

    The service I experimented with was one that promised up to 40 megabits downloads. I got less than 13 megabits, even when measured by the DSL hardware adapter’s own Web-based interface. I also got various and sundry excuses from Qwest, that they could only deliver that speed to the “tap” where the cable meets the housing development I live in. Beyond that border, the quality of the internal wiring wasn’t sufficient to carry such a signal.

    Did anyone ever get a true 40 megabits? They wouldn’t show me a single example to prove their claims.

    That inferior performance discovery was made after the service installer proudly proclaimed my account “good to go,” but it went nowhere. I cancelled the service within three days, but it took several months and a few phone conversations for Qwest to stop sending the bills. I suppose they had the vain hope that they’d actually be able to keep me as a customer after their deception.

    But I expect there’s also deception across the board when it comes to promised broadband speeds. The very phrase “up to” ought to have its own terms and conditions, so you can depend on an expected average level of performance.

    Unfortunately, when you have little or no choices of services, it may not matter.

    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



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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #575”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      I always imagined a Mac Convertible as being an iPad that works like an iPad, but can be slipped it into a little hinged keyboard stand and turn into a MacBook that works like a MacBook with all the data synchronized. Given the price of an iPad as compared to a replacement laptop display, it doesn’t matter if there is some redundant hardware (like two main processor chips). This would even work for road warriors who don’t want to deal with their laptops full time. As a bonus, you get a MacBook with a touch screen (and the obvious user interface implications).

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