Since we’re in the business of covering the latest news and views about Apple, on the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we explored the surprising decision by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to take another medical leave, of unknown duration, leaving COO Tim Cook in charge of the company’s day-to-day affairs. Jobs will continue to make the key decisions. We also examined the meaning behind Apple’s record-breaking sales figures for the 2010 holiday quarter.
It’s fair to say that, although Apple’s stock price has eroded from record highs somewhat, loads of investors aren’t rushing to sell. They clearly have confidence in Apple’s leadership and their ability to move forward with highly innovative products even without the presence of the co-founder. At the same time, even a part-time Steve Jobs may be sufficient for Apple to make the correct decisions. He still has to green light new products and product updates.
Joining us this week to cover these and other key tech subjects were industry analyst Stephen Baker, a VP for the NPD Group, and cutting-edge columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to present MUFON’s International Director, Clifford Clift, who explores the history of the UFO research body, their approach to investigations, and some of the most significant cases they’ve explored.
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.
I haven’t considered this, but how many Web sites are devoted to rumors about Dell products? What about HP? Although both companies rule the PC roost, it’s not as if people are clamoring for tidbits of information as to their next tech gadgets. That’s because these companies rely mostly on commodity products (generic PCs, servers, and printers), and thus seldom do anything to advance the state of the art in the tech industry.
This isn’t to say that the equipment built by Dell, HP, and similar companies, is necessarily bad. HP, for example, seems to provide good quality, and decent customer support. When it comes to the needs of their regular customers, that’s probably sufficient. Indeed, I’ve owned HP printers over the years, and found them to be well-built and quite reliable.
Then again, has there really been that much innovation in printer technology? Most of the products you buy seem to be nothing but variations on the very same theme. Yes, new ink jet printers may have more features at the same price, and put more tiny dots on the page to provide somewhat better print quality. But you still pay an arm and a leg for the consumables, which is where the profits are really made.
When it comes to Apple’s gear, they aren’t afraid to upset the business by killing products, and moving into new directions. Don’t forget how the iPod nano has undergone vast changes in form factor and feature sets, something almost no other tech company would dare with a successful product.
And don’t forget the iPad, which might already be cannibalizing sales from the regular Mac lineup, though at the same time bringing new customers to Apple who might also buy Macs. But Apple got into this market knowing the risks.
When you consider press coverage of new tech gear, the next PC box or Android OS smartphone are almost afterthoughts. There are so many models of each, from different makers, with near-similar specs, you hardly know where to begin.
With a relatively few products available, Apple has strived hard to make a difference in user experience and design. When the first iPhone appeared, suddenly there were loads of imitation smartphones sporting touchscreens, even though a physical keyboard was the input method of choice in such gadgets up till then.
When an Apple product seems to be getting a mite long in the tooth, speculation mounts about its successor. Apple thrives on this speculation, because it continues to draw attention to what they do without costing them a dime in promotion. Every article about them, every site that focuses on their activities, as we do, serves their interests in selling lots of gear and making huge profits.
But Apple’s penchant for secrecy means that the curious must go to extraordinary measures in order to find out what they’re up to. With several popular online sources for the latest Apple rumors, there’s plenty of stuff to chew on, although they usually focus on the same source information, buttressed by some speculation, informed and otherwise.
So we hear tales from supposed Apple suppliers claiming Apple has ordered up certain parts that might reflect the form factor of the next iPad or iPhone. Sometimes there are unofficial case designs that might presage the new versions. If Apple sends a take down order to a site, you just know someone made a good guess, or had access to secret information.
Unfortunately, stories of this sort may have a serious impact on Apple’s relationships with suppliers and accessory designers. If they truly get a look at a future product, they would only do so under strict confidentiality agreements. If they violate those agreements, they could be in danger of losing loads of profitable Apple contracts. So you wonder why they dare.
Another method of ferreting out key information about new Apple gear is to examine the betas of new OS releases. Most recently, beta testers of the forthcoming iOS 4.3 release claim to have located files that might provide telltale clues about features for the next iPad. By examining icons and other artwork, along with obscure references to app titles, features, and model designations, they hope to unearth those critical clues.
So the presence of files related to camera-based apps, such as PhotoBooth and related filter files, seem to confirm what most of us expect anyway, that the next iPad will have a front-facing camera, and possibly one for the rear as well. And, yes, I do find the possibility of a rear camera to be less certain, since picture-taking would seem extremely awkward with this form factor.
Of course, when you examine the guts of unreleased software, you have to realize things can change. Features may be tested and withdrawn, and the hoped for capabilities planned for new models may, at the last minute, be removed for a number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t operate as Apple expects, the costs of building them are too high for the target price, or the product designers decide to try something different.
But I often feel Apple feeds the frenzy be deliberately inserting those telltale hints into their beta software, not to mention quietly delivering carefully crafted tidbits of information to rumor sites, and the mainstream media.
Yes, we can’t stop talking about Apple, and they love it!
Up till now, there have been two generations of products with the designation “Apple TV.” Neither are TV sets, however. Instead, Apple has built set top boxes that provide enhanced sources of entertainment for your family set, and therein lies the problem.
You see, you don’t need an Apple TV, a Google TV, or any of several similar gadgets, to get some extra content on your TV. Manufacturers are now adding such video streaming services as Netflix and Amazon, along with wired and wireless network hardware so you can get online to retrieve that content. If your set doesn’t have it, no problem. Many popular Blu-ray players offer similar features for just a modest amount above the cost of an ordinary player.
Still, most TV fare actually is delivered by the set top boxes your cable or satellite provider offers free or for a small monthly rental. Even if the user interfaces are subpar, they are usually good enough to keep most people from choosing replacement products, such as the ones from TiVo. Indeed, TiVo’s biggest source of revenue these days comes from licensing, not to mention large payments received from their ongoing legal dispute with Dish Network.
Other than a more elegant interface, the sole advantage an Apple TV offers is the ability to stream iTunes content, from your Mac or PC, or direct from Apple’s servers. The fact that some of the TV networks aren’t involved, at least so far, in Apple’s 99 cent rental program, doesn’t help.
Some have suggested that Apple’s real end game is to, some day, build their own TV, infused with their own technologies, thus creating a revolution in that well-trod product category. The problem with this suggestion is that the market is quite saturated with products in all price categories. While there’s not a lot of differentiation among the various models, other than the presence of different flavors of 3D, it’s not as if customers upgrade all that often. A good set can last a decade or more; I’ve got a 27-inch CRT TV from 1994, and it still runs like new. It’s perfect for our second bedroom, and I don’t plan on replacing it unless or until it requires major repairs.
I don’t think I’m alone in expecting the TV, as with the refrigerator or washing machine, to serve as an appliance that’ll survive years of regular use. The one reason to switch is when some major compelling new feature is added, such as the arrival of high definition some years back. Even then, it required substantially lower prices before the mass market embraced the superior format.
What this means is that any expectation of an Apple entry into a hugely saturated market is likely wishful thinking. I’m not saying it won’t happen or can’t happen, but Apple carefully picks and chooses the product categories worth entering. Yes, it’s true that Apple TV isn’t the answer to providing an alternative to traditional TV connection gear, but it’s also clear that they see the potential and will keep chipping away at the possibilities until they devise a successful scheme. Maybe if they somehow manage to line up enough entertainment companies and offer a subscription-based alternative to traditional cable and satellite, along with the extras Apple offers via iTunes and third-party sources, such as Netflix, they’ll have a winner on their hands.
But I don’t see that happening in the form of a TV set bearing the Apple logo.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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