• Newsletter Issue #583

    January 31st, 2011


    In recent days, I’ve written about such issues as cell phone tyranny, where the carriers basically force you to accept certain deals you might otherwise refuse simply because there are few alternatives, if you want a specific handset. With the iPhone, beginning in February, there will be two (but no lessening of the tyranny factor), with the remaining pair of large U.S. carriers still on the waiting list. But don’t get me wrong! I do think that both Sprint and T-Mobile will get their chance at offering the iPhone soon, since the new iPhone contracts are non-exclusive.

    But that was only a part of what we talked about on the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. First up, we featured author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, who returned to follow up on his initial reaction to Apple’s Mac App Store, and his expectations for its ongoing development.

    Columnist John Martellaro, of The Mac Observer, a former Apple employee, offered insights on Apple’s executive team, and why the company will live long and prosper even if CEO Steve Jobs leaves the company. He also presented his suggestions about a clever marketing plan for the next iPad.

    You’ll also heard from Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director from Laptop magazine, who talked at length about such issues as wireless carrier tyranny, and some of the issues confronting users of Google’s Android OS.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to introduce MUFON Eastern Director George Filer, a long-time UFO researcher who publishes an online newsletter, Filer’s Files, which contains up-to-date information on recent sightings and other developments. During this exclusive interview, Filer will detail some of his own UFO encounters when he was an Air Force pilot.

    Coming February 6, 2011: Co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to introduce long-time UFO researcher David Halperin, who began his UFO studies as a teenager, explored UFOs in connection with ancient religious traditions of heavenly ascension and the visions of Ezekiel, and other events. He is author of a novel based on his life as a teen UFO researcher, “Journal of a UFO Investigator: A Novel.”

    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 think most of you agree that we often pay far too much attention to the goings on at Apple. Part of this may be the fact that they are not willing to share daily tidbits with us; it’s more like every month or two, when there’s a new product or service to promote. For the rest of the time, the media is left to fend for themselves.

    So we have stories about something Apple is about to do, in all its granular variations, what they’ve done, what they haven’t done, and what they can do better. When all is said and done, it’s hard to find any Apple move that hasn’t been thoroughly analyzed by the informed and otherwise.

    Sure, we cover Apple Inc. extensively, as we’ve done since 1999. Prior to that, I worked at several Mac-oriented magazines, and have also written about the company for such mainstream publications as USA Today. I suppose you can say I’ve fallen into the trap, but I’m also very much dedicated to getting things right. If Apple is going to be covered so minutely, at least let the coverage be based on reality as much as possible.

    However, this state of affairs also means that some stories about Apple get overblown, far beyond their relative importance in the scheme of things.

    A prime example is the long-awaited arrival of the iPhone on the Verizon Wireless network. From the very first day Apple’s iconic smartphone was announced, the media and potential customers all wondered why Verizon wasn’t on the map. At the time, AT&T was known as Cingular Wireless, a company cobbled together from mergers, with known network problems.

    Looking back at how it all played out, Apple made the correct decision. Verizon uses the CDMA protocol, which is only recognized in a small number of countries outside the U.S. Apple wanted a single product that could be sold in as many countries as possible, which mean GSM, and specifically the version that AT&T employs. What’s more, Apple required complete control over the user experience, and they expected to provide full support for the iPhone. That’s a polar opposite to the way the sales experience works with other mobile handsets, where the carrier delivers both the experience and support.

    Indeed, when you call AT&T for customer service, you can choose the first option, which transfers you to Apple for iPhone support, or the second, which takes you to AT&T’s support and billing departments. Would Verizon Wireless have accepted a unique deal of this sort? Maybe, maybe not. That’s not something that any of the parties to the early discussions will say in public, although you have to consider the skepticism at the time. How could Apple, a company that had never built a smartphone, create a successful version, and how dare they demand full control of the user experience?

    As many expected, AT&T had a whale of a time managing the data consumption of iPhone owners. Saturated networks and dropped calls all conspired to provide a difficult situation in some of the larger U.S. cities, such as New York and San Francisco. Although AT&T’s network is theoretically capable of much faster network speeds than Verizon, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get a good signal.

    That is a major reason why the iPhone’s presence on the Verizon network has become so important. That and the fact that there are loads of Verizon customers who might be willing to switch to AT&T to get an iPhone, but are stymied by a long-term contract, or inferior network quality in their locales.

    Absent these considerations, a Verizon Wireless iPhone would present little more than a simple announcement that Apple signed up another retailer for their products. Certainly the arrival of Macs and other Apple gear at the Best Buy consumer electronics chain got relatively minor coverage, even when the number of stores carrying the lineup expanded.

    The other story that probably got way too much coverage was Antennagate. Someone discovered that, if you hold an iPhone 4 a certain way, the signal strength as indicated in the number of bars displayed went down noticeably. Sometimes the call would drop. Once a YouTube video of this phenomenon appeared, you can bet the genie was out of the bottle. I know that many people, upon being alerted to the possibilities of the notorious “death grip,” decided to give it a try. It didn’t matter that very few iPhone 4 customers actually complained about signal quality.

    The story should have ended as soon as it was revealed that other smartphones had the same problem. If you held them the “wrong way,” signal strength would also deteriorate. Some even documented this condition in their manuals, while others put labels on the sensitive areas with the admonition not to touch.

    Of course Steve Jobs didn’t help matters when he wrote a sarcastic response to someone who complained, saying they should just hold it differently. Apple PR poured salt over the open wound when they announced that the real problem was the fact that the signal strength display on the iPhone used the wrong algorithm. They fixed the problem, but the death grip remained.

    Consumer Reports, by dint of a poorly designed laboratory test that duplicated the death group, made matters worse. Suddenly the largest and, sad to say, most respected consumer testing publication in the U.S., declared the iPhone 4 persona non grata because of this limitation, even though the product otherwise had the highest test results. Consumer Reports apparently didn’t consider replicating the problem with other smartphones using the same technique real people use, which meant holding them in ways clearly documented by Apple and others.

    To this day, Consumer Reports still claims it’s all Apple’s fault; they are unable to acknowledge that their test methods are faulty, because the claim that the iPhone 4’s “nasty” symptoms are unique is clearly false.

    As I said, this is a story that got too much traction. The customers, however, knew better, because the iPhone 4 continues to set sales records for Apple, and they can hardly keep up with demand for the product. The questionable objections of Consumer Reports may have been heeded by some, but most people were too smart to be taken in by a faulty review.

    These days, we don’t talk much about Antennagate, except as an historical aside. I imagine that, after the iPhone is on the Verizon network for a few months, we’ll start to forget that story as well.


    It’s clear to me that the consumer electronics industry is wishing and hoping that you’ll begin to buy 3D TV sets real soon now. Yes, the initial reception has been lukewarm, but the reasons are obvious. The costs of the new products are high, the need for expensive and sometimes uncomfortable glasses, and the dearth of 3D fare, all conspire to make people think twice, or three times, before making that investment.

    Reports from the Consumer Electronics show earlier this month indicate that the electronics makers are ready to try something new. New models are being offered that support the regular 3D glasses, the type you get from your local multiplex to watch, say, “The Green Hornet” in all its glory. Yes, the pictures are dimmer, but the glasses won’t break your budget.

    Some prototypes are being demonstrated without the need for glasses, although it will probably take a few years before the kinks are worked out, and they become affordable.

    In an unusual twist, Toshiba was displaying a laptop that offered a clever slant on the ability to display 3D images without glasses. As the viewer watches a game, video, or movie, sensors on the note-book detect your eye movements, and compensate. Folks on the scene were impressed, but the technology is largely a gimmick, one totally useless if more than a single person wants to watch, since two sets of eyes cannot both be scanned.

    The product remains at the prototype level for now. The Toshiba 3D note-books you can actually buy require glasses, same as their larger TV brethren. This also means that you probably won’t see the new technology on your flat panel TV anytime soon, but it’s clear the tech companies realize that 3D won’t come unto its own until those dreadful glasses are history.

    Of course, the potential for 3D will be far better if there was actually a lot of programming in the new format. Yes, I realize that “Avatar” made 3D seem mainstream, but the movie industry has so far chosen similar movies sparingly. There aren’t enough screens out there for widespread adoption, and I expect customers are going to reject the higher admission prices unless the flick is first rate. Other than “Avatar” and perhaps “Alice in Wonderland,” most 3D movies have been fair to middling successes. Most of last year’s box office smashes, such as “Inception,” were strictly 2D.

    The fact that the consumer electronics and entertainment industries are investing a bundle on 3D does indicate that there is a future potential. The kinks still have to be worked out, you should be able to watch such fare without glasses, prices have to be reasonable, and there has to be a lot of software, such as movies and TV shows, before the public takes the leap.

    In passing, let me tell you that, after watching “Avatar” in the original 3D format, I saw the Blu-ray 2D version on my home set, and I didn’t feel I was missing all that much. I’m not alone, and I expect that the entertainment industry and TV makers will have to work extra hard to change the minds of a skeptical customer base before 3D comes into its own.


    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #583”

    1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by stuart001uk, Gene Steinberg. Gene Steinberg said: Here's our latest Tech Night Owl Newsletter: : Newsletter Issue #583 http://bit.ly/fUyeRw […]

    2. Dave Barnes says:

      You forgot to mention “screwgate”. Pentalobe screws. OMG! What will those Apple engineers think of next?
      Meanwhile, I am going downtown to talk with the Fire Chief about those 5-sided operating stems on fire hydrants.

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