• Newsletter Issue #584

    February 7th, 2011


    Sometimes I prefer to take the topics for The Tech Night Owl LIVE beyond the Apple news of the week, but Apple’s marketing is so powerful, it’s hard to ignore the things they’re up to, were up to, or might be up to in the future when a new gadget is ready to debut.

    On Saturday night’s episode, we discussed, of course, the debut of the iPhone on the Verizon Wireless network, with the promise of fewer dropped calls, the arrival of News Corporation’s The Daily on the iPad, and a curious claim from Google that Microsoft is stealing their search results in Bing. You also heard overviews of last month’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, and possible answers to the question of whether this trade show will continue to survive without Apple’s participation.

    The guest list this week included author and commentator Ted LandauMacworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes, and Peter Cohen, from the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show and The Loop.

    As far as the Macworld Expo is concerned, I haven’t been back since Apple pulled out from the trade show. The only major hardware company present this year was HP, largely because they wanted to push their ePrint wireless printing capability, the only one officially supported by the iOS’s AirPrint feature. Major software companies, such as Adobe and Microsoft, were also absent, although the attendance was reportedly quite decent, perhaps somewhat better than in 2010. In saying that, though, the Expo PR people did not do well in getting out the word. In fact, I never had a single press release from them, unlike previous years.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, 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.


    So I’m watching last week’s episode of the USA Network’s lightweight but breezy legal drama, “Fairly Legal,” when the iPad becomes a plot element. Seems an Assistant DA, once married to the show’s lead character, wants to buy her a birthday present, and please don’t ask me to explain the fine details.

    Well, another character, who works as an assistant to the show’s star, suggested an iPad, and the ex-husband reluctantly agreed, and even handed that person his credit card. Well, to make a long story short, the assistant decided to keep the iPad for himself, and gave the show’s star a different present. As I said, don’t ask!

    None of this probably means much if you’re not a fan of “Fairly Legal.” What’s most important, however, is that Apple gear is ubiquitous on that show. In addition to the iPad’s presence towards the end of the episode, just about everyone in the legal office where most of the indoor action takes place has an iMac on their desks. The smartphones are, you guessed it, usually iPhones. Apple continues to receive tens of millions of dollars worth of free publicity from their product placements.

    This isn’t to say that other PC companies don’t have products on display, but it’s awfully hard to separate their logos without looking close. I’ve seen products from Dell and HP, but, as I said, you really have to be paying attention. The famous Apple logo is large, clear and relatively bright.

    Now I would not presume to suggest whether Apple provides all that gear free and clear, or whether a show’s producers or the network has to make an investment. I expect the economics vary from show to show.

    It’s also true that the heroes on a show are more apt to have Apple gear than the villains, perhaps a reflection of the Apple is nice, Microsoft is evil meme that has played out in the popular culture for so long. Regardless, the fact that the iPad was mentioned by name over and over again, and has been on other shows, goes a long way to explain why the competition is in serious trouble.

    When you talk of tablet computers, I expect just about all of you will think iPad. We’re talking of a gadget that’s been on the market for less than a year, even though tablets as a product category, have been available since the early part of the 21st century. Aside from a few vertical markets, such as doctor’s offices, few cared.

    Today there is the promise of a flood if so-called iPad killers. The most famous, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, was stung by tepid reviews, unusually high return rates (over 15%), and loads of corporate spin on the part of the manufacturer as to its popularity. After announcing that over two million units were sold in the last quarter, Samsung admitted that they were only talking about products shipped to dealers, not to customers. The sell-through was first said to be “quite small,” but when the press demanded answers, Samsung revised that statement to “quite smooth.”

    So either they truly misspoke, or realized they needed to do serious damage control really fast. That said, we still don’t know just how many people own the Galaxy Tab, a product that, I might remind you, uses an operating system that isn’t even certified by Google as proper for a tablet computer.

    Yes, there will supposedly be a new Android OS version, 3.0, allegedly compatible with tablets, which will arrive soon. But I wonder if the people who bought older tablets will be allowed to upgrade the software, or even if it will be compatible with their hardware. Things aren’t so certain in the Android universe.

    Just as interesting is the news of the increasing adoption of the iPad in school systems. The very day I heard about the iPad, I regarded it to be the perfect gadget for education. Every time I see a child lugging a thick backpack mostly laden with textbooks, I have to think that there must be a better way. Those books are quite heavy, and I worry how those young physiques are being impacted by the daily stress and strain on their backs.

    More to the point, if the textbook publishers finally support the iPad, they’ll find it a wonderful method to advance the teaching process. A student can use a single lightweight computer to study, do homework and, in fact, electronically submit their material to a teacher. AirPrint, assuming it expands beyond the support for HP devices, will be a great way to get hard copies, if they’re still needed.

    Yes, maybe the age-old art of fine penmanship will take a dive as more and more students adapt to digital education, but it’s also true that some of those iPads might be supplied with a stylus and proper handwriting recognition software.

    In fact, a recent Apple patent spoke of development of such a stylus, even though Steve Jobs has already said that fingers are the king of input devices. Of course, Apple is notorious for denigrating a product or technology simply because they are hard at work on a better version, so we’ll have to see if that patent is somehow reflected in a new Apple product, even if it’s earmarked largely for school systems and, perhaps, specialty markets.

    Now I don’t expect school systems to adopt iPads wholesale. Many are severely challenged when it comes to budgets, but if it could be shown that the costs of printed textbooks were actually higher than deploying iPads with all the printed materials in digital form, the question of cost wouldn’t be a factor. In fact, the iPad is already being tested in some of the most financially-challenged school systems of all, in Chicago and New York.

    From TV dramas to your local school, the iPad’s dominance may ultimately be far greater than anyone — even Apple — imagined.


    This weekend, there were published reports of the very first end-user Verizon iPhone reaching a customer’s hands. Review units to journalists have already been out for a while. It was also reported that Verizon’s initial allotment for preordering was sold out within two hours, though speculation varies as to just how many sales were actually tallied. Some suggest 100,000, while other estimates range as high as one million.

    The Verizon iPhone’s actually becomes available in retail outlets on February 10th, with reports that Apple’s initial production was in the two million range. As an historical footnote, the original iPhone 4’s debut last summer resulted in sales of 1.7 million. Since then, Apple has struggled to keep up with demand.

    Up till now, I wasn’t inclined to consider moving from AT&T. For the most part, service has been quite good, after some initial troubles with dropped calls that was largely remedied with service upgrades in my area. That is, until the last few days.

    Not only did calls suddenly begin to terminate with extreme prejudice, even though the signal strength remained within three to five bars, but I had a really difficult time Sunday morning, when calling a relative on his landline. In driving through one area where service was usually fairly good, the signal dropped down to a single bar, and the call quality deteriorated severely. The relative sounded as if he had begun to gargle, and I soon ended the call.

    After getting a couple of more dropped calls, I contacted AT&T while driving home. Although signal strength ranged between four and five bars, the connection froze, meaning I couldn’t hear anyone on the other end of the conversation. I finally terminated the call, and contacted AT&T from my home.

    In the end, between the two calls, I talked with five different AT&T representatives. The last one was in Level 2 (or Tech 2) support, meaning she should have been an expert on such matters. But she seemed no more capable than her predecessors in understanding what went wrong. She claimed that there were no reports of signal problems in the affected area, and that coverage should have been good.

    To make matters worse, it seemed as if the other reps never actually noted my account with information about their dealings with me. Each and every time, I had to verify my identify, the phone number of the handset that was used, along with the version of the iPhone software it was running.

    In the end, I was given a trouble ticket number, with the assurance it would be dealt with “within three days.” I hope, for their sake, they are correct. As I said, until this weekend, AT&T had provided pretty decent service for a cellular carrier. Call quality remained high, the number of dropped calls low, and I always got friendly service when I had to call about one issue or another. Maybe the recent problems resulted from an equipment failure, and will soon be fixed.

    I realize that AT&T doesn’t rate too well in the Phoenix area, nor anywhere else, apparently. Now that there is another source for the iPhone in the U.S., one that is noted for superior network quality, I may well consider my options carefully when the current contract expires in July. I realize that Verizon Wireless doesn’t yet offer simultaneous voice and data capability, but that might change by then either because of expected upgrades to CDMA technology, or the possible support of LTE, the 4G network scheme, in the next iPhone.

    As I write this article, AT&T is fighting back against the Verizon onslaught with TV ads touting the advantages of their network. If they ever hoped to retain customers, they will have to work twice as hard to raise network quality to the highest level possible. Time is short.


    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 #584”

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