One way to keep Apple prosperous is for competitors to continue to fail. Now I’m not about to suggest Google is necessarily a failure, but the things they’ve done with the Android OS, for handheld devices, and the forthcoming Chrome OS, for note-books, are destined to cause them loads of grief.
Just the other day, I read a report that revealed that most owners of Android-based smartphones were vulnerable to serious security dangers. Google, to their credit, has fixed the problem in the latest Android OS releases, but there’s no guarantee that customers will be able to upgrade their handsets. You see, that’s the province of the manufacturer and/or wireless carrier, and so far, there’s no indication that they care enough about the potential problems to provide reliable update mechanisms. It’s not unusual to wait three months for a critical update; sometimes you can’t get it unless you “root” or jailbreak your smartphone, and download and compile the OS from Google’s site. It’s not a casual process.
The handset maker sells their stuff to the carrier, who should take responsibility, but really only cares about your wireless service. The handset, to them, is simply a commodity designed to get you to sign a long-term contract for monthly buckets of minutes and data plans. But this is nothing new. Even before smartphones become so popular, if you needed your handset’s software upgraded, you’d have to trek to a factory store, in the hope that they’d have the time to run it for you.
When it comes to RIM, the co-CEOs continue to have difficulties enunciating clear visions for the company’s future. The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet was clearly released prematurely, with significant limitations, such as the requirement that you tether the device to a standard BlackBerry to use an email client. The corporate spin has it that this is a security measure, but it’s the sort of thing over 20 million iPad owners haven’t had to worry about one bit. Worse is the fact that the PlayBook, despite a costly ad campaign, is seriously underperforming in the marketplace and, to add insult to injury, it appears that lots of dissatisfied customers are returning them.
Well, we covered those subjects in detail this week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we explored the ongoing problems with Google’s mobile platform, which includes the Android OS and the Chrome OS, and Research In Motion’s failing efforts to join the tablet revolution with the BlackBerry PlayBook.
Featured guests included: Peter Cohen, co-host of the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, and cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris talk “shop,” as we discuss our research over the years, and fearlessly answer questions posted by our forum members about anything and everything, including our favorite movies, favorite paranormal books, and, of course, our least-favorite episodes of The Paracast.
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 saw a perfectly dumb Best Buy TV spot the other day, basically touting the arrival of a special tablet section where you can get the latest and greatest contenders in the new wave of mobile computers. The clear message conveyed is that tablets are taking over, and you might as well go to the U.S.A.’s largest consumer electronics retailer to make sure that you get the one you want.
Certainly the arrival of the tablet has been heralded for years. Both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have offered Microsoft’s vision of the tablet, which was basically a note-book with a touchscreen that ran a version of Windows. The original concept had those portables using a stylus to direct onscreen functions of one sort or another.
In the real world, it went nowhere, except for adoption in some vertical markets where the awkwardness of switching from screen and stylus to keyboard was deemed useful. I know our family doctor as several at his office. He uses one, his wife, the office manager, has another, and so do the various physician assistants. But they clearly aren’t fully satisfied with the software or the interface, and it seems that office visits take far longer than they should. What that means is that fewer patients are served, which means less income for the practice.
So when Apple announced the iPad, you just knew that the industry pundits were derisive. OK, Apple is doing just fine with the iPhone, but doesn’t the iPad strike you as little more than a swollen iPod touch? How could they possibly succeed with some a lame-brained concept?
Well, at least they thought it was lame-brained, until millions and millions of customers lined up to buy iPads. That situation continued when the iPad 2 arrived, although overall sales have reportedly been hurt severely by Apple’s struggles to ramp up production fast enough. Indeed, as of this weekend, there’s still a one to two-week backorder situation at Apple’s online store. Getting one from your local dealer — and there are more and more of them every month — also can be a hit or miss proposition. However, I don’t hear so many reports these days about people actually lining up at stores just to get first grabs at the latest shipments. It was also reported that Apple is getting a hand on the inventory problems at long last.
In any case, I suppose the tech industry was wishing and hoping that the success of the iPad would mirror that of smartphones. Yes, Apple is selling loads of iPhones, but there’s plenty of room for large competitors. Indeed, despite the fragmentation and well-known security issues on the Google Android OS platform, more of these devices are being sold than iPhones.
But it appears history isn’t fated to repeat itself with the iPad. Apple is using a typically smart ad campaign, which concentrates strictly on what you can accomplish with the iPad. Motorola is trying to sell the failed Xoom with noisy special effects. To RIM, which has its own difficulties trying to succeed in a very competitive marketplace, the BlackBerry PlayBook offers “true multitasking,” because you can run a handful of movie trailers simultaneously on a seven-inch display. But the PlayBook is saddled with limitations, such as the lack of an email client and native apps. So it’s no wonder sales aren’t high enough, and unexpectedly large numbers of buyers are returning them.
It didn’t help RIM when they had to recall 1,000 units because of an operating system problem. Indeed, the OS is itself different from the one that powers the BlackBerry. Rather than modify the one they had, they went on a shopping trip and licensed a Linux-style OS known as QNX Neutrino RTOS. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with RIM’s decision, if that was the most expedient way to get the product to market. On the other hand, it’s also true that the folks at HP are already pointing out the similarities of the PlayBook’s interface to the WebOS from HP’s Palm division.
Of course that takes us to HP, whose sole recent tablet entrant, not featuring the technology they acquired when they bought Palm, only sold a few thousand copies. That, to them, was a success, although Apple does far better in a single hour.
Now when you look at all those other tablets, at least the ones that are now available, or will be soon, you basically see someone’s effort to imitate the iPad, and add a few features that focus groups or bullet point presentations indicate are essential, or at least not on Apple’s product. Beyond “true multitasking,” there is, of course, Adobe Flash. Apple doesn’t have it, and won’t have it, therefore it is essential. Besides, you can’t see the “whole Internet” without Flash, despite the problems.
Even to this day, I’ve yet to see Adobe really answer the challenge Steve Jobs posed in his infamous blog on the subject. Where is the version that doesn’t consume loads of resources when playing a video, mostly supports existing Flash content, and won’t cause your mobile device to bog down more often than you like? Indeed, as an Apple developer, Adobe could have long ago staged a public demonstration of Flash running satisfactorily on an iPhone or iPad. Instead, they cry crocodile tears. But that doesn’t stop Apple’s competitors from touting this feature on their tablets.
And I haven’t begun to discuss the serious lack of tablet-native apps on every platform but the iOS.
So is there really a tablet market yet? Maybe some day, but right now the competition has been missing the most important ingredient of all, and that’s sales.
Sometimes you just have to try something to see the potential. I mean, there are loads and loads of apps that enhance the camera in your iPhone and iPad 2. Some add extra spit and polish to the internal image enhancements based on the iOS HDR feature, while others let you build fancy albums with which to amaze your friends and family.
Among the over 350,000 resident apps, you can discover all sorts of possibilities that will enhance your creativity, stretch your imagination. But sometimes you actually have to try one of those apps to understand its potential.
So, for the sake of discussion, just imagine a possible scene on the hit ABC series “Castle,” where mystery writer and amateur detective Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion, the cult actor who starred in the short-lived “Firefly” series) and New York city homicide detective Kate Beckett (the stunning Stana Katic) go about their business investigating a murder. Castle whips out his iPhone and begins to shoot a movie of the crime scene, and, with appropriately dramatic flourishes, swipes the picture on the screen up and down, back and forth, to capture as much visual data as possible.
Well, take that back. Although Castle once used that famous phrase, “there’s an app for that,” as part of the show’s cute and snappy banter, they are actually saddled with smartphones that use Windows Phone 7. So evidently the producers are Microsoft fans, or the network got a large spiff for the product placements.
But that shouldn’t stop iPhone, iPod touch and iPad 2 owners from buying Boinx Software’s snazzy $1.99 app, You Gotta See This.
What You Gotta See This does is best explained in this short paragraph from the publisher: “The app creates collages of images that you take by slowly moving the camera around in 3D space. The resulting images are somewhat similar to what is called ‘panography’ or ‘Hockneyesque’ (after the artist David Hockney).
This clever motion sensor functionality is based on the gyroscope feature on the iPhone 4, 4th generation iPod touch, or the iPad 2. The latest and greatest, version 2.0, is a Universal app, meaning it works natively on any of these products. But Apple’s Photo app only displays a preview of the captured image, so you’ll want to sync it with your Mac and PC to see the full, glorious effect.
While I do not normally suggest you upgrade your mobile computing hardware to use a single app, You Gotta See This may change your mind. It is certainly suitable for family fun, but I seriously wonder whether the business community might also discover the joy and serve as inspiration for future feature enhancements.
Now The Night Owl doesn’t normally spend much time reviewing iOS apps. But here I must make an exception. I’m a procrastinating photo and movie maker nowadays, but You Gotta See This is helping me change my ways. It may do the same for you too.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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