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Newsletter Issue #602

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

You’d think that hitting a single home run would be enough for Apple. But, no, they had to hit three, and it’s a sure thing the competition is scrambling to catch up. First there was the revelation that Mac OS X Lion would debut in July at the Mac App Store for $29.99, just 99 cents above what we recently predicted. At the same time, you wonder about potential customers who don’t have access to fast Internet, or are saddled with severe bandwidth restrictions. Will Apple offer Lion on physical media for them and folks who, for whatever reason, never upgraded to Snow Leopard?

That’s just one of the key topics discussed on our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we focused first on the developments at the just-concluded Worldwide Developer’s Conference, which included another demonstration of Mac OS X Lion, the first presentation of some of the new features of iOS 5, due this fall, and Apple’s highly anticipated successor to the failed MobileMe service, known as iCloud.

Dissecting the ins and outs of these announcements were Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, and Peter Cohen, co-host of the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show, and Executive Editor for The Loop.

Author and commentator Steven Levy, a Wired Magazine Senior Writer, talked about his latest book, “In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives,” which examines Google from the inside out. He also gave you his unique slant on Apple’s WWDC announcements.

All in all, lots of new stuff to chew over, and I haven’t even begun to consider the fallout, such as that lawsuit challenging Apple’s right to use the name iCloud, which is discussed in our next article.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris explore the early history of UFO research with author Colin Bennett, author of a new edition of “Flying Saucers over the White House: The Inside Story of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt and His Official U.S. Airforce Investigation of UFOs.”

Coming June 19: Gene and Chris explore the incredible mystery of the Men In Black with Nicholas Redfern, author of “The Real Men In Black: Evidence, Famous Cases, and True Stories of These Mysterious Men and their Connection to UFO Phenomena.” Real, fake, jokesters, government agents, or evidence of frightening paranormal encounters?

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.

OF APPLE AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

At any time, Apple Inc. might be involved in a number of lawsuits. They sue someone for an alleged patent violation and other causes, while others are suing them for similar reasons. In the end, most of them will be settled one way or another. Apple might write a check, or receive one, assuming the case isn’t dismissed outright.

While I grant that a small company would be scared to death of having to confront the possibility of lawsuits, with a large, multinational corporation, it’s just the cost of doing business. At the same time, when new products are being developed, a team of lawyers will be standing by to submit the requisite patent applications, and make sure that, as much as possible, no other party’s intellectual property is being infringed upon.

And if someone else holds the rights to a particular technology, you can bet a company such as Apple will be busy trying to obtain licenses and, in some cases, buy the patent portfolio, perhaps the entire company, outright. So Apple’s A4 and A5 processors, basically customized versions of standard ARM chips, were developed by a team that joined Apple when their original employer, P.A. Semi, was acquired.

Just the other day, Apple’s attempts to use the trademark iCloud resulted in a new set of complications. Now you’d expect that Apple would have done the due diligence to seek out who might own the trade name, Internet domains, and deal with everyone using any variant of iCloud.

According to published reports, Apple began applying for the relevant iCloud trademarks last December in various parts of the world. They also acquired the iCloud.com domain and U.S. trademark from its original owner, Xcerion of Sweden, and have registered a bunch of related domains in recent months.

But wait a minute, what about iCloud Communications?

It seems an Arizona-based company by that name has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging trademark infringement, claiming that they had been using that name for “identical to or closely related” goods and/or services since 2005. How could Apple not know?

Now, according to the information on iCloud Communications’ site, they provide business and residential VoIP “solutions,” which means, of course, Internet phone service. The main emphasis, though, appears to be business based, since they offer both the service and the hardware. Whether an online storage system could possibly be confused with an Internet telephony service is questionable. But I suppose they could always hope for a nice payday from Apple if the courts side with them.

Now even though I’ve lived in Arizona for 18 years, and entirely in and around Phoenix, I can tell you that I’ve never, ever heard of iCloud Communications, which is located in that city. But that may just be because their particular brand of service hasn’t been on my radar. I do use an Internet telephone service, Phone Power, which is more oriented towards consumers than businesses.

On the other hand, you’d think Apple’s legal team would have made a concerted effort to find out just what companies might be using the iCloud name or some variation thereof. That said, from a cursory look at the site geticloud.com, iCloud Communications doesn’t seem to be asserting a trademark for their company name. Despite the lawsuit’s claim that they’ve been around since 2005, there are contradictory claims on the site, one referring to a “25-year track record,” and, just a few paragraphs later, a “20-year track record.” Maybe they can’t make up their minds, or perhaps the company was once known under a different name.

Regardless, it’ll be up to the courts, and perhaps juries, to decide if a telecommunications company using the iCloud moniker can be confused with Apple’s online storage services. If they do, I suppose Apple can easily buy their way out of that complication.

At the same time, it’s not that Apple has been free of creating product names a little prematurely, before they have the rights to use them. Consider a certain Cisco product known as the iPhone, an uncomfortable situation that sent Apple’s lawyers scurrying to line up the rights.

Or perhaps Apple has the hubris to believe that they can buy their way out of any trademark battle. After all, they did defeat The Beatles and their holding company, right? Well, in that case, they won by waving lots of cash the way of the surviving members of the Fab Four and their heirs, which also gave Apple exclusive rights, for now at least, to distribute digital versions of The Beatles recordings.

In passing, there’s yet another potential intellectual property issue confronting Apple. Some time back, Apple rejected an iOS app known as “Wi-Fi Sync,” which ended up succeeding on the Cydia store, available to people who have jailbroken their iPhones. Well, it seems Apple is adding a new feature to iOS 5 known as, you guessed it, Wi-Fi Sync. The product icons are suspiciously similar too, with the original a shaded blue, and Apple’s a somewhat more refined version in shaded silver.

That means one more potential legal hurdle for Apple, or maybe just another check to make it all go away.

FROM SATELLITE TO CABLE AND BACK AGAIN

As most of you regular readers know, I’m always happy to try new things, particularly when I can save some money in doing so, and get better service besides.

Take our TV reception. Last year, I ditched Dish Network because the prices seemed to be increasing almost every month despite a two-year contract that specified certain discounts. They always had an excuse, and, besides, when they offered a 99 cent price for pay-per-view for a single holiday weekend last summer, I could never get the service to work. They never had an answer as to why, so I gave them the heave-ho when I moved to a new apartment.

So we returned to Cox Communications, a traditional cable provider that boasted of having more PPV offerings, and superior customer service. They even gave me a decent bundle that included broadband Internet. However, the installation at our new residence was glitchy. It took two installers to get the services to function properly, despite the fact that this dwelling was prewired by Cox.

All right, so I did receive credits for lost service, and the delayed installations, although it took a few complaints to set things right. But that didn’t end the troubles.

Every so often, we encountered brief audio interruptions on different shows. After a couple of service visits, Cox said I should just disable all but one screen resolution setting on their high definition set top box, which is made by the Scientific Atlanta division of Cisco. My choice (I picked 1080i), but that meant that broadcasts employing other resolutions suffered a slight loss in picture quality. Well, it did eliminate the audio problem, mostly, which was evidently caused by the screen resolution refreshes. Clearly that was a bug in the set top box’s software.

Just two weeks ago, I saw a special offer for DirecTV in the local newspaper. I tried them once before at the old apartment, only to have the installer give up without properly checking the signal from the service’s satellites. It appears they also failed to bring the right mounting hardware, and that’s why Dish Network got the nod.

Well, this time out, it appeared I might be poised for failure once again. The dish needs to point in a roughly southern direction, but the patio railing on my apartment faces east. Since the apartment complex is tolerant of satellite dishes — the only restriction is not to drill holes into anything — the installer attempted a setup that pointed the dish at an angle. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough clearance from the side wall, probably no more than a few inches short, so he abandoned the attempt.

As I was about to cancel the account, DirecTV support suggested they send a supervisor for second option, and perhaps a few installation alternatives. I agreed, and it took three attempts to mount the dish successfully, but he was able to adjust the swivel post to give enough clearance to receive a perfect signal from the required three satellites. It was a close call.

He also patched into Cox’s wiring, which was located in a storage closet on the patio, which meant he didn’t have to actually run any extra cable, except from the dish to that connection panel. Within 15 minutes after the satellite installation was shored up with two support brackets, using nothing more than thick screws to avoid damage to anything, he went about setting up the two set top boxes to complete the installation.

It’s still early in the game. But the audio quality from DirecTV is clearly superior to that of Cox by a huge margin. Suddenly stations that delivered somewhat distant, muffled sound becomes crisp and clear. I can actually hear high frequencies from these channels that were previously absent. Picture quality is also noticeably sharper, less pixelated, and there are lots more high definition broadcasts to choose from; 3D is available too, but I’m not prepared to make an investment in a new set right now.

One station is lacking, though, and that is the HD version of BBC America, home of, of course, “Dr. Who.” DirecTV isn’t promising anything, but they claim to be adding new HD stations all the time. As it is, the standard definition version is at least acceptable.

With rebates and discounts, service for the first few months will cost me next to nothing. We’re tied in to a two-year deal, which means an early termination fee will apply after the first 30 days. This is also the first time I’ve had DirecTV, and I appreciate the extra time they spent trying to make an impossible installation succeed. I don’t mind saving money too.

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
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Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis