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Newsletter Issue #603


In the wake of my comments about the curious nature of a certain lawsuit from a Phoenix-based Internet company charging Apple with infringement of the iCloud trademark, the news came down that Apple and Nokia had settled their patent rights differences at least. All it took was a team of lawyers hammering out a fair settlement, and Apple agreeing to write a few large checks that will have little if any impact on their bottom line.

There’s also a report that the lawyers from Apple and Samsung are talking about possible settlements. It’s not that Samsung wants to lose Apple, a multibillion dollar customer for their components.

It’s amazing how far Apple’s huge war chest might go. Someone has actually speculated that Apple could easily acquire Nokia, HTC, Motorola and loads of lesser companies and still have plenty of cash left. But that’s not their way.

Now when it comes to the legal skirmishes over intellectual property, that was merely one of the key topics discussed on our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we were joined by Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, who briefly outlined the lawsuits in which Apple is embroiled that involve trademarks and intellectual property before going on at length about the continuing problems with the Google Android OS, Chrome OS, and, of course, his favorite target, Microsoft.

You also heard from Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who explained why he believes Microsoft shouldn’t try to be Apple, the problems with Google’s online only Chrome OS, and other hot topics in the mobile computing universe.

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

Coming June 26: Gene and Chris revisit the mystery of crystal skulls with archeologist Stephen Mehler. This has been one of the most controversial topics on our forums in recent weeks. You’ll hear fascinating discussions about mysterious objects, ancient mysteries, the Rosicrucian Order, and other topics.

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.


The news from Canada, and Research In Motion, isn’t so good for the company’s employees who might soon find themselves without jobs because of the companies latest troubles. While they are still increasing sales and making profits, growth is way behind the curve. And, no, I do not wish unemployment on people. I’ve been there a few times in my life, and it’s nothing less than a downright miserable, humiliating experience.

So far is RIM is concerned, the troubled BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, despite a large marketing campaign, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Yes, RIM claims to have shipped 500,000 copies in the first few weeks on sale, but that doesn’t necessarily mean 500,000 people are actually buying them. Besides, the figure is dwarfed by Apple’s ability to deliver millions and millions of iPads into the hands of customers over the same period.

The real issue here is whether anyone cares about the PlayBook, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy, or any other would-be entrant into the alleged tablet marketplace. But the real question, one that CNET belatedly discovered, is that, for all intents and purposes, the iPad is the tablet market. Period.

Understand that the rest of the consumer electronics industry isn’t simply abandoning development of tablets. You can bet there will be loads of models introduced every single month. Your eyes and ears will be assaulted with noisy  TV ads touting what is alleged to be the latest and greatest, but at least you can fast forward through the clutter if you’re watching a delayed playback of your favorite show on your DVR.

At the same time, such retail chains as Staples are busy setting up special sections to display and demonstrate the latest and greatest tablets. Well, that is except the iPad, which gets its own space, assuming the dealer has them in stock. In passing, Stapes is not an authorized Apple reseller, which is their loss.

You see, that’s the dirty secret the rest of the consumer electronics industry won’t confront for a second, which is that Apple found a solution for the stillborn tablet concept and ran with it. Everything that has come since has struggled to bask in the iPad glow, with manufacturers deluding themselves that customers really wanted tablets all along, not that customers really wanted iPads.

Microsoft still exists in the alternate universe where their concept of the tablet, basically a hobbled together Windows note-book with a touchscreen, is the one that must ultimately gain traction. After all, don’t you want your snazzy touch interface and Excel too? How can you survive in a world that doesn’t recognize the existence of a Microsoft Office suite?

Certainly most members of the media haven’t begun to comprehend this nasty truth, that Apple has most of the tablet space to themselves, except for the rush of bottom feeders moving in and out of the market as sales fail to attain expected levels. Yes, there will be loads of cheap knockoffs, particularly in third world countries, where struggling populations cannot afford to buy first class gear. Maybe you’ll find them catching dust at stores that carry discontinued merchandise, outdated products that the original resellers couldn’t move.

I know that I’ve seen the impact of the iPad phenomenon up close and personal. My wife of 35 years, Barbara, has never been  much of a computer person. Yes, she can check email, visit a Web site and all, but she just hasn’t been interested in spending more than a few minutes at a time checking one of my Macs.

Then there’s that iPad 2 that Apple sent me to review.

She had casually considered asking me for an iPad ever since the first one came out, but hadn’t paid much attention. This time, she listened. After working on it for a few weeks, she’s very much convinced that I should buy her one once Apple requires that unit’s return. Sure, most of the time she checks out fashion and/or cosmetic-related sites, but she has begun to expand her repertoire. Without actually reading any instructions, she occasionally asks for a clarification on how a certain feature is supposed to work. She’s frustrated slightly by the lack of support for Flash, because some sites depend on Adobe’s animation tool, but otherwise hasn’t for a moment suggested I review someone else’s tablet that does support that feature.

This microcosm of the world does demonstrate the possibility that Apple is correct that some iPad customers do not actually own or use a PC. That is but one of the reasons for the PC-free capability that will debut this fall with iOS 5, and the release of the final version if iCloud.

Overall, I don’t expect that the venerable PC, demoted to just another digital device by decree of Steven P. Jobs, will disappear. At the same time, the tech industry clearly sees the handwriting on the wall and they are hoping, against hope, that their efforts to displace the iPad will some day bear fruit.

Based on recent reviews, it’s appears to be true that tablets running the Android OS are getting better, largely due to improvements Google is making in their tablet OS. But there’s still a serious dearth of tablet apps for the Google platform, and little incentive for developers to jump in. Sales of the hardware aren’t enough to support those apps, not to mention the fact that even the regular Android OS has yet to demonstrate that it is a profitable place to go for developers who actually hope to make a living from their stuff.

So I’m glad to see that the editors at CNET have discovered a crucial fact that has eluded much of the tech media up till now. There may be a tablet market, but it continues to be a synonym for the iPad.


I don’t want to say the consumer electronics industry is, collectively, galactically stupid. But they sure make foolish decisions in the eternal hope to discover the next profit center.

Right now, high definition TV has reached a plateau. Most of the people in the developed world who want them have probably already made the leap. Lower cost sets are the result of intense competition for a place in the sun, and the fact that the cheap models, with smaller screens, are suitable for second or third sets in a home. But that assumes there’s a need for such a thing. You see, we have a 27-inch CRT-based Sony from the early 1990s, way before high definition was a dream in the minds of any consumer. That’s the TV my son grew up with, and, a tribute to great build quality, it still operates perfectly, but isn’t used often enough to wear out.

I suppose, when I next have some extra cash, I might consider a 32-inch LCD. There are perfectly serviceable models from the major electronics makers for less than $300, although I would not expect them to survive for 16 years or more. Then again, by then I’ll probably be too old to care.

But faced with the possibility of lower profits, TV manufacturers are hoping they have found salvation, and lots of revenue, from 3D. It all began with “Avatar,” the multi-billion box office sensation that made 3D relevant once again. It doesn’t matter that millions of you went to the theaters and didn’t bother with the glasses, and that others bought the 2D DVD version and enjoyed it just as much as the eye-popping movie edition. 3D must be the next great thing, so therefore more and more movies must released in 3D. Even if they aren’t shot that way, a few months in the special effects lab will set things right.

It doesn’t matter that it costs more to see a 3D version of a film. Hollywood will savor profits from just about any source, and the movie industry would fare far worse if we couldn’t watch Hal Jordan, a.k.a. the Green Lantern, performing his ring-based magic in old fashioned 2D. Or maybe that’s the wrong example, since the Green Lantern has been somewhat of an underachiever at the box office.

There are certainly plenty of 3D TVs available. The key electronics companies are making their higher-end models 3D. Some require you to use expensive glasses, others cheaper glasses (the passive version, similar to what you get in the movieplex). But the real question is whether people care.

Sure, when you acquire a top-grade TV, even standard and high definition 2D reproduction is superb. If the prices are similar to the models they replace, even better. 3D is just the icing on the cake. Well, that’s until you consider what you have to do to actually see something in 3D.

First, you have to check if your cable or satellite provider offers 3D. DirecTV, which I just added less than two weeks ago, does offer a smattering of 3D programming, both movies and sporting events. Otherwise, you have to depend on a Blu-ray player, but not the regular one. You’d have to dump your existing deck for a 3D alternative. Well, at least 3D models are quickly supplanting 2D for almost anything above $149, so it’s not a serious loss, if your DVD player is aging, or you haven’t upgraded to the magnificent Blu-ray. Well, magnificent so long as you don’t want to resume playback where you left off, which, on most discs, forces you to scroll through the movie all over again to get to the stopping point. That’s a feature lost in the transition from regular to Blu-ray DVD.

Unlike previous failed excursions into 3D, I am beginning to think the current craze isn’t just a flash in the pan. Hollywood will continue to churn out 3D epics so long as the public is willing to pay the higher ticket price. As more and more “software” in 3D becomes available, customers will want to see them in all their glory. Thus the sets and 3D Blu-ray players will begin to sell in reasonable quantities.

In the end, though, the Achilles heel of 3D is what it has always been, those dreadful glasses. The technologies that promise spectacle-free 3D are still in development. If they can deliver the goods in new gear with picture quality comparable to the models saddled with glasses, without sacrificing 2D reproduction, they might have a winner.

For now, however, I’m probably going to sit this one out. Even if I had a spare $1,500-2,500 cash burning a hole in my pocket, I might consider spending it elsewhere. My older 1080p high definition TV works just fine, and the image quality of current models isn’t so much better that I’m tempted to replace it anytime soon.

That, unfortunately, is not what the consumer electronics industry would like to hear.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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