You have to wonder about the people who seem to have nothing better to do than to spend their lives searching Apple patent filings. I mean, doesn’t one’s life present more meaningful challenges?
Consider that a high-tech company such as Apple will file patents over every little thing as a defensive move. If they don’t get the first rights for an invention, there’s always the danger that some other company will get there first. That means that if Apple ever decides to use that technology, they’d have to pay someone else a licensing fee, and that has happened more often than not.
Such a posture also means that many inventions will receive patents even though there will never, ever, be a product that exploits that technology. That takes us to the complaints over whether Apple plans to install an iPhone camera kill switch in the iOS. Freedom of speech advocates are up in arms over a patent filing that was entered 18 months ago, but only recently came to light.
Without repeating at length what I’ve said already, let me just explain that there are legitimate reasons to stop photographs from being taken that do not infringe on your legitimate rights. Concertgoers may be prevented from shooting pictures of a concert, simply because the rights to distribute such pictures are owned by the act, the concert promoter, the record company, or any other agency that chooses to profit from an artist’s labors. In addition, a company may want to prevent employees, or just visitors, from shooting pictures in the presence of trade secrets. Again, that’s a legitimate reason to still the cameras.
As you might expect, this was one of the key topics discussed this week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, co-host of the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, came out swinging about the rampant speculation over an Apple patent that may create an iPhone camera kill switch, and the brouhaha over the Final Cut Pro X release.
Macworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes offered yet another reality check about Apple patent filings, the Final Cut Pro X controversy, and growing anticipation about their next great OS, Mac OS X Lion.
Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus presented his unique slant about the Final Cut Pro X affair, and went on to discuss all sorts of personal technology topics, including the possible future of Apple TV.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris introduce former National Enquirer reporter Paul Bannister, author of “Tabloid Man and the Baffling Chair of Death.” Learn about the incredible supernatural and conspiracy stories he’s covered over the years. Beginning this episode, The Paracast will also be heard weekly by millions of listeners in New York City, New Jersey, and Long Island, courtesy of WVNJ radio, thus adding to a growing number of terrestrial stations that carry the broadcast.
Coming July 10: Gene and Chris are joined by the irrepressible Jim Moseley, Editor/Publisher of Saucer Smear, who will discuss the fakes and the outright frauds he has discovered, and sometimes exposed, in the UFO field since the 1950s.
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.
This week, the blogosphere is off complaining about Apple again. This time, the target is the $49 introductory price for an Apple Thunderbolt cable, but that’s par for the course.
In case you tuned in late, Thunderbolt is the new ultra high performance peripheral port that debuted on this year’s MacBook Pro refresh, and later on the latest and greatest iMac, where you get two such ports on the larger screen models.
Thunderbolt, dubbed Light Peak by Intel during the development stage, promises data throughput of 10 gigabits per second in each direction. That’s equivalent to PCI Express, the peripheral bus found on the Mac Pro and loads of high-end Windows-based PCs, and it offers the promise of being able to connect all sorts of powerful devices, from extra displays, to RAID drives and audio/video breakout boxes, to even a Mac portable without the need for internal expansion slots.
Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as one huge deal, because Thunderbolt will be the great equalizer. Many people buy a Mac Pro because they need to connect speedy graphics cards, audio breakout cards, hard drives and all the rest. From video editors to movie special effects artists, this is one main reason why a Mac Pro — despite its high cost — is essential to their workflow.
But now even a $1,199 13-inch MacBook Pro has Thunderbolt, and hence, once decent quantities of peripherals go on sale, the sky is the limit in terms of the sort of gear they can hook up. Macworld has already begun to test the very few Thunderbolt devices that are now available, RAID drives, and the measured performance is just awesome, many times faster than on any other connection port on your Mac.
It’s also only the beginning. As more and more accessory makers ramp up Thunderbolt gear, you’ll have a load of options from which to select. And it’s not just the Mac. Sony has already announced a note-book computer with Thunderbolt, and you can bet that any PC maker with pretensions of attracting high-end customers will be making the same move soon.
As you might expect, though, Thunderbolt products are going to be expensive at the get-go, because of the high cost of building the electronics. This situation is to be expected, because we’re talking of quite sophisticated chips and other components. That also explains the main issue that’s already begun to cause a controversy: Apple’s decision to price the very first Thunderbolt connection cable at $49.
Now if you’re spending upwards of $1,000 for the devices, that doesn’t seem so high a price to pay. Consider that owners of high definition TV sets will routinely pay a lot more than $49 for a premium HDMI connection cable. Sure, you can get perfectly respectable HDMI cables for less than $20, but not too many years ago, $49 was relatively cheap. How many complained then?
More to the point, those who have bothered to take apart an Apple Thunderbolt cable concluded that there was some pretty sophisticated stuff going on in there, and it may take a while before growing sales, economies of scale, and increased design sophistication combine to bring the price down. A year or two from now, you might be able to get one of those cables for $29 or even less, and nothing stops another accessory maker from undercutting Apple.
It’s not as if Apple is necessarily looking to gouge Mac users with pricey cables. They appear to be charging a fair price for a product that has demonstable value, and since it’s the first to market, there are loads of development costs to consider. That’s the price early adopters pay. Besides, unless or until the Thunderbolt peripheral you want is out there at a price you are willing to accept, it just doesn’t matter one bit. Perhaps the accessory makers will just bundle their own cables and be done with it.
But this is part and parcel of the meme playing out in the industry, that Apple is a mean profit-making machine that only wants to gyp customers with extremely high prices for everything. Macs are expensive, iPads are expensive — even though they are the same price or cheaper than competing tablets — and don’t forget the unsubsidized iPhone.
I have spent long hours debating the alleged high prices for Macs and why, on the long haul, you are simply getting what you pay for. But that argument isn’t going to end with logic, nor will the carping stop from people who believe that $49 is too much to pay for connecting Thunderbolt gear, or a second display, to your new MacBook Pro or iMac.
But don’t forget what you’re going to be paying for Mac OS X Lion any day now, and how Apple has actually sharply reduced the prices for most of their software. But don’t get me started about the $299.99 Final Cut Pro X upgrade. It may be a bargain, but Apple totally messed up the marketing plan on that one.
So you read a story from a Mac rumor site — and sometimes the mainstream press — that Apple is going to be releasing, say, a new Mac on such and such a day, with this and that equipment. All well and good, since everyone wants to speculate on Apple’s latest and greatest.
But after the first story, you read a second, where the first rumor site is quoted as “confirming” the rumor about said product. How did they confirm it? Well, they published it, usually without attribution, or by identifying an ephemeral source from a supplier company or perhaps within Apple. Regardless, the first story is used to buttress the second, even though neither story confirms anything. If it sounds as if they’re talking to themselves, well so be it.
To make matters all the more confusing, you may then see a third source claiming that, no, the new Mac won’t come out as you expected, because Apple wants to hold off releasing new gear until Mac OS X Lion is out. That way, they don’t have to suddenly reimage millions of Mac hard drives, or send out free upgrade coupons to people who bought the first production units with the older OS.
All right, this makes perfect sense, within limits. The downside is that, if Apple holds off release of a product that’s otherwise ready to sell because they’re waiting on an OS update, they could, potentially, lose money until sales ramp up. But if it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks or so to bring the hardware and the software into confluence, so be it.
Of course, there are occasional telltale indications of an impending hardware refresh. Apple doesn’t want to be saddled with loads of unsold inventory, so they slow production and draw down inventory in advance of the release of the new version. This is what the auto industry does ahead of the introduction of next year’s model. They don’t want the inventories to be stuffed with 2011 vehicles when next year’s models are rolling off the production lines and ready to ship. Then again, with a motor vehicle, dealers are just happy to make the sale these days, and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s the outgoing model, or the new one. Just sell, baby, sell.
Of course, with autos, you also usually know months or years in advance when the new model is going to be released. You can place your order now with the dealer, or wait till they show up, so you can get a test drive and make sure your $30,000 or so (roughly the average transaction price of a new car sold in the U.S. these days) is being spent wisely. Considering my first new car cost me all of $2,100 — and I’m not that old — such figures are nothing short of mind-boggling.
But Apple seldom gives you a clue what’s afoot. When they do, it’s often only days ahead of the actual product release, or at a time when it’s the correct strategic decision to ensure high customer demand. So you just knew last fall about Mac OS X Lion, even though it’s not due until some time this month. And, with reports of a Golden Master “seed” being downloaded by Mac developers, release may be only a few days away if there are no show-stopping bugs.
But Apple will announce an OS release well in advance of the event in order to give developers sufficient time to bring their products into conformity. The same is true for the iOS, since so many thousands of developers are making a living building stuff for the App Store, and they need to have time to figure out how to take advantage of the new features. Or, perhaps, ditch an app because Apple has added a similar feature, or the product’s usefulness is at an end.
When it comes to an OS release, the rumors tend to be more accurate. Publishers know that some developers don’t really pay much heed to Apple’s confidentiality agreements, and are only too happy to let loose with juicy tidbits. It also doesn’t seem as if Apple is super aggressive these days about clamping down on such discussions, since it’s all free publicity. This is not to say that disobeying an Apple NDA, or any company’s NDA, is the right thing to do. I believe otherwise, but the practice nonetheless persists.
Meantime, with all that meat to chew over, the rumor sites have a whale of a time. And, if a particular story seems questionable, they can always hope that story will be repeated elsewhere. That way it is confirmed, even though it hasn’t happened, and will never happen.
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
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis
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