So what do you do if you invent something you consider new and revolutionary? Well, perhaps your first visit will be to a lawyer, to apply for a patent. After all, you don’t want someone stealing your invention, perhaps earning a fortune while you still struggle to cover your credit card bills.
Unfortunately, the world of patents has become a complete mess. Lawsuits from large companies, such as Apple and all those patent trolls have combined to dim the prospects that you’d be able to actually get a patent for just about anything nowadays. Someone probably beat you to it. I suppose if you do invent, say, a faster-than-light propulsion scheme, maybe you’ll get exclusive rights. That is, unless ET lands and shows you how primitive your supposedly original concept really is.
Or how about this possibility? As you know, Apple is building a new corporate campus in Cupertino, CA that’s shaped very much like a space station. Maybe that’s also Apple’s next secret product, the one that will create a true legend that will change our world — the iStarship! You read it here first.
And I just wonder how many of our critics will, even for a moment, take that prospect seriously.
In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Macworld writer Lex Friedman discussed an online method used by some developers to bypass Apple’s “walled garden” approach to making apps available for the iPhone and iPad, along with other Apple-related news.
Laptop magazine’s Online Editorial Director, Avram Piltch, made a pitch for changing or eliminating current patent laws, which he says allow large companies and so-called patent trolls to restrict innovation. Certainly, the current brouhaha over patents demonstrates the system is severely broken. particularly in the U.S.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris have an enjoyable and freewheeling visit with scientist David Kaiser, a professor at MIT and author of “How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival.” Discover the strange world of quantum theory and other cutting-edge scientific studies, and how they might relate to the paranormal.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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.
If you can believe some of those so-called tech pundits, by about now the iPad’s market share would be in steep decline, as more and more competing tablets entered the marketplace. Watching those frequent TV ads for the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, Motorola Xoom, and even the HP TouchPad might actually lead you to believe that there is indeed a substantial tablet market.
But if you look at those ads carefully, without any means of comparison, you’d wonder what a tablet is good for. If you can believe RIM, it’s for running movie trailers side by side on a 7-inch screen. As far as Motorola and HP are concerned, I’m not at all sure what they are trying to tell you, other than that their products are nice looking and fast.
Once you see any of the ads for the iPad 2, you’d come to believe Apple lives in a totally different reality from all the rest. These TV spots are touchy-feely, quietly demonstrating all the cool things you can accomplish on your iPad. The background music is quiet, subtle, the announcer speaks in a plain voice, rather than shout at you, which is so often done on TV spots these days.
On the other hand, the iPad’s incredible still-growing popularity is not solely the result of clever marketing. Once those gadgets are brought into the home or office, people expect to accomplish something, whether it’s viewing media, writing email, or a combination of several chores. If they are dissatisfied, they’ll simply return the things. They are too expensive just to keep around doing nothing.
Indeed, as makers of those supposed iPad killers are discovering, lots of customers are not pleased. Stores appear to be getting very high return rates, and no wonder. Sure, the hardware might be comparable — or even better — than the iPad when it comes to raw computing power. Battery life might even match, but what good is it if there are only a small number of applications to choose from? What good is it if the OS stumbles and falls at uncomfortable moments.
Just the other day, we reported about a survey that demonstrated that Apple’s iPhone is far cheaper for carriers to support than a RIM BlackBerry or all those Android OS smartphones. Usually, your iPhone problem is resolved in a single call, to a single person. Not so with the rest, where you may be shuffled off to a Tier 2 tech, or be forced to call yet again when your problem remains unresolved.
Clearly tech companies want to compete head-on with the iPad, but they don’t seem to know how. HP’s TouchPad, for example, has been roundly criticized by reviewers for its unfinished OS, and the lack of apps. In response, HP cut the price in several steps, first as a week-long experiment, and then permanently to the tune of 20%. Up till the price drop, the TouchPad cost the same as the iPad.
However, this maneuver so soon after the TouchPad’s release smacks of a fire sale. HP would have no reason to cut prices unless the channels were stuffed with unsold merchandise, or they were getting few orders from dealers and wholesalers. Or maybe a combination of both.
Indeed, when you look at the sales figures, most products sell in the hundreds of thousands, whereas Apple moved over nine million in the last quarter, and maybe they could have sold more if they were able build enough to satisfy demand. Only recently has the backorder situation been brought under control.
Sure, Samsung can talk of millions of Galaxy Tabs shipped, but it’s not at all clear how many are actually reaching end users. Meantime, Samsung has already been blocked by the courts from selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Europe, because it allegedly infringes on one or more Apple patents. The product is also being withheld in Australia, and you have to wonder whether the 10.2 will ever see the light of day.
When it comes to PC makers, they are very much stuck here. Demand for personal computers is no longer as high as it used to be. Customers are sticking with their old machines as long as they can, and Apple entered the tablet market with both feet, taking a failed product category and making it successful.
Rather than building a better alternative to the iPad, the competition appears to be playing the usual PC game, which is to imitate rather than innovate. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in the mobile computing universe, where broad patents can put them in a heap of trouble.
These days, Apple is getting roundly criticized in some quarters for pursuing patent lawsuits so aggressively. At the same time, if their patents are as claimed, they have little choice but to defend them. To let other companies build products that may infringe on their intellectual property will simply create the climate for further infringement. Besides, you have to wonder why all those multibillion dollar multinational corporations can’t find enough creative people in their ranks to create hardware and software that would lick the iPad through fair competition.
Clearly Apple isn’t the only innovative tech company on the planet. What’s more, as most anyone knowledgeable about the iOS, the iPhone and the iPad will tell you, these products do have real shortcomings. But most of Apple’s rivals have spent so long building me-too gear that maybe they’ve forgotten how to advance the state of the art. That doesn’t mean Apple can rest on their laurels, but if their rivals hope to get a leg up on the iPad, they can’t wait for missteps. By then, it may be the iPod phenomenon all over again, where Apple still owns the market a decade later.
I’ve been using Cox broadband Internet for years, ever since it was first introduced in the Phoenix area. But reliability is shaky at times, even though I usually get all or most of the speeds promised in Cox’s spec sheet.
On occasion, uploads will slow to a crawl. Every few months, they have to make a home visit to fix some sort of network-related issue that can’t be diagnosed at their central office. The cable modem, from Cisco, has been replaced three times in the past year. Cox even tried to charge me for one of those replacements, even though it was made within the one-year warranty period.
In the end, I suppose my experiences are reasonably decent compared to other customers I know about, who complain of difficulties far more frequently. At the same time, I’d very much like to try another service, if one were offered, and therein lies the dilemma.
Last year, I made an attempt to set up Qwest’s broadband Internet at another apartment. Since the smallest of the Baby Bells hadn’t actually wired that complex, they were unable to deliver anywhere near their promised 40 megabit download speeds. Worse, they kept billing me even though I cancelled within two days after the failed installation attempt, where the installer falsely claimed that “I was good to go.”
I’m still see ads for the company, since acquired by CenturyLink. Again, the promised speeds are up to 40 megabits, with the promise of very low prices at least for the first year. But the apartment complex in which I reside now was prewired by Cox. CenturyLink hasn’t touched it and may never touch it. Sure, they do promise that maybe they’ll find a way some day. I’ve even seen their trucks outside the complex performing some wiring operations, but there’s no evidence that the situation has changed.
My only other alternative for broadband these days is satellite, which is more expensive, and promises far lower speeds. That’s hardly a sensible choice.
Perhaps I’m lucky, though. After all, there are still millions of people in the U.S. who cannot get broadband at all. Maybe they live in an area where satellite reception isn’t efficient, maybe they live in an area where the local telecom or cable TV service has found it unaffordable to build out service. Regardless, they are stuck with dial-up. That, by the way, is a reason why I have issues with Apple’s marketing and support scheme for OS X Lion, which assumes you are wired with speedy broadband. Otherwise, you are penalized by being forced to find a Wi-Fi hotspot for your download, or pay an extra $40 for the USB thumb drive version.
But I’d really like to see CenturyLink fix what ails the former Qwest telecom company, and deliver a working alternative to Cox that I could actually order. Maybe one of those wireless schemes, such as the one from Clear, will eventually become available in this area and provide a meaningful alternative.
Or maybe I should just move.
Broadband is indeed a service where the phrase “there can be only one” should never apply. But unfortunately it does far too often.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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