Some regard the summer as the silly season, what with government officials off on vacation, and people seeking rest and relaxation. In 2011, with ongoing threats to most everyone’s economic well-being, except for those who are very, very wealthy, silly is hard, rest is harder. At the same time, there were some unexpected announcements in the tech universe that promise to change things significantly in a way that likely favors Apple.
I will have lots to say on the subject in the days to come, and I’ve already done a few columns on the rush of developments. So, naturally, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we covered the controversial decision of Google to purchase Motorola Mobility, a handset maker, and how it will impact the smartphone industry and, most important, Google’s hardware partners. Along to talk about this and other tech news were Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, and John Martellaro, Senior Editor of The Mac Observer.
We’ll also featured Karen Sohl, Communications Manager from the Linksys division of Cisco, who offered tips and tricks about setting up a home wireless network. This was a particularly informative interview, because it wasn’t just about Cisco’s latest Wi-Fi gear, but common sense advice on such arcane issues as network names, password security, and more.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return appearance from Leslie Kean, cofounder of the Coalition for Freedom of Information, and author of “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record.” The book has gone into paperback, The History Channel is featuring a documentary based on the book, entitled “Secret Access: UFOs on the Record,” and Leslie will provide an update on her ongoing research.
Coming August 28: Gene and Chris present a special lunar roundtable, exploring the incredible mysteries on the Moon, and why we haven’t returned. Our guests include researcher Don Ecker, a forum moderator for The Paracast, and host of the Dark Matters radio show, and author, publisher and world traveler David Hatcher Childress.
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.
After paying $1.2 billion to rescue Palm, a failing smartphone maker, you’d think HP had a long-term plan to make the deal profitable. Although Palm had come into hard times in recent years, the fledgling WebOS had been regarded as one of the strongest competitors to Apple’s iOS. Indeed, the chief executive at Palm, John Rubinstein, was an Apple alumnus.
HP’s latest foray into the tablet space, the TouchPad, debuted at the same price as the iPad 2. But with middling reviews and tepid customer response, HP panicked. In the space of one week, there were price cuts and rebates, ultimately resulting in a $100 price reduction. At the same time, there were complaints from Best Buy, the large consumer electronics retail chain, that they had been stuck with lots of unsold inventory. Customers weren’t interested in the TouchPad.
Just this weekend, I saw that silly and pointless TouchPad ad once again before hitting Fast Forward, but the ax had already fallen. HP will ditch WebOS, although I suppose it’s always possible someone out there might want to buy the remnants of Palm and see if they could do any better. Existing TouchPads are being unloaded as fast as possible, with reports you can get one for less than $100 if you care.
In fact, one tech pundit has already proclaimed a $100 TouchPad a great buy, despite the buggy OS, the dearth of compelling apps and, worse, the fact that this is a dead-end product. Surely there are better ways to squander $100. Perhaps catch up on a credit card bill, for example.
It’s not that other tablet makers are faring much better in the great quest to defeat Apple in the marketplace. You can now buy a $1,500 Samsung 3D flat-panel TV from Best Buy and get a free 16 GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 as part of the package. Considering that TV sales are also relatively flat these days, this also appears to be a way to get rid of excess Galaxy Tab inventory. That is, at least until or unless Apple manages to get a court injunction barring the sale of Samsung’s tablets in the U.S.
Of course, I’m sure you realize that if Samsung’s tablets had any potential at all in the marketplace, they wouldn’t be giving them away as premiums to entice you to buy an expensive TV set. Customers would be lining up to pay full price, as they do with the iPad 2.
But it doesn’t appear as if any competing tablets are going anywhere. RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook was another non-starter, and let’s not forget the Motorola Xoom. Building an iPad killer these days can have unexpected and highly unpleasant consequences.
RIM has encountered faltering sales. Samsung is mired in lawsuits with Apple, and is reportedly looking into using another OS now that Google is buying up one of their competitors, Motorola Mobility.
At the same time, Microsoft continues to believe that they can load a regular PC OS onto a tablet, particularly the forthcoming Windows 8, and actually find success where they have previously encountered disinterest except in a few vertical markets. But Microsoft doesn’t give up easily, and they’ll continue to pour loads of money into a product or service hoping to find that big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. After all it worked with Windows and Office, right?
HP, after dumping WebOS, is considering whether to spin-off their PC division, which delivers only slim profits even on relatively high sales.
Insofar as Google is concerned, a large number of the patents they will control when the purchase of Motorola Mobility is completed, which is expected to happen next year, relate to networking. Motorola also makes set top boxes for your cable provider, and cable modems. Apple and Motorola are already embroiled in suits and countersuits over smartphone and tablet technology. Is that going to magically change, let alone improve, when Google owns Motorola?
The real problem with all these developments is that it has become more and more obvious that tech companies haven’t really figured out how to compete with Apple. Microsoft tried to mimic the “walled garden” with the Zune and failed. RIM already had a walled garden, and they were unable to leave their traditional comfort zone of business customers with any great degree of success. If Google wants to go that route, it would come at the expense of losing other Android OS partners, and it’s clear existing licensees can’t be too pleased over the Motorola deal.
None of this means that Apple is necessarily perfect and can’t be dethroned. But it’s going to take real creativity, not brash imitations, to make a difference. Surely the rest of the tech industry has enough talented people with visions to make it happen, right? Maybe they do, but they have a really poor way of demonstrating that creativity.
Barbara and I have been married nearly 36 years. She’s a wonderful friend and companion, I love her dearly, but when it comes to technology, she only accepts it grudgingly. Indeed, she only uses my computers when she needs to check an email or visit a commerce site to consult prices. Indeed, weeks would go by before she’d actually pick up the mouse.
Now as most of you know, I’m not a huge iPad fan. I still spend most of my working hours huddled over my regular Macs. My iPhone travels with me to keep tabs on important email, and it’s placed on the night table so I won’t miss a thing if someone tries to contact me after my work day is done.
To me, the iPad was just too big to be convenient for such chores. The larger screen helps, sure, but I’m not any more comfortable attempting to type large strings of text on it, and if I’m going to get an accessory keyboard, might as well stick with the MacBook Pro. Yes, I realize millions of customers adore their iPads, and I well understand why it has become so successful.
So I was a little surprised when I received a review sample of the iPad 2 from Apple, and my wife asked to see it. I remember that day well, as I returned to editing one of my radio shows for later broadcast. As I entered the bedroom, I saw her poking around on the iPad. She looked up to ask a few questions on how to save a bookmark, and do an online search. She smiled and returned to her online research expedition.
Each night, the iPad is recharged. Each day, she has it nearby. When her regular chores running our home, or handling the marketing end of the business, are complete, the iPad returns to her hands. She’s actually become pretty good at gesturing on it, with deft finger movements swiping, flicking, twirling and tapping.
Yes, even though Macs have been in our home since the 1980s, she never took to them. The iPad is a different animal, but Barbara’s situation isn’t unique. People who haven’t actively used a traditional PC gravitate to the iPad with relative ease.
Apple has also found the right way to sell such a gadget. It’s not about running half a dozen movie trailers simultaneously, or boasting about the multicore processor with fast response on a sharp, bright display. It’s all about the content you can consume, and in some cases, create, helped by Apple’s huge software repository.
Almost every week, you read about different companies finding ways to deploy an iPad. Just the other day, I read about an airline giving their flight attendants iPads to keep tabs of passenger lists. You already know about car makers stuffing their thick user manuals onto an iPad, but that’s still limited to luxury models. The iPad has time and time again served as a plot line in a TV show. Some months back, for example, it was used by the forensic investigators on the “CSI: NY” TV show to help find a killer.
When you see an iPad on series TV, it’s often referred to by name. Yes, other tablets appear from time to time, but they just disappear into the scenery. Nobody cares.
My wife will care, though, when Apple’s iPad must be returned, and that will happen soon. Meantime, I know exactly what’s on her wish list for our forthcoming wedding anniversary.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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