• Newsletter Issue #641

    March 12th, 2012


    It’s amazing how Apple’s message continues to overwhelm the media. Other than some skeptics who aren’t impressed with the iPad 3’s Retina Display, Apple’s revised tablet has the inklings of another huge success. Along with the release of some great new and updated productivity apps, it’s a sure thing that this is one gadget that will become something other than a simple consumption device.

    Of course, with Android tablets, consumption is pretty much all you can do, since there is, as yet, no large app developer community. At the same time, there are over 200,000 apps optimized for the iPad, and many will soon gain the sharper graphics earmarked for the Retina Display. While apps for both iOS and Android smartphones are at least reasonable, although the former has a far richer selection, only the iPad gets the love when it comes to apps destined for a larger display.

    Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, there was really one big technology story that received worldwide attention, and that was “The new iPad,” which some prefer to call the iPad 3. With Apple’s media event, not to mention the introduction of a new Apple TV, and some fancy new apps, there was lots to talk about.

    Our guests included: Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, and Ross Rubin, Executive Director and Principal Analyst, NPD Connected Intelligence for The NPD Group.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris explore ancient mysteries of advanced beings said to have visited our world in ancient times with Scott Alan Roberts, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim: The Untold Story of Fallen Angels, Giants on the Earth, and Their Extraterrestrial Origins.” Real or fanciful? You listen, you decide!

    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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.


    I do wonder why some people expect Apple to totally rework a successful product with every revision, including a substantial case redesign. To them, looks count for everything, witness the way the iPhone 4 to iPhone 4s upgrade was criticized. Put one against the other, and it was almost impossible to tell them apart, which means it was at best a tiny update to some.

    It doesn’t matter that Apple went ahead and enhanced most every component. The camera went from five megapixels to eight megapixels, the integrated processor and graphics chip was far speedier, and a diversity antenna system essentially vanquished the last vestiges of Antennagate. And there’s Siri.

    Sure, I suppose Apple could have revised the casings too, but that would have forced those who develop carrying cases for the product to remake their designs. Even the tiny position differences of the volume buttons between the GSM and CDMA versions of the iPhone 4 caused trouble for some accessory makers. At least Apple tried to show a little respect in revising the product. Besides, when you use your iPhone, do you just stare at it and marvel at its looks, or do you actually try to use it? And if you have it hidden in a case for protection, as I do, does any of this really matter?

    Besides, Apple has a long history of retaining the looks of a product through two or more product cycles. Certainly, refashioning the production lines every year to accommodate a new case design would seem wasteful, when it’s the internals and the software that combine to determine most of the user experience.

    The public didn’t care about media and industry analyst skepticism, as you know. The iPhone 4s has been an incredible sales success. It’s all about Siri, and nobody cares what “she” looks like. But the phone also runs more efficiently under marginal signal conditions and, despite the claim in Consumer Reports to the contrary, voice quality on regular phone calls is far better than previous iPhones.

    With the new iPad, which we will continue to call iPad 3 for clarity (at least for a while), the physical looks and shape are mostly the same. It’s a tad thicker, a tad heavier, but most cases for the iPhone 4 should accommodate it well, unless they are really snug. Besides what’s a fraction of a millimeter between friends?

    But when you read stories about the “modest” iPad update, and whether Apple is squandering leadership in the tablet market, you have to wonder just what the critics are smoking. Sure, the iPad 3 may look just about the same, and the visible difference is so subtle as to require careful analysis. But the miracle of a Retina Display ought to be a revelation in tablet design.

    A miracle?

    Well, if you read the stories of all the things Apple and their suppliers had to do in order to make this scheme work, it’s fair to suggest that most competing companies wouldn’t have bothered. Let Apple cope with the expected production issues. They’ll get there with their wannabes a few months down the pike, assuming that there will be any higher definition flat panel capacity left to give them a crack at building such a device.

    I’m also impressed by the apparently improved graphics performance, although my exposure is still virtual rather than physical. Support for LTE is of less of an interest to me, since I’m not really inclined to want to buy a data plan. If there’s no nearby Wi-Fi hotspot, I’ll survive with the iPhone.

    Now rival tablet markets, who can’t boast about a superior operating system and a decent selection of apps, will tout raw specs. Gigahertz for this, quad-core for that, and the possibly greater amount of installed RAM, although the iPad 3 is said to have 1GB, same as many of the others. The ads will show robots, noisy multimedia displays, but very little about regular people might use such a gadget in the real world.

    After the initial demand abates — and Apple has apparently already sold out supplies for the first day of release — it’ll be more obvious if the iPad 3 is a keeper. But the betting is that it will be. In addition to that amazing display, Apple moved forward with new productivity apps, including a version of iPhoto that includes some nifty photo editing tools. Adobe must be jealous, but it also creates new opportunities for content creators.

    So there was no haptic keyboard — the one that provides visceral feedback on “key presses” — but it’s not as if such virtual keyboards have made rival tablets or smartphones any more successful. Maybe for the iPad 4, or the “new new” iPad, depending on Apple’s 2013 naming conventions.

    As you might expect, some reviews took aim on Tim Cook, because he’s not a master showman of the caliber of his predecessor. Maybe he’s a bit too laid back and needs a few cups of java before hitting the stage. Or maybe they are just being too critical, since the latest Apple media event was otherwise organized in the same fashion as previous events. The CEO is master of ceremonies, and the crew steps in for the raw demonstrations. Or at least that’s how such events played out after Steve Jobs decided to give a some more stage time to his henchmen.

    And typical of other Apple media announcements, the general reaction is one of slight disappointment because Apple didn’t reinvent the wheel. The stock price dipped a bit before resuming its inexorable climb. But record sales will make it soar, as always, and that’s what’s expected of the latest and greatest iPad, however you wish to name it.


    As Apple upgraded the iPhone with faster processors, more powerful graphics and the Retina Display, there has been one essential constant — battery life. Although all the improvements no doubt suck a lot more juice under normal use and service, the iPhone 4s boasts up to eight hours talk time on a 3G network, and up to 200 hours standby time. I won’t bother with the rest of the numbers.

    Now compared to the mobile phones I had a few years ago, this is really good. I could barely get three hours from a Motorola RAZR V3, for example. The official specs promise 6.7 hours, but I never achieved anything near that number.

    When iOS 5 arrived with the iPhone 4s, battery life was turned on its head, however. More and more customers complained of rapidly diminishing green bars, indicating battery life was being sucked out of the device really fast. You’d also see the appropriately dismal numbers in lucid detail if you added the option of a percentage display of remaining battery life.

    At the time, I didn’t observe any problems with an iPhone 4; I didn’t move to the iPhone 4s until later. In the interim, Apple released a 5.0.1 update said, in part, to repair some of the issues that caused poor battery life. To some, it made a big difference, to others no difference at all, while some complained that battery life actually decreased.

    Segue to my recent purchase of an iPhone 4s. Suddenly battery life became an issue. I couldn’t get through the night without the battery going dry, even though I was asleep for most of the time. I killed all the running apps, restarted, with no improvement. Two restores later, in part to resolve an issue setting up a ringtone from iTunes, and the problem was mostly resolved. The last time I tried to restore the iPhone, I actually set it up as a new phone. This meant redoing my preferences from scratch, but it fixed the ringtone issue — and battery life. Up till then, it was taking the settings from the older iPhone.

    Although battery life seemed somewhat shorter than the iPhone 4, I had little to complain about.

    This past week, iOS 5.1 arrived, with the promise of more battery life fixes. On both an iPhone 4s and iPad 2, battery life jumped by an incredible margin. The combination of heavy use, making phone calls on the iPhone, and leaving it in idle, would reduce battery life to 30% or less by morning. Now it stays above 50%. No, I’m not about to do a full controlled test. Under artificial conditions, Apple’s mobile gadgets generally meet the published specs, but they are canned tests that only roughly simulate real world use. My subjective analysis is good enough for me.

    Unfortunately, iOS 5.1 is not a panacea. Some of you are still complaining that battery life is subpar, while most seem to find an improvement, at least according to most informal surveys I’ve seen. But I wouldn’t presume to guess why things might become worse, other than that some people are running things that are sucking battery life dry more rapidly. Then again, maybe a full restoration process will help, as it did with me.

    But if you think your iPhone’s battery life is bad, consider that most Android phones are far worse. (Yes, I know the Motorola RAZR Maxx and its huge battery does better than the iPhone, even on an LTE/4G network.)


    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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    9 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #641”

    1. […] Continue Reading… Related Posts: Newsletter Issue #626: Does an iPhone 4 to iPhone 4s Upgrade Make Sense? […]

    2. James says:

      There is one perspective about the iPad’s display that truly astounds me and it further astounds me that I haven’t seen any mention of it. My opinion developed by several decades of computing experience is that the primary hardware component that determines the quality of the experience is the display. For this reason, I would assume that hardware companies would strive to differentiate themselves on the basis of their displays.

      The iPad has 3.1 million pixels. It costs $499 for its base configuration.

      Try to find a laptop with a display that has more than 3.1 million pixels. I couldn’t find one from a manufacturer I had heard of. The closest I came was a freak of a laptop with two 17″ screens at 1920×1080 resolution, from a company I had never heard of. It got some attention for the design but I couldn’t find evidence that it had ever shipped. It was priced at over $2000.

      Try to find a display that has more than 3.1 million pixels and is available for $500. I couldn’t. Apple will sell you one for $999. The closest I came was an HP 27″ 2560×1440 display on closeout for just over $700.

      The companies that make computer monitors and laptop computers are the ones that supposedly will offer competitive products to the iPad. Yet in the Windows space, none of them managed to differentiate themselves by offering a display equal to the quality of the iPad’s, at any price.

    3. BrianM says:

      I’ll have to take a closer look at battery life in 5.1.

      just based on past experience, the iPhones would last around 1.5 to 2 days with my typical usage, so I’d always plug them in overnight while I slept.

      I had noticed a slight decrease in battery life with iOS 5.0/5.0.1, but it wasn’t as dramatic as some people have seen.

      Something that impresses me with iOS 5.1 is loading the camera app, it is much faster from the lock screen, or even with the phone loaded normally.

    4. dfs says:

      The only criticism of the iPad 3 that I have read that might make any possible sense is that Retina-friendly apps take up more space, so Apple should have upped the storage capacity (I have no personal view on this). My own criticism is simply that the new iPhone and iPad make the iPod Touch look very old in the tooth. I’m holding off buying a new one until they replace that awful camera, and I can’t understand what’s taking them so long.

      • @dfs, Raising storage capacity would be expensive. A 128GB model would probably cost $200 more than the 64GB edition. Would people buy it? I suppose there’s little or no development time in trying, of course.

        I also expect that, before long, it will be possible to deliver that capacity affordably. Not yet.


    5. Usergnome says:

      What wouldn’t add much expense would be a memory card slot. The absence of useful ports is also infuriating. As much as I love Apple, there is a streak of customer abuse in their DNA.

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