Do you pay much attention to ads for a new TV? I don’t recall seeing many in recent years, although you will often see advertising from dealers, such as Best Buy, hoping to entice you into their stores to buy one. But it’s not as if there’s a world of difference from one model to the next. Even the low-cost models offer decent pictures, and a decent level of reliability, at least most of the time. When you see them lined up side by side in a store, do you gravitate to the one with the brightest picture, or just look at the prices? Do you even look at them at an angle, to see how much the picture deteriorates when you move off-center?
It’s a sure thing the companies who build those products aren’t raking in the profits. In the more advanced countries, the market is saturated. The new TV you bought a few years ago is still going strong, so why upgrade? Do you really need 3D with those godawful glasses? What about apps? Can you live without having streaming from Amazon, Netflix or Hulu? What’s the point? You can get them on a Blu-ray player — and don’t you need a 3D version with your new 3D set? Of course, you can always buy a separate set top box, such as an Apple TV, to get extra content, but Apple still doesn’t offer 3D. Do you even care?
Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, tech writer Geoffrey Morrison (@TechWriterGeoff on Twitter), who covers the TV beat for CNET, Sound&Vision and other publications, discusses current technology and when is the best time to replace your old set. But, I’m still waiting for a reason to upgrade the family’s 2008 Panasonic plasma. They do advertise the panel’s life at 100,000 hours, so I’ve got a few years to worry about it. I don’t care about 3D.
You’ll also hear from cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, who takes a look at Apple’s ongoing record earnings, and then gives you his take on the PC and mobile platform wars, and the likely winners and losers.
From The NPD Group, industry analyst Ross Rubin also gives you his views on the latest financials from Apple Inc. and Microsoft, and examines the current state of the art when it comes to 3D TV.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return appearance by crop circle investigator Nancy Talbott of BLT Research – Crop Circle Science. During this episode, Nancy introduces to our listeners Dutch psychic Robbert van den Broeke, who claims to possess a number of extraordinary abilities, such as the ability to see dead people, predict the future and, on occasion, serve as a conduit for so-called psychic photography, where mysterious images appear on photos that weren’t seen when those pictures were taken. We will also ask the skeptical questions listeners have posted about Robbert’s experiences.
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.
Do you want to cut someone’s hair? Well, there’s a license for that, and even a test to demonstrate that you have a flair for scissors and combs. Certainly a lawyer can’t put up a sign on an office and defend you in case you get a traffic ticket, or are arrested and charged with committing a crime, without passing a bar exam to demonstrate their basic competence.
But if you want to advise people about whether a particular high-profile company stands to rise or fall, or just hang on, there’s really no need to prove you know what you’re talking about. If people read what you have to say, you’re hired. If you predict that a company will fail, and they actually succeed beyond anyone’s imagination, it’s not as if you will suddenly be called on the carpet to explain your failure to deliver.
At least it doesn’t seem that way. You hear the same old analysts plying their trade year after year, making unfounded pronouncements about all sorts of matters, and getting things wrong over and over again. But so long as people believe them, or at least read what they have to say, they keep their jobs.
Now you just know Apple’s amazing growth since the mid-1990s has put them on every analyst’s radar. Gone are the days when the word “beleaguered” was used as a prefix for Apple. How can anyone possibly suggest they are about to go out of business, or fail at one of their core businesses, when they keep confounding the critics?
Yet even when they succeed, they are sometimes accused of failing.
Take the March quarter, where Apple reported selling some 11.8 million iPads. That represented an amazing growth over the previous year, some 151 percent more, but that wasn’t good enough for some. Industry analysts had speculated that Apple would move up to 14 million iPads. They didn’t meet the challenge, thus they failed. Now let’s talk about the Amazon Kindle Fire.
Oh, that’s right, Amazon doesn’t release the sales figures for the Kindle Fire or any of the other products in the Kindle family. You have to infer them from their overall sales figures, but that hasn’t stopped some from estimating that the Kindle Fire made up more than half the Android OS tablets sold in last quarter. Talk about using psychic powers instead of logic and reason.
Yes, maybe it’s not at all clear that the Kindle Fire uses Android, but it does, deep down where you cannot see anything but Amazon’s custom interface. It’s not even a recent version, so why even bother? Well, that move no doubt simplified the development process, and it’s a sure thing Amazon wanted to keep the price as low as possible to get a foothold in the marketplace.
You see, even though Apple’s profits remain sky high, Amazon seldom reports high earnings, even when revenues come in at a good clip. Instead, they continue to plough loads of cash back into the company to fuel further growth. So it is reported that the Kindle Fire is sold for roughly what it costs to build, or perhaps a little less. Although you have the usual mobile computing functions, such as email and Web browsing, not to mention apps, Amazon wants you to spend most of your time at their storefront, with the hope that you’ll buy some of their products and services. To them, the Kindle Fire is simply an interactive online ordering gadget.
Yes, the iPad has loads and loads of applications, many available for a price. There are 600,000 for iOS hardware, and a third of those are optimized for the iPad. But Apple earns the lion’s share of their profits from selling you the hardware. That 30% take on app sales goes mostly to the cost of doing business, from maintaining an online ordering system, to paying for the staff to review all those app submissions and make sure they pass muster.
As to iPad sales, well, maybe those who want to cry failure haven’t noticed that Apple is still reporting a five to seven-day delay if you order one online. An ongoing backlog means that there’s demand for the product that’s still not being filled. Apple surely would have been able to move more iPads if only they had enough of them in stock. But they didn’t, and it may take a few more weeks before supplies are sufficient to meet demand.
And, no, I won’t attempt to predict why the third generation iPad remains constrained. Some suggest that Apple and their component suppliers are having difficulties ramping up the iPad’s Retina Display. That makes sense, since that’s a part that has never been used in a tablet before.
This also means that the iPad’s competitors aren’t going to be able to match Apple for a while, at least with a high resolution display. It’s not as if parts of that sort are so readily obtained, and it’s well known that Apple is using some of their huge cash hoard to reserve the components they need, ahead of the pack, and leaving just the bread crumbs to everyone else.
But to the industry analyst, the iPad is an underachiever. Any day now, sales will flatten. Wait till Windows 8 tablets begin to reach the market, which is expected later this year. That Microsoft has been unable to succeed with the Metro interface on Windows Phone is beside the point. They want Microsoft to win, and if Windows 8 bombs, no doubt those same industry analysts will simply shrug their shoulders and tell you that success is inevitable. If not this year, maybe the next. Apple, after all, is always fated to be beleaguered, even if sales continue to soar to new heights.
You can be sure that, when Apple executives field questions at a quarterly meeting with analysts — yes the “a” word again — they will be asked softball or relatively obscure questions about the company’s financial performance that few care about. The analysts might even pose a general question about possible future products, knowing that they probably won’t get a response beyond no comment. Or an Apple executive might disparage the product category, which may be a clue that their solution may be on the way in the near future.
Or maybe not.
Apple’s responses are no doubt carefully scripted. When Tim Cook denigrated the merger of the desktop and mobile computer, as in Windows 8, he compared it to combining a refrigerator with a toaster. People laughed, except for Microsoft who might have preferred to call Windows 8 a toaster oven, something that properly melds related functions.
How amazing that Cook has a flair for pithy comments, reminiscent of his mentor and former boss, the late Steve Jobs. But it’s also true that Jobs worked hard to hone his online personality with careful and repeated rehearsals. In the fashion of the presidential candidate who preps for a debate, I have little doubt that Cook and CEO Peter Oppenheimer worked with their aides to consider all the possible questions they’d be asked, and the appropriate answers, or attempts at corporate spin.
It doesn’t help that these analysts seem not to have the slightest knack for real journalism. Even though they are allowed one question and one follow-up, you’d think someone would ask about Apple’s real problems, such as the ongoing troubles impacting iCloud. Yes, iCloud may indeed have 125 million users, as Apple claims. I have no reason to doubt the number.
At the same time, what about the quality of the service iCloud delivers. What about the ongoing problems that are still being reported, particularly in syncing bookmarks and contacts across multiple devices? Take this all-too-famliar example: For the longest time, my Address Book has been filled with multiple entries for some names. Those listings aren’t duplicated on my iPhone, so why is it happening on my Mac?
Worse, when you delete a duplicate, the deleted entry reappears. And I’m not alone in reporting such issues, and there are more.
Now perhaps it doesn’t make sense to use one specific example to demonstrate the existence of ongoing iCloud teething pains. But surely one of those analysts could have used the iCloud question to ask how Apple is treating ongoing reports of sync problems and email outages. What about a question about the overall customer satisfaction rate with iCloud, and how does Apple plan to eliminate the glitches?
These so-called analysts only have to spend a few hours looking through the support forums at Apple’s site to get a sense of the problems being reported by large numbers of users, and maybe ask a few questions about them.
Yes, the financials are important, not just for investors, but for millions of Apple fans and customers who remain curious how the company in which they’ve invested their faith and their money is doing. Apple’s audience for those quarterly conference calls goes far beyond the Wall Street community, although the participants are limited to the analysts of which they approve.
Sure, there’s only so much ground that can be covered in the roughly one hour session, and the financial community will demand answers to certain key questions. But wouldn’t a few left field questions help enlighten people about what’s going on inside Apple? Maybe it would force Cook and Oppenheimer to display some real spontaneity.
Or maybe the offending industry analysts will just find themselves disinvited to future conferences.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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