• Newsletter Issue #652

    May 28th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    One of my favorite guests over the years makes a return visit this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we feature an extended interview with Steve Kruschen, aka “Mr. Gadget,” who is author of a new book, “The Mr. Gadget Consumer Tech Guide – Volume One: Electronics, Gadgetry & Technology: The One and Only Mr. Gadget Reveals What to Buy and Why to Buy It! (Volume 1).” After spending a fair part of the interview reading that title, Mr. Gadget will discuss some of the latest and greatest tear gear that he’s tested.

    Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, returns for his third appearance in a row. This week he’ll tell you about “10 Gadgets You’d Be a Fool to Buy Right Now,” and he’ll also discuss the questions surrounding the Face-book IPO, and the sad state of HP, which has announced yet another round of layoffs amid tepid sales. Yet CEO Meg Whitman still can’t enunciate a coherent vision for the company’s future.

    Now the basic argument in his latest top ten list is that a product that’s due for a near-term upgrade should be removed from your shopping list. This means, for example, that you shouldn’t buy an iPhone 4s now simply because there will be an iPhone 5, or whatever it’ll be called, this fall. Within months, your new purchase will be obsolete. What will your friends say as they pull out their latest and greatest iPhones, only to watch you plod along with the older model?

    I’ll cover a bit more of this “keeping up with the Jones” attitude in my next article, although you can see why I’m skeptical. Consider the Android smartphone market, where there seems to be a new phone almost every week. If you really wanted to be current, you’d be buried with the early termination fees from your wireless carrier, not to mention the price of buying all that new gear.

    But I do agree with one thing: For those considering a Windows Phone, particularly the Nokia Lumia 900 that’s getting lots of publicity right now, take heed of this warning sign: It is reported that Microsoft has no plans to deliver upgrades to Windows Phone 8 on older gear. In other words, what you get on the Lumia 900, or any other Windows Phone handset ,is what you will be stuck with for as long as you own them, for better or worse. And that includes the pitiful multitasking scheme.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present ghost hunter Jeff Stewart, of P.I.N.E., short for Paranormal Investigators of New England, an organization that has been active in the investigation of weird events 2004. You’ll hear about case histories and the techniques the organization uses to evaluate paranormal events.

    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.

    GETTING CAUGHT UP WITH REAL AND IMAGINARY UPGRADES

    From almost the day that the iPhone 4s was released, Mac rumor sites, joined by the mainstream media, were busy informing you about a forthcoming “real” iPhone upgrade, the alleged iPhone 5. Just because Apple beefed up the parts, and added the Siri personal assistant, wasn’t sufficient. It looked the same as the previous model, supported essentially the same accessories, but that wasn’t a good thing. It wasn’t different enough.

    Not mentioned is the fact that, once placed in the case, some of the perceived differences in form factor may be buried. Besides, whether your iPhone has a glass or aluminum backing isn’t going to materially impact your user experience. Well, at least if you’re not caught up in constantly staring at the thing.

    Of course we all know that the iPhone 4s has been an incredible success, despite the endless proliferation of new Android OS models, not to mention the pitiful efforts of Microsoft and its main hardware partner, Nokia, to make Windows Phone relevant. And you need not remind me that Windows Phone is still, in some ways, a year or two behind iOS and Android, particularly when it comes to multitasking.

    More recently, the media has gotten more involved than ever in speculating about what direction Apple would take with the next iPhone. Maybe they’ll just call it the “new iPhone” and not the iPhone 5, but that tact with the iPad may have been a one-time aberration. Regardless, it’s a lock that Apple will support LTE wireless networking. The other new features are not quite set in stone, such as the possibility that there will be a larger screen with the same or a different aspect ratio, and that the case must be redesigned somehow. Sure, I suppose that a larger iPhone could look mostly the same as the current model, but changing the shape and size would be sufficient cause to redesign the case, maybe make it look more like an iPad.

    Then there are those expectations about long-overdue Mac upgrades. Slimmer,  more powerful note-books, perhaps with better battery life. And the optical drive has to go, because Apple did that already with the MacBook Air. Besides, Apple could take some of the money saved in ditching an optical drive and spend it for a true Retina Display. Do we need that on a note-book, or on, say, an iMac? Can we take that promise to the bank, or do people really look that closely at their displays? Maybe the TV industry should take note and deliver a Retina Display on your next flat panel TV? Well, I suppose they will, since those proposed 4K resolution sets may be available at your nearest Best Buy in a few years for lots of money.

    There’s also a petition now demanding that Apple upgrade the Mac Pro workstation, which hasn’t seen a refresh since 2010. Of course, it’s also true that Intel has only this year released a major upgrade to the Xeon processors used in the Mac Pro, so perhaps there’s already one in the works that’ll be introduced at next month’s WWDC. I suppose I should also point out that it appears that Tim Cook is the sort of CEO who actually listens to customers from time to time, so maybe Apple would reconsider even if the Mac Pro was on the chopping block.

    From the conventional wisdom department, there’s already the perception that an Apple smart TV is inevitable. The rumors have it that Apple is already sampling parts for possible use in a new TV set that will be available this fall. It’s endlessly fascinating how the industry and the media freaked out over the announcement from Steve Jobs, as quoted in the authorized biography from Walter Isaacson, that he had “cracked” the secret of building the best TV interface ever.

    I won’t say never, but I still have that lingering feeling that Jobs made this statement with the assumption that Apple’s competitors would be rushing to build what they perceive to be similar products, just as they announced loads of new tablets before the first iPad came out. Of course, when the iPad actually appeared, many of those announced product plans changed drastically or were abandoned. Now the only potential threat to the iPad’s dominance appears to be the forthcoming tablets featuring Windows 8. Well, it’s a threat because some members of the media say so. In the real world, customers may be utterly confused when they attempt to separate the Intel-based from the ARM-based versions. You see, they’ll both be Windows 8 tablets.

    But the real issue is whether this game of inside baseball ought to make a difference to your purchasing plans. Sure, if a new Mac or Apple mobile gadget is due out in a few weeks, maybe you’ll want to hold off and wait for the new model. On the other hand, if you’re a few months away and need the thing now, why wait? Otherwise, you’ll always be chasing moving targets and buy nothing.

    Oh yes, the first 2013 autos are rolling off the assembly lines even now. The 2012 models are old, tired, and ready to be cast off to the used car lot. But don’t take any of that seriously.

    FORGET ABOUT BLACK AND WHITE E-INK NOW THAT COLOR IS ON THE WAY

    One of the most revolutionary developments in electronic book reading technology was E-Ink, an electronic paper scheme that very much simulates a printed page to a computer display. E-Ink is featured on the Amazon Kindle and a host of other devices, and has been responsible for a revolution in publishing.

    Today, E-Ink fights with traditional LCD displays for marketplace buzz. It appears that Amazon sells a bunch of Kindles, though actual figures are never revealed. But far more of you probably read your e-books on an Apple iPad, and iPhone or a similar product with a traditional display.

    True, the electronic version of a printed page looks great with E-Ink, but the technology is saddled by slow refresh and the lack of color. However E-Ink displays use very little current, so these readers may last months between recharging sessions.

    However, it may well be that the long-delayed upgrade to the technology, color e-paper, is finally on its way, although not much is being said about a solution to the slow-refresh problem.

    In 2009, the original E-Ink company, which owns over 100 patents covering what is called electrophoretic technology, was sold to PVI of Taiwan for $215 million. That deal, with more development money and engineers available, appears to have hastened the arrival of color E-Ink. But it was not a quick path by any means.

    A report about the acquisition suggested that mass production of the color E-Ink displays would begin within 18 months, which would have meant they’d arrive by the end of 2010. There was even a report of a prototype color E-Ink reader from 2010, but it suffered from the same turgid refresh rate of the black and white variety, and color saturation wasn’t described as particularly good.

    Obviously getting those gadgets to market was more difficult than expected, although such delays are customary in the tech business. Even when a new technology appears to work in a laboratory setting, it may not be easy to mass produce color E-Ink displays at an affordable price, so Amazon can continue to sell a Kindle for $79 or thereabouts.

    Earlier this year, it was reported that Amazon had already placed orders for 6-inch color E-Ink displays, which will reportedly appear on new Kindles by the middle of this year. Once they are really available and tested, it’ll be obvious whether E-Ink’s lingering defects have been solved. Then again, if you can get decent color on such a device, maybe slow screen refresh won’t be such a critical issue. What’s more, if E-Ink and PVI have managed to improve refresh, and provide consistently good color quality, the next generation Kindle might indeed be a worthy competitor to LCD-based tablets.

    Now slow refresh may be acceptable if you’re just reading books. You can wait a second after you turn the page, as it were, but not when you use lots of gestures, regular apps and Web browsing. There, you want snappy response, not screen refresh that appears to date back to the early days of the personal computer.

    These days I use an iPhone or an iPad for reading e-books and other publications, so I’m not in the market for a Kindle, at least not now. But if the powers-that-be who developed E-Ink technology can manage to make it reasonably snappy, I might indeed put the rumored color Kindle on my shopping list this holiday season. It wouldn’t replace the iPad or the iPhone, but it would be a good alternative for book reading.

    Then again, the tactile joys of reading a printed back have yet to be approached by any consumer electronics company. Imagine, though, if Apple’s forays into developing haptic technology offered the feel of reading a real book on an iPad or an iPhone. That would trump E-Ink real fast, color or otherwise.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #652”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      The media Apple product predictions are rather telling about the core competencies of the tech media. Basically, they are saying that they can explain a new case or a new size, but that they don’t have a clue as to how to explain the things that matter. Whenever I hear talk about 7″ iPads or is it 7″ iPhones I think of the old Volkswagen beetle ads from the 1960s, back when the American car makers ruled the market and every year meant new tail fins, new colors, and new chrome, but the same old engines, same old fuel economy, same old reliability, and same old safety features (i.e. none). VW once ran an ad showing their new model and a year old model side by side. They looked identical. The copy listed the hundred major changes (shades of Steve Jobs and the new OS X). The ads were extremely effective. VW bit off 10% of the US market and paved the way for Honda, Toyota and Nissan.

      Tech users – and that’s most of us now – don’t care all that much about the new chrome tailpipes that the tech media seem to be so concerned with. They care about what the gadget can do for them and what they can do with it. So things like multitasking that eliminate a real but unnamed frustration, Siri which can be incredibly useful in otherwise awkward situations, new gestural controls, or better real time synchronization of calendars and contacts make a real difference. Luckily, Apple has the sense to explain these things in their ads, and they back it up at their Apple stores where people can actually take a test drive and see what all the words mean.

      The tech media seems strangely clueless in the face of real technological change.

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