• Newsletter Issue #654

    June 11th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It’s hard to do a radio show each week and remain reasonably relevant, particularly when one is day’s away from developments that may render all or part of the content of an episode inaccurate — or amazingly prophetic. That’s how it goes for the WWDC. This newsletter goes up on our site Monday morning. Within hours, Apple’s WWDC keynote will tell all, or at least enough to keep you talking for the next few months, until there’s another media event.

    On the other hand, I suppose there’s no harm in talking about what Apple might deliver this fall. We know that iOS 6 is a main part of the agenda; the signs for iOS 6 have already been photographed at the conference center in San Francisco, but that wasn’t a secret that Apple would be expected to keep. It’s a given. The real debate would be on whether any surprise features will appear between the launch and the release, and what form the next iPhone will take. If there’s any reference to iOS 6 just happening to have developer support for multiple screen resolutions, I suppose that provide be a clue as to whether the iPhone 5 will have a larger display. I am not about to pay much mind to those alleged leaked photos of preproduction parts. Even if real, it’s well known that Apple will routinely build a number of configurations of a product for testing before they decide on the best form factor.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, offers insights on Tim Cook’s interview at the AllThingsDigital D10 conference, his observations of the ongoing mobile platform wars, and expectations for Apple’s announcements at next week’s WWDC.

    Author and commentator Ted Landau, who writes for Macworld and The Mac Observer, discusses the possibility of a larger screen iPhone, potential problems for developers because of the new sandboxing requirement for Apple’s Mac App Store, Apple’s “Six Best Decisions of the 21st Century,” and the possible product intros at the WWDC.

    What’s most interesting about Ted’s list are the “bubbling under” items that missed being included. Consider the iPad, since it’s perceived as derived from the iPhone. If what Steve Jobs once said is to be believed — and I can’t see why it shouldn’t be — the iPad was under development first, and the iPhone was forked from from that project. Curious how these things work out.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return visit from cryptozoologist J.C. Johnson, president of the North American Fortean Society, to report on an unusual journey of exploration in which he joined Chris, David Hatcher Childress, Ron Regehr, Clifford Mahooty, Gary David several of their significant others on a rather arduous trip to the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers to the rim of Grand Canyon. What they discovered going on may be a bombshell as-yet undisclosed news story. You’ll hear what they discovered on more on this exciting episode.

    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.

    MUST WE ASSUME THE WORST ABOUT APPLE?

    You know the old saw about the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Well, when Apple was down in the dumps, lots of industry pundits seemed to want them to fail; goodbye, kaput. Whatever they did was fated to fail, because only Microsoft was allowed to succeed. In recent years, as Apple has grown faster than anyone had a right to expect, Google joins Microsoft as one of the companies that is fated to dominate.

    Indeed, it doesn’t seem that some of these media critics will allow Apple to catch a break. When the iPod was first announced in 2001, they howled. What business did Apple have in entering the consumer electronics market? They seemed to have forgotten Apple’s forays into digital cameras (QuickTake) and mobile computers (Newton) in the 1990s. Oh, right, neither product succeeded.

    When the iPod took off, with ever-increasing sales, you were told it must only be a temporary phenomenon. The “real” consumer electronics companies would respond with their own gear, and set the world right. Forgotten was the fact that they all had their chance, in the years before the iPod arrived. They ended up building junk that few purchased.

    I remember reviewing some of those early digital music players. They had unreadable displays, were slow to download music, and had user interfaces that sucked in every way possible. They all seemed to have been designed by engineers who only cared whether the parts worked, not how useful these gadgets might be in the real world.

    In addition to a clean, crisp display and easy operation, Apple opted to use FireWire for speedy file transfers to the iPod. But that was an Apple invention, so the other companies didn’t bother, I suppose. Only later did Apple move to USB, to allow compatibility with hundreds of millions of Windows PCs that didn’t have FireWire. The move to Windows was, in passing, originally opposed by Steve Jobs. He came around, and, with the arrival of the iTunes music store, the success if the iPod was assured. No competitor came close to unseating them, not even Microsoft.

    When Apple announced the iPhone, there are more howls. Apple made the mistake of charging a high price for an unsubsidized smartphone, which meant that most competing phones — and BlackBerry was basically king of the hill in those days — were cheaper. If you agreed to the standard two-year contract with your wireless carrier, you paid a pittance for the handset. Such a deal.

    Well, Apple soon realized that they could sell far more product with subsidies, and that’s the direction they took, as more and more carriers were only too happy to sign up. That, and the arrival of the App Store, cemented the iPhone’s amazing success story. A far greater percentage of iPhone users swear by the product, compared to competing platforms, such as Google’s Android OS. Recent surveys show that Android’s growth curve is flattening, with the iPhone the major beneficiary. But since Apple earns far more profits on their smartphones than any other company, they do not have to be number one. Sales just have to grow year after year at a decent clip.

    That hasn’t stopped the critics from predicting doom and gloom for Apple. Recently, IDC released an analysis that sounds bought and paid for by Microsoft. The conclusion is that the failed Windows Phone platform will edge past Apple’s iOS by 2016. They previously said 2015, and you wonder if, by next year, they’ll add yet another year to that “inevitable” date.

    When the iPad arrived, the critics said it was nothing more than a bloated iPod touch. After all, Windows tablets had been on the market for years, with little success. How could Apple possibly succeed? At the same time, the iPad continues to break sales records, and remains dominant against all other players combined. More and more businesses are adopting them too, including medical offices, apartment leasing agents, and even educators.

    In the Mac universe, Apple is poised to upgrade most models next week, and announce the release date for OS 10.8 Mountain Lion, which further integrates key features with the iOS. In Apple’s tightly controlled universe, mobile computers and traditional personal computers must remain separate. But, where possible, functions will be tightly integrated to ease the movement from one to the other and back again.

    Microsoft’s approach, to offer the same OS interface on a traditional PC and a tablet, seems destined for also-ran status. Sure, Windows 8 and Metro might do reasonably well in the consumer market. But there are serious pockets of concern from people who might be regarded as favorable to Microsoft. My experience with Windows 8 is that it’s schizophrenic and difficult to move between a relic of the traditional Windows desktop and gesture-enabled Metro. Obvious features are clumsy and buried, and can only be discovered via trial and error.

    But you will be told in the next few months that Windows 8 will set the world afire, that Apple has lots to fear. While competition is a good thing, Microsoft’s decision to bet the farm on Windows 8 may come back to haunt them.

    ANOTHER VISIT WITH THE HP OFFICEJET PRO 8600 PLUS

    HP has troubles, real troubles. Growth has stalled, and another 8% of their sprawling employee roster faces pink slips over the next two years. Sure some will be offered early retirement, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing if the pension is high, but you have to feel bad for people who might have given years of their life to a company, only to be discarded.

    Certainly, HP’s CEO, Meg Whitman, doesn’t seem to have a clue about the company’s future. Yes, she did veto a move to sell or separate the PC division. But there is no vision about the company’s future, or how HP might regain the greatness of the past.

    But that doesn’t mean they make bad products.

    Take the Officejet Pro 8600 Plus, which has a street price of $229.99. At 27.35 pounds, it’s big, dark and downright ugly. But if believe beauty can be skin deep, this may be the best inkjet multifunction printer you can buy at any price.

    Unlike most of the competition, the 4.3-inch touchscreen display is clear and responsive. Tap, and it obeys your bidding. Though nothing to shout about, the interface navigation among the four key functions — faxing, printing, copying and scanning — is fairly easy to master. Features are clear enough that anyone with a decent amount of experience with a printer can figure everything out without consulting a typically obtuse user guide. The Mac software is also quite serviceable, which is a surprising change compared to most printer utilities.

    As inkjet printers go, the 8600 Plus is amazingly fast. After the initial 10-15 second interval before the first page of a document appears, the remainder seem to rush to the output tray. The noise level is moderate compared to many printers, and the levers and gears sound smooth, not grating. You don’t get the impression that something is about to break at any moment.

    The print quality of text in the default, or Normal, setting is quite useful. With higher-cost inkjet paper, it’s reasonably close to laser quality, except for a slight thickening or subtle breakup of the edges of printed text. Color quality is respectable even without expensive photo paper.

    Just about every function is handled with aplomb. Faxes are sent speedily without error, even if you use a VoIP telephone connection, as I do. Copy quality is surprisingly accurate, and the scans are decent enough. Only graphic artists will desire a standalone scanner. For general use, the 8600 Plus is close to perfect.

    It’s also built for heavy-duty use. The bottom paper tray handles 250 sheets; the output tray handles up to 150 sheets. That’s very much in line with laser multifunctions, including a recommended print volume of 250 to 1,200 pages per month. Even better, the price of consumables is surprisingly low. For roughly $120, you can buy a set of four “XL” cartridges (black, cyan, magenta and yellow), and get an estimated 2,300 pages for black text, and 1,500 for color. Cost per page lies at the bottom of the spectrum as far as upkeep costs are concerned. Indeed, the advertised capacity is very much in laser printer territory, but the cost per cartridge is roughly half that of the typical color laser.

    As I’ve written in a previous issue, the only downside to all this printing joy is the way HP’s PR agency handled my review request. When I encountered a defective black cartridge, they gave me excuses rather than offer a replacement. I’ve never encountered such intransigence from any other PR agency, and a regular customer would normally get a replacement from a dealer or the manufacturer under these circumstances.

    I’ll only assume that the agency is merely clueless, and that this may not be HP’s fault, although I did alert them to the problem. Regardless, if you’re buying an HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus at a store, you shouldn’t encounter such grief. HP has a decent reputation for customer support, and, for a modest purchase price, you should be rewarded with years and years of dependable service.

    I’ve used a number of HP printers over the years and have always gotten great performance from time. One of my clients, someone who bought his HP lasers in the 1990s, still has two of them in regular use. A third developed a broken paper transport, but he was able to get a used replacement for a fairly modest price. In short, I wish HP the best. Meg Whitman has a tough job ahead of her. I have concerns that she’s up to the task, but I wish her luck.

    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 #654”

    1. DaveD says:

      Yeah, I saw the blurb on the IDC so-called analysis. Did I read the article? No. Because it is the kind that have little to no value. A waste of bit space. Words are cheap these days. Especially those who have written nonsense continue to write junk posing as an analysis.

      I would love to have the success that Apple is having. A fat bank account getting fatter. One important thing about Apple is the constant motion in moving forward while shedding legacy products.

    2. […] time back, I wrote a highly favorable review of the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus. Well, the name is obviously a non-starter, but it's not as if HP has much of a feel for branding […]

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