• Newsletter Issue #655

    June 18th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    For weeks, it was rumored that Apple was planning to move the entire Mac lineup, or at least those with built-in displays, to Retina. Finding higher resolution icons within the latest versions of Lion seemed to cement this belief. But through it all, few commentators bothered to consider that a Retina display just costs more. As the size increases, flat panels with extremely high pixel densities become so costly that it doesn’t make sense from a production standpoint, except maybe as an option.

    Remember that a 27-inch iMac offers a native resolution of 2560×1440 pixels. Would you even be able to find displays offering 5120×2880? Well, maybe next year.

    So I wasn’t surprised at direction Apple took this week. Release a single flagship product that shows the direction of future Mac note-books. Clearly, the move has been successful, witness a three to four-week backorder situation, or maybe Apple planned it that way? Clearly a lot of money has been spent on a new marketing campaign highlighting the MacBook Pro’s Retina display. In fact, it’s the first Mac ad I’ve seen on TV in quite a while, possibly since those Mac Versus PC spots.

    As you might expect, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we will focused heavily on Apple’s WWDC, and all the news about OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, along with the amazing MacBook Pro with Retina display. Our guests included author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, aka “The iTunes Guy,” who also discussed the expected death of Apple’s iTunes Ping social networking feature.

    Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, was on board to discuss the magazine’s tests of the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, and his concerns about the prospects for Windows Phone and Windows 8.

    John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, discussed the WWDC, and voice his doubts for Apple’s ongoing support of the pro market, even though Tim Cook has already announced a major Mac Pro upgrade for 2013.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris presented Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel, authors of “A.D. After Disclosure: When the Government Finally Reveals the Truth About Alien Contact,” which posits how we will deal with the revelation that UFOs are real. What will the impact to the energy industry be? What about organized religion and our culture? Will it end up good or bad for us? Will events simply spin out of control, or will we take it all in stride?

    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.

    THE DANGERS OF REPEATING THE SAME MISTAKES

    For years, Microsoft has been touting the imminent arrival of the age of tablet computing. Year after year, PC makers got in line and presented their own entrants in this hoped for burgeoning marketplace. Only success was an unrealized dream. Except for a few vertical markets, such as medical offices, tablets — delivered as essentially converted PC note-books — were stillborn.

    You can well understand, then, the industry’s skepticism when the iPad arrived in 2010. Weeks after such gear as the HP Slate were presented at the Consumer Electronics Show, Apple staged a media event in which Steve Jobs was present to announce the future of the PC. But I expect that many devoted Apple fans were still skeptical at first.

    The main argument was that the iPad was largely a bloated iPod touch. They didn’t see the possibilities that would be revealed as app developers began to explore the iPad’s potential. At first, the industry analysts preferred to consider the iPad a media consumption tablet, meaning you bought them primarily to watch movies and play games. That you could also write email, surf the Internet, and even do some productivity work, eluded them.

    To the surprise of many, the iPad wasn’t just an expensive media playback toy for consumers. Businesses could see the potential. Luxury auto makers began to replace their thick manuals with an iPad. The joy spread to airline pilots, doctors, lawyers, even, I bet, a few Indian chiefs with a contemporary sense.

    Apple began to show the way with iPad versions of iWork. Adobe released free and reduced feature versions of Photoshop for all iOS gear, with some cheap add-ons, and the recent iPhoto upgrade may be more useful than the standard Mac version. The iPad has grown up with the potential to record iPod-like market shares.

    As to that HP Slate, well, only a few thousand copies were sold. When HP tried again with a WebOS-based tablet, it failed too, and was pulled from sale within weeks. Dealers who were stuck with hundreds of thousands of unsold product had fire sales. Some of you may have even bought the infamous HP TouchPad for $99 or so, but it will never be updated, and the few app developers have gone elsewhere.

    Android tablets have been hit or miss. Amazon seemed to be on to something with the $199 Kindle Fire, but sales tanked after the first of the year. No doubt those who bought them by the millions during the last holiday quarter didn’t give the Fire good word of mouth.

    With loads of skepticism over the possibilities of Windows 8, we entered the weekend wondering what Microsoft might reveal in a Monday media event. Some suggest Microsoft will yet again double-cross their OEM partners, as they did with the failed Zune, and build their own ARM-based tablet. Certainly Google, having acquired Motorola Mobility, may well use that company’s manufacturing capability to build flagship Android smartphones and tablets.

    So even though the skeptics want you to believe that Apple’s tightly integrated approach — where they build the whole widget — somehow hurts the customer experience, hundreds of millions of owners if iOS gear do not agree.

    Of course, I suppose it’s possible that Microsoft will simply display ARM and Intel Windows 8 tablets from other companies, but since any predictions will be moot once the event occurs, I’ll just say that I do not plan to stay awake at night to speculate. My only concern is that, if Microsoft’s grand scheme to  trump Apple fails, they will have to find a way to regain their footing real fast. Maybe there will be a rushed Windows 9, or perhaps some utility that will make it easier to ditch Metro from Intel-based products. What’s going to happen to Windows 8 tablets is anyone’s guess. It’s not as if the same interface on smartphones has been all that successful.

    This weekend, we ran a segment with Laptop magazine’s Avram Piltch on the tech show about his visit to a computer trade show in Asia, where loads of PC makers exhibited their proposed tablet designs. There was the usual curious procession of movable screens, double-sided screens and other assorted and confusing nightmares that again demonstrated why the industry is just clueless. They seemed to be trying something, anything, in order to find the magic formula with which to compete with the iPad. But better ideas were clearly not in abundance.

    As you can tell from my responses to Avram during the show — and he is an extremely fair and knowledgeable reporter — I found it very hard to believe how any company could invest development dollars on such useless gear.

    So it all comes down to this: When Windows 8 arrives, rather than take advantage of a new OS to find innovative ways to exploit the user experience, you will see more of the same old junk. The PC industry doesn’t seem to have learned from years of serious mistakes, nor, it seems has Microsoft.

    DOES iOS 6 OFFER A CLUE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF iTUNES?

    There’s a common perception that iTunes has been in need of a serious diet for years. Originally, it was all about organizing your music library, first for the files you assembled from different sources, and later including the tunes that Apple made available for sale online. The same app with the same features became available for both Mac and Windows users. But that wasn’t enough for the iTunes Store.

    Add to the music a mixture of movies and even podcasts, which created a market for tens of thousands of radio shows, including the two I produce. Yes, we’re on traditional radio too, but each week’s episode is also available for download from iTunes within a short time after the live broadcast.

    In year two of the iPhone revolution, Apple made it possible to buy apps for your mobile gear. e-books were soon added, but Apple had the good sense to split these features up on the iOS platform. So you have iTunes, Music, and iBooks. According to published reports about the lineup in iOS 6, podcasts will also get their own app when the new OS is released this fall.

    It makes sense to keep apps small and feature limited to thrive within the restricted environment of a mobile operating system. But what about iTunes for Mac and Windows? Is Apple cramming just too many features into a single app? While I understand the desire to integrate user experiences and all, having too many features often makes for bloat and instabilities.

    Maybe the first foray into the giving iTunes a diet is making it possible to sync your iOS gear from the cloud, without need for iTunes at all. Mac Apps already have their own app. So where will Apple take this separation process? Will iTunes return to a music and video playback and management tool, with the purchase process split into separate apps for Music, Movies, and Books? Would that give iTunes the performance it used to have before it became an overcrowded department store? To be fair, iTunes is very much a Web browser, and the storefront is just another site with access restricted to a single app.

    There are arguments that can be made on both sides of the question. By putting all their merchandise — except for Mac apps — into a single online superstore, Apple simplifies the process of ordering and buying the content you want. A few points and clicks, or swipes and taps, and you are taken to the department you want to visit. When you search for a particular performer, you’ll see quick links to books, music, movies and TV shows if that artist happens to be involved in all four. Take, for example, Hugh Laurie, who just finished an eight-year run as the star of  “House” on TV. He’s also appeared in movies, written books, and recorded music. Search for his name, and you’ll see a cross-section of his work.

    If his books, movies, music and TV shows were split up into separate apps (or just a combination of movies and TV), how would you conveniently search for all his work? Would clicking on the TV show launch a separate but equal app? Would the same hold true if you wanted to check out his comedic spy novel, “The Gun Seller”? Wouldn’t that just be confusing for potential customers who want to be able to purchase something without going through a confusing process that spreads across different apps? Such a scheme sounds more like a Microsoft-bred approach.

    Mac users are accustomed to buying OS X software separate from media and iOS apps, and thus it’s right to see a Mac App Store app that’s separate from iTunes. It also makes sense to segregate the functions on an iPhone or iPad simply because you have limited display sizes and limited resources. But on a Mac or PC, the iTunes superstore is really not so inconvenient at all. It makes sense and, after over a decade, Apple has trained their customers to expect an integrated shopping experience.

    This doesn’t mean that iTunes can’t be slimmed down, features reexamined, and the code given a thorough going over to optimize performance and reliability. The next iTunes upgrade is expected in the fall, with the possibility that the failed Ping social networking feature will be history. But will Apple use that opportunity to simplify iTunes, and make it run more efficiently? That would probably be a better choice than splitting it up into a bunch of separate apps.

    Microsoft may want you to believe that a mobile and desktop OS ought to be nearly the same. But Apple still appears to have a better idea: casual dating, rather than a marriage.

    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 #655”

    1. […] Continue Reading… Related Posts: Newsletter Issue #581: How Apple Killed the CES […]

    2. dfs says:

      Yes, it sounds like the Surface is exactly repeating the mistake of the Zune. The biggest question in a potential purchaser’s mind is “what exactly can I do with this thing if I buy it?” (and, incidentally, MS has only said so far that the price will be “competitive,” which sounds like a euphemism for “as expensive as the iPad.”) Which translates into the more practical question “exactly how rich, interesting, and useful a range of media/games/apps can I access with this thing?” Devices like this aren’t just gizmos you hold in your hand, they are portals that give you access to a library of media, games and apps, and if they don’t offer you a reasonably large library of choices, and an efficient and hassle-free way of accessing them, then potential customers will quickly decide they are useless. The Surface may be a fine gizmo, considered only as such, but it’s difficult to see exactly how Microsoft is suddenly going to come up with that all-important library of resources that would transform it into a useful product. That was the reason the Zune flopped, and it’s easy to imagine that happening again. Once more, I predict, it will quickly appear that Ballmer & Co. have been focusing their attention too much on the gizmo itself, and have failed to grasp the essential fact that the gizmo is only a front end or portal to an entire ecosystem.

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