• Newsletter Issue #684

    January 7th, 2013


    So did Google dodge a rifle bullet when the Federal Trade Commission decided to conclude the probe of their search policies without imposing serious penalties? Well, perhaps, because the end result was rather less than a slap on the wrist. On the other hand, Google’s Motorola Mobility division was directed to license industry-standard patents on an equitable basis. At least it’ll mean fewer lawsuits, and also that Google can keep the licensing money without having to pay a bundle to the lawyers.

    Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, commentator Joe Wilcox, Managing Editor of BetaNews, discussed the outcome of the Federal Trade Commission’s probe into Google’s search policies, and the decision that addresses the patent licensing policies of Google’s Motorola Mobility division. Joe also discussed his recent article suggesting that Apple may have lost its stomach for industry-shaking revolutions of their product lines.

    You’ll also heard from Avram Piltch, Online Editor Director of Laptop magazine, who talked about the sort of product intros expected at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, held the second week of January. He also expressed his ongoing concerns about the prospects for Windows 8.

    Indeed, amid reports of falling sales of PC note-books, you wonder if Windows 8 might end up being a worse failure than Vista. That’s not the sort of news Microsoft needs to jump-start the industry, and I wonder if they have a Plan B, and not just to restore the Start menu.

    Special Sci-Fi Update! In November, our second sci-fi novel, “Rockoids II: The Coming of the Protectors” was released. The novel continues the exciting adventures of the unique characters introduced in the first novel in the series, “Attack of the Rockoids.” Rather than retread the same ground as some sequels do, the story moves forward in unique directions. My son, Grayson, and I had lots of fun writing the story, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It’s available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions. Why Amazon? Well, since Kindle software is available on various platforms, we only had to make one version to satisfy as many readers as possible.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present paranormal author and broadcaster Micah A. Hanks, publisher of The Gralien Report, who returns to The Paracast to discuss his new book, The UFO Singularity. Says the back cover: “The UFO Singularity finally reveals what UFO phenomena call tell us about greater-than-human intelligence, and offers provocative theories of where such intelligence might originate. You’ll explore the most challenging metaphysical questions and the latest scientific thoughts about them.”

    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.


    As many of you recall, Tim Cook has said on more than one occasion that Apple wants to delight customers in building the products they never thought they’d need, but become impossible to live without once they use them. Sure, the statement is hype, but this is the sort of thing for which Apple is famous. Ask anyone who has embraced an iPhone or an iPad into their lifestyle, not to mention Macs and even iPods.

    Sure, there are some so-called media pundits who delight in telling you how they abandoned Apple’s walled garden as if they were refugees from a cult that attempted to rule their lives. They adopt the gadget-du-jour, but may or may not return to Apple once their illusions of a better life are shattered.

    At the same time, it’s understandable that people will speculate about what products Apple ought to make, assuming that they actually have any grasp on what products will not just sell but start a revolution. Sometimes they even come out with an idea or two that makes enough sense to presage what Apple will actually do.

    One way to actually predict what products Apple might deliver is to examine statements denigrating one of those products. Steve Jobs used to tell you just how bad wireless handsets were, while he and his crew were busy developing the iPhone. When Jobs and other Apple executives were asked about building a cheap Mac, you were told they’d never do such a thing. They don’t build junk.

    One of those strongly-worded denials came just weeks before the Mac mini arrived in 2005. At $499, Apple’s answer to an entry-level personal computer was priced just below that magical $500 threshold that marks the cheap PC segment. Apple meant the thing to be a computing appliance, and you couldn’t even upgrade RAM without perfecting your skills with putty knives to open the case and not damage anything.

    In other words, Apple was enforcing a “look and use but don’t touch” edict as the price of saving some money on a decent computer. At $599, today’s Mac mini is even tinier, but you can at least get it open easily enough to perform a RAM upgrade. Would that Apple had taken the same approach with the new 21.5-inch iMac. It’s the price for stylish, although the 27-inch version has four readily accessible slots for RAM infusions or replacements. However, the MacBook Air and Retina display MacBook Pros suffer from the same curious limitation.

    After the iPhone arrived, you had to wonder where Apple might go next. Well, as netbooks, little more than small, cheap PCs with questionable usable value, appeared to catch on, the media wondered how Apple might compete. The answer was to ignore the market and produce the iPad instead. It didn’t take long for netbook sales to tank, although that was inevitable considering how bad they were. By 2012, the netbook standard bearers, such as Acer and Asus, had buried their netbook lines for good.

    For months, the media speculated as to whether Apple would relent with a smaller iPad. I remember when Jobs dismissed the idea of a 7-inch model, saying the screen was too small and you needed to sandpaper your fingers to use it. Jobs was awfully good at moving the conversation the way he planned. When the iPad mini was introduced by Phil Schiller at last October’s media event, he made a big deal over the fact that the 7.85-inch iPad mini, with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, gave you enough screen real estate to make the thing actually usable by regular people with normally-sized fingers. This effort at counter-programming has apparently been extremely successful, and the mini may be poised to become the mainstream iPad before long.

    Among the suggestions for possible Apple products in 2013 is an iPhone mini. As the name implies, it would have a smaller screen, lower-power innards, and all designed to sell for an affordable price in the third world, or to people who wanted an unlocked phone but didn’t want to pay a bundle for it. The logic here is that Apple built an iPod mini (or nano) and thus wasn’t above making smaller, cheaper versions of something.

    I suppose that makes sense, although the smaller screen might hurt the user experience. Some chafe at a 3.5-inch display, and it’s clear other smartphone makers are moving in a different direction. It’s not been Apple’s way to enter a market segment strictly for volume, but if they could somehow make a difference building a smaller, cheaper iPhone, they’d do it in a heartbeat. Some suggest an iPhone videophone wristwatch of some sort, shades of the communications devices used in science fiction movies. Of course, “Star Trek” crew members used a communicator that influenced the classic clamshell cell phone, but it was only audio. Evidently they don’t need videophones in the 23rd century.

    The other essential Apple gadget for 2013 is a smart TV. Why? Because Steve Jobs announced that he had created the best TV interface ever, and Tim Cook made a huge deal over the fact that he feels he’s gone back 20 or 30 years whenever he puts on his TV. Setting up and using lots of peripherals, whether a VCR or game console in the 1980s, or today’s collection that includes a Blu-ray player and multiple set top boxes, has bred wiring messes and user confusion.

    However, the possibility of Apple building a premium set with an amazing interface and easier handling of multiple peripherals isn’t a given. It may not even happen, even if it is true that Apple is sampling prototypes. Apple samples prototypes for lots of products that never, ever, see the light of day.

    Maybe what we should all be doing is looking at the product that Apple would never, ever produce, and see if there’s evidence that one of those things, whatever it is, will emerge from the Apple labs in Cupertino and appear as a full-blown product.


    As the media examines evidence of the market share of various OS X versions, some wondered whether the uptake of Mountain Lion would be less than Lion. Is it possible that OS X Snow Leopard, sometimes known as 10.6, would become Apple’s answer to Windows XP? But that’s downright absurd.

    Consider that XP, released in the fall of 2001, was only recently displaced as the majority OS on the Windows platform. In contrast, Snow Leopard arrived in 2009. And yes, there are very significant reasons for many Mac users not to switch to Lion or its successor. But that’s easier said than done.

    Obviously trying to downgrade Macs that were released after Lion arrived in 2011 is a non-starter. It’s not the same situation as in the Windows world. More to the point, with Apple selling roughly 20 million Macs a year these days, the market share of the newer OS versions will increase even if most people stopped ordering and downloading OS upgrades.

    There are also millions of fairly recent Macs for which Snow Leopard is the dead-end; they cannot upgrade to later OS versions. Others won’t upgrade because of Apple’s curious decision to ditch the Rosetta PowerPC emulation feature. It means that many older apps no longer run on newer Macs.

    However, as vintage Macs are put out to pasture, the latest OS versions they can run will gradually be used less and less. As I said, it’s not a matter of preference, or even of your needs, but of hardware compatibility. And, no, it makes little sense for any but a small number of people to try to hack an older OS to work with a newer Mac, even if was theoretically possible.

    What this means is that, even if you hate Lion and Mountain Lion with a passion, your only escape is not to buy a newer Mac, or to switch to another platform.

    Now with Mountain Lion, the market share just recently slid past Lion, five months after its release. The Mac media seems to regard this as a huge deal, showing that people who complained about 10.8 were just plain wrong. But it’s really mostly about the fact that Mountain Lion’s market share will inevitably rise as more and more new Macs are sold. It will come to a head next summer, when 10.9 is expected. Assuming that happens, 10.8 will peak shortly thereafter, and then suffer the inevitable decline.

    It may even be possible that Mountain Lion will be the last OS for a number of Mac users who, by dint of their Macs becoming obsolete, will be forced to consider buying a new one, or being ultimately abandoned as more apps are also upgraded for the next OS.

    More to the point, other than some iOS-inspired fluff, there don’t seem to be many show stoppers for Mountain Lion. Sure, there are the usual app incompatibilities, but so long as you have a Mac that can run it, there are few downsides otherwise. At $19.99, the upgrade just makes sense. Indeed, I am surprised Apple charges anything for it at all, and I still have a sneaking feeling that 10.9 may simply be a free upgrade. Apple will simply be moving in a very logical direction.

    On the other side of the tracks, though, it appears that Windows 8 has been a real hard sell. By making it easy for PC users to downgrade their OS to something they might regard as better, such as Windows 7, Microsoft is going to have one awful time trying to boost the Windows 8 adoption rate to anything even close to Vista. That’s a real problem, and Microsoft better have a really good Plan B to solve it.


    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 #684”

    1. David says:

      The iPhone mini talk is ridiculous. If there’s to be a second iPhone model it would have to address the reasons why people with relatively high disposable income aren’t choosing the existing one.

      With market share going up in the USA Apple has little incentive to do anything. Market share elsewhere is anywhere from strong to almost non-existent, but Apple is raking in most of the industry profits. Samsung is solidly in second place for profit share.

      What needs to be determined is from where Samsung is getting its increasingly large profits. If it’s by moving huge numbers of stripped down phones then we know Apple won’t make any changes. If, on the other hand, a disproportionately high chunk of those profits are coming from Samsung’s large flagship phones then Apple might be motivated to act because those are customers Apple would like to have. Apple now offers all their Mac and iPad customers a choice of device size. Maybe offering iPhone customers the same choice would be a good thing.

      Apart from screen size, a premium customer might choose Android over iOS for the flexibility of the UI. An Android phone quickly takes on the characteristics of its owner. An iPhone is pretty much stuck looking like every other iPhone in the world. This Apple approach goes beyond the basic look and feel. The OS is very rigid and this prevents innovative features like Swype from coming to the platform. There’s a difference between “it just works” and “it works the way that’s best for me”. Giving iOS developers and users a little more flexibility might be necessary in the future.


      I like Mountain Lion and run it at work, but my iMac at home and my kids’ Mac minis still run Snow Leopard. I still use a couple of PowerPC apps from time to time and some of my favourite games are from years past. When 10.9 ships I’ll move Snow Leopard to an external drive and reboot when I’m feeling nostalgic.

      The kids are on SL because they’re young and just need something that works. I know from experience that 10.8 uses more resources, especially RAM, than 10.6 does. I don’t think it’s worth the effort to open up a pair of Mac minis to upgrade their RAM and HDs when there’s a fairly good chance the machines won’t be able to run 10.9.

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