• Newsletter Issue #717

    August 26th, 2013


    Do you really care if Apple builds a TV set? What about a smarter Apple TV set top box, with more content, and perhaps a simpler way to handle switching among the stuff you have already hooked up to your TV? Maybe Apple could do the Logitech Harmony universal remote one better, invent a way to actually make using all that stuff easy and seamless. Yes, seamless, that’s the ticket. Right now, if I point my Harmony remote in a way that is misses one or more of the sensors, the TV doesn’t go on, or the DVR fails to turn off.

    Does that experience feel like I’ve gone back 20 or 30 years? Well, clearly Tim Cook was on to something when he made that comment, assuming he wasn’t just saying something to keep us all guessing.

    Well, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, gave you his vision for a souped up Apple TV, and an Apple smart TV set. He also explained why the passing of Steve Jobs signifies Apple’s rebirth, why NFC will never appear on an iPhone, and why, in the Post-PC era, OS X and iOS should evolve differently.

    You’ll also heard from Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine, on ways to make Windows 8 more like Windows 7. He also talked about his recent blog, entitled The Ten Best Bargains in Tech Today. And, no, the list definitely does not include the $35 Google Chromecast.

    Now I also briefly mentioned Steve Ballmer’s plans to retire from Microsoft within the next 12 months, but that’s something I’ll cover in more detail in my lead story this week. My guest commentators will have lots to say on next week’s episode of show.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Chad Lewis, a co-author of “The Van Meter Visitor: A True and Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown.” According to Lewis, “for several nights in 1903, the small town of Van Meter, Iowa was terrorized by a giant bat-like creature that emerged from an old abandoned mine. The identity of this mysterious visitor was never discovered.” Over 100 years later, Lewis and his fellow paranormal investigators set out to Van Meter to shine a light on this amazingly bizarre and still unexplained case.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! 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.


    It’s certainly true that outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had plenty of confidence. Sometimes too much confidence, they say, as he could be somewhat overbearing; well, maybe not somewhat. But he certainly hung around Redmond for a long time, having joined the company run by his pal Bill Gates in 1980 in a sales capacity.

    In 2000, he replaced Gates as CEO, while Gates remained as Chairman. Since then, Ballmer’s tenure has been mixed, and in recent years it’s become clear he’s been looking in the wrong direction to remake the company.

    It’s telling that Wall Street quickly betrayed its lack of confidence in Ballmer. Within minutes after his impending departure was announced, the stock went up at a much faster rate than usual. That doesn’t say a lot about Ballmer’s ability to handle the job, though it’s also true that the stock price increase, if it holds up, ended up increasing his personal fortune by over a billion dollars. So there’s no reason to feel said that he’s going to soon be out of a job.

    I suppose if the tech industry hadn’t changed so much over the past 13 years, Ballmer would have been regarded as a successful executive. But he’s been playing “Wrong Way Corrigan” for so many years you wonder how he managed to stay in that job all this time, but having a close friend as Chairman of the company had to account for a lot.

    When it comes to the way Microsoft is handling the CEO turnover, the spin is in. So we hear that Ballmer was ready to retire anyway, and he might as well do it now, to give the new CEO a chance to complete that recent corporate reorganization. Of course, if that reorganization had any chance of success, one would think Ballmer would have hung around to see it through.

    What’s more, a new CEO may very well decide that the company needs to be reorganized yet again, that Ballmer’s approach was dead wrong. Indeed, if the CEO, whether from within the company or from elsewhere, decides that Microsoft is moving in the right direction, then it’s clear that’s the wrong choice.

    At least when Tim Cook became Apple CEO, the company was on a roll. Sure, some may argue that the recent problems, which are more of perception than reality, were Cook’s fault. But the forthcoming product intros, and how well they fare in the marketplace, will tell the tale. Right now, it’s just premature, way premature, to count Cook out, although some pundits are already evaluating potential successors.

    As to Ballmer: Some tech publications are still claiming his reign as CEO was largely successful, but he may have misjudged the implications of the sea change that has put Apple and Samsung at the top of the mobile computing market.

    It’s not that Ballmer and Gates didn’t anticipate the arrival of tablets, but they were looking in the wrong place for the solution, and that’s the enterprise. Apple upstaged its sometimes rival by accurately orienting the iPad, first, towards the consumer, and letting it gradually spread to businesses, as more and more executives embraced the new mobile gadget. The same was true for the iPhone, which Ballmer abruptly dismissed in a widely quoted statement that came back to haunt him.

    Even today, Microsoft still doesn’t get it. To them, the Surface tablet is just another PC, and, therefore, it has the same operating system, with a version clumsily ported to ARM processors. Apple demonstrated that smartphones and tablets must work differently, with a different OS. They won, Microsoft lost. But Microsoft continues to advertise the fact that the Surface has Office, and the iPad doesn’t. Customers voted with their dollars, and left the Surface on the shelves.

    So where does Microsoft go from here?

    Well, it’s clear that things aren’t going to change much while the company is in transition. Once Ballmer’s successor is on board, it will take a while to reorganize the executive team, and make whatever changes deemed necessary to right the ship. But if that CEO is just a caretaker, someone to keep things running along until some imaginary visionary comes along, Microsoft’s situation won’t improve. It may even get worse.

    Meantime, Steve Ballmer will retire with loads of money. He may even believe he actually did a good job, even as the world was changing around him.


    The last time I lived in New York City, I subscribed to a cable TV service that, as the result of mergers and acquisitions, morphed into what is known today as Time Warner Cable. In recent years, my cable choice is no cable; I’m a subscriber to DirecTV, but I expect the problems TWC’s subscribers have encountered could impact me as well from time to time.

    Now if you happen to live in the Big Apple today, and you subscribe to the “wrong” cable company, you may be missing some programming, particularly the local CBS TV station, channel 2, Showtime and other channels owned by the network. CBS stations in Dallas and Los Angeles are also blocked to TWC subscribers.

    This unfortunate situation is the result of a disagreement between TWC and CBS over carriage fees. That’s the payment the cable or satellite gives to the content provider for the “privilege” of carrying their content.

    Now if you don’t watch such shows as the summer hit, “Under the Dome,” or Showtime’s serial killer drama “Dexter,” or other shows on CBS-owned networks, you probably don’t care about this disagreement among multinational corporations. They’ll get it together soon enough, and maybe you can still sample some of the network’s shows this fall. Or the shows broadcast by another network.

    As you might imagine, it’s all about money. TWC is offering one figure, CBS wants more. Usually the two parties will simply play chicken and, as the midnight hour approaches, an agreement will be struck that ends up being a compromise between the two extremes. Sometimes there will be a brief blackout, but things will soon settle down, except for your monthly bill, which is apt to increase as a result.

    This time, however, the two parties are stuck in their positions. It doesn’t matter who might be right. To me, they are both wrong, and the public is being inconvenienced. Now this doesn’t mean that people in the affected cities can’t watch their local CBS station. They could always use an old fashioned antenna, and if that doesn’t work, there may be another carrier that is just aching for their business. So CBS quickly signed a pact with Verizon’s FiOS, which means people in that service’s coverage area could always switch rather than wait, or, and this isn’t always possible in a New York City apartment complex, simply subscribe to the satellite service.

    So TWC loses business, and maybe if enough subscribers defect, they might come up with an offer more favorable to CBS, and a contract will be signed. Certainly the pressure is on.

    As far as the customer is concerned, nobody cares, really, about you and me. It’s all about the money. They only care if ratings are hurt. When ratings falter, deals are made, but it appears that your favorite CBS shows are still doing just about as well as they did before this blackout. So people have clearly found alternative methods of receiving the shows they want.

    There will eventually be a settlement, until yet another network contract is up. And then it’s back to the bargaining table and more brinkmanship.

    Unfortunately, the cable and satellite providers are mostly battling amongst themselves to get new customers to switch from a competing service. More and more young people, the subscribers of the future, are focused on cord cutting. If they want cable, they’ll get the very cheapest package, and then rely on such services as Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and Netflix to stream the rest. And without going into detail, some will simply find an alternate method that doesn’t cost anything.

    If they live in an area that’s close enough to the local stations, there is always an antenna. Unlike the old days when you constantly had to fiddle with the rabbit ears, the era of digital TV means you just point the antenna in the direction that delivers the best reception, and that’s it. But that assumes that you live close enough to get a decent signal. In some cases, you may have to rely on the apartment complex’s antenna system, or maybe they will force you to pick cable if you want something more than a home-based antenna.

    In the fringes of a service area, or in a city where you’re too far to pick up anything, you’re stuck with cable or satellite. Or one of those streaming services.

    Meantime, Apple is yet again rumored to be actively negotiating with the content companies in an effort to deliver a subscription TV service that will be a direct competitor to the cable company. Even if Apple succeeds, you wonder what will happen when the contracts are up for renewal. Will the TV networks simply threaten a blackout to get what they want?

    I would hope Apple will try to find a better way, but I’m not a betting man.


    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #717”

    1. Carl L. says:

      There is already a piece posted on AppleInsider quoting a story from AllThingsD that said Ballmer had some pressure placed on him to leave, that it was not of his own doing nor had been in consideration for some time, as the MS spin says. An activist investor may be close to getting a seat on the board and it is said that he was losing support from Bill Gates.
      It will be interesting to see what further fallout comes from last week’s announcement.

    2. Viswakarma says:

      Wireless (Satellite/Cell) and Wired (Cable/Telephone) networks are nothing but Information Highways currently owned by for-profit enterprises (similar to railway networks).

      They should become tax driven highways similar to the Federal Interstate and State Intrastate Road Networks in US.

    3. Peter says:

      I’m about to investigate antennas.

      One thing I would love to see TWC do is something akin to what Aereo is doing–namely setting up an “antenna” for each customer so that they can watch what’s on it.

      Problem solved. They wouldn’t have to pay CBS squat.

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