• Newsletter Issue #730

    November 25th, 2013


    You just know that, when you use a Mac or a PC, someone might be watching you so to speak. So you have your browser’s cookies, which track your movements on a site. Now for those who are concerned about privacy, cookies can be disabled. For those who just want to get the best experience from a site that’s tailored to your traffic pattern, cookies aren’t going to feed your personal information to the NSA. They have other methods to find you.

    You also know about targeted ads. When you search for something, you’ll see paid ads that are tailored to your search request. This is how the search engines monetize their business. Despite the popularity of Google’s Android platform, the real money comes from targeted ads. Unless you buy a Motorola handset, Google doesn’t earn anything from the sale of Android gear. Ads are another story, and even then most of the company’s revenue comes from ads in search and services, such as Gmail.

    But if you buy a so-called “smart” TV set, do you have any reason to believe that your viewing patterns are being recorded? Well, it seems that LG, and no doubt other TV makers, is doing just that if you “dare” to use one of their built-in apps.

    You’ll learn more about this troubling situation on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted magazine and AppleInsider, explains how Google sidestepped security settings on Apple’s Safari to track you, and the secrets of how companies who build “smart” TVs, such as LG, may be recording how you use you set, including the stations you watch.

    I have a VIZIO, and I haven’t used their app collection since doing the initial review of the set. These days, I run apps from my Apple TV, and I have seen no reason to worry about what channels I watch on my DirecTV DVR. Sure, I realize DirecTV knows what channels I’m watching — and probably what shows I record for delayed viewing — but you sort of expect that as part of the game. But when I buy a TV set, I fully expect that I can do what I want with it, even toss it in the landfill, without anyone looking over my shoulder.

    On the show this week we also hear from tech commentator Dann Berg, who covers the Apple/Samsung legal skirmish, using so-called “thin client” mobile gear and personal computers, which access all your stuff from the cloud, and how Microsoft’s new Xbox One may be beating Apple in conquering the living room.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris introduce crop circle artist and UFO researcher Matthew Williams. Yes, he is responsible for some of those crop circles. According to his bio: “Former British Government Customs & Excise officer, Matthew Williams, had his first UFO experience in 1991. This led him to become a well known UK UFO investigator. After investigating the crop circle subject, he decided to try making some circles to test if researchers would know they were artificial. The rest is history as eventually Matthew became the only person to ever be arrested for making a crop circle.”

    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.


    As I write this column, Apple is just starting to catch up on deliveries of the iPhone 5s. Online shipments are now promised within the three to five business days timeframe and the holiday season is still young. But that’s better than a week or two. Besides, you stand a chance of finding the one you want, even gold, at a local dealer if you just check around.

    Now this isn’t unusual for an iPhone. The new model is almost always back ordered for a while, and supplies don’t catch up with demand for a couple of months. That’s supposed to be a good thing, but Apple’s ongoing iPhone success hasn’t stopped a very few tech pundits who want to spin the improvement in availability as something bad.

    Really! It seems that this situation is being regarded as evidence a falloff in iPhone 5s demand, rather than production improvements. Fewer people want them, so they are more readily available. End of story. Of course, there’s really no evidence that such a thing is true, although it’s clear that the 5s is outselling the 5c. But is that a failure for the cheaper iPhone?

    You see, if Apple didn’t build an iPhone 5c, they would have sold last year’s iPhone 5 as the mid-priced model instead. The real question is whether Apple improved the sales picture by building a new model even though it was mostly a slightly refreshed version of the old with plastics instead of metal. If Apple sells the very same number, it’s probably still better, because the 5c costs less to build.

    Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t break down sales of individual iPhone models, so it’s all about guesswork. If fewer units are sold, maybe that’s a problem. But there’s no evidence of that whatever, which leaves Apple in a better position.

    But now that the new iPhones are a mere two months old, it’s time to declare them dead and buried and begin to talk about the iPhone 6, at least to some. While Apple probably knows what they are going to release in 2014, the real question is when. Will it arrive in September 2014, or earlier? The iPhone is always updated to coincide with a new version of iOS, and that’s been on an annual schedule. It would seem that only a sales shortfall would force Apple to put a new iPhone into the mix any earlier.

    Of course the iPhone 5 was consistently labeled a failure, with misleading reports about cutbacks in production. But sales improved at a steady clip; not as fast as before, but nonetheless higher. Even when Tim Cook reminded industry analysts and the media that a few supply chain metrics do not necessarily explain the entire production outlook, he was largely ingored. Apple may move from one supplier to another, and may boost or reduce build numbers for reasons other than poor sales. But that’s too complicated for some of these people to grasp.

    Now assuming the next iPhone does indeed arrive next September, just what shape will it take? Usually Apple revises form factors on alternate years, so you would expect something new and different. One rumor talks of using liquid metal technology to fabricate cases in the fashion of a 3D printer. If true, it would make them cheaper to build, thus allowing for higher profits, or perhaps a lower price for customers. With Apple, you expect the former.

    The other question is whether Apple plans on adding one or two models with larger screens. Recent rumors, once again not confirmed, mention such screen sizes as 4.7 inches, 4.9 inches and 5.7 inches. If the latter, it would indicate that Apple is planning on entering the poorly-named phablet market, those curious hybrids that contain the features of smartphones and tablets.

    It’s certainly true that phablets are popular, particularly in Asia. If there’s a healthy market, would Apple consider diving in, or assume it’s a flash in the pan? Certainly Apple was urged to build netbooks when they became popular, but Apple’s answer, the iPad, killed those tiny PC note-books real fast. So the question remains whether phablets have staying power, or whether customers will conclude they are just too large for easily transport in pocket or purse — not to mention requiring two hands to use — and let them die on the vine.

    In any case, I have little doubt there will be a larger iPhone, if only because Apple has not denied that such a thing is in the works. It’s all about solving the shortcomings of existing models, rather than attacking the concept. I’ll leave it to others to speculate on what size or sizes Apple might choose, but remember prototypes of all sorts of iPhone configurations may show up in the supply chain. A prototype is not a finished product by any means, but the final configuration should become obvious by spring or summer. Supply chain leaks are a fact of life.

    The rest of the speculation covers an A8 processor, a camera with more megapixels, and support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi, though that hardly seems essential for a smartphone. But the long and short of it is that Apple’s plans for next year are not really important in the scheme of things. This is the sort of idle speculation that isn’t going to accomplish much. You know that there will always be a better iPhone on the horizon, but it’ll be foolish to put off buying one now if you need it, particularly if your cell phone contract is up.


    To some, cable or satellite TV is just yesterday’s news. Paying a lump sum for a monolithic collection of channels, most of which you’ll never watch, seems a total waste of money. Why not just pay for what you want, and forget about the rest?

    Although the cable and satellite providers have been urged to offer a la carte offerings, it’s not as if the situation has changed. The traditional bundled packages start with a few dozen channels, and expand to over 300. For reasons that aren’t always logical, at least to the customer, stations are put in different tiers, so you may have to upgrade to get the ones you want which, of course, leaves you with loads of stations you don’t care about.

    Now one reason you have all this bundling is the fact that the entertainment companies offer their channels to the carriers as packages. You want NBC’s USA and SyFy channels, you have to take others as well, even if they have very small viewerships. It’s a one-price-fits-all deal, which helps enforce this bundling situation.

    Forgetting the extra you pay to get stuff you don’t want, bear in mind that having more channels available gives you more opportunity to discover shows you might never have considered. I can’t, for example, remember ever watching BBC America until “Dr. Who” returned. Once I began to check it out, I discovered some other shows, such as the early seasons of “Being Human,” a show featuring a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost trying to fit in, “Law & Order UK,” a different look at the classic procedural drama, and yet another police procedural, “Broadchurch.”

    Yet another channel not on my watch list was AMC, which used to specialize in old movies. “The Killing” changed all that, at least for three seasons. There will be a fourth season, but it’ll be on Netflix. Another subscription? I’m not sure, although the service’s political drama, “House of Cards,” which has received loads of praise and Emmy nominations, sounds intriguing.

    Indeed, more and more younger people never sign up for cable. They look for the free version of Hulu, or just get cheap streaming packages, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, perhaps fleshing out their TV fare with an old fashioned TV antenna. Depending on what you want to watch — and how long you’re willing to wait to be able to see the show on a streaming service — this might be a way to save a lot of money. It’s all about your priorities, your budget, and the convenience factor. If you treat cable TV shows as an event, meaning you want to see them as soon as they are broadcast, these alternate schemes may not be your cup of tea.

    As for me, I exist on a cheaper satellite package, with a smattering of premium content. If I want to rent a movie, I use iTunes and my Apple TV. Yes, I do watch broadcast television.

    But the traditional cable and satellite services are seeing slow growth or no growth. More and more, customers of other services are encouraged to switch with a special offer. At the same time, efforts are made to extract more cash from existing customers. Aside from price increases due to higher programming carriage fees, the DVRs do more things. Instead of being able to record just two shows at a time, now it’s five or six. So even if several of your favorite shows appear at the same time, you aren’t inconvenienced, or forced to wait and see if they turn up on the “on-demand” menu.

    The “whole house” concept supposedly means that a single cable box functions for your entire home, and you can start watching a show on one TV, and pick up on another without missing a beat. You may even be able to watch your shows on a smartphone or a tablet, depending on the service.

    Indeed, CenturyLink’s new Prism TV service, which uses a combination of fiber and old fashioned copper wire, promises the ability to watch TV on whatever device you have available. By and large, however, Prism is just another cable service in a new dress. A relative has the service, and I examined the set top box and the channel lineup. The interface was similar to other services, although the ability to change channels near instantaneously was a plus.

    So far, however, Prism is only being rolled out in a few CenturyLink service areas, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Shorn of the window dressing, however, there’s nothing here that will prevent you from cutting the cord. Nothing at all.


    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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