• Newsletter Issue #747

    March 24th, 2014


    So consider the scenario. The gatekeepers of the Internet, for most of you, are the ISPs that provide your connection. In many places, there is only one, so you have to put up with whatever they offer, even if it barely qualifies as broadband. Or maybe you only have access to satellite Internet, which may get you decent download speeds, but lots of latency, meaning there is a perceptible delay for loading a site, because of the time it takes for the signal to arrive from the dish. This is fine for a TV service, but not for fluid online access.

    But imagine, just imagine, that the Internet access companies with whom ISPs work to send and receive data, are being asked to pay more money to keep the broadband pipes open at full speed. I ran into this situation downloading files from some sites, only to learn that my ISP, CenturyLink, has an access (peering) connection with one provider, Cogent Communications, but isn’t giving them enough capacity. So is it just about allocating more resources to the connection, or getting a bigger payment for services?

    And the lowly customer is apt to be left in the dark about what’s really going on. I had to actually write to CenturyLink’s CEO to receive a promise of action. We’ll see how it turns out.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, outspoken commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld’s “iTunes Guy,” discussed our curious download problem, which may be a consequence of the failure of the FCC to develop a workable plan to enforce net neutrality. Kirk also talked about the joys of mono sound.

    Mono? Yes, before stereo, everything came through one channel. You can still hear mono on an AM radio station if you want to see how it was decades ago. But it may well be that, in some situations, mono gives you a more accurate reproduction of the essence of a musical performance than stereo.

    We also welcomed author Jeff Carlson, Senior Editor for TidBITS, who covered the controversy over a new book, “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs,” which paints a predictably negative picture of the company’s prospects for success under Tim Cook. He also discussed a recent extensive interview with Apple design chief Sir Jonathan Ive that was published in the UK’s Sunday Times and Time magazine. I’ll have more to say about that article in another commentary in this issue.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We present a special episode profiling the oldest U.S. magazine about the paranormal — Fate — founded in 1948 by Ray Palmer and Curtis Fuller. It has gone through several ownerships, and has a long, storied history of presenting articles about the strange and the unknown to a general audience. This episode features Phyllis Galde, the editor and publisher, and UFO historian Jerome Clark, a former editor of Fate. You’ll learn about the highlights over the years, and how the magazine is coping with the new online technologies.

    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.


    Over the past few days, I have had some ongoing discussions with someone over whether Macs can actually be used for work. Seems my adversary, so to speak, made it a point of how Macs were great consumer machines, but couldn’t be taken seriously for business.

    Now I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but when I began to respond to these statements, I thought I had somehow been transported back to another decade, in another century, because this is the sort of myth that was first presented about Macs beginning with the introduction of the very first one, in 1984.

    In those days, it was about the graphical user interface. Real PCs used text-based interfaces, and particularly Microsoft’s MS-DOS. These arguments were being made at the same time that Microsoft was busy doing what Google did decades later, which was to copy an Apple-built operating system.

    I suppose it was a matter of pride that work computers shouldn’t be simple and intuitive to use. You have to struggle to get work real work done.

    Of course, when Windows became the most popular operating system on the planet, it was hard to argue that graphical operating systems weren’t suitable for business. That’s the sort of argument that simply turned on its head. But Macs were still regarded by the critics as consumer toys. PCs, with a derivative interface, were still the computers of choice for the enterprise.

    That was then and this, aside from a few stragglers, is now.

    Today’s chatter is more about whether Apple’s ongoing success is due to a series of flukes, some lucky choices by the late Steve Jobs, and whether doom and gloom are inevitable real soon now.

    The perception of doom and gloom comes from the supposed failure of Apple to overhaul yet another market, something that has only happened on a few occasions over the years. But if you believe some tech pundits, it happened every day when Jobs was in control, and never under Tim Cook.

    But what about Cook’s promise that Apple will releasing products in new categories this year? Well, time is short. One alleged industry analyst has suggested that Apple had but 60 days to release the rumored iWatch, or lose out on that market.

    That particular analyst seems to ignore the fact that no so-called smartwatch has been a huge sales success. Most of the existing products seem variations on a very narrow theme. It almost reminds you of the state of the digital music player market back in 2001 before the iPod arrived. But memories are short.

    Even when an Apple product succeeds, it really failed. Consider the perception that the iPhone 5c didn’t do very well. Part of that belief was based on Tim Cook’s statement that Apple’s iPhone product mix for the holiday quarter was off, that the iPhone 5c maybe sold in fewer numbers than anticipated.

    What that meant is that more people decided to buy a more expensive product, the iPhone 5s, which kept the average transaction price of an iPhone higher. That customers were willing to pay more should be a good thing except in the world of the Apple haters.

    When it comes to the success of the iPhone 5c — or lack thereof — that depends on your approach to the question. According to an editorial from commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, in AppleInsider, the iPhone 5c has outsold even highly-touted Android smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, and has also done better than all BlackBerry or Windows Phone handsets. It also evidently did better than the previous year’s mid-range iPhone, the iPhone 4s. So how is that a failure?

    If Apple sold more copies of the iPhone 5c, average sale prices would be lower. The critics would have pounced on that, too, but that’s how it goes.

    Will the iPhone 5c become the cheapest iPhone this fall when the rumored iPhone 6 is expected to appear, or will it quietly disappear? Good question. But if you look at the estimated sales figures, you can hardly call it a flop, particularly when you compare it to the competition.

    Meantime I wonder what a certain pundit will say if the iWatch doesn’t show up by the end of May. What about reports that iPhone sales this quarter were actually better than expected? For the devoted Apple critic, success is never good enough, and failure is inevitable any time now. Just you wait.


    In 1998, Apple released the first iMac. I got an early look at Apple’s flashy new all-in-one desktop computer, and phoned Apple to get someone to go on the record about the new product for an online column.

    Now this was in the early days of Apple’s rise from almost inevitable doom, and perhaps Steve Jobs and the corporate communications department hadn’t quite put the lid on all but a interactions with the media. Well, at least it wasn’t quite as limited as it is now, so they decided to set up a phone interview with the iMac’s chief designer, none other than Jonathan Ive.

    In those days, Ive wasn’t a superstar, so there was no reason to ask about his design process or how Apple’s designs compared to the rest of the tech industry. But he was accessible and easy to talk to. The PR people asked me to limit my questions to the iMac, and not ask about other matters, which was understandable. So I didn’t have much of a chance to ask anything stupid.

    That, however, was not the case for a certain recent widely quoted interview of Ives, from one of their senior scribes, John Arlidge, published in both The Sunday Times Magazine in the UK and Time magazine in the U.S. In passing, it seems the Time version of the story is specially formatted to make it difficult to print, and you have to order up a paid subscription to see the original article at the UK site.

    But I wonder, after reading the article, whether Ive and Apple regretted talking to that reporter. When you read the piece, you get the impression that the writer was so in love with his own prose that he got lost in each and every overly clever turn of phrase. Rather than do real research, many of the questions seemed based on a set of all-too-common clichés about Apple, such as overpriced products, planned obsolescence, and the alleged cult-like following.

    If you’re going to talk about a cult, you have to wonder about the fact that Apple has hundreds of millions of customers, more than would occupy most countries. I don’t think these people would want to be branded as cultists. And I won’t go into the use of the phrase “hermetically sealed” when it comes to the OS. Please!

    I want to label this piece “smirk journalism” for obvious reasons. There’s no way such dumb questions could possibly have been intended as serious.

    Now I suppose Ive was too much of a gentleman not to just blow this guy off at the first dumb question and send him packing. Instead, at least according to the article, he patiently answered each question as if it were serious and not a poor effort to extract a potential sound byte suitable for a lurid headline.

    But Arlidge has to feel lucky. Had Steve Jobs or even Tim Cook been subjected to a similar interview, he’d be shown the door in five minutes flat and unceremoniously sent on his way.

    Now one would think that, in preparing to do an interview with someone who famously doesn’t submit to interviews very often, you’d do your research to come up with suitable questions, even tough ones, about Ive’s design process, and maybe even attempt to retrieve a few quotable anecdotes about the history of some of Apple’s iconic gadgets.

    But just repeating the same old cliches and expecting serious responses is just one more example of lazy journalism. So this was clearly a tragically missed opportunity. You also wonder why the UK paper couldn’t find someone who actually had a smattering of actual knowledge about Apple to handle this story. Yet when I checked into Arlidge’s bio, I discovered that he is actually an award-winning journalist.

    Specifically: Feature Writer of the Year, British Press Awards (Shortlisted). Orwell Prize for Journalism.

    All right, that sounds credible enough. When I checked into his recent articles, I found a new feature about yet another Apple personage, well someone who used to work for Apple, which was published on March 23. Entitled, “He built the iPod, now here’s the iHome,” the story is about Tony Fadell.

    A few months back, Arlidge was co-author of an article entitled “Nicotine is good for you, says tobacco firm scientist,” where the subject of the interview reportedly claimed that “nicotine had a positive impact on the brain.” Indeed, one of Arlidge’s bios indicates that he has written “181 articles since June 2007 with an average of 1,227 words.”

    So let’s call him what he is — a hack.

    One way to have a positive impact on your brain would, clearly, be the decision not to read any of his articles.


    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #747”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      One big problem is that almost no one understands software. This includes a lot of software people, but definitely just about every tech journalist. The whole iWatch thing is another example of hardware fixation. All they can see is the hardware. If it does twenty times as many things and does them twenty times better, but fits in the same size package, then somehow it is just exactly the same thing. By this standard, the automotive business is stuck with the Model T, four wheels, motor, and a seat for the passengers.

      A little while back Consumerist had an article, “The Smartphone Has Effectively Replaced All The Technology Offered In This 1991 Radio Shack Ad”, which featured a calculator, a cell phone, a CD player, a voice recorder, a desktop computer and a few other gadgets. Indeed, a typical smartphone has all of those capabilities. It is small, portable, and rechargeable. It has eliminated the need for a broad range of other gadgets, so tech journalists would consider it anti-innovative. How did it do it? That’s easy; it replaced gadget after gadget with program after program. That’s the magic of software, but only consumers, not professional tech observers, seem to get it.



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