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Newsletter Issue #753

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

So whatever happened to the so-called paperless revolution? You know, where we’d do everything on our computers, perhaps online, and have no need for printers and paper. Well, it doesn’t seem to have turned out that way. By the time you calculate the number of extra copies you have to print, particularly of those forms you might use at your doctor’s office, you find that the only people who benefit are those who run the printer and paper companies. Well, there’s always that third-party supplier of printer consumables.

So we have the crazy situation where computers appear to have done the reverse of what they intended. I know that I try hard to save money. I have two printers, but keep one mostly unused. The other printer does get some use, though I try to concentrate on scanning rather than actually printing documents. I use an e-fax service, where faxes are sent as files, and the faxes I receive are embedded in emails. That I receive any faxes at all in the 21st century seems so retro, but I do get a few each week. Curious indeed.

Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Ryan Rosenberg, a VP for Apple’s FileMaker division, who gave you some savvy tips on starting to make the paperless revolution really happen at your home or office.

Now Ryan had some really great ideas, and he wasn’t there just to sell FileMaker Pro or other Apple products, although he did mention the iPad. But only in the way it can help reduce the use of paper in an office environment.

We also featured outspoken commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, who gave you a whole plate of opinions this week. The bill of fare included a reality check on the recent drop in iPad sales, why professionals go nuts over Apple’s “mid-course” corrections, the reasons why Apple shouldn’t try to copy Google Glass, along with his views about the TV set-top box wars, and what real 4K TV streaming is all about.

Tech columnist Dann Berg held forth on Apple’s Mac price cuts, including the latest MacBook Air, whether Apple’s recent financial moves to increase buybacks and do a 7-to-1 stock split are smoke and mirrors to hide the lack of new products, or just smart business. You also heard about Dann’s expectations for an iWatch, and the next versions of iOS and OS X.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris welcome pioneer cryptozoologist Loren Coleman back to The Paracast with an update of ongoing research into the field, including a global call for DNA evidence. You’ll hear about case histories, including recent reports, along with a dose of myth busting. According to his bio: “Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say ‘the’ leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.”

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.

HAS THE MEDIA FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE WORD “WILLFUL”?

So let’s cover the basics: On Friday, May 2, an eight-member jury in a Northern California Federal Court decided that Samsung was guilty of infringing on three Apple patents. The total cash award was $119,625,000. It sounds like an awful lot of money, except that it’s a mere fraction of what Apple wanted — some $2.19 billion — though obviously still a substantial figure.

The verdict involved three patents covering “647,” or data detectors, “721,” or slide-to-unlock, and “172,” for predictive text. But the jury needs to return to court on Monday, because they did not award any money for the “172” patent violation in the initial verdict. Although the award was revised in a Monday session, the totals didn’t change. The jury simply juggled the figures across the three verdicts.

In turn, Apple was found guilty of violating the so-called “449” patent, about an “Apparatus for recording and reproducing digital image and speech,” which Samsung actually acquired from Hitachi. Perhaps it was meant to have something to defend. But the award? A mere $158,400. It was hardly worth the effort.

No matter. Apple still won a major victory. But some members of the media have been portraying this trial as a loss for Apple and a win for Samsung and Google. I suppose that’s because the cash award was far less than Apple expected, and there is that tiny loss. Or maybe the jury decided that, on the basis of the actual costs of the infringing gear, the patents were only worth a small amount of the total. I mean, the products would still function for the most part with decent performance if those features weren’t there, or were delivered in a way that didn’t infringe.

But there’s a single word in the verdict that makes the skeptical media look foolish, and that’s “willful.” It means that Samsung didn’t violate these patents by mistake. It means they deliberately sought to “slavishly” copy Apple, and that’s a huge distinction. It means Judge Lucy Koh can triple the award, which means a minimum of $360 million or so.

Suddenly we’re talking about real money.

But even if Samsung ends up writing Apple a big check, that doesn’t mean they have to stop distributing the offending products. That would require a separate order from Judge Koh, who has so far been extremely skeptical about blocking trade. It also appears she’s been skeptical of the entire matter, since she forced both sides to severely whittle down not just the number of infringing patents but the time spent to try the case. She clearly wants to have it over and done with.

So even if she does decide to triple damages — and I expect she’s skeptical of going that far — the case won’t end there, and no Samsung products will be forced off sale.

You see, whoever loses will appeal the case, and it will take months to go through the normal process. The losing side might want to take it to a higher court, so I suppose it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court would be asked to enter the case. I wouldn’t presume if the Supremes would want to get involved, or whether they’d just kick it back to a lower court to make the final decision.

After all is sad and done, the Samsung products that included the infringing technology will probably be long off the market. Remember that the recent Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 were not part of the case, although Apple is expected to demand that they too be included since they allegedly infringe on the very same patents.

Now if saner heads prevailed, Apple and Samsung executives would sit in a board room somewhere, or perhaps at a nearby Starbucks, and really make an effort to hammer out a deal. Apple has already done that successfully with HTC, but Samsung may not want to surrender so easily, even though stonewalling seems to defy logic.

You see, Samsung still sells billions of dollars of parts to Apple. Even though there have been ongoing published reports that Apple is trying to switch, it so happens that Samsung is quite good at building components for mobile gear. Finding replacement suppliers isn’t so easy, but if Apple managed to take a huge amount of business away, maybe Samsung’s corporate bean counters would wake up and smell the roses.

My long-term view of all these legal skirmishes is that they do nothing but make the lawyers fat and rich. There are wins here, losses there, and draws elsewhere. Apple even came close to having older iPhones barred from sale until the authorities intervened. But at the end of the day, you can buy the smartphone you want regardless of whether they have features that have been found to infringe on another company’s intellectual property. Nothing, therefore, has changed.

This doesn’t mean Apple should freely license technology. The ability to patent one’s inventions is critical to encouraging innovation. The current situation, however, has gotten way out of hand with no end in sight. Perhaps Samsung, stung with another loss or two, will realize it’s high time to make a deal. But the assumption that Apple somehow lost this case doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

What does make sense is that it’s just more of the same.

OS X 10.10 AND THE MAC IS BACK

Next month, Apple is widely expected to lift the veil off the next great version of OS X, assumed to be 10.10 and identified by yet another compelling California place name. Some suggest “Yosemite,” though that name actually reminds me of a certain cartoon character, “Yosemite Sam.”

I don’t know whether that seeming shortcoming would occur to Apple or whether it would make any difference. But I won’t debate the issue. The truth is a little more than four weeks away as of this writing, and I can wait. Yes, OS X 10.10 (say that five times fast!) is supposedly known under the code name of “Syrah,” but that’s for internal use only.

Now with Mavericks, many of the key changes were under the hood, designed to use resources more efficiently, boost performance and improve note-book battery life. In large part, Mavericks was a success and, being free, has evidently been adopted by more than half the Macs currently in use. One expects the successor to be equally popular.

But visual changes were relatively slight. A few apps were changed to ditch skeuomorphism, and such iOS apps as iBooks and Maps were added. Yes, there were over 200 changes and enhancements, but the performance boosts were the most compelling. But those who rely heavily on Apple Mail may wish Apple hadn’t bothered to tamper with something that just worked, but most of the Mavericks-related bugs appear to have been addressed.

So what’s 10.10 going to deliver? By far the strongest prospect is a refined interface, simplified and flattened to more closely resemble iOS 7. This doesn’t mean the systems necessarily merge, but it would provide a more consistent look. I suppose it could have happened last year, only Apple didn’t have time to consider the interface what with having to finish up iOS 7. And some suggest iOS 7 was never quite finished until the 7 .1 update and maybe not even then.

This time, the rumor sites suggest some iOS interface engineers were moved to the OS X project to get more done. If that’s the case, maybe some expected iOS 8 features will be delayed, or maybe not.

But what about apps and features?

Well, I suppose there’s plenty of room to shore up existing stuff. Mail may still be a tad flaky to some, and I wonder if Apple can possibly develop a better way to handle email. The changes in Mail over the years have been mostly gradual, and it’s sometimes been a case of two steps forward, but one critical step back. So you can no longer reorder the position of accounts in the Mail preference pane. They can be moved in the Mail sidebar, but if you make a change to an email account to produces a Save button, it jumps back to the default position.

I’d sure like to talk to the developers who came up with that not-so-bright idea.

The other silliness is that, if you try to delete an account in Mail, it moves you to the Internet Accounts preference pane. Maybe Apple wants to be consistent, but I see no reason not to be able to dispose of an email account in both places, which, to me at least, makes far more sense.

If you check online, you’ll see lots of wish lists, but many are about bringing more iOS apps to the Mac, and perhaps giving System Preferences a look and feel closer to the Control Center in iOS 7, though I don’t quite see it for a desktop OS.

A heavy number of complaints are all about iTunes, still regarded as bloated and trying to do too many things. One wish is for restoring Cover Flow. Other suggest subdividing iTunes into separate apps to make it easier to handle non-music content, such as apps for iOS gear, and perhaps movies. But being the jack-of-all trades, a monolithic media app, is what iTunes has been all about for better or worse, and while separating components may be suited for the more constrained iOS environment, I don’t think it’s such a good idea for Macs.

One wish you hear from time to time is just to bring back Rosetta, the system resource that lets you run PowerPC apps on an Intel Mac, which went away starting in OS 10.7. That’s the key reason why many Mac users continue to use OS X Snow Leopard. Now I don’t know about the logistics, but I suspect that, if Apple could bring Rosetta back, you’d see the number of Snow Leopard users decline by a hefty percentage overnight. But there will still be those whose Mac hardware will never run 10.10 regardless.

But maybe system requirements will stay the same as with Mavericks. One can always hope, particularly if your Mac is getting a little long in the tooth.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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