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  • Newsletter Issue #783

    December 1st, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I wanted to take this opportunity once again to promote Tech Night Owl+, our premium subscription service. The main benefit, and more will be added, is a higher-resolution version of the show without the network ads. This may not be such a big deal for most of you, since we run the same number of ads as other radio shows broadcast on terrestrial stations.

    But some listeners don’t think running the normal allotment of ads is normal. They send letters about it, they write reviews about it, and we gently explain to them how and why this must be so. Regardless, now there’s an alternative. More than that, the future will bring exclusive audio content and other special features. And they’ll be announced going forward.

    We’ve already debuted a second premium show for The Paracast+, called After The Paracast. It’s just a matter of time before extra features come to the tech show. So if you want to know more about Tech Night Owl+, please check here for the details and sign-up information.

    Now on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented prominent tech blogger Dann Berg, who discussed the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, such as those voiced by entrepreneur Elon Musk. You also heard Dann’s views about Bitcoin, the iPhone 6, and whether sales of the new, larger iPhones are cannibalizing sales of the iPad.

    I had one brief foray into experimenting with Bitcoin a year or two back, when I began to accept donations in the digital currency. But after one of the key Bitcoin financial institutions went bankrupt, I thought better of it. Maybe some day, but not yet. Besides, I wonder if we’ll even be talking about Bitcoin five or ten years from now, or whether it will be just one more experiment that may have paved the way for a new currency, but was supplanted by superior methods.

    You also heard from commentator Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, who offered his outspoken views about the complaints voiced about iTunes 12, and the controversy over iMessages, where people who switch from iPhones to other mobile platforms suddenly find their messages aren’t working. He also discussed Apple’s recent failed attempt to fund a sapphire plant in Mesa, Arizona, and the issues that have apparently slowed sales of iPads.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present UFO investigator and optical scientist Dr. Bruce Maccabee to talk about his newest book entitled, “The FBI-CIA-UFO Connection.” This is a provocative look at what these agencies know about the UFO phenomenon, and what the author claims are their efforts to conceal the truth from the public. What the government may or may not know about UFOs has long been a subject of speculation. Getting a handle on what evidence they might have has been a goal of researchers for decades, and we are all curious to see just what evidence Dr. Maccabee has delivered.

    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.

    JUST FOR READING?

    There are surveys and there are surveys. It’s very easy to take a little bit of highly-focused data and attempt to project how it impacts the entire product category. Before I get into the limitations of that data, once again most members of the media will quote such a survey without considering the limitations.

    A notable example is a study that supposedly concludes that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are changing the equation when it comes to consuming media, well at least selecting material to view at a later time. The report comes from Pocket, who makes an iOS app that allows you to save such a reading list.

    Now remember this study is strictly about saving articles and videos. It has nothing to do with customer preferences about reading or watching that material without saving for later, using apps, sending instant messages, and so on. It’s all about collecting online material for later viewing. Nothing wrong with that, but consider the narrow focus.

    Now it’s important to realize that Apple already packs a Reading List feature into iOS, so you can capture the articles to which you want to return later. But Pocket’s advantage is that it saves that list online, so you can access them on any platform supported by the app. That gives you a huge advantage that you might prefer if you find the iOS Reading List limiting. All well and good.

    The question is whether you can take a survey of Pocket users, specifying which iOS gear they use the most, and assuming that somehow expands to the value or usefulness of an iPhone compared to an iPad.

    Regardless, the survey concludes that an iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are used far more than an iPad to consume media; well at least to store a “read or watch later” listing. Specifically, 72% of iPhone 6 users prefer to use their handset to read content compared to 28% for the iPad. For iPhone 6 Plus users, it’s 80% versus 20% for the iPad. Compare that to the iPhone 5s, where it was 55% compared to 45% for the iPad.

    The survey’s conclusion? “The bigger your phone is, the less you’re going to use your iPad. Users with an iPhone 6 now read on their tablets 19% less during the week and 27% less over the weekend. Those with a 6 Plus are on their tablets 31% less during the week and 36% less over the weekend.”

    All this from a survey of reading or viewing later preferences.

    Now remember that the iPhone 6 smartphones were only available for a short time when this survey was taken. Users didn’t have the time to establish priorities, and they were very likely checking out different features and apps. It may well be that the numbers will stick, or that they will change over time as habits are established after the thrill wears off.

    Of course the best way to judge the value of such a survey is to evaluate the usage patterns of a particular device after they’ve owned one for a while, and see how and where they might change. Certainly the Pocket survey has a point, which is that a smartphone with a larger screen becomes a more comfortable reading environment. As the size scales, the numbers improve.

    But is that evidence of a decline in iPad use? I suspect the iPhone 6 Plus is cannibalizing from an iPad mini. One reason is that you can do all your mobile computing tasks on one device with reasonable comfort, and the display is not that much smaller than the mini iPad. But if you prefer a full-sized tablet, represented by the iPad Air 2, the equation may not change so much.

    Now it’s fair to say that there are huge unknowns about the iPad. People who just want a media consumption device, something to read and watch videos, might find themselves content with a cheap tablet. If that tablet doesn’t deliver a satisfactory experience, would they be inclined to switch to an iPad next time, or just assume tablet’s aren’t very useful? This is the fine distinction that might be lost on the critics who don’t really understand Apple’s position in the marketplace.

    The other question not answered is just how long folks might use an iPad or any other tablet before they buy the new model. With a smartphone, there are huge incentives to upgrade every couple of years. Some of the new pricing schemes promise upgrade cycles from 12 to 24 months, which means even more frequent upgrade sales.

    With a tablet, it’s too early in the game. There are millions of first generation iPads still in use, and for many needs they might seem perfectly satisfactory. Yes, the iPad Air 2 is much faster, much easier to hold. The original iPad cannot run iOS 8 or the newest apps, but does that add up to a sure upgrade?

    My wife has been perfectly comfortable with her third generation iPad. She has been using the review iPad Air 2 for a little over a week. She appreciates the lighter weight more than performance, and that’s a key factor. If it weighed the same, or close to the same, she’d see little justification in considering whether she wanted to own one when Apple takes it back.

    I’m sure she isn’t alone.

    In any case, the Pocket survey might be useful if the trend continues for a few months, but only for one area of usage. But not for everything, and it’s clear that an iPad is far superior for many types of work, particularly productivity chores, than any iPhone.

    NET NEUTRALITY ONCE AGAIN

    Some time in 2015, the FCC in the U.S. is expected to issue a proposed ruling about where it stands on the contentious issue of net neutrality. It’s a political football, and President Obama has already suggested that ISPs be put under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That’s a set of provisions that covers the cable TV industry, and it would have the effect of classifying ISPs as public utilities.

    Obviously, ISPs, most of which are also cable TV companies, would chafe at tighter regulation, but the FCC is clearly having a hard time finding another way.

    Now before we go on, I want to clear up the basic myth about net neutrality. You see, some suggest it’s yet another example of government overreach, but it’s actually a matter of ensuring that the ISP cannot engage in any behavior that harms the traditional concept of the free and open Internet.

    They cannot, for example, charge a content provider an extra fee to pass through their content, particularly streaming TV, at full speed. They cannot slow the pipes because a large service, such as Netflix, uses humongous amounts of bandwidth, particularly when you are binge watching a new show.

    As it stands, Netflix is already paying some providers extra fees for the right to install their servers at such facilities to get the maximum amount of performance. They claim they aren’t paying for a fast lane, but it’s hard to see the difference. Normally, Internet traffic may pass through several carriers on the path between the source, the ISP, and your home or office. Slowdowns may occur anywhere along the way.

    Now let’s look at neutrality from another standpoint so you get a clearer picture of what’s going on. Imagine, for example, if Apple paid AT&T to get priority on their wireless network. That would mean you’d get clear calls and fast download speeds with an iPhone, but maybe not with a Samsung unless that company, too, paid for special privileges.

    And what if AT&T refused to allow calls from Verizon unless they got special payments first? That would destroy the ability for people to talk to each other without being forced to use one carrier or one company’s mobile handset. Such behavior is just against the law. Yes, cell phone companies have confusing price policies, offer indifferent customer service, and call quality may be hit or miss. But they cannot stop you from using any handset compatible with their network, nor force you to use their network and only their network.

    Unfortunately, the FCC’s new proposal only confuses matters. So an ISP will supposedly be prohibited from throttling or blocking traffic. No, that doesn’t mean throttling download and upload speeds on your account if you exceed the bandwidth cap. That’s how the system works if they don’t cut you off completely. But it means that, if Netflix is generating lots of traffic, they can’t be deliberately slowed down.

    The FCC scheme, however, allows Netflix to buy a special path to your ISP. This is a case of everyone being equal, but some people being more equal than others. Honestly, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to me. It’s a toll booth however you define it. Remember that if the ISP operates its own cable TV system and you’re a subscriber, there will be no throttling and bandwidth cap for that service. You can watch high definition TV 24/7 on all your TVs via the cable system without worrying that you’re watching too many shows. You are only restricted by the number of channels for which you’ve signed up.

    Remember, too, that their cable TV system is feeding content to your home via the same cable that delivers their broadband Internet. If you choose a different cable company, you have separate wires. If you choose satellite, the wire connects to the satellite receiving dish.

    In any case, I do hope the FCC manages to sort things out and present a solution that’s fair to everyone and doesn’t cheat the content carrier or the customer. If you are paying extra to get those higher megabits so you can watch 4K video, you shouldn’t be forced to cope with your ISPs decision to ask for a “tribute” from the content carriers too. In other words, we’re talking about your freedom to enjoy a free and open Internet, and whether the ISP should be able to block that freedom.

    THE FINAL WORD

    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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