• Newsletter Issue #880

    October 10th, 2016


    Does the world need yet another smartphone brand? That’s the question that Google is trying to answer with its Pixel brand. In a world where most people buy mobile handsets from Apple and Samsung, and there are a number of lesser players, it’s hard to justify another entrant. Well, unless that entrant offers something altogether new and different.

    But Pixel, Phone by Google appears to offer nothing that’s particularly original. Based on published reports, the specs are par for a high-end Android smartphone, and there are no compelling new hardware features to speak of. Google’s alleged advantage is to offer a vanilla Android experience, enhanced camera software, free online storage for your photos, plus 24/7 chat and voice support. That might be sufficient for some, but couldn’t Google manage the same native feature set with its Nexus line?

    Is there a distinction? Well, the Nexus was built by Android partners, while Pixel is allegedly designed by an in-house team of former Motorola people. Despite generic specs, the camera’s optimized software supposedly makes it better than other smartphone cameras, and charging is said to be faster. But one review I read of the camera indicated that, while it gets a high numeric rating, picture quality is short of the state of the art.

    The real issue is how well it’ll do in the marketplace and that remains to be seen. But starting out with just one third-party carrier, Verizon Wireless, seems hardly sufficient to ensure stellar sales. The only possible sales booster is the possibility that customers may be soured on Samsung due to the ongoing problems with the Galaxy Note 7’s battery. I’ll report more on Samsung’s ongoing problems in the next article.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured tech journalist Andrew Martonik, executive editor of Android Central. The episode began with a detailed discussion of Samsung’s ongoing problems with exploding batteries on the Galaxy Note 7 phablet. Andrew also discussed the main announcements at Google’s October 4th media event, in which the Pixel, Phone by Google was announced. Gene and Andrew assessed where this new product fits in the current saturated market, and how it might fare against flagship gear from Apple and Samsung. The discussion also focused on the Google WiFi router system and other new products and services.

    You also heard from blogger and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Kirk detailed the problems he confronted trying to set up Apple’s two-factor authentication scheme on his devices, and the inability of Apple’s tech support to help him. He also discussed iCloud growth pains and responded to Gene’s query as to whether it would make sense for Apple to add online support for Time Machine and other backup systems. Kirk talked about the Pixel, Phone by Google smartphone, Google WiFi and other products. The session concluded with the disconnect between regular users and tech savvy users, using Apple’s decision to make macOS Sierra an automatic download to customers as a notable or notorious example.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Gene and Chris present Jeffrey Mishlove Ph.D, the author of many books and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on the subject of human consciousness. Best known for his encyclopedic volume titled: The Roots of Consciousness, this classic, written in 1975, is considered to be one the best, if not the best, book ever written on the subject of human consciousness and is one of Chris O’Brien’s favorite books in his library. Mishlove is currently director of the Intuition Network, an organization dedicated to helping create a world in which all people are encouraged to cultivate their inner, intuitive resources. He also serves as program dean of the University of Philosophical Research.


    It is very common to append the label “gate” on any alleged scandal, all originating from the infamous Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters that ended up with Richard Nixon resigning as President of the U.S. At the time, the Watergate contained offices, hotel rooms and condos. I should know, as my uncle, agricultural consultant Martin Sorkin, was living there when my first wife and I spent the night at his home in June, 1972.

    A week later, well, you probably know the rest.

    Today, the Watergate appears to be mostly a luxury hotel with nightly rates beyond what regular people can usually afford. But the reputation remains, and almost every time something that appears akin to a scandal occurs, the name must contain the word “gate.” But if you consider the way it was originally used, Watergate would actually become “Watergate Gate.” But cultural memes never die, despite the facts.

    In any case, Apple has been afflicted with alleged scandals from time to time. Very notable was “Antennagate,” in 2010, which was mostly a myth, not helped along by the decision of Steve Jobs to dismiss the matter sarcastically when responding to an iPhone user who ran into reception problems with an iPhone 4. He was told to just hold his phone differently to eliminate the problem.

    In the end, Jobs was essentially forced to hold a press event where selected reporters were given tours of Apple’s antenna test facility. Jobs claimed that the problem, poor reception when the iPhone 4 was held a certain way, was due to the laws of physics. The edict “don’t do that!” meant that all mobile handsets would exhibit reception problems of one sort or another if they were held in a certain way. How varied on the antenna positioning and design. Apple even displayed videos of smartphones from other companies exhibiting similar problems, although those videos were withdrawn shortly thereafter.

    Despite the fact that the iPhone 4 supposedly worked as designed, Apple gave free cases for a while, which prevented the problem from occurring. The antenna layout on its successor, the iPhone 4s, was redesigned. Few mention Antennagate anymore.

    Of course, the first release of Apple Maps was a total misfire, so “Mapgate” was real, but steady improvements have been made since then, although that’s not widely reported.

    With the arrival of the iPhone 6 and its large, thin case, there was yet another alleged scandal, “Bendgate,” in which it was supposedly too easy to bend the unit in your back pocket. But actual tests indicated it was just as robust as thin and large smartphones from other companies. Still, Apple made the iPhone 6s stronger, meaning it was best to avoid even the hint of such a problem.

    These are relatively minor issues in the scheme of things. But when the battery of a mobile handset has too much of a tendency to overheat and perhaps burst into flame, people sometimes get hurt. So shortly after the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 arrived in August, a week earlier than in the previous year, reports of battery problems emerged. Now such things have occurred on occasion with different mobile handset makers over the years, including Apple. But not often enough to warrant an investigation or a recall.

    Not so with the Galaxy Note 7, which was recalled by Samsung on September 2nd. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also issued a recall. So let’s call it “Batterygate.”

    The problem did get publicity, but nowhere near what might have occurred if the problem involved iPhones. Any potential defect with an Apple mobile handset would garner worldwide headlines, and demands by governments to investigate the company for its dangerous lapses of quality control. The U.S. Congress would spearhead such investigations, and Apple CEO Tim Cook would be called on the carpet to testify and explain what went wrong.

    But even though Samsung sells more units, overall, than Apple, it never received anything close to a similar level of coverage. That’s unfortunate, because there is the very real possibility that the fixed phones are not, in fact, fixed. So later in September, supposedly fixed handsets were shipped to dealers, and customers exchanged their defective devices for the ones that were said to have reliable batteries.

    But that appears not to be so.

    So there’s a report this past week about a certain Southwest Airlines plane, in Louisville, Kentucky, where a replacement Galaxy Note 7 overheated and actually burned through the carpet in the cabin. Passengers were evacuated and were forced to rebook their flights. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

    But this doesn’t appear to be a one-off. There was also a report last week on television station WKYT, in Lexington, Kentucky, about yet another Galaxy Note 7 phone that lit on fire, sending its owner to the hospital due to smoke inhalation. That, too, allegedly involved a replacement phone.

    Yet another report, involving 13-year-old Abby Zuis in Minnesota, also involved an overheated Galaxy Note 7. According to KSTP, a TV station in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the teenager felt a “weird, burning sensation” while she was holding her phone, and she promptly dropped it to the ground. She suffered minor burns.

    Samsung’s response seemed riddled with cliches, “We want to reassure our customers that we take every report seriously and we are engaged with the Zuis family to ensure we are doing everything we can for them and their daughter,.Customer safety remains our highest priority as we are investigating the matter.”

    No doubt, but why was this problem allowed to get out of hand in the first place? Did Samsung rush the replacement to market without proper and lengthy testing in the hopes of salvaging what was left of the product’s future sales? If so, it is definitely deserving of the class-action lawsuits that are no doubt being prepared by various attorneys.

    According to the latest published reports, Samsung has apparently taken the hint and temporarily halted production of the Galaxy Note 7. Carriers are evidently in the process of suspending shipment of replacement units to customers.

    It may be that Samsung might also be better off canceling the Galaxy Note branding, and find a new and different name to help remove even the appearance of potential trouble. More to the point, they need to redouble their quality control efforts, use their advanced technology to make the most reliable batteries ever.

    No doubt other companies will benefit from Samsung’s failure. Anyone considering a move from Android to iOS might find this to be the right time to act on that decision.

    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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