Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter -- Issue #529

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Gene Steinberg

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Are you prepared for the arrival of 3D TV? Well, in last week’s episode, I suggested that the world isn’t ready for it yet. But the consumer electronics industry is seeing loads and loads of dollar signs after the stellar success of “Avatar.” As with the entertainment industry, they believe that imitation is the sincerest form of profits, assuming the public goes along with the scheme and buys the products in sufficient numbers.

In any case, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group, discussed the prospects for 3D TV, and then outlined some of the hottest gear for 2009 and 2010.

Now when it comes to examining trends and financials, Stephen knows whereof he speaks. But he may not always be up on the nuts and bolts of a new technology. So, for example, not all 3D sets are alike in terms of the technology they’re going to use. Now it may be that, regardless of what’s happening inside, they will all be able to play the forthcoming Blu-ray 3D content and deliver 3D broadcasts, so maybe it won’t matter. But the 3D goggles won’t be generic. What works for one set may not work for another that uses a different technology.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Besides, why pay hundreds of dollars extra for a gadget that will only come into its own with a handful of movies and perhaps TV shows per year? Content will take the stage here, and “Avatar” and a few 3D animated films won’t be enough to cause a format revolution. Some day it’ll arrive, but maybe not till they devise a method to deliver high quality 3D fare without the glasses.

In another segment, Jim Dalrymple, from The Loop, talked about the hot new gear expected from Apple and tells you why he has concerns about the future of the Macworld Expo without such major participants as Apple, Adobe and Microsoft.

Macworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes joined us to reveal the most interesting products he saw at the Consumer Electronics Show, how he struggled for hours to figure out why his Mac mini wouldn’t boot, and then expressed his hopes and dreams for an Apple tablet computer.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, UFO abduction researcher John Carpenter presents a tribute to legendary UFO researcher Leonard Stringfield, who spent 40 years collecting exclusive UFO reports from military informants. During this discussion, you will hear amazing details of UFO crashes, retrievals and alien autopsies. 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 selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


Regardless of whose sales figures you believe, it’s a sure thing that the netbook saved the PC industry in 2009. Without those cheap, shrunken notebooks, I’ve little doubt that sales would have been perfectly awful for most of the PC box builders.

Instead, they can tout that alleged PC resurgence, and Windows 7 no doubt helped, despite those perfectly awful TV spots. On the other hand, despite selling larger quantities of product, what about the profits? How much money can a company make on a $300 computer, large, small or otherwise?

You don’t have to wonder why Apple won’t enter that sandbox, and it’s all about quality and profitability. One thing is certain about cheap gear, and that’s the lack of durability. This stuff may work fine on Day One, but will you still receive satisfactory performance after six months, or a year or two?

As most of you know, actually fixing one of these things once the warranty has expired will generally cost more than the machine is worth. They are disposable, but I suppose you could say the same thing about an iPod or even an iPhone, although most of the problems for both can be repaired if you’re willing to spend a third to half the cost of buying a replacement.

But when it comes to a personal computer, does it make sense to just throw it out and buy another? It’s not just a phone or a music player where your backup is on your computer, or should be. You have a large portion of your personal and working life invested in a Mac or PC, and even with methods to migrate your stuff to a new machine, it’s still an annoying process that you wouldn’t want to confront very often.

I underwent a transition from a 2008 Mac Pro to a 27-inch iMac at the beginning of December of 2009. It took roughly 90 minutes, and I didn’t have to spend much time reactivating software before everything settled down. But my experience isn’t typical, and if my previous computer broke down without a recent backup, I would be confronting a total mess.

Consider the plight of someone who invested in a $300 PC netbook. While many customers no doubt buy them as a backup or second computer, and thus have most of their stuff on more resilient gear, far too many customers will face a difficult dilemma. Recovering data from a busted PC would impact the people who are least likely to have recent backups, or are using IMAP email so they don’t have to worry about the loss of local copies of their messages.

Apple’s stock and trade is quality at a fair price. They sell loaded computers, and when you compare them to comparably equipped PCs, the price difference is usually small to nonexistent. At the same time, Macs receive the highest grades for tech support in the industry and product reliability is generally quite good as well.

Of course, the support issues confronting the Windows user tend to be more complicated and require a lot more effort to resolve. Microsoft has to bear the brunt of the blame, because they continue to make their user interface confusing for many users. Sure, once you learn how things work, Windows 7 functions fairly well. But the people who are apt to call for tech support are usually the ones who don’t know the ins and outs, for otherwise they’d figure out a solution for themselves.

Forgetting the shortcomings of Microsoft’s operating system, it’s a sure thing that most of the components used on the Mac and PC are the same, from processors, to RAM, graphics chips and hard drives. Sure, Apple builds a certain amount of custom parts, along with unique case designs for which there’s no equivalent on the PC platform.

All told, the price you pay for a Mac covers mid- to high-grade parts, the best customer support in the industry and an operating system that, for the most part, is fast, reliable and gets out of the way so you can actually get some work done. More to the point, you don’t suffer from the shortcomings of the Windows platform, where computers often slow down severely during the course of regular use for various and sundry reasons. Causes may be malware infections and perhaps corruption in the dreaded Windows Registry, a relic of the early days that Microsoft continues to inflict on their customers.

Sure, Macs crash, and Mac OS X has a fair number of bugs that Apple needs to fix. But most of those problems only affect a small number of users, and it’s rare for Macs to suffer from deteriorated performance during normal use and service for most of you. Indeed, I know some of you keep your Macs running for weeks or months without a restart, except to install software that requires a reboot.

It comes down to the choices available to the PC consumer. Yes, if all or most of your apps only exist on the Windows platform, I suppose it makes little sense to buy a Mac, even though you can use Boot Camp or a virtual machine. If you work for a company where Macs just aren’t allowed for one reason or another, again you don’t have a say in the matter unless you attain a position in the company that gives you the authority to make or influence a different decision.

If you cannot afford to buy a new Mac, it may make sense to consider a cheap PC. But then again, a used Mac can be a great value as well. Unless the computer was seriously abused, the second or third owner may still get years of great service while saving a bundle of money.

On the other hand, even the basic Mac mini is enough computer for most people, and that includes the enterprise. Maybe Apple’s decision to sell a mini with Snow Leopard Server is their first recognition of the business possibilities for their cheapest model. I also wonder how many businesses can run just as well or better with a Mac mini instead of whatever PC box they’re using now, even if it requires Boot Camp?

Apple, however, enters the corporate market via consumers rather than businesses. I don’t know if that’s the best strategy, but as long as Apple can continue to make loads of profits and grow sales, does it really make a difference if they haven’t been able to grow their market as fast as some of the cheap PC box makers?


They’ve been saying it for years: Printed books, magazines and newspapers are an endangered species, and we’re destined to use handheld computers to read the written word.

But is the wholesale conversion to ebooks inevitable and imminent? That’s a question I have been asking ever since I first tried a Rocket (Gemstar) eBook reader years ago. At that time, my response was no. The Rocket device had a poor LED display and slow response. Indeed, one of my books is actually available on that product, but I see very little income from it. I even wonder if anyone even uses those things anymore.

The Amazon Kindle was supposed to be the watershed product, the first ebook reader that actually provided a great user experience. Indeed, the text is sharp and clear, but screen response is slow and did I mention it’s black and white? But I gather it’s reasonably popular. On Christmas Day, for example, Amazon sold more ebooks and printed ones, in large part because new Kindle buyers wanted to quickly populate these gadgets with some reading material.

So you can expect that the ever-imitative consumer electronics companies were busy rolling out ebooks during the CES earlier this month. I won’t attempt to judge whether any of those devices are better than the Kindle or not. All eyes are focused on Apple and the hoped for tablet computer.

Indeed, not so many weeks ago, there were widespread rumors that Apple had already begun to make deals with publishers to get content on their new product. You can bet that Apple’s OS expertise will provide a superior reading experience, and there will be lots and lots of color and multimedia. Imagine, for example, how students might harness the capabilities of the rumored iSlate.

Of course, just being able to take all their textbooks from class to class and home again without suffering potential spinal injuries from lugging around those hefty backpacks ought to be sufficient. And wouldn’t it be nice to receive immediate updates to textbook content, and be able to annotate the material and prepare homework on the very same machine? This could certainly be a boon to school systems around the world.

It won’t make a difference to the textbook publishers, so long as they can continue to make big profits from sales or rentals. It would also save lots and lots of trees, and isn’t Apple now the darling of the “green” movement?

This isn’t to say that most people are actually willing to give up print for electronic. There’s something special about the printed word, particularly books, which cannot be duplicated on an ebook reader, regardless of how capable. As I write this, I remember one of the early scenes in the 1980s science fiction movie, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Dr. McCoy brings Capt. Kirk an old book as a birthday present, even though it’s the 23rd century and such things are simply relics of Earth’s primitive path.

Now maybe I’m old fashioned, but Dr. McCoy got it right. Yes, the ebook might take over for most, assuming the right product arrives from Apple or some other company, but such gear will never replace the magical experience that comes from reading a real, rather than electronic, book.


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