Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter -- Issue #532

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Gene Steinberg

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It’s hard to stop talking about the iPad. When I wanted to move the conversation on to another topic, it just wasn’t possible. Even when it’s not directly discussed, there are loads of side issues that impact Apple’s latest and greatest.

There’s the future of Adobe Flash, for example, and whether open Internet standards, specifically the forthcoming HTML 5, will somehow supplant the need for a proprietary multimedia content delivery scheme. But I’ll get to Flash in a moment.

In any case, when I opened last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE and used the phrase “all iPad all the time,” I was being mostly serious. Indeed, that was the main topic, although the discussion did stretch into other areas.

The lead-off guest was author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, who explained what he likes about the iPad, and about his accurate predictions about some features of Apple’s newest gadget. In fact, Kirk was actually one of the few tech pundits to accurately predict a selling price starting at $499.

Next up, veteran industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group, discussed tech industry trends and how the iPad stacks up against potential rivals from other companies. Yes, we covered netbooks and Blu-ray players, but only as side issues.

Now Washington Post personal technology columnist Rob Pegoraro was present during the iPad’s rollout in San Francisco, and he delivered his first-hand impressions of the event and then went on to discuss the potential for Adobe Flash in light of the fact it’s not supported on Apple’s mobile platforms. Rob is certainly realistic enough to realize that Flash won’t be supplanted overnight, even if the Internet is destined to move in another direction for delivering multimedia content. And I suppose it’s always possible Apple will relent and work out some sort of arrangement for Adobe to deliver an updated version of Flash for the iPad and iPhone that will actually be reasonably stable and secure. But I’d be surprised if that’s the way things actually turn out.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, crash/retrievals are explored by UFO investigator Kevin D. Randle, author of “Crash: When UFOs Fall From the Sky: A History of Famous Incidents, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups.”

Coming February 14: Paranormal researcher Micah A. Hanks, author of “Magic, Mysticism and the Molecule: The Search for Sentient Intelligence from Other Worlds,” explores the incredible things we don’t understand about our universe. During the latter part of the episode, David will reveal more of his personal experiences.

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 selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


Humans are strange beasts. I wonder what an alien race might think of us if they come to Earth to observe our society and psychology. Consider how we root for the winner, and then, in an abrupt change of face, fervently hope for their defeat.

So consider Apple’s plight over the years. Despite a loyal fan base, out hasn’t always been so easy to get the press to come along for the ride, except for those who depend on Mac users for all or most of their traffic. Indeed, The Mac Observer had an Apple “death knell” section for years, where they’d recount the latest efforts on the part of the media to declare the company an abject failure.

It’s not as if Apple didn’t help things along. Consider all the missteps they made over the years. Despite having what was undeniably a superior product, a knock-off, better known as Windows, ruled the operating system empire then and now.

This is not to say that the Mac could have achieved total dominance in the same fashion as Apple has today with the iPod. But it wouldn’t be so one-sided a battle if Apple’s executives in those years had a clear-eyed vision for the future and not the failed vision of salespeople whose only concern was this quarter and the next, while innovation took a back seat.

Unfortunately old habits die hard, and there are still far too many uninformed alleged reporters who continue to tout Apple’s expected failures from one product initiative or another.

It wasn’t a recent thing either. When the iPod came out, they laughed at Apple for the limited feature set and extremely high selling price. Besides, what experience did Apple have selling consumer electronics gear?

But Apple caught a wave and the iTunes Store followed, along with full support for PCs. That combination proved to be the magic bullet, since even Windows users realized that the existing digital media players were junk, so they quickly embraced Apple’s vision.

Thus begat the legendary “halo effect,” where iPod customers, exposed to Apple’s “Think Different” technology, began to take Macs seriously at long last. I mean, if the iPod was so good, how could they realistically suggest that Macs were bad?

The run up to the iPhone was similarly distracting. Both financial and tech analysts were busy telling us over and over again why Apple couldn’t possibly make headway in the saturated smartphone market. What about Blackberry, what about Windows Mobile? What about Android, the company Google acquired in 2005 originally to fend off Microsoft’s dominance?

Today, Windows Mobile is an afterthought. The iPhone, with just two models, one the previous year’s, and one in two configurations, sits just behind Blackberry in worldwide market share. Android is coming up the rear, and those same naysayers are suggesting that Google is poised to eventually dominate the smartphone industry just as they dominate search.

But don’t forget the App Store. Despite teething planes and occasional complaints from jaded developers who think they got a raw deal from Apple — and I’ll assume the complaints are mostly justified -- there are still 140,000 apps available, and downloads have topped three billion. No other mobile app store comes close in selection or sales.

Take a look at the highly-touted Google Nexus One, actually a rebranded and slightly modified HTC device, which only sold an estimated 80,000 during its first month. This after a publicity rollout that smacked somewhat of Apple’s.

In the end, just where is Android taking share? More than likely, Windows Mobile, since the same handset makers have abandoned Microsoft’s mobile platform, with its attendant license fees, for something free. But all Google cares about is having more eyes for their click-through ads, which is where they make their real income.

You can see similar behavior with the iPad. It’s just a swollen iPod touch, they will tell you. Now maybe the form factor is reminiscent of the iPod touch in many respects, though it would be surprising and not terribly sensible for Apple to pick a design that didn’t have a family resemblance to other members of its burgeoning mobile platform.

Again, the lack of features says it all. There’s no multitasking, no Web cam, and what about printing? Does Apple really intend to usher in that long-delayed paperless revolution? And how can you possibly get a true Web experience without Flash? But that’s another subject entirely.

Now the iPad didn’t start from scratch. Apple has leveraged the App Store and the iPhone OS to build its tablet computer. That means you’ll have a proven interface, excellent reliability and security, and a vast repertoire of apps.

Then there are those ebooks, where Apple is already giving Amazon conniptions. Amazon’s flat $9.95 ebook price is out the window, as a growing number of publishers are opting for a so-called “agency model,” where prices will be several dollars higher, and the book seller will be restricted to a 30% piece of the action. That’s the result of Apple’s careful engineering of new publisher agreements that will soon take hold industry-wide.

When it comes to textbooks, what you are seeing is a potential and not a reality, but it’ll come. There are already published reports of publishers signing up, and by fall it’s quite possible that a growing number of students, currently weighed down with stuffed backpacks laden with expensive textbooks, will finally be able to give their spinal columns some rest. No doubt they’ll save lots of money too, assuming the publishers aren’t overly greedy about the deals they’re striking with Apple.

Up till now, the areas where tablet PCs have fared well are vertical markets. A number of physicians use them in their practice, and a fifth of these have indicated, according to recent surveys, that they’re ready to acquire iPads the very first year they go on sale. If this is true, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to see the iPad in wide use by both doctors and nurses on hospital rounds and in countless other industries as business software selections expand.

Through it all, you’ll still be reading complaints that Apple really got it wrong with the iPad, despite its rumored lengthy gestation period. At the end of the day, though, once early adopters have theirs, ongoing sales will reveal the iPad’s true potential. But I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest that the skeptics are fated to be proven wrong all over again.


Through the years, Apple and desktop publishing were regarded as almost one and the same. From the very first PostScript-enabled LaserWriter and the original Aldus PageMaker, an entire industry was established and an older one, traditional typography, was largely supplanted. Indeed, I suffered tremendously in those years until I mastered the Mac and was able to continue to earn a decent living.

Even though Apple stopped selling printers in the 1990s, they continue to provide solid support with loads of bundled printer drivers in Mac OS X. How many? Maybe in the thousands, as loads of output devices from all the major manufacturers are included. Even if you have a model that came out after a Mac OS X reference release, don’t be surprised to receive a Software Update message about an update to your printing software once it’s installed.

But beginning with the iPhone, Apple may have discovered a way to impose a new vision, one that saves trees and ends the need to recycle ink and toner. Yes, there are ways to print documents from an iPhone and iPod touch, using a third-party app. Certainly a point-of-sale system will provide a printed receipt (though Apple would prefer to email you one when you buy something at one of their retail stores).

Now I suppose the lack of built-in printing makes sense for a smartphone, but not so much for the iPad, which let’s you not just consume content, but create some of it as well. To be sure, there will be plenty of productivity apps online soon enough, starting with iWork from Apple, but ultimately encompassing a wide range of products that leverage the advantages of a multitouch tablet computer

But there will be times where you would like to have a hard copy of the content you create, right? Surely Apple has considered those occasions and will provide a printing utility for the released version, don’t you think? Or maybe not. Since the iPad will excel as an ebook reader, perhaps Apple expects you to read all or most of the content you want on the device itself. Why mess with a hard copy? And if that’s what you want, maybe you could just copy the file over to a regular Mac and PC and squander as much paper and consumables as you want.

I don’t pretend to know Apple’s real game plan here. You’d think that printing makes sense for a gadget that may, for some people, totally replace their personal computers. It doesn’t seem to make sense for Apple to believe you’ll never, ever need hard copy, and maybe they feel that need will be met by third parties.

Then again, if you subscribe to their vision, maybe they are carefully weaning you from printing. The companies who sell those output devices might object, but that’s their problem, I suppose. The ultimate ebook reader will provide a superlative environment for not just books, but magazines, newspapers, Web pages -- loads of content that would formerly fill the printed page. Isn’t that sufficient?

But what about other people in your home or office? Well, there’s nothing preventing you from just buying iPads for them too. I do, however, recall that scene in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” where Dr. McCoy gives Captain Kirk an old fashioned printed book for his birthday. Maybe there’s still a trace of hope for print, at least for the next two or three centuries.


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

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