Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter -- Issue #536

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Gene Steinberg

Forum Super Hero
Staff member

When Apple isn’t extolling having over 140,000 selections in the App Store, or over three billion downloads, they’re regularly subjected to criticism about their arbitrary policies in handling that huge software repository. In recent weeks, the removal of alleged explicit content fueled one controversy. Another involves the decision to cut off apps that searched for Wi-Fi hot spots in your neighborhood and these recent events don’t include the developers who make a huge public splash when one of their apps is pulled or rejected.

The reasons why all this happens are anyone’s guess. Apple claims to have valid reasons for its decisions, and it does strain logic to believe they just want to randomly kill products or product categories out of spite or the fear of boosting a potential competitor. Indeed, the reasons why this happens haven’t been properly explained to me. I’m more inclined to consider the App Store a work in progress, and the problems may be best attributed to management lapses, such as not defining clear-cut policies in how to handle the large gray area of the app review process where the answers aren’t clear-cut.

In any case, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author and commentator Ted Landau was on hand to talk about the ongoing controversy over Apple’s allegedly arbitrary policies in reviewing software for the App Store. As many of you know, Ted and I don’t see eye to eye on some of these matters, but we were happy to present his viewpoint. He also give you his capsule roundup of the surprisingly successful Macworld Expo 2010.

Opera’s Patrick H. Lauke talked about Opera 10.50, reputed to be the fastest browser on the planet. This discussion also covered the overall issue of Web standards.

Cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, dissected Apple’s patent infringement lawsuit against HTC, a rival smartphone maker, and then went on to explain what some of the tech pundits have wrong about the entire issue.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, our guest co-host Frank Warren returns as we present the “czar” of conspiracy theorists, Jim Marrs, who joins The Paracast to discuss the classic cases. You’ll hear about the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11, the UFO mystery and lots more.

Coming March 14: Guest co-host Paul Kimball presents a pair of highly experienced paranormal investigators from the UK-based Unknown Phenomena Investigation Association. You’ll hear from Steve Mera, author of “Strange Happenings: Memoirs of a Paranormal Investigator,” and Dave Sadler, author of “Paranormal Reality: Ghosts, UFOs and Pussy Cats.”

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.


Apple can’t stay out of the news, not that they’d want to. So in the past couple of weeks, you learned that all the known problems with the 27-inch iMac have been fixed, the iPad ships on April 3rd in the USA, and later that month in other countries and, by the way, Apple is suing a rival smartphone maker, HTC.

Of course it’s the latter story that’s kept the bloggers spouting, if you forgive the pun, patent nonsense, trying to prejudge a lawsuit that involves a number of arcane patent-related issues, the fine details of intellectual property, and complicated legal determinations at which we can only guess.

In fact, most of the reports I’ve read rarely delve into the actual issues that will be litigated. They are far too concerned with the reasons why Steve Jobs would order Apple’s lawyers to seek redress. Where’s the sense in that, they say? At the same time, you don’t read near as much about Nokia’s motives for its complaint against Apple involving royalties for various technologies.

It would seem as if it’s all right for Nokia to go after the big bad Apple, but not for Apple to step up and defend its intellectual property in the proper fashion.

Some of the stories claim that Apple just wants HTC to write a check and sign a proper licensing agreement. But that’s not what Apple is demanding. They claim not to want to license their technology, only to stop others from infringing on their intellectual property. In other words, if HTC is found guilty, they need to change the software on the affected smartphones or stop selling them.

The other claim is that HTC is nothing more than a proxy for Apple’s real target, which is Google. Even if there’s some merit to that accusation, don’t forget that some of the alleged infringing phones use Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system. So is Apple also targeting Microsoft, or perhaps firing a warning shot because version 7 of Windows Mobile is closer in concept to the iPhone OS?

It’s unfortunate that the media finds it difficult to deal with vast gray areas. So while Apple and Google might compete on smartphone and (soon) computer operating systems, they partner in other areas that deliver benefit to both. Google writes checks to Apple to include its search engine on the desktop and mobile versions of Safari, for example. The presence of other Google apps on the iPhone deliver handsome profits from targeted advertising.

Lest we forget, Google may earn a small sum from selling HTC’s Nexus One smartphone, or the professional version of Google Apps, but the vast majority of their revenue comes from advertising. Getting more eyeballs to see their targeted ads pays the rent, the salaries of their employees and executives, and lets them continue to expand their vast server farms around the world. They can alienate partners such as Apple only so much before they risk a serious loss of traffic and hence hurt their earnings.

You also have to consider Apple’s risk factor in filing a legal action against HTC. They could lose. As much as their attorneys might express full confidence in the strength of their case, you can’t predict how legal actions might fare. If they do lose, it could mean that HTC’s products aren’t covered by Apple’s patents or that the patents themselves aren’t valid. That would open the door to a wider level of duplication of Apple’s Multi-Touch techniques by competitors.

Now predictably, HTC denies the allegations, claiming they use their own technology. But you can hardly expect them to say anything else. It’s not as if they will take a respectful bow, admit wrongdoing and agree to face the consequences.

I also assume Apple understands the risks and it doesn’t make sense they’d go legal just to attack a competitor. Such behavior carries the danger of causing serious damage to Apple’s image, their credibility, and, if it fuels the development of competing products, their bottom line. What’s more, I don’t subscribe to the suggestion that Steve Jobs might engage in this sort of behavior in a fit of piqué. The iPhone is doing quite well, thank you, and signs are encouraging for the iPad.

One part of the problem is that far too many so-called journalists believe they are perfectly capable of running a large multinational corporation better than the existing crop of CEOs. If that were true, they’d earn far more money taking one of those positions, assuming they’d qualify, and trying their hand at actually running a company rather than writing about it.

Another issue that concerns me is the non-critical way in which news is handled these days, where far too many information outlets simply publish press releases without actually spending time to assemble a proper story. So whether it’s a new Apple product or announcement, or something from a potential competitor, little digging into the story ever occurs.

I recall when a few tablet computers were trotted out at the CES ahead of the introduction of the iPad. How will Apple compete with those, some suggested? But at the end of the day, there is no new Windows-based tablet platform. It’s the same old thing that has proven to be unsuccessful all these years, except for a handful of vertical markets. It’s not as if Microsoft has devised a better scheme for supporting such devices. At best, current manufacturers can make their entrants into this arena slimmer and perhaps cheaper. But what about the user experience? Do they even have a clue?

For better or worse, Apple is at least trying its hand at scaling up the iPhone OS to support a device that, in part, might be a potential personal computer replacement, one that could even cannibalize sales of low-end Mac notebooks. It’s a risk in many ways, because if the iPad goes down in flames, it could severely hurt Apple’s reputation, even if sales of the iPhone and Macs aren’t directly affected.

Then again, if you are afraid to take chances, you don’t deserve the huge rewards that come if you succeed, right?

Meantime I would hope the tech journalism community will make a more concerted effort to try thinking before writing. It might present a refreshing change, and offer a wider spectrum of responsible critical commentary. That requires work, however, rather than reposting the same old nonsense parrot-like.


While growing up in Brooklyn, New York, far too long ago, I remember having to regularly fiddle with the awkward rabbit ears antenna placed at the top of the family TV. I moved it one way for this station, another for that, which made actually changing channels a bit of a chore.

Oh did I forget to mention the set didn’t have a remote control?

In any case, when I left home to seek my fortune, I lived in small towns that didn’t have nearby stations with powerful signals. Instead, I had to sign up with the local cable TV service, then known as CATV, short for Community Antenna TV. Indeed, that was the way it was set up in those days, where a large antenna was used to receive distant stations, and the signal was fed through a system of amplifiers and cables to local families and businesses.

Over the years, typical with many industries, most of these local concerns were ultimately acquired by larger firms and a major business was born. In those days, cable TV fare largely consisted of the stations from the larger cities mixed with a handful of amateurish local broadcasts. Over the years, exclusive cable networks, free and premium, eventually dwarfed broadcast. Indeed, many of those traditional broadcasters own most of the more popular cable networks.

More recently, those broadcasters decided that they should also receive monthly fees from the cable and satellite systems, in part to supplement their declining ad revenues. So we have the soap opera situation where contracts are due to expire and negotiators work around the clock at the last minute to try to craft a contract that will prevent your favorite stations from being blocked.

Just as this article was written, for example, there was the danger that some 3.1 million subscribers to New York’s Cablevision, who live in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, would not be able to watch the Oscars, because a renewal deal hadn’t been signed with Disney, who owns the ABC network.

In the scheme of things, of course, many of those affected customers might be able to continue to receive the broadcast with a standard antenna, assuming they had one or could get one installed in time. At the end of the day, if the cable system has to pay more money to get programming, the customer pays. Haven’t you seen your cable and satellite bills rising faster than the cost of living?

This all comes despite the silly claims that cable is more expensive than satellite, or vice versa. You see, when you actually check the offers, and the exceptions, you’ll find that the price you pay for similar numbers of channels and services aren’t all that different from one service to the next.

You almost begin to wonder whether getting TV over the air â