Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter -- Issue #539

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Gene Steinberg

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So just how many iPads will Apple sell the first week? That remains an open question, but with Apple extending the promised delivery dates by an extra nine days, it appears the initial allotment has already been spoken for. How many units that might be is anyone’s guess. Some suggest a million or more, while others talk of a few hundred thousand initial sales. Regardless, the playbook for a successful tablet-based computer hasn’t been written, since no existing product in that category has set anything close to sales records.

The speculation is apt to continue unless or until Apple releases a press statement on the subject. It’s also possible they’ll be saying something during the next quarterly conference call with financial analysts to discuss the current quarter’s earnings, which won’t reflect iPad sales. Apple will surely want to boast about the expected good news.

Now on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, joined us to talk about whether those pithy one-liner emails from Steve Jobs are beginning to replace some of Apple’s conventional PR efforts. He also talked about the prospects for the iPad’s success.

Joining us for the first time is John Gruber, from Daring Fireball, who provided a clear reality check on the Apple versus HTC patent lawsuit and what it means to the two parties — and Microsoft. He also made some clever suggestions about what form enhanced multitasking on the iPhone and iPad might take, and then addressed the possible future of Flash on Apple’s mobile platforms.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Paul Kimball presents documentary filmmaker Michael MacDonald, who has made a number of well-received films about UFOs and the paranormal.

Coming April 4: Gene and co-host Christopher O’Brien present an “Ultimate Abduction Roundtable,” featuring Budd Hopkins,Dr. David M. Jacobs and Kevin D. Randle. This is an episode you won’t want to miss!

Coming April 11: We honor the memory of the late Mac Tonnies and his final work, “The Cryptoterrestrials: A Meditation on Indigenous Humanoids and the Aliens Among Us,” about Earth-based UFOs, with co-host Paul Kimball, Greg Bishopand Nicholas Redfern.

Coming April 18: Co-host Paul Kimball presents a roundtable featuring science fiction author and filmmaker Paul Davids and paranormal writer Nicholas Redfern to discuss the dysfunctional relationship between Sci-Fi, UFOs and the paranormal.

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.


Most of you know that famous email address: [email protected]. No doubt many thousands write letters to Steve Jobs, using that address, every single day. Most of it seems to go into a black hole, and you never know who actually reads those messages and how they are processed. For all you know, they are automatically routed into one huge Trash folder and that’s it.

Yet every so often, someone, somewhere, gets a pithy response from “The Man” himself, usually consisting of nothing more than a few quick offhand comments that, in the end, can make your day! If you’re lucky enough to receive such an answer, do you come away feeling your Inbox has been anointed, or do you even wonder whether it’s all real?

I mean, just because the message comes from an address supposedly used by Steve Jobs doesn’t for a moment mean that he ever sees a single message, or if he does, writes a real response. Unless he was seated before you working his iPhone or iPad while writing that message, how would you really know?

Perhaps the [email protected] address is akin to the address your kids use to send letters to Santa Claus every holiday season. People do read those messages, and sometimes the ones that come from the needy are diverted to the appropriate charitable organization. The rest? Well, why even ask?

So let’s try a bit of a reality check here. There is no possible way that Steve Jobs can cull through that email clutter in his Inbox all by myself. He’d hardly have time to do anything else. More than likely, the email is obviously examined by one or more executive assistants, who evaluate the messages and decide if further processing is needed.

One likely candidate is a message from a disgruntled customer, complaining about a persistent problem with an Apple product. Those messages are likely funneled to the customer service people to review and answer. Indeed, they will even tell you they got the message directly from Steve, but how can you know?

A small handful of the remaining messages do get responses allegedly from Steve himself, so we know, for example, that there will be no tethering between the iPad and the iPhone, and that the initial allotment of iPads will go on sale at Apple’s own retail outlets and Best Buy. It’s also evidently correct that there’s an update to the languishing MacBook Pro lineup coming soon, since Steve tells us “Not to worry.”

That’s all well and good and don’t you feel reassured?

Yes, it may well be that Steve has the personal honor of responding to a few customer emails every few weeks, particularly when it’s done to advance a specific marketing approach or head off possible negative publicity. It may even signal the start of a new campaign, but how can you possibly now who really wrote that message?

Yes, you can dissect the headers and see that it might come from an iPhone, for example, but whose? It’s not as if the serial number of any specific unit is recorded, nor could you possibly know which one is his? More than likely, he is using a next-generation prototype with an unreleased software version anyway.

Lacking evidence to the contrary, it would seem to me that those pithy one-liners might emerge full-blown from a corporate PR hack, working under the direction of the company’s marketing department. They are counting on the fact that any message purporting to come from Steve Jobs to a random customer or would-be customer will get worldwide attention. Whatever that message contains will be accepted as his word, unaltered. As I said, there’s no possible way to know the truth.

I even wonder if some of those responses are sent random by a computer system using fuzzy logic to evaluate text and deliver the appropriate answer. It doesn’t have to be done by a real person using a real Mac or Apple mobile device. After all, email headers can be readily altered.

However, the elements of the tech media that fawn over each and every word from Steve Jobs have been taken in by this marketing trick hook, line and sinker. The messages must come from Steve Jobs. How could it possibly be anything else?

Then again, these days the media is likely paying far more attention to that public meeting in a Silicon Valley coffee shop between Jobs and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. They are supposed to be bitter enemies, yet there they were speaking quietly over a cup of java in a public surrounding. So is that rumored conflict between the two companies made of whole cloth? Or are they just trying to mend fences and find ways where they can still make lots of money together?

It’s always possible that the two staged the meeting, knowing the public would see them, and take lots and lots of photos. Maybe they were discussing nothing in particular, but just laughing up their sleeves at the silly people who think there’s something significant about two corporate executives — particularly ones who are supposedly bitter enemies — sharing a few moments of conversation in a public space.

Or is that alleged Apple versus Google rivalry mostly for show? Yes, they may compete in some areas, but Google earns lots of money having its search and software on Apple products. Why would they want to give that up anyway? It is, after all, all about money, and sometimes friends — or acquaintances — can lead rival companies and still get along. Didn’t Steve Jobs once admit at a Macworld Expo that he still has an occasional dinner with Bill Gates?


One thing about success, and that is that there are lots of people who want to duplicate it. So when “Avatar” became a huge box office sensation, 3D became the rage. Yes, 3D has come and gone again in the entertainment industry over the years, but a box office total of over $2.6 billion and climbing have made producers salivate.

Suddenly films that were shot in regular 2D are being quickly enhanced for 3D, as producers hope there will be enough screens to actually display the enhanced version. And that is a problem, since less than a tenth of the available screens in the U.S. have been updated for 3D. Since those upgrades represent a huge cash outlay, it’s not going to happen overnight. So producers will have to be competing for that limited number of screens. What’s more, theater owners aren’t apt to want to make that investment unless there are enough films to present.

This cart before the horse situation is apt to persist for a few years at least, and it’s a sure thing producers are going to be reluctant to invest tens of millions of dollars extra for their product, except for “sure” blockbusters.

That takes us to your home TV set. The first “3D ready” models are beginning to ship to your local consumer electronics retailer. If you want to pay upwards of $1,000 extra for one of these babies, get in line, as such dealers as Best Buy are promising early April delivery for some of the latest and greatest from the likes of Panasonic, Samsung and other makers.

Those of you who have seen 3D flicks at the cinema recall having to wear those silly glasses. Well, folks, the same situation holds true for the TV set you have in your home. When 3D fare is offered, break out the glasses. But wait a minute! Those sets are “3D ready,” and it’s up to the manufacturer to decide whether to supply 3D glasses as standard equipment. Worse, if you have a large family, prepare to pay an extra $150 for each and every set you need. Or just have family members fight over the ones you have available.

Now if your cable or satellite provider is delivering 3D content, you’re all set. But that’s going to come at a snail’s pace. So you may also have to invest in a 3D capable Blu-ray disc player to play prerecorded fare, assuming you can find any. When I checked the order sheet at Amazon for “Avatar,” which ships on April 22nd in the U.S., only two versions were being offered. One was a regular DVD, the other a “Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo.”

Sorry, but no 3D version was listed, at least not yet!

So it comes down to this: If you need a brand new TV and have money to burn, I suppose there’s no harm in buying something that has the potential of seeing 3D fare. The very best large screen TVs — and Panasonic and Samsung are both highly rated — will no doubt produce wonderful pictures even in old fashioned 2D. It may be really hard to choose the right set, though I gather plasma, the version offered by Panasonic, will yield a superior image.

But until there’s a decent number of 3D movies and sporting events available, what’s the point? You may be better off buying a regular TV, stick the rest of the money in the bank and wait till the prices come down to affordable levels. That’s probably not going to happen for a few years, and one hopes Hollywood will help by delivering sufficient 3D product to make the investment worthwhile.

Yes, I’m in favor of 3D, when it’s done right. But early adopters may suffer from production defects and possibly incompatible delivery systems. When home 3D comes into its own, and I’m sure it will, you’ll know. It won’t be a secret.


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