Apple: And Now, The Decay

Apple reached apogee with the launch of the iPhone 4S.  A marginally better product, launched by a flat stage presentation from Tim Cook, but sales were still buoyed by the strength of the brand’s emotional impact and prestige, and people didn’t want to discuss their disappointments so soon after Jobs’ death. 

This week’s launch of the iPhone 5 marks the beginning of the company’s slide.  There were no real pioneering features in the new phone (well, maybe the thinner display), just things that make it better than the last iPhone.  Cook and industry journalists both felt the need to address gaps in the phone’s feature set (screen size, NFC, wireless charging, trouble with simultaneous voice and data on some networks), some of iPhone 5’s catch-up features (Siri improvements, LTE) and the foolishness of the new connector (Farhad Manjoo is too spun up, but still correct; John Gruber still believes that irrelevant elegance trumps the practicality of universal standards). 

Two disappointing launches in a row suggest that the post-Jobs Apple isn’t strong enough to preserve the religious fervor that has driven Apple sales.  The brand is becoming mortal.  Many acolytes will now abandon their Messiah. 

Apple should still do well for a couple of years.  iPhones are still easier for most people to use, and beautifully designed.   Google will wrestle with promoting some powerful new features like Google Now.  And Nokia will sink beneath the waves before having much of an impact with its exciting Lumia 920, if it ever ships.  But Apple is looking at 10% market share, long term, which will let carriers start to kick around their products (add carrier software and services, influence operating system update schedules, etc.). 

The question of whether Apple can really thrive after Jobs is gone has been answered:  No.

Mapping and Data Pollution

You’ve seen this problem when using a GPS device on a highway.  You may be on the same road for 50 miles, but the system keeps changing the name of the road.  “In one mile, go straight on Officer Sanchez Highway.”  Then, 5 minutes later, “In 1/2 mile, go straight on Save the Fruit Bat Turnpike,” and you’ve been on Highway 15 the whole time.

Sometimes the names are legacy names that identify roads that were combined into your highway.  Other times they are honorific names assigned by politicians who thought they’d found a nearly free way to capture public sentiment or grant a favor.  But your GPS keeps hinting at the confusion and distraction caused by polluted map data.

The other night, within a beer of my legal driving limit, I called an Uber cab to get me home.  Pulled out the phone, entered the address (e.g., 2000 Main Street), checked it twice and then requested a car. 

About a minute later Dennis called, asking where I really wanted to be picked up.  He said Uber had sent him an address that just didn’t exist in the city (e.g., 2000 Mother Theresa Highway – yeah, this is a made-up example name, but the story’s true ).  I told Dennis Main Street, he picked me up and as he drove me back he told me that 20-30% of Uber pickup addresses are wrong, screwed up by the system and not the requestors.

The next day I looked up 2000 Mother Theresa Highway, the address Dennis had received.  Google Maps pinpointed it at 2000 Main Street.  There was no Mother Theresa Highway anywhere close.  It turns out that Mother Theresa Highway is an overlay name for Main Street, and nobody has known it as Mother Theresa Highway for at least 50 years.  But the public records haven’t been cleaned up, so Google  Maps is polluted, and until it is cleaned up taxi drivers will keep going to wrong addresses or having to manually verify pickup points identified by the place that organizes the world’s information.

The Hidden Cost of Phone Carriers

It’s a busy day, and you see a call coming in from ‘Blocked caller.’  You let it go – it’s the week before a local election, and those alternative utility companies have been active on the phones lately.  Then you get the voicemail.

You just missed the pediatrician, who was blocking her number because she didn’t want callbacks outside of normal business hours.  Another missed connection, courtesy of AT&T.

Your pediatrician should have been able to purchase a modified Caller ID service that sent her name through while maintaining the privacy of her number.  How many docs, cute girls, etc., would love to have such a feature?  But the carrier has no real competitors, so it only offers lowest-common-denominator features.

Your carrier could have set up a caller verification and categorization program, to let customers block unwanted calls.  Unlike email, where anyone can open anonymous accounts, phone networks are designed to control who can call – after all, money changes hands when calls are connected, and the phone companies need to to know where to send the bills.  But even if you care who’s calling you, your carrier doesn’t – they’ll take the termination charges from anyone.

Your carrier could have offered selective call blocking that would let the pediatrician open her phone to callbacks only during specified times.  But they didn’t – again, there is too much money in termination charges to care what the users need.

Phone carriers have everything they need to cut unwanted calls and help the good ones get through, but they won’t offer it.  In fact, they’ll keep paying lobbyists (out of the fees you pay each month) to keep regulators from even suggesting common-sense improvements.  So try an Internet-based calling service like Google Voice, and don’t weep when it buries your old land-line company.

P.S. – In case you think this is too cynical, try an experiment.  Call your land line carrier and ask for a record of all the LOCAL (non-toll) calls you made in the past month.  Their response is sure to amuse.

Stars Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Thanks to Emily Luchetti and her 20-year-old book, Stars Desserts.

Have on hand

  • Parchment paper
  • Strong hand mixer

Ingredients

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F

Mix the egg whites at high speed until they just beginning to firm up, then add the sugar slowly as you continue mixing until stiff.

Fold in the remaining ingredients, but don’t mix them completely – streaks make better cookies.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then drop 3-tbsp globs of the mixture onto it and give them at least 1.5 inches of space between each glob.

Cook for 35 min, or until the top of the cookie is dry and a little firm. Cool for 5-10 min, and serve immediately.

As an alternative, try substituting the following for the chocolate chips, chocolate powder and vanilla:

  • The zest of 4-5 lemons, or;
  • 4-6 oz candied ginger, well chopped, or;
  • A combination of the two

Microsoft Should Just Adopt Android

If Amazon can build their own fork of Android and tie it to their own app store and download offerings, why can’t Microsoft?

Microsoft could apply their Metro UI if they wanted to, tie it to their own services, development tools and Windows 8, then offer their version of Android to all handset makers as WP8.

They’d get 300,000 Android apps for the new “Windows Phone”, and handset makers could escape the $5-10/unit licensing royalties they currently pay Microsoft for Google’s versions of Android.

Crazy?  No crazier than spending hundreds of millions (at least) on the doomed WP7.  And it would hit Google right where they live.

2011 Clio Award Winners

 

How Amazon Will Make Money from Kindle Fire

Whatever Amazon makes (or loses) from sales of its Kindle Fire tablet, the company plans to make money by selling more apps, books, movies and music through the device, not to mention any incremental sales of physical goods from Kindle Fire owners trying to get the most out of their Amazon Prime subscriptions. 

The company’s share price is taking a pounding today after investors finally realized just how much the company will be spending to subsidize sales of its Kindle Fire tablet.  Which is odd for a couple of reasons.

First, sites like Phandroid reported in September that Amazon’s BOM cost on Kindle was around $10 more than the product’s $199 retail price.  When you add support, returns and other costs, the company might lose $50/unit before generating revenues from sales of apps, media downloads and other incremental purchases from Amazon.  Did analysts and investors miss this?  Did they not believe iSuppli’s calculations, or the projections that Kindle Fire would sell 3-5 million units in Q4, 2011, alone?

Second, the Kindle Fire may be a proof-of-concept for an Android fork that Amazon can offer to Samsung, HTC and other tablet makers.  After all, one of Android’s big advantages is its price (free from Google, plus royalties to Apple and Microsoft), and Amazon could subsidize other makers at least as easily as it can subsidize its own hardware.  With further subsidies from carriers, there’s no reason that these tablets can’t be offered, with data services, for free.

Bottom line:  Amazon will make money from Kindle Fire.  Look for Amazon skins and apps everywhere on Android tablets from a variety of manufacturers, and also some much happier Amazon investors.

How to Replace Gizmo’s Free Phone Service

Want a nearly free phone line?  Want to replace your Gizmo service when Google kills it early next month?  All you need is a $40 piece of hardware, a broadband Internet connection, and about an hour of cursing and shrieking as you configure it all.

Start with a free Google Voice account.  Google Voice has too many benefits to name here.  You’ll get a free telephone number with it, plus the ability to make free calls to the US and Canada, and cheap calls to everywhere else. 

Second, order a Linksys PAP2T or a Grandstream 286 ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) from Amazon.  When you get the ATA you will see it has two types of ports – the Ethernet jack connects the box to your router (sorry, no WiFi devices), and the smaller phone jack(s) connects to standard telephone cable to link the ATA to your your phone.  Then the real fun begins.

Register for a free account with CallWithUs.  You’ll notice that the site looks crude – don’t worry, it works well.  Their tech support team responds quickly to email, too.  Be sure to put some money ($5 should do it) into your CallWithUs account, to keep it alive.

Connect your ATA, plug in the phone, and get ready for the weirdest device configuration experience you may ever see.  You’ll need to have a computer on the same network as the ATA, since you’ll configure the ATA through a web browser.

You will configure your ATA using information from your CallWithUs account.  Don’t cry – you won’t touch most of the settings you see here.  When you’re done, the phone you connected to your ATA should be putting out a dial tone.  If it doesn’t work, fight your urge to go free-style on the configuration – go to the CallWithUs configuration page and click on your device’s link for screen shots of your ATA’s correct configuration pages.  When you get the dial tone on your phone you’re ready to start making outbound calls. 

Now it’s time to go get a standard telephone number (called a DID) to let people call into your new line.

Go to IPKall (you thought CallWithUs looked crude!) and get your free telephone number there.  Under SIP username, enter your CallWithUs username (not the account number).  Under Hostname or IP Address, enter ‘did.callwithus.com’.  You probably want to use the same password you used for your CallWithUs account.  Leave all other values as they are.  They will give you a Washington or Oregon telephone number, but nobody but you and Google Voice needs to know this number.

Try dialing your IPKall telephone number from your cell phone (not from your new free phone).  The free phone should ring.  You’re almost done.

Now, go back to your Google Voice account, go to Settings |Voice Settings, and add your IPKall number as one of the numbers Google Voice will forward to.  (If Google Voice says this number is in use by another Google Voice user, cancel your IPKall account and get another – you’ll get another number that should work.)

To make free outbound calls now, just use Google Voice and have Google Voice call your new IPKall number to set up the call.  It should sound better than your regular telephone line.  And callers to your Google Voice line will reach your new free line (as well as any other phones you enter into Google Voice).

Crack open a beer – you deserve it.  With the money you’ll save, make that beer a Sierra Nevada Estate ale.

TIPS:

  • Make sure you have entered CallWithUS STUN server settings into your ATA (and check tigurr’s comments below for network-related settings). This makes sure incoming calls get through your firewall and NAT (local network).
  • Want your free phone line to ring all through your house or apartment?  You can wire the Linksys box into a 110 block to power multiple phones in your home.  It puts out enough power to ring 5 modern telephones. 
  • You will need to make the occasional (every 30 days at least) direct call with your free phone to maintain your CallWithUs account.  Calls are very cheap, though – just make sure your Google Voice number show up as the line’s Caller ID (Log into your CallWithUs account, select Add Caller ID from the menu on the left, and add your Google Voice number (11 digits – make sure you have the ‘1’ before your area code)).
  • Don’t use this number for 911 calls – emergency services may not automatically know where you are.
  • Choose the G711 codec in your ATA for best voice quality.  Unless your Internet connection is slow – then use G729.
  • To maintain high-quality phone calls set your router to give bandwidth preference (QOS) to your ATA.  This will make sure that other Internet use doesn’t get in the way of your calls.
  • Here is a Dial Plan (for entry into your ATA’s settings) that will let you dial local calls with only 7 digits:  L:10,S:6,(*xxS3|[46]11|S0|17472066858S0|1222xxxxxxxS0|1[2-9]xx[2-9]xxxxxxS0|[2-9]xx[2-9]xxxxxxS0|[2-9]xxxxxx|[x*][x*].) Be sure to replace the ‘1415’ string with ‘1 your area code’.

NOTES:

  • How does IPKall make money offering free numbers?  They earn money from telcos (and Google) for ‘terminating’ calls to these numbers. Make sure to send a few calls to your free phone line each month to keep it alive.
  • How does CallWithUs make money?  By charging you for direct calls.  That’s why you have to make a direct call every once in a while to keep your account alive.