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The Northern Spy
June 2010

Cross my Palm with Apples

Rick Sutcliffe

Contrary to the Spy's suggestion

that Palm could scarcely be attractive to buyers, its wreckage was purchased by HP this past month for $1.2B. Indeed, there were apparently other suiters. His initial reaction was something resembling "there's a sucker born every minute."

But on reflection, and reading subsequent press releases, it seems likely that the real target of HP's acquisition was perhaps not adding Palm's declining smartphone business to it's own (in what would be a classic case of epsilon plus epsilon still approaching zero) but Palm's WebOS, with which HP hopes to crack the tablet market in a big way. According to HP, web-connected printers used to churn out tickets, postage, and other documents that could employ WebOS features are another potential application.

Well, if you're into desperation moves, this makes sense of a certain kind, but it still strikes the Spy as a venture likely to result in throwing good money after bad. The iPhone/Touch/Pad train has left the station, and HP is definitely not aboard. Running down the track behind waving a WebOS banner above a net computer or slate seems a futile gesture. He's been wrong once or twice before, (see the above) but it appears to him that HP is out of idea gas.

Feeding on your own mindshare (reprise)

According to some reports Apple is selling some 200K iPads per week, with U.S. demand increasing, and international sales about to ramp up. Pundits just climbing aboard the train claim the device is already changing both book and newspaper reading habits. Of course.

The Spy has long maintained that the eBook reader done right must eventually obsolete paper books, magazines, and newspapers as we have known them. The Rocket eBook reader probably came closest, and the Kindle has been a pioneer, albeit a utilitarian, plain, single-purpose device without much creative spark. So, how close is the iPad to the Spy's PIEA (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Device)?

Closer than anything yet, though the interface has some distance to go, and so do the display technologies. Yes, we've got access to the Web in a gadget that can be hooked on one's belt (even if not pocketed.) No, there are no vocal or neurological interfaces, nor will there be for some time. Yes the display quality is high resolution and the speed adequate. No, there are no "paint display on wall", "roll up in a tube" or "tabloid size newspaper that downloads daily" versions as yet. Yes, we have a store-based model for content distribution. No, we don't have on-use micropayment to content creators as yet. Yes, the think does do multiple duty as a general-purpose computer and communications device. No, it's not very robust in either role as yet. Yes, we have the web, but no we don't have the universal metalibrary as yet. More could be added to this list on both sides of the shiny technological coin.

Still, the first steps have been taken, and the die is cast. The reinvention of the failed newspaper and book industries is underway. We might not yet know what the final result will look like, especially for the textbook market, but that it will be an outgrowth of iPad-like technology now seems as much a sure thing as one can predict in this notoriously unpredictable industry.

Meanwhile, mindshare continues to segue into mainstream computer marketshare, as Mac sales rack up thirty percent plus increases year over year, despite Apple apparently putting its intellectual resource priorities into its other products. (Note the recent MacBook refresh/tweak, which was both slight and conducted with scarcely any fanfare, and observe also the cessation of TV ads for the Mac.) Again, these large increases should be no surprise, given previous mindshare gains.

The Spy assumes Apple has the manufacturing capacity to handle fifty percent or higher increases in computer sales and up to half a million iPads a week. Indeed, if there is a concern here it might be that Apple may run out of capacity. Note especially that, Greece and the PIGS countries as a whole notwithstanding, as the recession ends, large capital outlays for technology are likely in many corporations and organizations whose decision makers have had plenty of time to find Apple satisfactory at home and school and older Windows boxes quite unsatisfactory at work. At decision time, comparing Windows 7 and MacOS will in many cases result in bare tolerance for the former versus familiar enthusiasm for the latter. Look for the business market to undergo a transformation over the next purchasing cycle. More factories may be in Apple's future, though OS licensing is probably not.

Given these percentage increases, by the way, there are some who might argue that Apple's shares, far from being the darling of Wall Street, are actually undervalued for their likely future earnings. The Spy is less certain of this, preferring to place more emphasis on current and immediately realizable price-earnings ratios, but if you are the type of investor who has the stomach for a ride, faith in iSteve and his boys and girls, and a long future view of capital gains, you may want to be more aggressive than he.

"What was that all about?" department.

Apple came under some criticism recently for a "No cash sales" iPad policy. Following some bad publicity from a would-be customer, the policy was abandoned.

The Spy can see some logic here in a concern for cash sales that might involve either or both of money laundering and quick resales of the hot selling units, but surely even for as avant garde a company as Apple the cashless society assumption is premature. However the original decision was made and whatever its reasoning, reversing it was an improvement, especially for Diane Campbell, the would-be cash customer whom Apple has appeased with the offer of a free iPad.

After all, as the recently-revealed credit card scam on Olympic 2010 tickets on Vanoc's resale site illustrates, plastic is not necessarily any more secure than cash, and in some circumstances may be less so.


AT&T spokespeople profess to be unworried about a possible end to their iPhone exclusivity deal with Apple. The Spy's take? They should be concerned enough to take steps to retain their customers by developing better plans, better customer service, more features, and lower prices--in short, a better reputation. Yes, customers have a degree of inertia. But no, they won't hesitate to move en masse to another vendor if they perceive it to be in their best interests. If the exclusive deal runs out in a year or so, it's getting late in the game to be developing mindshare that will allow retaining even the present market customers, let along enticing more into the fold in the face of competition. A show of complacency may make good PR today, but it won't sell phones a year down the road. Let's assume there's more going on behind the scenes.

News Flash

"Flash is dead. Long live HTML 5", seems to be iSteve's mantra. Now, on the one hand, criticizing someone else's proprietary software when one is engaged in running what is arguably one of the industry's most proprietary operations (perhaps second to MS) would seem to be slightly self-serving, if not a tad contradictory.

But on the other--placing web hosting provider's hat firmly on head--the Spy has long advocated his customers avoid Flash for much more practical reasons. Simply put, it is slow, buggy, often misused, and a resource hog. iSteve's antipathy is well-deserved on these considerations alone.

Good: If one really must have silly videos in a web page distracting the reader from the message one wants to convey, doing it with a standard and open technique is always superior strategy for the web.

Better: Don't use video on web sites unless it is critical to the content and the message cannot readily be conveyed otherwise.

Best: Don't use video at all unless and until it can load as fast as the text, and essentially is the content. In most cases it distracts from the message, it turns viewers off before the site can even finish loading, it is an expensive drain on server resources, and it's unnecessary. iSteve is right, whatever his own reasons.

The Spy's advice to iP* developers: make sure the sites you want to display get the message that Flash is not likely ever to display their message correctly via your product. It's time to replace or eliminate this fad product.

If wishes were horses

one of the things the Spy would ride is a package for bookkeeping that includes: cash or accrual methods, charts of accounts, fund accounting for non-profits, donations, payroll, multiple bank accounts, plus Canadian tax tables, HST handling for rebates, and compatibility with spreadsheets, FMPro, and the Mac. He does not need AP and AR. He's researched this extensively on more than one occasion without finding anything that fills the bills (so to speak). Does his reader know otherwise? If so, drop him a line at nspy-AT-thenorthernspy.com.

Likewise get in touch

if your iTouch switcheroo main button has become wonky and unreliable. He wants to know if this is a widespread problem before commenting further.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics as well as Senate Chair at Trinity Western University. He is also on the board of CIRA, operator of .ca. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.


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Last Updated: 2010 05 21