An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Apple Knew about iPhone 4 Antenna Problems a Year Ago, Went Ahead with Sales
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Apple knew a year ago that the iPhone 4 had a serious hardware flaw preventing its antenna from connecting to wireless networks, but the company went ahead with building and selling the devices to millions of consumers. The reason? Apple CEO Steve Jobs was apparently quite taken with the sleek design of the iPhone 4 and wasn't willing to compromise on that design by reworking it to get decent reception. This report also confirms my contention that Apple's secrecy-based culture prevents the company from properly testing products before unleashing them on consumers. "The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4's development that the device didn't get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter," the report reads. Apple on Thursday shipped a minor software update for the iPhone that changes how the device displays its connectivity strength, but of course this update does nothing to address the iPhone 4's hardware defects. And today, Apple is holding a press conference to discuss what's going on with the iPhone 4. I can't wait to see what the company says. But you can expect Apple to never admit that it knew about this problem in advance and went ahead with it anyway. That would just be too honest.
Apple's iPhone "Fix": My Prediction
I fully expect that Apple has already developed a hardware workaround for the iPhone 4 reception problem and that its suppliers are racing to deliver new iPhone 4s to retailers with the fix applied. I also fully expect that Apple will not admit to this but will rather provide free bumper cases to existing iPhone 4 customers to quiet the critics, then silently replace any current iPhone 4s, in-store, when customers come in to complain or return the devices. In this way, all future iPhone 4s will work properly, and the company can avoid a recall. By the time you read this, of course, Apple may have already announced the fix, whatever it is. I'll have a write-up describing this event available as soon as it happens.
Getting Ahead in the Mobile Market 101: Pay Developers
To entice mobile developers to adopt its gestating Windows Phone platform ahead of the October launch and provide customers with at least some semblance of an apps store, Microsoft is taking a time-honored approach: It's paying them. According to various reports that Microsoft has studiously not denied, the software giant has reached out to mobile developers with its wallet open, offering up-front cash, revenue guarantees, and other financial incentives. (Some have suggested that next week's shipment of hundreds of prototype Windows Phone devices to developers is part of this scheme, but that's a bit unfair. It makes sense that top-tier developers would need actual hardware to test their apps and games before launch.) Honestly, there's nothing wrong with this, from what I can see, as Windows Phone is starting from zero in a market where Apple sells 225,000 iPhone apps and Google Android has 100,000 apps. It will be interesting to see how many Windows Phone apps are available at launch, of course, but I'll also be curious about the quality of those apps.
Wanted in Redmond: iPad Users
In what can only be described as a typically humorous and misguided Microsoftian move, Microsoft this week began polling Facebook users, looking for users of the Apple iPad. The goal? To study them and get feedback on why they use an iPad, what they like about the iPad, and how they're so rich that they can afford such a frivolous and pointless device. (Actually, that last bit wasn't in the study description; I was reading between the lines.) The study is two hours long and will take place over the next few days on Microsoft's Redmond campus—you know, exactly the kind of place you'd expect to see iPad users. Participants will be given a "Microsoft gratuity item." (And I'm crossing my fingers that it's that 2002-era HP Tablet PC that looks exactly like an iPad.) Here's what I expect Microsoft to discover: iPad users are clueless about the value of money, unconcerned about compatibility, and unclear what this "Microsoft" company does exactly. More than half of them will come into the study carrying some form of chai in a cup (hot or cold) and a third of them reads the "news" only from a single Mac-oriented blog. They are, in other words, Microsoft worst freaking nightmare. Have fun, everyone.
Russian Spy Was a Microsoft Employee
Sometimes the news is so fun it hurts. This is one of those times. One of the 12 Russian spies from the recently exposed spy ring was—get this—a Microsoft employee who worked at the software giant's Redmond campus. One can only hope that he got the source code for Microsoft Bob and silently delivered it back to whatever passes for the Kremlin these days, triggering a decades-long process in which the Russians will try to interact with a cartoon dog every time they want to launch a missile. Weirder things have happened.
Office 2010 Sales "a Bit Disappointing" Because of Saturated Market for Productivity Apps
You might have seen some reports this week that Office 2010 sales are disappointing. And sure enough, the reliable retail watchers at NPD—Microsoft trusts them, so you should too—noted that retail sales of Office 2010 have been "a bit disappointing" so far. But what does that mean, exactly? According to NPD, Office 2010 unit sales and revenues are down from Office 2007’s initial two weeks of sales but are slightly ahead of sales trends of Office 2007 so far this year. In other words, given the shift in the market for office productivity software over the past few years—with free options now available online and Microsoft forced to offer more compelling free and low-cost options (like the well-selling Key Cards)—Office sales are, in fact, pretty much where they should be. "Selling such a heavily used product into a base that has already been upgrading at a very high rate is an enormous challenge," NPD notes. Interestingly, NPD downplays the challenge from Google Docs and other lame web-based alternatives. "These products have little awareness among the mainstream consumer who is the retail boxed version’s primary customer," the NPD note reads. Instead, a saturated market is to blame. Office 2010's only real competition, as it turns out, is previous versions of Office.
Windows 2000, Windows XP with SP2 Bite the Dust
Both Win2K and XP with SP2 hit their End Of Life (EOL) milestones this week, meaning that the oldest supported version of Windows on the PC desktop is now XP SP3. So if you're still running XP SP2 for some reason, you need to upgrade it to continue to get security updates. And if you're still running Win2K—I mean, seriously. It's 10 years later, for crying out loud. Baywatch was still on TV when that OS was new!
Microsoft Cofounder Joins the Philanthropy Bandwagon
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates might someday be more famous for his philanthropic efforts than for jumpstarting the PC industry, and he's made interesting progress in recent years getting some of his billionaire buddies to join him. Last month, Gates and BFF Warren Buffett launched a campaign to try to convince billionaires to pledge half of their fortunes to charity, a move that wouldn't affect their financial futures in the slightest but would have enormous and positive ramifications around the world. Well, they've got another member: The other Microsoft cofounder, Paul Allen, this week announced that he would commit the majority of his fortune to philanthropy after his death. And since that fortune is worth an estimated $14 billion today, that's big news. "I want to announce that my philanthropic efforts will continue after my lifetime," the world's 37th richest man said this week. "I've planned for many years now that the majority of my estate will be left to philanthropy to continue the work of the foundation and fund non-profit scientific research." Kudos to Mr. Allen for doing the right thing.
Google Rakes in the Cash, Disappoints Wall Street
Google continues to make money at an alarming rate, but the company's continued reliance on a single product—display ads—apparently has Wall Street spooked. The online giant posted a profit of $1.84 billion on revenues of $6.82 billion for the quarter ending June 30, but the profit figure wasn't as high as analyst expectations, and investors are starting to wonder why nothing else the company does is successful. Google continues to derive over 90 percent of its revenues from online ads, while most of its other businesses would be called charities at other companies. Of course, I think I know what Google's phase 2 looks like: more ads. The company is expanding into mobile ads and even TV and radio ads, too. So it's not as if Google does only one thing well. Relax, guys.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast this week, on the usual day and time. It should be available by the weekend on iTunes and the Zune Marketplace, in both audio and video formats.
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