Monday, July 26, 2010

iBooks: Why Are They More Expensive Than Hardcover Books?

The promise of ebooks or ibooks (digital books in general) is that they will make it easier for people to read on the go.  You can take an entire library of books with you on the road (or in the case of students to school) on your Kindle or iPad.  Another promise of these digital books is that they will help the environment by savings trees used for printing books.

Another expected benefit, although not promised or stated, is the notion that the price of a digital book would be much cheaper than a printed book because delivering a digital book does not involve printing. It makes perfect sense.  If there are any savings from the cost of printing, they would be passed on to the consumer or at least shared between the consumer and the publisher. 

As it turns out, this is a complete misconception.  A quick survey of the prices of a few popular books gives you the results.  I just went to the iBooks Store on my iPad and search for Outliers.  The price to buy and download this book that was published in November of 2008 is $12.99.  I checked Amazon and was surprised to find out that this book costs only $11.69 in hardcover!  The Tipping Point and Blink, another two titles by the same author cost $9.99 on the iBook Store, but cost slightly less ($9.97) on Amazon.  Why aren't digital books cheaper?  Where did the savings go?  Did they go to Apple and Amazon?

This fact doesn't seem to impact the trend in in the success of digital books.  Last week, Amazon announced that its sales of digital books is not exceeding its sales of printed books. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

iPhone 4 Users: The Free Cases Are Here... Order Yours NOW!

This morning, Apple enabled the free case ordering process by making available an iPhone app for placing orders (see for details), but bottom line is this:

  1. In your iPhone 4, open the App Store and search for iPhone Case Program
  2. Download the application
  3. Once the download is completed, click the new icon
  4. You will be prompted to provide your iTunes passwords
  5. Select the type of case you want (your select includes Apple's bumper in black only and a few other full-on cases.  Nothing fancy or colorful).
  6. Confirm the order.
All the options available currently say that shipping will take 3-4 weeks.  I'm not sure if Apple has bumpers and cases for everyone who will order one so hurry and order yours immediately before supplies start running short.  I personally chose the Apple bumper.  I figured that I don't like it, I can always buy a decent case for less than $10, but the bumper is sold (or was selling) for $30 because it's from Apple.

The lucky folks who purchased a bumper (of their choice color) directly from Apple previously should be seeing a refund on their credit cards already.

Update: I just received an Order Acknowledgement from Apple indicating that my bumper will be delivered on Sep 1.  Ouch!!!

Update 2 (7/27/2009): I just received a Shipment Confirmation from Apple indicating that my bumper has already shipped and is expected to arrive on Aug 3.

Friday, July 16, 2010

iPhone 4 Antenna Problem: The Fix

After starting the press conference with the iPhone 4 song, which basically slams the media for blowing the problem out of proportion, Steve Jobs admitted that Apple is "not perfect," but demonstrated several examples of other phones that have similar problems with the "death grip" including devices from RIM (BlackBerry), HTC (Droid), Samsung, and others.  In essence, all "phones are not perfect" either.

During the press conference, Jobs also admitted that Apple knew about the problem during testing of the iPhone 4, but didn't think it would be a big deal because all smartphones have this problem. 

Here's what Apple "learned" in the last few weeks:

  1. Smartphones have weak spots, not unique to the iPhone 4.  If the weak spots are touched, the signal drops.
  2. Some interesting data from AppleCare..  Less than half a percent of the 3 million people who bought an iPhone 4 have called AppleCare about this problem.
  3. Return rates for the iPhone 4 so far are about 1.7%.  For the iPhone 3GS, the return rates were about 6%.
  4. According to AT&T's dropped call logs, the iPhone 4 drops less than 1 call per hundred more than the iPhone 3GS (not very significant).
  5. Only 20% of iPhone 4 users bought cases at the Apple Store, whereas 80% of 3GS users did (therefore, the 3GS users experience fewer antenna issues)
Even though Apple doesn't understand what the fuss is all about, they care about "every user," according to Jobs.  So here's the fix:

  1. Fixed the bar mis-reporting issue by releasing iOS 4.01 yesterday
  2. Every customer who bought an iPhone 4 gets a free bumper through September 30 (if you already bought one, you get a refund).  Customers can apply to receive the bumper through a website that will be available late next week.
  3. Customers who are still unhappy with their iPhone 4 can return it for a full refund within 30 days.
Will the above satisfy iPhone 4 customers (the few who are disgruntled) and the media?  It's to be seen, but I think the fact that Apple is making an effort will got a long way in the media.  The unhappy customers, at least according to Jobs, are very few and should be fairly satisfied with the above options.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad press is piling up for iPhone 4 antenna problems... Is a recall in the works?

The iPhone 4 antenna problem has been getting more bad press lately than the BP oil gusher!  I am still doubtful that Apple will do a full recall, but they have to do something to change the subject.  Things got much worse yesterday with Consumer Reports making a major U-turn on their previous assessment of iPhone 4 and deciding not to recommend it even though it received their highest ranking.  Today, the press is piling on.  Here's a roundup of the most recent stories:

With so much negative press, I can't imagine that Apple will be so stubborn that it won't do anything at all. Something has to give, but I suspect it will be something symbolic like giving each iPhone 4 owner a free bumper.  Those bumpers cost $29 if you buy it from Apple, but I can't imagine that they cost Apple more than $1 to make.  It's a small piece of rubber that's manufactured in China and if it wasn't sold directly by Apple, it would be sold for $6.99 by with free shipping and plenty of profit.

See Consumer Reports video below:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

iPhone 4 Reception & Proximity Sensor Issues

You may have been reading about the antenna reception problems that have been reported in the media lately.  One ZDNet reporter even called his iPhone a lemon due to these and other problems.

I have to admit that as much as I love my iPhone 4, I am experiencing intermittent and weird problems related to the reception and proximity sensors.  I followed Apple's recommendation by using a case to avoid touching the antenna part of iPhone, but that cause other problems.  The case I purchased somehow cause other problems related to the light sensors.  When the case is on the phone and I turn it on, the iPhone appears to think that the room is darker than it actually is and keeps the backlight very dim, making it difficult to read in a bright room.  There's a workaround for this, which is to turn off the light sensors, but I prefer not to use that.  I'm going back to using my iPhone without a case for now.

Unfortunately, Apple's explanation for the reception problem doesn't make a lot of sense.  The planned fix only addresses a problem with the way the reception bars are displayed, not the actual antenna problem.  Also, there's no word yet on whether the proximity sensor problem is hardware or software related.  Obviously, a software issue can be addressed with a patch, but a hardware issue requires a recall, which Apple is unlikely to do.

In the meantime, it's still difficult to get an iPhone 4 today.  People are buying them like crazy.  It's doubtful that these issues will have a long term impact on sales of the iPhone 4, but I wish they can be resolved.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

iPhone 4 Video Recording: First Impressions!

The video quality from the iPhone 4 is phenomenal!  I already had a Canon SD970 camera with HD video recording that was excellent.  However, having an HD video camera built into the phone and in my pocket all the time makes shooting video much more exciting and more of a spare of the moment thing.

Video Format
The iPhone 4 recorded videos are saved as a .mov (QuickTime) files with 1280 x 720 (30 frames per second), which is also referred to as 720p HD.  This is not as good as 1080p, but videos look great both on a computer screen and on a big screen TV.  The videos are encoded using the H.264, which is pretty much standard for all Apple videos these days.  The audio is mono (not stereo), which is what you would expect.  In terms of file sizes, there's not a set formula as to how many megabytes per second the recording will take because the compression varies depending on the scenes being recorded.  However, in a quick experiment, I recorded two videos.  The first was 28 seconds and it used up almost 35 MB (or 1.25 MB per second).  The second video was 94 seconds and it took up 120 MB (or 1.27 MB per second).

The Bad News
Unfortunately, I found two issues with videos on the iPhone that I find annoying, but suspect that Apple will deal with them in future updates:

  1. You cannot email HD videos directly from the iPhone, regardless of how small they are and regardless of the type of connection you're on (3G or Wi-Fi).  The iPhone always shrinks the video before it e-mails it.  For example, my 28 second video that was originally 35 MB was shrunk to a 568 x 320 format when e-mailed, which reduced its size to about 3 MB.  This is a drawback and the only alternative for getting your HD video off your iPhone intact is to connect the phone to a PC using a USB cable.  As of of iOS 4.0, there's no wireless way to get an HD video off the phone.
  2. The videos from the iPhone cannot be played directly on the Apple TV.  This is more of a limitation in the Apple TV, not the iPhone but it's disappointing nonetheless.  You would expect these products to work well together considering that they're both made by Apple and the Apple TV is a great way to showcase your videos shot with the iPhone.  The workaround is to convert the iPhone HD video using iTunes to the Apple TV/iPad format.  The result is a slight reduction in quality (down from 1280 x 720 to 960 x 540).  Hopefully, this will be fixed with an update for the Apple TV in the future.