OPINION

Apple’s Creative Move, Qantas Bans Laptops, Buying Guide II

This summer has been amazing, and there isn’t any letup. I was convinced last week that I’d be able to focus on some of the longer-term issues rather than big new news this week. Clearly that wasn’t the case, and I had more to choose from than I have room to discuss. As a result, I’m picking two of the most interesting topics — so I can leave room for specific product recommendations for back to school, as promised, at the end.

The two big things that are both somewhat related to Apple are how Apple tricked Creative Labs into exiting the MP3 market and Qantas banning batteries in laptops on planes — which could be the beginning of a trend.

Apple Tricks Creative Labs

When we see an Apple deal, we wonder if Apple is really that smart or whether the company on the other side is just incredibly stupid. We can at least partially connect the departure of Carly Fiorina from HP to how badly Steve Jobs tricked her with the iPod — and to the dead bodies that are growing around that product, the most recent being Portalplayer. Now, in what appears to be an incredibly brilliant move, Apple has turned its payment to Creative Labs for patent infringement into a relatively inexpensive way to get rid of one of the founders of the MP3 market segment.

How Apple did this was to trick Creative Labs into its peripheral program. Now, don’t get me wrong — there is a lot of money in iPod peripherals. Still, you can’t effectively sell your own MP3 player and be a preferred vendor for peripherals for someone else.

There is a possibility that Creative has pulled a reverse: By getting into the Apple program, maybe it can get Apple iPod peripherals to work with Creative Zen players. However, this is typically how Steve Jobs tricks people. He lets them think they are getting the better deal, only to find that the fine print keeps them from doing what made the deal look so attractive in the first place.

With HP, it was colors and interoperability. HP thought it had a deal to do unique iPod colors and to get the iPod to work seamlessly with Microsoft media centers. Steve Jobs had to approve every color, and he turned down all but white — including black — as inappropriate for iPods. HP never got the transcoding approval it had initially anticipated for the Media Center support. Had HP succeeded with colors and interoperability, it could have outsold Apple — but the deal the company thought it had wasn’t the deal it got.

SanDisk Success Risk

You’ll recall that a few weeks ago, SanDisk arguablyhad a better product than the iPod. Well, the numbers are in, and the company is growing at 300 percent, while both Creative Labs and Apple shares have stalled.

Both firms probably need to focus less on each other and more on SanDisk, which, coincidently, justbrought out a hot new player. Anyway, it’s just interesting to watch Steve Jobs work, as Apple’s “deals” are increasingly compared to phishing e-mails from Nigeria — that is, the deal is too good to be true.

Laptops on Planes – or Not

We had a lot of laptop noise last week. You may recall that after Dell issued its recall, Sony said that no other laptop vendor was impacted. Apple was smart and — unlike a lot of other vendors that may still have to do their own recalls — said it was investigating, rather than saying categorically that it didn’t have a problem.

Of course, if you readmy column on the 14th, you would have seen a picture of an exploding Apple laptop that forecast this event. That same column provided guidelines for travelers confronted with a ban on laptops on some flights.

Well, last week, Qantas announced a new policy prohibiting passengers with Dell laptops from recharging them in flight with the batteries inside. Given that fires were not being caused by overcharging, that protective measure seems rather strange. However, with Apple’s recall in place and reports of at least one Sony Vaio fire, this policy may spread to other carriers and other laptop brands.

One recommendation that does fall out of this is that you shouldn’t leave batteries in your laptops indefinitely while working on AC power. If you pull them out, there is not only less likelihood of a fire, but also greater likelihood that your laptop will survive if there is a fire. A side benefit is that your battery will last vastly longer than its usual 18-month life span.

The outcome of all of this appears to be that the hardware OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are starting to talk to each other about standards, but that the Product Safety Commission and Airlines may move long before any standards can have an impact — so best be prepared.

Sony could take the biggest hit if it turns out it has to recall its Vaio batteries. Given that it was Sony’s problem to begin with, it will be hard to explain why it didn’t move first.

Specific Back-to-School Recommendations

Last week’s column offered some broad guidelines onbuying PCs for back to school while pointing out the Three Signs of the Tech Apocalypse. This week, we’ll get a bit more specific.

For laptops, pick wide screen designs — they’re both more useful and more productive than their old square screen counterparts.

There is only one 12-inch laptop that I think really makes the grade and is truly Windows Vista-ready, and that’s theDell XPS 1210.

For a 14-inch screen, theHP DV2000z configured with Nvidia graphics appears to provide the best combination of performance and price.

At 15.4-inches, there are a lot of choices, and prices are incredibly fluid. Look for a branded product that is priced under US$1,000, has ATI or Nvidia graphics, and is configurable with 1 Gigabyte of memory. There are a lot of rebates and specials that make it virtually impossible for me to reliably pick a product in this range right now.

Best Monitor

My personal favorite monitor for a dorm and for the greatest future-proofing is the Gateway 21-inch.

What makes this special is that it has an embedded upscaler in it — the only one I know of that does — which makes it good for watching movies as well as for school work. At $500, given what this has in it, it really is an impressive deal, and the size makes it perfect for most school projects. Attach it to a VCR or Tivo, and it can be your kid’s in-room TV. It’s what I use myself.

Keyboard and Mouse

Best for the money — and built to last — is theLogitech MX 3200 Laser Mouse — great for accuracy and a very high build quality.

Well, it looks like I’m out of room for this week. Next week, I’ll have some final product suggestions that are probably more “want” than “need” to have, and we’ll hope the drama drops a notch. However, given I just found out that Symantec is arguing to make Vista less secure, I wouldn’t bet on that.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


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