Spoutin' Off: Phone-within-phone is odd

By Michael Rau

March 31, 2009

It's been one of those weeks in which several stories caught my eye and left me pondering.

Blogs are buzzing about the likelihood that Skype will offer an application allowing their service to be accessed on the iPhone. My initial reaction is: “So what?”.

Now don't get me wrong. Skype is very cool.

For those of you unfamiliar with the service, Skype is an Internet-based peer-to-peer telephony service. It allows those who've signed up to communicate with each other via computer, or through a dedicated phone-like handset. It also enables simple video calls, as well as conference calls, at little or no cost.

You can even use it in some particularly creative ways. A great example of this happened a month or so ago when my pal, WAVY chopper pilot John Massey, found himself and Chopper 10 grounded by bad weather. Rather than sitting around, John hit the highways in a station SUV with a support crew and a laptop, and used the Skype videophone service to report on road conditions live in their morning show.

But I really can't fathom the value of this service on a cell phone. I mean, it's already a phone, right? And it will only function through the wi-fi connection and not the 3G Internet connection.

Maybe someone can explain to me what advantage calling someone via Skype rather than through my cell service would provide.

Speaking of iPhones, since my last column in which I reiterated my long-running lament that Apple and AT&T won't allow the iPhone to function as a modem for laptops, a practice known as tethering,

Apple has indicated publicly that they're working to change this policy. Additionally, curious techies have discovered that Apple has built-in support for tethering in the pending 3.0 release of the iPhone OS.

Perhaps my wait will soon be over and my last excuse for not buying an iPhone will evaporate.

And speaking about Apple, I've been reading about a new ad campaign from Microsoft in which they again belittle Mac owners, and at least through innuendo, imply that Mac owners are out of touch with the economy.

What tripe! Macs are stable, secure, and increase productivity - claims that MS will never be able to make for Windows.

Did I miss something? When did cheaper become better? Having worked extensively in both systems, I can tell you I probably save the amount of the difference in cost by just not having to wait for Windows to reboot after one of it's all-too-common crashes.

As I've said ad nauseum, my ongoing aggravation with Microsoft is that they could build a safe, secure, and thus more productive operating system if they chose to. All they'd have to do is direct their massive engineering team to do so.

But as always, they prefer to achieve success through questionable marketing tactics and subterfuge.

I predict that Windows' market share will continue to erode as MS insists on playing their childish games with consumers.

The next item that caught my eye relates to something I've written about a couple of times, and which I consider to be tremendously exciting.

I told you over a year ago about a startup automobile company in California called Tesla (http://dailypress.asoundidea.com/Columns/081307.html). They've developed technology that's made the idea of an all-electric car practical and feasible – something which the big automakers have ignored until recently and are struggling to catch up with.

Now in this case, the word “practical” is relative. Tesla's first vehicle, a two-seat roadster, has been in production for a few months. But it costs $100,000. That may be practical for AIG executives, but not so much for the rest of us.

Now Tesla has introduced their second model. It's a 4-door luxury sedan with gorgeous lines and an optional battery package that'll give it a range of 350 miles on a single charge (100 more that the roadster). It has a zero to 60 mph time of 5.5 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 135 mph (I wonder how long it'll take some bright young techie to hack the speed limiter).

What makes this car even more cool is its price: $50,000.

Okay. That's still out of the range out of most of us, but observe what's happening.

The 4-door sedan is a lot more car, but it's half the price. That's what happens when you effectively develop technology. Maybe Tesla's next model will be an “economy” vehicle at half the price of the sedan.

It also makes me seriously wonder if the big car companies deserve to survive, much less get public assistance. Maybe they just need to go away and make room for true innovators like Tesla.

Although Apple is certainly further along than Tesla, both of these companies exemplify why technological innovation will always triumph in the long run over slick marketing. These companies are succeeding because they look forward instead of staring at their feet.


Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.

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