Cybernaut 

Plane is huge, but that’s about it

When’s the last time you heard someone you know talk about how luxurious their flight was, how much leg room they had, and the quality of the service? Okay, now when was the last time you heard somebody talk about how cheap their last flight was, after taxes and hidden costs?

Chances are you’ve heard the latter much more often, and more recently, that the former.

The hey-day of the luxury airliner is dead. Few companies and routes can even afford to offer first class anymore, and only slightly more offer a business class section.

Discount and charter airlines are thriving while traditional airlines are in a constant battle with bankruptcy.

That’s why the excitement over the new Airbus A380 (www.airbus.com), the largest jetliner ever built, is actually kind of stupid. The plane was released last week to huge fanfare, with eccentric Virgin Airways chairman Sir Richard Branson weaving visions of mile-high casinos, private cabins with double beds, stores at 30,000 feet.

Given the choice between casinos and private cabins, and filling the entire hull to capacity with seats and more seats, most airlines will probably choose to go for quantity over quality, packing people like sardines into a slightly bigger tin. More people coughing, more babies crying, more elderly fliers disappearing into the bathroom at the beginning of a flight only to at last emerge when the plane begins its descent.

Some planes will be decked out, at least in the beginning, but it’s safe to say the majority will be larger versions of existing planes.

Still, there’s no question that it’s an impressive, and slightly scary, technological achievement.

Passengers will be divided onto two decks that can load and disembark separately. The plane can hold almost 600 people, about 200 more than the 747, and is slightly wider, enabling more arm space however it’s configured.

It does pose a slight problem for airports, who have to rebuild terminals to allow two-tiered loading and unloading. The planes also carry more luggage than airports can currently process.

Boeing (www.boeing.com) is not answering back, choosing instead to build the next generation of small, long-range planes with a construction that allows for greater humidity, wireless internet and movie broadcasts, and efficient LED lightning to help people with jet lag. It will also be more fuel efficient, allowing for a greater range and potentially for lower cost flights. Best of all, the new design will feature larger windows, something made possible by the composite construction of the plane.

Who will win this battle? You have to hope it’s the customers. I know when I’m booking a flight, price and the number of stopovers are the only things I care about.

Apple not so friendly?

Apple has always been the shiny, happy computer company, the colourful hippy cousin of the Microsofts and IBMs of the world. It has a friendly feel, from the user-friendly designs and software, to the way the company and its products are promoted.

Why then is the company determined to sue a 19-year-old Mac enthusiast and college student who published a story on his website, www.ThinkSecret.com, regarding Mac’s release of a $500 Mac Mini? The story appeared only a week before Apple made the announcement official, and Nicholas Ciarelli, the college student in question, was genuinely excited by the prospect.

News and rumours of new technologies and software versions are always leaked, but in memory I can’t think of a single case where the company has turned around and sued the person, even when the story was negative. In a way leaks have always been part of the industry, and they’ve been tolerated because they do create so much excitement around technologies.

I also suspect that some companies leak information on purpose in order to get a general feeling from the market that would allow them to change the final product.

But Apple sued, and that decision has since been derided as unnecessarily heavy-handed by many, including die-hard Mac fans.

The lawsuit would essentially put a gag order on Think Secret, preventing them from releasing any future leaks regarding Apple products.

Unable to defend himself, San Francisco lawyer Terry Goss has agreed to represent Ciarelli at no cost.

Win or lose, Apple looks bad no matter what. Maybe they should have worried about tightening their own internal secrecy before they took on a 19-year-old student. A Harvard student at that, with proven sources in the industry, and a website that’s been dishing reliable dirt since he was 13 years old.

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