Google Voice, Apple Stores Examined

The fledgling Google Voice program and Microsoft's latest bid to compete with Apple through physical stores are highlights of this week's installment of All Tech Considered. Omar Gallaga, technology culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, offers his insight.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, joining us now once again is Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Welcome once again, Omar.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, Robert. Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Sure. And as we heard Jeff Brady say there, that kind of mobile banking he was describing is already used elsewhere in the world. Why are other countries ahead of the U.S. in that technology?

Mr. GALLAGA: All right. If you think about some countries like say, China or India, they really don't use computers the way we do as much. I mean, a lot more is relied on with cell phones. So if you look at our future, where we're using mobile phones more and maybe computers less, you see that change kind of coming over here as well. There's a company that I've spoken to that specializes in financial services for developing countries. They're doing some really fascinating stuff in Latin America and Russia, India. I'm thinking, you know, we're going to see some real big global changes just from having basic financial services in developing areas.

SIEGE: Well, now onto some other tech stories in the news. Just when I thought that the octopus that is Google could not grow any more tentacles, here comes something called Google Voice that's being tested. What does Google Voice do?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, it started as a service aptly named Grand Central to kind of wrangle and control all of the different telephone numbers you might have. Say you have a cell phone, an office number, a home number, Google wants to give you one new phone number that will control all of these. You'll be able to route calls wherever you want. You'll be able to have all of your phones ring at one time if somebody calls you and you need to have them get a hold of you. And it also has some features that you maybe wouldn't expect from a phone service, things like being able to transcribe your voicemail or being able to record a call in the middle of it and have it stored online.

SIEGEL: And this service would cost me how much?

Mr. GALLAGA: It would actually be free, as we've come to expect from most of Google services. The catch is that it's not available to everyone yet. Right now, it's invite only. But we will probably be seeing this spread to everybody else very soon.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to another tech giant, Microsoft and its ongoing war with Apple. What is the latest salvo for Microsoft?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, if you've seen Microsoft's Laptop Hunter commercials, they're really taking Apple to task on pricing, especially of laptops. And now, Microsoft says that it plans to open retail stores next to Apple stores. So they're taking the competition right to the mall. Apple stores are really more than about pricing. They really are about creating a strong customer experience. When you walk into an Apple store, there's definitely a different vibe there than you might get from other electronics stores. And Microsoft is not really known for their TLC when it comes to a customer support. So it's going to be a really big challenge for them.

I mean, if you ask Sony, with their Sony Style stores, how they've done against Apple - not so well. They really haven't created that same experience as Apple. So it makes me wonder just based on my experiences with Windows, whether, you know, if you go into a Microsoft store are you going to get asked by a security guard every time you want to touch something, whether you really want to be touching that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, we have time for one more tech story. And I know that you're eager to relate one from what I think of as the hi-tech meets low culture department.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Tell us about the online existence of Keyboard Cat.

Mr. GALLAGA: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALLAGA: Keyboard Cat is a short music video from the '80s featuring a catchy little tune of a cat playing on a keyboard, which people listen to.

(Soundbite of Keyboard Cat video)

SIEGEL: Very, very high quality synthesizer there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALLAGA: Now, you can imagine a cat on the keyboard playing those keys, the paws are being moved around by the owner. Now, what's significant about this is that this original video that was posted on YouTube became a viral hit when people started mixing it with other videos. Keyboard Cat has interrupted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Barack Obama, and recently there was a video of Keyboard Cat playing along with Hall & Oates on the song "You Make My Dreams Come True." And that video ran into trouble on YouTube when Warner Music Group decided they didn't want that audio…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALLAGA: …appearing because of copyright concerns.

SIEGEL: So they sued Keyboard Kitty.

Mr. GALLAGA: They didn't sue but they stripped the audio out of it. So, now if you go to YouTube and look for Keyboard Cat and Hall & Oates, you will see the video but you will hear no sound. But one bit of trivia is that the original cat named Fatso actually passed away in 2000. But the Keyboard Cat's spirit lives on forever in online videos, we hope.

SIEGEL: It's Omar Gallaga, who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Thanks.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thanks for having me, Robert. And we will indeed be putting Keyboard Cat on the All Tech blog at npr.org/alltech.

SIEGEL: Thank you for that.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of Keyboard Cat video)

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