AMITIAE - Monday 16 January 2012

Cassandra - Monday Review: It will soon be Friday

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

A weekend of Apple embarrassments: China crowd problems; patent decisions; New York Philharmonic. Apple and suppliers. Why Mike Elgan is wrong on Apple's intent to control the book market. Does Apple own all the patents on Siri? The White House and SOPA: comment by Tim O'Reilly. I move into a new condo and wifi cannot reach my floor: I have Plan B and Plan C.

Apple Stuff

On this day in 2008 I was in San Francisco and the MacBook Air was released. I dug out my old report (shocking spelling that I need to fix) and it is still online. As with the iPhone the previous year, I got my hands on one of these the next day.

Later in the week there is that Apple event in New York which is known to concern education. Some speculate that this might be about textbooks. The third world needs textbooks too of course, but only having copyright free access in the iBooks Store sort of limits what we can access in these parts. Mike Elgan on Cult of Mac is referring to the event as the start of Apple's war on Amazon. Oddly here, while Amazon will not sell software or anything that could remotely be described as hardware, they do sell books to us. Elgan thinks that the Kindle Fire was a warning shot across the bows. I don't as it has few of the features of an iPad and several other disadvantages. As a delivery vehicle for Amazon's wares, it is fine; but where is the infrastructure?

Elgan thinks that Apple intends to control books in the same way as it controls music, but that also is wrong: deliver would be a better word, or provide. But there is precious little delivering of music or books outside a minority of countries, but like many Elgan probably isn't looking any further than the borders of the US; which is also why his contention that Apple's one massive advantage over in the world of self-publishing is that a disproportionate percentage of authors use Macs. No point authoring something on a Mac if Apple will not make it available in the country one lives in.

On Saturday we covered the release of a couple of reports from Apple: on Supplier Responsibility which was released as a PDF with plenty of web page information; and a List of Apple Suppliers. This was another PDF, but much shorter. As part of the awareness that Apple has concerning the environment, it has changed the specifications of cables, so one of its cable suppliers, Volex, is switching to halogen-free cables we are told by Electronista, which may cost it up to $6 million. MacDaily News brought out some comment on part of the Apple release concerning worker improvements -- an area that Apple has been criticised for in the past, even though this was something outside its direct control. Apple has moved to bring it more within its control, by insisting that its suppliers comply with certain standards. What MDN emphasised was the comment from Tim Cook in an email he sent to Apple employees: "No one in our industry is driving improvements for workers the way Apple is today."

Ah . . . we found a copy of that email online at Macgeneration. The site is in France: the English version of the email is down the page.

And needless to say, some managed to filter out the positives in the reports and email to find the negatives, like the Straits Times (AFP) article: "Apple admits some suppliers continue to abuse workers" and cherry-picked the worst points.

Let's follow that with a major positive from Horace Dediu who has a look at the question, Is the iPad a PC. What caught my attention here was the stunning graph which gives Apple (Mac and iPad) a fantastic growth of just over 240% while at the same time, Windows sagged. This may actually have answered the question of if the iPad had impinged on sales of Windows.

We reported at the end of last week about an embarrassing incident with a new iPhone, Marimba and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Over the weekend lots more sources picked up on this and milked it for all it was worth. A couple were helpful when they mentioned that Silent Mode does not silence an alarm -- you wouldn't want it silenced in reality; apart from if you happened to be in a concert hall of course. The initial report had the man responsible failing to react, which was a bit odd, until you read the article on Electronista who comment on a NYTimes item, in which he was interviewed.

And he is really apologetic: to the point that he is losing sleep because of the concern he has as a concert goer himself. Just having switched from a BlackBerry to the iPhone as his company had replaced the RIM device, he was a bit unfamiliar with the iPhone, and was not even sure that it was his producing the tone initially -- which sounds sort of right: how many of you reach for your phone when someone else's goes off? Time to let this go. He made a mistake and has more than paid for this misunderstanding of how his new iPhone worked.

Due to the chaos that erupted when everybody trying to buy the new iPhone 4S in China tried to be first in line -- with some employing stooges to wait as proxies, while others bought then immediately resold the few phones they were able to grab (with Apple's poor organisation for the event) -- the company stopped selling the device for reasons of safety: the store, the personnel and for the folks outside.

There never seems to be any problem in Thailand like this. Those who want their phones on the day it comes out register, then line up and have their photos taken, but only get one each. Those who don't want to line up either pull strings in the right quarters or wait a few days. Easy. I looked at an early report on The Next Web by Matthew Panzarino and a comment there told us "I just badly hope that people in China now boycott the iPhone in any form - or better still create one of their own and dirt cheap prices." Why Sardar Mohkim Khan thinks they would want to boycott the real thing is a daft and childish comment, but he obviously doesn't know that they already make counterfeit ones in China, but still want the real thing. Desperately.

As we suggested the last time there was a similar chaotic debut, some form of allocation and pre-registration is a must. Next time, instead eggs they might throw something harder, like apples.

We are jealous of those who have SSD drives in their computers (sort of) because of the superior speeds, but Topher Kessler writes about PCI-express alternatives that are completely OS X compatible and may be coming in Thunderbolt equipped external drives too. But not cheap at all.

Half and Half

On patents it was reported by David Hamilton and Josh Lowensohn that the ITC had said Motorola does not violate three Apple patents. This is a preliminary ruling and the full ruling may not be out for a couple of months and this part of the case is only one aspect of the patent games between the two. Foss Patents reports on this decision in much more detail and suggests that the result could affect some of the decision making in the cases against Samsung.

We have been following the enthusiasm on line (and in class) concerning Siri, but I have yet to exercise her fully, especially as she keeps telling me that Google maps are not available to her in Thailand (when all I need is a place name). Robert Cringely has a new angle -- actually an old angle -- as he suggest that the technology was first used (and patented) by Excite whose creditors now own the patents. As the inventor Graham Spencer now works at Google, the stage may be set for some major litigation here.

We have an Apple event in New York on 19 January, but Facebook has jumped in and announced that they now have an Invite-only event in a restaurant on 18 January from 17:00 to 20:00 in San Francisco, Thomas Houston reports. I must admit I am getting fed up with arbitrary changes from Facebook and I am ready to move on.

I loved the commentary on a site called Parislemon (the name itself is nice enough) concerning a Tweet from Frank X. Shaw, whom Google tells me is Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communications at Microsoft. The Tweet itself becomes even more interesting with that little fact in one's possession: "Hey Google - we are the 70% #anotherandroidlicense" As the commentary points out, Microsoft is making a lot of money out of that free Android, which is something many of my friends and colleagues (and students) never grasp. The comment also repeats the Ballmer quote that I have used before: "Android is not free, you have to pay Microsoft to use it." And Parislemon adds something I did not know, "Chrome OS. It's another free Google OS that you pay Microsoft to use."

Other Matters

There did not seem to be much at CES (us Apple followers had seen most before in other forms) but one interesting product that I like the idea of was a glass multitouch keyboard that Jacob Shulman reports on for The Verge. I am not too sure about the base it has (it needs some form of contrast) but it looks as if it is on the right track and investors are interested.

There were ultrabooks -- you know the clones of Apple's MacBook Air -- but the products just do not match up: pigs with lipstick. Woody from Phuket on Infoworld makes the point that the makers of these took aim at the MBA and missed: But everywhere -- absolutely everywhere -- the question begs: How is this better than a MacBook Air? and he deconstructs the PC assembly industry: basically what is wrong with the clones that so many use.

If it weren't enough to keep reading about disappointing clones, we now hear from Electronista that AMD is to develop a rival to the Apple-Intel Thunderbolt, called (cue trumpets. . .) Lightning Bolt. The same ports, but this would share power, USB 3 and video. Is this industry so unoriginal these days?

Is the press rehabilitating Steve Ballmer. Even John Gruber in a link to what follows said that this was the best of Ballmer: not afraid to try. And what he was trying was outlined by Ashlee Vance on Bloomberg Businessweek; but first we had a look at the poor little rich boy eating alone (by choice) in a restaurant that his security refused to name. Contrast that with Steve Jobs waiting in line at a pizza restaurant, or slumming in the Apple cafeteria with the rest of the bees in the hive. But despite the valuable insights here, this is a whitewashed Ballmer. An interesting read, nonetheless.

One does not have to try very hard to read between the lines of what RIM may be up to when Jacob Shulman reports that the Canadian maker of BlackBerry has hired Goldman Sachs to "explore strategic opportunities", which looks to me like a rapid retreat out of the business may be coming. Don Reisinger also had some comments on this.

We have looked at the attempts by US legislators to impose laws on the Internet and realise how little such elected officials know about this -- about anything really -- but now the White House has stepped in, we are told by Brendan Sasso on The Hill, and while they believe that online piracy is a serious matter (OK. . .) they will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression (OK). The writer of SOPA says his bill meets those criteria, but he must be one of the few people who does. One of the comments mentioned that some sites will be going dark on Wednesday, including Reddit and Wikipedia. Not Twitter, so far.

Also weighing in on SOPA is Tim O'Reilly (Tim, not that bombast, Bill O'Reilly) who likes the way the White House has involved itself. He takes exception to one paragraph in the White House approach, and this is something that all the legislators bring up, "online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy". O'Reilly tells us that in the whole discussion he has "seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm". It sounds like the arguments put forward about economic losses due to piracy in Thailand which run into billions of baht (based on full retail price) and no one has actually been able to show the number of users that this might represent, so that it seems more a figure pulled out of thin air.

Local Items

We reported a week or so ago on ATM thefts that were happening in Malaysia to Singapore DBS and POSB account holders. Robin Chan on the Straits Times reports that two Malaysian men had been arrested. There was a follow up to this in another item by Robin Chan who writes that DBS has been beefing up its security to deal with the leaking ATMs. [The Straits Times had several more articles later on this too.]

After longer than expected, I moved out of a friend's one room apartment at the weekend into a larger space of my own. I had no wifi to start with, so bought a day's worth from the management (100 baht) but despite being able to see several wifi links with the right name, neither the Mac nor the iPad were able to connect. The iPhone couldn't even see the network. When I went to ask, not only could the iPhone find it, but I was able to reach the login screen. Floor 9 must have a blank spot: wonderful. Plan B had me switch to the True 3G H service with their aircard that I pay a monthly fee for but hardly ever use: it is just for occasions like this. I later also tried tethering with the iPhone, now called a Personal Hotspot. First however I found that there was no data-on signal. Lost the plot in all the running about I was doing, I expect. A restart had that available and then I turned on the Personal Hotspot in Settings, then linked the Mac and the iPad. Speeds are good too and I had to send a largish file (2.7MB) which went without a hitch. Despite this ability to access, it does not have the same feel as an always-on wifi router.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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