AMITIAE - Friday 20 January 2012

Cassandra - Friday Review: The Weekend Arrives

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

Apple bringing in the textbook writers this time: maybe they can make a better job of it. First look at iBooks Author: Wow. Sony losses. Google lower than expected (but still a 27% increase -- love those Wall Street analysts). Microsoft reports profits down a fraction from last year. Kodak files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Former security companies McAfee and Symantec (broken, hacked and stolen code).

Apple Stuff

Rumours have been around for a few months now concerning the Apple solution to TV. What that means, no one is absolutely sure: delivery, operation, content, distribution, income? Whatever, we heard that as well as the cloud and the ultra-books and the tablets and Siri, CES was abuzz with ideas about what this might be to such an extent that John Martellaro on the Mac Observer, thinks that Steve Jobs may have "snookered the TV companies." They are looking for something, but they don't know where to look or what to look for. Part of his speculation applies some of the ideas from iTunes -- people want the song, not the album or the label -- to the TV and suggests that "the show" is the core. Will Siri be trained to look for shows and ignore channels and networks? One thing may be certain: this is a solution for the US and the chances of it making its way down the pipe to us in most of Asia, are slim: at least for the time being.

We were looking earlier in the week at the way sales of PCs and Apple products have been changing in the last year or so, and the figures look quite good if the iPad is bundled in the PC grouping. I don't suppose Apple cares: all sales are incoming dollars one way or another. Or Yuan? Apart from egg-covered shop windows, Apple is having a good time of it in China. Indeed, the eggs were thrown because of Apple's popularity and the hot desire for people to have the product: in this case the iPhone 4S. Shutting the doors for safety was inconveniently cutting them off from their supply and the reaction was not long in coming. I doubt customers will be required to stand in line again like that in China. Neil Hughes on AppleInsider reports on sales figures over there and they are impressive. As well as successes with the iPhone and the iPad, the Mac is also going well and outpaces sales in the US, with an increase there of 12% year over year.

And not only China. . . . Cast your minds back to October and the release of the iPhone 4S. Once again, many thought this was a disaster as the new iPhone looked just like the old one. It doesn't actually if you know where to look, but the basic premise holds: slim, squarish, desirable. Most of those reporting disaster (as they often do) hardly examined the specifications, which we did: and rather carefully. Apart from Siri, which (who?) I am still in two minds about, there was the camera, the processing speed and some improved wireless reception. Not much? A world of difference. So while those pundits tut-tutted and warned of disaster, the public (for example the egg throwers of China) were really keen to get their hands on the iPhone 4S, so it is not a surprise to read in an item by Kelly Hodgkins on TUAW, that the analysts, Neilsen think the launch of this iPhone was enormous and according to their graph, it was pretty close to the sales of Android devices too. All Android devices.

Earlier in the week we reported on excerpts from a new book that suggested Scott Forestall was next in line for the Apple throne and that he was ambitious: thirsting for the CEO chair. Another excerpt has been reported on MacNN which outlines some of the paranoid security that Apple has in place. I think we have read some of this before, and I was told by one Apple exec about the several pages in his contract that told him about reasons for dismissal concerning talking to certain people about almost anything within Apple. People get used to that, I guess. However, the ways that Cupertino does some of this, including changing the construction of a building, make for some interesting reading.

In Othello (yes, Shakespeare) there is that planting of a seed of jealousy by Iago that sets a sequence of events running that ends in tragedy. No matter what the real evidence shows, the Moor is convinced Desdemona is disloyal. Some more seeds were planted last week with the release of that Adam Lashinsky book and comments on Scott Forestall. Chris Maxcer is now tilting at Tim Cook with a seed concerning Tim Cook's credentials and a quote from the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs: "But Tim's not a product person, per se". That may well be true, but the CEO was chosen for his other abilities and the skills he has at leading a team. For example, it was Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue who were point men at the Apple Education event in New York because they are better at it than Cook and he knows it. Some CEOs (and we can all think of a few who would be better off not on the stage) would insist that they make the pitch; but Cook has a team around him, including Forestall and Jony Ives who are far better than him in their own areas. Perhaps Tim Cook is what John Sculley should have been.

We mentioned a week or so ago about a new seed of the OS X update to 10.7.3 which is still coming. MacNN tells us there has been another one this week and with no issues reported, this may well be released soon.

The Apple Education Event: iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U
On Thursday evening, I sat through feeds of the Apple event in New York. I concentrated mainly on the feed from The Loop, later switching to CNET. No one really knew what to expect at this Education event at the Guggenheim Museum there, but there had been much speculation (as ever). We ended up with a new version of iBooks, plus iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

The text books section that was pushed so hard by Schiller in his presentation is not available in this neck of the woods as far as I have been able to determine. Not a surprise at all there, I am afraid and I had predicted this would be US-centric. Again. What we do have -- and I a really excited about this -- is iBooks Author. This is a free download from the Mac App Store and is a Pages-like application for creating and publishing ebooks. I had a quick run through while eating my cornflakes and am impressed. I mean, really impressed. Look for a review later today or tomorrow.

I wrote the whole Event up as a report from the information in the feeds, adding my own comments. I also downloaded all the new apps and will be playing with them real soon.

Presenters were Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue, who is reported as having been the dealmaker for both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook in an article on MacNN and this is why he has been coming to the fore of late. People should be rewarded for doing a good job, but his list (record companies and iTunes, iLife, ARM and not Intel for the iPad and others) is unusually rich.

As a late note, the video of the Event is being downloaded to my computer as I prepare to put this article online.

Other Matters

It is not a good time for some companies with some of the largest displaying end of life symptoms.

Sony for example, which has been in a period of decline ever since they tried to reinvent themselves as a media company and lost sight of their core directions, has filed massive losses of $317 million for Q4 we read in an article by Thomas Ricker on The Verge. This loss is in a stark contrast to Apple of course and also in contrast to the predicted profit for the period. Those analysts cannot be relied on, can they? Will Stringer fall on his sword?

The comparison with Apple is not simply to rub salt into wounds, Steve Jobs really looked up to Sony and its founder, praising both at one Keynote speech. When I was in my 20s -- before all the modern tech of computers arrived -- Sony was always (apart from Bang & Olufsen) -- the company whose products were well designed and not over-complex. They were also economically accessible to more people and the company was considered one of the most innovative of its time. Perhaps that time has now passed.

There may have been a lesson for Sony (and others) this week when there was a collective gasp at the announcement -- expected really -- that Kodak was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That is not the end of the road, as the process allows it some breathing space in which it might be able to reorganise (divest some assets) and reinvent itself. This was all over the web on Thursday, and I just selected one reliable source in Electronista who tell us that as part of the plan, the company has secured $950 million from Citibank.

We might follow that with a couple more earnings reports that I gleaned early Friday morning from the BBC (the first site I came upon with the news). In the first from the BBC Business Section we are told that Google has reported lower revenues than had been predicted.

This is pretty much like when Apple had a record quarter last year but although the numbers were higher than Apple's predictions, Wall Street had gone ga-ga and aimed for a far higher figure. When Apple missed that, the shares dropped. Google is still doing OK with 3-month revenues of $10.6 billion and net profit rising 6.4% to $2.7 billion.

On the other hand the BBC is also reporting a slight fall in Microsoft profits which was actually to be expected following on from lower PC sales around the end of last year -- fewer new PCs means lower Windows sales. Redmond is not dead just yet with a net profit of $6.624 billion compared to $6.634 billion for its second quarter last year: you have to look closely to see the difference and it is not as bad as some had been expecting a couple of weeks ago round CES. That BBC report mentions that one of the factors was the flooding here, with the effect that had on world hard disk supplies. We said it would, last year.

This is perhaps a good time to mention Horace Dediu and another of his analyses with the rise and fall of personal computing. Just look at that chart (1975 to 2011): some interesting stories there.

Also having to face a new form of reality is McAfee who have admitted that their software contains bugs that could open the doors and let everyone in: everyone bad that is. Note, that the attack is by way of an ActiveX command. Remember that stuff? It was the Microsoft snake-oil that was in all the web pages here and in other countries, particularly those of the banks; and if you did not have the IE 5 browser -- which meant no one using a Mac could play -- you could not carry out online banking or any other communication with these guardians of your cash, who thought they were safe behind bamboo gates. And now Sam Byford on The Verge tells us this. As Alan Dawson on the Bangkok Post Database used to say about Symantec (and see below) that was similarly caught with its pants (metaphorically) round its ankles, the "former security company", McAfee says they have a fix for this. We also read a useful report on this from Elinor Mills on CNET.

That other former security company, Symantec, is reported to have lost some of its source code in a hack in 2006. Wait: read that again and look at the security implications for users and for Symantec. Steven Musil reports that the source code for Norton Antivirus (gasp!) was stolen by hackers (gasp!) and they only admitted it when hackers announced it earlier in January. Hah: thought they would keep that little nugget quiet did they?

RIM were not having talks with Samsung, so said Samsung, who also said they were not interested. So where does that leave the BlackBerry maker? A tie-up with Kodak, perhaps? Hardly likely. It is suggested on Yahoo Finance that licensing may be almost the only way out, if it is not already too late.

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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