AMITIAE - Friday 13 April 2012

Cassandra - Friday Review - The Weekend Arrives

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

Thai water festival time and I have bolted the doors. Apple, the DoJ, Amazon and eBooks: Macmillan comes out fighting, other publishers give up. Will Amazon lose? Update news. iTunes, Apple and iCloud. Apple security tool released in Java update. Nokia dying bit by bit. iStudio reopens in Bangkok. KSC posts a message to Facebook after a tsunami warning and regrets it right away.

Apple Stuff

On Wednesday, as expected, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a suit against Apple about the way the pricing of ebooks had been organised: moving to an agency model and giving the publishers back control of pricing which had been taken away from them by Amazon. As well as Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Penguin are named, although Simon & Schuster, Hachette and HarperCollins did settle according to AppleInsider. They sure got together and did a deal. And the end result of the deal was that prices rose. However, as many point out, Amazon with its control of the market had been selling books at a loss.

Whether the getting together is conspiracy or a series of business meetings depends which side of a fence one sits. The publishers were upset with Amazon as under the arrangements they were forced to agree to -- selling at wholesale -- "Amazon repeatedly upset publishers by selling titles at a loss." Roger Cheng on CNET has some more information about this.

But what about Amazon? asks Johnny Evans on ComputerWorld. If that company was squeezing prices, shouldn't the DoJ be looking at that too? Evans thinks that the "end result could still surprise, and could work out quite badly for the complainant in the case, Amazon." What is that warning about disturbing a hornets' nest? Evans' fairly long article is well worth a look. Also worth reading is the CNET article from Declan McCullagh and Greg Sandoval who take a look at some expert views and it may be that the DoJ could lose against Apple because Apple was not there at key meetings. The key is the "model" for selling the books that was chosen: Amazon's wholesale model; or the agency model that the publishers wanted. The article has a number of useful quotes that are highly critical of Amazon.

Late on Thursday, I found a good (if lengthy) article by Graham Spencer on MacStories that explains the Agency model, the Wholesale model and the DoJ case that is being made.

With all the press highlighting Apple, it is easy to forget MacMillan has not taken the easy way out: the others laid on their backs for Eric Holder. Indeed, the CEO of MacMillan is pretty angry and has released an open letter, according to Electronista who have a link to the letter which criticises Holder and his merry men, particularly the way (he suggests) Amazon gets a free ride to take over the industry -- a monopoly, surely? This is something that others have expressed considerable doubts about.

So, now that the US DoJ is going for Apple, Australia has decided to join in according to Electronista who report that the Competition and Consumer Commission there is having a think about this. The UK is coming up slowly behind as well.

In the UK Apple is also being accused of dodging taxes, according to Dara Kerr on CNET. She picks up on a report from the Daily Mail that tells of income of some £6 billion with only £10 million paid in tax. From what I remember, a lot of Apple's sales are actually made in the Irish Republic where the online store is based, but the Mail is going to gnaw this bone for a while we guess.

While we did not see any changes earlier in the week when Apple took all the stores offline, AppleBitch reports that there is a little link down at the bottom on some European sites that now shows a Statutory Seller Warranty which is an EU thing. That EU thing is a 2-year warranty, when all the rest of us get 1 year. But then we don't have their prices or tax levels. MacNN, however, add that the Brazil (where there is now a Steve Jobs Avenue) online store had a little more added (though presumably not the 2 year warranty) with a new chat window and a screen-sharing feature. They speculate that this is being tested in South America before a worldwide rollout.

Another change that was missed is reported by Erica Sadun on TUAW who writes that Apple has introduced discounts to iBook publishers via iTunes connect.

As we mentioned earlier, Rob Schmitz who had exposed Mike Daisey's lies by finding the translator that Daisey said was untraceable, has been rewarded with a look inside Foxconn and he took cameras along too. If there is so much wrong, why do Apple and Foxconn allow this? The report by Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider tells us about some of what Schmitz was able to produce by way of televised documentaries and as well as links includes a video of iPads being made. Several sites have taken this up of course.

Foxconn also make the iPhone and, despite it being some 6 months old or more, with a new iPhone expected to be announced in about 2 months, the 4S is still selling really well worldwide we are told by AppleInsider. Indeed, figures suggest that it is selling better than in the end of 2011 buying season. The report also gives figures of other handset makers.

That article by Jason Snell on what was wrong with iTunes earlier this week hit the right note and there were lots of follow-up comments. He was on his way to Europe and was surprised at what he had wrought, he Tweeted when he got off the plane. Sometimes, things hit just the right spot. As a follow up, iPodNN report that it is rumoured that Apple is currently testing iTunes 11 and that it has iCloud control. This is not really a surprise as the comments coming from Apple execs, always push the idea of iCloud as the answer to everything and it is obviously going to feature large in Apple's future plans. This was also reported by Steven Musil on CNET. Jim Dalrymple on Tech Opinions explains Apple's iCloud and its greater significance: "a content delivery mechanism that will play an increasingly important role in future products."

In typical fashion, not long after I uploaded the Wednesday Cassandra column, so there were reports that Apple was in the early stages of writing an app to remove the Flashback malware. Among others, Jim Tanous on The MacObserver has news on this. Overnight, this was released as part of a 66.8MB Java update which is downloadable via Software update and the Apple Downloads pages. Josh Lowensohn has information on this as well as links to other tools.

While Apple was talking about producing an app for removal of the Flashback malware, F-secure has already come up with a removal script, so Topher Kessler tells us. He has an description of what it is (and does) plus a link to the download.

Another note on security was sounded by Lance Whitney who writes that there now seem to be tighter security measures on the iTunes app store. Apparently users are required to choose three security questions and answers that are required to download a new app from the App Store. A backup email address is also needed. I just downloaded a new app -- albeit a free one -- to check this out and I was not asked for anything other than my usual password. I will monitor this.

On the good side this week, as well as the app for removing that malware, there are reports that Apple is to produce a sort of "iBooks Author" for iOS apps. That is my description by the way, but from the report by Neil Hughes (and others) there is an application being developed for those of us who cannot write programs to produce iOS apps with a sort of click and drag approach. I am sure I have seen something like this before when a lot of Sun personnel came to Bangkok for one of the Bangkok Post's Internet conferences back in the early 1990s I think. One had an early object oriented approach that wrote the code in a similar way: "want a camera function, drag it in" he said. It was all early days then and still a work in progress, but time does not stand still and nor do patents. Was this an early version of NetBeans that I saw?

Also on the good side is an app called Paper that a lot of sites examined a week or so ago. I was otherwise committed but did download it at the weekend for a look and was not surprised by the reactions. Ellis Hamburger reports that this has been one of the fastest apps to reach 1.5 million downloads hitting this in about 2 weeks, but the interesting part is the number of in-app purchases that are being made too. The developers seem to have hit the right balance with a free download and pay-for add-ons that people really like and see the sense of. After the rise and rise of Instagram, who is going to buy Fifty-Three?

Other Matters

A report on the BBC Business site tells us that Nokia is expecting major losses. It had earlier reported that it expected to break even. A disaster, analysts say and the company is declining faster than expected. But for some of us, the moment Microsoft started sniffing around, the end was inevitable. Look what happened to Yahoo! Redmond had a look and the upheavals there have nowhere near ended.

I was watching the BBC on Thursday evening and there was their bubbly Australian correspondent, Aaron Heslehurst talking about losses that formerly iconic companies -- Sony was mentioned -- are reporting and in each case, he mentioned Apple.

The Register's Andrew Orlowski was fairly blunt about Nokia, writing, "Nokia's comeback will fail unless Microsoft pulls its finger out" but there seems to be a general feeling that, like RIM, the end is coming, although the beast might not die just yet. Although the Beast of Redmond needs to do something apart from sitting on its haunches.

In a press release this week, HP announced that it is to create a $1 million Education Innovation Fund in China, aiming to increase the use of information, communication and technology (ICT) solutions to improve education outcomes in China. With the importance of science, technology,engineering and math (STEM) education, teachers will learn how to use ICT effectively and innovatively in classrooms with a personalized learning approach, HP write. We could do with some of that thinking in Thailand too. As a note, we should not forget that HP is one of the silent users of Foxconn facilities: the ones that Apple has taken all that flak for when the factories also make products for others as well.

We were reading how badly the police in the UK need to have the ability to access everyone's emails and messages so that they can fight porn/crime/terrorism (A, B, C, or D: all of the above) but it isn't just the laws that need to be modernised. The police are lagging a bit too. Rob Williams on the Independent reports that a teenage hacker was able to record calls made to the anti-terrorist hotline by bypassing out of date technology.

Local Items

On Wednesday evening an SMS message from a friend -- the same one who told me about the World Trade Center on 9/11 -- let me know that there was a serious tsunami warning for the Andaman coast of Thailand after a big earthquake of 8.6 on the Richter Scale, with an aftershock of 8.3. All the services went into full alert, the airport was shut, causing many cancelled flights, people evacuated (they sure remember the first one) and everything went according to plan, although the wave that was reported off Indonesia was less than a metre, so everyone went back home.

KFC thought they saw an opportunity and posted to Facebook, "Let's hurry home and follow the earthquake news. And don't forget to order your favorite KFC menu", which was not well received. Several sites had this -- all over the world, we see -- and Matt Brian reports that KFC were in their own damage control mode very quickly, removed the message and asked for forgiveness. Rapid communications are the norm these days and I am not surprised to see such an opportunistic try here, but some things are just not appropriate. Think before posting.

On my way to buy the essentials for Songkran -- baguettes, chocolate, croissants and scones (for a change) -- I called in at the Siam Discovery Center where I saw that the hoardings were down on the iStudio that has been in a state of renovation for the last month or so. The staff were beavering away inside setting up the displays and deliveries were being made every few minutes.

A board outside informed customers that the reopening was at 6pm and there was an offer of a free mug.

I do note that the wall behind the iMacs looks suspiciously false and there is still renovation of the retail space next door, so I am wondering if there is a plan for expansion being put into effect. If not, the store looks exactly as it did before the renovation began.

But still no solid news of the iPad arrival here. . . .

Late News

We read on Foss Patents Friday morning that Apple has now been allowed to join the lawsuit that Lodsys brought against several iOS developers a while back. While Lodsys lawyers had strenuously objected to Apple joining the party, but the new judge in the case has allowed this, but the "intervention is limited to the issues of patent exhaustion and licensing"

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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