AMITIAE - Monday 23 April 2012

Cassandra - Monday Review: It Will Soon be Friday

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

News on the iPad: coming to Thailand this week; not yet in China; but Proview are holding talks with Apple (surprised?). Why others fail with their iPad clones. Bulls and bears play with Apple shares. Coincidence: the quarterly results are coming this week. More Apple doom merchants. Google, Oracle and Java: maybe, can't remember, a mistake. Censorship in Asia: none to report in Thailand (trust The Next Web).

Apple Stuff

Despite the announced arrival of the iPad in Thailand this Friday (27 April), the online store has not been changed for pre-orders, so I presume that there will be no online ordering until the concrete and glass stores have begun to sell the devices.

We noted on Friday that one of the few countries not to have the newest iPad as yet, is China and there was some speculation on whether this was a sort of pressure concerning the iPad name and Proview. Electronista reported on Friday that the two companies are now in "active talks" as part of a way to bring this to a settlement, even though Apple claims it has bought the name once already.

I have often looked at the way other companies have tried to come up with an iPad competitor and not been surprised as they have fallen by the wayside one by one. Many think that the form factor is all that is needed, but the whole infrastructure and ecosystem that the iPad has, is missing. Pathetic attempts by the Taiwanese manufacturers, especially that ridiculous Padphone thing all give good indications that none of these guys have their eyes on the ball. Ben Bajarin on Tech Pinions is pretty much right when he examines how these other makers miss every time: "the companies attempting to create competing touch computers don't understand touch computing or the market dynamics for tablets". I also like his look at the cost fallacy -- cheapest is best -- which local politicians might want to consider as the Thai schools tablet program proceeds: or doesn't. My original link for this good article was MacDaily News

Over the weekend, Apple changed part of its main site and added a business-related section for those in enterprise using iPhones. It is almost invisible unless you know where to look and there is an "iPhone in Business" section at the bottom of the main iPhone pages: Overview, iPhone at Work, Integration, Apps for iPhone, and Profiles. There is now also an iPad in Business section too with similar sub-sections.

Tomorrow -- actually Wednesday morning here with time differences -- Apple will announce its Q2 2012 financial results and there will be live streaming of the event from 2pm Cupertino time which is about 4am here, so I will be busy trying to wrinkle by Egyptian cotton bedsheets: sorry, but I am too old to want to get up that early nowadays. I will catch the reports and rerun recordings of the announcements after breakfast.

After a period of climbing, Apple shares began to become erratic a couple of weeks ago as the bulls and bears gnawed at the bones. There is nothing wrong with Apple, but it is probably more to do with market plays (I will not use the word, "manipulation") as dealers try to make the most out of the volatility and reap the biggest profits. It was not too long ago, that an announcement of record profits -- several quarters in succession -- would almost certainly guarantee a fall in the share price, including one quarter in which Apple exceeded its own predictions, but not the wild estimates that the "experts" had thought might appear.

But this is not enough for some and the doom merchants are at it again with Rocco Pendleton on The Street, writing that Apple can only survive with Steve Jobs and that with little evidence claims that Tim Cook is going to be the main reason for Apple's fall back to mediocrity. Good call Rocco, we will get back to you in 5 years. And to suggest that Bezos is in the same league as Jobs, tells us how valuable your opinions really are. My link for this was MacDaily News.

Another doom merchant is Stephen Foley on the Independent who suggests that Apple may not be as sweet right now and that the share prices swings are a reflection of this. Foley is another in the mould of Rob Enderle (cruel, I know) and Cupertino just cannot do anything right for this man. Google makes this all so easy these days, so let us reflect on headlines like,

  • OK, so no toga parties, but mega-rich Apple can't rest on its laurels for ever (on Apple's $100 billion);
  • US government launches legal action against Apple over e-book pricing (using the ill-advised word, "conspired";
  • Apple bows down as King Content rules (with words like "threatened" and "caved in");
  • Apple's days in the sun are numbered as Google's freedom fight gains pace (and the last couple of weeks have shown Google's redefinition of "freedom")
  • Apple's 30 per cent bite leaves a nasty taste (app subscriptions);
  • Mini-stores may take a bite out of Apple's image (on Apple's move to place retail outlets in stores, like PowerBuy here, to give access to those who might not otherwise have gone into an Apple store);
  • Apple chief is best-paid US boss after $376m bonus (following the lead of the NYTimes who got the calculations wrong);
  • Price-fixing is bad for the book buyer so let's leave it in the history section.

Anything positive? Nope. Looks like the associate business editor of the Independent with a grand total of 834 Twitter followers, has a permanent down on Apple, but I bet he would be able to write, "I own several Apple products and love the company's products. . . ." which is about as respectful as "With all due respect, Sir."

The Canadian media are also on the attack. The government has done anything about the pricing argument that the US DoJ is working on, but that is not good enough for the Canadians. Fortunately at least one of them (and there are probably many more of course) is highly critical of the way the press pack has rounded on Apple for what Rene Ritchie on iMore thinks is "not a story."

Last week we criticised Greenpeace for another attack on Apple, which was planned worldwide and did not stop even when Apple released the information that Green Peace was sulking about: some activists scaled the outside of Apple's HQ in Ireland. Now making them look really small, is the announcement reported by Reuters that at the same Irish HQ, Apple is to add some 500 jobs to support its growing business across Europe, although there was no elaboration of what that might mean.

I am beginning to hate Safari with a vengeance over the way it does not load pages properly: either never finishes when the URL is first clicked on, or (more often) fails to reload a page when a tab is reopened, leaving me with a blank page where there was information the last time I looked and insisting that pages are not responding and that -- how futile and unnecessary -- all open pages have to be reloaded if I dare to try again.

I guess it is about Internet access to the initial location and if you have a reluctant link to the outside world, like True/CAT et al, things are going to drag to the point of infuriation. If I try it when offline, the page reloads right away. But this is not all: in a similar way, when I try to load RSS feeds -- the browser may tell me there are a number of new items to view -- sometimes a similar event occurs and despite there being data, the page cannot be opened. Wait a couple of minutes and there it is. None of this happened before Lion.

A nice tip for iOS device users from OS X Daily tells us about how to scroll instantly to the top of the screen when in a browser page, Contacts, or anything else for that matter. Touch the time. The top bar has a clock display and pressing that does the trick.

Talking of touch, we are used to reading about Apple being sued over this and that in the iOS devices or the Macs (less these days) or cameras or anything else for that matter, but it was with a bit of a surprise that I read this weekend on Patently Apple that Cupertino is to be sued for the touch screen. Flatworld (aptly named methinks) claims it invented something that may relate to the touch technology and filed patents in 1998, and so Apple of course must pay; or buy out the company or something.

The in-app purchasing is a way for developers to make some extra cash, and some use the Gillette principal (like printer companies): the app is free, but the extras to make it more enjoyable are pay-for. At 99c a time for many, this does not make a big dent. But sell 10,000 of those and (after Apple takes its 30%) there is enough for the week's shopping. The problem is that the purchase needs to have the passcode entered each time. I am all for that as it is a good check. It is also protection for me as there is a second iPhone in my name and the person who uses that would make non-stop, in-app purchases if allowed.

So why do parents give their offspring the account password -- come to that, why give kids a smartphone? Some do, and a group of them is being allowed to sue Apple, Mikey Campbell reports on AppleInsider, because their kids were able to run up large bills. Are these parents idiots or what? They don't control their kids, give them access to credit cards for purchasing and then get all twisted when the kids do exactly what they were allowed to do.

Other Matters

It has been really hotting up in the case of Google and Oracle. The more I read the more obvious to a casual observer it is that Google knew what they were doing with the implementation if Java in Android and they either thought it didn't matter, no one would notice, or they could ignore the whole issue and hope that it would go away. Or (D), none of the above.

As Google knew, the Lindholm emails imply enough intent to have them hung, drawn and quartered, so it is no wonder they tried to get them ruled inadmissible seven times. There has been much revealed by the emails and the exchanges Lindholm had with others inside Google, like Andy Rubin. Florian Mueller of Foss Patents has been following the case for 20 months or more and has some interesting observations on the revelations and how they are playing out in court. He also mentions that there are a number of key players still to appear, but that some of the decisions will come down to copyright and several APIs in question. On Monday morning, there was an additional article on the Foss Patents site in which Florian Mueller explains about the 37 APIs in question.

Earlier, Florian Mueller had posted an interesting series of observations on the testimony of Tim Lindholm and was not wholly convinced by the evidence or by the man. Also Bryan Bishop on The Verge tells us that Joshua Bloch, who is supposed to be the chief Java architect at Google (although he says it is only a fancy title), told the Court that it was "likely that some of the code he contributed to Android was indeed copied". Gasp!

It was a mistake he says, and he is sorry. Not half as sorry as Google may be.

While I rather enjoy reading through the reports and comments from Florian Mueller, some may prefer their news in a different format. Bryan Bishop on The Verge has a sectioned item on the developments in the case of Oracle v. Google with links to specific articles that cover these separate aspects.

We have mentioned the ground-breaking work done by Alan Turing and the teams at Bletchley Park in terms of decryption of the German Enignma code during WW2. It was a bit of a surprise to find that Turing's original papers have been classified all these years and have only now been released by GCHQ, the monitoring section of the security services in the UK who have a large base in Gloucester from which locals report all manner of weird noises. The Turing papers which are 70 years old have the mathematician's notes on them and the BBC tells us that they will now be available at the National Archives to the west of London at Kew.

Sometimes the most unassuming people have an effect that lingers. When I was a teenager in London when groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones were new, Bert Weedon would often appear on the TV with his guitar and gently work his way through a number. One of his nephews was in my class (as was the actor David Troughton). Weedon was part of the background, but his book on the guitar, Play in a Day was widely influential with some of the most famous names in rock having learned by reading it. He died late last week and I caught the notice first on the Independent, but have been surprised over the weekend to see the number of other sources online, including the New York Times that have carried obituaries.

While Nokia is beginning to fade, and RIM looks more and more like Alice's Cheshire cat day by day, Microsoft has turned out a better than expected profit because lots of people bought Windows again. The Independent reports that Microsoft earned 5.1 billion US dollars for the quarter. Let's see what Apple reports in a couple of days.

Prats of the week must be Aviva who wanted to dismiss one person, but instead sent the email to 1,300 staff we are told by Drew Cullen on The Register. That's a nice way to start the weekend, especially if it was unexpected. They did retract the notice within minutes, but might think themselves lucky that no one had a heart attack as a result of such a nasty surprise.

There is another prat, although this one has met his comeuppance (and I am sure there are more). In Australia, a guy was hurt after a break up with his girlfriend. So in an act of revenge, he posted some fairly explicit nude photos of her on Facebook we are told by Chris Matyszczyk. The 20-year old man is now serving 6 months for this act: at the very least a betrayal of a loyalty that does not end with a relationship.

Local Items

An article on The Next Web by Jon Russell looked at censorship in Asia and had some particular focus on certain countries like China, with some useful links. However, while Russell manages to mention the iPad arrival here next week (such an Apple expert these days) there is zero on censorship in Thailand in his section on South-east Asia. That's because there is no censorship, right, and those MICT stickers I see on the screen when I try to access certain sites, must be a figment of my imagination. Or maybe the TNW page was censored.

I am not at all surprised by the news that the company slated to supply the Thai kiddies tablet is having problems. I have warned on this government's tablet program, even before they were the government and were making promises on election posters about a tablet computer for every child. They have gone through the motions concerning selection of a device and the Android operating system which might soon become more expensive if court decisions do not go Google's way; and the committees, which apparently assembled a "panel of experts" finally set the specs. and made a couple of attempt to decide on a supplier, surprising everyone (including me) when they did not choose Huawei and instead went for Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development.

Yes, Who? was the question on everyone's lips. They make a fair range of flat screen devices, but are a bit of a mystery, with a poorly assembled website that looks as if most has been typed up on an old DOS-based PC and in not all that good English. Shareholders? I can't find that using search engines. Neither the President nor the major execs are named on the site.

Now we hear that capacity of this opaque company may have been exaggerated and instead of the announced 24,000, only 1,000 tablets per day can be produced, we read on the Bangkok Post over the weekend. As the contract has not actually been signed, this is a perfect time for the company to be dropped and Huawei to come to the rescue like a knight in shining armour.

Rather than worrying if the children will be able to use the tablets which was one rationale for delaying (read, cancelling), the MPs were happy to reward themselves with iPhones and iPads (although the use of smartphone technology by at least one of them in the last week or so has left parliamentarians with red faces. Elected officials always seem to manage to avoid the essence of what they should be doing.

As an additional question: who were the experts that were assembled to make these decisions? As far as I have seen most teachers or Ministry personnel are still locked in the quill pen and Copperplate mindset so what technical skills or expertise on teaching with tablet computers were brought to the table may have been slim at best. What they should have done was sit a group of 8 - 10 year olds down with a selection of tablet computers and asked, "What's wrong?"

In early days of writing for the Bangkok Post, when I had a game to review, I would pass a copy to a kid of 7 I taught each week and he would crack it within a day or two. As with any teacher, his expertise now far surpasses mine and I am so pleased that this is so.

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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