AMITIAE - Wednesday 14 December 2011

Cassandra - Wednesday Review: the Week in Full Swing

apple and chopsticks



Opening Gambit:

Apple updates, rumours, speculation, and some problems. Apple buys Israeli company Anobit: specialist in memory solutions. Siri for the iPhone may become Siri for the Mac (and everything else). New apps unavailable here. iTunes store for Brazil and all of Latin America. FBI using carrier IQ data. Police apologise for treatment of 15-year old photographer: compensation too. Sony buying its way out of trouble. Hard disk shortages will get worse early 2012. Does the Higgs boson exist?

Apple Stuff

We had some updates from Apple this week, starting with a Thunderbolt firmware update and then an update to iTunes, covering some problems with iTunes Match and sound quality from CDs.

We may expect other updates to come from Apple as AppleInsider are reporting that (finally) they have responded to the negative sounds concerning PhotoStream and the fact that you cannot delete photos that are being shared between devices, unless you delete them all. What they should have done in the first place is to allow individual images to be removed and this seems to be on of the things that has appeared in a beta of iOS 5.1.

I would also expect that this ability to delete images should also find its way into Aperture and iPhoto before too long as well.

There was a nice little touch in that iOS beta. We have been used to reading reports from certain sites who analyse the files as soon as they are able, and find references to new devices, or secret code names that we may speculate on. Apple has turned the tables a bit and in the beta there is a large list of mainly fictional device names to add some confusion to the picture. There is an item on this and a copy of the file itself on 9to5 Mac. A sense of humour may be evident here when you look at the list. Mind you . . . what if none of those names were really bogus?

Apple sometimes has a form of ambivalence with some of the technology or ideas it tries to embrace. A good example is AppleTV -- that little black box that has taken years to reach a small market but was said to be some sort of "hobby". Another may be iAd which should have been a rival to Google and other services on iOS devices, but became bogged down with too many layers of ideas. The pricing was not right either, we hear. A number of commentators, including Don Southard on MacStories, reported this week on a major change to the service in terms of the financial layout. Initially $1m was needed and that was lowered to $500,000. Now it is reduced again to $400,000 which indicates that this is not flying as Apple had expected while Google and AdMob are doing OK.

Another idea that has gone rather well is the Mac App Store and this week, iPodNN reports, despite having been in existence for less than a year, it passed 100 million downloads. Remember only those with Snow Leopard and Lion can use this.

Apple's Siri has been going rather well, if you exclude one or two silly critics who have commented without getting their hands (or ears) on it -- didn't they all do that with the touch screen and the keyboard of the iPhone too? While some have managed to put Siri on the iPhone 4 with jail-breaking, a report by Radu Tyrsina on IT ProPortal speculates that Apple may be working on a version of Siri for the Mac. It is already rumoured that the Apple TV may use Siri as an interface, so extending it (her?) to the Mac or other devices, may not be a stretch of the imagination after all, especially as Apple is said to be recruiting.

The MacBook Air has also been going rather well of late and (as well as the advantages of its SSD -- see below) its lightness is a blessing if anyone has tried one after a normal notebook computer -- even the MacBook Pro. Neil Hughes on AppleInsider reports that sales of the light computer are expected to continue to be high with perhaps as many as 1.6 million per quarter for the next year. If you do a quick calculation that is well in excess of $75 million just for that one computer type.

Perhaps connected but we read in an article by Robin Wauters on TechCrunch on Tuesday evening that Apple is to buy an Israeli company called Anobit, that makes semiconductors and specialises in flash storage solutions. The price is said to be between $400 million and $500 million. It is not that this company simply makes the memory and that is it, there are some interesting solutions that are being acquired at the same time that are likely to improve the speed, endurance and performance of flash storage systems while driving down the cost.

We were intrigued to see this week that Microsoft was making more efforts to join the iOS bandwagon. They already have a few apps, although the Bing app I have is no longer available here, even though I can use Bing as a search engine on the computer. Leanna Lofte reports in TiPb that Redmond has made an iPad version of OneNote available for free. Ah, not here it isn't. I tried several clicks on the link in Leanna's article. The browser page comes up OK, but so does that panel in iTunes which tells me that this is not available in the Thai store. I tried again Wednesday just before uploading this to the site: same result. Electronista also mention this and add that over a certain number of notes and users have to start paying. On the other hand, Steve Sande on TUAW reports that Microsoft have released an alternative for Dropbox and I found that this is available on the Thai store. However, another release from Redmond for iOS, as reported by Slash Lane on AppleInsider -- Kinectimals -- is a game for $2.99 and this is not available here. No. Yes. No. I am confused.

I have found too many like this recently, and even Apple with its Cards app has joined that club. It was no surprise to see as well this week, when all others were raving about the new BBC iPlayer, that I had the same red card when I tried to link to it from a web page. Using the report on iPodNN as my example, I will try again while I am writing these notes up. There is no BBC iPlayer in the Thai iTunes app store: not even the global version.

As if to taunt us even more this week, a press release from Apple announced the launch of an iTunes store for Brazil and Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. I somehow cannot see an iTunes store for Singapore and South-east Asia.

We mentioned Apple's tie-in with Digitude -- a patent troll -- this week, and also noted that at that time there were no comments from Foss Patents or Patently Apple. Florian Mueller of Foss Patents does now have an article in which he mentions Digitude as well as two other patent situations that Apple is involved in: one involving a Janus-like Schmidt from Google. On Digitude, he is not sure that Apple is right on this, but does offer a third suggestion as to why this has happened. Mueller also mentions a dispute with Apple and the W3C on standards which may also have some long-reaching effects.

Half and Half

We have heard this story before somewhere. Electronista are reporting noises from the direction of Nokia who - with an eye to the upcoming release of their Windows phones -- claim that young people are about to see the light as the iPhone is too popular (eh?) and Android is too intimidating. The article does suggest this is not a convincing argument. Naff Nokia?

Perhaps "Naff" is right as Om Malik reports that he was in Finland recently and also mentions the above comment, but adds that he saw most people in Helsinki using iPhones and that one young developer was given a Nokia phone but after a while moved back to the iPhone. Malik concludes, "When you can't give away your phones to your own "youth," it is time to stop hating on other platforms and look for ways to get people to use your product."

He was once a CEO of Apple, and became one of the most hated men when he dumped Steve Jobs: an action which lead to Jobs' catharsis and eventually brought him back to make Apple the largest company in the world. John Sculley is stil involved in technology in some ways and this week we read on Electronista that he is investing in a startup that wants to make wearable health sensors and that these may end up with apps that display the data.

Well, what a surprise. . . . We had all that noise about Carrier IQ and the way data about use of our handsets was being sent back but was all perfectly safe -- you know the way the suits say this sort of thing -- but now the FBI has popped up and, according to Electronista, said that they may be using some of that Carrier IQ data, but only to pursue suspects. Define "suspect".

Believe me, as a former policeman, if the authorities have the ability to use something, they will, and will try to push the limits all the time. The law is a framework against which law enforcement pushes constantly. Sometimes they are within the law, but sometimes they cross the lines but it usually takes the courts to confirm this.

I was also pleased to see the result of a complaint against police by a 15-year old photographer who was poorly treated by several police officers when he was taking pictures of a military parade. He recorded the incident on video. I saw this at the time (I think it was on the Register) and was simply amazed at the stupidity of the police and the ways they were bullying the boy by making up laws and regulations to explain why they had forced him to stop taking pictures, including the comment that taking pics was "silly, gay and stupid." I am sure a lot of photographers would take exception to those remarks.

But it was part of a pattern at that time that saw tourists' cameras taken away, pictures deleted and even innocent people arrested simply for the act of taking a picture. The police did not know or understand the law and just made it up as they went along (something that happens sometimes for the good too). Jerome Taylor on the Independent reports on this case and its resolution which saw the young man (now 17) being awarded compensation and an apology. The amount of compensation was not in the report but I hope it was substantial.

Also updating software that may affect Mac users is Adobe. We are told by Electronista that there have been updates released for Lightroom (3.6) and Camera Raw (6.6), adding RAW file format support for nine new cameras and an additional 30 lens profiles for correcting distortion and chromatic aberrations

Other Matters

Beware all analysts. We read these guys all the time and had a particular read of some this week who had been warning about Sony buying too many companies and not working to create growth. Citibank has analysts too and they had painted a fairly negative picture of HTC which is in dispute with Apple on patents. In a wonderful case of shooting the messenger, we read on Electronista that HTC is suing Citi Global Markets for painting too bleak a picture. Other analysts tend not to see a rosy future for HTC.

I thought my calendar had been rolled back this week when I read an item by Brooke Crothers who tells us that the HP TouchPads to go on sale at $99 (and $149) this week. This is apparently one last issue of the device before they really shut up shop, give WebOS to the Open Source Community (a disaster methinks). Mind you, if you read the article, there are some catches with this week's sale.

The device that everyone thought might actually be the iPad killer (there have been so many) may not be so special after all. We reported earlier that the Amazon Kindle Fire had some problems with parental controls and allows the teens free access to all they can ogle. That may be fixed (or not) in an update that Steven Musil reports on in CNET this week. Amazon have announced "a software update to address performance issues" -- for all the things that the iPad can actually do.

If there is one thing I find disturbing when it comes to technology, it is when politicians try and get involved. We have seen this with the Locationgate fracs and Al Franken among others who seemed to grand-stand because of the big names involved over; and we have seen it over with the Internet: in Burma, in China, N.Korea and of course in America. It is less about security in the US (although that comes into play with politicians raising the spectre of cyber attacks and other devastation, only proving how little they actually know). There is at the moment another attempt by those who would be powerful to control the ways we have access to data in the guise of protecting copyright holders. We read on The Hill this week that George Schmidt of Google spoke out against this earlier in the week as he says it would "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself". SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act has a good idea as its basis -- I would like to stop sites stealing my pictures and my writing for example -- but its execution may not be in everyone's interests. But when have politicians cared about that?

Local Items

We are not really a fan of BlackBerry here, but appreciate that the devices are widely used, especially in the region. There is even a BlackBerry shop in Siam Paragon in Bangkok. We have reported once or twice in the past about certain Middle-east countries who do not like the idea that their citizens are able to send messages without the secret police knowing what is in them, so some demanded that BlackBerry make alternative arrangements or they could just shut down. As in London with the rioters this past summer, they caved. There were also rumours back then about Indonesia and RIM made some concessions at that time. Not enough, Jakarta is telling RIM, and the company is going to be required to set up servers within the country -- as they did in those other countries -- and as they had promised according to John Paczkowski on All Things Digital. What RIM did wrong was to put the server in Singapore, which is not Indonesia and as far as Jakarta is concerned really not close enough: a physical presence (and presumably access) is required.

We have mentioned a few times in connection with the recent flooding (which I still go through twice a day getting to and from my office) that the damage to a number of factories had caused shortages in manufacture and sale of hard disks and this was likely to be an ongoing problem. With Intel reporting that their 4th quarter is likely to be short others are becoming concerned that about the longer-term effects of these shortages. Brooke Crothers analyses the problem with the help of a number of sources which suggest that 2012 Q1 will be problematic: significant is the word used. PCs using hard disks are the worst effected, but there is little change to the SSD market although we suggested a few weeks ago that this might change as people move to this form of storage if rotating hard disks cannot be found. And prices of traditional hard disks are set to rise and rise and rise. . . .

Late News

We have had more excitement this week with news that the Higgs Boson may finally have been found, but the way this has been drawn out is almost as bad as an Apple product announcement: what is behind the curtain and when will we really know?



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