AMITIAE - Monday 8 April 2013

Cassandra - Monday Review: It will Soon be Friday

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit

The next iPhone is . . . we don't know. Apple and Haswell: perhaps a delay. Apple and the next big thing: an incremental commitment. The iTunes store and the importance of customer data. Apple may not be doomed after all. Some hints. Daniel Eran Dilger on Apple disruption. The end of the PC: Apple supreme. Patents: good and bad. Facebook Home, not for iOS: some analysts drool. Samsung pre-gloat high profits: down from last year. Wikileaks, honesty and Tony Blair's switch. True and site stats. Moto GP: video feeds on my Mac and iOS devices.

Apple Stuff

The next iPhone is to be called . . . Well, we don't know. However, so many pundits are convinced that it is to be the iPhone 5S that this is accepted as fact. For now. What Apple thinks is not known. Nor, of course, is the name for the next iPhone. Actually, no one knows if it is going to be called an iPhone any more either. What Apple thinks is not known.

So an article by Kevin Bostic on AppleInsider quoting the words of a former Apple adviser (actually, he was creative director at Apple's longtime ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day and claims also to have been a consultant to Apple) who came up with the iMac name and the think different campaign. Ken Segall is taking aim at the S designation before the product has been announced and says that the use of this every other year is "unnecessarily complex and awkward" and also that this sends a message of weakness. Well, I suppose it does to those critics who are too lazy to actually listen to the presentation or look at the tech specs.

A lot of analysts have been panting about an expected switch by Apple from the current range of Intel processors to the new Haswell and last week it was announced on several sources, including by Brooke Crothers, that the processor was now shipping. But lower down in the heading was the confirmation of a bug: the new processor has an issue that "has only been observed with a small subset of USB SuperSpeed thumb drives and does not affect other USB peripherals" and this will be part of the initial product run. More details are in the article and Crothers adds, "The bug can cause USB 3.0 devices, like thumb drives, to disappear after entering standby. In some cases, removable devices have to be reconnected again. . . ." We will hold off on this just for the moment.

While analysts that think they know all about Apple are seeking that "next big thing", a lot of the time Cupertino works through minor improvements after a leap. Note for example the new technologies used for making the iPhones; or about the new battery technologies: no one really thinks about them but the manufacturing is more efficient, the devices work better, and no one bothers to ask why. Apple often makes changes to the online experience of users without much fanfare and last week there was an example, AppleInsider reports, when the online store was made "more touch-friendly with a quickly scrollable menu bar on product category pages". If you only visit the top page, that looks the same but going down to a product category reveals new items if you scroll to the right (no refurbished Macs here by the way).

Before there was much of an online presence here, and certainly before the iTunes app store appeared, I made an argument for this to some Apple Asia execs while I was in San Francisco in early 2008. This was in the light of the just announced iPod touch 2 which was a firmware update for the iPod touch 1, but was only available via online links. I was furious as this meant (once again) that users here were left out. The hardware version did arrive a few weeks later, but that was no help to those who had bought the first versions.

Late one night, I made the point that while it was understandable that the music was not available here because of copyright - many here argued that Apple was to blame for this without thinking it through - Apple controlled the copyright on Apps, so the problem did not exist. Additionally, I pointed out that, were people in the region able to access a minimalised version of the iTunes store, Apple would have control of a lot of user data, itself valuable.

Despite the lateness of the hour and the richness of the food, this penny dropped. I have never claimed that the app store here was my idea - just a case of great minds thinking alike - but the store in that minimal form was announced in 2008 (I made my first purchase in July of that year and part of the download was the iPhone 2.0 update as well as version 1.0 of iMazeLite.

Of course, the number of users has grown quite phenomenally and with most Apple also has details of credit cards. While I only saw the database as a source of power, Neil Hughes on AppleInsider writes that many analysts are seeing this huge number of registered credit cards as a major asset if (or when) Apple launches its eWallet system. The reports carries some ideas of how and when this might come into operation (in the USA at least) and some of the pitfalls that might not guarantee success.

This week there was an Apple is not doomed article from an investment journal. Ernie Varitimos on AppleInvestor goes through the process of examining where great companies gewt their strengths from, so needless to say, somewhere in here we are talking about Steve Jobs and by extension (despite not naming him at all) the current CEO. He does, however, mention Sc**t F******ll.

However, the analysis begins to fail when he states "Apple complicates matters further for Wall Street by slowing down the product cycle and cutting earnings expectations." First, despite what Wall Street obviously thinks, Apple does not work for Wall Street, and secondly (more important) the last couple of product launches have done exactly the opposite of slowing down the product cycle. As to earnings expectations, why should that be hard for Wall Street to understand: Tim Cook and Peter Oppenheimer clearly understand Apple and its financial potential better that any analyst in the last few years has been able to do.

He is right that "Public perception has hurt Apple" but fails to mention this perception was led by Wall Street; and he also comments on the fallacy that Samsung is catching Apple: "Apple still garners 70 percent of all iPhone profits (sic)" by which I think he means "smartphone profits. I made a comment on the site.

Mention of Sc**t F******ll inevitably focuses the mind on Siri and Maps. Yes, the Bangkok Bank, Bukkhalo branch is still in the river; and Yes, the BTS train system outside my window is still shown as a concrete ramp (also on Google). Mark on AppleBitch, however, reports that Apple has now "posted a job opening for a Maps Bug Triage Engineer." Having reported the errors several times, I do not have high hopes for changes to the maps here.

A sanity break now (more craziness to come below) with a hint from Topher Kessler on file paths in OS X. Sometimes, files end up being embedded several levels down, especially some of the OS X system files; but we may also create our own nested folders: for example, some image folders for the website reside about 6 levels down on the Mac (I mirror the site in my Home folder). It is not always straigthforward to copy that path, so Topher lists 4 ways in which this can be easily accomplished.

Readers of Cassandra and eXtensions will be aware that I rather like using the camera on the iPhone, despite owning a couple of DSLR cameras. The main reason is the apps that complement the iPhone camera but the camera itself is fairly easy to use as a point and squirt device, so a lot of consumers make this their camera of choice. Right from the word go, Apple has had a number of features that control camera output by software producing some quite good shots: at least in daylight. Serenity Caldwell on MacWorld has a number of useful tips for those who may be unaware of some of the things the iPhone camera can do.

Half and Half

With the news above, and the news below to balance against it, there was a lengthy analysis on forms of disruption by Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider this week. He examines the way Apple disrupts Android and how Google dirupts Apple's disruption - market forces working like tidal flows pushing and pulling against each other - and how Apple may be better placed. One case he cites is the purchase of Flip by CISCO. With the growth in use of smartphone cameras, this was a dead end and within months, CISCO shuttered the business (no pun intended - really). The 2-page article is worth taking some time over particularly how Apple has disrupted the low end of the market; and also the failure by Apple at disruption with its XServer hardware, despite the cheaper licencing that OS X Server allowed.

With the user base for smartphones growing at more than 60% currently, the main beneficiaries are iOS and Android: or more specifically, Apple and Samsung; with the user base at about 40% iOS and 51% Android (all, not just Samsung). And if you think Apple is dead, the growth in users was 17 million for Android and 21 million for the iPhone. But the headline hunters and Wall Street analysts ignore this. With the long term user base that Apple has (see above), it would appear, according to Horace Dediu on ASYMCO that iOS is growing more rapidly for three specific reasons that he provides on the site; and he notes also the addition of T-Mobile as an iPhone supplier which will only increase the figures.

As smartphone use grows, so does the use of the iPad, but moreso. Despite what the analysts might want to prove, the iPad by far still has the largest share of the user base, and the market. With 116,113,000 in use last year, this is expected to grow to 467,951,000 by 2017, about 3 times as many, with the smartphone expected to double its share. In the same period, desktop and notebook PC use is expected to drop from 341,263,000 to 271,612,000. This all comes from a Gartner report that is cited in an article by Mark Hachman on ReadWrite who suggests that this is the death knell for the PC, but Gartner is too scared to call it that and refers to this tectonic change as "transitional". Some transition.

The reason, he posits, is that Gartner makes money from its reports (thousands of dollars each) and that if it comes out and says the PC is dead, the PC companies may not buy it; and if it is dead, then so are a lot of companies that are locked into developing software, for example, who (it is argued) might need to switch to cloud development. And that includes Microsoft, of course.

Further comments on this Gartner report and another interpretation comes from Ben Reid on Redmond Pie who suggests that the report implies, "in 2013, Apple devices will outsell their Windows counterparts for the very first time in history." That is not the Mac versus the PC of course, but taking all "computers" into account, the iPad included (and the iPhone) the picture is beginning to look a little different.

Apple did actually win one patent case against Samsung last week, AppleInsider reports, when a judge of the ITC found that the way Apple uses text selection (for example with copy and paste) had been infringed upon. I think he means copied.

And in the case with Google, in which both are accused of an illegal non-poaching agreement, Kevin Bostic of AppleInsider reports that the judge has denied a motion to make this a class action suit.

However, in a case that Apple lost against VirnetX, copncerning VPN behaviour on iOS 6, it is reported by Kevin Bostic that Apple will be making changes to the system. That cost Apple $368 million (plus the fix of course). We may be seeing an update to iOS 6 later this month.

While we are on patents, a lot of the cases brought against Apple and other companies are from what are known as Patent Trolls: companies that exit only to gather revenue from patents they own. It is not old, and UOP, a company that backed a Formula One team (Shadow) in the 1970s created nothing, but held a lot of the tech patents that oil companies used. I was told this by one of the team I helped on the way to the German GP at Nurburgring: he gave me a pit entry pass and we continued to chat at several GPs in the next couple of years.

Some trolls are ignored, some go to court and lose; while some do actually score some dollars along the way. It is reported this week that one of these patent trolls is being sued as it reneged on an agreement that it made with Rackspace concerning litigation. Rackspace held off, then another part of IP Nav filed claims. Now, H-Online reports that Rackspace is coming out both barrels blazing and is aiming for "the most notorious patent troll in America". Rackspace may have the wind behind it right now as a recent troll demanded it pay for the Linux system it was using: Red Hat joined the party and the judge threw the case out (and invalidated the patent) as you cannot patent an algorithm.

Other Matters

A lot of commentators were excited over the Facebook phone thing last week, until they went home and thought about it. Some however were doubtful right from the start with Mat Honan on Wired calling it "another triumph of mediocrity" (which is also how he describes Facebook). Mat writes that it is "something more than an application, and slightly less than an operating system" and this eventually set some alarm bells ringing.

One alarm bell was rung by Dan Frommer (always a useful commentator) on Splat F who wonders who is going to buy the Facebook phone: not iPhone users (there are plenty of comments on why the app will never happen on iOS); not real Android users. But some users don't care what phone they use; and many just want Facebook mediocrity (see Mat Honan, above).

Not all were negative. Mind you there were some shiny faces that later had egg on them when the Apple-killer, Kindle Fire was announced; and the same happened with the Microsoft Surface. Some critics do not stop to think before rushing to start typing. Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Fortune has a reprise of some of the financial analysts' comments: all fairly positive for Facebook. Of those included only Shaw Wu (Stern Agee) and Brian Weiser (Pivotal) noticed that with Facebook Home, some of the more usual Google apps are pushed to the background (e.g. Gmail, search, YouTube, and Play) and that means less income for Google. That would also preclude its use in the same form on any iOS device, so the comments from Merrill Lynch's Justin Post should put him out of all consideration for further Apple predictions. Jason Helfstein of Oppenheimer thinks that some users may be attracted away from iOS. When the dust settles, both those users may want to return.

With similar comments, although a bit stronger, to those of Shaw Wu, ASYMCO's Horace Dediu Tweeted that "Facebook Home can only reside on Android because only Google was daft enough to allow it" according to an AP article by Peter Svensson that reports on the announcement of Home and also mentioned that the Kindle does pretty much the same in term of co-opting the OS, although Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, "I think this is really good for Android. . . ." Well, he would, wouldn't he? [My link for this article - with its own useful side comments - was MacDaily News.]

He appears naive initially, but in an item by Yoni Heisler on TUAW, Mark Zuckerberg is reported as loving Apple but not being optimistic Facebook Home is iOS bound. As there is already a facebook app and that Home is a layer on top of the OS, I would not be optimistic either. However, he did redeem himself a little with the realistic comment (as reported by Heisler): "With Apple, everything you want to do goes through them. With Android, it doesn't have to." Right. . . .

It was widely reported over the weekend that Samsung Electronics is pre-gloating their upcoming quarterly financial report with (they expect) that profits will be up to $7.7 billion, an increase of 53%. Steven Musil reports that this is actually a decine from an earlier profit of $8.3 billion. Analysts estimates figure strongly in the sales expectations, with a large increase in the number of smartphone sold. These figures will be officially announced three days after Apple releases its quarterly earnings report.

I have mentioned the way that western governments want to impose all manner of controls on internet users and have the ability to access everyone's emails (and other internet transactions). But while governments want users to be open, they are becoming more and more closed year by year. So when a group like Wikileaks, helped by Bradley Manning leaks stuff, not only do we see what liars our governments are, but they become all high and mighty: it is not the leaked information that they are annoyed about but the fact that information was leaked.

That the whistleblower is an important and necessary protection came this week in an unrelated report by Jonathan Owen on the UK newspaper, the Independent, who writes of the evidence that is now known to have been given to the Chilcot Inquiry by the security services. Blair (the PM then) knew that Iraq was no threat and the security forces told him the real danger was Libya. However, after a weekend with George Bush, he really did become the Bush Poodle and there was a total change of direction and "the secret services came under pressure to come up with intelligence to support a move to war": what another commentator calls, "a perversion of the use of intelligence."

There are some rumours appearing about a possible acquisition of What's App by Google. Electronista (among others) reports that the rumours suggest $1 billion is the figure being voiced this time: that is what the company wants, not what is being offered. So far.

Local Items

I had a shock last Friday morning when I checked the eXtensions site statistics. For some reason the number of hits was about 7 times higher than usual, with a corresponding increase in data downloaded. A closer look showed me that one IP was responsible and that IP number belonged to True. As it was the day after I had written the critical review of the Tourist Police App, I was slightly paranoid, but on later consideration remembered that earlier in the week the Internet had been terribly slow one morning and I wondered then about a failed link: was this True refreshing its cache? If so, it has ruined my statistics for the month.

This weekend a change for me. It is the start of the MotoGP season and while in previous years I have used the $22.99 Moto GP Timing App for the iPhone and iPad, this year I decided to pay for the Live video link to PC and iOS devices for €99.99 (3977.35 baht). I gave it a quick run through on Saturday evening for the first race of the season, which is a night race in Qatar. On Sunday morning after breakfast I viewed a video of a qualifying session that was past my bedtime. After I have seen a race (and slept that off) I will write in greater depth about this.

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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