AMITIAE - Friday 22 January 2016

Cassandra: Friday Review - Different Realities

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


I had to check the calendar to make sure we had not reached 1 April. From the Department of Mountains out of Molehills we find an impossible causal link from Vlad Savov on The Verge who seems to see a link between the recent fall in Apple share prices and the release of the Smart Battery Case: "Apple's stock is down 18 percent since it launched that ugly iPhone battery case." To show that the headline was not simply the output of a mad sub-editor, it is followed by "Correlation isn't causation, but what if it is?"

And what if it isn't.

Just in case the article disappears or becomes unavailable for some reason

An interesting report by Tim Bradshaw appeared in the UK Financial Times this week concerning Apple's hiring of Doug Bowman: a leading researcher into virtual reality (VR). His online resume has him as "Director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech" and shows he has done a lot of work in the field of 3D interactions Recent work has looked at locomotion: to approximate reality (like walking) in VR applications.

Talking of virtual reality, there continue to be some comments about the Trump assertion that he would make Apple manufacture its "computers and things" in the USA. Sam Oliver on AppleInsider has a try at making a case for this, but I am not sure he is convinced himself. It is useful to note that if Apple were to make things in the USA, there would be no tariff: Trump wants to impose 35% on goods manufactured overseas, which would fly in the face of all the free trade agreements that the US has forced other countries to be a party to.

automation He also examines labour costs - always one of the highest figures in any company's economics - and if Apple conformed, it would probably be with a robot-equipped factory, perhaps owned by entities like Foxconn, and that would hardly bring jobs to the US; but would certainly decrease jobs in other contries. This could create far more problems that might eventually bounce back, giving the President more problems than he ever bargained for.

But robots are not cheap and Oliver outlines some of the expense that might face Apple, putting a rough figure of $12.25 billion for a factory. Apple would need several. As time goes on, the robots would need replacing.

Economically it does not make sense, but the idea comes from a man who, had he left his inheritance in the banks, it would be worth $8 billion now, but instead he made it work and it is down to $2 - 3 billion.

Commenting on Apple's current US manufacturing, specifically the Mac Pro, John Gruber (Daring Fireball) adds to an article he had written the day before and sugests that Apple can make this device in Texas "because the price is high [and] Apple can afford to assemble it here".

In other Apple economics news, the company is facing a probe by the EU on how it pays taxes via Ireland and how much the EU thinks it should really pay. Tim Cook is taking the time to speak to the European Commission's antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, iClarified reported. As we have mentioned before, this might mean an $8 billion tax bill for Apple if the decision goes against it. The article ends with, "Following the meeting, Cook tweeted, "Apple has created over 1.4m jobs across Europe ""

Cook was off to see the Pope today, but I am not sure I should read anything into that.

We have been hearing for weeks about iPhone sales, ever since Katy Huberty picked up a report from an unreliable source in Asia that component orders were down. Therefore iPhone sales will be down; therefore Apple is doomed; or something like that. It seems now that this may not be the case as some rumoured sales figures (+60% in India for example) are seeping through. More information on the excellent performance in India is available in an item by Gulveen Aulakh on SmallBiz (Indi Times).

We also heard similar stories about the Apple Watch, and similar reports that the sales were actually quite good. And the same applied to the iPad Pro, with all the popular press deriding the large-screen device and asking, Who would want one of these? I do for a start.

iPad Pro Smart Keyboard

The one I have on loan has changed the way I work in some ways and the device will do most of what I need during the day and has the plus that it is much lighter to carry around. I found the same with the MacBook. The smaller screen (smaller than the iPad Pro) and limited processor was not a bar to working efficiently, particularly with its useful RAM (8GB) and my iCloud use. Dropbox too.


Although the negative brigade insisted that sales of the iPad Pro would be low, Luke Dormehl on Cult of Mac reports that "Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, or CIRP, says the iPad Pro captured a "meaningful share" of Apple's tablet market, or 12 percent of all iPads sold." Apparently iPad mini sales are up too. Not a surprise: these are devices that users (particularly younger ones) enjoy. I bought a couple for friends to replace the first generation ones they had (it seemed) permanently attached to their hands.

Note however, that the CIRP figures are based on US data and that - many commentators forget this - there is another world out there that is not the USA.

I rely almost totally on a single Mac at home and a collection of iOS devices, with a MacBook thrown in for good measure. Others, particularly professionals with families, might have several devices used by its members, and so a different approach could be useful. Jason Snell, writing on Six Colors, discusses his use of a home server, particularly in a situation where there could be "a large collection of media files" shared among various devices. This may also be valuable where the internet is patchy and downloading takes time.

Jason explains the plus points, as well as reasons not to have a home server and looks at some of the needs when setting up something like this.

We were told that Steve Jobs had cracked it: he knew how he could fix television. Ever since, the pundits have been thinking that he was promising them a TV set with a fruit icon on the front. But the recent update to Apple TV (the box) with its new approach - not channels but apps - may be part of the answer. An article by Matthew Zeitlin (Buzzfeed) covers comments from Netflix and their progress in recent months, with figures that must be worrying to TV executives who always thought they had a licence to print money.


It appears that, even before opening the service to another 130 countries, in the last 3 months Netflix has "added another 5.6 million subscribers". What cable companies and the traditional content providers will have to realise is that many consumers are tired of the old style of packages and scheduling. I just realised I had some time free this evening and watched the first episode of a series I had never seen before. I may go back tomorrow - or sometime later in the weekend - and view the next episode. When I choose.

Despite the low level of content Thai subscribers may access, there is still enough currently for several months' viewing (if you did it non-stop). Some here, however, are still trying VPN connections, despite the comments by Netflix that this would be stopped as it apparently has been in Australia.

I was going to use a link to the Sydney Morning Herald for this, but it has a self-loading video, so I was out of there in a shot. Newspapers are as much in the dark about what consumers want as the television providers.

I have been warming a little to how Microsoft is now working with apps, although not enough to use something like Office. However, it is reported by Joseph Keller (and other sources) that Redmond has just updated its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps to work with the Apple Pencil (iPad Pro) and with 3D touch (iPhone 6s). And Google? . . .

Also on Microsoft, a former member of the Mac Evangelist team there has been comparing the features available depending on which version or platform is used. Jordan Kahn on 9to5 Mac outlines the information from Kurt Schmucker who now works for Parallels.

The full charts in the article "show suite-wide differences between the versions such as missing apps, lack of support for Visual Basic and ActiveX, right-to-left language support, accessibility features, AppleScript and much more."

Oh dear. I had heard something like this about the US Navy some while back, but it appears the British Navy is also still using Windows XP for critical operations. Kyle Mizokami writing on Popular Mechanics, tells us that HMS Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant, and Vengeance, which carry ballistic missiles, run Windows XP because it was "cheaper than alternatives." We hope that the UK Navy is taking the same steps as its US counterparts and paying for continued support: at least for a while. The article is not able to confirm that this is the case for the British, but the Ministry of Defence insists the submarines are safe. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

security There is some question on the security of devices made by AMX, used in conference rooms at the White House. A secret account called Black Widow was found, but then AMX renamed it Batman "thinking nobody will notice". It was claimed the accounts were used for debugging, but Timothy on Slashdot, writes, "just like Fortinet claimed that its FortiOS SSH backdoor was used only internally by a management protocol".

There is more on this in an article on SEC Consult, which examines some of the products and features from the HARMAN Professional Division (AMX) and where they are used, explaining the process by which these extra accounts were set up. Among AMX customers on their Profile page are 20th Century Fox, Air Command and Staff College (Air Force), the JD Edwards Boardroom, Unilever Nederland Holdings BV, some 29 universities, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Canada, and the Stuttgart Parliament (Germany).

A later follow up from Asha Barbaschow on ZDNet references the SEC Consult article, but also comments that the weakness ahs now been patched.

It is not only AMX that has problems, but Apple sometimes fails where it claims to lead. A problem that was highlighted in 2013 by Skycure, concerning how iOS devices stored Web cookies related to captive portals was finally fixed in the release of iOS 9.2.1 this week. Jeff Gamet, reporting on The MacObserver, suggests that this was no easy patch and Apple needed the time "to figure out how to properly patch this flaw".

And as the markets open in New York for the last day of trading this week, with Asian markets also improving, Apple shares rose some 2.8% to $99.00 and are still heading up, Smart Battery Case notwithstanding

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. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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