eXtensions - Monday 13 August 2021


Monday Diversion: Buckle up for the iPhone Event; Epic Decisions; Bad Vibrations (updated)

By Graham K. Rogers


In just over a day Apple will make its announcements regarding future product releases. We expect the iPhone 13 with the release of iOS 15, and perhaps other goodies, like AirPods and maybe even iPads. I do not expect any information on new Macs to be available, but there is a strong likelihood these will be coming soon.

When I put out the last Notes on Saturday, I deliberately avoided mention of two stories that had just arrived online: the decision in the court case between Apple and Epic Games; and the warning from Apple about using iPhones on high powered motorcycles. As with many such items of news, I find it useful to wait a day or so in order to look at the comments from others (see below). The same is so when it comes to major Apple releases such as new Macs or the iPhone. Those writing first comments out of the box, particularly with a live event, may not have had a chance to grasp all the points. That was particularly so for earlier products like the iPhone 5s which some derided as an iPhone 5 with extras.

They had not looked at the technical specifications, nor at other major aspects of the internal design. There had been important advances with the camera, for example. No matter: the 5s and other "S" models are still referred to as minor steps for iPhones. As there was some concern about the naming of the iPhone 13, due to (mainly European/US) superstitions about the number, many speculated that this would be the iPhone 12s and therefore would only be a minor step up. Most rumors and speculation are a waste of time. I wait until the Apple announcement and read the Tech Specs.

San Francisco
My last trip to an Apple event

I was interested to see that the local Vlogger, Spin9 and his wife Sueching (who used to be with one of the TV stations that the government forced shut) are both in Cupertino this weekend. That seems more than a coincidence only a couple of days before the Apple event on Tuesday. I mentioned the coincidence to Sueching on Facebook who insisted that that is all it is. They just happen to be in Cupertino the weekend before the video announcement of the next iPhone. Quelle surprise

San Francisco
My last trip to an Apple event

The case that Epic games fought with Apple was part of a general change in attitudes that has been shown for a while by developers and legislators worldwide: that Apple and Google have too much power with the ways that their respective app stores are run. This applies to the fees that are deducted, the ways apps are distributed and the other controls that exist, which do vary between iOS and Android. I have already commented on planned (and new) legislation that covers the two aspects that politicians claim to hate most: monopoly and tax evasion.

On that second item, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, et al, may not evade taxes, but they will avoid paying taxes when they can. That means they pay just as much as they need in the various markets they operate in, using the laws that the politicians and the tax offices create. They do nothing illegal, although there have been some mistakes; and when the courts decide that there are overdue amounts, these companies usually cough up in a reasonable time. Politicians hate this.

With the dispute between the Irish government, Apple and the EU for example, Apple and the Ireland insisted that the taxes deducted were correct, while the EU claimed that the Irish government had given Apple unusually favourable terms. While the litigation is still progressing through the courts (and the EU lost the first round) Apple placed the disputed amount in escrow - a sort of half way house - so if the EU wins, it is handed over. If Apple wins, it is handed back.

The USA worries particularly about monopoly. They should. Some of the major fortunes in steel, banking and rail were gained through (almost) total control of a particular commodity. At the ends of their lives, these barons gave a lot of the money away to universities and museums so that their names would live forever and they would be thought of as good guys.

I am in two minds about the court-administered breakup of AT&T and note the comments of the judge in the case between Epic Games and Apple that even the Supreme Court recognise (now) that the courts may not be the best way to deal with the changes that breaking up a monopoly needs. See also comments from Mark McCarthy (CIO).

As a small example, the important Bell Labs (transistors, cell networks, CCD, Unix, lasers, and much more - they even researched the optimum distance between telegraph poles) was sold off when AT&T was broken up by the courts, and ended up as Lucent. There was a later merger with the French, Alcatel but the whole company had problems and eventually was taken over by Nokia. While the Finnish company no longer has a major handset operation, its technical portfolio now includes all those Bell Labs patents. So the court-administered breakup eventually led to some of the best world patents ending up in the hands of a foreign competitor.

Epic Games had been after Apple for a while, particularly regarding the point of in-app purchases. Apple subtracts 30% (or less, in some case) of these and the idea of these developers is to avoid paying any such fees at all. A number of other developers and politicians agree. With this court case, the judge also agrees, but only up to a point. While both sides claim they won in the case, they are likely to file for an appeal which sounds contradictory. On 3 of the contested points, Apple prevailed. On the one point about in-app purchases and the 30% levy, Epic Games won.

There is a clear explanation of the decision and what it means by John Voorhees on MacStories who does not express much sympathy for Apple or Epic. I am glad I waited for this as it puts the whole problem in a better perspective. One of the most interesting comments that comes from Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers (no relation) is that Apple is not a monopolist. I expect several politicians were infuriated by that, but her reasoning is clear.

However, as a State law was also used in the litigation, the judge has issued some directives on how Apple can prohibit developers from using external links for purchasing mechanisms and other means of connecting directly. The article has more detail on this.

There was an update a couple of hours after I put this online and Epic Games, dissatisfied with the ruling, has filed an appeal (Sami Fathi, MacRumors).

5G TV transmitter
5G transmission unit on MotoGP bike - Image courtesy of Dorna

Last week I wrote about the new 5G camera systems that have been used for MotoGP races: handheld and installed on motorcycles. I mentioned that my own experience of radio equipment on bikes was less than positive, although these were police motorcycles of the 1970s. I could not go out for 8 hours without something falling off, so the VHF radios above the rear wheel took a battering.

It is reported by several sources that Apple is warning riders of large motorcycles to be wary of using iPhones with the bikes as vibrations could damage certain critical components in the devices, particularly sensitive camera installations. Apple specifically mentions optical image stabilization (OIS) and closed-loop autofocus (AF), and while the systems are designed to be durable, "long-term direct exposure to high-amplitude vibrations within certain frequency ranges" may reduce the effectiveness.

My last motorcycle

Apple has obviously thought about this and done some work. That set me to thinking about the bikes I had used (and the vibrations): Rickman Triump 650, a bone-shaker; Honda F750-4 and 400, smooth but springy with the larger bike liable to handlebar shake at high speeds; BMW 75R, smoother than the Triumph, but 2 pots always shake and this was the same for my BMW R80GS; Yamaha 650, 4-cylinder and shaft drive smoothness; BMW K75 and (several) K100 models, all smooth, particularly the K100 at 160kph.

Twin and single cylinder bikes have more engine vibrations, but Apple mentions the vibration in certain frequency ranges that may be something the rider cannot feel but that is transmitted to the sensitive components of an iPhone. Even low power bikes may be affected and these would need a careful choice of a mount. As for long distance touring like I used to do, the use of GPS would be limited with no iPhone. A lot of round the world riders used Garmin products (the Japanese riders also carried a 12v rice cooker). Would a rider be able to carry the iPhone in a jacket pocket (isolated from frame vibrations) or in a backpack?

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. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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