Archive for the 'Apple' Category

Thirty Years On…

[link] Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

This morning’s Observer column.

Thirty years ago (on 24 January 1984, to be precise), a quirky little computer company launched a new product and in the process changed lives and maybe the world. The company was called Apple and the product was named after a particular type of Californian apple – the Macintosh.

With astonishing chutzpah, the company announced the product to the world via a single advertisement screened during the Super Bowl on 22 January. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and showed a dimly lit auditorium in which ranks of drably clad zombies are being harangued by a despotic figure shown on a huge screen. Into this auditorium comes a beautiful female athlete who runs towards the screen carrying a large hammer, pursued by goons attired in riot police gear. Just as the despot’s rant reaches a climax, the athlete stops, whirls the hammer four times and then launches it at the screen. When it strikes, the screen explodes and the camera pans to the zombies, whose mouths gape in bewilderment. “On January 24th,” intones a voice over the closing scene, “Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Most people who saw the ad were probably baffled by it. But for some of us, the symbology was clear…

Talking cats and corporate social responsibility

[link] Sunday, January 19th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column.

It’s 4.30 on a gloomy winter’s afternoon. I’m sitting with my grandson having one of those conversations in which grandsons explain complicated stuff to their grandads. He is four years old, omniscient in the way that four-year-olds are, and tolerant of my ignorance of important matters.

The conversation turns to computing and he inquires whether I have Talking Tom Cat on my iPad. “No,” I say. “What is it?” He explains that it’s a cool game that his grandma has on her iPad. There is a cat called Tom who listens to what you say to him and then repeats it in a funny voice. Also there’s a dog who does funny things.

So I dig out my iPad and we head over to the app store where, sure enough, Talking Tom Cat 2 is available as a free download. A few minutes later it’s running on my iPad…

Read on to find out what happens next.

Google vs Apple: a contrast

[link] Sunday, December 15th, 2013

In the last year, Google has bought just about every small company (i.e. eight companies) doing interesting work in robotics — including Boston Dynamics, whose creature is shown in this video.

In the same period, Apple has, er, instituted a share-buyback program and brought out some incrementally-improved products.

So here’s my question (which is prompted by something Jason Calcanis said): which company is focussed on the distant future? The obvious inference seems to be that Apple can’t think of anything really radical to do with its mountain of cash.

UPDATE: Charles Arthur points out that, according to Wikipedia, Apple acquired ten companies in 2013, of which three are involved in mapping and two in semiconductors. So maybe they are up to something.

Steve Jobs on what went wrong at Microsoft

[link] Thursday, December 12th, 2013

From one of the last interviews Jobs gave:

I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.

Source

The church of Apple tests the faith of its flock

[link] Sunday, November 17th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Poor Steve has gone to the great computer lab in the sky, but the church he founded endures. And it still knows what is best for its adherents. Recently, the company launched the latest release of its OS X operating system, codenamed Mavericks. What happened was this: one day, while millions of the devout were tapping industriously on their keyboards, a small dialogue box appeared on the top right-hand corner of their screens. It informed them that important upgrades were available for their computers.

For members of the Apple communion, such a message has much the same status as a text from the Vatican would have for devout Catholics. So they acted upon it. And lo! It came to pass that their computers were upgraded…

Read on

NSA revelations show that Tech journalism is as much of a failure as mainstream media

[link] Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Terrific post by Dave Winer.

He starts by berating technology journalism for the way it obsesses over Apple.

All the while, tech news has come to dominate all the news, only Apple isn’t it. The big story is the NSA. It’s huge and has been building for 20 years. While we were all watching the public Internet grow, a private, secret one was being developed by the US military. But was it actually hidden? Where were all the comp sci grads going? Some were going to Redmond and Silicon Valley for sure. But a lot of them were going to Maryland and Virginia. The story was available to be grabbed by any enterprising news organization. It wasn’t.

We can learn from the Snowden leaks and adapt and reorganize the way we cover tech. Instead of accepting the stories that the industry feeds us, we can look more broadly, ask our own questions, and seek the answers outside the public relations departments of the big companies. This might result in small rebellions, like asking why the companies remove features from their products that users depend on. And big ones, like sensing things like the NSA’s social network before the leakers show up with all the documents spelling it out.

The sheer size of the Snowden leaks are themselves a judgement on the inadequacy of tech journalism. Why were none of these stories broken before? Couldn’t sources have been found to talk off the record? Weren’t there people of conscience inside the tech companies who might tell the truth? Or were the reporters even available to listen to these people?

Tech is where big news is happening this decade. It’s time to start doing it seriously.

Right on.

Breaking through the Reality Distortion Field

[link] Sunday, September 29th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

When Steve Jobs was still with us, many commentators – yours truly included – used to complain about the “reality distortion field” that surrounded Apple’s charismatic leader. Those in attendance when Jobs launched the devices and services (iPod, iTunes, OS X, iMac, MacBook, iPhone and iPad) that blew such huge holes in the business models of established industries told of events that were more like religious revival meetings than corporate press conferences. As Apple’s dominance grew, the man who led it came to be seen as a unique combination of visionary, guru, saint and mogul.

But then mortality intervened and His Steveness passed away. The reality distortion field persisted, however, though now in reverse. It led people to conclude that the death of the magician would inevitably lead to the end of the magic that made Apple the most valuable company in the world. In comparison to Jobs his successor, Tim Cook, was seen as charismatically challenged. And while we could expect Apple to thrive for a little longer, it was only because Cook would be unveiling innovations that were in the works when Jobs was alive. After that, the well would surely run dry.

It was against this background that the hapless Cook unveiled the new iPhones on 10 September…

Why I’m thinking of saving up for an iPhone 5s

[link] Saturday, September 28th, 2013

iPhone 5s Slow Motion Video – 120 fps from Rishi Kaneria on Vimeo.

Why having a passcode might not protect your iPhone 5s from unauthorised use

[link] Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Well, well. Alongside the discovery that the iPhone 5s fingerprint system isn’t quite as secure as advertised comes this.

If you have an iPhone 5 or older and have updated your operating system to Apple’s new iOS 7 version, you should be aware that the password (or “passcode”) required on your phone’s lock screen no longer prevents strangers from accessing your phone.

They can use Siri, the voice-command software, to bypass the password screen and access your phone, instead.

The good news is that distressed iPhone 5S owners can apparently foil this workaround by controlling access to Siri in the phone’s settings menu. The trail is: Settings –> General –> Passcode Lock [enter passcode] –> Allow access when locked > Siri > switch from green to white.

If Big Data is “the new oil” then we’re the wells

[link] Sunday, September 1st, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Should you be looking for an example of hucksterish cynicism, then the mantra that “data is the new oil” is as good as they come. Although its first recorded utterance goes as far back as 2006, in recent times it has achieved the status of an approved corporate cliche, though nowadays “data” is generally qualified by the adjective “big”. And if you want a measure of how deeply the cliche has penetrated the collective unconscious, ponder this: a Google search for “big data” turns up more than 1.5bn results. And a search for “data mining” turns up 167m results.

The idea of big data as a metaphor for oil is seductive. It’s also revealing in interesting ways. Given that the oil business is one of the biggest industries in the history of the world, for example, the metaphor hints at untold future riches. But it conveniently skates over the fact that oil wealth overwhelmingly benefits either ruling elites in corrupt and/or authoritarian countries, or huge corporations in democratic states.

But at least oil is a physical, non-renewable resource that is extracted from the earth. Big data, on the other hand, is extracted from the activities of people and machines…