Archive for the 'Apple' Category

Google’s choice: between a rock and a very hard place

[link] Sunday, June 9th, 2013

My Observer Comment piece about the dilemma facing Google and the other Internet giants: do they co-operate with the National Security State? Or look after their users’ (and their own commercial) interests?

The revelations of the past week explain why Schmidt was so preoccupied with the power of the state – especially of the national security state, which is what our democracies are morphing into. The apparent contradictions between, on the one hand, Google’s vehement insistence that it has “not joined any programme that would give the US government – or any other government – direct access to our servers” and, on the other, the assertions to the contrary in the leaked National Security Agency slide-deck that demonstrate the extent to which Google (and the other internet companies) are caught between a rock and a very hard place.

The rock is that the national security state, as embodied in the National Security Agency, GCHQ and kindred agencies, shows no sign of withering away. Au contraire. In the end, companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple will be compelled to obey the state’s orders. If they don’t, their executives will find themselves sharing jail cells with the likes of Bradley Manning.

The hard place is corporate terror that their users will become alienated by the realisation that personal communications cannot be safely entrusted to internet companies based in the US. Crunch time has arrived for Google & co, in other words. I look forward to the second, revised, edition of Schmidt’s book.

Paper(less) aeroplanes

[link] Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Well, well. The US Air force is buying 18,000 32G wifi-only iPads and expects to save $50M as a result.

Using lightweight iPads instead of heavy paper flight manuals will amount to $750,000 annual savings on fuel alone, a spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command said in an interview with James Rogers of The Street. And the AMC will no longer have to print those flight manuals either, which will save a whopping $5 million per year.

Major Brian Moritz, manager of the AMC’s electronic flight bag program, said the Air Force expects Apple’s iPad to help save $5.7 million per year, which would result in savings “well over $50 million” over the next 10 years.

“We’re saving about 90 pounds of paper per aircraft and limiting the need for each crew member to carry a 30 to 40 pound paper file,” Moritz said. “It adds up to quite a lot of weight in paper.”

Rogers was embedded recently with the U.S. Air Force and got to see Apple’s iPad in action. He revealed that the switch from paper manuals to the iPad could cut up to 490 pounds in weight from a C-5 aircraft.

They’ll never work on Ryanair flights, though. The pilots would have to turn their iPad manuals off for take-off and landing, and so wouldn’t have a clue which levers to pull.

Al Baba

[link] Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Well, isn’t this interesting. Turns out that Al Gore is quite well off. Almost as wealthy as Mitt Romney, it seems, according to this Bloomberg report.

In 1999, Al Gore, then U.S. vice president and a Democratic candidate for president, sold $6,000 worth of cows.

The former senator, who spent most of his working life in Congress, had a net worth of about $1.7 million and assets that included pasture rents from a family farm and royalties from a zinc mine, remnants of his rural roots in Carthage, Tennessee. Funds from the cattle sale went to three of his kids, according to federal disclosure forms filed as part of his presidential run.

Fourteen years later, he made an estimated $100 million in a single month. In January, the Current TV network, which he helped to start in 2004, was sold to Qatari-owned Al Jazeera Satellite Network for about $500 million. After debt, he grossed an estimated $70 million for his 20 percent stake, according to people familiar with the transaction.

Two weeks later, Gore exercised options, at $7.48 a share, on 59,000 shares of Apple Inc. stock that he’d been granted for serving on the Cupertino, California-based company’s board since 2003. On paper, it was about a $30 million payday based on the company’s share price on the day he claimed the options.

That’s a pretty good January for a guy who couldn’t yet call himself a multimillionaire when he briefly slipped from public life after his bitterly contested presidential election loss to George W. Bush in late 2000, based on 1999 and 2000 disclosure forms.

And he’s still got another 50,000 Apple shares to go. Seems like Forrest Gump isn’t the only innocent to profit from Steve Jobs’s largesse.

The PC: the new sunset industry

[link] Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

IDC says PC sales fell 14 percent in the first quarter on a year-over-year basis. That’s worse than its forecast of a 7.7 percent drop.

This is the worst quarter for PC industry since 1994 when IDC started tracking sales. So, that pretty much makes it the worst quarter in history.

IDC blames Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system for alienating consumers. The new tile-based interface is too weird for consumers, says IDC.

Instead of buying new laptops or desktops, people are buying tablets and smartphones which serve as good-enough alternatives.

Source

The Chatwin syndrome

[link] Sunday, March 31st, 2013

This morning’s Observer column:

Bruce Chatwin has a lot to answer for. Specifically, he’s responsible for a forthcoming initial public offering (IPO) on the Italian stock market. It all goes back to something he wrote in his book The Songlines. He had arrived in Australia and was setting up a work space in a caravan. “With the obsessive neatness that goes with the beginning of a project,” he wrote, “I made three neat stacks of my ‘Paris’ notebooks. In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: ‘moleskine’, in this case, being its black oilcloth binding. Each time I went to Paris, I would buy a fresh supply from a papeterie in the Rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.”

Chatwin goes on to relate how the notebooks were made by a small firm in Tours, the owner of which had died and whose heirs had sold the business. So he assumed that the source of his beloved notebooks had dried up. What he didn’t know was that the business had been bought by a Milanese stationer who eventually began producing the notebooks again. And what he could not have known was that the business would one day be floated on the stock market (3 April, to be precise). The IPO could value the company at up to €560m (£473m)…

The night Steve Jobs came home

[link] Friday, March 29th, 2013


Steve Jobs & Satjiv Chahil, Apple Town Hall – 12 20 96, originally uploaded by Tim Holmes.

Astonishing set on Flickr by Tim Holmes, who was working in Apple on December 20 1996, the night that the Apple Board, in desperation, welcomed Steve jobs back to the fold. Tim grabbed an Apple QuickTake digital camera and went to the ‘town hall’ meeting that had been hastily called. He got some memorable, atmospheric shots — but also in the process collected evidence of how poor the camera was, technically speaking. Those purple jackets, for example, were actually black. Jobs cancelled the camera project shortly after taking over.

There’s an app for that — only $999.99

[link] Monday, March 11th, 2013

I’d always assumed that the price of apps in the Apple App Store ranged between free at the low end and $39.99 at the expensive end. But no — there’s an interesting ecosystem at the stratospheric level, as this piece in the WSJ reveals.

The post-Apps world

[link] Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

A while ago I wrote this:

We have replaced the old Microsoft Windows software monoculture with a new one based around an apps-centric user interface. Mobile devices have become machines for running apps. And whatever patent litigation says, all smartphones are now either iPhones or iPhone clones: a visiting Martian would be hard pressed to distinguish between an Android device and an Apple product, except perhaps on the basis of price. And, given the way network effects work, we will be stuck in this rut for the next few decades.

So an interesting question is: what will supplant the Apps-based interface? Here’s one answer (from Tom Simonite): voice-driven interfaces like Apple’s Siri and the technologies underpinning Google Glass.

Siri should be thought of a general purpose tool to achieve just about anything. I suspect the people in charge of Google Now’s development have similar ideas. Virtual helpers conceived along those lines could transform how people get stuff done with a smartphone, and remove the need for them to interact with the apps and websites they must turn to today.

Right now, Apple and Google’s operating systems are platforms on top of which the things a person needs sit. Achieving something involves a collection of apps, and often the Web, that users customize. The operating system just makes it possible to go to the places you need to go. If Apple and Google make their virtual assistants really work, that could be replaced by a much more centralized approach. Want something? Ask Siri or turn to Google Now and they’ll do the work of dealing with all those Web pages and apps for you.

It’s already possible to see how that could make things easier for people, and also remove the need for them to install or really be aware of apps as they are today. Many people with iPhones make use of Wolfram Alpha without ever installing it, for example, because it is drawn on by Siri. Likewise, you can find a restaurant and check table availability with Siri without having installed OpenTable, Yelp or any of their competitors. Google Now helps a person track sports scores, and deal with flight boarding passes without their turning directly to ESPN or United’s own mobile services.

Perceptive.

Sic transit gloria mundi

[link] Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Some years ago, when the Google Books project, which aims to digitise all of the world’s printed books, was getting under way, the two co-founders of Google were having a meeting with the librarian of one of the universities that had signed up for the plan. At one point in the conversation, the Google boys noticed that their collaborator had suddenly gone rather quiet. One of them asked him what was the matter. “Well”, he replied, “I’m wondering what happens to all this stuff when Google no longer exists.” Recounting the conversation to me later, he said: “I’ve never seen two young people looking so stunned: the idea that Google might not exist one day had never crossed their minds.”

And yet, of course, the librarian was right. He had to think about the next 400 years. But the number of commercial companies that are more than a century old is vanishingly small. Entrusting the world’s literary heritage to such transient organisations might not be entirely wise.

Compared with my librarian friend, we have the attention span of newts. We are constantly overawed by the size, wealth and dominance of whatever happens to be the current corporate giant.

To which, of course, the best riposte is probably Keynes’s: In the long run, we’re all dead.

The hidden ironies of a Firefox OS

[link] Monday, February 25th, 2013

The news that there is going to be a Firefox Operating System has set the cat among the pigeons. GigaOm has an interesting take on it which is refreshingly alert to the irony of the carriers’ response to the development.

The fact that the carriers are lapping this up represents a moment of supreme irony: these are the same companies – largely former monopolies – that were all about walled gardens, the companies that wanted to replicate the portal-first, AOL model in the wireless world. And what happened to stymie that scenario? Apple happened.

It was the iPhone that really loosened the carriers’ grip on their product. Suddenly they were just providers of voice and SMS and data, not suppliers of value-added services. The revenue cut from app sales now went to Apple and Google, not to the operators. The walls to their gardens had been obliterated, and someone had set up much more attractive walled gardens elsewhere.

So back we come to this idea of the open mobile web. This is an area where luminaries such as Tim Berners-Lee have been on the warpath, pointing out very real problems with the iOS/Android model. These include the inability to share app-based content in a standardized way, and the inability to search across apps. In short: the loss of the level playing field that web technologies represent.

Firefox OS is designed to solve those problems. Weirdly, we can now witness the former walled garden proprietors genuinely extol the virtues of openness. By promoting Firefox OS, they cannot regain control – however, they hope to prise some control from the hands of Google and Apple.