AMITIAE - Monday 30 January 2012
Cassandra - Monday Review: It will soon be Friday
By Graham K. Rogers
Opening Gambit:Responses to the NYTimes article on Apple and Foxconn problems. Chinese commentators rather like what Apple is doing. Siri is not burning bits and bytes, we are. Madison Wisconsin to buy 1,400 iPads with Microsoft money. Patent wins for Apple in Germany and the US. Apple may be edging closer to Android but the Googlish platform is leading in the malware stakes. Major development as new RIM chief looks at other phones. In Singapore, an exploding iPhone that cannot be found and an iPhone app for the SMRT.
Technical ProblemsLate on Sunday night, the eXtensions site went down and had not come back by Monday morning. As the bill for hosting is not due until 1 February, I had not been cut off because of that. I sent email late Sunday, but the recipient was out of the office on Monday, so after a reader left a message on Facebook, I phoned. Normal service was resumed soon after, so I should have done that earlier. OK, let's rock and roll. . . .
Apple, Foxconn, NYTimes and PunditsOn Friday we made comment about an article that had been in the NYTimes damning Apple for the practices of Foxconn and making much of the death of one young Chinese worker. While any single death is a waste, this was referred to so many times that as support for Apple's responsibilities at a factory belonging to another major company, it began to look a bit thin. Hon Hai precision is a company with headquarters not in China but in Taiwan, but they have managed to enter the Chinese manufacturing base quite well. Along the way, the facilities surrounding the factories -- dormitories, cafeterias, cinemas, shops -- have served this growing factory community.
That was not good enough for the NYTimes. It should be noted here that some of these problems have been highlighted before, which may be why Apple instigated its own Supplier Responsibility program and reports, which we reported on earlier this month, when the latest issue was released. As was pointed out (I saw this first in MacDaily News on Friday in this context, but it has been aired before) other companies also use Foxconn. The list reads like a Who's Who of Tech: Amazon, Apple, Dell, HP, HTC, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony and others. The NYTimes article mentioned some of those (not Microsoft at all, despite a mass suicide threat at a Foxconn factory early in the month), but Apple was named over 100 times.
Initially, most news sources followed the "Apple is Ba-a-a-ad" mantra (some still are), although one or two picked up on some discrepancies in the article. Come Saturday there were two developments with a robust response from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and similarly outraged comments from Chinese in a newspaper there as reported by Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider. The NYTimes managed to find these, translate them and then "bury" them in The Lede, a blog. With all the news surrounding this, I started to write something for Cassandra, but it took on a life of its own and ended up as a separate online comment at the end of which I suggested that Charles Duhigg, David Barboza and the New York Times owe the public and those involved some clarification, if not an apology. There were other comments along the same lines from Jim Dalrymple at The Loop and he linked to a good comment by Devin Coldewey on TechCrunch. While Steven Musil reported on the Tim Cook memo to the staff, many of the other commentators on CNET failed to pick up on the point that this was not an Apple-only problem and that the NYTimes was targeting Apple when others have their products made in exactly the same factories.
In the roundup that CNET put out late Sunday (my time) the only pro-Apple item was on Tim Cook's memo. I guess they must have missed all the others I found. However, Brooke Crothers expanded the idea that if a suggestion that had been made that US consumers should boycott Apple products, they would also have to consider a whole lot more; and he includes some other countries' production histories. A boycott might make the NYTimes liable if there were to be litigation. Mike Elgan looks at some of the problems facing Apple with the fallout from this article in a different light and offers solutions some of which he writes are not practical, so his approach is a balanced analysis.
A further comment came from BSR who were cited in the NYTimes article we are told by Paul Miller on The Verge. They dispute some of the claims that were made in print and praised Apple in a statement. BSR denies the claims made by the unnamed BSR consultant who was cited in the article and report that the denial and other clarifications were sent to the NYT before publication [My italics]. Miller also mentions the unnamed former Apple executives whom the NYTimes article cited, but there is a danger here in that a former exec, may be "former" for a variety of reasons and may actually have a rather large axe to grind. Indeed, try a Google search for "Executives who have left Apple in the last 5 years" and see what comes up.
What particularly annoyed some people (and I am one of course) was the clear aim of the article directly at Apple despite its clear policies and public statements on the problems that are to an extent out of its control. It cannot buy Foxconn, although that was something that has been suggested with that pile of cash it has, because laws in China will not allow such ownership arrangements, as in many other countries (including Thailand).
But isn't it really all about that pile of cash? The number of analysts and commentators that claim Apple must spend it or pay a dividend or otherwise make some extravagant use of it. Almost $100 billion, much of it stuck overseas, is tempting, and like the holders of lottery tickets that never come up, other people have some imaginative ways to spend it. They just cannot bear the idea that Apple keeps being successful.
Apple StuffI may have been wrong about Siri. When I first saw the demonstration by Scott Forestall at the Apple event back in October, I could see the gear wheel spinning away when he used the voice system and presumed that data was being sent and received. Mel Martin on TUAW suggests that this is not as serious as some thought it was, for example the Washington Post's Paul Farhi. It may be true that us users of the iPhone 4S use much more data than those with earlier iPhones, but this is because we can, but also recent Android phones similarly use more data. Smartphones by definition use data.
One use of data is the Find my iPhone app that has had some interesting publicity since it was released and got back more than a few missing phones and iPads. This week we read in an item by Dave Caolo on TUAW about a cop in New York who has his own iPhone (heavens they usually have such bad publicity that this makes a real change). A woman had her handbag snatched in the city and when reporting it the policeman decided to give FMI a try. I guess from the report that the policeman sent a signal as well as tried tracking it as the thief walked past with it beeping in his boot. Almost 4 years ago a tourist here had an iPod touch snatched from a bag and back at the hotel tried FMI, sending a signal and a message. Within a few minutes, the police phoned the hotel. They had been sitting at a table with an arrested suspect and a pile of loot when the iPod touch began to make a noise. . . .
There was a major panic this week when all the bloggers who found out about it were in a tizzy that the Apple Store was down. Was this an unexpected new product release, price changes (we had just commented on discrepancies in the different stores round the world). None of the above. Apple was adding a Valentine's Day gift guide which starts about halfway down the page and looks to me like an iPad promotion.
As a lot of readers will know, I rather like apps for the iPhone that assist with the photography aspects of the device, which gets better as each iPhone comes out. Kristy Korcz on Geek Sugar has a selection chosen by Paul Pierson who is a designer and photographer, but he missed out on iWatermark, one of my essentials.
Half and HalfLove this. . . . a while back, Microsoft agreed to pay Wisconsin almost $80 million to settle claims that it has systematically cheated consumers into paying too much for its software we are told by Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider. Of that $80 million, some $3.4 million is to be used by authorities in Madison for a total of 1,400 iPads for the schools. The tablets are cheaper, more portable and easier to use than conventional computers and "will enable students to wirelessly share their work and enable schools to replace textbooks with digital apps or ebooks. . ." which I bet no one this side of the Pacific has thought about in its "one child, one tablet computer" promotion that was in English on election posters.
While in Mannheim, Mueller had reported on another finding for Apple, this time against Samsung where the court rejected a second complaint related to the 3G/UMTS wireless telecommunications standard.
Not really related, but it fits nicely here is an item by Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider about why iOS still maintains its lead in the enterprise. There has been lots of promotion of Android in the last couple of years, but while consumers are aware of the platform (and it comes on a lot of cheap phones making it appear popular), the iPhone and iPad have been consistently better thought of by higher end buyers, culminating in the rush of sales when the iPhone 4S was released, despite the critics all warning (wrongly) that this was nothing but an iPhone 4 in a new case. What has also helped this is the paradox of Apple's locked-in structure in the face of less enthusiasm for Microsoft and the openness (and insecurities) of other platforms.
Also fitting perfectly with the above item is a comment on ComputerWorld (you have to wait for the stupid Flash ad to load), by Gregg Keizer -- my original source was MacDaily News -- that the largest ever malware campaign had some 5 million users downloading infected apps. Remember all those comments about the ease of the Android store, compared with the iTunes store, and how it is better to use Open Source (paying royalties to several companies eventually) or to jailbreak our iPhones? The report makes for some stunning reading.
Other MattersWe are always aware of security and tend to keep our eyes open for problems as they come over the horizon. Normally we think of malware in terms of the virus or Trojan Horse, as well as phishing and other malign attempts to enter our computers, mercifully few on OS X. I was a bit surprised (initially) to see a report on Help Net Security (I saw the link on a Twitter feed) concerning malicious QR codes. The article comments on how this might be done. Do we now write these off as dangerous: I hope not as they are rather useful, if currently limited and have great potential. The article also looks at the persistence of rootkits.
Local ItemsBack to Apple criticisms, or the denial at any rate. We read in an item by Ng Kai Ling on the Straits Times that SingTel denied on Friday that they had seen an iPhone from a Mr Z.M. Ong who tells the press that as it was being charged, he had sparks and smoke coming out of his iPhone 4 (not 4S we note) and that the 1-year old phone was replaced for free. SingTel say they have no record of this and they have no contact details for the man. While iPhones have expanded -- and the article has a photo of a bulging iPhone 4 -- there have not been any explosions.
Also down in Singapore, the Straits Times tell us that the SMRT there (a fairly complex system -- especially when compared with Bangkok's up and down plus a branch line -- have released an app for the iPhone. I have a couple of these already for systems in London and San Francisco and look forward to the day when I need one for Bangkok. SMRT Connect (version 1.02) is available in the iTunes store here.
The Bangkok Post carried a report about Twitter censorship in Thailand with the Ministry of Communications Technology permanent secretary reported as saying, "Twitter's move to censor or block content regarded as offensive in particular countries was a 'welcome development'." Another brick in the wall.
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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