AMITIAE - Monday 20 February 2012

Cassandra - Monday Review: It will soon be Friday

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit

Tim Cook begins to reveal himself. Apple begins to reveal Mountain Lion (the next version of OS X). Comments and links for 10.8 information and ideas: some useful parts of iOS borrowed. I try out Messages: useful. Foxconn news: ABC recording a Nightline Special; NYTimes at last names other companies. NYTimes not in favoured news outlet status with Apple. Countdown to 25 billion app downloads. Proview is broke, so needs to make sure Apple pays up front for iPad name. Education on tablets makes kids smarter: should politicians be allowed near them (iPads not the kids)? Microsoft is not needed to get real work done: some of us knew that anyway.

Apple Stuff

Over the weekend I listened to the Tim Cook question and answer session at Goldman Sachs IT conference that took place last week. There were some really interesting points that were made, but one of the most fascinating was the way that Cook became so animated when answering some questions. Apple put the audio webcast of the event online and the full event at almost 48 minutes is still available.

There is also a transcript available by the good graces of MacRumours.

As well as the comments on Foxconn, there seems to have been some major direction changes from Apple in the last week or two. We know that the FLA had started its inspections, although the first comments may have been a little premature according to a report by Josh Lowensohn who says the FLA now reports "tons of issues". Ahead of the report, that may also be premature.

Apple re-affirmed its commitments to improvements of the workers' lives, so perhaps the pay-rises that have been awarded by Foxconn is part of that drive; and (earth-shattering in its own way) Apple invited ABC to film inside the factories.

More on that below and obviously when this is televised in the US. All this was coupled with the way that Apple made its announcements about Mountain Lion last week, omitting the NYTimes from the favoured few list, and aiming at a new type of resource, including a couple of bloggers. Powerful bloggers (John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple), but bloggers nonetheless. This was especially pointed as David Pogue and some formerly important others did not have the one on one approach granted to them. As Federico Viticci of MacStories Tweeted, "Look, IMO is just normal that when you piss off a company, they are not gonna let you see stuff. Even if you're the NYT."

I am sure Tim Cook and the rest of Apple are less than happy with the NYT just at the moment. Mel Martin on TUAW also had a comment or two on this and the way the NYTimes is "pouting" after years of being favoured, explaining some of the problems reporters face covering Apple (tell me). We read that -- we could have guessed this from the responses -- "Tim Cook was reportedly incensed at the story and called it "false and offensive."" We mentioned something along those lines too as well as "cherry-picking". We also found another report on this by Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider, who writes of the "Gizmodo treatment" (referring to that lost iPhone 4 a while back).

We are also told that neither Walt Mossberg nor Andy Ihnatko were given the special treatment although like Pogue they did get pre-release software. A new CEO sweeps clean.

There is a definite sense of sniggering from some of these publications when discussing what didn't happen to the NYTimes. I guffawed myself.

A lot of comments were made over the weekend concerning the way OS X and iOS seem to be merging, although there is disagreement about how much this means they will merge. Oddly, the old hands looked at the borrowing, while many popular sources were frantic with the idea of merging.

A good place to start is with Federico Viticci of MacStories who has written on this before. He has a number of ideas on this and summarises the ideas of others. Note particularly the idea here of iCloud which was mentioned by Tim Cook as being fundamental to Apple's future directions.

As ever there are to be changes. We noted on Friday how some Macs will not make the grade, and there is news from Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider about other things to go: X11 and a deprecation of Carbon Core. I was a bit worried about X11 as I sometimes run Unix programs (like GIMP), but there will still be support for these. So far anyway. We also read on Electronista that the USB option (a spare OS X on a flash drive) will not be available from Apple as it is not needed. The problem with a download-only version is that not everyone has super-fast broadband and some (even in the US) are still stuck with POTS: the plain old telephone system.

And right on cue, OS X Daily has an article on "How to Make a Bootable OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion USB Install Drive" which is a little premature as only developer versions are out.

We have been having some fun with Messages over the weekend having downloaded the beta of this as soon as it was available. I have sent a number of messages to (and received replies from) iPhone users. I used the AppleID so it is not a replacement (apparently) for the message system on the phone: at least not yet. We were also appraised of the point that using Jabber, it would connect to the Facebook chat list. There was information on how to do this on MacOS X Hints on Friday, but even with their instructions it took me ages to complete the link. My problems were: no Facebook username (I just used my own name, but there is another field); and then having sorted that and quitting Facebook chat, nothing happened. It did come on once I got home, so there may have been something in the router at work (it took me ages to be able to FTP), but I did not have to log out of Chat on Facebook as some suggested. Although messages in beta works on Lion, we may find (as with the Mac App Store last year) that once Mountain Lion appears, Messages will disappear for those using Lion. One of several who carried this little bit of information was Graham Spencer on MacStories. Just in case anyone does not like the Messages beta, OS X Daily explains there is a way to uninstall and go back to iChat.

One of the other features is Gatekeeper a technology that allows only trusted apps to be installed on the computer. Steven on Panic Blog has an excellent outline of the workings of Gatekeeper and its code-signing techniques and encryption. He also looks at how this works now for iPhone apps: "Since Apple is the only entity able to sign App Store applications, iOS will simply refuse to run any app that doesn't have Apple's signature" which is why so many here like to jailbreak their phones (and then wonder why they have problems: they usually blame Apple's). Apple has found a middle ground, he tells us, that has some of the best points of signatures but also allows users the freedom to install apps from other sources that have a unique ID and this can be revoked if things go wrong (malware or other problems).

Take a look yourself. There is a fair amount of information available on the Apple Mountain Lion pages with the new blue star-scape background. I rather like the Share Sheets and as well as the current Photo-sharing, this shows the way cloud use is going to become more useful. There is also a section on the Mountain Lion pages that is aimed specifically at China: "Mail, Contacts, and Calendar work with QQ, 163, and 126. Baidu, the leading Chinese search provider, is a built-in option in Safari." The page adds, "The video-sharing websites Youku and Tudou are included in the new Share Sheets, so users in China can easily post videos to the web. They can also blog with Sina weibo, the popular microblogging service."

The heading at the top of the page is "Inspired by iPad. Re-imagined for Mac" and a lot of the information (and the video) make it clear how OS X is borrowing some good points from iOS. Some of the main ideas seem to be firmly connected with the use of iCloud.

There are a lot of apps on the online stores and Apple is having a promotion for the iOS App Store right now with a countdown to 25 billion downloads about to happen. Like last time, there will be one winner and the prize is considerable: a $10,000 gift card. The counter is on the Apple main page and when I checked Sunday afternoon it was showing 24,382, 630,000 with the thousands going round just under every 3 seconds, which made it about 812422 seconds to go (then) or 9.4 days. Other sites had it much faster than that so my maths is probably suspect.

Back to Foxconn. We read in a number of reports including one on AppleInsider that "Nightline" -- an ABC program -- will be broadcasting a special next week (21 Feb) "having gained unprecedented access to document the working conditions inside factories at some of Apple's suppliers." And they did not get that without some cooperation, or even an invitation, from Apple. The AppleInsider item looks at some of the background to the ABC report and indicates some of the things they saw, including thousands of hopeful applicants rushing the Foxconn gates -- so much for a bad experience if so many want to join.

We first read of the Foxconn pay rises on Friday in an item by Matt Brian on The Next Web who relates that this is actually the third raise in 2 years. We do note that Brian includes the "increasing number of suicides" meme, but like others omits to include the point that the number of suicides at Foxconn is below the national average, perhaps making it a safer place to work.

We also note that it was not until Sunday that the NYTimes finally got round to putting an item on its pages reporting on the pay rises that Foxconn are implementing, but (what a surprise) now it is Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other electronics companies that use Foxconn. David Barboza (now the sole reporter on this story) might have included these names, and others, earlier. Who am I trying to kid?

We have been amazed at the way Apple stock keeps going up, apart from the occasional slip, like at the weekend just after the Goldman Sachs IT conference. At the January 2007 iPhone release, it broke $200 for the first time and when I had some money to invest, it was running at about $300 (I did not take the plunge, silly me), and now it is $500 ($502.12 on Sunday), but some think it is considerably underpriced, which is why it may keep rising. On Bloomberg, Jonathan Weil examines the accounting and suggests that a rule change (that Apple lobbied for) means it is not reporting as conservatively as before: the figures look better than they used to. Before the companies could defer revenue, now Apple is allowed to record more revenue upfront.

A note from Electronista on insider trading that was uncovered when an analyst from Oregon used information concerning Apple, from SanDisk and Flextronics. If he is convicted, he could get 20 years in prison.

Along with all its other fun and games in China there is still that question of Proview and the iPad name which Apple claims it bought and Proview says it did not. While a Chinese court said Proview was OK, a Hong Kong found for Apple. Brooke Crothers looks at some of the ideas surrounding the broke company and what may be its most important asset (the iPad name). I guess that if Proview wins and Apple changes the name, Proview would be left holding a handful of ashes: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It must know that and needs Apple to buy the name which is why there is so much action on the iPad name at the moment.

We should be getting to a new update to iOS 5 soon and AppleBitch tells us that iOS 5.1 has been leaked. One of the features is a faster camera access. This was improved in iOS 5 so all we need is a double click on the Home button and a camera button would be available, but there is more to come and the camera is accessible from the lock screen all the time but there is a safety feature. On that update, Rene Ritchie on iMore suggests that it should be 9 March (just after the iPad 3 announcement).

And on the iPad 3, we read over the weekend that the screen should be the Retina Display, the camera will be 8MP and the casing is more tapered. Rene Ritchie on iMore has this and some more information on the next competitor to the Kindle Fire and the Motorola XyBoard. Several more reports appeared by Monday morning, but one -- from Electronista -- also mentioned the processor was marked A5X and not A6 as had been expected: another evolution. Will this be the iPad 2S; or is this actually a test mockup that has been released (also on AppleInsider)?

A devastatingly simple idea came in the words of Patrick Rhone on Minimalmac who had been discussing Microsoft and the iPad with his wife. She gets it. As he writes, so many people who move to the Mac could not live without Microsoft Office. Like him, I made several other suggestions, both directly and in print, but Office was the key for many, even if it was just to write a shopping list. But where is Office on the iPad? There are apps that write in DOC, XLS and (save us) PPT format, but nothing in this line from Microsoft, yet the iPad has seen larger sales than PCs in the last few quarters and people are getting along just fine. He ends with the conclusion:

Microsoft's biggest miss was allowing the world to finally see the truth behind the big lie - they were not needed to get real work done. Or anything done, really.

I note that on Slashdot on Sunday there was a question posed by theodp asking whether Redmond should put Office on the iPad and one of the comments in there suggests that "The iPad's momentum not only in the home but in the workplace opens the door for Office alternatives to take hold on the Apple tablet". The door is shut. This small Slashdot article also quotes the Rhone item (above). There are lots of writing and spreadsheet apps already and I use Keynote for presentations on the iPhone and the iPad (the slides can be exported in a number of formats including PPT), so what is the point? Microsoft has not only missed the boat here, but exposed the shallowness for all to see: not needed, go away.

I wrote an item on the iPad last week concerning education. It was about an app called Scribble Press and I was pleased to get an email from the developers. On the way, I was critical of the negativity shown by the authorities here in their approach to the promised tablet computers in classrooms. Even before they have arrived, the various mouthpieces (which here means almost anyone wearing a suit who things they are important) have sown considerable doubt on the project which the government is trying to do on the cheap: I mean really cheap. It is not meant to succeed.

There are some teachers and authorities in other parts of the world (start as close as Singapore) who are keen and are succeeding. Jim Dalrymple on The Loop for example writes this week on a study that proves kindergarten students using iPads score better on literacy tests: "classes using the iPads outperformed the non-iPad students in every literacy measure they were test [sic] on". There is another nice quote in that article that needs to be sent around all offices that even think they are connected to the Tablet project in Thailand: "The objective has to be learning, not just getting the technology out there"; although I don't suppose that will gel with most of them.

In the floods, I walked into a meter of water forgetting my iPhone was in my pocket -- an expensive wade. Obviously the water sensors changed red. A friend who had never been near water (apart from rain and humidity here) had a warranty claim turned down a year ago because of the same sensors. There has been considerable criticism and some change with the way the sensors were used, but now Neil Hughes on AppleInsider tells us that Apple is to make a complete change to the way this is done and there may be a more accurate sensor on its way.

Half and Half

Oooh, Google lied. Although they are denying this totally. At the end of last week, it appeared that Google had put in place some technique for getting round cookies in mobile Safari and on other platforms (I am sure Android was one) and tracking the user. Julia Angwin and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries on Wall Street Journal report on this and how it works and how Google is denying things. Apple is working hard to block this -- no friend of Google these days of course -- and there are a number of other experts cited to make me think that there could be something to it indeed. What I want to know is where is Al Franken and the other Senators and Congressmen who wanted their nanoseconds of fame when Apple was thought to be some sort of data location ringleader? We hope the EU too goes after them.

As a note, Charles Cooper tells us that Eric Schmidt of Google -- former Apple board member -- is to sell 2.4 million shares of Class A stock in Google: about $1.4 billion. It is part of a prearranged trading plan.

And in patent news, Foss Patents reports that the HTC first complaint against Apple has been dismissed by the ITC: the ITC has closed the investigation and found no violation.

Released this week is VLC 2.0 the video application that works when others don't. I have not yet had time to grab my own download, but among others Kelly Hodgkins on TUAW has had a look and runs it through its paces for us, noting that there is experimental support for Blu-ray.

A bit late in the game, but Brooke Crothers decided to compare three rather different tablet computers: Motorola's XyBoard, Amazon's Kindle Fire and the iPad. He admits early in the article that this is a risky comparison. What did he expect? The Motorola thing, "in dire need of performance tweaking"; the limited-function tablet, works surprisingly well; and the iPad just works.

I am rather interested in devices that help those without ability to use all the major senses. I am off on Friday, for example, to Ratchasuda College which is connected to the university I work at, to liaise with some deaf students to try and gauge ways to help them communicate with others when they are in stressful conditions (illness or accident). My students have also created projects to help with the deaf and blind students there (for example several developments of a Braille keyboard). Andrew Webster on The Verge reports about a development that uses three buttons either side of the screen to input Braille to mobile devices. I was thinking of the touch screen and gestures to help the deaf students, but this looks interesting too.

Other Matters

One of the things I like to keep track of is DSLR camera releases and we read in an item by Nathan Ingram on The Verge this weekend that the Nikon D4 (a whopping great, rugged camera) is expected to be released in mid-March in America. He also includes the release a few days later of the D800.

It suddenly dawned on me that there was a new issue due for Motor Sport. I had been looking at Newsstand over the weekend with a review of the new app from the British Journal of Photography and noticed the other magazines in there. I started the app and the new (March) issue thumbnail appeared with a bright yellow sidebar rather than that garish red. The download process began, but the blue line never moved. I restarted the iPad to give it a nudge. No change. I expect the UK is closed on Sundays.

Local Items

A thing about modern technology that dinosaurs still haven't grasped, is that once you put yourself in the public eye, it may be there for all the world to see: warts and all. The National Parks service, whom I have never really liked since they put the price of entry up several times for non-Thais, because tourists don't pay taxes and charged everyone the same whether we pay taxes or not, making it a pure case of racism, are at it again.

This time they are targeting the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), an organisation set up to protect animals. The problem is that Edwin Wiek has broken one of the unwritten rules here and publicised the trade in young elephants that has been going on, not just under the noses of the Parks officials, but apparently with their collusion: gatekeepers turned gate-openers.

I first got wind of the problems Wiek was facing on Friday, via Twitter. He is being raided on a daily basis, ostensibly as he does not have the paperwork for some of the animals, but really as punishment for speaking out. Animals have been taken away, they have been hurt; his Thai wife was also arrested as she is titular head of the WFFT, but was bailed out later. Other NGOs are also being targeted in this sweep, so orders may have come from Bangkok.

There are a number of videos now on YouTube, a couple of which are a bit disturbing. There is also a video of a local singer, Tom Dundee, taking officials to task (in Thai). The reason there are videos is because of the number of non-Thai volunteers there, so the actions are immediately out there for the world to see. As a note, in one or two, we can also see officials photographing the volunteers, which I would note as a threat of future actions, either at the WFFT sanctuary, or at visa time.

A later Tweet from Richard Barrow informs users that Edwin Wiek will be at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Tuesday evening so there may be some wider publicity after this.

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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