AMITIAE - Friday 14 December 2012

Cassandra - Friday Review: The Weekend Arrives

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

Apple's attention to detail. Updates to iTunes and Digital RAW Compatibility. Making Apple products in the USA. Google Maps app arrives. Apple startup chime trademarked. Mac malware: a new Trojan horse. XProtext updates definitions. Another weak example of phishing. Patents: you win some, you lose some. Significant report from Mary Meeker on shifts in computer and mobile use. More Office for iOS irrelevance; and danger for Redmond. Samsung's chief strategy officer uses OS X, iPhone and iPad; and Galaxy. Eric Schmidt on not paying UK taxes: I see no ships.

Apple Stuff

Some of my students asked me a few years ago why I liked BMW motorcycles and Apple computers: a really good question. I thought for a moment and (as befits a class of engineers) told them the main reasons were good design and excellent manufacturing. Both are so well made.

I could have added as part of that, the attention to detail, which I did point out in some classes where I was asked to introduce students to OS X (early days). A writer named Dan Pallotta has a number of examples of this attention to detail that may be evident in just running your hands over a computer or a display, but of those he mentions, my favourite is,

The back plate of the iPhone 5 is one of more than 700 different sized plates Apple manufactures. A high speed camera on the assembly line takes a photo of each phone and decides down to the micron which of the 725 minutely different panels will fit each slightly different iPhone most tightly. The result is seamless to the eye and the touch.

There are updates this week to Digital RAW compatibility, which is now at version 4.0.3; and to iTunes which was updated to version 11.0.1. This covers some iCloud problems with iMatch, improves searching, fixes an AirPlay problem and returns the duplicate entry feature that many missed. There are also the usual stability improvements and other fixes.

There has been a fair bit in the news in the last week or so about Apple moving some manufacturing to the USA using its proxy Foxconn, but we are also following the development of the way Apple is reducing its reliance on Samsung. TSMC have been suggested as the favourites to take over the mantle for chip production and it was presumed this would be in Taiwan, but a report by Chuck Jones on Forbes looks at a rumour concerning the possibility that TSMC is looking for land in upper NY State. This does fit in with other rumours that were thought to apply to the Foxconn factory; but if all were located together, that would be an interesting proposition.

I had the link for the above item from a Seeking Alpha note, and there is often a lot of interesting news from that source. Lance Finke, in a lengthy examination, is of the opinion, as I am, that many investors are just not looking at the right things when they consider Apple.

The Apple nit-picking industry was in full cry earlier in the week when it was announced by an Australian police force that the Apple maps app was causing problems. Aha! The sky is falling; the sky is falling. . . And so it goes.

However, by Wednesday there were also reports from the police in Victoria that Google maps was giving directions that were dangerous too. Aha! Silence, apart from a news item from Casey Newton that appeared, just reporting the basics.

On Thursday afternoon I was on the Skytrain in Bangkok and could not help overhearing three young men discussing an app that had just been released and it appeared that it was Google Maps, something that had had people wondering for a while (would Apple stop this?). At home, I saw a Tweet from Richard Barrow that had a link to the app so I was able to download it directly onto the iPhone. There is no iPad version. I was not that impressed initially although reading Twitter the comments seemed to verge on the euphoric.

I look out on an almost completed Skytrain extension station, but Google Maps satellite view shows this as a flat concrete slab: that means the image is well over a year old. To be fair, Apple is showing the same image. Public transport data is not available for my area I was informed, while the Apple app does show some bus data. Both show the Skytrain stations but Google Maps does pencil in the lines. And the Bangkok Bank, Bukkhalo branch is no longer in the middle of the Chao Phraya river: steps are being taken to update the Apple Maps app.

Within a few hours, not unexpectedly, the Google app had climbed to number 1, Lance Whitney writes, but not in the Thai store (Thursday evening). I guess the Thai store is not updated as often although over 100 reviews were shown. It turns out I was looking at iPad apps and in the iPhone section, this is indeed Number One.

Of course, now we have in this app some of the features (like turn by turn directions) that Apple had wanted and Goofle had declined to provide.

When Apple introduced the new Lighting adapters for iOS devices, they also produced an adapter so that users could use their older connectors. This was $19 in the US and is 1,090 baht here. In China, iPhone buyers get it for free, Mike Wehner reports on TUAW.

There are lots and lots of patents and trade marks for Macs and other Apple products, but one of the most recognisable has until now been unprotected: the startup chime. Steve Sande reports on TUAW that this is now a registered trademark.

I commented on Logitech keyboards last weekend when I picked up an Apple wireless keyboard for my iPad (more on that below). Like a lot of products available elsewhere, they were not on sale here and the response from Logitech was not that helpful either. Now the company has released a new keyboard and a trackpad that are aimed specifically at Mac users, Steve Sande reports on TUAW. I do not know if that will be sold in Thailand.

There are a few examples of malware that Mac users need to take care over. None of these are viruses, but a couple of Trojan horse examples can give a nasty bite. Topher Kessler reports on a new attempt with an example that is part of a family of Trojan malware for Windows and other platforms now adapted to appear to be an installer for a program called VKMusic 4. What it does, and how it works are detailed in the article. It is expected that the XProtect system will be updated soon to deal with this. And by Friday morning, MacNN was reporting that this was done.

And while we are on risk, I had a pretty good example of phishing on Thursday evening that appeared to come from my credit card account. The only problem was that the moment I put the cursor over the "Visit this link" item, it showed

which is not where I have my account. . . .

There was another, similar, phishing email in my morning email purporting to be from my credit card company. These guys do not give up.

Half and Half

Reported overnight we read in an article by Josh Lowensohn that a jury in San Diego has found for Apple (and LG) in a case concerning patents owned by Alcatel-Lucent. However, a little earlier, in another case in Delaware, AppleInsider reports that a jury found that Apple had infringed on patents owned by MobileMedia which is really Sony, Nokia and MPEG LA Following a link in a Tweet on Thursday morning took me eventually to a page on VentureBeat where Dylan Tweney examined a report from a market analyst at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers. Mary Meeker has produced a report which shows in fairly clear ways how the use of devices and access to the internet is changing.

While Commodore featured in the mid-1980s and Redmond had a 25% share of computers, rising to 96% in the early part of this century, that share has now slipped to 35% with Apple and Android the big winners: especially Android which came from nowhere.

There are plenty of other interesting facts in the article and in the Meeker report, such as Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam being in the top 15 of internet users (Thailand does not figure at all). There are also comparisons between numbers of Android and iOS devices in use. One of the slides shows a crossover of Internet use in India with the desktop numbers sinking below those using mobile access some time in the early part of 2012, with mobile use still growing and desktop use sinking.

In a related note, it is reported that, just as mobile is becoming more important than the desktop, Dell are to quit the smartphone business - Globally - Jean-Baptiste Su reports for Forbes. The new strategy over at Dell is . . . Windows tablets. Maybe they should give the money back to the shareholders. My link for this was MacDaily News.

I made a comment on Wednesday about the late to the party Microsoft, with its alleged imminent release (talk about tentative) of Office for iOS. My response, Redmond sceptic that I am, was, "Why bother": there are plenty of alternatives that people are already using and this is already two years too late. I am not alone as Peter Bright on Ars Technica (in a lengthy and useful article) also views any such release of Office as something of a dangerous game, but notes that any such release will confirm the relevance of the iPad (as if that were needed) and reduce sales of Windows 8. But there is a problem in Apple's refusal to break the 30% rule for Microsoft -- if that happened a lot of developers would be rightly unhappy -- and if Redmond were unable to sell its Office 365 subscriptions (less that 30%) the free Office app has no point. Microsoft should have thought about this all earlier.

Also commenting on the reduced impact this Office for iOS would have is Derek Kessler on iMore who notes that we have all got along quite well and no one has really missed any MS Office capability on the iPad and that the iWork suite is considerably cheaper than what Microsoft puts out as well.

Like I said: too late and largely irrelevant now.

With all the Apple and Samsung news that passes our way, it was interesting to see a report on Electronista about Samsung's chief strategy officer (who works in California) who has admitted he uses a Mac, iPad and iPhone when at home. In an interview in which this was revealed, he paid Apple some other compliments concerning the "ecosystem". He does also have a Galaxy.

Other Matters

Over the past few weeks, I have made some comments about the way companies earn money in certain countries but do not appear to pay much tax. While it looks quite negative on the surface, despite the socialist in me, I actually support these companies because they are simply taking advantage of the way tax regulations are framed in the areas where they operate.

The UK has been particularly concerned about this recently and politicians are poking their noses into this, which is usually a bad sign. But then along comes Eric Schmidt who does not understand the value of keeping his mouth shut when such political examinations are taking place. The Independent reports (Nikhil Kumar, Oliver Wright) that, responding to the voluntary donations that Starbucks is apparently to make, he announced that he is proud of the way Google avoids tax: "It's called capitalism. We are proudly capitalistic. I'm not confused about this". I trust then that he will not be confused about the backlash such a statement will cause.

To begin with, Margaret Hodge, the politician who questioned Google on tax payements said, "Mr Schmidt should be ashamed rather than proud of his company's tax bill", adding, that he "is arrogant, out of touch and an insult to his customers here in the UK" which may be code for taking up the gauntlet that Schmidt did not realise he had thrown down.

Governments framed the tax laws to allow the companies to offload their commitments, and now there is an international consensus to change them back to allow a fairer distribution: not putting the onus on earners, but making the big earners, like tech companies -- like Google (£6 million tax on £2.5 billion income) -- pay their share too.

It was noted by one source, that Schmidt is happy to let capitalism work for Google when convenient, but sitting on a Presidential panel thinks that the broadband spectrum should be thrown open to all: isn't that socialism?

Local Items

I decided to take the iPad to work on Wednesday and dumped it into my backpack along with the keyboard. As the taxi drove up the road, as well as the radio, I could hear some soft sounds behind me. I was not sure if there were another speaker in the back, or if it was an odd effect of wind coming through a part-open window. Then I focussed and recognised a voice, realising it was the iPad. As the taxi was going along, a key must have been pressed and the iPad woke.

At work I figured out that the only way to turn off the keyboard was in the iPad settings: Bluetooth must be set to off. It is easy enough to turn it on again, but unless I want opera in the taxi, I will have to make sure of this.

I later looked at the way the keyboard works with the iPad and although there are a number of keystrokes that can be used, some of those I found on that other keyboard and case setup from Neolution that I bought some months ago -- like access to the Home screen and to the active apps -- is not available. That was a disappointment. However, typing on the new keyboard is a much better experience.

I use WriteRoom when I am on the road or at the office as this syncs with the home computer and I can then enter the text into the application I want. On Thursday, while out, I only had the iPhone and started writing an article, on my use of a new WD external disk with Time Machine, in WriteRoom, using my thumbs. At home it was synchronised using DropBox and it only took a short while to get this online.

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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