AMITIAE - Wednesday 20 February 2013

Cassandra - Wednesday Review: The Week in Full Swing

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit:

Rumours: iWatch, AppleTV, cheapo iPhone, Retina display MacBook Air. LG and OLED technology: for Apple or LG's own TVs? iPad use: education and the fashion world. Apple store burglary by boulders at Boulder. Tips: fast user account switching; monitor burn in. Java update. iTunes updated to 11.0.2. iOS updated to 6.1.2. Bill Gates on lack of innovation at Microsoft: Ballmer not sacked again. Secret price rises for Office for the Mac. Chinese hacking: not us, say the Peoples Liberation Army. The mystery of the Singapore suicide: the engineer who knew too much?

Apple Stuff

It was a bit quiet at the start of the week because in the USA it was President's Day, so as with all Monday holidays, there is a a pause for breath. Nonetheless, there were still reports from outside and Electronista discussed a leaked photo of an alleged motherboard for the iPhone 5S or something, but this also had an A7 processor. If this were true - and the other tempting details in the article (RAM, iOS7) - that could be quite some interim upgrade.

Kate MacKenzie on PixoBebo has a look at the sport of Apple-watching which as I wrote recently has become even more erratic with the arrival of the bloggers and the need to make the next big headline. She works her way through a few ideas in the article and is one who does understand how Apple works, not the arrivistes.

We still of course have all that frenetic speculation about the iWatch which a lot of people are sure is just around the corner; but equally a lot are sure it is not. Dave on AppleBitch comments on the speculation and how Jean-Louis Gassée is thinking in terms of "an intimate computer" but also suggesting that the iWatch and Apple TV could be somehow related.

We shall see.

The real Apple TV - that little black box thing - has been released in India, where Apple has begun to see some gains of late (although not like in China). Steven Sande reports that the device is available now, but for a price some 50% higher than in the USA and that users there can purchase content from the expanded iTunes store there. This was available here a few years ago and a number of users (plus a few hotels bought it), but now it is no longer sold; but Movies are now available in the Thailand iTunes store. Will the AppleTV return?

A rumour about LG sparked some speculation about Apple this week. A number of sources, including Sam Oliver on AppleInsider, had the news that the South Korean company was to invest $650 million in OLED technology. As LG supplies screens for Apple, the dots were joined and the immediate conclusion was that Apple was the customer here. Maybe it is the Apple TV, forgetting that LG also makes TVs.

To complete the circle, there is another push for the cheapo iPhone with Morgan Stanley suggesting in a report that such a device could add "nearly $2.4 billion dollars to its handset business and triple its addressable smartphone market in China", Mikey Campbell reports on AppleInsider. This presumes Apple has such a device in progress.

Another rumour appeared overnight Tuesday and suggests that the Retina display will be used with the MacBook Air. Jordan Kahn on 9to5 Mac covers a report from Taiwan (trust this if you dare) that there will be 11" and 13" versions later this year: Q2 or Q3.

it is nice to deal with some facts sometimes and this week we read in an item by Mikey Campbell on AppleInsider that Apple has been granted a patent (more innovation, eh?) for better haptic feedback. We are told that the system has "at least two actuators are positioned beneath a multitouch input device to provide vibratory feedback when a user makes contact with the unit." This could be used on a keyboard as well as an iPhone screen, so there may be applications here for deaf and blind persons as well as a better experience for ordinary users.

Enlarging on this, Patently Apple reports that Apple has been granted 36 patents (including the Haptic Feedback one) like a proximity detector, future active Apple Store packaging, a haptics feedback system describing a virtual keyboard and more.

Some more inconvenient facts for those who want to be convinced that Apple is doomed, came in an article by Neil Hughes on AppleInsider who tells us that Apple was third-largest consumer technology retailer in the U.S. in 2012 with 19.9% of all domestic consumer technology sales, based on revenue in the USA, with everyone else in the top 5 seeing their revenue falling.

Anyone who watches Apple is aware that sometimes staff turnover is high. Not always. For example Tony Li from Hong Kong was with Apple for over 20 years; and those like Phil Schiller and Bob Mansfield have been around for ages. Scott Forestall . . . ah, well that's another story. In a blog posting, Don Melton who started the Safari and WebKit projects at Apple, had been with the company for a while and is still loyal, but retired last year because, he writes, it was "Better to step aside and let others have their turn". His modest comments, and his apparent drive when he was with the company are worth reading about.

With the increasing popularity of the iPad, the number of specialist areas in which it is being used expands all the time. Education, of course, as well as the medical profession discovered the flexibility of the device early on; while airlines found it could provide considerable weight-saving, and the pilots were happier not having to lug all those books around for each flight.

Now Kevin Bostic reports on AppleInsider, the world of fashion has hitched onto the device and not just because it looks good but because some of the apps, like Paper by Fifty Three (this is good) makes sketching out ideas so much easier. There are other benefits such as direct selling and the fashion world is benefitting immensely.

Talking of education, Kelly Hodgkins on TUAW reports that a school board in Illinois is to distribute some 7,000 iPads to the students in a program that is funded by a three-year lease of US$1.43 million.

In a related note on SmartBrief, I read that educators are all for these devices because of the amount of value to students and teachers these provide instantly. I am increasingly finding my students use hand-held devices to look up words and information in class. I had wanted them to use real dictionaries, but what is the point when their iPhones, iPads and Android devices have these installed as apps. They can get the same information in a form - and using methods - they are more familiar with.

I know that the Apple stores are popular, and even here it is interesting these days to see a crowded iStudio right next to a shops that sells PC, Dell and Sony computers for example. The most telling thing is the kids crowding the displays, where they can get their hands on the iPads and iPhone and no one tells them, "Don't touch."

Desire leads to covetousness - we covet what we see every day (Hannibal Lecter) - and that sort of desire leads to crime. There have been several burglaries at Apple Stores and this week the one in Boulder, Colorado, had the glass front door broken by a (well, apt really) . . . boulder. Actually, three rocks were thrown and shattered the expensive door, Katie Marsal reports on AppleInsider, and the offender helped himself to merchandise worth $80,000 (less than the cost of the door).

I often recommend that users should have more than one account on a Mac: working in a user account and leaving the Admin account for special maintenance purposes only. Most of the time I am ignored of course and the range of excuses for those I have advised about the creation of such accounts, is quite outstanding, as are the excuses (and I am being polite of course). If I want to work in the Admin account, I can quickly access this using a feature known as Fast User Switching. This week, Rob Griffiths on MacWorld has an item on the feature and it is worth looking at. He goes further than me and suggests accounts for specific purposes, like a Presentations account. Interesting ideas.

One of the problems with the old CRT monitors was image burn in, for which one means of prevention was the screen saver. Now, there are similar effects being found with more modern types of displays and Steven Sande on TUAW reports of a problem he found recently with a new 27-inch iMac. Looking further he found that the MacBook Pro with certain panels may also show this. He had a look at the suggestions made by Apple (he provides a link) which include using a screen saver, and running it for a while to clear the persistent image.

A few months ago I also found a site that dealt with the problem of LCD Scrub. There is a test version of this on the ToastyCode site, but to unlock the full features a licence ($18) is needed.

And still that OS X 0.8.3 update has not arrived. Any bets on Wednesday or Thursday this week? There may be another Security release (or an update to XProtect) as well following an attack, via Facebook on a number of Macs at Apple that used a Java plugin for a browser, according to Jordan Kahn on 9to5 Mac. This may also have been the Chinese group mentioned above. A later report from AppleInsider tells us that Apple released a new version of Java for OS X to deal with this.

I checked Software Update, but did not find the Java upgrade for my computer. Instead I saw a new version of iTunes. Version 11.0.2 has a number of changes including a simplified payer, a new iTunes store view, a new composer view and several other fixes. The update is shown as 54.2 MB.

However, when I woke up that iOS 6.1.2 upgrade - fixing an Exchange calendar bug was waiting for me. There was no mention of any other fixes such as the expected passcode unlock problem.

Other Matters

Well, here is a novelty: Bill Gates says he is not satisfied with Microsoft's innovations. Nor apparently are the customers, Bill. And the main person to share the blame for this may actually be Bill Gates as he put the current CEO in the chair and suports him come hell or high water. He was recently interviewed on CBS and while appearing to support Ballmer, made the comment about not being satisfied to Charlie Rose, Steven Musil reports.

Mentioning things like "There's a lot of things like cell phones where we didn't get out in the lead very early" [and the Internet if memory serves correctly], adding ". . . the way we went about it didn't allow us to get the leadership. So it's clearly a mistake." That to me is a mistake: if you insist on leadership in every field, you are bound to be disappointed. Note that when the iPhone was introduced, Steve Jobs said that Apple was aiming for a 1% market share after the first year. That seems to have worked out quite well.

While we are on Microsoft, it was reported in a number of sources on Tuesday morning here that the version of Office for the Mac had had a silent price increase from (Student and Home Edition, for example) $139.95 to $149.95 according to a report on 9to5 Mac. That means that the 2011 Office for Mac costs the same as 2013 Office for Windows.

This is expected to make more customers move to Office 365 ($99 per year) which Redmond hopes will be its new cash cow. I wonder how many home users (at least) will wake up and see that Office is not really needed at all and that plenty of alternatives will do the job.

A number of reports early in the week were suggesting that some recent hacking attacks made in the USA were the responsibility of hackers in China, but that the group responsible was closely connected to the People's Liberation Army, Steven Musil reports. Of course, the Chinese are denying this completely but there seems to be some significant evidence for the allegations. I had first seen this via a Tweet on the iPhone that took me to an item by Josh Ong on TNW.

The Chinese connection is interesting in the light of some reading I did over the weekend concerning the alleged suicide of an American who had been working in Singapore. Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar of the Financial Times have a lengthy investigation into the death of Shane Todd, an electronics engineer who had been working for IME but before he quit (and that was when he died, by some coincidence) he had become worried about a project between IME and Huawei Technologies.

Now we have heard about the concerns that some western governments have about Huawei, particularly the governments of Australia, USA and UK. According to the report, the young man was working on a semi-conductor powered amplifier that had civilian applications but also significant military possibilities.

The actions of IME, the Singapore police (who declined assistance of the FBI), and the discovery of an external hard disk disk with significant information on it, have all the makings of a first-rate spy novel, but this is real life. All the facts point to a young man concerned about what he had been asked to do, but upbeat about his future, and then out of the blue an apparent suicide. This is worth a read. And more investigation.

Not much outcry on this either, but Samsung are being investigated for a cover up in one of its South Korean plants, Aaron Souppouris reports on The Verge. Gas leaks led to the death of a worker at a Semiconductor plant in Hwaseong, Korea. They were discovered and a maintenance fix ordered, but did not report the problem to authorities until after a worker had died. An update reports that the dead worker had been wearing a mask, but not a hazard suit.

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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