AMITIAE - Tuesday 21 January 2014

Cassandra: Midweek Comment - Apple Doom and Rumours; What Apple Must Do; iBookstuff; and Other Ideas

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


This week sees the 30th anniversary of the appearance of the first Mac. I did get my hands on one in 1985, a few months after they were released, but being so used to command-line DOS at the time, it overwhelmed me as much as my first try of OS X. Fortunately I soon overcame that. An interesting item by Mike Cassidy of the San Jose Mercury News, reproduced in the Berkshire Eagle, has some comments on the event as well as a 5-minute video that includes the Macintosh intro: Steve Jobs in bow tie [my source was MacDaily News].

Running the video again and listening to the reaction of the audience, I remember how much of a leap the idea of formatted text on a screen was at that time. To us it seems commonplace now, as does the idea of music coming from a computer, but not then. And as for the mouse. . . . And the software. And the fonts. And the voice (highlight text and use the key combination - see System Preferences - Dictation & Speech).

Next Monday (early Tuesday here), Apple will be reporting its latest quarter financial results and, as I mentioned at the weekend, this brings out the worst in some people. Well, actually, some analysts. They cannot let slip the opportunity to hit Cupertino, whether or not the facts support it. And if we are short on facts, hey, let's make something up: putting "Apple" in the headline will guarantee some hits.

One of the givens that had appeared at the end of last year and the beginning of this year was that Apple was going to fail with its latest iPhone, the 5s; and as for the iPhone 5c. . . . Apple made the mistake of not following all those "needs to" articles (see my Weekend comment, and below) by not coming out with the cheap iPhone that many Wall Street experts predicted, and insisted Apple needed to produce in order to survive.

Only, it appears they were wrong (not surprising for those who have been following Apple properly for a while) and Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Fortune reports that the consensus appears now to be that Apple sold lots and lots of iPhones: a figure of just over 55 million for the quarter is suggested. Not bad for a company that persistently follows its own guidance. Maybe they know something.

Using the Fortune report, Ben Lovejoy on 9to5 Mac also has some comments on this 16% increase and on the good sales of the iPads as well. Shane Cole on AppleInsider also had some similar information. On AppleInsider, Daniel Eran Dilger had some real analysis of the iPad sales figures and the way certain trends have been reversed.

One of the "needs to" products for a while has been the Phablet - a larger sized iPad. Jeff Gamet on The MacObserver looks at a rumour that has appeared in a new report, suggesting that pressure from Samsung is forcing Apple to release such a model.

I am not sure that Apple has ever been under much pressure from Samsung and the idea of rushing out a product because (a) another manufacturer is; or (b) analysts say they "must", ignores much Apple history. A note here, Jeff Gamet is just a messenger, not the source of the rumour. He rightly points out that DigiTimes is less than 100% reliable when it comes to Apple (much less); but he does want to back the Maybe horse, just in case.

Just to get some of this into a proper context, I give you The Macalope and "Apple doom enters 37th consecutive year"

This may be the perfect time to introduce an item by Harry McCracken on Time who does talk a lot of sense much of the time. He has a look at the "must" and "needs to" analysis that surrounds Apple, listing a number of the worst (and a couple that Apple did produce).

He does include Henry Blodget who is often loud but wrong about Apple, but not John Dvorak who has been wrong about Apple from the get-go ("The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a "mouse". There is no evidence that people want to use these things") and several times since. Trip Chowdhry deserves a mention to for financial analysis that misses the Apple mark over and over (Philip Elmer-DeWitt: "How wrong-headed can one Apple analyst be?"): how do these people keep their jobs.

Unsurprisingly, few of these would-be Apple experts write about the iBeacon. Now that's something that will make a difference in a few months time.

One of the products that is in the "needs to" category is the rumoured iWatch and as with other products that Apple never announces, there are rumours about this too. Ben Lovejoy (again) picks up comments from the Korean website DDaily - which later withdrew the item - who say that the "the iWatch display would be made by LG, and comprises a 1.52-inch plastic OLED (P-OLED) display", which suggests a curved face.

I have never been convinced by these rumours and doubt that Apple are developing such a product. Of course, this is about as bad as predicting that it exists, because I could be wrong. It would be one product I would not buy: haven't had a watch in years; and the last one had a long chain on it and went in my top pocket. I doubt that the iFob would ever come into being.

Along with this iWatch thing, we now have hot rumours about the next iPhone, which all the experts have dubbed the iPhone 6. And we know what it is going to have, don't we? Before continuing, I would remind anyone who has got this far about the firm information the rumour mill gave us concerning the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 the iPhone 5s and of course that sure thing, the cheap iPhone that Apple needed in order to survive. Shane Cole on AppleInsider picks up on another rumour that appeared (as well as the iWatch) on the Chinese-language website QQ Tech.

This came from a Chinese analyst who said that production is about to begin for a debut at the June WWDC. Just think about that for a moment: Apple never has a product that is in production 6 months before its release. That would mean a major tie up of distribution channels (Tim Cook's area of expertise) as well as a lot of capital, plus the risk of products leaking. She also thinks this will have a larger 1280 x 720 display. We will see.

A press release from Apple on Tuesday (21 Jan) tells us that the company is expanding its access to Educational Content with iBooks Textbooks and iTunes U Course Manager being made available in new markets across Asia, Latin America, Europe and elsewhere around the world. Multi-Touch textbooks with dynamic, current and interactive content will be available to teachers and students in 51 countries now including Brazil, Italy and Japan. iTunes U Course Manager is now available in 70 countries now including Russia, Thailand and Malaysia. This allows educators to create and distribute courses for their own classrooms, or share them publicly, on the iTunes U app.

I have mentioned the use of iTunesU before and there is usually a deer-in-the-headlights look from those I am speaking to. It is as if I am talking heresy. The idea of sharing teaching materials. Online. For others. Why? What would they get out of it? No recognition as publication. Others might take their materials and use them unacknowledged.

Although the press release says that iBooks Textbooks are available via the iPad, there was nothing there when I tried other than the usual copyright free content. I tried the link on the Apple iPad in Education web page, but when I clicked the "Browse iBooks textbooks" link I was told in iBooks on the Mac that this was only available in the US Store.

I guess reading the fine print (and checking the punctuation) it appears that iBooks textbooks "51 countries now including Brazil, Italy and Japan" does not include Thailand. However, iTunes U Course Manager, is "available in 70 countries now including Russia, Thailand and Malaysia. . ." or maybe the Textbooks section is coming soon. This is not clear and different sources have different interpretations, but with no "paid" iBookstore, my guess is that Thailand lucks out again. Never mind, iTunesU has some valuable content that is accessible if anyone here bothers to look.

While politicians promised students tablet computers on English-language election posters, what they got were Chinese-made devices, produced as cheaply as possible by the lowest bidder. Needless to say, the contract and the devices have not been perfect. The Thai parliament also rewarded itself with iPhones and iPads just to rub in the differences between "them and us." Now Kenya has announced that it is to spend $350,000 on iPads for its MPs and parliament staff, Shane Cole reports on AppleInsider. As Kenya is one of the more corrupt nations on this earth (Wikipedia), I have a bad feeling about this.

There are a couple of things I rail about often: backing up data; and passwords. Many here do not use passwords at all and put themselves at major risk, especially over theft or other loss of data (note - backups prevent loss). Many sources - such as Ben Lovejoy on 9to5 Mac - have reported this week that the most common password is no longer "password". This has fallen to #2 and been replaced at the top by "123456". The list of the top 25 passwords is shown in the article and it sort of makes me want to weep.

Mind you, the chief security expert in the UK suggests that this is not all bad and that 123456 is better than no password at all, The Guardian reports. I sometimes wonder about the UK, which was at the forefront of computer development in the 1940s and perhaps the 1950s, but has played follow my leader since. For example, it has taken over a week for someone to (apparently) find me on Facebook and send me a picture. Only I have not been "friended" by anyone from the UK recently, and certainly received no images.

The recent Chaos Computer Club Conference produced some interesting presentations and I am rather impressed by two. One concerns the security risks that may exist in the humble SD card (and the USB drive). I wrote a review of the presentation by xobs and bunnie earlier this week and the video, with a lengthy abstract is available via Security Tube.

Late on Tuesday I also saw a link to a video of a presentation called "To Protect and Infect: The Militarization of the Internet" by Claudio Guarnieri and Morgan Marquis-Boire. This is a theme which is becoming more and more evident with the amount of information appearing since the Snowden revelations began: governments want control or supervision of all aspects of internet use

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. 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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