AMITIAE - Wednesday 29 January 2014

Cassandra: Midweek Comment - Financial Fallout, Reactions to Apple Products, Security, and Tech Advice for a Former Student (Updated)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


The main Apple news this week is in two parts: success and failure. This means that everything is going on as it normally does, with Apple producing record profits quarter after quarter; and Wall Street wringing its metaphorical hands because every silver lining has a cloud around it. Before the results were out, I wrote my predictions (I was right) and followed the announcements with some comments.

I really forget how many times I have written this or similar themes: Wall Street sees a few weeks or months into the future as far as Apple is concerned, but Apple looks at a long-term future. Mind you, I still wonder why Wall Street gives Amazon a pass each time it produces a loss: they would have to have been looking really way, way into the future to see the silver lining there. But not with Apple, despite having been given the ocular proof over and over again.

Don't take my word for it: by definition, a column named Cassandra deserves not to be believed. There are always a number of writers - just like me - who will always root for the home team. Some however are clearly independent and respected, such as Horace Dedieu of ASYMCO who backs up comments with some sound figures. A recent issue of The Felder Report refers to "Mr Market" and I found this via a Tweet from John Gruber. He comments on the "disappointing" iPhone sales of 51 million units which were slightly lower than analysts estimates. The analysts produce these figures using guesswork and shifting of components that suggest a probable number of units. Apple knows.

For a useful explanation of this, Mark Rogowsky on Forbes has a good examination of the way some analysts work, compared to the firm figures of Apple. Jesse Felder links to a Wired article, Why Nothing Apple Does Is Ever Good Enough on the same theme, and also mentions Carl Icahn, someone I do not trust near Apple. That Wired article also mentions him.

While Wall Street was running round like Chicken Little, Icahn bought another $500 million shares (Zac Hall, 9to5 Mac; and others) to add to the $1 billion he bought a little while ago, which brings his share in Apple to 1%. This may appear small, but it brings with it the noise and influence of Icahn that some companies never recover from.

The Wall Street Journal also looked at Icahn this week and Al Lewis made the excellent point that Carl Icahn is not stupid. More, he gets rich by studying stupid people. He is after Apple and wants the company to increase its buyback plans: to make him rich of course. Lewis quotes Ronnie Moas, a stock analyst: "I have no respect for Carl Icahn. . . He needs to start using his power in a different way."

[Update] Not long after putting this online, I was directed to a Market Watch item by Rex Crum that cited Carl Icahn in reference to his $500 million purchase of Apple shares:

Icahn also took a swipe at those who sold off the company's stock, saying on CNBC that they "completely misinterpreted" Apple's results and opportunities for growth.

I can only agree.

Slightly related (and related to the general theme so far this time) was an item by Linus Edwards on initial reactions to Apple products. I have mentioned this in the past, certainly with respect to the original iPhone, but also with later models, especially the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5s. I look at the full technical information that comes with these announcements and it is easy to see what improvements have been made.

Many who claim to be experts missed the A7 chip, for example. With both of those iPhones, the initial reaction was that Apple was dead in the water; but then the real analysis (iFixit, AnandTech and others) took place and there was a collective, "Oh yeah". In the meanwhile, the customers ignored the analysts and the experts and bought the iPhones.

Edwards had looked back at the original Mac, because this week is its 30th Anniversary, and highlights a review in the New York Times. That review missed the point, perhaps because the GUI was too new. After all, we were all happily pecking away at command line DOS back then. I was. The comments from Edwards also look at introductions of the original iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad (although by then David Pogue was one of those who did get it in the main).

The item ends with a revealing comment and one that Wall Street might also think about: "Luckily, most consumers didn't listen to these reviews and bought Apple products anyway, because Apple was speaking to them, not the reviewers."

One of the great products that Apple has introduced is the iPad. This has brought non-technical computing - access to content without the fuss - to many people who might not otherwise have been able to get online. Some suggest that this type of device may replace computers in the future. I have tried to reduce my reliance on the Mac, but except for a few features, and some emergency access (and despite a Bluetooth keyboard), I am not able to do this just yet. I prefer working on the Mac.

There is an interesting article that looks at the idea of this device interchange, by Ben Thompson on Stratechery. In his investigation of the limits of the tablet device and of the PC, he has some nice looking, hand-drawn diagrams that are perfect for the task. He concludes,

Ultimately, it is the iPad that is in fact general purpose. It does lots of things in an approachable way, albeit not as well as something that is built specifically for the task at hand. The Mac or PC, on the other hand, is a specialized device, best compared to the grand piano in the living room: unrivaled in the hands of a master, and increasingly ignored by everyone else.

I am not sure I quite agree, but the ideas may be right for some users.

I have had an Apple TV for a while but do not make a great deal of use as the content is limited. I could buy (or rent) movies, but if there is nothing on the True channels, I just turn the box off. Some evenings when I just want to vegetate, I end up watching a rerun of a rerun of a rerun of a 3rd rate movie. It is the good ones that don't appear and Apple TV movie content here is really restricted, although some of the Classics and some documentaries now available look reasonable: but where are the greats or the recents?

Just after the Apple financial report, when some answers from Tim Cook were analysed for any gems, there was a rumour that the Apple TV was to be updated. Christian Zibreg writing on iDownload brings together some recent noises. It appears that the faster 802.11ac wifi standard could be added, which pleases me as I already have the Apple Airport Extreme router with this capability. Added to this, it seems there may be gaming functionality, a TV tuner and that 802.11ac could also be a router.

In quick succession I saw that the Apple Online Store for Thailand also now has a specific AppleTV section, then a local user, whom I know accesses the US Apple TV, mentioned that he now had Red Bull TV. I turned my TV and the AppleTV box on and sure enough that service was now shown, along with several more channels that had just been added, including the long-awaited iCloud Photos.


Another article, this time from AppleBitch also picked up on the AppleTV rumours and also noted that the Apple Store had that new section. However, there was a suggestion that this could be no more than a tacit recognition that the iPod is almost ready to be retired.

It is perhaps a good time to mention the series on the Apple TV that is being put out by Josh Centers on TidBits. This is now up to Chapter 11: Do More with Apple TV. There is only a teaser amount unless you have an account with TidBits but it does give an indication of what is to come. He will put this out as a Book in February.

Not long after the financial results were made available, Apple also put out a Press Release on its necessary cooperation with the NSA. If the NSA has an order Apple (or any other organization) must comply. I put out some comments on this release, with a PNG image of the release, mainly as the document has only details of requests made by the NSA for information on US citizens. The rest of us don't count of course.

I later had an email from someone in the US, suggesting that, there may not only be backdoors (via apps such as Angry Birds) but a "front door" as well. I have seen nothing that directly suggests this, but users must presume that any connected device may allow others access to personal information.

Some of the slides concerning the spying have been released and this week Mike Masnick on TechDirt had some of them, including mention of Angry Birds and many other ways data might be accessed. Mike Masnick also had some more information on the FBI access to Tormail and the ghastly news that it may have downloaded the entire database. That means it has the data, can find some juicy bits, then ask for a warrant.

All of this is going to lose the Democrats the presidency, but the alternative will be no better when it comes to this.

Talking of personal security, I had email on Wednesday afternoon that sort of claimed it came from PayPal: not that there werre any logos. Even normal phishing gets that right. According to the email - which came from - I had just sent a payment to "Facebook intl Ltd" - I mean this creaks. I had not sent anything of course, but I was already alert; but if I had not authorized this, I should click on the convenient "Log In" link, which would take me to a Polish address.

Not PayPal

I had 4 of these false emails, each addressed to me and 14 others. I expect this email information came via Facebook. By the way, if you were wondering about delays when using a browser, the True service took 10 hops before the request left the country.

Twitter messages on Wednesday lunchtime here circulated a link to an article by Naoki Hiroshima on Medium who relates how his unique Twitter name (@N) was stolen from him.

What is worse about this tale is the ease with which a hacker was able to gain enough secure information from PayPal to hobble the GoDaddy account and take over the whole of Naoki's online existence until he released the @N account. It is a sobering read and I hope that with some of the responses I saw, there will be a follow up. He will be leaving GoDaddy and Paypal soon.

I had an interesting problem early Wednesday evening when a former student - a computer engineer who now wants to be a professional golfer - contacted me using What's App with one of those "help" requests. He had been trying to install OS X 10.9, Mavericks on his 2-year old 13" MacBook Pro when there was a message: Not enough space. He rebooted several times, but could not start OS X; it sent him back to the Install page each time.

Trying to get information was not easy and it was not just because of the messaging app. He managed to start up into the Rescue partition (Command + R). I asked about Firewire or Thunderbolt ports, but he was not sure. he did not have access to a second Mac or an external disk with OS X installed. When I asked about the disk space, he told me that it was formatted 50-50 OS X and Windows, which is common with some engineering students, but that the disk only had 61 MB of space. I checked and he confirmed, MegaBytes not GigaBytes. I left the following instructions on what he might do next:

  1. Another Mac connected via Firewire or Thunderbolt and start the problem Mac in Target Mode (Use the T key).

  2. Startup with an external disk that has OS X installed. Access the disk on the computer and clear out what files can be trashed.

  3. Risky. Start up in Single User Mode (Command + S) and mount the disk, then access accounts to remove files and make enough space.

  4. Format the partition and start again. Presuming (I wrote) that you have a backup. "You do have a backup?"

I heard no more. . . .

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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