AMITIAE - Saturday 15 February 2014

Cassandra: Weekend Comment (2) - Apple, Time-Warner, Comcast; Britain Closes the Net on its Citizens; and a Chocolate iPhone case

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


As I went through the middle of the week, I grabbed a few headlines, then a few more. Then more and more appeared that were either related to Apple or to other subjects I like to comment on. In the end, I decided that this weekend comment has to be split into two. In Part 2 there are comments and links to items on Apple TV, plus censorship problems that the UK has with its government: not even a majority government, but one shored up by the Liberals who never understand the real power they have.

We just had 30 years of Mac and the 30 logo is still showing on the Apple site, so it seems fairly sensible for Peter Cohen on iMore to look forward 30 years into the future. To me that seems like an impossible task. I won't even predict the next iPhone. However, he does seem about on the ball when discussing input to mobile devices using keyboards: emergency OK for me, but not as a permanent task; so that means the desktop may remain in one form or another.

Cohen also takes a broader look at Apple, bringing in some of the facts and comments we do know, not the fanciful rumours and changes of mind that some favour. Mind you, large screen TVs and iPads were predicted in 1938 in the HG Wells movie, The Shape of Things to Come, and it took another 60 years for them to appear.

Things to Come
Large screen HDTV from 1938

I was reminded of the cleverness of early film makers not only by The Shape of Things to Come this week, but by a 1950s movie, Ladies Who Do and another Wells movie, The Man who Could Work Miracles. In the former, Robert Morley plays a bit of a gambler who latches on to a group of cleaning ladies and together they take papers from the trash of the bosses, then invest using what is written on the trash: "Information is power" he says and it was a bit of a surprise to see this idea - circulated widely in the late 1980s and since - aired that early.

Things to Come
iPad from 1938

The other movie of course had to do with the exercise of power and as it was produced between the world wars had some rhetoric of the time. A lot of truth in both.

I saw these because I have been playing a lot more recently with the AppleTV I have. . . .

Early in the week there were some comments about a possible deal (AppleInsider) that Apple was alleged to be tying up with Time-Warner over content for AppleTV and then suddenly it was announced that Comcast was to take over Time-Warner which would obviously move the goalposts. As ever, when dealing with Apple, there are two opposite certainties according to the experts. It seems to play out like some children's pantomime: "Oh yes he will"; "Oh no he won't". Eventually we may have this resolved.

On the one hand, Jeff Gamet at The MacObserver argues that this would be good news for Apple opening the content to far more users. He also discusses a new AppleTV - an updated set-top box - not the TV that the analysts have been predicting for a couple of years.

On the other hand, AppleInsider sows the seeds of doubt over any Apple agreement with Time-Warner. There will be some subscribers left out owing to monopoly regulations, but they may be taken up by Charter Communications. TW was friendly towards Apple, but Comcast is allegedly lukewarm.

AppleTV Of course the additional content (if this becomes a reality) will probably only affect customers in the USA, which commentary tends to forget. All the rest of us in the outside world - that some in the US may be surprised to find is more than within America - would probably not have that new content. Different markets have different links and in Thailand we just have a few crumbs: Apple music and movies (not TV shows), some subscriber services and that is about it apart from a few free links, like YouTube.

Also in the equation is the idea of network throttling that certain services, like Netflix may have been subject to. Amy Schatz writing on re/code analyses this aspect of the merger and how it may bring things to a head, perhaps involving the FCC who have been trying (so far) to keep out of this. The head of the FCC says that the job of the FCC "is to make sure whatever happens is not anticompetitive, is not favoring one party." It was therefore interesting to look at an item in the LA Times by Michael Hiltzik, who examines Comcast's troubled past: "a company that has shown little regard for the fundamental principles of the open Internet".

A refreshing if somewhat negative view on AppleTV is given by Karl Bode on TechDirt who suggests that the potential revolution of the devices is more likely to be throttled by cowardly cable and broadcast executives. This one is more likely to be a probable scenario as it looks with a far broader view of the industry as a whole. As I tied this up, there was news that at least one consumer was to sue to prevent the take-over. This will play for a while.

Of course, we can always rely on some expert to know exactly what Apple is up to, long before the plans have been announced. Writing on ComputerWorld (perhaps not an Apple expert after all), Gregg Keizer tells us that there is no TV coming this year from Apple - that much has been obvious to me for the last year or so - but that the box is to be revamped.

He quotes certain experts wringing their hands about the no-screen option, including the utterly magic, "to go for a set-top box instead is an interesting calculation. Maybe they were inspired by Google's Chromecast, and believe an Apple TV would be a Trojan Horse into the living room for something more ambitious".

That same set top box that has been around for the last few years; and certainly before Chromecast? The article reads like a list of things Apple will not do, and those experts (I use the term loosely) cited are wallowing.

News this Friday excited a lot of people when it was revealed that the Japanese operation, Rakuten, paid $900 million for Viber with the CEO calling this a "no-brainer" Kara Swisher reports on re/code. With growing disconnect over the way Skype works these days, especially since Microsoft got it's grubby hands on the service and the revelations about the NSA, I had been looking at this service. Time to jump, methinks.

Also in that article is the interesting comment that, "Messaging apps are taking over the world. . . ." I thought I had downloaded this already, but this was not the case. So I looked on the iTunes store and down it came.

I look with some distaste at the way politicians and bureaucrats in the USA have been destroying the freedoms that had been built into the Constitution, but I am also annoyed by the seedy way in which the British are following suit, and more so. As well as the petty - and stupidly unnecessary - destruction of hard drives at the Guardian (when the government techies supervising knew that the data was intact elsewhere), there has been a general erosion of liberty in Britain with the Government (Tory now, but Labour was as bad), GCHQ, other bureaucrats and the police all in the vanguard, often making the law up as they go along.

New Scotland Yard I have been disturbed by the number of videos from the US and UK that show policemen bullying photographers who are legitimately taking photographs. By coincidence I was looking at the Metropolitan Police website this week and found their statement on photography. Just reading this makes it clear how wrong some of those policemen have been, especially when it comes to the individual officers ordering images to be deleted. Particularly interesting was this:

It would ordinarily be unlawful to use section 58A [of the Terrorism Act] to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests because there would not normally be grounds for suspecting that the photographs were being taken to provide assistance to a terrorist. An arrest would only be lawful if an arresting officer had a reasonable suspicion that the photographs were being taken in order to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

Also on that page, the public is told that the officers may not delete the images, so by ordering this they may commit an unlawful act. In the event that evidence is deleted, or an image of some value (photographs can be sold), the officers could be guilty of offences, starting with theft. I remember this from my days in the Police and the Theft Act 1968 is still in force. Section 4 defines property and reads in part, "includes money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property" [my italics].

What started me thinking about this government bullying was the report on TechDirt by Glyn Moody about the UK's Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that had a parody Twitter account shut down using new gagging legislation. Of course as it was shut down by the government, a freedom of information request was submitted with the reasons reading like a parody itself.

In the 1970s there was a great British TV comedy program, Yes Minister (which also developed into Yes Prime Minister). It was ruthless in a gently humourous way (that is parody after all) on the way it took government to task. It was so well liked that even Mrs Thatcher made a cameo appearance; and she did not suffer fools gladly. Despite some people revering her memory, Britain is now reaping the problems she sowed in the 1980s.

TechDirt reports that Twitter did change its mind and the account was reinstated. One hopes the DWP minions suffered no real harm at the hands of their ridiculous bosses.

One of the programs introduced by the ever-looming British state was the porn filter. This was to remove all that nasty content and protect the kiddies. As was warned, not only was some porn deflected but also access to a lot of legitimate sites, including sites that dealt with health matters (Breast cancer? Oooh, you can't see breasts). Now Her Majesty's Government is taking this further and Karl Bode reports on TechDirt that "the slope in the UK is moving beyond slippery and is getting downright muddy" as now filters for extremism are to be introduced.

So if it does not say what we want it to say, or says something we happen to disagree with, cut it out. I am sure that will also mean preventing access to a great many political sites that may actually teach us something. Actually, I would rather be able to look at an extremist site and try to understand what is being said, and then reject the message myself, not have the state make the decision for me.

Over in the USA there was some disquiet recently when Ford announced that there was tracking software in all its new cars and the company knew where all the drivers were going. In the light of revelations from the NSA (and the drone program) this made a lot of people worried, including Sen Al Franken who asked some pertinent questions. This week the reply from Ford in PDF form was made public by Franken's office and the first paragraph appears to be a total back-down from what had been claimed earlier.

The comments made it clear (according to Ford) that no location data was transmitted without the customer's permission. Too late. The cat is out of the bag. And reading about how consent is obtained seems a little thin to me: most users will just press, Yes, yes, yes, to get to use the service.

chocolate So where could disposable email addresses fit into all of this. Jack Purcher reports on Patently Apple that Cupertino now has a patent for this. It is intended for junk mail and online shopping, but also may have other possibilities.

And talking of disposable items, the best news of the week for me came from Steve Sande on TUAW who reports on an iPhone case from Grove and Woodblock Chocolate. They are not actually for sale, and in this part of the world would be a disaster (tried chocolate digestives?), but I guess it is the thought that counts.

And you bet I was careful putting that chocolate near my iPhone. . . .

See Also:

Cassandra: Weekend Comment (1) - Apple Sells More Devices than the Rest; Fading Microsoft Batshit Crazy; Healthcare Personnel; Other News

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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