By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 0 Comments
One of the more interesting revelations to come out of Apple’s management shuffle this week, which saw iOS software head Scott Forstall turfed because of the Maps fiasco, is the apparent war on skeuomorphism inside One Infinite Loop. For those who aren’t design-minded, a skeuomorph is a product design element that hints at something which previously served a functional role (like spokes on a car’s hub caps).
Forstall was a big proponent of using these sorts of ornamental—some say “tacky”— flourishes in Apple’s software: the green velvet background of the games application, the leather binding on iCal or the wooden bookshelf in Newsstand. The late Steve Jobs also favoured the approach, believing it helped put a soft edge on the sometimes cold world of technology. In fact, Jobs instructed Apple’s software designers to use a linen-like texture in the iPhone’s notifications menu, which is swiped down like a roman blind.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
I bring you big news on Apple tablets, a full day before the official announcement of the iPad Mini:
Yes, $250, the expected starting price of the new iPad Mini (or Air), is also the going Craigslist rate for used 1st generation iPads. It’s tomorrow’s price today, and as a bonus you’ll get a full-sized screen. If it’s scratched, you can probably haggle it down to $230. You’ll meet an interesting new person, and you won’t pay taxes.
Hate me yet?
Sorry everybody, but there’s no better time than right before a Cupertino product announcement to
troll Apple fansquestion society’s troubling devotion to the Apple cult. I’ve been called a partisan for suggesting Android tablets as an alternative to the pricey and constraining iPad, so let me clear the record by stating definitively that the iPad remains, by a small margin, the best tablet computer I’ve used. The problem is, none of the advancements since the first iPad have improved the experience much, while the sticker-price has yet to rationalize.
After a decade of technological innovation, Apple is now coasting on fumes, offering minor upgrades or pointless variations in increasingly transparent efforts to keep the product cycle spinning. Whereas once their products changed our lives, they are now marketed in Apple-speak as revolutionizing only themselves. iPhone 5, as the slogan goes, is ”the biggest thing to happen to iPhone since iPhone.” Not since the Smurfs smurfed us very much has a product degenerated into such nauseating solipsism.
So: is the world clamouring for smaller tablet computers? Not really. But there exists a huge untapped market for cheaper tablets, which Apple doesn’t want to surrender to Android or anyone else. Without cannibalizing their own top-tier iPads, they are set to offer a down-market product in the form of the iPad Mini, which it seems Apple is slashing its profit margin on.
It’s an aggressive move to bring new markets (educational and developing nations included) into the Apple fold, where they will be constrained from buying music, apps, movies and books that are not sold by Apple.
As an independent critic who doesn’t get kickbacks (or even product loans, for God’s sakes) from any tech company, far be it for me to advertise for the competition by suggesting that an open alternative like Android might be the way to go.
Instead: if you want a cheaper iPad, by all means, buy an old iPad. It’s the best iPad to iPad iPad since iPad.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown
By The Associated Press - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 6:09 AM - 0 Comments
BEIJING, China – The company that manufactures Apple’s iPhone said Tuesday it found underage interns as young as 14 working at one of its factories in China.
BEIJING, China – The company that manufactures Apple’s iPhone said Tuesday it found underage interns as young as 14 working at one of its factories in China.
Foxconn Technology Group said the interns were found by a company investigation at its factory in the eastern city of Yantai and were sent back to their schools. China’s minimum legal working age is 16.
Foxconn, owned by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., said it was investigating with schools how the interns were sent to its factory. It didn’t say how many underage interns it found.
“We recognize that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologized to each of the students for our role in this action,” Foxconn said in a statement. “Any Foxconn employee found, through our investigation, to be responsible for these violations will have their employment immediately terminated.”
Foxconn produces iPhones and iPads for Apple Inc. and also assembles products for Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. The company gave no indication what products were made in facilities where the interns worked.
A labour rights group, China Labor Watch, said in a statement that primary responsibility lay with schools involved but “Foxconn is also culpable for not confirming the ages of their workers.”
Conditions in factories in China are a sensitive issue for foreign brands that outsource production of shoes, consumer electronics and other goods to local contractors. Last month, Foxconn suspended production for one day at a factory in the city of Taiyuan following a brawl by as many as 2,000 employees that injured 40 people.
Foxconn is one of China’s biggest employers, with about 1.2 million employees in factories in several cities.
The company has an internship program that takes vocational students who work for three to six months in its factories, accompanied by teachers.
Foxconn faced a complaint in August that vocational students were compelled by their schools to work in its factories in China. Foxconn said the students were free to leave at any time.
The Fair Labor Association, which was hired by Apple to audit working conditions at Foxconn factories, said in August that improvements it recommended in March were being carried out ahead of schedule. That included verifying the ages of student interns.
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 3:04 PM - 0 Comments
Thanks to blogger Marcel Brown, we now have another piece of evidence that the late Steve Jobs was indeed a visionary. Brown tracked down a cassette tape recording of a talk Jobs gave in 1983 to a relatively obscure group called the International Design Conference in Aspen. The title of the talk was “The Future Isn’t What it Used to Be.”
Although Brown says Jobs’ prepared remarks from the talk had already been posted in June, the full recording also includes a lengthy question and answer session where Jobs’ most intriguing insights are revealed. In the tape, Jobs talks about how he sees the personal computer and Internet evolving as primarily a communications tool that supports a wide range of niche interests (at the time the Internet was a network that linked mainly university computers and it would be another six years before Tim Berners-Lee wrote his proposal for what would become the World Wide Web).
Jobs also talks about his goal of shrinking a computer down so that it fits in a book, possibly equipped with a radio antenna. In addition to the iPad, he even appears to have already been thinking about iTunes and the App Store, talking about the need for the software equivalent of a radio station that would allow people to sample different programs, over the phone lines, before buying them for their machines. At the end of the Q&A, Jobs is asked about speech recognition and launches into a discussion about how tricky it is to accomplish—a challenge Apple’s engineers still wrestle with today as they attempt to perfect Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated personal assistant.
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 11:43 AM - 0 Comments
I was hoping not to write anything more about the iPhone after the flurry of activity last week, but one thing about the device – not just the new iPhone 5 model that sold more than five million units over the weekend, but all versions – still bugs me. The price.
As we learned in the patent case against Samsung, Apple is making a huge profit on the iPhone. According to court documents, the margin is double on what the company earns on the iPad. As Reuters puts it:
Apple Inc earned gross margins of 49 to 58 percent on its U.S. iPhone sales between April 2010 and the end of March 2012.
Between October 2010 and the end of March 2012, Apple had gross margins of 23 to 32 percent on its U.S. iPad sales, which generated revenue of more than $13 billion for Apple, the filing said. Apple does not typically disclose profit margins on individual products.
As I wrote recently, the reason Apple makes so much more on the iPhone is because it isn’t really selling the devices to consumers, it’s selling them to wireless carriers. The carriers turn around and sell the phones at a discounted rate in exchange for the subscriber signing on to a contract. In Canada, this inevitably means a three-year commitment.
By The Associated Press - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
BERLIN – Switzerland’s national rail company accused Apple Inc. on Friday of stealing the…
BERLIN – Switzerland’s national rail company accused Apple Inc. on Friday of stealing the iconic look of its station clocks for the iOS 6 operating system used by iPhone and iPad mobile devices.
Both designs have a round clock face with black indicators except for the second hand, which is red.
A spokesman for the Swiss Federal Railways, or SBB, said the Apple design was “identical” to the one pioneered by the rail company in 1944.
“We are proud that this icon of clock design is being used by a globally successful company,” Reto Kormann told The Associated Press, but he noted that Apple hadn’t asked for permission before doing so.
“We’ve approached Apple and told them that the rights for this clock belong to us,” he said.
Kormann said SBB would seek an “amicable agreement” with Apple that could see the clock design used in return for a license fee.
Apple’s public relations offices in Germany and Switzerland didn’t respond to repeated calls and emails requesting comment.
The Cupertino, California-based company has itself launched several patent and design rights claims against rival companies in the past.
Last month it won a $1.05 billion judgment against Samsung Electronics in a U.S. patent case.
The new iPhone 5 was launched Friday in eight countries.
By Peter Nowak - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 10:05 AM - 0 Comments
There’s a war going on for control of the world, in a figurative sense. We’re not talking about nation versus nation or a clash of ideologies (okay, on that one, maybe we are). We’re talking about Google versus Apple. More specifically, the maps that each company serves up on their respective smartphones—the applications that literally guide us around the world in our daily lives.
As almost every iPhone 5 reviewer has noted, including yours truly, Apple’s new device—which goes on sale today—is amazing in almost every way, with maps being a notable exception. For reasons no one is sure of yet, Apple has ditched Google-supplied data and is instead building its app using information supplied by GPS maker TomTom and a few other sources.
So, if you buy an iPhone 5 or new iPod that runs the latest software, iOS 6, or if you download that iOS 6 onto an older iPhone, iPod or iPad, you’ll get the new maps app. If you refrain from updating to the new software, you’ll keep the older version. For how long is another unknown.
App developers have noted that the foundation of Apple’s new maps system is actually quite good, it’s just lacking in data. As I mentioned in my review, there are some glaring omissions. The maps of Toronto, for example, show streetcar stops, but some subway stations are missing. It’s also given me faulty directions and locations on several occasions. And we all know that going to the wrong place because your GPS told you to go there is just about the worst thing ever.
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 9:45 AM - 0 Comments
The other day, a friend asked me whether he should buy the new iPhone 5. By virtue of writing about technology and gadgets for a living, it’s a question I get all the time – not necessarily about the new iPhone, but friends generally wanting advice on what smartphone they should get.
There’s never a simple answer, since every person’s needs are different. And it’s not just the device itself that matters, the carriers that offer them also factor into such a decision. My response is therefore always a flurry of questions in return: do you like physical keyboards, what kind of computer do you use, do you want to surf the web a lot, how much do you want to spend, do you travel a lot? Oh, and what are your politics? More on that last one in a second.
From there, we winnow down the options. If the buyer is on a budget, we’ll generally talk Android phones. If they don’t leave their home city much, we’ll discuss discount carriers such as Wind and Mobilicity. If a keyboard is a must, then it’s on to BlackBerry.
By Scaachi Koul - Friday, September 14, 2012 at 2:34 PM - 0 Comments
Canadians are going to have to wait a little longer to get their hands…
Canadians are going to have to wait a little longer to get their hands on the latest iPhone generation.
Demand for the iPhone 5 has grown so much that there’s already a two-week wait list on Apple’s website after Friday pre-orders opened at midnight. Customers can anticipate an Oct. 2 shipping date according to a Eaton Centre representative in Toronto.
Apple initially promised a Sept. 21 delivery but the delivery time grew by two weeks just four hours later. Locked phones with contracts will still be available on Sept. 21.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, September 14, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
People planning on buying an iPhone 5 are not necessarily stupid. True, all of its new features—LTE, a higher resolution screen, and longer battery life—can be found for less on various Android handsets. And yes, other features common to Android phones, like near field communication, are absent on the new iPhone. It is also true that Apple has again pooped on its faithful by introducing yet another unique dock connector, thus rendering millions of sound systems and peripherals slightly obsolete (you’ll need to buy a clunky adaptor).
But none of that means that you’re dumb if you want one anyway. The new iPhone looks great, and by all reports, feels even better. Venerated Apple designer Jony Ive is correct when he says in this cult indoctrination, I mean, promo video that your phone is probably the product you use most in your life. We spend more time each day holding our phones than we spend holding our loved ones, so surely it’s worth something to have one that feels just right in your palm. How much is that worth? For me, not as much as an iPhone.
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
All eyes will be on Apple CEO Tim Cook today as he steps on stage at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center. He is expected to unveil the iPhone 5 after months of leaks and speculation about the latest iteration of Apple’s flagship device. And it’s not just consumers who are waiting with bated breath. So, apparently, is the entire U.S. economy.
But the real story may turn out to be Cook himself. Since he took over as CEO following Steve Jobs’ death last year, there have been persistent questions about how the iPhone and iPad-maker might change under his stewardship. So far, Cook has established himself as an extremely capable replacement. Under his watch, sales have continued to climb and Apple’s shares have soared more than 75 per cent, making Apple the world’s most valuable company—ever.
Yet, for all of that, most would agree that some of the magic appeared to die with Jobs. For consumers, at least, there has been a notable lack of things to get truly excited about lately. The iPhone 4S was widely viewed as more of product update as opposed to an Apple-style breakthrough. The same goes for the latest iPad. Instead, headlines during the past year have focused more on run-of-the-mill corporate activities, ranging from Cook’s decision to pay dividends to shareholders (Jobs preferred to hoard cash) to Apple’s high-profile patent lawsuit fight with Samsung and its ongoing war with Google. Suddenly, Apple is starting to look like just another giant company, albeit an incredibly successful one.
Of course, it’s not like Apple under Jobs wasn’t run like a big corporation. It was. And much of what Apple is now doing was set in motion by Jobs himself—particularly the lawsuits. The difference, though, is that Jobs had an uncanny ability to make people forget about the more mundane side of Apple’s corporate activities, and focus instead on the company’s wondrous products—the famous “reality distortion field” at work. It was a key ingredient to Apple’s success.
Many are now waiting to see whether Cook can pull off the same trick.
By Anick Jesdanun, The Associated Press - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 6:49 AM - 0 Comments
Watch our site for live coverage of the launch at 1 p.m.
NEW YORK, N.Y. – After weeks of speculation, anticipation and a dose of hype, Apple is widely expected to announce a new smartphone at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Apple isn’t saying anything about the topic of the event, but the email invitation it sent to reporters contains a shadow in the shape of a “5” — a nod to the iPhone 5. It is being held in San Francisco at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, where Apple has held many product launches.
The new model is expected to work with fourth-generation, or 4G, cellular networks. That capability is something Samsung’s Galaxy S III and many other iPhone rivals already have. A bigger iPhone screen is also possible. The new model will likely go on sale in a week or two.
Apple Inc. also plans to update its phone software this fall and will ditch Google Inc.’s mapping service for its own, as a rivalry between the two companies intensifies.
In a related development, Google said Tuesday that it is releasing a new YouTube app for the iPhone and the iPad. The changes come amid the expiration of a five-year licensing agreement that had established YouTube as one of the built-in applications in Apple’s mobile devices.
By LuAnn LaSalle, The Canadian Press - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 7:49 AM - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – Bell will launch a “made-in-Canada” competitor to Netflix and other big U.S. online TV and entertainment providers, CEO George Cope said Monday as part of his pitch for the company’s $3.4-billion acquisition of Astral Media.
The service would be available on demand on any device, and showcase Canadian and international movies from Astral’s pay TV services, such as HBO Canada and The Movie Network, as well as news, sports and entertainment content from Bell Media.
“(It’s) a made-in-Canada service — available in English and French everywhere we have rights — to all Canadians through the cable, satellite or IPTV provider of their choice,” Cope told a CRTC hearing into the acquisition.
More than 10 per cent of Canadians now subscribe to Netflix, which accounts for more than 11 million hours of TV viewing per week, Cope said.
“The Canadian system needs companies with the scale to compete against foreign content companies like Netflix, Apple, Google and Amazon,” he said.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 8:50 PM - 0 Comments
Tech giants are builiding off-campus data centres for storage
From above, the warehouses look as nondescript as a Costco. But inside they house the backbones of some of today’s biggest, most important companies. As online services like cloud computing grow, and people move to store more of their lives online, the push is on to build ever more efficient and secure data centres. Firms like Facebook, Google and Apple have spurred a mini-building boom in server farms for the computers that keep their services humming.
In Prineville, Ore., Facebook recently built a 330,000 sq.-foot data centre. It uses outside air to keep computers from overheating (most centres use pricey air conditioning to regulate temperature). Next door is a smaller, 62,000 sq.-foot building dubbed “Sub-Zero.” It will house a new type of backup storage system that powers down when not in use, further cutting electricity consumption. Facebook is surprisingly transparent about its centre’s features. Many rival operations boast security guards and iris scanners, and their precise locations are kept secret. Recently, aerial shots of Apple’s new 500,000 sq.-foot facility in Maiden, N.C., were released by Wired. Apple is also building a 21,000 sq.-foot “tactical data centre” on the same lot. Some speculate it could be a biofuel cell plant to power the centre. Apple is also said to be building another new data centre in Reno, Nev.
Data centres tend to be built in Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia due to the cheap, plentiful electricity and generous tax incentives. In turn, the centres have sparked a mini-employment boom in local communities. Facebook reportedly spends $3.5 million in payroll for its data-farm employees.
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 11:16 AM - 0 Comments
As numerous analysts have pointed out, this week could make or break Nokia as it shows off its new Windows Phone 8 devices at a press event in New York. “Make” is actually a strong word – “stave off death” is probably more appropriate.
The storied Finnish cellphone maker, in partnership with Microsoft, is benefiting from some good timing in light of the big setback handed to Samsung by a court two weeks ago. With the court siding with Apple in that epic patent dispute, Samsung and other phone manufacturers using Google’s Android operating system are likely to be slowed down in the near term, at least in the all-important U.S. market.
That gives Nokia, which essentially put all of its eggs into Microsoft’s basket last year, a window of opportunity. Wireless carriers are now especially inclined to push Windows phones, to prevent Apple and perhaps even Android from gaining too much power over them.
So far though, Nokia and Microsoft have failed to spark the imaginations of the buying public. Windows phones, despite promising a very different experience from iPhone and Android devices, have captured less than 4 per cent of the global market, according to Strategy Analytics. That’s compared to 17 and 68 per cent respectively for Apple and Google. (BlackBerry, by the way, has plummeted to just 6 per cent, according to IDC.)
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 1:57 PM - 0 Comments
There was a ton of commentary over the weekend on what happens after Apple’s $1 billion win over Samsung, with the likeliest scenario being that the latter appeals. But should the verdict stand, the biggest effect will be on Android phones overall. Apple’s victory could send a temporary chill through the market, with all manufacturers – not just Samsung – giving second thoughts to their Android devices. After all, no one is going to risk releasing a device that has a good chance of getting them sued. Google may have to work some fundamental redesigns into its operating system to avoid this sort of thing happening again, while manufacturers themselves will have to make sure their actual designs are clearly distinct from Apple products.
The more likely scenario is that Android phone makers will have to pay Apple a license fee on the patents. Earlier this year, the company reportedly offered these manufacturers a deal that would have seen them paybetween $5 and $15 on each device. Given the big court win, such a fee could be expected to come in on the high end now. Some critics have said this is going to result in more expensive phones. While that’s true, adding $15 or so to the cost is not going to break anybody’s bank.
Of course, that’s assuming Apple is actually willing to license its technology. If Steve Jobs, who told his biographer in no uncertain terms that he wanted to destroy Android, were still alive, it would be a safe bet that no licensing deals would be offered. This is a company that has resisted licensing its Macintosh operating system for much of its existence, after all. If Jobs’ successors take the same approach, it could indeed be back to the drawing board for Google and its Android partners.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, August 27, 2012 at 1:27 PM - 0 Comments
It took jurors three days to decide what an eight year old could have told you in seconds: Samsung copied Apple. Look at an iPhone, then look at a Galaxy. It’s obvious. But so what?
Though Apple was quick to describe the decision as a victory for its core values of “originality” and “innovation,” let’s remember some of the real values Apple is built upon. Steve Jobs, who once quoted (stole?) Picasso’s line about great artists stealing, was himself a wonderfully original thief. All of Apple’s innovations are slick remixes of pre-existing ideas, from the graphic user interface Jobs lifted from Xerox (which Bill Gates later copied from him) to the iPod, which Apple has acknowledged was basically invented by this British guy in 1979. Technology, like all of human culture, progresses bit by bit as we build on each other’s work. Patents are a regulatory system imposed on technology, intended to make sure that inventors get paid for inventing. But they didn’t work out for the British dude who invented the digital audio player, and they aren’t working now.
By The Canadian Press - Monday, August 20, 2012 at 12:56 PM - 0 Comments
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Apple is the world’s most valuable company, ever.
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Apple is the world’s most valuable company, ever.
On Monday, its surging stock propelled the company’s value to $621 billion, beating the record for market capitalization set by Microsoft Corp. in the heady days of the Internet boom.
Apple’s stock has hit new highs recently because of optimism around what is believed to be the impending launch of the iPhone 5, and possibly a smaller, cheaper iPad.
Apple Inc. has been the world’s most valuable company since the end of last year. It’s now worth 53 per cent more than No. 2 Exxon Mobil Corp.
The comparison to Microsoft does not take inflation into account. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the software giant was worth about $850 billion on Dec. 30, 1999. Microsoft is now worth $257 billion.
By Chris Sorensen - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 1:42 PM - 0 Comments
The leading players in the global smartphone market have very different ideas about what the future should look like
Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated “virtual assistant,” kicked off this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June by cracking jokes about San Francisco’s weather, Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists and other subjects only software engineers could find funny (“How many developers does it take change a light bulb? None, that’s a hardware problem”). But it wasn’t long before Siri launched a few verbal jabs at Google, as well as the Asian manufacturing giants that now churn out millions of iPhone-esque devices to run on its Android mobile software. “I’m excited about the new Samsung,” Siri deadpanned in her digital twang. “Not the phone—the refrigerator. Hubba, hubba.”
Siri’s gentle ribbing masked a deeper fallout between Apple and Google, once strategic partners. Before he died, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told his biographer that Android was “grand theft” of the iPhone concept. “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” he said. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
Many assumed Jobs was referring to the avalanche of patent infringement lawsuits Apple has launched against Samsung, HTC and others. But in recent months it’s become clear he had other plans too. At the same June developer’s conference, Apple unveiled a new mapping application that will replace Google Maps on the iPhone and iPad. Then, earlier this month, Apple revealed that iPhones and iPads would no longer ship with Google’s popular YouTube app pre-installed. Even Siri, though still a beta project, is considered by some to be an eventual replacement for Google’s ubiquitous search engine on future Apple machines. “Apple wants to cut the cord—any ties it has to Google,” says Kevin Restivo, a senior analyst with research firm IDC. “It’s a classic turf grab. The more control you have over the smartphone operating system and the user experience, the more lucrative it is.”
By Andrew Stobo Sniderman - Friday, July 13, 2012 at 1:39 PM - 0 Comments
But rest-assured, the computer glasses are still in the works
Google recently announced it is pulling the plug on five products—yes, the days of underwhelming Google Video are numbered—which brings its total of aborted projects to 25 in the last year and a half alone. Some of these products became obsolete, others were deemed expendable. Google claims this shows a renewed “focus” on “higher-impact products.” Perhaps. Or it may simply be more evidence the company continues to be ruthless with its own innovations. Google is a successful, self-immolating hydra: it generates ideas slightly more quickly than it kills them.
Much of Google’s bounty of products comes from the 20 per cent of undirected time it bestows on its employees. Narrow focus is practically antithetical to Google’s corporate DNA. The company that makes the vast majority of its money on its search engine is now developing computer glasses and a home entertainment system.
Even the best companies fail at times, of course. Few people remember Apple’s foray into gaming (the Pippin) or its first tablet, over a decade before the iPad (the Newton Message Pad). But Google seems especially sanguine about its duds. It lets consumers pick its winners and remains brutal enough to recognize its losers.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 3:40 PM - 0 Comments
A Syrian general defects, dogs are good for infants and cases of black lung are on the rise
A Syrian general and commander in the elite Republican Guard, Manaf Tlass, defected last week to France. Tlass is the son of a former Syrian defence minister and family friend of President Bashar al-Assad. His departure, which coincided with an international summit on Syria’s crisis (death toll: 14,000), should send a strong message to Assad’s remaining international backers standing in the way of reform—namely Russia and China. When such a high-ranking insider like Tlass thinks something is wrong with the regime, well, something is most definitely wrong.
Almost all the foreign troops will be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the world community isn’t totally abandoning the war-torn nation. At a 70-country gathering in Tokyo last week, more than $16 billion was pledged to help aid the government of Hamid Karzai forge a lasting peace and rebuild a shattered land. It won’t be enough to complete the monumental task, but it’s a generous start, especially given the fiscal troubles stalking Europe and the U.S.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 11:53 AM - 0 Comments
Since launching four years ago, Apple’s App Store has been enormously successful and constantly controversial. A staggering 30 billion apps have been downloaded to date. Even considering that many (most?) of those are free, the number is impressive. It’s also concerning, since the App Store is more or less the only shop in town for developers looking to sell their wares to owners of iPhones, iPads and iPods. And in order to get their products on those virtual shelves, they must have their apps approved by Apple’s fickle in-house curators.
Apple says this is all for quality control. Others have cried censorship. After all, Apple has rejected everything from iBoobs and naughty geometry to an app that tells you how much radiation your iPhone is emitting, and another that helps “cure” homosexuality. Clearly, apps get rejected not just for shoddy quality, but on editorial grounds as well. You might say it’s Apple’s store, and they can stock whatever products they want. But how would you feel if your Kindle blocked you from reading books that Amazon disapproved of? (It does, btw.)
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 8:07 PM - 0 Comments
If you’re checking hotel prices out from an Apple computer, you can expect to see higher rates than if you’re pricing out your trip from a PC. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least one popular travel site, Orbitz.com, factors in your computer type (which is automatically communicated by your browser to the sites you visit) when compiling search results.
Why does this happen? After analyzing their historical purchase data, Orbitz learned that users coming to their site via Apple products spent an average 30% more than other customers on hotel bookings. Thus, Mac users are now served pricier options than PC-owning visitors. Orbitz confirmed this all to the Journal, stressing that while Mac users are exposed to pricier hotels and bigger rooms, they are not charged more than PC users for the same rooms. Not yet.
The first commercial website to charge customers more for a product based solely on the kind of computer they are using can expect an angry backlash and, quite possibly, price discrimination lawsuits. A brick-and-mortar store can’t charge a customer more because of their race or because they pulled up in a luxury car. But the anticipated rise of Big Data as a pricing tool will never discriminate so obviously.
Data-mining algorithms churn through vast reams of information to arrive at predictions. Deducing what a customer will be willing to pay is a complicated problem. In solving it, an algorithm would certainly benefit from personal information like your purchase history, browsing history, geographic location and hardware type, but other factors could prove just as powerful. Time of day and the state of the weather might have an influence, and so might the popularity of a given product. But all that is just common sense–data mining notoriously relies upon incredibly random information to arrive at predictions–factors that needn’t seem logical to our limited fleshy brains. If an algorithm learns that soil erosion has a marginal correlation with the public’s tolerance for rising bubble-gum prices, it doesn’t care why such a relationship exists.
When terabytes of seemingly random data are mashed together, patterns emerge which defy rational explanation. All of which is to say, we may soon each be paying different prices for the same products, and neither we, or the vendor, will really know why. It’ll be just like air travel.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 2:27 PM - 0 Comments
As an invention, the tablet computer was kind of obvious. It’s a laptop without a keyboard. Or maybe it’s a giant smart phone. But Apple did it first, and probably still best, and since the iPad, every other tablet has been off-brand. How do you improve on such a simple and featureless design? Even Apple’s attempts have been underwhelming. Inventing the “iPad killer” may be a much tougher challenge than inventing the iPad.
Witness Surface, the new tablet computer from Microsoft. How have they differentiated their product? By bringing back the keyboard. Check it out:
Perhaps the real question is why anyone would care about such boring technology. Don’t get me wrong–tablets are marvels of ingenuity. Every now and then I pause to consider how amazing it is that humans have concocted such bizarre and complex things. But then again, the light bulb is pretty cool as well. Only stoned teenagers can afford more than a few moments a day to marvel at such things. The rest of us simply get on with it.
So when will we get on with it, tablet-wise? I’m waiting for the day when only someone who is about to buy a tablet might care about the release of a new tablet. I’m excited to get to the phase of the consumer electronics product-cycle where the device is generic and cheap and ubiquitous.
Think USB keys. Have you seen the new ones? Me neither.
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
As someone who is deeply intrigued by the prospect of an Apple-produced television set, I was somewhat disappointed by Monday’s kickoff to the company’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference. That’s not to say, however, that a ton of interesting stuff didn’t come out of chief executive Tim Cook’s keynote.
The most important news, I thought, was the official unveiling of Apple’s own Maps app for iOS devices. The new app will be included in the iOS 6 update when it becomes available this fall. It’s not yet clear how good the app is or whether it will completely supplant the existing Google Maps used on iPhones, iPads and iPods, but it’s pretty clear Apple is looking to cut the final strings tying it to its former ally.
As I wrote in an analysis piece for The Globe and Mail, that’s a good move now that the companies are bitter smartphone and tablet enemies. Creating its own core Maps function will allow developers to better integrate their apps with Apple products, which will only increase their reasons to keep creating for Apple as opposed to other smartphone vendors.
Siri was also a big star of the day, with the voice assistant soon expanding onto the iPad, into other countries – including full Canadian functionality – and even into cars. The growing trend of computing control beyond the mouse and keyboard was the subject of another analytical piece I penned for the CBC.
One other observation I’d make is that the new computer operating system, Mountain Lion, and respective mobile software – iOS 6 – may be the last two independent OSes we see from Apple. Many of Mountain Lion’s new functions, including swipe controls but also notifications and alerts, seem borrowed from iOS, to the point where Mac computers are increasingly looking like iPads.
Apple also announced cross-platform support between Macs and iOS devices. In other words, you can play a video game on your iPad, but your opponent may actually be playing on a Mac. It doesn’t matter because it’s the same experience.
This merging makes all sorts of sense since it makes it easier on app developers. If they only have to create software once and then it works on all of Apple’s devices, that’s obviously much better than having to do it twice. It’s the same idea Microsoft is working toward with Windows 8, which looks like it could provide the same experience on computers, tablets and phones. The benefits to end users are also obvious – not only will documents look the same regardless of device, so too will games and other content.
The previous Mac OS, Lion, was released last July, while iOS 5 came out in October. Could the next release of both operating systems be combined next year into one unified beast? There are a lot of people who hope so.