Author: Nick Farrell

Apple is in the Last Chance saloon

last-chance Today Apple will get a chance to spin its way out of trouble with one of its product presentations.

While its allies in the journalism world have been doing their best to sacrifice their credibility by peddling rumours about what Apple is going to show off, it is almost certainly going to be the long delayed Smartwatch and another iPhone.

But Apple has not had a new product for four years and many believe it needs to come up with something new or lose its reputation as an innovator to some of its rivals.

And this is where it has a problem. It only has a smartwatch and a phablet, both of which have been done to death by rivals.

No doubt presenting these shiny toys will get Apple CEO Tim Cook a standing ovation, but getting one of those at an Apple rally is like getting one at a Tory Party conference.

Apple will also get fanboys queuing for their new iPhone and some, no doubt will want one of these watches.

But the question many should be asking is “is any of this new, or innovative and will it keep Apple relevant?”

The creation of the mobile phone actually killed off the wristwatch and many people would require training to put one back on. So far smartwatches have found their place amongst those who want to measure their heart rates while doing exercise. This is not a big target market, and there is some competition out there for Apple.

Apple got away with its launches into the smartphone and the tablet market because what it presented was largely new.  Smartphones had been around, but they were ugly, clunkly and very expensive. Apple pushed its tablets to consumers, something that Microsoft had ruled out and had some success.

But the field has changed. Apple is competing on all fronts with rivals who have cheaper and in some cases better products.

The Phablet is a case in point. Apple fanboys mocked phablet owns for holding large phones to their ears, and yet the phone’s usability in comparison to smaller phones became clear fast.

Apple had to eat humble pie and admit that it had it wrong when it came to phablet size, in the same way that it had to admit that it was wrong about people wanting smaller tablets.

In all these things Apple has been playing catch-up and is not doing that well.

Analysts appear optimistic that Apple will pull another rabbit out of a hat. Michael Yoshikami, CEO of Destination Wealth Management told Reuters that Apple’s pipeline is finally going to satisfy those who have wondered if the company has any new products.

But even if Cook wows them with products at today’s rally, it is a long way before products will hit the market. Word on the street is that the Smartwatch is still not ready and unlikely to go on sale until sometime in 2015. Apple may not even reveal its price on today.

Apple was planning to show off its iCloud based products, such as Mobile Wallet. Apple has reportedly struck deals with Visa, MasterCard and American Express. It has also come up with its “HealthKit” data service earlier this year made it clear that it sees its products helping consumers manage personal health information. By incorporating the HealthKit service into the iPhone 6, and by packing its smartwatch with sensors capable of monitoring physical movements and heart rates, Apple could lay the groundwork for a broader push into mobile healthcare.

The problem for Apple is the recent iCloud security scandal which saw countless starlets have their naked pictures put online. Apple made matters worse by pretending it was not a security fault with the iCloud, when it clearly was.

The last thing you need a couple of weeks before you release a clutch of iCloud products is for people to question if it is safe sticking their data on Apple’s systems.

All up, we think that Apple will have a hard time convincing sane people that it has a special plan to pull itself away from mediocrity. The Tame Apple Press will try to convince you otherwise, but we suspect that cooler heads will be wondering how Apple could have sunk so low.

Apple agrees to add alerts to iCloud

lawrrenceAfter denying that its iCloud security was as good as a tent flap, Apple has agreed to warn users when their privacy is being invaded.

Jobs’ Mob hit the news this week after numerous beautiful celebs had their iCloud accounts hacked and naked pictures posted online.

Apple denied that its security was below parr but saw its share price tumble as people failed to believe it.

Now it seems that Apple is planning additional steps to keep hackers out of user accounts and will encourage users to take stricter security measures.

CEO Tim Cook told the Wall Street Journal that Apple will alert users through email and push notifications when someone tries to change an account password, restore iCloud data to a new device, or when a device logs into an account for the first time, the report said.

He added that Apple will broaden its use of the two-factor authentication security system to avoid future intrusions and  aggressively encourage people to turn on the two-factor authentication in the new version of iOS.

However, Apple is still insisting that celebrities’ iCloud accounts were individually targeted, and that none of the cases it investigated had resulted from a breach of its systems. [Who is that woman you keep throwing into these Apple cloud stories, Nick? Ed.]

Security experts said that Apple was to blame for failing to make its devices and software easier to secure through two-factor authentication, which requires a separate verification code after users log in initially.

Ballmer wrote the blue screen of death

Steve BallmerNow that he has gone, Microsoftys are telling tales about the shy and retiring former CEO Steve Ballmer.

It now appears that the much feared Blue Screen of Death was Ballmer’s contribution to the Windows franchise.  Some people’s writings create a sense of awe in the reader, but few can actually say that something they had written had created such anger and loathing as the blue screen of death.

According to this posting on the MSDN blog  one of the differences between standard-mode Windows and enhanced-mode Windows was what happened when you hit Ctrl+Alt+Del. Since 16-bit Windows applications are co-operatively multi-tasked, it is easy to determine whether the system is responding, and if not, it is also easy to identify the application which is responsible. In that case, Windows gave you options to close the non-responsive application, restart the computer, or cancel.

Ballmer was head of the Systems Division and the time and thought he would pop in on the Windows team to see what they were hatching up.

When they showed him the Ctrl+Alt+Del feature, he nodded thoughtfully and added: “This is nice, but I don’t like the text of the message. It doesn’t sound right to me.”

He offered to come up with something better and a few days later he emailed back what he thought the Ctrl+Alt+Del screen should say.

If only that legendary prose and hands-on control hand been on board for Windows 8 where a demob happy Ballmer was not involved at all.

According to insiders, Ballmer offered no direction to the Windows 8 team on the features of the new user interface. Windows president Steven Sinofsky kept him informed of the team’s progress, but Ballmer met with Larson-Green only twice during the development process, and he never got together with the team to green-light the design.

 

Huawei steals Apple’s thunder

lightningThe Tame Apple Press is fuming that the Chinese phone  maker Huawei has managed to steal Apple’s thunder by releasing a phone days before Jobs’ Mob’s traditional Nuremberg style rally.

Normally we do not think of a phone release as being sent as a spoiler to a rival’s event, but it is clear that someone in Reuters does.

Huawei unveiled shedloads of devices meant to showcase the Chinese company’s hardware technology,  and Reuters was clearly upset that it was putting the spoilers on Apple September 9 launch.

Dubbing the iPhone 6 as “highly-anticipated” it reminded its gentle readers that Apple was releasing the phone on September 9, even though the story was about Huawei.

Today Huawei markets its devices as comparable to Samsung and Apple products, which are often viewed by consumers as the technological cutting edge, patronised Reuters.

So what has Huawei released? There is a limited edition of its high-end Ascend P7 phone with a sapphire glass display. For those who came in late, Apple was rumoured to be mass-producing devices with sapphire technology and it so far has not happened.

The Ascend Mate Ascend P7 phone7 “phablet” will also be the first Android smartphone on the market with a fingerprint sensor. A fingerprint censor was something that Apple had installed on the iPhone 5s last year, Reuters fumed.

In a statement, the company’s smartphone division chief Richard Yu said the sapphire glass phone demonstrated Huawei’s “advanced craftsmanship” and its ability to “deliver the most advanced technology into the hands of consumers”.

Reuters seemed to think that this particular quote was rubbing it in a bit. The logic being that Huawei is releasing all these products which copy Apple just days before Jobs’ Mob is about to reveal its masterpiece.

That masterpiece, as it turns out, will be likely to be similar to everything else that is already on the market, but will still be plugged to the heavens by journalists who sacrifice their credibly to act as Apple’s unpaid press office.

Nvidia sues Qualcomm and Samsung

nvidia-gangnam-style-330pxNvidia has sued Qualcomm and Samsung for infringing its patents on graphics processing technology.

Nvidia said Qualcomm and Samsung had used Nvidia’s patented technologies without a licence in Samsung’s mobile devices and the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge.

Nvidia said Samsung devices made with graphics technology from Qualcomm, Britain’s ARM and Imagination Technologies infringed on its patents.

Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang said that the pair were using Nvidia technology free and were shipping an enormous number of devices.

Nvidia did not say it is suing Imagination – part owned by Apple –  or ARM  – started by Apple really, but it did say it is asking the US International Trade Commission to prevent shipments of Samsung devices containing ARM’s Mali or Imagination’s PowerVR graphics architectures, as well as Qualcomm’s graphics technology.

However, since Imagination technology is also found under the bonnet of Apple’s iPhones, it could be that Nvidia plans to sue Apple.

It is clear that Apple was not a legal cage that Nvidia wanted to rattle yet. Huang said he was focused on Samsung and Qualcomm, and continues to have “productive conversations” with many other companies out there.

In other words the cunning plan is to take out Qualcomm and Samsung and the others will pay a lot of money to make Nvidia lawyers go away.

Samsung has said it will fight Nvidia, while the others have not made a comment.

Tech companies start talking about hiring

Slaves_ruvumaApple, Google, Intel and Adobe have gone back to the drawing board to come up with a more reasonable deal with tech workers in a high-profile lawsuit over hiring practices in Silicon Valley.

The four were sued for conspiring to avoid poaching each other’s employees. Last month, US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California rejected a proposed $324.5 million settlement in the class action case, saying it was too low, considering what the four actually did.

Both sides have said they had resumed mediation but provided no additional details on the talks. They also asked Koh to set a new trial date.

The employees said that the conspiracy limited their job mobility and  kept a lid on salaries. The case, filed in 2011, has been closely watched because of the possibility of big damages being awarded. It also showed the antics of the likes of Apple’s Steve Jobs, former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt and some of their rivals.

Koh cited “substantial and compelling evidence” that Jobs “was a, if not the, central figure in the alleged conspiracy”.

Jobs had previous form for setting up conspiracies which helped him and Apple at the expense of workers or customers. He was also named and shamed as the bloke who set up a conspiracy to make sure that customers paid more for ebooks.

Given the strength of the case against the companies, the plaintiffs should have got more money, Koh wrote.

Smartphone designers run out of ideas

Samsung rules the roostSamsung has just confirmed what many in the industry had thought – that there is nothing you can do to a smartphone which will make it much different.

Samsung unveiled new versions of its Galaxy Note smartphone to a loud sounding yawn from tech journalists.

To be fair there is nothing wrong with the phone,  at least not this time.  The new Galaxy Note 4 features a crisper, 5.7-inch display in a metal frame and accessories designed to attract gamers and an improved pen stylus and related software as a handwriting alternative to typing on a keyboard. It boasts easier to use multi-tasking features that take advantage of its large screen.

But really there is not much more you can do with a smartphone which has not already been done or would cost too much to be bothered with.

Samsung is pinning a lot on the Note, which came under a lot of mockery from Apple fanboys because of its size. Apple later realised that the large scale phone was popular and copied it in the designs for its iPhone 6.

However now the idea of a large smartphone has no novelty and users need something a bit more interesting to engage them.

Mobile phone analysts said that, while packed full of hundreds of features and many of the latest hardware specs, there is little in the Note 4 to excite new users.

Forrester told Reuters that all the phones could manage were incremental changes. Analyst Thomas Husson said Samsung needs to distinguish its devices from dozens of cheaper rivals and it could not manage it.

Samsung lost control of the Chinese market to Xiaomi during the April-June quarter. It continued to lose market share in other emerging markets, analysts say, undercut in part by rivals producing increasingly attractive products at much lower prices in the lower end of the market.

The company experience some major headaches with the Galaxy S5 which did not make the impact onto the market that users hoped.

The Korean electronics giant says it will get more aggressive on pricing and focus on a narrower set of products for its mid-to-low tier products.

Unsinkable Apple hits Selfiegate iceberg

Der Untergang der TitanicHistory says that Apple’s share price should be going sky high right now buoyed by the expected launch of a new iPhone6 and whipped to a frenzy by its free publicity provided by the Tame Apple Press.

However, the company shares are suffering their worst day and one brokerage warning of a stock downgrade unless its new products show better promise for profit growth.

Shares of the smartphone maker slumped four percent as users realised that the company’s iCloud was not the safest place to store their snaps. Apple has done its best to say that its security was not at fault in its Cloudgate boob, which saw naked snaps of Hollywood stars appear online, however evidence is mounting that is not the case.

It seems investors are starting to realise that Apple has not introduced a new product since the iPad in 2010 and is not expected to create anything brilliantly new with its coming iPhone.

It has been thought that an increasingly desperate Apple would unveil a version of a smartwatch next week but even the technology for that has been done to death as Jobs’ Mob’s own version was constantly delayed.

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves said unless next week’s shows massive incremental profit opportunities, he was likely to downgrade Apple’s rating.

Apple needed a security flaw in its iCloud exposing like a hole in the head. Apple wants its clouds to become repositories of sensitive home and healthcare data, and payments and financial information too.

Security experts have been warning for ages that Apple’s cloud is not up to snuff security wise and the current breach just proves how untrustworthy it is.

Facebook feature stuffs up your phone bill

shockThe phone companies are rubbing their hands with glee thanks to Facebook’s decision to autorun movies on their news feeds.

Facebook introduced a system where your films of cute cats, guilty dogs, pigglets being thrown into sausage machines and people being beheaded play automatically as you scroll down.

While that is not a problem for those on home broadband, it has been a major killer for mobile users.  Reports are coming in from the US where smartphone users are maxing out their data plans because their phones are downloading movies they are probably not even looking at.

Consumer finance site MoneySavingExpert.com, said it had “seen many complaints from people who have been stung with data bills after exceeding their monthly allowance and who believe it to be because of Facebook autoplaying videos”.

It is not that difficult to fix as the autoplay feature can be switched off but it is not as if Facebook, or anyone else is rushing to tell users.Tap your “Settings” button and then scroll down and click “Facebook.” From there, click “Settings,” “Auto-play,” and then choose “Wi-Fi only” or “Off.” On Android, bring up the Facebook app and go to your account settings. Click “App Settings,” and then choose ‘Auto-play only on Wi-Fi’ or ‘Off.’

 

Intel re-ARMing

rearm 2It seems that Intel has decided that in the long term its rival ARM has the right idea. We revealed that in the Eye a couple of weeks back.

Intel’s Brian Krzanich told the Citi Global Technology Conference that while ten years down the road the company will continue to get a bulk of its revenue from PCs and servers, a significant part of its revenue will come from mobile, Internet-of-Things and other emerging market segments.

To do that it will need to come up with some ultra-low-cost devices that will still need computing and communications capabilities.

That will mean working out a way to “take our silicon leadership and our architecture down into we talk about parts that may only cost $0.50 and have comms, CPU, everything down there and can run on small batteries.”

Although this is the normal “internet of things” style talk, it is the first time that Chipzilla has given the world its coming vision. In this case it is a super small chip which can run an entire computer’s services for less than 50 cents.

Intel has stayed out of the cheap chips market because the margins are incredibly small, but it is starting to look like it has realised that the Internet of Things will mean low-margin, micro-controllers and other low-cost chips. This will make it difficult for Intel to maintain its traditional 60 percent mark up.

Krzanich said that in a decade, Intel is definitely going to be a broader company across the much broader spectrum of computing. He is also not predicting the death of the PC or the server any time soon.

 

Google gets into Quantum Lolcats

OgleSearch engine Google has decided that it wants to get into the business of working out if cats are potentially alive or dead.

It has created a research team led by physicist John Martinis from the University of California Santa Barbara to build new quantum information processors based on superconducting electronics.

Dubbed the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, the whole thing is a  collaboration between Google, NASA Ames Research Centre and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) to study the application of quantum optimisation related to artificial intelligence.

The idea is that by having an integrated hardware group, the Quantum AI team will now be able to implement and test new designs for quantum optimisation and inference processors based on recent theoretical insights as well as our learnings from the D-Wave quantum annealing architecture.

It will also be able to have someone who can feed and stroke the cats, which may or may not be alive.

Google has become more interested in artificial intelligence in recent years, probably because human intelligence seems to be suffering in the US as the nation stops teaching science in favour of a theory that someone’s invisible friend created the universe 6,000 years ago.

In January, Google bought privately held artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies, which says it all, really.

 

NATO goes nuclear on cyber option

wenn2114091NATO is going to revise its treaty so that a cyber attack on one of its members will count as a hostile threat for all of them.

The plan is that when President Obama meets with other NATO leaders later this week, they are expected to ratify the idea that a cyberattack on any of the 28 NATO nations could be declared an attack on all of them, similar to a ground invasion or an airborne bombing.

This should put the fear of god into Russia, which was believed behind computer attacks that disrupted financial and telecommunications systems in Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008, and is believed to have used them in the early days of the Ukraine crisis as well.

NATO is a bit behind when it comes to cyber security, although it now has just built a nice new computer security centre.  It does run computer exercises but it possesses no cyberweapons of its own and has no cunning plan how it might use the weapons of member states to strike back in a computer conflict.

The United States and Britain, have spent billions of dollars on secret computer offensive programs but they have not told NATO leaders what kind of weapons they might contribute in a NATO-led computer conflict.

The change in NATO’s definition of an “armed attack” will leave deliberately unclear what would constitute a cyberattack so large that the alliance might think that this would be a declaration of war.

Apparently the alliance is hoping that the impact of the attack will help define the matter. Defence experts point out that deterrence is all about ambiguity, and the implicit threat that NATO would enter a computer conflict in defence of one of its members is full of those ambiguities.

Apple faces firestorm over celeb hacking

lawrrenceIt appears that the Tame Apple Press are finally giving up on Jobs’ Mob and admitting that the leak of racy celebrity photos was actually caused by a security fault on Apple’s iCloud.

Earlier this week it looked like Apple was going to avoid any mention in the hack as the press insisted that such an attack on the iCloud was impossible because it had this magical thing called “encryption.” Apple even went as far as denying that the iCloud was breached by hackers who posted nude pictures of celebrities.

Photos from the celebrities were stolen individually, the company said. The celebrity accounts were “compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that is all too common on the Internet,” Apple insisted.

However by yesterday it was clear that Apple was not going to get away with that. Journalists were starting to ask real security experts about how hackers got the information and it was fairly clear that there was a bit of a tiny weeny hole in the iCloud.

Reuters, which normally spins pro-Apple adverts pretending to be news, sheepishly admitted that the highly public affair remains potentially one of Apple’s worst public crises in years. Speculation continues to spread on blogs about flaws in the iCloud service.

Brandwatch, a company that analyses sentiment on social media, blogs and other sites, found Apple had received 17,000 mentions on Twitter were related to the security breach and the negative words associated Apple’s iCloud service include “violation,” “disgusting violation,” “criminality,” “failure,” “glitch” and “disappointment”.

What is worrying Reuters is that it could upset Apple’s coming launch of the iPhone 6 which actually includes features that use the iCloud for mobile payments. After all, if you are in the middle of a security crisis the last thing you want is to tell potential customers that the same technology which handed over naked pictures of beautiful celebs to the paparazzi can be doing the same thing with your credit card information.

“This could be a scary time publicly for Apple,” JD Sherry, vice president of cybersecurity provider Trend Micro wrote in a Tuesday blogpost. “They haven’t had many, Antennagate and Apple Maps come to mind, and this would most likely trump those.”

 

Russian sex mad geckos die in space

lizardA team of sex mad geckos who were sent by the Russians to see what they could do in zero gravity returned to earth stone dead.

The geckos were sent aboard Russian satellite Foton M-4 to study effects of zero gravity on reproductive systems.

According to officials at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, the geckos – four females and one male died a week before the landing.

Apparently the satellite’s other randy cargo, the fruit flies were still alive and bred like crazy in space.

As the Foton satellite was not equipped to transmit live feeds back, Russian scientists will have to pick apart the 44 days of footage to know when exactly and why the geckos met their death.

Other than the fruit flies the entire experiment was a disaster. The Foton-M4 satellite was launched on 19 July, 2014 from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan. Though slated for two months, the capsule was recalled after 44 days following problems that began a few days after the launch.

Celebrity leak was Apple cock up

lawrrenceThe coverage of the leak of celebrity photos from Apple’s iCloud has been surprisingly free of blaming Job’s Mob for the leak.  

In fact, some of the coverage has even praised Apple’s security for its magical encryption which apparently absolved Jobs’ Mob of all the blame for the hack.

The large-scale hacking found snaps on the accounts of Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice and Selena Gomez.

However Next Web has found proof hat the leaks were caused by a breach in Apple’s iCloud service.

A Python script emerged on GitHub that appears to have allowed malicious users to ‘brute force’ a target account’s password on Apple’s iCloud, thanks to a vulnerability in the Find My iPhone service.

The vulnerability allegedly discovered in the Find My iPhone service appears to have let attackers use this method to guess passwords repeatedly without any sort of lockout or alert to the target. Once the password has been eventually matched, the attacker used it to access other iCloud functions.

The tool was published for two days before being shared to Hacker News and Apple has moved to actually fix the hole.

Find My iPhone  has been used before for such attacks.  It that case hackers were holding victims ransom, locking their phones and demanding money in exchange for giving their phone back.

The Independent reported that Apple has “refused to comment” on any security flaw in iCloud today. So the Tame Apple press can go on telling users that Apple security is perfect.