Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Apple is winning

Apple is on a tear: shares up over $100 in a month, big product launches looming and a massive untapped market of tablet and computer buyers. Here's why it won't slow down anytime soon.
Call this column "confessions of a reformed Apple hater." I've spent the better part of my career insisting that Apple products were not for me--this after my first job in tech was reviewing them for the now-defunct Mac Home Journal. The company was too controlling, the prices too high, the forced upgrade march too abusive, the closed system too limiting.

Now, just a week ago, I traded in my fourth Android phone (a Samsung Galaxy Nexus) for an iPhone 4S, which just about completes the cycle of Apple in my life. I bought a MacBook Air to replace a balky HP laptop running Windows Vista. I own an iPad because, well, what other tablet would I own? I have an iPod Touch almost solely to power a Bose sound system (and because I wanted to Facetime with my son back before I had the iPhone). And the other day, when my mom was complaining about startup times, printing, and wireless networking, the words, "you should get a Mac" were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Apple MacBook Air Patented; Beware, Ultrabook Makers

Apple was just awarded 19 patents, one of which is for the design of the MacBook Air.

In theory, Apple could leverage its patent on the Air to try and block manufacturers of other light, thin laptops from marketing their products in the U.S.

The patent, No. D654,072, refers to an “ornamental design for an electronic device,” and lists Steve Jobs as one of its inventors. While the term “MacBook Air” isn’t cited, the drawings of a laptop with tapered design is unmistakable.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Facebook Graffiti Artist Could be Worth $500 Million

Last week Evelyn Rusli and I wrote about the people who are set to get rich from Facebook's coming initial public offering of stock. The most startling was David Choe, a graffiti artist who chose Facebook stock instead of cash when he spray-painted the first Facebook offices in 2005.

Although Mr. Choe declined several requests for an interview while I was reporting the story, he took to the airwaves on Tuesday as a guest on The Howard Stern Show to discuss his windfall.

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Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock to step down

Yahoo's undergoing more changes at its top, with a reshuffling of its board of directors.

In a letter to shareholders today, Yahoo's chairman of the board, Roy Bostock, said that along with fellow board members Vyomesh Joshi, Arthur Kern, and Gary Wilsonhe, he would not seek re-election this year.

Bostock added that to help fill the gap, the board has hired Alfred Amoroso and Maynard Webb Jr. to serve as independent directors. Amoroso was previously the president and CEO of Rovi. Webb previously served as CEO and currently serves as chairman of LiveOps.

Bostock's plans for announcing his departure were reported earlier today by All Things Digital.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why Apple's A5 is so big--and iPhone 4 won't get Siri

Apple's A5 processor includes noise-reduction circuitry licensed from a start-up called Audience, and a chip analyst believes that fact resolves an iPhone 4S mystery and explains why the iPhone 4 lacks the Siri voice-control system.

Audience revealed details of its Apple partnership in January, when it filed paperwork for an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. Teardown work from iFixit and Chipworks revealed a dedicated Audience chip in the iPhone 4, but the iPhone 4S integrates Audience's "EarSmart" technology directly into the A5 processor, the company's S-1 filing said.

The details answered a question that Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap had about the A5 chip that powers the iPhone 4S: why is it so big? Larger processors are more expensive and can consume more power, and chip designers strive to trim every last square millimeter from their designs.

"Even after accounting for the dual Cortex-A9 CPUs and the large GPU that provides the A5 with industry-leading 3D graphics performance, the remaining die area seems too large for the usual mundane housekeeping logic," Gwennap said in a report yesterday. "To reduce system cost and eliminate the extra package required for the Audience chip, Apple cut a deal to integrate the noise-reduction technology directly into its A5 processor, which appears in the iPhone 4S."

Audience also said in its filing that its iPhone 4-era technology was good only when the phone was held near the speaker's mouth. Audience's noise-reduction technology built into the iPhone 4S is better, though.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Windows Phone 8 details reportedly leak

The next big iteration of its Windows Phone platform appears to address many of the early concerns and brings it to par with competing platforms. Microsoft is still fighting an uphill battle in getting its phones--which have been critically praised--into the hands of consumers. So far, consumers have by far favored Android smartphones and the iPhone.

The version, codenamed Apollo, will allow vendors more choice with how they build their phone, going back on Microsoft's previous insistence upon using a standard set of specifications. That allows the handset manufacturers to better compete and stand apart from each other with varying levels of specs.

The platform will add support for multicore processors--at a time when Android devices are already moving to quad-core chips--four different screen resolutions, a removable microSD card, and near-field communication, crucial for mobile payments.
Windows Phone 8 will also integrate with the Windows 8 desktop and tablet operating system. The hope is developers can take chunks of their code for one platform and move it to the other. Pocketnews said the company expects 100,000 apps to be available at launch, which it pegged to the fourth quarter. Windows Phone 8 will add native code support, allowing for apps that are more integrated into the devices. Skype may also play a bigger role in the operating system.

Possibly taking a swipe at Research In Motion's shrinking share for its BlackBerrys, Microsoft is adding more business-friendly features such as encryption and allowing companies to build their own proprietary apps into the phone.

The new platform will also be designed to better handle data traffic, opting to go to Wi-Fi and using proxy servers to feed pages to Internet Explorer 10, similar to how Opera Mini can achieve faster browsing times.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nobody wanted MegaUpload busted more than MPAA

Contrary to recent media reports, the FBI did not arrest MegaUpload founder Kim DotCom after being pressured by managers at the four major record companies, who supposedly feared DotCom would launch an unlicensed music service, sources close to the investigation told CNET.

Numerous film and music industry sources have discussed some of the events that preceded the January 19 raid in New Zealand on DotCom's home. What becomes clear is that two years ago, when the FBI began investigating the cyberlocker service, the film studios were far more intent on taking down MegaUpload than their counterparts at the music labels.

In addition, records show that when the FBI began its investigation, MegaUpload had yet to approach the music labels about MegaBox. Meanwhile, over at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the trade group representing the six top Hollywood film studios, MegaUpload "was at the very top of the piracy pyramid," said Kevin Suh, the MPAA's senior vice president of content protection, in an interview this week with CNET.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group for the four largest record labels, also spoke to the FBI about MegaUpload but provided little information outside of listing the pirated songs available on the site, sources said. At the time, the RIAA was much more focused on its court fight with file-sharing service LimeWire, which it eventually won. LimeWire was forced to shut down operations in 2010.

Hollywood had more motivation to try to get the federal government to crack down on MegaUpload, say film industry sources.

MegaUpload was for a period the 13th most-trafficked site on the Web. In the company's five-year history, it claims to have seen more than 1 billion visitors. The U.S. government alleges that the company banked more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and cost copyright owners more than $500 million in damages.


Petition tells Apple: We want an 'ethical' iPhone 5

A new online petition is demanding that Apple clean up its act overseas in time to make its next iPhone "the first ethical iPhone."

Watchdog group SumOfUs last week put up a petition asking Apple to "make the iPhone 5 ethically," referring to the company's use of overseas manufacturing from companies such as Foxconn, which have recently come under fire for their working conditions and practices.

The petition, which the group says garnered more than 35,000 signatures in its first 24 hours, asks Apple to "overhaul the way its suppliers treat their workers," ahead of the release of its next smartphone, which is expected later this year.

"Can Apple do this? Absolutely," the petition reads. "According to an anonymous Apple executive quoted in The New York Times, all Apple has to do is demand it, and it'll happen."
Overseas manufacturers came under fire last week with a pair of investigative stories published by The New York Times that lambasted Apple for poor worker labor and safety issues in its supplier facilities, as well as using cut-throat business practices that prohibited those manufacturers from making improvements.

Apple did not respond to the reports in the press, though an internal memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook that leaked last week argued to employees that "any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us."

"If Tim Cook is really offended by these allegations, why isn't he doing anything to fix the problems?" Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of SumOfUs, asked in a statement. "This is the supply chain he set up as COO--he needs to start taking responsibility, not blaming the messenger."

This is the latest in a series of petitions targeting Apple, though it is less product-focused. One that launched early last year called on the company to remove a homophobic application from the App Store, a move that resulted in it getting pulled. Two others just a few months ago took aim at the company for the Siri voice assistant application on the iPhone 4S not being able to direct users towards an abortion clinic, which Apple referred to as a "glitch."