It has emerged this week that the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) would be looking into having Google Glass banned from UK roads. The justification for this decision isn't in question (although we'll look at that later), the problem is the manner in which the statement has been made.
Currently, Glass is not on general sale; it's only available through Google's Explorer programme. We have to assume that the DfT didn't gain access to the Explorer campaign for two simple reasons. One: it was only for US citizens. And two: $1,500 is a lot to pay for a concept device, which may have little bearing on a final product. Plus, the public sector is hardly flush with cash.
We did contact the DfT, asking whether any of its staff had indeed tried Glass, but we had received no reply by the time of publishing.
It does seem a little bizarre, therefore, that the DfT says it is "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before it has even tried the product.
But putting that aside, what's the case for and against Glass? Let's look at it in the eyes of the law first of all. The DfT's website states the following about hands-free devices: "You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and two-way radios when you're driving or riding." But the crux of the matter is what follows: "But if the police think you're distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised."
So really, unless the DfT is really going to push through legislation banning wearable tech, it may just be down to interpretation.
The government's Think! road safety site states that crashes are four times more likely for drivers using their mobiles, with reaction times 50 percent slower. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that drivers holding or using hands-free phones make numerous mistakes and makes it clear that it would prefer all devices, hands-free or otherwise, to be banned.
V3 readers seem to agree, too. Stupot commented: "Looking at a GPS display takes the driver's eyes off the road. This in itself is dangerous enough. How can computer displays do anything but add to the number of accidents on the roads?"
Meanwhile, Kemlyn_IT tweeted us, saying: "It's not about the technology, about the effect on driving. Some have been penalised for eating a sandwich for example."
So while there would seem to be absolute justification for the government to say that there is a potential problem, coming out and saying outright that they would look to ban the devices, despite hands-free phones and satnavs being legal, seems a little short-sighted and premature. We suggest Google sends the DfT a sample of the gadget before it proceeds any further.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's an excellent backseat driver
While flicking through today's government document concerning Britain's digital platform for growth, we spotted something that amused us.
In order to demonstrate the usage of the wireless spectrum, the report referred to an image produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 2001 (below). We forgot that Britannica existed, which wasn't helped by the fact that the company stopped publishing its physical editions last year.
It's nice to see such colourful imagery in what is otherwise a standard government report, but eagle-eyed V3 staffers spotted a few things that were missing from this formerly cutting-edge diagram.
For starters, as this diagram is intended to show the common uses of the wireless spectrum in the UK, the mention of VHF television was quite a surprise given that the UK stopped broadcasting VHF TV signals in 1985. DAB – which has been broadcasting for the best part of two decades on the VHF frequency alongside FM (this, thankfully, receives a mention) – is also notably absent. Perhaps it is a statement about the format's sluggish uptake.
Elsewhere, we see no sign of WiFi, which we would hesitantly say play a reasonably important role in the UK's wireless offering. It would be found somewhere in the SHF range, in case you were wondering. And while we do see reference to mobile phones through the use of the long-forgotten phrase "cellular phone", there is no talk of 4G in this particular visual demonstration.
Finally, it's good to see an old-fashioned cathode ray tube (CRT) TV getting its time in the spotlight; there's nothing quite like the glow of a CRT to bring out wistful thoughts of screen burn and square eyes.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who loves his cellular phone
They may not like the government putting up CCTV cameras in public or butting in over gun use, but it seems at least half of Americans are okay with letting big brother peer over their shoulder while they browse the web.
A study carried out in July by Pew Research Center found that 50 percent of those surveyed were okay with the NSA's internet surveillance programme. An additional 44 percent disapproved of the spying campaign, while the rest of the country had no opinion.
The numbers are a bit less disconcerting when broken down into more specific categories. Fifty-six percent of Americans do not believe that courts provide adequate limits on what data government agencies can collect, and 70 percent believe that the government is harvesting information for uses beyond fighting terrorism.
Even with this information, half of citizens don't seem to have much of a problem with letting the NSA continue its current activities.
That the nation would be split down the middle is not so surprising when you take the overall political picture of the country into account. Much like citizens, politicians have been largely split with many conservative groups approving of the plan and left-leaning groups opposing the surveillance.
Public opinion could play an interesting role in determining policy going forward. Certainly in the wake of the Snowden scandal the intelligence community will have to rethink its programmes, but if the public isn't so up in arms, they could keep much of the system, which is also shared with European agencies, intact.
29 Jul 2013
A new photo from China is showing what could be the casing for at least one of the next iPhone handsets.
The photo, which was posted to the WeiPhone BBS board, shows a crate of empty plastic boxes embossed with the “iPhone 5C” logo. The boxes appear to match the dimensions of the iPhone, and the simpler casing has led to speculation that the case could be for a low-cost addition to the iPhone line.
Various reports have suggested that Apple is planning to launch a pair of new models with its next iPhone rollout – a higher-cost model along the lines of previous iPhones and a lower-cost model. The company currently offers its previous-year model at a discounted price for customers looking to obtain a cheaper iPhone.
Reports from Asia on new Apple products have not been confirmed by the company and are not necessarily considered to be reliable sources. But such leaks from the region's many manufacturing facilities – many of which are tasked with manufacturing and assembling new handsets in the weeks and months prior to their release – are about the only previews available for new versions of the iPhone and other sought-after handsets.
Thus far, the strategy has served the company well as the iPhone was one of the few bright spots for Apple last quarter.
The iPhone refresh, expected to take place in the late summer or early fall, will also be accompanied by a new version of iOS. That update will include an overhauled user interface, another possible indication that the company will be looking to produce new packaging for the handset.
26 Jul 2013
Publishing firm Penguin has settled charges of price fixing with the European Union in a case that will involve Apple.
Penguin said it would agree to similar terms as other publishers to settle charges of price fixing. Penguin is among a group of firms accused of using Apple's iBooks platform to fix prices for ebook titles. Other defendants in the case include Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette and Holtzbrinck.
The European Commission said: “The Commission considers at this stage that Penguin, together with the aforementioned four publishers and Apple, may have breached EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive practices by jointly switching the sale of ebooks from a wholesale model to agency contracts containing the same key terms (in particular an unusual so-called 'Most Favoured Nation' (MFN) clause for retail prices).
“In the proposed commitments, the five companies offer to terminate existing agency agreements and refrain from adopting price MFN clauses for five years.”
Apple has long been the target of antitrust cases over its handling of ebook titles. Opponents have argued that the Apple model, which charges a share of retail costs, violates retail models by dictating the price that vendors can charge for titles.
The case has forced Apple to shed new light on its inner workings and the management style of co-founder Steve Jobs, whose dictatorial management of the company was notorious in Silicon Valley.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a WiFi connection. So starts Pride and Prejudice (Are you sure? – Ed), the most famous work by Jane Austen, who will appear on the new £10 notes from 2017, replacing Charles Darwin.
This is to ensure that there will be a woman represented on UK banknotes, after the decision to replace Elizabeth Fry on £5 notes with Winston Churchill was agreed by the Bank of England.
But while Austen is a worthy choice, it does mean Alan Turing’s chance of financial fame has gone.
V3 has reported in the past how the famed codebreaker and genius of World War Two, who helped the Allies win the war, was a candidate for the new £10, with a petition issued by programmer Thomas Thurman racking up huge numbers of signatures – over 27,087 to be precise.
“Alan Turing is a national hero. His contribution to computer science, and hence to the life of the nation and the world, is incalculable. The ripple effect of his theories on modern life continues to grow, and may never stop,” Thurman wrote in the introduction to the petition.
Sadly, it appears these efforts were in vain, but it was still refreshing to see at the time that so many people wanted to celebrate Turing in this way.
“Most importantly, it got the country talking: people are debating the work of Turing and discussing his legacy, and as long as that continues, he cannot be forgotten,” Thurman told V3 in March.
However, some good news for the Turing brigade has come from the Bank of England's announcement: it will be reviewing the decision-making process for selecting future historical figures, as outlined by governor Mark Carney.
"We believe that our notes should celebrate the full diversity of great British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields. The Bank is committed to that objective, and we want people to have confidence in our commitment to diversity," he said.
Still, if Turing has been denied his chance of wider fame and recognition, the government could at least do the decent thing and quash his historical conviction for homosexuality. Earlier this week Lords called on the government – once again – to overturn the ruling he received after the war he helped them win.
By V3's Dan Worth, who loves a fistful of £10 notes
24 Jul 2013
For more than a year and a half, we have been hearing about the declining PC market. It began with analysts warning of slow sales from component makers and forecasts that sales would fall short of expectations.
Before long, the PC vendors themselves were confirming the predictions, warning that their revenues would in fact be taking a hit as consumers migrated towards the sleeker, cheaper allure of the tablet. By the end of the year, the PC market saw its first overall decline in over a decade as sales fell from the previous year.
Apple, however, had largely defied that trend. The company was able to pick up market share with its line of Mac desktops and notebooks as the PC vendors saw losses mount.
Now, however, it appears that the trend has even caught up with Apple. Over the last quarter the company reported that the Mac line saw a decline from the previous year's quarter. While the decline was still slight, it was the first time Apple has had to acknowledge that it too is seeing its own desktop and notebook brand suffer from the tablet surge.
Of course, Apple is in a much better position than the likes of Dell, HP and many other Windows PC vendors. The company owns one of the chief culprits for the PC market's decline, the fantastically successful iPad. The tablet is not only helping to cut into PC sales, but it also brings in a tidy profit for Apple due to the firm's generous retail markup.
Furthermore, Apple's decline is hardly comparable to what many PC vendors have been hit with since early 2012. The company noted that while it lost some sales, the PC market has seen an even bigger drop over the same time period, suggesting that Apple actually managed to pick up market share due to attrition.
Still, the numbers remain significant in what they say about the market. Tablets are winning, PCs are losing, and not even Apple is immune to a trend that looks as if it will shape the way we look at both the consumer and enterprise IT markets in the coming years.
We often wax lyrical on The Frontline, but today we're going to let an image do the talking. This image, taken by the NASA's Cassini spacecraft, captured Earth and its moon on 19 July from 900 million miles away. That's 1.5 billion kilometres.
Cassini was perching just behind Saturn when it took the photograph, which is the first ever image taken by the craft's camera and shows the Earth and the moon as two distinct objects. What's even more touching even to us cynical journalists is that more than 20,000 people on Earth were looking up at the sky, waving and smiling as the photo was taken.
While Earth itself barely takes up a handful of pixels in these images, it's still rather heartening to know that there were some smiling faces saying "cheese".
Linda Spilker, a project scientist on Cassini, summed it up perfectly: "Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth."
By V3's Michael Passingham, who needs his own space