11 May 2013
Apple's iPhone has proven a hit with the general public, but the company's strong security protections are making the device less than popular with law enforcement agencies.
It seems that the encryption on the handset is proving to be so hard for authorities to crack that they have to petition Apple to manually unlock the handset by manually overriding the security controls and decrypting data needed for criminal prosecution.
Unfortunately, there are so many police asking for iPhone decryption that Apple has found itself with a backlog of requests. According to Cnet, law enforcement officials are being told that they must wait as long as two months to gain access to iPhone units that are connected to criminal investigations.
This is not the first time Apple's security protections have caught the eye of law enforcement agencies. Earlier this year the US Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning to agents that messages delivered over Apple's Messages App – which sends data over secured HTTP connections – was all but impossible to eavesdrop in the course of investigations.
The issue rehashes an ongoing battle that has erupted between the need for law enforcement agencies to access data and the right for users to have their data protected from intrusion. Apple is not alone in being caught up in the crossfire. Blackberry has found itself in the crosshairs of government authorities over its strong security protections that can prevent government eavesdropping.
Readers may recall how an original Apple I computer went under the hammer at Christie's last year, expected to sell for £80,000. But it turns out, unbelievably, that the machine failed to sell. Perhaps it had something to do with the system missing its DRAM.
Now, yet another historic Apple is up for grabs at German auction house Auction Team Breker, but this time it is a fully working sample.
Dating from 1976, the Apple I was the company's first ever product, and only about 200 were made. It was basically a single-board computer, which buyers had to kit out with a case, keyboard and display in order to build a working system.
According to Auction Team Breker, the unit due to go up for auction on 25 May is one of only six surviving Apple I systems that are still working.
The guide price is a whopping €200,000-€300,000 (£169,000-£253,000), quite a lot for a device with just 4KB of memory and only capable of a 40x24 text display output.
The question is: are even Apple fans likely to shell out that much money for a piece of the company's history?
Feature phones died in the developed world years ago. With telecoms offering smartphones for free on contract, nobody was really buying a smartphone in places like the US and UK.
However, smartphones were not as common in developing nations until recently. In places like China and Brazil feature phones still served a slice of the handset market. In fact, until 2013 feature phones still outsold smartphones globally.
That changed in Q1 of this year. According to the IDC, smartphones outsold feature phones for the first time ever last quarter. The report is another reminder that the world has moved passed just phone calls and the developing world is now a lucrative market.
In some developing countries, smartphones are many people's primary internet access point. The ease of a 3G network connection in your pocket makes it possible for millions of new users to have access to the web.
While in developed countries phone calls are not even the primary use of smartphones. With text and data, the need for mobile voice communication has decreased.
Now with the growth of smartphone use those numbers should continue to rise. Smartphones have continued to become cheaper and cheaper. Gone are the days of only expensive smartphones.
Today, a person can get a clever handset for free on contract or close to it off. The market has moved to build a paradagim full of low, mid, and high range smartphones. With the new paradagim, feature phones have become phased out.
The market for cheap smartphones in the developing world is now a huge industry. It's why Samsung leads the world in sales. It's also the reason why Apple keep's hearing rumors of a lower priced iPhone.
Apple is not in the cheap device industry. The firm lives off of big margins and high quality electronics. That somewhat changed with the release of the iPad Mini. The cheaper tiny iPad was the firm's first mobile foray into cheaper end devices.
It seems likely that Apple will have to continue to push its margins lower. Apple won't do it because they want to, they'll do it because they have to. The smartphone game is changing and the developing world is the new frontier.
The smartphone arena is just as much about software as hardware. Apple makes money from ads and apps featured on iOS. With more users on an iPhone, Apple stands to gain more money through software.
Google has always been about getting Android in as many paws as possible. Now, Apple has a chance to do something similar. If the firm builds its user base in the developing world it can get more people onboard with iOS.
With more users on-board it can gain in software what it might lose in hardware margin profits. The world is changing and Apple's current strategy just doesn't fit with it. Apple will have to offer a larger smartphone portfolio if it wants to keep its crown as a leader in the smartphone world.
CharityBuzz is offering bidders the chance to have a cup of coffee with Apple chief executive Tim Cook. Bids are currently at $210,000 for the once and a lifetime chance to drink coffee with the guy who introduced the iPhone 5.
So far, 58 bidders have jumped on the chance to spend quality time with Cook. Those interested in the having a cup of Joe with Cook have until 14 May to make their dreams come true.
For those bidders who may try to milk their time with Cook, be warned that the coffee chat will last no longer than an hour. According to the auctions terms, Cook will not have coffee with anymore than two people and the winning bidder must supply their own travel to Apple HQ.
The auction brings up an obvious question. What would you talk about with the leader of Apple? Would you ask him about Steve Jobs? Whether the iWatch is for real? Can you have tea instead of coffee? There are just so many topics to cover and so little time.
No matter what the winning bidder talks about, the winning funds go to a good cause. All proceeds from the auction will go to the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights. The group works to increase human rights around the globe.
Hopefully, Tim Cook's charitable nature extends to other past and present Apple executives. V3 looks forward to the day when former Apple chief executive John Sculley offers charitable souls the chance to spend a weekend with him.
Sculley is well renowned for firing Steve Jobs and selling sugar water. Perhaps Sculley could offer someone the chance to hang out for a total of two days in his derelict mansion.
For those unaware, Sculley's mansion is known as a design oddity that puts aesthetics over functionality. Architecture Digest called Sculley's mansion, "the architectural equivalent of the Apple III" and "the worst piece of design they have ever seen".
During your stay with Sculley you could be delighted with stories of the Newton PDA, Macintosh Portable, and what it's like to yell at Steve Jobs.
Apple finds itself facing a formidable challenge these days. Co-founder and company visionary Steve Jobs is gone. A once solid hold on an emerging market has been challenged by a series of knock-off vendors. And the company's once-solid financial resources are being called into question.
If that sounds familiar to you old-timers, it should. The company paced a similar situation some 20 years ago, and handled it in entirely the wrong way. The result was a catastrophe that almost destroyed Apple as a brand and wiped out what would become the most iconic technology brand of the 21st century.
Back then, the company was several years off the ouster of Jobs and the ascension of John Scully. Having decided that good enough would work, the company slowed up on development of the MacOS and turned to marketing, expanding the computer's reach and attempting to appeal to as many markets as possible.
With a brain drain and a horrible misjudgement of the market, Apple soon found itself in a terrible position when Windows 95 delivered a 'good enough' user experience to the MacOS with a far wider hardware selection and a better developer environment.
Eventually, the company was able to recover when Steve Jobs returned, overhauled the MacOS with OS X and refocused the company on making just a few products that were far beyond anything the competition could offer.
But now, with Jobs since having passed away, Apple finds itself in a familiar situation. Once a market darling, the company has seen its value fall substantially as the Android platform has won over hardware developers and helped fuel the creation platforms which are as good, and at times better than iOS with a lower price tag and a greater range of compatible offerings.
This has also started to eat into Apple's bottom line. The company saw the same PC sales pains that the rest of the market did, but in the case of Apple it also came with worries that the portable device line which has become the company's bread and butter was threatened as well.
As such, Apple needs to refocus itself and renew a commitment to overhauling its product lines. The company needs to realise that incremental updates and moderate improvements are not going to be enough to beet Android.
The company needs to recapture the spirit of Steve Jobs, the unrelenting, sometimes cruel drive that demands not only innovation and inspiration, but absolute perfection in the process. Someone at the company, be it Tim Cook, Jon Ive or another brilliant mind, needs to step up and demand that the coming versions of the iPhone, iPad and iMac be more than the best, but the sort of "insanely great" leap that helped to define Apple as the electronics powerhouse it has grown to become.
A recent study found that Amazon's App Store may actually become a real threat to Google's Play store. The report found that the amount of paid apps and the growth of Amazon's store could put it in real competition to Google down the road.
The theory is interesting but probably inevitable. A third competitor in the mobile space is bound to happen. Apple and Google can not own a huge sector of the market forever.
Whether an Android fork like Amazon's is that third competitor is yet to be seen. With Samsung building out Tizen and Firefox launching its mobile OS, someone will be able to compete with Apple and Google.
Amazon has its positives. Its devices are well liked for media consumption. They are cheap to purchase and Amazon has a strong ecosystem when you throw in its e-commerce business and cloud.
The company seems to be taking more cues from Apple than Google. Amazon looks to be headed towards an ecosystem that's well curated and offers premium apps instead of just a lot of them.
While Amazon devices may sell at lower margins than Apple's, its ecosystem is similar to the one used with iOS. It's well organised and puts the focus on easy of use instead of excessive features. That is why Amazon is able to sell paid apps to the tune of strong revenue numbers.
However, Amazon still has yet to capture the market in the way that Android and Apple have. Kindle Fire models in the wild are still are not competitive with the kings of the mobile world.
Whether that changes anytime soon is yet to be seen. However, so far, Amazon looks as though it has a solid plan to become a real competitor with Google and Apple.
05 Apr 2013
Apple has bowed to pressure from out-of-pocket parents by adding age ratings to any app on sale in its App Store.
The company has tweaked the App Store UI to add a tile displaying the recommended age rating next to the app's developer credits. The move comes after widespread criticism of the App Store and its payment policy by numerous parental groups.
The groups claim it is currently far too easy for unsupervised children to spend vast amounts of money on iOS devices. Although some might argue that parents who leave their five-year old in charge of their iPad when logged into the App Store have to take some of the blame.
This phenomenon was highlighted earlier this year after eight-year-old Theo Rowland-Fry managed to spend £980 buying virtual donuts while playing a Simpsons game on his dad's iPad.
Similar incidents have been reported across the globe, and on several occasions Apple has conceded defeat refunding the lost cash to the disgruntled parents.
The slew of incidents has also at times led to legal action against Apple. Most recently, the iPhone maker settled a lawsuit brought against it by a group of parents alleging incidents like Rowland-Fry's prove the existing App Store purchasing policy is inadequate.
The settlement saw Apple add a line of text to app download pages outlining whether any free versions featured in-game purchase services.
While age ratings aren't too much of a big deal, the decision to add them shows that Apple is changing its usual stonewall approach to complaints.
In the past the company has simply ignored user criticism, as famously demonstrated when former chief Steve Jobs told angry iPhone 4 users that the reason they couldn't make phone calls was "they were holding it wrong".
Here's hoping Apple keeps showing its nice side.
02 Apr 2013
Apple has repeatedly attempted to trademark its ever increasing staple of words and symbols. From the recently failed attempt to own the term "iPad Mini" to the persistent battle over the words "App Store", Apple has continuously tried to build out a brand that is distinctly its own.
It is one of the reasons the firm has been so successful. Apple doesn't just sell products, they also sell an image. The leaders of Apple have worked hard for years to build a brand that is cool. Apple puts a focus on aesthetics and style that was previously unheard of in the tech world.
Before Apple, the focus was solely based on usability and performance. However, Apple set out to build its products with image and ease of use in mind. From the various "I" devices to the aesthetics of its logo, Apple has always been interested in the image of its electronics.
That is why the firm puts so much emphasis on protecting its brand. Apple spends a lot of money and time in guarding its image through trademark.
It recently fought a battle in Brazil to protect its iPhone name against a smaller firm attempting to capitalise on the brand. Apple even fought Amazon to force the e-commerce firm to change its App Store name to something else.
The Amazon case is specifically interesting because it points out how much Apple lingo has permeated society. The words "App Store" seem ubiquitous. Many call Google's Play Store, "the App Store". Apps are the common applications we use on mobile devices, while a store is the place we get them from.
However, without Apple we wouldn't even use that terminology. Apple may not have invented the App but it did bring the term into the common lexicon. Without the iPhone, apps would just be mobile applications.
Perhaps that is the reason Apple fights so hard for trademarks. Apple understands that it is a key figure in the tech world and if it allows free use of its brand then it will dilute its significance in the world.
Many firms are now following Apple and putting a focus on building out a brand. Samsung, Apple's biggest competitor, has created the Galaxy line of handsets with a push towards building out a brand. Theirs even been rumblings that Google is worried the Galaxy brand will become more well known for Android than Google.
The technology industry is changing. Now the tech world has to stay focused on marketing, trademarks, and patents. Because of the smartphone markets parity, businesses need to spend just as much money on brand image as R&D.
Apple may make the biggest news for trademark cases, but soon everybody will be making waves in the battle for names.