Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apple starts disabling hacked iPhones

After the release of the iPhone, there was some consternation over the non-release of the iPhone outside the United States; it was speculated that hacked copies of the iPhone would be available outside the United States and that this was a natural occurrence. Apple would not be able to do anything about this. Well, looks like the design of Apple's engineers had actually planned for this. So, the latest firmware update to the iPhone has actually disabled the iPhone, apparently permanently for those people who have hacked iPhones. But is this the last statement on this matter ?

The iPhone 1.1.1 update, released Thursday, breaks phones that have been hacked so that they work with providers other than AT&T Inc., the only U.S. provider Apple has allowed to carry its mobile phones. Apple has said that it would fight any attempts to unlock the iPhone. Earlier this week the company released a warning that unlocked iPhones "will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed."
The new software is Apple's biggest iPhone update to date, and it fixes a number of security flaws in the mobile phone's browser, mail client and Bluetooth networking server. The majority of the flaws do not appear to be critical, but the update fixes a larger number of bugs than the first iPhone update, released July 31.
Mobile phone users typically cannot update their own software, but Apple introduced this capability in the iPhone, which uses the update mechanism in the phone's iTunes music player. iTunes checks for these updates once per week, so it may take up to seven days for all iPhone users to see these updates. Apple advises users to install the update immediately.

Now, while this patch fixes bugs in the iPhone and should be installed by users, it is unlikely that the hacker community will accept this matter as a fait accompli. It's a gauntlet that Apple has thrown to the hacker community, and with the hacks spawning a new business, there is a major commercial angle to it. Thus, it is likely that hackers will now start to put their creative thoughts on how to defeat this latest attempt by Apple.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

iPhone in Europe

After much hand-wringing and puzzlement over the US only release of the iPhone, Apple is slowly releasing the iPhone in European markets, although, not as attractive to users as it was for the US market. The plan is to release in the UK sometime in October 2007, and then go onto Germany on November 9, 2007. Although one can expects some amount of anticipation, there will not be the same buzz about the release as there was in the US market near its release. Many reasons for this lack of a buzz:
1. The industry to release a patched version of the iPhone that is not carrier restricted is in full swing, so a number of users would already have the iPhone in use with European networks.
2. Europe is far ahead of the US in terms of speed of telecom networks, with 3G being common, and the iPhone currently only supports EDGE which is a lot slower. For people already using 3G or planning to buy a phone to use 3G and get the high speed, the iPhone is a non-starter unless it gets a 3G version
3. Pricing is a major issue. The phone in the US sells for $399, and will sell for a converted value of around $540 in Europe which is a significant premium. Not sure how many people will buy the device at these prices.
4. Apple in the US has gone with a 2-year contract with AT&T for the service plan, but a long service plan is not par for the course in European countries. For customers used to paying on a regular basis and not getting locked into a contract, especially when the contract does not lead to a cheaper device, the iPhone will not seem so attractive.
will all these factors, one will just have to wait and see whether the buzz factor of the iPhone as a must have device is enough to overcome all these.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Get to the moon, win $20 million as a prize

The X Prize foundation is a way to use money an as attraction to get people to use their talents and ingenuity to come up with solutions to intractable problems. So, for example, the first such prize, the Ansari X prize had an open prize to the first group that would send a spacecraft to sub-orbital flight twice within a period of 2 weeks; the prize, $ 10 million. Enough to invite a dedicated group of people who believed that they could do it, and if they did it, then they would not only walk away with fame, and a certain promise of further riches. Then they have open prizes for an effort in human genomes and another prize for the first group to have a vehicle that can go 100 miles per gallon. All these are creditable efforts. But now they are approaching a new frontier, with the moon offer (bankrolled by Google):

Google GOOG will sponsor the newest contest by the X Prize Foundation, which three years ago handed $10 million to a team that sent SpaceShipOne into suborbit and back twice over a two-week period. The nonprofit foundation seeks to promote scientific breakthroughs that benefit humanity. In the new contest, which officials referred to as Moon 2.0, teams will compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the moon. It will have to roam at least 500 meters of the lunar surface and complete several missions, such as transmitting photos and videos back to Earth.
The idea for the Lunar X Prize emerged from a meeting in March between Google co-founder Larry Page and X Prize Foundation founder Dr. Peter Diamandis. Page is on the foundation's board. Google is the exclusive sponsor. Google already has a Google Moon site, with photos and data focused on the Apollo moon missions. People thought Google Moon was just for fun, "but now you know we are serious about this," said Page, who helped make the Lunar X Prize announcement. "Science and engineering, if you ask an economist, are the only ways that we have to increase our economics and productivity. We believe that these kinds of contests, in setting an ambitious goal like going to the moon, are really a good way to improve the state of humanity."

The Moon is a strange episode in human space history. The US sent a number of missions to the Moon, and then curtailed them; after all, would anybody in the early 70's have believed that a few more flights would have the last people walking on the moon; they would have instead believed that the 80's and 90's would have seen moon bases.
Governments have their own agendas and impulses regarding why this needs to be done, but to get private foundations to do this is a new direction. Any such effort has many positive spinoffs, and if it can succeed, it will be a superb new effort.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Apple reduces price of iPhone by $200

This was not something that anybody would have expected. There was the usual sense of expectation regarding what would be new products introduced by Apple, but nobody would have expected the price of the iPhone to drop by a third, to $399. This is good for the people who were thinking of buying the iPhone but the price of $599 was too expensive for them, or maybe they just did not want to spend so much on the iPhone.
It sure looks like Apple felt that the sales figures for the iPhone were not meeting the desired levels, and the cost is a significant factor, and hence the reduction in the price. This price will make the iPhone more attractive for the holiday season and should spur sales. However, there is a very vocal group of uses who feel extremely dissatisfied with this decision, and it is quite expected. After all, to buy a new gadget is good, and then to find out after you buy it that the price has dropped by $200 would make you look like somewhat of a fool. The users were fairly vocal on the Apple website, and the company decided to give all of them $100 as compensation.

Apple on Thursday offered a $100 store credit and an apology to early adopters of its iPhone mobile handset after they reacted angrily to a large price cut within 10 weeks of its launch. The move, designed to boost sales during the holiday season in the US, was an unusual one for the company. It commands premium prices for its products and tends to add features to them to justify maintaining existing prices.
IPhone owners, some of whom queued for days to buy the handset before it went on sale on June 29, had by Thursday besieged Apple with complaints that they had been taken advantage of and overcharged. Apple’s price cut had also disappointed the market. The company’s shares fell 5 per cent on Wednesday on concerns about the effect on profitability and the decision to cut the price so soon. Apple shares closed a further 1.3 per cent lower on Thursday at $135.01.

This may actually be the first time that Apple has to had face the backlash of customers in such a way, and would not have been pleasant for them. However, it must have been necessary for Apple to make such a move in order to avoid getting a bad backlash from customers; at the same time, given the need to increase sales, the price cut would have been necessary.

Microsoft releases version 1.0 of Silverlight

In the latest development in the battle for getting the leading technology in the area of browsing capabilities and internet applications (also known as Silverlight vs. Flash), Microsoft has released the first version of Silverlight 1.0, touted as a rich media player. And, since no release is good without showing some level of support and incorporation, Microsoft also announced its early bird partners, organizations that have started using Silverlight. These include Home Shopping Network, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Entertainment Tonight (a TV show), Netflix, CBS Corp's TV division, and with an additional 35 companies signed on.

Microsoft hopes such partnerships will help drive more than 200 million downloads of the player by the end of June next year. Microsoft is consciously not pushing Silverlight to users out via Windows Update, preferring to stimulate demand for the product through its partnerships.
Microsoft is making its move on turf currently controlled by Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash player, which is used by YouTube videos, for example. The beta and release candidate versions of Silverlight, which boasts 720p high-definition video that trumps the existing version of Flash, have garnered several million downloads so far, Goldfarb said.

And this is the true test. Adobe so far has been the owner of this space, with Flash and Flash Video being the dominant players. Now with the entry of Microsoft, which has its massive OS base and an equally massive marketing strength, it remains to be seen as to how this challenge will fare. Microsoft is also trying something different, with actually partnering with Novell to release a Linux version of Silverlight, a indication of how seriously it views the future of Silverlight.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

AT & T provides new service to give parents control

Nowadays a lot of parents feel that they have lost control on the internet and phone habits of their children, and feel distressed about this. However, it is difficult to act as a policeman at all points of time, so, to leverage on this demand, AT & T has come out with a new service that provides some sort of control facilities on the use of the wireless phone.
So AT & T's new Smart Limits for Wireless is a service that enables parents to set usage limits on the talk time, text messaging, instant messaging and downloading, and also setup filters for mobile web sites. The service provides for parents to control the total bill on their children's plans.

The new service, which is part of AT&T's Smart Limits program across multiple technologies, helps parents protect children from inappropriate calls, texts and Internet content by allowing them to block numbers they deem inappropriate and filter access to content on their child's phone.
The service also lets parents establish a maximum dollar amount that can be spent on download purchases such as ringtones and games, and control the time of day and days of the week that the phone can be used.
When a child nears the established usage limit for any wireless capability, he or she will receive a warning notice; once the limit is reached, the service will be restricted.

The service costs $ 4.99 per month, and given the number of parents worried about their kid misuse of the service, and also to protect them from harm, AT & T would expect this service to be a hit. However, this is not something that a lot of kids would appreciate, given the controls on overall text messaging and call when the total amount nears due.
The service also allows parents to go online and modify the limits that they have set up at any point of time. Of course, given that most parents are behind their kids in terms of technological understanding, it remains to be seen as to how many of them are able to figure out how to use this service effectively.

iPhones sales top that of Smartphones

The iPhone is not a Smartphone as per many analysts, but industry specialists, grabbing at sales data proclaimed that when compared to other Smartphones, the iPhone was the market leader; and in the general handset category, it sold approx 1.8% of all handsets sold. These were based on figures from July, although I would doubt whether the first few months of sales should be an indicator for future trend. After all, the iPhone was one of the most publicized devices, with a halo like aura around it, and proclaimed as the new revolutionary device. It would not be surprising that so many people wanted to be the among the ones to carry the device as it would seem like a major new gadget, a cool thing.
The sales figure from iSuppli for iPhone sales till now have been used to project for sales figures for the next few years:

Apple's iPhone was the top-selling smartphone in July, research firm iSuppli reported Tuesday. On the basis of sales figures so far, iSupply predicted that 2007 iPhone sales would reach 4.5 million, would triple in 2008, and would hit 30 million in 2011. "This is a remarkable accomplishment for Apple," iSuppli said in a statement. It's "likely," the firm said, that iPhone sales so far represent the strongest start for a handset in history.
Greg Sheppard, chief development officer for iSuppli and the author of the study, said that there "was a lot of pent-up demand" for the phone. "The follow-up months will be the real proof of the pudding," he said in a telephone interview. Still, he said, it is a data point that iPhone "popped out ahead" of BlackBerrys, Palms, and other leaders in the smart phone category.
Steve Jobs' latest device tends to be seen as straddling two market segments -- smartphones, which allow users to install applications, and feature phones, which allow users to play multimedia. The iPhone matched sales of the leading feature phone, the LG Chocolate, Sheppard said, noting that some people probably wouldn't put the iPhone directly in competition with smartphones. "But," he said, "if you really look at it, it's a smartphone."

The advantage of the iPhone is that it is seen as having multiple advantages, being a very must-have gadget kind of appeal, being a iPod in terms of playing audio and video, and also having the features of a smartphone. This is a great combination and if Apple can maintain that, it will continue to surge ahead in market share.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Microsoft starts planning for the release of Vista SP1

It's the inevitable. After the release of a new application or Operating system by Microsoft, come the regular questions about the Service Pack. There are a number of people who actually believe that the software becomes stable only when the first Service Pack is released; so it is important for Microsoft to release information about the Service Pack. One can be sure that information will be released in bits and pieces, but it seems clear that the Service Pack will be available for restricted beta testing in September (this month) and then finally out sometime early 2008. Given the complexity of this new system, Microsoft will need a lot of time to make sure that the Service Pack can get as wide a testing as possible; after all, nothing hurts the company as much as the news about bad service packs. For example, when I installed Service Pack2 for Win XP, one of my hard disks became unusable and had to re-formatted losing all the data on the system. This may be an isolated case, but if it happens enough times, it makes for a lot of noise on tech forums and among Microsoft baiters.

After lots of whispers, rumours from beta testers and confusing messages from Microsoft executives, Microsoft has finally revealed the full details about Windows Vista's first service pack. The company confirmed a three-month launch window, with a beta testers getting their hands on the update during September.
Microsoft is saying only "a few weeks" and "September", which are, after all, one and the same, for the beta. As for the final release, the software maker finally acknowledged rumours circulating June that the service pack be fully available until the first quarter of 2008.

As time goes by, doubtless we will hear more about this service pack.

Sony admits defeat to iTunes

Sony had been trying for 3 years now to defeat iTunes in the market for digital music sales. And Sony is not a small player, after it is a conglomerate with a big studio, builds a variety of electronic devices and fast selling mobile phones, but it does not have an iPod. But Sony has also been scoring self-goals in its fight with the emergence of the Apple-iTunes combination. It was slow to adopt MP3 (doing so only in 2004), but its music players have remained locked to Sony's online music store (the same as Apple with iTunes), but this constraint did not work for most people. For the iPod after all, it was the much appreciated design that got people buying iPod's and then getting locked onto the iTunes store. In addition, Sony has been lagging behind the iPod in terms of features, with video incorporation happening only this year.

Sony Corp.'s three-year effort to beat Apple Inc.'s iTunes Music Store is over. The company, which is one of the largest movie, music and consumer electronics companies in the world, said Thursday that it will be closing down its Connect Music Store in Europe and the U.S. In its place, Sony is adding Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media technology to its music players and allowing consumers to download copy-protected content from numerous Windows Media-compatible music stores on the Internet, including those from Napster, and WalMart.
Its first players weren't compatible with the fast-growing MP3 format and would only play Sony's proprietary ATRAC format -- something that didn't find favor with consumers. MP3 was eventually added in late 2004 but the players have remained locked to Sony's online music store for music purchases -- until this week's adoption of Windows Media. On the hardware front Sony has also had trouble keeping up with Apple. A video version of the iPod was launched in late 2005, but the same features weren't added to a Walkman player until April this year when devices went on sale in Europe. Walkman players with video still aren't available in the U.S. but will go on sale from September, Sony said Thursday.

This would be a big shock to Sony, it is not often that Sony has admitted defeat, but in the current case, it must not have been able to see any projections that would have enabled it to at some future point of time take on iTunes and win. But better to cut your losses and run.

YouTube returns to Thailand after it agrees to censorship

So the web is not as all-powerful as we thought it would be. After Google and Yahoo changed their policies to agree to censorship in China, and then Second Life buckled down to US pressure and removed gambling from the online game, YouTube agreed to some amount of censorship and remove some videos that were critical of the country's highly regarded king. This agreement related to existing videos and new ones as well, which means extra overhead for YouTube as they will to review all videos referred to them by Thailand and remove the ones deemed insulting to the King:

Thai censors lifted their ban Friday after five months of blocking the online video site because it had carried material seen as insulting to the country's highly venerated king. The site's management has agreed to block any future clips that are deemed offensive to Thai culture or that violate Thai law, said Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom, the minister of information and communications technology.
Sitthichai said the agreement with YouTube — a site that allows people to post and share video clips — had been reached some time ago, but that there had been technical problems in implementing it. "Any clip that we think is illegal, we will inform YouTube and YouTube will have a look independently," he said. "If YouTube agrees that it is illegal for Thailand or against Thai culture, they will block it from viewers in Thailand."

Thailand has laws that prohibit any disrespect of the King, and people have been penalized in the past. However, there is no difference now if Iranian and Saudi Arabians censors prohibit a lot of videos that are either disrespectful of the Prophet or show too much skin. In addition, since China has an unstated law that any mention of democracy or openness is equivalent to sedition and must be punished, they must be justified in their attempts to censor what all people can read.