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Apple’s iPhone Woes

The overwhelming joy that many Apple fans felt when they got hold of the fabled iPhone 4G, soon turned sour when the first big bug was discovered. “Want to talk? Hold it right.”

It quickly became evident that the iPhone was very finicky about where the user placed their hand. Holding it in the lower left hand corner meant that the user would suffer from bad signal reception or even a call disconnect. The problem stems from Apple’s “radical” idea of placing an external antenna wrapped around the circumference of the phone. Apple’s simple solution to the problem was “don’t hold the phone like that”.

Just as people were getting to grips with using the finicky device, a new revelation has been made. Apple has made, in their own words, “a stunning” discovery. Apparently, the software that calculates and displays the signal strength (the five bars you see at the top) is flawed. The bottom line of this is, What You See Is Not What You Get. So users have been left clueless as to the exact signal strength that they are receiving.

It appears that through this issue, Apple is trying to shift some attention away from the antenna issue in order to do some damage control. However, this does not mean that the bug does not exist. All it means is that this is only the second of what could possibly be a long line of errors and problems the iPhone 4G could throw up. So far Apple has not announced a fix for the software glitch.

The End of The (Free) Ride

Skype 2.0 for the iPhone is finally available for download. However, the jubilation experienced by all of those who were waiting for it may be short lived. The free ride has a time limit and that limit may be as close as six months away.

Sunday was the big day for Skype 2.0 app, enabling millions of iPhone users to make calls over their 3G networks for free. The release was a long time coming as the app had been given the go ahead by AT&T last year. Until now, Skype only worked over Wi-Fi which meant that users could not operate the app on the move.

With regards to the iPhone and AT&T, free calls between Skype apps is expected to come to an end in December this year. According to an announcement from Skype, the company will begin charging a small fee after that for the use of the app over a 3G network. The actual amount is thus far unknown. Calls made over Wi-Fi, however, will remain free.

What makes this really bad news for iPhone / Skype fans is that AT&T is going to phase out its unlimited 3G data plans. The new data plans are set at $15 & $25 for 200MB & 2GB of data respectively per month. This effectively puts a spoke in the wheels for any plans of using Skype extensively on the iPhone.

However, the situation can only be realized in the coming months due to certain factors. Apart from the data plan revision, there is the small matter of iPhone 4.0 OS which is expected to come out in a few weeks. The new OS is expected to allow multitasking, which in turn will allow users to be notified of incoming calls when the app is not in the foreground. The other factor is, of course, Skype’s hitherto unknown pricing structure.

Are They Really iPad killers?

Two million iPads in sixty days – that is how many iPads Apple has sold so far. This roughly works out to over Thirty three thousand iPads a day, proving the naysayers wrong. One of those naysayers included Apple’s favorite rival Bill Gates.

Unfortunately for Gates, not only is the iPad selling well but Microsoft’s own Surface technology is far from being ready for release. Even worse news was that the only viable contender to the iPad’s throne, the HP Slate, dropped Windows as its OS and moved onto Palm webOS.

The Windows shaped hole created by the exit of HP created an opportunity for others, namely Asus and MSI. Both manufacturers came out with their contenders at Computex; Asus with its Eee Pad and MSI with the WindPad. The lack of imagination in naming the devices seems to have followed the design process into the devices itself.

The 10 inch Eee Pad will run Windows Embedded Compact 7 and the 12 inch will run Windows 7 Home Premium. MSI will also run Home Premium on their 10 inch WindPad 100 model, but might switch to Android in the next model, the 110. Both have revealed very little other than a few details about processors, RAM and internal storage specs.

Only MSI has said anything about a 2010 release and that too was vague. Asus on the other hand as committed to a 2011 first quarter release. All in all, the signs are not very encouraging and if the HP Slate bombs out (if it is ever released at all) later this year, then the iPad will rule for a long time to come.

No plastic? No iPad!

iCaramba! That’s what Bart Simpson would say, because even Bart Simpson has a heart. It would be heartless to be rude to an old woman, but it would be downright evil to be rude AND to break the heart of an old disabled woman. But that is exactly what Apple did this week.

According to San Francisco’s KGO-TV, a Palo-Alto Apple store refused to sell an iPad to a disabled woman. The reason? She wanted to pay them the full amount IN CASH!!!

Diane Campbell had been saving up for months so that she could buy an iPad to browse the internet. Once she had enough cash saved up, she dumped it in a backpack and set off to the Apple Store. At the store she picked up a nice looking iPad and went up to the counter to purchase it. That’s when she discovered Apple’s NO CASH policy. Simply put, No plastic-No sale. Like many of the old school Americans, she did not possess a credit card and so she was turned away.

The story has raised a public outcry and directed a lot of anger in Apple’s direction. While the policy may work well online and for the iTunes Store, as a corporate policy it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. Thankfully, after the issue was highlighted, Apple changed the policy a few days later. They have also provided Diane with the iPad she once craved. However, it is sad to note that it took an ugly incident like this for Apple to see the light.

A Sheep in Wolfram’s Clothing

A year ago the Google killer was born… or so it was said at the time. Wolfram Alpha launched with a lot of expectation and much fanfare, but a year later the Wolf is yet to make a kill.

It is sad to note that visitors to the site have actually dropped. Fewer visitors went to the radical search engine this April than they did last May. This perhaps suggests that it was just the curiosity factor that drove traffic there in the first place.

It is actually a shame that it has turned out this way; not that anyone wants Google to be “killed” or any such nonsense. But the fact is Stephen Wolfram, the founder of Wolfram Alpha, wanted to give people a search engine with a true difference. The engine is geared towards computational queries and by curating its results, it provides very authoritative information.

However, this has more or less led to its downfall of sorts. The general public does not feel very comfortable with this type of strategy. To address this, the company is going more “mainstream”. The homepage is being given a revamp and music, sports, health and other pop culture friendly subjects are being added to its repository of information. Stephen Wolfram said that they were building something that could understand what people were saying. The project has now more than doubled the information they started out with, which should go long way in addressing some of the issues they had.

LG defeated in U.S. court

Usually when the big boys hit the courtroom, the small fry have no chance. But in what could be compared to a David versus Goliath situation, LG Display has actually lost a case it brought against AUO and Chi Mei Optoelectronics.

The South Korean arm of LG filed the patent infringement action against the Taiwanese firm in 2006, who in turn filed a counter claim. After four long years, not only did the case go against LG Display, but the proceedings also determined that LG itself had infringed on four patents. The patents are those that deal with

1. Technology that enhance the response times
2. Technology that improves reliability
3. Technology that fixes image defect problems
4. Technology that enables compact form factors (e.g.: Handheld devices, etc).

The ramifications of this ruling will be felt in time to come. But in the immediate future there looms an import ban which AUO and Chi Mei Optoelectronics are trying to get enforced. If the ban comes into effect, it will mean that LG can longer import and sell any device that is deemed to be infringing these patents. This in effect rules out many models of cell phones, LCD TVs, public information displays, notebooks and monitors manufactured by LG. As a result, LG could be staring at millions if not billions in losses ahead.

So far there has been no mention of any settlement. In fact, the press release that was issued later by the plaintiff had no mention of a request of any sort for monetary remuneration.

Another iPhone Supplier Suicide

The spate of suicides at Foxconn continued, as a woman identified as Chu/Zhu took her own life this week. The 24 year old jumped off her apartment block to her death in the city of Shenzhen. The city is home to a 300,000 strong Foxconn factory. Foxconn is the world’s largest assembler of electronics.

According to the Associated Press, the number of suicides at Foxconn this year now stands at eight. The most infamous of these suicides is that of Sun Danyong. He also leapt off of a building after the iPhone 4G prototype incident. Sun was allegedly roughed up by security personnel at Foxconn after the prototype mysteriously went missing. The suicide followed shortly thereafter.

Zhu’s suicide, so far, does not have any apparent technology leak associated with it. Hon Hai Precision Industry, the holding company of Foxconn, stated that police had reported to them that Zhu’s suicide was due to “personal matters”. Nothing further on the matter has been revealed and the incident remains shrouded in mystery. Whether the true reason for the suicide will ever come to light is a question that will be answered in the future.
Foxconn has been suspected of employee abuse in the past. It is suspected that the team Apple sent to investigate matters at an unnamed iPod manufacturer in 2006 was actually sent to Foxconn. The team did not find any substantial evidence other than the forced hours of work the employees were subjected to. The resulting report therefore exonerated the manufacturer.

Opera 10.5 – Regaining Lost Glory

The Opera browser was the darling of the internet… some time ago. Since its glory days when it introduced tabbed browsing and other innovations, the browser has fallen from grace badly. Google’s Chrome browser, Apple’s Safari and even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer have left it in the dust a long time ago. A while back, Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner said “We consider it a bug, internally, that Opera isn’t the fastest”, and it seems that it wasn’t all talk.

Opera 10.5 has arrived and been noted. Thanks to the Carakan engine, Opera is the fastest in executing JavaScript on Windows based PC’s. Throw in the Vega graphics library and Chrome has a formidable sparring partner. Apart from that Opera has many good features.

Unite mini server-in-a-browser – Enables you to turn you computer into a mini server accessible by you anywhere via an internet connection.
Turbo – Enhanced caching that allows for a better browsing experience with slow connections

Link – Allows synchronization between computers and devices as well as the synchronization of Speed Dial, bookmarks, custom searches, history and notes are some of the notable features of Link.

Torrents – Opera has its own built in BitTorrent support

Future support – The browser already supports HTML5 and CSS3, which means that the transition for users will be fairly seamless.

Opera has also thrown in features which we have grown to expect from browsers like Private browsing mode, Phishing protection and an RSS reader. It is also designed with Windows 7 in mind, therefore it functions well with the operating system’s new features quite well. With a host of other features, Opera finally seems to have caught up and even overtaken the browser race. The response from the competition should be extremely interesting to watch.

Google’s Fluctuating Fortunes in 2010

The last six weeks have been full of action for Google. It has pulled out of China, asked the NSA for help with security, launched Buzz and also offered 1 Gbps fiber lines to homes in the U.S. After all this, you would expect Google to have a quiet week, but this was not to be. Its latest controversy is Internet Censorship.

Pakistan blocked off YouTube videos of President Zardari telling people at a political rally to “Shut up”. Reminiscent of Thailand’s YouTube block in 2007, Pakistan proceed to block total access to the site and thereafter removed it while placing a block on the offending content. The content itself has not been removed from YouTube.

Iran was more worried about information being sent out of or circulated within the country without its permission. The prime suspect in this regard was Gmail, one of the most secure services around today which is also free. The security built into Gmail did not lend itself to the type of censorship that the Iranian Government required so it did the easy thing and denied access to it altogether. The Government has announced that it will be implementing its own email solution for its citizens soon.

While the decisions by these two countries is more or less in line with what we expect from them, the biggest shock was when Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced his plans for censoring the internet. Instead of getting the ISP’s to ban and filter material, his plan is to get Google to filter content that is not desirable to the Australian Government. Basing his request using the examples of China and Thailand and the filtering Google did for these governments, he is insisting that Google impose censorship locally for Australia as well.

Mozilla Weave – Mobile Bookmarks

If you use different methods to access the internet in different locations, keeping your bookmarks in any form of synchronization is a chore. For example, your work computer, home computer and mobile browsing device are never likely to have a synchronized set of bookmarks.

Mozilla’s Weave 1.0 seems to be the solution for this exact situation. Weave allows you to synchronize browser settings and bookmarks across any number of computers and all you have to do is install the add-on. All browser-based data pertinent to the user is encrypted and sent to a Mozilla cloud. So, the next time you log on to a computer with the Weave add-on that has been authorized by you, the settings will be restored so that it will seem seamless.

This is also useful if you are running multiple instances of OS’s. The consistent browsing experience will soon have you hooked and wondering how you did without it. The clincher in this whole deal is that mobile browsers can also be included to the Weave experience. Phone browsers can be updated via the same service making this a very powerful browsing tool.

What makes this add-on even more exciting is the eventual goal Mozilla has for it. The vision is to have a seamless browsing experience where the user can browse on his home computer, pick the mobile browser and continue browsing from the point where they left off on the home computer. This would make it the ultimate in seamless browsing technologies.

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