James Scariati

CNET gets FairPlay wrong

Nick Statt at CNET on the current trial against Apple for preventing music sold by RealNetworks from playing on the iPod:

Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management system, a technology that would detect other music stores’ song files and prevent users from loading them onto the iPod…

This is a completely incorrect description. FairPlay was the DRM that Apple wrapped around the song files it sold from the iTunes Store, ensuring that they would only play within iTunes and on iPods. It had absolutely nothing to do with music sold from other stores, and certainly didn’t actively “detect” music from other sources and block it. Multiple online music stores sold DRM-free music before iTunes did – eMusic, Amazon, CD Baby, etc. – and you were always able to load purchased music from those services into iTunes and sync it to your iPod. Always.

Had Real simply sold DRM-free music like those other retailers, they would have been compatible with iTunes and the iPod as well. Instead, they sold music in their own DRM-encumbered format, then reverse-engineered FairPlay to trick iTunes and the iPod into supporting those files. Apple had no obligation to allow that, and were actually required to prevent it, because a breach of FairPlay gave the record labels the right to pull their music from iTunes. So Apple updated FairPlay to break Real’s reverse-engineering and maintain the terms of their contract with the labels.

This article, and the above quote in particular, make it seem like Apple was blocking music from any competing stores and doing so purely to prevent competition, which is simply untrue. There were (and are) multiple alternative sources for legally purchased online music that were compatible with iTunes and the iPod.

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John Gruber on Apple’s enterprise value

John Gruber on the fact that Google’s enterprise value is now higher than Apple’s:

I don’t know that anyone’s business is ever “safe” in technology. And Google isn’t making nearly as much from mobile advertising as they do from desktop browsers. I think the market has this wrong.

It seems like the longer Apple is successful, the more the market expects it to fail. Each new product release is viewed not as further evidence of Apple’s sustainability, but rather as temporarily staving off an inevitable decline – hence, the endless stream of predictions that Apple is perpetually “about to” collapse.

But why does the market view Apple this way? I think the issue is that their products are seen in isolation – as one-off “lucky” hits that have no relation to each other – rather than as an incremental series that build on each previous success.

In hindsight, it’s very easy to see the lineage between Apple’s products:

  • The iPhone built on the success of the iPod by turning it into just one of its built-in apps, while reusing the same 30-pin dock connector and integrating with iTunes in the exact same way – an approach that made it a very easy “drop in” upgrade
  • The App Store built on the success of the iTunes Store by integrating with customers’ existing accounts to make buying apps as easy as buying songs, which customers were already familiar with
  • The iPad built on the success of both the iPhone and the App Store by using the same operating system, thereby eliminating any learning curve while also maintaining compatibility with apps that customers had already purchased

So why does the market treat each of these successes as separate events? Because in real time, there are multi-year gaps between each of these product releases as Apple works on the next one internally, which creates the impression that it “isn’t doing anything” in between major product launches.

When a new product does come along, then, it’s not seen as a continuation of previous efforts – and thus any success it achieves is interpreted as a stroke of luck, reinforcing the initial misperception.

You Can Forget the iPad Mini

Joe Wilcox doesn’t think an iPad Mini is a good idea:

Neither of us could quite fathom why or for what price a smaller Apple tablet makes sense.

Really? You can’t fathom why a smaller, thinner, lighter, less expensive version of a device that Apple’s sold 84 million of in less than three years is a good idea?

…even at $299, iPad mini risks cannibalizing larger Apple tablet sales, which the company has far from exhausted.

That’s the key point. The tablet is still a huge growth market.

Yes, the tablet market is growing. So in order to maintain its share of this growing market, Apple should…not offer a device at a price point that all of its competitors are offering?

Some people who buy an iPad Mini might have otherwise bought a regular iPad, sure. But I’ll bet there’s a lot more people who haven’t bought a regular iPad that will buy an iPad Mini. That’s the whole point of offering a smaller, less expensive version of the same device.

This will be a fun article to revisit in a few months.

Why Your OS Name Matters

Ben Brooks on why operating system version numbers are important:

It’s difficult [to tell if your device’s version of Android is affected by a security vulnerability] because Google has decided that the non-numeric name is a better way to sell the OS to consumers…no Android user is likely to know what version number they are running, or what version number corresponds with each name.

That’s entirely true, but then he goes on to say:

…on Mac OS X, Apple can say: only affects Macs running 10.7.4 and older. As users we know how to count, thus we know how to tell what we have.

How is OS X any different than Android in this regard? Apple uses the non-numeric name (currently “Mountain Lion”) exclusively in all of its marketing material. In fact, across the entire OS X section of Apple’s website, there is only a single mention of the “10.8” version number: in a footnote referencing a JavaScript performance test. Even Apple’s support site refers to the OS as “OS X Mountain Lion.”

If anything, Android has a slight edge here because there’s a “trick” to the non-numeric names: they go in alphabetical order. If you’re aware of this (which, admittedly, most users are unlikely to be), you can tell that Jelly Bean is newer than Ice Cream Sandwich, for example. Apple’s non-numeric names for OS X don’t really follow a pattern at all, other than that every other version is a “spin-off” of the one preceding it: Leopard (10.5) > Snow Leopard (10.6), Lion (10.7) > Mountain Lion (10.8). But that’s even less obvious.

The clear winner here is iOS, which doesn’t go by a non-numeric name at all – it’s simply called iOS 6, iOS 5, etc.

Apple and the Spectre of Decline

Tim Wu in The New Republic:

There are, meanwhile, long-term dangers in Apple’s grand patent campaign, both for the company itself and the industry at large. Since the 1970s, winning and losing in tech has been generally, if not always, a matter of merit. Each of Apple’s great victories, from the Macintosh to the iPhone, came by building great products.

Apple’s resort to patent law is a completely different way of doing business. It’s an appeal to the federal government for protection against competition. It can be effective, but relying on public help is an addictive habit, and unhealthy over the long term.

Apple didn’t sue Samsung to prevent competition – they sued Samsung to prevent them from creating products so strikingly similar to Apple’s own that consumers couldn’t tell the difference. If their intent was to prevent competition itself, they would have sued every smartphone manufacturer under the sun, not just Samsung specifically.

While supposedly affecting how its competitors make products, Apple’s patents may do more to change its own products. That’s because they create an incentive to build things that are safely protected behind its proven “patent shield.” As Edgar puts it, with patent protection in place, “the innovation required to make a new product seem desirable will increase exponentially.” This may be one of the reasons the iPhone 5 looks and works so much like its predecessors.

No, the iPhone 5 looks and works like previous iPhones because it’s a good design that has been proven to work well and sell well. Apple doesn’t change product designs willy-nilly just because; they change them to make them better.

Not to mention, the iPhone 5 was designed long before this “patent protection” was actually in place, so the timeline here doesn’t even make sense.

This isn’t to say that Apple has accomplished nothing. Instead, the experts suggest it has built itself a shield against knock-offs–literal copies of the style of its phones and iPad that might make you mistake for the authentic items. Call it “Louis Vuitton” protection–good against counterfeiters, but not control of the whole handbag market.

Exactly. And that’s what Samsung was doing – producing products that were so similar to Apple’s that they could be mistaken for each other. Which directly contradicts the argument earlier in the article that they sued to prevent “competition.”

Teen Accused of Shoplifting with EasyPay

18-year-old Eric Shine was arrested at an Apple Store after being accused of attempting to shoplift a pair of headphones using Apple’s EasyPay system:

It was an undercover Apple security employee and a store manager who stopped Shine, accusing him of possessing stolen property. “I pulled out my iPhone, and realized it still showed the Pay Now button, and not the receipt,” Shine said. “I told them I had no intent of stealing; I’ve been in the store for an hour, and I’m still willing to purchase the headphones.” That didn’t satisfy the Apple Store staff.

While it does seem like he made a legitimate mistake, the problem is that someone who really is trying to steal could do the same thing as a “cover”: walk through the whole EasyPay process, stop before actually paying, and then attempt to leave the store.

Hopefully, this one event won’t cause Apple to reconsider the whole system (the fact that such a situation hasn’t come up until now, almost a year after EasyPay’s introduction, is a testament to how well it works the large majority of the time).

Rather than canning the whole thing, I think future situations like this can be avoided with a few small tweaks:

  • Once an item has been added to the cart, place a persistent banner across the top of each EasyPay screen that indicates that the item hasn’t yet been paid for
  • On the last screen (where you tap the Purchase button), automatically remove the item from the cart if the button isn’t tapped within a small window of time (say 30 seconds)

These two modifications would make it very difficult for someone to walk out of the store claiming that they thought they purchased an item – there will either be a big banner that reads “Not Paid” right there on their phone, or they’ll have neither an item in their cart nor a receipt for it.

Don Lehman on the New iPhone and Dock Connector

Industrial designer Don Lehman has penned two articles analyzing what are supposedly leaked parts for the upcoming new iPhone and its dock connector. Lehman not only analyzes what has changed with each part over the prior generation, but why it has changed and what the benefits are.

After reading both articles, I’m completely convinced that both part leaks are real. In summation, both new designs provide increased strength and durability despite reductions in thickness, weight, and overall size – exactly what you would expect from Apple, and way too detailed and well-thought-out to have been faked or planted.

While all of the excitement and anticipation is centered around the upcoming new iPhone, it’s also a single product updated on a regular yearly schedule. If an aspect of the new iPhone’s design fails to meet expectations, Apple can simply improve upon it with the following year’s model.

But the stakes are actually much higher with the new dock connector, because Apple doesn’t have the luxury of modifying it every year due to the huge number of third-party products that rely on its particular size and shape (cables, speaker docks, cases, accessories, etc). As a result, today’s iPhone and iPad still use the same 30-pin dock connector that was first introduced in 2003.

So a change to the dock connector has to make sense for today’s products, future versions of those products, and even totally new products that haven’t been invented yet (note that the iPhone and iPad didn’t yet exist when the dock connector was introduced). That’s a tall order.

(Via Marco.org)

Nick Bilton on Apple’s Secrets

Nick Bilton of The New York Times likens the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Samsung – in which Apple has revealed numerous prototype iPhone and iPad designs – to a magician whose trademark illusion was explained in public:

Back in the early 1930s, a magician by the name of Horace Goldin went to court to defend his signature illusion: sawing a woman in half.

Mr. Goldin filed a lawsuit against the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for using this magic trick in an advertisement and explaining how it worked. According to an article in The New York Times from March 1933, Mr. Goldin, who had won a patent for the illusion a decade earlier, asserted that the ad had adversely affected his ability to get people to see his shows.

[…]

Although the federal court threw out Mr. Goldin’s claim in 1938, the damage had already been done.

Although it’s an interesting analogy, I don’t think it really applies in the case of Apple vs. Samsung.

The whole allure of a magic trick is that you don’t know how it works; once that’s revealed, the “magic” is gone and the trick ceases to be entertaining. On the other hand, the fact that we’re now aware of some of the earlier designs that Apple experimented with has no bearing on the utility or the quality of the final products that we have today. Is my current iPhone worthless because I now know that Apple experimented with a version that resembled a large iPod Mini? Of course not. A magic trick, however, is worthless if you know the process behind it.

Also, don’t forget that Apple is the one that filed this lawsuit against Samsung – so it isn’t like they were unaware that their prototypes would be shown and discussed, or that they’re doing so against their will. Rather, as Jim Dalrymple speculates, they’re doing this intentionally in order to (if they win) prevent Samsung and other competitors from copying additional products in the future.

The Future of Computing

This bit in an article about Palm’s “Graffiti” language by Rob Walker caught my eye:

Probably what matters more in judging post-language touch-screen navigation — and this can be a litttle unnerving — is watching a toddler, too young to speak, but evidently hard-wired to swipe and poke, navigate a touch-screen device. No reference card required.

I’ve experienced this first-hand: my son, who is less than two years old, knows how to swipe back and forth between photos on my iPhone. And it’s not accidental or any kind of fluke; he very deliberately sticks out one finger and then moves it horizontally across the screen.

In fact, if we show him photos on our digital camera – which does not have a touchscreen – he tries to swipe those too, and seems puzzled when nothing happens.

Viewed this way, I don’t see how it could be argued that touchscreen devices aren’t the future of computing.

(Via The Brooks Review)

Apple to Advertise for Samsung

John Gruber on the recent UK court ruling that Apple must take out advertisements to “correct any impression” that Samsung’s Galaxy tablets copied the iPad:

I can’t figure out how Apple will play this one. They have to comply with the law, but, I just can’t see Apple paying for ads that even mention Samsung, let alone doing so in a way that absolves them of copying the iPad.

It’s a stretch, but maybe Apple spins the Galaxy Tab as an inferior product because it doesn’t copy the iPad? For example:

It’s official: the court has ruled that the Samsung Galaxy Tab doesn’t copy the iPad.

Sorry, Samsung – better luck next time.

It would even be reminiscent of those “Redmond, start your photocopiers” banners that Apple displayed for Mac OS X Tiger’s introduction at WWDC.