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September 14 2011

Apple vs. Samsung: Das Urteil im Volltext

In dem Streit zwischen Apple und Samsung um ein Vertriebsverbot für das Tablet Galaxy Tab 10.1 liegt das Urteil des Landgerichts Düsseldorf jetzt im Volltext vor.

Interessant ist m.E. zunächst, dass sich das Gericht nur auf Ansprüche nach dem Geschmacksmusterrecht stützt und den ergänzenden wettbewerbsrechtlichen Leistungsschutz außen vor lässt.

Das Gericht befasst sich insbesondere auch mit der Frage des sog. vorbekannten Formenschatzes, also damit, ob es bereits vor dem Geschmacksmuster von Apple Designs gegeben hat, die es ausschließen, dass man die Gestaltung von Apple als neu und eigenartig betrachten kann. Auch mit der Frage, ob die Gestaltung (ausschließlich) technisch oder funktional bedingt ist, setzt sich das Landgericht auseinander.

Das Gericht betont sogar, dass es im Zeipunkt der Anmeldung des Gemeinschaftsgeschmacksmusters noch kaum Tablets gegeben hätte und mithin eine geringe Musterdichte und damit ein großer gestalterischer Spielraum bestanden hat, was dazu führen soll, dass selbst gewisse Abweichungen im Design Samsungs keinen abweichenden Gesamteindruck vermitteln.

Ich bin gespannt, ob die Entscheidung beim OLG Düsseldorf halten wird, denn man kann die Frage der Neuheit von Apples Muster sicherlich kritisch hinterfragen. Andererseits halte ich es für offensichtlich, dass sich Samsung gezielt an das populäre iPad angelehnt hat, womit sich dann auch die Frage des ergänzenden wettbewerbsrechtlichen Leistungsschutzes stellt. Ich beurteile die Chancen von Samsung auch in der Berufung als eher schlecht.

August 26 2011

Developer Week in Review: End of an era

The week of the apocalypse continues here in the Northeast. It began with an earthquake that rocked homes from Washington to New Hampshire, and continues with a major hurricane running up the coast toward New England. Anyone out there offer Plague of Locusts insurance coverage?

So long, and thanks for all the cash

Steve JobsIt was inevitable, and somewhat sad, but we knew he would have to step down eventually. He helped define the geek culture of the last decade, and things won't be the same without him. Yes, Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda has stepped down at Slashdot.

What? Someone else resigned this week?

Yes indeed, if you aren't living under a machined aluminum rock, you've heard that Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple, leaving Tim Cook to hold the reigns. This is good timing, in my opinion, since we all knew it was just a matter of time before Jobs would have to leave, and doing it in a controlled and non-urgent fashion lets people get used to a non-Jobs Apple.

The magic question in everyone's mind is: Did Jobs sufficiently infuse his ethos into the corporate culture to keep Apple "insanely great" after his departure? I, for one, believe that he did. What will be interesting to see is if Jobs continues to do show and tells, or if Cook will take over that role. Will we still get "one more thing"? I guess we'll find out at the widely rumored early-September presser for the next iPhone.

Fly the Angry Bird skies

Sky Chart Pro screenIf you're a private (or commercial) pilot, you probably have one arm that's significantly longer than the other, stretched by years of carrying your "brain bag" around. For an instrument-rated pilot, the weight of dead trees that must be lugged around is truly staggering, and keeping all the manuals and charts up to date is a nightmare. Not surprisingly, many of the commercial carriers would like to spare their pilots from potentially crippling back injuries, and with an agreeable nod from the FAA, some carriers have started using tablets (mainly iPads) to replace much of the printed material.

This may lead you to wonder why pilots are allowed to use iPads in the cockpit while you have to turn yours off for takeoff and landing. The answer has nothing to do with electronic interference. The real reason is that takeoff and landing are when most accidents occur, and it's a good idea not to have a bunch of potential projectiles sitting in people's laps.

It's fairly amazing how well iPads work for aviation. I'm not an active pilot anymore, but I plugged a Bad Elf GPS into my iPad 2 before my vacation to California and used Sky Charts Pro to "play along at home." It made me jealous because I would have killed for that kind of high-quality moving map experience when I was doing my instrument pilot training.

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The TouchPad has a price on its head

If you could use a little spare cash, have we got a job for you. All you have to do is port Android to the HP TouchPad, and a cool 20 Benjamins can be yours. Now that HP has scuttled their WebOS efforts, early TouchPad adopters are left wondering if they've purchased a pricey doorstop. As a result, there's a bounty out for the first person or group to get a stable Android build onto the device.

Oddly, no one has taken up my bounty of an easy two bucks to anyone who can port Android onto my Timex Sinclair.

Photo: Steve Jobs photo from Apple Press Info.

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August 25 2011

Mündliche Verhandlung in Sachen Apple vs. Samsung

Das Landgericht Düsseldorf hatte auf Antrag von Apple am 09.08.2011 eine einstweilige Verfügung erlassen, die Samsung den Vertrieb des Tablets Galaxy Tab 10.1 in der Europäischen Union untersagt. Diese Verfügung hatte das Gericht – ohne mündliche Verhandlung – in Richtung der koreanischen Muttergesellschaft von Samsung anschließend auf ein nur für Deutschland geltendes Verbot beschränkt.

Auf den Widerspruch von Samsung hin, hat das Landgericht Düsseldorf heute mündlich zur Sache verhandelt. Nachdem Spiegel Online bereits vorschnell vermeldet hatte, dass das Gericht die einstweilige Verfügung bestätigt hätte, ist tatsächlich noch keine Entscheidung ergangen und Termin zur Verkündung einer Entscheidung erst auf den 09.09.2011 bestimmt worden.

Das bedeutet allerdings, dass die einstweilige Verfügung bis zu diesem Datum bestehen bleibt. Auch wenn man sich mit Ferndiagnosen zurückhalten sollte, deutet dies sehr stark darauf hin, dass das Gericht die Unterlassungsverfügung nicht aufheben wird. Hätten sich – aus Sicht des Gerichts – ernstliche Zweifel ergeben, dann wäre es nämlich gehalten gewesen, die Verfügung sofort aufzuheben. Man muss also damit rechnen, dass das Gericht die Verfügung durch Urteil bestätigt.

Ruminations on the legacy of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs"It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." — Neil Young

"That day has come." Four simple words that signaled that Steve Jobs felt compelled to step down as CEO of Apple, the company he founded, then lost, then saw ridiculed and written off, only to lead its rebirth and rise to new heights.

It's an incredible story of prevailing (read: dominating) over seemingly insurmountable odds. A story that has no peer in technology, or any other industry, for that matter.

That is why even though this moment was long anticipated, and while I know that Steve isn't gone (and hopefully won't be anytime soon), yesterday's announcement nonetheless feels like a "Kennedy" or "Lennon" moment, where you'll remember "where you were when ..."

I say this having seen first-hand the genuine, profound sadness of multitudes of people, both online and on the street, most who (obviously) have never met the man.

Why is this? I think that we all recognize greatness, and appreciate the focus, care, creativity, and original vision that it takes to achieve it.

The realization that one man sits at the junction point of cataclysmic disruptions in personal computing (Apple II/Mac), music (iPod + iTunes), mobile computing (iPhone + iOS), movies (Pixar) and post-PC computing (iPad) is breath taking in its majesty. A legacy with no equal.

The intersection of technology and liberal arts

Apple Store in New York CityIn an era where entrepreneurialism is too often defined by incrementalism and pursuit of the exit strategy, Jobs' Apple was always defined by true husbandry of a vision, and the long, often thankless, pursuit of excellence and customer delight that goes with it.

Ironically, though, Jobs' greatest innovation may actually be as basic as "bringing humanity back into the center of the ring," to borrow a phrase from Joe Strummer of the seminal rock band, The Clash.

Consider Jobs' own words at the launch of the iPad back in January, 2010:

The reason we've been able to create products like this is because we've tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. We make things that are easy to use, fun to use — they really fit the users.

If this seems intuitive, and it should be, consider the modus operandi that preceded it. Before Apple, the hard truth was that the "inmates ran the asylum," in that products were typically designed by engineers to satisfy their own needs, as opposed to those of the actual consumers of the products.

Moreover, products were designed and marketed according to their "speeds and feeds," checklists of attributes over well-chiseled, highly-crafted outcomes. And it didn't really matter if at each step along the value chain the consumer was disrespected and disregarded.

Ponder for a moment the predecessor to the Apple Store, CompUSA, and what that experience was like versus the new bar for customer service being set by Apple.

Or, think about the constraints on enjoying music and other media before the iPod, or the pathetic state of mobile phones before the iPhone.

Skeptics and haters alike can credibly say that Apple did not create these categories, but recognize that it took a visionary like Steve Jobs to build a new technology value chain around the consumer and make it actually work. To give birth to an entirely new platform play. To free the user from the hard boundaries of WIMP computing. To bring design and user interaction models into the modern age. And to magically collapse the once-impenetrable boundaries between computing, communications, media, Internet, and gaming.

Even today, the legacy MP3 device category is utterly dominated by Apple's iPod, despite every would-be competitor knowing exactly what Apple's strategy is in this domain.

To do this in segment after segment, launch after launch, takes true conviction and a bit of chutzpah. But then again, Apple, under Jobs, has never been a company that embraced or felt beholden to conventional wisdom (see "Apple's segmentation strategy, and the folly of conventional wisdom").

iPad as the signature moment in a brilliant career

iPad 2Time and again, investors, competitors and industry pundits have dismissed Apple, most recently when the company launched the iPad. Then, the conventional wisdom was that Apple "blew it" or that it was "just a big iPod Touch," nothing landmark.

Truth be told, such dismissals are probably the barometer by which Steve Jobs knows that he's played the winning hand.

I wrote in 2010, in anticipation of the iPad launch:

The best way to think about the iPad is as the device that inspired Steve Jobs to create the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It's the vaunted 3.0 vision of a 1.0 deliverable that began its public life when the first generation of iPhone launched only two-and-a-half years ago ... it is a product that is deeply personal to Steve Jobs, and I believe the final signature on an amazing career. I expect the product to deliver.

Well, it did deliver, and 30 million iPads later, the ascent of post-PC computing seems irrevocable as a result.

The moral of the story in considering the wonder and beauty of Steven P. Jobs, thus, is two-fold.

One is that most companies wouldn't even have chanced cannibalizing a cash cow product like the iPod Touch (or the iPhone) to create a new product in an unproven category like tablet devices.

Not Apple, where sacred cows are ground up and served for lunch as standard operating procedure.

Two is that the mastery required to create a wholly new category of device that could be dismissed as "just a big iPod Touch" takes a very rare bird. Namely, one that pursues non-linear strategies requiring high leverage, deep integration and even higher orchestration.

.

Exactly the type of complexity that only Jobs and company could make look ridiculously, deceptively simple.

In his honor, may we all be willing to "Think Different" in the days, weeks and months ahead. That's the best way to pay tribute to a legacy that will stand the test of time.

Apple Store and Steve Jobs photos from Apple Press Info.



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August 10 2011

Was steckt hinter der Unterlassungsverfügung von Apple gegen Samsung?

Wie gestern bekannt wurde, hat Apple gegen den Konkurrenten Samsung beim Landgericht Düsseldorf eine einstweilige Verfügung erwirkt, die es Samsung untersagt, das Android-Tablet Galaxy Tab 10.1 in der Europäischen Union zu vertreiben. Die Antragsschrift von Apple, die von der Kanzlei Freshfields stammt, ist mittlerweile als Leak online, weshalb konkret nachvollzogen werden kann, wie Apple argumentiert hat.

In der Sache geht es um Designschutz. Apple macht also geltend, das Design seines iPad sei von Samsung für dessen Produkt Galaxy Tab 10.1 praktisch kopiert worden. Apple beruft sich primär auf ein Gemeinschaftsgeschmacksmuster, durch das das Design des iPad geschützt sein soll.

Ein Geschmacksmuster ist ein eingetragenes gewerbliches Schutzrecht durch das ganz konkret die (äußere) Erscheinungsform eines Gegenstands (Produkts) geschützt wird. Schutzvoraussetzung und damit Voraussetzung für eine Eintragung als Schutzrecht ist nach Art. 4 GemeinschaftsgeschmacksmusterVO, dass das Design neu und eigenartig ist. Bei der Frage der Neuheit und der Eigenart ist der ästhetische Gesamteindruck maßgeblich. Apple hat bereits 2004 ein Design für einen Taschencomputer als Gemeinschaftsgeschmacksmuster schützen lassen, worauf sich der jetzige Antrag stützt. Dieses Muster ist offenbar auch nie angegriffen worden.

Vor diesem Hintergrund ist die Entscheidung des Landgerichts Düsseldorf – das an die Eintragungsentscheidung des zuständigen Harmonisierungsamts gebunden ist – nachvollziehbar.

Andererseits lassen sich mit diesem Muster vermutlich beliebige Tablets der aktuellen Generation untersagen, denn Gegenstand des Schutzes ist letztlich ein flacher rechteckiger Bildschirm, mit einem schmalen Rahmen und abgerundeten Ecken.

Apple beruft sich zudem auf den sog. ergänzenden wettbewerbsrechtlichen Leistungsschutz. Das Argument hierbei ist, dass das iPad sog. wettbewerbliche Eigenart besitzt, weil jedermann das Produktdesign des iPad mit Apple in Verbindung bringen würde. Hier kommt Apple in der Tat die hohe Bekanntheit des iPad zugute. Auch wenn es schon längere Zeit Tablets gibt, hat erst das iPad diesen Markt überhaupt in nennenswerter Art und Weise in Schwung gebracht.

Es wird für Samsung daher gar nicht so einfach sein, die Entscheidung zu kippen, zumal jedem klar ist, dass sich Samsung an das Design des iPad anlehnt, auch wenn Apple das Rad natürlich nicht erfunden hat.

Streitigkeiten dieser Art, über die viele Leute vermutlich nur den Kopf schütteln, werden übrigens laufend geführt. Nur in den meisten Fällen eben unter Ausschluss der Öffentlichkeit. Der Fall ist aber auch ein gutes Beispiel dafür, dass gewerbliche Schutzrechte eingesetzt werden, um Wettbewerb zu verhindern. Wer sich hieran stört, sollte aber nicht auf die Gerichte schimpfen, sondern muss das bestehende Konzept des gewerblichen Rechtsschutzes kritisch hinterfragen.

Udo Vetter befasst sich im LawBlog ebenfalls mit dem Thema.

August 06 2011

Curtain Call

Roundhouse, London

According to the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, "There are things – pornography, the taste of water – that are impossible to define but easy to recognise. Ron Arad's genius is such a thing." He is a designer who was educated as an architect and now is doing some architecture again, dabbles in digitalia, and does things that might be called sculpture and/ or installation art. The most constant thing about him is his appearance – asymmetric hat (woven or felt), T-shirt, big trousers, no socks, amused smile, sidelong look. Also his studio in Chalk Farm, where he has been for 20 years, and which still has the "temporary" construction work he installed when he moved in, and now looks like a period piece.

Foer made his remark in an essay of wit, erudition, and quotes from Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde, written because he and Arad became friends, after they hit it off at some function or other "in a city neither of us called home". One of Arad's skills is the ability to make friends with creative people and, from 9 August, everyone is invited to a party he has orchestrated in that venue of legend, the Roundhouse. "I thought it would be a lot more exciting to invite other people to do it than do it all myself," he says.

This is Curtain Call, an installation in which a curtain of white silicon rods, eight metres high and hanging from above, encloses the great circular centre of the building. The rods collectively form a 360° screen on to which are projected animations and films by some of Arad's creative friends. Christian Marclay will ring the circle with piano keys, running vertically, played by giant projected hands. Mat Collishaw will show a gorgeous tropical landscape which is nonetheless "poisoned by diseased and malicious-looking flowers". Ori Gersht will show crowds at a bullfight, putting viewers in the middle of the circle in the position of a matador, or a bull.

Because the rods are translucent you will be able to see the projections from inside and outside the circle. The silicon is bendy and, as you will be required to push through it, the curtain will be in a state of perpetual oscillation. The spectators, as they pass in and out, become part of the action. On one night there will be Bring Your Own Beamer, a "favela of images" in which people can bring their own laptops, and have their work projected on to the screens. Arad has promised that "you'll be engulfed by images – a captive, but also a creator". He says the aim is to be "as inclusive as the Roundhouse is, plus high art, but without the bolshevism of the art market. Kids will love it."

If Curtain Call is a big sophisticated playground, it is consistent with almost everything Arad has done ever since the day, long ago, when he walked out one lunchtime from the middling architectural practice where he worked, cut seats out of an old Rover car and made from them the prototype of his Rover Chair, which became an instant hit. Since then he has been producing objects characterised by opulent curves and a playful interest in the unexpected properties of materials. He likes rust and reflection, fat things resting on thin things, or off-balance objects that look like they should fall over. He likes things to look highly finished and still in progress at the same time. He likes loopy, curvy bits and bits of text, whether graffiti-like scrawls or digital displays, applied to his work.

For a while these objects were mostly furniture, but he started doing interiors and other forms of product design. Ten years ago he presented an idea for a touch-screen tablet to the electronics company LG that was "pretty much the iPad, but they had no idea what we were talking about". He does sunglasses. Now, more than 30 years after he left architecture school, he is doing large buildings – his Design Museum Holon, in his native Tel Aviv, was completed last year, his Médiacité shopping centre in Liège, Belgium in 2009. He is now designing an apartment block and a commercial development of "science fiction scale" in Tel Aviv, and a hotel in east London.

He also does "studio pieces", works he does not quite call sculpture, but which are not quite anything else, and which fetch handsome prices as one-off collectibles. "I'm lucky that, however much I invest in something, someone will like it," is the way he puts it. For all his dressed-down, scruffy style, he attracts luxury clients. A consortium of Swarovksi, Red Bull and Bernie Ecclestone commissioned him to design a restaurant at a ski station near Gstaad, a rotating thing perched on a peak that is pure Ernst Stavro Blofeld. "I don't care how much it costs," said Ecclestone. "I only care who's paying for it." Whatever answer he got was not the right one, and the project is not currently going ahead.

The common denominator to all this work is playing with stuff to make other stuff. There is no grand theory or social programme, and whether the opportunity takes the form of an ultra-luxury restaurant, or a popular installation at the Roundhouse (admission charge: pay what you can), is not Arad's main concern. "We're interested in doing fantastic, amazing projects," is his not very sophisticated philosophy. He wants to stay in motion, to keep on inventing, not to pause too long on the ground: "We're the last people to be upset if someone comes back in the future with a better idea to make something we've done redundant. It might be us who do it."

He's at his best when he gets close to the business of making things, of what materials and techniques can and can't do. He's less convincing when he floats into a world of whirls and blobs, of making shapes for the sake of it. Curtain Call, with its smart use of hanging silicon, and projection and light, and its engagement with other artists and the public, promises to be one of the good ones.

Guardian Extra members can get 50% off full-price tickets for Curtain Call with cellist Steven Isserlis on 17 August


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April 29 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here are a few highlights from the publishing world. (Note: Some of these stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Publishing reinvented through data

USNewsRankings.pngData is traditionally used by publishers for source references and fodder for graphic visualizations — it's a framework to weave a story around. U.S. News & World Report doesn't have much use for that traditional view.

In a Forbes post this week, Simon Owens, director of PR for JESS3, wrote about how U.S. News & World Report has used its rankings and data to move away from traditional national advertising, a revenue source that has been on the decline for sometime. Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, commented for the story:

A national news weekly had one basic advertising category that it's drawing from: national advertisers. National advertising across the board has been leaving every print product. The news weeklies got hit harder because of the nature of the product, and that particular base was one of the first to leave print almost entirely. People thought [national print advertising] was coming back and we thought it wasn't coming back, so we just decided to move on.

Owens pointed out that expanding its rankings to be a main source of content has given U.S. News an edge over the competition: it has a store of exclusive hard data. He explained how this edge is turned into revenue:

By becoming more consumer focused, U.S. News gained a key advantage: its target readers were people specifically looking to buy stuff. A person Googling his way to the auto rankings is more often than not going there because he's interested in buying a car, and this fact has allowed U.S. News to diversify its revenue. Not only does it aim to sell niche display advertising across these channels, but it also makes money from lead generation. [Kelly said,] "You go on the site looking at a Honda Civic, and it says, 'Here's all of the data,' and then it says, 'Are you interested on a price on a Honda Civic?' When you click on that button, you're on a different channel, you're on a dealership channel, and you're putting in a request. We get paid for that click way more than you would get paid for a banner ad."

The data itself is also used as a revenue stream — readers can pay for access to deeper data specific to their needs. With all the talk of the decline of print media and loss of ad revenues today, it's refreshing to read a success story in which a company used the same downturn that's slowly destroying much of its competition to reinvent its business model.

Simply converting print to digital isn't what the iPad's about

As more magazines take advantage of the iPad's popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

Flipboard screenshot
A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

The story, along with the complete video interview, continues here.

TOC2012 heats up with Sneak Peek webcasts

Note: this story was published here on Radar this week by Joe Wikert.

TOCLogo Every week I come across countless interesting articles and press releases about new econtent products and services. Many sound promising, but who has the time to research them all or even figure out which are worthy of further consideration?

We're about to launch a new TOC webcast series to help solve this problem. Each "Sneak Peek" webcast will feature 3-4 of the most interesting startups in the publishing tools, platforms and technologies space. All of these startups will still be at the pre-release stage, so the webcasts will give you a unique opportunity to learn what makes them special before their products go live.

Details are still being finalized for the first Sneak Peek webcast, but I can tell you that it will take place in the next couple of months. Two of the slots have already been spoken for but we expect to finalize the entire lineup in the next week. All of the Sneak Peek webcasts will be free. Stay tuned to Radar for more details on the inaugural event.

Also, if you're part of a publishing startup at the pre-release stage and you'd like to be considered for a Sneak Peek, we'd love to hear from you. Email me the details and a member of the TOC team will get back with you.

Got news?

Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.


Keep up with Radar's latest publishing news and interviews with our publishing RSS feed.

April 25 2011

View the iPad as a magazine opportunity, not a container

As more magazines take advantage of the iPad's popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

Flipboard screenshot
A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

Who's doing it right? Carlson pointed toward a trio of companies that wouldn't be counted among traditional publishers:

The magazines that are doing the best job right now wouldn't be considered traditional magazines at all. Flipboard, Reeder, Zite — these things are really more like glorified feed readers. Or feed readers that create a beautiful presentation layer. These magazines do a good job of bringing the type of interaction digital media consumers expect. I don't think many mainstream magazines have quite reached that level of interactivity.

For more on how iPad magazines can do a better job of engaging readers and how best to design and build a magazine for tablets, check out the entire interview in the following video:



Related:


April 22 2011

Four short links: 22 April 2011

  1. Tuffy -- a GPL v3 licensed Markov Logic Network inference engine in Java and PostgreSQL that claims to be more scalable than previous tools. (via Hacker News)
  2. Behind news.me -- if you are curious to see what they are reading, if you want to see the world through their eyes, News.me is for you. Many people curate their Twitter experience to reflect their own unique set of interests. News.me offers a window into their curated view of the world, filtered for realtime social relevance via the bit-rank algorithm. A friend and I have been using Instapaper for this, and I'm keen to see how it works. It's interesting, though: the more people I "share" with, the less insight I get into any one person--it goes from being a mindmeld to ambient zeitgeist.
  3. Orbital Content -- Content shifting allows a user to take a piece of content that they’ve identified in one context and make it available in another. [...] Calling Instapaper a content shifter tells only half the story. It puts too much attention on the shifting and not enough on what needs to happen before a piece of content can be shifted. Before content can be shifted, it must be correctly identified, uprooted from its source, and tied to a user. This process, which I call “content liberation” is the common ground between Instapaper, Svpply, Readability, Zootool, and other bookmarklet apps. Content shifting, as powerful as it is, is just the beginning of what’s possible when content is liberated. I think they're optimistic about liberation retaining attribution (there needs to be compelling self-interest to retain attribution) but otherwise love this piece. (via Courtney Johnston)
  4. Rate Limiting Traffic with Varnish (Dan Singerman) -- I love that the technology which help you deliver web pages quickly also helps you deliver them not too quickly. (via John Clegg).

April 20 2011

Got an iPhone or 3G iPad? Apple is recording your moves

By Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden

Today at Where 2.0 Pete Warden and I will announce the discovery that your iPhone, and your 3G iPad, is regularly recording the position of your device into a hidden file. Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.

iPhoneTracker screen
A visualization of iPhone location data. Click to enlarge.

The presence of this data on your iPhone, your iPad, and your backups has security and privacy implications. We've contacted Apple's Product Security team, but we haven't heard back.

What makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it's on any machine you've synched with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you've been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released.

In the following video, we discuss how the file was discovered and take a look at the data contained in the file. Further details are posted below.

What information is being recorded?

All iPhones appear to log your location to a file called "consolidated.db." This contains latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp. The coordinates aren't always exact, but they are pretty detailed. There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file, and it appears the collection started with iOS 4, so there's typically around a year's worth of information at this point. Our best guess is that the location is determined by cell-tower triangulation, and the timing of the recording is erratic, with a widely varying frequency of updates that may be triggered by traveling between cells or activity on the phone itself.

What are the implications of this location data?

The cell phone companies have always had this data, but it takes a court order to access it. Now this information is sitting in plain view, unprotected from the world. Beyond this, there is even more data that we have yet to look at in depth.

For example, in my own case I (Alasdair) discovered a list of hundreds of thousands of wireless access points that my iPhone has been in range of during the last year.

How can you look at your own data?

We have built an application that helps you look at your own data. It's available at petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker along with the source code and deeper technical information.

What can you do about this?

As we note around the 20-minute mark in our video discussion, an immediate step you can take is to encrypt your backups through iTunes (click on your device within iTunes and then check "Encrypt iPhone Backup" under the "Options" area).




Related:


March 22 2011

The magic adapter: Apple TV and the battle for the living room

Apple-TV.pngConventional wisdom is that Apple has not cracked the code to winning a spot in the living room. Maybe, but let me present a case that challenges such wisdom.

First, some backdrop. A friend of mine recently made a semi-serious statement that Apple will make more profit on its Smart Covers for iPad 2 — some project Smart Covers alone to be a $1 billion business — than the entire industry combined will make on their actual tablet product sales.

This got me thinking. Apple has essentially turned what is a mere "accessory" to their products into big business. Why couldn't they apply that same philosophy to retrofitting the big-screen TV?

In homage to what "Intel Inside" meant during the PC era, I'll dub such a concept "Apple Inside." The premise is this: Apple already works with third-party hardware makers to support iPod and iPhone integration in cars, within docking stations, and other vertical device segments. Obviously, Apple also works with legions of software developers to see to it that great apps find their way onto iOS devices.

Why not combine the hardware and software constructs to let consumer electronics manufacturers harness Apple's iOS-iTunes mojo? Putting a bow around this, what if Apple helped save Sony, Steve Jobs' one-time aspirational business hero, by nesting an Apple TV inside of a real TV?


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Such a product strategy, which I will call "The Magic Adapter," accomplishes the following for Apple:

  1. It gives Apple a hardware-software service adapter baked into millions of living room devices.
  2. It outflanks Google's still-developing living room efforts with Google TV before Google finds its footing in this domain.
  3. It allows Apple to fortify its living room position without having to commit the dollars and Apple Retail floor space into what has historically been a low-margin, commodity business.
  4. It's a lynchpin for an "iOS everywhere" play.

Apple traditionally doesn't do OEM-type deals, but I'd argue that in this case the goal is to extend the iOS platform play. Apple's core mantra is enabling, extending and accelerating the transition to Post-PC. At the iPad 2 announcement, Steve Jobs noted that more than 50% of Apple's revenues now come from Post-PC devices — iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Apple TV — all of which are iOS-powered.

The current Apple TV product is, technically speaking, more of an adapter than a standalone solution. Think of it as a proxy service for bridging the last mile of run-time space between your big-screen TV, your media gateway (i.e., a Mac or PC) and your online experience. This truth is what led Apple to devolve the Apple TV from being a "mini" Mac Mini in its first generation to more of an iPod Touch without a built-in display in the second generation. Could the third generation be an embedded system?

If you connect the dots between a future Sony BRAVIA (or other big-screen display) to an embedded Magic Adapter to Apple's AirPlay streaming service to iTunes/iOS, I think there's a clear line to ubiquity in the living room.



Related:

March 04 2011

Running up the score: Thoughts on iPad 2 announcement

iPad 2There was a moment during the end-stages of the PC wars where it was so totally clear to everyone that the game was over. Well, everyone but Microsoft. Despite having won in a blowout fashion, Microsoft showed no signs of slowing down. They were still stepping fully on the gas pedal.

At the time, the sheer aggression of it all prompted a commentator to note that Microsoft was crushing the competition 99-0 (in football terms), yet they were still running up the score.

I bring up this point up because it helps frame my takeaway from Wednesday's iPad 2 announcement.

For while it may be tempting to see the battle between iOS-powered iPads and Android-powered tablets as likely to be close, the truth is that Apple is blowing out the competition. The competition has no offense, no defense, and in the words of Steve Jobs, is getting "flummoxed."

And they should be. Why? Because comparisons to Android's strong competitive effort in the smartphone realm hide the fact that in the media player realm — arguably the closer analog to the iPad's domain — Android is a total non-entity. This speaks to the simple fact that when you remove the artificial "pull" of mobile carriers from the media/tablet realm, Android devices are hosed.

Strong words to be sure, but consider this: we have already established ad infinitum that a tablet is a "tweener" device — not quite a PC, but more than a smart phone. As such, it's a discretionary buy.

Now putting aside the fact that Apple just sold 15M iPads in only 9 months of 2010, yielding $9.5B in revenue, it does not follow that other entrants into this segment should expect even remotely comparable success anytime soon. Here's why:

Dumb channels + undifferentiated + more expensive = fail

Apple retail store

Discretionary buys are heavily reliant on smart sales channels, where features, benefits and outcomes can be articulated. These channels ensure that early adopters achieve success in their nascent usage, which means they'll continue to use the product and spread the word.

As Jobs beat into the ground during the iPad 2 keynote, Apple has this channel advantage you might have heard of: It's called Apple retail, and they know how to sell-sell-sell. The Android Army by contrast has ... has ... (crickets chirping).

Playing effectively in such a domain requires competitive pricing (unless you really think someone is going to outflank Apple on the high-end), and both hardware and software differentiation.

The early data on competitive pricing is not encouraging for the would-be tablet competitors, where Apple's $499 entry point on iPad has the competition flummoxed to the point of trying to only be a couple hundred dollars more than iPad.

Meanwhile, is there anyone that approaches Apple on hardware design? On a mass-market level, the answer is "no," but I will grant you that here the competition is in the ballpark, and certainly can approximate Apple's efforts and innovations.

But, when it gets to software differentiation I would submit that the very reason device OEMs are turning to Android is that they get discombobulated trying to understand software platforms, let alone execute on them.

Having cut my teeth professionally in the most hardware-centric of segments — network infrastructure and embedded systems — I can tell you that hardware people not only don't grok software, they see it as something to be put in a corner so as not to conflict with hardware performance.

This is an anathema to the Apple vision of an "apps lifestyle." This is one reason that despite the iPhone basically being an iPod with a phone wrapper, it still lacks a comparable iPod-iTunes competitor (see "Android's Missing Leg").

Remember the dig by naysayers that the iPad was merely an oversized iPod Touch? I am guessing that having seen the first few Android-powered tablets beginning to enter the stage (Galaxy, Xoom) that the Android Army really wishes they could be as compelling as an oversized iPod Touch.

This, of course, should be no surprise since the apps lifestyle is a somewhat derided concept in the Android universe. As such, most non-Google Android apps are the sloppy second creations of their superior iOS siblings.

So why is Apple running up the score?

Here's where the game starts to get ugly. When you are selling underpowered, overpriced products through uneducated channels, it's much harder to get the proverbial dogs to eat the dog food than in the carrier-friendly model.

Had Apple done nothing new on the tablet front, then perhaps in a year the Android forces would have found the trinity of hardware design, software capabilities, and developer ecosystem to activate a forward march.

But during the PC wars Apple was on the other side of Microsoft running up the score, and Apple knows the bitter taste of being under-resourced, outmanned, and outflanked. Apple won't stop running from its PC-whipped past into a Post-PC-dominant future until the competition waves the white flag.

Hence, when I look at the announcement of a seriously compelling iPad 2, I see this as Apple saying to the competition: "Your victory is not an option. Either retreat, or get beat."



Related:


March 02 2011

Developer Week in Review

Coming to you from 24 hours in the future, it's this week's Developer Week in Review.

All your news cycles are belong to us

We're using the O'Reilly Tempro-Spatial Distorter to send you back news of Today's's iPad 2 launch before it's even happened. Who could have predicted that the iPad 2 would have both a 3D Retina display and Smell-o-vision? But the real shocker had to be the announcement that the iTunes store was finally going to have the long-missing catalog of Up With People available for sale.

Ok, so we don't have a time machine, and deadlines dictate that this will be going to edit before the Big Announcement today. I'm sure one or two other news outlets will be covering the event, so you can probably find out what happened sometime later this week. For those keeping score, this is something like the 3rd or 4th Big Announcement so far this year, and we're only through February. It must be truly depressing to be anyone else in the industry, and have to compete with Apple's PR machine.

Unnoticed in all of this is that Google has replaced their Gingerbread Man with a more insectile sculpture, as Android Honeycomb begins to appear in the wild. Remember folks, Honeycomb's got a Big Big Byte.

New patents pending?

Once upon a time, I did an article on patent reform, and as part of it I interviewed a staffer in Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) office, since Leahy sits on the Judiciary Committee. Ever since then, I get at least one press release a week from the Senator's office about the never-ending progress of patent reform legislation (and with no opt out link ...). I ignore the stuff most of the time, but this week I got notice that some very interesting provisions have been added.

The first is an item entitled "Create a pilot program to review the validity of business method patents." It goes on to explain:

Many business method patents are of dubious validity because they are not truly inventive. This provision will create a temporary, limited proceeding at the USPTO to challenge business method patents.

So it looks like Bilski lives on, and maybe some of the truly junky software patents may finally get a second look.

The other item that caught my eye is: "End fee diversion at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; establish a revolving fund to ensure that funds collected by the USPTO can be used at the USPTO." This is a long-standing sore point, in that the USPTO is regularly raided for cash, leaving them underfunded to hire examiners. This, in turn, leads to the junky patents mentioned above.

Of course, as the press release baldly states:

Congressional efforts to reform the nation's patent system first began in 2005. The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported patent reform legislation to the full Senate in each of the last three Congresses.

In other words, don't hold your breath.

P <> NP, at least for now

The world held its breath recently as word came that there may have been a breakthrough in the long quest for P = NP. The world started breathing again this week, as word came that the promising line of attack wasn't so promising after all.

P = NP is one of the most vexing problems left in theoretical computer science, and also the one most likely to make a lay listener's eyes glaze over. As assistance to anyone trying to explain P = NP to their mother (for whatever reason), may we suggest the following one sentence description, courtesy of Wikipedia?

Suppose that solutions to a problem can be verified quickly. Then, can the solutions themselves also be computed quickly?

This will almost certainly leave her just as confused as before, but will lead her to believe the $50,000 she spent on your CS degree was worth the money.

Got news?

We're cranking up the power on the Time Portal, so next week we'll be bringing you news of the 2011 WWDC and the results of the 2012 presidential elections. If you want to get us news the old fashioned way, please send tips or leads here.

February 23 2011

Developer Week in Review

Live, via satellite from around the world, it's Developer Week in Review, with your correspondent, Buff Overflow.

Apple policies rile developers (again)

Developers certainly seem to be getting fed up with Apple's dictatorial control of the App Store, and the new subscription and in-app purchase restrictions may push them over the edge. If Apple wants to avoid appearing to play favorites, they will need to apply the policy uniformly, which could put some very popular iPhone apps in jeopardy. For example, you can purchase and download audio books with Audible's app, and I can't see them agreeing to give up 30% of their gross income to Apple for the privilege. With companies big and small screaming for blood, and the FTC threatening to take a closer look, this may be one App Store policy that needs to be put back on the shelf.

Meanwhile, Google is rolling out their own subscription model, but it's unclear who the intended audience would be. Android apps?

Oh yah, and there's evidently an announcement about something called an iPad 2 happening next week ...

Ubuntu: Distribution on the edge?

All eyes (well, some eyes ... ok, my eyes) were turned this week toward Canonical, as some reports indicate that the formerly peace-loving Linux distro may be on a path toward more business-minded actions.

Agree or disagree with the premise of the article, but it's a good jumping off point for a conversation about just where the future of Linux distributions lie. With Ubuntu and Red Hat the two most public symbols of Linux, has the "pure" roots of Linux (such as Debian) been lost? Is Linux just another commercial operating system now, with an open source development model?

Is obscenity ruining our developers?

Your twenty-something PHP developer sits alone at a terminal, reviewing git commits. Seems innocent enough, but do you really know what your programmer is looking at? The answers may shock and disturb you.

Here's an interesting analysis of git commit messages (not comments in code, as Slashdot erroneously reported), looking at swear frequency by programming language.

C++, Ruby and JavaScript all had about the same amount, roughly twice that of C and three times that of C# and Java. PHP and Python programmers evidently don't swear much at all. The results were normalized, so the popularity of the languages didn't influence the weightings. Mind you, the total percentage of commit messages with any kind of swear at all was a tiny 0.022% (210 total swears), so it's not like it was a bar full of sailors.

That was the developer week that was. Please send tips or leads here.

February 17 2011

Light is right

Once, we thought small was the future. But the standout objects in this year's awards have all gone the way of weightlessness

The shortlist for Britain's top design award has just gone on show at the Design Museum. What ingenious or world-changing object will capture the zeitgeist this year, I asked myself as I strolled through. Last year I was one of the judges and we awarded the prize to a folding plug by an unknown student. It felt like a good decision. No famous designers, no grand narratives. It was a vote for the small and perfectly formed, for the overlooked, for the everyday.

The shortlist feels weaker this year, and I'm not saying that because I'm not on the panel. For one thing, there's less of the social and political engagement that has become the hallmark of the design of the year award. Previous years have seen it go to a laptop for children in the developing world and the Obama "Hope" poster. And while those may have been crowd-pleasers, there were entries last year forcing bankers to confront the cost of food in Bangladesh or highlighting inflation in Zimbabwe. This show falls back on the idea of design as refined objects – as stuff. On those terms, the question is which ones stand out in this land of plenty.

Any prize that aims to collect the best across the varied fields of design – from architecture to furniture, from graphic design to transport – presents its judges with an unenviable task. It feels arbitrary pitting a Renault concept car against a new edition of Tristram Shandy. Neither does it make for the most coherent exhibition. What is inspiring about this annual snapshot approach, however, is the sense it offers of watching the design world evolve. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, our material environment gets better, smarter and lighter.

Especially lighter. In the 80s and 90s, everyone thought that the future was tiny. Led by the Japanese, we assumed our electronic appliances would miniaturise until we had cameras the size of wine gums. Today, we seem to be more preoccupied with lightness. New superlight materials such as carbon fibre – of which the exhibition's delicate display system is made – allow designers to achieve seemingly impossible feats. As a material property, lightness is not just elegant, it's more sustainable. The show features no category for something called "sustainability" – a good thing because, as I wrote recently, this should be a prerequisite of all design, not an add-on label. It was certainly the more mercurial ones to which I was drawn. And so if this year's judges find themselves furrowing their brows about the task ahead, perhaps they should simply choose the lightest.

But which will the judges really go for? Let's start with the heaviest of the disciplines – architecture. The judges may quickly find themselves down to two candidates: Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and Thomas Heatherwick's wildly popular UK Pavilion from last year's Shanghai Expo. There is no social imperative here. Both are frivolous pieces of national branding, and yet both have the capacity to leave the viewer awestruck. I'm certain the judges will opt for Heatherwick to top this category, as this is not the moment to be celebrating a boom-and-bust white elephant like the Burj. However, a less orthodox and virtually weightless choice would be a series of experimental structures by the Croatian-Austrian collective Numen/For Use, which look like a silken cocoon or cobweb. You can imagine them as sci-fi architectural parasites strung buoyantly between the skyscrapers of a Miss Haversham city, its rigid glass and steel gradually returning to the chaos of nature. Of course, one hopes that it would be made of something a bit more sophisticated than sticky tape.

How about the furniture category? Will the judges be seduced by an office chair inspired by a suspension bridge, designed by the ubiquitous Yves Béhar, or a beautifully turned wooden chair by Industrial Facility? I found myself captivated, again, by the light choice – a featherweight stool by recent Royal College of Art graduate Seongyong Lee. Lee created an entirely new material by laminating wood veneer to produce a lighter, stronger and much more beautiful version of cardboard. Picking it up, it's as though the stool is full of helium. It's not just that he's created a perfect archetypal object, but a material that feels almost immaterial, and that can be used to make anything from tables to pavilions.

The only object in the exhibition that stands out as a potential overall winner is in the product design category: the iPad. So successful has this game-changing piece of technology been that it should have its own category – indeed it pretty much does, since most of the entries in the interactive design section are apps for the iPad, displayed on iPads. But it's possible that the judges will avoid the obvious, popular, zeitgeisty choice and stick it to Apple – especially since one of the judges confessed, to me, "I don't like the internet". I rather liked Ingo Maurer's Flying Future hanging light, a diaphanous membrane inserted with organic LEDs (OLEDs). So energy efficient that they last almost indefinitely, these films of organic semiconductor are the light source of the future. They hold the potential for light to be treated as a material in itself, like cloth, draped as luminous surfaces.

With the relentless march of digital technology, the graphic design section of the show seems to be retreating into a world of nostalgia. It is wonderful to see the beauty of printed books reasserted, though I wondered why so many of those here are new editions of 18th- and 19th-century novels. Ironically, the work that jumps out here does so because it's miniscule (and, yes, light): Irma Boom's Boom. The most respected book designer in the world has produced a 704-page catalogue raisonné of her work, but it's just two inches high. One doesn't see that kind of modesty often. Or perhaps it's not modesty at all, but mystical devotion to her craft. The book is reminiscent of one of those medieval miniature Qur'ans written with a horse's hair.

Of all the disciplines, lightness is most a virtue when it comes to transport. For all the talk of electric cars and high-speed rail, we are realising now that only by reducing the weight of our modes of transport so that they consume less energy can we make them more sustainable. Here, there's another clear winner: an aluminium bicycle by Dutch brand Vanmoof. I'll take it any day over the YikeBike, an electric penny-farthing that could have been designed by HR Giger and appears, like some Sinclair C5 of bikes, to be dead on arrival.

The fashion category is anyone's guess. There's a reason why the Design Museum calls on an international panel of experts to nominate all the entries, and that's because design is a bewilderingly broad field and no one's an expert on all of it. As a show, it's hit and miss and there may be no agenda, but I recommend you go and see it. There's bound to be something there that will surprise you.


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February 16 2011

Want to succeed in online content? Get small, be open, go free

The web is dying, online advertising is already dead, and the entire publishing model has been undermined by an army of algorithmic-minded content drones. Or so we've been led to believe.

Sam Jones, CEO of Formation Media, is ignoring the death notices. While other publishers turn their weary eyes toward tablets, or construct walls around content no one wants to buy, Jones believes a complete embrace of the web's strengths is the key to reinvigorating media brands (or, as he puts it, "I buy dead magazines").

In the following interview, Jones discusses his recipe for online content success: It has to be free, it has to be widely available, and publishers must operate at a web-appropriate scale.


Why did you found Formation Media?

Sam JonesSam Jones: I was working at Demand Media in corporate development and I noticed there was some major disruption happening in the media space, specifically in the magazine space. A significant number of very powerful brands were dying off. These were brands with strong audiences, passionate users, and great content, but the incumbent models just couldn't support them. I saw a clear opportunity to really change the game and make some of these great brands thrive. Formation Media was born in 2008 to take advantage of that opportunity.

From there, we looked over the 3,000 magazines that have died over the past 18 months to decide which we should go after. While we were building things out, we purchased Car Audio and Electronics Magazine. It's a smaller publication that has a passionate following, but in 2008 it was transitioned to online-only because it couldn't survive as a print magazine in a tumultuous market. We took the archival content and that powerful brand and added that to our model, which allows us to inexpensively create massive amounts of high-quality text, video and pictorial content.

What are the components of your model?

Sam Jones: We combine brand, editorial content, and social media to create engagement. Then we syndicate that content out and allow others to take it wherever they want it, for free. There's absolutely no way to subscribe. There's absolutely no way to pay for an "issue" or a PDF. We want people to consume the content when and how they want to consume it.

Up to 80 percent of our traffic is from syndication partners and search, where brand, content quality, and the opinion of others you trust matter. Users come back to our site engaged and looking for richer content and community interactions.

It's also clear that people like free. That's a bad word in the incumbent model because free works against the traditional value proposition. But on the digital side, if you have faith in the brand, the quality of the content, and the user experience, all sorts of wonderful magic happens for the business. Depending on the year, between 70 and 90 percent of our available inventory is from double-digit branded advertisers, and 95 percent of our costs are taken out. Monetization follows when you focus on doing the right things for your users.

How many full-time staffers do you have on your editorial teams?

Sam Jones: We want dedicated stewardship over a voice, we want to create engaged communities, and we want to deliver high-quality content. We're not trying to create a farm or an engine or any of that stuff. That's why I'm hiring the best possible editors to run the vertical markets that we go into, and each vertical will have their own dedicated editorial team.

But staffing will be appropriate for the profitability that we need and expect. For Car Audio and Electronics Magazine, which had 85 people that ran that publication, we now have two. That's what works for that brand. If we were to buy into the shelter space, which has larger brands and different content needs, we would require more than two people to maintain a strong editorial voice. That said, it's still not like we'll have 20 full-time employees for a shelter publication.



Has the media industry put too much emphasis on the potential of tablets, and the iPad in particular?


Sam Jones: The fastest growing product in Apple's history is the iPad, and they've got 10 million installed units, which is huge. But what I'd rather do is instead of looking at that 10 million installed base, let's look at the 1.6 billion Internet-enabled devices.

Frankly, the most important app on the iPad is Safari. It's on every iPad and iPhone and it has a consistent and proven user experience. When we make it easy for people to get what they want for free, engagement and brand can be monetized through advertising and e-commerce throughout the published and syndicated environment that we manage. The users win, our syndication partners split revenues, and we reach several times more people.

Does that mean your mobile strategy is primarily web based?

Sam Jones: We'll create apps, but our primary strategy is always going to be the native experience through the browser. If somebody wants our content, you can get it in any way that you can possibly ask for it. If you have two tin cans and a string with an Internet connection, our goal is to get it to you.

Has online advertising failed?

Sam Jones: There's three aspects to this. One, if you look at online advertising as a monolith, it's been really bad for a whole bunch of folks. But brands and deep engagement have done very well. As I noted earlier, 70 to 90 percent of our available inventory — depending on the time of year and other factors — is double-digit CPMs.

Two, advertising to support a business entity has to be scaled. At one of the magazines we looked at, they had six people on their dining staff. That magazine failed. You have to be mindful of the context and the economics of your situation.

Finally, we need to stop thinking in terms of standard ad units. The user experience should come first and that engagement should drive monetization. If you have a platform that allows for richer integrations, or actually provides value by weaving that monetization solution into the user experience, then you start to see significant margins.

What's your take on paywalls?

Sam Jones: Paywalls are like asking my two sons to work really hard so they can be Michael Jordan. Only a few people could come close to being MJ under perfect circumstances. Similarly, only a few companies and brands could make paywalls work.

If you extend this thinking to newspapers, there's only a few companies that have the brand, the audience, and the monetization hierarchy that would allow for a paywall to work. There's the Wall Street Journal. There's potentially Bloomberg, which is an interesting combination with BusinessWeek. And maybe if you stretch it, there's the New York Times. Beyond those unique brands, paywalls simply get in the way of the user experience.

Paywalls are an example of companies holding on to the pillars of incumbency instead of seizing the disruptive opportunity. I believe in the face of unprecedented disruption, there's no place for incrementalism. There's just not. We have to be bold in our actions in order to not just survive, but to thrive.


Note: Sam Jones discusses his "radical point of view" for magazines in the following presentation:


This interview was edited and condensed.

Related:


February 14 2011

Four short links: 14 February 2011

  1. Stephen Elop is a Flight Risk (Silicon Beat) -- a foresight-filled 2008 article that doesn't make Nokia's new CEO look good. A reminder to boards and CEOs that option vesting schedules matter. (via Hacker News)
  2. CHDK -- Canon Hack Development Kit gives point-and-shoot Canon digital camera new features like RAW images, motion detection, a USB remote, full control over exposure and so on. (via Sennheiser HD 555 to HD 595 Mod)
  3. The Atavist - iPad app for original long-form nonfiction (what used to be called "journalism"). (via Tim O'Reilly)
  4. Why Most Published Findings are False (PLoS Medicine) -- as explained by John D. Cook, Suppose you have 1,000 totally ineffective drugs to test. About 1 out of every 20 trials will produce a p-value of 0.05 or smaller by chance, so about 50 trials out of the 1,000 will have a “significant” result, and only those studies will publish their results. The error rate in the lab was indeed 5%, but the error rate in the literature coming out of the lab is 100 percent!.

January 31 2011

The iPad's ripple effect

As we approach the iPad's first birthday, much has already been written about how the iPad is a game-changing device. But the iPad's success goes beyond the hardware — it's also opened the tablet market and ushered in new forms of applications and media. Pete Meyers (@petermeyers), author of "Best iPad Apps," discusses these shifts in the following interview.


Content consumption is a big part of the iPad, but are there options for people who want to create on the device?

Pete MeyersPete Meyers: From what I've seen, those with creative urges have plenty of ways to express themselves. Top of my list includes pottery making (Let's Create Pottery HD), drawing (SketchBook Pro, Drawing Pad), music making (ThumbJam, Music Studio), roller coaster design (AirCoaster), 3D sculpting (iDough), and all kinds of photo futzing (Photogene, Strip Designer).

Fact is, the iPad encourages creativity and experimentation in ways that are sometimes even better than paper. Think about, for example, the "undo" button that's found in almost every drawing app. Especially for young kids, this frees them from worrying about making mistakes. It's been fun to also read about artist David Hockney's fondness for Brushes, one of the most popular painting apps.

The most serious death-of-creativity concerns seem to revolve around fears that "Generation iPad" will never learn how to program, given the closed nature of the device. First off, I think this presumes kids will use the iPad as their sole computing platform. And while that may be the case among some people, I find it tough to imagine that a kid, intrigued by the complex magic of writing code, won't somehow find his or her way to a "real" computer. Another promising development is found in apps that let you do some elementary coding right on the iPad. Basic! for example is a perfectly good canvas for junior code slingers. Will they develop a Python-powered, e-commerce backend? No. But neither do most mortals when they first start programming.



Have you come across any examples where the app version of an entertainment product does something you wouldn't have seen prior to the iPad?

Pete Meyers: I think we're at the very early stages. Much of what's out there resembles TV in its early days, where content meant for radio was dragged onto the television (e.g. a bunch of people standing in front of the camera reading a radio play). Similarly, in the App Store's early days you see comic books and graphic novels that are more or less digitized versions of print, magazines that maintain the page-based sequence of print, and so on.

A few reference and how-to books are doing obvious things like adding video explanations of cooking techniques (Weber's On the Grill) or including recorded audio of bird calls (iBird Pro HD).

"Motion comics" are another area where the creative product is starting to change. Apps like Superare and Operation Ajax add motion to artwork that was previously still, letting the action play out inside of and across multiple panels.

But keep in mind that all these examples are mainly print products that have been repurposed as iPad apps. The real interesting stuff will come when artists, writers, and publishers build apps that don't have a print-edition correlate. In these efforts we'll see creativity that really takes advantage of the touchscreen medium.


Best iPad Apps guides you to the hidden treasures in the App Store's crowded aisles. Author Peter Meyers stress-tested thousands of options to put together this extensive catalog.

How useful do you think App Store ratings and reviews are? Are there any tricks you've picked up for making sense of this mass of feedback?

Pete Meyers: Let me take a crack at rephrasing that first question:

How level-headed and thoughtful are most people nowadays when they get to comment anonymously online?

App Store customers haven't proven themselves unique in that respect. My particular gripe: iPadders who attack developers with stark pronouncements for leaving off one particular feature. Reading these types of comments is like watching the pundits on cable TV — there's lots of noise and not much information.

What I have found useful are a couple of telltale shapes in the ratings. Those are the 1- to 5-star horizontal bar graphs that aggregate user ratings.

A common sight is what I call the "C"-spread: lots of 5 stars, lots of 1 stars, and not much in between. I often see these on game apps, where a certain percentage of users have played the game on consoles and are bitterly disappointed when the app doesn't replicate the console experience. The five-star ratings, on the other hand, are coming from the people who are thrilled to be able to play something like Madden NFL 11 on the iPad. I think the takeaway here is to approach these kinds of "it was the worst of apps, it was the best of apps" spreads with a good understanding of where your own interests and expectations lie.

Another common shape is the "L"-spread, which is marked by lots of 1-star ratings. This is one time when mass opinion is usually right. Just make sure the number of ratings is sufficient to judge against.

The most interesting shape — and the one that gets me downloading most often — is "the claw." This is a jagged mishmash of bar lengths for each of the five possible ratings. Wild disagreement among the ratings usually means there's something interesting going on, and at that point I may dive into the comments to see if I can discern some common themes.

iPad rating types

Speaking of comments, I like to sort them by "most recent." That way, I can quickly skim the reviews most relevant to the app's current state, and not judge an app that may have started off on a rocky note in a previous version.

Finally, I also factor in the app description that starts off each listing. If it's riddled with typos or offers an incoherent description of what the app does, my thinking is the developer probably offers the same kind of quality in the app itself.

When the iPad launched, some wondered where it would fit amidst smartphones, laptops, and desktops. What niche does the iPad fill in your gadget-using life?

Pete Meyers: I'm a bit of a fringe case, given the amount of time I just devoted to stuffing my two iPads with apps for my book and then playing with them in every conceivable niche of time and space I could carve out.

But in the weeks since I stopped working on the project full-time, I've seen my usage settle into a pattern that I suspect will last for a while: I use it at the breakfast table instead of cracking open my laptop; on the subway, I'll use the iPad if I can get a seat (otherwise, I'm on my iPhone); on the couch after work, I'll steal looks at Twitter, Flipboard, and some websites, as various toddlers scream at me to return to the mosh pit on the living room floor; and later at night, I'm incapable of watching TV without simultaneously surfing the web. In fact, I'm hoping TiVo or IMDb soon adds a new category: "Movies for Multitaskers."

This interview was edited and condensed.


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January 25 2011

Four short links: 25 January 2011

  1. node.io -- distributed node.js-based scraper system.
  2. Joystick-It -- adhesive joystick for the iPad. Compare the Fling analogue joystick. Tactile accessories for the iPad—hot new product category or futile attempt to make a stripped-down demi-computer into an aftermarked pimped-out hackomatic? (via Aza Raskin on Twitter)
  3. Programmed for Love (Chronicle of Higher Education) -- Sherry Turkle sees the danger in social hardware emulating emotion. Companies will soon sell robots designed to baby-sit children, replace workers in nursing homes, and serve as companions for people with disabilities. All of which to Turkle is demeaning, "transgressive," and damaging to our collective sense of humanity. It's not that she's against robots as helpers—building cars, vacuuming floors, and helping to bathe the sick are one thing. She's concerned about robots that want to be buddies, implicitly promising an emotional connection they can never deliver. (via BoingBoing)
  4. Asking the Right Questions (Expert Labs) -- Andy Baio compiled a list of how Q&A sites like StackOverflow, Quora, Yahoo! Answers, etc. steer people towards asking questions whose answers will improve the site (and away from flamage, chitchat, etc.). The secret sauce to social software is the invisible walls that steer people towards productive behaviour.

January 12 2011

Developer Week in Review

Now firmly seated in the New Year, your week in review returns to its normally scheduled programming.

No sale for Novell?

As reported in the Year in Review, Novell had plans to sell a chunk of Unix intellectual property to CPTN Holdings, a consortium that includes Microsoft, Apple, EMC and Oracle. This reopened the fear that Linux would come under patent attack. Last week, it was reported that the deal was evidently off, but according to Microsoft, it was just a procedural thing with German regulators, and the process is moving ahead according to plan.

Assuming this sale goes through, it will remain to be seen if the Gang of Four takes the next step and tries to prosecute any of the patents against the open source community. It's possible that they intend to use them against other companies, or as protection against IP actions. But given Microsoft's history in the SCO controversy and the company's feelings about Linux, it is also possible that pigs will fly.

The worst kept secret in the Industry

If you haven't heard that Apple finally inked a deal with Verizon this week, you should consider subletting the rock you've been hiding under. The interesting question that no one seems to be asking is if this is going to start the fractionalization of the iOS developer community. The Verizon version of the iPhone will ship with a mobile hotspot feature that the AT&T version lacks, and you can't help but wonder if other differences will creep into the iPhone over time as different carriers put different restrictions and requirements on the platform. One of the major selling points of the iPhone is that there has been little platform diversity for developers to deal with, apart from some sensors and the iPad. If too much branching of the hardware and software platform occurs, Apple could find themselves in the same boat with Android.

We also know that certain apps were banned from the App Store because AT&T objected to them. Will apps now have to pass muster for two different carriers, or will we start to see AT&T and Verizon-only applications?

Tablets, tablets, tablets!

That yearly pilgrimage of tech-heads, CES, has ended, and the big news for software developers is that tablets appear to be the new black. Multiple vendors showed off iPad wannabes at CES, many based on Android, a few on Linux, and a few running Windows.

Smartphones have already changed how software is developed, as applications have moved away from the keyboard-and-mouse input model. But until now, desktop-level applications have still clung to the old way. As tablets start to replace notebooks and netbooks, we're likely to see development shifts in productivity and enterprise applications that traditionally were tethered to a keyboard.

What does the future hold for those who code? My crystal ball is currently installing update 2 of 543, so I guess you'll have to check back here next week to find out. Suggestions are always welcome, so please send tips or news here.



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