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January 10 2013

Commerce Weekly: Isis Wallet/NFC payments struggle for a foothold

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

NFC-enabled Cashwrap case equips iPhone with Isis

At the 2013 International CES this week, Incipio and AT&T announced the launch of Cashwrap, an NFC-enabled iPhone case that equips iPhones with the Isis Wallet, currently only available for NFC-compatible Android phones. According to a post at 9to5Mac, the case will be available in March and will cost $59.99 to $69.99.

9to5Mac shot a short video of the product from the CES show floor (the Cashwrap representative mistakenly indicates the case will support iPhone 5 — at launch, it will support iPhone 4 and 4S):

When Isis launched in October, some questioned the viability of the payment platform and whether or not it was addressing a real problem. In a report at Consumer Reports, Jeff Blyskal concluded: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.” Now, on top of the complexity and questionable convenience of NFC payment, iPhone users must not only attach an appendage to the phone, but fork over a not-so-insignificant amount of cash — all for a payment platform that’s only available in Salt Lake City and Austin, and only at select retailers.

At Telecoms.com, Elliott Holley covered a recent report by financial research firm Celent that says the issues NFC payment technology has faced thus far are only going to be compounded in 2013 and that NFC payment solutions will be overshadowed — perhaps ultimately replaced — by cloud-based wallets. Celent senior analyst and author of the report Zilvanas Bareisis told Holley that not only is using the technology still much more difficult than swiping a credit card, but in markets such as the U.S., “the infrastructure bill is huge and convincing retailers and merchants is difficult.”

Holley highlights a key insight from the Celent report:

“Part of the problem for NFC digital wallets is that while the physical POS world is dominated by cards and the mobile equivalent is to have payment credentials inside the phone and sent to the POS via NFC, the online world is dominated by cloud-based wallets such as PayPal. That makes it difficult to bridge the online-offline convergence of customers who use their mobiles while shopping to read product reviews, compare prices and order online, or pick up an item from a local store, according to Celent.”

Target goes all-in with its price match strategy

Target announced this week that it would bring its holiday strategy against Amazon to the overall retail battle — the big-box retailer will now price match online retailers year-round. According to the press release, in addition to Amazon, Target will price match its own online site, Walmart.com, Bestbuy.com and Toysrus.com.

Best Buy implemented the same strategy against Amazon during the holiday season. There’s no news yet on whether Best Buy’s policy also will be continued year-round, but on a visit to Best Buy January 5, the retailer price matched a Bluetooth wireless speaker for me, using a product search of Amazon from my iPhone. Some are calling this tactic an all-in bet that can’t be won, but in the short-term anyway, consumers sure are winning.

App aims to make products the new point of sale

Bridging the gap between print advertising and online/mobile retail is something of a holy grail in the commerce space — being able to buy a product straight from a traditional print ad, for instance. PayPal recently experimented with such an endeavor, partnering with The West Australian daily newspaper to incorporate QR codes into print ads, allowing readers to purchase items on the spot by scanning the code. But what if you could skip the added complexity layer of a QR code? That’s what German startup Shopgate is aiming to offer. The app, profiled by Will M at SocialTimes this week, allows consumers to simply scan the product in the ad and, according to the product website, buy it in two clicks. Will M describes how it works:

“Shopgate enables consumers [to] take pictures of print ads and then purchase products within them using their phone. Product tagging works without QR codes — similar to how Facebook identifies your friends in pictures and suggests them for tags. People touch the product tags, put the items into shopping carts and then purchase products via a mobile storefront.”

Will M reports that the company’s vision is to provide “everywhere commerce,” and says “Shopgate executives say ‘Products as POS’ (Point of Sale) is the future of mobile commerce.” According to his report, the app works with product companies and retailers alike, and so far has 800 merchant partners. In addition to product tagging from print ads, the app also works with QR codes and UPC codes.

The German company plans to expand to the U.S. market early this year. You can watch a demo of the app in the following video.

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Commerce Weekly: Isis Wallet/NFC payments struggle for a foothold

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

NFC-enabled Cashwrap case equips iPhone with Isis

At the 2013 International CES this week, Incipio and AT&T announced the launch of Cashwrap, an NFC-enabled iPhone case that equips iPhones with the Isis Wallet, currently only available for NFC-compatible Android phones. According to a post at 9to5Mac, the case will be available in March and will cost $59.99 to $69.99.

9to5Mac shot a short video of the product from the CES show floor (the Cashwrap representative mistakenly indicates the case will support iPhone 5 — at launch, it will support iPhone 4 and 4S):

When Isis launched in October, some questioned the viability of the payment platform and whether or not it was addressing a real problem. In a report at Consumer Reports, Jeff Blyskal concluded: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.” Now, on top of the complexity and questionable convenience of NFC payment, iPhone users must not only attach an appendage to the phone, but fork over a not-so-insignificant amount of cash — all for a payment platform that’s only available in Salt Lake City and Austin, and only at select retailers.

At Telecoms.com, Elliott Holley covered a recent report by financial research firm Celent that says the issues NFC payment technology has faced thus far are only going to be compounded in 2013 and that NFC payment solutions will be overshadowed — perhaps ultimately replaced — by cloud-based wallets. Celent senior analyst and author of the report Zilvanas Bareisis told Holley that not only is using the technology still much more difficult than swiping a credit card, but in markets such as the U.S., “the infrastructure bill is huge and convincing retailers and merchants is difficult.”

Holley highlights a key insight from the Celent report:

“Part of the problem for NFC digital wallets is that while the physical POS world is dominated by cards and the mobile equivalent is to have payment credentials inside the phone and sent to the POS via NFC, the online world is dominated by cloud-based wallets such as PayPal. That makes it difficult to bridge the online-offline convergence of customers who use their mobiles while shopping to read product reviews, compare prices and order online, or pick up an item from a local store, according to Celent.”

Target goes all-in with its price match strategy

Target announced this week that it would bring its holiday strategy against Amazon to the overall retail battle — the big-box retailer will now price match online retailers year-round. According to the press release, in addition to Amazon, Target will price match its own online site, Walmart.com, Bestbuy.com and Toysrus.com.

Best Buy implemented the same strategy against Amazon during the holiday season. There’s no news yet on whether Best Buy’s policy also will be continued year-round, but on a visit to Best Buy January 5, the retailer price matched a Bluetooth wireless speaker for me, using a product search of Amazon from my iPhone. Some are calling this tactic an all-in bet that can’t be won, but in the short-term anyway, consumers sure are winning.

App aims to make products the new point of sale

Bridging the gap between print advertising and online/mobile retail is something of a holy grail in the commerce space — being able to buy a product straight from a traditional print ad, for instance. PayPal recently experimented with such an endeavor, partnering with The West Australian daily newspaper to incorporate QR codes into print ads, allowing readers to purchase items on the spot by scanning the code. But what if you could skip the added complexity layer of a QR code? That’s what German startup Shopgate is aiming to offer. The app, profiled by Will M at SocialTimes this week, allows consumers to simply scan the product in the ad and, according to the product website, buy it in two clicks. Will M describes how it works:

“Shopgate enables consumers [to] take pictures of print ads and then purchase products within them using their phone. Product tagging works without QR codes — similar to how Facebook identifies your friends in pictures and suggests them for tags. People touch the product tags, put the items into shopping carts and then purchase products via a mobile storefront.”

Will M reports that the company’s vision is to provide “everywhere commerce,” and says “Shopgate executives say ‘Products as POS’ (Point of Sale) is the future of mobile commerce.” According to his report, the app works with product companies and retailers alike, and so far has 800 merchant partners. In addition to product tagging from print ads, the app also works with QR codes and UPC codes.

The German company plans to expand to the U.S. market early this year. You can watch a demo of the app in the following video.

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January 03 2013

Commerce Weekly: iPhone NFC rumors return

Happy new year! Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space recently.

Apple NFC rumors revived

PassbookiPhonePassbookiPhoneWe’ve no sooner outfitted our shiny new iPhone 5s with cases and fancy accessories than rumors of the iPhone 6 have emerged. Matt Brian reports at The Next Web that “Apple has been testing hardware relating to a new ‘iPhone6,1′ identifier, powered by a device running iOS 7.”

There’s also renewed rumors of Apple’s intention to integrate NFC technology into the next iPhone. Mikey Campbell reports at Apple Insider that on December 20, 2012, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application filed by Apple in 2011 “for an ‘Integrated coupon storage, discovery, and redemption system,’ a property covering the receipt, storage and use of digital coupons on mobile device” — basically, what Passbook became this past year. Campbell notes that NFC capabilities also are mentioned in connection with coupon redemption, indicating “that the company is at least thinking about including the protocol in future versions of the iPhone or iPod Touch.”

Joann Pan at Mashable notes the implications such integrated technology could have on retail shopping for consumers and merchants alike. She writes:

“With Apple’s proposed ‘integrated coupon storage,’ patrons will be able to walk into stores and receive notifications about items for which they have coupons. After the transaction is complete, the customer will receive a digital receipt wirelessly. Alerts will also be pushed for coupons with impending expiration dates. The patent also mentions a verification system for coupons and discounts.”

Holiday mobile commerce records are tip of the iceberg

Though the record-setting holiday season is behind us, this is no time for retailers to rest on their respective mobile commerce laurels, says Mobile Marketing Association’s Jack Philbin in a post at Fast Company. Philbin argues that this holiday season was just the “tip of the iceberg of what is sure to become a mobile-dominated shopping experience during the next few years” and that retailers need to think mobile 365 days of the year from here on out.

Philbin offers retailers several “actionable steps,” including expanding the holiday mobile strategy into a year-long strategy with the holiday season as one aspect, and integrating traditional marketing plans into mobile plans, creating one overall strategy. “The lines are blurring between marketing channels,” Philbin writes, “and now more than ever, retailers need to think about how to execute a seamless brand experience — integrating all of consumers’ favorite platforms and channels.”

It’s also time for retailers to “embrace mobile as the shopping companion,” Philbin says — and recent study results indicate he might be right. In separate posts at Internet Retailer (here and here), Bill Siwicki, managing editor at Mobile Commerce, took a look at a two such studies that show consumers are becoming comfortable with their smartphones and are yearning for more shopping integration.

The first, a study of smartphone owners conducted by ad agency Moosylvania, showed that 80% of respondents “want more mobile-optimized product information while they’re shopping in stores.” Researchers also found that 30.1% of respondents research products when away from home, and 12.4% of those do so in stores. They also found that 76% of respondents are comfortable with mobile coupons and that 44% would welcome mobile wallet capabilities. Siwicki also looked at a survey conducted by Perception Research Services International that showed 76% of respondents who own a smartphone use it while shopping; of those, 53% compare prices, 49% read customer reviews, and 48% hunt for coupons or sales.

Mobile wallets: now or never?

Michael Brush at MSN Money took a look at the mobile wallet battle and says if you don’t already have a mobile wallet, you probably will by the end of 2013 — and maybe more than one. Brush looks at the battleground from both consumer and investor perspectives, noting that for consumers, it will change how — and how much — they spend; for investors, the battle is “worth studying because there will be major winners and losers.” LevelUp CEO Seth Priebatsch told Brush, “I think 2013 is going to be the year where mobile payments will happen and there will be a winner, or mobile payments won’t ever happen at all.”

The battle boils down to two goals from the vendor/retailer perspective, says Brush: improved marketing efforts and potential savings in credit card fees. On the marketing front, the “Big Brother-ish” nature of the data collection efforts will likely force providers to tread lightly, Brush notes, but consumers stand to benefit big as wallet competitors fight for adoption. Industry analyst Aaron McPherson told Brush the mobile wallet battle “will be a bloodbath in 2013.”

Brush also outlines each of the current key players, who they are and how they measure up — you can read his full report here.

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November 01 2012

Commerce Weekly: Mobile wallets and NFC get a global partnership platform

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Vodafone partners up to launch a new mobile wallet platform

Yet another mobile wallet is gearing up to hit the market in 2013. Vodafone announced a partnership with m-commerce company CorFire and digital security company Gemalto to launch the platform in the first quarter of 2013 in Germany and Spain with plans to expand across Europe, according to a report at Bloomberg.

Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch reports that the initial rollout will focus on NFC-equipped Android devices and that the services “will be compatible with the standards chosen by Weve” (formerly known as Project Oscar). According to Lomas, Dr. Jae Chung, CorFire’s president and CEO, noted the platform’s potential in a released statement: “Vodafone’s customer base spans across more than 30 countries, which means our partnership may become one of the biggest, global implementations of NFC and mobile commerce.”

James Wester at Mobile Payments Today reports that Vodafone’s plan for its more than 400 million subscribers around the globe goes beyond the mobile wallet — plans include developing the platform so that third-party service providers can access the subscriber base.

Cashing in on why we buy

Mick Weinstein at PandoDaily took a look this week at a Tel Aviv startup called Commerce Sciences that is looking to cash in on behavioral economics, the science behind people’s shopping behaviors. The company wants to create interfaces for small- to mid-sized companies that provide insights from behavioral economics, predictive analytics and big data analytics to help them better connect with their customers, and in turn convert more sales.

The company already has launched its first product, Weinstein reports. The Personal Bar “is a free, self-service toolbar that sits on an ecommerce site’s footer and pops up coupons, a chat box, and other messages,” he writes. And he notes the first insights into consumer behavior already are emerging:

“… the bar already includes an Ariellian [ref: Dan Ariely] behavioral econ lesson: They’ve found that a little coupon graphic that a customer ‘tears off’ from the toolbar converts far better than a discount code that you need to Control-V at checkout.”

The bar isn’t the endgame, though — it’s a way to start relationships with merchants and collect data, Weinstein reports. He says company founders Aviv Revach and Eyal Brosh are more interested in creating “the brains behind optimizing the online buying experience.” He reports:

“‘This market lacks an entity that sees and analyzes all of the massive activity across thousands of ecommerce sites,’ Revach says. ‘We can integrate all that data and help merchants react to the changes and particularities of customer behavior. The bar is just the beginning — eventually we’ll integrate with the main elements of sites.’”

The timing for such a company to get off the ground may be approaching the tipping point — analysts predict ecommerce and m-commerce to boom in the next few years across the globe, and retailers will be looking for innovative ways to capture consumer attention.

NFC for the iPhone?

All the buzz leading up to the iPhone 5 release on whether or not Apple would bring NFC to the masses ended (for many) in a collective sigh when the phone launched without the anticipated technology. But iPhone fans who long for NFC capabilities might not have to wait for yet another version release of the phone — tech company Flomio has launched a Kickstarter campaign for FloJack, a pocket-sized NFC plug-in device for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

The campaign is set to run through November 26 and needs to meet or exceed a goal of $80,000. As of this writing, the campaign had raised $14,238. You can check it out here.

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September 20 2012

Commerce Weekly: Big data in retail

Here are a few stories from the commerce space that caught my attention this week:

Mom and pops sidelined by big data?

Gary Hawkins at the Harvard Business Review took a look this week at marketing and research in the commerce space and argued that the costs associated with big data advantages may be wiping out the little guy. Hawkins writes:

“In this war for customers, the ammunition is data — and lots of it. It began with transaction data and shopper data, which remain central. Now, however, they are being augmented by demographic data, in-store video monitoring, mobile-based location data from inside and outside the store, real-time social media feeds, third-party data appends, weather, and more. Retail has entered the era of Big Data.”

Hawkins points out that this level of consumer intelligence is highly advantageous and even more expensive, thus only retailers with adequate resources (read: deep, deep pockets) can compete. Citing a study (PDF) by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, he notes that “annual industry spending on shopper marketing at over $50 billion, and growing.”

In addition to sidelining smaller retailers, the shopper marketing trend is having a more pervasive effect on the industry as a whole by changing the distribution of budgeted marketing expenditures. “Trade promotion accounted for 44% of total marketing expenditures by manufacturers in 2011, lower than any other year in the past decade,” Hawkins notes. The reason for the shift is all about the ROI — quoting Matthew Boyle of CNN Money, Hawkins writes that “the partnership of Kroger and dunnhumby ‘is generating millions in revenue by selling Kroger’s shopper data to consumer goods giants’ … It is widely understood that Kroger is realizing over $100 million annually in incremental revenue from these efforts.”

This model not only caters to large retailers over smaller retailers because of the size of their wallets, but because it’s easier for brands to interact with the corporate headquarters of a major retailer with 1,000 stores than to interact with 1,000 owners of independent stores, Hawkins writes. He goes into detail about how this business model will affect the industry on several fronts — you can read his piece in its entirety here.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

NFC, a mess waiting to happen?

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 5 last week, the big news on the commerce front was the new device’s lack of NFC technology. After some time to mull it over, most are coming to the conclusion that it won’t be detrimental to Apple — or to mobile payments, for that matter. Brian Proffitt at ReadWriteWeb addressed the issue this week and argues that Apple will be just fine without NFC — you can’t really use it anyway, as NFC payments aren’t universally accepted. And with the expense and hassle on the part of the merchant in setting up for NFC payments, this form of payment is going to have to become far more ubiquitous to make it worth their while. Proffitt writes:

“NFC may afford some convenience to some customers, but if it doesn’t increase sales in a meaningful way it’s going to drop to a lower point on a business’ priority list. Getting more sales and customers is the big win, and NFC might not help with that when something like Passbook or other payment systems like Square could be implemented with less cost and hassle.”

Over at All Things Digital, Carey Kolaja, chief of operations for global product & experience at PayPal, took a look at this issue as well. She argues that NFC is a mess waiting to happen and asks why Apple would want any part of it anyway. Kolaja writes:

“No retailer will have multiple NFC boxes to take payments from different networks, and the NFC terminals shipping today do little more than just transmit the card number and transaction size. They’re not equipped to automatically accept the complex coupons and offers that make the digital wallet so exciting. On the technology side, carriers are trying one solution, phone manufacturers another, and technology companies yet another. Meanwhile, the consumer is standing at the register thinking ‘really, how hard is it to pull out my credit card?’”

Kolaja also defines “mobile wallet” and “digital wallet,” and explains why the terms are not interchangeable. She argues that, in the end, digital wallets will prevail over mobile wallets because “[r]elevance to the consumer will be king, and the ability to act in a seamless and secure environment across any device or platform will be what matters most to that consumer.” Her piece is well worth the read.

Mobile-empowered consumers are driving retail innovation

A new report released this week from MasterCard and the Economist Intelligence Unit showed that consumers are effecting change and innovation in the retail industry more than ever before. The report refers to this shift as “the era of the ‘I-Con’ — the smart, omnichannel, omnipotent consumer.” A couple highlights from the findings include:

  • “Data allows retailers to put the ‘I’ in I-factor”: data was voted the second most important factor in customer retention and in growing market share, as it allows retailers to better personalize services. “41% say they will use data to deliver an improved customer experience in the coming year.”
  • “Retailers are ramping up investment in new technology solutions to keep pace with customer demand”: 44% of retailers say they plan to offer contactless payment in the next year and 35% will invest to improve their e-commerce and m-commerce strategies and platforms.

Additionally, the study looked forward to 2020 and offered a few predictions. One notable highlight focused on mobile:

  • “Mobile commerce is predicted to become king”: 43% of retailers predict that mobile will become the most important channel for customer communication by 2020, ahead of brick-and-mortar stores and desktop PCs.

The findings echo study results from BigCommerce this summer that showed the exponential growth of e-commerce and m-commerce. The study results, visualized in an infographic, in part addressed the changing behavior of consumers and how mobile is driving those changes:


Click for the full infographic.

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September 06 2012

Digging into the UDID data

Over the weekend the hacker group Antisec released one million UDID records that they claim to have obtained from an FBI laptop using a Java vulnerability. In reply the FBI stated:

The FBI is aware of published reports alleging that an FBI laptop was compromised and private data regarding Apple UDIDs was exposed. At this time there is no evidence indicating that an FBI laptop was compromised or that the FBI either sought or obtained this data.

Of course that statement leaves a lot of leeway. It could be the agent’s personal laptop, and the data may well have been “property” of an another agency. The wording doesn’t even explicitly rule out the possibility that this was an agency laptop, they just say that right now they don’t have any evidence to suggest that it was.

This limited data release doesn’t have much impact, but the possible release of the full dataset, which is claimed to include names, addresses, phone numbers and other identifying information, is far more worrying.

While there are some almost dismissing the issue out of hand, the real issues here are: Where did the data originate? Which devices did it come from and what kind of users does this data represent? Is this data from a cross-section of the population, or a specifically targeted demographic? Does it originate within the law enforcement community, or from an external developer? What was the purpose of the data, and why was it collected?

With conflicting stories from all sides, the only thing we can believe is the data itself. The 40-character strings in the release at least look like UDID numbers, and anecdotally at least we have a third-party confirmation that this really is valid UDID data. We therefore have to proceed at this point as if this is real data. While there is a possibility that some, most, or all of the data is falsified, that’s looking unlikely from where we’re standing standing at the moment.

With that as the backdrop, the first action I took was to check the released data for my own devices and those of family members. Of the nine iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices kicking around my house, none of the UDIDs are in the leaked database. Of course there isn’t anything to say that they aren’t amongst the other 11 million UDIDs that haven’t been released.

With that done, I broke down the distribution of leaked UDID numbers by device type. Interestingly, considering the number of iPhones in circulation compared to the number of iPads, the bulk of the UDIDs were self-identified as originating on an iPad.

Distribution of UDID by device type

What does that mean? Here’s one theory: If the leak originated from a developer rather than directly from Apple, and assuming that this subset of data is a good cross-section on the total population, and assuming that the leaked data originated with a single application … then the app that harvested the data is likely a Universal application (one that runs on both the iPhone and the iPad) that is mostly used on the iPad rather than on the iPhone.

The very low numbers of iPod Touch users might suggest either demographic information, or that the application is not widely used by younger users who are the target demographic for the iPod Touch, or alternatively perhaps that the application is most useful when a cellular data connection is present.

The next thing to look at, as the only field with unconstrained text, was the Device Name data. That particular field contains a lot of first names, e.g. “Aaron’s iPhone,” so roughly speaking the distribution of first letters in the this field should give a decent clue as to the geographical region of origin of the leaked list of UDIDs. This distribution is of course going to be different depending on the predominant language in the region.

Distribution of UDID by the first letter of the “Device Name” field

The immediate stand out from this distribution is the predominance of device name strings starting with the letter “i.” This can be ascribed to people who don’t have their own name prepended to the Device Name string, and have named their device “iPhone,” “iPad” or “iPod Touch.”

The obvious next step was to compare this distribution with the relative frequency of first letters in words in the English language.

Comparing the distribution of UDID by first letter of the “Device Name” field against the relative frequencies of the first letters of a word in the English language

The spike for the letter “i” dominated the data, so the next step was to do some rough and ready data cleaning.

I dropped all the Device Name strings that started with the string “iP.” That cleaned out all those devices named “iPhone,” “iPad” and “iPod Touch.” Doing that brought the number of device names starting with an “i” down from 159,925 to just 13,337. That’s a bit more reasonable.

Comparing the distribution of UDID by first letter of the “Device Name” field, ignoring all names that start with the string “iP,” against the relative frequencies of the first letters of a word in the English language

I had a slight over-abundance of “j,” although that might not be statistically significant. However, the stand out was that there was a serious under-abundance of strings starting with the letter “t,” which is interesting. Additionally, with my earlier data cleaning I also had a slight under-abundance of “i,” which suggested I may have been too enthusiastic about cleaning the data.

Looking at the relative frequency of letters in languages other than English it’s notable that amongst them Spanish has a much lower frequency of the use of “t.”

As the de facto second language of the United States, Spanish is the obvious next choice  to investigate. If the devices are predominantly Spanish in origin then this could solve the problem introduced by our data cleaning. As Marcos Villacampa noted in a tweet, in Spanish you would say “iPhone de Mark” rather than “Mark’s iPhone.”

Comparing the distribution of UDID by first letter of the “Device Name” field, ignoring all names that start with the string “iP,” against the relative frequencies of the first letters of a word in the Spanish language

However, that distribution didn’t really fit either. While “t” was much better, I now had an under-abundance of words with an ”e.” Although it should be noted that, unlike our English language relative frequencies, the data I was using for Spanish is for letters in the entire word, rather than letters that begin the word. That’s certainly going to introduce biases, perhaps fatal ones.

Not that I can really make the assumption that there is only one language present in the data, or even that one language predominates, unless that language is English.

At this stage it’s obvious that the data is, at least more or less, of the right order of magnitude. The data probably shows devices coming from a Western country. However, we’re a long way from the point where I’d come out and say something like ” … the device names were predominantly in English.” That’s not a conclusion I can make.

I’d be interested in tracking down the relative frequency of letters used in Arabic when the language is transcribed into the Roman alphabet. While I haven’t been able to find that data, I’m sure it exists somewhere. (Please drop a note in the comments if you have a lead.)

The next step for the analysis is to look at the names themselves. While I’m still in the process of mashing up something that will access U.S. census data and try and reverse geo-locate a name to a “most likely” geographical origin, such services do already exist. And I haven’t really pushed the boundaries here, or even started a serious statistical analysis of the subset of data released by Antisec.

This brings us to Pete Warden’s point that you can’t really anonymize your data. The anonymization process for large datasets such as this is simply an illusion. As Pete wrote:

Precisely because there are now so many different public datasets to cross-reference, any set of records with a non-trivial amount of information on someone’s actions has a good chance of matching identifiable public records.

While this release in itself is fairly harmless, a number of “harmless” releases taken together — or cleverly cross-referenced with other public sources such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other social media — might well be more damaging. And that’s ignoring the possibility that Antisec really might have names, addresses and telephone numbers to go side-by-side with these UDID records.

The question has to be asked then, where did this data originate? While 12 million records might seem a lot, compared to the number of devices sold it’s not actually that big a number. There are any number of iPhone applications with a 12-million-user installation base, and this sort of backend database could easily have been built up by an independent developer with a successful application who downloaded the device owner’s contact details before Apple started putting limitations on that.

Ignoring conspiracy theories, this dataset might be the result of a single developer. Although how it got into the FBI’s possession and the why of that, if it was ever there in the first place, is another matter entirely.

I’m going to go on hacking away at this data to see if there are any more interesting correlations, and I do wonder whether Antisec would consider a controlled release of the data to some trusted third party?

Much like the reaction to #locationgate, where some people were happy to volunteer their data, if enough users are willing to self-identify, then perhaps we can get to the bottom of where this data originated and why it was collected in the first place.

Thanks to Hilary Mason, Julie Steele, Irene RosGemma Hobson and Marcos Villacampa for ideas, pointers to comparative data sources, and advice on visualisation of the data.

Update

9/6/12

In response to a post about this article on Google+, Josh Hendrix made the suggestion that I should look at word as well as letter frequency. It was a good idea, so I went ahead and wrote a quick script to do just that…

The top two words in the list are “iPad,” which occurs 445,111 times, and “iPhone,” which occurs 252,106 times. The next most frequent word is “iPod,” but that occurs only 36,367 times. This result backs up my earlier result looking at distribution by device type.

Then there are various misspellings and mis-capitalisations of “iPhone,” “iPad,” and “iPod.”

The first real word that isn’t an Apple trademark is “Administrator,” which occurs 10,910 times. Next are “David” (5,822), “John” (5,447), and “Michael” (5,034). This is followed by “Chris” (3,744), “Mike” (3,744), “Mark” (3,66) and “Paul” (3,096).

Looking down the list of real names, as opposed to partial strings and tokens, the first female name doesn’t occur until we’re 30 places down the list — it’s “Lisa” (1,732) with the next most popular female name being “Sarah” (1,499), in 38th place.

The top 100 names occurring in the UDID list.

The word “Dad” occurs 1,074 times, with “Daddy” occurring 383 times. For comparison the word “Mum” occurs just 58 times, and “Mummy” just 33. “Mom” came in with 150 occurrences, and “mommy” with 30. The number of occurrences for “mum,” “mummy,” “mom,” and “mommy” combined is 271, which is still very small compared to the combined total of 1,457 for “dad” and “daddy.”

[Updated: Greg Yardly wisely pointed out on Twitter that I was being a bit English-centric in only looking for the words "mum" and "mummy," which is why I expanded the scope to include "mom" and "mommy."]

There is a definite gender bias here, and I can think of at least a few explanations. The most likely is fairly simplistic: The application where the UDID numbers originated either appeals to, or is used more, by men.

Alternatively, women may be less likely to include their name in the name of their device, perhaps because amongst other things this name is used to advertise the device on wireless networks?

Either way I think this definitively pins it down as a list of devices originating in an Anglo-centric geographic region.

Sometimes the simplest things work better. Instead of being fancy perhaps I should have done this in the first place. However this, combined with my previous results, suggest that we’re looking at an English speaking, mostly male, demographic.

Correlating the top 20 or so names and with the list of most popular baby names (by year) all the way from the mid-’60s up until the mid-’90s (so looking at the most popular names for people between the ages of say 16 and 50) might give a further clue as to the exact demographic involved.

Both Gemma Hobson and Julie Steele directed me toward the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names By Decade list. A quick and dirty analysis suggests that the UDID data is dominated by names that were most popular in the ’70s and ’80s. This maps well to my previous suggestion that the lack of iPod Touch usage might suggest that the demographic was older.

I’m going to do a year-by-year breakdown and some proper statistics later on, but we’re looking at an application that’s probably used by: English speaking males with an Anglo-American background in their 30s or 40s. It’s most used on the iPad, and although it also works on the iPhone, it’s used far less on that platform.

Thanks to Josh Hendrix, and again to Gemma Hobson and Julie Steele, for ideas and pointers to sources for this part of the analysis.

Related:

July 24 2012

Apps Rush: The Unilever Series, Bing Get MeThere, SoFit, Goldstar Savings Bank, Jurassic Park Builder and more

What's new on the app stores on Tuesday 24 July 2012

A selection of 13 new and notable apps for you today:

The Unilever Series at Tate Modern

London's Tate Modern has launched an official app for its 13-year "Unilever Series' of installations, "from Olafur Eliasson's sun to Ai Weiwei's carpet of sunflower seeds". That means more than 250 photos and 12 videos, as well as articles by curators and artists, and some of the early sketches for each exhibit.
iPad

Bing Get MeThere

Microsoft has launched a London travel app for iPhone using its Bing brand, promising "true door-to-door directions using Bing maps and live tube updates". Favourite journeys can also be set up for quick access.
iPhone

SoFit

SoFit is the latest social fitness app (hence the name, presumably), which awards points every time you exercise. It promises real-life rewards for this: "exclusive products from your favorite brands; downloads like music, videos and games; as well as fundraise for the causes you care about".
Android

Goldstar Savings Bank

This iPad app wants to teach children about financial basics, without making it dry and boring. A tall order, but Goldstar Savings Bank may just have nailed it: the idea being it's an app for children to record their savings and earn money for household chores, in order to buy rewards.
iPad

Jurassic Park Builder

The latest family-friendly brand to spawn its own freemium game is Jurassic Park, with this new iOS game from Ludia. It follows the Smurfs' Village / FarmVille template with players building their own parks, buying virtual bucks through in-app purchases to fund it. $99.99 IAP in a game that's likely to appeal to children? Hmm. The game is US-only for now.
iPhone / iPad

Assistant

Assistant is the latest Siri-like voice recognition app for a non-iOS platform. In this case: Windows Phone. It's a "virtual buddy for your smartphone that uses natural language technology" to answer questions, search for information and launch apps, hooking into Google, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Evernote and other services.
Windows Phone

The Icky Mr Fox

UK studio Ickypen has launched a children's book app that sees Icky Mr Fox trying to ruin the afternoon tea of Mr Rabbit and Mr Mole, with "tippy-tappy objects" that speak their name when touched. Unusually, it's available on Android and BlackBerry PlayBook as well as iPad.
Android / iPad / BlackBerry PlayBook

Around The Clock

Swedish developer Wombi Apps has a characterful new iOS app for children all about clocks. It includes a mini-game for each hour of the day, from teeth-brushing and biking home from pre-school to hammering nails and slicing butter. The idea being to familiarise children with the clock, rather than overtly teach them how to read it.
iPhone / iPad

X-Ray for Android

Android owners concerned about nasty malward have a number of apps to choose from, as security companies pile onto the platform to capitalise on reports of Android viruses. X-Ray for Android is the latest, promising to scan for vulnerabilities and "keep your carrier honest".
Android

5K To Marathon Runmeter GPS

Completed the programme set by a "couch to 5k" app? Time to step up, perhaps: this app focuses on going beyond 5k races to "give you feedback and motivation to go farther, be healthier, and live longer".
iPhone

Party Wave

Cartoon-surfing game Party Wave looks fun on iOS, getting you to position a bunch of surfers to ride a big wave in top-down view, before switching to a side-on perspective to guide them through it. The game is also notable, though, for being the first from Japanese developer Mistwalker – founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.
iPhone / iPad

Cardagram Postcard

French digital-to-physical postcards app Cardagram has launched in the UK. Like established rival Touchnote, it turns iPhone photos into real postcards to be sent worldwide – usually charging £1.99, although it's £0.99 in a launch offer. One nice touch: it can pull in photos from Instagram and Facebook.
iPhone

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette

Yes, Marie Antoinette re-imagined as a cartoon "ant queen" in a story-app for children. No, I have no idea how they handle the guillotine part. But yes, the app sees Marie baking and decorating a cake, setting up a castle room and wander through underground ant tunnels. More Historables apps are following from developer Base Camp Films: stand by for Teddy Bear Roosevelt and Lionardo Da Vinci...
iPad


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July 19 2012

Objective-C and Cocoa: The core of solid iOS apps

Jon Manning (@desplesda) and Paris Buttfield-Addison (@parisba) are co-founders of Secret Lab and authors of the forthcoming Learning Cocoa with Objective-C, 3rd Edition

Key points from the full video (below) interview include:

  • Embrace Objective-C’s verbosity [Discussed at the 0:30 mark]
  • Just getting started with Objective-C? Check out the WWDC videos and… [Discussed at the 1:45 mark]
  • Long awaited updates to Objective-C make a big impact [Discussed at the 2:27 mark]
  • When it comes time to submit your app to the App Store, think about it as Apple would [Discussed at the 3:47 mark]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

Related:

March 29 2012

Commerce Weekly: Google Wallet vs Isis is coming soon

Here's what caught my eye in commerce news this week.

Who's got the winning wallet?

Several recent articles have speculated about the coming competition between Google Wallet and the forthcoming mobile wallet from Isis, which is set to debut in tests in Austin and Salt Lake City this summer. Tech bloggers love a contest, and even though there's only one major player in this race so far, observers are handicapping the players before they even take the field.

MobilePaymentsToday.com ran a column comparing the merits of the two platforms in several categories. (Where was the massive infographic that we've all grown used to for this sort of thing?) Google took the prize in time-to-market (already out there, a little) and branding, while the nod went to Isis for building a solid ecosystem, with its support from three major U.S. wireless carriers and the top credit card networks and handset builders. Isis should also get the award for most imaginative and compelling demo video, based on the clip of Cyber Illusionist Marco Tempest at SXSW a few weeks ago (demo begins 15 seconds in, after the ad):



Of course, both of these plays depend on NFC wireless capability in phones, and while that's destined to ramp up soon, GigaOm reported that in 2011, NFC in the U.S. lagged far behind other regions. Of the 30 million NFC-capable handsets sold worldwide last year, about five million went to North America, 10 million went to Europe, and more than that went to Asia. Some mobile wallets, of course, don't rely on NFC: PayPal, for example, is getting ready to launch an updated version of its wallet that operates closer to the direct billing model, where you enter your mobile number on the retailer's keypad and then confirm when a text is sent to your mobile. PayPal's system is a bit less elegant than wireless tap and pay, but as we wrote a few weeks ago, it's ready now and available on any phone that supports texting.



We couldn't help notice that all this handicapping of the two most visible mobile wallets overlooked the potential of a third player that has yet to enter the arena. Only a few weeks ago, mobile payment geeks were abuzz about newly published patents from Apple that described a method for payment with credit cards that sends the receipt to the user's iTunes account. And since there are more than 200 million of those iTunes accounts (and 350 million iOS devices out there), that represents a significant installed user base that may be receptive to Apple's familiar interface applied to a mobile wallet. Those who think Apple is coming late to the party should be reminded that Apple has never had to be the first to a market to end up dominating it.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

In-app purchases continue to dominate

In-app purchase screenshotHere's more evidence that in-app purchases are driving most of the revenues in mobile apps. According to Inside Mobile Apps, Distimo, which specializes in tracking app store activity, reports that a majority of the top-grossing apps on iPad, iPhone and Android monetize with in-app purchases. The researcher found that, of the top 200 grossing apps in the iPad App Store, the iPhone App store, and the Google Play store in February, 74% of the iPad apps and 80% of the iPhone apps featured in-app purchases. The numbers are even more remarkable when taken with the additional insight that only 10% of all iPad apps and 6% of iPhone apps even offer in-app purchases. So, there appears to be an awful lot of iOS apps that aren't yet interested in playing in the winning game.

The number was lower on Android apps (56%). Inside Mobile Apps' Kathleen De Vere suggested that may be because Android has a shorter history with in-app purchases (only since last May) and, related, fewer Android apps offer in-app purchases.

The findings support other reports that have also suggested the superiority of the foot-in-the-door model, including one by Flurry Analytics last summer that found freemium emerging as the dominant model for generating revenue from mobile apps.

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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February 03 2012

Top stories: January 30-February 3, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

What is Apache Hadoop?
Apache Hadoop has been the driving force behind the growth of the big data industry. But what does it do, and why do you need all its strangely-named friends? (Related: Hadoop creator Doug Cutting on why Hadoop caught on.)

Embracing the chaos of data
Data scientists, it's time to welcome errors and uncertainty into your data projects. In this interview, Jetpac CTO Pete Warden discusses the advantages of unstructured data.

Moneyball for software engineering, part 2
A look at the "Moneyball"-style metrics and techniques managers can employ to get the most out of their software teams.

With GOV.UK, British government redefines the online government platform
A new beta .gov website in Britain is open source, mobile friendly, platform agnostic, and open for feedback.


When will Apple mainstream mobile payments?
David Sims parses the latest iPhone / near-field-communication rumors and considers the impact of Apple's (theoretical) entrance into the mobile payment space.



Strata 2012, Feb. 28-March 1 in Santa Clara, Calif., will offer three full days of hands-on data training and information-rich sessions. Strata brings together the people, tools, and technologies you need to make data work. Save 20% on Strata registration with the code RADAR20.

February 02 2012

Commerce Weekly: The return of iPhone NFC rumors

Here are some things that caught my eye in the news this week.

When will Apple mainstream mobile payments?

AppleNow that everyone's iPhone 4S has a few dings on it and we've all grown bored flirting with Siri, our curiosity naturally turns to iPhone 5 and what gifts it will bequeath on mankind. Rumors of NFC (near-field communication, which lets phones pay with wireless technology), are at the forefront again, just as they were before the 4S arrived. As far back as August 2010, when Apple hired NFC expert Benjamin Vigier as its product manager for mobile commerce, expectations have been high that the next iPhone would include wireless payment. That was two versions ago; we must be getting close.

Seth Weintraub wrote this week on 9to5mac that a developer he met at MacWorld was building NFC into the next version of his app because Apple's iOS engineers are "heavy into NFC." Over on Fast Company, Austin Carr looked for clues in his conversation with Ed McLaughlin, who leads emerging payments at MasterCard. When Carr pressed McLaughlin for details on which handset makers were developing phones that work with MasterCard's contactless payment system, he didn't mention Apple by name but said he "didn't know of any handset maker out there who wasn't working to make their phones PayPass ready."

Why do we read these tea leaves? There are a few other NFC phones out there already, pushing the far end of the envelope. But Apple is much more significant, as Carr points out, thanks to its:

"... magical ability to transform whole industries. No one paid for music digitally before Apple unveiled iTunes; virtually no one listened to MP3 players, or carried smartphones, or played with tablets before Apple entered the markets."

Even more so than with previous trends, an enormous captive audience awaits the moment when Apple will introduce it to mobile payments. Scot Wingo notes, in a very good summary of the state of mobile commerce on Seeking Alpha, that Apple has "something like 250 million credit cards on file" in the iTunes store. Although only a fraction of those will buy the iPhone 5 in its first months out, they are sure to be customers who are already comfortable buying things through Apple's interface.

I think the biggest and best surprise will be more than just the date when iPhones ship with NFC, but rather how Apple presents a mobile wallet interface. When you think of how iTunes presented a better way to buy digital music, and when you compare the customer experience in Apple's retail stores with what you find almost anywhere else, you have to acknowledge Apple's genius in what we might call the transaction interface. Its programming efforts up front seem as likely to mainstream mobile commerce as any programming that it does behind the scenes to make those transactions occur.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.


What PayPal is learning at the point of sale

PayPal's point-of-sale (POS) trial with 51 Home Depot stores is rolling out to Office Depot stores, too — cautiously, according to this Reuters story, which quotes an Office Depot executive saying "there are still some rough spots in that experience." The executive didn't say whether those rough spots had to do with the technology, the way customers are using it, or just the basic unfamiliarity with it. Regardless, the novelty presents something of an opportunity for PayPal, says Anuj Nayar, PayPal's chief spokesperson. "Retailers are not technologists by nature," Nayar told me in a conversation last week. "They have to work and sell in this multi-channel environment, where increasingly the differentiator is based on technology." But keeping up with the evolving technology shouldn't be the retailer's job, Nayar says. PayPal, of course, wants to provide a commercial ecosystem — as Nayar calls it, "a one-stop tech partner for retail."

PayPal at a HomeDepot point of sale terminalPayPal had those capabilities on display at the National Retail Federation show last month, showing the various ways it is enabling payment at the point of sale. PayPal aspires to go beyond the concept of a mobile wallet in a phone; it wants to offer a "wallet in the cloud" that lets consumers make purchases with just their mobile number and a PIN — no card or phone needed. No doubt, the trials at Home Depot will shed light on just how comfortable consumers are with this idea. So far, Nayar says, it's too early in the trial to share any of those learnings.

Nayar did share a finding from PayPal's conversations with consumers and retailers about how they want to use mobile commerce: You need to get beyond not only the friction that keeps people from using technology, but also guard against any social stigma that could arise. "For example, when I go to get coffee in the morning, if I get there and see there is a 20-minute wait, I can't wait for that. That retailer has lost a customer because of a friction point. So how do you reduce that friction? Maybe it's giving people the ability to order the coffee over their mobile before they get there? ... But we tested that, and you know what we found? People don't like to jump the line. They didn't like the idea of coming in and looking to everyone in line like they were getting to skip the line. So, maybe you need a separate line and register, a PayPal Express line or something."

In other words, we want convenience, but not at the expense of looking like we're getting special treatment. No doubt, PayPal will learn more in the coming trials, which are ramping up quickly: The company wants to be at 2,000 points of sale by the end of March.

Square hits the hustings

Square picked up a fresh round of publicity this week when word broke that staffers from both the Obama and Romney campaigns were using its plug-in dongle card reader to collect political donations for their candidates.

Obama campaign spokesperson Katie Hogan told Nick Bilton of The New York Times that the dongles were being shipped out to campaign workers across the country. The Obama campaign also hopes to create a donation app that works in conjunction with Square dongles so that any supporter can collect contributions with or without the support of the local campaign organization. All donations would obviously go to the campaign — minus the 2.75% transaction fee that Square keeps from every transaction.

The Romney campaign's digital director Zac Moffatt said the Republicans would also begin using Square as soon as this week, but he cautioned they want to make sure that using Square doesn't break any rules. "The challenge on this sort of thing is never with the technology, it's with the compliance. We're making sure everything we're doing follows fund-raising rules and is compliant with the FEC."

Although DC is generally slow to embrace new technologies, I have a hunch that tech that makes it easier for candidates to collect money will find a swift and warm welcome.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


Related:

January 26 2012

January 19 2012

The art of the app

David Hockney is not the only artist using an iPad to create new work. Here is a selection of art sent in by our readers that was created using various apps on the iPhone and iPad



January 16 2012

David Hockney: The wold is not enough

The Royal Academy's major show of David Hockney landscapes has its crazy moments. But all that fresh air wears Adrian Searle out

Out in all weathers (rain excepted), standing in woodlands and at roadsides, David Hockney has come a long way from the California poolside, and from the Bradford of his youth – to the east Yorkshire landscape inland from Bridlington, where he now lives for most of the year. Setting up his easels in the great outdoors, or sitting in his car recording his observations with a painting app on his iPhone or iPad, or cruising quiet lanes in a van bedecked with video cameras, Hockney's reinvention of himself as a full-blooded landscape artist is not without danger. As well as nature and the weather, he's up against history.

Hockney's homecoming is recorded in A Bigger Picture, opening this Saturday at the Royal Academy in London. It is a very big exhibition. It goes on and on. It is hard to like Hockney's later work in its entirety, but then you do have to be selective when faced with any facet of his long career. Those funny, sassy, sexy 1960s paintings – caught happily between figuration, storytelling, jokiness and abstraction – are winning in all sorts of ways, as are his pools, his lawn-sprinklered buffed California, his boys in the shower and on their sun-loungers.

Hockney's strengths are mostly graphic and illustrational. He can draw like Ingres (or redo Picasso redoing Ingres) and make of it something of his own. His later landscapes lack the charm, but carry the vices as well as the wit that gave his earlier work such character. They're just big and wilful. Hockney lacks the elan and notational elegance of, say, America's Alex Katz, as well as the vision of Samuel Palmer and the wonderment of Stanley Spencer, never mind the degree of perspicacity shown by dozens (if not hundreds) of lesser-known landscape artists, many of whom line the walls of the Royal Academy summer shows. And we haven't even got to the very great painters of nature: Courbet and Turner, Monet and Constable, Cézanne and Van Gogh.

The best landscapes here, depicting hawthorns in full spring flower, their branches heavy with blossom, do attain an almost surreal and visionary delight, but they culminate in a painting so over the top – May Blossom on the Roman Road, from 2009 – that it looks as though giant caterpillars were climbing all over a kind of mad topiary, beneath a roaring Van Goghish sky. I wish more works could be as crazy as this: Hockney captures and amplifies something of the astonishment of hawthorns in bloom. I kept thinking of dying Dennis Potter describing in that 1994 interview with Melvyn Bragg how "nowness" had become so vivid: "Instead of saying, 'Oh, that's nice blossom' … I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom."

This kind of presentness, and sense of presence, is, I think, what Hockney would like to capture. He has always been good at finding surprising and elegant ways to orchestrate differences: the palm tree against the sky, the light on the water, the splash in the still pool. These allow your eye to alight on things in different ways, just as the mind records what the eye sees with various degrees of nuance and recognition. Hockney still tries to do this but fails as often as he succeeds. Looking closely at his paintings of tunnels of trees overhanging a country track, I just get irritated by all the dibbling and dabbing, all that poking and flicking, the results of his attempts to vary the pace and the touch. What he actually lacks is touch itself. I don't mind the coarseness of his smaller and larger painterly gestures, but they seem as affected as they are impetuous. It all becomes a sort of slurry. Large or small, in watercolour or in oils, the paintings seem to sag, their variety – bright celandines under a canopy of spring foliage, a carpet of fallen beech leaves tiger-striped by shadow – becoming a sort of sameness.

Often, his painterly effects work well enough in reproduction. Looking at the catalogue I get the point, but in the raw, the paintings aren't nearly so successful. They don't bear looking at for very long. And there are other artists, whose ambitions aren't nearly so developed as Hockney's, who do this sort of thing much better. I think he is fighting slickness, or too much style, or rote solutions to painting problems: how to do bare branches, puddles on the path, the grass under your feet, the herringbone rhythms of tractor tracks. It is clear Hockney is excited by these variations and difficulties. But all those splodges and patterns, smears and dapples and churnings get very wearying. I just can't wait to get indoors and kick the gumboots off.

A Bigger Picture opens with a group of large paintings depicting three big trees near Thixendale, painted from the same vantage point in different seasons. Leaves come and go, crops grow, the autumn fields are tilled. Green hills turn blue in winter, under milky skies. We've seen this sort of thing many times.

In the catalogue, Margaret Drabble drivels on about Hockney's homecoming. "He eschews the misty elegiac pastoral mode," she says. But it is precisely this mode, updated, that gives Hockney's later work its charm, such as it is. Hockney, Drabble tells us, "has not founded a Bridlington school". But he runs very close to a school of mucky, chancy English landscape painting that is already ubiquitous – and degraded by its overfamiliarity.

The show takes a detour through earlier Hockney landscapes: from mid-1950s student work depicting a dreary Bradford suburb, to a huge 1998 painting of the Grand Canyon. Along the way there are witty photocollages, including 1986's Pearblossom Highway, a desert road littered with signage and beer bottles, and a full-size photographic reproduction of his 1980 painting Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio. It is extremely unpleasant to go from real paintings, with their record of touches and accretions, to this gigantic reproduction. There are things the photograph can't record. This is the work of art in the age of electronic reproduction – and it is just a precursor to what comes later.

The largest gallery is filled with a single work in many parts: The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven). The piece is as cumbersome as its title, which is printed on the wall above a giant multi-panelled painting. The other walls are double-hung with blown-up, printed images of drawings made on an iPad. Hockney uses the app again, in works depicting Yosemite in the American west. It allows him to draw like Van Gogh, to blur and smear and dapple and dot, to do all the things painting can do, except paint. The images have no texture, surface or sheen. They look almost wipable. They can never hide their electronic origins, no matter how painterly they appear. There's something inescapably dead and bland and gutless about them.

Hockney mistakes, I think, technology for modernity. He has worked with older technologies: the Polaroid, the colour photocopier, the fax. Lately, he has even been making multi-panelled digital videos, shot while driving along the same roads he paints. The camera doesn't linger and neither should we. Openness to technical innovation is one thing, art another. All you are left with is spectacle. The video featuring dancers in the artist's studio, hoofing, tap-dancing and generally enjoying themselves adds nothing either. These flashy films and iPad drawings feel like filler. Hockney's best landscapes carry a sense of real presence, of being there.


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January 09 2012

Decisive moment? Smartphones steal focus from compact cameras

Camera sales fell 30% in 2011 as experts predict snapshot device may go way of satnav and landline

Not long ago, life's precious moments were captured by someone who had the foresight to bring their camera. Now, everyone can reach for their phone. And having also dented demand for landlines, the PC and the satnav, smartphones are now officially replacing the compact camera as the most popular device for taking photos.

Sales of point and shoot cameras fell 30% by value in 2011 compared with the year before. Camera manufacturers have been on red alert since last summer, when the iPhone 4 became the most popular device from which snaps were uploaded to the picture sharing website Flickr.

Even some professional photographers admit they turn to their phones for snaps, with the celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz describing her iPhone as the "snapshot camera of today". "I'm still learning how to use mine," Liebovitz told NBC. "I can't tell you how many times I see people show me their children. It's the wallet with the family pictures in it."

Basic fixed-lens cameras accounted for more than 48% of manufacturers' takings in Britain in 2010, according to research firm GfK. By November 2011, the most recent data shows these cameras represented just 37% of takings.

"2011 was when sales of basic cameras seriously started to decline," said GfK analyst Zhelya Dancheva. "It's about how consumers are using cameras, and on what occasions. The smartphone is popular because it's always in your pocket, and you are connected so you can directly upload to the internet whenever you want."

Manufacturers will attempt to breathe new life into the budget camera market at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an annual showcase for gadget makers. Samsung, Canon and Sony Electronics have added a range of bells and whistles, including Wi-Fi connections and technology to recognise and zoom in on children's faces, with which they hope to lure back their lost customers.

"All manufacturers need to focus on the value of a camera and what differentiates it versus a smartphone," said Reid Sullivan of Samsung, unveiling the firm's latest model, the DV300F, which can upload images to sharing sites. It will also do away with the need for cables by sending images wirelessly to a computer.

The camera also claims to eliminate blurry backgrounds when capturing fast moving subjects, and has a small screen on the front to let users see self portraits.

Canon's flagship new point and shoot, the PowerShot G1X, can apparently prioritize face detection of children so that even the most fidgety subject's expression will appear in focus.

Sony's newer cameras can take photographs in 3D and will work in extreme conditions, including under water. The budget models will also come with more powerful zoom lenses that capture events at a greater distance and with a higher resolution than phones.

The iPhone 4 is now used by more than 5,000 people to upload more than 73,000 photos each day on Flickr. The second most popular camera, with slightly more than 4,000 daily Flickr users, is the Nikon D90. It costs more than £550 without a lens and has a picture resolution of 12.3 megapixels, compared with the iPhone 4's five megapixels.

Unveiling the latest iPhone last autumn, Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook, spent as much time emphasising its camera features as its processing power. The 4S has a resolution of eight megapixels, almost as high as the minimum of 10 now sported by most basic cameras.

The trend towards cameraphones is just as advanced in the United States, where they were used to take 27% of photos last year, up from 17% in 2010, according to market research firm NPD. The proportion of photos taken with a point and shoot camera fell from 52% to 44%.

Trevor Moore, chief executive of photography retailer Jessops, said customers now believe the quality of photographs taken from their smartphones is high enough to spend money turning them into prints. "We have a huge number of smartphone users coming into our stores to use our printing kiosks," said Moore. "We take the opportunity to talk to them about how they can make better pictures with a high quality camera."

In fact, sales of higher quality camera models are booming, giving hope to manufacturers such as Canon. Having become dissatisfied with the limitations of basic digital cameras, customers are flocking to those which offer better zooms and higher resolution. Sales of fixed lens devices, which offer a zoom of more than 10 times, were up 42% by volume in the year to November, having risen 55% in 2010. Compact system cameras, which have interchangeable lenses, have seen sales by volume rise 51% in the past year, according to GfK.

Expert view

Having spent a few years schlepping around a heavy bag of cameras and lenses and with at least one dodgy shoulder to prove it, I'm always interested in developments that take some of the weight out of shooting decent pictures. And it looks like I'm not the only one who has discovered the joys of using the ultimate lightweight camera as millions of people seem to have proved by ditching them and using a smartphone instead.

Sales of cheap cameras are down; it's not surprising – if you carry one thing these days it's a phone, and if it shoots pictures of similar quality to a camera, why carry a camera too? Having shot those great pictures of junior's first steps, a couple more keystrokes on the phone have them winging their way to a proud granny. If you really want them, Hipstamatic and other apps are available to "improve" your snaps, while Twitter or Flickr will distribute or store them for you.

Photographically, a really interesting and encouraging thing about using a smartphone is the way the focal length of the lens feels "right" for many shots. This is because the lens is slightly wider than the "standard" lens sold with a camera and gives a usefully wider view. In practice these images feel comfortable or real to the viewer, something early users of compact 35mm cameras in the last century discovered.

They were trying to capture reality and a widish lens gave them that result. They were also trying to be inconspicuous, hence the use of small Leica cameras just as these days someone using a phone in the street arouses no interest. Even if you are not a Cartier-Bresson, convenience and a reasonably faithful representation of their world is all that most people want from their photography. A smartphone gives you all that.

Roger Tooth, the Guardian's head of photography


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November 07 2011

Darf Apple keine iPhones und iPads mehr in Deutschland verkaufen?

Das Landgericht Mannheim hat es der Apple Inc. – also der amerikanischen Muttergesellschaft von Apple – auf eine Klage von Motorola hin mit Versäumnisurteil vom 4. November 2011 (Az.: 7 O 169/11) verboten, in Deutschland mobile Gerate anzubieten und/oder zu liefern, die bestimmte, im Urteil näher beschriebene Kommunikationsverfahren nutzen. Obwohl es nicht explizit im Urteil steht, kann dies nur das iPhone und das iPad betreffen.

Auch wenn der Apple Store formal durch Apple Irland betrieben wird und die deutschen Ladengeschäfte auch nicht der amerikanischen Mutter gehören, bedeutet dies für Apple dennoch, dass jede Lieferung eines mobilen Endgeräts nach Deutschland gegen das Urteil verstößt und man auch bzgl. des Apple Stores diskutieren kann, ob die Fortsetzung des Angebots von iPhones und iPads nicht ebenfalls unzulässig ist.

Da das Urteil vom 04.11.2011 vermutlich erst in den nächsten Tagen zugestellt wird, bleibt abzuwarten, wie Apple auf die Zustellung reagieren wird.

Das Urteil erging als sog. Versäumnisurteil, weil die Anwälte von Apple nicht zur mündlichen Verhandlung beim Landgericht Mannheim erschienen waren. Warum Apple diese Flucht in die Sämnis angetreten hat, ist unklar. Vermutlich hat man sich aber nicht in der Lage gesehen, rechtzeitig und ausreichend auf die Klage von Motorola zu erwidern.

Apple hat nun, beginnend mit dem Zeitpunkt der Urteilszustellung, zwei Wochen Zeit, gegen dieses Versäumnisurteil Einspruch eínzulegen. Apple ist gleichzeitig allerdings gehalten, in der Einspruchsschrift alle Angriffs- und Verteidigungsmittel vorzubringen. Apple muss also eine fehlende Klageerwiderung spätestens in der Einspruchsschrift nachholen.

Sollte das Urteil des Landgerichts Mannheim rechtskräftig werden, könnte dies das komplette Aus für das iPhone und das iPad in Deutschland bedeuten.

Möglicherweise hat Apple dem Vortrag von Motorola auch juristisch nichts entgegenzusetzen und verhandelt deshalb hinter den Kulissen derzeit mit Motorola über eine wirtschaftliche Lösung des Konflikts, die dann vermutlich außerordentlich teuer werden dürfte. Man darf jedenfalls gespannt sein, wie es in diesem Rechtsstreit weitergeht.

 

October 24 2011

You say you want a revolution? It's called post-PC computing


"You say you want a revolution,

Well, you know,

We all want to change the world."
— The Beatles

I loved Google engineer Steve Yegge's rant about: A) Google not grokking how to build and execute platforms; and B) How his ex-employer, Amazon, does.

First off, it bucks conventional wisdom. How could Google, the high priest of the cloud and the parent of Android, analytics and AdWords/AdSense, not be a standard-setter for platform creation?

Second, as Amazon's strategy seems to be to embrace "open" Android and use it to make a platform that's proprietary to Amazon, that's a heck of a story to watch unfold in the months ahead. Even more so, knowing that Amazon has serious platform mojo.

But mostly, I loved the piece because it underscores the granular truth about just how hard it is to execute a coherent platform strategy in the real world.

Put another way, Yegge's rant, and what it suggests about Google's and Amazon's platform readiness, provides the best insider's point of reference for appreciating how Apple has played chess to everyone's checkers in the post-PC platform wars.

Case in point, what company other than Apple could have executed something even remotely as rich and well-integrated as the simultaneous release of iOS 5, iCloud and iPhone 4S, the latter of which sold four million units in its first weekend of availability?

Let me answer that for you: No one.

Post-PC: Putting humans into the center of the computing equation

Each computing wave dwarfs and disrupts its predecessor

There is a truism that each wave of computing not only disrupts, but dwarfs its predecessor.

The mainframe was dwarfed by the PC, which in turn has been subordinated by the web. But now, a new kind of device is taking over. It's mobile, lightweight, simple to use, connected, has a long battery life and is a digital machine for running native apps, web browsing, playing all kinds of media, enabling game playing, taking photos and communicating.

Given its multiplicity of capabilities, it's not hard to imagine a future where post-PC devices dot every nook and cranny of the planet (an estimated 10 billion devices by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley).

But, an analysis of evolving computing models suggests a second, less obvious moral of the story. Namely, when you solve the right core problems central to enabling the emergent wave (as opposed to just bolting on more stuff), all sorts of lifecycle advantages come your way.

In the PC era, for example, the core problems were centered on creating homogeneity to get to scale and to give developers a singular platform to program around, something that the Wintel hardware-software duopoly addressed with bull's-eye accuracy. As a result, Microsoft and Intel captured the lion's share of the industry's profits.

By contrast, the wonderful thing about the way that the web emerged is that HTML initially made it so simple to "write once, run anywhere" that any new idea — brilliant or otherwise — could rapidly go from napkin to launch to global presence. The revolution was completely decentralized, and suddenly, web-based applications were absorbing more and more of the PC's reason for being.

Making all of this new content discoverable via search and monetizable (usually via advertising) thus became the core problem where the lion's share of profits flowed, and Google became the icon of the web.

The downside of this is that because the premise of the web is about abstracting out hardware and OS specificity, browsers are prone to crashing, slowdowns and sub-optimal performance. Very little about the web screams out "great design" or "magical user experience."

Enter Apple. It brought back a fundamental appreciation of the goodness of "native" experiences built around deeply integrated hardware, software and service platforms.

Equally important, Apple's emphasis on outcomes over attributes led it to marry design, technology and liberal arts in ways that brought humans into the center of the computing equation, such that for many, an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad is the most "personal" computer they have ever owned.

The success of Apple in this regard is best appreciated by how it took a touch-based interfacing model and made it seamless and invisible across different device types and interaction methods. Touch facilitated the emotional bond that users have with their iPhones, iPads and the like. Touch is one of the human senses, after all.

Thus, it's little surprise that the lion's share of profits in the post-PC computing space are flowing to the company that is delivering the best, most human-centric user experience: Apple.

Now, Apple is opening a second formal interface into iOS through Siri, a voice-based helper system that is enmeshed in the land of artificial intelligence and automated agents. This was noted by Daring Fireball's John Gruber in an excellent analysis of the iPhone 4S:

... Siri is indicative of an AI-focused ambition that Apple hasn't shown since before Steve Jobs returned to the company. Prior to Siri, iOS struck me being designed to make it easy for us to do things. Siri is designed to do things for us.

Once again, Apple is looking to one of the human senses — this time, sound — to provide a window for users into computing. While many look at Siri as a concept that's bound to fail, if Apple gets Siri right, it could become even more transformational than touch — particularly as Siri's dictionary, grammar and contextual understanding grow.

Taken together, a new picture of the evolution of computing starts to emerge. An industry that was once defined by the singular goal of achieving power (the mainframe era), morphed over time into the noble ambition of achieving ubiquity via the "PC on every desktop" era. It then evolved into the ideal of universality, vis-à-vis the universal access model of the web, which in turn was aided by lots of free, ad-supported sites and services. Now, human-centricity is emerging as the raison d'être for computing, and it seems clear that the inmates will never run the asylum again. That may quite possibly be the greatest legacy of Steve Jobs.

Do technology revolutions drive economic revolutions?

Sitting in these difficult economic times, it is perhaps fair to ask if the rise of post-PC computing is destined to be a catalyst for economic revival. After all, we've seen the Internet disrupt industry after industry with a brutal efficiency that has arguably wiped out more jobs than it has created.

Before answering that, though, let me note that while the seminal revolutions always appear in retrospect to occur in one magical moment, in truth, they play out as a series of compounding innovations, punctuated by a handful of catalytic, game-changing events.

For example, it may seem that the Industrial Revolution occurred spontaneously, but the truth is that for the revolution to realize its destiny, multiple concurrent innovations had to occur in manufacturing, energy utilization, information exchange and machine tools. And all of this was aided by significant public infrastructure development. It took continuous, measurable improvements in the products, markets, suppliers and sales channels participating in the embryonic wave before things sufficiently coalesced to transform society, launch new industries, create jobs, and rain serious material wealth on the economy.

It's often a painful, messy process going from infancy to maturation, and it may take still more time for this latest wave to play out in our society. But, I fully believe that we are approaching what VC John Doerr refers to as the "third wave" in technology:

We are at the beginning of a third wave in technology (the prior two were the commercialization of the microprocessor, followed 15 years later by the advent of the web), which is this convergence of mobile and social technologies made possible by the cloud. We will see the creation of multiple multi-billion-dollar businesses, and equally important, tens maybe hundreds of thousands of smaller companies.

For many folks, the revolution can't come soon enough. But it is coming.

Quantifying the post-PC "standard bearers"

A couple years back, I wrote an article called "Built-to-Thrive — The Standard Bearers," where I argued that Apple was the gold standard company (i.e., the measuring stick by which all others are judged), Google was the silver and Amazon was the bronze.

The only re-thinking I have with respect to that medal stand is that Amazon and Google have now flipped places.

Most fundamentally, this exemplifies:

  1. How well Apple has succeeded in actually solving the core problems of its constituency base through an integrated, human-centered platform.
  2. How Amazon has gained religion about the importance of platform practice.
  3. How, as Yegge noted, Google doesn't always "eat its own dog food."

If you doubt this, check out the adjacent charts, which spotlight the relative stock performance of Apple, Amazon and Google after each company's strategic foray into post-PC computing: namely, iPod, Kindle and Android, respectively.

This is one of those cases where the numbers may surprise, but they don't lie.

Amazon, Google, Apple stock charts in the post-PC era

Related:


October 21 2011

Developer Week in Review: Talking to your phone

I've spent the last week or so getting up to speed on the ins and outs of Vex Robotics tournaments since I foolishly volunteered to be competition coordinator for an event this Saturday. I've also been helping out my son's team, offering design advice where I could. Vex is similar to Dean Kamen's FIRST Robotics program, but the robots are much less expensive to build. That means many more people can field robots from a given school and more people can be hands-on in the build. If you happen to be in southern New Hampshire this Saturday, drop by Pinkerton Academy and watch two dozen robots duke it out.

In non-robotic news ...

Why Siri matters

SiriIt's easy to dismiss Siri, Apple's new voice-driven "assistant" for the iPhone 4S, as just another refinement of the chatbot model that's been entertaining people since the days of ELIZA. No one would claim that Siri could pass the Turing test, for example. But, at least in my opinion, Siri is important for several reasons.

On a pragmatic level, Siri makes a lot of common smartphone tasks much easier. For example, I rarely used reminders on the iPhone and preferred to use a real keyboard when I had to create appointments. But Siri makes adding a reminder or appointment so easy that I have made it pretty much my exclusive method of entering them. It also is going to be a big win for drivers trying to use smartphones in their cars, especially in states that require hands-free operations.

I suspect Siri will also end up being a classic example of crowdsourcing. If I were Apple, I would be capturing every "miss" that Siri couldn't handle and looking for common threads. Since Siri is essentially doing natural language processing and applying rules to your requests, Apple can improve Siri progressively by adding the low-hanging fruit. For example, at the moment, Siri balks at a question like, "How are the Patriots doing?" I'd be shocked if it fails to answer that question in a year since sports scores and standings will be at the heart of commonly asked questions.

For developers, the benefits of Siri are obvious. While it's a closed box right now, if Apple follows its standard model, we should expect to see API and SDK support for it in future releases of iOS. At the moment, apps that want voice control (and they are few and far between) have to implement it themselves. Once apps can register with Siri, any app will be able to use voice.

Velocity Europe, being held Nov. 8-9 in Berlin, will bring together the web operations and performance communities for two days of critical training, best practices, and case studies.

Save 20% on registration with the code RADAR20

Can Open Office survive?

OpenOffice.org logoLong-time WIR readers will know that I'm no fan of how Oracle has treated its acquisitions from Sun. A prime example is OpenOffice. In June, OpenOffice was spun off from Oracle, and therefore lost its allowance. Now the OpenOffice team is passing around the hat, looking for funds to keep the project going.

We need to support Open Office because it's the only project that really keeps Microsoft honest as far as providing open standards access to Microsoft Office products. It's also the only way that Linux users can deal with the near-ubiquitous use of Office document formats in the real world (short of running Office in a VM or with Wine.)

The revenge of SQL

The NoSQL crowd has always had Google App Engine as an ally since the only database available to App Engine apps has been the App Engine Datastore, which (among other things) doesn't support joins. But much as Apple initially rejected multitasking on the iPhone (until it decided to embrace it), Google appears to have thrown in the towel as far as SQL goes.

It's always dangerous to hold an absolutist position (with obvious exceptions, such as despising Jar Jar Binks). SQL may have been overused in the past, but it's foolish to reject SQL altogether. It can be far too useful at times. SQL can be especially handy, as an example, when developing pure REST-like web services. It's nice to see that Google has taken a step back from the edge. Or, to put it more pragmatically, that it listens to its customer base on occasion.

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.

Related:

Four short links: 21 October 2011

  1. What Mozilla is Up To (Luke Wroblewski) -- notes from a talk that Brendan Eich gave at Web 2.0 Summit. The new browser war is between the Web and new walled gardens of native networked apps. Interesting to see the effort Mozilla's putting into native-alike Web apps.
  2. YouTube Insult Generator (Adrian Holovaty) -- mines YouTube for insults of a particular form.
  3. Ultrasound for iPhone (Geekwire) -- this personal sensor is $8000 today, but bound to drop. I want personal ultrasound at least once a month. How long until it's in the $200-500 range? (via BERG London)
  4. Web Applications Class at Stanford OpenClassroom -- a Ruby on Rails class taught by John Ousterhout, creator of TCL/Tk and log-structured filesystems.

October 06 2011

Why do some people really hate Apple | Charles Arthur

Few companies inspire such strong emotions, but is it Apple's profile, design or technology that pushes those buttons?

You don't have to go far on the web or even everyday life to find people happy to say it: they hate Steve Jobs and all he stood for, and those who buy things from Apple – the "sheeple", in an oft-used phrase – are simply buying stuff for no reason than its marketing, or advertising. Apple, they say, is a giant con trick.

Why do they care? Because, says Don Norman, an expert in how we react emotionally to design, buying or using products that engage our emotions strongly will inevitably alienate those who don't share those emotions – and just as strongly. Norman, formerly vice-president of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple, is co-founder of the Nielsen/Norman Group, which studies usability. He's also an author of books including Emotional Design and his latest, called Living With Complexity.

Apple, he says, excels at generating strong positive emotional reactions from those who use its products. The iPhone was a classic example with its revolutionary touchscreen control – which wasn't the first, but was the best: "Touch is a very important sense; a lot of human emotion is built around touching objects, other people, touching things," says Norman. "I think that we've lost something really big when we went to the abstraction of a computer with a mouse and a keyboard, it wasn't real, and the telephone was the same, it was this bunch of menus and people got lost in the menus and buttons to push and it felt like a piece of technology.

"Whereas the iPhone felt like a piece of delight. It really is neat to go from one page to the other not by pushing a button but by swiping your hand across the page." He adds: "The correct word is intimacy; it is more intimate. Think of it not as a swipe, think of it as a caress."

But just as physics sees an equal and opposite reaction to every action, so strong emotions engender adverse emotions in response. Take this comment by Aaron Holesgrove of OzTechNews about the iPad: "Actually, the iPad succeeds because it enables you to read websites whilst sitting on the toilet and play casual games in bed. It's a toy. You can't eliminate complexity when there was never any complexity in the first place – Apple went and threw a 10in screen on the iPod Touch and iPhone and called them the iPad and iPad 3G, respectively." Critics say Apple's products don't have as many features; their technical specifications aren't comparable to the leading-edge ones; they're more expensive. In short, you're being ripped off. And what's more, Apple is exploiting workers in China who build the products.

By contrast, ask someone about other comparable products out there – Amazon's new Kindle Fire, RIM's PlayBook, HP's TouchPad – and you'll get indifference, even if the prices are the same, or they're made in the same Chinese factories as Apple uses.

Norman says that the reaction – both the love and the hate – comes from Apple's designs. "This is important. It's something that I have trouble convincing companies of: great design will really convert people, but it will also put off other people. So you have to be willing to offend people; to make things that you know a lot of people are going to hate."

Apple's focus on design, which is principally expressed through the objects it sells – the iPods, iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, iPads – drives those extreme reactions, he says. (And it's notable that nobody ever complained about Pixar's products – even though Jobs was chief executive there too.)

Part of why people like the devices so much is that they can personalise them: "The iPhone, being your mobile phone, is part of you, like the iPod is but even more so, because you're carrying everything around, not just your music but also your contacts and the ability to contact people – because people have observed that mobile phones are a very personal item."

By contrast, other companies that try to cater for and please everyone are guaranteed to fall short – and so won't excite emotion. "Many people try to make a product that everybody will love; Microsoft is a good example," he explains. "If you make a product that everybody loves – you do all your market surveys, and when people don't like something about it you change it – you end up with a bland product that everybody will accept but nobody truly loves."

Apple isn't like that, he says. "Apple says 'We're not going to even worry about it. We're going to make something that we ourselves love. We just assume that anything that we really love, lots and lots of people will love. And if other people really dislike it and hate it, so what. Tough on them.'"

But what about the criticism of the lack of specifications? When the iPod was still a hot seller, before the iPhone, I asked Phil Schiller, then as now Apple's head of marketing, about the lack of extras such as FM tuners and voice recorders – which rivals did offer, even though their products made no headway in the market.

Schiller put it simply: extras like FM radio were "a technology in search of a customer". He explained: "We're very careful about the technologies we bring to our products. Just because there's a new technology doesn't mean you should put it in your product. Just because our competitors have put it in their product – because they need something to compete with us, because they're losing on everything else – doesn't mean we should put it in the product.

"We should put new features in a product because it makes sense for our customers to have that feature, and because a significant percentage of our customers will want that feature. Otherwise, not. Remember, all these features cost money, space and most importantly power, and power is a really big deal."

At Apple, the executives' view is that "a lot of product suffer from featureitis": that it's easier to try to sell a checklist than selling a better product that does what customers really need to do. As one explained it to me: "We try to be very careful not to get caught up in a 'list of features war'; we try to focus just on what makes a great product for the customers, what do they really want to do, and focus on that like no one else. If we think some features aren't that great, and don't really work that well, and involve trade-offs that customers won't want, we just don't do it. We don't just have a checklist on the side of a box."

It may be significant that the strongest criticism of Apple tends to come from those most engaged with the nuts and bolts of technology. Apple's staff have probably got used to having their products called toys by now. As long as they keep selling, though, they'll keep ignoring the critics in favour of the fans – which will, of course, inflame emotions on both sides even more.


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