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October 06 2011

Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, dies at 56

The mastermind behind an empire that has revolutionised personal computing, telephony and music, dies in California

Steve Jobs, billionaire co-founder of Apple and the mastermind behind an empire of products that revolutionised computing, telephony and the music industry, has died in California at the age of 56.

Jobs stepped down in August as chief executive of the company he helped set up in 1976, citing illness. He had been battling an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, and had received a liver transplant in 2009.

Jobs wrote in his letter of resignation: "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."

Apple released a statement paying tribute: "Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives … The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

Bill Gates, the former chief executive of Microsoft, said in a statement that he was "truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs's death". He added: "The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.

"For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honour. I will miss Steve immensely."

He is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children. In a statement his family said Jobs "died peacefully today surrounded by his family … We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief".

Jobs was one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley and helped establish the region's claim as the global centre of technology. He founded Apple with his childhood friend Steve Wozniak, and the two marketed what was considered the world's first personal computer, the Apple II.

He was ousted in a bitter boardroom battle in 1985, a move that he later claimed was the best thing that could have happened to him. Jobs went on to buy Pixar, the company behind some of the biggest animated hits in cinema history including Toy Story, Cars and Finding Nemo.

He returned to Apple 11 years later when it was being written off by rivals. What followed was one of the most remarkable comebacks in business history.

Apple was briefly the most valuable company in the world earlier this year, knocking oil giant Exxon Mobil off the top spot. The company produces $65.2bn a year in revenue compared with $7.1bn in its business year ending September 1997.

Starting with his brightly coloured iMacs, Jobs went on to launch hit after hit transformed personal computing.

Then came the success of the iPod, which revolutionised the music industry, leading to a collapse in CD sales and making Jobs one of the most powerful voices in an industry he loved.

His firm was named in homage to the Beatles' record label, Apple. But the borrowing was permitted on the basis that the computing firm would stay out of music. After the success of the iPod the two Apples became engaged in a lengthy legal battle which finally ended last year when the Beatles allowed iTunes to start selling their back catalogue.

Jobs's remarkable capacity to spot what people wanted next came without the aid of market research or focus groups.

"For something this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups," he once said. "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Jobs initially hid his illness but his startling weight loss started to unnerve his investors. He took a six-month medical leave of absence in 2009, during which he received a liver transplant, and another medical leave of absence in mid-January before stepping down as chief executive in August.

Jobs leaves an estimated $8.3bn, but he often dismissed others' interest in his wealth. "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful … that's what matters to me." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 29 2011

ePayments Week: Will NFC add value?

Here's what caught my eye in the payments space this week.

Square's COO questions NFC

SquareSquare's chief operating officer Keith Rabois went against the grain this week and questioned whether there was any value to be had by implementing near-field communications (NFC) for mobile payments. To be fair, he was at the GigaOM Mobile Conference responding to Om Malik's question of whether the short-range wireless function on mobiles would make Square's card reader redundant. Rabois called NFC "a technology in search of a value proposition," saying it's not clear who it helps. The process of swiping a credit card, he continued, is "very etched in the American consciousness ... and the Square card reader allows us to take advantage of that, to allow people to sell things more successfully without changing people's behavior."

He may have a point that the particular technology matters less than the mobile wallet itself. We could do pretty much the same thing by using through-the-cloud technologies (as Bump does) or direct billing (like Boku or Zong). But I think he's overlooked the clear value that seems likely to come to merchants as consumers ditch plastic for mobile wallets.

To name just three:

  • Merchants can administer reward and loyalty programs more efficiently if they're managed through phones rather than on rubber-stamped cards.
  • Merchants can deliver location- and time-specific coupons if they are acquainted with a customer's phone. Placecast is showing how you can deliver offers within a geofenced area. Merchants will also have the opportunity to move discounts quickly if they need to clear inventory. All of that is theoretically possible today with Twitter, but first you have to get them to follow you. Once someone has paid with their phone, presumably it's a lower barrier to get them to agree to receive offers via that phone.
  • Merchants can dynamically steer customers to their best payment option. If PayPal offers a lower percentage for a period than the merchant's credit card service, the merchant can offer products or services at a discount and let the customers choose on their devices.

The benefits for consumers may be a bit less clear and are likely to be a tradeoff: it's our data that we'll be giving up in exchange for being on the receiving end of those benefits listed above. In other words, your digital trail in exchange for daily coupons and every 10th cup of coffee free.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Amazon's Kindle Fire doesn't have to be as good as iPad to steal market share

Amazon FireShould Apple worry about competition from Amazon's Kindle Fire? The quick consensus seems to be "no" since these are different devices for different functions. Still, I couldn't help myself from making the comparison between this contest and the dramatic rise of Android handsets against the near leveling of the iPhone market. Most reports on the Android versus iOS competition seem to pit the two evenly, as if it were in bad taste to mention that many Android phones cost hundreds of dollars less. Geeks might choose their smartphones based on their affection for Google or Apple. But you only need to visit the AT&T kiosk in your local mall and watch the purchasing decisions to get a truer picture of what's driving this race: cost. Apple's iPhone may be an object of beauty, inside and out, but when you're on a tight budget, you'll put up with the carrier's user interface.

The same thing could happen with Fire and iPad. Fire may not offer anywhere near the same capabilities as the iPad — though with its ability to access web services via its Silk browser, it may not lag far behind. But there are many millions of customers who won't have to think long and hard to save $300 if they can still have movies, TV, books, games, and the web, all on a color touchscreen.

Steven Levy in Wired noted that even if Fire isn't a threat to Apple's iPad, it will certainly be one to Barnes & Noble's Nook and to Netflix. At a time when half of Netflix's membership seems to be furious with the company, many are sure to notice they can get a whole new world of streaming for $79 a year from Amazon Prime.

Mobile broadband is less popular as an add-on

Customers use more mobile broadband services, and they use mobile broadband more frequently, when the capability is built into their devices and not used as an add-on (for example, a USB dongle or stick). This not-too-surprising finding comes from YouGov UK's recent survey of 2,552 British mobile broadband users. It reinforces the suspicion that the easier you make it to get to online services, the more likely they are to get used. Certainly, there's some allowance built into those results for the dongle or stick getting lost or just stuck at the bottom of the backpack. But it also seems likely that those who buy a device that's capable of reaching the web are more likely to use it than those for whom it was an afterthought.

Got news?

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If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


September 28 2011

Fighting the next mobile war

It's arguable that with the arrival of touch displays, the current form factor for the smartphone is going to be with us for some time to come. You can't get much simpler than a solid block of glass and aluminum with a button. Unless you remove the button. Thinking about it, that's probably a solid suggestion — I'd look for that next.

If things aren't going to change very much on the surface, underneath the glass things might not be much different either. Oh, the devices will be faster, and they'll have more cores, better displays, faster network connections, and the batteries will last longer. But fundamentally, they'll still be the same. The device won't provide you with any new levers on the world. With the exception of NFC, which admittedly is a big exception, there are no new sensory modalities on the horizon that are likely to be integrated into handsets. You'll interact with your smartphone tomorrow in much the same way you interact with it today, at least in the near term.

That said, it's quite possible that your smartphone will interact with the world in a very different way. That's because the next mobile war has already begun, and you've seen nothing yet.

The phoney war

It began quietly, with little noise or fanfare, just over two years ago with Apple's announcement of iOS 3, the External Accessory Framework, and the opportunity for partners in the MFi program to build external hardware that connected directly to the iPhone.

For the first time, it was easy, at least for certain values of easy, to build sensor hardware that connected to a mass-market mobile device. And for the first time, the mobile device had enough computing power and screen real estate to do something interesting with the sensor data.

Except of course, it wasn't easy. While initially the External Accessory Framework was seen as having the potential to open up Apple's platform to a host of external hardware and sensors, little of the innovation people were expecting actually occurred. Much of the blame was laid squarely at the feet of Apple's own MFi program.

There was some headway made using the devices as sensor gateways, mainly in the medical community, which Apple had initially pushed heavily during the launch. But in the end, the framework was used to support a fairly predictable range of audio and video accessories from big-name manufacturers — although more recently there have been a few notable exceptions.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

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Opening a second front

Things stayed quiet until earlier this year when Google announced the Android Accessory Development Kit (ADK) at Google I/O in May.

While there was a lot of criticism of Google's approach, it was justifiably hailed as a disruptive move by Google in what had become a fairly stagnant accessories market. Philip Torrone hit the right note when he speculated that this might mean the end of Apple's restrictive MFi program.

I've talked about the Arduino here before. It allows rapid, cheap prototyping for embedded systems. Making Android the default platform for development of novel hardware was a brilliant move by Google. Maybe just a little too brilliant.

The counterattack by Apple

Around the middle of the year, right in the middle of Apple's WWDC conference, I was approached by Redpark and sworn to secrecy. Apple was on the brink of approving a serial cable for iOS that they would let Redpark sell into the hobbyist market.

I'd known about the existence of the cable since the preceding November with the release of the SkyWire telescope control kit. I'd begged Redpark for developer access to their cable, and after signing a thick stack of NDAs, I got my hands on one around mid-December. At the time there seemed little chance of Apple ever approving the cable except for specific use cases where the cable and an accompanying iOS application were approved together as part of the MFi program — exactly as Apple had for Skywire for telescopes and Cisco had for networking gear.

The news that the cable might soon be generally available to hobbyists was surprising. Despite Apple's beginnings — and the large community of indie developers surrounding its products — the hobbyist market isn't something Apple is known for caring about these days. Quite the opposite: Apple is notorious for keeping its products as closed as possible.

Controlling an Arduino with an iPhone.

Close on the heels of Google's ADK announcement, Apple's sudden enthusiasm was suspiciously timed. Someone high up at Apple had obviously realized the disruptive nature of the ADK and this was their response, their counter-attack. Despite the Android ADK actually being an Arduino, it was now easier to talk to an Arduino from iOS using Redpark's cable than it was to talk to an Arduino from Android.

The long war

The Android ADK board is only now appearing in large numbers as the open hardware community gears up to produce compatible boards cheaper than Google's ruinously expensive initial batch of "official" developer boards. The Redpark cable also faced supply issues, with the initial production run selling out on the Maker Shed within a few days. We're only now seeing it in larger volumes. So, despite appearances, it's still the early days.

Discussing the Redpark cable at OSCON 2011.

I think the availability of both these products is going to prove to be amazingly disruptive in the longer term. After spending two days at the recent World Maker Faire in New York, I know there's a lot of enthusiasm inside the Maker community for that disruption — and Apple may have the edge.

Because of Apple's policy restrictions, you can only develop applications that work with Redpark's cable for your own personal use or for distribution inside an enterprise environment without going through the MFi program. The ease of use and popularity of the iOS platform with developers means there will still be a big uptake, and after a few people struggle through the process, I think that, with time, the cable will spell the end of the MFi program.

Over the next couple of years, we'll be seeing some real innovation in the external accessory product space. Rapid prototyping combined with ease of access to increasingly powerful mobile platforms means that the next mobile war, and the next big thing of a real ubiquitous computing environment, is just around the corner.


September 09 2011

Developer Week in Review: iPhone 5 is still on hold

Ah, a new school year. It's the time when my wife disappears into her office, not to be seen again until the late spring unless she sees her shadow. My son is grumbling about 60-question math homework assignments, and all the melancholy I feel during the summer about being the only family member on the clock fades away since I actually have the lightest schedule now. Revenge is sweet ...

If you've been in a late-summer haze, here's a few items you may have missed.

Bigfoot sighted using iPhone 5

iOS 5The predictions in August were that the iPhone 5 (or 4S, or whatever it's going to be called) would be announced in early September. Then it was going to be mid-September, and now people are talking about early October. Now, I'm as much of an Apple fanboy as the next guy, but this obsession about the new phone seems to border on the absurd. I've only had my iPhone 4 for a year — I'm not even sure I would upgrade to a 5 unless it cures cancer or something.

The only real reason to speculate about the iPhone 5 ship date is that it will probably coincide with the general release of iOS 5, which definitely is something to talk about, if only to other people who have signed the developer NDA. I mean the ... no, I can't talk about that. But the ... no, can't mentioned that either. Anyway, it's wicked cool, trust me.

Your comprehensive legal roundup

HTCLast week, everyone sued everyone. This item will repeat for the foreseeable future.

Of particular interest is that HTC is using patents acquired from Google to strike back at Apple. The patent war is becoming reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis — I expect to hear a statement from Oracle HQ any day reporting a suspected transfer of patents from Apple to Google and vowing a blockade unless the lawyers turn back at once.

The Makers are coming, the Makers are coming!

For those who live on the East Coast, your annual chance to get your geek on is coming up next weekend. Maker Faire New York will be returning for a second year at the NY Hall of Science, and it's well worth the trip. I went with my son last year, and we'll be back this year as well.

It's a great chance to see programming integrating with the physical world on a much more practical (or impractical) level than developers are accustomed to. If you've spent your life designing ecommerce websites, it can be refreshing to see a pair of honking-big computer-controlled Tesla coils blaring out music. It's also a Mecca for embedded computing and micro controllers, so if you like programming on the small scale, you'll see a lot to enjoy. If you happen to run into me there, say hi!

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Strata Conference New York 2011, being held Sept. 22-23, covers the latest and best tools and technologies for data science — from gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and storing data to communicating data intelligence effectively.

Save 30% on registration with the code ORM30


September 01 2011

Developer Week in Review: HP fires up the TouchPad production line one more time

Dear Waters Near Africa,

I know that you're very proud of the tropical depressions that you raise, and I'm sure that watching your "little babies" develop must bring you a lot of joy. It pains me to tell you, however, that one of your offspring, I think her name is Irene, went on a bender last week and totally trashed our coast. And if that isn't bad enough, I hear you have another little hellion called Katia eyeing our back yard with malice. If you can't control your children, I'm afraid we're going to have no choice but to call the police, or possibly NOAA, and ask them to do something about the situation. Thanks.

You can help my personal disaster recovery program (hey, propane for the generator doesn't grow on trees, you know ... well, actually, it did a few million years ago ...), by buying my new book, now available in early release. Read the book that helped Oprah lose weight, landed Gwyneth Paltrow her first acting gig, and got Barack Obama elected. While we can't promise the same amazing results for you, it does have a lot of good stuff in it about enterprise iOS development.

In non-flood-related news ...

At Crazy Bill Hewlett's House of Tablets, we're giving them away!

HP TouchPadWhen HP called it quits on its attempted iPad-killer, the TouchPad, most folks chalked it up to another attempt by an industry dinosaur to become one of the hip new kids. And it was no surprise that HP tried to clear its inventory by fire-saling the remaining inventory at a bargain-basement price.

What has everyone scratching their heads is that, as TouchPads disappeared off shelves at the low, low price of $99, someone over at HP decided it made sense to restart the production line and make more units to sell at the same discounted price. Given that the best estimates show HP losing around 200 clams per unit at that price, the company seems to be pursuing a somewhat questionable business model.

It may make sense if HP is trying to build interest in WebOS in front of a potential sale to buyers such as Samsung, though at least some buyers of the discounted units seem more interested in hacking them to run Android rather than stay with the native OS. In any event, if you're interested, run out and get one before the last run sells out ... Unless HP decides to do another last run ...

There's a joke about geese leaving the nest here, somewhere

Google has a history of acquiring big names in the industry to enhance its prestige as a leading software research organization. When Google hired James Gosling, who is considered one of the fathers of Java, it was seen as another feather in its cap, adding to a cadre that includes such notables as Mac pioneer Andy Hertzfeld (most recently responsible for designing the Circles feature in Google+) and Vim developer Bram Moolenaar.

It appears that for Gosling, Google wasn't so much a destination as a rest stop, however. After only a few months on the job, he's flown the coop, off to join a new startup designing autonomous ocean-going robots. If I had to guess, I'd say that Gosling decided he'd rather be a big fish at a small company solving a challenging and cool problem, as opposed to being part of a brain trust at a large one. Hey Google, I'm still available!

Strata Conference New York 2011, being held Sept. 22-23, covers the latest and best tools and technologies for data science — from gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and storing data to communicating data intelligence effectively.

Save 30% on registration with the code ORM30

Apple lost another phone?

While you're pondering the wisdom of HP, here's another puzzler to chew on. If you had just gotten over the embarrassment of having one of your top-secret product prototypes left in a bar, and ending up in the hands of Gizmodo, wouldn't you make doubly sure that you kept track of where the next ones went?

Well, evidently, there's a lot of after-hours drinking going on at Apple because, once again, a next-gen iPhone became separated from its owner at a watering hole.

The more cynical among the press have suggested that it's actually all just a publicity stunt, though given that the police were brought in, I tend to doubt it since filing a false report is not a trivial charge. I blame the new iPhone Drinking Game App in iOS5. You know, the one where you have to take a drink whenever you pull out your phone to settle a trivia dispute at a bar.

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.


August 26 2011

How Free Software Contributed to the Success of Steve Jobs and Apple

We all have to celebrate the career of Steve Jobs and thank him for the tremendous improvements he has brought to computer interfaces and hardware. The guy's amazing, OK? But Apple is something of a control-freak environment with a hard-handed approach to things such as product announcements and the App Store. An undercurrent of disgruntled consumers and policy-minded free software advocates has transferred their historic antipathy for Microsoft to Apple, now that it has become the brilliant business success of the new century. So I'd like to bring everybody together again for an acknowledgment of how important free software has been to Jobs and to Apple.

In the great Second Coming, when Jobs returned to Apple 1996, he drove
two big changes right away: porting over OpenSTEP from NeXT computer
and adopting a version of the open source BSD as Apple's new operating
system. OpenSTEP was a proprietary, platform-independent set of APIs
for Solaris, Windows, and NeXTSTEP. It was derived from NeXTSTEP
itself, the operating system that ran on Jobs's m68k-based NeXT
computers. But NeXT worked with the then-powerful Sun Microsystems,
which had based its own wildly popular SunOS on BSD. OpenSTEP became
the basis for the familiar Cocoa libraries and run-time that Apple
developers now depend on.

(It may seem strange to use the word "Open" in the name of a
proprietary system. But back then--and in some circles even today--the
most rudimentary efforts at interoperability were used to justify the
term. Anybody remember the Open Software Foundation?)

The foundation for the ground-breaking and still strong Mac OS X was a
version of BSD based on
NetBSD and FreeBSD but incorporating some unique
. Adopting BSD brought numerous advantages: it permitted
the Mac to multitask, and it made simple the porting of a huge range
of Unix-based and BSD-based applications that would expand the Mac
from its original role as a desktop for creative artists to a much more
robust and widely deployable system.

Particularly valuable to Apple--and related to its adoption of a Unix
variant--was the port of open source Samba, developed for Linux. Samba
reverse engineers the SMB/CIFS protocol and related protocols that
permit computers to join Microsoft local networks. Apple also (like
NeXT) used the historic GCC compiler developed by Richard Stallman,
and adopted KDE's browser engine (now known as Webkit) for Safari. These free software packages were insanely great; that's why Mac OS X incorporated them.

I think it is the familiarity of the Unix and BSD software that makes the Mac popular among geeks; it is now by far the most popular laptop one sees at computer conferences. And because of all the great server software that runs on the Mac thanks to its BSD core, it's gradually growing in popularity as a server for homes and small businesses.

Apple knew it had a good thing in its BSD-based kernel, because it chose to use it also in the iPhone and follow-on products. As I have reported before, the presence of BSD libraries and tools helped a group of free software advocates reverse engineer the iPhone API and create a public library that permitted people outside Apple for the first time to create applications for the iPhone. This led to a thriving community of iPhone apps, none of them approved by Apple of course, but Apple came out with its own API many months later and legitimized the external developer community with its App Store.

Although the BSD license allowed Apple to keep its changes proprietary, it chose to open-source the resulting operating system under the name Darwin. As a separate project, though, Darwin hasn't seen wide use.

BSD was not Jobs's first alliance with free software. The NeXT computer was based on the open source Mach 3 kernel developed by Richard Rashid at Carnegie Mellon University. Mach emulated FreeBSD (even though Rashid personally expressed a distaste for it) for its programmer and user interface. Some elements of Mach 3 were incorporated into Darwin, and (to digress a bit) Mach 3 has gone on to have major effects on the computer industry. It was an inspiration for the microkernel design of Microsoft's NT system, which thrust Microsoft into the modern age of operating systems and servers especially. And Rashid himself took a position as Senior Vice President of Research at Microsoft a few years ago.

The impacts of broad, leaderless, idea-based movements are often surprising and hard to trace, and that's true of open source and free software. The triumphs of Steve Jobs demonstrate this principle--even though free software is the antithesis of how Apple runs its own business. Innovators such as Andrew Tridgell, with Samba and rsync, just keep amazing us over and over again, showing that free software doesn't recognize limits to its accomplishments. A lot of computing history would be very different, and poorer, without it.

Thanks to Karl Fogel, Brian Jepson, and Don Marti for comments
that enhanced this posting.

August 25 2011

ePayments Week: The rise of location-triggered offers

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Geofencing: As long as you're here ...

Fence Friday by DayTripper Tom, on FlickrOne of the promises of mobile advertising — at least from the merchant's perspective — has been the potential to advertise to customers when they're near your store and can act immediately (and impulsively) on your offer. To make these location-triggered offers, merchants need to delineate a "geofence" around their retail outlets — a radius or polygonal area in which customers who have opted into a deal program can be notified on their mobiles that an offer is available nearby. Indeed, Groupon is working on adding such location-based deals to its daily offers, according to a letter sent from its general counsel David Schellhase to two U.S. Representatives who were asking about Groupon's privacy policies.

Placecast is one company that has been working on this issue. Its service allows merchants or event planners to delineate a virtual perimeter around their locations that marks their space. When customers who have opted in to receive alerts about their retail brand or event enter one of these locations, they get a text message (a "ShopAlert"), describing the offer or event. In an interview, Placecast CEO Alistair Goodman said the company has focused on text messages thus far because they're very effective. By some measures, 90% of all texts are opened within three minutes of receiving them.

This week the company expanded its service so that ShopAlerts can also work as notifications that are linked to apps. Just as with other notifications on iOS and Android, the relevant app doesn't need to be open to receive the notification, but clicking on the notification can trigger the app to open. The new notification capabilities would seem to go well with expected improvements in the way that iOS handles notifications.

Goodman said the key to success in mobile coupons is making the message relevant. "We're only sending a text if it's the right place and time." That's key since most of us are not very good coupon clippers; we're unlikely to retain, remember, and use an offer if we don't do so almost immediately. Goodman said that location-triggered delivery is highly effective with "exceedingly high" response rates: between 11% and 60% of users are likely to visit a store when pinged with an offer if they're nearby, and up to 46% are likely to make a purchase.

More than three million subscribers, mostly in the US and UK, are currently receiving offers from Placecast — though they don't see them as coming from Placecast, which operates as a "white brand" service to other businesses. Goodman emphasizes that subscribers have all opted in via their telecom carriers or a retail brand like North Face. With that much data, there's a back-end business for the company in aggregating and anonymizing the information so it can analyze it and feed data back to merchants on which offers are most effective and when. Indeed, the company's self-service tool with which clients can manage their offers online also includes some data tools for this type of analysis.

It remains to be seen how many customers will be comfortable with this level of interaction with stores — even if they are their favorite brands. On the up side, services like Placecast are merely sending out information based on location awareness; consumers aren't being asked to divulge any financial information. On the down side, some percentage of customers are always going to remain fairly uncomfortable broadcasting their locations in this way to businesses, even if doing so offers tangible rewards. The key to success will depend on how large that percentage is.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Survey: iPhone users keen on mobile payments

Results of a UK survey about customers' willingness to use mobile payments and banking apps suggest that iPhone users are somewhat more likely to embrace mobile payments than their Android- and Blackberry-carrying peers. According to a summary report on GigaOm, the survey found 46% of iPhone users said they would pay bills with their mobiles compared to only 21% of the total group surveyed. Not surprisingly, younger folks (18-24 years old) were also more comfortable with the idea than their older brothers and sisters.

YouGov's ongoing research has provided some other insights on platform differences among UK users. Loosely generalized, they paint a picture of Blackberry owners as more driven and responsible compared to iPhone users who are more likely to overdraw their bank accounts and spend the day on social networks. According to YouGov:

  • BlackBerry users are likely to earn more, with 10% earning over £50,000 a year compared to 7% of iPhone users and 5% of Android users.
  • iPhone users spend more time on their phones than users of any of the other top models, with 18% spending more than four hours a day on it compared to 4% apiece of Android and BlackBerry users.
  • 63% of iPhone users say social networking apps are among the three they spend the most time on compared to other types.

These results, combined with other research that has found iPhone users may be a more lucrative market for developers than Android users, suggests iPhone users are quicker to spend money on their phones. We can speculate on the reasons. Certainly the higher price point (in many cases) of an iPhone attracts a user who is willing to spend more on technology and its accoutrements. Another possible factor could be their familiarity with the Apple retail model: iPhone users are accustomed to a tightly controlled shop where they deal with a single company that they trust — the same company that made their phone and its software. The Android platform, by comparison, may require users to navigate a telecom interface, Android's operating system, a hardware maker's device, and perhaps a fourth-party app store. That could create a less-structured environment where users may be less comfortable spending money. McAfee's recent report on Android's greater susceptibility to malware may only compound this feeling.

Android phones are the new destination for crapware

And speaking of trust, are telecoms burning up the goodwill of their customers who choose Android handsets by loading them with crapware? Mike Jennings on compares this trend to the same syndrome experienced on Windows-based desktops and laptops in recent years, where the excitement of discovering your new gadget is often dampened by splash screens with offers to sign up for security or media services.

Jennings notes that it's worse this time around since the mobile software, which can degrade performance, is more difficult if not impossible for average users to uninstall. He blames the network carriers, who load up the handsets to fulfill lucrative deals they've signed with software vendors. But there may be a limit to what customers will accept. Earlier this month, the same publication reported that Vodafone was backpedalling on an over-the-air upgrade that loaded up HTC Desire handsets because customers had complained of being tricked into installing the software. "We've listened to feedback from customers on a number of points around the recent 360 Android 2.1 update and made some changes to the rollout plan," Vodafone posted sheepishly on its own forums.

Got news?

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

If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.

Fence photo: Fence Friday by DayTripper (Tom), on Flickr


Ruminations on the legacy of Steve Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The intersection of technology and liberal arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPad as the signature moment in a brilliant career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Apple Store and Steve Jobs photos from Apple Press Info.


July 21 2011

ePayments Week: Is "0000" your passcode?

Here's what caught my attention in the payment space this week.

Most common iPhone passcodes

Really bad passcodeOne of the obstacles to mobile commerce is the sense that it's not secure, but there's a dead-simple action that can make things a little tougher for the bad guys: consumers can choose original passcodes. App developer Daniel Amitay took a look 204,508 iPhone passcodes and found that the 10 most common ("1234," "0000," etc.) accounted for 15% of all passcodes. Amitay also found a whole lot of codes based on year dates from 1980 to the present. Number 3 on Amitay's list — the code "2580" — stumped me until I looked at a keypad and saw it's a vertical line down the middle. Likewise, I needed to look again to see what "5683" spelled out: LOVE (or LOUD, but I'm guessing love).

MFoundry CEO Drew Sievers cited Amitay's results in his blog this week, and he also added a few things banks should do to educate their customers — like telling users to never respond to a request for a password via SMS text.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Google In-App Payments

This week, Google made its In-App Payments system available for developers to deploy on any web app. In-app payments rolled out at the Google I/O developer conference in May, but it was initially limited to apps distributed through the Chrome store. Now it works anywhere on the web. It's similar to PayPay for Digital Goods in that it aspires to offer a seamless purchasing experience for users engaged in games or content. And it's similar to Apple's in-app payments for games and subscriptions, except that Google takes a 5% cut compared to Apple's 30%. (PayPal's cut is a close second at 5% plus a nickel.)

Mobile payments mainstream in 4 years? How about 2

It finally happened to me this week: the moment where mobile payments crossed the line from an intriguing novelty (at Starbucks, usually) to a serious questioning of why we're still waiting for this. I found myself out running errands with my phone, but no wallet. Without thinking too hard about it, I had left the house carrying the item that was more essential to me (the phone). Back home, a folded piece of leather stuffed with plastic and paper sat on my dresser. As I groped for a credit card that wasn't there, it seemed odd that with all of the things I can do with my smartphone — conduct business, keep up with friends, research topics, read news or books, watch any movie I could think of, play games, edit videos — I still can't pay for a gallon of gas.

That's changing, of course, and rapidly. Auditing firm KPMG released survey results this week reporting that 83% of 1,000 executives surveyed expect mobile payments to be mainstream within four years, and about half of them think it could be as soon as two years. I'll be surprised if it takes that long.

Isis takes credit cards

ISISIsis, the telecom-backed consortium to put NFC payment technology and standards into mobile phones, said Tuesday it has signed agreements with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express to let buyers and sellers use those credit cards in Isis' future system. (Isis launched last November with the No. 4 credit card company Discover as a partner.) Original consortium members AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless guaranteed near ubiquitous backing among U.S. carriers, but the credit card provider angle seemed a little thin with only Discover enlisted in the effort before this week. These new agreements with virtually the entire credit card industry would seem to be a major vote of confidence in the consortium's ability to drive a standard for NFC payment that handset makers can get behind.

That leaves the major mobile OS operators out own their own — where they presumably want to be. Back in May, Isis invited Apple and Google to join their consortium, but so far both appear to be content with their solo efforts.

Got news?

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

If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


July 12 2011

Tech Weekly podcast: New government data, smartphone explosion

On this week's programme, we're reporting on the smartphone market, a handset ecosystem that's set to reach critical mass in the next 23 months. Once more than half the UK population has access to all the features, what will this mean for how we consume online content, and for trends in the UK software development market?

Also, David Cameron launched the UK's latest open data initiative, releasing a new tranche of public data for use by developers. What new insights can be gained, and has this data been specifically chosen to advance the Tory agenda?

We spend a lot of time talking about privacy issues on this podcast, but most of it related to the corporations behind social networks, search engines and other publishing systems. So what about punters who hijack computers for the sake of art? A New York-based artist has been detained by the US secret service for "fraud and related activities" for uploading software on public computers at Apple stores around the city and then capturing images of shoppers looking at the screens.

Plus Jemima steps into the Elevator with Mark McLaughlin of Ticket ABC.

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June 30 2011

Strata Week: Google Plus focuses on data control

Here are a few of the data stories that caught my attention this week.

Your data and Google+

Google PlusIt's hard to ignore the big story of the week: the launch of Google+, Google's latest stab at social. Google+ is comprised of several pieces, namely Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Mobile, and Huddle — content and photo sharing, video chat, and mobile messaging. It's an ambitious project to be sure, particularly — as most pundits are quick to point out — with Google's less-than-stellar track record in the social space. The reviews a few days in seem mostly positive, with the observation all around that what Google needs to be successful here isn't simply a good user experience, but, well, users.

The approach that Google has taken with Google+ purposefully differentiates it from other social networks, and the emphasis is on users' control of their own personal information. Google describes those other networks as "sloppy," "scary" and "insensitive." Rather than utilizing the blunt instrument of "friend" or "follower" to describe all relationships, Google Circles allows users to classify them on a more granular level: not simply "friend" or "family" or "acquaintance," but also self-created labels.

Google says this is part of its larger effort to give users better control of their own data (see video below). What remains to be seen is if that's something most people are interested in, particularly if it means reassembling relationships and designing Circles on yet another social network.

(Google's Joseph Smarr, a member of the Google+ team, will discuss the future of the social web at OSCON. Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD.)

Yahoo spins off its Hadoop division

Rumors have been circulating for some time that Yahoo was planning on spinning its Hadoop division into its own separate company, and this week Yahoo and Benchmark Capital announced the formation of Hortonworks to do just that. The news, first reported by GigaOm's Derrick Harris, means that a small team of engineers from Yahoo will create a separate company to provide support and services for Hadoop users.

Harris writes:

By incorporating next-generation features and capabilities, Hortonworks hopes to make Hadoop easier to consume and better suited for running production workloads. Its products, which likely will include higher-level management tools on top of the core MapReduce and file system layers, will be open source and Hortonworks will try to maintain a close working relationship with Apache. The goal is to make HortonWorks the go-to vendor for a production-ready Hadoop distribution and support, but also to advance Yahoo's repeated mission of making the official Apache Hadoop distribution the place to go for core software. Earlier this year, Yahoo discontinued its own Hadoop distribution, recommitting all that code and all its development efforts to Apache.

Hortonworks, which takes its name from the elephant in Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears a Who!", will compete with others in the commercial Hadoop space, including Cloudera.

Strata Conference New York 2011, being held Sept. 22-23, covers the latest and best tools and technologies for data science — from gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and storing data to communicating data intelligence effectively.

Save 20% on registration with the code STN11RAD

iPhone tracking: The book

iPhone trackThe buzz has died down substantially from the iOS location news that Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan broke here on Radar earlier this year. But it's not gone altogether. Such are the hopes of author James Bridle who has self-published his own personal mapping history in "Where the F**k Was I?"

The hardcover book costs $160, so I'm not too sure it's destined to be a bestseller. But the idea is brilliant nonetheless. The book is 202 pages long, with a separate page for each day between June 2010 and April 2011. Each page is a map, with more than 35,000 of Bridle's locations mapped via OpenStreetMap, along with a note about what he did that day.

As Nate Hoffelder from The Digital Reader points out:

He's taken digital data that was created by spying on him and he's converted it to an analog form. He's also selling the data that Apple took for free — data that was recorded surreptitiously by one party, and now anyone can have it.

Got data news?

Feel free to email me.


May 12 2011

Developer Week in Review: Oracle sends Hudson on its way

Lesson for the week: If you really want to stir up an anthill, attack the conventional wisdom of code development best practices.

In other news ...

Another piece of Sun falls off the good ship Oracle

At this point, I could almost follow the practice of Gregg Easterbrook 's Tuesday Morning Quarterback and put this text on Autotext, but in the past week, Oracle cast off another piece of their acquired Sun technology. In this case, it was the integrated build platform "Hudson." Either fed up with the infighting that had led to the spin-off "Jenkins" project, or simply unable to figure out a way to monetize the code, Oracle threw up their hands and gave the whole shebang to Eclipse.

The open question now is whether this will lead to a reconciliation between the Jenkins and Hudson clans, and a return to a single unified project. It would be nice to see an alternative to the divisiveness that has led to the myriad MySQL forks now populating the universe.

OSCON 2011 — Join today’s open source innovators, builders, and pioneers July 25-29 as they gather at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore.

Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD

Probably not what Google wanted at the top of the news cycle

Google made some significant announcements about the future of Android to kick off the yearly Google I/O developer-fest. However, some of the news cameras were also focused on the other coast, where Google and Apple executives were being grilled by Senator Stuart Smalley Al Franken about their location monitoring practices.

While lawsuits spring up like flowers in May, Apple has scrambled to push a new iOS release into the wild that drastically reduces the quantity of location data stored on phones. The company also published a fairly exhaustive explanation of why they were storing the data in the first place.

You're a developer, relax!

Good news for all you code rats up to your necks in missed deadlines and burdensome processes. You actually work in the third least-stressful job on earth! Two immediate points to come mind:

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.


May 10 2011

Four short links: 10 May 2011

  1. ODB to iPhone Converter -- hardware to connect to your car's onboard computer and display it on an iPhone app. (via Imran Ali)
  2. Multitasking Brains (Wired) -- interesting pair of studies: old brains have trouble recovering from distractions; hardcore multitaskers have trouble focusing. (via Stormy Peters)
  3. Social Privacy -- Danah Boyd draft paper on teens' attitudes to online privacy. Interesting take on privacy as about power: This incident does not reveal that teens don't understand privacy, but rather that they lack the agency to assert social norms and expect that others will respect them. (via Maha Shaikh)
  4. Cool but Obscure Unix Tools -- there were some new tricks for this old dog (iftop, socat). (via Andy Baio)

May 09 2011

Four short links: 9 May 2011

  1. UDID DeAnonymization -- a developer exposed an API that connected UDID to other information such as Facebook ID. The API has been closed, but it remains true that your iPhone has a primary key and darn near every app developer has a database linking your UDID to other details about you. Apple requires this to not be public, but every private database is a bad architecture choice or security slipup away from being a public database.
  2. Be Your Own Souvenir -- Kinect + 3D printer = print a tiny figurine of yourself. Kinect has solved a very real part of the input problem that 3D fabbing had. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Campher -- Perl embedded in Go, by Brad Fitzpatrick.
  4. Slides from JS Conf 2011 -- more than thirty talks, from greats like David Flanagan, Thomas Fuchs, and Tom Hughes-Croucher. (via Isaac Z Schlueter)

April 27 2011

The iPhone tracking story, one week later

By Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden

It's now been a week since we published the iPhone tracking story, so it seemed a good time to cover what we've learned.

The fix

iPhone trackApple has just released a Q&A covering this problem and they will be fixing the issues we spotted with a software update. "The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered," Apple notes in the statement.

Apple explains that nearby locations are pulled down from an Apple database and stored on the phone. These locations are from a "crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data." This matches the picture that was emerging from research. It explains why there's lots of locations that don't match towers, and also why the accuracy is within a few-hundred meters, since we've learned that "micro-cells" in urban areas are clustered closely together.

The Q&A explains the technical workings behind the log and reassures us that only anonymous data is sent back. Our conclusions still apply.

Apple doesn't address our claim that this reveals sensitive information about your travels. At this point we're just relieved to get an explanation and a fix, but people can examine their own data and decide for themselves how happy they would be sharing it with strangers.


What Does Your iPhone Know About You? More Than You Think — Alexis Madrigal has written a fascinating follow-up piece covering the data that professionals can read from your phone. Using forensics tools like the Lantern program that Alex Levinson helped build, anyone with physical access to the device can construct a picture of the user's life. It's eye-opening what the "law enforcement, government, and corporate examiners" who purchase the system can uncover about your behavior.

The Tell-all telephone visualization also makes for thoughtful viewing. It's built from details that a German politician forced his cell phone provider to share after it was caught storing six months of location data on its subscribers. I think one of the reasons that the iPhone Tracker application has had so much use is that it shows people their own data in an understandable way. Unfortunately, that means that similar information that's harder to access behind a company's firewall may not get the same scrutiny, just because it's harder to show in a way that connects with people.

Uses for good

I've long been a fan of Geoloqi's opt-in service for recording and sharing your travels, but several other projects in the same area have appeared in my inbox over the last few days. Maria Scileppi has created the Living Brushstroke project (see video below) to capture people's movements at events, and turn the data into art. Intriguing and beautiful patterns emerge as people cross paths. It's a very fresh way to look at our lives.


April 24 2011

Additional iPhone tracking research

By Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden

Here's the latest developments on iPhone tracking.

Android records a short log

The Guardian has a good overview of Android's equivalent to consolidated.db. It records the last 50 cell locations, and the last 200 Wi-Fi networks, but older entries are overwritten. As we mentioned in our original video, this was what we expected on the iPhone when we found the file, and it was the sheer scale and duration of the recording that floored us, along with how easy it was to access on your computer. Android doesn't appear to copy the file over when you sync, so you'd need physical access to the phone to read it.

Phoning home your location

In the Wall Street Journal there's a good story covering how phones often send your location back to servers at both Apple and Google. We've known that cell companies are gathering this kind of data, because they need it for their basic operations, but the most interesting question for me is how it's actually stored by these software companies. If it's truly just for improving their location services, it could be anonymized so that it would be hard to figure out an individual's movements if you had the data. Even if it's not, the data is somewhat protected when it's on a company's internal network, since that keeps it further out of reach than a file that's held on your machine.

Better for tracking travel than home or office locations

Sean Gorman and my friend Peter Batty have done some impressive work digging into the details of the location data. Their conclusion is that it's hard to spot locations where you spend a lot of time in the same place, like your house or place of work. It's almost as if re-visiting the same spot overwrites a lot of the older data for that place, which would fit with a lot of what we've seen. They also try to quantify the accuracy of the location, pointing out how many outliers appear.

Even just showing where you've been traveling to is pretty concerning, but it's good to rule out some malicious uses. The work they've done gives us a lot more about the characteristics of the data, I'm looking forward to seeing more of this kind of analysis.

Intriguingly, their work also has some support for Will Clarke's idea that the locations are associated with cell towers. Peter's data shows a cluster around Mile High Stadium, which he hasn't visited recently but which does have a lot of cell infrastructure. Sean has another map that overlays actual tower locations with his points, and it's clear they don't coincide, but could well be triangulated from multiple towers. Sean's observation fits with our initial hypothesis that the locations are the result of sometimes-inaccurate triangulation from towers, but Peter's is evidence that there's a bias in the data to clustering around tower positions.

Peter is investigating the WiFiLocation table. This typically contains a lot more points than the cell version, with 219,000 entries in Alasdair's data versus only 29,000 cell points. We didn't visualize this in the application because the derived lat/long points are a lot noisier, but that may be an issue with the quality of the location-lookup tables Apple are using since they switched away from SkyHook. It appears to record the ID of many of the WiFi networks you've come into range of, so I'll be interested to see what Peter and others discover about this data.


April 22 2011

iPhone tracking: The day after

By Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden

iPhone trackI don't think either of us were expecting to see this story strike such a nerve. There's been some amazing detective work from researchers across the web, and so here's a selection of the most interesting immediate reactions.

Alex Levinson — Right from launch, we had an FAQ pointing to articles by people like Ryan Neal and Paul Courbis who had found this file (consolidated.db) before, but hadn't understood or been able to communicate its significance. The main reason we went public with this was exactly because it already seemed to be an open secret among people who make their living doing forensic phone analysis, but not among the general public — even pretty geeky people like Alasdair and me. We were freaked out by the implications of this data and how unprotected it was, but most of the forensics community seemed to miss quite how creepy ordinary people would find it.

I do appreciate how frustrating this must be for Alex though, and would like to apologize personally to him that we didn't include his article among the prior research we cited. Unlike the others, it didn't show up in web searches or the books we referenced. It also didn't help that most of the follow-up articles by other people left out the details that we'd tried to make clear about who found it first. We obviously didn't communicate it as well as we thought we had, which is completely our fault.

My Life According to the iPhone's Secret Tracking Log — Alexis Madrigal has a far more interesting life than me, judging by his map. I especially like the points from a flight with Jim Fallows somewhere over West Virginia. As he says, this data can be incredibly interesting, and as data geeks we were just as fascinated as he is. I actually look forward to a future where we can use this sort of information, but with the user's permission.

Apple is not “recording your moves” — Both of us have been following Will Clarke's blog for a while and we liked this article. It's good to look skeptically at the accuracy of the data both in space and time. We do disagree about one of the conclusions though: that the points are just the locations of cell towers. That was one of our first thoughts when we saw the data. But the fact that there's thousands of different points scattered across small areas, all in slightly different places, seems like pretty strong evidence that they're not just the locations of cell towers. Another way of putting that is that there's a lot more points than there are towers. There's also lots of points with the same tower ID code that are in different locations. That all led to our conclusion that it was trying to figure out the device's position, even if it wasn't very good at it.

Until we get a deeper analysis, that's just a provisional conclusion of course. But getting smart folks like Will to dig into this and correct anything we've got wrong is exactly why we open-sourced it. He also picks up on the Las Vegas Anomaly. Multiple people have reported seeing a phantom trip to the city show up, and one theory (other than a lot of lost weekends) is that Apple has an unpacking or testing facility there. Alasdair's phone that was shipped with iOS4 shows this, whereas my older device that originally had iOS3 doesn't, which was suggestive. I wonder if Will's device is a newer one, too?

OpenStreetMap — The application we released relies on this volunteer-run site to render the background map tiles. We ended up tripling their usual load, according to a team member. They actually fired up extra servers to cope, so I made sure to add a link to their donation page from our main site. If you got something out of the application, please do consider giving something to them, or even getting involved. It's a fantastic team and community. How many other organizations would have responded to heavy usage by a free client by paying for more servers themselves? I even messed up their credit text on the initial version of the application, but they were very understanding about that too.


April 20 2011

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

By Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden

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

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

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

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

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

What information is being recorded?

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

What are the implications of this location data?

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

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

How can you look at your own data?

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

What can you do about this?

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


April 13 2011

Hints of iPhone envy in China

I recently took a poll on my Sina micro-blog, China's equivalent to Twitter, asking my readers what brand of phone they owned and whether they were satisfied or wished they had a different phone.

Sina's readership demographics are weighted heavily around 20-35-year-old white-collar city folk. My poll may not be scientific or exactly representative of the masses country-wide, but it is probably a good sample of the upper-half income bracket of the 300-400 million Chinese living in cities in China.

(Note: 576 of my 30,000+ followers participated in the poll. I had a total of 672 responses — some participants had more than one phone.)

Although Nokia has been steadily losing Chinese market share the past few years, it still dominates in sheer numbers, and the poll reflects that. Slightly over half of my responding readers have Nokia phones, with iPhone and Android phone usage coming in at just over 10% each.

Phone share by model

Does mine make you jealous?

The poll results show that a whopping 43% who don't already have an iPhone wish they had one. Although Android phones have begun to flood the market, they are not nearly as prized: only 16% of those polled who don't own an Android wish they did. And poor Nokia ... of those Chinese cell phone users who don't own a Nokia, more than nine in 10 are not likely to buy one.

Phone envy

To summarize, iPhone envy is nearly three times stronger than Android phone envy. Nokia envy is nearly non-existent.

Love the one you're with?

Customer satisfaction is another measure of the health of a brand. Android and iPhone rank relatively high (although not as high as I expected; this may be due to the relatively smaller sample size for iPhone and Android). Indicative of harder times ahead for Nokia, more than half of their users would like to ditch their Nokia phone.


Numbers, money and lust

You might think that even though Chinese want a nice, new, expensive smartphone, price should be a barrier, and few will have the buying power to purchase one. It is not uncommon, however, in China for a "90-hou" (a person born in the 1990s), whose salary may be 1,500 RMB/month ($250/month), to spend a few thousand RMB on a new phone. Add that to the 50 to 100 RMB per month they pay for services from a carrier and Tencent, and it may work out to their spending as much as 30% of their total annual salary on cell phone expenses!

It seems that prestige and status sometimes trump what we take as common sense in purchase decisions. But, for a similar analogy in the US, think of a cowboy in the wild west a hundred-some years ago. He might well have spent a few months' salary on his hat and his boots — prized possessions that were not only utilitarian, but had a great amount of prestige attached to brand as well. Like Mark Twain said, "Clothes make the man."

So, what does this poll tell us the future will bring? First, Nokia appears to be charging down the same path to the Chinese graveyard that Motorola took only a few years ago, when it dropped from dominant market share to less than 5% today. Android has good numbers in China, and will sell well, but it lacks the brand momentum the iPhone has. Whether by design or luck, the iPhone seems to have many Chinese lusting after it .

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March 16 2011

Developer Week in Review

In a departure from the normally frivolous tone of this intro paragraph, I'd like to extend best wishes to the Japanese people as they deal with their numerous crises. Here's hoping things start to go better soon.

The planet does continue to turn (if on a slightly different axis than a week ago), so here's what happened in the developer world this week.

Mobile insecurity

For years, Apple aficionados have taken pot shots at the (in)security of the Windows platform. But the recent Pwn2Own contest shows that Apple has some problems of their own. During the contest, white-hats were able to break security on both an iPhone and a Blackberry by exploiting a common vulnerability in WebKit.

No one attempted to break into a Windows Mobile 7 or Android phone, which doesn't necessarily mean they're more secure, they just weren't targeted this time around. In any event, it highlights the increasing frequency with which mobile devices are being targeted for attacks.

Twitter gives third-party developers the bird

Most companies go out of their way to court third-party applications that want to integrate into their product. Google certainly has a ton of public APIs, as does Amazon, etc. But Twitter has decided that they should be the keeper of the one true Twitter client vision, and has shut the door on any new clients that wish to use the Twitter content.

Mashups are one of the most powerful features of the Web 2.0 biome, and Twitter has always been a juicy source of (sometimes geotagged) real-time data about what is happening in the world. By closing off their data stream from anyone but their own developers, Twitter is both doing a disservice to the world, and potentially shooting themselves in the foot by preventing compelling new applications from being developed.

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About that self-healing part ...

When the ARPAnet (the Internet's ancestor) was designed, one of the main features was that it could automatically route around damaged segments (handy for a military network in times of war.) However, the recent earthquake has shown just how far we've strayed from that vision. Because of static routings hardwired into the network due to business arrangements between network providers, Internet service to and from Asia took a major hit when some key trans-pacific cables were damaged.

Rather than automatically routing around the problem, engineers had to step in and set up new manual routings to try and alleviate the disconnect. It may have only taken a few hours or a day, but in an increasingly Internet-dependent world, even a few hours can be devastating, especially in an emergency when communications are at a premium.

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