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March 31 2013

Zu Ostern Zeit für Dueck: “Vernetzte Welten – Traum oder Alptraum”

Zu Ostern mal den Horizont erweitern. Gunther Dueck hielt 2011 einen Vortrag zum Thema “Vernetzte Welten – Traum oder Alptraum”. Das inzwischen verrentete Enfant Terrible von IBM, der “in ganz Heidelberg den höchsten Wert an naivem Optimismus” hat, erzählt von lauter Sachen die es schon gibt. Oft schon für wenige, aber nicht für alle, und das ist ein zentraler Unterschied in der Bewertung. Von Early Adopters bis hin zur Großmutter mit dem iPad, wohin soll sich unsere Gesellschaft entwickeln? Hier gehts zum Video

August 30 2012

A marriage of data and caregivers gives Dr. Atul Gawande hope for health care

Dr. Atul GawandeDr. Atul GawandeDr. Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) has been a bard in the health care world, straddling medicine, academia and the humanities as a practicing surgeon, medical school professor, best-selling author and staff writer at the New Yorker magazine. His long-form narratives and books have helped illuminate complex systems and wicked problems to a broad audience.

One recent feature that continues to resonate for those who wish to apply data to the public good is Gawande’s New Yorker piece “The Hot Spotters,” where Gawande considered whether health data could help lower medical costs by giving the neediest patients better care. That story brings home the challenges of providing health care in a city, from cultural change to gathering data to applying it.

This summer, after meeting Gawande at the 2012 Health DataPalooza, I interviewed him about hot spotting, predictive analytics, networked transparency, health data, feedback loops and the problems that technology won’t solve. Our interview, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows.

Given what you’ve learned in Camden, N.J. — the backdrop for your piece on hot spotting — do you feel hot spotting is an effective way for cities and people involved in public health to proceed?

Gawande: The short answer, I think, is “yes.”

Here we have this major problem of both cost and quality — and we have signs that some of the best places that seem to do the best jobs can be among the least expensive. How you become one of those places is a kind of mystery.

It really parallels what happened in the police world. Here is something that we thought was an impossible problem: crime. Who could possibly lower crime? One of the ways we got a handle on it was by directing policing to the places where there was the most crime. It sounds kind of obvious, but it was not apparent that crime is concentrated and that medical costs are concentrated.

The second thing I knew but hadn’t put two and two together about is that the sickest people get the worst care in the system. People with complex illness just don’t fit into 20-minute office visits.

The work in Camden was emblematic of work happening in pockets all around the country where you prioritize. As soon as you look at the system, you see hundreds, thousands of things that don’t work properly in medicine. But when you prioritize by saying, “For the sickest people — the 5% who account for half of the spending — let’s look at what their $100,000 moments are,” you then understand it’s strengthening primary care and it’s the ability to manage chronic illness.

It’s looking at a few acute high-cost, high-failure areas of care, such as how heart attacks and congestive heart failure are managed in the system; looking at how renal disease patients are cared for; or looking at a few things in the commercial population, like back pain, being a huge source of expense. And then also end-of-life care.

With a few projects, it became more apparent to me that you genuinely could transform the system. You could begin to move people from depending on the most expensive places where they get the least care to places where you actually are helping people achieve goals of care in the most humane and least wasteful ways possible.

The data analytics office in New York City is doing fascinating predictive analytics. That approach could have transformative applications in health care, but it’s notable how careful city officials have been about publishing certain aspects of the data. How do you think about the relative risks and rewards here, including balancing social good with the need to protect people’s personal health data?

Gawande: Privacy concerns can sometimes be a barrier, but I haven’t seen it be the major barrier here. There are privacy concerns in the data about households as well in the police data.

The reason it works well for the police is not just because you have a bunch of data geeks who are poking at the data and finding interesting things. It’s because they’re paired with people who are responsible for responding to crime, and above all, reducing crime. The commanders who have the responsibility have a relationship with the people who have the data. They’re looking at their population saying, “What are we doing to make the system better?”

That’s what’s been missing in health care. We have not married the people who have the data with people who feel responsible for achieving better results at lower costs. When you put those people together, they’re usually within a system, and within a system, there is no privacy barrier to being able to look and say, “Here’s what we can be doing in this health system,” because it’s often that particular.

The beautiful aspect of the work in New York is that it’s not at a terribly abstract level. Yes, they’re abstracting the data, but they’re also helping the police understand: “It’s this block that’s the problem. It’s shifted in the last month into this new sector. The pattern of the crime is that it looks more like we have a problem with domestic violence. Here are a few more patterns that might give you a clue about what you can go in and do.” There’s this give and take about what can be produced and achieved.

That, to me, is the gold in the health care world — the ability to peer in and say: “Here are your most expensive patients and your sickest patients. You didn’t know it, but here, there’s an alcohol and drug addiction issue. These folks are having car accidents and major trauma and turning up in the emergency rooms and then being admitted with $12,000 injuries.”

That’s a system that could be improved and, lo and behold, there’s an intervention here that’s worked before to slot these folks into treatment programs, which by and large, we don’t do at all.

That sense of using the data to help you solve problems requires two things. It requires data geeks and it requires the people in a system who feel responsible, the way that Bill Bratton made commanders feel responsible in the New York police system for the rate of crime. We haven’t had physicians who felt that they were responsible for 10,000 ICU patients and how well they do on everything from the cost to how long they spend in the ICU.

Health data is creating opportunities for more transparency into outcomes, treatments and performance. As a practicing physician, do you welcome the additional scrutiny that such collective intelligence provides, or does it concern you?

Gawande: I think that transparency of our data is crucial. I’m not sure that I’m with the majority of my colleagues on this. The concerns are that the data can be inaccurate, that you can overestimate or underestimate the sickness of the people coming in to see you, and that my patients aren’t like your patients.

That said, I have no idea who gets better results at the kinds of operations I do and who doesn’t. I do know who has high reputations and who has low reputations, but it doesn’t necessarily correspond to the kinds of results they get. As long as we are not willing to open up data to let people see what the results are, we will never actually learn.

The experience of what happens in fields where the data is open is that it’s the practitioners themselves that use it. I’ll give a couple of examples. Mortality for childbirth in hospitals has been available for a century. It’s been public information, and the practitioners in that field have used that data to drive the death rates for infants and mothers down from the biggest killer in people’s lives for women of childbearing age and for newborns into a rarity.

Another field that has been able to do this is cystic fibrosis. They had data for 40 years on the performance of the centers around the country that take care of kids with cystic fibrosis. They shared the data privately. They did not tell centers how the other centers were doing. They just told you where you stood relative to everybody else and they didn’t make that information public. About four or five years ago, they began making that information public. It’s now available on the Internet. You can see the rating of every center in the country for cystic fibrosis.

Several of the centers had said, “We’re going to pull out because this isn’t fair.” Nobody ended up pulling out. They did not lose patients in hoards and go bankrupt unfairly. They were able to see from one another who was doing well and then go visit and learn from one and other.

I can’t tell you how fundamental this is. There needs to be transparency about our costs and transparency about the kinds of results. It’s murky data. It’s full of lots of caveats. And yes, there will be the occasional journalist who will use it incorrectly. People will misinterpret the data. But the broad result, the net result of having it out there, is so much better for everybody involved that it far outweighs the value of closing it up.

U.S. officials are trying to apply health data to improve outcomes, reduce costs and stimulate economic activity. As you look at the successes and failures of these sorts of health data initiatives, what do you think is working and why?

Gawande: I get to watch from the sidelines, and I was lucky to participate in Datapalooza this year. I mostly see that it seems to be following a mode that’s worked in many other fields, which is that there’s a fundamental role for government to be able to make data available.

When you work in complex systems that involve multiple people who have to, in health care, deal with patients at different points in time, no one sees the net result. So, no one has any idea of what the actual experience is for patients. The open data initiative, I think, has innovative people grabbing the data and showing what you can do with it.

Connecting the data to the physical world is where the cool stuff starts to happen. What are the kinds of costs to run the system? How do I get people to the right place at the right time? I think we’re still in primitive days, but we’re only two or three years into starting to make something more than just data on bills available in the system. Even that wasn’t widely available — and it usually was old data and not very relevant to this moment in time.

My concern all along is that data needs to be meaningful to both the patient and the clinician. It needs to be able to connect the abstract world of data to the physical world of what really happens, which means it has to be timely data. A six-month turnaround on data is not great. Part of what has made Wal-Mart powerful, for example, is they took retail operations from checking their inventory once a month to checking it once a week and then once a day and then in real-time, knowing exactly what’s on the shelves and what’s not.

That equivalent is what we’ll have to arrive at if we’re to make our systems work. Timeliness, I think, is one of the under-recognized but fundamentally powerful aspects because we sometimes over prioritize the comprehensiveness of data and then it’s a year old, which doesn’t make it all that useful. Having data that tells you something that happened this week, that’s transformative.

Are you using an iPad at work?

Gawande: I do use the iPad here and there, but it’s not readily part of the way I can manage the clinic. I would have to put in a lot of effort for me to make it actually useful in my clinic.

For example, I need to be able to switch between radiology scans and past records. I predominantly see cancer patients, so they’ll have 40 pages of records that I need to have in front of me, from scans to lab tests to previous notes by other folks.

I haven’t found a better way than paper, honestly. I can flip between screens on my iPad, but it’s too slow and distracting, and it doesn’t let me talk to the patient. It’s fun if I can pull up a screen image of this or that and show it to the patient, but it just isn’t that integrated into practice.

What problems are immune to technological innovation? What will need to be changed by behavior?

Gawande: At some level, we’re trying to define what great care is. Great care means being able to provide optimally knowledgeable care in the right time and the right way for people and not wasting resources.

Some of it’s crucially aided by information technology that connects information to where it needs to be so that good decision-making happens, both by patients and by the clinicians who work with them.

If you’re going to be able to make health care work better, you’ve got to be able to make that system work better for people, more efficiently and less wastefully, less harmfully and with much better teamwork. I think that information technology is a tool in that, but fundamentally you’re talking about making teams that can go from being disconnected cowboys in care to pit crews that actually work together toward solving a problem.

In a football team or a pit crew, technology is really helpful, but it’s only a tiny part of what makes that team great. What makes the team great is that they know what they’re aiming to do, they’re very clear about their goals, and they are able to make sure they execute every basic thing that’s crucial for that success.

What do you worry about in this surge of interest in more data-driven approaches to medicine?

Gawande: I worry the most about a disconnect between the people who have to use the information and technology and tools, and the people who make them. We see this in the consumer world. Fundamentally, there is not a single [health] application that is remotely like my iPod, which is instantly usable. There are a gazillion number of ways in which information would make a huge amount of difference.

That sense of being able to understand the world of the user, the task that’s accomplished and the complexity of what they have to do, and connecting that to the people making the technology — there just aren’t that many lines of marriage. In many of the companies that have some of the dominant systems out there, I don’t see signs that that’s necessarily going to get any better.

If people gain access to better information about the consequences of various choices, will that lead to improved outcomes and quality of life?

Gawande: That’s where the art comes in. There are problems because you lack information, but when you have information like “you shouldn’t drink three cans of Coke a day — you’re going to put on weight,” then having that information is not sufficient for most people.

Understanding what is sufficient to be able to either change the care or change the behaviors that we’re concerned about is the crux of what we’re trying to figure out and discover.

When the information is presented in a really interesting way, people have gradually discovered — for example, having a little ball on your dashboard that tells you when you’re accelerating too fast and burning off extra fuel — how that begins to change the actual behavior of the person in the car.

No amount of presenting the information that you ought to be driving in a more environmentally friendly way ends up changing anything. It turns out that change requires the psychological nuance of presenting the information in a way that provokes the desire to actually do it.

We’re at the very beginning of understanding these things. There’s also the same sorts of issues with clinician behavior — not just information, but how you are able to foster clinicians to actually talk to one another and coordinate when five different people are involved in the care of a patient and they need to get on the same page.

That’s why I’m fascinated by the police work, because you have the data people, but they’re married to commanders who have responsibility and feel responsibility for looking out on their populations and saying, “What do we do to reduce the crime here? Here’s the kind of information that would really help me.” And the data people come back to them and say, “Why don’t you try this? I’ll bet this will help you.”

It’s that give and take that ends up being very powerful.

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August 16 2012

Eye saw this: the top 10 most popular Guardian Eyewitness images

As the Guardian Eyewitness app relaunches, we list the top 10 most popular and most shared images from the past 12 months

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.

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.


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".

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.

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 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".

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".

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.

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...
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May 18 2012

Why I haven't caught ereader fever

iPad 2 illustrationO'Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert (@jwikert) wrote recently about how he can't shake his ereader. I read his story with interest, as I can't seem to justify buying one. I was gifted a second-generation Kindle a while back, and it lived down to all my low expectations. The limitations were primarily the clumsy navigation and single-purpose functionality. I loaned it to a friend; she fell in love, so my Kindle found a new home.

At this point, I do all my ereading on my iPad 2: books, textbooks, magazines, news, short form, long form ... all of it. I will admit, I found the new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight that Wikert acquired somewhat tempting. The technology is much improved over the second generation Kindle, and though I haven't yet played with one in the store, I bet the execution is much more enjoyable. Still, my original hang-ups prevail.

First, I don't want to be locked in to one retailer. On my iPad, I have apps that allow me to read books bought from anywhere I choose. I can buy books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other smaller retailers, and they will all work on my iPad. True, this spreads my library around in a less-than-ideal organization, but the ability to buy books from anywhere is more important to me.

Also, I'm not so sure ebooks and ereaders will have a place down the road, making the value proposition of the investment that much less appealing. Much like the music journey from records to MP3s, digital reading technology is advancing, and perhaps at a much faster pace than its music counterpart. Jani Patokallio, publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet, recently predicted the obsolescence of ebooks and ereaders within five years, suggesting the web and HTML5 will become the global format for content delivery and consumption. And publications such as the Financial Times and MIT's Technology Review already are dropping their iOS and Android apps in favor of the web and HTML5.

I doubt my iPad will become obsolete any time soon. I look forward to the day books are URLs (or something similar) and we can read them anywhere on any device — and that day may not be too far off. I think I'm so attached to the iPad experience because it simulates this freedom to the best of its ability.

Ereader shortcomings also are likely to present a rich content hindrance, even before a shift to a web/HTML5 format gets underway. In a separate blog post, Wikert talked about a baseball book that missed its opportunity by not curating video links. He wrote: "The video links I'm talking about would have been useless on either device [his Kindle or Nook], but if they were integrated with the ebook I would have gladly read it with the Kindle app on my tablet." As publishers start realizing content opportunities afforded by digital, I think my iPad will serve me better than a single-purpose ereader.

Another hang-up I have, and this is likely to do with my general aversion to change, is the form factor. Most ereaders are somewhere around mass-market-paperback size, and the Nook Simple Touch and Simple Touch with GlowLight are nearly square. I prefer hardcover or trade paperback size — about the size and shape of my iPad. I might be able to get past this particular issue, but given the others I've mentioned, I just can't justify trying.

I will have to surrender to Wikert on the battery life and weight points — the one thing I really liked about the Kindle was its feather-light weight and the fact that during its short stay with me, I never had to charge the battery. I expect the surrender to be temporary, however. I have faith in our engineering friends — two years ago, a research team at MIT was using carbon nanotubes to improve the battery-power-to-weight ratio ... I can't imagine it will be too much longer before life catches up to research. In the meantime, I expect to remain happily connected at the hip to my iPad.

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March 08 2012

Developer Week in Review: The new iPad and the big meh

The wacky climatology continues here in New England. We got half a foot of snow last week and it's 65 degrees today. Combine that with the unseasonable tornados Friday in the Midwest and South, and the icebox Europe has been suffering under, and you want to quote Bill Murray from "Ghostbusters": "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!"

And speaking of mass hysteria ...

Apple announces new products. World yawns.

iPad third generationSomewhere on a sleepy little ice-covered moon in a far-off galaxy, 12-eyed alien sloths watched the live-blogging of the Apple iPad reveal yesterday, so over-hyped are Apple's product announcements these days. The big surprise this time was that, well, there were no big surprises. A combination of leaks from companies in Apple's supply chain and good guesswork meant that we've known for days what was likely to be announced, and the rumors were pretty much on the money. A 4-core iPad with 2x display resolution and a better camera, on LTE, and an upgraded Apple TV unit. It seems that the days are gone when Apple's master pitchmen can pull something genuinely novel out of the hat with no advanced warning. I can remember the stunned applause when the iPhone was first unveiled. The "new" iPad's announcement was more like "yeah, OK, cool."

That having been said, the new iPad is going to blur the laptop/tablet lines even further, as a combination of more processor power and a higher resolution display are letting more and more advanced applications make the transition to a tablet form factor. For developers, this is going to mean abandoning the mouse and keyboard as the primary way of doing things in user interface design, even for products that traditionally were thought of as "desktop applications" (such as CAD).

And yes, for the record, I bought a 64GB LTE model (black). If you're looking to trade in your old iPad, Amazon seems to be giving the best offers at the moment for used ones.

Great moments in patent extortion, the series!

Steve Jobs famously vowed that he'd destroy the Android, but recent reports indicate that Apple has decided it would rather make profits, not war. Apple is reportedly offering to back off patent litigation against handset vendors in return for a $15/unit license fee. If you combine that with Microsoft's $10/unit fee, that means that $25 of every Android sold is going to companies that directly compete against the platform.

What a great business model! Buy our product, or don't buy it, but either way we'll make money on the deal. Mind you, I'm sure Apple and Microsoft clear more than $25 and $10 respectively in profit off each iPhone and Windows phone they sell, so they'd still rather you buy one of theirs. Still, if you can't beat 'em, tax 'em!

Welcome Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi model BThe Raspberry Pi is finally here and shipping. Not surprisingly, the $35 single-board Linux computer immediately sold out. However, there's evidently a robust supply chain in place because I was able to purchase a unit for delivery in just a few weeks.

For my money, the big loser in all this is going to be the Arduino, which is cute but underpowered and hard to develop for. Given the Pi is cheaper than most Arduinos and offers networking, HDMI and USB, plus an easier-to-use Linux OS, I can see a lot of developers deciding to drop Arduino in favor of it. It will run happily on 4AA batteries and has GPIO ports available, so you could even use it in your favorite autonomous flying vehicle autopilot application if you wanted.

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February 20 2012

February 14 2012

About the Emerging Battles Over Textbooks: Options from Apple to Open Initiatives

Two dramatically opposed announcements put the textbook publishing industry on notice recently that it could be facing rapid disruption. Apple announced its iBooks Author app and invited authors to create textbooks tied both by a proprietary format and by license to its iBooks store. Meanwhile, the state of California (for the second time) announced that it would move toward free textbooks for schools. Similar efforts are underway in other countries.

One of the organizations trying to create textbooks for the California initiative is Open Doors, described as "the umbrella organization for College Open Textbooks, Open Courseware for Open Textbooks, and other exciting programs." After a discussion with a representative of that organization, Jacky Hood, and other commentators, I wrote an article for the Open Doors site. I recommend you read that posting, which I kept short to respect their guidelines, and then return here for some extra ideas that I lacked space for in the posting.

The contrast with One Laptop Per Child

I used One Laptop Per Child as a touchstone for evaluating textbook systems because I thought they got all the goals and ideals right, even though their implementation encountered problems. You couldn't find organizations more opposed in every aspect of goals and behavior than OLPC and Apple (except that they were both founded and led by charismatic visionaries). And it's on the OLPC vision, not the resulting computer systems, which have failed to spread as far and fast as the creators hoped.

My Open Doors posting focuses on the empowerment aspect of computer systems. The OLPC ideal is to let owners of XO laptops change anything they want on it, right down to the operating system. (Microsoft has also developed a special version of Windows for the XO, but the OLPC still promotes GNU/Linux.) The use of free software promotes learning and exploration. Contrast this not only with Apple's proprietary platform but is uniquely restrictive license, which requires authors to use Apple store for distribution.

Numerous other considerations separate the XO from the iPad:

  • Cost is the most obvious difference, but perhaps the least significant. It will not likely remain a major factor, because the XO costs more than the founders originally hoped, and the iPad, while much more expensive, could probably come down in price.

  • The XO was designed to be rugged, whereas the iPad is arguably an inappropriate device to hand to children.

  • The XO was specially designed for children (witness the tiny keyboard) and to be unappealing to adults, so that the adults allow the children to keep them.

  • The XO was designed to be useful in underdeveloped regions with limited capabilities, and therefore has low power requirements and can be recharged with a related solar power device.

I ran the themes in this article past David Rothman, editor-publisher of and a long-time advocate for open textbooks and open platforms to host them. While just as strong a supporter of open source as I am, David faults most open source tools for falling short in the area of usability, and was frustrated trying to use the XO because of interface problems, bugs, and weak computing capacity. He'd like to see Apple obsession for interface design adopted by the open source community. And he confirms my claim that a good textbook must have excellent production values. "Sometimes presentation is everything," he says.

But innovation also poses challenges. I wonder how many of the first texts currently offered on Apple's iBooks were thoroughly revisited to take advantage of the platform. Learning to write an iBooks textbook will require a whole new range of skills.

Apple and its enthusiasts stress how easy it is to write a textbook using Apple's iBooks app. But tools are not the gating factor in writing a textbook. A convenient, intuitive user interface is important for endeavors involving small contributions from novices. When somebody sat down impulsively to create a wiki page about Whitney Houston, the convenience of the tools would make a big difference. But textbooks are weighty responsibilities and their authors can tolerate complex (although not unnecessarily complex) tools. Again, the help they need is in creating an effective user interface for their own textbooks.

The limits of open: authorship of textbooks

As I said in my Open Doors posting, textbooks are not just assembled--they are crafted. It's a serious job. A few professors have challenged their students to come up with their own course texts, but they still need authoritative sources from which to take information. Among the content available to instructors and students for free are a broader set of material known as "open courseware." These can include lecture notes, curriculum plans, suggestions for experiments and hands-on projects, and lots of other juicy offerings that are certainly valuable. But rarely does one find textbooks.

According to Hood, Open Doors takes its author search very seriously. They have trouble finding suitable authors, a barrier related to the funding issues I'll describe later. But I agree with Hood that success is impossible without authors whom instructors will trust.

The limits of open: derivative works

Communities may evolve around textbooks, as they've evolved around other materials shared by educators. So fixes and updates to textbooks may end up being crowdsourced, but I think most instructors are going to defer to an authority for the texts they use in class.

Open Doors encourages (although it does not require) authors to release books with a license allowing derivative works, but the instructor gets to choose which book to use. I expect any derivative work to go through a rigorous peer review process before it gets widely adopted. There are too many drawbacks to the risk of feeding errors to students, who are more likely to be confused by them than experienced readers.

The limits of open: funding models

Readers who know me could expect me to be one of the most vocal backers of open textbooks. I've been part of free software communities for over a decade and have written enthusiastically about crowdsourcing in many contexts. But I actually feel a lot of sympathy for the publishers currently putting out $150 textbooks, and I've never joined the popular rants against them.

The $150 you spend (or even $250, should the book go that high) gets you quite a lot. Merely carrying away that quantity of pages--often 800, 1,000, or more--is a substantial return on investment. I've already mentioned the density and broad scope of these books, and the difficulties of ensuring quality. Instructors and students often demand study guides and sample questions, which the publisher usually throws in for free. The many online sites with rich, interactive content now accompanying many textbooks require a tremendous investment too.

So I never complain about the costs of textbooks. A couple hundred dollars per book is a small fraction of the cost of education, which is hiked by a number of things in academia, some justifiable and some not. Let's just say that a college is a lot more than a learning environment, and all those other services--extracurricular activities, counseling, exercise facilities--should be examined for cost controls before textbooks take the cut.

Nevertheless, I like open textbooks and would like to see where they go. Because Open Doors uses quite a traditional development model, it has to get grants to create textbooks. And since there so many academic disciplines, so many college courses, it's hard to get funding to develop all the textbooks California needs.

Textbooks can be printed and sold, but the goal should be to keep prices low so that students are not excluded. Anyway, it's cheaper and more efficient to distribute books electronically, and without charge. Ultimately, I think, the industries and professions who need to replenish their ranks with new talent will band together to produce the textbooks they need.

January 20 2012

Kindle Fire: Three pros, five cons

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("Kindle Fire Lessons Learned"). It's republished with permission.

I don't regret spending the $200 I paid Amazon for my Kindle Fire. I tried it out and decided it wasn't for me, so I gave it to my daughter instead. Even though I no longer use the Fire I wanted to share the things I learned about the device and myself over the past several weeks. Let's start off with the good side of things.

Kindle Fire pros

Kindle FireForm factor — I prefer the Fire's size to the iPad's. It's nice being able to wrap your hand around the entire device and the lighter weight is a big plus for the Fire. Of course, it's the same form factor as RIM's PlayBook, and given how poorly that device has performed it's clear you need more than just a great form factor.

Meets the needs of typical consumer — The Fire wasn't for me but my daughter really likes it. That's why you see so many good and bad reviews of it. Consumers who want a cheap tablet are OK without all the bells and whistles of the iPad, for example. Early adopters, or those who want to push the technology to the limit, are disappointed though. More on the early adopter in a moment ...

Connection to Amazon content — There's no question Amazon is using the razors and blades economic model here and the Fire is clearly the razor they're willing to sell at little to no profit. Connectivity to Amazon's ebooks, video and audio content is second to none with the Fire. And tying in the Prime membership program will only lead to more Amazon products being sold.

That's it as far as pluses go. Now let's talk about the minuses.

Kindle Fire cons

Connection to Amazon content — As easy as it is for Fire users to access Amazon content it's just that difficult to access anyone else's. If there's one thing I've learned from the Fire it's that my next tablet will not be locked in to one provider's content. That probably means I won't be buying from the typical content providers, of course. I don't mind paying more for that capability, by the way. So if Samsung comes up with a terrific tablet that meets all my needs, and it's $100 or so more than the Fire, I'm in.

Awful for the early adopter/tinkerer — As noted above, the Fire is pretty good for the typical consumer. But if you're buying it to root and open it up you'll be disappointed. Even if you go through the rooting process you'll quickly find some of the apps in the Android Market simply won't run on it (e.g., NHL Gamecenter App, the swipe keyboard, etc.) And if you do root it, watch out for those unsolicited auto-updates.

Auto updates — This one's ridiculous. How in the world can Amazon think that forcing OS updates on every Fire owner is the right thing to do? Amazon, take a page out of the Apple book and let your customers decide when and if they want the update. I couldn't help but feel the auto update was intended more to penalize rooters than to fix problems and offer more functionality. It also reminded me of the unfortunate "1984" debacle Amazon brought upon themselves a few years ago. Really stupid.

"Silk" browser — This has to be the biggest embarrassment of all for Amazon. Remember how excited Bezos was when he demo'd the Fire's lightning-fast browser at the press event last year? It turns out the browser isn't that fast after all. In fact, in my totally unscientific side-by-side testing, the Fire almost always loaded pages slower than both my iPad and my RIM PlayBook. Even with all these other issues I figured the Fire would offer a browsing experience that's second to none. The results were considerably weaker than promised. I'm disappointed that Amazon hasn't come out and admitted their failure here. It's remarkable that they still prominently feature the Silk browser on the Fire's product page. They seem to be in denial about it as they haven't even hinted it will be fixed in a future software update. As much as I criticize Apple, this is something Steve Jobs never would have let happen.

Missing a "killer" app — This is the reason why I had to keep my iPad handy throughout my Fire use and am stuck (for the time being) on iOS. Zite is my go-to app. I use it every single day. It's outstanding. It's a free app but I'd gladly pay as much as $10 or $15 for it, especially now that I'm totally addicted to it. There's no Android version of Zite ... yet. I can't even consider another Android tablet until Zite is available. Flipboard is a close second and it too doesn't exist in the Android world. Amazon should have invested some money with the developers of apps like Zite and Flipboard to make sure they were available when the Fire launched. Better yet, wouldn't it be nice if a Fire-specific app or two came out that made the device irresistible? I'd love to be talking about a Fire or Android app that's unbeatable but not available on iOS. I can't think of a single one.

I realize I'm a fairly unique user and that plenty of Fire owners are perfectly happy with their purchase. That's great, but I'd also love to see Amazon step up, act like the market leader they're trying to be and address these shortcomings.

I'm convinced that my next tablet will be an Android-based one. The only Android tablet I'll consider though is one that gives me access to all types of content, not just content from the company who sells the hardware. Heck, as closed as they are, even Apple lets you install e-reader apps from Amazon, B&N, etc. One of the reasons they can do that is they're confident they've got a terrific piece of hardware and you'll want to buy it over the competition. They also charge a premium for it. I've learned it's worth paying a premium, as long as it's not ridiculously high, for the ability to choose from multiple content providers.

So while my next tablet won't be the cheapest on the market, I won't make the same mistake twice and limit myself to one source of content for it.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 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. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 12 2012

Commerce Weekly: Report criticizes "feeble" mobile strategies of posh retailers

Here are a few of the items that caught my eye this week.

Report says 44% of prestigious retailers have "feeble" mobile strategies

Few high-end retailers are moving as quickly as they should on mobile commerce, according to a new report from research firm L2. In its first survey of premium brands' mobile strategies, L2 looked at the mobile and tablet platforms of 100 prestigious retailers — names like Dolce & Gabbana, Clinique and Cartier. In spite of their high margins, L2 found that most were taking a wait-and-see approach to mobile commerce, even though U.S. m-commerce sales are expected to grow from $6 billion in 2011 to $31 billion by 2016, according to Forrester.

In its report (and accompanying video, below) L2 scolds the laggards, reporting that:

  • 30% of brands haven't developed a mobile app
  • 33% don't have a mobile-optimized site
  • 16% have no mobile strategy at all

L2 placed 44 of the 100 brands it surveyed in the "feeble" category. At the other end of the spectrum, only four companies seemed to be doing enough right to earn a place in L2's "genius" category. Sephora topped the list, thanks to solid mobile and tablet apps, and successful cross-promotion of its mobile offerings across the rest of its digital platform. Nordstrom, Macy's and Net-a-Porter rounded out the top four.

It may look like a dismal showing, but as Lauren Indvik pointed out at Mashable, it may be enough to lead the rest of the retail competition. Indvik cited figures from Jesse Haines, group marketing manager for Google Mobile Ads, who told Mashable that a survey of major advertisers in early 2011 found only 21% had launched a mobile site at the time.

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

Sprint triples your chances to use Google Wallet

Samsung Galaxy Nexus with Google WalletIf you're like me, you've begun to see point-of-sale devices promoting the capability to pay with Google Wallet around town — for example at Whole Foods, Radio Shack, and CVS. Google has a nifty little map app that shows you where in your zip code you can wave your NFC-enabled Sprint Nexus S 4G phone to pay for — oh, you don't have a Nexus S 4G phone? Yeah, that's the problem: I've yet to see anyone actually making a purchase in the wild.

Sprint said this week it will do what it can to help by introducing two more phones that support Google Wallet: Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and LG's Viper. That brings the total number of phones that support Google Wallet to three. Both of the new phones store the payment applications on a secure embedded chip. Buyers will need to use either Google's Prepaid Card or a Citi Mastercard. The secure chips can also store coupons, points and offers.

Google will need all the help it can get from Sprint to spread the base of Wallet users, at least until the other carriers, all of whom are founding members of Isis, decide to let Wallet onto their phones. Verizon's decision in early December not to allow Google Wallet on its Android phones has cast a shadow of doubt on the whole business.

Meanwhile, all the players in the mobile payment system continue to run trials and tests to see where the soft points are. Visa said this week that it has certified six mobile devices to handle NFC payments using its PayWave system, a point-of-sale device that can process Visa payments wirelessly from a mobile device or a PayWave fob or card. On ZDNet, Zack Whittaker reported that in the U.K., Visa is hoping to roll the technology out as far as it can in time for this summer's Olympic games.

PayPal's mobile volume exceeds its own expectations

The volume of mobile payments is rising faster than expected, as shown by PayPal's announcement that it processed nearly $4 billion worth of mobile payments in 2011. That's up from $750 million in 2010 and $141 million in 2009. David Marcus, vice president of PayPal Mobile, made the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A year ago, Marcus told VentureBeat, the company predicted it would process $1.5 billion in 2011, a figure it later revised upward to $2 billion. Marcus credited, among other things, Starbucks customers using PayPal to top off their cards and the rise of iPad-based e-commerce.

Next stop: moving offline to point-of-sale devices. PayPal announced a trial using PayPal at the register in Home Depot stores, with no NFC required. For now, it's a limited test with a handful of PayPal employees who can use a PayPal card or just enter their mobile numbers in a point-of-sale terminal to pay for their DIY supplies. PayPal expects to roll it out to a wider audience later this year.

Got news?

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


December 22 2011

Commerce Weekly: EBay's TV tie-in

Not much happening this week as the tech world winds down for the end-of-year holidays, but here's one story that caught my eye.

EBay wants you to watch it with them

EBay knows that one screen isn't enough for us now. As more of us watch TV with tablet or smartphone in hand, the massive auction site and online retail aggregator doesn't want to be left out of an opportunity to make a sale. So it's created a feature for its iPad app called Watch with eBay that ties offerings in real time to whatever show you're watching. Kevin Woodward at Internet Retailer has the scoop. Watching the Packers? Once you've keyed in your zip and carrier information, you'll get a screen of green-and-gold logo wear. Viewing another Rooney Mara interview? Maybe you'll see offerings from H&M's Lisbeth Salander line.

Watch with eBay screenshot
The Watch with eBay function within eBay's iPad app shows products related to whatever television program you're viewing.

All I can say is it's about time this happened. Just to bring some perspective, the first time I wrote about this possible feature — seeing something you like on TV and clicking to buy it — I drew my example from the hottest program on TV at the time: If you like Kramer's retro sweater or Jerry's pirate shirt, just click to buy. It didn't happen then; the integration with set-top boxes never reached that deeply. But by disassociating the purchase process from the broadcast itself and running it in a parallel channel (the iPad) that we know is being used to supplement TV watching, eBay might be on to something.

The related data will be worth watching. We know anecdotally that multitasking on the iPad is more comfortable than it was with a laptop (with a lot less heat dissipated into our thighs and other parts). But as yet there appears to be little data on just how much parallel surfing is occurring. EBay's early results should provide one interesting data point.

Commerce Weekly will return on January 5, 2012.

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

Got news?

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


November 28 2011

Keeping Safari Books on top

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

Andrew Savikas (@andrewsavikas) is one of the brightest minds in the content industry. His extensive work on O'Reilly's production toolchain as well as having been chair of the Tools of Change conference will serve him well in his new role as Safari Books Online CEO. Safari was built before the influx of mobile devices affected our industry, but Andrew is making sure the service evolves with the needs of its customers. As Safari celebrates its 10th anniversary, Andrew talks in this podcast interview about what lies ahead and how Safari will remain on top.

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

  • Mobile devices have had a significant impact on Safari — It's not just about iPads and mobile phones, though. A good deal of Safari content is also consumed via eInk devices like Kindles and Nooks. [Discussed at the 0:49 mark.]
  • iPad usage patterns differ from desktop patterns — Length of session and use at different times of the day distinguish the typical iPad-based Safari user from the desktop user. Deeper content dives happen via the iPad app as well. [Discussed at 2:06.]
  • The iPad app drives more Safari usage — Subscribers aren't substituting desktop access for iPad app access. The numbers indicate subscribers are accessing Safari more when they utilize the iPad app. [Discussed at 3:49.]
  • Video has rapidly become an important component of the Safari experience — And it's particularly attractive to iPad app users. [Discussed at 5:57.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012


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 07 2011

Top Stories: October 3-7, 2011

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

Oracle's Big Data Appliance: what it means
Oracle's new Big Data Appliance couldn't be a plainer validation of what's important in big data right now, or where the battle for technology dominance lies.

PhoneGap basics: What it is and what it can do for mobile developers
Joe Bowser, the developer of the Android version of PhoneGap, on the pros and cons of developing with the PhoneGap cross-platform application framework.

How data and open government are transforming NYC
New York City has become the epicenter for experiments in data-driven governance. Here, NYC officials Rachel Sterne and Carole Post discuss the city's data initiatives.

The making of a "minimum awesome product"
In this podcast, Evan Doll, the co-founder of Flipboard sat down with Joe Wikert to discuss Flipboard's focus on design and social integration.

iPad vs. Kindle Fire: Early impressions and a few predictions
Few have actually held the Kindle Fire, let alone put it through its paces, so Pete Meyers chose a novel analytical approach: Examine his own iPad habits and look for spots where the Fire can find a foothold.

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.

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. © 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

How Steve Jobs put the seduction into technology

Apple reshaped the personal computer from a wobbly, Professor Branestawm-like contraption into a kind of digital jewellery

I wrote this just a few weeks ago when Steve Jobs announced he was quitting Apple:

"The Macintosh turned out so well," Jobs, who resigned as the CEO of Apple last night, once told the New York Times, "because the people working on it were musicians, artists, poets and historians who also happened to be excellent computer scientists."
And the people who bought the first Apple Mac computers were often architects, designers and journalists. One way or another, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the creators of the Apple Macintosh computers in the 1970s, came up with a line of products that – though clunky at first – had great appeal and continue to excite those engaged in design and the media – those who were best placed to sow the Apple seed.

Steve Jobs died on Wednesday. I'm writing this on an Apple desktop computer. When I rush off to work on another story today, my personal Apple MacBook will come with me. I also have an iPad, a Christmas present that has insinuated itself into my working and private life. With all these Apples about, it can be like living in a digital orchard.

As someone who still loves his Olivetti Lettera and who has learned to come to terms with the digital world slowly and cautiously, Apple has eased the transition. It's not just that the technology is "user friendly" to writers and millions engaged in what are known as the "creative industries", but that the physical design of Apple gizmos is seductive.

The iPad is like some magic tablet that comes alive and glows as if a genie has answered at least some of your wishes. Invented by Jobs and his team and styled by Apple's Jonathan Ives, it is one of those products that I like to imagine transporting back in time and showing our equally inventive ancestors as they built a pyramid or engineered a Gothic cathedral. Look what we've learned to do!

There would, of course, be one major snag. With no electricity, cables or satellites, let alone service providers and all the rest of the digital panopoly, the iPad's screen would remain resolutely dark, its crisp and gleaming plastic and metal case holding little interest for the architects of the Great Pyramid of Cheops or Salisbury Cathedral.

So Apples are very much objects of our time, so much so that each has been superseded by the next at a speed that might suggest a policy of built-in obsolescence. It's not that, although any company wants to sell us its next product or go out of business. It's more a case of design and technology moving on rapidly. And, in Jobs's case, of making Apple products indispensable in the way a wristwatch, handbag or wallet are to so very many millions of people.

Jobs, with incisive assistance from his design team, reshaped the personal computer from a wobbly, Professor Branestawm-like contraption lashed together at the back of a garage, or from an early Moog synthesiser lookalike, into a kind of digital jewellery.

Machines that, when he was growing up, were the stuff of men in white coats poring over punched paper tape and whirring, tape-recorder style reels in sealed, air-conditioned rooms are, thanks to Jobs, sleek hand-held devices that slip into handbags – wallets in the next couple of years, no doubt.

The very first Apple computer went on sale in 1976, its digital gubbins protected by a wooden casing. That was just a generation ago, and yet the latest Apples design make it look as though it might have been a tool used by medieval masons.

George Stephenson did not invent the steam railway locomotive, but when he and his son, Robert, shaped Rocket in 1829 – a pretty canary yellow and white design – they made this revolutionary machine aesthetically and emotionally acceptable to a largely suspicious and sceptical public.

Jobs has done much the same thing with Apple and the personal computer. There is, of course, something almost touching about the fact that most of these gleaming, seductive 21st-century devices are charged, when plugged into walls, by electricity generated by the mighty stationary steam engines we know as power stations.

Not everything under the digital sun is new, but Jobs knew how to make it shine into our offices, our homes and our private lives. © 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

October 04 2011

iPad vs. Kindle Fire: Early impressions and a few predictions

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

Who knows for sure how the Kindle Fire will do? It's crazy how confident some folks are about who it will kill, maim — or catapult to corporate dominance. The dang thing hasn't even been touched yet by more than its birth parents and a close relative or two. (Me, I got a finger or two on it at last Wednesday's press conference. I can't add anything concrete to what you've probably already read.)

But what I can do is offer one man's report, a year and a half in, on how I use my iPad. My goal? Compare and contrast the iPad's talents with what we know the Fire will deliver. From there, maybe there's a conclusion or two to be drawn about how this new tablet matches up against its two main competitors: the Color Nook and the iPad.

So, to begin with, here's a rough tally of my iPad usage:

Most Frequent Tasks (~ 1 hour/day)

  • Email (Mail app)
  • Zite
  • Twitter (Twitter app)
  • Safari (general surfing)
  • Facebook (via Safari)
  • New York Times app

All together these six activities consume the majority of my iPad time. I list them roughly according to how frequently I use them, but the difference between the first and the last isn't much, I'd bet.

Next Most Frequent (~ 15 minutes/day)

  • Various newly released apps (or ones I've just learned about). I wrote a book last year recommending the "Best iPad Apps." This year I'm working on another book about designing digital books. So I need to keep up with what's new.

Periodic (~ 1/2 hour/day, every couple of days)

  • Kids book apps with my two young daughters
  • Flipboard
  • iTunes (for podcasts while stretching or cooking)

As I mentioned, for professional reasons I'm always playing with new apps. When apps like Our Choice or The Wasteland launch, I get them &mda and probably play with them a dozen or so times to get a feel for how they work. The only three I've ever added to my regular rotation are Twitter, the New York Times, and Zite. But I wonder, really, how unique that makes me. Don't most smartphone and tablet owners hear about new apps from friends and others online and then spend a little bit of scattered time trying new ones out?

Probably worth mentioning: the vast majority of my computing time gets spent on the laptop (a MacBook Pro) I'm typing on right now. Second place: my iPhone, which I use mainly for email, Twitter, ebook reading, web surfing, and phone calls. Let me wrap up this iPad audit with a few general observations:

  • I rarely use 3G (I've probably paid for three month's worth of service in the one and a half years I've owned both 3G models‚ the original and the iPad 2).
  • I don't read ebooks on the iPad very often. I find it bulky and too big, and prefer my iPhone (for plain text narrative) and print (for everything else).
  • I only pull it out on the subway (I live in NYC) when I can get a seat. Holding it in two hands requires more balance than my genes are ready to deliver.
  • I don't really like typing on it. It's okay for a few sentences (a quick email reply, for instance); anything longer and I wait till I'm at my laptop.
  • I'm not very conscious of missing out on Flash-enabled websites. I'm aware, of course, that many sites still use Flash, but I guess I just don't visit those sites.
  • I rarely sync my iPad to my laptop (maybe once a month, or maybe even longer). Feels like every time I remember that I'd like to sync (to get some new photos on it or refresh my music) I decide I don't have enough time. With the coming release of Apple's iCloud service, this will all likely improve, but it remains to be seen how completely, and how well executed, Apple's wire-free efforts go.

Now, what does all this mean when it comes to the Kindle Fire? I am of course getting one (and may have some big writing-related news on that front in the coming days … stay tuned!). But if I wasn't Pete the Gadget Geek, and I didn't yet own any tablet, knowing what I know now about how I use the iPad, which one would I get? Here are the big factors I'd consider:

  • $200 seems incredibly appealing. Like many other working professionals (a little bit of disposable income, worried about paying for two kids' educations, second homeless), I worry about spending $500-plus each time Apple releases a new "must-have" device.
  • The only item on my iPad use-case list that feels hard to match is all that new app reviewing I do. The key question: will "long tail" apps show up in Amazon's Appstore for Android? I'd bet, in many cases, yeah.
  • The Fire's smaller screen size seems as much a plus as a minus. Won't know for sure, of course, till I've had a chance to play with it, but at a minimum it will be easier to operate one handed.
  • Given my current subscription to Amazon Prime (which I will likely never give up), I suspect I'll watch more TV and movies on the Fire than I do on the iPad.

So, what's my prediction about the Fire's fate? Way too soon to say, of course. But if I were a betting man, here's where I'd put my money:

  • Nook Color will be the big loser in all this. There's just not enough compelling content there to win a showdown with the Fire (if it performs as well as it did in last Wednesday's demos).
  • iPad's growth will slow from hockey stick-like to something still enviable and profit-worthy. But a year from now, we'll no longer be forced to say what we must right now: there really is no tablet market; there is only an iPad market.
  • Amazon will sell, as Mr. Bezos predicts, "many millions" of these Fires.

Webcast: Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup #2 — Back by popular demand, in a second look at Digital Bookmaking Tools, author and book futurist Pete Meyers explores the existing options for creating digital books.

Join us on Thursday, November 10, 2011, at 10 am PT
Register for this free webcast


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.

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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.


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