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Feb 032019

Apple’s stockprice has taken a bit of a tumble just recently, prompted by a statement from them indicating that they’ve made a bit of a mess of the iPhone releases and they’re not selling as many as they expected.

Foolish scaremongers are predicting the demise of Apple. Over a few bad quarters? That’s just ridiculous.

If anything (and you fancy a gamble), now is probably a good time to buy shares in Apple, because they are not going away any time soon. And they will probably come up with an answer to what they are doing wrong.

So what are they doing wrong?

Too Few Products

It may seem a bit strange to say considering just how many different iPhones you can buy, but what I am really talking about here are product types rather than individual variations. After all whether you are buying an iPhone X, XS, XS Max, or XR, you’re still buying an iPhone.

Just take a look at the Apple web site navigation bar :-

Each of those (with the possible exception of a particular keen Mac user of the “Mac” group, and of course “Music”) is a product that a person is only likely to have one of.

And keeping the number of products you sell small makes you more vulnerable to the occasional “miss”. Which with the best planning in the world will happen from time to time.

Just imagine what is missing :-

  1. The Apple HiFi
  2. The Apple alarm clock.
  3. The Apple home/small office network server.
  4. The Apple power-line ethernet adaptor.
  5. The Apple WiFi access point.
  6. The Apple air pollution monitor/smoke detector.

And that’s just a few items thought up by an individual on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Don’t Ignore The Fringe Fanatics

For many years, Apple survived by making products well suited to the audio/visual creator community. And yet looking through the Mac line-up, there is nothing there suited to the real power user.

And yet Apple has fans who still want to run macOS – either compromising on their needs by getting an iMac Pro (usually with huge piles of non-Apple external disks) or by getting an ordinary PC and running macOS on it.

Give them what they want, and no a promise to release a proper Mac Pro “someday” isn’t sufficient.

There may not be a great deal of profit in it, but a small profit is better than none. And catering to power users may well have a greater effect than you suppose – they are or can be influencers. Imagine every photographer, videographer, and sound engineer saying “Forget about Windows; get yourself a Mac”.

Because that’s what they used to say.

Too Expensive

If you ask anyone if they would like more features, the answer is almost always yes, but they can become more reluctant if you ask them to pay a little more money for those features.

And if you ask them to pay more for features they are not interested in, they’ll rapidly lose interest if money is tight and their old phone is ‘good enough’.

And that is what has happened, the latest iPhone has more and better features than any previous iPhone but the price has crept up. For many (including the affluent “middle-class”) it has become a significant purchase rather than something that can be paid off with 2-4 months of minor inconvenience.

Follow The Path
Nov 292017

If you have not already heard about it, Apple made a mindbogglingly stupid mistake with the latest release of macOS (previously known as OSX), leaving their users open to an incredibly easy exploit that would give anyone full access over an Apple in their hands. Or in some cases, remotely.

The externally visible effect of the vulnerability is that a standard Unix account (root) that was supposed to be disabled was left with a blank password. Apple uses a very common Unix security mechanism that means the root account is unnecessary as an ordinary account (i.e. nobody logs in as root), although the account has to exist so that legitimate privilege escalation works.

As an alternative, Apple uses sudo (and graphical equivalents) so that members of a certain group can run commands as root. Nothing wrong with that.

To keep things safe, Apple disabled the root account and because the account was disabled, left the password blank.

It turns out that the vulnerability was caused by a bug in Apple’s authentication system which resulted in blank passwords being reset and the account enabled. But it is more complicated than that; Apple made a number of mistakes :-

  1. The bug in the authentication system. Of course no software is bug-free, but bugs are still mistakes. Of course because no software is bug-free, it makes sense to take extra precautions to avoid bugs causing a cascade of problems.
  2. The root password should have been set to a random value to prevent access if the account was accidentally enabled.
  3. Apple’s test suite which hopefully they use to verify that new releases don’t contain previously identified bugs should also check for this vulnerability.

Although the precise details don’t matter as it’s the principle of defence in depth.

Hemisphere and Curves

Oct 302016


With the sole exception of the touchscreen key strip that replaces the function keys, there’s pretty much nothing that interesting about the new Macbook Pro machines from Apple. That is not to say they are not nice machines, but they are a bit under-specified for a “pro” laptop tag, although I suspect that quite a few people complaining about the lack of a dedicated GPU in the 13″ model fail to realise that most serious professionals do most of their heavy number crunching in the cloud and not on a light-weight laptop.



And frankly any laptop is light-weight compared to a rack-based server with a case full of Teslas.

A laptop is essentially a creative tool for accessing “the cloud” for anything that requires a real computer, and a 13″ Macbook Pro is fine for that (although the trendy tax is a touch high).

Now onto the function key replacement: As a devotee of the keyboard, I’m somewhat reluctant to cheer the replacement of real keys with a touch screen, but it could be quite a neat feature. In the old days when we used function keys much more widely than we do now, on-screen labels for what the function keys did were not uncommon … look at the bottom of the following screenshot :-



And the ill-fated Apricot Computers had a competitor to the IBM PC which came with a keyboard that had six “soft keys” with LCD panels.

So Apple has not done anything new here, but when did they? Their core skill is taking technical innovations and making them user-friendly; I don’t have a problem with that.

This keyboard could be useful in many ways – in addition to resurrecting the old “function key labels” in a more usable way, there is also the possibility of using them to insert symbols that we should be using, but rarely do so because they are not to be found on our normal keyboards. Depending on your proffesion (or inclination), we have different symbols we could or should be using – perhaps the copyright symbol ©, the interrobang ⁤‽, or more. Of course how useful it becomes will be down to the relevant software developers.

Jun 122013

Apple’s teaser of their replacement for the venerable Mac Pro has raised quite a few hackles “out there” amongst a certain kind of Mac Pro prospective customer. They’re wrong.

It is quite possible that Apple has done some extensive research on whether internal expansion with storage and PCIe cards is necessary or not. And it is quite possible that most of the old Mac Pros had not been expanded in this way.

But Apple are wrong too (and of course I’m right whilst everyone else is wrong  :-P): Internal expansion is important for some people, and they are quite possibly the sort of people that you don’t want to antagonise. Specifically the enthusiasts who would rather keep their storage internal, who want to add accelerator cards of one kind or another, etc.

Whilst the enthusiasts may not be the majority of Apple’s customers, they do have a certain amount of influence. People asking the enthusiasts at the moment may well get told to get an old Mac Pro right now so they are not limited by the expansion capabilities of the new Mac Pro.

And there’s a way that Apple could have done both; kept the neat design of the new Mac Pro, and allow the enthusiasts to have “internal” expansion. And it could be done by simply allowing the new form factor to expand the case through the base – allow it to “click” onto a PCIe expansion cage, or a two-drive enclosure.

Sure that would require some sort of special bus in the base, and a sensible way of attaching cases to the base in a secure enough manner. But it would also mean that the new Mac Pro was as expandable as the old without the use of the cable tangle that most external devices require.

Take a look behind most large tower PC’s and you’ll find a tangle of cables attaching screens, keyboards, mice, external drives, and odder devices. Apple’s new Mac Pro will just make this worse when they could have done something even more radical and showed the industry how to improve the situation.

Nov 032012

Previously I ranted about how Apple had “complied” with a UK court order by criticising the decision made by the UK courts and implying they had gotten it wrong. Now Apple have been dragged into court again to explain their lack of compliance, and been ordered to remove their previous statement and replace it with another whose wording has been dictated by the court.

Apple in a mind-blowing exhibition of stupidity tried to claim that whilst it would take just 24 hours to take down their previous statement, it would take up to 14 days to put up a replacement statement. For “technical reasons”.

Now as it happens, in addition to writing drivel on this website (where the only delay “technical reasons” might impose would be due to an infrastructure failure/upgrade, but “personal reasons” might well impose a 14-day delay), I have been involved in more “corporate” websites where content management systems can indeed impose “technical reasons” for a delay in updating a website. But not 14 days! More like a few hours, or at most 24 hours.

And if a content management system does impose a long delay in publishing website updates, it is always possible to bypass the CMS to publish emergency updates. Even if it is necessary to “break” the CMS to do so.

It may very well be that an internal approval process within Apple’s CMS normally requires 14 days for an update to be published. In which case the reason for the supposed 14 day delay is for “business reasons” rather than “technical reasons”.

Of course there is also another possibility. Given that Apple have recently launched new products, they may be very reluctant to put anything up on their home page (which the revised court order now requires) which distracts from their new product. You do have to wonder if this mysterious delay for “technical reasons” is in fact so that nobody gets distracted from the pretty pictures of Apple’s new products.

That would be very, very silly of them.

The court evidently did not think much of Apple’s excuse of why they could not put up a replacement statement promptly and have given them 48 hours to comply. So either Apple has to comply within 48-hours – demonstrating that they lied in court, or has to come up with detailed technical reasons why they cannot comply – which will demonstrate they are surprisingly incompetent when it comes to technical matters.

Neither alternative is comfortable for Apple executives, but this position is all their fault.

Oct 262012

Apple actually lost a court case recently, and as part of the settlement they were asked to publish an apology in both printed media and on their website. Which may well come close to the letter of what they were obliged to publish, but in no way comes close to the spirit … and indeed may well be contempt of court. The relevant part of the apology reads:

However, in a case tried in Germany regarding the same patent, the court found that Samsung engaged in unfair competition by copying the iPad design. A U.S. jury also found Samsung guilty of infringing on Apple’s design and utility patents, awarding over one billion U.S. dollars in damages to Apple Inc. So while the U.K. court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognized that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung willfully copied Apple’s far more popular iPad.

Or to re-phrase it: The UK courts are complete idiots and should pay closer attention to the judgements reached in the US and Germany which of course have far wiser judges. If I were that UK judge I would order Apple to pay “over one billion dollars” to the court and prohibit Apple from selling any products in the UK until it was paid.

You do have to wonder just how dumb the relevant executives at Apple are. When you are forced into publishing an apology, the sensible thing is to do just that … and not try and weasel out of the apology by saying “but ….”.


Oct 062012

Now that all the fuss over the new iPhone5 has calmed down a bit, it is time to take a look at the iPhone5. Okay, so what fuss was there amongst anybody other than the die-hard Apple fans who would buy any iPhone5 without considering whether or not it was carved out of a pile of petrified rhino bile? Well of course there was the media crowd jumping up and down in excitement at the prospect of an expenses paid trip to somewhere exotic.

But not many others.

It isn’t as if the iPhone5 were a bad phone; when you come down to it, it is a sensible upgrade from the iPhone4S. The key new features are :-

  • Most “exciting” of all (which is itself a bad sign) is the new dock connector which effectively makes all previous iPhone add-ons redundant. Understandably this has annoyed many people, but it had to be done sooner or later. After all the old connector was nearly 10 years old which is positively geriatric in the technology world.
  • The processor was a little bit faster, and there is a little bit more memory.
  • The screen is “bigger” … or rather taller. Nice enough I suppose, although it is hardly a Galaxy SIII or a Galaxy Note (1 or 2).
  • Apple have realised that there are a few people outside North America who might want to use 4G network speeds, and so their LTE support covers more frequency bands. Although despite having three variants of the iPhone5 which cover different frequency bands, they still cannot offer LTE in all markets. And of course having three different phones not only makes manufacturing more costly, but prevents customers roaming so easily as they could do with the iPhone4S.
  • The new phone is thinner and lighter than the old iPhones, although those who have encountered problems with the aluminium case getting scratched may prefer the old weight of the stainless steel case which was more robust in this sense.
  • And of course the iPhone5 now uses the even fiddlier nano-SIM.

Ignoring the software side of things, this all looks a little depressing. All very sensible, but one person’s sensible is another person’s resting upon your laurels. And if you keep that up, sooner or later someone comes along and tips you into a muddy ditch.

Just ask Nokia.

Aug 292012

Quite an amusing Internet rumour came about today: That Samsung had paid their fine to Apple by sending around 30 trucks filled to the brim with nickles (which is apparently a 5¢ coin). Of course it eventually transpired that this was all an amusing hoax, which makes more sense – after all Samsung is hardly going to pay Apple until after they have tried appealing.

But the popularity of this story may be some small indication that Apple’s victory in the US courts over this patent dispute is not really seen as fair by most.

Aug 252012

So apparently a US court with a US jury found against a Korean company and in favour of a US company. Well that is a surprise! Who would imagine?

There are several aspects of this trial that should require closer inspection before making any judgments :-

  1. The jury only spent 48 hours deliberating when the available evidence amounted to “hundreds of questions, 109 pages of jury instruction and the most complex muddle of law on the planet”. Given the mind boggling complexity of this case, I would not be at all surprised if the jury colluded in coming up with a snap judgment that at least gets them out of jury service rather than a properly considered verdict.
  2. The judge kept advising the two companies to come to a negotiated settlement but obviously Apple and Samsung ignored this.
  3. This is just one legal battle; Apple and Samsung are fighting tooth and nail in many cases: As of December 2011, Apple and Samsung are fighting more than 20 cases in 10 countries. It would seem that it would be better by far if someone were to band the respective CEOs heads together and force both companies to make a negotiated settlement.

It is easy for an observer who does not pay close attention to technical matters to consider Apple to be a radical innovator in the smartphone arena; certainly at the very least the iPhone was a game changer. But not because itself was a dramatic innovation in technological terms, but because it brought previous technical innovations together into a well designed and easy to use product. And frankly a comparatively limited one – much smartphone functionality present in the original iPhone’s competitors was missing from the original iPhone.

If you look at the list of patents that Samsung supposedly infringed, you will come across numerous examples that someone in the technical field will wonder if it should really be a patent. Or maybe at most should be a ‘half-patent’ (if there were such a thing). Some of the features that Samsung supposedly infringed :-

  1. The “rubber band” effect that occur when you scroll a list by touch and hit the end of the list. This to a limited extent falls foul of the “obviousness” test – if you had used a scroll by touch interface without the equivalent of this, you would think “Hey! Someone ought to come up with something that tells me when the end of the list is”.
  2. The gestures “pinch to zoom” and “twist to rotate”. I’m sorry but these really are too obvious to patent. Certainly “twist to rotate” is merely aping what we do in the real world to rotate – ever “twisted” a plate to rotate it so that the food you are going to dive into next is closer? And similarly “pinch to zoom” is effectively a touch-screen equivalent of dragging out a box onscreen using a mouse to zoom in on that particular area.
  3. Touch to drag a document? Ever used drag and drop with a mouse?
  4. The other elements in the list are in relation to physical design of the handset, but is a rectangle with rounded corners really so radical ? I’m pretty sure almost all of my phones have been rectangular with rounded corners since well before the original iPhone.

The trouble with this judgement is that whilst it may protect innovation to a tiny degree, it will also have the effect of limiting choice to the consumer in the US. Because Apple is going to look to ban imports of Samsung devices as soon as it can wheel a lawyer into court. Wouldn’t it be better by far for the court to decide that yes Samsung has infringed the pinch to zoom function, so they should pay for a license for that patent at a rate of 10¢ per device? Rather than insist on Apple being paid a ridiculous amount of damages and allowing Apple to set a ridiculous license cost for use of the patent.

The whole issue of intellectual property rights is a complete mess, and I’m not sure that even the judge in this case would disagree. Patents were originally developed to protect inventors from companies simply stealing their ideas and going ahead and making money whilst the inventor gets nothing. They were not designed to stop competitors from using the ideas of an inventor – they would simply have to pay a fair price for the idea. And patents were not supposed to be blindingly obvious either.

It is also worth pointing out that Apple have already lost pretty much the same legal battle in the UK, Germany, and South Korea. So we have the ridiculous situation where Samsung “stole” ideas as decided by a US jury, but also didn’t as decided by court victories elsewhere in the world. Who is right? Who knows?

Intellectual property rights are long overdue for a radical overhaul :-

  1. Make the UN the deciding body for patent infringements. This will eliminate all the conflicting decisions that go on around the world, and reduce to a minimum conscious or unconscious bias that a US jury (or a US judge) might weigh against a South Korean company.
  2. Review each patent rigorously to examine whether they are too obvious to patent.
  3. Use an independent party to decide licensing fees, and make licensing fees a percentage of the final purchase price of the product. Want to make a Rolex replica exact in every way ? Well, the panel might decide you can do so … as long as you pay Rolex 100% of the purchase price. Want to use “pinch to zoom” on your device ? Expect to pay Apple a tiny amount like 0.5% of the purchase price.

Of course none of this is likely to happen. Intellectual property rights are too much of a cash cow for IP trolls and IP lawyers for any big changes.

May 022012

One of the cool things about “the cloud” is that there are numerous different companies all offering cloud-based storage of one kind or another. You can even get quite a bit of storage for free, and different solutions offer different cool solutions – such as Dropbox where my phone is configured to automatically send photos up to it. And there are plenty of other solutions out there :-

  • Box
  • Google Drive (of course you may already be using Google Docs which means you essentially have storage related to that).
  • SkyDrive (although for some mysterious reason, Microsoft doesn’t supply a Linux client)
  • iCloud
  • Wuala
  • SpiderOak
  • Ubuntu One – which despite the name, isn’t just for Ubuntu!
  • And in a note for myself, there’s also SparkleShare which is essentially a DropBox client to talk to your own servers.
Undoubtedly there are a whole ton more, but I think I’ve gotten the “big names” covered. The best strategy is of course to find the one whose client works with all the platforms you use (phone, PC, laptop, etc.), comes with the most free storage, and the cost of getting more storage is the least (in decreasing order of importance). Of course in the real world, you are likely to end up with more than one – simply because it’s tempting to look at the next “new thing” or because you want more cheap storage, or simply because other people insist you use service X.

Now if you use multiple cloud-storage solutions, you have a bit of a problem – different clients offering different functionality, different amounts of storage available, and remembering what you put on which “cloud-disk”. Plus of course there is the interesting problem of security – different providers provide different levels of privacy and operate in different jurisdictions where different laws apply.

Different Clients

Different clients work in different ways with different features. For instance, for a Linux user :-

  1. The Dropbox client seems to work pretty well, but it doesn’t appear in a list of filesystems (i.e. when you type df) so you can’t instantly see how much space is still available, etc. At least not in the standard way.
  2. Box(.net) lacks a Linux client, so you have to hack something together. Perfectly possible for more geeky users, but even for us there is the danger that a hackish solution may suddenly stop working mysteriously. Or rather that is more likely.
  3. Ubuntu One doesn’t seem to work via a filesystem interface at all.
  4. And that seems to be the same with SpiderOak.
It may be different for Windows users (I’m too lazy to check – if anyone wants to submit details, please go ahead), but I doubt it.

Whilst cloud storage providers may offer additional features to differentiate their product, they are all essentially the same as a removable hard disk, usb memory stick, or some other kind of removable storage. Whilst the additional features are very welcome, why should we have to learn a new way of managing storage just because it is out there in the cloud ?


There is a great deal of paranoia about storing private data in the cloud with the assumption that creepy organisations such as Google will do something nasty with the data. Well maybe, but the likelihood of Google being that interested in an individual’s data is a little unlikely. Of  course just because the cryptogeeks are a little paranoid does not mean they are completely wrong – there are privacy issues involved.

Firstly, Google could be looking at your data to determine things about you that would be of interest to advertisers – to present targeted adverts at you. Which at best can be a little weird.

Next we like to believe that the laws of our country will protect us from someone picking through our personal data. That someone could be the company supplying the storage, or it could be the government in the country where the storage is hosted. That would probably be fine if the storage was restricted to one location where we could be sure that the government protected us, but where is the storage located?

Much of the time the storage is located in foreign jurisdictions where there is no guarantee that any kind of privacy will be respected – especially if a foreign government takes an interest in your data. Don’t forget the laws of say the USA are not designed to protect citizens of any EU country (or visa-versa). There are of course agreements such as the EU Safe Harbour agreement, but it is possible that it does not offer as much protection as assumed – it is not really intended for private individuals choosing to put their own personal data into foreign jurisdictions.

Probably most of us do not have to worry about this sort of thing (although we can choose to), but some may have to be cautious about this sort of thing. Some of us deal with personal data about third parties – sometimes very personal data – and need to consider whether storing such data in the cloud is being appropriately responsible about the data privacy. For example, a contractor who stores information about their clients should be taking actions to ensure that data is not accidentally leaked (or hacked and published).

The easy answer to this problem is to assume that cloud storage is not safe for sensitive personal data, because there is a simple solution to the problem that still allows the cloud to be used. Use encryption such as TrueCrypt to ensure that even if the cloud leaks your data, it is still encrypted with a method that is not known to the cloud provider.

Store It Twice!

There have been occasions where storage providers have removed access to storage either permanently or temporarily – such as the Megauploads site. Whilst it is perhaps unlikely, it is possible for a cloud service provider to disappear and for the customers to lose their data – even if the cloud provider claims that there is some protection against this sort of thing happening. But it could happen, so it is sensible to ensure that if you store data in the cloud, that you should ensure that you have copies of that data elsewhere.


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