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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