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Mar 09
Greg's bite: iPad copy cats to crash and burn

By Greg Mills

The recent electronics consumer shows have been loaded with "me too" iPad incarnations from every competitor of Apple. By some counts over 100 prototypes or concept models were shown.  To date, only a handful of actual products have made it to market. The most notable thing about all of them is that when a price is really announced, without exception, the specs and price are compared to the iPad.  

The market has quickly discounted the offerings despite serious marketing programs. Some analysts now expect a serious blood bath as most of the "iPad killers" fall to the wayside. Keep in mind, it is very expensive designing and starting up an assembly line to manufacture slate computers. The devil is in the details, as parts have to be identified and purchased months in advance to get part prices that add up to something at or under US$250.  

The reason I set a part cost level at $250 is that by the time the parts are assembled and...

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Mar 09
Could an 'iHome' be closer when Lion prowls?


With Mac OS X Lion set to prowl this summer, it's looking like the "iHome" could be closer to being a reality. Now we just need some iTunes/iBooks/Mac App Store sharing, and we truly would have the core for a real home server.

Lion will ship with Mac OS X Lion Server -- which Apple says will make setting up a server easier than ever -- and adds support for managing Mac OS X Lion, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. Now we'll see if Apple will intro some real home server features.

What features? Things like -- as mentioned -- iPhoto and iTunes/iBooks/Mac App Store sharing and collaboration. Perhaps an iDisk for the local server that can also sync with the iDisk on Apple servers. How about the ability to set up the iCal and Wiki servers with templates and services that make it easy for home uses to use? I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
 
I’ve long hoped for an Apple home server product. A 2010 consumer survey conducted by ABI Research...

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Mar 08
Apple granted digital video encoding patent

Apple has been granted a patent (number 7903730) by the US Patent & Trademark Office for a method and apparatus for variable accuracy inter-picture timing specification for digital video encoding. It relates to the field of multimedia compression systems. In particular the present invention discloses methods and systems for specifying variable accuracy inter-picture timing.

Specifically, the present invention discloses a system that allows the relative timing of nearby video pictures to be encoded in a very efficient manner. In one embodiment, the display time difference between a current video picture and a nearby video picture is determined. The display time difference is then encoded into a digital representation of the video picture. In a preferred embodiment, the nearby video picture is the most recently transmitted stored picture. For coding efficiency, the display time difference may be encoded using a variable length coding system or arithmetic coding. In an...

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Mar 08
Greg's bite: Microsoft pays Nokia $1 billion to...

By Greg Mills

Talk about mutual desperation or a marriage from hell. "Bloomberg" reports that Nokia has held out for US$1 billion from Microsoft to use Windows 7. Microsoft head honcho Steve Ballmer seems to think he can buy his way into the smartphone market that Microsoft abdicated over the last few years.  

Nokia and Microsoft both have seen Apple eat their market share with the viral iPhone and iOS since it was launched. At one time Microsoft had some traction in the semi-smart phone market with its rather primitive phone software. The market shunned the Microsoft OS as it was light years behind Apple's iOS. Nokia, likewise, had a giant share of the dumb phone market and has seen its share drop dramatically since the iPhone 1 taught the world what a true smartphone could do.  

A few weeks back the CEO of Nokia famously pounded his chest with a visceral proclamation of defeat at the hands of Apple and Android. The dumb phone market is...

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Mar 07
Greg's bite: Flummoxed defined

By Greg Mills

While I think I have a pretty good vocabulary at my disposal, the word "flummoxed", which Steve Jobs used when he dropped the iPad 2 bomb on the PC market, perplexed me.  

I was pretty sure he wasn't complementing the competition, but I had to Google the word to fully understand what he was saying. Having studied up on the word flummox and it's deviates, I thought it might be fun to define the word in the context of the PC market, in a way everyone would fully appreciate. 

Flummoxed comes from the transitive verb "flummox." The origins of the word are unknown, but the earliest documented use of the word goes back to 1837. Merriam-Webster uses the sentence "an actor who's easily flummoxed by any changes in the script" as an example of the proper use of the word. "Confuse" is similar to the basic intent of the word.  

Flummoxed synonyms listed by Merriam...

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Mar 07
Study says casual games can reduce depression, anxiety

Okay, gamers, here's some fodder for your argument that games are good for you. Well, it's fodder if you're a "casual gamer."

East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic recently revealed the results of a year-long randomized, controlled clinical study that measured the efficacy of so-called “casual” video games (CVGs) in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety as a co-morbid condition. Nearly 60 subjects, half of whom served as controls, all meeting the criteria of clinical depression, participated in the study, which involved three family-friendly, non-violent puzzle games: Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures. (Taken note that all of the games are made by PopCap Games, underwriter of the study.)
 
The hypothesis was tested using technologies including psycho-physiological, biochemical and psychological measurements, and found an average reduction in depression symptoms of 57% in the experimental (“video game”) group. The...

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Mar 04
Consumers not ready to embrace cloud-based solution

I've long been skeptical about cloud-based solutions, at least solutions that are totally cloud-based. Apparently, I'm not the only one.

The industry is rapidly moving content solutions to the cloud, but consumer interest is not keeping pace, as less than 30% of U.S. broadband households find the digital locker an attractive alternative for music or video, according to Parks Associates (http://www.parksassociates.com).

A new report from the international research firm, highlights the challenges within the industry, including device and format interoperability, consumer awareness, and security and delivery issues. Market fragmentation is also a major inhibitor, and efforts including Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem's (DECE) UltraViolet initiative and Disney's Studio All Access aim to overcome these barriers.

"In terms of rich media, consumers want everything, everywhere,...

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Mar 03
Apple eyeing Mac technology for serving multiple...

An Apple patent (number 2011054880) has appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office that shows that Apple is planning on beefing up its Mac OS X and iOS technology for special needs students. The patent is for a system to accommodate disabilities of several students at once.

Techniques and systems for content transformation between devices are disclosed. In one aspect, a system includes a host device that sends content to client devices, and client devices that receive content from the host device in one format and transform the content into a different format. The client devices present the transformed content to users.

In another aspect, the host device presents content in a native format, determines that a client device requires the content to be in a different format, converts the content to a reference format, and sends the converted content to the client device. Christopher B. Fieizach is the inventor.

Here's Apple's background and summary of the...

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Mar 03
The iPad 2 looks to be a solid upgrade, if not...

So much for the iPad 2 being a disappointment. My iPad is going to my son, and I'll certainly be getting an iPad 2.

The second incarnation is thinner (33%), lighter (1.3 pounds compared to 1.5 pounds), has a much faster processor (the dual-core A5), two cameras (I was only expecting one) and more. The Smart Cover looks very, very cool. What's not to love?

Well, if you were expecting the rumored doubling (quadrupling?) of the screen resolution, you'd be disappointed. But I never expected that to happen (though it will reach 2048x1536, eventually). If you were expecting a Thunderbolt port, you might be let down. But I'm not really sure that's feasible or necessary.

Actually, there are three items I would have loved to have seen. One: a 128GB model; 64GB fills up pretty quickly if you're dealing with digital media. Two: I'd love to have seen either an SD card slot or a USB connector for added capacity. Three: wireless syncing with my Mac.

Still, it's an...

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Mar 03
Apple may have bigger plans for Faces, Places

An Apple patent (number 20110050706) for modifying graphical paths has appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Offices. It indicates that Apple has plans to further beef up the Faces and Places features of iPhoto -- and perhaps incorporate such technology in other apps, as well.

A computing device includes a memory configured to store images and associated timing data. The computing device also includes a processor configured to execute instructions to perform a method that includes producing a graphical path on a digital map that represents positions associated with the images. The positions are estimated from the timing data associated with the images. The method also includes modifying the graphical path based upon data that represents user provided adjustments to the estimated positions of the images. The method also includes presenting the modified path. The inventors are Tim Cherna, Nikhil Bhatt and Alexander David Wallace.

Here's Apple's background and...

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Mar 03
Apple patents involve iCal, audio decoding more

Apple has been granted a patent involving iCal. Also, several other patents have popped up at the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Patent number 20110054976 involves scheduling of recurring calendar events, a feature of iCal. Methods, systems, and computer-readable media for scheduling a recurring event are disclosed. When a calendar application receives an invitation from an organizer to an invite, the calendar application expands the recurring event into a plurality of occurrences, and detects any scheduling conflicts that can be caused by each of the plurality of occurrences. The calendar application notifies the invitee of the detected scheduling conflicts before the invitee makes a decision regarding the invitation.

An invitee is provided an opportunity to accept only the non-conflicting occurrences of the recurring event. If the invitee chooses to accept only the non-conflicting occurrences, the invitee is given opportunities to respond to each of the...

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Mar 02
One small step closer to the day of cutting the cable...

Good news of sorts for those of us who hope that, somewhere down the line, a device such as the Apple TV can free us from cable and satellite TV fees. However, to challenge the cable and satellite TV industry's dominance in the living room, online video services need hit movies and TV shows to attract viewers, and access to high-speed Internet networks to reach them.

Until now we've had no rights to either. However, that's changing. To win government approval to take over NBC Universal last month, cable giant Comcast has agreed to let online rivals such as Netfllix license NBC programming, including hit shows such as "30 Rock" and "The Office," reports the "Associated Press" (http://macte.ch/LG4Ya). Comcast also agreed not to block its 17 million broadband subscribers from watching video online through services such as Netflix and iTunes, the article adds.

Those requirements by the Federal...

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Mar 01
Apple working on ways to 'wake up' your Mac...

Two Apple patents at the US Patent & Trademark Office show that Apple is dedicated to making your Mac "wake up" faster whether or not it's equipped with a solid state drive (which is faster than the traditional hard disk drive).

Patent number 7899923 is for a method and apparatus for waking up a sleeping system. It relates to a method and an apparatus for waking up a sleeping system that resides on a computer network.

One embodiment of the present invention provides a system that wakes up a sleeping target system located on a target LAN (Local Area Network) from a remote system located on a remote LAN. Because the sleeping target system is in a sleep state, it receives packets of a lower-layer protocol which cannot be used by the remote system to directly send packets to the sleeping target system. During operation, the remote system creates a wake-up packet. The remote system then uses a second protocol to send the wake-up packet to a relay agent located on the...

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Mar 01
The Northern Spy: some things old, some things new

By Rick Sutcliffe

For the last two months the Spy has digressed from the reader's usual fare to cover two endemic ethical issues -- to wit, the misconduct of the spammer, and that of the rogue board member. For March, there are many interesting technology news items to consider. To complete the title, the Spy may borrow a rumour or two, and will certainly consider things Blue (-Ray, that is.)

New products are now in the stores, as Apple has released the expected iteration of the Mac Book Pro. The main item of interest, besides the number of cores in a portable, is the new high speed data channel -- Thunderbolt, which incorporates and subsumes the display port. What does this mean for the longer term?

° That as usual Apple is a good year ahead of the pack in introducing new technology,

° Far higher data transfer speeds, as manufacturers of disk drives adopt the new interface,

° Apple now seems unlikely to adopt USB 3.0, include...

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Mar 01
TRIM support in Mac OS X Lion is overdue

One of the nice surprises (though it shouldn't have been a surprise) in the Mac OS X Lion preview that Apple released last week is the addition of TRIM support. Since the long-term future of the Mac is with solid state drives, it's about time added this.

A TRIM command allows an operating system to inform an SSD which data blocks, such as those belonging to a deleted file or affected by a format command, are no longer being used so can be wiped internally. That's important because the low-level operation of SSDs differs from traditional hard disk drives in the way operating systems handle operations like deleting and formatting. TRIM enables the SSD to handle garbage collection overhead which would otherwise significantly slow down future write operations to the involved blocks, in advance. In other words, it helps maintain optimal performance and extend the life of your SSD.

Mac OS X 10.6 doesn't optimally handle SSDs. All versions of OS X up to Lion treat SSDs as a...

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Mar 01
Apple granted iPhone 4, iChat, keyboard patents

Apple has been granted patents for the iPhone 4, iChat and the Apple Keyboard (apparently both the wired and wireless versions) by the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Patent D633493 is for the iPhone 4. The inventors are Jody Akana, Bartley Andre, Daniel Coster, Jeremy Bataillou, Daniele De Iuliis, Evans Hankey, Richard Howarth, Jonathan Ive, Steve Jobs, Duncan Kerr, Shin Nishibori, Matthew Dean Rohrbach, Peter Russell-Clarke, Douglas Satzger, Christopher Stringer, Eugene Whang and Rico Zorkendorfer.

Patent number 7899170 is for a multi-participant conference set-up (iChat). The inventors are Jim Normile, Hyeonkuk Jeong, Joe Abuan, Ryan Salsbury and Berkat Tung.

Patent number D633,498 is for a keyboard. The inventors are Jody Akana, Bartley Andre, Daniel Coster, Jeremy Bataillou, Daniele De Iuliis, Evans Hankey, Richard Howarth, Jonathan Ive, Steve Jobs, Duncan Kerr, Shin Nishibori, Matthew Dean Rohrbach, Peter Russell-Clarke, Douglas Satzger, Christopher...

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Feb 28
Greg's bite: FaceTime, Mac to iPhone

By Greg Mills

Apple continues to tweak telephony technology with a real world video phone application called FaceTime. While FaceTime between iPhone 4 users was already up and running, FaceTime between Macs and iPhones is new. SInce all new Macs have a front facing camera and 99% hook up to the Internet, connecting Macs to the telephone network is pretty much a slam dunk.

My wife uses Yahoo to chat with her relatives in the Philippines computer to computer.  FaceTime between Mac is also established but FaceTime between Macs and iPhones is what is new. I predict that the front facing iPads that are about to be released will also do that trick.  

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Apple may well be ramping up a cell phone network using excess capacity of existing sell phone companies with technology patented by Apple invented by Tony Fadell. Imagine the entire system of Macs and iPads via the Internet connecting with iPhones that are subscribed to...

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Feb 28
Younger adults leading the way in increased mobility

Many devices have become popular across generations, with a majority of adults now owning cell phones, laptops and desktop computers. And that doesn't appear to be changing, which is good news for several companies, especially Apple.

Younger adults are leading the way in increased mobility, preferring laptops to desktops and using their cell phones for a variety of functions, including Internet, email, music, games and video, according to a study by Pew Research (http://www.pewresearch.com). Among the findings:

° Cell phones are by far the most popular device among American adults, especially for adults younger than age 65. Some 85% of adults own cell phones. Taking pictures (done by 76% of cell owners) and text messaging (done by 72% of cell owners) are the two non-voice functions that are widely popular among all cell phone users.

° Desktop computers are the most popular with adults...

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Feb 24
New MacBook Pro or iMac?

Well, Apple, you've made my life difficult. When I upgrade my Mac next time will I go with an iMac or a MacBook Pro? I'll probably stick with the former as my 27-inch iMac is my favorite computer ever. On the other hand, one model in particular of the MacBook Pro tempts me.


That's the 2.2GHZ quad-core 15-incher. Sandy Bridge processors? Check. Thunderbolt technology? Sweet. Integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384MB of DDR3SDRAM shared with the main memory and the ability to switch between these integrated graphics chips and the more powerful discrete graphics processors from AMD? Lovely. A new FaceTime HD camera with 720p resolution? Nice.

If I ordered the MacBook Pro, I'd go for the standard model, though I'd substitute a 500GB 7200 RPM drive for the 7250GB 5400 RMP drive (you can do that at no extra charge).

On the other hand, I'm sure Apple will upgrade the iMac soon -- and I'll certainly get more bang for my buck. Way more hard disk space. Probably a...

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Feb 24
Apple plans to simplify info sharing between Macs, iOS...

Apple plans to make it easier to share info between Macs and iOS devices, as evidenced by a patent (number 20110047598) for device identity matching at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The technology is related to identifying devices based on their owner, and more specifically related to recognizing commonly owned devices, and devices owned by contacts, to authorize network connections between the devices.

Per the patent, devices are identified by their owners and authorization to network two or more devices is based on device ownership. Data structures such as address books can store information about an owner of a device and maintain an entry indicating that a particular entry identifies the owner of the device. Other entries in the address book are contacts of the owner.

A host device can authorize a client for communication with the host based on a relationship between the owner of the client and the owner of the host as indicated by the presence of the...

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Feb 24
Future Apple laptops could sport touch screen lids

Future Apple laptops could sports touch sensitive controls on their covers/lids, per a new patent (number 20110043227) for a method and apparatus for capacitive sensing at the US Patent & Trademark Office.

The disclosure addresses methods and apparatus facilitating capacitive sensing using a conductive surface, and facilitating the sensing of proximity to the conductive surface. The sensed proximity will often be that of a user, but can be another source of a reference voltage potential. In some examples, the described systems are capable of sensing capacitance (including parasitic capacitance) in a circuit that includes the outer conductive surface, and where that outer conductive surface is at a floating electrical potential.

In some systems, the systems can be switched between two operating modes, a first mode in which the system will sense proximity to the conductive surface, and a second mode in which the system will use a capacitance measurement to sense...

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Feb 24
Will we see a new iMac today?

Rumors abound that Apple will announce a revamped line of MacBook Pros today. In fact, they may already have, as I'm penning this on Wednesday evening. Will we see new iMacs, as well?

In a report (http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20110221PD220.html) touching on Apple's anticipated MacBook Pro refresh, DigiTimes suggested that Apple may also update its iMac line either alongside or soon after the notebook line's update. In addition, the iMac update may see a change in screen size offerings from the current 21.5- and 27-inch models, the article adds.

Apple's iMac line of desktops were last updated in July 2010 with Intel's Core i3, i5 and i7 processors and ATI Radeon graphics. The current lineup has a starting price of $1,199. I'm rather dubious that we'll see new iMacs today, though, if we don't, I think we'll see them soon.

If DigiTimes is...

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Feb 24
Apple patents involve cache management, call paths

Two new Apple patents involving cache management and call path enforcement have appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Patent number 20110043528 is for cache management for glyph display. This is directed to managing a cache size for glyphs used to display text or other information in an electronic device. In particular, this is directed to defining a variable hit rate for retrieving glyphs loaded in cache to limit the number of times the device is required to read glyphs from storage.

The hit rate can vary based on any suitable number or type of factors, including for example the characters previously displayed or to be displayed in the future, the system requirements for system memory, or any other suitable factor. In some embodiments, the hit rate can vary when characters in a second alphabet are displayed among or after characters in a first alphabet (e.g., Japanese characters in a listing of Latin characters). The inventors are Dmitriy Solomonov,...

| Read more »
Feb 23
Some predictions on the iPhone 5

With techies and enthusiasts in mind, risk manager Tony Harvey and his team of oddsmakers at Bookmaker.com, an online sportsbook, have calculated the odds on what’s to come for the iPhone 5, expected this summer. Here is what the odds look like: 
 
Will the iPhone 5 have a 4-inch screen or larger?
Yes: -1000 (90%)
No: +400   (20%)
 
Will the device have a 10-megapixel camera or better?
Yes: +250 (28%)
No: -500 (83%)
 
Will the device feature a physical keyboard?
Yes: +150 (40%)
No: -200 (66%)
 
Will the device have a sliding cover?
Yes: +1000 (1%)
No: -5000 (99%)
 
Will the device be thinner than previous versions?
Yes: +1000  (1%)
No: -400 (80%)
 
[The +/- Indicates the Return on the Wager. The percentage is the likelihood that response will occur. For Example: Betting on the candidate least likely to win would earn the most amount of money, should...

| Read more »
Feb 22
Apple patent hints at Macs with stylus-based input...

Apple is at least considering a pen/stylus-based input system (as well as voice recognition) for future Macs. A patent (number 7894641) for a method and apparatus for acquiring and organizing ink information in pen-aware computer systems has appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office.

An ink manager running at a computer system receives ink information entered at a pen-based input/display device and accumulates the ink information into ink strokes. The ink manager communicates with a handwriting recognition engine and includes an ink phrase termination engine that is configured to detect the occurrence of one or more ink phrase termination events by examining the ink information.

Upon the occurrence of an ink phrase termination event, the ink manager notifies the handwriting recognition engine and organizes the preceding ink strokes into an ink phrase data structure. The ink manager may also pass the ink phrase to an application executing on the computer system...

| Read more »
 
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