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Oct 04
Greg's bite: hands on with the Apple TV

By Greg Mills

FedEx delivered my Apple TV device Friday. It was such a small package it sort of surprised me.  When when the packaging came off it was even smaller than I had even first thought. Slickly packaged in the typical Apple retail box, the cord, remote controller and instructions were artfully packed.  

Note that this is the 187th remote control in this house. Due to controller command conflicts with my great but discontinued Apple HiFi sound system, I had to put some black electrical tape over the window air conditioner's RF eye. Remote controllers reproduce like rabbits around here.  Turning the sound system on and off with the remote used to also turn the window air conditioner on and off as well. Reminds me of a time in my youth when I installed a radio in my cousin's car and turning the radio on also opened the passenger window. Oops, I guess I drilled a hole into a hidden wiring harness.   

It was a snap to hook the Apple TV up...

| Read more »
Oct 01
Greg's bite: Building a house upon the sand

By Greg Mills

The Stuxnet worm news continues to resonate around the world regarding the malware that hides in Microsoft Windows operating systems and is still infecting industrial control systems. As civilians, this seems a bit out of our area of concern, until we really understand the implications and solutions.  

Most of us can agree that the nuclear reactor and uranium enrichment facilities in Iran that is being targeted represents a serious threat to the free world. However, the "blowback" from this attack may be unexpected catastrophic manmade industrial disasters down the line. Most experts think the target of Stuxnet has already been hit, and we are now seeing the collateral damage. We do know there was some sort of "accident" that hit the uranium enrichment facility that the Iranians are not talking about.

We live in a world infrastructure operated by countless computer systems. These control systems operate the valves and switches...

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Oct 01
Maybe next iMac will see updated speakers, tweaked...

While we're waiting for the next rev of the iMac -- which should be next spring or summer if Apple maintains its usual update schedule -- I'm happy to speculate about what features I'd like. And, no, I'm not going to reiterate my plea for Blu-ray playback (well, okay, just briefly -- please, Steve). Instead I'd like to call for improved speakers and an even better display.

The downward firing speakers in the all-in-one iMac are decent 2.1 speakers. However, Apple could do better. I don't really like comparing a Mac to a PC, but I think Acer may be onto something with the audio system in its new Aspire AZ3100-U3072 -- is that a boring moniker or what? -- which sports high-def 5.1 channel audio and a display with true 1080p resolution.

The Acer system is only US$599. Surely, those are features that Apple can add to a machine that costs more (but is certainly worth the moolah).

Or consider the The Wind Top AE2420 3D from MSi, which delivers 2.1 channel surround sound...

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Sep 30
Apple patents involve camera flashes, backlights, more

Several Apple patents have appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office. Following is a summary of each.

Patent number 20100238344 is for an electronic device having a camera flash redirector. An electronic camera device has an imaging sensor to capture an image of a scene, a flash to illuminate the scene for capture by the sensor, and an evaluator to detect a condition in the scene. A redirector shifts the peak of a spatial energy profile of light from the flash. The peak is shifted from being aimed at one region in the scene to being aimed at another region in the scene, in response to the evaluator having detected the condition in the scene. Other embodiments are also described and claimed. The inventor is Richard Tsai.

Patent number 20100244701 involves temperature based, white point control in backlights. Systems, methods, and devices are provided for maintaining a target white point on a light emitting diode based backlight...

| Read more »
Sep 30
Apple wants to beef up audio system for the iPhone

An Apple patent (20100246855) for a dynamic audio parameter adjustment using touch sensing has appeared at the US Patent and Trademark Office for . It describes a new audio sensory system for iOS devices -- or at least the iPhone.

An audio communications device has a handset in which a touch sensing ear piece region is coupled to an acoustic leakage analyzer. The acoustic leakage analyzer is to analyze signals from the touch sensing ear piece region and on that basis adjust an audio processing parameter. The latter configures an audio processor which generates an audio receiver input signal for the device. Other embodiments are also described and claimed. The inventor is Shaohai Chen.

Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "People have long been accustomed to making telephone calls using a handset whose earpiece portion the user typically presses up against her ear (in order to better hear the voice of the other party.) As mobile phones became...

| Read more »
Sep 30
Future versions of Mac OS X could include virtual...

An Apple patent (number 20100245250) for virtual input tools hint at some potentially fascinating developments in upcoming versions of the Mac OS X.

A virtual input device, e.g., a virtual representation of a physical input device, is disclosed. In one aspect, virtual coordinates of the virtual input device correlate to real coordinates on the physical input device. Dimensions of the physical input device are proportional to dimensions of the virtual input device, and interactive objects are presented in the virtual input device. The inventor is John O. Louch.

Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "Traditional user interfaces allow a user to navigate between one or more interface elements (e.g., application windows) through the use of physical input devices (e.g., a keyboard, mouse, trackpad or touchpad). For example, a user can press a combination of keys (e.g., Command+Tab) on a keyboard to cycle between the one or more interface elements. As...

| Read more »
Sep 30
Greg's bite: Apple TV, iOS developers, the...

By Greg Mills

Today there are a number of interesting issues in Apple news. The Apple TV is being sliced, diced and analyzed.  

"iFixIt" and others quickly took their new Apple TV device apart and posted pictures of the internal parts. I have not found a list of parts norApple's part costs and assembly estimate, but as with the original AppleTV there may not be much profit in them. It is very common for companies selling video content delivery devices to sell them at a loss to get their "box" in our living rooms. They bet on the long-term profit of selling content and are willing to take a hit on the device up front. My Apple TV device is on the way from China and as of this morning is at the FedEx facility in Anchorage, Alaska.  

A classic example of this marketing approach is the Sony Playstation 3. It was estimated Sony took up to an US$200 loss on each early version of that game console they sold. They were betting the fees...

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Sep 30
What should Apple do with Final Cut Pro?

In February it was announced that Apple had cut some staff working on its Final Cut video editing software suite. Some folks took it as a bad sign, that Apple was ignoring the software -- indeed, all its pro level software - to focus on consumer products (specifically, iOS devices). So what should Apple do with Final Cut Pro?

February's cuts could represent the end of an upgrade development cycle, as the next version upgrade of Final Cut could already be in preparation. Or it could be a bad sign for Final Cut Pro.

Philip Hodgetts, president of Intelligent Assistance, feels that Apple isn't abandoning the software, and I think he's right. Hodgetts feels Apple is planning an update that will "see Apple at least catching up to its competitors with 64-bit nativity, 4K and larger timeline support; native support for media that currently has to be transcoded or rewrapped into a QuickTime container, the ability to use all the processor cores to their fullest and better media...

| Read more »
Sep 29
Greg's bite: Apple hogs the news/Stuxnet update

By Greg Mills

The Pew Research people have confirmed what everyone in the tech news industry already knew: Apple hogs the tech news space. Mainstream news commonly has stories about Apple products or goings on. As Apple has risen in the last few months to be the second most highly valued company in the world, every peep out of Steve Jobs' mouth has been tech head lines.

According to the research on the amount of press different companies get, Apple leads the pack by a wide margin. Google comes in second, with Microsoft getting only one-fifth the press space as Apple. Further, most of the Apple news has been positive. Even when "Antennagate" blew up, the press was still pretty forgiving and covered the news on the issue with breathless anticipation.  The entire time, Apple was selling the iPhone 4 as faster than they could make them.

The reasons why Apple is so interesting are many. First of all, the secrecy at Cupertino is legendary. It is...

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Sep 29
Could regime change make NBC more receptive to Apple...

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker says (ttp://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2010/09/24/nbc-universal-president-jeff-zucker-step/#content) he'll step down after cable provider Comcast takes control of the company later this year. The news came as Jonathan Klein, president of CNN, was fired and replaced by Ken Jautz, the head of the network's sister channel HLN.

This is, of course, the same NBC that repeatedly refuses to place content on iTunes. While I'm sure this isn't the only -- or even the main issue -- it is certainly indicative of bad decision making. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?

It also makes me wonder if the regime change will mean that NBC might be more receptive to Apple's overtures? On the other hand, based on the way Comcast has ben jacking up their cable rates, the change might not be a good thing.

| Read more »
Sep 28
Apple granted patent for antennas for wireless devices

Apple has been granted a patent (number 7,804,453) for antennas for wireless devices. The invention relates to antennas, and more particularly, to dielectric antenna windows that allow antennas to operate from within electronic devices such as laptop computers.

Antenna window structures and antennas are provided for electronic devices. The electronic devices may be laptop computers or other devices that have conductive housings. Antenna windows can be formed from dielectric members. The dielectric members can have elastomeric properties. An antenna may be mounted inside a conductive housing beneath a dielectric member. The antenna can be formed from a parallel plate waveguide structure. The parallel plate waveguide structure may have a ground plate and a radiator plate and may have dielectric material between the ground and radiator plates.

The ground plate can have a primary ground plate portion and a ground strip. The ground strip may reflect radio-frequency...

| Read more »
Sep 28
Apple patents involve encoding, interfaces, media...

Apple has been granted three patents by the US Trademark and Patent Office. Patent number 7,804,897 is for a method for implementing an improved quantizer in a multimedia compression and encoding system.

Some embodiments limit the changes to a buffer occupancy accumulator with respect to a target number of bits of the current frame. Limiting the change of the buffer occupancy accumulator will prevent one odd significantly different frame from significantly changing the quantization. Some embodiments improve upon the quantizer adjustment by making more accurate estimates of the amount of information needed to encode each macroblock. Specifically, some embodiments estimate the bits per macroblock in a manner that varies from frame type to frame type.

Specifically, for frame types with motion compensation, some embodiments exploit the correlation between the complexity of the macroblock and the number of bits needed. In the case of frame types without...

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Sep 28
Greg's bite: more on the Iranian worm

By Greg Mills

The Stuxnet Windows worm I wrote about recently has begun to spread uncontrollably through personal PCs in Iran, as well as being found in completely isolated industrial servers not even hooked up to the Internet.  

It's believed that there are now five previously unknown Windows vulnerabilities that have been used instead of four. Reports from Iran indicate that "the worm is mutating and wrecking further havoc on computerized industrial equipment. The attack is still ongoing and new versions of this virus are spreading." Talk about the Windows tax penalty ...

From what I have read, the worm hides in blocks of the Windows operating system code used to do utilitarian functions of a PC. The worm is hard to find and has a lot of tricks that it uses to hijack systems for industrial control devices. It misdirects operators with wrong information, reverses the instructions at the controlled device, as in "close the valve" instead of "...

| Read more »
Sep 28
Big Brother is watching -- and wants to watch more

I want to see terrorism fought as much as anyone, but where do we draw the line when it comes to our personal privacy. In yet another example of the federal government wanting more power, the Obama administration is developing plans that would require all Internet-based communication services -- such as encrypted BlackBerry e-mail, Facebook, and Skype -- to be capable of complying with federal wiretap orders, reports "Fox News" (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/09/27/seeking-expand-internet-wiret...).

According to a report published Monday by "The New York Times," national security officials and federal law enforcement argue their ability to eavesdrop on terror suspects is increasingly "going dark" as more communication takes place via Internet services, rather than by traditional telephone. The...

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Sep 27
The coming of Internet TV

The revamped Apple TV is due within the next few weeks. If Apple will finally take the device seriously, it has incredible potential as TV viewing is poised for some major changes in the years ahead.

A new report from Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/bb5c9e/internet_televisio) says the television industry is at the beginning of a generational change which will eventually see a new type of television service -- Internet Television -- being delivered directly to TV sets in broadband-enabled households around the globe. In the end, practically all new TV sets will incorporate Internet television functionality as a standard feature that viewers will be able to use alongside their existing television services.

With the Apple TV Apple could beat everyone to the punch.

By 2014...

| Read more »
Sep 27

Greg's bite: Viacom's CEO doesn't get...

By Greg Mills

The newer "go-to-market" models for digital video content that took Blockbuster down, (NetFlix and on-demand cable TV) is also threatening over-the-air broadcasting.  Rabbit ears don't hack it anymore.  

Broadcast TV is becoming a class-defining technology.  People who have the money to spend on entertainment are going to alternative ways to obtain video content. The numbers are disturbing to the broadcast industry, which relies on heavy advertising to survive. Even in the deepest recession in the living memory of the American public, the share of viewers watching "free" broadcast TV (over-the-air) are declining. Frankly, when almost half of over-the-air programing is advertising, it is no wonder those who can afford to get TV other ways do so. 

The content providers are getting used to a steady stream of money from cable and satellite TV systems. There is a small amount paid per customer to each channel provided. This amounts to...

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Sep 24
Greg's bite: the Stuxnet virus attack on Iran

By Greg Mills

Apple computer became the second most valuable company in the world. The valuation has a long ways to go as the market share of Apple products are still small compared to the overall market. Buy Apple stock folks ...

Departing from my normal focus on things Apple, there are stories around the web on an interesting virus or worm attack that some very well funded hackers have unleashed upon Iran's nuclear weapons program. The Stuxnet virus was able to concentrate on infecting and spreading on control servers, not connected to the Internet, by way of hiding on USB thumb drives used to transfer other data from server to server. The virus is of course a Windows bit of malware, so Macs are unaffected.

I was somewhat surprised that Israel and the Untied States allowed the Iranian nuclear reactor, built by our good friends the Russians, to go on line a few weeks ago. The threat of an Islamic bomb under the control of radicals is a...

| Read more »
Sep 24
The Mac, not the iPad, is the 'Mac for the masses...

I always like hearing Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster's take on Apple's outlook. I think he's usually on target (though I think he's off base in predicting that Apple will introduce its own line of HDTVs within two years), but I think he's a bit off base when he calls the iPad the "Mac for the masses."

In a note to clients Thursday, Munster predicts that Apple will sell 21 million iPads in 2011. That's more than he had previously predicted due, he says, to t broader distribution, an international rollout and enterprise demand. For those reasons he dubs the iPad the "Mac for the masses."

However, I'll continue to maintain that the Mac is the "Mac for the masses." After all, its market share is, by some reports, nearing 10% in the US. I think it will reach that goal as the iPad, iPod and iPhone lines have a "halo effect" of luring more people to the Mac. Plus, despite the miserable economy, for the fiscal 2010 third quarter that ended June 26, Apple shipped 34.7...

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Sep 23
Greg's bite: TV's changing channel

By Greg Mills

Things are starting to fall into place on the Apple TV front. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, as expected, under great market pressure from NetFlix and RedBox. Apple will seal the doom of Blockbuster by adding one more strong competitor to the mix of TV content providers.  

Blockbuster expects to shed about US$900,000 million of debt and leases by going bankrupt. While they will be leaner and meaner, it is far from certain they will survive.

Blockbuster's biggest problem is that they were way too slow to abandon the business model that had worked for so many years. Putting in brick and mortar stores in every town and lining the shelved with TV and game content in physical form worked for a long time. They rented the titles and had to purchase all the content in vast quantities, distribute and keep a running inventory of all those VCT tapes, DVD disks and game disks. They had to sign leases on the store fronts for period of years...

| Read more »
Sep 23
Apple working on camera technology for upcoming iOS...

Apple is working on technology for upcoming cameras in iPhones, iPod touches, probably the iPad and perhaps other devices. A patent (number 20100238344) for an electronic device having a camera flash redirector has appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office.

An electronic camera device has an imaging sensor to capture an image of a scene, a flash to illuminate the scene for capture by the sensor, and an evaluator to detect a condition in the scene. A redirector shifts the peak of a spatial energy profile of light from the flash. The peak is shifted from being aimed at one region in the scene to being aimed at another region in the scene, in response to the evaluator having detected the condition in the scene. Other embodiments are also described and claimed in the patent. The inventor is Richard Tsai.

Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "In photography, there has been recognized the need for providing flash illumination, at an angle that is...

| Read more »
Sep 23
Apple wants to shrink audio jacks on future iPhones,...

An Apple patent for an audio jack with pogo pins for conductive contacts has appeared at the US Patent & Trademark Office showing that Apple plans to build even smaller headphone jacks in upcoming iPhones and iPods.

The patent involves an audio jack that can allow electrical connections between an audio plug and an electronic device. The audio jack can include a series of pogo pins operative to extend into an audio jack cavity to provide conductive contacts for an audio plug placed within the audio jack. When an audio plug is inserted in the audio jack, the deflectable tips of each pogo pin can deflect and contact audio plug contact portions or regions. The end of the pogo pins opposite the deflectable tips can be coupled to an appropriate electronic device component, such as a printed circuit board, flex circuit, cable, or any other suitable component to provide a conductive path for signals between the audio plug and the electronic device. The inventors are Sean Murphy...

| Read more »
Sep 23
iPad could be a boon to the book industry

For those who think technology is killing pastimes such as reading, well, think again. In fact, the iPad as an ebook reader could actually be a boon to the book industry.

Currently, just one in 10 Americans (8%) uses an electronic reader device of some kind, according to a new Harris Poll of 2,775 adults surveyed online between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16 by Harris Interactive (http://www.harrisinteractive.com). But that will change -- and perhaps publishers should be glad.

Those who have eReaders do, interestingly, read more. Overall, two in five Americans (40%) read 11 or more books a year with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year (19%). But among those who have an eReader, over one-third read 11-20 books a year (36%) and over one-quarter read 21 or more books in an average year (26%).

eReader users are also more likely to buy books. One in five Americans (21%) say they...

| Read more »
Sep 22
What your gadgets reveal about you

By Andrew Eisner

Whether you're a Mac or a PC, an iPhone, Android, or a BlackBerry user, the gadgets you use say something about you. Based on Retrevo's 2010 Gadget Census, gadget owners exhibit different behavior and characteristics depending on which gadget camps they belong to. Here's a list of some of the more interesting conclusions we've drawn from looking at the gadgets people use in thousands of households across the country and around the world.

Mac Owners Buy More Apple Products

It may not come as a big surprise that computer owners who indicated they use the Mac OS as their primary OS, purchase more iPhones and other Apple gear. In fact, households, where the Mac OS is listed as the primary OS, purchase more than three times as many iPhones and almost 6 times as many iPads.

Once You Go Mac You Never Go Back

Although Windows still dominates Mac OS by a very large margin, the Gadget...

| Read more »
Sep 22
Greg's bite: RIM's BlackPad iPad killer?

By Greg Mills

As I read iPhone/iPad killer stories on the web, I am always amused that a "too late to the party, me too" product would be launched with the wild idea of actually replacing Apple's products.

Frankly, most of the competitors would be happy to not actually loose money on their device, and the notion of killing the Apple product is a headline used by journalists to attract readers. Apple is too well established to be displaced with some suddenly released stronger competitor.  The real risk is Apple being reduced, over time market share wise, by a slew of similar product that dilute the market. Note that "similar" means fully similar in both function and price. So far any real competitors to iPad are vaporware or pads lacking a critical ingredient to actually compete.   

Android is the only real threat in the long term to iPhone, but since it is open source and relies on third party hardware, it is unlikely to beat the smoothly...

| Read more »
Sep 22
Time to ban the sale of ultraviolent video games to...

Do you think ultraviolent video games should be sold to minors? I don't, and apparently most adults agree with me.

Common Sense Media, a national non-profit organization "dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology," has released the results of a nationwide parent poll that revealed nearly three-quarters of adults would support a law that prohibits minors from purchasing ultraviolent or sexually violent video games without parental consent.

The video game industry has aggressively fought -- in court -- a 2005 California law banning the sale of these games. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on November 2.

“The results of this poll clearly show that not only do the effects of ultraviolent or sexually violent games weigh heavily on the minds of parents, but also that parents feel the video game industry is not doing enough to protect kids from accessing these games,” says James Steyer, CEO and founder, Common Sense...

| Read more »
 
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