The Whens, Whats and Hows of iPad 3
Apple will reportedly introduce its iPad 3 to the world in the first week of March, with sales starting shortly thereafter. But whatever new abilities and traits the next iPad will feature is still anyone's guess. High-res screens and larger batteries are a couple of much-talked-about possibilities. Meanwhile, Symantec gets in a tangle, the Android Market gets a bouncer, and the FTC gets sued.
A Wall Street Journal report on Thursday gave Apple fans all the excuse they needed to indulge in some more speculation regarding the iPad 3 -- if that is its real name, and if whatever it is even exists. Apple's kind of tight-lipped about this stuff.
At this moment in the tablet universe, it's hard to guess what kind of grand and monumental new features Apple would want to add to the iPad. It already got its cameras, and it's already pretty damn thin. I'm sure a faster processor would be appreciated, but that's pretty much a given.
A faster CPU, though, might require more power, and more power could mean a bulkier battery. Is the iPad 3 going to be fatter than previous models? That would be strange -- and not necessarily in a good way.
Also, there's long been talk that the next iPad will have a super high-resolution display on par with the Retina display you see in the iPhone 4 and 4S.
Then there's the question of 4G. Apple disappointed some of its fans last year when it put forth an iPad 2 without 4G connectivity, but with that supposedly bigger battery on board, and now that the power requirements for 4G have come down, it might be a better fit. Besides, Android tablets are already getting in on 4G -- it's time to get moving.
Finally, price could be a surprise. Apple generally likes to keep pricing consistent for its new stuff, and over its first two models the iPad has cruised along at a $500 starting point. At first, other tablet makers made that look almost like a steal -- some were pricing their own products well above half a grand, leaving Apple's tablet to play the unusual role of the "cheap" product. But last year Amazon kicked a major downward dent in the price structure of the tablet market with the $200 Kindle Fire.
So where does Apple go from here? It might just do the same thing it always does when it has a new phone or tablet: Hold the line with pricing on the brand-new stuff and sell the old stuff at a discount. It's kind of a half-hearted way to address the middle and lower ends of a market -- don't create anything new, just sell off the dated inventory. But the middle and lower ends have never been Apple's favorite places to hang out anyway.
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iPhone Is a Harsh Mistress
Last quarter, the iPhone was the best-selling smartphone in the world. Apple sold 37 million units. It was kind of a big deal.
So you'd think any carrier that managed to score a deal with Apple and sell iPhones for its network would be happily rolling around in a big pile of money right now, right? Not exactly. It seems that for wireless companies, sealing a deal with Apple for the iPhone is kind of like taking up high-stakes casino gambling as a part-time job. They do it because everyone else around them is doing it and they have to in order to keep up.
A case in point is Sprint, which last year became the newest iPhone carrier in the U.S. After years of watching customers hop the fence to AT&T and Verizon in order to get an iPhone, Sprint was finally able to convince Apple to let it join the club. It started selling the phones right when the latest model was released, it offered much more liberal data plans than its rivals, and it gained a whole bunch of brand-new customers.
But there was a big price tag on that. Sprint had to get deep under the covers with Apple and promise to buy more than $15 billion worth of iPhones over the next four years.
A quarter later, the results were fairly predictable: The carrier lost $1.3 billion, which is about $300 million more than it lost the same time a year earlier, when it didn't have an iPhone to sell. Much of that may have had to do with subsidy expenses, which climbed from $1.2 billion to $1.7 billion.
But at least the iPhone did chip in a measurable share of new revenue. The company hauled in 5 percent more for the quarter, having sold 1.8 million iPhones. It gained about 161,000 contract subscribers, and among contract payers, average monthly bill totals climbed about half a buck. Those contracts represent reliable revenue for two years.
Wall Street wasn't happy with the situation, though, and Sprint shares took a beating in reaction to the news. But if the alternative was letting Verizon and AT&T keep their U.S. lock on one of the most popular phones in the world, then Sprint's decision to put a giant stack of chips on the table and settle in to play the long game doesn't look so crazy at all.
Aren't You Going to Say Something?
Google Buzz is long gone, but its ghost still lingers, stinking up the room. The legacy of Google's failed experiment in social engineering isn't directly coming back to haunt the company just yet, but it could be on its way, thanks to a lawsuit recently filed by EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
But EPIC isn't suing Google. It's suing the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, charging that the commission isn't doing its job.
The Google Buzz disaster drove the FTC to issue a consent order last October. It requires Google to refrain from misrepresenting its privacy policies and to get express user consent before sharing user data with a third party.
And according to EPIC, Google's about to be in violation of that agreement. It has to do with the new privacy policies the company plans to roll out March 1. Under the new system, Google will consolidate the privacy policies of over 60 of its Web services into a single, overarching set of rules. Also, it'll begin sharing user info across those sites -- so Google Maps will know what you've been up to in Gmail, for instance.
Now EPIC wants the FTC to stand up, take arms, enforce its order, and fight against Google's plans to enact those policies.
The FTC responded to the suit with the exciting revelation that it takes its own consent orders very seriously. Google said EPIC is just plain wrong.
But what about other privacy-minded agencies and think-tanks? Most have been at odds with companies like Google for years, so they're probably on the sidelines cheering as EPIC tells the FTC to get to work, right?
Well, some are. Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson called Google's policy changes arrogant and unilateral, and his group thinks it's clear that Google has violated the Buzz consent agreement.
However, not everyone sees it that way. For example, Justin Brookman at the Center for Democracy and Technology doesn't see where Google's upcoming policy changes involve third parties, which is something that was specified in the consent order. Google has to get permission from users to share data with outsiders, but it's arguable that's not what's going on here -- Google would only be sharing data with its other in-house services.
Not in My Market
Google's Android Market is the largest of many online open-air bazaars where Android users can buy apps. The place is known for the wide variety of software that can be found there, as well as the relative ease with which vendors can set up shop and start selling their wares.
Unfortunately, certain corners of the market and other Android app stores are also known as a breeding ground for malware. Download the wrong app, and suddenly your phone will develop a rash of ads breaking out all over its screen, or much worse. The best preventative measure for that is good judgement -- just don't install questionable apps from shady-sounding vendors.
But not everyone has good judgement, some users don't know what to look out for, and once in a while a malicious app will be well-disguised. One way or another, malware has become a growing presence on Android, so in order to prevent it from developing a reputation for being a petri dish crawling with infectious cyberdisease, Google has hired a cleaner.
It calls its new application "Bouncer," and its job is to keep the Android Market free of riffraff. Bouncer has actually been working behind the scenes for a while; only lately has Google decided to reveal its presence. It scans incoming apps, tests them in a sealed environment, and gives them the boot if it looks like they might cause trouble. Bouncer will even scan the accounts and profiles of the app's uploader for any evidence that they're malware pushers.
So Bouncer vets app makers and apps as they're submitted and kicks violators out the back door ... sounds a little like what Apple does with its iOS platform, if maybe less strict than the Cupertino way.
Under Bouncer, the Android Market may not be as wild and free as before. But even if Google takes several steps further than Bouncer and ends up completely walling the market off just like iTunes, Android could still be the freer platform. Even then, a user wouldn't have to jailbreak an Android in order to buy apps from other online marketplaces -- perhaps ones that really will let anyone and anything in the door.
pcAnywhere, Source Code Everywhere
Security vendor Symantec got it caught in a wringer recently when malicious hackers managed to swipe the source code of one of its products. Thieves pledging allegiance to the Anonymous collective have been poking and picking at Symantec for weeks with claims, threats and smaller code leaks. But they apparently turned it up to full-on gouge mode with the pcAnywhere code.
They started talking ransom.
pcAnywhere is an application used for remote desktop access. Many of its users are small businesses without in-house IT staffers to monitor security matters at all hours, so any compromise made to the product's security could make things especially difficult for them. And the leakage of a product's source code sure sounds like it would be a big, fat compromise.
But in this case, it seems that politically motivated mayhem was not an item on Anonymous' to-do list -- or at least it wasn't the top item anyway. It would appear that its top priority was money: An anon going by the moniker "Yamatough" attempted to squeeze $50,000 from Symantec in exchange for not releasing the code.
Sound a little dicey? It was. A guy writes you an email claiming to have source code for your product and wants 50 grand. How do you know he really has it? How do you make him prove it? What if it's all a ruse that's part of a much bigger game? And how do you know he won't just take your money and then turn around and resell the code to other bad guys? Code's kind of easy to reproduce.
Those are some of the issues Yamatough attempted to work through with Sam Thomas, supposedly a Symantec employee. The entire chain of email correspondence between the two was put on the Web. But the person Yamatough was speaking with was actually a federal agent brought in to handle the ransom situation. Somehow Yamatough picked up the scent, gave regards to the FBI, and took off running. And yes, the data was leaked to the world. pcAnywhere's code is now everywhere.
Of course this isn't the first time anyone's ever played hacking for dollars. But Anonymous usually seems to have a larger political gland than your average gang of hackers. Its members typically do what they do in order to make a point, not a buck. So was this just a rogue bunch of hackers who've glommed onto the Anonymous bandwagon for the sake of -- what? Name recognition?
It's all very unclear. After the deal went sour and Symantec's code was thrown to the four winds, the Twitter account AnonymousIRC -- about as official a channel as you can come by with this organization, since it has no real head -- asserted it was all done for charity. They were going to give it all to the Smile Foundation, which helps poor kids in India.
Then later, it claimed that Anonymous intended to release the code all along.