Thursday, December 05, 2013, 02:48 am PT (05:48 am ET)
Apple’s acquisition of tweet analytics firm Topsy is suggested to have all kinds of potential applications for the company, but in particular indicates both its closer embrace of social networking and its need for tools to glean meaningful value from the increasing mountains of data available to it.
Various industry observers have weighed in with opinions on exactly what interested Apple in Topsy. Daisuke Wakabayashi of the Wall Street Journal cited analysts’ immediate reactions to news of the purchase as likely being an effort to enhance recommendations in the iTunes Store, the relevancy of iAds, and a way to bolster the usefulness of Siri.
Like most of Apple’s previous acquisitions, Topsy was beyond an early prototype stage, already experienced in selling a product to clients. Topsy’s product provided deep analytics on Twitter’s current and archived stream of tweets. Were Apple only interested in harvesting useful trends from Twitter, it could have simply partnered with Topsy as a client.
Acquiring the goose for gold eggs
Apple typically buys companies that can offer an immediate feature, service or enhancement to its hardware customers. Recent “acqui-feature” examples include iAd, Touch ID, iTunes Radio and various components of Maps.
On the other hand, Apple hasn’t acquired a variety of companies that simply provide it with a particular service that it could access without owning them. This includes component makers and partners like Foxconn or Yahoo.
For example, Apple didn’t purchase GT Advanced Technologies; it simply signed a contract that fronted the firm working capital to obtain exclusive production.
Apple’s desire to own Topsy therefore suggests that the company wants more than just the Twitter analytics Topsy had been offering to anyone with money. There was no real sense of exclusivity offered by Topsy, as it was mining the same Twitter data available to other companies using similar tools.
Platform social integration
There are two obvious places where Apple could make use of Topsy as a product feature. The first is social media integration into Apple’s iOS and OS X platforms. So far, Apple’s social media integration features have simply involved contact syncing, status update posting and photo, video or link sharing.
By owning Topsy outright, Apple can integrate customized, direct access to trends from Twitter for its users. Tapping into the live Twitterverse from a specialized client app could enable iOS and Mac users to research sentiment, evaluate a product or business reputation and track location-specific trends and popular interest intensity.
Such a “social media browser” would parallel Apple’ development of its own Safari web browser, iMessage chat service, Maps and FaceTime apps as custom tools for research, discovery and interaction via the Internet. Like Siri, or combined with Siri, such a social browser could replace generic Google searches for a variety of tasks.
Given that Twitter’s #music app hasn’t fared much better than Apple’s Ping, it might make sense for Apple to use Topsy to build its own, integrated trending content service into iTunes, making Genius recommendations based on location and relationships gleaned from the communal aggregate of Twitter’s expressions.
Apple could also provide social analytics APIs to third party developers, enabling them to query Twitter from their apps in an advanced new level of social integration offered as an exclusive, differentiating feature of iOS devices and Macs.
This would follow the model of other “enabling technologies” Apple has launched, sometimes with obvious applications (like AirPlay, Siri or Maps), some supporting novel uses invented by third parties (like iPhone 4′s gyroscope) and some with broad applications still waiting to be fully exploited (such as face detection or Bluetooth LE iBeacons).
The more Apple improves iOS and OS X as platforms, the longer it will be able to leverage a rich ecosystem that attracts and retains both users and developers, a feature key in supporting Apple’s hardware sales.
Apple’s reputation for social sideline sitting
Initial reports on Apple’s acquisition of Topsy have often focused on the idea that Apple hasn’t previously embraced social media, at least not successfully. The company’s executives don’t blog, rarely tweet, and aren’t pushing Facebook-like profiles or user data collection and graphing as a primary company strategy.
However, Apple has been watching social Internet trends closely from the start. The web originally grew from hypermedia concepts that Apple helped to pioneer and popularize in the 1980s.
Apple created the original AppleLink graphical online service which was spun off as AOL and then cloned for the eWorld community in the early 1990s.
The company also explored social business collaboration with the early 90′s Apple Open Collaboration Environment package, which later developed into “CyberDog,” interactive, innovative web and internet component software the company later abandoned to other web browser client vendors.
The initial basis for following Internet news feeds and podcasts via RSS was laid by the Apple’s Advanced Technology Group in the mid 1990s before being improved upon by Netscape and Microsoft.
In 2000 Apple launched iTools, offering simple web hosting. In 2006, Apple launched iWeb as a graphical client app for developing easy to publish websites. However, it was a bit of a stretch to use iWeb for serious long form blogging, and the system wasn’t really useful at all for what became the most popular way to blog: microblogging short updates.
Microblogging gets social
Twitter and Facebook developed more successful models for sharing micro-sized comments, meme photos, video clips and other bits of very small, sporadic content that users could “like,” organize for later retrieval or forward to friends.
After an initial effort to integrate Facebook into iTunes was abandoned by Facebook in 2010, Apple floated its own independent Ping service that it subsequently canceled after losing a battle with spam and users’ indifference. Apple has also added social features to its iCloud services, albeit gaining only limited traction.
Apple’s greatest success in social networking has been to create a reliable mobile development platform and App Store ecosystem for iOS that has gestated the development of apps from Instagram to Vine to Snapchat. iOS is effectively a petri dish for culturing high volume social interest in innovative app experiments.
By enhancing its development platforms with direct hooks to social media chronological trends, topical data and location-based notifications, Apple can enhance its standing as the platform for Internet startup innovation, without even needing to operate its own network nor involve itself in the data collection and ad supported business models currently supporting social network services themselves.
Apple is also likely interested in using Topsy’s technology to analyze its own data. While Siri, iTunes/App Store recommendations and iAd targeting have all been cited as possible internal applications of Topsy’s tools, Apple has mountains of other data to glean value from.
For several years now, Apple has been the world’s largest music retailer. Having access to that kind of data has resulted in efforts like iTunes Genius, designed to recommend and sell more music. As Apple expands overseas, being able to mine location-relevant sentiment could inform the merchandizing and recommendation of iTunes media and apps.
Apple is also a major retailer of electronics, both online and globally in its 400+ retail stores. The company already studies how people walk through its stores, how they interact with sales people and how they navigate retail apps. Cross referencing these observations with public sentiment in real time could help enhance operations and inventory management, and improve responses to customer feedback over social media.
Apple had already demonstrated interest in building out iBeacons as a micro-location feature platform for retailers, and is logically expected to make innovative applications of the technology itself in its own stores.
Social location links
Increasingly over the past year, Apple also now has massive amounts of location data related to Maps. The company sees aggregate results of location-based searches and driving, walking and transit directions. Apple has tremendous needs for figuring out how to tease useful, valuable information out of these mountains of data.
This is clear from reviewing Apple’s maps-related job postings.
One recent listing for a “Maps Senior Data Scientist” stated, “the Maps Data Insights team has an opening for a craftsman skilled in Large Scale Data Mining and Machine Learning for making significant contributions in improving Apple Maps, involving the following techniques: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Large Scale Data Mining, Network Analysis, Information Retrieval, Probabilistic Modeling. These skills are required for developing models for identifying patterns and anomalies and for mining structured, semi-structured and unstructured data.”
Another listing described the same Maps Data Insights team as “chartered to look at various data signals, derive insights regarding map quality, and use those insights to drive improvements in Maps. Combining disparate signals such as community feedback and probe data to validate our maps is an opportunity that combines large scale data processing, analytics and visualization.”
Appe has already demonstrated efforts to use location and motion information to improve how its mobile devices work. Adding additional links between maps data and the location of users tweeting about products, locations and events could further inform traffic reports and destination routing in Maps, and help users schedule their day around travel delays in Calendar.
The recent releases of iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks both demonstrated that Apple plans to aggressively, incrementally enhance its development platforms, and that social networking features are playing and increasing role in that strategy. The acquisition of Topsy appears to closely fit into that game plan, while also giving Apple additional tools for harvesting meaningful information from its vast mountains of data.
Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/347518c1/sc/15/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C130C120C0A50Capple0Eincs0Etopsy0Eacquisition0Ehighlights0Eits0Einterest0Ein0Esocial0Emedia0Eanalytics0Etools/story01.htm
Thursday, December 05, 2013, 03:02 am PT (06:02 am ET)
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday published an Apple patent application detailing a full-function “smart dock” that continually listens for cues to activate and communicate with the voice recognition functions of docked devices, like the iPhone and iPad.
Apple’s “Smart dock for activating a voice recognition mode of a portable electronic device” filing clearly describes an iOS device accessory unlike anything the company has manufactured. Like third-party peripherals, Apple’s proposed dock can include a speaker, microphone and built-in screen, but goes further by allowing access to the Siri virtual assistant.
Currently, Apple’s only docking solutions for both the iPhone and iPad are limited to charging and line-out audio. In contrast, the proposed dock would have a screen, tactile controls or a touch panel with which a user can interface. Other embodiments include a scroll wheel, buttons and other manual controls.
Instead of carrying Siri onboard, the dock would be mostly headless until an iPhone or iPad was operatively coupled to the unit. Basic functionality like a clock and radio are provided, but voice recognition and heavy processing are accomplished by the iOS device.
Basically, the dock listens for a specific prompt, recognizes an activation request by the user, relays commands to the docked iPhone and executes any operations returned by the device. Examples could be playing a song or facilitating communication between the user and Siri.
In operation, a user would perform an initial setup that would include assigning an audio prompt, such as a spoken word or hand clap, that will be used to activate the unit and its services. For example, a user may want to set the prompt as a finger snap. When in listening mode, if the dock “hears” a finger snap, it will activate the iPhone’s voice recognition feature.
By setting listening thresholds, the dock can selectively filter out ambient noise while still allowing a user to operate their device remotely using only audio cues. Since the system relies primarily on audio input, an effective limiter must be implemented to ignore responses by Siri. In these scenarios, the dock would deactivate listening mode during voice recognition operations.
Internal components include a wireless communications module for accessing off-site databases and Internet assets like webpages or cloud storage. If, for example, a user wanted to change their schedule for the day, they could initiate Siri via the always-listening dock and modify a calendar stored in iCloud.
In addition to the built-in hardware, the dock can also be fitted with add-ons like a removable hard drive, environmental sensors, a GPS module and more. Some embodiments allow for the dock and iOS device to be paired but uncoupled, meaning the dock would transform into a sort of smart wireless speaker system.
Finally, users can force the dock to deactivate Siri by issuing a verbal command or other audio input. Alternatively, the dock itself can time out Siri voice recognition and put the iOS device to sleep after a predetermined time period. There is also a provision for wireless inductive charging.
Apple’s smart dock patent application was first filed for in May 2012 and credits Scott Krueger, Jesse Dorogusker and Erik Wang as its inventors.
Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/347530cc/sc/15/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C130C120C0A50Capples0Esmart0Edock0Ewould0Ebring0Esiri0Einto0Ethe0Ehome/story01.htm
Wednesday, December 04, 2013, 05:54 pm PT (08:54 pm ET)
A report on Wednesday claims Apple and China Mobile have finally inked a deal to sell the popular iPhone on the world’s largest wireless network, with devices supposedly heading out to customers later in December.
Citing sources close to the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple and China Mobile have struck a deal to make the iPhone available to the telecom’s 740 million subscribers.
The partnership has been a long time coming, with rumors of a possible China Mobile iPhone offering dating back years. Most recently, a China Mobile subsidiary in Suzhou opened preorder reservations for both the latest iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c through its website, though the page was subsequently replaced by a survey gauging customer demand for 4G devices.
With China Mobile’s unique TD-LTE network rollout coming in mid-December, many industry watchers expected sales for Apple’s smartphone to go live this month. A report from the state-run Xinhua News Agency in November cited insiders as saying both new iPhone models would, in fact, be available on the 4G network’s official Dec. 18 launch date.
China Mobile is the largest cellular carrier in the world, with some 740 million subscribers spread across the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and overseas. Of that massive number, only a fraction are 3G subscribers who would likely be the first to adopt faster, more expensive 4G technology. Even so, Apple is looking at well over 100 million potential customers at the outset, with the chance to tap into hundreds of millions more down the road.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013, 06:55 pm PT (09:55 pm ET)
President Barack Obama on Wednesday said the Secret Service does not allow him to use Apple’s iPhone for security reasons, explaining why the leader of the free world still carries around a BlackBerry from 2007.
President Obama shown with an iPad 2 in 2011. Photo via The White House
The president’s documented fondness of BlackBerry devices may be overdone, as he admitted to a group of White House visitors that the Canadian smartphone is the only device certified to be used in his post, reports AFP via Security Week.
“I’m not allowed for security reasons to have an iPhone,” Obama said to at an event promoting his health care initiative. He added that his daughters, Sasha and Malia, are iPhone users who spend a lot of their time using their devices.
Before he assumed office in 2009, Obama was regarded as the most tech-savvy president in history. A large part of that description came from his adoption of mobile tech like the BlackBerry, which he fought to keep against the wishes of the Secret Service.
As highlighted in a Washington Post report from September, presidents quickly fall behind the times when it comes to the cutting-edge. With computer technology moving at a steady yet rapid pace, proven government security measures cannot be installed fast enough to allow for the same flexibility afforded the everyday consumer.
BlackBerry is known to have solid security and was the go-to device for the U.S. government before the rise of the iPhone, but with the proliferation of Apple’s handset and those running Google’s Android operating system, things have changed. Earlier this year, Apple’s last-generation iOS 6 operating system was granted FIPS [Federal Information Processing Standard] 140-2 level 1 validation, allowing certain government agencies to adopt specialized devices running the software.
The low-level cryptographic certification gives Apple a foot in the door for government contracts, like Department of Defense employees, but still limits iPhone and iPad use to security clearance levels well below those assigned to the president.
While it is unlikely that President Obama will be able to use an iPhone during his remaining tenure, he has been seen carrying and using other Apple devices, including a third-generation iPad and a 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/34717ccb/sc/5/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C130C120C0A40Cpresident0Eobama0Ereveals0Ehe0Eis0Enot0Eallowed0Eto0Euse0Eapples0Eiphone0Edue0Eto0Esecurity0Erisks/story01.htm
Wednesday, December 04, 2013, 10:52 am PT (01:52 pm ET)
The USB Implementers Forum on Wednesday announced that the USB 3.1 specification will bring with it a new style of connector that can be plugged in in any orientation and will support future USB technologies like USB Power Delivery, high-speed data transfer, and video-over-USB.
The Type-C connector’s design is not known, but it will be similar in size to the Micro-B. Source: Wikipedia
The plug will sport an entirely new design that is similar in size to the existing Micro-B connector and will work with USB 3.1, USB 3.0, and USB 2, according to the USB-IF. The Micro-B connector — which is used by Apple as a service port on the Apple TV — measures just 6.85 millimeters by 1.80 millimeters.
Much to the relief of users who have been frustrated with existing USB connectors’ unidirectional nature, the USB-IF will take a page from Apple’s playbook and make the Type-C reversible. Apple’s reversible Lightning connector, which replaced the venerable 30-pin dock connector beginning with the iPhone 5, has been lauded by users for its ease-of-use and allowed Cupertino to save precious space in devices thanks to Lightning’s compact 7.7 millimeter by 1.7 millimeter dimensions.
USB’s inventor, Intel engineer Ajay Bhatt, told The Economist in October that making the connector “flippable” was his next goal. USB has, according to the publication, been saddled until now with one-way plugs due to a desire to keep manufacturing costs as low as possible.
Apple’s Lightning connector is slightly thinner and wider than the new USB Type-C.
Flying under the radar in the USB-IF’s announcement was the revelation that the Type-C connector will support USB 3.1′s USB Power Delivery feature. USB PD is designed to deliver up to 5 amps and 100 watts to connected devices, significantly expanding the range of items that can be powered by the port. USB 3.0, in contrast, provides just 1.5 amps and 10 watts.
USB PD also allows for devices to negotiate for power. For instance, a laptop running on battery power can increase charging capacity to a connected handset when the laptop is idle, then reduce the capacity when it needs to spin up its hard disk.
USB PD can provide power for a range of devices from handsets to desktop computers.
USB PD is not limited to small electronics. Moixa, a London-based technology company, powers its office’s LED lighting, monitors, printers, and laptops from a prototype USB PD implementation.
Combining USB 3.1′s anticipated 10 Gbps throughput and the USB PD system makes the standard a staunch competitor to Apple and Intel’s Thunderbolt interface. Though Thunderbolt 2 bumped throughput to 20 Gbps, a Thunderbolt cable can provide just 10 watts of power to connected devices, and the connector — though small — is still nearly twice as large as the proposed USB Type-C plug.
The USB-IF has showed off the combination’s potential at this year’s CES with an impressive demonstration, discovered by AnandTech, that mimicked Thunderbolt’s ability to drive daisy-chained displays while transferring data with the added twist of powering the devices entirely via USB PD.
Two monitors, one connected to mains power, and a Lenovo laptop were modified to work with USB 3.0 and the USB PD standard. The mains-connected monitor was able to power both the laptop and the other monitor, allow the laptop to use both monitors as external displays, and enable the laptop to access a thumb drive connected at the end of the chain with just a single USB cable.
Nearly every device in Apple’s product line makes use of USB in some way, and with USB 3.1 presenting a meaningful challenge to Thunderbolt, it is unclear what path Cupertino will take in the future. Ports represent one of the most limiting constraints in device design — the USB port, for instance, is the MacBook Air’s thickest port, coming in at nearly the same height as the laptop’s display.
Apple has a history of striving to eliminate as many ports from its devices as possible. In the service of scale, DVI has given way to Mini DVI and eventually to Mini DisplayPort. Mini DisplayPort and Firewire, in turn, gave way to Thunderbolt. Dual microphone and headset ports were consolidated into a single port in the MacBook Air.
Even Apple’s relatively new and low-profile MagSafe power connectors have been redesigned to be thinner, with the MagSafe 2 debuting in the Retina MacBook Pro.
With the USB 3.1 specification not expected to be finalized until mid-2014, the possibility exists that Apple and Intel may make enhancements to Thunderbolt to compete with USB 3.1 and USB PD before the new standard can achieve market ubiquity. Thunderbolt was originally conceived to use optical connections for data transfer, and some have theorized that the companies could design a hybrid optical-electrical cable that would both boost throughput and allow for increased power delivery.
Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/346e07c5/sc/23/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C130C120C0A40Cnext0Egen0Eusb0Econnector0Ea0Ereversible0Echallenge0Eto0Eapples0Ethunderbolt0Elightning/story01.htm
Wednesday, December 04, 2013, 10:57 am PT (01:57 pm ET)
Oracle’s Java infringement case against Google’s Android is reportedly nearing a reversal of last year’s original finding that defended Android. Meanwhile, Google is focusing new attention on Chrome web apps rather than a continuation of Android’s original “embrace and extend” Java strategy.
Two moves announced today cast new doubt on the future of the current state of Android as a Java-like platform for running Dalvik virtual machine middleware on mobile devices with limited resources, the company’s original strategy for Android (above).
Android Dalvik in hot Java
The first comes from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents drew early attention to two reports indicating that the court will likely reverse last year’s ruling by District Judge William Alsup.
That decision had stated that Google’s copying of Oracle’s Java API code for use in Android wasn’t an infringement of Oracle’s rights because the appropriated code wasn’t protected by copyright. With a reversal, Oracle can sue for damages and seek to force Google to make Android compatible with Java.
Back in the early 1980s, Apple similarly sued copycat vendor Franklin for cloning its Apple II code. It initially lost before the ruling was overturned by an appeals court that found Apple’s code was worthy of copyright in a landmark case that shifted the industry.
If last year’s ruling in Google’s favor is indeed overturned, there may still be an opportunity for Google to argue that its use of Oracle’s Java code was permitted as fair use. In any case, losing the appeal would greatly complicate Google’s future plans for Android.
Google moves toward Chrome
With the Java-like architecture of Android’s app platform under renewed scrutiny, Google moved to steal headlines with the announcement today that the former leader of Android, Andy Rubin, is now working on robots, a media distraction on the order of Amazon’s “Prime Air” stunt for Cyber Monday.
Additionally, a report by Emil Protalinski of The Next Web states that Google is working to bring Chrome web apps to Android and iOS devices as early as next month.
Google has succeeded in promoting the widespread adoption of Android at the expense of Oracle’s own Java (which was similarly on more than 80 percent of phones prior to Android). However, despite replacing the fragmented mess of various Java Mobile implementations with the monoculture of Google’s own Dalvik VM, Android hasn’t created a rich, successful ecosystem for mobile apps comparable to Apple’s iOS App Store.
Shifting away from Android’s Dalvik and toward Chrome would allow Google the opportunity to reassert control over the mobile app platform, not just on devices that shipped with Android, but also the other, more valuable half of the mobile market that’s using iOS, a market segment that dominates education, the enterprise and affluent users who make purchases.
Additionally, by focusing app development on web apps via Chrome, Google can also move away from Android as a development platform, distancing itself from the core of Oracle’s complaint.
Google has also made no secret of Cordova, its plan to host Chrome web apps on Android, a strategy outlined by Mobile Chrome Apps software engineer Michal Mocny this summer (below).
Mobile web apps
Apple already supports web apps on iOS, allowing developers to wrap a generic, standards based mobile web app to appear and behave similarly to a native iOS app written in Objective-C to Apple’s proprietary Cocoa Touch development platform.
However, developers including Facebook have backed away from cross platform mobile web apps as a viable strategy, citing the performance and additional sophistication that can be achieved with native code.
“The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 instead of native” – Mark Zuckerberg
Last year, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said “we’ve had a bunch of missteps” in deploying mobile Facebook apps, and that “the biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 instead of native [platforms].” He added “Native [platform development] is going to be the approach that we go with for iOS and Android” and that “We’re betting completely on it.”
Apart from Android’s Dalvik, Google lacks a substantial native platform code strategy, greatly preferring to use the web as the front end for its popular services ranging from Gmail to Google Docs. In contrast, Apple prefers native apps on iOS and OS X, having only recently created a web version of its iWork suite, and directing any iOS users who seek to access iCloud via the web to use Apple’s native iOS apps instead.
Google’s move to focus on Chrome was easy to predict after the company replaced Rubin as the head of Android with Sundar Pichai, who had previously worked on Google’s Chrome browser and led Chrome OS development.
The move to 64-bit processors in future mobile devices would also be much easier with Chrome, enabling Google to transition just the Android brand to new hardware without having to invest further in Android’s defining Dalvik architecture in order to bring it into compliance with Oracle’s Java standards.
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