Author Archive | David Worthington

Get Ready for Unlocked iPhone 3Gs. For a While, at Least.

Unlocked iPhoneAfter many months of tinkering, Dev-Team, a cadre of self-described hackers who are not affiliated with Apple, announced on its blog that it had successfully unlocked the iPhone 3G. The group says it’s done so via  a firmware modification — formerly codenamed “yellowsn0w”–that unlocks the iPhone 3G from AT&T, thereby allowing it to be used on any network. The target release date for the modification is New Year’s Eve 2008; Apple will presumably drop the ball on the group’s efforts by releasing an update that reverses the modification –or worse.

The hack requires iPhone that have a baseband (modem firmware) of 2.11.07 or earlier. yellowsn0w will be packaged into an end user-friendly application similar to the group’s existing applications, PwnageTool and QuickPwn, according to the blog.

While it provided no evidence that it had indeed unlocked the iPhone, Dev-Team has promised to post a video to the Web demonstrating its exploit in the near future.

Musician Frank Zappa, wrote the lyric “don’t you eat that yellow snow,” and Apple is likely to channel Zappa in its response. If its past behavior is any indication, the company could even retaliate against unlockers by causing modified devices to become inoperable after they are upgraded with Apple supplied iPhone software.

To keep things in perspective, there will only be a small subset of customers unlocking their phones. It is more likely that there is a provision in Apple’s contract with AT&T that it must make a good faith effort to keep iPhones locked to its network. Either that, or Steve Jobs simply does not want anyone messing with his stuff.


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Yahoo Rolls Out “Open” Strategy

yahoologoCycles of innovation on the Web happen rapidly, and even Yahoo fans might concede that the company has failed to keep pace with change. That’s contributed to its well-publicized recent woes. Now the company is being forced to reinvent itself by doing more to appeal to developers and embedding social networking features in its heavily-trafficked Web services.

The latest phase of that transition is an extension of its Yahoo Open Strategy (YOS) to some of its most popular Web properties, including My Yahoo, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Toolbar, and across the company’s media Web sites.

Mostly notably, today Yahoo announced an upgrade to Yahoo Mail that serves up information that might be of interest to subscribers. The Mail site now resembles an e-mail inbox with elements of Facebook; applications and notifications surround e-mails. It keeps people in touch and looped in at a glance.

Yahoo is offering six initial Web services, including ones from third parties: Family Journal, Flixster Movies, Flickr, Photos by Xoopit, WordPress, and Yahoo Greetings. The company said in its blog that it is working to safeguard the sensitivity of users’ personal e-mail, and it will refine its application security model before opening the door to developers.

When I think of how much of my day is spent on Facebook (more than I care to admit), it makes perfect sense to follow that model. I usually have two separate browser windows open: one for Facebook and one for Gmail. Combining that functionality makes perfect sense–it’s just a shame that Yahoo had to be prodded to do it.

The Yahoo home page now has an applications sidebar that is open to third party developers, and the company has published a new theme API. Notifications about contacts’ activities across Yahoo Web properties is displayed when the user is logged in. Some notifications are pulled from Yahoo TV and Yahoo Music.

Yahoo announced its YOS strategy in October, and introduced its development platform, including Yahoo Application Platform (YAP), Yahoo Social Platform (YSP), and Yahoo Query Language (YQL), at that time. From the looks of what it has accomplished to date, Yahoo should manage to stop the hemorrhaging and retain many of its millions of users. It may even attract some new ones.


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Should the U.S. Roll Out Free Nationwide Wi-Fi? It Depends on Which Administration You Ask.

The lame duck Bush administration is flapping its wings in opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) free, national wireless Internet plan. Meanwhile, U.S. President- elect Obama is assembling a team to execute a plan to broaden the availability of high speed Internet access in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the White House stands in opposition to the FCC’s proposal to auction off the U.S. airwaves (formerly used for terrestrial television) for a nationwide wireless broadband service. Under the plan, the winner of the auction would be required to roll out a nationwide service on a dedicated portion of those airwaves within a specified number of years. Outgoing FCC chairman Kevin Martin, appointed by President Bush, is an advocate of the plan.

But the Journal says that the administration is at odds with its FCC appointee: It believes that the winner of the spectrum auction should not be beholden to a price or product mandate. Given the failure of other municipal Wi-Fi projects, I would hope that the FCC has does its homework and has come up with a model that works. But I hope the plan doesn’t die because it falls short of perfection.

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Report: Google Polishes Off Chrome

chromelogo2The browser was are heating up– again. Google vice president Marissa Mayer said that company’s Chrome browser is on the verge of coming out of beta, according to a report by TechCrunch. Chrome made its debut as a beta on September 2nd; for Google, a beta period of only a few months is a surprisingly short one.

Google’s applications are a likely vehicle for distributing Chrome, with Apple having paved the way for more aggressive bundling by tethering distribution of Safari to iTunes. There is also plenty of potential for high-profile promotion of Chrome at Google’s wildly popular Web properties, and the company has several hardware partners that could pre-load the browser on PCs.

Chrome is the bedrock for Google’s whole Web application platform. Its pillars are speed and stability: Chrome’s zippy JavaScript engine is at the top of the class, and its use of separate processes for browser tabs and windows can make browsing more reliable.

The arrival of Chrome has also pressured other browser makers such as Firefox to accelerate the performance of their JavaScript engines–making Google’s applications perform better across the board.

Google will be leveraging Chrome to deliver the open source Native Client project, a plug-in that permits Web applications to directly access hardware resources. Let’s hope that Native Client is effectively sandboxed so it can’t be abused by hackers, so we don’t revisit the bad old days of the ubiquitous ActiveX exploit. The more Google can blur the lines between client applications and Web applications, the more competitive it will be against entrenched software. CPU intensive software will no longer have to run on the desktop. The concept of what type of application a Web application can be would be drastically changed.

Chrome is based upon the WebKit open source project, making it easier for developers to make their sites and services Chrome-friendly, because it is not something entirely new. Google is likewise providing a framework for the development of secure Firefox-like extensions for Chome. Developers could very well fall in love with Chrome, but with technologies and tools from Adobe, Microsoft, Sun, and others in the mix, not to mention HTML 5, they may have to pick their side of the battlefield. You can see why it’s in Google’s best interest to release a Chrome that’s ready for prime time sooner rather than later.


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More Companies Jump on Google’s Android Bandwagon

Google AndroidThe Open Handset Alliance–the organization responsible for Google’s Android open-source mobile operating system–has rallied more companies into its camp, significantly  increasing the likelihood that there will be an influx of Android-based devices in the near future. C0nsumers will be the big winners: With Apple and RIM battling furiously, the added jolt that an influx of Android-based devices has on the marketplace could inspire even greater innovation.

Today, the alliance announced that 14 more companies had joined its membership rolls, and that those companies would either be manufacturing compatible devices, introducing complementary products and services, or contributing code to the Android open source Project. Google was the founding member of the alliance, and is the primary contributor to Android.

The new members include AKM Semiconductor, ARM, ASUSTek Computer, Atheros Communications, Borqs, Ericsson, Garmin International, Huawei Technologies, Omron Software, Softbank Mobile, Sony Ericsson, Teleca AB, Toshiba and Vodafone. They join a conglomeration of nearly 50 other companies, including carriiers, device manufacturers, and chip makers’s G1, the first phone powered by Android, stacks up well against comparable smart phones and has received reasonably favorable reviews.

More importantly, the G1 is partly credited for driving device maker HTC’s record profits last month. With proven sales appeal and its royalty-free license, other device makers are likely to follow HTC’s lead and adopt Android.


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YouTube Gets a Little Less Sleazy

youtubegYouTube intends to restrict access to content that might be deemed pornographic or profane in a play to broaden its appeal and attract more of the highbrow audience that enjoys watching panda bears sneeze.

In a blog post today, the YouTube team explained the impending changes. In the near future, videos will be algorithmically demoted if they contain sexually suggestive content and naughty words. The video site is also taking measures to place an age restriction on risque content.

Guidelines on what exactly constitutes “sexually suggestive content,” have been published on the YouTube Web site. Some of those are:

* Whether breasts, buttocks, or genitals (clothed or unclothed) are the focal point of the video;

* Whether the video setting is sexually suggestive (e.g. a location generally associated with sexual activity, such as a bed);

* Whether the subject is depicted in a pose that is intended to sexually arouse the viewer;

* Whether the subject’s actions in the video suggests a willingness to engage in sexual activity (e.g. kissing, provocative dancing, fondling); and

* If a subject is minimally clothed, whether the clothing would be acceptable in appropriate public contexts (e.g. swimwear vs. underwear).

There is sure to be some collateral damage resulting from these guidelines, but if one child is speared spared the graphic image of a middle-aged man wearing a poorly fitting Speedo, the future will be a little bit brighter for all of us. The question of when booty poppin goes too far remains open to interpretation.

Additional changes will affect how thumbnails are generated, and revised guidelines for tags, titles, and other metadata may lead to more accurate descriptions of videos.

Feedback left by YouTube users about the blog posting was largely negative. One read, “Youtube was not meant to be a family site. If it continues in this direction it will destroy the basic mission and user base of the site.” Others, however, welcomed the proposed changes as “great news” and “overdue.”


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Microsoft’s Black Friday Black Eye

cashbackIf Microsoft wants to become a serious Web competitor to Google it should stop tripping over its own feet. On Black Friday, it was offering more apologies than bargains after embarrassing technical glitches incapacitated the company’s Live Search Cashback, scuttling its initiative to gain a larger share of the search market by giving searchers discounts on products they find through Live Search.

Apparently, someone in Redmond neglected to remember that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. The Cashback site was unable to cope with the heavy volume, and some customers–ones that were able to access the site at all, that is–were left with the wrong amount of cash back credited to their accounts.

One of the biggest snafus occurred when customers that were trying to take advantage of a generous 40 percent discount on HP products received as little as 3 percent cash back posted to their account, according to News.com, which also reported that Microsoft apoligized to shoppers who encountered Cashback glitches . A spokesperson told Technologizer that customers interested in following up on their Cashback rebate should contract Microsoft Live Search support to have their accounts credited.

The company’s initiative to compensate people for using its search engine began in May. Since that time, Microsoft’s share of the search business has fallen, according to multiple surveys. That’s not to say that the Live Search Cashback program is a bad idea–Microsoft is an underdog, and it needs to be creative and scrappy.

However, it had an opportunity to benefit from word of mouth had its Black Friday promotion gone well, and its failure to execute has left it at best no better off than it would have been on any given Friday.


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UK Ad Authority: Apple Misrepresented iPhone Web Surfing Speed

iphone2Apple’s iPhone commercials are running the risk of getting lumped in with herbal Viagra ads. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has forced the company to pull a commercial that the ASA had proven exaggerated the speed of the iPhone’s 3G network connection.

The iPhone’s Achilles heel when it comes to such claims is that cellular network speeds are not uniform, and Wi-Fi access is spotty. The “real” Internet that it portrays doesn’t really exist.

The ASA upheld the complaints of 17 individuals who said that they were misled by the advertisement. The ad showed Web pages and Google Map data loading in split second time, bracketed by a disclaimer that network speeds vary by location. The company told the BBC that its claims were, “relative not absolute.”

Apple CEO Steve Jobs may have put his foot in his mouth when he said that the iPhone provided the “real” Internet. That statement was universally panned by pundits and customers alike after they experienced the real iPhone on real networks.

Furthermore, Apple has yet to deliver in its self-imposed deadline for bringing background-processing capabilities to the iPhone, and its e-mail delivery has been more pull than push from the onset–requiring the user to select shorter intervals for checking mail. As much as I enjoy my iPhone, the company would be better served by executing on its promises, and it should stop making make claims that it can’t deliver on.


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Economic Meltdown Fringe Benefit: Cheap Apple Products?

povertysuxIn normal times, big discounts on Apple products aren’t exactly commonplace. But there’s a plethora of rumors today about markdowns on Apple gear this holiday shopping season, as evidenced by big box stores like Best Buy supposedly getting ready to slash Mac prices and Apple allegedly being willing to match anyone’s price at its retail stores.

So, I dialed up a friend who is a manager at a big Apple reseller. Resellers like my pal are able to sell Apple products for whatever price they’d like, but there is a set advertised price which (why you have to put Apple products into your Amazon shopping cart to see the price). Apple is, however, permitting rebates for its surplus last-generation products.

Best Buy may be either trying to recoup inventory costs, or it has reached a special agreement with Apple. My Apple-peddling pal tells me that he is unaware of the company making any exclusive deals with resellers.

I’m led to believe that the former scenario is true. Best Buy likely has an excess of inventory due to the economy, and it is better off with thinner profit margins than assets sitting in warehouses. If the reports are accurate, Apple would not want not want its stores to be a less attractive option for prospective buyers.

We are all feeling the recession blues, and nothing spells recession like Apple having a sale. I’m reminded of the Michael O’Harro poster that was on the wall behind the wet bar in my parents’ house when I was young, “Poverty sucks.” But there are some great deals right now, aren’t there?


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A Zune Phone? Likely.

It is plausible that rumors about Microsoft being close to announcing its answer to the iPhone are true. Microsoft must maintain parity with Apple, and its acquisition of Sidekick creator Danger Inc. has given it the industrial design known-how to get the job done.

UK-based technology news journal The Inquirer broke the news that Microsoft will supposedly be unveiling the device at the 3GSM conference in February. The Inquirer also reported that Nvidia has been tapped to supply its graphics chip set.

I won’t speak to the veracity of the report, but it does contain very specific information, and that itself is compelling. There is always the potential for a red herring, but there is a solid chance that Redmond has something up its sleeve. It has matched the Apple iPod line up product by product, and has attempted to differentiate itself on price and features.

Microsoft’s lack of an iPhone alternative is a glaring omission, and the company needs a smart phone if it is to remain a viable alternative to Apple. The iPhone is popular among consumers and is gaining a foothold in the enterprise.

CEO Steve Ballmer would argue that the Windows Mobile platform has the potential to gain a preponderance of market share, but thus far it has not, and it lags far behind Symbian. Microsoft has relied on its partners to develop compelling devices, but few — if any — stand out.

It needs to step up the user experience of its Windows Mobile platform. Meaning, it needs to ship Windows Mobile 6.5 and work diligently to get 7.0 out the door.

A source at Microsoft tells me that a new wave of Windows Live services will launch next week. Perhaps those services will provide a glimpse into what its Internet-enabled smart phone could offer.

With all of its stars aligned and by tapping the know-how of Danger Inc, the creators of the famed Sidekick, Microsoft could produce an interesting product. Microsoft did put a heavy hitter (Roz Ho, former head of its Mac business unit) behind its efforts to absorb Danger into its Entertainment and Devices division.

The question is when would it ship? And who knows what Apple and others will have out by then. Microsoft can’t always be playing catchup if it wants to succeed in the phone biz.


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