Author Archive | David Worthington

iPhone 2.2 Update Delivers Modest Fixes

Late Thursday night Apple iPhone users were treated to a firmware update that addresses an assortment of bugs and adds new features to Google Maps. However, some long-anticipated features are still glaringly missing in action. iPod Touch customers also received an update.

Version 2.2 of the firmwares are available through iTunes. The updates squash bugs that affect the devices’ scheduling for e-mail fetching and improves the stability and performance of the Safari browser.

Both devices are now capable of downloading podcasts over the air using a 3G network or Wi-Fi access, and iTunes will sync the files to users’ computers. Minor usability updates make it possible to turn off auto-correction on the virtual keyboard, and pressing the home button now returns users back to the first home screen.

Notably, Apple tweaked the sound quality of saved voice mail messages for the iPhone and troubleshooted its code to reduce incidents of dropped calls.

I’m a telecommuter and work two jobs from my apartment in Manhattan. Network coverage in my area is exceptional, but I still have to contend with frequently dropped calls. Given how I do not possess a land line, dropped calls affect my ability to work, and any improvement is welcomed.

Some other new features for the iPhone include Street View in Google Maps, as well as walking directions and information about public transportation (where available). Those capabilities were not provided for iPod Touch users, and GPS turn-by-turn directions remain unavailable for either device.

Apple still has not added voice-dialing to the iPhone, both editions of its software still lack fundamental copy and pasting, and iPhone users will have to wait a little while longer for MMS. RIM’s Blackberry Storm has those capabilities.

The latter two shortcomings go hand-in-hand: I received a notification that contains a log-in and password for AT&T’s Web site to retrieve MMS messages, and it is cumbersome to view messages unless I’m at my computer. (So late night photos of drunken friends in compromising situations remain unseen)

The iPhone Dev Team, a group of developers that is working to unlock the phone to additional providers, recommends that iPhone owners that have ‘jailbroken’ their devices hold off on installing the 2.2 update from Apple.


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Study Finds Teens Learn Important Life Skills Online

swingThe nation’s backyards and playgrounds might be eerily empty, but teenagers in the United States are actually learning critical social skills and technical skills while they are plopped in front of their computers, a new study by the MacArthur Foundation concludes.

Despite what their parents may think, social networking sites and other new media help young people to learn how to develop relationships, manage their public identity, and to learn basic IT literacy that can help them become successful in today’s world, the study found. Teens also use the Internet to learn more about topics that interest them, and frequently engage in peer learning.

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Ballmer: Microsoft Would Still Do a Yahoo Search Deal

At Microsoft’s annual shareholder’s meeting today, CEO Steve Ballmer has put the kibosh on speculation that the company will resurrect its bid to acquire Yahoo. However, Ballmer did suggest that a search deal was possible.

Microsoft’s single-minded pursuit to acquire Yahoo never made much sense to me. Sure, it would obtain substantial search market shareover night, but it would still have to claw its way up to compete with Google. Even when the two companies are combined, Google still holds the upper hand in market share.

There is also a great deal of overlap between Microsoft and Yahoo products, and there would certainly be a culture clash among employees. Brain drain is another issue. If Microsoft were to buy Yahoo today, it would not be obtaining the talent that it would have just a few months back. It would also be costly to retain people–even its own employees, many of whom would be hesitant to spend their time at Microsoft getting caught up in turf wars.

A merger with Yahoo would distract Microsoft from important initiatives that are core to its future success, such as project Oslo, an multi-product effort to steer developers toward model driven development and service oriented architecture, as well as continued investment in the .NET Framework.

Microhoo makes no sense for Microsoft, but a search deal does-–especially now that Yahoo has shied away from its partnership with Google. AND it could still happen; Ballmer never backs off.

Aside from Microsoft, who is going to be Yahoo’s white knight now? AOL? As multiple pundits have said, that would be like tying two bricks together to see if they could float.

Yahoo needs to retool and find a successful business model to become a profitable–albeit smaller–company. Microsoft can reap the benefits of Yahoo’s search presence without stepping into that mud pit, and Yahoo can score some much needed cash. Microsoft needs to do something different to compete with Google; it can’t even pay people to use Live Search. The only people who I know that use Live Search work at Microsoft, and that’s partly because they were scolded and ordered to use it. (Word is Ballmer excoriated employees for using Google.)


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Firefox Simplifies Browser Customization

firefoxFirefox’s extensibility is the primary reason why I have stuck with it. The browser extensions I’ve installed do what I want and significantly improve my Internet experience. The folks at Mozilla are playing to that strength with a new browser customization Web site called “Fashion Your Firefox.

The site simplifies Firefox add-on discovery by having users select from a menu of nine categories that are geared toward various browsing scenarios such as “Shutterbug” for photo aficionados and “Rock Star” for music lovers. Users simply check the box next to add-ons that interest them, and install them as a batch.

For Firefox, add-ons are a good hedge against a reinvigorated Microsoft Internet Explorer and new competition from Google Chome. (I was tempted to switch to Google’s Chrome browser to get a good feel for it, but found myself missing my add-ons.)

Microsoft has revamped its own add-on Web site to coincide with the launch of IE 8, but I do not know anyone that uses IE for its add-ons. Google also supports some add-ons, but like Microsoft, it lacks the depth of choices that Firefox has to offer.

The Mozilla Foundation is wise to showcase its add-ons to differentiate Firefox. In doing so, it also keeps its base of developers happy and firmly in its camp.


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Pay For a TiVo, Order Crummy Pizza on Your TV!

thenoidTiVo announced today that it has you can now order Domino’s pizza via its Series2/3/HD boxes in the United States. No, it’s not Wonkavision–TiVo is just trying to distinguish itself in a world in which the DVR service it created is increasingly a commodity business.

But being able to order pizza from my TV would do very little to mollify the cognitive dissonance that I would experience if I was paying for TiVo. If I want food delivered, I order online from SeamlessWeb, or just pick up the phone and call. And besides, real New York pizza is better anyway.

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USB 3.0: Faster! Faster!

My iPhone 3G euphoria faded the moment I took my phone home and plugged it into my PC to synchronize with iTunes–it took way too long to transfer my music and videos. Cue the USB 3.0 specification: What took minutes could conceivably now take seconds.

The USB 3.0 Promoter Group, the body that oversees USB 3.0, announced today that it has completed work on version 1.0 of the specification. The specification has been dubbed “USB SuperSpeed,” and it can deliver over ten times the speed of today’s USB connections, or up to 5Gbps, according to the group’s Web site.

USB 3.0 remains backwards compatible with USB 2.0 Type A connectors, but sports new power management capabilities and handles data flow differently. Wiring changes provide for bidirectional data transfers; USB 2.0 is based on unidirectional data flow.

According to press reports, consumer USB 3.0 devices are slated to hit the market in 2010, and flash drives may be the first products to sport the new interface.

Whether real life performance lives up to promised performance remains to be seen; device overhead can sap theoretical speed. Demonstrations of devices were noted to be well under 5Gbps.

Still, the storage capacity of phones, media players, and other devices is increasing–if I get a device with much larger capacity two years from now and I can fill it up in the same time it takes to fill my iPhone today, I’ll be happy.


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Yahoo’s Yang Stepping Down

yangwhoYahoo’s shareholders who are still ticked off with the way the company’s co-founder and CEO deep-sixed Microsoft’s attempted takeover and thereby decimated their wealth can take solace in the fact that he’s about to be put out to pasture. Today, Yahoo’s board of directors revealed that it has initiated a search for a new chief executive officer.

The official line is that Yang has decided to return to his former role as “Chief Yahoo” upon the appointment of his successor, and he will continue to serve on the company’s board. Chairman Roy Bostock is charged with leading the board in finding the new CEO, and will be consulting Yang in that process.

The make up of Yahoo’s board changed in August when activist shareholder Carl Icahn joined the board, broadening its membership ranks with allies to turn around the troubled company. The boot has been ready to kick.

“Over the past year and a half, despite extraordinary challenges and distractions, Jerry Yang has led the repositioning of Yahoo! on an open platform model as well as the improved alignment of costs and revenues,” Bostock said in a prepared statemen that also included platitudes about “taking the company to the next level.”

Yahoo’s stock opened at $10.50 this morning. Compare that to the $33 per share that Microsoft offered to pay for Yahoo in May–before the economy (and Yahoo) tanked. Ouch. While Roy is at it, he might consider replacing himself.


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Microsoft Opens a One-Stop Shop for Its Stuff

It may lack the brick, mortar and experiential flare of the Apple Store, but Microsoft has opened its own one stop shop on the Web. The Microsoft Store is stocked with Microsoft software and hardware products ranging from games, Visual Studio, and Windows to keyboards; it lacks some business applications that are typically purchased under volume license agreements.

The company is targeting netbook PC owners that lack optical drives for installing software, senior program manager Trevin Chow wrote on his blog. Software may be re-downloaded as long as a product is in the mainstream support stage of its life cycle, and product keys are stored for the customer on the Web.

However, there is no mechanism in place to prevent customers from backing up their purchases on physical media, he noted.

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The Feds Bust Open an LCD Price-Fixing Ring

If you ever thought that you overpaid for a device containing an LCD screen, your suspicions were correct. It turns out that there was a global conspiracy to set LCD prices artificially high, and the culprits were some of the biggest manufacturers in the marketplace.

Chunghwa Picture Tubes, LG Display, and Sharp have all been found to be in violation of the U..S’s Sherman Act. Lawyered up and doubtlessly looking for an easy out, the terrible trio plead guilty on Wednesday to charges filed under an ongoing Department of Justice antitrust investigation into price fixing and have agreed to pay a combined $585 million in criminal fines.

The scope of the DOJ’s investigation was truly impressive. It cooperated with enforcement officials on three continents: North America, Europe and Asia, according to a statement by US assistant attorney general Thomas O. Bartnett. He noted that the case, “…exemplifies the need to prosecute and deter international cartels that harm American consumers and businesses.”

The list of sins compiled by the government included engaging in bilateral meetings, regular conferences and other communication, in addition to exchanging sales figures in a coordinated conspiracy to fix prices for LCD panels worldwide. In doing so, the trio managed to fool the hardware manufacturers they sold panels to, including Apple, Dell and Motorola. Now, that would even make Vito Corleone proud.

Of course the plea agreements are subject to court approval, and the trio will remain under the watchful eye of regulators. However, the damage to our wallets has already been done. Expect some civil actions to be filed on behalf of consumers. Where’s a good trial lawyer when you need one?

In an era where corporate governance has been an afterthought and high-powered Wall Street executives were all too willing to play roulette with default credit swaps, forgive me if I question whether the aforementioned manufacturers of monitors and PCs would have passed on any cost savings to customers anyway. Executive bonuses are another story.

I attempted to reach an IDC analyst to discuss the matter and offer you something other than my own pithy remarks, but was unable to do so before press time.


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Monster’s Turbine In-Ear Headphones: Great Sound for $150

On Tuesday night I hopped on the subway downtown to a restaurant in Chelsea, Manhattan for a rendezvous with a bunch of Monster Cable executives. The Monsters (as they refer to themselves) were there to showcase their new value-priced Turbine in-ear headpones. I walked away reasonably impressed. Looks like Monster is doing more than just diversifying itself: It is serious about being a player in the headphone market.

The Turbine was a pet project of company founder  Noel Lee, and its development was ongoing for three years. It was originally conceived as a $500 product, but the market dictated otherwise: The Turbine lists for $150. Monster experimented with using different materials and manufacturing processes while keeping with the spirit of designing a $500 headphone, according to Monster’s Headphones and Digital Life product area manager Kevin Karth, a longtime Intel veteran.

Monster’s claim that the Turbine was intended to be a $500 set of headphones contains a pinch of vendor bravado., but these headphones are an excellent follow-up to the company’s $350 Beats by Dr. Dre headphones that were released earlier this year, and a sign that the company is seriously cycling its resources into the headphone business. My experience listening to some of my favorite music on the Turbine was very positive, though. While I cannot legitimately claim to be a serious audiophile, I can trust my own ears. I could hear very nuanced sounds that I usually have to jack up the volume to enjoy on my Sennheisers. “Sleeping with Ghosts” by Placebo played nicely; it is a very textured song that demands quality speakers. The Turbine also carries some decent bass for its diminutive size.

The Turbine features 8mm drivers and facilities for delivering audio accurately as well as for ensuring quality signal transfer. It has an impedance of 18 ohms and sensitivity of 97db/mW @ 1kHz. I am only mentioning that information because the Web site has not been updated for the product yet.

Overall. Turbine looks like a very good value, and a worthwhile replacement for your current ear buds.

monsterturbine


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