Apple v. Justice Department

The Department of Justice is suing Apple on charges of ‘collusion’, to do with ebook publishing deals before the iPad launch in 2010.

The Verge reports:

Turvey, Google’s director of strategic partnerships, was in federal court in Manhattan as a government witness. […]

Turvey told the court that in early 2010, representatives of the five accused publishers, all of which have settled with the government, told him directly that they were switching to the agency model because contracts they entered into with Apple required it. […]

By the end of the interview Turvey had gone from saying the publishers had told him directly, to saying they had merely told people on his team, to finally saying the publishers had "likely" told someone on his team.

Sounds pretty bad, right? But:

Much of what they [DOJ] were trying to prove with Turvey’s testimony, they had already established with Apple’s own emails, testimony from the likes of Penguin Books CEO David Shanks, and three separate Amazon executives.

If they already have testimony, why do they feel the need to field someone like this? What does Google have anything to do with it, except being a business rival to the defendants?

This case is completely weird, and continues to be so.

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Update on the Amazon ebooks fiasco

Me, from a few hours ago:

Came across this account of a Kindle user’s ebook library being wiped, and Amazon account cancelled by Amazon. Worse, she wasn’t explained why this happened, and what she could do to remedy the situation.

[…]

Respond better, please, Amazon? I’ll be reminded of this every time I think of hitting ‘Buy’, and perhaps use Apple’s iBooks more often instead. (I don’t know that Apple’s terms are better, but they certainly can’t be worse!)

Since then, there have been some updates.

From Simon Phipps’ article:

Update @ 23:55 – Linn just contacted me to say her account has been mysteriously re-activated and she’s busily downloading her books. Hopefully Amazon will have more news for us all soon. Even positive arbitrary actions disclose how much Kindle customers read only with the grace of Amazon, of course…

Update @ 00:30 – Amazon PR just wrote to say: “We would like to clarify our policy on this topic. Account status should not affect any customer’s ability to access their library. If any customer has trouble accessing their content, he or she should contact customer service for help. Thank you for your interest in Kindle.”

Note that the Amazon PR quote still makes no attempt at explaining what happened, or whether the whole thing was a simple mistake. The person concerned was in contact with Amazon, was she not? Very reassuring, indeed.

At least she’s got her content back. The worrying thing is, that may have been due to the publicity this received. What would have happened otherwise?

On the same topic, Coyote Tracks writes:

Open or even de facto standards like RTF, MP3, MP4 and EPUB-when kept free from DRM-are what we need to be strongly advocating for. The music industry has mostly given up on DRM; it’s time for the publishing and video industries to follow their lead. (You’d think that merely knowing the RIAA was, in any way, more progressive than you are would be enough to shame you into action, but sadly not.) Some DRM is worse than others-Apple’s tends to be better at staying out of your way than most and, as far as I know, wouldn’t let Apple do what Amazon did here even if they wanted to […].

Seriously, why can’t I own my ebooks the same way I own my paper books?

Amazon and its vague ebook policies

Came across this account of a Kindle user’s ebook library being wiped, and Amazon account cancelled by Amazon. Worse, she wasn’t explained why this happened, and what she could do to remedy the situation.

Did she violate any terms? Amazon will not tell. Perhaps by accident? Amazon does not care. The conclusion so far is clear: Amazon closed her account, wiped her Kindle and refuses to tell her why. End of discussion.

That’s not very reassuring from a fellow Kindle user and someone who often buys ebooks from Amazon. Indeed, over the past few years I’ve mostly read ebooks, and almost no paper books at all.

Respond better, please, Amazon? I’ll be reminded of this every time I think of hitting ‘Buy’, and perhaps use Apple’s iBooks more often instead. (I don’t know that Apple’s terms are better, but they certainly can’t be worse!)

Also, as Marco comments, does the lady get all her money back that she spent in buying her books?

[via Marco Arment and John Gruber]

Evil Google

Guess what our beloved Google has been up to. One followed closely by the other, there were the following two reports.

First, there was the small matter of leeching from a Kenyan business:

Since October, Google’s GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted.

[…] I did not expect to find a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent (falsely claiming to be collaborating with us, and worse) attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on 2 continents.

And then, there was the matter of vandalizing a competing Maps platform to Google Maps:

Preliminary results show users from Google IP address ranges in India deleting, moving and abusing OSM data including subtle edits like reversing one-way streets.

Two OpenStreetMap accounts have been vandalizing OSM in London, New York and elsewhere from Google’s IP address, the same address in India reported by Mocality.

And this is the company who’s motto is ‘Don’t be Evil’.

Steve Jobs is dead.

Steve Jobs passed away today.

I’ve only seen him as a public figure, of course, but I was, and will remain, a fan. I’ve admired him greatly, not just for the company he built, but for how he conducted his business—well, for the things he said and did publicly, at any rate.

A straightforward, honest man who played extremely hard when running his company, but who made sure he did the right thing all the same.

For an inkling to his way of thinking, see his Stanford commencement speech, and the interview he gave at the D8 conference.

Rest in Peace, Sir. Your legacy will live on, and will hopefully inspire the next generation of visionaries.

Cross-posted at arnabocean

How much does an iPhone really cost?

I came across this post at Pharyngula, where the crux of the matter is: Apple makes a huge profit from its iPhone, and it would only make a small difference to Apple to assemble it in the US than in China. The data:

The total component cost of an iPhone in 2009 was $172.46. Workers in China assemble the iPhone, but because their wages are low the assembly cost per phone (labeled manufacturing costs in the table below) is quite small, only $6.50 a phone. The total production cost per phone is $178.96.

Apple has a 64% profit margin on the iPhone! That’s not a surprise, though — I’m used to tech companies charging a premium price for the fancy toys, and Apple has never had a reputation as a budget brand.

Apple may well make large profits, and may well make good profits even if it does its assembly in the US. However, this is extremely shoddy work, and I’m surprised Dr Myers uses this information without comment.

The key word in the data is “total production cost”. It’s what Apple spent in actually making the device. However, that is far from the actual cost of an iPhone. For this, you have to take into account the years of research that Apple poured into development; the millions of dollars spent developing and rejecting prototypes; the time and energy spent in polishing its Operating System (iOS). This, of course, is in addition to actually conceiving, designing, and building iOS, the cost of which is completely neglected in the account above.

Consider, also, the fact that Dr Myers gets, as an iPhone user, free iOS updates for an average of three years after buying a new device. Who pays for this?

It is extremely naive to associate the profits that Apple makes on an iPhone solely to the cost that it incurs in manufacturing the product. If indeed Apple makes insane amounts of profits from its iPhone, it should not be very difficult for its competitors to undercut the iPhone and provide a comparable user experience at a much cheaper price. For sure, it can be said that the products may not be as good; but ‘almost as good’ would work very well at half the cost, no? And yet the iPhone juggernaut keeps on rolling.

Fact of the matter is, modern Apple products are finely designed, aggressively priced products, so much so that its competitors simply can’t produce similar products at a similar price point.

The data being used here is simply bunkum. Dr Myers, you really could have done better. (Also, where do you think every other manufacturer does its assembly?)

More great writing from a decade back

Following on from my previous post, here’s Joel Spolsky with another great post from June 2000:

Of course, the business managers would have fits. Why should we make it easy for customers to leave the service? That’s because they are short sighted. These are not your customers now. Try to lock them in before they become your customers, and you’ll just lock themout. But if you make an honest promise that it will be easy to back out of the service if they’re not happy, and suddenly you eliminate one more barrier to entry.

A must read, is this.

The Chicken and Egg Problem

Found this excellent, excellent post about creating a new platform in competition with an existing one, and getting people to actually use it (you know, like—Google+). This is a must read!

You should be starting to get some ideas about how to break the chicken and egg problem: provide a backwards compatibility mode which either delivers a truckload of chickens, or a truckload of eggs, depending on how you look at it, and sit back and rake in the bucks.

Also, an amazing tidbit of information, about backwards compatibility in Windows 95:

Windows 95? No problem. Nice new 32 bit API, but it still ran old 16 bit software perfectly. Microsoft obsessed about this, spending a big chunk of change testing every old program they could find with Windows 95. Jon Ross, who wrote the original version of SimCity for Windows 3.x, told me that he accidentally left a bug in SimCity where he read memory that he had just freed. Yep. It worked fine on Windows 3.x, because the memory never went anywhere. Here’s the amazing part: On beta versions of Windows 95, SimCity wasn’t working in testing. Microsoft tracked down the bug and added specific code to Windows 95 that looks for SimCity. If it finds SimCity running, it runs the memory allocator in a special mode that doesn’t free memory right away. That’s the kind of obsession with backward compatibility that made people willing to upgrade to Windows 95.

Turns out this was written in May 2000. That’s right, 11 years ago. Wow.

“Web browsers are done”, and other such claims waiting to be refuted.

Came across this very interesting post today, in which, among other things, the author bemoans the rapid sequence of updates that Firefox is coming out with:

If you use Firefox 3.6, you should assume that, after August, there will be no more fixes, security or otherwise. If you want to get on board with their process, you’ll need to start using Firefox 4. But wait a minute. Firefox 4 is dead too. You need to be using Firefox 5. And that will be dead in a few months, replaced by Firefox 6. And so on.

I can understand the author’s anguish at the termination of support for older versions of Firefox, since he personally is conservative with his software updates:

I am not just this conservative with browsers. I’m running Windows Server 2003 on my cloud machines. That’s eight year old OS. Runs great! Does absolutely everything I need. And Microsoft is, thankfully, keeping it updated.

However, he must keep in mind that not all companies can keep supporting legacy versions of their software – they simply don’t have the resources for it. Heck, even Apple does it every few years, which is one reason they’re not very popular in the corporate sector.

His personal dislike, though, does not translate to a problem at Mozilla, does it? The author goes on to add:

[T]here must be a reason they’re doing this. They must see something we don’t. Like their numbers going down. Or the money drying up. Since they’re open source and non-profit, shouldn’t we be told what the issue is?

Uh… Does it strike you, sir, that a cash crunch, or the very fact that they’re open source and non-profit, would allow them scarce resources to support older browsers?

Also, what’s with the comparison to Osborne?

Osborne Computer Corp famously committed suicide in 1983 by announcing a new product before it was ready to ship, thereby killing their cash cow (the previous product), and killing their cash flow, and killing themselves.

Osborne pre-announced a later version of a product they were selling, thereby stopping sales of the current product before the new version came out. Firefox, on the other hand, is rapidly coming up with newer versions, without letting the community know much in advance. (I personally went “Huh? 5? Already?” when the popup told me a new version was ready.) Also, if you’ve noticed, Firefox is free – so I’m guessing whoever funds them would actually be happy to learn that a newer version is in the pipeline.

What was the comparison with Osborne about, again?

Finally, the bit that really irked me about the post:

The problem for them, if they choose to view it as a problem, is that web browsers are done. Feature-complete. No one can think of anything to add that anyone wants, because there are no more features to add. Sadly, this happens to product categories.

[…]

Software products have lifecycles. They reach a point where all they need is maintenence. Make sure it runs on new hardware. Fix security issues as they arise. Optimize. (Firefox could sure use that!) Teeny little tweaks that are almost unnoticable.

Really? The web browser is dead? There’s nothing new happening that would warrant new versions of browsers? Have you heard of HTML5, sir? What about CSS3? Does your version of Firefox (version 3, I think you said) support any of the new HTML5 elements? What about the version you’re moaning about, Firefox 3.6?

Do me a favor, sir. Open up your precious Firefox3, and see how the browser does on the HTML5 Test. Then, why don’t you browse this website for me: HTML5 Rocks Presentation. Did you enjoy it? Did your browser run the presentation at all?

You might not like the direction that each web browser is taking in its development (for example, choice of formats to support) – I don’t either, and that’s why I end up using three browsers regularly on my computer: Safari, Firefox and Chrome. But that position is very different from crying “browsers are dead”. No they’re not: every browser still interprets HTML coding slightly differently, not all the latest web standards are yet implemented across the board – and I’m certain there are other new tags and features that web developers are clamoring to be included in the HTML standards even now.

The web browser, sir, is far from maturity – let alone death.

P.S.: I share no special love for Firefox – I would have had similar reactions about any browser in general.