Because removing porn from the App Store wasn't enough, now Apple's taking aim at software that helps iPhone, iPod touch and, soon, iPad users find Wi-Fi hotspots. Forgive me for cynically choosing to disbelieve the company's excuse -- that all of these apps use undocumented or private APIs and consequently must be removed for the sake of the platform's future. If Apple actually had a workable, believable strategy for approval, it wouldn't have approved any of these apps in the first place.
The apps are -- or, rather, were distributed under the trade names Sekai Camera, Wifi-Where, and yFy, among others; and they made it easier for owners of such devices to find Wi-Fi networks and thus avoid using their more costly and often congested 3G connections. In the bad old days of wardriving, we simply walked or drove along a public thoroughfare and constantly refreshed our network lists to identify convenient and often free hotspots. The process was manual and tedious, and these packages automated the process of discovery just in time for Wi-Fi to become table stakes on handheld devices. With more end users than ever before seeking safe havens to avoid busting their carrier-imposed 3G data caps, Wi-Fi finders, scanners, and stumblers had finally hit the big time.
After reading through the avalanche of reactions to Apple's wide-ranging lawsuit filed Monday against handheld vendor HTC, I'm beginning to think that Apple may very well fear the rise of Google. And an indirect legal assault on the eminent provider of Android-powered devices is easier, cheaper, and less risky than a direct attack on Google itself.
What has Apple to lose?
At first blush, Apple's decision to cull a few thousand sexually suggestive titles from its iTunes App Store may seem like a puritanical attempt to cleanse its consumer-friendly image of any taint of smuttiness. But like everything related to Apple, the reality distortion field that surrounds the company makes even this assessment a questionable one.
Don't think for a second that wannabe-porn (what Apple called "overtly sexual content" in its removal notices to affected developers) won't be returning soon to any platform with an Apple logo on it. And don't think for a second that Apple will be upset about welcoming more skin to its ecosystem.
That sound you heard coming from the general direction of Italy earlier this week was the sound the Internet makes when it becomes just a little bit less free.
When an Italian court convicted three senior Google executives for breach of privacy, sentencing them yesterday to a six-month suspended sentence, it set a dangerous precedent. Unless the case is turned over on appeal, such a precedent could force every Web services provider on the planet -- including Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft -- to be completely accountable for every piece of text, audio, and video that any Average Joe decides to upload to his servers.
It's one of the most predictable responses in all of tech: Every time there's a blowup over some online service's privacy or data security lapses, if you stick your head out the window and focus yourself just so, you can hear the rumble in the distance as naysayers happily share their told-you-so stories of woe.
Without your even asking, they'll go into excruciating detail over how cloud-based services aren't ready for prime time and probably never will be. They'll tell you how distrustful Web services vendors are, how they view our confidential data as means to a profitable end, and how only an idiot would move off of conventional network-controlled infrastructure and throw every shred of personally identifiable data into the nebulous clutches of an unseen service provider.
I read "Windows Phone 7 Series is a lost cause" with great interest. In it, my Betanews colleague Joe Wilcox lays out the reasoning behind his apocalyptic conclusion that Microsoft has used up its ninth life in trying to extend its desktop OS dominance into the mobile OS space.
He makes a number of rational, indeed valid, points about why Microsoft won't be a top-tier mobile OS vendor now, anytime soon, or ever. Microsoft's Windows Mobile franchise has been in freefall for years, thanks largely to a legacy OS that was completely out of tune with today's market, and a product development roadmap marked by countless delays and occasional lipstick-on-a-pig refreshes of the increasingly creaky product. So since it's hard to argue with the facts, with the numbers, and with history, it's also hard to take exception to his thesis.
In today's viral, social media-driven world, it never seems to take long for things to get ugly. This is especially true for Google Buzz, which became a lightning rod for privacy-related criticisms almost as soon as it went live last week.
My advice to the critics: Don't get your panties in a knot.
For all its success in turning mostly free Web-based services into lucrative rivers of cash, Google's been a miserable failure in the social networking space. While Facebook marched from a Harvard dorm room to a global army of 400 million users and Twitter became the short-form darling of politicians and celeb-utantes alike, Google threw one project after another at the wall (Orkut and Wave, anyone?) and hoped at least one of them would stick long enough to gain traction.
They never did. Orkut may be huge in Brazil and India, but it's virtually invisible everywhere else. Wave disappeared into the ether after its much-hyped public launch last September. Less ambitious steps toward creating a more social online experience (like baking Google Talk into the Gmail interface) similarly vanished from the tech culture radar almost as soon as they appeared.
Like many nighthawks across the continent, I found myself glued to more than one screen...all right, three. Plus my BlackBerry...as I watched this morning's launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. I observed the spectacle with a curious mixture of excitement and sadness because after the current STS-130 mission, the shuttle program has only four more scheduled flights before it's grounded for good.
It's not the retirement that gets me. Every technology has its day, and it's fair to conclude that a system largely designed in the early 1970s has now served its purpose and should logically be replaced. It's also fair to conclude that this same system was and is too complex to ever be fiscally feasible. Despite the orbiters' reusability, which was supposed to drive down the cost of spaceflight, extensive maintenance in-between missions made the program even more expensive to fly than conventional expendable rockets. The shuttle's inherent design flaws (you'll never see humans riding below any other part of a space vehicle again) pretty much sealed its fate.
Everyone's got an opinion surrounding Engadget's decision to temporarily deactivate user comments because of its editors said things had gotten "mean, ugly, pointless, and frankly threatening in some situations." While I find the reaction to Engadget's decision engaging and often amusing (Betanews reader comments, in particular, often make for fun late night reading) I'm a little surprised at the near-universal lack of understanding of how the Internet works in 2010.
I have three fundamental thoughts on Internet publishing that may help put the Engadget brouhaha in perspective:
Of all the short-form conclusions about the iPad, the one that seems to stand out from the crowd is, "iPod touch on steroids."
I'll buy that, since I also concluded much the same thing in a conversation with at least one reporter following the iPad's introduction. At first glance, it extends the same old iPhone-based operating system over a larger form factor that manages to both delight (still-unique industrial design and support for the largest online app inventory anywhere) and annoy (no memory card support, no USB, and supported by only one, less-than-beloved carrier) all at the same time.
It's almost embarrassing...Correct that, it's big time embarrassing, for me to read some of the public's response to yesterday's announcement of the Apple iPad.
Yes, we know that the name is thematically close to a certain feminine hygiene product. No, we don't need to read the obvious over and over in the comments section of every tech and mainstream Web site, blog, Facebook page, Twitter stream, and (gee, thanks, Brian Williams) nightly newscast. We get it. It may have been funny when we were in the second grade, but now that we're all supposedly adults, it strikes me as needlessly juvenile.
I'm not one to follow the lives of celebrities. I don't watch TMZ, and the very sound of Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart's voice is enough to make me nauseous. I turn my head as I walk past the supermarket tabloids in the checkout aisle because I could care less who Jennifer Aniston is dating this week or that Elvis was spotted in a rural Kentucky laundromat. I've got better things to do with my life than wonder how many more kids Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt want to adopt or when she plans on getting another tattoo.
For all my celeb-fatigue, though, I found it interesting this past weekend when I first learned about the Brangelina supercouple's separation not from television, radio, or a newspaper, but from my Twitter feed. After I sarcastically retweeted the supposed news, I heard from a number of friends that they, too, had gotten the news from online sources.
I was just old enough to remember, and appreciate the significance of, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. The iconic image of a dissident standing defiantly in front of a column of People's Liberation Army tanks is as powerful today as it was when we first saw it.
Back then, activists fighting for greater freedom used surreptitiously acquired fax machines to get the word out to the rest of the world. It was an early sign that technology held the potential to undercut control-freak-government efforts to stifle free speech. Now that the Internet has taken over as the platform of choice for Chinese freedom-lovers and freedom-crushers alike, the battleground has shifted irrevocably, and the autocratic Chinese government hardly has enough political officers to keep its spy game machinery in balance.
Betanews urges its readers everywhere to contribute to the effort to restore vital services to Haiti, by contributing to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund today.
I'm of two minds as I watch the heart-wrenching disaster unfold in Haiti. On the one hand, technology has been pressed into service in innovative ways to connect victims with their faraway families, to marshal resources from aid-providing nations and organizations, and to make it easier for you and me to help out by texting contributions from our mobile phones. Rescuers are Twittering, albeit haltingly, from the front lines, while Facebook pages are serving as virtual bulletin boards -- all signs that social media continues to come of age as a force for good in a less-than-fair world.