Social Media, Search, and You

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Apple Receiving the Flak from Investors

The first major challenge to Apple post Steve Jobs era was fired off by David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital when the hedge fund manager filed suit against the tech firm for a bigger slice of its US$137 billion retained cash earnings to its investors.

This is a surprising move amidst the current issues the world’s most valuable company is facing, such as falling share prices, increased competition in its niche smartphone and tablet markets and doubt as to the company’s ability to create new innovations on its product line.

For his part, Einhorn, who is a well-known industry short seller of interests and shares, intimated in an interview with CNBC that Apple’s current management has a “Depression-era mentality”, leading it to hoard cash and invest in safe securities with low yields.

This is but a response to Apple’s history, as it went broke back in the 1990s before the return of Steve Jobs. With Jobs at the helm again, the company went into its now historical run with the launch of market standard products such as the iPhone and the iPad. This meteoric rise from ruin is what has guided the company in its very conservative activities with its earnings.

Now after the demise of Jobs, Apple has come under fire from its investors because of this large cash hoarding with a quarterly cash dividend and a share buy back option that would cost US$45 billion in the next three years while having US$98 billion in money available.

The lawsuit is targeting Apple’s moves to eliminate the preferred stock shares from its coffers. Einhorn urged fellow shareholders to vote against this proposal from the Apple board on its annual meeting to be held on February 27. In its stead, Einhorn proposed that the company issue preferred stock that has a perpetual four percent dividend return. Many investors have supported this move, though just in principle.

The share stock prices of Apple in the market has tumbling as of late, with a fall of 35% to US$468.22. Einhorn continued to criticize the company’s ‘cash problem’ and adding, “It has the sort of a mentality of a depression. In other words, people who have gone through traumas and Apple has gone through a couple of traumas in its history, they sometimes feel they can never have enough cash.”

In another interview, this time with Reuters, Einhorn said, “When I discussed this with Tim Cook and actually, the conversation has been going on for the last couple of weeks, he said that he wasn’t familiar with my previous conversations with Peter Oppenheimer and whoever Peter Oppenheimer’s advisers were. I was surprised by that.”

For its part, Apple has called Einhorn’s lawsuit over its shareholder proposal was ‘misguided’. In an official communiqué, Apple said, “Contrary to Greenlight’s statements, adoption of Proposal #2 would not prevent the issuance of preferred stock. Currently, Apple’s Article of Incorporation provide for the issuance of a ‘blank check’ preferred stock by the Board of Directors without shareholder approval. If Proposal #2 is adopted, our shareholders would have the right to approve the issuance of preferred stock.”

Blackberry Opens to Lukewarm Reception

The new Blackberry featuring its latest Operating System was without any fanfare or other attention grabbing events. Blackberry, a Canadian firm now known as Research in Motion, was unveiled on February 5, 2012 in Canada but it did not even create a ripple in the highly competitive smartphone market.

The Z10 is the latest offering from the company and was subjected to intense media scrutiny before being made available to the market. Blackberry is one of the pre-eminent technology corporations in Canada and there was more than average media marketing involved in this model compared to previous ones from the company.

This new model from Blackberry has the following features to look out for:

  1. Hardware. There is a 4.1 inch display with a 1280 x 768 resolution and screen density of 365 pixels per inch. The processor is a Qualcomm dual-core 1.5 GHz processor having a 2GB RAM. It also features an 8 megapixel camera at the back and a 2 megapixel at the front. It has an expanded 16 GB storage capacity with connectivity options such as Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, NFC and Micro SD slot.
  2. Keyboard. This is the first device from BB that does not have a QWERTY keyboard. Instead, it has a physical keyboard with a near perfect word prediction processor that combines accuracy to prevent embarrassing words being sent.
  3. Hub. This is the new messaging center for the Z10, where all communication details, texts, IMs, accounts and emails would be synchronized into one area in the unit itself. This would result in an efficient manner in controlling all messages, customizing and sorting the space to suit the user’s needs and requirements.
  4. Screen Sharing. This is one feature unique to the Z10 as fellow model owners can share their screen with one another. Here, the users can share space and allow each other a glimpse of where they are situated, a definite first for the smartphone world.
  5. Other Upgrades. These improved features include the Browser, which supports mobile-optimized HTML websites without issues while allowing multiple page and private browsing. There is also the Blackberry App World for new apps, music and digital content, the Blackberry Hub to access messages, notifications, contacts and calendars without changing used applications, the Blackberry Flow allowing users to go back to tasks done and return to their current tasks and Blackberry Balance allowing for easy transition between work and personal apps.

Despite tepid acceptance, Blackberry is well on its way to become a major force in the smartphone market.

Google Takes Leap of Faith

Google is now in the process of taking steps toward removing password use and instead is pushing for user identification through hardware passkeys.

With more and more services expanding the use of password identification, even requiring the use of capital letters, numbers and symbols to increase security strength, it may seem that passwords are here to stay. Google on the other hand is taking another direction. Google Vice President of Security Eric Grosse and Engineer Mayanl Upadhyay are now gearing the search giant to a new password-defunct world. Their recommendations are indicated in a paper to be published in IEEE’s Security and Privacy magazine. Amongst the alternatives to passwords in the proposal include the use of cryptographic cards for USB dongles and even a ring as a passkey.

The overall thought of the paper is encapsulated in this thesis statement, “Along with many in the industry, we feel passwords and simple bearer tokens such as cookies are no longer sufficient to keep users safe.”

In a pilot program, the search giant is now modifying its browser to utilize the proposed technology. A user would plug in a USB dongle to be allowed to log in. The ring on the other hand would allow the user to access either sites or even the machine itself.

The authors add, “We’d like your smartphone or smart card embedded finger ring to authorize a new computer via a tap on the computer, even in situations in which your phone might be without cellular connectivity.”

While this is now just an option and finding the Internet devoid of passwords would be next to impossible, using hardware as a means of verification is and would be the step in the right direction and not merely a leap of faith.

The MS Surface in a Nutshell

The explosion of the number of tablet options available in the market today has helped in driving costs to affordable levels. The number of available units to choose from has become quite confusing and the following is a discussion on the top level tablets in the market today, namely the Microsoft Surface, the Nexus 10, the iPad Mini and the Kindle Fire HD.

The Microsoft Surface is a Windows RT tablet with many features making it one of the most versatile and flexible tablets in the market today. This tablet boasts of a micoSDXC card slot allowing for an extra 64 GB of memory. It also has an HD video output port to allow the user to use a monitor, television or on a screen. It has standard sized USB ports allowing for wireless connectivity with devices such as a mouse or a Bluetooth headset. The crème of the functionality though is the Touch Cover, as it allows not only a more stylish cover in black or in another specialty color, but increases its ability to resist spills and when folded back disables the keystroke function making it a fully touch screen device. The only drawback is that the Touch Cover is an additional cost over and above the cost of the unit. The Surface RT prices start at $499 without the touch cover.

The Google Nexus 10 is one of the most powerful tablets in the world today. It utilizes the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean OS with a Quad-core Mali T604 GPU and Dual Core A15 processor. This alone gives it the power at the same level of PCs with high demand for speed and graphics. The popularity of the Google Play store makes it versatile and functional as well as customizable to the needs of the user. It has an HD screen measuring in at 10.055” with a 1280×800 resolution with Corning Gorilla glass, making it scratch resistant. Unlike the Surface which has a regular USB connector, the Nexus has a Micro USB connection allowing for mini to full HDMI output. Another plus factor is its price, only at US$399 for the wifi only version.

The iPad Mini was created mainly to compete in the 7” tablet category and cut down manufacturing costs. While the Mini has almost the same functionality as a fully grown iPad, its major drawback is the absence of either the ‘Retina Display’ screen or the previous versions of the screen that the iPad is best known for. The current display is a 1024×768 resilution screen with a 163 inch pixel per inch display. Despite this, the Mini still has all the access to Apple’s products such as the App store, the iTunes and the much beloved Siri. It is also lightweight and easy to carry around and the pricing at US$328 makes it one of the best buys in this category.

The Kindle Fire is the most underrated of all the tablets being reviewed. Firstly, it has a 1280×800 HD display with Dolby dual driver stereo speaker audio set up on both ends of the tablet. Its access to the best marketplaces of digital content, Amazon separates it from the competition, as the user has HBO, GO, Pandora, Netflix at their fingertips. The unlimited Cloud storage too allows for a truly expanded storage feature for the device. It is also able to access Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! It can also access its very own marketplace where upgrades, applications and other bits can help customize the device to the user. While processing power makes the Fire lag compared to the Apple or Google devices, its price and functionality makes it one good investment in mobile computing for you and your family.

The Eternal Struggle: Google vs Apple

In a new venue for business, Google and Apple are again butting heads. This is in the value of voice search applications, Google has recently introduced a voice search app that is able to support natural language queries very much like Apple’s Siri.

In the iPhone 5, the much improved Siri responds quickly to voice questions and then quickly lists possible options to answer to the question. On the other hand, Google’s version is able to respond in a similar fashion but is focused on weather, sports, stocks and travel information. It also is able to provide dining options, trivia bits, language translation and even does math all at a faster speed than Siri.

This Google app can also be transplanted into the iPhone 5, though it requires a few more steps – you have to open the app before doing a search. This is because of proprietary software apple has in its iOS, making it unable to add widgets as well as perform functions for third party apps. While this isn’t much of chore, Siri on the other hand can be launched simply by voice.

The major difference that the Siri has over the Google app (in the iPhone) is that Siri can make reservations, create calendar appointments and pen messages into Gmail. Siri reminds you of upcoming appointments or calendared events and traffic updates. Siri can help find where you are and draw a map out to get to where you want to go, by turn by turn voice guidance. These are functions the Google App still is unable to do, though some of them are native in the Android app.

As of the moment, the Google App is still a search tool while Siri is a few steps away from becoming a full-fledged digital assistant. Well, that’s for now and who knows what will happen in the future.

 

New Millennia Glass Storage from Hitachi

Hitachi has recently unveiled a new data storage system that utilizes quartz glass. The company claims that the system will be able to retain data for hundreds of millions of years.

The storage system developed by company researchers uses a sliver of glass measuring 2 cm squared with 2 mm thickness. It is said to hold 40 MB of data per square inch, which is about the same volume as a standard compact disc. This is achieved by writing the data in binary format through a process of dot lasering on the quartz glass in four distinct layers. More layers can be added to increase storage density of the system, thus increasing the volume of data that can be stored.

According to Hitachi Chief Researcher Kazuyoshi Torii, in an interview with Agence France- Presse, “The volume of data being created everyday is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven’t necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones. The possibility of losing information may actually have increased.”

Torii pointed out that compact discs and magnetic tape storage was predicted to remain viable for a few decades at most, but in reality can last only years. It was also shown that the glass is able to retain the information after being heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius for over two hours. The glass is also able to resist radiation exposure, water ingress and many other forms of chemicals. This, he added, could allow the data to become retrievable even after hundreds of millions of years, unless the hard glass is broken.

While the project extols the virtues of data storage, reading the data is another matter altogether. The research team at Hitachi opted to use the simple binary format to allow future generations to read and recover data embedded in these quartz glass devices even by just the use of a simple microscope.

This problem is not a novel one, as one of the first storage systems projecting millions of years of integrity and reliability was NASA’s golden record. This was a compact disc that contained images and sounds of the Earth that was included in the payloads of Voyager 1 and 2. Alongside the discs were a stylus and cartridge as well as images that provide instructions on how to play the disc and details on the current location of the Earth.

While the concept of alien life reading our data is still science fiction, the concept of glass storage being able to survive a hundred million years would create a conundrum, as the human race as we know it may not even exist at around that time. Current studies have theorized that the average lifespan of a species is about ten million years, which at the rate that humans are befouling Mother Earth, may be sooner rather than later. Whatever life forms survive after man, the data stored in the quartz glass would be preserved and waiting to be recovered.

Samsung Goes After iPhone5

The chief competitor of Apple in the smartphone market, the Korean technology giant Samsung has again taken legal action, this time on the iPhone 5. The new court papers filed alleged that the recently launched device had infringed on eight of the patents of Samsung.

The move came through an amendment to its original lawsuit filed in April against Apple, adding the iPhone 5 to the list of devices that had been alleged to infringe on the patents of Samsung. Other devices included in the suit are the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and “the new iPad.”

The main issue in the patent infringement suit is the alleged use of Samsung’s LTE or “Long Term Evolution” connectivity for the next generation smartphone. The new iPhone 5, after scrutiny, confirmed that it had features similar and/or identical to Samsung’s speedy fourth generation wireless networking system. According to Samsung, there were eight specific patents at issue, amongst them are six utility patents and two standard essential patents which are separate and distinct from its LTE patent portfolio.

In a statement, Samsung said “We have little choice but to take the steps necessary to protect our innovations and intellectual property rights.” The Korean giant also included the iPhone 5 as a federal judge had issued an order that dissolved the three month ban on the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the United States. The order had a stipulation that the dissolution order may be reversed once Samsung has been found innocent on charges of patent infringement on the Apple tablet design, which the latter had patented and was upheld last month in another case between the two consumer electronics firms.

Fighting the Terror War Online

According to a report on Wired penned by Spencer Ackerman, a project codenamed Viral Peace would be using harassment and irrelevant comments as techniques to sow chaos in jihadi forums and other online communities. The goal is to hurt Islamist extremist’s recruitment activities online.

Ackerman terms this as “strategic trolling, in pursuit of geopolitical pawnage”. The creator, Shahed Amanullah told Wired that he hopes to use ‘logic, humor, satire, religious arguments, not just to confront extremists but to undermine and demoralize them. “The recent months have shown that Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine and have started to train Trolling 101 on the premise that Muslims would understand how best to agitate these extremist communities to bring out the best in these individuals.

This begs the question as to the efficacy of this process to continue the War on Terror. The first rule in communities is ‘Don’t feed the trolls.’ This may be one reason as to the effect why a jihadi would understand to ignore a troll and avoid them. One expert on the subject, Professor Jonathan Bishop said through an email, “The US government is not going anywhere by flame trolling Jihads. Bishop is a co-founder of Crocels Trolling Academy, a non-profit initiative at Swansea University in Wales. The goal of the research is to study psychology and the effects of trolling and he believes this process may end up backfiring on the users. He says, “The US should expect Jihads to ‘fight flame with flame’ or even worse ‘fight flame with firearms’.”

The program still has to identify which online communities are hotbeds for jihadi activity as well as how best to undertake the trolling. Amanullah believes that these decisions are best left to the trollers, as being on the ground gives them an insight as to internet cultures and where they are located compared to some State Department pencil pusher. There is also scant funding for the project, making it all plans and potentially without any execution.

Samsung Taking Potshots at iPhone 5

A new ad was released by South Korean technology giant Samsung with the recent launch of the iPhone 5 and its associated hoopla. The digs are uploaded on the Web, where YouTube has counted off three million views.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nf5-Prx19ZM

The ad reiterates that the iPhone has fewer features than Samsung’s very own Samsung Galaxy S III while at the same time saying what it has always said since the Galaxy S II, that “The Next Big Thing is Already Here.” In a nutshell, Samsung takes a dig at Apple’s claims of bigger screens and LTE connectivity in its iPhone 5 when the very same features have been with Samsung even in earlier versions.

This very same tact, insulting customers to lure them to buy one’s products, was used by Apple in its “Get a Mac” commercials in the past. In reality, there are features in the Galaxy SIII that are not found in the iPhone5. When the user requires a big screen as well as an existing NFC chip, then the iPhone falls behind the mightier Galaxy S III.

Not only is there a battle in the marketing arena, but in the courts as well. According to Samsung, Apple’s iPhone5 will be included in the patent infringement suit filed against the American technology innovator. The amendment will be filed with the original case at the Northern District Court of California after Samsung has undertaken a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to examine the new phone. The Korean giant is ‘anticipating’ that it will find reason to include the phone in their court case.

In a formal statement, Samsung declared, “We have always preferred to compete in the marketplace with our innovative products rather than in courtrooms. However, Apple continues to take aggressive legal measures that will limit market competition. Under these circumstances, we have little choice but to take steps necessary to protect our innovations and intellectual property rights.”

The effect of this legal battle won’t affect the ultimate end users, the consumers, as the iPhone5 has been launched and made available in the next few months to the corners of the Earth, both far and wide.

Round one seems to have gone Apple’s way, as a jury found that Samsung had infringed on Apple’s patents on a different intellectual property case, ordering the Korean firm to pay the American firm over one billion dollars in damages. The case covers a number of technologies in smartphones, media players and tablets and is currently on appeal.

Let the Games continue!

Updates on Panda and Penguin

Matt Cutts, speaking before a SES conference in San Francisco last month, announced another round of major changes that would again turn the Web Traffic Optimization world on its head. Google, as Cutts described, is currently in the process and would soon be releasing updates. This means another death knell for companies that have invested time and effort into their SEO campaigns, requiring another round of going back to the SEO strategy fundamentals as well as a review of social networking processes to avoid being hit hard, again.

Many now understand that manipulation of the Internet through purchase of links for advertising purposes is a definite no- no with Google. Many fail to realize that social media platforms are immune to the upcoming updates even from Google.

Cutts admits this by saying, “Google can only use social signals from Open Graph sources. It can’t crawl Facebook pages to see who is reputable, reliable or has real world impact as a brand has on those platforms. (Twitter) is a private service, If Twitter wants to suspend someone’s service, they can. Google was able to crawl Twitter until its deal ended and Google was blocked from crawling those pages for 1.5 months. As such, Google is cautious about using that as a signal – Twitter can shut it off at any time.”

This means that businesses that utilize social media should continue on their social media marketing campaigns. Bots from Google may not be able to check you social media page all the time but with Twitter, Google may be able to shut down these errant SEO strategies and tactics.

Thus for the time being, it is best to forge ahead with your plan, but do be prepared for the coming storm. When your site is compliant with current updates, resulting in great content and high page ranking, avoid making changes. It is best to leave the changes with the experts before being decimated again by a Google update.