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Category: Apple

CEO Tim Cook is clearly running things now

Apple certainly had a lot to announce and preview during its almost-two-hour media event for the launch of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which included not only new phones but the company’s new mobile payments system known as Apple Pay and the first preview of the Apple Watch — set to debut sometime early next year.

The event, for which Apple built a special facility at the Flint Center of DeAnza College, the Cupertino facility where both the original Mac and the first iMac were introduced by Steve Jobs, was also significant because it was also the first truly post-Jobs Apple product launch.

Although CEO Tim Cook and his team have launched several products since the iconic co-founder and CEO died three years ago, including three generations of the iPad and two generations of iPhones, they were all iterations on existing product lines. (The only product that you could truly call post-Jobs to date is the iPad mini, which took Apple into the small tablet market, something Jobs publicly derided before his death.)

The first real look at Apple under Cook happened during the company’s annual WorldWide Developers Conference keynote in June. That keynote very much illustrated that Apple had found its bearings again in the post-Jobs world. Yesterday, however, offered the first glimpse of the products and services that Apple has taken on without Jobs’ influence — and it should finally put to rest the ridiculous idea that Apple was no longer capable of innovation.
Right is better than first

Yesterday’s showcase melded both the classic Apple showmanship with a slightly different, more open company. And it reinforced a hallmark of Apple’s strategy: It’s more concerned with doing a product right than doing it first.
Apple iPhone 6 / iOS 8 Apple

Apple rolled out the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which will be available for pre-order on Sept. 12, and in stores, Sept.19.

Apple announced a larger iPhone and its first phablet. Neither category is new, and neither smartphone was a surprise. It also introduced an NFC-powered, contact-less mobile payments system. There have been several attempts by Apple’s competitors and industry consortiums, including Google Wallet and Softcard (the industry group formerly known as Isis). Indeed, Apple was long thought to be working on such a system and many people assumed — correctly — that Apple’s Passbook was a stepping stone to that goal. Apple is also far from being the first company to produce either a wearable fitness tracker or a smartwatch (or a combination of the two).

The same could be said of the first iPod (not the first portable MP3 player), the original iPhone (not the first smartphone), and the iPad (not the first tablet — and if you consider the Newton line, not even Apple’s first tablet). Yet, Apple threw out the design and user interface rulebook for each of those categories, went back to the drawing board on how to best design a device for them, and then created category-defining products that turned obscure technology into mainstream sensations and disrupted whole industries.

That same innovative fire was particularly evident in the previews offered up of the forthcoming Apple Watch. Note that innovation isn’t cheap. The Apple Watch will sell for $349.
Doing the smartwatch right

The most Apple-like and innovative part of the Apple Watch isn’t that the company built a smartwatch. It’s that it went back to the user interface (UI) and experience (UX) drawing board. Delivering a clear jab at Samsung (and Android Wear devices in general), Cook noted that Apple deliberately didn’t try to shrink an iPhone and put a strap on it. That’s what most of Samsung’s watches are like, particularly the original Galaxy Gear and the Tizen-powered Galaxy Gear S announced last week.

Instead, Apple looked at how people would use a smartwatch and actually developed a device with a unique mix of UI elements. Yes, there’s a touchscreen, but it’s not the only input mechanism. Although I think the term “Digital Crown” is a little ridiculous — it’s nothing more than a tiny knob — it is something unique in smartwatch design. The closest comparison is the Pebble’s brilliant four-button approach that allows you to scroll, select and go back a step without having to touch the screen — an approach that more closely matches what people might do on a watch, though it is a bit basic and limited.

By combining the Digital Crown with a touchscreen, Apple took the best of both types of interfaces — touch and swipe when it makes sense, scroll or zoom or return to the homescreen using the Digital Crown when that makes sense. The ability to integrate a press along with a touch or swipe thanks to a pressure-sensitive screen adds another intuitive input option. Each alone would deliver a subpar user experience — the Pebble is limited because its interface is scroll-and press-based (like Apple’s Digital Crown, albeit with buttons and not a knob or scroll wheel).

In order to be truly functional, many touchscreen watches already on the market need to be larger than most people feel comfortable wearing. Size and style were clearly on Apple’s list, which is why the Apple Watch will come in two sizes, both sporting the same intuitive experience.

Apple also recognized that a watch or wearable needs to be less geeky and more fashionable than its competitors. The Apple Watch is, in many ways, the antithesis of Google Glass. It’s designed to look fashionable, yes, but it’s also designed not to draw attention to itself. It actually looks like a high-end watch. Even the taptic notification experience allows the user to be aware of an incoming message or other event while not making noise or vibrating loudly or obviously, something that people in meetings and restaurants the world over will undoubtedly appreciate.
Going the distance for fitness and well-being

There is already a sea of fitness trackers on the market. What really stands out about Apple’s take is that it doesn’t try to track everything the same way. Walking isn’t running, running isn’t biking. And while lifting weights or doing pilates are both types of exercise, they’re very different from each other. This is one of the things where many health trackers fail — they may excel at tracking one type of activity and a handful of metrics, but not others. Apple offers a dedicated experience for general activity tracking and training, as it should. They aren’t the same thing.

Apple iWatch includes infrared, visible-light LEDs, and photosensors to monitor health. Apple

The Apple Watch is more than just a simple health and fitness tracker.

Even within the general fitness or wellness category, Apple breaks out tracking into three separate rings on this device. That gives you a much fuller sense of what it takes to maintain wellness than most devices. Given all the research we have about the importance of standing, in particular to postural or musculoskeletal health it’s great that Apple has broken out standing as a metric in its own right.

This will all tie back into Apple’s HealthKit platform in iOS 8. Having worked in healthcare IT, I was already excited about HealthKit’s potential to consolidate a diverse array of health and fitness information, along with actionable medical data that could be securely integrated with clinical systems like electronic health records. Given the direction Apple is taking with sensors in the Apple Watch, I think healthcare developers will be able to devise a lot of interesting apps for it. Linked to HealthKit, one app I can envision would remind you not just to just to stand, but to perform certain physical therapy exercises, including those assigned by a doctor or physical therapist throughout the day. Then it would report back to the provider about how often you do them and whether you do them for the requisite amount of time.

Apple spent a lot of time putting together a catalog of fitness and medical experts, including regulatory experts, in developing how both the Apple Watch and HealthKit would function and ensuring they’re on the right side of regulations. I think that we’ve only scratched the surface of what these technologies will ultimately offer.
Apple iWatch Apple

Apple showed that design still matters, especially when it comes to something as personal as a watch.
Apple makes geeky ideas mainstream

With both the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, Apple is taking concepts that were once far outside the mainstream and making them something everyone is aware of, even if they don’t use them or if they choose an alternate already on the market. This has always been one of the company’s strengths — along with its ability to step back and rethink how human beings can best interact with a technology. Together, they represent much of how Apple has always innovated: by pushing the technology sector forward and new ideas into the mainstream.

Tuesday’s event demonstrated that Apple is still adept at doing just that. Even Tim Cook showed a new level of comfort and confidence onstage, aside from the weird overly rehearsed moment with Bono, and looked like he was having the time of his life at some points. This is the new Apple. It really isn’t much different from the old one.

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If lack of data visibility is crippling Apple, what chance do mere IT mortals have?

During the Apple news conference today (Sept. 9) — if I ever call a vendor’s product rollout an “event,” please shoot me — the company will roll out its new smartphone and smartwatch, both with the capability of making in-store purchases in places other than Apple stores. Apple’s effort, which it has been preparing for several years, with some of the best talent in the industry working on it, illustrates how mind-numbingly difficult mobile payment processing is. It all comes down to data. IT can’t live with it and would certainly love to try living without it.

What set me off on this was a fascinating — and much linked-to — blog post about Apple crafted by Tom Noyes, a financial technology investor and former head of channels at Citi. Noyes pointed out that Apple is still struggling with some data issues surrounding these new NFC transactions. After a shopper approaches a payment terminal beacon, he wrote, the merchant scans the products but cannot use the new mobile system to deal with loyalty/CRM, coupons or discounts.

“Merchant payment terminal cannot send total amount due since it does not have Apple handset information/UUID. So how will Apple do it?” wonders Noyes. “My guess is Apple will provide UUID to the Payment Terminal via BLE at application wake up to perform a ‘lite’ checkin with payment terminal. Good news is that there would be no data connectivity requirements, but it requires a new payment terminal. For everyone else, there is no total amount due,” which Noyes estimates would affect 99% of shoppers at launch.

OK, so that’s bad. But it gets worse, with this problem affecting even more key data issues. The most significant part of the behind-the-scenes wrangling to make Apple go with NFC— and to have Visa, MasterCard and Amex onboard on launch day — was that Apple cut a deal to lower the payment processing transaction costs. Specifically, it will charge merchants the much lower card-present rate for these online transactions, even though NFC has often been exposed to the more expensive card-not-present rate. Apple justifies this change because it will have more security mechanisms in the new iPhone, including using geolocation to authenticate the shopper.

But there’s that nasty data issue again. Noyes wrote: “How will Apple ensure they get 25bps from the banks (given that) they have no insight into the transaction? The card is presented and that is the last Apple sees of it. This has been a problem for other wallets as well. It is one reason why Google created the proxy card: to see all the transactions.”

This lack of transparency into what is going on with a transaction is a common payment data problem. But there are many others. John Bruggeman, the CEO of a payment vendor called Traxpay, participated in a recent podcast where he complained that banks are routinely dropping data from transactions — especially business-to-business transactions — making the transactions far less useful.

“What happens today is that the minute the invoice is approved, it goes off that network and goes through the traditional bank network. The most important thing that gets lost is the data because banks are not set up to keep or maintain the data that got to the point of the payment,” Bruggeman said in an Aug. 21 podcast. “We lose all kinds of information like ‘What was that order? Why did I order it? Why did we agree to this price? Why did it change mid-stream? Why were the delivery conditions changed?’ All of that information gets lost when we go to the bank because all the bank cares about is ‘What’s the account number? Who owns the account? What’s the amount?’ There’s a total disconnect.”

That disconnect is certainly not surprising to IT execs who struggle with getting systems to retain all of the rich metadata that is attached to transactions — and all kinds of communications within an enterprise. The fact that it’s also sidelining Apple should be of some comfort. If a company like Apple — whose understanding of the mobile app was predicated on its acknowledgment that data is king — can risk losing payments (or, even worse, getting underpaid) because of a lack of data transparency, this problem needs some really big fixes.

 


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iPhone big screen or big screens, curvaceous, and pressured

Fortunately for the iOSphere, Bloomberg found a “person familiar with Apple’s plans” to spill the beans and provide a week’s worth of rumor cud-chewing over the iPhone 6 display.

While many iOSpherians are convinced that the iPhone 6 will have a bigger display and a curved display, there is Deep Uncertainty about how big, or which way the curve will, you know, curve.

But let’s not quibble. This one source, in a story written by two reporters, was also familiar with Apple’s plans to introduce not one but two Bigger Screened iPhone 6 handsets. Thanksgiving Day has come early this year.

You read it here second.

“I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Apple is investigating curved displays… That doesn’t mean, however, that just because Apple looked at something that they’re going to release it.”

Avi Greengart, analyst, Current Analysis

“Analyst Debunks Curved Display On iPhone 6 Release Date”

Kristin Dian Mariano, International Business Times, with the iOSpherian translation of Greengart’s commonsense observation.

iPhone 6 will have two screen sizes, curved “glass,” and maybe pressure sensors

Talk about a cornucopia of Innovation, eh? This abundance of information overflows from a Bloomberg story, “Apple Said Developing Curved iPhone Screens, New Sensors,” by Tim Culpan and Adam Satariano.

And where did it come from you ask? From “a person familiar with the plans.” Or, as experienced iOSpherians like to say, a PFWP.

Maybe they caught Tim Cook or Phil Schiller when he was in a chatty mood in an elevator. Or maybe they talked to the drycleaner of the next door neighbor of the best friend of a coworker who has a cousin who plays online games with an engineer who overheard an Apple designer talking to someone before the subway door closed. But somebody who’s not just anybody.

“Two models planned for release in the second half of next year would feature larger displays with glass that curves downward at the edges, said the person, declining to be identified because the details aren’t public. Sensors that can distinguish heavy or light touches on the screen may be incorporated into subsequent models, the person said.

BGR’s Zach Epstein argues in his post on the Bloomberg story that the phrasing “with glass that curves downward at the edges” is not a reference to a curved displays “but rather that the glass covering the panels will be curved.” Which doesn’t clarify much: does he mean the display is flat but it’s covered with a convex glass cover? Or that the glass cover is flat but it curves down over the edge of the phone?

Curved screens – both convex and concave – have been an obsession with the iOSphere for months, even years, though with little analysis on how or why curving the screen, or the “glass,” actually improves the phone. The obsession has been intensified by Samsung’s Galaxy Round smartphone, which curves upward from the two sides, and the just-announced LG G Flex, which curves upward from the top and bottom.

The latter design at least has the sense to mimic traditional wired handset designs going back 70 years, as shown in this Wikipedia image of a rotary phone from the 1940s.

The Bloomberg reporters suggest that perhaps it’s a curved BIG screen that’s vital to Apple’s future, because the Galaxy Round is Samsung’s “latest phone in an array of sizes and price points that’s helping keep Samsung ahead of Apple in global market share.” The PFWP says the screens will measure 4.7 and 5.5 inches, which would make them, as Culpan and Satariano astutely point out, “Apple’s largest iPhones,” since the current 5S and 5C measure just 4.0 inches.

It “seems rather curious that Apple would introduce two new displays sizes at the same time,” posted a skeptical John Gruber at his DaringFireball blog. “Apple has only introduced one new iPhone display size since 2007, but they’re going to introduce two at the same time next year? That smells fishy to me.”

Bloomberg’s PFWP didn’t have much to say about the new pressure sensors, which apparently are intended to detect how firmly someone is pressing on the screen and then do…well something very cool and magical as a result.

The PFWP did add “that the company probably would release [the new phones] in the third quarter of next year.” A person familiar not only with plans but probabilities.

iPhone 6 won’t have a curved display

Or maybe it won’t not have one. It’s hard to tell from reading InternationalBusinessTimes.com.

The headline of Kristin Dian Mariano’s post is emphatically assertive: “Analyst Debunks Curved Display On iPhone 6 Release Date”

Yet the post’s first sentence changes that completely: “Apple may not show off a curved display on iPhone 6 release date, according to an analyst.”

The analyst is Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, who is simply making the utterly common sense observation that Apple, like other companies, creates a whole bunch of ideas, tests many of them out, throws most of them out, and finally eventually comes up with improved or new products.

“I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Apple is investigating curved displays and any other component coming on to the scenes. That’s what Apple does. Apple tests things out internally to see if they make sense,” Greengart is quote in Mariano’s post. “That doesn’t mean, however, that just because Apple looked at something that they’re going to release it. They probably have watches, glasses, hover boards, and who knows what else just to see what it’s like.”

In short, he’s admitting “I have no idea whether they’re planning to have a curved display on iPhone 6.” In Mariano’s skilled hands this becomes “analyst debunks curved display on iPhone 6.”


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Smaller Apple iPad, bigger iPad, mini 2 delays, and date debate

The iOSphere knows so much about the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2 that it’s easy to overlook how little it really knows.

A video of an alleged iPad 5 rear casing confirmed that the Next iPad will be somewhat smaller than the current one. Unless it’s much bigger than the current one. Anguish blew through the iOSphere over claims that unnamed production problems will delay full-scale release of the iPad mini 2 until early next year. And, based on nothing except looking at the calendar one year after the last iPad announcement, confidence is high that the new tablets will be announced Oct. 25.

You read it here second.
Thanks to a plethora of rumors, leaks, photos and videos we have a good idea what to expect from the iPad 5 when it arrives, but there are still some parts of the iPad 5 that remain up in the air.
— Josh Smith, GottaBeMobile, who was, nevertheless, unable to identify any specific feature, beyond the possibility of new rounded instead of sloping edges, for the iPad 5.

iPad 5 will be smaller than current iPad, but not by much

A video posted by a Chinese parts supplier, sw-box.com, compares the current iPad and iPad mini with a slate-gray rear housing alleged to be that of the iPad 5. Finally, someone in one of these dealing-in-stolen-property revelations actually uses a tape measure to compare the sizes.

And it turns out that the iPad 5 will be a little bit smaller than the current model.

[SLIDESHOW: 20 essential business apps for iPads and iPhones]

MacRumors apparently was the first to pick up on the video post.

The Youtube video itself is very straightforward, showing all three devices in a line, and then looking at the iPad 5 housing in more detail.

Here are the measurements, converted into inches:
Width x Length
iPad 4 – 7.31 x 9.49
iPad 5 – 6.67 x 9.42
iPad mini – 5.41 x 7.87

According to the video, iPad 5 is a smidgen thinner than the current iPad: 0.28 inches versus 0.37. If this is an actual iPad 5 rear housing, then the new tablet will be about one-half inch less wide, a teensy bit shorter, and about one-tenth of an inch thinner. The screen size and display area, presumably, will remain unchanged, with a 9.7-inch diagonal panel.

These figures would fit with the long-held belief that the sides (or bezel) of the front “frame” around the display will be thinner, but the top and bottom of the frame will be very close if not identical to the current model. The new casing is also somewhat lighter. Whether that will translate into a lighter finished product may depend on whether or how Apple has changed other components, including the display panel.

For most rumoristas none of this is new, though Business Insider’s Dylan Love seems stunned by the video. “According To This Leak, The ‘iPad 5’ Will Have A Completely New Design That Looks More Like The iPad Mini,” is the headline to his post. The Completely New Design, based on the rear housing in the video, means a body with rounded edges.

iPad 5 will be bigger than current iPad, by a lot

Apple is actively working on a 12-inch iPad model with Quanta, a Taiwan based contract manufacturer, according to the resurgent rumor of a larger-screened iPad.


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Apple Developer Center is back online
After a week long outage, Apple’s Developer Center is back up and running

After an outage that lasted about a week, it appears that Apple’s Developer Center is now back up and running, with developers now being able to access the site. If you recall, the Developer Center went down last Thursday after an intruder, who has since claimed he was doing security research, potentially nabbed personal contact info from Apple’s developer database.

In any event, Apple’s satus page now indicates that many of the Developer Center subsections are up and running, though a few still remain offline, including technical support, videos, and the developer forums.

Apple notes:
We appreciate your patience as we work to bring our developer services back online. Certificates, Identifiers & Profiles, software downloads, and other developer services are now available. If you would like to know the availability of a particular system, visit our status page.

If your program membership expired or is set to expire during this downtime, it will be extended and your app will remain on the App Store. If you have any other concerns about your account, please contact us.

Thank you for bearing with us while we bring these important systems back online. We will continue to update you on our progress.

Well, that’s a start.


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Engineering salaries are still rising, but not as fast as in the good old days

WASHINGTON — Engineers working on communications technology were paid a a median salary of $135,087 last year, the highest in the profession, according to new IEEE-USA survey data.

The lowest paid engineers, with a median salary of $107,820, specialize in energy and power engineering, the survey found.

This data was collected from more than 10,200 IEEE-USA members in an annual survey.

Overall, engineers in electrotechnology and IT, which includes electrical engineering, the survey had a median income of $120,000 last year, according to the survey.

 

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Ed Kirchner, who chairs the employment and career services committee at IEEE-USA, said “communications technology” label is broad and reflects the fusion of computers and mobile tech. “It is literally everybody who would fall under the umbrella of electrical or computer engineering,” said Kirchner.

By job skills, the category would include circuit designers, software engineers, computer engineers and network engineers, he added.

“The breadth of engineers who can work in that technology has really spread out,” said Kirchner, an IEEE-USA volunteer and works for a communications company as a project engineer and deputy program manager.

The growth of the smartphone industry has been explosive, said Kirchner, and engineering salaries are directly tied to the financial performance of the companies they work for.

Engineering and IT salaries increased by 1.7% last year, less than half the rate of the prior year, reports the IEEE-USA, in its latest salary survey.

“I think it’s very good news that salaries are still rising. The fact they are rising at a smaller rate reflects the fact that raises are smaller, bonuses are smaller,” said Kirchner.

In normal economic times, the raise budgets are more on the order of 6% or so, he said.

Some other median levels for engineering salaries include: circuits and devices, $129,000; signals and applications, $127,000; industrial applications, $110,000 and systems and control, $112,000.

 

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Attacks based on designed viruses could interest bioterrorists

Computer hackers could create malicious software that crosses the line from technology to biology, crafting viruses that could spread dangerous epidemics, researchers said at Black Hat Europe.

“We are really on the border between the living and the not living,” said Guillaume Lovet, senior manager of Fortinet’s Threat Research and Response Center, during a keynote speech discussing the similarities between biological and computer viruses. Fortinet was the main sponsor of the Black Hat Europe security conference in Amsterdam last week.

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The comparison between computer and human viruses was made to give security researchers a better understanding of why the human immune system is so much better in battling viruses then antivirus systems.

“We came to wonder if there can be some kind of convergence between human viruses and computer viruses,” Lovet added. “It may sound like a scenario for a bad Hollywood movie, but it is not such a stupid question.”

One of the main things that led Fortinet researchers to that conclusion is the similarity between computer and human viruses. In essence they behave the same way, including information coding for parasitic behavior inside a host system.

Reasoning along this line of thought, a Denial of Service (DoS) attack can be compared to HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus), because both aim at overloading a system, said Ruchna Nigam, security researcher at Fortinet.

There are other comparisons between computer viruses and HIV. HIV attacks the immune system, making humans more vulnerable to certain diseases. Computer viruses such as W32/Sality also use this strategy, terminating antivirus programs and setting a malicious program as an authorized application to bypass Microsoft’s firewall.

The researchers also pointed out that both humans and computers infect themselves. A human visiting a doctor and getting an infection is not an unthinkable scenario, Lovet and Nigam pointed out. Likewise, computers can get infected by visiting a website and downloading a so-called drive-by download — malware that is embedded in the site that tries to install itself on computers. “This is how the ZeuS Trojan built a botnet of an estimated 3.6 million hosts in the USA alone,” noted Lovet and Axelle Apvrille, another Fortinet researcher, in a research paper.

Biological viruses, such as the influenza virus, are also known to change upon replication. When viruses replicate “they mutate themselves,” Nigam said. This behavior is comparable to the way the Conficker and Koobface viruses work. It’s a nightmare for security analysts, because every replicated sample is significantly different from its predecessor. This can render antivirus signatures, designed to detect malicious viruses, close to useless.

One important difference between these polymorphic viruses, as these adaptive variants are known, is that computer viruses only changes form. “Only the package is changed;” the code is not rewritten, Nigam explained.Computer viruses like Conficker have are also known to incubate, nestling themselves on systems to attack at a later time, which is comparable to the flu. “These ideas are taken from the physical world,” said Nigam.There are differences between biological and computer viruses, the researchers noted. If someone wrote the influenza virus in code, the file containing the virus would be no bigger than 22KB. Computer viruses are far bigger than that. In addition, they are more advanced. Biological viruses are not able to implement techniques comparable with encryption and antidebugging tricks, the researchers noted. This is fortunate, because drugs would have severe problems eliminating such virus variations.However, Lovet speculates that human and computer viruses could converge in the future. Most human viruses are essentially DNA or RNA code, strands that contain essential genetic instructions for all known living organisms. “In a nutshell: a biological virus is information that codes for behavior in a host system,” the researchers say. Computer viruses are essentially the same.

The frontier between the digital and the biological world is already blurring, the researchers said, citing cybernetic prosthesis as a good example. Some people have several electronic devices in their body, such as pacemakers, deep brain stimulators and cochlear implants, they noted. As soon as those devices communicate with an external machine, which in most cases is necessary at some point, they become theoretically vulnerable to computer viruses.In 2002, scientists were able to synthesize the poliovirus. Since then, biotechnology has moved on, making it possible to synthesize bacteria, and organisms are genetically modified almost every day, the researchers said. In addition, all the code for synthetic DNA is stored on computers.

“Seeing that the infamous Stuxnet virus, in 2010, was able to creep through a uranium enrichment plant, seize control of its PLC (programmable logic controller), and destroy its centrifuging gear, one could reasonably think that a virus infecting the computers sporting DNA databases is not outside the realm of possibility,” the researchers said in their paper.

“Conversely, software used when sequencing DNA of a living organism, and databases storing bits that code for that sequence, are probably not absent of vulnerabilities.” But whether it is possible to make a virus with malicious DNA sequences that could, once transcribed into bits, exploit those vulnerabilities, remains to be seen.Using a coded virus to affect human biology for military purposes is highly unlikely, since a spreading computer virus is much harder to control than, for example, anthrax bacteria. Releasing a virus might backfire and infect a nation’s own army. However, bioterrorists might be interested in the use of attacks based on such viruses, Lovet said. “And that is a very scary thought.”

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In last week’s episode of “Can you top this dumb patent?” we discovered that Apple had patented the design element of sliding to unlock a device. Gosh, and I recall my grandpa’s front gate having a slide-to-unlock device in the 60s! Boy those Apple guys had to get up early in the morning to invent that one

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Sarcasm aside, does” every Android device now infringe this Apple patent?” Or, for that matter, every Windows 8 device? Well, yes, they probably do. But does that mean that Apple is really going to be using this patent to sue everyone and anyone who uses the slide metaphor in their design? I asked some prominent intellectual property (IP) lawyers about it and this is what they said.

Thomas Carey, a partner at Sunstein, a major intellectual property (IP) law firm and chair of its Business Department, said that, “In this particular case, it appears that there is prior art that may render the patent invalid.” Carey points out that this video of the Neonode N1m device at the 4 minute mark appears to pre-date Apple’s devices.

“However,” Carey continued, “The Apple patent claims refer to a touch screen, which is not what the device in the video contains. Nonetheless, applying the same technique to a touch screen would seem obvious. Hence, invalidity.  (The priority date on the patent is 12/23/2005, which comes after the date of the Neonode N1m.)”

If Apple were to sue someone with this patent, Carey suspects Microsoft, rather than Google and its Android partners, might be targeted. After all, “Apple has had its innovations ripped off by Microsoft for years, so you would surely expect them to start seeking patent protection for their innovations.”

Even so, Daniel Ravicher, an attorney and executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, doesn’t see Apple suing anyone with this particular patent. “Getting a silly patent takes a few thousand dollars and can stealthily contribute to quantity metrics. Deciding to assert a silly patent in litigation takes a few million dollars and can’t hide from quality requirements. I doubt they’d ever assert this patent.”

So, the consensus seems to be that this particular patent won’t be seen used in anger inside a courtroom any time soon. Other dumb patents, that’s another matter. With patents likes these, the mobile patent wars look certain to go on for years—decades—more. Now, just so long as no lawyer comes to my grandpa’s old door I guess I can put up with it.

Adoption of new technologies such as tablets, social media and cloud computing is expected to transform the small and medium enterprise landscape within the next year, according to new research by CompTIA, the global IT trade association.

 

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The research offers insights into the business opportunities for IT service providers and the new challenges that IT departments will face as IT becomes a more critical part of running the business.

Forecasts of Increased Cloud Cover
The research shows that 18 percent of U.K. small and medium enterprises are now using cloud products, and a further 30 percent plan to introduce them during the next year. Almost all (93 percent) of those using them found the transition easy and 79 percent found results positive. Furthermore, 81 percent expect to increase their cloud usage during the next two years.

However small and medium enterprises still voice the usual concerns about security (50 percent), reliability of cloud provider (30 percent), Internet connections (27 percent), and lack understanding of the cloud model (26 percent).

This indicates significant opportunities for providers of cloud services. If cloud is to continue its successful growth, providers will need to work closely with IT departments to explain cloud services and provide ongoing support to ensure these concerns are addressed.

More Tablets, More Side Effects
Part of the move to the cloud will be driven by the uptake of tablets, which benefit from the remote access cloud provides. Thirty-seven percent of small and medium enterprises already have tablets and another 37 percent plan on purchasing them, meaning it will be a prevalent business tool within the year.

Most current usage is simply taking advantage of their convenience, with the majority planning to use tablets for work while traveling, presentations and note taking. However a significant proportion are looking at using them for specific business purposes, such as demonstrating a product (34 percent) or point-of-sale transactions (32 percent).

Only 5 percent of small and medium enterprises have purchased tablets to replace PCs or smartphones. It seems likely that a three-device system will become the norm in most enterprises in the near future.

“Tablets will open new challenges for IT staff, as employees use them outside work,” said Seth Robinson, CompTIA’s director, technology analysis, who conducted the research. “Tablets can get infections from home networks, which can spread to the corporate network. Support for tablets’ closed hardware system is different to that of PCs or laptops. These and other issues will need to be considered by the IT department in building a mobile device management policy.”

Social Media Helping to Communicate
At 26 percent, social media has the highest adoption rate among emerging technologies, with 61 percent of respondents saying they have seen a positive return on social media investment. Eighty-one percent of firms have a social strategy, which correlated with those who thought social media had proven beneficial.

The most common uses of social media are marketing-related, such as brand awareness and communicating with customers, while 22 percent are using social media to monitor information and better understand market dynamics.

While social media has had tangible benefits, 49 percent of companies not using it see no clear benefit, despite nearly half of those saying improved communication with customers would be beneficial. IT departments can help their companies understand the benefits by developing clear case studies of social media success.

Not-So-Green IT
Green IT had the lowest adoption rate, at 12 percent, despite relatively easy adoption, though a significantly higher number of companies plan on using it soon (26 percent).

“Technology trends change from year to year,” Robinson said. “Technologies that were on the fringe a year ago are now becoming an important part of business, whilst others which seemed about to take hold have shown a slower adoption.”

The iPhone 4S is not the last major project that Steve Jobs worked on, according to one analyst. That would be the next iPhone–let’s call it the iPhone 5.

The next-generation iPhone “was the last project that Steve Jobs was intimately involved with from concept to final design. For that reason…this product will establish the high water mark for iPhone volumes,” Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, wrote in a research note this week. He expects the iPhone 5 to be a “cult classic” because of Jobs’ involvement.

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In the note, Kumar said the phone will have a slimmer profile and larger screen size but with the same dimensions as the iPhone 4S (the relatively-small 3.5-inch screen is not one of the 4S’ best features). The iPhone is also expected to have LTE, or Long Term Evolution–what’s sometimes referred to as 4G.

Another source, who I spoke with this week and who claims to have knowledge of the redesign, said the iPhone 5 is a “complete redesign. This is a very large project that Steve dedicated all of his time to. He was not that involved in the 4S because his time was limited.”

That makes sense to me. Cosmetically, the iPhone 4S is identical to the iPhone 4. So no big change here. And though the 4S has been revamped on the inside, in some respects, it carries over technology already in the iPad 2: the same dual-core processor, same memory capacity, same accelerometer, same gyroscope, among other similarities.

So, it’s probably not unreasonable to expect the iPhone 5 to be a “complete redesign,” as the source said–meaning both externally and internally, though probably less so internally when compared with pronounced user-facing changes like the display size. (No telling what kind of plans Apple has on the software front: iOS 6? Siri 2?)

The iPhone 5 should debut around the time of Apple’s Developer’s Conference in the summer of 2012, according to Kumar’s research note.

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