Archive for March, 2011
Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
Those who were expecting Apple to ship a follow-up to the iPhone 4 this summer may be in for a longer wait than usual.
A new report from Japanese Mac blog Macotakra says Apple is behind its usual schedule of ordering parts that go into the manufacturing process for the device. That change in pace could result in Apple shipping out a phone a few months later than the June time frame for the previous two models, and July for the iPhone 3G.
AppleInsider, which picked up on the report this morning, notes that the later timing would result in the next iPhone missing Apple’s fiscal 2011, which concludes on September 24 this year.
Along with the timing news, Macotakra’s report, which is based on its sources in China, notes that Apple has still not committed to changing the materials used on the back of the iPhone from glass to metal. Rumors of such a change had first cropped up in March, with a follow-up report a few weeks later by 9to5Mac that said Apple was indeed testing out prototypes of future iPhone designs with metal backs. That move had originally been said to help set the device apart from the iPhone 4 since there were many other design similarities, as well as cut down on shattering incidents for dropped phones.
If the rumor proves to be true, it would likely be unwelcome news to those who had been banking on upgrading their phones this summer. But with expectations that Apple now has to juggle both GSM and CDMA versions of the device, possibly implement a near-field communications chip (and the infrastructure that goes with it), as well as cook up the next major release of iOS, there are plenty of moving parts that can push back that time frame.
Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Yahoo today announced upgrades to its search product that bring up search results in real-time as a query is typed, much like the “Google Instant” technology launched last year. Called “Search Direct,” Yahoo says this still-in-beta service will provide “a fast, simple search experience that goes beyond a list of blue links.”
Highlighted in Yahoo Search Direct are results beyond the hyperlink, with its ability to detect queries related to movies, television, local information, and trending news topics.
“With today’s launch, direct answers–not the search results page–is the primary focus. We are redefining the search process and prominently displaying direct answers where search decisions are being made,” said Shashi Seth, Yahoo senior vice president of search and marketplaces, in a statement. “Search Direct is evidence of Yahoo! continuing to lead innovation in search, enabling people to take action faster, find what is most important, and sample what is possible with the next stage of search technology.”
Yahoo’s search market share is currently flat, according to numbers released this month by Experian Hitwise–about 16 percent in both January and February, in comparison to Bing, which ticked up slightly from 13 percent to 13.6 percent over that same time period.
Yahoo’s chief product officer, Blake Irving, said that Search Direct is in league with the company’s aim to “engage and delight” users. “When I saw the initial prototypes of the stuff, I was absolutely blown away,” Irving said of Search Direct. Of its “very strong search alliance with Microsoft,” Irving insisted that “Yahoo’s still in the search game…(we focus on) the user experience and innovating there.”
As of today it’s now visible on the search.yahoo.com page, and will roll out to “wherever there’s a search box” on Yahoo sites in the coming months.
When Google Instant launched, Shashi Seth authored a Yahoo blog post reminding readers that Yahoo originally launched an instant search feature in 2005.
“While many have suggested that innovation in the search experience is waning, we celebrate industry enhancements that build upon past innovation,” he wrote–a bit of a backhanded compliment. “Though the advancement came too early for some, and the results were too overwhelming for others, Yahoo filed patent applications on the feature and continued to build upon and innovate in the search experience.”
Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Three years ago, Firefox 3 set the record for most downloads in a 24-hour period, cracking 8 million and positioning itself as a viable alternative to Internet Explorer.
Firefox 4 released today to the public at large after 12 public betas, two release candidates, and nearly a year of development, faces a hugely different landscape. (Download Firefox 4 here for Windows, Mac, and Linux.) Microsoft’s Internet Explorer remains the dominant browser. And in less than three years, a significant chunk of the browser market has taken a shine to relative newcomer Google Chrome.
Mozilla flips the switch from version 3.6.15 to version 4 as Firefox possesses more than 400 million active users. (Mozilla has opened a download tracker at glow.mozilla.org.) The new version of the browser sports several massive changes, including a radically redesigned interface, significantly faster browsing speeds, strong support for the still-in-development HTML5 and other “future-Web” tech, and competitive features like synchronization, restart-less add-ons, and tab grouping. You can read the official CNET reviews of Firefox 4 at the Download.com pages for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Browser speed remains an important point of comparison. But as the five major browsers have developed over the past year, their speed differences have become more muddled. For example, Mozilla noted that when Firefox 3 was released, it took “60 milliseconds to change Gmail from showing one message to another with Firefox 3… compared with 413 milliseconds for IE 7 and 227 for Firefox 2.”
One interesting publicly available benchmark is the new JSGameBench from Facebook, which looks to test HTML5 in real-world gaming situations. The Firefox 4 beta was the fastest tested without WebGL and was the second fastest with it. Mozilla’s own tests put Firefox 4 at three to six times faster than Firefox 3.6.
Mozilla remains a leader in developing the Web, and interestingly that role has led it to hold back on building out one of the more interesting minor features in Firefox 4. The new do-not-track feature supports a header on Web sites that tells sites and advertisers not to track you, so you don’t see targeted ads as often. Internet Explorer also supports the header, and it includes robust, configurable support for blocking ad trackers; Firefox 4 relies on add-ons like AdBlock Plus to gain the list blocking.
Johnathan Nightingale, director of Firefox development at Mozilla, explained during a conversation last week at CNET’s San Francisco office that Mozilla is more concerned with the larger problem of why ads were targeted in the first place.
“Beyond blocking the ad loads, which you can do with add-ons, this is a business-social trust situation between sites and users. We need people to vote with their feet, or at least want to have that conversation. We’ve spoken to a lot of advertisers. And by and large, they want to be good citizens here,” Nightingale said. As a current solution, though, that makes users entirely dependent on advertiser behavior, which is likely to fall short of what people want.
Another security repair in Firefox 4 fixes a hole that affected all browsers until last summer–a vulnerability so old that it was mentioned in the documentation for CSS2 a decade ago. The exploit is a CSS sniffing history attack, in which malicious code can gain access to your browser history by manipulating link appearance and style. What made the bug so difficult to repair is that the simplest solution–to prevent all link style manipulation–would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Nightingale had said in an interview at Black Hat 2010.
Nightingale also addressed other changes in Firefox 4 as providing the feature in question without playing fast and loose with a user’s data. Firefox 4 removes the “lucky” automatic search results from the location bar’s search functionality because Mozilla had “concerns about sending a lot of private data from the location bar to search engines. We will get there,” he added, “but like with Sync we want to do it right.”
Sync is another new feature in Firefox 4 and is possibly one of the best implementations of the feature across the competition. Not only can you synchronize your data across traditional PC versions of Firefox, but you also can sync your bookmarks, passwords, preferences, history, and tabs with your Android or Maemo-running phone or tablet. However, Sync debuted in 2008 as an add-on and had a notably rough beginning. Fortunately for user data, which it used to delete seemingly at will, Mozilla fixed the problems with it.
Along with the Android support, Sync gets two security features right. One is that Firefox encrypts your data before sending it over an encrypted connection to its servers, where it remains encrypted. Mozilla said it could not access the data even if somebody there wanted to. The second is that you have the option of setting up your own personal sync server. In an age in which private data stored by corporations gets hacked and stolen with shocking regularity, setting up a personal sync server is one way to ensure that you bear the responsibility for your own data. The only problem with the feature is that it doesn’t yet support syncing add-ons, a factor that is at least partially tied to Firefox’s nascent restart-less add-on network, also debuting in version 4.
Other big changes in Firefox 4 include a minimalist interface with a condensed menu button that closely resembles that of Opera 11 and Chrome 10; app tabs; tab groups for keeping tabs organized; an overhauled add-on manager that also supports restart-less add-ons; and expansive support for HTML5, CSS3, and the aforementioned hardware acceleration for Direct2D and Direct3D on Windows, OpenGL on Mac, and XRender on Linux.
One “future-Web” tech that Nightingale said probably won’t come to Firefox before version 5 is support for WebSocket. “The specification had security problems, so we turned it off,” he said. He added that users can enable it at will through the “websocket” options in about:config.
Although it took more than two and a half years for Firefox 4 to get here, expect that time to get axed like a tree in a rainforest for Firefox 5. Mozilla plans to put Firefox on an accelerated release schedule, much like Google has done with Chrome.
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, the days of unlimited broadband may be numbered in the United States, and we’re not talking wireless this time — AT&T says it will implement a 150GB monthly cap on landline DSL customers and a 250GB cap on subscribers to U-Verse high speed internet starting on May 2nd. AT&T will also charge overage fees of $10 for every additional 50GB of data, with two grace periods to start out — in other words, the third month you go over the cap is when you’ll get charged. DSLReports says it has confirmation from AT&T that these rates are legitimate, and that letters will go out to customers starting March 18th.
How does AT&T defend the move? The company explains it will only impact two percent of consumers who use “a disproportionate amount of bandwidth,” and poses the caps as an alternative to throttling transfer speeds or disconnecting excessive users from the service completely. Customers will be able to check their usage with an online tool, and get notifications when they reach 65 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of their monthly rates.
We just spoke with AT&T representative Seth Bloom and confirmed the whole thing — rates are exactly as described above, and the company will actually begin notifying customers this week. He also told us that those customers who don’t yet have access to the bandwidth usage tool won’t get charged until they do, and that AT&T U-Verse TV service won’t count towards the GB cap.
Update: What prompted this change to begin with? That’s what we just asked AT&T. Read the company’s statement after the break.
We are committed to providing a great experience for all of our Internet customers. Less than 2 percent of our Internet customers could be impacted by this approach – those who are using a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. We will communicate early and often with these customers so they are well aware of their options before they incur any additional usage charges.
The top 2 percent of residential subscribers uses about 20 percent of the bandwidth on our network. Just one of these high-traffic users can utilize the same amount of data capacity as 19 typical households. Lopsided usage patterns can cause congestion at certain points in the network, which can slow Internet speeds and interfere with other customers’ access to and use of the network. Our new plan addresses another concern: customers strongly believe that only those who use the most bandwidth should pay more than those who don’t use as much. That’s exactly what this does – and again, 98% of our customers will not be impacted by this.
Friday, March 18th, 2011
Information about RSA’s SecurID authentication tokens used by millions of people, including government and bank employees, was stolen during an “extremely sophisticated cyberattack,” putting customers relying on them to secure their networks at risk, the company said today.
“Recently, our security systems identified an extremely sophisticated cyberattack in progress being mounted against RSA,” Executive Chairman Art Coviello, wrote in an open letter to customers, which was posted on the company’s Web site.
“Our investigation has led us to believe that the attack is in the category of an Advanced Persistent Threat. Our investigation also revealed that the attack resulted in certain information being extracted from RSA’s systems. Some of that information is specifically related to RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication products,” the letter said.
“While at this time we are confident that the information extracted does not enable a successful direct attack on any of our RSA SecurID customers, this information could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack,” Coviello wrote. “We are very actively communicating this situation to RSA customers and providing immediate steps for them to take to strengthen their SecurID implementations.”
The company said it has no evidence that other products are affected or that personally identifiable data on customers or employees was compromised. RSA, the security division of technology giant EMC, did not elaborate and a spokesman said he could not provide additional information at this time.
The tokens, of which 40 million have been deployed, and 250 million mobile software versions, are the market leader for two-factor authentication. They are used in addition to a password, providing a randomly generated number that allows a user to access a network.
The tokens are commonly used in financial transactions and government agencies; one source who asked to remain anonymous said SecurID users in those sensitive areas were scrambling to figure out what to do in light of the breach.
What exactly did the bad guys get?
Because it’s unclear exactly what type of information was stolen, sources told CNET they could only speculate as to what the potential outcome could be for companies using the devices.
“It’s hard to say [how serious the breach is] until we know the extent of what the bad guys got a hold of,” said Charlie Miller, a principal analyst at consultancy Independent Security Evaluators. “Any time a security company gets broken into, it reminds you that it could happen to anybody.”
He used to work for a financial services firm that “basically ran everything on” SecurID, he said. “They would be very unhappy if they found out” it could be compromised somehow.
“The real story here is what was stolen. It definitely seems mysterious,” said Ravi Ganesan, an operating partner at The Comvest Group and former founder and CEO of single sign-on provider TriCipher. “SecurID is a token authenticator device that flashes a new number every 60 seconds. The number is calculated from two things, a ‘secret seed’ unique to that device and the time of day. So your one-time password is output of [that] algorithm.”
RSA has historically kept their algorithm secret, but that is not a good defense against a sophisticated attacker who could get a software version of the token or the back-end server and reverse engineer the code, Ganesan said. “So what on earth could have been stolen? I certainly hope RSA did not put some back door into the software and that was what got stolen.”
While details were scarce, hints about the breach could be gleaned from a message to customers filed with the SEC. It recommended that customers increase focus on security for social-media applications and Web sites accessed by anyone with access to their critical networks; enforce strong password and PIN policies; as well as remind employees to avoid opening suspicious e-mails and providing usernames or other credentials to people without verifying the person’s identity as well as avoid complying with e-mail or phone-based requests for such information.
Additionally, the message said customers should pay special attention to securing their active directories and use two-factor authentication to control access to them; watch closely for changes in user privilege levels and access rights; harden monitor and limit remote and physical access to infrastructure that hosts critical security software; shore up practices against social-engineering attacks; and update security products and patch operating system software.
Advanced Persistent Attacks often target source code and other information useful in espionage and involve knowledge of the company’s network, key employees, and workings. Attackers use social engineering and exploits hidden in e-mail and other messages to sneak keyloggers and other snooping tools onto employees’ computers. Google announced last year that it and other companies had been targeted in such an attack and it later came out that attackers used an unpatched hole in Internet Explorer to get into the company computers. Google said at the time that intellectual property was stolen and that the attacks appeared to originate in China.
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
If you’ve ever purchased a Microsoft Points card then you’ve seen the long line of characters you have to input to add the points to your Xbox Live account. Those codes are generated by an algorithm Microsoft relies on to always create unique codes and associates them with a given number of points.
The problem is, the algorithm Microsoft uses has been figured out by a group of hackers to some extent.Rather than generating completely new codes the hackers figured out how to add to a used code and get a brand new working code. In so doing, they were able to generate new codes that worked with Microsoft’s redemption system leading to a lot of stolen points.
Each code manages to accrue 160 points which isn’t a lot, but if you can keep generating new codes the total amount soon adds up. In some cases those using it generated 10,000 points before the codes stopped working.
Further work on the system managed to produce codes offering 48-hour free Live trials or a Halo Reach Banshee avatar, but the points were the most desirable outcome for anyone using the generating executable.
Microsoft has now blocked any new codes produced with this tool, but not before losing what is thought to be in the region of $1.2 million worth of points. What’s also unclear is whether they have the records in place to track which Xbox Live accounts redeemed the fake codes. If they haven’t, then there’s no way to demand the money back or block those accounts.
In order to track the fake codes Microsoft would need to have a list of which ones were fake, a list they probably don’t have. They’d also then have to spend time going through the transaction records locating the codes and the Live account they were redeemed for. That is going to take time and employees will have to be paid to do it. Then action would have to be taken against the account holder and any repercussions from that.
For $1.2 million it’s worth doing the work, but I don’t know if Microsoft is willing to spare the resources to carry it out, especially if there’s a chance they can’t get the points and content back. I’d be more concerned about fixing the problem that allowed used codes to be re-used in this way so as to stop it ever happening again.
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Pop Cap Games doesn’t usually race to be among the first to develop for a new platform of any sort, be it a console or a mobile operating system. But the company is breaking from its tradition and working hard on porting its popular Plants vs. Zombies game to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform.
“With Microsoft and Windows Phone 7 we saw a strategic opportunity,” said Garth Chouteau, vice president of public relations for PopCap.
Before you scoff, don’t think the developers at Popcap have blown a gasket. Chouteau said that even though there isn’t yet a large installed base of Windows Phone 7 devices on the market, he expects that there will be…in time. Microsoft has good relationships with developers, has historically worked well with them, and it’s built a gaming ecosystem for its Xbox games, which could be important for Popcap’s gaming audience.
What’s more, Microsoft has recently struck a deal with Nokia, the leading handset maker in the world, to put its operating system on all future smartphones designed by Nokia. All this gives Popcap and other developers plenty of reason to view Microsoft as an important mobile operating system platform.
“We think it will be a popular mobile platform,” he said. “And we like to have our games available in every appropriate place where our customers prefer to play.”
When Microsoft decided to scrap its earlier mobile operating system to develop its revamped Windows Phone 7 platform, released in October, the software giant’s goal was modest: simply getting back in the game. And if mobile developer interest is any indication, Microsoft has achieved that.
The company is already signing up big names to the platform, such as Rovio, which developed the popular game Angry Birds. Getting A-list apps is akin to scoring a Nordstrom or Macy’s as an anchor store at a mall. It gives people a reason to come to that particular mobile platform, because they know they can get apps they’ve heard of or tried on other platforms.
There’s other evidence that Windows Phone 7 is gaining traction among developers. The company Urban Airship, which helps develops mobile applications for some 7,000 brands, surveyed its customers early in 2011 to get a sense of their priorities in the coming year. According to that survey, which was done in January before Microsoft announced it would partner with Nokia, nearly 25 percent of its brand customers said they were planning to develop mobile applications for Windows Phone 7 in 2011. This is up from only 5.9 percent who actually said they developed apps for Windows Phone 7 in 2010.
But even though Windows Phone 7 is on the radar screen for many brands and developers, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android development continue to dominate–by far–the world of mobile developers. According to Urban Airship’s survey, 99.5 percent of brands last year developed apps for Apple’s iOS and about 44 percent developed apps for Google’s Android platform. In 2011, 90.5 percent of brands surveyed said they had plans to develop for iOS and about 74 percent said they planned to develop apps for Android.
Still, for a company that was all but forgotten in the mobile market a little over a year ago, growing interest from developers has to be taken as some glimmer of good news. And indeed it is at Microsoft.
“We have already had a lot of success so far,” said Brandon Watson, director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7 at Microsoft. “Developers are making money. Some people may try to compare us to existing platforms. But you have to consider where we’ve come from in just a few short months.”
Indeed, Microsoft only has about 9,000 apps in its Marketplace compared with Apple’s 350,000 plus apps in the Apple App Store. But Watson said that Microsoft is adding at least 100 new apps a day, and it has already registered more than 32,000 app developers to create applications for its platform.
Quality vs. Quantity
The number and quality of mobile apps on any smartphone platform is absolutely critical in terms of attracting customers for devices. Smartphones today are less about voice communications and almost entirely all about apps and what people can do with these devices.
“Whether you’re an operating system developer or you make mobile handsets or tablets or you’re a connected-car manufacturer, what differentiates your product from someone else’s are the apps and software,” said Andrew Ianni, founder and president of AppNation, a conference and event company focused on the business app economy. “That is why all these companies are courting developers. It’s why a thriving app marketplace is so critical. If these companies don’t have that, then they’re out of the conversation.”
Microsoft understands the importance of the developer community in terms of the overall success of Windows Phone 7. And the company has devoted a significant amount of resources to getting developers on board with the platform.
“Honestly, it’s the only thing that matters,” Watson said. “That means we must give developers what they need to develop for our platform. And if we don’t, we lose.”
Many large to medium-size app developers are putting Windows Phone 7 on their roadmaps because they see the potential in the platform.
Todd Berman, CTO and vice president of engineering for the streaming media company Rdio, said that his company felt compelled to be a Windows Phone 7 launch partner because based on Microsoft’s history of working with developers and pushing into markets it feels are important, it will eventually have a sizable customer base.
“Our customers need to be able to use our service on whatever device they want whether that’s a phone or a desktop or a tablet,” Berman said. “So it’s important for us to be on those devices. Microsoft is one of the more interesting players because of its ability to be in a lot of spaces.”
But some developers are not ready to take the plunge into WP7 development just yet. For many, it’s a chicken and egg problem. App developers have a finite amount of resources, and it’s more lucrative for them target the platforms with the most users, which to date has been Apple’s iOS platform.
“Collectively, I think app developers are taking a wait and see approach,” Ianni said. “The developer community is impressed with the OS. It’s reasonably easy to develop for, but there hasn’t been a mass movement to develop for it yet because developers are still waiting for the tipping point in terms of device sales.”
This is where Microsoft’s deal with Nokia could help. Nokia announced last month that it will scrap its existing Symbian OS and base all future Nokia phones on Windows Phone 7. Even though Nokia has been losing market share over the past several quarters, the Finnish device maker still sells more mobile handsets than any other manufacturer.
“The deal between Microsoft and Nokia validated our original decision to support the WP7 platform,” Berman said. “Nokia is still synonymous with cell phones. And they are the pre-eminent mobile hardware maker out there.”
But it will take time for Microsoft to see the fruits of the Nokia deal. The first Nokia Windows Phone 7 device isn’t expected to hit the market until late this year. And handsets won’t ship in volume until sometime in 2012.
For smaller developers, this time line is too long to make Windows Phone 7 a priority. For example, FlatPack Interactive, which currently holds the No. 8 spot for paid apps in Apple’s App Store with its game BallFallDown Deluxe, is not yet considering developing for Windows Phone 7. Currently, BallFallDown Deluxe is only available for the iPad. Paul Zimmer, founder of FlatPack Interactive, hopes to port the company’s existing game to Android tablets soon. And he said the company also plans to develop new games for Apple’s iPhone and Android smartphones as soon as it can free up resources.
“Given where we are in our business right now, Windows Phone 7 isn’t even on our radar,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, for something that won’t have a reasonable installed base for a year, it’s just not realistic for us. We could be out of business by then.”
The race for third place
While it’s clear now that developers must develop apps for iOS and Android, the decision of which platform to address next is still up in the air for many. Research In Motion’s BlackBerry platform still has a large installed base. But developers complain that it’s a difficult platform to develop for. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard’s WebOS, which the company bought from Palm, is great software to develop for, but has a very small installed base.
To ensure that its platform is the “third OS,” Microsoft has offered developers incentives to build apps for Windows Phone 7.
“There are rumors going around that Microsoft is throwing big bags of money at developers,” he said. “I’m not sure if this rumor originated from the same place as leprechauns sitting at the end of the rainbow with a big pot of gold. But that’s not really how it works.”
Watson said there are deals that have been struck that involve monetary assistance for developers, but there are also marketing incentives that will help promote the apps in the Microsoft Marketplace. There is also technical assistance and help in merchandising apps in the Marketplace. And there will even be times when Microsoft seeks an exclusive for an app.
“We are figuring out what works and how to engage with developers so that they can be successful,” he said. “We want to make them rich and famous. Microsoft can only be a success if our partners make money.”
Watson wouldn’t talk about specific deals struck with particular app developers, but he said the depth of engagement with developers varies. For example, the most successful app developers will get one-on-one interaction with Microsoft. The company will ensure there are sufficient monetary and technical resources to build the app. Because this is such an intensive process, Microsoft can’t do this with every app developer. But he said that Rovio, the developer of Angry Birds, would likely fall into this category.
To scale the incentive program globally to include thousands and tens of thousands of app developers, Microsoft offers events for technical training. It also help developers better merchandise and market their apps. Microsoft carves out spots in the Marketplace to promote certain apps, which is huge especially for lesser name apps.
Google’s Android platform, which is now the No. 1 mobile OS in the U.S., according to ComScore, had similar problems attracting new developers in its early days. But once big carriers, such as Verizon Wireless started pushing the platform as an alternative to AT&T’s exclusive iPhone in the U.S., the Android platform gained steam. And as more Android devices were sold, more app developers created applications for these devices.
“It’s hard sometimes to get the snowball rolling,” said Ianni. “But once it gets going, then it’s a virtuous circle that keeps building and feeding off each other. Android is in the middle of it now. Apple was there two years ago. And Microsoft could find itself there as well down the road.”
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Adobe has worked out a cunning plan to side-step the campaign of Steve Jobs to have its Flash software removed from computers in favour of HTML5.
Jobs does not like Flash and is rallying efforts to encourage everyone to move to HTML5. Many are suspicious that Microsoft agrees with him.
However Adobe is working out a way of having its cake and eat it. According to Cnet, Adobe has worked out a rough way that Flash can use HTML5.
Adobe Flash Professional Senior Product Manager Tom Barclay said that they have it going roughly at the moment and it needs a bit more work. However it means that Flash can use HTML5, perhaps for banner ads and Web publishing, while keeping its use for games that require complex interactivity.
At the moment they have arranged it so that most of the Flash file gets converted. It can manage drawing elements, fills, shape tweens, motion tweens, symbol names and instance names. Because it uses Adobe’s Air, both Windows and Mac based developers will be able to use it. If Steve Jobs allows Macs to run Air in the future of course.
The built-in logging tool tells you which elements were not converted, and these currently including the audio and video tags.
Barclay wants feedback from developers before it decides if it will add support for the more complicated aspects of HTML5.
However the aim of the tool is to support banner ad development on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. This is because Jobs does not want to allow its iOS to support Flash.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
LONDON–A day might be coming when the power of Facebook means that major companies no longer bother with their own Web sites.
That was the startling if self-promotional possibility sketched out by Stephen Haines, commercial director of Facebook’s U.K. operation, while speaking today at the Technology for Marketing and Advertising conference here. Essentially, Haines argued, companies’ interactions with their customers could take place so often on Facebook that company Web sites would fall by the wayside.
To bolster his argument, Haines showed statistics comparing how many times Facebook users have clicked a company’s “like” button with how many times per month people visited that company’s Web site. For Starbucks, a top Facebook advertiser, the ratio was 21.1 million likes to 1.8 million site visitors. For Coca-Cola, it’s 20.5 million compared with 270,000; for Oreo, 10.1 million compared with 290,000; and for Dr. Pepper, it’s 4.1 million compared with 325,000.
It’s no surprise to hear that Facebook, trying to convert its social-networking dominance into corresponding popularity with advertisers, likes a future in which it’s the hub of commercial activity. In a sign that bodes well for that ambition, Haines’ talk drew an overflowing crowd of marketers eager for any tips on how they, too, can capitalize on Facebook usage. In the U.K., millions of Facebook users spend an average of 28 minutes per day on the site, Haines said.
His idea isn’t totally outrageous. After all, plenty of individuals and companies rely on existing online services rather than building everything from scratch. At the individual level, tools such as Google’s Blogger or Yahoo’s Flickr are easier to set up than a custom-built blog or photo-sharing site. Facebook interactions let companies tap into a wealth of customer information and a communication channel, and there’s no need to coax a user to set up yet another username and password.
But the prospect of Facebook becoming powerful enough to make a sort of parallel Web inside its own walled garden is also no doubt fearful in some ways. Sure, the social-networking site is embedded increasingly deeply into people’s lives, but relying on it for customer communications means subordinating a key part of a businesses’ operations to a middleman that has shown no shortage of ambition. Many companies are happy to use Microsoft products and Google services, but companies and antitrust regulators get antsy when too much power is concentrated in one corporation’s hands.
There’s also the possibility that Facebook users, not just companies, might get cold feet. Thus far the site has continued to attract members despite controversies over privacy and other matters, but it’s possible the company might go too far.
It’s music to marketers’ ears to hear Haines say Facebook’s targeting tools can tell companies exactly who are the “22-year-olds in Surrey who like football and cricket.” But Facebook users might not find it so melodic when finding out that companies, not just their friends, have a keen interest in what favorites they list on their profile.
Even if Facebook doesn’t somehow supplant lots of Web sites, though, there’s no denying the social network is becoming more important to marketing, and it’s adapting to the idea.
Facebook has a variety of tools available to marketers:
• Ways to offer free samples to customers, something ketchup maker Heinz has used.
• The ability to attract the attention of smartphone users making local check-ins. Clothing retailer The Gap gave away 10,000 pairs of jeans to the first 10,000 customers to use the Facebook local check-in service, and Mazda sold 100 cars–exceeding expectations–with a 20-percent-off offer at five U.K. auto dealerships, Haines said.
• The ability to build e-commerce sites into Facebook pages. Max Factor didn’t want to lose visitors to its Facebook page to another site when customers were ready to buy something, so a partnership with Amazon lets the customers buy products without leaving.
• “Reach block” ads that change as many as five times in a 24-hour period to send a sequence of ad messages to Facebook users.
• Surveys that let companies try to engage customers in company decisions. Vitaminwater used voting, among other mechanisms, to generate 1.3 million “connections” with possible customers during its “find a new flavor” marketing campaign.
• Applications built atop Facebook’s interface that let companies create custom-made interactive programs.
On top of that, Facebook is experimenting with new ideas. One is “newsfeed story ads,” in which commentary that ordinarily would appear as updates in a Facebook user’s news feed appears in advertisements, too. Another is “application social context ads,” in which an app can show a user which of his or her contacts also is using it.
Regardless of the extent to which Facebook actually replaces in-house Web sites, Facebook as a marketing channel isn’t for everybody. Naturally, Haines had plenty of examples of companies that have benefited from Facebook’s marketing potential, but he also had cautions for those thinking of using Facebook seriously in this way.
First, be prepared for a long-term commitment to keep a site on Facebook lively.
“If it doesn’t change, it’s probably not worth dabbling” with a Facebook site, Haines said. For a social-networking site to be useful in marketing, it’s got to “stimulate” the customers, he said.
Second, plan to respond to very public criticism.
“If you ignore [criticism], it’s the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Be prepared for it, because it will happen.”
Ideally, good responses can turn critics into fans, though.
Third, companies should be judicious about the fine line between engaging customers and annoying them. One company, which Haines didn’t name, had 200,000 people liking its page.
“They sent sent seven messages a day,” he said. “Their fan base dropped off.”
Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
It’s hard to believe it’s been a little more than a year since the original iPad’s
introduction. Since its unveiling last January, Apple has sold more than 15 million of the devices, well beyond the company’s original expectations, as can be witnessed by the long wait times in its first few months of availability.
Competitors like Motorola are just now beginning to release iPad competitors like the Google Android-based Xoom
, with HP trailing not too far behind with the WebOS-powered TouchPad due this summer. Meanwhile, Microsoft is plotting to make Windows squeeze into all matter of form factors in its move to support ARM processors in the next version of the OS.
That brings us to tomorrow, when Apple is expected to detail the next major version of the iPad
at an invite-only event here in San Francisco. CNET will be there to bring you the news, as it happens, with our live blog. In the interim, there’s a small laundry list of things that can be expected alongside a successor to Apple’s slate effort:
A new iPad
The new iPad is said to be thinner than the original, as well having a slightly smaller bezel–the black area around the screen where users keep their thumbs while holding the device. That bezel could also be white, according to a photo that surfaced this week on 9to5Mac.
Other exterior design rumors have pointed toward a possible change in case material from metal to something that’s “similar to carbon fiber.” That possible detail came last month from iLounge, which also reported that Apple was working on a 7-inch variant of the iPad, which may not end up for production in the immediate future.
As far as the specs go, a report from The Wall Street Journal in early February pointed to the iPad successor getting a more powerful processor, along with a built-in camera for video conferencing, and models that will work on both AT&T and Verizon’s networks. The camera rumor on its own is a particularly safe bet based on evidence that Apple had been testing iPad units with cameras since the launch of the first unit, and has since launched FaceTime-ready cameras on the iPod Touch
and on its latest MacBook Pro laptops.
According to a report by Engadget last week, the newer unit is also said to be packing a very important improvement in its internals: more memory. The current iPad carries 256MB of RAM, with the iPad 2 said to be packing 512MB, matching what can be found in Apple’s iPhone 4. Why is memory important, you may be wondering? Similar to the effect of increasing the amount of RAM in your computer, this lets the device store more information in that space, without having to dump extraneous bits to make room for the new. In real-world use this could mean keeping more Web pages and applications open without losing whatever you had been doing due to the system asking running applications to free up their memory usage.
Finally, there’s that important issue of cost. Will it cost more than the current iPad? Apple has a solid track record of bringing the price of its products down as they progress, though the original iPad was no cheap affair, ringing in at close to $260 in parts for its bottom model, and rising to $348.10 for the top of the line, according to estimates from an iSuppli teardown. It’s also been selling rather well, with Apple moving 7.33 million iPads in the last three months of 2010. The other, longstanding item that would suggest Apple does not plan to bring the price down is the current price of the iPod Touch, which tops out at $399 at retail–$100 less than the entry-level iPad.
iOS 4.3 and beyond
The follow-up point release for iOS
4.2, 4.3 brings a few new features like AirPlay support for apps, as well as the personal hot-spot feature that was introduced for Verizon iPhone owners. Other major tweaks include a software option to adjust whether the switch on the iPad is used to mute the volume, or lock the screen orientation, functionality Apple had changed after the iPad had been released.iOS 4.3 was first seeded to developers in January, and has received two betas since then. Rumors pointed to it being on its way
in mid-February, though it would make sense for Apple to hold its release to coincide with any additional features that may be unveiled tomorrow.Given that the company also hosted a preview event for iOS 4
in April last year, we could even get a sneak peek at features that could come with that next version.
Changes to MobileMe
(formerly .Mac) is the paid add-on service Apple has been pushing with its iOS devices and computers since its introduction in mid-2008. More recently, however, boxed copies of the tool have been phased out at Apple’s stores, in favor of being sold as digital licenses to customers post-purchase. A remote iOS device-tracking service, which had been one of the key selling points for the service, was also turned into a free feature for owners of current generation iOS devices when Apple released iOS 4.2 in November.
So where does that leave MobileMe as a product? Apple still positions it as an e-mail, calendaring, Web site, and media host, along with pulling duties as a storage and synchronization service. Though a recent report by Cult of Mac points to Apple wanting to build on that and possibly include things like a live video streaming tool, and geolocation features like a check-in tool and place pages.
New small-business tech support service
This is the one non-consumer-oriented item that’s likely to appear at tomorrow’s event: a tech support service aimed at small businesses.Reportedly dubbed “Joint Venture,” details of the service leaked out to blog AppleInsider yesterday, saying the $500 a year service would provide coverage for up to five Mac computers, and give purchasers priority tech support at the Apple’s Genius Bars. Other perks are said to include group training sessions and a priority tech support line. This is in contrast to Apple’s existing ProCare service, which runs $99, covers up to three machines, and is aimed at individuals.
Apple reportedly briefed its retail store employees on its plans to introduce the service this past weekend.