As everyone takes a breather after last week’s iPhone 3G launch coverage, we dip back into a wide variety of topics, including Apple’s public apology for messing up the MobileMe launch and a look at how Apple’s market share is increasing. Glenn Fleishman also looks at Microsoft’s backtracking on the MSN Music debacle, the new GoBoingo application for the Mac, Nokia’s buyout of the Symbian mobile phone operating system, and how a few hundred thousand dollars can buy you a new top-level domain. Adam looks at Precipitate, which brings Spotlight searching to Google Docs files, and Rick Fay evaluates hands-free options for the iPhone. In the TidBITS Watchlist, we look at the iPod touch 1.1.5 update, the HP Printer Driver 1.1, and three updates from Rogue Amoeba: Airfoil 3.2.1, Audio Hijack Pro 2.8.2, and Nicecast 1.9.3.
Two research firms say that Apple’s share of U.S. computer sales shot up by 30 to 40 percent in the second quarter of 2008 over the same quarter in 2007. IDC and Gartner say PC sales worldwide rose from 62 to 71 million systems year over year, and Apple’s sales increased in every market, even as the overall price-per-computer dropped.
The research firms said Apple sold 38 percent (Gartner) or 32 percent (IDC) more computers compared year over year, pushing it either into a clear third place after Dell and HP (Gartner), or tied for third with Acer (IDC), which acquired Gateway and Packard Bell in the intervening period. Worldwide, HP takes the top spot in overall market share, followed by Dell, Acer, Lenovo, and Toshiba.
Given that Apple typically keeps its price points about the same, improving features or reducing the cost of high-end add-ons – like the MacBook Air’s solid-state drive, now $500 cheaper than at its introduction – this likely means Apple’s revenue is higher than indicated by its roughly 8 percent estimated market share in the United States. According to Gartner, other firms are cutting prices steeply, trading market share for revenues.
I accept your apology, but I’m speaking only for myself. Last week, Apple’s MobileMe team sent an email to all subscribers of the $99-per-year service, admitting that the transition from .Mac was rocky, and that they’re sorry about it. So sorry, in fact, that they’re tacking 30 days onto all current subscribers’ expiration dates. (I wrote about the botched .Mac-to-MobileMe transition in “MobileMe Fails to Launch Well, But Finally Launches,” 2008-07-12.)
Also, I received details from Apple on how Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger users will be able to use MobileMe services.
Here’s $8.25 for Your Troubles — The extension of a MobileMe subscription by 30 days – an $8.25 value – is a nice gesture of goodwill, even though it hardly covers the lost time I spent coping with sync problems. I like that Apple ‘fessed up and said sorry. It would have been more meaningful if they’d used standard English rather than marketing-ese, but you can’t have everything.
The 30-day extension is described in an extensive FAQ, the details of which show that Apple is trying quite hard to show their contrition. Anyone with an existing .Mac account as of 09-Jul-08 or who signed up for a new MobileMe account before 7 PM on 15-Jul-08 qualifies, even if your account expired (they’ve reactivated it), is about to expire, or you have a trial subscription. The new expiration date won’t appear in your account details for “a few weeks,” Apple writes.
Apple also said in the letter that they have been using the term “push” too broadly to describe MobileMe’s technology. In the context of events, contacts, and mail, push generally means that as soon as a change is made, a given device or computer is notified to receive the update if that device or computer is connected to a network.
With MobileMe, Apple had already received some criticism about labeling its desktop synchronization as push because changes lagged for up to 15 minutes. The iPhone and me.com Web applications receive changes immediately, or, if the iPhone is off all networks, as soon as it resumes its access. Apple says it won’t use the term “push” for its desktop software until the software provides that actual feature.
In Tiger, It’s Still .Mac, Same Features — After I wrote about how to get updated MobileMe software under Mac OS X Leopard (you must first go to the .Mac preference pane before the Mac OS X for MobileMe 1.1 update will appear in Software Update), several readers asked whether this update would eventually be available for Tiger, too. The answer: no.
An Apple spokesperson forwarded several details to me about the Tiger transition. First, the 10.4.11 release is required; I discovered this earlier today when, during a power outage at my office, I attempted to use an old iBook that still sported 10.4.10. To use the MobileMe Web applications, you also need to download either Safari 3 for Tiger, or use either Mozilla Firefox 2 or 3. Tiger’s last bundled release was Safari 2.
All previously supported .Mac features that worked in Tiger will continue to work with MobileMe. Unlike the within-15-minutes synchronization noted above for Leopard, Tiger will sync only as frequently as every hour.
Apple posted a KnowledgeBase article with information for Tiger and Leopard users about how to set up or change email programs to work with me.com addresses. To continue using old mac.com email addresses, which will work indefinitely, leave settings alone. To use a new MobileMe account or the me.com address that .Mac users were also assigned, follow the instructions in the article.
Apple confirmed that Tiger will continue to show .Mac throughout; they plan no update to change the operating system’s terminology to read MobileMe.
MobileMe’s launch spelled an end of Apple-coordinated synchronization in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, but, really, did it ever work well enough that someone is relying on it three years after Tiger was released? I hope not.
Microsoft blinked on its way to terminating the future capability to play music purchased from the defunct MSN Music store. On 31-Aug-08, The company had planned to pull the plug on its authorization servers, the back-end systems that are required for music owners to change the set of machines on which their purchased music is allowed to play. Computers that were already authorized to play music would still be able to play the music, however; Microsoft wasn’t planning to use what’s called “self-help” and disable existing rights and authorizations. (See “Thank You for Not Playing: Microsoft Expires DRMed Music,” 2008-04-30.)
The company backpedaled a few weeks ago and said that it will keep its authorization systems running until at least the end of 2011. Microsoft faced a storm of media and user criticism over the move, which was nearly the worst-case scenario for those who oppose restrictive digital rights management. (The worst case is when all music playing rights would expire, not just the right of transfer and authorization.)
It was clear to observers that Microsoft could also have faced class-action lawsuits, given the large number of purchasers, the lack of alternatives (excepting ripping and burning discs, degrading the music quality), and the unilateral action.
Judges are increasingly handing down negative judgments and fines against the music industry trade group RIAA. Microsoft had to view the downside to its move to save most likely a few hundred thousand dollars a year against millions in defending itself and tens of millions if they lost a multi-year lawsuit.
The folks at Boingo Wireless play their own game of Katamari Damacy, rolling up hundreds of disparate Wi-Fi hotspot networks and tens of thousands of hotspots around the world into one flat-priced footprint. They have now enhanced support for Mac users with a lightweight application – GoBoingo – that’s designed to make it easier to connect to hotspots that are part of their network.
Before the GoBoingo client was released officially, you could sign up for a Boingo account and at most hotspots in the company’s network enter your credentials manually. I have subscribed to Boingo most recently since January 2008, and have used dozens of hotspots in that more tedious method. (Typically, you have to look for a partner link on the main gateway page for a hotspot, select Boingo, and then enter your user name and password.)
GoBoingo has no user interface as such. Once installed, it runs in the background, and alerts you when a Boingo partner network is in the vicinity. You then enter your login details – if you haven’t connected before – and you’re informed about cost if your plan requires a payment.
Boingo has two recurring unlimited service options: $22 per month for about 60,000 hotspots in the United States, or $39 per month for about 100,000 hotspots worldwide. The company requires no contract. With a Boingo account, you can also purchase 24-hour passes to the network for $8, and have it billed to whatever credit card is associated with your Boingo account.
Readers with long memories will recall that Boingo had a slightly more complicated Macintosh client a few years ago (see “Boingo for Macintosh Launches,” 2005-01-10). That software apparently continued to work through Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, but didn’t function under 10.5 Leopard.
Stuart Morgan of Google has released a free Mac OS X preference pane called Precipitate that enables Spotlight and Google Desktop to search documents stored in your Google Docs account, along with your Google Bookmarks.
We’ve been using Google Docs an increasing amount, and Precipitate worked fine in my initial Spotlight search tests for finding documents that exist only online. Clicking a found Google Docs document in the Spotlight search results opened it in my default browser, just as you’d expect. If you use either Google Docs or Google Bookmarks and Spotlight or Google Desktop, give Precipitate a try.
Future updates of Precipitate will likely support multiple Google accounts and some sort of automatic update functionality (so in the meantime, you’ll need to check for updates manually at the Precipitate page). It’s a 904K download and works in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard; I haven’t yet confirmed Tiger compatibility.
We all know about vanity domain names – www dot yourname here dot com, org, net, info, or otherwise. The Internet authority that oversees domain names is about to let you get a little more top-heavy with your vanity, if you have deep enough pockets.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has voted to move forward on allowing new top-level domains (TLDs), which form the right-most part of a domain name, like .com, .uk, or .aero. The original TLDs included .gov, .com, and .org, and expanded to include all two-letter country codes, such as .au for Australia and .nu for the island nation of Niue. (If you look at “www.tidbits.com”, .com is the TLD, tidbits is the domain name registered in the .com hierarchy, and www is the local host name that defines a real or virtual server.)
For $100,000 to $500,000, a company or an individual could apply for a TLD. Many years ago, when I worked at Amazon.com, I saw that TLD proposals were underway, and I suggested Amazon sponsor .book so that an ISBN number plus .book would result in a search result on the site. That wasn’t possible then, it turned out, but would be possible under this new regime.
Names could be turned down in a first-pass review if they were offensive, violated trademarks, or were too similar to an existing TLD (.con for grifters, perhaps? :-)). There’s little information now about how two companies that want the same generic TLD, like .book, would work that out. Bidding? First-come, first-serve? Shared delegated authority? These details are expected to be worked out between now and about April 2009. The ICANN page on the topic is unfortunately quite bureaucratic and technical in discussing this issue.
Is this change necessary? Hard to say. It can be quite difficult to find the appropriate domain name for your business, non-profit organization, social site, or personal domain because of the exhaustion of generic words, and the vast growth in the use of sites to pull in advertising dollars through Google AdSense and affiliate program referrals. Opening up new TLDs could allow ISPs and other organizations to build a little more wiggle room.
For instance, a soccer organization could register .soccer, and then work with a registrar to allow both fans and teams to have domains underneath that. The related problem, though, is that companies controlling TLDs that have a relationship to their product might be more ready to yank domain names that have content or engage in behavior they disagree with. That might run counter to the rules that ICANN requires for domain name handling.
I could also see some interesting cooperative work emerge. Say 5,000 Mac users wanted to register .fanboy – to take back the pejorative – and were willing to pony up $20 each, if the TLD cost were $100,000. That’s certainly do-able.
The proposal will also allow the creation of TLDs that don’t use English. Domain names and TLDs currently are limited to a through z, and 0 through 9; domain names can also include one or more hyphens. An obscure system currently allows a kind of mapping for non-English characters and letters, and ICANN has been working on a way to allow a more straightforward encoding method. They started testing this in October 2007. (See “ICANN Tests Non-Roman Characters in Domain Names,” 2007-10-12.)
Part of the new TLD proposal would allow countries to request their two-letter code in characters from their native language or languages. The final report on that proposal was presented at an ICANN meeting. A draft report on the non-Roman character test was released on 24-Jun-08.
The real question, of course, is how long it takes our fearless leader here at TidBITS to put together enough pennies for .bits.
On 01-Jul-08, the state of California made it mandatory to use hands-free technology for cell calls for all drivers 18 and over who want to talk while driving. If you’re under 18, the restrictions are even more severe: drivers may not talk on a cell phone through any means, nor may they type instant messages. This under-18 ban strikes me as a good idea, as driving accidents are the leading cause of death for that age group.
This move isn’t limited to California, or nearby Washington, which implemented a similar ban the same day: 20 other states and a number of countries are looking into or planning similar restrictions on using cell phones while you’re driving, and 10 states and countries require that cell phones be used with hands-free equipment while driving. (In Washington state, where two TidBITS editors are located, text messaging while driving is explicitly banned; in California, 18-and-up drivers can be pulled over if a police officer decides the driver is distracted and unsafe.)
I live over the hill from Silicon Valley and travel there frequently via a winding two-lane highway. Commuters from both the local university town and Silicon Valley have driven me nuts for years with their horrible driving habits while talking on cell phones. Scariest of all are ladies in big SUVs driving in the mall parking lot.
Once I knew the hands-on ban was on the way, I bought and tried four different options for hands-free iPhone use. I didn’t plan on getting four different solutions, but that’s how many it took to find one that met my needs. Prices vary from free to $129; you may find a solution I discarded works for you.
Apple iPhone Headset — The original headset that comes with an iPhone (free with iPhone, or $29 purchased separately) is a good, workable solution. A microphone is embedded in the wire leading to one earbud, about 6 inches (15 cm) down the wire. This square block also contains an integrated multi-purpose press button. When a call comes in, squeezing the button answers the call; squeezing it again at the end of the call hangs up. When you’re driving, you don’t need to pick up the phone at all – simply pinch the microphone switch. If a call comes in while you’re listening to music or a podcast, the audio is paused in favor of your ringtone and then the call itself. The audio resumes automatically when you
No one I called reported any interference when I was driving the car with the window up. Thanks to a windscreen built into the microphone, they could also hear me over the wind noise with the window down. I find the earbuds to be comfortable (some people do not), and the overall wire length is sufficient to lay the iPhone on the console or car seat.
I don’t use the iPhone headset as my main solution (as you’ll read below), but because it came with the iPhone and takes up hardly any space, I keep it in my car as a backup.
One flaw with the earbuds, however, is that you typically have both left and right buds in at the same time, which might qualify under the laws of some states and countries as wearing illegal headphones. (See “Handsfree iPhone Call Leads to Ticket,” 2007-09-13.)
Plantronics Voyager 520 Bluetooth Headset — The Voyager 520 ($99) fits over one ear and communicates with the iPhone via Bluetooth. Performance was excellent, with good noise cancelation, and setup (pairing with the iPhone) was simple. It even comes with a small desktop charger.
In fact, I loved everything about this headset except for the discomfort of the piece that sits in the ear canal. I must have a weird ear canal layout, because wearing it even for a short drive made me constantly conscious of the headset; there was also enough irritation to make the inside of my ear sore. And, I must admit, I’m bothered by people who walk around with Bluetooth headsets permanently affixed to their ears: you try to ask someone a question only to find they’re talking to someone. Leave the headset in the car or office.
Belkin TuneCast Auto — Belkin’s iPhone-to-FM car radio adapter ($79.99) is a clever one-cable system. One end of the cable plugs into the iPhone (or iPod) and the other end plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter to provide power, which also charges the iPhone. An FM radio adapter module sits in the middle. When connected and with your car radio tuned to the FM band, you press the button on the adapter. It searches for a clear FM channel and then indicates the specific channel (for example, 89.7) on a built-in LCD. Select that channel on your car radio, and voila! Your music plays from the iPhone, but more important for our
discussion here, if a phone call comes in, you hear the other party through that FM channel on your radio.
But that’s all it does. You still have to answer and hang up the iPhone manually, a momentary distraction when driving unless you also use the Apple iPhone earbuds. There’s no microphone, so I used the iPhone’s built-in mic. Plus, when driving around our hilly urban community or driving some distance along one of the major freeways in the Bay Area, the FM station reception would change at least once every few minutes, requiring the unit to search for a clearer FM channel – at which time you would have to change the radio to that channel.
Admittedly, the TuneCast Auto wasn’t designed as a hands-free telephone system, but when I could maintain a constant frequency it served the purpose.
Monster iCarPlay Cassette Adapter for iPod and iPhone — A similarly unusual but effective approach is to play the iPhone’s audio through your car stereo without relying on the FM band. The iCarPlay ($24.95) is a cassette adapter and cable that plugs into the radio’s cassette tape slot. (That is, if your car stereo includes one; many newer cars no longer include a cassette deck, although some have a stereo mini-jack input on the front.) The sound quality was excellent, since it wasn’t relying on radio reception, even though a wire runs between the adapter and the iPhone.
To make the setup hands-free, I also bought the Monster iSoniTalk Headphone Adapter for iPhone, a small microphone ($19.95) that plugs into the iPhone and clips to your shirt or, in my case, a small adhesive hook on the dashboard; the iSoniTalk sits between the iPhone and iCarPlay. The iPhone then stays in the carrying case I use in the console of the car. When I get in, I make one connection to the top of the iPhone and everything is ready to go – no settings, no fiddling, and no distractions at any time. Hearing everything (car radio, satellite radio and iPhone music/podcasts) through the car’s speakers is fabulous and cell phone callers have no sense of my unusual
setup through the car stereo.
This combination turns out to be my favorite, and the one I use all of the time now as it allows me to handle everything through the car stereo. It’s also the cheapest solution of the ones I tried.
Parrot Bluetooth Car Kits — If you spend a lot of time in the car and want something more sophisticated, Parrot sells a number of Bluetooth hands-free speakerphone kits that clip onto the dashboard or visor. I didn’t try any of them, which range in price from $129.99 to $299.99, since the iCarPlay and iSoniTalk combination turned out to be the solution for me.
[Rick Fay is a 22-year Mac user, writer, wireless video networking professional, and serious evaluator of technology. He has also used an iPhone throughout the United States and Mexico since 30-Jun-07.]
Nokia will buy out the other owners of Symbian, a firm that develops the same-named smartphone operating system that dominates the worldwide market for phones that double as palmtop portable computers. Nokia will sign the software over to a new foundation, and gradually release parts of the platform under an open-source license. This move challenges Google’s Android platform, developed as part of a large consortium called the Open Handset Alliance, and Apple’s worldwide push for the iPhone (see “Google’s View of Our Cell Phone Future Is an Android, Not a
Nokia Builds a Unified Platform — Nokia plans to form the non-profit Symbian Foundation in 2009 that will include some of the other current minority owners – notably Sony Ericsson and Samsung – and add massive telcos like Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, worldwide carrier Vodafone (in Europe, India, Australia, and New Zealand), and AT&T in America. They’ll also pick up handset makers LG and Motorola and chipmaker Texas Instruments (TI). LG, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Samsung, and TI are also members of the Open Handset Alliance, and the three carriers offer and will offer competing smartphone platforms. AT&T and Vodafone sell the iPhone 3G.
As part of Nokia’s acquisition, a few other smartphone platforms and variants will be folded into the main Symbian arm, reducing overlap as well as choices, and ostensibly providing a more robust system by choosing superior components from each to build into Symbian. This includes Nokia’s internal S60 platform, DoCoMo’s MOAP, and UIQ, owned by Sony Ericsson and Motorola.
Symbian Everywhere Except U.S. — While we don’t know much about Symbian in the United States, that’s an aberration, in part due to Nokia’s lack of interest in creating CDMA phones for Verizon and Sprint back when CDMA ruled the roost before T-Mobile, Cingular, and AT&T Wireless built a complementary robust national GSM market. (Cingular and AT&T Wireless merged and then were folded into the new AT&T.)
The Symbian platform powered 67 percent of smartphones sold worldwide in 2007, according to research firm Canalys. In contrast, Windows Mobile hit 13 percent and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS 10 percent. In the fourth quarter of 2007, Apple showed up with 7 percent of worldwide sales by platform, while Symbian dropped to 65 percent, Windows Mobile dipped very slightly to 12 percent, and RIM increased a tad to 11 percent. Linux filled in the remaining 5 percent.
In the United States, the BlackBerry OS dominates with 42 percent of sales last quarter, Apple has 27 percent, and Microsoft 21 percent. In the Asian-Pacific region, Symbian owns 85 percent of new smartphone sales, and it has 80 percent in the combined markets of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Conserving Costs, and Reducing Fees — Nokia says all members of the new Symbian Foundation will receive royalty-free licenses to use the system. In contrast, Nokia paid $250 million to Symbian for licenses in 2007, even though they were the 48-percent minority owner. The $410 million buyout seems to make perfect sense for all the partners, and it’s a way to compete more effectively against upstarts by reducing reasons not to use Symbian. (Symbian is privately held, and releases limited financial data, the most recent being in 2006. While the company booked a large profit in a variety of categories, it’s unclear how much was rebated
to shareholders, and it’s also apparent that Nokia will continue to need to fund the foundation along with its new partners.)
The Google-backed Android platform has no royalty or license fees. The alliance behind it has started by releasing application components under an open-source license, and plans “over time” to release “more of the code that makes up Android” as open source. The first Android-based phones are expected to be offered on T-Mobile’s network in late 2008.
Apple, Microsoft, and RIM have software developer kits for developing software on their platforms, but don’t have open-source policies for their operating systems. (Apple has to release certain improvements they make to open-source and other code that they modify and distribute as part of the iPhone’s OS, but they aren’t required to release the entire platform, just as with Mac OS X.)
Apple and RIM find themselves in the same camp now, as hardware makers that also control a platform, compared with Android, Windows Mobile, and Symbian, which are platforms that can be licensed by any qualifying handset maker. Neither Apple nor RIM has any conceivable motivation to license their platforms.
This could put pressure on Microsoft to change the terms and nature of Windows Mobile royalties and licensing – it charges $14 per phone today – although it’s hard to see what that gains them, as Windows Mobile phones are designed for tight enterprise integration. With many of those integration features now in the iPhone, along with RIM’s U.S. market share, the Redmond giant may need to shake up its plans.
One Master, One Recipe — Nokia has shifted the sands somewhat. While I’m reminded of Fake Steve Jobs’s classic post last year on the Open Handset Alliance, it seems like this move reduces the number of cooks involved in Symbian, turning a company with many masters into a foundation with a single purpose.
- HP Printer Driver 1.1 from Apple “includes the latest drivers for printers you have used on your system.” Unfortunately, it’s unclear from that description if it merely includes drivers for new HP printers, or if drivers for existing HP printers have been improved. (Free, 405.1 MB)
- iPod touch 1.1.5 from Apple applies unspecified improvements to the iPod touch, most likely security and performance fixes found in the iPod touch 2.0 software released last week. If you’ve decided not to spend the $9.95 to upgrade to version 2.0 – or more likely you’re waiting for Apple to shake out any bugs from this first dot-zero release – the 1.1.5 update sounds like a good bet. As with other iPod touch updates, this one is available only through iTunes: connect your iPod touch, select it in the Devices list, then click the Check for Update button. (Free, 165 MB)
- Airfoil 3.2.1, Nicecast 1.9.3, and Audio Hijack Pro 2.8.2 from Rogue Amoeba now all include the Instant Hijack 2.1 update for grabbing sound from any active application; this update fully supports 64-bit systems, the company says. Airfoil 3.2.1 has other minor bug fixes, while Nicecast 1.9.3 and Audio Hijack Pro 2.8.2 update the LAME encoder for producing MP3 files. Audio Hijack Pro also improves the MegaMix mode that Rogue Amoeba developed to record sound from Skype conversations.
Thesaurus in Dashboard? One easily overlooked feature of Dashboard is that you can drag multiple instances of a widget onto the screen. (4 messages)
MobileMe and Tiger — Apple’s support for MobileMe is spotty under Mac OS X 10.4. If you’re having trouble syncing, try the suggestions in this thread. (8 messages)
iPhone Email Failure — After upgrading to the iPhone 2.0 software, several people encounter problems receiving email. (8 messages)
MobileMea Culpa: Apple Apologizes, Extends, Revises; More on Tiger — Readers discuss the security aspects of MobileMe. (2 messages)
MacBook with poor AirPort connection — MacBooks typically get better wireless reception than MacBook Pros, but one woman’s experience suggests otherwise. What else could be going on? (1 message)
Duplicate messages in Mail.app — What could be the cause of duplicate messages when the network connection is unreliable? (1 message)
Hands Off iPhone Talking in my Car — Is an iPhone’s headset illegal to use as a hands-free option? (12 messages)
Using a GSM cell phone as a modem — The iPhone connects to the Internet, so why can’t it bridge a connection to one’s laptop? Readers discuss other options. (3 messages)
iPhone 3G: On the Line in Seattle — High interest and iPhone shortages are resulting in long lines at Apple Stores and AT&T stores to get the latest iPhone 3G. (5 messages)