Technology in the News

Remember When We Used to Use Keyboards?

Well, sonny, you think you have it bad. I remember when we used to use keyboards and mice with our computers…and we liked it!

Jobs is at it again: picking on poor Adobe Flash. In his “Thoughts on Flash” essay, he writes…

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Keyboards and Mice are An Endangered Species

Did you notice what he said? “the mobile era is about…touch interfaces.” As much as I hate to admit it, the iPhone was the first device to successfully break users of the keyboard/mouse paradigm. He makes it even more distasteful to admit, as I write this with my relic of a human-computer interface called a keyboard.

The fact that Jobs, the captain of the i-device revolution, claims all non-touch devices to be in the past (guilt by association), drives one more nail into the old-school interface coffin (i.e. mice and keyboards).

And now, riding on Apple’s coattails are a cadre of touch devices: the droid, Palm devices, and just about every new phone on your mobile plan (at least the ones where you have to pay a nominal fee). This is not to mention all future devices that will build off of the touch concept.

Someone Has to Pay

Humor me on my tangent here, but I must get my own Apple digs in. In his
“Thoughts on Flash,” Jobs slams Adobe for being proprietary and pats himself on the back for Apple’s “open standards.” It’s true; Flash is proprietary, and authors of most Flash aps must use a pricey development tool.

What he doesn’t mention is that Adobe Flash aps are cross-platform and ubiquitous across the web. He also fails to mention that the AIR SDK (also known as Flex: the underlying technology of Flash) is free.

The irony is that the Apple platform is a closed system. Yes, for developers, the standards are open for the developers, but the platform (the part that costs users a bundle) are strictly Apple. Someone has to pay somewhere.

Speaking of paying…

What Does that iPhone 3G Cost Anyway?

A new iPhone 3G with 8GB of storage sells for $199. That’s a savings of $200 over the old iPhone, and the new model comes with 3G data service and built-in GPS, among other features.

The least-expensive service plan for the iPhone 3G costs $70 per month. That includes 450 voice minutes and unlimited data. The plan with 900 voice minutes is now $90 per month and the option that includes 1,350 voice minutes has climbed to $110 per month.

And none of these plans include text messaging: A text plan that includes 200 messages per month will cost you $5. If you don’t opt for a text plan, you’ll be charged 20 cents per text message.

And the answer is…drumroll please…$1999 for two years (you need to sign a 2-year contract), and that is for the cheapskate who pays for the least-expensive service plan (with 200 text messages a month).

Don’t Drink the Apple Juice

If I were to give Apple a report card, I would have to check the box that says, “doesn’t play well with others” after their decision not to support Flash content with its iPad.

The controversy has been developing over the past few months, and just a week ago, they took another step to close the door on Adobe Flash CS5.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out the change in the new iPhone Software Developer Kit license for iPhone OS 4. This provision was added: “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool [cough–Flash] are prohibited).”

Notice how they sneaked the little example in the parenthetical at the end? At least they are open to developers in C and C++ and JavaScript (go figure).

I do give Apple credit to the way they spanked all other mobile devices with their iTouch and iPhone. They sent everyone reeling with their killer ap (and killer ap it is). I admire that. I don’t want to downplay the effect they had on innovation. They completely changed the way we interact with technology, and the savvy they showed through their marketing of iPhone aps took everyone by storm.

That being said, their decision to not support Flash is one of a series of moves to monopolize personal technology that smells a lot like Microsoft in the 90s (remember what Internet Explorer did to Netscape?).

I know what’s going on here. Apple knows that the only technology that comes close to competing with their new slick animations and aps is Flash. They also know that Flash is ubiquitous. If they want market domination, they need to take out their competitors. I know what you’re thinking:

“wait a minute, Flash is proprietary technology, and the authoring tools are egregiously expensive.”

That’s true, but the Flash “aps” (i.e. Shockwave files) are found in virtually every corner of the free and open internet. You don’t need AT&T, an iPad, iTouch, or iPhone, and there’s no additional monthly charge to access Flash content. Not only that, but now the core SDK (aka Flex) is open-source and free, and there are open tools to compile ActionScript now (Flash Develop 3).

I first smelled something fishy with iTunes and their m4a format. I was happy to buy all those songs on iTunes; that is until I tried playing them off of my cell phone, and I realized that it wouldn’t play that format. I either had to pay for an application that would convert the songs to mp3s or worse, I had to burn them on a CD and then rip them to mp3s, or worse still fork over a wad of cash to buy an iPod.

Is Google our Big Brother?

George Orwell might have been a few decades off on the wrong continent, and he may have missed a few other things, but he might have got the Big Brother part right with Google.

In a paper by Google researcher, Bill N. Schilit, and some other computer scientists, have suggested creating activity recognition systems. According to the paper,

In general, activity recognition systems unobtrusively observe the behavior of people and characteristics of their environments, and, when necessary, take actions in response — ideally with little explicit user direction.

The big question remains, what will they do with the information? What might someone else do with the information? They even suggested they could remind people in their homes not to eat too much or be on the computer so long.

How long before Google will be watching you?

Nerds, Aim High

Calling all Code Red-swilling teen computer geeks! The US Air Force wants you. In light of all the cybercrime threats and warnings, the US Air Force is seeking new recruits to train to fight on the front optical-fiber lines.

It’s about time, in light of all the buzz about China’s PLA cadre of cyberwarriors.

The Air Force is also seeking full-timers for AFCYBER. Future cyberwarriors may be more couch geek than fit flyboy – not “the same kind of folks that perhaps you want to march to breakfast in the morning,” Air Force Col. Jeff Kendall told the Council on Foreign Relations in March.

Does that mean they’re going to recruit ex-hackers who have made plea-bargains to avoid conviction?

The colonel also suggested the Air Force may have to make exceptions to its entry standards and recruit ex-hackers, who may have committed computer-related crimes or have a felony conviction for unlawfully cracking a network.

As a high school teacher of technology, I could refer the Air Force to some future “cyber-warriors.” I think I would rather some of them turn their energy away from trying to break the school district’s firewalls and put it to use defending our power-grids and government agencies.