Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apple Patent Lawyers vs. the World

Apple Sues HTC

It's unfortunate that all these big negatives stories keep coming out about Apple because I'd much rather talk about other stuff. The news is what it is though.

In a way, this was bound to happen, but I guess it's been so long since Apple threatened to enforce its patents that everyone had forgotten. Apple has filed a lawsuit against HTC for 20 patent infringements. The list of patents include things like swiping on a touch screen to unlock, turning off the phone screen when held near your face, and the idea that a foreground app can send off a background process to do work while the foreground remains responsive to user input. These patents would kill a lot of modern touchscreen phones, if upheld, but some of them are OS-level ideas that I'm pretty sure had prior art before being filed. Even though the lawsuit is against HTC, Google is verbally supporting HTC and some are speculating that legal advice is being provided behind closed doors. Apparently, lawsuits aren't so uncommon in the mobile phone space where it ends up in patent trading so that people can build on each other's ideas, but I think it's kind of sleazy either way.

Apple is not hard up for money and is not by any means getting killed competitively by HTC. HTC has surely cut into Apple's market share, but probably not by enough to warrant a lawsuit. Apple makes plenty of money, so they're not hard up for money. I see 3 possible motivations here (and they're not necessarily mutually exclusive): Apple wants to bankrupt HTC to eliminate them from the market, HTC has patents that Apple wants to take advantage of, or Apple wants to scare off other competitors from building on concepts that Apple has pioneered. Except for blatant ripoffs, most other big companies in tech, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, don't file lawsuits like this. Most patents filed are for purely defensive purposes. It's a little crazy to say that you can't act on an idea you have just because Apple had the same idea before you did. Not all of these patents are like that, but I think several are. If you have a touchscreen phone, it only makes sense that you need to gesture to unlock it because you have no physical buttons to do it with - why should everyone pay royalties to Apple for that? I'm all for Apple protecting themselves against people making exact iPhone copies, but I don't think HTC has done that at all. I think they've been doing their best to innovate, and lawsuits like this only hurt innovation and competition.

TiVo Premiere Announced

It's been well over two years since the TiVo HD came out and TiVo hasn't financially been doing all that hot. As I've said before, I have a TiVo HD and think that the user experience is unparalleled. My brother has AT&T Uverse and his DVR setup is the closest I've seen in quality compared to the TiVo, but it doesn't have the connectivity with external services (like Amazon VOD and Netflix) that TiVo does.

TiVo has finally revealed to the world the TiVo Premiere, which is a 320 GB HD TiVo with an all new, improved interface. What's really cool, and I was hoping would be included but will actually be extra, is the qwerty peanut remote:

I've always wanted a keyboard on my TV remote for searching, so that's a pretty killer feature. Still, there's not a lot of reason to upgrade for existing TiVo users. It's only $300 so it makes sense for new buyers to pounce on it, but it doesn't sound like the guts have changed much. I wish it would support Tru2way, but at least it supports Verizon FiOS. The new Flash interface (which will finally include a storage capacity meter) is getting rave reviews from reporters who saw it at the announcement, and it's probably the TiVo search beta currently available. Hopefully it's snappier than on the current hardware though.

Of course, I say it's not worth upgrading and I really want one. It hits a sweet spot, in my opinion, with storage capacity (at least for a single person) and I really want that new remote. It'll be interesting to see how the market responds to it.

Windows Phone 7 Game Demo

Microsoft showed off something at TechEd that has created a lot of positive buzz since about Windows Phone 7. They demoed Indiana Jones being played on the PC, then on a Windows Phone 7 device, and finally on the Xbox 360. What's unique here is that the game state is being shared between all 3 to provide a seamless gaming experience. Well, seamless except for that the graphics are drastically worse on your phone than on your Xbox 360, of course. Still, I'd be impressed with your phone having a mini-game that ties into your game progress instead of tying into exactly where you are in the main game. It's exciting that for the first time in God only knows how long, Microsoft is trying to innovate with their mobile platform instead of just replicating stuff that's already out on the market. The question now is whether or not December can come soon enough in a market as hot as the mobile OS market even with as unique a feature as this gaming experience.

Lifelock on Lockdown

You have probably by now seen an ad for Lifelock at some point. They claim that they proactively guarantee the safety of your identity for a monthly fee and even challenged that you'd get a million bucks if you could steal the identity of their CEO, given his social security number. Of course, someone did eventually withdraw money in his name but not sure if he ended up getting that reward money. Well, the FTC is investigating them for deceptive business practices and being too forceful in trying to gain new customers. Lifelock was unable to deliver on its promises because it didn't protect customers from the most common forms of identity theft, and they had almost no security for customer's private information on Lifelock's corporate network. It's ironic that their slogan is that no one else guarantees your good name because no one else can. It looks like Lifelock couldn't either.

Less interesting but more importantly, the US government has declassified part of its
cybersecurity plan
, which excludes monitoring private traffic but does include deploying intrusion detection systems on federal networks, which I'm pretty happy about because that was my short-lived research interest in college. The basis of an IDS is that it tries to detect behavior that's uncharacteristic for a system and raise an alert for such behavior - it's preemptive rather than reactionary like most mainstream security software is. The plan also calls for improving the security of private critical infrastructures. With China threatening the likes of Google, we can use all the precautionary network security measures we can get.

AT&T Claims Tiered Pricing Inevitable

In the world of cell phones, we've always had tiered pricing on voice but almost always have had unlimited plans for data usage (not including text messaging, of course). Well, AT&T has already started rhetoric preparing people for tiered pricing, and it's a bunch of bologna. It shouldn't be possible for a mobile phone to use enough data to really put a heavy dent in AT&T's network, so I'm really skeptical that 3% of smartphone users could be using 40% of AT&T's network capacity. Maybe they should work on a better network - they have plenty of cash from all their iPhone users. The claim that they're in no rush to push out a 4G network, which means they want to charge people more to stay on a slower network than competitors like Sprint. It just doesn't make sense. To their credit, they claim no short-term plans of tiered pricing, but it's clear that they're not dealing well with the burden of so many iPhone users. It's just astounding that they don't believe the bigger bandwidth and reduced latency offered by 4G isn't going to help them out as much as sticking with their current infrastructure.

Hulu Loses Heavy Hitters

In the world of media conglomerates, Viacom is a pretty thirsty beast. Unfortunately, Hulu's revenues couldn't quench Viacom's thirst and so Hulu has lost their two biggest shows: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It's odd that Viacom thinks that they can do better with these two properties than Hulu, which is a fairly established brand nowadays. It's well known in the mainstream, especially because of the recession as people cut out their cable providers. Contrary to the Christian Science Monitor, I don't think Hulu is in quite as deep of a hole as it may seem. Hulu still needs more time to grow revenues, and as other offerings gain success, I think Hulu will show that not only is having your shows available online is approaching a point of becoming vital, but no one does it more efficiently or effectively than Hulu. Of course, YouTube is probably Hulu's biggest competitor, but YouTube is definitely not as browsable for this kind of content compared to Hulu.

More Competitors to the iPad

I don't have much to say about either of these devices, but I definitely think they're worth knowing about. The HP Slate is starting to materialize by way of official video footage, and it's clearly proud of running Windows 7 and supporting Flash, which Steve Jobs is still trying to woefully will out of existence. While I can see the argument for HTML 5 being better in the long run and Flash maybe not being so vital on a small device, I think it's absolutely important on a tablet in the short term and it's definitely one of the things HP should capitalize on. More importantly though, the Slate will give you more freedom to run the applications you're used to if you're already on Windows 7 on your desktop/laptop. Whether or not people want that experience is yet to be seen though.

Meanwhile, a fresh leak has been dropped regarding the Microsoft Courier, which is a tablet that looks like a foldable booklet. The video footage revealed is similar to what we saw months ago, but still very exciting. Who knows if it'll ever become a reality - it seems more like a concept bred from a set of requirements than anything else.

Closing Stories

Ok, as much as I love my new laptop and how much easier blogging is on it, I have other things to do so I'm going to wrap this up with some quick stories I still think are worth taking notice of.

I have too much App1e negativity in this post already, so I'm not going to really talk to the heinous secret agreement Apple has its iPhone developers sign. It's so detrimental to the developer that I'm almost surprised that it's legal.

Real Networks gave up their fight for Real DVD, which aimed to legitimize DVD copying by replacing the DRM already on DVDs with their own DRM. I don't know if it kills the future of copy protection, but it could've created a major precedent so it's definitely a disappointing ending.

Gizmodo has an excellent article detailing the sordid history of Sony. I have a love-hate relationship with Sony - I love some of their products, but their vision is often misguided.

Props to YouTube for launching auto-captioning. That's an insanely awesome technology.

The Core i7 6-core Gulftown processor is finally out and I actually enjoyed reading this review. It's a fairly technical review, but it sounds like a great architecture.

The FCC has released a very capable tool for measuring your Internet speed with the added bonus that they can use your data point to help understand the status of broadband Internet speeds across the country. In addition to just down and up speeds, it even gives you latency! The URL is easy to memorize: braodband.gov.

Torrents are now legally available of free music from SXSW 2010. Check them out!

Popular Science has opened up the entirety of its 137-year archive for free!

I'm a big fan of these free, troubleshooting tools for Windows. If you only download one, definitely get the Blue Screen View one. My next vote is for WinDirStat, which is an application I've needed for years.

Last, but certainly not least, College Humor has a great video on the true use case of Google Wave: cyber sex.


Jose A. said...

Man, you covered a lot today.

I'm definitely in agreement that the state of patent law as it relates to software and technology is quite bad and needs to be reformed. That being said, within a specific legal framework corporations have a duty to their shareholders to maximize returns. It's conceivable to me that if a major shareholder of Apple found out that they had a serious possibility of prevailing on a patent suit but failed to attempt it, they could sue the company for violating their fiduciary duties. That's why I say "don't hate the players, hate the game" – and fix it.

Saw that demo on the Windows 7 phone – looked pretty sweet. Obviously the Q though is whether it's too late for Microsoft to really be more than a marginal player.

Not surprising about Lifelock. The CEO of the company is some sleezebag who's been prosecuted before for white collar crime or something like that.

As for tiered pricing, I'm actually going to take the unpopular position and argue that it is a good idea. Offering tiers of usage ensures that the heavy users aren't externalizing costs onto people who would rather pay a smaller fee for the small amount they use. I can't imagine what highways would look like if everyone paid the same price for driving, regardless of how much time they spend on the road.

Elton said...

Sorry, kept meaning to respond to this!

Yeah it was a post covering 2 weeks of stuff =P

I totally agree with your point about doing what's best for the shareholders. That's why no corporation can ever not be evil. Still, at what point is it bringing in revenue for shareholders versus being anti-competitive and bringing on a federal investigation?

We're gonna have to agree to disagree on tiered pricing :) That's a pretty divisive subject. When it comes to cell phones, I don't think anyone is using enough data to hurt the network as much as they're claiming. If they're not willing to upgrade their network to 4G, why would paying more money in a tiered arrangement encourage them to do any better? If it were to mean better service, I'd be more inclined, but that's not the impression I'm getting.