Sunday, July 31, 2011

iPad's Competition Comes Into View

The iPad has been so sweepingly successful, that it has injected a surge of vitality into a sector of the computer market that was barely breathing before. But while the iPad has enjoyed something of a honeymoon period with it's closest competitors barely visible in the rear-view mirror, that may not alwyays be the case.

The computer market is kind of like sports. Barcelona may have dominated international soccer for the last few years, just as the iPad has in the tablet market. However while the Spanish soccer team must face the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United waiting in the wings, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Motorola Xoom are the two tablets that stand the best chance of going toe-to-toe with the iPad for market share.

Both devices are powered by Android and while currently they are doing nowhere near Apple's numbers, that may not be the case a couple years from now. Currently Apple controls some 75 percent of the tablet market. However research firm Informa has issued a report predicting that Android powered tablet sales will surpass those of the iPad within five years.

The main reason analysts predict that Google android devices will overtake the iPad? Money. The Android devices are cheaper on the whole than the iPad 2 and offer basically the same capabilities. According to Informa analyst David McQueen, Apple's market share will fall to 39 percent over the next four years while Android's will increase. By 2016 the two will pass going in opposite direction as the more affordable Android devices are adopted by more users.

Of course predictions like these discount one of the biggest variables in the equation: Steve Jobs.

The Apple auteur has never been one to sit back on his laurels. The iPad 2 is still a relatively fresh offering. However by the time Informa's timeline has evolved, we will likely have seen the iPads 3, 4 and maybe 5 released.

And with the release of every new generation of iPad, last year's model becomes available for cheaper. While the Samsung Galaxy goes for about $499, you can get a first generation iPad for less than $300. Currently rumors are already circulating that Apple intends to make the iPad 3 available for cheaper, in part to slow the market growth of brands like Samsung and Motorola.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Scotland Yard Joins Hacker Crackdown

Once upon a time you'd read headlines about member of drug cartels or diamond smuggling rings being busted. You still do of course, but in today's headlines conventional crime busts are fighting for column inches with an increasing number of stories about hacker arrests.

Last week the Dutch police, who are the nicest on Earth by the way, arrested four men who were members of a splinter cell of the hack group "Anonymous" known as "AntiSec NL." The men confessed to having infiltrated websites and releasing confidential information.

This week Scotland Yard entered the picture when they arrested a teenage hacker who is thought to be the hacker group "LulzSec's" media liaison. The 18-year old who allegedly goes by the hacker name "Topiary" was picked up from a remote location in the Scottish Shetland Islands.

This followed last month's arrest of a 19-year old Brit, loosely affiliated with LulzSec, who hacked his way into Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency and a number of UK music sites. Currently members of the Yard are also questioning a 17-year old Lincolnshire resident who is also thought to have been involved in hacking.

These arrest's come as part of a coordinated international effort between authorities in the U.K., the Netherlands and the U.S.A. This international crackdown is a response to a spree of high profile hackings perpetrated by LulzSec, Anonymous and several splinter and copycat groups. Most recently members of LulzSec hacked into Rupert Murdoch's "The Sun" newspaper and posted a fake story that the media mogul had died.

Fake news stories are something of a recurring theme with LulzSec. Previously the group planted a phoney story on the PBS website about rapper Tupac Shakur having been secretly alive and living in New Zealand all these years.

Groups like LulzSec and Anonymous regard themselves as being "hacktivists" who perpetrate their crimes for a noble revolutionary cause. It's true that unlike most cyber-criminals, these kids aren't in it for the money as much as the headlines. While they've certainly been successful at grabbing those, it remains to be seen what kind of impact they're making with they're slightly radical take on free speech and free dissemenation of information on the Internet.

The question remains, are they really the Internet's answer to Che Guevara? Or are they just a bunch of admittedly talented cyber-hooligans out for a laugh?

The Dutch police have already released the four men they arrested last week (See? I told you they were nice.). The investigation is currently ongoing and it remains to be seen just what exactly the four will be charged with.

One message the authorities must surely be reading loudly and clearly, is that if tech savvy teens like these can perpetrate such hacks, the computer networks of our governments, institutions and major corporations are surely very vulnerable indeed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who Hacks the Hackers?

Hacking has yet again jumped from the tech news section onto the front page. However this time it's not Julian Assange, Anonymous, LulzSec or any of the other usual suspects. This time it's Rupert Murdoch, "The News of the World" and one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world who are the culprits.

By now the story is well known of how reporters from at least one of Murdoch's papers hacked into the voicemails and phone conversations of celebrities, political figures, 9/11 victims, murder victims and anyone else they felt could provide them with good material.

The ensuing fallout has been at times tragic with the principle whistle blower in the case having suddenly died under circumstances that are "unexplained," and comic with one protester interrupting a parliamentary hearing to throw a shaving cream-filled pie tin in Murdoch's face.

However while recent hackings have mostly been perpetrated by renegade, loose-knit bands of self-proclaimed "hacktivists," the Murdoch case involves more establishment figures such as journalists, British politicians and senior members of the police. How far up the chain-of-command these misdeeds reach remains to be seen but without a doubt this is one of the most scandalous cases of hacking ever to have taken place.

And while Anonymous and LulzSec have indeed wreaked havoc, they have done so largely in the name of a misguided sense of activism and free speech advocacy. Murdoch's papers hacked for a different reason; greed.

A privately held media organization invading the privacy of individuals to sell more newspapers is the kind of thing that keeps hackers like Anonymous and LulzSec hacking.

Not wanting to be outdone, members of LulzSec have already hit back by hacking into another of Murdoch's publications Sunday. Hackers breached "The Sun" and altered the headlines to issue a false story reporting the death of Rupert Murdoch. The hackers then redirected site visitors to the LulzSec Twitter feed.

As of Monday morning employees of Murdoch's newspaper group were being instructed to change their passwords in a company-wide effort to tighten security.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Internet boosters have been talking about how the Web provides more convenient and affordable alternatives to traditional retail services for years now. We've seen iTunes replace record stores and Yahoo news replace the entire printed news media just to name a few things. And for the most part the Web gets good marks for upping the convenience factor.

Except in the case of Netflix apparently. A study this week that was published by YouGov BrandIndex has revealed that consumers now dislike the DVD delivery and streaming rental provider as much as they do Blockbuster.

According to the poll Netflix is below DirecTV and Redbox as well. But to be below Blockbuster is a significant drop from the lofty heights Netflix once held in the opinions of adult consumers.

The reason for the sudden drop in public perception? It would seem to stem from a July 12th announcement that the company will be implementing a 60 percent increase in pricing on September 12.

Standard Netflix service is currently available for $9.99 a month and allows you to have one DVD at a time through the mail as well as unlimited streaming. When the price change occurs in September that service will go up to $16.00 a month. Seven bucks may not seem like a lot but apparently it's significant enough that a quarter of the people YouGov surveyed who are using the standard service plan on cancelling it when the price hike goes into effect.

So where will all these Netflix refugees go to get their movies? Why down to the neighborhood video store of course. . . Oh wait, didn't Netflix put all those places out of business with their convenient and affordable service?

Maybe the lack of reasonable alternatives will start funneling people back into what's become one of the most unlikely places to watch a movie: A movie theater.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Warning from Zee Germans!?

In another sign of Apple's growing vulnerability to cyber-attacks, the company has issued a kind of preemptive warning about an attack that hasn't actually taken place. Why? Why because of zee Germans of course. . .

It seems our Teutonic friends have stumbled upon a hole in the security of the popular iPod touch, iPhone and iPad devices. In fact it was none other than the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) that brought the point of vulnerability to the attention of the Silicone Valley-based tech giant.

According to the German agency, this security flaw could potentially allow hackers to breach the security of Apple mobile devices by sending an email containing a PDF infected with malicious code.

Once the malware infiltrates the device it could be capable of accessing emails, passwords, contact lists and location information. Hackers might also potentially be able to remotely operate cameras and eavesdrop on phone calls.

Apple is taking no chances in spite of the fact that no actual threat of an attack has yet been indicated. But according to the Germans, hackers are likely to try and take advantage of this vulnerability. Apple obviously wants to be careful and if you want to be careful, who better to take advice from than the Germans?

As of Friday, representatives from Apple have indicated the company is working on devising a solution to the potential security breach.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Apple Rumored to be Readying Another New iPad this Fall

Although Apple has only just recently released the iPad 2, the company is apparently already ramping up for a Fall release of a newer version of the popular tablet computer. The version that is reportedly dropping sometime in September isn't so much the iPad 3 as it is a slightly more enhanced version of the iPad 2.

The iPad HD will have very similar specs to the iPad 2 but it will have double the screen resolution. The proposed tablet seems to be geared toward photography and film production professionals. Apple is well aware that it is the preferred brand by many in the entertainment, media and content creation industries.

Digital technology is already making it easier to shoot movies with smaller, more portable equipment. Being able to upload footage onto a tablet computer and edit anywhere could provide enormous freedom for filmmakers and photojournalists working on location or assignment.

As tablet computers grow in their capabilities they will likely enable more and more professionals to work more freely and on-the-go. Just as musicians can record albums with little more than a laptop, a microphone and some software, it may soon be feasible to create quality feature length filmed content using little more than a digital camera and a tablet computer.

Thirty or forty years ago was when people began buying smaller, more economical cars for the first time on a widespread basis. People preferred the mobility and lower fuel overhead. Tablet computers could prove to be the Datsuns and Toyotas of the computer world, inspiring people to choose the smaller, more portable option. It's more than likely that Apple will soon release a version of the device that doesn't need to be synced to a desktop but can instead serve as ones primary computing device.