Samsung loses to Apple in patent infringement case; what’s next?

The lawsuit between Apple and Samsung is over, and the jury gave a decisive verdict in Apple’s favor: Samsung owes $1.05 billion to Apple for copying its intellectual property. This included Apple’s user interface software patents on iOS, Apple’s design patents and their trade dress on the iPhone brands. The jury found that several of Samsung’s phones had infringed on these patents.

What’s interesting is that Samsung’s infringements were ruled as deliberate and hence the huge punishment against the company. Apple’s arguments were quite valid to say the least. The iPhone was a revolution, five years in the making, according to Apple, and Samsung simply took it and copied it without bearing the costs and risks involved. The jury was simply not convinced of Samsung’s attempted demonstration of prior art.

So what happens next? For one thing, we can except Apple to seek injunctions against the sale of the Galaxy SII, which is one of the accused devices that is still on the market. We can also expect Samsung to make an appeal of the jury’s decision.

The dominoes will also likely start falling on the user interface behaviors across Android devices. The bounceback scrolling behavior that has been patented by Apple is one good example. Other behaviors included tap-to-zoom and multitouch scrolling that will have to change on new devices. Apple’s design patent and trade dress has likely shaken the industry and proven that these patents are strong enough to convince a jury.

Expect more litigation between Apple and Android phone makers like HTC and Motorola. Apple will also likely take another swing against Samsung and we can expect to see more devasting results in the courtroom. Most companies will likely not want to risk the huge amounts of money that Samsung has spent in the case. These companies are better off taking Google’s advice: let partners settle the cases and avoid keeping lawsuits open and running.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – First Impressions

You don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find reviews of Mountain Lion, Apple’s new revision of the OS X operating system.

This review is slightly different. As a cynical, old school techie, I’m never particularly wowed by or interested in sparkly new features. All that really concerns me is exactly how upgrading my Mac’s operating system will affect my day-to-day computing life. So, that is the angle I’m coming from with this report.

On Early Adoption

I had a bad experience when I upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion. Lion slowed down my laptop and, initially, I cursed myself for being an early adopter. I should qualify this by saying that after installing a few OS revisions and upgrading my RAM to 8GB, I was once again perfectly happy with the performance of my MacBook Pro.

With this previous experience in mind, I’m not really sure why I jumped at Mountain Lion so soon after release, but a contributing factor was that the Mac forums gave me little to worry about. Many people reported performance improvements and nobody seemed to be complaining about anything of significance. So, after a good cleanup of my applications and files, I crossed my fingers and hit the download button.

Installation and Getting Started

The installation itself made me doubt my bold decision, especially as I went for an upgrade install rather than the “clean installation” that many people champion. During the installation process, the progress bar seemed to stall many times, and once the remaining time went down to “under a minute” it stayed there for over half and hour while I wore down my fingernails and cursed myself for being an early adopter once again.

My blood pressure didn’t go down after the first successful boot either. My Mac was horrifically slow at first, but this turned out to be due to the Spotlight search facility completing an initial index of my system. Once this was done, performance was back to normal.

Once I was using my Mac normally once again, I found little to initially impress me. In fact the only noticeable differences were slight graphical changes to the icon dock and the addition of the notifications bar, an import from iOS which collates notifications from various apps and puts them all in an easily accessible place.

OS X Mountain Lion Running on a MacBook Pro
OS X Mountain Lion Running on a MacBook Pro

I’m not massively sold on the idea of notifications as part of a computer operating system, but I have grown used to seeing the subject line of new emails popping up in the corner of my screen. Outlook on Windows used to do this and it is a useful timesaver. Beyond this, however, I have felt no need to click the notifications button. Still, it’s there, it doesn’t bother me and I have noticed no performance implication.

Performance

On the subject of performance, I can subjectively say that the overall “snappiness” of my system seems slightly improved compared to OS X Lion – things certainly haven’t got any worse. Boot time may be slightly faster, but it’s still not back to Snow Leopard standards. I accept that a clean install would probably change this, but have neither the time nor inclination to do this now.

New Features

In terms of additional features, there’s little that has jumped out at me to date, although I do, of course, know about the numerous subtle enhancements. I am aware that Safari has had a substantial upgrade, so I did switch all my browsing over to it for a day or two – but, as I type, I am back with Google Chrome as I adore its fast simplicity.

One feature that has truly wowed me it is the new Apple dictation facility. Having had horrible experiences with systems such as DragonDictate, I didn’t expect much from it. However, it has delivered almost 100% accuracy every time I’ve tried it. Now all I need to do is get used of forming my thoughts so that I can actually dictate into my computer without getting flustered. Once I do, I can see myself making plenty of use of this feature.

As I said at the start of this review, my move to Mountain Lion was less about trying out every tiny new feature and more about how the upgrade might improve my day-to-day experience on my Mac. With this criteria in mind, my upgrade experience is favourable if not particularly exciting.

Conclusion

While I’m aware of other features that I may eventually use, such as Twitter integration and AirPlay, for now I am simply satisfied that I did the right thing by upgrading. Apple seem to have the first iteration of Mountain Lion right, which makes me look forward to the gradual improvements across subsequent revisions.

While Mountain Lion may not be an essential upgrade, it’s certainly not one to be unduly wary of.

Why Microsoft is wrong to discontinue Small Business Server

Small Business Server 2003

As an IT consultant who delivers services to small and medium businesses, I have spent a vast amount of time with Microsoft’s Small Business Server product range. Early versions of SBS (the original “Back Office” incarnation and SBS 2000) had various quirks and problems. Since SBS 2003, however, Small Business Server has been a refined, solid and well-behaved product – the kind of product you can put into a business with confidence, with a good set of features and a high level of configurability.

With this in mind, I was actually quite sad to hear the news that Microsoft decided to discontinue the product range, on the grounds that “small business computing trends are moving in the direction of cloud computing.”

I don’t deny that there is “trend” toward the cloud. Indeed, I have clients who have migrated to Office 365 instead of moving to SBS 2011. However, just as many have no interest whatsoever in migrating to the cloud.

One client said,

“Our last system has been perfect for four years, we just want the same, but newer, and we’re not interested in the cloud.”

Another took one look at how long it took to save a large file via Office 365 on their broadband internet connection and laughed in my face.

Then there are the clients who cannot risk the data protection implications of cloud storage, those who simply have an objection to paying a monthly fee and those who are put off by the fact that, with the best will in the world, it’s going to take weeks to migrate their existing 500GB of file data.

Microsoft have effectively decided to abandon all these customers, and I’m sure that every one of the thousands of IT consultants just like me have plenty of them.

Now, I have no doubt people will be keen to point out that Microsoft has announced an “Essentials” version of Server 2012 aimed at small businesses. I accept I could recommend this to some of my clients, but it only supports up to 25 users. What about the 25-75 user segment of SME who could previously use SBS? They are now on the same licensing model as a large corporation, which doesn’t seem very fair. And what about Exchange and SharePoint?

Let’s be clear: I’m not “anti-cloud.” I use hosted Exchange myself. I have migrated companies when it has been a good fit, and I would recommend it to plenty of startups, but I think Microsoft’s decision to try to force SME in the Office 365 direction is misguided and out of touch with reality. What it will do is lead them to discover simpler, cheaper alternatives like iCloud, Dropbox and Google Apps.

Small Business Server allowed me to swoop into a company and give them an IT system that made them feel like they were working for a large corporation. When they wanted to use features like public folders and decent shared contact lists, they were there waiting. I’m sure people will disagree, but working on an Office 365 is simply not the same.

Microsoft has taken away my ability to provide the perfect system without compromises. If I have to cobble solutions together for clients, then I may well end up doing so without so many Microsoft products. Given that Apple seem to be winning over the consumers, it seems insane that Microsoft seem willing to risk letting go of the SME market too.

Twitter takes control with new API rules, plans to limit access for third-party clients

We all knew this day was coming after reading Twitter’s fairly recent blog post on the company’s future plans, but now it’s been made official, and traditional Twitter clients should watch their backs. In another blog post earlier this week, Twitter’s Vice President of Product Michael Sippey outlined exactly how the company plans to control the user experience of its product.

For starters, large Twitter clients using Twitter’s API will have to obtain direct approval from Twitter in order to function. If a developer plans to create an app that requires access to a user’s timeline, direct messages, etc. (which are most traditional Twitter clients), they must seek Twitter’s permission if they plan to cultivate a user base over 100,000. The social media giant isn’t completely unreasonable, however, and won’t limit those applications already sporting over 100,000 users until their user base grows by 200 percent.

Twitter's chart of desirable and undesirable apps

As you may have guessed, “traditional Twitter clients” like Echofon and Tweetbot (both named specifically by Sippey in the article) are in the most danger. Sippey went into a lot of detail regarding the types of applications Twitter approves of and those it would rather not cater to, even creating the graphic above to illustrate his point.

Basically, the apps that fall in the upper right corner are being discouraged, while Sippey would like to see the number of applications grow in the remaining quadrants. Sippey used Klout as an example of a successful application geared towards the consumer and social analytics, an area that Twitter approves of.

Sippey said the changes would take effect “in the coming weeks” and regardless of their effect on existing Twitter applications, developers will be glad to finally hear some specifics after the somewhat foreboding letter to developers that was published a couple months ago.

The first indication of Twitter’s new cut-throat nature came with its decision to drop out of a partnership with LinkedIn. Then, of course, it followed that up with the announcement of high-profile partners like The Wall Street Journal and TIME for its new Twitter Cards.

Twitter has made it crystal clear it’s ready to take business a lot more seriously, and it’s up to developers to keep up to Twitter’s increasingly complex and challenging demands.

Facebook or Fakebook – It Doesn’t Matter

It was recently revealed that Facebook doesn’t have as many users as the official figures would suggest. Within the 955 million monthly active users the social networking site boasts are millions of bogus accounts, made up of duplicates, misclassifications, and undesirables.

The thing is that although this “news” made it on to technology websites around the world, no one could have been surprised by the figures, and even less could have cared about them. Because it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

Bogus Facebook Accounts

As Craig Lloyd previously noted, Facebook IS fast approaching 1 billion users, with 955 active on a monthly basis. This is up from the 901 million recorded in April, showing that despite a slowing in the rate of growth, Facebook is still expanding. We know the size of Facebook’s userbase thanks to the company’s quarterly filing (via Indystar) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. With Facebook now being a public company we’ll be able to track its growth and other statistics more easily than was previously possible.

Facebook is also now required by law to include in the filing any factor that could impinge on its future success. The idea being that shareholders need to be able to make more of an informed decision whether to hold on to or sell their shares in the company. Hence the revealing of an estimated 83 million bogus Facebook accounts.

The 83 million is made up of: 45.84 million (4.8 percent) duplicates where one person has set up two or more personal accounts; 22.92 million (2.4 percent) miscategorized where a person has created an account for a pet, child, or organization rather than a page; 14.33 million (1.5 percent) undesirables dedicated to spamming or other improper use.

Everybody Knew – Nobody Cares

I guess the news here is that Facebook itself is fessing up about the number of bogus accounts it has, but the manner in which the mainstream tech press lapped this up you’d think it was a shocking revelation. It isn’t at all.

Everyone with even the slightest notion about how Facebook works knew its numbers were off, and that there is a sizable proportion of bogus accounts. Hell, I am myself responsible for one of them, having created a Facebook account for my cat. What can I say, I was bored and lonely.

And really, who cares? Shareholders, of course, but then seeing as (at the time of writing) they’ve seen the value of their Facebook stock fall by 50 percent I’d say they have bigger concerns over Facebook’s future than the existence of some bogus accounts.

To sum up, a significant percentage of Facebook is actually Fakebook, but it really doesn’t matter.

Google’s Awesome Sauce: The Nexus 7 Tablet Review

Google has been doing impressive things lately, by anyone’s standards. Google Glasses, and the awesome live streaming skydiving stunt Google pulled at Google I/O this year blew the minds of fans all over the world.

At that same conference, Google announced the release of two Nexus devices: the (Asus) Google Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q.  (The Q is sexy, smooth, different, and just about useless to the average consumer. It’s an expensive media streamer for your TV.)

Let’s get down to the Nexus 7. My Nexus 7 device arrived last week, which was very fast compared to what I’ve read about shipping times on the internet. I was stoked.

About the reported packaging problems

Some people have reported that it is difficult to remove the Nexus 7 from its original packaging.

Unlike the rest of the world, I believe when expensive electronics are shipped halfway across the country, if not the world, they should be packaged in such a way that they do not fall out or easily get stolen. Therefore, I bring a knife when I attempt to open a new product, unlike these ridiculous people.

Yes, the packaging of the Nexus 7 is tight. No, the packaging of the Nexus 7 should not deter you from purchasing one.

 

Awesome-Sauce Software with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

As the first device shipping with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, I can say that this is the most beautiful and “buttery” smooth Android tablet I have ever used, and is as good as the iPad 3. Google has definitely done a bang-up job on Jelly Bean and Project Butter to get Android finally caught up to iOS as far as smoothness goes.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean includes Google Now, which is software that can anticipate your schedule and location throughout the day and provide helpful information like traffic time, current weather, and upcoming calendar events. No input is needed – Google Now helps you throughout the day without any prompting.

Since getting Google Now, I’ve used it way more than I ever used any previous voice search feature on a phone (including iPhone’s Siri).

Switching between recent apps is a great experience, and I find myself doing it just for the fun of playing the animations over and over again. Transitions are fast and responsive. Apps open and close quickly so your tablet can finally be as productive as you are!

The default Chrome browser is very impressive, with great loading speeds (over a decent WiFi connection), fast renders, and good support for HTML5 (finally).

Using apps on Android can finally be fun, not the chore it used to be with laggy and slow-loading apps of yesteryear. Congrats Google!

Hardware: Quad Core and a Brilliant Screen

The Nexus 7 did not fall short on hardware or design. With a quad core Tegra 3 on board and a brilliant graphics processor, apps on this device look better than any other Android tablet device I’ve seen, including the Asus Transformer Prime. While playing Dead Trigger (a great zombie shooter), this tablet becomes a hardcore gaming device in a perfectly sized 7-inch form factor. The screen really shines and shows just how incredible technology is becoming.

What makes this device nice to hold is that just-right thickness that makes it feel like it won’t break or fall out of your hands, but also fits great in your pocket. The soft-touch plastic on the back really adds grip to the device as well, so you won’t be dropping this thing any time soon.

Unbeatable Price Tag

$200 bucks. That’s all I need to say here. If you haven’t jumped on a tablet yet, or are looking for that second or even third screen, this is the best Android tablet on the market today. Period.

The Nexus 7 can be purchased directly from Google.

Microsoft Says Farewell to Aero Glass in Windows 8

When I first booted up into Windows 8 with my beloved Samsung Focus mobile phone at my side, I was appalled by the jarring visual differences when switching back and forth from the Metro start screen to the traditional Windows desktop view.

On one hand, there was this amazingly simple Start screen with a bold interface daring to standout from the crowd. On the other, an ancient and tacky faux-glass-themed, cluttered, and – quite frankly – ugly desktop interface.

I found it incredible that after putting so much thought into the Metro UI’s design, Microsoft seemed to forget about the desktop altogether. I thought they changed. I thought they cared about details, the user experience, and beauty! My disenchantment became so bad that up until a week ago I had given up on ever experiencing a truly simple and beautifully designed version of Windows.

What changed? Microsoft is getting rid of Aero Glass in Windows 8, baby!

First introduced with the debut of the ill-fated Vista, the Aero desktop design has outlived its relevancy. The days of transparency, gradients, and shadows are long behind us and especially do not belong in a modern interface like Metro that relies on flat icons and bold colors to garner attention. According to Microsoft, they also see the drawbacks of their current design and promise to start “flattening surfaces, removing reflections, and scaling back distracting gradients.”

Microsoft doesn’t see the desktop as a mode, but rather “a paradigm for working that suits some people and specific apps.” But Microsoft isn’t willing to forfeit compatibility with existing programs by drastically changing the desktop UI. To preserve their existing user base, Windows 8 will continue to use black text on a light-colored background as opposed to the white-on-saturated-color look of Metro.

In short, Microsoft gave their desktop UI a mini Metro makeover. The default color that surrounds the windows is white, rounded corners on icons and windows are now squared, and the taskbar blends even more into the desktop wallpaper. Even the ribbon will see some changes with icons treated to the same squared-off edges and stripped of all gradients to “make them feel more modern and neutral.”

Unfortunately, the Release Preview hasn’t fully abandoned the Aero theme and it won’t be fully replaced until the final release of Windows 8. We would have liked to see what it looked like in action, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

If you’ve ever wanted to read a comprehensive history of Windows design over the years, then hit up this post from the Building Windows 8 blog.

The Most Exciting New Features in iOS 6

 

Apple fans had plenty to get excited about at the recent Worldwide Developers Conference, including new hardware announcements and additional details about OS X Mountain Lion.

An array of new, concrete information about the forthcoming iOS 6 also provided plenty to anticipate. Due in autumn 2012, iOS 6 has loads of new features – here are just some of the most significant.

New Maps

Apple’s new Maps feature will replace the Google Maps functionality currently integrated into iOS.

Maps looks typically beautiful for an Apple app and offers a 3D view as well as turn-by-turn navigation, something never before made natively available on iOS.

While some users may miss Google’s StreetView functionality, in all other respects this looks like a significant improvement on the older Maps app.

iOS6 has a Host of New Features
iOS6 has a Host of New Features

Upgraded Siri

Siri will be able to launch apps, understand more languages and integrate with various websites including Yelp and IMDB. Despite plenty of users seeing Siri as little more than a gimmick, it is clear that voice control remains part of Apple’s ongoing strategy.

Facebook Integration

Apple’s iOS 6 will finally offer proper Facebook integration, something that has seemed strangely lacking in the past and is, for many, far more useful than the long-standing Twitter integration.

Facebook integration will allow users to share photos more easily and, finally, sync calendars and contacts with the social network, something Android users have been able to do for ages.

Facetime over 3G

It remains to be seen how well it will work, but under iOS 6 it will be possible to make Facetime calls without being connected to a WiFi network.

This has been possible over Skype for some time, and often results aren’t so great – regardless, this is now supported – and Apple would be unlikely to have enabled this without confidence that it will work well.

Passbook

Passbook is a brand new app that allows users to electronically store tickets and coupons on their device. It even has advanced features such as the ability to update aircraft gate numbers in real-time on stored plane tickets.

The success of this will be determined by third-party participation. Cynical users outside the USA may remain unconvinced initially, as new things like this often begin with far more support for US users than those in other countries.

Passbook on iOS 6
Passbook on iOS 6

Upgraded Phone Features

iOS 6 adds a couple of useful phone features that users of other phone brands may have already begun to take for granted. One is the ability to reject calls and at the same time send a preset message such as “in a meeting, will call you back.”

The new mobile OS also provides users with the ability to mark certain numbers as important, so that calls from those numbers come through even when the iPhone is set to “do not disturb” mode.

New Stores

New stores for iTunes, Apps and iBooks are due with the release of iOS 6. These are not yet complete but are likely to impress – after all, Apple will want to ensure their millions of users find parting with their cash easy and enjoyable.

iOS6 appears to be a rather more exciting upgrade than the previous move from iOS4 to iOS5. Now everyone knows it’s due in the autumn, the only remaining question is whether it will come before or after the iPhone 5.

Why I Won’t be Buying a New MacBook Pro

I’ve never denied being a bit of an Apple fanboy, and I waited eagerly for the announcement of the new MacBook Pro range. When the announcement came yesterday and I read about my much-hoped-for retina display, it was all I could do not to reach immediately for my credit card.

I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve spent some time looking into the specification in some detail and, sadly, it doesn’t make me happy. Here’s why:

The Price

The base-level 15” Retina MacBook Pro costs $2199 and comes with a 2.3Ghz Ivy Bridge i7 processer, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state disk.

Now, I accept this isn’t a dreadful spec, but I already have that much RAM in my current Mac. Furthermore, 256GB is not enough space for all my existing data, let alone anything new – and that brings me on to the second problem…

The SSD and RAM is permanently installed

Not being able to upgrade my storage or memory on a “Pro” laptop is just daft. If I want 16GB of RAM instead of the supplied 8GB, I have to pay Apple $200 – far in excess of the cost of the RAM.

The New Retina Display MacBook Pro
The New Retina Display MacBook Pro

Even worse, Apple doesn’t seem to offer me an online upgrade to a larger SSD on the base model, so to get the level of storage I need, I have to get the top-end model at $2799 – that’s simply too much for a laptop with no more RAM or storage space than I already have.

The Missing Ethernet Port

I know this might sound pedantic, but, once again, this is a Pro laptop. I am an IT consultant – a “pro” if you will, and I often need to plug my laptop into an Ethernet network or sometimes into a crossover cable to configure a device. I’m not willing to carry a second laptop for this purpose, or to buy yet another one of Apple’s lucrative adaptors.

While I have no doubt that this new MacBook Pro is a wonderful, beautiful machine, I find myself in a position where I simply can’t justify such extreme expense for something that I cannot upgrade.

Conclusion

The permanently soldered components in the new MacBook Pro present a severe problem. In the event of a memory or drive problem beyond the standard 12-month warranty, I can’t replace these parts myself, making additional expense on Applecare all but essential.

For now, then, I’m going to have to make my peace with the fact that Apple have pitched their new laptop in such a way that buying it cannot work for me. As it stands, I cannot change any parts, connect to all my client’s networks or even fit all my music on the base model. I can do all those things on the one I’m typing on now.

I’ll just have to avoid looking at that beautiful new retina display when I next visit the Apple store. Some things are not meant to be.

The year of the Angry Bird, and what’s next for Rovio

Rovio, developer of the immensely popular Angry Birds series, announced that their earnings for 2011 topped $100 million resulting in over $65 million in net profit, up from approximately $10 million in revenue from 2010. Merchandise sales alone accounted for 30 percent of that. Those numbers don’t even include their newest, record-breaking creation, Angry Birds Space, which released earlier this year and gained over 50 million downloads in 35 days.

Rovio’s 2011 lineup consisted of Angry Birds, Angry Bird Seasons, and the movie-themed Angry Birds Rio, all of which raked in almost 650 million downloads in 2011.

Rovio was founded in 2003 and didn’t gain a lot of popularity until late 2009 when they launched Angry Birds for the iPhone. Now, the Angry Birds series has seen over 1 billion total downloads and around 200 million active users as of the end of 2011. Rovio’s many versions of Angry Birds have stayed at the top of the charts ever since their releases.

Rovio expects 2012 to be another great year for them. CEO Mikael Hed says that they “are very optimistic about 2012 due to significant investments in product development, cutting-edge branding, brand protection and corporate infrastructure.” Hed also said that Rovio needs to be “continuously developing new and innovative products and services” in order to ensure continuous success.

Hed mentioned that they plan on releasing several more games in 2012, including a non-Angry Birds title called Amazing Alex, which will be a reboot of Casey’s Contraptions, a long lost mobile game from developers Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut. It turns out, Rovio bought the IP to the game, so they’re currently re-working and re-branding the title to fit within their style. Amazing Alex will be released in approximately two months and will include an educational element, as well as being a fun and entertaining game about constructing Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions to complete a variety of objectives.

Because of Rovio’s immense success, the company is also preparing itself for an IPO next year, according to Reuters who cited that Anders Lindeberg, Rovio’s head of investor relations, said that the Finnish-based company is “is preparing itself and getting ready” for a stock market listing in either New York or Hong Kong.

Will 2012 be another great year for Rovio like CEO Mikael Hed claims? It certainly looks that way so far, but only time will tell to see if the developer still has it in them to come through with fun and entertaining titles.

Image Credit: Yaniv Golan