2nd > June > 2007 Archive

DHS: beware stink-bomb touting terrorists

Unusual paranoia over chemical attack in the US takes many forms. It can be seen in a recent piece of trouble from the Department of Homeland Security, a long list of "chemicals of interest" it wishes to require all university settings to inventory.
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Why Apple won't sell 10 million iPhones in 2008

CommentComment Steve Jobs sounds modest with his 2008 sales prediction: "10 million iPhones is one per cent of the mobile phone market". This is indeed true, but it's not a useful benchmark. The vast majority of those phones are super cheap. The smartphone category, which is closest to iPhone territory, is very different. Symbian has sold 100 million smartphones in the last 10 years. BlackBerry hasn't reached the 10 million figure yet. It's a bit like saying the world car market is 18 million cars so McLaren can sell 180,000 because that's only one per cent. In practice, it sold 28 cars last year. It would be surprising if iPhone accounted for one per cent of sales just within the one network which has been announced – AT&T. The network has 56.3 million subscribers but not all of them will get a new phone each year. Even so, half a million smartphones is a huge success. Where Apple has gone wrong is in setting expectations. The phone will be late. All first smartphones are. The Nokia 7650 was late, the Ericsson P800 was nearly a year late. The amount of testing necessary for a new phone is incredible. And a new entrant has a worse time of it. The established players know the unwritten rules for getting phones accepted by each of the networks. They know which criteria are absolute and which can drift a little. It's a bit like getting your odd-ball car MOT'd by the garage which does all the work on it. They'll let some things through on the nod that a garage which had never seen a Marcos or Ultima before would fail the car on. Apple has had the iPhone accepted by AT&T, which may waive the rules for its new best friend, and reportedly Rogers in Canada, but there are over 200 significant networks in the world and the networks buy 80 per cent of the world's handsets. They will want everything squeaky clean and tested. Apple must get into the networks. And that means a long testing courtship. Implementing the special features, such as visual mail, is going to be uphill. Motorola announced a very similar system with the P1088, codenamed MAP, nearly a decade ago and failed to get the networks to support it. Apple has even less chance, or at least less chance of doing it in any sensible timescale. The networks don't like fiddling with their services. Just an hour of outage, even if it was just an hour of the SMS service dying with the messages stored and forwarded, would cost so much in lost customers it's not worth the risk. Each customer costs about $200 to acquire and a drop in service is the best way to lose them. Getting iPhone into a significant number of networks is going to be a problem. Even if there is central purchasing - as there is for Telefonica or Vodafone - the iPhone will still have to be sold by Apple to each of the individual countries within the empire and have to undergo local testing. Remember, the mobile industry is one where some of the biggest companies in the world have tried and failed: Siemens, Philips, Fujitsu. None of them have creditable market shares. Even IBM put a toe in the water in the late nineties and then stayed away. While iPhone sales volumes disappoint everyone, the device will not. It's the future direction of mobile gizmos. Most BlackBerry owners have a separate voice phone. The iPhone is a video iPod with a better screen that just happens to make phone calls. Over the next few years we'll see more mobile music devices, mobile organisers, mobile web browsers, and maybe mobile navigation devices, all of which happen to have a SIM card, and which can make calls - but making calls is a secondary use. Devices like this have been tried, but they've all been ahead of their time – not in technology terms, but in man-in-the-street acceptance. The trick Apple has missed is downloadable music. This is usually seen by the geek community as being driven by the omission of 3G, but downloadable music could be done a different way: if you had a custom format, smaller sizes, with better compression. You'd need some other things, like a fast processor in the music player, but Apple has that. And you'd need to hold the custom format in an online database. For pretty much every other company in the world this would be a show-stopping problem. Only Apple can do this. The iPhone, however, is good for the mobile phone world. It gives all the incumbents a shock in the user interface. Of course, we've yet to see quite how good it will be, but this is Apple and it's unlikely to be anything other than wonderful. It will also drive that man-in-the-street effect. People will start to want a connected music player. By the time the sat-nav in your car has a SIM, you have a mail device, music device, maybe even a digital camera, and of course a phone with a SIM, a mere billion phones a year starts to look small. This won't be 2008, maybe 2014, but even then one per cent looks to be aiming too high. ®
Lance Davis, 02 Jun 2007
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Russia: our space atom rockets are bigger, nyah nyah

AnalysisAnalysis Russian strategic forces revealed this week that they have successfully tested a new intercontinental nuclear weapon, underscoring their ability to penetrate the developing US missile shield. "The RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile will strengthen the military potential of Russia's strategic rocket forces to overcome anti-missile defence systems," the Strategic Missile Forces command said in a blunt statement. Colonel-General Viktor Yesin also said on Russian television: "It can overcome any potential entire missile defence systems." According to the Russian defence ministry, the new RS-24 missile was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk cosmodrome and hit targets nearly 4,000 miles away on the Kamchatka peninsula. The RS-24 was said to be able to carry 10 warheads, each capable of being directed at a separate target. The announcements were fairly evidently intended as part of a public response to ongoing US missile-defence efforts, dubbed "Son of Star Wars" by the media, and in particular American plans to site interceptor rockets and radars in Eastern Europe. "We think it is damaging and dangerous to transform Europe into a powder keg and fill it with new forms of weapons," Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said on Tuesday, during talks with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates. Powder kegs full of weapons are never good. But it's hard to see that the Pentagon's relatively modest European plans amount to any such thing. At present, the Missile Defence Agency is looking to deploy just 10 Ground-Based mid-course Interceptor (GBI) rockets in Poland. Without even considering new RS-24s, the Russian strategic forces could laugh at defences like these. As of January 2006, Russia possessed 927 nuclear delivery platforms and 4,279 strategic nuclear warheads, according to the Russian defence ministry. Ten measly interceptors - even if they worked with 100 per cent reliability - wouldn't even make a dent in the sort of strike Russia could put into the sky. Even a hundred GBIs beneath the flight path wouldn't be all that big a deal on their own. It's true that there are other things in the Missile Defence toolbox. In addition to mid-course interception in space, the Pentagon aims to acquire the ability to attack enemy ICBMs as they boost upward from their pads, and also last-ditch mobile or ship-mounted measures which could possibly pick off surviving warheads plunging down through the atmosphere at the end of their journey. But boost-phase missile busting - under current US plans - requires a presence somewhere near the missile launch location, which isn't likely to be an option for the Americans in the case of Russian launch sites. And terminal defence is a very difficult trick to pull off: a head-on, severely time-constrained interception against a small hypersonic target. It's claimed test success recently against slower, lower-flying Scud-type threats, but not yet against ICBM re-entrants. No: Russia can blow up America any time it feels like it. There's no realistic prospect of that changing, certainly not as a result of any realistic number of GBIs sited in Europe. Whatever Putin's angry about, it isn't the US missile shield. The Polish and Czech bases really are - as the Bush administration says - only suitable to counter a limited launch, say from Iran. Even that level of capability has yet be proven; but it's believable in a way that stopping a Russian strike simply isn't. In an Iranian scenario, where a relatively small number of unreliable Shahab/Taepodong-2 ICBMs with clumsy single warheads might be fired, Missile Defence as now planned might actually work, at least to a significant degree. Airborne Laser jumbos under heavy US airforce escort might get close enough to pick off some missiles as they boosted to orbit: Polish-based GBIs might eliminate surviving reentry vehicles as they soared through space over Europe. Aegis cruisers and THAAD land defences could defend US regional forces and allies from shorter-ranging strikes, and - one day - conceivably guard a few key US locations against ICBMs leaking through the boost and space shields. China, with a mere 20 ageing ICBMs at present, has much more right to feel threatened by US missile-defence efforts than Russia. But the Chinese are prudently moving to acquire some submarine-based, less vulnerable weaponry; and they'd have nobody to sell bras and iPods to if they nuked the USA, anyway. The Chinese leadership certainly hasn't felt the need to indulge in the sort of posturing seen from Vladimir Putin in recent days. This sort of thing is fairly routine for him, after all. Could be it's mainly intended for the folks at home. ®
Lewis Page, 02 Jun 2007
Flag China

Balli gets heavy metal InFocus

Case studyCase study Keeping track of the complexities of international metals trading deals means data integration on a grand scale. As one of the world's largest steel traders, Balli Group has had to cope with fundamental changes in its business in the last few years as a result of growing international demand for steel. Most of its activity involves buying steel in China, then shipping and selling it elsewhere in the world.
Phil Manchester, 02 Jun 2007

Blanket license considered harmful - societies chief

CISACCISAC The first collective license for music was conceived almost a century ago, and their heirs - all the world's collection societies - met for a Copyright Summit in Brussels this week. Collection societies exist to raise money for 'performers' where it's too tedious and expensive to count every 'performance'. They draw lots of small sums of money, for example from hotels, hair dressers and pubs, in exchange for what's called a blanket, or collective license. (And not just performers, obviously, but authors and composers). This is then handed back, typically in small amounts too. So it was suprising to hear the Collection Societies director general explain to us why a blanket license was a really bad idea. Surprising, because his members were all here to celebrate what a fantastic idea it was. Quite literally, they wouldn't be here without it. This made the stance against a digital blanket license odd. For a few cents a week from every broadband user, a license would compensate artists for the use of their music, just as it has for every other technological innovation since the invention of electricity. Eric Baptiste, in an interview with us, explained that for digital music downloads, however, a blanket license would wreck the world of music as we knew it - with the other creative industries following into ruin in short order. Why was this, then? Eric said that he believed that if a collective license was introduced - then physical sales of music would vanish overnight, destroying the recorded music business. Then the small blanket fee - would have to go up, and people wouldn't accept it. And everyone else affected by digital technologies would want one too - and the world would be a smoking ruin. That was the logic, as we understood it. "The enforcement has been weak so far," he said. "But you have to know that if you infringe, we will prosecute you:" But it's a tall order to require people to pay, when the alternative is free? "I agree, it's very difficult to coomete with free... but we need more compelling offerings as well as better enforcement. The killer app is not there yet." Therefore he favoured education about copyright infringement, stiffer penalties and DRM. He compared casual infringement to speeding - we all want do it, but we know we'll get caught. I asked him what kind of gigantic technical surveillance infrastructure would be required to police all the private digital exchanges we do - but he thought it was achievable. Somehow. Or maybe the "killer app" is here - it just doesn't have a blanket license on it yet? No, said the director general. While CISAC favoured levies on copying material like tapes, a levy on copying material like broadband-connected PCs was a step too far. Zero paid When his members receive not one penny from digital exchanges, wasn't it worth considering? "It would be like stepping from the frying pan into the fire," said Baptiste. "If you do the maths, you realize it's a small fraction of what the copyright industry is getting today. If everybody in the creative business - musicians, scriptwriters, lawyers ... everyone has to live off fat fee - the fee would have to be very high." Lawyers? I wondered how many Reg readers would agree that lawyers were entitled to a living? "Sometimes lawyers are a necessary evil," he smiled. Again, I was baffled that a mechanism that was invented because it reached parts other mechanism couldn't reach, was deemed to have finally met its insurmountable obstacle. But he was adament: there could be no blanket license that legalized, and therfore monetized, the home computer. Eric had analogy. "What if all the restaurants in Brussels had a blanket license?" he asked, "and people could go anywhere and eat what they wanted?" This seemed an inapposite choice of metaphor: you can't instantly copy a Three Star Michelin meal at zero marginal cost. But even if you could make five loaves and two fishes feed a city, you'd still need to buy new property to get everyone seated. And people here aren't in the habit of rampaging through Brussels gorging themselves on "free" Three Star food. Then the thought struck me that if Eric's digital nightmare really could be applied to high quality cuisine, then it would't really be a nightmare at all. Yes, hordes might then be rampaging through Brussels restaurants, but this would make the restauranteurs very happy - because no cultural intermediary likes to see an empty house. The chefs and the food producers would be happy, because with a blanket license increasing demand, for them too, they could be assured of making more stuff, and selling more produce, knowing they'd be paid. And the market would sort out the really good chefs from the poseurs. There wouldn't be a happier city on earth that I could imagine. So I was about to tell him that a blanket license for (digital) food was the most fabulous idea I'd heard all week, when I realized that this would be facetious raised to the power of facetious: f-squared. So I just nodded and kept taking notes. Have mercy on your reporter, dear readers. Out on the floor however, Eric's members are beginning to realize what a fabulous idea it could be too. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 02 Jun 2007
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Data Analysis 2.0

The World Wide Web can be thought of as one very large database, with information distributed in loosely-connected nodes across a wide array of systems. Compare this to the historically structured world of the relational database management system (RDBMS), where data is neatly managed in tables and columns in a relatively closed environment.
Donna Burbank, 02 Jun 2007