Weekend news roundup

31 Jan 2011

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers, from Apple growing too fast for its own good, Egypt’s draconian cyber censorship, the boom in voice apps and the Beeb’s biggest online mistake.

Those clever people at Apple

The New York Times ran an interesting analysis of where CEO Steve Jobs’ juggernaut Apple is heading. Size, the Times wrote, is the enemy of growth. It is one of the unwritten laws of business, a matter of simple percentages. After all, when a company has US$1bn in yearly sales, an extra $1bn doubles its size. Add $1bn in new business to a $10bn-a-year company, and it amounts to just 10pc growth. The size-growth tradeoff seems inevitable, an inescapable force like gravity.

Try telling that to Apple, the corporate giant that two weeks ago reported a 71pc jump in quarterly sales. Apple generates revenue at the rate of $100bn a year. Jobs, who went on medical leave this month, is ailing, but the company is certainly not.

Hit products like the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad are fuelling Apple’s logic-defying growth. The latest entry, the iPad, introduced in April, is on track to deliver $15bn to $20bn in revenue in its first full year of sales, estimates A. M. Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein. At that size, if the iPad were a stand-alone company, it would rank within the top third of the Fortune 500.

Booming voice

The Independent examined the rise and rise of voice-controlled technology. It is a measure of how far voice-control technology has come that you have just read this sentence. The original idea was that your correspondent would speak a line into a machine that turns what you say into text and then open with the gobbledygook the machine had “recognised”. Sadly, the ugly facts rather killed the beautiful theory (or, as the machine, still not quite perfect, would have it, “the beautiful scenery”).

Of all the futuristic fads and fancies we now have at our fingertips, speech recognition would seem to be the thing with the most multifarious uses. Who can’t imagine stepping into their home and turning the lights on while ordering Marvin Gaye to croon gently in the background? And all without lifting a finger. Voice-control technology … the 21st-century way to access our inner Austin Powers. Yeah, baby!

BBC’s strategic mistake?

In The Observer, former TV critic John Naughton analysed the BBC’s decision to downsize its online divisions. So the BBC is slimming down, in response to government pressure. The World Service is to lose five of its foreign-language services, and a quarter of its staff. And BBC Online’s budget will be cut by a quarter to £103m and the unit will lose 360 staff, at the same time as it embarks upon a radical “redesign” of the website and its navigation. Introducing these developments, the corporation’s director general explained that the hatchet work was part of a broader strategy to do “fewer things better”. The changes to BBC Online would, he maintained, make the corporation’s web services “more focused and more valuable”.

What links these two victims of corporate surgery? Answer: they’re not television. And that’s highly significant. What the cuts to BBC Online signify is that the internal battle within the corporation between the few who understood that push media represents the past, and the many who think that the Wibbly Wobbly Web (as Terry Wogan used to call Tim Berners-Lee’s invention) is really just the newest way to convey visual stimuli to couch potatoes, is over. And the past has won.

Egypt’s internet blackout

The Independent reported on the draconian clampdown of communications from mobile phones to internet access during the tumultuous events in Egypt over the weekend. Internet access in Egypt has been reduced to virtually zero after the government took the almost unprecedented step of shutting down the country’s online networks.

Nearly all of the major network providers have cut off their service as street protests against President Hosni Mubarak continue. Online organisations that track internet service reported that the concerted drop-off in connection across the country took place late on Thursday night.

As of yesterday, only 327 Egyptian networks remained on the internet, according to the networking firm BGPmon. The previous day there were 2,903, meaning 88pc of the Egyptian internet has been taken offline. Problems were also reported with mobile telephone networks, particularly with the sending of SMS messages.

The internet blackout is seen by many as a government-led effort to stop news and images from being broadcast from the country to the rest of the world via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Although the lack of internet access is unlikely to hamper professional journalists, armed with satellite phones, it will undoubtedly hit citizen journalists and bloggers who attempt to report on the increasingly violent protests.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years