Weekend news roundup

10 Oct 2011

The death of Apple’s Steve Jobs dominated technology news coverage in the weekend newspapers. Some reports delved into his management style but others looked once again at the new iPhone 4S and investigated the magic under the bonnet, in particular, the Siri artificial intelligence technology.

Biting into Apple’s corporate culture

The weekend’s papers were full of tributes to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and many reprinted his famous Stanford address. The Financial Times featured an interesting analysis by Philip Delves Broughton, who worked briefly at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California, Apple’s corporate headquarters, about how the Apple machine works – from the top down.

Broughton wrote: “Trying to get the truth out of any successful organisation is a challenge. Failure is a far better teacher than success, and since the early 2000s, Apple had been on a tear. Almost every major product launch had gone well, its retail strategy had been a triumph and its share price was soaring. The embarrassments beetled in the shadows, the botched MobileMe service, the lengthy investigation into the backdating of stock options for senior executives, the fact that the iPhone, for many of its urban users at least, was a terrible phone.

“Success tends to cast decisions in a dangerously rosy glow and make geniuses of executives. When you asked what made Apple Apple, the answers came back implausibly bland: focus, simplicity, great design, vision, Steve. Yes to all. But what about the rest? Under the hood, Apple was as corporate as it comes.”

Getting Siri-ous about Siri

When the late Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple in recent months, he said Apple’s most innovative days lie ahead. And as Jobs’ passing gains acceptance and the initial disappointment that the newest addition to the iPhone family is the iPhone 4S and not the miraculous iPhone 5 begins to fade, the powerful magic underneath the iPhone 4S’s hood is finally being given a decent appraisal and its most significant attribute – artificial intelligence – is certainly being seen as a wow factor.

In The Observer, John Naughton wrote: “Siri has an interesting pedigree. It stems from a lavish research project funded by Darpa, the Pentagon agency that funds advanced research. It was eventually passed to the Stanford Research Institute, which in 2007 spun out a company (called Siri) that was acquired by Apple in 2010. The implication is that this isn’t software created by a few geeks in a garage, but something that has had oodles of talent poured into it. Of course, as with all of this stuff, we’ll have to see if it works as well in real life as it did in Tuesday’s onstage demonstrations. But if it does, then other smartphone operators will find that the competitive bar has been raised by an unpalatable number of notches.

“The launch of Siri on the phone also serves to highlight what was really significant about the device in the first place – namely, that it was a powerful handheld computer that just happened also to make voice calls. The great paradigm-shifting insight that Steve Jobs and his team had was that voice was secondary to computing power. They reasoned that once they got that tiny platform into millions of consumers’ hands, then all kinds of interesting things would be possible. Apps, for a start. And now formidable software, such as Siri, which needs computational horsepower in order to do its stuff.”

So, what about a Steve Jobs public memorial?

Steve Jobs epitomised the aspiring and pioneering nature of Silicon Valley and there have been calls for a public memorial dedicated to the man. However, according to the San Jose Mercury News there appears to be no plans.

“There’s a real need for the public to be able to recognise his achievements, to be able to mourn the man in public, together,” the paper reported Leander Kahney, editor and publisher of Cult of Mac and author of three books about technology culture. “He was such a cultural figure and he imbued his products with a sense of humanity that people can really connect with. His memorial should be a shared event and it shouldn’t be kept private.”

Yet “private” is Apple’s middle name. The company said Friday there are no planned public memorials and did not comment on reports that a private funeral had taken place Friday.

Big turnover, low taxes – go Google it!

The Irish Independent reported that despite reporting turnover of more than €10bn, Google’s Irish operation paid just more than €5.6m in corporation tax last year, new accounts show.

According to accounts just filed, Google Ireland Limited made a pre-tax profit of €18.5m in 2010, nearly two-thirds less than a year earlier. The fall in profit meant the company more than halved the amount of corporation tax it paid the State to only €5.6m, down from €5.9m in 2010.

Google routes most of its revenue out of Ireland in a legal tax scheme known as the “Double Irish”. Profit after tax fell to €1.7m compared to €30.2m in 2009 but turnover increased by €2.2bn to €10.1bn.

WorldIrish.com predicts €20m profit

The Sunday Independent reported that Riverdance supremo John McColgan is eyeing profit of €20m per year from his innovative new social media start-up WorldIrish.com that launched at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park on Friday.

WorldIrish.com will bring together Irish-centred social media content from Facebook, Twitter and other websites to create a massive online Irish community. It is seen as a key tool for attracting investment to Ireland, serving as a gateway to our culture, business, tourism and sporting sectors.

No other country has developed a similar social media portal for national content.

McColgan, who made a fortune from the enormously successful Riverdance show and investments in Today FM, came up with the idea at the Farmleigh event in 2009. It was one of the key initiatives to emerge from the forum two years ago. So far, around €1.5m has been spent getting the social media firm to launch phase, with McColgan footing much of the bill.

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