Weekend news round-up: Apple television just a fantasy; end in sight for patent wars?

10 Dec 2012

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In our trawl through some of the top tech stories of the weekend, former Apple insider, venture capitalist and blogger Jean-Louis Gassée says the rumour mill is worked up over nothing regarding an Apple television; Microsoft appears to be gaining momentum in terms of smartphones; and technology giants Dell, Google and Facebook are calling a halt to lawsuits based on abstract patents.

Is the Apple television set just a fantasy?

Former Apple products boss, media impresario, venture capitalist and blogger Jean-Louis Gassée in his blog poured cold water on the firestorm of rumours that kicked up in earnest last week about the mythical Apple TV set due to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s musings in an NBC interview about how the current TV experience may as well be 20 or 30 years back in time.

Gassée points out that it’s not the actual TV that needs reinventing but the set top box experience. As many know, Apple has been unsuccessfully trying to get TV networks to collaborate on the existing Apple TV set top box device which Cook says has gone from a hobby to an area of intense interest.

“Cook has one thing right: The set-top box experience does place one back in time by 20 to 30 years,” Gassée said.

“The solution? Channels, shows, special events should all be presented as apps. Click, pay and play, with standard fare for free. Catch the 6pm news when you get home at 9.30; watch two programmes side-by-side with Android 7 or iOS 9, all on your screen of choice: smartphone, tablet, PC or TV.

“The technology isn’t an issue. There’s enough bandwidth on cable (or pretend-fibre) networks, plenty of storage on servers, and all the required computing power in current or future TV boxes, from Apple and its competitors.

“But there’s an obstacle in the tangled, encrusted business models that the Comcasts, CBSs, and Disneys cling to out of fear that Apple will wrest control of their content, that they’ll be disintermediated à la iTunes or the iPhone/iPad App Store.”

Australian police voice safety concerns about Apple Maps

While the advent of an actual Apple television set is still in the air, the California technology giant’s troubles with its new Maps technology continue.

Police in Victoria, Australia, have issued a warning to motorists after several travellers using the Maps on their iOS devices became stranded in the Murray-Sunset National Park while trying to reach the city of Mildura.

MacRumors reported: “Tests on the mapping system by police confirm the mapping systems lists Mildura in the middle of the Murray Sunset National Park, approximately 70km away from the actual location of Mildura."

Police are extremely concerned as there is no water supply within the park and temperatures can reach as high as 46 degrees, making this a potentially life-threatening issue.

Some of the motorists located by police have been stranded for up to 24 hours without food or water and have walked long distances through dangerous terrain to get phone reception.

So how many Windows Phone devices has Microsoft sold? Facebook knows

It seems smartphones based on Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system are finally beginning to deliver the momentum the software giant has been hoping for.

The Next Web reported on data that suggests Microsoft has sold 4.2m Windows Phone handsets since October. Where did it come by this data? Facebook, apparently.

“In our initial reporting, a ratio of 6.756 handsets sold per active user of the Windows Phone Facebook application. That ratio could now be quite dated, as Facebook usage patterns change, and the Windows Phone userbase changes demographically. However, as that ratio allowed us to predict nearly perfectly the 2m handset old mark for the platform, it does carry some weight.

“And so, that mathemagical calculation would yield as the guess that 4,236,012 have been sold since the start of the quarter. We leave the figure to your gut for a check.”

Should Microsoft hold onto the Windows brand?

But as Microsoft endeavours to become a force in a world that is increasingly ‘mobile first’, The Verge asked if the software giant should consider ditching the Windows brand in order to allow its mobile operating system a chance to flourish.

It seems product failures associated with Windows Vista and ME trigger unpleasant memories in the minds of consumers.

“Microsoft has experienced ups and downs with its massive customer base over the years, but never more so than the feedback around Windows Vista and Windows ME. Microsoft stumbled in the years leading up to Vista: while Apple was busy preparing its iPhone and iPad devices, Microsoft missed a crucial holiday sales season and shipped its latest release to retailers in January 2007. The changes in Vista alienated some users and created hardware compatibility issues with poor performance on some laptops, just as mobile computing was getting increasingly popular ahead of the netbook boom. The experience may have permanently impacted the Windows reputation.”

Is the end in sight for the patent wars?

Many people who care about the future of the technology industry lament the impact that the tit-for-tat lawsuits are having on potentially stymying innovation and in recent days Google’s Eric Schmidt decried the danger it poses for a developer somewhere in the world who is trying to invent a new mobile operating system, for example.

TechCrunch reported that in a progressive move, an amicus brief filed by Facebook, Google, Zynga, Dell, Rackspace, Intuit and others has asked the courts to reject lawsuits based on patents for vague concepts instead of specific applications because of the myriad of costs and the limiting effect they are having on innovation.

In the amicus brief, the companies wrote: “Many computer-related patent claims just describe an abstract idea at a high level of generality and say to perform it on a computer or over the internet. Such bare-bones claims grant exclusive rights over the abstract idea itself, with no limit on how the idea is implemented. Granting patent protection for such claims would impair, not promote, innovation by conferring exclusive rights on those who have not meaningfully innovated, and thereby penalising those that do later innovate by blocking or taxing their applications of the abstract idea … The abstractness of computer-related patents bears much of the blame for the extraordinarily high litigation and settlement costs associated with such patents.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com