Weekend news roundup

24 Jan 2011

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers, from Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ caretaker CEO Tim Cook to people selling their smartphones for cash and why US academics say social media isolates rather than connects.

Steve Jobs’ right hand man

The Financial Times carried an interesting profile of Steve Jobs’ caretaker CEO for Apple during his medical leave, Tim Cook. The FT article referred to how more than two decades ago, a young Duke University MBA student carefully drafted a business plan for the next 25 years of his life. He approached the task with the same precise analysis he learned studying engineering at Auburn University in his native Alabama.

He recently rediscovered the plan, but realised it had been a worthless guide to his path in life. It said nothing of the need to follow a hunch, as he did in 1998, by quitting a safe corporate job to join Apple, as it teetered on the verge of extinction. It was a move that ultimately saw him this week named de facto leader of the world’s second most valuable company.

Apple’s chief operating officer for the past five years, Cook now has the chance to prove he can succeed Jobs, one of the world’s most charismatic business leaders – but one whose faltering health has forced him to step aside. If he is to follow Jobs, however, he has much to prove, especially as Apple makes crucial bets on a new wave of technologies, including the next generation of its celebrated iPad tablet and iPhone.

“There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate,” Cook told Auburn’s graduating class last year. “I’ve discovered it is in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable to getting it right.”

Social media doesn’t connect, it isolates – academics

Academics in the US have turned their ire on social media sites, arguing that instead of actually connecting people, they are resulting in people living more isolated lives, according to a report in The Guardian.

The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist.

“A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological,” MIT Prof Sherry Turkle writes in her new book, Alone Together, which is leading an attack on the information age.

Turkle’s book, published in the UK next month, has caused a sensation in America, which is usually more obsessed with the merits of social networking. She appeared last week on Stephen Colbert’s late-night comedy show, The Colbert Report. When Turkle said she had been at funerals where people checked their iPhones, Colbert quipped: “We all say goodbye in our own way.”

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

High-end smartphones being sold in a hurry by cash-poor owners

The Observer carried a report revealing how iPhone 4s and other smartphones are being resold in increasing numbers, fetching up to stg£430, as owners look for quick cash.

Mobile phone-recycling firms have seen a steep increase in the number of phones being cashed in, with the iPhone 4 among the most popular being traded.

SellMyMobile.com, a website that compares prices from mobile recycling sites, has seen a 70pc increase in inquiries about mobile phone recycling in the last week of last year, while site traffic continued to increase during January.

Smartphones have topped the tables, with the Nokia 5800 Xpress Music, the BlackBerry 8520 Curve and the iPhone 3GS 8Gb the most frequently recycled. These models are all between 18 months and two years old but can still fetch about £150, and the owners are likely to have come to the end of their contracts and are able to upgrade.

More surprising are the 844 iPhone 4s and the 113 HTC Windows 7 that owners have recycled since 26 December. These are relatively new models, with the HTC phone launched just three months ago. Nine iPads have also been sold.

Virgin chief says TV wars are over, long live digital

Virgin Media chief Neill Berkett told The Sunday Telegraph that his focus is no longer on the subscriber battle with BSkyB but more so on capitalising on broadband connectivity.

“This is not a zero-sum game any more,” says the media executive. “We have different players in the marketplace with different competitive advantages.”

Not long ago, it was a race to attract the most pay-TV customers – until that is, the realisation that fighting to attract Sky’s loyal customer base was near impossible. Virgin has 3.8m customers; BSkyB has just topped 10m.

Speak to Jeremy Darroch, BSkyB’s chief executive, and it is almost all about television, from HD and 3D take-up to hit US shows from Boardwalk Empire to Mad Men.

Berkett’s world is distinctly less Hollywood. Today’s Virgin Media is all about the digital experience and Berkett often points to Virgin’s advantage over BSkyB and BT in “connectivity”, his way of describing the benefits of super-fast broadband.

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