The real losers in the Apple-Samsung US decision

The real losers in the US Apple-Samsung decision
(and it’s not Samsung)

I am sure the jury in the Apple-Samsung US case followed the instructions carefully and did their job, but it reinforced to me that the patent system is broken. (Subsequent to writing this – people are questioning the 22 hours spent reviewing 109 pages and forms they were required to fill in AND remember a judge in the UK threw this out and made apple put an apology on their web site for 6 months)

The case exposes in detail how Apple conceives many of their innovative patents (none of which to me seemed truly groundbreaking – bounce to refresh, and pinch to zoom – hmmmm…). According to Apple’s testimony, they have a few guys in special super-secure section at Apple’s Cupertino HQ called the Purple Dorm, sitting around a kitchen table and banging out ideas.

Don’t get me wrong – I think innovation is terrific, but that some of these innovations shouldn’t be a case for a patent. Spend US$100m on developing and running trials on a new drug. That deserves a genuine patent.

There are guys in Pakistan, India, China, and Vietnam, all doing the same thing as the guys at Palo Alto kitchen table. They’re sitting in coffee shops, talking about innovation, but the difference is that Apple can then spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars on patenting those ideas.

Why I give Samsung credit!
Samsung does do something incredibly admirable, which Apple does not. Samsung produces a range of phones and devices which meet a wide range of budgets. Steve Jobs would say they he didn’t want to comprise the “experience” (or his profits). But Steve missed the point – that leaves a whole lot of people who will “go without.” Price is important in the third world and emerging markets, and Apple focuses only on the high-end segments.

Apple misses a huge potential consumer base by not being innovative in the low end. A typical Level 1 Philippine technical support guy will be lucky to be making ₱15,000 (US$355) per month. So a 16Gb iPhone 4, which costs $649 in the US, is far out of his/her budget.

In these emerging markets, Apple has “re-launched” the iPhone 3GS, but at US$350 it is still 3 to 4 times more expensive then an entry-level Samsung phone running Android.

And if the local telcom subsidizes the cost of the phone? The price of the phone still has to be covered one way or another – so the plans are still well outside the amount the locals can pay.

So along came the Android guys with smart phones starting at US$70. Sure, they have neither the same big screen nor the immersive experience, but they bring technology to a market that cannot afford the high-end iPhone – I think that is important.

Perhaps the guys in building Purple Dorm should be figuring out how to produce a phone which can appeal to the masses and not just one sector of the market (which they then want to lock up at the expense of everyone else).

Another Story
As a matter of interest, a 64Gb iPhone 4S costs a whopping 37% more in the Philippines than it does in the US. As you can see below, the differences are huge – but that’s another story.

Model  –  US  –  Philippines  –  Difference

16Gb  –  US$649  –  ₱37,690 ($894)  –  US$245

32Gb  –  US$749  –  ₱43,490 ($1,031)  –  US$282

64Gb  –  US$849  –  ₱49,290 ($1,169)  –  US$320


Note: The author’s first job was working for an Apple reseller. He currently owns and collects *LOTS* of Apple computers, uses an iPhone 4S and Galaxy Note, and is fast becoming a fan of Ubuntu.




PowerUp ISP

When visiting a new CloudStaff customer recently in Brisbane he said he had something for me. I thought it might a VOIP handset or manuals for his CloudStaff(ers) in the Philippines (or Chocolate). How cool is this…He found them on the weekend and thought I might like them.

These are 1.4 Mb disks of the PowerUp Installer… I am not sure if this is the Microsoft Internet explorer build OR the one Joe wrote which used used his own installer to download the applications from a PowerUp FTP server.

These are early because we eventually has the PowerUp logo printed onto the disk to save using the sticker.

These are circa mid 90’s, I am guessing 15 years old. I wonder what ever happened to the Floppy disk copying machine that we had?

As a bit of an interesting note… As an ISP we paid $100,000 to install an 100Mb link to Telstra Wholesale and THEN we paid about 30 cents per Mb of data. It eventually came done to 10 cents per Mb.  To give you an idea how that compare… Today’s Telstra BizEssentials 500GB Max Plan which costs $150/mth – 15 years ago would have been $90,000/mth

This was a immense barrier to Australian Web developers, business owners who wanted to build rich content for the Internet. Just too expensive, Youtube, Facebook, Google could never have started in Australia.

Ink-Jet Nirvana

Six months ago I thought I had found it: Ink-Jet Nirvana. A land of never-ending rainbows of inexpensive colour.

Ink-Jet printers have revolutionized colour printing. It didn’t take long for printer manufactures to develop a winning business model: they nearly give away the printer, but the ink cartridges cost you an arm, a leg, and three of your offspring (and I mean the good offspring – not the ones that are going to wind up in prison).

Now, I am ok with this subsidized model except for the fact that they give you an infinitesimally small amount of ink. I guess the ink must be made of rare-earth minerals, which is why it is rationed with an eye-dropper. Not to mention that can anywhere between two and seven cartridges will all seem to need replacing at the most inconvenient time. And as soon as you replace one, there is another flashing light.

Hoarding didn’t work…
And don’t try to buy cartridges “on special!” and store them. I had an unused HP ink cartridge that when inserted told me it had expired: “The old ink might damage the print head, please insert a NEW cartridge”. Bloody hell, guys, it’s one thing to charge me a small fortune for the cartridge, but limiting the life of the cartridge using the lame-o excuse that it might damage the print head is highway robbery. If you’ll remember – the printer cost me next to nothing; why I am worried about damaging the print heads? I’ll just get another one – after all, they’re almost given away!

Clone cartridges didn’t work…
Next, I tried using clone cartridges from China. These typically include a box-cutter blade so you can cut the IC chip off the genuine ink cartridge and stick it on the clone with the enclosed double sided tape. This never seemed to work reliably. My HP wide-format printer always seemed to know when I was trying to fool it.

Bulk Tanks didn’t work…
I have also tried several aftermarket, bolt-on ink tank solutions – all with disastrous consequences. Not only have I destroyed two printers in attempting to install these tank systems (that’s ok they didn’t cost me much) but if you get a leak…it’s a tech problem that just “keeps on giving.” The bottom of the printer fills up with ink, the print head moves and sloshes the ink everywhere, and in your haste, you try to move the printer and ink overflows everywhere. I still have ink stains on my desk, walls, floors, and rubbish bins. Unmitigated Disaster.

Bulk ink system - get an expert to install :-)

Hello, Epson L100!
The folks over at Epson have created a printer that includes bulk ink containers on the side. There are trying to tap the price sensitivities of the local market. “Hassle Free and Ultra Low Running Cost with Super High Ink Capacity” is what the box says.

The printer itself costs about US$180. It is a narrow format A4, and its print speed is 27 pages/minute. There are four ink tanks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (black is a double sized tank).

Now this is a pretty simple printer: no LED, no display, no fancy micro chip readers to make sure we’re using genuine Epson ink. But before you go and get all excited (like I did)…there is a catch.


The Catch
The printer driver (the software on the PC) requires you to enter the 13 digit serial number on the bottle of ink. So they still want you to buy ink. I can live with that, but it’s a pain in the arse to enter them all, and we had to find some workarounds for our ubuntu workstations. To Refill we just swap the printer out (see below)

So what is the bottom line?

The ink is about $6 bottle for 70ml. I can live with that. It works out to be a cent for grayscale printing and two cents per colour page.

We have about 10 of these now through out the office.

There is no ethernet port on the L100, just USB, so we use ethernet to USB servers, which work well. If there is a hint of a problem with a printer, a serious paper jam or the ink needs recharging, we just swap the printer with a spare and the techs fix it or recharge the ink later. The advantage with the ethernet/USB is that you are not changing the IP address of the device when you swap out printers.

There is even a tap on the printer which is used to turn the ink off so you can move it without the risk of ink leakage.

As foolproof as the Epson L100 is, I still managed to brand myself. (Maybe this is a sign that I should go colour laser.)

In a business like ours that is growing fast and doubling our staff numbers every 3 to 6 months, we obviously encourage our staff to work paperless. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t an option. When printing is a must, we need to do it as cost effectively as possible, making the Epson L100 is pretty good option.

So there you have it, this is not an article about how to rip off your Ink Jet company but more about they ways some organisation configure their product to sell into emerging markets.

Keyboard Aficionado

Last week as I pushed my way through the crowded maze of computer shops of the Golden Computer Center in Sham Shui Po (Hong Kong), I love all the rows and rows of small, open-front computer shops with all their products (lot of junk) cramped onto tables. Twenty years ago, these markets where were all the pirated software CDs were to be found. Now the pirated movies, software, and CDs are gone, but they’ve been replaced with computer accessories, all the odds and sods, from cables, battery chargers, and PC motherboards, to printers; you name it and it will be there somewhere. The art is knowing where to find it.

In the back corner, in the basement, was a small little store (all the stores here are small). There are hundreds of keyboards – all with some weird name like “Ducky,” “Power Tech,” and “Dragon Heaven.” As I walked by, I jokingly banged an ugly, chunky keyboard, thinking, “You have got to be kidding. Who in their right mind would buy a keyboard that ugly!?” ….Hang on…I was stopped dead in my tracks….I pressed a few more keys on the keyboard… I was taken back in time… It felt just like a keyboard on an old Televideo 920 terminal display, or the monster keyboard from an IBM PC AT.

WOW… how cool was this! What a great feel! This is how I discovered the “Ducky.”

Okay – it’s an amazingly uncool name, but one AMAZINGLY cool keyboard for those people who are a little bit old-school.

Keyboards today can be divided into two categories. The first is the super cheap and super nasty. These are the sort of keyboards that sell for $10 and have a life expectancy less than that of the high energy photons in a Higgs boson experiment. Then there are the modernista – keyboards whose aesthetics overrule substance. (I group most Apple keyboard in this category – sorry, fanboys). You can imagine a group of industrial designers drinking their double-decafe-low-fat-soy lattés trying to work out how well their keyboard will look in a glass case at the Smithsonian.

Most keyboards they make today look the same on the outside as they do under the hood. They consist of a large sheet of plastic. When a key is pressed, the plastic is pushed down and contact is made.

The Ducky is an n-key rollover keyboard. Each key is a separate mechanical switch. When you press a key, it has a very precise, crisp feel. Each key is mechanically designed to create tactile and audible feedback when it is pressed. Each key also “bounces” back once pressed.

It turns out (after some googling) that these sorts of keyboards are still made. They are high-cost keyboards (my keyboard cost US $100). Apparently, they have found a following with the gaming community. Their precise nature, and the fact that these keyboards do not “drop” keys when pressed, make them ideal for gaming zealots.
So why I am so impressed with this keyboard?

You really get the feeling that the Ducky is a “manly” keyboard. If you asked it to make you a double-decafe-low-fat-soy latté, it would probably slap you down and tell you “Man up – it’s Miller time!” This keyboard does, after all, weight in at 1.3Kg!
The precise nature of the key presses means that when you press an A, you get an A. (It’s almost like the keyboard says, “Ok, what’s next??” I LOVE this keyboard! It has rhythm! It has soul! It’s all business!

It makes beautiful music as you type. The faster and harder you type, the louder the click of the keys becomes and the faster they bounce back.
I know this must sound absolutely crazy… but it is truly an old-school thing. I imagine that most people just wouldn’t get it. Where’s my beer?