An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...
Note: This Short Takes entry is being posted early because of my travel schedule. —Paul
Outlook.com and Hotmail Overheat, Go Down
Microsoft’s consumer-oriented web email services—Outlook.com and Hotmail, which are really the same thing—were offline for many users this week, and looking at the logs on the firm’s Service status site, it looks like the outage lasted for many hours over two days. In a blog post after the event, Microsoft explained that it was all caused by a “regular process of updating the firmware” in a datacenter, triggering “a rapid and substantial temperature spike.” This triggered a protective auto-response that, among other things, cut off some users from their mailboxes. “A mix of infrastructure software and human intervention was needed to bring the core infrastructure back online,” the explanation reads. “Requiring this kind of human intervention is not the norm for our services and added significant time to the restoration.” Stupid humans. This is why our robotic overlords will one day turn on us as the overfed chum that we are.
Finally, News About a Nokia Lumia 920 Version for Verizon
The one aspect of Nokia’s strategy that I don’t agree with is that it typically limits the sale of its flagship phone in each generation to only one wireless carrier per market. So in the United States, only AT&T got the Lumia 900 a year ago, and then the Lumia 920 last fall. There have been rumors of a Lumia 920 variant for Verizon for months, and in recent days these rumors have really heated up. It seems that the Lumia 920 variant, called the Lumia 928 (yes, like the Porsche) and code-named Lightning, could appear soon. It features a new aluminum-based body (which will hopefully be thinner and lighter than the Lumia 920, which is a tank) and a xenon flash but otherwise be identical to the Lumia 920. It should ship in April. If you’re on Verizon, this is reason to wait before pulling the trigger on a new handset.
Rumor Busting: Samsung Isn't “Stringing Microsoft Along”
One of the most depressing things about my job is watching people who (ostensibly) do what I do succumb to silly rumors and even outright lies and then republish them in a flurry of attention that suddenly seems to give the BS credence. After all, a given bit of "news" must be true if all those websites and blogs are reporting on it! And this week, we have an excellent example of this: An analyst I’ve never heard of from a firm I’ve never heard of claimed that Samsung is undergoing a “concerted effort” to “undermine Windows Phone 8,” essentially “stringing Microsoft along” as it develops a new mobile OS on the side. Um. Right. Samsung is so inconsequential in the Windows Phone market that this makes no sense at all, and if the firm is “stringing” anyone along, it’s Google, because Samsung is quite dominant in the Android space. As Alex Wilhem wryly notes in his own debunking of this stupidity, you need a tinfoil hat to believe this one. (Related: "Now Samsung Is Complaining About Windows 8")
BlackBerry Z10 Is Heading to America
AT&T and Verizon are both offering the BlackBerry Z10 for preorder with delivery expected on March 22 and March 28, respectively. And this US launch will be an interesting test of BlackBerry’s brand, which I think is less enticing than many believe, and its ability to compete in a vastly different market than the one it ceded to Android and Apple several years ago. But there is one very interesting sign of life from BlackBerry: The firm (which used to be called Research In Motion—RIM) announced this week that an unnamed “partner” has ordered 1 million of the devices. Assuming it's true, I will say this: We’ve never seen Microsoft able to crow about a similar sale for Windows Phone handsets. In fact, the biggest Windows Phone sale was probably in the hundreds. So there’s something new to worry about. (Related: "RIM Changes Its Name to BlackBerry, Announces New Handsets")
Google Reader Shutdown Triggers Expected Angst, Bitching and Moaning
Google made some big news this week, what with admitting to violating the privacy of US citizens (discussed below) and by combining its Android and Chrome efforts into a single business. But the biggest Google news this week was clearly its decision to shut down Google Reader, a web-based RSS reader that was used by approximately 18 people. Because I am one of those 18 people, I will now express my absolute outrage that Google has once again shuttered an online service solely because it has no easy way to drive advertising through it. And I’m eagerly looking for a functionally identical alternative, one that works on the platforms I actually use. And that’s going to be tough. Certainly none of the quickly proffered solutions—Feedly, Flipboard, whatever—come close. I don’t want fancy graphics. I want to know what’s going on, immediately.
Google: Yes, We Violated the Privacy of US Citizens. Would You Like Some Advertising with That?
The world’s biggest online ad maker—you know it as a “technology” company called Google—this week admitted to the State of California that its Street View mapping project violated the privacy of the residents of the state. It made this admission as part of a settlement of a case, brought to it by 38 US states, and the settlement also includes a ridiculously small $7 million fine. But for privacy advocates, this is a big deal because Google is, in their words, a “serial violator of privacy.” And it’s the admission, not the fine, that matters here. But it’s not all good news, and some believe Google won’t really change its ways. “Asking Google to educate consumers about privacy is like asking the fox to teach the chickens how to ensure the security of their coop,” an excellent quote from Consumer Watchdog notes. I eagerly await Google’s next transgression.
How You Know Apple Is a Different Company Now, Part 27
A decade ago, when Microsoft was the dominant force in the PC industry and Apple was a brash up-and-comer, I used to complain to representatives at the software giant that their policy of never naming Apple as a competitive threat was a mistake, and showed they were clueless about the changes then sweeping the market. They told me, in turn, that publicly mentioning Apple would give the firm more credit than it deserved, and that it could safely remain above the fray. Flash forward a decade, and Apple is crushing its competitors in the consumer space while trying to maintain an “above the fray” attitude, demonstrating to fans that it is a different kind of company, and not unnerved by faster-moving competitors. Well, no more. This week, on the eve of the launch of Samsung’s hypetastic Galaxy S4 smartphone, Apple marketing panda Phil Schiller has gone on the offensive, trying to shoot down the phone before it's even announced. Yes, Apple is that scared. “When you take an Android device out of the box, you have to sign up to nine accounts with different vendors to get the experience [that Apple’s] iOS comes with," he said. "They don't work seamlessly together.” Sounds like an argument Apple might have made about the Mac versus the PC in previous decades, and of course that turned out just fine. But with Samsung individually and Android collectively beating Apple both in smartphones and tablets, Apple’s new tactic is particularly hilarious: It pretends the math doesn’t matter. “I'm not sure that the [market share] estimates and the modeling accurately give an accurate picture of it all," Schiller said. Then he threw a handful of pixie dust on the ground, sprouted tiny white wings on his back, and laboriously flew away, just inches off the ground. Point made, sir. Point made. (Related: "Android and iPhone Achieve Smartphone Duopoly")
Apple CEO Tim Cook Will Testify in Apple’s Book-Pricing Collusion Trial
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs orchestrated an illegal price hike in the ebook market by colluding with five of the world’s biggest book makers in an effort that harmed consumers (with artificially inflated prices) and competitors such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (Or as Jobs said, “People don’t read anymore.” Which explains his interest in that market.) But since Mr. Jobs has sadly passed away, US District Judge Denise Cote has ordered current Apple CEO Tim Cook to testify in the case because he was, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) noted, a close confidant of Jobs and is now the “only potential source of information.” Apple’s contortion of this news is priceless. An Apple lawyer claims that the ”effort to depose Mr. Cook, Apple's CEO, reflects the fact the government cannot meet its burden of proof in this case.” But when you consider that all the publishers involved in this case have in fact already settled with the DOJ, and that Apple and all the publishers involved in a similarly damning pricing-collusion case in the European Union (EU) have already settled there, only one conclusion can be drawn. And yes, it does involve the burden of proof.
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