This week: If they build it, we will buy it; the inexplicable lure of Near Field Communications; pray for shared data plans; and why Apple keeps flaws in the iPhone.
You read it here second.
"The lesson here is that you shouldn't always trust Apple rumors, even if they come from somebody at Apple."
~Keith Wagstaff, Time's Techland blog, helpfully cautioning us after he learned of Apple's practice of assigning newly hired engineers to dummy projects until they've been inculcated with the Apple Way; but unhelpfully, not telling us when we should trust Apple rumors.
Chinese workers flock to build iPhone 5
Actually, they're probably just flocking for jobs, because Foxconn, the prime manufacturer for iPhone, plans to add 100,000 jobs in Zhengzhou, in north-central China, according to a post at M.I.C. Gadget, which had an English report, and photos, of the long lines of applicants waiting for hours outside an employment agency screening for Foxconn.
But the iOSsphere, linking to that post, quickly re-interpreted it, making it all about the iPhone.
"Even as the protests against Apple's workers mistreatment practice are surging incessantly, there are still thousands of Chinese job seekers who are lining up in front of the gates of Foxconn, the company's major product manufacturer in China, hoping that they will be hired to work on iPhone 5 production," posted Wendy Li, for International Business Times. The headline: "iPhone 5 Production Set to Begin: Numerous Chinese Job Seekers Line up in Front of Foxconn Doors"
Ms. Li didn't pull any punches: "Although Foxconn is best known for its harsh working conditions, long hours, child labor, and lack of respecting workers' rights, the long lines prove the 'hell factory' is better than other alternatives for many Chinese."
But it turns out she was stealing punches, almost word for word, from a post by The Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield: "All the media coverage of Foxconn, with its harsh working conditions, long hours, child labor, and lack of workers' rights, might make it hard to believe the demand for these jobs."
Three years of the Obama Hope and Change Economy in the U.S. might make it much less hard to believe. Greenfield adds this gem from Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman who "noted way back in the '90s, these factories 'are a big improvement over the previous, less visible rural poverty,' he wrote in an early Slate piece. Industrialization, hardships included, is a necessary step toward modernity, the argument goes."
We're all for making sacrifices. As long as it's someone else making them.
iPhone 5 will use NFC link to support Mastercard/Paypass
9to5Mac puts 2 and 3 together and comes up with 4. "Mastercard/Paypass to be NFC partner with Apple on iPhone 5?"
At Macworld last week, 9to5Mac's Sean Weinbtraub talked to a "well-connected developer" who was building an iOS app that can use the short-range Near Field Communications radio link that lets mobile devices tap a point-of-sale terminal and do stuff like make electronic purchases. Or as the U.K.'s irrepressible The Register calls it, "pay-by-bonk tech."
Weintraub reports that the developer says that "he had no hardware knowledge, but he had spoken to Apple iOS engineers on multiple occasions, and they are 'heavy into NFC.'"
Having settled that, Weintraub notes "The question is now: Who will Apple partner with for its payment systems? Over the weekend we received some hints..."
The hints come via Weintraub's quotes from and link to a Fast Company interview with Ed McLaughlin, identified as head of emerging payments at MasterCard, who says "I don't know of a handset manufacturer that isn't in process of making sure their stuff is [MasterCard] PayPass ready."
The interviewer asks whether the contactless payments industry needs Apple to hit critical mass. "Well, anytime someone with a major base moves forward, it advances what you're doing. So of course," McLaughlin says. It's hard to imagine a more generic answer, but in the iOSphere, that's all you need for transformation.
"Apple, of course, has the magical ability to transform whole industries," writes Fast Company's Austin Carr, referring no doubt to Steve Jobs' rumored use of the "Harry Potter Wand with light and sound," now just $8.09 from Amazon.com. "No one paid for music digitally before Apple unveiled iTunes; virtually no one listened to MP3 players, or carried smartphones, or played with tablets before Apple entered the markets. (And we have good reason to believe they are angling into wireless payment territory.)"
Carr oversimplifies the development of iTunes, which required extensive negotiations with the record labels, who were under pressure to come up with some kind of strategy for digitized content. (The details are analyzed in Robert Levine's excellent recent book "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back".) The mobile payments industry essentially requires a secure interface with a secureable mobile device, a far different issue than that facing the music industry.
iPhone 5 will have shared data plans
The start of this rumor seems to be an Engadget post by Sean Buckley, who apparently was pointed to some purported Verizon Wireless employee training materials showing a new data account structure.
"We've been told that training material for an update to the outfit's internal account management application includes screenshots (one of which you can see above) that show a new section labeled 'account level data plans,'" he writes. "The new section apparently shows an account level charge for data allowance and a 9.99 charge per line."
Both Verizon and AT&T last year said they were working on creating new data plans that would let a family, or presumably a business, buy a bucket of "data minutes" and then share them, or share them among multiple devices instead of needing separate cellular accounts, and bills, for a phone, tablet, and laptop.
But the change is a complex one for mobile carriers, as outlined in an October 2011 white paper, "All in the Family: The New Requirements of Shared Data Plans" by Infonetics Research analysts Shira Levine and Richard Webb.
There's still no official word on when shared data plans will appear, but how can the carriers ignore the opportunity to celebrate the expected Q-1 arrival of the iPad 3, or maybe the Q-2 or Q-3 or Q-4 arrival of iPhone 5?
iPhone 5 will flaws so Apple can "fix" them in iPhone 6
This is a nearly perfect example of the iOSphere hivemind at work. In a self-described "rant" at ITPortal.com, Desire Athow first runs through all the things we don't know about iPhone 5. That would be, well, everything, including as, he points out, the name.
(Just for fun, you can contrast Athow's "Apple iPhone 5 : What We DON'T Know" with Richard Goodwin's "Apple iPhone 5: Everything we know" post at KnowYourMobile. The fun part is realizing the two bloggers are saying the same thing.)
"There have been a huge number of rumours but the overwhelming majority of them are likely to be nothing more than speculation, hearsay, hoaxes or daydreams in which Apple may even have played a major role," Athow rants.
Rollup is deeply sympathetic but to describe the iOSsphere as "nothing more than" these is, surely, excessive. Isn't it?
Athow cuts to the chase. "In a nutshell, the followup to the iPhone 4S will come out with whatever features Apple thinks is reasonable enough to lure tens of millions of users into its online and offline stores while making sure that it keeps enough flaws and aspirations for the subsequent versions. After all, that's the exact strategy Apple used for the iPod range which has lasted for more than 10 years now and seen 22 different versions of what is, in essence, a portable audio player."
When you put it that way, it's just so clear. Rollup can clearly envision the engineers of Apple's Flaw and Aspirations Group, gathering in Cupertino to discuss which iPhone flaws to fix, which flaws to leave to still bedevil users, which soaring aspirations to fulfill and which to send plummeting down in flames. A tweak here, a tweak there, and voila! iPhone 5, with plenty of flaws and aspirations left over to warrant iPhone 6.
(As a side note, Athow's reference to Apple playing a major role in all these constituents elements of the iOSsphere is based on a blogosphere reaction to, and extrapolations of, accounts in reporter Adam Lashinky's just-released book, "Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired--and Secretive--Company Really Works" of newly hired Apple engineers being assigned "into so-called dummy positions, roles that aren't explained in detail until after they join the company. The new hires have been welcomed but not yet indoctrinated and aren't necessarily to be trusted with information as sensitive as their own mission," according to an actual excerpt posted at TheVarGuy. This has sent many, including Apthow and Keith Wagstaff, staff writer at Time's Techland blog, into orbit. "What is this, the mafia?" Wagstaff rants. "How exactly do Apple employees prove their loyalty? One imagines a sequestered room with an Android phone, a baseball bat and a grim supervisor watching from the shadows. The lesson here is that you shouldn't always trust Apple rumors, even if they come from somebody at Apple.")
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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