iPads, Doctors & Fun with Senate Hearings

Mac OS Ken

Brawls at Apple Stores, Bud Tribble testifying at Senate privacy hearings, iPads in the drug industry, Microsoft buys Skype… It’s like the tech world is just begging Mac OS Ken’s Ken Ray to sound off. Of course, that’s exactly what he does this week, just like last week.

iPad 2 Buying: A Full Contact Sport
iPad 2 launched in China over the weekend, and it really sounds like things could have gone a bit better at one store. Riot, melee, no way to launch the second version of the future of computing… call it what you will. The Mac Observer compiles a few confused accounts, though there are a few identical threads running through each.

The glass door at the Sanlitun store was broken, and someone 6-foot-3, non-Chinese — maybe an Apple employee — came out of the store with the broken door and began hitting people with some sort of metal rod.

Sent four to the hospital.

Where it gets a bit more confusing: Who broke the door and what was with the guy with the club? It sounds like it may have had something to do with unauthorized resellers, better known as scalpers or the front-line of the grey market.

TMO highlights an account given to 9 to 5 Mac, which has an unnamed source saying, “There were dozens of resellers outside the store trying to get the white iPhone 4, they were told to wait in line and was not allowed to go inside. Resellers got pissed and smashed the glass door…”

Then says the unknown witness, “A foreign (non-Chinese) employee came out from the store with a metal club and hit four people, including two young men and two middle-age women. All four people are hospitalized right now and no money was paid by Apple for medical purposes.”

Well demand’s high… gee whiz I hope everyone’s okay.

No word of trouble at Apple’s other three stores in China, and no comment from the company on the incident.

Apple & Nuance, Sitting In a Tree. Maybe.
So all of a sudden Apple is doing something with speech-recognition software maker Nuance Communications. Some say it’s some sort of partnership thing, others say Apple could be looking to buy the company, which makes the dictation software Dragon Naturally Speaking — and that barely scratches the surface of what the company does.

I had a chance to talk to one of the guys from Nuance at Macworld Expo this year and, well, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine that Apple would want to buy them. Nuance is into a lot of things; a lot of things that would suddenly become things that Apple was into. Maybe that’s part of their plan. but that seems… un-Apple.

Then again, they’re sitting on more money than Croeses, and have hinted that they can see strategic opportunities that would make holding onto that money worthwhile.

Forbes argues against the idea that Apple is buying Nuance. So does most everyone else, too, but that didn’t stop shares of Nuance popping on Monday in the wake of the buyout possibility.

TechCrunch, meanwhile, thinks it kind of knows what’s up between the two companies, thanks — of course — to secret sources. They say Apple is already using Nuance technology in the as yet unopened North Carolina data center, and that whatever it is it’s doing there will be, what it calls, the “keystone of a partnership that Apple is likely to announce with Nuance at WWDC next month.”

TechCrunch says it’s hearing that

Apple is running Nuance software — and possibly some of their hardware — in this new data center. Why? A few reasons. First, Apple will be able to process this voice information for iOS users faster. Second, it will prevent this data from going through third-party servers. And third, by running it on their own stack, Apple can build on top of the technology, and improve upon it as they see fit.

They say that that deal is done. Okay… to do what exactly?

For this, we look to a past acquisition of Apple’s. It was a tiny bit over a year ago that Apple bought a start-up called Siri, an iOS app billed as a virtual personal assistant that employs Nuance Communications’ technology. TechCrunch figures Siri will be a big part of iOS 5, about which we’re all expecting to hear at WWDC.

Now let me get this straight: After years of texting and twittering and pinching to zoom, I’m supposed to start TALKING into my iPhone?

MAN this thing is incredible.

iPad: Just What the Doctor Ordered
You know who’s buying a lot of iPads? Drug dealers. I’m sorry, drug companies. What did I say?

Computerworld says Pharmaceutical sales reps are all about Apple’s tablet.

Last time I was at a doctor’s office, I actually saw this: A drug rep was stiff armed for a while by the receptionist, though she was assured that the doctor would see her soon. She had some laptop that folded over into kind of like a tablet, but not really. And she had to power it down while waiting for the doctor, because — as she put it — the battery only lasts about ten minutes. Likely an exageration… but yeah.

She asked for a minute warning before the doctor was on the way so she’d have time to power up her machine. Now, multiply that by every doctor’s office in every city across the country every day, and you can see why they might want an iPad.

Computerworld says “primary care physicians typically give salespeople only 30 seconds per interaction…” I saw that too; great to know they’re making drug decisions in that amount of time, but I digress. I tend to. Like I remember this one time… I digressed…

IDC Health Insights has been looking into the plight of the big-Pharma reps, and has found that Apple’s iPad can be just the thing for them, giving the salespeople “a quicker, lighter and more attractive way of displaying drug-related information.”

They don’t want tablets, understand, they want iPads.

According to the IDC Health Insights blog, “Several major pharmaceutical companies are putting the cart before the horse by purchasing iPads in large quantities prior to even owning a single application to run on the iPad. More than one company has told us they have already purchased iPads in significant volume and are storing them for later use.”

So drug companies are buying things they can’t yet use, so that when they can, doctors can make decisions on which drugs they might prescribe to, say, me, in 30 seconds or less?

Why not just bring them scotch?

And now… an apology.

I know that there are doctors who listen to my show and read my column, and let me just say thanks. I get weird about doctors because, well, I get weird about doctors. But you guys and gals are awesome. Really.

Hey by the way, do me a favor: When that chirpy little chippie representing this drug company or that comes in with an iPad or some dumb fold-over laptop that wishes it were an iPad, could you give him or her 45 seconds at least?

Also apologies to pharmaceuticals sales people for referring to you as chirpy little chipppies.

Have I offended anyone else? Well sorry to you too.

Mr. Tribble Goes to Washington
Tuesday was sure… something… on Capital Hill. The part that I listened to sounded like… what’s a clean way to put this? Like a round, mutual appreciation society… if you know what I mean.

And yet it had its surprises, too, like the the U.S. Department of Justice saying what we really need is more tracking for smartphones. I’m not sure they understood the point of the hearing.

This was the big Q&A convened by Minnesota Senator Al Franken. Franken, you probably remember, invited privacy advocates, as well as representatives from Apple and Google to answer questions before the senate dealing with how much info was being stored on mobile phones, whether consumers could stop the info collection, are users being tracked by their phones, and you get the idea.

The DoJ was there, too. CNET says their representative used the forum to call “for new laws requiring mobile providers to collect and store information about their customers.”

Jason Weinstein, the deputy assistant attorney general for the DoJ’s criminal division, says, “when this information is not stored, it may be impossible for law enforcement to collect essential evidence. Many wireless providers do not retain records that would enable law enforcement to identify a suspect’s smartphone based on the IP addresses collected by Web sites that the suspect visited.”

Apparently against the idea, the Federal Trade Commission. They, too, were at the hearings and they say carrier should adopt a policy of “not collecting or retaining more data than they need to provide a requested service or transaction.”

And that was way more interesting than the parts I saw with Apple and Google. Apple VP of software technology Guy Tribble spoke for One Infinite Loop, saying, “Apple is strongly committed to giving our customers clear and transparent notice, choice and control over their information, and we believe our products do so in a simple and elegant way…”

Apple, he said, was “never tracking an individual’s location” using the iOS 4 location cache. They link to their privacy policy on every page of their website, and any info sent back to Apple about a users phone is anonymized.

Franken asked whether both Apple and Google would commit to a simple privacy policy in their app stores. Tribble said that that would probably NOT accomplish what the senator hoped. Rather, he thinks mobile operating systems should say exactly what is being done with data, with indicators like those built into iOS.

Then New York Senator Chuck Schumer asked Apple and Google to pull applications from their stores that tipped users off to traffic checkpoints, which pretty much had nothing to do with the hearings.

Parts of it were interesting, parts of it were painful. We’ll see if anything comes of it.

A Piece of the Action
So remember how, when Apple announced it’s in-app purchase rules, requiring sellers of content with iPad apps to offer those sales through the iPad app rather than just redirecting them online, people freaked? The concern was that companies with razor-thin margins would lose money, since Apple would be taking a 30-percent commission on all sales made through the applications.

Then Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, via one of his microMails, that the in-app purchase rules were intended for publishers, and that seemed to set minds at ease.

Time to freak out again.

Fortune says the application iFlow Reader is closing itself down, and blaming Apple’s 30-percent cut and in-app purchase rules as they go. Philip Huber of BeamItDown Software — the company behind the app — explains why iFlow is a no-go at this point, saying in a letter to users:

The crux of the matter is that Apple is now requiring us, as well as all other ebook sellers, to give them 30 percent of the selling price of any ebook that we sell from our iOS app. Unfortunately, because of the ‘agency model’ that has been adopted by the largest publishers, our gross margin on ebooks after paying the wholesaler is less than 30 percent, which means that we would have to take a loss on all ebooks sold. This is not a sustainable business model.

Five of us spent nearly a year and a half of our lives and over a million dollars in cash and sweat equity developing the iFlowReader app with its unique AutoScrolling approach to reading that many of you really like. We put our faith in Apple and they screwed us.

BeamItDown plans to pull the iFlow plug on May 31st, one month before Apple’s deadline of June 30th to implement in-app purchases or get out. No word yet on what big eBooksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble plan to do, and no word now on how the rules will affect content providers like Netflix and Rhapsody now that it turns out that in-app purchases are not just for publishers.

Microsoft & Skype, Sitting In a Tree. Really.
And finally this week, Monday’s big rumor panned out. Microsoft announced Tuesday that it has done a deal to by Voice over IP service Skype for $8.5 billion in cash. AppleInsider says the boards of both companies have given the green light to the proceedings.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says, “Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world… Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world.”

Skype CEO Tony Bates will stay with the companies, taking the title of president of the Microsoft Skype Division.

According to the piece, “Skype will support Microsoft devices like Xbox and Kinect, Windows Phone and a wide array of Windows devices, and Microsoft will connect Skype users with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live and other communities.”

Funny thing about Microsoft buying Skype: Skype is in the process of buying streaming mobile video provider Qik. Skype agreed to acquire Qik for 1-hundred-21 million-dollars earlier this year.

And one other funny thing about both Skype and Qik: Geekwire points out that “Skype has apps for iPhone and Android but not for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.”

Qik, meanwhile, has apps for Android, iPhone, and Windows Mobile — the OS dropped by Microsoft in favor of Windows Phone 7.

This should go well.