On Robot Overlords & Tablets

Ken Ray. The one and only.What do you get when you throw HP’s TouchPad and webOS, iPhones in China, factories in Brazil, robot overlords, Pete Townsend, and Oompa Loompas in a pot and stir? Probably a really bad soup, but that’s not the point. You also get a great mix of topics for Mac OS Ken’s Ken Ray to riff on. And he does.

From coming eventually to gone in a heartbeat: Best Buy may be selling the last of the last of the HP TouchPads. Electronista says the electronics chain is starting another round of sales of the device as an add_on to more expensive machines.

Starting this week, according to the piece, people who buy an HP or Compaq desktop or laptop computer can tack a 32 gigabyte TouchPad onto the order for and extra US$150. And that may be that.

While HP had re-started sales of the TouchPad in small numbers recently, a number of reports that say HP is now out of stock on the TouchPad. According to the piece, “Customers trying to buy online are being told that, apart from supply at retail shops like Best Buy, the company has no more to sell.”

Will it ever have anything webOS to sell again? Word over the weekend was no… and maybe.

The Guardian out of the UK says you can stick a fork in the webOS unit. The paper says it understands that

HP is to shut down its webOS division, acquired for $1.2 billion in April 2010 when it bought Palm, and make the staff there redundant or shift them elsewhere inside the company. That could mean losses of up to 500 jobs as the business which created the short-lived HP TouchPad and smartphones is closed.

Skipping down the page a bit, the Guardian has one unnamed webOS worker saying, “”There’s a 95 percent chance we all get laid off between now and November, and I for one am thinking it’s for the best.”

Then, a weird vote of confidence from Todd Bradley, head of HP’s Personal Systems Group.

Electronista has Bradley saying in an interview that talk of HP shutting down the webOS division is “unfounded rumor,” though he did acknowledge that the company was doing the same sort of evaluating of the webOS division that it had for PCs.

So it’s “unfounded rumor” that they’re killing it off, they just might… be killing it off.

China: Now with More iPhones. Soon-ish.
In analysis that’s exciting to some and disappointing to others, UBS analysts JinJin Wang and Maynard Um say it looks like Apple’s iPhone will land on China Telecom’s CDMA-based network in the first half of 2012.

According to a note penned by Mr. Maynard, “Jinjin Wang believes that China Telecom needs an improved handset portfolio and more support from third party distribution channels in order to drive further standalone wireless service. The CDMA iPhone launch should be a positive driver as it will also help China Telecom penetrate the high-end segment.”

Apple currently has only one carrier in China — China Unicom — so adding another would increase its potential customer base exponentially.

That’s awesome for Apple, though a number of headlines I saw indicated that a second carrier in China no sooner than sometime next year would be a disappointment because, like Veruca Salt — the literary character, not the band named after the literary character — they want it now.

They’d also like an Oompa Loompa.

Brazil: Now with Foxconn Factories. And Robots.
The Foxconn iPad plant for Brazil may be in jeopardy again.

Earlier this year we heard that the plant was ready to start cranking out iPads any second, followed a few weeks later by a story that said the plant might not happen at all, followed a couple of weeks later by a story that said everything was on track, to this week’s story that says “Foxconn’s plans to move iPad production to Brazil may be slowed by higher than expected production costs in the South American country.”

The crux of the problem, says Reuters, is the work force in Brazil. Not yet skilled enough and too expensive.

Brazil is looking to make itself a high-tech hub, like Korea or Taiwan, but their people aren’t that great at making the components yet, so Foxconn will have to import parts from the far east for Brazilian workers to put together. And that’ll cost a buck or two.

Additionally, the labor costs in Brazil are almost double what Foxconn pays employees at its facilities in China, making expansion there seem iffy at best.

Especially when one considers Foxconn’s plans for its Chinese workforce. No, it’s not going to kill them or wait for them to kill themselves. Rather, it hopes to replace a lot of the lot with RoboWorkers.

Fortune says Hon Hai Precision Industry, parent company of Foxconn, broke ground this past weekend on a new Research and Development unit in Taiwan. Central Taiwan Science Park authorities said “The investment marks the beginning of Hon Hai’s bid to build an empire of robots.”

Sleep tight.

Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou was on hand for the groundbreaking. You remember Terry. He’s the guy who announced last August that what he wanted to do was build one million robots to do the “simple work” now being done by Chinese workers.

So. Brazilians can’t do what the Chinese can do, and the guy who hired all the Chinese guys plans to replace them with machines because paying the Chinese workers for a day what some people in the states make in an hour costs Foxconn too much money. Meanwhile, the Brazilians cost too much compared to the Chinese workers.

So, yeah. Things are gonna go great in Brazil.

Samsung to Apple: Show Me Yours
I am, as I’ve said many times, no lawyer. And maybe it’s because of that that what Samsung is currently asking for in Australia seems insane to me.

The website SmartOffice out of Australia has the Korean electronics maker demanding the source code for iPhone 4S firmware, as well as details of Apple’s agreements with the iPhone partners Vodafone, Telstra, and Optus. The demands come as part of Samsung’s attempt to have sale of the iPhone 4S — already on sale down under — banned down under.

Asking for the 4S source code makes sense to me. Seems kind of unlikely that they’ll get it, but it makes sense. Samsung argues that Apple’s latest creation may infringe some of its wireless patents, and the best way to know for sure would be to peek inside.

But the business dealings. This one seems goofy to my non-lawyer brain. Samsung counsel Cynthia Cochrane says those details would show “the impact on the market for every iPhone product has been significant, and has lead to a substantial increase … in market share by revenue.”

“If subsidies are given for the iPhone 4S,” says Cochrane, “there are less to go around for my client’s products.”

I’m sorry, but isn’t the answer, “Apple gets what carriers are willing to pay for the iPhone,” just as Samsung gets what carriers are willing to pay for its phones?

Apple’s Mac Sandbox
The iOS-ification of the Mac seems to be getting pretty serious. The Mac Observer says Apple has sent notice to Mac developers either in the Mac App Store or hoping to get into the Mac App Store letting them know that they have until March 1st, 2012, for their submissions to be sandboxed.

“The requirement affects only those apps submitted to the Mac App Store,” the piece points out, “but it signals an increase in the amount of control Apple intends to exert through its online Mac software download service.”

A little bird in the developer program sent me a copy of the announcement from Apple wherein the company says, “Sandboxing your app is a great way to protect systems and users by limiting the resources apps can access and making it more difficult for malicious software to compromise users’ systems,” which is true though it’s gotta sound a little insulting since it was sent to the guys and gals who write the apps.

As TMO explains it, “Sandboxing is the name given to the process of limiting software’s access to both system resources and the resources of other software. Sandboxing makes for both a far more secure and far more stable platform, but it also keeps fantastic apps like WireTap Studio from doing something like recording audio from a sandboxed app in Lion, a function that has many legitimate and practical uses.”

Expect the developer backlash soon. Perhaps justified.

Boris the Spider Vampire
And finally this week, if you steal music or buy music from iTunes, The Who’s Pete Townshend hates you.

Well, he hates iTunes. The Associated Press has Townshend delivering the first John Peel Lecture, saying with the Internet’s demolition of established copyright protections, iTunes should do what record labels and music publishers used to do. Like employ talents scouts, set up places for bands to stream their music, and pay smaller artists directly instead of paying a third party.

Townshend doesn’t see why iTunes “can’t provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire.”

His words. “Like a digital vampire.”

So there’s the world’s largest music seller targeted. What about music consumers? Townshend says THEY need to change THEIR attitude as well.

It would be better if music lovers treated music like food, and paid for every helping, rather than only when it suited them,

said the guy who also said iTunes should set up a place for bands to stream their music, followed by the question, “Why can’t music lovers just pay for music rather than steal it?”

I have to say, Townshend’s apparent rant raises a few interesting questions. Here’s one: How much did a recording of the rock-opera “Tommy” cost when it came out 42 years ago? Because today it costs $14.99 on iTunes, or $19.99 if you want a bunch of extra tracks. No record, no tape, no CD, no packaging, no shipping, handling or breakage. $14.99- as a digital download.

I’m guessing when it came out 42 years ago it cost less than $14.99. So that, it seems to me, could factor into the issue somewhere. I’m not saying Townshend’s wrong about everything he’s saying, or even that he’s wrong about anything he’s saying. It just seems like a great big hairy issue that can’t be boiled down to “one party is wrong.”

I may need to call a rockstar.