Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype
Published: June 27, 2007
Talk about hype. In the last six months, Apple’s iPhone has been the subject of 11,000 print articles, and it turns up about 69 million hits on Google. Cultists are camping out in front of Apple stores; bloggers call it the “Jesus phone.” All of this before a single consumer has even touched the thing.So how is it?
As it turns out, much of the hype and some of the criticisms are justified. The iPhone is revolutionary; it’s flawed. It’s substance; it’s style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones.
Unless you’ve been in a sensory-deprivation tank for six months, you already know what the iPhone is: a tiny, gorgeous hand-held computer whose screen is a slab of touch-sensitive glass.
The $500 and $600 models have 4 and 8 gigabytes of storage, respectively — room for about 825 or 1,825 songs. (In each case, 700 megabytes is occupied by the phone’s software.) That’s a lot of money; then again, the price includes a cellphone, video iPod, e-mail terminal, Web browser, camera, alarm clock, Palm-type organizer and one heck of a status symbol.
The phone is so sleek and thin, it makes Treos and BlackBerrys look obese. The glass gets smudgy — a sleeve wipes it clean — but it doesn’t scratch easily. I’ve walked around with an iPhone in my pocket for two weeks, naked and unprotected (the iPhone, that is, not me), and there’s not a mark on it.
But the bigger achievement is the software. It’s fast, beautiful, menu-free, and dead simple to operate. You can’t get lost, because the solitary physical button below the screen always opens the Home page, arrayed with icons for the iPhone’s 16 functions.
You’ve probably seen Apple’s ads, showing how things on the screen have a physics all their own. Lists scroll with a flick of your finger, CD covers flip over as you flick them, e-mail messages collapse down into a trash can. Sure, it’s eye candy. But it makes the phone fun to use, which is not something you can say about most cellphones.
Apple has chosen AT&T (formerly Cingular) to be the iPhone’s exclusive carrier for the next few years, in part because the company gave Apple carte blanche to revise everything people hate about cellphones.
For example, once the phone goes on sale this Friday, you won’t sign up for service in a phone store, under pressure from the sales staff. You will be able to peruse and choose a plan at your leisure, in the iTunes software on your computer. Better yet, unlimited Internet service adds only $20 a month to AT&T’s voice-plan prices, about half what BlackBerry and Treo owners pay. For example, $60 gets you 450 talk minutes, 200 text messages and unlimited Internet; $80 doubles that talk time. The iPhone requires one of these voice-and-Internet plans and a two-year commitment.
On the iPhone, you don’t check your voice mail; it checks you. One button press reveals your waiting messages, listed like e-mail. There’s no dialing in, no password — and no sleepy robot intoning, “You...have...twenty...one...messages.”
To answer a call, you can tap Answer on the screen, or pinch the microscopic microphone bulge on the white earbud cord. Either way, music or video playback pauses until you hang up. (When you’re listening to music, that pinch pauses the song. A double-pinch advances to the next song.)
Making a call, though, can take as many as six steps: wake the phone, unlock its buttons, summon the Home screen, open the Phone program, view the Recent Calls or speed-dial list, and select a name. Call quality is only average, and depends on the strength of your AT&T signal.
E-mail is fantastic. Incoming messages are fully formatted, complete with graphics; you can even open (but not edit) Word, Excel and PDF documents.
The Web browser, though, is the real dazzler. This isn’t some stripped-down, claustrophobic My First Cellphone Browser; you get full Web layouts, fonts and all, shrunk to fit the screen. You scroll with a fingertip — much faster than scroll bars. You can double-tap to enlarge a block of text for reading, or rotate the screen 90 degrees, which rotates and magnifies the image to fill the wider view.
Finally, you can enlarge a Web page — or an e-mail message, or a photo — by spreading your thumb and forefinger on the glass. The image grows as though it’s on a sheet of latex.
The iPhone is also an iPod. When in its U.S.B. charging cradle, the iPhone slurps in music, videos and photos from your Mac or Windows PC. Photos, movies and even YouTube videos look spectacular on the bright 3.5-inch very-high-resolution screen.
The Google Maps module lets you view street maps or aerial photos for any address. It can provide driving directions, too. It’s not real G.P.S. — the iPhone doesn’t actually know where you are — so you tap the screen when you’re ready for the next driving instruction.
But how’s this for a consolation prize? Free live traffic reporting, indicated by color-coded roads on the map.
Apple says one battery charge is enough for 8 hours of calls, 7 hours of video or 24 hours of audio. My results weren’t quite as impressive: I got 5 hours of video and 23 hours of audio, probably because I didn’t turn off the phone, Wi-Fi and other features, as Apple did in its tests. In practice, you’ll probably wind up recharging about every other day.
So yes, the iPhone is amazing. But no, it’s not perfect.
There’s no memory-card slot, no chat program, no voice dialing. You can’t install new programs from anyone but Apple; other companies can create only iPhone-tailored mini-programs on the Web. The browser can’t handle Java or Flash, which deprives you of millions of Web videos.
The two-megapixel camera takes great photos, provided the subject is motionless and well lighted . But it can’t capture video. And you can’t send picture messages (called MMS) to other cellphones.
Apple says that the battery starts to lose capacity after 300 or 400 charges. Eventually, you’ll have to send the phone to Apple for battery replacement, much as you do now with an iPod, for a fee.
Then there’s the small matter of typing. Tapping the skinny little virtual keys on the screen is frustrating, especially at first.
Two things make the job tolerable. First, some very smart software offers to complete words for you, and, when you tap the wrong letter, figures out what word you intended. In both cases, tapping the Space bar accepts its suggestion.
Second, the instructional leaflet encourages you to “trust” the keyboard (or, as a product manager jokingly put it, to “use the Force”). It sounds like new-age baloney, but it works; once you stop stressing about each individual letter and just plow ahead, speed and accuracy pick up considerably.
Even so, text entry is not the iPhone’s strong suit. The BlackBerry won’t be going away anytime soon.
The bigger problem is the AT&T network. In a Consumer Reports study, AT&T’s signal ranked either last or second to last in 19 out of 20 major cities. My tests in five states bear this out. If Verizon’s slogan is, “Can you hear me now?” AT&T’s should be, “I’m losing you.”
Then there’s the Internet problem. When you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot, going online is fast and satisfying.
But otherwise, you have to use AT&T’s ancient EDGE cellular network, which is excruciatingly slow. The New York Times’s home page takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo. two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem.
These drawbacks may be deal-killers for some people. On the other hand, both the iPhone and its network will improve. Apple points out that unlike other cellphones, this one can and will be enhanced with free software updates. That’s good, because I encountered a couple of tiny bugs and one freeze. (There’s also a tantalizing empty space for a row of new icons on the Home screen.) A future iPhone model will be able to exploit AT&T’s newer, much faster data network, which is now available in 160 cities.
But even in version 1.0, the iPhone is still the most sophisticated, outlook-changing piece of electronics to come along in years. It does so many things so well, and so pleasurably, that you tend to forgive its foibles.
In other words, maybe all the iPhone hype isn’t hype at all. As the ball player Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you done it.”
Strange but True: Infinity Comes in Different Sizes
In the 1995 Pixar film Toy Story, the gung ho space action figure Buzz Lightyear tirelessly incants his catchphrase: "To infinity … and beyond!" The joke, of course, is rooted in the perfectly reasonable assumption that infinity is the unsurpassable absolute—that there is no beyond.
That assumption, however, is not entirely sound. As German mathematician Georg Cantor demonstrated in the late 19th century, there exists a variety of infinities—and some are simply larger than others.
In fact, Cantor showed, there are more real numbers packed in between zero and one than there are numbers in the entire range of naturals. He did this by contradiction, logically: He assumes that these infinite sets are the same size, then follows a series of logical steps to find a flaw that undermines that assumption. He reasons that the naturals and this zero-to-one subset of the reals having equally many members implies that the two sets can be put into a one-to-one correspondence. That is, the two sets can be paired so that every element in each set has one—and only one—"partner" in the other set.
Think of it this way: even in the absence of numerical counting, one-to-one correspondences can be used to measure relative sizes. Imagine two crates of unknown sizes, one of apples and one of oranges. Withdrawing one apple and one orange at a time thus partners the two sets into apple-orange pairs. If the contents of the two crates are emptied simultaneously, they are equally numerous; if one crate is exhausted before the other, the one with remaining fruit is more plentiful.
Cantor thus assumes that the naturals and the reals from zero to one have been put into such a correspondence. Every natural number n thus has a real partner rn. The reals can then be listed in order of their corresponding naturals: r1, r2, r3, and so on.
Then Cantor's wily side begins to show. He creates a real number, called p, by the following rule: make the digit n places after the decimal point in p something other than the digit in that same decimal place in rn. A simple binary method would be: choose 0 when the digit in question is 1; otherwise, choose 1.
For demonstration's sake, say the real number pair for the natural number 1 (r1) is the decimal component of π (0.14159…), the pair for 2 (r2) is George W. Bush's share of the popular vote in 2000 (0.47868…) and that of 3 (r3) is Ted Williams's famed .400 batting average from 1941 (0.40570…).
Now create p following Cantor's construction: the digit in the first decimal place should not be equal to that in the first decimal place of r1, which is 1. Therefore, choose 0, and p begins 0.0…. Then choose the digit in the second decimal place of p so that it does not equal that of the second decimal place of r2, which is 7 (choose 1; p = 0.01…). Finally, choose the digit in the third decimal place of p so that it does not equal that of the corresponding decimal place of r3, which is 5 (choose 1 again; p = 0.011…).
Continuing down the list, this mathematical method (called "diagonalization") generates a real number p between zero and one that, by its construction, differs from every real number on the list in at least one decimal place. Ergo, it cannot be on the list.
In other words, p is a real number without a natural number partner—an apple without an orange. Thus, the one-to-one correspondence between the reals and the naturals fails, as there are simply too many reals—they are "uncountably" numerous—making real infinity somehow larger than natural infinity.
Aided by Harry Potter Fans, Amazon Triples Its Profit
SAN FRANCISCO, July 24 — Some of Harry Potter’s magic has rubbed off on Amazon.com. The company, based in Seattle, announced today that its second-quarter net income increased more than threefold on revenue that rose 35 percent.
The news pushed up the company’s stock in after-hours trading to a level it has not reached since February 2000, during the heyday of the dot-com boom.
The results come four days after Amazon delivered 2.2 million copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final installment in the blockbuster fantasy series. Amazon will count that revenue next quarter, but interest in the book helped drive 8 percent more traffic to the site in the most recent quarter, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Other purchases that Potter fans tacked on counted toward Amazon’s quarter, which ended June 30.
The online retailer reported net income of $78 million, or 19 cents a share, compared with $22 million, or 5 cents a diluted share, in the same period last year.
California bars Adidas from selling kangaroo shoes
By Alexandria Sage Tue Jul 24, 12:25 PM ET from Yahoo.com
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Supreme Court of California Monday barred athletic shoe maker Adidas from selling shoes made from kangaroo leather inCalifornia does not allow products made from kangaroos to be sold or imported into the state, but Adidas had claimed that the state law conflicted with the aims of the U.S. , reversing a lower court's decision. , which sought to support Australian efforts to control kangaroos. The expanding population of the jumping marsupials has become a problem for .
"The bottom line is they've decided the California law is constitutional. As of now, it is illegal to sell products made of kangaroos in California," said Orly Degani, a lawyer for Viva!, an animal rights group that first filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging the sale of kangaroo-skin shoes in the state.
A lawyer for the Humane Society of the United States, which filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of plaintiffs Viva! USA, called the court's decision "critically important" for species other than just kangaroos -- such as grizzly bears, bald eagles and wolves, which are dependent on state protection.
"When the federal government decides not to protect a species, the state can still do so," said HSUS counsel Jonathan Lovvorn, explaining the ruling. "What Adidas was saying was when the federal government decides not to protect a species, the state can't protect it either. That was squarely rejected by the court."
A spokeswoman for Adidas wrote in an e-mail that the company expects to ultimately prevail in the matter, but did not clarify further. Other legal matters related to the case now will be sent back to the appeals court.
Meanwhile, a bill that would overturn California's ban is working its way through the state legislature.
"Although Adidas makes some shoes using kangaroo leather, a common practice in our industry, Adidas does not make shoes from any endangered or threatened kangaroo species," said the Adidas spokeswoman Andrea Corso.
The Supreme Court's decision reversed a victory for defendants Adidas and retailers Sports Chalet and Offside Soccer last year when they won their appeal of the lawsuit brought by Viva! USA.
Bloomberg Announces Plan to Shore Up Arts in SchoolsBy Jennifer Median from NYTimes.com
Published: July 24, 2007
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city’s Department of Education will require all schools to maintain arts programs, and that principals will be rated in their annual reviews on how well they run those programs.
The announcement came just months after the department infuriated arts groups by eliminating a multimillion-dollar program to finance arts education.
Under a new set of city standards, the arts curriculums will be judged for comprehensiveness, and potential pay bonuses for principals could be affected.
“An excellent arts education is essential,” the mayor said at a news conference at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.
Last winter, the city schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, told several arts advocates that the department was planning to give principals discretion over $67.5 million that had previously been budgeted specifically for Project Arts, which financed arts education. The project, developed in the Giuliani administration, was intended to rebuild arts programs that were obliterated during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.
Yesterday’s announcement was met with muted praise and skepticism from arts advocates, who have worried that if no money is targeted for the arts, principals in struggling schools will eliminate arts programs to devote more money to basic reading and math programs.
The Project Arts money was used to pay for a variety of things: supplies, teachers, dance and music instruction, artist residencies. Officials said the money was a fraction of the department’s spending on arts. The change in arts financing is part of a larger effort by the administration to give principals more control over how money is spent in their schools. But even as they give principals more authority over how to run their schools, officials are demanding that principals who do not meet requirements in math and reading — and now the arts — face being reassigned.
“I think experience has shown us that money alone will not improve student outcomes in the arts or any other subject,” the mayor said. “Money doesn’t make the difference, accountability does.”
...Under the new plan, arts will be part of the revamped school report cards to be issued starting this fall. The arts will be one factor used to judge a school’s “learning environment,” which will make up 15 percent of a school’s grade. A school will also receive an annual review of its program that will be used to determine whether the principal gets a performance bonus.
The department will also begin issuing an annual report in January about the arts programs in each school. That report will be developed partly by a newly formed arts education task force, which is made up of several leaders from arts groups around the city.
Richard Kessler, the executive director of the Center for Arts Education, which had been the most vocal critic of the plan to divert the money from Project Arts, said yesterday that his group would take a wait-and-see approach. “We applaud the public commitment of the mayor and chancellor that every single school will meet state requirements,” he said, “and that they will be holding every single principal accountable to meeting the state requirements.”
Chancellor Klein said the city was not backing off a commitment to reinvigorate arts programs. He has repeatedly acknowledged that the school system has a wide mix of programs that range from stellar to nonexistent. A few years ago, he introduced a “blueprint” for arts education. “I didn’t want the arts to be a throwaway, I didn’t want arts be some add-on, some feel-good thing,” Mr. Klein said yesterday. “Arts education is critical, but it’s got to be coherent.”