Applesauce: All Thing Apple
April 21, 2012

Applesauce: All Thing Apple

Michael Harper for

It can´t all be fun and games. As Apple´s coffers, influence and market share continue to increase, so to do their legal woes. Apple responded to lawsuits from parents and Australia alike while facing what I can only imagine to be extreme shame in being lumped together with Microsoft and Dell in a Greenpeace report.

Finally, Apple decides that changing definitions is the best way to get out of a scrape. All this and more, on this week´s issue of Applesauce!

Life is a Carnival

The App Store is so easy to use, even a child could do it! Those with children are likely to find something in common with the parents in our first story. A judge this week gave a group of parents the go-ahead to sue Apple for making it too easy to spend money on their devices.

It´s a familiar story: Your child asks to play the newest popular game on your iPad. You´re not a monster, so you oblige, going first into the App store to purchase and download the game in question. You are relieved to find out the game is free on the App Store and begin to think of all the ways you can spend the money you just saved as you click “Download.”

The app store then asks for your password. “No worries, this is common...” you say to yourself, imagining the tall frosty glass of adult beverage you´ve just earned for being a gold star parent. Lickety-split, the game is downloaded and you hand your iPad over to your eager child who is brimming with anticipation.

As your child begins to play the game, learning their way around the controls and the game´s layout, they begin to notice some of the key, more “fun” features are located under a tab called “Store.” Clicking it, they are asked if they really want to download the power pack upgrade for $9.99.

Maybe your kid understands this is real money. Maybe not. I can´t say, I don´t know your kid. But this point in the story is where parents say Apple is conveniently leaving a hole agape in the App Store's privacy settings.

Unsuspecting parents have seen monthly iTunes bills in their email inbox as high as $2,000 thanks to their children making in-app purchases while playing games. Some parents say their child didn´t know the game was using real money to make these purchases, making it all too easy to continue pumping money into the game.

This is a prime example of the window of opportunity the iTunes password allows. Within this window of opportunity, a user can continue to download and buy whatever they want, including in-app purchases, without inputting their password. Therefore, as the parent entered their password to download the game, their child can then download and purchase whatever they want for 15 minutes.

For their part, Apple introduced a fix for this system when complaints first arose last year. With new security settings, users can not only ask to require a password every time a purchase is being made, they can also restrict all in-app purchases. Apple felt as if these were pretty failsafe measures, but US District Judge Edward Davilla disagreed. Citing the amount of money lost by these parents, Judge Davilla said the suit had merit.

The Shape I´m In

Speaking of money, Greenpeace released a report this week displaying their umbrage with Apple´s new $500 million data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

In “How Clean is Your Cloud?” Greenpeace targeted members of the tech world who are making moves into cloud computing. Listed in a “report card” style, Greenpeace gave Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Dell very poor grades.

According to Greenpeace, Apple´s North Carolina data center, which houses the iCloud, uses upwards of 100 megawatts to power the facilities. Apple´s spokespeople immediately shot back, saying the center only uses 20 megawatts.

Who is right? The real answer is likely to be somewhere in between the two.

Apple also said they have plans to add some very green renewable energy resources on site, including a massive solar panel array and a 5 megawatt biogas generator. All told, Apple says 60% of their 20 megawatts will come from their on-site renewable energy sources. The large gap between 20 and 100 megawatts is concerning, however.

So how did Greenpeace come up with 100 megawatts? Simple calculations, according to the Earth conscious group. According to The Atlantic Greenpeace added 1 megawatt for every $15 billion spent, plus an extra 50% for non-computer energy demands.

Apple has said in the past they plan to spend $1 billion at the plant. However, that $1 billion price tag is going to be spent on their solar cells and biogas tanks, reducing their total megawatts. Rather than use the $1 billion to estimate fuel consumption, Apple says they´ve invested only $500 million in the data center. So, using $500 million as the starting place for the estimation, Apple is using 50 megawatts. Still higher than their proposed 20, but much lower than Greenpeace´s 100.

Gary Cook, author of “How Clean is Your Cloud?” told the Atlantic that he would still like to see Apple commit to buying more renewable energy, noting Google´s 20 year commitment to buy wind power. Apple has made much to do in recent years about their environmental friendliness, so it´s a little hard to believe they would produce a 100 megawatt energy hog. However, only time will tell how much they utilize their renewable energy resources once they´re built.

The Weight

You´re probably familiar now with hubbub going on Down Under between Apple and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (or ACCC to those in the know). The Australian regulatory agency has put Apple on notice for selling their newest iPad to customers under the promise of 4G speeds, despite the fact the only 4G LTE network in Australia doesn´t operate their networks on an iPad compatible frequency.

This week the story got even more interesting. The ACCC had some very specific ways for Apple to rectify this problem. To begin with, they wanted Apple to begin offering refunds to those customers who would ask for one, which Apple promptly agreed to. Then the ACCC asked Apple to remove the words “4G” from their promotional material and packaging.

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY gets in between Apple and their marketing or branding. Turn your iPhone over and read the back plate to see what I´m talking about.

Apple was willing to place a disclaimer on their website about which networks work nicely on the new iPad, but was not willing to remove 4G from the title or, worse, place informative stickers on the iPad´s packaging alerting Australian customers about their lack of compatible technology.

Early this week, Apple and the ACCC completed their mediation without being able to reach an agreement, thus continuing the Federal Court Case in Melbourne.

It Makes No Difference

Then, in a very sneaky turn of events, Apple announced later in the week that they had been quite upfront about the iPad´s 4G capabilities since the launch and had never misled any consumer.

Put on your foil-lined thinking caps, friends. We´re about to get all kinds of nerdy. Rather than discuss the specific piece of technology in the iPad, Apple decided to change the game and talk semantics instead, a move that´s not only a little shady but also a little worrisome.

At the center of the debate is the definition of 4G. Carriers have been advertising their own special blends of 4G for a year or two now as roll outs continue to cover more and more of the United States. Thing is, these new networks the carriers are rolling out aren´t technically “4G”.

At the risk of getting into the same kind of nit-picky conversation as grammarians discussing what the real definition of “irony” is, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) only lists 2 “true” 4G networks, “LTE Advanced and WiMax Release 2.” These 2 networks aren´t widely available yet, so to meet everyone in the middle, the ITU granted the carriers permission to call their newer, faster networks 4G because they happen to provide a “substantial level of improvement in performance,” which sounds a lot to me like “A for effort.”  AT&T and T-Mobile use HSPA+ as their faster network, Sprint uses WiMax, and Verizon uses LTE.

So, to recap, the carriers wanted to advertise faster speeds, and since 4 is one more than 3, the next logical step in their networks was to go from “3G” to “4G.” The ITU said ok, and here we are.

For their part, Apple had largely stayed out of this game, especially since they hadn´t had an officially branded “4G” device, until recently that is. When the iPhone 4S was released, they said it ran at “4G-like speeds,” admitting they would let the other companies argue about what is and what isn´t 4G.

Then, shortly after their latest iPad announcement, Apple released the newest version of their iPhone and iPad software, iOS 5.1. As iPhone 4S users the world over updated their phones, they became shocked to find something very peculiar had changed. Some even thought it a bug. Up in the left hand corner of the screen, where once there was a “3G” icon to display what kind of network the phone was connected to, there was now a “4G” icon. Apple had joined the 4G debate.  Any phone that connected to a HSPA+ network (a GSM network) would now be considered to be running at 4G speeds.

Many were confused at this change of icon, and Apple didn´t offer much explanation. It wasn´t until this week that we finally got to see the method behind their madness. Apple says they never announced the new 4G capable iPad would work on Australia´s 4G LTE network, Telestra. However, the iPad WILL connect to Telestra´s HSPA+ network, therefore popping up the 4G icon on the screen. Voila, 4G. Apparently 4G is more of a state of mind than an actual, measurable state of technology.

Apple has agreed to begin reaching out to all Australian iPad customers via email to explain the difference and offer refunds to those who may want them.

This kind of action is a little disappointing, however. The typical “Apple” way to handle this issue would be to simply say something along the lines of “iPad works on these 4G frequencies. Telestra does not,” and move on. They normally don´t engage in the silly arguments about “speeds and feeds” that most tech companies get wrapped up in. They had said enough about data speeds when they announced the 4S, saying it was 4G-like. Nothing more needed to be said by them about it.

Every company does things to upset people from time to time. It is my opinion that the very act of entering this kind of argument in this way could potentially damage them later on. Let´s hope for a better week next week.

Will Apple announce the fabled iPad mini? Will they shift from common protocol and introduce “WWDC: The Traveling Circus?” Will Phil Schiller decide to change the definition of the word “Finally,” to mean “Exactly when Apple decides?” Keep your ears to the ground and eyes on to find out!