Opinion

John C. Abell

Tech’s forbidden touch

Mar 29, 2012 19:18 UTC

“You can look, but you can’t touch” – great advice in most museums, and every strip club. But it makes no sense when it comes to our computers. We are getting very touchy-feely with our smartphones and tablets, and this is how it should be. Even BlackBerry and Amazon’s Kindle, which launched with hardware keyboards to differentiate it from the competition, have abandoned them.

It’s no accident. We touch instinctively. We are born touching everything, and only learn where the boundaries are later in life. Our handheld devices are reconnecting us with the primary technique we used to learn about the world we had just entered. The metaphor extends. Now it’s the mobile computers that we use to learn about the world around us, and we control them with our fingers, by touching a screen. How do you place a price on that?

Many are trying, thanks to software patents. Patents have become a bane to the very essence of innovation. They are arsenals, ostensibly meant to defend but more often used to offend. Yahoo’s lawsuit against Facebook over 10 patents further proves that weaponizing software patents is the last gasp of a dying business.

Which brings me to the news that Twitter is trying to patent one of the most instinctive gestures on the iPhone, what they call User Interface Mechanics. Anyone who has used a Twitter client on their phone knows to refresh the page: You “pull” it down and release. Others use this as well, like Google’s Gmail mobile site.

But as Techcrunch noticed, this functionality isn’t built into every core app on the iPhone (like the Mail app), and the reason is probably because it’s potential lawsuit bait.

Apple, the new iPad, and being ‘sanely great’

Mar 9, 2012 16:20 UTC

Sometimes it’s best to start with the obvious. The “new” iPad announced Wednesday will sell like mad when it goes on sale next Friday. So confident is Apple in what it isn’t calling the iPad 3 that it didn’t even bother to give it a special name. It’s just iPad, even though there is a first-generation iPad (a retronym, of course) and an iPad 2. When you’ve achieved one-name status — Bono, Cher, Liberace — you don’t give that up lightly.

The new iPad has a bunch of hardware and design upgrades that do make sense, even though the impetus for incorporating them may or may not have been to play catch-up with some Android tablets that nobody is buying.

It’s nice to see 4G make its first appearance on an Apple device — one wonders why this wasn’t possible on the iPhone 4S that came out not that terribly long ago. This exponentially better network standard isn’t widely available yet, but where it exists. it spoils you quickly.

Boohoo for Yahoo

Mar 2, 2012 17:01 UTC

Yahoo is taking on Facebook — but it’s not vying for the hearts and minds of the Internet cool kids. It’s for licensing fees over some patents. This is not how it was supposed to be.

No, I’m not naive. But I am a bit of a romantic. Thing is, I remember when Yahoo was an upstart with two crazy awkward college kids who came up with something that the search giants of the time — Lycos and Alta Vista — could not withstand. Yahoo’s scrappiness was part of a long tradition of Silicon Valley startups that came before (and would come after). Like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the elder statesmen of Silicon Valley who began their iconic company in a now iconic garage, Jerry Yang and David Filo started with nothing but an idea in a dorm room and changed everything. Yahoo’s blazing success in search and (the now-quaint notion of) cataloging the Web begs comparison to two other crazy awkward college kids who started a search engine. That search engine, of course, killed Yahoo. It had an equally kooky name — Google.

Now Yahoo, as part of its effort remake itself after a decade of decline, is said to be wielding a new weapon: a patent trove. The stellar DealBook blog of the New York Times, which first reported this story, couldn’t get anyone to disclose the particulars, but it quotes “people briefed on the matter” as saying Yahoo is threatening lawsuits and is in the midst of negotiations with a pretty big fish. “Yahoo is seeking to force Facebook into licensing 10 to 20 patents over technologies that include advertising, the personalization of Web sites, social networking and messaging,” DealBook reports.

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