Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Apple and Third World Labour

I think every generation needs to read and also re-read the book "No Logo" by Naomi Klein. The subtitle of the book is 'Taking Aim at the the Brand Bullies'. it should be read, because it seems every industry will eventually pull the stunts that were visible during the writing of the book. When the early '00's happened, people were just starting to understand the human cost of globalization, how the shipping of jobs from the West to the East was due to one thing and that was cost. Also, we witness the rise of brands as culture. No longer were people simply making and selling a piece of garment or a running shoe, they were experiencing the zeitgeist of that product. I know the word more means 'spirit of the times', but there was a desire to paint the logo so strongly onto culture that the two became inseparable. Just think about Nike's 'Just Do It', that was an attempt to transcend simple sports into an entire lifestyle. As well, there was Gap, with their marketing.

What needs to be understood is that neither Nike or the Gap were the worst offenders, or that they were the only one, but rather they came to symbolized an entire segment of their retail division. They were the forerunners and as such they drew the most attention. They did attempt to change, but at first a lot of it was smoke screen, attempts to draw attention from the excesses to make it sound like it was a good thing.

I suppose there is an argument that at least these companies were bringing jobs to many of these nations and at least part of the good news was things were a bit better. Certainly better then picking garbage out of the town dump for recycled material. I will give you that. Not much more, but at least there was that element.

Now, let's fast forward to this new decade and we have a new villian, and that is Apple. The New York Times featured an article which examined what is happening in those plants in China.

Some of the issues are:
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

On one hand, these are nothing new, just go back 10 years and read about the sweatshop conditions which made your favourite overpriced running shoe.

As before, Apple has its defenders, the 1% will always look after each other, Forbes had this article. It goes from 'how silly are those detractors' to that famous arguement, 'everybody else is doing it, why pick on Apple!". Read the above, Apple is the leader, the shining star, it attracts the most attention, therefore it attracts the most heat.

What is disturbing, and this might make the issue different, Apple has its legions of fanboys and girls who will spring to its defense.

Consider this tweet from Stephen Fry:
Less than 25% of Foxconn make Apple products, the rest is Dell, HP &c. But the real point is this http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/01/29/the-apple-boycott-people-are-spouting-nonsense-about-chinese-manufacturing/2/

Then there is the article in PCMag.com which state that thousands of people want jobs with Foxcomm. I guess the idea is, that if so many people want those jobs it really can't be that bad.

I will give you that by statistics, it may not be a bad plant to work and let's be honest live in, the wage is pretty good and even though you may be forced to work 12 hours a day for 7 days, or face the fact that you could be fired so a nine year old could take your place. Hey, but that's life.

On the past week episode of TWIT, one of the panelist suggested that what is happening in china is not any different to what happened in the West 75 years ago. I'm not sure of her point, I suspect that it meant, it wasn't so bad. If I may make a counter-point, the way things were 75 or 100 years ago were the way things were all over, it was a global movement, fought in each nation, that brought about work and wage standards. We can't simply say, well, they aren't there yet, because it's not like this is all a new battle. The battle in China is not to advance workers' rights, but rather the battle is by industry and the government to keep those rights from happening.

This is why Apple is getting hit over the head. It makes the products that are shiny and cool and while we in the West are enjoying the cost of purchase, we do need to be reminded there is a human side of this, and while some may not like to read about it, it is the truth.

Apple is getting it because they are in the lead. Hopefully they will look back and see what happened to Nike et al, when they tried to dismiss it, or use PR babble to get away with it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wanted:Blackberry Evangelists!

When Thorsten Heins was announced as the new CEO of RIM, there was some words of approval, some cautious words of wonderment and some disbelief. Seems not everyone was thinking this is a great choice for the new CEO of a company which is going through some troubles right now.

One of the comments that caught my attention was the concern that Mr. Heins is not the evangelist type that RIM needs during this time.

To quote:
Heins is an uncharismatic engineer at a time when RIM is in desperate need of an ebullient public and internal cheerleader. The tech sector lends itself more than most to evangelists. Such characters - think Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, Andy Grove – attract “insanely great” talent, as the late Jobs would say. They tout their insanely great products with almost arrogant conviction. And they ceaselessly badmouth the competition until you actually begin to believe them. The soft-spoken Heins is not cast from that mold.

I will say the article is in the Toronto Star, so right off the bat it is questionable. After all, the Star tends to attack anything and everything that is not of Toronto. The Star is one of those papers that would rather kick a good Canadian company when its down then support it. I know, someone will say 'it's not the business of newspapers to be cheerleaders'. Unless of course, it's something like an American firm, or American sports team...oh never mind.

The comment may not be so bad from the truth. I think that one thing RIM does need is some evangelists. These are people who tout the merits of the devise. It does seem to work best in the field of technology. One just has to look at Guy Kawasaki, for example, to understand the importance of a tech evangelist. He was the chief evangelist at Apple and he seems to have done quite nice for himself.

What could an evangelist do for RIM? Well, the person(s) shouldn't try to emulate Steve Jobs, there was only one of him and he was the only person who could pull off being Steve Jobs.

The person should have a genuine love and respect for the products and be willing to tell everybody about it. They do need to be genuine and not contrived, because if its the latter, everybody will be jumping on about how RIM is trying to be like Apple and how that won't work.

When you think about it, RIM still has a lot of good going for it. The phone is hot with kids, believe it or not. The BBM is something young people want to use and they love it. As well, the developing world really likes it, so much there was a riot in Indonesia. I know I've said it before, but it's amazing how the media was putting on a full hate of RIM. If people rioted over an iPhone, the press would have been swooning over how must love and lust there is for the iPhone. But because it was RIM, and Blackberry, well, that's horrible.

Then there is the Playbook, come on you knew I was going to mention the Playbook some place in this blog. If you ever read the comments posted on articles you might be surprised at the number of people who have a playbook and think its amazing. What is even more amazing, none of them work for RIM. This is the sort of thing the Playbook needs, forget what the professional pundits think, most of them are so entrenched with Apple, you think the got the logo tattooed to their behind.

But it can't all be about trashing Apple, it has to be about the good product that is Blackberry and the entire experience.
I came across an article out of the UK. Seems they are selling a lot of Playbooks, this is good.

RIM should get on board and start developing a pool of bloggers who do like the products and are able to declare how much they like it through social media and blogposts. Like a lot of things, it starts better and last longer if there is grassroots involvement. I'm not saying they should pay off a bunch of bloggers to shrill for them, because people will smell that fix a mile away, just ensure they have their cadre of bloggers who do care and want to share.

I could continue by mentioning BlackBerry Music, music made social. If done right it will be a great feature, if done wrong, then its Ping.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Playbook Coming

The website Berry Review posted an article about the new Playbook.

This has to be very positive for the Playbook. It means that for sure the Playbook is not dead but very much alive and vibrant in the thinking of RIM. With its versatility increasing with the addition of cellular service support will develop and grow for the devise.

I am still looking forward to February 17th, when the OS upgrade takes place. It's good that RIM is making it available for free. I think they should throw in some very cool apps as well, but that's just me saying. It's good to realize RIM is going to do something that rewards all of us who bought the Playbook. When you think about it, we were a brave lot; with the mainstream tech media falling over themselves with coming up with the hateful comments, we soldiered on and refused to accept the verdict the Playbook was like the HP Touchpad.

Various sites report the specs:
Launch date March – May
1.5 GHz Dual Core Processor – TI OMap 4460
42Mbps HSPA+
Bands 1,2,4, 5/6 & 8
MicroHDMI, MicroUSB, Charging Contacts
NFC Ready
PlayBook OS 2.0
32GB Flash
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Sensors: Accelerometer, Magnetometer, Gyroscope, NFC
5.5 MP rear camera and 3.0 MP Front facing camera
Audio MP3, ACC(5.1), WMA (5.1)
Video 1080p, H.264, MPEG4, WMV, HDMI Output
7” LCD, 2024×600, WSVGA
0.9lbs (425g)

Basically the same, physically speaking with the addition of the access to 3G networks.

The question some sites are posting is, will you give up your wi-fi only Playbook for the newer version. Personally speaking, I'm sticking with what I have. It's not necessary for me to be always on the Internet, I can wait for a wi-fi hotspot to get material to the web, if I want to post things.

I should say a few more things about my experience with the Playbook. I brought it to Cuba with me and found it very reliable and useful. I took advantaged of reading a few book on it with the epub reader I had purchased. Since it is the size of a paperback, give or take, it was fairly easy to read. It did not feel bulky or awkward in the hands, so that was good.

Also I took a few photographs and videos of the resort:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Playbook is New Again

I thought I'd start this blog with the Official Video from Inside Blackberry.

As I watched this I became more excited about the potential of the Playbook being finally unlocked. As you know since I've purchased the devise I have been amazed by the power and the great things I can do with it. The camera is great and I've started to incorporate the devise in my daily work environment. At the same time I've been aware of the deficiency of Playbook. The lack of native email, contacts and calendar has held me back and I have felt the lack of them.

The good news is, that is ending. With the coming of Playbook OS 2.0, there will be all that and more. What I liked about the video is the incorporation of the social with the functional. It has to be said, Web 2.0, if we still use that term is all about the social networking ability of the web. We are no longer involved in one way communications, but two way and it's good to see RIM is understanding this and making the effort.

I like how the calendar is going to operate and use. The fact the numbers change with the appointments in each day will be vital to planning the month. I do notice there are a few days in which meeting tend to multiply. Likely when someone asks me about getting together on a day, I can just look at the number on the calendar and get a quick understanding of what is happening on that day, and whether or not I can squeeze one more meeting.

I will be interested in using the email application, can I tie my work email, as it suggests with the personal email. I don't think I'm going to be glued to that app and find out what is happening at work, but it might be nice to know on the weekend, since at my work, there are a few people who like to send out the late Friday afternoon emails. Seriously you send me an email at 4:30PM on a Friday. Perhaps because they don't have a life doesn't mean I'm not interested in starting one.

From the videos I've watched, the calendar, email and contacts are right at the top, which is where they should be. As I mentioned in a past blog, I'm using a Dell Axim X3 for my work. I use the calendar, contacts and various office programs on a daily basis. It is useful, especially when I'm at a meeting and can call up all sorts of statistics. Yet I am aware of the age of the hardware- with all the additions on the Playbook I can now carry it around and call up all those same statistics and bring together my contacts and calendar.

Now I should talk about the apps. From what one article I read mentioned there are going to be thousands of native apps, as well as the ability to get android apps.
However what is interesting is that Blackberry is pumping out the apps for the Playbook.
Your favorite apps plus thousands more - many exciting new applications
built for the BlackBerry PlayBook will be made available on BlackBerry
App World with the availability of BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0. From
gaming and lifestyle to business and productivity, RIM is showcasing
some of the latest apps available for the BlackBerry PlayBook at CES
2012 including Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Groupon, Thomson Reuters,
Zinio and many more.
-- Video store - a catalog of thousands of movies and TV shows will be
available through the integrated BlackBerry Video Storefront(i) with new
releases to be made available for purchase or rent the same day they
come out on DVD. Users will be able to begin watching media as soon as
they start to download the file, so users won't have to wait for the
entire file to transfer before they can enjoy great entertainment on the
tablet's high resolution display, or on an HDTV via the BlackBerry
PlayBook tablet's HDMI output.
-- Enhanced web browsing - the BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 browser also
includes a new reading view, which is designed to make web sites even
easier to enjoy by eliminating page clutter at the touch of a button.
What's left is a cleaner format that is great for reading online news
articles, blog posts, or websites that contain heavy amounts of text.

I can see the video store as a big selling point as well. With that amazing high def screen, people can watch with the crispness they expect from their high def TV`s.

The apps interest me, if they continue to develop some great photo editing and sharing tools, this will be wonderful. I enjoy taking photographs on my devises. On my iPod Touch I have 11 photo sharing and editing apps. Yet the camera on the ipod Touch is woefully under powered. With the Playbook I have a 5megapixel camera on the back and a 3megapixel on the front, this is a powerful devise to record life on. So with some very excellent apps, this will only get better. yeah you know I`m talking about Instagram, among others- I`m becoming an Instagram fiend. Between Isabelle and the cats, it keeps me going.

With these changes, and even PCWorld is giving positive reviews of the upgrade, the Playbook will become a very viable tablet.

So I am looking forward to February when the upgrade comes out and is free to all Playbook owners. It`s going to be great and I can hardly wait.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Resurrection of Playbook

The news is now filling the Internet, RIM will use the CES to showcase the new Playbook OS2.0 and Blackberry 7. I suspect there would be some that this is a desperate move by a desperate company. I'm not saying RIM hasn't been perfect or it was a flawless year, but on the other hand, if anything bad happened it was magnified and amplified. When RIM had that problem and lost everything, or rather everything shut down for a few days, it was a huge event. People viewed it as horrible and another sign that this is a company in trouble. The odd part of this, Siri goes down for three days or so and no one seems to care at all. I could go on my usual rant how Apple gets all the breaks and is allowed to get away with things that sink other companies, but I will refrain.

CES is now the largest electronic consumer show there is. I did my share of COMDEX shows back in the day, and they were a lot of fun. It's where I could pick up some computer shwag- I think use the Toshiba laptop tote on a weekly basis, for example. From what I gather, this is now the show and its the best place to showcase products. If you think about it, this is an interesting strategy. After all the Playbook sadly, garnered some pretty bad press when it was launched. I could give the litany but you could find it without too many problems.

After the horrible year, 2012 is going to be a year of aggressive activity, first CES and then the Mobile World Congress in February. I wonder if this gives us an idea when everything is coming out. Perhaps the Playbook OS will come out soon after CES. If they get some good publicity, they will have to move fast, the whole strike while the iron is hot. If they give us the native email and calendar and perhaps, the ability to use the BBM and if we can get Blackberry Music on the devise, it will finally give the iPad the run for the money.

For RIM to come out and make a big push featuring the Playbook is quite the strategy.

We could go on and complain about what has bee missing and I want to say it would be a very legitimate complaint, however now is the time to make the correction and prove not that the critics were wrong, they were right, but to bring them back into the fold. They you don't get a second chance for a first impression, but RIM can turn around the make allies from the critics. RIM must remember the critics have spoken and they will need to do something special and wonderful to get them to change their mind.

The good news, and this is probably the motivation, the Playbook experienced a resurgence that the cut in price caused a lot of units to be sold and now developers are taking an interest. Unlike what happened with the HP tablet, which sadly is dead, the Playbook has some new life.

From what I've been told, Playbook OS2.0 is looking very good. There's a lot going for it. When I told my source to tell Jim and Mike they need apps, he told me that they know. Here's the thing, they love Blackberry- they need to concentrate on making great devises and things to put on those devises. I don't believe they have been resting on their laurels and letting the world past because they don't believe anyone can touch them.

I am going to look forward to the report of the announcement. It should be good.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Examining Heritage in Canada

The CBC reported 2011 was not a good year for Canadian Heritage. The article states that heritage building are not safe in Canada. It cites that some major landmarks suffered last year and there is no promise things won't get worse. One person commented that Canada does not have an legislation to protect heritage buildings. Even though there is a registry, building that stand on land owned by crown corporations are exempt.

This article got my interest because it seems Canada wants to catch up with the standards towards heritage that seem to mark the City of Brantford. There was an article last week, and I do thank a Facebook follower for pointing out statement, that university representatives feel Brantford does not need a downtown heritage district.

The concern of the University is a concern that too may regulations will slow the development of the University. They want an almost piecemeal approach to heritage, instead of an entire district receiving the designation, they want individual structures.

I must admit I don't know a great deal about heritage districts but I believe the idea is that a certain area is filled with heritage structures and as such need blanket protection. If you allow building by building, the problem is you could have a modern structure on one side, and an heritage structure beside it. I know that if an organization was smart, it would go out of the way to ensure the new structure fits into the overall environment. But there is no guarantee. One might have architect wanting more to put their mark then a concern for the overall look and feel. So far, the University has been good, just consider the renovation of existing structure and the building of new. However, the problem is the pressure to expand. The University administration wants to grow to a 15,000 student school. If they wish to remain solely in the downtown core, it would mean a whole lot of buildings, and I have to believe they can`t continue renovating existing structure. They want new building- and that will mean gathering land together and tearing down entire blocks.

To be honest, their spokesperson does say:
“It is not our intention to go in there and start knocking down significant buildings or demolishing buildings of importance,” Nower said. “It is our intention to work with the city and the heritage committee to identify areas of growth for us.”

But we know from past experience, Brantford doesn`t have the best record for preservation. I am rather surprised considering the hostility and fallout after the tearing down of those 41 buildings on the south side, anyone would discuss some like that again.

Then there is the comment of amassing the land, demolishing the building and then leaving the land vacant until needed. The idea of turning vacant land into parking lots- yes, Brantford needs more parking lots- when what we have now are underutilized as it stands now.

The University has done a lot of good for the downtown core. They should be commended for bringing some life downtown and for restoring a number of buildings. However, this should not give them carte blanche to do as they want.