The company has issued a limited number of invitations for a private event in San Francisco on March 7. "We have something you really need to see. And touch," the invitation reads. That's a pretty vague description, of course, and Apple has not officially confirmed the launch of a new iPad. Still, the rumors have reached fever pitch, and the timing is right: Apple, which updates its big products every year, last unveiled a new tablet in March of 2011.
Also, the invitation has a giant picture of a touch screen, and the familiar glossy black of the iPad frame, so we can all be reasonably sure that Apple isn't planning on introducing a new laptop. (Interestingly, there is plenty of speculation that Apple may be planning to introduce both the iPad 3 and a new Apple TV, possibly with Siri capabilities. But those rumors are a little murkier – take them with a grain of salt.)
What kind of features will be included on the new iPad, you ask? More powerful innards, probably, along with a better set of cameras. And almost definitely a better screen – odds-on favorite being the same high-resolution "Retina Display" used in the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Meanwhile, over at Macworld, Lex Friedman and Dan Moren have forecast a price cut on the iPad 2, which currently starts at $499.
"A discounted iPad 2 still might not get as cheap as the Kindle Fire," Friedman and Moren write, "but a $300 iPad 2 with limited storage space might look awfully appealing to folks over any of the numerous, interchangeable, and bland tablet competitors in the market."
Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Schmidt told attendees that Google was now activating 850,000 Android handsets a day – so fast, Schmidt joked, that "we’ll need to produce more people soon." Schmidt added that "if Google gets it right, there will be an Android in every pocket, according to Ingrid Lunden of TechCrunch, who was on hand for the event.
As recently as December, Google was activating 700,000 Android devices a day, up from half a million in June and 400,000 in May. At some point, of course, the number of activations is going to hit a terminal velocity. So what happens then? Well, Schmidt said, manufacturers will produce cheaper devices, in an attempt to open up whole new markets.
"Next year's $100 phone is this year's $400 phone," Schmidt said (hat tip to CNET for the quote). "Many people are working on [smartphones] in the $100 to $150 range. When you get to the $70 point you get to a huge new market."
That huge new market would presumably comprise folks in the developing world – or in the US – who previously balked at the $200 price tag on most modern smartphones – a $200 that does not include the price of a two-year data and voice contract. This plays into why Google started Android in the first place. In 2007, the company introduced its cellphone operating system has a way to excite Americans – but also to prepare for the next billion Internet users, people that would not use Google through a computer because they could not afford a computer.
Android! Everywhere! All the time! That's the idea behind a pair of new Google goggles, allegedly bound for shelves in the US by the end of the year. As we noted last week, Google is said to be prepping a pair of augmented reality, Android-powered glasses, which would allow users to receive real-time information on their surroundings.
It's common these days for prosecutors to use the contents of computer hard drives as evidence in cases involving financial and computer crimes. Take the copyright cases from the early 2000s, for example, when the RIAA showed that defendants had downloaded songs to their computers without paying. But last week, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit set a precedent that could make it harder for the government to prosecute based on electronic evidence in certain cases.
In a nutshell, the court ruled that decrypting the contents of a hard drive can, under certain circumstances, amount to giving testimony. Since the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects against self-incrimination, the court concluded, defendants can't be forced to decrypt hard drives to provide potentially incriminating evidence against themselves -- unless prosecutors can prove beforehand that they know what's on the drives. (In theory, government hackers could still attempt to gain access on their own, but well-encrypted drives can take decades to break through brute force.)
In this case, the defendant -- referred to as John Doe -- was suspected of possessing child pornography and compelled to testify before a grand jury in exchange for immunity. The prosecutors had seized encrypted hard drives belonging to Doe, and ordered him to decrypt the drives as part of his testimony. He was told, however, that his immunity did not cover the use of evidence against him. In other words, he could still have been charged based on what was on the hard drives.
Doe refused, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and was put in prison for eight months for contempt of court. The Circuit Court's ruling vindicates Doe's actions, reverses the lower court's decision to hold him in contempt, and confirms that it would be unlawful to force him to decrypt the hard drives.
There's an important distinction to be aware of here: in Doe's case the prosecutors didn't know what, if any, data, was stored on the seven disks. Thus, the court concluded, Doe's compliance in decrypting the drives would be akin to giving testimony against himself in court. The full verdict includes this line: "We conclude that the decryption and production would be tantamount to testimony by Doe of his knowledge of the existence and location of potentially incriminating files; of his possession, control, and access to the encrypted portions of the drives; and of his capability to decrypt the files."
Things would be different if the prosecutors knew for sure what information on the drives and whether it was authentic. In that case, decrypting the files would be the equivalent of handing over a key to a safe, which is not covered by the Fifth Amendment. An example of the latter case occurred just a few days earlier in US v. Fricosu, when a judge ordered the defendant in a bank fraud case to decrypt her laptop computer so that prosecutors could use its contents as evidence against her.
It's important to note that the outcome of the Doe case doesn't mean that criminals can escape prosecution in all cases just by encrypting digital evidence. If prosecutors can show that they have an idea of what's on a drive, as they did in the Fricosu case, a court can still demand that the drive be unlocked and the contents used as evidence. But in murkier circumstances, defendants can't be required to incriminate themselves by decrypting a drive.
Late last year, Nokia took the wraps off the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800, the first two Nokia handsets to run the Windows Phone 7 operating system – and the first fruits of the much ballyhooed relationship between Nokia and Microsoft.
Today comes news that just a couple months later, Nokia is already the largest Windows Phone 7 vendor in the world, topping former title-holder HTC.
According to Strategy Analytics, 2.7 million Windows Phone handsets were shipped globally in the fourth quarter of last year, a 36 percent from the quarter before. Of those 2.7 million handsets, 900,000 were sold by Nokia, giving the Finland-based company a 33 percent share of the overall Windows Phone market.
Translation: More Windows Phone devices are shipping, and more of them are being shipped by Nokia.
"An expanded portfolio of Windows Phone 7 models, such as the Lumia 800, an increased retail presence and highly visible marketing campaigns across several European and Asian countries drove Nokia's growth," Strategy Analytics exec Neil Mawston said in a press release this week (hat tip to CNET for the quote).
About a year ago, Microsoft and Nokia announced their plan to team-up on a range of new smartphones – Microsoft would develop the software, and Nokia would manufacture the handsets. Over at TechCrunch, Matt Burns sees the relationship as shaping up nicely.
"[T]his as much about Microsoft as it is Nokia. The partnership is nearly perfect. Microsoft knows software and Nokia knows hardware. Take the Zune: fantastic software hampered by just average hardware that had limited market distribution," Burns writes today. "Likewise, the Nokia N8 is one of the finest phones I’ve ever felt but the Symbian OS made it unsellable."
Separate, Burns adds, "these two companies were being pushed out of the mobile race. But together, they’re a major force."
The white cord and 30-pin dock: They've been a fixture on the Apple iPhone since the launch of the first-generation device, in 2007. But according to the tech site iMore, Apple is considered ditching the old dock, and replacing it with a smaller connector, which would purportedly debut on the iPhone 5 – a handset expected to launch later in 2012.
The reason for the purported change-up, Rene Ritchie of iMore writes, "isn’t anything political, like a new desire to conform to an outdated micro-USB standard, but typically Apple: to save space inside the iPhone 5 for what are now more important components." Not that the current dock connector takes up gads of space. But in a relatively slim handset like the iPhone, every inch and ounce counts.
iMore, of course, does not specify the source of the rumor – presumably it came from somewhere up the Apple supply chain. And Apple is staying mum. Still, the gossip provides some interesting grounds for speculation: What if Apple does ditch the current dock, in favor of what Ritchie calls a "micro dock"? As Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZD Net notes, it could alter the entire Apple eco-system.
"[Y]ou might be thinking that Apple won’t do this because it would make a whole raft of accessories obsolete," he writes. "Well, yes, but you can never guarantee that an accessory built for one device will work on a new device anyway, so this is a moot point. It might make it harder for manufacturers to who make things like docks because they’re have to somehow cater for two different connectors, but again that’s not an insurmountable problem."
In related news, buzz around the next iPad – presumably called the iPad 3 – continues to ripple across the tech press this week. It's a good bet that the next Apple slate will have a "retina display," a better processor, and maybe even 4G support. But it probably won't look a whole lot different than the current iPad 2: images recently posted by MacRumors show a very familiar casing and frame.
The company's plan was to build a wholesale 4G network -- a system that would bring fast Internet access to the entire United States -- using a combination of land-based towers and satellites. The company has already launched a satellite into orbit, paid for frequency to be used for the project, and even struck a $65 million deal with Sprint to build and operate its network for the next 15 years.
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Now, a technical hiccup could bring it all to a halt.
It turns out that the frequencies on which Lightsquared would build its network bump up against those currently used by many consumer GPS devices. The portions of the spectrum are close enough, in fact, that this week the FCC rejected Lightsquared's application to build its network, saying that it would cause "irrevocable issues" with GPS equipment.
Let's back up for a second and look at how "the spectrum" works. Radio signals -- including wireless data -- can be broadcast only across a finite amount of the electromagnetic spectrum. The FCC (and equivalent departments in other countries) makes sure that services such as TV, cell phones, and GPS don't interfere with each other by occupying overlapping portions of the spectrum. In this case, Lightsquared and GPS manufacturers share adjacent (but not overlapping) portions of the spectrum. So what's the problem? The FCC states that in practice, the airwaves are close enough that Lightsquared's network would interfere with some GPS devices.
Lightsquared isn't going down without a fight, however. According to the Wall Street Journal, it's looking to strike a deal with the Department of Defense, which owns a portion of the spectrum farther away from GPS signals. An LTE network on those frequencies wouldn't cause any interference with GPS. But for the deal to work, Lightsquared and the DoD would basically have to swap frequencies -- and the DoD hasn't given any indication that it's interested in trading. If the deal falls through, Lightsquared will have to look elsewhere -- or to try to sell off its spectrum.
Readers, what's your take on Lightsquared? Do you think the DoD will bite -- or balk -- at the proposed deal? Will a wholesale 4G network ever get off the ground? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Google is prepping a pair of augmented reality glasses, which would allow users to receive, via a data connection, real-time information on their surroundings. According to a new report in The New York Times, the glasses – or Google goggles, if you like – will hit shelves by the end of the year, and retail for somewhere between $250 and $600. (The Times describes the glasses as being priced like an unsubsidized smartphone.)
Unsurprisingly, Google has declined comment on the rumor, but the news does sync with a December post from Seth Weintraub, a blogger with 9 to 5 Google. The Google glasses, Weintraub wrote at the time, would "tie into Google’s location services. A user can walk around with information popping up and into display – Terminator-style – based on preferences, location and Google’s information."
Weintraub says the goggles will resemble the Oakley Thumps, a pair of sunglasses equipped with an MP3 player. All of which, of course, sounds both immensely cool and terribly dorky. (Not to mention potentially fatal. You think people have trouble concentrating on walking and smartphone using now? Try giving them a pair of glasses with a camera and a heads-up display and a bunch of streaming imagery.)
"Glasses are actually the final piece to Google’s mission: To know what a user doing every single moment of the day," Brown writes. "The search giant already is unifying some 60-odd products into one log-in for continuous online tracking. And, as we reported last week, it’s enticing you to use Google to come up with those web passwords."
Sound a little paranoid? Wi-Fi and 3G equipped goggles would allow Google access not just to your location, but to the advertisements that catch your attention, the identity of your friends and family, the whole of the world as you see it. And that's scary stuff.
But is Apple planning on radically redesigning the chassis of its top-selling device? Probably not, judging by a much-discussed photo obtained by a Chinese blogger and posted today on MacRumors. The image purportedly shows the front glass and digitizer assembly on the iPad 3 – and the whole thing looks a lot like the assembly on the iPad 2.
Writing at MacRumors, Eric Slivka argues that the allegedly leaked photo, combined with earlier snapshots of the reported casing on the iPad 3, yield a pretty convincing composite portrait of the new device.
"The [display assembly] appears nearly identical to that of the iPad 2, with the major distinguishing feature being a relatively long ribbon cable extending up the side of the display as opposed to a shorter cable with a sideways orientation seen in the iPad 2," Slivka writes. "Other features of the iPad 3 display include the same round home button seen in all iOS devices so far and a hole in the top bezel to accommodate both the front-facing camera and the ambient light sensor."
Caveats apply: The veracity of these photos, which have not been substantiated by Apple, remain unclear. Still, Apple is by most indications close to unveiling its new tablet, and it makes sense that production photos of the iPad 3 would start to hit the Web around now.
"In other words, what will sell millions of new iPads is the same thing that sold all of the iPad and iPad 2 – apps," Kendrick writes. "Apps to make all of the aforementioned things happen. Apps to make common things happen in new and innovative ways. As the ads have told us for years, there’s an app for that. And they will sell millions of iPad 3 tablets. No matter what’s under the hood."
Today Google honors Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, the German physicist who, in his all-too-short career, taught the world invaluable lessons about optics, electromagnetism, and, in a contribution that is often overlooked, the science of nothingness.
"Horror vacui," goes the phrase, usually attributed to Aristotle's fourth book of Physics. Nature abhors a vacuum. True or not, it's certainly the case that those studying nature have long struggled with the concept of empty space. Aristotle thought that, because space empty of all matter offers no resistance, objects moving within it would move infinitely fast. Thus the objects surrounding any void would instantly fill it before it could form. Emptiness, he concluded, was therefore impossible. Every part of the universe must be filled with something, even if we can't detect it.
Aristotle's arguments persuaded scholars for a good 1,500 years or so. Medieval Christians were enjoined from entertaining the possibility of a vacuum, until the Catholic Church's Condemnations of 1277 broke Aristotle's monopoly on the natural sciences by admitting that, at the very least, a vacuum would not be beyond the powers of an omnipotent God.
But even though contemplating empty spaces became theologically permissible, the idea of nothingness still proved troubling to early modern thinkers, even as others were setting about constructing pumps and siphons. In the seventeenth century, when Irish chemist Robert Boyle demonstrated his "Pneumatical Engine" and when French physicist Blaise Pascal developed a barometer, they were attacked by Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who each embraced a philosophy known as plenism, which left no space for emptiness.
The plenists arguments were persuasive. Sure, they argued, you might be able to remove all the air from a glass tube, but how is it that, say, two magnets inside the tube will still attract one another, if there really is nothing at all between them? How is it that electric fields can pass through the tube?
In the 19th century, after scientists firmly established that light travels in waves, scientists wondered how waves of light from the stars could ever reach the earth after traversing millions of miles of allegedly empty space. A wave, after all, needs something to ripple through, right?
Hertz initially complicated the picture even further, but his work also foretold a way out. While attempting to demonstrate the theories of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell he conclusively demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves, and then caught a glimpse of how these waves act in very un-wavelike ways.
The Monitor's Chris Gaylord describes Hertz's famous experiment:
In his lab, the German scientist rigged up two tiny brass spheres, placed very close to one another. When he electrified them, sparks leaped from one ball to the other. If Maxwell was correct, these sparks should send invisible waves radiating through the air. To test the theory, he needed to build a receiver. This second instrument consisted of a curved wire that almost made a full circle, except for a tiny gap at the top. He placed the transmitter and the receiver several yards apart and made sure that nothing connected the two. Sure enough, when sparks shot through the transmitter, invisible waves traveled through the air, lighting up new sparks on the receiver.
Later on, Hertz measured the speed of electromagnetic radiation, confirming Maxwell's calculations that it was the same as that of light.
To Maxwell, this was more than a coincidence. "We can scarcely avoid the conclusion," wrote Maxwell, "that light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena."
But what medium, exactly, is doing the undulating?
To answer this, scientists borrowed an idea from the ancient Greeks. Empty space, they reasoned, must be completely filled with a transparent, non-dispersive substance. This substance had to be fluid enough so that the Earth could travel through it without slowing, but rigid enough to vibrate at high enough frequencies to carry light waves. Maxwell dubbed this mysterious stuff the "luminiferous aether."
But just after Hertz was using the luminiferous aether to link together the seemingly disparate phenomena of light, electricity, and magnetism, others were busy undermining it. Working in the 1880s at what is now Case Western Reserve University the American scientists Albert Michelson and Edward Morley reasoned that, if the Earth was moving through an aethereal substance, we should be able to detect an "aether wind," which would cause light waves to travel at slightly different speeds, depending on the time, season and the direction of the light waves. But, after a set of careful measurements, the pair found that the speed of light was unaffected by these factors.
But if there was no aether, then how did electromagnetic waves propagate?
A satisfactory answer wasn't put forth until 1905, the year that Albert Einstein upended classical physics with a series of groundbreaking papers. First, Einstein's theory of special relativity removed the need for a static, absolute reference frame through which objects and waves could move. Special relativity does away with the twin Newtonian absolutes of space and time, replacing it with a single absolute: the speed of light.
Second was Einstein's photoelectric effect. Hertz was actually among the first people to notice that sparks jumped across the gap in his receiver more readily when it was exposed to ultraviolet light. Exposing it to more ultraviolet light made it even easier for the sparks to fly.
That light could electrify metal was not, by itself, surprising. But what was odd was that the color of the light, not its brightness. Shine a bright red lamp on a brick of potassium, and you won't get a current. But a dim blue light will do the trick. This doesn't fit in with the notion that light is a wave. Despite studying the phenomenon intensely for six months, Hertz never figured it out.
But Einstein did. By imagining light not as a wave, but as a particle carrying discrete packets of energy, which he called "quanta," Einstein found that he could predict how certain frequencies of light would electrify certain metals. Einstein's explanation of the photoelectric effect won him the Nobel Prize in physic in 1921, and helped usher in the era of quantum physics.
So now we understand light, and all electromagnetic radiation, as having a dual role of both wave and particle. Electromagnetic radiation, including light, travels as a wave, but arrives as a particle, and there's no need to invoke any mysterious aethers.
Or is there? Einstein himself continued to use the word, particularly when attempting to describe how gravity acted on distant objects. And the quantum mechanical conception of vacuums are anything but empty: they contain ephemeral particles that pop in and out of existence, and even fleeting electromagnetic waves. Once you get to a very small scale, the universe starts too look a little more like Aristotle and the other plenists imagined it.
Take a look at this Scale of the Universe animation, created by a pair of extremely precocious 14-year-old twins named Cary and Michael Huang earlier this month. Zoom in, past the penny, past the matchstick, past the paramecium and the DNA molecule. Keep zooming. Go past the gamma ray and the proton and the neutron. Go past the quarks and the neutrinos. Eventually, you'll get to a whole lot of nothing.
In fact, most of what we take to be solid matter actually consists of empty space. If you imagine an atom the size of a cathedral, its nucleus would be roughly the size of a fly. Thanks to electromagnetism, in this case the tendency for electrons to repel each other, everything doesn't collapse in on itself. You may think that you are sitting in a chair right now, but you are actually hovering above it at a distance of one angstrom, about 250 millionths of an inch. Neither your electric field nor that of the chair wants to get any closer.
Anyway, keep zooming in. Eventually, you'll get to the Planck Length, which is what physicists say is the smallest unit of measurement in the universe. At anything smaller than this distance, it would be impossible to tell the difference between two locations.
At this scale, physics is really weird. "Virtual" particles are flashing in and out of existence at extremely high energies, warping space and time into a quantum "foam," or so one theory goes. One-dimensional strings, according to another theory, vibrate in eleven dimensions, forging and maintaining the very fabric of our reality.
Now zoom all the way out. All the way, past the planets, galaxies, and nebulae, until you get to our entire, expanding, universe. What is the universe expanding into? Nothing at all, according to the best current cosmological models. What was there before the universe? Was that nothing too?
The ancient Greeks were fond of another phrase about nothingness: It comes to us via the Latin expression "Ex nihilo nihil fit," or "nothing comes from nothing." They believed that the gods fashioned the universe out of a primeval matter, which they called "chaos."
Today, as cosmologists try to explain how our universe sprang from nothing, it's worth remembering that, in science, nothing is not what it seems.
From a modern perspective, it's difficult to fathom how the first person to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves didn't understand the implications of his discovery.
In the late 1880s, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was teaching at Karlsruhe Polytechnic in Berlin when he first produced electromagnetic waves and measured their wavelengths and velocity. He wrote of the experiment, "In a perfectly dark room [the sparks] are visible to an eye which has been well rested in the dark," according to a 1957 Scientific American article.
His students wanted to understand the applications of his discovery, but Hertz told them, "It's of no use whatsoever." He felt that his experiment was merely an exercise to demonstrate the accuracy of previous calculations of the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell.
Though Hertz himself didn't view his work as important, it didn't take long for others to realize its significance. "Three years ago, electromagnetic waves were nowhere. Shortly afterward, they were everywhere," said Sir Oliver Heaviside, an English mathematical physicist, in 1891.
Hertz's discovery sparked (pardon the pun) a race to turn this new understanding of electromagnetic waves into a device for communication.
In 1896, Guglielmo Marconi received the world's first patent for his system of wireless telegraphy. In 1898, Ferdinand Braun began attempting to transmit Morse signals through water with high-frequency currents. With time, he became one of the first to send electric waves in definite directions. Braun and Marconi shared the 1909 Nobel Prize for Physics, "in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy."
One biography of Hertz states, "A lecture to professional colleagues in the autumn of 1889 in Heidelberg can be seen as the "birth" of radio and sound film." Without realizing it, Hertz was able to make a discovery that has had ripple effects ever since.
Though he died in 1894, before he himself could appreciate the impact of his work, Hertz has been honored in many ways since. The base unit of frequency – one cycle per second – is named for him. So is the radio telecommunication tower in Hamburg. In addition, many countries have honored him by including his face on their postage stamps. And of course, on the 155th anniversary of his birth, February 22, 2012, Google honored Hertz with a doodle.