Tag Archives: apple

Your Government vs. Your Tech Provider

We might be facing the most largest tectonic shift in the power structures in the modern era since World War One finally ended the old empires of Europe. But this isn’t a conflict between the interests of nation states. It’s a power struggle over you, and the question of to who you owe your primary loyalty as a citizen. And it’s playing out between your government and your tech provider.

The NSAs invasive surveillance techniques may, on the surface, seem like a national security story. And in one regard it is. But the real national security threat is not terrorism. The real power struggle here is between the established power of the nation state, and the emerging powers of what we might begin to call the “technological state”.

Today¬†Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL made a major counterstrike in this conflict by backing radical legislation to reign in the powers of the NSA. This marks a transition point. For at least the last two years the tech giants have conceded to government demands for their cooperation in surveillance. Now these companies are testing whether, in the ultimate measure, their power is greater than the NSAs. At least to determine who can access their user’s data. To have taken this step, they must already believe they are likely to win.

The history of human politics shows us forming ever larger political groupings. From family cluster to tribe. From tribe to kingdom. From kingdom to empire. From empire to nation state. From nation state to super national identities – the United States of American, the European Union, the Association of South East Asian States. But there is every reason to suppose that digital information technology will allow the next stage of this political evolution to transcend geographic boundaries. The technological state will not exist on any map of the planet. Instead it’s border are much more like to be plotted by shared economic interests and political ideals.

Today Google provides your information (search) and your communication (email). Tomorrow it could easily provide your transportation (self-driving cars) and your currency (bitcoin or some variation of the same). These are all major functions of government, quickly being filtered away to tech companies, for the simple reason that these organisations are structurally specialised to develop the needed technology. It makes perfect sense that these competing power structures begin to test one another’s boundaries. The NSA story is simply among the earliest and most high profile examples.

This isn’t to say your government is going away. But it is almost certain to cede large parts of its powers to the emerging technological states. Will you one day have a Google passport? Will you be a citizen of Apple? Some might argue you already are. Perhaps the more important question is, which of these powers should you support? If your ultimate interest is in individual freedom, it seems at this time that the self-interest of the tech giants is more likely to provide the future you need. If your concern is more socially focussed, to the greater good of the community, the rhetoric of governments is a stronger siren call. But realistically, it’s only by keeping such great powers balanced against one another that most people will remain free and society will retain its cohesion. At the moment it seems government has accrued a little too much power, but no doubt sooner rather than later the tech giants will need radically reigning in. But not today.

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My Apple iPhone 5 Prediction

I don’t often comment on tech issues, but I’m a real gadget buff and keep a close eye on tech news. The Apple event scheduled for 12th September is creating the usual vast storm of media interest, possibly even more than usual. Most people are certain a new iPhone 5 will be announced. Some people are predicting a new 7″ iPad Mini to compete with the Google Nexus 7. Some people are even predicting a revised iPod Touch and other iPod models. Here’s my prediction:

Apple will launch a range of iPhone / iPad devices with 4.5″ / 7″ / 10.5″ (approximately) screen sizes. All of them will be phone capable.

Why? There’s clearly a convergence point upon us where a phone and a tablet are becoming the same device from the perspective of consumers. Apple’s only serious competition are from Android devices which have demonstrated a hunger for a variety of screen sizes with devices like the Nexus 7. ¬†By providing a clear variety of screen sizes Apple will dominate the entire sector for another 2-3 years ahead.

My two cents. What are your predictions?

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Science Fiction is the most valuable art ever. Discuss.

Coming Soon!
Image by psd via Flickr


So. Today at the Out of this World event at the British Library (which was really rather wonderful), Neil Gaiman shared a fascinating factoid with the audience. While appearing as a Guest of Honour at China’s largest state approved Science Fiction convention, Neil decided to enquire why SF, once frowned upon by the Chinese government, was now not just approved of but encouraged. China is now the worlds biggest market for SF, with the highest circulation magazines and the largest conventions. A point Neil reiterated by mentioning that the opening ceremony of the convention he attended was shown on national television.

I don’t think that’s ever been the case at a WorldCon.

The answer Neil was given is very, very interesting. China is the worlds manufacturing powerhouse. But it doesn’t invent or design the things it manufactures (I’m sure there are numerous exceptions to this, as I am also sure the general trend holds true.) China wants to capture the creativity and imagination of the culture that has produced companies like Google and Apple. So researchers talked to people involved with those and other companies to see what factors they had in common. Guess what the answer was?

They all read Science Fiction.

Now I’m sure I don’t need to rehash issues of cause and effect that impact on this kind of social analysis. Science Fiction might just be a popular hobby amongst the demographic that are drawn to working in science, technology and other creative fields. Or…it might be that Science Fiction is an essential influence in the development of top level creative thinkers, especially those dealing with technology.

Let’s go with that second idea for a while. We live in an age of unparalleled technological development, which is creating change across society of an unprecedented magnitude. Is it really so inconceivable that SF in all its forms is a valuable tool for helping train people to creatively work with that change? SF doesn’t just show us possible futures, it trains us to anticipate new technology, model how it will impact our lives and exploit that insight. Isn’t that basically what Apple, Google and billions of workers in technology and the knowledge economy are now engaged in doing, day in and day out?

Take this argument a step further, and it’s possible to make an interesting case that Science Fiction’s contribution to the global economy is far greater than the apparent value of the SF publishing industry. Economists could spin all kinds of mumbo jumbo about the actual value of SF in this scenario. At the very least it might suggest that SF writers should get paid a bit more!

When I interviewed Charlie Stross in 2008, he made the argument that literature can no longer afford to view our social and cultural lives as separate from our technological and scientific advancement. Events such as the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library suggest that many people outside the world of SF agree with Charlie. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that I hope I’m around to crow about when it comes true. Fifty years from now Science Fiction won’t exist as it does today. It won’t be dead. Instead it will have evolved as an integral part of literature and culture. Because the story of the next fifty years, if it isn’t abbreviated by war or environmental collapse, will be one of technological change and human adaptation. The art and literature of the future will reflect on that story, and they will drive it, just as Science Fiction does today.

iPad Fail. iBook Win.

So Apple has launched the mythical iPad / iTablet / iSlate to the world. It is officially called the iPad, and it will sell millions. And then be the most common device in second hand electronics stores when people realise it has no real application.

Apple had to pull something new out of the bag to make the iPad the same kind of success as the iPhone. What they have given us instead is 10″ iPod Touch. No new screen innovations, and no improved interface technology. It is too big to be a useful mobile device, not big or powerful enough to be a laptop replacement. If I buy an iPad I will still need an iPhone and a laptop. With both of those I do not need the iPad. The iPad’s luminescent screen and piddly 10 hour battery life make it no more effective as an eReader than a laptop. And the need to dock with a external keyboard for effective typing are simply an admission that Apple has not been able to get an effective touch screen interface to work better than a laptop. Is there a market for this device? Yes, but it is a relatively small niche audience looking for a pretty toy rather than the mass audience the iPhone caters to.

In contrast, the announcement of an iBook store is good if very overdue news. iTunes is the dominant, established marketplace for media, and I am certain book sales through it will be good news for writers and publishers alike. However, until Apple deliver a better reading device I think people will be more likely to read them on their iPhone than the new iPad.

Are 70% royalties the future?

It’s possible that 27th January might be remembered as the day that destroyed publishing. But if it is, it may be a day of joy for writers.

Unless you are living under a stone or a raving technophobe you are probably aware that on 27th January, Apple, the people who brought you the iPod and the iPhone are likely to announce the iTablet (or iPad, or iSlate, depending on the rumour mill you listen to) The iTablet may do many things, but the consensus of opinion seems certain it will operate as an eReader, and that Apple will launch some form of eBook market place to provide content, with Harper Collins in the frame as a major content provider.

In what is almost certainly a pre-emptive strike against Apple, Amazon, the people who brought you the Kindle and its Ebook marketplace, have raised their royalties from their current 30% to a wapping 70%. Given that Amazon is unlikely to give away 40% of any income stream without good reason, it is likely that Apple’s eBook marketplace will offer royalties at a similar level.

Which marketplace will win is difficult to predict, although given their preeminence at cornering markets my money is on Apple (but only just, as Amazon are no slouches either) The really interesting question is this. If a digital eBook marketplace gains the same dominance in publishing that the iTunes music store has gained in music, is there any role left for publishers?

Standard author royalties run at 10-15%. That is a low figure by any reckoning. But it is a level most authors have had to accept in order to do business with publishers, because publishers control the means of distribution. Yes, publishers do many other things as well – editing, marketing, production and so forth – but it is the reach of a publishers distribution chain into bookshops that makes them a necessity. A dominant online marketplace would seriously threaten publishers monopoly over distribution.

If the effect of digital downloads is any indication, publishers will survive just as record labels have. But their role will be significantly altered. If it transpires that authors can publish work directly to an eBook marketplace for a 70% royalty, is it possible that those authors will continue to accept a 10% royalty from a publisher to put them into the same marketplace? Likely not. Cold hard numbers will ultimately answer that question, but it seems very likely that significantly higher royalties will be an early outcome of the eBook revolution.

And in other news…

After experimenting with Feedbooks, I am now experimenting with the Kindle store, where my short story Cthul-You is available to download.

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Megan Kurashige takes on a Very Large and Quixotic project (which is going to be really cool)