Weekly output: LG Optimus F3, Samsung Ativ S Neo, Galaxy Gear (x2), piracy, e-books, iOS 7 on an iPhone 4, apps near me

Courtesy of a few stories I’d written earlier all getting published in in the same 30-hour period, Monday and Tuesday had me looking vastly more productive than I normally am.

9/30/2013: LG Optimus F3 (T-Mobile), PCMag.com

This compact Android phone had some terrific battery life, but LG’s questionable additions to the stock interface were an especially poor fit on its smaller screen.

9/30/2013: Samsung Ativ S Neo (Sprint), PCMag.com

A phone vendor can’t alter the Windows Phone interface, so this Samsung phone did not suffer from the UI alterations I grumble about when reviewing this manufacturer’s Android phones.

10/1/2013: Galaxy Gear Watch’s Time Has Not Yet Come, Discovery News

The first of two reviews of Samsung’s connected Android watch took a higher-level assessment of the thing and suggested ways that upcoming smart watches could do better.

Boing Boing Galaxy Gear review

10/1/2013: Samsung Galaxy Gear is a timepiece with an agenda, Boing Boing

In this review, I could get a little more into the weeds. I also had fun coming up with that photo–the corrugated tube those watches rest on is a bendable flashlight you can wear around your neck for hands-free illumination.

10/1/2013: NetNames Piracy Study Follow-Up: Even Incorrigible Infringers Can Still Be Good Customers, Disruptive Competition Project

The author of the study I questioned at DisCo two weeks ago wanted to chat further; our conversation led to me reading a different piracy study that found that habitual infringers are also great paying customers.

USAT Best Years story10/1/2013: Turn the Page, USA Today Best Years

I wrote an introduction to e-books for USAT’s quarterly magazine for 50-and-over women. I made sure to spell out the usage limits created by e-book DRM early in the story (on sale in print, not available online), but I could not stop Amazon from shipping an improved Kindle Paperwhite a few days after the story went to print.

10/6/2013: How to help iOS 7 run faster on an older iPhone, USA Today

A reader query about sluggish typing on an iPhone 4 led to me to offer some general suggestions about improving iOS 7’s performance on older models–but then a reader pointed me to the unlikely fix of disabling iCloud’s “Documents & Data” sync, which he swore fixed the exact problem the first reader had reported. I left a comment passing on that tip, and a third reader said it worked for him as well.

On Sulia, I chronicled my so-far-unsuccessful attempts to set up an account at HealthCare.gov, reported that the clunky USB 3.0 connector on the Galaxy Note 3 doesn’t charge the phone all that much faster from an outlet, noted a case of my agreeing with one of the RIAA’s tech-policy positions, and called out Samung and Sprint for including an unnecessary second browser on the Note 3 and then tarting it up with an adware toolbar.

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Overlooked E-Book Chapter: DRM Makes Monopolies (2012 CEA repost)

(Since a site redesign at the Consumer Electronics Association resulted in the posts I wrote for CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog vanishing, along with everything there older than last November, I’m reposting a few that I think still hold up. This one ran on April 17, 2012; since then, sci-fi publisher Tor Books–a subsidiary of the Macmillan publishing conglomerate–has gone DRM-free, but most of the industry has yet to take that step.)

Even if you’ve been following the e-books story for the past five years, it can be hard to define the heroes and villains of that plot.

First Amazon was the innovator, liberating us from paper with its Kindle. Then Apple was going to upend things with the iPad’s iBooks app and store. Now the Department of Justice says that the real problem is an unholy union of the publishers and Apple.

E-book reader appsIn an antitrust lawsuit announced last Wednesday, the DoJ charged Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin Group and Apple with conspiring to fix prices, to the disadvantage of consumers and Amazon.

The first three publishers have already agreed to a settlement that will block “most-favored nation” clauses that prevent e-book stores from discounting titles while allowing them to place other limits on the sale of their work. Meanwhile, Macmillan, Penguin and Apple continue to fight the suit.

It’s an immensely complicated issue, colored to a large degree by who you think is more evil. Is the problem the big publishers targeted by the DoJ’s suit, who allegedly colluded over dinners in expensive Manhattan restaurants? Or is it the gigantic Seattle retailer, which both controls a huge share of e-book sales and has been getting into the publishing business itself?

(A CEA press release posits a third foe, quoting association president Gary Shapiro calling the lawsuit “another sad milestone in our government’s war on American companies.”)

But the basic issue at stake here is not complex: ensuring vigorous competition in e-books that eliminates the need for court battles and consent decrees. And in that context, you can’t ignore how publishers have not just given Amazon a tool to build a monopoly but required its use.

This is the “digital rights management” restrictions required by publishers on e-book titles sold through all of the major online outlets–not just Amazon’s Kindle Store but also Barnes & Noble’s Nook store and Apple’s iBookstore.

DRM is supposed to stop unauthorized copying and sharing by making a copyrighted work playable, readable or visible only on authorized products. It’s not always a huge annoyance: DVDs and Blu-ray discs employ standardized–if easily circumvented–DRM that doesn’t limit you to player hardware or software specifically approved by a movie studio.

But in the world of digital downloads, DRM usually locks the “buyer” of a DRMed item into using only one vendor’s hardware or software.

(The scare quotes are necessary because the license agreements for many DRMed items stipulate that you don’t actually own those downloads.)

If you want to keep your future hardware and software options open, this favors doing business with the e-book store that offers the most DRM-compliant reading options.

That store, by a hardcover-thick margin, is Amazon. Beyond its growing family of Kindle reader devices, including last year’s Kindle Fire tablet, it also ships reader apps for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (via a “Cloud Reader” Web app) iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry and even HP’s now-abandoned webOS.

Barnes & Noble, by contrast, only provides Nook reader apps for iOS, Android, Windows and OS X. And Apple limits iBooks to its iOS devices.

Considering that evidence, where do you think somebody ought to shop?

So long as DRM stays part of the plot, every Kindle reader sold, every Kindle app installed and every Kindle title purchased will strengthen Amazon’s hand.

DRM can’t solve this problem, any more than any form of DRM tolerable to home users can abolish copyright infringement. But ditching it would erase the equation. If you could buy an e-book in a standard format that, like an MP3 music file, would be playable on current and imaginable future hardware, it wouldn’t matter which store sold it. There would be no lock-in; each sale would would not weigh so heavily on the next.

(As I wrote last spring, not having to worry about DRM-induced obsolescence would also vastly increase the odds of me buying e-books at all.)

The music industry figured this out years ago. Giving up on the DRM dream enabled a thriving competition between Apple, Amazon and other vendors of digital downloads, with no lock-in beyond the relative difficulty of syncing music from iTunes to a non-Apple device.

Other observers of the e-book business have been making the same call on personal blogs and on tech-news sites. One publisher, Hachette, may even be paying attention, as PaidContent reporter Laura Hazard Owen wrote last month.

But in much traditional-media coverage of digital content, DRM remains the lock that dare not speak its name. You can read a thousand-word piece about the slow market for movie downloads that notes a “lack of interoperability” without ever explaining why–or even using that three-letter abbreviation. Many of last week’s stories about Amazon, Apple and book publishers miss this point just as badly. And if we can’t properly identify this issue, we certainly can’t fix it.

Live-tweeting, then Storifying Amazon’s Kindle event

NEW YORK–I did a day trip here yesterday to cover Amazon’s introduction of its new Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch tablets (if you were curious, getting up for the 6 a.m. Acela was as unpleasant as I expected). Since Discovery didn’t ask me to liveblog the event itself, I decided to use Twitter to post my real-time recap instead–something I haven’t had the luxury of doing at a tech event in a while.

That worked well–it’s a lot easier to share a photo with Twitter’s smartphone apps, for one thing–but live-tweeting also suffers from vanishing down Twitter’s timeline in the days afterward, not to mention requiring any later readers to read them in reverse.

So I used Storify to embed all of my tweets from Amazon’s event in conventional chronological order–minus a few replies to people asking about non-Kindle topics, plus a few photos I would have shared had I taken them with a phone instead of a regular camera. I had, perhaps, foolishly, thought I could simply embed the results after the jump here–but no, that doesn’t appear to be a supported feature, and my attempts to post the archive here through one of Storify’s publishing options didn’t work either. So you’ll have to read that archive at Storify.

(Dear Storify and WordPress.com management: Please figure out how to get your sites to play nicely with each other. It would also help if I could block-select tweets in Storify instead of tediously dragging them over into a story, one at a time. Until both those things happen, I think I’ll give Storify a rest. Readers: Am I missing some easier way to do things? I know WordPress embeds tweets quite well, but it doesn’t do the same with pictures shared through Twitter.)

Anyway. Note that there’s an error most of the way down; I wrote that the Kindle Fire has a microphone when it does not. Note also that this adds up to a lot of text—1,014 words, by my count.

Too much to read? My recap at Discovery News only runs about 500 words. Don’t want to read at all? You can watch my appearance on the local Fox station Thursday morning to discuss Amazon’s news. That clip’s too short? Amazon posted a 51-minute video of the entire event on YouTube.