Week in review: Apple of my ire

Apple's Steve Jobs rained on his own iPod product parade by also announcing a $200 iPhone price drop, which angered early adopters.

Apple dominated the technology headlines this week, as it typically does following highly anticipated product unveilings like the one held Wednesday.

But this week's news wasn't just about the shiny new iPods and related features CEO Steve Jobs introduced in his polished presentation at San Francisco's Moscone Center. It was about the Jobs announced for the 8GB iPhone--from $599 to $399, and the resulting anger expressed by those loyal fans who were first to buy the product at the higher price point.

Following the uproar from customers--and in a rare admission of a mistake--Jobs on Thursday posted an open letter on Apple's Web site acknowledging the company shouldn't have treated its early adopters in such a fashion and offering them a $100 store credit.

"We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple," Jobs wrote.

Some commended Jobs and the company for what they considered a humble and fair response to the iPhone price flap. Others, however such as CNET News.com reader Jake Kushner, president of JK Media, said Apple's response didn't go far enough to satisfy those who bought a 4GB iPhone for $499, only to see the 8GB model become $100 cheaper. They should get a free upgrade to an 8GB model or a $200 rebate, he said.

"I feel wronged and misled by Apple. Such a quick price reduction indicates that Apple premeditated this reduction before the initial release," Kushner wrote, addressing Jobs. "I read your public response on Apple.com to this issue, but I still feel that the solution you are offering is not adequate."

Meanwhile, those who've been contemplating purchasing an iPhone might be interested instead in , which is essentially a phoneless, camera-less version of the iPhone with the same 3.5-inch screen, multitouch interface, home screen and OS X. has the ability to connect to the Internet with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, comes with Apple's Safari Web browser and has built-in Google and Yahoo search.

Apple is also revising some of its previous iPods--the regular iPod, the Nano and the Shuffle. It will offer a new 160GB version of the regular iPod (now known as the iPod Classic) that's thinner than the regular iPod and has better battery life. It made minor changes to its iPod Shuffle line, which will come in new colors. And the new iPod Nano will now have video capability, though its screen is only 2 inches wide.

Jobs also announced the , which allows consumers to buy songs wirelessly, and a partnership with Starbucks. People with an iPod Touch or iPhone who walk into a Starbucks coffee shop will see a button pop up on their screen. They will then have the option to buy the last 10 songs that have been playing in the store, as well as music from featured artists at Starbucks.

A few other non-Apple products worth noting were also announced this week. Still on the gadget front, Hewlett-Packard unveiled the HP Blackbird 002, a souped-up, flashy gaming PC that is the company's first joint effort with its Voodoo unit. In a computing niche that leans heavily on design, the Blackbird shows careful attention was paid to detail both inside and out, industry observers say.

Seagate is launching a new line of hard drives including a 60-gigabyte drive for phones and a drive optimized for security cameras.

Unlike in the past, when hard-drive makers typically released the same basic drive for various markets, they now nip and tuck their products to fit specific customer profiles and applications. Ideally, this lets drive makers squeak more profit out of their products and gain relief from the punishing price wars in the PC market.

And Intel also this week announced its high-end Xeon 7300 line of quad-core chips--code-named Tigerton--which are models geared for higher-end servers with four or more processors.

They're watching you
Privacy issues also made headlines this week, beginning with personal search engine Rapleaf--in response to inquiries from CNET News.com--revising its privacy policy and disclosing a prong of its business that sells data to marketers about people's social-networking ties.

Despite the quick changes at Rapleaf, privacy experts still say the company may be breaching the privacy of people using social networks such as MySpace.com and Facebook.

Rapleaf lets you retrieve the name, age and social-network affiliations of anyone, as long as you have his or her e-mail address. But what the company does not disclose are the details on how it obtains people's ties to social networks through their e-mail addresses--a nifty feat considering social networks typically don't publish members' e-mail addresses.

Later in the week, a federal judge dealt a blow to a key portion of the Patriot Act, blocking the FBI from sending Internet service providers secret demands for customer information, a controversial surveillance tool that has been misused in the past.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said the section of the Patriot Act that permits such demands for customer information--called national security letters--violates the First Amendment and unreasonably curbs the authority of the judiciary.

Politicians on Capitol Hill also questioned the privacy implications of a new plan to make detailed satellite images available to a broader swath of government agencies, including state and local police.

Democrats and Republican politicians alike accused the Department of Homeland Security of leaving them in the dark about the proposed October 1 launch of its new subset called the National Applications Office. Later Thursday, top Democrats on a congressional Homeland Security Committee formally asked the Bush administration to place a "moratorium" on the new program until they've had a chance to review its legal underpinnings.

According to the department, the new office will be a "clearinghouse" for what it expects to be a broader set of requests--particularly by law enforcement, border security and other domestic homeland security agencies--to tap into devices that have mostly collected data for scientific or military purposes in the past.

Also of note
Facebook opens up its people search to everyone...MetroPCS hopes to become a nationwide player with its proposed acquisition of Leap Wireless...Geotagging images enable new ways to search photos, give slide shows or be a virtual tourist..."Lucky imaging" technique takes large numbers of pictures to get around the problem that Earth's atmosphere degrades image quality...Sony might finally have an iTunes answer...Advanced Micro Devices is actively cooperating on open-source software to support its graphics chips...and a music executive says the industry's existing business model is "done."

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