Week in review: Static on the iPhone line

Seeds of discontent in Apple's iPhone, while Olympics earn gold and gripes. Also: Intel's new entries.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
6 min read

The iPhone 3G is proving to be a gold mine for Apple, but some users feel like they are getting the shaft.

Apple has raked in about $30 million in sales of iPhone applications in the one month since the company opened its App Store and brought the iPhone 3G onto the market, according to CEO Steve Jobs. And Jobs sees big numbers ahead, if Apple continues its current pace of selling an average of $1 million worth of applications per day. At that rate, Apple would reap up to $360 million by the first anniversary of the launch of the iPhone 3G and the App Store.

Jobs also confirmed the existence of the so-called "kill switch" capability, following last week's ruckus over early reports of just such a function. The intent behind the capability is high-minded, Jobs said. Apple would need it in case a malicious program inadvertently were to be distributed to iPhones via the App Store.

Something Apple isn't too keen to talk about is the widespread complaints about the iPhone 3G's reception that have spread across the Internet in the month since Apple and AT&T released the successor to the original iPhone. The companies insist that nothing is wrong, but the complaints have been mounting through e-mails, water-cooler discussions, and message boards on Apple's own Web site; some iPhone 3G users are having trouble connecting, and staying connected, to the 3G networks in their areas.

Affected users say the iPhone 3G will switch between 3G networks and EDGE networks even when the device is sitting still. They'll lose reception in the middle of a call while traveling through a 3G-rich environment. Friends with other 3G phones on AT&T's network are not reporting similar problems. And the issues don't appear to be confined to AT&T's network: iPhone 3G users in other countries report similar problems with their new phones.

Repeated attempts over the past week to get Apple and AT&T to even acknowledge the uproar--if not the issues specifically--proved pointless. Apple didn't even attempt to answer the questions, deferring inquiries to AT&T, which declared that there were absolutely no widespread problems with the iPhone 3G on its network.

A financial analyst believes Apple's iPhone 3G reception issues may be the result of some faulty chips. Richard Windsor of Nomura published a research note singling out the iPhone 3G's chipset, made by Infineon, as the probable culprit for the reception problems. The dropped calls, service interruptions, and abrupt network switches experienced by iPhone 3G users reminded Windsor of similar complaints five years ago, when 3G phones were first launched in Europe.

A Swedish wireless researcher who investigated the iPhone 3G claims that the phone is not as sensitive to 3G signals as other phones. Claes Beckman said that the iPhone 3G's nominal sensitivity is below that of published standards for 3G phones, meaning the phone drops the connection with a 3G tower more quickly than other 3G phones as it moves away from the tower and averages slower data speeds when connected.

The good news, however, is that Apple reportedly believes it can fix the problems with a software upgrade. Some have suggested the problems would have to be solved through some sort of recall, but Apple and Infineon are said to be testing a software update that could be released perhaps as early as the end of this month.

In the chips
Intel has developed technology that lets people remotely power up their computers and retrieve files across an Internet connection. The technology, called Remote Wake, will work only on PCs that use a recently introduced chipset from Intel and requires new software to be loaded onto the PC.

Programs that let people remotely access files on their PCs are already on the market, but those computers must be left turned on to allow access to files. Remote Wake will allow access when people put their PCs in "sleep" mode, thereby conserving energy.

As part of the program, Intel has teamed up with JaJah, a California-based voice over IP start-up, to allow JaJah users to receive calls on their PCs when their computers are in "sleep mode." The deal with Intel also means that JaJah technology will come already configured into certain PCs so that users don't have to download any software to make Web calls.

This makes it different from other PC-based IP telephony services, like Skype, which require users to download a software client. JaJah provides users with local phone numbers and routes calls over the Internet to allow users to call any fixed or mobile phone anywhere in the world for a fraction of what they would normally pay.

Intel also released a specification revision for next-generation USB 3.0 technology that resolves a dispute with Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices, which had threatened to develop their own USB 3.0 standard.

USB 3.0--also known as SuperSpeed USB--is a next-generation high-speed connection standard due in 2009. It is significant not only because all future PCs and devices will use connectors based on the standard but because it will offer 10 times the speed of USB 2.0--used in virtually all PCs introduced in the last few years--or roughly 5 gigabits per second.

Games get gold and gripes
The Olympic Games in Beijing is proving to be a hit in the workplace. Traffic to Olympics-related Web sites soared Monday, the first full workday after the official opening of the games Friday. More than 2 million people visited the video section of NBCOlympics.com, up nearly 140 percent from Sunday when the site had about 858,000 visitors, according to Nielsen. Overall visits to the site increased 40 percent to 4.6 million compared with Sunday's 3.3 million.

As big of a hit as the Olympics are both online and on TV, the video restrictions NBC is placing on more popular sports is fueling frustration for many viewers, such as Rafe Needleman, my colleague at Webware:

In nearly every U.S. household, the best place to watch a sporting event is on the big TV in the family room. You have a better screen, more comfortable chairs, and a video feed that's fluid and detailed. So why isn't NBC showing the videos live on the Web and shunting people over to their couches for the viewing experience we all want, anyway?

NBC and its local stations--each of which has its own Web site--could, in theory, create a combined TV-Web schedule or experience for its viewers. The right combination of live big-screen events and Web-based packages for background and catch-up could be more compelling than either experience by itself.

Meanwhile, Ina Fried, my CNET News colleague, takes issue with NBC's execution of its online video content:

At first I found the online commentary helpful, right up to the point at which it told me that a particular (softball) player flied out a good 30 seconds before it appeared on video. NBC officials assured me that wouldn't happen. Moments ago, they told me Crystl Bustos would hit a home run just before she did. To avoid a repeat, I turned off the commentary.

It's one of several issues I have with the coverage. Unlike others, I'm not dinging NBC for saving a few events for the TV coverage. To me the real benefit of online video is to be able to see the events that are not and would not be on TV.

Some 35 million people in the U.S. watched in awe as China put on what some say was the best-ever Olympics opening ceremony ever. The crowd in attendance was also treated to what may be the world's largest Blue Screen of Death on one of the stadium's projectors.

Some eagle-eyed spectators caught it on camera, clearly showing the error message usually associated with serious software issues or hardware problems in a computer running Windows. Thankfully, this didn't mar the otherwise excellent show. Most people would have missed it with the explosion of sight and sound around them anyway.

Also of note
A federal judge let stand a temporary restraining order preventing three Massachusetts Institute of Technology students from discussing or disclosing their research into security vulnerabilities in the payment system for the local subway system...Fire Eagle, Yahoo's formerly experimental geolocation platform, is officially opening up to all users, and several companies are announcing products that work with it...Scientists say they are a step closer to developing materials that will render people and other objects invisible.