Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Apple Win Over Samsung

By: M.K., Senior Software Engineer @ G2

On Friday the jury in the latest Apple -vs- Samsung case found that Samsung did intentionally copy Apple and infringed on Apple patents.  Apple was awarded $1,049,393,540.00 in damages.  This is less than the 2.5 billion Apple was asking for, but is still a significant amount.  Of course Samsung has already said they are appealing.
I personally think it was obvious that Samsung copied the iPhone. If you look at pre-iPhone Samsung devices and post-iPhone devices it's hard to miss.  While I don't necessarily feel that everything Apple patented should have been granted one, I do believe that Apple deserves protection for the R&D they put into developing the interface.  As far as I can tell patents are the only way they can currently get that protection.
It's easy to say that the interface elements and interactions are 'obvious' once someone makes them, but the fact is that the pre-iPhone phones and PDAs had been around since the late 90's and had not come close to the user experience (UX) of the iPhone.  With Windows 8 Microsoft has invested a lot of R&D effort into coming up with a UI that provides a good experience but is also different.  They also licensed a lot of technology from Apple.
A lot of my complaints with Android are about the lack of polish (I also have issues with fragmentation and device quality, but those are handset manufacturer and carrier issues).  The lack of polish, of a good UX in so many areas, is a serious drawback to the consumerization of Android.  All of the market analysis I have seen shows that while Android users do switch to iOS, iOS users rarely switch to Android.  I believe the reason for this is polish.  Yes Android devices are a commercial success (for Samsung), but they aren't 'sticky', Android doesn't appear to hold it's customer base once you start to eliminate price, carrier, and market differences.
Google is intentionally avoiding implementing features patented by Apple in the core Android OS.  Samsung implemented a lot of these features, IMO this is what made their handsets the most popular(and only profitable) Android devices.  They just got hit with a huge fine for doing so.  It doesn't appear that anyone in the Android space is investing in R&D to see how to provide a good, unique UX.

The password is dead! Long live the password!


Some of may remember Bill Gates saying (in 2004) that the password is dead.  This was way before we had to start using 14 character passwords.
More recently (like yesterday), Carnegie Mellon came up with an improvement on voice recognition, developing a voice-verification technology that can transform your voice into a series of password-like data strings, in a process that can be handled on the average smart phone. Your actual voice never leaves your phone, during enrollment or later authentication. 
So hackers need to steal the data strings instead.  I don't see that as much of an improvement.
The proliferation of passwords has been identified as a serious problem--if you give people too many passwords, then they will start repeating them--or simplify their system of coming up with new ones (cognitive loading and all that). So I wonder what we could come up with that would do that?
The answer, of course, is to make password-obsoleting technology dependent on something immutable and unique about you.
Hint:  If you called your friend from home, and a minute later called from work, they would become suspicous, right?  Even if they could recognize your voice.
As the real estate people say, Location, Location, Location.  You can only be in one place, and it takes a non-finite time to move from one place to the other.
But if Apple/Google/FB always know where you are, the privacy advocates will go ballistic.
OTOH, as David Brin pointed out in Tranparent Society, people will need to bite the bitter pill, and just make sure that the information goes in both direction (so you can see who is looking at your information).  Besides, most people sell their privacy every day at the local grocery store for a few dollars.
The only other possible alternative is to use a humanized private/public trap that takes advantage of things only you and your friends know.  You would need to share some tidbits of information, plus a voice record of 40-some phonemes with the institution you trust. For example, after confirming the phone ID to match all the possible numbers Paul could call from, it asks positive and trap questions (while matching phonemes to the bank's record):
Machine:  Where does Jennifer work?
Fake Paul: G2.
Real Paul:  The Urban Teacher Center
Machine:  What did TIffany say about the diamond bracelet you got her for your 10th wedding anniversary?
Fake Paul: Wonderful.
Real Paul: Umm, TIffany who?
The next time you call, it asks different, machine-generated questions (like prime numbers: easy to generate, difficult to decode):
Machine:  Who works at The Urban Teacher Center?
Fake Paul: Umm, Sheila Brown
Real Paul:  Jennifer
Machine:  When are you and Jennifer driving to Lockheed together tomorrow? <<if your trusted machine has access to your clendar, it could ask intelligently misleading questions here>>
Fake Paul: 8 AM.
Real Paul: Umm... to where? With whom?
Other easily machine-generated positive questions could include:
What is the next number after your zip code?
What age will you be after your next birthday?
What is the number before you street address?
Is X street close to the one you live on? <<needs googlemaps app>>
I wonder if trap questions could be based on the work DARPA is doing on "online personalities" (DARPA-BAA-12-06: Active Authentication)?
I'm also wondering if we could abstract public/private key encryption to a human level...

Communication, what of it?

By:  B.Y., Software Engineer @ G2

Communication seems to be something we struggle with in the technology community. More often than not I find myself in a difficult situation with someone (typically client site) because they are using words they don't understand OR have an incorrect / undefined meaning of them. This issue with communication goes far beyond our work at G2 though and seems to have become a global epidemic in other fields.
A beautiful example is here:
To sum it up people who were asked about 'Cloud' computing didn't really understand it all. Sometimes I think these simple wins are what can really do to get G2 ahead in the game. I don't want to speak for anyone else in the company, but it seems to me that we, as knowledgable experts in our field, should be communicating our knowledge in effective ways to others so that we don't continue to spread confusion. In my mind this includes correcting someone when using a term incorrectly (in a nice way) or asking the customer / friend / fellow G2'er to further clarify what they mean so that both parties can better interact.
I've been doing a lot of this with the IAD Cloud Migration and, if done in a calm and mannered tone, makes demo's / briefings / interactions much more effective. I find that the customer and the groups I work with all tend to have a better idea of the technology behind what they want to accomplish and why things can, or cannot, happen the way they would like. My questions for clarification also help by enlightening me on their true intent and understanding the overall goals which usually tie into how the technology will interface with other components.
Additionally (shameless plug to watch more TED) when I was at TED there was a Fellow there, a communcations professor from Penn State, who gave a wonderful presentation on her experiences with teaching scientists versus non-scientists (business, law, art, etc.). She explained that the biggest hurdle was to get them to realize that if they spoke in a language no one else (except them) spoke in, they weren't actually communicating at all. Case and point, if someone were to say "Well the stocastic nature of this function paired with its geometric density temporally concludes its parametric basis" the person on the other end would get lost. I got lost typing it.
Overall, I feel it is our duty as scientists, subject matter experts, guides, mentors, etc. to ensure that we can properly convey our findings, feelings, and understandings to each other otherwise they'll die with us which helps no one. I challenge everyone to think about their communication patterns with others and to explore new ways for us to engage and enlighten the people we interact with!
Happy chatting!