Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Cloud computing

Apple promotes iTunes head Eddy Cue to senior executive role

Eddy Cue of Apple

Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, has made his first change to the company's top executive board, adding Eddy Cue as a senior vice president of Internet software and services.

Cue previously was vice president of iTunes at Apple, overseeing not only the most popular music selling destination online, but also iBooks and the iOS App Store. In his new role, Cue will still handle all of that, but will now be the man to guide Apple's next big (non-hardware) product -- iCloud.

Apple updated its website on Thursday, adding Cue's bio page to the executive team, which was first reported in the blog 9to5Mac.

Cue's new job will also give him responsibility for iAD, Apple's iOS advertising unit, which has so far failed to become much of a success. In mid-August, Andy Miller, Apple's then vice president of mobile advertising, resigned and headed to a venture firm called Highland Capital Partners.

The new executive has worked at Apple for the last 22 years and is credited with being a main negotiator of the deals with entertainment companies that led to iTunes having anything to sell.

"Eddy played a major role in creating the Apple online store in 1998, the iTunes Music Store in 2003 and the App Store in 2008," Apple said in Cue's bio. "He also played a key role in developing Apple's award-winning iLife suite of applications. In his early years at Apple, he was a successful manager of software engineering and customer support teams."

Cue is a graduate of Duke University, where he got a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics, Apple said.

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Photo: Eddy Cue, then Apple's vice president of iTunes, speaks during the launch of News Corp.'s The Daily news magazine for the Apple iPad in New York in February. Credit: Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg

HTML5 apps vs. native apps: Amazon, Box.net choose both [Video]

Screen Shot 2011-08-13 at 10.21.57 AM

HTML5 or native apps? This can be a tough question for mobile developers.

Does a developer build applications for HTML 5 or Apple's iOS? Google Android, BlackBerry (and its different mobile operating systems), Microsoft Windows Phone or HP WebOS? Or for all of these different platforms?

The debate between native apps and Web apps is one we've covered on the Technology blog, and even a bit on our sister blog Company Town. And as of now, there is no definite winner.

Amazon's release of Kindle Cloud Reader, an HTML5 app that looks and works a lot like Amazon's Kindle app for the iPad, is an example of a Web app done right. Cloud Reader offers one difference that justifies Amazon building it; users can buy books from within the app, something they can't do in the iOS app.

Box.net released a new HTML5 app this week, as well as an update to its Android app and a new BlackBerry app for its cloud hosting service aimed at business users. Here too the reason cited for building an HTML5 Web app was control –- control over how the app looked and worked across all mobile platforms.

In both cases, and many more, HTML5 apps offer companies more control over the look, feel and money making abilities of their app.

There are downsides, too. HTML5 doesn't work with every browser out there -- Cloud Reader is confined to Apple Safari and Google Chrome for now, while Box.net's Web app is available only on mobile devices. And app stores for Web apps don't match the ability to boost an app's success the way Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market do, yet.

But what do you think? As a user, do you prefer native apps or Web apps? If you're a developer, which do you choose to build?

Sound off in the comments below and check out the video below where we show off a few Kindle Cloud Reader and a few other HTML5 apps. 

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Photo: DeviantArt's Muro HTML5 Web app -- a drawing app -- is demonstrated on an Apple iPad 2. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times

Box.net launches apps for Android, BlackBerry PlayBook, HTML5

Box for Android on a Honeycomb tablet

When a business wants to store or share documents in the cloud, Box.net wants to be the first firm companies go to to make that happen.

With that in mind, Box.net launched new apps on Thursday for Google's Android mobile OS, Research In Motion's BlackBerry Playbook (which runs on a RIM-built operating system called QNX) and a new HTML5 Web app accessible on any smart phone or tablet.

The Palo Alto, Calif., start-up has been able to gain more than 1 million mobile users with an iOS app, integration into HP's WebOS as the default cloud storage method, and its Box.net website, but that's not enough, said Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of the company.

"Since we're an enterprise-focused company, we've been working all year on making sure we hit every platform an enterprise might need and now we're able to make that happen," Levie said in an interview. "We've seen a 600% increase in enterprise sales on the mobile side this year. And that's because there are a lot of consumer cloud options which are perfectly fine being constrained to one platform or another, but for businesses, you need to have that flexibility, and nobody else is offering what we're now offering."

The PlayBook app is Box.net's first native app for any BlackBerry platform, while the company's new Android app, which works on both phones and tablets, replaces an older Android app designed only for phones.

One native app missing so far is one for Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS. Users of that platform will have to rely on Box.net's HTML5 Web app, which Levie says offers all the same features of the native apps but can be accessed through any mobile device's Web browser at m.box.net.

Levie pointed to Proctor & Gamble's decision to use Box for its business as an example of how important it is for a company such as his to be available on the multitude of mobile devices in the marketplace.

"Procter & Gamble deployed about 18,000 users on Box, and the driver for that was being able to get to content on mobile platforms," he said. "Today, there are effectively five competing platforms that are all powerful, can all access content, can all access and manage contacts and email. And now we are available on all those platforms, and with HTML5, we have a standard across all platforms."

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Image: A screenshot of Box.net's Android app on a tablet running Android Honeycomb. Credit: Box.net

Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader app bypasses Apple's rules

Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader app on an Apple iPad

Amazon's new Kindle Cloud Reader is exactly the sort of iPad app Apple isn't allowing in its App Store.

Built in HTML5, running on the Web and not just iOS, the Kindle Cloud Reader Web app enables Kindle users to not only read e-books they buy from Amazon but buy books from within the app itself.

Unlike Amazon's native iOS Kindle app, Kindle Cloud Reader skips the App Store and iTunes. No downloads required. All that needs to be done to get the Cloud Reader on an iPad is to open Safari and type the right URL, www.amazon.com/cloudreader.

But while users may see a big advantage in being able to read a book from the cloud (i.e. the Internet) and buy a new book all in the same app -- as Kindle Cloud Reader offers -- the real winner here could end up being Amazon.

That's because anything sold through Apple's App Store or iTunes gives Apple a 30% cut of revenue. Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, isn't too keen on forking over a portion of its sales, and Kindle Cloud Reader gives Amazon a book-selling iPad app that it can have full control over.

Apple doesn't allow the buying of digital content (books, video, music, etc.) from within an app unless that content is sold through iTunes and the App Store -- unless that content is delivered in a subscription, as magazines or newspapers are. Apple's iOS app rules don't allow an app to link to an outside website where users can buy anything, which is why Amazon removed a link to its Kindle store from its iOS Kindle app and Barnes & Noble did the same with its Nook app.

The HTML5 app, which also works with Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome browsers on Macs and PCs (no Firefox, Opera or IE support yet), gives Amazon and its customers a way to get around the App Store restrictions.

Amazon isn't the only company looking to HTML5 for an App Store workaround -- Wal-Mart's Vudu is doing the same with its video storefront and Rdio last week skipped the "Apple tax," as some call it.

As HTML5 becomes more popular for building websites and Web apps, we can probably expect to see more Web apps to pop up that also set their own rules.

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Image: A screen shot of the Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader HTML5 app on an Apple iPad. Credit: Amazon /Apple

iCloud website now live for software developers

IcloudApple Inc. took another step toward connecting its users to the "cloud" on Monday night when it opened an iCloud website to software developers, also encouraging them to update their iPhone and iPad apps to take advantage of Apple's upcoming Internet service.

Though only registered Apple developers can access the new site, bloggers have posted images showing it contains Web-based email, Calendar, contacts and the Find My iPhone feature -- all of which were previously available via Apple's soon-to-be-defunct MobileMe service.

But unlike MobileMe, a for-pay subscription service, a basic version of iCloud will be available free to users of most Apple phones and tablets. The software will sync users' email, apps, music and other information so that it works across all Apple devices.  Users will get 5 gigabytes of storage for free, but have the option to as much as 50 gigabytes more for an annual fee of up to $100.

Apple has also begun encouraging app developers to start using iCloud, which can store and back up application-related data -- presumably to do things such as save games and back up photos and records from exercise apps.

The company has said the new system will be available to the public this fall, and speculation has grown that its new iPhone will be available in late September or early October.

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Image: The front page of Apple's iCloud.com. Credit: Apple

Gmail Man video mocks Google in the name of Microsoft

A video was posted online that pokes fun of Google's email service.

A video making fun of Google's email service, Gmail, has been posted online, and it appears it could have been produced by one of the search giant's major rivals -- Microsoft.

The video, which features a character called Gmail Man, was leaked by an attendant of Microsoft's internal Microsoft Global Exchange sales conference, according to the website ZDNet.com, which reported about it and posted it on YouTube on Thursday.

Throughout the video, Gmail Man goes through people's emails "just skimming," as he says, for keywords in order to target advertising to users. Fictional users of the service question the ethics of his actions, asking whether it's wrong to go through people's private messages, to which he replies, "Who cares?"

"Well, sometimes when a person really loves their Gmail very, very much, the two get together," Gmail Man says at one point, "and an ad is born."

The video mentions Microsoft's new cloud service, Microsoft Office 365, and shows the offices of a business named Contoso Ltd., which ZDNet says is a fictional company often used in demos for Microsoft products.

With Office 365, which the company announced last month, Microsoft is stepping into familiar territory for Google -- the cloud -- and competing with the search giant's Google Apps service to offer online software to consumers and businesses.

Microsoft did not a return a call seeking information regarding its involvement in the video (or lack thereof).

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Image: A screen shot of the Gmail Man spoof video. Credit: dgrober via YouTube

Adobe buys e-signature company EchoSign

Adobe EchoSign

Adobe Systems has taken over EchoSign, an electronic signature automation firm in Palo Alto.

EchoSign, founded in 2006, has about 3-million users and allows users to place digital signatures into business documents that can then be tracked digitally as they get sent to intended recipients without ever printing out or faxing a paper document.

The company says its cloud-based technology is legally equivalent to printing out and signing a document by hand and it works on desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets. Neither Adobe, based in San Jose, or EchoSign said how much the purchase deal is worth in announcing the deal on Sunday.

"Together, our aim is to make electronic signatures the standard way for people to sign documents and automate contracting," Jason Lemkin, EchoSign's chief executive said in a blog post. "Adobe's PDF solutions and document exchange services platform have helped organizations turn inefficient, paper-based workflows -- like overnight envelopes – into streamlined electronic ones."

EchoSign's technology will be integrated with Adobe's Acrobat PDF reading and editing software and other paperless document exchange services "including SendNow for managed file transfer, FormsCentral for form creation and CreatePDF for online PDF creation," Lemkin said.

Kevin M. Lynch, Adobe's vice president and general manager of Acrobat digital enterprise solutions, said in a statement that EchoSign will help push "significantly reducing the time, cost, and complexity associated with getting a document signed" electronically.

"With just one click, the EchoSign electronic signature solution automates the entire signature process from the request for signature to the distribution and execution of the form or agreement," Lynch said. "What’s more, there's nothing to download or install."   

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Microsoft talks cloud, mobile and Windows 8 at big conference in L.A.

BallmerLA

Microsoft Corp. is doing a little show business in L.A.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant is firing up the spotlight downtown this week for its annual conference of business partners.  The event, held at the convention center, has attracted about 15,000 attendees, and boosters say it will bring tens of millions of dollars in revenue to the city.

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer kicked off the event Monday with a keynote that touched on Microsoft's current strategy, which is largely focused on moving its business into the computing cloud.

"It's going to be one of the most beneficial transitions for all users of information technology around the planet," Ballmer said, noting that Microsoft has more than 40,000 partners that identify themselves as cloud-ready.

Last month Microsoft unveiled Office 365, a cloud-based version of its popular office software.

Ballmer also hyped the company's mobile handset offering: Windows Phone. Though he acknowledged that Microsoft hadn't yet won many mobile customers with the product ("We went from very small to very small"), he said the offering had plenty of potential. For one thing, he said, mobile phone giant Nokia cast its lot with the Windows Phone.

"Nokia -- who had a choice this year to bet on themselves, Android or Windows Phone -- said for their bet-the-company strategy, they're going with Windows Phone," he said. 

Microsoft also touched on Windows 8, the next version of its popular operating system, slated for a 2012 release. Windows 8 will be tailored to work on the smaller computing chips found in smartphones and tablet computers, as well as traditional PCs.

"Windows 8 is a true reimagining of Windows, from the chip to the interface," said Tami Reller, who leads business and marketing for Microsoft Windows. "We designed Windows 8 from the ground up to be excellent for touch-only tablets -- and to work well with the keyboard and mouse."

Later Monday, Ballmer was slated to host a reception for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other L.A. city officials for the presentation of a "Microsoft Week in L.A." certificate.

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Photo: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addresses the crowd at the 2011 Microsoft partner conference in Los Angeles. Credit: Microsoft

Critical vulnerability found in Apple's iPhone, iPad operating system

JobsIOS

Surfing to the wrong Web page or opening the wrong PDF file on your iPhone could allow hackers to take over the device, Germany's information security agency said.

In a report released Thursday (available in German here), Germany's Federal Office for Information Security warned about a critical vulnerability in the way iOS devices (the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) deal with PDF files. A hacker exploiting that weakness, the report said, would be able to gain access to a users' "confidential information" including passwords, email, and bank data.

Apple said it is working on the issue.

"Apple takes security very seriously," said Trudy Muller, a company spokeswoman. "We're aware of this reported issue and developing a fix that will be available to customers in an upcoming software update." 

Muller did not offer a specific timeline for the fix.

The iPhone operating system has faced similar security holes in the past, including in 2009 when security researchers demonstrated a way for hackers to take over the phone by sending it a malicious text message. Earlier this year, one of the same researchers, Charlie Miller, found a way to break into the iPhone 4 when a user surfs to a booby-trapped website.

Apple has since fixed both vulnerabilities.

Though companies often stress that the mere presence of a vulnerability does not mean hackers are actively or widely using it, the German report noted that "although no attacks have been observed, it is expected attackers will exploit the weaknesses as quickly as possible."

To avoid this and other types of malicious attacks, users should steer clear of strange websites, especially those mentioned in suspicious emails or social networking messages.

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Photo: Apple CEO Steve Jobs at a recent Apple event.  Credit: Paul Sakuma / AP

Amazon sweetens its deal for cloud music service

GettingStarted_unlimitedOffer._V157726512_ Amazon.com is throwing in some extra incentives for users of Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, its cloud-based music storage and playback service.

Those incentives include unlimited space for music for Cloud Drive storage subscribers who pay at least $20 a year, free storage for all MP3 purchases made through Amazon and access to stored music on an iPad, according to a Wednesday statement from the company.

The retail giant's service allows users to store their music library into an Amazon Cloud Drive (which can store other types of files and data too) and play back their music using Amazon's Cloud Player, which is available on the Web and in the form of an app for Google Android phones and tablets.

Amazon got a head start by launching the cloud service in March ahead of competitors Google and Apple. Google rolled out Music Beta, a similar digital music locker service, in May. Rival Apple is courting record labels before introducing its own version, dubbed iCloud.

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Image: A computer, a tablet and a phone running the Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player service. Credit: Amazon

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