HUA HIN, Thailand - Apple and its iPad tablet are at the center of a storm of
hype this week in the run up to the April 3 launch of the company's latest
gadget. Watching on with pleasure, even if they have no plans to buy the iPad,
are Apple's shareholders who saw the stock reach a new high of US$233.87 on
Monday, up 15% since the product was introduced in January.
Analysts have been scrambling to predict a sales figure, as they did with the
launch of the now iconic iPhone in 2007. Some claim that 200,000 units will be
shifted over the weekend, others say 2.5 million iPads will be shipped in the
first quarter and over 6 million this year. Some even say that the demand will
far outpace the supply.
One question remains - who will buy an iPad? Research firm NPD says that rich
Apple fanboys between the ages of 18 and 34 are
the most likely to buy ones, while with most interest being shown by people
already hooked to the Apple brand.
The device, of course, is not particularly revolutionary and is of
significantly lower hardware specification than tablet devices from rival
manufacturers, more of which are likely to hit the market shortly after the
The iPad is pitched somewhere between a smart-phone and a netbook computer, and
will retail for US$499 to $839 depending on specifications. The most popular
units will be WiFi capable, but there will be a 3G version that is likely to be
tied in with specific carriers, along the lines of the iPhone. The iPad will be
used for reading, music, movies, Internet and possibly gaming. Its ultimate
success is likely to hinge on how many applications are developed for it rather
than how shiny it looks.
Back in the prehistoric cave of technology known as Microsoft, the US software
giant has issued more out-of-cycle patches for their troubled browsers Internet
Explorer 6 and 7. The flaws in the world's most popular web-surfing platform
could allow hackers to gain remote control over a computer if the user visits a
malicious website using an un-patched version of IE. To ensure a level of
safety slightly higher than the equivalent of opening all of your doors and
windows on the Internet it would probably be sensible to avoid any version of
IE. Any software that remains the most popular also remains the biggest target.
Web users are now being tricked into visiting these malicious websites by
increasingly sophisticated methods - they started as simple e-mail messages but
now encompass the world of social networking. Microsoft's Live Messenger
software has been hit hard by cyber criminals looking to install malware onto
people's machines by tricking them into accepting links or messages that are
sent from people in their contacts group. Facebook has also suffered at the
hands of hackers who have devised scripts to pose as your friends and steal
your personal data. More personal information is on the web now than ever
before so it stands to reason that the criminals are devising more cunning
methods to get it.
Security competitions, such as the annual CanSecWest show, which was held in
Vancouver last week, give would-be hackers a chance to show off their skills,
earn prizes and help security companies tackle the problem. The results were
worrying, as various contenders managed to hack their way into Safari on Macs,
IE8 on Windows 7, iPhones and Firefox with relative ease. Software developers
will be given the chance to analyze the exploits used and to develop patches
Europe's Large Hadron Collider is finally up and running again after several
setbacks and a major shutdown. The vast project run by the European
Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is now doing what it was designed for
- producing first high-energy collisions. Two beams running in opposing
directions around the 27-kilometer circumference machine at 3.5
Tera-electronvolt (TeV) energy levels were smashed together to produce 7 TeV
collisions, the highest ever recorded.
Joyous celebrations erupted at CERN HQ near Geneva on Tuesday as the
long-awaited experiment was ratcheted up to speed and those hadrons were
finally collided. The world's largest machine has been plagued by electrical
faults since its launch in 2008, so the scientists breathed sighs of relief
when the atomic race track didn't melt down again this week. Banks of computers
are busy crunching through the data now, but it will be some time before any
results are released to the public.
There is still a long way to go for the LHC, as it is still running at half
power and it is expected to do so for at least 18 to 24 months before moving on
to the next stage. Only when two 7 TeV beams can be collided to produce a 14
TeV particle reaction can the real physics questions be answered, such as the
revelation of dark matter, new dimensions, and the mysterious Higgs Boson or
"God particle", which is said to be responsible for the mass of the universe.
This, however, will not happen until after a lengthy maintenance shutdown at
the end of this year, so the doomsayers who have been predicting that the
experiments will lead to the creation of planet-swallowing black holes can
relax for the time being.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.