Apple iPhone: the good and the dodgy

Two reports on Apple this morning, both in the mainstream press.

Earnings have jumped, driven largely by the iPhone. The iPad is doing well, but has fallen back after the big Christmas rush. Apple assert that they have been able to manage the supply chain issues resulting from disruption in Japan (see Japan’s troubles touch the IT economy, 24 Mar), though there will be an effect on revenue; and that demand for the iPad2 is surging.

But reports also assert that the iPxxx poses a challenge to user privacy. The Guardian quotes analysts at O’Reilly Radar, one of InformationSpan’s favourite tech watch sources, who have shown that iOS4 automatically collects location data, stores the results in a file on the device, and replicates it unseen to the “home” computer when synchronised. There’s no opt-in or opt-out. The Guardian say that it has itself ascertained that the iPad also stores these data; and the information is transferred to a new device when the user migrates.

The privacy threat is twofold. First, from the data file: if the device is lost the file is hackable. Second, the data can also be unearthed on the synchronised computer.

O’Reilly says “Don’t panic”. It doesn’t appear that information is transmitted back to Apple. But the Guardian does point out that the iTunes conditions of service include the collection of location data “to improve location-based services”.

People trade privacy for benefit. But it needs to be an informed and active decision. And this is not going to decrease the already burgeoning fears (whether or not justified!) of IT Security professionals at the encroachment of these “unconventional devices” into the hitherto well-regulated corporate space.

• Apple’s iPhone rockets quarterly earnings by 95% to $6bn, Guardian, 21 Apr 2011
• Got an iPhone or 3G iPad? Apple is recording your moves, O’Reilly Radar, 20 Apr 2011
• iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go, Guardian, 21 Apr 2011
• Japan’s troubles touch the IT economy, ITasITis, 24 Mar 2011

UK Government ICT strategy

IDC Insights, in their Life Sciences blog, recently highlighted the publication of the UK Government’s new ICT strategy – although the blog post itself isn’t about government ICT but about the business “Plan for Growth”, and I’m not sure why this particular post refers to the strategy.

Briefly (based on the document’s own summary) the strategy targets:
• the problems of large projects; look for work being done in smaller chunks
• lack of interoperability and integration
• the “not invented here” syndrome; look for encouragement to use off-the-shelf products or “adopt and adapt” solutions developed elsewhere
• over-capacity, e.g. in data centres
• heavyweight, lengthy procurement processes; look for measures to facilitate contributions from smaller suppliers
• senior attention to ICT; look not only for higher-profile visibility, but also to better continuity of Senior Responsible Owners (longer residence in post)

The report contends that these problems are recognisable in the private sector as well as the public, but that they don’t get media attention. Well, maybe. But some of the proposed solutions look more bureaucratic, not less: central controls, “compulsory” open standards, a centralised App Store, a “comprehensive” asset register and (of course) centralised procurement. It’s the age-old tension between centralisation for consistency and critical mass, versus localisation for flexibility and response to business needs.

And a “smaller” project is defined as under £100 million, which would take many large commercial projects well under the radar!

There’s a presumption that many services will become “digital by default”. That seems a good aim, especially if the quality of some of the services I already use is used as a benchmark. The online tax website, for example, is easy to navigate, well structured, and clearly written whether I’m looking for documents, FAQs or to submit my VAT return. There’s an expectation that the trend towards online, more direct interaction with government (e.g. e-petitions) will continue. And there will be a Director of ICT Futures, to look for technology-enabled opportunities.

Each section has a project timeline chart, out to 24 months. That, to my mind, isn’t much beyond the tactical timescale; but governments don’t do strategy beyond the next election I guess. Anyhow, take a look and see if it suggests anything! As many commentators agree, it doesn’t seem imbued with startlingly new thinking.

• Government ICT Strategy, Cabinet Office, March 2011
• Minister admits new government ICT strategy has familiar ring to it, Computing, 30 Mar 2011
• Government aims to reduce ICT complexity, Guardian, 20 Mar 2011