Friday, April 16, 2010

Israel's iPad Ban

Israel this week has been blocking travelers from bringing Apple Inc.'s new iPad into the country saying the device's wireless technology threatens to create interference with other products, a move that has puzzled people both in Israel and Silicon Valley.

The Ministry of Communications said the ban was instituted earlier this week because the iPad's Wi-Fi wireless technology was built to the U.S. standard, which allows stronger signals than those allowed in Europe and Israel.

"This device's wireless strengths violate Israeli law and will overpower other wireless devices in Israel," ministry spokesman Yechiel Shavi said.

Mr. Shavi said once Apple releases a version of the device built according to European wireless specifications, the ban will be reversed. An Apple spokeswoman said the "iPad complies with international industry standards for Wi-Fi specifications."

The decision has left many scratching their heads. Travelers have been bringing laptops and cellphones configured to U.S. standards, including other Apple devices with the same wireless configuration, into Israel for years without incident. Some Israeli lawmakers alleged on Friday the decision undermines Israel's status as a global leader in the high-tech industry.

Richard Doherty, an analyst with technology consulting firm Envisioneering Group, said Apple is using a standard Wi-Fi chip based on a widely-used industry standard in the iPad, and the Israeli government's decision "does not make sense." "If they're paranoid about the iPad then they should be paranoid about BlackBerrys and the iPhone," he said, adding that the decision "seems to have no technical reason."

According to tests that Envisioneering has run on iPads, Mr. Doherty said the iPad has a smaller antenna and the Wi-Fi transmission is weaker, if anything, compared with other devices of similar size and power. That's because the computer is encased in solid aluminum, and the radio waves transmit only through the small Apple logo in the back of the case.

Customs authorities have confiscated at least 10 iPads so far from travelers arriving to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. Travelers have been required to pay for storage fees until they pick up their devices on the way out of the country.

The ban has triggered an angry wave of criticism in Israel, as gadget-happy Israeli consumers fear they will once again be forced to watch with envy as the rest of the world enjoys the latest high-tech toy, as happened with Apple's iPhone which was released in Israel months after it debuted in the U.S. and Europe. Retailers who ordered shipments of the iPad fear their stock will be confiscated at customs.

Mr. Shavi, the ministry spokesman, said anyone who brought wireless devices configured to U.S. standards into Israel in the past should have declared them to customs officials and could have had their devices confiscated. But he didn't know of any incidents in which devices were confiscated.

Some technology experts have speculated the ban could have to do with fears that the more powerful wireless frequency used by American devices could interfere with Israeli military communications technology. Unlike MacBook computers, the iPad uses the same wireless chip as the iPhone, which has a radio receiver and transmitter.

Israel's government has in the past stood up to tech powerhouses. In 2003, the government temporarily suspended purchases of Microsoft Corp.'s software and openly encouraged open source alternatives due to a pricing dispute.

Apple has long lacked a strong presence in Israel. That began to change in late 2008, after Nehemia Peres, the son of Israeli President Shimon Peres, bought the company that has exclusive rights to sell Apple products in Israel, iDigital. Israel's first Apple store opened in Tel Aviv in January 2009. iDigital couldn't be reached for commentabout the ministry's decision to ban imports of the iPad.

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