Friday links: ecommerce discrimination, Android’s year class, WatchKit, free Office, and more


“Supermarket nightmare” by Paul Townsend on Flickr

A selection of 10 links for you. Do not use near rotating machinery. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Personal site: charlesarthur.com

Buyer beware, online shopping prices vary user to user >> The Conversation

Home Depot served almost completely different products to users on desktops versus mobile devices. A desktop user searching Home Depot typically received 24 search results, with an average price per item of US$120. In contrast, mobile users receive 48 search results, with an average price per item of US$230. Bizarrely, products are also US$0.41 more expensive on average for Android users.

Why do sites do this?

Initially, we assumed that the sites would not personalize content, given the extremely negative PR that Amazon, Staples, and Orbitz received when earlier cases were revealed. To our surprise, this was not the case!

The study says price discrimination and steering on e-commerce sites is becoming more prevalent, and more sophisticated and that “it’s almost impossible to know whether the prices you are being shown have been altered, or if cheaper products have been hidden from search results.”

(Re the “more for Android”, the study mentions “iOS”, not “iPhone” or “iPad”. Surprise: Travelocity lowers prices for iOS users.)


Why BuzzFeed doesn’t do clickbait >> Buzzfeed

Ben Smith:

BuzzFeed has never sold a banner, and I couldn’t even tell you how many monthly page views we get. And so our business model at least moderates that incentive to drag every last click out of our audience.

The worst form of this online is on a pennies-per-click business model in the transactional netherworld of outsourced sponsored content sitting at the bottom of articles around the web. All that matters in that space is the snappy headline. Grab the reader’s attention, get the click — even if this isn’t the craziest thing Ted Cruz has said yet; even if “Paris Hilton – topless” is in fact demurely dressed and riding in a convertible; if this one easy trick won’t actually lose you weight; and if you actually can believe what happens next.

If your goal — as is ours at BuzzFeed — is to deliver the reader something so new, funny, revelatory, or delightful that they feel compelled to share it, you have to do work that delivers on the headline’s promise, and more.

Few people understand this aspect of Buzzfeed: it’s actually a method of creating viral content; it then sells that method to advertisers.


Year class: A classification system for Android >> Facebook Engineering Blog

Chris Marra and Daniel Weaver:

With so many different types of phones in the world, being able to segment people and their devices to understand usage patterns and performance is a significant task. Historically we relied on cuts by Android OS version, looking at how Gingerbread behaved differently from Ice Cream Sandwich, how Ice Cream Sandwich behaved differently from Jelly Bean, and so on. However, the recent explosion of affordable Android devices around the world has shifted the median, and the bulk of devices we now see are running Jelly Bean. In order to segment based on actual phone performance we decided to look more closely into the specifications of the phone – RAM, CPU cores, and clock speed – to characterize things. Using these three specifications, we’ve clustered every phone into a group of similarly capable devices to make understanding performance easier.

We call this new concept “year class” – essentially, in what year would a given device have been considered “high end?” This allows teams around the company to segment the breadth of Android devices into a more understandable set of buckets, and as new phones are released, they’re automatically mapped into the representative year. For example, the Alcatel T-Pop I bought at a market in Mexico is immediately recognized as a 2010-class phone, despite its 2012 release. Overall, about two-thirds of the phones connected to Facebook are equivalent to something released in 2011 or earlier.

That last sentence is amazing – but remember, Facebook has a huge number of mobile users outside the US. Telling too that the “most popular by year class” list has the Samsung Galaxy S2, S3, S4 for 2011, 2012, 2013 – and then 2013’s Note 3 for 2014. The SGS5 clearly hasn’t made a substantial impact.


Expectations for WatchKit >> David Smith

Apple has said we can expect for there to be a two-phase rollout of the WatchKit APIs. The most concrete exposition of this is the Press Release announcing the Apple Watch (emphasis mine).

Apple introduces WatchKit, providing new tools and APIs for developers to create unique experiences designed for the wrist. With Apple Watch, developers can create WatchKit apps with actionable notifications and Glances that provide timely information. Starting later next year, developers will be able to create fully native apps for Apple Watch.

So to start with we will be given the ability to implement actionable notifications and Glances. This is what I believe we are getting with the SDK release this month.

It will only be later next year that full apps will be possible. It is not a stretch to think that later next year is code for WWDC next June.


More Office. Everywhere you need it >> The Official Microsoft Blog

John Case, corporate VP for Microsoft Office:

Today we’re taking the next major step to bring Office to everyone, on every device, and I’m excited to announce that Office apps customers love are coming to Android tablets with the start of our Office for AndroidTM tablet Preview. We’re also delivering Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iPhone® and updates for the iPad apps–to ensure a consistently beautiful and productive Office experience on every device. Our vision of Office everywhere wouldn’t be complete without Windows, so I’m pleased to confirm that new, touch-optimized Office apps for Windows 10 are in the works and we’ll have more to share soon.

No Office365 subscription required. You read that correctly. Office is moving to a freemium model. (Here’s what’s missing in the free version.) Do we conclude that Google’s mild erosion via Google Docs has been successful in chewing away at Microsoft’s pay-for-software model?


Fourth quarter 2014 tablet update >> Chitika

iPad users generated 79.9% of North American tablet-based web traffic over the month of September 2014 – a share down from the 81% figure observed one year ago, but a gain of 1.9 percentage points since July 2014. Meanwhile, Amazon and Samsung tablets are, respectively, still the second- and third-largest sources of tablet Web usage in the US and Canada after both posted slight quarter-over-quarter share drops over the study period.

That’s web traffic to Chitika’s ad network, not installed base. Clearly, the iPad over-indexes (shows up more than its installed base). Most telling stat: Windows tablet share up by 60% (from 1% to 1.6%, behind Amazon (6.7%), Samsung (6%), Google (1.7%) – this is before the Nexus 9 release.


Amazon Echo – Official site >> Amazon

Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It’s always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.” It’s also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound.

Invitation-only at present, but a clear shift into the Google Now/smart device/intelligent assistant space. (Is this the thing Charlie Kindel has been working on?) As Jan Dawson of Jackdaw says, this makes a lot more sense than the Fire Phone, because it’s a move into a space that’s opening up – but where Amazon could make a difference.

Brings new light to Eric Schmidt saying that he sees Amazon as Google’s biggest competitor.


CD-Loving Japan Resists Move to Online Music >> NYTimes.com

Ben Sisario (in a great local colour story):

Japan may be one of the world’s perennial early adopters of new technologies, but its continuing attachment to the CD puts it sharply at odds with the rest of the global music industry. While CD sales are falling worldwide, including in Japan, they still account for about 85% of sales here, compared with as little as 20% in some countries, like Sweden, where online streaming is dominant.

“Japan is utterly, totally unique,” said Lucian Grainge, the chairman of the Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music conglomerate.

That uniqueness has the rest of the music business worried. Despite its robust CD market, sales in Japan — the world’s second-largest music market, after the United States — have been sliding for a decade, and last year they dropped 17%, dragging worldwide results down 3.9%…

…The hugely popular girl group AKB48 pioneered the sale of CDs containing tickets that can be redeemed for access to live events — a strategy credited with propping up CD sales, because it can lead the biggest fans to buy multiple copies of an album.

Clever.


Will.i.am’s Puls smartwatch is the worst product I’ve touched all year >> The Verge

Dan Seifert:

The Puls’ main pitch is that it can determine your emotion and mood via your voice. It comes with an app called Vibe+ that listens to you for twenty seconds and then determines your emotions based on the intonation in your voice. It works with 32 different languages and is the result of 20 years of research and development by Beyond Verbal, the company that makes the app. It rewards you for being positive with different gems that display on the Puls’ screen and points that can shared with other users to “spread positivity.” Beyond Verbal will be bringing the Vibe+ app to iOS and Android devices early next year. It’s pretty awkward to have to speak random things to your wrist for twenty seconds (the app doesn’t require you to say anything specific) and I’m having trouble picturing anyone using this in the real world.

That’s probably fine anyways, since nobody should really buy the Puls watch. AT&T and O2 in the UK are going to be selling it in the coming weeks for an unspecified price, but it’s safe to say that you should probably just spend your money elsewhere. Will.i.am will get over it.

Why would you need your watch to tell you your emotions? Still, it has a full QWERTY keyboard. (Two presses per letter. Don’t complain.)

The wait for a good wearable goes on.


Crypto attack that hijacked Windows Update goes mainstream in Amazon Cloud >> Ars Technica

Underscoring just how broken the widely used MD5 hashing algorithm is, a software engineer racked up just 65 cents in computing fees to replicate the type of attack a powerful nation-state used in 2012 to hijack Microsoft’s Windows Update mechanism.

Nathaniel McHugh ran open source software known as HashClash to modify two separate images—one of them depicting funk legend James Brown and the other R&B singer/songwriter Barry White—that generate precisely the same MD5 hash, e06723d4961a0a3f950e7786f3766338. The exercise—known in cryptographic circles as a hash collision—took just 10 hours and cost only 65 cents plus tax to complete using a GPU instance on Amazon Web Service. In 2007, cryptography expert and HashClash creator Marc Stevens estimated it would require about one day to complete an MD5 collision using a cluster of PlayStation 3 consoles.

The 2012 exercise was Flame, which was espionage malware (almost certainly from the US).


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