Start up: periodic Health, iPods not guilty, Xiaomi’s reprieve, Samsung’s pay plan, Sony’s TV squeeze, and more


NOT GUILTY YOUR HONOUR. Photo by Jacob Christensen on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Do not return after lighting. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How self-tracking apps exclude women >> The Atlantic

Rose Eveleth:

[Menstruation-tracking site] Monthly Info was really designed for Rivers, but she added a user signup system mostly because it was easy. And people signed up. A lot of people. “It kind of took off on its own from there and grew to over 100,000 users,” she said. “There was apparently a need for something like this, because it didn’t take much energy to make or grow.” Now, there are hundreds of period-tracking apps on the market. Considering the gender imbalance in tech, it’s fair to guess most of them are made by men. Rivers joked that it’s not hard to spot a fertility-tracking app designed by a man. They focus on moods (men want to know when their girlfriends are going to be grouchy) and treat getting pregnant like a level in a video game. “It feels like the product is mansplaining your own body to you,” said Rivers, who is now an engineer working on other projects. “‘We men don’t like to be blindsided by your hormonal impulses so we need to track you, like you’re a parking meter.’”

Utterly brilliant article. To my great embarrassment, I’d never noticed that Apple’s Health app doesn’t include an option to record days when you menstruate – which for 50% of the population is a really big deal, and a significant omission. (And nobody pointed it out to me, until now.)

But as Eveleth shows, it’s a problem that’s common across the whole “tracking” field. (Also: 420 comments. None of the ones I scanned worth any of your time.)


Jury finds Apple not guilty of harming consumers in iTunes DRM case >> The Verge

An eight-person jury has decided that Apple is not on the hook for what could have been more than $1bn in a trial centering on extra security measures the company added to iTunes and iPods starting in 2006.

Delivering a unanimous verdict today, the group said Apple’s iTunes 7.0, released in the fall of 2006, was a “genuine product improvement,” meaning that new features (though importantly increased security) were good for consumers. Plaintiffs in the case unsuccessfully argued that those features not only thwarted competition, but also made Apple’s products less useful since customers could not as easily use purchased music or jukebox software from other companies with the iPod.

The decision means Apple did not violate antitrust laws, something that would have potentially led to damages of more than $1bn.

Plaintiff’s (singular) attorney planning an appeal. Here’s part of what his summing up against Apple said:

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy, and I’ve been living on Snickers bars for the past couple weeks. Now if the Snickers bar was bigger, or contained more chocolate, that would be better. But if that Snickers bar had a preservative in it that was toxic — that was lethal — that would not be an improved Snickers bar.

This probably had the effect of making the jury both hungry and unsure if he was all there.


Xiaomi’s India ban partially lifted >> Tech In Asia

Last week, Chinese phone maker Xiaomi was hit with a sales ban in India. Today, that has been partially lifted by the Delhi High Court, reports The Hindu.

Today’s ruling allows Xiaomi to sell only Qualcomm-powered smartphones in India, and only until January 8, 2015. This allows Xiaomi to sell three of the four models it had launched in India – the Redmi Note 4G, the Mi3, and the Redmi 1S. The MediaTek-powered Redmi Note remains fully banned.

This is a temporary reprieve for Xiaomi – its intellectual property battle in India is far from over. We’ve contacted Xiaomi to ask when its online sales will recommence (Update: No comment for now).


Google faces €15m fines over privacy breaches in Netherlands >> The Guardian

Chris Johnston:

The search company is failing to abide by the data protection act in the Netherlands by taking users’ private information such as browsing history and location data to target them with customised ads, according to the country’s Data Protection Authority (DPA).

The Dutch regulator has given Google until the end of February to change how it handles the data it collects from individual web users.

Google has also been under investigation in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain for its handling of user data since introducing new company guidelines two years ago.

Jacob Kohnstamm, DPA chairman, said: “This has been ongoing since 2012 and we hope our patience will no longer be tested.”

Holland isn’t alone – other European countries are looking to fine Google over this. The amounts, though, are piddling compared to its profits.


Samsung in talks with LoopPay for wireless phone payments >> Re/code

Jason Del Rey:

Samsung has discussed a deal with a payments startup that would help the smartphone maker unveil a wireless mobile payments system in 2015 to rival Apple, according to multiple sources.

The technology would allow people with certain Samsung phones to pay in the vast majority of brick-and-mortar stores by waving their phones instead of swiping with a credit card or cash.

It is not yet clear if Samsung has reached a deal with the startup, Burlington, Mass.-based LoopPay. One source said the deal could still fall apart. A prototype of the payments system working on a Samsung phone has been created, the other source said…

…LoopPay’s technology can wirelessly transmit the same information stored on a debit or credit card’s magnetic stripe to a store’s checkout equipment without swiping a card.

1) It’s a copy of the credit/debit card details, so not as secure as Apple Pay (which sends a one-time encrypted version, aka “tokenisation”). LoopPay “hopes” to use tokenisation.

2) How long before Google shows up at Samsung’s door and tells it to quit harshing on Google Wallet’s mellow?


When does your OS run? >> Gustavo Duarte

Here’s a question: in the time it takes you to read this sentence, has your OS been running? Or was it only your browser? Or were they perhaps both idle, just waiting for you to do something already?

These questions are simple but they cut through the essence of how software works. To answer them accurately we need a good mental model of OS behavior, which in turn informs performance, security, and troubleshooting decisions. We’ll build such a model in this post series using Linux as the primary OS, with guest appearances by OS X and Windows. I’ll link to the Linux kernel sources for those who want to delve deeper.

The fundamental axiom here is that at any given moment, exactly one task is active on a CPU.

A good introduction for just what your computer is up to when you aren’t looking. Or are looking. Educational value: high.


Russia – heading for recession, mobile market will contract >> Counterpoint Technology Market Research

Peter Richardson:

The Russian mobile device market has held up surprisingly well in 2014. However device manufacturers, who have been swallowing price rises to a substantial degree so far, cannot hold out much longer. OEM’s supply chains are dollar denominated. We fully expect handset OEMs will start passing on the higher Ruble prices to their channels and likely to the end consumer. A device with an ex-factory price of $100 this time last year would have translated to 3300 Rubles. Today (16th December 2014), the same device costs over 7100 Rubles. Given how tight margins are, no OEM can swallow that rate of change.

Most consumers will tend, on average, to pay approximately the same amount when they change their mobile phone. Given the rapid advance in technology this means that someone upgrading after two years will be able to buy a substantially better product than the one they have been using. Displays, processors, memory size, camera sensors and other parts of the phones improve at greater or lesser speeds, but all do improve.

However for the Russian consumer in 2015, this will no longer hold true.

He forecasts a total market of about 40-44m devices in 2015, down from 51m or so in 2014. “Super-premium” products won’t be affected as much – the rich tend to stay rich (or are non-ruble-denominated, so they actually get richer).


Comments aren’t dead. They’re just broken. — Medium

Mat Yurow (of the New York Times’s audience development team):

Currently, comment threads do a lousy job of surfacing the best content — paving the way for vitriol to rise to the top. Again, much of this can be attributed to design.

As previously stated, comments about an article are typically aggregated in a single module at the bottom of the page. But what exactly is someone supposed to comment on at the bottom of the article? A specific passage, the article as a whole, the weather? Without any sort of direction, it’s easy to image how things can spiral out of control.

Conversation requires context. Context provides the connectivity and relevance that users have come to expect on the internet. In an era of algorithms, we are conditioned to expect a personalized and finely-curated experience across the web.

Medium’s method of putting “comments” out of sight beside the actual article is better, but still doesn’t answer the argument – which also arises – of how, exactly, comments are meant to feed into the story above/beside. Is the story meant to change because of the comments? What’s their purpose, other than to show that people have fingers and keyboards?


Sony’s TV business mends, but will it be enough? – WSJ

Eric Pfranner and Takashi Mochizuki:

In the third quarter of this year, Sony had an 8% share of TV revenue world-wide, well behind Samsung Electronics Co. at 27% and LG Electronics Inc., another South Korean manufacturer, at 15%, according to research firm DisplaySearch. Sony predicts sales in its home entertainment and sound segment, which includes TVs as well as hi-fi systems, DVD players and other audiovisual devices, will shrink to around ¥1.1trn ($9.2bn) in its fiscal year ending in March 2018. For the current year, the company is expecting segment sales to rise slightly to ¥1.2trn.

The TV unit will post a slim operating profit for this year, with the margin rising to between 2% and 4% by fiscal 2018, Sony forecasts.

Some analysts say that short of a 5% margin, it makes little sense for Sony to keep making TVs, and the company should focus instead on its more promising operations, including PlayStation videogames, smartphone camera sensors, movies and television programming.

The TV set business is so cut-throat that it’s incredible. Sony’s business, meanwhile, is suffering death by a thousand cuts: first the PC, then the TV, until it has just the Playstation, components and Sony Pictures Entertainment to bolster it. And the latter isn’t having a great time lately.


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