Start up: Apple v Samsung, Microsoft + Cyanogen, how three bits can end your privacy, and more

You think you’re anonymous, but with three points of data you’re probably not. Photo by mripp on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Available in other colours. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft to invest in rogue Android startup Cyanogen » WSJ

Rolfe Winkler and Shira Ovide say it’s going to be a minority investor in a $70m round:

Google has frustrated manufacturers in recent years by requiring them to feature Google apps and set Google search as the default for users, in exchange for access to the search engine, YouTube, or the millions of apps in its Play Store.

Such restrictions make it harder for apps that compete with Google’s to win distribution on Android devices. For Microsoft, that means less exposure for its Bing search engine, which is up against Google search. It also could limit growth of other Microsoft software products.

Cyanogen offers an alternate version of the Android mobile operating system free of such restrictions. The 80-person company claims to have a volunteer army of 9,000 software developers working on its own version of Android.

“We’re going to take Android away from Google,” said Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen’s chief executive, in a brief interview last week. The next day, at an industry event sponsored by tech news service The Information, McMaster said Cyanogen had raised $100 million to date. Previously the company had disclosed that it raised $30 million of funding. The company spokeswoman declined to make McMaster available for this story.

McMaster said more than 50 million people use a version of the Cyanogen Android operating system, most of whom have installed it in place of their phone’s initial operating system.

Nokia X didn’t do it; might Cyanogen be the route for Microsoft to get its services onto AOSP?

Unique in the shopping mall: On the reidentifiability of credit card metadata » Science

Science magazine has a special this week on data and privacy. Here, it looks at how many data points are needed to identify someone uniquely:

To provide a quantitative assessment of the likelihood of identification from financial data, we used a data set D of 3 months of credit card transactions for 1.1 million users in 10,000 shops in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country (Fig. 1). The data set was simply anonymized, which means that it did not contain any names, account numbers, or obvious identifiers. Each transaction was time-stamped with a resolution of 1 day and associated with one shop. Shops are distributed throughout the country, and the number of shops in a district scales with population density (r2 = 0.51, P < 0.001) (fig. S1).

How many data points for identification? Three.

In a near tie, Apple closes the gap on Samsung in the fourth quarter as worldwide smartphone shipments top 1.3bn for 2014 » IDC

Ryan Reith:

“First, at a time when average selling prices (ASPs) for smartphone are rapidly declining, Apple managed to increase its reported ASPs in the fourth quarter due to higher-cost new models. Second, the growth of iPhone sales in both the U.S., which is considered a saturated market, and China, which presents the dual challenges of strong local competitors and serious price sensitivity, were remarkable. Sustaining this growth and higher ASPs a year from now could prove challenging, but right now there is no question that Apple is leading the way.”

In 2013 IDC talked about the smartphone industry topping the 1 billion unit milestone, and while year-over-year growth did slow from 40.5% in 2013 to 27.6% in 2014, the market clearly still has legs. This past year volumes surpassed 1.3 billion units and the vendor scenario has witnessed continued shakeups. Growth is forecast to decline to the mid-teens in 2015, but opportunity exists as much of the world’s population is either not a wireless subscriber or has yet to move to a smartphone.

“That the worldwide smartphone market grew by 27.6% in 2014 is noteworthy, but it also represents a significant slowdown compared to 2013,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team. “Mature markets have become increasingly dependent on replacement purchases rather than first-time buyers, which has contributed to slower growth. In emerging markets, first-time buyers continue to provide a lot of market momentum, but the focus has shifted toward low-cost devices, creating a different dynamic for both global and local vendors.

IDC reckons Apple was 0.6m behind Samsung. Strategy Analytics reckons Samsung was ahead. Counterpoint reckons Apple was ahead. Samsung, in its results call, said it sold (maybe “shipped”) 95m handsets (including featurephones) in Q4, of which “71m to 76m” were smartphones.

You have to love the intentional inaccuracy in Samsung’s statement. It knows how many it shipped.

Samsung’s mobile profits plunge 64.2% after Apple’s iPhone 6 devastates premium Galaxy sales » Apple Insider

Yeah yeah, but this is one of the more interesting points:

Apple’s overall operating profits for the quarter were $24.2bn, up 36.9% over the year-ago quarter. That means Samsung Mobile is now earning less than 7.5% of Apple’s profits while still shipping more phone units.

Apple’s net (after tax) profits were $18bn for the quarter, provisioning $6.4 billion for tax payments. Samsung reported just $230m in income taxes, an effective tax rate of 4.5%.

Apple’s effective tax rate is 26.4%.

Strange, especially given Apple’s tax shenanigans (profits earned abroad sit in an American company offshore in Ireland: the US won’t tax them because they’re offshore, the Irish won’t tax them because they’re American) that Samsung is able to go so much lower.

Never trust a corporation to do a library’s job » Medium

Andy Baio:

Two months ago, Larry Page said the company’s outgrown its 14-year-old mission statement. Its ambitions have grown, and its priorities have shifted.

Google in 2015 is focused on the present and future. Its social and mobile efforts, experiments with robotics and artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles and fiberoptics.

As it turns out, organizing the world’s information isn’t always profitable. Projects that preserve the past for the public good aren’t really a big profit center. Old Google knew that, but didn’t seem to care.

The desire to preserve the past died along with 20% time, Google Labs, and the spirit of haphazard experimentation.

Google may have dropped the ball on the past, but fortunately, someone was there to pick it up.

The Internet Archive stands at least alongside Wikipedia (and perhaps ahead of it?) as one of the great efforts of the internet.

Visa Europe to spend €200m on digital payment technologies » Finextra

Nicolas Huss, chief executive officer of Visa Europe, bills 2015 as a defining year for digital payments.

“We will further eat away at the 70% of transactions that are still settled in cash in Europe,” he says. “We will make use of the abundance of digital technology that now surrounds us to enable new digital payment solutions. And, most importantly, we will deliver an even better quality of service to retailers and consumers alike by making payment simpler, smarter and more secure than ever before.”

One could interpret that to mean that Visa is going to be a partner with Apple in introducing ApplePay in Europe in 2015.

Huawei to focus on higher-end smartphones » WSJ

“If we sold more low-end phones, we could even double our shipments…but in the low-end market there is no margin,” said Richard Yu, who heads Huawei’s consumer business group, at a briefing at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen Tuesday.

Huawei expects more than 30% of its consumer devices shipped this year will be priced above 2,000 yuan ($320), up from 18% last year.

Competition in the global smartphone market is intensifying and while Apple Inc. dominates the high-end segment globally, most vendors selling smartphones that use Google Inc.’s Android operating system are struggling to set themselves apart from rivals.

Mr. Yu said most low-cost vendors from China will likely disappear in three to five years because their business models aren’t sustainable. “There are too many brands in this industry,” he said.

Huawei is developing a habit of telling it like it is. Recall that it said there was no money to be made selling Windows Phone either.

Qualcomm falls 9% on China competition, implies lost Samsung business »

Qualcomm implied its chip has, indeed, missed the initial shipments of Samsung’s “Galaxy S6” flagship phone, expected out next month, which has been rumored in the last couple of weeks, without Qualcomm actually mentioning Samsung:

A shift in share among OEMs at the premium tier, which has reduced our near-term opportunity for sales of our integrated Snapdragon™ processors and has skewed our product mix towards more modem chipsets in this tier; Expectations that our Snapdragon 810 processor will not be in the upcoming design cycle of a large customer’s flagship device; and Heightened competition in China.

It feels – taken together with Samsung’s results – as though Samsung is aiming to use its own Exynos processors, in order to get the maximum use (and so profit) from its chip factories; if LG can get the 810 into a phone without trouble, as seems to be the case, Samsung probably can.

The other Chinese competition is principally from TSMC and Mediatek.

At least 30% of China-based white-box tablet vendors exit market, says report » Digitimes

As the average gross margin for China-based white-box tablet vendors/makers dropped below 5% in 2014, at least 30% of them have withdrawn from the market and shifted production to mobile power supplies, driving recorders and mobile device accessories, according to China-based National Business Daily (NBD).

White-box tablet production is concentrated in Shenzhen, southern China, and retail prices for such tablets mostly range from CNY299 (US$48.4) to CNY399, NBD said.

That’s pretty thin pickings, but suggests the low end of the market is getting cleared out.

One week of harassment on Twitter » Feminist Frequency

Anita Sarkeesian:

Ever since I began my Tropes vs Women in Video Games project, two and a half years ago, I’ve been harassed on a daily basis by irate gamers angry at my critiques of sexism in video games. It can sometimes be difficult to effectively communicate just how bad this sustained intimidation campaign really is. So I’ve taken the liberty of collecting a week’s worth of hateful messages sent to me on Twitter. The following tweets were directed at my @femfreq account between 1/20/15 and 1/26/15.

I’d really like to see an analysis that looks at when the abusive accounts were created, and what sort of use they are put to if they aren’t being abusive. There are two competing hypotheses: one, that it’s the work of a small and super-determined coterie who create abusive accounts; two, that it’s a large group of real people who are all just jerks. Hard to figure out which would be worse.

Start up: Douglas Adams’s living video game, Sony cuts, Microsoft’s future, haunted empires and more

How To Train Your Dragon was a success for Dreamworks, but other films aren’t. Picture by donielle on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Samsung patents home-screen backup and transfer solution » Phandroid

No major smartphone manufacturer has yet to create a solution for copying home screen setups from one device to another. It’s a feature we’ve been hoping to see in Android from Google’s own ingenuity for quite some time, but someone seems to have beaten them to the punch.

Samsung’s latest patent details a software solution that would allow a user to configure a home-screen and copy it to another remote device. The details in the patent are very specific about the process, but an abstract look at the thing reveals a few different possible scenarios…

Umm, “no major smartphone manufacturer”? Apple has had this backup thing called iCloud since 2011 which lets you create a phone that clones your previous layout, apps, settings, everything. Commenters also mention an app called Nova – and say that Lollipop does it anyway.

Sony to cut 1,000 jobs in smartphone business, says Nikkei » Re/code

Sony plans to cut another 1,000 jobs in its smartphone division, mainly in Europe and China, the Nikkei business daily reported.

The cuts are in addition to the 1,000 jobs Sony said it would eliminate in its mobile unit in October, the Nikkei said.

Overall, Sony’s mobile division workforce will shrink by about 30% to 5,000 by the end of the fiscal year ending March 2016, the report said.

Can’t remember when I saw a report of Sony expanding a division. (Maybe the PlayStation division does it quietly.) Of course, contract manufacturing means you don’t need a gigantic dedicated workforce to make a lot of phones. Just the right workforce.

My thesis on Microsoft » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson:

I see a downward trajectory over time in sales of Windows in total, even accounting for the many different form factors Windows runs on. As such, last quarter’s poor performance in Windows sales is much more indicative of the longer-term trend than short-term headwinds. I see Windows 10 slowing the decline a little, but I actually think the free upgrades could stall or postpone new device purchases for some users, which may be counterproductive in the short term. I don’t see Windows 10 solving any of the fundamental challenges I just outlined.

Software sales to consumers will shrink to zero

To my mind, the other major question about Microsoft’s future is its ability to continue to sell software to consumers for a price. I’ve talked for some time now about the fact that, in Microsoft’s two major software categories (OS and productivity), its two major competitors and essentially every other company now give their software away for free.

Hard to argue with any part of this. The downward pressure on Microsoft is inescapable. Strange that at a time when software is eating the world, the ability to charge for it is vanishing.

Haunted Empire » Asymco

Horace Dediu:

I’ve often said that corporate governance is medieval, or pre-scientific in its approach to understanding causality. That may be too generous. As far as the reward/punishment system (also known as Human Resources) it’s probably pre-neolithic. The luxuries and extravagance which we heap upon the leader provide abundant evidence. Leaders insist on these ironic “pay packages” and boards approve them because they know they can and will be ritualistically sacrificed if and when the mobs turn against them.

A manager would be a fool to accept even generous pay given the risk, actually near certainty, of ritualistic slaughter. They demand and are unquestionably given absurd pay that has no relationship to performance. Such pay has no relationship to performance because it isn’t designed to reward performance but to account for the risk of arbitrary and very public sacrifice. Boards (and hence shareholders) are deliberately hiring a scapegoat for sins as yet unknown. Luxury and violence are thus finely balanced in what is called “Executive Search”.

A finely-judged thumb in the eye for a lot of management speak, and for a book about Apple.. oh, what was the name…

How DreamWorks Animation can claw its way back » The Hollywood Reporter

The maker of Shrek is in financial trouble:

And while the film unit is clearly troubled — four of the last six movies have resulted in write-downs (Rise of the Guardians, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Turbo and Penguins of Madagascar) — Katzenberg has put new co-presidents (Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria) in charge of filmmaking and is making good on his 2013 promise to diversify “from an animated feature film company into a multifaceted, branded-entertainment company.” For its most recent quarter, DWA reported a $46.4m loss, but its television segment showed a $2.3m profit and consumer products posted a $4.2m profit.

There also are signs that its digital acquisition AwesomenessTV is profitable (DWA reported a $1.2m profit attributed to “other items,” which consists largely of Awesomeness). DWA paid $33m for Awesomeness in 2013 with a potential earn-out of another $115m. Instead, DWA settled the earn-out last year for $80m then sold 25% of Awesomeness to Hearst Corp. for $81.3m. The net result is that DWA paid about $33m for a 75% stake in a fast-growing, potentially highly profitable digital asset that has a perceived value of more than $300m.

But by focusing on expansion and diversification, Katzenberg acknowledges he might have been distracted from job No. 1: making profitable movies.

Contrast with Pixar, bought by Disney and still turning out successful films – yet always focussing on the story, and not just churning them out. Pixar, of course, was made successful by Steve Jobs. And it retains its focus.

The Apple Watch: The next big thing or living on borrowed time? » Harvard Business School

From September 2014:

Q Do you think the Apple Watch will fundamentally change our lives in a similar way the iPhone and iPad did?

Ryan Raffaelli, Harvard Business School assistant professor: We often define radical innovations as “competency- destroying,” meaning that they render all related products and services in the same market category obsolete. While the Apple Watch is certainly the most advanced smartwatch on the market today, I’m not sure it fits the traditional definition of a “radical” innovation. For instance, it is unlikely the Apple Watch will have the same transformative effect on society as other life-changing innovations throughout history – think about the steamship’s impact on the sailing industry, how the personal computer ended the use of typewriters, or how electronic fuel injection systems replaced carburettors.

The news that the Apple Watch isn’t as radical as the steamship or fuel injection will, surely, persuade Jony Ive once and for all that it’s time to give it up and head off into the sunset.

BlackPwn: BlackPhone SilentText type confusion vulnerability » Azimuth Security

In the phone market, one of the premier products to be released in recent years is undoubtedly the BlackPhone (, which has been cited numerous times in tech publications as being one of the best available defences against mass surveillance, as it provides full end-to-end encryption facilities for voice calls and text/MMS messaging.

While exploring my recently purchased BlackPhone, I discovered that the messaging application contains a serious memory corruption vulnerability that can be triggered remotely by an attacker.  If exploited successfully, this flaw could be used to gain remote arbitrary code execution on the target’s handset. The code run by the attacker will have the privileges of the messaging application, which is a standard Android application with some additional privileges. Specifically, it is possible to:

• decrypt messages / commandeer SilentCircle account
• gather location information
• read contacts
• write to external storage
• run additional code of the attacker’s choosing (such as a privilege escalation exploit aimed at gaining root or kernel-mode access, thus taking complete control of the phone)

How surprising that people would believe a claim made by a company about having excellent security.

The secret Douglas Adams RPG people have been playing for 15 years » Kotaku

Fantastic tale from Lewis Packwood:

Yoz [Grahame] then quickly forgot all about the employee forum, but six months later he happened to take a quick peek. And there were ten thousand posts in there.

Bearing in mind that the forum was buried deep within the website and was (just about) password secured, this was a phenomenal result. But even more fascinatingly, the forum had evolved into an extension of the game itself.

Visitors to the forum had created fictional employees and passengers on the Starship Titanic and begun role playing as them. Someone would make up an implausible, Adams-esque scenario, and everyone else would react to it in character, resulting in some enormously complex storylines and in-jokes that developed and diversified over years. And this strange fictional world had appeared entirely spontaneously, without any input from Douglas Adams or The Digital Village. Indeed, Yoz was as surprised as anyone when he stumbled across it: “It was like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera,” he says.

I loved Starship Titanic. Not least because there were two alternative endings, diametrically opposed in their result.

A pirated version of the Assassin’s Creed application for Android is bundled with malware » 0xicf


The Trojanized variety of the Assassin’s Creed application has the potential to be quite potent, because when a user downloads it, what he or she is actually downloading is malware. The malware in turn downloads a fully functional, pirated version of the actual application. The gaming app works as advertised, so the standard mobile gamer is going to have a tough time realizing that the package they’ve downloaded is malicious…

…The malicious application is capable of sending multi-part text messages, harvesting text messages from a victim’s device, and sending stolen information to a remote Command & Control (C2) server. We were able to locate phone numbers belonging to Russian bank “Volga-Vyatka Bank of Sberbank of Russia” in the malicious application code for which SMS messages are being intercepted to steal sensitive information.


Start up: Google v security redux, how your browser can track you, unboiling eggs (really), Android MVNO = flop, and more

Don’t worry, we’ll soon have that nice and runny for you. Photo by Sidereal on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Avoid contact with hands. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

This guy found a way to block robocalls when phone companies wouldn’t » WIRED

Robert McMillan:

Aaron Foss won a $25,000 cash prize from the Federal Trade Commission for figuring out how eliminate all those annoying robocalls that dial into your phone from a world of sleazy marketers.

The year was 2013. Using a little telephone hackery, Foss found a way of blocking spammers while still allowing the emergency alert service and other legitimate entities to call in bulk. Basically, he re-routed all calls through a service that would check them against a whitelist of legitimate operations and a blacklist of spammers, and this little trick was so effective, he soon parlayed it into a modest business.

Last year, his service, called Nomorobo, blocked 15.1 million robocalls. He uses cloud computing services—primarily Amazon Web Services and Twilio—to block Florida timeshare sellers and fake Microsoft support gurus from the 190,000 VOIP customers1 who use his free product.

I know, you’re saying “Where do I sign up??” Except for this addendum to the story:

113:00 EST. Correction. An earlier version of this story stated that the Nomorobo service works with mobile phones. It runs on VOIP phones only.


How you can be tracked by your browser’s fingerprint and how you can stop it » CompTutor

You have your browser set to Private Browsing or Incognito mode where it doesn’t store coookies or history. You load up your favorite VPN, Tor, or I2P and are thinking, “I am totally secure and no one can track me now.” Wrong. You still are possibly leaving a digital fingerprint or browser fingerprint behind. Just because you have a secure computer and can change your IP, people can still find you. Browser Fingerprinting is how some agencies have been able to identify people even through Tor or a VPN.

The EFF, or Electronic Frontier Foundation, discovered this a few years ago and has set up a website to demonstrate their findings. Check out the website below, run their fingerprinting test, and see if your online fingerprint is unique to you out of everyone they have tested. I’m guessing it will be.

It’s “canvas fingerprinting”, which has already found favour with Google, and relies on characteristics of HTML5-capable browsers.

Microsoft is no longer manufacturing the Surface 2 » The Verge

The big unmentioned detail there is that it’s the end of the line for Windows RT, which everyone except for Microsoft had already given up on. Its future looked even bleaker during Microsoft’s Windows 10 announcements last week, with the company saying that the new OS was not coming to the Surface RT or Surface 2, its last remaining Windows RT devices.

The Surface 2 debuted near in the fall of 2013 as a successor to the Surface RT, which received a lukewarm response and ended up costing Microsoft millions in stock that did not sell. It was thinner and lighter than the previous model, and also had a considerably better display, but was still stymied by Windows RT, which did not support traditional Windows programs.

RT’s really dead now, Jim.

Android Wi-Fi Direct vulnerability disclosed » Threatpost

Michael Mimoso:

Google and Core Security are at odds over the severity of a vulnerability affecting a number of Android mobile devices, details of which were released by the security vendor today.

The issue was reported to the Android security team on Sept. 26 and in subsequent communication between the two parties, the severity of the vulnerability was debated, culminating today with Core’s disclosure. Google three times acknowledged Core’s report and request for a timeline on a patch, and each time Google said it did not have one.

The flaw is a remotely exploitable denial-of-service vulnerability in Wi-Fi-Direct, a standard that allows wireless devices to connect directly. The implementation is used not only between Android devices, but also printers, cameras, PCs and more.

So here’s Google not fixing new flaws in Android. Shouldn’t Core Security feel justified in releasing exploit code and full details?

Read on for Google justifying not fixing old code in Android….

Google defends policy that leaves most Android devices unpatched » Computerworld

Remember the WebView weaknesses that had everyone jumping up and down because around 60% of Android devices that hit Google Play (and potentially many more altogether) are vulnerable? Gregg Keizer followed up:

“Until recently, we have also provided backports for the version of WebKit that is used by WebView on Android 4.3 and earlier,” wrote Adrian Ludwig, Android lead security engineer on Google+. “But WebKit alone is over 5 million lines of code and hundreds of developers are adding thousands of new commits every month, so in some instances applying vulnerability patches to a two-plus-year-old branch of WebKit required changes to significant portions of the code and was no longer practical to do safely.”

So it’s too much trouble for Google to fix code that’s over two years old, but it feels justified in publicising security flaws – and exploit code – for Windows and OSX? What’s that Biblical saying about beams and motes?

‘Thunderstrike’ attack also fixed in OS X 10.10.2 » iMore

Rene Ritchie:

“Thunderstrike” is the name for an attack that can target Mac hardware via the Thunderbolt port. Apple had previously updated the Retina 5K iMac and 2014 Mac mini to partially secure them against Thunderstrike. Now, the upcoming OS X Yosemite 10.10.2 will fix the problem for all recent Macs running Yosemite.

Thunderstrike was explained here: it requires physical access or very good social engineering. Good that it’s being fixed for “all recent Macs running Yosemite”; bad that it isn’t going further back. (Is it even possible to fix it further back? Nobody seems to know for sure.)

Why an Apple-featured indie dev abandoned iOS in favor of PC » Gamasutra

Alex Wawro:

what’s more interesting about [Erik] Asmussen’s current project, at least from a developer’s perspective, isn’t so much where it is now as where it isn’t — namely, Apple’s App Store.

Like many developers, Asmussen quit his job a few years ago to dive into mobile development full-time; but despite some significant success with mobile games like PWN: Combat Hacking, Asmussen has decided to devote himself to PC development.

“I finally gave up on iOS after I got a ‘Best New Games’ feature and saw how little revenue that actually brought in,” Asmussen tells me, via email. “The risk/reward profile was just terrible, combined with annoying barriers like having to put all updates through a review process. So I decided to switch to PC. That has proven to be a good decision by any measure.”

Why? Because

his final mobile game, PWN: Combat Hacking, earned roughly $10k in its launch month.

“Which sounds cool, until you consider that it took a year to build and about $3-4K in art,” adds Asmussen. “And that that figure is in the top percentile of indie mobile games. And that it got the biggest app store feature short of the top banner.”

Asmussen laments the fact that mobile game makers often can’t get people into their games until after they’re released, and believes that developing PC games for Steam’s Early Access service is more empowering for small-scale developers.

(Thanks @Jaykannan for the link.)

Apple reports record first quarter results » Apple

The results were fueled by all-time record revenue from iPhone® and Mac® sales as well as record performance of the App Store℠. iPhone unit sales of 74.5m also set a new record.

“We’d like to thank our customers for an incredible quarter, which saw demand for Apple products soar to an all-time high,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Our revenue grew 30 percent over last year to $74.6bn, and the execution by our teams to achieve these results was simply phenomenal.” 

Oh, yeah, this happened. Not quite a record for Mac shipments (that happened in the previous quarter) but those iPhone numbers? That is phenomenal execution, as Cook says. It’s so easily overlooked that there’s no value in all the brand stuff and marketing if you can’t actually deliver product to people. Between Apple and Samsung, that’s about half of the smartphone market sewn up.

Chemists find a way to unboil eggs » Phys Org

Janet Wilson on news that will delight, well, anyone?

Like many researchers, he has struggled to efficiently produce or recycle valuable molecular proteins that have a wide range of applications but which frequently “misfold” into structurally incorrect shapes when they are formed, rendering them useless.

“It’s not so much that we’re interested in processing the eggs; that’s just demonstrating how powerful this process is,” [Gregory] Weiss [professor of chemistry and molecular biology at UCal at Irvine] said. “The real problem is there are lots of cases of gummy proteins that you spend way too much time scraping off your test tubes, and you want some means of recovering that material.”

But older methods are expensive and time-consuming: The equivalent of dialysis at the molecular level must be done for about four days. “The new process takes minutes,” Weiss noted. “It speeds things up by a factor of thousands.”

To re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled, he and his colleagues add a urea substance that chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material. That’s half the process; at the molecular level, protein bits are still balled up into unusable masses. The scientists then employ a vortex fluid device, a high-powered machine designed by Professor Colin Raston’s laboratory at South Australia’s Flinders University. Shear stress within thin, microfluidic films is applied to those tiny pieces, forcing them back into untangled, proper form.

Unspilling milk next, I hope.

5 reasons why a Google MVNO would fail » FierceWireless

Phil Goldstein enumerates them rather clearly. Summarised, they are:
1) engineering phones and networks is difficult (you can’t get one phone to join both T-Mobile and Sprint in the US as they use GSM and CDMA)
2) Google would need customer service centres and distribution – outside its core competency
3) incumbent carriers spend billions on ads, and have inbuilt advantages
4) the service wouldn’t be differentiated, and what’s the target audience?
5) if it doesn’t get scale, Google might kill it.

His article goes into much more detail. It feels persuasive.

Start up: web design for 2015, Nexus 6’s long slipway, hacking journalism under threat?, Zoë Keating v YouTube redux, and more

In 2012 the Nexus 6 designers were expecting to deal with these to unlock the phone. Photo by kevin dooley on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Refrigerate before use. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The challenge for web designers in 2015 (or how to cheat at the future) » Memespring

Richard Pope:

The 7 years of the Apple App Store and the android equivalents have, in effect, been mass, micro funded experiments in UI design for small, touch sensitive devices with lots of sensors and outputs. They have generated winning patterns like:

Checkboxes replaced by switches
Edit without save button
Everything can be contextual, any bit of UI can disappear between pages
Everything has it’s own settings page
Floating buttons
Keeping primary navigation off canvas (hidden behind the page)
Minimal or zero page header (the context an old school page header / nav gives seems less important when you are holding the app in your hand.)
Multiple, focused apps for the same service
Offline by default
Overscroll to refresh
Reserving dropdown menus for actions on the current context
Search scoped to their current context (the app)
These are patterns that people use day in day out on facebook, Gmail and WhatsApp. These are the new normal, what people expect.

But with a few notable exceptions – eg the mobile versions of Wikipedia and Forecast – these are not patterns that are making their way on to the web.

So, here is the challenge for anyone designing and building for the web in 2015.

He also points out what you can do with HTML5 browsers now too. Worth considering.

Dennis Woodside on Motorola, Google and the future of Dropbox » Telegraph

Matt Warman spoke to Woodside, formerly chief executive at Motorola, and now chief operating officer at Dropbox:

the 6-inch Nexus 6, he can now admit, was stymied by just one of those big players [which he previously criticised for keeping prices high]. A dimple on the back that helps users hold the device should, in fact, have been rather more sophisticated. “The secret behind that is that it was supposed to be fingerprint recognition, and Apple bought the best supplier. So the second best supplier was the only one available to everyone else in the industry and they weren’t there yet,” says Woodside. Nonetheless, he adds, the addition of fingerprint recognition, “wouldn’t have made that big a difference.”

Here’s what’s interesting about this. Apple bought Authentec in mid-2012 (for $356m). The Nexus 6 was released in September 2014. Motorola’s development of that smartphone was so far in train that it didn’t have time to change the design of the back fascia from dimpled to flat.

Smartphones take two or more years to design and implement. Consider that: what comes out now was being worked on in early 2013.

Kudos to Woodside for admitting fingerprint recognition wouldn’t have made much difference. As it wasn’t being tied into a payment system, it would have been a gimmick – and those don’t add lasting value.

We should all step back from security journalism » Medium

Quinn Norton:

Part of Barrett Brown’s 63 month sentence, issued yesterday, is a 12 month sentence for a count of Accessory After the Fact, of the crime of hacking Stratfor. This sentence was enhanced by Brown’s posting a link in chat and possessing credit card data. This, and a broad pattern of misunderstanding and criminalizing normal behavior online, has lead me to feel that the situation for journalists and security researchers is murky and dangerous.

I am stepping back from reporting on hacking/databreach stories, and restricting my assistance to other journalists to advice. (But please, journalists, absolutely feel free to ask me for advice!) I can’t look at the specific data another journalist has, and I can’t pass it along to a security expert, without feeling like there’s risk to the journalists I work with, the security experts, and myself.

Brown’s sentence wasn’t quite as simple as “linking to stolen stuff”, but Norton’s concern is understandable – especially given the tendency of US law enforcement to go like a runaway train after hackers, and those defined as hackers, of all stripes.

Zoe Keating’s experience shows us why YouTube’s attitudes to its creators must change » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan weighs in on the Zoë Keating row linked here on Monday:

it is the Content ID clause that is most nefarious. Content UD is not an added value service YouTube provides to content owners, it is the obligation of a responsible partner designed to help content creators protect their intellectual property. YouTube implemented Content ID in response to rights owners, labels in particular, who were unhappy about their content being uploaded by users without their permission. YouTube’s willingness to use Content ID as a contractual lever betrays a blatant disregard for copyright.

Ben Thompson is much more straightforward: on he analyses Keating’s position, and suggests – for her particular situation, as a niche player seeking the most eager fans – that she should tell YouTube to take a hike. Especially when you look at her income breakdown: 60,000 tracks (roughly) sold on iTunes generated $38,195, while 1.9m YouTube views (mostly of her music on other peoples’ videos) earned $1,248.

Would the iTunes sales have happened without the YouTube views? Quite possibly not – but using ContentID as a lever, as Mulligan says, is to aggressively deny her copyright.

Digital music sales on iTunes and beyond are now fading as fast as CDs. – The Atlantic

Derek Thompson has some shudder-making figures:

how about the hits? The top 1% of bands and solo artists now earn about 80% of all revenue from recorded music, as I wrote in “The Shazam Effect.”

But the market for streamed music is not so concentrated. The ten most-popular songs accounted for just shy of 2% of all streams in 2013 and 2014. That sounds crazy low. But there are 35m songs on Spotify and many more remixes and covers on SoundCloud and YouTube, and one in every 50 or 60 online plays is going to a top-ten song. With the entire universe of music available on virtual jukeboxes, the typical 3.5-hour listening session still includes at least one song selected from a top-ten playlist that accounts for .00003% of that universe. The long tail of digital music is the longest of tails. Still, there is a fat head at the front.

China buying more iPhones than US »

Analysts at UBS estimate that China accounted for 36% of iPhone shipments in the most recent quarter, compared with 24% for the US. During the same period last year, 29% of units were sold in the US and 22% were in China, UBS said.

Predictable enough, given the size of China, and the fact that the US is essentially saturated. The fact that two markets probably account for 60% of all iPhone shipments – around 36m phones in the quarter – is perhaps a concern for Apple. It’s much the same for Samsung: losing its lead in China has hurt it and left the US as its key market.

However, this rather gives the lie to those stories from September which said that Apple was washed up in China when smugglers had to cut prices of the iPhone 6 – ignoring the fact that the devices were going to go on sale officially in a few weeks. Nope, then the problem was that

Four years ago, the iPhone 4 was a status symbol, with the black market booming before the product was officially introduced. Today, the iPhone is simply one option among many, as local companies like Xiaomi and Meizu Technology rival Apple in terms of coolness while charging less than half the price.

Demographics of key social networking platforms » Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

Tons of demographic data (including age, ethnicity, gender, education, income and location) about the online over-18s in the US:
• 71% use Facebook (more women than men, strong in 18-29);
• 23% use Twitter (men strongly growing, skews towards degree-qualified);
• 26% use Instagram (53% of 18-29s; also strong among Hispanics and African-Americans);
• 28% use Pinterest (up from 21% in August 2013; 3:1 women:men, strongly skewed to white)
• 28% use LinkedIn, strongly up among women since 2013, but now equal across sexes; skews strongly to university education

The whole study is fascinating: Facebook growth is slowing down, but it’s still “home base”, and used most daily.

Start up: where’s Apple’s Hololens?, the Xiaomi copiers, CES or Skymall product?, YouTube’s tough licensing, and more

Where’s Apple in this virtual reality landscape? No iPhones there. A screenshot from the Drax files Oculus Rift view by draxtor on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Can be swapped for Green Shield stamps at participating stores. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple needs a Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality competitor » Business Insider

Dave Smith:

By all accounts, it sounds like augmented reality devices like these are “the next big thing.” And at this point, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Samsung, and others have invested hundreds of millions — even billions — of dollars into these new virtual and augmented reality experiences. 

Apple, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found. 

Oh no! And already millions– well, thousands– ok, hundreds.. er, dozens of people are using Oculus Rift, and Google has retreated on Google Glass. So where the hell is Apple in this.. race? Smith continues:

Last June, I wrote about how Apple’s patent for “interactive holograms” was one I wanted to see become a reality. Filed in October 2012 but published in April 2014, Apple had created a system that allows you to interact with projected images that appear to hang in mid-air, even letting you control and manipulate those virtual objects with the swipes and gestures iOS users are used to (pinch to zoom, etc.)

It’s not too late for Apple to use this patent.

Not too late? If anything, it’s way too early for Apple to use it. It seems people don’t learn the lessons of Google Wallet v Apple Pay, or Palm and RIM v the iPhone: throwing technology out there isn’t enough; you need the business and experience to fit in too.

5 new phone makers hoping to replicate Xiaomi’s success » Tech In Asia

Much more detail in the article, but the five brands (or sub-brands) are:
• Yu Yureka (by Micromax)
• Shenqi (by Lenovo)
• Ivvi (by Coolpad)
• OnePlus (born out of Oppo)
• Himax.

DNS poisoning slams web traffic from millions in China into the wrong hole » The Register

A widespread DNS outage hit China on Tuesday , leaving millions of surfers adrift.

DNS issues in China between 7am and 9am GMT left millions of domains inaccessible. Two-thirds of China’s DNS (Domain Name System) infrastructure was blighted by the incident, which stemmed from a cache poisoning attack.

Chinese netizens were left unable to visit websites or use social media and instant messaging services as a result of the screw-up, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reports.

The snafu, which affected China’s root servers, meant all queries resolve to the IP address A fix was implemented around two hours after the snag first surfaced.

Put like that, it sounds like “yeah, yeah”. But when it happens to you, as it did to Craig Hockenberry, it’s very different.

Quiz: CES gadget or SkyMall product? » PandoDaily

SkyMall produced an in-flight magazine selling “Innovations”-style products (as in, stupid, useless, and yet able to make you go “ooh!”), but has now filed for bankruptcy. David Holmes had the brilliant idea of making this quiz:

judging by some of the products that caught the media’s attention at CES this year, I’m not sure SkyMall and Silicon Valley are so far off in their passion for absurdity. The “Rollkers” at CES? Sounds a lot like these OrbitWheels sold through SkyMall. Or what about the “gTar”? Is it so different than the All-Star Guitar, which is basically a fake guitar you plug into an iPad? Can you even tell which one is from CES and which one is a SkyMall product?

I didn’t even try to score myself because I’d put them all in both category. But the fact that Holmes can confuse us at all shows what a microcosm of crap CES has become.

What should I do about Youtube? » Zoë Keating

Keating is a successful cellist whose videos have a respectable, if not mind-boggling, number of views:

My Google Youtube rep contacted me the other day. They were nice and took time to explain everything clearly to me, but the message was firm: I have to decide. I need to sign on to the new Youtube music services agreement or I will have my Youtube channel blocked.

This new music service agreement covers my Content ID account and it includes mandatory participation in Youtube’s new subscription streaming service, called Music Key, along with all that participation entails. Here are some of the terms I have problems with:

Must have ads, must be in 320kbps (nonsensical), can’t release elsewhere first, must allow all catalog in free and paid music service, five-year contract. Non-optional. Keating wants control; YouTube doesn’t want her to have control. And there seem to be strange goings-on in search:

Here is something weird. Until yesterday a search for “Zoe Keating” would yield a Google Knowledge Graph box on the right with all my info, including links to listen to my music. It always bugged me that those links were only to Google Play, Rhapsody and Spotify, all services which have hardly any of my music in them. If the metadata about me is really pure, why not link to the only services that actually have all my music? i.e. Bandcamp, SoundCloud and iTunes? I know the links were there yesterday because I searched to get the list for this blog. As of today, there are no music links whatsoever. Ideas?

Her sad conclusion: “The revolution has been corporatized.” And now read on..

Is Google playing fair with Android developers? » The Information

Transcript of long and really interesting interviews with various developers from The Information’s “Next Phase of Android” event held recently. Lots to consider, but I was struck by this:

Tom Moss, CEO of Nextbit: The next phase of Android is that people have finally shifted away from asking, “Is there going to be a third mobile platform?” or, “My friends all use iOS, so is Android a thing?” And now you can think, if you can’t compete with Android, you can compete with Google by co-opting Android. That’s what Kirt is doing. In my own game theory, I was thinking, “God, I hope Microsoft doesn’t adopt Android and come out with a bunch of services to grab market share.” It’s not the OS wars any more. It’s the services.

Kirt McMaster [CEO of Cyanogen]: This notion of a creating a Windows Phone or a Facebook phone is absurd. All of these guys have failed. We’re able to build on top of Android and make Android better. Now we’re opening up Android and partnering with everybody you can imagine. Google is running the table, and nobody likes that. We’ve emerged as the white horse that opens the entire platform up. We think this is where the innovation is going to happen.

(The piece is paywalled.) The idea that “Google is running the table, and nobody likes that” might sound surprising. Moss’s fear about Microsoft and services sounds like Nokia X – which still seems to me a tolerable idea, except that Google would make AOSP an unusable husk if Microsoft really made headway with it.

Smart mousetraps and lazy mice » Drop Labs

Cherian Abraham, explaining the – surprising – 6% figure (at peak) for fraud committed using Apple Pay according to early reports:

No, iPhones weren’t stolen and then used for unauthorized purchases, TouchID was not compromised, Credentials weren’t ripped out of Apple’s tamper proof secure element – nor the much feared but rarely attempted MITM attacks (capture and relay an NFC transmission at a different terminal). Instead fraudsters bought stolen consumer identities complete with credit card information, and convinced both software and manual checks that they were indeed a legitimate customer.

Partly, that’s because banks didn’t have very good checks (called the “Yellow Path” – is it an Oz reference?) to verify identity when someone wanted to enter a credit card onto a phone.

Apple bears some of the responsibility though:

In fact initially “Yellow Path” was marked optional for card issuers by Apple – which meant that only a couple of Issuers directed much focus at it. Apple reversed its decision and made it mandatory less than a month before launch – which led to issuers scrambling to build and provide this support. Why any bank would consider this optional is beyond me.

Either way, Card issuer implementations of the Apple Pay Yellow Path have proved to be inadequate.

It’s the whole insecure US credit system in microcosm.

Google suggesting Firefox users change their search engine & home page » Search Engine Land

Danny Sullivan on how Firefox users visiting Google are being encouraged to switch away from Yahoo:

I figured it was inevitable Google would do this, if the Firefox-Yahoo deal really did seem to be having an impact. Even the loss of a little share might be enough to scare investors. Certainly, I’ve taken enough calls from various press outlets wondering if the deal and subsequent share loss meant a big problem for Google.

My response has always been that if Google was worried, it could and would fight back in this type of manner. Now it is, and I suspect it will regain some of that share lost to Yahoo.

I also suspect Yahoo won’t gain much more search share than it has, because with the Firefox deal fully rolled out, it’s effectively hit a high water mark for all that particular channel is likely to produce.

“People can switch away any time.”

Start up: Apple Watch battery life, Amazon Echo reviewed, 3D lightning, dark web buying, Google MVNO only data?, and more

It’s fine, they’re all micro-USB. Photo by practicalowl on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Slippery when wet. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple targets for Apple Watch battery life revealed, A5-caliber CPU inside » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman (who has a good track record):

According to our sources, Apple opted to use a relatively powerful processor and high-quality screen for the Apple Watch, both of which contribute to significant power drain. Running a stripped-down version of iOS codenamed SkiHill, the Apple S1 chip inside the Apple Watch is surprisingly close in performance to the version of Apple’s A5 processor found inside the current-generation iPod touch, while the Retina-class color display is capable of updating at a fluid 60 frames per second.

Apple initially wanted the Apple Watch battery to provide roughly one full day of usage, mixing a comparatively small amount of active use with a larger amount of passive use. As of 2014, Apple wanted the Watch to provide roughly 2.5 to 4 hours of active application use versus 19 hours of combined active/passive use, 3 days of pure standby time, or 4 days if left in a sleeping mode.

Umm. 19 hours is.. 7am to 2am of the next day. That could work if you’re really prepared to recharge it daily. Begins to sound like work, though. In September I reckoned that “a watch that needs constant recharging isn’t a watch, it’s a burden”.

Amazon Echo review: listen up » The Verge

David Pierce:

Other than a blue-green light that flashes around the top of the canister, Alexa offers no real feedback while she works. So when a command fails to register, it just… fails. Sometimes she doesn’t hear me; sometimes she doesn’t know quite what I’m saying. In either case, she ignores me and just keeps on playing the 30-second preview of “Uptown Funk.” (This, by the way, is the one place where the Echo can actually buy things for you: just say “Buy that song,” and it’ll get added to your Prime library.)

The hardest thing about using the Echo is that I can’t get a firm grip on its limitations. If I knew not to ask it certain questions, or to always phrase questions certain ways, that would be fine. But I can’t explain why Alexa knows Andrew Jackson is the proper response to “Who was the seventh president of the United States?” but can’t tell me Thomas Jefferson was the third. I can stand right next to it, and it hears me fine… until it doesn’t.

For $200, hard to see the point. A phone can do much the same, and more besides. A Bluetooth speaker is cheaper. Was this a Bezos idea too?

3D lightning » Calculated Images

Richard Wheeler:

Reddit is a great website, where the ability to share and discuss things on the web gives some great little discoveries. Things that would otherwise seem impossibly unlikely, like two people in completely different places getting a photo of the same lightning bolt, suddenly pop up all the time.

And once you have that, you can do some maths and use a couple of assumptions, and draw what the bolt of lightning looked like in 3D space. Oh yes you can. (And again a year later.)

(The rest of the blog is quite fun too, apart from the entry about Elvish script. Not wanted on voyage.)

Apple, marketing, and black culture » Haywire

It isn’t discussed often, and maybe it’s marketing, too — but there’s a pattern here, and a clever one at that. Apple is using powerful images, quotes, videos, and other forms of media created by black artists and orators. And, while it’s great PR, I also believe it’s quite genuine and surely consistent. The company is obviously intentional with how it interacts with the public at large. Many companies may try this kind of PR, but they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. When you step back and look at the language in the letters, the imagery and messages on their site, the cultural strategy in acquiring Beats, and the 2014 holiday video spot, the threads tie together tastefully to portray a different side of Apple not often covered in the tech blogs.

I was really struck by this when I appeared as a guest on Channel 4 News with Lethal Bizzle (look him up if you don’t) to talk about the Beats acquisition. Quietly, yet effectively, Apple is positioning itself to appeal to urban, not just black, culture. Beats is a big part of that.

Ordnance Survey change in operating model: Written statement » UK Parliament

From Matthew Hancock, of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills:

Ordnance Survey exists in a fast moving and developing global market. There has been rapid technology change in the capture and provision of mapping data, and increasingly sophisticated demands from customers who require data and associated services – including from government. To operate effectively, Ordnance Survey needs to function in an increasingly agile and flexible manner to continue to provide the high level of data provision and services to all customers in the UK and abroad, in a cost effective way, open and free where possible. Company status will provide that.

Mapping data and services are critical in underpinning many business and public sector functions as well as being increasingly used by individuals in new technology. Ordnance Survey sits at the heart of the UK’s geospatial sector. Under the new model, the quality, integrity and open availability of data will be fully maintained, and in future, improved. Existing customers, partners and suppliers will benefit from working with an improved organisation more aligned to their commercial, technological and business needs.

Hmm. Ordnance Survey was a “trading fund” – basically, a little company unto itself inside the government, although making some map data free in 2010 meant it got a straightforward subsidy from government to fund that.

It’s not clear why it should need to change from “trading fund” to “Government Company” (nor even what the difference actually is). Unless – as some fear – it’s a prelude to privatisation.

Deep web marketplaces » Joel Monegro

Monegro bought a pair of boots for his girlfriend to find out more about how these places – accessible only via Tor – work:

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been frequenting the deep web marketplaces most famously used for buying drugs online with Bitcoin.

I wanted to see if there was anything we could learn about how these illicit marketplaces work that could be applied to improve the legal marketplaces we invest in at [venture capital company] USV.

As part of my research, I purchased an item on Evolution (no, not drugs – a pair of furry boots) in an effort to understand the dynamics of these marketplaces, from trust and safety to flow of funds. This is what I learned in the process. 

It’s fascinating, and Tor and bitcoin underlie it all. The manoeuvres taken by those who ship from or to physical addresses is hugely inventive too. It’s solving the question of “how do you carry out transactions requiring trust when you don’t, and can’t, trust anyone?”

Google reportedly on the verge of launching ‘Nova,’ a cellular phone service to compete with big four carriers » Android Police

Jacob Long:

The report, first published by The Wall Street Journal, mentions that the program has been codenamed “Nova” internally. That sounded familiar to us, because we had been tipped about a similar program called “Nova” last year. We had not been able to get more info and did not report on it – until now.

Our tipster told us that Google Voice (now, that would probably be Hangouts) would be the backbone of the Google plans, which would be data-only. With access to mobile data and possession of a Voice number, the experience would theoretically be nearly equivalent to a conventional phone plus data plan. The tipster also told us that the plans would offer unlimited data, while leaning on WiFi where available.

Android Police has excellent sources in (or around) Google, and this would make a lot of sense. You’d be pretty screwed for voice call quality if you couldn’t get a 3G signal, though, and as Google is looking to MVNO using Sprint and/or T-Mobile (one is GSM, one is CDMA), their 2G networks aren’t compatible. So you’d need 3G to make a call. And those two networks are smaller than AT&T or Verizon. So you’d be geographically limited.

Looks like Google is banking on people wanting smartphones only for data. In which case you might as well get a tablet..?

Microsoft’s Windows RT isn’t dead…yet » CNET

Shara Tibken:

All of the major device makers working with Windows RT scrapped their products either before they hit the market (such as HP and Toshiba) or following dismal sales once the products were released (in the case of Dell). To say interest in the software was – and remains – low is an understatement. Even the ARM chipmakers who were to benefit from the operating system, including Nvidia and Qualcomm, largely threw in the towel, focusing their investments and efforts elsewhere.

The only device to really utilize the software has been Microsoft’s own Surface tablet. The company released the first generation of its Windows RT-based Surface in late 2012 but revealed in July 2013 that it lost $900m on the device.It released Surface 2 later that year but hasn’t created any more Windows RT tablets since then. At the same time, Microsoft has released three generations of the Surface Pro lines of tablets that run Intel chips, and it continues to heavily advertise the devices.

Would love to know how many Windows RT installs there are, and what percentage are Surfaces. I’d wager it’s around 80% or higher.

Net Neutrality: no on reclassification, yes on adding content & app providers » Inside BlackBerry

John Chen:

Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.

Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet.

Epic trolling by Chen, in this extract from a letter sent to a Senate committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Net neutrality, of course, is a debate about whether a network allows bits to flow regardless of origin or destination – not who writes bit-wrangling programs for one endpoint or another.

More briefly, net neutrality is an argument about bridgekeepers and tolls; Chen is trying to make it about “who tries to get across the bridges and to which destination”. It doesn’t take much reflection to see that you can legislate the former for positive net (ha) outcome, but that legislating the latter turns you into a controlled economy. Is John Chen really a secret Marxist?

(Even the people on the Crackberry forums, usually the most loyal of the loyal, don’t back him.)

San Francisco woman pulled out of car at gunpoint because of license plate reader error » American Civil Liberties Union

On March 30, 2009, Denise Green, a 47 year-old black woman, was pulled over by multiple SFPD squad cars. Between four and six officers pointed their guns at her—one had a shotgun, she says—and told her to raise her hands above her head and exit her car. She was ordered to kneel, and she was handcuffed. Green, who suffered from knee problems, complied with all of their orders. Four officers kept their guns trained on her as she stood handcuffed, she says. Officers then searched her car and her person, finding nothing derogatory. After about 20 minutes, the police let her go.

It turns out that Denise Green was stopped because police, acting on a tip from a controversial piece of law enforcement surveillance technology, mistakenly thought she was driving a stolen car. A license plate reader had misread her plate and alerted officers that her car, a Lexus, was stolen.

The reader “saw” a 7 instead of the 3 that was actually there. Equally, there seems to have been plenty of human error in the system too – ignoring Dispatch saying the stolen vehicle was a grey truck, not the burgundy Lexus Green was driving.

Automated face recognition next, of course. All you humans look the same.

Start up: Microsoft’s holodeck (sorta), Amazon stops its wallet, Facebook squashing hoaxes, how to beat the iPhone

A hologram of the Earth. Perhaps coming to some head-mounted goggles near you in the future? Picture by Kevin M Gill on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use in ventilated areas. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Our exclusive hands-on with Microsoft’s unbelievable new holographic goggles » WIRED

Jessi Hempel got the exclusive back in October:

Oh Baraboo [its code name]! It’s bigger and more substantial than Google Glass, but far less boxy than the Oculus Rift. If I were a betting woman, I’d say it probably looks something like the goggles made by Magic Leap, the mysterious Google-backed augmented reality startup that has $592m in funding. But Magic Leap is not yet ready to unveil its device. Microsoft, on the other hand, plans to get Project HoloLens into the hands of developers by the spring.

Kipman’s prototype is amazing. It amplifies the special powers that Kinect introduced, using a small fraction of the energy. The depth camera has a field of vision that spans 120 by 120 degrees—far more than the original Kinect—so it can sense what your hands are doing even when they are nearly outstretched. Sensors flood the device with terabytes of data every second, all managed with an onboard CPU, GPU and first-of-its-kind HPU (holographic processing unit). Yet, [inventor Alex] Kipman points out, the computer doesn’t grow hot on your head, because the warm air is vented out through the sides. On the right side, buttons allow you to adjust the volume and to control the contrast of the hologram.

Microsoft has done something really clever here. Looks like it will be enterprise-first – but that’s fine; consumers can come later. No privacy rows, no suspicion of secret recording, no brand damage.

In fact the toughest part for Microsoft looks like coming up with pictures that show how looking through them looks.

Amazon pulls beta of its Wallet app amid mediocre reviews » TechCrunch

Went live in July, after which Ingrid Lunden explains;

users started to give it negative reviews,undermining Amazon’s bigger strategies to offer services that tie it closer to physical merchants; highlight its hardware; and make consumers’ lives easier.

“No merchant I have tried has been able to scan my phone to get the barcode,” read the first review on Amazon’s page for the app (which you can still see by way of a Google cache). “Doesn’t work with the Fire Phone,” noted another. “This makes it too much trouble to use for reward/loyalty cards,” said a third.

The app had picked up an average of 3.1 out of 5 stars among all reviewers.

Here’s the page from 3 January 2015 on It crossed the 10,000 download mark between September and December; from my modelling, I reckon it had about 12,500 downloads when it was yanked.(Star rating of reviews must have been going down quite fast.)

Estimating Amazon Wallet downloads

Growth in downloads (left-hand side) and reviews is fairly constant. If download growth was constant, it hit about 12,500 (LH scale) at the end.

Given that on the same day Amazon also recalled its nappies (diapers in the US) due to leakage – ew – and after the debacle of the Fire Phone, it’s starting to look like so many other companies that throw stuff out and hope it works.

IBM reveals proof of concept for blockchain-powered Internet of Things » Coindesk

Details in this paper:

“All this is achieved without a central controller orchestrating or mediating between these devices,” the paper adds.

According to the paper, a Samsung W9000 washing machine reconfigured to work within the ADEPT system uses smart contracts to issue commands to a detergent retailer in order to receive new supplies. These contracts give the device the ability to pay for the order itself and later receive word from the retailer that the detergent has been paid for and shipped.

This information would be broadcast to the smartphone of the washer’s owner, a device that would also be connected to that home’s network.

Really interesting – getting around the question of which of the things has what position in the hierarchy by getting rid of hierarchy, in essence. I like this concept a lot.

Apple records highest ever market share in Japan & Korea » Counterpoint Technology

Commenting on Apple’s performance in Korea, Counterpoint’s Research Director based in Korea, Tom Kang notes, “No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20% market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry. It has always been dominated by the global smartphone leader, Samsung. But iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have made a difference here, denting the competition’s phablet sales. Korea being the world’s highest penetrated phablet market (handsets with 5” above screens) earnestly needed a large screen iPhone for quite a time and now this thirst has been quenched. If there was a better supply of iPhone 6 & 6 Plus 64GB & 128GB models (popular SKUs) during the month then Apple’s share could have climbed to the 40% level.”

These are sales, not shipments. Record monthly volumes in China too, and hit 51% in Japan. Could be a good quarter for Apple. Already, though, one starts to think: so what do they do next September?

To beat the iPhone, you have to beat the iPhone’s camera » The Verge

Vlad Savov:

In all the years of Android’s existence, in spite of huge investments of time and money, there’s never been a standout Android cameraphone. Some have cameras that are better in low light than the iPhone’s, many have higher resolution, and a number claim to be faster at focusing — but none pull it all together into the same comprehensive package that the iPhone can offer. Samsung and LG give you a pared-down “just shoot” experience, but they lack software polish and speed; Motorola’s camera launches and shoots quickly, but the quality is mediocre; and Sony manages to combine an excellent image sensor with terrible autofocus. Microsoft’s PureView cameras fare better, but the Windows Phone camera app is comparatively slow and unintuitive, and there’s a reason why former Lumia chief Ari Partinen is now tagging his photos with #iPhone6Plus instead of #Lumia1520.

That reason being that Partinen now works for Apple. A fascinating thinkpiece (aka “thumbsucker”, in journalist parlance) from Savov; the comments are equally interesting for comments from users. (Side note: it’s a modern-day miracle how polite the Verge commenters are. There’s even one in there who simply admits to having been wrong. Amazing.)

So, open question: what’s the thing Android has that the iPhone falls down at?

Microsoft looks to Windows 10 for a Jolt in the mobile realm »

Nick Wingfield, in a good piece that goes all around the lighthouse of Microsoft’s screwed-up mobile problem:

Microsoft has long acknowledged the need to expand its app selection. The company has offered to finance the development of Windows Phone apps for prominent developers, in some cases paying for outside contractors to do the programming work, according to a former Microsoft executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential.

But even that was not enough for the executive at one top mobile-game developer, who said Microsoft gave up asking his company to support Windows Phone about a year ago. “We need an actual market and large, global installed base to justify it,” said this executive, who did not want to be named in order to preserve his relationship with Microsoft.

There’s this remaining hope at Microsoft (and supporters outside) that business adoption and integration of smartphones into their functions will mean companies mandating Windows Phone for mobile apps. Let’s come back in a couple of years and see how that went.

Samsung’s Tizen smartphone makes poor first impression in India » Reuters

Nivedita Bhattacharjee:

the initial reaction of analysts and consumers after its Jan. 14 launch suggests the Z1 will struggle to get ahead of a crowded field in a country with about 280 smartphone brands on offer, led by Samsung and closely followed by Indian maker Micromax Informatics Ltd.

“Samsung has been delaying the launch of this Tizen phone for a long time and when they finally did it, it turned out to be an under-powered phone,” said Mumbai-based filmmaker Samir Ahmed Sheikh as he shopped for a new phone for his wife.

The 3.15 megapixel primary camera and 300,000 pixel front camera are “like a phone from 2010”, he said.

“A simple comparison with any of the Android One phones will tell you how much the Z1 is missing,” Sheikh said.

One sudden realisation – or recollection – I had on reading the interview with Hugo Barra by Ben Thompson was how intensely India loves technology. (I notice it in the number of Twitter followers I have who clearly hail from India.) It’s a breeding ground for great technologists, who often then come to the west to set up their own companies or work for big ones and make a huge difference.

The idea that you can fob off India with an also-ran device is a huge mistake.

Profitability is priority, says Acer CEO » Digitimes

Acer has modified its business operational strategies from focusing on revenues and market share to maximizing net profit, and it aims to hike revenue proportions for mobile terminal devices and cloud computing services based on PC sales, according to company CEO Jason Chen.

This is the entirety of the report – along with low/medium/high targets for revenue growth and net profit. Those go from +5% to +15%, and NT$1bn to NT$3bn – the latter about £60m.

I read this as Acer aiming for the high end of the PC market; even though it’s doing better in sheer numbers shipped than compatriot Asus, it’s not making much profit per PC. Plus Intel won’t be subsidising its Intel-based tablets this year.

News Feed FYI: showing fewer hoaxes » Facebook Newsroom

Today’s update to News Feed reduces the distribution of posts that people have reported as hoaxes and adds an annotation to posts that have received many of these types of reports to warn others on Facebook. We are not removing stories people report as false and we are not reviewing content and making a determination on its accuracy.

Bah – just add a link on each story to Emergent. Job done.

Tablet market misconceptions » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

The biggest fundamental mistake most make when they think about the tablet category is to see it as only one thing. When, in reality, there are many tablet markets. To use a somewhat imperfect analogy, we can use the automotive segment. The auto industry will lump annual sales of all motorized vehicles, cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, RVs, etc., into a single statistic. The point of this statistic is to simply show how many motorized vehicles were sold each year. Yet, to truly speak accurately about the automotive industry, it is more helpful to see the entire category broken out into each segment. At a big picture level, it is fine to know how many motorized vehicles were sold each year, but that alone doesn’t actually tell us anything truly helpful.

Wonder if the analyst companies will be able to segment the market in the way that Bajarin sees it. My guess is that it might, but only for (high) paying customers, not general consumption.

Start up: Deep Mind interviewed, App Store calculated, crapware configured, Windows 10 coming, and more

Yes, but where’s it going to end up? We’ve got a web tool to help you. Ocean plastic photo by Kevin Krejci on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Contains choking parts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Deep Mind of Demis Hassabis » Medium

Steven Levy interviewing the– well, genius seems to say it – whose artificial intelligence company was snapped up by Google:

Q What do you hope to do for Google in the long run?

I’m really excited about the potential for general AI. Things like AI-assisted science. In science, almost all the areas we would like to make more advances in—disease, climate, energy, you could even include macroeconomics— are all questions of massive information, almost ridiculous amounts. How can human scientists navigate and find the insights in all of that data? It’s very hard not just for a single scientist, but even a team of very smart scientists. We’re going to need machine learning and artificial intelligence to help us find insights and breakthroughs in those areas, so we actually really understand what these incredibly complex systems are doing. I hope we will be linking into various efforts at Google that are looking at these things, like Calico or Life Sciences.

It sounds a lot more ambitious than his initial aims, which are to help in search and Google+. (G+? Really?) Disappointing that the names of the people on the AI ethics panel aren’t being announced.

Would also like to know his opinion of Ex Machina, which is released this Friday.

Some Nexus 6 back covers slowly separating from the phone » Phandroid

If you’re feeling bummed out about how nearly impossible it is to pick up a Nexus 6 right now, the good news? You may have dodged a bullet. We’ve been receiving reports of defective [Motorola-made] Nexus 6 units being shipped to customers where the back covers are literally coming off.

#backgate? #gluegate? Apparently the Moto 360’s back sometimes cracks too. All in the Motorola family.

The opposite of Apple: A Mac user’s weird experience buying a PC laptop » Macworld

The inimitable Jon Moltz found the PC pretty good (and cheap), until you turned it on:

Since this was a laptop for my son, I did like Microsoft’s Family Safety feature, which allowed me to set up his computer with a child’s account and track the websites he visited and how many hours he was using each application. OS X has a similar feature that lets you access parental controls on your child’s computer from your own, but Microsoft provides a web interface and sends a weekly email summary. Family Safety actually helped me realize that some kind of adware was installed on the machine, forcing every bit of web traffic to make a call to an ad site. This either came installed on the machine or my son broke the record for getting infected, as the report indicated it was accessed from day one.

And that’s the thing about the standard PC user experience. Between the adware and crapware that’s preinstalled it’s hard to figure out what’s actually malware. Microsoft has tried to help by selling computers through its own stores that are bloatware-free and by allowing OEM customers to make clean Windows installs for a nominal fee.

As he says, it’s puzzling there’s no Windows OEM focussing on having a “Nexus”-style clean experience. (Then again, there aren’t that many Android OEMs doing it are there?)

The Shape of the Apple App Store » Metakite Software

Charles Perry took data from Marco Arment and fitted them to a power law (Pareto) curve:

I expected a “hockey stick” curve that’s characteristic of power law models, but I didn’t expect one like this. The hockey stick breaks upwards at around position 870 on the US Top Grossing list. With about 1.2 million apps in the App Store at the time the data was collected, that arguably puts 99.93% of apps in the “long tail” of the App Store. The “head” of the App Store, those 870 top grossing apps that make up 0.07% of the App Store population, collect over 40% of the App Store revenue that’s paid out.

Luckily, there’s a lot of money to be made in that long tail. At the top of the long tail, in position 871 on the US Top Grossing list, an app still makes over $700 in revenue per day. That’s almost $260,000 per year. Even number 1,908 on the US Top Grossing list makes over $100,000 per year. In fact all apps above number 3,175 on the US Top Grossing list produce enough revenue to at least make its developer the United States household median income for 2014 ($53,891).

Surprising (as in big). I’d like him to take the data that has been released by UsTwo for Monument Valley, and also for Unread, and see how well his curve fits. He has posted a followup with data from Manual, a camera app. It still looks much the same.

Here’s everything we expect from Microsoft’s big Windows 10 event on Wednesday » Yahoo Tech

Cohesive design, “Continuum” (which seems to be about understanding whether it’s being used in tablet or desktop mode), new web browser, Cortana (the voice-driven assistant thing), Windows 10 on Windows Phone, and a release date.

Will sell well. Won’t mean a thing for mobile, which is where the action (and money) is. Event starts 0900 PDT, 1200 EST, 1700 GMT, and should be live-streamed.

The invasion boards that set out to ruin lives » Boing Boing

Jay Allen with the depressing tale of the benthic efforts of some:

If you know in advance that you might be targeted, there are measures you can take to improve your anonymity, but oftentimes there’s nothing at all that can be done, especially if you conduct your business on the internet.

Raiders often use this as justification for their activities: if you didn’t want your entire life collated and archived, why did you post any of that online in the first place? It’s a disingenuous argument, however, because they aren’t concerned about accuracy. If your doxx happens to have inaccurate information, who cares? False claims can prompt a correction that reveals more clues to add to the doxx, or just a entertainingly outraged response from a target.

Obviously, it shouldn’t ever be the posters’ details that are made public, or their internet lives that are rendered useless. Because.. well, anyway.

How much does Microsoft make from PC makers with Windows 8.1? » ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley on how much OEMs pay to have Windows on Intel-based tablets:

According to Microsoft OEM pricing information – a screen capture of which is embedded above in this post – Windows 8.1 with Bing is listed at $10 per copy for Intel-based tablets under 9in in screen size. But after a “configuration discount,” of $10, OEMs get that SKU for those tablets for free. For tablets with screen sizes of greater than or equal to 10.1in, the Windows 8.1 with Bing SKU is listed at $25 per copy, with the same $10 “configuration discount,” resulting in a $15 per copy cost for OEMs.

There’s another related SKU that is also meant to help stimulate the market for mobile devices running Windows. The “Windows 8.1 with Bing and Office 365 Personal” is another low-price SKU available to OEMs. Like the Windows with Bing SKU, this one also requires OEMs to set Bing search and as the defaults (changeable by users) on new PCs. This SKU also includes a free, 12-month subscription to Office 365 Personal.

Still not cheaper than Android, and Intel chips are going to be pricier (because Intel is dropping its subsidies), which continues to make small Windows tablets a very hard sell.

Mobile is slowly killing search » Mediapost

Jason Mander:

the link between Google and PCs/laptops is a very strong one; engagement rates by device show that the vast majority of PC and laptop users are visiting Google on a monthly basis, whereas the equivalent figure among mobile Internet users is just 50%. And even on tablets, where the experience is closer to a PC, it’s only 57% who are visiting Google. As we have stressed, PCs and laptops are not being abandoned. But it is clear — and abundantly so – that mobile is capturing a progressively bigger share of Internet time and traffic, especially in fast-growth markets.

Of course, most Web brands would pay a handsome premium to have a 50% reach among mobile Internet users. Seen in this light, these numbers are still pretty solid for Google. But that there is such a gap between the brand’s usage on different devices is a clear sign of the fundamental changes to web behaviours that the rise of the mobile Internet is causing. 

Key datum:

“look at the places where the youngest Internet users overindex the most and it’s mobile that comes at the top of the list: teens are 30% more likely than average to be using apps as a research channel. They’re also ahead on other “newer” sources of discovery such as video/content sites, micro-blogs and pin boards.”

Netflix: High Dynamic Range is ‘more important’ than 4K » Telegraph

Sophie Curtis:

Brightness (or luminance) is measured in ‘nits’. Hunt explained that most TVs today have a peak brightness of around 100 nits, whereas the peak brightness of an HDR television is around 1,000 nits – representing a 10-fold increase in the brightness of the highlights on the screen.

This is still nowhere near the brightness of the sun reflecting of a white wall, for example, which is around 10,000 nits. However, it is a substantial improvement compared to current TVs, and delivers a more realistic and engaging picture.

“Bright white clouds still have texture on an HDR screen instead of just being a washed out white patch. More importantly you end up with reflections from water and metal and glass being very bright, and representing the shape and colour of the reflection even more accurately than previously possible,” said Hunt.

More nits require more bandwidth, but Hunt said that delivering an HDR picture only requires about 20% more bits than the equivalent resolution. So 4K is normally delivered in about 15Mbps, while 4K HDR requires 18Mbps; 2K is delivered in 5-6Mbps, while 2K HDR requires 8Mbps.

Ooh, I’ll have the 2K HDR. You can’t tell 4K anyhow unless your TV’s the size of a house.

Tracking the global ocean circulation » Adrift

Want to know where your message in a bottle will turn up or track down the path of local floating pollution? Welcome to adrift, a website inspired by research into ocean circulation by Dr Erik Van Sebille and the delightful book Moby Duck about the true adventure of 28,800 rubber ducks lost at sea.

Here you can explore how all kinds of objects drift through the ocean – from rubber duckies to plastic pollution – and where each object might end up if it is washed out to sea from your beach.

The website uses a scientific method that is based on observed tracks revealed by buoys in the Global Drifter Program and other scientific research in this field. On this website you can see where ocean-going debris travelled after the Fukushima disaster or the path rubber ducks may have taken after the famous Friendly Floaties spill revealed in Moby Duck.

Say goodbye to your lunch hour.

Start up: Google buying Softcard?, examining Uber’s numbers, why Windows 10 can’t fix Windows Phone, examining Samsung’s loss in China, and more

Does more Uber mean less of this? Photo of Toyota manufacturing in the UK by Toyota UK on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Tested on humans for irritancy. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google is in talks with mobile payments company Softcard » TechCrunch

The price may be under $100m, according to our sources. That is either a huge bargain or a testament to Softcard’s difficulties as an enterprise: sources tell us that AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — the three carriers that started Isis in 2010 — have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the joint venture.

Softcard earlier this month laid off about 60 employees and has been in a consolidation phase.

Softcard says it has 200,000 merchants in the US able to use its app, which isn’t available on iOS (but is on Android and Windows Phone). Sounds like morale there has been rock-bottom. But Apple Pay has brought it all back to life. At least, it ought to.

Gabe Rivera on tech media: ‘A lot of intellectual dishonesty’ » Digiday

Gabe Rivera is in charge of Techmeme, and so looks at lots and lots of sites’ stories:

On the down side are a lot of things you’ve heard already. Like the pervasiveness of churnalism, and how writers at news publications aren’t nearly as knowledgeable as they should be to cover their beat. These are real problems, but hard to counter given the tight supply of good writers. Another problem: lying by omission, hyperbole and other forms of intellectual dishonesty are creeping into more tech reporting.

Q: Is that a digital media problem or a tech reporting problem?
A: Intellectual dishonesty has plagued media even in the decades and centuries before digital, but I think it’s seen a big increase in tech reporting in just the last couple of years. As more reporters and commentators turn their attention to the flourishing tech industry, an increasing number are relying on bogus arguments to cut through the din.

Estimating G+ User Activity » Ello

From #Dredmorbius:

This is an analysis which estimates active G+ users, defined as those who’ve made a post to G+, not simply commented on a YouTube video, in the month of January, 2015. It’s based on pulling Google’s on Profile sitemaps and sampling profile pages based on them. You should be able to replicate the process yourself (or with a hackishly-minded assistant) using the methods described.

Summary of findings:
• There are about 2.2 billion G+ profiles total.
• Of these, about 9% have any publicly-posted content.
• Of those, about 37% have as their most recent activity a YouTube comment, another 8% profile photo changes (45% of all “active” profiles).
• Only 6% of profiles which have ever been publicly active have any post activity in 2015 (18 days so far).
• Only around half of those, 3% of active profiles, are not YouTube comments.

That is, 0.3% of all G+ profiles, about 6.6 million users, have made public G+ post in 2015. That’s ~367,000 users posting daily if each posts only once (the actual post frequency will vary somewhat).

This doesn’t include non-public posts or comments, or lurkers, but it’s a pretty clear indication of the level of publicly visible activity on G+.

One wag asks in the comments how this compares to Ello. More to the point, though, you could work through this data pretty easily given a suitably large system. A big data problem, but not a hard one.

Uber’s claim to be a Euro jobs-creator is full of Volkswagen-sized holes » PandoDaily

Michael Carney:

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (EAMA), the auto industry employs 12.9 million people across the continent, representing 5.3% of the total workforce. What’s more, the industry’s high-skilled manufacturing jobs represent a full 10% of such jobs in the EU. The auto industry also represents 6.9% of the EU GDP. So the question is, what would happen if Uber eliminated the need for 400,000 of these vehicles?

It’s a complicated question that belies a straightforward answer. But if we make the admittedly simplistic assumption that a one percentage point reduction in autos demand equates to an equal one percentage point reduction in employment within the sector, the impact of Uber’s expansion begins to look much less positive.

Those 400,000 vehicles eliminated represent approximately 2.4% of the 16.2m vehicles (cars, vans, trucks and buses) produced per year in the EU. Applying this percentage to the employment within the sector and we get approximately 320,000 jobs. So, while Uber is making headlines with promises of creating 50,000 new jobs – low-skill, low-stability “jobs” at that – behind the scenes, the company is threatening more than six-times as many jobs in one of Europe’s most critical industries.

No love lost between Pando and Uber. But the logic here is pretty straightforward. I’m dubious about the benefits of privatising taxi regulation to a single private company which can dismiss people (and ban would-be riders) at its own whim, with no recourse.

Samsung loses connection with Chinese consumers in 2014 » Caixin

Lots of data about percentage share (and some shade, as they say, thrown on Samsung’s TouchWiz), but this is the key part:

Chinese smartphone makers grabbed market share from Samsung by improving the design and quality of their products, the industry analyst said. Many devices sell for less than 1,000 yuan. For 1,500 yuan a consumer could get a Xiaomi model called the Mi 3 that has similar specifications as the Samsung Galaxy S5, which costs about 3,000 yuan.

Chinese smartphone makers, such as Xiaomi, were also trying to improve the Android operating system and provide more apps so users had a better experience, improvements Samsung was not making, the analyst said.

Samsung usually set the prices of its phone high, then brings them down, one of its dealers said. He mentioned the Galaxy Note 3, whose price was slashed by 500 yuan within a week of it launch, something that would annoy people who bought the device early.

Chinese smartphone makers took a different approach. They start out with low prices, and months later unveil upgraded versions of the phones for the same price, a strategy that seems to agree with Chinese consumers.

(500 yuan = £50 or so.)

Why Windows 10 can’t fix Windows Phone » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson has a bucket of ice water for those who think the opposite:

First, the theory: in Windows 10, Microsoft is creating a single operating system which will run across different form factors, with much of the underlying code shared and the rest tweaked by device type and size. This will allow developers to create apps which run 90% of the same code, with just some customizations for different device types and sizes. This, in turn, will allow Microsoft to tap into the vast number of Windows PC developers, who will now be able to port their apps to Windows Phone will very little additional work, which will drive a large number of new apps to the mobile platform, reducing the app gap relative to iOS and Android.

However, there’s a fundamental flaw in this argument, which is that the apps Windows Phone is missing simply don’t exist as desktop apps on Windows. Just think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize it’s empirically obvious.

But he goes beyond the thought experiment, and actually examines what’s available on the app stores, and on Windows. Not just empirically obvious, but empirically demonstrated.

And now look at this next link.

February 2011: How can Nokia get enough app developers to work on Windows 7 Phone versions of their products? » Quora

The question is from February 2011, and Horace Dediu offered this answer – which remains true, and can be expanded to other “ecosystem” questions (cough *wearables* cough):

There’s a persistent assumption that ecosystems are based on economic logic. That’s analogous to suggesting that acting talent is attracted to Hollywood because every aspiring actor calculates their expected income based on odds of success minus the cost of living there and the cost of learning to act.

This logic also implies that alternative film-making hubs may try to re-create the attraction of Hollywood by subsidizing actors, providing acting classes and offering discount agencies.

These methods are unlikely to work. They only signal to actors that the film industry in that hub is ineffective.

Talent is attracted to a platform because of that platform’s potential to solve the job that the talent is seeking to hire it for. They want to be stars. A platform needs to offer the opportunity for stardom. That’s not something money can buy.

As we now know the answer to this one (it couldn’t), the answer becomes illuminating. The other responses are worth reading too – especially one by Mark Dagon Hughes, who writes for iOS.

Ambiq Micro has made a chip that consumes 10 times less energy » Tech News and Analysis

Stacey Higginbotham:

Ambiq manages these lower wattages by never going above a certain voltages when sending power through the chip. Most chips send their signalling information, which determines if it is sending zeros or ones, at between 1 and 1.8 volts, but the Ambiq chip sends its information 0.5 volts. That means it uses much less energy overall. Ambiq has built out this technology on about $30 million in funding.

It does this without requiring fancy changes in manufacturing or a new way of writing software, which means it can be designed into existing products easily. Ambiq CEO Mike Salas says he expects to see Ambiq microcontrollers in shipping products by the middle of the year. Its microcontrollers will compete with those already on the market from Atmel, ST Microelectronics and other large chipmakers.

Here’s the press release from Ambiq explaining how it does it:

“Ambiq Micro’s SPOT platform operates transistors at subthreshold voltages (less than 0.5V), rather than using transistors that are turned all the way “on” at 1.8V. It uses the leakage current of “off” transistors to compute in both digital and analog domains.”

Intrigued about how it runs transistors on leakage current, which is something that designers generally try to reduce.

This is how Xiaomi keeps the cost of its smartphones so low » TechCrunch

Jon Russell spoke to Hugo Barra, who explained:

“A product that stays on the shelf for 18-24 months — which is most of our products — goes through three or four price cuts. The Mi2 and Mi2s are essentially the same device, for example,” Barra explained. “The Mi2/Mi2s were on sale for 26 months. The Redmi 1 was first launched in September 2013, and we just announced the Redmi 2 this month, that’s 16 months later.”

That’s important because the longer runway for devices gives Xiaomi leverage to secure better component deals with its suppliers.

“The reason we do these price cuts is because we’ve managed to negotiate component cost decreases [with our suppliers] over time, which ends up leaving us with a bigger margin than we’d like to have, so we do a price cut,” Barra added.

Ben Thompson did a similar (and I’d say better) interview with Barra, which is on Stratechery; subscriptions are cheap and recommended.

In Thompson’s interview, he ranges over the problems for rivals of channel conflict, what Apple has done with Android’s ideas, and handset profitability. I’d say Thompson’s interview is better than Russell’s – in part because it doesn’t use the grandstanding tone that so many trade papers tech blogs do; Thompson assumes intelligence in his readers. Thus:

Barra: Component prices, like if you look at a chipset today, if you want to buy the same chipset a year from now, the price would have dropped much more than 50%, sometimes the price will have dropped 90% for that same component. So the bill of materials for a product will fall dramatically over time.

Thompson: How much? What percentage?

HB: Well, the Mi 2 S started selling at ¥1999, and the last time we were selling it before we had to take it off the market because we could no longer source components otherwise we would have kept making it, was ¥1299. So the price dropped substantially, what are we talking about here, 40%. The [bill of materials] dropped a lot more than that.

BT: Ballpark?

HB: I don’t know.

BT: But at ¥1299 it was more profitable than at ¥1999.

HB: Yes, certainly, at least ¥1999 at the beginning.

Bought our Samsung Smart TV two months ago, now… » Tumblr de Chartier

David Chartier:

Bought our Samsung Smart TV two months ago, now it’s showing popup ads for apps and services. To clarify: what you see is my Apple TV in the ‘background’ (running a photo screensaver) and a Samsung ad for Yahoo Broadcast Interactivity popping up on top of my Apple TV.


Under no circumstances, scenarios, case studies, fictional situations, or boardroom fantasies is this acceptable. None. No, if you think you have an argument or a circumstance under which these ads are acceptable, you are wrong and there’s a great chance you are not a very good person.

Best part so far: I couldn’t use Samsung’s clunky touchpad remote to uncheck the “prompt me for interactive features” option, and now I can’t find the “SyncPlus App” in the Smart Hub to shut them off. I could be missing it, but so far it’s just not there, and these options aren’t anywhere in Settings.

Solution turns out to be easy: search the Samsung Smart TV App Store for SyncPlus and install that and turn off the ads. Voilá! Or perhaps just don’t connect the smart TV to the internet? That works for me. (UK readers say they haven’t seen this. Yet.)

Start up: Samsung’s leukaemia compensation, Glass’s failure dissected, Pinterest v single ladies, unwritten Bitcoin tales, and more

Encryption (look closely). Photo by iceplee on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Do not apply to sensitive areas. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hutchison may bid $13.6bn for UK’s O2, Sunday Times says » Bloomberg

Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (13), the conglomerate controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, is in early talks to bid for UK mobile operator O2, the Sunday Times reported, citing sources it didn’t name.

Hutchison, which owns the Three mobile network in the UK, may pay O2’s owner Telefonica SA (TEF) as much as £9bn ($13.6bn) for the carrier, the newspaper said.

Telefonica has hired investment bank UBS AG to explore options for O2, according to the Times. The company, which is looking for ways to exit the UK to help pay off debts, may also consider selling shares of O2 to the public. Hutchison has hired Moelis & Co (MC) to look for possible deals in the UK, the newspaper said.

Telefonica has around €41.2bn of debt as of September and all its numbers (revenue, operating profit, EPS) are going negative. This would go some way to sorting some of that out.

Amid Bitcoin’s Bloodbath, Silence From Silicon Valley Press » RealClearMarkets

Andy Kessler:

So Tim Draper [who bought the bitcoins seized by the FBI in an auction in July and December 2014] invests some $18m in about 32,000 Bitcoin and today (wait for it…) they’re worth a whopping $6.7m, losing 63% in six months. Don’t get me wrong. I like Tim Draper. He’s a bit quirky and has an awful taste in ties. [Alternative successful auction bidder Barry] Silbert’s stake is now worth $10m – down 43% in a rotation of the moon. My point is less about the epic FAIL of their at the time hyped Bitcoin investing prowess. Jeez, we all make mistakes. No, my beef is more about the coverage.

Sure, Draper lost $11 something million in six months. Fool…money…etc. But my problem is that you wouldn’t know any of this from reading the Silicon Valley press, websites or blogs. Nothing. Pando Daily has run 14 stories on Bitcoin in the last month. But type “Tim Draper” into the search box in Pando. Nothing about the price drop. Try it at Techcrunch. Bupkis about the shellacking. My friend Kara Swisher at Re/Code? Zippo. Well, a pointer to an article in the New Statesman. Any mention of Draper or Second Market in that article? Nope. The new Valleywag? Surely old “Fake Steve Jobs” Dan Lyons is all over this? Oops. Not a peep. Venture Beat? Nah.

Um, good point.

Google Glass for work: still going strong » Business Insider

Julie Bort:

Google is instead shifting its attention to focus on the one area where Glass has done reasonably well: businesses. The Glass for Work program has about a dozen partners involved, all of whom are still writing apps for the device, our source says.

A business that wants ” a 100 [pairs of Glass] tomorrow, they can get it. They want 1,000 tomorrow, they can get it,” this source told us, and Google confirmed.

“We’ll continue to invest in our Glass at Work offering for enterprise developers and companies,” a spokesperson told us.

We’re not going to pretend that Glass for Work is a major focus or priority at Google. Other sources at the company have indicated to us that it isn’t, at least not yet.

But within the Glass for Work community, the death of the so-called Explorers program (in which Google sold the device to individuals for $1,500 a pop) is being met with a shrug.

Makes sense. Glass has also looked much more sensible as a product for specialist product niches than for consumers.

Pinterest congratulates single women on marriage » NYMag

A whole bunch of women are tweeting about an email they received from the manic pixie dream start-up that congratulated them on their impending nuptials. Super thoughtful— except most of them don’t even have significant others.

Some of the users think it’s because they’ve been pinning wedding-related objects like invitations and dresses to their boards…

Algorithms considered harmful.

“Open data could improve rail travel for disabled passengers” say industry and passenger groups » Open Data Institute

Developers are already creating applications that turn data about train times, accessibility and facilities at stations into information that’s easy to access for those with disabilities. There are many existing applications that are useful for people with disabilities to help plan their journeys, including Twitter, Station Master (comprehensive 3D maps that show steps, lift access and ticket points of London Underground stations), Rail Point (live travel updates) and Realtime Trains (help users track their trains and find their platforms in advance).

So what is stopping more products and services from being developed to benefit commuters with disabilities?

For Google Glass to succeed, Tony Fadell needs to rip out the camera » Co.Design

Mark Wilson:

people don’t always just get used to it, and I learned that from my own case study with a wearable camera. After my son was born, I attempted to wear a Narrative camera most of the time. The Narrative is a diminutive, auto-shooting camera, the size of a small lapel pin, optimized to capture candid moments in your life. But family member after family member would spot it, ask what it was, and slowly tense in my presence, even when I’d promise these photos were private and wouldn’t be shared on Facebook. The next time they’d visit, their eyes would lower to my chest pockets again.

Nobody likes worrying they’re being recorded, and a subtle, spy-worthy piece of hardware does nothing to alleviate that concern. It made me realize that smartphone cameras didn’t offend anyone, because they live in a pocket, and it’s always obvious when someone’s taking a photograph with one. Along the same lines, I believe an embedded photographer photographing us with a large SLR would have offended my guests less than my tiny lapel camera. A few weeks into the experiment, I removed the Narrative to never wear it again, even though it captured some great shots.

Andrew Bower: The encryption ban makes us look like the Thick Party » Conservative Home

Opening paragraphs:

This week the Prime Minister introduced a policy of banning strong encryption in the UK in order to deny terrorists ‘safe spaces’ in which to operate. Sounds robust, doesn’t it? In practice such a policy is impossible to implement and so would never yield any security benefit. It would, however, leave all of us vulnerable to trivial cyber-attacks and David Cameron’s vision of a Digital Britain in tatters…

…By mobilising against encryption the government is contradicting the advice of its Information Commissioner on data protection for organisations and its own advice to the general public about being safe online.

About the author: “Andrew Bower works in the ‘Silicon Fen’, graduated in Computer Science from Cambridge University and has served as an Conservative Association officer.”

For non-UK readers, this means a member of prime minister David Cameron’s own party, the Conservatives, is telling him on a prominent site for his own party that his idea is complete and utter tosh.

Well, let’s hope one of his advisers reads it, at least.

Samsung to compensate all leukaemia-stricken workers » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

Samsung Electronics will compensate all former workers who contracted leukaemia and other diseases after working at its display and semiconductor facilities, the company said on Friday.
“Samsung Electronics will compensate all former workers who have developed leukaemia or incurable diseases, the families of the deceased and also current employees battling illness at our display and semiconductor plants,” said Samsung Electronics’ chief negotiator Baek Soo-hyun.

He made the remarks at a new round of compensation talks in downtown Seoul to resolve leukaemia-related issues with representatives of affected families.

“Samsung Electronics decided to widen the company’s scope of those who will be compensated,” Baek said during the talks. “In accordance with that principle, we will include all workers who’ve been suffering from acute lymphoid leukaemia-related diseases.”

This has been a long-running dispute in which relatives have sought compensation. This resolution is good.

iPad observations heading into Apple earnings » Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

Where do iPad sales go from here? Exhibit 4 highlights three possibilities: 1) increase and start to  track iPhone adoption, 2) remain relatively steady to slightly down until a more sustainable sales level has been reached, 3) decline due to other reasons. My 2015 iPad estimates run with a scenario that falls somewhere between options 2 and 3.

Cybart, a former Wall Street analyst (though not of Apple), reckons Apple will sell 59m-60m iPads this financial year (from Oct 2014-Sep 2015), with shipment growth only showing in the April-June quarter. Why? It’s complicated.