Start up: Google Ventures investment in focus, Apple Watch controls in view, don’t buy Pono!, and more


Genes. Picture by Libertas Academica on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Do not use on exposed skin. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The man investing Google’s billions says we shouldn’t be afraid to live forever » The Verge

Ben Popper:

Google Ventures, the investment arm tasked with spending the search giant’s billions on exciting new companies, released its annual report last night. Interestingly, the majority of its money did not go into the areas of consumer internet services, mobile apps, and enterprise software that Google is best known for. Instead, of the $1.6bn it has under management, it put a whopping 35% of its new bets in 2014 into the category of life sciences and health, way up from less than 10% in the two years prior.

Google’s PR in action again. Life sciences and health have been attracting colossal amounts of investment for years now; there’s nothing magical about Google Ventures putting money into it. For comparison, VC funding in life sciences increased by 15% in 1Q 2014 to $1.7bn – up from $1.4bn in the same period a year before.

Note that we’re not told how much of the $1.6bn in Google Ventures has gone into life sciences. But it’s got Google’s name, and there’s an offer of a phone interview with someone who runs it and enthuses mightily about living forever – he was behind Project Calico, based on the idea that “no one was studying ageing at the genetic level”. I feel pretty certain that’s false, based on the many scientific researchers I spoke to between 1995 and 2004 at The Independent; just search for news stories about “telomeres” from 2000 onwards. Even so, this not-important announcement gets a big credulous doggie slurp – and doesn’t even get the comparative context I just gave you about investment levels.

And we call this journalism?


Apple Watch iPhone ‘Companion’ app revealed w/ new Watch features, monograms » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman (yes, him again – Mr 12in Powerbook):

Yesterday, we reported that the latest iOS 8.2 beta reveals that an Apple Watch application for the iPhone is in the works. Now, we have some more details. Within Apple, the application is currently called the Apple Watch “Companion” app for iPhone. This application manages settings for Apple Watch applications, as well as settings for iPhone/Watch interactivity. The Companion app’s settings reveal some novel new functions that are coming to the Apple Watch. Below, we highlight some of the most interesting new features and settings.

Looks, well, like some settings. Not sure about the notifications, unless you can choose which ones you get on the watch – who needs to know they’ve received an email?


The ‘Internet of Things’ now belongs to the product managers » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jay Goldberg:

the real business of building ecosystems is beginning. It will not be one ‘industry’ but new products and features in many industries.

I think this was best on display at the Lowe’s booth [at CES]. Lowe’s is giant hardware retailer, and I only stopped in their booth by accident, a friend of mine had just bought some locks for his home and saw a new model on display. Lowe’s was promoting its Iris ecosystem of connected devices. Beyond locks, this also included thermostats, sprinklers, windows, alarms and a whole range of other products you could expect to see on their shelves. I do not know much about Iris. It is a freemium service that sends sensor alerts for free and charges a monthly subscription of $10 if you want to apply more detailed rules to that (e.g. alerts when a window opens after 10pm). But they had a whole booth filled with partners. They are not relying on Nest or Apple or AT&T, but Schlage, Pella and other hardware suppliers. Traditional tech industry wisdom holds that eventually there will be one common platform that dominates. That is the economics of software. I think this may not happen in the home IoT segment. The market is just too big, with too many players. We could very well see multiple ecosystems thriving.

How many is “multiple”, though? Mobile just about supports three (iOS, Google Android, AOSP), with two also-rans (BlackBerry, Windows Phone). Would, or could, the IoT have more?


Sony CEO eyes options as pressure mounts on weak TV, mobile » Reuters

Ritsuko Ando:

As he prepares the latest revival plan ahead of the new business year, [chief executive Kazuo] Hirai, 54, must decide what to do with the financially weak operations that have already been subject to heavy cost cuts.

He told a small group of reporters at the Las Vegas show that his reforms have succeeded “in some parts but not in others”.

“Electronics in general, along with entertainment and finance, will continue to be an important business,” he said. “But within that there are some operations that will need to be run with caution – and that might be TV or mobile, for example.”

Yet cost cuts and a focus on high-end phones, a strategy led by Hiroki Totoki, the new chief of Sony’s mobile division, aren’t enough, said Citigroup analyst Kota Ezawa.

“The mobile and TV businesses both require a drastic overhaul,” he said. “Without drastic reforms such as joint ventures or alliances, they will both be in the red three years from now.”

Exiting the TV business would mean heavy restructuring costs and lost sales. Potential buyers might not want all the division’s assets, let alone at a high premium.

Sony only bought the half of the mobile business from Ericsson in 2012; already it’s looking distinctly peaky.


How Amazon tricks you into thinking it always has the lowest prices » Re/code

Jason Del Rey:

a study conducted by a startup called Boomerang Commerce reveals that Amazon’s pricing strategy is much more nuanced than simply undercutting the competition.

Boomerang, founded by Amazon veteran Guru Hariharan, makes software that tracks prices on shopping sites that compete with its clients, then recommends price changes dynamically. Those changes are based on rules its clients set about which products to match prices on and which to boost higher or drop lower than a competitor’s to boost profits or sales, respectively.

The study of Amazon’s pricing uncovered some interesting tactics. First, Amazon doesn’t have the lowest prices across the board, which may not surprise industry insiders but might surprise Amazon shoppers.

Instead, according to Boomerang’s analysis, Amazon identifies the most popular products on its site and consistently prices them under the competition. In one example, Boomerang observed Amazon testing price reductions on a $350 Samsung TV — one of the most popular TVs on Amazon — over the six months leading up to Black Friday. Then, on Black Friday, it dropped the price to $250, coming in well below competitors’ prices.

But when it comes to the HD cables that customers often buy with a new TV, Amazon actually pushed up the price by 33 percent ahead of the holidays.


Don’t buy what Neil Young is selling » Gizmodo

Mario Aguilar:

Though Young and Pono have failed to produce double-blind studies on the benefits of high-rate audio or their music player, inquiring minds have taken the time to do it. In a 2007 paper published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Brad Meyer and David Moran outline the results of a study in which they presented a large sample of “serious” listeners with a double blind test comparing 44.1 kHz audio from “the best high resolution discs we could find.” The goal was not to show which was better, but simply to find out if people could even tell the difference.

“None of these variables have shown any correlation with the results, or any difference between the answers and coin-flip results,” they write in their conclusion. Later they note, “Further claims that careful 16/44.1 encoding audibly degrades high-resolution signals must be supported by properly controlled double-blind tests.”

There are proponents of high-quality audio, and with really good systems – as in multi-thousand pound/dollar speakers and master tapes – you can definitely hear the difference; I’ve experienced it myself on visits to hi-fi companies, most recently Meridian. But outside listening rooms, out in the real world? You’ll be lucky to notice any difference between an MP3, AAC and CD.


May 2013: Microsoft and Google working together on new YouTube Windows Phone app » The Verge

Tom Warren:

Google is announcing today that it’s working together with Microsoft on a new YouTube application for Windows Phone. Following a fight with Microsoft over its unauthorized YouTube app, the pair appear to have resolved some of their differences. Google demanded that Microsoft should remove its app by May 22nd, but Microsoft issued an update to address some of Google’s concerns earlier this week. Google says “Microsoft and YouTube are working together to update the new YouTube for Windows Phone app to enable compliance with YouTube’s API terms of service, including enabling ads, in the coming weeks.”

January 2015: still nada. Some weeks have more trouble arriving than others. In fact, relations between Google and Microsoft have if anything gotten even worse of late.


AILW: Beta 4 Documentation Changes » David Smith

Smith is a third-party developer who has been doing a lot of work on Apple Watch app development:

I’ve set up a script to go out to download and normalize the WatchKit Programming Guide and Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines. Nothing fancy but it means that when a new Beta has been released I can easily diff between the old and new to look for relevant, interesting changes.

As you’d expect there are a bunch of little changes — Typos, rewordings, etc. I’m not interested in those for the purpose of this. Just material changes that will affect how I build apps.

They are shown below. Text in green (with an alternate background) is new. Struckthrough text was removed.


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