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.

A POPUP AD ON MY 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.)


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