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 archive.org. 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 » NYTimes.com

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.


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