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.


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

  1. Speaking as someone who hasn’t worn a watch for fifteen years or so,and whose primary timekeeping device is therefore a phone, I am used to charging it every day. One more thing to charge is a nuisance, but not an insurmountable one. If the Apple watch is understood as jewellery — which pretty much any watch, and many phones now are — then the care and feeding of it may seem less burdensome than you suppose

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