Start up: damn smart TVs, peak Google?, acting on gators, no Apple car, blue bubble discrimination and more


Samsung’s Smart TV ads opt-in. No, wait, opt-out. Photo by user on Ars Technica.

A selection of 9 links for you. Can be used as floor wax. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google’s time at the top may be nearing its end » NYTimes.com

Farhad Manjoo, riffing on an idea set out by (and credited here to) Ben Thompson:

The problem for Google, though, is that its efforts aren’t impossible to replicate. In less than five years, Facebook has also built an enviable ad-technology infrastructure, a huge sales team that aims to persuade marketers of the benefits of Facebook ads over TV ads, and new ways for brands to measure how well their ads are doing. These efforts have paid off quickly: In 2014 Facebook sold $11.5bn in ads, most of them on mobile devices. That was up 65% over 2013.

Any number of up-and-coming social services, including Pinterest and Snapchat, could also do well. So even if YouTube does very well, it will be only one of several services where marketers want to spend their money.

“The movement of brand advertising into digital will probably not be winner-take-all, like it was in search,” said Ari Paparo, a former advertising product director at Google who is now the chief executive of an ad technology company called Beeswax. “And if it were to be winner-takes-all, it’s much more likely to be Facebook that takes all than it would be Google.”

Google would still make a lot of money if it doesn’t dominate online ads the way it does now. But it would need to find other businesses to keep growing.

Notable, by the way, how many ideas in big papers start out with Thompson. You should subscribe to his Stratechery blog.


Smart TVs are a great idea. Too bad TV makers are ruining them » WIRED

David Pierce (in his new post-Verge writing gig):

We should be rooting for smart TVs that don’t suck. We could ditch our Rokus and Fire TVs and do everything on our TVs themselves. It would mean fewer boxes, cables, and remotes to worry about. It’s just that smart TVs right now exist only on the spectrum between irritating and dangerous. It’s time for someone to do better.

Someday, if and when manufacturers figure it out, smart TVs will have lots of uses. One will be as a hub for our entire home—imagine a universal remote that doesn’t just control your programming, but light switches, the microwave, and the margarita machine. The other will be as a launching pad into a massively segmented world of content: your TV could make it easy to search for what you want to watch, no matter where it is, and could help you find something great even when you don’t know what you’re looking for.

I used a TiVo back in 2000, and it was terrific. But that level of intelligence vanished from UK TV (though Virgin reintroduced a sort of TiVo). It’s sorely needed.


I’m Brianna Wu, and I’m risking my life standing up to Gamergate » Bustle

I have a folder on my hard drive with letters from dozens and dozens of women who’ve abandoned their dream of becoming game developers due to Gamergate, some as young as 12. 

You’d hope that the gaming press would provide some sort of check on the unrelenting sexism in the game business, but the truth is, they’re complicit in creating our Gamebro culture. One of our largest gaming sites, IGN, has written one single, weak article addressing Gamergate where they don’t even mention it by name. I wish I could say I was surprised, but this is the site that advertises itself as “broverload.”

All this horror begs the question — what can be done? 

Fortunately, this isn’t something that requires us to boil the ocean to solve. Here are four easily achievable things that can be done immediately.

Her four points of action for Reddit, the FBI, Twitter and US law administration all seem sensible. One wonders which will get acted on first. One hopes they all will.


Is Apple making a car? In your dreams! » Tech.pinions

Tim Bajarin on the latest rumour mill output:

For the car, I believe Apple is interested in creating a whole in-car digital experience that spans navigation, voice search, communications, media, and safety and wants to learn from what Tesla has done so far. That is why they poached so many Tesla employees. Ultimately they want to revolutionize the in-car navigation, audio/video, communication and safety features experience and work to get them integrated into future automobiles.

For Apple TV, it makes no sense for them to create their own given the TV market competition and the rapid change in TV hardware itself. However, Jobs had a major vision on how to revolutionize the TV navigation and user interface and deliver live and streaming content with integrated apps and services. That is most likely going to be delivered through a brand new Apple TV box I believe will be released later this year.

You can never rule out Apple doing something brand new in hardware and even in a new category of devices but doing an Apple branded car or TV is just not in the cards.


New tech brings era of sub-nanometre semiconductors closer » Business Korea

Cho Jin-young:

A Korean research team has successfully developed a technology to manufacture semiconductors smaller than 1 nanometre within a large area. 

A research team headed by Ahn Jong-ryeol and Dr. Song In-kyung, professors in the Department of Physics at Sungkyunkwan University, announced on Feb. 9 that they have succeeded in arranging metal wires smaller than 1 nm with different characteristics on a silicon substrate. 

As a result, it may be possible to make silicon semiconductors at not only the nanometer but also angstrom (one ten-billionth of one meter) level. In the past, it was unclear whether or not the phenomena possible at the nanometer size could also be feasible at an atomic size.

Once you get down to that size, quantum physical effects are going to make behaviour wild, surely. This just seems to be (laborious) fabrication, rather than any actual testing of behaviour. But one to note, even so.


Hear that sound? It’s the Windows XP PC bubble popping » The Register

Paul Kunert:

The XP bubble has well and truly burst, leaving the UK [PC wholesale] channel awash with unwanted commercial PCs and vendors facing a costly write-down to clear a mountain of misery.

Microsoft ending support for the creaking operating system last April revived the industry in 2014, but it seems vendors forgot the sales cycle and that their products have a shelf life.

Distributors told El Chan that up to £50m of excess stock is lodged in warehouses, with all of the major players, including Lenovo, HP, Dell, Toshiba and Fujitsu blamed.

“The market was driven really hard last year,” said one, “but since November there was an awareness the channel was over-stocked. There’s been a correction in sales-out and now we are having tough conversations with vendors about resetting quotas.”

Another agreed it took three months for PC makers to realise that boxes were being pushed out of the door more slowly, and “they were buying in for the XP bubble”.

Could be some fun when Q1 PC figures are announced in April, followed by profit data in the succeeding weeks.


As Apple’s payments strategy takes shape, Google and Square respond » The Information

Amir Efrati and Jessica Lessin, with a generous definition of “respond”, which in Google’s case includes a being-tested service called “Plaso”:

A manager at a store that accepts Plaso payments said Google had “hooked up” Plaso directly to the store’s payment system and “all the data feeds back to Google.” In a different store that accepts Plaso, a manager said it runs as an app on Android phones that Google provided to the store. The manager said the app can “see” other Plaso users via the phones’ Bluetooth technology when they enter the store, allowing employees to identify those people just by their initials.

Plaso is currently being used only by Google employees, and its technical underpinnings are unclear…

…How Plaso would integrate with Google Wallet, which has yet to gain much traction as an in-store payment product, couldn’t be learned. While Google found a technical solution to bypass the wireless carriers that once blocked Google Wallet, the new method is costlier to Google, which is believed to lose money on in-store transactions done through Google Wallet.

Wow. Google loses money on in-store Wallet transactions – whereas Apple makes a per-transaction profit? This highlights the importance of “bizdev” – business development, aka getting everyone involved in a new technology in line before you unveil it, rather than hoping some mysterious consumer “pull” will lead to widespread adoption (as pretty much happened with Wallet).


It’s kind of cheesy being green » Medium

Paul Ford on the effect that Apple using white-on-blue for iMessages, v white-on-lurid green for text messages (ie anything to a non-iPhone, generally) has on users – and he has the tweets culled from Twitter to prove it:

This spontaneous anti-green-bubble brigade is an interesting example of how sometimes very subtle product decisions in technology influence the way culture works. Apple uses a soothing, on-brand blue for messages in its own texting platform, and a green akin to that of the Android robot logo for people tweeting from outside its ecosystem (as people have pointed out on Twitter, iPhone texts were default green in days before iMessage—but it was shaded and more pleasant to the eye; somewhere along the line things got flat and mean).

There are all sorts of reasons for them to use different colors. (iMessage texts are seen as data, not charged on a per-text basis, and so the different colors allow people to register how much a given conversation will cost—useful!). However, one result of that decision is that a goofy class war is playing out over digital bubble colors. Their decision has observable social consequences.


January 2014: Samsung appears to be stuffing pop-up ads for Yahoo in its Smart TVs » Business Insider

Steve Kovach, in January 2014 (that’s over a year ago):

Samsung’s Web-connected Smart TVs appear to be more than just a way to stream stuff from Netflix and Pandora. It looks like the company is also experimenting with ways to show you ads on your set, just like you’d see when browsing the Internet.

David Chartier, a tech writer and commentator, posted a photo of a pop-up ad for a “Yahoo Broadcast Interactivity” app that randomly appeared on his Samsung Smart TV last week. But the pop-up ad itself wasn’t the strangest part. It turns out the ad showed up while Chartier was watching his Apple TV, which was on a separate input. Whether it was a glitch or not, this clearly isn’t an optimal experience.

So that’s over a year ago; now this, in Australia – where you have to opt out:

Although GigaOm suggests the ad placement in third-party apps may have been a mistake on Samsung’s part, the business model is certainly intentional. As one redditor explained, the ads can be disabled: “To disable: press Menu on your Samsung Remote and scroll to Smart Hub > Terms & Policy > Yahoo Privacy Policy. Scroll to ‘I disagree with the Yahoo Privacy Notice’ and you can toggle the option on to opt-out.”

Bad week for Samsung: first always-listening TVs, now this.


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