Start up: YouTube’s war on loudness, American’s price fears, Sharp’s cost cuts, and more


Loudness: YouTube’s getting rid of it. Photo by jonlclark on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Delight oozes from every pore. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Map: The strange things people Google in every state » The Washington Post

Ana Swanson:

What strange goods and services is your state researching on Google? Apparently California has been looking into the price of facelifts, tummy tucks, swimming pools and marriage licenses, while Oklahoma is curious about the cost of breast lifts, liposuction, gas and daycare, according to Fixr.com, a cost-estimating website.

Fixr created the map below with Google Autocomplete, typing “How much does * cost in Sacramento, California?” into Google for each state or state capital, and then marking down the most commonly searched-for good or service.

Fun. Also, scary.


Sharp to ax more than 10% of Japanese workforce: Nikkei » Reuters

Sharp Corp is cutting more than 10% of its Japanese workforce starting in April, according to a Nikkei report.

The embattled electronics manufacturer will slash about 3,000 jobs through voluntary retirements and expects to book about 30bn yen ($250m) in retirement-related expenses for 2015, the business daily said.

Sharp’s could also shed its North American television business as part of its plans to restructure operations in unprofitable businesses, the Nikkei said.

Embattled.


YouTube just put the final nail in the Loudness War’s coffin » Production Advice

Ian Shepherd:

What does this mean ?
It means that YouTube have been using loudness normalisation on their music videos – and they’ve been doing it since December last year. Everything plays at a similar loudness, regardless of how it was mastered. And no-one has noticed.

Hear it for yourself – this playlist is composed almost entirely of current releases, with a wide variety of loudness on CD – and some of them are REALLY loud:

So for example, at the more dynamic end of the spectrum, Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ massive hit ”Uptown Funk” measures -12 LUFS (DR 8 on the TT Meter) on CD. Whereas “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding is squashed up to -8 LUFS (DR 5) on CD, and later in the playlist, Madonna’s “Living For Love” clocks in at an eye-watering (and heavily distorted) -7 LUFS (DR 4!)

But on YouTube, all of them are being played back at a similar loudness of roughly -13 LUFS.

What this means is that songs with greater dynamic range – from quiet to loud – will be able to stand out. And those which just crank the volume to 11 won’t.

Interesting too that as with app review, Google has quietly done this and made no noise about it.


Kindle Cover Disasters » Tumblr

Words can’t describe how great this is. Let’s see if an image will…

Nah, you have to see them collected together to get the full horror.


Unscrupulous website adverts again redirecting some users to App Store from Safari » 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

Website advertisement companies have found a way to circumvent the protections introduced in iOS 8 to stop users from being kicked to the App Store because of certain cleverly-coded JavaScript advertisements.

I am now experiencing this myself, and it makes browsing on the iPhone unusable. Browsing to websites such as Reddit and Reuters and others now automatically open the App Store. In many cases, there is no way for me to read the actual content on the pages. You can see this happen in this video.

The sites he has problems with – Reddit, Macstories, Venturebeat, and more – load OK on the iPhone I’m using, but after the page has loaded the “data” dial keeps spinning, which implies it’s trying to load something. Mayo might have something set up differently. And this is definitely a problem. It also affects Android users. The blame is clearly on unscrupulous advertisers.


When will Apple build a weightless laptop? Let 26 years’ data tell us » The Overspill

I looked at trends in the weights, volumes and densities of Apple laptops:

when you start adding in the data about various laptop launches, trying to focus on the ones which are 12in or 13in (so that the screen size, and hence weight, is comparable), you find a definite trend.

It’s this: if we were relying on straight-line trends, we’d have weightless MacBooks by 2017. Yes. Perhaps they’d be airtight and filled with helium? Why not?

(Does this make me a link farm? Hope not.)


Google Play finally surpasses iOS in mobile game sessions » Chartboost

In parallel with Android’s game session growth, CPIs (Cost Per Install) — which can be used an approximation for lifetime value (LTV) — have surged by 41% from February 2014 to February 2015.

As we all know, app installs have become a major business. And as mobile gaming continues to be the leading driver of mobile revenues, a shift of gaming sessions in Tier 1 markets could be an early indicator of Google Play approaching parity with the iOS App Store.

It’s not a huge surprise to our CEO and co-founder Maria Alegre who says that over the past year she’s noticed developers have been thinking about more than one platform when launching campaigns. “While iOS has typically been where game developers start with user acquisition, we see the window of exclusive focus on iOS shrinking,” she says.

Alegre believes 2015 will indeed be the year where Android becomes more relevant than iOS. Though iOS will continue to have higher unit economics, the differences between iOS ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) and Android ARPU are shrinking — while Android’s mobile game sessions are growing month over month. “That combination of higher traffic and smaller difference between ARPU will make Android overall a more attractive business opportunity,” she predicts.

The report covers North, South and Central America. Not surprising that Android total sessions would pass iOS, since once you add in south and central America, Android ownership hugely outnumbers iOS (most of which will be in the US and Canada). (The full country data – available through the report – shows some weird changes, such as huge increase in iOS gameplay in Spain and Finland. Go figure.)

The surprise is in the suggestion that Android ARPU in the Americas is approaching that of iOS, since you’d expect many of the new Android users to be non-premium. Either iOS ARPU is falling generally, or something odd is happening with Android premium.


Tumult Hype Professional » TumultCo


Jonathan Deutsch came to my notice through a fantastic, simple app called Hyperedit (which lets you write HTML/PHP/CSS code and see it directly rendered in an adjacent screen). Since then he’s been employed by Apple, and then left Apple, and now has Tumult Hype Pro, which uses HTML5 capabilities.

I wish I were capable enough to use this program to anything like its capabilities.


When will Apple build a weightless laptop? Let 26 years’ data tell us

All the talk around Apple’s new MacBook – the lack of anything other than a USB-C port and a headphone port, the new “Force Touch” trackpad (which really is amazing, and I’ll write about another time) and how light it is got me thinking.

Particularly, how light it is. That thing really doesn’t weigh at all: you pick it up, and it barely seems to be there. It’s a helluva contrast with the Apple laptops of yore; I recall people toting around PowerBook G3s. Hell, I remember when the first portables came in from Compaq: they were gigantic things which could have been used as pricey weight training add-ons.

The discussion about the ports and lightness of course centred around two sides of a really quite polarised debate. One side said: “Apple is being stupid with this ‘thin and light’ stuff. We need ports.” The other said: “People want their portable devices to be ever more thin and light, and Apple is just giving them what they want.”

Well, how far can this go? Doesn’t there come a point when there’s nothing more to be shaved off?

I thought it would be fun to dig back and see how Apple has driven the “thin and light” idea, going right back to the original Apple Portable from 1989. Look, here it is. Isn’t it adorable?

Macintosh Portable

The Macintosh Portable from 1989. Bigger than a Macbook. Source: Wikipedia.

Introduced September 1989, weighed 7.2kg, measuring 10.3cm (closed) by 38.7cm by 37.7cm for a total volume of 15,027 cubic centimetres, and density of 479 kg/m^3 – a little more dense than barley (which is 400kg/m^3).

And then you compare this year’s model, 26 years later:

The new MacBook.

It’s thin. Also, light. Look, it’s almost floating off the table.

 

(All the data about the Apple products, by the way, comes from the invaluable resource of Mactracker, which tells you everything about pretty much every Apple product going back to the beginning of time, which for these purposes is 1975. And before you ask why I’m not comparing it with other PC makers’ laptops, it’s because there isn’t a simple or sensible comparison to be made, nor any easily available data as there is with Mactrack, which has a neat desktop and mobile app. So there.)

So when you start adding in the data about various laptop launches, trying to focus on the ones which are 12in or 13in (so that the screen size, and hence weight, is comparable), you find a definite trend.

He, He, He

It’s this: if we were relying on straight-line trends, we’d have weightless MacBooks by 2017. Yes. Perhaps they’d be airtight and filled with helium? Why not?

Apple laptop weights since 1989

Fitting Apple laptop weights to a straight line: turns out they’ll weigh nothing by 2017. Data: Mactracker

Before you snigger and yawn, just bear in mind that hard drive makers are now making them airtight – and filling them with helium. Not laughing so hard now, are you?

However if you take the more reasonable logarithmic trend, then it looks like we’re some way off weightlessness – although we might expect a half-kilo laptop in five years or so.

Apple laptops' weight: fitted to log curve

Not as much fun: seems weightless laptops are still some distance off.

(The log curve is a better fit than the polynomial one, which I’ll use below for other graphs.)

Note too that the PowerBook 180, released in 1992, seems to have been a real outlier: much lower weight than you’d expect.

Turning the volume down

But what about volume? If Apple’s making these things thinner, while keeping the screen roughly the same size, then the volume’s going down. What’s happening there?

Apple laptops volume since 1989

Fitting a power curve works best here, but 1989 distorts it a bit

Apple laptops' volume since 1992

Fitted to a power curve (which works best): the most recent models are below trend, ie lighter than expected

I’ve done two graphs, so you can see what it looks like if you exclude the original Portable. Notice how the latest machines lie below the trend line (which seems to work best as a power, rather than logarithmic, fit). There has to be a limit on how low volume can go, of course – you need a screen, you need some sort of keyboard – but Apple has really pushed the latter down in the new MacBook: the keys have less travel and the trackpad doesn’t move. That reduces the empty space needed to fit everything in, but I’d expect we won’t see much change in the next few years.

Gravity. I mean, density

Finally, if the weight is going down, and the volume’s going down, what’s happening to the density (which, let’s remind ourselves, is weight divided by volume)?

Turns out it’s increasing – quite quickly. From that barley-equalling density, it has moved quite quickly past the density of water (with the 2003 PowerBook G4 12in) and then solid magnesium (with the 2010 MacBook Air).

Apple laptops' density over time

A straight line fit seems best here. Barley, water, magnesium… all past. But pure silicon (metal) and aluminium remain way off.

There’s however quite some way to go before it goes past solid aluminium (2700 kg/cubic metre). There’s a lovely list of densities of common materials – butter, 865kg/cu m, who’d have guessed? – which might allow one to play “guess the material the Macbook model matches”.

But what does it mean?

All those graphs. But what’s the conclusion? Quite obvious really – given enough time, Apple will produce a weightless laptop of infinite density, which will suck its buyers into its gravitational well, from which they won’t be able to emerge. It’s one way to hold on to your users.

Then again, given the gravitational pull that its designs exert on a significant chunk of the internet, you could argue that it’s doing that pretty well already.

Start up: Google checks apps, Nintendo’s app strategy?, Galaxy S6 review, why 4Chan is for sale, and more


Google will check your app now. Photo by nateOne on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Contains nuts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Gacha: explaining Japan’s top money-making social game mechanism » Kantan Games

Serkan Toto outlines a tactic that just might be the one Nintendo uses when it releases its mobile games:

Pricing varies depending on the title: some games charge 100 Yen [about $1] per turn, others 300 yen. The more expensive gacha contain particularly rare cards, but the element of luck is always there.

A lot of makers offer playing gacha once per day for free in order to a) get users “addicted” and b) to boost retention/the number of log-ins. Makers also offer discounts (for example during a special sales campaign), or limited-edition items (for example during seasonal events like Christmas or Halloween).

And gacha work well – extremely well: from some makers, I am hearing that up to 50% of their overall sales come from these machines. People just can’t stop paying money (in the form of paid virtual coins or tokens) to be able to go for another round.


Google X boss says company should have curbed Glass hype » Yahoo Finance

Alexei Oreskovic:

The Internet company did not do enough to make clear that the $1,500 computer that mounts to a pair of eyeglasses was merely a prototype and not a finished product, Google’s Astro Teller said during a talk at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin.

“We allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention for the programme,” said Teller, whose official title at Google is Captain of Moonshots, during a talk that focused on how his group has learned from some of its failures.

Uh-huh. And now recall this, from February 2013 (in Nick Bilton’s story that was probably the first to source Apple working on the Watch):

While Apple continues its experiments with wearables, its biggest competitor, Google, is pressing ahead with plans to make wearable computers mainstream.

According to a Google executive who spoke on the condition that he not be named, the company hopes its wearable glasses, with a display that sits above the eye, will account for 3% of revenue by 2015.

Oh, Nick. Name that executive. Go on go on go on.


The inside story of how Apple’s new medical research platform was born » Fusion

Kashmir Hill has the exclusive:

A few months earlier, Apple had poached [Michael] O’Reilly from Masimo, a Bay Area-based sensor company that developed portable iPhone-compatible health trackers. Now, [as the new VP for medical technologies at Apple] he was interested in building something else, something that had the potential to implement Friend’s vision of a patient-centered, medical research utopia and radically change the way clinical studies were done.

After[Dr Stephen] Friend’s talk, O’Reilly approached the doctor, and, in typical tight-lipped Apple fashion, said: “I can’t tell you where I work, and I can’t tell you what I do, but I need to talk to you,” Friend recalls. Friend was intrigued, and agreed to meet for coffee.

Gotta love that introduction. It’s either the CIA or Apple, basically.


Samsung Galaxy S6 review: in depth » Recombu

Chris Barraclough got his hands on one. I found this section surprising:

The Galaxy S6 rocks Samsung’s own Exynos chipset, an octa-core processor comprised of two quad-core chips running at 1.5GHz and 2.1GHz. For everyday use, this provides solid all-round performance. I saw only the occasional tiny judder when multitasking with apps, while the latest games ran perfectly and HD movies streamed without stutter. The phone also admirably handles some intense camera use, including 4k and Full HD 60fps video recording.

The Galaxy S6 (and the Edge) does get a little toasty at times, if you’re doing a lot of downloading or shooting video. However, it never reaches alarming or uncomfortable levels and I never saw any adverse effects like the phone shutting down or spurting errors.

Battery life is actually pretty good too, considering that bright, super-crisp power-sucking screen. If you mess around shooting high-def video and generally thrashing the Galaxy S6, it won’t last anywhere near a full day. However, if you’re more conservative and limit yourself to occasional web browsing, email checks and piddling around with apps, you should easily make it to bed before the S6 dies.

Occasional judder? Toasty?

And:

The camera interface is a little cluttered, especially after slick, clean efforts like the LG G3’s, but anyone who likes fiddling with manual controls will enjoy.

When will UX designers learn that people don’t want to mess around with manual controls? Though the camera seems pretty good. However, there’s no comparison with any other phone here, apart from via benchmarking. That’s a poor service to readers.


How Bluebox fell for a counterfeit Xiaomi Mi 4 to claim it came with pre-installed malware » BGR India

Rajat Agrawal:

Over the past few days, a little known but well funded mobile security firm, Bluebox, published a report claiming Xiaomi was pre-installing malware on its Mi 4 smartphone. The report also claimed that Xiaomi was shipping the Mi 4 with a rooted ROM and came pre-installed with tampered versions of popular benchmarking apps. It also claimed that Xiaomi’s own identifier app showed that the phone was a legitimate Xiaomi product, raising questions on the security of products made by one of the fastest rising smartphone brand in South East Asia. However, as it turns out, the smartphone Bluebox had acquired through an unofficial source in China was nothing more than a sophisticated counterfeit. But how did a startup, with $27.5 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Tenaya Capital, and Andreas Bechtolsheim fall for a counterfeit product?

Because it was fake, and they didn’t twig it.


Creating better user experiences on Google Play » Android Developers Blog

Eunice Kim, product manager for Google Play:

Several months ago, we began reviewing apps before they are published on Google Play to better protect the community and improve the app catalog. This new process involves a team of experts who are responsible for identifying violations of our developer policies earlier in the app lifecycle. We value the rapid innovation and iteration that is unique to Google Play, and will continue to help developers get their products to market within a matter of hours after submission, rather than days or weeks. In fact, there has been no noticeable change for developers during the rollout.

To assist in this effort and provide more transparency to developers, we’ve also rolled out improvements to the way we handle publishing status. Developers now have more insight into why apps are rejected or suspended, and they can easily fix and resubmit their apps for minor policy violations.

Let’s be clear: this is a good move which can only benefit users. It’s only going to be uncomfortable for those who insisted that Google Play is somehow superior to Apple’s App Store because it didn’t have any checking.

This is largely being automated; Google admits to TechCrunch that its system may not be “as robust” as “rivals”. Assume 100 new apps per day, and it probably takes, what, 20 people working flat out? You could easily triple or quadruple that without Google noticing the cost. And follow the discussion on Android Developers on G+. Plus Russell Ivanovic is not enamoured: “file under things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime”.

Considering all of which, why does it take Apple so long to approve an app?


4chan’s overlord Christopher Poole reveals why he walked away » Rolling Stone

David Kushner on Chris Poole’s decision to put the site up for sale:

last year, he undertook what he calls “the summer of Chris.” He went to Europe and Asia, reread The Little Prince, and took classes in cooking and ballroom dancing. He began to unplug — leaving behind his laptop and weaning himself off social media. “Why am I so concerned about what’s going on back in New York?” he thought at one point while in a cafe overseas. “It’s taking me out of this really great moment, this new experience.”

But the good times didn’t last. On the evening of August 31st, Poole was thumbing through his phone in bed when a CNN report caught his eye. Hackers leaked nude photos of dozens of celebrities, including Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence. One of the main hubs for the pictures was 4chan. Poole complied with takedown notices from Hollywood lawyers, which 4channers expected. But then he went further. In the wake of the leaks, he decided to post the Digital Millennium Copyright Act policy on his site for the first time — something he’d never gotten around to doing before. Some 4channers cried sellout. “Is this the end of everything?” one posted.

The same week news of the Fappening broke, so did Gamergate.

Gamergate turned out to be the final straw. Now 4chan is up for sale. Question is, who would want it?


How will Apple Watch teach people to love watches? » aBlogtoWatch

Ariel Adams points out that Apple has put a lot more, well, love into its watches than Android Wear rivals:

While the Samsung Gear models have some traditional looking watch dials, they clearly didn’t put the effort or apply the same type of understanding to the watch world as Apple did in their hardware. With that said, is passion and a love of watches by some key Apple employees why the Apple Watch is so much like a traditional watch? I think there are more practical reasons than that, and here is where Apple confuses so many of the journalists who traditionally cover the brand. Things people wear are part of fashion, a category that tech writers tend to not cover too much. Fashion is what gets people to wear something, and technology is what gets people to use something.


Start up: cracking iPhone passcodes, why .sucks sucks, Superfish away!, Lyft and Uber face key court case


Superfish! Photo by noodlepie on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. Helps you work, rest and play. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The SSD endurance experiment: they’re all dead » The Tech Report

Geoff Gasior:

I never thought this whole tech journalism gig would turn me into a mass murderer. Yet here I am, with the blood of six SSDs on my hands, and that’s not even the half of it. You see, these were not crimes of passion or rage, nor were they products of accident. More than 18 months ago, I vowed to push all six drives to their bitter ends. I didn’t do so in the name of god or country or even self-defense, either. I did it just to watch them die.

Technically, I’m also a torturer—or at least an enhanced interrogator. Instead of offering a quick and painless death, I slowly squeezed out every last drop of life with a relentless stream of writes far more demanding than anything the SSDs would face in a typical PC. To make matters worse, I exploited their suffering by chronicling the entire process online.

Brilliant idea for an article, spread over nearly two years, which also provides truly useful info. Those things really last ages.


Uber, Lyft cases could help clarify drivers’ legal status » WSJ

Rachel Emma Silverman:

Two San Francisco judges separately ruled last week that suits filed by drivers of the ride-sharing services should go before juries. At issue in both cases is whether drivers, who are employed as independent contractors, should be considered employees of those firms, and thus entitled to the protections afforded most full-time workers.

A verdict that required Lyft or Uber to reclassify their drivers as employees would throw a wrench in business models that have commanded large investments and valuations. Last week, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten led a $530m round of funding for Lyft, helping to boost its valuation to more than $2.5bn. Uber, which is much larger, has raised more than $5bn in funding and is valued at more than $41bn.

Should the cases proceed to trial, the resulting verdicts could also set a legal precedent about how many workers should be classified in the so-called on-demand economy. That could come as welcome news for employment lawyers and others charged with figuring out whether the workers who fulfill Instacart orders, drive UberX passengers, clean homes for Handy clients and perform other tasks assigned by apps should be considered independent contractors or actual employees.

Watch these ones. Though whichever way the verdicts go they probably won’t be the last.


A new, simple way to log in » Yahoo

Chris Stoner is director of product management at Yahoo:

We’ve made the steps easy to follow – check them out below.

1)    Sign in to your Yahoo.com account.
2)    Click on your name at the top right corner to go to your account information page.
3)    Select “Account Security” in the left bar.
4)    Click on the slider for “On-demand passwords” to opt-in.
5)    Enter your phone number and Yahoo will send you a verification code.
6)    Enter the code and voila!

And the next time you sign-in, we’ll send a password to your phone when you need it to log in. On-demand passwords is now available for U.S. users. Try it out today!

What if I lose my phone? Or I’m abroad? Do normal passwords not work any more? Not clear and not answered anywhere I can find.


Apple will offer Android switchers gift cards to trade-in rival smartphones for iPhones » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman:

Apple is preparing to launch another program to boost iPhone sales in its stores, a stated goal of CEO Tim Cook.

According to sources, Apple will soon introduce a new recycling and trade-in program that will accept non-Apple smartphones, notably including Android devices, in exchange for gift cards to be used toward the purchase of new iPhones. In continuing to court Android switchers, Apple will use a similar system to the one it uses to repurchase iPhones, whereby Apple Retail Store employees determine trade-in values for devices by considering their cosmetic and functional condition.

The new program will begin in the coming weeks, following extensive training programs for retail store employees that will begin later this week. Apple employees will be able to transfer address book contacts from the rival smartphones to the iPhones, but other data will have to be moved by customers.

Two points: 1) we’ve pretty much arrived at “in Gurman we trust”, right? 2) trying to grab rival platforms’ users is the mark of a saturated market – which the US smartphone market increasingly resembles.


People who use Firefox or Chrome are better employees » The Atlantic

Joe Pinsker:

in the world of Big Data, everything means something. Cornerstone OnDemand, a company that sells software that helps employers recruit and retain workers, analyzed data on about 50,000 people who took its 45-minute online job assessment (which is like a thorough personality test) and then were successfully hired at a firm using its software. These candidates ended up working customer-service and sales jobs for companies in industries such as telecommunications, retail, and hospitality.

Cornerstone’s researchers found that people who took the test on a non-default browser, such as Firefox or Chrome, ended up staying at their jobs about 15 percent longer than those who stuck with Safari or Internet Explorer. They performed better on the job as well. (These statistics were roughly the same for both Mac and PC users.)

Why? Perhaps, the company hazards, because it means they’re “non-default”, and so are an “informed consumer”. (Other datum: “people who use “boozy” or “sexy” in their email addresses make for worse employees.”)


Joint effort guts Superfish » Computerworld

In a blog post announcing the addition of another Superfish clean-up tool, Microsoft’s security team said that the number of infected PCs detected by its software peaked at around 60,000 on Feb. 21, slumped slightly over the next two days before falling precipitously. By Feb. 25, the daily number of infected PCs encountered by Microsoft’s tools had dropped to around 3,000, sliding further over the next several days to what appeared to be less than 1,000 each day.

All told, Microsoft implied that about a quarter of a million Lenovo PCs were cleansed of Superfish between Feb. 20 and March 4.

Useful to know how many “consumer” PCs Lenovo sold over the course of three months or so, which this in effect is.


Apple iOS hardware assisted screenlock bruteforce crack » MDSec blog

Dominic Chell:

We recently became aware of a device known as an IP Box that was being used in the phone repair markets to bruteforce the iOS screenlock. This obviously has huge security implications and naturally it was something we wanted to investigate and validate. For as little as £200 we were able to acquire one of these devices and put it to work.

Although we’re still analyzing the device it appears to be relatively simple in that it simulates the PIN entry over the USB connection and sequentially bruteforces every possible PIN combination. That in itself is not unsurprising and has been known for some time. What is surprising however is that this still works even with the “Erase data after 10 attempts” configuration setting enabled.

Our initial analysis indicates that the IP Box is able to bypass this restriction by connecting directly to the iPhone’s power source and aggressively cutting the power after each failed PIN attempt, but before the attempt has been synchronized to flash memory. As such, each PIN entry takes approximately 40 seconds, meaning that it would take up to ~111 hours to bruteforce a 4 digit PIN.

Multiply by 10 for each extra digit on your PIN; use a password instead. (Clever, cutting the power before the write-to-memory.)


“.sucks” registrations begin soon — at up to $2,500 per domain » Ars Technica

Lee Hutchinson:

The number of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) available for use has climbed into the hundreds, and “.sucks” will soon be added to the list. However, angry customers eager to get their hands on brand-specific domains like “bestbuy.sucks” or “comcast.sucks” shouldn’t get their hopes up; according to MarketingLand, the domains will cost far more than most consumers will want to pay.

The pricing situation around .sucks domain names is complicated. Companies with registered trademarks will have to pay an astounding $2,499 to register their trademarked names in .sucks. Registration of non-trademarked names during the “sunrise” period (March 30 until June 1) before .sucks goes live will cost at least $199 per name, while the standard registration fee after June 1 rises to $249 per name.

Companies are typically hyper-sensitive about brand usage, and few will want their .sucks domains under someone else’s control. The .sucks pricing scheme has led to outrage from many quarters, with MarketingLand’s writeup quoting several industry figures who use words like “extortion” and “predatory.”

The words of Seth Finkelstein from 2007 on the topic of “.xxx” remain just as relevant: these TLDs are just money-making schemes for registrars (and for Icann).

In a world with any more than zero working search engines, TLDs are next to pointless, and the exotic ones like .sucks amount to nothing more than legitimised extortion schemes against companies worried about attacks on their brand.


Samsung to beat forecast on S6 » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

Bernstein Research and Deutsche Bank expect [the] S6 to boost the company’s bottom line.

“For our thesis on Samsung Electronics, the S6 does not need to be a mega-success; even a further decline to 27% market share in the premium segment would be more than enough,” Mark Newman at Bernstein Research said.

“We believe the unveiled phone is sufficient to deliver and has the potential to beat that modest expectation. Furthermore, we think the components side of the S6 is more positive for Samsung’s earnings direction with the processor moving internal (saving potentially $28 per phone), significantly more memory (DRAM and particularly NAND) and the display showing off their technology lead in flexible OLED.”

Han Seung-hoon at Deutsche Bank said Samsung’s strategies for diversified pricing on the S6 according to memory storage capacity like Apple will help its semiconductor division see a big divisional increase.

Apple seems to be having a strong quarter – analyst expectations are for well over 50m sales (compared to 43.7 in Q1 2014). Last year Samsung shipped 85m smartphones.


June 2007: Apple iPhone debut to flop, product to crash in flames » Suckbusters

David Platt in June 2007:

the iPhone is going to fail because its design is fundamentally flawed. The designers and technophiles who encouraged development of the iPhone have fallen into the trap of all overreaching hardware and software designers; thinking that their users are like themselves. As I expound in great detail in my book Why Software Sucks (Addison-Wesley, 2006, http://www.whysoftwaresucks.com) your user is not you. The iPhone’s designers have forgotten this fundamental law of the universe. The market will severely punish them for doing so.

I have three specific reasons why the iPhone’s design will cause it to crash in flames the way Apple’s late and unlamented Newton did, only much more loudly and publicly because of all the hype it’s gotten.

None of them is its price. Platt seems to have a line writing for Microsoft’s Developer Network magazine and admitted his mistake in 2012.


Microsoft X-box and a family problem » Medium

Jeremy Hillman’s son ran up thousands of dollars on Xbox Live buying “players” for FIFA at a hundred dollars a pop:

So these are my questions to Microsoft on behalf of the thousands and thousands of parents who have fallen into this same situation (you can see online that this isn’t a rare occurrence and Microsoft employs its many escalation analysts for a reason).

With all the brilliance of your engineers and sophisticated systems to protect data how hard could it be to put a realistic ceiling on what can be spent on in-app purchases before the credit card details and security code need to be re-entered? Most Apple iTunes purchases need a password to be re-entered for each new purchase.

How many users legitimately spend thousands of dollars on in-app purchases and just how much usage would it actually take for you to flag this as unusual behaviour and require confirmation that the purchase is legitimate? Banks and credit card companies regularly do this — there can’t be many reasons you don’t.

Might just want to check your credit card statement, parents.


Behind Apple’s openness is desire for data centre help » The Information

Steve Nellis and Amir Efrati:

Both Google and Amazon long have designed their own racks, servers and switches in their data centers, contracting with Asian manufacturers for production. They see their hardware designs as a competitive advantage, keeping them under wraps. Neither are in the Open Compute Project [which Apple has joined].

Facebook also designs its own data center equipment but started much later than Amazon and Google. By helping found the Open Compute Project, it has a chance to catch up. In the group, Facebook released its designs for servers and switches publicly and invited others to do the same. Microsoft, Intel, IBM and others eventually joined. The idea was that lots of companies working together can build better data centers cheaper.

“There’s this industry pattern I’ve come to observe: Open when you’re behind, closed when you’re ahead,” said Christopher Nguyen, CEO of Adatao and former engineering director of Google Apps.

That last point is so insightful, and worth bearing in mind. The article meanwhile confirms that Apple outsources some of iCloud’s services to Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (S3).


New YouTube interface rolling out to some users ditches the hamburger menu » Android Police

Liam Spradin:

Just in case you were getting comfortable with the YouTube app’s latest design, it looks like there may be more changes in store. It seems a number of users are encountering a new YouTube interface, apparently triggered server-side without an app update.

The change sees YouTube’s hamburger menu flipping right out of the interface, going the way of Google+ in discarding the left-side navigation drawer. Instead, users are given four primary tabs – Home, Trending, Subscriptions, and your profile. Interestingly, a couple of these tabs seem to have bars underneath to switch from, say, all videos to music on the home tab, or from uploads to channels on the subscription tab. Besides these changes, things are ostensibly working just like before.

Apple doesn’t like hamburger menus (those three lines at the top left or right of a screen where “other options” are available): here’s a summary of a WWDC 2014 talk about it – from which they key extract is

Remember, the three key things about an intuitive navigation system is that they tell you where you are, and they show you where else you can go.

Hamburger menus are terrible at both of those things, because the menu is not on the screen. It’s not visible. Only the button to display the menu is. And in practice, talking to developers, they found this out themselves.


Samsung tablets made spy-proof by BlackBerry using IBM software » Bloomberg Business

Cornelius Rahn:

BlackBerry introduced a modified Samsung Electronics Co. tablet computer that lets government and corporate users access consumer applications such as YouTube and WhatsApp while keeping confidential work-related information away from spies and crooks.

The €2,250 ($2,360) SecuTABLET will be available by the third quarter, Hans-Christoph Quelle, head of BlackBerry’s Secusmart unit, said in an interview Sunday. More than 10,000 units will be shipped annually in Germany alone by next year, with a higher number sold by IBM, which is handling sales to companies worldwide, he said.

The SecuTABLET combines Samsung Electronics’s Tab S 10.5 with Secusmart’s microSD card and IBM software to wrap applications that hold sensitive data into a virtual container where they can’t be harmed by malware. Germany’s computer-security watchdog is evaluating the device for classified government communication and will probably give its approval before the end of the year, Quelle said.

I’m not sure in what sense BlackBerry “introduced” this. Its tieup with Samsung seems to be as an MDM (mobile device management) vendor. Samsung makes the hardware, IBM does the virtualisation, BlackBerry does the..?


Start up: making the Apple Watch, Tinder with an AI, web v apps again, what’s the real mobile search?, and more


Uvas reservoir, California, in February 2014. Photo by ian_photos on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Can be hung on string to deter tigers. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tinder users at SXSW are falling for this woman, but she’s not what she appears » Adweek

Tinder users at the SXSW festival on Saturday were encountering an attractive 25-year-old woman named Ava on the dating app. A friend of ours made a match with her, and soon they were have a conversation over text message.

But when he opened up Ava’s Instagram, it became clear something was amiss. There was one photo and one video, both promoting Ex Machina, a sci-fi film that just happened to be premiering Saturday night here in Austin. The link in her bio went to the film’s website. And it turns out the woman in the photos is Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who plays an artificial intelligence in the movie.

The conversation is rather clever, in the context of the film. I liked this as a promotional idea. (Other people didn’t. I’d say, abandon hope all ye who go on Tinder, and you won’t be disappointed.)


How Apple makes the Watch » Atomic Delights

This link has been shared all over the place, but you might have chosen to avoid it. That’s a mistake; you can discover so much just about manufacturing from reading it. Here’s just a tiny piece of Greg Koenig’s writeup, based solely on the Apple Watch manufacturing video:

Apple chooses to not show what is likely the most unique and important step in the production of the Watch; cold forging. In production forging, a blank of metal is placed between two extraordinarily hard steel dies that have the bottom and top halves formed into open faced molds. The hammer – a piece of capital equipment roughly the size of a house laid on it’s end – slams the dies closed with force measured in tens of thousands of tonnes. Under such pressure, the metal reaches a state called “plastic deformation” and literally bends, compresses and flows into the shaped cavities of the die. For complex, or high-precision forging, multiple dies with successively deeper cavities are used to gradually tease the material into the desired shape.

Forging produces what’s called a “net shape” part; the process is unable to create precision holes, pockets, threads and other features that will require a trip to the CNC mills. What forging does do is create parts of exceptional strength.

A hammer the size of a house. Consider that for a moment. Koenig merits your attention.


Can the mobile Web win back developers from iOS, Android? » CNET

Stephen Shankland speaks to Dominique Hazaël-Massieux of the W3C:

Web allies are working to make up for lost time. The Application Foundations effort, announced in October 2014, adds new heft to existing work to improve standards. It emphasizes a collection of priorities like video chat, cryptography, typography, responsiveness and streaming media.

“There are challenges around performance, around making apps work offline and outside the browser,” Hazaël-Massieux said. One big part of the fixes is a standard called Service Workers that dramatically remakes Web apps’ deeper workings. Service Workers are programs that run in the background, letting Web apps work even if there’s no network connection and enabling things like push notifications. With Service Workers, those notifications could come through even if a person is using another app.

“A component provided by the browser registers itself with the operating system. When the OS receives a notification, it knows it should wake up the browser, and the browser wakes up the Web application,” Hazaël-Massieux said. “Service Workers are about getting the Web to live also outside the browser. That opens up interesting opportunities.”

Another feature he’s excited about is payments provided with an interface that would take Apple and Google out of the loop, letting the programmer choose what payment mechanisms to offer.

In general, the answer has to be “no”, though. Simply because (as Matt Gemmell has pointed out) a web app is “an app running on an app running on the system”, where an app is “an app running on the system”. It’s a bit like interpreted v compiled code.


I’ve seen the new face of Search, and it ain’t Google » Alex Iskold

The “ten blue links” aren’t optimum on mobile (Google already knows this, of course);

imagine, that instead of Google text field or browser bar, you get a familiar Text Messaging interface and you can ask questions. Here is what happens next:

1. You will ask questions in the natural form, like you do in real life.

2. Your questions will be naturally compact, because you are used to compact form of text messaging, but they won’t be one word or one phrase like we type into Google. You still can have typos, and missing punctuation.

3. This format naturally lends itself onto the conversation. That is, you don’t expect 10 links, you expect a human response. And you expect to respond in response to this response, and so on – that is, you expect a conversation.

4. ‘The answer’ will be things / objects / places, and links will become secondary. The answer will be 1 or 2 or 3 things but not 10 things. The choice will be naturally added via a conversation and iteration, not by pushing 10 links on the user upfront.

5. You won’t be able to tell the difference between a person or machine replying to you. This is where all the amazing AI stuff (looking at you, Amy) is going to come handy and will really shine.

6. You won’t think of this as search anymore, but as your command and control for all things you need – tasks, purchases and of course good old search. It will be like Siri, except it will be based on text, and have a lot more capabilities. And it will actually work great. (No offense Siri, but you have ways to go).

Sounds a bit like the (failed) Jelly, but he suggests Magic, Sensay and Cloe as possible implementations. This feels like it’s heading in the right direction. Search shouldn’t really be might-be-right links on mobile.


California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now? » LA Times

Jay Famigliette:

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.

I wonder what this means for all the technology companies in that region.


Connected audio products to grow at a CAGR of 88% from 2010-2018, says IHS » Digitimes

Annual shipments of connected audio products, including wireless speakers, wireless soundbars, and connected AV receivers, are expected to grow at a CAGR of 88%, from 1.5m units in 2010 to nearly 66m units in 2018, according to IHS.

The popularity of mobile devices and changing consumer habits in media consumption are not only increasing demand for wirelessly connected audio devices, but also rapidly altering the home audio landscape.

Within this composite group of products, connected soundbars and wireless speakers are expected to provide noteworthy growth, not just within home audio, but also within the overall consumer electronics market. Combined shipments are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 94% over the same period.

That’s some pretty dramatic growth, driven by people listening to audio at home from their mobile.


Samsung seals big SSD chip deal with Apple » Korea Times

The latest agreement is calling for Samsung Electronics to sell its latest solid state drive (SSD) storage devices using its V-NAND technology to Apple’s new range of ultra-slim and high-end notebook models, two people directly involved with the deal told The Korea Times, Friday.

“Samsung Electronics recently agreed with Apple to provide SSDs using its latest three-dimensional (3D) V-NAND tech. The deal is estimated to be worth a “few billion dollars,” said one of the people.

Samsung’s chip factory in Xian, China, will handle the production.

Still best of frenemies.


What Is Android 5.1’s anti-theft “Device Protection” feature and how do I use it? » Android Police

David Ruddock wrestles with this feature, which is basically the same as Apple’s iCloud lock (introduced in 2013) and Samsung’s similar feature:

With Android 5.1, Google revealed that it was releasing a new feature for handsets called Device Protection. This anti-theft feature makes it basically impossible for a thief to use your phone in the event it is stolen and wiped. First things first, though: how do you get this feature?

Right now (as in, at the time of this article), there is a single device with the feature currently enabled: the Nexus 6. The Nexus 9 will get device protection as well, but its Android 5.1 update has not yet rolled out. Nexus 4, 5, 7 (2012 and 2013), and 10 will not receive the factory reset Device Protection feature. Allegedly, no phone or tablet that did not ship with Android 5.1 or higher out of the box will receive the factory reset protection feature (again, except Nexus 6 and Nexus 9), at least according to Google at this time.

However, Google’s support site says the info applies to devices that have 5.0 or higher preinstalled (as in shipped with), though, so it’s not clear if devices that shipped with 5.0 and then later upgrade to 5.1 (or higher) will then get it. Google didn’t provide a satisfactory response to this question, unfortunately.

I get the faint feeling with Lollipop that Google is struggling to keep everything from falling off the table. First the rollback on encryption, now this. (Some commenters claim to see it on their Nexus 5, but Ruddock says it’s “simply a leftover that Google forgot to remove from the ROMs of unsupported 5.1 devices.”)


MWC: not all 4G LTE modems are created equal according to tests with Qualcomm and Samsung » Moor Insights & Strategy

Even though many modems and networks may currently only be capable of Category 4 LTE speeds (150 Mbps downlink), there are still some differences in how much those modems perform given the exact same conditions. In some cases, our testing at 20 MHz band width showed that the performance differences between Qualcomm’s and Samsung’s modems can be as big as 20%, meaning that one user can get their files 20% faster than someone else with a competitor’s phone and they are also saving power by getting that file faster and shutting down the data connection quicker.

Also finds differences in power consumption – Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 is 5-10% better there too. But Samsung benefits by buying its own modems, of course.


Google’s new London retail store: only if ‘new’ means ‘four years old’ (and not a Google store)


Photo: Evening Standard in September 2011

Jonathan Prynn, writing in September 2011, described how “Google’s first store pops up in London”:

The world’s first “Google store” opened not in California but in the less glamorous setting of PC World in Tottenham Court Road at 9am.

The 285sqft pop-up “shop within a shop”, which only sells Google’s Chromebook laptop and a few accessories such as headphones, will run for three months up to Christmas.

But if the low-key experiment is successful Google could follow its great rival Apple in opening permanent stores around the world.

Unlike the hugely hyped launch of the first Apple Store in Regent Street, very few customers were even aware of the Google shop – officially known as “the Chromezone” – and there were certainly no queues round the block.

As Nate Hoffelder pointed out on Friday, this story then got rewritten as “Google’s first retail store” in March 2015 when Google did exactly the same thing, though with a bigger budget, in exactly the same store.

I didn’t even remember the 2011 setup myself, and there’s no story about it in the Guardian at the time; it whizzed past my radar.

But someone ought to have remembered, surely? Especially because it seems that the “Google Zone” idea was then rolled out to 50 PC World stores around the UK. Did nobody notice those?

As Hoffelder notes,

“so far as I can tell the only real difference between the 2011 store and the 2015 store is the devices carried. The new store carries smartwatches, Chromebooks, Android tablets, the Chromecast, and other Google devices (a lot of which didn’t exist four years ago).”


Photo: Business Insider

No Google Glass, I’m guessing. And as Hoffelder also points out, there were rumours of standalone Google retail stores in 2013 and 2014. Those haven’t panned out either.

Now, to be fair, the new look is dramatically improved on the old one. Google didn’t have much to sell then; now it can offer all those hardware products. There’s even a Google Maps installation to a screen wall that lets you “fly” across the world.

Google seems to be claiming that this is its first branded store.

That’s what the PC World press release suggests:

In a world first, Google today unveiled its first “shop in shop”

and that

This is the first Google shop experience Google has opened anywhere in the world.

.

“Google shop experience”? The store-in-a-store isn’t new. And Google’s own spokesman seems unaware of its previous existence in this Business Insider story.

Update: via Stuart Miles of Pocket Lint, this “branded store” isn’t actually a Google store at all – as in, Google isn’t taking the money. Here’s the evidence:

From which maybe one concludes that both Google and journalists believe the company’s spin, and that four years is long enough for something to have been completely forgotten in technology. (Thanks to commenter Paul for pointing this out.)

Although I bet if it had been either Apple or Microsoft which had tried to claim their store-in-a-store was a “first” they would have had everyone on them like a ton of bricks.

Start up: Intel stutters, Google goes retail, why Apple Watch?, what people really want in news apps, and more


The view for too many small businesses, in Intel’s opinion. Photo by Ella’s Dad on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. To read. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why is Apple making a gold watch? » Benedict Evans

Apple stores are huge rich-media billboards on every major shopping street in the developed world: I can’t think of any other company that has shops as big as that in such premium locations in as many places. Apple retail is a self-funding marketing operation. So too, perhaps, is the gold watch. Apple might only sell a few tens of thousands, but what impression does it create around the $1,000 watch, or the $350 watch? After all, the luxury goods market is full of companies whose most visible products are extremely expensive, but whose revenue really comes from makeup, perfume and accessories. You sell the $50k (or more) couture dress (which may be worn once), but you also sell a lot of lipsticks with the brand halo (and if you think Apple’s margins are high, have a look at the gross margins on perfume). 

Meanwhile, though other companies are already making metal smart watches, I struggle to imagine Samsung making solid gold watches. Apple’s brand might or might not work there, but no other CE company’s does. That is, if this is marketing, and if it works, it’s marketing that no-one else can do. 

On another tack, perhaps the biggest message that this sends is that the Apple watch is not a technology product. It’s a post-‘feeds and speeds’ product. Today we have prices and release dates for the watch but no tech specs at all – because they’re irrelevant to the user experience.

Perfume margins are amazing. And yes, consider how sales of a Samsung gold smartwatch would go.


An incredibly shrinking Firefox faces endangered species status » Computerworld

Gregg Keizer:

Mozilla’s Firefox is in danger of making the endangered species list for browsers.

Just two weeks after Mozilla’s top Firefox executive said that rumors of its demise were “dead wrong,” the iconic browser dropped another three-tenths of a percentage point in analytics firm Net Applications’ tracking, ending February with 11.6%.

That was Firefox’s lowest share since July 2006, when the browser had been in the market for less than two years…

…In the last 12 months, Firefox’s user share – an estimate of the portion of all those who reach the Internet via a desktop browser – has plummeted by 34%. Since Firefox crested at 25.1% in April 2010, Firefox has lost 13.5 percentage points, or 54% of its peak share.

“Hello? It’s Marissa. Now, about that refund clause..”


Intel lowers first-quarter revenue outlook » Intel Newsroom

Intel Corporation today announced that first-quarter revenue is expected to be below the company’s previous outlook. The company now expects first-quarter revenue to be $12.8bn, plus or minus $300m, compared to the previous expectation of $13.7bn, plus or minus $500m.
 
The change in revenue outlook is a result of weaker than expected demand for business desktop PCs and lower than expected inventory levels across the PC supply chain. The company believes the changes to demand and inventory patterns are caused by lower than expected Windows XP refresh in small and medium business and increasingly challenging macroeconomic and currency conditions, particularly in Europe.

The XP refresh is/was still going on? Amazing. (During the same period last year, Intel’s revenue was $12.7bn. So it might be very close to zero growth.)


What do people want from a news experience? » Tales of a Developer Advocate

Paul Kinlan was building a news app:

I posited that users want (in order of priority):

• Notifications of important news as it happens
• An icon on the launcher so it can be loaded like an app
• News available to them offline (i.e, when they are in the tube)
• A fast site

My own intuition of an industry I am not too heavily involved in probably can’t be trusted as much as I think it can, so I sent out a terribly worded tweet.

What happened next will inform and entertain you. (No really, it will.) It did him.


Thousands have already signed up for Apple’s ResearchKit » Bloomberg Business

Michelle Fay Cortez and Caroline Chen:

Stanford University researchers were stunned when they awoke Tuesday to find that 11,000 people had signed up for a cardiovascular study using Apple Inc.’s ResearchKit, less than 24 hours after the iPhone tool was introduced.

“To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country,” said Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health. “That’s the power of the phone.”

That’s people who would have had to download the update and opt in. Some fret about the quality of data (biased selection) but:

The data may not be perfect, but many concerns about ResearchKit – such as whether the patient sample is representative – are issues with traditional clinical trials as well, said Todd Sherer, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has collaborated with nonprofit group Sage Bionetworks on one of the apps.


Forking hell! Baidu gives up on its Android-based OS » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

No news means bad news when it comes to tech companies. If they’ve nothing to boast about, the ensuing silence looks suspicious. That’s been the case with Baidu’s version of Android (pictured above), which launched in late 2011.

Despite a high-profile and promising start as Dell made use of Baidu’s Android-based Yun OS for a new China-only phone, the Chinese search giant’s OS thereafter didn’t show any signs of finding favor with the nation’s smartphone shoppers. Yesterday, Baidu confirmed in its Yun OS forums that the Android skin will not get any more updates. The project is now suspended.

Had its own product suite, but missed the boat for this. However, has 500m monthly active users for its mobile search and 200m MAUs for its maps product. Might struggle by.


Google opens its first Google-branded store-in-a-store, in London » WSJ

Saabira Chaudhuri:

Google has opened in London its first Google-branded store-in-a-store selling space.

Housed within Dixons Carphone DC.LN -0.41%’s Currys PC World store on Tottenham Court Road, the Google Shop will give Google the opportunity to show off its range of Android phones and tablets, Chromebook laptops and Chromecasts.

“The pace of innovation of the devices we all use is incredible, yet the way we buy them has remained the same for years. With the Google Shop, we want to offer people a place where they can play, experiment and learn about all of what Google has to offer,” said James Elias, the U.K. marketing director for Google.

In some ways, the Google Shop is more of a branding exercise than an approximation of a standalone store. All sales from the store go to Dixons Carphone.

So it’s to sell.. Chromebooks? Chromecast? And – Google needs branding? Seriously?


Start up: how Brin/Page handle email, smartwatch disruption and use, from $500k to zero on Kickstarter, and more


The Google founders’ approach to triaging email. Photo by M@XONGS on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. May contain the word “smartwatch”. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Use cases for smart watches » Action at a Distance

Richard Gaywood:

I have been using an Android Wear smartwatch for the last three months, exploring different software options and possibilities. What follows is a list of the roles I have found it playing in my life — my use cases, in software engineer jargon. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t a very personal list; perhaps none of these things appeal to you, would be a reason for you to desire a smartwatch. But then again, there are surely more use cases I don’t care about or haven’t found that you do. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

However, note that there are a couple of well-discussed banner features people associate with smartwatches that I’m going to skip over purely because they have already been thoroughly discussed elsewhere: fitness (not only through step counters and heart rate tracking, but also utilities like interval trainers and performance recording like Strava and Runkeeper) and notification triage. What I’m trying to do with this post is point out some less commonly thought of use cases than these.

Good to hear from someone who has actually been using this for longer than a few minutes.


David Shin’s answer to ‘How do Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey manage their email?’ » Quora

Shin’s response:

When I worked at Google in 2006/2007, Larry and Sergey held a Q&A session, and this exact question was asked of them. One of them answered (I don’t remember which) with the following humorous response (paraphrased):

“When I open up my email, I start at the top and work my way down, and go as far as I feel like. Anything I don’t get to will never be read. Some people end up amazed that they get an email response from a founder of Google in just 5 minutes. Others simply get what they expected (no reply).”

Seems pretty sensible to me. That’s roughly how I work. Which is why I haven’t responded to your email, and probably never will.


Syncthing

Interesting product which

replaces proprietary sync and cloud services with something open, trustworthy and decentralized. Your data is your data alone and you deserve to choose where it is stored, if it is shared with some third party and how it’s transmitted over the Internet.

Selling points (if you can have that on something that’s free):

• Private. None of your data is ever stored anywhere else than on your computers. There is no central server that might be compromised, legally or illegally.
• Encrypted. All communication is secured using TLS. The encryption used includes perfect forward secrecy to prevent any eavesdropper from ever gaining access to your data.
• Authenticated. Every node is identified by a strong cryptographic certificate. Only nodes you have explicitly allowed can connect to your cluster.


Apple Watch isn’t good enough (that’s great news), and overlooked jobs » Valuing Disruption

Bill Esbenshade looks at Apple’s Watch as a low-end disruptor:

A lot of people are looking at the Watch and saying “it’s not good enough” because of a range of issues related to functionality/reliability: battery life too short, watch too thick or clunky looking, too tethered to the iPhone, not enough health sensors, etc.

The irony is that these shortcomings should be good news for the Watch’s future. That’s because under disruption theory, when a product isn’t good enough on a range of performance dimensions, then the vendor has lots of things to improve — through new product versions — before the product starts overserving. See Concepts page and discussion of Clayton Christensen. This means there’s lots of room for Apple — as an integrated manufacturer — to making sustaining leaps ahead of more modular smartwatch competitors relying on Android. See post titled Apple’s Long Term Advantages. Apple has plenty of room to improve the user experience and move up the improvement trajectory without overserving.

(Esbenshade owns Apple stock.) My own query is – shouldn’t this sort of disruption be coming in from the high end or the low end? The Watch seems to approach from somewhere around the middle.


No, the CIA isn’t stealing Apple’s secrets » Errata Security

Robert Graham on The Intercept’s story on the matter:

The Intercept doesn’t quote people who actually know what they are talking about. As I repeat over and over, for every Snowden document, there’s some expert who has presented on that topic at BlackHat, DefCon, or similar hacking/cybersec conference. There’s no excuse for writing a story on these topics and quoting only activists like Soghoian rather than technical experts from these conferences. For example, a quick search of “BlackHat reverse engineering chips” quickly lead to this presentation.

I point this out because another subject of that Intercept article was about trojaning XCode, the Apple development tool used to compile iOS apps. A quick search would have come up with a BlackHat presentation by Errata Security’s own David Maynor where he trojaned Microsoft’s compiler, GCC, and a lesser known compiler called LCC. There’s no excuse for writing this story without reaching out to Maynor, or even Ken Thompson, the co-creator of C/Unix who inspired compiler-trojaning.

Again with compilers, there’s context that is carefully hidden by the Intercept story.

Complex topic, though, which has got everyone looking over their shoulders, and quizzically at their compiler errors, saying “But is it a REAL error, or..?”


How a half-million dollar Kickstarter project can crash and burn » Medium

Haje Jan Kamps has the scars to prove it:

the legal costs were only step one of the battle. The electronics and software design for Triggertrap Ada ended up costing vastly more than we had originally budgeted, in part because it turned out that we couldn’t use the microprocessor we wanted to (the electronics agency claimed that the original microprocessor didn’t have enough memory), and had to do several more design iterations than we had anticipated. Compared to our original project budget, we spent 9.4x more on this phase than we planned to.

In part because of the additional design iterations, we ended up having to spend two and a half times what we had budgeted on our prototyping costs — high-quality 3D printing and subsequent hand-finishing of prototype plastics is hideously expensive — and our industrial and plastics design went significantly over budget.

(Via Matt Baxter-Reynolds.)


Quick take on disruptive potential of smartwatches » Naofumi Kagami

Kagami is a student of disruption theory and practice, and has an interesting take: that it’s the existing watch brands that will thrive in the newly created smartwatch space:

Without going into detail, this is what I expect the smartwatch landscape to look like after the dust has settled;

• Apple will be the undisputed number 1. They will aggressively innovate on the Apple Watch, even to the extent that it cannibalises the iPhone. The Apple Watch will gradually become more and more independent of the iPhone.

• The current Android smartphone OEMs will initially play in the smartwatch market, but they will fail to make profits due to their lack of brand power. Eventually most will retreat from the smartwatch market and focus on making big and powerful smartphones. The few that remain will only get the scraps from the very low-end of the market. The exception might be Samsung. If their Tizen operating system enables them to innovate faster than Android Wear, there is the possibility that Samsung will be able to profit from smartwatches (due to the lock-in they get).

• Current watchmakers will be the major Android Wear players in the smartwatch space, especially in profits. The electronics will be provided by the Shenzhen ecosystem or a chipset provider (maybe Intel). Depending on how well Google can monetise from Android Wear, we might see some rapid innovation.

But read all of it for what that then implies for those smartphone OEMs…


Microsoft has its ‘groove back,’ say some CIOs » WSJ

Clint Boulton:

Michael Sajor, CIO of Apollo Education Group, stopped meeting with Microsoft sales executives a few years ago because they tried to sell him software without bothering to learn about it would help him run his business. “They were, all-around, just a pretty ugly company to deal with,” Mr. Sajor said.

But Mr. Sajor said the company is showing “signs of life” improving its focus under Mr. Nadella. Now Microsoft representatives ask how they can better support the 250,000 University of Phoenix students for whom Mr. Sajor provides technology. Two months ago, Apollo converted from the on-premises Office software to Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software, which includes the version of Office for iPad. He said the company still has some work to do to solidify customers’ trust in the company, but he’s optimistic in his experience with the company under Mr. Nadella. “If they stay on track, they’ll win our hearts and minds like other companies have done by becoming real partners,” Mr. Sajor said.

Mobile-first, cloud-first. Nadella is a smart strategist.


Start up: Doppler scrolling, Apple v record labels, the price of attention, where Google+ failed, and more


Photo of houses in Mexico by Oscar Ruiz. Follow the link and there’s a downloadable wallpaper. More details in the first link below.

A selection of 8 links for you. Contains no nuts or squirrels. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

House Picture » National Geographic Photo of the Day

Oscar Ruiz:

A few years ago when I was working as a helicopter pilot for a local radio station, we were required to fly around all of Mexico City chasing news and traffic. I remember flying up to the highway that connects Mexico City with the neighboring state of Puebla, and on my way back this housing complex that seemed to go on forever caught my attention. I decided to circle around to observe from up close what I later found out was the recently built San Buenaventura complex, which is located in Ixtapaluca, on the eastern outskirts of Mexico City.

They’re real houses, real sized.


Fight between Apple and Spotify could change digital music; labels said to reject pricing below $9.99 » Billboard

Glenn Peoples:

Apple’s upcoming subscription service, slated for a June launch according to an industry source and media reports, will forego the freemium model for a paid-only approach. It’s an approach Beats Music co-founder Jimmy Iovine, an executive at Apple since the acquisition of Beats Electronics, has consistently favoured.

Negotiations for Apple’s upcoming subscription service are evidence labels are standing firm on pricing. Industry sources say Apple has backed down from its effort to lower monthly pricing for its subscription service to $7.99 from $9.99. Apple would have to absorb the loss if it sets a price lower than the standard $9.99…

…An industry source dismisses rumours that Apple will be able to outmanoeuvre and outbid its competitors on exclusives for most key releases. “Apple is one of the biggest companies in the world. If they want exclusive content, they’re going to have to get out the chequebook.”

Basic economic theory suggests that lowering the price of subscriptions could radically improve the number of subscribers, while also growing the revenue pie. Presently, subscription prices are too far to the right of the demand curve.

(I’ve anglicised the spelling of “favor” and “checkbook” and “outmaneuver”.)


We give the Apple Watch an A+ » BTIG Research

Walter Piecyk’s a fan, and reckons Apple could sell 30m if it can meet production demand:

At the Apple event yesterday, I was able to use and try on several different models of the Apple Watch, when I wasn’t getting shoved out of the way. The operation of the watch was smooth, easy to use and flawless, alleviating prior concerns. There was no lag or latency in its performance and while some of the icons were small on the wrist sized screen, my fat finger always seemed to find the correct button. None of the watches felt hot to the touch and the quality of the materials and feel of the watch lived up to Apple’s typical quality standards. I came in a skeptic and emerged pleasantly surprised buy the product.

Taptic is something different.

The taptic response on the Apple Watch is notable. I have never been a fan of haptics in the past. In my experience the vibration of haptics felt like you were getting an electric shock. But the tap that your wrist feels from an incoming message on the Apple Watch can only and simply be described as light tap. I actually didn’t even notice the tap the first time, it is so subtle. But it is clearly there and very unique.

(Free registration required to read note in full.)


Calls to ban Minecraft in Turkey » Kotaku UK

Brian Ashcraft:

Last month, a Turkish ministry began a probe to investigate whether or not Minecraft should be banned for being “too violent”. Today, the results of the investigation were announced: Minecraft should be banned.

Turkish websites Hürriyet Daily News and LeaderGamer report that the country’s Family and Social Policies Ministry is now calling for Minecraft to be banned in the region. The ministry’s report has been sent to the legal affairs department, along with instructions for the legal process for the ban to begin. Ultimately, whether the game is banned or not will be decided in the Turkish courts…

…”Although the game can be seen as encouraging creativity in children by letting them build houses, farmlands and bridges, mobs [hostile creatures] must be killed in order to protect these structures. In short, the game is based on violence,” the report stated (via Hürriyet Daily News).

Unlike Turkey’s repression of its citizens, which is based on kittens.


Motion sensing using the doppler effect » Daniel Rapp

Recently I stumbled upon an interesting paper for implementing motion sensing requiring no special hardware, only a speaker and mic! Unfortunately the paper didn’t include code to test it, so I decided to reproduce it here on the web!

Amazingly cool:

Would love to see ideas that come out of this. Scrolling by waving your hand is smart enough.


The cost of paying attention » NYTimes.com

Matthew Crawford:

A few years ago, in a supermarket, I swiped my bank card to pay for groceries. I watched the little screen, waiting for its prompts. During the intervals between swiping my card, confirming the amount and entering my PIN, I was shown advertisements. Clearly some genius had realized that a person in this situation is a captive audience.

Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.

What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.

I’m constantly amazed by how much advertising Americans are willing to tolerate (and then try to export to everyone else). US TV is essentially unwatchable for anyone brought up in the UK because of the constant ad breaks, which are a form of attention deficit disorder in themselves.


iPhones will ship with Intel LTE chips inside in 2016 » VentureBeat

Mark Sullivan:

Intel will provide the fast wireless modem chip for a new Apple smartphone in 2016, VentureBeat has learned from two sources with knowledge of the companies’ plans.

Intel’s new 7360 LTE modem will occupy a socket on the new iPhone’s circuit board that’s long been reserved for Qualcomm chips.

Intel has been gunning hard during the past year for a place in the iPhone and now appears to have succeeded, at least partly. The 7360 chip will ship inside a special version of the iPhone that will be marketed to emerging markets in Asia and Latin America, the sources said.

First iPhone scoop of the year? A good one if so, and quite a coup for Intel.


What Google+ Should have been » Medium

Kunal Tandon:

I worked at Google when Google+ was in internal beta as the “Emerald Sea” project. I used it all the time. It was a wonderful internal communication, collaboration, and professional networking tool. ie Slack, long before Slack.

Google+ should have been part of, and deeply integrated into the Google Apps suite (email, calendar, drive, docs.) It would have increased the value of those apps dramatically! Google+ could have been the KILLER team collaboration app. And now it’s dead.


Start up: harassment claims against Google, android dog funerals, self-destructing handset makers? and more


A Dropcam watches the snow fall, pretending to ignore you. Photo by Scott Beale on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Contains minimal Watch content. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dropcam’s slow slide into Nest — and therefore Google — begins » PandoDaily

Nathaniel Mott:

Dropcam users are being asked to create Nest accounts — regardless of whether or not they own a Nest product — so they can use “new features and improvements” to their cameras.

The Verge reports that the new accounts will be used to support some of the integrations Nest promised when it acquired Dropcam for around $555 million in cash June 2014. It will also ensure that Dropcam customers have agreed to Nest’s updated terms of service.

Anyone who wasn’t worried before about Google acquiring these companies (it acquired Nest in January 2014; Nest then acquired Dropcam in June) before should be worried now.

But of course, you’ve already got a Dropcam (which looks pretty useful). So setting up an account, well..


Google hit with sexual harassment complaint from ex-employee » Betanews

Mark Wilson on Kelly Ellis’s allegations – which are serious, and go up as far as behaviour by Vic Gundotra – made over the weekend:

Google would much prefer to be seen encouraging women into technology but Ellis – who worked on the Google+ team – dismisses this as nothing more than “PR bullshit”. She also says that she was let down by co-workers who failed to back her up.

Ellis spent a good deal of time on Saturday tweeting a series of snippets about her time at Google where she worked from 2010 to 2014. The tweets started with a very blunt statement: “At Google I was sexually harassed by someone who was later promoted to director”. Dozens of tweets then followed giving more details about what had happened.

Now working as a software engineer at Medium, Ellis says that the harassment was the main reason she left the company back in July. She says “I don’t care if people believe me or not”, but, we have to refer to what she says as allegations. She says that Roderick Chavez, another Google engineer, harassed her:

Google hasn’t responded to the allegations at the time of this being collated.


The privacy and security questions we must ask about the Apple Watch » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

Apple wants to be your iDoctor. Even if its devices aren’t actually FDA-approved, the apps it makes available that could offer up diagnoses and treatment will be.

Now that our iDevices are going to be collecting even more information from us, what privacy and security concerns do we need to be freaking out about?

“Freaking out about”? Asking about, perhaps. It seems there’s nothing to freak out about.


Imaginary ISIS attack on Louisiana and the twitterbots who loved it » Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

On September 11, 2014, [Gilad] Lotan, a data scientist, started researching a massive, coordinated, and failed hoax to create panic over an imaginary ISIS attack on a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana. The hoax included Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia identities (some apparently human piloted, others clearly automated) that had painstakingly established themselves over more than a month. Also included: fake news stories, an imaginary media outlet called “Louisiana News,” and some fascinating hashtag trickery whereby a generic hashtag was built up in Russian Twitter by one set of bots, then, once trending, was handed over to a different set of English-language bots that used it to promote the hoax.

More interesting is the fact that the hoax failed. Lotan shows that Facebook’s Edgerank proved to be resistant to gaming using the process employed by the hoax’s creator(s); that Twitter clusters can be trumped by real news sources; and that Wikipedia’s vigilance was adequate to catching fakesters who create hoax pages.

One feels it’s important to add the proviso: “this time”. There’s more from John Borthwick on Medium. And speaking of Twitter bots…


This is what a graph of 8,000 fake Twitter accounts looks like » Terence Eden’s Blog

Like this:

Eden spent a weekend digging into the nests of fake accounts:

There appears to be several “loops” – that is bots which are in an almost closed network with each other. I see at least half a dozen circles – the rest appear to be following other fake accounts at random.

The centre of those circles appear to be real people. I can’t say why they have lots of fake followers – it’s possible that they – or someone else – has just bought them to make it look like they’re more popular than they really are. There’s no suggestion that they control the fake accounts.

One of the central nodes has 650,000 followers. It’s not possible to know quite how many of those are fake – I’m guessing the majority are.

It seems that there’s a nasty nest of these bots. In the last few weeks I’ve reported a dozen or so for spam – but with literately tens of thousands in the network it’s impossible for any individual to make a meaningful impact.


Avoidable Contact: the watery Big Bang, the 32-step power steering fluid check, disposable faux-ury » The Truth About Cars

Jack Baruth starts with racing cars, then veers into watches…

Hublot and other watchmakers are busy CAD-creating their own “manufacture movements” to replace the generic ETA/Sellita/Valjoux movements found in their products. In this, the Cretaceous period of watch enthusiasm, the ability to engineer and manufacture one’s own mechanical watch movement is essential for “credibility”. Not that the genuine prestige watchmakers all used their own movements anyways, but there’s a certain amount of Cadillac-at-the-Nurburgring idiocy going on: Rolex makes their own movements, and they are a respected brand, so we need to have our own movements as well, even more complicated and feature-packed, and then we will be more respected than Rolex.

There’s just one little problem with that strategy. The proliferation of quick-bake “manufacture” movements is creating an entire generation of hugely expensive, amazingly complicated, completely “bespoke” watches which will be impossible to fix.

…and then he comes out the other side and goes into Porsches, and 993s v Boxsters, but it’s really about durability and inheritability. Very appropriate in light of you-know-what.


Chart: Samsung leads the smartwatch market » Statista

Who are the main players in the smartwatch market? Like the smartphone market, Samsung is going to be Apple’s main competitor. The South Korean technology behemoth sold approximately 1.2 million units in 2014, ahead of second placed Pebble with 700,000. The top three was rounded off by Fitbit who sold 600,000 smartwatches.

Fitbit does a smartwatch? Also, Motorola seems to have been subsumed into Lenovo, so that the Moto 360 looks like it did 500,000 units.

My one problem with these numbers is that they don’t fit with the number of Android Wear devices sold and activated, which we know is 720,000 (give or take a few).


The global handset industry is set for self-destruct » Digits To Dollars

Jay Goldberg isn’t happy:

Let’s say you make a product, and you have a lot of competitors, dozens, hundreds. Prices are falling. More people are piling into the market. Now it is time for you to design a new product. Do you experiment with a radically new form factor? Let a single designer attempt to craft a finely honed product that stands out for its quality? Or do you come out with a product that is just a modest upgrade of last year’s product, with no distinguishing design or features?

Well, when you put it like that…..

Really, I am kinda dumbfounded. That handset OEMs seem to be on a path of self-destruction. I visited every major OEM’s booth and dozens of smaller vendors. I am sure I missed one or two interesting devices with some novel feature, but at some point, I can only stare at identical black, plastic slabs for so long. There is nothing new or differentiated out there, and this cannot last.

I have to admit, at one point, I almost lost my temper. A couple times actually. The industry seems to be in some very complicated form of denial. And there seem to be a couple common threads to their excuses.

His idea of a QWERTY Android phone to sweep up the disenfranchised BlackBerry users is one that keeps being put forward, but nobody is brave enough to do. Point is it would have to be enormously tall, and what happens when you turn the phone sideways? Should it be a slide-phone like the G1?


If an algorithm wrote this, how would you even know? » NYTimes.com

Shelley Podolny (well, perhaps):

The multitude of digital avenues now available to us demand content with an appetite that human effort can no longer satisfy. This demand, paired with ever more sophisticated technology, is spawning an industry of “automated narrative generation.”

Companies in this business aim to relieve humans from the burden of the writing process by using algorithms and natural language generators to create written content. Feed their platforms some data — financial earnings statistics, let’s say — and poof! In seconds, out comes a narrative that tells whatever story needs to be told.

These robo-writers don’t just regurgitate data, either; they create human-sounding stories in whatever voice — from staid to sassy — befits the intended audience. Or different audiences. They’re that smart. And when you read the output, you’d never guess the writer doesn’t have a heartbeat.

Consider the opening sentences of these two sports pieces:

“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”

“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”

If you can’t tell which was written by a human, you’re not alone.

Cue observation about how many US news reports have read like they’re written by machines for years anyway.


Japan’s robot dogs get funerals as Sony looks away » Newsweek

Lauren Walker:

“I can’t imagine how quiet our living room would have been if Ai-chan wasn’t here,” Sumie Maekawa, a longtime Aibo owner, told The Wall Street Journal, using an honorific suffix applied to girls’ names.

Tatsuo Matsui, who owns two digital dogs with his wife, added, “I can’t risk my precious dogs because they are important members of our family.”

Despite the loyal fanbase, Sony decided to discontinue the bot in 2006, after selling around 150,000 units.

“Our core businesses are electronics, games and entertainment, but the focus is going to be on profitability and strategic growth,” a Sony spokeswoman said at the time. “In light of that, we’ve decided to cancel the Aibo line.”

For years following the announcement, Sony would repair Aibos that experienced technical difficulties. But in July 2014, those repairs stopped and owners were left to look elsewhere for help.

Do androids dream of electric dog funerals?