Start up: Chrome v Safari, designing Windows Phone, Apple Watch value, S6 battery life and more

Remember? That’s when Instagram for Windows Phone was last updated. Photo by Theen Moy on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Really, they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Roomba for lawns is really pissing off astronomers » WIRED

Davey Alba on how the automated method of mowing lawns (using beacons to guide the mowers) could be a hassle for the star-struck:

the system requires special permission from the FCC due to its restrictions on fixed outdoor infrastructure. In a nutshell, the FCC doesn’t want people creating ad hoc networks of transmitters, which could interfere with existing authorized services like cellular and GPS systems. In its filings, iRobot says it should be exempt because it doesn’t set out to establish a broad communications network — its lawnbot networks would be tightly contained.
Astronomers say that’s not good enough. The frequency band proposed for the lawnbot (6240-6740 MHz) is the very same one several enormous radio telescopes operate on. Astronomers want the FCC to protect their share of the radio spectrum so their telescopes continue observing methanol, which abounds in regions where celestial bodies are forming.


Chrome is still a threat to your MacBook’s battery » The Verge

Vlad Savov on the comparative battery life of MacBooks using the Chrome browser, and Apple’s Safari:

It’s not just the distance you can go with Chrome that’s an issue. The speed and quality of the ride are also compromised. The widely used SunSpider browser benchmark clocks the MacBook Pro in at 203ms when using Chrome. Safari scores 30% better with a time of 144ms. Same machine, very different outcomes. You’d think YouTube would be a spot where Google collects an easy win, but that’s been another cause of distress: the new 4K 60fps videos that YouTube now supports are playable on the MacBook, but only — you guessed it — when using Safari and not Chrome. Google’s own browser chokes while playing back video from Google’s own video service.

Chrome’s problem is that it sets every page up as a virtual machine, demanding its own chunk of memory. Safari.. does it differently. The difference in battery life, though, is huge. Commenters weighing in seem to agree (while also liking the convenience of Chrome).


Apple Watch: an overnight multi-billion dollar business » carlhowe.com

Carl Howe used to analyse this sort of stuff for a living. Here he helps you think of the supply chain issues involved in the Apple Watch by likening it to producing a million origami lobsters:

Now let’s make this a little more realistic. As it turns out, we really want a million lobsters of two different sizes. Further, ordinary paper tears too easily and is the wrong colour for Origami lobsters, so we’ve decided to make our own paper; that will require its own process. We also need to be able to deliver some of the lobsters with glitter and others with hand-painted decorations; we’ll need to plan to supply and apply those materials too. Oh, and we want to make a few thousand out of two colors of pure gold leaf instead of paper. You’ll have to manufacture the paper for that too.
What’s your plan look like now?
There’s no rush; you can deliver your million lobsters any time during the month, provided that you don’t mind people complaining that you are way too slow at getting this done. Oh, and you’ll be criticized in the international press for every failure to produce perfect lobsters.
And now, imagine this same plan, except with this twist: no one has successfully folded this particular type of Origami lobster before, so you really don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. And your reward if you are successful will not be praise, but demands that you build even more next month.

This is such a wonderful post for wrapping your head around supply chain issues – as good in its way as Greg Koenig’s commentary about the amazing mechanics of how the Apple Watch is made.
Howe has a number for how many Watches have been sold, but you need to read his piece to find out. He’s probably right. (He also notes in an update that there’s only one module – that is lobster – so the Watch is even more profitable.)


Galaxy S6 Edge battery life – 4 days later » Android Authority

Let’s revisit Nirave Gondhia and see how he’s getting on with his series:

Another day of 13 to 16 hour battery life suggests that with my usage pattern, this is the most I can expect from the Galaxy S6 Edge. However, considering that the average user works approximately eight hours per day, it’s clear that the Galaxy S6 Edge will last a full working day, allowing you to charge it overnight and rely on it until you get home after work.
Another thing to take away is that using your phone at 50% brightness or less adds several hours to your battery life. I’ve done further testing on this and it’s certainly a key factor. The octa-core processor drives over 3.6 million pixels and if the brightness is set to full, it draws a large amount of power. Reducing to around 50 to 60% could increase your screen-on-time by over 50%.

16-hour battery life would certainly take you through a lot of the day.


Ex-Microsoft designer explains the move away from Metro » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott filleted an AMA by the designer of the new version of Office for Windows Phone so you don’t have to wade through the original. Fascinating bits, including:

Why is the hamburger menu in the top left of the display? It’s hard to reach, etc. I actually argued for top right. The issue with top right is that no one else does [it]. Being a special unique snowflake works for art but not design. Design should be invisible, so people shouldn’t be thinking ‘oh that’s odd. I’ve never seen this button used like this. I wonder if it does the same thing?’ … The industry decided top left. So to go against it you need to earn it. You need to be far, far better or else it just stands out awkwardly.”
But people need to be able to use it with one hand. “What the research is showing is that people aren’t actually as wedded to one handed use as we used to believe they are. Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly a tradeoff. Frequently used things have to be reachable, even one-handed. But hamburgers are not frequently used, and one-handed use is not ironclad. Combine those two factors together and you see why the industry has settled on this standard. It wasn’t random … And, sorry. But the hamburger has some real issues, but ‘I can’t reach uncommon things without adjusting my hand on my massive phone and that annoys me because it reminds me of the dominant OS on earth” [is not one of them].
But the bottom is better. “It turns out bottom is not better. You’d think that something 3 pixels from your palm would be easier to reach than something in the middle of the phone. But nope.

This really is a terrific post with so much about comparative user experience; this is the link you really should read today.


It has been one year since Instagram was last updated for Windows Phone » Neowin

Brad Sams:

It was on 3.22.14 that the Instagram beta was last updated and the app has remained unchanged since that day. In essence, this app represents the exact issue Windows Phone fans have expressed tirelessly over the years: It’s not the lack of apps, it’s the lack of support for the apps that do exist.
Twitter is another good example. While this app is updated more frequently, it lacks features of its iOS and Android counterparts. By all accounts, Twitter’s Windows Phone app is a distant second-thought for the company and while it is semi-frequently updated, when it does get new features, it’s months or years after the other apps.
Microsoft is aware of this, to no surprise, and they do hope that their universal apps will help to remedy this situation but it will not be an overnight fix.

It’s nice to hope. Has anyone pointed out yet that Instagram isn’t a desktop app, but is mobile-only, so the big Windows desktop installed base doesn’t matter at all to the company? Let me be the first then. Same for Snapchat, Uber.. the list goes on.


Here’s how much a Samsung Galaxy S6 replacement battery (and screen) costs » PC Mag

Sascha Segan:

According to a Samsung spokesperson in touch with the company’s support team, the Galaxy S6 battery has a one-year warranty. If its maximum capacity drops below 80% of its initial level during that year, your replacement is free (although you still have to pay for shipping.) At any other time, the replacement costs $45, plus shipping, though Samsung did not detail shipping costs.
That’s less than the $79 Apple charges for an iPhone battery replacement, but more than the official $29.99 price for a Galaxy S5 battery…
Samsung has walk-in repair centers in Los Angeles and Plano, Texas that don’t require shipping and do same-day battery swaps, the company said. Samsung is looking to establish those centers in more cities.
Screen replacements, meanwhile, cost $199 for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. That’s more than the $109 Apple charges for iPhone 6 screen repair, but less than the $299 Apple charges for repairs that involve more than the screen. Samsung screen replacements also have a one-day turnaround.


Apple Pay plans to launch in Canada this fall » WSJ

Rita Trichur and Daisuke Wakabayashi, who note that Canada has lots of iPhones (30% installed base of smartphones) and lots of NFC-capable payment systems:

Canadian banks want Apple Pay to work in a way that requires a “secondary authentication” to verify customer information before cards can be used with the phones. That means that a consumer could be required to enter a PIN, log-on to a mobile banking app or use a one-time passcode sent via text message before cards can be used on Apple Pay, those people said.

Fair enough. Seems sensible given the problems US banks saw in letting people add cards without authentication. But then it carries on:

The trouble with that approach, however, is that it creates a clunky experience for consumers who expect mobile payments to be seamless—similar to tap-and-go credit cards that are already in wide use in Canada.

I checked this with the writers – surely the banks just want to authenticate initially, not every time? – but Trichur assured me she was hearing that the banks are considering a per-transaction authentication. Sounds bonkers to me.


This is why daddy drinks » Rusty Rants

Russell Ivanovic has been a dedicated disliker of Samsung phones since the S2 because “they often represented the worst possible Android experience you could have”. But they needed to have an S6 in the Shifty Jelly offices (which do Android app development):

The first thing that struck me was the build quality. It’s really good. The next thing that struck me was the screen. It’s amazing. Bright, super high density (far higher than the iPhone and Moto X I’m used to) and so beautiful. Then I was struck by the speed…this thing is fast…like really fast. Then I took a few test photos, and damned if they didn’t look better than all the same photos I was taking with my iPhone 6. In short I had a ‘huh?’ moment. Was it possible this was a good phone?


Lessons from history: the effect on Microsoft’s culture of the US antitrust verdict. Who’s next?


Internet Explorer: a voodoo doll, but for who? Photo by Verpletterend on Flickr.

The following is an extract from Chapter 2 of my book “Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet”, published by Kogan Page (and now in its second edition – make sure you get the 2014 version with the colourful cover). It’s available on:

• Amazon UK paperback, Kindle
• Amazon US paperback, Kindle
iBooks
It’s also been translated into Finnish, Korean, Russian, Chinese, Thai, and (I think) Spanish. Someone near you is sure to sell it in a language you want to read it in, or that you want to learn. (Note that none of those is an affiliate link. All I get is the author royalties..)

I’m publishing this as a reference for anyone who wants to know how US antitrust law works (note particularly the point about “harm to consumers”), and what happens to companies that fall foul of it.

Note that in Europe, the EC’s antitrust rules don’t require it to show harm to consumers – only that competition has been stifled.

Obviously, it’s interesting to consider the cultural changes that are described by the Microsoft observers both inside and outside the company to the antitrust ruling, and wonder whether there are any parallels for Google – currently facing a Statement of Objections from the EC over its Shopping service, and an investigation to see whether its licensing for use of the Android mobile operating system is anti-competitive.



By the time Ballmer took charge [as chief executive of Microsoft, replacing Bill Gates, on 13 January 2000], the antitrust trial [against the Department of Justice] was over; the judge’s Findings of Fact had been delivered. They were damning: Microsoft had abused its monopoly in Windows to extend them to other areas. That was illegal. But no sentence had been delivered.

The trial, and especially the testimony and press coverage, had an enormous effect on the internal culture of Microsoft. The staff didn’t stop thinking they were the best programmers in the world. But quite suddenly they couldn’t attract the rest of the best programmers in the world. Partly that was because as the antitrust trial ground on through 1998 and 1999 the dot-com boom took off, promising enormous riches to smart coders who hitched a ride with the right company. Get your stock options cheaply, and when the business IPOs you’ll be rich, just like those lucky guys at Netscape and Yahoo. But there was also the feeling that to work for Microsoft was to compromise your ethics.

Inside Microsoft, there was soul-searching. An early example had come at the 1999 annual executive retreat, where Gates and Ballmer wanted to talk over the finances of the company, examine its performance and chart the next product lines – the “roadmap”. The antitrust trial’s “Findings of Fact” – the judge’s established truth about the company – hadn’t yet been published. But Microsoft had been hauled over the coals in court; Bill Gates in particular had been made to look evasive and arrogant in his videoed deposition with the prosecution’s Robert Boies.

At the meeting, Orlando Ayala, then head of sales for Latin America and the south Pacific, told the top executives that he didn’t want to talk about the roadmap. One participant recalls Ayala saying that “we’ve got to talk about what our values are at this company. I can’t work here any more if my brother [who didn’t work for Microsoft] keeps challenging what I’m doing.” The attendee describes it as an example of “stopping the normal company process of growth and business as usual, saying we have to change how this company does business.”

The attendee says: “We said ‘no, we don’t want to discuss that [roadmap], because we’re in a crisis here and we need to address what we stand for as a company’… We’ve been called evil; most of us with outside friends and family are being questioned by them, asked why we’re working for Microsoft if it’s an evil company.”

The executive admits it was an “uncomfortable” feeling: “we all recognised the ability of Microsoft to build great software that would change the world.” The trouble was that outside the company, it was simply thought of as acting like a gangster, threatening those who looked as though they might set up on a patch adjacent to its own ground. (The judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, talking to journalists under embargo during the trial, suggested that Microsoft’s actions were like those of drug traffickers or gangland killers.)

The court’s Findings of Fact said Microsoft held a monopoly of PC operating systems; it could artificially set licence prices, safe in the knowledge that barely anyone would decline. Judge Penfield Jackson pointed to an internal Microsoft study, provided in evidence, which determined that charging $49 for the Windows 98 upgrade would earn a reasonable return on investment, but that charging $89 would maximise revenue, hitting the sweet spot of the demand curve beyond which too many would-be buyers would stick with what they had. Only a monopoly would have that pricing power.

Being a monopoly (generally defined as having 80% or more of a market) is not illegal in the US; nor does it necessarily attract sanctions. But using a monopoly in one field to extend or create one in another field is, and does, if it can be shown to have harmed consumers in either or both markets. By going after the Netscape browser, which had begun to set itself up as a platform of sorts (albeit one which almost always ran on Windows), and using its control of Windows first to deny Netscape access to some APIs it needed for Windows 95, and then to boost its own Internet Explorer by insisting on its inclusion – at the threat to OEM PC makers of not getting Windows licences, which would kill their businesses – Microsoft crossed the line.

Among those also targeted for Microsoft’s arm-twisting via Windows to try to crush other products in different fields, the trial heard, were Intel, Sun Microsystems, Real Networks, IBM – which was denied an OEM licence for Windows 95 until a quarter of an hour before its official launch, and so missed out on huge swathes of PC sales – and Apple. In particular, Apple was offered a deal: stop developing its own systems for playing music and films on Windows, and let Microsoft handle them using its DirectX system. If it did, Microsoft would stop putting obstacles in the way of Apple’s Quicktime on Windows. Steve Jobs, who was at the meeting in June 1998, rejected the idea because it would limit the ability for third parties to develop content that would run on Windows PCs and Apple machines. (In retrospect, that declsion may be one of the most significant to Apple’s later success that Jobs ever made, since it meant that Microsoft could not control how Apple-encoded music was played on Windows.)

Internet Explorer was the focus of the trial, though: the number of Microsoft staff working on it had grown from a handful in early 1995 to more than a thousand in 1999. And Microsoft gave it away because reaching an effective monopoly share (50% of the browser market would be good; 80% and up ideal) was the target. Penfield Jackson completed the necessary trio needed for an antitrust conviction by pointing to harm not only for the companies affected, but also for consumers: tying Internet Explorer into Windows “made it easier for malicious viruses that penetrate the system via Internet Explorer to infect non-browsing parts of the system”.

The stock market wasn’t worried by the Findings of Fact; in the month after their publication, Microsoft’s stock value actually jumped, and it reached its all-time peak market capitalisation, $612.5bn, on the last working day of December 1999. The rest of the market for technology stocks rose too – though one analysis suggested that this was because Jackson (a pro-business Republican) had cleared the way for other companies to begin competing effectively.

Then in April 2000, with Ballmer four months into his new job, Jackson handed down his sentence: Microsoft should be split into two – one company making operating systems, one making applications.

Microsoft fought the order with all its might and wile. Jackson, it transpired, had compromised his supposedly impartial position by talking to the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta during the trial, for a book to be published immediately after it. In February 2001 a group of appeal judges declared that Jackson had violated judicial ethics with his conversations. (The real problem was that his remarks were published before the appeals process was exhausted, instead of when his verdict was published.) The breakup was halted over Jackson’s “perceived bias”. He railed that any bias was Microsoft’s fault, because it “proved, time and time again, to be inaccurate, misleading, evasive, and transparently false . . . Microsoft is a company with an institutional disdain for both the truth and for rules of law that lesser entities must respect. It is also a company whose senior management is not averse to offering specious testimony to support spurious defences to claims of its wrongdoing.”

Inside the company there was relief – and also a realisation that it had dodged a bullet. Though the sentence had been set aside, the Findings of Fact, and conviction, had not been overturned. At the next annual worldwide sales conference – held in the Seattle Mariners stadium – Ballmer explained that the culture had to change: no longer could Microsoft use its advantage in one field to dominate another. (The European Commission was to follow with similar investigations which rumbled on in parallel before coming out with demands for Microsoft to open up its software interfaces in 2003.) But it was the US case which reached down into the company’s soul…

…Some inside the company felt they had already abandoned the practices for which they were being condemned. “Arguably some of the things that we’d written in contracts were sailing a bit close to the wind,” admits one former Microsoft staffer. “But frankly if you look now at other peoples’ current contracts, whether it’s Apple’s around the iPhone, or Google’s, or even Intel’s, you’d say they were far more egregious than any of the contract terms that Microsoft signed up with Intel.” Which misses the point: it wasn’t the contracts which were bad, but the tactics, allied to Microsoft having a monopoly. Apple has no monopoly share of smartphones. Intel and Google arguably do in their own fields – and have both attracted attention (in Intel’s case, to enormous cost) from antitrust investigators…

…Pieter Knook, who worked for Microsoft through the period in its Asian business, says that the post-judgement process was exhaustive. “Every executive officer, every year, had to go through antitrust training, certify they were in compliance with the terms of the [antitrust settlement] agreement – so there was this very strong understanding, and obligation that you felt to do the right thing.”

“It had a big impact, and even a decade later it was still having an impact,” says Mary Jo Foley, a journalist who has followed Microsoft for years. “When they think about adding new features to different products or how they make sure their products work together, I think in the back of their minds is always this lingering kind of thought or checklist, like: ‘if we do that, are we going to get sued by so and so for antitrust?’ ‘Are we going to get sued by so?’ And so or so and so.” When any feature was being thought about, that question kept coming up: will it break the antitrust ruling? “I think it has almost had a chilling effect on the way they do product development,” Foley suggests.

With Microsoft suitably admonished, and now living under a new regime of oversight, the scene was set for Microsoft’s next challenges: in search, digital music and in mobile phones. First was a little startup that was already becoming the talk of internet users, one which was to form its corporate thinking around a motto that tried to express a desire not to be Microsoft: “don’t be evil”.



If you found this useful, you might like the book. It’s longer. Links above.

Start up: correcting Google, science says videogames don’t make sexists, iPhone forecasts, and more


This is how we used to write and correct “blogposts”, kids. Photo by Julie McGalliard on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. For free! I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Electric cars won’t spread even with rapid chargers: Toyota engineer » Yahoo Finance

Electric vehicle (EV) supporters have touted developing high-speed charging technology as the way forward for cars like Nissan Motor Co’s Leaf. But Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell car Mirai, said that would guzzle so much energy at once as to defeat the purpose of the EV as an ecologically sound form of transportation.

“If you were to charge a car in 12 minutes for a range of 500 km (310 miles), for example, you’re probably using up electricity required to power 1,000 houses,” Tanaka told a small group of reporters at the first test-drive event for the production version of the Mirai, the world’s only mass-market fuel-cell car.

“That totally goes against the need to stabilize electricity use on the grid.”

Ah. Good point.


Sub-Rs 10,000 smartphones contributing 75% of sales: Lenovo » India Times

Chinese tech major Lenovo today said almost three-fourth of its smartphone sales is coming from devices priced below Rs 10,000 [US$160].

The company offers smartphones priced in the range of Rs 4,000 to Rs 30,000.

“The industry itself sees about 75% of the sales coming from smartphones priced under Rs 10,000 and we have more or less a similar split,” Lenovo India Director Smartphones Sudhin Mathur told PTI.

The company started as a premium player but now have devices across entry, mid and premium segments, he added.


How many iPhones did Apple sell last quarter? » Fortune

Philip Elmer DeWitt:

BTIG’s Walter Piecyk has the low estimate (50m), independent Faizai Kara of the Braeburn Group the high (64m). The average estimate of each group — pros at 55.6m and amateurs at 59.3m — are not that far apart. Either would represent double-digit growth from the same quarter last year.

Last year’s figure was 43.7m. Apple financials are released after US market close on Monday.


Indian companies pull out of Facebook’s Internet.org amid battle over net neutrality » WSJ Digits blog

Aditi Majhotra:

A viral crusade to keep the Internet equally accessible to all users has won the backing of some of the country’s biggest online companies, which late Wednesday pulled out of a partnership with Facebook’s Internet.org over fears it could allow telecom operators to choose which web applications users can access and how fast.

India’s sophistication in this space shouldn’t be a surprise, yet it is.


From Product Club to Thington Inc. — Welcome to Thington » Medium

Tom Coates:

The more we explored the space, the more we found that however good and interesting the hardware was in the Internet of Things, the software and service layers were generally awful. Gradually, we came to believe that huge problems in these layers were hiding all of the value and the potential of the technology.

Which brings us to Thington! We decided that we wanted to build a new user interface and service layer that would push past all these problems and in the process bring in our experience working on social systems, location sharing, privacy, hardware and the web of data. And we’re super excited by what we’ve come up with. So excited in fact that we’ve put our money where our mouths are and have formally changed the name of the company from Product Club to Thington Inc.

Keep an eye on this: Coates and colleagues have a solid track record in making useful stuff.


The Search for Harm » Official Google Blog

Knowing that the EC would issue a Statement of Objections (because it sent them to Google ahead of time), Amit Singhal, Senior Vice President, Google Search, put his name to this blogpost which aimed to show that all the EC complaints are nonsense.

And it’s Google, so it’s all going to be built on really robust data, right? Except that the blogpost has been updated at least twice:

*Update: An earlier version of this post quoted traffic figures for Bild and The Guardian, researched on a third-party site. The Guardian data were for the domain guardian.co.uk, which is no longer the main domain for the paper. We’ve removed these references and we’re sorry for the error.

That was the first. And then:

Yelp has pointed out that they get 40% of their searches (not their traffic) direct from their mobile apps. They don’t appear to disclose their traffic numbers. We’re happy to correct the record.

Did I start the ball rolling querying the numbers in Singhal’s post? Yes, I did. Someone has to ask questions of Google, and it seems all the bloggers and reporters feverishly writing hot takes didn’t.

But if those two statistics are wrong… what about all the others in Singhal’s blogpost? Guess we’ll have to look at it all in detail at some point soon.


L.A. school district demands iPad refund from Apple » LA Times

The contract with Apple was approved by the Board of Education in June 2013 as part of a deal expected to reach at least $500m. Another $800m was earmarked to improve Internet access at schools.

Under the contract, Pearson was to provide English and math curriculum. The district selected Pearson based only on samples of curriculum — nothing more was available.

L.A. Unified made the deal anyway; it wanted to bundle the curriculum and the device into a single price. A three-year license to use the curriculum added about $200 to the $768 cost of each iPad. The entire purchase then was financed through school construction bonds, which can be used to purchase computers.

L.A. Unified bought 43,261 iPads with the Pearson curriculum. The district purchased another 77,175 iPads under the contract without the Pearson curriculum to be used initially for state standardized tests.

Pearson could offer only a partial curriculum during the first year of the license, which was permitted under the agreement. Teachers and principals never widely embraced the product.

Nearly a year ago, L.A. Unified sent Apple a letter demanding that it address problems with the Pearson curriculum.

“Only two schools of 69 in the Instructional Technology Initiative … use Pearson regularly,” according to an internal March report from project director Bernadette Lucas.

Seems like it’s the Pearson curriculum that’s screwed up more than the iPads, though the two also seem intertwined. The whole contract has unwound horribly.


Sexist Games=Sexist Gamers? A longitudinal study on the relationship between video game use and sexist attitudes » Abstract

Enlisting a 3 year longitudinal design, the present study assessed the relationship between video game use and sexist attitudes, using data from a representative sample of German players aged 14 and older (N=824). Controlling for age and education, it was found that sexist attitudes—measured with a brief scale assessing beliefs about gender roles in society—were not related to the amount of daily video game use or preference for specific genres for both female and male players. Implications for research on sexism in video games and cultivation effects of video games in general are discussed.

Unfortunately the study itself is paywalled, but this is the first potentially rigorous scientific study I’ve seen into the topic. So do we conclude that sexist dolts who play games would just be sexist dolts regardless? I think that’s pretty easy to answer. (Thanks to Jay Kannan for the link.)


Given enough money, all bugs are shallow » Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood on the trouble with open source and bugs (or even just code and bugs):

While I applaud any effort to make things more secure, and I completely agree that security is a battle we should be fighting on multiple fronts, both commercial and non-commercial, I am uneasy about some aspects of paying for bugs becoming the new normal. What are we incentivizing, exactly?

Money makes security bugs go underground

There’s now a price associated with exploits, and the deeper the exploit and the lesser known it is, the more incentive there is to not tell anyone about it until you can collect a major payout. So you might wait up to a year to report anything, and meanwhile this security bug is out there in the wild – who knows who else might have discovered it by then?

If your focus is the payout, who is paying more? The good guys, or the bad guys?


SanDisk forecasts first full-year revenue decline in three years » Reuters

Arathny Nair:

There is strong demand for SanDisk’s solid-state drives and memory chips.

But lower pricing, lean inventory, unplanned maintenance at its chip foundry last year and delay in sales of certain embedded parts has led to two revenue forecast cuts this year, including a warning last month.

“It looks like SanDisk is going to have pretty tough road ahead to haul in 2015,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Betsy Van Hees, adding that the company’s spending is high and will continue at “elevated levels”…

…The company had said in January it had lost a major customer, widely believed to be Apple Inc, which switched to using solid state drives made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in its MacBooks.

Would love to know quite how the (SD) memory chip demand is going in smartphones. Something about SanDisk’s SD business reminds me of Iomega – seemed like a great business offering consumer storage, which abruptly collapsed (when CD-Rs got cheap). SanDisk’s financials suggest the glimmerings of a fall in revenue in its “removable” business.


Start up: Yahoo buying 4sq?, keyless car breakins, smartphones in Africa, and more


Power amplifier widgets mean criminals don’t need to do this to your keyless car. But the alarm won’t go off either… Photo by Bekathwia on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. And only you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Sources: Yahoo in talks to buy Foursquare » TechCrunch

Yahoo has been busy rebuilding its business around mobile under CEO Marissa Mayer, and soon it could make one of its biggest bets yet on the platform. We have heard perennially that the company has been looking to buy Foursquare, the New York startup behind the eponymous local search app and location-based social “check-in” app Swarm. The latest rumour we are hearing is giving the deal a price tag of around $900m.

It must be hell going shopping with Marissa Mayer. “Let’s buy THAT!” “Marissa, it’s way overpriced.” “WANT IT!”

So, is this hideously overpriced? Let’s see…


An analysis of Foursquare’s popularity after removing checkins » Junkyard Sam

Matthew Cox:

In May 2014 Foursquare removed check-ins and transformed the app into a lesser imitation of Yelp (using the accumulated reviews from Foursquare’s loyal audience.)

Foursquare’s users felt betrayed that their reviews were used but what they once loved about the app was removed.  Here’s how that worked out:

So, not well. Lesson: don’t change a winning formula.


Europe is targeting Google under antitrust laws but missing the bigger picture » The Guardian

Julia Powles:

As Maryland law professor Frank Pasquale writes in his acclaimed new book, The Black Box Society: “Google is not really a competitor in numerous markets, but instead serves as a hub and kingmaker setting the terms of competition for others.” For Pasquale, the solution lies in greater transparency. “Google’s secrecy keeps rivals from building upon its methods or even learning from them,” he writes. “Missing results are an ‘unknown unknown’: users for whom certain information is suppressed do not even know that they do not know the information.” The irony of the situation is that Google knows so much about us, and we know so little about it.

Let that thought roll around your head a little.


Feb 2009: Google joins Europe case against Microsoft » NYTimes.com

Miguel Helft, in February 2009, as Google applied to become a complainant in the EC’s case against Microsoft over illegal tying of Internet Explorer to Windows:

“Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users,” Sundar Pichai, a vice president for product management, wrote in a Google blog. “This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft’s dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers.”

Google declined to make anyone available to discuss its announcement. By becoming a party to the case, it would participate in the proceedings and gain access to the confidential “statement of objections” that European regulators sent to Microsoft last month. Google could also argue for remedies it prefers.

This seems like a bad move, in retrospect. Google had just launched Chrome, and Android was just beginning to make its first moves. You’d have to be smart to see how mobile was going to grow (but aren’t the people at Google meant to be smart?), but angering Microsoft – as this surely did – meant that Microsoft was always going to seek revenge. Which it is now getting.


Keeping your car safe from electronic thieves » NYTimes.com

Nick Bilton is keeping the (electronic) key to his Toyota Prius in the freezer to stop people getting into his car. Here’s why:

Mr. Danev specializes in wireless devices, including key fobs, and has written several research papers on the security flaws of keyless car systems.

When I told him my story, he knew immediately what had happened. The teenagers, he said, likely got into the car using a relatively simple and inexpensive device called a “power amplifier.”

He explained it like this: In a normal scenario, when you walk up to a car with a keyless entry and try the door handle, the car wirelessly calls out for your key so you don’t have to press any buttons to get inside. If the key calls back, the door unlocks. But the keyless system is capable of searching for a key only within a couple of feet.

Mr. Danev said that when the teenage girl turned on her device, it amplified the distance that the car can search, which then allowed my car to talk to my key, which happened to be sitting about 50 feet away, on the kitchen counter. And just like that, open sesame.

BRB. Move aside, ice cubes.


Cellphones in Africa: communication lifeline » Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project

Cell phones are pervasive in the region. In 2002, roughly one-in-ten owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. Since then, cell phone ownership has grown exponentially. Today, cell phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States. Smartphones (those that can access the internet and applications) are less widely used, though significant minorities own these devices in several nations…

…Roughly a third of South Africans (34%) and about a quarter of Nigerians (27%) say that their device is a smartphone, i.e. one that can access the internet and apps, such as an iPhone, Blackberry or Android device. Smartphone ownership is less common in the other nations surveyed, and in Tanzania and Uganda it is still in the single digits. By comparison, 64% in the United States owned a smartphone as of December 2014.

But those who are more likely to own them are young, educated and English-speaking. I’d love to see some data on whether it has an economic effect to own one – though splitting that from the “educated” benefits would be tough.


The self-driving car revolution’s unintended consequence: lots of puking passengers » Co.Exist

According to a report from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, 6% to 10% of American adults will get motion sickness—with nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and so on—in fully self-driving cars either most or all of the time. Another 6% to 12% of American adults will get moderate to severe motion sickness in a self-driving vehicle at least some of the time. That’s a fairly high percentage of potentially ill riders.

If you’ve ever been a passenger in a car driving down a windy road, feeling like you’re going to puke while the driver is perfectly fine, this shouldn’t be too surprising. As the study’s authors, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, explain, motion sickness is usually caused by two factors: a “conflict between visual and vestibular inputs” (like facing the side of the car instead of looking straight ahead) and a lack of ability to anticipate movements or a loss of control of movement. Since drivers have more control over where the vehicle is moving, they get motion sick less often than passengers.

And what makes it worse? Reading, texting or watching movies. Might as well just drive.


Samsung, LG Electronics have 99.2% of global TV monitor market » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-young:

TV monitors, which are monitors for PC that can also receive TV signals via an onboard TV tuner, are very popular among single households who have trouble having a separate TV and monitor.

Recently, this convenience in daily life is growing with the coming-out of new monitors equipped with an enlarged screen mainly for watching TV and those that allow users to watch TV on one half and work on their PC on the other half simultaneously. With this, the portion of TV monitors is continuously growing and is expected to make up to 6.5% of all monitors sold this year, growing from 5.8% last year.

Just a guess, but are most of those sales in Asia?


Taiwan supply chain makers hope for increased adoption of force touch solutions » Digitimes

Ninelu Tu:

With Apple’s adoption of force touch technology onto the trackpad of its new MacBook, related component makers hope the trend will prompt other notebook vendors to adopt the solutions for their products, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Since technologies adopted by Apple’s products have been usually able to set new trends for its competitors to follow suit, related component suppliers are hoping the force touch technology will be the same. Many Taiwan suppliers are already able to supply related solutions, the sources noted.

The sources also pointed out that brand vendors including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell and Lenovo and ODMs such as Quanta Computer, Compal Electronics and Wistron are all able to incorporate the solutions into their notebooks, but they had been reluctant to feature the technology in their products.

Why does it need Apple to make a song and dance about it for this to happen? There’s a similar story about USB-C – Dell and Asus are going to offer products with it. None of the PC ODMs likes to jump first, it seems. But that means Apple scoops the publicity.


Amazon: ever-growing behemoth, or topped out?


An Amazon warehouse. Photo by hnnbz on Flickr

It’s the London Book Fair this week, and I was kindly invited to speak at its Digital Minds session on Monday. These are the slides that I created for the talk. (Plus the CC-licensed photo, as above.)

Obviously, for book publishers the terror over the past few years is that Amazon is going to eat up everything, laying waste to the old book-buying system and forcing down the prices they can ask while at the same time everyone dumps paper books in favour of Kindles.

For publishers, that looks like the worst kind of lock-in.

But I prefer a data-driven approach: look at the numbers, and the numbers in a broader context. Amazon provides pretty clear financial results (with useful breakdowns by geography and segment), and there are also useful datasets from book publishers about the size of the UK market. (I focussed on the UK market because that’s what was available, but if anyone wants to pay me to do a bigger study relating to other countries, get in touch :-))

Here’s the presentation:

A few words to add extra context (since I did actually talk too – this wasn’t just a mime show). The numbers relate to the slide number.

5) and 6) yeah, Amazon does sell beer, but my more general point is that these declines in numbers (of petrol filling stations and pubs open in the UK) are due to structural changes in society, not something Amazon has done. If you ascribe changes to the wrong cause, you’ll come up with the wrong solution to it.

7) Clearly, the decline in independent bookshops (overlaid onto the right-hand chart, showing the growth in book sales and ebook sales) predates ebooks – though not Amazon itself. This doesn’t look at concentration of the industry; I didn’t look at the simple number of books published. I think that has gone up, even excluding ebooks.

9) figures taken from Amazon’s results, and using a four-quarter moving average. The international media sales (red line) actually went negative in the most recent quarter, while US media sales (blue line) went to just 1%. “Media” covers everything from books to DVDs.

10) data from the Pew Research Center in the US, which does very robust studies. They haven’t found any growth in ereader ownership since January 2014. There’s a natural ceiling on ereader desire-to-buy.

11) Ereaders are popular with people who read a lot of books. The difference between the median and mean numbers here tell us this is a skewed population – those who read a lot really read a lot. They’re likely to have an ereader. But not everyone will get an ereader. The eager buyers have bought one.

13) See? New sales of Kindles have pretty much halted. Other more recent stories confirm this.

14) 30m Kindles sold in total is a lot – but compare that to total population in the US+Europe of about 500m. It’s not taking over the world.

15) 16) Amazon turns out not to be so great at making hardware that people want to buy.

17) Even in tablets, the rest of the market is growing, but the Kindle Fire HD isn’t doing much. Total about 30m sold (my calculation), also throughout US and Europe – but doubt there’s a lot of book reading going on with them; they’re for other media.

20) You may be able to think of another ebook that a “standard” publisher was able to turn into a bestselling book that was then made into a big film. (The Martian is being made into a film with Matt Damon. Looking forward to that.)

22) Amazon’s FCF (free cash flow) is a hot topic, at least in some quarters. The company shows very little profit, but its FCF is great. Isn’t it?

23) Well, the use of capital leases means that – rather as with the Labour government and PFI – the spending is all being pushed off the balance sheet and into a sort of future reckoning. Great as long as nobody worries about it; bad if Wall Street does worry about it.

24) you can just skip to this one if you want the conclusions.

Thanks for reading. I’m happy to come and give speeches at all sorts of events on topics like this.

Start up: Google v EC, decrypting ransomware, Apple’s troubled app reviews, and more


Hard to find off the US’s west coast. Photo by aftab on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Files encrypted by CoinVault ransomware? New free tool may decrypt them » PCWorld

Loek Essers:

Victims of the CoinVault ransomware might be able to decrypt their files with a free tool released by Kaspersky Lab together with the Dutch police.

The tool can be found at https://noransom.kaspersky.com. The application uses decryption keys found by the Dutch police as part of an investigation.

Ransomware like CoinVault encrypts data on a disk or blocks access to a computer system. It is usually installed by exploiting a vulnerability on victims’ computers via phishing emails or links to malicious websites.

Unlike other ransomware, CoinVault lets victims see a list of the files it encrypted and decrypt one for free to try to get people to pay up.

The National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) of the Dutch police recently obtained a database from a CoinVault command-and-control server containing decryption keys, the Dutch police said in a news release. The information obtained from that database allowed Kaspersky to build a decryption tool.

Not all of the keys, but a useful start.


Final Words – The HTC One M9 Review: Part 2 » Anandtech

Joshua Ho:

Battery life is probably the most important aspect of any smartphone, and a poor showing here can be enough to write off a phone. HTC has traditionally done quite well here despite using a smaller battery in their phones than average. Unfortunately, this isn’t true of the One M9. Despite using a newer SoC and a bigger battery, HTC regresses significantly in battery life when compared to the One M8…

The camera of the One M9 is also a weak point, despite significant changes on HTC’s part in this area. Unfortunately, the post-processing here is just not acceptable, and the results of the camera are equally unacceptable.

Poor battery life, poor camera. HTC’s got problems – if people listen to reviews.


Sardine population collapses, prompting ban on commercial fishing » SFGate

Peter Fimrite:

The sardine population along the West Coast has collapsed due to changing ocean conditions and other factors, including allegations of overfishing, prompting regulators Monday to cancel fishing next season and schedule a vote this week on an immediate emergency ban.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed to close the fishery from Mexico to the Canadian border starting July 1, when the 2015 season begins, after federal scientists documented a 91% decline in sardine numbers along the West Coast since 2007.

Water shortages, sardine population collapse. What’s next for California? When will people notice what’s happening?


Apple’s App Store review process is hurting users, but we’re not allowed to talk about it. » Medium

Kushal Dave:

There should be outrage.

Think about how much ink has been spilled over Amazon vs. Hachette, TimeWarner vs CBS, Verizon vs. net neutrality, Google vs. Yelp. Here we have a gatekeeper, which also has lock-in, and it has found the only reasons to close the gates that could be worse than profit: paternalism and complacency.

Many of us are afraid of retribution for speaking out too loudly. Apple has, unbelievably, made a threat explicitly in writing: “If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.” If Apple made good on its promise to penalize developers who complain in public, who would we appeal to?

Apple’s process makes sense for Apple, but less for developers. Users do get hurt by slower updates, certainly. But Apple is paranoid about apps being updated to malicious or other “embarrassing” forms, and apparently doesn’t have Google’s virus checking-in-the-cloud capability (though it does have a kill switch). The paranoia has now become routine.

But Apple does listen to complaints that reach the press. It should probably update that part of its guidelines.


Europe to accuse Google of illegally abusing its dominance – FT.com

Alex Barker, Christian Oliver and Anne-Sylvaine Chassany:

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, is to say that the US group will soon be served with a formal charge sheet alleging that it breached antitrust rules by diverting traffic from rivals to favour its own services, according to two people familiar with the case.

Serving Google with a so-called statement of objections will be the opening salvo in one of the defining antitrust cases of the internet era. It could prove as epic as the decade-long battle with Microsoft that ultimately cost the company €2bn in fines.

The commission’s move comes after a torrid five-year investigation that Google came close to settling without charges last year. The draft deal collapsed after fierce objections were raised by ministers in France and Germany, and by some of the continent’s most powerful telecoms and media groups.

Told you. Recap: Why Google’s struggles with the EC – and FTC – matter.


Google, Microsoft, Stall Points, and Growth » Paul Kedrosky

When might Google have its Microsoft moment? That is, when will it begin its inexorable decline – as most aging tech companies do when their growth stalls, and as Microsoft did – largely unbeknownst to (and even denied by) most observers? How might we know?

I have a few things I look for when thinking about inflection points in aging technology companies. Not all of these conditions need to be satisfied, but at least some of them do.

There are five major parts of the argument:
1. Stock compensation loses its luster
2. Declining growth
3. No longer hiring for innovation
4. Price & margin pressure in core business
5. Government action

Kedrosky asks smart questions, which yields surprising answers.


Apple acquires Israeli camera tech company LinX Imaging for ~$20m » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

Apple has purchased Israeli camera technology company LinX Imaging for approximately $20m, reports The Wall Street Journal. LinX specializes in creating multi-aperture camera equipment for mobile devices and it’s possible that Apple will use the company’s technology in upcoming iOS devices.

Last year, LinX announced the launch of miniature multi-aperture cameras half the height of standard mobile cameras with the ability to create “stunning color images and high accuracy depth maps” for SLR image quality without the bulk of an SLR camera.

The image quality of mobile cameras has reached a dead end. Device makers are striving to differentiate using imaging capabilities but the pixel size race has ended and next generation cameras do not reveal any dramatic improvements. LinX cameras revolutionize mobile photography and broaden the usability span and user experience, allowing us to leave our SLRs at home.

The engineers at LinX have solved all problems associated with combining multiple images captured from different points in space such as registration errors and occlusion related artifacts which are seen on competing technologies.

LinX’s technology uses software to extract depth information for each pixel to create a depth map for that can also be used for 3D image reconstruction. LinX’s website is now defunct, but the company offered products with two, three, and four camera arrays in multiple configurations and sizes. Its most recent technology was downscaled enough to be ready for use in mobile devices.

I linked to this writeup rather than the WSJ’s because of the background MacRumors found. Face recognition? 3D reconstruction? Lots of possibilities in this one. The Authentec fingerprint reader was incorporated within 18 months of purchasing that company – but quite possibly Apple is already working on incorporating these cameras into its products. I’d expect them in products in 2016.


Start up: spotting comment trolls, stopping piracy Of Thrones, where’s Android One?, and more


Try putting those on Bittorrent, suckahs. Photo by Jemimus on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Scientists develop algorithm that can auto-ban internet trolls » The Stack

Martin Anderson:

The study found that on CNN the studied trolls were more likely to initiate new posts or sub-threads, whilst at Breitbart and IGN they were more likely to weigh into existing threads.

The report does not exonerate host communities of all blame for troll behaviour, finding that immediately intolerant communities are more likely to foster trolls:

“[communities] may play a part in incubating antisocial behavior. In fact, users who are excessively censored early in their lives are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior later on. Furthermore, while communities appear initially forgiving (and are relatively slow to ban these antisocial users), they become less tolerant of such users the longer they remain in a community. This results in an increased rate at which their posts are deleted, even after controlling for post quality.”

Seems mostly accurate, apart from calling breitbart.com a “political hub”. I’d go for “troll-employing troll magnet”, personally.


Game Of Thrones leak and watermark: a stupid tracking system » bru’s blog

The first four episodes of game of thrones leaked nearly 36 hours ago. They have been extensively downloaded, and the only tracking set up HBO seemed to be a watermark in the bottom left corner of the screen. Once blurred, it is useless. This impresses me. It’s 2015 and all you’re using is a “confirm you’re deleted” + “your copy is watermarked” for protection? There are simple schemes that would have allowed HBO to track the leak.

The idea is very simple: make each copy unique in a non-visible way.

Seems like the editing to create unique copies would be a hassle. Not sending them out (by getting people to come in to previews?) might be simpler. But there would be geographic reasons against that. No matter what, though, it only delays the piracy by 36 hours or so. That’s the bigger problem.


BOMBSHELL: MUSL employee might have rigged Hot Lotto computerized drawing » Lottery Post

Prosecutors countered this motion by claiming they have a “prima facie,” or at first glance, case that Tipton tampered with lottery equipment.

In their reply to the defense’s motion, prosecutors argued that Tipton’s co-workers said he “was ‘obsessed’ with root kits, a type of computer program that can be installed quickly, set to do just about anything, and then self-destruct without a trace.” The prosecution claimed a witness will testify that Tipton told him before December 2010 that he had a self-destructing root kit.

Prosecutors also argued in their reply that Tipton was in the draw room on Nov. 20, 2010, “ostensibly to change the time on the computers.” The prosecution alleged the cameras in the room on that date recorded about one second per minute instead of how they normally operate, recording every second a person is in the room.

“Four of the five individuals who have access to control the camera’s settings will testify they did not change the cameras’ recording instructions; the fifth person is Defendant,” the prosecution wrote.

Someone’s writing the screenplay already, yes? The accused bought a ticket that won $14.3m.


What’s Become of Android One? » CCS Insight

Peter Bryer is an analyst:

our checks indicate that Android One has had a limited direct effect on the market, despite initial enthusiasm for the programme. Sales of Android One-based smartphones began more than half a year ago in India, but volumes don’t stand out.

The first Android One products came from Karbonn, Micromax and Spice, with more familiar brands expected to begin adopting the platform. Acer, Asus, HTC, Lenovo and Panasonic were among the smartphone manufacturers listed by Google as partners in the project, but this interest appears to have stalled.

The fading momentum of Android One is an indication of the expanding selection of equally well-specified, low-cost smartphones and tablets in emerging markets. Hundreds of models are available at $100 or below — a once impossible price band has become very ordinary.

The standard having been set, others have matched it. All works for Google. But see later…


Flipkart’s move to dump mobile site could hit Google » WSJ

Rolfe Winkler:

Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart has decided it doesn’t need to rely on the Web to lure shoppers, dumping its mobile site and pushing visitors to its app. That move may spell trouble for the future of Google ‘s cash-cow search engine, which relies heavily on links to shopping sites.

Smartphone users that go to the mobile websites of either Flipkart or its sister site Myntra no longer see the same virtual store shelves as when they visit those sites from a personal computer. Instead they see a message to download the sites’ mobile apps.

The problem for Google is that a large percentage of its ad business is driven by paid links that direct users to e-commerce sites. But mobile apps are walled gardens unto themselves, unconnected by links to the broader Web.

A general problem, but if it starts happening early in countries like India, that is a problem for Google.


Brazil’s iPhone investment falls short on promises of jobs, lower prices » Reuters

Brad Haynes:

The Brazilian iPhone was meant to mark a new era.

When Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group agreed in April 2011 to make Apple products here, President Dilma Rousseff and her advisers promised that up to $12 billion in investments over six years would transform the Brazilian technology sector, putting it on the cutting edge of touch screen development. A new supply chain would be created, generating high-quality jobs and bringing down prices of the coveted gadgets.

Four years later, none of that has come true.

Foxconn has created only a small fraction of the 100,000 jobs that the government projected, and most of the work is in low-skill assembly. There is little sign that it has catalyzed Brazil’s technology sector or created much of a local supply chain.

Not quite clear where the blame lies – high expectation by Foxconn, local taxes or local culture.


Formal charges may be next in Europe’s Google antitrust inquiry » NYTimes.com

James Kanter and Conor Dougherty:

Some experts say that Mr. Almunia’s unsuccessful strategy makes further attempts to settle the case without formal charges unlikely.

“Given the history of failed attempts to reach a commitment decision, I just don’t see what she would gain from going down this route again, unless Google has promised more concessions that we don’t know about,” said Liza Lovdahl-Gormsen, the director of the Competition Law Forum at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.

Without formal charges, Ms. Lovdahl-Gormsen said, “Google might try to buy themselves time by offering commitments that are unlikely to be accepted by the commission, and that it knows won’t be accepted by the market, simply because it does not want to be faced with the instrument of torture — the statement of objections.”

Expect news on Wednesday.


My voice is my passport: Android gets a “Trusted Voice” smart lock » Ars Technica

How secure is this system? We’re wondering the same thing. The popup when you enable “Trusted Voice” warns that the feature is not as secure as a traditional lock screen and that “Someone with a similar voice or a recording of your voice could unlock your device.” We’d love to test it out, but it hasn’t rolled out to any of our devices yet—we only know about it thanks to a report from Android Police.

Android Police hasn’t given it any scrutiny (none of its devices – even Nexuses – seem to have got it.) The commenters on AP don’t seem enamoured, though, pointing out how easy it would be to spoof (as Google itself admits). So there’s now pattern, PIN, face and voice unlock, and also “trusted device” (Android Wear). Flexibility is good, but they aren’t all equally robust, which feels like a problem.


Start up: S6 battery life, Datasift squeezed, notifying Apple Watch, and more


Endangered species (one of many)? Photo by DaveCrosby on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Spread straight from the fridge. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A Japanese court has ordered Google to take down negative business » Quartz

Google was ordered by a Japanese court today to take down anonymous negative business reviews of a medical clinic, written by people who said they were former patients. The decision is the latest sign of the spread of the “right to be forgotten” concept from Europe to Asia.

The case pitted a Japanese medical clinic against the search engine, Japan’s largest. The plaintiff, an unnamed doctor, said in a signed affidavit that the reviews complaining of poor service were false, one person briefed on the case said.

In the ruling, which was not made public but was reviewed by Quartz, Chiba District Court court ruled that Google must remove the reviews from its local and global search results, or face a ¥300,000 ($2,494) fine.

Google will appeal, but reversal is unlikely.


A ‘darker narrative’ of print’s future from Clay Shirky » NYTimes.com

Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’s ombuds..person, relaying emails from Shirky, who thinks we’re currently in a lull of print decline (which he says will go fast – which the US saw in 2007-9 – and then slow, as now, and then fast at some time in the near future:

The problem with print is that the advantageous returns to scale from physical distribution of newspapers become disadvantageous when scale shrinks. The ad revenue from a print run of 500,000 would be 16 percent less than for 600,000 at best, but the costs wouldn’t fall by anything like 16%, eroding print margins. There is some threshold, well above 100,000 copies and probably closer to 250,000, where nightly print runs stop making economic sense. This risk is increased by The New York Times’s cross-subsidy of print, with its print+digital bundle. This bundle creates the risk of rapid future readjustment, when advertisers reconsider print CPM in light of reduced consumption and pass-around of print by all-access subscribers. (Public editor note: C.P.M. is the cost to the advertiser per thousand readers or viewers, a common measurement in advertising.)

Both your Sunday and weekday readerships are already near important psychological thresholds for advertisers — one million and 500,000. When no advertiser can reach a million readers in any print ad in the Times (2017, on present evidence) and weekday advertising reaches less than half a million (2018, using the 6 percent decline figure you quoted), there will be downward pressure on C.P.M.s. [cost to the advertiser to reach a thousand readers; high CPMs are good for a publisher].

And then things unravel, Shirky suggests.


Galaxy S6 Edge battery life – first 24 hours » Android Authority

Nirave Gondhia is starting a series where he tests the battery life on his new phone:

Testing battery life can be subjective as each person’s usage will vary widely but to try and provide some context to these battery tests, I copied all my data and apps from my Galaxy Note 4 (running Lollipop). Whereas the Galaxy S6 Edge lasted just over 14 hours, my Galaxy Note 4 would usually last 18 to 22 hours with largely the same apps and services running.

The first thing you will notice about the Galaxy S6 Edge battery is that the first 10% seems to drain very quickly. After this initial short burst, the battery begins to level off and settle down. It’s a strange occurrence that many people have reported but it’s possible this is due to the handset being new – after a few days usage, will it still drain the first 10%?

Reviewers have pointed to the S6 having less battery life than the S5; worth watching how this pans out in real life.


Lost In Mobile to close on 18th April » Lost In Mobile

Shaun McGill:

It’s been a good run, but the time has come to finally close LIM. As you will be aware, the content has dropped significantly in recent weeks and this has been due to workloads elsewhere and a continual problem finding mobile news that I consider worthy of sharing.

The mobile industry has changed to the point that I believe that one-man blogs are unable to offer the kind of benefits readers used to receive and with so many resources and larger services out there, I am struggling to find the motivation to keep posting content.

Been going 13 years. A sign of the times?


It’s time to stop tiptoeing around Joni Mitchell’s health condition » The Globe and Mail

Russell Smith:

No news items have revealed what exactly caused her sudden hospitalization, but all have mentioned that she “suffers from Morgellons disease.” This is because Mitchell herself described the affliction and used its name in an interview in 2010. News stories may then carefully allude to the fact that this “disease” is “mysterious” or even “controversial.” But the damage is done: The phrase “suffers from Morgellons” is quite simply inaccurate, and even harmful, in that it perpetuates a delusion.

Those who claim to be suffering from it are more likely suffering a psychiatric illness, experts say. If that’s the case with Mitchell, we should really be saying she “revealed in 2010 that she suffers from delusional parasitosis.” The name Morgellons was invented by a person who is not a doctor and is not employed by any hospital, university or research institution. It was intensely studied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, and the CDC’s conclusions, released in 2012, were straightforward: Researchers found no common cause of the disease, and say those who believe they have it have often self-diagnosed after encountering websites that describe it. In other words, it is a delusion that is spread by the Internet.

The fact that newspapers are being so tactful about the possibility of psychiatric disturbance in Mitchell’s case is incongruent with the supposedly new attitudes about mental illness that are being trumpeted in those same newspapers. Aren’t we constantly reading about how we should “end the stigma” when it comes to mental illness? Aren’t we being told that there is no shame in psychiatric disorders, that their sufferers should not be morally judged, that they should be open about their ailments?

Smith’s article makes the point strongly: artists are separate from their creations. If Mitchell (whose music I love) has a mental problem, that doesn’t subtract from her music or any of her achievements. It just means she has a mental problem.


To our users: a community update » PressureNet.io

Pressurenet is an Android app that measures barometric pressure and then tries to crowdsource it for, well, weather and related forecasting. But as happens, it has to try to make some money somewhere – including the sale of past data that it collected:

We are aware of the sensitive nature of selling user-contributed data and we want to be open about exactly what information we collect and what control you have over it.

The data is anonymous and is comprised of: an alphanumerical user id that is not directly linked to any personal user information, atmospheric pressure, location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) and time of the pressure reading, phone model type, whether the phone was charging at the time the reading was sent, as well as some other metadata. PressureNet does not and has never collected any personally identifiable information.

Umm. A location doesn’t identify a person, but if you could track the phone by any other means, you’d have a ton of data.


Twitter ends its partnership with DataSift – firehose access expires on August 13, 2015 » Datasift Blog

Nick Halstead:

With the end of our partnership with Twitter the disruption is not only measured by the impact on our 1,000 direct customers, but on the tens of thousands of companies that use applications that are “DataSift-powered”. Many of these companies create insights that drive direct advertising revenue back into Twitter. A direct switch to Twitter/GNIP will not mitigate that disruption. Today, 80% of our customers use our advanced processing capabilities that are not available from Twitter/GNIP.

Really bad news for Datasift (a British company that was one of the first into the “big data” social space), which is now going to turn to Facebook. What happens if that decides to go in-house, though? Maybe DataSift needs to look at processing for private clients such as finance.


What the Apple Watch means for the Age of Notifications » Medium

Steven Levy:

the Age of Notifications is about to face its biggest mess yet, as alerts move from phone screens to watch faces. Notifications are just about the entire point of a smart watch — you’re not going to be reading books, watching movies or doing spreadsheets on them. And a tilt of the wrist is the perfect delivery system for those little blips.

But having that delivery system on your body makes notifications much harder to ignore. It’s jarring enough to get a phone-buzz notifying you of an alert. When it’s something zapping your skin, it’s even more compelling. What’s more, because it’s so easy to simply twist your wrist to see what the fuss is about, the temptation is all the harder to resist.

I don’t get this. It makes it sound as though people are helpless children who can’t figure out what classes of notification (as in, from which app) interest them. The example he gives – a pointless notification from MLB – would have me deciding that MLB was never again going to get the chance to bother me. You don’t need to know about every incoming email (VIPs is fine, for me). Perhaps some people need to retreat a bit from their phones. But that’s no bad thing, whether it comes from buying a smartwatch or just realising they’re failing to live in the moment.


Start up: PC shipments slump (again), are reviews broken?, Tidal’s challenge, monetising Android and more


Now containing fewer PCs. Photo by runner310 on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mercury News editorial: Google’s YouTube Kids should meet TV ad standards » San Jose Mercury News

It’s disappointing that Google didn’t voluntary follow the Federal Communications Commission’s longtime TV standards with its online YouTube Kids app, which ignores basic protections for children whose developing brains cannot grasp the difference between ads and entertainment.

The Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC, has jurisdiction over online commerce, and it needs to catch up. Google apparently decided to push the envelope, given its mission as a public company is to maximize profits.

But as one of the Valley’s biggest success stories — it could reach a market capitalization of $1 trillion in this decade — Google should be a leader in taking responsibility for the welfare of children viewing products designed for them. So should Netflix, Apple and any other Valley company producing or contemplating kids programming.

Now the FTC is investigating. You won’t however have been surprised by Google’s behaviour if you read my piece on Google, EC, antitrust and the FTC, which looked at the tenets the search company works by.


Product reviews are broken » Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

I still think the world needs independent product reviews. There is enough prior misbehaviour on behalf of companies to suggest such third-party reviews can serve a purpose by giving consumers value. The problem is that many reviewers don’t know what kind of value that is. The move into personalized wearables has largely turned the traditional tech gadget review into an artifact from a begone era. The nature of the tech review should have changed, but many tech reviewers haven’t adapted their review process to this new wave of technology. While adding video may represent a new dimension to the review, the underlying premise of the review needs to be rethought.

I agree with Cybart. Reviews have turned into a mess; the desire on social networks to attract attention by being outrageous dilutes the thoughtful ones. And commenters’ desire to attach a single value to a device’s “worth” – is it one star, five stars? Why is that four stars but this five – wipes subtlety away in pursuit of a blunt distinction.


How TIDAL can deliver on its promises » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

With streaming, music fans don’t need to waste time listening to music they don’t like upon first listen. They can bypass the duff. They also tend to listen less to any single piece of music in general because they have so much other music to choose from at no additional cost. Artists earning a 150th per stream of what they earn from a download is thus only part of the problem. Most of the time their mainstream fans (and by that I mean not their top 10% of super fans) aren’t listening to them enough.

Scale will come, but it will take time.

The theory is that this will be fixed by scale, that a massive installed base of users will result in bigger listening volumes.  But it’s not that easy.


Apple Maps now includes hotel reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com » Mac Rumors

Eric Slivka:

Since the release of Apple’s in-house Maps app as part of iOS 6 back in 2012, Yelp has been the company’s sole partner for integrating customer reviews of businesses and other points of interest. In recent days, however, Apple’s Maps app has begun including reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com on select hotel listings.

Very slow but steady improvement. Apple Maps is getting better and better at finding whatever you want.


PC shipments beat expectations despite weak currencies and product transitions » IDC

Worldwide PC shipments totalled 68.5m units in the first quarter of 2015 (1Q15), a year-on-year decline of -6.7%, and slightly ahead of previous projections, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.

Following a strong second half of 2014, which benefitted from the tailwind of the Windows XP refresh and pockets of price-driven consumer activity, the Q1 market faced multiple headwinds – including inventory build-up of Windows Bing based notebooks, commercial slow down following the XP refresh and constrained demand in many regions due to currency fluctuations and unfavorable economic indicators. As a result, growth and volume declined with Q1 shipments below 69m units, the lowest recorded volume since Q1 2009.

Those have to have been some low expectations. And here’s the threat:

“Although shipments did exceed an already cautious forecast, the market unfortunately remains heavily dependent on pricing being a major driver, with entry SKU volume masking a still tenuous demand for higher priced systems that is needed to sustain a more diverse PC ecosystem. Pricing pressure is bringing many premium SKUs into formerly mid-level pricing tiers” said Jay Chou, Senior Research Analyst, Worldwide PC Trackers. “As more vendors find it increasingly difficult to compete, we can expect additional consolidation in the PC market.”

Who’ll withdraw next? Samsung? Toshiba? Actually, Acer is seeing terrible profits – about $3 per unit sold at an ASP of $363, based on operating profit and revenue numbers.


Understanding tech penetration in Latin America » TechCrunch

Fascinating article by Omar Téllez, a director of Moovit:

With more than 85 million Facebook users and around 15 million Twitter accounts growing at 25 percent per year, it’s no wonder the Wall Street Journal called Brazil “The Social Media Capital of the Universe.”

Brazilians spend on social media networks more time per month than anyone else in the world.

Latin American startups have a canny ability to take a proven business model, and execute like crazy to improve on it.

After winning “Best International Startup” in the 2012 Crunchies, Peixe Urbano the online to offline (O2O) daily deal company, went on to grow to more than 25 million users and 30K merchant partners, and recently sold control to China’s Baidu, the No. 2 Internet search engine in the world, for and undisclosed amount.

While it’s easy to be amazed by the growth that taxi app companies such as Easy Taxi and 99Taxis have driven in Brazil, after raising hoards of money, it’s difficult not to be impressed by Tappsi. With a focus in Colombia, Perú and Ecuador, Tappsi has easily surpassed 1.3 million bookings per month with only $600K in seed funding.


Universities Inc. in the UK

After yesterday’s link about Procter & Gamble’s disruptive capacity, David Colquhoun from University College London pointed out that it’s not all sweetness and light – far from it:

Dr Aubrey Blumsohn MBBCh, PhD, MSc, BSc(hons), FRCPath was, until 2006, a senior lecturer and honorary consultant in metabolic bone diseases at Sheffield University. He, and his boss, Richard Eastell, were doing a clinical study of a Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals (P&G) drug, Actonel (risedronate), The work was funded by Procter & Gamble.

Richard Eastell is Professor of Bone Metabolism, and was Research Dean.

Procter & Gamble refused, from 2002 onwards, to release the randomisation codes for the trial to the authors whose names appear on the paper. After trying to see the data for years, and getting little support from his employer, Blumsohn subsequently got hold of it in 2005, and then discovered flaws in the analysis provided by P&G’s statistician. P&G wrote papers on which the names of university academics as authors. Blumsohn did the only thing that any honest scientist could do: he went public with his complaint.

Bad things ensued.


Goldman Sachs says Android is making Google very little money » Business Insider

Nicholas Carlson:

according to a new report from a group of Goldman Sachs analysts, Android users aren’t clicking on very many Google ads.

Earlier this week, Goldman’s analysts estimated that Google did $11.8bn in mobile search revenue in 2014.

Goldman estimated that 75% of that revenue, $8.9bn, came from web searches made using iPhones and iPads.

That means that, at most, Google generated $3bn from searches made on Android devices in 2014.

$3bn is a paltry amount compared to Google’s overall business, which generated $66bn in the last twelve months. For further context, consider that Facebook generated more than $2.65bn in mobile ad revenues during the fourth quarter of 2014 alone.

It makes you wonder: Will Android ever become a big business?

On the basis of a billion Android users, that $3 per user per year. That’s likely to go down as the user base grows because most developed countries are pretty saturated; those coming onstream are in emerging countries with lower per-capita income. All additive for Google, though. Not a great business, but a profitable one. (Also, how about the actual BI headline: “Android is supposed to save Google, but it’s actually a terrible business”?)


Start up: P&G’s disruptive nature, duck searching, Watch reviews, Google’s new ad chief, and more


Disrupt this before Proctor & Gamble does. Photo by Premshree Pillai on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why Procter & Gamble is more disruptive than you » Medium

Kavin Stewart:

So how does a company of this size [>$80bn in annual revenue] stay so disruptive? P&G is dealing with constantly changing consumer needs across many product lines (many of which are customized for local markets). Instead of relying on the personal experiences of their employees, P&G borrows a page from the playbook of anthropologists — they find relevant cultural groups to study and embed their employees where they live for a period of time, participating in their day to day lives to gather holistic data:

Soon after they’re hired, new employees of P&G undergo special cultural training. “They spend a week in a low-income neighbourhood, working in a bodega, a little shop,” [Jim] Stengel [global marketing officer of P&G] says. “He [the executive] puts an apron on. He works there. He talks to the shop owner. He talks to the people who come in. He becomes part of life.”

Product managers pay a lot of lip service to knowing the customer. But how many of them would spend a week living in Mexico and working at a bodega?

You can read a longer piece about Stengel at the FT. But the lesson that big companies can self-disrupt shouldn’t be ignored.


Apple sides with Microsoft in closely watched patent dispute with Google » GeekWire

Todd Bishop:

The case has already created some unusual alliances. Apple and T-Mobile are among the companies siding with Microsoft in the case, while Nokia and Qualcomm are seeking to overturn a lower court’s ruling that found in Microsoft’s favor.

After a 2013 trial in Seattle, Microsoft won a $14.5m jury verdict against Motorola based on a finding that Motorola breached its obligation to offer its standard-essential patents for video and wireless technologies on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, known in legal circles as “RAND” or “FRAND.”

The case is notable in part because U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle took the unusual step of setting a process for establishing royalties for standard essential patents.

Based on his process, Robart ruled in April 2013 that the Microsoft owed less than $1.8m a year for its use of Motorola’s patented video and wireless technologies in Windows, Xbox and other products. Motorola had originally sought a rate amounting to more than $4bn a year, plus $20bn in back payments.

Slightly more complex than it seems, because it could debase the idea of SEPs if they’re too low-priced. But Motorola was really trying too hard. (It tried the same against Apple and was rebuffed.)


Apple releases iOS 8.3 with emoji updates, wireless CarPlay, space bar UI fix » Mac Rumors

Ton of bugs squashed, apparently. Space bar very slightly elongated. Apple Watch icon/app can now be hidden/removed, apparently. And those all-important emoji fixes.


The ascension of Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy » The Information

Amir Efrati has a real in-depth piece about Ramaswamy (who doesn’t seem to have cooperated with it) pointing to tensions with Susan Wojicki, head of YouTube ads):

Mr. Ramaswamy viewed himself as a protector of the search-history data. In the past, he and Mr. Page and others had stated their fear that it might feel creepy if people saw banner ads on non-Google sites based on things they had searched for on Google.com. Ms. Wojcicki had long pushed Google to stay current with ad-tech industry trends, pushing the boundaries of what people like Mr. Ramaswamy were comfortable with.

In the 2013 meetings, Mr. Ramaswamy also expressed hesitation about Google search data being used to target ads to people visiting YouTube, where the DoubleClick cookie was used, because it might be visible or “leak” to advertisers that used the cookie, which might lower its value. And he feared that Ms. Wojcicki and her team would use the search data to try to improve the ad quality of non-Google sites that are part of the display-advertising “network,” which also includes YouTube.

“Tell me what you really want to do,” Mr. Ramaswamy asked Ms. Wojcicki at one meeting, looking visibly annoyed, according to one participant. “You want to use search data on the network,” including non-Google sites. “Just say it.”


Battery life: Apple’s solving for x » Six Colors

Jason Snell:

Over the years I’ve said numerous times that when it comes to battery life on iOS devices, Apple appears to have a target battery life in mind and builds its hardware—a balance of power-saving software, hardware efficiency, and battery capacity—to hit that number.

It’s an observation born out of reading spec sheet after spec sheet over the years while writing reviews of new iPhones and iPads. Every year, people who are frustrated with their iPhones running out of juice before the end of the day hold out hope that the next iPhone will ameliorate the issue. In general, those people have not been satisfied.

And here’s the graph that proves his point – though note the pop at the end:


Samsung execs briefed over user experience » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

Yonsei University Professor Cho Kwang-soo was the speaker for this week’s session. The professor said the mantra of “one person, one device” has passed.

“Today, ‘one person, multi device’ has become the main trend, meaning that one person is now being connected to multiple devices. Without understanding about human nature, you can’t develop products that can meet consumer expectations,” Cho was quoted as saying.

Samsung needs to invest more for the development of wireless charging and new mobile operating systems that allow multiple devices to activate, the professor said.

In a briefing to local reporters, chief Samsung communications officer Lee Joon said the Apple iPhone was presented as the right device that has shown remarkable advancements in user-experience design.

Not the S6?


Surface tablet shipments expected to exceed 4 million units in 2015 » Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:

Microsoft is expected to have a chance to ship over four million Surface tablets in 2015, up from two million units in 2014, because of its new Surface 3 and Surface Pro series products, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Microsoft is reportedly planning to unveil its next-generation Surface Pro 4 tablet during the upcoming Build developer conference in April. The new Surface Pro tablet is estimated to enter mass production in June and will be released along with Windows 10 in the second half of 2015, the sources said.


Apple Watch reviews are in: an ‘elegant’, overpriced gadget ‘you don’t need’ » The Guardian

Sam Thielman:

The upshot seems to be that the battery life is good, unless you’re using it as a glorified FitBit (which it kind of is), that the application loading times are very long (which Apple has promised to fix in subsequent versions) and that it’s a lovely little device, unless of course you disagree, but it’s slow, not particularly intuitive and it’s probably worth waiting for the inevitable upgrade.

There’s also a fundamentalist split between the haute horologie posse and the tech world: in the former, consumers expect a flawless device for an unspeakable amount of money. In the latter, where inconveniences and flaws are ironed out by simply iterating the product again, a new chunk of tech is often praised for the novelty of what it aspires to do. “Unlike the Cartier I got for college graduation, the original Apple Watch’s beauty will soon fade,” [Joanna] Stern [at the WSJ] observes.


The ducks are always greener » Marco.org

Marco Arment:

My principles are only diverging further from Google’s over time, and I feel a bit defeated whenever I turn to them for anything anymore, so I attacked my primary dependence head-on: web search.

In my experience so far, DuckDuckGo’s search is good enough the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, its results are even better than Google’s, and they’re rarely much worse.

The number of people moving to DuckDuckGo is growing, very slowly; they’re finding that search is a commodity.