Great lies of our time: “journalists and coders should sit together to create amazing stuff” (updated)

The Thomson Reuters newsroom. Note papers stacked all over the place. No idea if journalists and developers “sit together” here – but I’d bet they don’t. Photo by Targuman on Flickr.

I keep seeing people saying “you know how journalism and the internet can work better? Have the news org’s journalists and coders sit beside each other. Wonderful things will happen.”

Postscript, but at the top: this post generated a lot of reaction – so be sure to read the followup, which pulls together the many people saying that it can and does work./Postscript.

Let me tell you: when someone spins you this line, it’s pure unadulterated 100% bullshit. Anyone who says this has never looked at what happens when you do this, or considered the differences in work patterns between the two. (It pains me to point out that Wolfgang Blau is only the latest to suggest this – see point 4. I like and respect Wolfgang a lot and he’s really smart – he suggested adding a chapter about China to the second edition of my book – but on this, he’s wrong, as I’ll explain.)

Edit: let me be clear just before you dive all the way in: my criticism is that a seating plan will not solve this conundrum. It is possible to solve it. But not by simply putting people together. You need much more subtlety. /Edit.

Five stars for the idea..

Let’s begin with Anecdote 1. When I worked at the Guardian as technology editor, part of my remit was the games side. We had great games reviewers who turned out games reviews that people wanted to read. As time went on, though, I began to worry that these reviews (giving games between one and five stars) were being lost in the haystack of content. There were years of reviews which could all be relevant to a puzzled buyer looking to get the best stuff.

What, I wondered, about the people – parents especially – who had just got a new games console and wanted to know which were the top-rated games to get for them? Where did they go?

The obvious answer, it seemed to me, was to create a page for each console which would show the highest-ranking games – perhaps in a grid. Obviously you’d need to update it from time to time. Finding which games were for which console wouldn’t be hard because each review would be tagged “PS3” or “Xbox360” or “Wii”, but grabbing the star ranking and then ordering them was tougher. But it wouldn’t be a problem for a developer who knew their way around our CMS (content management system), I figured.

My cunning plan: make it possible to buy the games directly through the CMS, either from Amazon or a white-label seller, so that the pages would earn money.

So I went to one of the developers who I knew had some spare time and was a dab hand with the CMS. I explained the problem and the potential. He looked at me for a while. I also suggested that we might be able to get a list of upcoming games – which our reviewers could supply – and create a page where people could pre-order them. He looked at me a little longer.

Then he went away and spent a few months developing a way to display the Guardian on Google TV. After making no appreciable impact, Google TV got canned. We never got the “five-star games” pages or the “upcoming games” page.

Love ya, Excel

This leads to Anecdote 2, which followed on pretty directly from that. I’m a journalist, but I can code – PHP and Applescript, principally. Nodding acquaintance with Cobol, Fortran, Pascal, Lisp; blind date with Objective-C where I fell asleep in the wine; blind date with C where I walked out. Anyhow, I can wrangle simple-ish tasks to automate extremely boring stuff that is often the basis of work in many newspaper offices.

So, for example, every week the UK games industry puts out an Excel spreadsheet showing the top 10 games sold in the previous week by various platforms, with information such as the publisher, previous week’s position, and so on. Here’s what it looked like:

UKIE games chart, raw form

The raw UKIE games chart: an Excel file with lots of columns and spare rows. A formatting nightmare

I liked the idea of putting up a weekly chart, and making it possible for people to buy games directly from the chart. We already had a “buy” button embedded in the reviews. So you could find the relevant game, pull the “buy” button from it, embed it in a chart, and put it on the site. Money-spinner, potentially; and certainly not a money-loser.

I considered trying to get developer time for someone to write this for, oh, about two seconds. Then I decided to write it myself.

It wasn’t trivial. I had to assume access only to the tools and programs our subeditors (who would create the “story” with the chart) had, which meant a standard installation – no extras. That meant no Excel – we used OpenOffice. But that meant no Applescript, because OpenOffice has woeful Applescript support. That meant the sub had to copy the required cells out of the OpenOffice spreadsheet and paste them into TextEdit, which has fairly bad Applescript support, but at least it’s there. More wrangling (stepping through the cells to find the ones we wanted, spotting the many lines of padding in the spreadsheet and ignoring them, using Google’s API to find the link to the Guardian’s link to the game in question, pulling the source of that link to find the affiliate “buy” links) ensued. Once I had the set, we had to create another TextEdit document which could then be copied and pasted into OpenOffice, and saved as an Excel format spreadsheet, because that was the only one which our CMS recognised if you were going to include a chart.

It took me a couple of weeks of spare time, but I got it done. The result was stuff like this:

UKIE games chart, formatted

After using my script, you could buy games directly, or follow the links to reviews. (It’s a different week from the chart above.)

The outcome was that work that would have taken any subeditor about an hour, and been prone to all sorts of errors (reading the wrong column, picking the wrong game) became a two-minute task in which the toughest part was choosing which picture to use. And it earned money through affiliate buying; not huge amounts, but more than zero.

Now – you’re probably saying “hey, wouldn’t it have been easier to ask the UKIE for a link to their API so that you could get it direct, and format it?” Answer: if they’d had an API, it would have been easier. But asking and getting wouldn’t have been. That’s the sort of thing which requires lots of meetings, chinstroking, and discussions about whether it’s possible. All those things are anethema to the culture of daily newsrooms, which is to Get Stuff Done.

(Oh, but of course: there came a time when UKIE changed the formatting of the spreadsheet. And by then, I couldn’t be bothered to work back through the code to adjust for it. So the chart died.)

Update/edit: Robert Rees, who is the developer manager at Guardian News & Media, has written about this subsequently:

The central assumption that runs through Arthur’s narrative is that it is valuable to let readers pre-order computer games via Amazon. One of the pieces of work I’ve done at the Guardian is to study the value of the Amazon links in the previous generation of the Guardian website. I can’t talk numbers but the outcome was that the expense of me looking at how much money was earned resulted in all the “profits” being eaten up by cost of my time. You open the box but the cat is always dead.

Now, that’s interesting. I had seen some of the affiliate revenue numbers too; they weren’t huge by any means. My point was more that we already had the Amazon buttons (that had been set up as an automated process some time before by our development team) and so we might as well use them. But Rees makes a good point – you have to look at the opportunity cost too of the developers’ time if you go ahead with the work. (No developer time was given to my idea.) Also, this was a time – still is – when we were being encouraged to “experiment” with revenue-generating ideas; I didn’t believe that affiliate money would make us rich, but thought that if we could get a white-label deal so we got bought at wholesale and sold at retail, rather than selling at retail-affiliate, then it could be worthwhile. (The Guardian does this with books.)

Sub-update: a little discussion at Gawker threw up this gem, from its former edit honcho Joel Johnson, discussing Gawker’s finances:

Gawker Media is an advertising-based business, with revenues of around 35- to 45-million dollars a year. There are a few other sources of income: a couple of million for international licensing fees (from the companies that publish international versions, such as Kotaku Australia); and affiliate fees, largely from Amazon, that add another $5-10 million a year.

$5-10m per year? Maybe this affiliate game can be played to win if you do it right./sub-update

Rees titles his post “No one loves a bad idea”, which is a fair criticism – my idea wasn’t useful in the wider scheme of things. Equally, though, that was never pointed out. In effect, I did a little skunkworks project, which died. /update

The difference is time

It’s this key difference – that journalists tend to want to get something up there for people to read/watch/listen to, dammit – which in my experience marks the giant gulf between journalists (including those who can code a bit, like me) and “developers”. Journalism, especially daily journalism, and increasingly all journalism, is about getting a result, and doing so effectively, quickly and (optionally) thoroughly. It’s a culture where getting it done right now is what matters. And then you move right on to the next thing, because there’s always a next thing.

Update: Rees calls this (correctly) out as an example of the rush to get stuff done:

British journalism favours action and instinct and sometimes that combination generates results. Mostly however it just fails and regardless of whom is sitting next to whom, who can get inspired by a muddle-minded last-minute joyride on the Titanic except deadline-loving action junkies?

(OK, I consider myself upbraided.) /update

Developers I’ve come across, by contrast, iterate around the same thing repeatedly, just as I did in trying to get the code to work in Anecdote 2. They don’t grab an idea, use their existing knowledge to turn it into a story, and put it out there. (OK, there are some gonzo programmers who do that sort of thing, but you don’t find them in newsrooms I’ve been in.)

My coding in the newsroom was all about timesaving. I wrote scripts that wrangled InCopy so that articles which needed to be strictly formatted (Ask Jack, in its printed days) could be, in different colours, in 10 seconds rather than the 20 eyestraining minutes that it took by hand. (Ask Kate Bevan and Stuart O’Connor about that.) I wrote a script that meant the subeditors on the Media desk could get the day’s Guardian Media stories from its web page in one second rather than five minutes, ready for the daily email which had to go out before 8am. What I did was all about saving time, because that tends to be the most precious commodity for the journalist.

For the developer – in my experience – things are different. I recall Dan Catt (one of the early Flickr developers), when he worked at the Guardian, pointing out how amazing it is that the paper starts with effectively nothing every morning and has a full, complete newspaper ready by 8pm or so. And then keeps doing it again and again and again. That’s organisation. That’s deadlines.

The task of developers in a news organisation, on the other hand, isn’t on that timescale at all. It’s about building apps; building great mobile sites; building great ways for people to interact; building systems to manage and interlink content so the almighty Goooooogle indexes it better. Sometimes it’s about building new CMSs, or ways to link multiple CMSs, but in my experience (again) it’s hardly ever about spotting kinks in workflow and easing them.

And as for the idea of journalists and developers sitting beside each other and the developer saying “hey! Why don’t we..” (or vice-versa) – forget it. They just don’t have that common ground. Journalism tends to be surface-skimming, fast-moving; coding/development tends to be deep-diving, strongly focussed.

Edit: one thing that occurs to me is that many journalists who don’t have awareness of coding don’t realise that boring, repetitive tasks can be automated. So they don’t know to ask. /Edit

Update: of course as soon as I hit “publish” I could think of a counter-example: the team at the Mirror’s @ampp3d team, such as Tom Phillips and Martin Belam, who created things such as the “badgers moving the goalposts” game.

Phillips’s description of how this came about is worth reading:

October 9, 2013. Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, made a comment in the Commons that morning about the failed badger cull – he blamed the badgers for “moving the goalposts”, which was obviously hilarious. What I love is that you can trace, to the minute, the time from when my mate Francis suggested to UsVsTh3m that they do an “Owen Paterson’s Badger Penalty Shootout” game, to when they put it live. 4 hours and 21 minutes to publish a fully playable game about a news event that happened that morning. Nobody else could come close to doing that then; nobody else has got anywhere close since. They were, in the most literal sense possible, playing a different game to everybody else.

Does this disprove my argument?

You’ll be unsurprised to hear me say: I don’t think so. I see that as an example of developers who are interested in current events basically being given free rein (in a good way). The aim was to get virality, a la Buzzfeed, not to “do journalism”. Repeatable? Effective? Maybe, but the journalism element isn’t exactly blinding.

Similar for the “photo comparison” slider that you see on, I think, the WSJ and Verge (possibly others) for literally side-by-side comparison of photos taken by different phone cameras: I’m sure a journalist or developer expressed frustration at the need for it, but getting it done is an iterative process, focussed on a particular target. Deep diving, not skimming.

The data question

But wait, you say: what about data journalism? My answer: it’s not programming. It’s not coding. Most of the time, it’s great works done with Excel. And most of the time, that’s all it needs. It’s certainly not something where you want a valuable developer spending their time. Journalists are cheaper, and they know how to spot a story, or ought to.

So should journalists learn to code?

I’ve answered this before, on my personal blog – jeez, it was 2009. Here’s the posts’s title: “If I had one piece of advice to a journalist starting out now, it would be: learn to code”. See if you can figure it out.

My advice on developer/journalist seating arrangements? Keep them well apart. But also have an effective manager who listens to the two groups and can tell each to do things. Have a manager who can direct them. Don’t stop the two groups talking. But let each be aware that they’re like animals living at different speeds, which means that they simply won’t be able to comprehend why the other side reacts as it does to some things (“why can’t they understand that hunting down bugs is hard?” “Why can’t they understand that we can’t have this sort of thing cause a screwup in a live blog?”). They can live a mutually beneficial existence. They just can’t live in the same cage.

Postscript: huge amount of pushback on Twitter over this, from Wolfgang (thanks, Wolfgang), Aaron Pilhofer and many others. And lots of good points and examples raised, which I collated in a Storify linked from this followup. It would be great to know that my experience was just an outlier, though I suspect it’s more that there are good ways to do it, and rather less good ways. What we want are the good ones.

Start up May 29: leap second fretting, Pebble Time reviewed, Apple’s AR buy, and more

A leap second: good, bad or indifferent news? Photo by /amf on Flickr.

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

June 30 leap second worries markets, internet » GPS World

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that financial regulators and market participants are worried enough about the leap second that they’re planning for potential disruptions. The adjustment could present technical difficulties for traders and exchanges, as some computers might not be programmed to account for the adjustment, according to a Dow Jones report. “These guys are agonizing over it,” Steve Allen, a programmer-analyst at the University of California’s Lick Observatory, told Dow Jones. “It is definitely a hassle.” “The problem with the extra second is that it’s difficult to gauge how computer systems will react,” according to Journal writer Brian Hershberg. A US Commodity Futures Trading Commission spokeswoman said that “For the most part, we’re not too worried,” told Dow Jones. “But of course as the regulator, we do need to ensure folks are ready.” The last leap second occurred on June 30, 2012, and that leap second caused technical problems for websites and computing systems — including Reddit, Mozilla, Gawker, FourSquare, Yelp and LinkedIn.

Leap seconds are like millennium bugs that come around rather more often.

Apple acquires augmented reality company Metaio » TechCrunch

Ron Miller and Josh Constine:

A source told TechCrunch that clients who use Metaio are “flipping out” after seeing the shut down message on the website and not hearing a word from the company about what’s going on…until now. Metaio hadn’t taken traditional Silicon Valley venture capital, but had raised some money from Atlantic Bridge and Westcott. The company is well established. Many impressive projects have been produced using its tools including this one of with Ferrari that gives a potential buyer an AR tour of the car (as though the actual car isn’t cool enough): And this one for travelers in Berlin to see what the scene they are looking at would have looked like when the Berlin Wall was up. The program uses historical footage that you can see by pointing your smartphone or tablet at a particular place.

Apple getting into AR? I wrote about the resurgence in VR (which Google is pushing hard) for the Guardian; AR is actually slightly tougher.

Pay your way with Android » Official Android Blog

Pali Bhat, product manager:

With Android Pay you will be able to pay with your credit or debit card, across multiple Android devices, and at thousands of stores and apps that you already know and love. And by enabling bank apps to integrate with our platform, you’ll be able to add your credit and debit cards directly from bank apps for use with Android Pay. It’s still early days, but we’re very excited and think that this type of open platform will help drive adoption in mobile payments.

OK, and now let’s rewind almost exactly four years to May 26 2011, and the announcement of Google Wallet (which Android Pay replaces):

Because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will do more than a regular wallet ever could. You’ll be able to store your credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards, but without the bulk. When you tap to pay, your phone will also automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for you… This is just the start of what has already been a great adventure towards the future of mobile shopping. We’re incredibly excited and hope you are, too.

The difference? Four years and the launch of Apple Pay last September. And a gradual shift in the utterly backward payment systems in the US towards NFC-capable checkouts.

Google ad chief says larger phones help with mobile sales » WSJ

Alistair Barr:

[Sridhar] Ramaswamy said the rising popularity of larger smartphones also helps. “As phones get bigger the space issue becomes less challenging,” he said, pulling his Nexus 6 smartphone out to show its six-inch display. “This is essentially a tablet. People’s ability to navigate sites and fill out forms and such goes up tremendously.” Mark Ballard, director of research at digital-marketing firm Merkle RKG, has spotted big increases in mobile-search ad prices over the past year. He said new, larger iPhones released last fall are part of the reason because they make it easier to buy something after clicking on a search ad. Ramaswamy declined to comment on the impact of larger iPhones. The Google executive questioned how Facebook, which has emerged as Google’s principal rival for online ads, measures how many users watch videos. YouTube counts a view when someone watches for at least 30 seconds, while Facebook counts a view more quickly. “How many of Facebook’s video views are engaged views?” he asked. A Facebook spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Well. Why won’t he comment on larger iPhones? Also: Facebook videos don’t need to be 30 seconds long – after all, a Vine can only be six seconds long. But of course Ramaswamy knows that. But not commenting on the iPhone seems like a defensive move as the default search placement on Safari comes up for renewal.

Review: Pebble Time » WIRED

David Pierce:

It’s true that a small subset of users, call it the Casio Calculator crowd, doesn’t care about looks. They’ll like the Time because it’s sturdy, durable, and easy to use. But when nearly every critique of wearables relates to aesthetics and personalization, you have to wonder how Pebble convinces anyone to even put this plastic brick on… …I want the uncluttered and productive idea Pebble is selling. But I don’t want the watch.

Pebble Time review: the smartwatch that beats Android Wear » WSJ

Nathan Olivarez-Giles:

For the Time, Pebble redesigned its watch interface using the analogy of a timeline: Press the top right button to go back in time (recent alerts, news items, past calendar events), and press the bottom right button to go into the future (upcoming events, games, etc.). The lone left button always takes you back a step, while the middle right button serves as an OK or Enter key. It’s an almost laughably simple way to organize what you see on screen, but it’s effective and the main reason I prefer the Time over any Android Wear watch I’ve tried so far. Android Wear is chaotic. It often feels like your watch is buzzing out of control and you’re drowning in phone notifications that keep showing up no matter how often you swipe to dismiss them. Pebble’s new timeline approach, on the other hand, makes sense as soon as you start clicking buttons. Order is calming. Without having to peep at a user manual, you know where your stuff is.

Odd approach: the WSJ has had three different people reviewing the Apple Watch, LG Urbane and now the Pebble Time. Why?

Web vs. native: let’s concede defeat » QuirksBlog

Peter-Paul Koch:

Most business entities that require an internet presence (think small shops, plumbers, hip food carts, or the like) will not end up [as an app icon] on your homescreen. Instead, they require one just-in-time interaction — when you need their opening hours, phone number, or menu. Users will expect this information on the web because they’re not going through the hassle of installing their app. Actually, this is very good news for the web. If the user doesn’t want your icon on his home screen, if the user wants a just-in-time interaction, it’s the web they want — not because of any inherent technological superiority, but because it’s hassle-free. Go there, read, forget. No junk left on your phone. Most businesses don’t stand a chance of ending up on the users’ home screens. So they need the web — but not a web that emulates native to no particular purpose.

His biggest criticism of cruft-y websites is news sites – but then the counterargument comes in, as he concedes, that news sites need to have URLs so people can find the content via search. Tricky.

December 2013: Android’s permissions gap: why has it fallen so far behind Apple’s iOS? » The Guardian

In December 2013 (that’s 18 months ago), I asked:

why would you let an app get that sort of access to your contacts, location, or storage? If you’re using Android, the answer is that you don’t get much choice, unless (like those 40%+ in the survey carried out by the Information Commissioner’s Office) you decide not to download the app. And the peculiar thing is that Google seems to be quite OK with that – and in fact has gone as far as to reverse an update which let users block apps from accessing data they shouldn’t. The consequences of that are already beginning to play out as people notice the difference – and complain in the only way they can, by giving apps lower ratings for what they see as excessive demands. The problem surfaced at the end of last week, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) first praised and then doled out brickbats to Google for implementing, and then reversing, a function which allowed users to set per-app permissions to data such as their contacts, call log, location and so on. To access it you had to download a free third-party app called App Ops Launcher.

Commenters’ response: “just don’t install the app”. Overlooking the fact that that had already been dealt with in the piece – the 40% who already don’t install. Apple’s iOS has had this on near-enough 100% of devices since September 2012. Android will have it in Android M. Android Lollipop, released in autumn 2014, is presently on 9.7% of devices. I forecast it will take until June 2017 for Android M to be on 50%.

How long can you wait for Android M to be on 50% of devices? Would June 2017 be OK?

Google is announcing all sorts of wonders for Android M (Macadamia Nut fruitcake, or whatever it is) at Google I/O.

At the moment, Lollipop (Android 5.x) is on 9.7% of devices – 9.0% for 5.0 and 0.7% for 5.1, according to Google’s developer dashboard.

So when you get the announcement of “permissions for apps” (or indeed anything that is M-only), you have to ask: how long will it be before that is actually widespread? And by “widespread”, let’s define it as “on 50% of devices”. That 50% is useful because 50% of the billion of so Google Android devices in use is roughly comparable with the total number of Apple’s iOS devices in use. The thing is, the overwhelming number of active iOS devices get updated to the latest version within three months of the release of a new version; since iOS 6 in 2012 it’s taken just one month for the number running it to pass 50%. (At the time of writing, in May 2015, the current figure is 82% of devices on iOS 8, 16% on iOS 7, and 2% on something earlier. Revisiting it in March 2016 to add grammatical edits, the figure is 79% on iOS 9, which was released in September 2015.)

Apple iOS versions in use

Rapid adoption is a key element of Apple’s iOS due to its direct update mechanism.

How do we figure this out? We let history be our guide. I’ve been collating the data about versions on the Android developer dashboard for a while, so we can look back to the past. In each case I’ve taken the beginning point as when a version first showed up on the dashboard, not when it was “released”.

Android versions in use

The release of a new version of Android doesn’t necessarily mean it reaches a large proportion of users quickly.

If we take it that “modern” Android starts with version 4 onwards – given that 2.3 (Gingerbread) was super-old, while 3.0 (Honeycomb) was tablet-only, we get this data:

Android 4.0: 16 months for it, or a later version, to be on 50% of devices according to the dashboard (January 2012 to April 2013).

Android 4.1: 13 months (October 2012 to November 2013).

Android 4.2: 22 months (December 2012 to September 2014 – the date of Lollipop’s release, officially).

Android 4.3: 18 months (October 2013 to March 2015)

Android 4.4: 19 months (forecast). Launched in December 2013, at the start of May 2015 it was at 49.5% for 4.4 and successors. It’s a safe bet that in June 2015 the total for Android 4.4 and successors will pass 50%. (Update: this was exactly right: the figure for May 2015 showed 49.5% on 4.4 or later; for June 2015, it was 51.6%, including 5.x; Android 4.4 itself peaked at 41.4% in April 2015.)

Android 5.x: 18 months (forecast). Presently, it’s 9.7% after 4 months, and its uptake pattern is more like 4.3 than 4.4. My forecast for its 50% point: July 2016.

On that basis, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that if Android M is released in December 2015 (which is likely) that it will take until June 2017 before it’s on 50% of Android devices according to Google’s measurements. Of course, that will vary regionally – there are still 6% of devices running 2.3 or earlier, which translates into about 60 million devices still in use. Some will get more rapid takeup, some will get less.

To put it into perspective (thanks Mark Blank-Settle on Twitter):
• presently, Apple’s offering iOS 8. It will show off iOS 9 in June.
• by the time Android M is released on devices later this, iOS 9 will already be on 60%+ of iOS devices
• by the time Android M – shown off in early 2015 – is on 50% of devices, Apple will have shown off iOS 10.

So if you’re depending on something such as, oh, the permissions model or Android Pay being introduced in Android M reaching the majority of your users any time soon, might be best to hold your breath. The revolution looks more like an evolution.

A vision of the future: the only two companies which get it right

We really are. The trick is figuring out which ones matter. Photo by topgold on Flickr.

In Digital Wars (book! Kindle! iBook!), in the chapter about the struggle between Apple and Microsoft for primacy in music, I detailed part of the visit by Steve Ballmer to London in October 2004 when he made his now-infamous comments: “What’s the most common format of music listened to on an iPod? Stolen!”

More telling, at least in hindsight, was this part. The analysis is mine, direct from the book.

One journalist asked: “Microsoft’s smartphone has been a slow seller [its PocketPC-based phones sold such small numbers Microsoft didn’t announce sales figures until 2005, when they hit nearly 6m] while Apple and other companies have stolen a lead in portable music player markets. How will Microsoft tackle that?”

 Ballmer’s reply: “Over time most people will carry a phone that has a little hard disk in it that carries lots of music. Mobile phones are about 600 million units a year. Now, how many devices do we want to carry? We have to have a more compelling value proposition. [Research In Motion’s] BlackBerry has a niche market position [at the time, around 2m users worldwide] but it’s not a very sticky device. It allows you to make bad phone calls but it’s a good Exchange client. We will see an explosion of larger keyboard devices.”

What’s interesting about that comment – apart from how well it illustrates Ballmer’s gadfly salesman’s mind flitting about the subject in search of a compelling way to persuade people to buy an integrated device that could make phone calls and play music – is its lack of technological foresight. First, that “most people would carry a phone with a ‘little hard disk”’. Apple had already bought up supplies of solid-state Flash memory for an iPod with no moving parts, and when meeting me four years earlier Hase had introduced the idea of a 1-gigabyte Flash chip – enough to hold about 250 music tracks. The Motorola phone being co-developed with Apple would store its songs in Flash memory; and any technologist knew that prices for Flash storage were, like those for hard drive storage, halving every year.

Second, the idea of the explosion of larger keyboard devices is classically short-term thinking that also ignores the relentless march of processing power. Although touch computing was still mainly in the laboratory, it was already conceivable: Nokia had that year built a prototype touch screen phone, and a small company called Fingerworks had been working between 2001 and 2005 on “multi-touch” systems for screens, and making presentations at conferences. A technologist – an engineer – keyed into the industry’s future would have known of it and seen its direction.

Very few companies are able to envision what the future will look like. Steven B Johnson wrote about the importance of “adjacent technologies” for innovation and invention: that before you can make one technological leap, you need to have all the technologies available that will let you do that.

But you also have to have people who can see how the landscape will look when you fast forward five, seven, ten years. It’s not just Moore’s Law, with its constant doubling; it’s also the pricing and availability of other technologies such as screens, batteries, sensors, and their integration with existing materials. The 2007 iPhone was unimaginable to almost anyone in 2002; by 2012, there was a feeling that it was old hat, and the shift towards wearables was already in full swing (the Pebble first appeared in 2012).

So which companies are good at doing this?

Having covered the technology space for decades, there are still only two companies which in my view reliably spot the future and move towards it, and shape themselves and their products to line up with it.

Far sight and big brains

The first: Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin have proven, again and again, that they can see what’s coming around the corner, and position themselves (and their company) for it. Internet search? Minor problem in 1996, when they started on it. But they could follow the growth, and see the oncoming problem: a bazillion sites and no proper index.

Fast forward to 2005: while Eric Schmidt is busy chief executive-ing, Page and Brin investigated and bought a small mobile startup called “Android”. They didn’t even refer the purchase to Schmidt. They did it because they could see that the mobile internet would be the future, and that they had to be part of it with their own mobile platform; Android was a protective measure against Microsoft cornering the smartphone market and potentially locking out Google search.

It happens again and again. Collaborative editing through Google Docs (another purchased company). Google Maps (another purchased company). The self-driving car initiative, which puts together the improving capabilities of sensors, maps, computation and control, makes sense in hindsight; but to start work on it when it’s years away from being commercial so that you can steal a lead on the companies that are already well-placed is part of shaping the future. (This doesn’t mean that Google will be the first, or only, company to succeed with SDCs, or even that it will; but it’s seeing that possibility.)

There are tons more examples at Google, though many of them are still in the ferment of development; we don’t know if they’ll be farsighted or just overambitious when we look back in five years’ time.

Touching the alternative future

The second company that keeps seeing the future: Apple. The original iPod grasped the idea of music, and miniaturisation, wrapped in a beautiful design. The iPhone grasped the burgeoning capability of multi-touch (which Apple had already explored for years) along with the promise that Google had previously seen, and wrapped it in a package that had Andy Rubin (head of Android) hastily scrapping plans for a BlackBerry-alike and thinking immediately of an iPhone-alike. (For that immediate insight too Rubin deserves praise.)

Even the word that leaks out of what Apple hasn’t done shows that it’s trying to grab the future. Take the “nope, no TV” story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, interestingly timed just after Carl Icahn published a long screed insisting that Apple was going to release a TV next year. (Hard not to see this as Apple putting the story out there to calm the stock market.)

In the WSJ story, we get details like:

Apple had searched for breakthrough features to justify building an Apple-branded television set, those people said. In addition to an ultra-high-definition display, Apple considered adding sensor-equipped cameras so viewers could make video calls through the set, they said.

Ultimately, though, Apple executives didn’t consider any of those features compelling enough to enter the highly competitive television market.

The sensor-equipped cameras sounds like Apple was trying to make use of technology acquired from PrimeSense in November 2013. At the time, I thought that the amount spent pointed to Apple wanting to put the technology into a product within a year – as had happened with Authentec (fingerprint unlock) and Anobit (SSD technology).

Here’s what PrimeSense had:

So PrimeSense is important, and Apple wants to use its technology soon. Its 3D sensors have a range of up to 3.5 metres – about the depth of the typical living room, or the sort of distance most people sit from a TV set – and were used in the original Microsoft Kinect add-on for Xbox. (For the second-generation Kinect, Microsoft has moved to a different supplier – which it acquired.)

We know what the original Kinect could do: it could detect faces, movements, people and map them all in 3D space. So what is Apple interested in doing around that?

Now you know: it wanted it for a TV. But the use case wasn’t compelling. Waving at your TV is not, apparently, the future.

Why not..?

You might be wondering where Microsoft is on this list, and Facebook, and a multitude of others. Microsoft – well, it hasn’t been able to overcome the contradictions of its own strategy taxes to be able to embrace the future and tear down its past. (Satya Nadella is doing that now, to some extent, but it’s long overdue.) Look again at that extract from my book at the top. Ballmer shows no sign of understanding what was coming, of how quickly the deluge would overwhelm the space. The Zune (2006) used a spinning hard drive, fer Crissake, when the iPod nano (SSD) had come out in September 2005.

That’s the other part of seeing the future: being able to let go of the past. Apple and Google have been able to shrug and say “OK, on to the next thing” in many cases, and let their old products die. Google search doesn’t die, of course, but that’s because it’s still an essential task for many. Equally, Google has been happy to cull products when they don’t fit the future it’s expecting.

Facebook hasn’t had enough time to show us what and how it can shape the future, and also I think that its reluctance to embrace hardware (understandably) also means that it’s reliant on others to lead the way. That would be Apple and Google, though, especially through mobile, where Google’s Android is driving the evolution of all sorts of adjacent industries to the smartphone (camera optics, GPS chips, batteries) and Apple is showing what really effective user interfaces and experiences feel like (the Watch is a giant leap, but one where you don’t realise that the ground has moved underneath you).

I’d love to know which other companies have shown that they can spot the future, and pivot themselves towards it repeatedly. Sure, Dropbox and Box foresaw storage being free; but what else have they seen? What are the other enterprises that have regrouped themselves and solved a problem that was coming our way five years ago, or are solving a problem coming our way in five years’ time? Do tell me your thoughts.

Start up, May 28: LG Urbane reviewed, crashing iOS, who really bought Re/Code?, Meeker’s 2015, and more

Strong feelings, and not about the video game. Photo by gato gato gato on Flickr.

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

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends for 2015

Have to admit I haven’t read it (found it late) but it’s always essential reading. Download and peruse.

Apple’s ‘Proactive’ to take on Google Now with deep iOS 9 search, Augmented Reality Maps, Siri API » 9to5Mac

It’s that Mark Gurman guy again:

Apple began to lay the groundwork for Proactive with its acquisition of a personal assistant app called Cue in 2013, seeking to relevantly broaden iOS’s Spotlight and Safari search results. iOS 8’s ability to display Wikipedia Search results within Spotlight was the first taste of the Proactive initiative, and was partially designed to reduce iOS’s search reliance on Google. Sources say that Apple’s internal iOS usage metrics indicate that Google clicks have indeed fallen since iOS 8’s release last fall. Now Apple wants to take Proactive to the next level, and it may do so with iOS 9’s introduction at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 8. While Apple has positioned Siri as an “intelligent personal assistant” since the fall 2011 launch of the iPhone 4S, Proactive will go much further to integrate with your data. To begin with, Proactive will become a new layer within the iOS operating system, replacing the pulldown Spotlight menu currently found on the iOS Home screen.

But he says there’s also disagreement about whether to launch this in iOS 9, which was sorta going to be the “Slow down, Snow Leopard” release. (Also, “augmented reality” always sounds cool and then disappoints. I’ve tried it. It ain’t all that.) I’d love to see the metrics around Gurman’s stories compared to those for Re/Code. I think he might be ahead in pure readership. But of course he doesn’t have a giant conference attached.

Bug in iOS Unicode handling crashes iPhones with a simple text » AppleInsider

AppleInsider reader Kaitlyn on Tuesday discovered that receiving the Unicode characters seen in the screenshot above through Apple’s iOS Messages app triggers iPhone restarts, lockouts from Messages, Springboard crashes and more. A thread on Reddit narrowed down the system crash and reboot errors to iOS Unicode handling. More specifically, the Unicode string in question is part of a much longer block of text that cannot be fully rendered in Notifications.

If you’re thinking this sounds retro, that’s because it is: same sorta bug (different string) did the same thing back in August 2013. Wonder how long the fix will take. Also: Apple Watch apparently not susceptible, which is super-puzzling.

A series of wholly unrelated observations about Vox Media’s acquisition of Recode » The Awl

Matt Buchanan points out that if you pull the threads of both companies for long enough, you end up – from both – at Comcast, where its venture arm is trying to sell a company to the main arm. Trebles all round, or something. Also, take a look at the tags on the story. (Via Charles Knight.)

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland seizes documents at FIFA » Swiss Attorney General

Now, I don’t usually care about football (soccer to you Americans), but the evident corruption in FIFA (the “world governing body for football”) has been evident for years. Now, finally, something is happening – but not on just one, but two fronts:

In connection with irregularities surrounding football tournaments, two separate proceedings must be distinguished: The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) is conducting a Swiss criminal investigation regarding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. For inquiries regarding this Swiss criminal investigation, please contact the OAG. In separate proceedings, and independently of the Swiss criminal investigation of the OAG, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the allocation of media, marketing and sponsoring rights for football tournaments carried out in the United States and Latin America. The Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) supports this criminal investigation as part of international legal assistance.

International Olympic Committee next?

Charles Johnson: world’s worst troll removed from Twitter » Australia

Emma Reynolds:

Chuck is now raising money on his far-right website to have himself reinstated following this “censorship”. But his previous threats of legal action have never led to anything, with a website dedicated to the many times he has planned to sue for libel.

The list of things he has got egregiously wrong – on purpose? – is astonishing. But his whole schtick is about outrage and extremism. It’s more the attention paid to such people that’s the problem. When they’re just shouting to themselves, it means nothing.

Shipments of 2-in-1s to grow over 60% on year in 2015, says MIC » Digitimes

Notebook shipments, which are being impacted by tablets, are expected to drop 2.7% on year to reach 167m units in 2015, but 2-in-1 device shipments are expected to grow 62.5% on year to reach 13m units due to Microsoft’s aggressive promotions, according to figures from the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC).

Compare to the estimated 7m Chromebooks: these are both still niche markets.

LG Watch Urbane review: why Android Wear trails Apple’s Watch » WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

The Urbane falls behind in its approach to the fundamental smartwatch problem: When technology is attached to our bodies, there’s a thin line between help and nuisance. Android Wear is the annoying little brother of operating systems. It really wants your attention, and to keep you swipe-swipe-swiping away on its little screen. A smartwatch’s purpose is to keep you plugged in so you don’t have to be glued to your phone. Since I started wearing an Apple Watch two months ago, I check my phone roughly 25% less, according to Moment, an app that monitors my habits. Ideally, a smartwatch should give you just enough information to keep your smartphone anxiety in check, but not so much that you’re tempted to keep looking at your wrist. The Urbane’s default settings do the opposite. When I just want to check the time, the Urbane often teases me with a notification “card” on the bottom of its screen. You’ve got four new emails! It’s 68 degrees today! You can quickly swipe it away, but after that one’s gone, there’s usually another card waiting.

Lots of room for improvement – but it’s still very early days. (Hadn’t heard of Moment before. “TRACK HOW MUCH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY USE YOUR PHONE”. Are you brave enough? Um, and it has a Watch version.)

Infomercial GIfs, because real life is hard. » Imgur

Zero tech in this collection of “how hard life is because we don’t have X tech that the informercial will sell you”. Lots of solutions looking for problems – happily, we don’t see the solutions, just guess at them (and, often, the problems). The most impressive, in my view, is the woman in the second GIF who juggles the bottle. That’s really hard to do badly well.

Start up: Ive v the SEC, Android M and the batteries, adblock apocalypse, and more

Imagine acting with this in front of you. Now read the first link.

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

Behind the scenes: Car Share, BBC1 » Broadcast

George Bevir:

The premise of BBC comedy series Car Share is simple enough: two colleagues (played by Peter Kay and Sian Foulkes) are forced to travel to work together as a result of a company car share scheme.

But with the action taking place inside a rather compact Fiat 500, the technical setup required to film the Goodnight Vienna production was anything but straightforward.

Kay and Foulkes made it look like two people in a car; seen from their view, you see how difficult it would really be to “act natural”. And what a hell of a rig. (Link via Dave Lee.)

Jony Ive’s “promotion” by Apple is driven by money and fear of SEC disclosure » Forbes

Eric Jackson makes a good case that Ive’s promotion to a non-managing role means that he won’t count as an “executive officer” and so his pay won’t have to appear on SEC filings (which Jackson thinks it should have for the past two years). A lawyer emails him:

Part of a company’s competitive advantage is having an employee that everyone else would salivate over having and not having to give your competitors the data points for exactly what it would take to lure that person over, assuming money would be a big factor for that person’s decision to move (which you point out it almost always is). As we’ve seen, more disclosure of exec comp has had a major correlation to the exponential increases in exec comp over the past 20-25 years. If I ran Apple and had a Jony Ive on my team, I’d put his comp in the same vault as the concept design for the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch 2. It would be treated as a trade secret.

[Rumor] Google taking renewed focus on battery and RAM in Android M, Dev preview expected again this year » Android Police

Liam Spradlin:

According to our information, battery is set to be a big focus in Macadamia Nut Cookie, with Google emphasizing performance and smarter use of features that might drain your battery.

Google is apparently urging its own teams to focus on battery performance by cutting location checkins when possible, trimming down RAM usage, and reducing activity off-charger and when the device’s screen is off. Presumably this renewed focus on performance will extend to Google’s own Play Services package, which frequently manages to wiggle its way to the top of battery usage stats.

According to our info, Google will discuss these changes at I/O.

It’s hard to say how these efforts will materialize in Android M. Google, with additions to L like JobScheduler and Project Volta, has already taken aim at improving battery and performance on Android, but familiar battery life complaints still linger on for many users, even on the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, Google’s flagship Lollipop devices.

Commenters unimpressed: “every year they say this”.

When Stephen Fry met Jony Ive: the self-confessed fanboi meets Apple’s newly promoted chief design officer » Telegraph

Stephen Fry:

ID [industrial design] is about the physical devices themselves while HI [human interface] is about the images, interactions, sounds, flow and feel of the software that we interact with as we use them.

With control over both, Ive has been able to migrate the mobile and desktop operating systems from their old-fashioned skeuomorphic rendering of app icons as real world representations (ring binders and even torn page effects on the contacts and calendars apps, for instance) into a brighter, clearer set of exquisitely designed images that speak for themselves. Ive’s inventiveness can perhaps most starkly be expressed by revealing that he has nearly 5,000 patents to his name. To give you some point of comparison, Edison was granted 2,332.

If nothing else Ive has done Britain a huge favour. Apple has recently developed a standard British power plug whose prongs fold elegantly back flush into their body. Easily stowed, no agony if accidentally trod on. A separate and wholly different solution to that offered by the Mu Plug which solves the problem in another way.

“It took ages to solve,” Ive says wistfully.

Of note: this piece is in the UK’s Telegraph, which seems to have the scoop (except it’s not written by a journalist); photos are taken by Gabriela Hasbun, a freelance photographer in San Francisco. Notable how the Telegraph is being chosen in the UK for Apple’s announcements.

Adblocks’ doomsday scenarios » Monday Note

Frederic Filloux:

In coming weeks, a large analytic firm will release disturbing figures on the state of the ad blocking scene. According to someone who has advanced knowledge of the data, on desktop computers and on critical segments of the digital audience, the use of ad blocking keeps rising exponentially.

Along with The Netherlands, the German market is by far the most affected one by the ad blocking phenomenon. There, ad block use approaches 40% of the internet population. The reasons for the epidemic are unclear…

…but if you read the comments, people will give you their views. A common refrain is that ads are often used to plant malware – a charge that publishers can’t deny, but which equally isn’t their fault. It never used to be a problem (per se) in print days.

The mystery of the power bank phone taking over Ghana » Quartz

Emmanuel Quartey noticed a bulky phone his friends were using:

I fired up Gmail and clicked the first email in my inbox — a promotional message by e-commerce startup, Jumia where it was the featured deal.
Since then, this phone keeps popping up everywhere I go. It’s obviously very popular, and it’s clearly taking off. But why?
Why’re some of my most stylish, most tech-savvy friends — all of whom already own smartphones — suddenly lugging this thing around?
This is what I’ve found.

Here’re some basic details about the phone:
Costs between 100 and 150 Ghana Cedis (about 25 to 38 USD)
Can hold up to 3 SIM Cards
Has built-in FM radio
Comes with Facebook and WhatsApp pre-installed
Doubles as a power bank to charge small electronics
LED flashlight

10,000 mAh battery = super long life. But then again, why not just have rechargeable battery packs? Answer: because these featurephones don’t have standard connectors.

Global smartphone growth expected to slow to 11.3% in 2015 as market penetration increases in top markets » IDC

The research company says:

smartphone shipments are expected to grow 11.3% in 2015, which is down from 27.6% in 2014. This is on par with IDC’s previous smartphone forecast of 11.8% growth in 2015. While overall smartphone growth will continue to slow, many markets will experience robust growth in 2015 and beyond, and worldwide shipment volumes are forecast to reach 1.9bn units annually by 2019.

IDC expects 2015 to bring two notable milestones. First, IDC projects this to be the first year in which China’s smartphone growth, forecast to be 2.5% in 2015, will be slower than the worldwide market. Second, and somewhat related to the China forecast, Android smartphone growth is also expected to be slower than the worldwide market at 8.5% in 2015. IDC believes both trends will persist throughout the forecast period, which now goes to 2019.

China smartphone shipments shrank year-on-year in the first quarter of 2015, IDC says, claiming saturation. This doesn’t quite make sense though. There are hundreds of millions of people in China, and elsewhere, without a smartphone. The block on growth is down to price, and perceived need: if you can’t get data, what’s the use?

Start up: a Microsoft BlackBerry bid?, Firefox’s dead mobile dream, Montblanc’s smart watchband, and more

Fitness lies within. Photo by cactusbeetroot on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Counted by computer. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mozilla overhauls Firefox smartphone plan to focus on quality, not cost » CNET

Scoop by Stephen Shankland:

Mozilla has revamped its Firefox OS mobile software project after concluding that ultra-affordable $25 handsets aren’t enough to take on the biggest powers of the smartphone world, CNET has learned.

The nonprofit organization rose to prominence with the success of its Firefox Web browser a decade ago, but it’s having trouble achieving the same success with its Firefox operating system for smartphones. According to a Thursday email from new Chief Executive Chris Beard, Mozilla has changed its strategy to a new “Ignite” initiative that emphasizes phones with compelling features, not just with lower price tags. It’s also considering letting its operating system run apps written for its top rival, Google’s Android.

The idea that Firefox OS could undercut Android was always ridiculous, because Android volumes brought prices down so quickly. This won’t work either though – there’s no “quality gap” in the middle, and certainly not in the high end. Firefox may be destined for obscurity by the world’s move to mobile.

Montblanc to Apple: our Swiss smartwatch will outlast yours » Bloomberg Business

Corinne Gretler on Montblanc’s “e-strap”, which attaches to the strap, rather than replacing the watch itself:

The device is the first luxury Swiss product to directly compete with the Apple Watch, which costs $349 for the most basic version and $17,000 for an 18-karat gold model. The e-Strap and compatible timepieces will appear in Montblanc boutiques and retailers such as Bloomingdale’s in the U.S.

“The pricing is reasonable,” said Patrik Schwendimann, an analyst at Zuercher Kantonalbank. “If it turns out to be just a fad, at least the consumer still has a nice, normal watch they can continue to wear.”

The e-Strap consists of a stainless steel display attached via a leather strap and designed to be on the backside of the wrist when the watch is on the front. A two-line touchscreen displays e-mails when they arrive.

When connected to a smartphone, Montblanc’s device can select songs and jump through playlists. It has an activity tracker that allows users to set targets for calories burned and steps taken. The e-Strap can also trigger the phone’s camera, facilitating easier “selfie” shots and group photos.

The e-strap is amazingly ugly; I can’t imagine anyone who would buy a Montblanc buying one, let alone using one, to go with their watches which cost (deep breath) $3,700 to $5,800.

One begins to see why Jonathan Ive considered that Switzerland might be screwed.

Samsung layoffs at Milk Music, Milk Video Unit; Kevin Swint exits » Variety

Janko Roettgers:

Samsung’s Media Solutions Center America, which is responsible for the company’s Milk Music and Milk Video services, has been hit by layoffs and a key exec departure over the last couple of weeks, Variety has learned. These events have occurred as Samsung executives take a closer look at many of its business units, which could spell trouble for the company’s content plans going forward.

Media Solutions Center America saw dozens of staffers laid off earlier this month, according to multiple sources. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but one source estimated that as much as 15% of the staff may have been affected. I’ve been told that MSCA employed around 250 people total before the cuts went into effect.

Samsung said it remains committed to delivering “engaging, connected entertainment experiences through its Milk platform.”

Flashback on Samsung denials:
November 2014: Samsung denies ChatOn to close
December 2014: ChatOn to close by March 2015.

Filling the green circle »

Marco Arment:

Ever since getting the Apple Watch, not only have I been getting more consistent exercise, but I’m pushing myself further. I take more walks, and I walk faster and further than ever before. I’ve been walking hops around the same streets for four years, but now I’ve been discovering new streets and paths just to extend our walking distance and try to beat my previous walks.

I’ve never cared before, but now, I care.

Apple Watch: a Skinner box in a smartwatch’s clothing.

The new Google Photos app will automatically group your images by faces and recognized objects like cars, skylines, and food » Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

Google’s current Photos app uses some image processing smarts to piece together auto-awesome compilations and Stories, but the new Photos experience pushes the limits of computer vision. Not only does it pick out and identify faces, it recognizes objects like cars and food. It’s not perfect, but it’s sometimes creepily accurate.

Hmm. Is this one of those “because we can!” features, or something that’s actually really useful? Apple has had a “faces” feature in iPhoto and now Photos (only on desktop), so that is certainly helpful. But “objects”?

DxOMark reviews the HTC One M9, ranks it 22nd best mobile camera on the market » Android Police

Jeff Beck:

DxOMark just released their review of the HTC One M9’s camera. I’m not going to beat around the bush, the results aren’t great (not that any of us here at AP are all that surprised). The HTC One M9 scored a rather abysmal cumulative score of 69, placing the Taiwanese manufacturer’s latest flagship in 22nd place on DxOMark’s top mobile camera list.

Also behind the iPhone 4S (yes, the 2011 device), GoPro Hero3 and Amazon Fire Phone, as well as pretty much everything else. Hard to know to what extent DxOMark’s marks are objective, but this isn’t promising for HTC if it was hoping to pull in new users who care about this stuff.

Edward Snowden comments on ‘Just days left to kill mass surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act’ » Reddit AMA

Edward Snowden in a thread in his reddit AMA, about the recently discovered weakness in SSL caused by 1990s crypto regulations, on what you’d do if you saw some encrypted traffic that looked like it needed investigation:

You then flag those comms and task them to CES [the NSA’s Cryptographic Exploitation Service] for processing. If they’ve got a capability against it and consider your target is worth using it against, they’ll return the plaintext decrypt. They might even set up a processor to automate decryption for that data flow going forward as matching traffic gets ingested as they pass the mass surveillance sensors out at the telecom companies and landing sites. If you don’t meet CES’s justifications for the capability use or they lack a capability, you get nothing back. In my experience NSA rarely uses meaningful decryption capabilities against terrorists, firstly because most of those who actually work in intelligence consider terrorism to be a nuisance rather than a national security threat, and secondly because terrorists are so fantastically inept that they can be countered through far less costly means.

Terrorists: a nuisance rather than a national security threat, and in general fantastically inept. That actually sounds about right. It’s just that sometimes they aren’t, and they aren’t.

‘Buy Buy’ BlackBerry? Microsoft could make offer for sleeping phone giant, rumors say » Somedroid

Rumors have been circulating recently that companies are lining up to acquire Blackberry. The shortlist includes Microsoft, Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo for now —  last month, Samsung was reportedly also on the list but backed out after getting a $7.5bn asking price.

As of now, Microsoft seems to be preparing a $7bn offer for the company — that’s a 26% premium for the stock.

If Microsoft does buy it, that would be the second failing phone company it has bought. Personally, I don’t see the point.

BlackBerry laying off workers in handset unit » Re/code

Ina Fried:

BlackBerry confirmed on Saturday that it plans to cut jobs in the unit responsible for its smartphones as it seeks to make that shrinking business profitable.

The company said it has “made the decision to consolidate (the) device software, hardware and applications business, impacting a number of employees around the world.”

BlackBerry did not quantify the number of workers that would be affected.

Fried’s piece has the full statement from BlackBerry, which includes the quote

“One of our priorities is making our device business profitable. At the same time, we must grow software and licensing revenues. You will see in the coming months a significant ramping up in our customer-facing activities in sales and marketing.”

The device business isn’t profitable and would need huge changes – principally cuts in running costs, or a huge leap in handset ASPs – to become so.

Start up: explaining BlackBerry’s demise, Samsung S6 sales concerns, Apple Watch shipments, and more

Remember? Photo by BitchBuzz on Flickr.

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

Samsung silent on disastrous Galaxy S6 sales » Forbes

Gordon Kelly:

70 million.

Earlier this year that was the number of Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge smartphones Samsung claimed it would sell in 2015. Samsung also claimed to have taken 20m pre-orders prior to both phones’ release. Sadly one month on the reality looks disastrously different…

Korean news agency Yonhap reports that it has taken a month for sales of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge to reach 10m. Speaking to Yonhap a ‘high-ranking Samsung official’ confirmed this figure for the first time.

Trying to put a positive spin on it the official said: “The sales of the Galaxy S6 series have already surpassed 10 million.”…

…Consequently for combined sales of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge to only pass 10m in a similar timeframe to the S5 and S4 represents a disastrous return. This is particularly true for the cheaper Galaxy S6 given Samsung has already confirmed demand for the Edge variant has been unexpectedly high.

All of which poses the obvious question: if Galaxy S6 Edge sales are performing above expectations, just how bad are Galaxy S6 sales?

Determined to get to the bottom of this I delayed this post in order to get official comment from Samsung. The company asked for 24 hours to respond, but eventually chose not to dispel any of the negative connotations or correct Yonhap’s figures. Instead its formal statement to me today was simply: “No Comment”.

Disastrous? Disappointing? Samsung supporters say the S5 was launched in 125 countries, the S6 in just 20 – so this 10m figure is “better” than last year’s. However that doesn’t explain how it could make such huge claims for preorders which then don’t seem to have been backed up by newer data.

There’s a growing suspicion in the tech world that the S6 isn’t succeeding as Samsung needs it to – because the business challenge is different from three years ago when the S3 was such a hit.

Apple Watch orders fell sharply after the first day and haven’t grown since, a shopping data firm says » Quartz

Dan Frommer:

Apple has taken orders for almost 2.5m watches in the US through Monday, May 18, according to Slice’s projections, which are based on more than 14,000 online shoppers. More than half of those orders were placed on April 10, the first day Apple accepted watch pre-orders in the US and eight other countries, according to Slice.

Since the first day—which we’ve excluded from this next chart to focus on detail—US orders have generally remained under 30,000 per day, according to Slice’s projections. Note the spike on April 24, the day US pre-orders started arriving—and when people started posting their initial Apple Watch experiences and real-life photos.

…One Wall Street analyst, Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty, recently increased her projection of first-year global Apple Watch shipments to 36m, based on survey results showing increased purchase intentions among US consumers. A second firm, however, just reportedly decreased its estimates to less than 15m watches, based on weak demand. To reach 36m shipments, Apple would need to average almost 100,000 per day worldwide.

30,000 in the US alone (if we assume the data is correct). Could the rest of the world triple that? Even if not, it means Apple has taken over the smartwatch market at a stroke.

Tracking protection for Firefox at Web 2.0 Security and Privacy 2015 » Monica Chew

My paper with Georgios Kontaxis got best paper award at the Web 2.0 Security and Privacy workshop today! Georgios re-ran the performance evaluations on top news sites and the decrease in page load time with tracking protection enabled is even higher (44%!) than in our Air Mozilla talk last August, due to prevalence of embedded third party content on news sites. You can read the paper here.

That 44% figure shows how the desire to know more about the audience in order to monetise the audience better is hurting the audience’s experience. That’s the sort of thing that drives adblocking.

The peak of ‘free’ on the Internet » Mashable

Jason Abbruzzese:

maybe we’ll look back at this point in time wistfully, telling tales of freely streaming music and viral videos. Perhaps the best days of the internet are behind us and its now just a platform on which mega-conglomerates can make money.

Or maybe this will come to be seen as a point where the internet’s initial promise of democratized distribution began to be fully realized. There’s a certain shabby charm in the weird old web with its terrible banner ads and dark humour. You can still find it, mostly on reddit.

The bottom line is that just about everything is online these days in every medium and almost all of it is free. As subscription services grow in number and popularity, that’s going to inevitably form a smaller part of the overall internet. The bottom line is that just about everything is online these days in every medium and almost all of it is free. As subscription services grow in number and popularity, that’s going to inevitably form a smaller part of the overall internet.

I think smartphones’ essentially closed nature – that they tend to be endpoints for app content – makes subscription models easier, for those which can charge for them. (A point Abbruzzese makes.) But there are still 750m or so PCs in the hands of consumers. That’s a lot of computing power able to crack DRM.

Analyzing the iPhone user base » Above Avalon Premium Recap

Neil Cybart, in a post that would normally be via premium access only:

Running basic arithmetic with that 48m number [of iPhone 6/6 Plus sold in January-March] and Tim Cook’s comments about the installed base, I get an iPhone installed base of approximately 475 million users. Is this an exact number? No. Is this a good estimate of roughly the number of people with an iPhone (all models)? Yes.  

With this estimate in hand, we can start to break out the iPhone base by model. iPhone 6 has been outselling 6 Plus by approximately 2.5x, while both have been outselling the iPhone 5s and 5c by nearly 4-to-1. Taking into account these ratios, I suspect the current iPhone user base breakout looks something like:

iPhone 6: 85 million users
iPhone 6 Plus: 35 million users
Older (5s, 5c, 5, 4s): 355 million users
Total: 475 million users

He then breaks it down further; turns out the bulge in ownership is of the 5S, at 125m users. (You can sign up for Cybart’s premium analysis on his website. Also: is there any equivalent premium analysis for Android?)

NSA planned to hijack Google App Store to hack smartphones » The Intercept

Ryan Gallagher:

The document outlines a series of tactics that the NSA and its counterparts in the Five Eyes were working on during workshops held in Australia and Canada between November 2011 and February 2012.

The main purpose of the workshops was to find new ways to exploit smartphone technology for surveillance. The agencies used the Internet spying system XKEYSCORE to identify smartphone traffic flowing across Internet cables and then to track down smartphone connections to app marketplace servers operated by Samsung and Google. (Google declined to comment for this story. Samsung said it would not be commenting “at this time.”)

As part of a pilot project codenamed IRRITANT HORN, the agencies were developing a method to hack and hijack phone users’ connections to app stores so that they would be able to send malicious “implants” to targeted devices. The implants could then be used to collect data from the phones without their users noticing.

Irritant horn. Such fabulous names the random two-word generator throws up. Wonder what the scheme that must have existed to do the same to iOS apps was called?

The inside story of how the iPhone crippled BlackBerry » WSJ

Extract from “Losing the Signal”, a book by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff:

If the iPhone gained traction, RIM’s senior executives believed, it would be with consumers who cared more about YouTube and other Internet escapes than efficiency and security. RIM’s core business customers valued BlackBerry’s secure and efficient communication systems. Offering mobile access to broader Internet content, says Mr. Conlee, “was not a space where we parked our business.”

The iPhone’s popularity with consumers was illogical to rivals such as RIM, Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc. The phone’s battery lasted less than eight hours, it operated on an older, slower second-generation network, and, as Mr. Lazaridis predicted, music, video and other downloads strained AT&T’s network. RIM now faced an adversary it didn’t understand.

“By all rights the product should have failed, but it did not,” said David Yach, RIM’s chief technology officer. To Mr. Yach and other senior RIM executives, Apple changed the competitive landscape by shifting the raison d’être of smartphones from something that was functional to a product that was beautiful.

As Horace Dediu pointed out on Twitter, Yach simply misunderstood the new basis of competition. It wasn’t “functional v beautiful”; it was a new axis of functionality, such as the web browser that BlackBerry didn’t offer.

One nitpick: the writers call mid-2007 RIM (as it was) “the world’s largest smartphone maker”. Nokia was shipping more smartphones, and its smartphone revenue was larger too.

BlackBerry, it’s revealed, didn’t have the flexibility of thinking to adjust to the changed world; the awful Storm (1m sold, 1m needing replacement) was perhaps its nadir.

The lesson of “don’t forget all the parts move” » Learning by Shipping

Steve Sinofsky on the BlackBerry excerpt:

While hindsight is always 20/20, when you are faced with a potentially disruptive situation you have to take a step back and revisit nearly all of your assumptions, foundational or peripheral, because whether you see it or not, they are all going to face intense reinvention.

In disruptive theory we always talk about the core concept that disruptive products are better in some things but worse in many of the things (tasks, use cases, features) that are currently in use by the incumbent product. This is the basis of the disruption itself. In reading the excerpt it is clear that out of the gate this reality was how the RIM executives chose to view the iPhone as introduced as targeting a different market segment or different use cases…

…There’s a natural business reaction to want to see a new entrant through the lens of a subset of your existing market. Once you can do that you get more comfortable doing battle in a small way rather than head-on.  You feel your market size will trump a “niche” player.

Sinofsky also wrote usefully on this topic in 2013. Read both posts along with the WSJ’s BlackBerry one.

Google seeking Taiwan partners to promote Chromebook, say makers » Digitimes

Google recently launched an education-use Chromebook for sale at US$99, the sources noted. In a bid to market inexpensive Chromebooks in emerging markets, Google has adopted chip solutions developed by China-based Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics and won support to launch models from China-based vendors Haier and Hisense as well as India-based Xolo and Indonesia-based Nexian, the sources indicated.

Google shipped 6.5m Chromebooks in 2014, mostly for educational use in the North America market, and expects to ship 8m units in 2015, the sources said.

Also talking to Acer and Asus. Trouble for PC makers is that Chromebooks are an even greater example of the “value trap” than Windows. If you’re selling stuff for $99 and the margin is low, you need huge scale to make any profit at all. And the scale so far is tiny.

Start up: dual-app iPads?, Pebble’s cash call, improving S6 battery life, Chromebook sales and more

S6 discharging too fast? This might sort it. Photo by AndyArmstrong on Flickr.

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

Future of iPad: dual-app viewing mode, then J98/J99 ‘iPad Pros,’ multi-user support » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman:

Facing slowing growth for the first time since the iPad’s 2010 debut, Apple is working on several significant software and hardware updates to reinvigorate the tablet over the next year. Apple is developing a dual-app viewing mode, 12-inch iPads codenamed “J98″ and “J99,” as well as support for multi-user logins, according to sources briefed on the plans. First planned for debut last year, the split-screen applications feature for the iPad could be introduced as soon as June at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, while multi-user login support and the 12-inch iPads will apparently arrive later…

In Gurman we trust. He’s never told us they’re working on a TV. And these improvements would help the iPad in businesses, which is the next frontier for tablet penetration.

Adult dating site hack exposes millions of users » Channel 4 News

Geoff White:

Channel 4 News has been investigating the cyber underworld, discovering which websites have been hacked and exposing the trade in personal information of millions of people through so-called “dark web” sites.

The investigation led to a secretive forum in which a hacker nicknamed ROR[RG] posted the details of users of Adult FriendFinder. The site boasts 63 million users worldwide and claims more than 7 million British members. It bills itself as a “thriving sex community”, and as a result users often share sensitive sexual information when they sign up.

The information of 3.9m Adult FriendFinder members has been leaked, including those who told the site to delete their accounts…

…The front page of Adult FriendFinder, which is based in California, features photos of dozens of attractive young women. Yet the hacked data, contained in 15 spreadsheets, reveals how few females appear to use Adult FriendFinder.

Among the 26,939 users with a UK email address, for example, there are just 1,596 who identified as female: a ratio of one woman to every 16 men.

How.. unsurprising.

Rumor has it that Pebble is on the rocks even with $18m in the bank » TechCrunch

John Biggs:

Smartwatch maker Pebble seems to be in some trouble. According to sources close to the company, the company is having trouble maintaining its growth and has turned to a Silicon Valley bank for a $5 million loan and $5 million line of credit. Valley VCs have been turning down the company’s requests for new capital.

Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky offered no comment.

Actually this feels like cashflow: it has to commit factory time to make those watches, and VC money isn’t what it needs; it needs a line of credit to pay for that. Whether it’s in trouble is a different question. I’d be surprised if it were.

Few business takers yet, but ​Chromebook sales grow to 7.3 million this year » ZDNet

Liam Tung:

The number of the low-cost Google-powered laptops sold this year is on track to grow 27m, up from 5.7m units in 2014 to 7.3m in 2015, research from analyst house Gartner shows.

The Chromebook’s growth contrasts markedly with the shrinking global PC market. However, sales of the devices remain heavily skewed towards the US and within that market, they’re largely used in schools, despite growing interest from consumers in the country.

In 2014, the US accounted for 84% of all Chromebooks sold, with 60% of sales coming from education, 39% from consumers, and 1% from business.

Last year, noting signs of growing interest among businesses for Chromebooks, Gartner forecast that by 2017 sales to the education sector could rise to over 6m units, driving total sales for the year to 14 million laptops sold.

Its outlook for the next two years is more conservative, with the analyst predicting shipments to rise to 7.9m by 2016, suggesting growth of under 10% for next year.

This in a market of about 300m PCs per year. Not the dramatic displacement that had been expected. Chromebooks began in 2009. Do they really offer too little utility, or are people too wedded to Windows even though cloud services would serve them fine?

Not so fast: connected cars could cause data traffic jams » Reuters

Eric Auchard:

Traffic jams in the future could cause potentially dangerous data snarl-ups as cars packed with entertainment, safety and navigation features vie for airwaves with smartphones, tablets and networked features in other vehicles, according to a study.

By 2024, mobile networks will see machine-to-machine (M2M) connections jump 10-fold to 2.3 billion from 250 million in 2014. Half these links will be automotive, said the study published on Thursday by Machina Research.

On the roads, about one in five vehicles worldwide will have some form of wireless network connection by 2020, or more than a quarter of a billion connected vehicles, according to a forecast from technology research firm Gartner.

This one tweak could boost battery life on your Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge » ZDNet

My ZDNet colleague, Matthew Miller, bought and then returned a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. He liked the phone, but in the end, the poor battery life he experienced was a deal-breaker.

That’s the same problem Business Insider’s Antonio Villas-Boas found after using a Galaxy S6, essentially the same handset but without the curved edge displays, for a month. Villas-Boas learned that one single setting solved his battery life issues, however.

“I switched off Google Now, Google’s digital assistant, and my battery life skyrocketed to last me about 36 hours on a single charge with relatively decent usage, including music streaming, but without using Bluetooth or GPS. I charge it every night, but I usually have just under 50% battery left before I go to bed.”

That’s interesting for a few reasons. First of all, if it addresses the short run-time on a single charge, the setting change provides a reasonable workaround for Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge owners.

Second, there’s something else going on with Google Now on these particular handsets: The always listening feature of Google Now stopped working on these two handsets for many people in the middle of April. Google is aware of the problem, publicly noting on April 23 that it is actively working on a solution.

Some suggestions that Google Now is optimised (somehow) for Qualcomm processors; the S6 and S6 Edge uses Samsung’s own Exynos. That’s a problem is Google Now is killing the battery, though.

The clock is ticking for Dropbox » Business Insider

Eugene Kim, with a good investigative piece:

After coming out of Y Combinator in 2007, Dropbox hit 100 million users by 2012, and 300 million by 2015. That rapid growth made some people feel like they’d already made it. “There wasn’t that sense of ‘We haven’t won yet,'” this former employee says.

This person also tells us that DfB growth was “not stellar” as of the middle of last year.

Another person who left Dropbox last year said that the company has become noticeably slower as it’s gotten larger. (Dropbox went from 500 to 1,200 employees in the past 12 months.)

For example, a simple team change request had to go through multiple HR managers, creating a culture of heavy “process” that many engineers dislike.

In fact, in one of the internal surveys that asked if the engineers felt they were empowered to perform at full potential, almost half of them said “No,” according to this person.

What’s Dropbox’s USP?

Myntra sales dip 10% in app-only mode, rivals Amazon, Snapdeal, eBay to play safe for now » The Economic Times

Varun Jain:, India’s largest online fashion retailer, has seen a 10% drop in sales since it shut its website and turned a mobile app-only etailer last week. The company, owned by Flipkart, had factored in such a decline and hoped to return to the level of sales prior to the move in the coming weeks, according to a source. Its closest rivals, Snapdeal and Amazon, however, said they had no plans to wind up their websites and focus only on mobile phone users.

“Our data shows that there are still many customers who use PCs to shop online. We do not want to force our customers to use one specific medium to shop on Snapdeal,” a Snapdeal spokesperson said.

The app-only approach seems to follow this logic: if you’re dependent on web visits for traffic and hence revenue, you’re vulnerable to someone who has better SEO or the vicissitudes of the dominant search engine. Better therefore to build up a loyal audience on the app, and drive people there through advertising.

Start up (May 21): Cisco in Russia, more Google Maps malarkey, a Watch forecast cut, and more

Somehow this didn’t publish on May 21 as it should have. Bah.

Android Wear lets you do all sorts of watchfaces. Photo by leolambertini on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

After sanctions, Cisco altered sales records in Russia » BuzzFeed News

Aram Roston and Max Seddon, with a blockbuster piece:

After Western sanctions began shutting down sales of high-tech internet equipment to Russia’s military and security forces, employees at technology giant Cisco Systems Inc. altered sales records and booked deals under a false customer name, according to internal company documents. The intent, according to a confidential source with deep knowledge of Cisco’s Moscow operations, was to dodge the sanctions by masking the true customers behind more innocuous-sounding straw buyers.

Nonononononotatall we were just correcting some errors, says Cisco.
Remind me again about how Buzzfeed is just cat pictures and listicles?

Sex, monsters and outrage » Public Address

Joshua Drummond on the outrage (overhyped) about students in a sex education class being handed literature that, um, outraged some people:

By analogy, it’s a lot like students studying World War Two. Some knowledge of the Nazis’ peculiar, perverted ideology and the conditions in which it flourished is necessary to understand how the war got going. But no-one’s being taught that Nazis are rad, any more than they’re being taught that unmarried women are sluts in this particular case. The lesson was – and why not have some fun with paraphrasing – intended to point out the unfortunate truth that there are a lot of dicks in the world and some of them try to force their dickery on others. I’d have thought this was a pretty important lesson, especially when it comes to sexual health, and where better to experience it than in the (relatively) safe space of a health education class?

No! said Labour education spokesperson Chris Hipkins, who thundered mildly: “It’s fine for schools to be using stuff to provoke kids into thinking but there’s a fine line between provoking critical thought and something that’s offensive. That, I think, crosses the line.”

Well, I suppose that’s up for debate. Should students be privy to the extremist views of nutcases?

What’s most worrying is that, as always happens, the initial distortion gets far more broadly distributed than the correction.

Think about that: the wrong stuff always gets the broader distribution.

Facebook’s comes under fire for being a walled garden » Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

In effect, says the EFF, the structure of means that Facebook has set itself up as a gatekeeper when it comes to accessing the Internet, and this means that it has “issued an open invitation for governments and special interest groups to lobby, cajole or threaten them to withhold particular content from their service.” Until the social network truly opens up the project to anyone and everyone, will “not be living up to its promise or its name,” the foundation says.

Today’s solar panels are fine for tomorrow » Solar Love

Steve Hanley:

An interdisciplinary MIT study led by the MIT Energy Initiative has led to a 332-page report entitled The Future of Solar Energy. Among its key findings are that today’s solar panels are all that is needed to supply the world with many terawatts of clean solar power by 2050 (a terawatt is equivalent to 1,000,000 megawatts). The other main point the study makes is that it will take political will to finally wean the world off of fossil fuels.

I was pointed to this on Twitter by Leonardo DiCaprio. Yup, him. Not personally, you understand.

KGI lowers Apple Watch forecast to 15 million » WatchAware

Abdel Ibrahim, commenting on 9to5Mac reporting on KGI research lowering its estimat for the lead from 20-30m to “just” 15m:

As with any new product, it takes time for things to get going. New features, functions, and even new versions are what will be the most important test for Apple Watch in the coming years. Most V1 products are usually adopted by the comparatively small minority of Apple fans who are interested in the company’s latest gadgets.

15m feels astonishing. For a v1 product? And as Ibrahim points out, that’s a lot more than Android Wear seems to be doing (downloads passed 1m in late February, now around 1.2m).

Proper Google Maps app appears on Android Wear via latest phone app update » Android Central

Andrew Martonik:

The app can be launched from the app launcher or by voice with an “open Maps” command, and when opened you get a full screen top-down map experience. You can scroll around, pinch-to-zoom (barely) and even switch between true North and device direction views. Zoom in/out buttons appear on the top of the screen when you tap it, which is much better than pinching, and you also get a small pin button that lets you quickly scroll through nearby places and navigate to them — though when you fire up navigation from the Maps app on the watch it still corresponds with launching Maps on your phone.

There’s even a neat feature that gives you a simple black and white outline map when the watch doesn’t receive interaction for while, just like the ambient watch faces do.

Aside from the handful of reboots of our phone and watch that were necessary just to get it to run, the app still seems rather unstable. Several times in just a few minutes of playing with the app it has failed to respond or open up navigation properly — we have a feeling that this isn’t quite ready without a new version of Google Play Services or potentially a new version of Android Wear on the watch.

Options for resizing: pinch-to-zoom or prodding a plus/minus onscreen tab. Neither seems ideal. The black/white outline map is horrible. The “list of pins” looks smart.

How do I get rid of the “Try the New Drive” banner? » Google Product Forums

Q: It is super annoying and it won’t go away. I’ve tried going to the new drive and then coming back, but it’s still there. I like the old drive a lot better than the new one and I want to stay on it. This banner is basically trying to force me to use the new drive which I *don’t want to do*. Anyone know if there’s a way to get rid of it??

And wouldn’t you know, there’s a Googler ready with an answer. However…

Apple Watch and Continuous Computing » Stratechery

Ben Thompson has a fantastic examination of the Watch’s potentials, and limits, as well as Apple’s advantages and strategic disadvantage:

it’s clear that what the mouse was to the Mac and multi-touch was to the iPhone, Siri is to the Watch. The concern for Apple is that, unlike the others, the success or failure of Siri doesn’t come down to hardware or low-level software optimizations, which Apple excels at, and which ensures that Apple products have the best user interfaces. Rather, it depends on the cloud, and as much as Apple has improved, an examination of their core competencies and incentives argues that the company will never be as good as Google. That was acceptable on the phone, but is a much more problematic issue when the cloud is so central to the most important means of interacting with the Watch.

A key advantage: lots of people who will buy it and use it, creating a virtuous circle for developers who write for it. (Yes, a calculator for the Watch.)

Breaking News: Howard University shows up as ‘N***er University’ on Google Maps » Seely Security

Bryan Seely:

A few hours ago, Bomani X @AceBoonCoon  updated his twitter feed with yet another one of his shocking discoveries on Google Maps.  Yesterday the world took notice when he posted an image of his Google Maps results where he found that when he searched for the keyword ‘nigga’ or ‘nigger’ , the White House would come up. Unfortunately, President Obama and his family are not the only targets of this deplorable prank. When you run a Google Maps search for ‘nigger university’ you get search results for ‘Howard University,’ a private university in Washington, D.C.

Beginning to look like we’re discovering the limits of useful crowdsourcing. (Though of course the Google search for “miserable failure” of a few years ago was already showing the dangers.)

Driverless cars may cut US auto sales by 40%, Barclays says » Bloomberg Business

Keith Naughton:

US auto sales may drop about 40% in the next 25 years because of shared driverless cars, forcing mass-market producers such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to slash output, a Barclays Plc analyst said.

Vehicle ownership rates may fall by almost half as families move to having just one car, according to a report published Tuesday by the analyst, Brian Johnson. Driverless cars will travel twice as many miles as current autos because they will transport each family member during the day, he wrote.

Large-volume automakers “would need to shrink dramatically to survive,” Johnson wrote. “GM and Ford would need to reduce North American production by up to 68% and 58%, respectively.”…

…When most vehicles are driverless, annual U.S. auto sales will fall about 40% to 9.5%, while the number of cars on American roads declines by 60% to fewer than 100m, he estimated.

“While extreme, a historical precedent exists,” Johnson wrote. “Horses once filled the many roles that cars fill today, but as the automobile came along, the population of horses dropped sharply.”

Hard to argue against that one.