Start up: life as an “Invisible”, why use adblocking?, how Spotify’s eating your drive, and more


BlackBerry has been a loser as smartphones have taken off in Africa. Photo by shizhao on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Surprise your friend by tweeting an inline link. Follow The Overspill on Twitter to get updates on what’s posted here. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I was an Invisible Girlfriend for a month » Fusion

Kashmir Hill tried being one of the workers who texts (but never, never sexts) with people who want not-really-just-virtual-but-real boyfriends or girlfriends:

Over all, the number of users who seemed to really want companionship outnumbered the skeptics. The founders say one user told them she was going through chemotherapy and that her real-life boyfriend had dumped her. So her invisible boyfriend had become a serious emotional support while she fought cancer.

I didn’t encounter anyone like that. Instead, I met a guy in his late 20s who wanted to have an extended conversation with his “lovingly nerdy, best-friend-turned-girlfriend” about taxidermy. He said that if he were a taxidermist, he would sew a cat to a dog. I texted, “Would you put a cat head on a dog body or a dog head on a cat body?” But I didn’t get to see his response, nor find out if the conversation was about to go to a darker place that might warrant alerting authorities.

It’s hard to put a price on love. But Crowdsource did. It’s worth a whopping five cents. That’s how much I got paid to write each of these texts.

If I spent an hour answering texts, and took the full five minutes to write each one, I’d be making 60 cents an hour, far below the minimum wage. This is legal because all the workers on the platform are classified as independent contractors rather than employees.

But of course. She’d get $5 for answering 100 texts; the service charged $15-$25 for the same.

Also, this is frighteningly reminiscent of Her, whose central character’s job is writing cards for people too busy to write cards.
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Why I’ve started using an adblocker » Three Dot Lounge

Chuq von Rospach:

The problem for me is not actually the ads. I understand sites need to pay the bills and that advertising is how many sites do that. But so many of the ads today have gotten so aggressive about hiding content from me or blaring unrelated crap into my eyes or in my ears that I have finally had it.

Beyond that, an even bigger problem for me is that more and more networks are using these advertising inclusions to install trackers and beacons to watch me as I wander around the net, and these trackers and beacons are in almost all cases things I have no way to opt out of, have never agreed to use and cannot see what’s being collected and sold about me along the way.

That is why I have finally installed an ad blocker. The ads are in many cases intrusive and annoying, but the growing trend of tracking without my permission and without any way to opt out of the tracking is abusive of me, my privacy and my online experience. And because of that, I’m now blocking the trackers and beacons that do this, and as a side effect the ads have gone away as well. This may hurt the sites that depends on the advertising, and I’m sort of sorry for that — but they are also the sites that have allowed these networks to install these tracker systems onto them, and so they are indirectly complicit in that way.

I don’t see this ending well for small or medium sites reliant on ads; the word about adblocking is going to spread relentlessly, and if it makes sites more pleasant to read then it’s going to snowball. Large sites may be able to shrug off the lure of the crud ads. Smaller ones won’t; you’re already seeing (elsewhere) the effects of the race to the bottom.
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Spotify’s swallowing your disk space – and you can’t stop it » Expert Reviews

Barry Collins:

The streaming service stores a local cache of music on users’ PCs, normally containing their most recently played tracks or music they’ve requested to be stored offline (a feature only available to Premium subscribers).

An update to Spotify earlier this year removed the option to determine where this cache was stored and to limit its size, leaving users who run the software on laptops or tablets with limited capacity SSDs fuming. “I’ve unsubbed yesterday because of this,” wrote one user on the Spotify forums. “I can’t believe how incompetent your software engineers or whoever thought of this idea to take away KEY functionaliites like cache variability and installation paths.”

“Like everyone, I have an SSD as my primary drive and [it] has a very limited space in it,” writes another customer. “With all my music save [sic] offline, Spotify is eating up almost 30% of my SSD space without my knowledge!”

An update to Spotify last week returned the feature that allowed people to select an external drive as the location for the cache. But the option to limit the size of the cache remains missing in action.

Slightly wonkish, but one to properly annoy the wonks.
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Artist arrested on suspicion of ‘abstracting electricity’ to charge iPhone on London Overground train » London Evening Standard

Tom Marshall and Laura Proto:

An artist has criticised transport police after he was arrested for using a plug on a London Overground train to charge his iPhone.

Robin Lee was handcuffed and put into a police van after using the power socket on a train from Hackney Wick to Camden Road on Friday, July 10.

The 45-year-old, who lives in Islington, said the whole episode was “ridiculous” and was first confronted on the train by a police community support officer who said he was taking the electricity illegally.

He was arrested on the platform after getting off at Camden Road. “She said I’m abstracting electricity,” he said. “She kept saying it’s a crime. We were just coming into the station, and there happened to be about four police officers on the platform. She called to them and said ‘This guy’s been abstracting electricity, he needs to be arrested’.”

The plugs say “Cleaners’ use only”. Maybe he should have said he was a cleaner. (He was arrested, and then “de-arrested”.)
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Middle East and Africa smartphone market to top 155m units in 2015 as sub-$200 segment surges » IDC

Featurephone sales fell 20%, smartphone sales grew 66% to hit 36m, or 63% of total regional phone shipments in Q1, driven by cheap Android phones:

almost half of all the smartphones shipped across Africa (45.1%) in Q1 2015 were priced below $100, while almost 75% fall under $200. Low-priced smartphones are also having a considerable impact in the Middle East, with the $100–200 price band accounting for the market’s biggest share. 

“This price bracket seems to be the sweet point for most vendors launching in the region, as well as for established vendors looking to increase their shares by targeting the lower end of the market,” says Nabila Popal, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Phone Tracker in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “This has resulted in phones priced under $200 accounting for about 36% of the Middle East smartphone market, while at the other end of the spectrum the $450+ price band has seen its share fall from 25% in Africa and 48% in the Middle East a year ago, to 14% and 34% today.”

Nigeria and South Africa contributed significantly to the overall growth seen in Africa, with the countries experiencing year-on-year growth of 135% and 56%, respectively. Nigeria accounted for 14% of all smartphone shipments across the continent during Q1 2015, while South Africa was responsible for 12%.  Samsung, Tecno, and Apple were the leading smartphone vendors in Africa during the quarter, with Huawei being ousted from the top three. The three leading vendors accounted for a combined 55% share of Africa’s smartphone shipments in Q1 2015.

Losers in this: BlackBerry (hit by BYOD) and Microsoft (both the Nokia and Lumia models).
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Nintendo president Satoru Iwata dies of cancer » FT.com

Leo Lewis makes an important point:

however dismally its successor has fared, the original Wii console, released in 2006 as the defining management feat of Mr Iwata, was revolutionary.

Even as Nintendo’s celebrated games designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, was receiving the plaudits for the Wii’s groundbreaking controllers and gameplay, the management hand of Mr Iwata was evident.

Three titles of which Mr Iwata was executive producer — Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Wii Play — were games that sold more than 130m units between them and changed not only the physical way that games were played, but the demographic universe of gaming.

In the global list of best selling video games, Nintendo reigns supreme. Of the top 40 games that have sold or been downloaded more than 15m times, 12 were released under the presidency of Mr Iwata.

One has to hope Nintendo had a really solid succession plan in place.
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Satoru Iwata was Nintendo » The Verge

Sam Byford on Nintendo’s chief executive, a skilled programmer who has died of cancer at 55:

everything Iwata did was driven by an unshakeable belief in what Nintendo is and what it stands for. Nintendo is sometimes late to certain parties, but when it does do things that people have long clamored for, like mobile games or an online service, it does so on its own terms. Iwata passionately stood against the devaluation of games, for example, which is why you won’t see ports of existing Nintendo titles on phones. And his forward-thinking perspective extended to how he ran the company on an operational level. “If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, employee morale will decrease,” he told an investor who was calling for heads to roll in 2013. “I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world.” The exchange sums up Iwata’s leadership — empathetic on a human level, yet grounded in a firm perspective that it was the right thing to do for business…

…”Trust your passion, believe in your dream,” Iwata said in an inspiring speech at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. “For 25 years, game developers have made the impossible possible. So I ask you, why would we stop now?”

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Facebook’s security chief calls for Adobe Flash to be killed off » HOTforSecurity

Graham Cluley:

Amongst those who would be happy to see the back of Adobe Flash is Alex Stamos, Facebook’s newly-appointed security chief.

In a tweet this weekend, Stamos – who is a respected member of the security community who is credited for improving the security stance of Yahoo at his previous job – said that it was time for Adobe to announce when Flash would be killed off, and for browsers to assist by dropping support at the same time.

“It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day.”

In a followup tweet, Stamos said that Adobe’s death date didn’t have to be today or tomorrow – but a date had to be set in stone for systems to be made more secure:

“Even if 18 months from now, one set date is the only way to disentangle the dependencies and upgrade the whole ecosystem at once.”

Yup. Stake through the heart. Only way.
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Apple’s share of smartphone industry’s profits soars to 92% » WSJ

Shira Ovide and Daisuke Wakabayashi, quoting a Canaccord Genuity report:

One key to Apple’s profit dominance: higher prices. Apple’s iPhone last year sold for a global average of $624, compared with $185 for smartphones running Android, according to Strategy Analytics. In its fiscal quarter ended March 28, Apple sold 43% more iPhones than a year earlier, at a higher price. The average iPhone price in the quarter rose by more than $60 to $659, on the strength of the larger-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models.

As the smartphone market matures and growth slows, it is starting to resemble the personal-computer business in some ways. Average PC prices have plunged, and most manufacturers struggle to eke out profits. But Apple captured more than half of industry profits last year, even though its Mac line accounted for only about six of every 100 computers sold, according to Bernstein Research.

Despite the changing leader boards of the past decade, some industry veterans say Apple’s profit crown looks more secure.

“The dominance of Apple is something that is very hard to overcome,” said Denny Strigl, former chief operating officer of Verizon Communications Inc. “Apple has to stumble somehow or another, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

That’s pretty much how I showed it in my latest examination of the PC industry. However, that “92%” figure is misleading; the negative amounts by Microsoft, BlackBerry and others shouldn’t really be included. Otherwise, with Microsoft’s giant $7bn+ writedown on Nokia negating all Samsung’s profit and a chunk of Apple’s, you’ll have a situation in Q2 where Apple makes 150% of industry profits. Clearly not realistic.
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