Start up: Uber’s China fight, Stagefright goes public, women and Apple, Wileyfox reviewed, and more


Feast your eyes: you’ll never see its like again. (Hopefully.) Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

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

Inside Uber’s fight with its Chinese nemesis, Didi Kuaidi » WSJ

Fabulous in-depth piece by Eva Dou and Rick Carew:

Both companies have sought to woo drivers with bonuses to those who rack up rides. Uber has offered larger bonuses in an effort to catch up in scale, earlier this year giving as much as 7,000 yuan weekly to Beijing drivers who completed a high number of rides—quadruple a traditional taxi driver’s wages, according to drivers. Both companies have bonuses for individual rides during peak times and smaller bonuses for individual achievements, such as referring friends or getting high ratings.

Now the challenge for both is keeping drivers and riders while weaning them off bonuses and coupons.

Yang Yang, a 33-year-old Uber driver in Beijing, says bonuses are increasingly difficult to get. He stays on the road 12 to 14 hours a day to qualify for the weekly bonus, using minty salves to stay awake.

The lure of bonuses has led drivers to game the system. Uber and Didi Kuaidi battle drivers who book fake rides—known as “brushing” in China. In brushing, the scammer will typically pose as both driver and rider, essentially paying himself multiple times to build up enough fake business to win a bonus.

Rings of scammers use specialized software bought online to rack up fake rides while they sit at home, drivers interviewed say. They say they get calls and texts from people offering to help them scam Uber for a fee. Didi Kuaidi is suffering less from the problem, according to drivers, as its lower driver bonuses are less of a draw.

I love how people find ways to game systems like this; it’s the thing that definitely keeps us a step ahead of the damn robots.
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The Washington Post has begun blocking the ad blockers » BuzzFeed News

Matthew Zeitlin:

“Many people already receive our journalism for free online, with digital advertising paying only a portion of the cost,” a Washington Post spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

“Without income via subscriptions or advertising, we are unable to deliver the journalism that people coming to our site expect from us. We are currently running a test using a few different approaches to see what moves these readers to either enable ads on The Washington Post, or subscribe.”

There’s a kind of Cold War brewing between publishers who say that ad blocking software cuts off the lifeblood of free media online, and readers who complain about pages crammed with garish ads and intrusive trackers, which make many sites bloated and slow to load.

Not sure it’s a cold war. It’s about to get a lot more heated: iOS 9 comes out next week, and the content blocking apps will all be lining up for it.
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Android Stagefright exploit code released to public » Threatpost

Michael Mimoso:

[Joshua] Drake, vice president of platform research and exploitation at Zimperium zLabs, said in July the bug could affect more than 950m Android devices. He chose not to publish exploit code at the time, giving Google time to push patches to the Android Open Source Project and subsequently to handset manufacturers and carriers. He originally planned to release exploit code on Aug. 24.

Google, meanwhile, wasted no time in changing the way it releases security updates for Android, announcing at Black Hat that it would send monthly over-the-air updates its Nexus phones. The move was mirrored by others, including Samsung and LG, and the first Nexus updates included patches for Stagefright. Silent Circle also patched its Blackphone and Mozilla patched Firefox, which uses Stagefright code in the browser.

Stagefright is the name of the media playback engine native to Android, and the vulnerabilities Drake discovered date back to version 2.2; devices older than Jelly Bean (4.2) are especially at risk since they lack exploit mitigations such as Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) that are present in newer versions of Android.

The problem is that Stagefright is an over-privileged application with system access on some devices, which enables privileges similar to apps with root access.

When the tide goes out, you discover who’s been swimming naked, or hasn’t put on their security trousers.
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Focusing on the full picture with data » FlowingData

Nathan Yau:

I don’t know the full context of this discussion, but in the interview below, Hans Rosling talks to media person Adam Holm about why we shouldn’t use the media to form our opinions about the world. Media person disputes. Rosling puts foot on table and says Holm is wrong.

This is terrific. Enjoy.

Rosling also gave a TED talk in 2014: “How not to be ignorant about the world“.
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Wileyfox Swift: Brit startup budget ‘droid is the mutt’s nuts » The Register

Alun Taylor:

If someone asked me what my ideal smartphone would be I’d say one that costs no more than £120, has 16GB of storage, at least 2GB of RAM, a 5-inch IPS screen, a removable battery, two SIM slots, space for a microSD card, the best iteration of Android available (that’s the Cyanogen OS Android fork, in my opinion) and is waterproof.

There’s nothing revolutionary about the Swift’s design, it’s just smart and well made
Wileyfox’s new Swift actually fails to meet two of those criteria – the cost is £130, and there’s no waterproofing. But as we’ll see, considering the rest of the package, it’s very easy to forgive those two failings.

In an increasingly competitive market the Swift is up against the likes of the Motorola Moto G and Sony Xperia M4 Aqua, both of which we have reviewed recently. And both of which are rather more expensive at £189 (for the 2GB RAM version) and £199 respectively.

Along with price deflation, Android is splitting into niches, as well as software specialisation – such as the use of Cyanogen here. This is great value; it’s not going to sell in huge volumes (simply because of supply chain constraints) but it’s where the Android market is going.
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Bullshit, selfies and Photoshopped smiles: Apple’s iPhone 6S announcement was a joke » Gadgette

Holly Brockwell is pissed off and she isn’t going to take it any more:

It’s no secret that I’m far from Apple’s biggest fan. In fact, despite what Reddit seems to think, I’m firmly Team Android. But that doesn’t mean I don’t give Apple credit where it’s due – it’s just that it seems to be due less and less these days. Last night’s announcement was their worst yet.

Her principal complaint seems to be “these things have all been done before!” along with “there was a Photoshop demo using a woman’s face!”. The “where were the women?” thing seemed to become a mini-meme on Twitter. Perhaps I was missing the bit where Jen Folse came out and demoed Apple TV entirely on her own. Or where a female doctor showed off the iPad Pro, again, entirely on her own. Or a female entrepreneur from Gilt showed what she could do on Apple TV. Sure, there were more men. But that’s true in pretty much any tech event.

My wife constantly quotes a friend says you can divide the world into drains and radiators – some suck you dry, some warm you up. I prefer radiators. Which is why I love this tweet from Lia Napolitano, who used to work on the Apple TV team, praising Folse, who still does.

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Production of new 21-inch iMac begins, say Taiwan makers » Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:

Production of a new 21-inch iMac featuring a 4096 by 2304 screen kicked off in early September and will be launched in the fourth quarter, with shipments in the quarter estimated at 1.4m-1.5m units, according to Taiwan-based supply chain makers.

With shipments from existing iMac products, Apple’s overall all-in-one PC shipments could surpass those of Lenovo in the second half.

The sources pointed out that the new 21-inch iMac only has a limited change in industrial design, but is upgraded with better hardware specifications, especially the Ultra HD display.

This will probably be no more than a press release from Apple. The current 21in iMac is 1920 by 1080 pixels – so this is going to be an amazing screen.
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Amazon finally stops selling the Fire Phone, as company adjusts its hardware strategy » GeekWire

Tricia Duryee:

It’s taken more than a year, but Amazon has finally exhausted its supply of Fire Phones.

At least that appears to be the case based on the phone’s product page, which now lists the device as “currently unavailable,” with an additional note in the buy box, stating: “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”

That’s true for both the 32GB and 64GB models.

A year ago I calculated that no more than 35,000 had been sold. I wonder what the final number was.
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Electronic noise is drowning out the Internet of Things » IEEE Spectrum

Mark McHenry, Dennis Roberson and Robert Matheson:

it is expensive to trace RF [radio frequency] pollution to a source and, when you do, it is often challenging to get offenders to stop offending.

The coming Internet of Things is going to make things worse. Much worse. It will do so by adding complex RF-control chips to countless common devices, like door locks, light switches, appliances of every type, our cars, and maybe even our bodies, which will enable them to connect to the Internet. Each of these chips is a potential source of noise. Plenty of technological fixes are available, of course, but the huge number of chips means that manufacturers will be more reluctant to add costly shielding and other noise-muffling features to their products. Silence is golden: It costs money to get it.

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Apple promo video confirms the 6s has a smaller battery » TechCrunch

Fitz Teppper:

a 3D Touch promotional video released by the company seems to confirm that the 6s will indeed have a smaller battery than the iPhone 6. Specifically, GSMArena discovered that the video shows a shot of the battery marked “1715 mAh”, which is less than the iPhone 6’s 1810 mAh battery.

The extra space gained from reducing the device’s battery is most likely being used to fit new, larger components like the Taptic Engine and Force Touch-enabled display.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the device will provide fewer hours of usage. In fact, Apple’s specs on the 6s show that the device will have the exact same talk, Internet browsing, and video playback time as its predecessor. This is most likely due to increased power efficiency in the new phone.

In my (beta) experience, iOS 9 has better battery life than iOS 8. Have to see how the rest of it plays out. Safe bet though that “smaller battery!” will be found in the comments sections of many blogs in the days – months even – to come.
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2 thoughts on “Start up: Uber’s China fight, Stagefright goes public, women and Apple, Wileyfox reviewed, and more

  1. I bought one of the Fire phones for $150. It was too good to pass up playing with an android phone for $50 (as I have amazon prime anyway). It has some nice features but what struck me the most about it so far is that it gets very hot when used aggressively, and its very heavy. My iPhone 6 feels as light as a feather by comparison.

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