Start up: Google to merge Android and ChromeOS, tablets dwindle, online ad scams, and more


E-reader ownership has dropped significantly in the US. Photo by Simply Bike on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alphabet’s Google to fold Chrome OS into Android » WSJ

Great exclusive by Alistair Barr:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google plans to fold its Chrome operating system for personal computers into its Android mobile-operating system, according to people familiar with the matter, a sign of the growing dominance of mobile computing.

Google engineers have been working for roughly two years to combine the operating systems and have made progress recently, two of the people said. The company plans to unveil its new, single operating system in 2017, but expects to show off an early version next year, one of the people said.

Also says that Chromebooks will be renamed, but Chrome the browser will retain its name. So this would leave Apple, with the iOS-OSX split, as the only one with separate OSs. It seems Android will get primacy on the desktop. What, though, does that mean for Chromebooks and the progress they’re making in the education market?
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Tablet shipments decline by 12.6% in the third quarter as many vendors get serious about moving from slate offerings to detachables » IDC


At the close of 2014, IDC estimated the installed base of tablets to be 581.9m globally, which was up 36% from 2013 but slowing quickly. With mature markets like North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific well past 100m active tablets per region, the opportunities for growth are getting fewer. 

“We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world. However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear. With shipment volumes slowing over four consecutive quarters, the market appears to be in transition.”

In response to these challenges, the industry is seeing growing interest from vendors in new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming a clear focus for many. While detachable tablets have held just a single digit percentage of the overall tablet market, IDC expects this share to increase dramatically over the next 18 months. However, the shift toward detachables presents some new challenges. In particular, the mix of traditional PC OEMs that are evolving their portfolios to include detachables will face pressure from the traditional smartphone OEMs, many of which have become accustomed to delivering extremely low-cost products.

Apple is kinda-sorta doing the detachable thing with the iPad Pro, but the detachables market really looks like one where Windows devices are best placed. So will IDC start calling them PCs or tablets?
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The online ad scams every marketer should watch out for » Harvard Business Review

Ben Edelman has a collection of subtle and less subtle ways that you could spend far too much. This is the first, and in some ways the most obvious:

A first manifestation of the problem arises in sponsored search. Suppose a user goes to Google and searches for eBay. Historically, the top-most link to eBay would be a paid advertisement, requiring eBay to pay Google each time the ad was clicked. These eBay ads had excellent measured performance in that many users clicked such an ad, then went on to bid or buy with high probability. But step back a bit. A user has already searched for “eBay.” That user is likely to buy from eBay whether or not eBay advertises with Google. In a remarkable experiment, economist Steve Tadelis and coauthors turned off eBay’s trademark-triggered advertising in about half the cities in the U.S. They found that sales in those regions stayed the same even as eBay’s advertising expenditure dropped. eBay’s measure of ad effectiveness was totally off-base and had led to millions of dollars of overspending.

Others include retargeted display ads, affiliate cookies and adware.
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Microsoft Band 2 review: An identity crisis on your wrist » The Verge

Tom Warren Lauren Goode:

after wearing the newest version of Microsoft Band for the past three weeks, I can’t help but think that the real answer [to why Microsoft made it at all] is that Microsoft isn’t in it for the hardware. Instead, my best guess is that it hopes to get people using the Microsoft Health software — and maybe get some other hardware makers to make stuff for its platform. Despite welcome improvements over last year’s Microsoft Band, this new Band sort of baffles me.

It’s been redesigned, but is only slightly less clunky than before. It’s a fitness tracker, but with the short battery life of a smartwatch. It works with surprisingly great software, but good luck syncing your data to said software. On top of that, it’s more expensive than last year’s Microsoft Band — $249, up from $199 — and more expensive than a lot of other step-counters. The argument there is that it’s not as costly as a smartwatch or a high-powered dedicated fitness watch, but considering that at this point it could be perceived as an also-ran, you’d think Microsoft would aim for a more appealing price point.

It all leaves me wanting to like the Microsoft Band, but I can’t say I’d spend $249 on it.

So pricey, clunky, battery life comparable to things that do more.. what’s not to love?
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US smartwatch market not ready for prime time yet » Kantar Worldpanel


Smartwatches have been on the market for several years. The Pebble Smartwatch debuted in 2012, establishing the category as it is known today. Yet, only 1% of the current smartwatches now in use in the U.S. were purchased in 2013, and 14% were bought in 2014.

Smartwatch ownership follows the classic early adopter profile – more than two-thirds of smartwatch early adopters are male, and one out of three are between the ages of 25 and 34. Vendors like Apple use greater attention to design and personalization to appeal to non-tech lovers. The results of those efforts have not yet completely materialized.

“Looking at where smartwatches have been purchased, the channels preferred by buyers have more in common with other consumer electronics goods than with jewelry,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “33% of smartwatch buyers got them online, 17% bought them from a consumer electronics store, and 11% of owners received their smartwatch as a gift.”

Survey conducted in August, but the principal complaint among non-buyers was price. Meanwhile, 92% of those intending to purchase associate Apple with the category. Thin times for Android Wear.
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U.K. government: no end-to-end encryption please, we’re British… » TechCrunch


Speaking during a debate on encryption in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Shields, the Minister for Internet Safety and Security — and a former European VP at Facebook — dubbed the rise of end-to-end encryption as “alarming”.

“There is an alarming movement towards end-to-end encrypted applications,” she said. “It is absolutely essential that these companies which understand and build those stacks of technology are able to decrypt that information and provide it to law enforcement in extremis.”

Shields’ comments came in response to a question which made direct reference to the use of messaging app WhatsApp by ISIL extremists.

“The Prime Minister did not advocate banning encryption; he expressed concern that many companies are building end-to-end encrypted applications and services and not retaining the keys,” added Shields.

Despite reiterating Tory attacks on end-to-end encryption, Shields did specify that it is not, in fact, government policy to push for the creation of backdoors in services.

Joanna Shields used to be in charge at AOL Europe too. And we wanted more people with experience of tech to be in government? Doesn’t seem to be making any difference to the general level of knowledgeability.
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Line app in big trouble as active user growth stalls » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

The company behind Line this morning revealed that the messaging app has grown to 212 million monthly active users (MAUs). Of those, 65% are in Line’s four core markets – Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Although the number is going up, it’s actually terrible news for the messaging app. It’s already failed to topple the dominance of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and now Line’s MAU count is growing very slowly – it’s up just 10 million in the past six months. It went up only one million in the three months from June to September.

WhatsApp added 100 million MAUs in the five months from April to September and now stands at 900 million.

Twitter has a similar problem in the US. Is growth the only answer for messaging apps?
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Android and the Innovator’s Dilemma » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies:

Once the market embraces good enough products, the innovator can no longer push premium innovations as their value is diminished once a good enough mentality sets in. Android devices in the $200-$400 range are good enough for the masses leaving Samsung’s $600 devices and above stranded on an island.

One of the most interesting observations about all of this is the innovator’s Dilemma was supposed to impact Apple. This was a fundamental tenet of most bull cases. When the market for smartphones became filled with good enough devices at very low prices, why would anyone buy an iPhone? Yet this is impacting Samsung exactly according to the guidebook — but not Apple. The fundamental lesson to learn here is the innovator’s dilemma, in this case, only applies to Android land because all the hardware OEMs run the same operating system. As I’m fond of saying, when you ship the same operating system as your competition you are only as good as their lowest price. This is the curse of the modular business model.

This is also why Samsung had hopes for Tizen. They actually knew this was coming. I know this because I discussed it with them in 2013 and was convinced they understood this was their fate if they continued to sell out to Android. Unfortunately, Android was their only option given its momentum. I’ll make a prediction. Samsung will be out of the smartphone business within five years.

Emphasis there Bajarin’s own (and that’s a pretty notable prediction). The article is subscriber-only; you can get one-off logins for particular articles or buy a subscription for more.
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American demographics of digital device ownership » Pew Research Center

Smartphones owned by 68% (notably less in rural areas), tablets owned by 45% (statistically unchanged from 42% in 2014), games consoles owned by 40% (unchanged since 2010), portable games consoles by 14% (unchanged from 2009), 40% have MP3 players (barely changed from 43% in 2013).

Here’s the drama:

Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%).

The Kindle is flickering out.
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Flipboard, once-hot news reader app, flounders amid competition » WSJ

Douglas Macmillan:

Flipboard, once hailed as the best iPad app by Apple Inc., now is fighting for survival in a sea of competition that includes Apple itself.

In recent weeks, the news reader app’s co-founder, Evan Doll, and its chief technology officer, Eric Feng, have left, adding to the talent drain in the past year that includes the heads of finance, product and revenue.

The exodus comes as Flipboard’s investors, which bet $210 million on the company, have put more pressure on co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mike McCue to revive the business model or find a buyer, according to people familiar with the matter.

What’s Flipboard’s USP? It says that it has 80m users, up from 41m at the start of the year. That’s impressive – but Apple News is likely to eat it by default.
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BBC iPlayer app coming to Apple TV ‘in coming months’ » BBC News

Leo Kelion:

The BBC has confirmed that its iPlayer service is coming to the new Apple TV.

The catch-up app is not ready to launch alongside the revamped set top box when it goes on sale this week, but the broadcaster signalled it would be soon.

iPlayer was absent on earlier Apple TVs, despite the fact it is on other platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Sky’s Now TV box and several video game consoles.

One analyst said the move should aid sales of the new kit in the UK.

“Available on over 10,000 devices, BBC iPlayer is one of the biggest and best on-demand video services in the world, and has transformed how UK audiences watch programmes online,” said the BBC’s director-general Tony Hall.

The BBC wasn’t going to, but then two developers in Bournemouth demonstrated that it was damn easy to write the app. For non-UK readers, the BBC iPlayer is the biggest source of legitimate streaming TV viewing (live or catchup) in the UK; the lack of an iPlayer icon on the old Apple TV hobbled it terribly. (Yes yes Airplay but that ties up your device.)
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Start up: iPhone 6S ain’t no scale, Samsung’s tablet TV, Theranos woes worsen, smartphones slow, and more

The Computing Scale Co
You’ll have to stick to this rather than your fancy smartphone. Photo by Kenny Louie on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Eat, drink and be lairy. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Turning the iPhone 6s into a digital scale » Medium

Ryan McLeod had the idea of making a weighing app using the “3D Touch” capability of the iPhone 6S screen. It sorta worked (using a spoon as a scale), but…

To make a long story short the final answer over the phone was that the concept of a scale app was not appropriate for the App Store.

We were—and still are—bummed to say the least, but we understand some of the reasons Apple might not be allowing scale apps at this time.

Maybe it’s because the screen could get damaged if people tried dropping heavy weights on their phone—thing is that the sensor won’t weigh beyond a maximum weight of ~385g (0.85 lbs) and you’d be hard pressed (har) to damage the screen with that little weight (Gravity also flashes a bright red warning). In addition to that it’s hard to balance heavy objects on a spoon, but then again people will be people and we completely understand why Apple didn’t advertise the 6s’s new water-resistant properties.

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License plate readers exposed » Electronic Frontier Foundation

Dave Maass and Cooper Quintin:

Law enforcement agencies around the country have been all too eager to adopt mass surveillance technologies, but sometimes they have put little effort into ensuring the systems are secure and the sensitive data they collect on everyday people is protected.

Case in point: automated license plate recognition (ALPR) systems. 

Earlier this year, EFF learned that more than a hundred ALPR cameras were exposed online, often with totally open web pages accessible by anyone with a browser. In five cases, we were able to track the cameras to their sources: St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Kenner Police in Louisiana; Hialeah Police Department in Florida; and the University of Southern California’s public safety department. These cases are very similar, but unrelated to, major vulnerabilities in Boston’s ALPR network uncovered in September by DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. 

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Cutting sugar improves children’s health in just 10 days » The New York Times

Anahad O’Connor:

The new research may help shed light on a question scientists have long debated: Is sugar itself harming health, or is the weight gain that comes from consuming sugary drinks and foods mainly what contributes to illness over the long term?

In the new study, which was financed by the National Institutes of Health and published Tuesday in the journal Obesity, scientists designed a clinical experiment to attempt to answer this question. They removed foods with added sugar from a group of children’s diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so that the subjects’ weight and overall calorie intake remained roughly the same.

After 10 days, the children showed dramatic improvements, despite losing little or no weight. The findings add to the argument that all calories are not created equal, and they suggest that those from sugar are especially likely to contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases, which are on the rise in children, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Benioff Children’s Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco.

This seems so staringly obvious, yet politicians and industry lobbyists in the US and UK resist the idea of reducing sugar intake fiercely. It’s as if they’re more interested in money than health – because the health costs are offloaded elsewhere, onto health services. Such are externalities.
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In Tanzania, you can now get your birth certificate by mobile phone – Quartz

Omar Mohammed:

More than 90% of children in east Africa’s second largest economy [Tanzania] have no birth certificates. This is despite a law mandating that new babies be registered.

For some rural families, however, bad roads make it prohibitive to travel the distance to government agencies to secure birth certificates. So a lot of families simply forgo the process. The mobile phone is about to change all that.

First launched in 2013, in a partnership with the mobile carrier Tigo and UNICEF, a mobile-based system by Tanzanian government now allows health workers to deliver birth certificates in a matter of days using SMS. The approach is now operational in 10 of the country’s 26 regions.

The way it works is health workers send a text that includes a baby’s name, sex, date of birth and family details to a central database managed by the Registration Insolvency & Trusteeship Agency (RITA), a government body. Once received, an automated response allows them to issue the document soon after. The government is now looking to expand the initiative into the rest of the country in the next five years.

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Samsung Galaxy View hands-on review » The Inquirer

James Archer on Samsung’s 18.4in “tablet”:

Evidently, this is something that needs to be placed on a table, not held up by hand. The stand does include a carry handle, and the hinge feels strong enough to comfortably take the weight, but it’s still heavy enough that we wouldn’t want to lug it around, even in the included carry case. It’s easily as heavy as a large laptop, and with that stand it takes up more space than one as well.

Perhaps it’s just us being used to flat, easily portable slates, but the Galaxy View’s general design seems a bit, well, awkward. The fact that the stand can’t be removed means that it’s always flapping around, adding bulk and threatening to trap our fingers whenever we wanted to move the device around. Also, other than the front panel, which is made from glass, the entire thing is constructed with cheap-feeling plastics that are a far cry from the premium metallic bodywork of Samsung’s smartphones and more recent tablets.

As for connectivity, there’s a standard microUSB port and a microSD slot, as well as Bluetooth 4.1. Some form of display connectivity, like mini HDMI, might have made sense here, but at least the Galaxy View is big enough to be watchable from a good few feet away.

The Galaxy View’s screen is 18.4in diagonally, but it has a relatively low pixel density of 119ppi owing to the 1920×1080 resolution.

Clearly designed to be viewed from a distance; not so much a tablet as a Google TV. But where’s the remote?
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Inside Apple’s perfectionism machine » Mashable

Lance Ulanoff with a long piece on Apple’s fastidious approach to design:

Apple, however, is growing at a time of sea change in the PC industry, where devotion to a piece of hardware may be less important than connection to files, content and services. As the cloud looms larger, will the hardware we use still matter? Schiller rejects this notion.

“No. 1, the importance and value of great hardware has not diminished in any way,” he said. “Across the board, our goal is to make the best in the categories we choose to compete in. It’s what we’re doing and it’s reflected in customers choosing our products over anyone else’s. So I do think people are showing with their choice that they do value quality and beauty of the hardware and that is not diminishing.”

“I have never heard anyone say, ‘Because I like to keep my stuff in the cloud, I will take a cheap piece of hardware and I want it to be ugly.’ All things being equal, of course, nobody wants that,” Schiller said.

He also rejects the idea that there’s a growing market for hybrids, or, to be more specific, laptops with touch screens that also happen to be tablets. 

“There certainly are more offerings today, more people trying to create a market. But based on all the data that I’ve been able to see, it is still incredibly small and niche and may not be growing to anything significant. Time will tell,” he told me. 

“Time will tell” is one of those Apple phrases that Steve Jobs used to use which meant “we’re already making one.”
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The FDA’s notes from its visit to Theranos’ labs don’t look good » Business Insider

Lydia Ramsey:

The FDA has released documents related to its visit to Theranos’ labs, and they don’t look good.

Theranos, a $10bn company that says its blood tests can be done accurately with a single drop of blood, has come under fire after a lengthy Wall Street Journal exposé questioned just how revolutionary the startup was.

The reports are Form 483s, which are issued at the end of inspections when investigators see anything that may violate the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act. They are from an FDA visit that took place between August 25 and September 16, and they are heavily redacted. Nevertheless, they are worrisome.

Basically, they’re saying that Theranos’s “nanotainers” don’t have regulatory approval and aren’t sufficiently documented. This isn’t looking in any way good.

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Smartphone shipments reach second-highest level for a single quarter » IDC


According to the latest preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 355.2m smartphones worldwide in the third quarter of 2015 (3Q15), up 6.8% from the 332.6m units in 3Q14, marking the second highest quarter of shipments on record. The 3Q15 shipments were slightly below IDC’s previous forecast of 363.8m units, largely due to slightly lower than expected iPhone shipments, as well as Android flagship introductions from several top-tier OEMs with price points outside the consumer sweet spot.

“The vendor landscape and product offerings are really unique at the moment as many markets are seeing consumers become more aware of alternative buying options when it comes to paying for their smartphone,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

Couple of things: this is the slowest growth for six years (third quarter of 2009 was equally slow, during the world financial crisis); Samsung’s colossal total of 84.5m is a record, though achieved very much by stuffing the channel and cutting prices; it is losing share in the US and China, and pushing phones in Latin America, the Middle East/Africa and central Europe. And Huawei is growing enormously fast – up 61% in a year.
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Start up: SXSW’s silencing problem, the Strava bicycle thief, Apple claims Android switchers, Google gets chippy, and more

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Vox Media and The Verge will not attend SXSW unless it takes harassment seriously » The Verge


After the organizers of the SXSW conference canceled an anti-harassment panel due to alleged Gamergate-related “threats of violence,” Vox Media is reevaluating its participation in the SXSW conference. Vox, the parent company of The Verge, says it will not be participating in this year’s conference unless changes are made.

This is quickly going to turn into a big problem for SXSW (which made a stupid decision in the first place) unless it reinstates the panels; you can see more organisations making the same stand, until not withdrawing comes to look like supporting Gamergate’s lunatic fringe (which is basically all of it).
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The superconductor that works at earth temperature » MIT Technology Review


The world of superconductivity is in uproar. Last year, Mikhail Eremets and a couple of pals from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, made the extraordinary claim that they had seen hydrogen sulphide superconducting at -70 °C. That’s some 20 degrees hotter than any other material—a huge increase over the current record.

Followers of this blog will have read about this work last December, when it was first posted to the arXiv. At the time, physicists were cautious about the work. The history of superconductivity is littered with dubious claims of high-temperature activity that later turn out to be impossible to reproduce.

But in the months since then, Eremets and co have worked hard to conjure up the final pieces of conclusive evidence. A few weeks ago, their paper was finally published in the peer reviewed journal Nature, giving it the rubber stamp of respectability that mainstream physics requires. Suddenly, superconductivity is back in the headlines.

It’s not going to be in use in a hurry – it requires gigantic pressures to form the material – but it’s significant because liquid nitrogen, which is cheap and plentiful, has a temperature of -96C.
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Douglas Adams live on stage with Pink Floyd » YouTube


For Douglas Adams’s 42nd birthday his friend David Gilmour gave him the opportunity to join Pink Floyd on stage during their 1994 tour live at Earls Court in London. Douglas played rhythm guitar on the tracks Eclipse and Brain Damage. While it was always known by Douglas’ family that the concert had been filmed by someone in the audience, the tape of the event could never be found. That is, until now.

That’s 21 years ago today! Adams wasn’t some random person; he was very accomplished and had a huge guitar collection. If you still think “oh, it’s only playing a guitar on a stage” – ask yourself how you’d fare playing football as one of Chelsea, Arsenal, etc. And they have 10 other players, unlike a band.
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Google is leading a ‘chip development effort’ that could turn the heat up on Apple » Business Insider

Alexei Oreskovic and Jillian D’Onfro:

new job listing shows Google is seeking a “multimedia chip architect” who can “lead a chip development effort” and “work with other engineers to take chip to product shipment.”

The phrasing of the job posting suggests Google is about to get a lot more serious about designing, and perhaps even building, its own chips, following in Apple’s footsteps.

The job posting comes from the company’s Pixel team, which recently announced its high-end productivity tablet, the Pixel C, a person close to the matter tells Business Insider.

Apple bought an entire chip design company. Google’s hiring a couple of people?
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Thieves use Strava and other sites to find homes with expensive bikes » Sticky Bottle


Police forces are warning cyclists who use ride-sharing sites and apps – such as Strava – that thieves are now searching them to identify houses with expensive bikes to rob.

Ireland is in the middle of what can only be described as a bike-theft epidemic; with the rate of bikes being stolen now higher than ever and increasing faster than any other crime type.

Most of the bikes being stolen are taken from the streets; after their owners have ridden into urban areas and locked them up.

The Garda [Irish police force] has reacted by conducting a number of specialist policing operations, but they have only just begun and their success or otherwise is still unclear.

Aside from on-street thefts, there have been countless cases of cyclists with expensive racing and training bikes being targeted in their homes.

Location-awareness considered harmful.
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Siri’s next trick needs to be multitasking » number23

Philip McDermott on how Siri’s “modal” – interrupt-everything-stop-for-this – interaction model needs to evolve:

Imagine this: you are browsing recipes in Safari and want to save one to your recipes collection. Right now, you can say: “Hey Siri, add this to my recipes note” and the link will be appended to the end of your note entitled Recipes. While this is, let’s be honest, pretty impressive, why stop there? Why should you not carry on scrolling through the website while you carry out this task? You can multitask, your touch-input methods can multitask: why not your voice input?

Another example: you’re writing in a text editor on your iPad, and you remember something for later: “Hey Siri, remind me to take the recycling out when I leave the house later”. But why stop the flow of writing while Siri listens and acts?

Why indeed? Especially as Siri is always listening.
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Google Brings Podcasting to Play Music Streaming Service, Android » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

The Alphabet company is getting ready to open a dedicated home for podcasts on its Google Play hub. Today the company is letting podcast creators upload shows to Google Play Music, its streaming service; it says listeners will be able to listen to those shows “in the coming months.” It will be, remarkably, the first native app for podcast listening on Android in the content market where Apple carries disproportionate weight.

But Google isn’t just trying to create more Serial fanatics on Android. No, it wants to reach people that have never listened to podcasts. And it wants to broaden its media offerings in the fight with Apple, the frequent go-to platform for media producers.

In so doing, Google plans to use radio shows to bolster its plan to deliver media tailored for the listener’s interests, activities, even moods. That directive is evident in the product’s lead: Elias Roman, co-founder of the streaming service Songza, whose main schtick was building these contextual playlists before Google acquired it last year.

There isn’t (wasn’t) a native podcast app on Android; how will this affect third-party makers of podcast apps? Is Google getting into that space, or leaving it to them?
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Making sense of Dell + EMC + VMware » Business Insider

Jamie McGurk, Stephen McDermid, Vishal Amin, Irvin Chan from Andreessen Horowitz explain how “the python can swallow the cow”:

The ultimate question is — will it work? Are all these financial acrobatics going to deliver on the promise of the Dell-EMC deal as the two companies walk a high-altitude tightrope?

We’re not sure what else companies on the backside of their growth curves can do when competing with more nimble competitors, other than to consolidate, split, or restructure. We have players like IBM and Microsoft aggressively acquiring new companies to make a shift to new platforms as their core businesses decline; HP and others bifurcating themselves into more focused, slimmer, and presumably more agile players with streamlined operations so they can better address secular platform shifts; and now, we have Dell + EMC (+ VMware) consolidating their businesses to stay competitive in a rapidly changing world.

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Apple earnings lifted by iPhone sales in China » WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi:

[Tim] Cook said many iPhone consumers still haven’t upgraded to the larger-screen iPhone. He says about two-thirds of iPhone’s customer base before the first batch of larger iPhones were introduced in 2014 haven’t upgraded to newer models.

At the same time, Apple said it is winning over customers from rivals. Mr. Cook said 30% of consumers who bought an iPhone replaced a smartphone running Google Inc.’s Android operating system during the quarter. He said this is the highest rate of Android “switchers” that Apple has ever measured.

Apple said it sold 48.04m iPhones in the July-September quarter, compared to 39.27m units a year earlier; that’s 22% growth at a time when the smartphone market growth has been slower. That 30% figure is remarkably high: it suggests 14m switchers from Android. Perhaps those are buyers in China. It doesn’t make sense for the 30% to be “buyers new to iPhone”, because that suggests 70% from Windows Phone, BlackBerry and featurephones. (Might be, but seems to stretch it.)
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Start up: Google’s antitrust expansion, Morocco goes solar, Apple Music revealed?, IoT hacked again, and more


What makes a great selfie? Ask a neural network. Photo by Verónica Bautista on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

EU antitrust chief Vestager speaks about Google and other key cases » WSJ

Amazing to think it’s a year since Vestager took over (and the Google case[s] still aren’t resolved…). She tells Tom Fairless and Stephen Fidler in a long interview that with the cases against various bits of Google’s operations:

what they have in common is that the name Google appears in each one, but apart from that they are very different. And therefore I do not think of it as one Google case but literally as different investigations and different cases.

WSJ: So there’s not a read across from the shopping case to the others?

MV: Well, there may be a lesson learned. It’s a very fine balance. The shopping case may have similarities when we eventually look at maps and travel and a number of other related services, because the complaints sort of tell the same story. People feel or experience that they are either being demoted, or Google preferences its own services. But there is no such thing as you have done one, you’ve done them all. You can’t do that. On the other hand, if you look at the shopping case then there will be insights that will probably also be valid when it comes to other neighboring markets. But it’s a very, very fine balance, because we cannot do one case and then say the rest is the same. In a union of law and with due process, this cannot be the case.

WSJ: But equally, Google has many business lines besides shopping and could have many more in the future, and you would presumably not want to open a new case each time. So you would want to establish some sort of precedent?

MV: Yes, but still whatever precedent comes out has to be taken from the finalization of the case. And since we’re not there yet, it is very difficult to see where that will take us.

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What a deep neural network thinks about your #selfie » Andrej Karpathy

Karpathy set a neural network to examine a few million not-liked and well-liked selfies, and draw conclusions:

A few patterns stand out for me, and if you notice anything else I’d be happy to hear about in the comments. To take a good selfie, Do:

• Be female. Women are consistently ranked higher than men. In particular, notice that there is not a single guy in the top 100.
• Face should occupy about 1/3 of the image. Notice that the position and pose of the face is quite consistent among the top images. The face always occupies about 1/3 of the image, is slightly tilted, and is positioned in the center and at the top. Which also brings me to:
• Cut off your forehead. What’s up with that? It looks like a popular strategy, at least for women.
• Show your long hair. Notice the frequent prominence of long strands of hair running down the shoulders.
• Oversaturate the face. Notice the frequent occurrence of over-saturated lighting, which often makes the face look much more uniform and faded out. Related to that,
• Put a filter on it. Black and White photos seem to do quite well, and most of the top images seem to contain some kind of a filter that fades out the image and decreases the contrast.
• Add a border. You will notice a frequent appearance of horizontal/vertical white borders.

You can also tweet your selfies to @deepselfie and get a score (100% is top!).
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Morocco poised to become a solar superpower with launch of desert mega-project » The Guardian

Arthur Neslen:

When they are finished, the four plants at Ouarzazate will occupy a space as big as Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and generate 580MW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. Noor 1 itself has a generating capacity of 160MW.

Morocco’s environment minister, Hakima el-Haite, believes that solar energy could have the same impact on the region this century that oil production had in the last. But the $9bn (£6bn) project to make her country’s deserts boom was triggered by more immediate concerns, she said.

“We are not an oil producer. We import 94% of our energy as fossil fuels from abroad and that has big consequences for our state budget,” el-Haite told the Guardian. “We also used to subsidise fossil fuels which have a heavy cost, so when we heard about the potential of solar energy, we thought; why not?”

Solar energy will make up a third of Morocco’s renewable energy supply by 2020, with wind and hydro taking the same share each.

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Lawsuit accuses Apple’s iOS 9 Wi-Fi Assist of burning through $5M+ in data » Apple Insider

Neil Hughes:

Apple was slapped with a class-action suit on Friday, claiming that the company failed to properly warn users that the new Wi-Fi Assist feature in iOS 9 will use data from their cellular plan.

In the complaint, plaintiffs William Scott Phillips and Suzanne Schmidt Phillips allege that because of costs related to Wi-Fi Assist, the “overall amount in controversy exceeds” $5m. Filed in a U.S. District Court in San Jose on Friday, the suit was first discovered by AppleInsider.

Once users update to iOS 9, Wi-Fi Assist is turned on by default. Its goal is ensure a smooth internet experience, switching to cellular data in the event that the user is connected to a weak Wi-Fi signal.
The lawsuit claims that Apple “downplays the possible data overcharges a user could incur” from Wi-Fi Assist.

Some who don’t understand how Wi-Fi Assist works, or even that it exists, have alleged that the new feature has caused them to use more cellular data than anticipated. But the new class-action suit alleges it should be Apple who should reimburse customers for any overages [excess data use].

Default-enabling something that could burn through your mobile data is plain stupid. Why not offer people the chance of whether to use it the first time the chance comes up? This is poor focus – putting user experience in the narrow field of device use ahead of the wider user experience of “how big is my mobile bill?”

It puzzles me how implementations like this get through Apple’s processes. (See also: the pain of being the person working on Wi-Fi inside Apple.)
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TalkTalk boss says cybersecurity ‘head and shoulders’ above competitors » The Guardian

Josh Halliday:

TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding has insisted the company’s cybersecurity is “head and shoulders” better than its competitors in the wake of the massive hack attack affecting thousands of customers.

In an interview with the Guardian, Harding conceded it would be “naive” to rule out the prospect of the telecoms firm suffering a similar cyber-attack in the future, describing the threat from hackers as “the crime of our generation”.

Asked about claims by an IT researcher that he raised concerns about TalkTalk’s security with her office last September, Harding said its security had “improved dramatically” in the last year.

TalkTalk’s customer account details (excluding bank details, but including usernames and phone numbers) were stolen from an India call centre last year, and again, and now it has been hacked in a big way. The hackers are miles ahead of the companies here – which is becoming a depressingly common refrain. Also see the blogpost from last October showing how poor TalkTalk’s cybersecurity was.
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Content paywalls on the agenda for digital news sites » FT.com

Matthew Garrahan:

Business Insider, which was acquired by German media group Axel Springer last month for close to $390m already charges for its research service and is now on course to be one of the first digital only news operations to erect a paywall around some of its general content. John Ore, Business Insider’s product manager, said in a recent blog post that the company was planning a broad “subscription offering” for readers “who prefer to pay us directly”.

Sweeping changes to the online advertising market mean other free news sites may follow suit. Sir Martin Sorrell thinks all newspapers should charge for content: the chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising group said this week that paywalls were “the way to go”.

The problem, he says, is the lack of growth in digital advertising — an issue which is likely to get worse as ad blocking software grows in popularity. Ad blockers pose a real threat to the revenues generated by news sites. Meanwhile, rampant online ad fraud and the fact that brands often do not know whether their campaigns are being seen by real people, has shaken confidence in an industry that could do without the additional anxiety.

Would Business Insider try to block people using adblockers, as Axel Springer has?
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New screenshots purportedly show Apple Music for Android ahead of release » 9to5Google

Mike Beasley:

In bringing its software to Android, Apple has taken a slightly different approach from Google’s own iOS apps. While Google’s apps attempt to mimic the company’s Material Design principles—even going so far as to include custom-made toggle switches and other elements—Apple relies on UI elements built into Android rather than attempting to recreate the iOS versions of them. The main navigation has even been moved from an iOS-like tab bar to a more Android-friendly slide-out sidebar.

Despite this, the company hasn’t managed to stick completely to Google’s design guidelines and has injected some of its own style into the app. For example, the For Me page almost identically mirrors its iOS counterpart.

The images appear to be legitimate and match up with the design Apple teased during the Apple Music announcement at WWDC this year. Not every feature of the app is shown off in the screenshots below, but you can get a feel for how the app will look and behave from our gallery of screenshots.

Looks quite Android-y, though not a full dive into Material.
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DoJ to Apple: your software is licensed, not sold, so we can force you to decrypt » Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

The Justice Department lawyers argue [in a case where a defendant’s phone has been seized but they won’t give up the passcode; Apple has however acknowledged that it can bypass the code in pre-iOS 8 devices] that because Apple licenses its software – as opposed to selling it outright – that it is appropriate for the government to demand that Apple provide assistance in its legal cases.

To my knowledge, this is an entirely novel argument, but as I say, it has far-reaching consequences. Virtually every commercial software vendor licenses its products, rather than selling them. If the DoJ establishes the precedent that a product’s continued ownership interest in a product after it is sold obliges the company to act as agents of the state, this could ripple out to cars and pacemakers, voting machines and tea-kettles, thermostats and CCTVs and door locks and every other device with embedded software.

Might work in this particular case, but devices running iOS 8 onwards it won’t. That of course doesn’t apply to the many more internet-enabled “things”. Though those bring their own associated problems…
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Compromised CCTV and NAS devices found participating in DDoS attacks » Slashdot


the security firm Incapsula [reports] that its researchers discovered compromised closed circuit cameras as well as home network attached storage (NAS) devices participating in denial of service attacks. The compromised machines included a CCTV at a local mall, just a couple minutes from the Incapsula headquarters.

According to the report, Incapsula discovered the infections as part of an investigation into a distributed denial of service attack on what it described as a “rarely-used asset” at a “large cloud service.” The attack used a network of 900 compromised cameras to create a flood of HTTP GET requests, at a rate of around 20,000 requests per second, to try to disable the cloud-based server. The cameras were running the same operating system: embedded Linux with BusyBox, which is a collection of Unix utilities designed for resource-constrained endpoints.

The Internet of Compromised Things is growing faster than our ability to cope with its effects.
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Start up: Adblock Plus v Axel Springer, Apple’s Wi-Fi problem, Xiaomi’s shortfall, sell that Priv!, and more


(Just over) 14 years ago… evolution, revolution or just another MP3 player? Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Yes, I know if you’re reading this in the US it’s an hour earlier than usual – that’s because we’ve finished British Summer Time before you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Adblock Plus and (a little) more: Smells like censorship, Big Brother » AdBlock Plus

Eyeo, which runs Adblock Plus, has been accused of behaviour tantamount to blackmail by saying it will allow “acceptable ads” from some sites that pay it money. Axel Springer in Germany, meanwhile, decided to institute an “non-paywall” which would prevent people using an adblocker from seeing its content on Bild.de etc. Then:

One of the independent moderators of our free and open forum discussed a workaround to the Bild.de blockade, because they still wanted to access the site. Basically, they just talked about how to write a specific filter that users could add to their ad blocker to get around “Axel’s Wall.”

Last week, Axel Springer demanded that we take down those forum posts, in effect demanding that we censor what people had written on our own forum. Our response basically channeled former basketball player/current journalist Jalen Rose: Nah … not gonna be able to do it.

Just a few minutes ago, a court in Hamburg served us with papers FORCING us to remove these specific forum posts. Apparently Axel Springer felt so strongly that they went to a court to get people to stop saying things they didn’t like. This is not without precedent: this week they sent a YouTuber a similar order after he decided to make a video describing how to circumvent …. the Wall.

Damn you, Internet Archive.
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October 2001: Apple’s New Thing (iPod) » MacRumors Forums

Fabulous comment thread from Macrumors, including those calling it “Cube 2.0” (the Cube computer was killed after a year), and this from “WeezerX80”:

This isn’t revoltionary!

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!

Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!

Tons more fun to be had. Sadly, Weezerx80 stopped posting there the same day, so we’ll never be able to ask him what he thought of the outcome. (Via Greg Koenig.)
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Wi-Fi Assist: a $5 million mess » Medium

Alf Watt, developer of iStumbler, worked on the Mac OS Wi-Fi client user experience at Apple from 2007-12:

During my last few years I spent a lot of time working closely with AppleCare on customer Wi-Fi and networking issues: poring over user trouble reports, sitting down at call centers and listening in on calls, and generally doing everything I could to improve the user experience of Wi-Fi for Apple users.

I failed. It may have been possible to succeed, but the structure of the various teams working on Wi-Fi and networking at the time made it a seemingly insurmountable challenge. This current situation makes it clear to me that there are still forces inside of Apple which prevent any kind of real, comprehensive solution from being implemented. Balkanization, poor management and some uninformed decisions by executives contributed to the problem; and as I’m all to human, my own limitations and personal struggles played a large part. But it didn’t have to happen this way, and it doesn’t have to continue.

Lots of fascinating nuggets in this, including

“when a user calls the vendor of their Wi-Fi access point, nearly the entire profit margin for that box is destroyed by the end of the call.”

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Xiaomi won’t hit its smartphone sales targets this year » TechInAsia

Charles Custer:

Last year, Xiaomi gave itself the goal of selling 100m phones in 2015. That seemed ambitious, but not outside the realm of possibility, especially after the fast-growing company finished 2014 having shipped more than 60m units after having originally projected only 40m sales.

2015 has not gone nearly as well, though. By March, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun had revised this year’s goal to 80m to 100m units. In July, the company announced that it had sold 34.7m smartphones in the first half of the year, putting it on track to possibly miss even the lower end of Lei Jun’s revised target.

Now, there are additional signs that even 80m might be optimistic. Taiwan-based research firm Trendforce just released a report suggesting that Xiaomi is on track to sell around 70m smartphones this year. Meanwhile, research firm Canalys is saying that Xiaomi’s sales in the third quarter of this year actually dropped year-on-year, the first time that has happened.

What’s disrupting Xiaomi? Probably just the slowdown in the Chinese market, which is happening faster than its ability to expand into new markets. Hence it offering products such as a cheap 4K TV (China only, sadly).
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We applied to Google’s €150m journalism fund – here’s what we sent in » The Register

The Register’s Kieren McCarthy filled out the form, which has questions such as:

Q Please provide a brief overview of the project. (max 1200 characters)

The project would use a combination of traditional news gathering skills and modern communication tools to gather data around a range of practices performed by internet search engine giant Google, in an effort to expose potential wrongdoing or abuse of market power.

In particular, the project would focus on:

• The skewing of search results.
• The tracking of right-to-be-forgotten requests performed by Google.
• The size, breadth, and impact of Google’s news service on online news sites, looking in particular at the phenomenon of stories written specifically to gather Google News traffic and any possible negative impact on quality journalism due to biases in the Google News algorithm.
• A logging and policy-tracking service to discern the impact of Google lobbying activities on policies and laws developed in Washington DC.
• An open source complaints system focused on gathering early warning signs of abuse of market power by Google.
• A “revolving door” service that specifically tracks current and former Google employees to identify how informal social networks may be used to influence public policy.

Looking to fund three staff. One to watch for sure.
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Should we trust the young Turkers? » Tim Harford

The FT’s ‘undercover economist’:

“The majority of papers presented at the conferences I go to now use [Amazon’s Mechanical] Turk [which lets you hire people online to complete tasks],” says Dan Goldstein, a cognitive psychologist at Microsoft Research. Goldstein, an academic who has also worked at London Business School and Columbia University, has used MTurk in his own research, for instance, into the impact of distracting online display ads.

This stampede to MTurk has made some researchers uneasy. Dan Kahan of Yale Law School studies “motivated reasoning” — the way our goals or political opinions can influence the way we process conflicting evidence. He has written a number of pieces warning about the careless use of the Amazon Turk platform.

The most obvious objection is that Turkers aren’t representative of any particular population one might wish to examine. As an illustration of this, two political scientists hired more than 500 Turkers to complete a very brief survey on the day of the 2012 US presidential election. (Tellingly, the entire survey cost the researchers just $28 and the results arrived within four hours.) The researchers, Sean Richey and Ben Taylor, found that 73% of their Turkers said they had voted for Barack Obama; 12% had voted for “other” — compared with 1.6% of all voters. Mitt Romney polled vastly worse with the Turkers than the US public as a whole. Relative to the general population, Turkers were also more likely to vote and be young, male, poor but highly educated. Or so they claimed; it is hard to be sure.

There are all sorts of reasons not to trust Turk-sourced studies, and only a few in favour of them.
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Microsoft’s quarter looks worse this way » Business Insider

Julie Bort:

Microsoft rolled out a new way to report earnings with its first quarter, 2016 earnings on Thursday.

This new reporting structure consolidated Microsoft’s businesses into three new units.

The previous structure had two major units (commercial and consumer) and broke out a few different businesses in each of those.

As you can see, under the old scheme, all business units shrunk except two:

Phone hardware down 54% to $1.1bn, computing and gaming hardware (Xbox, essentially) down 13% to $2bn; only “Device and Consumer Other” (Bing, MSN, Office 365, video games, app store) and “Commercial Other” (cloud services) showed growth. The puzzling thing is how Microsoft’s shares would move up on something like this.
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Android, iPhone divergence: mid-price smartphones disappearing from Korean market » BusinessKorea

Jung Suk-yee:

The polarization between high-end and mass market products in the Korean smartphone market is expected to accelerate with the iPhone 6S’s local debut.

At present, few smartphones ranging from 400,000 to 700,000 won (US$353 to $617) in price are available in the domestic market, except for the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and LG V10. This is because the prices of existing high-end handsets have been reduced to 400,000 won or less by a cut in factory price and an upward adjustment of the subsidies. The prices of the Galaxy Note 5 and the V10 are predicted to be lowered in the near future, too.

This is certainly a trend – most Android phones are getting cheaper and cheaper, but Apple and a few others, are holding on to top-end pricing. South Korea is the sort of “end state” of the smartphone business; it’s super-saturated.
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Shop BlackBerry Priv Stock good or bad Sales? » CrackBerry forums


“So this was interesting. I started entering 999 QTY for the Priv at 10am today, and it told me they only have 965 available.

checking right now (12:25p), it says 840. so is that good or bad? what do you guys think..”

Later they figure out that it has sold 206 in six hours. Guys, is that good or bad?
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Start up: Surface Book v MacBook Pro, Microsoft’s cloud boost, HP’s cloudburst, BlackBerry’s last stand?, and more


Facebook has noticed that your battery is dying and thinks it might be its fault. Photo by Poster Boy NYC on Flickr.

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Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro: It isn’t twice as fast. It’s three times as fast » PCWorld

Gordon Mah Ung:

Rather than rely on a synthetic game benchmark, I also decided to throw a real game at it. Square Enix’s Tomb Raider is available on Steam on both platforms. It’s a fairly recent game and came out for PC and consoles in 2013. Feral Interactive ported the game to OSX the same year.

One caveat here: As a port there’s clearly a lot of things that could be different between the PC version and the Mac version. For my test, I ran it at 1400×900, which was the default resolution on the Mac, and selected the “Normal” quality setting on both. I also poked around the game’s graphics settings to see if there was any variance between them that got lost in translation.

The result is a bone-crushing blow for the MacBook Pro 13: Tomb Raider ran at a pathetic sub-24 fps, while the Surface Book whizzes along at 74 fps.

If Microsoft based its marketing statements on this test alone, it could have safely said “triple the performance of a MacBook Pro.”

To be fair, if you’ve read this far, you know the Surface Book isn’t  twice as fast or three times as fast as the MacBook Pro 13 in all things.

Benchmarks – especially skewed ones like this (is the game optimised for Windows? Bet it is) – really bore me. They capture nothing of the general experience of using a device. But hey, there’s the headline that will be used.
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Facebook app: we recently heard reports of some people… » Ari Grant on Facebook

Grant is a Facebook developer:

We recently heard reports of some people experiencing battery issues with the Facebook iOS app and have been looking into the causes of these problems. We found a few key issues and have identified additional improvements, some of which are in the version of the app that was released today.

The first issue we found was a “CPU spin” in our network code. A CPU spin is like a child in a car asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”with the question not resulting in any progress to reaching the destination. This repeated processing causes our app to use more battery than intended. The version released today has some improvements that should start making this better.

The second issue is with how we manage audio sessions. If you leave the Facebook app after watching a video, the audio session sometimes stays open as if the app was playing audio silently. This is similar to when you close a music app and want to keep listening to the music while you do other things, except in this case it was unintentional and nothing kept playing.

Still ain’t going to reinstall. Note that it’s not *all* of the identified improvements in the new app.
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Microsoft quarterly revenue beats as cloud demand rises » Reuters


The company said Office 365, another key cloud-based offering, had about 18.2m consumer subscribers at the end of its first quarter, an increase of about 3m from the end of the preceding quarter.

Microsoft launched Windows 10, its first new operating system in almost three years, in July. The system, seen as critical for the company, won positive reviews for its user-friendly and feature-packed interface.

The company launched a number of new devices earlier this month, including its first ever laptop and a new Surface Pro tablet, all running on Windows 10.

Revenue in the company’s “More Personal Computing” business, which includes the Windows operating system, fell 17% to $9.4bn.

Excluding the impact of the strong dollar, revenue in the business fell 13%.

Sharp observation by Stefan Constantine: there are more people paying for Spotify than for Office 365. That’s likely to be reversed in a couple of quarters, though.

Phone revenue dropped 54%.
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HP shutting down HP Helion public cloud » Business Insider

Matt Weiberger:

Cloud computing is a hot market, letting customers swipe a credit card and get access to essentially unlimited supercomputing power. Developers at startups and large enterpries alike love it because it gives them the ability to get really big, really quickly. 

But while Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all found great success in the public cloud market, simply buying and maintaining all the servers required to get up to the massive economies of scale necessary to compete in this kind of low-margin business is really hard.

That’s something HP has found out the hard way, with the HP Helion public cloud [which will be shut down from January] constantly coming under fire for being too small and too unfocused on the market to seriously make a dent. 

And so, HP is going to shut down the HP Helion public cloud to stick with what its good at: Helping customers run their own data centers with hardware, software, and services to run at cloud levels of efficiency.

HP’s blogpost announcing this move is a masterful piece of corporate doublespeak: it makes it sound as though everything’s going so well they just have to shut down the public cloud offering.
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Force Touch patent: will pressure input be possible in Samsung’s Galaxy S7? » BusinessKorea

Marie Kim:

Samsung Electro-Mechanics filed a patent application with the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) for Force Touch, which is virtually the same as 3D Touch used in the iPhone 6S. This technology offers different types of functions based on the strength of a push on the screen.

According to the patent information retrieval system of KIPO on Oct. 20, Samsung Electro-Mechanics filed a patent named “touch input equipment and electronics device with touch input” with KIPO on April 9, 2014. Considering that the Korean company supplies core components for Samsung Electronics’ smartphones, the patent is likely to be used in the Galaxy S7.

Would be surprised if it wasn’t. But Samsung’s problem is that pretty much every third-party developer will ignore it; it will have to wait for Google to implement it in Android. Will Apple trouble to sue, though? (At a guess, not.)
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The dominance of Alphabet » Global Web Index

Felim McGrath:

With Alphabet set to post healthy financial results later today and  hot on the heels of the announcement of YouTube Red, Thursday’s Chart of the Day looks at just how important this company has become.

Among the hundreds of websites tracked by GlobalWebIndex, Alphabet has the two most popular properties among online adults outside of China. Close to 9 in 10 visit Google each month, while 82% visit YouTube. These figures place Alphabet’s sites above Facebook – which three quarters visited last month – and give it a healthy lead over rival search giant Yahoo (half visit this site monthly). 

This vast user base underlines just how central Alphabet remains to internet users’ online activities despite the ongoing shift to mobile.

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Dell may sell assets to pay for EMC deal » Re/code

Arik Hesseldahl from a Q+A with Marius Haas, chief commercial officer of Dell:

Q: It looks like after the close Dell will essentially absorb the EMC federation, but will adapt that structure for its own purposes by making it bigger with pieces like Secureworks, Virtustream and Pivotal. Is that how we should think about it? And if so, how does that complicate or enhance your mission here?

If you dissect what has already been published, you will see there is a strong commitment to de-leveraging or paying down the debt very quickly. There are different angles and different levers we can pull to do that. This is why we have such high confidence in what we’re doing.

Q: That implies that paying down the debt won’t just come by way of cash from operations. Does that mean you might consider selling some assets? Is there anything within Dell that doesn’t stay?

We’re not prepared to talk about that yet, but it’s probably not a bad train of thought.

What’s it going to sell, though? The PC business?
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BlackBerry might have leaked the Priv’s specs and release date (update: confirmed) » Engadget

Daniel Cooper:

we know that the Priv is packing a fair bit of power beneath the hood, but has a listed price of $749. There’s no indication if that figure is for the US or Canada — but the page does reference the (GSM) handset not working on American CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint. You’ll also spot that the device is marked for release on November 16th, so we won’t have long to find out if all of this is true or not.

Performance-wise, the Priv is packing a 1.8Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with 3GB RAM, 32GB storage and a microSD card slot that’ll take up to 2TB. Much was made of the Priv’s curved screen, and we know that it’s a 5.4-inch plastic AMOLED with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution (540 DPI) that can handle styluses and gloves. The physical keyboard measures 37mm high by 77.2mm wide, and there’s a 3,410mAh battery that’s rated for 22.5 hours of use tucked inside.

Price in the UK: £580, against £539 for an iPhone 6S with 16GB and £450 for a Samsung Galaxy S6. At that price, BlackBerry will have positive gross margins on the device (it’s not selling it for less than it costs to make), but so few will sell that you can start the timer now on how soon John Chen announces that the hardware division just isn’t making money because of the costs involved in R+D, distribution, marketing and administration – which feed through to operating profit, or loss. Remember, last financial quarter BB sold 0.8m phones, and made an operating loss on those.
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Start up: Dell, the movie!, Surfacebook reviewed, why WD bought SanDisk, IT disasters sized, and more


Studying by the light of a solar lantern. Photo by Barefoot Photography on Flickr.

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

Theranos CEO: company is in a “pause period” » WSJ

John Carreyrou:

Theranos Inc. founder and Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes said Wednesday that the Silicon Valley laboratory company is in a “pause period” as it seeks to get its proprietary technology approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We have to move, as a company, from the lab framework and quality systems to the FDA framework and quality systems,” Ms. Holmes said, speaking at the WSJDLive global technology conference in Laguna Beach, Calif.

At the conference, she confirmed that the company is down to offering just one test using a few drops of blood and is performing the other more than 240 blood tests it offers by using larger blood samples drawn with needles from patients’ arms.

The downslope beckons.
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Microsoft Surface Book review » SlashGear

Chris Davies:

I’m warily wiling to put most of the flakiness down to early hardware and work-in-progress drivers, but it’s clear that the practicalities of this new architecture are still being ironed out. In theory, the Clipboard shouldn’t allow itself to be detached if it’ll make the system unstable; in practice, that’s not always the case.

Throw in underwhelming battery life for the Clipboard alone, and it’s clear that thinking of the Surface Book as both a laptop and a tablet isn’t really accurate. This isn’t a replacement for your MacBook Pro and your iPad; it’s a PC that tells you to take an hour or so of downtime with a Netflix video before getting back to work. I can’t help but hope that Microsoft uses the same hybrid mechanism in a smaller form-factor, with more of a focus on equal battery life between the halves.

For all the launch day excitement it caused, Surface Book will inevitably be a niche product. As the standard bearer for a new architecture of modular graphics, though, it may be in Microsoft’s better interests in the long run if, Nexus-style, other OEMs see what’s been done and experiment with the same approach themselves.

So not quite a laptop or tablet replacement.
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Chip merger pace rises with Western Digital, Lam deals » Bloomberg Business


The merger wave sweeping the computer-chip industry is now engulfing the makers of the machines needed to crank out semiconductors.

Lam Research Corp. said Wednesday that it would buy KLA-Tencor Corp. for $10.6bn in cash and stock. Within four hours, Western Digital Corp. announced a deal to acquire SanDisk Corp. for about $19bn. The pacts added to what was already a record year for chip deals – a total of $76bn before Wednesday.

With half of the spending on the manufacturing equipment coming from just three chipmakers – Samsung Electronics Co., Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Intel Corp. – suppliers of the gear need to pool resources to keep up with the increasing pace of spending on research and development.

Consolidation is a sign of shrinking profit too. WD is struggling because the disk business is shrinking; the NAND business (where SanDisk) is growing, but getting tougher. Next question: whither Seagate?
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Forget “Steve Jobs,” get ready for “Michael Dell” » CONAN on TBS

From my book Digital Wars:

[Bob] Ohlweiler [then at Windows MP3 player MusicMatch] recalls seeing the prototype for the third-generation iPod during a discussion with Apple executives. Steve Jobs made an appearance – “he would kind of drift in and say ‘this is shit’, and walk out,” Ohlweiler recalls. “Or he would say ‘this is far too big. It’s too bulky.’ Then he’d walk out.” (The picture that emerges is of Jobs prowling the corridors of Apple, caroming between meetings in which he offers minimal but essential advice and then moves on to the next one.)…

A month or so later Ohlweiler was at the headquarters of Dell Computer in Austin, Texas. Dell was eager to get into this burgeoning market, reasoning that it could use Microsoft’s software, design its own hardware (as it did with PCs) and use its buying heft to drive down costs to undercut Apple. Dell’s revenues at the time were six times larger than Apple’s. It was going to be easy. The market was there for the taking.

Or perhaps not. Ohlweiler recalls being handed a prototype for the Dell DJ player, which like the iPod used a 1.8in hard drive. “Jeez, this thing is HUGE!” he thought, but managed not to say.

It was noticeably deeper than Apple’s existing iPod, and substantially more so than the forthcoming iPod… Dell had done its part of the horizontal model: it had driven down costs by dual-sourcing components from Hitachi and from Toshiba. The result, though, was a bulkier machine: “one of the Dell designers explained that that was because the Toshiba version of the hard drive had its connector on the side, and the Hitachi one had it on the bottom, but because they were dual-sourcing they could get the price down by 40 cents,” Ohlweiler recalls. “That was the difference in a nutshell. Apple was all about the industrial design and getting it to work. Dell was all driven by their procurement guys.”

Sometimes satire is about telling the truth in a new way.
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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on self-driving cars » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

In the last year, Uber has poached more than 40 autonomous vehicle experts from the robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as top car security researchers. 

This move comes at a time when the likes of Google, Apple, and Tesla are all working on some sort of autonomous-driving projects. Kalanick says he believes Google to be the farthest ahead, but that we’re still a while away from seeing any company’s self-driving cars on the roads.

“Getting Google’s cars to a 90% solution is going to happen soon,” he said, but he asks, “when do they get to that 99.99% success level?” By his count, it could be five, 10, even 15 years. 

“It’s going to be interesting, ultimately, to see how cities handle these disruption waves, which are going to be coming faster and faster,” he said. “Some cities are going to allow it, and then they’re going to be the bastion of the future, and the other cities are going to look like they’re in the middle ages.”

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The truth and distraction of US cord cutting » REDEF

Liam Boluk:

During the past five and a half years, the cable ecosystem has been hit with heavy losses. Nearly 8.9M net subscribers have been lost (versus 3.3M in net gains from Q3 2004 to Q4 2009) – a fact obsessed upon by journalists and bloggers alike. But at the same time – and with significantly less media coverage – Satellite (DirecTV and Dish) and Telco (i.e. AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS) MVPDs have surged to the point of offsetting (or reclaiming) nearly 95% of these net losses.

Looks to me like people are moving away from the standard set of cable offerings. “Gradually, and then suddenly” is how it works.
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How solar lanterns are giving power to the people » National Geographic magazine

Michael Edison Hayden:

Prashant Mandal flips on a candy-bar-sized LED light in the hut he shares with his wife and four children. Instantly hues of canary yellow and ocean blue—reflecting off the plastic tarps that serve as the family’s roof and walls—fill the cramped space where they sleep. Mandal, a wiry 42-year-old with a thick black beard and a lazy eye, gestures with a long finger across his possessions: a torn page from a dated Hindu calendar, a set of tin plates, a wooden box used as a chair. He shuts down the solar unit that powers the light and unplugs it piece by piece, then carries it to a tent some 20 yards away, where he works as a chai wallah, selling sweet, milky tea to travelers on the desolate road in Madhotanda, a forested town near the northern border of India.

“My life is sad, but I have my mind to help me through it,” Mandal says, tapping the fraying cloth of his orange turban. “And this solar light helps me to keep my business open at night.”

It’s white LED lights that have made this possible; 40W solar panel feeds them for a long time.
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Semantic sensors » Pete Warden’s blog

Pete Warden (you know, the machine learning bought-by-Google guy):

I think we’re going to see a lot of “Semantic Sensors” emerging. These will be tiny, cheap, all-in-one modules that capture raw noisy data from the real world, have built-in AI for analysis, and only output a few high-level signals. Imagine a small optical sensor that is wired like a switch, but turns on when it sees someone wave up, and off when they wave down. Here are some other concrete examples of what I think they might enable:

• Meeting room lights that stay on when there’s a person sitting there, even if the conference call has paralyzed them into immobility.
• Gestural interfaces on anything with a switch.
• Parking meters that can tell if there’s a car in their spot, and automatically charge based on the license plate.
• Cat-flaps that only let in cats, not raccoons!
• Farm gates that spot sick or injured animals.
• Streetlights that dim themselves when nobody’s around, and even report car crashes or house fires.

And lots more. The only questions are how soon, and would we throw away the images or keep them?
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Rumor: AMD making custom x86 SOC for Apple’s 2017 and 2018 iMac designs » WCCFTech

Khalid Moammer:

At the 2017-2018 timeframe AMD will have two high performance CPU cores, an ARM based design code named K12 and a second generation Zen “Zen+” x86 design. However the report explains that as the x86 ISA is a necessity in the high-end desktop and prosumer level Apple products a Zen based design is most likely.

In addition to driving cost significantly down for Apple, another high-profile design win for AMD would serve as viability booster for the company’s semi-custom business following its success in the consoles. Both companies have entered a long-standing partnership, with AMD providing the graphics chips for the current iMac and Mac Pro designs.

A semi-custom SOC x86 for the iMac would have to include a high performance x86 component, namely Zen, in addition to a graphics engine to drive the visual experience of the device. Such a design would be very similar to the current semi-custom Playstation 4 and XBOX ONE Accelerated Processing Units, combining x86 CPU cores with a highly capable integrated graphics solution.

Filed under “far enough away that it could even happen”. Chip fab lead times are very long, though, which could make this a reasonable timeframe.
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The staggering impact of IT systems gone wrong » IEEE Spectrum


We’ve scoured our archives to create a rogues’ gallery of the most notable, interesting, and emblematic failures from the past decade. We’ve included a diverse assortment of failures, which means there’s no single metric for measuring their impact. Some, like failed IT system upgrades or modernization projects, have straightforward financial consequences. Others, like operational outages and disruptions, are better measured by the time wasted and the number of people affected.

Keep in mind that the failures below are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of incidents we’ve covered in Risk Factor, and an even smaller fraction of the global total. A complete list would be several orders of magnitude larger.

The UK comes out top for the NHS IT writeoff! Hooray! No, wait. (Via Matt Ballantine.)
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Start up: Safe Harbour’s failure, Google Photos grows, Android Doze, Theranos redux, and more


Guess what sort of things Facebook’s “M” assistant gets asked to do. Photo by PeterThoeny on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

The collapse of the US-EU Safe Harbor: solving the new privacy Rubik’s Cube » Microsoft on the Issues

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer:

On Oct. 6, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down an international legal regime that over 4,000 companies have been relying upon not just to move data across the Atlantic, but to do business and serve consumers on two continents with over 800 million people.

The decision made clear what many have been advocating for some time: Legal rules that were written at the dawn of the personal computer are no longer adequate for an era with ubiquitous mobile devices connected to the cloud. In both the United States and Europe, we need new laws adapted to a new technological world.

As lawyers and officials scurry to assess the situation, it’s apparent that both a variety of smaller steps and a more fundamental long-term change will be needed. We need to focus on both of these aspects.

Haven’t seen a blogpost from Google on this. Have I missed it?
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Google Photos cloud storage service hits 100 million monthly users » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Love for Google Photos inside the Googleplex overfloweth. At conferences, on earnings calls, in cocktail parties, Google execs shower praise on the cloud photo storage and sharing service it launched back in May. For good reason: It’s a simple, practical product that shows off Google’s machine learning prowess without any of the baggage of Google+, from which it was born.

And people are using it. On Tuesday, the search giant announced that Photos, in its first five months, has crossed 100 million monthly active users.

Google+: launched June 2011, claimed 100m users by September 2012. So this is faster – and surely a lot more engaging. Everyone loves their own photos, as opposed to everyone else’s opinions.
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Facebook M assistant’s top requests include restaurant suggestions and shopping help » TechCrunch


After an early report from The Information, Facebook provided official details on its M project in August. Built into Messenger, M lets users text in almost any request, from assistance with online chores to booking real-world services or making purchases on their behalf. Requests are currently fielded by a combination of Facebook workers and artificial intelligence.

The hope is that over time, the humans will teach the AI to do more and more complicated tasks on their own. If M succeeds and can be affordably rolled out, it could make people’s lives easier while strengthening their loyalty to Facebook Messenger amid intense competition between chat apps. Though if it’s too costly to scale, Facebook could burn a lot of money on the project.

M could potentially earn revenue itself by taking a margin on top of purchases or services booked for people. But the big opportunity is for Facebook to lock users further into its ecosystem where it makes ample money on News Feed ads. One day, Facebook could even sell ads that convince you to initiate an M request that involves an advertiser’s business.

Right now, Facebook tells me the No. 1 type of request is for restaurant suggestions and reservations. People might know their desired food type, distance, price range, or some quality they’re looking for in a restaurant, and M helps find them the one that fits and gets them a table.

Not so different from what Siri or Google Now or Cortana can do – “find me Mexican restaurants within three minutes’ walk.” Baby steps. But really interesting ones.
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Deutsche Telekom said to weigh new antitrust complaint against Google » The New York Times

Mark Scott:

Deutsche Telekom, which owns a controlling stake in T-Mobile US, the cellphone carrier, appears ready to get involved in Europe’s investigation into Google’s Android mobile software as well. Deutsche Telekom is expected to file a formal complaint with European competition authorities in the coming weeks, according to several people with direct knowledge of the discussions.

The complaint, which may be submitted by early November, focuses on whether Google uses its Android mobile operating system to unfairly promote its own products like Google Maps and online search over those of rivals, the people said. They would speak only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

This is separate from the search antitrust investigation (which is principally looking at desktop).
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Google will require OEMs to include unmodified Doze Mode in Android 6.0 » Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

For years Android has struggled with battery life due to apps running in the background when they aren’t supposed to, and Marshmallow could finally put a stop to it. To make sure device makers play ball, Google’s Android 6.0 Compatibility Definition Document (CDD) explicitly requires Marshmallow phones to include Doze, and OEMs aren’t allowed to monkey around with it.

Doze mode is Google’s answer to the sometimes terrible standby time of Android devices. If a phone or tablet hasn’t been used for a while, the system goes into Doze mode—apps remain asleep and wakelocks are ignored. Important cloud message pings still get through and the device wakes up briefly on occasion to sync, but that’s it…

If you go into the power optimization settings in Android 6.0, you can see which apps are exempt from Doze. On stock Android that’s just Play Services and device manager, but Google will require OEMs to show users anything else they choose to exempt from Doze in that list. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to remove the exemption, but you’ll at least know what’s been given special treatment.

It was all going so well until that last sentence. But good to see Google tightening up on this stuff; user experience counts.
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City AM becomes first UK newspaper to ban ad blocker users » The Guardian

Mark Sweney:

City AM is launching a trial from Tuesday that will blur out text of stories on cityam.com for desktop users of Firefox browsers who are detected using ad blocking software.

Readers will be encounter a message saying: “We are having trouble showing you adverts on this page, which may be a result of ad blocker software being installed on your device. As City AM relies on advertising to fund its journalism, please disable any adblockers from running on cityam.com to see the rest of this content.”

Martin Ashplant, the digital director at City AM, said about 8% of the site’s 1.2 million monthly browsers use Firefox on desktop and around 20% of those have ad blocking software installed.

The trial currently does not include any other browser types or non-desktop devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

Let’s see if we can guess: adblocker users will move to different browsers? Also, it’s doing this for 1.6% of its users – ie 19,200 people? Perhaps trying to get the thin end of the wedge in there.
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Theranos trouble: a first-person account » Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée tried them because he has some skin (well, blood) in the game:

It seems a Hungarian forebear passed down an errant JAK2 gene that trips bone marrow into polycythemia vera (PCV), a fancy name for “too many blood cells” — and potential clots, especially as one’s vessels degrade with age. There’s no cure, yet, but with frequent attention the treatment is simple: Hydroxyurea, an inexpensive 19th century urea derivative, slows bone marrow output.

In homage to my ancestor, I perform a decade-old routine, a stroll to Stanford Hospital’s Hematology Lab to give blood samples that are tested for Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Metabolites. My numbers haven’t fluctuated much since my last visit and the kind hematologist pronounces me “medically boring” (Pourvu que ça dure! ). Good for me: If the hematocrit (HCT) number crosses the 45% threshold, I get to meet the vampire and “donate” 500ml of blood. (After which this perfectly good pint of blood must be tossed. Regulations. Sigh…)

On my way back to my University Avenue office, a thought pops up: Why not try Theranos for comparison?

His experience is a tad worrying; the comments below the post from people in the lab/testing industry are pretty eye-opening too. You don’t come away thinking the noise around Theranos is nonsense.
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Some tech investors sure seem to be getting defensive lately … » Business Insider

Matt Rosoff with a well-argued counterpoint to the venture capitalists who – while lacking any detailed knowledge – complain about exposés such as the NYT’s on Amazon, or the WSJ’s on Theranos:

Journalists don’t set out to write takedowns of companies. But when a journalist begins investigating a company and finds something is amiss, and the story is well vetted and fairly reported, the venture community should welcome that reporting.

Because every faker, every charlatan, and every company whose product just isn’t good enough to win is taking money that could have been invested in other companies that have a better chance. 

(One more thing. Journalists are happy to hear companies defend themselves. But when a company refuses to share any data that could bolster its case, and refuses to let anything they say privately be used publicly — that’s “off the record” in journalism-speak — it’s awfully hard to take these defenses seriously.)

If you’re a journalist, you’ve surely had the latter experience. Rosoff’s piece really does need to be read in full.
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Intel has 1,000 people working on a chip for iPhone? Of course they do » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Greenberg (who has a lot of valuable experience in the chip industry):

I would argue that Intel has a lot of levers they can pull to win Apple as a wireless customer. They can offer a bundled deal which includes processors for the MacBook, and even cut Apple a deal to serve as their foundry for future versions of Apple’s A-Series of processors. I have no idea if any of these will ever happen, but I want to point out that this is a complex negotiation environment.
And, of course, there is Apple itself to reckon with. The post makes a big deal about the fact that Apple hired a big team of people from Infineon, but that started years ago, and that team has been using Qualcomm modems for a long time. More intriguing is the idea that Apple just wants to license the modem software from Intel and then design their own chip. That rumor has been circling for a long time. And I think it is important to remember that. Apple wants to manage their suppliers for its own ends. They now have two foundry partners to fight over iPhone share. For the past few years Apple has had little choice but to use Qualcomm for modems, so it is only natural for them to want a second source. When (if?) Intel finally gets its LTE modem working, Apple will have that second source. My guess is that Apple really does not want to design its own modems. That requires a lot of labor intensive software work to keep up with those standards mentioned above.

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Tim Cook gets passionate about privacy at “The Wall Street Journal” tech conference » Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

The conversation was more fun when Cook spoke about the new Apple TV. He pushed back on Baker’s contention that the streaming box wasn’t much of a disruptor, and went on an entertaining rant against TV as it’s existed for decades. (“Why does a channel even exist? Think about it. My nephew asked me once, and I couldn’t even answer.”)

But the liveliest portion of the session by far involved privacy. It’s been a big talking point for Cook for a while now. And onstage, he got worked up talking about it in a way that was strikingly different from his normal, preternaturally calm, on-point manner.

“Privacy is a key value of our company,” Cook began, in a manner similar to his previous statements on the topic. “We think it will become increasingly important to more and more people over time as they realize that intimate parts of their lives are in the open and being used for all kinds of things.” He explained that Apple encrypts personal information and keeps it on your phone, drawing an unstated contrast with Google, whose fundamental business model involves storing personal data in the cloud where the company can slice it, dice it, and monetize it with advertising.

But when the discussion turned to government monitoring of the digital world—National Security Agency director Michael Rogers having preceded Cook onstage—Baker said there were basic tradeoffs between privacy and national security. And Cook didn’t buy it. “I don’t agree,” he said. “I think that’s a copout.”

Cook also objected to Baker’s what-if scenario involving a back door that would have let government agents override encrypted data and foil the 9/11 plot before it was carried out: “No one should have to decide, privacy or security. We should be smart enough to do both.”

That point about channels should have been in Cook’s introduction of the new Apple TV in September – except the answer is easy: it’s to give you a predictable experience, just as a newspaper does. Apple lacks a good storyteller at present. (You can read the liveblog on the WSJ Digits blog.)
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Start up: sneaking iOS apps, spoofing Spotify, CIA director gets hacked, and more


One of these is probably chewing up your battery by playing silent audio (on Android too). But which? Photo by microsiervos on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Like champagne for the mind! Perhaps. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

iOS apps caught using private APIs » SourceDNA

Nate Lawson and team:

we noticed that these functions were all part of a common codebase, the Youmi advertising SDK from China.

We then associated the clusters of this SDK’s code with the release dates of the apps that contain them to see how it has evolved over time. The older versions do not call private APIs, so the 142 apps that have them are ok. But almost two years ago, we believe the Youmi developers began experimenting with obfuscating a call to get the frontmost app name.

Once they were able to get this through App Review, they probably became more confident they weren’t being detected and added the above behaviors in order. They also use the same obfuscation to hide calls to retrieve the advertising ID, which is allowable for tracking ad clicks, but they may be using it for other purposes since they went to the trouble to obfuscate this. The latest version of the Youmi SDK (v5.3.0), published a month ago, still gathers all the above information.

Apple has been locking down private APIs, including blocking apps from reading the platform serial number in iOS 8. Youmi worked around this by enumerating peripheral devices, such as the battery system, and sending those serial numbers as a hardware identifier.

Find out now! Just select your developer accounts from a list, and we’ll tell you what we found about your apps. We’ll also show the commercial and open-source code you’re using and alert you to future issues we find.

We found 256 apps (est. total of 1 million downloads) that have one of the versions of Youmi that violates user privacy. Most of the developers are located in China. We believe the developers of these apps aren’t aware of this since the SDK is delivered in binary form, obfuscated, and user info is uploaded to Youmi’s server, not the app’s. We recommend developers stop using this SDK until this code is removed.

Apple’s yanking the apps. Developer? Check it here. It’s always China, isn’t it? But nothing to stop apps from other countries doing the same.
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The background data and battery usage of Facebook’s iOS app » MacStories

Federico Viticci:

With iOS 9’s improved energy consumption stats, it’s easier to guess one of the various tricks Facebook may be employing to stay active in the background and drain battery. On my girlfriend’s iPhone, for instance, iOS 9 reports 5 hours of on-screen usage for the last 7 days, and another 11 hours of background audio usage with Background App Refresh turned off.

My guess is that Facebook is hijacking audio sessions on iOS by keeping silent audio in the background whenever a video plays in the app. And because, by default, videos on Facebook auto-play on both Wi-Fi and Cellular and few people ever bother to turn it off, that means there’s a high chance the Facebook app will always find a way to play a video, keep audio in the background, and consume energy to perform background tasks. I’m not alone in noticing the mysterious “Facebook audio” background consumption, and video auto-play seems to me the most likely explanation at this point. I don’t know if turning off auto-play may fix the problem, but I’d recommend doing that anyway to save data.

Un-fricking-believable. The web is suddenly alive with people who have used iOS 9’s better battery monitoring system and discovered that Facebook is eating their battery like nobody’s business.

More discussion here, and a full-on Medium post, which shows Facebook using 3.4hrs in the background with background app refresh turned off.

Just delete it, and use the mobile site – navigate there and create a home page icon for it. And close the tab when done.
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Microsoft announces price of 1TB Surface Book — $500 more than the top 13-inch MacBook Pro » GeekWire

James Risley:

The top-of-the-line 1TB Surface Book comes with 16GB RAM and a Core Intel i7 processor for a cool $3,199, $500 more than the fully tricked out 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the same price as the fully enhanced, much larger 15-inch option. The Surface Book does have a few more tricks up its sleeve than the MacBook Pro, including a touchscreen, removable keyboard and a 360-degree hinge, so the price difference isn’t without reason.

The 1TB option joins the lineup that starts at $1,499 for a 128GB Core i5 version. Microsoft isn’t offering many fine-grained customizations for its first laptop, like allowing for more RAM on its 128GB model, but most models look adequately powerful for the everyday user.

“Everyday user”? Wasn’t the point of the Surface Book that it was for some slightly mythical ultra-user? As for the touchscreen and removable keyboard… the case for the touchscreen is still pretty weak for the “everyday user”.
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Teen says he hacked CIA director’s AOL account » New York Post

Philip Messing, Jamie Schram and Bruce Golding:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email scandal didn’t stop the head of the CIA from using his own personal AOL account to stash work-related documents, according to a high school student who claims to have hacked into them.

CIA Director John Brennan’s private account held sensitive files — including his 47-page application for top-secret security clearance — until he recently learned that it had been infiltrated, the hacker told The Post.

Other emails stored in Brennan’s non-government account contained the Social Security numbers and personal information of more than a dozen top American intelligence officials, as well as a government letter about the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects, according to the hacker.

The FBI and other federal agencies are now investigating the hacker, with one source saying criminal charges are possible, law enforcement sources said.

The hacker is getting investigated for criminal charges? Brennan is the one who ought to be prosecuted. If a kid in high school could do this, any Chinese or Russian hacker would have.
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Why it’s OK to block ads » Practical Ethics

James Williams:

Think about the websites, apps, or communications platforms you use most. What behavioral metric do you think they’re trying to maximize in their design of your attentional environment? I mean, what do you think is actually on the dashboards in their weekly product design meetings?

Whatever metric you think they’re nudging you toward—how do you know? Wouldn’t you like to know? Why shouldn’t you know? Isn’t there an entire realm of transparency and corporate responsibility going undemanded here?

I’ll give you a hint, though: it’s probably not any of the goals you have for yourself. Your goals are things like “spend more time with the kids,” “learn to play the zither,” “lose twenty pounds by summer,” “finish my degree,” etc. Your time is scarce, and you know it.

Your technologies, on the other hand, are trying to maximize goals like “Time on Site,” “Number of Video Views,” “Number of Pageviews,” and so on. Hence clickbait, hence auto-playing videos, hence avalanches of notifications. Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it.

But these design goals are petty and perverse. They don’t recognize our humanity because they don’t bother to ask about it in the first place.

Neatly argued, by stepping right back from the debate as framed by the ad industry.
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I built a botnet that could destroy Spotify with fake listens » Motherboard

William Bedell:

I decided to prototype a robot with an endless appetite for music to see if Spotify could detect what it was doing.

Here is what I coded into life:

Image: William Bedell
First, a remote server used browser automation to sign up for Spotify accounts with randomly generated names, ages, and email addresses. This gave me a limitless supply of accounts to stream songs, so as not to alert Spotify by having a handful of users with inhuman amounts of activity.

A central command server periodically sent out Spotify login credentials to cloud servers (or repurposed personal computers) running dozens of Spotify clients, all masked behind virtual private networks. Each “user” logged in, listened to a few hours of music, then logged out. Their playlists were random selections from various artists I like. Then, I deployed the botnet using a patchwork of free cloud instances and my own hardware.

It was mesmerizing to watch the plays rack up. Unknown albums from minor celebrities I adore suddenly had tens of thousands of hits, where before they had virtually none. With minimal effort, I was generating $32.26 per day in royalties. Inevitably, my thoughts wandered to greed: how profitable would this music royalty factory be if I turned it on music I owned the rights to?

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Intel has 1,000 people working on chips for the iPhone » VentureBeat

Mark Sullivan:

Intel now has a thousand people or more working to outfit a 2016 iPhone with its lauded 7360 LTE modem chip, sources say. If all goes well, Intel may end up providing both the modem and the fabrication for a new Apple system on a chip.

Sources close to the matter say Intel is pulling out the stops to supply the modems for at least some of the iPhones Apple manufactures in 2016. This phone will likely be the iPhone 7. VentureBeat was the first to report on the two companies’ work together, and more pieces are falling into place as the project progresses and grows.

Apple may dual-source the LTE modems in its new iPhones from both Intel and Qualcomm. Today, Qualcomm’s 9X45 LTE chip is baked into all iPhone modems.

This story makes one go “hmm..” right up to the point where it talks about dual-sourcing. Then it suddenly makes perfect sense: Apple would look to play the two off against each other, as with CPU supply.
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E.U. rule change could be big headache for small businesses » Advertising Age

Kate Kaye:

“I think everybody was hoping [the ECJ] wouldn’t [rule against Safe Harbour], but we were kind of expecting them to rule it this way,” said Acxiom Chief Privacy Officer Jennifer Glasgow. But, she said, “This is not going to disrupt a lot of data flow today or tomorrow or next week.”

The Safe Harbor compact has helped streamline the data flow for more than 4,000 companies including data brokers, ad technology firms and ecommerce companies among others for 15 years. But alarmed by Edward Snowden’s revelations, the E.U. court decided the agreement is not strong enough to protect Europeans’ privacy, including against U.S. spies.

Most large firms handling massive amounts of data such as Google, Facebook and Amazon should already have other legal contracts in place, including previous agreements guiding heavily-regulated health and financial data, that should allow them to continue data transfer as usual. Smaller marketers and data vendors won’t be so lucky, which could have ripple effects throughought the marketing ecosystem.

Correction: the ECJ wasn’t “alarmed” by the revelations; it made a judgement in the light of those revelations about whether EU law could still be applied to data transferred to the US under Safe Harbour.

What’s weird is how people are acting as though this won’t make a difference. If you’re not allowed to transfer data US-owned servers on the basis that it might be rifled through by the US government, how can it not? (Of course, everyone would be howling for safety if these were Chinese-owned servers and companies; witness the US administration’s lockout of China’s Huawei from communications contracts.)
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The secrets of a billionaire’s blood-testing startup » The New Yorker

Eric Lach:

Part of the Theranos story is the tension between commerce, science, and secrecy. Ken Auletta explored this tension in the magazine late last year, in his December profile of Holmes. For most of its existence, Auletta wrote, Theranos has “operated with a stealth common to many Silicon Valley startups.” The company has published little data in peer-reviewed journals describing its devices or its test results, and it has kept the workings of its technology a closely guarded secret. Holmes herself prefers speaking about the coming revolution that her company will bring rather than the specifics of the technology itself.

Holmes and the company say this is normal, that Theranos is only trying to protect itself and its trade secrets while it creates something new. The company says that it has taken steps to get its tests approved by the F.D.A. But there are many who say that health-care technology can’t be afforded the same hushed reception as a new model of the iPhone. “Science is peer-reviewed,” Lakshman Ramamurthy, a former F.D.A. official and a vice-president at the consulting company Avalere Health, said, reacting to the Journal article this week.

Of course, Holmes could be a billionaire, or a zeroinaire, depending how things pan out over the next few months.

What the WSJ story also shows (by its impact, and the puzzled followups) is how little understanding there is of biotech among most journalists. Science journalists tend to shy away from it because it involves business, and business journalists aren’t good at figuring out what questions to ask experts about the science.
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Google’s growing problem: 50% of people do zero searches per day on mobile


Amit Singhal in 2011 showing a comparison of search volumes from mobile and “early desktop years”. Photo by Niall Kennedy on Flickr.

Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search, let slip a couple of interesting statistics at the Re/Code conference – none more so than that more than half of all searches incoming to Google each month are from mobile. (That excludes tablets.)

This averages out to less than one search per smartphone per day. We’ll see why in a bit.

First let’s throw in some more publicly available numbers.
• more than 100bn searches made per month to Google (total of desktop/ tablet/ mobile).
• about 1.4bn monthly active Google Android devices. (Source: Sundar Pichai, Nexus launch.)
• about 1 billion monthly active Google Play users. (Source: Sundar Pichai, Nexus launch.)
• about 1.5bn PCs in use worldwide.
• about 400m iPhones in use worldwide. Probably about 100m of those are in China. (Analyst estimates.)
• about 100m other smartphones in use (70m Windows Phones, 30m BlackBerrys)
• the mobile search market only generates a third as much revenue as the desktop. (Source: Rob Leathern, via the IAB 2014 report.)

Singhal had already said in July that mobile was larger than desktop in 10 countries; now it’s for the whole world. Google’s numbers effectively exclude China, of course, since Google doesn’t have any presence there. (Android phones and iPhones both use Baidu, the local search engine, as the default there; Google is banned from the mainland, and though people can use it, they overwhelmingly don’t.)

So let’s put these numbers together.
• In all, there are 1400 Google Android + 400 iPhones – 100 iPhones inside China + 100 other = 1.8bn smartphones in use outside China.
• 50bn mobile searches per month = 50bn per 30-day period

Today’s not the day to search

Calculate! 50bn / (1.8bn * 30) = 0.925 mobile searches per day. (Even if you exclude the Windows Phones and BlackBerrys, you still get 0.98 mobile searches per day.)

That’s right – the average (“mean”) person does less than one Google search on mobile per day. The mode (most common number) will be below that too. Over a 30-day period, the mean number of mobile Google searches is 27.8.

For desktop+tablet search, you get roughly the same figure – assume 1.5bn PCs and 300m tablets. But not all of those devices are available to make searches: many PCs are sitting in corporate environments where they aren’t connected to the internet, or can’t be used to make Google searches: think of all the machines in call centres, or functioning to run shop tills, or in factories. They reduce the potential base that can be used to make queries, and so ramp up the real average of per-active-PC/tablet monthly queries.

On the basis that
• the world PC installed base is split roughly 60-40 between corporate and personal users, so 900m and 600m
• guessing that 50% of those corporate machines, ie 450m, can’t make Google searches

then the total number of PCs/tablets available to make Google queries is 600m personal PCs + 450m corporate PCs + 300m tablets, or 1,350m devices.

Do the maths on 50bn searches per 30-day month across 1,350m devices and you get 37 searches per month, or 1.23 searches per day on average. The mode (most common figure) is likely to be 1, but the median (point where you have half as many behind as in front) will be higher. Probably not much higher – this will be an asymmetric distribution, where most of the (in)action is on the low end, so it may look like a Poisson or Pareto function.

Desktop: steady as she goes

This is my rough model of how search distribution might look, generated by plugging figures we know into a Pareto generator and then doing a distribution function for N = integer number of searches per day.

Here’s how it looks for the desktop, using a mode (most common) of 0.9 searches per day and mean of 1.23:

Per-user searches on desktop on Google

Estimated profile of number of searches per day per person on Google on desktop.

What this is saying is that on any given day you get about 55% of people doing just one search, a bit less than 15% doing two searches, just under 5% doing four searches, and so on. Small proportions, but big absolute numbers. And who does what searches isn’t fixed; so someone who did zero searches yesterday might do 10 tomorrow. But equally, the 10-searcher yesterday does none or one or four today. And so on.

(It took some experimentation to get this shape; using a higher mode meant that the number doing zero searches was itself zero, which doesn’t make sense: there must be some people who by accident or design don’t ever hit Google during a day. Here, the proportion of users doing zero searches per day is 6.5%, which seems reasonable.)

Here’s how it breaks out when you look at cumulative percentages:

Google searches on desktop

My model suggests that most people don’t do much searching, but nearly everyone does some.

Note that lots of people don’t do many searches, but huge numbers of people do some searching. Further confirmation: the data release from AOL in 2006, which was just for desktop users, was “~20m records from ~650,000 users over three months” which translates to an average of 31 records per person over that 90-day period, or one-third of a query per day. AOL users in 2006 might not be directly comparable to Google users today, but it’s a useful check that the numbers here are probably broadly correct.

Incidentally, a lot of those present-day searches will be very low complexity. Watch people use a desktop. The most common Google query is “Facebook”. Probably the next most common? “Yahoo”, “Gmail” and “Hotmail”. People literally type those into the Google search box, or their browser search bar, to get to those sites. To a technical audience that’s stunning – why would someone do that? – but it’s observable behaviour. Remember the AOL data leak in 2006? Data there showed that some people used to just hit “Search” when the text box was empty which in turn meant that some advertisers got AdWords hits on the phrase “search terms” (which used to be the text in the box).

Mobile: all change

However on mobile, things are different. People do not, in general, type “Facebook” or “Gmail” into their mobile browser’s search bar. They go to the relevant app – Facebook or email. This behaviour is surely a big reason why mobile searches have been behind desktop for a long time, even though smartphones’ use has rocketed, and time spent on them is greater than for PCs, and they’ve been nudging a comparable installed base for some time.

Thus where someone using a desktop/laptop might fulfil their “average” one or two searches per day by typing “Facebook” when they open their browser, on mobile that doesn’t happen because it doesn’t need to happen; they just open the app.

For Google, that means it’s losing out, even though Google search is front and centre on every Android phone (as per Google’s instructions as part of its Mobile Application Device Agreement, MADA). People don’t, on average, search very much on mobile. The miracle of Google, in retrospect, is building a multi-billion dollar business by accreting millions of rare actions – people doing searches and then clicking on ads. Of course, Google has helped that latter activity by filling the top of its search results page with ads, and making them harder to distinguish from search results. But it’s still a hell of an achievement.

I tried modelling what search activity probably looks like on mobile: I used a mean = 0.925 (as per Singhal) and mode = 0.5. The mode must be below the mean because of the long tail of higher values; 0.5 is a guess, but moving it around doesn’t have a large effect. This gives a median of 0.94, close to the mean, which you’d also expect.

Google mobile search modelled

If mobile searching follows a power law, it might look like this.

You can see that (if we allow these assumptions, which I think are reasonable – remember that they’re based on Google’s own data) then only 5% of users do more than seven searches per day on average. That’s very like the desktop scenario.

Mobile search percentage

As on desktop most people don’t do more than 7 searches – but most people also don’t do one search.

But here’s where things are suddenly very different from the desktop: although the proportion doing more than seven searches per day is about the same (5% or so), you have a far greater number who don’t ever get beyond zero.

Incidentally, this echoes Horace Dediu’s analysis from April 2014, when he noted how the internet population was growing rapidly, but Google’s revenues from non US/UK sources weren’t: US/UK users seemed to generate about $86/yr, while those outside that space generated only $12/yr. (This picture might be distorted by Google’s tax arrangements, of course.)

So there is the problem for Google: the PC base is static or even falling, while the number of people holding smartphones is growing. But the latter group tends not to use search, and so doesn’t see its most profitable ads. (There are in-app ads, but it’s never been very clear how much revenue they generate compared to other search ads. One suspects if they were very lucrative for Google it would be touting its “run rate” from them.)

Hence Google pushes people to use the mobile web more; and also, notably, to expand beyond simple search into services such as Google Now, Now On Tap, and pretty much anything. Seen through that lens, the reorganisation of Google into Alphabet makes sense: it’s seeking to get as many potentially moneymaking new ideas fired off as soon as possible, while search and search revenues are still growing, and before the growth of mobile really pulls the averages down. Dediu, in the link above, notes that 2016 will probably mark the point where internet population growth begins levelling off. And most of the new additions will be mobile-only.

You can see that effect most clearly in data from Google’s financials, where it discusses the number of paid clicks it gets, and the cost-per-click. It doesn’t take much effort to combine the two together to get the “total payments per click”.

Google paid clicks, cost-per-click and product

Paid clicks up, CPC down. Source: Google financials.

What’s clear is that
(a) the number of paid clicks has zoomed up – increased nearly ninefold since the end of 2005 (where the graph starts)
(b) CPC is on a steady downward slope, despite Google’s best (and successful) efforts in mid-2011 to shore it up
(c) combining the two shows that revenue hasn’t increased nearly as fast as paid clicks. In other words, the new users and new platforms on which Google is available aren’t as valuable as the old ones.

In conclusion

So what do we conclude? Mobile search is a real problem for Google: people don’t do it nearly as much as you suspect it would like. But there’s no obvious way of changing that behaviour while users are so addicted to apps on their phones – and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon, no matter whether news organisations wish people would use mobile sites instead (clue: most people get their news via Facebook online).

This is a structural reality of how mobile is now. Buying Android and make it freely available was a defensive move to stop Microsoft being the gatekeeper to the mobile web (more in my book..).

But it turns out that search wasn’t actually the gatekeeper to mobile; having a well-stocked app store is. That’s where the searching really happens. Now Google faces the second stage of the mobile web. What will its answer be?