Start up: farewell Steve Wildstrom, PS4 = 30m, cooling on Xiaomi, Google crunches Yelp, and more


Which slogans do you actually remember, from which ads? Mad Men icon reimagined by p3liator on Flickr.

Then again, you could 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 13 links for you. Simpler than talking to your relatives. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Wildstrom, tech journalist, dies after battle with brain cancer » TechCrunch

John Biggs:

Born in Detroit, Wildstrom went to the University of Michigan and began writing for BusinessWeek in 1972 where he served as news editor in BusinessWeek’s Washington bureau. He was also active in the Children’s Chorus of Washington.

“Steve Wildstrom at Business Week was hands-down the best person in the 1990s-2000s to explain to a broad nationwide audience what tech meant to them in their personal and business lives,” wrote Bill Howard, an editor at PC Magazine. “Steve put his effort into researching, analyzing and writing rather than building the Brand of Wildstrom.”

Very sad news. Wildstrom’s “Tech and You” column in BusinessWeek was an inspiration to me. Certainly all the phone and other reviews on tech sites now owe what they’re doing in part to Wildstrom.
link to this extract


Sony’s PlayStation 4 scores more than 30m sales » WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki:

Sony Corp. said Wednesday that it has sold more than 30.2 million PlayStation 4 videogame consoles, two years after the launch of a system that the company says has sold faster than any of its predecessors.

“We are sincerely grateful that gamers across the globe have continued to choose PS4 as the best place to play since launch two years ago,” said Andrew House, President and Global CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

The latest total, as of Nov. 22, is up from more than 20m in March, when Sony provided its most recent update on PlayStation 4 sales. Sony has said it aims to ship more than 17.5m units during the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2016.

Wii U at 10.7m, and Xbox One estimated at about 15m. Sony has crushed its rivals this time round. Yet there will probably be another console generation for virtual reality – is 2018 too soon?
link to this extract


The worst app » Allen Pike

App maker Pike started getting angry support emails. Problem was, they weren’t for his app. But the creator of a scam app had put his company’s contact email in its “report a problem” link. So you contact Apple and get them to take it down, right?

Now, the App Store review process is a mixed bag. While it definitely has some problems, its fickle nature has an upside. When an app is in egregious violation of common sense and decency, Apple can simply pull it from the store. All you need to do is contact Apple about the app.

Unfortunately, one does not simply contact Apple about an app. The official way to complain about an app is via the “Report a Problem” link from when you buy the app. Of course, I’m not going to buy this scam app just to complain about it, so I dug up an alternate form to report a problem. Maddeningly, one of the required fields on that form is an order number – the one you receive when you buy the app. Stalemate.

It gets worse. And then, happily, better. The power of a blogpost.
link to this extract


‘Outsiders’ crack 50-year-old math problem » Quanta Magazine

Erica Klarreich:

The proof, which has since been thoroughly vetted, is highly original, [Assaf] Naor [a mathematician at Princeton] said. “What I love about it is just this feeling of freshness,” he said. “That’s why we want to solve open problems — for the rare events when somebody comes up with a solution that’s so different from what was before that it just completely changes our perspective.”

Computer scientists have already applied this new point of view to the “asymmetric” traveling salesman problem. In the traveling salesman problem, a salesman must travel through a series of cities, with the goal of minimizing the total distance traveled; the asymmetric version includes situations in which the distance from A to B differs from the distance from B to A (for instance, if the route includes one-way streets).

The best-known algorithm for finding approximate solutions to the asymmetric problem dates back to 1970, but no one knew how good its approximations were. Now, using ideas from the proof of the Kadison-Singer problem, Nima Anari, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Shayan Oveis Gharan, of the University of Washington in Seattle, have shown that this algorithm performs exponentially better than people had realized. The new result is “major, major progress,” Naor said.

Abstruse yet with lots of implications for real-world problems involving processing, signalling and networks. It’s the Kadison-Singer problem, if you want to airily mention it over your latte.
link to this extract


Axel Springer goes after iOS 9 adblocker in new legal battle » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

German media giant Axel Springer, which operates top European newspapers like Bild and Die Welt, and who recently bought a controlling stake in Business Insider for $343m, has a history of fighting back against ad-blocking software that threatens its publications’ business models. Now, it’s taking that fight to mobile ad blockers, too. According to the makers of the iOS content blocker dubbed “Blockr,” which is one of several new iOS 9 applications that allow users to block ads and other content that slows down web browsing, Axel Springer’s WELTN24 subsidiary took them to court in an attempt to stop the development and distribution of the Blockr software.

Final ruling on 10 December; court seems likely (based on preliminary hearing) to side with Blockr.
link to this extract


How the Mad Men lost the plot » FT.com

Ian Leslie (a former Mad Man):

[Professor Byron] Sharp’s first law [in his book “How Brands Grow”] is that brands can’t get bigger on the back of loyal customers. Applying a statistical analysis to sales data, he demonstrates that the majority of any successful brand’s sales comes from “light buyers”: people who buy it relatively infrequently. Coca-Cola’s business is not built on a hardcore of Coke lovers who drink it daily, but on the millions of people who buy it once or twice a year. You, for instance, may not think of yourself as a Coke buyer, but if you’ve bought it once in the last 12 months, you’re actually a typical Coke consumer. This pattern recurs across brands, categories, countries and time. Whether it’s toothpaste or computers, French cars or Australian banks, brands depend on large numbers of people — that’s to say, the masses — who buy them only occasionally, leave long gaps between purchases and buy competing brands in between.

If you work for a brand owner, the implications are profound. First, you will never increase your brand’s market share by targeting existing users — the task that digital media performs so efficiently. The effort and expense marketers put into targeting their own customers with emails and web banners is largely wasted; loyalty programmes, says Sharp, “do practically nothing to drive growth”. What seems like a prudent use of funds — focusing on people who have already proved they like the brand — is actually just spinning wheels.

Second, and paradoxically, a successful brand needs to find a way of reaching people who are not in its “target” (in the sense of “people who are predisposed to buy it”) market…

…Marketers consistently undervalue consistency. Diageo recently carried out an audit of all the endlines that it had attached to one of its biggest brands, Guinness, and were embarrassed to discover it had used more than 20 different slogans in 15 years. What’s more, when it asked people to recall an endline, the only one they remembered was “Good things come to those who wait”, which hadn’t run since 1999. Vast sums of money had been spent on campaigns which probably had short-term effects but barely left a trace in consumer memories.

Long piece, but eminently worth finding a way to read. Sharp’s book sounds worth a read too.
link to this extract


Apple has acquired Faceshift, maker of motion capture tech used in Star Wars » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

[Faceshift’s] main focus, so to speak, was on visual effects in areas like gaming and film. In a world where animation technology can be costly and time-consuming to implement, the startup’s main product was marketed a game changer: “Faceshift studio is a facial motion capture software solution which revolutionizes facial animation, making it possible at every desk,” according to the company.

Even so, the technology is also making an appearance at the highest level of wow: it’s used in the latest Star Wars film to make non-human characters more human-like in their expressions.

Apple itself already has patents and assets across motion capture, facial recognition and augmented reality, partly by way of three other European acquisitions, respectively PrimeSense, Polar Rose and Metaio. Faceshift could complement and expand Apple’s capabilities in these areas going forward.

Seems like Apple miiiight be looking at the virtual reality space, though it’s hard to see quite how this fits into anything we recognise in its portfolio.
link to this extract


Xiaomi’s $45bn valuation seen ‘unfeasible’ as growth cools » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan saves the best for the last line in this story about Xiaomi rowing back on its aims even of 80m handset shipments this year, while it tries to expand “ancillaries” such as air purifiers and scooters:

The ancillary businesses are still relatively small, with the company expecting the services units to account for just $1bn of its $16bn in projected revenue this year, Barra said in a July interview. Sales of smartphones outside China accounted for just 7% of its total in the third quarter, according to Strategy Analytics.

Xiaomi has struggled partly because competitors Huawei, Lenovo Group Ltd. and Gionee – among others – quickly copied its business model with ultra-thin devices, glossy websites and lower prices, allowing consumers to easily switch to the hippest new phone.

“Xiaomi was very popular because it was the first brand that marketed its phones as being limited edition,” said Chen Si, a 25-year-old real estate worker in Beijing who bought the Mi 3 after its 2013 release, citing its cool design. “I wouldn’t say I am loyal to Xiaomi, I just think that a phone should be affordable and easy to use. If not, then I’ll just change.”

A year later, she switched to the iPhone 6.

*mic drop*
link to this extract


O2 explores ad blocking across its network » Business Insider

O2 is one of the UK’s four big carriers, with about 25m customers:

O2 executives told Business Insider the company is actively testing using technology that can block mobile ads at a network-level before they even get served. In addition, the company is considering whether to offer customers easy access to ad blocking apps and browser extensions. O2 is also working with advertisers to improve the standard of mobile advertising.

The hope is that the carrier can help customers filter out bad advertising that interrupts mobile browsing, eats up consumers’ data allowances, and ultimately puts a strain on its own network infrastructure. One ad blocking company estimates that ads are gobbling up between 10-50% of customer’s data plans each month.

This comes after EE, the biggest UK carrier, said it was looking at the same thing. Notice that “working with advertisers to improve the standard of mobile advertising”: no doubt such work has a price.
link to this extract


Google claims mobile search result impacting Yelp, TripAdvisor is ‘a bug’ » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Over the weekend, executives from public Internet companies Yelp and TripAdvisor noted a disturbing trend: Google searches on smartphones for their businesses had suddenly buried their results beneath Google’s own. It looked like a flagrant reversal of Google’s stated position on search, and a move to edge out rivals.

Nope, it’s a bug, claims Google. “The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix,” a Google spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, the “issues” may be diverting tons of traffic from Google’s competitors. Some, particularly Google’s longtime rival Yelp, are not pleased. “Far from a glitch, this is a pattern of behavior by Google,” said its CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

Have there been many – or any – occasions where these code pushes have accidentally buried Google’s products?
link to this extract


I’m leaving Android for iOS, and I blame late games » Polygon

Ben Kuchera reluctantly swapped his Galaxy Note 4 for an iPhone 6S Plus:

You can argue about install base and walled gardens until you’re blue in the face, but the reality is you’ll be waiting for games if you use an Android device. I caught up with Barry Meade, whose studio created The Room series, to ask why the game launched first on iOS. His answer is a common one.

“It’s the same reason everybody has — Android takes way longer to test for due to the diffusion of devices,” Meade told Polygon. “With iOS you only have to test maybe eight to 10 devices, and that’s only because we choose to support pretty old devices, many don’t. With Android you’re looking at hundreds of devices off the bat, each with different hardware/screen set-ups.”

The other side of this is that the iOS players are kind of testing the game for the eventual Android players.

“So with an iOS-first strategy you can release the game to many users with only a small chance of bugs arising due to differences in hardware, which means that when a bug does arise on iOS it’s likely unconnected to the hardware and by fixing it, you are also fixing that bug for any future Android build,” Meade continued. “What Android users forget is that because their versions come later they get the least buggy, higher performance version of the game because iOS users are, in an indirect way, guinea pigs for the other releases.”

I hope that makes Android players feel better, but I’m just so tired of waiting.

The comments – including the (polite) argument between two game developers – are worth reading too.
link to this extract


Secure Messaging scorecard » Electronic Frontier Foundation

In the face of widespread Internet surveillance, we need a secure and practical means of talking to each other from our phones and computers. Many companies offer “secure messaging” products—but are these systems actually secure? We decided to find out, in the first phase of a new EFF Campaign for Secure & Usable Crypto.

Surprising how poorly BBM and Google Hangouts score on this; and also how many other services actually get perfect scores. One, called Mxit, whiffs every line, though – not even encrypted in transit. (Via Benedict Evans.)
link to this extract


Google and the shift from web to apps, indexing app-only content, streaming apps » Stratechery by Ben Thompson

From Ben Thompson’s subscriber-only update, looking at Google’s streaming apps effort:

To be sure, streaming apps will be a worse experience than natively installed apps, at least for the foreseeable future. In fact, the effort is so nascent that Google is launching the initiative with only nine apps and only in the Google App on recent Android devices and only over Wifi. You have to start somewhere, though, and betting on the continued expansion of broadband and Moore’s Law goes hand-in-hand with Google’s brute force approach. And, as for the experience, everything is relative: a streamed app is better than having to download an app just to see a search result, and more fundamentally, a streamed app is better than not having access to the information at all.

As for iOS devices, while I’ve criticized Google in the past for its insistence on always launching Android first, I suspect there are real technical and legal challenges that come with streaming iOS apps in a similar fashion; it’s here that Google’s misguided insistence on competing with Apple head-on really hurts. I don’t see anything in this initiative that is necessarily threatening to Apple beyond the fact that app streaming helps Google. Ergo, were Google not a direct competitor (a la Microsoft today), Apple might be willing to lend a hand to ensure iOS customers had a better search experience.

Danny Sullivan also has a writeup of app streaming (which is a clever implementation: apps run inside virtual machines), and points out how awful it would have been if every site was its own app.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s