Start up: Dropbox dumps Mailbox, what mobile adblocking?, life after viral fame, and more


Ridge Racer: maybe blame it for all that waiting around for games to load. Photo by Peter π on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. They really are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dropbox is shutting down its Mailbox and Carousel apps » The Verge

Chris Welch:

Dropbox is doing away with Mailbox, the email app it acquired in March 2013, and Carousel, the company’s attempt at a standalone photo management app. The company says that it’s making this decision now to focus more directly on the primary Dropbox app and the collaborative features it’s known for. “The Carousel and Mailbox teams have built products that are loved by many people and their work will continue to have an impact,” wrote Dropbox’s founder/CEO Drew Houston and CTO Arash Ferdowsi in a blog post. “We’ll be taking key features from Carousel back to the place where your photos live — in the Dropbox app. We’ll also be using what we’ve learned from Mailbox to build new ways to communicate and collaborate on Dropbox.”

The Verge’s usual incisive reporting which simply repeats available facts, and doesn’t try to widen the discussion, or bring in expert views, or put it into context. So I’ll try: Mailbox shutting suggests it’s either a bust (not enough users), or a money-loser – same thing, really, and Dropbox needs to focus on how it is going to stop just being a feature that any OS offers for free (Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud Drive) because if that’s the case, it hasn’t got a business in the long term.
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The ‘Loading Screen Game Patent’ finally expires » Electronic Frontier Foundation

Elliot Harmon:

The first Sony PlayStation was introduced in 1994. Its graphical capabilities blew predecessors like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo out of the water, but it had one big disadvantage. It replaced the game cartridges of the previous generation with CD-ROMs. When you booted up a PlayStation game, you had to wait for the console to load game data from the disc into its own memory. And that. Took. For. Ever. Watching a loading screen was boring, especially when you were used to the instant gratification of cartridge games.

Namco’s Ridge Racer addressed the problem by including a second game, the 80s classic Galaxian. It took no time at all for a PlayStation to load Galaxian. Suddenly, the player wasn’t thinking about how boring it was to wait for a game to load; she could have fun playing Galaxian while the console took its time loading Ridge Racer. If she beat Galaxian before Ridge Racer was done loading, she’d be rewarded in Ridge Racer with access to some in-game bonuses.

What’s the big deal? Namco thought of loading screen games first, so they earned the patent, right? Well, let’s look at how U.S. law defines a patentable invention.

According to the law, a person isn’t entitled to a patent if the claimed invention already existed when the application was filed or would have been obvious to someone skilled in the relevant technology area. The idea of playing a small game while the larger one loads has been around for a very long time. In 1987, many years before Namco filed its patent application, Richard Aplin created Invade-a-Load, a utility for developers who wrote games for the Commodore 64 computer.

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X marks the spot that makes online ads so maddening » The New York Times

Sydney Ember:

Annoying ads have become problematic for Anthony Martin, a 32-year-old consultant for a project management firm who sat in Bryant Park on a recent Monday afternoon, iPhone 6 in hand. He had moved to New York not long ago, he said, and was using a smartphone app to determine the best subway routes. But as soon as the app loads, ads take over his screen — first a banner ad on the bottom, then a full-screen ad. No amount of desperate jabbing does the trick.

“Sometimes I miss a stop,” he said. “Especially with fat fingers.”

Industry executives say it is quite likely that publishers and mobile developers are deliberately building ads that are hard to escape or shut down.

“The ones that are incredibly invasive are designed to be that way,” said Brian Gleason, the global chief executive of Xaxis, a media and technology company owned by the advertising giant WPP.

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The mobile adblocking apocalypse hasn’t arrived (at least not yet) » Nieman Journalism Lab

Madeline Welsh, Joseph Lichterman and Shan Wang:

Even sites with unusually high desktop blocking rates — think German sites, or technology sites — aren’t seeing huge numbers on mobile. About a quarter of all Internet users in Germany use an adblocker, but the percentage is even higher for some sites like Golem, a German-language tech site that’s seen an outright majority of its users blocking.

“As far as I can remember, it’s always been an issue for us,” said the site’s editor-in-chief, Benjamin Sterbenz. “As soon as adblock software was available, our readers installed the software and experimented with it. I’m sure that a lot of our readers also contributed to the development of adblocking software.”

But compared to adblocking on desktop, Golem readers using adblocking technology on mobile is in the single digits. Though it saw a little bump in September with the release of iOS 9, it’s otherwise remained constant, which Sterbenz said surprised him.

At Ars Technica, the Condè Nast-owned tech site, about 6% of mobile users block ads, “which is just a bit higher than what it was previously,” Ken Fisher, the site’s founder and editor-in-chief said in an email. On desktop, about 30% of users block ads, he said.

Odd, in light of the preceding.
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Virtual reality studio Baobab raises 6 million to be Pixar of VR – Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

After leaving Zynga, [CEO of startup Baobab, Maureen] Fan spent the next year using her free time to learn as much as possible about virtual reality. She finally left her job in March to cofound Baobab Studios with Eric Darnell, who directed DreamWorks movies “Antz” and the “Madagascar” franchise.  

With big ambitions, the duo started attracting top talent from the likes of Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Twitch. The team’s combo of hardcore technologists working with top-tier storytellers convinced investors to put $6 million behind the studio’s cause last week. The Series A round came in part from million from HTC and Samsung Ventures, both of which have their own virtual reality devices, the Vive and Gear VR. 

Fan tells Business Insider that the studio plans to release its first short films made specifically for virtual reality early next year.

“We’re inventing a new cinematic language,” she says. For example, she explains, in VR you can’t cut-away from the action — the whole story has to flow together without switching perspectives — and need to find ways to guide the viewer to look where you want them to, since it will be possible to look around at a whole virtual world. 

VR is going to get really interesting in the next couple of years, and the content producers v content platforms issue is going to be highlighted again.
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Tencent blocks Uber on WeChat, so what ‘fair play’ can we expect in China? » South China Morning Post

George Chen:

Global car-hailing app Uber and its local rival in China, Didi Kuaidi, are de facto in a business war, after Tencent, a key investor of Didi, decided to remove Uber from one of the most powerful online marketing platforms in the world’s No 1 internet market.

What’s the key takeaway of the story here for other foreign businesses if they are considering doing or expanding business in China? It’s getting more difficult to make money in China, especially when you have to compete with local monopoly players.

The news that all Uber’s WeChat accounts had been removed by Tencent, the parent and owner of WeChat, China’s most popular real-time messaging app, where many businesses have set up accounts to promote products and services and engage with customers, shocked the technology world over the weekend. Tencent said it blocked Uber on WeChat, affecting Uber’s online services in at least 16 Chinese cities, because of “malicious marketing”, something Uber denied.

The power of the default messaging platform.
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10 viral sensations on life after internet fame » NY Mag

Clint Rainey:

Internet fame comes on like an earthquake, with little warning. In a matter of hours, a video can go viral and be viewed 50 million times. Then it (usually) recedes into a very long, thin afterlife. Here, nine YouTube sensations whose lives were upended briefly in the past decade (plus one from the prehistoric web era, before YouTube made its debut in 2005) speak about this odd, relatively new kind of fame. Most embraced the experience, seeing where it would take them. Some ended up in dark places. A couple have made it their living and found themselves with new careers. Others stepped away, opting out of the flame wars. Pay attention: Someday, the accidental celebrity could be you.

Terrific idea, and choices; the child from “Charlie bit my finger” may be the most predictable yet peculiar of all.
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Microsoft will not fix power management issues with new Surface devices until next year » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott is mad as hell and he’s.. well, he has to take it:

As I’ve said on the podcasts several times now, and wrote in the review excerpt below, Surface Book (and apparently Surface Pro 4) just don’t go to sleep properly.

Well, here’s the really bad news. Microsoft won’t fix this problem … until sometime next year.

“The ‘standby’ battery life is an issue we are working on and have been working on,” a Microsoft Surface Engineering Team program manager identified only as “Joe” explains in the company’s support forums. “We can put the processor into a deeper sleep state than it is currently set to. We couldn’t do it at RTM for a variety of reasons, power management is a very hard computer science problem to solve especially with new silicon. Currently it is not in the deepest ‘sleep’ that it can be so there are wake events that would not otherwise wake it. We will have an update for this issue sometime soon in the new year.”

I don’t mean to rip on an individual, as I usually save my ire for faceless corporations, but … “a very hard computer science problem to solve”? Seriously?

My advice to Microsoft is to not ship products for which you have not yet fixed “a very hard computer science problem.”

There is a workaround, though, involving making it always Hibernate rather than Sleep. Not ideal though. (Thanks @Avro105 for the link.)
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New software watches for licence plates, turning you into Little Brother » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar on open-source tech for automatic licence plate reading (ALPR) – known in the UK as ANPR (N for numberplate):

For the last six months, the two-man team behind OpenALPR has built this software and given it away for free, largely as a way to draw attention to their other paid services: a cloud-based $50 per camera per month solution that includes “high-speed processing” and “priority tech support.” The company also offers a $1,000 per camera per month “on-premises” version that integrates with an existing (usually government) network that has qualms about outsourcing data storage.

OpenALPR notes its software “will work with any camera that supports MJPEG streams. This includes visible-light and infrared cameras. The camera and optics should be configured such that the license plates are clearly legible in the video stream.”

Matt Hill, OpenALPR’s founder, told Ars that this is a good way to level the playing field and mitigate the need for long-term retention.

“I’m a big privacy advocate as well — now you’ve got LPR just in the hands of the government, which isn’t a good thing. This brings costs down,” he said.

On the government side, there have been incidents where police-owned LPR misread and led to dangerous confrontations. Some cities have mounted such cameras at their city borders, monitoring who comes in and out (case in point: the wealthy city of Piedmont, California, which is totally surrounded by Oakland). And again, the data associated with LPRs (plate, date, time, location) is often retained for months or years.

This feels a little like the total constant surveillance of Dave Eggers’s “The Circle”.
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HP exits low-cost tablet market in product shakeup » PCWorld

Agam Shah:

If you’re looking for a low-priced tablet from HP, you soon will not be able to find one.

HP is exiting the low-end tablet market amid declining prices and slowing demand. Instead, the company will focus on detachables, hybrids and business tablets at the higher end of the market.

“We are going to focus where there is profitability and growth and will not chase the low-end tablet market. We are focusing on business mobility to deliver tablets built for field service, education, retail and healthcare,” said Ron Coughlin, president for personal systems at HP.

HP has already stopped listing many low-end Android tablets on its website. The remaining lower-end products — the US$99 HP 7 G2 tablet and $149 HP 8 G2 tablet — have been out of stock for months, and it’s likely they won’t be available again. They are however still available through some online retailers at cut-rate prices.

The least expensive tablet on HP’s site is now the $329.99 HP Envy 8 Note tablet with Windows 10. HP has Windows on most tablets now, with only a handful running Android.

Wonder if this will become a trend. Obviously it will for enterprise sales – but might it also be the way to lure back disaffected Windows PC customers?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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