Start up: Apple’s QA question, the ChromeOS Pixel C?, racism on eBay, Dell’s revenue drop, and more


Why can’t China make good versions of these? Photo by superfem on Flickr.

What? Sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email? It’s madness, I tell you, madness.

A selection of 9 links for you. Now free of polonium. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Jobs and Apple’s iTunes gutted the music industry, Pandora CFO Mike Herring claims » Sydney Morning Herald

The chief financial officer of customising music streaming service Pandora, Mike Herring, has torn into iTunes, which had sold more than 35 billion songs as of last year.

No-one subscribes to Apple Music, Herring claimed in a conference call to investors about Pandora’s future, as reported by Billboard, even though the app exists permanently on hundreds of millions of phones.

“They spend a lot of their real estate on this phone trying to drive people to music,” Herring said. “You can’t even get it off – it’s like a permanent thing on there and still no-one subscribes.

“Well, I guess a few million people do but the reality is … to get people to choose to do that is a much bigger trick. You have to have a great product.”

Herring said Pandora was trying to bring back the music industry after a tough 15 years.

“I mean Steve Jobs eviscerated the music industry with the launch of iTunes and it’s been downhill ever since,” he said. “And the download was supposed to save it, that didn’t happen.”

“Now on-demand streaming is supposed to save it. We will see if that happens.”

Herring later apologised on Twitter for his comments and added “my own bone-headed comments don’t reflect Pandora’s perception of our partners at Apple”.

Pandora has 3.9m subscribers, and 79m users in total all in the US, according to Herring, speaking earlier in the conference call.
link to this extract


Apple opens secret laboratory in Taiwan to develop new screens » Bloomberg Business

Neat scoop by Tim Culpan:

The Apple building in Longtan has at least 50 engineers and other workers creating new screens for devices including iPhones and iPads, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Apple has recruited from local display maker AU Optronics Corp. and Qualcomm Inc., which used to own the building, the people said.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple in Cupertino, California, declined to comment.

Apple began operating the lab this year as it aims to make products thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy-efficient. Engineers are developing more-advanced versions of the liquid-crystal displays currently used in iPhones, iPads and Mac personal computers, the people said. Apple also is keen to move to organic light-emitting diodes, which are even thinner and don’t require a backlight, they said.

link to this extract


The Pixel C was probably never supposed to run Android » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

In our view, the Pixel C’s irregularities all have a single explanation: the Pixel C was originally a Chrome OS device.

Back in July 2014, a new “Ryu” board (a “board” is just a reference to “motherboard” — a Chrome OS device under development) popped up in the Chrome OS open source repository. Further trips through the Chrome OS source code revealed that “Ryu” had a light bar, USB Type-C connectors, an Nvidia Tegra SoC, and wireless charging. That sounds an awful lot like the Pixel C (especially the wireless charging, which is used to charge the keyboard via the tablet’s battery when closed).

Open up the Pixel C’s software and take a look at Android’s build.prop file—which lists all sorts of base information about the device—and you’ll see “ro.product.name=ryu” listed in the properties. Based on this commit, it’s safe to say that at one point Google was definitely developing Chrome OS for its new Android tablet.

It appears that the Pixel C was planned as launch hardware for a new, all-touch version of Chrome OS which at some point got cancelled — necessitating a switch to Android. The story is a lot more complicated than that, though. What follows is the best timeline we could piece together showing the Pixel C’s troubled development history.

As Amadeo points out, Digitimes – the Taiwanese paper which people love to laugh at – actually got this exactly right during the development process back in February: “runs Android in the tablet form and Chrome when attached to a keyboard”. Then the Chrome bit went bye-bye.
link to this extract


Whites earn more than blacks — even on eBay » The Washington Post

Ana Swanson:

In a study published in October by the RAND Journal of Economics, Ian Ayres and Christine Jolls of Yale Law School and Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard looked at how the race of the seller affected 394 auctions of baseball cards on eBay.

Some of the postings were accompanied by a photo of the card held by a light-skinned hand, and some with the card held by a dark-skinned hand, as in the photos above. The study shows that the cards held by an African-American hand sold for around 20 percent less than the cards held by Caucasian sellers.

In addition, the cards that were held by the African-American hand actually ended up being worth more, suggesting they should have sold for more than the other batch. That is, when the researchers added up how much they had originally paid for all of the cards sold by the black hand versus the white hand, the first total was larger.

Clever experiment design. Depressing result. Clear lesson: hide your hand in eBay photos.
link to this extract


17: Worrying Apple trends with guest Russell Ivanovic » The Blerg podcast

Chris Lacy:

Guest Russell Ivanovic joins me to discuss a variety of Apple’s not-so-great recent trends. We dig into a great many of the warts increasingly appearing around Apple’s ecosystem, including the experience when first running a device, the less than universally acclaimed new Apple TV remote, the stagnant App Store and app review process, general product stability and more.

We also chat about Apple’s ever expanding and confusing product lines, Jony Ive’s accountability, as well as discussing Apple’s trend to make their cheapest product versions less appealing than was previously the case.

I’ve never linked to a podcast before, but this one, by Lacy and Ivanovic (who are both very experienced developers – Ivanovic on both iOS and Android), is really worth listening to. Many of their complaints hit home, because as Lacy says, it’s about the customer experience: if Apple neglects that, as in the experience of logging on to the new Apple TV, then what has it got? Should be required listening for Apple executives.

There’s also a followup episode, in which Rene Ritchie of iMore joins Lacy and refutes some of the points (ie, provides evidence that disproves them, not just saying “nah nah nah”) – though for others he simply says “yup” and explains why things (like the Apple TV logon) are a mess. A disclosure: I’ve previously appeared on The Blerg to talk about premium Android.
link to this extract


Dell’s finances show revenue decline, similar to rivals’ » WSJ

Robert McMillan:

Dell’s revenue declined by 6% year-over-year to $14bn in its quarter ended in July. However, unlike competitors such as IBM and the former Hewlett-Packard Co., which in November split into separate corporate-computing and PC-and-printer companies, Dell’s revenues were up in the company’s fiscal year ended January 2015, rising 5%.

“Dell has executed well. We’ve invested wisely to drive growth, and we’re pleased with our performance,” said David Frink, a company spokesman.

Dell has paid off $4.5bn in debt over the past two years, but those payments left the company with less cash than it had when it traded publicly, and the move to private management hasn’t boosted profit. During Dell’s fiscal 2015, the company’s operating profit totaled $3.2bn excluding charges. In 2013, that figure was $4bn.

“These numbers reinforce that it is going to be a highly leveraged transaction,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. He believes that Dell will assume a sizable debt of $51bn to conclude the deal.

“It is no surprise that they’re looking to try to sell some assets,” he said.

The purchase of EMC was always going to be a python swallowing a cow, but the python seems to be smaller and the cow a lot bigger than we thought. This could turn into a horrible mess.
link to this extract


Tormented Texas plumber sues dealership over ‘jihad’ truck » LA Times

Matt Pearce:

A year ago, Mark Oberholtzer was down in Corpus Christi, Texas, when his secretary called to tell him the news:

One of his old plumbing trucks had been hijacked by jihadists.

On social media, a Syrian rebel group had posted a photo showing a black 2005 Ford F-250 — except now the plumber’s truck was thousands of miles away, armed with a large antiaircraft gun.

In the photo, an enormous flame burst from the muzzle as a rebel fired the gun from the bed. The words MARK-1 PLUMBING, plus the Texas City business’ phone number, were still clearly visible on the side of the truck, looking as if Oberholtzer had placed a NASCAR-style endorsement on militants in Syria.

If it isn’t happening to you, it’s funny. For him, it’s a nightmare, including death threats. He’s seeking $1m in damages (of course) from the dealership he sold the truck to in October 2013.
link to this extract


Why can’t China make a good ballpoint pen? » Marketplace.org

Rob Schmitz:

After [Chinese premier Li Keqiang] grumbled about Chinese pens last June, state-run broadcaster CCTV devoted an hour-long program to the topic, a talk show where three CEOs of China’s most innovative and successful manufacturers sat onstage alongside a host. Sitting nervously at a table in front of the studio audience was Qiu Zhiming, president of one of China’s largest pen manufacturers. Qiu explained to the other CEOs that China supplies 80% of the global market for pens.

The core technology of each pen — the stainless steel ball and its casing — is imported from Japan, Germany, or Switzerland, said Qiu. Only Switzerland, he said, has a machine with the precision required to make the best ballpoint pen tips. China, Qiu said sadly, hasn’t developed a machine like this.

Dong Mingzhu, the CEO of Ge li (Gree), a Chinese air conditioner manufacturer, frowned at Qiu from her perch onstage.

“Think about it. How much money have the foreigners made from us because they have better technology?” asked Dong. “You don’t have this technology and they’re taking your profits! You know what I’m going to do? I’ll have my best people make you a machine like the Swiss have! I’ll make it in a year and sell it to you for half the price!”

I am honestly surprised that there aren’t machines in China capable of making the balls to the correct tolerances. Schmitz’s piece points to more widely felt unease among manufacturers in China: the home market isn’t sufficiently rewarding.
link to this extract


The $75,000 problem for self-driving cars is going away » The Washington Post

The problem being the initially expensive LIDAR (laser interferometry detection and ranging) systems that the SDCs use to figure out where they are, and what’s around them, as Matt McFarland explains:

Velodyne and other players in the self-driving space are delivering drastically cheaper LIDAR, suggesting the price of the sensors won’t hold back the rollout of autonomous driving.

“Our customers are telling us they want it to be below $100, that’s kind of the roadmap we’re working from in the back of our mind,” Eggert said.

Velodyne is developing a sub-$500 LIDAR sensor, the VLP-32, that it says will be powerful enough for high-level assisted driving, and autonomous driving. (It declined to reveal exact technical specifications.) Velodyne has development contracts with two manufacturers, one in North America and one in Japan, to deliver the sensor in the first four months of 2016.

And the new sensor isn’t going to be a hulking piece of equipment either. It’s small enough that some players have expressed interest in putting the sensor in vehicle side mirrors. Others may put it on the roof, the easiest way to get a 360-degree view.

Quanergy chief executive Louay Edlada believes LIDAR will cost below $100 in five years. It’s releasing a solid state LIDAR — meaning none of the parts move — next month for $250.

That’s $75,000 to $250 in about eight years – halving in price every year. (Is it a Moore’s Law system?)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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