Start up: writing clickbait, search v the law, IAB disses AdBlock Plus, Android’s future in 2010, and more

Bitcoin: a failed experiment, or still going strong? Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The resolution of the Bitcoin experiment » Medium

Mike Hearn:

Why has Bitcoin failed? It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system.

Hearn’s article – in which he describes how he has gone from being an enthusiast and believer who left a safe job at Google to work on bitcoin – points to a looming problem: Chinese miners control over 50% of mining capability (the level where fakery becomes possible) and new proposals on fee payments could lead to transaction reversals.

I haven’t seen any adequate rebuttals of Hearn’s post (there are lots of ad hominem “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” responses, or others saying “everything’s GREAT, shuddup”), though this by “Bit Credit” makes a vague attempt. It also contains this passage:

from an economic interest it makes no sense to undermine bitcoin by fracturing it. And so surprise, suprise, bitcoin participants are making rational economic decisions. Bitcoin is not a democracy where 51% rules. In fact that is Bitcoin in a state of attack.

Bitcoin isn’t a democracy, in that its rules are determined by the core developers. But it is a democracy in that if 51% of miners start mucking about, bad things happen. And “attack”? Odd choice of word.
link to this extract

 


How Peach onboards new users » User Onboarding

Peach is the darling of the app world right now, and their onboarding has been heralded as one of the best ever from a newcomer. Care to see why?

Without further ado, here is…

How Peach Onboards New Users

Well, it has sort of fallen out of “darling” status, but any app designer will learn from this – especially the “what is this? What does that word mean? Am I saying this to the whole world? HELLPPP!” It is 120 slides, but easy to click through.
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‘Shocking celebrity nip slips’: secrets I learned writing clickbait journalism » Broadly

Kate Lloyd:

Laura, another celebrity journalist who has worked online for popular tabloids, explains there are other times when she has had to sex up stories about celebrity women who weren’t even trying to be especially provocative. “You could do a red carpet round-up of ‘all these women look great in these dresses’ but you’d change it to ‘plunging necklines’ or ‘high splits,'” she explains. “Marriage announcements would be sexed up with ‘cleavage enhancing’ or ‘revealing’ outfit descriptions. You’d add in words like ‘nip slip’ even if nipples are nowhere near having a slip because that’s what people are searching for. It was literally just for SEO, and it was soul destroying.”

One journalist told me she worked on a site where every picture of a female celebrity — including those in full coverage outfits — was tagged with the word ‘panties.’

While you’re groaning at clickbait “shows her ex what he’s missing in tiny bikini” headlines, there’s a whole new level of trickery that lurks behind them. For example, a female celebrity recently posed for a tasteful set of nude photos with a glossy magazine, who published the story with an empowering, “you go girl!” headline. The page’s URL, however, was a chain of sexy keywords that simply ended with “nude-photos.” Things get especially murky once you delve even deeper into the behind-the-scenes sorcery. One tabloid journalist told me she worked on a site where every picture of a female celebrity—including those in full coverage outfits—was tagged with the word “panties.” I’ll also admit to using the phrase “nearly-naked” in headlines just to hit the search term “naked”.

And just when you’re wondering what the world would look like if women were in charge of search engine algorithms:

…Tabloid journalist Laura explains that while the amount of sexualized content about women isn’t decreasing, she’s starting to produce more sexualized content about men.

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A few keystrokes could solve the crime. Would you press enter? » Just Security

Jonathan Zittrain:

Suppose a laptop were found at the apartment of one of the perpetrators of last year’s Paris attacks. It’s searched by the authorities pursuant to a warrant, and they find a file on the laptop that’s a set of instructions for carrying out the attacks.

The discovery would surely help in the prosecution of the laptop’s owner, tying him to the crime. But a junior prosecutor has a further idea. The private document was likely shared among other conspirators, some of whom are still on the run or unknown entirely. Surely Google has the ability to run a search of all Gmail inboxes, outboxes, and message drafts folders, plus Google Drive cloud storage, to see if any of its 900 million users are currently in possession of that exact document. If Google could be persuaded or ordered to run the search, it could generate a list of only those Google accounts possessing the precise file — and all other Google users would remain undisturbed, except for the briefest of computerized “touches” on their accounts to see if the file reposed there.

A list of users with the document would spark further investigation of those accounts to help identify whether their owners had a role in the attacks — all according to the law, with a round of warrants obtained from the probable cause arising from possessing the suspect document.

So, if you’re the person receiving the search request at Google, should you run it? Zittrain takes you around the back-and-forth, which is subtle.
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The Long Goodbye » Anne Wheaton dot Com

Anne Wheaton:

I chose to be on Twitter. I am not a celebrity. I am a middle-aged woman who’s a retired hairdresser who now runs a non-profit, is on the Board of Directors at Pasadena Humane Society, has a house FULL of rescue animals, and has two wonderful boys. I do not have a job I need to promote, nor am I looking for a job to take on. I have a full life with an amazing husband and family, wonderful friends, and a successful business I run. If something I choose to do on the side isn’t fun, I need to walk away from it because my free time is pretty scarce. Twitter used to be the fun thing I did on the side, and for the most part, it just isn’t fun anymore, so I need to walk away from it and that’s okay.

I deleted my Twitter account last night and immediately felt relieved.

She’s married to Wil Wheaton, who has been anti-Gamergate, on the basis that reasonable people don’t abuse women and other people pointlessly and unceasingly. Increasingly, Gamergate strikes me as Twitter’s id; untrammelled raging male idiocy, which is never reined in by any form of superego (such as “is this really a good idea?”). And the concern is that that superego will never arrive. (Another thought is that with American politics becoming increasingly polarised, Gamergate backers are more aligned with the extreme Republican line of thinking, and certainly with its refusal to engage with any other viewpoint.)

Read her post from April on how quickly just “being a woman on Twitter” turned into “being someone at whom people post random, vicious, worrying things for no other reason than to be vicious and worrying.”
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Web-based OAuth is a security nightmare for apps » Terence Eden’s Blog

You know those apps where you go in and it asks you to authorise it using Twitter or whatever? Eden doesn’t like them:

In Periscope’s case, the user has to trust that the app hasn’t just ripped-off the Twitter website. There’s absolutely no way to verify that it is a genuine and secure login page.

Even if you have 2-Factor Authentication (where Twitter texts you a login code) you’re not safe. Why? Because if the app is intercepting your username and password, it can also intercept your 2FA code. Sure, it can only use it for a minute or so (with some restrictions) – but that’s enough time to completely take over your account.

As software developers, we have to stop encouraging this anti-pattern. Periscope is teaching users that it’s OK to type their password into any box which looks like it’s authentic.

link to this extract

 


IAB dis-invites us, disses compromise and buries dissent » Adblock Plus

Ben Willians:

Adblock Plus has some very good relationships within the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), which is the trade organization that represents advertisers and publishers. We coach many IAB members about our Acceptable Ads guidelines for reasonable, nonintrusive ads, and we have spoken on some IAB panel discussions (especially in the UK).

Unfortunately, the top brass at the US IAB don’t want us coming to their Leadership Summit next week in Palm Desert, California. We attended last year, and we signed up again for their 2016 meeting … including paying the hefty entrance fee. We were fully confirmed and they even listed us on their website as a participant.

Then this week we got one of those sudden emails that land in your inbox innocently, then floor you with something weird, unbelievable or ridiculous when you click on them. This one came from an unfamiliar IAB address, and it informed us that our registration for the summit was canceled and our fee refunded.

The IAB hasn’t said anything about why, as of the time of this post. Apart from a statement which said that “The IAB Annual Leadership Meeting is for serious conversation among important digital industry stakeholders.” Does it think adblocking isn’t serious, or isn’t important?
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There are no secure smartphones » Devever

Hugo Landau:

There are no secure smartphones.

This is a simple fact which is overlooked remarkably often.

Modern smartphones have a CPU chip, and a baseband chip which handles radio network communications (GSM/UMTS/LTE/etc.) This chip is connected to the CPU via DMA. Thus, unless an IOMMU [input-output memory management unit] is used, the baseband has full access to main memory, and can compromise it arbitrarily.

It can be safely assumed that this baseband is highly insecure. It is closed source and probably not audited at all. My understanding is that the genesis of modern baseband firmware is a development effort for GSM basebands dating back to the 1990s during which the importance of secure software development practices were not apparent. In other words, and my understanding is that this is borne out by research, this firmware tends to be extremely insecure and probably has numerous remote code execution vulnerabilities.

Thus, no smartphone can be considered secure against an adversary capable of compromising the radio link (called the Um link). This includes any entity capable of deploying Stingray-like devices, or any entity capable of obtaining control of a base station, whether by hacking or legal or other coercion.

It would, in my view, be abject insanity not to assume that half a dozen or more nation-states (or their associated contractors) have code execution exploits against popular basebands in stock.

Question then is how far up the stack you can get from the baseband.
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August 2010: Android’s pursuit of the biggest losers » Asymco

Horace Dediu, writing back in the days when Nokia and Sony Ericsson made handsets, and BlackBerry was big, noting that LG and Motorola and Sony Ericsson had lost money, though Samsung was doing OK:

how likely are these disrupted ex-giants to recover and take Android forward? My bet: slim to none. Android does not offer more than a lifeline. It is not a foundation for long-term profitability as it presumes the profits accrue to the network and possibly to Google. Profit evaporation out of devices to Google may be a possibility at some time in the future, but only if the devices don’t need too much attention to remain competitive. But because they’re still not good enough (and they won’t be for years to come), it’s certain that attention to detail is what will be most important to stay abreast of Apple.

So here we have the real challenge to Android:  partnership with defeated incumbents whose ability to build profitable and differentiated products is hamstrung by the licensing model and whose incentives to move up the steep trajectory of necessary improvements are limited.

In other words, Android’s licensees won’t have the profits or the motivation to spend on R&D so as to make exceptionally competitive products at a time when being competitive is what matters most.

He also points out that Windows Mobile had the same problem, seven years earlier.

Five years later, the point about long-term profitability and R+D is being borne out. Only Samsung has managed to stay profitable – because of its components businesses.
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Xiaomi finally releases 2015 sales stats » Tech in Asia

Erik Crouch:

The case of the missing phone statistics has finally been solved – today, Xiaomi revealed that it sold 70m smartphones in 2015, a number below even their most modest predictions.

It’s been apparent for a while that something went wrong for Xiaomi in 2015. In 2014, the company predicted that they would sell 100m phones in the coming year – an estimate that was promptly bumped down to 80m last March.

When late 2015 rolled around, and China’s techies eagerly awaited the company’s sales report, they were met with silence. CEO Lei Jun talked in December about how the company “does not emphasize goals such as smartphone sales anymore,” which certainly didn’t build anyone’s confidence that the company had met its targets.

As Crouch notes, 2016 could be make or break. With China’s smartphone market slowing down, it really needs to find something fresh.
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Delicious changes » The Official Delicious Blog

Delicious was the original bookmarking service (admit it, you thought it had just vanished):

My name is Tony Aly, and I’m the CEO of Delicious Media, a new company formed in alliance between my company, Domainersuite, and Science, the company that has managed Delicious since 2013. Science has transitioned control of Delicious to our new entity so that my team and I can dedicate ourselves to the long-term success and stability of this wonderful, useful, trailblazing site.

As part of this transition, over the next few weeks, we will be a making a few fairly prominent changes to the site.

The first big change you’ll notice is our transition from the javascript front-end framework that has been powering the content at https://www.delicious.com. The engineers who crafted this version of the site are incredibly talented, and their code is amazing. It’s beautiful and powerful, but it has posed several significant challenges for us. For example, the search engines have a real problem reading our content, hindering users’ efforts to use Google or Bing to find what they’re looking for on Delicious.

Translation: “damn engineers.” Except what’s the point of search engines indexing a bookmarking site? Delicious has been through so many changes of ownership – bought by Yahoo in 2005, then sold to YouTube’s founders, then sold on and on. Never quite manages to regain momentum. I use Pinboard – reliable, cheap, doesn’t mess about. And has a terrific Twitter feed.

For what might have been, read Bobbie Johnson’s article from 2005 about Yahoo buying Delicious.
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Wikipedia: an old-fashioned corner of truth on the internet » Telegraph

I wrote about Wikipedia’s 15th birthday (on Friday), and largely I have nothing but applause for its approach that anyone could write or edit, and its pursuit of the “neutral point of view”, and (especially) its ad-free ethos. Though:

That’s not to say it’s without faults. There are plenty, some deeply ingrained. Most of its editors are male, meaning topics relevant to women are underrepresented. As the site (and each editor) ages, it becomes harder to attract new editors as the existing clique becomes embedded. With no overall editor determining its direction or content, the topics and content can vary enormously. The world probably doesn’t need zillions of explanatory articles about the Japanese video game franchise Pokemon – but perhaps could do with some of the articles about less-simple concepts being rewritten to a more novice-friendly standard. That’s what the Encyclopaedia Britannica had that Wikipedia doesn’t: consistency.

But that’s also the web revealing our real character. Those who can be bothered to create are more interested in Pokemon than explaining maths or science. We peer into Wikipedia, and see ourselves peering back.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

How close was my forecast for HTC’s 4Q? Only 3.4% out

Back on 5 November I gave a forecast for HTC’s fourth-quarter (October-December) revenues, based on its October revenues. HTC hadn’t deigned to give on, but using historical figures I had a stab.

My forecast, then: NT$26.64bn, with a 10% error either way, giving a range of NT$23.9bn-29bn.

And how did I do? HTC published its monthly revenue figure for December, which was pretty dramatically down on the previous year, by 57%. In fact the December revenues were its lowest since at least 2005 – my data doesn’t go back further than 2006.

Here’s the graph of my forecast and the reality:

HTC's monthly revenues - actual v forecast

HTC’s 2015: pretty terrible, actually

The total revenue for the fourth quarter: NT$25.75bn, which comes in at 3.4% less than my midrange forecast. Thus making the point that if you collect enough data about the past, you might have a chance of getting close to a prediction about the future.

At the end of the third quarter its “cash and equivalents” were US$1.3bn; that’s getting eaten away by its losses. (In aggregate, it hasn’t made a penny in net profit since the third quarter of 2012 – all its profits in nine quarters of that time have been eaten by four quarters in which it made losses.) Its inventories, meanwhile, were 97% of revenue in the third quarter. That’s an excessive amount; you’d normally want those to be as low as possible, since money sunk into inventory is an opportunity cost: you could be spending it on something else, like marketing.

Gross profit at 18% will be NT$4.63bn, so the operating loss will probably be the same as I forecast, at around NT$4bn (US$125m). Full results later this month. Update: HTC announced (PDF) fourth-quarter operating losses of NT$4.1bn; gross margin was 13.9%.

In other words, HTC will never make a profit again in smartphones. Notice too how everyone has forgotten about the HTC Re camera.

Chief executive Cher Wang, interviewed by the Telegraph, doesn’t quite deny that the company might fold the smartphone tent:

“Yes, smartphones are important, but to create a natural extension to other connected devices like wearables and virtual reality is more important… We have a vision of smartphones with different types of form factors, it won’t always look like this,” she says.

So now its attentions turn to virtual reality, with the Vive, which seems likely to be priced around $1,500, with preorders starting on 29 February. (That should give the first-quarter numbers a boost, anyway.)

I’ll go out on a not very long limb here. The Vive’s specifications are high-end: you need to buy not only the headset, but also to have a really high-spec PC to do anything useful, and applications are thin on the ground. It’s going to have a tiny audience at first. Even there it’s competing with bigger and better-funded rivals, including Oculus (owned by Facebook – has a bit of cash) and Samsung (has a bit of cash) and Sony (has cash and installed base of gamers). Ignore specs, because actually buyers mostly will: what’s the reason to buy VR kit? For the experiences. If Valve doesn’t really come through on this, HTC is really going to have a serious problem.

Update 25 January: given the power of this attempt, I’ll have a stab at forecasting HTC’s January 2016 revenues, based on December 2015. The average of the nine years since 2006 suggests that January generates revenues 83.96% as large as December, with a standard deviation of 15.3%.

HTC’s December revenues were NT$6.52bn. Using those, the data suggests HTC’s January 2016 revenues will be NT$5,472m, with a potential range (on one standard deviation) of NT$4.47bn to NT$6.46bn (which is about 18% either way, so quite a large range; the key point is that the forecast suggests January’s revenues will be less than December’s). The first figure is less than US$200m at present exchange rates. We’ll find out the correct number in a week or two.

Post-update: HTC’s January 2016 revenues were NT$6.477bn – just over the top end of my forecast, but still less than December’s (just) and down 47% year-on-year. It’s less than US$200m per month.

Start up: UK encryption doubletalk, Netflix VPN crackdown, Apple’s iAd retreat, and more


A Nest thermostat: malfunctioning, but what about privacy? Photo by Elvert Barnes 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.

No backdoors but UK government still wants encryption decrypted on request… » TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

During the committee session [in the UK Parliament] [home secretary Theresa] May was asked to clarify the implications of the draft bill’s wording for encryption. Various concerns have been raised about this — not least because it includes a clause that communications providers might be required to “remove electronic protection of data”.

Does this mean the government wants backdoors inserted into services or the handing over of encryption keys, May was asked by the committee. No, she replied: “We are not saying to them that government wants keys to their encryption — no, absolutely not.”

However the clarity the committee was seeking on the encryption point failed to materialize, as May reiterated the government’s position that the expectation will be that a lawfully served warrant will result in unencrypted data being handed over by the company served with the warrant.

“Where we are lawfully serving a warrant on a provider so that they are required to provide certain information to the authorities, and that warrant has been gone through the proper authorization process — so it’s entirely lawful — the company should take reasonable steps to ensure that they are able to comply with the warrant that has been served on them. That is the position today and it will be the position tomorrow under the legislation,” said May.

Completely contradictory.
link to this extract


Evolving proxy detection as a global service » Netflix

If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in. We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.

Over time, we anticipate being able to do so. For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory. In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.

Shorter version: we’re going to block your VPN.
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Five years later, Thunderbolt is finally gaining some traction in PCs » Ars Technica UK

Andrew Cunningham:

For many years, it looked like Thunderbolt was destined to be a modern version of FireWire: faster and smarter than contemporary USB interfaces, but so rare outside of Macs that there isn’t a very wide range of accessories beyond adapters and external hard drives. Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 are available in most Macs sold between 2011 and now, but it has been included in just a handful of PC laptops and high-end motherboards.
Thunderbolt 3 is turning that around. The port is suddenly beginning to show up in high-end offerings from just about every major PC OEM, starting with some Lenovo workstation laptops and Dell’s new XPS lineup and continuing in laptops and convertibles from HP, Acer, Intel, and others.

We’ve been talking to the PC companies at CES about this sudden turnaround, and their answers have all been in more or less the same vein. The increased speed of Thunderbolt 3 combined with all the benefits of USB Type-C (including driving displays via Alternate Mode and charging laptops via Power Delivery) has finally made Thunderbolt convenient enough to be worth the trouble.

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David Maisel’s geometric geographies » The New Yorker

Marcia Bjornerud:

David Maisel’s aerial photographs of Toledo, Spain, and the surrounding La Mancha region, some of which will be on view at Haines Gallery, in San Francisco, through March 12th, can make Earth’s surface look more alien than terrestrial. Parts of the area that Maisel focussed on are underlain by light-colored alkaline rocks, which formed through the evaporation of an ancient body of water. The silvery soil of plowed fields almost shimmers, like a ghostly memory of that long-vanished sea.

Things like this, and more, in the gallery of images.


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Germany launches smartphone app to help refugees integrate » The Verge

Amar Toor:

The German government has launched a new smartphone app to help asylum seekers integrate in their new country. Known as Ankommen (“Arrive”), the Android app is available for free on the Google Play Store, and will launch on iOS soon, according to its website. Ankommen was jointly developed by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the Federal Employment Agency, the Goethe Institute, and Bayerischer Rundfunk, a public radio and TV broadcaster.

The app is available in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, and German, and does not require an internet connection. It includes a basic German language course, as well as information on the asylum application process and how to find jobs or vocational training. The app also provides information on German values and social customs, with tips from other non-Germans who live in the country.

Note the underlying assumption: refugees will have a smartphone. So far the app has fewer than 1,000 downloads.
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Apple to disband iAd sales team » BuzzFeed News

John Paczkowski:

six years after launching iAd, Apple is stepping back from it. Multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans tell BuzzFeed News that Apple is getting out of the advertising-sales business and shifting to a more automated platform.

While iAd itself isn’t going anywhere, Apple’s direct involvement in the selling and creation of iAd units is ending. “It’s just not something we’re good at,” one source told BuzzFeed News. And so Apple is leaving the creation, selling, and management of iAds to the folks who do it best: the publishers.

Apple is phasing out its iAd sales force entirely and updating the iAds platform so that publishers can sell through it directly. And publishers who do so will keep 100% of the revenue they generate. It’s not clear what this means for Rubicon Project, MediaMath, and the other ad tech companies that had been overseeing programmatic, or automated, demand-side ad buying on the platform, but it doesn’t look good. Since everything can be done directly through the updated iAd platform, it’s likely that most of it will. “The big publishing groups will just fold programmatic buys into the stuff they’re selling across all their properties,” one source explained. iAd sales team members will be offered buyouts and released into the wild. The move is coming soon, perhaps as early as this week.

Advertising industry sources familiar with Apple’s new self-serve plan for iAds seem intrigued by it. “I think this is going to be great for publishers,” said one. “It gives them direct dialogue with their customers as opposed to forcing them to go through an Apple middleman. Access will be more plentiful and easier to manage — theoretically.”

How long will it be until the first malvertising via iAd? And what happens after that? I still feel iAd is a bad fit for Apple’s business model.
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Developing for wearables: from shrunken smartphone to wearable-first and beyond » VisionMobile

Stijn Schuermans:

In a previous post, we called the Internet of Things the peace dividend of the smartphone wars, and IoT developers the baby boomers of that period. In other words, smartphone innovation made hardware technology abundant. It’s no longer the bottleneck. IoT breakthroughs will happen not by making more powerful processors or larger memories, but by identifying new applications for the sensors, devices and connectivity. This certainly seems to be the case for wearables, which arguably started with the first Fitbit in 2008 and boomed after the launch of the Pebble and Android Wear in 2013 and 2014. Those were the days of the wearables hype.

That hype has now died down. Developers in particular are getting more cautious about wearables. Between Q4 2014 and Q2 2015, the percentage of IoT developers targeting wearables dropped from 28% to 21%. Developers have not turned their back on wearables entirely – many still plan to develop for wearables in the future – but the initial enthusiasm is making way for realism, and a search for truly valuable uses for these new devices.

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New study highlights privacy gap between consumers and tech vendors » WSJ Digits blog

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

The Pew Research Center has found in recent years that users of mobile and desktop computers are anxious about online privacy. The nonprofit’s latest study, published on Thursday, aimed to learn whether consumer anxiety waxed or waned in specific scenarios.

Conclusion: It does.

Although users often accept the implicit bargain of the online world — receiving free services in exchange for personal data — service providers can’t take users’ comfort with the arrangement for granted. Privacy concerns are more “case-by-case than driven by broad principles,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, Science, and Technology Research.

The report revealed a gulf between the public and the tech industry, Mr. Rainie said, judging by the plethora of data-gathering gadgets on display at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For instance, Nest seeks to connect items in the home–smart thermostats, light bulbs, garage doors and so on — into a system that would collect data to coordinate their operations; switching on lights, for instance, when the garage door indicates that an occupant has returned home in the evening.

The January 2016  report suggests that public attitudes could limit such plans.

Sure that Paul Graham will get right onto this and set the tech industry straight.
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Nest thermostat glitch leaves users in the cold » The New York Times

Nick Bilton:

“Woke up to a dead nest and a very cold house,” a commenter wrote on the company’s forum. “Not good when you have a baby sleeping!”

“Mine is offline,” another customer tweeted. “Not enough battery (?) I’m traveling. Called nest. Known problem. No resolution. #nest #fail.”

Admittedly, this may strike some as a quintessential first-world problem: a thermostat that can’t connect to the web. But for some users, it posed genuine issues.

For those who are elderly or ill, or who have babies, a freezing house can have dire health consequences. Moreover, homeowners who installed a Nest in a weekend home, or who were on vacation, were also concerned that their pipes could freeze and burst, causing major damage.

Matt Rogers, the co-founder and vice president for engineering at Nest, blamed a software update from December. “We had a bug that was introduced in the software update that didn’t show up for about two weeks,” Mr. Rogers said apologetically. In January, devices went offline, and “that’s when things started to heat up.”

The question is, will we look back on events like this as just teething problems – a bit like some of the cloud outages of, say, 2007 – or will they just multiply as more systems interact with slightly jury-rigged ones?

And as Bilton also points out, the contracts these gizmos/services are provided under use “arbitration” clauses which hugely favour the company, not the consumer; one lawyer tells him that Nest’s terms of service “are inherently unfair to consumers”. Not biased; inherently unfair.
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Google scamming consumers and screwing publishers with “Contributor” » LinkedIn

Mike Nolet is former CTO of AppNexus:

When I first heard of Google Contributor in early November I thought… this is exactly what the ad-industry should be doing, go Google! For those not familiar with the service, Contributor allows users to contribute a certain sum of money and opt-out of bandwidth hogging ads. The service “bids” on the users behalf, and if successful the user can choose to either collapse the unused space or upload their own messages – ingenious!

I immediately signed up, dialed my contribution up to$15/mo and started browsing. I configured my contributor account to show me messages from the new wellbeing starutp I’m working on and instead of ads I started seeing all sorts of positive messages. Cool!

A few months have since past and I figured it was time to review where my money was going. Boy, did my opinion change.

Looking at reports, it turns out I contributed $4.77 to remove 977 ads on websites since I signed up and Google charged me $29.67. The ~$5-CPM paid out seems generous, but I’ll accept that.  

The  $30 CPM and whopping 83% margin is downright theft. Google is keeping 83% of the money.

Who knows, maybe something is broken, but as it stands this is a service is a scam.

But he could dial down his contribution, surely? In a world though where adblockers are free, it seems somewhat worthy. Also, I calculated how much news sites (well, The Guardian) probably gets per browser per year from ads: $1.14.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: SATs (Standard Aptitude Tests) are very useful, apparently.

Start up: real China lessons, map the past, India’s phone problem, and more


A Surface Pro: wouldn’t these yank up falling PC figures? Don’t get your hopes up too high. Photo by 麻吉小兔 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Beyond the copycats: 5 things I learned about the internet in China » Medium

Chenyu Zheng: In July 2014, my colleague and I moved to China to set up Whisper’s operations in Shenzhen. The subsequent 14 months were my first real experience working in China, on a startup. I was fully immersed in China’s booming tech scene. This humbling journey not only made me more grounded and connected to my roots, but also taught me life-long lessons.

She has five observations, of which this is the key one:

China is far beyond copying the West. Great innovation is happening everywhere in China.

Copying a popular app directly to China does not work — only when a validated need is combined with proper localization by the right team at the right timing. In Chinese, we say 天时地利人和。

(1) For example, Zhihu (30m registered users as of Aug 2015 and raised series C funding from Tencent in Nov 2015) is a leading Q&A platform with significant media distribution in China. At first glance, it could be China’s version of Quora, but it’s far beyond a copycat.

In my mind, it combines Pinterest-style lifestyle, fitness, inspiration photos with Quora’s Q&A and knowledge sharing. Their motto 与世界分享你的知识、经验和见解, which translates to “Share with the world your knowledge, experience and opinion.” Interestingly, the founders are journalists turned entrepreneurs and their stand-alone app Zhihu Daily is a leading media distribution platform in China. For tech worker or lifestyle blogger, having your article selected by Zhihu Daily is a great honor and adds credibility.

Most of my Western friends know about major SNS [social network services] such as Weibo, Wechat, QQ, but for any real China insider, Zhihu is a blossoming platform that people are rushing to build a presence on. It is similar to the trend I observe that Instagram influencers now direct their fans to follow them on Snapchat. The quality and $ value per Zhihu follower are way above Weibo.

(2) With 600m MAU [monthly average users] as of Aug 2015, WeChat is the Facebook of China. It is no exaggeration to regard it as a Swiss Army knife. When you make new acquaintance, the first thing to ask is not their phone number, but scan each other’s WeChat QR code.

On Wechat, I order my Didi taxi, pay for grocery at 711, AA with friends at a meal, top up my cellphone, pay for water & utility, order a ferry ticket to Macau, you name it. In addition, I can order fresh produce, snacks, fresh made yogurt from Wechat official accounts. Not to mention that most of my news and media consumption are from WeChat moment. Everything I need to make life convenient is all within Wechat.

When the smartphone isn’t the platform, but gets abstracted away. How soon will that happen in the west?
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Maps from the past – programmatically »Thenmap

Use the Thenmap API to fetch historical geodata as GeoJSON or TopoJSON, or prerendered maps as SVG files.

Pass a year and preferred coordinate system or projection, and the API will give you all borders in return. Like the world in 1956, or Swedish municipalities from 1979.

The Thenmap API currently holds:

• World borders, from 1945
• Swedish municipalities, from 1974 (a few borders in southern Sweden still missing from 1973)
• Swedish counties, from 1968
• Finnish municipalities, from 2011
• US states, from 1865
• Municipalities of Greenland, from 1979

Learn more by reading the full documentation.

Neat. Built by Leo Wallentin of Journalism++Stockholm.
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PC market finishes 2015 as expected, hopefully setting the stage for a more stable future » IDC

Gloom and doom – the figures for “traditional” PCs are back down to 2007 levels, with only Apple growing year-on-year, while the big players grab more of the market.

Note this though, because IDC doesn’t count these:

Detachable tablets, which are counted separately from PCs, are growing quickly but from a small base. Adding those units to PC shipments would boost growth by roughly 6 percentage points in the fourth quarter and 3 percentage points for all of 2015, bringing year-on-year growth for 4Q15 to a decline of about -5% and -7.5% for all of 2015. The impact for 2016 will be larger as detachable tablet volume grows, boosting earlier forecasts of PC growth in 2016 from -3.1% to growth of 1 to 2%.

That translates to about 4m “detachables” (ie they come with a keyboard, rather than offering the keyboard as an extra – so the iPad Pro is a tablet, not a detachable) shipped in Q4, and 8m in the whole year.

I think the Surface Pro also counts as a “tablet” under IDC’s definition. Nobody’s happy with this, of course.

So the numbers are pretty small, but they’re principally where the profit is – if you’re not Apple.
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Digital publishers face a winter of discontent » Digiday

Ricardo Bilton:

The sunny days of hot growth for digital publishers are fading into a memory as many now face a long, dark winter.

Many venture-backed publishers are coming up to the limits of scale. Their models were based on eye-popping audience-growth figures and the presumption that business would follow. That’s not always the case. And traffic growth inevitably hits a ceiling.

At Business Insider, for example, traffic increased 10% to 40m monthly uniques over the past year, following an 80% increase the year prior. BuzzFeed’s growth was flat this year, at 75.3m uniques in November, after a year in which it grew 42%. (All figures are U.S. cross-platform figures, from comScore.) Mashable’s traffic, on the other hand, grew at a faster rate from November 2013 to November 2014 compared to a year later: 18% vs. 32%. Gawker Media, which spent most of last year in turmoil, has seen a 16% year-over-year decline in unique visitors.

“There’s that sense that not all of these digital news startups will see continuing hockey stick-like growth,” said Ken Doctor, principal analyst at Outsell. “Fall behind in growth, and the current value of these companies may plummet; it’s a momentum game, win or lose.”

A notable point in this: Buzzfeed pays millions of dollars annually for Facebook traffic. Mashable, of course, is reckoned to be shopping itself around.
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A billion users may not be enough for India’s phone industry » Bloomberg Business

Bhuma Shrivastava :

India just signed up its billionth mobile-phone customer, joining China as the only countries to cross that milestone.

Yet that 10-digit base may not be enough to keep the industry from struggling. Asia’s third largest economy is crowded with a dozen wireless carriers – more than in any other country – spectrum is hard to come by and regulatory risks are high. Add it all up and it’s no wonder they deliver lower profitability than phone operators in other parts of Asia, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“There are too many of them all fighting for limited spectrum,” said Chris Lane, a telecommunications analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. “In China by comparison, 1.3 billion subscribers are serviced by just three operators. The government in China allocates spectrum on the basis of need, and at no cost to the operators. As a result, the Chinese operators get scale benefits that Indian operators are unable to achieve.”

Raises the question of what the optimum number of mobile (or other) operators is for any country to create a competitive but also sustainable market. Four? Five?
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Software turns smartphone into 3-D scanner » BetaBoston

Nidhi Subbaraman:

A team led by Brown professor Gabriel Taubin developed software that could sync up a basic light-pattern projector with a smartphone or camera that can work on “burst” mode.

The patterns illuminate an object in the right sequence as the camera takes photographs, creating a series of images that can then be stitched together to create a 3-D rendering, to use as a model on the computer or to run through a 3-D printer.

You could pick up any object — the curved receiver of a rotary phone, say — scan its surface, upload that scan to a computer program, and print out a replica.

“You need to capture an image at the proper time. You need the camera and the projector to be synchronized,” Taubin said.

The team presented its research at the Association of Computing Machinery’s SIGGRAPH Asia conference in November.

Disruption.
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Why women aren’t buying smartwatches » Racked

Nicola Fumo:

Part of the advantage fitness trackers have over smartwatches with female consumers seems to be their simplicity. “The common knock against general-purpose smartwatches today is that they’re very overwhelming; they do too much,” Fitbit CEO James Park told The Verge. Kaspar Heinrici, who designs traditional watches as well as connected devices for Fossil as its associate creative director, told Racked that the most common pushback it gets from women on wearables is a similar lack of seeing the need. “The first reaction to technical products from women is ‘Oh, I don’t really need that functionality,’ or ‘That’s too much for me,'” he says. Fitness trackers are straightforward and, even more importantly, they offer the promise of a better self.

Aspiration is a strong tool in selling fashion. Think of the purchase motivations behind clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics. Largely, these aren’t replenishment buys like razor blades or socks, and they’re not thoughtful “big gadget” investments like televisions or washing machines. An internal tick is convinced life will be better with the confidence that comes with a dress that fits just so, a designer bag that communicates status, or the seamless disguising of under eye circles. Fitness trackers make an obvious path to an improved self; an increased awareness of behaviors that can be altered for results (more rest, fewer pounds, what have you). With all of their notifications and connected apps, smartwatches have yet to leverage the siren call of “me, but better.”

Though I’d say I know as many women who have Apple Watches as men. Android Wear, however – only men.
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A top venture capitalist thinks startups are causing inequality. He’s wrong. » Vox

This critique is a week old, but Ezra Klein makes a number of good points (all of them worth reading) about this much-debated essay, including this:

An important point Graham makes is that while people are angry about income inequality, they usually prioritize fixing other problems. When it comes down to it, they really care about poverty, or social mobility, or median wages, or political power.

Consider two worlds. In one, the Gini coefficient — the standard measure of inequality — remains the same, but median wages are double their current level. In another, the Gini coefficient falls, but median wages are 10 percent lower and poverty is 3 percentage points higher.

Would anyone choose the second world? Bueller?

But having made that point, Graham spends much of his essay grappling with strawmen. Statements like “Ending economic inequality would mean ending startups” confuse the conversation. No one is talking about ending startups. No one is even talking about ending inequality. And you can certainly ameliorate inequality without destroying the ability to found new companies. Sweden, for instance, has a higher startup rate than America, and less income inequality — as do a number of other countries.

He also includes this useful graphic to show that, au contraire Mr Graham, the number of startups is actually falling as a percentage of all companies in the US:

It feels important to bear these things in mind: Silicon Valley suffers from an extreme myopia, which is fine if you’re trying to build a web service, less so if you’re doling out world advice.
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Google picks former Obama adviser to lead global public policy » The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

Google, facing increased scrutiny from European regulators, has hired a former senior adviser to President Obama to lead its global public policy team.

Caroline Atkinson, who left her position as a White House deputy national security adviser last month, will join Google in March and be based in Washington.

Her most pressing task will be to temper concerns by antitrust enforcement officials in the European Union, which has accused the company of abusing its dominance in web search.

Ms. Atkinson, who joined the administration in 2011, is the latest in a string of Obama administration officials to join Silicon Valley companies. David Plouffe, also a former adviser, joined Uber in August 2014, and Jay Carney, a former press secretary, was hired by Amazon early last year.

Replaces Rachel Whetstone, who left for Uber in May.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: smartphone v cars, Oracle v Android, Korea’s browser problem, flat design woes, and more


Sony’s Project Morpheus in action. But how many PCs can run this stuff? Photo by wuestenigel 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.

Fun fun fun ’til her daddy takes the iPhone away » ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

“A smartphone can get you a ride but a car can’t get you a date,” blogged venture capitalist Fred Wilson, revealing a remarkable ignorance of the entire modern history of youth culture. “The smartphone wins.”

Wilson’s words were inspired by a November 2013 interview with another prominent VC, Marc Andreessen. America’s love affair with the automobile is over, Andreessen declared. As evidence he pointed to a putative sea change in young people’s attitudes toward cars: “Today, ask kids if they’d rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There’s a huge social behavior reorientation that’s already happening.” I’ve never found financiers to be reliable guides to what kids are up to, but in this case Andreessen was just recycling a view that has achieved meme status in recent years: Americans are losing their taste for driving, and that trend is particularly  pronounced among the young.

At about the same time Andreessen was opining about how young folks love their tech but don’t give a crap about their wheels, MTV was launching an extensive survey of the attitudes of millennials. The network interviewed nearly 4,000 people between 18 and 34. One of the topics discussed was cars and driving.

Now, guess whether the survey – of thousands of real people – backed up Wilson’s opinion.
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Education and underemployment in the age of machine intelligence » Brookings Institution

Daniel Araya (a researcher and advisor to the US government):

what is the role of education in the age of machine intelligence? Even a cursory analysis of educational reform in the United States reveals a deep concern with transforming the education system in the face of systemic economic and social change. It has become painfully clear, for example, that our current education system is not equipped to mitigate the scale of labor dislocation we may soon face. In my view, the most obvious problem with U.S. educational reform today is a misplaced focus on mobilizing systems of measurement and conformity in an era that demands risk and experimentation. The underlying problem is that “factory schools” have evolved from older institutions designed for a different era.

Beyond the bureaucratic systems of the Industrial Age, students must be better prepared to leverage autonomous creativity to solve real-world problems. Beyond basic numeracy and literacy, advanced competencies that build on network collaboration, digital fluency, and entrepreneurial innovation are now foundational to economic mobility. The real challenge today, in other words, is to transform the institutional and pedagogical structures that constitute schooling. Rather than framing educational reform in terms of the needs of a mass industrial society, educational policies must now adapt to the needs of a highly disruptive computational economy.

Sure, but who’s going to tear Americans away from their block-rote testing?
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Few computers are powerful enough to support virtual reality » Bloomberg Business

Ian King:

Virtual reality has a very real problem. With several technology giants preparing splashy introductions for the first VR headsets in 2016, few people own hardware capable of fully supporting Facebook’s Oculus Rift or other systems.

Just 13m PCs worldwide next year will have the graphics capabilities needed to run VR, according to an estimate by Nvidia, the largest maker of computer graphics chips. Those ultra-high-end machines account for less than 1% of the 1.43bn PCs expected to be in use globally in 2016, according to research firm Gartner.

And yet IHS estimates that 7m VR headsets will be in use by the end of this year. Seems like a high penetration of those 13m PCs. (And I don’t hold out much hope for HTC/Valve’s effort to save HTC, given its $1,500 price.)
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Oracle sinks its claws into Android » Andreas Gal

Gal is the former CTO at Mozilla, and was involved in its efforts with Firefox OS, so he knows his stuff:

While I am no longer working directly on mobile, a curious event got my attention: A commit appeared in the Android code base that indicates that Google is abandoning its own re-implementation of Java in favor of Oracle’s original Java implementation. I’ll try to explain why I think this is a huge change and will have far-reaching implications for Android and the Android ecosystem.

This quickly gets very complicated, hinging on the variations between the GPL, LGPL, GPLv2 and Apache licences. Read alongside this piece at Venturebeat, which has comments from Google.

Upshot seems to be: Oracle gets to dictate some future direction of Android’s Java; app developers who don’t update could see more crashes.
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Issue 693 – TrendMicro node.js HTTP server listening on localhost can execute commands » Google Security Research

Tavis Normandy, on the security mailing list:

When you install TrendMicro Antivirus on Windows, by default a component called Password Manager is also installed and automatically launched on startup.

http://www.trendmicro.com/us/home/products/software/password-manager/index.html

This product is primarily written in JavaScript with node.js, and opens multiple HTTP RPC ports for handling API requests.

It took about 30 seconds to spot one that permits arbitrary command execution, openUrlInDefaultBrowser, which eventually maps to ShellExecute().

This means any website can launch arbitrary commands, like this:

x = new XMLHttpRequest()
x.open("GET", "https://localhost:49155/api/openUrlInDefaultBrowser?url=c:/windows/system32/calc.exe true);
try { x.send(); } catch (e) {};

(Note that you cannot read the response due to the same origin policy, but it doesn’t matter – the command is still executed).

Trend Micro reacted quickly, but it turns out this is only the first layer of a stinky security onion.
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Pray to Microsoft: Google, Microsoft to stop technical support for older operating systems, browsers » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-Young:

Google announced on January 11 that it would stop providing security for the Chrome browser on the older versions of the Windows including the Windows XP and the Windows Vista. Earlier, Microsoft said that its technical support for the older versions of the Internet Explorer would be stopped soon. Under the circumstances, Web users in Korea are getting more and more nervous.

At present, more than 80% of them are using Microsoft’s PC operating systems and 30% to 40% of them are using the older versions of the Internet Explorer. Besides, a number of public organizations in Korea are still heavily dependent on the IE, which means they are very vulnerable to security threats. In order to be free from the concerns, users of the Windows 7 and above are required to upgrade their IE to IE 11 or use the other browsers including Chrome, FireFox and Safari.

Problems are complicated for Windows XP and Windows Vista users though. The Chrome browser is unavailable on these operating systems from April this year since Google is going to stop its security update from that month.

People think of South Korea as super-sophisticated because it has really fast broadband. But it relies on absolutely ancient browsers which are vulnerable to all sorts of malarkey. This is going to cause some big problems as they’re either forced to shift or get hacked to hell and back.
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Long-term exposure to flat design: how the trend slowly makes users less efficient » Nielsen-Norman Group

Kate Meyer:

To know where they can click on a website, users need signifiers: perceptible clues that help them understand how to use interfaces. Blue underlined text is an example of a traditional signifier of a clickable link that even the least experienced web users understand.

In the old days of rampant skeuomorphism and realism in web design, users were generally able to rely on obvious — but often ugly — signifiers of clickability (such as glossy, raised effects on buttons, or inset shadows that made input fields appear empty). Even though these signifiers varied from site to site, users could usually rely upon two assumptions:

• Elements with strong signifiers were probably clickable.
• Elements without strong signifiers were probably not clickable.

Flat design increased the popularity of designing clickable elements with absent or weak signifiers. Linked text styled as static text is an example of an absent signifier. A ghost button (text with a thin border and no background color) is an example of a weak signifier — a subtler version of a traditional clickability signifier.

Younger users are better at figuring this stuff, but this doesn’t mean it’s good design.
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A driverless car saved my life – no, really » Forbes

Joann Muller took a ride in Delphi’s model on the Vegas roads during CES:

One of the first things I noticed was how polite the self-driving car was. It always stayed under the speed limit, and always drove a safe distance behind the car in front of us. It was kind of annoying, frankly, in frenetic Las Vegas, where 170,000 heavily caffeinated tech freaks converged for CES, the big three-day consumer electronics show.

At a busy four-way intersection, the Audi navigated itself into a left-turn lane behind five or six other cars stopped at a traffic light. I thought the gap between us and the car ahead seemed excessive, but that’s how the car is programmed to behave. If I were driving, I would have inched way up behind the other guy’s bumper.

The traffic arrow turned green, and as the cars ahead started moving, so did we. Just as we approached the intersection to make the left turn, the arrow turned yellow and our car stopped abruptly. My Delphi guide, Nandita Mangal, explained that because the car detected stopped traffic on the other side of the intersection it did not feel it was safe to proceed on yellow, even though most drivers (myself included) are probably more aggressive and would have tried to make the light.

That point was driven home just a few minutes later when our car, now first in the left turn lane, got a green arrow to proceed. The Audi drove forward and started turning left, when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw not one, but two cars come speeding through the intersection from the right, running the red light. I wanted to yell “Look out!” but before I could even get the words out, the Audi slammed its brakes as the bad drivers swerved around us. If the self-driving car hadn’t detected what was about to happen and stopped, we likely would have been T-boned on the right side, and I might not be here to write this story.

It will only take a few cases like this for SDCs to be hailed at the best thing since sliced bread. Will the bad drivers (like those running the light) get them first, though? (Note too: this isn’t a Google car.)
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China’s Xiaomi under pressure to prove value to investors » WSJ

Eva Dou on Xiaomi, valued at $46bn in its last round, which looks to have missed its 80m phone sales target for 2015 (revised down from 100m):

“The competition in China’s smartphone market has intensified tremendously this year,” said a Xiaomi spokeswoman, who declined to comment on the company’s valuation or say whether it met its 2015 sales target. She said Xiaomi sales were “within expectations” and its flash sales are primarily for new phones when production ramps up.

The lack of its own high-end chip technology also proved to be a competitive disadvantage for Xiaomi last year. When early versions of Qualcomm Inc.’s Snapdragon 810 processor were reported to have overheated, it dampened sales of Xiaomi’s most expensive handset yet, the 2,299 yuan ($349) Mi Note, analysts said.

Xiaomi couldn’t fall back on an in-house developed chip to get around the problem as Huawei and Samsung did.

Xiaomi and Qualcomm declined to comment on the processor. Analysts say the problems have been fixed.

Overseas growth also has been slow for Xiaomi, with the percentage of its smartphones sold overseas in the first nine months of 2015 rising to 8%, compared with 7% in the 2014 calendar year, according to Canalys. Moreover, Xiaomi’s thin patent portfolio became a hurdle as it sought to expand in markets such as India. A lack of patents led to a court ruling that crimped its access to the crucial India market.

Hard to see now how Xiaomi isn’t Just One More Android OEM.
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Education – Preview » Apple

This is interesting: coming in iOS 9.3, Apple’s classroom efforts (which in the US are being invaded by Chromebooks) let pupils log into any iPad “and make it their own”, use a “Photo ID” where “each student’s picture appears on the iPad they’ve been using” and younger students can access via a four-digit PIN.

Teachers meanwhile can see what’s on any screen, launch apps across a class, and reset passwords “without calling IT”.

Fraser Speirs (who’s big on education and iPads) points out that it’s going to need some hefty space – a 32GB iPad will be able to cater for 3 users, 64GB for 8, and 128GB for 16.

Wouldn’t mind having some of these for a home setting. (Via former Windows guy Steve Sinofksy.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: how late is your train?, Android v audio, Sean Penn’s odd meetup, rebutting Paul Graham, and more

Not sure if this is the one Shirley Bassey and David Bowie used. Photo by avlxyz 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.

How reliable is my train? » Fasteroute

How reliable is my train? It’s something I often wonder when choosing which train to take, and it’s something that’s hard to answer without months of commuting experience.

This summer, in partnership with The Open Data Institute, we built a web site to try and help you find an answer to exactly this question. So if you’re are regular train traveller, or just a bit of a stats geek, why not head over the the Fasteroute Delay Explorer and plug in the details of your journey, and see how close to timetable your train generally runs. You’ll also be able to see how it compares to other trains around the same time. You might even find an excuse to stay in bed a bit longer in the morning.

Yes indeed – the Delay Explorer is just the thing to show your boss to explain why you’re late again. (And yay that it has come from open data via the ODI.)
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Windows 10 hits 200 million devices in record time » Mashable

Pete Pachal:

Windows 10 had a good holiday.

That’s the prognosis from Microsoft, which reports that the latest version of Windows is now on 200 million devices. A good chunk of those were activated over the holiday season — 40% of Windows 10 devices became active on Black Friday or later.

Windows 10’s adoption is faster than an previous version of Windows, according to Microsoft, outpacing Windows 7 by 140% and leaving Windows 8 in the dust by a massive 400%. Microsoft also reports that 76% of its enterprise customers are in “active pilots” of Windows 10, but it’s hard to know how relevant that is without knowing the scale of those pilots; some companies may be testing a relatively small portion of their PC footprint, for any number of reasons.

Still, the numbers are all pointing in the right direction for Microsoft’s goal of having more than 1 billion devices running the OS within two to three years.

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Sean Penn, intelligence dangle » emptywheel

Here’s an idea: what if Sean Penn’s visit and subsequent terrible Rolling Stone interview with Mexican drug lord El Chapo was actually set up by the DEA/FBI/CIA/spies in order that they could nail said Chapo? I know, you laugh, until you read this by Marcy Wheeler, which lines all the ducks up, including this:

Perhaps the most interesting detail is that when Chapo asked Penn to come back in 8 days for a return visit that never took place, Penn responded by asking for a photo — for Rolling Stone. Except that he arranged it so that it would be usable for facial recognition.

I say I can. I ask to take a photograph together so that I could verify to my editors at Rolling Stone that the planned meeting had taken place.
[snip]
I explain that, for authentication purposes, it would be best if we are shaking hands, looking into the camera, but not smiling. He obliges. The picture is taken on Alfredo’s cellphone. It would be sent to me at a later date.

Who knows? Maybe Rolling Stone uses sophisticated facial recognition software in the wake of their University of Virginia rape story disaster?

Oh yeah, also: pretty much immediately after Penn’s visit – set up via much cloak and dagger – El Chapo came under siege from Mexican troops. Pure coincidence, I bet. Totally. Sure.
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David Bowie commencement speech to Berklee College of Music » Business Insider

Of all the many, many things written about David Bowie on Monday, this one seemed like the most wonderful – because it’s his own words. Well found, Peter Jacobs:

A word about Shirley Bassey. During the very early days of Ziggy Stardust, we often used to play these fairly grotty clubs called the “workingman’s clubs.” They were sort of like nightclubs but you got a cheap meal. The whole family would come. A round of beer. A rock act. A stripper — sometimes one and the same. Well, backstage one night I was desperate to use the bathroom. I was dressed in my full, battle finery of Tokyo-spaceboy and a pair of shoes high enough that it induced nose bleeds. I went up to the promoter — actually I tottered over to the promoter — and I asked, “Could you please tell me where the lavatory is?”

And he said, “Yeah, look down that corridor. On the far end of that wall. You see that sink? There you go.”

I said, “My good man, I’m not taking a piss in the sink.”

He said, “Listen son, if it’s good enough for Shirley Bassey, it’s good enough for you.”

From which I learned that mixing elements of bad taste with good would often produce the most interesting results.

As you read, imagine it in that sarf London accent. (You can also find the full speech on Berklee’s site.)
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Paul Graham is still asking to be eaten » Medium

Holly Wood has a scalding, insightful take on Paul Graham’s increasingly famous essay about how inequality is good for you:

I will throw Paul Graham a bone for recognizing that in terms of scale and impact on the American economy, Wall Street is definitely the bigger concern.

But my guess is that what probably infuriates you about Paul Graham’s essay is his tacit contention that startups create wealth.

This is not true.

First of all, over 95% of startups fail. Every venture capitalist knows this. Those pesky things, for the most part, just eat money and more often than not actually destroy wealth.

But the second reason why you should not allow yourself to think that startups create wealth is because of how they are funded.

What actually happens is wealthy people like Paul Graham fund startups because they think these things are valuable. Through venture funding, rich people legitimate startups. Thus, they confer value upon the startup. They then use their ridiculous money and connections to “advise” and “mentor” those they deemed worthy of capital so that they can use this capital to build a future people like Paul Graham expect to see.

What Paul Graham never dissects in his essay is that people like Paul Graham simply take it for granted that they’ll be the ones to decide where capital goes.

I’d like to examine those numbers in Graham’s essay about big and small companies back in the 1950s/60s too. But this is a great – worthwhile – read once you allow yourself to consider it with an open mind.
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Rebooting Android’s 10 millisecond problem: audio latency improvements in Android 6.0 Marshmallow » Superpowered

Gabor Szanto:

Since we published “Android’s 10 Millisecond Problem: The Android Audio Path Latency Explainer” in early 2015, Google has made tremendous strides in improving round-trip audio latency on Android OS. With the deployment of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the Huawei Nexus 6P clocks in at a much improved 18ms round-trip audio latency and the HTC Nexus 9 at 15 ms.

As readers may recall, 10ms round-trip audio latency is the threshold that must be met by Android to be considered truly ‘pro audio’.

One second of round-trip audio latency sounds like an eternity. 250 ms is still terrible. 100 ms is 10% of one second, and still sounds unacceptable. At 25ms, things begin to approach acceptable ranges. Unless you are Terence Fletcher, the nightmare-ish jazz instructor from the movie Whiplash, 10 ms should be perceived as instantaneous…

…In our previous article, we discussed that the the Android Audio Hardware Abstraction Layer (“HAL”) implementations, the component between the audio driver and the media server, are often poorly implemented across the the Android device landscape. Google has also ensured that the HAL has been implemented properly for the most recent Nexus devices.

However, the Android media server itself does not look like it has been significantly improved from Android Lollipop to Android Marshmallow. While it was already good in Lollipop, it appears as if Google is now hitting the hard limits of the media server’s “push” mechanism.

Seems like pro audio latency is, once more, something that Android will have next year. Meanwhile, the listing of device latencies still shows all iOS devices at below or only just above 10ms.
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Inside Deep Dreams: how Google made its computers go crazy » Medium

Steven Levy tells the story, but the key part is the implication of what Deep Dreams does:

it’s hard to tell what’s going on inside an effective neural net, and even harder to understand in what ways they work like real brains and in what ways they do not. But now that we know they do work, we need to know how, so as to improve the next generation.

That’s the utility of the Deep Dreams process. For instance, in one kind of experiment the researchers would choose which layer of the net would be active to enhance patterns it detected in a random photograph. If they chose one of the lower layers — those making the system’s initial assumptions about what an image contains — they would get intricate patterns, because at that point the network is analyzing the edges of objects and not yet classifying them. Another type of experiment tapped the higher layers, encouraging the system to riff on what it had begun to recognize. That’s when the weird animals will appear. While the output is fascinating, we’ve learned more about the way neural networks operate.

But [Alexander] Mordvintsev’s experiment is important in another way: as a pointer to the vast potential of neural nets. As these nets develop, they are destined to not only match human ability in some areas, but exceed it.

One of the notable quotes comes from a Swedish Swiss artist who argues that in five years we’ll be using this sort of thing inside – or instead of? – Photoshop.
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How rooftop solar is causing big falls in peak demand » Renew Economy

Giles Parkinson:

The big push by utilities across Australia to hit solar households with higher network charges is underpinned by the claim that rooftop solar does little to reduce peak demand.

There is increasing evidence that that is not the case. Peak demand has been pushed in some states to the evening, after the sun comes down, but what is often not displayed is what the peak would have looked like without rooftop solar.

In short, it would have occurred earlier in the day, and at a much higher peak. This is critical, because networks super-sized their grid in anticipation of big rises in peak demand. The combination of energy efficiency and rooftop solar and declining industrial demand has junked those forecasts. But we’re still paying for the investment.

This graph released last week by the Australian Energy Market Operator, in a presentation on the WA market that it now manages, illustrates the point in Western Australia.
The peak – without solar PV – would have appeared at 3pm in Perth, and be considerably higher than the peak level with solar PV, which now occurs at 4.30p. Yet still, the network wants solar households to be hit with higher network fees, another example of where the benefits of rooftop solar are not factored in.

Gotta love big business blaming people for doing the right thing, and finding a way to make it seem like it was the wrong thing.
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Apple News app is off to a rocky start » WSJ

Jack Marshall and Steven Perlberg note that it has been undercounting the number of users (oopsie!), though nobody knows by how much:

In response to requests from publishers, Apple said it now allows the integration of features from measurement specialist comScore into the app. Apple initially provided updates about the app’s usage by emailing spreadsheets that give a high-level overview of usage, but publishers want a more robust self-service dashboard to access that information.

Media outlets say they have questions about advertising, too.

If they sell their own ads, Apple requires that publishers use its iAd advertising technology to insert, or “serve,” them. Many publishers would prefer to use ad-serving tools provided by other companies such as Google. Requiring publishers to devote resources to a tool they only would use for Apple News could make them question whether it is worth it.

Mr. Cue said he was surprised by the extent to which publishers call on Apple to handle ad sales. He said Apple has accelerated the development of its iAd network and expects to launch a self-service ad-buying platform in the next two months to help increase ad spending.

Thin end of a wedge which Apple might want to consider. As surely as night follows day, advertisers will want to retarget ads across different publishers within Apple News, which means personalisation and user identification. Is news really that important?
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Snapchat’s valuation is based on a single flawed assumption » LinkedIn

Dare Obasanjo:

Instagram has about 300 million active users and is projected to make about $700m this year. One might then assert that $2 a user is a reasonable target for a social media app that is light on ads. Heck, I honestly haven’t seen an ad on Instagram outside of screenshots in news stories about ads on Instagram. Reddit is a popular social media site that has about half the users of Instagram with about 160 million active users. How much do you then think they made last year? $350m? $175m? $100m? $80m?

Nope. The answer is $8m. That’s 5 cents a user.

What Reddit has found out the hard way is that their advertising doesn’t fit natively into their platform.Their ads often don’t match the form of the content and when it does, it doesn’t match user intent for what they want out of Reddit. On the other hand, people go to Instagram to see beautiful photos. Beautiful photos from brands they’ve expressed an affinity with via Facebook or Instagram’s social graph are the epitome of a native advertising slam dunk. The results advertisers have seen speak for themselves.

Is Snapchat like Reddit or like Facebook? Snapchat’s original product is actually quite bad from an advertising perspective. When you launch it to send messages you start directly in the camera so no place for ads. Secondly, ads into the user’s inbox of received messages or as part of message viewing would be extremely disliked by users and isn’t aligned with user intent.

He has a point. Instagram’s ads (“sponsored posts”) are pretty dire, too.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Apple has a *lot* more people using its Music app since June


Beats1: listen for free. Photo by Janitors on Flickr.

Here’s a thing: substantially more people in the US are using Apple’s Music app since the launch of Apple Music at the end of June.

I’d already noticed this last week, but coincidentally on Sunday Apple let it be known that Apple Music now has passed 10 million (paying) subscribers. That’s up from 6.5m in October.

(As an effort to provide a counterpoint, Tech Insider said that Apple had claimed 11m trial subscribers back in August, so nyaaah. Except on reflection, that’s not surprising: many more will have signed up and dropped out.)

Spotify, not impressed, responded that it had had its “fastest subscriber growth ever” in the second half of 2015. Tech Insider ran the numbers, which would mean 5m new paying subscribers, and perhaps put it at 25m-30m paying subscribers.

But anyway, let me put in my chunk of insight. Which of course goes against the general punditry that Apple Music is rubbish, worse than Spotify, etc. This is the trouble with punditry: it tends to be myopic and ignore what lots of people actually do. (Sure, Apple Music’s interface and general paradigm can be confusing: what’s “my” music and what’s “Apple’s” music? Why are they different? That’s a result of the challenge of migrating people used to “download and own” to “stream and never own”.)

Wo-o-oah, listen to the Music

The data comes out clearly from the latest ComScore data surveying phone use, which takes us up to November 2015. ComScore monitors which apps people use on their phones during each month; the top ones, as you might expect, are Facebook, YouTube and Facebook Messenger. ComScore lists the top 15 (for iOS and Android – neither of the other two platforms has large enough user bases to be relevant) and you can work out the absolute numbers using a service, as well as the percentage, quite easily.

I’ve been collating the ComScore data for a long time, and the jump in Apple Music users since the service’s launch on 30 June is very noticeable. To make sure it’s not some weird artefact of its collection, I’ve compared it with another iPhone-only service, Apple Maps.

Here’s the percentage figure:

Screenshot 2016-01-08 14.28.18

And the absolute numbers:

Apple's Music app got a lot of new users

Apple’s Music app total users in the US (green line) v Maps (blue line). There’s a big jump.

There’s a general trend upwards in both services, but that’s also the same for Google Maps – in the same period from July 2013 to November 2015 its user numbers have gone from 61m to 91.1m, though with seasonal dips.

The absolute numbers for Apple Music are pretty impressive: they rose immediately from 46.8m users in June 2015 to 57.5m in July. In November, which is past the three-month trial period (if you’re trying the paid-for streaming service) it was 59.7m.

On that basis, it looks like Apple Music has got around 10m extra people using the Music app more regularly. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily paying for it; you can listen to Beats1 Radio for free, for example.

And there may be lots of people who are rolling into and out of the three-month unpaid trial. (I’m definitely not suggesting they’re all paying subscribers – that doesn’t make any sense.)

But the ComScore data looks like substantially more than a statistical blip. (I can’t tell whether iTunes Radio, launched in the US in September 2013 and later in Australia, made any difference; ComScore didn’t collect the Music app data back then.)

Apple’s going to keep adding subscribers, too; it has passed 1m downloads on Google Play, and some of those are sure to stick.

What about the others?

What about other music services? Pandora is the most used service on ComScore’s data, with between 77m and 80m users across both iOS and Android in the same period; it doesn’t vary much.

Spotify doesn’t figure in the top 15 apps via ComScore, and never has; that means it must have fewer paying (and so mobile) users in the US than Snapchat, which has made a couple of appearances in the top 15 with about 22m monthly active users. But since we’ve already seen that Spotify’s worldwide paying user base (who are the only ones who can get it on mobile) has only just hit that figure, that’s not surprising.

This isn’t a fair comparison for Spotify, though: both Pandora and Apple’s Music app have free elements (you can just be using the Music app to listen to your own music, while Pandora offers free streaming in the US). It’s quite possible that it has a few million users in the US; its repeated appearance in the top-grossing charts for the US suggests it is getting some useful subscription moolah.

At the same time, that jump in Apple Music users does point to something else which the numbers above already point to: the streaming business can be additive – it’s not limited to the small numbers who are using it now. Apple has added 10m paying subscribers to the pool in six months, and Spotify has added perhaps another 5m. For music, that has to be good.

The YouTube problem

If the labels could be persuaded to lower their prices, it might expand the paying audience for streaming services even further. Though the enemy to that is always YouTube, the giant elephant in the streaming room, used by millions to get their music fix for free. (Read Mark Mulligan on this; it’s truly quite scary for those used to the old world of the music labels.)

Until the music business figures out what it wants to do about YouTube, persuading people to pay for streaming in substantial numbers will continue to be a struggle. But it can be done.

Start up: smart TV+dumb ads, dual camera phones, Apple registers .car, Fitbit spins, and more


“You’re classing this as not funny, right? RIGHT?” Photo by .robbie on Flickr.

We’re back! Don’t forget you can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Then again, who’ll keep the web alive if you’re just reading email?

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

How to ban the banner ads from Panasonic Smart TVs » CNET

David Katzmaier:

When I reviewed the Panasonic TC-PVT50 series, I was annoyed to see that the latest software update caused a banner ad to appear for a few seconds whenever I turned on the TV. It disappeared quickly and only popped up upon power-on, but it was still obnoxious. The first thing I wondered was whether I could turn it off.

Happily, Panasonic built in a way to disable the advertising. It’s a simple, albeit buried, menu command. Here it is in a nutshell.

Five steps. But as I learnt on Twitter, Panasonic is also doing this for changes in volume on its Viera sets. And apparently Samsung does a version of the same annoyance.

Incredible that any hardware vendor would think people would welcome ads in that form.
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AI algorithm identifies humorous pictures » MIT Technology Review

Arjun Chandrasekaran from Virginia Tech and pals say they’ve trained a machine-learning algorithm to recognize humorous scenes and even to create them. They say their machine can accurately predict when a scene is funny and when it is not, even though it knows nothing of the social context of what it is seeing.

Psychologists have a relatively poor understanding of the mechanisms behind humor. Most theories of humor suggest that its key components are qualities such as unexpectedness, incongruity, pain, and so on. When one or all of these elements are present in sentences, pictures, and videos, the chances of raising a smile are increased.

Chandrasekaran and co limit their study to pictures. And to keep things simple, they confine themselves to pictures created with a clip art program. This contains 20 “paper doll” human models of various ages, genders, and races with moveable arms and legs and eight different expressions. It also contains 31 animals in various poses and around 100 indoor and outdoor objects such as doors, windows, tables, sun, clouds, trees, and so on.

A key part of any machine-learning process is creating a database that contains good examples of the thing the algorithm has to learn. This is no easy task, particularly when it comes to something as subjective as humor.

The team tackles this by asking workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to create funny scenes using the clip art program, along with a short sentence describing why they think the scenes are funny. They also asked these people—turkers, as they are called—to create unfunny scenes.

You can read the paper on Arxiv. Do we trust Turkers to do humour?
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Kinect-like motion sensing comes to your phone » Tech in Asia

Michael Tegos:

According to [Extreme Reality], the Israeli startup, the software allows any kind of camera-enabled device to analyze a person’s body in 3D and perceive that person’s movements, enabling motion sensing and control for “any computing device or operating system.”

Extreme Reality highlights some diverse applications of its technology. Game developers X-Tech and Kokonut Studio have used it to enable motion control features in their mobile games, Snowball Effect and Sky Hero respectively. The player can simply place the phone or tablet on a table, step back, and control the games with their body.

It may not sound like the most attractive proposition – motion control games never did quite manage to bridge functionality and fun, and I haven’t tested this particular game to say for sure if it works or not. However, it’s impressive because just a few years ago, you had to buy an Xbox console with the Kinect accessory to do something like that.

The Technology Research Center at Finland’s Turku University has put the tech to use in research for exercise applications for the elderly. Titled Perceptions of the elderly users of motion tracking exergames, the research used Extreme Reality’s technology instead of spending money on expensive 3D cameras and sensors.

Other possible applications include education, marketing, and more, the startup says.

“Possible applications” always include marketing, because there’s always some idiot who thinks there’s a way to use a new idea to push ads or branding. But motion tracking just doesn’t have a clear use; the Kinect demonstrated that.
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Socionext shipping dual camera image processor » Image Sensors World

(Fujitsu + Panasonic Semi) introduces “M-12MO” (MBG967) Milbeaut Image Processor. The MBG967, which will be available in volume shipments starting in January, is mainly targeted at smartphones and other mobile applications. It supports dual camera, the latest trend in mobile applications, along with functionalities such as low light shot and depth map generation. The expansion of dual camera capabilities in the mobile camera market has been highly anticipated because dual cameras enable new functionalities previously considered difficult with mobile cameras. These include low light shot, which integrates images from color and monochrome sensors, and the generation of depth maps, which can create background blur comparable to that of SLR cameras.

Here’s what it looks like:

Coming soon to a smartphone near you, for sure.
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Apple registers ‘apple.car’ and other auto-related domains » Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

Apple has registered a trio of auto-related top-level domain names, including apple.car, apple.cars and apple.auto. Whois records updated on January 8 show that Apple registered the domains through sponsoring registrar MarkMonitor Inc. in December 2015, although the addresses are not yet active.

Pretty convincing. Only a question of how long now.
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Kenya’s mobile penetration hits 88% » Kenya Communications Authority

According to the quarterly sector statistics report by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), at the end of the quarter, mobile penetration stood at 88.1% with 37.8million subscribers up from 36.1 million in the previous quarter.

The report shows that pre-paid subscriptions continue to dominate the mobile telephony sector, registering 36.8 million subscribers, accounting for 97.3% of the total subscriptions. Post-paid subscriptions saw a marginal increase to 989,889 up from 963,684 in the previous quarter.

Other considerable gains were recorded in the Internet/data market, which has registered 21.6 million subscriptions up from 19.9 million in the last quarter.

Almost all of the internet subscriptions – 21.5m – are mobile data, out of an estimated total 31m internet users in the country. Also note:

Mobile money transfer service subscriptions increased to 28.7 million up from 27.7 million the previous quarter, with the number of mobile money agents recorded at 135,724 up from 129,357 in the previous quarter.

You can see the full report.
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How to talk to your Mom about AI » LinkedIn

Dennis Mortensen, founder of x.ai (which does the fantastic “Amy” helper app):

I tend to classify services as either Vertical or Horizontal AI.

Companies like textio, Automated Insights, and ours, have taken on a single problem. These services are laser-focused on executing one job—whether that’s optimizing job listings, writing data-based stories, or scheduling meetings.

I consider these Vertical AI. These agents promise no more and no less than to perform one job for you and to do it so well, you might even mistake them for a human.

In contrast, M, Cortana, and Siri are extremely expansive generalists (which is not to say this is not fantastic technology, because it is!). There’s no single use case, no single “job-to-be-done.”

They function more as massive question and answer settings (“What is the time in Berlin?”) or request, immediate-action settings (“Set my alarm for tomorrow morning 08:00 AM!”).

I see these as Horizontal AI.

Useful distinction. Expect to hear a lot more about AI this year.
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CES 2016: the toaster-fridge awakens — in 4K HDR! » iMore

Michael Gartenberg, formerly of Gartner and latterly of Apple’s product marketing department:

If you were at CES, you could see water bottles with screens, alarm clocks with smell, robots with video projectors, underwear that’s smart, and a tablet/refrigerator. That would have been all on one day. Yesterday.

CES started as a trade show for retail. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was a venue for great technology intros such as the CD (1981), the DVD, (1986) and HDTV (1998). By 2000, CES was the place to launch major products such as Xbox (2001). When I look at this year’s show, I see a lot of things no one needs, and few people will want. It’s a Sharper Image catalog brought to life, the ultimate “Why? Because I can!” So why is it still an important event? It’s the place to try and spot the new, new thing that might get consumers to replace the old, old thing. So far, I don’t see it but here’s what I do see.

He puts it elegantly, and you don’t need to read anything else about CES once you’ve read his take.
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Piece of the puzzle : Chromebooks in the US and the rest of the world » Naofumi Kagami

if you look at the chart below, it clearly shows that Chromebook market share is much higher for developed countries than for emerging ones. Although one might presume that cheaper Chromebooks are more suited for low-income countries, the reality is that the inverse is true; low-income countries prefer Windows.

The reason is clearly stated in the article:

The main issue with these countries is that they do not have the required broadband infrastructure to support the cloud-based storage requirements of Chromebooks.

We often only look at the flashy devices that we use, made by the most powerful tech companies in the world; Google, Microsoft and Apple. We often forget that to make these devices work, we need a lot of infrastructure. We also forget that WiFi can be very, very expensive when you want to deploy a network capable of handling hundreds of simultaneous connections. We forget the infrastructure because unless you have to dealt with it directly, it is invisible.

This is something to keep in mind.

• Google exists only because broadband Internet access is cheap. Its business model and its data collection relies on the infrastructure of vast network of Internet equipment that most people in developed countries now take for granted.
• Amazon exists only because of a highly developed and inexpensive network of deliveries to your doorstep. This was not common 30 years ago in Japan, and I assume, most other countries.
• Microsoft and Apple built their businesses before this infrastructure. They have business models that work without it.

Thinking the rest of the world looks just like the view outside your window is such an elementary mistake, but pundits make it again and again.
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Fitbit either doesn’t understand Apple Watch or hopes you won’t; neither is good » Forbes

Mark Rogowsky:

In announcing its own smartwatch, Fitbit directly acknowledged that Apple is competition but it appears to have shown up to a Swiss Army knife fight with a spork . Fitbit CEO James Park seems to think his simpler device — which is limited to fitness tracking, heart-rate monitoring, and a few other functions — is just what the market ordered. Park told the Financial Times: “People have struggled with what the killer app is for smartwatches. For us it’s health and fitness. It’s really cumbersome on the Apple Watch sometimes to see what is my daily activity because they are trying to do so many things.”

In two sentences, Park makes three pretty fundamental errors about the state of wearables today and how they are likely to progress. Let’s break them down one at a time.

Rogowsky skewers Fitbit (or its PR spin) thoroughly here; the stock market seems to have seen through it too, driving down Fitbit’s shares by 20% on seeing its clunky product.

Meanwhile, my estimates for Android Wear activations (based on Google Play data) suggests they crept past 3m just before Christmas, and now stand at 3.1 million. There wasn’t a big bump in activations over the holidays; I calculate they’re rising steadily at about 47,000 per week, or 0.5m per quarter.

That, in turn, would suggest – unless something changes – that Android Wear won’t pass the 5m downloads point on Google Play before September this year.
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(Wondering where Apple Music hitting 10m, and Spotify saying “huh” is? I’ll post on that separately, as I’ve got some separate data not covered in those stories.)

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none so far for 2016!