Start up: smartwatches’ app gap, games and VR, smart luggage risks, Apple’s China rivals, and more

Uber aims to dominate – but is that because governments no longer can? Photo by afagen on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Don’t put them anywhere Kanye West wouldn’t. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Smartwatches need to get smarter » Re/code

Walt Mossberg:

I don’t think the smartwatch needs one “killer app,” but I do believe it needs a capability more compelling than what’s out there so far. It needs to do something, all on its own, that’s useful, quick, secure and cool.

I have no crystal ball on this question, but I believe that one way to make the smartwatch indispensable is to make it a sort of digital token that represents you to the environment around you.

For instance, while the phone often is faster and easier for, say, using maps, the watch is much better positioned for communicating with smart items in your home, or even your car. It’s likely to be on your person more than your phone is, it knows who you are and it can be secured to be used by only you. So, with your permission, it could open your door, tell your thermostat you’re home, maybe even start your car remotely.

With your permission, it could open your door, tell your thermostat you’re home, maybe even start your car remotely.

In stores, you could opt in to letting the watch not just pay for items, but order frequent purchases automatically, as you approach. These tasks can be set up and customized on a bigger screen once, and then just happen, effortlessly and often, with the watch.

It’s the proximity thing – which Apple sort-of talked about with a hotel door that could be opened by the Watch when it was first unveiled. Then again, this model relies on the much-vaunted Internet of Things, and we know how swimmingly that’s going.
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Cheap cab ride? You must have missed Uber’s true cost » The Guardian

Evgeny Morozov:

To put it bluntly: the reason why Uber has so much cash is because, well, governments no longer do. Instead, this money is parked in the offshore accounts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms. Look at Apple, which has recently announced that it sits on $200bn of potentially taxable overseas cash, or Facebook, which has just posted record profits of $3.69bn for 2015.

Some of these firms do choose to share their largesse with governments – both Apple and Google have agreed to pay tax bills far smaller than what they owe, in Italy and the UK respectively – but such moves aim at legitimising the questionable tax arrangements they have been using rather than paying their fair share.

Compare this with the dire state of affairs in which most governments and city administrations find themselves today. Starved of tax revenue, they often make things worse by committing themselves to the worst of austerity politics, shrinking the budgets dedicated to infrastructure, innovation, or creating alternatives to the rapacious “platform capitalism” of Silicon Valley.

Under these conditions, it’s no wonder that promising services like [Finnish startup offering an “Uber of public transport”] Kutsuplus have to shut down: cut from the seemingly endless cash supply of Google and Goldman Sachs, Uber would have gone under as well. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Finland is one of the more religious advocates of austerity in Europe; having let Nokia go under, the country has now missed another chance.

Morozov nails so much of the fake mystique around these companies, but how many people are really listening?
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GDC: 16% of game developers are working on VR, up from 7% a year ago » GamesBeat

Dean Takahashi:

Virtual reality has the attention of game developers. A survey by the Game Developers Conference shows that 16 percent of all developers are working on VR titles for 2016, compared with just 7 percent a year ago.

In its fourth annual state of the industry survey, the GDC — the big game developer event that draws about 26,000 people to San Francisco in March — found that PC and mobile games are still the top platforms for developers, but VR is growing fast.

The survey was organized by UBM Tech Game Network, the owner of the GDC, and it is based on the feedback of 2,000 game developers from around the world. The GDC 2016 takes place from March 14 to March 18 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

“This year, VR is the thing that more developers want to do,” said Simon Carless, group executive vice president of UBM Tech, in an interview with GamesBeat. “It hasn’t taken over, but it has grown fast.”

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Xolo sees slumping sales, triggers employee exits » Times of India

Xolo, a sub-brand of homebred handset maker Lava International, has fallen on tough times, with slumping sales triggering a restructuring and employee exits. Its performance has been a drag on the parent, which, some estimates show, has dropped two positions since last year to the No. 5 spot in the fiercely competitive Indian market.

Marketing and sales teams at Lava and Xolo have been merged as part of a group-level restructuring aimed at reducing duplicate roles and bringing in efficiencies, several people close to the development told ET. Over the past few months, quite a few marketing and sales employees from Xolo have joined competitors, while some have been absorbed by Lava, one of them said. The company has shifted retail sales of Lava-branded devices exclusively to offline channels and Xolo to online platforms.

The Indian smartphone market is going through the same crunches as the broader market, but speeded up about fivefold.
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How Bluesmart’s connected luggage nearly got me kicked off a flight » The Next Web

Natt Garun:

[The TSA security officer] began sorting through my clothes when I looked up at the X-ray monitor and noticed a square around where the luggage’s battery pack would be. Realizing the potential issue, I explained to the officer what he might have been looking for.

“Can you get it out?” he asked. Unfortunately, it was underneath the lining of the interior, so I couldn’t unless I was willing to cut the bag open and break the plastic box.

At this point a second officer shows up to give me the inevitable pat down, and she starts looking through my luggage. They swab it as part of an Explosives Trace Detection test and the bag alarms.

“Miss, where are you headed?”

“Las Vegas – I’m going to CES and I’m actually reviewing this bag for the event.” I explained the concept of the bag and tried to show them the booklet that came with the luggage. The second officer warns me not to touch the bag while she’s inspecting.

At this point my flight was boarding in 40 minutes, and I asked the officers if I’d make my flight.

“I’d be more concerned about your bag than making the flight right now,” she responded.

And so she took out the entire contents of my bag, patting each section as I stood there mortified that my bras and underwears were laid out for all of Chicago O’Hare to see.

Once the bag was empty, the officer pulled apart a velcro strip at the fold of the bag.

My body turned cold.

Really terrible design. And – a “smart case”? Dumb.
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Outsiders’ chance » The Economist

Without divine intervention, it is hard to imagine Americans electing either of the Republican front-runners to be president. The lesson the party drew from Mitt Romney’s failure to dislodge Mr Obama in 2012 was that, in an increasingly diverse society, the Grand Old Party needed to widen its appeal. Mr Cruz’s target audience, white Christians, represent less than half the population. The obvious solution was to woo Hispanics, one of America’s fastest-growing electoral groups, who hold some conservative views, though only 27% of them voted for Mr Romney.

That was why, in 2013, a handful of Republican senators, including Marco Rubio, who is running third in the primary contest, joined a bipartisan, and ultimately fruitless, effort to legalise the status of millions of illegal immigrants. “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you…if they think you want to deport their grandmother,” declared Mr Rubio, a son of poor Cuban immigrants, at the time. It is even harder when you call them rapists. Mr Trump is easily the most disliked candidate of either party; 60% of voters disapprove of him.

There is a consolation for the Republicans. The Democrats could nominate someone even less electable.

In case you’d forgotten that the Iowa caucuses – where about 250,000 people can begin to decide who gets to be that nominee – begin on Monday.
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GPS glitch caused outages, fuelled arguments for backup » Inside GNSS

Dee Ann Divis:

Less than a month after Europe switched off most of its Loran transmitters, a problem with GPS satellite timing signal triggered alarms across the continent and caused an unknown number of outages, including the disruption of some features of critical infrastructure.

The GPS problem was caused by an error in ground software uploaded January 26 as system operators removed space vehicle number (SVN) 23 from service. The long-planned deactivation of SVN 23, the oldest of the GPS satellites, clears the way for a new satellite, the last GPS Block IIF, which is to be launched February 4.

The software problem, however, threw GPS’s coordinated universal time (UTC) timing message off by 13 microseconds, which affected the timing data on legacy L-band signals and the time provided by GPS timing receivers, said 50th Space Wing spokesman James Hodges. The problem did not appear to have affected the GPS systems’s ability to provide positioning and navigation service…

…”Every support contract that we have that involves GPS timing receivers called in to say, ‘We’ve got a problem. What’s happening?’ [Charles] Curry [of Chronos Technology] told Inside GNSS.

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The future is near: 13 design predictions for 2017 » Medium

Chase Buckley:

With UX Evangelists like Tobias van Schneider, Jennifer Aldrich and Chase Buckley behind the wheel, we are steering towards a brighter future. A future where little big details bring about user delight at every corner, where device agnostic pixel perfection is the norm, and where simple day to day experiences engage, excite, and stimulate users in new and innovative ways.

So where do you fit into all of this? To architect the experiences of tomorrow, you must first design the interactions of today. It is not enough to look in front of you; 2016 is already here. You must look ahead, to the future — to 2017 — where the real paradigm shifting trends of tomorrow lie in wait.

This introduction does feel like something from The Office (Chase Buckley referring to himself in the third person? “Architect” as a verb?) but the ideas, especially “failure mapping”, are great.
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Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo: the challengers leading China’s charge against Apple » The Guardian

My contribution to the wider wisdom on the topic:

China’s phone market, which accounted for a third of all smartphone sales worldwide in 2015, is already slowing as the number of first-time phone buyers declines and people delay replacement purchases. A year ago, phones were being replaced on average after just 13 months; now that period is lengthening. According to Woody Oh, an analyst at research group Strategy Analytics, total Chinese smartphone sales in October-December actually fell by 4%, to 118m; Apple sold 15.5m phones there, up from 13.5m a year before, while its worldwide sales remained flat at 74.4m.

But that was only enough to make Apple the third-biggest supplier behind local firms Huawei (pronounced “Hoo-wah-way”) and Xiaomi (“she-yow-mee”), which each sold nearly 18m units. And just behind Apple were two more local rivals, Vivo and Oppo.

China’s smartphone market was 438m overall in 2015. That’s about 30% of the entire market.
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Qwerty Looks Set to Stay on Smartphones » CCS Daily Insight

George Jijiasvlii:

I’ve been learning to touch type using the Dvorak keyboard on my laptop for about a month, practising for about 30 minutes per day. I find the Dvorak layout more comfortable, but still can’t type anywhere near as quickly as I can with qwerty. Made-for-smartphone keyboards are similarly more logical, accurate and faster in theory, but require the dedication of enough time to become proficient in using them. The problem lies in this commitment: changing something that’s become second nature is a difficult task.

Qwerty appears here to stay on physical keyboards and smartphones alike, as I don’t expect new designs will win over the masses or disrupt qwerty’s huge installed base any time soon. But the future of mobile communication might not be about taps, swipes or gestures after all.

Our latest multi-country wearables end-user survey found that about 70% of smartphone owners now use voice commands at least once a week, with 20% using the feature on a daily basis. The past few years have seen intelligent personal assistants like Cortana, Google Now and Siri becoming an integral part of the mobile experience, and I won’t be surprised if we revert back to the most rudimentary manner of communication: speech.

Hadn’t seen that voice data anywhere else. A data point in the desert.
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Windows Phone is dead » The Verge

Tom Warren:

With Lumia sales on the decline and Microsoft’s plan to not produce a large amount of handsets, it’s clear we’re witnessing the end of Windows Phone. Rumors suggest Microsoft is developing a Surface Phone, but it has to make it to the market first. Windows Phone has long been in decline and its app situation is only getting worse. With a lack of hardware, lack of sales, and less than 2% market share, it’s time to call it: Windows Phone is dead. Real Windows on phones might become a thing with Continuum eventually, but Windows Phone as we know it is done.

Did not think the app situation could get worse on WP, but that links shows that yes, it can. I wrote about why Microsoft keeps Windows Phone (perhaps soon to be rebranded Surface Phone) going. And that remains the reason: it’s not about phones.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

One thought on “Start up: smartwatches’ app gap, games and VR, smart luggage risks, Apple’s China rivals, and more

  1. Should the tax efficiency (or lack of it) of a company determine how the consumer spends their cash? So what is “Uber’s true cost”? Everyone is allowed to avoid but not evade tax and statements such as “Apple and Google paying less tax than they owe” are simply inaccurate and fuel a false debate. The problem (if that’s what it is) lies with the worlds governments’ inability to have fiscal regimes that meet today’s circumstances.

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