Start up: Apple’s VR effort, why zebras really have stripes, the PC mergers, Facebook v your battery, and more

Call a locksmith in the US and their yield – and your loss – might be higher than you expect. Photo by zoomar on Flickr.

Did you sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email? Then you’re reading this on email. You clicked a confirmation link to say it wasn’t spam. Well done.

A selection of 11 links for you. Made of unobtanium and polished with unicorn tears. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple builds secret team to kick-start virtual reality effort » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

The company’s latest acquisition in the area is Flyby Media, an augmented reality start-up that lets mobile devices “see” the world around them. Flyby’s team worked closely with Google in developing software for its 3D positioning technology Project Tango.

Apple has been building prototypes of possible headset configurations for several months.

Apple joins a growing focus in Silicon Valley on VR and AR as companies from Facebook and Google to Microsoft and Samsung eye the next big technology platform.

The news comes after the Financial Times reported that Apple had hired Doug Bowman, a leading VR researcher.

Tim Cook, chief executive, declared earlier this week that the technology had broad appeal. “It is really cool and has some interesting applications,” Mr Cook said on Tuesday, as Apple reported iPhone sales growth had slowed to a halt.

Bradshaw has had scoop after scoop since moving to San Francisco.
link to this extract

 


To lions, zebras are mostly gray » The Atlantic

Ed Yong:

“At most distances, the zebras are going to look to a lion like a gray waterbuck,” says [Tim] Caro [of University of California, Davis]. “Those stripes are going to fuse together and be indistinguishable.”

That rules out both the blends-among-trees idea and the breaks-up-outline one — neither can possibly be true if the predators can’t see the stripes. “If the stripes are doing something exciting, they’ll be doing it close up, by which point the predators have probably realized the zebra is there, because they can smell or hear it,” says Caro. Zebras, being very noisy browsers, are hardly stealthy.

“It’s the first proper test of a very longstanding and prominent idea,” says Martin Stevens from the University of Exeter, who studies camouflage. Its only flaw is that the team didn’t specifically measure how closely a zebra matches its background environment, in either color or brightness. Still, “I very much doubt zebra stripes do work in concealment,” adds Stevens.

So, if not camouflage, then what?

Caro, who has been studying zebras for a decade and has written a forthcoming book about their stripes, thinks he knows the answer. “I’ve come to the conclusion that really, it just has to be biting flies,” he says.

You what now? But yes, it is.
link to this extract

 


Supply chain braces for possible merger of Vaio, Toshiba, Fujitsu PC units » Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Steve Shen:

Japan-based PC brand vendors Vaio (sold from Sony), Toshiba and Fujitsu reportedly are ready to merge their notebook businesses into a company, a move which will affect Taiwan-based notebook ODMs, particularly Pegatron Technology, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Pegatron received over 50% of Toshiba’s notebook orders in 2015 and has also led other rivals to win over 50% of the vendor’s request for the quotation (RFQ) for notebook orders for 2016, the source indicated.

However, Pegatron has recently been notified by Toshiba to halt production of 300,000 units of mainstream models which are scheduled to be shipped soon, indicating that the merger talks between the three Japan-based companies are likely to be finalized shortly, said the sources. Pegatron declined to comment on its orders.

Consolidation among smaller players. Inevitable, given the market. But which brand will they merge under?
link to this extract

 


Following Apple’s move, Samsung rolls out adblocking to Android devices » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

Soon after Samsung’s announcement of an API for content blocking], ad blocker makers launched versions of their apps for supported Samsung phones. This includes Crystal and Adblock Fast, which were among the first out of the gate. The latter claims over 200,000 users for its app that’s also live on Chrome, Opera and Safari. It offers seven optimized filtering rules which make websites run, on average, 51 percent faster, the company says.

Crystal offers a similar filter list, and blocks tracking technology, malware and social networking annoyances, while also offering users the ability to support sites that conform to the Acceptable Ads criteria by allowing non-intrusive advertising.

Expect more to follow. The question now will be whether or not Samsung owners will rush to install these applications, as the iOS audience once did. Even if they don’t show up in droves, the move by Samsung, which had a 22.2% share of the smartphone market in 2015, could see other Android smartphone makers doing the same, as the tech could be seen as a competitive advantage.

Only for Samsung Galaxy devices running Android 4.0 and above, but that’s still a lot. Samsung is clearly responding to Apple; how long before adblocking is natively included in mobile browsers, and how long before it’s enabled by default?
link to this extract

 


Uninstalling Facebook app saves up to 20% of Android battery life » The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

Prompted by [Russell] Holly’s revelation that life on Android was better without Facebook’s app, Reddit user pbrandes_eth tested the app’s impact on the performance of an LG G4.

They found that when the Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps were uninstalled, other apps on the smartphone launched 15% faster. They tested 15 separate apps, and documented the findings, leading other reddit users to test other devices. They found similar results when testing for app loading performance.

After reading Holly’s piece, I had also decided to explore other options for accessing Facebook, to see if, rather than app loading, I could improve my smartphone’s battery life.

I left the Facebook Messenger app installed, but swapped the Facebook app for an app called Metal, which acts as a wrapper for Facebook’s mobile site. Over the course of a day my Huawei Nexus 6P had 20% more battery. This was true on average for every day for the week tried.

In Metal I was using the same notifications and accessing the same features as I had just a week earlier through the Facebook app, so why the difference?

Because the Facebook app uses every trick it can to find out what you’re doing, all the time. I deleted the main app on iOS ages ago (and might do the same for Messenger) and only access it through the mobile site, on a browser. This has two advantages: your battery life improves by many, many hours, and if you use an adblocker, the ads will be blocked.
link to this extract

 


Secret motor found on cyclist’s bike at world championships » Reuters

Ian Chadband:

The motor was discovered inside the frame of the machine being used by teenager Femke Van den Driessche at the world cyclo-cross championship in Zolder, Belgium, Bryan Cookson, the president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), said.

“It’s absolutely clear that there was technological fraud. There was a concealed motor. I don’t think there are any secrets about that,” Cookson told a news conference.

Yet the 19-year-old Van den Driessche denied suggestions she had deliberately used a motorized bike in the women’s under-23 race and was in tears as she told Belgian TV channel Sporza: “The bike was not mine. I would never cheat.”

Van den Driessche said the bike looked identical to her own but belonged to her friend and that a team mechanic had given it her by mistake before the race.

The bike was later seized after she had withdrawn from the race on Saturday with a mechanical problem.

I would like to know (1) how the motor worked (2) if her story is true, why the friend’s identical-looking bike had a hidden motor.
link to this extract

 


Worldwide shipments of slate tablets continue to decline while detachable tablets climb to new high » IDC

Total shipments for 2015 were 206.8m, down -10.1% from 230.1m in the prior year. Despite the market’s negative trajectory overall, shipments for detachable tablets reached an all-time high of 8.1m devices.

The transition towards detachable devices appears to be in full swing as pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline to date of -21.1%. On the other hand, detachable tablets more than doubled their shipments since the fourth quarter of last year.

“This quarter was unique as we had new detachables in the market from all three of the major platform players,” said Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “Despite lukewarm reviews, the iPad Pro was the clear winner this season as it was the top selling detachable, surpassing notable entries from Microsoft and other PC vendors. It’s also important to note that the transition towards detachable tablets has presented positive opportunities for both Apple and Microsoft. However, Google’s recent foray into this space has been rather lackluster as the Android platform will require a lot more refinement to achieve any measurable success…”

…”One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, Research Director, Tablets at IDC. “We believe Apple sold just over two million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3. With these results, it’s clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable – performance is.”

That last quote is going to rile some people who insist you need a “full-fat” OS to do “real work” and that the iPad can’t “perform”. (They’ve usually not used one for years.)

This is getting confusing, though. The “detachables” are ranked with the “slates” for sales purposes but treated as different in categorisation.

link to this extract

 


If the Hull Daily Mail website were a printed paper » YouTube

Terry Kent:

We are trying to demonstrate to the Hull Daily Mail Local publication (owned by parent company Local World )what it is like to read their news website(s) online.

Seems pretty accurate. You may know some sites like this yourself. (It’s not owned by the Daily Mail group, by the way.)
link to this extract

 


With a bet on a platform strategy, BuzzFeed faces business challenges » Digiday

Laura Moses finds some ad buyers not quite thrilled with what’s on offer:

buyers sometimes find BuzzFeed is more interested in what pops on platforms than what moves the needle for brands.

“We send a brief to BuzzFeed and what comes back is content that is no longer consistent with the brief,” said one ad buyer who requested anonymity because they do work with BuzzFeed.

Ian Schafer, CEO of digital agency Deep Focus, said clients have cooled on BuzzFeed’s content creation abilities, pointing to instances where clients used BuzzFeed for distribution but had the content created elsewhere.

“While brands are still in love with BuzzFeed’s distribution model, they don’t have the same blind faith in BuzzFeed from a branded content creation standpoint,” he said. “BuzzFeed has been skating on the ‘Dear Kitten’ example, but I can name like five of them from The New York Times. [The Times] is more able to deliver high-quality things that you remember.”

link to this extract

 


Google signals Apple-like direction for Nexus phones » The Information

Amir Efrati:

In the future, based on comments from Googlers to colleagues and outsiders, hardware makers will be much more like order-takers, similar to the way contract manufacturers like Hon Hai (Foxconn) follow Apple’s directions for producing the iPhone. Mr. Pichai also has said future Nexus phones may have only Google’s brand on them.

Google may be better off working directly with contract manufacturers rather than phone brands themselves under the new arrangement. But Google likely doesn’t yet have enough hardware expertise to go that route for phones the way Apple does.

Several of the phone brands might not participate in the program rather than capitulate to Google in such a way. One company that has been in talks with Google for a Nexus phone this year is HTC, says one person briefed on the matter. The person added that given the new arrangement Google has been aiming for, participation has been a controversial topic inside of HTC. After all, HTC was once was a contract manufacturer of phones that turned itself into the first major consumer brand for Android phones. It produced the first ever Android phone in 2008 and the first ever Nexus phone with Google in 2010. But for a variety of reasons, HTC’s consumer brand fell as quickly as it rose and the company is now a shell of its former self, though it still makes high-quality phones and is pushing into virtual reality and wearable devices.

Google has been comfortable with HTC’s engineering chops, and because of its experience producing devices, it might make sense as a partner for Google’s Nexus ambitions in the near term. While HTC is proud of its consumer brand, the company is likely desperate for more revenue and unit-sales volume. It’s possible there are financial or other considerations in its agreement with Google that make it more palatable. Spokespeople for Google and HTC did not comment.

What if… Google bought HTC? It could pick it up for loose change and have a sub-scale phone manufacturer and VR device maker which it could get to do just what it wants, aiming at the high end.
link to this extract

 


Fake online locksmiths may be out to pick your pocket, too » The New York Times

David Segal, with a terrific piece that uncovers all sorts of fakery around one of the real “captive market” situations – people who need a locksmith in a hurry and hit Google to find one:

Today, a well-oiled system keeps young Israelis flowing to the United States for locksmith jobs. Companies beckon on Israeli employment websites such as Maka (Hebrew for “score”). Among those currently hiring are Green Locksmith, Locksmith Garage, CT Locksmith and Mr. Locks. The latter, which claims its main office is in TriBeCa, promises that employees will earn as much as $4,000 a month and says it is looking for people “who are not afraid of new things.” Like many of these companies, Mr. Locks covers itself by stating — in Hebrew and on a site that caters to Israelis — that it is looking for United States citizens.

Many of the recruits later establish their own lead-gen operations, which then recruit more talent. This has increased competition and made deceiving Google an ever more esoteric pursuit. That was evident during a conversation with Roy Alverado, the owner of Locksmith Force, the company that created the fake pink building in Sun City. He insisted that he ran an authentic local business, with trained and courteous locksmiths.

As for that fake building: “We wanted to have a store in that area, but the rents were too high,” he said. He told a web design firm to create a building using Photoshop. Actually, all but one of the buildings are Photoshop creations, since Locksmith Force’s sole physical location is in Phoenix, Mr. Alverado said. The more buildings on the site, he candidly stated, the more people would believe they were calling someone who could show up at a car or house quickly.

Mr. Alverado said those fake buildings were necessary because getting to the first page in Google results now took ingenuity and cunning.

The “locksmith problem” has been well-known for years, inside and outside of Google. Trouble is, Google has little incentive to fix it; it makes money from people clicking on ads in desperation. (The headline’s slightly off; there are real – not fake – locksmiths, but they’re looking to gouge you if you hire them.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

One thought on “Start up: Apple’s VR effort, why zebras really have stripes, the PC mergers, Facebook v your battery, and more

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s