Start up: Android antitrust?, Flickr flickers, Apple gets small, Opera adblocks, an iPhone killer dies, and more

Sonos is cutting jobs but says voice recognition and streaming will be bigger parts of its future. Photo by nan palmero on Flickr.

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

What happens when video games can read your face » Fast Company

Elizabeth Segran:

»Game developers have always been interested in how players might react to the characters and plots they created—but what if they could tell exactly how the player was feeling and tailor the game to their mood?

“Back in the olden days we had to do a lot of guesswork as game designers,” says Erin Reynolds, the creative director of the gaming company Flying Mollusk. “Is the player enjoying this? Is the player bored? You had to create a game that was one size fits all.”

But all that is changing fast. Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off that creates technology that recognizes people’s emotions by analyzing subtle facial movements, has created a plugin that game developers can integrate into their games to make them more emotion-aware.

«

The warm bath of AI – it’s all around you.
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EU taking steps towards formal complaint against Google’s Android » Bloomberg Business

Aoife White:

»The European Union may be gearing up to send Google an antitrust complaint over its Android mobile phone operating system, adding to a growing list of regulatory woes for the company on the continent, according to three people familiar with the probe.

The Internet giant’s opponents have been asked to remove any business secrets from documents submitted to regulators to prepare non-confidential versions that could be shown to Google after a statement of objections, said the people who asked not to be named because the investigation is private.

«

That’s certainly a key step towards a Statement of Objections. But it’s been more than a year since Vestager raised the SOO to Google’s search, and nothing has happened. Why will this make any difference?
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Android N’s under-the-hood changes might point to a new future for OS updates » Android Central

Jerry Hildenbrand:

»Imagine a world where Samsung can have its vision of Android running just how it likes it, while deep system processes — like the infamous Stagefright library — are separate and untouched. That would mean that Samsung or Google could push out changes to their separate parts of the system far more easily (and much faster) than they can today without interfering with the other half of the system. (With APIs and libraries to bridge the gap.) The manpower alone that this situation frees up means more people are available to work on making the Samsung experience better without having to worry about the underlying Android code.

With Android N, Google has essentially started to divide Android into two sections: the core OS (the framework that makes everything work) and the interface (the apps, launcher, notifications, and everything else the user interacts with).

«

Sounds nice. Any reasonable estimate suggests that Android N will be on about a third of Android devices 18 months after it is announced; Lollipop (v 5.x) is now on 36.1% of devices, having been released in November 2014. So that suggests, if N goes live in November, that it’s going to be 2018 before any of this is really widespread.
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Apple invites media to March 21 product event » Mashable

Lance Ulanoff:

»No one expects cutting-edge technology from the new 4-inch phone. Most rumors have pegged it with the last-generation A8 chip and an 8-megapixel camera. It will also, at a rumored $450, cost a lot less than Apple’s flagships, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Most people also expect an iPad Air 3. Apple’s latest 9.7in tablet will not be a great leap forward, but it should include an A9 processor, support for the Apple Pencil and maybe even Smart Connectors for accessories like an iPad Air-size Smart Keyboard.

This event will also mark the one year anniversary (plus a few days) of the official introduction of Apple’s first wearable, the Apple Watch. No one is predicting new hardware; the Apple Watch design will probably be fixed for at least another six months. There are rumors, though, of even more watch band styles and, possibly, some new Apple Watch colors and materials.

This is also the time of year where Apple does a laptop refresh. A year ago it introduced the ultra-light, gold MacBook, which was notable for having just a single USB-C port. The device is an engineering wonder, but its processor, the Intel Core M, is over a year old. Expect an upgrade to Intel’s sixth-generation Core line (a.k.a. Skylake). Apple could also introduce upgrades for the MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro.

There’s always the possibility of a surprisem, like a brand new gadget or accessory. It’s certainly been ages since Apple upgraded the earbuds that ship with the iPhone. Maybe they’ll finally get a Beats upgrade.

«

They all sound like solid upgrades; watching the effect of a new 4in iPhone on sales will be telling.
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Navigating an industry in transition, investing in the future of music » Sonos

Sonos chief executive (and co-founder) John McFarlane on how future music streaming and voice control will be key to the company’s future:

»Now the path forward for the music industry is crystal clear, so too is our path at Sonos. We’re doubling down on our long-held conviction that streaming music is the dominant form of consumption now and in the future. We believe that listeners will grow increasingly dissatisfied with the solutions they’ve cobbled together for listening at home.

“Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company.”
Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company, and will be at the vanguard of what it means to listen to music at home. This is a significant long-term development effort against which we’re committing significant resources.

Voice: we’re fans of what Amazon has done with Alexa and the Echo product line. Voice recognition isn’t new; today it’s nearly ubiquitous with Siri, OK Google, and Cortana. But the Echo found a sweet spot in the home and will impact how we navigate music, weather, and many, many other things as developers bring new ideas and more content to the Alexa platform.

Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home. Its popularity with consumers will accelerate innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become standard tomorrow. Here again, Sonos is taking the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled music experiences into the home. Voice is a big change for us, so we’ll invest what’s required to bring it to market in a wonderful way.

«

Apparently the new Sonos Play:5 has a microphone built in, but not – it seems – enabled yet. McFarlane also says there are layoffs, though the number isn’t specified. The admiration for Amazon’s Echo is something to note, though.
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Flickr’s desktop auto-upload feature is no longer free » VentureBeat

Ken Yeung:

»Flickr has made a change to its $5.99 monthly Pro membership plan that will affect those using the photo-sharing social network for free. Starting today, its desktop Auto-Uploadr tool will be exclusive to paying customers. But all is not lost, as the company is offering a 30 percent discount to non-paying members to upgrade.

With the desktop Auto-Uploadr feature, users can automatically upload all of their photos from anywhere, while also making them accessible from any device. Introduced in May and available for Windows and Mac computers, it promised to take images from your hard drive, iPhoto, and any external hard drive and store it on Flickr’s servers. This was intended to tout the company’s increase in free storage capacity of up to 1000GB.

«

Feels like the first turn of the screw.
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The roots of Tim Cook’s activism lie in rural Alabama » The Washington Post

Todd Frankel got sent down to Alabama to see what the hell he could find in the town where Tim Cook grew up. Turned out, not much to find:

»Robertsdale today is a two water-tower town of about 5,200 residents. It’s doubled in size since Cook grew up here, with houses spreading across former farm fields. The town got its first Walmart Supercenter two years ago.

Back in 1977, the new store in town was a Piggly Wiggly. There was no movie theater. No bowling alley. The fall county fair was the big deal. Teens hung out on the town’s tennis courts or outside Hammond’s Supermarket, where they knew the owner. “There was nothing to do,” said Teresa Prochaska Huntsman, another Class of ’78 alum.

School was the center of their lives. And Cook excelled there. He was in the National Honor Society and racked up academic honors. So did Huntsman, who managed to edge out Cook for the title of class valedictorian…

…“He probably considered himself to be a bit nerdy, but he didn’t come off that way,” recalled Harold Richardson, another former classmate.

And the topic of whether Cook — or any other student — was gay wasn’t even on the radar. “In the ’70s, in high school, no one thought about that, especially in Alabama,” Richardson said. It was like it wasn’t even possible.

Growing up gay in small-town Alabama a generation ago meant knowing the value of privacy, recalled Paul Hard, 57, who was raised in tiny Demopolis, Ala. He doesn’t know Cook, but imagines what he went through, because he went through it himself. “You kept your cards close to your chest,” he said.

«

The photo of Cook in the high school yearbook is amazing, though. Took me quite a while to find it.
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China’s best iPhone clone maker bites the dust » Tech In Asia

Charlie Custer:

»So what killed Dakele? Frankly, having a good-quality, low-cost smartphone simply isn’t enough to win you customers in the Chinese smartphone market these days. While it worked in the early days of Xiaomi, when real iPhones were a luxury item and smartphone penetration was low, these days everybody in major cities has a smartphone, and the middle class has grown enough that Apple’s uber-expensive iPhone is consistently among China’s top sellers.

In this climate, investors are not longer interested in backing phone brands that only offer value-for-money. With virtually all of China’s internet giants getting in on the smartphone game, there are too many other companies out there that can offer the same kind of value for money in addition to other things, like an established customer base or unique software integrations. Dakele ultimately folded, according to Ding, because its sources of capital were cut off as investors became more interested in rivals. (It also probably didn’t help that the company Dakele outsourced its manufacturing to shut down last year.)

The most important lesson of Dakele’s death may be that in big, fast-growing markets like China the bang-for-buck approach to selling smartphones isn’t sustainable in the long term. In the early years of China’s smartphone market, knockoff brands and clone-makers like Dakele were making a killing, but the demise of Dakele suggest that now those days are well and truly gone. If you want to sell smartphones in China, having good specs and an affordable price isn’t enough to attract customers or investors anymore.

«

Now the question becomes: what is enough? Custer also points to other markets where the same lesson is likely to be learnt the hard way.
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Opera becomes first big browser maker with built-in ad-blocker » Reuters

Eric Auchard:

»Norwegian company Opera is introducing a new version of its desktop computer browser that promises to load web pages faster by incorporating ad-blocking, a move that makes reining in advertising a basic feature instead of an afterthought.

Faster loading, increased privacy and security and a desire for fewer distractions are behind the growing demand for ad-blockers.

However, their popularity is cutting into the growth of online marketing for site publishers and corporate brands, who rely on reaching web and mobile users to pay for their content rather than restricting access to paid subscribers.

Opera has a history of introducing innovations that later become common in major browsers such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking, which helped users control an earlier generation of in-your-face ads and malware disguised as advertising.

«

It’s that last paragraph that’s important: Opera introduced tabbed browsing in 2000, and by 2001 it was in Mozilla, then Safari in 2003, and IE in 2006. Adoption of new features could be even faster now.
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The Economist explains: Why fashion week is passé » The Economist

»Fashion week used to serve a distinct purpose. Designers would prepare collections and present clothes to the press, to major retailers and to select other industry insiders. Fashion editors would then prepare sumptuous magazine spreads featuring the clothes they liked best. Retailers would order this or that dress. About four to six months later, those clothes would appear in shops.

Technology has upended all this. As soon as models sashay down the runway, photographs are posted online and shared endlessly through social media. Fast-fashion brands copy designers’ styles (though the industry prefers the euphemism “interpret”), often stocking look-alikes in their shops before designers’ own clothes make it to department stores. When designers’ clothes do arrive, they seem stale . It is no coincidence that the world’s top two retailers are TJX and Inditex. TJX buys brand-name clothes from stores that can’t sell them at full price, then offers them at a deep discount. Inditex owns Zara, the pioneer in fast fashion.

Few designers like the current system. Less obvious is what they should do next.

«

(Via Benedict Evans.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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