Start up: self-driving trucks, Gen Z grapples with email, AI (lack of) manners, BB10 is a zombie, and more

dual smartphone cameras

Dual cameras (on the Huawei P9): perhaps only coming to the iPhone 7 Plus? 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.

A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe » Quartz

Joon Ian Wong:

»About a dozen trucks from major manufacturers like Volvo and Daimler just completed a week of largely autonomous driving across Europe, the first such major exercise on the continent.

The trucks set off from their bases in three European countries and completed their journeys in Rotterdam in the Netherlands today (Apr. 6). One set of trucks, made by the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, traveled more than 2,000 km and crossed four borders to get there.

The trucks were taking part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, organized by the Dutch government as one of the big events for its 2016 presidency of the European Union. While self-driving cars from Google or Ford get most of the credit for capturing the public imagination, commercial uses for autonomous or nearly autonomous vehicles, like tractors from John Deere, have been quietly putting the concept to work in a business setting.

«

There’s a video too. Obvious that trucks are a bit easier to automate than cars. But the job implications are enormous, as this piece from last June pointed out. Not just truck drivers; think truck stops too.
link to this extract

 


Amazon Echo is magical. It’s also turning my kid into an asshole » Hunter Walk

He likes the Amazon Echo. But:

»You see, the prompt command to activate the Echo is “Alexa…” not “Alexa, please.” And Alexa doesn’t require a ‘thank you’ before it’s ready to perform another task. Learning at a young age is often about repetitive norms and cause/effect. Cognitively I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around but not a person. At the very least, it creates patterns and reinforcement that so long as your diction is good, you can get what you want without niceties.

Our daughter’s fascination with the Echo isn’t an anomaly — I hear from lots of friends that their kids are the most enthusiastic users. Voice is a very natural interface for a child, especially pre-reading and writing. My friend Rebecca lovingly describes how the Echo has found a special place in their home.

So Amazon, you clearly have a hit on your hands. Can I request one thing? A kid-mode where the Echo only responds to “Alexa, please….” as opposed to just “Alexa.”

«

link to this extract

 


How not to get your question answered » doombot

Dan Moren:

»Most of the time the people I deal with are polite and appreciative that someone has even responded to their emails. I don’t want to get into a position of saying “Hey, you should be glad you even got an email back,” but let’s face it: a lot of people whose positions are similar to mine don’t have the time or interest to respond to queries that will take hours away from their actual paying work. But the rule of thumb seems like it should be this: when you ask a favor from someone, you should be civil and gracious for any time they take to help you out. That goes for dealing with people in pretty much any walk of life, in my opinion.

My latest email help request started innocuously enough. It wasn’t sent to the catch-all for the iPhone blog, or through Macworld’s contact form, but directly to my work address.

«

But oh boy, was it a doozy. This is from 2007 (hence how outdated the tech will seem) but stuff like this happens all the time.
link to this extract

 


Apple’s iPhone 7 to shift gear on dual rear cameras, hurting Sony » Barrons.com

Shuli Ren, quoting a Citi Research note which says:

»We expect Apple to release two 5.5″ iPhone 7 models but only include dual rear cameras in the high-end model. As a result, Apple could release four new iPhone products in 2016: the 7Plus premium, the 7Plus, the 7, and the SE.

In the last few years, Apple has added new features, including lightning connectors and haptic functionality, but the improvements in camera and display performance have been minor and there have been no dramatic changes. Overall, the adoption of customized components has declined. We believe this reflects a shift to a cost-focused strategy and that a stronger USD has been an important contributing factor. The number of iPhones that do not have a dual rear camera has increased and the number of haptic components has declined to one from two. Concerns about the iPhone losing its individuality may be valid.

We think this year’s iPhones, however, may scale back gains in performance and functionality to reduce costs. This cost conscious shift toward making lower-priced handsets targeting EMs resembles the shift undertaken by Nokia around 2005.

«

That hurts Sony because it sells the cameras to Apple. The segmentation sounds like a logical step.
link to this extract

 


Alibaba’s AI predicts 100% of winners in Chinese singing contest » Tech In Asia

Erik Crouch:

»Friday night was a big moment for Alibaba, when the company’s artificial intelligence made its public debut. It wasn’t at a university or a tech conference – it was as the super-judge on the popular Chinese reality singing show I’m a Singer.

Based on analyses of social media chatter, song popularity, the singers’ abilities, and more, the AI – named Ai – was able to accurately predict all of the show’s finalists and the grand winner.

«

Clever. But is it repeatable in the west?
link to this extract

 


BlackBerry switches focus back on mid-range smartphone market » The National

John Everington:

»“The fact that we came out with a high end phone [as our first Android device] was probably not as wise as it should have been,” Mr Chen said during a visit to Abu Dhabi.

“A lot of enterprise customers have said to us, ‘I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I’m more interested in a $400 device’.”

Mr Chen insisted that BlackBerry’s secure Android handset proposition was one that appealed particularly to enterprise consumers.

“We’re the only people who really secure Android, taking the security features of BlackBerry that everyone knows us for and make it more reachable for the market.”

But last week’s disappointing sales numbers have once again revived speculation that BlackBerry may finally decide to call time on its handset division and focus exclusively on its more profitable software services division, which it expects to grow by 30 per cent in the coming 12 months.

In a further blow to the company, Facebook and WhatsApp announced in March that they would drop support for their apps on BlackBerry’s BB10 operating system, which is on BlackBerry’s Passport, Classic and Leap devices.

Mr Chen said that while BlackBerry would continue to release updates for BB10, there were no plans to launch new devices running the operating system.

«

So it’s official: BB10 is dead. But did anyone ever really suggest to Chen that there was a high-end Android market that BlackBerry could break into?
link to this extract

 


For Generation Z, email has become a rite of passage » WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»You might think a generation as tech-savvy as this one, which can hardly remember a time before smartphones, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, would have embraced email in its infancy.

But progress has inverted the order in which Generation Z encounters many technologies, relative to their older peers. Many used tablets before laptops, streaming before downloads and chat before email. For them, email is as about as much fun as applying to college or creating a résumé.

“The way I first perceived email was, it was something my parents did for work,” says Zach Kahn, a 21-year-old senior at George Washington University.

I heard variants of this sentiment from 15 young adults, ages 16 to 21: Email is for communicating with old people, the digital equivalent of putting on a shirt and tie.

“I would never even think of emailing my friends, they would just react super weird,” says Tanya E. Van Gastel, a 21-year-old senior at University of Antwerp, in Belgium. “They would be like ‘Why don’t you text me?’ ”

«

link to this extract

 


Asustek reduces demand for Intel-developed smartphone platforms » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

»Asustek Computer has added platforms developed by Qualcomm and Taiwan-based MediaTek for its ZenFone-series smartphones, reducing the proportion of platforms developed by Intel, its original supplier. Asustek’s Intel chip demand is estimated to decrease from about 6m units in 2015 to below 5m units in 2016 and may be down further by 50% in 2017, according to industry sources.

With major clients such as Asustek and Lenovo cutting orders, Intel is under strong pressure to stay competitive in the market.

Intel’s mobile communication business lost over US$10 billion in the past three years and despite a merger with its PC Client Group, adjustments in business structure and marketing subsidies, the business is still suffering from losses.

Although Intel has been cooperating with first-tier smartphone vendors to develop products using its platform, Asustek and Lenovo are the only two players with large orders and Asustek is the largest client of Intel.

«

Intel’s mobile chip division is already sub-scale, and now it’s going to get even smaller.
link to this extract

 


Large malvertising campaign hits popular Dutch websites » Fox-IT International blog

»The malvertising is occurring through an advertisement platform which is actively used on the above mentioned websites. From the websites, external scripts are loaded which in turn redirect further towards the exploit kit. We’ve observed the Angler Exploit Kit being active on these redirects during this campaign. We have not seen any successful infections at our customer yet.

«

Fox-IT saw at least 288 large Dutch sites being hit on Sunday. The Angler Exploit Kit is a drive-by system which tries to find the best exploit depending on your browser, OS and any installed plugins.
link to this extract

 


Malware is getting nastier, but that shouldn’t matter » Computerworld

Steven Vaughan-Nichols:

»Another thing to keep in mind is that there are overwhelming odds that you would have to be running Windows for the malware to pose any sort of threat to you. Sure, it’s possible to hack Linux and Mac OS X, but the vast majority of attacks are almost always on Windows PCs. That’s not because Windows users are dumber than Linux and Mac users (well, I’m not going to say that, anyway); it’s just that there are a whole lot more of them.

But let’s say that you are running Windows. That hardly means you’re doomed. For the malware to get a toehold, you need to open a Windows format file — from a stranger. And why would you do that? Opening a Windows format file sent by someone you don’t know has been a mug’s move since the late ’90s, when Word macro Trojans, such as Melissa, were the last word in malware attacks.

Let me remind you of some security commandments that many of you seem to have forgotten…

«

Vaughan-Nichols then launches into a four-point list of mansplaining, or maybe virusplaining or Trojansplaining. Whichever, he completely misses the point. Users aren’t “stupid” for doing things that they have been trained by software companies to do for years – such as clicking “update” or “open” and ignoring warnings, because the warnings are too frequent and the explanations of why doing them is bad are too obscure. Plus, as the above example shows, you can get hit by a drive-by download which might infect you completely without warning.

As for “the vast majority of attacks are almost always on Windows PCs” – this is hardly a surprise.
link to this extract

 


Google Fiber free internet is (mostly) ending in Kansas City » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

»When Google Fiber first arrived, it came with a compelling pitch: Pay a one-time construction fee, and you get Internet access for free after that.

Now Fiber is dropping that option for new subscribers in Kansas City, its first market. In its place are two new plans: A faster option, Fiber 100, that costs $50 per month with no construction fee or contract; and a broader implementation of its agenda to wire economically underserved neighborhoods for free.

It’s unclear what Fiber’s exact motivation is here. A rep confirmed the pricing changes, but declined to comment further.

So let’s speculate!

It could signal that Fiber — the most expensive unit for parent Alphabet, besides Google — is facing more pressure to turn into a viable, competitive broadband and cable business. That means reaping real margins. And the new pricing model — no more wiring up houses essentially for free — could help Fiber get to better margins.

«

Nest is a mess; Boston Dynamics is on the block to be sold; there’s disarray at the Alphabet-owned life sciences company Verily. So not surprising that Alphabet is bringing the hammer down on Google Fiber, which at least has a business model that has been proven by others.
link to this extract

 


Why Verizon wants to buy Yahoo » Vox

Timothy Lee:

»AOL has a lot in common with Yahoo. Both companies are well-known internet brands whose best days are a decade or more in the past. Like AOL, Yahoo makes a lot of its money by creating internet content and selling ads against it.

When Verizon purchased AOL, it emphasized the company’s portfolio of media brands, including TechCrunch and the Huffington Post. But as Matt Yglesias wrote for Vox last year, Verizon may have also been interested in AOL’s ad technology business — and in particular how Verizon could use data gathered from its vast broadband and mobile networks to help AOL content companies target ads more effectively.

Either way, if Verizon was happy with its AOL acquisition, buying Yahoo, a company with a similar portfolio of technology, media, and advertising products, seems like a logical next step.

In recent years, scale has become increasingly important in the online advertising business. Advertisers prefer to make a few big ad deals rather than many small ones, so larger media companies are often able to command premium prices. With Yahoo and AOL under one roof, Verizon would be able to integrate their ad sales teams and offer advertisers packages that include media brands from both companies.

«

Point of order: do we think AOL or Yahoo really “create” a lot of content relative to their size? Or is it their users, in Flickr etc?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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