Start up: debunking uBeam, iTunes loss explained, Google’s payday venture, Apple R+D, and more

That lost Mayan city might just be an abandoned field of this stuff. Photo by North Cascades National Park on Flickr.`

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

An iTunes bug, not Apple Music, may be to blame for disappearing music libraries • iMore

Serenity Caldwell:

»Based on several Apple Support threads, it appears that the most recent version of iTunes 12.3.3 contains a database error that affects a small number of users, and can potentially wipe out their music collection after the update. The error has been mentioned a few times, primarily on the Windows side, in the weeks since the 12.3.3 update, but appears to be rare enough that it hasn’t previously received major press. Apple did put out a support document shortly after the 12.3.3 update that walks you through some fixes if you find that your local copies of music are missing.


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Google Ventures invests in LendUp, rethinks payday loan doorway pages • SEO Book

Aaron Wall:

»Today we get journalists conduits for Google’s public relations efforts writing headlines like: Google: Payday Loans Are Too Harmful to Advertise.

Today those sorts of stories are literally everywhere.

Tomorrow the story will be over. And when it is, precisely zero journalists will have covered the above contrasting behaviors [of Google Ventures, part of Alphabet, having invested in payday lender Lendup, which also uses the banned “doorway page” system to rank highly in organic search].

As they weren’t in the press release.

Best yet, not only does Google maintain their investment in payday loans via LendUp, but there is also a bubble in the personal loans space, so Google will be able to show effectively the same ads for effectively the same service
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Apple R+D reveals a pivot is coming

Neil Cybart:

»The most shocking aspect about the amount of money Apple is spending on R+D is how little attention it has garnered in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. Other than my R+D post last year, there is rarely any mention of Apple’s R+D, and this doesn’t seem to make much sense.

I suspect most of this has been due to the fact that Apple does not draw attention to its product pipeline and long-term strategy, choosing instead to embrace secrecy and mystery. Now compare this to Mark Zuckerberg laying out his 10-year plan for Facebook. It is easy and natural for people to then label Facebook as innovative and focused on the future. The same principle applies to Larry Page reorganizing Google to make it easier for investors to see how much is being spent on various moonshot projects. Jeff Bezos is famous for his attitude towards failing often and in public view, giving Amazon an aura of being a place of curiosity and boldness when it comes to future projects and risk taking.

Meanwhile, Tim Cook has remained very tight-lipped about Apple’s future, which gives the impression that Apple isn’t working on ground-breaking ideas or products that can move the company beyond the iPhone. Instead of labeling this as a mistake or misstep, Apple’s product secrecy is a key ingredient of its success. People like to be surprised. Another reason Apple takes a much different approach to product secrecy and R+D is its business model. Being open about future product plans will likely have a negative impact on near-term Apple hardware sales. Companies like Facebook and Google don’t suffer from a similar risk. The end result is that there is a legitimate disconnect between Apple’s R+D trends and the consensus view of the company’s product pipeline. Apple is telling us that they are working on something very big, and yet no one seems to notice or care. I find that intriguing.


You can see the spikes in R+D spending in 2001-5, when the iPod, iPad and iPhone got underway. The fact that it is ramping up so much while Apple’s revenues have grown so enormously does, indeed, point to plenty happening.
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Open letter to CMOs: Stop all mobile advertising immediately • VentureBeat

Scotty Moore:

»Many have jumped on the mobile advertising bandwagon, but I’m here to tell you that mobile advertising, as it currently exists, is a wasteful and non-productive activity. It wastes money, it wastes company time, it doesn’t deliver accurate results, and people hate it.

Now I’m not saying that marketers should completely give up on the mobile space. It is my opinion that branded apps are the better way to go about advertising on smartphones and tablets. However, before I can promote that idea I need to explain why mobile ads are such a bad investment.

If you’re a digital marketer, open up your analytics and take a look at your click-through rate. Hopefully it’s a pretty good number and you’re getting a good ROI on your ads. After all, that’s the whole point of any advertisement: get the customer to respond in a way we want.

Now what if I were to say that 60% of those clicks were complete accidents? Still getting a good ROI? And what if on top of that, viewers were getting mad at your brand because it was getting in the way of their smartphone use?

Not looking so hot now, is it?

Yet that is what the research is showing, according to a study done by Retale, a location-based advertising company. The study surveyed 500 people for a week toward the end of January, 2016. 69% said that they had clicked on a mobile advertisement on at least one occasion. 60% of respondents said the reason they clicked on the ad was an accident due to small screen size.


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uBeam: Former engineers doubt it can work • Business Insider

Biz Carson:

»While the tech press and investors lauded the startup’s gusto, skeptics of the company have long questioned uBeam’s technology.

Over time, the startup has claimed it can charge devices as far as 20 to 30 feet away, even in your pocket at a café. “The technology makes it possible for a device to move freely around a room, in a pocket or purse, while constantly charging,” the New York Times wrote about the company.

It has since walked back all of those measurements when it published its “confidential secrets” in TechCrunch.

The real range, uBeam proclaims, will be 4 meters, or 12 feet. And, it can only charge devices that are out in the open — not in a pocket, a laptop sleeve, or around any obstruction.

The company has never published articles in a peer-reviewed journal.
[Former CTO Paul] Reynolds’ blog argues that the math, using uBeam’s public-facing numbers, just doesn’t add up.

The company fails to address the problem of saturation, Reynolds’ post says. At the frequency, decibel level, and distance that uBeam claims, its ultrasonic waves will quickly distort, emitting a lot of heat. However at that level, the air also becomes saturated with the ultrasonic waves — it could keep pushing waves to generate power, but it would be doing very little more.


TechCrunch (which, to be fair, has published articles doubtful about this) had an earlier version which didn’t manage to find out who was writing the blog. Carson has found not one, but three sources.

And yes, this feels a lot like Theranos – high-tech startups doing edgey physical stuff which suddenly fall apart in the face of ex-employees’ revelations. Then again, there’s a reason why they’re called the laws of physics. (Cap’n.)
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How Mossack Fonseca missed warning signs of £70m boiler room fraud • The Guardian

Simon Bowers:

»The investor, James Burrows*, had become concerned after his payment had been sent to Globe Trade Services – a company registered to Mossack Fonseca’s offices in the BVI (and unrelated to a freight-forwarding firm in San Diego of the same name) – and he had not received his share certificates.

Having been unable to reach Price Stone, Burrows wanted an explanation from those involved with Globe.

In one email, he told Mossack Fonseca how a quick internet search had thrown up alarming allegations. “I am concerned to find out if this business is genuine,” he wrote. “There are alerts on the internet about pricestone and the[y] can be found on”

When the law firm wrote back two weeks later, the response was not helpful. “We have not received authorisation to release any information regarding this company,” the email said. “We will contact you should the client respond to our request for authorisation.”

But if Burrows’s intervention did not get him anywhere, it did cause a headache for Mossack Fonseca. Up to that point, gazing out of their third-floor window at the yacht masts in Road Town marina, staff in the BVI office had known nothing about the real activities of Globe. However, after this complaint, they were obliged to make inquiries. But of whom? What did they know about Globe?

Globe Trade Services had been set up by Mossack Fonseca’s BVI office in February 2005 on the instructions of an intermediary in Hong Kong. Within three months, shares were owned by the company’s sole director, who was not a person but another company, giving a post office box address in Belize. Yet another firm, with a PO box address in Samoa, was appointed company secretary.


Seems legit. No, wait, the other thing.
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Sympathy for the devil: Why do so few music startups succeed? • Music Business Worldwide

Andy Turner:

»Asking around amongst well-placed friends, who have held senior global digital music roles, between us we can only think of two successful exits for music services in the past fifteen years or so:
• MusicMatch selling to Yahoo for $160m in 2004
• selling to CBS for $280m in 2007 was not fully licensed but a number of rights owners managed to close deals around the time of the acquisition.

So that means only one fully licensed music start-up has achieved a successful exit and that was in 2004!

What would you do if you were a founder or early stage investor? Go for music and swallow greater dilution of equity with greater financial risk? Or target other sectors that require less dilution with less risk and, potentially, offer a much greater return?

Bootstrapping and lean start-up methodologies have been widely adopted within the tech sector. Yet, applying these methods to music tech start-ups is problematic.

The benefits of the lean start-up model are very simple: eliminate waste and focus on product development. Build, measure, learn and repeat in short iterations until the product is sufficiently developed to scale. Balance the risk and pick more winners.

The business development model that rights owners apply to licensing digital services is well established (equity, advances, minimum rates, etc). Yet this approach places a huge burden on music tech start-ups before they even launch.

In fairness to the music industry the tech mantra of scale first, establish a business model second should be given short shrift. No AirBnB host would want to give free accommodation to strangers just to help out some tech entrepreneurs. Why should rights owners give anyone a free lunch? They should not.


If Spotify IPOs (which I’ve previously said is obviously the aim of its latest $1bn debt financing – it will collapse otherwise) then it will be only the second fully-licensed streaming business to make an exit in 16 years.
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Did a teen discover a lost Maya city? Not exactly. • The Washington Post

Rachel Feltman:

»William Gadoury, a 15-year-old from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, hypothesized that the Maya people might have built their cities so they lined up with major constellations. In investigating his theory, he found that lots of cities seemed to line up with bright stars, but one major constellation seemed to be missing a settlement. When Gadoury got the Canadian Space Agency to turn a satellite over to that remote area, he spotted what seem to be man-made structures.

Gadoury’s enthusiasm is wonderful, and he did a neat experiment. But how much can we conclude from his informal findings? Not much. There’s a reason we didn’t cover this story when it started going viral Tuesday: Without a formal, peer-reviewed study of the stars-and-cities hypothesis (and even with one), it’s a bit reckless to run with the conclusion that it has been proven. And now many experts have chimed in to express skepticism.

For starters, the idea that matching up constellations to cities proves Maya intent might be misguided.


Present best guess: marijuana fields, likely abandoned.
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Sources: Feds taking second look at Google search • POLITICO

Nancy Scola:

»Critics complain that Google has used its online dominance to treat competitors unfairly — for example, by pushing search results for competing products off its homepage or siphoning valuable content from third-party sources without express permission. The practices, according to critics, undermine the widespread view that Google acts as a neutral gateway to information on the Internet.

The FTC’s discussions with the major U.S. company have centered on the nuts-and-bolts of how Google’s search products behave today and any possible anti-competitive effects, according to the company sources. The discussions were initiated at the company’s request.

Where the agency goes from here is unclear. FTC staff regularly examine issues they ultimately don’t pursue. Requests from staff to conduct full investigations are typically approved by a majority of the FTC’s commissioners in a closed-door session.


The hurdle is still that in US antitrust law, you have to show harm to consumers – not just to competitors. (The FTC decided in 2012 that Google’s non-algorithmic very-much-human-determined removal of rivals and promotion of its own services harmed competitors, but not that it harmed consumers, and so didn’t sue. Google’s chief legal officer proclaimed syllogistically, and wrongly, that this meant Google was “good for consumers and good for competition.”)
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The Blessing of failure • Medium

James Allworth argues that just as Microsoft missed on mobile because it dominated the PC paradigm, Apple has missed making the best possible Watch because it defined the touchscreen smartphone paradigm, and can’t let it go:

»This phenomenon is also worth considering in light of another contender for the smartphone crown. One that failed dismally: Amazon. Amazon famously poured a huge volume of resources into its Fire phone — Bezos himself was personally, and very heavily, involved. It turned out to be one of Amazon’s biggest flops, and Amazon will not remember its foray into the smartphone era fondly:

You know it’s bad when Time Magazine runs this headline

And yet, right now, Amazon are sitting atop one of the most promising platform-like products that has emerged post-smartphone: the Echo. It’s a surprise hit. Rather than try to supplement the phone, Amazon understood the way in which you’d engage with a device at home was fundamentally different from the way that you’d engage with a device like a phone outside of the home.

And so they didn’t try to add a whole host of interaction features from the previous paradigm. There was none of Microsoft’s adding keyboards and styluses to their phones. Nor was there any of Apple‘s three modes of interaction for its Watch (through a dial, through voice, through a touch screen; and with a home screen full of apps, too… a kitchen sink design effort if ever there was one).

Instead, you interact with the Echo just one way. And just as Apple nailed the touch screen of the iPhone because that was the only was to interact with the device, Amazon have completely nailed the interaction method of the Echo: voice.


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A sample job application for the Facebook Trending team • Fusion

Jason Gilbert:

»Thank you for your interest in the Facebook Trending news team! Please answer the following questions so that we can determine your suitability for the position.

How would you describe the sinking of the Titanic, in a sentence?
A) Titanic sinks after colliding with an iceberg; more than 1,000 passengers killed
B) 1,500 passengers die after cruise ship Titanic crashes into iceberg
C) Large boat faces flotation problems following iceberg-related incident, reports say


And 10 more. These are hilarious. By the way, C) is how the New York Times does it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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