Start up: Android on ChromeOS!, the PC squeeze, play like Steve Reich, Bluetooth tampons?, and more


Theranos’s next home might be in the parking lot. Photo by jurvetson on Flickr.

Some people already signed up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Yes they did.

A selection of 15 links for you. Started, couldn’t stop. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Android apps are just what Chromebooks needed • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»Google just announced that Chrome OS finally has what many people have been clamoring for almost since its introduction five years ago: true native apps. And it has a massive number of them, too. When support for them launches later this year, there will be more and better apps than you can find in the Windows Store. They just happen to all be Android apps.

The Google Play Store, that massive repository of Android apps, is coming to Chrome OS. It will be available to developers in early June, then a month or two later it’ll hit the more stable “beta” channel, and finally it will be ready for all users this fall.

Google waited until day two of its I/O developer conference to announce what might be its biggest and most impactful news. With the Play Store, Chrome OS is suddenly a lot more compelling to users who might have shied away from using a device that could only use the web and web apps. Sure, most of those new native apps were originally designed for phones, but they run quite well on the Chromebook Pixel 2 I saw them on.

Better than quite well, in fact. They were fast and felt fully integrated with the OS.

«

At a stroke this brings all the Microsoft suite to Chromebooks – turning them into potentially much cheaper PC replacements for businesses and schools. That might drive down the average price of computers. Speaking of which…
link to this extract


Profit opportunities exist for PC vendors • Gartner

»Many vendors in the mid-tier of the PC ecosystem are struggling. “They are severely reducing their regional and country-level presence, or leaving the PC market altogether,” said Ms. Escherich. “Between them, Acer, Fujitsu, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba have lost 10.5% market share since 2011. In the first quarter of 2016, Dell, HP Inc. and Lenovo gained market share but recorded year-over-year declines.”

Regional markets are also changing. Low oil prices and political uncertainties are driving economic tightening in Brazil and Russia, changing these countries from drivers of growth to market laggards. In terms of volume, the US, China, Germany, the U.K. and Japan remain the top five, but consumers in these markets have also been cutting their number of PCs per household…

…Despite a declining PC market, the ultramobile premium segment is on pace to achieve revenue growth this year — the only segment set to do so. It is estimated to reach $34.6bn, an increase of 16% from 2015. In 2019, Gartner forecasts that the ultramobile premium segment will become the largest segment of the PC market in revenue terms, at $57.6bn.

“The ultramobile premium market is also more profitable in comparison with the low-end segment, where PCs priced at $500 or less have 5% gross margins,” said Ms. Tsai. “The gross margin can reach up to 25% for high-end ultramobile premium PCs priced at $1,000 or more.”

«

5% gross margin – $25 per machine? And that’s before operating costs.
link to this extract


This $5bn software company has no sales staff • Bloomberg

Dina Bass:

»Brandon Cipes, vice president for information systems at OceanX, has spent enough time in senior IT positions to hate sales calls. “It’s like buying a car—a process that seemingly should be so simple, but every time I have to, it’s like a five- to six-hour ordeal,” he says. “Most of our effort is trying to get the salespeople to leave us alone.” Cipes didn’t always feel that way, though. Back in 2013, he was used to the routine. His conversion began when he e-mailed business-software maker Atlassian, asking the company to send him a sales rep, and it said no.

Atlassian, which makes popular project-management and chat apps such as Jira and HipChat, doesn’t run on sales quotas and end-of-quarter discounts. In fact, its sales team doesn’t pitch products to anyone, because Atlassian doesn’t have a sales team. Initially an anomaly in the world of business software, the Australian company has become a beacon for other businesses counting on word of mouth to build market share. “Customers don’t want to call a salesperson if they don’t have to,” says Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-chief executive officer. “They’d much rather be able to find the answers on the website.”

«

link to this extract


Verification: I can’t even • honestlyreal

Paul Clarke:

»Yes folks, it’s back again! The Queen’s Speech today promises yet another Mumsnet/Mail pleasing crackdown on one-handed websurfing – age verification!

Ha, brilliant – so obvious – all we have to do to send the kids back to the era of damp grotmags in the bushes is do a bit of proving-who-you are when someone clicks their way to a nacky site. No proof, no nacky.

Couldn’t be easier!

So how are they going to make it work then?

Short answer: they can’t.

Longer answer: they’d have to solve the Big Problem, and also some Littler Problems.

The Big Problem is an ancient conundrum: how do you build a checking system that’s solid enough to be worth doing, but not so solid that it doesn’t immediately bugger up the life of someone who loses access to their digital self?

«

link to this extract


Google’s Allo fails to use end-to-end encryption by default • Graham Cluley

»Google has announced that later this year it will be releasing a new messaging app called Allo.

You can think of it as a competitor to WhatsApp, iMessage or Signal.

Apart from there’s one big difference. Because, unlike those messaging apps which came before it, Allo doesn’t have end-to-end encryption enabled by default.

Instead, if users wish to feel confident that their private messages are properly protected from interception by unauthorised parties, they will have to change a setting in the app – enabling something called “Incognito” mode.

Seriously, it’s great that Google is going to have an end-to-end encryption option in Allo, and I’m reassured that they are partnering with Open Whisper Systems (developers of the Signal protocol) who are experts in secure messaging, but I want to know why it isn’t the default?

Because if there is one thing we have learnt over the years, it’s this. Few users ever change the default settings.

«

It really is strange. Why isn’t Google doing this? People say, reflexively, “data mining”. But isn’t the metadata – knowing who you spoke to and for how long – enough, if you already have them signed in? And one of the developers who consulted on security says he wants it on by default, because that would fit with what people want – disappearing messages.
link to this extract


CEO Larry Page defends Google on the stand: “Declaring code is not code” • Ars Technica UK

Joe Mullin:

»Page’s testimony comes in the final hours of the Oracle v. Google trial. The lawsuit began when Oracle sued Google in 2010 over its use of 37 Java APIs, which Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems. In 2012, a judge ruled that APIs can’t be copyrighted at all, but an appeals court disagreed. Now, unless a jury finds that Google’s use of APIs was “fair use,” Oracle may seek up to $9bn in damages.

«

Page’s testimony is persuasive (though of course we only hear a little). This feels like it will go Google’s way.
link to this extract


Why porting an iOS design to Android will not work • Martiancraft

Landon Robinson:

»It is very important for designers, developers, and product owners to consider that iOS and Android have different native standards when it comes to navigation patterns and screen transitions, and to be aware of the most current information available on these things. Google’s Material Design documentation does a fantastic job of detailing screen transition use, and applying proper navigation patterns to your app.

Android users are accustomed to certain navigation and UI patterns. Most apps adhere and keep the user’s experience consistent with Android’s UI patterns.

iOS navigation often uses the bottom tab bar for navigating throughout the app. For Android users this is inconsistent with the standard design language and may frustrate users at first glance. It is better not to utilize the bottom tab bar options and present the navigation options under the hamburger icon which is standard on Android. A great example is how Yelp did this for both to its mobile apps. (Starting in Android N, Google is introducing bottom navigation. However there is no release date on when it will be available to the public.)

«

Won’t need to worry about Android N for a couple of years though. The design differences between the two platforms are quite big – and increasingly static. The differences in animation are surprising – but also pretty static.
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The Kimpact: how celebrity apps are changing mobile gaming • Mixpanel

Christine Deakers:

»When “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” launched in the App Store in 2014, what seemed like a vanity app shocked the industry with recording-breaking numbers of downloads – and revenue. With more than 42 million downloads to date, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” shone a spotlight on a relatively quiet player, working behind the scenes. Glu Mobile, who produced the app, positioned itself as the strongest and most proven celebrity studio for mobile gaming.

As their largest title in Q4 2015, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” generated $13.6 million dollars in earnings, approximately 24% of Glu Mobile’s total revenue. As Christopher Locke, GM of Glu Canada revealed, the app’s core audiences are “fans of celebrity culture” and women ages 18 to 36.

In “product-talk”, a public Slack channel, I asked a number of product managers what they thought of “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.” Most of them believed it was a mere novelty and money-making scheme for the Kardashian empire. However, they didn’t seem to recognize the financial impact this and other celebrity apps are having on the greater industry, both for mobile advertising and what is now considered the table stakes for a successful mobile game.

«

Data point: women who game on mobile are 42% more likely to be retained than men.
link to this extract


Play with Steve Reich’s techniques in a free iPhone app • createdigitalmusic

Peter Kirn:

»Steve Reich’s musical etudes are already a kind of self-contained lesson in rhythm. Inspired by drumming traditions, Reich distills in his music essential principles of rhythmic construction, introducing Western Classical musicians to cyclic forms. That makes them a natural for visual scoring – doubly so something interactive, which is what an iPhone can provide. And so one percussion ensemble has made an app that both reveals Reich’s techniques and opens up a toy you can use to make your own musical experiments. Plus – it’s free.

The app is called “Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich” – that’s a mouthful. And the app is packed with content.

«

It’s also great fun. Like this:

Play it and read on.
link to this extract


Theranos voids two years of Edison blood-test results • WSJ

John Carreyrou:

»Theranos Inc. has told federal health regulators that the company voided two years of results from its Edison blood-testing devices, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Edison machines were touted as revolutionary and were the main basis for the $9 billion valuation attained by the Palo Alto, Calif., company in a funding round in 2014. But Theranos has now told regulators that it threw out all Edison test results from 2014 and 2015.

The company has told the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that it has issued tens of thousands of corrected blood-test reports to doctors and patients, voiding some results and revising others, according to the person familiar with the matter.

That means some patients received erroneous results that might have thrown off health decisions made with their doctors.

«

This means just short of 2m test results voided; Carreyrou has confirmed this by checking with doctors in Phoenix. “Unprecedented”, one medical expert called it. I don’t see how Theranos can continue in its present form. Meanwhile, the WSJ’s reporting on this has demonstrated how it justifies its paywall.

Unrelated: Theranos is looking for a writer. Apply today!
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Google Spaces’ fatal flaw: it requires too much mental energy • EWeek

Mike Elgan:

»One way to share with Google Spaces is to start with Spaces, using the mobile app to do the Google Search. When you find it, you press the big button, designate which Space it goes in (or create a new one). Then you share by tapping on a button to any site or via any medium, including email. The recipients click on the link, coming back to the Space you created. In this scenario, Spaces is really a feature of Google Search, with the Spaces app actually being an alternative Google Search app with social sharing as a feature.

Similarly, Google’s Spaces Chrome extension adds a social feature to your browser. You simply click on the Spaces button to share the current tab.

Spaces looks like a product, but it’s really a version of Google Search and Chrome with social added as a feature.
I expect Spaces to be integrated with all kinds of Google sites and apps to add social as a feature so people don’t have to use a social product like Facebook.

Spaces allows Google to escape the surly bonds of the network effect.

On social products, a company is expected to provide access to other users. The more users are on a network, the more new users want to be on that network. That’s the network effect.

Google tried to compete against Facebook by creating a superior social networking product: Google+, but Google was defeated by the network effect because it was late to the game.

With Spaces, there is no network effect, er, in effect. Google provides no users. Nobody is “on” Spaces. Nobody can call Spaces a “ghost town” because there’s no town. You don’t need a Google+ account to use Spaces. You don’t even need a Google password to read content on Spaces you’ve been invited to.

«

I don’t get it. As in, I can’t create a mental model of the situations where this would be useful. Elgan also points out that some of the content design (in the “Activity” stream), using truncated sentences, will make people recoil rather than lean in. I’d say the clock is already ticking for this one.
link to this extract


This Bluetooth tampon is the smartest thing you can put in your vagina • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

»Every single person with a vagina has had that horrifying moment: you look down, and there’s blood everywhere. It’s always annoying, it’s usually embarrassing, and more than half the time it happens in front of the entire student body.

my.Flow, a new startup currently looking for additional funding, is hoping to save a slew of people from the mortification of period mishaps. It’s a tampon with Bluetooth connectivity—yes, you read that correctly—that that lets a user know when the tampon is completely saturated and needs to be changed.

The original concept included a Bluetooth module inside the tampon, but my.Flow found that many users were uncomfortable with having a wad of electronics shoved up their hoo hah. So the latest version, developed at an incubator in Beijing, is a tampon with an extra long string that connects to a Bluetooth module on your waist.

The new concept is not without some… drawbacks.

«

I think I can discern one. But Cranz says women agree that for a teenager, it could be really helpful. (And bonus marks for the headline.)
link to this extract


Cars, trucks, iPads, and laptops • Macworld

Jason Snell:

»The assumption many of us have made, myself included, is that it will really take a new generation of computer users, those weaned on iPhones and iPads, before the iPad and other touchscreen devices take their place as the computing trucks of the future. It makes sense, right? Kids love iPhones and iPads. The touch interface is easily understandable, even by small children. The future is inevitable.

So here’s the problem with that way of thinking. My daughter, born in 2001 and raised in a world of iPods, iPhones, and iPads, has two devices she absolutely requires in order to live. (My understanding is that she would shrivel up into some sort of husk and die if either of them were to go away.) One of those devices is her iPhone, of course. She is endlessly iMessaging, Instagramming, Snapchatting, and FaceTiming with her friends.

The other device is a laptop. (A Chromebook Pixel, in this case, but it could just as easily have been a MacBook Air.) In fact, when I offered her the use of my iPad Air 2 instead of her laptop, she immediately dismissed it. A native of the 21st century–the century where the keyboard and mouse are left on the sidewalk with a cardboard FREE sign as we embrace our tablet futures–is flatly refusing to switch from a laptop to a tablet.

Of course, I asked my daughter why she prefers the laptop to an iPad.

«

The answer, as they say, will surprise you. Well, it might. The reasoning around which screen to watch TV on is an “oh, of course” moment.
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Technology betrays everyone • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

»My presentation in 2006 wasn’t about email passwords, but about all the other junk that leaks private information. Specifically, I discussed WiFi MAC addresses, and how they can be used to track mobile devices. Only in the last couple years have mobile phone vendors done something to change this. The latest version of iOS 9 will now randomize the MAC address, so that “they” can no longer easily track you by it.

The point of this post is this. If you are thinking “surely my tech won’t harm me in stupid ways”, you are wrong. It will. Even if it says on the box “100% secure”, it’s not secure. Indeed, those who promise the most often deliver the least. Those on the forefront of innovation (Apple, Google, and Facebook), but even they must be treated with a health dose of skepticism.

So what’s the answer? Paranoia and knowledge. First, never put too much faith in the tech. It’s not enough, for example, for encryption to be an option — you want encryption enforced so that unencrypted is not an option. Second, learn how things work. Learn why SSL works the way it does, why it’s POP3S and not POP3, and why “certificate warnings” are a thing. The more important security is to you, the more conservative your paranoia and the more extensive your knowledge should become.

«

link to this extract


R.I.P., GOP: how Trump is killing the Republican party • Rolling Stone

Matt Taibbi with a tour de force:

»Of course, Trump is more likely than not to crash the car now that he has the wheel. News reports surfaced that Donald Trump, unhinged pig, was about to be replaced by Donald Trump, respectable presidential candidate. No more schoolyard insults!

Trump went along with this plan for a few days. But soon after Indiana, he started public fights with old pal Joe Scarborough and former opponents Graham and Bush, the latter for backtracking on a reported pledge to support the Republican nominee. “Bush signed a pledge… while signing it, he fell asleep,” Trump cracked.

Then he began his general-election pivot with about 10 million tweets directed at “crooked Hillary.” With all this, Trump emphasized that the GOP was now mainly defined by whatever was going through his head at any given moment. The “new GOP” seems doomed to swing back and forth between its nationalist message and its leader’s tubercular psyche. It isn’t a party, it’s a mood.

Democrats who might be tempted to gloat over all of this should check themselves. If the Hillary Clintons and Harry Reids and Gene Sperlings of the world don’t look at what just happened to the Republicans as a terrible object lesson in the perils of prioritizing billionaire funders over voters, then they too will soon enough be tossed in the trash like a tick.

«

This is a terrific, albeit long, read. A quick word of warning: there’s autoplay video on the page, and it’s got Trump in it.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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