Start up: robocalling wars, form-filling frustration, Pakistan’s troll problem, Apple port death, and more


Something about this is going to change in September. But what? Photo by janitors on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Disruptive robocalling • Global Guerrillas

»Three months ago, I wrote up a worst case scenario for how the US could end up in a civil war this fall.  Unfortunately, nothing has changed.  The conditions that make the scenario possible are still valid.

In fact, in one way it has gotten worse:  one of the theoretical methods of disruption that I featured in the scenario was recently used in the real world.  In my scenario, robocalling was used to shut down polling places to skew election results and plunge the US into chaos.

«

So, how’s your day going so far?
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Apple Watch is already a $10bn business • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»Heading into this year’s WWDC, Apple Watch expectations were at a low. The most recent comments from Apple management about Watch sales being focused around the holidays implied Watch sales had slowed somewhat materially in recent months. Developer interest and buzz around watchOS was lackluster, and recent price drops introduced questions about customer demand.

Things changed following Apple’s WWDC keynote. It was clear Apple had no plans of slowing down with Apple Watch. More importantly, Apple was willing to make changes to Apple Watch software. As seen with the rethought user interface included in watchOS 3, Apple spent the past year studying how people were using Apple Watch. Friction points such as a clunky interface and little-used features, including Glances, were removed. Instead, Apple went back to the basics with a simpler interface and additional focus on Watch faces as the device’s most valued real estate. (Additional thoughts from WWDC concerning watchOS 3 are available here).

Some people interpreted the changes found in watchOS 3 as evidence that Apple admitted it was wrong with Apple Watch. I disagree. That type of interpretation not only ignores everything that Apple got right about Apple Watch, such as Watch bands, but also ignores reality. Apple Watch financials portray a different story. Apple Watch’s first year was not the disaster that many are now implying.

«

WatchOS 3 really is a lot quicker, and more useful, than the first versions. Cybart reckons more than 12m have been sold. By contrast, Android Wear downloads – which seem to be the correct proxy for Android Wear sales – are still below 5m.
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Input masks: violating user expectations • ignore the code

Lukas Mathis:

»When designing forms, there’s a pretty deep chasm between the needs of the developer, and the needs of the user. Developers want structured, normalized data. Users want to enter data in whatever format suits them best.

Forcing people to enter structured data causes usability problems.

What do you mean, it’s not a valid phone number? Looks valid to me – except that the backend wants just numbers, no special characters, and isn’t smart enough to strip out all of the characters that the user has entered.

Commonly, designers try to solve this by telling people what kind of format data needs to be in. This can be done using placeholders that show example data in the correct format.

The problem here is that the placeholder disappears as soon as people start typing, so exactly when they actually need this information, it’s no longer visible.

«

And with credit card numbers, things get really annoying, as Mathis points out.
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Pakistan’s troll problem • The New Yorker

Simon Parkin:

»Among many religiously conservative Pakistanis, [female lawyer Naghat] Dad said, there is a belief that women should not be using technology at all. “I could only use the Internet and my mobile phone while at work,” she told me. There are more than twenty-three million Facebook accounts registered in Pakistan, but in some cases, Dad said, “women who experience harassment on Facebook don’t want to make a formal complaint, as to do so is to admit to owning a profile.” As more women continue to join social-media platforms, the resistance to their presence has increased. Last August, a gang of men targeted a group of female doctors in Lahore, stealing photographs and private messages from their WhatsApp and Facebook accounts before demanding money. “The threat of disgrace made these professional women soft targets,” Shamsi said. “This on top of the battles they fight just for the right to work.” Dad’s organization has two staff members devoted to working on Facebook complaints, but she deals with the public herself, and she now receives more calls from women each day than she can handle.

In general, US-based social-media companies have been slow to address harassment on their platforms in different cultural contexts — and even, many would argue, in their own.

«

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“OK Google…” • OK Google

It’s a list of the voice commands you can ask after “OK Google..” on Google’s systems. Would love to see something comparable for Siri.
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The ultimate Apple I/O death chart • The Verge

Nilay Patel and Frank Bi:

»One of the most strongly-held arguments about Apple removing the headphone jack is that Apple has historically been first to drop a legacy technology, sometimes even before the rest of the industry is ready. Apple’s vertical integration, passionate userbase, and scale (both historically small and now immensely huge) allow it to push big changes in a way that few other companies can pull off. The floppy, SCSI, optical drives, VGA — all killed by Apple years before vanishing from the rest of the industry.

But how long does it really take Apple to kill legacy tech? We threw together a chart to map it out. (It would be fun to do this across the entire tech industry, but finding all that data seems virtually impossible. If you figure it out email me and we’ll run it!)

«

QWERTY still in use, though I guess that’s not a “port”. A neat corollary to this would be the adoption of wireless ports. Wi-Fi arrived in July 1999; Bluetooth, in 2003. Infrared came and went.

Also: how great to have a piece of simple, informative journalism that answers a question you didn’t realise you wanted answered until you saw it.
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Hillary Clinton’s initiative on technology and innovation • HillaryClinton.com

The would-be president who doesn’t say outrageous things (and thus gets no coverage outside the US) has a detailed set of tech proposals, which has lots of “would be nice” ideas but also this:

»Copyrights encourage creativity and incentivize innovators to invest knowledge, time, and money into the generation of myriad forms of content. However, the copyright system has languished for many decades, and is in need of administrative reform to maximize its benefits in the digital age. Hillary believes the federal government should modernize the copyright system by unlocking — and facilitating access to — orphan works that languished unutilized, benefiting neither their creators nor the public.

She will also promote open-licensing arrangements for copyrighted material and data supported by federal grant funding, including in education, science, and other fields. She will seek to develop technological infrastructure to support digitization, search, and repositories of such content, to facilitate its discoverability and use.

And she will encourage stakeholders to work together on creative solutions that remove barriers to the seamless and efficient licensing of content in the U.S. and abroad.

«

There’s also privacy, smart government, more broadband, and plenty more.
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Android fragmentation may not be as pronounced as Google’s distribution numbers would have you believe, says Apteligent • Android Police

Rita El Khoury:

»as Apteligent’s monthly data report points out, Google doesn’t take into consideration two important factors: devices that don’t have the Play Store installed (ie Chinese handsets mostly) and device usage. A phone may access the Play Store, but it may not be actively used. Once that’s taken into account, the image shifts greatly and you can see that there are far less devices in active use that are still running older versions of Android.

As the table and graph aboe show, Android usage distribution puts Lollipop at around half of the devices (vs. ~35% in Google’s June numbers) and Marshmallow at almost double what Google says (19.4% vs. 10.1%). Apteligent’s usage distribution drops KitKat from around 31% in Google’s stats to roughly 25%, Jelly Bean from ~19% to 6.8%, and shows that everything prior (ICS, Honeycomb, Gingerbread, and Froyo) is practically irrelevant.

Now sure, these are numbers taken from Apteligent’s report, which is based on devices that have apps with the Apteligent SDK installed, but they do show a new picture of Android’s version distributions.

«

Sure, they do; but still suggest that just under half of all devices with appreciable use are running a version of Android released between October 2013 and November 2014. Worth looking at the full PDF, which has lots more details of other devices and crashes too.
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iPhone 7 again rumoured to have flush, touch-sensitive home button • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»Apple may be planning to introduce a Force Touch home button on the iPhone 7, according to analysts at Cowen and Company (via Business Insider). Citing supply chain “field checks,” Cowen and Company predicts the iPhone 7 will do away with a physical home button, instead adopting a home button that sits flush with the phone.

Apple’s Force Touch technology will reportedly be built into the home button to provide haptic feedback when pressed, much like the Force Touch trackpad on Apple’s most recent MacBooks. With haptic feedback, iPhone users would still feel the sensation of pressing on the home button even without a button to actually depress.

Cowen and Company has a mixed track record, but it’s worth noting that we’ve heard two other rumors about a redesigned home button on the iPhone 7. In April, DigiTimes said Apple was testing a touch-sensitive home button that fits flush with the phone, and a highly sketchy image of what was said to be an iPhone 7 with a touch-sensitive home button surfaced in mid-June.

Given the unreliability of each of the home button rumors, the information should be viewed with some skepticism until confirmed by a more reliable source, but when viewed alongside rumors of improved waterproofing and the removal of the headphone jack, a flush home button is not a rumor that seems entirely out of the question.

«

In September 2015, I wrote that Force/3D Touch was clearly part of a path to replace the physical iPhone (and iPad) home button:

»I bet that mechanical failure of Home buttons is one thing that keeps showing up in Apple’s fault reports. Broken screens are easily replaced (and people can get by with broken screens for a looong time), but broken home buttons not so. Grit can get in. Water can get in. Constant movement isn’t ideal in electronics. You might say that it’s just tough if peoples’ Home buttons break, but compared to Android phones which don’t have them, it’s an obvious point of weakness – and customer dissatisfaction.

However, the Home button is needed as the place where your fingerprint is read. But that doesn’t need a moving home button; it just needs a circle of sapphire glass through which your print is read.

«

Feeling increasingly confident about that one.
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Does Brexit herald a new era for big data-driven forecasting? • Forbes

Kalev Leetaru:

»Discussion does not imply support. In the Iowa caucuses, Sanders led Clinton in Facebook mentions by 73% to 25%, while actual voting had them nearly tied, while in 2012 Twitter showed Obama dominating the Southern states ultimately won by Romney. Most recently, Facebook showed Sanders beating Clinton by a landslide in Facebook discussion, though it did also show Trump leading on the Republican side. Of course, social media data is also becoming increasingly difficult to access as a data source.

Web searches are increasingly being used as a metric to understand society. Google Trends published a map looking at searches across the UK in the first week of June, showing that Leave dominated searches across the entire country outside of a handful of pockets. Even Scotland was overwhelmingly searching about Leave. In reality, the final voting results looked quite different. As with social media conversation, heavy search interest simply implies that people are intensely interested in the topic, not that they support or condemn it.

Interestingly, the timeline of search intensity for the two terms within the UK offers a slightly different picture. UK searchers were searching for Remain and Leave nearly neck and neck up until the morning the polls opened, at which point Remain climbed to 8% more than Leave. Yet, around 4:30PM local time, Leave suddenly surged to 15% greater and by 8:30PM local time Leave was 59% ahead and by 10:30 it was 79% ahead, before beginning to head back down.

«

Basically: this stuff doesn’t tell us anything, but in the absence of anything else we like to pretend it does, and anyway there’s no other useful data. (Scotland voted comprehensively to Remain.)
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In a Google future, drivers may exchange their data for infotainment • Car and Driver Blog

Pete Bigelow:

»In exchange for vehicle content, Google might want details that include data about the vehicle itself—mileage, condition of certain components like tires, details on serial numbers of vehicle systems, and the like. It may also demand information on the occupants, including the types of content they’ve stored in vehicle systems, preferred genres of music, video content,  and more.

With a company like Google, which has interests in the automotive realm that run from autonomous cars to its Android Auto phone-projection system, the consolidation of control worries John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project for Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization that has tracked Google’s automotive efforts and frequently criticizes the company’s privacy practices.

“This is an egregious invasion of a motorist’s privacy, and I do fear that people who refuse to provide personal data will be unfairly locked out of infotainment systems,” he said. Going further down the line, Simpson said, “The privacy concerns are even greater with self-driving autonomous vehicles. Google could easily offer a self-driving car that would only operate if personal data were turned over to the company.”

«

Hmm. There are lots of insurance companies which already track your car (for younger drivers) to offer reductions in insurance costs. But seeking data about what you’re listening to? Perhaps it’s just covering all the bases.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: apologies for the late arrival of the blogpost and the email yesterday. The finger usually employed to press the “schedule” button has been reassigned to other duties.

Start up: a new blue!, Anki’s new toy, a useful chatbot, Scrivener (nearly) on iOS, Brexit law, and more

Apple’s WatchOS 3 is good news for wheelchair users who want to track their exercise. Photo by mag3737 on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Licensing agreement reached on brilliant new blue pigment discovered by happy accident • Oregon State University

»

A brilliant new blue pigment – discovered serendipitously by Oregon State University chemists in 2009 – is now reaching the marketplace, where it will be used in a wide range of coatings and plastics.

The commercial development has solved a quest that began thousands of years ago, and captured the imagination of ancient Egyptians, the Han dynasty in China, Mayan cultures and others – to develop a near-perfect blue pigment.

It happened accidently.

«

ACCIDENTLY. Someone at Oregon State University’s communications department let the word ACCIDENTLY go through into a document for publication.

Anyway:

»The new pigment is formed by a unique crystal structure that allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light, while only reflecting blue. The vibrant blue is so durable, and its compounds are so stable – even in oil and water – that the color does not fade.

«

Tories will be pleased. (In the UK the Conservative “Tory” party uses blue for its identifying colour.)
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Scrivener for iOS: It’s Time to Talk • The Cellar Door

»We have some fantastic things in store for our Mac and Windows users (which we’ll start talking about soon), but first up–at long last!–is our iOS version. Yes: it’s nearly here.

Next month, we will be submitting Scrivener for iOS to the App Store for release. In the run up, we’re going to post a series of short pieces on the blog telling you all about it, so that by the time it hits the store, you will be able to dive right in. In this first post in the series, before we go into more detail in later posts, I had intended to list some of the features you can expect. But then I thought: nah. Show, don’t tell. So here’s a video we made instead.

«

Scrivener is a terrific tool if you’re doing any sort of long-form writing in which you need to consult multiple documents. I used it to write my book; many others have for their work. It also supports screenplays, radio plays, plays, and lots of other formats. As well as just letters. Watch for this one.
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HP announces $189 Chromebook 11 G5 with ability to run Android apps, 12.5 hours of battery life, and optional touchscreen • Android Police

Jacob Long:

»Today HP announced its latest Chromebook model update, this time with a budget focus. The Chromebook 11 G5 will, most notably, run Android apps and will cost just $189. Another headlining feature of the new laptop is its claimed 12.5 hours of battery life, which is top shelf in general and quite good for a laptop that costs considerably less than most of the phones our readers have. An optional touchscreen, which will increase the price by an unspecified amount, will make Android apps even more usable at the cost of just one hour of battery life.

For those who are reluctant to make the jump to Chrome OS, both Google and HP hope that Android app compatibility will ease your fears. If you aren’t a huge fan of web apps or there just isn’t a Chrome or browser-based equivalent of the software you need, then the use of Android apps can be a huge value-added feature.

«

To say the least. Cheaper than most phones, and with a battery life to match. Weighs 1.1kg. Anyone who isn’t much invested in Windows could easily switch to this when it goes on sale in October.
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Anki’s Cozmo robot is the real-life WALL-E we’ve been waiting for • The Verge

Nick Statt on what Anki did next:

»”In the very beginning, when we started working on the first version of [Anki] Drive, we realized that characters and personalities are a big deal,” says Hanns Tappeiner, Anki’s co-founder and president. “The problem we had was that cars aren’t the best form factor to bring personalities out.” So Anki kept the idea under wraps and toiled in secret on using AI and robotics to “bring a character to life which you would normally only see in movies,” Tappeiner says.

Now, several years after the idea was first conceived, Cozmo is ready for the wider world. The robot is designed for ages eight and up and will sell for $180 in October, with pre-orders starting today. That’s expensive when you consider Anki’s Overdrive racing package is only $150. But the company says Cozmo’s advanced software and high-quality hardware make it worth the money. For comparison, Thinkway’s traditional remote-controlled R2-D2 costs $150, while Sphero’s app-controlled BB-8 replica runs $130.

Cozmo will come with a set of sensor-embedded blocks that are used both to play games with the robot and to help it understand its position in the environment. The robot uses facial recognition technology powered by a camera where its mouth would be to remember different people, and its software will learn and adapt to you over time the more you play with it. Much of Cozmo’s heavier processing tasks are handled by a smartphone that’s been paired over Wi-Fi with Anki’s new mobile app, which frees up the robot itself from having to house more complex computer parts.

«

Increasingly smart toys: it’s a thing. SDK in the works, which would expand its market hugely.
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Chatbot lawyer overturns 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

»An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free, showing that chatbots can actually be useful.

Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

«

Finally a useful implementation. (It’s essentially an expert system, isn’t it?) Note too: London-born.
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How Apple made the Watch work for wheelchair users • Co.Design

John Brownlee:

»this algorithm [for estimating when someone wearing a device has taken a step] breaks down for wheelchair users. Most obviously, those who get around on wheels don’t strike their heels against the ground. Even the way wheelchair users move their arms when pushing themselves is different than the way people swing their arms when they walk. Walking is a regular motion; pushing, comparatively, is irregular. Wheelchair users need to start, stop, and adjust their pushes more than walkers do. To make the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking functionality useful to wheelchair users, then, Apple needed to totally reexamine its algorithms.

First, Apple’s software engineers examined the available scientific literature on how wheelchair users burn calories. But this literature was lacking. The existing studies tended to only involve a small number of subjects, and their methodology in translating pushes to calories wasn’t applicable to the real world. For example, the studies might prevent their subjects from using their own wheelchairs, or only track how many calories a wheelchair user was burning on a treadmill, not on their home turf.

None of this was useful data for a general-audience device meant to track wheelchair users outside of a lab setting. Apple found the existing studies so lacking that it ended up conducting the most comprehensive survey of wheelchair fitness to date. They teamed up with the Lakeshore Foundation and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, two organizations dedicated to promoting fitness among people with disabilities.

Each test subject was allowed to use their own wheelchair, which they fitted with special wheel sensors. In addition, many were outfitted with server-grade geographical information systems, which collected extremely precise data on their movements through the world. The number of calories burned, meanwhile, were determined by fitting test subjects with oxygen masks, and precisely measuring their caloric expenditure as they pushed.

In the end, Apple collected more than 3,500 hours of data from more than 700 wheelchair users across all walks of life, from regular athletes to the chronically sedentary, in their natural environments: whether track or trail, carpet or asphalt.

«

The US alone has more than 2.2 million wheelchair users. Accessibility isn’t just for the hearing- or sight-impaired. The beneficiaries will have to wait for WatchOS 3 in the (northern) autumn, though.
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Apple Pay is finally offering something that both retailers and customers want • Quartz

Ian Kar:

»Earlier this month at WWDC 2016, Apple announced that Apple Pay would be coming to Safari—allowing you to pay in your mobile or desktop Safari browser by using Touch ID on your iPhone—in the fall. (For desktop Safari users, you simply Pay with Apple Pay and the information gets sent to your phone, where you then confirm your purchase by scanning your fingerprint.)

Apple Pay has already made good progress in attracting merchants on that front. According to an investor note from Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster on Monday (June 20), Apple has signed up 21 of the top 100 online retailers, with another 10 “coming soon.” Among those on board are Staples, Target, Kohl’s, Nike, and Under Armour. Munster also noted that, given how easy it is for online retailers to add Apple Pay, more will likely join soon.

None of this is good news for PayPal. Munster says the online payments company works with 54 of the 100 top online merchants, but there will be a 43% overlap with Apple Pay merchants. And since Apple Pay is more seamless and faster than using PayPal, Munster said in an earlier research note, Apple’s web payment feature could hurt PayPal’s main business.

«

You’re asking “why not just let Safari fill in your credit card details?” Because Apple Pay generates a one-time payment code which can’t be reused, whereas your credit card details can.
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Brexit fallout: Hinkley Point C nuclear power station now “extremely unlikely” • Ars Technica UK

Tom Mendelsohn:

»The UK’s nuclear future could be the latest piece of national infrastructure left on the chopping block by the country’s shock referendum vote to quit the EU. According to one government energy adviser, the Hinkley Point C project—which is expected to cost upwards of £20 billion—in Somerset is now “extremely unlikely” to be completed.

Hinkley Point C, which would be the UK’s first new nuclear power generation facility since 1988, would consist of two third-generation European pressurised reactors (EPRs) that provide up to seven% of the country’s electricity.

Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at University College London’s Energy Institute and government adviser on nuclear issues, believes that its main backer EDF will now be forced to pull out by the new status quo. “My view is that it seems extremely unlikely now,” Dorfman told The Times. “It’s probably all over bar the shouting. How can EDF invest billions when there is so much uncertainty?”

«

EDF says it will go ahead. Well, the pound has dropped in value, so its euros will go further. More uncertainty.
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Remarks at the SASE panel on the moral economy of tech • Idle Words

The majestic Maciej Ceglowski:

»treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. The old adage has it that if you are given ten minutes to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five sharpening your axe. We are used to the idea of bootstrapping ourselves into a position of maximum leverage before tackling a problem.

In the real world, this has led to a pathology where the tech sector maximizes its own comfort. You don’t have to go far to see this. Hop on BART after the conference and take a look at Oakland, or take a stroll through downtown San Francisco and try to persuade yourself you’re in the heart of a boom that has lasted for forty years. You’ll see a residential theme park for tech workers, surrounded by areas of poverty and misery that have seen no benefit and ample harm from our presence. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we’re hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people.

Third, treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don’t accept that this should make us accountable. We’re programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help.

Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It’s a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don’t lie.

«

He then goes much deeper into the darker potential for “surveillance capitalism” – especially under Trump, or Clinton, or even the Polish government of his homeland.
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Law In Action: Brexit: the legal minefield • BBC Radio 4

»How will the UK achieve its new status? Will the referendum result lead to real legal independence? Joshua Rozenberg and a panel of guests discuss the legal journey Britain must now take. They examine practical questions like workers’ rights, the free movement of people and goods, as well as the constitution and human rights.

«

It’s a 30-minute BBC radio programme, with three legal professors on EU and constitutional law. Does Parliament invoke Article 50? (No.) What is Article 50? (It’s an article of a treaty.) Does the European Court of Justice really make tons of laws? (The answer to this one is radio gold.) If you want to understand the precise legal issues of Brexit, this is the one to listen to. May also be available as a podcast, somewhere.
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Scientology seeks captive converts via Google Maps, drug rehab centres • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»Experts say fake online reviews are most prevalent in labour-intensive services that do not require the customer to come into the company’s offices but instead come to the consumer. These services include but are not limited to locksmiths, windshield replacement services, garage door repair and replacement technicians, carpet cleaning and other services that consumers very often call for immediate service.

As it happens, the problem is widespread in the drug rehabilitation industry as well. That became apparent after I spent just a few hours with Bryan Seely, the guy who literally wrote the definitive book on fake Internet reviews

…Seely has been tracking a network of hundreds of phony listings and reviews that lead inquiring customers to fewer than a half dozen drug rehab centers, including Narconon International — an organization that promotes the theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.

«

The word “skeevy” seems appropriate for this practice.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: it was wrong to say that malware could grab the PIN from a chip/PIN transaction those are encoded into a one-time encrypted code which can’t be reused. Thanks to those who pointed this out.

Start up: Brexit fuels uncertainty, Google faces new antitrust case, AI for the blind, and more


Expect to see lots more of these. Photo by stratageme.com on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. None invokes Article 50. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Brexit: Uncertainty around funding and skills likely to affect UK tech startups • Computer Weekly

Lis Evenstad:

»

The tech startup industry as a whole was backing the remain campaign. However, the industry is now faced with a different and uncertain future that is likely to affect investment, funding and skills.

One of the main challenges the industry now faces is access to funding. Gartner predicts that as a result of the UK leaving the EU, IT spend will drop significantly not just at home, but in the rest of Europe.

John-David Lovelock, research vice-president at Gartner, said the current forecast growth for UK IT spending is 1.7%.

“The Brexit will drop this figure between 2% and 5%. In other words, UK IT spending growth will certainly be negative in 2016,” he said.

Frost & Sullivan’s research director for digital transformation Adrian Drodz and practice director EIA Ajay Sule added that access to funding and credit will be affected by Brexit.

“Although the Bank of England has been quick to state it has plans in place to support the UK economy and the financial services sector, concerns will be raised with regards to the ability to obtain credit and funding – especially among startups,” they said.

«

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Anarchy in the UK: Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel • The Economist

“Bagehot”:

»

IT WAS a troubling exchange. On live television Faisal Islam, the political editor of SkyNews, was recounting a conversation with a pro-Brexit Conservative MP. “I said to him: ‘Where’s the plan? Can we see the Brexit plan now?’ [The MP replied:] ‘There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan…Number 10 should have had a plan.’” The camera cut to Anna Botting, the anchor, horror chasing across her face. For a couple of seconds they were both silent, as the point sunk in. “Don’t know what to say to that, actually,” she replied, looking down at the desk. Then she cut to a commercial break.

Sixty hours have gone by since a puffy-eyed David Cameron appeared outside 10 Downing Street and announced his resignation. The pound has tumbled. Investment decisions have been suspended; already firms talk of moving operations overseas. Britain’s EU commissioner has resigned. Sensitive political acts—the Chilcot report’s publication, decisions on a new London airport runway and the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent—are looming. European leaders are shuttling about the continent meeting and discussing what to do next. Those more sympathetic to Britain are looking for signs from London of how they can usefully influence discussions. At home mounting evidence suggests a spike in racist and xenophobic attacks on immigrants. Scotland is heading for another independence referendum. Northern Ireland’s peace settlement may hang by a thread.

But at the top of British politics, a vacuum yawns wide. The phones are ringing, but no one is picking up.

«

Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?
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Rohan Silva has no idea what he’s talking about • FT Alphaville

Kadhim Shubber takes issue with former No. 10 tech policy adviser Silva, who suggests cutting corporation tax to 10% to (re?-) attract businesses:

»

He goes on to say that we should “transform the efficiency of our immigration system” by using “data analytics and machine learning”, which has become something of a verbal tic in the tech community.

This sort of thinking crops up whenever society faces complicated, difficult problems. If only taxes or regulation didn’t exist, neither would recessions or financial crises. It has the impression of being proactive — we don’t have time, just cut the red tape and save the economy already! — but is more likely to exacerbate the fractures in our society than heal them.

It will take months and years before we fully understand what happened in the UK last week, but it is highly plausible that this was the backlash of a class of people left behind by globalisation. They have much to be angry about: de-industrialisation; massive tax avoidance; the pain and misery caused by the financial crisis; the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small international elite. If we want to assuage this fury, we might start by better redistributing the fruits of globalisation.

In that context, turning the UK into a global tax haven would be akin to rubbing salt in the wound. Silva seems to imagine the economically disenfranchised people who just plunged the UK into crisis will be content to give him and other business owners more money. It’s not only a stupid idea, it’s a dangerous one that risks inflaming tensions.

«

link to this extract


Godless mobile malware can root 90% of Android devices


»

The mobile malware masquerades as harmless-looking mobile apps, including this Summer Flashlight app:

Several clean apps on Google Play also share the same developer certificate with malicious versions containing the Godless code. This means there is the potential for a user to be upgraded to a malicious version of an app without their knowledge.

If and when that infection occurs, Godless won’t lock their screen and demand hundreds of dollars in ransom. Neither will it place calls to mysterious Chinese phone numbers. Instead it will have the ability to download any app it chooses, including those that spam users with ads and/or install backdoors onto an infected device.

«

More details on the Trend Micro blog post. It starts installing when the screen switches off – sneaky.
link to this extract


Artificial intelligence is helping the blind to recognize objects • Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

»

To train the iPad app, you place things in front of the device’s camera at several angles, telling it about the items. Then you repeat the process, taking the objects away, so the app recognizes the difference. On subsequent occasions, it will be able to distinguish, say, your set of keys from another set of keys. “It’s like a new born baby—it’s learning all the time as you show it objects,” Marczak says. Probably the training would be done by a family member or friend.

The second app, called Aipoly, does something similar. It’s sophisticated enough to recognize clothing and colors, even in abstract works of art.

Marczak says ID Labs is working with visually impaired support groups to improve the EyeSense app, which is free to download (versions for Android and other phones are due soon). It also works offline if necessary.

«

link to this extract


Google Maps gets a new, 700-trillion-pixel cloudless satellite map • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

More than 1 billion people use Google Maps every month, making it possibly the most popular atlas ever created. On Monday, it gets a makeover, and its many users will see something different when they examine the planet’s forests, fields, seas, and cities.

Google has added 700 trillion pixels of new data to its service. The new map, which activates this week for all users of Google Maps and Google Earth, consists of orbital imagery that is newer, more detailed, and of higher contrast than the previous version.

Most importantly, this new map contains fewer clouds than before—only the second time Google has unveiled a “cloudless” map. Google had not updated its low- and medium-resolution satellite map in three years.

The improvements can be seen in the new map’s depiction of Christmas Island. Almost a thousand miles from Australia, the island was largely untouched by human settlement until the past two centuries. Its remoteness gives it a unique ecology, but—given its location in the middle of the tropical Indian Ocean—it is frequently obscured by clouds. The new map clears these away.

«

link to this extract


Xbox Fitness sunset announcement • Microsoft Studios


»

Since November 2013, Xbox Fitness has allowed you to experience the world’s best workouts with famous trainers, right in the comfort of your own home. As a service, Xbox Fitness has continually evolved since it launched on Xbox One, with new content and ongoing updates. Given the service relies on providing you with new and exciting content regularly, Microsoft has given much consideration to the reality updating the service regularly in order to sustain it. Therefore, the decision has been made to scale back our support for Xbox Fitness over the next year, and we want to provide our users with a timeline of the changes you will see.

«

What chances for the Microsoft Band’s future?
link to this extract


EU set to issue fresh formal antitrust charges against Google • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal shortly before the Android announcement, Ms. Vestager said the agency was “advancing” its investigations into whether Google is abusing its dominance with its advertising service, an area of concern first outlined under her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia.

The investigation in advertising hits at a lucrative area of business for Google, which accounted for 90% of the tech firm’s $75 billion in revenue last year.

At issue is whether the company prevents or obstructs website operators from placing ads on their websites that compete with Google’s advertising business.

The EU is also looking into whether Google restricts advertisers that use Google’s auction-based advertising service, where they bid for the placement of ads on search result pages, from moving to other search advertising platforms.

«

In Europe it doesn’t rain, but it pours for Google. The UK is still part of the EU, so any decision would still be implemented over the next two years at least.
link to this extract


Google’s cars need a clear road map to revenue • The Information

Amir Efrati considers partnership (vehicle makers won’t do it), licensing (vehicle makers won’t do it), and suggests what’s left:

»

One natural path for Google is to reach consumers directly with an internet-based service. That’s its DNA. We know that Google’s car designers have thought long and hard about operating a “robo taxi” service to allow people to order cars on demand. It’s likely to go down that kind of path; its leaders have talked up the benefits of reducing car ownership so that one car could be used by many people throughout the day and night. Perhaps there will be subscription-type offerings that guarantee customers a pickup within a certain period of time, rather than the Uber-type system in which pickup times and prices can vary based on customer demand or driver availability.

By not needing to pay drivers, which represent the single biggest expense in ride-hailing, Google could price such a service below those run by Uber and other firms and build up its own customer base. But first, Google would need to produce these cars and get them deployed. Making thousands of new cars per year, particularly advanced models that have never been mass-produced before, would be a tough and expensive undertaking. Just ask Tesla how hard it is to make thousands of cutting-edge electric vehicles in a year.

«

“Go-to-market” is the big important step between “have a great idea” and “make pots of money from great idea”.
link to this extract


Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google • The Guardian

Mark Harris:

»

Sidewalk Labs, a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet, wants to radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities, emails and documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

Its high-tech services, which it calls “new superpowers to extend access and mobility”, could make it easier to drive and park in cities and create hybrid public/private transit options that rely heavily on ride-share services such as Uber. But they might also gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, experts fear.

Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.

Using public records laws, the Guardian obtained dozens of emails and documents submitted to Challenge cities by Sidewalk Labs, detailing many technologies and proposals that have not previously been made public.

«

Harris is one of the best journalists out there; he keeps finding out stuff in these areas long before anyone else.
link to this extract


We don’t know jack about the next iPhone • iMore

Michael Gartenberg:

»

Since I worked at Apple, I’m often asked what employees think behind closed doors when they see these rumors and read the debates. The answer is, not much. Maybe a smile, maybe a sigh if the conversations are particularly off base, or if they miss the point entirely about what might finally be announced.

I have no doubt there are all sorts of prototype iPhones floating around the labs, some with headphone jacks and some without. Some with LCD displays and some with AMOLED. Some with… well, I could go on and on.

And that’s the real point. We could go around and around on any rumor, but for now, all of them, and all the debate around them, are like that tale told by that idiot:

Full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

«

link to this extract


Microsoft still believes hand tracking is the future of PC input • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft wants to move beyond the keyboard and mouse to power the interfaces of the future. While the software maker has been investing in voice recognition and augmented reality scenarios, Microsoft’s research division has made some significant progress with hand tracking. Researchers are working on software that will allow virtual environments to track and recognize detailed hand motion. The breakthroughs could apply to virtual reality headsets, or just the ability to more accurately control virtual objects on a screen.

Microsoft is presenting some of it work at two academic research conferences this summer, offering a closer look at what might be our virtual future. Microsoft is focused on improving the accuracy of hand tracking, while reducing the amount of power required to process complex movements. “We’re getting to the point that the accuracy is such that the user can start to feel like the avatar hand is their real hand,” says Jamie Shotton, a principal researcher in computer vision at Microsoft’s UK research lab. “This has been a research topic for many, many years, but I think now is the time where we’re going to see real, usable, deployable solutions for this,” Shotton said.

«

Unconvinced. How does it determine the difference between an intentional gesture and an unintentional one?
link to this extract


Amazon to add dozens of brands to Dash buttons, but do shoppers want them? • WSJ

Sharon Terlep and Greg Bensinger:

»

Several consumer-product executives said they have signed up for the gadget largely to ensure their brands maintain close ties to Amazon. The venture is more vital as a marketing tool than a product-delivery system, they said.

“It may not be the most intuitive feature,” said Ken McFarland, director of e-commerce for Seventh Generation Inc., which has Dash buttons for its cleaning products and diapers. “But Amazon is trying so many things and you don’t want to miss out on the ones that work. You want to be out there if it does happen to be a hit.”

Companies pay Amazon $15 for each button sold and 15% of each Dash product sale, atop the normal commission, which typically ranges from 8% to 15%, the people familiar with the matter said.

For their part, consumers pay $5 per button, though Amazon sweetens the deal by offering a $5 rebate for every button. The rebate is good toward the first purchase using that button. Only members of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime membership are eligible to use the Dash buttons.

Helping expand Dash’s ranks: Amazon dropped a hefty buy-in fee of around $200,000 required of the first companies that signed up, according to people familiar with the terms.

«

This resembles supermarkets charging companies to get their goods visible on shelves shoppers frequent – except here, the shelves are inside the shopper’s home. “Fewer than half” who have one have used it, according to Slice Intelligence, at a rate of about once every two months. The other bugbear? You don’t know what the price of what you’re summoning with a push is.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Intel ponders McAfee sale, iPad Pro v Mac, wearables get broader, pizza’s malware topping, and more


No, Britons weren’t all “frantically” Googling “what is the EU” on Friday. Photo by Tjarko Busink on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. It’s what happens. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Intel weighs sale of cyber security business • FT.com

Hannah Kuchler and James Fontanella-Khan:

»

Intel is looking at options for Intel Security, including potentially selling the antivirus software maker formerly known as McAfee which it bought for $7.7bn almost six years ago.

The Silicon Valley chipmaker has been talking to bankers about the future of its cyber security unit in a deal that would be one of the largest in the sector, according to people close to the discussions.

Intel declined to comment.

Private equity buyers are increasingly interested in cyber security companies, anticipating strong cash flow as corporate customers become increasingly worried about protecting their business from cyber attacks. A group of PE firms might club together to buy Intel Security if it is sold for the same price or higher than the $7.7bn Intel originally paid for it.

Earlier this month, Bain Capital sold Blue Coat Security to Symantec for almost twice what it paid the cyber defence company last year. Vista Equity Partners also bought Ping Identity, an authentication service, which had been planning an initial public offering at the start of June.

«

Because basically McAfee doesn’t add any value to Intel, six years on.
link to this extract


Wearables shipments will grow nearly 30% this year: IDC • Twice

John Laposky:

»

Smart watches: The category is expected to increase from 41% of total wearables shipments in 2016 to 52.1% in 2020. However, not all watches are the same. While smart watches are in the spotlight today, future growth will come from basic watches that provide some sort of fitness/sleep tracking while not being sophisticated enough to run third-party applications on the watch itself. Traditional fashion brands like Fossil and health/fitness companies like Fitbit and Withings will help this segment grow.

«

That’s along with categories like wristbands, eyewear, clothing and “others”. Notable how they aren’t making specific forecasts for Apple v Android in this space.
link to this extract


How Google is remaking itself as a “machine learning first” company • Backchannel

Steven Levy:

»

The example Giannandrea cites to demonstrate machine learning power is Google Photos, a product whose definitive feature is an uncanny — maybe even disturbing — ability to locate an image of something specified by the user. Show me pictures of border collies. “When people see that for the first time they think something different is happening because the computer is not just computing a preference for you or suggesting a video for you to watch,” says Giannandrea. “It’s actually understanding what’s in the picture.” He explains that through the learning process, the computer “knows” what a border collie looks like, and it will find pictures of it when it’s a puppy, when its old, when it’s long-haired, and when it’s been shorn. A person could do that, of course. But no human could sort through a million examples and simultaneously identify ten thousand dog breeds. But a machine learning system can. If it learns one breed, it can use the same technique to identify the other 9999 using the same technique. “That’s really what’s new here,” says Giannandrea. “For those narrow domains, you’re seeing what some people call superhuman performance in these learned systems.”

«

link to this extract


After firestorm, Facebook training employees to check political biases • TheHill

David McCabe:

»

Facebook will train employees to deal with their political biases, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said at an event Wednesday evening.

“We think a lot about diversity at Facebook,” she said. “And we have a managing-bias class that all of our leaders and a lot of our employees have taken that I was part of helping to create, and we’ve focused on racial bias, age bias, gender bias, national bias, and we’re going to add in a scenario now on political bias.”

“So that, as part of [how] we think about helping people understand different points of view and being open to different points of view, we’re dealing with political bias as well going forward.”

Many Silicon Valley companies have turned to unconscious bias training in recent years as they seek to address the tech industry’s lack of diversity in hiring. Among other tactics, they have also started to disclose more about demographics of their workforces.

A spokesperson for Facebook said the training in question is mandatory for all employees.

The decision to include a segment on political biases was sparked by allegations, which Facebook says are unfounded, that editors for the social network’s trending topics feature systematically downplayed news stories and sources popular with conservatives.

«

link to this extract


Stop using Google Trends • Medium

Danny Page

»

Remember, Trends is relative. And we can see this with the most recent Google Trends Freaking Outrage (GTFO):

The British are frantically Googling what the EU is, hours after voting to leave it

The Washington Post [driven by a tweet from Google Trends] notes that searches about the EU tripled. But how many people is that? Are they voters? Are they eligible to vote? Were they Leave or Remain? Trends doesn’t tell us, all it does is give us a nice graph with a huge peak. More likely, it’s a very small number of people, based on this graph that puts it in context with other searches in the region:

(From this tweet).

But it’s giving plenty of people cover to insult the entire country, when it’s likely just a few people searching for something in a way that they always search for something. It makes “The British are frantically Googling what the EU is, hours after voting to leave it” absurdly disingenuous without better numbers.

Remy Smith points out: The peak was merely ~1000 people! It’s ludicrous that so few people get turned into a massive story, but it underscores the need for context.

I’m disappointed that this is how data is being used, and really drives home the need for people to understand the data before they use it incorrectly. Google Trends is an interesting tool, but please do a bit more research before using it.

«

I considered linking fully to the Washington Post article but felt somehow that it just wasn’t right. People surely weren’t madly asking Google what the EU was/is. Not after years of subliminal coverage and months of upfront coverage from every media outlet. But I couldn’t quite see what was wrong – until this. It’s spot on.
link to this extract


Headphone industry market share statistics • Statistic Brain

Wired headphones 69%, wireless 31% (by sales). The teen buying intention is quite remarkable, as is the device they get connected to – out of MP3 player, computer, smartphone, home theatre and tablet, which would you expect to be the leader and the laggard in terms of which one people connect to?
link to this extract


Slicing into a point-of-sale botnet • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

Over the weekend, I heard from a source who said that since November 2015 he’s been tracking a collection of hacked cash registers. This point-of-sale botnet currently includes more than 100 infected systems, and according to the administrative panel for this crime machine at least half of the compromised systems are running a malicious Microsoft Windows process called cicipos.exe.

The admin panel shows the Internet address of a number of infected point-of-sale devices as of June 4, 2016. Many of these appear to be at Cici’s Pizza locations.

KrebsOnSecurity has not been able to conclusively tie the botnet to CiCi’s. Neither CiCi’s nor its outside public relations firm have responded to multiple requests for comment. However, the control panel for this botnet includes the full credit card number and name attached to the card, and several individuals whose names appeared in the botnet control panel confirmed having eaten at CiCi’s Pizza locations on the same date that their credit card data was siphoned by this botnet.

Among those was Richard Higgins of Prattville, Ala., whose card data was recorded in the botnet logs on June 4, 2016. Reached via phone, Higgins confirmed that he used his debit card to pay for a meal he and his family enjoyed at a CiCi’s location in Prattville on that same date.

«

Of course, if they used chip/PIN.. then probably the PINs would get stolen too. 🤔
link to this extract


Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit • Political Economy Research Centre

Will Davies:

»

One of the most insightful things I saw in the run-up to the referendum was this video produced by openDemocracy’s Adam Ramsey and Anthony Barnett discussing their visit to Doncaster, another Labour heartland. They chose Doncaster because it looked set to be a strong pro-Leave location, and wanted to understand what was at work in this.

Crucially, they observed that – in strong contrast to the Scottish ‘Yes’ movement – Brexit was not fuelled by hope for a different future. On the contrary, many Leavers believed that withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t really change things one way or the other, but they still wanted to do it. I’ve long suspected that, on some unconscious level, things could be even stranger than this: the self-harm inflicted by Brexit could potentially be part of its appeal. It is now being reported that many Leave voters are aghast at what they’ve done, as if they never really intended for their actions to yield results.

This taps into a much broader cultural and political malaise, that also appears to be driving the rise of Donald Trump in the US. Amongst people who have utterly given up on the future, political movements don’t need to promise any desirable and realistic change. If anything, they are more comforting and trustworthy if predicated on the notion that the future is beyond rescue, for that chimes more closely with people’s private experiences.

The discovery of the ‘Deaton effect’ in the US (unexpected rising mortality rates amongst white working classes) is linked to rising alcohol and opiate abuse and to rising suicide rates. It has also been shown to correlate closely to geographic areas with the greatest support for Trump. I don’t know of any direct equivalent to this in the UK, but it seems clear that – beyond the rhetoric of ‘Great Britain’ and ‘democracy’ – Brexit was never really articulated as a viable policy, and only ever as a destructive urge, which some no doubt now feel guilty for giving way to…

…The Remain campaign continued to rely on forecasts, warnings and predictions, in the hope that eventually people would be dissuaded from ‘risking it’. But to those that have given up on the future already, this is all just more political rhetoric. In any case, the entire practice of modelling the future in terms of ‘risk’ has lost credibility, as evidenced by the now terminal decline of opinion polling as a tool for political control.

«

Excellent analysis. Read it too for its take on “facts” v “data” and the claims in the campaign.
link to this extract


An iPad Pro is not a Mac • getwired.com

Notorious traveller Wes Miller:

»

I needed something smaller. Lighter. More efficient.

I’m not a developer. So I don’t need Xcode. I don’t work with Mac versions of most legacy multimedia software from Apple, Adobe, or others. I don’t even play games on my computers. But I work in Microsoft Office every single day. And there are things that I need there. There is the mobile version of the Office applications, and I have an E3 subscription that entitles me to using them.

So as I winnowed down my device options, I was seriously looking at the large iPad Pro. While I’m all thumbs when it comes to drawing (or hand-writing), the Smart Keyboard and iPad Pro make an acceptable (although compromising) combination.

In particular, as I pondered life with the iPad Pro, several caveats came up with the hardware, before I’d even considered the software capabilities.

«

“Lappability” is infrequently used, but deserves more consideration.
link to this extract


Why LaCroix sparkling water is suddenly everywhere – Vox

Libby Nelson and Javier Zarracina:

»

Over the past decade, Americans have done something that would have once seemed downright un-American: They’ve given up soda [sugared carbonated drinks such as Coke]. And when you’re craving a can of pop, LaCroix is a decent substitute. Unlike tap water, it has carbonation and a little flavor. Unlike a countertop SodaStream, it’s cheap, readily available, and portable. Close your eyes, wrap your hand around the perspiring aluminum can, and you could be holding a Coca-Cola. LaCroix is succeeding as methadone for the soda addict.

LaCroix isn’t the only brand to benefit from the sparkling water boom. But it’s the one that’s risen to the coveted status of lifestyle brand, not just generating loyalty but becoming part of how we define ourselves. The secret behind LaCroix’s rise is a mix of old-fashioned business strategy and cutting-edge social marketing. When Americans wanted carbonated water, LaCroix was positioned to give them them fizzy water. Then, sometimes by accident, LaCroix developed fans among mommy bloggers, Paleo eaters, and Los Angeles writers who together pushed LaCroix into the zeitgeist.

«

This article is suddenly everywhere, so I’m just helping out. If Americans are drinking less Coke/Pepsi/7Up/etc, then that’s good. Finally.
link to this extract


Tech support scams target victims via their ISP • BBC News

Jane Wakefield, on a new wrinkle on the depressingly old “tech support” scam, which used to just involve cold-calling, but now includes audio messages which identify your ISP and say your machine is infected – which would scare the willies out of most non-techie people:

»

How do scammers know your ISP?
In the case of cold calls it may just be a lucky case of guessing a common ISP but in the case of pop-ups, there is an altogether cleverer way for fraudsters to glean information that can help them.

How it works
• Big ad networks allow users to win ad space on websites by bidding at a particular price
• Criminals are taking advantage of this to place adverts which are infected with a single “bad” pixel
• This pixel can redirect users and infect them in the background when they are browsing on a perfectly legitimate site – they do not even need to click on the ad
• The malware in the ad redirects users to a website in the background – invisible to the user – which checks their computer and discovers their IP address
• From the IP address it is easy to find out which ISP owns which IP address
• Victims will be served a pop-up tailored for their specific ISP which warns them their computer is infected and gives them a number to call

Fraudsters do still use cold-calling but their methods here have also become more sophisticated – instead of a vague description of themselves as a Windows Support agent, many are now claiming to represent legitimate ISPs, with very believable answers when they are challenged.

«

link to this extract


794 Ways in Which BuzzFeed Reminds Us of Impending Death • NYTimes.com

Heather Havrilesky:

»

the more time you spend on BuzzFeed, the more the boundaries between “win” and “fail” seem to blur. After a while, it’s impossible not to slip into a disassociative trance, in which you surrender to the allure of some perpetual, trivial nowhereland, nestled somewhere between “15 Cats That You Don’t Want to Mess With” and the “44 Hong Kong Movie Subtitles Gone Wrong.”

The past is reduced to a slide show. The future is a YouTube video that won’t load. And the present is a jumble of jaunty yellow buttons blurting “omg” and “awww” and “tl;dr.”

«

And then Havrilesky really hits her stride and the piece runs away into brilliance.
link to this extract


Why we should expect algorithms to be biased • Technology Review

Nanette Byrnes:

»

Fred Benenson, Kickstarter’s former data chief, calls [this] “mathwashing”: our tendency to idolize programs like Facebook’s as entirely objective because they have mathematics at their core.

One area of potential bias comes from the fact that so many of the programmers creating these programs, especially machine-learning experts, are male. In a recent Bloomberg article, Margaret Mitchell, a researcher at Microsoft, is quoted lamenting the dangers of a “sea of dudes” asking the questions central to creating these programs.

Concern has been building over this issue for some time, as studies found evidence of bias in online advertising, recruiting, and pricing strategies driven by presumably neutral algorithms.

In one study, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney looked at the Google AdSense ads that came up during searches of names associated with white babies (Geoffrey, Jill, Emma) and names associated with black babies (DeShawn, Darnell, Jermaine). She found that ads containing the word “arrest” were shown next to more than 80% of “black” name searches but fewer than 30% of “white” name searches.

Sweeney worries that the ways Google’s advertising technology perpetuates racial bias could undermine a black person’s chances in a competition, whether it’s for an award, a date, or a job.

«

Perennial topic, and worth keeping an eye on.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

It’s dark out there: the Q1 2016 smartphone scorecard


It’s all a bit murky in the smartphone market right now. Photo by Moyan_Brenn on Flickr.

The arrival of 2016, and the dramatic slowdown in the smartphone market in the US and China, is putting brand new pressures on the bigger players, though more noticeably on the smaller ones.

Inasmuch as nobody who isn’t Samsung, Apple or (I think) Huawei is making money at scale from smartphones. All of the “small big” players such as LG, Sony, Lenovo/Motorola, HTC, and – I’m fairly certain – Xiaomi are losing money. Of the first four named above, their collective loss on smartphones in Q1 2016 was $850m (all prices are given in US$ throughout); and for Xiaomi, which sold fewer than in the same period in 2015, at an ASP (average selling price) below everyone else including Lenovo/Motorola, it’s hard to see that it could have scraped a profit.

Not only that, but Apple finally came under pressure: both its smartphone shipments fell (despite a fair bit of inventory stuffing) and so did its ASP, from over $690 in the fourth quarter to just over $640 in this one, the lowest value since it introduced the larger-screened 6 series phones in September 2014.

Samsung meanwhile sailed along, pushing almost as many phones out of the door and seeing only mild erosion year-on-year of ASPs. Notably, Samsung’s profits were their highest since the second quarter of 2014 – helped, surely, by the decision to push the Galaxy S6 flagship out before the quarter ended.

So first the numbers.

Q1 2016: the smartphone scorecard

* denotes estimate: explanations below

Company Handsets
(million)
Revenues Handset
ASP
Operating
profit
Per-handset
profit
Samsung 81.9 $24.25bn $242.48* $3.5bn $42.75*
Apple 51.2 $32.86bn $641.83 $9.17bn* $179.06*
Huawei 27.5 $5.72bn $208 positive? positive?
LG 13.5 $2.67bn $197.57 –$224.64m –$16.64
Lenovo/Motorola 11 $1.74bn $159.36 –$105m –$9.55
Sony 3.4 $3.64bn $473.32 –$372.2m –$109.47
HTC 2.5* $0.46bn $182.80* –$148m –$59.20*
Microsoft
Mobile
2.3 $0.50bn* $217.20* –$154m* –$67*

Assumptions:
Samsung: featurephones (estimated 18.1m of them) sold for $15, made a profit of $0 each. If their ASP is higher, the ASP of the smartphones is lower; if their profit is higher, the per-handset profit for smartphones is lower. For tablets, the assumption is the 6m shipped had an ASP of $200, and show zero profit. If they sell for a higher price, phone ASPs are lower; if they make a profit, per-handset profit is lower.

Apple: profit margin per handset of 28%. This is a longstanding historical figure worked by analysts better at this stuff than me. It will actually vary by quarter, depending on phone mix, how new the phones are, and storage (more storage = better profit margin). But this is a usable rule of thumb.

LG: sells no appreciable number of tablets, and doesn’t make a profit or loss on them. (In Q1 2015 it shipped 1.4m tablets, which didn’t have an appreciable effect on anything.)

HTC: shipments had to be estimated based on its (woeful) revenues. I’ve said previously that I don’t think HTC will ever make a profit again in smartphones, and nothing I’m seeing makes me feel I was wrong.

Microsoft Mobile: featurephones (15.7m of them) had an ASP of $15, and made zero profit. Lower featurephone ASP would mean higher smartphone ASP. Any profit would mean more losses for smartphone handsets. Lots has to be assumed about Microsoft’s handset business, including gross margin (I assumed $50m on its $500m smartphone sales – possibly generous), and R+D costs and sales/general/administrative costs (assumed $50m and $75m respectively). The numbers still don’t work in its favour, even though a year ago those figures were over $500m together.

There’s one other notable Microsoft comment in its 10-Q: “Patent licensing revenue decreased 26%, due to a decline in licensed units and license revenue per unit.” That would be Android handsets paying a licence. Whether that’s due to Huawei rising and not having a patent deal isn’t clear. But it’s one to watch.

Discussion: gravitational pull

The takeaways from this only become clear once you look at the longer-term trends. Android OEMs losing money isn’t new, though Lenovo’s continuing inability to turn Motorola into a money-making (or “not money-losing”) proposition suggests that some things are eternal.

To do that, we have to graph what has happened since 4Q 2015 (the first quarter for which I began collecting this data.)

First though, the handset landscape – as in, how many handsets do these people shift? Best seen in graphical form, so you can get an idea of who’s rising, or falling, or what-the-helling.

Screenshot 2016 06 24 14 56 28

For phone ASPs, I’ll introduce a new measure – the “blended Android ASP”, which is the weighted average ASP, found by taking the available revenues for Android OEMs, and dividing by the total number of handsets shipped by those OEMs. Samsung tends to weigh heavily on this. I’ve included Xiaomi by assuming its ASP was $160 during 2015, falling to $157 in Q1, based on information from analysts. For Huawei, there’s no data except for Q1, when its ASP was $208.

Phone ASPs:

Screenshot 2016 06 24 14 31 15

This can be a little difficult to read, but you can see clear trends: Sony is the only company which is consistently raising its ASP. Even Apple is seeing a trend where it falls, while Microsoft in the past couple of quarters has done that. But for both, that has come at the cost of, well, profit.

Let’s see if when you compare the ASPs to the “blended” Android ASP, so you get an idea of how the prices change relative to the known ASPs. (This is not the ASP for all Android phones all over the world – for that you’d have to pay $$$$ for an analyst report from IDC or Gartner.)

Screenshot 2016 06 24 14 17 53

ASPs first: what’s pretty clear (and expected) is how far above the crowd Apple is; how Samsung’s figures tend to dominate the sector; how Sony’s are climbing; and how Xiaomi and Lenovo/Motorola are well below the crowd.

Sony has a strategy of raising ASPs in order to find profit somewhere, somehow, up there. Trouble is, it keeps not managing to. Microsoft ditto (perhaps). The problem they both have is that they’re selling fewer handsets over time, which makes profit harder to achieve because your fixed costs (overheads such as staff, administration, buildings etc) don’t shrink in the same way.

I’ve assumed that Xiaomi’s ASP was $160 throughout 2015; the figure for the first quarter of this year comes from IDC. That $160 figure makes sense: in June 2014, Bruce Einhorn at Bloomberg was comparing Huawei and Xiaomi (in a piece that seems prescient now) about Huawei’s insistence that it could be China’s top smartphone brand, and noted that

Huawei may not be able to compete with Xiaomi’s razzle-dazzle, but the Shenzhen-based Huawei has made big strides of its own in building its brand and making cool handsets. Last year it launched the Ascend PG, which Huawei said was the world’s slimmest smartphone, with a depth of just 0.24 inch (6.18 millimeters). In the first quarter of 2014, Huawei shipped 13.5 million smartphones, compared with Xiaomi’s 10 million, according to Bloomberg Industries. At $155.30, the average selling price for Huawei’s phones is slightly less than Xiaomi’s $159.60. And like Xiaomi, Huawei now sells most of its phones under its own brand. Three years ago, most of the handsets Huawei sold carried operators’ brands, with only 30% using Huawei’s own brand. Today, 95% of Huawei phones use the Huawei brand.

Note that Xiaomi’s ASP hasn’t shifted in those 18 months; by contrast, Huawei’s has rocketed, from that $155 to $208 now (according to IDC).

Profit: still mostly missing in action

For profit, the picture – unless you’re Apple or Samsung – remains unrelentingly grim. Although we don’t know how it looks for Huawei and Xiaomi.

For Huawei, its only known ASP (that I have; if anyone from IDC/Gartner wants to send more details, please do) is at a level where at best you’re breaking even. Given the colossal volume Huawei has managed in smartphones – it’s now the third biggest – it could have hit the economies of scale necessary to go past breakeven.

Xiaomi, meanwhile, is venture-funded, and selling at a very low ASP, and has seen sales go into reverse in the first quarter compared to the previous year. ASPs have followed. Even if you think that its model of selling online is clever, it’s hard to see that it would be making a profit. But we don’t know.

In the end: it looks dark

Looking at the handset shipment graphic, one would have to say that HTC, Sony and Microsoft are all heading towards the exit. They’re bigger than a lot of small players out there (OnePlus, Micromax, etc) but they’re trying to play on a global scale, and that’s very expensive. Even Lenovo, which is discarding Motorola parts as fast as it can, struggled in its home market of China and is now casting around for other places to sell.

LG seems to want to be in the game, but Xiaomi is challenging it, and Huawei has already overtaken it. All that is saving it is the fact that the smartphone business is part of a conglomerate that also makes air conditioners, washing machines, TVs and so on.

The really interesting one is Apple. Its ASP finally dropped – and by quite a bit. Its shipments fell – and again, by quite a bit (it only got where it is by stuffing the channel). Its per-handset profit dropped, in line with the ASP.

The question that keeps being asked is: how long can Apple stay above the fray? But the answer comes back, again and again: probably a lot longer than others can stay in the game.

Would you fund this?

If you were shown those graphics and asked who you’d like to be backing, it probably wouldn’t be Xiaomi; you’d want to be up there with Apple and Samsung, where the money is good and prices are high. But building a premium brand is the sort of thing that you wanted to start doing 30 years ago (at least).

I’ll admit I’m puzzled by the determination with which companies like Sony and LG and HTC stick to the smartphone business. If you’re losing money regularly, why do it? Perhaps it’s a fear of what comes afterwards – of the void beyond. Even BlackBerry is refusing to get out of the handset business, even though it barely generates gross margin on each handset (that is, hardly covers the costs of the actual device, never mind the sales/distribution/research process that gets it to someone).

Here in the UK we’re about to find out what #Brexit means; a leap into the void beyond. Maybe some smartphone makers are similarly worried about what happens if they stop making phones. Or it’s just too expensive to wind it all up, and safer to take small acceptable losses rather than big company-defining ones. (It’s the same approach that has seen once-big names in the PC business such as Toshiba simply rein in their distribution and manufacturing there.)

So maybe this is how the smartphone business ends for the companies which aren’t Apple and Samsung but which were early into the business: not with a bang, but a whimper.

Start up: tabloids on Europe, WhatsApp’s 100m callers, Huawei’s Apple use, VR shipment numbers, and more


“Chim-chiminee-chim-chiminee…” Photo by Dina Regine on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Daily chart: Debunking years of tabloid claims about Europe • The Economist

»THE Brexit campaign has been plagued by little white lies, half-truths and disinformation. Neither side has showered itself in glory in its attempts to persuade the British public of the benefits or drawbacks of EU membership. But Britain has a long and well-observed tradition of fabricating facts about Europe—so much so that the European Commission (EC) set up a website to debunk these lies in the early 1990s…

…the EC has responded to over 400 myths published by the British media. These range from the absurd (fishing boats will be forced to carry condoms) to the ridiculous (zippers on trousers will be banned). Some are seemingly the result of wilful misunderstandings. A story published by the Sun, a tabloid, in 1999 claimed that the queen would suddenly have to make her own tea because of new EU rules. Not only is this inaccurate, as a patient EC official pointed out, but the laws that this referred to were enacted by Britain itself in 1993. Another article in the Daily Star in 2004 reckoned that the EU was going to limit the speed of children’s playground roundabouts. This voluntary guideline, it turned out, was not proposed by the EU at all, but rather by a different organisation with the word “Europe” in its name. Other myths do not originate from anything close to reality, such as the allegation that the EC would ban darts from pubs or outlaw unwrapped sweets.

«

Or just have a look at this graphic:

By the time you read this, the vote decision should be known. Will the untruths have won the day?
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WhatsApp users are making 100 millions calls every day • The Next Web

Napier Lopez:

»WhatsApp users are now making more than 100 million voice calls every single day – over 1,100 calls per second.

That’s an impressive number, given the feature only finished rolling out to Android and iOS in April of last year. Of course, plenty of those calls are from individuals who make multiple calls per day, but it still shows how quickly WhatsApp’s 1 billion users have jumped on the feature.

For comparison, Skype only has about 300 million active users per month, so it’s not a stretch to imagine WhatsApp has already surpassed the number of daily Skype calls (a figure Skype doesn’t make public). Not bad, considering WhatsApp calling is 12 years younger.

«

link to this extract

 


Led Zeppelin Did Not Steal ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ Jury Says – The New York Times

Noah Gilbert and Ben Sisario:

»Led Zeppelin did not steal the opening riff of its classic rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven,” a federal jury ruled here on Thursday, giving the band a victory in a copyright case in which millions of dollars were at stake.

The case pitted an obscure song from the margins of rock history against one of the canonical hits of the genre. The suit was filed two years ago by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the songs of Randy Wolfe, a member of the band Spirit. It contends that the Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had lifted substantial portions of the Spirit song “Taurus,” from 1968, for the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven,” which was released in 1971 and, by some estimates, has earned more than $500m.

«

Phew. (Though you know that quite a few Led Zep riffs were, um, borrowed from other writers? For example “Whole Lotta Love” and others.)
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How a former Apple designer is updating Huawei’s look • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»Last fall, Chinese electronics manufacturer Huawei brought in a former longtime Apple designer, Abigail Brody, to change the look of its smartphone software “skin,” which sits on top of Google’s Android mobile operating system. The Huawei skin has been criticized by Western phone review writers as ripping off elements of the iPhone, such as the way the app icons look.

Ms. Brody is expected to introduce features that look like those found on most Android phones, but with Huawei’s own flair. And to hedge its bets against Google’s control of Android, Huawei is also secretly developing an alternative mobile operating system, according to three people briefed about the project.

Huawei “doesn’t want to be on the crutch of Android,” said one of the people familiar with Huawei’s secret OS project. But two other people with knowledge of the project say the alternative OS team isn’t far along and is meant as a contingency measure in case Google further tightens its grip on Android or stops offering it to smartphone makers.

«

Wouldn’t set much store by it.
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TrendForce estimates VR device shipments to reach 9m units this year owing to strong pre-order sales of Playstation VR • Trendforce

Jason Tsai, analyst:

»Sony made its widely anticipated PlayStation VR (PS VR) available for pre-order this month following the releases of HTC’s Vive and Oculus’s Rift. So far, the market reception towards PS VR has been very good as Japan and several other regions have reported that their pre-order shipments were sold out immediately after the announcement. Global market research firm TrendForce expects PS VR to generate another huge wave of VR device shipments this year. If the branded vendors are able to ensure sufficient supply, TrendForce forecasts that shipments of VR devices (excluding mobile-based products) will grow at a CAGR of 53.5% from 9 million units this year to 50 million units in 2020.

“While sales from various branded vendors have been brisk, this year’s VR device shipments will be mainly influenced by the supply side of the market,” said Jason Tsai, wearable device analyst for TrendForce. “Branded vendors were overly conservative in stocking up their inventories before the market releases of their products. They are now seeing the product demand far outstripping the supply and will have to adjust their inventories in the next two quarters, or else the undersupply situation in the VR device market will likely persist to the second half of 2017.”

«

HTC, which needs this to work, only expected to get 8% of units; Sony to get 67%.
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The Tesla-SolarCity vision collision • Bloomberg Gadfly

Liam Denning:

»Musk says that, once acquired, SolarCity can leverage Tesla’s sales channels to substantially cut stubborn selling costs. He is “highly confident” meaningful benefits would show up within two quarters of the deal closing, a remarkably fast timetable. He also said new panel technology from Silevo, which SolarCity acquired in 2014, would have a big impact.

Here’s the thing: ‘Vision’ is part and parcel of building a new company in a very new industry and persuading investors to fund it. Breakthroughs don’t happen without it, and Tesla can lay claim to have made significant breakthroughs.

But the lesson of SolarCity is that vision is only as good as the faith it attracts. And faith in SolarCity’s vision — which has always benefited partly from its association with Musk — has dwindled sharply. In selling itself to Tesla, SolarCity would become part of a vision that still has a strong following, but isn’t helped by the lack of clarity displayed Wednesday morning.

The flip-side? Selling out at this low price would confirm SolarCity has lost faith in itself. What’s worse is that, judging by investors’ reaction to the news, bringing SolarCity in-house won’t just dilute Tesla’s earnings, but also risks diluting its vital resource: belief in Musk.

«

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Lessons from the tech elite: eat carrots, shower more and tape up your webcam • The Guardian

Stuart Heritage on the many strange things that tech elites do:

»Shower
This gold nugget came from Elon Musk in a Reddit AMA last year. When asked “What daily habit do you believe has the largest positive impact on your life?” he replied: “Showering.” This could be because the time he spends alone in the shower each day makes him more receptive to inspiration. Or it could be because he naturally emits such a hideous stench that nobody would work with him otherwise. Either way, if you want to be as successful as Musk, wash sometimes.

Make an entire room out of gold
Yoshiro Nakamatsu invented the floppy disk. Why? Because he spends all his downtime relaxing in a room tiled with 24-carat gold. The gold, he says, “blocks out radio waves and television signals that are harmful to imagination”. This sounds like the ravings of a lunatic, but remember he invented the floppy disk. What have you ever invented? Nothing. And you never will until you start living like Donald Trump’s wet dream.

«

Splendid.
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Security holes found in widely-used file compression library • Tripwire

Graham Cluley:

»The libarchive programming library was originally developed for the FreeBSD project but is now used by software coders around the world to provide real-time access to a wide range of compressed file formats – including zip, tar, 7z, cab, and many more.

The risk, explain security researchers at Cisco Talos, is that malicious attackers could create boobytrapped archive files that exploit one of the three newly discovered vulnerabilities in order to execute unauthorized malicious code on a user’s computer. All an attacker would need to do is send a poisoned archive file to their intended target.

And as libarchive is used by a number of file and package managers included in Linux and BSD systems, as well as security tools and file browsers including tools running on OS X and Chrome OS, it isn’t necessarily trivial to ensure that your system is completely patched.

«

Great!
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BlackBerry first-quarter breakeven tops expectations, shares climb • Reuters

Alastair Sharp and Allison Martell:

»BlackBerry said it expects an adjusted annual loss of around 15 cents per share, compared with the average analyst estimate of a loss of 33 cents for fiscal 2017.

Software and licensing revenue was $166m in the quarter ended May 31. The company had annual software revenue of $527m last fiscal year and is targeting 30% organic growth.

Chief Executive Officer John Chen said better deals with manufacturing partners struck in the quarter helped it to limit exposure to excess inventory and to better manage cash.

“We’re at a point where our business is extremely efficient and we no longer really are making any hardware,” Chen told analysts on a conference call. “We are really a hardware design house.”

The company said it recognized revenue on some 500,000 handsets in the quarter at an average selling price around $290. Chen said it plans to unveil two cheaper Android-based devices in July.

Morningstar’s Colello said a better-selling smartphone could make the segment profitable.

«

BlackBerry is such a minuscule business now; it’s just another Android OEM, but with a couple of bells and whistles, whose principal profit centre is the Service Activation Fees (SAF) it receives from the monthly bills of people using phones such as the Curve which were discontinued five years ago. (See “reconciliation of the company’s segment results” in this press release: SAF generated $78m in operating profit, at a 73% margin; software/services generated $37m operating profit at a 22% margin; hardware lost $21m, an operating margin of -14%. And that’s ignoring the $41m writedown on inventory – no doubt of unsold Privs.

The trouble is, SAF is shrinking fast – about 14% for a few quarters, but at 25% in the most recent quarter.

John Chen doesn’t have much time.
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John Gruber misses the point completely about Lightning headphones • Medium

Steve Streza on the mooted vanishment of the 3.5mm headphone jack in the next iPhone:

»There will always be rough transitions in technology. What separates this is a few factors. First, adopting Lightning would be a transition from an open technology to a closed one. We would literally be fragmenting the market for speakers and headphones. Second is the fact that the headphone plug is so ubiquitous. It is in everything from high-end home theater speakers and audiophile-quality headphones to cheap computer speakers and dollar store earbuds. It’s a plug on literally billions of devices, including computers, phones, AV systems, portable gaming machines, desk telephones, in-car audio systems, and all kinds of other things. It’s a known quantity; you get a device that can play audio, it’ll probably be there.

You have to start somewhere, yes. But not until it’s compelling. Until then, it’s change for the benefit of nobody but Apple, at the cost of convenience and interoperability for their customers.

Gruber: And as for battery life, surely removing the deep headphone socket can only leave more room for a larger battery.

You can actually calculate this, and the internal volume of the headphone port pales compared to how much capacity you’d get by just making the existing battery slightly thicker. Plus it would keep the battery its nice, manufacture rectangular shape…

…People will not buy into Lightning headphones, they will put up with it. This transition will be painful and difficult because of just how thoroughly entrenched the current solution is, how little the new solution offers, and how many complications it adds for customers.

«

As Streza also points out, the removal of the old ADB connectors from the original iMac in favour of USB is heralded now, but was an absolute nightmare for the first few months after its introduction because all your old stuff didn’t work and needed adaptors. (Some companies got their big start from that.)

Removing the headphone jack would not be good. It totally wouldn’t. I have a pair of sound-cancelling headphones which work on the old 30-pin iPhone socket. Guess how often I use them now?

Bluetooth headphones (the only reasonable option) need charging, and pairing, and that’s a pain. In all these ways, removing the 3.5mm jack is a Bad Idea. If Apple gives a thousand Nos for every Yes, this is one idea to which it definitely should have said No. (Via Richard Gaywood.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the Android OEM conundrum, understanding guns (and laws), Taylor Swift v YouTube (again), and more


Apple’s “iPhone design patent” fight in China is against a vanished company that might have been located in this road in Shenzhen. Photo by dcmaster on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Has the “affordable” smartphone let us down? • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»Who’s to blame for the promising ZenFone turning into a bloatware-ridden pile of bugs languishing on Lollipop, seven-plus months since Marshmallow was released? What’s the reason Alcatel’s relatively unbloated Idol 3 took nearly as long to get Marshmallow itself (mine still doesn’t have it)? How did the OnePlus end up the poster child for QA issues, compromise, poor customer service, and slow updates? Why did it take deliberate public shaming to get Motorola to update the Moto E, and even then, not in every country? How did Motorola end up being sued for $5 million over poor warranty support? Why did HTC decide not to renew its promises of rapid Android OS updates on the new 10, all while pricing it at a seemingly obscene $700? Why is Sony trying to charge $550 for for what is, at best, a $400 phone with the Xperia X?

The answer, of course, is money. It has nothing to do with companies “hating” customers. It’s not about whether or not they “care” about you – no multi-billion dollar corporation does, and it’d be silly to assume they did. It’s just dollars and cents. How many customers will I lose by not updating this phone? How much money will I save? How much damage will my brand sustain? How much bloatware do I need to put on here to make this product financially viable? Where can I cut costs on support and reduce warranty claims?

…I have come to think my faith in the cheap smartphone has been largely misplaced. Perhaps it was naive to assume that companies whose business model is to make money on the physical product they sell – and not the things you do with it – wouldn’t be so short-sighted. But they’re proving to be just that.

«

Ruddock is always good value.
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Chinese company in patent dispute with Apple barely exists • WSJ

Eva Dou and Alyssa Abkowitz:

»When a Beijing regulator recently ruled against Apple Inc. in a patent dispute, it handed a victory to a Chinese company that barely exists.

Phone calls to the company, Shenzhen Baili Marketing Services Co., ring unanswered. Its websites have been deleted. Visits to its three registered addresses found no company offices.

Baili and its parent, Digione, are part of a rapid boom and bust in China’s new wave of smartphone makers. When Baili took on Apple in December 2014, telling Chinese regulators that the Cupertino, Calif., company’s new models infringed on its smartphone design patents, it had bold aspirations, a big-name investor in Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. and a team of experienced executives.

By the time regulators reached a decision this year, Digione had collapsed, brought down by buggy products, mismanagement and fierce competition, according to former employees and investors.

«

Weird but not unlike patent trolls in the US and elsewhere.
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WWDC clues hint at Apple’s post-iPhone era • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»At first glance, it would appear that Apple has all the ingredients in place to move beyond the iPhone. Apple’s industrial design capabilities continue to be industry-leading, and WWDC began to peel away some of the mystery surrounding Apple’s path for incorporating deep learning into its services. However, there are two big risk factors that need to be monitored very closely.

Apple remains a resource-strained company. The most valuable resource is time and energy. Given the company’s functional organizational structure, management has tangible limitations as to the number of projects that can be undertaken at any one time. As seen in the Apple Experience era diagrams, it would not be a stretch to see the number of blue circles, representing Apple hardware form factors, to increase. However, at a certain point, Apple will begin to find that it is unable to expand in new areas while still supporting legacy industries or products. Management is quite vocal that Apple says “no” much more than “yes” when it comes to new products. In addition, the company is not afraid to cannibalize its own products. These statements will likely be tested in the coming years.

«

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You cannot regulate guns unless you know how to use one • Medium

Yishan Wong:

»I am here to tell you the first thing you need to do if you want meaningful gun control legislation to be passed in America.

If you want to personally do something that will help, here it is:

You Must Learn How To Use a Gun

Sounds crazy, right?

Almost every gun control advocate I know hates guns and wants nothing to do with them. They are vaguely (or very) afraid of them, and believe that if they fire a gun or buy one, they will suddenly become a gun nut or turn evil.

That is nonsense. You need to understand guns intimately if you want to regulate them.

This kind of thinking is common sense when it comes to making laws about anything else, yet somehow it flies out the window when it comes to regulating something as simple and dangerous as guns.

Being a gun owner who doesn’t believe in the Second Amendment is really lonely.

«

He makes a lot of excellent points; we decry legislators who try to regulate crypto without understanding it, yet think it’s obvious whether you should legislate against hollow point bullets and AR-15s. I learnt a lot.
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Slow adoption in automotive • Pearl blog

Bryson Gardner is co-founder and CEO of Pearl, whose co-founders used to work at Apple getting the iPod and iPhone out, and now want to get cars to be better sorted:

»Cars last longer than ever and are quickly left behind by the rapid pace of new technology. The industry’s ability to keep them up to date is fundamentally limited by 6-7 year design cycles and how few new cars are produced and bought every year. Historically new features, from airbags to antilock brakes, have taken 30-40 years to reach widespread adoption. The future will be no different, unless we re-think things.

While we see great promise in autonomous vehicles, recent reports project only 4% of the 2 billion cars in the world in 2035 will be autonomous. That leaves more than 95% of the cars without autonomous features nearly 20 years from now.

Should we really be waiting this long? Why not use the very same technological building blocks of the autonomous future to help every driver on the road today? ADAS technologies, such as the backup camera, blind spot warning and forward collision warning, are available in some new cars and have clear benefits, and these new technologies are just too important to limit to only new cars.

«

They’re starting with rear-view cameras, priced at $500.
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Taylor Swift and the music industry’s attack on YouTube Is a mistake • Fortune

Jeff John Roberts isn’t saying that Taylor Swift is a mistake, but that the advert attacking YouTube is:

»Here is what the ad will say, according to Billboard:

“[The law] has allowed major tech companies to grow and generate huge profits by creating ease of use for consumers to carry almost every recorded song in history in their pocket via a smartphone, while songwriters’ and artists’ earnings continue to diminish.”

The ad campaign will reportedly also press Congress to use an ongoing review of copyright law to tilt the rules to be more in favor of musicians.

This spectacle of Swift and other A-listers pleading for “reform” will no doubt make an impression on the country’s lawmakers. But that doesn’t mean they should listen. What the music industry is doing is making mischief with an important law in order to put business pressure on YouTube.

The law, as many people are aware, is called the DMCA (the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act,”) and it serves to protect websites like YouTube and Facebook from getting sued when someone uploads a song or video without permission. According to music industry types, YouTube exploits the law to turn a blind eye to piracy and get rich in the process. That’s why, they argue we need “DMCA reform” to put a stop to this.

It’s a compelling argument. But it’s just not true.

«

He’s right – what the music business wants is for YouTube to pay out more per play.
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How artificial intelligence will transform our high streets • Tech City News

Rosh Singh, director of digital innovation at Kinetic Active:

»the environment we live in is already being transformed at an astounding rate. For instance, the death of the high street owing to the growth of eCommerce, is often lamented. But new technologies are actually making high streets more accessible, more engaging and more personal than ever before.

For proof, look no further than the rapid rise in campaigns linking out-of-home (OOH) media to mobile marketing. Kinetic recently formed a partnership with Exterion to experiment with beacons used in conjunction with digital out-of-home (DOOH) media. Eventually we will be able to know exactly who is standing in front of a screen at any given time, personalise digital copy based on in-app activity, and serve useful messaging that is unique to every individual.

In the future, knowing you are heading out shopping, the screens on your route would serve you intuitive nudges to remind you of vital items missing from your connected fridge or your cupboards, and share information like in-store discounts, details on busiest shop times or new stockists.

«

I’m giving this a no-way-Jose.
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Pando memberships: one year on • Pando

Sarah Lacy and Paul Carr:

»twelve months ago, two things were becoming clear:

1) Our reporting was increasingly an adversarial anomaly in an access journalism world. We’d had threats of pulling ad dollars from us before, called the bluff of those making the threat and still managed to survive. But one day our luck would run out: A major advertiser would cave to pressure (or would find themselves the subject of a negative story on Pando) and yank their spending with us.

2) Most of our advertising and sponsorship customers were newly public SAAS based businesses or ones hoping to go public. And some sort of correction was on the horizon. Our then-multi-million dollar a year ad business had grown year over year at a nice clip. But it was gonna get crushed in 2016.

«

Oddly enough, their mixed model is very like that of the Economist, which doesn’t rely on ads.
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The worst thing I read this year, and what it taught me… or Can we design sociotechnical systems… • Medium

Ethan Zuckerman:

»I found Shane Snow’s essay on prison reform — “How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix the Prison System” — through hatelinking. Friends of mine hated the piece so much that normally articulate people were at a loss for words.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

With a recommendation like that, how could I pass it up? And after reading it, I tweeted my astonishment to Susie, who told me, “I write comics, but I don’t know how to react to this in a way that’s funny.” I realized that I couldn’t offer an appropriate reaction in 140 characters either. The more I think about Snow’s essay, the more it looks like the outline for a class on the pitfalls of solving social problems with technology, a class I’m now planning on teaching this coming fall.

«

Zuckerman wonders “is it possible to get beyond both a naïve belief that the latest technology will solve social problems and a reaction that rubbishes any attempt to offer novel technical solutions as inappropriate, insensitive and misguided?”
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Musk’s strange takeover, Apple’s cloud escapees, Gawker v Thiel redux, the Trump question, and more

Blade Runner: Sean Young and Harrison Ford in a Polaroid
Yes, OK, but what about the typography in the film? Photo by kaytaria on Flickr. (Where you can see a ton more Blade Runner Polaroids – all including Sean Young.)

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A selection of 14 links for you. Yes, they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tesla makes offer to acquire SolarCity • Tesla Motors

Elon Musk:

»in March 2015, we launched Tesla Energy, which through the Powerwall and Powerpack allow homeowners, business owners and utilities to benefit from renewable energy storage.

It’s now time to complete the picture. Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun.

The SolarCity team has built its company into the clear solar industry leader in the residential, commercial and industrial markets, with significant scale and growing customer penetration. They have made it easy for customers to switch to clean energy while still providing the best customer experience. We’ve seen this all firsthand through our partnership with SolarCity on a variety of use cases, including those where SolarCity uses Tesla battery packs as part of its solar projects.

So, we’re excited to announce that Tesla today has made an offer to acquire SolarCity.

«

Guess who is a big shareholder in SolarCity?
link to this extract

 


April 2016: Elon Musk supports his business empire with unusual financial moves • WSJ

April 2016:

»Since October 2014, SolarCity Corp. has tried to lure individual investors to the solar-power business by pitching $214m of what it calls “solar bonds” through the company’s website.

The biggest buyer by far, though, was rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Inc., including $90m of $105m sold last month.

The bonds were an “excellent investment,” billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said in an interview. And he knows more about the companies than anyone. Mr. Musk is their largest shareholder, the chairman of SolarCity and chief executive of SpaceX.

«

Hmm.
link to this extract

 


Former Apple engineers escaped to create their own cloud startup • Recode

Arik Hesseldahl:

»One group of Apple network engineers led by Jason Forrester, now SnapRoute’s CEO, was detailed to a skunkworks effort to, as one source familiar with the assignment put it, “build something they couldn’t get from any existing networking vendor” — software that was powerful enough to meet Apple’s industrial-grade networking needs, but also flexible enough to allow frequent on-the-fly changes to respond to shifting demands.

As the work progressed, Forrester and his team chafed at their hidden role in the behemoth project. “Slowly, our desires to share our ideas with the world began to overshadow the thrill of working for Apple,” he wrote. They left their jobs last year and started SnapRoute.

SnapRoute makes software that helps companies manage their cloud systems, whether those systems are internal or external. Right now, if a company is overwhelmed with a sudden demand, such as a suddenly popular new app bringing in unprecedented numbers of photo uploads, it’s expensive and slow to change how the network works. SnapRoute’s software makes that switch quicker and cheaper.

The 20-person startup emerged from stealth mode last week with $4.5 million in venture capital investments led by Lightspeed Ventures.

«

link to this extract

 


Well….Google just announced at SMX that the 3-pack is going to start… • Google+

Joy Hawkins:

»Well….Google just announced at SMX that the 3-pack is going to start containing an ad soon. So instead of the 3-pack it’s going to be 1-ad + 2 organic listings. Yes, the ones right on Google search (not the expanded pack). Be prepared to try to get clients in the top 2 instead of the top 3!

«

Translation: in local search on mobile/desktop, there will be an ad (or two) above the maps, and then two organic results. Here’s a screenshot.

It’s the only way for Google to keep growing its ad revenues as mobile becomes bigger but the number of searches on it don’t grow.
link to this extract

 


Disdain for Gawker and praise for Thiel at Facebook’s stockholders meeting • BuzzFeed News

Alex Kantrowitz:

»Facebook shareholders (at least the ones not named Mark Zuckerberg) didn’t have a say in Peter Thiel’s reelection to Facebook’s board Monday, but it didn’t seem to matter. At Facebook’s annual stockholders meeting, shareholders applauded Zuckerberg’s move to reelect the controversial board member. Some even cheered Thiel on in his campaign to destroy Gawker.

Thiel is at once funding lawsuits against Gawker, a Facebook publishing partner, and serving as a delegate for Donald Trump, who after the Orlando shooting suggested the children of Muslim immigrants are a security threat to the United States. These positions, to some, may appear to conflict with Facebook’s mission “to make the world more open and connected.” Especially since Facebook is a critical source of traffic to publishers like Gawker, and publishers help fill Facebook’s News Feed with high-quality content. But to Zuckerberg, whose majority voting share means he has absolute power over these decisions, and to those in attendance, Thiel is still the right guy for the job.

«

link to this extract

 


You won’t be able to sue the next Gawker • Medium

Cody Brown:

»If [Peter] Thiel is successful in destroying Gawker, he will martyrize them. The Hollywood movie that will come from this a few years from now is amazing to imagine. Social Network — The Sequel. Staring Jesse Eisenberg, Hulk Hogan, Donald Trump, and a series of tech billionaires with egos as thin as egg shells.

I now feel hesitant to bring up a point like this in a public forum. So many of those I know in the heart of Silicon Valley are thoughtful, deeply intelligent, interesting people but this is their blind spot. They have funded or built massive new institutions of social change without much scrutiny but the scrutiny is finally coming and they don’t know how to handle it. They will cut you out or block you for even engaging. Paul Graham and a partner at Andreessen Horowitz unfollowed after I made a few tweets in support of Gawker. A single email from any of these guys could torpedo my next round of funding. I have more to lose than to gain by putting my name next to this.

And that’s the point.

If the price of dissent in Silicon Valley is too high, dissent will find a darker avenue. The next ValleyWag is likely to be more like WikiLeaks. It could be anonymous. It could be outside the jurisdiction of The United States. And it could use all the shiny tools of the web, Tor, bitcoin financing, Zeronet, the blockchain, to exist above the law.

«

link to this extract

 


Apple unlikely to make big changes for next iPhone • WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Eva Dou:

»The biggest planned change in this year’s phones is the removal of the headphone plug, which will make the phone thinner and improve its water resistance, said people familiar with that matter.

The Lightning connector will serve double-duty as a port for charging the phone and for connecting headphones, they said. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said he expects the new iPhone to be one millimeter thinner than the current iPhone.

Apple plans bigger design changes for 2017, the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. Those changes could include an edge-to-edge organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, screen and eliminating the home button by building the fingerprint sensor into the display, according to people familiar with the matter.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

«

So there will have to be some Extra Thing to make it worth plugging headphones into your Lightning connector. And as has been asked, how do you charge while listening to music?
link to this extract

 


Moto X designer will soon be ex Moto designer • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»Jim Wicks, the man responsible for the celebrated designs of the 2013 Moto X and 2014 Moto 360 smartwatch, is leaving the former Motorola after 15 years of loyal service. Having joined Motorola in 2001 after design lead roles at Sony and Sapient, Wicks was part of the leadership team that stayed on during the tumult of being taken over by Google and sold on to Lenovo. But this year has seen the Motorola name phased out from public use and Rick Osterloh, the previous chief of the company, departing to head up a new hardware unit at Google. Wicks is now following suit and moving into academia, joining Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute as a full-time faculty member.

«

As I’ve said before, I think Motorola won’t make another Android Wear smartwatch. It’s dead, Jim. The gutting of Motorola – well, that’s corporate life.
link to this extract

 


Facebook scraps in-video links to other sites • BBC News

»Video-makers can still add a link to the text that appears at the top or bottom of native video posts. However, this does not appear if the video is being watched in full-screen mode, and will therefore be missed if a user is allowing one clip to auto-play after another.

A “click for more” link does still appear superimposed over videos viewed on PCs.
However, it now makes the clips appear larger rather than directing users to third-party websites, as had been the case before.

Many broadcasters – including the BBC – upload shortened versions of their material in order to direct audiences to the full versions on their own sites.

Others, such as al-Jazeera’s AJ+ service, are content to build awareness for their brands by making clips for the social media platform without trying to send users to their sites.

Facebook itself has an incentive to discourage audiences from leaving as this allows it to show them more ads.
“This is further evidence that having eaten the audiences for newspapers, Facebook is now keen to stifle the audiences for broadcasters,” commented Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University London, and a former editor of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Times.

«

Facebook is becoming an inescapable gravity well for publishers.
link to this extract

 


Now examining: Blade Runner • Typeset In The Future

Dave Addey goes into another of his deliciously detailed examinations of the fonts, symbols and typefaces (those are different, right?) in this iconic film. Previous efforts have looked at Moon and Alien. The latter was, like this, directed by Ridley Scott, and Addey notices something odd in an early scene when Deckard gets into a VTOL “Spinner”:

»The Spinner’s landscape-orientation TV shows a display that may be familiar to regular TITF readers:

This ENVIRON CTR PURGE display is identical to the one we saw in Alien, just before the Nostromo exploded :

As if that wasn’t enough self-plagiarism, Ridley Scott also steals a second display from his earlier sci-fi masterpiece.

«

There’s your lunchtime reading sorted.
link to this extract

 


Refugee rescue app pulled from App Store after it is outed as fake • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»An app which purported to offer aid to refugees lost in the Mediterranean has been pulled from Apple’s App Store after it was revealed as a fake.

The I Sea app, which also won a Bronze medal at the Cannes Lions conference on Monday night, presented itself as a tool to help report refugees lost at sea, using real-time satellite footage to identify boats in trouble and highlighting their location to the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas), which would provide help.

In fact, the app did nothing of the sort. Rather than presenting real-time satellite footage – a difficult and expensive task – it instead simply shows a portion of a static, unchanging image. And while it claims to show the weather in the southern Mediterranean, that too isn’t that accurate: it’s for Western Libya.

The app was developed by Grey Group, an ad agency in Singapore that’s part of global advertising giant WPP.

«

Read on for complete and absolute bull spouted by Grey’s executive creative director about “algorithms”. Shameful, and shameless.
link to this extract

 


How Is Donald Trump going to quit? • Gawker

Ashley Feinberg lays out four scenarios, of which this one – during the convention – strikes me as possible:

»Remember, absolutely everything Donald Trump does is about A) creating an appearance of having won and B) getting as much positive attention as humanly possible. To succeed in this scenario, Trump needs something huge to take everybody’s mind off the fact that he’s backing out of the presidency. Trump needs to announce Trump TV.

Or the Trump News Network or Trump Broadcasting or Der Stürmer or whatever he decides to call it. This way, Trump gets to turn the Republican National Convention, where virtually every media outlet in the nation has gathered, into a press conference for the launch of his very own television network.

As Vanity Fair pointed out, his whole campaign has basically been building to this point. His constant bashing of the media certainly must mean he thinks he can do it better. And to his credit, Trump does have a knack for commanding a national audience. Why bother being President, a job he neither wants nor is qualified for, when he can do the only part he actually enjoys (screaming things on television) for the rest of his life?

«

link to this extract

 


The weird story behind the Trump campaign’s $35,000 payment to ‘Draper Sterling’ • ThinkProgress

Judd Legum on money paid to a company that oddly has the same name as the famous fictitious ad guys:

»[Jon] Adkins co-founded the medical device company with Paul Holzer, a former Navy Seal and current medical student at Dartmouth. Holzer was involved in Charlie Baker’s run for governor in 2014 — he ran the campaign’s “voter contact strategy.” He was also part of the “management and strategy team” for Missourians For John Brunner, a candidate for governor.

Trump paid an additional $3,000 each to Holzer and Adkins in May for “field consulting.” Holzer listed Adkins’ home as his address.

This is when things get interesting.

The only other apparent public mention of Draper Sterling effectively accuses it of being a scam that helps perpetrate legally questionable activity.

It comes from an FEC complaint against an entity called “Patriots For America,” a federal super PAC seeking to influence the Missouri governor’s race. The complaint, filed on May 12 by an economics professor named Aaron Hedlund, alleges that Patriots For America listed no receipts or disbursements on its FEC filings, yet sent out direct mail.

It also highlights an unusual debt of $56,234 to “Draper Sterling LLC” for “business consulting.” Hedlund describes the debt as “mysterious,” “highly unusual” and a potential violation of the law.

«

There’s usually something a bit fishy around presidential campaigns, but this is just weird. I find the Trump campaign’s (“campaign’s”) shenanigans endlessly fascinating because it’s like a clown car being driven on a Formula 1 circuit. Bits are flying off all over the place.
link to this extract

 


Missing the boat in music • Asymco

Horace Dediu:

»how does a 15 million user base in 1 year compare with the growth rate for the incumbents Spotify and Pandora?

The following graph shows the ramps for Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music since their moments of market entry. The accumulation of users by Apple looks to be the fastest yet.

This is, of course, due to a maturing use case. Apple did not have to educate people to the notion of music as a subscription. It could just announce it and users would discover it and just sign up, especially if they were already iCloud subscribers and had a credit card attached to their iTunes account.

But that’s the whole point. Apple did not have to move first in music subscriptions. It did not even have to move second or third. When it did move it could just skim the market and add to its already healthy Services revenue (orange line in the first graph above.) Missing the boat in music in this case meant capturing all the value quickly and with minimal expense.

Fundamentally, Apple’s entry into music subscriptions was a sustaining effort. Streaming sustained Apple rather than disrupting it. The difference may seem merely one of semantics, but it is also the difference between life and death for a challenger. Meaning matters.

«

Some discussion in the comments about whether streaming is a disruptive innovation after all, rather than sustaining. My own comment there is that it depends on surrounding preconditions, which have taken years to come right.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Twitter gets AI too, Apple’s photo AI, would Brexit raise roaming prices?, Spotify’s 100m, and more


Presenting! It can be so easy, but can be so bad. Photo by Alice Bartlett on Flickr.

You might sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Unless you already did.

A selection of 12 links for you. Now that the summer solstice has passed in the northern hemisphere. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alicia Keys is done playing nice. Your phone is getting locked up at her shows now. • The Washington Post

Geoff Edgers:

»On a cool Manhattan night, DJ Walton, who helps manage Alicia Keys, steps outside the Highline Ballroom to tell the guy at the door who, exactly, he may allow to bring a cellphone into the singer’s sold-out gig. The list is very short.

“Like, Queen Latifah,” says Walton.

Benji Spanier nods and spreads the news to everybody else. This is a “phone-free event,” he tells fans waiting in line. And that doesn’t mean airplane mode. Spanier holds a gray, rubbery pouch in his hand. Your phone goes in here, he says, and then we lock it.

“What?” one fan grumbles.

Quickly, Spanier adds an important addendum.

You keep that locked pouch with you. Spanier also explains that if you need to use your phone, you can just come outside and he can quickly unlock it by tapping it on a metal disk slightly larger than a bagel. The tension breaks.

“If you had told me you were going to put it in a locker, I’d have been pissed off,” Kevin Schmidt, 37, tells him. “This is okay.”

«

Special pouch, called Yondr. Good business for them.
link to this extract

 


Did Jeep’s recalled gear shifter contribute to the death of Star Trek Actor Anton Yelchin? (Updating) • Jalopnik

David Tracy:

»Earlier today, we learned about the tragic death of Anton Yelchin after the Star Trek actor was found pinned between his car and a mailbox. Now news from TMZ indicates that Yelchin’s car was a Jeep Grand Cherokee, leading us to wonder whether it was among the 1.1 million cars recalled in April due to a confusing shifter that owners often inadvertently left in neutral instead of park. [Update: it was.]

In mid April, Jeep recalled 1.1 million vehicles equipped with ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission because, according to the automaker’s recall notice, “Some drivers… exited their vehicles without first selecting ‘PARK,’” ultimately causing the cars to roll away uncontrollably.

«

Lots of maybes, but this looks like a case where poor design led to death.
link to this extract

 


Twitter buys machine learning start-up Magic Pony • FT.com

Hannah Kuchler:

»Twitter has acquired Magic Pony, a London-based machine learning start-up, as the messaging platform tries to bolster its video and live streaming capabilities.

Magic Pony specialises in creating algorithms that can understand pictures, which could be helpful to Twitter as it pushes further into live streaming and moves away from a chronological timeline to a more curated Facebook-style news feed.

The startup was set up in 2014 and has 14 engineers, including 11 with PhDs and expertise across computer vision, the ability to understand pictures, machine learning and computational neurosciences…

Twitter acquired Magic Pony for an undisclosed sum. Its investors include Octopus Ventures, a UK-based venture capital firm that has invested in other artificial intelligence companies. These include Evi, which was acquired by Amazon, and SwiftKey, which was bought by Microsoft.

«

Airplanes to San Francisco await the chief executive Rob Bishop. Congratulations to that team.
link to this extract

 


Speaker style bingo: 10 presentation anti-patterns • Troy Hunt

Hunt nails the ten awful habits of speakers you wish hadn’t got the slot you’re attending, and offers this advice:

»seriously, you’ve got to rehearse these things like crazy and also recognise that your pace changes between private rehearsals and public presentations. On that point, I always have a timing sheet in large letters next to my iPad with a timer in an easily glanceable location:

This is invaluable. I refine the timing on subsequent rehearsal and ensure it’s accurate to the minute with two or three minutes to spare at the end just in case I start late or have an issue. I glance at it very few minutes and either slow down the pace (usually by embellishing on a topic) or speed it up to get back on track. But here’s the key – this has to be something you can check with a glance.

«

Then again, I think all of us who have spoken in public could do a similar one about the audience – the ones checking their phones, checking their laptops, etc.
link to this extract

 


Behind Apple’s advanced computer vision for Photos app • Medium

Kay Yin:

»[iOS 10’s] Photos app recognises and distinguishes the following 7 facial expressions. Expressions are distinguished after forming a “faceprint”. These distinction are used for searching. They are also rated and indexed for generation Memories and montages.
•Greedy, Disgust, Neutral, Scream, Smiling, Surprise, Suspicious

Photos app will generate Moments that falls within the following 33 categories. Default name of the moment will be automatically generated using metadata from the photos and tags from analysis of photos.

• Memories from areas of interest, Best of past memories, Memories that break out of routine, Celebration in history, Contextual memories, Crowd, Day in history, Holiday in history, Location of interest, Nearby, New contextual memories, New memories, Person’s Birthdays, Person’s memories, Recent events (calendar, crowd, holiday, people, person, social, trip, weekend), Region of interest, Social group memories, Sometime memories, Special memories, Favourited, Trips, Week in history, Weekend, Year summary, Last week, Last Weekend

Photos app supports detecting 4,432 different scenes and objects. These scenes or objects can be searched for in all languages.

Additionally, you can search for various landmarks.

«

He doesn’t specify how he knows this – possibly from using the macOS beta and digging into the accompanying files. It seems like a limited number compared to what Google must have; Google’s scenes/objects list is probably growing by 4,432 every day.
link to this extract

 


Could Brexit result in higher roaming charges? • CCS Insigh

Kester Mann:

»Should the UK vote for Brexit, mobile operators would no longer be accountable to Brussels’ regulation on roaming. Under pressure from declining revenue in traditional areas such as voice and messaging, they would be foolish not to at least consider seizing an opportunity to reapply charges.

In reality however, this would be much easier said than done in a hugely competitive market that includes a number of strong virtual providers. Indeed, some operators have already gone a long way toward abolishing roaming ahead of the ruling next June. Backtracking would be extremely unpopular and probably only work if operators moved in unison. Even then, Ofcom may still be within its rights to clamp down if it deemed the move unnecessary.

Already more than 3 million customers of Three have taken advantage of inclusive roaming since the operator launched its Feel at Home offer in 2013. Significantly, it includes popular tourist and business destinations beyond Brussels’ jurisdiction, such as Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the US. In my view, this demonstrates a long-term strategy to offer low-cost roaming charges, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Other UK providers have followed suit. Carphone Warehouse currently offers inclusive roaming in 29 countries, including Australia and the US, through its virtual service, iD. Meanwhile, Vodafone last month moved to largely abolish roaming across Europe. Tesco Mobile has a similar offer, although it is only available during the summer, a possible indication that it will review its options after the UK goes to the polls.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this debate is Swisscom’s recent decision to virtually abolish roaming within the EU for its Natel Infinity Plus subscribers. Given that Switzerland is not a member state and has a hugely dominant market position, this was a surprising move that suggests the value of roaming may be overestimated by some commentators.

«

(My family loves Three’s “Feel At Home” international roaming for no extra cost.)
link to this extract

 


One million machines, including routers, used to attack banks • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

»Akamai’s Ryan Barnett reports on two attacks against the service’s financial customers last year: attackers used nearly 1m compromised systems to attempt to log in to users’ accounts using logins and passwords from earlier breaches.

Many of the attacks originated from proxies, but the response team found a high number of Xyxel and Arris home routers – provided by ISPs in an insecure state and not patched after deployment.

While distributed attacks are common, this story is a kind of trifecta of infosec badness: hacked, headless IoT devices rented to customers who aren’t allowed to reconfigure them; email/password breaches leaked from insecure services being leveraged on the assumption of password re-use; and attacks originating from a million IPs – all directed to financial accounts in a way that could clean out its victims of their life’s savings.

«

There must come a point where the sheer firepower is going to overwhelm any protection, surely? And what happens after that? Here’s the full Akamai report.
link to this extract

 


Get more out of your battery with Microsoft Edge • Windows Experience Blog

Jason Weber, director of Web platform team, Microsoft Edge:

»We connected a Surface Book to specialized power monitoring equipment and measured the actual power usage during typical browsing activities in Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. We then automated each browser to perform the same series of activities: opening websites, scrolling through articles, and watching videos, opening new tabs for each task. We used the same websites you spend your time on – Facebook, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia and more.

Average power consumption in milliwatts for identical workloads in Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera (with battery saver mode enabled). Unless specified, all browser settings were left at their defaults.

For these browsing activities, our tests show Microsoft Edge is a more energy efficient browser on Windows 10, with up to 36%-53% more battery life to get what you need done —whether you’re studying at the library, researching dream vacation destinations, or checking in with your friends on social networks.

«

Bet Apple would get the same for Safari on an Apple machine. Chrome is a battery hog – no two ways about it.
link to this extract

 


Google vs. Apple: contrasting approaches to app store evolution • Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh:

»Instant Apps and Google Now On Tap are mildly interesting products when looked at individually. But when combined, they have the potential to reshape the app interaction model as we know it. That said, this is a risk because a change on this scale will take quite a bit of time to diffuse through to developers and consumers at scale. But if executed correctly, app downloads could be a thing of the past within five years.

Now let’s take a look at Apple’s approach to the app store. Apple appears to be doubling down on the existing app distribution / discovery paradigm. The only change on this front was the introduction of app store search ads (which have been available on Google Play for a year, with no major impact). Instead, Apple’s major announcements focused on subscription-based revenue models to help developers better monetize digital content. Of course, it also helps that app revenue is the lone bright spot for the company as iPhone sales continue to decline.

Apple’s moves will certainly improve monetization in certain app store categories, notably Productivity, but it could hardly be called a drastic change to the app store model. This serves some developer needs, but it does not solve the app discovery challenge faced by consumers and the conversion rate issue that plagues developers. Time will tell if this was the right approach.

«

Is app monetisation more important for developers, or being able to get their apps onto peoples’ devices? The latter is comparatively easy, though neither is a cakewalk. Apple seems to be focussing first on the former, and fixing that quickly. Though Google could follow it quickly too.
link to this extract

 


Spotify monthly active user base reaches 100 million • Reuters

Mia Shanley:

»Swedish music streaming service Spotify said on Monday its user base had grown to 100 million, up from 75 million previously, as it pushed into new markets and despite competition from the likes of Apple Music.

Spotify has the music streaming industry’s biggest paid subscriber base, with 30 million users paying to listen, but the vast majority still tune in for free with commercial breaks.

Competition is fierce with Apple Music launched just last year and already claiming 13 million paid users while Alphabet’s Google competes with Google Music and Youtube.

«

Apple claimed last week to have 15 million subscribers – time to update the database, Reuters. Quite how it counts them (is each member of a family membership a “subscriber”, or only the main paying member?) isn’t yet clear.

What is clear is that Spotify can’t let a single Apple Music statistic go past without upping the ante. Notably, that 30m paid subscriber number hasn’t shifted since it released it in March. Possibly it is being conservative with its numbers, and only releasing bigger subscriber numbers when it needs to.

A related problem: those 70m non-paying listeners have to be monetised through advertising, and that growing inventory (= ad spots to fill) inevitably means falling ad prices, which means worse losses.
link to this extract

 


#THEDAO: Failing fast vs Failing unnecessarily • Preston J. Byrne

Byrne is extremely unimpressed with the setup which allowed millions of dollars worth of Ethereum cryptocurrency to be drained away, unlike some VCs who are saying “ooh, it’ll get fixed next release!”:

»Having lawyers – or legal-coders- involved in this is absolutely critical. The future doesn’t belong to the guy who just slings code or the guy who does the front-office function, but someone who can bridge the gap and do both – bringing the best of Silicon Valley’s approach to life to the professional services which run the rest of the world, and doing so in a way which gybes with local rule-frameworks. (Note, I run into this all the time when speaking with the banks – architects and front-office guys aren’t accustomed to talking to each other, or even considering themselves as part of the same team. I suspect this is a large contributor to most banks’ heaps of technical debt.)

Bridging the gap becomes especially important if you want to take your idea and turn it into an investable business, as many Solidity programmers do.

With respect to the DAO, there was a similar breakdown in communication – only this time between the wider community and the developers doing the codeslinging. Serious professional objections, from persons extremely well-versed on every layer of this conceptual stack, were made known very early. And not “this is a silly idea which will never work” kinds of objections, but “this is technically bankrupt and flies in the face of all best practice for what you are attempting to do” kinds of objections.

«

I still find the story around this impenetrable, but Byrne’s angry headshaking sounds like what ought to be the reaction.
link to this extract

 


Top ten reasons to doubt Trump is even a billionaire • Talking Points Memo

Josh Marshall, with the aforesaid ten, of which this is striking:

»During the research for his book Timothy o’Brien received estimates of Trump’s wealth ranging from $250m to $788m. Trump himself originally told O’Brien he was worth between $4b and $5b before dramatically revising down his estimate to $1.7 billion the same day. If we take $250m, $788m and $1.7b together and rough average them out we can get around $1 billion circa 2004/05. Today Trump claims he is worth $10 billion. This would require a tenfold run up in Trump’s wealth over roughly a decade. Even if we take Trump’s own estimate of $1.7 billion it would require a five fold run up over a decade. The problem is that Trump hasn’t done anything over that period that would account for that kind of wealth accumulation. Trump does very few major building projects these days and the few he does he does mainly with other people’s money. After the bankruptcy crises of 25 years ago, Trump shifted his business model from high profile real estate development to licensing and television. He licenses his name for hotels, buildings and golf courses on the high end and steaks, water, ties and more on the low end. This probably generates a massive amount of income for us mortals. But not many billions of dollars over a decade.

«

There must be a moment of truth, rather than truthiness, coming. Also: Trump fired his campaign manager on Monday. Things aren’t looking too clever.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Chromebooks: low-end disruption amid the PC collapse


Just a flesh wound? Scan by fae on Flickr.

Revenues are draining out of the PC business like blood from someone who has come off worse in a swordfight in Game Of Thrones. According to the data I’ve collected from the top four Windows PC OEMs which publish financial data – HP, Lenovo, Asus and Acer (but not Dell, because it has been a private company since September 2013) – there’s a steady drop in the total revenues in the Windows PC market.

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I calculate this from the recorded revenues from the companies, and then comparing that to the number of PCs they’ve shipped according to IDC, and the number of PCs shipped in the total market. Importantly, that number excludes Apple, where revenues show a less clear pattern:

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An update: I was asked to show the revenues for the companies. This comes from their company reports, and from IDC’s figures for PCs shipped. Note that IDC excludes Chromebooks and 2-in-1s; that would favour companies which sell either of those devices (as they get the revenue, but it doesn’t count against PCs shipped). Apple however doesn’t call its 2-in-1 a PC – it’s an iPad, and it puts it in that category (which isn’t measured here).

Average PC revenues by OEM, by quarter

Note how Acer’s figure is falling faster than the overall trend.

What’s noticeable there is how Acer’s revenue per PC keeps sliding. Asus, meanwhile, has staged a recovery, along with HP. And Apple sails above the lot.

If you look at operating profits for the Windows PC OEMs, the picture is again a little clouded, but there’s a clear general trend over the past couple of years: after heaving themselves out of a bad period in mid-2012 to the end of 2013, there was a sudden uptick in their fortunes in 2014 when the end of Windows XP heralded a burst of spending by corporations on new PCs. Since then, though, decline has set in again.

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Note this is a weighted average: Lenovo sells more machines, and is more profitable, so that pulls up the average.

(The past couple of years don’t include Dell, which went private in late 2013, and hasn’t published revenues or profits that can be precisely tied to PC shipments since. Some figures did surface earlier this month, but on putting them into my past data for Dell they suggested that PC revenues had soared beyond a level of any other company. I think that instead Dell has changed its reporting structure, and mixes services revenue with PC revenue.)

That might look healthy enough, but in fact the operating margins vary from around 5% (Lenovo) and 4% (HP Inc) to 1.3% (Acer). If you look further down the chain, to companies like Fujitsu and Toshiba, their PC businesses are shrinking in size and making operating losses. I’d be surprised if Samsung is doing better than breaking even on its much-reduced PC business, which has roughly halved in revenue since the end of 2014 to just under $600m per quarter; at the average price of PCs, that’s about 1.2m units per quarter.

We don’t know Apple’s operating profits on PCs, but historically the figure has been just under 19% of PC revenues – which means that it has an operating margin roughly four times higher than any rival, while its average selling price (ASP) of $1,265 is more than double the $490 of the big players. On those figures, Apple sweeps up roughly half of all the profits in the PC industry.

But now change – more precisely, disruption – is on the horizon with the advent of Chromebooks capable of running Android apps – which will, crucially, include Microsoft Office.

Thin end, big wedge?

Credit to Tom Warren for spotting the story: Chromebooks outsold Macs for the first time in the US in the first quarter of 2016, shifting an estimated 2m against 1.76m Macs. It’s an important story, and one which I’ve been expecting for a long time: Chromebooks are beginning their low-end disruption of the PC market. This can only grow. The important question now is, who loses and who gains?

Sure, you can argue with the numbers – Apple doesn’t break down shipments for the US, and IDC has in the past got its totals wonky for the worldwide and US figures. But what’s mostly put some peoples’ noses out of joint about this data point is that Chromebook sales have been compared to Apple’s. That’s Google and Apple. The big rivalry in tech.

That’s because the only other two candidates for the “sold more than” metric by IDC’s data were Acer (0.71m shipped in the US) and Lenovo (1.92m in the US). But the trouble with doing that – “Chromebooks outsold Acer” or “Chromebooks outsold Lenovo” – is that (a) nobody cares (b) both Acer and Lenovo sell Chromebooks, so they’d be the ones outselling themselves.

Use “Apple” in the headline, though, and everyone’s happy: Apple doesn’t sell Chromebooks, and it’s a savoury tale.

But this an important story of low-end disruption. Clayton Christensen, who first formulated the theory, should be happy. Low-end disruption is the idea that long-developed, complex, expensive products are replaced at the low end by cheaper good-enough products which, while they can’t do everything the complex expensive ones can, are still fine for a segment of the market. Then the low-end products improve, as technology tends to, until they serve more and more of the market, driving the complex products further upmarket (to retain revenue as unit sales shrink). Eventually, in the limit, the high-end makers give up.

When Google announced the Chromebook in June 2011, I was agog. The potential for disruption was obvious – though at the time I thought it would be more popular with enterprises than education or consumers. On that basis, I thought they could chew away billions of dollars of Microsoft revenues and profits.

That didn’t happen, and the reasons why eluded me for some time, but it boiled down to a few things: enterprises often needed specific Windows-based apps; consumers were pretty happy buying Windows machines (or tablets, as happened with greater eagerness for a few years); schools wanted to experiment with tablets. Also, Chromebooks didn’t have Microsoft Office – which many businesses, and consumers, still see as essential to getting stuff done. Furthermore, ChromeOS was essentially a browser, and people need more than just a browser to do everything; witness the popularity of apps on smartphones and tablets.

Early lessons

In schools, though, Chromebooks were just the job. They were cheap; they didn’t need expensive software licences; they were easy to set up; and you could create web- or intranet-based content that the students could learn with. They were essentially laptop-lite. And that was fine. (My youngest child uses a Chromebook at school; the other uses his own laptop; the eldest, at the equivalent of high school final year, uses a school-issue iPad. Clearly, mileage varies a lot between schools.)

But now, with the impending arrival of Chromebooks that can run Office, the stage is set for low-end disruption to tear through the PC market, which is already struggling with the effects of consumers turning to tablets and smartphones in preference to PC upgrades.

Just as important is that PC OEMs may actually have good reasons to make Chromebooks in preference to Windows PCs. The research company Gartner recently pointed out that there are only two properly profitable niches in Windows PCs: high-end ultramobiles, which is the only segment showing revenue growth, and gaming PCs, which are tricked out with high-spec components (especially GPUs). For the rest, it’s a depressing slide towards the bottom.

Among the fixed costs for those PC OEMs is the Windows licence. But what if you could remove the cost of Windows from your bill of materials? The machine at once becomes more profitable. Though there is a fly in the ointment: to work well with Android apps, it will need a touchscreen, which is an expensive item.

Even so, you can see how a PC OEM trying to shore up their revenues and profits – which are increasingly hard to come by – would look for any new space they can. Chromebooks definitely look like that space.

However, I don’t expect it to disrupt Apple yet. The company most at risk from this is still Microsoft, because if people choose to use Chromebooks, it’s usually going to be in preference to Windows PCs. Apple remains the choice of the high-paying buyer – the segment, as noted above, which stays resistant for the longest.

The other question is which PC OEMs will stand to benefit most, or lose most, from the growth in Chromebooks. I think those which have high cost efficiencies, or can price higher based on brand, will benefit. Samsung has good cost efficiencies (it makes a lot of the stuff) even though its brand is weak in PCs, so could do well. Acer and Asus? Hard to say. HP makes money selling cheap PCs with value-added Microsoft deals, but could switch to doing cloud deals around ChromeOS. Lenovo, though, might have the most to lose if it can’t keep squeezing extra margin from selling Windows.

The fly in the ointment: iTunes

Ironically, there’s one potential barrier. It’s the most widely used Windows desktop program that isn’t available for Chromebooks: Apple’s iTunes. Given that tens of millions of people, at a conservative estimate, and perhaps more than 100 million still rely on iTunes to organise their music, and to sync their iPhones and iPads, the absence of iTunes for ChromeOS or Android could turn out to be a stumbling block on the road to total Windows disruption. (Notice how the most eager adopters of Chromebooks so far have been those which don’t need to manage iTunes. And Apple Music on Android is an app for the paid streaming service, not the music-you-own organiser.) It certainly didn’t help WindowsRT that iTunes wasn’t available for it.

Sure, I know and you know that people can and have been managing their iPhones and iPads and music and app libraries since 2011 using iCloud, without resource to iTunes. Don’t discount it, though. The generation which might find it easiest to live without is the first-time PC buyer. But even more problematic for Microsoft is that they just don’t seem to be buying PCs at all. It’s hard to see this Game Of Thrones ending well for Windows.