Start up: the Meeker explosion, Saudi women on Uber, GCHQ on MPs, Windows goes Holographic, and more


Imagined interfaces can make a difference to our existing ones in surprising ways. Photo by Sherif Salama on Flickr.

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

Tech’s best barometer? Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report has ballooned from 25 to 213 slides • VentureBeat

Chris O’Brien:

»Way back in 2001, Meeker was working for Morgan Stanley covering Internet companies. And, like many people who rode the first dot-com bubble to become Internet famous, she was just beginning to try to make sense of the wreckage and ask: What’s next?

That year, Meeker appeared at a conference for a magazine called “The Industry Standard.” For you kids who were born after 2001, a “magazine” is a publication printed on glossy paper with lots of shiny pictures. The Industry Standard was a tech magazine that was briefly a big deal and had lots of cool parties but then imploded when the dot-com bubble went poof!

In any case, that first slide deck was a mere 25 slides and was entitled: “The State of Capital Markets And An Update On Technology Trends.”

Over the years, Meeker’s Internet Trends reports have become a thing.

«

Great graphic:

The associated problem being that Meeker is just prolix now. (Also: what was so special about 2006?) I met her once, back in the late 1990s: she insisted that the internet would mean that news organisations would splinter, and you’d be left with individual journalists who people picked and chose from. Has happened, but also hasn’t.
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This is what Saudi women think of their country’s massive investment in Uber • BuzzFeed News

Hayes Brown:

»A massive $3.5bn investment in Uber from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shocked the tech world on Wednesday, but has left women inside the country skeptical about any huge boon for them.

Hassah Al-Qabisy, 44, works as a security guard at a hospital in Riyadh and believes that “Uber is a business like any other business.” But will it overturn the country’s unofficial ban on women driving? Unlikely.

“Most of the clients will be ladies,” she continued, a feeling that Uber’s own stats bear out: 80% of its customers in Saudi Arabia are women, the company claims. “We as women can’t drive. If you know that we have been fighting for years to drive our own cars — and the state doesn’t allow that — what makes you think that Uber will change anything?”

«

This is what I think of headlines that don’t tell you anything but indicate they will have something you want to read: I can’t wait to build a parsing robot to kill them.
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A conversation about fantasy user interfaces • Subtraction.com

Khoi Vinh:

»As a user interface engineer at Google, Kirill Grouchnikov brings real world UIs to life, but he devotes a considerable portion of his free time exploring the world of fantasy user interfaces—the visual design work that drives screens, projections, holograms (and much more exotic and fanciful technologies) in popular films and television shows. At his site Pushing Pixels, Grouchnikov has logged an impressive number of interviews with the designers who have created fictitious interfaces for “The Hunger Games,” “The Martian,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” and many more. Each conversation is an in-depth look at the unique challenges of designing in support of fantastical narratives.

«

Now he turns the tables by interviewing Grouchnikov. Here’s the video of the sorts of things he looks at.


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MPs’ private emails are routinely accessed by GCHQ • Computer Weekly

Duncan Campbell and Bill Goodwin:

»The intelligence agency in Cheltenham has been able to harvest traffic details of all parliamentary emails, including details of the sender, recipient and subject matter, for at least three years. As a result, details of private email correspondence between MPs and constituents are being collected by GCHQ as a matter of routine.

GCHQ documents classified above top secret, released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also reveal that the spy agency has the capability to scan the content of parliamentary emails for “keywords” through an established cyber defence network that is connected to commercial software used to filter spam emails from MPs’ inboxes.

The disclosures, which come as the House of Commons prepares for the Third Reading of the government’s controversial Investigatory Powers Bill on Monday 6 June, raise new questions over the sweeping powers to be granted in the bill to police and the security services.

The controversial decision by Parliament to replace its internal email and desktop office software with Microsoft’s Office 365 service in 2014, means that parliamentary data and documents constantly pass in and out of the UK to Microsoft’s datacentres in Dublin and the Netherlands, across the backbone of the internet.

«

How ya like them apples?
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Microsoft wants Windows Holographic to power all VR devices, not just HoloLens • PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

»Think of virtual reality devices as PCs and you’ll better understand what Microsoft wants to do with Windows Holographic: establish it as the de facto operating system for augmented reality and virtual reality devices.

At Computex on Tuesday night, Microsoft executives said the company had opened up Windows Holographic to all devices, and had begun working with HTC’s Vive team to port the Windows Holographic Windows 10 interface to it. According to Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Device Group at Microsoft, “Windows is the only mixed reality platform.”

Myerson showed off a video (below) where a HoloLens user was able to “see” the avatar of an Oculus Rift user, and vice versa. The two, plus an additional HoloLens user, were all able to collaborate on a shared project, passing holographic assets back and forth. Two employees did the same on stage, digitally painting a virtual motorcycle that was seen by both a HoloLens as well as an HTC Vive.

“Many of today’s devices and experiences do not work with each other, provide different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals, and content,” Myerson said. Microsoft intends to solve that problem with Windows 10 and Windows Holographic.

Microsoft’s announcement shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the Rift and the Vive are tethered to a Windows 10 PC anyway. Microsoft boasts that more than 300m devices today run Windows 10, but an additional 80m VR devices could be sold by 2020, all of which Microsoft covets as potential Windows 10 devices.

«

Who’s missing? Oculus – owned by Facebook, in which Microsoft owns a chunk of stock. So that could still happen.
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The playlist that’s helping Spotify win the streaming music battle • Vocativ

Cassie Murdoch:

»Every Monday, Spotify delivers a new Discover Weekly playlist to all its listeners. The weekly arrival of a fresh 30 songs has become a widely-anticipated event for many of Spotify’s 75 million active users and serves as a sign that Spotify has nailed a very tough assignment. Personalized engagement has long posed a challenge for all the big streaming services, but new data released this week signals that Spotify may have already won the battle against some very fierce competition.

Since the launch of Discover Weekly in July of last year, it has streamed nearly five billion tracks, and some 40 million subscribers have used the feature. For comparison, Apple Music—Spotify’s main competitor—only has 13 million subscribers total. Tidal has just three million.

«

Dear Stephanie: you don’t understand the difference between these offerings at all. You’re comparing paid subscribers (Apple, Tidal) with the mix of paid and unpaid subscribers who use Spotify (30m paid subscribers, 90m unpaid). Discover Weekly is good, clearly, and keeps customers there. But “already won the battle”? This battle is going to go on and on, and (in case you hadn’t noticed) retaining users hasn’t made Spotify profitable. Possibly it can’t.
link to this extract

 


Windows 10 nagware: You can’t click X. Make a date OR ELSE • The Register

Gavin Clarke:

»Recently, Microsoft’s policy had been to throw up a dialogue box asking you whether you wanted to install Windows 10.

If you clicked the red “X” to close the box – the tried-and-tested way to make dialogue boxes vanish without agreeing to do anything – Microsoft began taking that as permission for the upgrade to go ahead.

Now Microsoft is changing gears.

It has eliminated the option to re-schedule a chosen upgrade time once you’ve confirmed it while also removing the red “X” close option from the screen. One Reg reader grabbed the below screenshot from a relative’s PC on Windows 7.

«

Clearly thinks that nobody will bother to pay for the upgrade when it comes up. Seems too that Samsung PC users (not a giant group, but a few million) have problems with Windows 10 too.
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2013: Who owns all these empty shops? • BBC News

Following the collapse of chain store BHS, this is relevant about what happens when shops fall vacant:

»Jamie Stirling-Aird works for Black Stanniland, which provides services to individuals who own shops.

“We recently marketed a shop in Bradford that had been empty for three years for a client who owns 20 or 30 shops,” he says. Its previous tenant, a jeweller, had been paying £93,000 a year rent. It has now been let to a pawnbroker for £65,000.

“In a place like Bradford, there will be 10 or 15 suitable vacant properties for any retailer to choose from,” Mr Stirling-Aird says. “I’m sure there are a lot of landlords struggling at the moment. There is reasonable demand for shops in decent locations, but there are shops in really bad locations for which there is never going to be demand.”

It is owners of these shops with so-called structural vacancy who are having to consider extreme measures.
It is easy enough to sell a large shop in a good location with a tenant on a long lease, but vacant shops have been fetching low prices at auction. “I suspect we’ll end up selling it to a developer who might be able to convert it into flats,” says Stirling-Aird.

“Demolition or alternative use is the only option for the vast majority of these ‘surplus to requirement’ shops,” says Matthew Hopkinson from the Local Data Company

«

Going to be a lot of these over time.
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Bloomberg just hired 22-year-old Apple scoop machine Mark Gurman • Recode

Noah Kulwin:

»Over the last few years, Mark Gurman has made a name for himself as the go-to guy for Apple product scoops. And now he’s taking his talents to Bloomberg.

Gurman has broken stories on the iPad, Siri and almost every other device in the Apple catalogue. Tech Insider reported earlier today that Gurman was leaving his perch at 9to5Mac. According to a memo sent to Bloomberg staff from editor Brad Stone, he will be joining Bloomberg to cover consumer products, including those made by Apple rivals like Google and Amazon.

Gurman graduated from the University of Michigan last month, and he will be based in San Francisco.

«

Gurman richly deserves this, but experienced media types *cough* await with interest how he fares inside a big smoothly oiled media machine with a lot of hypercompetitive journalists who have been there a long time, rather than on a niche (and closely attended) news blog.
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Smartwatches: I hate to say ‘I told you so’. But I told you so • The Register

Andrew Orlowski thinks the smart watch (whether from Apple or an Android OEM or Samsung) is a dead end:

»Nothing in Android Wear 2.0 hints at a new use case, and the UX is complicated further with a greater reliance on physical controls and a quite wacky swipe keyboard.

There’s no getting away from it, these expensive watches are clunkers. And I’ll make a new prediction: they always will be. The whole kitchen-sink platform approach to wearables looks mistaken. The strategy presumed that if you threw enough electronics into the watch it would eventually find a use case, and over time that would reach a mass market price point. But not all electronics fit that neat narrative.

Think about the small but useful bits of electronics, like a TV remote or wireless car keys, that are fantastically useful at one thing, but don’t merit a standalone market, because they are always bundled with something else. (Try buying a TV or a car without one of these). Only fitness wearables, with limited functionality and the ability to do one thing really well, have shown much promise in the wearable category, and I don’t see joggers with a £99 necessarily making the leap to a clunkier multipurpose £299 gadget because it’s the same brand.

Perhaps a wearable will only ever be something that’s bundled with a smartphone in the future? I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s smartwatches will be the last we see for a very long time.

«

Android Wear is already a zombie, I’d say: sales have flatlined. Personally I like the Apple Watch, and find it useful all the time. The key to wider adoption might be price – or it might be battery life.
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India’s Micromax plans to sell smartphones in China, go public • WSJ

Sean McLain:

»The company plans to go public to generate cash to fund the acquisition of companies that will help Micromax build a network of services to help its phones stand out in the crowd of competitors. “The company can’t do that without more cash coming in,” Mr. Jain said. Micromax hasn’t decided whether to list in India or the U.S., he added.

The announcement is a sign that India’s smartphone market won’t save a struggling global smartphone industry. Shipments of handsets to India have declined over the past six months, according to IDC data. That is a sign that unsold phones are piling up in Indian warehouses, said IDC in a report. Most of the unsold merchandise are priced below $100 and aimed at first-time smartphone buyers, who account for much of Micromax’s sales.

However, China might not be the answer for the smartphone maker, analysts say. “I’m not sure why they’re doing this,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst at IDC. “The Chinese market is not growing and it’s really competitive. I don’t know how they will survive there.”

«

Translation: Micromax is running out of runway and it’s hoping a cash infusion from the public market will get it out of the snakepit of less well-funded rivals.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

One thought on “Start up: the Meeker explosion, Saudi women on Uber, GCHQ on MPs, Windows goes Holographic, and more

  1. “The key to wider adoption [for the Apple Watch] might be price – or it might be battery life.”

    It reckon it will be both, plus;
    •GPS,
    •Standalone phone & data messaging (via voice)
    •Faster
    •Lighter weight
    •Less chunky shape
    •Screen constantly displaying time & other useful info
    •etc…

    I think the key one is standalone functionality – having to bring a more capable smart phone at all times makes the watch a bit pointless in many a potential buyer’s eyes (OK I mean me;)
    I suppose the technology might be capable in about 4 or 5 years time.

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