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.

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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.


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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:

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.


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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.


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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.

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