Start up: Apple’s TV miss, Google’s non-ad hit, Soundcloud for sale?, floppies v nukes, and more


On the internet? Supporting Trump? Might be Russian. Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

A selection of 14 links for you. Quit grumbling, it’s Friday (somewhere). I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple’s hard-charging tactics hurt TV expansion • WSJ

Shalini Ramachandran and Daisuke Wakabayashi with the full tale, spread over years, of Apple’s attempt to persuade the TV companies to let it have their content:

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In 2013, [Eddy] Cue met with Mr. Britt, Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes and other executives in Mr. Britt’s office overlooking Manhattan’s Central Park. Time Warner owns HBO, TNT, CNN and other channels.

Apple’s Mr. Cue arrived 10 minutes late and was wearing jeans, tennis shoes with no socks, and a Hawaiian shirt, says a person familiar with the meeting. The other executives were wearing suits.

The talks dragged on. Apple wanted full on-demand seasons of hit shows and rights to a vast, cloud-based digital video recorder that would automatically store top programs and allow ad-skipping in newly aired shows.

TV-channel owners “kept looking at the Apple guys like: ‘Do you have any idea how this industry works?’ ” one former Time Warner Cable executive says. Apple has said doing new things requires changes that often are unsettling.

By late 2014, the discussions had gone cold. Apple changed directions again, hoping to assemble a “skinny bundle” delivered over the internet.

Apple’s Mr. Cue began pitching Disney, Fox, CBS and other media companies on the streaming-TV service. The goal was to attract consumers who have dumped their cable-TV supplier with 25 popular channels, anchored by the broadcast networks.

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It’s a detailed story, though it lacks a narrative sweep. Partly because the US TV channel/content maker business is so complex.
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How Apple’s Steve Jobs tried to buy ITV (the brand, not the company) • WSJ

Shalini Ramachandran:

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In late 2006, British broadcast giant ITV’s then-CEO John Cresswell got a cold call from Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs.

“I want to buy ITV,” Mr. Jobs said, according to Mr. Cresswell.

Mr. Cresswell says he was shocked. He told Mr. Jobs that it would obviously be the company’s fiduciary duty to consider any offer.

Then Mr. Jobs jumped in: “No, let me be clear: I’m interested in buying the brand, not the company.” The brand iTV, he explained, would fit with Apple’s brands like the iPod. Mr. Cresswell told Mr. Jobs “it’s a very strong, powerful brand for us,” but the board would consider an offer.

Mr. Jobs never followed up, Mr. Cresswell says. But the bold and impulsive move showed him how much Mr. Jobs personally viewed TV as the next Apple frontier. Apple declined to comment on the exchange.

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So it ended up as just “Apple TV”.
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Apple patent filing shows future potential of Touch ID not tied to a button • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:

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The patent filing describes more in detail the possibility of a buttonless TouchID implementation that has been rumored for a 2017 anniversary iteration of the iPhone. Additionally, the patent also suggests a conceivable implementation of the entire display acting as the Touch ID sensor.

The patent is attributed directly to Apple, and uses no shell company to obscure ownership, as is suspected is the case with wireless earbuds known as “AirPods.” The primary inventor is Dale R. Setlak, co-founder of biometric company AuthenTec.

AuthenTec was purchased by Apple in August 2012 for $356 million, after multiple electronics developers expressed interest in the company’s technologies, including what would become the Touch ID sensor.

The 2017 edition of the iPhone, which would commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the device, is said to have not only the Touch ID sensor embedded in the display, but also the front-facing camera, and the speaker.

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I suggested this as a logical outcome of the 6S’s 3D Touch last September. Still think it makes sense. Also, as one of my children pointed out, there’s an easy way to spot an Apple device with a non-TouchID sensor: it has the empty square icon in it. TouchID sensors don’t.
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The real reason America controls its nukes with ancient floppy disks • The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

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there is a major reason — other than simply being behind the times — for the military’s continued use of floppies: Sometimes, it says, low-tech is safer tech.

That may come as a surprise at a time when digital technologies have almost completely superseded analog ones — heck, some companies literally give away USB flash drives these days because they’re so cheap. It highlights the yawning gulf between consumers and government…

…There are parallels here to fiction, which can be just as instructive. In the 2004 hit TV series “Battlestar Galactica,” humanity comes under assault from robots that it created. Much of the human space fleet is taken by surprise, crippled by a robot-built computer virus that spreads from ship to ship thanks to the sophisticated networks linking the crafts together. The Galactica, an obsolete warship due to be mothballed, is one of the few to survive the initial surprise attack. Why? Because the Galactica’s systems were not part of the humans’ IT network, sparing it from the virus that disables the rest of the fleet. The lesson seems clear: Sometimes, newer is not better.

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Transistors will stop shrinking in 2021, Moore’s Law roadmap predicts • IEEE Spectrum

Rachel Courtland:

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After more than 50 years of miniaturization, the transistor could stop shrinking in just five years. That is the prediction of the 2015 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors [ITRS], which was officially released earlier this month. 

After 2021, the report forecasts, it will no longer be economically desirable for companies to continue to shrink the dimensions of transistors in microprocessors. Instead, chip manufacturers will turn to other means of boosting density, namely turning the transistor from a horizontal to a vertical geometry and building multiple layers of circuitry, one on top of another…

…The new report embraces these trends, predicting an end to traditional scaling—the shrinking of chip features—by the early 2020’s. But the idea that we’re now facing an end to Moore’s Law “is completely wrong,” [chair of the ITRS Paulo] Gargini says. “The press has invented multiple ways of defining Moore’s Law but there is only one way: The number of transistors doubles every two years.”

Moore’s Law, he emphasizes, is simply a prediction about how many transistors can fit in a given area of IC—whether it’s done, as it has been for decades, in a single layer or by stacking multiple layers. If a company really wanted to, Gargini says, it could continue to make transistors smaller well into the 2020s, “but it’s more economic to go 3-D. That’s the message we wanted to send.”  

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Apple’s car shifts direction in dark • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

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My worries are not only financial, it’s also that Apple may be doing harm to its car ambitions by fogging the project in its typical top secret, tighter-than-the-NSA secrecy.

A car isn’t a product that Apple can just cook in a lab for 10 years until everything is perfect and then spring it on the world with a dramatic on-stage reveal. No. Look at what Google has been doing with its self-driving car program. It’s been talking about it for years. It’s conducting test drives under every conceivable condition. It’s changed its mind about doing the actual manufacturing of the car on its own. Google is talking to regulators and suppliers and potential factories that could bring the company’s designs to life. 

Granted, Apple is not as far along with its car project, but it’s not clear it’s in Apple’s DNA to do the kind of glad-handing partner discussions and regulatory assurances that Google is doing. During the company’s earnings call this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook wouldn’t even acknowledge that his company would be releasing a new iPhone in two months. That’s how ingrained secrecy is at Apple. 

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg this year outlined Facebook’s 10-year plan. Even another crazy secretive tech company, Amazon, talks about its drone project occasionally to put pressure on regulators, spook its delivery partners and excite the public. Of course, these companies aren’t throwing open to the public their board discussions about their next big thing, but they do talk in broad strokes about where they’re going and why.

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Plenty of time to unveil a car, and let it be known to people. It’s years away. And the testing process will have to be open. Also notable: Apple recently hired the former CEO of BlackBerry-acquired QNX, used in – wait for it – cars.
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Google just showed Wall Street growth where it needed to — in its non-ads business • Recode

Mark Bergen:

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Facebook isn’t the only tech giant keeping Wall Street happy.

Google parent Alphabet reported its second-quarter earnings today and, like Facebook yesterday, delivered numbers above the Street’s expectations.

More importantly for core Google, the company reported a 33% increase in its “other revenues” — sales from its enterprise unit, Play digital media store and hardware sales.

That total ($2.17bn) is still just around 11% of its gargantuan ads business — so, relatively tiny. But its growth has typically been around 24% in prior quarters. So that jump is a good sign for Google’s ability to find another cash source besides search ads.

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The real paranoia-inducing purpose of Russian hacks • The New Yorker

Adrian Chen:

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after speaking with Russian journalists and opposition members, I quickly learned that pro-government trolling operations were not very effective at pushing a specific pro-Kremlin message—say, that the murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was actually killed by his allies, in order to garner sympathy. The trolls were too obvious, too nasty, and too coördinated to maintain the illusion that these were everyday Russians. Everyone knew that the Web was crawling with trolls, and comment threads would often devolve into troll and counter-troll debates.

The real effect, the Russian activists told me, was not to brainwash readers but to overwhelm social media with a flood of fake content, seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space. One activist recalled that a favorite tactic of the opposition was to make anti-Putin hashtags trend on Twitter. Then Kremlin trolls discovered how to make pro-Putin hashtags trend, and the symbolic nature of the action was killed. “The point is to spoil it, to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it,” the opposition activist Leonid Volkov told me.

What Volkov said stuck with me as I continued to follow the trolls. Since the article appeared, last summer, the Internet Research Agency appears to have quieted down significantly. Many of the Twitter accounts stopped posting. But some continued, and toward the end of last year I noticed something interesting: many had begun to promote right-wing news outlets, portraying themselves as conservative voters who were, increasingly, fans of Donald Trump.

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Fancy that.
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The Apple goes mushy part I: OS X’s interface decline (introduction) • Nicholas Windsor Howard

Part of a longer piece:

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In the same way, and in step with its phone-bound sibling, iOS 7, Yosemite saw the transition from the metaphorical icon of the retired iPhoto to the unexpressive, meaningless abstraction that is the new Photos icon (see above image). Yosemite also borrowed the new Game Center icon from iOS 7, with its colored bubbles that have a dubious connection to anything. The Safari icon became an abstracted compass in place of the old literal depiction of one. Even the less literal of the previous icons saw more two-dimensional replacements.


A small selection of the numerous visual metaphors that have gone to their graves since 2014.

Buttons across the system now look much less like real buttons. Almost no life-imitating textures survive. OS X, in large part prior to Yosemite, used to crawl with visual metaphors; why has Apple banished so many of the analogies that helped people feel comfortable with the Macintosh in the first place?

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Can I try? It’s because iOS is the dominant operating system, and dominant driver of UI design. Small icons on a phone need to be immediately recognisable, and different. The direction of travel in the design is towards simple, unfussy icons. Seeing OSX in isolation is the wrong way to do this.
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AR helmet startup Skully goes down in flames •Techcrunch

Sarah Buhr:

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Last week TechCrunch came to you with the dramatic departure of AR helmet maker Skully’s CEO and co-founder Marcus Weller and now several sources from inside the company tell us the startup is no more.

Operations have ceased within the company, and we’re told the website will be turned off at some point today. Weller has also been asked to sign a confidentiality deal with investors.

Weller told TechCrunch today he will not sign and that he’s completely walked away from all dealings with the company as of 10 days ago.

“I’m shocked and deeply saddened that they would now shut this company down,” Weller said in a phone conversation today. “We were raising a Series B to continue raising capital but then we had a buyer…I’m almost dubious to this.”

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3,000 helmets ordered – goodbye refunds – and 50 people out of a job. Note:

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the hardware company now only adds to the heap of carnage starting to pile up in Silicon Valley. Shuddle, the Uber for kids, hit the brakes in April, Buffer and General Assembly both chopped a bunch of staff last week and Zenefits took a tumble earlier this year, letting go of roughly 250 staffers as part of a course correction after ousting Parker Conrad.

Much of the upheaval is likely due to overgrowth issues in an increasingly tight VC market.

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WikiLeaks put women in Turkey in danger, for no reason • Wikileaks

Zeynep Tefekci:

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Just days after a bloody coup attempt shook Turkey, WikiLeaks dumped some 300,000 emails they chose to call “Erdogan emails.” In response, Turkey’s internet governance body swiftly blocked access to WikiLeaks.

For many, blocking WikiLeaks was confirmation that the emails were damaging to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government, revealing corruption or other wrongdoing. There was a stream of articles about “censorship.” Even U.S. National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden tweeted the news of the WikiLeaks block with the comment: “How to authenticate a leak.”

But Snowden couldn’t have been more wrong about an act that was irresponsible, of no public interest and of potential danger to millions of ordinary, innocent people, especially millions of women in Turkey.

And yet Western media reports, ranging from Reuters to Wired, some from journalists I know and respect, made the same assumptions Snowden did. They merely reported the block as an act of censorship and reported WikiLeaks’ allegations of what the emails may contain, without apparently any cursory check.

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Tricky: in some countries it can be illegal for journalists to look in detail at data obtained through a hack (looking at you, the UK) and then there may be lots and lots and lots of stuff. Plus, if you take time to read the emails then everyone else will have written their Hot! Takes!. So there goes your cursory check in favour of caution and hey, hot take!

Which doesn’t absolve Wikileaks; but it has long since ceased showing compunction or care about what it leaks. (Tufekci received a torrent of abuse on Twitter after this, of course. Wikileaks attracts cult-like behaviour.)
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Mediated/Augmented reality (un)course notes, part I • OUseful.Info, the blog…

Tony Hirst:

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Pokemon Go seems to have hit the news this week – though I’m sure for anyone off social media last week and back to it next week, the whole thing will have completely passed them by – demonstrating that augmented reality apps really haven’t moved on much at all over the last five years or so.

But notwithstanding that, I’ve been trying to make sense of a whole range of mediated reality technologies for myself as prep for a very short unit on technologies and techniques on that topic.

Here’s what I’ve done to date, over on the Digital Worlds uncourse blog. This stuff isn’t official OU course material, it’s just my own personal learning diary of related stuff (technical term!;-)

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There’s then a set of links which anyone who has more than a passing interest in AR ought to follow. And you could bookmark and contribute. Hirst teaches a course at the Open University (it’s everywhere!) so worth watching.
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SoundCloud owners said to mull $1 billion sale of music service • Bloomberg

Manuel Baigorri, Stefan Nicola and Kiel Porter:

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The owners have had trouble finding a buyer willing to value the company at $1bn so far, two of the people said. SoundCloud raised $70m from Twitter Inc. in June, part of a $100m funding round that priced the company at $700m, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.

SoundCloud is working to generate reliable revenue from its approximately 175 million users, who spend time on the site to record, listen to and share songs. SoundCloud introduced a premium service in March, allowing customers to pay $10 a month for ad-free streaming and increased access to songs. It was a dramatic change to a more mainstream model, favored by larger players such as Apple and Spotify, for a company that had found its niche hosting music uploaded by DJs and musicians.

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How surprising that a would-be unicorn can’t find people willing to agree that it’s a unicorn, even though it has glued a horn onto its head.

But it’s also part of the modern route to monetisation: start out being far more pleasant to use than ad-infested rivals; add annoying ads as you grow; give people the chance to pay money to get rid of the ads. Google has done it with YouTube; wonder if Facebook and Twitter will too eventually.
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Notebook players less keen to adopt USB Type C • Digitimes

Cage Chao and Joseph Tsai:

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Sources from analog IC makers pointed out that using the USB Type-C interface has become a trend, especially since demand for virtual reality (VR) has been picking up and the interface’s high speed transmission is necessary for related devices to operate stably.

However, most notebook vendors are still conservative about the interface with only a few of them planning to adopt one USB Type-C port for their new products for the second half. The USB Type-C interface is unlikely to become a mainstream technology in the notebook market until 2017.

The sources pointed out that the USB Type-C interface has two issues that have been stopping it to become a mainstream technology in the notebook market. First is that the interface features electric current that is larger than one of the previous-generation interfaces, and could lead to interference and heat dissipation problems when adopting too many at once.

Second is that the USB Type-C features a high-speed transmission, but in order to achieve its maximum speed, it requires an amplifier chip, a receiver chip and a special-spec transmission wire, which significantly raise product costs.

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USB-C seems to cause more problems than it solves.
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Start up: Tor’s sex woe, who opens emails?, park with Apple Maps, Xiaomi’s laptop challenge, and more


Augmented reality: this is just the start. What might the finish (or middle) look like? Photo by wZa HK on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. In the 1970s you’d have counted to doublecheck – “you know how computers are.” I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tor project confirms sexual misconduct claims against employee • The New York Times

Nocole Perlroth:

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The Tor Project, a nonprofit digital privacy group, announced on Wednesday that an internal investigation had confirmed allegations of sexual misconduct against a former employee who was the public face of the organization.

The group, which has risen to prominence at a time of controversy over government surveillance, had been grappling for months with allegations against Jacob Appelbaum, a top figure in the internet privacy debate. Mr. Appelbaum resigned from the Tor Project in May.

The allegations have divided the internet privacy community and have raised questions about management of the project, which promotes the use of software that helps internet users mask their online identities and whereabouts.

One result was the replacement of the group’s entire board this month.

On Wednesday, the group said that a seven-week investigation into the allegations involving Mr. Appelbaum determined they were accurate.

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For his part, Appelbaum insists claims relating to him are false.
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Videos of the future • Benedict Evans

Evans (who is suddenly blogging a lot – is summer quiet in Silicon Valley?) on augmented and virtual reality:

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Where VR seems to me to be a branch off the main strand of computing, a little like games consoles were a branch off the PC, mostly, AR (augmented reality, sometimes called mixed reality) can be your main screen. It can be the next multitouch. Forecasting what that would look like is a bit like forecasting this music video [which is designed to be viewed on a smartphone and uses emoji and apps] in 2006, before the iPhone launched, but this concept video [below] has a go from a dystopian angle – this is what happens if you install too many toolbars in Internet Explorer, so to speak. 

What this really gets at, I think, is that after a decade in which phones swallowed physical objects, with cameras, radios, music players and so on turned into apps, AR might turn those apps back into physical objects – virtual ones, of course. On one hand cameras digitise everything, and on the other AR puts things back into the world. 

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Watch the video – it really is terrific (and scary).
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Why do people open emails? – The Signal

Justin Megahan:

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armed with 85,637 subject lines from Mixpanel campaigns – totaling 1.7 billion emails sent and 232 million opens, over a span from June 2012 to May 2016 – I looked to answer the eternal question: What makes people open an email?

One thing worth calling out right away is that Mixpanel campaigns aren’t necessarily one-time email blasts out to an entire list. They can be, but more often they are event-driven emails, meaning the user took some action to trigger the email notification. For example, a campaign might target users who have created an account in the last 30 days, but haven’t returned in the last seven days. Then, for as long as that campaign is active, whenever a user qualifies, they receive the email.

Okay, now here’s what I learned.

Most emails aren’t opened.

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Uh-huh. 13.5% overall open rate. BUT – and it’s a big but – variations matter. Urgency or “offers” actually don’t work. “How to” does. And so do questionmarks. And manners. And small groups. Hell, you’ll have to read it now.
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Microsoft thinks it can do a better iPhone camera app than Apple • Recode

Ina Fried:

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The app is part of two big trends at Microsoft. First, and best publicized, has been Microsoft’s move into iOS and Android. Less well known is a big shift inside Microsoft Research, which for a long time was seen as a pure research house. Historically, one of Microsoft’s existing product groups would have to decide it liked a research concept and then do the work of commercialization. With Fix, Hyperlapse and other recent releases, Microsoft is showing it is willing to let the research team directly bring products to market.

Weisberg said that while Microsoft isn’t charging for Pix, it still reaps benefits as more consumers gain an appreciation for the company’s ability to lead in the burgeoning field of machine intelligence.

Weisberg and Microsoft Research colleague Neel Joshi showed off the app at a tricked-out loft in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood last week, using a specially built rig that allows two iPhones to shoot simultaneously, one using Pix and the other using Apple’s camera app.

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I argued in Microsoft’s internal magazine about 10 years ago that it should quit the blue-skies stuff in Microsoft Research – which had people even then studying computer Go – and focus on applied uses. They missed Go by a mile, but they’re finally getting the applied stuff.
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Parkopedia to provide parking services to Apple globally • PR Newswire


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Parkopedia®, the world’s leading parking services provider with more than 40 million parking spots listed, today announced that it is to provide its parking services to Apple Maps.

Apple Map users will be able to view key information about parking garages and lots around the world.  In addition, users will have the option to click through to Parkopedia’s website and iOS app to view more detailed information including pricing, user reviews, special offers and real-time space availability. They will also be able to make reservations.

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Blimey. First carpool karaoke, now this.
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Is Gorilla Glass 5 the end of the road for sapphire screens? • Tech.pinions

Tim Bajarin:

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At a special event in Palo Alto last week, Corning announced its newest version of Gorilla Glass 5, which is by far the thinnest as well as strongest glass screen they have ever made. When they were working on the specifications of Gorilla Glass 5, they studied one key issue that drove a critical part of its ultimate design. In the past, Gorilla Glass was created to withstand a drop from about the waist of most individuals. But in their research, they realized that, for a lot of people, they often lift it much higher when using it to take selfies or take photos. So, with that in mind, Gorilla Glass 5 is designed to withstand a drop of 1.6 meters (a little over five feet). They showed us a smartphone using Gorilla Glass 5 that had already been dropped around 20 times and dropped it again on a hard surface — it did not break. They showed other tests of Gorilla Glass 5 taking a direct hit from various objects and withstanding all without any breakage.

Gorilla Glass 5 is already shipping to vendors and will be in some smartphones by this fall. Corning’s commitment to creating even thinner glass with harder surfaces is significant. I believe Gorilla Glass 5 makes it unlikely a sapphire smartphone screen of any type will ever gain traction. This product from Corning pretty much makes a need for it less likely.

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Huawei made a sapphire-screened phone in 2014, expecting the iPhone 6 would have one. It didn’t. Sapphire is sooo over.
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Xiaomi takes on the MacBook with the $750 “Mi Notebook Air” • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo on the two Xiaomi laptops:

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Both devices have one USB Type-C port for charging, 2 USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an HDMI port, and a headphone jack. The aluminum body comes in gold and silver, and there’s a backlit keyboard. Manufacturing duties for the Mi Notebook Air are handled by Inventec and Wistron. The outside is absolutely devoid of logos, while the inside follows the MacBook layout pretty closely other than the body-colored keyboard.

The move into the struggling laptop market is an interesting one for Xiaomi. Xiaomi’s usual strategy is to make money with apps and services on its MIUI Android ROM. There isn’t much in the way of Xiaomi services for Windows 10, though. The devices do have “Mi Sync” software, which presumably will pull down some phone data. The laptop can also be paired to a Mi Band fitness band, so it will automatically unlock when the wearer is near, Apple Watch style.

Xiaomi isn’t the first smartphone maker to make the jump to notebooks. Xiaomi’s Chinese rival Huawei introduced the MateBook earlier this year. The 2-in-1 Surface clone marked the Huawei’s first foray into larger mobile devices, but it featured little that made it stand out from the crowd. We’ll have to see if Xiaomi can do better.

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Those are high prices for laptops in China that aren’t made by Apple. Either Xiaomi knows something the rest of us don’t about the laptop market in China (and the laptop market generally), or it’s going to fail hard on this one. Hmm. Let’s see if there’s any supply chain information…
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Chip orders for notebooks from Huawei and Xiaomi falling, say sources • Digitimes

Cage Chao and Jessie Shen:

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Chip orders for notebooks from Huawei Device and Xiaomi have fallen rapidly recently, according to industry sources.

Huawei and Xiaomi have both set their shipment goals at one million notebooks for 2016, which are likely to fail, the sources indicated. Orders placed by the two vendors already fell below 100,000 units each in March, the sources said.

Xiaomi once demanded its contract maker Inventec and other related Taiwan-based components suppliers get ready for monthly orders for as many as 300,000-400,000 notebooks, the sources noted. However, actual orders placed by the China-based firm reach only less than 50,000 units, the sources said.

Notebook orders placed by Huawei have also been lower than expected, the sources indicated. Huawei’s initial focus on high-end 2-in-1 models is hampering its notebook sales, the sources said.

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They could be sourcing inside China. But they probably aren’t.
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From 0 to 1,000,000 to ? • Medium

Adrien Roose is cofounder and CEO of TakeEatEasy.com:

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Take Eat Easy’s business model is fairly simple. On each order, we charge the restaurant a 25-30% commission, and a 2,5€ delivery fee to the customer. With this c. 10€ of net revenue / order, we then have to pay the bicycle courier.

Contribution Margin is thus a function of Restaurant Commission, Average Order Value, Delivery Fee and Delivery Cost.

The first three parameters are mostly dictated by market conditions. Delivery Cost, however, is a direct function of “Courier Utilisation”, the number of deliveries / courier / hour.

Courier utilisation is one of the most important metrics in our business. Assuming couriers need to make minimum 15€ / hour not to churn, a low courier utilisation (less than 1,5 deliveries / courier / hour) implies a negative contribution margin.

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Unfortunately looks like the third number in the title will also be “0”.
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Tumblr to introduce ads across all blogs • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Tumblr this week quietly announced plans to roll out a new advertising program across its site which will see it implementing ads across users’ blogs. The company did not provide specific details on how the program will operate, but it appears to be an expansion of its earlier Creatrs program, which connects brands with Tumblr users directly, instead of having advertisers work with third-party influencer networks.

Now, Tumblr says that the same opportunity provided by its Creatrs program will be available to “any eligible Tumblr—poet, musician, fan artist, and misfit weirdo memelord alike,” the company explains on its official Staff blog.

Tumblr users wishing to earn money in the program will need to go through some sort of registration process, which is launching this year, Tumblr also noted. The details of the partner program and how users will be onboarded is still being worked out, however.

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Yahoo bought Tumblr in May 2013, completed in June. It’s taken three years to sort this out?
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In China, Apple’s local competition takes a bite out of its revenue • WSJ

Eva Dou:

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Apple is facing growing challenges in China, a key market contributing a fifth of its revenue. Local rivals including Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo are increasingly moving from the budget phone market to the high-end segment. Market leader Samsung has moved to slash phone prices in China in a bid to claw back lost market share in the country. 

In recent months, Chinese smartphone makers have scrambled to pre-empt the next iPhone by beating Apple to the punch on features such as dual-lens cameras and brighter organic light-emitting diode or OLED screens.

“This quarter will still be a challenge for Apple,” said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng. “Local vendors are very, very strong this quarter.”

A prime example is an event scheduled to take place at China’s national convention center in Beijing, just hours after the iPhone maker’s earnings conference. One of China’s most valuable startups, Xiaomi Corp., plans to launch a new smartphone Wednesday with advanced features including a dual-lens camera and an OLED screen, both of which Apple is developing for future iPhones but has yet to bring to market, according to people familiar with iPhone development plans.

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Apple always struggles in the summer, though the iPhone SE – its first mid-cycle launch – seems to be selling OK. Xiaomi’s high-end phones don’t sell well; as Samsung’s actions show, the action if you’re not Apple is principally at the low end.
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The Ice Bucket Challenge just funded an ALS breakthrough • Wired

Libby Plummer:

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A breakthrough in ALS research has been made thanks to funding from the Ice Bucket Challenge social media campaign.

A newly identified gene, NEK1, now ranks among the most common genes that contributes to the disease, presenting scientists with another potential target for developing therapies.

ALS, also known as motor neurone disease or MND, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord leading to paralysis and eventually, death.

The viral campaign, designed to promote awareness of the disease and raise research funds, involves a nominated person pouring a bucket of ice and water over their own head, videoing the stunt and posting it on social media.

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Good Thing Happens Via Social Media; A Nation Amazed.
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Start up: the feudal internet, driverless insurance?, Apple swoons, a computer to queue for you!, and more


Coming soon to a sky near you! Photomontage by Mike Licht on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. They really are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Power in the age of the feudal internet • CoLab

Bruce Schneier:

»

On the corporate side, power is consolidating around both vendor-managed user devices and large personal-data aggregators. It’s a result of two current trends in computing. First, the rise of cloud computing means that we no longer have control of our data. Our e-mail, photos, calendar, address book, messages, and documents are on servers belonging to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and so on. And second, the rise of vendor-managed platforms means that we no longer have control of our computing devices. We’re increasingly accessing our data using iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Kindles, ChromeBooks, and so on. Even Windows 8 and Apple’s Mountain Lion are heading in the direction of less user control.

I have previously called this model of computing feudal. Users pledge allegiance to more powerful companies who, in turn, promise to protect them from both sysadmin duties and security threats. It’s a metaphor that’s rich in history and in fiction, and a model that’s increasingly permeating computing today.

Feudal security consolidates power in the hands of the few. These companies act in their own self-interest. They use their relationship with us to increase their profits, sometimes at our expense. They act arbitrarily. They make mistakes. They’re deliberately changing social norms. Medieval feudalism gave the lords vast powers over the landless peasants; we’re seeing the same thing on the Internet.

«

link to this extract


Driverless cars threaten to crash insurers’ earnings • WSJ

Leslie Scism:

»

The insurance industry has a $160bn blind spot: the driverless car.

Car insurers last year hauled in $200bn of premiums, about a third of all premiums collected by the property-casualty industry. But as much as 80% of the intake could evaporate in coming decades, say some consultants, assuming crucial breakthroughs in driverless technology make driving safer and propel big changes in car ownership.

As the threat approaches, U.S. insurance executives are spending millions and embedding with car companies, testing the technology themselves, and wrestling with whether to lower prices as parts of the autonomous future hit America’s roads.

For the actuaries who set insurance rates, it is a puzzle like no other: How do they prepare for a world of so many fewer auto accidents? In the future, will underwriters be insuring drivers or computer code?…

…Just as air bags and seat belts did in generations past, increasingly common semi-autonomous equipment is expected to offer significant improvements in safety. Among the most effective is automatic braking, which is in fewer than 10% of cars now but will be standard on new cars by 2022, according to the insurance-industry funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a sister organization to IIHS, last year found that 11 front-crash-prevention systems from six manufacturers showed 10% to 15% lower rates of claims for damaging other vehicles, compared with models without the gear.

Surprisingly, the institute found no consistent reduction in claim rates from “lane-departure warning” systems.

«

link to this extract


Nest thermostats offline in U.S. heatwave • Business Insider

Todd Haselton:

»

Google’s Nest is experiencing a widespread outage that has knocked its line of thermostats offline, a particularly scary situation given the widespread heatwave across the United States right now. Members of our staff noticed the thermostats weren’t functioning properly this morning, in multiple states around the U.S., and a quick search on Twitter shows a similar story.

«

This might only be a small number of thermostats, but it’s probably bloody annoying when it does. An internet of things that is completely reliant on an internet that isn’t reliable is less useful than “things that just do”.
link to this extract


Apple sales top estimates as consumers warm to cheaper iPhone • Bloomberg

Alex Webb:

»

A slump in iPhone sales eased in the third quarter, helped by demand for the new SE model, a low-end device aimed at consumers in China and other emerging regions. With the iPhone accounting for almost two-thirds of sales, Apple has been weathering a slowdown in the global smartphone market, and Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has sought to emphasize surging revenue from services, such as the App Store, iCloud storage and Apple Music, as a way of making up for cooling device sales.

“We had a June quarter that was better than we had expected 90 days ago,” Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said by phone. “The March quarter seems to have been the low point for the cycle.”
“We had a very successful launch of iPhone SE,” Maestri said, adding that the company wasn’t able to fulfill demand for the lower-end device.

“There are some macro conditions that exist in China, both in mainland China and in Hong Kong.” he said. “The economy has slowed down and the foreign exchange rate has weakened.”

«

Sales of iPhones down by 15% year-on-year to 40.4m. Sales of iPads down (though iPad revenue rose – people and businesses are buying pricier Pros). Sales of Macs down from 4.8m to 4.25m. Watches unknown.

Sure needs a hardware refresh in the autumn to push things along. Though it was always going to be difficult to match the sales bump of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the year before.
link to this extract


How to make a…[something] • Kottke

A beautifully shot video of the process for making a fairly common object. Notice the point where you realise what it is. Notice also the stages which do involve a human, and the ones which don’t, and wonder: how long might those last?


link to this extract


Using a computer to beat the crowds at the DMV • The Atlantic

Andrew McGill, who is writing a series about hacking together apps and devices, looks at the pain that is queueing for the US Department of Motor Vehicles, where staff allocations tend not to match demand:

»

If you time your visit right, you can beat the rush and save yourself from the soul-grinding sandpaper rasp of a normal DMV experience. But how can one understand the mysterious rhythms of America’s most-visited bureaucracy?

In this week’s project, I think I’ve found a way. The DMV in Washington, D.C., kindly provides webcam feeds of its centers, like this one in Georgetown. They’re updated every minute to show you the size of the crowd before you schlep down there.

A programming concept called computer vision could help here. Computers aren’t good at intuitively understanding images—that’s why so many of those online human-checks you fill out before buying concert tickets or something involve deciphering a line of text in a picture. But they’ve gotten exponentially better at recognizing patterns. And in this case, the DMV long ago made a decision that will make determining the relative number of people in this photo very easy: They bought those goofy blue chairs.

«

The UK Passport Office in London could probably do something similar.
link to this extract


Those Freedom Kids who performed at a Donald Trump rally are about to sue him • Mother Jones

Inae Oh:

»

From the Washington Post:

»

It started in Pensacola. When Popick first reached out to the Trump campaign about performing, he spoke with various people including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. His understanding from the campaign was that the Kids would make two appearances in Florida, where Popick lives. The first event didn’t come to fruition, and Popick says he asked for $2,500 in payment for the second performance, in Pensacola. The campaign made a counter-offer: How about a table where the group could pre-sell albums?

«

According to Popick, no table ever showed up—and the incident was the first of a series of broken promises and unreturned phone calls that went on all the way to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. There, Trump’s team allegedly offered Popick a consolation prize and promised that the girls could perform because of all the previous disappointments. That performance never materialized either and now he says he’s planning to file suit.

«

Make friends and influence people. That’s the way.
link to this extract


U.K. signs a deal with Amazon to test delivery drones • MIT Technology Review

Michael Reilly:

»

Retail giant Amazon has partnered with the British government to test drones for package delivery—a major coup for the company, which is still forbidden from testing certain drone technologies in the U.S.

In June, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration released updated rules governing drone use that opened American skies up to limited use of commercial drones. Crucially for Amazon, however, that did not include automated flights guided by GPS, or flights in which a drone leaves an operator’s line of sight.

«

The CAA’s rules don’t normally allow drones to travel more than 50m or to go out of line of sight. But Amazon’s announcement does talk of “partnership” to “explore the steps needed” – which include non-line-of-sight operations in rural and suburban areas, and multiple drones operated by one person.

Quite a strange future.

link to this extract


SMS authentication isn’t security. And that’s official • Consult Hyperion

Dave Birch:

»

Earlier in the week I blogged about mobile banking security, and I said that in design terms it is best to assume that the internet is in the hands of your enemies. In case you think I was exaggerating…

»

The thieves also provided “free” wireless connections in public places to secretly mine users’ personal information.

«

From Gone in minutes: Chinese cybertheft gangs mine smartphones for bank card data | South China Morning Post

Personally, I always use an SSL VPN when connected by wifi (even at home!) but I doubt that most people would ever go to this trouble or take the time to configure a VPN and such like. Anyway, the point is that the internet isn’t secure. And actually SMS isn’t much better, which is why it shouldn’t really be used for securing anything as important as home banking.

»

The report also described how gangs stole mobile security codes – which banks automatically send to card holders’ registered mobile phones to verify online transactions – by using either a Trojan virus in the smartphone or a device that intercepted mobile signals up to a kilometre away.

«

From Gone in minutes: Chinese cybertheft gangs mine smartphones for bank card data | South China Morning Post

Of course, no-one who takes security seriously ever wanted to do things this way in the first place (which is why, for example, we used a SIM Toolkit application for M-PESA).

«

He has lots of suggestions for improvement..
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Platform wars: the final score • Benedict Evans

Evans surveys the battlefield as the smoke clears:

»

it’s now perfectly clear that both Apple and Android have sufficient scale for their ecosystems to be viable (including the Android subset in China), and that no-one else does. But at the same time, once you’ve achieved that scale, further changes in market share are not very meaningful. It doesn’t matter to a product manager at a big US bank how many Android users there are in China, nor to a product manager launching in India how any iPhones are in California. Where your users are, which users you want and which users spend what is more important. 

That is, the war is over. Yes, we’ll go from 2.5bn smartphones to 5bn, but the dynamics of the two ecosystems will not change much with that growth. Apple will get some more uses, perhaps, while Android will convert most of that next 2.5bn, but most of those people are in emerging markets and most will be buying phones for under $50 and certainly under $100. 

Rather, the changes, and the things to think about, come from other directions – VR and AR on one hand, AI and machine learning on the other. They might change the balance between Apple and Google, but they’re more likely to make that distinction boring. I stopped updating my Nokia, RIM and Microsoft models a while ago – my Android and Apple models are increasingly lower on my priority list too. 

«

link to this extract


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Start up: Russia and the Democrat hack, Mayer v Yahoo, a CRISPR future, another Brexit price hike, and more


It’s a phone from China’s top-selling Android OEM in June. Can you name the company? If not, why not? Photo by TechStage 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. What fun! I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

All signs point to Russia being behind the DNC hack • Motherboard

Thomas Rid:

»

two months earlier, in April, the Democrats had noticed that something was wrong in their networks. Then, in early May, the DNC called in CrowdStrike, a security firm that specializes in countering advanced network threats. After deploying their tools on the DNC’s machines, and after about two hours of work, CrowdStrike found “two sophisticated adversaries” on the Committee’s network. The two groups were well-known in the security industry as “APT 28” and “APT 29.” APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat—usually jargon for spies.

CrowdStrike linked both groups to “the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” APT 29, suspected to be the FSB, had been on the DNC’s network since at least summer 2015. APT 28, identified as Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU, had breached the Democrats only in April 2016, and probably tipped off the investigation. CrowdStrike found no evidence of collaboration between the two intelligence agencies inside the DNC’s networks, “or even an awareness of one by the other,” the firm wrote.

«

link to this extract


Why Armstrong really wanted Yahoo • The Information

Jessica Lessin and Tom Dotan:

»

To understand why Tim Armstrong just convinced Verizon to spend $4.83bn to buy Yahoo’s main business, you have to go back to April 2007.

Mr. Armstrong, then running North America advertising for Google, drove Google’s purchase of display ad firm DoubleClick, launching the search giant into banner advertising. By every measure it was a transformative deal, and it’s loomed large in Mr. Armstrong’s mind in the years since, multiple past colleagues say.

After he jumped to AOL from Google in 2009, Mr. Armstrong dreamed of building an ad network to rival the juggernaut Google became. For years, publishers have whined about wanting such an alternative. And Mr. Armstrong listened, believing you could build a better version of what DoubleClick had become.

Mr. Armstrong took a big step toward that goal last year when he signed a deal for AOL to sell Microsoft’s display advertising. The deal, struck in the wake of selling AOL to Verizon, gave him more ad space to sell to build out his network. Inside Verizon, the Microsoft deal is viewed as successful and part of the justification for taking a swing at Yahoo.

Now, he’ll get another influx of volume from Yahoo.  

If this all sounds a little deja vu to you, it is. Microsoft, Yahoo and many others have tried to dethrone Google in online advertising and proposed all sorts of permutations around teaming up.

«

Oh sure, that’ll work.
link to this extract


Mayer decries ‘gender-charged’ reporting of Yahoo • FT.com

David Crow and James Fontanella-Khan:

»

Marissa Mayer has hit out at sexist coverage of her leadership at Yahoo, as she agreed to sell the bulk of the internet pioneer’s assets to Verizon for $4.8bn cash, ending the independence of the star of the 1990s dotcom boom.

Speaking after announcing a deal that will bring the company set up 22 years ago by Jerry Yang and David Filo under the same roof as fellow internet pioneer AOL, Ms Mayer decried reporting about her that focused on her gender.

“I’ve tried to be gender blind and believe tech is a gender neutral zone but do think there has been gender-charged reporting,” she told the Financial Times.

“We all see the things that only plague women leaders, like articles that focus on their appearance, like Hillary Clinton sporting a new pantsuit. I think all women are aware of that, but I had hoped in 2015 and 2016 that I would see fewer articles like that. It’s a shame.”

Ms Mayer, who has been repeatedly criticised by analysts for making a series of bad acquisitions and poor hires, will stay at Yahoo until the deal closes, but is unlikely to join Verizon, according to people familiar with the matter.

After she said in a post on the company’s Tumblr page that she planned to stay “to see Yahoo into its next chapter”, she admitted that it was unclear what would happen once the deal closes early next year.

«

link to this extract


The age of the red pen • The Economist

Natasha Loder on the new gene-editing technology that is sweeping through biotech:

»

One particularly impressive—and potentially worrying—application is in the creation of genes that can spread themselves quickly through a population with blithe disregard for the constraints of natural selection. Engineering the CRISPR-Cas9 system itself into a creature’s genome makes it possible for an organism to edit its own genes, and there are ways that this ability can be used to “drive” a gene through a population (see article). Such a technology might, proponents say, be used to make the mosquitoes that carry malaria, or dengue fever, unable to spread the organisms responsible for causing the disease.

The applications seem limited only by the imagination. Dr Zhang says CRISPR has enormous potential for treating previously intractable diseases. For example, genome editing may make it possible to eliminate viral infections within the body, creating entirely new antiviral treatments. He also speculates that it might be possible to make red meat that is less harmful, or to engineer pig organs so that they could be transplanted into humans with much less risk of rejection. Dr Church, for his part, has speculated about using gene editing to turn elephants into mammoths—or to recreate Neanderthals.

«

Long and detailed, but an important primer. You might not think CRISPR is going to affect you, but it could well affect your children. (Loder won a science writing prize for this piece.)
link to this extract


Oppo becomes the leading smartphone brand in China in June 2016 • Counterpoint Technology

James Yan:

»

According to the latest research from Counterpoint’s Monthly Market Pulse, the demand for smartphones in China grew a healthy 17% annually in June. This was the best ever June month in terms of sell-through for smartphones, even though the overall market for the June-ending second quarter has seen modest growth over the first quarter of the year.Commenting on the results, Research Director, James Yan, highlighted, “The competitive environment in the world’s leading smartphone market has taken an interesting turn as domestic brands have significantly ramped-up their positions in the smartphone market. Oppo became the number one brand in China for the first time ever in June surpassing Huawei, Apple and Xiaomi with a record 23% market share with sales volumes up a massive 337% annually for the month…

…Chinese brands now control more than 84% of the total Chinese smartphone market as they exert an iron grip on the sales channels, industrial design curve and leverage access to Chinese supply chain. Their dominance extends across the price bands even extending in to the premium segment with models such as Huawei P9, Oppo R9 Plus and Vivo X play 5.

«

Samsung is fading from view – from the leading 14.1% share in June 2014 to 4th place in 2015 to 5th equal (with Xiaomi) this year. And Xiaomi is fading too, on those numbers.
link to this extract


Ofcom should push for fibre – Ex BT CTO • The Register

Kat Hall:

»

a damning report by MPs last week that warned if BT doesn’t get its house in order and address its significant under-investment in Blighty’s infrastructure, Openreach should be structurally split from the former state monopoly.

Earlier this year the regulator stopped short of recommending a formal separation – but deliberately kept that option on the table. BT has denied the accusations of underinvestment, pointing to its plans to roll-out ultrafast speeds to 12 million homes in the next four years, 2 million of which will be fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP).

But Professor Peter Cochrane, former CTO and head of R&D at BT, has slammed BT’s emphasis on its hybrid copper G.Fast technology. “An ambition of 2 million FTTP delivery is no target at all. It’s woeful. It would be 48 years to get to all the homes.”

He says: “I have no patience with the arguments being put forward that we can do it all with copper. I mean, we can do all our transport by boats on rivers if you want.”

Cochrane believes the estimated speeds of 1Gbps for G.Fast are wrong. “It’s been tested in a laboratory under rather idealised conditions in the field. And some people are quoting they can do a gigabit over 200 meters – I can categorically tell you they cannot. What they can actually do is a gigabit over 20, possibly 30 meters. After that it just dies.

“If they had fibre to the pole at the end of my garden they might be able to deliver 200-300mbps.”

«

“We can do all our transport by boats on rivers if you want” ranks among the very finest technical putdowns I’ve heard.
link to this extract


Notice regarding the impact of Pokemon GO on the consolidated financial forecast • Nintendo


»

The Pokémon Company, which is an affiliated company of Nintendo Co., Ltd. (the “Company”), holds the ownership rights to Pokémon. The Pokémon Company is going to receive a licensing fee as well as compensation for collaboration in the development and operations of the application.

The Company owns 32% of the voting power of The Pokémon Company. The Pokémon Company is the Company’s affiliated company, accounted for by using the equity method. Because of this accounting scheme, the income reflected on the Company’s consolidated business results is limited.

Also, a peripheral device for use with the application, “Pokémon GO Plus,” which will be produced and distributed by the Company, is scheduled for release. All of the above are reflected in the financial forecast ending March 31, 2017 as set forth on April 27, 2016.

Taking the current situation into consideration, the Company is not modifying the consolidated financial forecast for now. The Company will make a timely disclosure when the Company needs to modify its financial forecasts.

«

Spoilsports. Nintendo shares, which had doubled in value, plunged as a result of this fact-based announcement.
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Hewlett Packard Enterprise: Brexit, weak pound. A price hike is coming • The Register

Paul Kunert:

»

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is to bump up the price of its infrastructure gear in Blighty from Monday, blaming the crash in the value of UK sterling currency for the hike.

According to sources close to the matter, the cost of servers will go up between 6-7%, and storage and legacy networking by circa 10%.

El Reg understands this week was the cut-off date for ordering kit in HPE’s third quarter of fiscal ’16, even though its Q4 doesn’t start until 1 August.

“HPE always carefully considers any price changes for our products and adjusts prices based on exchange rates and currency fluctuations,” a spokeswoman told us.

The value of the British pound had fallen by roughly 7% against the US dollar in the 12 months prior to the EU Referendum, but since the Brexit vote was down around 15%.

«

Follows Dell, HP Inc (printers/PCs), Asus, Cisco. Wonder when Apple will follow suit.
link to this extract


PonoMusic goes dark for several weeks as the company switches providers • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:

»

Neil Young’s music service is apparently down, but not out. In a note posted to Pono’s front page, the hi-res music provider announced that it’ll be going offline for for “several weeks,” due to the recent acquisition of Omnifone, which has been the driving force behind the service’s infrastructure.

The company’s purchase has led Pono to seek a new partner for PonoMusic, striking a deal with 7 Digital, a London-based digital music platform that has worked with a number of high-profile partners, including Samsung and BlackBerry. In its letter, Pono insists that the move, while “well underway, [is] not yet complete,” hastening to add that the move won’t affect any of its dealings with big music labels.

What all of this means for the Pono faithful is no more music purchases for what’s likely to be several weeks from last Wednesday.

«

All twelve users must be upset.
link to this extract


Apple: Katy Huberty calls BS on the three-year cycle • Philip Elmer‑DeWitt


»

Smartphones aren’t headed for a three-year cycle, says Morgan Stanley’s chief Apple watcher, contradicting last month’s supply chain rumors, today’s Wall Street Journal, and conventional wisdom on the Street.

“We’re actually quite bullish,” says Katy Huberty in a video released to clients Tuesday.

According to a new AlphaWise Survey of smartphone owners in seven countries, the market may in fact be setting itself up for what Huberty calls a “potential supercycle.”

Most analysts’ estimates for Apple and Samsung, she says, imply that customers are sticking with their current phones longer and longer, stretching a replacement cycle that used to be 24 months to nearly 36 months.

But that’s not what customers are saying.

«

Quite an important distinction. The suggestion is that people have hung on to old phones for quite a while, but are now ready to upgrade. Well, next year will be.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Airbnb v racism, the iPad paradox, Kickass’s insider secret, sayonara VCRs, and more


The online ratings for Ghostbusters are all over the place – which demonstrates how screwed up online ratings are. Photo by The Shifted Librarian on Flickr.

You can 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 12 links for you. Helllooooo Monday, if it’s Monday where you are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Airbnb’s racism “the greatest challenge we face as a company” • The Memo

Oliver Smith:

»

in 2015 a Harvard Business School study reported that there is “widespread discrimination against African-American guests” taking place on Airbnb.

Last month Chesky kick started a company-wide review of discrimination on Airbnb, and this morning he announced that [it will be led by] former US attorney general Eric Holder, the country’s first black person to hold this most senior legal position.

Chesky also reflected on why Airbnb had been so painfully slow to respond to these serious problems.

“Joe, Nate, and I started Airbnb with the best of intentions, but we weren’t fully conscious of this issue when we designed the platform,” he wrote.

“After speaking to many of you, I have learned that there have at times been a lack of urgency to work on this, and we need to rectify that immediately.”

The big question now for Airbnb, and many sharing economy businesses like it, is can they fix both the technical issues allowing discrimination to take place and then win back the trust of users.

In many ways Airbnb’s plight highlights just how significantly better Uber’s system is. Auto-matching passangers and drivers, giving drivers little option but to accept rides, and with a dispassionate rating system which uses average ratings to simply exclude ‘bad’ passangers and drivers.

«

When tech becomes woven into society, you start to see its social effects.
link to this extract


The iPad paradox • iMore

Michael Gartenberg:

»

“TiVo paradox” is a term I coined to explain how hard it is to market contextual value.

With some products, including TiVo, there’s a distinct conflict between consumer understanding of the features and the value assigned to those features. While the internet was filled with a rabid fan base of customers who loved and praised TiVo at every opportunity, most consumers didn’t understand the value of a $500 “digital VCR.”

TiVo’s features were relevant to the TV viewing experience based on a customer’s immediate contextual need: The pause and rewind live TV feature was killer for any sports fan; remote access to the electronic programming guide was key to any busy traveler’s DVR experience.

Without trying these features, though, customers are unaware of their overall value or how they come together as a whole. Want to pause TV when the phone rings? That’s the killer app at that moment. Recording a show using an EPG to simply search for it? That’s the killer app at that moment. Skipping commercials when you watch recorded content? That’s the killer app at that moment. Contextual functionality ONLY comes together when you get to see the whole, not a piece or part. When you see only pieces, you just get a very expensive VCR not a TiVo.

In short, if you met a TiVo owner at a party, they were rabid. It was like being cornered by an insurance agent. They wouldn’t leave you alone until you tried it. When most people tried it, the lightbulb turned on. TiVo was not an expensive VCR — it redefined watching TV.

I suspect iPad is suffering from the same paradox. Customers who buy an iPad Pro understand the power it unlocks relative to a Mac. The more they use it, the more it displaces their Mac.

They “get it,” but most folks just don’t.

«

link to this extract


How KickassTorrents was able to get movies months before they came out on DVD • Business Insider

James Cook:

»

a regular source of leaks comes from the production of DVDs, as then lots of factory workers are exposed to movies before they’re officially available to buy.

But the criminal complaint notes that many movies available on KickassTorrents have “telecine” or “TC” in their description. 

Here’s a look at a cached version of a “Warcraft” torrent on KickassTorrents, before the site was taken down:

“Warcraft” isn’t out on DVD yet, but it was posted on Kickasstorrents shortly after appearing in the cinema. That’s because it was converted using telecine, a type of machine that takes the original cinema reels of a movie and converts them to a digital file.

The cinema reels are run through the machine, which then records the film and turns them into a digital recording. That’s then shared on torrent sites, giving a faster turnaround than waiting for a screener copy of a DVD to be ripped.

KickassTorrents certainly wasn’t the only site to use telecine copies of movies, but it does show how it got them so quickly. After all, that’s a major reason why the site was more popular than The Pirate Bay — content came to Kickasstorrents before it reached its rivals.

«

It’s a model very like that used by the people who pirated music by getting early access to the masters at CD pressing plants. The next step will be to look for the insiders at the telecine shops.
link to this extract


Brexit Blues • London Review of Books

John Lanchester:

»

To be born in many places in Britain is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat – a truncation of opportunity, of education, of access to power, of life expectancy. The people who grow up in these places come from a cultural background which equipped them for reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled. Children left school as soon as they could and went to work in the same industries that had employed their parents. The academically able kids used to go to grammar school and be educated into the middle class. All that has now gone, the jobs and the grammar schools, and the vista instead is a landscape where there is often work – there are pockets of unemployment, but in general there’s no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been, a full 15 points higher than in the US – but it’s unsatisfying, insecure and low-paid. This new work doesn’t do what the old work did: it doesn’t offer a sense of identity or community or self-worth.

«

This is a remarkable, detailed, insightful piece.
link to this extract


Hillary Clinton is launching a game-style mobile app for campaign volunteers • Recode

Ina Fried:

»

A team of technology veterans has built an app for the Hillary Clinton campaign that lets volunteers get most of the benefits of being in a campaign field office straight from their smartphone.

Hillary 2016, built by veterans of DreamWorks Animation, Charity: Water and Lifestream, is set to go live Sunday in the App Store. The app lets users brush up on the issues, post to social media and begin organizing.

Though designed to help Hillary supporters take real-world actions, it is based around gaming concepts like those used in FarmVille and other social games. Volunteers can compete against one another and earn both virtual and real-world rewards.

The Obama campaign also had a mobile app for volunteers, but it was geared more to offline actions, such as directing volunteers to phone banks or on going door-to-door.

«

Sure to be a target for abuse of all sorts. Wonder when the Android one version will come out. (Also: a piece of news about Clinton. Amazing.)
link to this extract


Three proposes protection in UK spectrum auction • CCS Insight

Kester Mann:

»

Only weeks after the deal to buy O2 was rebuffed, Three CEO Dave Dyson called on Ofcom to impose restrictions on rivals at an upcoming spectrum auction of 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz frequencies.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr Dyson started lobbying so soon. Having failed to buy O2, Three is in a precarious position without the assets or scale needed to challenge its larger rivals. The operator claims to carry over 40% of UK data traffic, but holds only about a 15% share of the airwaves — an unsustainable position that has already forced Three to raise prices on some tariffs.

Without adding extra capacity, it will be extremely difficult for Three to deploy the kind of challenger strategy with which it has become synonymous. This is particularly relevant given its preference for pure-play mobile in a market rapidly evolving to multiplay services. In many ways, the network’s very future depends on acquiring more spectrum. Until this happens, Three will be treading water, unable to formulate a long-term strategy as rivals bolster services and Sky prepares to enter the market.

Mr Dyson has called for a 30% spectrum cap on any operator following the auction.

This seems wishful thinking given that the combined BT and EE — which owns over 40% of the spectrum — would have to give up significant airwaves to take part. When the two companies came together, the merger was surprisingly smoothly dealt with by competition authorities, without any requirement to divest spectrum.

«

The BT/EE spectrum ownership does seem out of kilter, though, given that there are four operators; you’d hope for a balancing towards 25% each, surely.
link to this extract


You can disable Find My Mac by resetting NVRAM • Tidbits

Adam Engst:

»

There is one other problem that my friend Will Mayall alerted me to recently, which is that resetting NVRAM disables Find My Mac. Will discovered this on his own, but it turns out that others have run across the same fact over the past few years, as evidenced by a quick Google search. In essence, Apple stores the Find My Mac data in NVRAM, which is good for keeping it around even if the hard drive is removed, but bad in the sense that it’s easy to reset NVRAM — just restart while holding down Command-Option-P-R. A quick test confirmed the problem in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and nothing has changed in the public beta of macOS 10.12 Sierra.

The only way to prevent Find My Mac from being disabled is to set a firmware password, which you must enter whenever you start up from a disk other than the usual startup disk. Plus, if you try to reset NVRAM, you’re prompted for the firmware password, and when you enter it, the Mac instead boots into Recovery mode. In fact, when you lock your Mac via Find My Mac, what it’s doing is setting a firmware password.

«

link to this extract


How Crowdmix collapsed into administration after raising over £14m • Business Insider

James Cook:

»

when Crowdmix — whose management also dreamed of billion-dollar “unicorn” valuation status — moved into the old Mind Candy office in August 2015, the [playground] slide [connecting to the floor above] stood like a symbol of failure. Or a warning.

So Roberts had the slide blocked up, and the company eventually paid to have it removed entirely.

Now, less than a year after moving in, Crowdmix is in an even worse situation than Mind Candy. It blew through £14m (about $20m) in investor funding without ever properly launching. It only managed to ship an invite-only version of its hybrid social network and music streaming app, before costs spiralled out of control. The company spent lavishly on parties, international travel for its staff, and ostentatious decorations for its offices, even though it didn’t have a product for consumers to use. The company never booked any revenue. Roberts, the founding CEO, was forced out, and the company collapsed into bankruptcy administration on July 11.

«

Founded in 2013, aiming to let people join “crowds” to talk about music and share tracks. How this ever got funded I cannot imagine. Cook tells the long story of a bloated startup with lavish parties and a Venice Beach office with a chandelier.
link to this extract


Sources: Cyanogen Inc. is undergoing major layoffs, may “pivot” to apps • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

We’re hearing from multiple sources that Cyanogen Inc. is in the midst of laying off a significant portion of its workforce around the world today. The layoffs most heavily impact the open source arm of the Android ROM-gone-startup, which may be eliminated entirely (not CyanogenMod itself, just the people at Cyanogen Inc. who work on the open source side).

Accounts indicate that employees were called into meetings, sometimes in groups, and told they were being let go. In Seattle, Steve Kondik himself is allegedly conducting the layoffs. At this time, we’ve been told roughly 30 out of the 136 people Cyanogen Inc. employs – around 20% of the workforce – have been let go. It’s unclear if that number may change more in the coming hours and days. According to one source, the systems and QA teams in Palo Alto and Seattle have been heavily cut, with Cyanogen’s smaller offices in Lisbon and India reportedly being essentially gutted. Community support members were allegedly removed, too.

«

So it looks like there isn’t a viable third-party business in Android ROMs. (This news leaked out on Friday night.) Discussion on Hacker News shows that nobody can quite figure out what its commercial model should be.
link to this extract


The last VCR to be made this month • Variety

Lamarco McClendon:

»

Funai Electric, a Japanese consumer electronics company, will end production of VHS videocassette recorders (VCRs) at the end of July, according to Japanese newspaper Nikkei. This will also mark the end of the format as a whole 40 years after it began production.

Funai sold VCRs under the more familiar Sanyo brand in China and North America for nearly 30 years. The company’s move to stop manufacturing comes after years of declining sales and difficulty finding the materials for the electronics.

Funai Electric began production of VCRs in 1983 following the unsuccessful launch of its own CVC format in 1980. The electronics company sold as many as 15 million VCRs per year at its peak. Last year, Funai sold 750,000 units.

«

Sic transit gloria mundi. The phrase “Please rewind” will mean nothing to anyone under 20.
link to this extract


‘Ghostbusters’ is a perfect example of how internet movie ratings are broken • FiveThirtyEight

Walt Hickey:

»

Most fundamentally, single-number aggregations — like those used by sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb — are a pitiful way of explaining the diverse views of critics. More specifically, a vocal portion of men on the internet — shall we say — go out of their way to make their voices heard when it comes to judging entertainment aimed at women, and that appears to be happening with the new “Ghostbusters.”

But let’s back up. Last year, as part of an investigation into the inflated ratings on Fandango’s website, I looked at the world of online movie ratings in general. The moral of this story: Each site that aggregates ratings and reviews has its own skew one way or another, and it’s up to the user to determine which heuristic most accurately matches what they’d consider an ideal rating. (Also, don’t trust always-positive movie reviews from sites trying to use that review to sell you movie tickets. That, too.)

«

link to this extract


The Moto Z is a good phone headed down the wrong path • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»

I hate to be a hater, but some things just need to be said. I think Lenovo, the new patron of the Moto brand after it took over Motorola, is going down a very wrong path with its Moto Z modular smartphone series. As a company that’s losing ground to cheaper rivals at home in China and better-marketed iPhone and Galaxy alternatives in the USA, Lenovo is grasping for a unique selling point — modularity. But, to my eyes at least, that bet is never going to pay off. Modular phones are the passing fad of 2016, and Lenovo’s commitment to them beyond this year could be an albatross for an already ailing mobile division.

Modular devices have appeal, both tactile and cultural, that transcends a mere explanation of their function or purpose — but what I’ve found this year is that their economics just don’t work out. No one is disputing that it would be cool to extract one cartridge from your phone, load up another, and suddenly go from high-end photography to high-end audio. What I’m arguing, however, is that LG’s £149 ($195) Hi-Fi Plus module isn’t going to be part of that fantasy. And neither will Lenovo’s Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod, which at $299 costs roughly as much as buying a Moto G and a Moto E.

«

Yeah, I believe I called this already, multiple times. Modules are super-profitable, but the number of people who buy them is tiny, meaning you don’t get economies of scale. Project Ara and modular products will never, ever transform the fortunes of the smartphone business. Other businesses? They might. But it’s still a long shot. (See also Savov’s response to a complaint about ‘negativity’ in the comments.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Brexit v open data, 3D-printed dead fingerprints, smartwatches slow, Kickass kicked, and more


Baidu has a figure for Apple’s revenues in the past quarter – based on smartphone movement data. Photo by kwramm on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Spongy. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What does Brexit mean for open data in the UK? • The Guardian

Marc Ambasna-Jones:

»

“The Government has invested a lot of money in open data but then people were asking, ‘what do you do with it?’” says Ian Hetherington, founder and CEO of 3D mapping software company eeGEO. “What’s the visualisation strategy? The data is useless unless you can visualise it.”

Now there are further concerns over the future of the UK’s open data culture. “Cabinet office policy on open data was in the doldrums well before the referendum,” says open data campaigner Owen Boswarva when asked whether he thought Brexit would give the UK’s open data movement a kicking. “Open data is already under threat from austerity, deregulation and cuts to public services.” Brexit, says Boswarva, could make it worse.

“Government could use Brexit as an excuse to stop maintaining datasets that are produced to support EU programmes like Inspire and Eurostat, or to meet EU targets on air pollution and water quality. The UK would also no longer be bound by the PSI Directive, which underpins our regulatory framework for re-use of public sector information,” adds Boswarva.

Chi Onwurah MP, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, is also concerned.

«

This is concerning. Literally on the day that Theresa May was abruptly made prime minister I was in a meeting with a minister discussing better ways to use government-collected non-personal data. He didn’t stay through the meeting. May was appointed and he had to go.

He got reassigned. We’ll see if his ideas for data use survive.
link to this extract


Police asked this 3D printing lab to recreate a dead man’s fingers to unlock his phone • Fusion

Rose Eveleth:

»

Last month, law enforcement officers showed up at the lab of Anil Jain, a professor at Michigan State University. Jain wasn’t in trouble; the officers wanted his help.

Jain is a computer science professor who works on biometric identifiers such as facial recognition programs, fingerprint scanners and tattoo matching; he wants to make them as difficult to hack as possible. But the police were interested in the opposite of this: they wanted his help to unlock a dead man’s phone.

Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora couldn’t share details of the case with me, since it’s an ongoing investigation, but the gist is this: a man was murdered, and the police think there might be clues to who murdered him stored in his phone. But they can’t get access to the phone without his fingerprint or passcode. So instead of asking the company that made the phone to grant them access, they’re going another route: having the Jain lab create a 3D printed replica of the victim’s fingers. With them, they hope to unlock the phone.

«

The fine details of how they’re going to make it work is quite something.
link to this extract


At Apple, the Sumner boys help build a car • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»

At Titan, the [three Sumner] brothers [who originally worked on Siri] have been developing software similar to what they built for Siri in order to capture the voluminous data that will be generated by the cars. Siri collects voice command data from hundreds of millions of iPhone owners in order to improve its voice-recognition accuracy and answer some of the more complex commands within seconds. In the same way, self-driving cars use cameras, radars and other sensors to collect imagery and other data about objects and scenarios they encounter on the road. That way, the systems (i.e., algorithms) that help the cars decide what to do, based on what they “see” around them, can learn from new data as it comes in. The brothers would also be involved in Apple’s purchase and configuration of computer servers needed to capture, store and process such data.

It’s a challenging job. One self-driving car will capture more than two gigabytes of data per mile, and up to 10 gigabytes a mile, says James Wu, CEO of DeepMap, which develops mapping technology for self-driving cars. Eventually, the software infrastructure for the Apple car fleet “will be way more challenging than Siri because of the volume of data” that the cars would need to collect. Much of that data would then be sent to Apple’s servers so that the company’s autonomous system could learn from the data and improve its accuracy, he says.

«

link to this extract


Worldwide smartwatch market experiences its first decline as shipments fall 32% in the second quarter of 2016 • IDC


»

Smartwatch vendors shipped 3.5 million units in the second quarter of 2016 (2Q16), which was down substantially from the 5.1 million shipped a year ago. Apple held the top rank by shipping 1.6 million watches. However, it was the only vendor among the top five to experience an annual decline in shipments. In fairness to Apple, the year-over-year comparison is to the initial launch quarter of the Apple Watch, which is in many ways the same product offered in the most recent quarter with price reductions.

“Consumers have held off on smartwatch purchases since early 2016 in anticipation of a hardware refresh, and improvements in WatchOS are not expected until later this year, effectively stalling existing Apple Watch sales,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Apple still maintains a significant lead in the market and unfortunately a decline for Apple leads to a decline in the entire market. Every vendor faces similar challenges related to fashion and functionality, and though we expect improvements next year, growth in the remainder of 2016 will likely be muted.”

«

Essentially, Apple went from 3.6m a year ago to 1.6m in this quarter, on year-old hardware, and still had nearly half the market. Samsung went from 0.4m to 0.6m, while LG and Lenovo both crept up from 0.2m to 0.3m.

Overall, Android Wear watches may have been about 0.9m shipments. Total activations (measured via Google Play) are less than 5m for its lifetime outside China. (Lenovo’s shipments are probably all inside China.) If you think the Apple Watch is a flop (though I’d say it’s far too early to claim that), what’s the word for Android Wear?
link to this extract


Why snark is the worst game Hillary Clinton can play right now • Medium

Holly Wood:

»

is snark the right response when it’s towards a man winning half the vote by threatening the wellbeing of virtually every American citizen? Right of the bat, we know his absurd economic policies will destroy the economy. If you listen to Chris Christie talk, we’re going to have about 800 times more cops all getting paid as much as software engineers to gun down Black kids for no reason. Unions will be criminalized. Everyone who cooks anything decent is getting deported. Fracking forever.

You’ll find that there’s really only a small sliver of the population that’s getting out of Trump’s reach with a snowball’s chance: rich, white people with the luxury of watching the news for sport so as to make jokes about it.

Everyone else? They need a hero.

I’m willing to say this is a crisis. It’s not a drill. That there are this many people willing to fucking Sieg Heil a man on live TV is that moment we agree this isn’t funny anymore.

When you sit down and ask yourself what response you wish we were getting from a leader right now, I hope you don’t say you’re wishing for more snark.

«

Wood has spent the past few months being exhausting on Twitter in her support of Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t (realpolitik would have told you) going anywhere, but spent a lot of time not going away. Occasionally though she hits the spot. This is one of those times.

The real problem for Hillary is that she needs to have an emotional message to make people want to vote for her. Not just against Trump; they can do that by not voting. But for her. What’s her message? What’s her response to “Make American Great Again”? Politics and voting is about emotion. Next week is going to be crucial. Obama had a slogan. Clinton badly needs one. And it had better be a terrific one.
link to this extract


Baidu uses millions of users’ location data to make predictions • New Scientist

Hal Hodson:

»

Baidu, China’s internet search giant, has shown just what you can learn when you have access to enough location data.

The firm’s Big Data Lab in Beijing has announced that it has used billions of location records from its 600 million users as a lens on the Chinese economy, tracking the flux of people around offices and shops as a proxy measurement for employment and consumption activity. The lab even used the data to predict Apple’s second quarter revenue in China.

We already know that location data is useful, tracking population movements and the spread of disease, for example, but this is the first time that a company on the scale of Google, Facebook or Baidu has shown its hand. The data generated by their huge user bases gives these companies enormous power and insight that they don’t typically talk about. Academic researchers have great difficulty accessing databases like this. But Baidu can just peer into its own servers. The search giant is saying exactly what it can do with the data, and how much data it has.

First, the researchers hand-labelled thousands of areas of interest – offices, shopping centres and industrial zones – across the country. Then they studied the location data – which runs from the end of 2014 to the middle of 2016 – to see how many people were at those places at each time, and how that changed through the year…

…Baidu has collated all the data to build an employment index for China, a number that reflects the overall state of the labour market by tracking how many people are visiting industrial, manufacturing and technology zones in the country. The index shows that employment in manufacturing has dipped by roughly 10% in China since 2014, while high tech employment has grown slightly.

«

Quoted at length because this is quite stunning. Google likely has similar data for the US at least; it knows about footfall traffic via Android phones. The full version of the paper is at arXiv.

For Apple, it forecasts the past quarter’s revenue as being down by 20% year-on-year. (Apple reports next Tuesday.)
link to this extract


Feds seize KickassTorrents domains, arrest owner • TorrentFreak

“Ernesto”:

»

With millions of unique visitors per day KickassTorrents (KAT) has become the most-used torrent site on the Internet, beating even The Pirate Bay.

Today, however, the site has run into a significant roadblock after U.S. authorities announced the arrest of the site’s alleged owner.

The 30-year-old Artem Vaulin, from Ukraine, was arrested today in Poland from where the United States has requested his extradition.

In a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, the owner is charged with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.

The complaint further reveals that the feds posed as an advertiser, which revealed a bank account associated with the site.

It also shows that Apple handed over personal details of Vaulin after the investigator cross-referenced an IP address used for an iTunes transaction with an IP address that was used to login to KAT’s Facebook account.

“Records provided by Apple showed that tirm@me.com conducted an iTunes transaction using IP address 109.86.226.203 on or about July 31, 2015. The same IP address was used on the same day to login into the KAT Facebook,” the complaint reads.

«

As TorrentFreak notes in a followup post, quite a few of the pieces of evidence that led to Vaulin are historical, from up to seven years ago. If you want to be net-illicit years in the future, don’t ever be visible and don’t have the same name. Also of note: the investigator who nailed this is the same one who caught Ross Ulbricht of the original Silk Road. Similar MOs in the nabbing.

(And yes, there’s wonderful irony in the person who ran a giant torrent site being grabbed because they bought something on iTunes.)
link to this extract


The Financial Times decides to get creative with ad-blocker blocking • Digiday

Jeremy Barr:

»

On Wednesday, the newspaper began blanking out, for some users, a percentage of words in articles symbolizing the percentage of the company’s revenue that comes from advertising.

The proportion of words blocked isn’t scientific, and the Financial Times doesn’t break out the exact chunk of revenue that comes from ads, said global advertising sales director Dominic Good. “It’s more illustrative than specific,” he said.

The test group comprises registered desktop computer visitors who don’t pay for a subscription, about .075% of the company’s desktop traffic. Some ad-blocking members of this group won’t see any new messaging, some will be asked to whitelist the website’s ads but can still read regardless, some will see articles with many words blanked out if they won’t whitelist the site, and some will be blocked outright if they don’t whitelist the site.

The company will evaulate the results after three or four weeks.

«

link to this extract


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.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Scrivener on iOS!, how Twitter should improve, Skype’s odd cloud move, Windows 10’s data problem, and more


Android tablets: where are they going? Photo by fsse8info on Flickr.

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

It’s here! Scrivener for iOS is now available! • The Cellar Door


»

Scrivener for iOS is now available for sale on the App Store. At the time of writing, it is not yet showing up in searches on the App Store, as it can take several hours for Apple’s records to update. However, you can find it by following this link:

https://itunes.apple.com/app/scrivener/id972387337?ls=1&mt=8

If you tap on the above link on your iOS device, it will take you to Scrivener in the App Store.

«

This isn’t a 99p thing – but Scrivener is a terrific app on desktop for longform writing of all sorts, and beta testers have had good words to say about this.
link to this extract


Skype finalizes its move to the cloud, ignores the elephant in the room • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»

As well as addressing certain constraints of the peer-to-peer network, the new cloud-based system is used to underpin various other Skype features. For example, on the peer-to-peer network file transfers required the recipient to be present and to accept the transfer (with the file subsequently transported directly between the clients). File transfers on the new network go via the cloud, allowing fire-and-forget transfers, even to recipients that are temporarily away. This also allows a file to be downloaded by multiple recipients, or by the same recipient on multiple systems, without needing it to be retransmitted from the sender each time. The new voice and video messaging capabilities operate similarly, using cloud storage to hold voice and video messages even when the receiving client isn’t available.

New clients, including both the new UWP Windows client and the new Linux and Web client are built for the new network.

But what is most telling here is not what Microsoft’s blog post says. It is what it doesn’t say.

The Ed Snowden leaks raised substantial questions about the privacy of services such as Skype and have caused an increasing interest in platforms that offer end-to-end encryption. The ability to intercept or wiretap Skype came as a shock to many, especially given Skype’s traditionally peer-to-peer infrastructure. Accordingly, we’ve seen similar services such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and even Facebook Messenger, start introducing end-to-end encryption.

The abandonment of Skype’s peer-to-peer system can only raise suspicions here.

«

This is odd, given how robustly Microsoft fought to defend email stored on a server outside the US from US examination. But it’s also inarguable: the cloud-based system is worse than a peer-to-peer one for security.
link to this extract


Firefox to banish hidden Flash files – and kill off sneaky ad snoopers • The Register

Shaun Nichols:

»

Firefox will in the coming months automatically block invisible Flash content that users cannot see when loading a page, says Mozilla as it continues its campaign against Adobe’s plugin.

This should protect netizens from dodgy webpages that load hidden malicious Flash files that attempt to infect their computers with malware or perform similar devilish deeds.

It should also kill off unseen content that pointlessly drains devices’ battery lives. The open-source browser maker will also automatically block advertisers’ Flash scripts that snoop on surfers to make sure they are not blocking or ignoring ads.

This is ahead of a 2017 update that will see Firefox block all Flash content by default – meaning users will have to manually click on the Flash content to confirm that they want to view it.

Websites are urged to move from Flash to HTML5 for their multimedia content wherever possible. According to Mozilla, its browser has encountering fewer crashes since sites have started serving HTML5 media rather than Flash.

«

Still too slow. Flash honestly isn’t necessary except in a few edge cases. Try it: delete it from your desktop/laptop; if a site asks for it, change your browser agent to “iPad”. You’ll be fine.
link to this extract


Windows 10 personal data collection is excessive, French privacy watchdog warns | PCWorld

Peter Sayer:

»

Windows 10 breaches French law by collecting too much personal information from users and failing to secure it adequately, according to the French National Data Protection Commission (CNIL).

Some of the privacy failings identified can be remedied by users willing to delve deep into the Windows 10 settings, but one of the commission’s gripes is that better privacy should be the default setting, not one users must fight for.

CNIL served Microsoft with a formal notice on June 30, giving it three months to comply with the law, but only made it public on Wednesday.

The commission conducted seven tests of the data sent back to Microsoft by Windows 10 in April and June of this year. Among Microsoft’s faux pas was the collection of data about all the apps downloaded and installed on a system, and the time spent on each one, a process CNIL said was both excessive and unnecessary.

«

link to this extract


US Army Special Forces to dump Galaxy Note II for iPhone 6S because iPhones are “faster” • Android Police

David Ruddock on that story from yesterday:

»

In what I am tempted to say may be the stupidest news I’ve read all morning (give me an hour, though, I just grabbed my coffee), the US Army’s Special Operations Command is allegedly dumping its current Nett Warrior embedded tactical smartphone solution – a 4-year-old Galaxy Note II – for an iPhone 6S. Because, and I quote DoDBuzz’s source here, the iPhone is “faster; smoother. Android freezes up.” Wait, you’re telling me a smartphone that’s four years old trying to run a specialized government app isn’t very fast or stable? I am shocked, sir – simply taken aback!

«

When you put it like that.. why didn’t the US SOC go with the newer Galaxy Note?
link to this extract


What I want out of Twitter • Whatever

John Scalzi, in February 2016: T

»

witter’s major issue, as everyone except apparently Twitter’s C-bench knows, is that there are a bunch of shitheads on it who like to roll up to whomever they see as targets (often women and/or people in marginalized groups) and dogpile on them. That’s no good.

I get my own fair share of jerks trying to make my Twitter existence miserable, so over time I’ve developed some strategies to trim those down. The problem here is that they require me to be an expert Twitter user, and do things like use a Twitter client with more features than the native web/mobile interface, and also simply to make rules in terms of interaction that don’t involve Twitter at all (see: the Scamperbeasts Rule). It also requires me to have a certain level of “don’t give a fuck” attitude, which fortunately I have.

But then, I’m a well-off straight white dude, and I can laugh off some mouth breather saying stupid things to me. If I were a woman and getting a constant stream of rape and death threats, I’m not sure I could do that, and I’m not sure that I should be required to be an “expert” user not to have to see this stuff. More to the point, this shit exists on Twitter because the assholes know it’s hard to filter it out; they know their target has to see it first to block or mute it.

I think it’s fine if Twitter’s philosophy is that everyone, including complete shitbags, have a right to an account on the service. But I think it would be useful if Twitter also incorporated into its philosophy, far more robustly than it has, that everyone is allowed to decide who is allowed to impinge on their time, and timeline.

«

He has some excellent suggestions, including filtering based on account age (new ones don’t show through) and shared mute/block lists.
link to this extract


As global tablet market tumbles, PC brands develop survival tactics to cope • ABI Research


»

Downward trends in tablet shipments, with Apple and Samsung YoY shipments falling from 62% to 54% as the market shrinks, are forcing PC brands to strategize survival tactics for their product portfolios, finds ABI Research. While Amazon and Huawei will focus on tablets despite the dwindling figures, not all vendors share this mentality. Dell and HP, for instance, made the decision to shy away from the tablet market and will instead concentrate on providing 2-in-1 systems based on Windows.

“Amazon and Huawei may successfully buck the trend, but each company is taking a drastically different stance on how to best accomplish this,” says David McQueen, Research Director at ABI Research. “Amazon managed to move away from raising revenue through hardware to recurring digital content sales, but Huawei, and even Lenovo for that matter, are instead looking to form a wider product suite that includes tablets in addition to their legacy PC and smartphone products.”

Xiaomi also plans to follow in Huawei and Lenovo’s footsteps, recently announcing a tie-up with Microsoft to ship Microsoft Office and Skype on Xiaomi’s Android smartphones and tablets.

«

Notable in yesterday’s Microsoft results: “lower revenues from patent licensing”, ie from Android vendors. Wonder if the Office/Skype inclusion is the quid pro quo – and if it is, how well it’s converting. I can’t imagine many Xiaomi customers eagerly signing up for an Office subscription.
link to this extract


Exploring the App Store’s top grossing chart • MacStories

Graham Spencer:

»

Diving in a little deeper, we can see that the IAPs offered range from $0.99, all the way up to $399.99.1 Unsurprisingly, a large proportion of the IAPs are in the $0.99-$19.99 price range. But you’ll also notice huge spikes at $99.99, $49.99, and $29.99.

Games dominate the Top 200 Grossing charts, representing an overwhelming majority of 68% of the apps. The next closest is Social Networking at just 11% and comprised mainly of various dating apps. This is followed by Music at 7% (a mix of music streaming and music creation apps) and Entertainment at 5% (a variety of streaming video apps, mostly).

«

I really hope Spencer was able to do this in an automated fashion. Note that this barely overlaps with the introduction of Pokemon Go. And the $400 IAP? A “forever subscription” to Headspace.
link to this extract


Google DeepMind AI to be in all of Google’s data centres by end of 2016 • Business Insider

Sam Shead:

»

Google has adopted a DeepMind AI system in several of its data centres over the last few months as a way of reducing the amount of energy the server farms consume. However, the full extent of Google’s plans for the software are only just becoming clear.

“It [DeepMind’s AI] will be in the entire fleet by the end of the year,” DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman told Business Insider on Wednesday. “That will result in a 15% reduction on energy used every year by the entire data centre fleet.”

…every time a user engages with one of [Google’s[ services, a server is spun up and heat is produced that ultimately needs to be removed by an energy-consuming cooling system.

In order to lower the energy consumption of Google’s cooling systems, DeepMind analysed five years worth of Google data centre records that have been collected by sensors measuring variables like temperature, compute load, air pressure, and fan speed.

“We used that to predict what the optimal settings are for controlling the cooling system, which can be thought of as a very complex air conditioning unit that tries to extract heat from the data centre.”

After looking at the data, Google’s self-learning algorithm was able to figure out the best times to use the cooling fans. “We can optimally turn up the fan when we need to and not waste energy on over cooling when we don’t need to,” said Suleyman.

«

link to this extract


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Start up: AI photo colouring, Chrome extension malware, the biodiesel fake, iPhone 7 ’Airpods’?, and more


Going, going, up? Photo by mangee on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Or someone else. But who? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New software instantly colourises old photos • Digital Trends


»

While Instagrammers have been able to age a new photo for a long time, new software could allow the opposite — Algorithmia is a new program that automatically colourises black-and-white photos.

Colourising old photos is a long process, but using a “convolutional neural network,” Richard Zhang, a UC Berkeley computer vision PhD student, has developed a program with a much higher success rate than earlier attempts.

Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are advanced image-recognition programs. They use multiple layers of overlapping input regions to create a better representation of the original than earlier technology allowed. Zhang took the idea of using CNNs a bit further and trained the artificial intelligence program by using over a million colour photos.

«

I’d have to say the effects are so-so, but a lot better than I’d do in the same time (it’s fast). And you could then improve it.
link to this extract


FY16 Q4 – Press Releases – Investor Relations • Microsoft

Microsoft’s fourth-quarter (for April-June) results are out. Ignoring the cloud and services stuff:

»

More Personal Computing revenue decreased $346m or 4%, mainly due to lower revenue from Devices and Gaming, offset in part by higher revenue from search advertising and Windows. Revenue included an unfavorable foreign currency impact of approximately 2%.

• Devices revenue decreased $782m or 35%, mainly due to lower revenue from phones, driven by the change in strategy for the phone business, offset in part by higher Surface revenue. Phone revenue decreased $870m or 71%, driven by a reduction in volume of phones sold. Surface revenue increased $76m or 9%, primarily driven by the release of Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016, offset in part by a decline in revenue from Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3.

• Gaming revenue decreased $152m or 9%, primarily due to lower Xbox hardware revenue, offset in part by higher revenue from Xbox Live. Xbox hardware revenue decreased 33%, mainly due to a decline in consoles sold and lower prices of consoles sold. Xbox Live revenue increased 4%, driven by higher volume of transactions and revenue per transaction.

• Search advertising revenue increased $514 million or 54%. Search advertising revenue, excluding traffic acquisition costs, increased 16%, primarily driven by growth in Bing, due to higher revenue per search and higher search volume.

• Windows revenue increased slightly, mainly due to higher revenue from Windows OEM, offset in part by lower revenue from patent licensing.

«

That means phone revenue was down to $364m, which is more than halved from the previous quarter. A rough estimate suggests that’s about 1m Lumias sold. That’s nearly as bad as BlackBerry – which some once thought Microsoft would buy.

And the Xbox stuff – imagine how Nintendo’s report is going to sound soon.
link to this extract


Malware in the browser: how you might get hacked by a Chrome extension • Kjaer

Maxime Kjaer:

»

On my Facebook news feed, I had noticed that one of my friends was regularly liking some weird, lewd, clickbaity links. Now clickbait content is far from uncommon on Facebook, but something was off in this case. I had noticed a pattern: it was always the same friend who would Like the same type of links. They would always have around 900 Likes and no comments, while the page behind them has about 30 Likes. Even weirder: every single post on that page is posted 25 times.


One of the posts that my friend had Liked. 940 Likes, no comments.

Now I know my friend; he’s a smart guy, so I don’t really see him liking tons of this (frankly) crap content. Intrigued, I decided to go down the rabbit hole and see what this was all about.

So I clicked on one of these links. Huge mistake.

I was instantly greeted with a message saying that I should verify my age before I could view the content. The semi-raunchy nature of the content made it seem sort of justified. What wasn’t justified, though, was the fact that this verification had to be done by installing a Chrome extension.

«

Of course your spidey sense is tingling. But as you read through you’ll be saying “Whaaaa..?” The suggested moral: Google ought to vet the makers of Chrome extensions or manually verify them.

Not sure that’s going to happen in a hurry. However it is a new avenue of infection: Kjaer found 130,000 PCs infected with this malware.
link to this extract


Tor veteran Lucky Green exits, torpedos critical ‘Tonga’ node and relays • The Register

Richard Chirgwin:

»

Tor’s annus horribilis continues, with one of its earliest contributors, Lucky Green, quitting and closing down the node and bridge authority he operates.

Green’s announcement is here. He specifically declines to describe why it is “no longer appropriate” to take part in Tor, nor why he believes he has “no reasonable choice left within the bounds of ethics”.

It is therefore left to others to speculate about whether or not Green’s decision is the result of the turmoil in the project, which emerged when Jacob Applebaum exited amid accusations and recriminations, and continued with the project’s board replacing itself.

Practically, it’s a big deal. Bridge Authorities are part of the infrastructure that lets users get around some ISP-level blocks on the network (not, however, defeating deep packet inspection). They’re also incorporated in the Tor code, meaning that to remove a Bridge Authority is going to need an update.

The shutdown is to take place on August 31.

«

link to this extract


The fake factory that pumped out real money • Bloomberg Businessweek

Mario Parker, Jennifer Dlouhy & Bryan Gruley:

»

The biodiesel factory, a three-story steel skeleton crammed with pipes and valves, squatted on a concrete slab between a railroad track and a field of storage tanks towering over the Houston Ship Channel. Jeffrey Kimes, an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency, arrived there at 9 a.m. on a muggy Wednesday in August 2011.

He’d come to visit Green Diesel, a company that appeared to be an important contributor to the EPA’s fledgling renewable fuels program, part of an effort to clean the air and lessen U.S. dependence on foreign fuel. In less than three years, Green Diesel had reported producing 50 million gallons of biodiesel. Yet Kimes didn’t know the company. He asked other producers, and they weren’t familiar with Green Diesel either. He thought he ought to see this business for himself.

Kimes, who works out of Denver, was greeted at the Green Diesel facility by a man who said he was the plant manager. He was the only employee there, which was odd. “For a big plant like that, you’re going to need a handful of people at least to run it, maintain it, and monitor the process,” says Kimes, a 21-year EPA veteran. The two toured the grounds, climbing metal stairways and examining the equipment. The place was weirdly still and quiet. Some pipes weren’t connected to anything. Two-story-high biodiesel mixing canisters sat rusting, the fittings on their tops covered in garbage bags secured with duct tape. Kimes started asking questions. “They showed me a log, and from that you could see they hadn’t been producing fuel for a long period of time,” he says.

An attorney for Green Diesel showed up. Kimes asked how he could reconcile the lack of production with what Green Diesel had been telling the EPA. The attorney said he didn’t know, he’d been hired only the day before. “It was obvious what was going on,” Kimes says.

«

A great (long) read.
link to this extract


Acer, Asustek consider raising PC prices in the UK, says report • Digitimes

Joseph Tsai:

»

With Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HP) both having decided to raise their PC prices in the UK by 10% beginning August, Acer and Asustek Computer are also considering following suit and will make decisions within two weeks, according to a Chinese-language Apple Daily report.

With the pound depreciating nearly 15% in the past few weeks, PC vendors have started raising their prices to avoid losses. Lenovo reportedly is also evaluating whether to raise prices, the paper added.

«

Expect everyone to follow suit. None of the PC makers can afford to eat a 15% change in price.
link to this extract


Self-driving Mercedes-Benz bus takes a milestone 12-mile trip • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

»

CityPilot has taken a key early step towards fully autonomous public transportation: The Mercedes-Benz self-driving bus program saw one of its Future Bus vehicles drive 20 km (or around 12.4 miles) in the Netherlands, on a route that connected Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with the nearby town of Haarlem. To make the trip, the bus had to stop at traffic lights, pass through tunnels, and navigate among pedestrians.

This is a big win for the program, which owes its origins to the transport truck-focused Highway Pilot program debuted by Mercedes two years ago. That autonomous vehicle program didn’t face the added challenges of navigating an urban environment, however, which makes the Future Bus successful test run a significant achievement.

«

link to this extract


Trademark filings seem to confirm Apple’s work on upcoming ‘Airpods’ • MacRumors

Eric Slivka noted that a company called “Entertainment in Flight” had trademarked “Airpods” and then began digging:

»

Given that Jonathan Brown is a fairly common name, we dug a little further to try to determine whether the manager at Entertainment in Flight and the attorney at Apple and Rambus are indeed the same person, and we came across a court filing from a 2010 civil case involving Rambus that includes a pair of Brown’s signatures. While there is some variation among those two signatures and the one on the AirPods trademark document, they have enough in common that we believe these Jonathan Browns are the same person and thus Apple is behind the AirPods trademark application.

«

Now that is journalism.
link to this extract


Army Special Operations Force to trade in its Androids for iPhones • DoD Buzz

Matthew Cox:

»

U.S. Army Special Operations Command is dumping its Android tactical smartphone for an iPhone model.

The iPhone 6S will become the end-user device for the iPhone Tactical Assault Kit – special-operations-forces version Army’s Nett Warrior battlefield situational awareness tool, according to an Army source, who is not authorized to speak to the media. The iTAC will replace the Android Tactical Assault Kit.

The iPhone is “faster; smoother. Android freezes up” and has to be restarted too often, the source said. The problem with the Android is particularly noticeable when viewing live feed from an unmanned aerial system such as Instant Eye, the source said.

When trying to run a split screen showing the route and UAS feed, the Android smart phone will freeze up and fail to refresh properly and often have to be restarted, a process that wastes valuable minutes, the source said.

“It’s seamless on the iPhone,” according to the source. “The graphics are clear, unbelievable.”

Nett Warrior as well as the ATAC and soon-to-be-fielded iTAC basically consist of a smartphone that’s connected to a networked radio. They allow small unit leaders to keep track of their location and the locations of their soldiers with icons on a digital map.

«

Pokemon Go, but for real, with bullets. They were using Samsung devices.
link to this extract


Dell kills Android business to focus on Windows 2-in-1 devices • Forbes

Jean Baptiste Su:

»

In a serious blow to the future of Google’s Android for Work program and six months after HP decided to stop selling Android tablets, arch rival Dell confirmed in a recent blog post that it too is discontinuing its Android tablet line (Venue) to focus on Windows 2-in-1 laptops or detachable tablets.

Dell’s main take is that the tablet market is oversaturated, with Android devices at rock bottom prices from companies like Asus, HTC, Huawei, Lenovo or ZTE.

“Additionally, 2-in-1s with larger screens in the 10- to 13-inch range are offering a laptop-first experience with the convenience of a tablet when needed,” said Kirk Schell, Dell’s vice-president of commercial solutions.

«

I cannot see that anyone is making money – as in worthwhile profit – in Android tablets. They seem more like a way to soak up excess touchscreen production capacity. Only Samsung has any economy of scale (makes the chips and screens, second largest tablet vendor).
link to this extract


BT must put house in order or face split • House of Commons Select Committee on Media

After hearing from BT and other ISPs:

»

The [House of Commons Media Select] Committee says BT has exploited its position to make strategic decisions that “favour the Group’s priorities and interests” – and is likely to have sacrificed shareholder value and customer benefit as a result. Capital investment in Openreach has been broadly flat since 2009 until this year, and quality of service remains poor.

The Committee is demanding that BT invest significantly more in Openreach, and allow Openreach much more autonomy over what it invests, when and where. It supports Ofcom’s plans for establishing greater separation between Openreach and BT Group, but makes clear that if BT fails to “offer the reforms and investment assurances necessary to satisfy our concerns”, Ofcom should move to enforce full separation of Openreach.

In the Committee’s judgement, Ofcom has not placed enough emphasis in the past on improving Openreach’s quality of service: it says the prospect of stiffer penalties should also encourage BT to voluntarily invest more in infrastructure.

«

Nice to have it spelt out.
link to this extract


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Start up: ransomware evaluated, Brexit and the death penalty, True Tone iPhones?, Swatch swoons, and more


Maybe our future wars will be about fooling these things. Photo by wim hoppenbrouwers on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. So there. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why these online criminals actually care about your convenience • F-Secure

“Melissa”:

»Crypto-ransomware criminals’ business model is, of course, encrypting your files and then making you pay to have them decrypted so you can access them again. To help victims understand what has happened and then navigate the unfamliar process of paying in Bitcoin, some families offer a “customer journey” that could rival that of a legitimate small business. Websites that support several languages. Helpful FAQs. Convenient customer support forms so the victim can ask questions. And responsive customer service agents that quickly get back with replies.

We think this is a pretty interesting paradox. Criminal nastiness, but on the other hand willingness to help “for your convenience,” as one family put it. We decided to dig a little deeper.

We evaluated the customer journeys of five current ransomware families (Cerber, Cryptomix, TorrentLocker, Shade, and a Jigsaw variant), and got an inside look we’re sharing in a new report, Evaluating the Customer Journey of Crypto-Ransomware. From the first ransom message to communicating with the criminals via their support channels, we wanted to see just how these criminals are doing with their customer journey – and whose is the best (or rather, least loathsome).

«

Those five won’t be pleased at the emergence of ransomware that just takes your money and deletes your stuff anyway.
link to this extract


Poké power: Pokémon GO has more in-game buyers than the rest of the mobile gaming market • Slice Intelligence

»Nostalgia or not, in-app spending by Millennials account for the majority of  Pokémon GO’s in-game revenue. With 52% of the buyers being between the ages of 18-34, many of these individuals were part of the prime target audience when the Pokémon frenzy first hit the United States in the mid-’90s. In addition to age gender also plays a role here; nearly three-quarters of paying Pokémon players are men. Here’s the full age breakdown:

«

This is totally what I expected: Pokemon Go is that perfect storm of a game that people adored when they were children, and a product that has come along just in time to reawaken that adoration.
link to this extract


Apple begins rolling out iTunes Match with audio fingerprint to Apple Music subscribers • Loop Insight

Jim Dalrymple:

»One of the biggest complaints about Apple Music over the past year was that it wouldn’t properly match songs subscribers had in their existing iTunes libraries. That problem is being fixed by Apple.

Apple has been quietly rolling out iTunes Match audio fingerprint to all Apple Music subscribers. Previously Apple was using a less accurate metadata version of iTunes Match on Apple Music, which wouldn’t always match the correct version of a particular song. We’ve all seen the stories of a live version of a song being replaced by a studio version, etc.

Using iTunes Match with audio fingerprint, those problems should be a thing of the past.

If you had songs that were matched incorrectly using the metadata version of iTunes Match, the new version will rematch to the correct song. However, it will not delete any downloaded copies of songs you have in your library. This is a very good thing—we don’t want songs auto-deleting from our libraries.

«

The latter said with a lot of feeling by Dalrymple, who had some songs deleted from his library when he first signed with Apple Music last year.
link to this extract


Robot war and the future of perceptual deception • BLDGBLOG

Geoff Manaugh:

»Finding ways to throw-off self-driving robots will be more than just a harmless prank or even a serious violation of public safety; it will become part of a much larger arsenal for self-defense during war. In other words, consider the points raised by John Rogers, above, but in a new context: you live in a city under attack by a foreign military whose use of semi-autonomous machines requires defensive means other than — or in addition to — kinetic firepower. Wheeled and aerial robots alike have been deployed.

One possible line of defense — among many, of course — would be to redesign your city, even down to the interior of your own home, such that machine vision is constantly confused there. You thus rebuild the world using light-absorbing fabrics and reflective ornament, installing projections and mirrors, screens and smoke. Or “stealth objects” and radar-baffling architectural geometries. A military robot wheeling its way into your home thus simply gets lost there, stuck in a labyrinth of perceptual convolution and reflection-implied rooms that don’t exist.

In any case, I suppose the question is: if, today, a truck can blend-in with the Florida sky, and thus fatally disable a self-driving machine, what might we learn from this event in terms of how to deliberately confuse robotic military systems of the future?

«

That’s kinda paranoid, but this sort of thing will be part of army planning in future.
link to this extract


Brexit voters, authoritarianism and the death penalty • Birkbeck University of London department of politics

Professor Eric Kaufman:

»culture and personality, not material circumstances, separate Leave and Remain voters. This is not a class conflict so much as a values divide that cuts across lines of age, income, education and even party. A nice way to show this is to examine the relationship between so-called ‘authoritarianism’ questions such as whether children should obey or the death penalty is appropriate, and support for the EU. The British Election Study’s internet panel survey of 2015-16 asked a sample of over 24,000 individuals about their views on these matters and whether they would vote to leave the EU. The graph below, restricted to White British respondents, shows almost no statistically significant difference in EU vote intention between rich and poor. By contrast, the probability of voting Brexit rises from around 20% for those most opposed to the death penalty to 70% for those most in favour. Wealthy people who back capital punishment back Brexit. Poor folk who oppose the death penalty support Remain.

A similar pattern holds in the British Values Survey for the strongly worded question probing respondents’ desire to see those who commit sex crimes “publicly whipped, or worse”. Political psychologists show a close relationship between feeling fearful of change, desiring certainty, and calling for harsh penalties for criminals and discipline for children. These are people who want a more stable, ordered world. By contrast, those who seek change and novelty are willing to embrace immigration and the EU.

«

This feels like an extreme version of “take back control”. (Support for the death penalty is just under 50% in the UK, but would never achieve a majority vote in Parliament; MPs know its failings, which include killing innocent people.)

The note dates back to the day after the referendum, but is still notable – and it has things to say about Donald Trump. (Unfortunately he’s in the news.)
link to this extract


Apple shows interest in expanding True Tone color accuracy beyond the 9.7″ iPad Pro • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:

»The US Patent & Trade Office published an Apple patent filing on Thursday, discovered by AppleInsider, that details the technology that would eventually be introduced to the world this March as the iPad Pro True Tone display.

In the filing, Apple notes that the ultimate goal of its advanced display technology is to have “colors appear as they would on a printed sheet of paper.” That’s similar to Apple’s own marketing materials for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and its True Tone display, which it boasts is “almost like looking at a sheet of paper.”

As with most applications, Apple’s proposed invention is all-encompassing, noting that while OLED displays are shown in accompanying illustrations, any compatible display can be used to implement the patented technology. The filing suggests the technology could have practical applications on devices ranging from small wearable displays, like an Apple Watch, to large desktop computers, such as Apple’s iMac.

«

I’d be astonished if this tech (which is great) isn’t on the forthcoming iPhones.
link to this extract


Why the Microsoft Kinect could have been great — and why it wasn’t • Business Insider

Matt Weinberger:

»Much of “FRU’s” development time was taken up with “research,” he says. Most Kinect developers made the same mistake: They assumed that you could just take a game or genre that already existed, bolt Kinect motion controls onto it, and call it a day.

Not every title is suited to that, though, especially given the Kinect’s not-so-perfect record at actually tracking players’ motion. And then, when gamers got frustrated, they blamed the Kinect and went back to traditional games, and developers followed them back to safer waters.

But Kinect-style motion controls “don’t work 100%, and that’s just a fact,” Traverso said. “You have to understand the limitations of the technology and use it to your advantage.”

And so, much of Through Games’ focus was on solving some basic issues. How long can a player reasonably be expected to stand up to complete each level of the game? How fast can the player move before the Kinect stops reliably picking up on their motion? And so on, and so forth. The result is a game that put a lot of time and energy into making sure it used the Kinect to the fullest extent.

«

Seems like “why it wasn’t” is pretty much explained in that penultimate paragraph. If you’re having to work around something that doesn’t work 100% and which is the essential interface for the game, you’re screwed.

The Kinect will always feel like the great lost wonder of technology. It could have been remarkable; instead it was a bust.
link to this extract


Swatch plunges as luxury malaise spreads from Asia to Europe • Bloomberg

Corinne Gretler:

»Swatch Group AG shares plunged as the watchmaker warned of a collapse in first-half profit and cut sales guidance for the year, adding to a luxury malaise that has spread from Hong Kong to other top markets such as France and Switzerland.

The stock fell as much as 14% as the Swiss maker of Omega and Tissot timepieces said earnings slid 50% to 60%. Analysts expected a 22% drop in net income. The impact on demand of Thursday’s deadly attacks in Nice means sales will be less than forecast earlier in the year, Chief Executive Officer Nick Hayek said by phone.

“Investor confidence will be shaken,” said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich. He estimates the operating profit margin fell to 9% from 18%, which is either a “disaster” or represents one-time charges. Hayek said the first-half profit didn’t include any one-time items.

«

Gosh, I wonder if..

»

Swatch’s Tissot brand may have been one of the worst performers, partially because it’s in a price segment that competes directly with smartwatches from Apple Inc. and others, according to Bank Vontobel analyst Rene Weber.

«

Oh.
link to this extract


Ad-tech exits: wait for 2017 • OpenX

Archie Sharma:

»If we look at the number of new ad-tech companies founded over the last 15 years (Fig. 1), it has consistently grown and peaked in 2012, meaning we can now see normalization in industry entrants. Equally informative is Fig. 2, showing that the number of exits continues to grow each year. The trend highlights the state of many ad-tech companies that are at the point in their lifecycle where their investors are looking for exits.

That the number of industry entrants peaked in 2012 but the number of exits still continue to increase, suggests that net consolidation in the industry will continue apace for the next few years. The common exits are IPO’s, acquisitions, or failure (going out of business). IPO’s make-up less than 5% of exits; leaving the primary reasons for exits: acquisitions (82%) and failures (13%). Acquisitions and failures reduce the net companies in the industry, leading to further consolidation.

So, how long will consolidation last?

Our data driven approach suggests a high number (200+ per year) of exits through 2018, suggesting the continuation of a strong consolidation trend in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In order to predict the number of exits in the future, we looked first to the past and determined (Fig. 3) that the average lifespan of an ad-tech firm is approximately 6 years. Additionally, less than 5% of ad-tech firms have survived past 10 years.

«

link to this extract


Yahoo reports second quarter 2016 results • Yahoo

»Yahoo! Inc. today reported results for the quarter ended June 30, 2016.
“With the lowest cost structure and headcount in a decade, we continue to make solid progress against our 2016 plan.  Through disciplined expense management and focused execution, we delivered Q2 results that met guidance across the board and in some areas exceeded it,” said Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo.

«

Yeeaaaah. Well. Gross revenue actually increased, from $1.243bn to $1.308bn compared to the year-ago quarter. But traffic acquisition costs (what Yahoo pays companies to bring traffic to it) rose from $200m to $466m, so that revenue after TAC fell from $1.04bn to $841m. Most of the TAC went on search (that’s the Firefox deal, where Mayer outbid an uninterested Google): up from $105m to $392m, so that it’s larger than post-TAC search revenue.

This is a lot of ways to say Yahoo is a zombie; it just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
link to this extract


Apple scores GlaxoSmithKline study in key test of health apps • Bloomberg

Caroline Chen and Alex Webb:

»Glaxo wants to record the mobility of 300 participants over three months and will also ask the patients to input both physical and emotional symptoms, such as pain and mood. The app Glaxo created from ResearchKit comes with a guided wrist exercise that uses the phone’s sensors to record motion, giving the drugmaker a standardized measurement across all users. The company will use the results to help design better clinical trials.

The success of the study could help determine the pharmaceutical industry’s future appetite for using Apple’s products to conduct research. Drugmakers have to balance the lower costs of using the app with their ability to gather accurate, reliable data. Risks include that test subjects will tire of entering information into the app, and, given the iPhone’s $399 starting price, the sample may be skewed toward wealthier demographics.

By using ResearchKit, London-based Glaxo may be able to reduce research costs, which can stretch into the millions of dollars.

«

The point about the iPhone’s starting price is meaningless in the US and UK and other contract (pre-pay) markets, because the pricing structure with carriers’ contracts obscures the price differential with Android phones. In the US, iPhone price differences were completely hidden for years.
link to this extract


How falling behind the Joneses fuelled the rise of Trump • The New York Times

Thomas Edsall:

»A May 2015 Federal Reserve report provides a window into the financial condition of many in the working class. It found that 47% of Americans do not have the resources to cover a $400 bill for such unanticipated costs as a car repair or a health emergency. They would be forced to borrow from friends of family, to sell something, to go to a payday loan company or to add to their credit card debt.

For those in the bottom third of the income distribution, even essential expenditures have become unaffordable: the $7,000 to $10,000 average cost of a funeral, the $33,865 average cost of a new car, the $18,000 average annual cost of child care.

Crucially important is the fact that rising inequality constitutes a double whammy. It raises the cost of sought-after goods and it increases the economic gap between the working class and the affluent, spurring nostalgia for what was (even if what was really wasn’t).

This point was well put in an essay, “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” by Neil Fligstein, a professor of sociology at Berkeley, Pat Hastings, a Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley, and Adam Goldstein, professor of sociology at Princeton, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association:

Growing income inequality in the U.S. has meant that as those at the top are able bid up the price of valued goods like housing and access to good schools, those in lower groups have struggled to maintain their positions.

«

link to this extract


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ARM: the weightless corporation that outweighs Intel

The news that Japan’s Softbank is spending £24bn to buy ARM – the UK company which designs (but does not actually make) the chips that power pretty much every smartphone and tablet in existence, plus almost every internet-of-things product in existence – has got people very confused.

The price is a 41% premium over its closing price on Friday – though the share price leapt on the news by 45%, creating a puzzle for those who hold the shares. A few points first:

• it isn’t specifically caused by the fall of the pound after the Brexit referendum. True, Softbank is buying in yen, and that has appreciated against the pound – from about 160 yen/pound just ahead of the referendum to 140 yen/pound on the day of the bid. That’s a 15% change, so Softbank got some benefit on the side. Possibly the market thinks it could go higher.

Yen-sterling exchange rate

Sterling has become cheaper against the yen since the referendum (fewer yen needed to buy a pound)

• it isn’t going to affect “British companies” and your smartphone won’t get more expensive. ARM designs chips, but doesn’t make them; there are no British companies making chips in British foundries from ARM designs. There would be no advantage to Softbank or ARM to increase the royalty on its new licences because companies would simply stick with the older versions.

• Softbank says the purpose of the takeover is to benefit from all the “internet of things” applications that are coming into view. Given that this is a market which will be multiple times bigger than the smartphone/mobile phone market, which was already multiple times bigger than the PC market, you can see that Softbank thinks it’s on to a good thing.

Design for life

But take the valuation on its face, and consider this: ARM doesn’t actually make anything physical. All it does is produce the designs for chips, which others then have to take away and turn into something physical. They pay ARM a royalty for each chip they make using its designs.

It might not sound like a promising way to rake in money, but ARM has the advantage that it can shift its focus as quickly as the market demands, and can hire and deploy people wherever it needs to. There’s barely any capital investment to consider, apart from a few offices and testing facilities. Its value comes directly from its staff and their capabilities. As is often said of IP-related businesses, the company’s future value literally walks out of the door every night. It truly is a weightless corporation.

ARM lets other companies, such as TSMC, Samsung and Apple do things with its designs, in return for royalties. Apple goes one stage further, tweaking the designs and then getting someone else to build them.

But through this all, ARM is weightless. It has a comparatively tiny staff, but precisely because of that it is able to pick the path to focus on. When it was set up in November 1990, the idea seemed a bit fanciful: everyone knew you had to own your own chip foundry to be successful at making chips, like Intel and AMD. Letting other people make your chips wasn’t going to be profitable. Being just a design company seemed even less sensible.

However, ARM turned out to have made all the correct calls. It focussed on low power consumption. It focussed on functionality. It focussed on the RISC (reduced instruction set computing) model – unsurprising, since its name is a contraction of “Advanced RISC Machines” – which has benefits both for low power and for reliability. (To understand the difference between RISC, as found in phones/tablets, and Complex Instruction Set Computing, CISC, as found in Intel-style PCs: think of RISC as a short-order cook who can do a few simple meals but quickly; think of CISC as the chef who can do amazing a la carte, but needs lots of time and care to prepare it.)

RISC turned out to be where the world wanted to go – though not for PCs, where RISC turned out to be a bust (Motorola’s PowerPC model, used by Apple and IBM, simply couldn’t keep up for sheer processing power with the Intel CISC model; Apple abandoned it in 2005, having always hedged its bets by keeping an Intel-compatible version of Mac OSX in the laboratories ready to be deployed.

However mobile phones and smartphones and tablets and chips in your lightbulb and thermostat and monitoring camera all benefit from being RISC-based. There’s a big, big future there.

Capital values

Compare the £24bn bid value to Intel’s valuation, which at the moment stands at $165.60bn (£114.84bn at current exchange rates). Intel has a business model very unlike ARM’s: it designs the chips and it then builds them. This has allowed it to make gigantic profits when times are good and when the world wants the chips that Intel is making.

But you could see Intel as two companies: an Intel-ARM (call it Intel-A) which designs chips, and a “sub-Intel” which then makes them. Intel-A only licences to sub-Intel, and sub-Intel generally only makes chips designed by Intel-A.

Put that way, it sounds a bit inefficient: wouldn’t Intel-A make more money by licensing its chips to anyone who wanted to make them? And couldn’t sub-Intel use its foundries more efficiently by making chips from anyone?

Certainly a lot of (combined) Intel’s value is tied up in its capital assets. Its Q1 2016 balance sheet shows “property, plant and equipment” having a value of $32.64bn, and inventories of $5.75bn – that’s $38.39bn tied up in capital, or nearly a quarter of its value tied up in capital. It’s hard to believe though that an orderly selloff of Intel’s foundries would recoup all that. Much of the valuation (and by extension the company’s market cap) lies in the expected utility of those foundries to make chips that people will want to buy.

Compare that with ARM’s 1Q results. Its direct revenues are tiddly by comparison – £276m, but the operating margin is 48.6% and it had operating profits of £137.5m. Its “plant and equipment” is a grand £58.9m, and inventories £1.6m; that’s
just 2% of its value. ARM could change direction to focus on any sort of chip design it wanted at a moment’s notice. If Intel wanted to start making ARM-design chips, it might be challenged because those foundries aren’t optimised for it.

The trouble with the future

That’s all great while the world is buying a growing number of PCs and Intel-design x86 chips. But it isn’t. The number of PCs sold continues to fall (it’s now down to 2007 levels, ie pre-financial crash) and there’s no sign of Intel making great inroads into either the smartphone/tablet space or the internet-of-things space. Intel recently reorganised itself to roll its “mobile” element into its “client computing” group, thus removing a lot of embarrassing red ink that the mobile side had pulled together.

But Intel also knows that only the paranoid survive; and so it has an “Internet of Things” group which is strongly profitable ($123m on sales of $571m in 1Q 2016), though the sums involved aren’t big by its standards. But they are growing.

The trouble with the future for Intel is all that capital tied up in its foundries, which represent a legacy that is now fading. They’ve done great, and will surely continue to make money. But the growing number of delays to new Intel chips, and its move away from “tick-tock” to a three-year schedule, suggest that it’s struggling to cope with the demands both of its past investment, and the demands of the future.

Contrast that with ARM’s stated intention:

ARM technology now reaches around 80% of people in the world, with chips based on our technology driving billions of products every day. To date more than 86 billion ARM-based chips have been shipped, and our Partners are shipping over 4 billion every quarter. Our strategy is to develop and deploy energy-efficient technology; to enable innovation through a broad ecosystem of Partners, building on our shared success; and to create superior returns for our shareholders by investing in long-term growth.

You’d have to say that ARM looks like a good bet for the future – better, for the moment, than Intel.