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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link to this extract


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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link to this extract


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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link to this extract


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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