Start up: counting Apple’s people, Uber gets trucky, fake Instagram billions, Xiaomi’s trouble, and more

Longer battery life is coming to smartphones – honestly. Photo by astio on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Refrigerate after opening. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Doubling battery power of consumer electronics • MIT News

»“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery. Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long,” says Hu, who co-invented the battery at MIT and is now CEO of [MIT spinout] SolidEnergy.

The battery essentially swaps out a common battery anode material, graphite, for very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which can hold more ions — and, therefore, provide more energy capacity. Chemical modifications to the electrolyte also make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable and safer to use. Moreover, the batteries are made using existing lithium ion manufacturing equipment, which makes them scalable.

In October 2015, SolidEnergy demonstrated the first-ever working prototype of a rechargeable lithium metal smartphone battery with double energy density, which earned them more than $12 million from investors. At half the size of the lithium ion battery used in an iPhone 6, it offers 2.0 amp hours, compared with the lithium ion battery’s 1.8 amp hours.

SolidEnergy plans to bring the batteries to smartphones and wearables in early 2017, and to electric cars in 2018. But the first application will be drones, coming this November.


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Apple hits roadblocks in cutting watch ties to iPhone • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Alex Webb and Scott Moritz:

»Ever since its inception, network carriers have been urging Apple to release a version of the watch that can connect to data networks independent of the iPhone, and the Cupertino, California-based company had been working to untether it from the handset, one of the people said. As it is now the watch must be synced with an iPhone to download most types of content and consistently track location.

Apple had been in talks this year with mobile phone carriers in the U.S. and Europe to add cellular connectivity to the watch, according to people familiar with the talks. A cellular chip would have theoretically allowed the product to download sports score alerts, e-mail and mapping information while out of an iPhone’s reach.

During the discussions, Apple executives expressed concern that the cellular models may not be ready for release this year and that the feature may be pushed back to a later generation, according to the people. Apple warned that, even on an aggressive schedule, the earliest possible shipment time-frame for cellular models would have been this December, one of the people said.

The source of the delay is that current cellular chips consume too much battery life, reducing the product’s effectiveness and limiting user appeal, according to three of the people. Apple has begun studying lower-power cellular data chips for future smartwatch generations.


I bet the carriers want Apple to have a phone-independent watch. Think of the data charges they could ring up. (Apple would use a software SIM, as in the iPad – no fiddling about putting them in.) Update: it’s been pointed out to me that the carriers would offer a special linked plan with your phone – as happens now with Android Wear 3G watches. Otherwise you get two different phone numbers for your watch and phone, which is sub-optimal.
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Counting Apple’s customers • Asymco

Horace Dediu:

»Even though it has not happened yet, the trend is pretty clear. Apple will at some point in time have a billion paying customers.

What is more significant that the specific count is that these customers mostly chose to be customers individually. Some may be have been given the products as gifts, but the vast majority bought the items for themselves. Apple benefitted from hundreds of million of individual purchase decisions.

Furthermore, having made the decision to purchase, chances are that they will do so again. Apple customers are a recurring revenue. In fact, it’s fairly easy to calculate that being an Apple customer is equivalent to spending about $1/day on its products and services, indefinitely.

Apple is not there yet, but a billion dollars a day from a billion customers is not inconceivable. That would be quite an achievement.


The graphs are worth casting a glance at.
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Our next chapter: Otto joins Uber • Official Otto Blog

»When we founded Otto, we committed to rethinking transportation. Today we are taking a leap forward by joining the Uber team to deliver on that promise.

Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are.

At Otto, we believe that drivers shouldn’t have to choose between safety and earnings. Our self-driving trucks will allow drivers to rest while their truck is moving, and our platform will ensure drivers can easily find loads and are paid fairly.

By combining these two technologies, we can create a freight network that is constantly learning and improving. Each truck that joins the network can provide valuable information that makes all other trucks safer and more efficient. In turn, drivers get paid more and shippers get a more reliable service. Self-driving trucks together with a marketplace create a virtuous cycle where everyone benefits.


Clearly, Uber’s aims go far beyond a simple taxi service now. Taken together with the news that it’s going to start testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh this month, we can begin to discern the shape of future commercial transport. There don’t seem to be a lot of human drivers in it.
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The Rich Kid of Instagram who isn’t quite what she seems • The Guardian

Marina Hyde:

»Lost in Showbiz is intrigued by the rise of a sublebrity by the name of Julia Stakhiva, who is featured in an absolute defeat of an E4 show called Rich Kids of Instagram. A hymn to the eye-watering conspicuous consumption of various young idiots, it has launched Julia on the scene as a “billionaire’s daughter”. She is given to dispensing unpleasant aphorisms for attention, such as “Anyone can be rich but not everyone can be beautiful”, and “I’m not suitable for an office job because of how well I dress and how educated I am”. Her most frequent refrain is a variation on the notion that she was born a billionaire’s daughter, and can only live a billionaire’s lifestyle.

If I have a cavil – and really, it’s such a tiny one – it is that until just a few weeks ago, Julia rented a room in my mother-in-law’s flat. And via that classic billionaire accommodation hook-up,

Indeed, it was interesting to discover that during a holiday absence by said owner, Julia had invited the cameras into the property, told some whoppers in order to sign the release forms, and used it to form the backdrop to her Rich Kids shenanigans. Various photoshoots also seem to have taken place. It is hard to pick a standout, but for me it’s probably edged by the snap of her reclining on my mother-in-law’s bed, stroking the latter’s cat in a casually proprietorial fashion. It’s like the bears in the old story ask: “Who’s been posing for the newspapers on MY BED?”


Ooooops. Rule 1: don’t pretend to be a billionaire’s daughter while using property owned by the relative of a newspaper reporter. Make sure to read it for the article’s killer final sentence.
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This is what’s missing from journalism right now • Mother Jones

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery:

»Shane Bauer’s prison project took more than 18 months. That included four months in the prison and more than a year of additional reporting, fact-checking, video production, and legal review, including work by more than a dozen other people on the MoJo staff. And that was the only way we could have gotten that story: By definition, incarceration is invisible to most people, and that’s doubly true for private prisons. Recordkeeping is spotty, public disclosure is limited, visits are difficult. The only people who can describe what really goes on inside are prisoners, guards, and officials, all of whom have a strong interest in spinning the story. To get at the truth, we had to take time, and go deep.

And we had to take considerable financial risk. Conservatively, counting just the biggest chunks of staff time that went into it, the prison story cost roughly $350,000. The banner ads that appeared on the article brought in $5,000, give or take. Had we been really in your face with ads, we could have doubled or tripled that figure—but it would have been a pain for you, and still only a drop in the bucket for us.

MoJo did have support from three foundations for our criminal justice reporting. That’s amazing—but foundation grants only go so far.


And what did they achieve? Nothing much, just changed US policy on the use of private prisons. Serious reporting has a problem. Talking of which…
link to this extract to end operations next week • Gawker

JK Trotter:

»After nearly fourteen years of operation, will be shutting down next week. The decision to close Gawker comes days after Univision successfully bid $135m for Gawker Media’s six other websites, and four months after the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed his clandestine legal campaign against the company.

Nick Denton, the company’s outgoing CEO, informed current staffers of the site’s fate on Thursday afternoon, just hours before a bankruptcy court in Manhattan will decide whether to approve Univision’s bid for Gawker Media’s other assets. Staffers will soon be assigned to other editorial roles, either at one of the other six sites or elsewhere within Univision. Near-term plans for’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized.


Pour one out; Gawker may have been infuriating at times, and completely missed the mark at others, but it did some really important balloon-bursting over the pomposity of people in tech that many of the mainstream sites just wouldn’t touch. However it never stood a chance against a billionaire determined to fund lawsuits to shut it down.
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What went wrong for Xiaomi • IBT

David Gilbert:

»Xiaomi’s meteoric rise was based on one simple fact: It was able to produce smartphones with premium hardware and features which cost a fraction of those on sale from Apple or Samsung. However that advantage rapidly vanished when multiple manufacturers followed suit and produced their own smartphones which offered premium specs at low prices.
However, unlike Xiaomi, its competitors were able to offer something new and something innovative. Vivo offered curved screens; Oppo and OnePlus dangled rapid charging; LeEco offered exclusive content; and Huawei threw in dual lens cameras and fingerprint sensors.

“I think Xiaomi’s current performance and growth in the smartphone space has stalled, as competitors with better R&D, vertical manufacturing expertise, and a wider distribution and geographic footprint has surpassed the brand,” Neil Shah, analyst with CounterPoint Research told IBTimes UK. “Xiaomi’s inability to innovate independently is one of the key reasons.”

Another issue for Xiaomi is its continued focus on the ultra-budget end of the market with products like its RedMi series, despite clear evidence that Chinese customers were willing to pay more for their smartphones…

…data from CounterPoint Research suggests that up to 85% of the company’s revenue comes from smartphones, while another major source of revenue comes from its software and services division.
This means that investments in the likes of Ninebot, the Chinese company that bought Segway, have yet to pay off — and it is unclear if they ever will.

As Steve Millward wrote on the Tech in Asia blog, “Xiaomi is in deep s**t”, and it is difficult to see a way back. “I don’t see much of a recovery coming for Xiaomi in the future,” Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research concludes.


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Verizon offered to install marketers’ apps on phones • AdAge

Garett Sloane:

»The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said.

Verizon started courting advertisers with app installations late last year, pitching retail and finance brands among others, agency executives said.

It has only offered the installations on Android phones, because Google’s software is open for carriers to customize. Apple controls its platform more tightly.

The proposed deals with brands ensure that their apps download to only new devices when consumers activate the phones and their software for the first time.

Verizon has 75 million smartphone post-paid subscribers and activates about 10 million new phones a quarter. Android phones command more than 50% of the U.S. market, according to ComScore.

It’s unclear whether Verizon sold any guaranteed app installations.


Cheaper, the article points out, than comparable pay-per-install campaigns on Facebook or Google, which can cost around $5. I’m not sure this is so terrible, as people can delete the app. But to judge from some of the coverage, it’s AWFUL.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Issie Lapowsky of Wired is looking into the “Rantic survey” from the other day. I think there’s a deeper story. Stay tuned.

1 thought on “Start up: counting Apple’s people, Uber gets trucky, fake Instagram billions, Xiaomi’s trouble, and more

  1. re: Verizon selling apps installs, I haven’t read anywhere that the apps would be removable ? Carriers apps often aren’t.

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