Start up: iPhone analyses!, LG stays modular, Google’s extra Android time, algorithmic bosses, and more

Even without seeing all of your face, you can be recognised by automated systems. Photo by simcsea on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Aren’t they all? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dear Mark. I am writing this to inform you that I shall not comply with your requirement to remove this picture. • Aftenposten

Espen Egil Hansen is – well, let him explain:


Dear Mark Zuckerberg.

I follow you on Facebook, but you don’t know me. I am editor-in-chief of the Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten. I am writing this letter to inform you that I shall not comply with your requirement to remove a documentary photography from the Vietnam war made by Nick Ut.

Not today, and not in the future.

The demand that we remove the picture came in an e-mail from Facebook’s office in Hamburg this Wednesday morning. Less than 24 hours after the e-mail was sent, and before I had time to give my response, you intervened yourselves and deleted the article as well as the image from Aftenposten’s Facebook page.

To be honest, I have no illusions that you will read this letter. The reason why I will still make this attempt, is that I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.

First some background. A few weeks ago the Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted an entry on Facebook about, and including, seven photographs that changed the history of warfare. You in turn removed the picture of a naked Kim Phuc, fleeing from the napalm bombs – one of the world’s most famous war photographs.


Fake news? Fine! Real news? Uh-uh.
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Apple will not give first-weekend sales of iPhone 7 • Reuters

Julia Love:


Apple will not release first-weekend sales of its new iPhone 7, the company said on Thursday, making it harder for analysts to get a read on the product’s prospects amid questions over whether its popularity has peaked.

The company decided to stop the practice because the number of phones sold during the period has become more a reflection of Apple’s supply than demand, a company spokeswoman said, when asked whether Apple will be releasing the figure.

“As we have expanded our distribution through carriers and resellers to hundreds of thousands of locations around the world, we are now at a point where we know before taking the first customer pre-order that we will sell out of iPhone 7,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said. “These initial sales will be governed by supply, not demand, and we have decided that it is no longer a representative metric for our investors and customers.”


Pretty surely indicates a peak.
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LG’s G series will keep toying around with the modular concept • CNET

Roger Cheng:


When LG introduces a concept, it will stubbornly stick with it.

The company did so with the rear power button, as well as the curved display. Its latest experiment came in the G5, which featured modular attachments that can be swapped in and out, providing a camera grip and better audio capabilities.

While the G5 fared poorly with consumers, LG is sticking with the modular concept in the subsequent generation, according to LG spokesman Ken Hong.

The news comes as LG introduces the V20, a phone that is more conventional than its more experimental sibling. The V20 is supposed to have a souped-up phone, a removable metal back and sharp display. But nowhere is there an option to plug in different attachments.


Stubbornly stick with losing money on a flawed concept. But you go ahead, LG.
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Beyond the iPhone • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:


The truly wireless future that [Jony] Ive hinted at doesn’t just entail cutting the cord between your phone and your headphones, but eventually a future where phones may not even be necessary. Given that Apple’s user experience advantages are still the greatest when it comes to physically interacting with your device, and the weakest when it comes to service dependent interactions like Siri, that is a frightening prospect.

And that is why I ultimately forgive Schiller for his “courage” hubris. To Apple’s credit they are, with the creation of AirPods, laying the foundation for a world beyond the iPhone. It is a world where, thanks to their being a product — not services — company, Apple is at a disadvantage; however, it is also a world that Apple, thanks to said product expertise, especially when it comes to chips, is uniquely equipped to create. That the company is running towards it is both wise — the sooner they get there, the longer they have to iterate and improve and hold off competitors — and also, yes, courageous. The easy thing would be to fight to keep us in a world where phones are all that matters, even if, in the long run, that would only prolong the end of Apple’s dominance.


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‘Faceless recognition system’ can identify you even when you hide your face • Motherboard

Joshua Kopstein:


In a new paper uploaded to the ArXiv pre-print server, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Saarbrücken, Germany demonstrate a method of identifying individuals even when most of their photos are un-tagged or obscured. The researchers’ system, which they call the “Faceless Recognition System,” trains a neural network on a set of photos containing both obscured and visible faces, then uses that knowledge to predict the identity of obscured faces by looking for similarities in the area around a person’s head and body.

The accuracy of the system varies depending on how many visible faces are available in the photo set. Even when there are only 1.25 instances of the individual’s fully-visible face, the system can identify an obscured faced with 69.6% accuracy; if there are 10 instances of an individual’s visible face, it increases to as high as 91.5 percent.

In other words, even if you made sure to obscure your face in most of your Instagram photos, the system would have a decent chance identifying you as long as there are one or two where your face is fully visible.


You knew there would be a neural net in there somewhere.
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How Google Analytics ruined marketing • TechCrunch


Marketers in the high-tech world who use phrases such as “social media marketing,” “Facebook marketing” and “content marketing” do not understand the basic difference between marketing strategies, marketing channels and marketing content. And Google Analytics is to blame.

In the just over 10 years since the release of the platform in November 2005, too many tech marketers now ignore the difference between strategies and channels, favor digital channels that often deliver lower returns than traditional channels and think that direct responses are the only useful ROI metric.

And all of that is wrong.


It’s a long piece – save it for when you have some time – but Scott works in marketing and communications.
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Why the iPhone 7 Plus’s dual cameras are a big deal • VentureBeat

Jordan Novet:


San Francisco street photographer Ken Walton spent some time with the [Huawei] P9 earlier this year, and he liked the dual cameras. “It’s really, really making all the difference,” he told me in an interview. “I finally feel like I could do real work — like, a serious photograph.”

Developers of third-party photo applications will also be impacted. “When you use the AVCaptureDevice class for video or photo capture, you can choose to use the dual camera device to gain these features, or to specifically use only the wide-angle or telephoto camera for more manual control,” Apple says in its developer documentation.

On top of all that, the iPhone 7 Plus is the first iOS device to get a dual-lens camera. Until now, the feature has been limited to Android devices. Inevitably iPhone and iPad devotees will be curious — many will want to try it and find out if the excitement is justified.


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What’s really missing from the new iPhone: cutting-edge design • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo with a thoughtful piece:


Two years ago, the designer Khoi Vinh, a former design director for The New York Times who now works at Adobe, summed up Apple’s design prowess this way: “If there’s a single thread that runs through nearly every piece of Apple hardware, it’s conviction, the sense that its designers believed with every fiber of their being that the form factor they delivered was the result of countless correct choices that, in totality, add up to the best and only choice for giving shape to that particular product.”

But in assessing the iPhone 6, then new, Mr. Vinh felt Apple had gone astray. Whereas the iPhone 5 had sharp, sophisticated lines that set it apart from everything else, “the iPhone 6’s form seems uninspired, harkening back to the dated-looking forms of the original iPhone, and barely managing to distinguish itself from the countless other phones that have since aped that look,” he wrote.

That was in 2014. Now, two years later, we still have the same basic iPhone design. For years, Apple has released a redesigned iPhone every other year, but now we’re going to go three years without a new iPhone look.

And while Apple has slowed its design cadence, its rivals have sped up. Last year Samsung remade its lineup of Galaxy smartphones in a new glass-and-metal design that looked practically identical to the iPhone. Then it went further. Over the course of a few months, Samsung put out several design refinements, culminating in the Note 7, a big phone that has been universally praised by critics. With its curved sides and edge-to-edge display, the Note 7 pulls off a neat trick: though it is physically smaller than Apple’s big phone, it actually has a larger screen.


There’s a subtle tension here. Critical observers – and to some extent the public – want new versions of these things to look different, so that we can see the progress. But the evolution of the smartphone form factor has been so intense over the past nine years that the only change remaining has to be incremental – evolutionary, not revolutionary – because, hell, how much can you change a button and some rectangular glass? If you put out the iPhone 5 now, it would look ugly and harsh. The Note 7 is a great design, but if you’d seen it in 2007 you’d have recognised its parent.

Another facet of Manjoo’s argument is the mouse that recharges in its belly, and the pencil you charge by sticking into the iPad like a rectal thermometer, and the battery pack that makes the iPhone look pregnant. Notice how all three are about charging; wireless charging would remove those embarrassments. And then notice how the new AirPods and the Apple Watch don’t have charging ports. Trends…
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When your boss is an algorithm • Financial Times

Sarah O’Connor:


This protest outside the UberEats office in south London on August 26 is one of the first industrial disputes to hit the city’s so-called gig economy. It is a strange clash. These are workers without a workplace, striking against a company that does not employ them. They are managed not by people but by an algorithm that communicates with them via their smartphones. And what they are rebelling against is an app update.

UberEats launched in London in June, promising “the food you want, from the London restaurants you love, delivered at Uber speed”. In a bid to recruit self-employed couriers to ferry food from restaurants to customers, UberEats initially offered to pay £20 an hour. But as customer demand increased, the company began to reduce pay. By August, the couriers were on a piece rate with a fiddly formula: £3.30 a delivery plus £1 a mile, minus a 25% “Uber service fee”, plus a £5 “trip reward”. Then, one day, the couriers woke up to find the app had been updated again. The “trip reward” had been cut to £4 for weekday lunch and weekend dinner times, and to £3 for weekday dinner and weekend lunch times. Outside those periods, it had been cut altogether.

“They tricked us,” roars a man called Manou over the din, hunching over the handlebars of his motorbike. Like many experienced couriers, he left his job with a different delivery company because Uber was offering better pay. Not any more. “They make us feel like they can just use us and destroy us and create new tools,” he says. Imran Siddiqui, one of the leaders of the protest, says he feels bad because he had encouraged other couriers to sign up for UberEats before they changed the pay. “If they don’t resolve this strike it’s going to spread like a fire.”


But was it really an algorithm, or a human tweaking an algorithm? I shade towards the latter.
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Google given more time to reply to EU antitrust charge on Android • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:


Alphabet’s Google has been given two more weeks to counter EU antitrust charges that it uses its dominant Android mobile operating system to block competitors, the European Commission said on Thursday.

The EU competition enforcer in April accused the U.S. technology giant of harming consumers because of its demand that mobile phone makers pre-install Google Search and the Google Chrome browser on their smartphones to access other Google apps.

Google was initially given until July 27 to respond to the charges but asked for an extension to Sept. 7.

“On Android, the last deadline set by the Commission for Google’s reply, after an extension request by Google, is Sept. 20,” a European Commission spokesman said in an email.


Fine. And what’s happening with the search antitrust charges? The EC is making glaciers look like headlong madcap sprinters. Everything seems to have been decided; so what are we waiting for, exactly?
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Australian airlines ban use of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones after battery fires • Reuters

Tom Westbrook:


Three Australian airlines have banned passengers from using or charging Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Note 7 smartphones during flights due to concerns over the phone’s fire-prone batteries.

Qantas, its budget unit Jetstar and Virgin Australia said they had not been directed to ban the use of the phone by aviation authorities, but did so as a precaution following Samsung’s recall of the phones in 10 markets.

Although customers will still be able to bring the phones on flights, the ban extends to the phones being plugged in to flight entertainment systems where USB ports are available.

The recall follows reports of the 988,900 won ($885) phone igniting while charging – an embarrassing blow to Samsung, which prides itself on its manufacturing prowess and had been banking on the devices to add momentum to a recovery in its mobile business.


This is just going to roll on and on for the Note 7. And try this one:


A Florida man says that his Note 7 ignited while charging in the center console of his Jeep Grand Cherokee, and that the vehicle was thoroughly destroyed in the ensuing fire.

Nathan Dornacher had only had his new smartphone for four days. He says he was unaware of the recall.«

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Apple’s headphone changes signal problem for airlines, IFE • Runway Girl


As Apple kills off the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7, a significant issue for airlines looms: a sizable proportion of their passenger base will no longer by default have a set of 3.5mm headphones to carry with them for use in the in-seat IFE system.

Apple will include a set of wired headphones, but with its own proprietary Lightning connector replacing the 3.5mm jack. The company, alongside many other retailers, will sell Bluetooth headphones as well.

The #PaxEx problem is this: while 3.5mm headphones were the standard, passengers with Apple smartphones could reasonably be expected to pop their headphones into their carryon and use them with the latest airline IFE systems. For iPhone 7 users and beyond, that will no longer be the case.

For the airlines that do not provide headphones, and for passengers who prefer to use their own to the airlines’ often cheap versions, this is a big issue.

It would seem that there are three general sets of options for airlines.


Hand out headphones; add Lightning jacks to seats; add Bluetooth to seats. Pretty sure I know which of those is cheapest. (And what’s with “a sizable proportion will no longer have 3.5mm headphones”? Unless the expectation is that Android OEMs will follow suit, which is possible but is going to take years.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

3 thoughts on “Start up: iPhone analyses!, LG stays modular, Google’s extra Android time, algorithmic bosses, and more

  1. Regarding the ‘Dear Mark’ article, the policy from Facebook says they “make allowances … for photographs of real world art”. Could you just print out a picture, hang it on a wall, take a photograph of it and post that? The image in question is so iconic I’m sure that it has been displayed in many places, would a photograph of that be considered inappropriate?

  2. Re Ben Thompson and cutting the wires & heading towards a time when a phone isn’t necessary. By phone I guess he means a connected device with a screen bigger than a watch face. I reckon hell will freeze over before that happens as people like ‘looking at stuff.’ And on the biggest screen that can be comfortably carried ie. bigger than a watch.

    All the hype over voice interaction and machine learning et al seems to have clouded people’s understanding that People Will Always Like Looking at Stuff. Hardware will prevail.

    Oh and on the hardware note Charles, quit slagging-off my iPhone 5 😉 – it’s a design classic (hence the current iPhone SE) The angular edges are more stylish in my book. (“I Don’t Know Much About Design But I Know What I Like” £9.99 Faber & Faber)

  3. The headline “When your boss is an algorithm” makes about as much sense as “When your boss is an assembly-line”. The full article itself is a bit better. Still, this stuff gets talked about in a very weird way. It’s not that the issues aren’t there at the core, but the language framework is akin to something like “the desires of the factory” or “the dictates of the mill”.

    Somewhat related, I ran across a fascinating blog today:
    “Luddite Bicentenary”

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