Start up: Nougat on the Pixel C, Apple’s app cleanup, print’s perfected UI, DeepMind talks!, and more


What happens after you give up your Fitbit? Photo by Ian D on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. It takes courage. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

One year later: Can Android 7.0 Nougat save the Pixel C? • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo, pointing out that the Pixel C team had essentially said “yeah, Nougat, that’ll make it good”:

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In the year 2016, do Android tablet apps still suck? To answer this, I installed the top 200 apps on the Pixel C and gave them all a quick test drive. I looked at apps only—not games—using this “Top Apps only” Play Store list. The idea is that games scale just fine on tablets; it’s apps that are the challenge.

Of the top 200 apps:

• 19 [9.5%] were not compatible with the Pixel C
• 69 [34.5%] did not support landscape at all
• 84 [42%] were stretched-out phone apps
• 28 [14%] were, by my judgment, actual “tablet” apps

That there aren’t many tablet apps isn’t a surprise to most people. What was a shock was the lack of landscape support in so many apps. More than 33% of the top 200 were all landscape, all the time, and many more (even some Google apps) had interstitials and other single screens that didn’t support landscape.

Android apps are primarily used on phones, which are primarily used in portrait mode. The Pixel C primarily lives in landscape mode, though—the cameras, physical buttons, microphones, and speakers are oriented with the expectation of landscape, and the device must be in landscape in order to use the physical keyboard. When compared to the phone market, this is a very rare configuration that creates a problem in apps that most people won’t notice.

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Of course the iPad only got split screen functionality a year ago – and some apps don’t work in it. But the number that do work in tablet form is a lot higher than 14%. Amadeo is pretty damning about the indifference of developers to Android tablet apps – and indeed Google: “Google keeps producing and marketing flagship tablets, though, and it keeps trying to get away with a blown-up phone UI”, he says at one point.
link to this extract


Life after Fitbit: guilt or relief? • Futurity

Jennifer Langston-Washington:

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Most people [who had abandoned Fitbit use] preferred social comparisons that made them look better than their peers, such as “you walked more than 70% of people,” over those that were framed negatively, such as “30% of people walked more than you”—even if the comparisons represented the same information.

The team also found that people who felt guilty about abandoning their Fitbit use were very receptive to recommendations that they return to tracking, while people who felt they had gotten what they had wanted out of self-tracking felt those same suggestions were judgmental and unhelpful.

The responses show that a one-size-fits-all design approach misses opportunities to support different types of users.

“Right now self-tracking apps tend to assume everyone will track forever, and that’s clearly not the case,” says coauthor James Fogarty, associate professor of computer science and engineering. “Given that some people feel relief when they give it up, there may be better ways to help them get better value out of the data after they’re done, or reconnect them to the app for weeklong check-ins or periodic tune-ups that don’t presume they’ll be doing this every day for the rest of their lives.”

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See the full report.
link to this extract


Apple threatens more than 750,000 apps • appFigures

Ariel Michaeli:

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Apple seems to be moving very quickly with this cleanup. Thousands of apps have already been removed. We’ll be releasing a report in the next few days with details.

Yesterday Apple launched a slew of goodies to get excited about. Less known however, is that Apple also introduced new rules for developers that go into effect immediately and threaten new and existing apps alike.

The new rules state that apps can’t have names that are longer than 50 characters and that existing apps that are outdated will be removed immediately.

What’s the magnitude of these new requirements? We used Explorer to dig through all iOS apps and here’s what we found.

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11% of apps with overlong names (over 50 char) – principally games, and about a quarter (more than 550,000) haven’t been updated in more than two years, and again it’s games which are in the crosshairs.

So seems like a ton of games are about to vanish. Also: 62% of the outdated apps are paid-for. (Makes sense – paid apps are soooo 2012.)

Wonder if Google would ever consider a cleanout like this. Certainly a strange thing for Apple to be able to “we’ve got fewer apps than before!”
link to this extract


Overcast trying ads, dark theme now free • Marco.org

Marco Arment on his podcasting app’s business model change:

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There’s still money in some software, especially if it helps people get their work done, but the market for most consumer apps is much more like music, video, news, opinion, and web services than traditional indie software: an overwhelming supply of free choices, many of which are great or good enough, making it hard for anyone with a paywall to succeed.

The content industries figured out the solution a long time ago. If 97% of my users can’t or would rather not pay, but they spend substantial time in the app every day, the solution is probably ads.

Ads are the great compromise: money needs to come from somewhere, and the vast majority of people choose free-with-ads over direct payment. Ads need not be a bad thing: when implemented respectfully, all parties can get what they want.

Most podcasts played in Overcast are funded by ads for this reason, and as a podcaster and (occasional) blogger myself, I already make most of my income from ads.

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Reminder: about a year ago Arment offered one of the first iOS 9 adblockers, Peace (a paid-for app), which he then withdrew on the basis it made him uncomfortable to make money off blocking ads.
link to this extract


Why print news still rules • POLITICO magazine

Jack Shafer:

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The newspaper has refined its user interface for more than two centuries. Incorporated into your daily newspaper’s architecture are the findings from field research conducted in thousands of newspapers over hundreds of millions of editions. Newspaper designers have created a universal grammar of headline size, typeface, place, letter spacing, white space, sections, photography, and illustration that gives readers subtle clues on what and how to read to satisfy their news needs.

Web pages can’t convey this metadata because there’s not enough room on the screen to display it all. Even if you have two monitors on your desk, you still don’t have as much reading real estate that an open broadsheet newspaper offers. Computer fonts still lag behind their high-resolution newsprint cousins, and reading them drains mental energy. I’d argue that even the serendipity of reading in newsprint surpasses the serendipity of reading online, which was supposed to be one of the virtues of the digital world. Veteran tech journalist Ed Bott talks about newsprint’s ability to routinely surprise you with a gem of a story buried in the back pages, placed there not because it’s big news but because it’s interesting. “The print edition consistently leads me to unexpected stories I might have otherwise missed,” agrees Inc. Executive Editor Jon Fine. “I find digital editions and websites don’t have the same kind of serendipity—they’re set up to point you to more of the same thing.”

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link to this extract


Amazon has a potent weapon in the tablet wars: low prices • The New York Times

Nick Wingfield :

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five years after unveiling that first tablet, Amazon is coming out with a new model of the device that takes the company’s single-minded obsession with offering the lowest practical price to new extremes.

It is doing so at a time when the overall tablet market is no longer the growth juggernaut it once was, with weak sales from the likes of Apple and Samsung. One notable exception to the downward trend is Amazon, which is seeing sales rise because its devices are so inexpensive.

“They’re obviously doing something right because they continue to grow in a market that is overall declining,” said Jitesh Ubrani, an analyst at IDC, the technology research company.

The latest Amazon tablet is the Fire HD 8, a new model of the company’s 8-inch touch-screen device.

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Amazing that an IDC analyst couldn’t point out that the tablet market segments very simply: the high end, where the profit is and people use the tablets for many purposes, and the low end, where profit is usually negative (unless, say, you have a gigantic e-commerce and music/video store attached) and the principal use is watching video.
link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy Note 7 users should stop using and charging them, CPSC says • WSJ

Josh Beckerman:

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Friday that Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone users should power them down and shouldn’t use or charge them, citing reports of fires involving lithium-ion batteries in some of the devices.

The move follows a Thursday warning from the Federal Aviation Administration saying the phones shouldn’t be used on planes “in light of recent incidents and concerns.”

The CPSC said it is “working cooperatively” with Samsung to formally announce an official recall as soon as possible. The agency said it “is working quickly to determine whether a replacement Galaxy Note 7 is an acceptable remedy for Samsung or their phone carriers to provide to consumers.”

Investors on Friday wiped more than $10 billion off Samsung’s market value following the FAA’s announcement as airlines issued warnings to their passengers about the phones.

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This hurried product release – Samsung put it out in August to try to get ahead of Apple’s iPhone launch – has turned into an expensive fiasco. The recall isn’t that expensive, but the reputational hit is likely to linger.
link to this extract


Internet of things struggles as use of smart home gadgets flatlines • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

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Deloitte’s research, due to be released next month in its annual Mobile Consumer Survey, also shows modest adoption of connected security cameras and smart home appliances, at 3% and 2% respectively.

A greater percentage of those surveyed said they intended to purchase a smart device in the next year, with 7% planning to upgrade to a smart thermostat and 6% to a surveillance camera. However, this showed little change from Deloitte’s survey of a year ago, when the intention to upgrade was 6% and 5% respectively.

Paul Lee, Deloitte’s head of technology, media and telecoms research, said that at present, connected gadgets are too expensive and do not do enough for the vast majority of people to justify buying them.

“Some of them aren’t resonating well because they offer too little,” he said. “The ability to micromanage the temperature in your house doesn’t appeal to the mainstream, and the savings aren’t significant enough to upgrade.”

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Full survey comes out this month.
link to this extract


WaveNet: a generative model for raw audio • DeepMind

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This post presents WaveNet, a deep generative model of raw audio waveforms. We show that WaveNets are able to generate speech which mimics any human voice and which sounds more natural than the best existing Text-to-Speech systems, reducing the gap with human performance by over 50%.

We also demonstrate that the same network can be used to synthesize other audio signals such as music, and present some striking samples of automatically generated piano pieces.

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I had been wondering how long it would be before DeepMind got to work on music. The stuff here is quite amazing. The DM-generated voice is really very impressive. And I’d like a playlist of the autogenerated music, please, for background music.
link to this extract


Revealing Dropbox’s dirty little security hack • Apple Help Writer

Phil Stokes made a little discovery:

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If you have Dropbox installed [on a Mac], take a look at System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Accessibility tab (see screenshot above). Notice something? Ever wondered how it got in there? Do you think you might have put that in there yourself after Dropbox asked you for permission to control the computer?

No, I can assure you that your memory isn’t faulty. You don’t remember doing that because Dropbox never presented this dialog to you, as it should have:

That’s the only officially supported way that apps are allowed to appear in that list, but Dropbox never asked you for that permission. I’ll get to why that’s important in a moment, but if you have the time, try this fascinating experiment: try and remove it.

Ok, you say, no problem. We all know how to do that – open the padlock [on the Accessibility tab], un-click the checkbox. Click the ‘-‘ button to remove it from the list. Simple, right? Look there it goes, no more Dropbox in the the Preferences panel, right?

Wrong…like a bad penny it’ll be back again before you know it. Either log out and log back in again or quit Dropbox and restart it. Dropbox will surreptitiously insert itself back in to that list AND the checkbox will be checked. That’s the magic of Dropbox for you. If you don’t want to try it for yourself, watch me do it:

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Initially Stokes reckoned the only way to get rid of this – which, as he points out, leaves your machine wide open to a hack by Dropbox, or by someone who hacks into Dropbox (remember all those passwords from 2012 that got stolen?) – was to remove Dropbox. But he discovered a simpler way. So you can keep using Dropbox, but securely.

His followup post, on how Dropbox does it (it’s nefarious, all right) is worth reading too. Dropbox has since updated its explanation page for why it wants the password.. but doesn’t explain all the hacking that goes on.

Question for Windows users: does the same apply?
link to this extract


If you want to switch carriers, buy Verizon’s iPhone 7 • PC News

Sasche Segan points out that there are two models of iPhone 7, and one doesn’t work on CDMA networks (as used by Verizon and Sprint):

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the secret may lie in this Bloomberg story saying that Apple moved to Intel modems for some number of iPhones, which would be the AT&T and T-Mobile models. We reported this rumor as far back as 2015, and it was widely echoed in the financial and trade press in mid-2016.

That would mean that while the Sprint, Verizon, Japanese, and Chinese units are probably running Qualcomm’s X12 modem, which is the same one used in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and other top smartphones right now, the AT&T and T-Mobile models probably use Intel’s XMM7360. Intel’s modems don’t support CDMA.

Please understand that this is all (informed) speculation. I’m getting radio silence from Apple right now, and Qualcomm, Intel, and all of the carriers have just pointed me back to Apple for comment.

If Apple has gone with Intel, that’s Apple getting back to its roots. The first iPhones used modems from Infineon, which was purchased by Intel and became Intel’s modem division. But I’m a bit concerned because while the X12 is the current gold standard for modems, we’ve never seen the XMM7360 in any US phone, although it’s been on the market since late 2015. So we don’t know anything about the real-world performance of the XMM7360 versus the X12. That’s relevant because a phone’s modem, which controls its connection to the Internet, is a very, very important part.

Intel’s XMM7360 does not support the newest network features like 256 QAM and 4×4 MIMO, which are part of T-Mobile’s latest network upgrades. But those features are optional on the X12, so Apple’s X12 may not support them either. We don’t know.

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This is the sort of thing, though, that would be horrendous to discover after the fact as a phone buyer. But Apple’s probably not going to go with an “Intel Inside” sticker.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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