Start up: what colour is the web?, Samsung’s problem deepens, driverless in Pittsburgh, and more

Look like lights out for the Microsoft Band. Photo by Chun’s Pictures on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Don’t be shy.

Apologies to those who received a double-length email yesterday, with both the Tuesday and Wednesday content. This was probably someone else’s fault, and we’ll fire them if we ever find we’re paying them.

A selection of 11 links for you. Liable to move to Channel 4 if you like them too much. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A case of misplaced trust: how a third-party app store abuses Apple’s developer enterprise program to serve adware • TrendLabs Security Intelligence Blog

»For bogus applications to be profitable, they should be able to entice users into installing them. Scammers do so by riding on the popularity of existing applications, embedding them with unwanted content—even malicious payloads—and masquerading them as legitimate. These repackaged apps are peddled to unsuspecting users, mostly through third-party app stores.

Haima exactly does that, and more. We discovered this China-based third-party iOS app store aggressively promoting their repackaged apps in social network channels—YouTube, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter—banking on the popularity of games and apps such as Minecraft, Terraria, and Instagram to lure users into downloading them.

Third-party app stores such as Haima rely on the trust misplaced not only by the users but also by distribution platforms such as Apple’s, whose Developer Enterprise Program is abused to deploy these repackaged apps. These marketplaces also appeal to the malefactors because they are typically less policed. Haima capitalizes on the monetization of ads that it unscrupulously pushes to its repackaged apps…

…By pretending to be an enterprise, this third-party app marketplace can distribute apps without having to be vetted through Apple’s lengthy certification process.


Ah. “Third-party app store”. Stop there. The “enterprise certificate” route is still a problem for Apple; it’s the simplest route for malware. But look at how often Haima has to change to keep ahead of Apple: five certificates in 15 days.
link to this extract

Samsung S7 Edge explodes in teacher’s hands in middle of busy cafe • The Sun

Nick Pisa and Daniel Jones:

»A Samsung Galaxy S7 owner fears she could have been killed as it overheated in her hand and exploded.

Supply teacher Sarah Crockett, 30, told how the phone blew up in a busy cafe even though it was not being charged.


(There’s CCTV footage.) This is of course just a single case out of millions of S7s sold. But: not being charged. Samsung has a problem, and part of the problem is that it’s impossible to say how big (or small) the problem is. The suspicion is that implementing fast-charging systems has made these batteries more difficult to fabricate safely.

And if you scroll down the page, you find an S7 Edge owner who claims their phone exploded in his trouser pocket, badly burning him.
link to this extract

‘Created’ in China: Shenzhen is making hardware like Silicon Valley makes apps • Fusion

An Xiao Mina:

»Lei Gao is part of this new generation that uses the internet’s agility to augment what the city has to offer. Within days, he had what he needed to experiment with his idea. It took just 10 yuan—about 1.50 USD—and an account on Taobao, an eBay-like e-commerce site run by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, to purchase an exercise gripper shipped from Fujian, a province about a nine hour drive up the coast. Alibaba’s efficient payment and shipping system saved him a trip, and he already had the other parts and pieces he needed from previous projects. After the gripper arrived, he and his team tinkered with code and a Bluetooth trigger, and they created a prototype: a “smart gripper” to interact with your phone. It was perfect for games like Flappy Bird.

Gao and his team make up Imlab, one startup amongst over a million small and medium-sized companies in Shenzhen. Hardware startups across the city can readily pull together a working prototype in a day, test it, and quickly figure out where to go next. Gao’s company is based at Emielab, a coworking space and hardware incubator modeled after successful ones in San Francisco.


link to this extract

Google, Apple are about to face India’s security demands • Bloomberg

Saritha Rai:

»India could force companies to use technology cooked up in a government-funded lab.

The initiative is part of a national biometric identity program called Aadhaar (Hindi for foundation). Millions of Indians use fingerprint and iris-scan authentication to access a range of public and private services that now includes banking. Failure to join the effort could limit the tech industry’s access to a vast and growing market, but companies like Apple and Google are expected to resist opening up their phones and operating systems to the Indian registration, encryption and security technology.

“There will be lots of pushing and shoving by the technology companies,” says Neeraj Aggarwal, managing director of the Boston Consulting Group in India. “It will be a battle of ecosystems, and companies will do their best to hold on to their own.”

A few weeks ago, government officials invited executives from Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to a meeting to discuss embedding Aadhaar encryption into their technology. None of the companies will comment on what transpired at the gathering – and Apple didn’t show up at all.


This isn’t going to fly with the tech companies. They won’t allow a potentially insecure encryption system onto their devices. Which creates a delicate problem: how do you refuse to cooperate with a government which insists you do? Or can they find an interface between their system and the government’s which keeps everyone happy?
link to this extract

When you change the world and no one notices • Collaborative Fund

Morgan Housel:

»Do you know what’s happening in this picture? Literally one of the most important events in human history.

But here’s the most amazing part of the story: Hardly anyone paid attention at the time.

Wilbur and Orville Wright conquered [powered] flight on December 17th, 1903. Few inventions were as transformational over the next century. It took four days to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 1900, by train. By the 1930s it could be done in 17 hours, by air. By 1950, six hours.

Unlike, say, mapping the genome, a lay person could instantly grasp the marvel of human flight. A guy sat in a box and turned into a bird.

But days, months, even years after the Wright’s first flight, hardly anyone noticed.


As Housel points out with numerous examples in this fascinating piece (your must-read for today), world-changing inventions can take years to make the slightest impact, and they’re usually dismissed at first as pointless or toys by “smart” people.

Which does make one wonder how many world-changing inventions have been missed for that reason. Or is all progress inevitable, and it’s just a question of who puts their name to it?
link to this extract

The most popular colour on the internet is… • WIRED

Margaret Rhodes:

»It’s blue. The web is very blue. Not metaphorically, either. The Internet’s most heavily trafficked websites are literally coloured with nearly twice as many shades of blue as shades of yellow and red, and three times as much green.

Its dominance is so total, in fact, that, in a recent analysis of the colours used by the ten most popular websites, designer Paul Hebert had to make an entirely separate category for turquoise.

Hebert wanted to see what he could learn from the colour palettes of the web’s most popular websites. “I often struggle to create colour schemes, and was curious about what other companies are doing.” So he wrote a script that would scrape the 10 most popular sites on the internet as ranked by Alexa, including the likes of Google (#1), Facebook (#3), and Amazon (#7). It produced complete lists of the colours found on those sites’ home pages, which Hebert then turned into a series of visualizations.


Why yes, I have anglicised the spelling of “colour”.
link to this extract

Android Wear hopefuls call timeout on smartwatches • CNET

Roger Cheng:

»LG, Huawei and Lenovo’s Motorola unit will not release a smartwatch in the waning months of the year, the companies confirmed to CNET. While LG launched a watch in the first half, it’ll have been more than a year since Huawei and Motorola offered an update on their wearables.

That marks a reversal from last year, when all three companies launched Android Wear smartwatches at the early September IFA trade show in Berlin in what was supposed to be a resurgence of the platform. At this year’s show, Chinese maker Asus was the only major tech company to return with a new Android Wear watch.

The poor showing underscores the general lack of enthusiasm for smartwatches, which the industry has touted as the next hot trend in tech. Consumers, however, continue to question the usefulness of these gadgets. Even Apple, which leads the market for smartwatches, saw its shipments fall 55% from a year ago in the second quarter, according to IDC.

“Smartwatches still have yet to make a significant impression on consumers as a must-have device,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.


Android Wear this week passed 5 million downloads (ie activations) on Google Play. That’s after it was released in March 2014: 30 months for 5m users isn’t great, considering that Apple’s Watch is past 15m in 18 months.

A side note: Cheng’s reporting is consistently, solidly excellent – finding stuff out, asking people questions, not just waiting for corporate blogposts.
link to this extract

New Project Titan details, the Project Titan “reboot,” Project Titan is a platform • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart (in his paid-for newsletter) shows what happens when you have someone smart analysing public facts – in this case, where Apple’s leased Dodge Caravans which are collecting data “which will be used to improve Apple Maps” actually go:

»I have been noticing something weird with these Dodge Caravans and the locations that they frequent. Apple discloses on its website where the vans will be driven in two week increments. The vans have never been to Connecticut. However, the vans very frequently visit much more rural areas such as Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Wyoming. In addition, there are states where these vans are found all the time – such as Louisiana and Nevada (and we are talking pretty extensive coverage in those states). If the goal is to capture business fronts and other items on busy roads for a version of Street View, spending a lot of time in Wyoming and skipping Connecticut is odd. In addition, focusing on a few states, while ignoring other states is weird. It got me thinking.

If you look at the states that have enacted autonomous vehicle legislation, I see some overlap with the areas where these Dodge Caravans most frequently visit. Nevada and Louisiana allow autonomous vehicles, two states where these vans are routinely found. I suspect the Dodge Caravans are being used to collect data for autonomous driving.


Did anyone else notice the lack of Connecticut visits? No – yet the data has been sitting there in plain view.
link to this extract

Apple Watch Series 2: Living the Fit Life • WSJ

Joanna Stern with a video review:

»Apple’s new watch is faster and more focused around your workouts, with GPS and a water-resistant body. WSJ’s Joanna Stern takes you through a full, exhausting day with Series 2.


I generally don’t think much of video reviews, but Stern (and/or her producer) has the grammar perfect: no “hey guys”, no showboating. But there is running and swimming. Stern may already be the person who has racked up the most time underwater testing phones and watches.
link to this extract

Uber driverless car in Pittsburgh: review, photos • Business Insider

Danielle Muoio was given the VIP treatment; self-driving means there’s a driver and engineer in the front just in case:

»Once you’re actually riding in the self-driving car, it feels surprisingly … normal. My driver had his hands on the wheels most of the time just in case he had to take over, so we had to double check a few times that the car was, in fact, self-driving.

But that speaks to just how good these cars are at handling city roads. Pittsburgh terrain isn’t easy to tackle, with steep hills and several bridges, but the cars rolled through just fine.

That being said, the cars are nowhere near perfect. There were at least four occasions in our roughly five-mile route where a “ding” went off indicating the driver needed to take control. It happened once on a bridge, but also on a perfectly straight back road without any perceptible obstacles.

We’ve talked about why Uber’s self-driving cars struggle with bridges.


Bridges are hard because they don’t have surrounding buildings, in general. Uber is definitely stealing a march here. Meanwhile, Bloomberg says “Google’s self-driving car project is losing out to rivals“, which has these interesting paragraphs:


“Google still has an imperfect system and no clear path to go to market,” said Ajay Juneja, chief executive officer of Speak With Me Inc., which offers voice recognition and related technology for cars, watches and other connected devices. “How exactly would they have shipped something by now?”

This is part of a broader challenge Google parent Alphabet Inc. faces turning research projects into profitable businesses. The company is more cautious about rolling out new technology early, after its Glass internet-connected eyewear flopped, according to one of the people. There’s also a higher bar now for projects as Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat has said she requires clearer paths to profitability before approving more funding or expansion.


Porat is starting to look like an inconvenient pragmatist. But it’s early days still.
link to this extract

Don’t expect a new Microsoft Band device this year (or maybe ever) • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

»Contacts told me recently that Microsoft has no plans to release a new Band fitness device this calendar year. I also heard that Microsoft disbanded the group of individuals who were trying to get the Band to run Windows 10 a number of weeks ago. But they weren’t certain whether Microsoft might simply release a Band 3 running firmware at some point in the future. The first- and second-generation Band devices run custom firmware, not Windows.

Microsoft has been plagued by quality issues with its Band 2 devices, as the skins on more than a few users’ devices have been splitting. (Microsoft may have started fortifying the skins of Band 2 devices to try to address that issue, as noted by Windows Supersite’s Rod Trent.)

Microsoft currently is selling the Band 2 for $175, a price cut designed to last until Oct. 16. Microsoft initially unveiled the first-generation Band fitness device on Oct. 29, 2014. It was released in the US the following day for $200. Microsoft launched the second-generation Band 2 device on Oct. 6, 2015. It went on sale in the US starting on Oct. 30 for $250.

The Band 2 included a barometer sensor and other updated ones, including its onboard GPS. Band 2, like Band 1, provided heart-rate monitoring, tracking for running, biking, golfing, cycling, etc., and the ability to work with Windows Phone (though not so well with Windows 10 Mobile, I’ve heard), Android, and iPhone devices.


Nice functions in the Band, but it always suffered from being clunky and having limited marketing support. Now it’s going the way of the Zune.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.