Start up: Twitter and… Disney?, BI’s paywall plan, Google’s AI balloons, eight years of Android, and more


Mobile phone sales have peaked. Peaked! Geddit? Photo by jd_hiker on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. But fact-check it if you like. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

UK Mobile Consumer Survey • Deloitte

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This year’s report will likely mark the end of the smartphone growth era, and the start of its consolidation. A mere nine years after the launch of the first full touchscreen smartphone, adoption is nearing a plateau, at 81% of UK adults, and 91% of 18–44 year olds.

The smartphone user base is approaching an unprecedented peak. No other personal device has had the same commercial and societal impact as the smartphone, and no other current device seems likely to.

While the base may plateau, relentless innovation continues at device and network levels. Devices are likely to incorporate more functionality and get even faster.

Biometric sensors, particularly fingerprint readers (this year’s cover image), are likely to see widespread adoption. Over a quarter of smartphones now have a fingerprint reader, of which three quarters are in use.

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The mobile phone market has peaked • CCS Insight

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CCS Insight’s latest global forecast for mobile phones confirms that the market has peaked at about 2 billion units per year after decades of growth.

The research firm expects than in 2016 shipments of mobile phones will slip 1.3% from their level in 2015, with most markets experiencing a difficult year. A notable exception is China, where the market is recovering from a very weak 2015; however, echoing the global trend, total shipments in the country are expected to stabilise at about 450m units a year until 2020.

Marina Koytcheva, Director of Forecasting at CCS Insight, noted, “After years of analysts and commentators talking about mobile phone market peaking within the visible horizon, it has now reached that point”.

CCS Insight’s forecast shows that smartphones remain the powerhouse of mobile phone shipment volumes. They continue to grow as a proportion of the total market and will account for almost three-quarters of the market in 2016, rising to nearly 90% in 2020. In 2016, 1.42bn units are forecast to ship, up 4.1% from 2015.

However, CCS Insight believes the pressure on smaller phone makers is increasing. Koytcheva continues, “As growth is depleting, competition is intensifying and it comes as little surprise that margins are being squeezed harder than ever. Companies without the scale advantages of manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple or Huawei will find it much harder to make money”.

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Those without scale will lose money because of component price rises. Winter, of a sort, is coming.
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Business Insider testing paywall and an ad-blocking response • AdAge

Jeremy Barr:

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Business Insider, according to co-founder and CEO Henry Blodget, has long harbored ambitions to create a dual-revenue business model, buoyed by both advertising and subscriptions.

The company plans to test those ambitions, starting this week, with a “small,” randomly selected group of readers, who will be prompted to subscribe to Business Insider. As is standard with so-called metered paywalls, the readers selected for this test will get an allotment of free articles. Multiple meter levels will be tried, starting at 10 free stories. For those impacted, the meter will re-start every 30 days.

These selected users will see the subscription message three times, at the beginning of the test, at the mid-point of their free story allotment, and with one story remaining…

…Also starting this week, readers that have installed and enabled an ad blocker will be told to either whitelist Business Insider’s website or pay up for a subscription, the same one offered to the small group of paywall-testers. (The New York Times is experimenting with a similar, whitelist-or-pay approach, which CEO Mark Thompson said in June is seeing results.)

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Given that BI is frequently rewrites of paywalled or free articles (though also does original content), what is it offering that is worth a subscription?
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Google’s internet-beaming balloon gets a new pilot: AI • WIRED

Cade Metz:

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Project Loon’s navigation system does not use deep neural networks. It uses a simpler form of machine learning called Gaussian processes. But the basic dynamic is the same. And it underlines the little acknowledged reality that deep learning is just part of the AI revolution. Over the course of Project Loon, the company has collected data on over 17 million kilometers of balloon flights, and through those Gaussian processes, the navigation system can start predicting what course the balloon should take, when it should move the balloon up and when it should move the balloon down (which involves pumping air into a balloon inside the balloon—or pumping the air out).

These predictions aren’t perfect—in large part because of the weather up in the stratosphere is so, well, unpredictable. The stratosphere sits above a lot of the weather, but according to Candido, the balloons have encountered far more uncertainty than the team expected. So, they’ve also beefed up the navigation system with what’s called reinforcement learning.

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Would have been helpful if Wired could just to link to the Wikipedia page on Gaussian processes; essentially, they assume that events occur somewhere on a Gaussian (bell curve) probability distribution. So it’s like “dumb AI”.
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Microsoft: Windows 10 now on 400 million devices • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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Windows 10 is now running on 400 million active devices as of today, September 26, Microsoft officials said.

That’s up from 300 million as of May 5, and 207 million at the end of March. “Active devices” mean devices than have been active in the past 28 days, Microsoft officials have said. The figure includes not only Windows 10 installed on PCs, tablets, and phones, but also on Xbox One consoles and HoloLens, Surface Hubs.

Microsoft’s original goal was to have Windows 10 running on one billion devices by 2018, but execs recently conceded they wouldn’t make that number until some unspecified time after that.

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Microsoft Windows 10 installs growth

Strangely enough, the graph based on Microsoft’s publicly stated numbers (above, by me: blue line is the polynomial, not straight line, trend) suggests that it’s presently nicely on course to hit a billion by mid-2018. That could change depending on PC sales, though, as those are the main source of new Windows 10 activations.
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Disney is working with an adviser on potential Twitter bid • Bloomberg

Alex Sherman and Sarah Frier:

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Disney, if it decides to make a bid, would be able to help the company further its video-streaming media strategy. Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Twitter, is also on the board of Disney.
Twitter shares reversed previous declines on the news of interest from Disney, rising as much as 2%. The shares were trading at $22.83 at 2:02 p.m. in New York. The stock soared 21% Friday following reports of the talks with Salesforce. Disney shares fell, dropping as much as 2% to $91.40.

“It’s a video distribution play,” said James Cakmak, an analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. “What Disney has to think about is what is its place in a post cord-cutting world. They are investing in technology for distribution — and this would give them the platform to reach audiences around the world.”

Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger has developed a reputation as a strategic thinker with an appetite for bold bets such as the $7.4bn acquisition of animation studio Pixar just months after he became CEO.

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Hmm, OK – that has some strategy to it, at least.
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New Samsung Note 7 battery issues surface with recall replacements • Patently Apple

Jack Purcher:

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According to News Channel YTN, “The new handset still has battery issues. A Galaxy Note 7 buyer, surnamed Choi, had received a new Note 7 through the tech firm’s recall program, which began on Sept. 19 in Korea. His new phone, however, had a battery that drained quickly, with its battery level dropping almost 1% every second. It also overheated easily. Even when the Note 7 was being charged, the battery drained quickly.”

The report further noted that “After the battery level dropped to 1 percent, the battery did not get charged above 10 percent. And a technician at Samsung’s after-sales service center disconnected the charger as soon as he found out the power draining issue, probably because he was concerned about a possible explosion,” Choi was quoted as saying.

In a videotaped charge test of Lee’s defective Note 7, the handset showed the battery going from 75% to 49% in 39 minutes.

Another Galaxy Note 7 user, surnamed Lee, also claimed that the new phone he received through Samsung’s recall program had similar battery issues.” So it appears to not be an isolated problem.

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This just seems to go on and on.
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Android and its first purchasable product, the T-Mobile G1, celebrate their 8th birthdays • Android Police

Richard Gao:

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Eight years – that’s how long Android has been available to the public for. September 23rd, 2008 marked two huge events in Android’s history: T-Mobile’s release of the G1, the first Android device available to the masses, and Google’s release of the Android 1.0 SDK. Happy birthday, Android!

The T-Mobile G1, also known as the HTC Dream and Android Dev Phone 1, was the first Android device that the public could actually purchase. Reading through T-Mobile’s press release is pretty hilarious; things like touchscreen functionality, 3G, Gmail, and the Android Market seemed so futuristic back then, but pretty much every Android device has them now. We don’t have full QWERTY keyboards anymore, though.

Equally hilarious is the G1’s spec sheet – this chunky device sported a 3.2-inch 320p display, a 528MHz Qualcomm chip, 192MB of RAM, 256MB of internal storage, and a 3MP camera. Oh, and there wasn’t a headphone jack; remind you of any modern phones?

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I usually detest “anniversary journalism” (five years ago today.. seventeen years ago..) but this is one worth marking. Android has transformed the world. You can cavil about whether it took ideas from Apple, but the key point is that it let let OEMs make affordable handsets for billions of people – and made entire new industries possible on a broad front. We’re only just beginning to see the benefit of the Shenzhen ecosystem on the wider economy.
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Why Oculus Rift will struggle at its UK launch • Midia Research

Zach Fuller, noting that the HTC Vive is reckoned to have already sold five times more devices than Oculus:

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Sony will also be launching their Playstation VR headset next month, with the device holding the distinct advantage of being instantly adaptable to the 3 million PS4 consoles that have already been sold in the UK (as well as retailing at £200 pounds less than the Rift). With content also a pressing issue, with a multi-billion chasm between investment in VR Hardware and actual experiences, it helps that Playstation VR will be arriving alongside several well known game titles, with acclaimed series such as Star Trek and Resident Evil making their Virtual Reality debuts alongside the release. Coupled with brand recognition and Sony’s refined experience at distributing gaming products, this will likely give the Japanese conglomerate at the minimum a short-term lead in headset sales and disrupt momentum for the Rift.

By no means does this put Oculus out of the VR race. With Facebook’s support they are not only shielded by a financial advantage over HTC and Sony but are also invigorated by the ability to leverage their parent company’s mass influence over global consumers for the purpose of marketing.

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Sony’s advantage in having gamers with compatible devices is huge, though.
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The democratization of censorship • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

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The Internet can’t route around censorship when the censorship is all-pervasive and armed with, for all practical purposes, near-infinite reach and capacity. I call this rather unwelcome and hostile development the “The Democratization of Censorship.”

Allow me to explain how I arrived at this unsettling conclusion. As many of you know, my site was taken offline for the better part of this week. The outage came in the wake of a historically large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which hurled so much junk traffic at Krebsonsecurity.com that my DDoS protection provider Akamai chose to unmoor my site from its protective harbor.

Let me be clear: I do not fault Akamai for their decision. I was a pro bono customer from the start, and Akamai and its sister company Prolexic have stood by me through countless attacks over the past four years. It just so happened that this last siege was nearly twice the size of the next-largest attack they had ever seen before. Once it became evident that the assault was beginning to cause problems for the company’s paying customers, they explained that the choice to let my site go was a business decision, pure and simple.

Nevertheless, Akamai rather abruptly informed me I had until 6 p.m. that very same day — roughly two hours later — to make arrangements for migrating off their network.

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Krebs’s progress, from a writer on the Washington Post who covered security, to a full-blown expert on the underside of the web – with the attendant problems. He migrated his site with the help of Google’s Project Shield, which is a free program “to help protect journalists from online censorship”. It’s a Jigsaw project – one of the ones I mentioned last week. The source of the attack seems to have been hacked “internet of things” devices: CCTV cameras, video recorders, and so on.

Krebs also notes Bruce Schneier’s comment that “someone is learning how to take down the internet” (also noted here last week). There’s a worrying undercurrent here, as Krebs notes; the biggest problem is that ISPs in particular don’t act to solve it. (And there are ways they could.)
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Some cities are taking another look at LED lighting after AMA warning • The Washington Post

Michael Ollove:

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If people are sleepless in Seattle, it may not be only because they have broken hearts.

The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a warning in June that high-intensity LED streetlights — such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and elsewhere — emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The AMA also cautioned that those light-emitting-diode lights can impair nighttime driving vision.

Similar concerns have been raised over the past few years, but the AMA report adds credence to the issue and is likely to prompt cities and states to reevaluate the intensity of LED lights they install.

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*looks at LED lights around house* Oh.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start up: Twitter and… Disney?, BI’s paywall plan, Google’s AI balloons, eight years of Android, and more

  1. Re Disney’s potential Twitter buy, Gruber mentions that you should think of Disney as the owner of abc and ESPN in this context. I think you should probably also consider their recent purchase of a stake in MLBAM. Hearing “Disney” and thinking just animation and/or Pixar is a mistake – on top of all this, you also have Lucasfilm and Marvel (in both movies and comics).

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