Start up: Disney won’t Twitter, Oculus Touch prices, reviewing Alexa, Lenovo buying Fujitsu’s PCs?, and more

Contains no Samsung Note 7s, by order. Photo by cmsramsden on Flickr.

In London on October 18th? I’ll be giving a talk: “Social Networks and the Truth“:

how social media is both polarising our opinion and weakening the ways in which we hear contrary views.

Think about the claims made around Brexit (“£350m per week to go back to the NHS!”), Donald Trump’s ability to make wild claims which are believed by his followers without question, and the difficulty of getting anyone to agree even on what seem like simple facts – the disappearance of MH370, 9/11, climate change; the list goes on.

And here’s the strange thing: being online is polarising us more, and social networks amplify that. Why? This talk will explore that – and its consequences.

Tickets are limited; book now. £10 secures your place.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Snapchat parent working on IPO valuing firm at $25bn or more • WSJ

Maureen Farrell, Juliet Chung and Rolfe Winkler:


Snap Inc. is working on an initial public offering that could value the popular virtual-messaging company at $25bn or more, in what would be one of the highest-profile debuts in years.

The company, formerly known as Snapchat, is preparing the paperwork for an IPO with a view toward selling the shares as early as late March, according to several people familiar with the matter. There is no guarantee the four-year-old Venice, Calif., company will proceed with a share sale on that time frame or what its valuation might be.

If Snap, best known for allowing users to send disappearing messages from their smartphones, moves forward as planned, it would be the biggest company to go public on a U.S. exchange since 2014.


Contrast that to our next company…
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Disney isn’t going to bid for Twitter, either • Recode

Peter Kafka:


Cross another potential Twitter buyer off the list: Disney isn’t pursuing a bid for the social platform, either.

Sources familiar with Disney, which was mulling a possible Twitter purchase last week, say the media giant has decided not to move forward.

Earlier today Recode reported that Google, a logical buyer for Twitter who had also hired a banker to kick the company’s tires, was not going to bid; Apple is also unlikely. Twitter shares dropped 9% in after-hours trading.

For now, that leaves Salesforce as the only potential buyer for Twitter, though the company has never confirmed publicly that it wants to make a deal. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff appeared on CNBC today and refused to comment directly on any interest in Twitter.


Pfft. Someone must want it, surely?
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Chromebooks in K12 • AVC

Fred Wilson:


Five years ago, most of the laptop carts I saw [in US schools] were filled with MacBooks. I was aghast when I saw that. I did the math and assumed that a laptop cart filled with Macs was costing these schools something on the order of $30k or more. And someone had to manage all of the downloaded software on these devices. It seemed like an expensive and painful solution.

It was around this time that Google launched its first Chromebook. I told everyone who would listen to me that putting inexpensive Chromebooks in these carts was going to be a better solution. An added benefit of using browser based software on these devices is that the student can grab any device in the cart, log in using their email address, and immediately be provisioned with their work and applications in the cloud. It seemed to me that this was going to be the way to go.

I read today that Chromebooks are now being used by 20mm students. I have no idea what% of those are in the US, but if we guess 50%, then that would be 10m students in the US. There are somewhere around 50mm K12 students in the US, so that suggests that Chromebooks may have penetrated 20% of classrooms in the US. That is encouraging to me.


This is what low-end disruption looks like.
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Oculus Touch is $199, shipping December 6th, final design revealed • UploadVR

Jamie Feltham:


As you can see, Touch consists of two handheld controllers shaped for your left and right hands respectively. With them you can bring your hands into a VR experience, reaching out to interact with objects and items. Both devices also feature analog sticks along with triggers and face buttons as well as gesture recognition.

It’s essentially Oculus’ answer to the position tracked controls found in the HTC Vive, which come included with the headset for $799. Both the Oculus Rift and Touch together will cost $798, putting them at very similar prices. Oculus is set to integrate Room Scale tech too, with extra Oculus sensors going on sale soon for $79. Rift and Vive are now neck and neck.


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UK’s Royal Mail won’t ship the Galaxy Note 7 for you • AndroidAuthority



we’ve been able to establish that there is a directive in place requiring the Post Office to ask about the contents of every package and to refuse any parcel containing a Galaxy Note 7. However, some Post Offices are taking this a step further and refusing to accept packages containing any Samsung phone, although this is not an official decision; earlier today, we managed to confirm with six Post Offices that they couldn’t carry the Galaxy Note 7 and of these, two said they wouldn’t accept any Samsung Galaxy phone.

For Samsung, this presents an interesting problem as the Galaxy Note 7 doesn’t stand a chance of successfully reclaiming its throne as the king of flagships if consumers continue to be reminded of the handset’s woes. Like the airlines, it remains to be seen how quickly companies remove these limitations on the Galaxy Note 7, if at all.


This thing is toast, reputation-wise.
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Yelling at Amazon’s Alexa • The New Yorker

Sarah Larson:


This spring, I decided to experiment with Alexa myself, at my apartment, which has a beautiful soul but is not smart in the least. In theory, Alexa can adjust your lighting by having you yell into the air; she can open and close your garage door and turn up the heat. I live in a prewar walkup; my lights are rarely far from my hands; I certainly don’t have a garage. My heat is controlled by knob-turning, window-opening, and landlord-e-mailing, which are not compatible with Alexa. My apartment’s brain, sadly, would still have to be me.

I tend to grumpily resist new technology, thinking it frivolous. (My foray into the future with Alexa would occur in a room decorated with Puritan bookends and a whatnot shelf.) Inevitably, when I get the thing, I like it—and I have an active dialogue going with my iPhone Notes app, which I talk to all the time. But in this case I was also wary of Amazon. Amazon is a conundrum—a bully, a megalomaniac, a resource, a savior, a snoop. I’m unnerved by its dash buttons, its drones, its Sunday U.S.P.S. deliveries. (On Sundays in my apartment building, you can hear an eerie beeping by the mailboxes all day long: Amazon, Amazon, Amazon.) I decided that I would talk to Alexa—we could rap about music and the news, say—but that there would be no ordering things from the mothership. Then I went to the mothership’s Web site and ordered an Echo.


Imagine if all tech reviews were as readable and enjoyable as this. Set aside the time for it.
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A declining trajectory • Matt Gemmell

Mrs Gemmell’s Watch and iPhone aren’t behaving:


She is not a happy customer.

My Watch is misbehaving too, regularly losing its ability to track heart-rate and thus update in-progress workout calories for ten or twenty minutes at a time. Its battery life is vastly reduced. My iPhone’s battery widget shifts itself around on the widgets screen, and regularly vanishes altogether. There’s an unfamiliar street-address hovering in the Spotlight screen that I don’t recognise, beneath the app suggestions. It’s hit-or-miss as to whether the emoji suggestions feature works in the new on-screen keyboard. I quickly disabled my Apple Music trial after it deleted several of my rare live versions of Dire Straits tracks. And Apple Support finally conceded that my immaculate, obsessively-cared-for 2015 MacBook was beyond repair after three warranty parts-replacements, and gave me the new upgraded 2016 model I’m now typing on. I don’t have high hopes for it.

I am not a happy customer either.

There’s something wrong here. A death-march upgrade cycle is producing substandard software at the very least, and it’s diluting a hardware brand that’s probably unmatched in the industry, if not the world in general. It’s with mixed humour and genuine fear that people assert they’ll never get into version 1.0 of an Apple-made self-driving car.


I don’t have any of the problems Gemmell (Mrs or Mr) has. But it’s an interesting question whether the new-version-each-year system is necessary. It enables new features on iOS, but is the complexity of maintaining that across four platforms now overwhelming?
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Lenovo tipped to take over Fujitsu’s PC business • South China Morning Post

Bien Perez:


Bernstein Research senior analyst Alberto Moel said a deal with Fujitsu would enable Lenovo to “continue gaining share in the worldwide personal computer market”.

“Our view on whether this deal is positive or not will hinge on the terms,” he said. “It would not be without precedent for Fujitsu to give the business away to Lenovo, or even pay Lenovo to take it.”
He estimated that Fujitsu sold 1.7m personal computers in the first half of this year, mostly in Japan, which yielded US$1.9bn in revenue.

“That represents about 15% of Lenovo’s nearly US$14bn PC sales globally in the same period,” he added.

Lenovo recently expanded its operations in Japan when it paid US$195m in July to acquire a further 44% interest in Lenovo NEC Holdings, a joint venture with NEC Corp that has been the country’s biggest personal computer supplier.


PC consolidation continues, with the little fish being swept up. Fujitsu really is tiny, but its PCs command a premium price: Lenovo shipped 25.3m PCs in the first half of the year for $13.3bn.
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How Howard Stern owned Donald Trump • POLITICO Magazine

Virginia Heffernan:


No interviewer has ever been as adroit with treacherous leading questions in the vein of “When did you stop beating your wife?” [Radio shock jock Howard] Stern, in other words, gets people to publicly embrace their worst selves—and say things they live to regret.

That’s exactly what happened with Trump. Today, as the Republican nominee, he may fashion himself as a boss and a master of the universe. But what comes across in old tapes of the show, resurfaced recently by BuzzFeed and other outlets, is that Trump, like many of Stern’s guests, was often the one being played. By nailing him as a buffoon and then—unkindest cut—forcing him to kiss the Howard Stern ring, Stern and his co-anchor, Robin Quivers, created a series of broadcasts that today showcase not just Trump’s misogyny but his ready submission to sharper minds.

Why would people subject themselves to Stern’s hazing? Generally, his guests in those days—if not strippers and professional opera buffa types—had to have been brought pretty low, so that a combination of psychological fragility and hunger for celebrity made them vulnerable to his mock camaraderie. That’s why it’s important to remember that Trump in the period of his appearances on the show was deeply in the red. By the time he was a regular, he had blown it all in Atlantic City, run out on his vendors, left his imperious first wife, Ivana, for the commoner Marla Maples, earned the yearlong silent treatment of his namesake son and reported a loss of nearly a billion dollars. (Even a businessman of cognitive impairment would have to sweat that one.)


This is terrific writing. You ask why people are delving into Trump’s past? Because he’s never been a politician, and now he’s running for president. Everything about his personality is fair game – including this, which shows how a Putin or Assad would play him: flatter him, confuse him, outwit him. As the article also notes, his “Apprentice” act, of the fierce tyrant, is just that – an act.
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Samsung Buys Viv • Above Avalon Plus

Rather than directly linking to the WSJ’s story about Samsung buying the “voice-driven AI assistant Viv”, I thought Neil Cybart’s analysis (in his paid-for newsletter) was worth quoting. He points out that some people insist Apple made a mistake in not buying Viv, and in letting “all” of Siri’s founders go:


Turning to the idea that Apple in some way “messed up” by not keeping Siri’s co-founders around, there were three Siri co-founders:
• Dag Kittlaus left Apple days after Siri made its debut on the iPhone 4s.
• Adam Cheyer left a year later in 2012.
• Tom Gruber is still at Apple and is currently Siri’s head of advanced development. 

I think many people would be surprised to learn that one of Siri’s co-founders is actually still leading Siri. 

Circling back to the claim that Apple is making a mistake by not buying Viv, the startup was actually very public about its technology. It was clear that Viv would eventually be bought since they had a feature and not a product. Viv needed a home. Samsung ended up being the one to bite. I found Kittlaus’ explantation to the WSJ for why he went with Samsung interesting: 


“There isn’t another company in the world…with the scale and scope of what Samsung does.”


My first reaction to that comment: No one else, other than Samsung, was interested in buying Viv.



“A feature and not a product.” “My first reaction…” I always enjoy the astringency of Cybart’s analysis, which comes from his years working as a Wall Street analyst. I also enjoyed this:


I recall watching Viv’s demo earlier this year at TechCrunch’s conference. I had the same reaction when watching Google demo Google Assistant earlier this week. [Dag] Kittlaus was using his smartphone in ways that I hoped would never become the norm. As I mentioned yesterday, there will be a much better way to use the power of AI besides having a long-winded, two-way conversation with my smartphone.


No matter. Sure to be included in the S8, even though Samsung already offered a “voice assistant” thing called S Voice.
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Theranos retreats from blood tests • WSJ

John Carreyrou and Christopher Weaver:


The moves mark a dramatic retreat by the Palo Alto, Calif., company and founder Elizabeth Holmes from their core strategy of offering a long menu of low-price blood tests directly to consumers. Those ambitions already were endangered by crippling regulatory sanctions that followed revelations by The Wall Street Journal of shortcomings in Theranos’s technology and operations.

The shutdowns and layoffs could help the closely held company accelerate its shift to developing products that could be sold to outside laboratories. Ms. Holmes announced in August a new blood-testing device called miniLab, which is about the size of a printer but hasn’t been approved by regulators.

In a statement posted on Theranos’s website late Wednesday, Ms. Holmes said: “We will return our undivided attention to our miniLab platform. Our ultimate goal is to commercialize miniaturized, automated laboratories capable of small-volume sample testing, with an emphasis on vulnerable patient populations, including oncology, pediatrics, and intensive care.”


Just to show the leopard’s spots don’t change, from further down the story:


The miniLab was unveiled at a conference of lab scientists, and Ms. Holmes said it could run accurate tests from a few drops of blood. Theranos sought emergency clearance of a Zika-virus blood test but then withdrew its request after federal regulators found that the company didn’t include proper patient safeguards in a study of the new test.


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Spotify has been sending computer viruses to listeners • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:


Spotify has been found to be serving malware to listeners who use the free version of its service, with its adverts directing PC users to virus-riddled websites.

Users of the music streaming software reported that the program would continually open their default web browser to load websites infested with malware.

The issue affected users of Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, leading to complaints on the Spotify Community website and Twitter. The malware websites, some of which attempt to install viruses automatically without the user clicking anything, appear to have nothing to do with the advert in question.

The problem appears to be associated with a single advert on Spotify, which the company said it had removed after discovering the problem.


Collateral damage of the advertising-funded method. If advertising is roughly 2% of US GDP, what percentage is malvertising?
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Source: Huawei passed on chance to produce Pixel phones, US division badly struggling • Android Police

As our story, told by the well-connected David Ruddock, begins, Huawei has been shortchanged in producing the 2015 Nexus range for Google, which promised it would be sold on all four US carriers – a country China’s Huawei desperately wants to break into:


Fast-forward shortly after the Nexus 5X and 6P launched, and Google began talks with Huawei to produce its 2016 smartphone portfolio – allegedly up to three phones, not just the two we ended up with. It’s unclear if they would have been branded Pixel, Nexus, or both (e.g., two Pixels and a cheaper Nexus). Google, though, set a hard rule for the partnership: Huawei would be relegated to a manufacturing role, producing phones with Google branding. The Huawei logo and name would be featured nowhere on the devices’ exteriors or in their marketing, much like the Pixel phones built by HTC that we’ll see unveiled tomorrow. According to our source, word spread inside Huawei quickly that global CEO Richard Yu himself ended negotiations with Google right then and there. Huawei was off the table for the new smartphones. Google’s “plan B” – HTC – ended up winning the contract.

But our source claims the great irony of this is that Huawei ended up passing on a chance to finally get one of its smartphones in a Verizon store (the Pixels will be sold by Verizon), even if it didn’t have the Huawei logo or mention of Huawei in its marketing. It could have, theoretically, set the stage for Huawei to work with Verizon in the future, however.

In the interim, Huawei’s US division hasn’t gained significant market traction. Despite achieving critical success [with Google] with the Nexus 6P last year, the company’s smartphone efforts in America have all basically fizzled.


Ruddock says Huawei then essentially fired all of its US team. I’m guessing his source is a senior manager who was canned. Google clearly misread Huawei’s willingness to be an ODM, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start up: Disney won’t Twitter, Oculus Touch prices, reviewing Alexa, Lenovo buying Fujitsu’s PCs?, and more

  1. Regarding “Gemmell” and their Apple problems: 2 of those issues have been fixed.

    1, The watch battery problem is apparently addressed in watchOS 3.1 beta – so will be fixed, rather than fixed now.

    2, The whole music library deletion issue should have been addressed with the change in matching algorithms.

    Of course I don’t disagree that these issues should not have been present from the beginning – especially the iCloud music library fiasco. But at least they are being noted and fixed.

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