Start up: battery blocking, beyond the touch screen, block that chumbox!, OLED wars, and more

Black Mirror: who’d go with the idea of a Prime Minister doing something with a pig, for god’s sake? Photo by Steve Garfield on Flickr.

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

Bug request: Remove web content access to Battery API • Mozilla Firefox Bugzilla


Bug 1313580 – Remove web content access to Battery API


Aha. This was pointed out as a possible security risk (remember reading it here?). Good to know some people are taking action. (In the meantime, rely on your phone’s OS to know what to do about your battery level.)
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Patronising or portentous? Tech journalists weigh in on ‘Black Mirror’ • The i newspaper

I wrote an opinion piece at The i on the new series, debating with Rhiannon Williams. She hates it; I think it’s important:


Like Brooker, I’ve always been fascinated with the way that technology doesn’t do quite what we want it to, even when it works exactly as it was designed to. Social impact is what really matters, not how much RAM a phone has or how many pixels its screen has. Too much technology discussion focuses on the grain of the trees and ignores the forest growing around us.

Look at how Uber “freeing” people to drive us around has turned into a full-blown dispute about labour markets. If you find your emergency locksmiths through Google Maps, what happens to their price and trustworthiness? Hint: nothing good. If you let your newly minted artificial intelligence system label photos, will it be racist? Those are just the starting points. We’ll feel their effects down the years. Can we forestall them if we pause to reflect?


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Jony Ive rejected touchscreen Mac, but working on things beyond the Touch Bar • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy pulls out a couple of salient quotes from the Jony Ive interview with CNet (linked here a couple of days ago):


Ive explained that Apple had opted for the Touch Bar after exploring a number of possible approaches, taking several of them to prototype stage before real-life use determined which concept offered the greatest value.


There’s a number of designs that we explored that conceptually make sense. But then when we lived on them for a while, sort of pragmatically and day to day, [they] are sometimes less compelling. This is something [we] lived on for quite a while before we did any of the prototypes. You really notice or become aware [of] something’s value when you switch back to a more traditional keyboard.


This did, he said, take a lot of work, as it was important to create a prototype close enough to the final product to provide realistic feedback from users.


One of the things that remains quite a big challenge for us is that you have to prototype to a sufficiently sophisticated level to really figure out whether you’re considering the idea, or whether what you’re really doing is evaluating how effective a prototype is.



Of course Ive investigated a touch screen. I can’t imagine anyone rational who, on consideration, wouldn’t think they had. But (to reiterate a point made in the past) Apple already sells more touchscreen non-phones than it does Macs. Why up the price for something that people can already choose, and which they don’t choose in large numbers in the Windows market?

But then, the problem is: what of the things you can do are useful? TouchID is an obvious one – but if you’re going to add that, what else can you add that’s also useful and uses the same base software? It is problems like this that designers really face. That’s not the same as the problems that pundits perceive.
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Publishers are rethinking those ‘Around the Web’ ads • The New York Times

Sapna Maheshwari and John Herrman:


The companies Taboola and Outbrain, both founded about a decade ago in Israel, dominate the industry, followed by Revcontent and ZergNet, according to data analysis firm Datanyze. (The Times has a “From Our Advertisers” section on its home page that leads to posts created by its ad department without participation of the news and editorial staff.) analyzed the content ads on those 41 news websites and found that 61% came from advertisers or other prominent publishers. But 26% led to “clickbait” sites that were covered in more ads and lower-quality recommendation widgets featuring sexually suggestive or interruptive images. Almost all of those sites, which appear to be paying for placement, then profiting from their own ads once people visit, hid their domain registrations.

Sean Blanchfield, chief executive of PageFair, an advertising start-up, referred to the ad-filled sites as “arbitrageurs” that are “basically designed to try and get the user to click on something.”

Rob Leathern, a board member at, called it “a pretty problematic state of affairs.” He said it was surprising that such pages were “one click away from these top 50 news sites.”

Readers are starting to express discontent. One recently criticized the Outbrain links next to a Slate article about preventing eating disorders — one of which was titled “6 Tips to Avoid Thanksgiving Weight Gain.” Another was shocked by a Taboola link headlined “Meet the Women Making Rape Jokes That Are Actually Funny” under a Fusion news story about an underage rape. One Twitter user asked The Guardian in April: “Don’t these @Outbrain articles kind of undermine the integrity of news outlets?”…

…A sample of six Outbrain recommendations on The New Yorker’s website on Oct. 5 showed the confusion readers may face when looking at content ads; several were legitimate, but one led to a spamlike “clickbait” site and another led to a fake health news site created by a marketing company.

Two led to editorial stories from AARP, which promotes its website through Outbrain and embeds the widgets on its own site.


Those panels (known as “chumboxes“) pay the news sites well – but they leach both trust and money away in the end. (I long ago set my adblocker not to show them, and paid to remove them from my WordPress site.) There’s a hint here that we’re at the start of a change in attitude to these. The New Yorker has killed them; others may well follow suit.
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OLED leadership competition: Samsung, LG ignite war over OLED leadership by investing massively • BusinessKorea

Michael Herh:


LG Display and Samsung Display will make invest about 13 trillion won (US$11.6 billion) in flexible OLEDs this year alone to win new orders for the iPhone from Apple

Analysis says that their investment volume combined is a record high and the two global panel giants began a “do or die” fight over the flexible OLED leadership.

According to the OLED industry on October 30, Samsung Display accounting for 95% of the world small and mid-sized OLED market will make additional investment of 5 trillion won (US$4.47 billion) in OLEDs in the fourth quarter of this year alone.

As Samsung Display invested about 5.9 trillion won (in facilities from the beginning of this year to the third quarter of this year, the additional investment will raise Samsung’s total investment in OLEDs of this year to 10.9 trillion won (US$9.7 billion). The figure is Samsung Display’s record high annual investment in OLEDs. In the case of OLEDs, Samsung Display focuses on small and medium-sized OLEDs such as those for smartphones, tablets and notebooks. In the big panels, the company has no plan to invest in OLEDs since it LCDs such as quantum dot displays.

LG Display is also making full-scale investment in flexible OLEDs this year. This year, LG Display’s size of facility investment is about 4.5 trillion won, the half of which is going into flexible OLEDs. Massive investment amounting to about one trillion won in E5 Line in Gumi begun last year reached the stage to move in equipment so the line will begin to operate in the first half of next year. 


Wait, I thought Apple was buying its OLED from Sharp?
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Assessing the damage to the Samsung brand after Note 7 recall • IDC


IDC surveyed 1,082 U.S. consumers through an online survey on October 17th and 18th, four days after Samsung decided to halt production on the Note 7. The survey focused on three groups of consumers: current Samsung smartphone owners (507), past Samsung smartphone owners (347), and smartphone owners who have never owned the Samsung brand (228). Due to the limited installed base, just 24 Note 7 users were captured in the survey; as such, data in those questions should be viewed as directional only.

“As challenging as the Note 7 recall has been for Samsung, the data in this survey indicate that most consumers are unaffected by this, which should be good news for Samsung,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research manager, Wearables and Mobile Phones. “For the minority of Samsung customers who are unlikely to purchase a Samsung smartphone in the future, the company has to win back consumer trust. Thus far Samsung has offered monetary incentives but, at the heart of the matter, consumers want to learn the root causes of the problem and how Samsung intends to fix them.”

Some key results from the survey include:

• Half of the 24 Note 7 owners polled said they have or will choose an Apple iPhone to replace their recalled phone, while 17% said they would choose another Samsung. Most said they will return their phone through a carrier’s physical store.

• The Note 7 recall doesn’t appear to be harming the broader Samsung brand so far. A majority of respondents said it would not impact future decisions to buy other, non-smartphone Samsung products such as televisions and appliances.

• Survey participants’ view of Samsung’s response to the Note 7 recall was largely neutral to positive; surprisingly about 13% hadn’t heard about the recall when polled.


That iPhone stat strikes me as remarkably high. I’d have expected more loyalty to Samsung.
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One in five iOS devices in the US are limiting ad tracking • eMarketer


Advertisers are keen on collecting audience insight wherever possible, but as technology evolves, options exist for consumers to take them off their trail and ensure privacy. According to October research, 20% of iOS devices in the US have been opted-in to the OS’s limit ad tracking feature.

In October, a few weeks following the release of Apple’s iOS 10, mobile attribution and analytics provider adjust gathered data from iOS devices on its platform running iOS 10 or later. Overall, 18% worldwide had the limit ad tracking option enabled. The feature, which allows device users to block ads, first appeared in iOS 6.


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Skyrim publisher gives up on game reviews—and it won’t be the only one • WIRED

Chris Kohler:


The blockbuster videogame is now officially Too Big to Fail.

Bethesda, publisher of Skyrim, Fallout, and Dishonored, said this week that it will stop providing advance review copies of its games to the media. This is an inconvenience for the likes of WIRED. But it’s a far bigger problem for you, the consumer who wants to know what you’re getting for your money.

Officially, Bethesda says in its blog post announcing the move was that it encourages skeptical players to “wait for your favorite reviewers to share their thoughts” before buying Skyrim Special Edition and Dishonored 2. But that’s something of a Hobson’s choice when Bethesda includes tantalizing extra content available only if you pre-order the games before they’re available—and, importantly, before reviews hit. Bethesda, and the publishers surely lining up to follow it down this road, want you to pay full price for a game before you know if it’s any good.

Beyond denying consumers the chance to make an informed purchase, this will spur a race to the bottom as game reviewers, desperate to be first to publish their thoughts, rush out whatever they can on the tightest of deadlines.

Make no mistake: the only winner is Bethesda.


Media, meet disintermediation. If the only winner is Bethesda, then it seems almost surprising that it has taken this long for Bethesda to arrive at this strategy.
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Twitter’s new @Replies re-design isn’t just stupid; it’s really stupid • Medium

Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociology professor and faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet + Society, found herself in a trial for Twitter’s new @ system, which allows tons more people to be included in Twitter “canoes” of replies, but doesn’t show you who is in said canoe:


[Now] when I try to respond to a tweet, I have no idea to whom I’m responding. What, pray tell, could be the problem with that?

Let me throw a few problems at you.

First, you should know how Twitter has learned that being known as a platform that facilitates harassment is bad for business:


Bloomberg is reporting that Disney chose not to pursue an acquisition of Twitter in part because it thought the bullying and behaviour of some of the ailing social network’s users might damage the entertainment company’s image.


Those of us who use Twitter and have identities that make us more vulnerable to harassment know this all too well.

Some of us have developed strategies to help us mediate that risk. I’ll share two strategies I have used and how this change undermines them.


This is such an amazingly bad implementation by Twitter. It’s hard to believe that its engineers are this tone-deaf about the problems on the network.
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Lightbulb made of modified E. coli fuses biology and electronics • New Scientist

Alex Pearlman:


It could soon be possible to make a light source out of bacteria.

So says a group of students from Newcastle University in the UK who are attempting to combine electronic engineering and synthetic biology to create “electro-biological” circuits.

The students have turned genetically modified, glowing E.coli into something analogous to a light bulb. The bulb is meant to switch on when the bacteria experience heat stress from a miniature microbial fuel cell – a device that acts as a battery by harnessing electrical energy from the action of microbes.

The project will debut in Boston this week at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM), an annual global competition that ends in a synthetic biology science fair called the Giant Jamboree. The eight-person team from Newcastle is just one of 300 teams from 40 countries.


And then you swallow some of them.. and then your stomach lights up..
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Is Facebook’s facial-scanning technology invading your privacy rights? • Bloomberg

Joel Rosenblatt:


While millions of internet users embrace the tagging of family and friends in photos, others worried there’s something devious afoot are trying block Facebook as well as Google from amassing such data.

As advances in facial recognition technology give companies the potential to profit from biometric data, privacy advocates see a pattern in how the world’s largest social network and search engine have sold users’ viewing histories for advertising. The companies insist that gathering data on what you look like isn’t against the law, even without your permission.

If judges agree with Facebook and Google, they may be able to kill off lawsuits filed under a unique Illinois law that carries fines of $1,000 to $5,000 each time a person’s image is used without permission — big enough for a liability headache if claims on behalf of millions of consumers proceed as class actions. A loss by the companies could lead to new restrictions on using biometrics in the U.S., similar to those in Europe and Canada.

Facebook declined to comment on its court fight. Google declined to comment on pending litigation. 

Courts have struggled over what qualifies as an injury to pursue a privacy case in lawsuits accusing Facebook and Google of siphoning users’ personal information from e-mails and monitoring their web browsing habits. Suits over selling the data to advertisers have often failed. 

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court set a “concrete injury” standard for privacy suits, a ruling that both sides are using to argue their case ahead of a hearing Thursday in San Francisco over Facebook’s bid to dismiss the biometrics case.

Google is fending off suits in Chicago, arguing that the Illinois statute can’t apply outside the state under the Constitution’s interstate commerce rules. Google also contends the Illinois law doesn’t regulate photos.


The UK has at least ruled that there is tort in unauthorised use of personal data.
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Apple removes iconic startup chime from new MacBook Pro • Business Insider

Rob Price:


The Californian technology company is removing the distinctive noise that Macs make when they boot up, starting with the new MacBook Pro announced last week.

The change was first spotted by, which tested out one of the new laptops and confirmed that the noise is no longer made.

And an FAQ page that references the chime (referred to as the “startup sound”) for older MacBook models makes no mention of it for the new laptop.

Apple has used startup chimes in its Mac computers since the 1980s, settling on the most recent chime with the iMac G3, released in 1998. But now it’s finally being retired.

An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it’s likely because of the way the new MacBook Pro turns on. It doesn’t come with a power button, instead automatically turning on whenever it is opened (when charged) — so there’s no need for a noise to indicate to the user that it is booting up.


I don’t understand that last sentence. Portable Macs have woken from sleep when opened since 1998 or so. But that’s different from booting up.

No chime, though? If you thought people were upset about the lack of updates for the iMac and Mac Pro last week, wait until they hear about this.
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Forget Twitter, Netflix should be an acquisition target • ValuePenguin Singapore


What if this tech behemoth acquired Netflix and made the service entirely free to its device users (or provide a discounted rate)? Netflix’s popularity is growing rapidly, and it already has almost 90 million subscribers globally. This could potentially tilt the balance in Apple’s favor and be the boost that Apple has been desperately needing in terms of growing its market share. But could it be beneficial economically?

We think it will be. For example, take our back of the envelope calculation below. Apple currently makes about $600 per iPhone, which is typically replaced about every 2 years, and makes about 40% gross profit on the sale. This translates to roughly $113 of gross profit per year per device ($600 divided by 2 years and multiplied by 40% gross margin). In comparison, Netflix currently makes about $9 per month per subscriber, for a total of S$104 per year. This means that, even if Netflix were to become completely free to Apple users, Apple will be increasing economic value per customer by almost 10%! This math looks even better if you start to incorporate numbers for iPads and Mac, which have higher ASP than an iPhone.

Back of the Envelope Calculation on Apple and Netflix
iPhone ASP – $595
Replacement Cycle – 2 years
Adj Annual Income per Unit – $298
Gross margin -38%
Gross profit per unit – $113
NFLX Monthly ARPU [average revenue per user] – $9
NFLX Annual ARPU – $104

Caveat is that Apple will depend on the customers to remain loyal to its devices and services for a long time, but that’s the whole point; adding services like Netflix would be a great way to increase customer loyalty just the way Amazon has been adding stuff to its Amazon Prime program over the years.

Currently, Apple only commands about 12 % of the global smartphone market. Although Apple only competes in the high-end portion of the market, Samsung has a whopping 23% of the global market share. Even if Apple were to tilt the market to its favor by 3-5%, it could be increasing its revenue from iPhones by about 40%, which could pay for the acquisition in a matter of few years even if Apple were to pay a meaningful premium. 


Ben Thompson suggested Apple should buy Netflix in his daily newsletter on Monday too. I’m sure both companies have considered it. Is the price too high for Apple? Or does Netflix not want to sell? In many ways, Netflix is like Beats Music, but for video: makes good sense for Apple, little sense for anyone else who could buy it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start up: battery blocking, beyond the touch screen, block that chumbox!, OLED wars, and more

  1. The Guardian is a prime culprit when it comes to click bait links on its website. For a paper that purports to adopt such high principles there is no excuse.

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