Start up: Google’s endless EC case, here comes USB-C, mobo no go, South Korea’s weird scandal, and more

Voice control is going to be the next big thing in the home, it seems. Photo by SBIngram on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Improving quality isn’t anti-competitive, part II • Google Public Policy blog

Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel:


we disagree with the European Commission’s argument that our improved Google Shopping results are harming competition. As we said last year in our response to the Commission’s original Statement of Objections (SO), we believe these claims are wrong as a matter of fact, law, and economics.

The Commission’s original SO drew such a narrow definition around online shopping services that it even excluded services like Amazon. It claimed that when we offered improved shopping ads to our users and advertisers, we were “favouring” our own services — and that this was bad for a handful of price comparison aggregators who claimed to have lost clicks from Google. But it failed to take into account the competitive significance of companies like Amazon and the broader dynamics of online shopping.

Our response demonstrated that online shopping is robustly competitive, with lots of evidence supporting the common-sense conclusion that Google and many other websites are chasing Amazon, by far the largest player on the field.


This is getting really very boring now. Foundem, the British company that was the original complainant to the EC, demolished Google’s response in its rebuttal analysis in June 2015. It’s very clear. Nothing has changed since then except that Google has grabbed more of the online advertising business. (Just to start you off: Google talks about “shopping” but the EC’s Statement of Objections is about “price comparison”. Because misdirection works.)

Could the EC just get on and determine its response now? This really has dragged on long enough.
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Asustek, Gigabyte pushing their presence in motherboard market • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:


Currently, Asustek and Gigabyte together contribute over half of worldwide motherboard shipments and also have a major share in the mid-range to high-end motherboard sector.

In 2016, Gigabyte is expected to ship 16.1-16.5m motherboards, down from 2015’s 17m units. However, the company’s strong shipments in its high-end Z170-based and G1 series motherboards will still increase the company’s overall ASP. The company’s EPS is also expected to grow by more than NT$3.30 (US$0.10) and reach NT$4 in 2016.

Asustek is expected to ship 17-17.5m motherboards in 2016, but the company is also expected to achieve growths in both revenues and profits.


So that means worldwide motherboard shipments annually are about 68m, and falling in line with PC shipments. Please could nobody ever tell me that PC shipments are down because “people are making their own”.
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Stephen Baker’s top holiday 2016 expectations • NPD

This is for the US:


PC holiday revenues revived – Sales will be the best in at least four years, as average sales prices rise

iPad Pros deliver big – Expect revenue increases for Apple tablets, while Android consumer interest wanes

Smartphone sales soar – New iPhones will exceed market expectations and drive the best smartphone market in years

Cutting the (headphone) cord continues – wireless headphones will be on many holiday shopping lists this year

Online sales will not falter – online revenue will account for as much as 33% of consumer electronics holiday sales


And quite a few more.
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The missing storytelling • Medium

Nati Shochat, in May, on the lack of storytelling in Apple’s presentations these days:


explanations are limited and rare these days. The 2015 Macbook’s one USB-C port didn’t get the same explanatory time or effort that Jobs gave the Macbook Air upon its dramatic unveiling in 2008, when he took the time to explain why the new ultra-thin laptop didn’t have a CD/DVD drive. Schiller only referred vaguely to the reason — which is to push the Mac line even further — when asked directly by John Gruber during a one to one session, shortly after the WWDC 2015 event.

In the last year the lack of ‘Why’, stood out even more, as Apple’s new line of accessories took some “strange” design cues. Whether the ability to charge the Apple Pencil via sticking it to the iPad Pro’s lightning port (which is odd but strikingly convenient), or the need to flip over the Magic Mouse 2 — which looks like a dead mouse — in order to charge it, or the new iPhone Smart Battery Case with the hump. None of these products got the explanations behind the design rationale, that avid Apple users got used to in the last decade.

One might ask: if Jobs moulded Apple in his image, why the storytelling hasn’t stuck in the current communications and marketing?


This is exactly right. When Tim Cook introduced the new Apple TV, there wasn’t a story around how “TV is going to apps”. Why not? It could have made a huge difference to the presentation of those new MacBooks.
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Smart watch market grows 60% in Q3 2016 as Apple ships 2.8m units • Canalys


Apple shipped 2.8m Watches in Q3, thanks to the release of the new Series 1 and Series 2 models late in the quarter. Despite reports to the contrary, Canalys research shows that shipments compared favorably to those in Q3 2015, the first full quarter after the original Apple Watch’s launch in April 2015. Total smart watch shipments exceeded 6.1m for the quarter, an annual increase of 60%.


By contrast, IDC put the third-quarter figure for Apple at 1.1m, and the total market at 2.7m. That’s quite a difference between the two, though Canalys’s higher total doesn’t do any favours to Android Wear – its figure suggests about 0.8m Android Wear watches for the quarter.

Analyst estimates did put Watch shipments higher than the 1.1m based on Apple’s results, so maybe Canalys is on to something.
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Voice control the new breakout star in smart home technology • ABI Research


“Voice control will not only draw in new consumers to smart home functionality, but it will help transform a wide variety of new and emerging smart home services and devices into more attractive investments,” says Jonathan Collins, Research Director at ABI Research. “The stage is set for voice control to become the heart of any smart home system.” 

Amazon’s market leadership with its Alexa products and Google’s emerging Home platform strategy reflect not just the popularity of voice control devices within the home but also how voice will become a key smart home interface in the still emerging market for smart home managed systems. Alongside Amazon and Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft all have the impetus to bring similar devices and functionality to market.

While voice control will take a greater share of device revenue spending, it is an application that will push into and help drive all smart home markets and device categories. By 2021, more than 600 million smart home devices will ship annually, up from 40 million in 2015.


That’s a lot of devices, given that there aren’t anywhere near as many homes as there are people.
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What the New York Times missed with its big GMO story • Grist

Nathanael Johnson:


if genetic engineering really had turned out to be a silver bullet for agriculture, we would be able to see the change in the zoomed-out big picture. And if GMOs [genetically modified organisms] had proved to be a quantum leap forward, we would see it in Times writer Danny Hakim’s crude country-level comparisons. In that regard, Hakim’s contribution is useful.

The problem here is that there’s enough data that you can easily pick the evidence to support your favorite narrative, depending on where you focus. For instance, in a rebuttal to the story, Monsanto’s chief technology officer picked a narrower focus and found plenty of data for a counternarrative making the case for biotechnology. The most balanced approach is to look at all the available evidence — and that’s what the National Academy of Sciences report already did.

Hakim cites the report where it supports his conclusions, but not in the places it contradicts them. He writes that the report found “‘there was little evidence’ that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.” But Hakim doesn’t mention that the report also noted that genetic engineering increased yields “where weed control is improved” and “when insect-pest pressure was high.” He doesn’t mention the report found that insect-resistant GMOs reduced insecticide use “in all cases examined”…

…Because most of us aren’t farmers, we have a hard time seeing the GMO age at all. But U.S. farmers can see it. Farmers aren’t backward dupes who are easily tricked into buying unnecessary technologies. These days, farmers are skeptical and tech-savvy. Many have multiple degrees. They often test yields and pest-resistance by planting half a field with one kind of seed, and half with another. They clearly think they’re getting something valuable when they pay the extra money for GMOs. Both farmers interviewed in the Times piece — one in France and one in South Carolina — said they thought GMOs were helpful.


It’s that last paragraph that’s most important. What do the people who have to put their money on the line think? The ones with the direct experience?
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The irrational downfall of South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye • Ask a Korean!

“T.K” on the bizarre scandal engulfing South Korea’s president:


Even in her apology, president Park Geun-hye showed that she still might be under Choi Soon-sil’s hold. What would a self-interested politician would do, if the corruption of one of his cronies was revealed? The politician would sell the crony down the river, denying up and down that he ever knew or interacted with the crony. Such denial would be cowardly and dishonest, but at least it is predictable. But not with Park Geun-hye. She stood in front of the whole country and admitted that Choi Soon-sil fixed her speeches. Instead of cutting ties with her, Park reaffirmed that Choi was an old friend who helped her during difficult times.

This is utterly irrational. Rational people can expect that a corrupt politician may steal money for himself. They can even expect that he may steal for his family. But no one can expect that a corrupt politician would steal money for a daughter of a fucking psychic who claimed to speak with her dead mother. No one, not even the most cynical Korean, expected that the president would refuse to cut ties with Choi Soon-sil, a woman with no discernible talent other than manipulating the president and humiliating her in the process. Koreans may expect that the president would be corrupt, but they never could have expected that the president might be feeble in her mind.

Sports columnist Bill Simmons coined the term “Tyson Zone,” in which nothing you hear about a particular celebrity can possibly surprise you. Did you hear that Mike Tyson urinated on a police officer? Of course he did! Did you hear that Mike Tyson is attempting to breed unicorns? Of course he is! Given what you already know about Mike Tyson, none you hear about Mike Tyson could possibly surprise you.

With Choi Soon-sil-gate, Park Geun-hye put the entire country into the Tyson Zone.


I found it difficult to follow the dramatis personae in this, but it reads like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Also: if the US votes in Trump, it’s going to follow South Korea into the Tyson Zone damn fast.
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The passenger train created to carry the dead • BBC

Amanda Ruggeri:


For 87 years, nearly every day, a single train ran out of London and back. It left from a dedicated station near Waterloo built specifically for the line and its passengers. The 23-mile journey, which had no stops after leaving London, took 40 minutes. Along the way to their destination, riders glimpsed the lovely landscapes of Westminster, Richmond Park and Hampton Court — no mistake, as the route was chosen partly for its “comforting scenery”, as one of the railway’s masterminds noted.

How much comfort a route gives passengers isn’t a usual consideration for a train line. But this was no normal train line.

Many of the passengers on the train would be distraught. The others — those passengers’ loved ones — be dead. Their destination: the cemetery.

A rare view of the first London Necropolis Railway station, built in 1854; it was demolished after the new station was built in 1902 (Credit: SSPL)

In operation from 1854 to 1941, the London Necropolis Railway was the spookiest, strangest train line in British history. It transported London’s dead south-west to Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, in Surrey, a cemetery that was built in tandem with the railway. At its peak, from 1894 to 1903, the train carried more than 2,000 bodies a year.

It also transported their families and friends. Guests could leave with their dearly departed at 11:40am, attend the burial, have a funeral party at one of the cemetery’s two train stations (complete with home-cooked ham sandwiches and fairy cakes), and then take the same train back, returning to London by 3:30pm.


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Handsets equipped with USB Type-C connectors will take off worldwide in 2017 • Strategy Analytics


USB connectivity has been a part of mobile phones since the 1990s. Today, nearly all handsets sold globally contain an open or proprietary USB port.  Over that time-period, USB has evolved from Type-A connectors to Type-B and now Type-C.  The first Type-C portable device to emerge was the Nokia N1 tablet introduced in Q4 2014. Apple introduced Type-C ports in Q1 2015 when it unveiled its latest MacBook portable computer.  The first mobile handsets to incorporate the technology were smartphones introduced first by LeTV, followed by  OnePlus 2 and Zuk Z1, in 2015 almost two dozen handsets with Type-C was introduced.

Strategy Analytics forecasts global USB-C handset sales to grow a huge +1600% between 2016 and 2022. Emerging first in China, from LeTV, OnePlus and others in 2015, handsets equipped with USB Type-C connectors will take off worldwide next year, as costs fall.

Beyond Asia, North America and Western Europe will see rapid adoption of the technology. We predict Type-C will become the dominant connector-port on cellphones.

USB-C will first appear in high-end models, but it will soon begin to migrate to lower-tier devices. In the first phase Type-C is used as a differentiator but soon it will become a standard for all devices.


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MacBook Pro review: the Air apparent • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


To Apple’s credit, there’s no single Windows laptop that yet matches all of the MacBook line’s key strengths — touchpad ergonomics, battery life, display, and industrial design — but Apple’s changes have now created an opportunity that didn’t exist before. All a Windows vendor needs to do to convince me is to build something as good as a MacBook and then top it off with a simple SD card slot. macOS isn’t as major an advantage as it used to be, especially for someone like me whose professional life revolves around Google and Adobe’s cloud services.

When it launched the MacBook in 2015, Apple wasn’t shy about claiming it had reinvented the laptop. With the benefit of some hindsight, I’d argue Apple only reinvented its own product line. Copycat designs have arisen, as they always do, but the MacBook’s biggest impact so far has been within Apple’s walled-in ecosystem. We can see more of the new MacBook’s DNA in the new MacBook Pro than original MacBook Pro features. This is just the way Apple laptops are made now and we can either learn to like it or go elsewhere.

And that, frankly, is the problem here. Apple is trying to return to its old habit of dragging us forward into the future like a wild-eyed inventor, but this time it might have cut a little too deep into present-day functionality while trying to promote tomorrow’s technology. Apple could have been a major trailblazer for USB-C even while retaining a classic USB port and a photographer-friendly SD card slot. I don’t think those things would have disrupted the MacBook Pro’s scrupulously perfected proportions or Apple’s bottom line too much.

I don’t know if I’ll be buying this MacBook Pro, in spite of its superb design and performance, and that’s surprising to me.


Essentially, the PC (desktop/laptop) ecosystem stopped evolving; USB-C is externally imposed, aiming to do everything for everyone at Intel’s urging so it would create new demand for PC CPUs.

However the ideal person, or people, to get to review the new MacBook Pro would be those who actually use it to the limit – video editors, DJs, photographers. Not those whose trade is writing. I wonder if we’ll ever get to the stage where reviews of pro equipment are done that way.
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Revised estimates of Leave vote share in Westminster constituencies • Medium

Chris Hanretty is reader in politics at the University of East Anglia:


I’ve been working on improved estimates which do have this property, and which also include results from Scotland. The details of the analysis can be found in a research note; the estimates themselves can be found in this Google Docs spreadsheet.

The difference between the two estimates are slight. 32 constituencies were formerly estimated to have voted Leave, but are now estimated to have voted Remain; 11 went the other way. This means a net change of +21 for Remain in England and Wales. Including Scotland, this means that 401 of 632 constituencies (63%) are now judged to have voted for Leave.


This is why even if Parliament votes on triggering Article 50 (to initiative the UK’s exit from the EU), it won’t change the outcome. Any MP who votes against the will of their constituency is committing political suicide. You can also see a rough map from July; the story’s the same, though the numbers slightly different.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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