Start Up: milking the iPhone, Android tablets’ death, Galaxy S8 may dump the headphone jack, and more


Toys that use the internet aren’t necessarily good. Photo by Open Arms on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Not available on Air Force One. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Milking the iPhone • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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Apple is placing a big bet that we are still firmly in the smartphone era. In Apple’s view, many of these competing products are distractions trying to get us to move prematurely beyond the smartphone. This stance has contributed to the view that Apple is missing a step and resting on its laurels. While Microsoft pushes Surface Book and Surface Studio and Snap unveils sunglasses with a camera, Apple is still betting on a smartphone, a product unveiled in 2007. 

This pursuit of milking the iPhone has contributed to cracks forming at Apple’s edges. The friction is found when looking at Apple’s efforts to build a wider ecosystem that extends beyond the iPhone. There is evidence that Apple management wants to follow a product strategy described in my “Apple Experience Era” article. Consumers can pick and choose a range of Apple products that best fit their lifestyles. This is why Apple is very vocal about continuing to invest in the Mac. In addition, Cook has reiterated his view that the iPad is the clearest expression of Apple’s vision of the future of personal computing.

However, Apple’s handling of the Mac line has been increasingly questionable. The same can be said of the iPad line. It will have taken Apple at least two years to unveil a line of “Pro” iPad models spanning from 7.9-inch screens to the 12.9-inch model. 

While some have been quick to throw Apple’s functional organizational structure under the bus for causing these cracks, the organizational structure is not to blame. The issue doesn’t relate to a lack of focus either. Apple still isn’t selling that many products. Instead, these cracks are a result of today’s changing tech environment. 

When looking at some of the key accomplishments during the Tim Cook era, the installed base growth figures for Apple’s top products stand out. For every 100 users by which the iPhone installed base increases, the iPad installed base will grow by 35 users, and the Mac will increase by 10 users.

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Government U-turn on health privacy • Light Blue Touchpaper

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Now that everyone’s distracted with the supreme court case on Brexit, you can expect the government to sneak out something it’s ashamed of.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has decided to ignore the wishes of over a million people who opted out of having their hospital records given to third parties such as drug companies, and the ICO has decided to pretend that the anonymisation mechanisms he says he’ll use instead are sufficient. One gently smoking gun is the fifth bullet in a new webpage here, where the Department of Health claims that when it says the data are anonymous, your wishes will be ignored.

The news has been broken in an article in the Health Services Journal (it’s behind a paywall, as a splendid example of transparency) with the Wellcome Trust praising the ICO’s decision not to take action against the Department. We are assured that “the data is seen as crucial for vital research projects”.

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Apple Watch sales to consumers set record in holiday week, says Apple’s Cook • Reuters

Julia Love:

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Sales of the Apple Watch to consumers set a record during the first week of holiday shopping, and the current quarter is on track to be the best ever for the product, Apple chief executive Tim Cook told Reuters.

Responding to an email from Reuters, Cook said the gadget’s sell-through – a measure of how many units are sold to consumers, rather than simply stocked on retailers’ shelves – reached a new high.

Cook’s comments followed a report on Monday from technology research firm IDC estimating that the tech giant sold 1.1 million units of the Apple Watch during the third quarter of 2016, down 71% from the year-ago quarter. The comments offer a glimpse of the gadget’s performance during the holiday quarter, which is typically Apple’s strongest.

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IDC’s estimate (it has to be an estimate) looks low – based on revenue, Apple probably sold between 2m and 2.5m.
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Chapter 40. The fake news, the real links • Sadbottrue

Bear with the language here:

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Can a major media with 17 years of history and a monthly audience of 40 million., quote fake news sites? As if it did not look weird, but yes.

Studying the history of the site Donaldtrumpnews.co (disabled), we found a backlink to it on Breitbart.com.

It was quoted by Wayne Allyn Root, in the story “Mr. President, You Disgust Me”, posted on breitbart.com June 13, 2016. The quotation was “Obama is the man who cut $2.6 billion in funding for U.S. veterans, while at the same time adding $4.5 billion to the budget to relocate Syrian refugees to America.” Here’s the archive copy. The article was shared more than 40,000 times.

If you can not identify this site [Donaldtrumpnews.co] among the other sites of fake news, we give a small clarification. This is the most popular of the Macedonian sites investigated by Buzzfeed in the article “How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News”.

The site was created on April 29, 2016. At the time of quotation, the site was only one and a half months [old].

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“Sadbottrue” is edited by Vlad Shevtsov; it seems to be aiming to investigate the origin of many of the fake news sites, and some of the social media junk, around the US election. The point that is made here – that Breitbart was prominently requoting a fake news outlet that was just six weeks old – raises the questions: how did Breitbart’s writer find it, and why didn’t they check it? Well, the latter is obvious enough. (They don’t care about accuracy.)

But how did they find it? Six weeks isn’t much time for any site to rise up Google’s search rankings.
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Supreme Court: lower court should reconsider what Samsung owes Apple • WSJ

Brent Kendall:

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Samsung has been challenging a $399m award to Apple after jurors in 2012 found that 11 smartphone models from the South Korean electronics giant infringed Apple’s design patents.

The high court agreed to hear the case to clarify how courts should compute monetary damages for design-patent infringement. Apple argued it was entitled to the total profits on Samsung’s infringing products. Samsung argued that it shouldn’t have to hand over all of its profits on the phones because the design was only one component of those complex devices.

The Supreme Court said an appeals court used the wrong analysis when it ruled for Apple.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for a unanimous court, said the holder of a design patent isn’t always entitled to the total profits on an infringing product sold to consumers. In multicomponent products, sometimes a patent holder will only be entitled to the infringer’s total profits on the specific component that infringed the patent, she said.

The decision, however, didn’t resolve the dispute between the smartphone makers. The court declined to apply its legal rules to the specifics of the case, so it didn’t determine whether Samsung must pay its total profits on the 11 phones or just its profits attributable to the screen and case design of those products.

The justices said a lower court should sort out that issue.

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This is pretty dramatic. Apple’s claim, which was supported by a number of designers, was that Samsung had profited because of its infringement of Apple’s design patents – basically, how Samsung’s phone looked – and that it should receive all the profits Samsung earned because that infringement was the essential act which caused the decision. There seemed to be precedent from patents on physical products in the 20th century.

This overturns that; it means that copying the appearance of another device carries far lower penalties, as long as you can show that there might be other elements to the product which customers find attractive. (Probably wouldn’t work for a simple chair, for example.)

Just as well for Apple that phone design isn’t a key differentiator any more – but what happens when someone such as Samsung chooses to copy the Apple Watch?
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Patent troll claims to own Bluetooth, scores $15.7M verdict against Samsung • Ars Technica

Joe Mullin, writing in February 2015:

»

Marshall [in Texas] is a small town that has been a hotspot for patent lawsuits for more than a decade now. US District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who presided over this trial, oversees far more patent lawsuits than any other federal judge.

The Eastern District of Texas has stayed popular with patent holders, even as the docket has clogged with cases. Some factors cited include relatively fast-moving litigation, judges reluctant to make early summary judgment rulings, and a perception that juries are more likely to grant large awards.

Samsung has been sued in East Texas dozens of times. That’s not unusual for a large technology company. More than its rivals, though, Samsung has taken some unusual steps in recent years to try to keep up its reputation in Marshall and nearby towns. There’s no mistaking who sponsors Marshall’s winter festival—Samsung has its corporate logo plastered all over the town’s ice-skating rink, which gets set up each year in the same downtown square as the federal courthouse.

The company also makes a habit of granting scholarships to high school students in Marshall and nearby Tyler, giving a total of $50,000 last year. Winners receive photograph-worthy giant checks with a Samsung logo on them, and those images are often published in the local newspaper. The same check was on display in the News-Messenger when Samsung made a donation to Habitat for Humanity.

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Makes sense if you might find yourself in front of a group of jurors assembled from the area…
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Amazon Go • Amazon.com

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How does Amazon Go work?
Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

What do I need to get started?
All you need is an Amazon account, a supported smartphone, and the free Amazon Go app.

Why did you build Amazon Go?
Four years ago we asked ourselves: what if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? Could we push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning to create a store where customers could simply take what they want and go? Our answer to those questions is Amazon Go and Just Walk Out Shopping.

So I can just shop normally?
Yes! Just browse and shop like you would at any other store. Then you’re on your way. No lines, no checkout.

«

Very, very interesting. Would it scale to something the size of a typical Tesco supermarket? Access is gained via the smartphone app; what if other people come in too? Obviously Amazon has asked itself this question, so the answer(s) will be interesting. Hackers are going to have field days, particularly in messing with the (presumably) facial recognition and RFID systems it uses. Typically, Amazon has said very little about how it works.
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Exclusive: Galaxy S8 is not going to feature a 3.5mm headphone jack • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:

»

If you were cross with Samsung for ditching removable batteries with the Galaxy S6 then you might not like what it’s going to do with the Galaxy S8. We can exclusively confirm that Samsung is going to remove the standard 3.5mm headphone jack from the Galaxy S8. This means that all of your existing headphones will not be compatible with the upcoming flagship unless you use a USB Type-C adapter as the Galaxy S8 will feature a USB Type-C port. This also means that you won’t be able to plug in the Galaxy S8 and use wired headphones at the same time.

We’ve seen Apple take this step with the iPhone 7 as well as a handful of Chinese OEMs. Apple took a lot of flak for this decision but the company says that it showed courage by making this decision to move beyond the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. We don’t know how Samsung is going to put a spin on its decision since fans are likely to lash out but there are some functional advantages to it.

Removing the 3.5mm headphone jack enables Samsung to make the Galaxy S8 thinner while also freeing up more space inside for a bigger battery.

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Commenters at SamMobile are furious.
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The slow, uninteresting death of Android tablets is unfolding, and it is no one’s fault • Android Police

David Ruddock:

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Demands for features, functions, and tablet-specific interfaces distract from the real problem with tablets – that fewer and fewer people need or even want them.…

…There remain legitimate niche markets for tablets, in both professional and consumer senses, but the writing is on the wall when it comes to the mass-market tablet: we’re only going down from here. Rumors that Google is working on a new 7″ tablet to showcase its next-generation Andromeda operating system gave hope to enthusiasts that Google isn’t quite ready to let the tablet off life support just yet. If and when that device arrives, great pains will be taken by some to assure us that people really do want tablets, it’s just that they didn’t want the tablets we had before. We just need that magic bullet; to finally crack the tablet code. “This time, developers will pay attention!”

This is a fantasy. Android tablets have had six years to mature and evolve, for developers to find the use cases and the markets for their wares, and at the end of it all we’re left with a tablet content ecosystem now utterly devoid of interest from consumers and developers alike. Nothing Google can do with its operating system will be able to shock the tablet market back to life, because the tablet is not dying for a lack of content. It is dying for a lack of compelling reasons to exist.

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This may be the case for Android tablets, which have never quite managed to shift into a gear where they can rival PCs for usefulness. (I’d also take issue with Ruddock’s first point above: falling sales don’t mean fewer people want or need them, but that they’re slow to replace.) I think it’s different for the iPad, where the focus on apps, and especially paid apps, has made a difference. The existence of Workflow, which lets you automate workflows, and Pythonista, which lets you run Python programs, means you really can do a great deal on an iPad – and it’s a lot more portable than a laptop.
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Connected toys violate European consumer law • Norwegian consumer council

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In their review of the toys, the Consumer Council has found several serious issues:

• Lack of security: With simple steps, anyone can take control of the toys through a mobile phone. This makes it possible to talk and listen through the toy without having physical access to the toy.This lack of security could easily have been prevented, for example by making physical access to the toy required, or by requiring the user to press a button when pairing their phone with the toy.
• Illegal user terms: Before using the toy, users must consent to the terms being changed without notice, that personal data can be used for targeted advertising, and that information may be shared with unnamed 3rd parties.This and other discoveries are, in the NCC’s opinion, in breach of the EU Unfair Contract Terms Directive, the EU Data Protection Directive, and possibly the Toy Safety Directive.
• Kids’ secrets are shared: Anything the child tells the doll is transferred to the U.S.-based company Nuance Communications, who specialize in speech recognition technologies. The company reserves the right to share this information with other third parties, and to use speech data for a wide variety of purposes.

• Kids are subject to hidden marketing: The toys are embedded with pre-programmed phrases, where they endorse different commercial products. For example, Cayla will happily talk about how much she loves different Disney movies. Meanwhile, the app-provider has a commercial relationship with Disney.

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Did nobody in the process ever think about these topics, or did they hope it would just be ignored?
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Gender bias in hiring: interviewing as a trans woman in tech • Model View Culture

February Keeney is half-Puerto Rican, and now works at GitHub on its anti-harassment systems:

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We know a lot about bias in hiring. Study after study confirms the very real phenomenon of bias against women, against people of color, against LGBT candidates. A fascinating phenomenon has shown up in some of the more recent studies: those who have very little explicit bias often have a lot of internalized implicit bias. That is to say, those who externally and consciously seem the least discriminatory, tend to be more likely to discriminate on a subconscious level.

My life has played out what many of these studies have simulated by replacing names on resumes, and other sleights of hand. The same exact candidate, in one instance presented as male and another as female, had not just slightly different results in the job search, but radically different results.

My career has become an A/B Test in gender. With the clear “winner” being male.

Being trans brings an entire new layer of bias and discrimination to play in every interview. In many circumstances I can avoid being read as trans. But almost never in a technical interview. Get me talking about tech and I will subconsciously drop voice. If the interviewer — almost always male — had suspicions about me prior to that, they have now been confirmed.

At this point a whole new set of factors come into play. Do they find me repulsive? Or worse, do they find me attractive? You can almost see the internalized homophobia in their eyes when this happens; that moment when they realize they are attracted to a trans woman. You see the fear in their eyes as they think “does this mean I am gay?”

I want to yell at them, “No! That is not how that works! It makes you straight! But even if it did make you gay: what’s wrong with that?”

Instead I sit there and hope they don’t sabotage me in their interview feedback. How often do these feelings translate into “not a good fit” or “she made me uncomfortable”?

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Keeney is very interesting on this topic; equally good as the above is this interview with Techies Project. How galling would it be to be refused a job you know you’re qualified for because, basically, you wore lip gloss?

This is part of tech’s problem: it almost unconsciously enforces a strongly homogeneous culture.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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