Start Up: Biz back at Twitter, new Mac laptops?, it’s InstaSnapGramChat!, MP3 lives, and more

The Galaxy S8 is selling well – but not that well. Photo by Samsung 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.

Samsung’s 5 million Galaxy S8 sales far below 2014’s S4 peak • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:


Samsung announced today that first-month sales of its Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus have reached 5 million units. Sales of the previous year’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge sold an estimated 7-9 million units in their initial launch month, while back in 2013 Samsung announced its Galaxy S4 sold 10 million in its first month, a “Peak Galaxy” the company has never actually managed to surpass.

A report by Cho Mu-Hyun for ZDNet noted the 5 million unit announcement, without any comparison to previous year sales. Each year since reaching Peak Galaxy in 2014, Samsung has floated the idea that its new model has outpaced sales, shipments (or sometimes “preorders”) of the previous edition, but in reality Galaxy S sales–and subsequently Samsung Mobile profits–have actually never recovered since the Galaxy S4.

An unnamed Samsung spokesperson stated that “although we cannot provide detailed figures, the sales are going smoothly around the globe. The combined sales already are beyond 5 million units.”


I’d noticed a report on that 5m elsewhere, but the lack of context – that it’s so much smaller in its first month – makes a big difference.
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Apple plans laptop upgrades to take on Microsoft • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb:


Apple plans to announce an update to its laptop lineup at an annual conference for app developers in early June, a move that could help offset new competition from Microsoft as well as declining iPad sales.

Apple is planning three new laptops, according to people familiar with the matter. The MacBook Pro will get a faster Kaby Lake processor from Intel Corp., said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. Apple is also working on a new version of the 12-inch MacBook with a faster Intel chip. The company has also considered updating the aging 13-inch MacBook Air with a new processor as sales of the laptop, Apple’s cheapest, remain surprisingly strong, one of the people said.


So. Let me do think about how that first paragraph probably came to be. Let’s just set out the facts first:
1) There’s no chance Apple is in the least bit worried about Microsoft’s products – they just don’t sell well enough to worry it.
2) Declining iPad sales – well, they’re level if you leave out the iPad mini. And they sell wayy more, by unit, than Macs.

What I think happened – from my experience as an editor – is this. Mark Gurman (and Alex Webb) come to their editor with a story about Apple updating its laptops. Editor: “BOOOOORING. Look, can’t we gin this up a bit? What about that Microsoft thing the other day?” Reporters roll eyes, and one says “But–“

Editor: “Look, let someone with experience sort this. We just add this to your lead sentence: ‘a move that could offset new competition from Microsoft..’ Hmm, what about iPad sales?” Reporters roll eyes. “DOWN, AMIRITE? There you go.”
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What’s happening with me • Medium

Biz Stone:


I worked at Twitter for about six years. In that time, the service grew from zero people to hundreds of millions of people. Jack was the original CEO and when he returned I was very happy.

There’s something about the personality of a company that comes from the folks who start it. There’s a special feeling they bring with them. Jack coming back was a big step forward. And now, it’s my turn—I’m returning to full time work at Twitter starting in a couple of weeks! How this came about is kind of a crazy story but, it’s happening.


I’ve now lost count of how many times Stone has been in and out of Twitter. It’s a sort of Groundhog Day. I forget – does Jack Dorsey leave next and then Ev Williams comes back?
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“Affordable premium” smartphones grew 49% annually in Q1 2017 • Counterpoint

Shobhit Srivastava:


Smartphone shipments reached 375m units in Q1 2017. The smartphone market grew 11.2% annually.

• Premium segment ($400 above) smartphones now contribute to almost 20% of the global smartphone market. However, the segment declined annually due to softness in iPhone volumes and controlled inventory of the Samsung flagship Galaxy S7/S7+ ahead of Galaxy S8 series launch.

• The ‘affordable premium’ segment $300~$399 was the fastest growing smartphone segment during the quarter mainly driven by OPPO, vivo and Samsung A series smartphones.

• The $100~$199 price segment has quickly become the sweet spot across the pre-paid developed and emerging markets. This segment accounts for one in three smartphones shipped globally, registering a healthy 28.8% growth in Q1 2017.

• The $100~$199 price segment is mainly driven by Samsung’s J series, Huawei’s Honor series, OPPO’s A series and Xiaomi’s Redmi series smartphones. Together these brands accounted for almost half of the volumes of the price segment.


Plenty of other interesting data – including Samsung getting extra inventory.
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Introducing Face Filters and more on Instagram • Instagram Blog


Today, we’re introducing face filters in the camera, an easy way to turn an ordinary selfie into something fun and entertaining. Whether you’re sitting on the couch at home or you’re out and about, you can use face filters to express yourself and have playful conversations with friends.

From math equations swirling around your head to furry koala ears that move and twitch, you can transform into a variety of characters that make you smile or laugh. To see our initial set of eight face filters, simply open the camera and tap the new face icon in the bottom right corner.


It’s Snapchat for the over-30s. Also: so derivative. OK, not everyone is going to use Snapchat, and the idea of face filters isn’t new, but this starts to look like Microsoft copying MacOS back in the 1990s.
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Line just lost even more users. But that’s apparently fine • Tech In Asia

Steven Millward on its two months of losing 3m, now down to 214m:


The US$7.6bn company surprisingly did not disclose its total number of active users in its latest earnings report, which came out towards the end of last month – the first time it has not revealed that figure since late 2014. When I asked a Line Corp representative today, the individual explained that the total will only be revealed on a “reactive” basis in the future – i.e., when someone actually asks.

The reason for the change is that Line Corp is focusing on its active user base in its four most popular countries – Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. That number is going up healthily:

Line – which makes money from ads and content in an array of spin-off apps and services such as Line Pay, Line Music, and Line Moments – focuses its business interests on those four markets, therefore those are where most of the money comes from.

So as long as Line is growing in those four places, the company seems unperturbed by the loss of global users to the increasingly indispensable WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. At least that’s the picture the company paints in public.


Dropping users, though, is never good, which is why Twitter is always so keen to juice the figures.
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Facebook promised to tackle fake news. But the evidence shows it’s not working • The Guardian

Sam Levin:


When Facebook’s new fact-checking system labeled a Newport Buzz article as possible “fake news”, warning users against sharing it, something unexpected happened. Traffic to the story skyrocketed, according to Christian Winthrop, editor of the local Rhode Island website.

“A bunch of conservative groups grabbed this and said, ‘Hey, they are trying to silence this blog – share, share share,’” said Winthrop, who published the story that falsely claimed hundreds of thousands of Irish people were brought to the US as slaves. “With Facebook trying to throttle it and say, ‘Don’t share it,’ it actually had the opposite effect.”

The spreading of Winthrop’s piece after it was debunked and branded “disputed” is one of many examples of the pitfalls of Facebook’s much-discussed initiatives to thwart misinformation on the social network by partnering with third-party fact-checkers and publicly flagging fake news. A Guardian review of false news articles and interviews with fact-checkers and writers who produce fake content suggests that Facebook’s highly promoted initiatives are regularly ineffective, and in some cases appear to be having minimal impact.

Articles formally debunked by Facebook’s fact-checking partners – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact – frequently remain on the site without the “disputed” tag warning users about the content. And when fake news stories do get branded as potentially false, the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done.


Good that someone is following this up.
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US hacker linked to fake Macron documents, says cybersecurity firm • WSJ

David Gauthier-Villars:


A group of cybersecurity experts has unearthed ties between an American hacker who maintains a neo-Nazi website and an internet campaign to smear Emmanuel Macron days before he was elected president of France.

Shortly after an anonymous user of the discussion forum posted fake documents purporting to show Mr. Macron had set up an undisclosed shell company in the Caribbean, the user directed people to visit for updates on the French election.

That website, according to research by web-security provider, is registered by “Weevlos,” a known online alias of Andrew Auernheimer, an American hacker who gained notoriety three years ago when a US appeals court vacated his conviction for computer fraud. The site also is hosted by a server in Latvia that hosts the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi news site that identifies its administrator as “Weev,” another online alias of Mr. Aeurnheimer, says.

“We strongly believe that the fake offshore documents were created by someone with control of the Daily Stormer server,” said Tord Lundström, a computer forensics investigator at


Otherwise known as Weev, who was sentenced to 41 months (then released and pardoned) for discovering a flaw in AT&T’s implementation of account security on iPads, and possibly compromised some national security folk. He was vaguely sensible back in those days.
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Under Trump, inconvenient data is being sidelined • The Washington Post

Juliet Eilperin:


The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.

Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of “naming and shaming” that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for instance, has dramatically scaled back on publicizing its fines against firms. And the Agriculture Department has taken off-line animal welfare enforcement records, including abuses in dog breeding operations and horse farms that alter the gait of racehorses through the controversial practice of “soring” their legs.

In other cases, the administration appears to be dimming the prior spotlight on the background and conduct of top officials. The administration no longer publishes online the ethics waivers granted to appointees who would otherwise be barred from joining the government because of recent lobbying activities. Nor is the White House releasing logs of its visitors, making it difficult for the public to keep track of who is stopping by to see the president’s inner circle.


A reader requested on Tuesday to have fewer “inside Trump’s baseball-sized head” and more, where available, about what’s happening at the local level in the US. Point taken. This story is why that might become more difficult over time.
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Apple to discontinue iPad mini as device gets squeezed from both ends • BGR

Jonathan Geller:


First introduced in 2012, Apple’s iPad mini was a welcome alternative to the much larger, thicker, and heavier 9.7in iPad. There was no 5.5in iPhone Plus, so the iPad mini made a great choice for light reading and effortless web browsing, email, and gaming. The market doesn’t stand still, however, and we’re now looking at a redesigned iPad Pro to be launched this summer that should offer everything the current 9.7in iPad features, but in a smaller footprint with a larger 10.5in display.

On the other side, there’s the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus, which is large enough to negate the need for a tablet for many users. The device you take everywhere, that’s always with you, that has the best camera, and that has everything else you need. The device that you already own. Therein lies the problem, and that’s why we have heard from a source close to Apple that the iPad mini is being phased out.

Not one to ever be shy about disrupting the company’s own lineup, our source beats the Apple drum and states that there’s “fierce cannibalism of our own products” and that the iPad mini has just been “sized out of its own category.” We’re also told that the numbers are “very clear” as far as sales are concerned…


I’ve previously noted that Neil Cybart’s analysis suggests falling sales of the iPad mini are making the tablet market look sicker than it is. This would all fit into that. He called “peak iPad mini” in November 2015. I’d imagine they’ll just let it quietly slip out of sight by letting the existing inventory sell out.
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Lenovo announces overhaul and renewed focus on China • FT

Yuan Yang:


Lenovo has announced a plan to restructure and focus on its home market of China after two years of disappointing performance at what was the world’s top PC maker.

Yang Yuanqing, chief executive, took to Weibo, the Chinese social media network, to declare that Lenovo would be reorganised into a consumer-facing division focused on personal computers and smart devices and a business-to-business division to house its data services.

He also announced that Liu Jun, the respected executive who led the company’s 2014 acquisition of smartphone company Motorola Mobility from Google but left in 2014, would return to head the consumer division in its home market.

“The PC industry is changing . . . and China has the fastest-changing smart devices market,” he said. “China is our incubator for new products. In order to take advantage of the new opportunities brought by changes in our industry, we are restructuring.”

Lenovo did not respond to requests for comment but an email from Mr Yang to employees that was leaked on Tuesday said improving performance in its home market was crucial after a 67% fall in profits in the final quarter of 2016.


Lenovo still hasn’t put up its fiscal fourth-quarter results, nearly seven weeks after the end of the quarter (January-March). It’s amazingly sluggardly on this front.

It’s also trying to turn a profit on Motorola Mobility, which has been a money pit for years, and its tablets, which break even at best. No wonder it’s reorganising.
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Apple’s new campus: an exclusive look inside the mothership • WIRED

Steven Levy:


We drive through an entrance that takes us under the building and into the courtyard before driving back out again. Since it’s a ring, of course, there is no main lobby but rather nine entrances. [Jony] Ive opts to take me in through the café, a massive atrium-like space ascending the entire four stories of the building. Once it’s complete, it will hold as many as 4,000 people at once, split between the vast ground floor and the balcony dining areas. Along its exterior wall, the café has two massive glass doors that can be opened when it’s nice outside, allowing people to dine al fresco.

“This might be a stupid question,” I say. “But why do you need a four-story glass door?”

Ive raises an eyebrow. “Well,” he says. “It depends how you define need, doesn’t it?”

We go upstairs, and I take in the view. From planes descending to SFO, and even from drones that buzz the building from a hundred feet above it, the Ring looks like an ominous icon, an expression of corporate power, and a what-the-fuck oddity among the malls, highways, and more mundane office parks of suburban Silicon Valley. But peering out the windows and onto the vast hilly expanse of the courtyard, all of that peels away. It feels … peaceful, even amid the clatter and rumble of construction. It turns out that when you turn a skyscraper on its side, all of its bullying power dissipates into a humble serenity.


Not just on its side; on its side and curved, ouroboros-style, into itself. The web page’s title is, wonderfully, “One More Thing”, because of course it was Steve Jobs who drove its creation. It’s his last act.



“It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd, large numbers,” Ive says. “It makes for an impressive statistic, but you don’t live in an impressive statistic. While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.” The value, he argues, is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.”


As with pretty much all things Apple, Ive’s point will get missed in favour of LOOK AT THE BIG NUMBER.
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“MP3 is dead” missed the real, much better story •

Marco Arment:


If you read the news, you may think the MP3 file format was recently officially “killed” somehow, and any remaining MP3 holdouts should all move to AAC now. These are all simple rewrites of Fraunhofer IIS’ announcement that they’re terminating the MP3 patent-licensing program.

Very few people got it right. The others missed what happened last month:

If the longest-running patent mentioned in the aforementioned references is taken as a measure, then the MP3 technology became patent-free in the United States on 16 April 2017 when U.S. Patent 6,009,399, held by and administered by Technicolor, expired.

MP3 is no less alive now than it was last month or will be next year — the last known MP3 patents have simply expired.1
So while there’s a debate to be had — in a moment — about whether MP3 should still be used today, Fraunhofer’s announcement has nothing to do with that, and is simply the ending of its patent-licensing program (because the patents have all expired) and a suggestion that we move to a newer, still-patented format…

…MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free. There has never been another audio format as widely supported as MP3, it’s good enough for almost anything, and now, over twenty years since it took the world by storm, it’s finally free.


While AAC still has patents, and Ogg Vorbis and Opus aren’t supported widely enough.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: Biz back at Twitter, new Mac laptops?, it’s InstaSnapGramChat!, MP3 lives, and more

  1. There’s something awfully wrong in the text and/or chart in the article about “affordable premium” smartphones. Typo if the text (price categories) ,and maybe in the chart (out of order ?)

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