Start Up: Google jumps at AR, Apple’s iPhone time, NY’s Nokia error, will Fitbit’s watch fit?, and more


Apple’s new campus, the likely site of its iPhone (and other) launch, almost surely on September 12. Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

Yeah, baby, we’re back. North Korea’s still firing missiles, Trump’s still president (CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY) and the tech world marches – well, ambles – on.

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 12 links for you. Consider yourself lucky. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘Alt-gov’ Twitter accounts pitch in to help Coast Guard and responders rescue hurricane victims • Raw Story

Sarah Burris:

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President Donald Trump has attacked career government staffers as “holdovers” from President Barack Obama’s administration and his department heads have pledged to root out such staffers. Trump also placed restrictions on scientists and staff to prevent them from publishing their taxpayer-funded research findings. The two incidents prompted a series of government employees to start secret Twitter accounts known as “alternatives” to the Trump government. While there is no evidence that some kind of coup d’etat exists nor is a cabal being coordinated by the former president, Trump continues to attack the employees.

The digital army of Alt-gov staff saw the aftermath of Harvey and recognized a desperate need to help survivors as soon as possible.

“There’s a massive gap in emergency rescue right now,” one staffer who wanted to remain anonymous told Raw Story.”The 911 system can’t handle this volume of rescue calls, and cities and federal agencies don’t yet have a system for responding to SOS calls on social media. So we created it for them.”

The @HarveyRelief account and HarveyRescue.com site pulls together a list of all of those begging for help on social media, who might not have been able to make it through the 911 backlog, busy signals and holds. Those sending out “SOS calls” and tagging them #HarveySOS are being curated into the map. Roughly 100 individuals have been helping first responders with boat rescues. It is their hope that the site can help save people’s lives by making searches and rescues more streamlined, telling boats where they need to go…

…The decision was made on Sunday when the Alt-Gov community members were talking about some of their team living in Texas.

“We were seeing that city, state and federal authorities were telling Houstonians to call 911 for rescue and not reach out via Twitter,” the staffer explained. “But there was a major disconnect – people couldn’t reach 911 and were pleading for rescue on social media.”

The staffer explained that most of those who run the Alt-Gov Twitter accounts are either current or former civil servants. They’re accustomed to seeing a problem and a need and working to fix it.

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Self-organising groups aren’t new; but in this form, from this source, they are.
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Apple to hold product launch event on Sept. 12 • WSJ

Tripp Mickle and Drew Fitzgerald:

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Apple has scheduled a product-announcement event on Sept. 12, according to people briefed on its plans, reinforcing expectations that the technology giant will release new iPhones and a smartwatch well ahead of the holiday shopping season.

The company is expected to unveil three iPhones, according to other people familiar with its plans. Those include a showcase iPhone to mark the product’s 10th anniversary that is larger and pricier and features an edge-to-edge display and facial-recognition technology, as well as updates to the two iPhone 7 models that started selling last year.

Analysts had widely reported in recent months that production glitches on the newest iPhone could cause it to be delayed. If the event proceeds on Sept. 12, its timing would be roughly consistent with iPhone launches in previous years, reassuring investors and customers that the device is on track.

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The date makes sense – the alternative was Sept 6, which seemed to close to the end of August. Aiming to use the new theatre on its new campus.

Expect phones, Watches, and a new Apple TV capable of HDR and 4K. Notable thing about the writers of this story: Mickle does lots of Apple stuff; Fitzgerald does lots of telecom and media stuff.
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Google launches ARCore SDK in preview: AR on Android phones, no extra hardware required • VentureBeat

Emil Protalinski:

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Google today launched a preview of ARCore, an Android software development kit (SDK) that brings augmented reality to existing and future Android phones without requiring additional sensors or hardware. Developers can download the SDK now and start creating new AR experiences on Android.

The ARCore preview currently supports the Google Pixel, Google Pixel XL, Samsung’s Galaxy S8, and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+. Android 7.0 Nougat or above is required. Google is hoping to have ARCore on 100 million devices by the end of the preview (no final release date was provided). Google is working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS, and others to make that happen “with a consistent bar for quality and high performance.”

Today’s launch is the next big step in Google’s plan to bring AR capabilities to more devices. ARCore is built on the work already done with Tango, the company’s augmented reality platform. Tango was first released in June 2014 and since then has only made it to a handful of devices, including just two commercial phones: Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro in August 2016 and Asus’ Zenfone AR this month.

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In brief: Google has thrown Lenovo and Asus under the bus, realising that Apple’s moves in AR with ARKit (announced in June) were far more effective than Project Tango was ever going to be. This is a rush job, but Android has such scale that hitting 100m is entirely feasible. (Apple should be on about 500m by then, and might always be ahead in pure numbers until at least five years from now.)

If you don’t think this was a rush job by Google: why didn’t it announce it at Google I/O? Instead there was more about Project Tango, on which it seemed to be all-in.

There’s going to be some furious gnashing of teeth in the Lenovo and Asus boardrooms: committing to making those specialist phones will have been expensive investments, but Google has decided (sensibly) to go with the broader base – another example, as with Android after the iPhone launch, of successfully changing course at top speed to match Apple.
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Galaxy Note8 OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out • DisplayMate

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These are just some of the Galaxy Note8 Display Highlights that we will be covering in detail throughout the article:
 
· A new 3K Higher Resolution 2960 x 1440 display that fills almost the entire front face of the phone from edge-to-edge, resulting in a larger 6.3 inch display with a 15% taller height to width Aspect Ratio of 18.5 : 9 = 2.05 than the 16 : 9 = 1.78 on most Smartphones.
 
· A new and accurate full 100% DCI-P3 Color Gamut that is also used for 4K TVs. Plus it is certified by the UHD Alliance for Mobile HDR Premium, which allows it to play all of the latest content produced for 4K UHD Premium TVs.
 
· The Native Color Gamut of the Galaxy Note8 is even larger, the result of its new high saturation “Deep Red” OLED, resulting in a very impressive 112% of DCI-P3 and 141% of sRGB / Rec.709 Gamuts that also produces better on-screen Colors in High Ambient Light.
 
· The Galaxy Note8 provides up to 22% Higher Screen Brightness than the Galaxy S8, with a record Peak Display Brightness of over 1,200 nits.

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No doubt about it: Samsung is the world’s best at OLED screens.
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The Fitbit Ionic might be the smartwatch that unseats Apple • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

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After months of leaks and hints, Fibit has finally revealed its newest wrist wearable: The $300 Fitbit Ionic. Fitbit claims up to four days of battery life, a refined OS that pairs nicely with devices running iOS, Android, and Windows, and a brand new sensor for tracking your heart rate. This smartwatch, which visually calls to mind the lovechild of an Apple Watch and a Fitbit Surge, is a natural progression for the huge wearable company. Just last year, it snapped up notable smartwatch makers Pebble and Vector for a reported $38 million. And between the almost-perfect Surge and the incredibly unattractive Blaze, Fitbit has been interested in the smartwatch sector of the wearable market for a while. This is the culmination of that interest.

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Wow! you think. With that headline, can there be any problems? Read on:

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It’s profoundly ugly—like every Fitbit that’s come before, but it could be technologically cool enough that you might not care.

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A device that you wear on your wrist which is visible to everyone, where there are non-ugly (or less-ugly) alternatives? You’re not going to care that it’s “profoundly ugly”? Priced at $300 – same as an Apple Watch – this is going to have to attract Android users, but there’s little evidence they’re interested in smartwatches.
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Thousands of Android apps use phone without your permission: eZanga • CNBC

Michelle Castillo:

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That cute cat wallpaper for your Android phone or free photo-editing software app you downloaded may be using your phone without your permission and running up fraudulent ad views, according to a recent report from online marketing firm eZanga.

EZanga used its Anura ad fraud protection software to look at one module from a software development kit (otherwise known as an SDK) that hides in apps, then activates to run advertisements and play videos while the user is not on their phone. While the person may be sleeping, the malware chews up bandwidth and battery life.

The report estimated the top apps using this SDK module, one of which could have been downloaded up to 1 million times in the Google Play store, could cost advertisers anywhere between $2m to $10m daily in fraudulent ad traffic.

On June 7, they found 312 apps with the SDK module — 53 of which were in the Google Play store. A week after, the SDK module was in 750 apps, 300 of which were in the store. Two days after that, the number ballooned to 1,330 apps, and 317 were available for purchase in the store.

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A lot of online ad stuff feels like a house of cards, and yet no matter how many times we get this story it never seems to collapse.
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Offline Only • Chris Bolin

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You must go offline to view this page.

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And once you do, he has lots of points to make about how being offline (on a computer) is a boon to productivity. I certainly agree – closing Twitter has become essential to working for me.
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Sonos speaker gains far-field mics for voice control • Zatz Not Funny!

Dave Zatz:

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While the Sonos’ April FCC filing turns out to be rather pedestrian, a brand spanking new, though heavily redacted (until February 28th) FCC filing confirms one new connected speaker with integrated voice control:

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The EUT is 802.11 a/b/g/n (HT20) Client Device. Product model S13 is a high-performance all-in-one wireless smart speaker and part of Sonos’ home sound system. S13 adds integrated voice control functionality with far field microphones. Moreover, the device will support multiple voice platforms and music services, allowing customers to effortlessly control their music on Sonos.

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So, not only will Sonos be gaining voice control from Alexa-powered hardware and apps, the streaming pioneer will also bring native hardware integration. From the included imagery, there will obviously be a mic button (or, more likely, touchable surface like the Play:5) – on what I assume is the first refresh of their entire speaker line. But will the speaker(s) also provide always listening capability like Amazon, Google, and Apple?

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There’s going to be a Sonos event on October 4, surely to introduce these. People have meanwhile been getting completely bent out of shape over the update to Sonos’s privacy policy on this. (I own a number of Sonos speakers.) It says that if you don’t update to accept the potential use of your voice data, in just the same way that Apple and Google and Amazon do, then you can’t get a software update – even on your old kit which doesn’t have that same capability. What puzzles me is why people are troubled by the idea of accepting a policy that won’t and can’t affect them. Accept the update, buy Sonos kit that doesn’t have the voice ability. Problem solved.
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My week in Lucky House: the horror of Hong Kong’s coffin homes • The Guardian

Benjamin Haas goes to the place with “some of the poorest people in the most expensive city in the world”:

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When I enter my coffin for the first time, I immediately notice the strong musty smell. I imagine the other residents in their bunks, each one roughly 60cm (two feet) wide and 170cm (5 ft 7 in) long, with only enough space to sit up. Living in such a confining space takes a mental toll but my week pales in comparison to the other residents who have been living there for months, sometimes years.

At night I can hear everything happening around me: every punch, kick and scream from my neighbour’s kung fu movie; the smacking of lips eating barbecue meat with rice; a brief argument over who will use the sole shower next and, of course, a symphony of snoring.

The next morning the sound of a plastic travel alarm clock first wakes me up at 5.30am. But in my coffin, there is almost no sense of time. It could be any hour of the day, and no natural light would reach me. For that I would have to leave my bunk and walk to the sole window at the other end of the apartment.

When I finally leave my coffin around 7.:30am, one of my neighbours is already preparing his first dose of meth for the day. Hong Kong’s coffin homes have a reputation for danger and filth, sheltering convicted criminals and drug abusers, and in my short time I saw roughly a quarter of the people regularly using drugs.

But the residents of Lucky House were also some of the friendliest people I’ve met in Hong Kong, and almost instantly welcomed me, with one person in particular keen to show me the ropes of coffin living.

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Accidental ‘fake news’ experiment • Random Public Journal

Jason Michael tweeted a Photoshopped image of a shark in some water “by a flooded road in Houston”; it went enormously viral, to his amazement. But he wondered about the people responding to it:

»

there were people like Rakesh Agrawal sending me pictures of him kissing his mother and calling me an “asshole.” I don’t know Rakesh from Adam. I thought I might have recognised his mum though. According to Twitter Rakesh founded SnapStream, “how the Daily Show gets its TV clips” apparently. He felt the need to swear at me for whatever it was about this tweet that got him upset. His annoyance was at me behaving like an “attention starved asshole,” but that he was hashtagging this abuse indicated he wanted some of that attention himself. Then I thought, wasn’t that exactly what BuzzFeed was doing, and then Mashable, the New York Times, and all the others who got on the slipstream being created by this fishy tweet?

No one really seemed to care about the victims. It was all about the attention and being able to get in for a slice of the action. Not one of the media outlets that picked up on my tweet mentioned how many people had been confirmed dead, how many were thought missing, or even provided emergency information for those affected or with family and friends in the Houston area. So far eight people have been confirmed dead. God rest them and comfort their loved ones.

This tweet, which I wish to hell I had never tweeted – truth be told, is instructive. No, I am not attempting to teach the wold a lesson. Trolling the whole of America has been a real pleasure. It has, but it is teaching me something about the power of fake news. At the time of writing it has 47,991 retweets, 68,958 likes, over four and a half thousand responses, and has reached 5,650,714 people. How did my Twitter account, with a following at the time of about 1,300 people – mainly in Scotland – do all of this in twelve hours?

Simple answer: People love this sort of sensation. They eat it up. It entertains them… Americans don’t want to hear about Trump sabre rattling with North Korea, or the possibility he might be in Putin’s pocket. So they pick up trifles that amuse them; things that are easy to understand.

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Uber’s new CEO • Stratechery

Ben Thompson has the best analysis of why the surprise choice for Uber’s new boss, formerly at Expedia, actually makes a great deal of sense:

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Most news stories are making the obvious point that Khosrowshahi is qualified because he is a CEO for a tech company in the travel industry. What is even more relevant, though, is that Khosrowshahi is the CEO of an aggregator…

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Khosrowshahi (journalists will probably build in a keyboard shortcut for his name) chose not to buy Booking.com because its margins were low, and Expedia at the time was attached to the high-margin merchant model:

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…Booking.com, unlike Expedia, had minimal transactions costs for customers and suppliers. Hotels could sign up for Booking.com on their own instead of having to negotiate a deal, which meant it was Booking.com that led the industry in growth for many years; the full payoff of owning discovery in a world of drastically reduced distribution and transaction costs comes not from extracting margin from a limited set of suppliers, but rather from expanding the market to the greatest extent possible, creating the conditions for a virtuous cycle of more customers -> more suppliers -> more customers.

To Khosrowshahi’s credit he learned this lesson: Expedia was in big trouble in the years after he took over, and one of the changes Khosrowshahi made was to add the agency model to Expedia’s properties (Expedia now has a hybrid approach). It is a lesson that will serve him well as Uber’s CEO; the fundamental mistake made in so much Uber analysis comes from believing that drivers are the key to the model. For example, there was a very popular piece of analysis some months ago premised on evaluating the cost of driving for Uber relative to driving for a traditional cab company. It was a classic example of getting the facts right and missing the point.

In fact, what makes Uber so valuable — and still so attractive, despite all of the recent troubles — is its position with riders. The more riders Uber has, the more drivers it will attract, even if the economics are worse relative to other services: driving at a worse rate is better than not driving at a better one.

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Thompson’s theory is that holding the choke point of aggregation systems is the way to get rich online. The problem is always figuring out whether you actually hold such a choke point. I’d love to know whether this thinking formed part of the Uber board’s decision-making.

Notable that the losing candidate, Meg Whitman, worked at eBay – another aggregator.
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Oct 2014: NYPD to use mobile devices loaded with Windows and Windows Phone to collar crooks • Phone Arena

“Alan F” in October 2014:

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New York’s finest will soon receive the latest in high-tech crime fighting equipment. All 35,000 officers belonging to the NYPD will be receiving a smartphone. In addition, 6000 NYPD patrol cars will be fitted with rugged tablets. It is all part of a $160m initiative designed to keep the police connected to a cellular network that gives them “expanded search capabilities.” With this feature, they can access the NYPD database on the go.

Having access to 911 calls in real time will help the officers be more prepared to answer a call, knowing exactly what they are facing. The press report indicates that the NYPD will be adding fingerprint scanners to their mobile equipment next year, in order to conduct identity checks while in the field.

Based on the tablet that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held up during the press conference, it looks like the cops will be using a Panasonic Toughbook running Windows. In fact, it would appear that all of the devices that the NYPD will be using, employ Windows or Windows Phone. While the Windows Phone platform currently doesn’t have a handset with a fingerprint scanner, there is some speculation that we will see such a device next year. Last year, a test of this system used Android phones that ran a special NYPD app that could search for some one based on their name, or conduct a search based on an officer’s current position.

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The rollout completed in mid-April 2016, when officials were claiming that the system meant officers were responding “about a minute quicker”, or 12% faster, than a year before.

Fast-forward to August 2017:

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The NYPD has to scrap the 36,000 smartphones it gave cops over the past two years because they’re already obsolete and can’t be upgraded, The Post has learned.

The city bought Microsoft-based Nokia smartphones as part of a $160m NYPD Mobility Initiative that Mayor Bill de Blasio touted as “a huge step into the 21st century.”

But just months after the last phone was handed out, officials plan to begin replacing them all with brand-new iPhones by the end of the year, sources said. The move follows Microsoft’s recent decision to stop supporting the operating system that runs the NYPD’s devices and nearly a dozen custom-engineered apps.

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This is an interesting case of “nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft”; clearly it was an enterprise contract where the Windows deal on the back-end led to a Windows deal on the front end, and damn whether it was suitable. Someone’s likely to get fired here. Even when the contract would have been under consideration, Windows Phone had only about 3% installed base in the US, and was showing absolutely no signs of improvement.

And now Apple picks up the spoils. There must be a lesson somewhere in there.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified. What a cushy job being the Reader’s Editor here.

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