Start Up: watch Apple’s Watch, another Equifax boob, Google buying (some) HTC, and more


Cord cutting – abandoning cable subscriptions – is accelerating in the US. Photo by Jason Rosenberg on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Virtually. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A week on the wrist: the Apple Watch Series 3 Edition • Hodinkee

Benjamin Clymer reviews mechanical watches; and now he’s reviewing the Apple Watch:

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In the few days I’ve been using the Series 3 Edition as my only communication device, I’ve found myself checking Instagram less. Texting less. Dickin’ around on the web less. I use the watch to text or make phone calls when I need to – and that’s it. My definition of “need” has changed completely – and frankly I don’t miss having my phone in my pocket at all.

Is it more cumbersome to respond to emails and texts? Sure, but Siri in the new watchOS 4 is so dialed-in that mistakes seldom happen in dictation, and there is a nice “scribble” function where you can essentially write what you want to say with your finger – it’s definitely good enough for quick responses – and, as I’ve strangely discovered over the last few days, life goes on if emails go unanswered for an hour or two…

…I think this Friday, as the Apple Watch Series 3 begins to deliver all over the world, we are about to begin a new chapter for smartwatches and perhaps for watches in general. Will Swiss watchmaking do as Nokia did with the iPhone and downplay the threat until it’s far too late? Or will Swiss watchmaking thrive due to the very reason that it stands for hand-craft, longevity, and multi-generational appeal – the very antithesis of most digital products? The answer is likely neither one nor the other. The watch industry doesn’t move as a whole – some resist, some accept. Now the question becomes where each brand will stand as the dust settles on what is very likely a new era for the watch world, all ushered in by the Apple Watch Series 3.

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Apple acknowledges cellular connectivity problem in new Watch • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

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Apple acknowledged problems with cellular connectivity in its newest smartwatch, raising questions about the device’s most significant feature days before it goes on sale in stores in the U.S. and other countries.

In a statement Wednesday, Apple said the problem connecting to cellular networks occurs when the Apple Watch Series 3—the first watch from Apple to feature an LTE chip for cellular service—joins “unauthenticated Wi-Fi wireless networks without connectivity.” Apple said it is “investigating a fix for a future software release.”

Apple issued the statement after reviewers from The Wall Street Journal and the Verge encountered problems at times making calls, connecting with the Siri virtual assistant and maintaining a cellular-network connection. The Journal ran into issues across multiple wireless carriers…

…The new Apple Watch with LTE goes on sale in stores Friday for $399, and been available for preorder online since Sept. 15. The promise it can operate independently of an iPhone or Wi-Fi has raised sales expectations…

…What is holding the watch back from mass-market appeal is that it is still too focused on health and fitness, said Jitesh Ubrani, a smartwatch analyst with IDC. Apple needs developers to make different kinds of apps so the watch can become a “need to have” device. Cellular capability “gives them a chance,” he said.

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Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in iOS 11’s Control Center doesn’t actually turn off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

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when you toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off from the iPhone’s Control Center—the somewhat confusing menu that appears when you swipe up from the bottom of the phone—it actually doesn’t completely turn them off. While that might sound like a bug, that’s actually what Apple intended in the new operating system. But security researchers warn that users might not realize this and, as a consequence, could leave Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on without noticing.

“It is stupid,” Collin Mulliner, a security researcher who’s studied Bluetooth for years, told Motherboard in a Twitter chat. “It is not clear for the user.”

To be clear, and to be fair, this behavior is exactly what Apple wants. In its own documentation, the company says that “in iOS 11 and later, when you toggle the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth buttons in Control Center, your device will immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth accessories. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will continue to be available.” That is because Apple wants the iPhone to be able to continue using AirDrop, AirPlay, Apple Pencil, Apple Watch, Location Services, and other features, according to the documentation.

Motherboard tested this behavior on an iPhone with iOS 11 installed and verified that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi remain on in the settings after turning them off in the Control Center, as some users have started to notice.

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OK, so let’s get all the iOS 11 bugs/features (this one’s intentional) out of the way early on.
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ARise is an AR puzzle-platformer for ARKit • UploadVR

Jamie Feltham:

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Unlike VR, AR’s rise in relevance hasn’t largely been fuelled by gaming (save for the enormous success of Pokemon Go). That’s why we’re so interested to see the first games for Apple’s new ARKit. Arise is one of those games.

This is the latest project from Climax Studios, the developer of VR games like Lola and the Giant, Balloon Chair Death Match and even some Google Tango apps. It looks like a clever evolution of puzzle-platformer games like Echochrome using the new positional tracking featured in ARKit. You help clear a path for a tiny knight that journeys through virtual levels that appear in the real world through your phone. Check out the first trailer below.

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As a side note, I think that UploadVR will find itself writing many more AR stories in the near future.
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Fake Russian ads could have very real implications for Facebook • AdExchanger

Allison Schiff:

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“One of the radical things Facebook has done is to take the interfaces and dashboards that only people in ad tech ops used to look at and make them available to anyone with a credit card,” [professor of media design at The New Schoo, and Facebook critic David] Carroll said. “And now we’ve seen the effects of putting industrial-strength ad targeting tools into the hands of ordinary people and even foreign state adversaries.”

But that’s not to say Facebook puts out the welcome mat for anything and everything. Facebook’s ad quality team, which is now headed by ad tech vet Rob Leathern, is constantly vetting content in an never-ending game of cat and mouse.

“That’s why you’re not seeing nudity or iPad fill-out-this poll scams like you used to, and why people under 21 or people in Saudi Arabia don’t see ads for alcohol,” said former Facebook exec and “Chaos Monkeys” author Antonio Garcia Martinez, who led the team that built Facebook’s ad exchange and also helmed the ad quality crew in 2012, right around the time of the second Obama election.

“This content is tagged using machine learning and goes to a special workflow,” Garcia Martinez said. “There’s no reason Facebook couldn’t do this with political content as well.”

Facebook has long demurred that it’s a platform rather than a publisher. But current events are pushing Facebook to take more responsibility for the news and ad content it distributes, as well as to be more proactive in finding out who’s making money off the content or paying for ads.

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Martinez’s intervention is notable.
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Yet another report says the rate of TV cord cutting is worse than anybody thought • Techdirt

Karl Bode:

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we’re slowly but surely reaching the point where the rise of the streaming video revolution can’t be denied, with data indicating it’s worse than anybody thought. While the pay TV sector lost another 1 million subscribers last quarter, those totals don’t factor in those that bought a new home or rented a new apartment, but chose not to sign up for cable. Many of these folks are dubbed “cord nevers,” having never bought into the value proposition of paying $130 more per month for a bloated bundle of largely-unwatched reality TV channels from a company that treats paying customers with disdain.

Meanwhile, a new report by eMarketer this week indicates that the pace of customer defections is notably higher than most previous estimates. The firm notes that it was forced to reduce its estimate for US TV ad spending due to faster-than-expected growth in cord-cutting:

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“eMarketer expected a slowdown this year in TV ad sales, after 2016 benefited from both the Olympics and US presidential election,” said Monica Peart, eMarketer’s senior forecasting director. “However, traditional TV advertising is slowing even more than expected, as viewers switch their time and attention to the growing list of live streaming and over-the-top [OTT] platforms.”

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All told, the firm predicts that by the end of this year, there will be 22.2 million consumers over the age of eighteen that have cut the cord, up 33.2% since 2016. And while there’s still a whopping 196.3 million US adults that subscribe to traditional pay TV (cable, satellite, or telco), that tally is down 2.4% over 2016 levels, with the defection rate only accelerating. The cause? A strange idea known as competition and, by proxy, lower prices…

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US TV probably hasn’t had to realise how awful it is for years. The growth of rivals – free (YouTube) and paid-for (Netflix et al) – is exposing its structural weaknesses, and particularly the intrusiveness of its advertising.
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Still a long road ahead in fight against digital extremism • Demos

Alex Krasodomski-Jones critiques The Policy Exchange’s new report “The New Netwar“:

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the increasing difficulty of finding Islamist material on major platforms, and the growing importance of alternative platforms like Telegram (referred to by Fisher as a “multiplatform zeitgeist”) could be hailed as a success on the part of Twitter. Indeed, the recommendations make this explicit, calling for the big companies to drive the extremist content off their platforms.

The long and short of it is that moderating platforms of this scale is extraordinarily difficult. It becomes even more difficult when dealing with the content described. A simple example of this emerges from the report itself: one survey question asked respondents to ‘draw the line’ on extreme content – does it, for instance, contain murder, assault, or even just hateful speech without incitement to violence? The report recommends the Commission for Countering Extremism draw up a definition of extremism based on promoting violence or hatred.

But what about the thousands of images of tractors and shopping centres circulated by Islamic State and shown in the research supporting the recommendations? Only a small percentage of content circulated by these extremist groups is actually violent, focusing instead on utopian arguments of state-building and victimhood narratives. What do we do about this stuff? The language of extremism is nuanced, ever-changing and far from universally violent. This is not only a challenge to law and law enforcement, but a challenge to designing technology.

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Equifax just sent hack victims to a fake phishing site • Mashable

Jack Morse:

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Following a data breach of this size, it’s not unusual to see websites pop up that mimic official help pages. Typically, the goal of these phishing sites is to trick worried consumers into handing over their personal information. In this case, Equifax created a very real site — https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com — where people can enter their last name along with the last six digits of their social security number to see if they were affected by the hack. 

Unsurprisingly, someone cloned that site and hosted that copy at a very similar URL: https://securityequifax2017.com. The two sites, one real and one fake, look the same to the casual observer. In fact, they are so easily confused that Equifax itself apparently can’t tell the difference. 

If you look closely at the above pictured Twitter exchange, you’ll see that someone operating the Equifax account named Tim linked to the fake website. The timestamp on the tweet is from September 19, and the tweet was still up as of the morning of September 20 (it was deleted during the course of writing this story). 

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Google to buy part of phone maker HTC • WSJ

Dana Mattioli, Jack Nicas and Dan Strumpf:

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Alphabet Inc.’s Google is set to buy part of struggling Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC, according to people familiar with the situation, part of the search giant’s latest effort to crack the handset market.

The acquisition, which could be announced as soon as Wednesday afternoon, is for HTC’s mobile-phone original design operations, according to the people. Google chose HTC, a longtime Google supplier, as its contract manufacturer for the high-end Pixel phone that Google launched last year, partly as a challenge to Apple Inc.

HTC, based in Taiwan, suspended trading of its shares Wednesday pending an announcement. HTC’s market capitalization is about US$1.9bn. The value or size of the division Google is set to buy is unclear…

With the acquisition, Google may get deeper access to HTC’s research and development, as well as sales and distribution channels, analysts said. That could help Google as it seeks to make a bigger splash in the increasingly competitive smartphone market as it prepares to launch an updated version of the Pixel this fall.

The deal shows “Google is very serious about building its own hardware,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

Taiwanese media previously reported the planned deal.

Google’s interest in the HTC unit extends beyond the Pixel, one of the people said, as the assets could also come into play for future Google products. HTC’s virtual-reality headset, called Vive, is one of the top sellers in the nascent category. It isn’t clear if any Google acquisition would include Vive.

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Compared to the amount Google lost on the Motorola acquisition and disposal (I reckon a couple of billion), HTC is chickenfeed.
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Here is the Pixel 2 in “Kinda Blue,” White, and Black – starting at $649 • Droid Life

“Kellen:

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From what we can tell, it’ll arrive in three colorways and match the Pixel 2 XL in terms of storage, while sticking to prices very similar to last year’s original smaller Pixel.

The Pixel 2 will arrive in Kinda Blue, Just Black, and Clearly White. It’ll be sold with 64GB and 128GB of storage and priced at $649 and $749, respectively. Like the Pixel 2 XL, financing will be available for each storage option. The 64GB Pixel 2 will cost $27.04/mo over 24 months and the 128GB model will cost $31/21/mo.

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The XL will cost $840 (64GB) and $949 (128GB). These are made by LG, rather than HTC. Any arguments that this is a Veblen good?
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Uk PC prices have risen 30% in a year since the EC referendum • The Register

Paul Kunert:

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The average trade price of computers in Britain shot up by almost a third in the past year since the EU referendum, though a weakened pound might not tell the whole story.

According to distributor data collated by channel analyst CONTEXT, average sales prices (ASPs) for desktops, notebooks and workstations reached £480 in July and August, up 30% on the same months in the prior year.

Component shortages in areas including memory, a shift to higher-spec machines and fewer sales to lower-margin retailers were also behind the hike, Marie-Christine Pygott, CONTEXT senior analyst, told The Reg.

“But it looks like currency issues had the biggest impact,” she said. The average price of PCs sold by distributors in the Eurozone went up 12% year-on-year during the period in question.

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Note that this is trade price. But PCs are now getting squeezed by the demands of smartphones for memory and components.
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