Start Up: car doom nears, a week of iPhone X, Snap swoons, another Pixel 2 XL woe, and more


The patent wrangle between Samsung and Apple over this feature is finally over. Who won? Photo by Oyvind Solstad on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. That’s just the way it is. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bob Lutz: Kiss the good times goodbye • Auto News

Bob Lutz is a former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors. He also held senior executive positions with Ford, Chrysler, BMW and Opel: I

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t saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era.

The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile.

Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules.

The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway.

On the freeway, it will merge seamlessly into a stream of other modules traveling at 120, 150 mph. The speed doesn’t matter. You have a blending of rail-type with individual transportation.

Then, as you approach your exit, your module will enter deceleration lanes, exit and go to your final destination. You will be billed for the transportation. You will enter your credit card number or your thumbprint or whatever it will be then. The module will take off and go to its collection point, ready for the next person to call.

Most of these standardized modules will be purchased and owned by the Ubers and Lyfts and God knows what other companies that will enter the transportation business in the future.

A minority of individuals may elect to have personalized modules sitting at home so they can leave their vacation stuff and the kids’ soccer gear in them. They’ll still want that convenience.

The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

The tipping point will come when 20 to 30% of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9% of the accidents.

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One week with the iPhone X • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

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I’m loving iPhone X in almost all the places I use it. The gestures are becoming second nature to me. But there’s one use case where it doesn’t really work: laying on a table. And it doesn’t work there for several reasons. The sizable camera bump makes the whole thing unstable. Facing straight up, the Face ID camera can’t see me, so I can’t unlock my phone without leaning way over the table or picking the phone up. And attention detection can’t detect me, so after 30 seconds the screen dims.

I hadn’t realized how much I left an iPhone unlocked on a table for a minute or two. The iPhone X is more aggressive about locking the phone (and dimming the display), and Face ID is no help. I suppose in the end, the phone will train me—but right now it’s one of the areas where my old way of using my iPhone no longer seems to apply.

I’m dissatisfied with the relegation of Control Center to the upper right corner of the screen. That corner is inaccessible to me when I’m using the phone one handed. (I can shimmy my hand around a bit and reach high spots on the screen, but the upper right corner is just too far away.) It’s all made me realize how often I used Control Center functions.

Perhaps Apple will add some feature to make Control Center more accessible. I like this idea from my pal Lex Friedman, who suggests that the optional Reachability shortcut (swipe down in the home indicator area) could be mapped to other functions, including Control Center, instead. Sounds like a great idea to me.

While we’re at it, I’d like the buttons on the lock screen to be customizable as well. It’s great that I can turn on the flashlight with one pleasant, haptic-filled 3D touch command from the lock screen. It’s great that I can activate the camera with a similar gesture (though it’s also redundant, since I can swipe from right to left to do the same thing). It would be even greater to drop a couple other commonly used Control Center features on there.

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The Reachability/Control Center idea is a good one. (Reachability is off by default on the X, unlike previous phones since the 6.) I can see that the timer, say, or alarm might be useful on the lock screen.
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The iPhone X is a user experience nightmare • Fast Company

Jesus Diaz:

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You’re looking at a UX disaster, the result of eliminating what is probably the simplest, most intuitive form of navigation ever implemented in consumer electronics: the iPhone’s home button. The iPhone X replaces it with the mess above. This is bad news, because this interaction is a fundamental part of the user experience.

Joanna Stern’s review for the Wall Street Journal–which still concludes that, “Yes, There Are Reasons to Pay Apple $1,000”–documents what this means in detail: “[T]he lack of a home button means your thumb is about to turn into one of those inflatable waving tube-men outside the car dealership [. . .] you must master a list of thumb wiggles, waves and swipes [. . .] the other gestures, however, are buried. Many moves require almost surgical precision.” Heather Kelly, for CNN Money, adds her own experience: “To fill the void left by the Home button, the iPhone X has added new gestures (the different swipes you make with a finger). The process of learning them is a pain, and some of the new options are more work than before.” The Verge declared that “there’s a whole new system of gestures and swipes to learn and master, and many of them will be annoying to remember and difficult to perform with just one hand.”

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Always good to include a piece that is categorically wrong. I’m fairly confident that if Steve Jobs could have introduced a phone without a home button, he’d have been over the moon.
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Apple has finally won $120m from Samsung patent battle • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

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After years of sparring in the courts, Apple has once and for all claimed victory over Samsung to the count of $120m. The Supreme Court said today that it wouldn’t hear an appeal of the patent infringement case, first decided in 2014, which has been bouncing through appeals courts in the years since.

The case revolved around Apple’s famous slide-to-unlock patent and, among others, its less-famous quick links patent, which covered software that automatically turned information like a phone number into a tappable link. Samsung was found to have infringed both patents. The ruling was overturned almost two years later, and then reinstated once again less than a year after that. From there, Samsung appealed to the Supreme Court, which is where the case met its end today.

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Thank god that’s finished. But: there’s still another part, over $1bn (reduced to $400m) which returns to court in May.
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Opinion: Broadcom will kill Qualcomm • PC Magazine

Sascha Segan:

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“Broadcom” is actually a company called Avago, a spin-off of Hewlett-Packard that, in recent years, has spent as much time and energy buying, dismembering, cutting costs on, and selling off parts of other companies as it has inventing things. This has resulted in great financial performance, but not so much in the way of innovation. The company is run by Hock Tan, who Fortune describes as a “finance geek,” not an innovator.

This isn’t always a bad or a good thing, in the big picture. There’s a lot of consolidation going on in the chip industry right now, and if companies can come together in a way that preserves competition and improves their ability to create great products, I’d say more power to them.

But that’s not the general opinion of Avago among technology-focused analysts. On Twitter, Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy, who has three decades of knowledge about chips, says “Broadcom would slice, dice, destroy.”

Anshel Sag, also at Moor, says, “Buy. Chop up. Sell off. Raise prices. Rinse. Repeat.”

How about Ben Wood from CCS Insight? “Still astounded this has even got this far.”

Broadcom is also doing a suspiciously shifty thing right now in moving its nominal headquarters from Singapore to the US, possibly to avoid regulatory scrutiny over this deal. On Twitter, analyst Neil Shah of Counterpoint Research says this is a “smokescreen” where “core HR/finance” will still be controlled in Singapore.

Bloomberg quotes more Wall Street-esque analysts as saying that the Broadcom buy could smooth things over with Apple (Broadcom and Apple get along) and increase revenue. But there’s nary a word in there about innovation, merely about squeezing more milk out of the existing cows.

And even if Broadcom doesn’t want to sell off parts of Qualcomm, it may have to. The joined company’s control over Wi-Fi chipsets may be so great it would trigger antitrust scrutiny, dragging both companies down a rabbit hole as they try to shed whatever parts would maintain competition.

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Mattress company shutters web publication, pivots to print • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

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Mattress brand Casper is launching a print magazine and shuttering Van Winkle’s, the sleep-focused online publication it launched in 2015.

The company said its new magazine, titled Woolly, will be published multiple times a year and focus on themes including comfort, wellness and modern life. It will be bundled free with some Casper products and available for $12 per issue from Casper’s retail stores and website.

Companies have flocked to so-called content marketing in recent years in an attempt to align their brands with certain topics and issues without relying on straight-forward advertising. The tactic has become prevalent online, but some companies, such as Airbnb, have since taken the approach offline with their own branded print products.

But according to Casper, Woolly shouldn’t be viewed as marketing designed simply to drive mattress sales. Rather, it says it wants to use it as a vehicle to link the company to subjects it “believes in.”

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Casper is behaving very strangely recently. Recall this article about “the war to sell you a mattress is an internet nightmare” from last month.
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Experimenting to solve cramming • Twitter Engineering

Lucile Lu works on data science at Twitter:

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When we make a decision as significant as changing the number of characters available for Tweeting, we need to know it’s right. How do we figure that out? Through a rigorous evaluation process to ensure any change — especially one at the core of who we’ve been for more than a decade – improves everyone’s experience on Twitter.

We started looking at making a change to our 140-character limit by performing a tweet-length analysis to validate our hypotheses that more characters for certain languages would lead to less frustration with Tweeting and fewer abandoned Tweets. We took caution and abundant pre-experiment preparation to ensure that we would get reliable data and meaningful results.

Usually, any new feature we test requires just one experiment. As discussed earlier, however, we were anticipating regional heterogeneity: people from different countries send Tweets at different lengths and would react differently since they’d be affected by the experiment in different ways. So, how do we control for this?

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Still don’t like it, though the rationale for having longer tweets in different languages – to be equivalent to what you get from 140 in English – is fair.
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Snap plunges again as revenue, user growth underwhelm • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

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Snap’s difficult run as a young public company continued on Tuesday, after it posted revenues and user growth below Wall Street’s forecasts and was hit by a $40m charge related to unsold supplies of its Spectacles video-camera sunglasses.

As Snap’s stock plunged 18% in after-hours trading, Evan Spiegel, co-founder and chief executive, warned of further uncertainty ahead as it overhauls its app, in an attempt to win a broader audience.

Snapchat saw daily active users grow 17% year-on-year to 178m, adding just 5m in the last three months, with revenues up 126% year-on-year to $208m. On the plus side, Snap’s adjusted losses per share were 1 cent better than expected at 14 cents, and free cash outflows narrowed compared with a year earlier, even as net losses for the quarter more than tripled to $443m.

In response to growing pressure from investors, Mr Spiegel took the unusual step of laying out details of its product roadmap for the coming year — including a redesign to the main Snapchat app, which he said “will be disruptive to our business in the short term”.

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Snap has a problem: Facebook can copy it faster and on a bigger scale. It looks a bit like Apple in the desktop days v Microsoft, except Apple could move faster than Microsoft. If Microsoft had been able to copy Apple’s ideas and implement them faster than Apple, there’d have been no iPhone – maybe even no iPod. (Muse on that.)
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EU’s Vestager seeking details on Apple’s recent tax setup • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

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European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who issued the record back-tax bill against Apple in August 2016, said she wanted to make sure the company now complies with the bloc’s rules which ban unfair state aid.

“I have been asking for an update on the arrangement made by Apple, the recent way they have been organized, in order to get the feeling whether or not this is in accordance with our European rules but that remains to be seen,” Vestager told a news briefing at an international tech summit in Lisbon.

“We are looking into this of course without any kind of prejudice, just to get the information,” she said.

Vestager said her request preceded reports based on the “Paradise Papers” which showed that Apple shifted key parts of its business to Jersey as an offshore tax haven in a move to maintain a low tax rate. Apple has said no operations were moved from Ireland.

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Why Google is in breach of the EC’s June 2017 prohibition decision • Foundem

Another forensic examination of the economics behind Google’s somewhat cynical “solution” to the EC’s ruling. I don’t understand why Margrethe Vestager allows Google to use such an obviously non-compliant solution, and why she doesn’t just hire Foundem to do the analysis of each proposal. Shivaun and Adam Raff have called every shot correctly in this long, sad saga – so far, they’re nearly a decade into Google abusing its control of search results to squash their company, which had a solution Google couldn’t compete with.
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What Carter Page told House Russia investigators • Bloomberg

Billy House and Shannon Pettypiece:

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Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, refused last week to give a congressional committee documents related to the Russia investigation because he said they might not all “match up” with information from earlier wiretaps that caught his conversations.

The House Intelligence Committee Monday night released a 243-page transcript of his lengthy appearance behind closed doors with its Russia probe. Page, who said he never met or spoke with Trump, said that he did have contact with Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip in Moscow. But he insisted he wasn’t doing so as a representative of the Trump camp. 

“Unfortunately, I am the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign,” he told the panel.

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1) crowded field
2) wiretaps – plural??
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CIA director met advocate of disputed DNC hack theory — at Trump’s request • The Intercept

Duncan Campbell and James Risen:

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CIA director Mike Pompeo met late last month with a former US intelligence official who has become an advocate for a disputed theory that the theft of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign was an inside job, rather than a hack by Russian intelligence.

Pompeo met on October 24 with William Binney, a former National Security Agency official-turned-whistleblower who co-authored an analysis published by a group of former intelligence officials that challenges the US intelligence community’s official assessment that Russian intelligence was behind last year’s theft of data from DNC computers. Binney and the other former officials argue that the DNC data was “leaked,” not hacked, “by a person with physical access” to the DNC’s computer system.

In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said.

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Well, the FBI met a company which insisted that the Sony Pictures hack was an inside job. Didn’t change the FBI’s mind. I doubt Binney’s contra-rotating eyes had an impact on the FBI’s view of this case, but it got Trump to stop fulminating.
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Some Google Pixel 2 XL oleophobic coatings are already wearing off, leaving behind smudges • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:

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As much as we love the Google Pixel 2 XL, saying it has a few issues is, unfortunately, an understatement. LG’s OLED display has been disappointing in more ways than one, with burn-in being the biggest sore point. Many can look past those issues, but now another one is popping up with problems regarding the oleophobic coating.

Almost every Android smartphone ships with an oleophobic coating on the glass, and the purpose of that is to help make fingerprints easier to get off of the display. In short, it keeps the oil from your fingertips from adhering to the glass, and it also makes water easier to wipe away.

Over time, this coating wears off, but it usually takes at least a few months or years of intense usage. On the Pixel 2 XL, however, some owners are having this come up within just a couple of weeks.

Reports on Google’s product forums as well as Reddit reveal that the oleophobic coating at least on some Pixel 2 XL devices may be pretty weak, rubbing off easily. While some cases are certainly worse than others, this doesn’t sound good for how this phone will age.

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Oh man. (Also: almost every Android smartphone ships with an oleophobic coating?) Looks like LG isn’t going to get that contract renewed.
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