Start Up: the Android view of iPhone X (and bigger?), Facebook’s fake profile business, is Huawei stiffing Qualcomm?, and more

Let the machines do the translation. We might benefit. Or not. Photo by earlynovelsdatabase on Flickr.

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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

iPhone X: the Android Central review • Android Central

Daniel Bader really likes FaceID (Samsung’s versions don’t come close, he shows), but finds much of the rest in the hardware side a wash. But then you come to responsiveness – iOS is way ahead, he says – and apps:


I want to believe, now that we’re in 2017 and not 2012, that developers care as deeply about feature parity on Android, but they don’t: the best indie apps still don’t come to Android (although one can argue, and I’d agree in some cases, that the indie app scene is extremely vibrant on Android — just in a way that doesn’t make them much money); games arrive months late, if at all; and beloved products, especially camera-based networks like Instagram and Snapchat, lack specific features or optimizations that drive me crazy.

My banking app, for instance, brought Touch ID (and, thanks to transferrable APIs, Face ID) support to its iOS app two years ago; the Android version forces me to enter my password like a chump every time. My favorite writing app, Bear, has no intention of building an Android version, and my formerly favorite meal-planning app, Grocery King, hasn’t updated its Android app in over two years.

Of course, given that I spent the vast majority of my year with Android, I have come up with viable cross-platform alternatives — Google Docs is pretty good, and Mealime is great, too — but it still feels like Android apps play second fiddle to their iOS counterparts…


But he finds things he still prefers on Android:


…After spending any length of time with iOS, a few things really stand out to me: notifications are still much better on Android; the typing experience is more enjoyable on Android; using Android is much more flexible; and the variety of Android hardware is breathtaking.

Notifications are among the most critical details in any operating system today, and Android nailed it years ago and only continues to get better with every iteration. Google’s lead in this regard is so absolute it might as well as insurmountable. In contrast, I loathe dealing with notifications on the iPhone.


(Thanks Papanic for the pointer.)
link to this extract

KGI: Apple to launch 6.5in ‘iPhone X Plus’ and lower-priced 6.1in full-screen LCD model next year • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:


Apple will launch a trio of new iPhone models in 2018, including 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch models with OLED displays and a 6.1-inch model with an LCD display, according to respected KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

Kuo believes all three models will be equipped with a full-screen notched design and TrueDepth camera system like the iPhone X.

Kuo expects the 5.8-inch model to have 458 pixels per inch, suggesting the second-generation iPhone X’s display will likely continue to have a resolution of 1,125×2,436. He said the 6.5-inch model will have roughly 480 to 500 PPI, while the 6.1-inch model is estimated to have between 320 and 330 PPI.

In his latest research note, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo said the 6.1-inch model will have a lower-resolution LCD display and target the low-end and mid-range markets with an estimated $649 to $749 starting price in the United States.


So the tweener model is the LCD? One assumes the smaller SE will live on. Apple’s in no hurry to phase out LCD: the screens are way cheaper, with a better profit margin for it.

(Also, one notes that the rumour mill is well underway when most people haven’t decided about buying this year’s model. This is the point in the year when Apple is locking down designs for next year, so Kuo may be optimistic here.)
link to this extract

Inside the fake Facebook profile industry •

Jeff Yates:


There’s more than one way to lie in order to achieve success on social media. I’ve been covering fake news and online disinformation for three years now, and I thought I’d seen it all. But a Facebook profile by the name of Béatrice Boistard really gave me pause.

She was gorgeous, she was mysterious and she had created an online audience of several hundred thousand followers. The thing is, she also stole the identities of handicapped or sick people to get it.

So began the strangest investigation of my career, which catapulted me into the kaleidoscopic world of fake Facebook profiles, where nothing is real.

I first got acquainted with Béatrice’s profile in February 2016. She would regularly share pictures of amputated or bald people, asking her followers to write “amen” in the comments section. Why? Because “no one loves me since I got cancer”, or “my husband left me because I lost my legs.”

These posts invariably got thousands of likes, comments and shares on Facebook. It’s no surprise, then, that Béatrice’s page has over 671,000 followers. That’s significantly more than major Canadian news outlets such as the National Post and the Toronto Star and almost as many as the Globe and Mail…

…Surely, this must be about money, I thought. In fact, certain posts within the network send links to fraudulent websites, where you are asked to enter your credit card information. But I also believed that these fake accounts were used in sextortion schemes. The report by Corde sensible confirmed this.

This all suggests that this massive network is used primarily to attract men online and send them careening towards different fraudulent schemes. But by analyzing the network, I was able to determine that different accounts play different roles. All of them co-operate to create a huge trap that filters potential victims in order to find the most vulnerable targets.


This gets very weird. But it’s a rewarding read.
link to this extract

She warned of ‘peer-to-peer misinformation’; Congress listened • The New York Times

Sheera Frankel:


“We were monitoring closely to see when the [social media] companies gave misleading or partial answers [to the US Congress] so that we could follow up,” said Renee DiResta, 36, who became immersed in disinformation campaigns in her spare time outside of her job as a founder and head of marketing at Haven, a shipping technology company.

How a small group of self-made experts came to advise Congress on disinformation campaigns is a testament to just how long tech companies have failed to find a solution to the problem. For years, the informal group — about a dozen or so people — have meticulously logged data and published reports on how easy it was to manipulate social media platforms.

In 2016, they monitored thousands of Twitter accounts that suddenly started using bots, or automated accounts, to spread salacious stories about the Clinton family. They watched as multiple Facebook pages, appearing out of nowhere, organized to simultaneously create anti-immigrant events. Nearly all of those watching were hobbyists, logging countless hours outside their day jobs.

“When I put it all together and started mapping it out, I saw how big the scale of it was,” said Jonathan Albright, who met Ms. DiResta through Twitter. Mr. Albright published a widely read report that mapped, for the first time, connections between conservative sites putting out fake news. He did the research as a “second job” outside his position as research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

Senate and House staff members, who knew of Ms. DiResta’s expertise through her public reports and her previous work advising the Obama administration on disinformation campaigns, had contacted her and others to help them prepare for the hearings.


Diresta and Albright are two people to really watch: their outputs on this topic are always useful.
link to this extract

Missouri Attorney-general Josh Hawley launches investigation of Google • The Kansas City Star


Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office on Monday issued a subpoena to Google as part of an investigation into whether the tech giant is violating Missouri’s consumer protection and anti-trust laws.

The investigation delves into Google’s collection of data on users and whether Google, the world’s most popular search engine, has manipulated search results at the expense of competitors, according to a release from Hawley’s office.

“When a company has access to as much consumer information as Google does, it’s my duty to ensure they are using it appropriately,” said Hawley, a Republican who is mounting a campaign for U.S. Senate. “I will not let Missouri consumers and businesses be exploited by industry giants.”

Patrick Lenihan, Google’s spokesman, said in an email that the company has not yet received the subpoena. Lenihan said Google has “strong privacy protections in place for our users and continue to operate in a highly competitive and dynamic environment.”


He’s also looking at whether Google “misappopriated content from competitors”. The FTC looked into all this back in 2010 and dropped the case. I wonder how much Hawley fits into the Bannonite wing of the party, given that the latter wants Google declared a utility. But quite why he thinks it would be an electoral asset to run a campaign against a search engine that pretty much everyone uses is hard to know.
link to this extract

The offline solution to online hate • Demos Quarterly

Jamie Bartlett:


Social media platforms are right to get rid of content that’s illegal when they are informed about it – and perhaps they could streamline it a little more. But they cannot reasonably be expected to find every case of hate crime, nor proactively seek it all out. And there are some sorts of hateful content that do deserve the full weight of the law. But the truth is neither law nor tech will rid us of the problem.

Both of these approaches are in some sense lazy: a superficial effort to deal with a human problem through technocratic means. The only answer is a long-term, hard slog: the task of teaching society to be decent. The task of educating young people about the responsibilities of life online and what it’s like to get bullied. The task of parents raising their children to understand the value of civility – or in some cases, children teaching their parents.

After all, if offline and online crime is the same, perhaps the root causes are similar too: decades of research has found that anti-social behaviour offline is driven by complicated and overlapping causes, including poor parental supervision, low school achievement, anti-social parents, low family income, antisocial peers. In other words, deep rooted social problems that are far more complex than even the most sophisticated algorithm or CPS guidelines could ever fix. Until we deal with any of these issues, online bullying, hate and cruelty will continue to exist, and even the best intentioned law or tech-led approach will not solve it.


This feels a bit like “solve society, because social networks are fine”. That’s not exactly what he’s saying, but it does matter that social networks as presently set up try to generate feedback loops in behaviour; they don’t care what behaviour as long as there’s more of it, on their platform, where they can show ads in the meantime. (I know Jamie a little, from having shared a platform; he’s very knowledgeable and experienced on deep dark web stuff and what people get up to online.)
link to this extract

Android camp reportedly seeking to renegotiate royalties with Qualcomm • Digitimes

Cage Chao and Steve Shen:


The Android camp could follow the steps of Apple to temporarily suspend royalty payments to Qualcomm aiming to force the US-based chip vendors back to the negotiating table to work out “fairer” royalty schemes, according to industry sources.

In fact, Qualcomm revealed at its latest investors conference that a China-based smartphone brand has already discontinued royalty payments for the use of Qualcomm’s patented technologies. Qualcommm did not identify the China client, but it is believed it is Huawei as the vendor, according to the sources.

With Huawei’s smartphone shipments reaching about 150m units a year and with an ASP of US$300, Hauwei’s royalty payments could account for 5-10% of Qualcomm’s annual royalty income, the source noted.

Leveraging on its own base station technology and many related patents, Huawei has the bargianing chip to suspend payments to Qualcomm, the sources added.

Meanwhile, Samsung, possessing a wide range of mobile technologies and patents of its own, could also suspend its payments to Qualcomm, the sources said.


If Huawei and Samsung suspended payments, Qualcomm would be in big trouble. That would be the three largest smartphone makers, all in dispute with it.

Also: quite a burial of the lede, as they say. Huawei has stopped paying Qualcomm?! Huge if true.
link to this extract

Qualcomm rejects Broadcom’s takeover bid • WSJ

Ted Greenwald:


Qualcomm rejected Broadcom Ltd.’s unsolicited $105 billion offer, setting up a potentially hostile showdown between two giants of the chip industry over what would be the biggest technology takeover ever.

A combination of the two would create a huge company whose chips manage communications for consumer devices and appliances, phone-service providers and data centers.

In a statement Monday, Qualcomm’s board said the offer, which Broadcom submitted last week, dramatically undervalues the company and comes with significant regulatory uncertainty.

Broadcom said Monday it remains committed to the deal. “We continue to believe our proposal represents the most attractive, value-enhancing alternative available to Qualcomm stockholders,” Broadcom CEO Hock Tan said in a prepared statement.


Wonder how the Huawei/Apple/Samsung stuff feeds into this. Though generally, the feeling in the industry is that this would be a bad transaction. Qualcomm’s better off on its own.
link to this extract

Finding the right color palettes for data visualizations • Graphiq

Samantha Zhang:


Rather than diving in head first and creating our own color palette, we started by conducting some research on existing color palettes around the web. Surprisingly, we found that few are actually designed for complex charts and data visualizations. We identified several reasons as to why we couldn’t use existing color palettes:

Problem 1: Low Accessibility

Many of the color palettes we looked at were not designed for visualizations. Not only do they not vary enough in brightness, but they were often not created with accessibility in mind. Flat UI Colors is one of the most widely used color palettes out there, and it’s easy to see why: it looks great. But, as its name indicates, it’s designed for user interfaces. Those who are color blind may find it difficult to interpret a data visualization that uses the Flat UI palette:


Useful. I struggle to find good palettes for graph colours with the knowledge that colour-blind people will also want to look at them. (Via Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning newsletter.)
link to this extract

Google will remove Play Store apps that use Accessibility Services for anything except helping disabled users • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:


For years, Android has allowed apps to modify the behavior of other applications, using Accessibility Services. While the intended purpose is for developers to create apps for users with disabilities, the API is often used for other functionality (to overlay content, fill in text fields, etc.). LastPass, Universal Copy, Clipboard Actions, Cerberus, Tasker, and Network Monitor Mini are just a few examples of applications heavily using this API.

While Accessibility Services can greatly extend the functionality of applications, they can potentially create a security risk. Once granted the right permissions, the API can be used to read data from other apps. Likely for this reason, Google has sent emails to app developers regarding the usage of Accessibility Services. The developer of BatterySaver received this message [telling him to explain to users how it was using Accessibility Services to help users with disabilities, on pain of removal from the Play Store]…

…Several other developers have told us they received this email, and there is a Reddit thread full of additional reports. This means many apps will have to severely degrade their functionality if they wish to remain on the Play Store, unless they can convince Google that users with disabilities benefit from them. Some applications, like LastPass, entirely rely on this API and can’t function without it.


Closing a security loophole, but could be a problem for apps like LastPass.
link to this extract

Software 2.0 • Medium

Andrej Karpathy on how data-taught self-coding networks will write software of the future:


Software 2.0 is not going to replace 1.0 (indeed, a large amount of 1.0 infrastructure is needed for training and inference to “compile” 2.0 code), but it is going to take over increasingly large portions of what Software 1.0 is responsible for today. Let’s examine some examples of the ongoing transition to make this more concrete:

Visual Recognition used to consist of engineered features with a bit of machine learning sprinkled on top at the end (e.g., SVM). Since then, we developed the machinery to discover much more powerful image analysis programs (in the family of ConvNet architectures), and more recently we’ve begun searching over architectures.

Speech recognition used to involve a lot of preprocessing, gaussian mixture models and hidden markov models, but today consist almost entirely of neural net stuff.

Speech synthesis has historically been approached with various stitching mechanisms, but today the state of the art models are large convnets (e.g. WaveNet) that produce raw audio signal outputs.

Machine Translation has usually been approaches with phrase-based statistical techniques, but neural networks are quickly becoming dominant. My favorite architectures are trained in the multilingual setting, where a single model translates from any source language to any target language, and in weakly supervised (or entirely unsupervised) settings.

Robotics has a long tradition of breaking down the problem into blocks of sensing, pose estimation, planning, control, uncertainty modeling etc., using explicit representations and algorithms over intermediate representations. We’re not quite there yet, but research at UC Berkeley and Google hint at the fact that Software 2.0 may be able to do a much better job of representing all of this code.

Games: Go playing programs have existed for a long while, but AlphaGo Zero (a ConvNet that looks at the raw state of the board and plays a move) has now become by far the strongest player of the game. I expect we’re going to see very similar results in other areas, e.g. DOTA 2, or StarCraft.


link to this extract

Fujitsu offloads PC division in joint venture with Lenovo • Canalys

Fujitsu is selling a 51% share in its PC division to Lenovo for US$224m, and another 5% to Development Bank of Japan for $22m:


Fujitsu insists it is not quitting the PC market, but instead sees this partnership as a way to strengthen its competitive position against larger rivals. With a focus on enterprise PCs only (apart from in Japan), Fujitsu’s global PC market share, excluding tablets, has fallen from around 1.9% in 2013 to 1.3% in 2016. The primary benefit for Fujitsu is the combined purchasing power that Lenovo brings with Intel, Microsoft and other component vendors, which will bring substantial pricing advantages.

For Lenovo, the attraction is different. Fujitsu brings some size benefits – combining Q2 shipment volumes would have given Lenovo a 21% market share (excluding tablets). But the real appeal lies in Fujitsu’s sizeable consumer business in Japan. Lenovo is already Japan’s PC leader through its joint venture with NEC, so adding Fujitsu significantly extends its leadership (assuming no objections from competition authorities) as Japan’s PC market struggles with growth. Fujitsu’s notebook manufacturing and R+D operations in Japan will move into the joint venture, improving efficiencies for Lenovo, which the company hopes will boost profitability. Unlike in the rest of the world, FCCL will own the sales and support organization and go-to-market operation in Japan. This means it will be responsible for large retail relationships and direct sales in Japan.


Fujitsu will still make servers and storage. But what a capitulation. It values the whole PC business at $439m; given that it’s probably loss-making, that will be “going concern” pricing.

link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.