Start Up: ARM MacBooks?, catching the hoax copier, Google Plus is milkshake ducked, Echo beats Fire, and more

Is she listening to music? To nothing? How would you know? Photo by Doug Kaye on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Something for the weekend. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple’s next laptops could be more iPhone than Mac • WSJ

Christopher Mims:


mobile processors are gaining capabilities that are less common in larger computers. Today, the depth sensor on the iPhone X enables face recognition, but it could someday play a key role in Apple’s augmented-reality software. (Qualcomm has its own Snapdragon XR1 platform for augmented reality.)

Apple is also pushing capabilities such as on-device artificial intelligence, which could enable better voice recognition and other capabilities, and the company aims to support only its own graphics software in the future. Because Apple’s in-house chip designers only have one customer—Apple—they’re able to tune its silicon to run all these things as fast as possible.

“You see Intel delaying new technologies anywhere from six to eight months, and that hurts Apple’s roadmap,” says Ben Bajarin, an analyst at market-research firm Creative Strategies. “Apple in particular doesn’t want to have to be hamstrung.” By using its own silicon, Apple could potentially offer machines that do things other notebook manufacturers might not match for some time, he says.

The result would be an ARM-powered variation on the MacBook or MacBook Air, or something new that meets similar needs and runs MacOS.

There is a limit to what ARM chips can pull off. Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops are powered by Intel’s Core i5 and i7 processors and—like Apple’s desktop computers—will probably continue to be for a long time.

Workhorse computers need processors that are good at general computing tasks, more than the specialized, task-specific silicon that powers mobile devices.


Everyone is expecting this to happen sooner rather than later. Apple, meanwhile, seems to be moving really quite slowly when it comes to updating its laptops. Not to mention desktops. Not to mention iPads, actually.
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Apple’s Airpods are an omen • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:


The AirPods do look a little ridiculous. White sprouts hang down an inch below the ears where the cords would attach. Those with longer hair, like me, can obscure them partially, at least, for the time being. But eventually it won’t matter, as people will get used to everyone having wireless buds stuck in their heads. Not like they’re used to wired earbuds, in the train or on the sidewalk or at the dog park. No, more like they’re used to people staring at phones all the time, anywhere. The earbuds won’t disappear, just like the smartphones haven’t. But they will become invisible as they become ubiquitous. Human focus, already ambiguously cleft between world and screen, will become split again, even when maintaining eye contact.

There are some consequences to this scenario, if it plays out. For one, earbuds will cease to perform any social signaling whatsoever. Today, having one’s earbuds in while talking suggests that you are on a phone call, for example. Having them in while silent is a sign of inner focus—a request for privacy. That’s why bothering someone with earbuds in is such a social faux-pas: They act as a do-not-disturb sign for the body. But if AirPods or similar devices become widespread, those cues will vanish. Everyone will exist in an ambiguous state between public engagement with a room or space and private retreat into devices or media.

The smartphone’s own excesses might accelerate the matter. In Georgia, where I live, a new law intended to reduce distracted driving goes into effect on July 1. The law prohibits holding a phone while driving. There are exceptions, including operating a mapping app, but ambiguities of actual use (and fears that police might use it as an excuse for citing other infractions) might push more drivers to newer, better hands-free options. AirPods are expensive, but they’re a lot cheaper than traffic infractions or insurance hikes.


I used the headline from the web page itself, rather than the header text – “Are Apple’s AirPods any good?”, which is an absurd bit of clickbaity nonsense. Bogost is posing a bigger question: what happens when you can’t tell if someone is paying attention to you or not? It used to be that someone walking alone down the street talking aloud was unhinged. Now, it’s more likely they’re on the phone. Social judgement shifts. Technology shapes society.
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A fact-checker hatched an elaborate scheme to catch a site that was stealing his stories • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:


Until yesterday, Shawn Rice was one of the internet’s most prolific debunkers of online hoaxes.

Since at least November 2016, Rice has written thousands of articles about hoaxes for, a business and marketing blog. His quick, formulaic debunks appeared high on the first page of Google search results and in Google News. He was the site’s most frequent contributor and recently scored its biggest hit on Facebook of the past two years with a debunk of a fake story about Netflix picking up the recently canceled TV series Roseanne, according to data from social tracking tool BuzzSumo. Rice’s story generated over 80,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

But last night close to 6,000 of Rice’s more than 7,200 articles were suddenly deleted — including all of his debunks…

…[Maarten] Schenk [whose stories were being ripped off] hatched a plan to catch Rice in the act. First, he identified the IP addresses he believed Rice’s computer was using when accessing the Lead Stories site. Rice’s LinkedIn profile lists his day job as an editor for LexisNexis, the legal information publisher. Schenk found that IP addresses linked to LexisNexis would access his site before Rice published a new story.

Schenk created an alternate homepage that would be shown only to visitors coming to the site from those IPs, and that would show a selection of content rather than all of his latest work.

Schenk soon saw that Rice would debunk only the stories on that homepage. At one point he put an old story on the special homepage and watched as Rice soon published a post about the same hoax. Rice did not credit Lead Stories in any of these articles.

Then Schenk went a step further and created a blog called the Honey Pot Times and uploaded a George Lucas death hoax. “I know [Rice] likes to steal stories about death hoaxes, so I created one for him,” he said.


Very neat.
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Xiaomi wants to come to America, but it feels more stuck in China than ever • Android Police

David Ruddock:


There is no doubt in my mind that Xiaomi understands its home market and customers in a way that I, as an American, never will. But also as an American, I fail to understand just how Xiaomi intends to ever be a success here.

And this isn’t me sniping critique from a half-mile away: Xiaomi invited US journalists to demo showcases for its products earlier this week specifically to try to make the pitch that the company is taking the US market seriously. Xiaomi wants Americans to understand its ecosystem approach and all the benefits that it comes with. Xiaomi’s business model is predicated upon the idea that, as its smartphone customer base grows, so too will the customer base for its Mi ecosystem devices and, more importantly, subscription software and media services. Xiaomi has even promised that it won’t make more than 5% profit on any hardware it sells, as though to assure customers that they are getting the very best deal possible. The company’s profitability is supposed to be predominantly derived from those subscription services I mentioned.

As to how that could ever work in America? Frankly, the responses I got to this question – one Xiaomi has likely faced countless times from American journalists now – were basically nonsense. A product manager essentially told me a half-dozen times that he worked for Spotify, and he’s an American, so he gets it.

That’s… not an answer. Xiaomi was willing to acknowledge that the American market for things like email, cloud storage, streaming video, music, and smart home gadgets is intensely crowded. But there was no real pitch for how Xiaomi could leverage its hardware business to sell its own software and services to notoriously fickle Americans who already have tons of options for things like storage and streaming movies. The argument, in the end, boiled down to “if people buy some of our products, they will buy the rest of them.”

It’s just another take on the same very bad argument LeEco tried to use. And we all know how that ended.


LeEco, if you’d forgotten, imploded after claiming it would have a fabulous electric car. And yes, this is the problem for Xiaomi outside China: there’s a lot of competition from companies, notably Google (which gets in first on the device), offering cloud services.
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White nationalists, Nazis find new space for racism on Google Plus • The Hill

Abi Breland:


Many groups espousing racist rhetoric and hate speech were kicked off Facebook and Twitter after violence erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally last summer in Charlottesville, Va., where a woman was killed by a car that was driven into a crowd of protesters.

While such voices have been kicked off Facebook and Twitter, they have not been purged from Google Plus.

Groups openly posting explicitly racist and anti-Semitic content have established dozens of Google Plus communities, the equivalent of Facebook groups. The communities have follower counts that range from the hundreds to the thousands.

Some of the communities reviewed by The Hill are still active. Others appear to be abandoned but still serve as repositories of hate content with links directing users to hate speech and white nationalist communities on other platforms and websites.

Google Plus’s user policy stipulates that much of the content posted by such groups is not welcome on its platform. But many posts with racist or anti-Semitic content have remained on the social media platform for months and even years.

The groups are often easily accessible through searches of known neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups, and their posts cover the gamut of hateful speech and imagery, including swastikas.

One meme shows a black woman holding up a sign at a rally that says “They can’t kill us all #BlackLivesMatter,” accompanied by an image of a Klansman holding a shotgun underneath with text superimposed on it that reads “Challenge accepted.”


“OK, Sundar, well, let’s go first with the good news. People are still using Google Plus…”
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State of the Site: Metafilter financial update and future directions • MetaFilter MetaTalk

Josh Millard, of the MetaFilter staff:


– We are, specifically, running about $8,000 a month short of an operating budget of about $38,000 a month.
– This is a new problem as of this year and specifically the last few months.
– At the start of 2018, we were breaking even, but there’s been a significant decline in Adsense revenue the last few months.
– We’ve also been affected by Amazon’s reduction in affiliate program payouts starting around the middle of last year.
– At our current rate of loss, we have enough in savings to bear us through the next four months or so with no change to spending.
– After that we’ll hit a critical point where cutting the budget by $8K/mo will be necessary to keep a minimum safe amount in savings month to month.
– Almost all of our budget goes to payroll, and cuts would have to come out of that, which means pay cuts and/or laying moderators off.
– Our two obvious paths to reducing or eliminating that budget shortfall are (1) new ad revenue and (2) new recurring contributions from members and supporters of the site.

I am working on the ad revenue aspect, and will talk more about that more in the future. We’re also looking as a team at what we can manage for immediate small-scale, hopefully temporary, reductions in pay to slow the approach of that critical major-cuts point.

But the community funding part we can address right now…


MetaFilter is a discussion site – nearly 19 years old. Millard says there’s been a significant fall in engagement since a peak in 2008-2010; and AdSense (generating most of the revenue) and Amazon (about a quarter) have fallen too. MeFi (as it’s called) saw a falloff in traffic from a Google tweak a while back; that hasn’t improved.
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Just 7% of people in UK pay for news, Reuters Digital News Report reveals • Press Gazette

Charlotte Tobitt:


The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018, launched today, revealed that 7% of people in the UK have paid for online news in the past year – joint with Croatia and above only Greece on 6%.

This compares to 16% in the US and a 22% average in the Nordic countries.

The survey, which is the biggest of its kind, was conducted by Yougov and involved 74,000 people – including 2,117 from the UK – from 37 countries.

It said: “While digital advertising remains a critical source of revenue, most publishers recognise that this wil not be enough, on its own, to support high quality journalism.

“Across the industry we are seeing a renewed push to persuade consumers to pay directly for online news through subscription, membership, donations or per-article payments.

“Our data suggests that these efforts are paying off in some countries, but not yet in others.”


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Sony starts pretending it cares about Switch-PS4 ‘Fortnite’ cross-play • BGR

Chris Smith:


Nintendo announced a few days ago that Switch owners will finally be able to play the hottest game out there right now, the free-to-play Fortnite. And that’s when PS4 owners discovered that you could count on Sony to ruin your gaming experience. Sony does not support cross-play support between the PS4 and the Switch, and that also means that you can’t play Fortnite on the Switch with the account you’ve created on the PlayStation because that account is tied to your PSN account. And Sony is a huge douche about it.

The backlash was instant and so powerful that Sony felt compelled to not really say anything about it in an official statement.

Sony says that it’s open to hearing what you think about “enhancing” your gaming experience. But the company never mentioned the Switch in a comment provided to the BBC and others. Here’s what it says:


We’re always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience. Fortnite is already a huge hit with PS4 fans, offering a true free-to-play experience so gamers can jump in and play online. With 79 million PS4s sold around the world and more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we’ve built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles. We also offer Fortnite cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms.



You have to be tuned in to how gigantic Fortnite is, and how foolish this is – Sony not acknowledging that people play it in more contexts than the PS4 – but once you see that, you realise Sony is completely shooting itself in the foot. When the game is bigger than the platforms, you ignore it at your peril.
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Echo sales overtake Fire tablets – but international uptake remains dwarfed by the US • Futuresource Consulting Analysts

Jack Wetherill is a consumer electronics analyst at FutureSource:


The rise of Amazon’s Echo speaker has been well documented in recent years, culminating Echo selling more units worldwide in 2017 than Amazon Fire tablets – just.  With almost 20m units sold worldwide during 2017, Echo’s installed base stood at 28m by the end of the year, marginally ahead of Fire tablets at 27m, with Fire TV also close behind, at 26m.

The closeness of these installed bases highlights that, despite the hype surrounding Echo, Amazon isn’t focusing all its device efforts on its smart speakers. The Alexa voice assistant is now also standard on its Fire TVs and tablets and last week’s announcement of the Fire TV Cube is the latest development in the Seattle-based firm’s multi-device strategy to position itself as the key “Go-to” facilitator in the smart home. Futuresource’s Smart Speaker tracker also highlights that, whilst Amazon is the category leader globally, Echo sales are still heavily skewed towards the USA – with only 13% of its 2017 sales derived from elsewhere. As a result, Fire tablets outsold Echo speakers internationally in 2017 by a ratio of over 4 to 1. Despite its strong position therefore in the USA (with UK a distant second), Amazon has much work to do in order to become the same driving force internationally…

…According to the 2018 edition of Futuresource Consulting’s “Smart Home Devices & Appliances” consumer survey, 38% of non-adopters of smart speakers “can’t see a use for smart home devices”, with a third citing privacy concerns. While Amazon has stolen a march on the competition it needs to continue to build use cases and – perhaps more importantly – address consumers’ fear of having a device in their homes which eavesdrop upon their conversations.


I wonder how tight the overlap is between owners of Echos, Fire tablets and Fire TV sticks. I’d bet it’s pretty strong.
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Stephen Bannon buys into bitcoin • The New York Times

Jeremy Peters and Nathaniel Popper:


Mr. Bannon won’t reveal very much about his cryptocurrency plans — he worries that the controversy that comes with his name could have a bad impact on projects just getting off the ground.

But he has had private meetings with cryptocurrency investors and hedge funds where he has discussed working on so-called initial coin offerings through his investment business, Bannon & Company. And in his first interview on the topic, he said he had a “good stake” in Bitcoin.

In a small gathering of academics at Harvard University this spring, he even floated the possibility of creating a new virtual currency, the “deplorables coin.” The name is a nod to Hillary Clinton’s description of Mr. Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”

The work that Mr. Bannon is doing in the virtual currency realm is still in its early stages. But he has expressed an interest in helping entrepreneurs and even countries looking to create their own cryptocurrencies — generally outside the United States.

The offbeat world of cryptocurrencies has drawn interest from all sorts over the last few years, from drug dealers and scam artists to the biggest companies in Silicon Valley and the most staid institutions of Wall Street.

It is not a shocking place for Mr. Bannon, 64, to plot his re-emergence. Cryptocurrencies have many of the characteristics that drew him into Tea Party politics: They break old rules, they exist on the periphery, and they pose a challenge to the powerful figures and institutions that have long called the shots.


Bannon’s minted; he can afford to lose money on this. I wonder how the people in Kentucky are doing.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up: ARM MacBooks?, catching the hoax copier, Google Plus is milkshake ducked, Echo beats Fire, and more

  1. Re. ARM Macbooks, I’m really wondering why those would run MacOS and not iOS;
    1- Apple just announced that iOS apps will now have to support a pointer (to run in the new MacOS UIKit sandbox). They already support a keyboard. So we’re being toaster-fridge’d anyway.
    2- MacOS overserves probably 80% of its users; iOS would be just what’s needed and serves those users better by being easier and sexier, which are Apple’s 2 legs.
    3- iOS has the better ecosystem, at least for those 80%: more apps (games !), and the same apps they’re already using on their iPhones and iPads… And the same skill needed to use them.
    4- a whole populated iOS motherboard is 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of a bare Intel CPU. More margins at lower prices !
    5- Apple gets a lot more incidental revenue from i-devices than from Macs: from apps, peripherals, content, services…
    6- the x86 MacOS line can continue as is for devs and workstation-type uses.
    7- it might free Apple to use cute designs on the ARM line, and at last go for sensible, maintainable, modular, business-class designs for the x86 line. Unless they can’t help themselves ^^

    I’m not saying iOS can/should replace MacOS, nor that ARM can displace x86 for all uses (esp. memory-heavy, multitasking-heavy, I/O heavy…). x86+MacOS has its place for high-end uses. I’m saying for 80% of users (incl. Tim Cook it seems ^^), if an iPad can be your only computer as Apple seems to think and says, then simply making a laptop iPad and a desktop iPad makes sense.

    I’m even wondering if Apple is letting their x86 line rot on purpose, so that people are excited when something new pops up.

  2. re: Xiaomi’s US: the main issue is that they wont be allowed to sell phones there, see Huawei. I think the best way to get into the US would be to buy a local OEM, but there’s few of those (Essential, BLU, that’s it ?) and Xiaomi hasn’t done acquisitions, just partnerships. IPO money may change that though.

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