Start Up No.908: Watch that iPhone!, glasses for tea pickers, the Russian health tweeters, celeb mag secrets, Fortnite’s Android quest, and more


Apple’s AirPower: is this all we’ll get? Photo by The Trendy Startups on Flickr

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A selection of 12 links for you. Close enough. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple Watch Series 4 debuts with larger screens and new 64-bit S4 chip • Venturebeat

Jeremy Horwitz:

»

Heavily rumored since shortly after the release of its predecessor, and accidentally revealed in pre-event leaks of images and basic specs, the Apple Watch Series 4 finally became official today. The company’s next-generation smartwatch features the first major redesign since 2015’s original (“Series 0”) model, including larger bodies, over 30% bigger screens, and new internals.

Introducing the new model, Apple COO Jeff Williams described the Apple Watch as an “intelligent guardian for your health,” and said that it was adding new dynamic watch faces that show off the larger display, including fire, vapor, water, and breathe effects. Despite a 35% larger screen on the smaller version and 32% larger screen on the larger model, it’s thinner than the Series 3, with less total physical volume.

As a result of the new screens, the new Apple Watches have higher resolutions than their predecessors. Extra pixels enable each model to fit more on the screen than before, such that the Watch can now display a watch face with eight simultaneous “complications” — separately tappable icon or text information displays.

Apple has made a number of tweaks to the Series 4’s body. The microphone hole now sits between the side button and Digital Crown, enabling clearer voice sensing, while the speaker has been improved for greater volume. At the same time, the Digital Crown has been modestly redesigned to turn the LTE model’s solid red circle into a thin red circular line and to include haptic feedback with each motion. The side button no longer protrudes as much as it did from the Watch’s body.

The new S4 chip inside is a dual-core 64-bit processor with a new GPU, delivering up to twice the performance of its predecessor. Updated accelerometer and gyroscope functionality enable all-day activity tracking, twice the dynamic range of sensing, and up to 32g of force. New types of workouts are also tracked with the new model. It can also detect falls, and give you an easy route to access the Emergency SOS feature.

«

I like the eight-complication screen, and the way it represents “heat” with colour ranges. Altogether, it looks like the Watch is really hitting its stride, becoming all the things it can. It’s at about the point the iPhone was with the iPhone 4 in 2010: ready to really take off.
link to this extract


IPhone XS and XS Max: hands-on with Apple’s giant new phone • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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The iPhone XS Max is bigger, yes, but as you can see in the photos, it is almost hard to distinguish the two when you’re looking at photos. It feels much better than any “Plus” iPhone ever has. I always found the Plus-sized iPhones to be ungainly, but the Max seems to be a little more ergonomic in subtle ways. If you’ve wanted a Plus before but were put off by the size, I’d at least try to hold the new Max size before making your decision.

Both phones have identical specs aside from their screens. They use Apple’s new A12 Bionic processor, which is supposed to be 15% faster than the A11, have improved water resistance that’s supposed to let them stay submerged in two meters of water for up to 30 minutes, and have support for two SIMs and gigabit LTE. The rear cameras have each seen improvements to make them faster (larger pixels on the wide-angle lens, a wider aperture on the telephoto lens), and the selfie camera is supposed to be faster as well (though not for any immediate spec-related reason).

More than anything else, the most impressive tech demo this year is the new portrait mode feature, which allows you to adjust the bokeh after the shoot. It’s just fun to slide the dial left and right to get the exact right amount of blur.

The real difference comes down to both phones’ displays, though that’s just in terms of size and resolution. The XS has the same 5.8-inch size, OLED tech, and 2436 x 1125 resolution as the iPhone X, though it’s also supposed to have 60% greater dynamic range for more vibrant images. The XS Max takes the OLED screen and dynamic range gains and brings them to a 6.5-inch size, with a 2688 x 1242 resolution. Both have the same 458 ppi pixel density, so you don’t lose out on sharpness by going larger.

«

Note how the processor speed improvement isn’t as large. We’re hitting a wall there (see later link). However, analysts are expecting the LCD-screened iPhone XR (naming 😱) to be the best-seller around the world.
link to this extract


Nearly 600 Russia-linked accounts tweeted about the US’s health law • WSJ

Paul Overberg:

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On the March 23 anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, Democrats attacked Republicans for trying to sabotage the health law and praised the embattled legislation.

So did Russian trolls.

“8 years ago today, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Millions of Americans have gained access to health care. Thank you, Mr. President!” said a tweet linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company engaged in an online influence campaign that typically seeks to pit one side against the other on controversial issues.

A newly identified group of nearly 10,000 tweets shows that while Russian trolls often focus on such hot-button issues as Hillary Clinton’s email or athletes kneeling during the national anthem, they also target substantive and divisive policy areas like health care.

Nearly 600 IRA-linked accounts posted to Twitter about the ACA and health policy from 2014 through this past May, with the most prolific ones tweeting hundreds of times, the new data show. One account, called TEN_GOP, rocketed from fewer than 1,000 followers to more than 138,000 in two years, sending 60 tweets that potentially reached followers more than four million times.

Researchers at Clemson University provided The Wall Street Journal with the set of about 9,800 tweets involving health policy and the ACA that the IRA posted over that period. An analysis by the Journal found that 80% of the tweets had conservative-leaning political messages, often disparaging the health law.

The accounts have been shut down by Twitter as congressional investigators unearthed their origin, but intelligence experts say the assault is continuing through similar accounts and channels.

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link to this extract


The secrets you learn working at celebrity gossip magazines • Vice

Jessica Evans:

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Being on the sausage-making side of the ever-grinding fame machine, you see a different side to the world of celebrity and the glimmer of being famous: the constant hustle, the fake friendships and the even faker smiles, the fact that you have to post one Instagram selfie a day (one a day! Think how many good pictures you have ever taken of you in your lifetime. One a day!): plus, you’re constantly drinking lukewarm prosecco next to a showbiz editor at a Wednesday night sponsored party, deciding what pound of flesh you’re willing to cut out of your life and sell to the highest bidder.

If you fancy being famous: hey, go for it, I’m sure your Soundcloud page will take off any day now. But consider this behind-the-scenes peek at the world of gossip mags to be a warning: as soon as you get an Instagram blue tick, it’s fair game to say pretty much anything about you. And once it starts, you get into a weird place where you never want it to stop, to the point you start making up shit about yourself just to extend your 15 minutes of fame up to 16, 17, maybe 18 minutes. Think about it like this: do you want to be Antony Costa? Because you’re probably going to end up being Antony Costa.

And here’s how showbiz journalists like (formerly) myself are going to make that happen.

«

I don’t know who Antony Costa is, but anyway, you’re probably going to click through to read the full article, and if you don’t, you’ve really missed out. Essential knowledge.
link to this extract


What the GlobalFoundries’ retreat really means: Moore’s Law is dead • IEEE Spectrum

Steve Blank:

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Each shrinkage of chip line widths requires more complexity. Features have to be precisely placed at exact locations with each lithographic printing step. At 7 nanometers, this requires up to 80 such steps.

The other limitation to packing more transistors onto to a chip is called Dennard scaling: As transistors get smaller, their power density stays constant, so that the power use stays in proportion with area. But basic physics has stopped Dennard scaling, creating a “Power Wall”—a barrier to clock speed—that has limited microprocessor frequency to around 4 gigahertz since 2005.  It’s also why memory density is not going to increase at the rate we saw a decade ago.

The problem of continuing to shrink transistors in a post-Dennard era is so hard that even Intel, the leader in microprocessors and for decades the gold standard in leading fab technology, has stumbled. Industry observers have suggested that Intel has hit several speed bumps on the way to its next generation push to 10- and 7-nanometer designs, and now is trailing TSMC and Samsung.

The combination of spiraling fab cost, technology barriers, power density limits, and diminishing returns is the reason GlobalFoundries threw in the towel. It also means the future direction of innovation on silicon is no longer predictable.

The end of putting more transistors on a single chip doesn’t mean the end of innovation in computers or mobile devices. (To be clear, the bleeding edge will advance, but almost imperceptibly year-to-year; and GlobalFoundaries isn’t shutting down, they’re just no longer going to be the ones pushing the edge.)

But what it does mean is that we’re at the end of guaranteed year-to-year growth in computing power. The result is the end of the type of innovation we’ve been used to for the last 60 years. Instead of just faster versions of what we’ve been used to seeing, device designers now need to get more creative with the 10 billion transistors they already have to work with.

«

link to this extract


How spectacles transform the lives of tea-pickers • FT

Amy Kazmin:

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In India’s tea-growing Assam state, a recent randomised control trial highlighted the dramatic economic benefits of reading glasses for ageing tea-pickers suffering from presbyopia — the decline in near-vision that comes with age.

The research took place last year at the peak of the harvest season, when tea-leaves are abundant. The only constraint is how fast the workers can pluck. Before the trial, not one of the 751 enlisted tea-pickers, all over the age of 40, had glasses. For the study, half got simple reading glasses — like those sold over-the-counter in many western countries — and half did not.

Professor Nathan Congdon, of Queen’s University Belfast, says the results — published recently in the Lancet — were unequivocal, if unsurprising. Workers with glasses plucked around 5kg more tea each day than those without — a 21% increase in productivity. Tea-pickers over the age of 50 recorded even bigger gains, at 31%.

“For picking tea, that ability to see things up close is very important — to determine whether a bud of tea is ready to be picked or not,” Prof Congdon told me.

Presbyopia is the most common global cause of sight impairment, and people living in rural areas are no less susceptible to it than city dwellers. For tea-pickers, who are paid by how much they pluck — and pruned from the labour force if they cannot meet minimum targets — correcting the problem is a major boost.

«

On a day when we’ve been hearing about amazing technological efforts, it’s good to remember that sometimes, the big wins are in simple technology.
link to this extract


Fortnite on Android launch • Epic Games technical blog

»

In the first 21 days since the Fortnite’s launch on Android, interest has been extremely high, with over 23 million players entering our Android beta and over 15 million players installing our APK.  While we are in an invite-only phase for Android, our conversion from players being invited to playing is similar to that of the iOS beta.

Shipping the same game across all platforms while supporting cross-play presented a unique challenge. Usually, when trying to scale a game down for mobile devices, you simplify the content and even design, in order to fit within the performance constraints of the platform. For instance, you might cull objects closer to the camera to reduce draw calls. In Fortnite, Android players can be in the same match with their friends on PC and console, so we must render everything that affects gameplay.

Since January 2018 we have been hard at work with a significant team on the Android version of FNBR. While much of our work to make this possible was spent on rendering performance, stability and memory, the sheer number and variety of Android hardware, OS versions, and driver versions was the major hurdle we had to overcome.

Working with partners has been crucial to bringing Fortnite to Android. Without their knowledge, expertise, and hard work it would not have been possible…

…When we first shipped Fortnite on Android, our internal testing indicated that we were fitting within the memory constraints of our target devices. We ran tests where we turned on navigation in Google maps, streamed music, and made sure we could play Fortnite without any problems. Yet once we launched we found that many players were either crashing or experiencing poor performance due to running out of memory.

When an Android phone is running low on memory, it will try to free up resources by closing applications not in use. However, it turns out that there are a number of poor behaving background applications and services out there that simply restart when the OS closes them. This actually makes the situation worse! Android closed the application to regain memory but it restarts and begins consuming just as much memory as before. Even worse, starting and stopping applications consumes CPU time so not only have we not freed up any memory, we are using a lot of unnecessary CPU resources.

«

And that’s one of tons of problems. Fragmentation really bites when you’re trying to build a game that millions of people want to play, but the hardware for the platform is hugely variable – as is the case on Android.
link to this extract


Apple tries to wipe AirPower from history • ZDNet

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes:

»

A year ago during the iPhone X unveiling Apple announced AirPower – an all-in-one wireless charger for the iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods. The product never shipped, and today it seems that Apple has scrubbed almost all traces of it off its website.

At the time of writing this is the only reference to AirPower I can find on Apple’s website:

So what happened to AirPower?

Well, while only Apple really knows (and at the time of writing Apple hasn’t responded to a request for information), it seems like the product was vaporware and that the promise of an all-in-one charger has died.

I can’t think off the top of my head of another product that Apple has announced at a major event and then failed to deliver, which suggests that some things are beyond the reach of even a company as powerful as Apple.

Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to a number of sources in the accessories and charging business, and they all claim that not only was AirPower too ambitious, Apple had made the job of developing an all-in-one charger all the more difficult by using differing wireless charging protocols for the iPhone and the Apple Watch.

«

Many people asked Apple about AirPower on Wednesday, and all were rebuffed with “nothing to say at this time”, formally, and nothing off the record.

Three options:
– it’s too difficult (different wireless charging methods between phone, Watch and AirPods);
– it’s too dangerous: lithium batteries are prone to do odd things, and wireless charging heats them up a lot;
– it’s too energy-inefficient, and Apple was burnishing its green credentials on Wednesday with talk about its renewable energy and so on.

There’s a faint chance it will appear in October, but I’m increasingly convinced that something Really Bad about risk turned up in testing.
link to this extract


‘Crypto tourists’ flee as bitcoin slump drags on • WSJ

Paul Vigna:

»

Many “crypto tourists” who bought bitcoin and other tokens in 2017 when prices were soaring lost faith in the transformative potential of digital currency, said Dan McArdle, co-founder of cryptocurrency research firm Messari.

“We’re just in one of those periods where the hype has died down,” he said.

Take ether, the in-house currency for the Ethereum network. The project took bitcoin’s core concepts and adapted them to a platform built to support apps, similar to Alphabet Inc.’s Android operating system.

The value of ether soared from $8 in January 2017 to $1,400 by January 2018 as investors sought to profit on Ethereum’s potential. Yet there is still little commercial activity two years after its launch.

There are about 900 live “dapps” – or, decentralized apps – on the Ethereum network with several hundred more in development, according to data from the website State of the Dapps. But there are only 9,000 daily active users.

«

All this noise about NINE THOUSAND people? I’d love to know what the figure is for bitcoin – as in, how many daily (or monthly) active users it has.
link to this extract


New 2018 iphones support background NFC tag reading, no app required • 9to5 Mac

Juli Clover:

»

Background tag reading is designed to work only when a user’s iPhone is in use in order to avoid unintentional tag reading. It also will not work if a device has not been unlocked, a core NFC reader is in session, Apple Pay Wallet is in use, the camera is in use, or Airplane mode is enabled.

The new background tagging function will allow an iPhone user to scan any NFC tag at a museum, store, or other location without first having to open up an app. Scanning an NFC tag will present a notification on the display, which can be tapped to launch an app.

Launching an app using this method requires a tap from the user, so it will not allow NFC-based methods to automatically launch apps sans user permission.

According to Apple, background NFC tag reading is a feature that’s limited to the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. It is not supported on iPhone X and earlier models.

«

Not sure how immediately useful this is – does it get you into hotel rooms that have NFC keys? – but any extra with NFC is good.
link to this extract


A trail of ‘bread crumbs,’ leading conspiracy theorists into the wilderness • New York Times

Mattathias Schwartz:

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For months now, one such anonymous source — an internet user called “Q Clearance Patriot” or “Q,” posting on anarchic, underbelly-of-the-internet message boards like 4chan and 8chan — has been spreading its “crumbs” across the web, offering up a running commentary on the state of the nation in a gnomic and paranoid style. To call the result a mere “conspiracy theory” doesn’t quite do it justice, shortchanging both its utterly absurd wrongness and its vast pseudo-explanatory power. Q’s prophecies are something closer to a grand unifying conspiracy theory, one that incorporates older absurd theories (stretching back to the Kennedy administration) and continuously spins off new tendrils, glomming itself onto news events as they unfold. Good and evil, it claims, have mustered two warring teams; the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. The heroes are the military (especially the Marines) and President Trump, who is secretly cooperating with Robert Mueller to, some disciples imagine, uncover a global ring of sex-trafficking pedophiles. And even this risks making it sound more realistic than it is…

…“Your President needs your help,” writes Q in one “Q drop” — that’s what Q’s followers, or “bakers,” call each bread crumb. Q engages the bakers as collaborators who “research” lines of inquiry and offer possible answers to Q’s hypnotic flurries of leading questions. (“Las Vegas. What hotel did the ‘reported’ gunfire occur from? What floors specifically? Who owns the top floors?”) But Q balances fear-mongering with notes of reassurance: The bakers are, by poring over each nonsensical hint, supposedly aiding their fellow “patriots” on the inside. Bad news is merely a “distraction.” The president’s behavior is merely a ruse. The good guys are secretly in control, and they are going to win.

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I do like “utterly absurd wrongness”. It must be nice, if you’re a conspiracy theory sort of person, to have one where the Good Guys (and Gals) are going to win. So much happier than conspiracies about 9/11 and banks.
link to this extract


Say goodbye to Inbox by Gmail • Techcrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

I would have loved to see Google continue to experiment with Inbox instead. That, after all, was one of the reasons the company started the Inbox project to begin with. It’s hard to try radical experiments with a service that has a billion users, after all. Today, however, Google now seems to be willing to try new things right in Gmail, too. Smart Compose, for example, made its debut in the new Gmail (and many pundits correctly read that as a sign that Inbox was on the chopping block).

While the new Gmail now has most of Inbox’s features, one that is sorely missing is trip bundles. This useful feature, which automatically groups all of your flight, hotel, event and car reservations into a single bundle, is one of Inbox’s best features. Our understanding is that Google plans to bring this to Gmail early next year — hopefully well before Inbox shuts down.

«

Google bought Inbox in May 2015, when it bought Timeful. This news came out just while the tech press was busy talking about Apple’s new Watch and iPhone. Accident? Doubtful.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.908: Watch that iPhone!, glasses for tea pickers, the Russian health tweeters, celeb mag secrets, Fortnite’s Android quest, and more

  1. re: fortnite . That blog post is very interesting, especially on why they didn’t require Vulkan (bugs !) though they get 20% extra performance when they do use it.

    It seems their struggles where not with platform diversity per se (they handled it as recommended, using OS > SoC > device profiles), but with
    1- RAM on Android being a more high-pressure resource. Android doesn’t kill background stuff as aggressively as iOS; this as pros and cons and OEMs such as Huawei that do kill aggressively are getting crucified for it : https://www.theverge.com/2018/7/25/17614014/vlc-blacklisting-recent-huawei-devices-negative-app-reviews. Shaders eating up 400MB of RAM is crazy though.
    2- bugs. The great news about bugs if that once you spot them, they get fixed or at least get documented and worked around: “all of the technical work we’ve done for Fortnite on Android is coming to all Unreal Engine developers with 4.21, so everyone can benefit from this work.”

    I wish they did the same postmortem about iOS, which I know a lot less about.

  2. “On a day when we’ve been hearing about amazing technological efforts, it’s good to remember that *almost always*, the big wins are in simple technology.”

    Fixed that for you.

  3. re. AirPower: why the whitewashing ? Maybe Apple just couldn’t get it to work reliably and profitably. You’re adding safely to the mix with no reason whatsoever.

  4. What if find crazy is that line in The Verge’s preview of the iPhone Xs camera: ” if the iPhone XS could even match last year’s Pixel 2 in basic image quality, it’d be a significant and immediately noticeable improvement for every iPhone user. That means that this year, it’s imperative for Apple to deliver on the camera if it isn’t to fall further behind.”

    Somehow, it seems that over a whole year, the issue of iPhone pics (a key feature) being meh for a luxury phone has gone unnoticed, and/or unreported.

    Again: “if the iPhone XS could even match last year’s Pixel 2 in basic image quality, it’d be a significant and immediately noticeable improvement for every iPhone user”.

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