Start Up No.951: Xiaomi under fire, Apple shares drop, Wear OS’s missing link, the smart speaker revolution, and more


Guess what pursuit the music company BMG gave up as a waste of time and money? Photo by Ashley Richards on Flickr

A selection of 9 links for you. It’s what they’re meant to do. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Xiaomi criticised for UK smartphone £1 flash sale • BBC

Leo Kelion:

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Xiaomi’s business model is based on selling its hardware at low profit margins and it has regularly held flash sales in other markets as a relatively cheap way to attract attention and gauge demand.

It typically offers thousands of devices at a more realistic prices when doing so. But even when it held a similar €1 (88p) event in Spain last year, it provided 50 units.

By contrast, the first two UK flash sales involved only three phones apiece, while two follow-ups were limited to two units.

This fact was not mentioned on the main sales page. Instead, users had to click on a link to its terms and conditions, found at the foot of the site, and then scroll halfway through them.

Dozens of users complained on Xiaomi’s Facebook page after failing to obtain a phone.

“For a company worth around $50bn launching in a brand new country and making a big deal about it they could have done 50 easily. They didn’t. They’ll lose potential customers over this,” wrote Simon Hodge.

Another user, James Bowen, said: “What a joke, as soon as the timer hit zero, it was out of stock – just clickbait to get people to visit the website.”

One user subsequently analysed the webpage’s code and pointed out it had been set to say: “Sold out,” as soon as the sale had opened – without even checking to see if the allocated stock had indeed been purchased.

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A single phone? Hard to know if Xiaomi thought it wouldn’t get caught, or it wouldn’t matter, but this has left a bad taste with a number of people. And it will live forever in its history, meaning it’s starting below the bottom of the PR ladder.
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Apple shares drop after iPhone supplier Lumentum cuts forecast • Reuters

Vibhuti Sharma:

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Stoking fears among investors that demand for iPhones is waning, Lumentum said in its statement the customer was “one of our largest… for laser diodes for 3D sensing”, which analysts said could only be Apple.

Shares in the iPhone maker dropped 4%, wiping $40bn off its market value. Those in Lumentum, which gave its original forecast just two weeks ago, fell 27%, dragging down shares of other Apple suppliers.

That also followed a separate warning from another Apple supplier, screen maker Japan Display, on Monday.

“Many suppliers have lowered numbers because of their unnamed ‘largest customer,’ which is Apple. Apple got cautious in their guidance and it’s hitting their suppliers,” Elazar Capital analyst Chaim Siegel said.

JP Morgan analysts weighed in by cutting their price target for Apple by $4 to $270 pointing to poor orders for the new iPhone XR.

Lumentum now expects net revenue of $335m to $355m, compared with its prior range of $405m to $430m, and earnings per share of $1.15 to $1.34, down from $1.60 to $1.75 estimated previously.

Three analysts told Reuters that Lumentum’s forecast points to a reduction of 18m to 20m iPhones on earlier estimates, based on the average selling price of 3D sensing parts. Apple accounted for 30% of the company’s revenue as of June 30.

“Apple could have accumulated too much Lumentum inventory, and needs to work it off, in which case the unit shortfall is less, although it is still indicative of weak iPhone sales.” D.A. Davidson analyst Mark Kelleher said.

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Feels like we get this same story every single year. In the past, Apple’s sales have then shown that sales kept up. This time, we won’t know.
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Voice tech like Alexa and Siri hasn’t found its true calling yet: inside the voice assistant ‘revolution’ • Recode

Rani Molla:

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As the holiday shopping season approaches, voice-powered smart speakers are again expected to be big sellers, adding to the approximately one-quarter to one-third of the U.S. population that already owns a smart speaker and uses a voice assistant at least once a month.

Voice interfaces have been adopted faster than nearly any other technology in history. And with big sales has come big hype, thanks in part to breathless prognostications about our voice-driven future:

The global number of installed smart speakers is going to more than double to 225m units in two years, says Canalys.
• Voice shopping on Alexa alone could generate more than $5bn per year in revenue by 2020, according to RBC Capital Markets.
• Global ad spending on voice assistants — currently nonexistent — will reach $19bn by 2022, nearly the size of the current magazine ad business, per Juniper Research.

While some of this will likely come to pass, the hype might be disguising where we really are with voice technology: earlier than we think.

About a third of smart speaker owners end up using them less after the first month, according to an NPR and Edison Research report earlier this year. Just a little more than half said they wouldn’t want to go back to life without a smart speaker.

While people are certainly enthusiastic about the new technology, it’s not exactly life-changing yet.

Today, voice assistants and smart speakers have proven to be popular ways to turn on the radio or dim the lights or get weather information. But to be revolutionary, they will need to find a greater calling — a new, breakout application.

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Turns out that “radio” is a big new category here: podcasts or radio stations. And that’s where adverts come in: people don’t bother to ask their device to skip forward 30 seconds past an ad. Easier to let it play. “Smart speaker listeners are much more passive,” in the words of one analyst.

A good, thorough piece with lots of insights.
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Fixing Wear OS: how Google could fight back against the Apple Watch • Wareable

David Nield:

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Both our developers were adamant: Wear OS needs a flagship wearable to compete with the Apple Watch. “When people buy an Apple watch, they buy the Apple Watch,” says Jason. “When people buy an Wear OS device, they buy… what? The release of a Google Pixel Watch could change that as it would give users one device to focus on.”

“The platform really needs a flagship watch,” agrees Kris. “No Wear OS watch comes close to the Apple or even Samsung Galaxy watches. Google is clear it wants its partners to focus on the hardware while they focus on the software but neither is doing a good job. Maybe the problem is fashion companies aren’t good at building tech hardware.”

While we’d say there are in fact some very good Wear OS smartwatches on the market, we can see the point – while earlier models had their flaws, the Apple Watch Series 4 really brings hardware and software together impressively well. It’s particularly adept at health and fitness tracking, something Wear OS is still struggling to excel at.

The Wear OS users we spoke to had different ideas about how to push Wear OS forward. Aaron Gumbs wants to see more user customisation options and less of a reliance on Google’s apps and services, while Iwan van Ee would like tighter and more useful integrations with the apps already on his phone.

For Juhani Lehtimäki though, less is more. He points to the Google Chromecast and the Google Home smart speaker as devices that are brilliant in their simplicity.

“Google needs to bring Wear back to being extension of our phones,” says Juhani. “The amount of standalone apps available for a watch doesn’t matter… how well it extends my Google Fit, Android notification system and others is what matters. Take out the Play Store, take out the keyboard support, and focus on being helpful.”

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That “keyboard support” even exists tells you exactly who Wear OS’s audience tends to be: geeks who want to noodle. Nobody sensible tries to type anything harder than a passcode on a watch. (Wear OS is apparently 7% of smartwatch sales.) The point about too much choice is a good one too.
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Police: woman remotely wipes phone in evidence after shooting • Schenectady NY Daily Gazette

Steven Cook:

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A cellphone seized by police as part of an investigation into a drive-by shooting last month was remotely wiped by its owner, authorities said this week.

Police believe Juelle L. Grant, 24, of Willow Avenue, may have been the driver of a vehicle involved in an Oct. 23 drive-by shooting on Van Vranken Avenue, near Lang Street, so they obtained her phone, according to police allegations filed in court. No one was injured in the shooting.

After police took her iPhone X, telling her it was considered evidence, “she did remotely wipe” the device, according to police.

“The defendant was aware of the intentions of the police department at the conclusion of the interview with her,” according to court documents.

Police arrested Grant on Nov. 2 and charged her with three felonies – two counts of tampering with physical evidence and one count of hindering prosecution.

One of the tampering counts relates to the phone. The other, as well as the hindering count, relate to her alleged actions the day of the shooting.

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New ways to commit crime! In the only episode of Breaking Bad I’ve ever watched, they used a giant magnet. But that wouldn’t work against a phone. Hm.
link to this extract


AI is not “magic dust” for your company, says Google’s cloud AI boss • Technology Review

Will Knight interviews Andrew Knight, ex-Carnegie-Mellon University:

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Q: Like you, lots of AI researchers are being sucked into big companies. Isn’t that bad for AI?

AK: It’s healthy for the world to have people who are thinking about 25 years into the future—and people who are saying “What can we do right now?”

There’s one project at Carnegie Mellon that involves a 70-foot-tall robot designed to pick up huge slabs of concrete and rapidly create levees against major flooding. It’s really important for the world that there are places that are doing that—but it’s kind of pointless if that’s all that’s going on in artificial intelligence.

While I’ve been at Carnegie Mellon, I’ve had hundreds of meetings with principals in large organizations and companies who are saying, “I am worried my business will be completely replaced by some Silicon Valley startup. How can I build something to counter that?”

I can’t think of anything more exciting than being at a place that is not just doing AI for its own sake anymore, but is determined to bring it out to all these other stakeholders who need it.

Q: How big of a technology shift is this for businesses?

AK: It’s like electrification. And it took about two or three decades for electrification to pretty much change the way the world was. Sometimes I meet very senior people with big responsibilities who have been led to believe that artificial intelligence is some kind of “magic dust” that you sprinkle on an organization and it just gets smarter. In fact, implementing artificial intelligence successfully is a slog.

When people come in and say “How do I actually implement this artificial-intelligence project?” we immediately start breaking the problems down in our brains into the traditional components of AI—perception, decision making, action (and this decision-making component is a critical part of it now; you can use machine learning to make decisions much more effectively)—and we map those onto different parts of the business. One of the things Google Cloud has in place is these building blocks that you can slot together.

Solving artificial-intelligence problems involves a lot of tough engineering and math and linear algebra and all that stuff. It very much isn’t the magic-dust type of solution.

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But tell me more about the 70-foot robot that moves paving slabs.
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Global tablet shipments to decline 4.3% in 2018; Huawei to become 3rd largest manufacturer, surpassing Amazon • TrendForce

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“With the launch of new devices in the coming era of 5G, the tablet category will still help the brands build a strategic future, retaining their customer bases and becoming more influential in the global IoT network,” says Kou-Han Tseng, TrendForce notebook analyst. Therefore, major brands will not give up their tablet product lines, even at the expense of downsizing their entry-level product ranges. Particularly, Google continues the ambitions about its tablet business and Huawei expands fast in this segment, whose growth momentum jointly remains key to the overall performance of the tablet market. For 2019, TrendForce forecasts the global tablet shipments at 139.6m units, a YoY decline of 4%.

Amid the overall decline of tablet sales worldwide, brands tend to offer lower prices to retain customers and invest less in new tablet development. In contrast, Huawei appears to be rather positive in developing new mobile devices, including both smartphones and tablets. Huawei’s shipments of tablets for 2018 are expected to rise by over 30% to more than 14m units, with a market share of 9.8%, 2.6 percentage points up from last year. The impressive shipments will also enable Huawei to become the 3rd largest tablet manufacturer this year, surpassing Amazon.

Amazon’s growth momentum for tablet grows conservative as the brand shifts some focus to its smart speaker business. The company expects a fall in its annual tablet shipments for 2018, although it has been adjusting its product portfolio faster and increasing the share of its 8in and larger products. After three years of strong growth, Amazon is expected to record a more conservative shipment of 13.4m units this year, a YoY decline of 1%.

The leading tablet maker Apple has revealed its new 11in and 12.9in iPad Pro models ahead of the coming holiday sales in Europe and the US. However, its launch not long after new iPhones and the premium price tags, 25% higher than its ancestors, may prevent the new iPad series from achieving mass market success. As the result, TrendForce expects the iPad shipment to fall by 2% YoY, recording 43m units for 2018.

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The Pro tablets aren’t intended to get “mass market success”; the clue is in the name. TrendForce excludes 2-in-1 PCs (such as the Surface genus?).
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Was this the biggest mistake in the history of the music business? • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

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Back in 1990, London-born Sam Houser, aged 19, landed a dream first job – working in the post-room at BMG’s UK HQ. Houser then supplemented his university studies by continuing to work at BMG for the next four years, focusing on pop music videos and VHS releases.

By 1994, he’d graduated, and took a full-time role within BMG’s new interactive entertainment division.

Houser, it turned out, had a natural talent for ‘A&R’ing’ video games – spotting titles that would sell big and signing them up as a label would an artist – and, by 1996, he was named Head of Development at BMG Interactive in the UK.

Got your palm located somewhere roughly near your forehead? Good. Prepare for the two to forcibly meet.

In late 1997, BMG Interactive released Grand Theft Auto, a 2D action-adventure game, which saw players fulfilling the objectives of criminal overlords across three cities.

The title was a commercial smash in the US and Europe – yet it emerged amid serious corporate turbulence.

In March 1998, convinced that its foray into video games had been a waste of time and money, BMG – under the instruction of owner Bertelsmann – agreed to sell off BMG Interactive.

According to Sam Houser, BMG let the company go, to New York-based Take Two Interactive, for a total consideration of $9m.

This deal included the BMG Interactive staff, plus all rights to the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

(For those who can see where this narrative is going: Red Dead Redemption 2 generated that $9m back within an hour of going on sale last month.)

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Yes, Houser is one of the team behind Red Dead Redemption (1 2), which smashed records the other week. It’s a fascinating tale of “bad fit”: the music business just couldn’t work in the way the video games business does. So it dumped it.
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This banking malware just added password and browser history stealing to its playbook • ZDNet

Danny Palmer:

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The Trickbot banking malware has added yet another tool to its arsenal, allowing crooks to steal passwords as well as steal browser data including web history and usernames.

The malware first appeared in 2016, initially focused on stealing banking credentials – but Trickbot is highly customisable and has undergone a series of updates since then. The latest trick – picked up by researchers at both Trend Micro and Fortinet – is the addition of a new module designed to steal passwords.

This new Trickbot variant first emerged in October and is delivered to victims via a malicious Excel document.

Like many forms of malware, the malicious package is spread via macros: the user is told their document was created in an older version of Excel and that they must ‘enable content’ to view the file. This allows macros to run and executes malicious VBS code which kicks off the process of the malware download.

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Social engineering is still one of the most reliable ways to hack people.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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One thought on “Start Up No.951: Xiaomi under fire, Apple shares drop, Wear OS’s missing link, the smart speaker revolution, and more

  1. re: Xiaomi promo: But did you check if there was a sale on 0.3 non-smartphone ? or 0.5 ?

    I spent some time trying to benefit from 11.11 sales over the Week End. (I got roped into doing gate check for a cousin’s bday party… boring !) It was silly:
    – I got a $20 for $200 coupon for twitting and clicking stuff the week before. My 3 twitter followers have been spammed !
    – they had coupons for each order anyway, say $20 for $200, cannot be combined with the 1st coupon which is useless.
    – they had non-couponable flash sales and those were the best.
    – the way Gearbest does check-out, there’s a payment event and order number for each warehouse, so coupons only really work for the more expensive items, not for the the grab bag of small doodads form 4 different warehouses I also wanted to buy.
    – they brought back a bunch of old/crap stuff with fake prices

    In the end:
    – it’s not worth bothering with coupons. Or I’m too dumb/disorganized to exploit them. Just check the flash sales regularly, they even tell you what’s coming up.
    – You got to know the prices beforehand.
    – There are really some outliers. I got last year’s Mi Max 2 for €120 vs 200-ish normally; and a couple Xiaomi 10″ tablets at 30% off – a rare sight on those.
    – Promos work: I spent $1.5k out of $500 I initially wanted to – and still got to buy most of that $500 of stuff. I’ll feel silly later.

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