Start Up No.946: the iPad debate goes on, Iran say Israel cyberattack failed, Kenya v Big Tech, Foxconn v Wisconsin, and more


American doctors are really frustrated with their hospital software – because they didn’t get involved in its design. Photo by Matt Madd on Flickr.

You can 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why doctors hate their computers • The New Yorker

Atul Gawande:

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My hospital had, over the years, computerized many records and processes, but the new system would give us one platform for doing almost everything health professionals needed—recording and communicating our medical observations, sending prescriptions to a patient’s pharmacy, ordering tests and scans, viewing results, scheduling surgery, sending insurance bills. With Epic [the software used in about half of American hospitals], paper lab-order slips, vital-signs charts, and hospital-ward records would disappear. We’d be greener, faster, better.

But three years later I’ve come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work’s mastery over me. I’m not the only one. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. The University of Wisconsin found that the average workday for its family physicians had grown to eleven and a half hours. The result has been epidemic levels of burnout among clinicians. Forty% screen positive for depression, and seven% report suicidal thinking—almost double the rate of the general working population.

Something’s gone terribly wrong. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.

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Turns out it’s because staff, not doctors, made the calls on how Epic would work – but doctors are important users too.
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SMT solving on an iPhone • James Bornholt

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Cross-compiling Z3 [a theorem prover from Microsoft Research] turns out to be remarkably simple, with just a few lines of code changes necessary; I open sourced the code to run Z3 on your own iOS device. For benchmarks, I drew a few queries from my recent work on profiling symbolic evaluation, extracting the SMT generated by Rosette in each case.

As a first test, I compared my iPhone XS to one of my desktop machines, which uses an Intel Core i7-7700K—the best consumer desktop chip Intel was selling when we built the machine 18 months ago. I expected the Intel chip to win quite handily here, but that’s not how things turned out.

The iPhone XS was about 11% faster on this 23 second benchmark! This is the result I tweeted about, but Twitter doesn’t leave much room for nuance, so I’ll add some here.

• This benchmark is in the QF_BV fragment of SMT, so Z3 discharges it using bit-blasting and SAT solving.
• This result holds up pretty well even if the benchmark runs in a loop 10 times—the iPhone can sustain this performance and doesn’t seem thermally limited. That said, the benchmark is still pretty short.
• Several folks asked me if this is down to non-determinism—perhaps the solver takes different paths on the different platforms, due to use of random numbers or otherwise—but I checked fairly thoroughly using Z3’s verbose output and that doesn’t seem to be the case.
• Both systems ran Z3 4.8.1, compiled by me using Clang with the same optimization settings. I also tested on the i7-7700K using Z3’s prebuilt binaries (which use GCC), but those were actually slower.

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OK, that’s quite a niche application. A classic LOB – line of business, ie application-specific – app. It’s what people used to love Windows for. The iPhone’s GPU makes it terrific for this particular LOB app over Intel.
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Apple’s new anti-tracking feature in Safari takes toll • Ad Age

George Slefo:

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Nearly half of the $88bn spent on digital advertising went toward search last year and the Safari update is already starting to disrupt digital giants like Google.

For instance, the new version makes it more difficult for advertisers to deploy a practice known as remarketing lists for search ads, commonly called RLSA, that allows brands to segment different Google search audiences using their own data. Brands use RLSA to target consumers who visit their website, or abandon items in their shopping cart, through Google search. But “ITP 2 essentially kills the ability to use RLSA in the Safari browser,” says Mark Ballard, VP of research at digital agency Merkle.

According to Merkle, the use of RLSA dropped soon after ITP2 came into effect, hitting a seven-month low for the month of September. “The trouble is there are still more questions than answers as to what ITP 2 is going to do,” Ballard says. “It may take some months to develop and we have to watch the data to see what comes of it.”

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Safari has a 50% share on mobile in the US, apparently. That’s from about 40% of smartphones in the US.
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Iran accuses Israel of failed cyber attack • Yahoo News

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Iran’s telecommunications minister accused Israel on Monday of a new cyber attack on its telecommunications infrastructure, and vowed to respond with legal action.

This followed comments from another official last week that Iran had uncovered a new generation of Stuxnet, a virus which was used against the country’s nuclear program more than a decade ago.

“The Zionist regime (Israel), with its record of using cyber weapons such as Stuxnet computer virus, launched a cyber attack on Iran on Monday to harm Iran’s communication infrastructures,” Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said.

“Thanks to our vigilant technical teams, it failed,” he said on Twitter. Iran would take legal action against Israel at international bodies, he added, without giving details.

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Follows on from this in the Times of Israel:

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Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated,” and Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation, an Israeli TV report said Wednesday.

The report came hours after Israel said its Mossad intelligence agency had thwarted an Iranian murder plot in Denmark, and two days after Iran acknowledged that President Hassan Rouhani’s mobile phone had been bugged. It also follows a string of Israeli intelligence coups against Iran, including the extraction from Tehran in January by the Mossad of the contents of a vast archive documenting Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the detailing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN in September of other alleged Iranian nuclear and missile assets inside Iran, in Syria and in Lebanon.

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Pretty difficult to figure out what’s going on. Probably more than Iran is admitting, less than Israel is claiming.
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Why Big Tech pays poor Kenyans to teach self-driving cars • BBC News

Dave Lee went to the slum of Kibera, on the east side of Nairobi, Kenya:

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Brenda does this work for Samasource, a San Francisco-based company that counts Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and Yahoo among its clients. Most of these firms don’t like to discuss the exact nature of their work with Samasource – as it is often for future projects – but it can be said that the information prepared here forms a crucial part of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest and most famous efforts in AI.

It’s the kind of technological progress that will likely never be felt in a place like Kibera. As Africa’s largest slum, it has more pressing problems to solve, such as a lack of reliable clean water, and a well-known sanitation crisis.

But that’s not to say artificial intelligence can’t have a positive impact here. We drove to one of Kibera’s few permanent buildings, found near a railway line that, on this rainy day, looked thoroughly decommissioned by mud, but has apparently been in regular use since its colonial inception.

Almost exactly a year ago, this building was the dividing line between stone-throwing rioters and the military. Today, it’s a thriving hub of activity: a media school and studio, something of a cafeteria, and on the first floor, a room full of PCs. Here, Gideon Ngeno teaches around 25 students the basics of using a personal computer.

What’s curious about this process is that digital literacy is high, even in Kibera, where smartphones are common and every other shop is selling chargers and accessories, which people buy using the mobile money system MPesa.

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Terrific story, pointing out the contradictions – “magic” tech enabled by low-paid humans in distant countries who receive low pay because high pay would distort the market, but who are even so given the money and knowledge to break out of poverty. You could call it “good capitalism”.
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Why WhatsApp became a hotbed for rumours and lies in Brazil • WIRED

Antonio García Martínez:

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Facebook took an interesting step in Brazil to stem the deleterious effect of WhatsApp: It limited the message-forwarding feature to 20 people, down from the previous limit of 250. That brings the limit below what’s known as Dunbar’s number, which is the number of strong social relationships a person can maintain (somewhere around 150). With this change, users can’t broadcast salacious gossip or fake news or deceptive video to all their family and friends.

This hopefully slows or stops the flow of false information and disrupts the echo chamber of in-group rumor-mongering. Facebook apparently has no plans to lift the forwarding limit even now that the election is done. For the moment, the company judges that the power of unfettered and universal group chatting is incompatible with social harmony.

It’s still early days. There were 70 years between Gutenberg printing a book and Luther posting his theses. We haven’t even begun to see the real impact of our printing press—the socially mediated, globally connected smartphone––but we’d best get ready for a world in which it engulfs everything. Will the solution be to reinforce institutions that created the world we know, or will it evolve past those moribund institutions to some new way of mediating our communication? A recent Pew study showed that youngsters are better at distinguishing fact from opinion than the olds.

Perhaps the new generation, born into a world where global connectivity is a given—but the commanding position of Wired or The New York Times is not—will cobble together some way to maintain institutions like democracy while ones like newspaper editors expire.

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Martinez is quite the optimist.

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Apple iPad Pro review 2018: the fastest iPad is still an iPad • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

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The one thing iOS can do with external storage devices is import photos: if you plug in a camera or a memory card from a camera, iOS 12 will automatically pop open the camera import screen and let you import photos into your camera roll.

That’s it. That is the sole way iOS 12 can address external storage. And to make matters worse, you are required to import to the system camera roll — you can’t import photos directly into an app like Lightroom CC. Apple has to be in the middle.

I use Lightroom CC all the time, and I would love to manage and edit all my photos on an iPad Pro, especially since editing with the Apple Pencil is so much fun on this display. But I have no desire to import hundreds of RAW files into my camera roll and iCloud photos account. When I brought this up, Apple very proudly pointed to a new Siri Shortcut from Adobe that imports photos from the camera roll into Lightroom and then automatically deletes them from the camera roll.

I couldn’t test that Lightroom Siri Shortcut, since it’s not yet available. But I can tell you that macro-based hacks around the limitations of an operating system are not usually included in bold visions of the future of computing, and that Siri Shortcut is a pure hack around the limitations Apple has imposed on the iPad Pro.

Oh, but it gets worse. I shoot photos in JPG+RAW, and the iOS PhotoKit API only allows apps to grab one or the other from the camera roll. So I could only import my RAW images into Lightroom, leaving the JPGs behind to clutter up my camera roll and iCloud storage. That’s untenable, so I just gave up and imported everything directly into Lightroom using my Mac, because my Mac doesn’t insist on abstracting the filesystem away into nonsense.

This little Lightroom vignette is basically the story of the iPad Pro: either you have to understand the limitations of iOS so well you can make use of these little hacks all over the place to get things done, or you just deal with it and accept that you have to go back to a real computer from time to time because it’s just easier. And in that case, you might as well just use a real computer.

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Contrast with John Gruber’s review: he raves about the iPad’s benchmarks compared to far more expensive, er, Macs, and then says

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Personally, I still prefer the smaller size. But I don’t use an iPad as my primary portable for work, and these new iPad Pros aren’t going to change that.

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Patel’s critique has merit: if you aren’t good at digging into the software that’s available with the OS, then you will be frustrated at some point if you’re very particular about what you do. (And the lack of hard drive connectability is weird.) But most people just shoot pictures and edit them.
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Tablet market falls 10% as a handful of vendors claim victory in Q3 2018 • Strategy Analytics

Just filling in the tablet detail (we had IDC’s yesterday, which put the “tablet market” at 36.4m for the same period; Strategy Analytics says 39.7m, which is a 10% difference). You already know Apple is the biggest single vendor. And:

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• Android shipments fell to 24.3m units worldwide in Q3 2018, down 11% from 27.2m a year earlier and up 4% sequentially. Market share fell 1 percentage point year-on-year to 61% as many branded Android vendors find it very difficult to compete on price in the wake of Apple lowering its iPad prices. Amazon had lower year-on-year results for the second quarter in a row as last year’s Prime Day was much more tablet-heavy than this year. We expect branded vendors to find a comfortable position from which to compete in lower price tiers with high quality tablets but the larger question is how quickly Chrome will become an offsetting factor for Android as users seek more functionality.

• Windows shipments fell 12% year-on-year to 5.7m units in Q3 2018 from 6.5m in Q3 2017. Shipments increased 3% from the previous quarter as back-to-school and enterprise demand continued to help this segment.

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The fact that Windows tablets aren’t making any headway indicates, to me, that people just don’t want to use Windows in a tablet. Simple as that. Be interesting to see whether Strategy Analytics breaks out ChromeOS tablets in the next quarter(s).
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Did Scott Walker and Donald Trump deal away the Wisconsin governor’s race to Foxconn? • The New Yorker

Dan Kaufman:

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For [Racine mayor Cory] Mason, Foxconn represents a rare opportunity to revitalize his struggling home town. “We’re seeing incumbent companies raise wages in anticipation of Foxconn potentially attracting their employees away,” Mason said. “And they’re talking about over eleven thousand construction jobs just to build the Foxconn facility. That’s before you talk about the hundreds if not thousands of jobs needed to expand the interstate, the jobs that will be needed to put in all the water-utility infrastructure.”

Mason reiterated Foxconn’s promise that it will eventually create thirteen thousand “permanent” jobs in Wisconsin. But the company recently changed the type of factory it plans to build, downsizing to a highly automated plant that will only require 3,000 employees, 90% of them “knowledge workers,” such as engineers, programmers, and designers. Almost all of the assembly work will be done by robots. Gou, Foxconn’s chairman, has said he plans to replace 80% of Foxconn’s global workforce with “Foxbots” in the next five to ten years. The company still says it will hire 13,000 employees in Wisconsin, but it has fallen short of similar promises in Brazil, India, and Pennsylvania, among other places. Foxconn has already replaced 60,000 workers who were earning roughly $2.50 an hour in China…

…In an editorial published on UrbanMilwaukee.com, William Holahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee business school, and Charles Kroncke, a former professor at the school of business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calculated that if Foxconn’s taxpayer subsidies were given to random entrepreneurs, the money would generate more than 90,000 jobs.

They note that Foxconn’s plant will be 20 miles from the Illinois border, so many employees will likely not be Wisconsin residents. And, they argue, it is impossible to consider the jobs created by Foxconn a net gain, because the company’s taxpayer subsidy is taking away billions of dollars from the public sector, where it might be used to repair Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads or hire teachers to fill out short-staffed rural schools. Already, $90m from the state transportation budget has been redirected from highway work in other parts of the state for Foxconn’s development.

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If it all works out, the subsidies might break even by 2042. The majority of Wisconsin voters are against the plan. Urbanmilwaukee has argued hard against it. (The urbanmilwaukee site is worth a browse just to see how “other” news sites can look.)
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China smartphone shipments to fall over 10% in 4Q18, says Digitimes Research • Digitimes

Luke Lin and Ashley Huang:

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Smartphone shipments in the China market went down 6.9% on year in the third quarter of 2018 and are expected to continue to fall by over 10% as telecom operators have reduced subsidies for the purchase of 4G models and the device replacement cycle is lengthening, according to Digitimes Research.

On a quarter-by-quarter basis, Huawei managed to ramp up its smartphone shipments by 20% in the third quarter; Xiaomi and Oppo both saw their shipments expand by a single-digit rate; and Vivo recorded a single-digit decline in the quarter.

As compared to a year earlier, only Huawei and Xiaomi posted shipment gains in the third quarter; Oppo and Vivo both saw their shipments decline by double-digit rates during the period.

Buoyed by the Double 11 shopping festival, total smartphone shipments in China are likely to post a sequential gain in the fourth quarter, but the fourth-quarter figures are expected to drop over 10% as compared to a year earlier, Digitimes Research estimates.

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China is the world’s biggest smartphone market; this is going to squeeze some of the small players, who will have already been going through a tough time. Likely to get worse before it gets better.
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GDP: Trump tariff, trade war hit to economy • Business Insider

Bob Bryan:

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There’s mounting anecdotal evidence that President Donald Trump’s trade war is causing trouble for the US economy and businesses. But Friday’s report on third-quarter gross domestic product may be the best hard evidence yet that the tariffs are causing major disruptions in the economy.

GDP rose at an annualized rate of 3.5% in the third quarter. But the contribution of net exports of goods and services — the measure of how much trade added or subtracted to GDP growth — was a dismal -1.78 percentage points.

It was the largest negative contribution to GDP growth for trade in 33 years; in the second quarter of 1985, trade subtracted 1.91 points.

In other words, if trade were a net neutral, neither adding to nor subtracting from GDP growth, third-quarter GDP growth would have been a dynamite 5.3%.

If trade had matched its average contribution since 2015, a 0.33-point drag, GDP growth would have come in at 5%.

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It is counterintuitive that what looks like a really strong GDP figure is hiding problems, but inventory build by companies trying to get ahead of tariffs in the past quarter won’t be repeated. Which implies a big GDP slowdown in the next quarter.

Of course, if the Democrats get a solid (or even middling) win in the midterm elections, Trump and his media proxies will blame them. If the Republicans hang on, any slowdown will be someone else’s fault.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.945: how Google (accidentally) unravelled a CIA network, the impossible laptop, smartphones’ dwindling battery life, USB-C iPhones?, and more


“The AI says it’s time to pass.” Photo by thearcticblues on Flickr.

You can 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 15 links for you. Literally. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The CIA’s communications suffered a catastrophic compromise • Yahoo News

Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin:

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Though the Iranians didn’t say precisely how they infiltrated the network, two former U.S. intelligence officials said that the Iranians cultivated a double agent who led them to the secret CIA communications system. This online system allowed CIA officers and their sources to communicate remotely in difficult operational environments like China and Iran, where in-person meetings are often dangerous.

A lack of proper vetting of sources may have led to the CIA inadvertently running a double agent, said one former senior official — a consequence of the CIA’s pressing need at the time to develop highly placed agents inside the Islamic Republic. After this betrayal, Israeli intelligence tipped off the CIA that Iran had likely identified some of its assets, said the same former official.

The losses could have stopped there. But U.S. officials believe Iranian intelligence was then able to compromise the covert communications system. At the CIA, there was “shock and awe” about the simplicity of the technique the Iranians used to successfully compromise the system, said one former official.

In fact, the Iranians used Google to identify the website the CIA was using to communicate with agents. Because Google is continuously scraping the internet for information about all the world’s websites, it can function as a tremendous investigative tool — even for counter-espionage purposes. And Google’s search functions allow users to employ advanced operators — like “AND,” “OR,” and other, much more sophisticated ones — that weed out and isolate websites and online data with extreme specificity.

According to the former intelligence official, once the Iranian double agent showed Iranian intelligence the website used to communicate with his or her CIA handlers, they began to scour the internet for websites with similar digital signifiers or components — eventually hitting on the right string of advanced search terms to locate other secret CIA websites. From there, Iranian intelligence tracked who was visiting these sites, and from where, and began to unravel the wider CIA network.

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Iran then cooperated with China to identify US agents there, and then more widely identified US agents worldwide. Stunning piece of reporting. A long read, but worth it. Because of this, a number of US agents in China were caught and executed – the latter fact was reported separately of this a while back.
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Why limiting free users to 1,000 photos on Flickr is a smart move • Thomas Hawk Digital Connection

The pro photographer writes:

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Oath is basically an advertising company and when you are advertising at people you need to be able to advertise to your most profitable customers to make the service work. When you give your most profitable customers (i.e. the ones with money) the option to pay to opt out of ads they do and will. What you are left with is a bunch of accounts by heavy users who are either poor Americans or more likely poor overseas accounts or very light users who can put up with ads but won’t see very many because they are only on your site 2 minutes a week. Whatever the case, you are basically providing a terabyte of enterprise storage, bandwidth, support, etc., to customers who cannot economically be supported by advertising.

In order for Flickr to survive it has to be a long-term profitable business. SmugMug knows a thing or two about how to do this as their primary model for over a decade has been entirely subscription based. As someone who wants to be able to host my photos on Flickr for the 50 remaining years I likely have left on this planet (and even after my death) in order to publish 1,000,000 photos, it’s important to me that Flickr has a long-term viable business model. This means that strongly encouraging free users (who are not currently paying their way) to migrate to paid Pro is important.

I do think it is important for Flickr to offer a free account in order to give people an opportunity to try out the service to see if it is for them. 1,000 photos gives you plenty of opportunity to do just that. It gives you hundreds, even thousands, of hours to explore and enjoy the service without paying — but if you are a heavy user of the site and are using over 1,000 photos of space, at some point you ought to pay.

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There is a LOT of discussion about this, though I’m told it only affects 3% of users. (Then again, that’s a lot of people even so.) Don McAskill, the SmugMug (and now also Flickr) CEO points out that the pro offering is less than half the price of Apple, Google or Amazon. (Google charges only apply for photos over 16 megapixels though.)
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Your smartphone’s location data is worth big money to Wall Street • WSJ

Ryan Dezember:

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Thasos gets data from about 1,000 apps, many of which need to know a phone’s location to be effective, like those providing weather forecasts, driving directions or the whereabouts of the nearest ATM. Smartphone users, wittingly or not, share their location when they use such apps.

Before Thasos gets the data, suppliers scrub it of personally identifiable information, Mr. Skibiski said. It is just time-stamped strings of longitude and latitude. But with more than 100 million phones providing such coordinates, Thasos says it can paint detailed pictures of the ebb and flow of people, and thus their money.

Alex “Sandy” Pentland, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist who helped launch Thasos, likens it to a circulatory system: “You can look at this blood flow of people moving around.”

…Thasos won’t name its clients, but Mr. Skibiski says it sells data to dozens of hedge funds, some of which pay more than $1m a year. Thasos’s largest investor is Ken Nickerson, who helped build PDT Partners into a quantitative-investing mint inside Morgan Stanley .

This month, Thasos is set to start offering data through Bloomberg terminals. A measure of mall foot traffic will be widely available; detailed daily feeds about malls owned or operated by 30 large real-estate investments trusts cost extra.

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The quest to build the impossible laptop • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

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In a recent barrage of new products, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Lenovo, and HP have all shown off computers that are trying to tackle one of the industry’s most vexing problems: How do you make a keyboarded computer that’s also a great tablet? How do you attach a keyboard to a tablet without ruining the whole thing? Every manufacturer is trying to create a device that can do it all.

Over the last few months, we’ve talked to top computer designers to get to the bottom of just why it’s so hard to design the tablet-laptop hybrid device we’ve taken to calling “the impossible laptop.” In the video above, we explore the history of these 2-1 devices and take a close look at some of the new products we’re really excited about going into the future.

Creating the perfect “2-in-1″ device seems to defy engineering. The processor has to be fast enough to handle demanding multitasking while low-power enough to fit in a thin chassis. The device has to work perfectly both with your fingers on the display and your fingers on a touchpad and keyboard. And the hinge, the critical mechanism that allows the device to transition from laptop to tablet and back, needs to be just right.

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I felt Cranz sets up the right questions but doesn’t quite get to the bottom of the problem. To me, it’s all about the hinge.
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Study: false news spreads faster than the truth • MIT Sloan school of management

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A new study published in Science finds that false news online travels “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth.” And the effect is more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.

Falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than the truth, researchers found. And false news reached 1,500 people about six times faster than the truth.

The study, by Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy, both of the MIT Media Lab, and MIT Sloan professor Sinan Aral, is the largest-ever longitudinal study of the spread of false news online. It uses the term “false news” instead of “fake news” because the former “has lost all connection to the actual veracity of the information presented, rendering it meaningless for use in academic classification,” the authors write.

To track the spread of news, the researchers investigated all the true and false news stories verified by six independent fact-checking organizations that were distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. They studied approximately 126,000 cascades — defined as “instances of a rumor spreading pattern that exhibits an unbroken retweet chain with a common, singular origin” — on Twitter about contested news stories tweeted by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. Twitter provided access to data and provided funding for the study.

The researchers removed Twitter bots before running their analysis. They then included the bots and ran the analysis again and found “none of our main conclusions changed.”

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Those colorful Sonos One speakers go on sale November 5th • Engadget

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Sonos is finally breaking away from the bland black and white color schemes that typically accompany speakers and is spicing things new with new, vibrant options. In collaboration with Danish design brand HAY, Sonos is releasing a run of the Sonos One speaker that will be available in yellow, green, red, pink and gray. Despite originally being slated for a September release, the limited edition speakers will be available starting on November 5th.

If you’d like to get your hands on one of the Sonos One speakers with a fresh coat of paint, you’ll have to pay extra for it. The limited run of color speakers will sell for $229 – a $30 premium on top of the $199 retail price for the Sonos One in black or white. The color-dipped speakers will only be available through Sonos.com, Hay.com, the Sonos store in Manhattan and the Museum of Modern Art design store. You won’t be able to grab the limited edition speaker through other electronics sellers like Amazon or Best Buy.

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In case you need a coloured something to match some indoor furnishings. Best sound for the price on the market, I’d say. But don’t seem to be available in the UK, sadly.
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Smartphone battery life: iPhone XS battery isn’t as good as the X. Which phone outlasts them all? • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

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CNET, which like me found conspicuous dips in battery life between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X (and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S9), tests screens at 50% brightness playing a looping video with Airplane Mode turned on.

What we both discovered: phones with fancy screens that are especially high-resolution or use tech such as OLED perform worse. (That tech can require more power to push out light.) So if you want your phone to last longer, turn down the screen’s brightness. Or stop looking at your phone so many times each day, if you can break our nationwide spell of phone addiction.

Tom’s Guide throws another factor into the mix: the cellular connection. It makes phones run through a series of websites streamed over LTE. Unlike me, it also saw a big battery life hit to the Pixel 3 XL versus the Pixel 2 XL.

Another lesson: If you want the battery to last longer, use WiFi when possible — or even Airplane Mode when you don’t need to be reachable. Both Apple and Android phones also offer low-power modes (not reflected in our testing) that reduce some draining data functions without taking you offline.

The counterexample is Consumer Reports, which found the new iPhone XS lasted 25% longer than last year’s iPhone X. Its test uses a finger robot — yes, you read that right — to make phones cycle through lots of different functions and apps, including pauses in use where the screen turns off.

Consumer Reports is likely better testing the phone’s processor, an area where a number of companies — but particularly Apple — have made efficiency gains.

So overall, are battery lives decreasing or increasing? “You can’t make a straight trend,” says Consumer Reports director of electronics testing Maria Rerecich.

I wish companies had more standardized ways to talk about battery life.

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Struggling for a mobile connection will kill your battery. If you need Wi-Fi but not a mobile connection, switch to Airplane mode, and then turn the Wi-Fi back on. Boom! Longer battery life.
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Samsung’s quarterly earnings show increased overall profit, but continued decline in mobile • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

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Samsung published its third-quarter financials yesterday, and results are mixed. Although profits and revenue are up (both year over year and quarter over quarter), the mobile division continues the decline set last quarter. Interestingly, that’s not as a result of sales, but rather increased marketing costs and unfavorable currency developments. Nonetheless, it expects those mobile earnings to decrease further next quarter, even as smartphone shipments rise…

…Samsung’s third-quarter IT & Mobile Communications (read: phone) profits are always on the lower side in Q3, and at 2.22 trillion KRW (~$1.98bn) that’s a decline both quarter over quarter, year over year, and the lowest numbers Samsung has seen since Q1 2017. Interestingly, this isn’t a result of a decline in flagship sales, but rather mid and low-end devices.

The company expects phone sales to rise for Q4/the end of the year, but since those late-year sales require correspondingly higher marketing costs, profitability won’t be as high.

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Analysts reckon Samsung’s phone sales declined quite sharply in Q3 on a year-over-year basis. Things are getting compressed in the phone market.
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Guess who’s the leading headphone brand? • Music Industry Blog

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Smart speakers and interactive dashboards are both competing for consumer ear time, but will never claim back the same share of listening from headphones that speaker-based listening enjoyed in the 80s and 90s. We live much more itinerant and connected lives now, with the smartphone our eternal companion. Headphones represent a marketplace with an unprecedented scale and ubiquity.

MIDiA has just published a new report exploring this marketplace and one of the key findings may surprise you: Apple is the market leader in headphone ownership.

Just as Apple stole Sony’s leading position in portable audio players, it is now doing the same with headphones. When its three headphone brand categories are combined (EarPods, AirPods, Beats – an Apple company) Apple has the leading market share in headphone ownership with 24%. Sony is second with 22%, followed by fellow traditional CE stalwarts Panasonic and Bose. The top four corporate-level headphone brands represent 61% of the total, illustrating just how fragmented the rest of the market is, with countless brands competing for share. Interestingly, Apple is the only top 20 headphone brand whose owners are not majority male.

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Did not expect that. (MIDiA’s report looks at headphone people have specifically chosen to buy, I think, rather than those which come in a box, because otherwise you’d think it would be Samsung, right?)
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Chelsea is using our AI research for smarter football coaching • The Conversation

Varuna de Silva is a lecturer at the Institute for Digital Technologies at Loughborough University:

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The best footballers aren’t necessarily the ones with the best physical skills. The difference between success and failure in football often lies in the ability to make the right split-second decisions on the field about where to run and when to tackle, pass or shoot. So how can clubs help players train their brains as well as their bodies?

My colleagues and I are working with Chelsea FC academy to develop a system to measure these decision-making skills using artificial intelligence (AI) – a kind of robot coach or scout, if you will. We’re doing this by analysing several seasons of data that tracks players and the ball throughout each game, and developing a computer model of different playing positions. The computer model provides a benchmark to compare the performance of different players. This way we can measure the performance of individual players independent of the actions of other players.

We can then visualise what might have happened if the players had made a different decision in any case. TV commentators are always criticising player actions, saying they should have done something else without any real way of testing the theory. But our computer model can show just how realistic these suggestions might be.

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Tricky to do, because every situation is unique – and when something similar arises, how do you know if it’s sufficiently similar or different to do something else? Possibly pointing this out is something good managers have done instinctively for years. Now it’s the AIs’ turn.
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Gartner, IDC were both wildly wrong in guessing Apple’s Q4 Mac shipments • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

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The fact that Gartner and IDC were both so wrong about Apple’s Mac sales is particularly shocking because Apple reports its Mac shipments every quarter, making it easier to refine the model that analysts use to make their sales projections. No other PC maker issues verified sales data every quarter, meaning there’s no way for outside estimates to check their own math against reality.

If Gartner and IDC are that wrong about Mac shipments, their PC numbers are even more untrustworthy.

And of course, moving forward into fiscal 2019, Apple will no longer report its Mac and iPad unit sales each quarter. That means the final verifiable data we now have to challenge analyst estimates will be gone. The only way we will know that Apple isn’t doomed is if it is still in business.

The direction of the market on a quarterly basis (in terms of unit market share and growth) will also be a huge question mark. The only way we will know that Gartner and IDC have unreliable data is that they’ve had unreliable data and insight in the past. After all, IDC once predicted that both Windows Phone and Windows Tablets would be hits that crushed the growth Apple’s iPhone and iPad, without offering any actual facts supporting the idea either time.

It is pretty clear that the PC market has not been growing, even if the guesswork numbers from Gartner and IDC can’t really be relied upon to be factual. But we also know that Gartner and IDC have spent the last decade issuing gerrymandered data to make it look like tablets—specifically iPads sold by Apple—weren’t having any material, discernible effect on PC sales, undeniably to make Microsoft’s Windows business look better than it was.

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DED’s point (on the gerrymandering) is that the iPad did have an effect on general PC sales back in 2013, and arguably contributed to the fall in the consumer PC market that we’ve seen since 2011. It’s pretty hard to argue against that: for many home users, an iPad really can do everything their older PC could. (So can their smartphone.) But of course, those who frame the debate win the debate – and as he says in the “gerrymandering” article, linked, by framing the iPad as “not a PC” both Gartner and IDC could suggest the iPad wasn’t important.

Plus the fact that they always get Apple’s “PC” numbers wrong isn’t encouraging, given that Apple is going to stop releasing them.

Speaking of tablets…
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Tablet market sees modest decline of 8.6% as slate and detachable categories continue to struggle • IDC

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Slate tablets accounted for the majority of the market with 31.6m units, down 7.9% from the previous year. Detachable tablets also declined, down 13.1% from the previous year, to account for 4.8m unit shipments.

“The detachable market has failed to see growth in 2018, a worrying trend that has plagued the category off and on since the end of 2016,” said Lauren Guenveur, senior research analyst for IDC’s Tablet team. “In October we finally saw the highly anticipated refreshes of Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro, as well as new products by Samsung and Google, which lead us to believe that the last quarter of the year will turn the detachable category around, at least for the time being. Increasingly sparse are new products by the top-tier PC OEMs as they remain more focused on their convertible portfolio, a move that will ultimately affect the overall trajectory of the detachable market going forward.”

“The tablet market is more like the traditional PC market than ever before,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “Not only do these markets move in sync with each other, but the decreasing margins and overall decline, particularly in slate tablets, has led to the top 5 companies capturing a larger share as many small vendors have exited the space or simply treat the tablet market with a much lower priority. Even among the top 5, it is essentially Apple and to a lesser extent Samsung that continue to invest heavily in product innovation and marketing. This has helped the two companies to set themselves apart from the rest.”

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Have a look at the numbers: Apple has over 25% share, and “others” – one suspects mostly cheap Chinese media consumption tablets, or perhaps a few for commercial applications – nearly a third. There’s just no room for profit as the market contracts, squeezing harder even than the PC market.

Only Apple, Samsung and Amazon have a real reason to be there: Apple makes profit, Samsung sells its screens and reinforces its brand, and Amazon uses it as a trojan horse for its content offerings.
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Signing into Google now requires JavaScript • PCMag UK

Matthew Humphries:

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Attempting to sign in with JavaScript disabled in your browser will result in a “Couldn’t sign you in” message appearing, suggesting JavaScript either isn’t supported by your browser or turned off. The only solution is to turn it back on or use a more modern browser. The good news is, there’s plenty of choice with Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Vivaldi, and even Internet Explorer offering support and JavaScript turned on by default.

Google doesn’t see this demand for JavaScript as being a big problem because according to the search giant only 0.1% of Google Account users turn it off. The internet is becoming increasingly JavaScript-reliant anyway, so it’s unlikely that tiny percentage will grow in the future.

There’s no details on what Google’s risk assessment actually entails, and I don’t expect any to be forthcoming. Why would Google publicly share how it’s checking the security of a sign-in process? That would only make it a weaker process as the more information an attacker has about how it works, the better the chances of them finding a way to circumvent it.

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Not really. It’s pretty hard to run Javascript from a command line, which is how lots of faked or automated signins (especially using stolen credentials) would be done. This – plus, I suspect, unrevealed monitoring of keystroke patterns to figure out if there’s a human behind the login – would ensure you have to have a person behind the keyboard.

Flip it over. Why would Google enforce the use of something if it doesn’t improve security?
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Apple’s iPad Pro A12X nearly matches top-end x86 CPUs in GeekBench • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

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There are persistent rumors that Apple will start swapping Intel CPUs for its own silicon in 2020. From there, it’s easy to connect the dots and think that this is evidence of Intel’s own performance collapse, the end of x86, etc. Digging deeper into results often gives a more nuanced picture of what’s going on and where the limits and problems are. For example: One potential reason these results favor Apple is that Apple is still building its laptops with DDR3-2133, while its iPads use LPDDR4 at higher clocks. In theory, a laptop with DDR4-2400 instead of DDR3-2133 would perform a bit better in these tests.

If Apple wants to truly take the general-purpose CPU performance crown away from Intel by 2020 and replace x86 silicon with its own ARM chips, it’s going to have to either improve those areas of performance where it still lags far behind its competitor or say goodbye to the community of Mac users that rely on superior performance in those types of mathematical operations. That’s going to cost the company power and die area at some level. This is by no means an insurmountable problem — it’s more-or-less exactly what Intel did when it transformed its Pentium M Dothan core (2003) into Nehalem (2008). Dothan was a great CPU with some multimedia processing weak spots compared with its predecessors. Over time, Intel fixed those weaknesses and added new capabilities, setting the stage for a brand-new architecture to debut a decade ago.

The other major issue Apple will have to continue to work on is the suitability of iOS as a serious work platform. iPad Pro reviews have always praised the tablet for its build quality and performance. The question of whether you can use it as a replacement for a traditional laptop (including a Mac laptop) has always come down to software support and ease-of-use.

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The iPad Pro’s USB-C port is great. It should be on my iPhone, too • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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You’re not as likely to connect cameras or thumb drives to your iPhone, but there are good reasons for USB-C there, too.

First, you’d be able to charge in more places, including from your MacBook or iPad Pro charger. That means less junk on your desk or in your suitcase and less of a problem if you forget something. Maybe it’ll even mean some price pressure on Apple’s expensive chargers, too. (We can dream, right?)

Second, USB-C is the best way out of the industry’s abandonment of 3.5mm audio jacks. Because face it, they’re not coming back. With USB-C iPhones, you’d be able to use one set of earbuds or headphones with your laptops, phones and whatever devices you buy in the future.

Third, Apple’s choices send an important message to any other tech company. A USB-C iPhone would help car manufacturers, speaker makers and others embrace USB-C and deliver on its all-purpose promise. That may never happen — Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment — but today’s iPad Pro already sends a message to electronics makers that Lightning’s future is uncertain and that Apple appreciates what USB-C has to offer.

The USB-C advantages may not be worth it for you today. Especially if you don’t have a newer Mac, don’t want to spend $9 for an Apple USB-C adapter for your favorite old headphones with a 3.5mm jack, or have accessories like speaker dock reliant on a Lightning port.

But it’s worth it to me, for charging and earbuds today and for digital photography on my next laptop-free vacation.

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I may have to do a matrix of the objects Apple has which use Lightning, and which use USB-C. (Former: iPad, iPad mini, 10.5in iPad Pro, iPhones, AirPods; latter: new iPad Pros, MacBook, MacBook Pro. Neither: old MacBook Air – still on sale – desktops and Mac mini.)

As for the iPhone: I’d expect USB-C there in 2020.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.944: smartphones post-boom, Apple slows down, Facebook saturates, Google staff walk out, VR’s too pricey, and more


Two million children – of 14 million – in the UK have access to something like this. Photo by methodshop .com on Flickr.

You can 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 11 links for you. Satisfied yet? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Two million children now using smart speakers in the UK • Strategy Analytics

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at least two million children are now using smart speakers in the UK, particularly for listening to music, searching for information and hearing jokes and funny stories. The analysis is based on an online survey of 1002 smart speaker users carried out in July/August 2018.

Listening to music is by far the most popular activity for children who use a smart speaker. 78% are using it to listen to music at least weekly and more than half at least once a day. Children’s usage of smart speakers is quite different from that of adults: children are more likely to use them to listen to jokes and play games, while adults are more likely to listen to the news and get weather information.

The research also found that more than half of children who use a smart speaker use it to help with homework, learn vocabulary or practice spelling. But in a third of homes where smart speakers are used and children are living, the children are not using a smart speaker at all.

David Watkins, Director, Smart Speakers at Strategy Analytics commented: “Some parents are clearly quite happy that their children are making use of smart speakers. They are mostly for entertainment, but they also have uses which are more serious, and, some would say, valuable.”

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There are roughly 14 million children (under 16) in the UK. This is incredibly rapid adoption, if the survey is robust.
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Skype is getting a call recording feature nearly 15 years after it launched • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Microsoft is finally adding call recording to Skype. Later this month, Skype will be updated to include built-in call recording. The new feature will be cloud-based, allowing you to access Skype call recordings across devices including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and even Linux. “Call recording is completely cloud-based, and as soon as you start recording, everyone in the call is notified that the call is being recorded,” explains Microsoft’s Skype team. “Call recordings combine everyone’s video as well as any screens shared during the call.”

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This might sound like a boon to podcasters – except they want to capture the sound going into the microphone, not the sound once it’s been encoded by Skype. So podcasting on the iPad still hasn’t arrived. (Thanks Stormyparis for the link.)
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Free isn’t cheap enough • The Blog of Palmer Luckey

You know, he’s an Oculus (the VR people bought by Facebook) founder:

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In the end, hardware sales are a meaningless metric for the success of VR.  They matter only as a means to an end, a foundation to enable the one thing that truly matters: Engagement.  Engagement is all that matters.  Engagement is Everything!

This is just as true in the present day.  Hardware sales get a lot of attention and speculation from analysts and consumers alike, but the real name of the game revolves around the number of people logging in and spending money each week, the life force that makes everything actually go.  Recent market experiments with cheap VR hardware have shown that there are millions of people willing to buy said hardware, but very few among them continue to use the hardware or invest in the software ecosystem for very long.  This is true even when people get the hardware for free – the millions of cardboard boxes fulfilling their ultimate destiny on the back shelf of a closet don’t do much for the VR industry.  Why the lack of use?  Quality of experience.  If the free hardware was as good as the visor described in the first paragraph and paired with good content, a mass-market VR revolution would occur practically overnight.

And what if that visor cost $999 instead of $99?  Price is certainly a relevant factor in the rate of VR adoption, but not a dominant one – as someone who has had to eat my hat multiple times in pursuit of keeping costs low, I feel like I intimately understand what it must have felt like to deal with the response to the E3 2006 Playstation 3 price announcement.  Five hundred and ninety nine US dollars?!  The hypothetical visor provides quite a bit more for your money, though – it may not sell billions of units, but it would certainly sell by the hundreds of millions.  Lower pricing for existing VR technology can help expand the size of the active and engaged userbase, but not to nearly the degree many people would expect.  I want to take this a step further and make a bold claim: No existing or imminent VR hardware is good enough to go truly mainstream, even at a price of $0.00. 

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Global smartphone shipments down 6.0% in Q3 2018 as the leading vendor and the largest market face challenges • IDC

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While the overall smartphone market has declined for four straight quarters, two things stand out as major factors in the third quarter. Samsung, the largest smartphone vendor in terms of market share, accounting for 20.3% of shipments in 3Q18, declined 13.4% year over year in the quarter. And secondly, China, which is the largest country market for smartphone consumption, accounting for roughly one third of global shipments, was down as well for the sixth consecutive quarter.

Samsung had a challenging quarter with shipments down 13.4% to 72.2m units shipped. The market share leader continues to feel pressure from all directions, especially with Huawei inching closer to the top after its second consecutive quarter as the number two vendor. In addition, growing markets like India and Indonesia, where Samsung has held leading positions for many years, are being changed by the rapid growth of Chinese brands like Xiaomi, OPPO, and vivo.

Meanwhile, China’s domestic market, which represents roughly one third of all smartphones consumed, has been in decline since the second quarter of 2017, and 3Q18 was the sixth consecutive quarter where the market sees contraction. China was down 11% in the first half of 2018 (1H18), and the challenges continued into 3Q18. Overall IDC expects this decline to decelerate with the market returning to flat growth in 2019.

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Apple down to third place, with a 13.2% share (46.9m); Huawei was 14.6% (52.0m). Xiaomi, which a couple of years ago was struggling, is now 4th, with 9.7% share (34.3m). Chinese smartphone companies thriving even as China sales slow.

The smartphone boom is over. What follows now flows from that.
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Apple holiday forecast misses on iPhone demand; shares fall • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook cited weakness in some emerging markets, currency volatility, the timing of new iPhones and uncertainty about whether Apple can meet demand for all the new models it recently released, according to an interview with Reuters.

IPhone unit sales barely grew from a year earlier, even though new flagship iPhones came out in the fiscal fourth quarter this year. That was a disappointment, considering there were no big iPhone launches in the same period last year.

The company sold 46.9m iPhones in the quarter, generating revenue of $37.2bn. The period included about a week and a half of sales of the high-end iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max models. The average iPhone selling price was $793. Analysts were looking for 48.4m iPhone units in the quarter, and an average selling price of $729.

The company released new iPhones in September, and upgraded iPads and Macs were introduced earlier this week. Apple raised prices on most of the devices, a relatively recent strategy to offset slowing unit sales growth. It’s a bet that consumers will continue to pay up for access to the company’s specialized and tightly integrated hardware and software.

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Apple also announced that it will no longer give out unit sales data for iPhones, iPads or Macs. The interpretation is that emerging markets are slowing down, and that unit sales are going to drop (even if average sale prices, ASPs, rise), and it doesn’t want that on the record. It’s now about keeping ASP up to mask any unit problems – and so keeping Wall St happy.

Wall St isn’t happy, though, because it sees less information as less transparency, and so less visibility about the future.
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Facebook growth slows as Zuckerberg says developed countries are saturated • The Guardian

Gabrielle Canon:

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While Facebook also reported continued growth in daily active users this quarter, use of the platform in the west may be waning – which may spell bad news for the company that’s been hit with several scandals and increases in government regulation.

Between the second and third quarters, the company reported an increase of average users from 1.47 billion to 1.49 billion, and a decline in the growth rate from 11% to 9%.

User rates in the US and Europe remained mostly static, and the small growth came in other areas of the world.

On the call, Zuckerberg framed the numbers as a sign that Facebook had remained stable and was saturated in “developed countries”.

He emphasized that the company was expanding its ability to deliver stories and video, and would increase efforts to build communities – replacing that as a priority above newsfeed – with new offers like dating connections that will be rolled out soon.

“These are services that benefit from having everyone you know connected on a single platform,” he said, adding that it had been a tough but important year for the company.

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Google walkout: global protests after sexual misconduct allegations • The Guardian

Matthew Weaver and Alex Hern in London, Victoria Bekiempis in New York, Lauren Hepler in Mountain View and Jose Fermoso in San Francisco:

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The mostly young workers listened to some of their co-workers address the crowd, such as Demma Rodriguez, who heads equity engineering at Google in New York.

“Enough is enough is enough!” she shouted, to cheers. “Every single person at Google is exceptional … it is absolutely disgusting that anyone thinks you can be less than exceptional, worse than that, you can be negligent about sexual assault, sexual harassment and abuse of power.”

One man protesting, who declined to give his name, said he participated in the walkout because “I have a sister, a mother.”

He added: “I’m here for all the women in my life.”

Many were too nervous to talk to reporters, while some said they had been told by bosses not to or to refer the media to the company’s PR department.

But Amelia Brunner, 25, a software engineer, who has been with the company for three years, said that while she hasn’t experienced sexual harassment, she has endured different treatment at work because of her gender.

“People will doubt my work a lot more than they will doubt my male colleagues,” she said. “You will get talked down more in meetings.”

She said that while she has a “loud personality” that helps her overcome this, others may not.

“Theres a trickle-down effect “ she said. “How are you supposed to rise in the ranks?”

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A reminder that it’s because of claims that some men were paid millions of dollars to leave Google in the face of sexual harassment allegations. In the UK, there has been a similar NDA-payoff row – though the people who got the payoffs were women who disliked their treatment at the hands (or mouth) of Philip Green, head of one of the biggest retailers. So it’s not just Google.
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An AI lie detector is going to start questioning travellers in the EU • Gizmodo

Melanie Ehrenkranz:

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The virtual border control agent [in Hungary, Latvia and Greece] will ask travellers questions after they’ve passed through the checkpoint. Questions include, “What’s in your suitcase?” and “If you open the suitcase and show me what is inside, will it confirm that your answers were true?” according to New Scientist. The system reportedly records travelers’ faces using AI to analyze 38 micro-gestures, scoring each response. The virtual agent is reportedly customized according to the traveler’s gender, ethnicity, and language.

For travelers who pass the test, they will receive a QR code that lets them through the border. If they don’t, the virtual agent will reportedly get more serious, and the traveler will be handed off to a human agent who will asses their report. But, according to the New Scientist, this pilot program won’t, in its current state, prevent anyone’s ability to cross the border.

This is because the program is very much in the experimental phases. In fact, the automated lie-detection system was modeled after another system created by some individuals from iBorderCtrl’s team, but it was only tested on 30 people.

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Hmm. 30 people? Feels like this is going to have some teething problems.
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Why we’re changing Flickr free accounts • Flickr Blog

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Today, we’re announcing updates to our Free and Pro accounts that mark a new step forward for Flickr. To be candid, we’re driving toward the future of Flickr with one eye on the rearview mirror; we’re certain that Flickr’s brightest days lay ahead, but we remain acutely aware that past missteps have alienated some members of our community. We also recognize that many of the clues for how best to build the future of Flickr can be found in our own, rich history.

Many of today’s announcements are unequivocally positive things: a new, simplified login with any email you prefer; improvements to the Pro account; and additional partner perks. The changes to our Free accounts are significant, and I’d like to explain why these changes are necessary and why we’re confident they’re the right path forward for Flickr.

Beginning January 8, 2019, Free accounts will be limited to 1,000 photos and videos. If you need unlimited storage, you’ll need to upgrade to Flickr Pro.

In 2013, Yahoo lost sight of what makes Flickr truly special and responded to a changing landscape in online photo sharing by giving every Flickr user a staggering terabyte of free storage. This, and numerous related changes to the Flickr product during that time, had strongly negative consequences.

First, and most crucially, the free terabyte largely attracted members who were drawn by the free storage, not by engagement with other lovers of photography. This caused a significant tonal shift in our platform, away from the community interaction and exploration of shared interests that makes Flickr the best shared home for photographers in the world. We know those of you who value a vibrant community didn’t like this shift, and with this change we’re re-committing Flickr to focus on fostering this interaction…

…making storage free had the unfortunate effect of signaling to an entire generation of Flickr members that storage—and even Flickr itself—isn’t worth paying for.

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Storing all those photos is actually “staggeringly expensive”, says new owner for which money is emphatically NOT no object. The terabyte thing was always crazy, but who would tell Marissa?
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Someone paid thousands of foreigners 20 cents each to hide HuffPost’s negative coverage of a Democratic PAC • HuffPost UK

Alexander Thorburn-Winsor and Paul Blumenthal:

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A HuffPost article that critically covered a Democratic political action committee abruptly disappeared from the top results in Google search after a contractor hired thousands of workers outside of the U.S. this spring to help suppress negative coverage of the PAC’s activities.

HuffPost’s April 2016 report investigated the tactics of End Citizens United, a political action committee founded by three former staffers at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s official organ dedicated to electing Democrats to the House of Representatives. ECU, which worked to elect Democratic candidates who support campaign finance reform, used aggressive and expansive email campaigns to rake in millions of dollars in online donations. The PAC’s pushy tactics angered other nonprofits working toward campaign finance reform, which came to think of the PAC as an arm of the Democratic Party stealing their donors with deceptive email marketing.

Until this spring, HuffPost’s story was the second to come up in a generic Google search for “End Citizens United.” But in the spring of 2018, an anonymous US-based contractor paid at least 3,800 workers in countries around the world through the crowdsourcing firm Microworkers to manipulate what stories would come up when people searched for the PAC in Google, according to public job listings on Microworkers reviewed by HuffPost.

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Political wrangling gets worse and worse. I like the irony of using a PAC to end PACs.
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Tech and media website Re/code to be folded into Vox.com • WSJ

Benjamin Mullin:

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The decision to fold Recode into Vox comes more than three years after Vox Media announced the acquisition of the media and technology site in an all-stock deal whose financial terms weren’t disclosed. Jim Bankoff, Vox Media’s chief executive, said at the time that Recode’s conference business was an attractive asset for the company.

Ms. Swisher, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, co-founded Recode with her then-colleague, the technology journalist Walt Mossberg, after the pair parted ways with Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones in 2013. They were among a wave of high-profile journalists who left their employers to found their own media companies around that time. Jessica Lessin, also a former Wall Street Journal reporter, left to found The Information, a news and technology site, in 2013. Alex Blumberg, a former This American Life producer, co-founded Gimlet Media, a podcasting company, in 2014. Ezra Klein left the Washington Post in 2014 to start Vox.com with Ms. Bell and the journalist Matt Yglesias.

Recode’s traffic has declined in recent months, as some of the site’s marquee journalists have left the company for jobs at other news organizations. The site attracted 1.36m unique visitors in September 2018, a 50% decrease from its audience of 2.77m unique visitors during the same period the year before, according to comScore. By comparison, the Verge, another Vox-owned tech website, drew 25.9m unique visitors in September.

Mr. Mossberg retired last year, and reporters such as Edmund Lee, Tony Romm and Johana Bhuiyan have all left Recode in the past year. Ms. Swisher has begun writing for the New York Times, which she joined as an opinion contributor in July.

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I think Re/code has never quite had the heft that All Things Digital, its forebear spinoff from the WSJ, had – partly because it started from nothing. The Verge did too, but aims to be a sort of technology wire service: the Reuters or AP of the web.

I don’t see Re/code thriving from here, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Apple’s results: 14 new graphs tell the financial story

Apple released its fiscal fourth-quarter results (calendar third quarter) to the end of September on Thursday. So following up on my post from earlier this week, here’s what the data tells us about that period – which already feels like it’s in the rear-view mirror, what with the iPhone XR and new iPads and Macs having been launched just in the past couple of days, mid-quarter.

But analysing the effects of those is going to be more difficult than this: Apple announced that it’s no longer going to provide unit sales data. We’ll only have revenues for iPhones, iPads and Macs. This is being interpreted as an attempt to hide bad news that’s surely on the way for unit sales; Apple isn’t happy about this interpretation, and insists that its user base is growing, and that a focus on unit sales – the horse race – distracts from what’s really going on. It wants people to look at the growth in (high-margin? We’ll find out because it will reveal, next quarter) areas such as Services.

Anyway! On with the graphs. First, average selling prices (ASPs). Shed a tear, it’s the last time we’ll be able to do them like this.

Next, the divisional revenues. Note how Services is definitely the second-biggest.

And let’s see the hardware v services breakdown more clearly in the next two graphs. First, just broken out.

And now – apologies for its slight lack of clarity – the growth in Hardware (on the left axis, in purple) v Services (on the right, in brown). Services is growing faster than Hardware.

Now: the overall picture of products sales. Again, we’re not going to be able to do this again, so feast your eyes. And look at how FLAT everything is. Unit sales growth has stopped for the past two years.

And next we have operating profit (green) and revenue (orangey). The gap is actually growing: Services seems to be less profitable than Hardware, as we knew. But both still trending up.

Now some more detail on the iPhone. Look at that uptick in ASP! And look at how flat sales are on the 4Q moving average. The growth has gone out of the market overall; global smartphone sales were actually down 6% in this period, so Apple actually grew its share by standing still.

The iPads too: Apple owns the tablet market, but the tablet market is well past its peak.

How about Macs? Sales are once more flat (the line with dots), ASPs are up. That ASP line will probably go up next quarter – though we won’t know exactly how much.

Now to the graphs which tell us how the machine is working: inventory and R+D. You’d expect that inventory would build ahead of a big launch, and then fall, and so it proves. Even so, it’s big…

But if you look at it as a percentage of hardware revenue, inventory is really high. REALLY high. Heading up to 2%, which implies lots of things sitting in warehouses. I’ve had a look at Apple’s filings, and it doesn’t break down inventories into raw goods/work-in-progress/finished, so we can’t know if that’s self-driving cars being built or the iPhone XR (then unreleased) sitting in Chinese factories. Probably the latter, mostly.

As to the future: research and development spending. Look, it’s up!

And as a percentage of revenue, it’s also at a historic high. This either balances out the inventory stuff, or is somehow caused by it.

Finally, the geographical breakdown. The Americas (particularly the US) is driving this, but notice how things are slower in China and the rest of Asia. Europe generates more revenue than China; there’s no sign of that changing in a hurry. Apple’s hope that China would become its No.2 source of revenue seems to have been dashed.

And that’s it! Comments welcome, including suggestions for the colours. I may redraw these so that the lines are more clearly labelled, but will leave the text alone.

Start Up No.943: the first bendy phone (from an unknown), Snapchat sues ‘influencer’, iPad Pro v the old world, the ad fraud silence, and more


You know what helium does to balloons. But what does it do to iPhones (and not Android phones)? Photo by Ed Visoso on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Swords/ploughshares, laser pointers/?. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Royole’s bendy-screen FlexPai phone unveiled in China • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

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A little-known California-based company has laid claim to creating the “world’s first foldable phone”. Royole Corporation – a specialist in manufacturing flexible displays – unveiled the FlexPai handset at an event in Beijing.

When opened, the device presents a single display measuring 7.8in (19.8cm) – bigger than many tablets. But when folded up, it presents three separate smaller screens – on the front, rear and spine of the device. The six-year-old company said it would hold three “flash sales” to consumers in China on 1 November to offer the first product run.


The firm says that when folded the spine of the device will be used to show notifications. Photo: Royole

The phones will be priced between 8,999 and 12,999 yuan ($1,290 to $1,863; £1,011 to £1,460) depending on the memory and storage specifications selected.

In addition, Royole said it would also offer a slightly different version of the devices to developers across the world the same day. It intends to start deliveries in “late December”. The launch has caught many industry watchers by surprise.

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Alternative futures: “Grandpa, how did Royole become the biggest company in the world?”

Or: “Why didn’t any realise that nobody wants a flexible phone screen?”

Plenty of room in the middle, of course.
link to this extract


Once paralyzed, three men take steps again with spinal implant • The New York Times

Benedict Carey:

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David Mzee broke his neck in 2010. He was a college student in Zurich at the time, an athlete who enjoyed risk and contact, and he flipped off a trampoline and onto a foam pad. “The foam pad, it didn’t do its job,” he said.

Mr. Mzee, now 33, is one of three men who lost the use of their legs years ago after severe spinal injuries, but who now are able to walk without any supports, if briefly and awkwardly, with the help of a pacemaker-like implant, scientists reported on Wednesday.

The breakthrough is the latest achievement in the scientific effort to understand and treat such life-changing injuries. Several recent studies have restored motion to paralyzed or partially paralyzed patients by applying continuous electrical stimulation to the spinal cord.

The new report, described in the journal Nature, is the first demonstration of so-called patterned stimulation: an implant sends bursts of targeted stimulation to the muscles that intend to move. In effect, the stimulation occurs on an as-needed basis, roughly mimicking the body’s own signaling mechanism.

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The BBC report, with video, is truly amazing.
link to this extract


Luka Sabbat sued for failure to influence • Variety

Gene Maddaus:

»

PR Consulting Inc. says it signed an influencer agreement with Sabbat on Sept. 15, the day after he was first photographed with Kardashian. The PR company filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court, alleging that Sabbat breached his agreement to post three Instagram stories and one post to his Instagram feed in which he would be wearing the spectacles.

Sabbat made only one Instagram story and one post to his feed, and did not submit the post to PR Consulting for pre-approval, the suit alleges. Sabbat also reneged on an agreement to be photographed in public wearing the spectacles during the Milan or Paris Fashion Weeks, according to the suit.

Under the contract, Sabbat was to be paid $60,000 — with $45,000 paid up front. The suit seeks reimbursement of the $45,000 plus another $45,000 in additional damages.

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You’re asking “who?” He’s an actor known for.. hmm two films. OK he says he’s a “creative entrepreneur exploring the worlds of art and fashion”. Not technology, then.
link to this extract


‘Stalkerware’ website let anyone intercept texts of tens of thousands of people • Motherboard

Joseph Cox and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

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A website and app designed to let users monitor their children, employees, or illegally spy on their spouse inadvertently allowed anyone who was using the service to obtain information contained within other peoples’ accounts and intercept the communications of around 28,000 users, Motherboard has confirmed following a tip from a hacker.

The app, called Xnore, can be installed on Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry devices, and collects Facebook and WhatsApp messages, GPS coordinates, emails, photos, browsing histories as well as records phone calls. Customer accounts were exposed by a map feature on Xnore’s website. The flaw allowed anyone who viewed the HTML code of the page to see the mobile identifier used by Xnore to view any collected data. This identifier could then be used to add the intercepted data of someone else’s account to your own.

This new breach of a consumer spyware company—sometimes dubbed ‘stalkerware’ or ‘spouseware’ due to its common target audience of abusive partners—shows how truly lax the security of many of these companies really is. Regardless of whether customers use these apps for legal purposes, they’re putting the intercepted data of their victims—be them their children, employees, or spouses—in serious jeopardy…

…When users download the Xnore app, they are provided a mobile identifier; a string of characters and numbers unique to their device. Xnore offers a free trial so anyone can download the software and start intercepting communications.

The hacker pointed Motherboard to a section of Xnore’s website containing a map. Although the map itself appeared to be non-functional at the time of viewing, a dropdown menu let users select from a slew of mobile identifiers. Viewing the HTML source for that page reveals the identifiers of Xnore users. Motherboard ran a script to extract all of the mobile identifiers included in the exposed data, and found over 28,000 in total. That number matches the total number of Xnore targets the hacker says they found.

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Couldn’t one effectively disable this simply by turning off its permissions on the phone? And wouldn’t kids figure that out?
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MacBook Air vs. iPad Pro: what is Apple’s best new computer? • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

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In the years since Apple last upgraded the MacBook Air in a meaningful way, I’ve noticed much of my work time gradually shifting to my smartphone, with the laptop taking a secondary role, deployed only when I need the larger screen and more comfortable keyboard. That’s in large part because of the always-on connection of the phone, the immediacy of everything I can do on it, and the connectedness to all of the most popular social and work communication apps. The number of times I’ve caught myself using my phone in front of an open laptop on my lap has been growing.

At its outset, the iPad was dismissed as being merely a “jumbo iPhone,” but in 2018, we might want to start asking if that’s a criticism or a form of praise. The best apps today are being developed for the iPhone and, by the extension of iOS, as the common platform for the iPad. iOS is the operating system of Apple’s future, macOS is the operating system of Apple’s past. As a writer, I find plenty of apps like iA Writer to deposit my loquaciousness into on iOS. As a photographer, I’m excited that real Photoshop is arriving on the iPad. And as a casual gamer, I recognize that iOS gives me vastly more entertainment options that macOS.

«

Similar views are expressed by Lauren Goode in a Wired article:

»

Yesterday’s event had its fair share of subtly awkward moments as Apple tried to present its two philosophies for how it believes you’re supposed to use a computer. On the one hand, there was a new laptop. This clamshell design still matters, Apple was insisting. Moments later, the company was touting a tablet it clearly sees as the real future of computing, something better and more advanced than a notebook. Cook even called the iPad not only the most popular tablet, but also, “the most popular computer in the world.”

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Lots of people are prepared to tell you that you’ll never be able to do X on an iPad. Given that Photoshop is on the way, audio recording (say, of a Skype interview) is about the only thing left to fix. A gazillion podcasters will rejoice and buy an iPad when that happens.
link to this extract


This ad fraud scheme stole millions, but almost no one in the advertising industry wants to own up to it • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

»

A massive ad fraud scheme that Google acknowledged stole close to $10m from its ad networks and partners has been shut down after BuzzFeed News revealed its existence last week. But as of today more than 30 companies that unwittingly helped the fraudsters earn money won’t comment on how many fraudulent ads they sold, or say the amount is small or nonexistent.

The fraud operation exposed by BuzzFeed News last week involved more than 125 Android apps and websites that tracked real human users and used this data to program bots to mimic their behavior as a way to evade fraud detection systems. These bots opened apps and loaded webpages in order to generate fake ad views, and therefore revenue for the fraudsters. The affected apps and websites were distributed among a web of shell and front companies to hide their true owners and obscure the scale of the operation.

BuzzFeed News contacted 36 companies that carried ad inventory for the affected apps and sites, or otherwise helped them monetize at some point. Almost none shared specifics about how much money was stolen via their platforms, or whether they will be issuing refunds. Ultimately, the money is stolen from the brands and other companies who bought ads on the affected websites or in apps.

Experts say this lack of transparency is endemic in the digital ad industry, which has a large and growing fraud problem that sees criminals steal billions of dollars a year from advertisers. Many brands now grudgingly accept that a certain amount of the money they spend on digital will be lost to fraud. But when fraud is discovered, as in this scheme or in multiple BuzzFeed News exposés published in the past 12 months, almost no one wants to talk about where the money went, or who stole it.

«

Smart followup by Silverman to his own story; he’s contacted 22 of 36 companies involved, and it only accounts for $300,000. Estimates of how much might have been funnelled away are in the hundreds of millions.

“Nothing to see here, move along” is the story in ad fraud land.
link to this extract


From Silicon Valley elite to social media hate: the radicalization that led to Gab • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Emma Brown:

»

Andrew Anglin, creator of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, began posting frequently on Gab, according to reports at the time. The site exploded with new, pseudonymous users posting viral misinformation, hate speech and memes that echoed white-supremacist or anti-Semitic tropes — what Donovan called “an echo chamber of the most disgusting content offered online.”

Google then banned the service from its app store, saying that “social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people.” In response, Gab sued the search giant.

But the bans and crackdowns haven’t curbed Gab’s growth. There are now about 800,000 users, said Sanduja, compared with 10,000 two years ago. The company’s few employees are all under 30 and number fewer than half a dozen, including Torba and his wife, Sanduja said.

But there are signs that the company’s fractious public image has taken a toll on its leadership. Ekrem Buyukkaya, a Turkey-based developer who co-founded Gab with Torba, said on Sunday that he would step down as the company’s chief technology officer because of “attacks from the American press.” The company had previously said in an SEC filing that Buyukkaya’s work was crucial to its “future success.” Buyukkaya did not respond to requests for comment.

The growth of Gab’s fan base, however, has helped fund an aggressive expansion designed to bring new users into the fold. In an SEC filing in March, Gab said it had more than $600,000 in cash, up from $16,000 in 2016, and had made $100,000 in revenue, primarily from subscriptions.

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I’d be surprised if the FBI isn’t crawling all over Gab; now you know where 800,000 of the most likely domestic terrorists are. Though hate on that level must be self-limiting in some way. Mustn’t it?
link to this extract


George Soros and the migrant caravan: how a lie multiplied online • USA Today

Brad Heath, Matt Wynn and Jessica Guynn:

»

By Oct. 16 – four days after the caravan departed – the combined following of accounts mentioning both Soros and the caravan had reached 2 million, still a pebble in the flood tide of social media. (The total includes some duplicates because people follow more than one account.)

On Twitter, someone with the username “LibertyBell1000” warned about 42,000 followers that Soros had “manufactured yet another immigrant caravan ‘crisis.’ ” Another, using the name “WhoWolfe,” asked “Anybody else think Soros and the Dirty Dems are behind this?”

More posts spread across Facebook. Trump supporter Randy Penrod posted in a group called “The Deplorable’s,” with about 186,000 members, “Our stable leader just called out the Soros conspired invasion of new Democrat voters in a tweet just moments ago.”

Tap, tap, tap.

It took just one more day for the theory to reach critical mass, breaking through into widespread public consciousness.

The evening of Oct. 17, a Republican member of Congress posted a video on Twitter of what he said was people in Honduras handing out small sums of money to migrants.

“Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!” he wrote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz would later concede that he was mistaken about where the video was shot (it was Guatemala). But by then his message had metastasized, spreading far beyond the 153,000 people who follow the north Florida congressman’s tweets.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter retweeted it to her 2 million followers. So did Sarah Carter, a journalist who’s a frequent guest on Fox News.

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(The URL says El Paso Times, but it’s the story that appeared in USA Today; but its website was having conniptions about European users over that story. No idea why.)
link to this extract


Twitter should kill the retweet • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:

»

Retweets prey on users’ worst instincts. They delude Twitter users into thinking that they’re contributing to thoughtful discourse by endlessly amplifying other people’s points—the digital equivalent of shouting “Yeah, what they said!” in the midst of an argument. And because Twitter doesn’t allow for editing tweets, information that goes viral via retweets is also more likely to be false or exaggerated. According to MIT research published in the journal Science, Twitter users retweet fake news almost twice as much as real news. Some Twitter users, desperate for validation, endlessly retweet their own tweets, spamming followers with duplicate information.

Retweets were introduced, ironically, to make Twitter better. At the time, the company’s co-founder Biz Stone declared that “we hope interesting, newsworthy, or even just plain funny information will spread quickly through the network making its way efficiently to the people who want or need to know.” Retweets were an early way for the company to ensure that the most interesting and engaging content would bubble up in the feed and keep users entertained.

But for more than two and a half years, the company has shown people tweets based on an algorithmic accounting of exactly what the most interesting and engaging content is (yes, part of that algorithm takes user behavior like retweets into account). It has also tested suggesting tweets, recommending accounts to follow based on interest, and built Moments to surface noteworthy tweets about news events. The retweet isn’t just dangerous; it’s redundant.

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Before the retweet was a function, one had to manually copy the content of a tweet and put “RT” or “MT” (modified tweet) in front of it. This friction meant something had to be really worthwhile to achieve any velocity.

Increasingly it looks as though adding friction (back in) is the way to make social networks more reasonable.
link to this extract


IPhones are allergic to helium • iFixit

Kyle Wiens on the strange case of a helium leak at a hospital which bricked newer iPhones and Watches – but not Android phones:

»

Every phone has gyroscopes and accelerometers with micrometer-thin elements. My initial theory, shared by some on Reddit, was that the helium molecules were small enough to get inside these chips and interfere with the mechanical workings.

But there are two problems with this idea: One, Apple isn’t alone in using MEMS gyroscopes—every phone has them. Why weren’t the Android phones affected? Perhaps there’s a bug in iOS that causes crashes when it gets faulty data from the gyro? But the bug impacted Apple Watches, too—and they run WatchOS. Additionally, iPhones earlier than the 6 weren’t affected. It seems unlikely that this was a new software bug that impacted both iOS and WatchOS.

So what else could it be? Well, at the heart of every electronic device is a clock. Traditionally, these are quartz oscillators, crystals that vibrate at a specific predictable frequency—generally 32 kHz. When they were first invented, they enabled the first digital ‘quartz’ watches. Now, these frequency generators are at the heart of every electronic device.

Without a clock, the system stands still. The CPU flat out doesn’t work. The clock is literally the heartbeat of a modern device.

But quartz oscillators have some problems. They don’t keep time as well at high (and low) temperatures, and they’re a relatively large component—1×3 mm or so. In their quest for smaller and smaller hardware, Apple has recently started using MEMS timing oscillators from a specialized company called SiTime to replace quartz components.

Specifically, they’re using the SiT512, ‘the world’s smallest, lowest power 32 kHz oscillator.’ And if the MEMS device was susceptible to helium intrusion, that could be our culprit!

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The electron microscope pictures are amazing too.
link to this extract


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