Start Up No.992: the iPhone motor slows, why kids are online, choosing the right astronaut, laser whispering, and more


Good news, music fans: we stumbled on a wonderful album demo. CC-licensed photo by Tony + Wayne on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple’s revenue and profit drop: ‘the iPhone has matured’ • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

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The downturn in China caught Apple by surprise in November and December, Apple finance chief Luca Maestri said. He expects weak economic conditions there to continue to pose challenges for the company.

Apple also faced challenges in other markets including Europe, its second-largest, where sales fell 3.3%. Sales in the Americas, its largest market, rose about 5%.

Mr. Maestri said the strength of the US dollar has increased iPhone prices overseas, making the cost of the newest handsets pricier than they are in the US. For example, in China, he said the yuan weakened 9% relative to the dollar, crimping sales.

“We’re seeing fewer upgrades than in the past,” Mr. Maestri said. He added that the company has lowered the price of the iPhone XR in China to negate the effect of currency changes, and that has helped sales.

The strong performance of Apple’s other businesses accentuated its iPhone dependency. Sales of Macs, iPads, Services and other products rose by 19%. Its Mac and iPad businesses benefited from Apple’s recent strategy of raising prices on new products. A year after lifting its flagship iPhone price to $999, the company raised the price of the MacBook Air by 20%, the Mac mini by 60% and the iPad Pro by about 25%.

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No unit sales figures; Canalys suggested that Apple outsold others during the quarter with 71.7m (v 70.3m for Samsung and 60.5m for Huawei, as the market shrank by 6% in that period; for the year, the market was down 5% – Samsung 293.7m, Apple 212.1m, Huawei 206.0m.

I’d take those numbers with a pinch of salt – could be up or down a few% for the fourth-quarter figure – and expect Huawei will be second-biggest in 2019, unless something dramatic happens.
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It’s time to rethink who’s best suited for space travel • WIRED

Rose Eveleth:

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consider movement in space. You’ve certainly seen videos of astronauts zipping around the space station using their arms and legs to push off surfaces and direct their motion. This is a type of movement that people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids are already familiar with. In fact, the various devices and ways of moving the body in space are likely more familiar to people with disabilities than to able-bodied people. “We move our bodies in so many different ways, and the disabled community has an exuberant amount of options,” says Nelson, who is an amputee and who has used crutches, a wheelchair, a scooter, and a prosthetic to get around. Nelson even coined a term for this recently: transmobility, the idea that there are lots of ways to get around besides putting one foot in front of the other.

Nelson also points out that most astronauts have no prior experience relying on technology for their movement and lives, whereas people with disabilities do so every day. In a space suit, for a space walk, an astronaut has to be trained in how to move their body in unison with a piece of technology. They have to get used to the idea that, if that technology should fail, they could be in grave danger. This, again, is an experience people like Nelson live with every day. “I’m always moving my body in motion with another object. That’s all we do,” Nelson says.

Or take blind astronauts. In a piece for Scientific American, Sheri Wells-Jensen lays out the case for designing spaceships for blind space travelers:

“After all, in a serious accident, the first thing to go might be the lights! This generally means that the first thing a sighted astronaut must do for security is ensure visual access to the environment. He hunts for a flashlight, and if emergency lighting comes on, his eyes take a moment to adjust. Meanwhile, the blind astronaut is already heading toward the source of the problem…”

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Where disability becomes ability. Clever.
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Why children spend time online • Ofcom

Ofcom is the UK’s communications regulator, and does regular research into viewing and internet habits of the UK population:

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To help understand why children are drawn towards online content, this year Ofcom has undertaken a detailed qualitative study of children’s viewing.

A panel of 40 boys and girls, aged 4-16, from around the UK, offered in-depth data, seven-day diaries and interviews on what they were watching and why. The study revealed powerful preferences for choice, control and a sense of community. It found that:

• YouTube dominates, followed by Netflix. Children in the study overwhelmingly preferred watching YouTube (almost all children watched it daily) and Netflix, to any other platforms
• Live TV is parent-led, and often reserved for family time. Most of the children in the study watched live, scheduled TV, though only a small number did so daily. Live TV viewing was often convened by parents, allowing the family to come together to watch soaps, quizzes or ‘appointment viewing’ such as Strictly Come Dancing or The X-Factor. Some children used live TV to fill time, often while they were doing something else such as eating dinner.
• Choice and control. Many children said they valued YouTube and Netflix for offering instant control over what they are watching, and access to seemingly endless, personalised content. Children appreciated the platforms’ content recommendations and valued receiving notifications from the channels they subscribed to. Some preferred to watch content privately, whether this be on their personal devices or in their bedrooms.
• Children turn to YouTube for three things. The study found most of the children’s viewing on YouTube fell into three broad categories: hobbies and passions; vloggers and community; sensory videos.

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That’s essentially impossible for TV companies to replicate. Given the chance, almost half prefer to watch a YouTube video; only about 1 in 8 prefers TV programmes.

Would feel happier about this if the content on YouTube were more oriented towards accuracy.
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Lasers can send a whispered audio message directly to one person’s ear • MIT Technology Review

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To send the messages, researchers from MIT relied upon the photoacoustic effect, in which water vapor in the air absorbs light and forms sound waves. The researchers used a laser beam to transmit a sound at 60 decibels (roughly the volume of background music or conversation in a restaurant) to a target person who was standing 2.5 meters away. 

A second technique modulated the power of the laser beam to encode a message, which produced a quieter but clearer result. The team used it to beam music, recorded speech, and various tones, all at conversational volume. “This can work even in relatively dry conditions because there is almost always a little water in the air, especially around people,” team leader Charles M. Wynn said in a press release. Details of the research were published in Optics Letters

In theory, the technique could be used to direct a message to a single person at range, without any receiving equipment.

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Teenager and his mom tried to warn Apple of FaceTime bug • WSJ

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An Arizona teenager and his mother spent more than a week trying to warn Apple of a bug in its FaceTime video-chat software before news of the glitch—which allows one FaceTime user calling another in a group chat to listen in while the recipient’s Apple device is still ringing—blew up on social media Monday.

In the days following their discovery, the pair posted on Twitter and Facebook , called and faxed Apple, and learned they needed a developer account to report the bug. They eventually traded a few emails, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, with Apple’s security team.

But it wasn’t until word of the bug started spreading more widely on social media that Apple disabled the software feature at the heart of the issue.

Michele Thompson said her 14-year-old son, Grant, discovered the issue Jan. 20. She said it was frustrating trying to get the attention of one of the world’s largest technology companies.

“Short of smoke signals, I was trying every method that someone could use to get a hold of someone at Apple,” said Ms. Thompson, 43, who lives with her son in Tucson…

…Grant, a high-school freshman, was setting up a FaceTime chat with friends ahead of a “Fortnite” videogame-playing session when he stumbled on the bug. Using FaceTime, Mr. Thompson found that as he added new members to his group chat, he could hear audio from other participants, even if they hadn’t answered his request to join the chat.

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Apple turned off Group FaceTime once this blew up; that seems to be the core of the fault. Surprising it wasn’t found during testing; surprising it wasn’t found a great deal earlier after release. Which implies.. not that many people have used Group FaceTime.
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NCAA, Colleges hit with new deluge of concussion lawsuits • Bloomberg Law

Steven Sellers:

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A new wave of football concussion lawsuits charges the NCAA didn’t protect student-athletes from later-life brain injuries, and also targets dozens of private universities.

Dozens of lawsuits were filed over the past four days, and several dozen more cases are expected to be filed soon. The cases target schools such as Cornell University, the University of Southern California, West Virginia University, the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, and Lehigh University.

More than 200 additional cases are on the way, a spokesman for two law firms representing the former players told Bloomberg Law Jan. 28.

The complaints, which join 110 other class complaints against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and football conferences, could affect as many as 300,000 former football players at 300 different colleges, according to Nicholas Gaffney, a spokesman for two law firms that brought the cases.

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This has been a long time coming. But America’s winter outdoor sport has a huge submerged problem which is just starting to come to light. Making gridiron football safer is going to be a huge challenge.
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How much would you pay for a foldable smartphone? • NY Mag

Jake Swearingen:

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There are already at least three foldable phones on the horizon this month. Of those, the most significant is Samsung’s foldable phone, rumored to be called either the Galaxy X or the Galaxy F. At the Annual Developer Conference in San Francisco in November, the device was shown onstage, but dim lighting and a stage-managed presentation meant that we only got a vague notion of what the phone would look like. More will likely be revealed at Samsung Unpacked event on February 20, where Samsung will roll out its 2019 lineup of Galaxy phones, but early rumors put the foldable phone at around $2,000, making even Apple’s highest-end phones seem like a bargain.

There’s Royole’s FlexPai, which was shown off at CES. Royole, founded by Stanford engineering grads, is first to the market, already selling the FlexPai in China for of 8,999 yuan, or around $1,300. (Americans can buy a developer’s version for about the same price.) Those who’ve gotten hands-on time with it have been less than impressed — the FlexPai may fold down, but folded down it’s a very, very bulky piece of hardware.

Meanwhile, Lenovo is set to relaunch the Motorola Razr brand with a flip phone of sorts, but with a fully foldable screen inside. The phone hasn’t been shown yet, but per The Wall Street Journal, it would cost around $1,500 and be a Verizon exclusive.

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Anyhow, tell me again about high-priced iPhones. I feel these aren’t going to quite be in the hot cakes department.
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Huawei MateBook 13 review: sophomore struggles • The Verge

Dan Seifert generally likes Huawei’s PC. This detail caught my eye:

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Like the MacBook Air, the MateBook 13 has two USB-C ports. But unlike the MacBook Air, neither of them support Thunderbolt 3. Further, the left port supports data transfer and charging, but not video out, while the port on the right side supports data transfer and video out, but not charging. That means it’s not possible to connect the MateBook 13 to an external display and charger with just one cable, which is something every other laptop with USB-C I’ve tested is capable of. It’s a strange and frustrating limitation. The MateBook 13 also lacks any USB-A ports, but Huawei does include a small hub with USB-A, HDMI, and VGA ports in the box. Too bad you can’t use that hub to charge the laptop and connect it to an external display at the same time.

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USB-C is still something of a mess for those who aren’t really cautious. It’s still at the stage we were with PCs in the late 1980s: you couldn’t take it for granted that one would be truly compatible with another.
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Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” demos • Waxy.org

Andy Baio, in 2008:

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These are the unreleased demos from Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, one of my favorite albums ever. Unlike the lush arrangements found on the album, these early versions are stripped down to only piano, and acoustic guitar. It’s like Hissing of Summer Lawns in the style of Blue or For the Roses. At the time of its 1975 release, The Hissing of Summer Lawns was panned by critics unhappy with her shift towards jazz/folk/rock fusion. I doubt they would’ve complained if these demos were the final cuts.

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The tracks are still there. (I downloaded them in a hurry. You never know.) Prince was once asked “what’s the last album you listened to?” and he replied “The last one I listened to all the way through was ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns’.” One genius speaking of another. Don’t @ me. (Via Maryanne Hobbs mentioning on her BBC 6 Music show that Danny Baker tweets the links to this once a year. Turns out 17 January was the one. Better late than never, eh.
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