Start Up No.1446: Xiaomi’s Indian rebrand, Apple’s 32-core plans, do benchmarks disfavour Intel?, Uber sells self-driving unit, and more


Nearly one-fifth of Cadillac dealers have given up rather than convert to selling electric cars. CC-licensed photo by Tony Donnelly on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Tariff-free. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Indian is an Indian phone? • Rest of World

Nilesh Christopher:

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Anti-China sentiment had already been rising in India’s heartlands before a skirmish in June in a disputed Himalayan border region left 20 Indian soldiers dead. Nationalists started smashing Chinese-made televisions; one minister called for shutting down Chinese restaurants. A few weeks after the skirmish, the Indian government banned TikTok, along with hundreds of Chinese apps, and, in August, passed an unofficial order to phase out dependence on Chinese telecom equipment, including 5G networks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a special appearance on television encouraging Indians to be “vocal” in their support for “local” products, creating the #vocalforlocal slogan. 

Chinese smartphone makers like Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi — who made up 81% of the Indian market — were left in a precarious position after the clash. Right-wing groups gathered outside Oppo’s factory in the outskirts of Delhi and burnt effigies of Xi Jinping, as they demanded that the plant be closed. Some companies battened down the hatches, suspending their prime-time advertising campaigns. Vivo pulled out as the title sponsor of the country’s biggest sporting event, the Indian Premier League cricket competition, after an aggressive campaign against it on social media. Stray protests took place outside some Xiaomi stores, as threats of vandalism loomed large and mobile shipments from China were stalled for manual inspection at Indian ports.

But while other Chinese brands retreated from the limelight, Xiaomi pursued a unique — and potentially high-risk — strategy: It presented itself as not being Chinese after all, but Indian.

«

Fascinating piece about an audacious move by a (definitely Chinese) phone and gadget maker. What’s easy to overlook (but Christopher notes) is how well it has catered to its local market – such as this: “One feature, Smart SMS, identifies the cluttered text messages that Indian Railways sends to its customers and extracts booking information, turning it into a ticket-like document.” Knowing the importance of railways is obvious to Indians, not so much to those outside.
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Apple preps next Mac chips with aim to outclass top-end PCs • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Ian King:

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Chip engineers at the Cupertino, California-based technology giant are working on several successors to the M1 custom chip, Apple’s first Mac main processor that debuted in November. If they live up to expectations, they will significantly outpace the performance of the latest machines running Intel chips, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the plans aren’t yet public. Intel’s shares slid 2.9% in New York Monday after the news. Apple shares were up 1.3% at 9:46 a.m.

…While Intel gets less than 10% of its revenue from furnishing Apple with Mac chips, the rest of its PC business is liable to face turbulence if the iPhone maker is able to deliver demonstrably better-performing computers. It could accelerate a shakeup in an industry that has long been dependent on Intel’s pace of innovation. For Apple, the move sheds that dependency, deepens its distinction from the rest of the PC market and gives it a chance to add to its small, but growing share in PCs.

…The current M1 chip inherits a mobile-centric design built around four high-performance processing cores to accelerate tasks like video editing and four power-saving cores that can handle less intensive jobs like web browsing. For its next generation chip targeting MacBook Pro and iMac models, Apple is working on designs with as many as 16 power cores and four efficiency cores, the people said.

While that component is in development, Apple could choose to first release variations with only eight or 12 of the high-performance cores enabled depending on production, they said. Chipmakers are often forced to offer some models with lower specifications than they originally intended because of problems that emerge during fabrication.

For higher-end desktop computers, planned for later in 2021 and a new half-sized Mac Pro planned to launch by 2022, Apple is testing a chip design with as many as 32 high-performance cores.

With today’s Intel systems, Apple’s highest-end laptops offer a maximum of eight cores, a high-end iMac Pro is available with as many as 18 and the priciest Mac Pro desktop features as much as a 28-core system. Though architecturally different, Apple and Intel’s chips rely on the segmentation of workloads into smaller, serialized tasks that several processing cores can work on at once.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which has been gaining market share at Intel’s expense, offers standard desktop parts with as many as 16 cores, with some of its high-end chips for gaming PCs going as high as 64 cores.

«

I have to say, Bloomberg’s writing is prolix as hell. Other sites, rewriting this, focus on the meat – Apple is looking at a 32-core Pro, and 16-core MacBook Pros, and that’s making Intel investors a wee bit edgy and Apple investors optimistic. The question is, where’s the upside for PC makers? Windows on ARM is a disaster, and Microsoft doesn’t seem inclined to change that.
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Current x86 vs. Apple M1 performance measurements are flawed • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska joins those looking for a controversial take:

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The “flaw” we’re going to talk about isn’t a problem with any specific benchmark or reviewer. It’s a difference in how the Apple M1 allocates and assigns resources versus how x86 CPUs work.

x86 CPUs from AMD and Intel are designed to use a technique known as Symmetric Multi-Threading (SMT; Intel calls this Hyper-Threading). AMD and Intel implement the feature somewhat differently, but in both cases, SMT-enabled CPUs are able to schedule work from more than one thread for execution in the same clock cycle. A CPU that does not support SMT is limited to executing instructions from the same thread in any given cycle.

Modern x86 CPUs from AMD and Intel take advantage of SMT to improve performance by an average of 20-30% at a fraction of the cost or power that would be required to build an entire second core. The flip side to this is that a single-threaded workload is unable to take advantage of the performance advantage SMT offers.

Apple’s 8-wide M1 doesn’t have this problem. The front-end of a RISC CPU allows generally higher efficiency in terms of instructions decoded per single thread. (WCCFTech has a bit more on this).

This is not some just-discovered flaw in the guts of Intel and AMD CPUs — it’s the entire reason Intel built HT and the reason why AMD adopted SMT as well. An x86 CPU achieves much higher overall efficiency when you run two threads through a single core, partly because they’ve been explicitly designed and optimized for it, and partly because SMT helps CPUs with decoupled CISC front-ends achieve higher IPC overall.

In any given 1T performance comparison, the x86 CPUs are running at 75% to 80% of their effective per-core performance. The M1 doesn’t have this issue.

«

Except, as he admits, the reality is clear: the M1 delivers far better performance per watt than Intel chips, and only struggles a bit when emulating x86 code. There’s going to be plenty more struggling around to find ways in which the M1 “isn’t really better” until those 32-core machines appear and stomp on the best AMD and Intel have to offer.
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Op-Ed: New York Times fights Pornhub with emotional pornography • XBIZ.com

XBIZ (which you may not know is “the world’s leading source for adult industry news and information”, where by “adult” they mean “porn”) has an opinion about Nicholas Kristof’s piece in the NYT about abuse on Pornhub:

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• [Nicholas] Kristof claims that out of the 6.8 million new videos posted on Pornhub yearly, “many depict child abuse and nonconsensual violence.” The “many” is tendentious here given that Kristof does not provide any concrete data of what percentage it is, how it compares to other adult or mainstream tube sites where bad actors may upload criminal content, or why he is singling out Pornhub for what appears to be an internet-wide issue for any company hosting massive amounts of third-party content

• One of several creepy searches Kristof has performed as “research” for his censorship manifesto, yielded “more than 100,000 videos,” of which he says, apparently by his own viewing and estimation “most aren’t of children being assaulted but too many are”

• Kristof protests that “the issue is not pornography but rape” and accuses Pornhub of “promoting” “assaults on children or on anyone without consent,” before likening the tube site to “Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein”

• Kristof in his “research” claims that he “came across many videos on Pornhub that were recordings of assaults on unconscious women and girls. The rapists would open the eyelids of the victims and touch their eyeballs to show that they were nonresponsive.” At no point in his article does Kristof clarify whether he reported theses videos to the authorities or the site’s moderators or if he followed up with the company’s response to such a report

«

This piece, which has a tone that’s both defensive and grumpy, seems to want Kristof not to have done his research (as in the second bullet above) but also to have gone above and beyond just researching to actually moderating pretty much everything he found. But I read Kristof’s piece as pointing out that there’s a colossal moderation problem on Pornhub, because just as with sites like YouTube there’s no incentive for those who find bad material (terrorism, incitement) to report it if they search for it, there isn’t on Pornhub. But Kristof’s point is that the implications of this content on Pornhub are far worse than on YouTube, say. Unsurprisingly, Xbix doesn’t really grapple with this point. But it is definitely worried about what might happen to Section 230. (Thanks Droidboxx for the link.)
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Uber sells ATG self-driving unit to Aurora • CNBC

Jessica Bursztynsky:

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Uber’s self-driving unit, Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), is being acquired by its start-up competitor Aurora Innovation, the companies announced Monday.

The deal, expected to close in the first quarter of 2021, values ATG at approximately $4bn. The unit was valued at $7.25bn in Apr. 2019 when Softbank, Denso and Toyota took a stake.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will join the company’s board, and the ride-sharing giant will invest $400m into the company.

Overall, Uber and ATG investors and employees are expected to own a 40% stake in Aurora, according to a regulatory filing accompanying the deal; Uber alone will hold a 26% stake. The start-up is being valued at $10bn in the transaction, according to a person familiar with the terms of the deal.

“With the addition of ATG, Aurora will have an incredibly strong team and technology, a clear path to several markets, and the resources to deliver,” Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of Aurora, said in a statement. “Simply put, Aurora will be the company best positioned to deliver the self-driving products necessary to make transportation and logistics safer, more accessible, and less expensive.”

«

This isn’t about Aurora, it’s about Uber – which is clearly giving up on the idea of making (and possibly running) self-driving systems. The problem with that is that without self-driving systems, Uber has no path to profitability that doesn’t involve raising its prices, and thus becoming uncompetitive against normal taxi services which don’t have its gigantic overheads.
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About 150 [of 880] US Cadillac dealers to exit brand, rather than sell electric cars • WSJ

Mike Colias:

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About 150 General Motors dealers have decided to part ways with Cadillac, rather than invest in costly upgrades required to sell electric cars, according to people familiar with the plans, indicating some retailers are skeptical about pivoting to battery-powered vehicles.

GM recently gave Cadillac dealers a choice: Accept a buyout offer to exit from the brand or spend roughly $200,000 on dealership upgrades—including charging stations and repair tools—to get their stores ready to sell electric vehicles, these people said.

The buyout offers ranged from around $300,000 to more than $1m, the people familiar with the effort added. About 17% of Cadillac’s 880 US dealerships agreed to take the offer to end their franchise agreements for the luxury brand, these people said.

Most dealers who accepted the buyout also own one or more of GM’s other brands—Chevrolet, Buick and GMC—and sell only a handful of Cadillacs a month, the people familiar with the effort said.

The skepticism from some Cadillac dealers underscores that, even as investors bid up the value of electric vehicles, questions persist about interest among consumers and the retailers who serve them.

Tesla has become an electric-vehicle juggernaut by selling directly to customers, without franchise dealers, a model several startups intend to follow. Traditional auto makers, on the other hand, are tasked with overlaying their electric-car plans on dealer networks that today make their money selling gasoline-powered vehicles.

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I test drove a Tesla, out of overwhelming curiosity, the other day. Compared to a fossil fuel car, it’s like being inside a computer: sensors on everything, everywhere. Readings of all sorts, and silence (apart from the radio). Opening the bonnet, the salesman explained that I’d have to keep the windscreen washer fluid topped up. Change the tyres occasionally. But nothing else. A mechanic’s nightmare.

Yet the dealers exiting seem to show a huge failure of imagination. Why not become a charging destination? An update destination? You can’t hang on to the past. (Via John Naughton, again.)
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Setting the record straight #ISupportTimnit #BelieveBlackWomen • Medium

Google Walkout For Real Change:

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Dr. Gebru did not resign, despite what Jeff Dean (Senior Vice President and head of Google Research), has publicly stated. Dr. Gebru has stated this plainly, and others have meticulously documented it.

Dr.Gebru detailed conditions she hoped could be met. Those conditions were for
1) transparency around who was involved in calling for the retraction of the paper,
2) having a series of meetings with the Ethical AI team, and
3) understanding the parameters of what would be acceptable research at Google. She then requested a longer conversation regarding the details to occur post-vacation. In response, she was met with immediate dismissal, as she details in this tweet.

Dr. Gebru’s dismissal has been framed as a resignation, but in Dr. Gebru’s own words, she did not resign. All reports under her management received a letter from Megan Kacholia (Vice President of Engineering for the Google Brain organization), stating that Megan had accepted Timnit’s resignation. Megan went around Dr. Gebru’s own manager, Samy Bengio (lead of Google Brain) in sending these emails, which he has stated publicly.

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Essentially, there’s now an insurgent group within Google which is fighting elements of Google’s management. This can’t end well for Google.
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Google adds Apple Music support to Assistant smart speakers and displays • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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Google has announced that Apple Music is now available on smart speakers and displays that use the Google Assistant, including Google’s own line of Nest products, such as the new Nest Audio. Owners of Assistant smart speakers or displays will be able to set Apple Music as the default service on the speakers and use their voice to play songs, albums, or playlists from it, much like they can do with Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube Premium.

This addition broadens the appeal of Assistant smart speakers and displays to a wider market, and it catches Google’s smart speaker line up to Amazon’s, which has supported Apple Music through Alexa on Echo smart speakers since 2018. As with the other services available on Google smart speakers, you can play Apple Music on multiple speakers at the same time for whole home audio.

With Apple Music on board, the only major services left that aren’t full supported on Google’s smart speakers are Amazon Music and Tidal, both of which are compatible with Echo speakers (which don’t support Google’s YouTube Music service).

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More interesting is that this puts Apple Music on all the major ecosystems – Apple, Amazon, Google. And of course Sonos. Another little victory for the Services team there.
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Ikea ends publication of iconic printed catalog • The Verge

Thomas Ricker:

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After a 70-year run, Ikea is discontinuing the publication of its printed catalog.

Ikea’s decision comes as catalog readership is in decline and the company becomes increasingly more digital. After initially resisting online shopping, the company was forced to embrace it during the pandemic. Ikea says its online retail sales increased by 45% worldwide last year with ikea.com reporting four billion visits. The company has also improved its suite of apps to make discovering and buying products easier, while opening smaller stores located in city centres meant to reach people where they live.

At its peak in 2016, Ikea says that 200 million catalogs were distributed in 32 languages. A BBC documentary once claimed that the Ikea catalog was the largest publication in the world, with more copies printed than either the Bible or the Quran. The first Ikea catalog was put together by Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad in 1951.

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I have to say that browsing a physical catalogue is far more satisfying than browsing an app – even an iPad (or tablet) app. You can go as fast as you like, take in much more per (double) page, mark multiple things to compare. Of course Ikea’s online sales have risen like crazy in the past ten months – but so has everyone’s.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1446: Xiaomi’s Indian rebrand, Apple’s 32-core plans, do benchmarks disfavour Intel?, Uber sells self-driving unit, and more

  1. Re: Nicholas Kristof and sex panics

    Kristof has quite the history of distorting facts when it comes to sex panics. He was widely criticized by sex workers in Southeast Asia for ignoring their actual issues and working with a con-woman (Somaly Mam). And then widely criticized by sex workers in the United Stites for attacking Backpage and spreading a clearly false story about an underaged prostitute trafficked there (the woman was an adult by the time Backpage existed).

    Kristof clearly has a thing for igniting sex panics that turn out making things worse for sex workers. The federal government shutting Backpage down has forced many of them back out onto the streets, where they are much more vulnerable to abuse and violence. The rescue organizations in Southeast Asia imprisoned the rescuees.

    Whatever the truth about Pornhub may be, Nicholas Kristof is not a reliable source for it.

    • I don’t think you can blame Kristof for Backpage closing. And again, if he documents things, such as women being abused where he’s watched the video, are you sure that’s what you want to question? I think it’s important to take each piece on its own, and deal with what it says.

      • He reported an easy to disprove story as part of his claims that Backpage was facilitating child sex trafficking. It’s not solely his fault that FOSTA/SESTA passed but he definitely added to the sexual panic around Backpage that led to those laws.

        He has a history of bad reporting on child sex trafficking so I don’t take him at his word when he reports that child sex trafficking is a problem on PornHub. His reporting has also history of leading to bad outcomes for sex workers—the people he claims he’s trying to help. So, yes, I want other reporters to confirm his claim that child sex trafficking and rape videos are a pervasive problem on PornHub.

        Basically, he’s the Judith Miller of sex trafficking stories. If she reported new claims of WMDs, I’d have serious doubts too.

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