Start up: Ireland’s judgement day, Yahoo crumbles, a new iPhone?, Swiftkey sold, and more


Modern motors in bikes are better concealed than this. Photo by rich701 on Flickr.

You can now 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 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ireland braces for blizzard of tech rulings » Politico

Chris Spillane:

Gavin Kearney has a telescopic view of the threat facing Dublin’s Silicon Docks, the watery frontier of Ireland’s tech sector. He is braced this week for the first of three verdicts that will have sweeping repercussions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Since Kearney founded the encryption business Jumble two years ago, he has watched Ireland come under fire from the European Court of Justice, the European Union and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The cases involve Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and will decide critical issues confronting the tech industry: data protection and privacy, and corporate tax strategies. The results could spoil Ireland’s reputation as a tech hub, spark an exodus of jobs and investment, and force some to pay hundreds of millions in back taxes.

“If somehow Ireland’s data protection was eroded to be more American and less EU, those entities affected may have to relocate some of the operations to restore the balance,” said Kearney, the chief executive of Jumble. “There’s a bit of a perfect storm in terms of the timing of these issues hitting, but it’s a continent-wide problem and not just a standalone country, so we can shore up against it.”

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Microsoft steps up AI push with Swiftkey deal – FT.com

Tim Bradshaw and Murad Ahmed:

Microsoft is paying around $250m to acquire London-based Swiftkey, maker of a predictive keyboard powered by artificial intelligence that is installed on hundreds of millions of smartphones, according to people familiar with the deal.

Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock, who founded the company in 2008 when both were in their 20s, will each make upwards of $30m from the buyout, which is set to be announced this week.

The pair together own a substantial minority stake in the company after raising a relatively small amount of venture capital, just over $20m, from backers including Accel Partners, Index Ventures and Octopus Investments.

Swiftkey is the latest in a string of UK start-ups with advanced artificial-intelligence capabilities to be snapped up by the biggest names in Silicon Valley.

Great for Swiftkey, though it’s another example of a British firm being gobbled up by an American one. The broader question – why does Microsoft want a smartphone keyboard company? – is more important; the AI element must be really relevant to something it’s doing.
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Yahoo to cut 15% of workforce, explore strategic options » WSJ

Douglas MacMillan and Dana Mattioli:

Yahoo Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to eliminate roughly 15% of its workforce and explore “strategic alternatives” for its struggling Internet business, in the strongest indication yet that the company’s board is considering a sale of its Web properties.

The announcement accompanied Yahoo’s fourth-quarter report in which the company reported a loss of $4.4bn, hurt by write downs on Tumblr and other assets, as revenue grew 1.6% to $1.27bn.

But advertising is the way that all sites can thrive, surely? Maybe Yahoo will turn out to be the biggest ad-supported web failure.
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Hidden motors for road bikes exist — here’s how they work » CyclingTips

Matt de Neef:

The motor is connected to a battery pack via the electronic control unit housed in the seatpost provided. By default the battery lives in a saddlebag, but it can also be concealed in a bidon seated in the seatpost bidon cage (more on that in a moment).

A simple button to start and stop the motor is then mounted on the underside of the handlebars and routed to the control unit in the seat post.

The Vivax assist motor is rated at 200 watts (the maximum for e-bikes in Australia is 250W, beyond which they are classified as motorbikes) but in reality, we were told, the unit provides somewhere in the vicinity of 110W to the driveshaft. This is in addition to whatever the rider is pushing through the pedals.

After yesterday’s article about the secret motor in a competing rider’s bike. (Thanks Mark Gould for the link.)
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Breaking down Alphabet’s Other Bets » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson:

We’ve taken a look at several aspects of Alphabet’s Other Bets segment, but we’ve only touched on perhaps the most important element: trajectory. In other words, which direction are these numbers heading in? In brief, using Ruth Porat’s suggestion to look at annual results:

• Revenue is growing, at about 37% year on year from 2014 to 2015
• Operating losses are growing faster, from $1.9 billion in 2014 to $3.6 billion in 2015
• Margins are worsening too, from (and these numbers are a bit ridiculous) -488% in 2014 to -685% in 2015
• Capex is growing faster than revenues on an annual basis, and capital intensity rose from 150% in 2014 to almost 200% in 2015.

None of those is moving in a happy direction as far as the future financial performance of Alphabet is concerned.

Google’s ad business is still going strong (principally through growth in ads on YouTube), making up 90% of its revenues, and more of its profit.
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Apple eyes March 15 event for iPhone 5se, iPad Air 3 & Apple Watch updates » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman (who has a strong track record on these things):

As we revealed last month, Apple is planning to reinvigorate the 4-inch iPhone screen size by replacing the iPhone 5s with an iPhone 5se that includes an A9 chip, improved cameras, support for taking Live Photos, and Apple Pay. While the internals are revamped, the 5se’s externals nearly mirror the 5s’s save for “less shiny” and possibly slightly curved edges. The 5se will be priced the same as the 5s, according to sources, starting at $450 for 16GB. A 64GB model will also be offered.

The launch of the new iPad Air 3 will mark the first significant upgrade to Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet line since the Air 2 debuted in October 2014. The Air 3 is expected to include iPad Pro features like enhanced speakers and a Smart Connector, which could mean that a smaller Smart Keyboard is on the way.

Basically brings the iPhone 5S into iPhone 6 capability, apart from the screen. Will the iPad update get the line selling again, though? Other outlets with good track records have confirmed the date of 15 March.
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Apple developing wireless-charged iPhone for as soon as 2017 » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan:

In 2010 Apple made a patent application outlining a concept of using an iMac personal computer as a hub for wirelessly recharging at a distance of about 1 meter using a technique called near-field magnetic resonance. Apple currently uses a similar technique, called induction, to charge its Watch within millimeters of the power source.

Another Apple patent outlined a method for making aluminum phone casings that allow radio waves to pass through, a technique that would minimize the problem of metal interfering with transmitted signals.

Apple has previously played down its interest in any charging technology that still needs to be plugged into a wall socket because such methods would add little convenience.

Semiconductor makers Broadcom and Qualcomm are among those who have developed or are developing technology and standards for wireless charging.

How much demand is there for wireless charging?
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DailyMail Online results: even at huge scale, online news is hard to monetise » Medium

Frank Meehan:

The DailyMail Online is the biggest English language site in the world with 220m unique monthly actives, high engagement and virality of content. It’s a machine.

Yet, in its recent quarterly results announced today, the MailOnline reported advertising revenues of £23m on those 220m.

As the FT’s Lex column points out – that is just 10c of revenue per user [per month].

Not much return for the huge amount of effort put into the content (same may argue that it’s doesn’t take much effort to generate more gossip on the Kardashians, but actually the MailOnline has gossip down to an art form, which is why they are the biggest).

Compare my estimate of The Guardian’s revenue per browser per month of 6.16p.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Google’s ad stop, hacking phishers, the lost phone mystery, the adblocking browser and more

A game with these will give you an insight into production processes. Photo by judy_and_ed on Flickr.

You can now 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why is your team falling behind? Ask ‘The Penny Game’ » Atomicobject

Eric Shull:

The book Velocity describes an enlightening simulation, a model of a simple manufacturing line. The game uses pennies and dice to represent pieces of work flowing through stations in a factory. It may be simple, but the penny game can improve our understanding of how software teams work, how the interaction of variable processes affect the system as as whole.

In the penny game, pennies come in at one end of the line, are processed by each station, then exit at the other end. This would be rather mundane but for one complication: each station does not always process the same number of pennies.

In the simulation, rolled dice indicate how many pennies each station is allowed to move.

This is fascinating – and gives you real insight into the problems that have to be overcome in manufacturing to tight deadlines. Imagine now if you were processing millions of “pennies”, except they were phones.
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Google disabled 49% more ads in 2015 » WSJ Digits blog

Alistair Barr:

More than 1,000 of Google’s 60,000 employees monitor and remove ads, an important task because the company gets about 90% of its revenue from advertising. It’s also been hit financially for not adequately monitoring ads. In 2011, the company agreed to pay $500m to settle allegations by the U.S. Department of Justice that ads for Canadian online pharmacies contributed to the illegal importation of prescription drugs. In the settlement, Google acknowledged it acted “improperly.”

Google blocked more than 12.5m ads in 2015 for drugs that were unapproved or that made misleading claims, up from 9.6m a year earlier.

Ads making misleading weight-loss claims were a big source of user complaints last year, prompting Google to suspend more than 30,000 websites from its ad systems. It declined to give a comparable number for 2014.

Rob Leathern has the growth figure for ad disabling: it’s growing by 50% annually, but still a long way short of catching them all.
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How I stumbled upon thousands of Facebook passwords » Medium

“Rukshan”, a Colombo-based medical undergrad and hacker, received a Facebook phishing email and twiddled around with the phishing page:

after modifying the url I checked the folder which contained the php script that handles the post requests and I knew at that moment I hit the jackpot.

There was no index.html file to make sure no one else see the files in that directory or any .htaccess modification, well like I said phishing people are too bored to do all these tech stuff anyway, they’d rather get the passwords and go away.

So I opened the password.html file and I was greeted to the sight of hundreds of Facebook passwords, and by looking at the credentials one there was a pattern:

•Almost all of these accounts belonged to girls who are in their early 20s or teens.
• Almost all of the accounts belonged to females who are from Colombo.

Neat idea; neater still would be to wipe the files. But that would be one sizeable hack further (and probably illegal).
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Why don’t you have an Android version? (Or why we develop for iOS first) » Impossible Ventures

Joel Runyon:

Android users may download more apps, but they spend less money than iTunes users.

But that’s not just fake studies either, in our experience with Paleo (io) – a top 20 app in iTunes and ranked even higher in Google Play – we make about 3x the sales on our iTunes listing as we do on Google Play (even though we have a higher ranking in Google Play than iTunes).

Which brings me to the next point: apps are not free to make.

As an app developer, you have to spend time & money on this concept that you have in your head to bring it to reality. The  MVP on an app can cost anywhere between $2k and $20k to build and launch. It might not seem like much if you spend all your time raising VC money and have a $1M+ in the bank, but it can add up if you’re bootstrapping.

In fact, with every dollar you spend, there’s a very real cost (along with another equally as real, opportunity cost).

Of course the argument is completely different in Asia, where it’s generally Android-first (except in Japan, and who knows in China?).
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Finding the tennis suspects » Medium

Russell Kaplan, Jason Teplitz, and Christina Wadsworth:

The tennis world was sent reeling when BuzzFeed News and the BBC jointly published The Tennis Racket, which revealed “evidence of widespread match-fixing by players at the upper level of world tennis”. But BuzzFeed refused to publish the names of those players.

We dove into the data and found the names ourselves.

Unless you follow tennis really closely you won’t have heard of any of the names but one, and I do wonder if that one is thrown up by some weird quirk of the analysis. Seems robust, though. I think this might dissuade players – and administrators – from trying to hide this in future, knowing that there are people analysing public data for oddities. Will it put off the gamblers, though?
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Why do people keep coming to this couple’s home looking for lost phones? » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

It started the first month that Christina Lee and Michael Saba started living together. An angry family came knocking at their door demanding the return of a stolen phone. Two months later, a group of friends came with the same request. One month, it happened four times. The visitors, who show up in the morning, afternoon, and in the middle of the night, sometimes accompanied by police officers, always say the same thing: their phone-tracking apps are telling them that their smartphones are in this house in a suburb of Atlanta.

But the phones aren’t there, Lee and Saba always protest, mystified at being fingered by these apps more than a dozen times since February 2015. “I’m sorry you came all this way. This happens a lot,” they’d explain. Most of the people believe them, but about a quarter of them remain suspicious, convinced that the technology is reliable and that Lee and Saba are lying.

“My biggest fear is that someone dangerous or violent is going to visit our house because of this,” said Saba by email. (Like this guy.) “If or when that happens, I doubt our polite explanations are gonna go very far.”

It’s billed as “a tech mystery”, and it really is.
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Brave is the name, ad-blocking the game of new browser » Computerworld

Former Mozilla CEO (for 11 days) Brendan Eich is behind a new browser for desktop and mobile which blocks all ads and tracking by default:

“We are building a new browser and a connected private cloud service with anonymous ads,” Eich said.

In effect, Brave will first scrub websites of most of their ads and all tracking, then replace those ads with its own. But the latter will be aimed not at individuals but at the anonymous aggregate of the browser’s user base. If enough people gravitate to the browser, Brave will share its ad revenue with users and content publishers.

“We will target ads based on browser-side intent signals phrased in a standard vocabulary, and without a persistent user id or highly re-identifiable cookie,” Eich said. “By default Brave will insert ads only in a few standard-sized spaces. We find those spaces via a cloud robot.”

No user data will be recorded or stored by Brave, Eich promised.

Elsewhere, Eich said that 55% of Brave’s revenue would be shared with site publishers, and 15% with users, who could then turn that money over to their favorite sites or keep it.

Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC, applauded the concept of creating an alternate revenue stream from traditional advertising, but wondered whether the browser could compete, even in the niche that Eich described. “This is a laudable idea, but fighting ‘free’ is always risky,” said Hilwa in an email reply to questions.

Not sure the world has an appetite for a new browser, but one can envisage adblocking becoming built in and then enabled, just as pop-up blocking in browsers went from “pop-up what?” to “optional” to “on by default”.
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Apple pushes to bolster market share in India » WSJ

Newley Purnell:

India’s smartphone market is expanding quickly and by next year it should overtake the U.S. as the world’s second-biggest behind China, according to research firm IDC.

Just 35% of mobile phones sold in India now are smartphones, meaning there is room for growth as people upgrade from basic devices. Indian consumers, however, tend to purchase inexpensive devices: The average smartphone selling price in the country is likely to fall to $102 in 2018 from $135 in 2014, IDC says.

Apple’s problem has been that the sweet spot for smartphone sales in India has been handsets that cost less than $150. In a country where the average person earns about $1,500 a year and even middle-class consumers make less than $8,000 a year, the standard iPhone — which usually costs between $500 and $1,000 without a data plan — was just too expensive for most people to consider.

“Buying an iPhone is so expensive,” said Sakshi Maurya, a 20-year-old university student in New Delhi. She said she doesn’t understand why an iPhone is five times as expensive as some locally available Android phones. “It’s a luxurious thing.”

India poses a particular marketing challenge for Apple: it’s a mixture of very tech-savvy buyers and low-income buyers. Which does it target first, and how?
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iPhone 6S/6S Plus underperform year-ago sales » Consumer Intelligence Research Partners

CIRP finds that the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus accounted for 67% of total US iPhone sales, with iPhone 6s at 48% and iPhone 6s Plus at 19%. In the December 2014 quarter, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus accounted for 75% of total US iPhone sales with 30% iPhone 6 Plus.

“The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus did quite well,” said Josh Lowitz, CIRP Partner and Co- Founder. “Yet, they did not dominate the same way that iPhone 6 and 6 Plus did a year ago. The total share of the new flagship models fell below the share of the then-new phones in 2014, and the large-format iPhone 6s Plus share of sales dropped compared to the iPhone 6 Plus as well. Customers continue to choose the year-old iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and even the two-year old iPhone 5S.”

CIRP can’t say whether total sales are higher or lower (it samples 500 buyers of Apple devices in the previous quarter), just the mix. This looks like a subtle price deflation of the iPhone as people opt for 2014’s models over 2015’s – after all, they look the same to other people, even if the newer models has extra features.
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Issue 3434 – android – Add APIs for low-latency audio – Android Open Source Project – Issue Tracker

On Tuesday, Apple released its “Music Memos” app, which is intended to let musicians (of any standard) record little musical thoughts that come to them on the guitar or piano directly to their iPhone or iPad, and add musical accompaniment.

Android doesn’t have that, because as has been noted here before its audio latency is too long – over 10 milliseconds, which is the longest pro musicians can bear. So how long have developers been prodding Google to improve Android’s audio latency?

I am developer of real-time audio signal processing applications. I am interested in creating
applications for sale in the android marketplace, but found that android has no method for real-
time low latency audio.

This is the first entry in a bug/feature request which continues to the present (latest entry is June 2015). The date of the entry? July 31, 2009 – slightly over nine months after the first Android phone. Is six and a half years a long time for a feature request to lie open? (And here’s Google’s official list of device latencies. Look for any at 10ms or below.)

Apple effectively gets 100% of the professional audience through this feature.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple’s $8bn tax bill?, the tech funding squeeze, Friends Liquidated, Samsung ‘Live Photos’+ more


At least you knew that the advert might be seen by real people. No such assurances in the online world. Photo by University of Pittsburgh Libraries on Flickr.

You can now 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why you should never consider a travel planning startup » Tnooz

Nadav Gur, principal at NG Vanguard Enterprises:

First, you need to acquire users. Guess what — if they’re not planning a trip, they’re not interested in travel planners. They don’t even acknowledge their existence.

People are bombarded by new websites/apps/brands all the time, and they filter for what’s relevant.

That’s what you see GEICO ads on TV all the time – cause the only way to get your attention those 1–2 times a year when you give a damn about insurance, is to be in front of you all the time.
No matter how much press/word-of-mouth/viral exposure you’re getting, it only registers if/when it happens to be relevant.

Inevitably this means that you too have to advertise a lot. And no, free user acquisition schemes like SEO do not work in 2015 at scale in established markets.

The Priceline Group spends over $2bn per year on Google Ads alone. Guess why?

Not so easily disrupted. And that’s before you get to the question of how many people spend enough on travel for any affiliate amounts to be worthwhile.
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Tech faces hour of reckoning as fundraising drops, layoffs rise » USA Today

Jon Swartz:

Is tech in for a rude awakening this year after a magic carpet ride the past few years?

The numbers, and recent actions by once-highflying start-ups, would seem to suggest so.

Consider: Mega-rounds, defined as funding of more than $100 million for venture capitalist-backed companies, are in free fall. The rate of private start-ups attaining unicorn status — a valuation of at least $1 billion — are grinding to a crawl. Friday layoffs at tech start-ups, deemed Black Fridays, are increasing. Bellwether tech stocks such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have been taking it on the chin.

“It’s a time to re-calibrate — so many companies can’t burn extraordinary amounts of money forever,” says Sunil Panel, co-founder of Sidecar, a pioneer in the crowded ride-sharing space that shuttered operations on Dec. 31.

Last year, Silicon Valley projected unbridled swagger. Today, “there is definitely an era of reckoning,” says Chris Sacca, a venture investor with stakes in Uber and Twitter. “Reality is setting in.”

Not sure about “grinding to a crawl” (note to USA Today subs: things grind to a halt, or slow to a crawl), but the slowdown in stupid ideas is palpable.
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European antitrust chief takes swipe at privacy issue » The New York Times

Mark Scott on the EC’s Margrethe Vestager’s speech at the DLD conference:

“If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market,” Ms. Vestager said at the DLD conference, a gathering of digital executives and policy makers.

She said that “it’s hard to know” how much data is given up when using an online messaging service.

“But it’s a business transaction, not a free giveaway,” she continued. “As consumers, we need to be treated fairly.”

Ms. Vestager’s warning shot in the often-rancorous privacy debate comes ahead of a Jan. 31 deadline for Europe and the United States to reach a new data-sharing agreement…

…A number of European executives echoed Ms. Vestager’s fears about how a small number of American tech companies could use their large-scale data collection to favor their own services over those of rivals. Among them was Oliver Samwer, the German entrepreneur who co-founded Rocket Internet, one of the region’s most high-profile tech companies.

“If someone like Google or Facebook has all of the data, then that’s not good,” Mr. Samwer said here on Sunday.

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Whatsapp goes free, says it won’t introduce ads » Mashable

Whatsapp readily acknowledges that killing its only source of income will raise questions about introducing third-party ads. But the company has a different idea.

“Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from. That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight,” the post reads.

We reckon Whatsapp will charge organizations and business for establishing channels with their users through the service, though no details were announced. The idea is by no means new; a Bloomberg report in May 2015 claimed Whatsapp might foray into B2C messaging in the “longer term.”

Perfectly sensible business idea, and could also turn it into a platform like WeChat (whose capabilities and inclusions dwarf those of any western app).
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Friends Reunited website to close down » BBC News

Zoe Kleinman:

Friends Reunited launched in the year 2000 and was bought by broadcaster ITV for £175m ($250m) in 2005.

However, it failed to keep pace with other social networks.

It was sold to comic publisher DC Thompson for only £25m in 2009 and Mr Pankhurst wrote in a blog post that the company had offered it back to him a couple of years ago.

Pankhurst and business partner Jason Porter agreed to take on the site for a trial period to see if they could revitalise it.

“It became clear that most of the actual users coming to the site were using it purely as a messageboard,” wrote Mr Pankhurst.

“And I also realised that of the more than 10 million users registered, a lot had done so over a decade ago and hence their contact details were out of date. But importantly – it hasn’t covered its costs and like any business this can’t continue indefinitely. Therefore, whilst it’s sad, I believe it’s time to move on and put Friends Reunited to bed.”

Quite why ITV or DC Thompson bought it is one of those mysteries of business; it was never remotely a fit with either. So after ruining many marriages (of people who looked up old school flames), it’s handing that particular torch over to Facebook, where people can do exactly the same…
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Pakistan lifts ban on Youtube after launch of own version » Reuters

Tommy Wilkes:

Pakistan said on Monday it had removed a three-year ban on YouTube after the Google-owned video-sharing website launched a local version that allows the government to remove material it considers offensive.

Pakistan banned access to YouTube in September 2012 after an anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims”, was uploaded to the site, sparking violent protests across major cities in the Muslim-majority country of 190 million people.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom said in a statement that under the new version of YouTube, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority can ask for access to offending material to be blocked.

“On the recommendation of PTA, Government of Pakistan has allowed access to recently launched country version of YouTube for Internet users in Pakistan,” the ministry said.

“Google has provided an online web process through which requests for blocking access of the offending material can be made by PTA to Google directly and Google/YouTube will accordingly restrict access to the said offending material for users within Pakistan.”

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November 2013: Bitcoin under pressure » The Economist

The Economist doesn’t name writers, but I happen to know this is by Glenn Fleishman, writing back in 2013:

Server farms with endless racks of ASIC cards have already sprung up. But as part of Bitcoin’s design, the reward for mining a block halves every 210,000 blocks, or roughly every four years. Sometime in 2017, at the current rate, it will drop to 12.5 Bitcoins. If the returns from mining decline, who will verify the integrity of the block chain?

To head off this problem, a market-based mechanism is in the works which will raise the current voluntary fees paid by users (around five cents per transaction) in return for verification. “Nodes in the peer-to-peer network will try to estimate the minimum fee needed to get the transaction confirmed,” says Mr Hearn.

Bitcoin’s growing popularity is having other ripple effects. Every participant in the system must keep a copy of the block chain, which now exceeds 11 gigabytes in size and continues to grow steadily. This alone deters casual use. Bitcoin’s designer proposed a method of pruning the chain to include only unspent amounts, but it has not been implemented.

As the rate of transactions increases, squeezing all financial activity into the preset size limit for each block has started to become problematic. The protocol may need to be tweaked to allow more transactions per block, among other changes. A further problem relates to the volunteer machines, or nodes, that allow Bitcoin to function. These nodes relay transactions and transmit updates to the block chain. But, says Matthew Green, a security researcher at Johns Hopkins University, the ecosystem provides no compensation for maintaining these nodes—only for mining. The rising cost of operating nodes could jeopardise Bitcoin’s ability to scale.

Following Mike Hearn’s farewell the other day, I think Fleishman is allowed to say “told you so”.
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“Bitcoin Boulevard” no longer booming » Marketplace.org

Elizabeth Miller:

It’s been almost two years since a group of businesses in a Cleveland suburb started accepting digital currency bitcoin as a form of payment. The response at first was huge.  Visitors from around the world stopped at what became known as “Bitcoin Boulevard.” But now, the bitcoin hype has subsided. 

Along a lane of small retail stores, restaurants and bars, nine independent Cleveland Heights businesses banded together to form Bitcoin Boulevard in May 2014. But today, two of those businesses have closed, one is not actively accepting bitcoin, and a wine shop ceased most of its bitcoin transactions after the Ohio Division of Liquor Control banned alcohol purchases with the digital currency.

Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates is one of the original nine businesses. Owner Bill Mitchell says he started seeing a drop in bitcoin payment when its value dwindled at the beginning of 2015.

“Since the latter part of the winter of this year going through the end of October, it’s been deader than a doornail,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell isn’t the only one seeing a drop in bitcoin business. Shawn Paul Salon says it has only had six bitcoin transactions in the past 18 months. That’s a lot less exciting than everyone had hoped.

Reality check.
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The problem with Adgorithms’ prospectus » Investors Chronicle

Alex Newman, on the AIM-listed ad tech company whose shares have plummeted by 80% from their IPO:

So what went wrong? This is what the company said in its first profit warning, on 9 October, explaining a “significant” and indefinite impact on revenue:

“In recent weeks, the online advertising market has experienced severe disruption, resulting in a loss of supply for major online advertising exchanges and a drop in demand from major media buyers.”

In fact, this disruption had begun several months before, even prior to Adgorithms’ listing. In April, media trading platform news site adexchanger.com reported that AppNexus – which, together with fellow ad exchange Adap.TV related to the majority of Adgorithms’ 2014 revenues – had started screening out unverifiable media inventory. AppNexus’ chief executive, who followed several other ad exchanges when he launched the clean-up in November 2014, later acknowledged that more than half of the impressions flowing through his platform were failing the test. This has had the dual effect of suppressing Adgorithms’ revenues and – according to Peel Hunt analyst Alex DeGroote – increasing the cost of digital media.

Adgorithms certainly should have known about AppNexus’ clean-up plans before listing, and was aware that at least one of its peers had been hit by the broader changes. In April, fellow Israeli ad tech group Matomy Media (MTMY) issued a profit warning, citing the “implementation by one of the leading media trading platforms [this was AppNexus] of a new media verification and screening tool that resulted in an immediate decrease in the amount of digital media available for purchase”.

“Unverifiable” inventory is what can also be called “fraudulent” ads – shown to bots on sites that humans never visit. It’s worth visiting the AdExchanger link (“screening out unverifiable…”) which points to just how much junk and fraud there may be going on.

Seriously, online ads have ended the age of “half of what I spend on advertising is wasted”. Now you have no idea what proportion it may be if you’re using an ad network.
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Samsung to launch Live Photos rival called Vivid Photo with Galaxy S7 » Android Geeks

Marius Maria:

Back in September, Apple launched the iPhone 6S which comes with Live Photos, a feature which captures 1.5 seconds of video before and after a picture is taken. HTC’s Zoe Capture was capable of doing the same thing long before Live Photos, but this gimmick only became cool now because Apple has it on its phones.

But Samsung wants to jump into the Live Photos bandwagon, too. According to one of our sources the software engineers of the South Korean phone maker are testing a Live Photos-like feature that is supposed to debut with the Galaxy S7 later this year.

Not sure about the “But” beginning that second paragraph. All sorts of words fit better: “Now”, “Predictably”, “Unsurprisingly”. Cold comfort for HTC.
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App economy jobs in the United States (Part 1) » Progressive Policy Institute

Michael Mandel:

Is 1.66 million a reasonable figure for US App Economy employment? This figure is based on our estimate of roughly 550,000 core app economy workers. That’s out of roughly 5 million people employed in computer and mathematical occupations or as computer and information systems managers. In effect, core app economy workers make up roughly 11% of the tech workforce.

Informal discussions with tech executives suggest that it’s reasonable to attribute roughly 11 percent of the tech workforce to the App Economy in the United States. Large portions of software development involve backend systems, such as financial and operation databases, which are not mobile specific. On the other hand, software development focused on online consumer or individual interactions must necessarily involve apps, because Americans increasingly access the Internet via their smartphone or other mobile devices. Going forward, mobile is likely to become more important rather than less, further pushing up the number of App Economy jobs.

We can do another comparison. In 2007, before the introduction of the iPhone, there were roughly 3.9 million people employed in computer and mathematical occupations or as computer and information systems managers. Since then tech employment has risen by 1.1 million, suggesting roughly half the net gain in tech occupational employment since 2007 has come from the App Economy.

For the job breakdown, it puts iOS at 1.4m (87%), Android at 1.1m (70%), BlackBerry at 107,000 (6%) and Windows Phone/Mobile at 45,000 (3%). Adds up to 166% because some people (two-thirds?) work on multiple ecosystems. (Via Horace Dediu.)
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Apple may be on hook for $8bn in taxes in Europe probe » Bloomberg Business

Adam Satariano:

The European Commission contends that Apple’s corporate arrangement in Ireland allows it to calculate profits using more favorable accounting methods. Apple calculates its tax bill using low operating costs, a move that dramatically decreases what the company pays to the Irish government. While Apple generates about 55% of its revenue outside the US, its foreign tax rate is about 1.8%. If the Commission decides to enforce a tougher accounting standard, Apple may owe taxes at a 12.5% rate, on $64.1bn in profit generated from 2004 to 2012, according to Larson, a litigation analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

Apple is perhaps the highest-profile case of US companies facing scrutiny from officials in Europe. Starbucks, Amazon and McDonalds also have had its tax policies questioned.

Several senators came to the defense of US companies on Friday. In a letter to US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, bipartisan members of the Senate Finance Committee asked the administration to make sure that European regulators won’t impose retroactive penalties like those that would hit Apple.

Odd if Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter aren’t also in this.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: UK encryption doubletalk, Netflix VPN crackdown, Apple’s iAd retreat, and more


A Nest thermostat: malfunctioning, but what about privacy? Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

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No backdoors but UK government still wants encryption decrypted on request… » TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

During the committee session [in the UK Parliament] [home secretary Theresa] May was asked to clarify the implications of the draft bill’s wording for encryption. Various concerns have been raised about this — not least because it includes a clause that communications providers might be required to “remove electronic protection of data”.

Does this mean the government wants backdoors inserted into services or the handing over of encryption keys, May was asked by the committee. No, she replied: “We are not saying to them that government wants keys to their encryption — no, absolutely not.”

However the clarity the committee was seeking on the encryption point failed to materialize, as May reiterated the government’s position that the expectation will be that a lawfully served warrant will result in unencrypted data being handed over by the company served with the warrant.

“Where we are lawfully serving a warrant on a provider so that they are required to provide certain information to the authorities, and that warrant has been gone through the proper authorization process — so it’s entirely lawful — the company should take reasonable steps to ensure that they are able to comply with the warrant that has been served on them. That is the position today and it will be the position tomorrow under the legislation,” said May.

Completely contradictory.
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Evolving proxy detection as a global service » Netflix

If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in. We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.

Over time, we anticipate being able to do so. For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory. In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.

Shorter version: we’re going to block your VPN.
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Five years later, Thunderbolt is finally gaining some traction in PCs » Ars Technica UK

Andrew Cunningham:

For many years, it looked like Thunderbolt was destined to be a modern version of FireWire: faster and smarter than contemporary USB interfaces, but so rare outside of Macs that there isn’t a very wide range of accessories beyond adapters and external hard drives. Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 are available in most Macs sold between 2011 and now, but it has been included in just a handful of PC laptops and high-end motherboards.
Thunderbolt 3 is turning that around. The port is suddenly beginning to show up in high-end offerings from just about every major PC OEM, starting with some Lenovo workstation laptops and Dell’s new XPS lineup and continuing in laptops and convertibles from HP, Acer, Intel, and others.

We’ve been talking to the PC companies at CES about this sudden turnaround, and their answers have all been in more or less the same vein. The increased speed of Thunderbolt 3 combined with all the benefits of USB Type-C (including driving displays via Alternate Mode and charging laptops via Power Delivery) has finally made Thunderbolt convenient enough to be worth the trouble.

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David Maisel’s geometric geographies » The New Yorker

Marcia Bjornerud:

David Maisel’s aerial photographs of Toledo, Spain, and the surrounding La Mancha region, some of which will be on view at Haines Gallery, in San Francisco, through March 12th, can make Earth’s surface look more alien than terrestrial. Parts of the area that Maisel focussed on are underlain by light-colored alkaline rocks, which formed through the evaporation of an ancient body of water. The silvery soil of plowed fields almost shimmers, like a ghostly memory of that long-vanished sea.

Things like this, and more, in the gallery of images.


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Germany launches smartphone app to help refugees integrate » The Verge

Amar Toor:

The German government has launched a new smartphone app to help asylum seekers integrate in their new country. Known as Ankommen (“Arrive”), the Android app is available for free on the Google Play Store, and will launch on iOS soon, according to its website. Ankommen was jointly developed by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the Federal Employment Agency, the Goethe Institute, and Bayerischer Rundfunk, a public radio and TV broadcaster.

The app is available in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, and German, and does not require an internet connection. It includes a basic German language course, as well as information on the asylum application process and how to find jobs or vocational training. The app also provides information on German values and social customs, with tips from other non-Germans who live in the country.

Note the underlying assumption: refugees will have a smartphone. So far the app has fewer than 1,000 downloads.
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Apple to disband iAd sales team » BuzzFeed News

John Paczkowski:

six years after launching iAd, Apple is stepping back from it. Multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans tell BuzzFeed News that Apple is getting out of the advertising-sales business and shifting to a more automated platform.

While iAd itself isn’t going anywhere, Apple’s direct involvement in the selling and creation of iAd units is ending. “It’s just not something we’re good at,” one source told BuzzFeed News. And so Apple is leaving the creation, selling, and management of iAds to the folks who do it best: the publishers.

Apple is phasing out its iAd sales force entirely and updating the iAds platform so that publishers can sell through it directly. And publishers who do so will keep 100% of the revenue they generate. It’s not clear what this means for Rubicon Project, MediaMath, and the other ad tech companies that had been overseeing programmatic, or automated, demand-side ad buying on the platform, but it doesn’t look good. Since everything can be done directly through the updated iAd platform, it’s likely that most of it will. “The big publishing groups will just fold programmatic buys into the stuff they’re selling across all their properties,” one source explained. iAd sales team members will be offered buyouts and released into the wild. The move is coming soon, perhaps as early as this week.

Advertising industry sources familiar with Apple’s new self-serve plan for iAds seem intrigued by it. “I think this is going to be great for publishers,” said one. “It gives them direct dialogue with their customers as opposed to forcing them to go through an Apple middleman. Access will be more plentiful and easier to manage — theoretically.”

How long will it be until the first malvertising via iAd? And what happens after that? I still feel iAd is a bad fit for Apple’s business model.
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Developing for wearables: from shrunken smartphone to wearable-first and beyond » VisionMobile

Stijn Schuermans:

In a previous post, we called the Internet of Things the peace dividend of the smartphone wars, and IoT developers the baby boomers of that period. In other words, smartphone innovation made hardware technology abundant. It’s no longer the bottleneck. IoT breakthroughs will happen not by making more powerful processors or larger memories, but by identifying new applications for the sensors, devices and connectivity. This certainly seems to be the case for wearables, which arguably started with the first Fitbit in 2008 and boomed after the launch of the Pebble and Android Wear in 2013 and 2014. Those were the days of the wearables hype.

That hype has now died down. Developers in particular are getting more cautious about wearables. Between Q4 2014 and Q2 2015, the percentage of IoT developers targeting wearables dropped from 28% to 21%. Developers have not turned their back on wearables entirely – many still plan to develop for wearables in the future – but the initial enthusiasm is making way for realism, and a search for truly valuable uses for these new devices.

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New study highlights privacy gap between consumers and tech vendors » WSJ Digits blog

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

The Pew Research Center has found in recent years that users of mobile and desktop computers are anxious about online privacy. The nonprofit’s latest study, published on Thursday, aimed to learn whether consumer anxiety waxed or waned in specific scenarios.

Conclusion: It does.

Although users often accept the implicit bargain of the online world — receiving free services in exchange for personal data — service providers can’t take users’ comfort with the arrangement for granted. Privacy concerns are more “case-by-case than driven by broad principles,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, Science, and Technology Research.

The report revealed a gulf between the public and the tech industry, Mr. Rainie said, judging by the plethora of data-gathering gadgets on display at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For instance, Nest seeks to connect items in the home–smart thermostats, light bulbs, garage doors and so on — into a system that would collect data to coordinate their operations; switching on lights, for instance, when the garage door indicates that an occupant has returned home in the evening.

The January 2016  report suggests that public attitudes could limit such plans.

Sure that Paul Graham will get right onto this and set the tech industry straight.
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Nest thermostat glitch leaves users in the cold » The New York Times

Nick Bilton:

“Woke up to a dead nest and a very cold house,” a commenter wrote on the company’s forum. “Not good when you have a baby sleeping!”

“Mine is offline,” another customer tweeted. “Not enough battery (?) I’m traveling. Called nest. Known problem. No resolution. #nest #fail.”

Admittedly, this may strike some as a quintessential first-world problem: a thermostat that can’t connect to the web. But for some users, it posed genuine issues.

For those who are elderly or ill, or who have babies, a freezing house can have dire health consequences. Moreover, homeowners who installed a Nest in a weekend home, or who were on vacation, were also concerned that their pipes could freeze and burst, causing major damage.

Matt Rogers, the co-founder and vice president for engineering at Nest, blamed a software update from December. “We had a bug that was introduced in the software update that didn’t show up for about two weeks,” Mr. Rogers said apologetically. In January, devices went offline, and “that’s when things started to heat up.”

The question is, will we look back on events like this as just teething problems – a bit like some of the cloud outages of, say, 2007 – or will they just multiply as more systems interact with slightly jury-rigged ones?

And as Bilton also points out, the contracts these gizmos/services are provided under use “arbitration” clauses which hugely favour the company, not the consumer; one lawyer tells him that Nest’s terms of service “are inherently unfair to consumers”. Not biased; inherently unfair.
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Google scamming consumers and screwing publishers with “Contributor” » LinkedIn

Mike Nolet is former CTO of AppNexus:

When I first heard of Google Contributor in early November I thought… this is exactly what the ad-industry should be doing, go Google! For those not familiar with the service, Contributor allows users to contribute a certain sum of money and opt-out of bandwidth hogging ads. The service “bids” on the users behalf, and if successful the user can choose to either collapse the unused space or upload their own messages – ingenious!

I immediately signed up, dialed my contribution up to$15/mo and started browsing. I configured my contributor account to show me messages from the new wellbeing starutp I’m working on and instead of ads I started seeing all sorts of positive messages. Cool!

A few months have since past and I figured it was time to review where my money was going. Boy, did my opinion change.

Looking at reports, it turns out I contributed $4.77 to remove 977 ads on websites since I signed up and Google charged me $29.67. The ~$5-CPM paid out seems generous, but I’ll accept that.  

The  $30 CPM and whopping 83% margin is downright theft. Google is keeping 83% of the money.

Who knows, maybe something is broken, but as it stands this is a service is a scam.

But he could dial down his contribution, surely? In a world though where adblockers are free, it seems somewhat worthy. Also, I calculated how much news sites (well, The Guardian) probably gets per browser per year from ads: $1.14.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: SATs (Standard Aptitude Tests) are very useful, apparently.

Start up: Radiohead v Prince, the ad crunch, Surface Pro review, and more


Yahoo took the net away from its programmers. Guess what happened. Photo by dotanuki on Flickr.

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TouchArcade needs your help, please support our Patreon » TouchArcade

Eli Hodapp, editor-in-chief of the site (which set up in 2008 to report on iOS gaming:

The continued shift to user acquisition as the main method of promoting a title has had a dramatic impact on the iOS gaming ecosystem. Aside from mid-sized developers being squeezed out, with advertising revenues reaching non-existent levels, iOS enthusiast sites have been forced to make difficult decisions. Without financial support from developers buying advertising, some sites have closed. The few that remain have significantly downsized, drastically reduced their content output, shifted to writing about more general topics in hopes of attracting more search traffic, and/or changed focus to becoming an events companies. TouchArcade, being the largest site, is the farthest up the proverbial river, but the drought has reached us too and even our continued existence is in question.

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Why are we still putting up with scam ads and fake news stories? » Medium

Rob Leathern:

Today, on the front page of Yahoo, a fake news article ad ran using Robert Downey, Jr.’s likeness (red box below), and pointed to a fake version of the Discovery Channel website (“discoverymagltd.com”). The site then also included fake endorsements from Roger Federer, Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig.

Recently, I saw a fake news story “ad” on Facebook using the likeness of The Rock, and a fake version of the TMZ website, that I pointed out to him. He correctly pointed out:

@robleathern @facebook @TMZ Unreal how far people will go to scam others. We’re on it and thank you bud for bringing it to our attention

These scammers hide behind anonymous domains and half-witted affiliates, but honestly, any somewhat-skeptical ad operations person should be able to immediately see and shut down something like this very quickly before it ever sees millions of users. And yet it persists. Click rates for these fake stories are incredibly high.

The online ad industry’s incentives are totally screwed up, and it leads to the kinds of deceptive dreck that profilerates everywhere today.

Leathern is working on a solution, at least.
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90:9:1 – the odd ratio that technology keeps creating » The Guardian

I wrote about something I’ve observed:

What do operating systems, browsers and search engines all have in common? It seems to be a ratio of 90:9:1 between the key players. One player dominates; then others get a minimal share.

Take mobile OSs: This week the Mozilla Foundation pulled the plug on Firefox OS – the mobile OS which could have replaced native apps with HTML-based apps – a final death throe in the mobile OS wars. There are now three main platforms – Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone – for which worldwide shipments are currently running in a ratio of about 85:14:1 respectively.

Now look at desktop OS sales: the ratio stands in the most recent quarter at about 91:8:1 between Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s Mac OSX, and “self-build” machines which probably get Linux.

It’s oddly reminiscent of the “1% rule” – a rule of thumb observed as far back as 2006, which states that if you have a group of 100 people interacting online, then one will generate some content, nine will provide feedback, and 90 will simply consume it. (Studies have broadly confirmed that principle.)

I’m not saying this is a hard and fast rule – I cite two large-scale exceptions in the piece – but I feel there’s something behind it, perhaps based on network effects and power laws.
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Why the internet of things favours dominance » The Guardian

Julia Powles and Jat Singh, in July 2015:

For the moment, all these approaches tend towards centralisation – whether towards operators of closed systems, controllers of particular ecosystems, or systems integrators for “open” systems. Data flows too, tend to be centralised, even when they needn’t be. So it seems that concerns about dominance, power, and control in the internet of things are based on solid ground – the end-user’s controls are left to whoever controls the centralised environment.

So, is there a way out? Perhaps, given the internet of things is still evolving. But the path to countering the strong forces favouring dominance is far from easy.

I hadn’t thought of this piece when I wrote about 90:9:1, but it suggests that IoT will see a similar trend.
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Yahoo’s engineers move to coding without a net » IEEE Spectrum

Tekla Perry:

What happens when you take away the quality assurance team in a software development operation? Fewer, not more errors, along with a vastly quicker development cycle.

That, at least, has been the experience at Yahoo, according to Amotz Maimon, the company’s chief architect, and Jay Rossiter, senior vice president of science and technology. After some small changes in development processes in 2013, and a larger push from mid-2014 to the first quarter of 2015, software engineering at Yahoo underwent a sea change. The effort was part of a program Yahoo calls Warp Drive: a shift from batch releases of code to a system of continuous delivery. Software engineers at Yahoo are no longer permitted to hand off their completed code to another team for cross checking. Instead, the code goes live as-is; if it has problems, it will fail and shut down systems, directly affecting Yahoo’s customers.

“Doing that,” Rossiter told me, “caused a paradigm shift in how engineers thought about problems.”

It has also, he said, forced engineers to develop tools to automate the kinds of checks previously handled by teams of humans. An engineer might go through an arduous process of checking code once—but then would start building tools to automate that process.  

This is really counterintuitive; you’d expect it would cause all manner of problems. But of course it shifts responsibility down to the programmers. Yahoo has been running like this for a year (insert “who would notice?” joke) and the benefits seem clear.
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The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks tried out Microsoft’s offering to see if it would trump his iPad Pro. It didn’t:

It’s not that this device is bad — [though] the battery life and [third-party] apps are — but it’s that the device is disappointing. Using it, you can see how great it truly could be, but it doesn’t even come close to living up to that.

It’s not a tablet in any sense, which is fine, but it’s also not a great laptop either. I can’t see recommending the Surface Pro 4 to anyone. You are better off buying a full laptop, one which can hopefully handle simple Google Hangouts. You are better off with an iPad too. That will likely incite a great many fans of the device, but as it stands right now there is too much missing, which can be had for the same or less cost than you can get with the Surface Pro 4.

The iPad Pro will cost you the same, but you will get an App Store full of amazing software and a battery that can actually last through a full day of work.

He liked the hardware, a lot, but found the software sub-par and RAM-hungry.
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“Creep” – Prince at Coachella 2008 (Uploaded via Permission from Radiohead) » YouTube

Miles Hartl finally appealed to Radiohead (because it’s their song, so they own the copyright, including performance copyright) to get this song unblocked on YouTube. It got a million views in 48 hours:

Watching live footage of Prince is what let the joy of performing music into my life. Buying his albums can not and will not convey the contagious, jaw dropping, astonishing, spontaneous aura of awesome that oozes from every pour of this man’s being on stage. Some of you vehemently disagree, and that’s fine…free speech all the way. But for me, this was the fountainhead. Every time I watch Prince play guitar I get the urge to practice for hours. The 22-second sustained note on the Coachella performance of “Shhh” that you’ll never see…yeah, that changed the way I looked at my instrument and what is was capable of. The transcendent wonder that is the “Just My Imagination” solo from Small Club…that taught me the difference between playing and singing. The Digitech Whammy work on “3 Chains ‘O Gold”…eight years on and I still can’t make it sound like that. Every solo ever taken on “The Ride,” “Purple Rain,” “Redhead Stepchild,” “She’s Always in My Hair,” “Peach,” “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” “Joy in Repetition”…I can’t tell you the joy they’ve brought me, nor convey the lessons they’ve taught that I wouldn’t have found by looking in a different direction.

And if Prince had his way, I never would have been able to learn from any of it. Because it would either be posted and deleted within days (at best), streamed once at four a.m. and never seen or heard again, or would be locked in a dungeon at Paisley Park until the 22nd Century.

So here it is.


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Is Apple’s Smart Battery Case so goofy because it was designed around Mophie’s patents? | The Verge

Former patent lawyer Nilay Patel:

Mophie has tons of patents on the design and functionality of these things. Reading through a few, it’s hard not to see Apple’s case as being deliberately designed around Mophie’s patents — including that unsightly bulge.

Here, for example, is Mophie’s patent #9,172,070, which was just granted on October 15th. The first claim lays out, well, a Mophie battery case — and any other case that has all of these (paraphrased) elements would infringe on Mophie’s patent:

1. A lower case that contains a battery and sides that extend along a mobile device, with internal and external power connectors, and an on / off switch.

2. A removable upper case.

So really any case where a phone slides into the bottom case and there’s a cap on top infringes this one. You will note the Apple case is just a single piece, with a top portion that flops back instead of coming off. More elegant, in some ways, but perhaps more importantly, also outside the claims of this patent.

Patel’s is the most sensible analysis I’ve read around this entire topic. (Apple wouldn’t comment when he asked if this was why.)
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How fast is the iPad Pro? » DISPLAYBLOG

Jin Kim:

I recently started capturing videos of our church’s sermons. I’ve been using my iPhone 4s with an olloclip telephoto lens that gives me a 2x optical zoom. In 720p mode a 50-minute video takes up about 4-5 GBs. Capturing the video is no problem, even for an old iPhone 4s. (Capturing 50-minute long 720p videos on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 on the other hand is a pain — I couldn’t do it because of file size limitations. I’m sure there is a solution out there, but I think regular users who just want to record long videos will give up.) What takes a lot of computing time is adding title pages, transitions, and then exporting it.

On a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro (mid-2009) with 4GB RAM and a 5400RPM 1TB hard drive using the GeForce 9400M GPU the exporting part takes about 3 hours. This is using Final Cut Pro X…

…On a whim, I decided to try editing on iMovie on my iPhone 6s. I don’t require a lot of editing — just adding a couple of title pages, some transitions, and a bit of zooming in — and iMovie, after watching a few YouTube tutorials, was sufficient for my needs. What was surprising was how quickly iMovie exported. I’d say it took about 10 minutes.

Quite possibly anomalous, but makes you think: where devices are optimised for particular formats, you can see a big delta in time taken.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Dropbox dumps Mailbox, what mobile adblocking?, life after viral fame, and more


Ridge Racer: maybe blame it for all that waiting around for games to load. Photo by Peter π on Flickr.

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Dropbox is shutting down its Mailbox and Carousel apps » The Verge

Chris Welch:

Dropbox is doing away with Mailbox, the email app it acquired in March 2013, and Carousel, the company’s attempt at a standalone photo management app. The company says that it’s making this decision now to focus more directly on the primary Dropbox app and the collaborative features it’s known for. “The Carousel and Mailbox teams have built products that are loved by many people and their work will continue to have an impact,” wrote Dropbox’s founder/CEO Drew Houston and CTO Arash Ferdowsi in a blog post. “We’ll be taking key features from Carousel back to the place where your photos live — in the Dropbox app. We’ll also be using what we’ve learned from Mailbox to build new ways to communicate and collaborate on Dropbox.”

The Verge’s usual incisive reporting which simply repeats available facts, and doesn’t try to widen the discussion, or bring in expert views, or put it into context. So I’ll try: Mailbox shutting suggests it’s either a bust (not enough users), or a money-loser – same thing, really, and Dropbox needs to focus on how it is going to stop just being a feature that any OS offers for free (Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud Drive) because if that’s the case, it hasn’t got a business in the long term.
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The ‘Loading Screen Game Patent’ finally expires » Electronic Frontier Foundation

Elliot Harmon:

The first Sony PlayStation was introduced in 1994. Its graphical capabilities blew predecessors like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo out of the water, but it had one big disadvantage. It replaced the game cartridges of the previous generation with CD-ROMs. When you booted up a PlayStation game, you had to wait for the console to load game data from the disc into its own memory. And that. Took. For. Ever. Watching a loading screen was boring, especially when you were used to the instant gratification of cartridge games.

Namco’s Ridge Racer addressed the problem by including a second game, the 80s classic Galaxian. It took no time at all for a PlayStation to load Galaxian. Suddenly, the player wasn’t thinking about how boring it was to wait for a game to load; she could have fun playing Galaxian while the console took its time loading Ridge Racer. If she beat Galaxian before Ridge Racer was done loading, she’d be rewarded in Ridge Racer with access to some in-game bonuses.

What’s the big deal? Namco thought of loading screen games first, so they earned the patent, right? Well, let’s look at how U.S. law defines a patentable invention.

According to the law, a person isn’t entitled to a patent if the claimed invention already existed when the application was filed or would have been obvious to someone skilled in the relevant technology area. The idea of playing a small game while the larger one loads has been around for a very long time. In 1987, many years before Namco filed its patent application, Richard Aplin created Invade-a-Load, a utility for developers who wrote games for the Commodore 64 computer.

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X marks the spot that makes online ads so maddening » The New York Times

Sydney Ember:

Annoying ads have become problematic for Anthony Martin, a 32-year-old consultant for a project management firm who sat in Bryant Park on a recent Monday afternoon, iPhone 6 in hand. He had moved to New York not long ago, he said, and was using a smartphone app to determine the best subway routes. But as soon as the app loads, ads take over his screen — first a banner ad on the bottom, then a full-screen ad. No amount of desperate jabbing does the trick.

“Sometimes I miss a stop,” he said. “Especially with fat fingers.”

Industry executives say it is quite likely that publishers and mobile developers are deliberately building ads that are hard to escape or shut down.

“The ones that are incredibly invasive are designed to be that way,” said Brian Gleason, the global chief executive of Xaxis, a media and technology company owned by the advertising giant WPP.

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The mobile adblocking apocalypse hasn’t arrived (at least not yet) » Nieman Journalism Lab

Madeline Welsh, Joseph Lichterman and Shan Wang:

Even sites with unusually high desktop blocking rates — think German sites, or technology sites — aren’t seeing huge numbers on mobile. About a quarter of all Internet users in Germany use an adblocker, but the percentage is even higher for some sites like Golem, a German-language tech site that’s seen an outright majority of its users blocking.

“As far as I can remember, it’s always been an issue for us,” said the site’s editor-in-chief, Benjamin Sterbenz. “As soon as adblock software was available, our readers installed the software and experimented with it. I’m sure that a lot of our readers also contributed to the development of adblocking software.”

But compared to adblocking on desktop, Golem readers using adblocking technology on mobile is in the single digits. Though it saw a little bump in September with the release of iOS 9, it’s otherwise remained constant, which Sterbenz said surprised him.

At Ars Technica, the Condè Nast-owned tech site, about 6% of mobile users block ads, “which is just a bit higher than what it was previously,” Ken Fisher, the site’s founder and editor-in-chief said in an email. On desktop, about 30% of users block ads, he said.

Odd, in light of the preceding.
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Virtual reality studio Baobab raises 6 million to be Pixar of VR – Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

After leaving Zynga, [CEO of startup Baobab, Maureen] Fan spent the next year using her free time to learn as much as possible about virtual reality. She finally left her job in March to cofound Baobab Studios with Eric Darnell, who directed DreamWorks movies “Antz” and the “Madagascar” franchise.  

With big ambitions, the duo started attracting top talent from the likes of Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Twitch. The team’s combo of hardcore technologists working with top-tier storytellers convinced investors to put $6 million behind the studio’s cause last week. The Series A round came in part from million from HTC and Samsung Ventures, both of which have their own virtual reality devices, the Vive and Gear VR. 

Fan tells Business Insider that the studio plans to release its first short films made specifically for virtual reality early next year.

“We’re inventing a new cinematic language,” she says. For example, she explains, in VR you can’t cut-away from the action — the whole story has to flow together without switching perspectives — and need to find ways to guide the viewer to look where you want them to, since it will be possible to look around at a whole virtual world. 

VR is going to get really interesting in the next couple of years, and the content producers v content platforms issue is going to be highlighted again.
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Tencent blocks Uber on WeChat, so what ‘fair play’ can we expect in China? » South China Morning Post

George Chen:

Global car-hailing app Uber and its local rival in China, Didi Kuaidi, are de facto in a business war, after Tencent, a key investor of Didi, decided to remove Uber from one of the most powerful online marketing platforms in the world’s No 1 internet market.

What’s the key takeaway of the story here for other foreign businesses if they are considering doing or expanding business in China? It’s getting more difficult to make money in China, especially when you have to compete with local monopoly players.

The news that all Uber’s WeChat accounts had been removed by Tencent, the parent and owner of WeChat, China’s most popular real-time messaging app, where many businesses have set up accounts to promote products and services and engage with customers, shocked the technology world over the weekend. Tencent said it blocked Uber on WeChat, affecting Uber’s online services in at least 16 Chinese cities, because of “malicious marketing”, something Uber denied.

The power of the default messaging platform.
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10 viral sensations on life after internet fame » NY Mag

Clint Rainey:

Internet fame comes on like an earthquake, with little warning. In a matter of hours, a video can go viral and be viewed 50 million times. Then it (usually) recedes into a very long, thin afterlife. Here, nine YouTube sensations whose lives were upended briefly in the past decade (plus one from the prehistoric web era, before YouTube made its debut in 2005) speak about this odd, relatively new kind of fame. Most embraced the experience, seeing where it would take them. Some ended up in dark places. A couple have made it their living and found themselves with new careers. Others stepped away, opting out of the flame wars. Pay attention: Someday, the accidental celebrity could be you.

Terrific idea, and choices; the child from “Charlie bit my finger” may be the most predictable yet peculiar of all.
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Microsoft will not fix power management issues with new Surface devices until next year » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott is mad as hell and he’s.. well, he has to take it:

As I’ve said on the podcasts several times now, and wrote in the review excerpt below, Surface Book (and apparently Surface Pro 4) just don’t go to sleep properly.

Well, here’s the really bad news. Microsoft won’t fix this problem … until sometime next year.

“The ‘standby’ battery life is an issue we are working on and have been working on,” a Microsoft Surface Engineering Team program manager identified only as “Joe” explains in the company’s support forums. “We can put the processor into a deeper sleep state than it is currently set to. We couldn’t do it at RTM for a variety of reasons, power management is a very hard computer science problem to solve especially with new silicon. Currently it is not in the deepest ‘sleep’ that it can be so there are wake events that would not otherwise wake it. We will have an update for this issue sometime soon in the new year.”

I don’t mean to rip on an individual, as I usually save my ire for faceless corporations, but … “a very hard computer science problem to solve”? Seriously?

My advice to Microsoft is to not ship products for which you have not yet fixed “a very hard computer science problem.”

There is a workaround, though, involving making it always Hibernate rather than Sleep. Not ideal though. (Thanks @Avro105 for the link.)
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New software watches for licence plates, turning you into Little Brother » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar on open-source tech for automatic licence plate reading (ALPR) – known in the UK as ANPR (N for numberplate):

For the last six months, the two-man team behind OpenALPR has built this software and given it away for free, largely as a way to draw attention to their other paid services: a cloud-based $50 per camera per month solution that includes “high-speed processing” and “priority tech support.” The company also offers a $1,000 per camera per month “on-premises” version that integrates with an existing (usually government) network that has qualms about outsourcing data storage.

OpenALPR notes its software “will work with any camera that supports MJPEG streams. This includes visible-light and infrared cameras. The camera and optics should be configured such that the license plates are clearly legible in the video stream.”

Matt Hill, OpenALPR’s founder, told Ars that this is a good way to level the playing field and mitigate the need for long-term retention.

“I’m a big privacy advocate as well — now you’ve got LPR just in the hands of the government, which isn’t a good thing. This brings costs down,” he said.

On the government side, there have been incidents where police-owned LPR misread and led to dangerous confrontations. Some cities have mounted such cameras at their city borders, monitoring who comes in and out (case in point: the wealthy city of Piedmont, California, which is totally surrounded by Oakland). And again, the data associated with LPRs (plate, date, time, location) is often retained for months or years.

This feels a little like the total constant surveillance of Dave Eggers’s “The Circle”.
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HP exits low-cost tablet market in product shakeup » PCWorld

Agam Shah:

If you’re looking for a low-priced tablet from HP, you soon will not be able to find one.

HP is exiting the low-end tablet market amid declining prices and slowing demand. Instead, the company will focus on detachables, hybrids and business tablets at the higher end of the market.

“We are going to focus where there is profitability and growth and will not chase the low-end tablet market. We are focusing on business mobility to deliver tablets built for field service, education, retail and healthcare,” said Ron Coughlin, president for personal systems at HP.

HP has already stopped listing many low-end Android tablets on its website. The remaining lower-end products — the US$99 HP 7 G2 tablet and $149 HP 8 G2 tablet — have been out of stock for months, and it’s likely they won’t be available again. They are however still available through some online retailers at cut-rate prices.

The least expensive tablet on HP’s site is now the $329.99 HP Envy 8 Note tablet with Windows 10. HP has Windows on most tablets now, with only a handful running Android.

Wonder if this will become a trend. Obviously it will for enterprise sales – but might it also be the way to lure back disaffected Windows PC customers?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: farewell Steve Wildstrom, PS4 = 30m, cooling on Xiaomi, Google crunches Yelp, and more


Which slogans do you actually remember, from which ads? Mad Men icon reimagined by p3liator on Flickr.

Then again, you could 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 13 links for you. Simpler than talking to your relatives. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Wildstrom, tech journalist, dies after battle with brain cancer » TechCrunch

John Biggs:

Born in Detroit, Wildstrom went to the University of Michigan and began writing for BusinessWeek in 1972 where he served as news editor in BusinessWeek’s Washington bureau. He was also active in the Children’s Chorus of Washington.

“Steve Wildstrom at Business Week was hands-down the best person in the 1990s-2000s to explain to a broad nationwide audience what tech meant to them in their personal and business lives,” wrote Bill Howard, an editor at PC Magazine. “Steve put his effort into researching, analyzing and writing rather than building the Brand of Wildstrom.”

Very sad news. Wildstrom’s “Tech and You” column in BusinessWeek was an inspiration to me. Certainly all the phone and other reviews on tech sites now owe what they’re doing in part to Wildstrom.
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Sony’s PlayStation 4 scores more than 30m sales » WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki:

Sony Corp. said Wednesday that it has sold more than 30.2 million PlayStation 4 videogame consoles, two years after the launch of a system that the company says has sold faster than any of its predecessors.

“We are sincerely grateful that gamers across the globe have continued to choose PS4 as the best place to play since launch two years ago,” said Andrew House, President and Global CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

The latest total, as of Nov. 22, is up from more than 20m in March, when Sony provided its most recent update on PlayStation 4 sales. Sony has said it aims to ship more than 17.5m units during the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2016.

Wii U at 10.7m, and Xbox One estimated at about 15m. Sony has crushed its rivals this time round. Yet there will probably be another console generation for virtual reality – is 2018 too soon?
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The worst app » Allen Pike

App maker Pike started getting angry support emails. Problem was, they weren’t for his app. But the creator of a scam app had put his company’s contact email in its “report a problem” link. So you contact Apple and get them to take it down, right?

Now, the App Store review process is a mixed bag. While it definitely has some problems, its fickle nature has an upside. When an app is in egregious violation of common sense and decency, Apple can simply pull it from the store. All you need to do is contact Apple about the app.

Unfortunately, one does not simply contact Apple about an app. The official way to complain about an app is via the “Report a Problem” link from when you buy the app. Of course, I’m not going to buy this scam app just to complain about it, so I dug up an alternate form to report a problem. Maddeningly, one of the required fields on that form is an order number – the one you receive when you buy the app. Stalemate.

It gets worse. And then, happily, better. The power of a blogpost.
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‘Outsiders’ crack 50-year-old math problem » Quanta Magazine

Erica Klarreich:

The proof, which has since been thoroughly vetted, is highly original, [Assaf] Naor [a mathematician at Princeton] said. “What I love about it is just this feeling of freshness,” he said. “That’s why we want to solve open problems — for the rare events when somebody comes up with a solution that’s so different from what was before that it just completely changes our perspective.”

Computer scientists have already applied this new point of view to the “asymmetric” traveling salesman problem. In the traveling salesman problem, a salesman must travel through a series of cities, with the goal of minimizing the total distance traveled; the asymmetric version includes situations in which the distance from A to B differs from the distance from B to A (for instance, if the route includes one-way streets).

The best-known algorithm for finding approximate solutions to the asymmetric problem dates back to 1970, but no one knew how good its approximations were. Now, using ideas from the proof of the Kadison-Singer problem, Nima Anari, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Shayan Oveis Gharan, of the University of Washington in Seattle, have shown that this algorithm performs exponentially better than people had realized. The new result is “major, major progress,” Naor said.

Abstruse yet with lots of implications for real-world problems involving processing, signalling and networks. It’s the Kadison-Singer problem, if you want to airily mention it over your latte.
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Axel Springer goes after iOS 9 adblocker in new legal battle » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

German media giant Axel Springer, which operates top European newspapers like Bild and Die Welt, and who recently bought a controlling stake in Business Insider for $343m, has a history of fighting back against ad-blocking software that threatens its publications’ business models. Now, it’s taking that fight to mobile ad blockers, too. According to the makers of the iOS content blocker dubbed “Blockr,” which is one of several new iOS 9 applications that allow users to block ads and other content that slows down web browsing, Axel Springer’s WELTN24 subsidiary took them to court in an attempt to stop the development and distribution of the Blockr software.

Final ruling on 10 December; court seems likely (based on preliminary hearing) to side with Blockr.
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How the Mad Men lost the plot » FT.com

Ian Leslie (a former Mad Man):

[Professor Byron] Sharp’s first law [in his book “How Brands Grow”] is that brands can’t get bigger on the back of loyal customers. Applying a statistical analysis to sales data, he demonstrates that the majority of any successful brand’s sales comes from “light buyers”: people who buy it relatively infrequently. Coca-Cola’s business is not built on a hardcore of Coke lovers who drink it daily, but on the millions of people who buy it once or twice a year. You, for instance, may not think of yourself as a Coke buyer, but if you’ve bought it once in the last 12 months, you’re actually a typical Coke consumer. This pattern recurs across brands, categories, countries and time. Whether it’s toothpaste or computers, French cars or Australian banks, brands depend on large numbers of people — that’s to say, the masses — who buy them only occasionally, leave long gaps between purchases and buy competing brands in between.

If you work for a brand owner, the implications are profound. First, you will never increase your brand’s market share by targeting existing users — the task that digital media performs so efficiently. The effort and expense marketers put into targeting their own customers with emails and web banners is largely wasted; loyalty programmes, says Sharp, “do practically nothing to drive growth”. What seems like a prudent use of funds — focusing on people who have already proved they like the brand — is actually just spinning wheels.

Second, and paradoxically, a successful brand needs to find a way of reaching people who are not in its “target” (in the sense of “people who are predisposed to buy it”) market…

…Marketers consistently undervalue consistency. Diageo recently carried out an audit of all the endlines that it had attached to one of its biggest brands, Guinness, and were embarrassed to discover it had used more than 20 different slogans in 15 years. What’s more, when it asked people to recall an endline, the only one they remembered was “Good things come to those who wait”, which hadn’t run since 1999. Vast sums of money had been spent on campaigns which probably had short-term effects but barely left a trace in consumer memories.

Long piece, but eminently worth finding a way to read. Sharp’s book sounds worth a read too.
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Apple has acquired Faceshift, maker of motion capture tech used in Star Wars » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

[Faceshift’s] main focus, so to speak, was on visual effects in areas like gaming and film. In a world where animation technology can be costly and time-consuming to implement, the startup’s main product was marketed a game changer: “Faceshift studio is a facial motion capture software solution which revolutionizes facial animation, making it possible at every desk,” according to the company.

Even so, the technology is also making an appearance at the highest level of wow: it’s used in the latest Star Wars film to make non-human characters more human-like in their expressions.

Apple itself already has patents and assets across motion capture, facial recognition and augmented reality, partly by way of three other European acquisitions, respectively PrimeSense, Polar Rose and Metaio. Faceshift could complement and expand Apple’s capabilities in these areas going forward.

Seems like Apple miiiight be looking at the virtual reality space, though it’s hard to see quite how this fits into anything we recognise in its portfolio.
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Xiaomi’s $45bn valuation seen ‘unfeasible’ as growth cools » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan saves the best for the last line in this story about Xiaomi rowing back on its aims even of 80m handset shipments this year, while it tries to expand “ancillaries” such as air purifiers and scooters:

The ancillary businesses are still relatively small, with the company expecting the services units to account for just $1bn of its $16bn in projected revenue this year, Barra said in a July interview. Sales of smartphones outside China accounted for just 7% of its total in the third quarter, according to Strategy Analytics.

Xiaomi has struggled partly because competitors Huawei, Lenovo Group Ltd. and Gionee – among others – quickly copied its business model with ultra-thin devices, glossy websites and lower prices, allowing consumers to easily switch to the hippest new phone.

“Xiaomi was very popular because it was the first brand that marketed its phones as being limited edition,” said Chen Si, a 25-year-old real estate worker in Beijing who bought the Mi 3 after its 2013 release, citing its cool design. “I wouldn’t say I am loyal to Xiaomi, I just think that a phone should be affordable and easy to use. If not, then I’ll just change.”

A year later, she switched to the iPhone 6.

*mic drop*
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O2 explores ad blocking across its network » Business Insider

O2 is one of the UK’s four big carriers, with about 25m customers:

O2 executives told Business Insider the company is actively testing using technology that can block mobile ads at a network-level before they even get served. In addition, the company is considering whether to offer customers easy access to ad blocking apps and browser extensions. O2 is also working with advertisers to improve the standard of mobile advertising.

The hope is that the carrier can help customers filter out bad advertising that interrupts mobile browsing, eats up consumers’ data allowances, and ultimately puts a strain on its own network infrastructure. One ad blocking company estimates that ads are gobbling up between 10-50% of customer’s data plans each month.

This comes after EE, the biggest UK carrier, said it was looking at the same thing. Notice that “working with advertisers to improve the standard of mobile advertising”: no doubt such work has a price.
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Google claims mobile search result impacting Yelp, TripAdvisor is ‘a bug’ » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Over the weekend, executives from public Internet companies Yelp and TripAdvisor noted a disturbing trend: Google searches on smartphones for their businesses had suddenly buried their results beneath Google’s own. It looked like a flagrant reversal of Google’s stated position on search, and a move to edge out rivals.

Nope, it’s a bug, claims Google. “The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix,” a Google spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, the “issues” may be diverting tons of traffic from Google’s competitors. Some, particularly Google’s longtime rival Yelp, are not pleased. “Far from a glitch, this is a pattern of behavior by Google,” said its CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

Have there been many – or any – occasions where these code pushes have accidentally buried Google’s products?
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I’m leaving Android for iOS, and I blame late games » Polygon

Ben Kuchera reluctantly swapped his Galaxy Note 4 for an iPhone 6S Plus:

You can argue about install base and walled gardens until you’re blue in the face, but the reality is you’ll be waiting for games if you use an Android device. I caught up with Barry Meade, whose studio created The Room series, to ask why the game launched first on iOS. His answer is a common one.

“It’s the same reason everybody has — Android takes way longer to test for due to the diffusion of devices,” Meade told Polygon. “With iOS you only have to test maybe eight to 10 devices, and that’s only because we choose to support pretty old devices, many don’t. With Android you’re looking at hundreds of devices off the bat, each with different hardware/screen set-ups.”

The other side of this is that the iOS players are kind of testing the game for the eventual Android players.

“So with an iOS-first strategy you can release the game to many users with only a small chance of bugs arising due to differences in hardware, which means that when a bug does arise on iOS it’s likely unconnected to the hardware and by fixing it, you are also fixing that bug for any future Android build,” Meade continued. “What Android users forget is that because their versions come later they get the least buggy, higher performance version of the game because iOS users are, in an indirect way, guinea pigs for the other releases.”

I hope that makes Android players feel better, but I’m just so tired of waiting.

The comments – including the (polite) argument between two game developers – are worth reading too.
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Secure Messaging scorecard » Electronic Frontier Foundation

In the face of widespread Internet surveillance, we need a secure and practical means of talking to each other from our phones and computers. Many companies offer “secure messaging” products—but are these systems actually secure? We decided to find out, in the first phase of a new EFF Campaign for Secure & Usable Crypto.

Surprising how poorly BBM and Google Hangouts score on this; and also how many other services actually get perfect scores. One, called Mxit, whiffs every line, though – not even encrypted in transit. (Via Benedict Evans.)
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Google and the shift from web to apps, indexing app-only content, streaming apps » Stratechery by Ben Thompson

From Ben Thompson’s subscriber-only update, looking at Google’s streaming apps effort:

To be sure, streaming apps will be a worse experience than natively installed apps, at least for the foreseeable future. In fact, the effort is so nascent that Google is launching the initiative with only nine apps and only in the Google App on recent Android devices and only over Wifi. You have to start somewhere, though, and betting on the continued expansion of broadband and Moore’s Law goes hand-in-hand with Google’s brute force approach. And, as for the experience, everything is relative: a streamed app is better than having to download an app just to see a search result, and more fundamentally, a streamed app is better than not having access to the information at all.

As for iOS devices, while I’ve criticized Google in the past for its insistence on always launching Android first, I suspect there are real technical and legal challenges that come with streaming iOS apps in a similar fashion; it’s here that Google’s misguided insistence on competing with Apple head-on really hurts. I don’t see anything in this initiative that is necessarily threatening to Apple beyond the fact that app streaming helps Google. Ergo, were Google not a direct competitor (a la Microsoft today), Apple might be willing to lend a hand to ensure iOS customers had a better search experience.

Danny Sullivan also has a writeup of app streaming (which is a clever implementation: apps run inside virtual machines), and points out how awful it would have been if every site was its own app.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: yet another UK broadband pledge, what is mobile?, hacking Samsung’s theft protection, and more


A Huawei-made Nexus 6P: no breakage of the camera visor panel here. Photo by TechStage on Flickr.

You can now 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fast broadband for all by 2020 pledged by David Cameron » BBC News

All UK homes and businesses will have access to “fast broadband” [of at least 10 megabits per second] by 2020, David Cameron has pledged.

The PM is to introduce a “universal service obligation” (USO) for broadband, giving the public a legal right to request an “affordable” connection.

It would put broadband on a similar footing to other basic services such as water and electricity.
In 2010, the coalition government promised the UK would have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015.

Then, in 2012, a pledge was made by then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the UK would have “the fastest broadband of any major European country” by 2015.

He defined high-speed broadband as offering a download speed of greater than 24 megabits per second (Mbps). Communications regulator Ofcom defines it as 30Mbps.

That final sentence completely shows how weak this “pledge” really is: from 30Mpbs down to 24 down to 10. I suspect BT, as the dominant operator which also now owns a 4G network, will aim to fulfil this revised USO via 4G.
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Some Nexus 6P owners are reporting spontaneously broken rear glass panels » Android Police

Michael Crider:

The early reaction to the Nexus 6P from both critics and owners has been mostly positive, but a few new owners seem to be encountering serious problems. Specifically, the glass panel on the rear of the phone, which covers the camera, LED flash, and laser autofocus module, is reportedly cracking and breaking on its own. A user on the Android subreddit reported the rear panel cracking, and at least two others have reported similar results, with the panel splitting into multiple cracks with no particular rough handling or impact.

That subreddit is getting pretty big, and there isn’t a lot of joy for the 6P. One person has had two in a row go wrong. Problem for Huawei?
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How uBeam transmits energy wirelessly using ultrasound » uBeam

Meredith Perry, uBeam’s founder, has a big explainer about how it works, because people have been saying that either it doesn’t work, or it’s dangerous:

The uBeam system is composed of two parts: a transmitter that emits energy, and a receiver that receives energy. The transmitter is like a sound speaker, but instead of emitting audible sound, uBeam’s transmitter emits high frequency sound. This sound can’t be heard by humans or dogs; it’s called ultrasound. The receiver, like a microphone, picks up the sound and converts it into usable energy. Sound, like light and wind, is a form of energy that can be converted into electrical energy with our proprietary energy harvesting technology. The receiver then sends this electrical power to charge or power an electronic device.

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Mobile, ecosystems and the death of PCs » Benedict Evans

Evans wrestles with the question of “what is ‘mobile’?” in the face of competing devices like the SurfaceBook, the Surface Pro, iPad Pro and so on:

Each generation of technology goes through an S-curve of development – slow improvement of an impractical product, then explosively fast improvement once fundamental barriers are solved, and then slowing iteration and refinement as you solve every last issue and the curve flattens out. PCs are on that flattening part of the curve, just as the [fastest ever piston-powered aircraft developed at the end of WW2, soon surpassed by jets, the Republic] Rainbow was.

They get perfect because you’re debugging the big things you invented in the past, and now your innovation is in the extra little things (such as the Rainbow using exhaust for extra thrust), and there are no big new innovations to debug. But meanwhile, the new ecosystem is catching up, and the curve of development and innovation for that generation will flatten out way out of reach. The new curve is crossing the old one. This is why they look simliar – this is why a Surface Pro and an iPad Pro look similar. They both exist right at the point that those development curves cross. The iPad might still be a little below, but its curve is heading up.

That is, the point that you can start to do old ecosystem things on what look like new ecosystem devices is also the point that the new ecosystem can do those things too – but the new ecosystem has 10x the scale, and the new ecosystem is just starting down the innovation track where the old one is at its end.

The really tricky part is knowing where on the S-curve something is, and whether there’s still money to be made from it. As Evans points out,

No-one is going to found a new company to make Win32 applications (though enterprise Windows apps will be worked on for a long time, just as mainframe apps were [after the IBM PC arrived]).

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It’s incredibly easy to bypass Factory Reset Protection on a Samsung phone [with video] » 9to5 Google

Stephen Hall:

Factory Reset Protection was introduced with Android Lollipop, and, like Apple’s iCloud Activation Lock, it’s supposed to make it really hard to resell a stolen Android phone. The gist is that when you use Android recovery menu to reset a phone to factory settings, the phone will require upon reboot that you sign in using a Google account you previously used on the device before resetting it. If someone steals your phone and wipes it, they need your Google account for it to be anything but a brick.

Well, it appears that a flaw in Samsung’s phones lets potential thieves around this security measure, and it looks like the workaround takes just about five minutes to pull off…
Obviously a thief wouldn’t be able to get around a password-secured phone, so a factory reset would require going to Android’s recovery menu after a reboot (as opposed to going into the Settings app and doing a factory reset from there).

But since Samsung’s phones automatically pull up a file manager when you plug in an external storage device (even in the set up process), all you have to do is load an app file that lets you open up the stock Settings app. Press a couple buttons to do what the phone thinks is a legitimate/authorized reset, and the phone reboots without tripping Factory Reset Protection.

D’oh.
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Google annual search Statistics » Statistic Brain

The number of annual searches conducted by Google, according to ComScore and the “Statistic Brain Research Institute” (sounds grand).

Compare the numbers in the top two lines of the table. It suggests that in 2014 the total number of Google searches fell, for the first time ever. Even within margins of error, that suggests search growth has stopped.
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XcodeGhost S: a new breed hits the US » FireEye Threat Research

Yong Kang, Zhaofeng Chen, and Raymond Wei:

Through continuous monitoring of our customers’ networks, FireEye researchers have found that, despite the quick response, the threat of XcodeGhost has maintained persistence and been modified.

More specifically, we found that:

• XcodeGhost has entered into U.S. enterprises and is a persistent security risk
• Its botnet is still partially active
• A variant we call XcodeGhost S reveals more advanced samples went undetected

After monitoring XcodeGhost related activity for four weeks, we observed 210 enterprises with XcodeGhost-infected applications running inside their networks, generating more than 28,000 attempts to connect to the XcodeGhost Command and Control (CnC) servers – which, while not under attacker control, are vulnerable to hijacking by threat actors.

Pretty dramatic. And it can affect apps via third-party frameworks, as Possible Mobile discovered. Meanwhile, on Android…
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Lookout discovers new trojanized adware; 20K popular apps caught in the crossfire » Lookout Blog

Michael Bentley of the anti-malware company:

Auto-rooting adware is a worrying development in the Android ecosystem in which malware roots the device automatically after the user installs it, embeds itself as a system application, and becomes nearly impossible to remove. Adware, which has traditionally been used to aggressively push ads, is now becoming trojanized and sophisticated. This is a new trend for adware and an alarming one at that.

Lookout has detected over 20,000 samples of this type of trojanized adware masquerading as legitimate top applications, including Candy Crush, Facebook, GoogleNow, NYTimes, Okta, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many others.

Malicious actors behind these families repackage and inject malicious code into thousands of popular applications found in Google Play, and then later publish them to third-party app stores. Indeed, we believe many of these apps are actually fully-functional, providing their usual services, in addition to the malicious code that roots the device.

Oh, and also: if you get infected you probably won’t be able to uninstall it; you’ll either need a pro or a trip to buy a new one. (Factory reset won’t do it.)
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BlackBerry Priv review: good, but probably only for keyboard junkies » Android Police

David Ruddock is befuddled by those little things with letters on:

But time for some real talk about those keys, in respect to my particular tapping of them. I am awful at these tiny little keyboards. Like, your grandpa trying to use an ATM when 6 other people are in line behind him and all of them are clearly in a rush awful. It’s just not my thing, it never has been, and it never will be. To me, this is mind-bendingly unintuitive and would take me months to master in anything approaching a respectable way. I’m not going to be using the Priv for months. I cannot give you a good evaluation of the keyboard on the merits. Sorry. I can show you what it looks like, though! Also, it’s backlit.

My thoughts without getting into the related software bits are as follows: the keys are really small. They depress and feel clicky. They are keys. Again, I am sorry. I really, really, can’t get into this keyboard-for-ants thing, even as I have forced myself to use it on the Priv.

This is the reason why anyone who began using a smartphone after 2010 is going to find the Priv completely weird. It’s like introducing typewriters to schools that have used iPads.
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HTC One A9 review » AndroidAuthority

Joshua Vergara:

Remember the Sensor Suite originally announced in the HTC One M8? It allowed for the phone to go straight into specific areas with taps and swipes after the phone knew it was brought up for usage. Now, because the fingerprint reader is there, it is the wall that prevents all of these extra unlocking methods from being used. That also doesn’t include the fact that it can be a home button, without any capacitive keys accompanying it. Soft keys are still used, so using the reader as a home button takes some getting used to – and fiddling between the two, we’ve found to be really common.

Of course, there is also the omission of BoomSound speakers due to the addition of the fingerprint reader. This is a pretty bold move for the company, as one of its most-recognized features isn’t here anymore. Sound, thus, gets a big downgrade with the bottom-mounted unit. It certainly doesn’t get very loud at all, and it’s safe to say that we miss the stereo audio found in past One devices.

Storage options with the A9 are pretty standard, with the option to choose between 16 or 32GB variants. It should be noted that the 16GB model comes with just 2GB of RAM, while the 32GB variant comes with 3GB. We’ve been testing the 32GB model with 3GB of RAM, and we’ve noticed that it gets a little slow at times.

Jeepers – it’s sometimes slow with 3GB of RAM? None of this is really a vote of confidence.
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HTC pushes US One A9 pre-order shipments back by up to several weeks, delays Verizon compatibility indefinitely » Android Police

David Ruddock:

While the A9 is indeed a pretty good phone, there’s no doubt HTC’s bungled the launch of the device a bit. First, the whole promotional pricing thing (and the 2GB/16GB variant abroad being so damn expensive), and now? A pre-order shipment delay for those who did choose to buy one. We’re hearing from US readers that HTC has sent out the following email, pushing back shipment of the initially available colors until next Tuesday, November 10th, at the earliest. Some customers, though, will be waiting much longer than that – especially if you ordered a Sprint variant.

In addition, HTC has now delayed Verizon network compatibility for the One A9 indefinitely. They had promised compatibility shortly after the November launch, then in December, and now have no ETA for the feature.

And it gets worse; certain colour variants are going to take weeks and weeks to ship. Dead on non-arrival?
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Who the f*** is that advertiser? » Medium

Rob Leathern on the problem of validating who is advertising (which amounts to “running random Javascript on your system); the Interactive Advertising Bureau wants to charge $10,000 per company for this. Leathern laughs:

Google Adwords probably has over 2.5 million advertisers by this estimate. The top 100 to 1,000 advertisers (likely to be cost-insensitive enough to sign up for a program like this) aren’t the problem for online and mobile advertisers. The problem area is distinguishing between tens of thousands of large but legitimate advertisers, and those with money who are not legitimate or who are fronts for malware, botnets, and schlocky affiliate offers.

The goal shouldn’t be to register the top few thousands advertisers, but make the barriers low enough that we can validate every single advertiser consistently, and then do the kinds of auditing, checks and follow-up necessary to stop problem advertisers from being banned and then popping back up right away under another name or identity. Once you can accurately identify advertisers and have every part of the value chain understand this information, both publishers and consumers should be able to decide what kinds of advertisers they want to block.

If I had to guess, it’s a $10/year fee (ten dollars) and not $10,000, that will be a better incentive to get companies to participate and to create the infrastructure needed to validate this information at enormous scale.

Even at that level, it wouldn’t happen. And malware generators would still find ways to get around it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified. But the week is still young.

Start up: the Watch drop, Tango slows, Samsung’s bug bonanza, kids and tablets, and more


Guess how much this ad cost. OK, if it were actually inside the TV. Photo by wonderferret on Flickr.

You can now 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Popular Apple blogger stops wearing his Apple Watch every day » Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt quoting John Gruber, speaking to developer Guy English on his own Talk Show podcast:

“I’ve been intrigued. And I do wear mine, but I don’t wear it every day. I foresee a bright future for it. But I just don’t think I was ever squarely in the market for it. It’s just not the sort of thing that speaks to me.”

[Here Guy English jokes about Gruber’s lack of interest in fitness — fitness tracking being one of the device’s key selling points.]

“Yeah. Right. Once I stopped wearing it every day… there is this weird motivating thing where you want to keep filling these circles everyday. And you get this streak going and you keep going. And I’m sure people are more fit. But then once you stop wearing it every day you definitely by definition have days where you didn’t fill all the circles. [It] just ruins it. It means you don’t care anymore. I don’t know. It just doesn’t excite me that much.”

Personally, still wearing mine each day; does so many things I need (such as, on Thursday evening while driving, starting navigation home via Siri because my normal route was blocked. Would have been tough and distracting with the phone).
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Google is cutting the cost of its Project Tango depth-sensing tablets in half » VentureBeat

Harrison Weber:

The deal, effective “in the coming weeks,” Google said, follows the company’s $20,000 contest that tasked developers with creating “unique augmented reality (AR) experiences” for Tango devices. The winning submissions require a Project Tango device to work, but you can get a taste of the ideas here (and here).

Google told us it doesn’t have a set duration for the discount, but the company apparently has “a limited, but sizable number of promotional codes. We haven’t finalized the exact number yet,” a spokesperson told us…

…Project Tango’s future remains unclear: Google originally aimed to launch a “consumer-scale” Project Tango device with LG in 2015. Then in January, the company spun Tango out of its Advanced Technology and Projects group without sharing much information on the initiative’s next steps.

When asked if the discount was designed to get rid of developer units ahead of a new release, a spokesperson replied, “This is very much to get kits in the hands of developers and shore up the ecosystem. We still don’t have a timetable on consumer-ready units.”

Suggested headline tweak: “Google is halving the cost of…”
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Can I annoy you for a penny a minute? » Medium

Rob Leathern:

US TV advertising revenue is expected to reach $78.8bn this year. The average person over 2 years of age in the United States still watches an amazing 29 hours and 47 minutes of TV per week. Which means, when you work it out, that’s just $0.18 in ad revenue per hour of TV watched.

TV Networks are even speeding up their programming in order to fit in more ads as prices fall and viewership dwindles. The average hour of cable television now has 15.8 minutes of ads compared with 14.5 minutes five years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported that “TBS used compression technology to speed up [movies and TV shows]”  —  this video on YouTube shows an example of this tactic with a Seinfeld rerun. For reruns and movies especially, cable networks have long rolled credits very quickly or cut TV opening sequences out entirely.

I find Leathern a must-follow: he has so much inside knowledge of the online ad business, both good and bad. Meanwhile, I find TV in the US unwatchable because of the volume (in both senses) of ads.
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Open Data Institute summit 2015: Matt Hancock speech » GOV.UK

Hancock is an MP and the Paymaster General (a role within the Treasury):

One local authority is using this [LIDAR] data to make the case for new flood defences. Council staff 3D printed the local area and fashioned blocks to show where the flood defences might go. Then they poured water on the model, to show local residents exactly which areas would flood, depending on where they put the defences.

Nor is it just local engagement. Precision farming, archaeological digs, urban planning, even uploading England to the game Minecraft: these are just some of the applications we’ve heard about since the data was published.

Let’s take another example. Two years ago Land Registry released the Price Paid Dataset (PPD), tracking residential property sales in England and Wales. The PPD is used by sites like RightMove and Zoopla to bring up-to-date sales data to an audience of millions.

Now we’re enriching it. As of last week, this dataset will also include sales through repossession, those purchased by companies and by-to-lets. It will also allow users to see the sales of non-residential property for the first time.

The applications include developing valuation software, improving planning policy, building apps that analyse market trends, and for academic research.

And the point is this. No minister, even armed with the best policy advice, could possibly conceive of all the things that government data can do.

The only way to find out is to open it up.

Great to see a Treasury minister advocating free government data – which is exactly what the Free Our Data campaign was about, almost ten years ago. Less heartening to see Hancock not pushing for the same from the Freedom of Information Commission.
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Hack the Galaxy: hunting bugs in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge » Project Zero blog

Natalie Silvanovich, of Google’s Project Zero team, which tries to find bugs in all sorts of software, on a sustained effort to see what weaknesses Samsung’s TouchWiz and other customisations brought to Android:

A week of investigation showed that there are a number of weak points in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. Over the course of a week, we found a total of 11 issues with a serious security impact. Several issues were found in device drivers and image processing, and there were also some logic issues in the device that were high impact and easy-to-exploit.

The majority of these issues were fixed on the device we tested via an OTA [over the air] update within 90 days, though three lower-severity issues remain unfixed. It is promising that the highest severity issues were fixed and updated on-device in a reasonable time frame.

So only a few hundred other devices to work through then. How different are the other Samsung devices? And then there’s the LG, Sony, and everyone else..
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Toddlers are already pros with tablets and smartphones, study finds » NBC News

Maggie Fox:

Toddlers and preschoolers are often left to their own mobile devices, with half enjoying their very own TV by the tender age of 4 and more than three-quarters regularly using their own mobile devices, researchers said Monday.

Most are starting before they are even a year old — and by age 3, they’re using the devices all by themselves, the team reports in the journal Pediatrics.

The survey was done in a single urban pediatric clinic in Philadelphia, and the researchers note that the findings do not necessarily extend to the whole country.

But they paint a troubling picture of populations of low-income and minority babies, and toddlers being kept quiet with televisions or tablet devices streaming cartoons.

I’m much more worried about the idea of sitting the children in front of US TV, which spews up to 20 minutes of ads per hour at them, than of them using tablets – where at least they might have some agency. (Could we wish for better software for kids though?)
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Apple and sapphire supplier reach new accord on $439m loan » WSJ

Peg Brickley:

GT Advanced Technologies Inc. has reached an accord with Apple that will get it out from under $439m in debt it picked up in a failed effort to qualify as a supplier of smartphone-screen material.

The settlement provides for an auction by Nov. 23 of equipment that GT provided in the effort, the proceeds of which will be divided, GT said in papers filed on Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Hampshire. While GT intends to hang on to some of the equipment—as many as 600 sapphire-making furnaces—it is prepared to auction what it can and abandon what it can’t cart off, court papers say.

Anything not sold will be handed over to Apple, which has agreed to scrap the equipment and extinguish the loan it made to transform GT from an equipment manufacturer into a supplier of smartphone-screen material.

End to a long saga. I wrote about it a year ago.
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The No.1 mistake people I interview [for jobs] are making these days » Business Insider

Jessica Liebman is managing editor of Business Insider:

Lately, the majority of people I interview have one thing in common.

They’re all messing up on something that I think is very important when trying to get a job: the Thank You Email.

Did not know this was A Thing.
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FBI official: It’s America’s choice whether we want to be spied on » Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

While technology companies have resisted government attempts to access customer data, [FBI general counsel James] Baker said [at the Advanced Cyber Security Center conference] law enforcement has more success with some companies than others.

In some cases, a company will tell law enforcement that it can only provide metadata or a “snapshot of the account once a day” instead of the real-time surveillance authorities want, he said.

The FBI has an easier time getting data from companies whose business models depend on viewing customer data, he said.

Some companies “want to monetize the analysis of communications of their customers, for example those companies that actually look at e-mail and analyze it and send you targeted ads,” Baker said.

Baker didn’t mention any specific companies, but this is a practice in place at Google.

“None of that is encrypted, so we can go there and get the order and have the order be effective, and that’s good,” Baker said.

Well, good-ish. (Thanks @papanic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: After yesterday’s item on GPS errors compared to a marathon: they measure marathons (PDF) using “a calibrated bicycle fitted with a Jones counter” which is “the only approved method of measuring road race courses” (which includes marathons).

Start up: Google to merge Android and ChromeOS, tablets dwindle, online ad scams, and more


E-reader ownership has dropped significantly in the US. Photo by Simply Bike on Flickr.

You can now 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.

Alphabet’s Google to fold Chrome OS into Android » WSJ

Great exclusive by Alistair Barr:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google plans to fold its Chrome operating system for personal computers into its Android mobile-operating system, according to people familiar with the matter, a sign of the growing dominance of mobile computing.

Google engineers have been working for roughly two years to combine the operating systems and have made progress recently, two of the people said. The company plans to unveil its new, single operating system in 2017, but expects to show off an early version next year, one of the people said.

Also says that Chromebooks will be renamed, but Chrome the browser will retain its name. So this would leave Apple, with the iOS-OSX split, as the only one with separate OSs. It seems Android will get primacy on the desktop. What, though, does that mean for Chromebooks and the progress they’re making in the education market?
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Tablet shipments decline by 12.6% in the third quarter as many vendors get serious about moving from slate offerings to detachables » IDC

At the close of 2014, IDC estimated the installed base of tablets to be 581.9m globally, which was up 36% from 2013 but slowing quickly. With mature markets like North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific well past 100m active tablets per region, the opportunities for growth are getting fewer. 

“We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world. However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear. With shipment volumes slowing over four consecutive quarters, the market appears to be in transition.”

In response to these challenges, the industry is seeing growing interest from vendors in new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming a clear focus for many. While detachable tablets have held just a single digit percentage of the overall tablet market, IDC expects this share to increase dramatically over the next 18 months. However, the shift toward detachables presents some new challenges. In particular, the mix of traditional PC OEMs that are evolving their portfolios to include detachables will face pressure from the traditional smartphone OEMs, many of which have become accustomed to delivering extremely low-cost products.

Apple is kinda-sorta doing the detachable thing with the iPad Pro, but the detachables market really looks like one where Windows devices are best placed. So will IDC start calling them PCs or tablets?
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The online ad scams every marketer should watch out for » Harvard Business Review

Ben Edelman has a collection of subtle and less subtle ways that you could spend far too much. This is the first, and in some ways the most obvious:

A first manifestation of the problem arises in sponsored search. Suppose a user goes to Google and searches for eBay. Historically, the top-most link to eBay would be a paid advertisement, requiring eBay to pay Google each time the ad was clicked. These eBay ads had excellent measured performance in that many users clicked such an ad, then went on to bid or buy with high probability. But step back a bit. A user has already searched for “eBay.” That user is likely to buy from eBay whether or not eBay advertises with Google. In a remarkable experiment, economist Steve Tadelis and coauthors turned off eBay’s trademark-triggered advertising in about half the cities in the U.S. They found that sales in those regions stayed the same even as eBay’s advertising expenditure dropped. eBay’s measure of ad effectiveness was totally off-base and had led to millions of dollars of overspending.

Others include retargeted display ads, affiliate cookies and adware.
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Microsoft Band 2 review: An identity crisis on your wrist » The Verge

Tom Warren Lauren Goode:

after wearing the newest version of Microsoft Band for the past three weeks, I can’t help but think that the real answer [to why Microsoft made it at all] is that Microsoft isn’t in it for the hardware. Instead, my best guess is that it hopes to get people using the Microsoft Health software — and maybe get some other hardware makers to make stuff for its platform. Despite welcome improvements over last year’s Microsoft Band, this new Band sort of baffles me.

It’s been redesigned, but is only slightly less clunky than before. It’s a fitness tracker, but with the short battery life of a smartwatch. It works with surprisingly great software, but good luck syncing your data to said software. On top of that, it’s more expensive than last year’s Microsoft Band — $249, up from $199 — and more expensive than a lot of other step-counters. The argument there is that it’s not as costly as a smartwatch or a high-powered dedicated fitness watch, but considering that at this point it could be perceived as an also-ran, you’d think Microsoft would aim for a more appealing price point.

It all leaves me wanting to like the Microsoft Band, but I can’t say I’d spend $249 on it.

So pricey, clunky, battery life comparable to things that do more.. what’s not to love?
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US smartwatch market not ready for prime time yet » Kantar Worldpanel

Smartwatches have been on the market for several years. The Pebble Smartwatch debuted in 2012, establishing the category as it is known today. Yet, only 1% of the current smartwatches now in use in the U.S. were purchased in 2013, and 14% were bought in 2014.

Smartwatch ownership follows the classic early adopter profile – more than two-thirds of smartwatch early adopters are male, and one out of three are between the ages of 25 and 34. Vendors like Apple use greater attention to design and personalization to appeal to non-tech lovers. The results of those efforts have not yet completely materialized.

“Looking at where smartwatches have been purchased, the channels preferred by buyers have more in common with other consumer electronics goods than with jewelry,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “33% of smartwatch buyers got them online, 17% bought them from a consumer electronics store, and 11% of owners received their smartwatch as a gift.”

Survey conducted in August, but the principal complaint among non-buyers was price. Meanwhile, 92% of those intending to purchase associate Apple with the category. Thin times for Android Wear.
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U.K. government: no end-to-end encryption please, we’re British… » TechCrunch

Speaking during a debate on encryption in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Shields, the Minister for Internet Safety and Security — and a former European VP at Facebook — dubbed the rise of end-to-end encryption as “alarming”.

“There is an alarming movement towards end-to-end encrypted applications,” she said. “It is absolutely essential that these companies which understand and build those stacks of technology are able to decrypt that information and provide it to law enforcement in extremis.”

Shields’ comments came in response to a question which made direct reference to the use of messaging app WhatsApp by ISIL extremists.

“The Prime Minister did not advocate banning encryption; he expressed concern that many companies are building end-to-end encrypted applications and services and not retaining the keys,” added Shields.

Despite reiterating Tory attacks on end-to-end encryption, Shields did specify that it is not, in fact, government policy to push for the creation of backdoors in services.

Joanna Shields used to be in charge at AOL Europe too. And we wanted more people with experience of tech to be in government? Doesn’t seem to be making any difference to the general level of knowledgeability.
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Line app in big trouble as active user growth stalls » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

The company behind Line this morning revealed that the messaging app has grown to 212 million monthly active users (MAUs). Of those, 65% are in Line’s four core markets – Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Although the number is going up, it’s actually terrible news for the messaging app. It’s already failed to topple the dominance of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and now Line’s MAU count is growing very slowly – it’s up just 10 million in the past six months. It went up only one million in the three months from June to September.

WhatsApp added 100 million MAUs in the five months from April to September and now stands at 900 million.

Twitter has a similar problem in the US. Is growth the only answer for messaging apps?
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Android and the Innovator’s Dilemma » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies:

Once the market embraces good enough products, the innovator can no longer push premium innovations as their value is diminished once a good enough mentality sets in. Android devices in the $200-$400 range are good enough for the masses leaving Samsung’s $600 devices and above stranded on an island.

One of the most interesting observations about all of this is the innovator’s Dilemma was supposed to impact Apple. This was a fundamental tenet of most bull cases. When the market for smartphones became filled with good enough devices at very low prices, why would anyone buy an iPhone? Yet this is impacting Samsung exactly according to the guidebook — but not Apple. The fundamental lesson to learn here is the innovator’s dilemma, in this case, only applies to Android land because all the hardware OEMs run the same operating system. As I’m fond of saying, when you ship the same operating system as your competition you are only as good as their lowest price. This is the curse of the modular business model.

This is also why Samsung had hopes for Tizen. They actually knew this was coming. I know this because I discussed it with them in 2013 and was convinced they understood this was their fate if they continued to sell out to Android. Unfortunately, Android was their only option given its momentum. I’ll make a prediction. Samsung will be out of the smartphone business within five years.

Emphasis there Bajarin’s own (and that’s a pretty notable prediction). The article is subscriber-only; you can get one-off logins for particular articles or buy a subscription for more.
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American demographics of digital device ownership » Pew Research Center

Smartphones owned by 68% (notably less in rural areas), tablets owned by 45% (statistically unchanged from 42% in 2014), games consoles owned by 40% (unchanged since 2010), portable games consoles by 14% (unchanged from 2009), 40% have MP3 players (barely changed from 43% in 2013).

Here’s the drama:

Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%).

The Kindle is flickering out.
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Flipboard, once-hot news reader app, flounders amid competition » WSJ

Douglas Macmillan:

Flipboard, once hailed as the best iPad app by Apple Inc., now is fighting for survival in a sea of competition that includes Apple itself.

In recent weeks, the news reader app’s co-founder, Evan Doll, and its chief technology officer, Eric Feng, have left, adding to the talent drain in the past year that includes the heads of finance, product and revenue.

The exodus comes as Flipboard’s investors, which bet $210 million on the company, have put more pressure on co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mike McCue to revive the business model or find a buyer, according to people familiar with the matter.

What’s Flipboard’s USP? It says that it has 80m users, up from 41m at the start of the year. That’s impressive – but Apple News is likely to eat it by default.
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BBC iPlayer app coming to Apple TV ‘in coming months’ » BBC News

Leo Kelion:

The BBC has confirmed that its iPlayer service is coming to the new Apple TV.

The catch-up app is not ready to launch alongside the revamped set top box when it goes on sale this week, but the broadcaster signalled it would be soon.

iPlayer was absent on earlier Apple TVs, despite the fact it is on other platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Sky’s Now TV box and several video game consoles.

One analyst said the move should aid sales of the new kit in the UK.

“Available on over 10,000 devices, BBC iPlayer is one of the biggest and best on-demand video services in the world, and has transformed how UK audiences watch programmes online,” said the BBC’s director-general Tony Hall.

The BBC wasn’t going to, but then two developers in Bournemouth demonstrated that it was damn easy to write the app. For non-UK readers, the BBC iPlayer is the biggest source of legitimate streaming TV viewing (live or catchup) in the UK; the lack of an iPlayer icon on the old Apple TV hobbled it terribly. (Yes yes Airplay but that ties up your device.)
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