How to recover when Apple Numbers says a file “can’t be opened for some reason”

Do not use this as an error message
Ever wondered what the worst error message you could encounter might be? This ranks pretty highly.

Prologue: backup

First of all, remember how people always told you to take backups, rather as you were advised to wear sunscreen? Well, they were right. Bear that in mind as I take you through on a journey of mild technology pain.

The high: Sierra

Having not seen any reports of gigantic showstopping bugs in the upgrade to Mac OS Sierra, I took the plunge the other day. Things were going fine. Everything worked. Nothing had crashed. Then I updated Numbers from 3.6.2 to 4.0, whose “new” features are apparently collaboration – and nothing much else.

Having done that, I tried to open one of my most-used spreadsheets, into which I have poured years of experience and hours of analysis. I’d had it open before the update, but (I think) had closed it before updating. (Whether it was open or not is immaterial; some other spreadsheets were open before the update and opened fine afterwards; some were closed before the update and opened fine afterwards; some were closed before and wouldn’t open afterwards.)

I was met with this response:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 06 13

The low: Numbers

The spreadsheet can’t be opened “for some reason”?? What sort of error message is that??

But at least it offers the option to “Browse all versions”, which should be stored in iCloud, where the spreadsheet itself is stored. You then go into a Time Machine interface, and get this:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 07 23

It’s “unable to open version”. This happens no matter how far back you want to go. You can try with lots of “versions”. Or you can realise you’re onto a lost cause and give up. At which point the “Time Machine” interface resolves itself into a rectangle, in which you find this message:

Screenshot 2016 09 24 20 57 46

Well, thanks a lot. “For some reason.” How this ever got past any sort of quality assurance I cannot imagine. Did the engineer/s assign an out-of-bounds error code to the problem, and the operating system can’t decide what to say and so falls back to “for some reason”?

This is a giant screwup

Whichever; it’s a terrible, terrible experience for the user. You’re left unable to open the file, with no idea what has gone wrong, and no clues how to progress. If you had really valuable stuff in here, and no means of rolling back, you would be absolutely furious – justifiably so – with Apple.

Tracing the error

What has gone wrong here? You can dig into iWork files (Numbers, Pages, Keynote). They’re “packages”, which means that they’re folders disguised to look like files. Control-click on the file and you can “view package contents”, which in the case of this spreadsheet looks like this:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 34 49

Turns out that all the meat is in “index.zip”. I made a copy on my Desktop and unzipped it:
Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 36 43

That’s only a few files; the “Tables” folder contains 523 items. Which of these hundreds of items is at fault? One? Two? Two hundred? There’s no way of knowing. Given that none of the previous versions will load under this version of Numbers, it doesn’t matter how many of the files are screwed. You can’t get there from here.

Why you love your backups

I did try to get around this. Believe me. On an iPad (which hadn’t updated to the equivalent newer version of Numbers) I tried opening the original spreadsheet.

Opened fine.

Oh. So I tried AirDrop to send the can-be-opened-from-iCloud spreadsheet from the iPad to the Mac. The AirDrop worked, but the Mac wouldn’t open it – same message as before. On the iPad, you can also export the file: your options are Numbers, Excel, PDF, or CSV.

Export in Numbers and AirDrop? Didn’t work.
Export in Excel and AirDrop? Worked – except that the various tables that had been on a single sheet were split out into separate sheets. Non-ideal.

So the iPad route wasn’t quite right.

But I wasn’t finished yet. Did you notice how I mentioned backups? Before upgrading, I had made a backup of my hard drive using SuperDuper! (highly recommended).

So I plugged in my backup drive – I’m always careful not to overwrite it until I’m confident a big OS update hasn’t screwed anything – and dug around for the old version of Numbers (v 3.6.2), and put that back in.

Open Numbers 362, try to open spreadsheet.

It opens. No muss, no fuss.

Worse than error messages: no error messages

In many ways, this is even worse. What’s the situation here? We have a newer version of Numbers on the Mac which cannot open an untouched version of a spreadsheet that the older version can open.

Together with the colossal stupidity of “for some reason” as an error message, a new version that randomly can’t open an old spreadsheet (but is fine with many others), even while the old one can, makes one think that whoever is in charge of Numbers, or iWork, isn’t getting it right.

A lot of it is down to the error message. If it said “because two of the files are corrupt” you might begin to understand. But of course it can’t be that, because the old version can read it. “Some reason” sounds vague – is vague – but in a sense, it’s accurate. Whatever the reason for being unable to open this file is, it’s quite elusive. I had initially thought that it was something to do with picture embeds, but the problem persisted when I got rid of those. (There’s nothing in the Console app about it, so Numbers clearly doesn’t want to share whatever its discomfort is with the file/s.)

Anyway. Having got the old version of Numbers installed, I could now open the old spreadsheet. Fine. I’ll stick with that, I thought.

The morning after the night before

Problem over, you think? Not at all. On returning to the iPad the next day, I found it had updated to the newer version of Numbers – the one with collaboration.

Guess what? That’s right: the iPad version no longer opened the old spreadsheet.

Computing often has these moments – when you feel as though you’re standing on a very rickety rope ladder across a gigantic chasm, halfway from each side, with little prospect of reaching either side safely, yet obliged to go in one direction or the other. The previous day I could open the spreadsheet on the iPad, but I couldn’t get it safely back to the Mac. Now I could open it fine on the Mac, but I couldn’t get the iPad to read it. Not really the world of device-independent operation that one dreams of.

But but but! There is a solution on the Mac. You can load the file on the old version of Numbers, and then in the File menu there’s the option to export it to a Numbers ’09 format. (No idea what’s so great/terrible about that.) Notice that that export option wasn’t available on the iPad.

Here’s what it looks like:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 16 14 52

Worth a try, I thought. And indeed it was. I named the files created that way with an “09” suffix, and suddenly they opened on the iPad – with all the tables and charts intact.

Update: another tactic which I didn’t try, but which might work (I haven’t had the same problem again) is to log in to icloud.com and try to open or upload or similarly wrangle the file there. Make sure FIRST you have a backup of it, on a USB key or other cloud service; the greatest mistake is working on the only copy of an essential file.

Teachable moments

This is one of the biggest WTF moments in an episode replete with them. I’ve reinstalled an older version of Numbers, and exported to an even older file version, in order to open the file on the newest version. It’s beyond bizarre.

Thankfully, it seems that there aren’t too many people having this problem; my own searches on the phrase “can’t be opened for some reason” turned up pretty much nothing. If we’re all lucky, then nobody will land on this page via a web search; you’ll all just be reading it for abstract interest, wondering how an operating system and a QA team can ever let “can’t be opened for some reason” be signed off as “OK for public consumption”. Apple puts a premium on its products and prides itself on its user interface; this, though, is one that got away, badly.

But what if you haven’t kept that backup of the Numbers app? In that case, I’m not able to offer any help. Perhaps you can find a friend who has a copy of the older version. Perhaps there’s a trustworthy download site. Perhaps you can get one by finding a Mac that hasn’t been updated and sending the version there. Perhaps you can rummage around in your Time Machine backup and reanimate the old version. Maybe you have a CD in your house with an older version. (Clutching at straws here, but I recognise that spreadsheets carry a lot of our lives nowadays.)

The simplest solution is not to update Numbers, which of course always feels like admitting defeat. The pragmatic solution is to export all your spreadsheets to the 09 format. The belt-and-braces solution (since this might be an iCloud problem) is to duplicate your spreadsheets on your hard drive, and export each into the 09 format – then you have three copies of them.

Whichever – I hope it goes well. And I hope never ever to run into “some reason” as the explanation for why an essential piece of content can’t be accessed. Fix it, Apple.

The 2Q 2016 smartphone scorecard: players searching for an exit


Exit. Who’s next? Photo by Today is a good day on Flickr.

There comes a time in every former top-ranking sports player’s career when they have to accept reality: they’re not up to it any more. They keep getting beaten by people whom they once would have trampled; what should have been easy wins are now struggles, or upsets. Eventually, they accept the reality everyone else has already seen: it’s time to exit.

And now we’re seeing that happen in the smartphone market. This isn’t really about sales of iPhones being down year-on-year – though they are, for the second quarter in a row, and though in the previous quarter Apple managed to keep its handset ASP (average selling price – calculated by total handset revenue divided by the number of handsets) up, in this quarter it was substantially down, below $600 for the first time since 2Q 2014.

But more generally, this is the quarter where China really began to muscle into the top ranks of Android OEMs – and all the players who used to be the big names there are inching towards the exit. The problem for the big-name Android OEMs is that, because it’s Android, they’re replaceable. Android on one handset is quite a lot like Android on another. But an Apple device, and its integrated software, is sui generis.

Numbers for all

So here are the numbers showing how that replacement is going. The list below is all in diminishing size of handset shipment volume. Other data sometimes has to be estimated, and in the case of Huawei, OPPO and vivo you’d have to be in one of the big analyst camps to know what their ASPs and hence revenues are, and you might have to be at the companies to know whether they’re profitable.

Standout elements from the quarter: Sony made a profit! (Even as it dwindled.) Lenovo kept shrinking; Apple’s ASP fell; Samsung trundled on; LG made more losses (the G5 flagship essentially sank); Microsoft barely turned up.

Q2 2016: the smartphone scorecard

* denotes estimate: explanations below

Company Handsets
(million)
Revenues Handset
ASP
Operating
profit/loss
Per-handset
profit/loss
% profit/loss
Samsung 77.0 $22.61bn $275.64* $3.75bn $48.66* 16.59%
Apple 40.4 $24.05bn $595.26 $6.71bn* $166.09* 27.9%*
Huawei 32.1 $7.06bn* $220 positive? positive? positive?
OPPO 22.6 $4bn?? $177* positive? positive? positive?
vivo 16.4 $3.7bn?? $225.60* positive? positive? positive?
ZTE 14.7 $2.5bn?? $170* ?? ?? ??
Xiaomi 14.5 $2.28bn* $150 negative? negative? negative?
LG 13.9 $2.88bn $207.52 –$177m –$12.73 –6.15%
Lenovo/
Motorola
11.3 $1.71bn $150.97 –$163m –$14.42 -9.53%
Sony 3.1 (not a misprint) $3.64bn $582.26 $4.03m $1.30 0.11%
HTC 2.3* $0.5bn* $217.39* –$128.50m –$55.87* -25.7%
Microsoft
Mobile
1.2 (not a misprint either) $0.23bn* $190.80* –$45m* –$38* –19.56%
Everyone else 135.4m

Assumptions:
Samsung: 6m tablets sold for $175 ASP at zero profit; 11.4m featurephones sold for $15 ASP at zero profit. (For every $1 fall in featurephone price, smartphone ASPs rise by $0.14 – so with zero featurephones and 6m $175 tablets, smartphone ASP would be $277.84. For tablets, every $5 rise in ASP lowers smartphone ASPs by $0.38 – so if tablets were free and there were no featurephones, smartphone ASPs would be $291.37. It isn’t a huge difference; tablets and featurephones are together generate about $880m, or less than 5% of overall mobile revenues.)

Apple: operating profit calculated at the historic figure of 27.9% (derived from multiple financial analysts). Might have been lower or higher – the 6S range maybe costs more to make than the 6 range, but there’s the SE range which might be cheaper because less retooling needed.

Huawei, OPPO, vivo, ZTE, Xiaomi: ASP figures all estimated, based on their perceived market power

How do I calculate the revenue figures (and hence ASPs) for OPPO, vivo, Xiaomi? According to According to Strategy Analytics,

Global Smartphone Industry revenues declined by -5% YoY in Q2 2016, due to softening of volumes. Apple was followed by Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and vivo from a revenue perspective. The report also captures the Wholesale Average Selling ASP’s for all major vendors across six regions. ASP’s in the quarter declined by -6% globally.

So if Oppo and vivo were bigger than Sony, they must have done more than 3.64bn. (Xiaomi must have been less than them too.) I’m guessing they weren’t that much bigger. For Huawei, which like those two doesn’t release revenue figures, I’ve estimated an ASP (up from the previous quarter) and generated the revenue figure from that.

LG: assume tablet sales were minimal, and had zero profit.

HTC: given that it now sells the Vive headset too, though not in large numbers (certainly not millions), it only takes a small adjustment from the overall revenue.

Microsoft Mobile: Microsoft gave figures for featurephone sales, of 9m; assuming an ASP of $15 for those and gross margin of $5 each (as before) gives the featurephone revenue. Assume the same manufacture cost as before, and you get zero gross margin; even with zero sales/marketing and R+D, you get a negative margin.

Rampant deflation

Everyone’s seeing price declines, which is what you’d expect in a growing market where you also have Moore’s Law and scale coming into play. But this is barely a growth market. Smartphone shipments were up just 0.26% year-on-year. When you look at the trend over the past nine years, we’ve really hit a wall here:

Smartphone growth year-on-year.png

The red line shows the four-quarter moving average, and that’s clearly down. What that suggestion of slowdown doesn’t quite tell is how the market is diverging. The premium end was long ago saturated: people who could buy expensive phones did so, but now there’s no new market to sell into in the developed countries – and consequently the US, China and western Europe are expected to see slowdowns, and even reductions in volume, this year (per IDC). The action, such as it is, will be in emerging markets such as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America – though even they will only see growth of about 5.6%.

In such a world, the companies which initially made Android a Huge Thing are beginning to head for the exit. HTC built the first Android phone. Sony had to go Android (as Sony Ericsson) because it was losing money hand over fist. LG had to figure out how to make smartphones quickly, because its featurephone business was being destroyed.

Now though they’re seeing those be destroyed all over again. You can see the numbers above. And here’s a graph of how pretty much everyone is seeing sales growth compared to the smartphone market turn negative (so if the market grows 10% and they grow 5%, they’re falling behind):

Smartphone OEMs: growth against the overall market

Year-on-year shipment growth measured against the overall market

But I’ve been collecting the revenue and profit/loss numbers too (and publishing them) going back to Q4 2014. That’s seven quarters. What if you add that up?

Seven quarters of hurt

Here’s the lineup when you calculate it over seven quarters:

Seven-quarter smartphone scorecard covering Q4 2014 to Q2 2016 inclusive

(all estimate elements as above)

Company Handsets
(million)
Revenues Handset
ASP
Total operating
profit/loss
Per-handset
profit/loss
% profit/loss
Samsung 555.4 $158.70bn $285.74 $17.95bn $32.32 11.31%
Apple 401.07 $263.59bn $657.22 $73.62bn* $183.56* 27.92%
Xiaomi 116.92 $18.62bn* $159.25 ? ? ?
LG 102.75 $21.58bn $210.02 –$428.39m –$4.17 –1.98%
Lenovo/
Motorola
121 $17.44bn $144.13 –$1,114m –$9.26 –6.39%
Sony 47.8 $17.13bn $358.37 –$908.33m –19.00 –5.30%
HTC 26.1 $6.45bn* $247.13 –$717.51m –$27.49 –11.12%
Microsoft
Mobile
41.3 $5.76bn $139.47 –$2,621m –$63.46 –45.50%
(Huawei, OPPO, vivo and ZTE aren’t included because I don’t have figures for them over the period; and there aren’t any financials for any of them.)

This bears out a truth that is borne out again and again by analyst reports into best-selling handsets, brand loyalty, and customer satisfaction: these days it’s a two-horse race, Apple and Samsung.

Xiaomi is an unknown, financially. But all the rest are losing money hand over fist, and as Vlad Savov wrote in a terrific piece entitled “Android OEM death watch: Sony, HTC and LG edition“, you do wonder why they soldier on:

The Android ecosystem has never been more diverse than it is today, but I suspect that what we’re witnessing now is a peak from which the basic economics of a maturing smartphone market will rapidly drag us down. Niche players like Nextbit, Vertu, and BlackBerry might survive thanks to their low volume of sales and correspondingly limited costs. But the big names we’ve known for so long, the Sonys and HTCs of this world, seem fated to fade from view.

I think this is absolutely right. Look at those numbers: why is LG putting up with a division that has lost money, and shows no sign of stopping? Although Sony made money this quarter, it’s fading from view. Lenovo’s ASP is so woefully low that it’s an obvious target for every up-and-coming Chinese OEM. (I was recently contacted by Meizu, which is launching into the Asian market: yet another rival for the uncommitted phone buyer.)

It isn’t even as if these struggling companies have scale: Sony has only sold 12% as many phones as Apple over the period (and 8.6% as many as Samsung, which might be the better comparison); LG has managed a more respectable 18.5% of Samsung’s number, but it’s losing money on them, over seven quarters.

Sure these companies have a lot invested in this business; you can’t just shut down a smartphone business like closing a corner shop. There are contracts, staff, distribution deals. But you can edge out, which is what Sony seems to be doing as its range and distribution shrinks. Will LG follow, or is its rivalry with Samsung in Korea just too strong to let it ever let go?

I’m honestly puzzled by companies which tot up millions in red ink and decide it’s fine to carry on. Microsoft is clearly getting out (who wouldn’t, looking at those margins) but how can Sony or Lenovo look at their returns and feel they’re OK? That’s the puzzle here.

Sure, there’s lots else going on: Apple’s falling ASPs and falling sales point to the saturation of the markets. Equally, the cheap hardware is getting really good – the Shenzhen effect, as volume of production means that the only distinguishing thing is software and, to a lesser extent, chip design ability. (Apple, Samsung and Huawei stand alone here.) I’m certainly impressed by Huawei, which offered a dual-lens camera on the new P9 which has a neat refocus/re-aperture effect, well ahead of Apple.

(Huawei’s problem is it doesn’t have a coherent strategy: it offered “3D Touch” before Apple too – as did ZTE – but hasn’t followed through; only the latest P9 still has it. Will the dual lens offering spread to the rest of its offerings, or fall by the wayside as happened with HTC’s dual system on the M8 in 2014?)

In search of the lost profits

What then happened to all the profits that HTC, Lenovo, and Sony used to earn? Simple: eaten by Samsung, Apple, and Chinese rivals. The growth of companies like OnePlus, Meizu, and of course Huawei, vivo and OPPO and (less so) Xiaomi means the potential for scale falls away from those already in the market.

However it can take a while for these effects to become visible. HTC’s sales peaked in 2011; LG’s, Sony’s and Microsoft’s in the second half of 2014. From around that time, all the Chinese OEMs began growing rapidly, first in their home market, and then India; and in Huawei’s case, Africa, Europe and the US.

Late exit

Apple looks to have peaked in 2015 – but it has a solid ecosystem and so many users that any erosion would take a long, long time. That’s in stark contrast to every Android OEM, which (as even Xiaomi is finding out) is disposable and replaceable.

But it can take a long time. BlackBerry’s handset sales peaked in 2010, and yet it’s still going. (Though will John Chen finally announce the company is getting out of hardware at the quarterly results on September 28? One to watch.) HTC has been ebbing for a while, for example. Sony has begun withdrawing to Asia. LG is being pushed aside in Europe by Huawei.

The only question is when some of the executives at these companies will finally ask why they’re still trying to play a losing hand. There comes a time for the players to leave the game. When is it?

The iOS 10 changes that actually matter: ad tracking, camera changes, “press to unlock” and more

It’s that time of year! Photo by fldspierings on Flickr.

It’s iOS 10 release day, and everyone and their best friend is doing “10 [geddit??] things you need to know about iOS 10”. Most of them aren’t worth knowing, because

• you’ll discover them immediately when you update
• they’ve already been announced.
(Though I do love “how to update to iOS 10” stories. TL;DR: do an iCloud backup, or an iTunes backup, and then press the “software update” button in Settings → General → Software Update. Then wait while the internet falls to its knees.)

Let’s instead go a little deeper into the new OS, and point out the elements which you might not spot at first but which could potentially make a significant difference to your experience. I’ve been using iOS 10 through the betas on an iPad Pro and an iPhone SE, so that’s both the phone and the tablet experience.

Ad tracking

Remember how Apple introduced “Content Blockers” in Safari in iOS 9, and in parallel introduced “Safari Web View” for all apps – which meant simultaneously that you could install a mobile adblocker, and that that adblocker could be used in any app which opened web pages (such as Tweetbot, my weapon of choice for Twitter)?

The ad business had a collective fit over iOS adblocking, and it’s ready to have a second one now. Dean Murphy, who profited handsomely (and rightly so) from his Crystal adblocker, points out that with iOS 10, Apple is taking your ability to block targeted advertising one step further, even if you don’t want to install an adblocker.

On his blog, Murphy explains that “Apple is changing the way that the ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ setting works in Settings → Privacy → Advertising, and it seems to be causing a mini storm in a teacup among the adtech world.”

As he points out, while Apple got rid of the “UDID” (Unique Device IDentifier) for iPhones some time ago, in iOS 6 it provided the IDFA – ID For Advertisers. If you turned on “Limit Ad Tracking”, you’d be given a random new IDFA, plus a flag would be set telling advertisers you didn’t want to be tracked. But guess what! Advertisers don’t seem interested in saluting when that’s run up the flagpole.

So, says Murphy:

In iOS 10, when you enable “Limit Ad Tracking”, it now returns a string of zeroes. So for the estimated 15-20% of people who enable this feature, they will all have the same IDFA instead of unique ones. This makes the IDFA pretty much useless when “Limit Ad Tracking” is on, which is a bonus, as this is what users will expect when they enable the feature. These users will still be served ads, but its more likely they will not be targeted to them based on their behaviour.

This didn’t stop one guy over at Ad Exchanger wailing that Apple is “giving consumers a way to opt out of advertising altogether” (it’s not) and that people shouldn’t have the right to opt out of advertising. Which is quite a stretch. Murphy has some more figures on how much the adtech people aren’t losing by this move. But it’s still a good one by Apple, which fits well with its privacy story.

Open the camera, Hal

So you lift up your iPhone to wake it – did every other article mention it now has “lift to wake”? Yes they did (it’s triggered by the orientation sensors) – and now you have a screen with three little dots at the bottom. You’re in the middle; swipe right (that is, pull from left to right) and you get a ton of widgets.

But swipe left (pull right to left) from the home screen, and you now get the camera. This is such an obvious and timesaving move that it’s amazing it has taken four iterations of the “swipe” motif introduced with iOS 7 (7, 8, 9, 10 – that’s four) to get it right.

Cameralock
The Lock Screen in iOS 10 now shows you that the camera is off to the right (ie, swipe left). My arrows and text, obviously.

Having the camera a swipe left from the lock screen is quick, easy and a hell of a lot more convenient than having to swipe up, as has been the case since Apple introduced that route to the lockscreen camera in iOS 5.1 in March 2012.

You can understand why iOS 7 didn’t change that. People had had less than 18 months to get used to “swipe up” when iOS 7 was released in September 2013. Apple doesn’t do UI changes all at once. It taught people how to swipe, then a year later it introduced bigger screens where they’d need to swipe. So we’ve now had “swipe up for the camera” for just over four years. But it’s logical, and faster, to swipe left: it’s a shorter distance, it’s more natural for your thumb (I always found “swipe up” a struggle if I had the phone in one hand), and that screen on the right is unused virtual space.

So all hail the new way of getting to the camera. Though in iOS 10’s first few weeks you’re going to hear lots of people saying “how do you get the camera?” and probably swiping up to Control Centre – though the camera is there. But be the helpful one, and show them the side swipe.

Not quite better: Control Centre/r access

I don’t know about you, but if I’m typing something in Messages and need to bring up the Control Centre, it’s akin to an Olympic event to raise it first time. More often I hit a few random keys first, and have to retry.

Pulling up Control Centre is tricky
Pulling up Control Centre is hit-and-miss if you have a keyboard running

This doesn’t seem any better in iOS 10; I think it needs some sort of border below the keyboard. It’s a difficulty that seems to have come in with iOS 7, so perhaps in a couple of years..

The other change in Control Centre (I’m going to use the British spelling dammit) is that it’s now split into two panes, which you swipe between as needed: non-audio stuff in the left, audio stuff (such as music playback and audio output direction) in the right.

Control centre
The new Control Centre in iOS 10 is split across two screens – swipe between them. It remembers which one you last accessed.


Update: I’m told by Ravi Hiranand that the Home app gets its own Control Centre screen, if you have it functioning. As I’ll explain below, I didn’t so I didn’t. (End update.)


This is another thing that will have lots of people saying “hunh?” as they try to get used to it; since iOS 7 (when it came in) it had been all in one place, but with the introduction of Night Shift on the iPhone 5S and above, it was all getting a bit crowded. One pleasing little touch: when you touch the volume slider to change it, the speaker buttons at either end light up. (Update: Marc Blank-Settle says this was already in iOS 9, and he’s right, it was. This is what makes software reviewing tough: you notice something for the first time just when it has always been there.)

Press to unlock

The most subtle change is that it’s no longer enough to rest your thumb (or other finger) on the TouchID button to unlock the phone/tablet. It certainly used to be the case that it was, but on the 6S range in particular this could mean that if you picked the device up to see what was on the notification lock screen, and particularly if you used a phone, chances were high you’d unlock the thing and miss what you actually wanted to see.

Now you have to actively press on the button to both identify yourself and to open the lockscreen. This also fits in with the new Taptic buttons on the iPhone 7 range, which don’t actually move, so that you have to tell them you’re there by actively pressing.

This seems like a trivial point, but in the first few weeks you’re going to hear lots of people whose muscle memory is built around resting their fingers on that button who don’t understand why doing that doesn’t unlock it. On such small things are perceptions of ease of use built.

However you can turn this off, at least on TouchID devices. You have to go to Settings ▶️ Accessibility ▶️ Home button, and there you’ll find “Rest Finger to Open” as an option. Lots of things are hidden down there in “Accessibility”.

Home button: accessibility options

You can revert to the old TouchID behaviour via Accessibility.

Deleting apps

Sure, you can delete the stock apps. Don’t bother. You’re not really saving any space. And that app you downloaded to replace it? Takes up more room and doesn’t get system-wide benefits.

Mail, now with filters

Speaking of stock apps, iOS’s Mail is creeping towards a vague parity with what OSX’s Mail could do in about 2000, when the latter was still in beta. Though it is way easier to triage email with swipes on a touchscreen than a keyboard and mouse.

In iOS 10, you can filter email, via a little “filter” icon at the bottom of the screen: tap it to change between filter criteria.

iOS 10's mailbox filter

You can filter mailboxes by Unread, Flagged and a few other criteria: tap the icon

We’re still stuck, though, with a very limited number of ongoing filter systems: you can’t set up a “smart mailbox” based on a phrase, for example, even though OSX has had that forever. Here are the options for filters:

Mailfilters

This “what does that do?” thing about the filter icon is something most people will probably come across by accident. It’s helpful, but Mail is still some way from being a powerful app. It’s still only useful.

Maps: you can get there from here

In iOS 9, Maps began getting public transport details, and that has quietly been enhanced over the past year. The key change is that it’s much more sensibly laid out: search is on the bottom, and location plus settings are in the top right.

Even better: search is coordinated among devices, so that if you do a search on your tablet, those searches will also be on your phone. (Finally.)

Ios9 10 maps
The Maps app is improved in iOS 10 (on right) over that on iOS 9 (left): it now puts search in a more accessible location at the bottom, remembers searches from other devices, and can offer ride-sharing app routes.

Notes, collaborate

Apple made something of collaborative editing coming to iWork at the iPhone introduction last week, but it’s offering exactly that in the new Notes: type up a note, and you can choose to share it with someone, who will see the changes that get made, and be able to edit it too.

Obvious use: shopping lists. As long as the person shopping (or suggesting shopping) doesn’t go out of range of data.

Under the hood: Siri and machine learning

The range of things that Siri can do hasn’t changed much in this update – at least, not visibly – but it is improving. And what’s really going to change is that it will be open to some developers, for a limited number of functions. I didn’t see any in the betas (you’ll have to see what developers do with it).

Photos are meant to get a tonne of machine learning. But it’s principally facial recognition, and the “Memories” function is – for me at least, having few photos with location tags – so-so. Yes, it’s nice to have photos collected together from particular days, but this isn’t Google Photos with its ability to find “photos of dogs” from an unlabelled corpus of pictures.


Update: Nick Heer points out that it does show you photos that match a keyword (singular is best). It hasn’t done this on the iPhone SE, but on checking my iPad and doing a search in the photos for “horse” I find that yes, he’s correct. iOS 10 calls them “categories”. You can discover what categories it has available by typing a single letter of the alphabet into the search box, and seeing what unravels. (Perhaps someone will make a list. What am I saying? For sure someone will make a list. And look – here it is.)

Photo search on iOS 10

Type a letter, get a list of categories


[end update]


Then again, the pictures sit on your phone, so possibly over time the capability will be there. (We simply don’t know how much processing power per photo is needed for Google Photos’ identification system, nor how many examples it has to see to hit its training targets.)

Finally: home screen widgets

Apple hasn’t gone as far as Google in Android, and nothing like as far Microsoft in Windows Phone, in terms of what widgets are able to do as a layer over the home screen. They don’t dynamically update while you’re not looking; they hurry to do it when you swipe across. Saves on background processing. But you can edit them, as before.

Home screen widgets on iOS 10

Yeah, that’s all

Sure, there’s a ton of other stuff. There’s:
• the update to Messages (annoy your iOS 10 friends by sending them “Happy Birthday” messages) which now means that it’s becoming something of a platform.
• Apple Pay on the web – possibly that should have been a feature above, but I never tried it out.
• Home. As an app. I couldn’t find any products that actually hooked into this, and I suspect it might be a while before I do. (Ravi Hiranand says Home found his Philips Hue light automatically, and “works better than the original app”.)
• Subtle thickening of fonts, so that text is easier to read. This is system-wide, and very noticeable in the re-thought Apple Music and in Maps.

Finally

So – should you upgrade to iOS 10? Don’t you love how this question is asked as if you might not? You’ve read a whole piece about it that you didn’t have to. You probably will. And yes, you should benefit. Some of the touches are clever, and some are overdue, and some are essential. But it’s all about getting the device out of the way.

The thing you’ll notice the most? Pressing the Home button. It’ll bug you gently for a couple of weeks. Then you’ll forget it. And after that, you’ll notice the Maps app’s improvements. And those you’ll probably forget; can you remember what it was like before? Hardly anyone can.

That’s the way with software: you change things wholesale, and within a few months nobody could draw what the old thing looked like. Believe me, though, if you came across a device running iOS 6 or earlier, you’d be amazed at how… primitive it looks. Pundits might have bitched about iOS 7, but it’s been a wholesale improvement in user interface.

One could wish for better, smarter AI, but that might have to wait a few years for more power on the device. Even so, the “Siripods” (aka AirPods) point towards Apple wanting us to have a closer verbal relationship with our devices.

Start up: Theranos’s last days?, Samsung’s water-unproof S7 Active, the Pokemon Go craze, and more


Planning a crewed lunar mission? There’s some code for you on Github! Photo from Nasa Goddard Space Research Centre 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. Apply topically. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Theranos dealt sharp blow as Elizabeth Holmes is banned from operating labs • WSJ

John Carreyrou, Michael Siconolfi and Christopher Weaver:

»Silicon Valley startup Theranos Inc. is fighting for its life after regulators decided to revoke its license to operate a lab in California because of unsafe practices and to ban founder Elizabeth Holmes from the blood-testing business for at least two years.

The sanctions were laid out in a letter to Theranos released Friday by the agency that oversees US labs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Theranos said it is still seeking to resolve its issues with the regulator.

One sanction, a monetary fine of $10,000 a day until all deficiencies have been corrected, goes into effect July 12. The most serious sanctions, such as the ban of Ms. Holmes, won’t go into effect for 60 days.

If it fails to reach a settlement with the government, Theranos’s options are limited. Almost any course it takes will dramatically reshape the company that Ms. Holmes founded in 2003 as a Stanford University dropout and grew to a valuation of more than $9 billion in a 2014 fundraising round.

«

The first version of this that I saw at 0643 BST (0143 EST) Friday had a single byline (Siconolfi’s) and began more tamely: “US federal health regulators dealt a major blow to Theranos by banning founder Elizabeth Holmes from operating a blood-testing laboratory for at least two years and pulling regulatory approval for the company’s California lab.”

Clearly, the addition of two reporters and 18 hours sharpened up the intro (“lede” in the US; first paragraph to everyone else) quite a bit. And gave them time to put a very spooky picture of Holmes at the top.

And Theranos indeed looks cooked.
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DNA sequencing costs plotted over time • National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

»

To illustrate the nature of the reductions in DNA sequencing costs, each graph also shows hypothetical data reflecting Moore’s Law, which describes a long-term trend in the computer hardware industry that involves the doubling of ‘compute power’ every two years (See: Moore’s Law [wikipedia.org]). Technology improvements that ‘keep up’ with Moore’s Law are widely regarded to be doing exceedingly well, making it useful for comparison.

In both graphs, note: (1) the use a logarithmic scale on the Y axis; and (2) the sudden and profound outpacing of Moore’s Law beginning in January 2008. The latter represents the time when the sequencing centers transitioned from Sanger-based (dideoxy chain termination sequencing) to ‘second generation’ (or ‘next-generation’) DNA sequencing technologies. Additional details about these graphs are provided below.

These data, however, do not capture all of the costs associated with the NHGRI Large-Scale Genome Sequencing Program. The sequencing centers perform a number of additional activities whose costs are not appropriate to include when calculating costs for production-oriented DNA sequencing. In other words, NHGRI makes a distinction between ‘production’ activities and ‘non-production’ activities. Production activities are essential to the routine generation of large amounts of quality DNA sequence data that are made available in public databases; the costs associated with production DNA sequencing are summarized here and depicted on the two graphs.

«

We’re good at sequencing, but less good at understanding what genomes tell us. That hasn’t improved as quickly.
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Samsung Galaxy S7 Active fails Consumer Reports water-resistance test • Consumer Reports

Jerry Bellinson put not one but two successive Galaxy S7 Actives into the equivalent of five feet of water for 30 minutes. They didn’t make it:

»For a couple of days following the test, the screens of both phones would light up when the phones were plugged in, though the displays could not be read. The phones never returned to functionality.

Samsung says it has received “very few complaints” about this issue, and that in all cases, the phones were covered under warranty.

“The Samsung Galaxy S7 active device is one of the most rugged phones to date and is highly resistant to scratches and IP68 certified,” the company said in a written statement. “There may be an off-chance that a defective device is not as watertight as it should be.” The company says it is investigating the issue.

The Active is one of three versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7, and it was the only one to fail our water-immersion test.

«

Could be two lemons, but that doesn’t speak well to the quality control. Waterproofing seems to be a popular feature with testers, at least, because you can.. test it.
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Teen playing new Pokémon game on phone discovers body in Wind River • County 10

»Shayla [Wiggins] tells County 10 that she woke up this morning and began playing a game on her cell phone called Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that encourages the user to capture as many Pokémon as possible. “The Pokémon are all over Riverton,” she said. Shayla showed County 10 the game on her cellphone which displayed a map of Riverton where these Pokémon are located.

“I was trying to get a Pokémon from a natural water resource,” she explained. She said that she jumped over the fence to go towards the river in search of a Pokémon.

“I was walking towards the bridge along the shore when I saw something in the water,” Shayla said. “I had to take a second look and I realized it was a body.” She said the figure was floating about three feet from the shore and it looked like an average size male body. She reports that she thinks the man was native, but she can’t be certain. She saw a black shirt and black pants. All of the body was reportedly submerged except for part of his back and butt.

«

This game is taking people into bizarre situations. There are even reports of people setting up armed robberies (unproven) and using it while on patrol against Isis with Kurdish militias (verified). I’m amazed; Pokemon seems to me so transparently stupid – a set of Top Trump cards – that I’m amazed anyone over the age of 12 indulges in it. And yet…
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A malicious ‘Pokémon Go’ app is installing backdoors on Android devices • Motherboard

Joshua Kopstein:

»wannabe Pokémon masters should take heed: amid high demand for the game as it slowly rolls out across the globe, security researchers have discovered a malicious version of the Pokémon GO app floating around that installs a backdoor on Android phones, allowing hackers to exploit Poké-hype to completely compromise a user’s device.

The security firm Proofpoint discovered the malicious application, or APK, which was infected with DroidJack, a remote access tool (RAT) that compromises Android devices by silently opening a backdoor for hackers. The malicious app was uploaded to an online malware detection repository on July 7, less than 72 hours after Nintendo released the game in Australia and New Zealand.

To install it, a user needs to “side-load” the malicious app by disabling an Android security setting that normally prevents the installation of unverified third-party apps from “unknown sources.”

This is potentially a huge deal, since the game’s slow roll-out to different regions has led some impatient players to download the app from third-party websites instead of waiting for the official release on Android’s Play store, which requires side-loading to install. Proofpoint notes that several major news outlets have even provided instructions on how to find and install the app from a third party.

«

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Original Apollo 11 Guidance Computer (AGC) source code • Github

Lots of people are cloning it and improving it – just in case they, you know, need to pilot a lunar lander mission.
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We need to talk about AI and access to publicly funded data-sets • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas with a hugely important analysis:

»DeepMind says it will be publishing “results” of the Moorfields research [on eye disease] in academic literature. But it does not say it will be open sourcing any AI models it is able to train off of the publicly funded data.

Which means that data might well end up fueling the future profits of one of the world’s wealthiest technology companies. Instead of that value remaining in the hands of the public, whose data it is.

And not just that — early access to large amounts of valuable taxpayer-funded data could potentially lock in massive commercial advantage for Google in healthcare. Which is perhaps the single most important sector there is, given it affects everyone on the planet. If you don’t think Google has designed on becoming the world’s medic, why do you think it’s doing things like this?

Google will argue that the potential social benefits of algorithmically improved healthcare outcomes are worth this trade off of giving it advantageous access to the locked medicine cabinet where the really powerful data is kept.

But that detracts from the wider point: if valuable public data-sets can create really powerful benefits, shouldn’t that value remain in public hands?

«

Yes. Exactly. This is a key point which is being ignored: data is the necessity for Google and the British government is not seeking sufficiently clear repayment for it.
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AI, Apple and Google • Benedict Evans

Quite a long musing on where we are with AI – which typically never quite arrives, because every time it does something smart (understands speech, identifies faces) we say “oh, that’s just computing“:

»A common thread for both Apple and Google, and the apps on their platforms, is that eventually many ‘AI’ techniques will be APIs and development tools across everything, rather like, say, location. 15 years ago geolocating a mobile phone was witchcraft and mobile operators had revenue forecasts for ‘location-based services’. GPS and wifi-lookup made LBS just another API call: ‘where are you?’ became another question that a computer never has to ask you. But though location became just an API – just a database lookup – just another IF statement – the services created with it sit on a spectrum. At one end are things like Foursquare – products that are only possible with real-time location and use it to do magic. Slightly behind are Uber or Lyft – it’s useful for Lyft to know where you are when you call a car, but not essential (it is essential for the drivers’ app, or course). But then there’s something like Instagram, where location is a free nice-to-have – it’s useful to be able to geotag a photo automatically, but not essential and you might not want to anyway. (Conversely, image recognition is going to transform Instagram, though they’ll need a careful taxonomy of different types of coffee in the training data). And finally, there is, say, an airline app, that can ask you what city you’re in when you do a flight search, but really needn’t bother.

In the same way, there will be products that are only possible because of machine learning, whether applied to images or speech or something else entirely (no-one at all looked at location and thought ‘this could change taxis”). There will be services that are enriched by it but could do without, and there will be things where it may not be that relevant at all (that anyone has realised yet). So, Apple offers photo recognition, but also a smarter keyboard and venue suggestions in the calendar app – it’s sprinkled ‘AI’ all over the place, much like location. And, like any computer science tool, there will be techniques that are commodities and techniques that aren’t, yet.

«

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Exclusive: why Microsoft is betting its future on AI • The Verge

Casey Newton got to meet lots of people at Microsoft who are working on bots and AI:

»I meet with Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of marketing for Office. He shows me a range of ways where intelligence is making Office easier to use. In September 2014 Microsoft introduced Delve, a kind of Fitbit for productivity that is included with Office 365. The app analyzes how much time you spend in email and in meetings, and highlights times on your calendar where you have extended periods of time to do more complicated, meaningful work. It tells you what percentage of people you sent an email to actually read it, and how quickly. It will suggest reaching out to colleagues that you haven’t emailed in a while. It even shows you response times for your colleagues, and for yourself.

If your organization lives in Google Apps, as do many big Silicon Valley companies, browsing Delve felt like a revelation. You don’t have to be a numbers nerd to find this kind of information useful. If you’re a manager, Delve can tell you at a glance how much time you’ve spent with each of your employees over the past week. This kind of intelligence isn’t as sexy as a general AI that anticipates your every need — but it’s here today, it works, and it makes Google Apps look like a neglected backwater by comparison.

«

1) Google Apps pretty much is a neglected backwater
2) would love to know if the statistics gathered by Delve actually have any meaning in the real world, or are just numbers collected because they can be.
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Security Flaw in OS X displays all keychain passwords in plain text • Medium

Brenton Henry:

»This afternoon, a friend learned the hard way that you don’t let an unofficial company take control of your computer to provide “support”. However, it was what I learned that shocked me the most.

There is a method in OS X that will allow any user to export your keychain, without sudo privileges or any system dialogs, to a text file, with the username and passwords displayed in plain text. As of this writing, this method works in at least 10.10 and 10.11.5, and presumably at the least all iterations in between.

«

I tried his method; I had to click an “Allow” dialog for every single item in my keychain, which wasn’t a trivial number. So this exploit isn’t one to think deeply about. More to the point: what happened to his friend? Was it keychain-related?
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How the Feds use Photoshop to track down paedophiles • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»The most innocent clues can crack a case. In 2012, a holiday photo of a woman and child holding freshly caught fish ended up being a key lead in a child pornography investigation.

Found within a cache of illegal, explicit material, the photo would eventually point detectives to a outdoor camping site in Richville, Minnesota, and result in the victims’ rescue, and suspect’s conviction in December 2012.

But first, detectives had to determine where the photo was taken. To do that, they cropped out the fish, sanitized the image, and sent it to Cornell University for identification, Jim Cole, the National Program Manager for Victim Identification at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), recalled to Motherboard in a phone call.

The university determined the species of fish, which was found in a particular region. Investigators then edited the suspect and victim out of the photo, Cole said, and distributed it to advertisers for camping grounds in the area, one of which recognized the location.

When detectives arrived, the same photo was on the wall of the camping office, Cole added.

“It’s all about making the haystack smaller, so we can find the needle,” he said.

«

A logo on a sweatshirt? A bottle of pills in the background? It can all contribute to cracking the case
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Exclusive: Google is building two Android Wear smartwatches with Google Assistant integration • Android Police

David Ruddock has a strong and detailed rumour:

»The inevitable question with these Google smartwatches is “why?” I’m afraid I don’t have a concrete answer for you. But I can speculate. As Android Wear has evolved, manufacturer interest in it has not skyrocketed as Google likely hoped it would. At best, it appears to be holding steady. Once considered Wear’s strongest partner, LG has announced no new mainstream Wear device since the old Urbane last spring (the LTE is unashamedly niche with limited availability, and was heavily delayed). The number of new Wear OEMs announced lately has been modest, aside from a few niche fashion products that are unlikely to have a major impact on Wear’s distribution.

By building its own smartwatches, Google can implement exactly the hardware and features it believes will best demonstrate Android Wear’s capabilities.

«

Good luck with that. The OEMs aren’t doing it because they aren’t selling. (Unless they’re selling in China, in which case Google will have trouble too.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: robocalling wars, form-filling frustration, Pakistan’s troll problem, Apple port death, and more


Something about this is going to change in September. But what? Photo by janitors 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.

Disruptive robocalling • Global Guerrillas

»Three months ago, I wrote up a worst case scenario for how the US could end up in a civil war this fall.  Unfortunately, nothing has changed.  The conditions that make the scenario possible are still valid.

In fact, in one way it has gotten worse:  one of the theoretical methods of disruption that I featured in the scenario was recently used in the real world.  In my scenario, robocalling was used to shut down polling places to skew election results and plunge the US into chaos.

«

So, how’s your day going so far?
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Apple Watch is already a $10bn business • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»Heading into this year’s WWDC, Apple Watch expectations were at a low. The most recent comments from Apple management about Watch sales being focused around the holidays implied Watch sales had slowed somewhat materially in recent months. Developer interest and buzz around watchOS was lackluster, and recent price drops introduced questions about customer demand.

Things changed following Apple’s WWDC keynote. It was clear Apple had no plans of slowing down with Apple Watch. More importantly, Apple was willing to make changes to Apple Watch software. As seen with the rethought user interface included in watchOS 3, Apple spent the past year studying how people were using Apple Watch. Friction points such as a clunky interface and little-used features, including Glances, were removed. Instead, Apple went back to the basics with a simpler interface and additional focus on Watch faces as the device’s most valued real estate. (Additional thoughts from WWDC concerning watchOS 3 are available here).

Some people interpreted the changes found in watchOS 3 as evidence that Apple admitted it was wrong with Apple Watch. I disagree. That type of interpretation not only ignores everything that Apple got right about Apple Watch, such as Watch bands, but also ignores reality. Apple Watch financials portray a different story. Apple Watch’s first year was not the disaster that many are now implying.

«

WatchOS 3 really is a lot quicker, and more useful, than the first versions. Cybart reckons more than 12m have been sold. By contrast, Android Wear downloads – which seem to be the correct proxy for Android Wear sales – are still below 5m.
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Input masks: violating user expectations • ignore the code

Lukas Mathis:

»When designing forms, there’s a pretty deep chasm between the needs of the developer, and the needs of the user. Developers want structured, normalized data. Users want to enter data in whatever format suits them best.

Forcing people to enter structured data causes usability problems.

What do you mean, it’s not a valid phone number? Looks valid to me – except that the backend wants just numbers, no special characters, and isn’t smart enough to strip out all of the characters that the user has entered.

Commonly, designers try to solve this by telling people what kind of format data needs to be in. This can be done using placeholders that show example data in the correct format.

The problem here is that the placeholder disappears as soon as people start typing, so exactly when they actually need this information, it’s no longer visible.

«

And with credit card numbers, things get really annoying, as Mathis points out.
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Pakistan’s troll problem • The New Yorker

Simon Parkin:

»Among many religiously conservative Pakistanis, [female lawyer Naghat] Dad said, there is a belief that women should not be using technology at all. “I could only use the Internet and my mobile phone while at work,” she told me. There are more than twenty-three million Facebook accounts registered in Pakistan, but in some cases, Dad said, “women who experience harassment on Facebook don’t want to make a formal complaint, as to do so is to admit to owning a profile.” As more women continue to join social-media platforms, the resistance to their presence has increased. Last August, a gang of men targeted a group of female doctors in Lahore, stealing photographs and private messages from their WhatsApp and Facebook accounts before demanding money. “The threat of disgrace made these professional women soft targets,” Shamsi said. “This on top of the battles they fight just for the right to work.” Dad’s organization has two staff members devoted to working on Facebook complaints, but she deals with the public herself, and she now receives more calls from women each day than she can handle.

In general, US-based social-media companies have been slow to address harassment on their platforms in different cultural contexts — and even, many would argue, in their own.

«

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“OK Google…” • OK Google

It’s a list of the voice commands you can ask after “OK Google..” on Google’s systems. Would love to see something comparable for Siri.
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The ultimate Apple I/O death chart • The Verge

Nilay Patel and Frank Bi:

»One of the most strongly-held arguments about Apple removing the headphone jack is that Apple has historically been first to drop a legacy technology, sometimes even before the rest of the industry is ready. Apple’s vertical integration, passionate userbase, and scale (both historically small and now immensely huge) allow it to push big changes in a way that few other companies can pull off. The floppy, SCSI, optical drives, VGA — all killed by Apple years before vanishing from the rest of the industry.

But how long does it really take Apple to kill legacy tech? We threw together a chart to map it out. (It would be fun to do this across the entire tech industry, but finding all that data seems virtually impossible. If you figure it out email me and we’ll run it!)

«

QWERTY still in use, though I guess that’s not a “port”. A neat corollary to this would be the adoption of wireless ports. Wi-Fi arrived in July 1999; Bluetooth, in 2003. Infrared came and went.

Also: how great to have a piece of simple, informative journalism that answers a question you didn’t realise you wanted answered until you saw it.
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Hillary Clinton’s initiative on technology and innovation • HillaryClinton.com

The would-be president who doesn’t say outrageous things (and thus gets no coverage outside the US) has a detailed set of tech proposals, which has lots of “would be nice” ideas but also this:

»Copyrights encourage creativity and incentivize innovators to invest knowledge, time, and money into the generation of myriad forms of content. However, the copyright system has languished for many decades, and is in need of administrative reform to maximize its benefits in the digital age. Hillary believes the federal government should modernize the copyright system by unlocking — and facilitating access to — orphan works that languished unutilized, benefiting neither their creators nor the public.

She will also promote open-licensing arrangements for copyrighted material and data supported by federal grant funding, including in education, science, and other fields. She will seek to develop technological infrastructure to support digitization, search, and repositories of such content, to facilitate its discoverability and use.

And she will encourage stakeholders to work together on creative solutions that remove barriers to the seamless and efficient licensing of content in the U.S. and abroad.

«

There’s also privacy, smart government, more broadband, and plenty more.
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Android fragmentation may not be as pronounced as Google’s distribution numbers would have you believe, says Apteligent • Android Police

Rita El Khoury:

»as Apteligent’s monthly data report points out, Google doesn’t take into consideration two important factors: devices that don’t have the Play Store installed (ie Chinese handsets mostly) and device usage. A phone may access the Play Store, but it may not be actively used. Once that’s taken into account, the image shifts greatly and you can see that there are far less devices in active use that are still running older versions of Android.

As the table and graph aboe show, Android usage distribution puts Lollipop at around half of the devices (vs. ~35% in Google’s June numbers) and Marshmallow at almost double what Google says (19.4% vs. 10.1%). Apteligent’s usage distribution drops KitKat from around 31% in Google’s stats to roughly 25%, Jelly Bean from ~19% to 6.8%, and shows that everything prior (ICS, Honeycomb, Gingerbread, and Froyo) is practically irrelevant.

Now sure, these are numbers taken from Apteligent’s report, which is based on devices that have apps with the Apteligent SDK installed, but they do show a new picture of Android’s version distributions.

«

Sure, they do; but still suggest that just under half of all devices with appreciable use are running a version of Android released between October 2013 and November 2014. Worth looking at the full PDF, which has lots more details of other devices and crashes too.
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iPhone 7 again rumoured to have flush, touch-sensitive home button • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»Apple may be planning to introduce a Force Touch home button on the iPhone 7, according to analysts at Cowen and Company (via Business Insider). Citing supply chain “field checks,” Cowen and Company predicts the iPhone 7 will do away with a physical home button, instead adopting a home button that sits flush with the phone.

Apple’s Force Touch technology will reportedly be built into the home button to provide haptic feedback when pressed, much like the Force Touch trackpad on Apple’s most recent MacBooks. With haptic feedback, iPhone users would still feel the sensation of pressing on the home button even without a button to actually depress.

Cowen and Company has a mixed track record, but it’s worth noting that we’ve heard two other rumors about a redesigned home button on the iPhone 7. In April, DigiTimes said Apple was testing a touch-sensitive home button that fits flush with the phone, and a highly sketchy image of what was said to be an iPhone 7 with a touch-sensitive home button surfaced in mid-June.

Given the unreliability of each of the home button rumors, the information should be viewed with some skepticism until confirmed by a more reliable source, but when viewed alongside rumors of improved waterproofing and the removal of the headphone jack, a flush home button is not a rumor that seems entirely out of the question.

«

In September 2015, I wrote that Force/3D Touch was clearly part of a path to replace the physical iPhone (and iPad) home button:

»I bet that mechanical failure of Home buttons is one thing that keeps showing up in Apple’s fault reports. Broken screens are easily replaced (and people can get by with broken screens for a looong time), but broken home buttons not so. Grit can get in. Water can get in. Constant movement isn’t ideal in electronics. You might say that it’s just tough if peoples’ Home buttons break, but compared to Android phones which don’t have them, it’s an obvious point of weakness – and customer dissatisfaction.

However, the Home button is needed as the place where your fingerprint is read. But that doesn’t need a moving home button; it just needs a circle of sapphire glass through which your print is read.

«

Feeling increasingly confident about that one.
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Does Brexit herald a new era for big data-driven forecasting? • Forbes

Kalev Leetaru:

»Discussion does not imply support. In the Iowa caucuses, Sanders led Clinton in Facebook mentions by 73% to 25%, while actual voting had them nearly tied, while in 2012 Twitter showed Obama dominating the Southern states ultimately won by Romney. Most recently, Facebook showed Sanders beating Clinton by a landslide in Facebook discussion, though it did also show Trump leading on the Republican side. Of course, social media data is also becoming increasingly difficult to access as a data source.

Web searches are increasingly being used as a metric to understand society. Google Trends published a map looking at searches across the UK in the first week of June, showing that Leave dominated searches across the entire country outside of a handful of pockets. Even Scotland was overwhelmingly searching about Leave. In reality, the final voting results looked quite different. As with social media conversation, heavy search interest simply implies that people are intensely interested in the topic, not that they support or condemn it.

Interestingly, the timeline of search intensity for the two terms within the UK offers a slightly different picture. UK searchers were searching for Remain and Leave nearly neck and neck up until the morning the polls opened, at which point Remain climbed to 8% more than Leave. Yet, around 4:30PM local time, Leave suddenly surged to 15% greater and by 8:30PM local time Leave was 59% ahead and by 10:30 it was 79% ahead, before beginning to head back down.

«

Basically: this stuff doesn’t tell us anything, but in the absence of anything else we like to pretend it does, and anyway there’s no other useful data. (Scotland voted comprehensively to Remain.)
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In a Google future, drivers may exchange their data for infotainment • Car and Driver Blog

Pete Bigelow:

»In exchange for vehicle content, Google might want details that include data about the vehicle itself—mileage, condition of certain components like tires, details on serial numbers of vehicle systems, and the like. It may also demand information on the occupants, including the types of content they’ve stored in vehicle systems, preferred genres of music, video content,  and more.

With a company like Google, which has interests in the automotive realm that run from autonomous cars to its Android Auto phone-projection system, the consolidation of control worries John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project for Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization that has tracked Google’s automotive efforts and frequently criticizes the company’s privacy practices.

“This is an egregious invasion of a motorist’s privacy, and I do fear that people who refuse to provide personal data will be unfairly locked out of infotainment systems,” he said. Going further down the line, Simpson said, “The privacy concerns are even greater with self-driving autonomous vehicles. Google could easily offer a self-driving car that would only operate if personal data were turned over to the company.”

«

Hmm. There are lots of insurance companies which already track your car (for younger drivers) to offer reductions in insurance costs. But seeking data about what you’re listening to? Perhaps it’s just covering all the bases.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: apologies for the late arrival of the blogpost and the email yesterday. The finger usually employed to press the “schedule” button has been reassigned to other duties.

Start up: Brexit fuels uncertainty, Google faces new antitrust case, AI for the blind, and more


Expect to see lots more of these. Photo by stratageme.com 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 13 links for you. None invokes Article 50. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Brexit: Uncertainty around funding and skills likely to affect UK tech startups • Computer Weekly

Lis Evenstad:

»

The tech startup industry as a whole was backing the remain campaign. However, the industry is now faced with a different and uncertain future that is likely to affect investment, funding and skills.

One of the main challenges the industry now faces is access to funding. Gartner predicts that as a result of the UK leaving the EU, IT spend will drop significantly not just at home, but in the rest of Europe.

John-David Lovelock, research vice-president at Gartner, said the current forecast growth for UK IT spending is 1.7%.

“The Brexit will drop this figure between 2% and 5%. In other words, UK IT spending growth will certainly be negative in 2016,” he said.

Frost & Sullivan’s research director for digital transformation Adrian Drodz and practice director EIA Ajay Sule added that access to funding and credit will be affected by Brexit.

“Although the Bank of England has been quick to state it has plans in place to support the UK economy and the financial services sector, concerns will be raised with regards to the ability to obtain credit and funding – especially among startups,” they said.

«

link to this extract


Anarchy in the UK: Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel • The Economist

“Bagehot”:

»

IT WAS a troubling exchange. On live television Faisal Islam, the political editor of SkyNews, was recounting a conversation with a pro-Brexit Conservative MP. “I said to him: ‘Where’s the plan? Can we see the Brexit plan now?’ [The MP replied:] ‘There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan…Number 10 should have had a plan.’” The camera cut to Anna Botting, the anchor, horror chasing across her face. For a couple of seconds they were both silent, as the point sunk in. “Don’t know what to say to that, actually,” she replied, looking down at the desk. Then she cut to a commercial break.

Sixty hours have gone by since a puffy-eyed David Cameron appeared outside 10 Downing Street and announced his resignation. The pound has tumbled. Investment decisions have been suspended; already firms talk of moving operations overseas. Britain’s EU commissioner has resigned. Sensitive political acts—the Chilcot report’s publication, decisions on a new London airport runway and the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent—are looming. European leaders are shuttling about the continent meeting and discussing what to do next. Those more sympathetic to Britain are looking for signs from London of how they can usefully influence discussions. At home mounting evidence suggests a spike in racist and xenophobic attacks on immigrants. Scotland is heading for another independence referendum. Northern Ireland’s peace settlement may hang by a thread.

But at the top of British politics, a vacuum yawns wide. The phones are ringing, but no one is picking up.

«

Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?
link to this extract


Rohan Silva has no idea what he’s talking about • FT Alphaville

Kadhim Shubber takes issue with former No. 10 tech policy adviser Silva, who suggests cutting corporation tax to 10% to (re?-) attract businesses:

»

He goes on to say that we should “transform the efficiency of our immigration system” by using “data analytics and machine learning”, which has become something of a verbal tic in the tech community.

This sort of thinking crops up whenever society faces complicated, difficult problems. If only taxes or regulation didn’t exist, neither would recessions or financial crises. It has the impression of being proactive — we don’t have time, just cut the red tape and save the economy already! — but is more likely to exacerbate the fractures in our society than heal them.

It will take months and years before we fully understand what happened in the UK last week, but it is highly plausible that this was the backlash of a class of people left behind by globalisation. They have much to be angry about: de-industrialisation; massive tax avoidance; the pain and misery caused by the financial crisis; the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small international elite. If we want to assuage this fury, we might start by better redistributing the fruits of globalisation.

In that context, turning the UK into a global tax haven would be akin to rubbing salt in the wound. Silva seems to imagine the economically disenfranchised people who just plunged the UK into crisis will be content to give him and other business owners more money. It’s not only a stupid idea, it’s a dangerous one that risks inflaming tensions.

«

link to this extract


Godless mobile malware can root 90% of Android devices


»

The mobile malware masquerades as harmless-looking mobile apps, including this Summer Flashlight app:

Several clean apps on Google Play also share the same developer certificate with malicious versions containing the Godless code. This means there is the potential for a user to be upgraded to a malicious version of an app without their knowledge.

If and when that infection occurs, Godless won’t lock their screen and demand hundreds of dollars in ransom. Neither will it place calls to mysterious Chinese phone numbers. Instead it will have the ability to download any app it chooses, including those that spam users with ads and/or install backdoors onto an infected device.

«

More details on the Trend Micro blog post. It starts installing when the screen switches off – sneaky.
link to this extract


Artificial intelligence is helping the blind to recognize objects • Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

»

To train the iPad app, you place things in front of the device’s camera at several angles, telling it about the items. Then you repeat the process, taking the objects away, so the app recognizes the difference. On subsequent occasions, it will be able to distinguish, say, your set of keys from another set of keys. “It’s like a new born baby—it’s learning all the time as you show it objects,” Marczak says. Probably the training would be done by a family member or friend.

The second app, called Aipoly, does something similar. It’s sophisticated enough to recognize clothing and colors, even in abstract works of art.

Marczak says ID Labs is working with visually impaired support groups to improve the EyeSense app, which is free to download (versions for Android and other phones are due soon). It also works offline if necessary.

«

link to this extract


Google Maps gets a new, 700-trillion-pixel cloudless satellite map • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

More than 1 billion people use Google Maps every month, making it possibly the most popular atlas ever created. On Monday, it gets a makeover, and its many users will see something different when they examine the planet’s forests, fields, seas, and cities.

Google has added 700 trillion pixels of new data to its service. The new map, which activates this week for all users of Google Maps and Google Earth, consists of orbital imagery that is newer, more detailed, and of higher contrast than the previous version.

Most importantly, this new map contains fewer clouds than before—only the second time Google has unveiled a “cloudless” map. Google had not updated its low- and medium-resolution satellite map in three years.

The improvements can be seen in the new map’s depiction of Christmas Island. Almost a thousand miles from Australia, the island was largely untouched by human settlement until the past two centuries. Its remoteness gives it a unique ecology, but—given its location in the middle of the tropical Indian Ocean—it is frequently obscured by clouds. The new map clears these away.

«

link to this extract


Xbox Fitness sunset announcement • Microsoft Studios


»

Since November 2013, Xbox Fitness has allowed you to experience the world’s best workouts with famous trainers, right in the comfort of your own home. As a service, Xbox Fitness has continually evolved since it launched on Xbox One, with new content and ongoing updates. Given the service relies on providing you with new and exciting content regularly, Microsoft has given much consideration to the reality updating the service regularly in order to sustain it. Therefore, the decision has been made to scale back our support for Xbox Fitness over the next year, and we want to provide our users with a timeline of the changes you will see.

«

What chances for the Microsoft Band’s future?
link to this extract


EU set to issue fresh formal antitrust charges against Google • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal shortly before the Android announcement, Ms. Vestager said the agency was “advancing” its investigations into whether Google is abusing its dominance with its advertising service, an area of concern first outlined under her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia.

The investigation in advertising hits at a lucrative area of business for Google, which accounted for 90% of the tech firm’s $75 billion in revenue last year.

At issue is whether the company prevents or obstructs website operators from placing ads on their websites that compete with Google’s advertising business.

The EU is also looking into whether Google restricts advertisers that use Google’s auction-based advertising service, where they bid for the placement of ads on search result pages, from moving to other search advertising platforms.

«

In Europe it doesn’t rain, but it pours for Google. The UK is still part of the EU, so any decision would still be implemented over the next two years at least.
link to this extract


Google’s cars need a clear road map to revenue • The Information

Amir Efrati considers partnership (vehicle makers won’t do it), licensing (vehicle makers won’t do it), and suggests what’s left:

»

One natural path for Google is to reach consumers directly with an internet-based service. That’s its DNA. We know that Google’s car designers have thought long and hard about operating a “robo taxi” service to allow people to order cars on demand. It’s likely to go down that kind of path; its leaders have talked up the benefits of reducing car ownership so that one car could be used by many people throughout the day and night. Perhaps there will be subscription-type offerings that guarantee customers a pickup within a certain period of time, rather than the Uber-type system in which pickup times and prices can vary based on customer demand or driver availability.

By not needing to pay drivers, which represent the single biggest expense in ride-hailing, Google could price such a service below those run by Uber and other firms and build up its own customer base. But first, Google would need to produce these cars and get them deployed. Making thousands of new cars per year, particularly advanced models that have never been mass-produced before, would be a tough and expensive undertaking. Just ask Tesla how hard it is to make thousands of cutting-edge electric vehicles in a year.

«

“Go-to-market” is the big important step between “have a great idea” and “make pots of money from great idea”.
link to this extract


Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google • The Guardian

Mark Harris:

»

Sidewalk Labs, a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet, wants to radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities, emails and documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

Its high-tech services, which it calls “new superpowers to extend access and mobility”, could make it easier to drive and park in cities and create hybrid public/private transit options that rely heavily on ride-share services such as Uber. But they might also gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, experts fear.

Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.

Using public records laws, the Guardian obtained dozens of emails and documents submitted to Challenge cities by Sidewalk Labs, detailing many technologies and proposals that have not previously been made public.

«

Harris is one of the best journalists out there; he keeps finding out stuff in these areas long before anyone else.
link to this extract


We don’t know jack about the next iPhone • iMore

Michael Gartenberg:

»

Since I worked at Apple, I’m often asked what employees think behind closed doors when they see these rumors and read the debates. The answer is, not much. Maybe a smile, maybe a sigh if the conversations are particularly off base, or if they miss the point entirely about what might finally be announced.

I have no doubt there are all sorts of prototype iPhones floating around the labs, some with headphone jacks and some without. Some with LCD displays and some with AMOLED. Some with… well, I could go on and on.

And that’s the real point. We could go around and around on any rumor, but for now, all of them, and all the debate around them, are like that tale told by that idiot:

Full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

«

link to this extract


Microsoft still believes hand tracking is the future of PC input • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft wants to move beyond the keyboard and mouse to power the interfaces of the future. While the software maker has been investing in voice recognition and augmented reality scenarios, Microsoft’s research division has made some significant progress with hand tracking. Researchers are working on software that will allow virtual environments to track and recognize detailed hand motion. The breakthroughs could apply to virtual reality headsets, or just the ability to more accurately control virtual objects on a screen.

Microsoft is presenting some of it work at two academic research conferences this summer, offering a closer look at what might be our virtual future. Microsoft is focused on improving the accuracy of hand tracking, while reducing the amount of power required to process complex movements. “We’re getting to the point that the accuracy is such that the user can start to feel like the avatar hand is their real hand,” says Jamie Shotton, a principal researcher in computer vision at Microsoft’s UK research lab. “This has been a research topic for many, many years, but I think now is the time where we’re going to see real, usable, deployable solutions for this,” Shotton said.

«

Unconvinced. How does it determine the difference between an intentional gesture and an unintentional one?
link to this extract


Amazon to add dozens of brands to Dash buttons, but do shoppers want them? • WSJ

Sharon Terlep and Greg Bensinger:

»

Several consumer-product executives said they have signed up for the gadget largely to ensure their brands maintain close ties to Amazon. The venture is more vital as a marketing tool than a product-delivery system, they said.

“It may not be the most intuitive feature,” said Ken McFarland, director of e-commerce for Seventh Generation Inc., which has Dash buttons for its cleaning products and diapers. “But Amazon is trying so many things and you don’t want to miss out on the ones that work. You want to be out there if it does happen to be a hit.”

Companies pay Amazon $15 for each button sold and 15% of each Dash product sale, atop the normal commission, which typically ranges from 8% to 15%, the people familiar with the matter said.

For their part, consumers pay $5 per button, though Amazon sweetens the deal by offering a $5 rebate for every button. The rebate is good toward the first purchase using that button. Only members of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime membership are eligible to use the Dash buttons.

Helping expand Dash’s ranks: Amazon dropped a hefty buy-in fee of around $200,000 required of the first companies that signed up, according to people familiar with the terms.

«

This resembles supermarkets charging companies to get their goods visible on shelves shoppers frequent – except here, the shelves are inside the shopper’s home. “Fewer than half” who have one have used it, according to Slice Intelligence, at a rate of about once every two months. The other bugbear? You don’t know what the price of what you’re summoning with a push is.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

It’s dark out there: the Q1 2016 smartphone scorecard


It’s all a bit murky in the smartphone market right now. Photo by Moyan_Brenn on Flickr.

The arrival of 2016, and the dramatic slowdown in the smartphone market in the US and China, is putting brand new pressures on the bigger players, though more noticeably on the smaller ones.

Inasmuch as nobody who isn’t Samsung, Apple or (I think) Huawei is making money at scale from smartphones. All of the “small big” players such as LG, Sony, Lenovo/Motorola, HTC, and – I’m fairly certain – Xiaomi are losing money. Of the first four named above, their collective loss on smartphones in Q1 2016 was $850m (all prices are given in US$ throughout); and for Xiaomi, which sold fewer than in the same period in 2015, at an ASP (average selling price) below everyone else including Lenovo/Motorola, it’s hard to see that it could have scraped a profit.

Not only that, but Apple finally came under pressure: both its smartphone shipments fell (despite a fair bit of inventory stuffing) and so did its ASP, from over $690 in the fourth quarter to just over $640 in this one, the lowest value since it introduced the larger-screened 6 series phones in September 2014.

Samsung meanwhile sailed along, pushing almost as many phones out of the door and seeing only mild erosion year-on-year of ASPs. Notably, Samsung’s profits were their highest since the second quarter of 2014 – helped, surely, by the decision to push the Galaxy S6 flagship out before the quarter ended.

So first the numbers.

Q1 2016: the smartphone scorecard

* denotes estimate: explanations below

Company Handsets
(million)
Revenues Handset
ASP
Operating
profit
Per-handset
profit
Samsung 81.9 $24.25bn $242.48* $3.5bn $42.75*
Apple 51.2 $32.86bn $641.83 $9.17bn* $179.06*
Huawei 27.5 $5.72bn $208 positive? positive?
LG 13.5 $2.67bn $197.57 –$224.64m –$16.64
Lenovo/Motorola 11 $1.74bn $159.36 –$105m –$9.55
Sony 3.4 $3.64bn $473.32 –$372.2m –$109.47
HTC 2.5* $0.46bn $182.80* –$148m –$59.20*
Microsoft
Mobile
2.3 $0.50bn* $217.20* –$154m* –$67*

Assumptions:
Samsung: featurephones (estimated 18.1m of them) sold for $15, made a profit of $0 each. If their ASP is higher, the ASP of the smartphones is lower; if their profit is higher, the per-handset profit for smartphones is lower. For tablets, the assumption is the 6m shipped had an ASP of $200, and show zero profit. If they sell for a higher price, phone ASPs are lower; if they make a profit, per-handset profit is lower.

Apple: profit margin per handset of 28%. This is a longstanding historical figure worked by analysts better at this stuff than me. It will actually vary by quarter, depending on phone mix, how new the phones are, and storage (more storage = better profit margin). But this is a usable rule of thumb.

LG: sells no appreciable number of tablets, and doesn’t make a profit or loss on them. (In Q1 2015 it shipped 1.4m tablets, which didn’t have an appreciable effect on anything.)

HTC: shipments had to be estimated based on its (woeful) revenues. I’ve said previously that I don’t think HTC will ever make a profit again in smartphones, and nothing I’m seeing makes me feel I was wrong.

Microsoft Mobile: featurephones (15.7m of them) had an ASP of $15, and made zero profit. Lower featurephone ASP would mean higher smartphone ASP. Any profit would mean more losses for smartphone handsets. Lots has to be assumed about Microsoft’s handset business, including gross margin (I assumed $50m on its $500m smartphone sales – possibly generous), and R+D costs and sales/general/administrative costs (assumed $50m and $75m respectively). The numbers still don’t work in its favour, even though a year ago those figures were over $500m together.

There’s one other notable Microsoft comment in its 10-Q: “Patent licensing revenue decreased 26%, due to a decline in licensed units and license revenue per unit.” That would be Android handsets paying a licence. Whether that’s due to Huawei rising and not having a patent deal isn’t clear. But it’s one to watch.

Discussion: gravitational pull

The takeaways from this only become clear once you look at the longer-term trends. Android OEMs losing money isn’t new, though Lenovo’s continuing inability to turn Motorola into a money-making (or “not money-losing”) proposition suggests that some things are eternal.

To do that, we have to graph what has happened since 4Q 2015 (the first quarter for which I began collecting this data.)

First though, the handset landscape – as in, how many handsets do these people shift? Best seen in graphical form, so you can get an idea of who’s rising, or falling, or what-the-helling.

Screenshot 2016 06 24 14 56 28

For phone ASPs, I’ll introduce a new measure – the “blended Android ASP”, which is the weighted average ASP, found by taking the available revenues for Android OEMs, and dividing by the total number of handsets shipped by those OEMs. Samsung tends to weigh heavily on this. I’ve included Xiaomi by assuming its ASP was $160 during 2015, falling to $157 in Q1, based on information from analysts. For Huawei, there’s no data except for Q1, when its ASP was $208.

Phone ASPs:

Screenshot 2016 06 24 14 31 15

This can be a little difficult to read, but you can see clear trends: Sony is the only company which is consistently raising its ASP. Even Apple is seeing a trend where it falls, while Microsoft in the past couple of quarters has done that. But for both, that has come at the cost of, well, profit.

Let’s see if when you compare the ASPs to the “blended” Android ASP, so you get an idea of how the prices change relative to the known ASPs. (This is not the ASP for all Android phones all over the world – for that you’d have to pay $$$$ for an analyst report from IDC or Gartner.)

Screenshot 2016 06 24 14 17 53

ASPs first: what’s pretty clear (and expected) is how far above the crowd Apple is; how Samsung’s figures tend to dominate the sector; how Sony’s are climbing; and how Xiaomi and Lenovo/Motorola are well below the crowd.

Sony has a strategy of raising ASPs in order to find profit somewhere, somehow, up there. Trouble is, it keeps not managing to. Microsoft ditto (perhaps). The problem they both have is that they’re selling fewer handsets over time, which makes profit harder to achieve because your fixed costs (overheads such as staff, administration, buildings etc) don’t shrink in the same way.

I’ve assumed that Xiaomi’s ASP was $160 throughout 2015; the figure for the first quarter of this year comes from IDC. That $160 figure makes sense: in June 2014, Bruce Einhorn at Bloomberg was comparing Huawei and Xiaomi (in a piece that seems prescient now) about Huawei’s insistence that it could be China’s top smartphone brand, and noted that

Huawei may not be able to compete with Xiaomi’s razzle-dazzle, but the Shenzhen-based Huawei has made big strides of its own in building its brand and making cool handsets. Last year it launched the Ascend PG, which Huawei said was the world’s slimmest smartphone, with a depth of just 0.24 inch (6.18 millimeters). In the first quarter of 2014, Huawei shipped 13.5 million smartphones, compared with Xiaomi’s 10 million, according to Bloomberg Industries. At $155.30, the average selling price for Huawei’s phones is slightly less than Xiaomi’s $159.60. And like Xiaomi, Huawei now sells most of its phones under its own brand. Three years ago, most of the handsets Huawei sold carried operators’ brands, with only 30% using Huawei’s own brand. Today, 95% of Huawei phones use the Huawei brand.

Note that Xiaomi’s ASP hasn’t shifted in those 18 months; by contrast, Huawei’s has rocketed, from that $155 to $208 now (according to IDC).

Profit: still mostly missing in action

For profit, the picture – unless you’re Apple or Samsung – remains unrelentingly grim. Although we don’t know how it looks for Huawei and Xiaomi.

For Huawei, its only known ASP (that I have; if anyone from IDC/Gartner wants to send more details, please do) is at a level where at best you’re breaking even. Given the colossal volume Huawei has managed in smartphones – it’s now the third biggest – it could have hit the economies of scale necessary to go past breakeven.

Xiaomi, meanwhile, is venture-funded, and selling at a very low ASP, and has seen sales go into reverse in the first quarter compared to the previous year. ASPs have followed. Even if you think that its model of selling online is clever, it’s hard to see that it would be making a profit. But we don’t know.

In the end: it looks dark

Looking at the handset shipment graphic, one would have to say that HTC, Sony and Microsoft are all heading towards the exit. They’re bigger than a lot of small players out there (OnePlus, Micromax, etc) but they’re trying to play on a global scale, and that’s very expensive. Even Lenovo, which is discarding Motorola parts as fast as it can, struggled in its home market of China and is now casting around for other places to sell.

LG seems to want to be in the game, but Xiaomi is challenging it, and Huawei has already overtaken it. All that is saving it is the fact that the smartphone business is part of a conglomerate that also makes air conditioners, washing machines, TVs and so on.

The really interesting one is Apple. Its ASP finally dropped – and by quite a bit. Its shipments fell – and again, by quite a bit (it only got where it is by stuffing the channel). Its per-handset profit dropped, in line with the ASP.

The question that keeps being asked is: how long can Apple stay above the fray? But the answer comes back, again and again: probably a lot longer than others can stay in the game.

Would you fund this?

If you were shown those graphics and asked who you’d like to be backing, it probably wouldn’t be Xiaomi; you’d want to be up there with Apple and Samsung, where the money is good and prices are high. But building a premium brand is the sort of thing that you wanted to start doing 30 years ago (at least).

I’ll admit I’m puzzled by the determination with which companies like Sony and LG and HTC stick to the smartphone business. If you’re losing money regularly, why do it? Perhaps it’s a fear of what comes afterwards – of the void beyond. Even BlackBerry is refusing to get out of the handset business, even though it barely generates gross margin on each handset (that is, hardly covers the costs of the actual device, never mind the sales/distribution/research process that gets it to someone).

Here in the UK we’re about to find out what #Brexit means; a leap into the void beyond. Maybe some smartphone makers are similarly worried about what happens if they stop making phones. Or it’s just too expensive to wind it all up, and safer to take small acceptable losses rather than big company-defining ones. (It’s the same approach that has seen once-big names in the PC business such as Toshiba simply rein in their distribution and manufacturing there.)

So maybe this is how the smartphone business ends for the companies which aren’t Apple and Samsung but which were early into the business: not with a bang, but a whimper.

Start up: Musk’s strange takeover, Apple’s cloud escapees, Gawker v Thiel redux, the Trump question, and more

Blade Runner: Sean Young and Harrison Ford in a Polaroid
Yes, OK, but what about the typography in the film? Photo by kaytaria on Flickr. (Where you can see a ton more Blade Runner Polaroids – all including Sean Young.)

Like many others already have, you could sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email.

A selection of 14 links for you. Yes, they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tesla makes offer to acquire SolarCity • Tesla Motors

Elon Musk:

»in March 2015, we launched Tesla Energy, which through the Powerwall and Powerpack allow homeowners, business owners and utilities to benefit from renewable energy storage.

It’s now time to complete the picture. Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun.

The SolarCity team has built its company into the clear solar industry leader in the residential, commercial and industrial markets, with significant scale and growing customer penetration. They have made it easy for customers to switch to clean energy while still providing the best customer experience. We’ve seen this all firsthand through our partnership with SolarCity on a variety of use cases, including those where SolarCity uses Tesla battery packs as part of its solar projects.

So, we’re excited to announce that Tesla today has made an offer to acquire SolarCity.

«

Guess who is a big shareholder in SolarCity?
link to this extract

 


April 2016: Elon Musk supports his business empire with unusual financial moves • WSJ

April 2016:

»Since October 2014, SolarCity Corp. has tried to lure individual investors to the solar-power business by pitching $214m of what it calls “solar bonds” through the company’s website.

The biggest buyer by far, though, was rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Inc., including $90m of $105m sold last month.

The bonds were an “excellent investment,” billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said in an interview. And he knows more about the companies than anyone. Mr. Musk is their largest shareholder, the chairman of SolarCity and chief executive of SpaceX.

«

Hmm.
link to this extract

 


Former Apple engineers escaped to create their own cloud startup • Recode

Arik Hesseldahl:

»One group of Apple network engineers led by Jason Forrester, now SnapRoute’s CEO, was detailed to a skunkworks effort to, as one source familiar with the assignment put it, “build something they couldn’t get from any existing networking vendor” — software that was powerful enough to meet Apple’s industrial-grade networking needs, but also flexible enough to allow frequent on-the-fly changes to respond to shifting demands.

As the work progressed, Forrester and his team chafed at their hidden role in the behemoth project. “Slowly, our desires to share our ideas with the world began to overshadow the thrill of working for Apple,” he wrote. They left their jobs last year and started SnapRoute.

SnapRoute makes software that helps companies manage their cloud systems, whether those systems are internal or external. Right now, if a company is overwhelmed with a sudden demand, such as a suddenly popular new app bringing in unprecedented numbers of photo uploads, it’s expensive and slow to change how the network works. SnapRoute’s software makes that switch quicker and cheaper.

The 20-person startup emerged from stealth mode last week with $4.5 million in venture capital investments led by Lightspeed Ventures.

«

link to this extract

 


Well….Google just announced at SMX that the 3-pack is going to start… • Google+

Joy Hawkins:

»Well….Google just announced at SMX that the 3-pack is going to start containing an ad soon. So instead of the 3-pack it’s going to be 1-ad + 2 organic listings. Yes, the ones right on Google search (not the expanded pack). Be prepared to try to get clients in the top 2 instead of the top 3!

«

Translation: in local search on mobile/desktop, there will be an ad (or two) above the maps, and then two organic results. Here’s a screenshot.

It’s the only way for Google to keep growing its ad revenues as mobile becomes bigger but the number of searches on it don’t grow.
link to this extract

 


Disdain for Gawker and praise for Thiel at Facebook’s stockholders meeting • BuzzFeed News

Alex Kantrowitz:

»Facebook shareholders (at least the ones not named Mark Zuckerberg) didn’t have a say in Peter Thiel’s reelection to Facebook’s board Monday, but it didn’t seem to matter. At Facebook’s annual stockholders meeting, shareholders applauded Zuckerberg’s move to reelect the controversial board member. Some even cheered Thiel on in his campaign to destroy Gawker.

Thiel is at once funding lawsuits against Gawker, a Facebook publishing partner, and serving as a delegate for Donald Trump, who after the Orlando shooting suggested the children of Muslim immigrants are a security threat to the United States. These positions, to some, may appear to conflict with Facebook’s mission “to make the world more open and connected.” Especially since Facebook is a critical source of traffic to publishers like Gawker, and publishers help fill Facebook’s News Feed with high-quality content. But to Zuckerberg, whose majority voting share means he has absolute power over these decisions, and to those in attendance, Thiel is still the right guy for the job.

«

link to this extract

 


You won’t be able to sue the next Gawker • Medium

Cody Brown:

»If [Peter] Thiel is successful in destroying Gawker, he will martyrize them. The Hollywood movie that will come from this a few years from now is amazing to imagine. Social Network — The Sequel. Staring Jesse Eisenberg, Hulk Hogan, Donald Trump, and a series of tech billionaires with egos as thin as egg shells.

I now feel hesitant to bring up a point like this in a public forum. So many of those I know in the heart of Silicon Valley are thoughtful, deeply intelligent, interesting people but this is their blind spot. They have funded or built massive new institutions of social change without much scrutiny but the scrutiny is finally coming and they don’t know how to handle it. They will cut you out or block you for even engaging. Paul Graham and a partner at Andreessen Horowitz unfollowed after I made a few tweets in support of Gawker. A single email from any of these guys could torpedo my next round of funding. I have more to lose than to gain by putting my name next to this.

And that’s the point.

If the price of dissent in Silicon Valley is too high, dissent will find a darker avenue. The next ValleyWag is likely to be more like WikiLeaks. It could be anonymous. It could be outside the jurisdiction of The United States. And it could use all the shiny tools of the web, Tor, bitcoin financing, Zeronet, the blockchain, to exist above the law.

«

link to this extract

 


Apple unlikely to make big changes for next iPhone • WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Eva Dou:

»The biggest planned change in this year’s phones is the removal of the headphone plug, which will make the phone thinner and improve its water resistance, said people familiar with that matter.

The Lightning connector will serve double-duty as a port for charging the phone and for connecting headphones, they said. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said he expects the new iPhone to be one millimeter thinner than the current iPhone.

Apple plans bigger design changes for 2017, the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. Those changes could include an edge-to-edge organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, screen and eliminating the home button by building the fingerprint sensor into the display, according to people familiar with the matter.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

«

So there will have to be some Extra Thing to make it worth plugging headphones into your Lightning connector. And as has been asked, how do you charge while listening to music?
link to this extract

 


Moto X designer will soon be ex Moto designer • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»Jim Wicks, the man responsible for the celebrated designs of the 2013 Moto X and 2014 Moto 360 smartwatch, is leaving the former Motorola after 15 years of loyal service. Having joined Motorola in 2001 after design lead roles at Sony and Sapient, Wicks was part of the leadership team that stayed on during the tumult of being taken over by Google and sold on to Lenovo. But this year has seen the Motorola name phased out from public use and Rick Osterloh, the previous chief of the company, departing to head up a new hardware unit at Google. Wicks is now following suit and moving into academia, joining Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute as a full-time faculty member.

«

As I’ve said before, I think Motorola won’t make another Android Wear smartwatch. It’s dead, Jim. The gutting of Motorola – well, that’s corporate life.
link to this extract

 


Facebook scraps in-video links to other sites • BBC News

»Video-makers can still add a link to the text that appears at the top or bottom of native video posts. However, this does not appear if the video is being watched in full-screen mode, and will therefore be missed if a user is allowing one clip to auto-play after another.

A “click for more” link does still appear superimposed over videos viewed on PCs.
However, it now makes the clips appear larger rather than directing users to third-party websites, as had been the case before.

Many broadcasters – including the BBC – upload shortened versions of their material in order to direct audiences to the full versions on their own sites.

Others, such as al-Jazeera’s AJ+ service, are content to build awareness for their brands by making clips for the social media platform without trying to send users to their sites.

Facebook itself has an incentive to discourage audiences from leaving as this allows it to show them more ads.
“This is further evidence that having eaten the audiences for newspapers, Facebook is now keen to stifle the audiences for broadcasters,” commented Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University London, and a former editor of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Times.

«

Facebook is becoming an inescapable gravity well for publishers.
link to this extract

 


Now examining: Blade Runner • Typeset In The Future

Dave Addey goes into another of his deliciously detailed examinations of the fonts, symbols and typefaces (those are different, right?) in this iconic film. Previous efforts have looked at Moon and Alien. The latter was, like this, directed by Ridley Scott, and Addey notices something odd in an early scene when Deckard gets into a VTOL “Spinner”:

»The Spinner’s landscape-orientation TV shows a display that may be familiar to regular TITF readers:

This ENVIRON CTR PURGE display is identical to the one we saw in Alien, just before the Nostromo exploded :

As if that wasn’t enough self-plagiarism, Ridley Scott also steals a second display from his earlier sci-fi masterpiece.

«

There’s your lunchtime reading sorted.
link to this extract

 


Refugee rescue app pulled from App Store after it is outed as fake • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»An app which purported to offer aid to refugees lost in the Mediterranean has been pulled from Apple’s App Store after it was revealed as a fake.

The I Sea app, which also won a Bronze medal at the Cannes Lions conference on Monday night, presented itself as a tool to help report refugees lost at sea, using real-time satellite footage to identify boats in trouble and highlighting their location to the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas), which would provide help.

In fact, the app did nothing of the sort. Rather than presenting real-time satellite footage – a difficult and expensive task – it instead simply shows a portion of a static, unchanging image. And while it claims to show the weather in the southern Mediterranean, that too isn’t that accurate: it’s for Western Libya.

The app was developed by Grey Group, an ad agency in Singapore that’s part of global advertising giant WPP.

«

Read on for complete and absolute bull spouted by Grey’s executive creative director about “algorithms”. Shameful, and shameless.
link to this extract

 


How Is Donald Trump going to quit? • Gawker

Ashley Feinberg lays out four scenarios, of which this one – during the convention – strikes me as possible:

»Remember, absolutely everything Donald Trump does is about A) creating an appearance of having won and B) getting as much positive attention as humanly possible. To succeed in this scenario, Trump needs something huge to take everybody’s mind off the fact that he’s backing out of the presidency. Trump needs to announce Trump TV.

Or the Trump News Network or Trump Broadcasting or Der Stürmer or whatever he decides to call it. This way, Trump gets to turn the Republican National Convention, where virtually every media outlet in the nation has gathered, into a press conference for the launch of his very own television network.

As Vanity Fair pointed out, his whole campaign has basically been building to this point. His constant bashing of the media certainly must mean he thinks he can do it better. And to his credit, Trump does have a knack for commanding a national audience. Why bother being President, a job he neither wants nor is qualified for, when he can do the only part he actually enjoys (screaming things on television) for the rest of his life?

«

link to this extract

 


The weird story behind the Trump campaign’s $35,000 payment to ‘Draper Sterling’ • ThinkProgress

Judd Legum on money paid to a company that oddly has the same name as the famous fictitious ad guys:

»[Jon] Adkins co-founded the medical device company with Paul Holzer, a former Navy Seal and current medical student at Dartmouth. Holzer was involved in Charlie Baker’s run for governor in 2014 — he ran the campaign’s “voter contact strategy.” He was also part of the “management and strategy team” for Missourians For John Brunner, a candidate for governor.

Trump paid an additional $3,000 each to Holzer and Adkins in May for “field consulting.” Holzer listed Adkins’ home as his address.

This is when things get interesting.

The only other apparent public mention of Draper Sterling effectively accuses it of being a scam that helps perpetrate legally questionable activity.

It comes from an FEC complaint against an entity called “Patriots For America,” a federal super PAC seeking to influence the Missouri governor’s race. The complaint, filed on May 12 by an economics professor named Aaron Hedlund, alleges that Patriots For America listed no receipts or disbursements on its FEC filings, yet sent out direct mail.

It also highlights an unusual debt of $56,234 to “Draper Sterling LLC” for “business consulting.” Hedlund describes the debt as “mysterious,” “highly unusual” and a potential violation of the law.

«

There’s usually something a bit fishy around presidential campaigns, but this is just weird. I find the Trump campaign’s (“campaign’s”) shenanigans endlessly fascinating because it’s like a clown car being driven on a Formula 1 circuit. Bits are flying off all over the place.
link to this extract

 


Missing the boat in music • Asymco

Horace Dediu:

»how does a 15 million user base in 1 year compare with the growth rate for the incumbents Spotify and Pandora?

The following graph shows the ramps for Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music since their moments of market entry. The accumulation of users by Apple looks to be the fastest yet.

This is, of course, due to a maturing use case. Apple did not have to educate people to the notion of music as a subscription. It could just announce it and users would discover it and just sign up, especially if they were already iCloud subscribers and had a credit card attached to their iTunes account.

But that’s the whole point. Apple did not have to move first in music subscriptions. It did not even have to move second or third. When it did move it could just skim the market and add to its already healthy Services revenue (orange line in the first graph above.) Missing the boat in music in this case meant capturing all the value quickly and with minimal expense.

Fundamentally, Apple’s entry into music subscriptions was a sustaining effort. Streaming sustained Apple rather than disrupting it. The difference may seem merely one of semantics, but it is also the difference between life and death for a challenger. Meaning matters.

«

Some discussion in the comments about whether streaming is a disruptive innovation after all, rather than sustaining. My own comment there is that it depends on surrounding preconditions, which have taken years to come right.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Twitter gets AI too, Apple’s photo AI, would Brexit raise roaming prices?, Spotify’s 100m, and more


Presenting! It can be so easy, but can be so bad. Photo by Alice Bartlett on Flickr.

You might sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Unless you already did.

A selection of 12 links for you. Now that the summer solstice has passed in the northern hemisphere. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alicia Keys is done playing nice. Your phone is getting locked up at her shows now. • The Washington Post

Geoff Edgers:

»On a cool Manhattan night, DJ Walton, who helps manage Alicia Keys, steps outside the Highline Ballroom to tell the guy at the door who, exactly, he may allow to bring a cellphone into the singer’s sold-out gig. The list is very short.

“Like, Queen Latifah,” says Walton.

Benji Spanier nods and spreads the news to everybody else. This is a “phone-free event,” he tells fans waiting in line. And that doesn’t mean airplane mode. Spanier holds a gray, rubbery pouch in his hand. Your phone goes in here, he says, and then we lock it.

“What?” one fan grumbles.

Quickly, Spanier adds an important addendum.

You keep that locked pouch with you. Spanier also explains that if you need to use your phone, you can just come outside and he can quickly unlock it by tapping it on a metal disk slightly larger than a bagel. The tension breaks.

“If you had told me you were going to put it in a locker, I’d have been pissed off,” Kevin Schmidt, 37, tells him. “This is okay.”

«

Special pouch, called Yondr. Good business for them.
link to this extract

 


Did Jeep’s recalled gear shifter contribute to the death of Star Trek Actor Anton Yelchin? (Updating) • Jalopnik

David Tracy:

»Earlier today, we learned about the tragic death of Anton Yelchin after the Star Trek actor was found pinned between his car and a mailbox. Now news from TMZ indicates that Yelchin’s car was a Jeep Grand Cherokee, leading us to wonder whether it was among the 1.1 million cars recalled in April due to a confusing shifter that owners often inadvertently left in neutral instead of park. [Update: it was.]

In mid April, Jeep recalled 1.1 million vehicles equipped with ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission because, according to the automaker’s recall notice, “Some drivers… exited their vehicles without first selecting ‘PARK,’” ultimately causing the cars to roll away uncontrollably.

«

Lots of maybes, but this looks like a case where poor design led to death.
link to this extract

 


Twitter buys machine learning start-up Magic Pony • FT.com

Hannah Kuchler:

»Twitter has acquired Magic Pony, a London-based machine learning start-up, as the messaging platform tries to bolster its video and live streaming capabilities.

Magic Pony specialises in creating algorithms that can understand pictures, which could be helpful to Twitter as it pushes further into live streaming and moves away from a chronological timeline to a more curated Facebook-style news feed.

The startup was set up in 2014 and has 14 engineers, including 11 with PhDs and expertise across computer vision, the ability to understand pictures, machine learning and computational neurosciences…

Twitter acquired Magic Pony for an undisclosed sum. Its investors include Octopus Ventures, a UK-based venture capital firm that has invested in other artificial intelligence companies. These include Evi, which was acquired by Amazon, and SwiftKey, which was bought by Microsoft.

«

Airplanes to San Francisco await the chief executive Rob Bishop. Congratulations to that team.
link to this extract

 


Speaker style bingo: 10 presentation anti-patterns • Troy Hunt

Hunt nails the ten awful habits of speakers you wish hadn’t got the slot you’re attending, and offers this advice:

»seriously, you’ve got to rehearse these things like crazy and also recognise that your pace changes between private rehearsals and public presentations. On that point, I always have a timing sheet in large letters next to my iPad with a timer in an easily glanceable location:

This is invaluable. I refine the timing on subsequent rehearsal and ensure it’s accurate to the minute with two or three minutes to spare at the end just in case I start late or have an issue. I glance at it very few minutes and either slow down the pace (usually by embellishing on a topic) or speed it up to get back on track. But here’s the key – this has to be something you can check with a glance.

«

Then again, I think all of us who have spoken in public could do a similar one about the audience – the ones checking their phones, checking their laptops, etc.
link to this extract

 


Behind Apple’s advanced computer vision for Photos app • Medium

Kay Yin:

»[iOS 10’s] Photos app recognises and distinguishes the following 7 facial expressions. Expressions are distinguished after forming a “faceprint”. These distinction are used for searching. They are also rated and indexed for generation Memories and montages.
•Greedy, Disgust, Neutral, Scream, Smiling, Surprise, Suspicious

Photos app will generate Moments that falls within the following 33 categories. Default name of the moment will be automatically generated using metadata from the photos and tags from analysis of photos.

• Memories from areas of interest, Best of past memories, Memories that break out of routine, Celebration in history, Contextual memories, Crowd, Day in history, Holiday in history, Location of interest, Nearby, New contextual memories, New memories, Person’s Birthdays, Person’s memories, Recent events (calendar, crowd, holiday, people, person, social, trip, weekend), Region of interest, Social group memories, Sometime memories, Special memories, Favourited, Trips, Week in history, Weekend, Year summary, Last week, Last Weekend

Photos app supports detecting 4,432 different scenes and objects. These scenes or objects can be searched for in all languages.

Additionally, you can search for various landmarks.

«

He doesn’t specify how he knows this – possibly from using the macOS beta and digging into the accompanying files. It seems like a limited number compared to what Google must have; Google’s scenes/objects list is probably growing by 4,432 every day.
link to this extract

 


Could Brexit result in higher roaming charges? • CCS Insigh

Kester Mann:

»Should the UK vote for Brexit, mobile operators would no longer be accountable to Brussels’ regulation on roaming. Under pressure from declining revenue in traditional areas such as voice and messaging, they would be foolish not to at least consider seizing an opportunity to reapply charges.

In reality however, this would be much easier said than done in a hugely competitive market that includes a number of strong virtual providers. Indeed, some operators have already gone a long way toward abolishing roaming ahead of the ruling next June. Backtracking would be extremely unpopular and probably only work if operators moved in unison. Even then, Ofcom may still be within its rights to clamp down if it deemed the move unnecessary.

Already more than 3 million customers of Three have taken advantage of inclusive roaming since the operator launched its Feel at Home offer in 2013. Significantly, it includes popular tourist and business destinations beyond Brussels’ jurisdiction, such as Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the US. In my view, this demonstrates a long-term strategy to offer low-cost roaming charges, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Other UK providers have followed suit. Carphone Warehouse currently offers inclusive roaming in 29 countries, including Australia and the US, through its virtual service, iD. Meanwhile, Vodafone last month moved to largely abolish roaming across Europe. Tesco Mobile has a similar offer, although it is only available during the summer, a possible indication that it will review its options after the UK goes to the polls.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this debate is Swisscom’s recent decision to virtually abolish roaming within the EU for its Natel Infinity Plus subscribers. Given that Switzerland is not a member state and has a hugely dominant market position, this was a surprising move that suggests the value of roaming may be overestimated by some commentators.

«

(My family loves Three’s “Feel At Home” international roaming for no extra cost.)
link to this extract

 


One million machines, including routers, used to attack banks • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

»Akamai’s Ryan Barnett reports on two attacks against the service’s financial customers last year: attackers used nearly 1m compromised systems to attempt to log in to users’ accounts using logins and passwords from earlier breaches.

Many of the attacks originated from proxies, but the response team found a high number of Xyxel and Arris home routers – provided by ISPs in an insecure state and not patched after deployment.

While distributed attacks are common, this story is a kind of trifecta of infosec badness: hacked, headless IoT devices rented to customers who aren’t allowed to reconfigure them; email/password breaches leaked from insecure services being leveraged on the assumption of password re-use; and attacks originating from a million IPs – all directed to financial accounts in a way that could clean out its victims of their life’s savings.

«

There must come a point where the sheer firepower is going to overwhelm any protection, surely? And what happens after that? Here’s the full Akamai report.
link to this extract

 


Get more out of your battery with Microsoft Edge • Windows Experience Blog

Jason Weber, director of Web platform team, Microsoft Edge:

»We connected a Surface Book to specialized power monitoring equipment and measured the actual power usage during typical browsing activities in Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. We then automated each browser to perform the same series of activities: opening websites, scrolling through articles, and watching videos, opening new tabs for each task. We used the same websites you spend your time on – Facebook, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia and more.

Average power consumption in milliwatts for identical workloads in Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera (with battery saver mode enabled). Unless specified, all browser settings were left at their defaults.

For these browsing activities, our tests show Microsoft Edge is a more energy efficient browser on Windows 10, with up to 36%-53% more battery life to get what you need done —whether you’re studying at the library, researching dream vacation destinations, or checking in with your friends on social networks.

«

Bet Apple would get the same for Safari on an Apple machine. Chrome is a battery hog – no two ways about it.
link to this extract

 


Google vs. Apple: contrasting approaches to app store evolution • Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh:

»Instant Apps and Google Now On Tap are mildly interesting products when looked at individually. But when combined, they have the potential to reshape the app interaction model as we know it. That said, this is a risk because a change on this scale will take quite a bit of time to diffuse through to developers and consumers at scale. But if executed correctly, app downloads could be a thing of the past within five years.

Now let’s take a look at Apple’s approach to the app store. Apple appears to be doubling down on the existing app distribution / discovery paradigm. The only change on this front was the introduction of app store search ads (which have been available on Google Play for a year, with no major impact). Instead, Apple’s major announcements focused on subscription-based revenue models to help developers better monetize digital content. Of course, it also helps that app revenue is the lone bright spot for the company as iPhone sales continue to decline.

Apple’s moves will certainly improve monetization in certain app store categories, notably Productivity, but it could hardly be called a drastic change to the app store model. This serves some developer needs, but it does not solve the app discovery challenge faced by consumers and the conversion rate issue that plagues developers. Time will tell if this was the right approach.

«

Is app monetisation more important for developers, or being able to get their apps onto peoples’ devices? The latter is comparatively easy, though neither is a cakewalk. Apple seems to be focussing first on the former, and fixing that quickly. Though Google could follow it quickly too.
link to this extract

 


Spotify monthly active user base reaches 100 million • Reuters

Mia Shanley:

»Swedish music streaming service Spotify said on Monday its user base had grown to 100 million, up from 75 million previously, as it pushed into new markets and despite competition from the likes of Apple Music.

Spotify has the music streaming industry’s biggest paid subscriber base, with 30 million users paying to listen, but the vast majority still tune in for free with commercial breaks.

Competition is fierce with Apple Music launched just last year and already claiming 13 million paid users while Alphabet’s Google competes with Google Music and Youtube.

«

Apple claimed last week to have 15 million subscribers – time to update the database, Reuters. Quite how it counts them (is each member of a family membership a “subscriber”, or only the main paying member?) isn’t yet clear.

What is clear is that Spotify can’t let a single Apple Music statistic go past without upping the ante. Notably, that 30m paid subscriber number hasn’t shifted since it released it in March. Possibly it is being conservative with its numbers, and only releasing bigger subscriber numbers when it needs to.

A related problem: those 70m non-paying listeners have to be monetised through advertising, and that growing inventory (= ad spots to fill) inevitably means falling ad prices, which means worse losses.
link to this extract

 


#THEDAO: Failing fast vs Failing unnecessarily • Preston J. Byrne

Byrne is extremely unimpressed with the setup which allowed millions of dollars worth of Ethereum cryptocurrency to be drained away, unlike some VCs who are saying “ooh, it’ll get fixed next release!”:

»Having lawyers – or legal-coders- involved in this is absolutely critical. The future doesn’t belong to the guy who just slings code or the guy who does the front-office function, but someone who can bridge the gap and do both – bringing the best of Silicon Valley’s approach to life to the professional services which run the rest of the world, and doing so in a way which gybes with local rule-frameworks. (Note, I run into this all the time when speaking with the banks – architects and front-office guys aren’t accustomed to talking to each other, or even considering themselves as part of the same team. I suspect this is a large contributor to most banks’ heaps of technical debt.)

Bridging the gap becomes especially important if you want to take your idea and turn it into an investable business, as many Solidity programmers do.

With respect to the DAO, there was a similar breakdown in communication – only this time between the wider community and the developers doing the codeslinging. Serious professional objections, from persons extremely well-versed on every layer of this conceptual stack, were made known very early. And not “this is a silly idea which will never work” kinds of objections, but “this is technically bankrupt and flies in the face of all best practice for what you are attempting to do” kinds of objections.

«

I still find the story around this impenetrable, but Byrne’s angry headshaking sounds like what ought to be the reaction.
link to this extract

 


Top ten reasons to doubt Trump is even a billionaire • Talking Points Memo

Josh Marshall, with the aforesaid ten, of which this is striking:

»During the research for his book Timothy o’Brien received estimates of Trump’s wealth ranging from $250m to $788m. Trump himself originally told O’Brien he was worth between $4b and $5b before dramatically revising down his estimate to $1.7 billion the same day. If we take $250m, $788m and $1.7b together and rough average them out we can get around $1 billion circa 2004/05. Today Trump claims he is worth $10 billion. This would require a tenfold run up in Trump’s wealth over roughly a decade. Even if we take Trump’s own estimate of $1.7 billion it would require a five fold run up over a decade. The problem is that Trump hasn’t done anything over that period that would account for that kind of wealth accumulation. Trump does very few major building projects these days and the few he does he does mainly with other people’s money. After the bankruptcy crises of 25 years ago, Trump shifted his business model from high profile real estate development to licensing and television. He licenses his name for hotels, buildings and golf courses on the high end and steaks, water, ties and more on the low end. This probably generates a massive amount of income for us mortals. But not many billions of dollars over a decade.

«

There must be a moment of truth, rather than truthiness, coming. Also: Trump fired his campaign manager on Monday. Things aren’t looking too clever.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Chromebooks: low-end disruption amid the PC collapse


Just a flesh wound? Scan by fae on Flickr.

Revenues are draining out of the PC business like blood from someone who has come off worse in a swordfight in Game Of Thrones. According to the data I’ve collected from the top four Windows PC OEMs which publish financial data – HP, Lenovo, Asus and Acer (but not Dell, because it has been a private company since September 2013) – there’s a steady drop in the total revenues in the Windows PC market.

Screenshot 2016 05 31 16 54 44

I calculate this from the recorded revenues from the companies, and then comparing that to the number of PCs they’ve shipped according to IDC, and the number of PCs shipped in the total market. Importantly, that number excludes Apple, where revenues show a less clear pattern:

Screenshot 2016 05 31 16 56 12

An update: I was asked to show the revenues for the companies. This comes from their company reports, and from IDC’s figures for PCs shipped. Note that IDC excludes Chromebooks and 2-in-1s; that would favour companies which sell either of those devices (as they get the revenue, but it doesn’t count against PCs shipped). Apple however doesn’t call its 2-in-1 a PC – it’s an iPad, and it puts it in that category (which isn’t measured here).

Average PC revenues by OEM, by quarter

Note how Acer’s figure is falling faster than the overall trend.

What’s noticeable there is how Acer’s revenue per PC keeps sliding. Asus, meanwhile, has staged a recovery, along with HP. And Apple sails above the lot.

If you look at operating profits for the Windows PC OEMs, the picture is again a little clouded, but there’s a clear general trend over the past couple of years: after heaving themselves out of a bad period in mid-2012 to the end of 2013, there was a sudden uptick in their fortunes in 2014 when the end of Windows XP heralded a burst of spending by corporations on new PCs. Since then, though, decline has set in again.

Screenshot 2016 05 31 16 55 59

Note this is a weighted average: Lenovo sells more machines, and is more profitable, so that pulls up the average.

(The past couple of years don’t include Dell, which went private in late 2013, and hasn’t published revenues or profits that can be precisely tied to PC shipments since. Some figures did surface earlier this month, but on putting them into my past data for Dell they suggested that PC revenues had soared beyond a level of any other company. I think that instead Dell has changed its reporting structure, and mixes services revenue with PC revenue.)

That might look healthy enough, but in fact the operating margins vary from around 5% (Lenovo) and 4% (HP Inc) to 1.3% (Acer). If you look further down the chain, to companies like Fujitsu and Toshiba, their PC businesses are shrinking in size and making operating losses. I’d be surprised if Samsung is doing better than breaking even on its much-reduced PC business, which has roughly halved in revenue since the end of 2014 to just under $600m per quarter; at the average price of PCs, that’s about 1.2m units per quarter.

We don’t know Apple’s operating profits on PCs, but historically the figure has been just under 19% of PC revenues – which means that it has an operating margin roughly four times higher than any rival, while its average selling price (ASP) of $1,265 is more than double the $490 of the big players. On those figures, Apple sweeps up roughly half of all the profits in the PC industry.

But now change – more precisely, disruption – is on the horizon with the advent of Chromebooks capable of running Android apps – which will, crucially, include Microsoft Office.

Thin end, big wedge?

Credit to Tom Warren for spotting the story: Chromebooks outsold Macs for the first time in the US in the first quarter of 2016, shifting an estimated 2m against 1.76m Macs. It’s an important story, and one which I’ve been expecting for a long time: Chromebooks are beginning their low-end disruption of the PC market. This can only grow. The important question now is, who loses and who gains?

Sure, you can argue with the numbers – Apple doesn’t break down shipments for the US, and IDC has in the past got its totals wonky for the worldwide and US figures. But what’s mostly put some peoples’ noses out of joint about this data point is that Chromebook sales have been compared to Apple’s. That’s Google and Apple. The big rivalry in tech.

That’s because the only other two candidates for the “sold more than” metric by IDC’s data were Acer (0.71m shipped in the US) and Lenovo (1.92m in the US). But the trouble with doing that – “Chromebooks outsold Acer” or “Chromebooks outsold Lenovo” – is that (a) nobody cares (b) both Acer and Lenovo sell Chromebooks, so they’d be the ones outselling themselves.

Use “Apple” in the headline, though, and everyone’s happy: Apple doesn’t sell Chromebooks, and it’s a savoury tale.

But this an important story of low-end disruption. Clayton Christensen, who first formulated the theory, should be happy. Low-end disruption is the idea that long-developed, complex, expensive products are replaced at the low end by cheaper good-enough products which, while they can’t do everything the complex expensive ones can, are still fine for a segment of the market. Then the low-end products improve, as technology tends to, until they serve more and more of the market, driving the complex products further upmarket (to retain revenue as unit sales shrink). Eventually, in the limit, the high-end makers give up.

When Google announced the Chromebook in June 2011, I was agog. The potential for disruption was obvious – though at the time I thought it would be more popular with enterprises than education or consumers. On that basis, I thought they could chew away billions of dollars of Microsoft revenues and profits.

That didn’t happen, and the reasons why eluded me for some time, but it boiled down to a few things: enterprises often needed specific Windows-based apps; consumers were pretty happy buying Windows machines (or tablets, as happened with greater eagerness for a few years); schools wanted to experiment with tablets. Also, Chromebooks didn’t have Microsoft Office – which many businesses, and consumers, still see as essential to getting stuff done. Furthermore, ChromeOS was essentially a browser, and people need more than just a browser to do everything; witness the popularity of apps on smartphones and tablets.

Early lessons

In schools, though, Chromebooks were just the job. They were cheap; they didn’t need expensive software licences; they were easy to set up; and you could create web- or intranet-based content that the students could learn with. They were essentially laptop-lite. And that was fine. (My youngest child uses a Chromebook at school; the other uses his own laptop; the eldest, at the equivalent of high school final year, uses a school-issue iPad. Clearly, mileage varies a lot between schools.)

But now, with the impending arrival of Chromebooks that can run Office, the stage is set for low-end disruption to tear through the PC market, which is already struggling with the effects of consumers turning to tablets and smartphones in preference to PC upgrades.

Just as important is that PC OEMs may actually have good reasons to make Chromebooks in preference to Windows PCs. The research company Gartner recently pointed out that there are only two properly profitable niches in Windows PCs: high-end ultramobiles, which is the only segment showing revenue growth, and gaming PCs, which are tricked out with high-spec components (especially GPUs). For the rest, it’s a depressing slide towards the bottom.

Among the fixed costs for those PC OEMs is the Windows licence. But what if you could remove the cost of Windows from your bill of materials? The machine at once becomes more profitable. Though there is a fly in the ointment: to work well with Android apps, it will need a touchscreen, which is an expensive item.

Even so, you can see how a PC OEM trying to shore up their revenues and profits – which are increasingly hard to come by – would look for any new space they can. Chromebooks definitely look like that space.

However, I don’t expect it to disrupt Apple yet. The company most at risk from this is still Microsoft, because if people choose to use Chromebooks, it’s usually going to be in preference to Windows PCs. Apple remains the choice of the high-paying buyer – the segment, as noted above, which stays resistant for the longest.

The other question is which PC OEMs will stand to benefit most, or lose most, from the growth in Chromebooks. I think those which have high cost efficiencies, or can price higher based on brand, will benefit. Samsung has good cost efficiencies (it makes a lot of the stuff) even though its brand is weak in PCs, so could do well. Acer and Asus? Hard to say. HP makes money selling cheap PCs with value-added Microsoft deals, but could switch to doing cloud deals around ChromeOS. Lenovo, though, might have the most to lose if it can’t keep squeezing extra margin from selling Windows.

The fly in the ointment: iTunes

Ironically, there’s one potential barrier. It’s the most widely used Windows desktop program that isn’t available for Chromebooks: Apple’s iTunes. Given that tens of millions of people, at a conservative estimate, and perhaps more than 100 million still rely on iTunes to organise their music, and to sync their iPhones and iPads, the absence of iTunes for ChromeOS or Android could turn out to be a stumbling block on the road to total Windows disruption. (Notice how the most eager adopters of Chromebooks so far have been those which don’t need to manage iTunes. And Apple Music on Android is an app for the paid streaming service, not the music-you-own organiser.) It certainly didn’t help WindowsRT that iTunes wasn’t available for it.

Sure, I know and you know that people can and have been managing their iPhones and iPads and music and app libraries since 2011 using iCloud, without resource to iTunes. Don’t discount it, though. The generation which might find it easiest to live without is the first-time PC buyer. But even more problematic for Microsoft is that they just don’t seem to be buying PCs at all. It’s hard to see this Game Of Thrones ending well for Windows.