The axes of HomePod evolution: don’t judge what you can’t yet see


The MacBook Air, in an envelope just like it came in. Photo by yasuhisa yanagi on Flickr.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Apple’s HomePod, and the claim from Mark Gurman writing at Bloomberg that it “hasn’t lived up to expectations” in sales terms. Though if you ask analysts in the field, such as Ben Wood of CCS, they thought that 5 million in a year would be impressive. “Clearly my expectations were way lower than others,” commented Ben, which to me has echoes of the vastly inflated numbers that people expected smartwatches, and especially the Apple Watch, to sell, in the first year.

More relevant, I think, is the question of how the HomePod (or just “HomePod” – Apple never uses the definitive for its products, just as a parent wouldn’t for a child) is going to evolve.

And for that, it’s important to bear in mind how every single Apple product tends to evolve: from MVP, aka minimal viable product, to thing that people buy by the million.

Let’s go all the way back to the Bondi Blue iMac, from 1998, since that’s where the story of the modern Apple really begins. This was Apple trying to compete again in the PC market, and choosing to do so in an orthogonal way to pretty much everything else out there. It was all-in-one, it used USB (a new connector at the time), had no floppy drive (this alone was reckoned to spell its doom), and upgrading the RAM and hard drive was difficult.

But the next update showed the trajectory that Apple was on. The Bondi iMac gained colours, and it got more powerful, and added a DVD burner drive if you wanted. It didn’t revert to old connectors, but did add better sound.

iPod, youPod

Next, iPod.

Some of the iPod family – though there were more models and colours than this. Photo by Zengame on Flickr.

The first one was “expensive”, had a black and white and very pixel-y display, used a proprietary connector, had an unusual yet intuitive method for scrolling through songs, held 1,000 songs. As it evolved through the years, it generated variants that were smaller, had bigger and better screens, more memory, flash memory, but broadly the same controller and interface. (The iPod shuffle is like the Galapagos of iPods, but anyway.)

The MacBook Air (as at the top of the post). The first version had a very limited SSD drive, and underpowered processor. But it had those qualities of being thin and light and offering lots of battery power that people who could afford it really loved – especially when you compared to the average Windows laptop, which weighed tons more, had a DVD drive and floppy drive that road warriors in coffee shops didn’t need, and lasted much less long. You’d still recognise the first model today.

A calling for the iPhone


The iPhone X doesn’t look that different from the 6S, which doesn’t look that different from the original. Photo by Lucy Takakura on Flickr.

The iPhone is probably the poster child for MVP-ness. The first version’s software was limited (no MMS; no 3G; no text forwarding; no copy/paste), it was really expensive, its battery lasted a day when rival phones could last a week. But it could do so many things that others couldn’t, because of that touch screen and the concept of being a computer for your pocket, not a phone for your email. Subsequent versions have improved along pretty much every axis possible, apart from that battery life stuff (though the iPhone X is a big advance here).

The iPad. Look at these varieties.

iPad sizes have changed, but you’d still recognise the original if you’d only seen the newest, eight years on. Photo by MakeUseOf on Flickr.

The first version arrived in early 2010 and didn’t have a Retina screen (the iPhone 4, to be released later that year, would; but Retina screens at the size of an iPad were too expensive to contemplate for some time. What it did offer was something that wasn’t a PC trying to be squashed into a tablet form (which Dell and many others had been trying since 2001) and an approach to a big touch-driven screen that harked back to Jeff Haan’s remarkable TED demo of 2005. Since then, its screen has improved (hugely), it has gained an optional keyboard and pencil, and processor power has risen exponentially. But eight years on, the old and new look completely like siblings.

The Apple Watch. The first version could just about take you through a day if you didn’t exercise for too long. There has been plenty of tinkering with how the interface between apps works, but none with the basic concept of how you interact: lift-to-wake, or touches. The addition of GPS and phone data/calling has been welcomed, but if you hold the original Series 0 beside the latest Series 3, it’s essentially still the same thing: a device which hands off tasks from your phone to your wrist.

Bearing all this in mind, what should we expect from the HomePod’s evolution?

Again, look backward first. Look at the axes on which the previous devices evolved.
iMac:
Evolution: colour, extras, price, screen resolution, interfaces.
No evolution: size, shape.

iPod:
Evolution: colour, size, shape, control system, price, screen (colour-capable, video display-capable), output (to TV), interface (from proprietary Firewire, to 30-pin-Firewire and 30-pin USB, to Lightning; and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth in the iPod Touch), processor power.
No evolution: actually, pretty much everything about the iPod changed. (You could however argue that the iPod Touch is actually a cut-down iPhone, not an iPod, and that iPod evolution ended with the iPod shuffle of 2010 and iPod nano of 2012 – the latter being what some thought could be a precursor of an Apple wearable.)

MacBook Air:
Evolution: processor speed, screen size (smaller, never bigger than 13in), weight (reduced), disk size, price.
No evolution: screen quality (after all these years still isn’t Retina), shape, colour (there’s never been a black or rose gold MacBook Air; you want one, it’s aluminium).

iPhone:
Evolution: processor speed (duh), thickness, price, weight, colour, screen size, screen quality, login interface (from passcode to TouchID to FaceID), location capability (GPS, added in 2009’s iPhone 3GS), cameras (front-facing camera arrived on 2010’s iPhone 4).
No evolution: number of buttons (until the iPhone X, which removed the Home button), general interface, general portability, battery life

iPad:
Evolution: size, colour, processor speed, screen resolution, screen capability (Tru-Tone etc), price, functional accessories (Smart Keyboard, Pencil), interface (USB/30-pin to USB/Lightning).
No evolution: screen size ratio, battery life

Apple Watch:
Evolution: battery life, straps, GPS, 4G connectivity, price (by selling older models at lower prices, rather than having differently priced new models, as happened with the iPhone)
No evolution: screen size

All right. Bearing in mind all the above, how should we expect the HomePod hardware to evolve, and not to evolve?

An evolution before your eyes


A “HomePod evolution” concept. Photo by Martin Hajek on Flickr.

Softly spoken, software

Given the way that everything gains software capability, I expect it will gain the capability to play more services than just Apple Music. The ability to play Spotify (which is, don’t forget, the world’s biggest streaming music service) is an obvious piece of low-hanging fruit if you’re looking to tempt people to buy a better-sounding device. Remember, Apple is into hardware sales; Services may be the thing that it talks up, but hardware is the motor that drives the engine.

In which case, why sell HomePod v1 without Spotify capability? Because the v1 is always the MVP – the minimum viable product. Look at the iPhone. Look at the iPad. Look at the MacBook Air. Look at the Apple Watch. They all started out lacking capabilities that seemed obvious (the first iPad didn’t even have alarms, which the iPhone did) and then gained them. Apple has been circling around what the HomePod should do for years – it’s been in development since Siri came on board – and the fact that it took this long to get out of the design labs suggests the usual cautious approach. The people who have bought the first model are obviously, self-definingly, going to be people who like Apple stuff; it can’t, therefore, do any harm to only offer Apple Music as a music service. But putting Spotify on? That’s just a question of an API to Spotify, and an instruction set for Siri so it recognises “play X on Spotify” or “play the X playlist from Spotify”. It can probably be done through a software update.

Other software? Besides playing music, smart speakers’ utility seems to lie in (1) checking the weather forecast (2) setting kitchen timers (3) streaming music (4) setting alarms. Below that, the proportion of people who say they’ve ever done this stuff falls below 50% of smart speaker owners (per Comscore) and it’s hard to know how often people do it.

So – weather, timers, music, alarms. Dig down to the 30% level and there’s also home automation, product ordering (that’s going to be Amazon), calendars, and games/jokes/general questions. (The HomePod can also do iMessage sending and receiving, and FaceTime alls; those don’t come up in the “things people do” listing above 13%, but it’s not something you imagine people wanting to do a great deal.)

These are all things that you can do now. So when people complain about the HomePod’s capability, they’re really complaining that it doesn’t have other music services, and about Siri. The first is a software update, and the second is – well, Apple seems to be working on it.

Hard wearing, but what hardware?

What about hardware? What can we expect there? Is the HomePod more like the portable iPod, which had multiple axes of evolution, or the deskbound iMac? In truth, it might be even closer to a device which I didn’t mention in the list above: the Apple TV.

Like the ATV, the HomePod has a limited interface (via a remote, or by voice), and in general once put somewhere it stays there essentially forever. The ATV has hardly evolved at all – there are a couple of varieties (4K/not 4K) and storage variants, but its onscreen interface is unlike anything else that Apple does. That’s been forced by the limitations of interactions with a TV screen, which one typically views from across a room, and that seems to have limited what it can do.

There has been no evolution of size or colour, and little on price (aside from selling the older model at lower cost). The competition from lower-priced rivals such as Roku, Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire Stick seems to have kept Apple stuck upmarket, and guarding its content (TV and movies bought on iTunes) jealously: you can’t get them on any of those three rivals without some DRM-fighting shenanigans.

There are signs of the HomePod taking up the same position. You can’t stream Apple Music on the Echo (though Amazon says it’s “open” to it) or Google Home. It’s possible Apple is going to treat the smart speaker market as being like the TV set-top box market – one to be fought over rigidly. Possibly that’s what caused the delay in its initial release: big internal fights over its future trajectory, for these things are all mapped out a couple of years ahead before the first product gets out of the door. (For example, iPhones are designed at least two years ahead.)

But I think that to make the HomePod as “closed” as the Apple TV would be a mistake, and given the way that other successful Apple products have evolved – different shapes and sizes and price points (to fit in with the way that people live their lives), greater software capability (to make the product indispensable, not just nice to have) – I’d expect to see more colours of HomePod, and lower-priced ones too.

It took Sonos years to diverge from its high-end music amps down to the Sonos One, but it’s the latter that was the hit because it found the sweet spot on price. The HomePod is more versatile than the Apple TV because it has more functions than just displaying content on a screen. It’s a voice-driven speaker, and that has lots of implications.

Conclusion

So that’s my thinking: adding Spotify is an open goal, HomePod 2 is a certainty, and we could see smaller HomePods in time if Apple decides that this is a market which is worth winning, rather than just taking part in (the latter being its approach with the Apple TV).

But the early sales numbers? They don’t tell us a lot. Because to lean on those as telling the story means to ignore the ironclad rule of Apple products: the first is the MVP. It’s the ones after that which tell you the trajectory of the device.

Start up: adblocking animus, Amazon’s aims, Ubuntu phone reviewed, the iPod Watch, and more


“They say this replacement can’t be hacked remotely!” Photo by Hugo90 on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New iPhone apps will include ad blockers for the mobile web » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Some [iOS developers] are now testing ad blocking apps they intend to release when iOS9 becomes available. Their results suggest these apps could be popular. For example, when Dean Murphy, an app developer based in the U.K., hacked together an ad blocker in about an hour earlier this month, he found it slashed the time taken to load the popular Apple blog iMore from 11 seconds to just two seconds.

He is now working to release a fully polished ad blocker called Crystal, and expects there will be many others when iOS9 launches. “Apple has laid a solid foundation for quality ad blocking applications,” he says.

One of Murphy’s competitors will be an app called Purify, created by Chris Aljoudi, who leads development of the desktop ad blocker uBlock, which he says has over one million active users. A video of Purify in action shows how it makes a news site load faster and strips pre-roll video ads from YouTube. Aljoudi says his tests have showed that Purify cuts Web browsing data usage by about a quarter—which could cut some people’s data bills and extend battery life. Both Aljoudi and Murphy intend to make their apps cheap, but not free.

I think they’re going to make good money. Advertisers (and sites) have a problem coming their way. Here’s Purify at work:

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The Verge’s web sucks » blog.lmorchard.com

Les Orchard tried examining The Verge’s desktop site, and found it linked him to 47 third-party trackers:

I feel like someone just set up the entire vendor hall from an awful tech conference in my living room. Seriously, could you folks just not pick one or two or ten? Did you hit every booth and say “Yeah, cool, sign us up!” I feel thoroughly spindled & folded & researched, here.

As a webdev at Mozilla, I’ve been in hour-long meetings where we’ve agonized over whether it’s copacetic to include just one little Google Analytics snippet without notifying users and updating the privacy policy. But, I know we’re crazy in our own very special ways.

In former lives, I’ve worked at ad agencies and digital marketing companies. I’m no stranger to conversations that revolve around partners & bizdev & analytics & media buys. I can only imagine things have intensified & evolved since I’ve been out of those trenches.

Still – and maybe this is the Mozilla brain-damage talking – I can’t imagine a sane conversation that resulted in The Verge extending an invitation to over 20 companies to set up shop on my computer with every page visit.

The reckoning is moving just that bit closer each day. Once a significant number of people start getting faster, better experiences from using adblockers (or tracker-blockers), they won’t care that the ads aren’t targeted. Newspaper and magazine ads didn’t use to follow you around the room, and they were quite a good business.
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I got my music back. At least most of it » Loop Insight

Jim Dalrymple, after the debacle of last week:

So now I have the iTunes Match service that I pay for separately, and Apple Music, both of which use iCloud Music Library. There is really no way to get away from them if you want to use the latest and greatest from Apple.

I’ll admit, I’m still trying to get my head around how this works.

Some of the songs I own were incorrectly tagged as Apple Music, but that’s been fixed too, which means they show up correctly in iTunes. That is great news.

However, I’m still missing a couple of hundred songs. Apple’s theory is that I deleted them—that when I was trying to fix Apple Music, I mistakenly deleted my own files. While I concede that it is within the realm of possibility that I deleted my own files, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Apple is clearly struggling with Apple Music – a colossal effort launched in a huge number of territories – which is why my advice would be not to get worked up about precisely what seems to be working or not at present. And especially not to delete anything that you think you might own.
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Ubuntu Phone review: years in the making, but still not consumer-ready » Engadget

Jamie Rigg:

I get the idea of Scopes [which are like Live Tiles in Windows], kind of. They are supposed to give the user a personal experience, remove their reliance on walled apps and bring content to the forefront. I just don’t think Scopes deliver, or maybe I’m just so used to the app-first experience that I’m having trouble adapting to the Scope way of doing things. And if that’s the case, then most people will be in the same boat. My main problem with Scopes is that I feel I’m being bombarded with content. If I want to check out upcoming concerts on an iOS/Android device, I’d load up the Songkick app. But when that’s not what I’m looking for, I don’t really want to see Songkick listings permanently displayed on my phone, like I’m being advertised to. You could argue the solution is to remove the Songkick feed from the Scopes it populates. But, if I was constantly adding and removing sources from Scopes when they are or aren’t relevant, I don’t see how that’s preferable to having dedicated apps that offer a better experience.

It seems like there’s just no way to create a new user interface at present, certainly on a mobile screen. The gigantic gravitational field of the app-driven iOS/Android system precludes it.

Also, this sounds like crap.
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Toshiba’s woes show how PC sales slump is squeezing big tech firms » The Guardian

I wrote about the Others:

It is whispered among some analysts that only the preinstallation of third-party antivirus programs – which try to get users to sign up to subscriptions – keeps some PC makers afloat at all, owing to the fees they receive from antivirus software firms.

It was the PC business that triggered the current turmoil at the Japanese giant [Toshiba], after an internal auditor asked in late January to look at the accounts for the company’s laptop business. That eventually concluded with an examination by an external panel, whose 294-page report noted “inappropriate accounting” in various business segments, including those “relating to component transactions” in the PC business.

In a statement on 21 July it said that 111bn yen (£580m) of assets in the PC business in the past six financial years were “under consideration” for re-evaluation. That could affect its financial results, which will be finalised by 31 August. But even in its most recent quarterly report, before any restatement, Toshiba said that its PC business recorded restructuring costs of 46bn yen in the previous three quarters, and that otherwise it “would have recorded positive operating income over three consecutive quarters”.

46bn yen is $370m. Is Toshiba really saying it made an average operating profit of $123m per quarter in the PC business? That’s as much as Asus, which is one of the biggest makers. Seems unlikely.
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Twitter is deleting stolen jokes on copyright grounds » The Verge

Dante D’Orazio:

some people just copy good tweets from other people and act like they came up with the 140-character witticism on their own. This has been going on since the beginning of Twitter.

It now appears Twitter is using its legal authority to crack down on these tweet-stealers. A number of tweets have been deleted on copyright grounds for apparently stealing a bad joke.

As first spotted by @PlagiarismBad, at least five separate tweets have been deleted by Twitter for copying this joke:

saw someone spill their high end juice cleanse all over the sidewalk and now I know god is on my side
— uh (@runolgarun) July 9, 2015
Olga Lexell, who, according to her Twitter bio, is a freelance writer in LA, appears to be the first person to publish the joke on Twitter. In a tweet posted this afternoon, she confirmed that she did file a request to have the tweets removed.

I simply explained to Twitter that as a freelance writer I make my living writing jokes (and I use some of my tweets to test out jokes in my other writing). I then explained that as such, the jokes are my intellectual property, and that the users in question did not have my permission to repost them without giving me credit.

She added that most of the accounts that were reusing her tweets without accreditation were “spam accounts that repost tons of other people’s jokes every day.” This also isn’t the first time Twitter has complied with a request like this: Lexell tells The Verge that she’s filed similar requests for other jokes. Twitter staffers typically remove the offending tweets “within a few days” without asking Lexell any follow-up questions.

Couldn’t she, you know, just not tweet them but try them on other people? Or try them from a protected account? This is quite weird.
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Pakistan to shut down BlackBerry services by December for “security reasons” » Reuters

Syed Raza Hassan:

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people, is plagued by militancy, criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

“PTA has issued directions to local mobile phone operators to close BlackBerry Enterprise Services from Nov. 30 on security reasons,” an official with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority said in a text message.

He asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of discussing communications and intelligence.

BlackBerry was not immediately available to comment.

A report released this week by British-based watchdog Privacy International said Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was seeking to dramatically expand its ability to intercept communications.

BlackBerry encrypts data such as emails and its BlackBerry Messenger messages sent between a user’s phone and public networks, ensuring greater privacy for users but making life harder for police and intelligence agencies.

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Fiat Chrysler recalls 1.4 million vehicles to defend against hacks » Bloomberg Business

Mark Clothier:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is recalling about 1.4 million cars and trucks equipped with radios that are vulnerable to hacking.

The company was already distributing software to insulate connected vehicles from illegal remote manipulation after Wired magazine published a story about software programmers who were able to take over a Jeep Cherokee being driven on a Missouri highway. Fiat Chrysler reiterated that it’s not aware of any real-world unauthorized remote hack into any of its vehicles.

It stressed that no defect was found and that it’s conducting the campaign out of “an abundance of caution.”

Fiat Chrysler said it has blocked unauthorized remote access to certain vehicles systems via an over-the-air update on Thursday.

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Amazon and the “profitless business model” fallacy » Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei (who used to work at Amazon):

There are very few people in technology and business who are what I’d call apex predators. Jeff [Bezos] is one of them, the most patient and intelligent one I’ve met in my life. An apex predator doesn’t wake up one day and decide it is done hunting. Right now I envision only one throttle to Jeff’s ambitions and it is human mortality, but I would not be surprised if one day he announced he’d started another side project with Peter Thiel to work on a method of achieving immortality.

One popular thesis among Amazon profitability skeptics is that Amazon can’t “flip a switch” and become profitable. The most common guess as to how Amazon flips the switch is that it will wait until it is the last retailer standing and then raise prices across the board, so Amazon skeptics argue against that narrative possibility.

But “flipping a switch” is the wrong analogy because Amazon’s core business model does generate a profit with most every transaction at its current price level.

In that light, it’s wrong to look at the AWS “profits” as a proportion of revenue and say “wow”. The profit number is meaningless. Amazon can make any part of the business look as profitable or unprofitable as it likes.
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The future of Apple Watch will be more like the iPod’s than the iPhone’s » Beyond Devices

Aaron Miller (in a guest post on Jan Dawson’s site):

First, and most importantly, the Apple Watch is an ecosystem product. Right now, the Watch only works as an extension of the iPhone. Its upper boundary is the total number of iPhones in the world.

This makes the Watch much more like the iPod than the iPhone. From the time the iPod first launched, it was a product tied to a computer, first to Macs then eventually to Windows computers as well. (Remember the Digital Hub strategy?) Just as the iPod existed to enhance the Personal Computer + iTunes ecosystem, the Watch exists to enhance the iPhone ecosystem. The iPhone, even if tied to iTunes early on, was never merely an ecosystem enhancement—nor designed to be one, like the iPod or Apple Watch have been.

Naturally, we expect the Watch’s reliance on iPhones to change over time. LTE and GPS seem like inevitable Apple Watch additions, for example, as does a Watch-native App Store. With true third-party apps coming soon, reliance on the iPhone will diminish even more. But there’s one limitation that may always tie Apple Watches to iPhones: the screen…

…the Apple Watch category is not just smartwatches. The correct category is wearables, and wearables right now, at the birth of the Apple Watch, are very similar to the early MP3-player market. Some are huge and multi-functional. Some are svelte and limited. Some are banking on unique features trying to find a niche.

Wonder what other wearables Apple might have in mind. What’s the iPod shuffle version of a Watch?
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Start up: Google and real accident rates, who really buys iPods?, Reddit and trolls, and more


Apple Music is available if you’re running iOS 8.4. Photo by danielooi on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple Music adoption » Mixpanel Trends

This is amazing: from 29 June, when iOS 8.4 was released (bringing Apple Music), Mixpanel’s measurement suggests that it passed 50% of all installed iOS devices by 16 July. That’s less than three weeks. It’s gaining about 1% per day. There has to be an upper limit, but it’s pretty high – 84% of devices are running iOS 8.

This also means, if Mixpanel is representative, that about 200m devices could already be able to try Apple Music.
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The view from the front seat of the Google self-driving car, chapter » Medium


(That’s Google’s SDC being rear-ended on July 1 in the right-hand lane: the car causing the crash doesn’t even brake.)

Chris Urmson, who leads Google’s SDC effort:

National crashes-per-miles-driven rates are currently calculated on police-reported crashes. Yet there are millions of fender benders every year that go unreported and uncounted  —  potentially as many as 55% of all crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (None of the accidents in which people hit us resulted in a police report  —  not even the July 1 crash, even though the police were on site.) Furthermore, the numbers that are available don’t distinguish between miles-driven before causing a crash vs simply being involved in one. This all means no one knows the real crashes-per-miles-driven rates for typical American streets.

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Who’s actually buying iPods these days? » BirchTree

Former Target manager Matt Birchler:

Kids would buy (or their parents would buy for them) the iPod Touch because of 3 things:

• It played games (Minecraft, mostly)
• It had YouTube
* It could stream music

A lot of families stopped buying iPod Touches once the iPad Mini got down to the $249 price point. You get a lot more device for your buck, and Touch sales dropped off very quickly. I could go on and on about this, but young kids love iPads more than most of us 20-30 somethings can imagine.

You also see more and more kids just using a hand-me-down smartphone that the parents have since upgraded from.

And then there were older people who bought Touches. They were more rare, but they were people who wanted something to FaceTime with their kids/grandkids. Maybe they wanted to use a couple apps they had heard about, but didn’t want to pay the ridiculous data fees to get them on a smartphone. This was a much smaller market, and many of them would end up buying an iPod Nano (for reasons I’ll address in the next section).

Nano and Shuffle had very different audiences. I asked who used to buy the Classic; his reply: “You’d be shocked how few were sold. Let’s just say it’s too few for me to draw any real conclusions.”
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HTC won’t ship the Grip after all, but its fitness ambition lives on » Engadget

Chris Velazco:

Hey, remember that time HTC built a fitness tracker (with a little help from Under Armor) and showed it off in Barcelona? The one that was originally slated for a Spring launch? Well, we’re knee-deep in Summer already, and the company just confirmed to us that it no longer plans to ship the Grip we’ve already seen. As a spokesperson put it, the company “decided to align Grip with the entire product portfolio for health and fitness launching later this year” after “extensive wear testing and user feedback.” In other words, the exact Grip we saw in Spain won’t hit the market, but something better will.

Uh-huh. Let’s see how this progresses. HTC made the right call putting off its smartwatch (pre-announced in February 2014); this would also be a tough sell when it’s losing money. Problem is, how do you make money except with new things?
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How iCloud Drive deletes your files without warning » Michael Tsai

Tsai quotes Mark Jaquith:

let’s say that, on your shiny new Mac, you want to move these files from iCloud Drive to your local hard drive, or to another synced drive like Google Drive or Dropbox. Well, you can just drag their folders do the other destination, right? You sure can. Apple kindly warns you that your dragging action is moving that folder, and that the files will be moved to your Mac, and won’t exist on iCloud Drive anymore. Fine. That’s what dragging a file from one place to another generally does!

But what happens if there are files inside this folder that haven’t yet synced to your local machine? Well, the move operation will be slower, because your Mac has to first download them from iCloud Drive. But once they download, they’ll be in their new location. Right?

Nope. Those files are now gone. Forever.

Tsai then follows up to show that Apple knows about this – though also pulls together other comments, including one from an ex-Apple services employee, showing that this problem is known internally, but it is being starved of funding.
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Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao: the trolls are winning the battle for the Internet » The Washington Post

To understand the challenges facing today’s Internet content platforms, layer onto that original balancing act a desire to grow audience and generate revenue. A large portion of the Internet audience enjoys edgy content and the behavior of the more extreme users; it wants to see the bad with the good, so it becomes harder to get rid of the ugly. But to attract more mainstream audiences and bring in the big-budget advertisers, you must hide or remove the ugly.

Expecting internet platforms to eliminate hate and harassment is likely to disappoint. As the number of users climbs, community management becomes ever more difficult. If mistakes are made 0.01% of the time, that could mean tens of thousands of mistakes. And for a community looking for clear, evenly applied rules, mistakes are frustrating. They lead to a lack of trust. Turning to automation to enforce standards leads to a lack of human contact and understanding. No one has figured out the best place to draw the line between bad and ugly — or whether that line can support a viable business model.

The basic problem is that we remember the vicious words and acts more than the kind ones; possibly we’re evolutionarily set out that way.
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Dozens of phone apps with 300M downloads vulnerable to password cracking » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

many smartphone apps still allow users to make an unlimited number of login attempts. That failure allows attackers to cycle through long lists of the most commonly used passwords. Given the difficulty of entering strong passwords on smartphone keyboards, it’s a likely bet that it wouldn’t be hard to compromise a statistically significant number of accounts over a period of weeks.

According to research from smartphone security firm AppBugs, dozens of Android and iPhone apps downloaded more than 300 million times contain no limits on the number of logins that can be attempted. Per the company’s disclosure policy, researchers give app developers up to 90 days to fix vulnerabilities before making them public. That means most of the 50 or so apps identified by AppBugs still aren’t being made public. Still, the grace period has expired on at least 12 apps, including those from CNN, ESPN, Slack, Expedia, Zillow, SoundCloud, Walmart, Songza, iHeartRadio, Domino’s Pizza, AutoCAD, and Kobo. Three other apps, from Wunderlist, Dictionary, and Pocket, were found to be vulnerable but were later fixed after AppBugs brought the weaknesses to the developers’ attention.

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Start up: more PC slowdowns, Apple Pay goes big, Facebook gets AI, Uber’s early days, and more

2012 Keynote
Big touchscreens: what are they good for? Photo by Microsoft Ignite NZ on Flickr.

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

A compilation of robots falling down at the DARPA Robotics Challenge » YouTube

I for one welcome our new robotic ove.. AH, NOT SO SMART NOW, ARE YOU?


Siri’s search power grows, as Apple accelerates machine learning » Mobile Forward

Hristo Daniel Ushev:

I’m changing my mind about Google’s data-volume-based advantage. I believe Apple sees a volume of (anonymized) user data that’s on the same order of magnitude as Google (on mobile). Google Now may provide Google with more question/intent data, but Apple sees the bigger picture of what consumers (in aggregate) do/need throughout the day. I base my belief on iOS’s huge installed base, high app downloads and usage, and Apple’s full-stack access to iOS devices.

With so many dots to connect – Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Siri, Maps, News, HealthKit, HomeKit, and CarPlay – Apple will have great opportunities to add value to consumers’ daily life.

Machine learning is to 21st century devices as the graphical user interface was to 20th century computers. I don’t mean that as a user interface metaphor, but as a way to express how critical it will be to a high-performance product.

At a machine learning conference the other day, someone said to me: “a really smart AI wouldn’t need a ton of data. It would figure out what lions look like from just one picture of a lion, not hundreds. Maybe Google’s aren’t that good if they need so much data.” Well, perhaps..


Samsung’s new smartwatch to offer mobile payments: Electronic Times » Reuters

Tech giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd plans to offer a mobile payments function in a smartwatch to be launched in the second half of the year, South Korea’s Electronic Times newspaper reported on Monday citing unnamed sources.

Samsung would use near-field communication (NFC) technology to support mobile payments on the smartwatch, the report said. This is the same technology Apple Inc uses for the Apple Pay function supported by its smartwatches.

How about that.


The future of computers is the mind of a toddler » Bloomberg Business

Jack Clark:

On June 9, Facebook plans to publish a research paper detailing a system that can chew through several million pieces of data, remember the key points, and answer complicated questions about them. A system like this might let a person one day ask Facebook to find photos of themselves wearing pink at a friend’s birthday party, or ask broader, fuzzier questions, like whether they seemed happier than usual last year, or appeared to spend more time with friends.

While AI has long been an area of interest for Hollywood and novelists, companies hadn’t paid much attention to it until about five years ago. That’s when research institutions and academics, aided by new techniques for crunching reams of data, started breaking records in speech recognition and image analysis at an unexpected rate. Venture capitalists took notice and invested $309.2 million in AI startups last year, a twentyfold increase from 2010, according to research firm CB Insights. Some of these startups are helping to break new ground. One in Silicon Valley, called MetaMind, has developed improvements to computers’ understanding of everyday speech. Clarifai, an AI startup in New York, is doing complex video analysis and selling the service to businesses.

Facebook’s office for this is in France. British companies are big in this too. Cannot emphasis enough how important this field is. (Can’t find the research paper, though.)


Apple Pay UK: some retailers to ditch £20 contactless limit » Pocket-lint

Stuart Miles:

As is the case with Apple Pay in the US, Apple has convinced retailers and banks to remove the limit because they can prove the customer is present thanks to the use of the Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone.

MasterCard have confirmed similar options for Apple Pay retailers in the UK too:

“Currently the vast majority of payment terminals here in the UK are set to accept contactless transactions up to the £20 spending limit, but that will rise to £30 in September (for cards as well),” a spokesman for MasterCard told Pocket-lint when we asked about clarification on the limit thresholds.

“As more digital services like Apple Pay come to market, we’re [MasterCard] supporting retailers and banks as they update the terminals so that they can accept authenticated transactions above that limit from digital devices.”


Uber: An oral history » Fortune

Some fascinating interviews by Adam Lashinsky (with Uber’s cooperation, of course), which are all worth reading; including this by Conrad Whelan, who was its first engineer:

When I joined the company, you couldn’t actually sign up for the product. It was just a way to order the car. So I built the sign-up flows that would take a credit card and make user accounts. So as soon as we did that, we could officially launch, which was June 1st, 2010, two months after I started.

I think the next thing I did, which I really enjoyed, was optimize the dispatch algorithms to take into account drivers that might miss a dispatch. That lasted like three years, or something like that, which is pretty cool.

Sounds throwaway, but gives a hint of the huge complexity involved.


Large touchscreens: what’s different? » Nielsen-Norman Group

Amy Schade tried out a 24in tablet with her children (because children don’t know what they’re not supposed to not do):

While the large screen was completely enthralling to my 2 year olds, the size of the touchscreen was a drawback for my daughter. She leaned on the screen with one hand in order to reach another part of the screen. As a result, the puzzle pieces that she was trying to move jumped from one hand to the other, if they moved at all.

Using the large screen was particularly hard for her, based on her size relative to the device —most of us aren’t using devices that are nearly as big as we are. However, her attempts to use it also illustrate a problem far more likely to be encountered with large touchscreens: that of unintended two-handed touches and other accidental touches.

We see this play out in our testing of mobile devices. We witness more accidental touches or brushes of the screen as people maneuver standard sized tablets than we do when watching people use their phones.

Designs need to anticipate and accommodate accidental touches and consider ways to incorporate larger gestures, hand presses versus finger touches, and multi-hand interactions.


PC inventory issues growing serious in Europe; retailers boycotting vendors dumping inventory » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

First-tier PC vendors reportedly are seeing serious inventory issues in Europe and may try to digest stocks by offering price cuts. At the same time, some channel retailers are reacting to the news by boycotting the vendors to avoid having inventory dumped on them, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

The PC supply chain was originally optimistic about demand for PCs in the second quarter, but component suppliers have seen their orders from brand vendors weakening during the quarter as most vendors have high inventory levels on hand, which they are struggling to clear as most consumers have halted their notebook purchasing to wait for the release of Windows 10, which is scheduled for the end of July…

…In addition, Windows 10’s free upgrade strategy is also expected to weaken consumers’ demand for buying new PCs.

“First-tier PC vendors” is probably code, here, for Asus and Acer.


Facing the music » All this

Dr Drang on the longest half-hour ever, at the end of the Apple keynote in which Eddy Cue introduced Apple Music:

nothing justifies the dancing. I’m sure Eddy thought it was funny and self-deprecating, but it was just annoying and a waste of our time. I often think Craig Federighi overdoes the jokes, but he knows when to pull it back and doesn’t let his presentation get derailed. Eddy doesn’t have that sense.

As to whether Apple Music is really good, we’ll have to wait and see, but the signs aren’t pointing in that direction. The elevator pitch is that “Apple Music is three things” – an attempt to tie it to the 2007 introduction to the iPhone. (And someone should have explained that to Iovine before sending him onstage. He clearly didn’t understand the audience’s reaction to the “three things” line.) But while the advantages of a multifunction device are obvious, the advantages of a multifunction app aren’t. The App Store’s success is largely based on tightly focused apps, not sprawling suites.