Start up: drone questions, Baidu barred in AI comp, why Apple shunned HERE, and more


This is what it looks like when you’re upset, Google. Photo by donnierayjones on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The UX of Commercial Drones » UX Magazine

Dan Saffer:

Let’s examine the customer experience as demonstrated by Amazon: The drone flies in and lands on the back patio. The customer leaves the house. The drone releases the package and flies away. The customer grabs the package and heads back inside. This is all well and good, but a lot of important detail still needs to be addressed. For starters, how does the customer know when the drone is arriving? People aren’t going to want their packages sitting outside unattended, especially in inclement weather (assuming drones will even be able to fly when it’s raining or snowing). And people won’t want to sit around looking out their window for half an hour. But what might work is something like what the car service Uber does: showing you via an app where your drone is and how long until it arrives, as well as alerting you via SMS when it does arrive. This would provide a level of assurance, especially at the onset when the idea of a drone carrying an emergency last-minute birthday gift will seem the height of novelty. When the drone does appear, it’s going to be really tempting to race out and grab the package, especially for kids—and perhaps for dogs and excitable adults as well. One problem: between the person and the package are several spinning, knife-like blades that form the rotors of the drone. Being accidentally hit in the face by one would be a great way to lose an eye or obtain a nasty cut.

“We included plasters in case you get hurt!”


Computer scientists are astir after Baidu team is barred from AI competition » NYTimes.com

John Markoff:

The competition, which is known as the “Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge,” is organized annually by computer scientists at Stanford University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan. It requires that computer systems created by the teams classify the objects in a set of digital images into 1,000 different categories. The rules of the contest permit each team to run test versions of their programs twice weekly ahead of a final submission as they train their programs to “learn” what they are seeing. However, on Tuesday, the contest organizers posted a public statement noting that between November and May 30, different accounts had been used by the Baidu team to submit more than 200 times to the contest server, “far exceeding the specified limit of two submissions per week.”

Previously reported here, before the multiple entries were spotted. Baidu’s team calls their multiple entries “a mistake”.


The new Google Photos app is disturbingly good at data-mining your photos » Fusion

Daniela Hernandez:

What’s particularly incredible is the facial recognition. The app sees individuals in photos even if they are barely in the picture, far in the background, or featured in a photo within a photo. When I did a search for my adult sister’s face, it recognized her in a photo I took of a 20-year-old elementary school picture of her. When I searched for my father’s face, it included a photo I took of a decorative tile-wall in Mexico. I thought it had messed up, because I didn’t see any people in the photo, but when I looked closely, there was a tiny version of my dad at the bottom. Facial recognition has gotten very powerful. Google also seems to know how to flatter its users. When I typed in “skinny,” the search unearthed pictures of me, friends, my sister and my mother, as if it was trying to compliment us. But when I searched for other adjectives, particularly negative ones — fat, sad, upset, angry — Google Photos came up empty. (Some of my colleagues got similar results.) The technology to help computers decipher emotions is out there already, so there’s no technical reason why Google isn’t turning up results for those searches. It gave us results for “love,” but not for “hate.” Whether it’s that we don’t take photos of ugly things, or that Google is shielding us, is something we’d really like to ask the search giant.

You could pick up the phone and ask them…


Eric Schmidt on why Google won’t fail » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

Shareholders understand Google’s search and ad business, [Schmidt said at the AGM], but they don’t necessarily understand the other projects that the company invests in, like self-driving cars or smart contact lenses. On past earnings calls, analysts and investors have sounded impatient when questioning how those businesses are going to ultimately pay off. But Schmidt assured shareholders Wednesday that ambitious goals like cutting down on car crashes or measuring a diabetic’s blood sugar through their tears are the kinds of things that will ultimately make Google a long-lasting, successful company. “Most companies ultimately fail because they do one thing very well but they don’t think of the next thing, they don’t broaden their mission, they don’t challenge themselves, they don’t continually build on that platform in one way or another,” he says. “They become incrementalists. And Google is very committed to not doing that. We understand the technological change is essentially revolutionary, not evolutionary.”

Are there any lessons from technology companies that have lasted more than a century, such as Nintendo, IBM and Nokia?


Here’s why Apple didn’t want to buy Nokia’s mapping unit HERE » Forbes

Parmy Olson:

Apple appears intent on fixing the problems that cropped up from relying on third-party map providers. One of the reasons Apple Maps was so buggy from when it was launched in June 2012 is the fact that its data percolated in from multiple sources like TomTom, Acxiom, Waze and Yelp By building its own geography dataset, Apple can pare down its reliance on sources like TomTom’s TeleAtlas. Apple’s likely vision is that years from now, we’ll have forgotten about how bad Apple Maps was, because Apple will have taken complete control of its mapping infrastructure and made it watertight.


There’s still plenty of money in dumb phones » Quartz

Leo Mirani:

there’s little doubt that dumb phones and feature phones are a shrinking market. Between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, the market for non-smartphones shrunk by a 14%, according to CCS Insight (pdf), a research firm. This year, some 590 million non-smartphones will be sold. By 2019, that number will shrink to 350m. But 350m phones in one calendar year is still a lot of phones. And it is, as Microsoft’s Pekka Haverinen of Microsoft’s feature phone division tells Quartz, a predictable market with high volumes and a high market share for Microsoft. It’s not just device-makers who stand to profit from cheap, basic phones. Ericsson reckons (pdf) that by 2020, there will 9.2bn mobile subscriptions, of which 1.4bn will be non-3G subscriptions. This huge market is hungry for services.

Well, sorta. Microsoft’s featurephone segment is shrinking really rapidly; this is a market which is being eaten up by cheap Chinese players for whom, as they say, “your [profit] margin is my opportunity”.


Twitter just killed Politwoops » Gawker

JK Trotter:

A Twitter spokesperson just provided the following statement to Gawker regarding the apparent suspension of Politwoops’ access to Twitter’s developer API, which enabled the Sunlight Foundation-funded site to track tweets deleted by hundreds of politicians. Summarized: Politwoops is no more.

Earlier today we spoke to the Sunlight Foundation, to tell them we will not restore Twitter API access for their Politwoops site. We strongly support Sunlight’s mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement. Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.

The post also says that Twitter was considering a “quiet reversal” but found itself snookered on the question of “why them and not others”. But if someone tweets something publicly, haven’t they yielded their expectation of “privacy”? In the print days, the UK Ministry of Defence could demand back documents about cruise missile sitings from The Guardian on the basis of copyright. That seems to be what Twitter is imposing here.


Start up: who’ll buy HERE?, Loon gets ready, Vermeer and the Apple Watch, web v native redux, and more


A Project Loon balloon. Photo by theglobalpanorama on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Links as in, you know, links. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft’s Q3 2015: Surface and Lumia up, but profit down » The Verge

Tom Warren:

Microsoft sold 8.6m Lumia devices in the most recent quarter, and the company says that’s an 18% increase over the prior year. Microsoft completed its acquisition of Nokia around this time last year, and neither company revealed Lumia sales at the time, but it’s safe to say they’re rising again. Either way, Windows Phone revenue has dropped by 16%.

While Microsoft is heading towards finalizing Windows 10 in the coming months, the PC market is still fragile. OEM revenue for Windows decreased by a massive 22% this quarter, following an equally bad quarter over the holiday period. Part of this decline is related to less business PC sales, and the general PC market as a whole. Office appears to be a mixed bag for Microsoft. While it’s helping drive commercial revenues, Office consumer revenues declined 41% due to the transition to Office 365 and weaknesses in Japan where Office is popular on PCs. However, Office 365 Consumer subscriptions have grown to 12.4m, so Microsoft is continuing to convince consumers that the cloud is the future.

If 8.6m is an 18% increase, a total of 7.3m were sold (well, shipped) in Q1 2014. The fall in revenue maybe isn’t surprising as the Lumia line has all been focussed on the lower end.

Surface revenue was up 44% year-on-year to $713m. As usual, no news on how many sold.


How Uber surge pricing really works » The Washington Post

Nicholas Diakopoulos:

is Uber’s surge pricing algorithm really doing what they claim? Do surge prices really get more cars on the road?

My analysis suggests that rather than motivating a fresh supply of drivers, surge pricing instead re-distributes drivers already on the road.

I collected four weeks worth of Uber’s dynamic pricing information from their own publicly available data for five locations in Washington, DC. Every 15 seconds between March 15 and April 11, I pinged their servers and collected the surge price and estimated waiting time for an UberX car at those locations. Though only a tiny sliver of all of Uber’s data, it provided an initial window into how their algorithms are working

…So, why don’t surge prices work to get new drivers on the road? It might simply be that surge prices jump around too much.

Reverse-engineering these algorithms seems to be the way forward.


Nokia targeting Apple, Alibaba and Amazon in maps-unit sale » Bloomberg Business

Nokia Oyj, the Finnish company selling its money-losing maps business, is trying to drum up interest from some of the biggest names in technology including Apple Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Amazon.com Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said.
Those companies as well as Facebook Inc., a group of German carmakers, and private-equity firms are among the companies looking at Nokia’s maps operations, known as HERE, highlighting the ubiquity and utility of location-based services. Nokia is seeking more than €3bn ($3.2bn) from a sale of the unit, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

Bought it for €8.1bn in 2008; valued at €2bn in the accounts last year. Big lossmaker; the question is how any company that bought HERE would be able to make the purchase worthwhile in monetary terms.


Google’s Project Loon close to launching thousands of balloons » Computerworld

Martyn Williams:

Google says its Project Loon is close to being able to produce and launch thousands of balloons to provide Internet access from the sky.

Such a number would be required to provide reliable Internet access to users in remote areas that are currently unserved by terrestrial networks, said Mike Cassidy, the Google engineer in charge of the project, in a video posted Friday.

The ambitious project has been under way for a couple of years and involves beaming down LTE cellular signals to handsets on the ground from balloons thousands of feet in the air, well above the altitude that passenger jets fly.

“At first it would take us 3 or 4 days to tape together a balloon,” Cassidy says in the video. “Today, through our own manufacturing facility, the automated systems can get a balloon produced in just a few hours. We’re getting close to the point where we can roll out thousands of balloons.”


Why Apple Watch margins should set a new record for Apple » carlhowe.com/blog

Carl Howe with a new thought experiment:

Last week, I asked readers to imagine how they’d manufacture a million Origami lobsters out of paper. I’m going to continue that though experiment theme this week with a different question. If you’re not interested in such context, skip ahead to the next section where we’ll dive into revisions to the model I posted last week.

Meanwhile, this week’s thought experiment question is this:

What were the parts cost and gross margin of a Johannes Vermeer painting in his day?

Johannes Vermeer, of course, was a modestly successful 17th century Dutch painter, known for such paintings as Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Music Lesson. Art historians the world over praise his works for their subtle portrayal of light and his use of brilliant and lifelike color. Today, historians attribute 34 surviving paintings to undoubtedly be Vermeer’s work. While priceless due to their rarity, owners who have sold Vermeer paintings have invariably seen prices in the tens of millions of dollars.

But what did they cost to paint?

In other words, why do we think it’s OK for art to have high added value, but not technology? The whole post is wonderful.


In Google case, do what’s best for consumers » TheHill

Thomas Lenard:

Since the FTC closed its [antitrust investigation] case in 2013, the search space has become, if anything, more competitive. In addition to competition from general search engines such as Bing, Google faces competition from Facebook, Apple (Siri) and Amazon — all of which perform search functions. There is vigorous competition in shopping sites in Europe with Amazon and eBay being the major players. Numerous local shopping sites provide additional competition. In fact, Google is a minor player with a very small share of this (online shopping) market. And there is a whole new world of apps through which consumers search for a variety of information, including product information.

Thus, despite the fact that Google’s share of general search is higher in Europe than in the U.S., it is unlikely the European authorities will now find harm to consumers or to competition where the U.S. authorities didn’t.

Lenard is a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, whose “supporters” include Amazon, Facebook, Intel, the MPAA, Motorola, Yahoo and – hey! – Google. I include this to show the way that one can distort reality by chucking some names in: look at all the alternative search engines! Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, er, Yandex.. but the reality is that none has more than a tiny fraction of the market in Europe. It’s like Microsoft suggesting that there are loads of desktop OSs – MacOS, Ubuntu, FreeBSD, umm..

And while Google might be a minor player in the local shopping market, the EC data (and to some extent Google itself) suggests it would be nowhere if Google Shopping had to compete in the same way as all the other shopping sites – and hadn’t penalised the search ranking and access to AdWords of rivals (who then complained).

And, finally, “harm to consumers” isn’t the EC test for antitrust. It’s the US test.


Skipping the web » Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei:

Having grown up in the U.S., the web was one of the first and still longest-running touchpoint to the internet. My first was using newsgroups in college, and the web came about towards the end of my undergrad days. I can understand why so many in the U.S. are nostalgic and defensive of the web as a medium. Seeing so much content and online interaction move behind the walls of social networks seems like an epic tragedy to many, and I empathize.

Many people in India, China, and other parts of the world, where bandwidth is low and slow, and where mobile phones are their one and only computer, have no room for such sentimentality. They may never have experienced the same heyday of the web, so they feel no analogous nostalgia for it as a medium. Path dependence matters here, as it does in lots of areas of tech, and one of the best ways to detect it is to widen your geographic scope of study outside the U.S. Asia is a wonderful comparison group, especially for me because I have so many friends and relatives there and because I still interact with them online at a decent frequency.

In the U.S., many tech companies were lauded as pioneers for going mobile first when in Asia companies are already going mobile only.


Mobile malware is like Ebola – an overhyped threat » Net Security

Reporting from the RSA Conference 2015:

In 2012, monitoring 33% of US Mobile Data Traffic, Damballa saw 3,492 out of a total of 23M mobile devices – 0.015% – contacting a domain on the mobile blacklist (MBL). In Q4 2014, monitoring nearly 50% of US Mobile Data Traffic, only 9,688 out of a total of 151M mobile devices contacted mobile black list domains (.0064%). The National Weather Services says the odds of being struck by lightning in a lifetime are 0.01%.

“This research shows that mobile malware in the Unites States is very much like Ebola – harmful, but greatly over exaggerated, and contained to a limited percentage of the population that are engaging in behavior that puts them at risk for infection,” said Charles Lever, senior scientific researcher at Damballa. “Ask yourself, ‘How many of you have been infected by mobile malware? How many of you know someone infected by mobile malware?’”