Start up: after Windows Everywhere, what?, flying Twitter’s nest, Happy Uncopyrightday, and more


Lots of cabs, in theory. But in reality too? Photo by UrbanPaul on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft, capitulation and the end of Windows Everywhere » Benedict Evans

Benedict Evans:

A new CEO is acknowledging the end of ‘Windows Everywhere’ as the driving strategic engine for Microsoft, and also acknowledging the decline of Microsoft Office as the monolithic, universal experience for productivity. Microsoft is also suggesting that Xbox is not strategically core either, reflecting the reality that it will be the smartphone, not the TV or a box plugged into it, that will be the hub of the digital experience for most people. The smartphone is the sun and everything else orbits it. 

This is a little like Google’s transition away from the plain-text web search as the centre of everything, and indeed Facebook’s tentative shifts away from the Newsfeed. Microsoft has two huge, profitable businesses in Windows and Office: they will slowly go away, so how do you use them to create something new? Instead of every new project having in some way to support Office and Windows, how do you use Office and Windows to support the future? You must distinguish between things that prop up the legacy Office and Windows businesses (and Microsoft is doing plenty to do that), while using them to drive the new things.

But you also need to work out was that ‘new’ would look like.

link to this extract


More than 450 staff fly Twitter’s nest – FT.com

Hannah Kuchler, Aimee Keane, Leaf Arbuthnot:

An FT analysis of LinkedIn profiles suggests about 12% of Twitter’s staff have left in the last year, including senior staff in corporate development and partnerships, and executives from its MoPub acquisition.

The figure is likely to underestimate the true number of departures as not every employee has a profile on the professional social network or keeps it up to date. Despite the staff turnover, the group’s total headcount has increased 18% in the last year.

Robert Peck, a SunTrust Robinson Humphreys analyst, wrote in a note that while “brain drain” is always a risk in the highly competitive technology industry, he was concerned that the large sums of capital raised by start-ups “increases the risk for Twitter during the chief executive transition” as employees could be lured to private rivals by valuable pre-initial public offering stock.

“While some key talent may leave the company while it is in flux, it may also be difficult to hire new key talent without a permanent chief executive being in place,” he wrote.

link to this extract


Apple HomeKit requires ID chip » EE Times

Rick Merritt:

Apple requires anyone making a device compatible with its HomeKit environment to buy and use a special identity chip. The revelation was one of many from a session on platforms for the Internet of Things at last week’s ESC SV event here.

“I know a lot of people who have been surprised by this requirement and had to re-spin boards for the chip,” said Michael Anderson, chief scientist of PTR Group in his talk. “A lot of manufacturers are up in arms [about the] Apple silicon [that makes their] device more expensive,” he said.

“There’s no clear story what the chip does but I expect it is involved with access to the cloud and may have triggers for geo location,” Anderson said. Overall, “there’s not a lot known about HomeKit since it was first launched in iOS 8 because Apple’s got it under wraps,” he added.

Good way to add cost, but also a good way to be sure of security. Or.. a good way for everything to be susceptible to the same security flaw.
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Windows 10 or OS X? A Mac user falls for the PC again » WSJ

Joanna Stern really loves Windows 10, but finds the hardware lacking:

Ironically, I found my MacBook Air to be the best Windows 10 laptop. It may not have a touchscreen, but it was snappier, and beat the Dell and Surface for normal scrolling and navigating. (The three-finger swipe wasn’t enabled during my tests, however.) Windows 10 is in desperate need of a worthy PC laptop.

Another thing that’s made me a master Windows 10 multitasker is the ability to easily snap email to one side of the screen and a Web browser to the other. Microsoft included app-snapping in previous Windows versions, but now it suggests other open apps or windows to place next to it. It also lets you tile up to four windows on the screen. It’s a huge time saver, especially when helping herd the stray windows on my external monitor.

The feature is so great, Apple put it in its next version of OS X and iOS for the iPad. But Microsoft’s implementation is better, in part because it has addictive keyboard shortcuts.

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Filmmakers fighting “Happy Birthday” copyright find their “smoking gun” » Ars Technica

Joe Mullin:

The “smoking gun” is a 1927 version of the “Happy Birthday” lyrics, predating Warner/Chappell’s 1935 copyright by eight years. That 1927 songbook, along with other versions located through the plaintiffs’ investigations, “conclusively prove that any copyright that may have existed for the song itself… expired decades ago.”

If the filmmakers’ lawyers are right, it could mean a quick route to victory in a lawsuit that’s been both slow-moving and closely watched by copyright reform advocates. Warner/Chappell has built a licensing empire based on “Happy Birthday,” which in 1996 was pulling in more than $2m per year.
Plaintiff Jennifer Nelson’s movie is actually called Happy Birthday, and it’s about the song. She had to pay Warner/Chappell $1,500 to use the song in her movie, and that didn’t sit well with the documentarian. She’s seeking to get that money back and also represent a class of plaintiffs who have paid similar licensing fees to Warner/Chappell on a copyright she and her lawyers say is illegitimate.

The 1927 songbook referenced above was found in a batch of 500 documents provided by Warner/Chappell earlier this month. That cache included “approximately 200 pages of documents [Warner/Chappell] claim were ‘mistakenly’ not produced during discovery, which ended on July 11, 2014, more than one year earlier,” Nelson’s lawyers write.

This has been a thorn in peoples’ sides for years. It would be great for it to be wiped out.
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Your car won’t be driving itself anytime soon » Forbes

Thejo Kote, co-founder and CEO of Automatic, which makes connectors for cars:

There is also the legal elephant in the room: liability. Car makers have always made sure that liability for the operation of a vehicle rests solely on the driver. The shift of liability to the manufacturer of the self-driving car is a huge change. Evaluating and understanding the risk they’re signing up for in a way that satisfies lawyers, legislators, and society at large is going to take a long time.

Auto insurance as we know it can’t be applied to self-driving cars; brand new insurance models will have to be developed. I work closely with senior executives at some of the largest insurers in the world, and while they’re actively preparing for the transition, even their most aggressive projections indicate that there won’t be any meaningful changes in the market for well over a decade.

link to this extract


OnePlus 2 vs Moto X Play: what’s the difference? » Pocket-lint

Elyse Betters:

Based on white sheet specs, the OnePlus 2 seems to beat the Moto X Play in terms of internal specs (like processor speed and RAM). It also completely beat the Moto X Play when it came to design and build, whereas the Moto X Play dominated in the camera department. And both devices had comparable displays and software experiences.

Moto X Play also makes improvements over its predecessor and naturally blows the Moto G out of the water, but as we said, it costs £299. Moto X Play also supports microSD, which the OnePlus 2 doesn’t, but the OnePlus 2 does have a fingerprint sensor and USB Type-C. And the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM only costs $389 (convers to £249).

Specs of course don’t tell everything. But she comes down on the side of the OnePlus (though it doesn’t have NFC).
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Uber’s phantom cabs » Motherboard

Alex Rosenblat:

There are two versions of Uber’s app: one for drivers to use to find passengers, and one for passengers to use to hail a ride. Frequently, drivers login to the passenger app to see where other drivers are so they don’t sit unknowingly in the same one-mile stretch as the competition.

What the passenger app shows can be deceptive, however. The discrepancy Heather noticed wouldn’t have been obvious in a busy location with a shorter wait time. But in more remote areas, the app clearly shows drivers where there are none.

Over a six month period, my colleague Luke Stark and I have been studying how Uber drivers interact with the Uber app as part of a research project funded by Microsoft FUSE Labs. Our research was conducted primarily in Uber driver forums, and through interviews with Uber drivers. We’ve observed that drivers across multiple forums discuss the fake cars they see on their own residential streets.

Ooh, this article is fascinating all the way through.
link to this extract


Start up: uncommenting The Verge, Siri v lights, the washing machine trials, web ad delights, and more


Life without the Apple Watch: which word fits? Photo by alexknowshtml on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you: laugh and point at the screen as though you found something funny. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We’re turning comments off for a bit » The Verge

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief:

What we’ve found lately is that the tone of our comments (and some of our commenters) is getting a little too aggressive and negative — a change that feels like it started with GamerGate and has steadily gotten worse ever since. It’s hard for us to do our best work in that environment, and it’s even harder for our staff to hang out with our audience and build the relationships that led to us having a great community in the first place.

That’s a bad feedback loop, and we want to stop it. So we’re going to call timeout for a while and turn comments off by default on all posts for the next few weeks. It’s going to be a super chill summer.

We’re still dedicated to community, so our forums will remain open — in fact, we’ll be doing more to promote great posts from the forums on our front page and on our social channels than ever before. And we’ll be turning comments on on a post-by-post basis when we want to open things up, so look for that.

But in the meantime, let’s all take that minute and relax. Let someone else curate your playlists, you know? Comments will be back. There will always be another party. Freedom lasts forever.

I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to my analysis from last November of how Gresham’s Law explains precisely this phenomenon. We’ll see how the “comments will come back, honest” works out.

And here’s the Verge forum discussing it. Guess which tech company the discussion quickly degenerates into accusing The Verge of favouring? It’s the tech version of Godwin’s Law, and just as corrosive.


Aparna Chennapragada, head of Google Now, discusses apps, search, AI » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Chennapragada spelled out the three-pronged direction of the product — what she called the “bets” her team is taking. The first bet was embedding Now with Google’s full “Knowledge Graph” — the billions-thick Web of people, places and things and their many interconnections.

The second is context. Now groks both the user’s location and the myriad of signals from others in the same spot. If you enter a mall, Now will tailor cards to what people in that mall typically ask for. “Both your feet are at the mall. You shouldn’t have to spell it out,” Chennapragada said. “Why should I futz with the phone and wade through 15 screens?”

And this is where the third benchmark for Now comes in: Tying that context to the apps on your phone, or ones you have yet to download. In two years, Google has indexed some 50 billion links within apps. In April, it began listing install links to apps deemed relevant in search. Indexed apps will be included in Now on Tap when it arrives in the latest Android version this fall.

Your phone knows you’re at the mall. Is this a place where I need my phone to know I am? I find these scenarios puzzling, because “things I might be at the mall to do” are truly difficult to narrow down, and enunciate, and likely aren’t the same between visits. The times I’d need Google Now to leap into action would be when I found myself somewhere unscheduled and without transport. That’s when I want help.


Hacking Team responds to data breach, issues public threats and denials » CSO Online

Steve Ragan:

Newly published documents from the cache include invoices for services with Italian law enforcement, Oman, South Korea, UAE, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Lebanon, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Egypt, and Vietnam. The total value of the invoices is €4,324,350 Euro.

The hack went without comment for several hours, until members of Hacking Team woke on Monday morning. One of the company’s staffers, Christian Pozzi, offered several comments on the breach, despite his statement that he couldn’t comment.

“We are awake. The people responsible for this will be arrested. We are working with the police at the moment,” Pozzi wrote.

“Don’t believe everything you see. Most of what the attackers are claiming is simply not true…The attackers are spreading a lot of lies about our company that is simply not true. The torrent contains a virus…”

Pozzi took to Twitter to repeat the same message for the most part, the key points being that Hacking Team is working with law enforcement on this matter, that the massive torrent file has malware in it (it doesn’t), customers are being notified, and that his company has done nothing illegal: “… We simply provide custom software solutions tailored to our customers needs…”


My week without Apple Watch » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

When I had the Apple Watch on, I averaged 28 fewer times I looked at my iPhone each day. This is a good proxy of how notifications on the watch help minimize the number of times I need to look at my phone to see the nature of each notification.

After reflecting on what looking at my phone fewer times meant in my daily life, I concluded the experience was less disruptive. Don’t get me wrong — I love my iPhone. It is my primary computer. However, having to respond to your phone or pull it out of your pocket or bag for each phone call or text message turns out to be fairly disruptive. As I’ve observed my wife’s behavior as well with her Apple Watch, she articulates similar feelings. As she is out and about, not having to fumble through her purse each time her phone dings is a less disruptive experience in many daily situations. Particularly since not all notifications are important or in need of an immediate response. However, without the use of the Apple Watch, you would not know this without getting your phone out and looking at it. This is an area of immense value that can only be understood once experienced.

I’d agree with this: I’m using an Apple Watch, and the value in not having to have your phone right there is substantial – but also difficult to quantify, because of course you can do without it. Filtering notifications matters; but being able to see or respond to the ones you deem urgent matters a lot.

(If you have an Apple Watch, Bajarin is working with a company called Wristly to do research; you could join.)


Hats off to web advertising. No, really. » WSJ

Chris Mims:

Vast advertising markets that had to decide what ad to show in milliseconds meant that from the very beginning of internet advertising, unprecedented amounts of data were flowing into growing quantities of computing power.

Like a kind of Manhattan project for data, solving the problem of ad matching and delivery meant taking formerly obscure areas of research and transforming it into something everyone could use. “Powerful machine learning techniques were just starting to be developed in academia,” says [Gokul] Rajaram [formerly lead engineer at early ad network Juno, then Google and Facebook, and now at Square], but ad networks would have been impossible without them.

As I researched, I discovered the alumni of ad tech platforms are everywhere, launching startups and leading projects within established companies. What they all have in common is an unusual and broadly powerful toolkit that is being applied to everything from agricultural drones and cybersecurity to food safety and the improvement of hiring practices.

It’s a fair point: we love to hate ads, but the necessity of making them work has driven a lot of improvement.


Here’s what it’s like to control your lights with Siri » The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately begin using this ability to mess with the people you live with: turning off lights so that they’re sitting in a dark room, turning on a light while they’re set up to watch Netflix. I didn’t see the Siri control as much more than a novelty at first, but the utility became more apparent once I set up two lamps in the same room. At that point, it became easier to turn them on and off simultaneously with Siri than to walk over to each one individually. It’s a basic start, but there’s so much more you could do once additional pieces of the home become connected.

Must be a hell of a big room for it to be easier to talk to the phone than to stand up. Also, what is the “so much more” you can do? Lights are the classic “wrong application”: we usually turn lights on when we enter a room, turn them off when we leave. In between, there’s hardly ever anything we want to do to them – and if we do, then it’s either a short reach, or a couple of steps. Pretending otherwise is automation for its own sake.

Home automation still needs really simple sensors and actuators that we can fit ad-hoc to things we choose, not devices where it’s built-in but not actually useful.


Chaebol slapfight: Samsung, LG in first trial over washing machine vandalism » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-young:

In the first trial between the two Korean home appliance giants, the legal representatives for LG gave an item-by-item rebuttal of the allegations that CEO Cho Seong-jin and two other officials at the company broke the doors of three Samsung washing machines intentionally. 

“The doors of the front-door washing machines are big and heavy, so they can naturally tilt downward to some extent and swing a little bit, which can be easily found in other washing machines,” a legal representative for LG appealed.

The attorney also raised suspicions about the authenticity of the damaged washing machines presented to the court as evidence, arguing that the products seemed to have had more scratches than before, and that they could not be the results of Cho touching the washers.

What’s “de minimis non curat lex” in Korean? (Also: “first” trial?)


YouTube is the No.1 music streaming platform – and getting bigger » Music Business Worldwide

Scary news for those who don’t feel YouTube is paying music rights-holders enough: it’s the biggest music streaming service on earth, and it’s growing faster than Spotify or any of its rivals.

That’s according to MBW analysis of the latest market stats out of the UK and US, which show that YouTube increased its market share of total on-demand streams in the first six months of this year on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the first half of 2015 in the US, overall on-demand streams grew 92.4% year-on-year to 135.2bn.

The majority of this growth was down to YouTube (plus Vevo and other video services), which saw a stream volume increase of 109.2% to 76.6bn.

Though it seems like Vevo is a big player in this. But yes, YouTube swamps everything else.


Start up: Starbucks app hack, more image recognition, HomeKit on the way, drone questions and more


That’s another sort of third-party keyboard altogether. Photo by zen on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. They are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EXCLUSIVE: Hackers target Starbucks mobile users, steal from linked credit cards without knowing account number » Bob Sullivan

Sullivan broke this story:

Because Starbucks isn’t answering specific questions about the fraud, I cannot confirm precisely how it works, but I have informed speculation, based on conversations with an anonymous source who is familiar with the crime. The source said Starbucks was known to be wrestling with the problem earlier this year. Essentially, any criminal who obtains username and password credentials to Starbucks.com can drain a consumer’s stored value, and attack their linked credit card.

Hackers often manage to steal hordes of username and password combinations, the way they steal databases of credit card account numbers. Because consumers often re-use credentials, hackers take them and “brute force” thousands of potential logins at the website. Because Starbucks’ mobile payment app is so popular, any large set of stolen credentials is bound to have at least a few combinations that unlock Starbucks accounts.

Perhaps you’re wondering: what’s the use of hacking the Starbucks app? Answer, as a wilier mind than mine pointed out: you can buy Starbucks gift cards at the counter with them. Then you sell them on eBay. (Though I can’t decide if this is pretty small-time crookedness or a huge line of business. Certainly going to be inflating Starbucks’s bottom line though.)


Wolfram Language Artificial Intelligence: the Image Identification project » Stephen Wolfram Blog

“What is this a picture of?” Humans can usually answer such questions instantly, but in the past it’s always seemed out of reach for computers to do this. For nearly 40 years I’ve been sure computers would eventually get there — but I’ve wondered when.
I’ve built systems that give computers all sorts of intelligence, much of it far beyond the human level. And for a long time we’ve been integrating all that intelligence into the Wolfram Language.
Now I’m excited to be able to say that we’ve reached a milestone: there’s finally a function called ImageIdentify built into the Wolfram Language that lets you ask, “What is this a picture of?”— and get an answer.


Apple says first HomeKit smart devices coming in June » WSJ Digits blog

Daisuke Wabayashi:

“HomeKit [hardware certification] has been available for just a few months and we already have dozens of partners who have committed to bringing HomeKit accessories to market and we’re looking forward to the first ones coming next month,” said Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller.

Apple’s statement comes on the heels of a report in Fortune that said Apple’s software platform — which will allow the company’s devices to control connected home appliances — was experiencing problems and that the introduction of the first HomeKit devices were being delayed.

For its part, Apple has never said when HomeKit-compliant devices would start hitting the market, but one developer working with Apple on the platform had told Re/code earlier this year that new products would be ready in May or June.

Interesting: Apple moved quickly to respond to this – within hours – and chose the WSJ to say it.


Dirt cheap drones: Is Europe’s largest Kickstarter in over its head? » Ars Technica UK

Cyrus Farivar:

In January 2015, the Welsh drone startup concluded its Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the Zano. It raised over £2.3m ($3.4m) in under two months, becoming the most crowdfunded European project ever. This summer, Torquing [Group, which is making the device] says it will ship drones to the more than 12,000 people who backed the project.

There’s only one problem. Despite Zano’s release date being less than two months away, no one outside Torquing has actually flown the drone. And it’s questions about the project that are truly beginning to take off.

Ars visited Torquing last month for an exclusive tour of the company’s offices. After spending a couple of hours with the Zano team, we don’t have a good sense of how well the device actually flies. Although we heard more about its touted “swarm” feature, we didn’t see the drone working in a real-world situation; we were merely able to hold a Zano and verify its existence.

Reece Crowther, the company’s head of marketing, regretfully informed us that we turned up just before a shipment of 500 last-minute prototypes arrived. Torquing, therefore, said it was unable to let us fly one. At the time, Reedman noted that only 12 Zanos existed, and we saw what appeared to be only a few of them.

I’m one of the backers. Fingers crossed. I’d expect this to be late, at best.


Sunrise launches ‘Meet’, a custom keyboard to schedule meetings » MacStories

Federico Viticci:

When I first tried Meet, Sunrise’s latest addition to their popular calendar app, I didn’t think it made much sense as a custom keyboard. Now, a few months later, Meet has become my favorite way to check on my availability from any app and create one-to-one meetings. With Meet, the Sunrise team has created one of the most innovative mobile calendar features I’ve seen in years.

Sunrise, part of Microsoft since February, rarely shied away from subverting traditional calendar features found in most clients for smartphones and tablets. As I explored last year, Sunrise’s biggest strengths lie in excellent integration with web services, prolific use of icons to quickly discern events, weather support, external calendars, and the ability to show details for event participants. At its core, Sunrise aims to reimagine the calendar by expanding it beyond a list of days and events

.

Super-clever. Expect more lateral thinking on keyboards as a result. Available on iOS and Android. Oh, Windows Phone? Doesn’t allow third-party keyboards.


How smartphone startup Light plans to replace high-end cameras » Re/code

Ina Fried on a company that’s not exactly making a smartphone; it’s making the camera systems to go into them:

Put more simply, Light tries to emulate digitally what a big zoom lens does through expensive glass lenses. It aggregates the data from the different cameras to create both optical zoom and high-resolution images. Light has applied for a bunch of patents to cover aspects of its approach, including creating zoom using images from the multiple fixed-focal length lenses.

As a business, Light is banking on the fact that using smartphone cameras, even a bunch of them, is a far more economical way to achieve the kind of images that in the past have required expensive glass lenses.

The technology is ready, says Grannan, who previously ran start-up Vlingo and also worked at Sprint PCS. There is of course, added cost in putting a bunch of cameras and mirrors inside a cell phone, an addition of perhaps $60 to $80 in the final cost of a phone, Light estimates.

Seems high. Creating a big lens from smaller ones is a solved software problem: it’s how the Very Large Array works, for example. Wonder if this is really a defensible USP.


Why I’m breaking up with Google Chrome » The Next Web

Owen Williams, on a topic I previously linked to:

The Verge reported that using Chrome over Safari resulted in a three and a half hour shorter battery life on the latest MacBook.

I’ve always loved Chrome’s interface, its plethora of extensions, and how it integrates with services every day, but it’s time for something new. We can do better.

The problem is that the Web is now optimized for Chrome users and that means alternatives often provide a terrible experience.

Thanks in part to the browser’s massive market share, the best developer tools and Google’s aggressive adoption of the latest Web technologies, developers have gravitated toward Chrome’s rendering engine as the only one they support.

I’ve switched to Safari (on a Mac), and found that yes, processor use plummets and battery life extends dramatically. Nor is it noticeably slower (or faster).

But the important point here is in the third paragraph of this excerpt: that lots of sites are now using Chrome-specific tweaks, which means that they don’t work as well in other browsers, at least on the desktop.

This does pose a problem if it becomes dominant in mobile: Android isn’t going away, and Chrome is increasingly the default browser on mobile too.