Start up: the Samsung conflict, Google Analytics v Edge, Windows 95 v 10, Android woes and more

A smart cap could tell you if your milk had gone off – so much more accurate than someone’s nose. Photo by alisdair on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Because you can take it. (You’d better, I’m taking a three-week holiday break.) I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Samsung’s profit center » Asymco

Horace Dediu:

Phone operating margins [at Samsung] peaked in Q1 2014 at 20% but are half that level today. These margins have dropped to levels Samsung had in 2009, before the Galaxy launched and before they had any substantial revenues from smartphones.

In contrast, the semiconductor group is growing both revenues and margins. Margins and operating profits are both 50% higher than those of devices.

We also know that Apple is Samsung Semiconductor’s single biggest customer. We can’t be sure how much of the total revenue/profit comes from Apple but if the pattern continues then Apple could be the greatest contributor to Samsung’s profitability in the near future.

How could this be? Wasn’t Samsung supposed to “disrupt” Apple?

The reality is that Samsung’s own smartphones are being disrupted by good-enough Android devices, typically made by Chinese brands. This low-end disruption is also affecting LG, another phone maker and Apple supplier.

Unlike Samsung and LG, Apple is less susceptible to low-end disruption. What Apple offers is a brand promise, an ecosystem, associated products and services and what amounts to a new market. It’s this parallel value network that competes with Android/Google, rather than with Samsung.

I’ll add another data point: the “phone operating margins” actually cover the IM [IT & Mobile] division, which includes PCs and (I believe) cameras. In the latest quarter, the non-phone revenue in the IM division was below US$500m, for the first time in at least four years. That suggests we’re very close to seeing the true profit margin of Samsung’s phone business, as the non-phone business probably doesn’t perturb the very much larger (US$22bn, ie over 44x larger) phone business.

And read Dediu’s post for the killer payoff line.
link to this extract

Google loses bid to overturn low-cost patent licenses to Microsoft » Reuters

Andrew Chung:

In a setback for Google, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday that the low licensing rate Microsoft pays to use some of Google’s Motorola Mobility patents had been properly set.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a lower court judge properly determined the patents’ value even though the royalty rate was only a fraction of what Motorola had asked for. Google sold the Motorola handset business to Lenovo last year but kept its patents.

The court also upheld $14.5m awarded to Microsoft for Motorola’s breach of contract to license its patents fairly.

Patents at issue being standards-essential; Motorola kicked it off demanding $4bn per year. Judge James Robart put the royalty rate at $1.8m per year.
link to this extract

BT hands £129m back to after beating rural broadband targets » The Register

Simon Rockman:

Both BT and the Ministry of Fun – or the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, if you prefer – have spun BT’s toeing-the-line-of-a-contractual-obligation as unbridled generosity towards taxpayers.

A statement from the Minister of Fun, John Whittingdale, said:

It’s fantastic to see that the rollout of superfast broadband is delivering for customers and for the taxpayer. The Government was clear from the start that as levels of people taking up superfast broadband went beyond our expectations in areas where we invested public money, BT would reimburse the taxpayer for reinvesting into further coverage across the UK. This now means that BT will be providing up to £129m cashback for some of the most hard to reach areas.
The funding was part of a Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project which has the aims of:

• provide superfast broadband coverage to 90 per cent of the UK by 2016
• provide basic broadband (2Mbps) for all by 2016
• provide superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017
• explore options to get near universal superfast broadband coverage across the UK by 2018
• create 22 “SuperConnected Cities” across the UK by 2015
• improve mobile coverage in remote areas by 2016

Speaking as someone who keeps finding themselves somehow forever in that “it’s coming in a couple of years, honest” part of the country (which seems to be a lot larger than 5%), I’d prefer Whittingdale to be lighting a fire under BT, and for Ofcom to demand that BT Openreach (which does the infrastructure) be split from the rest of BT.

After all, power generators don’t own the power lines, rail operators don’t own the track; why does BT own the phone lines?
link to this extract

Enterprises retake lead in tech adoption » Deloitte CIO – WSJ

Apparently a sort of chief information officer-focussed niche of the WSJ, this has the entertaining premise that:

many believe this trend of consumer-originated innovations entering the workplace, dubbed the consumerization of IT, will become the dominant model going forward. But there is strong evidence that the pendulum is swinging back to enterprise-first adoption, with organizations likely to capture more near-term value than consumers in the following four technology areas:

Which areas? Let’s see: wearables; 3D printers; drones; Internet of Things. Not a chance on wearables – enterprise adoption and value will lag far behind consumers (already does). On 3D printing, businesses are already ahead through prototyping, so no contest. On drones, again, armies got there first, so not really at issue. And IoT? It’s such a pain at present for most people that again, it’s left to businesses which have the time and patience to deploy. But I’d bet once IoT stuff becomes prevalent enough, it will be widely used by the ordinary folk.
link to this extract

The challenge of tracking Microsoft’s new Edge browser in Google Analytics » GeekWire

Even though Edge is now in the wild, tracking usage and adoption of the browser is going to be problematic for many web developers and site owners because tracking for Edge is not yet supported in Google Analytics.

Web developers and designers frequently consult Google Analytics to answer important browser usage questions for their website. Answers to questions like “Do we need to still support IE8?” or “Are there enough users affected by this particular Chrome bug to implement a hack to fix it?” are usually answered by running a browser usage report in Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides an easy way to break down a website’s readers by their OS, browser and browser version, except in the case of Edge.

Taking a look at Google Analytics reports for Operating System Version in Windows, you’ll notice that there is no version 10 listed.

WTH, Google? (Via Richard Burte.)
link to this extract

UC Berkeley engineers devise 3D-printed ‘Smart Cap’ to check safety of milk, juice » Food Safety News

The “smart cap” has an embedded inductor-capacitor tank as the wireless passive sensor and can monitor the quality of milk and juice wirelessly, the article stated.

“A quick flip of the carton allowed a bit of milk to get trapped in the cap’s capacitor gap, and the entire carton was then left unopened at room temperature (about 71.6 degrees F) for 36 hours,” according to a university news report.

The result shows a 4.3% resonance frequency shift from milk stored in the room temperature environment for that period. This work establishes an innovative approach to construct arbitrary 3D systems with embedded electrical structures as integrated circuitry for various applications, including the demonstrated passive wireless sensors, the article explained.

The Berkeley folk are saying “hey, people will print them out at home!” while everyone else is saying “this would be so useful in mass-produced containers”.

So here’s a picture of the 3D printer that the UC Berkeley people think you’ll want to print out milk carton tops with.
UC Berkely 3D printer
Yeah, I’ll have two – you never know when you might need a spare.
link to this extract

The fastest-growing mobile phone markets barely use apps » Quartz

Africa and Asia, the two fastest growing mobile markets, aren’t very big on apps.

The overwhelming majority of mobile internet activity in the regions is spent on web pages, according to a report released on 28 July by Opera Mediaworks. In Asia and Africa, websites made up 90% and 96% of mobile impressions, respectively, in the second quarter.

Their habits are a sharp contrast to the US, where apps accounted for 91% of impressions. Globally, there’s a more even distribution, with apps making up 56% of mobile impressions and websites comprising the remainder…

…“A big portion of the mobile audience in mobile-first regions like Africa and [Asia-Pacific] are still using low-end feature phones because of the cost factor,” a spokesman tells Quartz. “This therefore compels them to use the mobile web more than apps, which are usually dominant on smartphones.”

Today’s challenger for the “well duh” prize.
link to this extract

Windows 10 launched so quietly you may have missed it » The Guardian

Some two-bit hack blathering about a new version of Windows:

Windows 10’s biggest new feature? It’s free if you download it within the next year, and will install on machines running Windows 7 or Windows 8. Its second biggest feature? It isn’t Windows 8, which was released in 2012 and created widespread puzzlement by submerging the traditional desktop interface beneath big, bright “tiles” and getting rid of the familiar, popular Start menu.

That puzzlement soon turned to anger, forcing the ejection of the man who had led Windows 8’s development, Steve Sinofsky, and the introduction of Windows 8.1, which, while it didn’t bring the Start menu, did at least let you start off in desktop mode.

Now, Microsoft breezily says, “the familiar Start menu is back”, as though it had been on holiday rather than unceremoniously dumped.

On reflection, the biggest feature of Windows 10 is that it isn’t Windows 8. Being free is its second-biggest.
link to this extract

August 1995: A window we will all want to open » The Independent

Some two-bit hack blathering about a new version of Windows:

Microsoft’s computer program lines up with a number of other classic products: the Biro, aerosols, the Sony Walkman, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the Mini and the compact disc. It is a piece of technology which has arrived at just the right time to satisfy people’s wants.

Like those other classic products, Windows 95 enhances our personal independence and autonomy, and makes our lives more convenient. It draws everyone deeper into the existence of the “me” generation. Thus, aerosols let you manage your hair, your hygiene, your cleaning as you choose: convenience in a can. A Biro can write for far longer than a fountain pen, and when it’s finished you simply throw it away. The Mini, costing £400 in its first incarnation, made car ownership possible for the young and relatively poor, not just the comfortably well-off. The Walkman provided everyone with their own personal environment: the music (or noise) that you want at the volume you choose.

But like those earlier products, Windows 95 also exemplifies a wider economic and cultural trend. Just as globalisation gives corporations multinational reach, their products link physically and culturally diverse peoples, homogenising aspects of our lifestyles and, literally, connecting us up. Software can be “shipped” over a telephone line across borders; Windows 95 will be the same in Australia or the Arctic.

link to this extract

CNET’s early coverage of Windows 95, back in 1995 » YouTube

CNET’s first impression of Windows 95 was that it would create a huge impact, what with the long file names, taskbar and a recycle bin for unwanted files. Check out this vintage review along with Microsoft’s own promotional video that went with the launch.

Here’s the video:

(The presenter is Richard Hart.)

How far we’ve come. No, don’t disagree. Look at that video of the Fonz.
link to this extract

The security flaw Google built into Android » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Google can’t push you an update for Android. It hands out the operating system to device manufacturers for free. They get to tinker with it to add features or apps of their own and are the only ones—along with cellular carriers in some cases —that can push updates to the devices they sell. Google does bind companies that use Android with some restrictions (for example to do with using its app store) but doesn’t require them to push out security updates quickly.

That leaves users of Android devices unable to avail themselves of what security experts say is the most important strategy for staying safe, at least according to researchers at none other than Google itself. They reported last week on a survey that asked computer security pros how they stay safe. Applying security updates emerged as the experts’ number one priority.

Google has lately come up with workarounds for Android’s flawed security model. It has shunted many key functions into apps that it can push updates to via its app store. But that doesn’t cover all of Android, and the app store doesn’t have a way to signal to you whether an app wants to update for security reasons or just to add new features.

The text message vulnerability revealed today can’t be fully fixed by upgrading apps. And it’s not unlikely that most vulnerable phones will never get the security patches for Android that Google has developed and will offer up to manufacturers and cellular operators.

Android has done spectacularly well, but one feels that it’s overdue its Blaster moment.
link to this extract

Start up: how we view innovation, FBI malware v Tor, drones on the farm, Samsung in India, and more

Small; soon invisibly so? Photo of a SIM card by smjbk on Flickr.

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

Innovation isn’t dead »

Morgan Housel, with the only article you need about innovation and people being dismissive of stuff on the basis of “I’d never want one”:

The typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions is something like this:

• I’ve never heard of it.
• I’ve heard of it but don’t understand it.
• I understand it, but I don’t see how it’s useful.
• I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
• I use it, but it’s just a toy.
• It’s becoming more useful for me.
• I use it all the time.
• I could not imagine life without it.
• Seriously, people lived without it?

This process can take years, or decades. It always looks like we haven’t innovated in 10 or 20 years because it takes 10 or 20 years to notice an innovation.

Planes, lasers, cars, antibiotics, laptops – they’ve all gone through it. What’s going through exactly the same now?
link to this extract

Drawbridge hires Apple ad executive to track users across devices » WSJ

Douglas MacMillan and Elizabeth Dwoskin:

If a desktop computer and a smartphone are connecting to the same WiFi network, the network will recognize the unique ID in each device and pass that information to Drawbridge.

The guesswork gets more accurate the more frequently Drawbridge can capture instances of devices being in the same place or connecting to the same network. Drawbridge uses this cross-device matching system to build rich profiles of people’s behavior, interests, spending habits, demographic information, and sometimes their locations. They claim their matching software is more than 80% accurate.

Methods of tracking consumers online have drawn longstanding criticism from privacy advocates. The advertiser’s holy grail, of capturing every interaction a consumer has with their brand, also requires extensive surveillance of people’s behavior, and increasingly, their comings and goings. Privacy watchdogs say consumers do not want to be monitored in this way, and that the methods companies use to obtain consent to collect people’s data are broken.

Many apps ask for consumers’ permission to collect their location as a condition of downloading the app, but advocates warn that consumers are largely unaware of the extent of the information being collected or how it is being used. A recent study found that roughly 60% of consumers withdrew their consent when presented information about how their data was being shared.

Drawbridge says the company doesn’t maintain a database of names or of people’s real identities, but builds anonymous profiles using identification numbers.

Oh, come on. “Anonymous profiles using identification numbers”? Including, say, location, age, sex, marital status, interests, and so on? Quit the obfuscation; it’s profiling, of people, and Apple tries to limit its extent, and everyone else doesn’t.
link to this extract

Feds bust through huge Tor-hidden child porn site using questionable malware » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar and Sean Gallagher:

A newly unsealed FBI search warrant application illustrates yet another example of how the government deploys malware and uses sophisticated exploits in an attempt to bust up child pornography rings.

The 28-page FBI affidavit (text-only, possibly NSFW) was unsealed in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York earlier this month. It describes a North Carolina server hosting a Tor hidden service site. The setup was seized in February 2015, but law enforcement allowed it to run for two additional weeks as a way to monitor its nearly 215,000 users.

Currently, at least three men—Peter Ferrell, Alex Schreiber, and James Paroline—have been charged in connection with this site.

Ferrell, username “plowden23,” is the target of the search warrant affidavit. Schreiber, 66, of Queens, was a former New York City schoolteacher. The two New York men have been released on bond.

“Questionable” malware in the sense that the legal rules about venue of infected PC are very hand-wavey; how do you know where a PC you’re infecting via Tor is based? By getting it to phone home (to the FBI). What if that’s out of venue? Ignore it?
link to this extract

Apple, Samsung in talks with telecom groups to launch e-Sim card »

Daniel Thomas and Tim Bradshaw:

Apple and Samsung are in advanced talks to join the rest of the telecoms industry to launch electronic Sim cards, in a move could fundamentally change how consumers sign up to mobile operators.

The GSMA, the industry association which represents mobile operators worldwide, is close to announcing an agreement to produce a standardised embedded Sim for consumer devices that would include the smartphone makers.

The traditional Sim card locks in the user to a network but an embedded Sim would enable a smartphone, tablet or wearable user to avoid locking themselves into a plan with a single operator or sign up to switch instantly.

Wouldn’t expect this in 2015, but next year would make perfect sense. And that’s another opening/point of failure removed from phones. I bet Apple is working on making the iPhone 7 “waterproof” – and perhaps at a dual-SIM model.
link to this extract

Agricultural drones: the new farmers’ market » Engineering & Technology Magazine

Katia Moskvitch:

In the past, when farmers had smaller fields, they knew which areas had enough water, or were ready to harvest, just by walking around their land. However, to stay connected with today’s much bigger parcels of farm land, they need precision agriculture, with crop management that relies on GPS and big data analytics to increase yields and profits while cutting down on pesticide and water use.

Many tractors are now guided by GPS, to plant perfectly straight rows of crops. Farmers can monitor the progress of their driverless tractor on a tablet at home. Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, estimates that data-driven prescriptive planting could increase global crop production by about $20bn a year, or about one-third the value of 2013’s US corn crop.

Drones are the latest addition in the toolkit of precision farming, collecting the key datasets used to make agronomic decisions. Right now, they are still new, and regulations how to use them vary from country to country. But farmers everywhere are waking up to the potential benefits, and “in a few years, drones could be a common sight above British farms,” says Alex Dinsdale, sales manager at Ursula Agriculture, a company that delivers crop intelligence from drones. But are they really useful, or just a technology gimmick?

“I remember driving the vineyards with my grandfather as a child, we would constantly stop, get out, and look at the vines. Right up close,” says Kunde. “He would take off a leaf and look at the undersides, show me, throw it down, then choose another.” At other times groups of men would use magnifying glasses to inspect the leaves, looking for potential pest problems in the vines. Fast-forward to today, and much of that work “could have been helped by advanced tools and aerial imagery,” he says.

link to this extract

How spyware peddler Hacking Team was publicly dismantled » Engaget

The Hacking Team hack has spawned so many stories, but this by Violet Blue pulls together some of the worst behaviour uncovered. Such as:

Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency (INSA) was employing Hacking Team to target [security researcher, The Intercept journalist, First Look Media director of security and former Google employee Morgan] Marquis-Boire, likely over his tracking of the company’s malware for Citizen Lab and at Google’s anti-malware team – one which culminated in a particularly bad PR moment for Ethiopia.

The Citizen Lab research in question found Ethiopia’s INSA using Hacking Team’s malware to target journalists; Ethiopian authorities use arbitrary arrests to silence journalists, and detainees routinely allege torture and ill treatment. The Ethiopian government’s spokesperson in Washington vehemently denied the use of products provided by Hacking Team.

Yet PhineasFisher’s haul shows Hacking Team not only provided its products to Ethiopia, but also proposed a new contract with Ethiopia because, according to a leaked email from operations chief Daniele Milan, “700K is a relevant sum.”

link to this extract

Samsung’s smartphone market share falls to 21.5% from 28% in India in June quarter | ETtech

Danish Khan:

Samsung’s smartphone market share fell to 21.5% from 28% in the previous quarter, the report [by tracking firm Cybex Exim Solutions] said. The company, however, still leads the overall handset market in the country with 18.9% share.

Home-bred handset maker Micromax is going steady at the No.2 position, with 12.6% share of the overall mobile phone market in the quarter to June, up from 10% in the previous quarter. In the smartphone segment, Micromax’s market share rose to 17.9% from 13%.

The Indian smartphone market grew by 23.5% sequentially to reach 25m units (according to Cybex). If you do the maths, that means Samsung’s smartphone sales did actually fall, from 5.7m to 5.4m, while Micromax’s rose from 2.6m to 4.5m. Samsung has a problem: it’s being out-competed at the low end.
link to this extract

Navy warns that fingerprint records were compromised in OPM breach » Darkmatters

Anthony Freed:

The Department of the Navy (DON) has sent a notice to more than 436,000 active duty personnel and reservists, as well as over 195,000 civilian employees, warning that data compromised in the recent breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also included fingerprint records.

“The interagency team has now concluded with high confidence that sensitive information, including the Social Security Numbers (SSNs) of 21.5 million individuals, was stolen from the background investigation databases,” said Thomas W. Hicks in performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy.

“This includes 19.7 million individuals that applied for a background investigation, and 1.8 million non-applicants, predominantly spouses or co-habitants of applicants. Some records also include findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and approximately 1.1 million included fingerprints.”

Please update your fingerprints accordingly, using at least one whorl and two loops. (Though seriously, how can they be abused? Unless you’re going to whirl off into a plot involving a top-flight general using an iPhone with TouchID.)
link to this extract

In praise of Apple Music in my iTunes Library » Six Colors

Jason Snell:

I don’t know what I was expecting from Apple Music integration. I guess I assumed that when I added a track to “my library” from Apple Music, it would go to some special Apple Music tab, or playlist, or library. Nope—that music just shows up in the My Music section of iTunes, mixed in with all of the stuff I’ve bought over the years.

I realize that this approach may not work for everyone—one of the great challenges in designing any computer-based music service is going to be the endlessly different ways people consume to music—but boy, does it work for me. I play music from a lot of self-built playlists, but now I can add Apple Music playlists too, and they’re seamlessly integrated. Apple Music’s integration with my music library lets me listen to music in the same way I’ve been doing it for the past 14 years—but with the addition of tracks from Apple Music’s nigh-endless supply.

I can also see just how insidious this approach is. My music library is no longer pristine, no longer a collection owned by me. Now I’m acquiring albums and tracks not by buying them, but by clicking that Add to Library button. It’s already started to happen, after a couple of weeks. After a few months or years with this service, how will I ever be able to cancel it?

There are roughly 800m iTunes accounts, growing at about half a million per day in 2013.
link to this extract