There have been a number of articles recently with horror stories of unscrupulous developers who essentially con people into signing up for subscriptions to apps on the App Store; these can rake in huge amounts of money.
Of course you’re thinking: I don’t do that! I’d never fall for it. (Postscript: see my update at the end.)
They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.
You think you won’t fall for it, but a lot of people do: the No.69 top grossing app gets $14.3m per year, and it’s a document scanner. Huh?
So because it’s important to know how to find out whether you’re on a subscription, here’s how to find it in iOS. (Here’s Apple’s page explaining how, but mine has nice pictures.)
First, go to Settings. There’s your account at the top: press on that. This takes you to the Apple ID area.
You want to press on the “iTunes and App Store” one:
This will take you through to a screen where the top link – though it doesn’t necessarily look like a link – is your Apple ID. (It’s in blue, so that tells you it is a link.) Press it.
OK, we’re nearly there! Now you want to choose “View Apple ID” from the menu below:
And now there’s yet another page: you want to go to the bottom of this, where it says “Subscriptions”. Press that.
Congratulations! You’ve beaten the boss level and your prize is to see what you’re subscribed to.
Hmm, looks like I don’t have any dodgy subscriptions that I ought to be worried about. But if there is something there you don’t like or don’t recognise, then press on that and it will take you to a page which will allow you to cancel the subscription immediately. It won’t tell you when you signed up, nor how much you’ve spent on it – both pieces of data that arguably would help in tracking back on scams – but at least you can stop it.
Now, this will probably strike you as pretty complex. Nobody’s going to come across that screen by accident; it’s quite possible that you wouldn’t come across it even if you were searching for “Subscriptions”, because a search in the Settings doesn’t show it up. Nor do my subscriptions to Apple Music and iTunes Match show up in the settings for Music. Your subscriptions are really hard to find.
This is bad in all sorts of ways, but it’s indicative of how subscriptions have sneaked up on Apple almost without it realising – even though adding subscriptions to apps was A Big Thing, back in 2011, and then again in 2016 when Apple revised the terms to make it easier to make money from them.
His comment was “I’d love it if iOS did something like this. I just checked my subscriptions and wow, I’ve been passively wasting a bunch of money.”
He’s absolutely right: it wouldn’t be that hard to institute a monthly check of what you do and don’t use (that information is onboard the device) and what you’re signed up to (that info isn’t onboard; you can confirm this by putting your phone or iPad on Airplane mode and trying to access the “View Apple ID” info).
One obvious objection to this is that you might not be accessing the app you’re subscribed to on one device, but you are on another – a classic example would be Netflix: you don’t watch it on your phone but you do on your iPad. This is another reason why it’s Apple which has to institute this procedure, since (again) it will be able to see usage data. (We can get into the thickets of “you don’t use this app on your devices but someone else in your Family group does, so is that OK?” But first let’s fix this.)
There’s one small wrinkle, though truly for Apple it shouldn’t be. With hardware sales slowing, Apple has been pushing the narrative of its growing Services business with Wall St and hence investors. Subscription revenues, and Apple’s 30%-15% (in the second year and onwards) cut, feed into that Services chunk, which is now the second-largest source of revenue after iPhones. (It’s a long way behind, but growing quite fast.
Telling people that they’re not using subscriptions which they’ve signed up to would surely lead to more discontinuations, which means less money for developers and for Apple’s Services business. But where that churn is caused by fakes, this is a net positive for Apple. Users will feel reassured that Apple is looking after their interests, and discouraging scammy apps. Apple would also be able quite easily to spot apps which suddenly have above-average numbers of subscription discontinuations, and investigate them. Less money, but more trust; Apple isn’t going to miss $14.3m per year, but the people who didn’t realise they were signed up to a document scanning subscription service will be happy for it.
All that starts, though, with making it easier in the first place to find what the hell you’re subscribed to. Apple needs to create a “Subscriptions” tab in Settings that isn’t buried multiple layers down.
We’ve been here before: in-app purchases (IAPs) quickly gained a terrible reputation, and it took multiple pieces of bad publicity before Apple, and Google, and Amazon acted to make it harder for kids to run up four-figure charges on their parents’ credit cards. Subscriptions are just the new front in the forever war against bad actors on the app stores. But as with all the previous ones – non-functional apps at ridiculous prices, ripoff apps at ridiculous prices, spyware apps at rock-bottom prices, IAPs – it’s a battle that Apple needs to win in order to keep the confidence of its customers.
Postscript: after this was written and published, two people got in touch to point out that I don’t need both iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions: Apple Music will now do the things that iTunes Match used to. (It didn’t previously – I’ve had iTunes Match for years – but as this iMore article points out, since 2016 it does.) As pictured.
Apple Music, iTunes Match: now basically the same thing.
So not only has this post (I hope) saved some people some money, it has saved me some money. I’d call that a success.
»Last year, Oracle successfully argued that it can copyright software interfaces – not just the software itself, the way it interfaces with other code, too. However, the trial jury deadlocked on whether or not Android’s infringement of Oracle’s copyright constituted “fair use.”
The case is heading back to trial in May to effectively work out how much money Google owes Oracle. In the meantime, the pair have been squaring up to each other in San Francisco’s federal court. In January, Oracle revealed that Google has made $31bn in sales and $22bn in profit from Android since it launched in 2008 – figures Google fought fiercely to keep secret.
Now one of Oracle’s expert witnesses, James Malackowski, has produced an analysis [PDF] that concludes that Big Red is owed $475m in damages and up to $8.89bn in recovered Android profits. Malackowski is chief exec of Ocean Tomo, which does intellectual property valuations among other things.
Collier was using booking.com’s app, which turned out to have screwed up in a big way:
»A lot of users (including myself and a few friends) are experiencing links in Mail and Messages not working, and some links in Safari, like Google Search results, not opening. A long press on a broken link causes the app you’re in to crash, otherwise a standard tap highlights the link but nothing happens.. It looks like there’s a bug in iOS that completely breaks the Universal Links if it gets served an app association file that’s too large.
Benjamin Mayo of 9to5mac.com reported installing the Booking.com app consistently broke their test devices – which led Steve Troughton-Smith (who else…) to take a peep at their association file, and tweet:
“Wow http://booking.com literally put every URL they had into their site association file. 2.3MB download ”
It seems that the large size of their file, due to it having every URL from their website inside it breaks the iOS database on the device. Apple allows you to have pattern based matching, so instead of having to include every hotel’s URL in the association file, Booking.com could just put /hotel/* to match all the hotels on their site.
Whilst Booking.com aren’t following the recommended approach, it’s not their fault that a third-party can break a fundamental system feature like web browsing. Apple should be handling these edges graciously.
The worst part – deleting the app doesn’t clear the Universal Link association. Because the OS process that handles the Universal Links has crashed, it appears unable to remove the corrupt database.
You can just about fix it via lots of subtle rebooting and deleting. Quite a screwup. link to this extract
»“People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post when he announced the Oculus acquisition. “But this is just the start. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”
Over the past week, I tested the Rift and many pieces of content for the system to see how true Mr. Zuckerberg’s words might ring. I can report that while the Rift is a well-built hardware system brimming with potential, the first wave of apps and games available for it narrows the device’s likely users to hard-core gamers. It is also rougher to set up and get accustomed to than products like smartphones and tablets.
Long setup, big downloads which can’t be done simultaneously with device use, and games where the VR benefits are unclear. Early days yet. link to this extract
»A few days ago, Private Eye popped up a link to the (not open) data they’d FOId from the Land Registry around land registry applications made by offshore companies: Selling England (and Wales) by the pound.
»Imagine you’re in a cafeteria, finishing up a bag of chips and chatting with some friends. You’re beginning to think about getting up to throw away your wrapper, when—suddenly—the nearest trash barrel approaches you instead. It rolls back and forth, and wiggles briefly. It is, it seems, at your service.
How do you respond?
The trash barrel has delivered some particularly unique insights. First of all, Sirkin and Ju say, it highlights how good people are at subtly refusing to acknowledge interactions they don’t want or need—a behavior the team has dubbed “unteracting.” If the trash barrel approaches a table of people, and they have no trash to give it, they generally won’t shoo it off. They’ll just steadfastly ignore it until it rolls away again. “They’re using their gaze as a tool for deciding when they’re engaging or not,” says Ju. (You can see this about halfway through the video, when a man on a cell phone refuses to look at the barrel until it backs off.)
On the other hand, people who did make use of the barrel felt miffed when it didn’t respond more. “People kind of expected it to thank them,” says Sirkin. “They’ll say ‘I fed the robot, and it didn’t thank me, and that was insulting.’” Some would also whistle for it, or dangle trash in front of it enticingly.
»In Google, employees are evaluated every year according to an opaque “perf” system that generates numeric scores that the employee is not allowed to see or to challenge. If an employee’s perf isn’t improving, they face “Performance Expectation Plans” and “Performance Improvement Plans” of increasing severity, which the employee is told are designed to bring them back into the fold, but which are actually designed to create a paper trail for HR in order to terminate the individual’s employment if management determines they are no longer worth the amount it costs the company to continue to employ them.
The problem with companies like Google is that they’re losing engineers at every level of the company because it’s simply no longer fun to work there, or at least that was my experience. I was punished by my manager for lower “perf” than he expected from me, due to my complete loss of interest in the real overarching goals of Android (to provide a minimal platform for Google’s closed-source, proprietary apps) as opposed to the goals presented to the public and Google’s partners (to provide an exceptional platform for Google’s partners to make great smartphones), and to my depression over the recent loss of my father after his multi-year battle with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
»One of the biggest complaints people have about their smartphone is that the battery doesn’t last long enough. For many people, just making it through the day can be a challenge, which is why you see so many “How to make your phone’s battery last longer!” articles in your friends’ Facebook feeds. But many of the claims in those articles are specious at best, and some of the tricks they suggest could actually shorten your battery life. So which ones should you try?
We partnered with The New York Times to find the answer by testing, on both Android and iPhone smartphones, a slew of procedures that people, publications, and — in some cases — smartphone manufacturers suggest for getting more use time out of your phone.
Some of these are really surprising – like not bothering to turn off Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to save battery. link to this extract
On the topic of the UK government’s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, which wants to introduce an “internet connection record” that could be queried for any person:
»The real problem is a deep one – but it is mostly about asking the wrong question. Internet Connection Records seem to be an attempt to answer the question ‘how can we recreate that really useful thing, the itemised phone bill, for the internet age’? And, from most accounts, it seems clear that the real experts, the people who work in the internet industry, weren’t really consulted until very late in the day, and then were only asked that question. It’s the wrong question. If you ask the wrong question, even if the answer is ‘right’, it’s still wrong. That’s why we have the mess that is the Internet Connection Record system: an intrusive, expensive, technically difficult and likely to be supremely ineffective idea.
The question that should have been asked is really the one that the Minister asked right at the start: how can we find all these terrorists and paedophiles when they’re using all this high tech stuff? It’s a question that should have been asked of the industry, of computer scientists, of academics, of civil society, of hackers and more. It should have been asked openly, consulted upon widely, and given the time and energy that it deserved. It is a very difficult question – I certainly don’t have an answer – but rather than try to shoe-horn an old idea into a new situation, it needs to be asked.
»DeepMind CEO and cofounder Demis Hassabis has confirmed at a number of conferences that Google’s AI ethics board exists. But neither Hassabis nor Google have ever disclosed the individuals on the board or gone into any great detail on what the board does.
Azeem Azhar, a tech entrepreneur, startup advisor, and author of the Exponential View newsletter, told Business Insider: “It’s super important [to talk about ethics in AI]. ”
Media and academics have called on DeepMind and Google to reveal who sits on Google’s AI ethics board so the debate about where the technology they’re developing can be carried out in the open, but so far Google and DeepMind’s cofounders have refused.
It’s generally accepted that Google’s AI ethics board can only be a good thing but ethicists like Evan Selinger, a professor of philosophy at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, have questioned whether Google should be more transparent about who is on the board and what they’re doing.
»Downtime caused by a ransomware attack can cost a company more than paying a ransom to recover data encrypted by the malware, according to a report released last week by Intermedia.
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of companies infected with ransomware could not access their data for at least two days because of the incident, and 32% couldn’t access their data for five days or more, according to the report, which was based on a survey of some 300 IT consultants.
“If you’ve got a large number of users and downtime runs into multiple days, then the cost of that downtime adds up pretty quickly to the kind of ransom amounts that cybercriminals are demanding potentially,” said Richard Walters, senior vice president of security products at Intermedia.
Those losses occur even if a company has taken precautions to back up its data. “You have to contain the infected systems, then wipe them completely and then restore them,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That process in more than half these cases took longer than two days.”
Companies faced with the decision between paying a ransom or restoring their systems from backups could find that it would cost them less to pay the ransom.
You can see how a pricing mechanism would take hold if the ransom was too high or too low. In which case, there must be an optimum ransom at which income is maximised, even though it’s too high for some companies. A case study for an academic somewhere, surely. link to this extract
»EC-Council, the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based professional organization that administers the Certified Ethical Hacker program, started spreading the scourge on Monday. Shortly afterward, researchers from security firm Fox IT notified EC-Council officials that one of their subdomains—which just happens to provide online training for computer security students—had come under the spell of Angler, a toolkit sold online that provides powerful Web drive-by exploits. On Thursday, after receiving no reply and still detecting that the site was infected, Fox IT published this blog post, apparently under the reasonable belief that when attempts to privately inform the company fail, it’s reasonable to go public.
Like so many drive-by attack campaigns, the one hitting the EC-Council is designed to be vexingly hard for researchers to replicate. It targets only visitors using Internet Explorer and then only when they come to the site from Google, Bing, or another search engine. Even when these conditions are met, people from certain IP addresses—say those in certain geographic locales—are also spared. The EC-Council pages of those who aren’t spared then receive embedded code that redirects the browser to a chain of malicious domains that host the Angler exploits.
That’s a decline of 90m, even while the overall smartphone market has grown from 704m (of which 501m were Android) to 1.43bn (of which 1.16bn were Android).
But your objection is probably the same as mine: isn’t the decrease in those sur-$500 shipments because the price of high-end Android handsets has fallen? The price you have to pay to get something with the same qualities as the $500-or-more Android flagship is lower than it was in 2012.
This is almost certainly true – but it isn’t much compensation for those struggling to expand their sales and seeing average selling prices (ASPs) fall. There’s a simple financial reason: if you keep selling the same number of phones at lower ASP, your profit will inevitably fall off a cliff as fixed costs such as staff and administration weigh you down.
What’s also notable that Apple hasn’t – so far – been affected by any drop in ASP. Since the start of 2010, its ASP for any quarter has only been below $600 four times – and in the most recent quarter, it reached an all-time high. Which leads one to wonder: what the hell is going on? But let’s show you the numbers from the quarter, and then discuss them.
Q4 2015: the smartphone scorecard
* denotes estimate: explanations below
Samsung: featurephones (it sold 18.5m) had an ASP of $30, and generated zero profit; its tablets had an ASP of $100 and generated zero profit. (These are the same assumptions as in previous quarters. If the ASP is lower, then revenues are higher and the ASP of smartphones is higher; if profits are non-zero on tablets and featurephones, profits on smartphones are lower.)
Apple: operating profit has to be assumed, at the same 27.9% share of revenue as in previous quarters. This may not be true – new phones such as the 6S/Plus are more expensive to produce at the start of a cycle (such as now). But again, consistency probably helps give the broad picture rather than trying to dive into numbers that only a few people inside Apple truly know.
Microsoft Mobile: assumes, as previously, that featurephones (there were 22.5m of them) had an ASP of $15 and gross margin – the profit purely on the goods, not including costs such as R+D and administration etc – of $5. These are the same assumptions as in the past. I’ve chopped the estimates of R+D and administration cost from $200m in previous quarters to $100m and from $300m to $100m because Microsoft said in its 10-Q that
Operating expenses [in the Devices division, which makes the Surface Pro, Surface Book, and phones] decreased $561m or 14%, mainly due to lower sales and marketing expenses and research and development expenses. Sales and marketing expenses decreased $359m or 18%, driven by a reduction in phone expenses, partially offset by marketing expenses associated with the launch of Surface Pro 4, Surface Book, and Windows 10. Research and development expenses decreased $179m or 11%, mainly due to a reduction in phone expenses.
To reach my figure for Microsoft’s profitability (or lack of it) I’ve taken $300m out of the Microsoft phone group’s operating costs, which might be close to the amount from the total $920m it says it cut. Without more clarity (or a shutdown of the phones division), hard to tell. But there’s no way one can see a division which sells 4.5m phones and generates around $830m being profitable; that’s about the same scale as HTC, which we know is not profitable because it publishes its results.
Microsoft has become increasingly opaque about the profitability of its phone side (though of course Apple has never declared any numbers there; one has to back it out from what is known about Mac and iPod profitability).
Where’s Android Wear?
You may ask yourself: where are Android Wear shipments as a factor in the revenues of LG, Sony or Lenovo (or Samsung’s Gear in its figures)? To which I’ll answer: don’t worry. Too small to trouble with. By my calculations, and those of other analysts, Android Wear shipments from all makers in Q4 totalled 0.9m. At around $150 each, that’s a rounding error in revenue for any of these players. (I’ll revisit my ongoing calculations on Android Wear usage figures in the near future.)
Handset pricing: Apple stands on the precipice
The real lessons of what’s going one here aren’t easy to see from a single quarter’s numbers. But if you want it in a single statistic, look at the contrast between Sony and LG. LG sold nearly twice as many phones, but Sony made a respectable profit, while LG made a loss. What’s the difference between them? ASP. Sony’s phones sold at an average price of $421.58, while LG’s were half that – $210.26. (This doesn’t mean that every LG phone sold at that price, or every Sony phone. But it tells you that Sony must have sold a lot more expensive phones than LG.)
Graph the trend in ASP and it becomes clearer: Sony has (as it said it intended to) driven up ASP, while LG has been pushed down.
Sony’s overall phone ASP has risen (though it now only sells half as many phones as LG)
Sony is literally the only Android OEM which has managed to raise ASPs consistently over the past year, and after a lot of pain (in the form of losses) it seems to be paying off in the form of profit. There’s a simple reason why, of course. The higher the price you can sell something for, the lower the proportion of your revenues the fixed costs – sales, administration, staff, and even seemingly trivial things like patent licensing – become. If you can drive your price up, you begin making profit. But if your ASP is driven down, everything starts eating into the bottom line.
Sony’s problem though is that it’s shrinking year-on-year. After a while, if your shipments are too low then even a high ASP can’t save you from your fixed costs – see HTC for the example. Still, Sony stands alone as having the highest ASP among Android OEMs. That doesn’t mean it sells the largest number of pricey handsets (Samsung surely has that title) but that it is consistently high.
Note how it’s only Samsung, which has both chip foundries and screen fabrication facilities, that has consistently been the biggest smartphone OEM and the only consistently profitable Android OEM.
But Samsung’s ASP is coming down quarter after quarter; it’s only keeping its profits level by making more phones, whose ASPs are falling. That hits revenues and profits – as charted below.
Note also how the total number of handsets that Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG and Lenovo/Motorola sold in 4Q15 was down to 128m, compared to 133.15m a year before – a fall of 4% while the smartphone business as a whole grew 6%. There’s a growing squeeze on the top end Android business, which we’ve seen since Q2 last year.
Apple meanwhile officially stayed static, mainly by “stuffing the channel” – getting carriers and others to buy phones which hadn’t reached customers by the end of the quarter, but counted as “shipped”; about 3m were pushed that way. This means Apple’s numbers of shipments to customers probably rose only minimally to 75m. Gartner’s figures say that Apple’s sales to end customers actually fell.
But there’s a bigger dynamic going on. Philip Elmer-DeWitt posted a fun interactive graphic showing how Android ASPs have moved compared to those for the iPhone. Here, statically, is the data – which comes from IDC and covers all Android handsets, of course, not just those at the top end from the companies which publish public figures:
In US$, iPhone average prices are remaining high; Android prices are falling as its base grows
The growing gap (or “delta”) between those two is dramatic. Of course part of that is what’s happening as Android reaches more and more people in the world: the poor in Kenya can’t afford an iPhone, but they can probably afford a $50 (Android) smartphone if it will help them do their jobs better. So is this just about Apple hanging on to profits as is often suggested? Not at all, responded Horace Dediu:
@philiped Common misconception. Apple is not concerned with keeping profits. It’s concerned with prices. Within the price is perception.
“Within the price is perception.” It’s quite the observation. As Dediu also pointed out, Apple hasn’t changed the selling price of its Mac line of computers for around 20 years. For all that Apple’s prices seem out of reach, that is precisely its attraction to some people – perversely, in the view of those who see smartphones (and PCs) as utterly functional and interchangeable. To some, they really aren’t.
And to continue having that perception, Apple also has to stand apart with its operating system and services. It could never license iOS; and I don’t see how it could make iMessage cross-platform without diluting its brand value. (That doesn’t mean it couldn’t grow iMessage into a messaging platform in its own right, able to do payments and so on.)
The pricing gap
With Android phones getting cheaper all the time, there’s not a lot of hope for the former premium makers. Kantar ComTech posted a neat graphic showing how the torch is passing among Android users in the EU’s five largest countries (Germany, UK, France, Spain, Italy) which shows this starkly:
Owners are abandoning established Android OEMs (purple) for rivals (green). Source: Kantar.
You’ve probably heard of Huawei, but would you have picked Alcatel or those others as rivals to Samsung or HTC? Probably not, even a few quarters ago.
LG is trying to escape this by effectively making this year’s G5 flagship modular, with add-ons such as cameras, high-end audio DAC and VR systems that you can plug in. The idea is to make the G5 more attractive because it has these extras. However given the numbers of G5s it’s likely to sell (a few million?) those add-ons (called “Friends”) are likely to be stranded. (I remember the same with Handspring’s add-ons. Great idea, but commercially doomed.) It’s extra revenue, and possibly each Friend sold will generate as much profit as a phone – accessories can do that – but won’t push up the ASPs of the actual phone. And if Friends are made available for cheaper LG phones, why would you buy the flagship when you can get the extra functionality of a Friend for cheaper?
None of this helps with the finances, or fights off the rise of cheaper, just-as-good devices running the same software.
The Android handset market is broadening, and deepening, like a pothole opening up beneath the previoiusly established companies. Xiaomi (VC-funded), Huawei (big network business throwing off cash), scores of tiny Chinese OEMs, niche makers… they’re all eating away at the edge of what seemed like a certain market.
And add to that the slowdown in the smartphone market, and you have a recipe for a repeat of that rat pit we saw referred to way back at the top. It’s going to be last man, or OEM, or if you prefer rat, standing.
Looking down from the precipice into the rat trap
But what does Apple do in all this? The gap between its average price and that of the “average” Android phone is widening all the time. Isn’t that a problem? A big one?
Yet Apple’s brand, and that position, isn’t built on hardware alone. You don’t hear about people using an iPhone in spite of iOS, the way you do about Samsung and its TouchWiz skin, for instance. iOS’s software reputation remains pretty solid: it hasn’t, despite many predictions, lost its lead in getting apps before Android in the west. (As a reminder, Eric Schmidt’s “in six months developers will be writing for Android first” promise was in December 2011; didn’t work out, at least in the west. Asia was and remains Android-first for most things.) iOS 9’s adoption was faster than iOS 8, despite the ecosystem being bigger. Apple Music seems to be winning users, though it’s a long, long way behind Spotify, especially on Android.
The question of how Apple can maintain its pricing in the face of the rampant deflation in the Android handset market remains the most interesting one around. Yet it has managed that in the PC market: its ASP there is $1200, while that for the “big” PC makers ranges from $300 (Acer) to $500 (Lenovo). And it has managed that for more than a decade. But it’s done that as a niche product which has only recently become more mainstream. In the phone market, its share of all handsets in Q4 was over 10%, and 19% of smartphones. Can you maintain premium pricing and be mainstream?
For the Android OEMs, though, the story remains the same: you’re down there in the rat trap, and that curious face above you gazing down is Javier Bardem, waiting to see who’ll be left at the end. And I’m just behind, looking over his shoulder, just as fascinated.
App developers are always looking for ways to make the lives of their users easier and for ways to introduce innovative features that help users save time. For this reason, Machine Learning (ML) has been increasingly popular in app development. Classical examples include spam filtering, priority filtering, smart tagging, and product recommendations. Some people estimate that Machine Learning is now being used in more than half of a typical smartphone’s apps. Because of the new functionality gained by these apps, we can talk of “predictive apps,” a term coined by Forrester Research which refers to “apps that provide the right functionality and content at the right time, for the right person, by continuously learning about them and predicting what they’ll need.”
If you’re writing an app that would fit that description, this is a great primer. link to this extract
Firefox OS was first unveiled in 2013, with the aim of targeting the developing world and late adopters with low-cost handsets.
To differentiate from Android and iOS, Mozilla and its carrier partners focused on a web-first platform, with no native and only web apps. Sales, however, were always poor and the devices themselves failed to ignite a lot of consumer interest, and a number of OEMs cornered the market with a flood of cheap handsets. In a business that depends on economies of scale, it was a failure.
Mozilla has been on a streamlining track lately. Last week it announced that it would be looking for alternative homes for its Thunderbird email and chat client. The aim is for the company to focus more on its strongest and core products and reputation.
Came really late to the game, and never made table stakes – an app ecosystem – because it didn’t think that that table was right. Apps trump the mobile web. link to this extract
A senior officer of the Chennai police said that the force has deployed drones in several of the most unreachable neighborhoods, and have been able to locate as many as 200 people, rescuing all of them. The search and rescue operation sends drones up from a control vehicle. The aerial images obtained are then sent to a control room, where staff reviews footage and pinpoints affected homes and people. When a rescue site is identified, the control room communicates with teams of volunteers nearest to the location through wireless walkie-talkie, sending rescue workers to retrieve victims stranded in their homes.
Hartmut Neven, leader of Google’s Quantum AI Lab in Los Angeles, said today that his researchers have delivered some firm proof of that. They set up a series of races between the D-Wave computer installed at NASA against a conventional computer with a single processor. “For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up,” said Neven.
Google posted a research paper describing its results online last night, but it has not been formally peer-reviewed. Neven said that journal publications would be forthcoming.
Google’s results are striking—but even if verified, they would only represent partial vindication for D-Wave. The computer that lost in the contest with the quantum machine was running code that had it solve the problem at hand using an algorithm similar to the one baked into the D-Wave chip. An alternative algorithm is known that could have let the conventional computer be more competitive, or even win, by exploiting what Neven called a “bug” in D-Wave’s design. Neven said the test his group staged is still important because that shortcut won’t be available to regular computers when they compete with future quantum annealers capable of working on larger amounts of data.
Been a long time coming, but this is just starting to look promising. Hell, even if it’s off by a few orders of magnitude, it’s amazing. link to this extract
Mathew Zeitlin draws up the list, in which No.1 and No.5 are the important ones:
Here’s the deal. Yahoo’s current market value is about $32.9bn.
This is much less than the value of the things it owns. Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $32.4bn, and its stake in Yahoo Japan is worth about $8.7bn. It also has $1.3bn in cash and about $5.5bn in other securities, and $1.2bn in debt. All that adds up to around $46bn.
So if the market values Yahoo at $33 billion, does that imply the actual Yahoo business — the websites, the apps, the digital advertising tech — is worth less than zero?
Not quite — and here is where those tax issues come into play. Yahoo’s investments in Japan and China have all gained value massively over the years, and all that is subject to taxes if it’s sold. Hedge fund Starboard Value estimates the tax bill on Alibaba shares put their true value to shareholders at around $19.6bn; the Yahoo Japan stake would be worth around $5.3bn.
Once you take those taxes into account, it looks more like Yahoo investors are valuing its actual business at a little over $2bn. That’s a figure that has been promoted by activist investor Starboard Value, as well as analysts at Nomura and Pivotal Research.
And now No.5:
There may be cooler kids on the block these days, but Yahoo still has a massive presence on the web.
According to ComScore, Yahoo has a global audience of 618 million — the fourth largest of any company, behind only Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. In the U.S., Yahoo’s 211 million desktop and mobile unique visitors make it the third biggest destination, behind Google and Facebook.
“Our overall network including Tumblr continued to serve a global user base of more than 1 billion monthly active users,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a recent earnings call. Facebook, in comparison, has over 1 billion daily active users. In terms of headcount the two are comparable: Yahoo has 10,700 full-time employees, while Facebook has about 12,000.
“As the holiday season approaches, it appears smartphone upgrades are on Santa’s list, with 14% of EU5 smartphone owners planning to replace their current device with a new one in the next three months,” Milanesi said. “Among those consumers, 25% said they prefer Apple, while 38% said they prefer Samsung. Among Apple owners in the EU5 planning to upgrade over the next three months, 79% said they prefer Apple, while 62% of Samsung owners planning to upgrade say they prefer Samsung.”
High retention rate for Apple; less so for Samsung. But Samsung has more users overall, because it sells more phones. (Leaky buckets.)
What’s not visible is the general trend; iPhone sales, on this data, are trending faintly upwards in the mature markets such as the EU5 and US and China. link to this extract
The pollsters quizzed 1,017 Britons over the age of 15. They found 66% were aware of smartwatches. Awareness was down to 60% among respondents aged 35 and older, and to 57% among the lowest three social and economic groups.
Only 2% said they owned a smartwatch, down to 1% among those over 35. The poll showed 43% believed people did not need a smartwatch; but that doesn’t mean 57% of people believe you do need one.
Similarly, 24% saw a smartwatch as a gimmick, but that’s not an indication that 76 per cent regard it as a life necessity.
Possibly the glummest news for enthusiasts was that only 6% of the smartwatch-aware were likely to buy one in the next year.
So, unless I’m reading the figures wrongly, enthusiasm for this kind of wearable technology is several degrees below lukewarm.
Wearable technology, in general, hasn’t proven its worth to the general population. Then again, smartphones didn’t prove their worth to the general population for quite some time either – about three years from the launch of the iPhone. I’d love to see a comparative study from that time. (Links welcome.) link to this extract
For every phone we review, we perform battery tests. There are benchmarks, and just using the phone to see how long it really lasts in daily use. This combo gives you a good idea of how long any phone will stay awake between charges.
But it’s fallible.
All sorts of things can affect battery life, especially when you’re out and about using the thing. So we decided to get all the big phones of 2015 together and give them a thorough going-over with some real-life-related tests to see which phone really is the longest-lasting.
Which phones? We’ll be checking out the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4 and HTC One M9. After all, they’re the most desirable phones of the year.
Remarkable results (on video loops, web browsing, film over Wi-Fi, music in the background). Enjoyable comments too saying “but the battery is reporting it wrong!” Which might, actually, be correct. But probably isn’t. (Via Ian Betteridge.) link to this extract
A selection of 11 links for you. Please note: the “link to this extract” link doesn’t work if you’re using it from the email. Who shall we blame? Meanwhile, I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.
Consider, for example, a person who googles “need rent money fast” or “can’t pay rent.” Among the search results that Google returns, there may be ads that promise to help provide payday loans — ads designed to circumvent Google’s policies against predatory financial advertising. They’re placed by companies called lead generators, and they work by collecting and distributing personal information about consumers online. So while Google says it bans ads that guarantee foreclosure prevention or promise short-term loans without conveying accurate loan terms, lead generators may direct consumers to a landing page where they’re asked to input sensitive identifiable information. Then, payday lenders buy that information from the lead generators and, in some cases, target those consumers—online, via phone, and by mail—for the very sorts of short-term loans that Google prohibits.
But look, if Google bans those ads, then it’s taking a position. Shouldn’t it only accept ads from organisations that it has vetted? Or just not accept ads on those searches? link to this extract
When the ore in Gabon was laid down some 2 billion years ago, the concentration of uranium-235 would have been about 4%, more than enough for a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.
The idea is that when a neutrons hits an atom of uranium-235, the atom splits producing two smaller nuclei and several neutrons. These neutrons go on to split other atoms in an ongoing chain reaction.
However, the liberated neutrons are high-energy particles that tend to fly away rapidly. So nuclear reactors usually contain a moderating material that slows down the neutrons so that they can interact with other uranium atoms.
It turns out that water is a reasonable neutron moderator. So an important component of this natural reactor was the presence of water seeping through the uranium ore. And this had an interesting impact on the way the reactors operated.
Nuclear scientists believe that the Oklo reactors operated in pulses. As water flowed into the rock, it moderated the neutrons, allowing a chain reaction to occur. But this increased the temperature of the rock, boiling the water into steam which escaped.
Kept running for 300,000 years. More useful than that is what it taught scientists about how fission waste products migrate from burial sites. Turns out the answer is: not that much. link to this extract
Facebook has a software quality problem. I’m going to try to convince you with three examples. This is important because it demonstrates the time-honored principle that quality matters. In demonstrates it, as Facebook engineers like to say, at scale. I don’t work at Facebook or any competitor, I’m just an observer.
The three examples – 18,000 Objective-C classes in the iOS app with 429 people working on it (note: delete the app), database restarts and the fact that the site works better when its engineers aren’t there, all speak to a classic problem. link to this extract
On Monday, the security startup Zerodium announced that it’s agreed to pay out that seven-figure sum to a team of hackers who have successfully developed a technique that can hack any iPhone or iPad that can be tricked into visiting a carefully crafted web site. Zerodium describes that technique as a “jailbreak”—a term used by iPhone owners to hack their own phones to install unauthorized apps. But make no mistake: Zerodium and its founder Chaouki Bekrar have made clear that its customers include governments who no doubt use such “zero-day” hacking techniques on unwitting surveillance targets.
In fact, Bekrar tells WIRED that two teams of hackers had attempted to claim the bounty, which was announced in September with an October 31st deadline. Only one proved to have developed a complete, working iOS attack. “Two teams have been actively working on the challenge but only one has made a full and remote jailbreak,” Bekrar writes. “The other team made a partial jailbreak and they may qualify for a partial bounty (unconfirmed at this time).”
I’d like to see documentary proof of the hack before I take this at face value. Zerodium is clearly seeking publicity; and the incentive to, um, bend the truth around seven-figure annoucements is high. link to this extract
For the inaugural Index, Ranking Digital Rights analyzed a representative group of 16 companies that collectively hold the power to shape the digital lives of billions of people across the globe. Leading global ESG research and ratings provider, Sustainalytics, co-developed the methodology.
Eight publicly listed Internet companies and eight publicly listed telecommunications companies were selected based on factors including geographic reach and diversity, user base, company size, and market share. These companies were assessed on 31 indicators across three categories – commitment, freedom of expression, and privacy – drawn heavily from international human rights frameworks, as well as emerging and established global principles for privacy and freedom of expression.
The research revealed a deep need for improvement:
Only six companies scored at least 50% of the total possible points; The overall highest score was only 65%; Nearly half the companies in the Index scored less than 25%, showing a serious deficit of respect for users’ freedom of expression and privacy.
Hannah Jane Parkinson talks to Courtney Demone, a trans woman (ie born male) who asks the question that Facebook apparently finds exceptionally hard to answer:
Demone says that Facebook likes to present itself as a liberal and progressive organisation, but that most of its actions in this regard are decidedly low-risk. She mentions Facebook’s introduction of a widget allowing users to overlay their profile pictures with a rainbow flag and notes that it was to celebrate a gay marriage law which had been passed by the US supreme court – not before, in support of it.
Demone says that [Facebook’s] allowing users to define their gender in a free-form field, and offering a choice of pronouns, is progressive, but it is decidedly lower risk rather than, say, challenging the paradigm that female nipples should be covered up. This, of course, would run the risk of offending advertisers and in the case of Instagram, result in a 17+ user rating in app stores.
This gets to such a deep question: why should American organisations get to decide the mores of the countries that they export their business to? Mark Zuckerberg once said he hoped Facebook could solve the Arab-Israeli conflict by making people friends. But topics such as this shows why it can be seen as more like an enemy of social change. link to this extract
Google has abandoned plans to open its first-ever retail store in New York City.
The company is trying to sublease a 5,442-square-foot SoHo space it leased last year, and wants $2.25m annually in rent for it, according to sources.
The decision to abandon its retail store came after the Internet giant spent $6m renovating the 131 Greene St. location. The outpost was supposed to be one of Google’s first stand-alone stores in the U.S., putting it in direct competition with Apple, which has a host of brick-and-mortar shops that showcase and sell its products in the city, as well as other tech firms with a retail presence. Just last week, Microsoft opened its flagship store on Fifth Avenue.
A spokeswoman for Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to reports, Google planned to begin opening stores to sell products such as the Chromebook, a line of laptops and desktop computers made by several manufacturers that operate on Google software, and smartphones that run its Android operating system. Because Google is subleasing the Greene Street location, it would appear that the company has changed its mind and is pulling back on its plan to open physical stores. However, Google reportedly recently opened a kiosk within a larger electronics store in London earlier this year.
More than 40% of goods sold online in China last year were either counterfeits or of bad quality, the official Xinhua news agency said, illustrating the extent of a problem that has bogged down the fast-growing online sector.
According to the report, which was delivered to China’s top lawmakers on Monday, just under 59 percent of items sold online last year were “genuine or of good quality”, Xinhua said.
China has been trying to shake off a notoriety for pirated and counterfeit goods, long a major headache for global brands targeting the Chinese market from iPhone maker Apple to luxury retailer LVMH.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has been lobbying to stay off a US blacklist for fakes after coming under renewed pressure this year over suspected counterfeits sold on its shopping platforms.
Internet giant Amazon.com, which got its start selling books online, confirmed this afternoon that it will open its first-ever brick-and-mortar bookstore at Seattle’s University Village on Tuesday morning.
The company sent a letter to customers on Monday with details about the store, which is called “Amazon Books.” In the letter, Amazon Books VP Jennifer Cast calls the store a “physical extension of Amazon.com.”
We’re no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
100 GB and 200 GB paid plans are going away as an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.
Free OneDrive storage will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB for all users, current and new. The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.
Microsoft blames a few greedy storage users for the change in heart. “A small number of users,” they wrote, “backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average.”
That shouldn’t be surprising. If you advertise “unlimited” cloud storage, perhaps you should expect that some people will take you at your word and move large collections to the storage space you so generously offered?
Bott also portrays a division in some upheaval, which doesn’t quite fit the calm exterior Microsoft has been trying to put forward over its cloud work.
That “14,000 times the average” suggests that the average person was storing 5GB of data. Though that probably amounts to 10 Microsoft Word documents, given how the format has bloated. (Thanks @pedrostephano.) link to this extract
we noticed that these functions were all part of a common codebase, the Youmi advertising SDK from China.
We then associated the clusters of this SDK’s code with the release dates of the apps that contain them to see how it has evolved over time. The older versions do not call private APIs, so the 142 apps that have them are ok. But almost two years ago, we believe the Youmi developers began experimenting with obfuscating a call to get the frontmost app name.
Once they were able to get this through App Review, they probably became more confident they weren’t being detected and added the above behaviors in order. They also use the same obfuscation to hide calls to retrieve the advertising ID, which is allowable for tracking ad clicks, but they may be using it for other purposes since they went to the trouble to obfuscate this. The latest version of the Youmi SDK (v5.3.0), published a month ago, still gathers all the above information.
Apple has been locking down private APIs, including blocking apps from reading the platform serial number in iOS 8. Youmi worked around this by enumerating peripheral devices, such as the battery system, and sending those serial numbers as a hardware identifier.
Find out now! Just select your developer accounts from a list, and we’ll tell you what we found about your apps. We’ll also show the commercial and open-source code you’re using and alert you to future issues we find.
We found 256 apps (est. total of 1 million downloads) that have one of the versions of Youmi that violates user privacy. Most of the developers are located in China. We believe the developers of these apps aren’t aware of this since the SDK is delivered in binary form, obfuscated, and user info is uploaded to Youmi’s server, not the app’s. We recommend developers stop using this SDK until this code is removed.
With iOS 9’s improved energy consumption stats, it’s easier to guess one of the various tricks Facebook may be employing to stay active in the background and drain battery. On my girlfriend’s iPhone, for instance, iOS 9 reports 5 hours of on-screen usage for the last 7 days, and another 11 hours of background audio usage with Background App Refresh turned off.
My guess is that Facebook is hijacking audio sessions on iOS by keeping silent audio in the background whenever a video plays in the app. And because, by default, videos on Facebook auto-play on both Wi-Fi and Cellular and few people ever bother to turn it off, that means there’s a high chance the Facebook app will always find a way to play a video, keep audio in the background, and consume energy to perform background tasks. I’m not alone in noticing the mysterious “Facebook audio” background consumption, and video auto-play seems to me the most likely explanation at this point. I don’t know if turning off auto-play may fix the problem, but I’d recommend doing that anyway to save data.
Un-fricking-believable. The web is suddenly alive with people who have used iOS 9’s better battery monitoring system and discovered that Facebook is eating their battery like nobody’s business.
More discussion here, and a full-on Medium post, which shows Facebook using 3.4hrs in the background with background app refresh turned off.
Just delete it, and use the mobile site – navigate there and create a home page icon for it. And close the tab when done. link to this extract
The top-of-the-line 1TB Surface Book comes with 16GB RAM and a Core Intel i7 processor for a cool $3,199, $500 more than the fully tricked out 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the same price as the fully enhanced, much larger 15-inch option. The Surface Book does have a few more tricks up its sleeve than the MacBook Pro, including a touchscreen, removable keyboard and a 360-degree hinge, so the price difference isn’t without reason.
The 1TB option joins the lineup that starts at $1,499 for a 128GB Core i5 version. Microsoft isn’t offering many fine-grained customizations for its first laptop, like allowing for more RAM on its 128GB model, but most models look adequately powerful for the everyday user.
“Everyday user”? Wasn’t the point of the Surface Book that it was for some slightly mythical ultra-user? As for the touchscreen and removable keyboard… the case for the touchscreen is still pretty weak for the “everyday user”. link to this extract
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email scandal didn’t stop the head of the CIA from using his own personal AOL account to stash work-related documents, according to a high school student who claims to have hacked into them.
CIA Director John Brennan’s private account held sensitive files — including his 47-page application for top-secret security clearance — until he recently learned that it had been infiltrated, the hacker told The Post.
Other emails stored in Brennan’s non-government account contained the Social Security numbers and personal information of more than a dozen top American intelligence officials, as well as a government letter about the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects, according to the hacker.
The FBI and other federal agencies are now investigating the hacker, with one source saying criminal charges are possible, law enforcement sources said.
The hacker is getting investigated for criminal charges? Brennan is the one who ought to be prosecuted. If a kid in high school could do this, any Chinese or Russian hacker would have. link to this extract
Think about the websites, apps, or communications platforms you use most. What behavioral metric do you think they’re trying to maximize in their design of your attentional environment? I mean, what do you think is actually on the dashboards in their weekly product design meetings?
Whatever metric you think they’re nudging you toward—how do you know? Wouldn’t you like to know? Why shouldn’t you know? Isn’t there an entire realm of transparency and corporate responsibility going undemanded here?
I’ll give you a hint, though: it’s probably not any of the goals you have for yourself. Your goals are things like “spend more time with the kids,” “learn to play the zither,” “lose twenty pounds by summer,” “finish my degree,” etc. Your time is scarce, and you know it.
Your technologies, on the other hand, are trying to maximize goals like “Time on Site,” “Number of Video Views,” “Number of Pageviews,” and so on. Hence clickbait, hence auto-playing videos, hence avalanches of notifications. Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it.
But these design goals are petty and perverse. They don’t recognize our humanity because they don’t bother to ask about it in the first place.
Neatly argued, by stepping right back from the debate as framed by the ad industry. link to this extract
I decided to prototype a robot with an endless appetite for music to see if Spotify could detect what it was doing.
Here is what I coded into life:
Image: William Bedell First, a remote server used browser automation to sign up for Spotify accounts with randomly generated names, ages, and email addresses. This gave me a limitless supply of accounts to stream songs, so as not to alert Spotify by having a handful of users with inhuman amounts of activity.
A central command server periodically sent out Spotify login credentials to cloud servers (or repurposed personal computers) running dozens of Spotify clients, all masked behind virtual private networks. Each “user” logged in, listened to a few hours of music, then logged out. Their playlists were random selections from various artists I like. Then, I deployed the botnet using a patchwork of free cloud instances and my own hardware.
It was mesmerizing to watch the plays rack up. Unknown albums from minor celebrities I adore suddenly had tens of thousands of hits, where before they had virtually none. With minimal effort, I was generating $32.26 per day in royalties. Inevitably, my thoughts wandered to greed: how profitable would this music royalty factory be if I turned it on music I owned the rights to?
Intel now has a thousand people or more working to outfit a 2016 iPhone with its lauded 7360 LTE modem chip, sources say. If all goes well, Intel may end up providing both the modem and the fabrication for a new Apple system on a chip.
Sources close to the matter say Intel is pulling out the stops to supply the modems for at least some of the iPhones Apple manufactures in 2016. This phone will likely be the iPhone 7. VentureBeat was the first to report on the two companies’ work together, and more pieces are falling into place as the project progresses and grows.
Apple may dual-source the LTE modems in its new iPhones from both Intel and Qualcomm. Today, Qualcomm’s 9X45 LTE chip is baked into all iPhone modems.
This story makes one go “hmm..” right up to the point where it talks about dual-sourcing. Then it suddenly makes perfect sense: Apple would look to play the two off against each other, as with CPU supply. link to this extract
“I think everybody was hoping [the ECJ] wouldn’t [rule against Safe Harbour], but we were kind of expecting them to rule it this way,” said Acxiom Chief Privacy Officer Jennifer Glasgow. But, she said, “This is not going to disrupt a lot of data flow today or tomorrow or next week.”
The Safe Harbor compact has helped streamline the data flow for more than 4,000 companies including data brokers, ad technology firms and ecommerce companies among others for 15 years. But alarmed by Edward Snowden’s revelations, the E.U. court decided the agreement is not strong enough to protect Europeans’ privacy, including against U.S. spies.
Most large firms handling massive amounts of data such as Google, Facebook and Amazon should already have other legal contracts in place, including previous agreements guiding heavily-regulated health and financial data, that should allow them to continue data transfer as usual. Smaller marketers and data vendors won’t be so lucky, which could have ripple effects throughought the marketing ecosystem.
Correction: the ECJ wasn’t “alarmed” by the revelations; it made a judgement in the light of those revelations about whether EU law could still be applied to data transferred to the US under Safe Harbour.
What’s weird is how people are acting as though this won’t make a difference. If you’re not allowed to transfer data US-owned servers on the basis that it might be rifled through by the US government, how can it not? (Of course, everyone would be howling for safety if these were Chinese-owned servers and companies; witness the US administration’s lockout of China’s Huawei from communications contracts.) link to this extract
Part of the Theranos story is the tension between commerce, science, and secrecy. Ken Auletta explored this tension in the magazine late last year, in his December profile of Holmes. For most of its existence, Auletta wrote, Theranos has “operated with a stealth common to many Silicon Valley startups.” The company has published little data in peer-reviewed journals describing its devices or its test results, and it has kept the workings of its technology a closely guarded secret. Holmes herself prefers speaking about the coming revolution that her company will bring rather than the specifics of the technology itself.
Holmes and the company say this is normal, that Theranos is only trying to protect itself and its trade secrets while it creates something new. The company says that it has taken steps to get its tests approved by the F.D.A. But there are many who say that health-care technology can’t be afforded the same hushed reception as a new model of the iPhone. “Science is peer-reviewed,” Lakshman Ramamurthy, a former F.D.A. official and a vice-president at the consulting company Avalere Health, said, reacting to the Journal article this week.
Of course, Holmes could be a billionaire, or a zeroinaire, depending how things pan out over the next few months.
What the WSJ story also shows (by its impact, and the puzzled followups) is how little understanding there is of biotech among most journalists. Science journalists tend to shy away from it because it involves business, and business journalists aren’t good at figuring out what questions to ask experts about the science. link to this extract
David Singleton, director of engineering for Android Wear:
When you wear something every day, you want to be sure it really works for you. That’s why Android Wear offers countless design choices, so you can find the watch that fits your style. Want a round watch with a more classic look? Feel like a new watch band? How about changing things up every day with watch faces from artists and designers? With Android Wear you can do all of that. And now, Android Wear watches work with iPhones.
Android Wear for iOS is rolling out today. Just pair your iPhone (iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus running iOS 8.2+) with an Android Wear watch to bring simple and helpful information right to your wrist.
Key problem – and I think it will be a problem – is that it won’t be able to show reply to iMessages on the Wear watch. And iMessage is a huge part of using an iPhone (demonstrated by the volume sent each day), and, in my experience, the Apple Watch. The picture in the blogpost shows Google Hangouts; if you’re that dedicated to Hangouts, you’ll be on Android. Also: no third-party (Android Wear, nor, obviously, iOS) apps. Harry McCracken has a useful rundown – mostly of what it doesn’t do on iOS – at Fast Company.
So this might goose Android Wear watch sales a little, but I don’t see it lasting. link to this extract
Slack (the workplace collaboration tool) is going to kill it, Danco reckons:
The problem for Dropbox is that our work habits are evolving to make better use of what’s available; specifically, the awesome power of the internet. And on the internet, the concept of a ‘file’ is a little weird if you stop and think about it. Files seem woefully old-fashioned when you consider organization tools like Evernote, task management tools like Trello, and communication channels like Slack. Files are discrete objects that exist in a physical place; the internet is … pretty much the opposite of that. And while it made sense that the birth and early growth of information and the internet would contain familiar, old-school ideas and organizing systems, and some point the other shoe was bound to drop. To me, Slack feels like the first truly internet and mobile-native productivity platform – especially as it expands beyond messaging and into workflow automation, helper bots, and who knows what else. Dropbox might be the pinnacle of file management, but Slack is the beginning of what comes next.
I don’t think files are going to completely disappear; not anytime soon, anyway. They’ll certainly still exist as data structures, deep inside our servers and our phones, for a very long time – and yet most people will be indifferent to their existence. I’m pretty sure Dropbox’s multi-billion dollar valuation isn’t an anticipation of this new reality – it’s simply a projection of our current world, played in fast-forward. This is gravely shortsighted. Dropbox may not be the first Unicorn to slide slowly and then quickly towards irrelevance and death – but it’ll happen.
Having used Slack, I can believe a lot of that. If you haven’t used Slack, you’ll be harrumphing at this. (People who still put music and video files onto SD cards to slot into their phones will be incredulous.) It’s just a matter of time. link to this extract
Flipkart, Facebook, Nokia’s maps division, MakeMy-Trip.com and several other companies have corroborated complaints that US Internet giant Google abused its dominant market position, in their response to queries raised by the Competition Commission of India.
Based on the responses from 30 businesses spanning search, social networks, ecommerce, travel and content sites, the CCI director-general last week filed a report that accuses Google of abusing its dominant position to rig search outcomes, both the actual search result as well as sponsored links. This marks the first case globally where an antitrust body is formally raising such charges against Google.
Flipkart’s complaint – that its position in organic results varied on how much it spent on ads with Google – is an eye-opener; often whispered, never made part of a complaint.
The list is comprehensive; if anything, Google faces more fires here than in Europe. What’s not clear is how determined, and meticulous, the CCI is. Anyone know? Google has to respond by September 10. link to this extract
“Project Rigel is designed and built in a way that serves the needs of professionals familiar with retouching tools on the desktop, but more so for people not familiar with Photoshop tools like content-aware fill or spot healing,” Manu Anand, Adobe’s senior product manager for digital imaging, said in an interview at Adobe’s offices here. “It democratizes them and makes them easier to use.”
The app itself has a touchscreen interface, with a menu of editing options across the bottom, pop-out tool adjustments on the left side and a strong zoom ability to offer precision when selecting areas of an image with fat fingertips. It’s even got face recognition technology that Photoshop for PC lacks, a feature that identifies facial features then lets people enlarge or tilt eyes or raise the corners of a subject’s mouth to emphasize a smile.
Bringing Photoshop to the mobile masses is crucial for Adobe as it tries to adapt its business to modern computing trends. The company has no desire to suffer Microsoft’s fate, being largely left behind by the meteoric rise of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, the software that powers nearly all smartphones and tablets.
Not sure Adobe gets a choice there. It has clung on to the desktop with Flash, and it’s hard to see how Photoshop is really that relevant for mobile; it feels like overkill. (Adobe has a large, unseen-by-consumers business in web measurement too.) link to this extract
The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station.
“Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour, Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe.
“I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.”
Not a thing one would have been likely to forecast even five years ago. GPS and WhatsApp are now essential. link to this extract
After spending a week switching between the two, here’s what I came away with.
• Both phones are gorgeous, but with the Note 5 you get a slightly larger screen packed into a phone that’s the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus. • The Note 5’s screen displays colors more vibrantly than the iPhone, but it’s not any sharper than the iPhone’s screen even though it’s a higher spec. • The iPhone is still much more simple to use than Samsung’s phone. • The Note 5’s S Pen feels natural and the multiwindow feature is useful, but Samsung’s version of Android is still too cluttered for me. • Both phones take excellent photos. It’s a win-win here, but, as is the case with the Note 5’s display, its camera also sometimes exaggerates color.
Rob Leathern found a page apparently with no video ads on the NY Post was loading 10MB. But how?
The large JPG files I referenced earlier make up the majority of the payload of this page — and are coming from the images.fusevid.com domain. Here again are those example1 and example2 of the image files.
Remember, I didn’t see any video content nor any video ads at all. If there is not willful fraud here, loading ads in the background that are impossible to see, then at the very least it is ‘user-hating’ irresponsible behavior to have a 10+mb payload with hundreds of http calls in a mobile browser.
Many publishers simply must have a sense that something nasty is going on — when their users complain about slow page loads on mobile web — but they either don’t have the tech savvy and/or more likely, they won’t ask questions about how their site could possibly be monetizing as well as it is when simple math indicates that their users aren’t watching that many video streams. Many simply turn a blind eye.
Ad industry insiders talk about “improving viewability” — but make no mistake, these are likely not mistakes made by inexperienced workers — just as mobile ads that pop up iTunes Store pages for mobile app installs are not casual errors — this is an industry that persists by helping already-fraught businesses like newspapers and online publishers survive at the expense of the advertisers who supposedly help us users have free content.
Is it any wonder desktop ad blocking has been on the rise, and many iOS users are excited at the prospect of using content blocking in iOS9 to get rid of mobile ads? The industry has only itself to blame.
I find these stories – which are growing in volume – fascinating. This is a boil that the internet community is looking to lance with vigour. link to this extract
Displaying their outrage by posting “Access Denied” when reached by an “offending” browser won’t work.
Some very specialized sites, such as Ben Thompson’s Stratechery and Ben Bajarin’s TechPinions, are able to generate membership revenue because the quality of their content — sober analysis versus mere reporting — makes it worth the price of subscription.
But these are exceptions. Too many sites are just echo chambers, they rewrite news releases, add strong adjectives and adverbs, and a bit of spin. Competition for attention, pageviews, and advertising dollars drives them to shout from the rooftops. If they don’t want to disappear or be rolled up into a larger entity to “optimize expenses”, they’ll have to get us to pay for their content.
This is much easier said than done. It’s difficult to conjure up a picture in which we’ll have subscriptions to most of the sites we graze today in their ad-supported form.
An alternative to subscriptions for content we may or may not actually “consume” is pay-as-you-go. In principle, this isn’t very different from what we do when we buy an episode of Breaking Bad. We gladly pay $2.99 to watch what we want, when we want, and without ads.
This works well for TV shows, but it doesn’t easily translate to websites.
I do foresee a number of those middling sites selling up to others which reckon they can make a go of it. link to this extract
[Inflexionpoint chief executive] Neeraj [Chauhan] and I sat down. I asked him why he thought there’s an opportunity for us to go into this industry. He said that we have skills of distribution and supply chains, we know how to negotiate with various vendors, and we can run on a different business model.
At the same time, we were looking at the opportunity of buying BlackBerry. We were approached by the Canadian government. We have big operations in Toronto with another one of our companies. They said that we would like to keep BlackBerry a Canadian company and would you consider acquiring it. We studied BlackBerry’s business practices. We realised that they had 7,000 people in their handsets division at that time. That was incredible number of people. There’s no way you can make money with that. Eventually, BlackBerry pulled the auction [down]. They brought a talented CEO to run the company John Chen. They should have brought him in three years earlier.
But it opened our eyes. I asked Neeraj how many people you would need to run BlackBerry’s handset business. He said that he could do it with hundreds of people.
Via Charles Knight, who adds: “You have to wonder who else in Canada they approached.” It’s probably a long list. link to this extract
The startup team, which is based in Shanghai, sees it being used for things like telling you that you should take an umbrella, reminding you that you’re running late to an appointment, or for turning off all your smart lights at once. With a single press, it could alert your significant other that you’re leaving the house.
All that will depend on it working nicely with the brand of smart lights that you have, or syncing with the online calendar service that you use. The fact that the ELLA Assistant is subservient to your phone and other smart gadgets means it has to work with them all with ease, or it won’t gain favor with consumers. War tells Tech in Asia that the team will add support for various things as demand arises, but there are no specific supported devices or services listed yet – which is because the little gizmo hasn’t even launched. Once it’s out, it’ll have its own app store.
The ELLA Assistant will hit Kickstarter some time in August.
Project Lightning will bring event-based curated content to the Twitter platform, complete with immersive and instant-load photos and videos and the ability to embed those experiences across the Web — and even in other apps.
“It’s a brand-new way to look at tweets,” says Kevin Weil, who runs product for the company. “This is a bold change, not evolutionary.”
It is also still a few months out, and things could change. But here’s how it will work.
On Twitter’s mobile app, there will be a new button in the center of the home row. Press it and you’ll be taken to a screen that will show various events taking place that people are tweeting about. These could be based on prescheduled events like Coachella, the Grammys, or the NBA Finals. But they might also focus on breaking news and ongoing events, like the Nepalese earthquake or Ferguson, Missouri. Essentially, if it’s an event that a lot of people are tweeting about, Twitter could create an experience around it.
This likely comes out of the machine-intelligence-curated tweet streams from a company that Twitter just bought – under Costolo’s leadership, don’t forget. He just took too long to do it. (By the way, in future could “top secret” – used in the headline – please be reserved for things that actually are top secret, such as the content of the Snowden documents, and not PR-led product demos by the CEO?)
Researchers rely on journals to keep up with the developments in their field. Most of the time, they access the journals online through subscriptions purchased by university libraries. But universities are having a hard time affording the soaring subscriptions, which are bundled so that universities effectively must pay for hundreds of journals they don’t want in order to get the ones they do.
Larivière says the cost of the University of Montreal’s journal subscriptions is now more than $7m a year – ultimately paid for by the taxpayers and students who fund most of the university’s budget. Unable to afford the annual increases, the university has started cutting subscriptions, angering researchers.
“The big problem is that libraries or institutions that produce knowledge don’t have the budget anymore to pay for [access to] what they produce,” Larivière said.
“They could have closed one library a year to continue to pay for the journals, but then in twenty-something years, we would have had no libraries anymore, and we would still be stuck with having to pay the annual increase in subscriptions.”
The kicker: the five largest academic publishers produce 53% of scientific papers in natural and medical sciences – up from 20% in 1973. Consolidation and monopoly.
Despite the sensitivity of face recognition data, however, the federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies continue to build ever-larger face recognition databases. Last year the FBI rolled out its NGI biometric database with 14-million face images, and we learned through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that it plans to increase that number to 52-million images by this year. Communities such as San Diego, California are using mobile biometric readers to take pictures of people on the street or in their homes and immediately identify them and enroll them in face recognition databases. These databases are shared widely, and there are few, if any, meaningful limits on access.
EFF has been especially concerned about commercial use of face recognition because of the possibility that the data collected will be shared with law enforcement and the federal government. Several years ago, in response to a FOIA request, we learned the FBI’s standard warrant to social media companies like Facebook seeks copies of all images you upload, along with all images you’re tagged in. In the future, we may see the FBI seeking access to the underlying face recognition data instead.
According to Graham Hann, the head of technology, media and communications at the law firm Taylor Wessing, the terms of the deal are broadly in line with industry standards – except the requirement to opt out.
“The content of the notice is not unusual, although it has deliberately been dumbed down, possibly for clarity,” he told the BBC.
“However, the optout approach is very unusual and I don’t see how the notice could form a binding contract without a positive reply.
“Apple clearly wants to launch with as much content as possible and has taken this risk-based approach. Some publishers may object and even threaten to sue.
“However, I think it would be hard to claim damage beyond a reasonable royalty fee.”
while [Android TV] mostly got the dictation right, it often failed to produce the results I was looking for. Asking for Breaking Bad brought up detailed information about the show and its actors, but no way to watch it. This query also produced a link to Pomodoro Wear, a countdown timer app shaped like a tomato and designed for Google’s Android Wear smartwatch platform.
Even Google itself does not seem to know quite how to use Android TV. Its marketing materials suggest asking for “romantic comedies set in New York”. But when I tried that on the Android TV itself, it produced only a list of YouTube videos, the first of which was about Lego sets from a New York toy fair. With no When Harry Met Sally or Manhattan to be found, I can only wonder whether anyone else — including Google’s own staff — has ever searched for something to watch this way.
Bear in mind that Apple experimented with the same voice dictation system for TV and, by the account in the WSJ, abandoned it.
Rene Ritchie with a series of Q+As on the vulnerability disclosed yesterday:
Q: So were the App Stores or app review tricked into letting these malicious apps in?
A: The iOS App Store was not. Any app can register a URL scheme. There’s nothing unusual about that, and hence nothing to be “caught” by the App Store review.
For the App Stores in general, much of the review process relies on identifying known bad behavior. If any part of, or all of, the XARA exploits can be reliably detected through static analysis or manual inspection, it’s likely those checks will be added to the review processes to prevent the same exploits from getting through in the future
Apparently apps now have to state the URL schemes they will use in plaintext in a .plist file; that’s easy to review, and Apple can easily spot duplicates by static testing. Security researchers suggest Apple probably began adding such tests when it was told about the weakness – so this is perhaps already “fixed” in the simplest way it can be. (Checking plist files can be done retrospectively too.)
With Google announcing Google Now on Tap at Google I/O 2015 and Apple announcing Proactive at WWDC 2015, there is now a lot of discussion on how useful these predictive personal assistants will be. In particular, there is a lot of discussion on how much data these personal assistants will need to collect about you, and whether these assistants need to send this data to be analysed in the cloud.
The problem I have with these arguments is that they do not go into specifics. Instead of say “everything is going to be cool”, we should be having a detailed discussion of how each predictive recommendation is actually made, and whether each recommendation could be performed easily on your local device, or whether it needs to be done in the cloud.
I think Kagami’s question is really “What things need to be in the cloud for predictive analysis to work?” You could argue that traffic or transit news needs to be analysed in the cloud (a la Google) so it can warn you about delays; but on the other hand, an Apple device could pull that data from the cloud, and look at what’s in your device, and warn you too.
It’s safe to cut off a Google car. I ride a motorcycle to work and in California motorcycles are allowed to split lanes (i.e., drive in the gap between lanes of cars at a stoplight, slow traffic, etc.). Obviously I do this at every opportunity because it cuts my commute time in 1/3. Once, I got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too… The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don’t think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are “easy targets” in traffic.
Eugene Wei just avoided a cycling crash when a car turned into his cycle lane without warning:
For the next two blocks, I played my near collision on loop in my head like a Vine, both angry at the driver’s reckless maneuver and relieved as I tallied up the likely severity of the injuries I had just managed to escape by less than a foot of clearance. This is not an unusual occurrence, unfortunately. When I bike, I just assume that drivers will suddenly make rights in front of me without turning on their turn signal or looking back to see if I’m coming in the bike lane to their right. It happens all the time. It’s not just a question of skill but of mental obliviousness. American drivers have been so used to having the road to themselves for so long that they feel no need to consider anyone else might be laying claim to any piece of it. Though the roads in Europe are often narrower, I feel a hundred times safer there when biking there than I do in the U.S. All that’s to say I agree wholeheartedly with the writer quoted above that self-driving cars are much less threatening than cars driven by humans. As an avid cyclist, especially, I could think of nothing that would ease my mind when biking through the city than replacing every car on the road with self-driving cars.
While Apple plans to debut its own mass transit directions service for Maps in iOS 9 as soon as June, the rollout will not be as ambitious as some users may have hoped. In its first iteration, Apple’s Transit service will only support approximately a half-dozen cities across the United States, Canada, and Europe, in addition to China, according to sources… In the United States, the planned launch cities are San Francisco and New York, two major metropolitan areas that are known for public transportation, while Toronto will be likely Canada’s sole representative for the iOS 9 Maps Transit feature at launch. In Europe, Apple is said to be gearing up to first launch the feature in London, Paris, and Berlin.
Google has been miles ahead in this for years (which made iOS 6 retrograde). Three years on, there are already lots of apps – especially Citymapper – which offer services like this. But it’s the integration that Apple has really lacked.
Wearable gadgets like smartwatches have seen a lot of hype but little commercial success. An obvious obstacle is that teensy touch screens can make such devices difficult to control. Google thinks it has an answer: a minuscule radar system that senses hand gestures. The company’s Advanced Technology and Projects research group shrank a radar system into a package roughly the size of a micro SD card, small enough to fit in a smartwatch. It beams a signal wide enough to capture hand motions and gestures and turn them into control signals, according to Ivan Poupyrev, who led the initiative called Project Silo. The tiny radar could let people control tiny-screen devices without having to touch them, he said during a session at the Google I/O 2015 developer conference. For instance, it transforms a twisting motion between thumb and forefinger into commands to scroll up and down a smartwatch’s screen. Poupyrev demonstrated by changing the hours and minutes on a small screen by rubbing his thumb and finger near to the radar gesture sensor. He also played a simple soccer game, his finger motions in midair near the sensor shooting an onscreen ball into a goal. ATAP plans to release the system to developers later in 2015, Poupyrev said.
This is one of those things that looks cool in demos, but I suspect could be prone to everything that real life is – mess-ups. Remember Leap Motion, another gesture control system? Went nowhere because waving your hand in the air isn’t a natural way to control things – because it’s prone to misinterpretation. Google might get this right, but it needs a ton of figuring out.
Apple’s App Store accounts for about 45% of the revenue that developers make from apps, compared with 29% for Google’s Play, according to Digi-Capital. But counting in the income from handsets in China — where Google’s apps are blocked, meaning it makes no money — pushes the overall Android share to 52%, Digi-Capital calculates. Last week, matching — and trying to surpass — Apple was a strong subtext of Google’s pitch to developers. New features included Android Pay, a rival to Apple Pay and a fresh attempt to break into mobile payments after the disappointment of Google Wallet. A new Google Photos app — with the promise of software that can automatically organise libraries of pictures — also echoed capabilities that are already offered by Apple. But in other areas, Google seemed unprepared. While smartwatches based on last year’s Android Wear technology have been put in the shade by the launch of Apple Watch, Google had little new to show off in response. This was a sign that it is surrendering early leadership in wearables to Apple, according to Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar Worldpanel.
The download share of Android in China is 62.8%, compared to 22.2% for Google Play, and 13.9% for Apple. Remarkable that non-Google Android is so big – but it only takes 23.8% of revenue, against 28.6% for Google Play, and 44.7% for Apple.
We designed Windows 10 to create a new generation of Windows for the 1.5 billion people using Windows today in 190 countries around the world. With Windows 10, we start delivering on our vision of more personal computing, defined by trust in how we protect and respect your personal information, mobility of the experience across your devices, and natural interactions with your Windows devices, including speech, touch, ink, and holograms. We designed Windows 10 to run our broadest device family ever, including Windows PCs, Windows tablets, Windows phones, Windows for the Internet of Things, Microsoft Surface Hub, Xbox One and Microsoft HoloLens—all working together to empower you to do great things. Familiar, yet better than ever, Windows 10 brings back the Start menu you know and love.
“Speech, touch, ink and holograms” is quite enticing. (That’s Hololens, of course.)
The ZenWatch 2 runs the latest version of Android Wear, which was recently introduced with the LG Watch Urbane, however Asus’ watch is still a long way from actually being released. Asus tells us that it will reveal the full specs, pricing, and availability information during IFA in Berlin this September — leaving this as more of a promise than an actual product. The goal is to keep prices consistent between the two watch sizes, leaving the choice of strap to determine the particular cost. Update: The original article speculated that Asus’ metal crown will function like the digital crown in the Apple Watch, however we’ve now confirmed with Asus that it’s simply an external button and not a physical scroll wheel.
1) Doesn’t this Osborne [kill by preannouncement] the existing Zenwatch, even though there’s no price etc etc for the 2? 2) Which company will be the first, do we think, to mimic Apple’s digital crown and risk the sure-to-ensue lawsuit?
A Samsung spokesman in Seoul refused to release any official information on sales; but the company is expected to unveil figures at its upcoming investor relations forum on [Wednesday] June 3. Such remarks come a few days after Samsung Electronics Corporate Affairs President Park Sang-jin told reporters that the firm has been seeing a steady increase of sales on international markets. “You have to wait and see; however, the S6 and S6 Edge sales will be far higher than those of the S5” he said. The two models were unveiled during the Mobile World Congress 2015 event at the beginning of March. Both models were made available for purchase in April. Citing a report by CounterPoint Research, a research firm, eBEST Investment analyst Kim Hyun-yong said Samsung sold 6.1m S6s and S6 Edges in April. He added 305,000 S6s were being sold daily since the devices’ availability ― better than the S5 and S4’s 124,000 and 241,000 per day, respectively.
I’m finding it hard to believe that the S6 (and Edge?) is selling triple the number of the S5, and 50% more than the S4, at a time when Samsung is down in China and seen sales declines for months, and the S6 is on sale in fewer countries than the S5 was. Though with Samsung it’s hard to know what “sales” means – usually, it’s “sell-in”, as in sales to carriers.
Bitcoin wallets are typically created by randomly generating a public address and a related private key. As a result, it is important for address and key to be truly random, or else it may be possible to guess the private key by looking at the public address. [Bitcoin wallet app] Blockchain used two sources of random numbers, in what ought to have been a belt-and-braces approach: it pulled a random number from the Android operating system’s built-in random number generator, and then connected to online service Random.org to get a second random number, which it combined with the first. Unfortunately, on some Android phones (reportedly including devices from the Sony Xperia range), the built-in random number generator failed to report back to the blockchain app. Normally, this should have been survivable, because the app used a second source of random numbers. But on 4 January, Random.org strengthened the security of its website, requiring all visits to be made over an encrypted connection. The blockchain app, however, continued to access the site through an unencrypted connection. So rather than getting a random number, as expected, it got an error code telling it that the site had moved. It then used that error code as the random number, every single time.
Not quite bitcoin itself screwed (it’s far too robust) but those using that app could find themselves all sharing a wallet.
We just need some firmware in here and everything will be fine. Photo by 4nitsirk on Flickr.
Microsoft announced at its BUILD conference that it will be providing a way for iOS and Android developers to port – sorta kinda – their mobile apps to Windows 10, so they don’t have to rewrite them from scratch in its coding language.
[In “Project Islandwood] Microsoft has developed an Objective C toolchain and middleware layer that provide the operating system APIs that iOS apps expect. A select group of third parties have been using the Islandwood tools already, with King’s Candy Crush Saga for Windows Phone being one of the first apps built this way. King’s developers had to change only a “few percent” of the code in order to fully port it to Windows Phone.
For Android, there is Project Astoria. Rumors of Android apps on Windows have been floating around for some time, and in Windows 10 Microsoft is delivering on those rumors. Astoria will allow Android apps to run in Windows. Specifically, Windows Mobile (and yes, that’s now officially the name for Windows on phones and sub-8 inch tablets) will include an Android runtime layer that’ll let them run existing Android apps (both Java and C++) unmodified.
Bright then followed up on Monday last Friday (thanks Walt) with an analysis which goes much more deeply into the mechanics of how it will be done, but also points to two examples where companies have tried to make up for the lack of apps on their platform by enabling others effectively to run on them: IBM’s OS/2 platform, and BlackBerry’s BB10.
The point about OS/2 is well-remembered, delving back into PC history when Windows was young and IBM was trying to keep control of the burgeoning PC platform. It failed, because IBM couldn’t update OS/2 fast enough to keep compatibility with the fast-expanding Windows 3.x API base; but also, developers didn’t want to get distracted by having to look after more than one platform.
The trouble with “compatibility mode” is that it’s so evidently a white flag on the part of the company that enables it. In effect, the company is saying: we can’t attract enough developers to write natively for our platform, so we’ll try to piggyback on the more successful one.
But that’s also a giant red warning flag to developers on that platform. By effectively telling them that other platforms are more successful, it calls into question the future of the development tools on the platform, and the user base; it accepts that there are both more users and more developers elsewhere.
I don’t think Islandwood and Astoria will work. Not because they technically won’t work – Microsoft has scads of smart people who can do clever things with code – but because this is a technical solution to a business problem.
Microsoft’s user base for Windows Phone is around 70m-80m worldwide, out of a total smartphone user base of around 2 billion. Superficially this sounds like the late 1990s, when Apple was just about able to eke out an existence by having around 50m-60m out of 1.5bn PCs.
The crucial difference though is that Apple had the high-end users, who were willing to pay a premium for Apple’s qualities (principally in desktop publishing and graphic design, and lots of consumers in the US). Windows Phone occupies the low end. Its users don’t monetise well. That means developers don’t concentrate on them. A little experiment for you: today, when you see an ad for an app, notice how many mention availability on Windows Phone. If you get above zero, you’re lucky (or browsing a Windows site).
The category error
But, say the the Windows diehards, the access to 1.5 billion PCs and, ahem, Windows Phone will prove irresistible to all those developers currently writing for iOS and Android. All those PCs! Who wouldn’t want to be on those?
This is wrong, for two reasons: context and support costs.
1) apps written for mobile do not, in the main, translate to the desktop/laptop. What would Snapchat on the desktop be like? Or Uber? Apps that rely on the camera or geolocation don’t make sense; others can in general be done in the browser (example: Facebook). John Kneeland pointed this out back in February, before we knew about these initiatives. What he wrote remains true:
The most interesting developers and companies today aren’t shrinking down desktop experiences. They are building entirely new experiences that wouldn’t make any sense — or even be possible — on a PC.
2) the cost of “writing” the app is only the start; after that you have support, updates and compatibility. Imagine an iOS developer who has written an app for iOS 8 (presently covering 81% of users) considering this.
If they’re sensible, they’ll look first at monetisation via Android – after all, it’s the far bigger market, which has a premium (= willing to pay) segment that rivals iOS in size. So they do that. And then clean up, perhaps, with the iPad market too.
Now – Windows Phone via compatibility mode or Android tablets? If they write for “Windows Phone compatibility” they’ll have a product that will need special tweaking on a new platform where because of the comparatively low number of users, a few bad reviews could spell doom. Even if they get it right, Apple will introduce iOS 9 in the autumn, which might or might not tweak or twerk the existing APIs, and will surely kill off some of the older ones. How long will it take Microsoft to update to those? One thing’s for sure – iOS new version adoption will run ahead of Microsoft’s ability to update. This means there are now two versions of the app, on slightly different APIs, not entirely compatible.
When iOS 9 comes out, the iOS developers’ attentions will be on bugfixing and customer support there. This means (because people are finite) less time to attend to the Windows Phone customers. Things don’t get fixed there, bad reviews get left, the app sinks down the store, and.. what was the point of writing for this thing again?
As for Android developers – if we assume that they haven’t already done an iOS version, then do you think they’d want to write something for a platform with over 500m mobile devices in use, or one with 1.5bn users… except that for almost all of those 1.5bn, their app will make no sense at all (if they’re even able to load it – for don’t forget that about half of those PCs are in businesses, and probably locked down)?
Again, this isn’t hard to figure out.
A good try, but doomed
Microsoft had to do something, and people who like clever technical solutions are delighted by this clever technical solution to the fact of developer indifference and incompatible software. But it doesn’t change the fundamental truth: Windows Phone (v10 or whatever) is too small to matter in platform terms on mobile.
Microsoft is surely interested in keeping the mobile side going, as much as anything because of all the lessons it teaches you about things like power management, chip integration, sensor management, and a multitude of other things that are important.
History tells us that software compatibility is a losers’ move. Far better to move the fight to a new battleground and win there – as Apple did, first with the iPod and then the iPhone and then the iPad and then (thus far) the Apple Watch. Seems like a working strategy.
Update: some responses on Twitter have been along the lines of “Oh, no, really, developers will love it!”
Why, I ask? “Azure! The developer environment! Access to Xbox! It’ll get people to switch to Windows!”
• developers don’t need Windows 10 to use Azure. Vesper, which is resolutely iOS-only, uses Azure, for instance.
• if there’s one thing developers likely don’t want to get accustomed to, it’s yet another developer environment if the payback is small. Also, is there any developer who hasn’t heard that Windows (desktop) has a lot of users? The point is that Windows 10 is not magically going to make those desktop users into mobile users, for the reasons discussed above. iOS and Android have 95% of pretty much any market that’s worth squeezing developer money from. If anyone wants to tell me which niches monetise better on Windows Phone than on iOS and/or Android, I’m all ears.
• Xbox access isn’t worth much. There are about as many Xbox users as Windows Phone users (of the order of 70-80m; Xbox One is replacing Xbox 360, and any new buyers are balanced out by those abandoning as they get older). Games are notoriously difficult to write well; developers need to write “close to the metal”. Porting mobile games to the Xbox isn’t a sensible strategy.
• people do switch to Windows Phone from other platforms. However, just as many (if not more) flow back to the other two platforms because they aren’t happy with the app situation. And if this works, then what’s the reason for switching to Windows? So that you can get the apps that you already had on the smartphone platform you were on before? That doesn’t make sense.
I’m happy to be proved wrong, of course – if those who say I’m going to be wrong are willing to put up some solid numbers here (in the comments) that we can refer back to in a year or so, such as forecast Lumia sales, or Lumia installed base, or forecast length in 2016 of the app gap between other platforms and Windows Phone/10.