Start up: app retention rates, the real FBI-Apple court problem, Samsung closing Milk Music?, and more

Steve Jobs’s desire to push books on the iPad led to an antitrust finding against Apple. Screenshot by tuaulamac on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Aren’t they? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple, FBI, and the burden of forensic methodology » Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski is a forensics expert who has testified in court cases and designed his own computer forensics tools. He says that even if Apple is forced to write the software to crack the iPhone PIN, it will need to be examinable in court:

»Full documentation must be written that explains the methods and techniques used to disable Apple’s own security features. The tool cannot simply be some throw-together to break a PIN; it must be designed in a manner in which its function can be explained, and its methodology could be reproduced by independent third parties. Since FBI is supposedly the ones to provide the PIN codes to try, Apple must also design and develop an interface / harness to communicate PINs into the tool, which means added engineering for input validation, protocol design, more logging, error handling, and so on. FBI has asked to do this wirelessly (possibly remotely), which also means transit encryption, validation, certificate revocation, and so on.

Once the tool itself is designed, it must be tested internally on a number of devices with exactly matching versions of hardware and operating system, and peer reviewed internally to establish a pool of peer-review experts that can vouch for the technology. In my case, it was a bunch of scientists from various government agencies doing the peer-review for me. The test devices will be imaged before and after, and their disk images compared to ensure that no bits were changed; changes that do occur from the operating system unlocking, logging, etc., will need to be documented so they can be explained to the courts. Bugs must be addressed. The user interface must be simplified and robust in its error handling so that it can be used by third parties.

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Trivial, huh?
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April 2015: Meerkat & Periscope: features, not products » Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh, writing almost a year ago when the two streaming apps were just taking off:

»Both Meerkat and Periscope leverage smartphone cameras to broadcast live video. However, the apps themselves don’t play a major role in the discovery of these broadcasts. This may be because they are too specialized to generate sustained engagement, at least enough to be a discovery platform (most app users are likely to be broadcasters). Also, it is relatively easy to replicate the feature set and user experience of a Meerkat or a Periscope, but it is very difficult to enable discovery. Therefore, these apps are not products in their own right, but just features built on top of broadcast-oriented social platforms, i.e. those that facilitate one-to-many communication (e.g. Twitter).

On a standalone basis, these apps have a limited shelf life — they could either be acquired by social platforms that fit the description above or be killed by them. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Meerkat found viral success by leveraging Twitter’s social graph. Any incumbent’s response in this situation would be to build or acquire a similar feature set. Twitter chose to acquire.

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And this month: Meerkat announces that it’s going to pivot to being a “video social network” instead.

Not just a feature, but a very niche feature.
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Driverless lorry convoys to be trialled in the UK » Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»Convoys of automated lorries will be trialled on UK motorways, chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce in his 2016 Budget speech later this month.

The Times reports that the trials will take place on a northerly stretch of the M6, which runs from Birmingham all the way up to the border of Scotland, near Carlisle. The Department for Transport confirms that planning for “HGV platoons” is under way, though it did not comment on whether the trials will receive funding in the Budget, nor give any kind of timeline for the fleet’s deployment.

A DfT spokesman said: “We are planning trials of HGV platoons—which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel—and will be in a position to say more in due course.” The Times reports that these platoons could consist of up to 10 driverless lorries, each just a few metres away from each other.

The DfT’s “less fuel” claim refers to “drafting,” where the first lorry in the platoon creates a slipstream, significantly reducing drag and fuel consumption for the other lorries behind it. In a semi-automated lorry demo a couple of years ago, the fuel economy for a platoon of lorries improved by about 15%. Expand that out to the thousands of trucks that are on UK roads at any one time and you’re looking at potentially huge cost reductions.

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Supreme Court rejects Apple e-books price-fixing appeal » Reuters

Lawrence Hurley:

»The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Apple Inc’s challenge to an appellate court decision that it conspired with five publishers to increase e-book prices, meaning it will have to pay $450m as part of a settlement.

The court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place a June 2015 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that favored the U.S. Department of Justice and found Apple liable for engaging in a conspiracy that violated federal antitrust laws.

Apple, in its petition asking the high court to hear the case, said the June decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upholding a judge’s ruling that Apple had conspired with the publishers contradicted Supreme Court precedent and would “chill innovation and risk-taking.”

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One of those instances where Steve Jobs (who created the antitrust situation while trying to kickstart iPad sales by getting iBooks competitive with Amazon, but without the pain of competing on price) really overreached. And the irony? It turns out retail e-books aren’t a particularly strong driver of iPad sales.
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Facebook pulls plug on ad software » The Information

Cory Weiberg:

»Last year, Facebook tested software that would represent a bold expansion of its display ads business beyond its own inventory, a move potentially worth billions in revenue. Using a demand-side platform, or a DSP, marketers would be able to use Facebook users’ identity data to bid on ad slots across the mobile and desktop Internet in real time.

But Facebook recently yanked the bidding software from service because the tests showed that banner ads that were served attracted too many fraudulent impressions by bots trawling the Web, the company confirmed to The Information on Friday.

While Facebook’s current advertising business centers mostly on its own mobile inventory and apps plugged into its ad network, many in the industry have been awaiting its plunge into the mobile web’s programmatic ad marketplace. Its ad server, Atlas, which on Monday added capabilities to serve video ads and track offline purchases, can measure whether users saw ads across digital devices. But because of the pulled DSP tests, the ad server doesn’t yet have a bidding platform that would expand its pool of marketing clients wanting to tap this programmatic marketplace.

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Google dominates the banner ad space via DoubleClick, but one has to wonder whether it sees the same level of bot trawling; if it does, how does it stop it better than Facebook? Is it just about having more experience?
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“Google Posts” embeds a one-way social network directly into search results » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»There’s a weird new feature popping up in Google search results called “Google Posts.” It seems to be a place for Google to directly host content in a post-Google+ world and to embed this content directly into search results. Imagine orphaned Google+ posts with the Google+ branding stripped out, and you’re most of the way there.

Over at Google.com/posts, Google has a landing page for this feature, calling it “an experimental new podium on Google” that allows you to “hear directly from the US presidential candidates in real time on Google.” It’s a believable explanation until you see this Google Posts profile from “Andrew Jewelers” in Buffalo, New York, (spotted by Mike Blumenthal), which is definitely not a presidential candidate.

The landing page says the “experimental” feature is “only available to the 2016 US presidential candidates” (Andrew Jewelers for president!), but those of us not running for office can join a waitlist as Google plans to “make it available to other prominent figures and organizations.”

It really seems like this is a Google+ reboot just for brands. The design definitely seems like Google+ with the Google+ branding stripped out, but this “social network” explicitly dodges being “social” AND any kind of “networking.”

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Sort-of sponsored content in search results?
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Expect lots more publishers to start asking people to turn off their ad blockers » Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»The US digital advertising trade body, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB,) has released advice to publishers on how they should deal with the growing number of ad blocker users visiting their sites.

The IAB wants publishers to “DEAL” with it, by taking these four steps:

• D: detect ad blocking, in order to initiate a conversation (The IAB also released an ad blocking detection script for its members to add to their websites on Monday.)

• E: explain the value exchange that advertising enables.

• A: ask for changed behavior in order to maintain an equitable exchange.

• L: lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choice.

In other words, it looks like far more websites are going to start asking users to turn off their ad blocker or pay some sort of subscription or make a micropayment in order to access their content.

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M-i-c k-e-y m-o-u-s-e acronyms are nice, but it’s a big risk to take that people actually do love your content so very much that they’ll take all those ads once more, having stopped. Or will publishers and advertisers just dial back on the ads only for adblocking users? Or for everyone? The inconsistencies multiply.
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Milk Music may shut down as Samsung eyes Tidal [update: doesn’t eye Tidal] » Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»Samsung is likely going to shutter its Milk Music streaming service in the near future as part of a bigger revamp of its music strategy, Variety has learned from multiple sources. However, Samsung denied rumors that it was going to buy Jay Z’s Tidal service in a statement sent to Variety Friday hours after the original publication of this story.

The shut-down would come two years after Samsung unveiled Milk Music with big fanfare as a competitor to Pandora. The service, which offers consumers personalized radio stations, had initially been exclusive to owners of select mobile devices made by the company. Samsung later opened up Milk Music on the Web, and brought it to its smart TVs as well, but never released apps for phones from other manufacturers.

Milk Music was initially meant to be part of a bigger move toward a new generation of media services that would add value to Samsung devices while also adding incremental advertising and subscription revenue to Samsung’s bottom line. As part of that strategy, Samsung launched Milk Video as a platform for short-form video content in late 2014. There had been plans to branch out with the Milk brand into sports and other forms of entertainment as well.

But late last year, Samsung shuttered Milk Video after it failed to gain traction with consumers. Now, it looks like Milk Music may be heading for a similar shut-down.

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Roettgers was first with the story about Milk Video shutting down. Samsung Milk Music has over 10m downloads on Google Play and a high rating (4.3).

But again, Samsung just can’t seem to make up its mind what it wants to do beyond hardware. Chat service? It closed Chaton. Video service? Closed Milk Video. Music service? … Oh well.
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New data shows losing 80% of mobile users is normal, and why the best apps do better » andrewchen

Andrew Chen and Ankit Jain:

»The first graph shows a retention curve: The number of days that have passed since the initial install, and what % of those users are active on that particular day. As my readers know, this is often used in a sentence like “the D7 retention is 40%” meaning that seven days after the initial install, 40% of those users was active on that specific day.

The graph is pretty amazing to see:

Based on Quettra’s data, we can see that the average app loses 77% of its DAUs [daily active users] within the first 3 days after the install. Within 30 days, it’s lost 90% of DAUs. Within 90 days, it’s over 95%. Stunning. The other way to say this is that the average app mostly loses its entire userbase within a few months, which is why of the >1.5 million apps in the Google Play store, only a few thousand sustain meaningful traffic. (*Tabular data in the footnotes if you’re interested)

Ankit Jain, who collaborated with me on this essay, commented on this trend: “Users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to ‘stop using’ within the first 3-7 days. For ‘decent’ apps, the majority of users retained for 7 days stick around much longer. The key to success is to get the users hooked during that critical first 3-7 day period.”

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The graph for top 10 apps, by contrast, shows them at over 50% retention even after 90 days. Data via 125m Android devices worldwide, and excluding Google’s own apps.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Meerkat v Periscope, three new iPhones?, life as a Russian troll, and more


Ahoy there! Periscope is getting noticed. Photo by zoonabar on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Go on, count them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Censoring myself for Apple » Marco.org

Marco Arment, on the suggestion that people (especially developers) writing about Apple self-censor so that they won’t be treated vindictively:

every Apple employee I’ve spoken with has not only been receptive of criticism, but has practically begged for honest feedback from developers. The idea that you’d be penalized in the App Store for being critical of Apple on your blog is ridiculous and untrue.

Apple employees are also humans, Apple users, and often former or future independent app developers. Chances are very good that any criticism we have is also being criticized and debated inside Apple. Employees can only exert so much influence inside the company, and they need people like us to blog publicly about important issues to help convince the higher-ups to change policies or reallocate resources. One of the reasons I don’t expect to ever take a job at Apple is that I believe I can be more effective from the outside.

My experience is that highlighting things that are going wrong with outside developers leads to them being treated better. Apple notices this at a high level.


Apple and Synaptics: a convergence in the force » Forbes

Patrick Moorhead, pointing out that Synaptics has had a “force touch” trackpad for a little while, and is in fact moving to its second generation – but Windows OEMs haven’t adopted it:

The rest of the Windows notebook industry will likely be forced to follow Apple and Hewlett-Packard’s lead and start to adopt force touchpads. Also, they will very likely use physical haptic feedback as well, at least on high-end and mid-range designs as it delivers a superior experience. Many Windows notebook OEMs will be seen as copying Apple’s Force Touch touchpad design, but the reality is that Apple isn’t quite the first to market with this technology even though they may have perfected it first.

Also needs support in Windows: will Microsoft get that into Windows 10?


Available storage on 32GB Galaxy S6 will be just over 23GB » SamMobile

Those who go with the 32GB Galaxy S6/S6 edge will have slightly more than 23GB storage available for their apps, files, music, movies and other content. That’s after hooking up a Google account with the device and updating all of the pre-installed apps. Extrapolating this figure shows that users should expect about 55GB free on the 64GB model and around 119GB free on the 128GB model. The numbers might vary based on the region and carrier so these are just ballpark figures.

By comparison, the iPhone 6 OS seems to take up about 3GB. What’s eating up those 9GB?


16 smartphones that were deemed ‘iPhone Killer,’ 2008-2011 » Yahoo Tech

Jason Gilbert:

After the first iPhone came out in 2007, tech publications rushed to identify the phone that would be the “iPhone killer.”

SPOILER: Apple sold more than 190 million iPhones last year. It is safe to say that the iPhone has not, in fact, been killed. 

Terrific list (and you can work out how easy it was to put together once he’d had the excellent idea of doing it). Arguably, though, the Galaxy S2 (in 2011) really made a difference.


EU to open extensive e-commerce sector probe » WSJ

Tom Fairless:

The inquiry, announced Thursday by the EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, follows pressure from France and Germany to use EU competition rules and other regulations to better target the business practices of large technology firms.

And it is part of a broader EU strategy to knit together the bloc’s fragmented online ecosystems into a digital single market. Policy makers hope that will help European Internet firms to build their clout to better compete with US web giants like Google and Facebook.

The antitrust investigation, encompassing all 28 EU countries, aims to establish whether some companies are raising contractual or other barriers to limit how consumers can shop online across EU national borders, Ms. Vestager said at a news conference.

It could lead to cases against individual companies that are suspected of abusing their dominant market position to restrict trade, in violation of EU law.


Three phases of consumer products » Medium

Arjun Sethi:

There are three phases. Consumer products start as a want then turn into a need. In the final phase, which most don’t get to, they evolve into a utility. Here’s how I define the three phases:

• Want — Solves a core value proposition that’s very unique and feels like a novelty.
• Need — People can’t live without it and keep coming back for more.
• Utility — It becomes a feature of other products.

The fastest growing consumer products have already gone through these phase,s while the up and coming ones are in the middle of one of these three phases right now. Facebook and Twitter are great examples of growing companies with large user bases that have gone through or are in the middle of this progression…

The ones that become huge are the ones that take the core and spread it out over time. You can’t get there over night and you don’t start by creating the network from day one. You start by creating a novel, memorable experience for people. Most ideas are fun or stupid with a core value proposition and over time they become a utility as they get embedded to become culture.


One professional Russian troll tells all » Radio Free Europe

Dmitry Volchek and Daisy Sindelar:

There are thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and vKontakte, all increasingly focused on the war in Ukraine. Many emanate from Russia’s most famous “troll factory,” the Internet Research center, an unassuming building on St. Petersburg’s Savushkina Street, which runs on a 24-hour cycle. In recent weeks, former employees have come forward to talk to RFE/RL about life inside the factory, where hundreds of people work grinding, 12-hour shifts in exchange for 40,000 rubles ($700) a month or more.

St. Petersburg blogger Marat Burkhard spent two months working at Internet Research in the department tasked with clogging the forums on Russia’s municipal websites with pro-Kremlin comments. In the following interview, he describes a typical day and the type of assignments he encountered.

Choice quote:

You have to just sit there and type and type, endlessly. We don’t talk, because we can see for ourselves what the others are writing, but in fact you don’t even have to really read it, because it’s all nonsense. The news gets written, someone else comments on it, but I think real people don’t bother reading any of it at all.

Modern salt mines, but much better pay and conditions.


Periscope review: does Twitter’s live-streaming service beat Meerkat? » The Guardian

Alex Hern points to an interesting contrast:

not every comparison between Periscope and Meerkat is fair. In some places, the app has zigged where its competitor has zagged.

That’s no clearer than when you finish a live session, and Periscope pops up a screen which says “preparing for replay”. There’s no ephemerality here (at least, not by default). When a stream is over, it can be rewatched by viewers who missed their chance first time around, and everything – the comments, hearts, and new-viewer notifications – plays out as-live.

“We didn’t want you to miss the experience, we thought it was special because it was live,” explains [Keyvon] Beykpour [Periscope’s co-founder]. “I still believe that, but we want to balance that with practicality. The synchronicity problem” – ensuring that viewers are available at the same time the streamer is – “is hard. There just is a significant drop-off with that problem.

“The true test for us has been does it decrease the percentage of people who watch live, and the answer I think is no. If you’re watching live, given how low latency the product is, you can change what’s happening.”

But one reason why Meerkat has no replay function is to make sure that people who have never streamed themselves before feel comfortable giving it a go. “To do that we wanted to make sure that you feel like you control the content,” said Meerkat founder Ben Rubin at this year’s South by South West festival. “If we want you to go a little bit outside your comfort zone, we want to make sure that you control the content. We want to make sure that people feel comfortable to stream their grandson’s soccer game on a Sunday afternoon.”

Retention versus ephemerality. I wonder if Meerkat will attract a younger demographic, like Snapchat?


Apple to release 3 iPhone models in 2H15 » Digitimes

Rebecca Kuo and Alex Wolfgram:

Apple will release three different iPhones in the second half of 2015, the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus and a 4-inch device currently being referred to as iPhone 6C, according to industry sources.

All of the handsets will come equipped with LTPS panels and supply for the iPhone 6S Plus and iPhone 6C will come from Japan Display, Sharp and LG Display while that for the iPhone 6S will come from Japan Display and LG.

All of the devices will come equipped with Corning Gorilla Glass, the sources said, adding the 6S series will use A9 chips and the 6C A8 chips. All of the devices will come equipped with NFC and fingerprint scanning technologies.

All makes sense – the 4in device, the fingerprint, the NFC.