Start up: Google’s crash, Hive overheats, Vive or Hololens?, BB10 withers, the backdoor test, and more

Facebook is not good at taking down fake profiles. Why not? Photo by gruntzooki on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Judge: US can’t force Apple to provide encrypted iPhone data » Associated Press

Larry Neumeister and Tami Abdollah on the decision in a New York case – not the “terrorism” case – where the FBI wants to unlock an iPhone which, yes, has a passcode:

»[Judge] Orenstein concluded that Apple is not obligated to assist government investigators against its will and noted that Congress has not adopted legislation that would achieve the result sought by the government.

“How best to balance those interests is a matter of critical importance to our society, and the need for an answer becomes more pressing daily, as the tide of technological advance flows ever farther past the boundaries of what seemed possible even a few decades ago,” Orenstein wrote. “But that debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive.”

A Justice Department spokesman said they were disappointed in the ruling and planned to appeal in the coming days. Apple and their attorneys said they were reading opinion and will comment later.

In October, Orenstein invited Apple to challenge the government’s use of a 227-year-old law to compel Apple to help it recover iPhone data in criminal cases.

«

link to this extract

 


Google says it bears ‘some responsibility’ after self-driving car hit bus » Reuters

David Shepardson:

»The crash may be the first case of one of its autonomous cars hitting another vehicle and the fault of the self-driving car. The Mountain View-based Internet search leader said it made changes to its software after the crash to avoid future incidents.

In a Feb. 23 report filed with California regulators, Google said the crash took place in Mountain View on Feb. 14 when a self-driving Lexus RX450h sought to get around some sandbags in a wide lane.

Google said in the filing the autonomous vehicle was traveling at less than 2 miles per hour, while the bus was moving at about 15 miles per hour.

The vehicle and the test driver “believed the bus would slow or allow the Google (autonomous vehicle) to continue,” it said.

But three seconds later, as the Google car in autonomous mode re-entered the center of the lane, it struck the side of the bus, causing damage to the left front fender, front wheel and a driver side sensor. No one was injured in the car or on the bus.

«

Yeah, if you did that in a driving test, you’d get failed. It’s not the bus’s fault if you try to enter its right of way.
link to this extract

 


Sony’s latest design experiment: a remote control for your entire life » Co.Design

Mark Wilson:

»The best Sony is weird Sony. It’s the Sony that makes robot dogs and glowing, rolling party balls. It’s the Sony that’s selling something you might not necessarily buy today but that lays the foundation for something you’ll need tomorrow.

Take the HUIS remote (it stands for Home User InterfaceS). It’s a $250 e-ink touchscreen display, like a Kindle Paperwhite, but it’s also a programmable universal remote, like a Logitech Harmony. Via infrared and Bluetooth, it can control anything from your cable box to your smart thermostat.

The e-ink screen solves the biggest problem with using your smartphone—or any other LCD—as a remote. Rather than taking all the incremental steps involved in turning on your phone and opening an app to make changes, its power-sipping display means its screen can stay turned on for a month between recharges.

«

Using the above definition, “best Sony” is also “fabulously unprofitable and unable to find market demand for a product Sony”. The idea of an e-ink touchscreen for things you don’t need to control often is nice, though. It’s just that Sony can screw up software like pretty much nobody else. Remember its music player software? If you can’t, lucky you.
link to this extract

 


HTC Vive: home VR for under £700 – if you have a computer to run it with » The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»HTC’s Vive virtual reality headset finally has a UK price: a hefty £689.

So, what do you get if you splash out a month’s rent (in London at least)? There’s the headset itself, co-created by gaming company Valve, which has two 1080 x 1200 screens offering a 110-degree viewing area, as well as a front-facing camera for augmented reality features and a plethora of other sensors for head- and motion-tracking.

The headset also comes with three apps: the tongue-in-cheek “Job Simulator”; Northway Games’ Fantastic Contraption, a 3D VR update of an old Flash-based physics game; and the Google-developed Tilt Brush, which lets you paint in 3D space.

Unlike the Facebook-owned Oculus, which retails for $600 (without a specific UK price), the Vive will also ship with two wireless VR controllers, and “room-scale” movement sensors, capable of tracking an area 5 sq m. The Oculus, with its more stripped-back offering, comes with an Xbox 360 controller – although the Oculus Touch controllers will be arriving later this year – and a movement set-up that can handle a 1.5m by 3m area. The Oculus does, however, include built-in audio while the Vive will require a separate pair of headphones.

«

link to this extract

 


Kiddle: The child-friendly search engine has no affiliation with Google » Alphr

»Kiddle.co is a search engine that uses Google’s results, but it’s not a Google product.

A glance at the homepage makes it pretty easy to see how confusion would arise. To put it charitably, the site’s owners haven’t exactly gone out of their way to set the two apart:

What we actually have here is a search engine that uses Google’s Custom Search bar and human editors to filter out grim results with, I think it’s fair to say, patchy results…

…In theory, Kiddle offers a combination of safe search, results tailored for children (positions 1-3 are safe sites written for children, 4-7 come from safe sites not written for children but accessible, and 8+ are just safe sites) and large clear fonts.

«

In reality: nope. And the ads are Google’s, and unfiltered, so you can see how that could quickly go south.
link to this extract

 


Super-cheap Raspberry Pi computer gains very useful new features » Fortune

David Meyer:

»Until now, those wishing to add Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality to the Pi had to buy separate dongles to plug into its USB ports — we are talking about a $35 computer after all, and this was one way to keep the cost down.

However, these wireless functions are now built right into the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, making it an even cheaper proposition for those wanting a very basic web-surfing machine, a cheap home server or the basis for a home-brewed Internet-of-things project. (Though those wanting the very cheapest Internet-of-things computer may want to opt for the $5 Pi Zero.)

«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft reveals HoloLens hardware specs » The Verge

Tom Warren:

»Microsoft is letting developers pre-order the HoloLens development edition today, but it’s also detailing exactly what’s inside the headset. HoloLens is fully untethered and self-contained, which means you do not need a PC or phone to use it. Microsoft has built an entire Windows 10 device into a headset, using a custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) and an Intel 32 bit processor.

Microsoft has a variety of sensors inside the HoloLens, including an inertial measurement unit, an ambient light sensor, and four environment understanding cameras. These combine with a depth sensing camera to allow HoloLens to map spaces. Microsoft also has a 2-megapixel HD camera to capture videos and photos. Four microphones inside the headset are used to pick up voice commands from users…

…Microsoft says the entire HoloLens headset will weigh no more than 579 grams, and the battery will run for around two or three hours of active use. HoloLens is fully functional when it’s charged over Micro USB, and the device will also have a standby time of two weeks.

«

Yours for $3,000. Includes carry case.
link to this extract

 


Google Maps brings its “Add A Pit Stop” feature to iOS » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»Last fall, Google announced the addition of a long-requested feature to Google Maps, which allowed users to – finally! – add a stop along their current route. That way you could route your way to a gas station or restaurant ahead of your final destination. However, at launch, the feature was only available on Android devices. Today, Google says the feature is now available on all iOS devices as well, and is available in any country where Google Maps offers navigation – or more than 100 countries worldwide.

The feature itself is something users of the Google-owned navigation app Waze have had for some time, but was not yet available in Google Maps.

It’s surprising that it took Google so long to add such a basic feature to its navigation app. After all, hitting up a pit stop while on your way somewhere else is the norm – but, before, you would have to route your way to the pit stop, then start a new route from the pit stop to your destination. And by creating two navigation sessions, it could be hard to see which gas station, restaurant, or other stop would incur the least amount of extra driving.

«

Given how often one wants to do something like this, solving it must be a really difficult routing problem, given it took until last October to arrive on Google Maps. Or else it’s a very difficult UI problem.
link to this extract

 


WhatsApp to end support for all BlackBerry versions by end of 2016 » CrackBerry.com

John Callaham:

»WhatsApp, the popular cross-platform messaging service, has decided to cut support for a number of those platforms. That includes all versions of BlackBerry OS, including BlackBerry 10, by the end of 2016.

WhatsApp will also end support for Nokia S40, Nokia Symbian S60, Android 2.1, Android 2.2 and Windows Phone 7.1 by the end of the year. From the WhatsApp blog:

»

While these mobile devices have been an important part of our story, they don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future. This was a tough decision for us to make, but the right one in order to give people better ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones using WhatsApp. If you use one of these affected mobile devices, we recommend upgrading to a newer Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone before the end of 2016 to continue using WhatsApp.

«

«

BB10 is, by a mile, the youngest of those operating systems. Of course commenters at Crackberry are *delighted*.
link to this extract

 


Hive customers hot up in 32°C heatwave glitch » The Memo

Kitty Knowles:

»Hive, which is run by British Gas, received over 30 complaints on Saturday, with many people fearing an unsightly spike in their bills this month.

The company has not yet confirmed how many of its 300,000 users may have been affected.

It said in a statement: “We are aware of a temporary glitch affecting a very small number of customers, where a certain sequence of commands in the Hive iOS app can cause the thermostat temperature to rise to 32°C.

“Any customers seeing this can very easily and immediately fix it by simply turning the thermostat down using the app, web dashboard or the thermostat itself.

“No-one needs to worry about their temperature being too high because the rest of the app works as normal. Meanwhile, we are working on a software update which should be available soon.”

«

So will people get refunds? Hive can’t read meters remotely, but this is BG’s fault so it should give a discount. The Internet of Overheated Things. Don’t you just love the future?
link to this extract

 


What can player profiling tell us about games? » Eurogamer.net

Keith Stuart:

»Imagine you have just hit ‘start’ on a new first-person video game. You find yourself in a room facing a doorway with ‘this way’ written in large letters over the top. You take a very quick look around and notice a few closed chests and cupboards beside you and then a door behind you marked ‘no entry’. You turn back toward the first door. Without thinking, answer the following question: what do you do now?

«

A really fascinating exploration of the different types of player one tends to find in any games theatre. Which are you? Depends on your answer to that question.
link to this extract

 


Dear Facebook » Cogdog

Alan Levine’s photos were used to create a fake Facebook account – he already has one – which was then used to scam people. Despite it being reported, Facebook did nothing about it:

»Facebook’s Help page for reporting fake accounts clarifies what kinds of accounts it does not allow

»

We don’t allow accounts that:

• Pretend to be you or someone else
• Use your photos
• List a fake name
• Don’t represent a real person

«

Why is Facebook allowing “Malle Gotfried” to use my photos? Why is Facebook’s highly touted facial recognition system not matching the profile photo “he” is using to he very one that has been on my Facebook profile since November 2015?

Again, why is Facebook not removing accounts it clearly says it does not allow? Why is there no burden on proof of “Malle Gottfried” to prove their identity? Why does Facebook make it so easy for Nigerian scammers to create fake accounts using photos of other people? Why is Facebook not answerable to these questions?

I have reported this account several times, so has my sister, and friends who know me. And every time Facebook replies stating that the creation of fake profiles using my photo does not violate Facebook’s Community Standards – what kind of community standards protect the rights of scammers to create fake profiles used in romance scams?

Why? Why Why?

«

(Thanks Tony Hirst for the pointer.)
link to this extract

 


The three-prong backdoor test » Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski on the suggestions (by some) that hey, Apple’s and Microsoft’s and Google’s “software updates” are really backdoors because, hey, they can change stuff:

»Any kind of automated update task on a computer is capable of introducing new code into the environment, but that is not what constitutes a backdoor. I’ve thought about this at length, and come up with a three-prong test to determine whether or not a mechanism is a backdoor. There has thus far not been a widely accepted definition of what a backdoor is, and so I hope you’ll consider its adoption into best practices for making such determinations, and welcome your input. The three prongs I propose are “consent”, “intent”, and “authenticity” (or: control).

«

In the hydra-headed debate around Farook’s damn iPhone 5C, Zdziarski has posed and answered some of the best questions. If you’re interested in security topics, I highly recommend his blog.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted

Start up: VR porn!, privacy and the FBI, Baidu’s data grab, why Trump?, and more

A Nissan Leaf charging. But you’d know that if you were to plug its VIN into a public API. Photo by Janitors on Flickr.

Don’t be late! Sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Controlling vehicle features of Nissan LEAFs across the globe via vulnerable APIs » Troy Hunt

Someone in one of Hunt’s classes discovered how to find out the battery status of Nissan’s popular electric car – and also turn its air conditioning on or off. For any LEAF. Without authorisation. Via API. From anywhere. And Nissan didn’t listen, and four different groups have discovered it independently:

»Nissan need to fix this. It’s a different class of vulnerability to the Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek Jeep hacking shenanigans of last year, but in both good and bad ways. Good in that it doesn’t impact the driving controls of the vehicle, yet bad in that the ease of gaining access to vehicle controls in this fashion doesn’t get much easier – it’s profoundly trivial. As car manufacturers rush towards joining in on the “internet of things” craze, security cannot be an afterthought nor something we’re told they take seriously after realising that they didn’t take it seriously enough in the first place. Imagine getting it as wrong as Nissan has for something like Volvo’s “digital key” initiative where you unlock your car with your phone.

By pure coincidence, this week Nissan unveiled a revised LEAF at the GSMA Mobile World Congress. Clearly, like many car makers, their future involves a strong push for greater connectivity in their vehicles:

»

In a fully connected, fully mobile world, in-vehicle connectivity is an absolute must for today’s drivers.

«

«

Perhaps not an “absolute must”, actually.
link to this extract

 


I got hacked mid-air while writing an Apple-FBI story » USAToday

Steven Petrow works for USA Today, and was writing and sending emails via Gogo Wi-Fi on a flight to Raleigh, Virginia. On touchdown, the guy in the seat behind him explained that he had hacked him, and “most people on the flight”:

»“That’s how I know you’re interested in the Apple story,” he continued. “Imagine if you had been doing a financial transaction. What if you were making a date to see a whore?” My mind raced: What about my health records? My legal documents? My Facebook messages?

And then the kicker:

“That’s why this story is so important to everyone,” he told me. “It’s about everyone’s privacy.”

Then he headed down the escalator and I headed out the front door. I may have been wearing my jacket, but I felt as exposed as if I’d been stark naked…

…[He then called Alex Abdo, a civil rights lawyer]: who is in actual danger here? The answer, apparently, is pretty much all of us. “Anyone who relies on the security of their devices,” Abdo told me.

It should be up to each of us to decide what to make public, and what to keep private, he continued. For me, I felt as though the stranger on the plane had robbed me of my privacy — as was explicitly his intent. He took the decision of what to share out of my hands. He went in through the back door of the GoGo connection.

«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft has acquired Xamarin » Petri

Brad Sams:

»Xamarin is one of the leading platforms for mobile app development and provides a robust platform that helps developers build mobile apps using C# and deliver fully native mobile app experiences to all major devices, including iOS, Android, and Windows. Seeing as Microsoft is a productivity focused company whose Visual Studio product is used by millions around the globe, this acquisition will fit nicely into their portfolio of products.

With more than 15,000 customers in 120 countries, of which 100 are Fortune 500 firms, Xamarin has become a leader in this space. Companies like Alaska Airlines, Coca-Cola Bottling, Thermo Fisher, Honeywell and JetBlue all use the software to develop their apps.

«

Apparently MSDN devs want to know if they’ll get it for free.
link to this extract

 


Solid support for Apple in iPhone encryption fight: poll » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»Nearly half of Americans support Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) decision to oppose a federal court order demanding that it unlock a smartphone used by San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook, according to a national online Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they agreed with Apple’s position, 35 percent said they disagreed and 20 percent said they did not know, according to poll results released on Wednesday.

Other questions in the poll showed that a majority of Americans do not want the government to have access to their phone and Internet communications, even if it is done in the name of stopping terror attacks.

«

Wait, I thought half supported the FBI? Oh god I’m so confused. As are the people being asked subtly different questions about the same topic.
link to this extract

 


Apple-FBI fight asks: is code protected as free speech? » Bloomberg Business

Adam Satriano:

»There’s some precedent for arguing that code is protected legal speech. In the 1990s, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley wrote an encryption program for his own research that he wanted to make public. Under federal regulations, a coder must get a license to publish cryptography tools, and the government denied the student’s license. In 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled for the first time that source code was protected as speech, and the student, Dan Bernstein, who is now an instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was allowed to share the code freely.

The case, Bernstein v. U.S. Department of Justice, has been highlighted by those who favor less regulation of the Internet. But judges have also ruled that free speech protections don’t apply to code. Courts have been especially skeptical in cases involving piracy of music and movies.
The law “is murky in this area,” said Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami — and that’s why Apple’s case could break new ground.

«

link to this extract

 


I tried VR porn, and I liked it » Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»You will probably be unsurprised to hear that VR porn is awesome. It’s like porn, but better. The porn I was sampling—made by Naughty America—was essentially a standard first-person-perspective film, but with the ability to look around. Unlike some VR experiences that are just two-dimensional 360-degree panoramas, Naughty America’s porn is stereoscopic; stuff actually sticks out, or comes flying at you. You really do want to reach out and touch things.

I watched three different scenes as I sat there in the cafe. In all three of them, “I” (a male actor) was reclining on some kind of sofa, looking down at my muscular physique and giant appendage. In some scenes, other people did things to me—in other scenes, I was much more proactive.

To be honest, it was a bit weird, looking down and seeing someone else’s body. But, after a few minutes of watching, I began to feel a sense of agency; I began to feel that yes, those rippling muscles were mine; I began to feel that it was me being tended to by two other beautiful people.

And of course, just as I was starting to get into it, the demo ended and I found myself back in the real world, being grinned at by a couple of guys from Naughty America. “Pretty cool, eh?”

All I can do is nod. Why did the demo have to end so soon?

Right now Naughty America’s films only allow have a 180-degree field of view, primarily because a standard porn scene doesn’t require anything greater, but also because it’s technologically quite challenging as well. Different varieties of porn—orgies and the like—would require a 360-degree field of view, but it doesn’t seem that Naughty America is working on that just yet.

When I asked Ian Paul, the company’s CIO, about how they actually film the VR scenes, he refused to tell me anything. “I can’t give away anything right now.” Basically, according to Paul, it’s quite hard to shoot a 3D VR film from an actor’s perspective, and lots of porn studios are currently trying to find the optimal setup.

«

You think kids playing video games is a problem now? Wait until this stuff becomes easily available.
link to this extract

 


Trump shatters the Republican Party » Politico

Shane Goldmacher:

»While Cruz has tried to tap into frustrated voters via ideology, Rubio has been far more reticent to amplify the angriest voices, saying repeatedly, “It is not enough to simply nominate someone who is angry.”

In South Carolina last week, when a voter shouted out that Hillary Clinton was a “traitor,” Rubio interjected gently, “I wouldn’t go that far, sir.” And last month, in Iowa, when another voter worried about Islamic sharia law coming to America, Rubio rebutted, “Guys, that’s not going to happen.”

While Rubio dances around the electorate’s resentments, Trump revels in them. On primary night in South Carolina, he tapped into their nationalism as he whacked at Mexico and China. “They’ve taken out jobs, they’ve taken our money, they’ve taken our everything,” he declared.

The crowd cheered wildly. “I showed anger and the people of our country are very angry!” Trump later tweeted about his South Carolina victory.

Perkins, the evangelical leader, described the Trump phenomenon’s lack of ideology this way: “You can’t be fearful and thoughtful at the same time.”

«

I remain fascinated by Trump’s rise (from the relatively safe distance of a few thousand miles of ocean). What I don’t know, and nobody seems to be saying much, is: how does Trump play with the broader electorate? If it’s Trump v Clinton (as seems likely), how does that play out?
link to this extract

 


Huawei Watch: Android Wear burn-in prevention 4K lapse [N5X] » YouTube

»

Quick 4K time lapse of Android Wear burn in prevention on the Huawei Watch. Captured with Framelapse Pro using a Nexus 5X.

«

That moves around quite a bit. Which prompts the thought – how long will always-on screens survive before they’re burnt out? Something to consider with wearables.
link to this extract

 


Announcing Spotify Infrastructure’s Googley future » News

Nicholas Harteau:

»in a business growing quickly in users, markets and features, keeping pace with scaling demands requires ever increasing amounts of focus and effort. Like good, lazy engineers, we occasionally asked ourselves: do we really need to do all this stuff?

For a long time the answer was “yes.” Operating our own data-centers may be a pain, but the core cloud services were not at a level of quality, performance and cost that would make cloud a significantly better option for Spotify in the long run. As they say: better the devil you know…

Recently that balance has shifted. The storage, compute and network services available from cloud providers are as high quality, high performance and low cost as what the traditional approach provides. This makes the move to the cloud a no-brainer for us. Google, in our experience, has an edge here, but it’s a competitive space and we expect the big players to be battling it out for the foreseeable future.

«

Lots of people are interpreting this as the first step to Spotify’s entirely Googley (ie Google-owned) future, and it’s hard not to see this that way.
link to this extract

 


Thousands of apps running Baidu code collect, leak personal data: research » Reuters

Jeremy Wagstaff and Paul Carsten:

»Thousands of apps running code built by Chinese Internet giant Baidu have collected and transmitted users’ personal information to the company, much of it easily intercepted, researchers say.

The apps have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times.

The researchers at Canada-based Citizen Lab said they found the problems in an Android software development kit developed by Baidu. These affected Baidu’s mobile browser and apps developed by Baidu and other firms using the same kit. Baidu’s Windows browser was also affected, they said.

The same researchers last year highlighted similar problems with unsecured personal data in Alibaba’s UC Browser, another mobile browser widely used in the world’s biggest Internet market.

Alibaba fixed those vulnerabilities, and Baidu told Reuters it would be fixing the encryption holes in its kits, but would still collect data for commercial use, some of which it said it shares with third parties. Baidu said it “only provides what data is lawfully requested by duly constituted law enforcement agencies.”…

…”It’s either shoddy design or it’s surveillance by design,” said Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert.

«

Tricky choice.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s web page headline briefly said that it was Acer’s routers, not Asus’s, which had been found to be full of holes by the FTC. This was wrong.

Start up: Apple on software, 1970 reporting, Microsoft leaves ICOMP?, cycling’s new doping scandal, and more

Voters at the Iowa caucus were profiled and tracked via their phones – perhaps without knowing. Photo by ellenmac11 on Flickr.

»You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

(To help formatting on the email, I’ve added » and « on the blockquotes to make it clearer what is quoted, and what is my commentary.)

The Talk Show ✪: Ep. 146, with very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi » Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»
Very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi join the show. Topics include: the new features in Apple’s upcoming OS releases (iOS 9.3 and tvOS 9.2); why Apple is expanding its public beta program for OS releases; iTunes’s monolithic design; how personally involved Eddy and Craig are in using, testing, and installing beta software; the sad decline of Duke’s men’s basketball team; and more.
«

This is, what, the second or third time I’ve recommended a podcast? This is an hour, and fascinating (with data points: iMessage peaked at 200,000 per second, there are 782m iCloud users – v 1bn devices in use, so do the maths – and 11m Apple Music subscribers, up from 10m in December).

Federighi’s point about how they tracked Bluetooth keyboard use for the Apple TV, and which calendar week it dwindled to zero, made me laugh aloud.

You can consider *why* Apple made Cue and Federighi available to Gruber, and it’s pretty obvious: they’re aiming to get their message out about Apple’s software and services quality, after all sorts of criticism lately. And that performance turns out to be pretty impressive – hundreds of millions of users who turn them on straight away that it goes live, such as iOS 9.0, iCloud Drive, and so on. Are they perfect? No. But they iterate to improvement pretty fast, given their scale.
link to this extract

 


Cycling’s mechanical-doping scandal » Business Insider

Daniel McMahon:

»
In the days that followed, the UCI said it had tested more than a hundred bikes at the world championships — and that it would be testing a lot more going forward:

»
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has taken the issue of technological fraud extremely seriously for many years. It has been clear for some time that the equipment exists to enable people determined to cheat to do so by installing devices hidden in bikes. That is why we’ve invested considerable time and financial resources in organising unannounced tests at races and have recently been trialing new methods of detection. We’ve also been using intelligence gathered from the industry and other information given to us. We tested over 100 bikes at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder and will continue to test large numbers of bikes at races throughout the season.
«

And sure enough, on Friday, February 12, the UCI announced it had tested another 90 bikes for motors, but this time at a road race in France.
«

This is weird. Motors in bicycles is A Thing. A Doping Thing.
link to this extract

 


64-bit iPhones and iPads get stuck in a loop when set to January 1, 1970 » Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»
Take a 64-bit iOS device—iPhone 5S or newer, iPad Air or newer, iPad Mini 2 or newer, sixth generation iPod touch or newer—laboriously set its date to January 1, 1970, and reboot. Congratulations: you now have a shiny piece of high-tech hardware that’s stuck at the boot screen, showing nothing more than the Apple logo… forever.
«

From the highest-rated comment on the comments below the story:

»
It appears to solve itself when the internal clock is allowed to advance normally to a point when «current time» minus time zone is greater than zero.

(This may be why people are seeing a battery drain fix it or see it fixed when inserting a SIM card that supports carrier time information)
«

Versions of Bright’s story, all written from the same YouTube video, are all over the web. More informed (and stupider) comments can be found beneath them (where they allow comments). The more informed ones point out the errors.

It’s quite the problem for journalists: news editors clamour for the story now, but it’s hard to check all the details, and especially the causes. This isn’t a “forever” bug. But you need to get the story written. That lack of time to research and check erodes trust in outlets which have been quick to follow a YouTube video. It’s not “permanent”, it’s not “bricked”, it’s not “forever”.

Though they then get a second bite of the cherry with “how to fix” articles. (Answer: let the battery run down.)
link to this extract

 


This company tracked Iowa caucusgoers through their phones » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»
What really happened is that Dstillery gets information from people’s phones via ad networks. When you open an app or look at a browser page, there’s a very fast auction that happens where different advertisers bid to get to show you an ad. Their bid is based on how valuable they think you are, and to decide that, your phone sends them information about you, including, in many cases, an identifying code (that they’ve built a profile around) and your location information, down to your latitude and longitude.

Yes, for the vast majority of people, ad networks are doing far more information collection about them than the NSA–but they don’t explicitly link it to their names.

So on the night of the Iowa caucus, Dstillery flagged all the auctions that took place on phones in latitudes and longitudes near caucus locations. It wound up spotting 16,000 devices on caucus night, as those people had granted location privileges to the apps or devices that served them ads. It captured those mobile ID’s and then looked up the characteristics associated with those IDs in order to make observations about the kind of people that went to Republican caucus locations (young parents) versus Democrat caucus locations. It drilled down farther (e.g., ‘people who like NASCAR voted for Trump and Clinton’) by looking at which candidate won at a particular caucus location.
«

Deeply disturbing. You can bet that tons of those people had no idea that they were being profiled, or that their data was even being shared in that way.
link to this extract

 


Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m thinking it may be good to be off social media altogether’ » The Guardian

»
Ian Tucker: What do you find most objectionable about the kind of economy that technology appears to create?

Douglas Rushkoff: What’s most pernicious about it is that we are developing companies that are designed to do little more than take money out of the system – they are all extractive. There’s this universal assumption that we have to turn working currency into share price.
«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft looks to be retreating from EU antitrust fight against Google » Ars Technica

Quite a scoop from Kelly Fiveash:

»
Ars has learned that members including UK-based price comparison site Foundem—the original complainant in the antitrust case against Google—resigned from ICOMP after Microsoft backed away from what had been a dogged campaign against its search rival in Europe. ICOMP was founded in 2008 to fight for an “online competitive marketplace.”

One source told us that Microsoft had agreed to prop up ICOMP’s food, travel, and accommodation expenses without having any active involvement in the group.

In a letter from Foundem to ICOMP—seen by Ars—the company said: “In our view, an ICOMP that is prohibited from commenting on Google’s immensely damaging business practices is an ICOMP working against, rather than for, the interests of a fair, competitive online marketplace.”

Foundem added in its December 2 missive: “As a leading complainant in the European Commission’s ongoing competition investigation into Google’s search manipulation practices, Foundem cannot be a member of an organisation that has turned its back on such an important issue.”

Ars asked Microsoft to comment on this issue to confirm claims that its fight against Google on search in the EU was effectively over. It did not respond directly to that question, however. Instead we were told that Microsoft’s complaint against Google in the European Commission had not been withdrawn.
«

Fiveash has been covering the Google/Microsoft proxy battle for years since she was at The Register. But it sounds as though Satya Nadella, having gotten rid of the vicious ex-political lobbyist Mark Penn, is dialing down the quiet lobbying.
link to this extract

 


How to gain unauthorized fingerprint access to an LG V10 » AndroidAuthority

John Dye:

»
If this person isn’t running Nova Launcher, the game’s up here. This vulnerability is only known to work on this particular launcher so far, so if your quarry is operating Google Now then they are safe from your malicious intent. However, if they are running Nova Launcher, you can tap the Home button while on the main home screen, then tap the Widgets option. Add a Nova Action widget to the home screen, and then choose the activity “com.lge.fingerprintsettings.”

Pause here for a second, because this is where the vulnerability exists. Through the normal Settings menu, it’s impossible to access this particular activity before going through a security checkpoint and confirming either a fingerprint or PIN. However, since Nova is able to ignore the normal menu flow that leads to this screen, it creates a situation where a user can add their own fingerprint to the list of allowed fingerprints without ever proving that they have authorized access to the device.

The widget on the homescreen will now lead directly to fingerprint settings, and you can add your own fingerprint before deleting the widget, leaving little trace of your actions.
«

Nova Launcher presently has more than 10m downloads, so it’s possible you’d find it on a high-end phone. Commenters suggest it can be done on a Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 too.

Sure that this will be all over news sites in a day or so of course with hundreds of comments. No?
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Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge » ScienceAlert

»
A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles – almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published – freely available online. And she’s now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court – a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

“Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them,” Elbakyan told Torrent Freak last year. “Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal.”…

… She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. “All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold,” she said.
«

The journals’ argument is that they add value by getting papers peer-reviewed, and edited, and choosing the important ones to publish. The existence of free unpeered sites such as Arxiv hasn’t noticeably dented their business.

But it always feels wrong when publicly funded research in particular ends up behind giant paywalls. If the public pays for the research, the public should be able to see its fruits.
link to this extract

 


Evidence suggests the Sony hackers are alive and well and still hacking » WIRED

Kim Zetter:

»
According to new data released this week by Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, senior security researcher with Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team, and Jaime Blasco who heads the Lab Intelligence and Research team at AlienVault Labs, the hackers behind the Sony breach are alive and well…and still hacking. Or at least evidence uncovered from hacks of various entities after the Sony breach, including South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator, suggests this later activity has ties to the Sony case.

“[T]hey didn’t disappear…not at all,” Guerrero-Saade said during a presentation with Blasco this week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Spain.

If true, it would mean the hackers who demonstrated an “extremely high” level of sophistication in the Sony attack have been dropping digital breadcrumbs for at least the last year, crumbs that researchers can now use to map their activity and see where they’ve been. The clues include—to name a few—re-used code, passwords, and obfuscation methods, as well as a hardcoded user agent list that showed up repeatedly in attacks, always with Mozilla consistently misspelled as “Mozillar.”
«

link to this extract

 


So who’s going to buy Pandora? » Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»
the US public company has reportedly begun talking to Morgan Stanley about finding a potential buyer.

As we stand, Pandora, for all its historical global licensing issues and growing annual net losses, looks a little like a bargain.

The company has lost $7bn in market cap valuation over the past two years. It’s currently sitting at $1.9bn – less than a quarter of Spotify’s latest private valuation.

However, there are other reasons why possible acquirers may cool their jets on Pandora – not least the fact that its active listener base is dropping, down year-on-year in Q4 2015 to 81.1m.

In addition, the firm’s acquisition of Rdio’s assets means an entry into the hugely competitive space of interactive music streaming is an inevitability, while it paid a scary $450m to buy Ticketfly last year – a sister operation that contributed just $10m to the bottom line in Q4.

So who might cough up and buy Pandora if (and it’s a big if) its shareholders agree to push for a sale?
«

Suggestions: Google, Apple, IHeartMedia, Samsung. Can’t honestly see any of them wanting it, rather than just waiting for it to vanish.
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Why mobile is different » The Economist

Anonymous, as ever with The Economist:

»
the combination of personalisation, location and a willingness to pay makes all kinds of new business models possible. Tomi Ahonen, head of 3G Business Consulting at Nokia, gives the example of someone waiting at a bus stop who pulls out his Internet-capable phone to find out when the next bus will arrive. The information sent to the phone can be personalised, reflecting the fact that the user’s location is known, and perhaps his home address too; so bus routes that run from one to the other can appear at the top of the list, saving the user from having to scroll and click through lots of pages and menus. A very similar service, which allows users to find out when the next bus is due by sending a text message from a bus stop, is already available in Italy.

Would-be providers of mobile Internet services cannot simply set up their servers and wait for the money to roll in, however, because the network operators—who know who and where the users are, and control the billing system—hold all the cards. This has changed the balance of power between users, network operators and content providers. On the fixed Internet, the network access provider acts as a “dumb pipe” between the user’s PC and, say, an online bookstore or travel agent. The access provider will not know how the connection has been used, and there is no question of claiming a commission. Mobile network operators, on the other hand, are in a far more powerful position. “Wireless is a smarter pipe,” says Chris Matthiasson of BT Cellnet. This means that operators are much less likely to be disintermediated.
«

The sharp-eyed will have started in the second sentence; others, in the second paragraph. That’s because this piece is from October 2001. It took a while, but the operators are pretty thoroughly disintermediated now.
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TfL social media: adapting to Twitter’s changes » TfL Digital blog

Steven Gutierrez of Transport for London, which runs London’s buses and underground services:

»
in the last few years, Twitter has introduced various changes to the way it serves content to its users, and these have impacted upon our ability to reliably deliver these real-time status updates to our followers.

Now selected content on Twitter is shown out of sequence, we will reduce the amount of minor alerts and focus on providing up-to-the-minute alerts for major issues, as well as a renewed focus on customer service across our various accounts.

Our teams will continue to work day and night to support customers including First Contact who take care of the Tube line Twitter feeds as well as CentreComm and LSTCC who have access to everything from iBus (our system for tracking London Buses) to police helicopters monitoring London from above.
«

Wow: you think Twitter is a static thing, but these changes really do affect what happens. The point about image search shows it’s not trivial either.
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Artificial intelligence offers a better way to diagnose malaria » Technology Review

Anna Nowogrodzki:

»
For all our efforts to control malaria, diagnosing it in many parts of the world still requires counting malaria parasites under the microscope on a glass slide smeared with blood. Now an artificial intelligence program can do it more reliably than most humans.

That AI comes inside an automated microscope called the Autoscope, which is 90 percent accurate and specific at detecting malaria parasites. Charles Delahunt and colleagues at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory—the research arm of Nathan Myhrvold’s patent licensing company Intellectual Ventures in Seattle—built the system with support from Bill and Melinda Gates through the Global Good Fund. The Autoscope was tested in the field at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit on the Thailand-Myanmar border during malaria season in December 2014 and January 2015. The results were published in December.
«

If I’m reading the results correctly, it got about 95% accuracy. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

My own forecast is that “an [AI] algorithm for..” will be the “listen to this!” phrase of 2016, and utterly commonplace in 2017.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: None noted.

Start up: Samsung pays on patents, smartphone sales slow, Toshiba to sell PC arm?, and more


“Madam, I’m afraid that following the Galactic Depression I can’t give you a mortgage no matter what clothes you wear.” Photo by leg0fenris on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

LVMH’s TAG Heuer to step up smartwatch production to meet demand » Bloomberg Business

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer will increase production of its smartwatch in coming months after receiving requests from retailers, agents and subsidiaries for some 100,000 timepieces, according to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE’s watch chief.

TAG Heuer aims to make 2,000 pieces per week, up from a current 1,200, Jean-Claude Biver said in an e-mailed response to questions. Online sales of the Connected Watch will be suspended probably until May or June to give priority to physical stores, he said.

At $1,500 each, that’s revenue of $150m.
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The economics of Star Wars: Modeling and systems risk analysis suggest financial ruin for the Galactic Empire » Phys.org

Erika Ebsworth-Goold:

First, [Zachary] Feinstein [PhD, assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis] modelled the galactic economy by estimating the price of both Death Stars, using the most recently completed aircraft carrier in the American fleet as a measuring stick.

Comparing the price ($17.5bn) and size (100,000 metric tons of steel) of the USS Gerald Ford with an estimated size of both Death Stars, the price tag for the Empire was astounding: $193 quintillion for the first version; $419 quintillion for the second, though manageable in comparison to the $4.6 sextillion Galactic economy.

In the movies, both Death Stars are destroyed within a four-year time span, which would have been a staggering economic blow to the Imperial financial sector. To prevent a total financial collapse would require a bailout of at least 15%, and likely greater than 20%, of the entire economy’s resources.

“The most surprising result was how large the economic collapse could be,” Feinstein said. “Without a bailout, there was a non-negligible chance of over 30% drop in the size of the Galactic economy overnight—larger than the losses from the Great Depression over four years (from peak to trough).

“Episode 7: A New Quantitative Easing”.
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Samsung announces payment of $548m to Apple but reserves right to seek reimbursement » FOSS Patents

Florian Müller (who has been following all the zillions of patent rows forever):

on Thursday afternoon local California time, Apple and Samsung filed a joint case management statement with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in which Samsung says it has “has made arrangements to complete payment to Apple.” It is now waiting for Apple’s original invoice, and if that payment arrives before the weekend by Korean time, it will send $548m to Apple by December 14.

So, approximately four months before the fifth anniversary of its original complaint, Apple will physically receive money from Samsung.

Not in nickels, either.
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Worldwide smartphone market will see the first single-digit growth year on record » IDC

According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC ) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker , 2015 will be the first full year of single-digit worldwide smartphone growth. IDC predicts worldwide smartphone shipments will grow 9.8% in 2015 to a total of 1.43bn units. IDC updated its previous forecast to reflect slowing growth in Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), Latin America, and Western Europe. The slower growth is expected to intensify slightly over the 2015-2019 forecast period and is largely attributed to lower shipment forecasts for Windows Phone as well as “alternative platforms” (phones running operating systems other than Android, iOS, and Windows Phone)…

…”With the smartphone market finally slowing to single-digit growth, maintaining momentum will depend on several factors,” said Ryan Reith , program director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “The main driver has been and will continue to be the success of low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. This, in turn, will depend on capturing value-oriented first-time smartphone buyers as well as replacement buyers. We believe that, in a number of high-growth markets, replacement cycles will be less than the typical two-year rate, mainly because the components that comprise a sub-$100 smartphone simply do not have the ability to survive two years. Offering products that appeal to both types of buyers at a suitable price point will be crucial to maintaining growth and vendor success.”

“As shipment volumes continue to slow across many markets, consumers will be enticed by both affordable high-value handsets as well as various financing options on pricier models,” said Anthony Scarsella , Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phones team.

Say it again: “the components that comprise a sub-$100 smartphone simply do not have the ability to survive two years”.
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Review: Microsoft’s Surface Book » iTnews

Juha Saarinen:

GeekBench 3 rated the single core processor score at 3480 and the multicore equivalent at 7165. This is quicker than the iPad Pro, which managed 3220 and 5442 in the single and multicore tests respectively, but a comparison between the two is difficult due to different processor architectures and Windows 10 and Apple iOS 9.1 being very dissimilar in how people use them: Windows 10 for instance allows full file system access, but iOS 9.1 doesn’t.  

You won’t be disappointed with the performance of the Surface Book in the vast majority of scenarios.  

You will, however, pay a premium for the tablet/laptop functionality: my AUD$4199 review unit is a good chunk’o’change. You could buy a top of the range 13-inch MacBook Pro with similar specs as the Surface Book and have change left for an iPad mini 4 as a companion tablet. 

Staying on the Microsoft side of the fence, the Surface Pro 4 top dog model has the same 512GB sized storage, 16GB RAM, is lighter, has a Core i7 processor but a slightly lower resolution PixelSense screen and no secondary graphics card – it costs $3580 with the Type keyboard cover, and runs Windows 10 just fine.

I thought Saarinen had transposed the numbers in that price, then saw the following paragraph. The prices translate to US$3,040 for that review unit and US$2,590. Clearly Microsoft doesn’t want to lose money on hardware any more. But at those prices, it’s really not going to sell in any appreciable numbers.
link to this extract


Access denied » The Awl

John Herrman on the problem for various media that follows the way “access” to big stars, and politicians, and everyone, is being short-circuited by social media:

As did pundits with Trump coverage, [Kotaku’s Stephen] Totilo diagnoses the specific problem correctly, I think: Ubisoft and Bethesda were probably upset about Kotaku leaking or being critical of their products, and cut off access as a result. This is, in his words, “the price of games journalism.”

But the post’s secondary conclusions—that Kotaku rejects the idea of a games press that is a “servile arm of a corporate sales apparatus” and that this change in some way vindicates its prescient and recently implemented plan to “embed” reporters in games, rather than treating the games as objects to be reviewed—hint at a bigger worry. It’s not just that game companies might be mad at Kotaku, it’s that at the same time, they need it less than ever. What good is a complex website with a few million viewers spread across hundreds of games in a world where a company can just release a couple hours of gameplay footage of its own, or hand over a title to a YouTuber or a Twitch celebrity who’ll play nicely in front of millions of viewers?

link to this extract


Transformation at Yahoo foiled by Marissa Mayer’s inability to bet the farm » The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

Yahoo’s fumbled foray into TV only highlights Ms. Mayer’s strategic failure. Instead of making a single big bet [of buying Netflix in 2012 when its share price was one-tenth its present level] that might have focused the company on something completely different and potentially groundbreaking, Ms. Mayer staked out a lot of small and midsize positions, rarely committing to anything early enough to make a difference. For Ms. Mayer, original programming was just one of dozens of products in a portfolio that remains too complex to understand.

So, too, were other projects that could have been at the center of Yahoo’s new mission. In the time that Ms. Mayer has been at the helm, Facebook has invested heavily in messaging apps that could define the future of communication. Google and Apple, anticipating the eventual decline of text-based search queries, have tried to create predictive, voice-based search engines that also catalog all the content inside apps. Pinterest is pioneering a new kind of online commerce, while Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are working on new ways to tell collective narratives through video.

Under Ms. Mayer, Yahoo has had a hand in many similar initiatives, but it hasn’t led in any of these areas.

“Inability” should probably have been “unwillingness” (Manjoo won’t have written the headline), but the analysis is spot-on.
link to this extract


Japan’s Toshiba, Fujitsu in talks to merge loss-making PC units – sources » Yahoo Finance UK

Makiko Yamazaki and Reiji Murai of Reuters:

The emergence of tablets and other devices as well as fierce competition has pushed Japanese PC divisions into the red. At the same time, Toshiba is under pressure to restructure in the wake of a $1.3 billion accounting scandal while Fujitsu has seen PC profitability slip away as a weaker yen has inflated the cost of imported parts.

Combining PC operations would create a company with around 1.2 trillion yen ($9.8bn) in sales and give greater economies of scale that would help with procurement costs. But analysts see prospects of a return to past days of thriving sales as slim given that the two account for just 6 percent of global PC sales.

“It is uncertain whether or not the new integrated company could recover international competitiveness,” said Takeshi Tanaka, senior analyst at Mizuho Securities.

A combination would come on the heels of Sony Corp hiving off its PC business into unlisted Vaio Corp last year. Some domestic media reported that Vaio would also be part of the new venture but a spokeswoman for the company denied it was in talks with any firm about its PC operations.

That $9.8bn is an annualised revenue figure for both companies’ PC divisions – though there may be other products in there. (Their accounts don’t split out PC revenues directly.) For comparison, Asus and Acer each had annualised PC revenues of $8.5bn in 2014.
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Design: meet the internet — Figma Design » Medium

Dylan Field:

When we started working on Figma, we knew it was possible to build a fast and stable graphics tool in the browser, but we had no idea how hard it would be. From vector rendering to font layout to a million performance edge cases, getting here hasn’t been easy. Designers have high expectations for a tool they rely on every day! After dogfooding Figma internally for the past eighteen months and working closely with alpha customers, I’m confident we’ve reached this high bar.

While the technical achievement of building a vector based UI design tool in the browser is exciting, I’m even more excited by the collaborative possibilities we’re starting to unlock. Whether you’re sharing a design with a link, giving contextual feedback or setting shared brand colors for your team to use, Figma makes it easy to work with your team.

If you can do it in a browser it isn’t real work, of course.
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Wearable technology in the car » Canadian Automobile Association

Mark Richardson:

Jeffrey Macesin says he was changing the music playing through his car speakers when the Montreal police officer pulled him over and charged him with distracted driving.

The music was coming from his iPhone and wired into the car’s stereo, but the phone was tucked away in his bag, out of sight. In fact, he was using his Apple Watch to change the track, another potential new distraction in a world increasingly crowded with them.

Macesin says he was astonished by the ticket, which carries a $120 fine in Quebec and four demerit points.

“I understand (the officer’s) point of view,” he told CTV in May, “but the fact is, he thought I was using my phone and I wasn’t using my phone – I was using my watch. I tried explaining this to the guy and he just ignored me. I told him I’d see him in court.”

I sent Macesin numerous requests for a chat but he didn’t respond – maybe his lawyer told him to keep quiet. But he acknowledged in outtakes to CTV that his left hand was on the wheel – the same arm that wears his new Apple Watch – and he was tapping on the watch dial with his right hand to change tracks when the officer saw him from an overpass. The Apple Watch was connected wirelessly to his iPhone and controlling its functions.

The actual charge is that he “drove a road vehicle using a hand-held device equipped with a telephone function,” and his argument against it, he said, is that a watch is not “hand-held” – it’s worn on the wrist. “That’s where it gets really controversial,” he said to CTV. “Is it? Is it not? But I think this needs to be talked about.”

Similar to the Google Glass driving ticket case (which was dismissed)?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: streaming runs dry?, the absent unicorn, Watch myths and more


“Waddya mean, you lost my shareholder pass?” Photo by Wired Photostream on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. We counted. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Losses point to bleak future for music streaming services » FT.com

Robert Cookson:

The future appears bleak for companies whose sole business is music streaming. An increasing number of investors and people in the record industry expect that digital music distribution will be dominated by a few large, cash-rich technology groups — in particular, Apple, Google and Amazon.

“When you have the likes of Apple fighting against you, it becomes very difficult to survive,” says Mark Tluszcz, chief executive of Mangrove, the venture capital firm and one of the original investors in Rdio. It sold its shares several years ago after concluding that no matter how many subscribers the streaming service managed to attract, it would never be able to turn a profit.

“As a streaming platform, your relative value is nil, because you don’t own the content,” he says. “This is not a good business to be in.”

The fundamental challenge for streaming services is that they are largely at the mercy of music copyright holders — including Sony Music Entertainment, Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. These three record companies alone control about three-quarters of the $15bn-a-year global recorded music market.

To stand a chance of attracting a large number of subscribers, a streaming service must offer a broad catalogue of songs from all three major record companies.

Related: Coldplay keeping new album (released today, Friday!) off any streaming service offering a free tier. So won’t be on Spotify, but will be on Apple Music (presumably) and Tidal.
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Why companies are switching from Google Apps to Office 365 » CIO

Mary Branscombe notes that Office 365 seems to have passed Google Docs on some measures:

The simplicity of Gmail and Google Docs clearly appeals to some users, but as one of the most widely used applications in the world, the Office software is familiar to many. “When you put these products into companies, the user interface really matters,” McKinnon says. “For email, the user interface really matters. Google Apps is dramatically different from Office and that’s pretty jarring for people who’ve been using Outlook for a long time. It’s like it beamed in from outer space; you have to use a browser, the way it does conversations and threading with labels versus folders, it’s pretty jarring.”

And it’s hard to use Outlook with Google, many customers report. “Some companies, they go to Google and they think they are going to make it work with Outlook; what they find out when they start using the calendar is that it just doesn’t work as well with the Google Apps backend as it does when you’re using Office 365. The user interface is so important that it pulls them back in. Even if you like the Google backend better, you have thousands of users saying ‘what happened to my folders?’”

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Swift is open source » Hacker News

That’s Swift, the language that Apple introduced in June 2014 – having kept it a complete secret – and said it would make open source by the end of this year. The above link goes to the discussion about it having done that. There’s also this page on the language’s forward evolution.

Sure that Andy Rubin will tweet about this really soon.
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Ballmer chides Microsoft over cloud revenue disclosures and apps plan » Bloomberg Business

Dina Bass:

Ballmer said he has discussed the issue [of the non-disclosure of profit margins and total sales from cloud products] with the company and that after almost two years out of the CEO job, he can’t even guess what these numbers are.

“We enjoy a regular dialogue with Steve, and welcome his input and feedback, as we do from our other investors.” said Chris Suh, Microsoft’s general manager for investor relations.

Ballmer also criticized Nadella’s answer to an audience member questioning the lack of key apps, like one for Starbucks, on the company’s Windows Phone. Nadella responded by citing the company’s plan to appeal to Windows developers by allowing them to write universal applications that work on computers, phones and tablets, targeting a larger array of devices than just Microsoft’s handsets that have just a single-digit share of the mobile market.

“That won’t work,” Ballmer commented as Nadella spoke. Instead, the company needs to enable Windows Phones “to run Android apps,” he said.

Chris Suh’s comment is basically “sod off”. At this rate Ballmer is destined to become Microsoft’s Steve Wozniak (as portrayed in the film Steve Jobs, rather than as in real life).
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Engadget unveils redesign focused on technology’s effect on society » WSJ

Lukas Alpert:

Launched in 2004, Engadget’s audience had begun to decline in recent years, Mr. Gorman said. Despite that, advertising revenue has remained steady, said Ned Desmond, general manager of AOL Tech.

“Revenue has been fine for quite a while,” he said. “Of course it is a better scenario when your audience is growing again in a sustainable way. Advertisers appreciate that.”

As the site increasingly began to focus on broader tech issues earlier this year, traffic has begun to tick back up. Unique visitors to the site in October were up 25% compared with same month last year at 10.8 million, according to comScore Inc. By comparison, rival CNET was slightly down in October year-over-year at 32.2 million. Traffic to the Verge jumped 27% in the same period to 19.8 million.

Overall, the tech media space has become very crowded in recent years, making it harder to stand out.

That “audience declined but advertising revenue stayed the same” suggests more ads being thrown at people, which could make them go away faster. Changing the editorial position seems to be the way to reverse that. But the “social impact” space could get crowded fast too.
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Why are there no unicorns …. or are there? » Pulling on the corkscrew of life

Dr Mike Ward tried to puzzle out the answer to a question I posed on Twitter: since we have deer with bilateral horns, and rhino with central “horns” (you’ll see why the quotes are there), why don’t we have horses or deer with central horns, ie unicorns?

The ancestors of modern deer also had tusks. Later they evolved horns and their tusks withered away as their horns grew. I see no reason – in principle – why deer or antelope (or other ungulates) could not have evolved to grow (say) only their left horns and why that single horn could not (with a slight asymmetrical deformation in skull development) have moved over towards the centre of the head. Such a “unicorn” would not be quite symmetrical but, given that they have helical horns, unicorns aren’t really symmetrical either.

In fact, thinking about it, I don’t really see why – if the horn were composed of two fused halves (like the swordfish “bill”) – we couldn’t have had a “unicorn” with a single untwisted horn.

Evolutionary advantage in lacking a horn, or lack of it in having a horn, might have played a part. Or sheer dumb lack of happenstance? Your views welcome.
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December 2010: mobile OS – what is in store for the future? » Nota Bene: Eugene Kaspersky’s Official Blog

In December 2010, Kaspersky (the antivirus guy) offered a bet:

And now for a bit of a global long-term forecasting.

What’s the story going to be with mobile operating systems in the future? In say around five years?

I’m ready to bet that – if the current manufacturers of mobile phones don’t change their strategies – the mobile OS market in the five years perspective will be split up as follows:

80% – Android
10% – iPhone OS
10% – all the Others.

Pretty much dead on: actual figure for 2015 is 78/14/8, via Gartner. Read his post for his reasoning; when he made the bet, Android had 6% share, iOS 14, and others 80%. (He celebrated being right the other day.)
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This Ford can drive itself in motorway traffic and park while you wait » IB Times

Alistair Charlton:

Called Traffic Jam Assist, the first system works alongside the car’s cruise control and uses cameras and radar to monitor road markings and surrounding traffic. When driving in stop-start traffic on a busy motorway, the feature can be switched on via the steering wheel; it then takes control of the steering, brakes and accelerator.

Shown off for the first time in Germany, the system will keep the car in the centre of your lane, a safe distance from the vehicle in front, and below the speed limit (which the driver sets before switching the system on). It also works, unlike current cruise control systems, after the car has come to a halt, with it setting off again to keep up with the flow of the traffic…

…Next up is Remote Park Assist, an upcoming feature which will let car owners park in tight spaces without even being in the car. They park near the space, step out, then use the car fob to tell the car to park itself. The system works in reserve too, so drivers can extract their car from a tight space if someone has parked too close to them. Again, this system is also available on the new 7-Series, but Ford will bring it into the hands of drivers on a much lower budget.

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Leaked documents reveal Dothan police department planted drugs on young black men for years, district attorney Doug Valeska complicit » The Henry County Report

Jon B Carroll:

The Alabama Justice Project has obtained documents that reveal a Dothan Police Department’s Internal Affairs investigation was covered up by the district attorney. A group of up to a dozen police officers on a specialized narcotics team were found to have planted drugs and weapons on young black men for years. They were supervised at the time by Lt. Steve Parrish, current Dothan Police Chief, and Sgt. Andy Hughes, current Asst. Director of Homeland Security for the State of Alabama. All of the officers reportedly were members of a Neoconfederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels “racial extremists.” The group has advocated for blacks to return to Africa, published that the civil rights movement is really a Jewish conspiracy, and that blacks have lower IQ’s . Both Parrish and Hughes held leadership positions in the group and are pictured above holding a confederate battle flag at one of the club’s secret meetings.

Depressing.
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My favourite Apple Watch myths » Horace Dediu

Apple Watch was released April 10th 2015. Eight months later we are holding the first Apple Watch conference. To kick off the discussion, here are my favorite myths about this new product.

These aren’t obvious, except when you read them. I particularly liked this one:

Myth 8: The Watch has a weak battery
I’ve never gone a day with less than 50% battery remaining. Since we need to recharge ourselves once a day, the watch conforms to our biology. Unless you sleep far away from a source of electric power, the Apple Watch has enough battery life.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

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Dark matter full of piranhas: Android, Apple and the 3Q 15 smartphone scorecard


Remind you of the smartphone market? Red piranhas photo by Stig Nygaard on Flickr.

A friend of mine recently showed me his new handset. “It’s a Huawei,” he said. “Never heard of them, but it was a good price, and it does all I need.” He’d bought it to replace his ageing Nexus 4, and he seemed happy.

And so goes another example of Android dark matter: a company that is selling lots of handsets, but where we have no idea whether it’s making any money from them.

Yet we might guess that the answer is a qualified “no” when we look around at its rivals. Another quarter, and the profit story remains much the same: Apple and Samsung are making it all. The others whose financials we can actually see – LG, Sony, HTC, Lenovo, Microsoft, BlackBerry – all lost money as though it was what you’re meant to do. The big mystery: Huawei, which was the third biggest smartphone maker in this period, but doesn’t release financials. Is it making money? If so, it’s the only Android OEM besides Samsung which is to any notable extent.

But the third quarter, from June to the end of September (already receding into the distance) is notable because we’re now seeing the effect we’d expect from the rapid expansion of the Android OEM business: price deflation. It’s becoming rampant, and it’s beginning to tear into Samsung, which is being eaten from below by piranhas.

The effect of this was that even though Samsung shipped more smartphones than it has ever done before – a titanic 84.5m – its mobile revenues were only its 9th largest, and its mobile profits only one-third the size of its biggest (which came in early 2013).

That equally raises a very important question for the future of the big noise in the smartphone business: Apple. If even the biggest Android OEM is having its prices yanked down by smaller but numerous rivals, how (or how long) can Apple maintain its gigantic difference in pricing compared to those rivals?

Note too that the smartphone market is still decelerating; from 11.9% growth (compared to the same period in 2014) in the second quarter, to 6.8% in the third, according to IDC’s numbers, which are the ones I use for consistency. (Gartner has a higher growth rate.)

World smartphone shipment growth by quarter

Data from IDC

Score that

I’ve added two columns to the scorecard this quarter: year-on-year shipment growth, and that growth normalised against the whole smartphone market. Apologies if this demands a lot of horizontal scrolling.

OEM S/phone revenue US$ (approx) Op profit US$m Op margin % S/phones shipped Implied ASP per s/phone Implied profit per s/phone Shipment growth y/y Shipment growth v s/phone mkt (6.8%)
HTC $0.674bn -$154m –23.1% 2.6m $259.27 –$59.85 –46.9% –53.7%
Sony $2.32bn -$171.7m –7.4% 6.7m $346.12 –$25.62 –32.3% –39.1%
LG $2.96bn –$88.6m –2.3% 14.9m $198.49 –$5.95 –11.3% –18.1%
Samsung $20.70bn* $2,440m 11.79% 84.5m $248.55 $28.86 +7.6% +0.9%
Lenovo
(inc Motorola)
$2.37bn* -$217m –9.2% 18.8m $126.22 –$11.54 –32.9% –39.6%
Total for ‘public’ Android $29.024bn $1,810m 6.2% 127.5m $227.64 $14.20 –7.7% –14.5%
Huawei ????? ????? ????? 26.5m ????? ????? +57.7% +50.9%
Xiaomi ????? ????? ????? 18.3m ????? ????? +1.1% –5.7%
ZTE ????? ????? ????? 16.2m ????? ????? +42.1% +35.3%
Total for “dark Android” ????? ????? ????? 61.0m ????? ????? +35.6% +28.8%
Apple $32.21bn $9,022m* (28% est) 48.05m $670.38 $187.76* +22.6% +15.8%
Microsoft Mobile $0.72bn* –$603m –83.8%% 5.8m $105.00 –$104.00 –38.6% –45.4%
BlackBerry $0.20bn –$180m* –89% 0.83m $242.16 –217.00 –61.9% –68.7%

* estimated smartphone revenues/profits/ASP only – excluding featurephones and tablets.

Working assumptions:
HTC: all revenues from smartphones – zero from the Nexus 9 tablet (pretty certainly true), zero from the HTC Re camera (probably true).
Sony: all revenues and profits from smartphones; zero from tablets – of which it shifted fewer than 1.6m, given IDC’s numbers; and zero profit from tablets. If tablets generated significant revenue and were profitable, then the smartphone ASP goes down, as does per-handset profit. (If tablets lost money, the per-handset loss is less.)
LG: $100 average selling price for the 1.6m tablets I’m estimating it shifted in the quarter. (That would put it equal with shipments in the previous quarter.) Tablets assumed to have zero profit, though they might have made some loss that made everything else look worse.
Samsung: featurephones (it shipped 20.5m) sold for $15, zero profit; tablets (8.0m) sold for $175 at zero profit. If the tablets or featurephones made any profit, then the profit from smartphones were lower.
Lenovo: assuming the 3.1m tablets it sold had an ASP of $100, and zero operating profit. If the tablet ASP was lower, Lenovo smartphone revenues were higher; if the tablets were profitable, per-smartphone loss was greater.
Apple: operating margin, as previously, of 28%. You could halve this, or even put it level with Samsung’s declared margin, and its operating profit would still be more than all the others’ profits (even ignoring losses) put together.
Microsoft Mobile: the figures here have to be backed out from the not-quite-stated phone revenue, including featurephones: “phone revenue decreased 58% by $1.5bn”, which takes us down to $1.1bn. There’s no gross margin given for phones, so I assumed –$104m, as in the previous quarter. Microsoft shipped 25.5m featurephones (up from 19.4m the quarter before, but down from 42.9m the year before) and 5.8m Lumia smartphones (stated; down from 8.4m the quarter before, and 9.4m the year before). Assuming featurephones had an ASP of $15 and made zero profit (same as with Samsung). The Lumia ASP has to be estimated, but seems reasonable.
BlackBerry: device revenue is given in financial statement; assuming software/services have gross margins of 84.5% (true historically), and that hardware R+D and sales costs are proportional to device revenues as % of overall revenues.

Troubles in common

Here’s the surprise: a number of Android OEMs managed to make their device ASPs rise from the previous quarter. First is Sony – up from $319.40 to $346.12. And who knows whether the $5m spent on product placement for Sony smartphones in the James Bond film Spectre won’t pay off some time. (They’ll have to have a hell of a return on investment, though.) HTC also managed it: up from $236.90 to $259.27. Lenovo also did it, up from $115.06 to $126.22.

And what else did those three companies, along with LG, all do? Lost money. The problem for premium Android goes on. We’re seeing the rise of “dark Android” – the companies which have huge reach (especially inside China) but whose finances are opaque. (All three of Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi sell many, if not a majority, of their phones without Google’s services installed, because they sell them inside China.) Meanwhile Apple raises its ASP, and its profit rises in line, as far as we can tell.

The really interesting case is Samsung. A year ago, in the third quarter of 2014, Samsung had a terrible time: profits crashed and its semiconductor division became the most profitable part of the business – which is still the case. At that time, Samsung discovered that making a new “S” series phone wasn’t a guarantee of success; it was caught with lots of unsold Galaxy S5s sitting with wholesalers, and had to offer all sorts of discounts to get them moving, which hurt profits.

This time around, Samsung’s profits have risen year-on-year, but only because the same time last year it was so dire. The Wall Street Journal had some interesting data about how it managed to get so many phones sold: basically, it concentrated on the low-to-mid end. Screw the S6 and S6 Edge and its kin; this was about getting phones out the door.

…while 55% of its smartphones were priced at $301 per unit or more at this time last year, that high-end segment has fallen to just 40% of Samsung’s overall smartphone sales, Counterpoint said.

Phones priced $200 or below now account for 38% of total units shipped at Samsung, versus 30% this time last year.

You can work this out pretty easily:

Samsung phones sales, by price segment

Data from Counterpoint Research for 3Q 14 and 3Q 15

Here’s how that looks when you visualise it:

Samsung phone sales by segment, visualised

Data from Counterpoint Research. The mid-level segment is growing at the expense of the high-end one.

Look at how the blue and green edge up into the pricier yellow – which is now much smaller. And we’re comparing, remember, with last year, where the yellow (pricey) segment went pretty badly for Samsung as it was.

This is Samsung reacting to what’s going on in the market, and responding as it does best: by using its manufacturing and distribution might to try to squash competition. But in places like China and India, for example, local suppliers can compete pretty evenly:

“Samsung Electronics has decided to release the products priced at some 100,000 won for price competitiveness with Chinese and Indian smartphone makers. Local manufacturers, such as Xiaomi and Micromax, have already launched many models in the same price range. An official from the industry said, “Now, it is impossible to hold a dominant position in the competition just with a brand image of Samsung Electronics without releasing models in the same price range with local companies. When we have similar price competitiveness, we can defend our market share but profitability will get worse further.”

And LG? It’s getting walloped. Strategy Analytics says (in a super-pricey report I won’t buy) “LG’s global handset shipments dipped -21% YoY in Q3 2015. Competition from ZTE, Huawei and others ramped up across Asia and North America. A major challenge for LG is that it still has too many eggs in too few country baskets and it badly needs to diversify geographically for regrowth in 2016.”

I don’t see that happening. What I find remarkable is that top-end Android vendors are now howling into the hurricane. The LG G4 has a camera that seems remarkable in all the sample shots I’ve seen; yet it’s struggling to sell them. HTC might hope that the newly released iPhone-alike A9 will raise revenues briefly this quarter, but I’m pretty sure they won’t reverse its per-handset losses, which are looking awful:

HTC US$ operating profit per handset

Data calculated from HTC financials

Android’s dark matter

Consumers are clearly beginning to think that many other Android handsets are “good enough”. My friend with his cheap Huawei handset is just one example. ZTE and Xiaomi and OnePlus and, now, the UK’s WileyFox and Marshall (the amplifier makers, yes) and even Pepsi are all piling into the handset market, sure that they can make money.

In some cases, it’s quite possible they are: by restricting its supply and distribution, OnePlus has a model that can scale as long as it can keep a lid on demand. What the phone OEMs really want is to be able to move closer to a Dell-type model: where you order the device and it’s pretty much custom-made for you from modular parts. That means lower inventory, and certainty about pricing components and satisfying demand.

Meanwhile, Android OEMs such as LG, Sony and Samsung are faced with the harsh reality spelt out by Ben Bajarin in one of his columns:

as a market matures, the early innovators get disrupted by competitors who come into their space with lower priced products, similar specs (the specs that matter), and eat into the market share of the early innovator in the category. Once the market embraces “good enough” products, the innovator can no longer push premium innovations as their value is diminished once a “good enough” mentality sets in. Android devices in the $200-$400 range are “good enough” for the masses, leaving Samsung’s $600 devices and above stranded on an island.

As he points out:

the innovator’s dilemma, in this case, only applies to Android-land because all the hardware OEMs run the same operating system. As I’m fond of saying, when you ship the same operating system as your competition you are only as good as their lowest price.

This is what Samsung is reacting to, but Sony and LG and HTC can’t react to without cutting their own throats even more. They have high fixed costs in order to produce those super-high-resolution phones (QuadHD, anyone? Even if you can’t tell the difference?) but it doesn’t cut any ice with the public.

Meanwhile Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi the dark matter of the smartphone business: we know they’re there because of the enormous influence they wield on everyone around them. They’re also the only part of the Android OEM business that’s growing. But it’s very hard to have any idea of their financial position. (You can get some idea: CoolPad says it can’t make sufficient profit to sell a tablet to compete with Xiaomi’s newest model at the same price.) The way that the low-price piranhas are piling into Android does remind me of the days when the iTunes Music Store was taking off, and every company in a vaguely associated area scrambled to have their own download store – HMV, Tesco, Wal-Mart, Virgin – without much consideration of how they’d turn it profitable; they just reckoned it was a good idea. (Most have now shuttered those stores.)

In the same way, offering an Android phone is beginning to look like a possible sideline for all sorts of companies, which speaks to the problem that the big Android players have: if anyone can make a smartphone, why are they making a smartphone? Sure, the rivals don’t outsell the big players, but they don’t need to. For almost any price, control your inventory and demand and you control your profitability.

Black days for BlackBerry

You’ll notice BlackBerry’s figure, where its costs are so mad that it’s effectively losing enormous amounts on each device it sells. Chief executive John Chen may say handsets are “profitable”, but that’s gross margin, before you take away distribution, administration, sales, and R+D. In day-to-day terms, BlackBerry’s hardware division is a mess, and I don’t see why Chen doesn’t say “we’re going to go into a maintenance mode where we supply legacy handsets to existing clients on demand” and simply focus on the software/services business for profit. The BlackBerry Priv would have to be a colossal hit to make up this ground, and there is simply no sign of that happening. Richard Windsor agrees:

The new BlackBerry Priv and its rumoured successors are aimed at such a narrow niche that I doubt that they will ever make money. Once this realisation has sunk in, I think that BlackBerry will abandon its hardware business and focus on its software business which has recently been bolstered with the acquisition of Good Technology.

The iPhone pricing puzzle and the single spec that matters

How much longer can Apple keep on with its premium pricing? This question has been asked pretty much since the first Macintosh was launched. The answer from the PC market seems to be “a lot longer than you might expect”. In the smartphone market, the distance between the iPhone ASP and the average Android handset ASP, even on these public figures, is $450, which is itself double the price of the average Android ASP. And it’s unlikely that the missing Android data covers handsets with higher prices.

This seems like a situation that can’t last, and yet we’ve seen in the PC market that it can and does: Apple’s ASP there is over $1,200, while that of the big five Windows PC makers wobbles around $500. Apple also makes about twice the operating profit on PCs as HP, Lenovo, Asus and Acer combined.

Yet in a space where prices of phones are dropping precipitously, the iPhone’s price tag seems more and more anomalous. Yet by standing outside those price wars, and by incrementally improving its offering again and again, it keeps pulling it off. In part, that’s because of the price: as CCS Insight noted in April,

Apple’s success in opening up new, high-growth markets such as China, India and Indonesia is significant. Although its products are out of reach for many people, the iPhone is widely regarded as a badge of success in these countries and there are still enough buyers who are affluent enough to afford one.

In that sense, the price is a spec – one where rivals are actually being degraded. It sounds completely contrary, but to a number of people an iPhone is an affordable luxury. Think of it like a car: some people really want Porsches. But if you could buy a Porsche for the same price as any other car, would it still have that cachet?

Maturity and change

We’re now moving into a situation where the biggest markets – China and the US – are approaching saturation, so that it becomes increasingly hard to persuade the remaining featurephone owners to trade up, and people are less willing to buy a new device just because it’s new. That CCS Insight forecast in April also says that smartphone sales in western Europe and North America will peak in 2017; but it also expects Apple’s share to grow.

Again, this seems contrary – won’t that just lead to people being driven by price? But in a mature market, you can get a move towards perceived quality and luxury, because you’re in a situation of plenty. As I showed using Ericsson’s data from mature markets, Apple can gain users in that situation, creaming them off from Android (and to a less extent from Windows Phone).

Conclusion: segue to VR

Three months or so back I wrote about “premium Android” hitting the wall. Now it’s sliding down, and being swallowed by dark matter and eaten by piranhas. So what keeps the lossmaking companies in the business? I think it’s pretty evident that they now have their eyes on the future: virtual reality. It’s a hugely promising technology which demands integrated systems with gyroscopes and, moreover, super-high-quality screens where you can’t discern pixels even if it’s a few inches from your face. That’s what Sony, LG, HTC and Samsung are all aiming at; each has its own offering in VR, while Apple hasn’t so far made a move.

Perhaps, though, history is going to repeat itself here. Each of those companies was strong in phones before Apple came onto the scene with the iPhone. It cannot have escaped Apple’s notice that VR is a promising market, with lots of applications. And it has been granted patents in that space.

Maybe in a few years’ time, we’ll be scoring profits in the VR market. For now, though, it’s all about smartphones – and there are still only two clear winners.

More articles to read:
BlackBerry might have no BB7 users left by February 2016
Premium Android hits the wall: the Q2 2015 smartphone scorecard
Google’s growing problem: 50% of people do zero searches per day on mobile
The adblocking revolution, and iOS 9

Start up: Surface Book review, Google v EC redux, where are the iPad Pro apps?, after Google Flu, and more


Is this a perfect app signup? Photo by kastner on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Aren’t they pretty? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Final words – the Microsoft Surface Book review » Anandtech

Brett Howse likes it a lot. Apart from the lack of ports. And also..

The other issue with the hardware is one that plagues all 2-in-1 devices which offer a detachable display. Because the display has to house all of the PC components it gets heavy. The Surface Book display/Clipboard is 1.6 lbs (726 grams) and all of this weight is out over the hinge. The Surface Book does better than any other detachable convertible device for balance, but at the end of the day it is still more top heavy than a traditional notebook. On a desk it’s not going to be an issue, but if you do have to type in your lap, depending on the seating arrangement, it may want to tip backwards. This is compounded by the feet on the bottom not having a lot of grip. The Surface Book’s display travel is also limited to prevent it from tipping over, although it does open far enough that it should not be an issue for almost any situation.

The hardware is overall very good. Where the Surface Book is let down though is on software. It’s kind of ironic that the hardware is well done but the software can’t keep up when you consider Microsoft is first and foremost a software company, and one that has only been in the PC market for a couple of years at that. But there have been a lot of issues with software. When the Surface Book first launched, it suffered from display driver crashes along with hue changes and flickering on the screen when doing certain tasks. Luckily these issues seem to have been corrected with a firmware update issues on November 2nd. But there are still outstanding issues. The fact that you can’t close the lid and expect the laptop to actually go to sleep is a terrible bug. Leaving the Surface Book unplugged but sleeping is going to result in a dead battery. Just yesterday, I closed the lid on the Surface Book, only to notice the fans had kicked in and it was very hot.

I find the coexistence of a laptop that can turn into a tablet (Surface Book) and a tablet that can turn into a laptop (Surface Pro) suggestive of a “let’s turn this ship around any way we can” approach. Also, the Surface Book sure is pricey.

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Google faces new round of EU probing over Android mapping apps » Bloomberg Business

Aoife White:

Google faces a fresh round of European Union questions about its Android operating system for mobile devices as regulators quizzed rivals and customers over applications for maps, e-mail and other services.

The EU wants to know whether Google Maps for phones has supplanted portable or in-car navigation devices, such as those produced by TomTom NV and the HERE unit of Nokia Oyj, according to a document sent to companies and seen by Bloomberg.

Officials are also seeking data, such as user numbers, about downloaded or pre-installed mapping apps on devices, as well as costs mapmakers face to produce a mobile-ready app.

Wonder how long that one will take to reach any decision. 2017? 2018?
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Google EU antitrust response argues Amazon, eBay robust competitors » Re/code

Mark Bergen, who has seen a redacted copy of Google’s response to the EC:

Google points to the number of online price aggregators — sites that collate retail prices elsewhere on the Internet — born in Europe: 180 between 2008 and 2014. The EU’s charge sheet, or statement of objections (SO), “focuses on a handful of aggregators that lost free Google traffic, but ignores many that gained traffic,” Google’s lawyers wrote. Google says it drove 20bn “free clicks” to these aggregators in Europe over the past decade.

More critical to Google’s defense is the argument that online marketplaces, like eBay and Amazon, should be considered peers to Google’s shopping service, a position at odds with the EU, which charges that these merchants are “irrelevant” when it comes to price comparisons. Google’s lawyers claim, using internal data, that Web visitors prefer merchant links over aggregators and go directly to Amazon for product searches. (They do.) Google also argues that these giant merchants consider the smaller price aggregators as rivals as well — in the response, Google cites Amazon SEC filings where the e-commerce company lists “comparison shopping websites” and “Web search engines” as competitors. Ergo, Google contends, the EU should see them that way too.

And echoing the company’s internal note to the charges in April, Google spells out how Amazon and eBay are far more dominant as online retailers in Europe than Google’s service.

Pretty much all these points of Google’s were rebutted thoroughly by Foundem (a price aggregation service which complained to the EC) in June.
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Where are Apple’s iPad Pro apps for pros? » Lou Miranda

There’s a big gap in Apple’s pro app lineup, with Aperture being retired along with iPhoto. iPhoto’s replacement is the Photos app, but there is no Aperture replacement yet. What better device to introduce a Photos Pro app than a giant-screened iPad Pro with a pressure sensitive Pencil?

Likewise with Final Cut Pro X. There’s no reason to make it iPad Pro-only, but it would certainly shine on an iPad Pro. This is similar to Macs: sure you can run Photoshop or FCP X on a MacBook Air, but they really shine on a MacBook Pro or Mac Pro. I discussed this at length in my post “There’s No Such Thing as an iPad App“.

So why would Apple release an iPad Pro without its own pro apps?

My feeling is that the iPad Pro is much like Apple TV: the hardware was ready before the software, and Apple is soft-pedaling both, mostly to developers and early adopters. (You could argue Apple does this with every new device, and I wouldn’t argue with you.)

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AI will reorganize the human population » Medium

Silver Keskkula, who is working on the “Teleport” app which aims to find the best place for you to live:

Matching people to locations is hard — there are more things to account for than might be feasible to code into a human understandable model. Although today we’ve managed to keep things simple and are missing a purely machine learning driven parameter from our search, I’m more than convinced that in the very near future we will need to resort to AI to help guide people’s search into where to live (our first tests are quite encouraging).

All and all we’re all just inefficient computational machines running on wetware and largely biased by evolutionary adaptations more suited to the hunter-gatherer era, so getting AI involved in our next wave of migrations might not be such a bad thing.

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This is how you design your mobile app for maximum growth » First Round Review

[Primer CEO] Kamo Asatryan may very well be one of the best kept secrets in the startup ecosystem. He’s one of a small handful of people who have observed hundreds of mobile apps, thought deeply and scientifically about their mechanics, and determined what they could change to grow faster.

To demonstrate his particular brand of magic: Asatryan’s team recently worked with an app that required users to swipe through four screens explaining the product in-depth before they could sign up. Then the permissions screen literally begged them to let the app access their location data. 60% said no and went on to a dead-end experience.

To turn things around, Asatryan tested a radically different approach: assume that users who installed the app already understood the need to provide their location data. This allowed them to axe the long-winded welcome flow and make the permissions request the second screen. The text was changed to say that users needed to “Enable Location Permissions” (making it clear that it would be for their benefit), and they were literally not able to move on from the screen without saying yes. This sounds risky, but after the shift, 95% of users said yes and went on to a much better product experience.

This is a long article, but every single element of it will be useful if you’re in any way involved in designing or critiquing mobile app design. Today’s must-read. (Via Dave Verwer’s iOS Dev Weekly.)
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New flu tracker uses Google search data better than Google » Ars Technica

Beth Mole:

With big data comes big noise. Google learned this lesson the hard way with its now kaput Google Flu Trends. The online tracker, which used Internet search data to predict real-life flu outbreaks, emerged amid fanfare in 2008. Then it met a quiet death this August after repeatedly coughing up bad estimates.

But big Internet data isn’t out of the disease tracking scene yet.

With hubris firmly in check, a team of Harvard researchers have come up with a way to tame the unruly data, combine it with other data sets, and continually calibrate it to track flu outbreaks with less error. Their new model, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, out-performs Google Flu Trends and other models with at least double the accuracy. If the model holds up in coming flu seasons, it could reinstate some optimism in using big data to monitor disease and herald a wave of more accurate second-generation models.

I wrote about the failure of Google Flu Trends in March 2014; in 2008 it had claimed 90% correlation. Google said then it would “welcome feedback”. The old data is still available.
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TLC NAND SSDs: The crippling problem storage makers don’t advertise » PCWorld

Jon Jacobi:

With last week’s release of Crucial’s BX200 SSD, a drive that features TLC (triple-level cell) NAND, it’s time to shine a light on this burgeoning segment of the SSD market—especially as vendors happily quote numbers that would have you believe that these SSDs perform just like any other.

Most of the time TLC SSDs perform quite well. But copy a large amount of data to a TLC drive, and part way through the operation you’ll see something discomforting—a startling drop in write speed. With some drives it’s relatively mild, but in the case of many recent TLC drives, the drop is so drastic you’ll wonder if the SSD is dying. It’s not, but you may wish it was.  

While this is true, it turns out you’ll only hit the problem if you’re transferring more data than fits in the disk cache – which could be 3GB or more. Still, a subtle gotcha.
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shows ‘iPhone Pro,’ reveals how much time he spends on email » IB Times

David Gilbert:

Speaking at the company’s Future Decoded conference in London on Tuesday, Nadella, who took the reins at Microsoft over 18 months ago, demonstrated the power of Windows 10 and gave us a glimpse into what he does and how he works on a day-to-day basis.

Using Delve — an Office 365 app which automatically tracks a user’s activities throughout the week by monitoring calendars, emails and the other productivity tools — Nadella showed the audience that last week he spent a total of 16 hours in meetings, well within his goal of under 20 hours per week.

Nadella failed to meet his goal of spending less than nine hours per week on emails, clocking up 9.6 hours in the past seven days. He also fell short on the time he wanted to spend focusing – which he described simply as “time for work.” Nadella considered himself “focused” for only two hours last week, just half of his assigned goal.

Notice how he didn’t show us what devices – and in particular phone – he uses. (Sure, it will be a Lumia, but which?) The “iPhone Pro” is just an iPhone loaded with Microsoft software. Puzzled by how a machine measures your “focus hours”. How does it know?
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No Comcast app on the new Apple TV » Tech Insider

Tim Stenovec:

Marcien Jenckes, the executive vice president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, told Tech Insider in an interview last week that Comcast isn’t working on an app for the new Apple TV.

“We’re not philosophically against it,” Jenckes said of developing an app for the new device. “We just haven’t seen the need to run out and do that, given the fact that we’re already delivering content to the TVs in a way that has our customers already satisfied.”

If American customers were that satisfied, they wouldn’t be buying set-top boxes and TV sticks by the million.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none reported.

Start up: Google to merge Android and ChromeOS, tablets dwindle, online ad scams, and more


E-reader ownership has dropped significantly in the US. Photo by Simply Bike on Flickr.

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Alphabet’s Google to fold Chrome OS into Android » WSJ

Great exclusive by Alistair Barr:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google plans to fold its Chrome operating system for personal computers into its Android mobile-operating system, according to people familiar with the matter, a sign of the growing dominance of mobile computing.

Google engineers have been working for roughly two years to combine the operating systems and have made progress recently, two of the people said. The company plans to unveil its new, single operating system in 2017, but expects to show off an early version next year, one of the people said.

Also says that Chromebooks will be renamed, but Chrome the browser will retain its name. So this would leave Apple, with the iOS-OSX split, as the only one with separate OSs. It seems Android will get primacy on the desktop. What, though, does that mean for Chromebooks and the progress they’re making in the education market?
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Tablet shipments decline by 12.6% in the third quarter as many vendors get serious about moving from slate offerings to detachables » IDC

At the close of 2014, IDC estimated the installed base of tablets to be 581.9m globally, which was up 36% from 2013 but slowing quickly. With mature markets like North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific well past 100m active tablets per region, the opportunities for growth are getting fewer. 

“We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world. However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear. With shipment volumes slowing over four consecutive quarters, the market appears to be in transition.”

In response to these challenges, the industry is seeing growing interest from vendors in new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming a clear focus for many. While detachable tablets have held just a single digit percentage of the overall tablet market, IDC expects this share to increase dramatically over the next 18 months. However, the shift toward detachables presents some new challenges. In particular, the mix of traditional PC OEMs that are evolving their portfolios to include detachables will face pressure from the traditional smartphone OEMs, many of which have become accustomed to delivering extremely low-cost products.

Apple is kinda-sorta doing the detachable thing with the iPad Pro, but the detachables market really looks like one where Windows devices are best placed. So will IDC start calling them PCs or tablets?
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The online ad scams every marketer should watch out for » Harvard Business Review

Ben Edelman has a collection of subtle and less subtle ways that you could spend far too much. This is the first, and in some ways the most obvious:

A first manifestation of the problem arises in sponsored search. Suppose a user goes to Google and searches for eBay. Historically, the top-most link to eBay would be a paid advertisement, requiring eBay to pay Google each time the ad was clicked. These eBay ads had excellent measured performance in that many users clicked such an ad, then went on to bid or buy with high probability. But step back a bit. A user has already searched for “eBay.” That user is likely to buy from eBay whether or not eBay advertises with Google. In a remarkable experiment, economist Steve Tadelis and coauthors turned off eBay’s trademark-triggered advertising in about half the cities in the U.S. They found that sales in those regions stayed the same even as eBay’s advertising expenditure dropped. eBay’s measure of ad effectiveness was totally off-base and had led to millions of dollars of overspending.

Others include retargeted display ads, affiliate cookies and adware.
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Microsoft Band 2 review: An identity crisis on your wrist » The Verge

Tom Warren Lauren Goode:

after wearing the newest version of Microsoft Band for the past three weeks, I can’t help but think that the real answer [to why Microsoft made it at all] is that Microsoft isn’t in it for the hardware. Instead, my best guess is that it hopes to get people using the Microsoft Health software — and maybe get some other hardware makers to make stuff for its platform. Despite welcome improvements over last year’s Microsoft Band, this new Band sort of baffles me.

It’s been redesigned, but is only slightly less clunky than before. It’s a fitness tracker, but with the short battery life of a smartwatch. It works with surprisingly great software, but good luck syncing your data to said software. On top of that, it’s more expensive than last year’s Microsoft Band — $249, up from $199 — and more expensive than a lot of other step-counters. The argument there is that it’s not as costly as a smartwatch or a high-powered dedicated fitness watch, but considering that at this point it could be perceived as an also-ran, you’d think Microsoft would aim for a more appealing price point.

It all leaves me wanting to like the Microsoft Band, but I can’t say I’d spend $249 on it.

So pricey, clunky, battery life comparable to things that do more.. what’s not to love?
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US smartwatch market not ready for prime time yet » Kantar Worldpanel

Smartwatches have been on the market for several years. The Pebble Smartwatch debuted in 2012, establishing the category as it is known today. Yet, only 1% of the current smartwatches now in use in the U.S. were purchased in 2013, and 14% were bought in 2014.

Smartwatch ownership follows the classic early adopter profile – more than two-thirds of smartwatch early adopters are male, and one out of three are between the ages of 25 and 34. Vendors like Apple use greater attention to design and personalization to appeal to non-tech lovers. The results of those efforts have not yet completely materialized.

“Looking at where smartwatches have been purchased, the channels preferred by buyers have more in common with other consumer electronics goods than with jewelry,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “33% of smartwatch buyers got them online, 17% bought them from a consumer electronics store, and 11% of owners received their smartwatch as a gift.”

Survey conducted in August, but the principal complaint among non-buyers was price. Meanwhile, 92% of those intending to purchase associate Apple with the category. Thin times for Android Wear.
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U.K. government: no end-to-end encryption please, we’re British… » TechCrunch

Speaking during a debate on encryption in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Shields, the Minister for Internet Safety and Security — and a former European VP at Facebook — dubbed the rise of end-to-end encryption as “alarming”.

“There is an alarming movement towards end-to-end encrypted applications,” she said. “It is absolutely essential that these companies which understand and build those stacks of technology are able to decrypt that information and provide it to law enforcement in extremis.”

Shields’ comments came in response to a question which made direct reference to the use of messaging app WhatsApp by ISIL extremists.

“The Prime Minister did not advocate banning encryption; he expressed concern that many companies are building end-to-end encrypted applications and services and not retaining the keys,” added Shields.

Despite reiterating Tory attacks on end-to-end encryption, Shields did specify that it is not, in fact, government policy to push for the creation of backdoors in services.

Joanna Shields used to be in charge at AOL Europe too. And we wanted more people with experience of tech to be in government? Doesn’t seem to be making any difference to the general level of knowledgeability.
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Line app in big trouble as active user growth stalls » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

The company behind Line this morning revealed that the messaging app has grown to 212 million monthly active users (MAUs). Of those, 65% are in Line’s four core markets – Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Although the number is going up, it’s actually terrible news for the messaging app. It’s already failed to topple the dominance of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and now Line’s MAU count is growing very slowly – it’s up just 10 million in the past six months. It went up only one million in the three months from June to September.

WhatsApp added 100 million MAUs in the five months from April to September and now stands at 900 million.

Twitter has a similar problem in the US. Is growth the only answer for messaging apps?
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Android and the Innovator’s Dilemma » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies:

Once the market embraces good enough products, the innovator can no longer push premium innovations as their value is diminished once a good enough mentality sets in. Android devices in the $200-$400 range are good enough for the masses leaving Samsung’s $600 devices and above stranded on an island.

One of the most interesting observations about all of this is the innovator’s Dilemma was supposed to impact Apple. This was a fundamental tenet of most bull cases. When the market for smartphones became filled with good enough devices at very low prices, why would anyone buy an iPhone? Yet this is impacting Samsung exactly according to the guidebook — but not Apple. The fundamental lesson to learn here is the innovator’s dilemma, in this case, only applies to Android land because all the hardware OEMs run the same operating system. As I’m fond of saying, when you ship the same operating system as your competition you are only as good as their lowest price. This is the curse of the modular business model.

This is also why Samsung had hopes for Tizen. They actually knew this was coming. I know this because I discussed it with them in 2013 and was convinced they understood this was their fate if they continued to sell out to Android. Unfortunately, Android was their only option given its momentum. I’ll make a prediction. Samsung will be out of the smartphone business within five years.

Emphasis there Bajarin’s own (and that’s a pretty notable prediction). The article is subscriber-only; you can get one-off logins for particular articles or buy a subscription for more.
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American demographics of digital device ownership » Pew Research Center

Smartphones owned by 68% (notably less in rural areas), tablets owned by 45% (statistically unchanged from 42% in 2014), games consoles owned by 40% (unchanged since 2010), portable games consoles by 14% (unchanged from 2009), 40% have MP3 players (barely changed from 43% in 2013).

Here’s the drama:

Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%).

The Kindle is flickering out.
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Flipboard, once-hot news reader app, flounders amid competition » WSJ

Douglas Macmillan:

Flipboard, once hailed as the best iPad app by Apple Inc., now is fighting for survival in a sea of competition that includes Apple itself.

In recent weeks, the news reader app’s co-founder, Evan Doll, and its chief technology officer, Eric Feng, have left, adding to the talent drain in the past year that includes the heads of finance, product and revenue.

The exodus comes as Flipboard’s investors, which bet $210 million on the company, have put more pressure on co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mike McCue to revive the business model or find a buyer, according to people familiar with the matter.

What’s Flipboard’s USP? It says that it has 80m users, up from 41m at the start of the year. That’s impressive – but Apple News is likely to eat it by default.
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BBC iPlayer app coming to Apple TV ‘in coming months’ » BBC News

Leo Kelion:

The BBC has confirmed that its iPlayer service is coming to the new Apple TV.

The catch-up app is not ready to launch alongside the revamped set top box when it goes on sale this week, but the broadcaster signalled it would be soon.

iPlayer was absent on earlier Apple TVs, despite the fact it is on other platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Sky’s Now TV box and several video game consoles.

One analyst said the move should aid sales of the new kit in the UK.

“Available on over 10,000 devices, BBC iPlayer is one of the biggest and best on-demand video services in the world, and has transformed how UK audiences watch programmes online,” said the BBC’s director-general Tony Hall.

The BBC wasn’t going to, but then two developers in Bournemouth demonstrated that it was damn easy to write the app. For non-UK readers, the BBC iPlayer is the biggest source of legitimate streaming TV viewing (live or catchup) in the UK; the lack of an iPlayer icon on the old Apple TV hobbled it terribly. (Yes yes Airplay but that ties up your device.)
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Start up: Adblock Plus v Axel Springer, Apple’s Wi-Fi problem, Xiaomi’s shortfall, sell that Priv!, and more


(Just over) 14 years ago… evolution, revolution or just another MP3 player? Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

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Adblock Plus and (a little) more: Smells like censorship, Big Brother » AdBlock Plus

Eyeo, which runs Adblock Plus, has been accused of behaviour tantamount to blackmail by saying it will allow “acceptable ads” from some sites that pay it money. Axel Springer in Germany, meanwhile, decided to institute an “non-paywall” which would prevent people using an adblocker from seeing its content on Bild.de etc. Then:

One of the independent moderators of our free and open forum discussed a workaround to the Bild.de blockade, because they still wanted to access the site. Basically, they just talked about how to write a specific filter that users could add to their ad blocker to get around “Axel’s Wall.”

Last week, Axel Springer demanded that we take down those forum posts, in effect demanding that we censor what people had written on our own forum. Our response basically channeled former basketball player/current journalist Jalen Rose: Nah … not gonna be able to do it.

Just a few minutes ago, a court in Hamburg served us with papers FORCING us to remove these specific forum posts. Apparently Axel Springer felt so strongly that they went to a court to get people to stop saying things they didn’t like. This is not without precedent: this week they sent a YouTuber a similar order after he decided to make a video describing how to circumvent …. the Wall.

Damn you, Internet Archive.
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October 2001: Apple’s New Thing (iPod) » MacRumors Forums

Fabulous comment thread from Macrumors, including those calling it “Cube 2.0” (the Cube computer was killed after a year), and this from “WeezerX80”:

This isn’t revoltionary!

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!

Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!

Tons more fun to be had. Sadly, Weezerx80 stopped posting there the same day, so we’ll never be able to ask him what he thought of the outcome. (Via Greg Koenig.)
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Wi-Fi Assist: a $5 million mess » Medium

Alf Watt, developer of iStumbler, worked on the Mac OS Wi-Fi client user experience at Apple from 2007-12:

During my last few years I spent a lot of time working closely with AppleCare on customer Wi-Fi and networking issues: poring over user trouble reports, sitting down at call centers and listening in on calls, and generally doing everything I could to improve the user experience of Wi-Fi for Apple users.

I failed. It may have been possible to succeed, but the structure of the various teams working on Wi-Fi and networking at the time made it a seemingly insurmountable challenge. This current situation makes it clear to me that there are still forces inside of Apple which prevent any kind of real, comprehensive solution from being implemented. Balkanization, poor management and some uninformed decisions by executives contributed to the problem; and as I’m all to human, my own limitations and personal struggles played a large part. But it didn’t have to happen this way, and it doesn’t have to continue.

Lots of fascinating nuggets in this, including

“when a user calls the vendor of their Wi-Fi access point, nearly the entire profit margin for that box is destroyed by the end of the call.”

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Xiaomi won’t hit its smartphone sales targets this year » TechInAsia

Charles Custer:

Last year, Xiaomi gave itself the goal of selling 100m phones in 2015. That seemed ambitious, but not outside the realm of possibility, especially after the fast-growing company finished 2014 having shipped more than 60m units after having originally projected only 40m sales.

2015 has not gone nearly as well, though. By March, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun had revised this year’s goal to 80m to 100m units. In July, the company announced that it had sold 34.7m smartphones in the first half of the year, putting it on track to possibly miss even the lower end of Lei Jun’s revised target.

Now, there are additional signs that even 80m might be optimistic. Taiwan-based research firm Trendforce just released a report suggesting that Xiaomi is on track to sell around 70m smartphones this year. Meanwhile, research firm Canalys is saying that Xiaomi’s sales in the third quarter of this year actually dropped year-on-year, the first time that has happened.

What’s disrupting Xiaomi? Probably just the slowdown in the Chinese market, which is happening faster than its ability to expand into new markets. Hence it offering products such as a cheap 4K TV (China only, sadly).
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We applied to Google’s €150m journalism fund – here’s what we sent in » The Register

The Register’s Kieren McCarthy filled out the form, which has questions such as:

Q Please provide a brief overview of the project. (max 1200 characters)

The project would use a combination of traditional news gathering skills and modern communication tools to gather data around a range of practices performed by internet search engine giant Google, in an effort to expose potential wrongdoing or abuse of market power.

In particular, the project would focus on:

• The skewing of search results.
• The tracking of right-to-be-forgotten requests performed by Google.
• The size, breadth, and impact of Google’s news service on online news sites, looking in particular at the phenomenon of stories written specifically to gather Google News traffic and any possible negative impact on quality journalism due to biases in the Google News algorithm.
• A logging and policy-tracking service to discern the impact of Google lobbying activities on policies and laws developed in Washington DC.
• An open source complaints system focused on gathering early warning signs of abuse of market power by Google.
• A “revolving door” service that specifically tracks current and former Google employees to identify how informal social networks may be used to influence public policy.

Looking to fund three staff. One to watch for sure.
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Should we trust the young Turkers? » Tim Harford

The FT’s ‘undercover economist’:

“The majority of papers presented at the conferences I go to now use [Amazon’s Mechanical] Turk [which lets you hire people online to complete tasks],” says Dan Goldstein, a cognitive psychologist at Microsoft Research. Goldstein, an academic who has also worked at London Business School and Columbia University, has used MTurk in his own research, for instance, into the impact of distracting online display ads.

This stampede to MTurk has made some researchers uneasy. Dan Kahan of Yale Law School studies “motivated reasoning” — the way our goals or political opinions can influence the way we process conflicting evidence. He has written a number of pieces warning about the careless use of the Amazon Turk platform.

The most obvious objection is that Turkers aren’t representative of any particular population one might wish to examine. As an illustration of this, two political scientists hired more than 500 Turkers to complete a very brief survey on the day of the 2012 US presidential election. (Tellingly, the entire survey cost the researchers just $28 and the results arrived within four hours.) The researchers, Sean Richey and Ben Taylor, found that 73% of their Turkers said they had voted for Barack Obama; 12% had voted for “other” — compared with 1.6% of all voters. Mitt Romney polled vastly worse with the Turkers than the US public as a whole. Relative to the general population, Turkers were also more likely to vote and be young, male, poor but highly educated. Or so they claimed; it is hard to be sure.

There are all sorts of reasons not to trust Turk-sourced studies, and only a few in favour of them.
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Microsoft’s quarter looks worse this way » Business Insider

Julie Bort:

Microsoft rolled out a new way to report earnings with its first quarter, 2016 earnings on Thursday.

This new reporting structure consolidated Microsoft’s businesses into three new units.

The previous structure had two major units (commercial and consumer) and broke out a few different businesses in each of those.

As you can see, under the old scheme, all business units shrunk except two:

Phone hardware down 54% to $1.1bn, computing and gaming hardware (Xbox, essentially) down 13% to $2bn; only “Device and Consumer Other” (Bing, MSN, Office 365, video games, app store) and “Commercial Other” (cloud services) showed growth. The puzzling thing is how Microsoft’s shares would move up on something like this.
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Android, iPhone divergence: mid-price smartphones disappearing from Korean market » BusinessKorea

Jung Suk-yee:

The polarization between high-end and mass market products in the Korean smartphone market is expected to accelerate with the iPhone 6S’s local debut.

At present, few smartphones ranging from 400,000 to 700,000 won (US$353 to $617) in price are available in the domestic market, except for the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and LG V10. This is because the prices of existing high-end handsets have been reduced to 400,000 won or less by a cut in factory price and an upward adjustment of the subsidies. The prices of the Galaxy Note 5 and the V10 are predicted to be lowered in the near future, too.

This is certainly a trend – most Android phones are getting cheaper and cheaper, but Apple and a few others, are holding on to top-end pricing. South Korea is the sort of “end state” of the smartphone business; it’s super-saturated.
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Shop BlackBerry Priv Stock good or bad Sales? » CrackBerry forums

“So this was interesting. I started entering 999 QTY for the Priv at 10am today, and it told me they only have 965 available.

checking right now (12:25p), it says 840. so is that good or bad? what do you guys think..”

Later they figure out that it has sold 206 in six hours. Guys, is that good or bad?
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Start up: Surface Book v MacBook Pro, Microsoft’s cloud boost, HP’s cloudburst, BlackBerry’s last stand?, and more


Facebook has noticed that your battery is dying and thinks it might be its fault. Photo by Poster Boy NYC on Flickr.

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Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro: It isn’t twice as fast. It’s three times as fast » PCWorld

Gordon Mah Ung:

Rather than rely on a synthetic game benchmark, I also decided to throw a real game at it. Square Enix’s Tomb Raider is available on Steam on both platforms. It’s a fairly recent game and came out for PC and consoles in 2013. Feral Interactive ported the game to OSX the same year.

One caveat here: As a port there’s clearly a lot of things that could be different between the PC version and the Mac version. For my test, I ran it at 1400×900, which was the default resolution on the Mac, and selected the “Normal” quality setting on both. I also poked around the game’s graphics settings to see if there was any variance between them that got lost in translation.

The result is a bone-crushing blow for the MacBook Pro 13: Tomb Raider ran at a pathetic sub-24 fps, while the Surface Book whizzes along at 74 fps.

If Microsoft based its marketing statements on this test alone, it could have safely said “triple the performance of a MacBook Pro.”

To be fair, if you’ve read this far, you know the Surface Book isn’t  twice as fast or three times as fast as the MacBook Pro 13 in all things.

Benchmarks – especially skewed ones like this (is the game optimised for Windows? Bet it is) – really bore me. They capture nothing of the general experience of using a device. But hey, there’s the headline that will be used.
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Facebook app: we recently heard reports of some people… » Ari Grant on Facebook

Grant is a Facebook developer:

We recently heard reports of some people experiencing battery issues with the Facebook iOS app and have been looking into the causes of these problems. We found a few key issues and have identified additional improvements, some of which are in the version of the app that was released today.

The first issue we found was a “CPU spin” in our network code. A CPU spin is like a child in a car asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”with the question not resulting in any progress to reaching the destination. This repeated processing causes our app to use more battery than intended. The version released today has some improvements that should start making this better.

The second issue is with how we manage audio sessions. If you leave the Facebook app after watching a video, the audio session sometimes stays open as if the app was playing audio silently. This is similar to when you close a music app and want to keep listening to the music while you do other things, except in this case it was unintentional and nothing kept playing.

Still ain’t going to reinstall. Note that it’s not *all* of the identified improvements in the new app.
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Microsoft quarterly revenue beats as cloud demand rises » Reuters

The company said Office 365, another key cloud-based offering, had about 18.2m consumer subscribers at the end of its first quarter, an increase of about 3m from the end of the preceding quarter.

Microsoft launched Windows 10, its first new operating system in almost three years, in July. The system, seen as critical for the company, won positive reviews for its user-friendly and feature-packed interface.

The company launched a number of new devices earlier this month, including its first ever laptop and a new Surface Pro tablet, all running on Windows 10.

Revenue in the company’s “More Personal Computing” business, which includes the Windows operating system, fell 17% to $9.4bn.

Excluding the impact of the strong dollar, revenue in the business fell 13%.

Sharp observation by Stefan Constantine: there are more people paying for Spotify than for Office 365. That’s likely to be reversed in a couple of quarters, though.

Phone revenue dropped 54%.
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HP shutting down HP Helion public cloud » Business Insider

Matt Weiberger:

Cloud computing is a hot market, letting customers swipe a credit card and get access to essentially unlimited supercomputing power. Developers at startups and large enterpries alike love it because it gives them the ability to get really big, really quickly. 

But while Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all found great success in the public cloud market, simply buying and maintaining all the servers required to get up to the massive economies of scale necessary to compete in this kind of low-margin business is really hard.

That’s something HP has found out the hard way, with the HP Helion public cloud [which will be shut down from January] constantly coming under fire for being too small and too unfocused on the market to seriously make a dent. 

And so, HP is going to shut down the HP Helion public cloud to stick with what its good at: Helping customers run their own data centers with hardware, software, and services to run at cloud levels of efficiency.

HP’s blogpost announcing this move is a masterful piece of corporate doublespeak: it makes it sound as though everything’s going so well they just have to shut down the public cloud offering.
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Force Touch patent: will pressure input be possible in Samsung’s Galaxy S7? » BusinessKorea

Marie Kim:

Samsung Electro-Mechanics filed a patent application with the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) for Force Touch, which is virtually the same as 3D Touch used in the iPhone 6S. This technology offers different types of functions based on the strength of a push on the screen.

According to the patent information retrieval system of KIPO on Oct. 20, Samsung Electro-Mechanics filed a patent named “touch input equipment and electronics device with touch input” with KIPO on April 9, 2014. Considering that the Korean company supplies core components for Samsung Electronics’ smartphones, the patent is likely to be used in the Galaxy S7.

Would be surprised if it wasn’t. But Samsung’s problem is that pretty much every third-party developer will ignore it; it will have to wait for Google to implement it in Android. Will Apple trouble to sue, though? (At a guess, not.)
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The dominance of Alphabet » Global Web Index

Felim McGrath:

With Alphabet set to post healthy financial results later today and  hot on the heels of the announcement of YouTube Red, Thursday’s Chart of the Day looks at just how important this company has become.

Among the hundreds of websites tracked by GlobalWebIndex, Alphabet has the two most popular properties among online adults outside of China. Close to 9 in 10 visit Google each month, while 82% visit YouTube. These figures place Alphabet’s sites above Facebook – which three quarters visited last month – and give it a healthy lead over rival search giant Yahoo (half visit this site monthly). 

This vast user base underlines just how central Alphabet remains to internet users’ online activities despite the ongoing shift to mobile.

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Dell may sell assets to pay for EMC deal » Re/code

Arik Hesseldahl from a Q+A with Marius Haas, chief commercial officer of Dell:

Q: It looks like after the close Dell will essentially absorb the EMC federation, but will adapt that structure for its own purposes by making it bigger with pieces like Secureworks, Virtustream and Pivotal. Is that how we should think about it? And if so, how does that complicate or enhance your mission here?

If you dissect what has already been published, you will see there is a strong commitment to de-leveraging or paying down the debt very quickly. There are different angles and different levers we can pull to do that. This is why we have such high confidence in what we’re doing.

Q: That implies that paying down the debt won’t just come by way of cash from operations. Does that mean you might consider selling some assets? Is there anything within Dell that doesn’t stay?

We’re not prepared to talk about that yet, but it’s probably not a bad train of thought.

What’s it going to sell, though? The PC business?
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BlackBerry might have leaked the Priv’s specs and release date (update: confirmed) » Engadget

Daniel Cooper:

we know that the Priv is packing a fair bit of power beneath the hood, but has a listed price of $749. There’s no indication if that figure is for the US or Canada — but the page does reference the (GSM) handset not working on American CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint. You’ll also spot that the device is marked for release on November 16th, so we won’t have long to find out if all of this is true or not.

Performance-wise, the Priv is packing a 1.8Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with 3GB RAM, 32GB storage and a microSD card slot that’ll take up to 2TB. Much was made of the Priv’s curved screen, and we know that it’s a 5.4-inch plastic AMOLED with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution (540 DPI) that can handle styluses and gloves. The physical keyboard measures 37mm high by 77.2mm wide, and there’s a 3,410mAh battery that’s rated for 22.5 hours of use tucked inside.

Price in the UK: £580, against £539 for an iPhone 6S with 16GB and £450 for a Samsung Galaxy S6. At that price, BlackBerry will have positive gross margins on the device (it’s not selling it for less than it costs to make), but so few will sell that you can start the timer now on how soon John Chen announces that the hardware division just isn’t making money because of the costs involved in R+D, distribution, marketing and administration – which feed through to operating profit, or loss. Remember, last financial quarter BB sold 0.8m phones, and made an operating loss on those.
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