Start up: talking to Barbie, BlackBerry’s criminal approach, mobile theses, tracing bitcoin, and more


I know – it’s backspace, 28 times. Photo by totumweb on Flickr.

Oh, you could get each day’s Start Up post by email. But it’s email, isn’t it? Email.

A selection of 9 links for you. Apply topically. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Talking toys are getting smarter: should we be worried? » WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

Maybe the best way to understand whether these toys hinder imagination is to look at their underlying technology. From an interactive standpoint, Hello Barbie is basically a voice-activated Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, in that she gives children a limited number of choices as they go down the conversational path and has a finite, albeit vast, number of dialogue lines (8,000 in total, recorded by an actress).

Once you start talking to Hello Barbie, what you soon realize is that, although she can remember details—a child’s favorite color or whether she has a sibling—the doll is not a very good listener. Many of her questions are just setups to tell a scripted story. “If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?” she asked [test child] Riley before describing her own recent vacation. Sure, every now and then she invites Riley to chime in. (“It’s a warm day and my friends invited me to go to the beach. I’m not really sure what to wear. Um, maybe some mittens and a scarf?”) But ultimately, whatever the child says, Hello Barbie sticks to her script.

Despite Hello Barbie’s inability to participate in a child’s flights of fancy, the doll is programmed to extol the virtues of imagination. “I think it’s great to exercise your imagination and creativity!” she said to Riley. Also: “We love using our imaginations. We are so avant-garde!”

So the answer to the question posed in the headline is “not yet”. But not “not ever”. It feels very much like a slice from a Philip K Dick novella.
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Detect and disconnect WiFi cameras in that AirBnB you’re staying in » Julian Oliver

There have been a few too many stories lately of AirBnB hosts caught spying on their guests with WiFi cameras, using DropCam cameras in particular. Here’s a quick script that will detect two popular brands of WiFi cameras during your stay and disconnect them in turn. It’s based on glasshole.sh. It should do away with the need to rummage around in other people’s stuff, racked with paranoia, looking for the things.

Thanks to Adam Harvey for giving me the push, not to mention for naming it.

May be illegal to use this script in the US (not that that will stop people). Note how the sharing, trusting economy has its limits.
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Bypass Linux passwords by pressing backspace 28 times » Apextribune

Daniel Austin:

if certain conditions are met (mostly the proper version of the OS), pressing the backspace key 28 time in a row will cause the computer to reboot, or it will put Grub in rescue mode, Linux’s version of Safe Mode.

This will provide the would-be hacker with unauthorized access to a shell, which he can then use to rewrite the code in the Grub2 in order to gain full unauthorized access to the machine.

From this point, anything is possible, since the hacker would be able to do anything he wanted to the computer.

Vulnerable versions: Linux GRUB 1.98 (from 2009) through to the current 2.02 version. (Not Linux as said in earlier version of this post.)
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Tracing the Bitcoinica theft of 40,000 btc in July 2012 » YouTube

So 10,000 bitcoins were stolen from MtGox in July 2012. You thought bitcoin were untraceable? Not at all. Watch and learn. Though this doesn’t mean the people named here are guilty of theft (he said, covering himself against any potential libel).


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Activation lock checker » Apple

Before transferring ownership of an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, make sure Activation Lock has been disabled and the device is ready for the next user.

The implication there is that it’s for you, the seller, to do the checking that you’ve turned it off – but the protection is really for buyers to make sure they don’t get a hot phone.
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Competition is shifting to the high end » Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

Sony has abandoned PCs and continues to struggle in smartphones, HTC increasingly looks like it’s on its last legs as an Android vendor, Toshiba is considering spinning off its PC business, and Samsung’s smartphone business – once the poster child for success making Android phones – continues to slip. It sometimes seems as if the only vendors making Android phones and Windows PCs who aren’t struggling in some way are the licensors of the operating systems. And though we don’t have detailed financials for either company’s hardware business, they’ve both done it by focusing on selling premium devices at premium prices, and by tightening the integration between hardware and software.
What’s interesting is we haven’t seen any of the OEMs pursue this strategy. That likely reflects, in equal parts, a lack of capability and a lack of will, as these OEMs have neither the experience nor the desire to pursue the high end of the market. And yet it’s been clear for years that, while scale may be in the mass market, the margins are in the high end.

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16 mobile theses » Benedict Evans

We’re now coming up to 9 years since the launch of the iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution, and some of the first phases are over – Apple and Google both won the platform war, mostly, Facebook made the transition, mostly, and it’s now perfectly clear that mobile is the future of technology and of the internet. But within that, there’s a huge range of different themes and issues, many of which are still pretty unsettled.

In this post, I outline what I think are the 16 topics to think about within the current generation, and then link to the things I’ve written about them. In January, I’ll dig into some of the themes for the future – VR, AR, drones and AI, but this is where we are today.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the title is a subtle reference to Martin Luther (though he rambled on for 95 theses), but it’s impossible to argue against any of these; they simply state the ground where the world now stands. The point about mobile being 10x larger as an ecosystem now than the PC is an important one, though not the only important one.
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August 2010: RIM’s Deal: Saudi Arabia Can Access BlackBerry User Data » DailyFinance

From August 2010, by Douglas McIntyre:

Saudi Arabia’s government announced it reached a deal with Research In Motion (RIMM) that will allow the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones to continue operating its service there. Under the agreement, RIM will put a server in the nation that will allow the government to monitor messages to and from Blackberries. All of RIM’s servers have been in Canada until now so the company could guarantee confidentiality for its customers though the encryption process on those servers.

According to several news sources, similar deals will probably be sought by other countries that have voiced concerns about the Blackberry encryption procedures. First among these is the United Arab Emirates, which threatened to shut down RIM’s services there on Oct. 11. India and Indonesia have also said they’re concerned about the RIM confidentiality system and their inability to track information that they claim may not be in the best interests of their governments.

Everyone’s a criminal, after all – they just need to work out what they’re guilty of. Now read on.
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The encryption debate: a way forward » Inside BlackBerry

John Chen, who is chief executive of BlackBerry, in December 2015:

For years, government officials have pleaded to the technology industry for help yet have been met with disdain. In fact, one of the world’s most powerful tech companies recently refused a lawful access request in an investigation of a known drug dealer because doing so would “substantially tarnish the brand” of the company. We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good. At BlackBerry, we understand, arguably more than any other large tech company, the importance of our privacy commitment to product success and brand value: privacy and security form the crux of everything we do. However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals.

BlackBerry is in a unique position to help bring the two sides of this debate together, to find common ground and a way forward. BlackBerry’s customers include not only millions of privacy-conscious consumers but also the banks, law firms, hospitals, and – yes, governments (including 16 of the G20) – that use our products and services to protect their highest value resources every single day. We stand as an existence proof that a proper balance can be struck.

We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests.

The “powerful tech company” Chen is referring to there is Apple, which has refused to cooperate in unlocking an iOS 7-powered phone in a federal case (which remains under seal). There’s a search warrant for the phone, which is locked.

Chen’s stance though is really surprising. He seems to be saying “sure, we’ll cooperate with the government if it asks.” But what if it’s the Chinese government? Or the Syrian government? And what’s the mechanism that lets BlackBerry cooperate? From iOS 8 onwards, Apple simply can’t decrypt a phone, no matter what access it gets. Is BlackBerry ceding that ground?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: yet another UK broadband pledge, what is mobile?, hacking Samsung’s theft protection, and more


A Huawei-made Nexus 6P: no breakage of the camera visor panel here. Photo by TechStage 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fast broadband for all by 2020 pledged by David Cameron » BBC News

All UK homes and businesses will have access to “fast broadband” [of at least 10 megabits per second] by 2020, David Cameron has pledged.

The PM is to introduce a “universal service obligation” (USO) for broadband, giving the public a legal right to request an “affordable” connection.

It would put broadband on a similar footing to other basic services such as water and electricity.
In 2010, the coalition government promised the UK would have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015.

Then, in 2012, a pledge was made by then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the UK would have “the fastest broadband of any major European country” by 2015.

He defined high-speed broadband as offering a download speed of greater than 24 megabits per second (Mbps). Communications regulator Ofcom defines it as 30Mbps.

That final sentence completely shows how weak this “pledge” really is: from 30Mpbs down to 24 down to 10. I suspect BT, as the dominant operator which also now owns a 4G network, will aim to fulfil this revised USO via 4G.
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Some Nexus 6P owners are reporting spontaneously broken rear glass panels » Android Police

Michael Crider:

The early reaction to the Nexus 6P from both critics and owners has been mostly positive, but a few new owners seem to be encountering serious problems. Specifically, the glass panel on the rear of the phone, which covers the camera, LED flash, and laser autofocus module, is reportedly cracking and breaking on its own. A user on the Android subreddit reported the rear panel cracking, and at least two others have reported similar results, with the panel splitting into multiple cracks with no particular rough handling or impact.

That subreddit is getting pretty big, and there isn’t a lot of joy for the 6P. One person has had two in a row go wrong. Problem for Huawei?
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How uBeam transmits energy wirelessly using ultrasound » uBeam

Meredith Perry, uBeam’s founder, has a big explainer about how it works, because people have been saying that either it doesn’t work, or it’s dangerous:

The uBeam system is composed of two parts: a transmitter that emits energy, and a receiver that receives energy. The transmitter is like a sound speaker, but instead of emitting audible sound, uBeam’s transmitter emits high frequency sound. This sound can’t be heard by humans or dogs; it’s called ultrasound. The receiver, like a microphone, picks up the sound and converts it into usable energy. Sound, like light and wind, is a form of energy that can be converted into electrical energy with our proprietary energy harvesting technology. The receiver then sends this electrical power to charge or power an electronic device.

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Mobile, ecosystems and the death of PCs » Benedict Evans

Evans wrestles with the question of “what is ‘mobile’?” in the face of competing devices like the SurfaceBook, the Surface Pro, iPad Pro and so on:

Each generation of technology goes through an S-curve of development – slow improvement of an impractical product, then explosively fast improvement once fundamental barriers are solved, and then slowing iteration and refinement as you solve every last issue and the curve flattens out. PCs are on that flattening part of the curve, just as the [fastest ever piston-powered aircraft developed at the end of WW2, soon surpassed by jets, the Republic] Rainbow was.

They get perfect because you’re debugging the big things you invented in the past, and now your innovation is in the extra little things (such as the Rainbow using exhaust for extra thrust), and there are no big new innovations to debug. But meanwhile, the new ecosystem is catching up, and the curve of development and innovation for that generation will flatten out way out of reach. The new curve is crossing the old one. This is why they look simliar – this is why a Surface Pro and an iPad Pro look similar. They both exist right at the point that those development curves cross. The iPad might still be a little below, but its curve is heading up.

That is, the point that you can start to do old ecosystem things on what look like new ecosystem devices is also the point that the new ecosystem can do those things too – but the new ecosystem has 10x the scale, and the new ecosystem is just starting down the innovation track where the old one is at its end.

The really tricky part is knowing where on the S-curve something is, and whether there’s still money to be made from it. As Evans points out,

No-one is going to found a new company to make Win32 applications (though enterprise Windows apps will be worked on for a long time, just as mainframe apps were [after the IBM PC arrived]).

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It’s incredibly easy to bypass Factory Reset Protection on a Samsung phone [with video] » 9to5 Google

Stephen Hall:

Factory Reset Protection was introduced with Android Lollipop, and, like Apple’s iCloud Activation Lock, it’s supposed to make it really hard to resell a stolen Android phone. The gist is that when you use Android recovery menu to reset a phone to factory settings, the phone will require upon reboot that you sign in using a Google account you previously used on the device before resetting it. If someone steals your phone and wipes it, they need your Google account for it to be anything but a brick.

Well, it appears that a flaw in Samsung’s phones lets potential thieves around this security measure, and it looks like the workaround takes just about five minutes to pull off…
Obviously a thief wouldn’t be able to get around a password-secured phone, so a factory reset would require going to Android’s recovery menu after a reboot (as opposed to going into the Settings app and doing a factory reset from there).

But since Samsung’s phones automatically pull up a file manager when you plug in an external storage device (even in the set up process), all you have to do is load an app file that lets you open up the stock Settings app. Press a couple buttons to do what the phone thinks is a legitimate/authorized reset, and the phone reboots without tripping Factory Reset Protection.

D’oh.
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Google annual search Statistics » Statistic Brain

The number of annual searches conducted by Google, according to ComScore and the “Statistic Brain Research Institute” (sounds grand).

Compare the numbers in the top two lines of the table. It suggests that in 2014 the total number of Google searches fell, for the first time ever. Even within margins of error, that suggests search growth has stopped.
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XcodeGhost S: a new breed hits the US » FireEye Threat Research

Yong Kang, Zhaofeng Chen, and Raymond Wei:

Through continuous monitoring of our customers’ networks, FireEye researchers have found that, despite the quick response, the threat of XcodeGhost has maintained persistence and been modified.

More specifically, we found that:

• XcodeGhost has entered into U.S. enterprises and is a persistent security risk
• Its botnet is still partially active
• A variant we call XcodeGhost S reveals more advanced samples went undetected

After monitoring XcodeGhost related activity for four weeks, we observed 210 enterprises with XcodeGhost-infected applications running inside their networks, generating more than 28,000 attempts to connect to the XcodeGhost Command and Control (CnC) servers – which, while not under attacker control, are vulnerable to hijacking by threat actors.

Pretty dramatic. And it can affect apps via third-party frameworks, as Possible Mobile discovered. Meanwhile, on Android…
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Lookout discovers new trojanized adware; 20K popular apps caught in the crossfire » Lookout Blog

Michael Bentley of the anti-malware company:

Auto-rooting adware is a worrying development in the Android ecosystem in which malware roots the device automatically after the user installs it, embeds itself as a system application, and becomes nearly impossible to remove. Adware, which has traditionally been used to aggressively push ads, is now becoming trojanized and sophisticated. This is a new trend for adware and an alarming one at that.

Lookout has detected over 20,000 samples of this type of trojanized adware masquerading as legitimate top applications, including Candy Crush, Facebook, GoogleNow, NYTimes, Okta, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many others.

Malicious actors behind these families repackage and inject malicious code into thousands of popular applications found in Google Play, and then later publish them to third-party app stores. Indeed, we believe many of these apps are actually fully-functional, providing their usual services, in addition to the malicious code that roots the device.

Oh, and also: if you get infected you probably won’t be able to uninstall it; you’ll either need a pro or a trip to buy a new one. (Factory reset won’t do it.)
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BlackBerry Priv review: good, but probably only for keyboard junkies » Android Police

David Ruddock is befuddled by those little things with letters on:

But time for some real talk about those keys, in respect to my particular tapping of them. I am awful at these tiny little keyboards. Like, your grandpa trying to use an ATM when 6 other people are in line behind him and all of them are clearly in a rush awful. It’s just not my thing, it never has been, and it never will be. To me, this is mind-bendingly unintuitive and would take me months to master in anything approaching a respectable way. I’m not going to be using the Priv for months. I cannot give you a good evaluation of the keyboard on the merits. Sorry. I can show you what it looks like, though! Also, it’s backlit.

My thoughts without getting into the related software bits are as follows: the keys are really small. They depress and feel clicky. They are keys. Again, I am sorry. I really, really, can’t get into this keyboard-for-ants thing, even as I have forced myself to use it on the Priv.

This is the reason why anyone who began using a smartphone after 2010 is going to find the Priv completely weird. It’s like introducing typewriters to schools that have used iPads.
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HTC One A9 review » AndroidAuthority

Joshua Vergara:

Remember the Sensor Suite originally announced in the HTC One M8? It allowed for the phone to go straight into specific areas with taps and swipes after the phone knew it was brought up for usage. Now, because the fingerprint reader is there, it is the wall that prevents all of these extra unlocking methods from being used. That also doesn’t include the fact that it can be a home button, without any capacitive keys accompanying it. Soft keys are still used, so using the reader as a home button takes some getting used to – and fiddling between the two, we’ve found to be really common.

Of course, there is also the omission of BoomSound speakers due to the addition of the fingerprint reader. This is a pretty bold move for the company, as one of its most-recognized features isn’t here anymore. Sound, thus, gets a big downgrade with the bottom-mounted unit. It certainly doesn’t get very loud at all, and it’s safe to say that we miss the stereo audio found in past One devices.

Storage options with the A9 are pretty standard, with the option to choose between 16 or 32GB variants. It should be noted that the 16GB model comes with just 2GB of RAM, while the 32GB variant comes with 3GB. We’ve been testing the 32GB model with 3GB of RAM, and we’ve noticed that it gets a little slow at times.

Jeepers – it’s sometimes slow with 3GB of RAM? None of this is really a vote of confidence.
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HTC pushes US One A9 pre-order shipments back by up to several weeks, delays Verizon compatibility indefinitely » Android Police

David Ruddock:

While the A9 is indeed a pretty good phone, there’s no doubt HTC’s bungled the launch of the device a bit. First, the whole promotional pricing thing (and the 2GB/16GB variant abroad being so damn expensive), and now? A pre-order shipment delay for those who did choose to buy one. We’re hearing from US readers that HTC has sent out the following email, pushing back shipment of the initially available colors until next Tuesday, November 10th, at the earliest. Some customers, though, will be waiting much longer than that – especially if you ordered a Sprint variant.

In addition, HTC has now delayed Verizon network compatibility for the One A9 indefinitely. They had promised compatibility shortly after the November launch, then in December, and now have no ETA for the feature.

And it gets worse; certain colour variants are going to take weeks and weeks to ship. Dead on non-arrival?
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Who the f*** is that advertiser? » Medium

Rob Leathern on the problem of validating who is advertising (which amounts to “running random Javascript on your system); the Interactive Advertising Bureau wants to charge $10,000 per company for this. Leathern laughs:

Google Adwords probably has over 2.5 million advertisers by this estimate. The top 100 to 1,000 advertisers (likely to be cost-insensitive enough to sign up for a program like this) aren’t the problem for online and mobile advertisers. The problem area is distinguishing between tens of thousands of large but legitimate advertisers, and those with money who are not legitimate or who are fronts for malware, botnets, and schlocky affiliate offers.

The goal shouldn’t be to register the top few thousands advertisers, but make the barriers low enough that we can validate every single advertiser consistently, and then do the kinds of auditing, checks and follow-up necessary to stop problem advertisers from being banned and then popping back up right away under another name or identity. Once you can accurately identify advertisers and have every part of the value chain understand this information, both publishers and consumers should be able to decide what kinds of advertisers they want to block.

If I had to guess, it’s a $10/year fee (ten dollars) and not $10,000, that will be a better incentive to get companies to participate and to create the infrastructure needed to validate this information at enormous scale.

Even at that level, it wouldn’t happen. And malware generators would still find ways to get around it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified. But the week is still young.

Start up: Facebook’s dwindling teens, Safe Harbour or balkanisation?, the privacy tsunami, and more


No, really, no difference. Move along there and find another story. Photo by Bob Jouy on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Soluble in alcohol. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook is big, but big networks can fall » Bloomberg View

Megan McArdle:

Looking at the most recent Pew study on Internet usage among young people,  I see that 71% of teens use Facebook, with the median user having slightly less than 150 friends; 41% of them report that they use Facebook most often. But when I look at a similar Pew study from 2013, it looks to me as if 76 percent of teens were using Facebook, with a median number of 300 friends, and 81% of social media users reported that they used Facebook most often. If I were Facebook, those numbers would keep me awake at night – not because Facebook can’t survive with only 70% of the market, but because a network that is getting smaller and less valuable to its users is a network that is very vulnerable to disruption.

What’s actually astonishing is just how evanescent such strategic advantages have proven. Fifteen years ago, people worried that Microsoft’s network-effect advantages made it unstoppable; now it’s an also-ran in everything new-market except gaming consoles. The rotting corpses of old social media sites litter the landscape. And of course, finding a place to send Aunt Maisie that birthday telegram is getting darned hard.

She also makes a point about network effects: the thing about “all your photos are in Facebook” isn’t a network effect, but a switching cost – a quite different thing.
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Apple says battery performance of new iPhone’s A9 chips vary only 2-3% » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple said that its own testing and data gathered from its customers after a few weeks with the device show that the actual battery life of both devices varies just 2-3%. That’s far, far too low to be noticeable in real-world usage.

With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple’s highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model.

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.

Though there have been a bunch of articles and videos about how much power one chip or the other uses, the tests have largely been what Apple calls ‘manufactured’. Basically, they are unrealistic machine-driven tests that do not and can not reflect real-world usage.

So this year’s iPhonegate lasted slightly less than 24 hours. Apple is even managing to balance supply and demand here too.
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EU Safe Harbour ruling a ‘nightmare’: Wikipedia founder » CNBC

Arjun Kharpal:

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said the regulatory issues that could come with this might be a problem for some businesses.

“You want your data to be secure, you don’t really care or you shouldn’t have to care where it sits,” Wales told CNBC in an interview at IP EXPO Europe in London.

“If I’m in Europe I hope they are near me on a server in Europe, but other than that I want them to provide the best technical experience for me. And if they suddenly have all those requirements and have to keep certain pictures in certain places, it just sounds like a nightmare, so I like the idea of uniformity in the law so that we can all not worry about it.”

Wales added in a separate session with reporters that the ECJ ruling could lead to a “balkanized era where data has to be secure very specifically across many many different jurisdictions”.

Great point. So does this mean he’ll be lobbying the US to implement strong data protection rules that match those of Europe? I do hope so. I mean, that’s the best way to protect everyone’s interests, isn’t it, Mr Wales?
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Why is it so hard to convince people to care about privacy? » The Guardian

Cory Doctorow:

The only way to be sure you don’t leak data is to not collect or retain it, and Big Data’s hype and the cheapness of hard drives has turned every pipsqueak tech company into a Big Data packrat with a mountain of potentially toxic personal info on millions of people, all protected by a password that’s simple enough for a CEO to remember it.

Every week or two, from now on, will see new privacy disasters, each worse than the last. Every week or two, from now on, will see millions of people who suddenly wish there was more they could do to protect their privacy.

For privacy advocates in 2015, the job is clear: have a plan in your drawer. A plan: how to safeguard your privacy, how to understand your privacy, how to understand the breach. A plan that explains that your lack of security isn’t a fact of nature, it’s the result of conscious decisions made by people who were either hostile or indifferent to your wellbeing, who saved or made money through those decisions. A plan that shows you what you can do to keep you and yours safe – and whose head your should be demanding on a pike.

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Get AMP’d: Here’s what publishers need to know about Google’s new plan to speed up your website » Nieman Lab

Joshua Benton:

What’s it all mean for publishers?

As I said, AMP [Accelerated Mobile Pages] is full of terrific ideas. It really does speed up load times.

But that success comes with tradeoffs. For most publishers, you’re being asked to set up two parallel versions of your stories. (Unless you really think you won’t need to ever do anything outside what AMP allows on any page, which is unrealistic for most.) That takes significant time and resources. You’re being asked to set aside most or all of the ad tech and analytics that you use. You’re trading in open web standards for something built by Google engineers who, despite what I don’t doubt are the best of intentions, have incentives that don’t line up perfectly with yours. And you’re becoming an disempowered actor in a larger Silicon Valley battle over ad tech. (Google advocating something that blocks enormous slices of contemporary ad tech can’t be viewed in isolation from the fact Google is the dominant force in online advertising, and as interested as any company is in extending its power.)

And it’s yet another case of a technology company coming along to promise a better experience for users that takes one more bit of power away from publishers.

The fact that publishers’ interests aren’t exactly aligned with Google’s shouldn’t be overlooked. And Google’s interests aren’t aligned with third-party ad networks at all, except that they all want to serve up ads. (Meanwhile, iOS 9 content blockers still block ads on the AMP demo.)
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This is why Android Pay is asking you for a ‘Google Payments PIN’ when making purchases » Android Central

Andrew Martonik:

when you have a card from one of these supported banks (check the latest list from Google here) in Android Pay, it’s amazingly seamless to make payments. Just unlock your phone, tap the terminal and you just paid.

Confusingly, though, Android Pay actually lets you add unsupported cards to the app as well.

This is a hold over from the old days of Google Wallet, which had an entirely different system that worked without the cooperation of the banks. With Google Wallet, every time you made a transaction it actually made that purchase with a virtual prepaid debit card from “Bancorp Bank” and then that same amount was subsequently charged to your own bank. It was clunky, less secure and downright confusing to everyone involved — and the most annoying user-facing part of this system is the need for an extra PIN code to make a payment.

As Google Wallet hands the reigns over to Android Pay in this transition of mobile payments, this legacy system of using an unsupported card is actually still baked into Android Pay — though Google isn’t exactly promoting it as such. This is partially due to the fact that you can bring previously-used debit and credit cards from Google Wallet into Android Pay, and partially because Android Pay just doesn’t support that many banks yet — just 10 at the time of writing.

My first reaction was that this is a poor user experience; why make people who are new to Android Pay have to use a PIN? Then I realised that most Americans aren’t used to PINs for purchasing, and are just adjusting to chip-and-sign. So this might be faster. (The fact that you might have two cards, and one will require a PIN and one won’t, seems like bad design though.)
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Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys found guilty of three counts of hacking » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

In 2010, Keys posted login credentials to the [his then former employer] Tribune Company content management system (CMS) to a chatroom run by Anonymous, resulting in the defacement of an LA Times article online. The defacement was reversed in 40 minutes, but the government argued the attack caused nearly a million dollars in damage…

…”This is not the crime of the century,” Segal said, adding that nonetheless Keys should not get away with his acts. At minimum, he may receive probation. Sentencing is scheduled for January 20, 2016.

Keys said he was disappointed with the verdict, and worried about the sentence affecting his ability to work. However, he also expressed his intention to appeal the conviction, and was optimistic it would be overturned.

Keys added that a few months after his first story about Anonymous, he was approached by the FBI, but Keys refused to allow them to scan his computer. He was indicted a couple of years later.

In order to be convicted under the CFAA, the damage had to exceed $5,000. The government claimed that Keys caused $929,977.00 worth of damage. During the trial, the defense tried to cast doubt on the total damages, claiming that the expenditures in response to the hack were not reasonable, and Tribune employees had grossly inflated the hours spent on incident response.

Lesson 1: change passwords ex-employees had access to. Lesson 2: don’t post passwords of companies that you used to work for on Anonymous chatboards.
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Will digital books ever replace print? » Aeon

Craig Mod used to read only ebooks (on Kindle) but now finds he has fallen out of love with it in favour of the physical form again:

Take for example the multistep process of opening a well-made physical edition. The Conference of the Birds (2009), designed by Farah Behbehani and published by Thames and Hudson, is a masterclass in welcoming the reader into the text.

The object – a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth – requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.

Contrast this with opening a Kindle book – there is no procession, and often no cover. You are sometimes thrown into the first chapter, sometimes into the middle of the front matter. Wherein every step of opening The Conference of the Birds fills one with delight – delight at what one is seeing and what one anticipates to come – opening a Kindle book frustrates. Often, you have to swipe or tap back a dozen pages to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Because the Kindle ecosystem makes buying books one-click effortless, it can be easy to forget about your purchases. Unfortunately, Kindle’s interface makes it difficult to keep tabs on those expanding digital libraries: at best, we can see a dozen titles at a time, all as inscrutably small book covers. Titles that fall off the first-page listing on a Kindle cease to exist. Compare that with standing in front of a physical bookshelf: the eye takes in hundreds of spines or covers at once, all equally at arm’s length. I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library – for inspiration or reference – than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.

The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions.

The comparison of a bookshelf to the limited real estate on a screen is so important in many contexts: when we got into a supermarket or bookshop we can scan hundreds of items at once. How many on a screen when you don’t know what you’re searching for?
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Sony buys Belgian image sensor technology firm » Reuters

Ritsuko Ando:

Japan’s Sony Corp said it bought Belgian image sensor technology company Softkinetic Systems for an undisclosed sum, stepping up investment in an area that has become one of its strongest amid weak sales of its TVs and smartphones.

Softkinetic specializes in a type of technology that helps measure “time of flight”, or the time it takes for light to reflect off an object and return to an image sensor, Sony said.

Put like that, it sounds like “you’re measuring light round trips? Those are nanoseconds, right?”. Judging from the site, though, it’s more about location in 3D and general position sensing and mapping in domestic environments. So does this mean we’ll go to 3D photos next?
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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.

Start up: Wikipedia’s blackmail ban, Ashley Madison redux, Google OnHub meta-reviewed, and more


“Adblocking? Yeah, I heard about it on the radio.” Photo by Skyco on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Contains nothing about logo changes, so keep moving along. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hundreds of Wikipedia editors got banned for secretly promoting brands » Motherboard

Jordan Pearson:

Wikipedia has 381 fewer editors today, after hundreds of accounts were banned for taking undisclosed pay to create and edit “promotional articles.”

According to a post on Wikipedia’s administrator board, Wikipedia’s CheckUser team investigated for months to uncover the accounts clogging the site with bogus articles for cash. The 381 banned accounts were active between April and August, but the “nature and quality” of the edits suggests that the scam had been carrying on for some time, the post states.

The “sock puppet” accounts, as they’re called, were essentially extorting their customers. First, they would create a draft article and populate it with promotional links. Next, they contacted their victim, often posing as more established Wikipedians, and requested a fee to publish the article. To keep the page from being edited or taken down, the accounts charged their victims $30 per month, in some cases.

This story is the front-page lead (“splash”) in Wednesday’s Independent newspaper in the UK, where it is branded an “exclusive”. Clearly a new use of the word.
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Mobile-friendly web pages using app banners » Official Google Webmaster Central Blog

Daniel Bathgate, Google Search software engineer:

sometimes a user may tap on a search result on a mobile device and see an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content and prompts the user to install an app. Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page.

Starting today, we’ll be updating the Mobile-Friendly Test to indicate that sites should avoid showing app install interstitials that hide a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page. The Mobile Usability report in Search Console will show webmasters the number of pages across their site that have this issue.

After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.

Note what Google is actually saying here. It isn’t saying it will penalise all interstitials; only those which are a call to install an app and which cover a lot of the page. So page-covering interstitials that aren’t for app installs are OK. Remember that it’s bad for Google if people install apps: they then tend not to use Google search so much on mobile. This is exactly what Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman predicted only last week after that slightly flakey Google study about app install interstitials. Now the other shoe drops.

One thing I wonder about: how will Google detect these? Won’t sites just hide those app interstitials from the Googlebot, and then use them for normal users? It’s what I would do.
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Encryption, lock mechanism vulnerabilities plague lock app AppLock » Threatpost

Chris Brook:

A researcher is claiming that the app, which is supposed to securely store photos, videos and other apps, doesn’t really use encryption to do so, it simply hides the files elsewhere on the phone, where an attacker could theoretically read them.

The app also suffers from what Noam Rathaus, a researcher who blogs about vulnerabilities for the portal SecuriTeam, dubs a weak PIN reset mechanism and a weak lock mechanism. Rathaus, who is also the Chief Technology Officer for Beyond Security, published technical details on the vulnerabilities, along with step by step methods to exploit them on Monday.

Rathaus claims that when users save files on AppLock, they’re actually stored in the read/write partition of the filesystem and not in the one assigned to the application. This means that an attacker would only have to install a file manager application and guide themselves to a certain SQLite database, then a PATH, to find the images.

100 million users can’t be wrong.. can they?
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Alliance for Open Media Established to Deliver Next-Generation Open Media Formats

Seven leading Internet companies today announced formation of the Alliance for Open Media – an open-source project that will develop next-generation media formats, codecs and technologies in the public interest. The Alliance’s founding members are Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix.

John Paczkowski’s tweet-headline for this is absolutely perfect: “Microsoft, Google, and Amazon Partner On Next Failed Open-Video Format”.

Don’t believe me/him? The press release tacitly acknowledges that Google’s WebM project has run into the sand:

“Google launched the WebM Project in 2010 in the belief that web video innovation was too slow and too closed, and that broad collaboration — in the open — would fix both problems. The Alliance for Open Media is a big leap forward for these core philosophies, and we’re gratified that our AOMedia partners share this vision. Our combined strength, resources and expertise will drive the next generation of web media experiences much further and faster than WebM can do alone,” said Matt Frost, Head of Strategy and Partnerships, Chrome Media.

Let’s circle back and reach out in a couple of years, eh?
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Fluid Coupling » Asymco

Horace Dediu on the question of “when exactly did enterprises become late adopters of technology” – given that they were (relatively) early ones for high-priced products such as the first computers:

companies have procedures for accepting technologies (capital expenditures) which require high degrees of interaction and decision making. In order to step though these procedures, the vendors need to have sales people who need to invest lots of their time and therefore need to be compensated with large commissions. If those commissions are a percent of sale then the total sales price needs to be large enough “to make it worth while to all parties”. As a result, paradoxically, an enterprise technology must be sufficiently slow and expensive to be adopted.

Mobility was disruptive to enterprise because the new computing paradigm was both too fast and too cheap to be implementable.

This implies that the problem with enterprises is not the stupidity of its buyers. They are no less smart than the average person – in fact, they are as smart with their personal choices for computing as anybody. The problem is that enterprises have a capital use and allocation model which is obsolete. This capital decision process assumes that capital goods are expensive, needing depreciation, and therefore should be regulated, governed and carefully chosen. The processes built for capital goods are extended to ephemera like devices, software and networking.

It does not help that these new capital goods are used to manage what became the most important asset of the company: information. We thus have a perfect storm of increasingly inappropriate allocation of resources to resolving firms’ increasingly important processes. The result is loss of productivity, increasingly bizarre regulation and prohibition of the most desirable tools.

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Ashley Madison code shows more women, and more bots » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz, who must feel like it’s Christmas every single day as she wades through the data and code dumps:

Once the man struck up a conversation, the bot would say things like this:

Hmmmm, when I was younger I used to sleep with my friend’s boyfriends. I guess old habits die hard although I could never sleep with their husbands.

I’m sexy, discreet, and always up for kinky chat. Would also meet up in person if we get to know each other and think there might be a good connection. Does this sound intriguing?”

It’s unclear what else the engager would say—either the bots really are this simple, or further chat phrases weren’t in the code. Most likely, based on what I saw from other bot code, the bot would urge the man to pay credits to talk further.

Mr. Falcon pointed out that there’s actually a special bot service, called “RunChatBotXmppGuarentee.service.php,” apparently designed just for interactions with customers who paid the premium $250 for a “guaranteed affair.” When I checked the code, I found Mr. Falcon was right. It appears that this bot would chat up the man, urge him to pay credits, and then pass him along to what’s called an “affiliate.” Likely the affiliate is a third party that provides a real person for the man to chat with. It might also be connecting him to an escort service…

…Ashley Madison aspired to be a global network of people breaking the bonds of monogamy in the name of YOLO. Instead, it was mostly a collection straight men talking to extremely busy bots who bombarded them with messages asking for money.

Plus: it was popular with (real) women who were looking for women for a fling. The data don’t lie.

I do hope Newitz will collect all this into a book. This deserves to be a huge story that’s read and re-read. And it puts every other dating site under just that little extra bit of suspicion.

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Amazon curtails development of consumer devices » WSJ

Greg Bensinger:

Fallout from the Fire phone flop has hurt morale at Lab126, according to current and former employees, and raises questions about Amazon’s ability to develop compelling consumer devices. The $180 Echo virtual assistant, a voice-activated speaker, has developed something of a cult following, if not yet mass appeal.

Some workers say Lab126’s shifting and, at times, enigmatic priorities, including a planned high-end computer for the kitchen, have contributed to a frenetic workplace and ill-defined roles. That has led a number of workers to take jobs at other tech firms, the people said.

Amazon established Lab126—the 1 and 26 stand for the letters A and Z—in 2004 under former Palm Computing Vice President Gregg Zehr to develop what became the popular Kindle e-reader in 2007. Located in Sunnyvale, Calif., some 800 miles from Seattle, the division has since rolled out more than a dozen products, including several versions of the Kindle and the generally well-received Fire tablet.

Last year, Lab126 released a flurry of 10 devices, including a television set-top box, the Echo and a wand for scanning bar codes at home.

“What Amazon makes are devices that are not too flashy, but they are inexpensive and they are simple to use,” said Tom Mainelli, an IDC analyst. “Mostly they are another way to serve up content that Amazon can sell you.”

I’m not sure that it’s really “consumer devices” that Amazon is curtailing, but consumer devices that don’t fit into that latter description from Mainelli. The Fire Phone was a bad idea; the Kindle a great one. The Dash button (press it and it orders [item] from Amazon) is a really smart idea; the Echo, unproven.
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Quick Thoughts: Google’s OnHub router » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson has the meta-analysis:

To my mind, the OnHub router is also a symbol of Google’s disjointed approach to so many of its projects, and I worry that the Alphabet reorg will only make things worse. Google already has a home automation business, Nest, which not only makes its own products but has been the vehicle for both making further home automation acquisitions (Dropcam) and for acting as a hub for other home automation gear (the Works with Nest strategy). And yet, this product isn’t branded Nest, nor does it apparently sit under Tony Fadell’s hardware group, which also includes Google Glass.

In fact, Mark Bergen of Recode and Amir Efrati of The Information have both suggested that this product actually came out of the Google Fiber team. I’ve written previously about how disconnected from the rest of Google the Fiber project has seemed, and it’s ironic to now see Google proper appropriate this technology just as Fiber is being hived off into a separate Alphabet company. The good thing about Google is that people throughout the organization feel free to experiment with various things, some of which eventually become products. The bad thing is that this means you could have several separate teams working on similar things in isolation, and in some cases you end up with several products apparently chasing the same use case (e.g. the Nexus Q, Chromecast, and Google TV/Android TV).

Meanwhile, on the performance, Glenn Fleishman’s review of the reviews is the one to read.
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Howard Stern just sent adblocking mainstream » Medium

Howard Stern (for non-US readers: he’s a widely-listened to broadcaster in the US) discovered on-air that he can install an “ad blocker”, with a predictably vociferous reaction. Ian Schafer picks up on the likely fallout:

as Richard Blakely suggested on Twitter, we’ll all probably be installing ad blocking extensions on our parents’ browsers this Thanksgiving.

As more consumers learn to (and are able to) pay for ad-free versions of their favorite content, they are beginning to prefer media choices that give them that option. “Premium” versions of ad-supported media are becoming the norm.

So why would people want to see ads (hint: they don’t)? And what does that spell for the future of ad-supported media?

If you’re a brand, you should be dedicating efforts to figuring out how to get your message in front of consumers without running “ad units”. This could be in the form of “content”, “utility”, or anything else that provides some sort of value. But you should be allocating resources to figuring this out now so you can have a competitive advantage.

If you’re a creative agency, you need to figure out what you’re going to be making or doing in a world where consumers are ad avoidant. Core advertising services are destined to change, and innovation should be happening as much on the business and operations end as it is on the creative and technology side of the business.

If you’re a media agency, you should be figuring out what side of history you want to be on, and whether you want to evolve beyond the current state of affairs, or go down with the ship.

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Content blockers on iOS 9 will be 64-bit device only » Twitter

Benjamin Poulain (of Apple’s Safari team) tweeted thus:

Content Blockers do work on 32 bits, but the App Store policies restrict them to 64 bits devices as @reneritchie said.

The extensions already work on 32-bit devices (I’m testing three on an iPhone 5C), but Poulain then says the reason for the limitation is because of the performance of the compiler on the largest extensions. (The blockers are compiled on the fly, as I understand it.)

Cynics will say this is Apple trying to get people to upgrade from 32-bit devices to 64-bit ones. (And other extensions do work on 32-bit..) Depends how compelling you think content blocking is, of course.
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Encounter with the Google car today… » Cycling Forums

“Oxtox”:

a Google self-driving Lexus has been in my neighborhood for the last couple of weeks doing some road testing.

Near the end of my ride today, we both stopped at an intersection with 4-way stop signs.

The car got to the stop line a fraction of a second before I did, so it had the ROW. I did a track-stand and waited for it to continue on through.

It apparently detected my presence (it’s covered in Go-Pros) and stayed stationary for several seconds. it finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. the car immediately stopped…

I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. it stopped abruptly.

We repeated this little dance for about 2 full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. the two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation.

Lots of little situations like this will make the difference between self-driving cars other road users like and which they really don’t. (Can an SDC be “rude”?)
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Google’s driverless cars run into problem: cars with drivers » The New York Times

Matt Richtel and Conor Dougherty:

Google’s fleet of autonomous test cars is programmed to follow the letter of the law. But it can be tough to get around if you are a stickler for the rules. One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn’t get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google’s robot.

It is not just a Google issue. Researchers in the fledgling field of autonomous vehicles say that one of the biggest challenges facing automated cars is blending them into a world in which humans don’t behave by the book.

“The real problem is that the car is too safe,” said Donald Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, who studies autonomous vehicles. “They have to learn to be aggressive in the right amount, and the right amount depends on the culture.”

If it’s about the culture, might be a while before we see them in France or (especially) Italy. Or [insert country where you gaped at the driving].
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Start up: Amazon’s profitable cloud, Apple Music woes, early days of search, and more

Kepler 452b
“Hello! Have you heard of ‘Greece’? Do you have spare money?” Artist impression by Nasa.

A selection of 9 links for you. Lather them all over yourself. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Lycos almost won the search engine wars » Gizmodo

Jim Gilliam with a tale from the pit:

A few months later, our team made a huge discovery. In our ongoing efforts to make search results better, Dennis set up an eye-tracking lab and began scientific testing of how people used search. We watched where people looked on the pages and noticed something shocking: people didn’t look at the ads. Not only that, but the more we tried to make the ads stand out, the less people looked at them. Our entire advertising philosophy was based on making ads flashy so people would notice them. But we saw, quite counterintuitively, that people instinctively knew that the good stuff was on the boring part of the page, and that they ignored the parts of the page that we—and the advertisers—wanted them to click on.

This discovery would give us an edge over everyone in the industry. All we had to do was make the ads look less like ads and more like text. But that was not what the ad people wanted, and the ad people ran Lycos. The advertiser was seen as our true customer, since advertising was where our revenue came from. Our team argued that our customers were also the people searching, and without them, we’d lose the advertisers. The eye-tracking revelation wasn’t enough to convince them, so we tried another tack.

In the ultracompetitive world of search engines, the biggest factor aside from the quality of the results was how fast they loaded. We were constantly trying to take things out of the pages to make them load faster. So I created a program that took queries coming into our site and ran them on all the major search engines, ranking them in order of speed.

And guess which speed-obsessed, blinky-ad-ignoring company came along next? It’s an extract from Gilliam’s new book, The Internet Is My Religion. Have a free download of the book.
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Amazon Web Services is now a $6 billion-a-year cloud-computing monster » Quartz

Dan Frommer:

AWS generated almost $400m in operating income during the quarter, and almost $1bn over the past four quarters. It represented almost 40% of Amazon’s consolidated-segment operating income for the second quarter in a row—despite only generating about 8% of the company’s sales.

In short: AWS is one of Amazon’s most valuable assets.

That 40%-8% ratio is something to ponder. Prices are going to fall as Microsoft and Google keep trying to win share. Will profits remain as strong?
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Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it » Loop Insight

Jim Dalrymple had a terrible experience:

I went through about 15 albums one night and manually added all of the missing songs. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I did it. I nearly lost my mind the next morning when I checked my iPhone and Apple Music and taken out all of the songs I added the night before. I was right back where I started.

In some cases, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, a few of the songs show up twice on one album. When you tap to play the song, they both show the animated icon in iTunes, as if they are both playing. Note in the screenshot that the songs are different in terms of their length of playing time. Either Apple Music shaved a few seconds off one of the tracks, or they’re from different albums.

I’ve had some problems a little like this – duplicate tracks on iOS devices, ie not the originating device, which is the desktop. But nothing like Dalrymple’s awful loss of thousands of tracks. I’ve lost nothing. (People, don’t suffer the same way; make backups.) I’m just waiting for it to sort itself out. And I have a backup.

I suspect that Apple’s servers are suddenly under a colossal load, and that this is related in some way. Apple Music is very, very complicated. Not that that excuses track deletion. But it’s Spotify plus the iTunes Music Store plus iTunes Match. A gigantic beast.
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An identity thief explains the art of emptying your bank account » Bloomberg Business

Dune Lawrence:

On this particular winter night [in Minsk] in 2009, [Dmitry] Naskovets checks the online orders that have come in and sees a routine assignment. A client has tried to buy a MacBook Pro online with a stolen credit card, but American Express blocked the purchase. Now it’s Naskovets’s job to work it out with Amex.

He calls the toll-free number, using software that makes it look as if he’s dialing from the U.S. Any information the customer rep might ask for, Naskovets’s client sends him instantly by chat. The questions don’t usually get beyond the cardholder’s date of birth, Social Security number, or mother’s maiden name, but the woman fielding this call is unusually thorough. She notices that the phone number on the account has changed recently, triggering extra security. She puts Naskovets on hold while a colleague dials the old number and gets the actual cardholder on the line.

Thus begins an absurd contest: Naskovets against the man he’s impersonating. The agents throw out questions to distinguish the fake. When did you buy your home? What color was the car you bought in 2004? Each time Amex puts him on hold, he knows the legitimate cardholder is being asked the same question. At last, the rep thanks him, apologizes, and approves the purchase. Naskovets was even better than the real thing.

Scary.
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Apple Watch: a work in progress but packed with potential » CCS Insight

Ben Wood says his initial expectations were too high, and that he has been left underwhelmed. But, he adds:

this is version 1.0 and Apple has a proven track record of making a nice first device and then slowly but surely making it better and better. I’m not going to lie — I was among those who misjudged the original iPhone. It was easy to pick holes in the first model when it launched: poor battery life, no concessions to operators or subsidy, and missing features like 3G and MMS made it easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. But over time it’s become one of the most transformative electronic devices of our generation. That’s because the product that appeared in 2007 is not the product that hundreds of millions of people are using today. It was a full year before Apple opened the App Store, a major catalyst to the iPhone’s success. I predict we’ll take a similar journey with its watch.

When you go beyond the basic features and think about the sheer potential of the device you start to realise how significant it is. To me, it comes down to offering capabilities that are so compelling it’s not even worth the milliseconds it takes to whip your smartphone out of your pocket.

A perfect example of this is payment. Apple Pay landed in the UK this month. Although I’ve only used it a few times, my initial impression is that having a secure, predictable payment mechanism easily accessible on your wrist is hugely useful, whether you’re buying a coffee or hopping on a bus.

Another inspiring application is an electronic hotel room key – something Apple is already supporting at some Starwood hotels. No more arriving at your room struggling to get an unreliable plastic keycard out of your pocket or wallet, with a coffee in one hand and a suitcase in the other. A tap of the wrist and you’re in.

Things get even better when you add another layer of intelligence. At some point in the future, you’ll arrive at the hotel or approach the counter to pay for your coffee; a nearby beacon will tell your Apple Watch what information you’re likely to need. As if by magic the relevant loyalty card appears on the watch face ready to help you check in or pay for the coffee. These types of rich application are limited only by developers’ imagination and the software needed to create them.

Judging devices that obey Moore’s Law on their first incarnation really is a mug’s game.
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NASA just discovered ‘Earth 2.0’ » Business Insider

Jessica Orwig:

Kepler 452b will forever be remembered as the first, second Earth or what NASA refers to as “Earth 2.0” ever discovered:

Here’s what we know so far about this Earth 2.0:

It’s 60% larger than Earth.
• It’s most likely rocky, meaning it has a solid surface as opposed to a gaseous one, like Jupiter.
• It’s about 1,400 light years from Earth.
• It orbits its star every 385 days, very similar to Earth’s orbital length.
• The planet and star it’s orbiting are about 6 billion years old — 1.5 billion years older than our sun.

Any chance they could bail out Greece? Just asking.
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Google+: a case study on app download interstitials » Official Google Webmaster Central Blog

David Morell, software engineer at Google+ on why “hey, get our app!” things that take over the page might bug users:

Despite our intuition that we should remove the interstitial, we prefer to let data guide our decisions, so we set out to learn how the interstitial affected our users. Our analysis found that:
• 9% of the visits to our interstitial page resulted in the ‘Get App’ button being pressed. (Note that some percentage of these users already have the app installed or may never follow through with the app store download.)
• 69% of the visits abandoned our page. These users neither went to the app store nor continued to our mobile website.

While 9% sounds like a great CTR for any campaign, we were much more focused on the number of users who had abandoned our product due to the friction in their experience. With this data in hand, in July 2014, we decided to run an experiment and see how removing the interstitial would affect actual product usage. We added a Smart App Banner to continue promoting the native app in a less intrusive way, as recommended in the Avoid common mistakes section of our Mobile SEO Guide. The results were surprising:
• 1-day active users on our mobile website increased by 17%.
• G+ iOS native app installs were mostly unaffected (-2%). (We’re not reporting install numbers from Android devices since most come with Google+ installed.)

So much is weird about this. Why were they ever showing the interstitial to Android users, since “most” already had it? The news that not blocking a screen leads to people not giving up (especially for an app they’re likely to already have) isn’t that astonishing. Also: only 17% more read the page? That doesn’t seem so great, given that there were 69% abandoning before. Note too how the measurements aren’t congruent: in the first set, you’re told how many follows to the app there were, and how many abandoned. In the second, you’re told how “1-day active users” increased and how nothing happened to iOS installs – not how many clicked through.

When you aren’t given congruent statistics (in experiment A, X happened; in experiment B, X changed by Y), be distrustful.

And the other missing stat: the balance between iOS users and Android users who came to the page. It all just seems like a study in “what were you even thinking by trying to force people to click past an interstitial?”
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Worldwide smartphone market posts 11.6% year-over-year growth in Q2 2015, the second-highest shipment total for a single quarter » IDC

According to the latest preliminary release from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 337.2 million smartphones worldwide in the second quarter of 2015 (2Q15), up 11.6% from the 302.1 million units in 2Q14. The 2Q15 shipment volume represents the second highest quarterly total on record. Following an above average first quarter (1Q15), smartphone shipments were still able to remain slightly above the previous quarter thanks to robust growth in many emerging markets. In the worldwide mobile phone market (inclusive of smartphones), vendors shipped 464.6 million units, down -0.4% from the 466.3 million units shipped 2Q14.

Quite a contrast with the gloomier number from Trendforce on Tues/Weds. That gives smartphones 73% of sales; the 90% point, when featurephones are just edge cases, is fast approaching. Minor details: Samsung was the only top vendor to see a fall in shipments (and that by about 1m, so within margins of error). Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi all seeing growth faster than the market.

A notable quote from Melissa Chau on the phone team: “IDC now tracks over 200 different smartphone brands globally, many of them focused on entry level and mid-range models, and most with a regional or even single-country focus.”
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Lottery IT security boss guilty of hacking lotto systems to win $14.3m » The Register

Iain Thomson:

Iowa state lottery’s IT security boss hacked his employer’s computer system, and rigged the lottery so he could buy a winning ticket in a subsequent draw.

On Tuesday, at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, the disgraced director of information security was found guilty of fraud.

Eddie Tipton, 52, installed a hidden rootkit on a computer system run by the Multi-State Lottery Association so he could secretly alter the lottery’s random number generator, the court heard. This allowed him to calculate the numbers that would be drawn in the state’s Hot Lotto games, and therefore buy a winning ticket beforehand.

The prosecution said he also tampered with security cameras covering the lottery computer to stop them recording access to the machine.

Hmm – worth a one-hour drama. Not really a miniseries or a film.
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Start up: Fitbit’s problem, Google’s staff boom, Apple Watch keeps ticking, and more


Oh, that tsunami. Photo(montage) by arkhangellohim on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fitbit’s dilemma: what problems will it solve better than other devices? » Mobile Forward

Hristo Daniel Ushev on the company that’s presently valued at $9bn (that’s the net present value of the stock market’s guess of its total future profits):

Smartwatches – at least the Android ones – will eventually rival the price of Fitbit’s high-end products. Fitbit will need to either make smarter products or lower-priced products. It doesn’t appear to have the basis for the former, and it likely won’t have the cost structure for the latter (compared to low-cost rivals). It might just maintain an existence in the US, where its installed base and brand are strong (today). I don’t doubt there will always be some consumers who prefer the Fitbit’s design, user interface, analytics, subscription services, or power efficiency.

But, at least in terms of the performance level visible today, Fitbit’s proficiency in those areas doesn’t appear to be unique enough to constitute a protect-able advantage.

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Earthquake experts on ‘The Really Big One’: Here’s what will actually happen in Seattle » GeekWire

Following the New Yorker article on the coming (but nobody knows when) earthquake around Seattle, some earthquake scientists did a Reddit AMA:

“Washington’s resilience plan estimates it could be months before all major transport routes are reopened, though emergency routes … will open up before that,” Doughton said. Bridge inspectors will be among the first responders, checking for small cracks that could lead to devastating failures soon after the quake.

With transportation down, supplies are going to be tight. Goetz recommends that residents keep a 7-to-10-day supply of food, water and essentials in case of a major earthquake, along with some supplies at work and in their car.

“Beyond supplies, I always encourage people to talk about their plans,” Goetz said, “especially around communication, which we know will be affected. Where will they be? How can they get back together? Where could they meet if not at home?”

She also suggests staying put once the quake starts.

“Getting on the roads will only create more congestion and depending on the damage to bridges and streets, you honestly may not get very far,” she said. “Smartest plan—take a protective action, keep yourself safe, check on others and help them afterwards.”

Yeeaah. Not quite going to buy that seaside condo in Seattle though.
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Toyota recalls 625,000 hybrids: Software bug kills engines by THERMAL OVERLOAD » The Register

Iain Thomson:

The recall is for Prius vehicles sold between 2012 and 2014, and affects 109,000 vehicles in the US, 340,000 in Japan, 160,000 in Europe, and sundry other locales. Toyota didn’t say how many cases the Prius had suffered, but did mention that there were no reports of injury as a result of the flaw.

“In the involved vehicles, the current software settings for the motor/generator control engine control unit (ECU) and hybrid control ECU could result in higher thermal stress in certain transistors, potentially causing them to become damaged,” Toyota said in the recall notice.

“If this happens, various warning lights will illuminate and the vehicle can enter a failsafe mode. In rare circumstances, the hybrid system might shut down while the vehicle is being driven, resulting in the loss of power and the vehicle coming to a stop.”

Seems not good.
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No more mobile fun: mobile game app users decrease for five consecutive months » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-young:

The number of mobile game app users has decreased for the first time in the last two years. It clearly shows stagnation in the growth of the domestic mobile game market.

According to market research institution Nielsen Korea on July 14, the number of mobile game app users with Android OS stood at 19.95 million last month. The figure has decreased by 850,000, or 4.11 percent, from the 20.81 million of June last year. It is the first time in the last two years that the monthly number of game app users has shown a year-on-year decrease.

In particular, the number of game app users is on the decrease this year, even though the total number of mobile app users is steadily increasing.

Offered as a data point.
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Microsoft has finalized Windows 10 » The Verge

Tom Warren:

Microsoft has now finalized Windows 10, ready for its release later this month. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the software giant has selected build 10240 as the final release to manufacturing (RTM) copy, allowing PC makers to start loading the software onto new machines ready for release. We understand that Microsoft is signing off on the build internally today, and may announce the RTM publicly by the end of the week or choose to ignore the milestone and focus on the launch.

Goes live on 29 July, in case you’d forgotten.
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Preliminary Q2 2015 global smartphone market and observations » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

For Samsung, we believe shipments will be in the low 70m range, 73-74m to be exact. Our Apple estimates are for 53m units sold. Huawei announced 50m smartphones sold in the first half of 2015 which, by doing the math on first quarter sales, means 32m smartphones shipped. Xiaomi announced 34m smartphones shipped in first half of 2015 for first quarter shipments of 20m.

For philosophical reasons, I do not lump Lenovo and Motorolla sales together. If we were to combine the two, Lenovo would be #4 and Xiaomi #5.

Folks love to talk about Xiaomi but it is clear their initial target of 100m smartphones sold in 2015 is unlikely.

(This is content for subscribers; there’s more to it, obviously, and you can pay per-article.)
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Feb 2015: Google layoffs inevitable » blogorrhea

Kaz Thomas, in February 2015:

Google G+A expenses
With ad revenues leveling off and expenses skyrocketing (G&A has quadrupled in 5 years), Google is headed for a financial meltdown, and when it happens, the company will need to shave $2 billion a year off its $16 billion/yr in R&D and G&A costs, which means, if we count the fully burdened cost of a Google employee at $200K per year, it needs to shave 10,000 jobs.

Google has $100 billion in the bank, so the situation is hardly dire, but Wall St. likes to see expenses cut by some other method than hauling money out of the bank. They like to see a sound Income Statement, and very soon, Google’s Income Statement will be anything but sound.

On a percent-of-income basis, Google outspends Apple on R&D six-to-one. Where is that money going? Driverless cars, Google Glass, body odor patents. Stuff that doesn’t have a chance in hell of generating revenue any time soon. On the one hand, Google is to be credited with thinking long-term, something American companies don’t tend to do very well, but on the other hand, Google needs to execute well on the revenue side.

Now read on.
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Google takes stricter approach to costs » WSJ

Alistair Barr:

Google staff adds by quarter

Google will offer an update on its expenses on Thursday, when it reports second-quarter financial results after regular trading hours and Ms. Porat is expected to speak during a conference call with Google analysts for the first time. The company declined to comment for this article.

The clearest sign of the new attitude: Google added 1,819 employees in the first quarter, bringing its total to 55,419. That was the smallest increase since the final quarter of 2013; last year, Google added an average of 2,435 employees per quarter.

For many years, Google teams assumed they could add staff each year. Now, Google executives are selecting which groups can hire, based on the company’s strategic priorities. Since late last year, many Google teams have had to submit plans describing how additional employees will produce specific business objectives, such as increased revenue or more users.

For example, Google last year capped hiring at the struggling Google+ social-media division, while the Nest connected-home unit was given more leeway to grow, according to people familiar with the changes.

It’s been really evident since this article appeared that Wall Street really likes Google’s course of action here: its stock rose every day (until, of course, now I choose to link to it) from this article appearing.
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MacBook users outraged over ‘Staingate’ display damage » ZDNet

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes:

“We are a group of Apple customers that paid more than 2000 USD/EUR for a Macbook that is showing horrific stains in the screen,” writes the group on its website, Staingate.org.

“The stains can start as early as 7 months after the purchase. There is no clear pattern as to how it starts: some experience it in small spots around the edge, on other screens it appears in the middle as large patches.”

Apple claims that this is “cosmetic damage” and as such it is not covered by the warranty, leaving owners facing repair costs that can total up to $800.

The worst affected MacBooks appear to be those sold in 2013 but it seems that the problem dates back to 2009.

Seems to be a problem with the antiglare coating, as Kingsley-Hughes says. Currently over 3,000 people on the Staingate database. “Cosmetic”, perhaps, but cosmetic on the thing you look at all the time.
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Apple Watch, not dead yet » Re/code

Dawn Chmielweski:

To find another way to gauge the popularity of the Apple Watch, we consulted several veteran technology analysts with contacts in Apple’s manufacturing supply chain who claimed Slice’s data does not represent the whole market, and does not correspond to what they’re hearing from supplier sources.

Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies said he is seeing production gain momentum, not decrease, as Apple moves into its September quarter. He has raised his own Apple Watch sales forecast based on research with suppliers, estimating Apple will sell 20m smartwatches this calendar year, up from his initial projection of 19m.

Information research firm IDC is hearing the same based on its ongoing source checks in the global manufacturing and supply chain. IDC said the Apple Watch appears to be selling as expected: Following an initial burst of interest from Apple enthusiasts, demand tapered off. But sales continue apace, and appear to be on track to reach about 21.2m units sold this year.

“What we’ve heard and what I’ve confirmed with other analysts is … [the Apple watch] is still growing,” said Ryan Reith, research director for IDC’s mobile devices team. “They’re expecting it to grow throughout the year.”

Wait to see how big the “Other” chunk is in Apple’s results next Tuesday, and how much changed from previous quarters.
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Have you been hacked? Take this quiz to find out » The New Republic

Has your information been compromised, perhaps without your knowing it? Only the hackers know, but perhaps this quiz can help.

Just answer yes – it’ll be quicker. (One of my emails is on this list. Sodding Adobe.) Or you could use the excellent Have I Been Pwned site, maintained by Troy Hunt.
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The web we have to save » Medium

Hossein Derakhshan, who was jailed in Iran for six years and only released seven months ago, on the changes he perceives:

the web started out by imitating books and for many years, it was heavily dominated by text, by hypertext. Search engines put huge value on these things, and entire companies — entire monopolies — were built off the back of them. But as the number of image scanners and digital photos and video cameras grows exponentially, this seems to be changing. Search tools are starting to add advanced image recognition algorithms; advertising money is flowing there.

But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies.

The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

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Start up: mobile app freight trains, mobile trumps desktop search, the switcher thing, and more


A freight train. In mobile apps, don’t try to get in its way. Picture by Loco Steve on Flickr.

A selection of 6 links for you. No more, no less. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why VOIP doesn’t work for emerging markets » The Big Almanack

Alan Knott Craig:

The recent annoucement of WhatsApp Calling got me thinking. If you are receiving a VOIP call you must pay for the data. In other words, unless you’re using an uncapped WiFi connection VOIP means both caller and called-party pays, unlike traditional voice for which only the caller pays.

The average data required for a voice call is about 0,5MB/minute and (in South Africa) prepaid data rates are about 10c/MB (USD). Like most emerging markets, South Africans do not have any options for uncapped mobile data.

All data is priced per MB, and most people use prepaid.

VOIP callers will therefore pay 5c/min for calls received.

This will not work. Poor South Africans do not have enough money to make calls, nevermind receive calls. The average South African living in a township or rural area uses his phone exclusively for incoming calls.

So many assumptions that are trivial in western countries just don’t work in emerging markets.


Well, We Failed. — Inside Wattage » Medium

Jeremy Bell:

The vision for Wattage was a future where anyone could manipulate matter. Where we needn’t settle for the generic, mass-produced things that currently line store shelves. A future where we can easily upgrade our old devices instead of throwing them away. Or reprogramming them to do entirely new and useful things.

We wanted to make it so creating and selling hardware was as easy as writing and publishing a blog post. You shouldn’t need to be an electrical engineer or an industrial designer to create electronic devices. Nor should you have to worry about supply chain or distribution if you wanted to sell them. We believed it was possible to eliminate all of that complexity, so the average person could easily create highly customized hardware without any electronics know-how, all within their browser.

Of course, things didn’t exactly play out that way. But why?

Because it was an impractical idea. Next, please.


Tablet market losing demand » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

Asustek Computer is expected to ship only less than 4m tablets in the first half and is unlikely to achieve its one million unit target and most likely to stay flat from the 9.4m units from 2014 or slightly lower.

The sources pointed out that Apple’s iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 both had unsatisfactory shipment performances, but the iPad mini 2, which received a price cut, had a rather strong demand, especially from China.

For the non-Apple tablet market, US$99-199 devices are the mainstream and models featuring phone function are even more popular. Although several first-tier vendors are planning to release new tablets shortly, they only placed small orders to avoid inventory build up.

Seeing tablets no longer enjoying demand as they used to, many vendors have turned to focus on developing Windows-based 2-in-1 devices or 2-in-1 Chromebooks.


Apple’s iPhone growth opportunities » Re/code

Tim Bajarin thinks there are three reasons why Apple’s iPhone sales will keep growing. The first is China (it’s big).

The second reason is due to what Apple calls “switchers.” During the recent analysts call, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated, at least five times, that demand for iPhones by those switching from other smartphone platforms are very strong. This is not a trivial fact. Our own research shows that Apple is luring millions of Android smartphone users over to the iPhone and iOS, and we have no reason to believe this will not continue for the near future. Many Android smartphone buyers opted for Android phones because of their larger screens, and that was a strong driver for Samsung and others who made phones with five-inch or 5.5-inch screens.

However, our research showed that if Apple had iPhones with larger screens, 40 percent of them would have preferred buying an iPhone over an Android smartphone. Consequently, pent-up demand by switchers has been key to Apple’s iPhone growth. As Android users move out of their two-year contracts, more and more of them will migrate to the iPhone platform. I see switchers continuing to help drive strong iPhone sales at least through early 2016.

Kantar will publish figures today (Weds) which it has hinted will have notable data about “switchers”.


Mobile design details: don’t divert the train » LukeW

Luke Wroblewski:

Polar is a fun way to collect and share opinions by making and voting on lots of photo polls. This is our freight train. We get over 40 votes per user on any given day. It’s where people spend the most time in the app and get immersed in the Polar experience.

We knew this experience could be even better if the list contained polls from people you know. So we added a prominent action in the header that allowed you to find your friends on Polar when you tapped it.

But very few people did. As it turned out, we were trying to divert the train by requiring people to go to a different part of the application to do things like find and invite friends.

So we decided to use the forward momentum of our “train” instead of fighting it. Now when someone is voting, voting, voting… the 20th poll we show them asks “Would you like to find your friends on Polar?”

Wroblewski has so many fascinating insights; this is a site to keep mining.


It’s official: Google says more searches now on mobile than on desktop » Search Engine Land

Greg Sterling:

Last year we heard informal statements from several Google employees that mobile search queries would probably overtake desktop queries some time this year. Google just confirmed this has now happened.

The company says that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” The company declined to elaborate further on what the other countries were, how recently this change happened or what the relative volumes of PC and mobile search queries are now.

Google did tell us that mobile queries include mobile browser-based searches and those coming from Google’s mobile search apps. The company didn’t break down the relative shares of each.

Google groups tablets with desktops. So this is just smartphones and does not include tablets.

According to Amir Efrati, mobile searches had outnumbered desktop for the past two years in the US at weekends.


Start up: iPhone sales visualised, stopping VR sickness, Canon lurches downward, mobile design and more


Not so many of these being sold. Photo by lonelysandwich on Flickr.

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

iPhone sales by quarter » Bare Figures

Have a play with this excellent site, which shows financial data for all sorts of companies. Notable: iPhone sales in the just-gone quarter of 61.2m, up 39.9%. That really is a lot. And the revenues too.


How to reduce VR sickness? Just add a virtual nose » WIRED

Liz Stinson:

Eliminating simulator sickness is a major interest of the burgeoning VR industry, but so far there hasn’t been a clear answer. Home remedies include drinking alcohol, while companies like Oculus Rift are exploring better positional tracking and improved display resolution. But researchers at Purdue University believe they’ve found a way to reduce the negative physical effects of virtual reality by using something that’s right in front of your face.

“We’ve discovered putting a virtual nose in the scene seems to have a stabilizing effect,” says David Whittinghill, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s Department of Computer Graphics Technology.


Windows Phone and Prepaid in the US » Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

based on the combination of AdDuplex and Comscore data, it’s likely Cricket has between 1 and 1.5 million Windows Phone devices in its base, which is a fairly significant chunk of Cricket’s overall base, perhaps as much as 25%. Secondly, remember the overall Windows Phone growth numbers we looked at earlier? There was net growth of about 1 million Windows Phone handsets in the base during that same nine month period or, in other words, the difference between those that left the platform and joined it was 1 million. Given Cricket likely added around 1 million during that period, it’s possible it accounted for the vast majority of that net growth.

Cricket isn’t the only prepaid brand where Windows Phone is big, though. It’s hard to get a full postpaid/prepaid breakdown from the AdDuplex numbers because, for the major carrier brands, the two aren’t separated. But even if we just focus on MetroPCS, Cricket and a phone only available on AT&T’s GoPhone prepaid service, these three add up to around 40% of the total base in the US. Add in a few percentage points for other prepaid sales on the major carriers and we could be getting close to half the Windows Phone base on prepaid, compared with about 25% of the total US phone base on prepaid. In this sense, Windows Phone is the anti-iPhone, with the iPhone well underrepresented in the prepaid market, just as Windows Phone is well over-represented.

(The full article is via subscription – monthly or one-off.)


The hidden politics of video games » POLITICO Magazine

Michael Peck:

Sim City lets you indulge your wildest fiscal fantasies. Banish the IRS and set taxes to zero in Teapartyville, or hike them to 99 percent on the filthy rich in the People’s Republic of Sims. Either way, you will discover that the game’s economic model is based on the famous Laffer Curve, the theoretical darling of conservative politicians and supply-side economists. The Laffer Curve postulates that raising taxes will increase revenue until the tax rate reaches a certain point, above which revenue decrease as people lose incentive to work.

Finding that magic tax point is like catnip for hard-core Sim City players. One Web site has calculated that according to the economic model in Sim City, the optimum tax rate to win the game should be 12% for the poor, 11% for the middle class and 10% for the rich.

In other words, playing Sim City well requires not only embracing supply-side economics, but taxing the poor more than the rich. One can almost see a mob of progressive gamers marching on City Hall to stick Mayor McSim’s head on a pike.

The subtle reinforcing effects of such models isn’t much thought about. Philip K Dick did, for his short story War Game.


Canon first-quarter profit drops as compact camera demand collapses » Reuters

Thomas Wilson:

Japan’s Canon Inc reported first-quarter net profit that fell by almost a third on Monday, grossly undershooting expectations, citing a collapse in demand for compact digital cameras.

Profit at the world’s largest camera maker fell to 33.93bn yen (£188 million) in January-March, compared with the 53.64bn yen average estimate of 5 analysts according to Thomson Reuters data.

The result comes as the world’s No.1 camera maker contends with a shift in consumer preference toward increasingly capable smartphone cameras. That shift has dragged Canon’s compact sales down nearly 70% since the market’s peak in 2008 – the year after Apple released its game-changing iPhone.

“Sales volume for low-end (digital camera) models declined due to the ongoing contraction of the market in all regions from the previous year,” said Canon in its earnings release.

Revenues down 1% year-on-year; operating profit by 20%. Also cut this year’s forecasts for compact sales by 23% and for higher-end cameras by 9%.


Telecom act to stifle sales of LG G4, Galaxy S6 » Korea Times

Bahk Eun-ji:

LG Electronics will release its latest smartphone, the G4, on Wednesday and seek to steal customers from its bigger rivals Samsung Electronics and Apple. LG is betting big on the new smartphone to gain fresh momentum in its earnings.

However, it faces a bigger obstacle than Samsung and Apple in the domestic market ― the Telecom Act that caps handset subsidies.

Two weeks ago, the KCC [Korean Communications Commission] raised the maximum amount of subsidy that customers can receive when buying a new handset to 330,000 won [£203/$304], from 300,000 won [£185/$268]. However, the maximum subsidy is possible only for those who choose the highest monthly phone bill rate. For most consumers, the actual subsidies available for them are insignificant. That’s why they are not buying new handsets.

The government has drawn criticism for the enforcement of the Telecom Act from all interested parties, including consumers, telecom companies and retail shop operators.

In particular, retail handset dealerships have condemned the act as their handset sales plunged after the Mobile Distribution Act took effect in October. Under the current law, when consumers buy Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and select a highest phone bill rate, they can receive up to 330,000 won in subsidies.

Normally, retail shop owners get rebates from telecom companies when they sell new handsets, but if customers do not buy the devices at the shop, the owners will not get the rebate.

Besides, if customers cancel their contracts before six months, the shop owners have to pay a 200,000 won [£123/$184] penalty to the telecom companies.

This probably explains the low reported sales of the Galaxy S6. The purpose of the subsidy cap is to prevent carriers and handset makers colluding to lure customers from rivals in South Korea’s saturated market. In 2014, Samsung lobbied to raise the subsidy ceiling. Not hard to work out why.


Racist Camera! No, I did not blink… I’m just Asian! » Flickr

Jared Earle offered a followup to the story on Kodachrome from Monday, pointing to this photo and commentary from 2009:

We got our Mom a new Nikon S630 digital camera for Mother’s Day and I was playing with it during the Angels game we were at on Sunday.
 
As I was taking pictures of my family, it kept asking “Did someone blink?” even though our eyes were always open.

Surprising, to say the least, that Nikon would have this problem.
Time picked up the story about a year later, and pointed out more strange examples where systems seemed to have built-in prejudices.

Of course, you can blame “the algorithms”. But they don’t write themselves.


Obvious always wins » LukeW

Luke Wroblewski, on how using menu controls (especially “hamburgers” and similar) can create big problems, even though the screen looks “simpler” (and so “better”, right?):

In an effort to simplify the visual design of the Polar app, we moved from a segmented control menu to a toggle menu. While the toggle menu looked “cleaner”, engagement plummeted following the change. The root cause? People were no longer moving between the major sections of the app as they were now hidden behind the toggle menu.

A similar fate befell the Zeebox app when they transitioned from a tab row for navigating between the major sections of their application to a navigation drawer menu. Critical parts of the app were now out of sight and thereby out of mind. As a result, engagement fell drastically.

[By contrast] When critical parts of an application are made more visible, usage of them can increase. Facebook found that not only did engagement go up when they moved from a “hamburger” menu to a bottom tab bar in their iOS app, but several other important metrics went up as well.


Start up: Yahoo’s mobile trouble, BLARPing, Galaxy S6’s slow start?, killing iOS, and more


Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. You OK hun? Photo by jdlasica on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Count them, I dare you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Office role-play? Meet the people who pretend to work at an office together » Fast Company

Justine Sharrock:

You’re stuck at an office all day, deleting all-staff emails and futzing with the office printer. But imagine if you were also part of an online group, pretending that you were in an office all day.

That’s what’s happening at one of the latest cult Facebook Groups, Generic Office Roleplay. Over 2,500 members from around the world fill its virtual pages with posts that mimic office-wide emails. There are passive aggressive notes about food stolen out of the fridge, mandates about office dress and office supplies, and tips for improving synergy. Think TV’s The Office meets David Rees’s clip Art cartoons, My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable meets live action role play (LARP), all happening on Facebook.

The term of choice for its practitioners is BLARPing—business live action role-play.

This is just wonderful.


‘No iOS Zone’ Wi-Fi zero-day bug forces iPhones, iPads to crash and burn » The Register

Darren Pauli:

Adi Sharabani and Yair Amit have revealed a zero-day vulnerability in iOS 8 that, when exploited by a malicious wireless hotspot, will repeatedly crash nearby Apple iPhones, iPads and iPods.

The Skycure bods say the attack, dubbed “No iOS Zone”, will render vulnerable iOS things within range unstable – or even entirely unusable by triggering constant reboots.

“Anyone can take any router and create a Wi-Fi hotspot that forces you to connect to their network, and then manipulate the traffic to cause apps and the operating system to crash,” Sharabani told the RSA security conference in San Francisco today.

“There is nothing you can do about it other than physically running away from the attackers. This is not a denial-of-service where you can’t use your Wi-Fi – this is a denial-of-service so you can’t use your device even in offline mode.”


 
The denial-of-service is triggered by manipulating SSL certificates sent to the iOS devices over Wi-Fi; specially crafted data will cause apps or possibly the operating system to crash.

Fix in the works. Somewhere.


Galaxy S6 smartphones suffer weaker than expected sales in S. Korea » Yonhap News

Samsung Electronics Co.’s newest high-end smartphones – the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge – are seen drawing less than expected attention from consumers, industry data showed Wednesday, casting clouds over the market’s upbeat sales estimate of over 50m units for 2015.

South Korea’s No. 1 tech giant had sold a little over 200,000 units of the two smartphones here as of Sunday since their launch on April 10, sharply falling short of the 300,000 preorders, according to the data, indicating that earlier sales forecasts may be exaggerated…

…industry watchers have been painting rosy pictures of the gadgets, with Hong Kong-based industry tracker Counterpoint suggesting the two will sell more than 50m units this year, while some researchers even gave a 70m-unit forecast.

But some industry watchers say the 10-day sales figure is not alarming, given that South Korea’s already saturated smartphone market is currently dented by the country’s regulations on subsidies.

Korea may be a special case (and the story says carriers are pushing harder on subsidies). But I think Samsung might find the top end saturated. This is going to be fascinating to watch play out.


Does a higher bill mean a better 4G service? » OpenSignal blog

Kevin Fitchard, guest-posting:

The U.S. has the highest average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) of the 29 countries sampled in the analysis at about $59. Yet as far as network speed goes, the U.S. ranks 26th out of 29, supplying an average connection of 7 Mbps. Meanwhile the lowest ARPU in the sample, $3, belongs to the Philippines, yet its two LTE operators deliver average speeds of 8 Mbps, ranking the country above the U.S.

The fastest LTE performance can now be found in Northern Europe, Spain, France, Hungary and South Korea, where speeds between 16 and 18 Mbps are the norm. But the differences in ARPU between them are huge. In Denmark, ARPU is around $19 a month. In Norway that number is $34, which is more in line with South Korea’s ARPU of $33 than it is with Norway’s neighbor just over the North Sea.

Within countries, the pattern – or lack thereof – was the same. In the U.K., EE has the distinction of having the fastest speeds (17.8 Mbps), seemingly justifying the $2 to $6 more it collects in ARPU over its competitors Vodafone and O2. But in the U.S. the opposite is true. T-Mobile has by far the fastest speeds (10 Mbps) compared to Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, but its ARPU is $49, undercutting its next cheapest competitor by $8 a month.

US 4G is more like European HSDPA+. But you try telling them that… (I’m a customer of Three in the UK, which offers 4G for free. I like it.)


Tesla: It’s a battery! » MarketWatch

Claudia Assis:

At the event [on 30 April], Tesla “will explain the advantages of our solutions and why past battery options weren’t compelling (OK Elon said “sucked”),” Tesla’s IR manager Jeff Evanson wrote in an email to analysts and investors early Wednesday. “Sorry, no motorcycle…but that was a creative guess.”

Shares of Tesla rose nearly 5%. A close around those levels would be Tesla’s highest in two weeks. Tesla shares have gained 9% in the past three months, but lost 1.4% in the last 12 months. That compares with gains of 2% for the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.27%  in the past 12 months.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said Tesla was working on a battery for homes and business back in February, when the company announced fourth-quarter results. Last month, Musk tweeted about a new “major product line” to be unveiled on April 30, saying only it was not a car.

Regular readers have known this since 3 April.


How Timehop was created » Business Insider

Maya Kosoff on Timehop, which has 19 staff but 15m registered users (of whom 7m check in every day) to see what they were doing exactly a year ago on social media:

When Jonathan Wegener and Benny Wong started Timehop in 2011, they were working on a completely different project: a Craigslist replacement. Wong and Wegener — self-proclaimed “Foursquare fanboys” — participated in Foursquare’s first-ever hackathon, and they ended up building out a product on top of Foursquare’s API that showed users where they checked in on Foursquare a year ago.

They appropriately called the product, which they built in eight hours, 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo.

“The original inspiration for it was the ghost in Mario Kart, where you get to race yourself in time trials after you’ve done a race,” Wegener says. “We thought it would be really interesting to do that with your Foursquare checkins.”

First time that a useful idea has taken inspiration from a game concept?


Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer on Q4 2014 results – earnings call transcript » Seeking Alpha

This is from January, where Mayer was asked whether Yahoo would try to knock Google off iOS as the search default (as it has on Firefox in the US – because Google didn’t bid, I understand):

I will take the question on the Safari deal. The Safari platform is basically one of the premiere search engine in the world, if not the premiere search engine in the world. We are definitely in the search distribution business. I think we stated that really clearly in the past and I think with Mozilla and also in addition we brought Amazon and eBay onboard with smaller distribution partnerships in Q4, we are in search distribution business and anyone who is in that business needs to be interested in the Safari deal.

The Safari users are among the most engaged and lucrative users in the world and it’s something that we would really like to be able to provide. We work really closely with Mozilla to ultimately bring to their users an experience that they designed and that they feel really suit those users and we welcome the opportunity with any other partner to do the same, particularly one with Apple’s volume and end user base.

I think when she said “the premiere search engine in the world”, she meant “one of the most-used browsers to access search engines”. Statcounter data suggests Safari was used for half of US smartphone and tablet use in March; if Mayer crazy enough to try to buy that search deal when it comes up later this year? (There’s no mention of it in the Q1 earnings transcript.)


AdBlock Plus proves it’s not illegal » Betanews

So hated is AdBlock Plus, in fact, that a case was brought against the tool to try to prove that it is illegal.

Now a court in Hamburg has come to a decision, and ruled that AdBlock Plus – in case there was ever any doubt – is entirely legal. The plaintiffs in the case alleged that AdBlock Plus should not be permitted to block ads on the websites it owns. The judge presiding over the case disagreed.

The court ruled that AdBlock Plus is well within its rights to provide the option to hide advertisements on websites. The company sees this as setting a precedent and is taking this moment in the spotlight to reach out to content creators to work together to “develop new forms of nonintrusive ads that are actually useful and welcomed by users.”

ABP’s Ben Williams enjoys his Nelson Muntz moment on the company blog.


Start up: neural nets explained, Google’s spiralling spend, adieu Nest!, men and their comments, and more


Probably a neural network, but you might need one to look at it to be sure. Photo by jurvetson on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Slippery when wet. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Emotional design fail: divorcing my Nest thermostat » Nielsen-Norman Group

Kara Pernice of the NN/G user interface design company:

A learning device implies that it will not only pick up on what you usually do, but it will also: 1) allow you to change, and 2) absorb those changes. My Nest learned quite well, but then stopped learning. It remembered but it didn’t look for variations or adapt. It was the equivalent of a printed textbook: Facts, correct or not, become law if written in there and thus will be taught that way until the school chooses a different textbook.

When I turned the dial to increase the heat to 66 degrees, rather than responding by making the house warmer, or by informing me that it is now working toward this, it read, “in 1 hour and 20 minutes 66 degrees until 10:00PM.” The next day the house temperature plummeted to a punishing 50 degrees (I realize I may be spoiled) for no reason I was privy to. Here, by the way, is another usability heuristic not heeded: visibility of system status.

Try as I might, it won’t listen. So I pull on another sweater (a la Jimmy Carter) and mittens and a hat. Indoors. In my home. I am serious. And I wait until my thermostat decides that I am worthy of radiant warmth.

Temperatures in Fahrenheit, obviously. Given Pernice’s provenance, maybe Nest should call. (This is the second heavily critical article about Nest in the past few days; the other was about its smoke alarm, from a Google employee.)


The believers » The Chronicle of Higher Education

Fantastic article on how neural networks have swung in and out of fashion, profiling Geoff Hinton, of the University of Toronto and Google:

Before [the researchers] won over the world, however, the world came back to them. That same year, a different type of computer chip, the graphics processing unit, became more powerful, and Hinton’s students found it to be perfect for the punishing demands of deep learning. Neural nets got 30 times faster overnight. Google and Facebook began to pile up hoards of data about their users, and it became easier to run programs across a huge web of computers. One of Hinton’s students interned at Google and imported Hinton’s speech recognition into its system. It was an instant success, outperforming voice-recognition algorithms that had been tweaked for decades. Google began moving all its Android phones over to Hinton’s software.

It was a stunning result. These neural nets were little different from what existed in the 1980s. This was simple supervised learning. It didn’t even require Hinton’s 2006 breakthrough. It just turned out that no other algorithm scaled up like these nets. “Retrospectively, it was a just a question of the amount of data and the amount of computations,” Hinton says.


Google buys Softcard tech, strikes deal with wireless carriers » Re/code

Jason Del Rey:

The deal will see Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T pre-install Google Wallet on their Android phones in the U.S. later this year. Google Wallet allows shoppers to tap their phones to pay at checkout in some brick-and-mortar stores in much the same way Apple Pay does. The move also involves Google buying some intellectual property from Softcard, formerly known as ISIS. It doesn’t appear that any Softcard employees are joining Google as part of the deal.

In a blog post, Softcard said its users can use their mobile payments app for now. But I can’t imagine the wireless carriers behind the Softcard joint venture would agree to this deal if they planned to continue to invest in their own app. Sounds like game over for Softcard, a very expensive multi-year initiative that was essentially a flop for the wireless companies involved.

The purchase of Softcard (if not the abandonment of its staff) had been expected, but the preinstallation on Android phones is a smart deal.


What your online comments say about you » NYTimes.com

Anna North:

Commenters [the researchers at Skidmore College] identified as male were more likely to post negative comments than were those they identified as female; they were also much less likely to post comments acknowledging that gender bias exists.

Dr. Moss-Racusin said that her team was surprised by how split the commenters were: “The same sort of objective evidence really struck people quite differently.” She and her team are now studying the reasons behind such differences: “what factors might lead certain people under certain situations to be more swayed by scientific evidence, particularly evidence that points to some inequities between different social groups.” One theory, she said, is that when people feel threatened by evidence, “they may be a little bit less receptive to it than when it already fits into their existing worldview, their way of thinking about social relations.”

“Threatened by evidence”. There’s a phrase to conjure with. (Via Mary Hamilton.)


The best Apple Watch apps: Developers reveal upcoming titles » Wareable

With the world counting down to April 2015 for Apple Watch launch, attention turns to the best apps that will make or break this landmark device.

I think the launch will actually be in March, with shipping – as Tim Cook said – in April. (The delay lets Apple take preorders, evaluate demand, and, ah, also helps those camera-magnet queues.) I wrote about what developers aim to do with apps on Apple Watch for The Guardian.


Server and protect: predictive policing firm PredPol promises to map crime before it happens » Forbes

Ellen Huet:

Two or three times a day in almost 60 cities across America, thousands of police officers line up for roll call at the beginning of their shifts. They’re handed a marked-up map of their beat and told: Between calls, go to the little red boxes, each about half the size of a city block. The department’s crime analysts didn’t make these maps. They’re produced by PredPol, a “predictive policing” software program that shovels historical crime data through a proprietary algorithm and spits out the 10 to 20 spots most likely to see crime over the next shift. If patrol officers spend only 5% to 15% of their shift in those boxes, PredPol says, they’ll stop more crime than they would using their own knowledge.

Less Minority Report than quick primer for newbie cops, it seems. Even so…


Google layoffs inevitable » assertTrue( ):

Kas Thomas has been having a look at Google’s General & Administrative [G&A] spending:

With ad revenues levelling off and expenses skyrocketing (G&A has quadrupled in 5 years), Google is headed for a financial meltdown, and when it happens, the company will need to shave $2bn a year off its $16bn/yr in R&D and G&A costs, which means, if we count the fully burdened cost of a Google employee at $200K per year, it needs to shave 10,000 jobs.

Google has $100bn in the bank, so the situation is hardly dire, but Wall St. likes to see expenses cut by some other method than hauling money out of the bank. They like to see a sound Income Statement, and very soon, Google’s Income Statement will be anything but sound.

On a percent-of-income basis, Google outspends Apple on R&D six-to-one. Where is that money going? Driverless cars, Google Glass, body odour patents. Stuff that doesn’t have a chance in hell of generating revenue any time soon. On the one hand, Google is to be credited with thinking long-term, something American companies don’t tend to do very well, but on the other hand, Google needs to execute well on the revenue side. Right now, most of its revenue is tied to search ads, which are receding in relevance. It competes, in the cloud space, with Amazon (which no one should have to do). Will that save the company? No. It would have, already, if it were going to.

This is hard to argue against, though Google could just ignore Wall St and report lower profits.


Worldwide market for refurbished smartphones to reach 120m units by 2017 » Gartner

“With consumers in mature markets upgrading their smartphones every 18 to 20 months the inevitable question is what happens to the old device?” said Meike Escherich, principal research analyst at Gartner. “While only 7% of smartphones end up in official recycling programs, 64% get a second lease of life with 23% being handed down to other users and 41% being traded in or sold privately.
 
“This rise in smartphone reuse will impact not only the sales of new units, but also the revenue streams of all those involved in the smartphone supply chain,” continued Ms. Escherich. “Stakeholders that are already participating in take-back or trade-in programs need to have a strategy for turning used devices into a positive asset. Others — particularly high-end phone original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — need to take a closer look at this market in order to evaluate the impact these secondhand devices will have on their market positions and revenue streams.” 

With nearly two-thirds of replaced smartphones being reused, continued demand for high-end used devices will increasingly impact primary-unit sales, and motivate phone providers to look into the secondhand market. In North America and Western Europe, the market for refurbished phones is forecast to be worth around $3bn in 2015 and growing to $5bn in 2017. Many users are attracted to used high-end devices that they would not have been able to purchase at the original selling price.

Next question is whether there’s any difference between platforms over hand-me-downs, and life cycle length.