Start up: Hololens on the edge, what self-driving cars need, the buttons that do nothing, and more


Might make a difference. Might not. Photo by Cyron on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. No strings attached. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google’s self-driving cars have been in 11 accidents, but none were the car’s fault » The Verge

Chris Ziegler notes that Ford thinks we need some flexibility:

another example [Mike] Tinskey [Ford’s head of electrification and infrastructure] brought up was that of overcoming the excessively careful self-driving systems of the future:

Q: So you’re saying that from the driver’s perspective, the car will be self-driving, but really there’s someone else driving it from afar for them?
Tinskey: That’s right. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to go to, for instance, China, if you’re not aggressive to try to turn left, there will be people that will walk in front of you all day long. And an autonomous vehicle would end up sitting there forever. And a driver normally just has to kind of say, “Alright, I’m going,” and the people will stop and the car heads through. So there are going to be situations where a remote driver can actually pilot a vehicle better than an autonomous in certain conditions. Or just because of policy, that might be the way that we have to deal with it.

Indeed, in Google’s view of vehicle autonomy — as in the generally rational view — a car can never assume (or hope, at least) that a pedestrian will stop or jump out of the way the way a human driver can. Sometimes, simply moving (particularly in the world’s most congested cities) requires a degree of cowboyishness that a stupidity-proof autonomous car can never permit. There needs to be a way for the car to say, “well, I can’t make this potentially dumb decision, but I invite a human to make it for me.”


The growing US smartphone base » Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson, in a subscriber-only article looking at the disparity (of about 40m smartphones) between Comscore’s US smartphone number, and that shown by mobile operators – which has various explanations:

If you were relying on Comscore’s data to forecast the total iPhone market in the US, for example, you’d end up with about 80m users, while there would be just under 100m Android users. But we already know that Comscore is under-counting the total smartphone market by around 35-40m, so each of these numbers might be 15-20m higher in practice. That’s important if you’re trying to get an accurate gauge.
The next question is whether the split between operating systems is accurate, or whether that’s defective too. That’s harder to ascertain through other sources and Kantar and other data seems to bear out similar trends in broad terms, so I’m inclined to believe it’s fairly accurate. But I take it with at least a pinch of salt on the basis that I know the overall data is flawed. I think the key, ultimately, is not to rely on any one data point, but rather to find as many data points as possible that either corroborate or contradict one another, then synthesize and aggregate them to arrive at the best possible picture of reality.


On sale now: Tesco Mobile » Counterpoint Technology Market Research

Peter Richardson, on the UK supermarket MVNO, which is up for sale to try to alleviate corporate debts of around £22bn:

Tesco Mobile is actually one area where is has carved out a strong position. Its range of attractively priced and no-nonsense tariffs appeal strongly to particular segments: young people, family orientated consumers and seniors being primary focal areas. It also offers a good range of handsets at prices on par with most high street mobile stores. Its success means it contributes approximately £100m per year to Tesco’s profits. Assuming similar multiples as other recent trade sales, Tesco could realize seven to eight times net profit — therefore something around £800m when it sells its stake in the venture. The most likely buyer is Tesco’s partner in the business, O2. However other MVNOs may also enter the bidding including Talk Talk, which recently purchased Tesco’s video TV service, Blinkbox.

Tesco Mobile also operates around 250 Tesco Phone Shops, that provide point of sale for a range of feature phones, smartphones and accessories. It sells around 2m units per year through these stores and online. Tesco has done well addressing seniors and is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of Doro’s range of products that are designed specifically for older generation consumers. It is not clear what will become of Tesco Phone Shops — even to staff working in them.

Last year saw Phones4U squashed; will Tesco’s outlets be next?


HoloLens: why Microsoft has to play down expectations to avoid Google Glass failure » IBTimes

After yesterday’s post from Tim Bajarin on why Google Glass didn’t click with consumers, David Gilbert contrasts the stage promise of Hololens with the experience (at present):

Just hours later I was given the chance to test out this game-changing technology for myself and my initial reaction was one of huge disappointment and being completely underwhelmed.

That was until I realised what HoloLens really was and what it could do, and I readjusted my expectations. By the end of my time with HoloLens I saw the huge potential this device has, but Microsoft is in danger of falling into some of the same traps as Google Glass.

Microsoft is a company in need of a revolutionary product like HoloLens. Unlike Apple, Microsoft is seen as a stale and staid tech company, one which is associated with “boring” products like Office and Windows rather than the iPhone or iPad.

The problem for Microsoft, is that while HoloLens may be revolutionary, it is not (yet) a mass consumer product like the iPhone or iPad. It is a hugely powerful holographic computer that is ideally suited to enterprise applications and that is where the company needs to focus its attention.

Via David Gilbert. (It’s OK to promote your own stuff to me, folks.)


How the Apple Watch cured my iPhone addiction » Medium

Evgenia Grinblo:

It’s not that I was addicted, per se. I just spent a lot of time using my phone. But the app Moment, which I installed on my phone to prove I didn’t have a problem, told me that my average total daily iPhone use added up over two hours.

On my worst day, I spent 7 hours and 41 minutes on my iPhone.

As a UX designer and qualitative researcher, this was not only alarming but also fascinating. I wanted to know what it was that kept hooked on my phone. I researched mobile phone addiction (it sounded dramatic), I tried a 30-day-off-Facebook challenge (but still clocked considerable time on my phone). I also spoke with others. It appeared that many felt equally drawn to their smartphones but no one quite understood why.

Then came the Watch.
Everything changed when I got my Apple Watch. Within twenty-four hours of wearing it, I forgot where my iPhone was for the first time.

(Via Jay Kannan.)


How World of Warcraft led to Glassdoor » Business Insider

Julie Bort:

in 2006, Hohman quit a fabulous job as president of Hotwire to do nothing but play the game. Full time. For a year.

And the second he hit the highest level, the itch to play was scratched, and he needed a new thing to obsess over. So he launched a startup.

In his words: “I took a year off and played World of Warcraft. I would pat the kids on the bottom every morning, send them to school and then I would dominate as an Orc Warrior.”

He adds, “I played for a year nonstop and then I hit the maximum level in WoW. I was maniacal in chasing this goal and literally the next day I started a company, Glassdoor.”

The meaning of ‘community’
The year of WoW helped him decide the kind of company he wanted to build.

“I learned from playing WoW about community. It was the first time I really felt part of a online community. I’d be up the morning and be excited to see my guild. Isn’t that nerdy?” he laughs.

Yes. Yes, it is. But it’s hard to argue with success: he learnt the difference between offline and online community through that experience. (Arguably, he could have learnt it in less time than a year.)


Press me! The buttons that lie to you » BBC Future

Chris Baraniuk:

Computer scientist Eytan Adar at the University of Michigan has described a series of fascinating “benevolent deceptions” in a paper co-written with two Microsoft researchers. Take the 1960s 1ESS telephone system for instance. After dialling, a caller’s connection would sometimes fail to go through properly. Instead of a dead tone or error noise, the system would instead simply route the call to a completely different person. “The caller, thinking that she had simply misdialled, would hang up and try again: disruption decreased and the illusion of an infallible phone system preserved,” notes the paper.

Adar and his co-authors also describe how Skype phone calls today sometimes contain “fake static noise” because when users experience a completely noise free line, they are prone to thinking that the call has in fact dropped. A quick Google search reveals that there are plenty of examples of fake noises. From pre-recorded car door slams to artificial shutter sounds made by digital cameras, the world is full of noises designed to delight users and reassure them that the device is working as intended.

Those noises deserve a word of their own, rather like onomatopeia.


Snapchat debuts video ads for 2 cents per view » Adweek

Snapchat wants companies to know its not just for millennials: Advertisers can find a home there as well. At the Daily Mail/Elite Daily Digital Content NewFronts presentation Thursday, the platform announced it would be unveiling 10-second ads that cost 2 cents per view.
The new ad offering creates a new way for Snapchat Discover publishers to generate revenue. Daily Mail North America CEO Jon Steinberg said his company was standing by to create those snaps for brands.

Another American platform using adverts to monetise. I often wonder whether if US TV were more like the (licence fee-subsidised, ad-free) UK’s BBC whether “advertise for money” would be a less reflexive monetisation strategy.


Start up: Apple squeezes leakers, Google pushes health, Samsung exiting Japan?, tablet puzzles, and more


Yes, human, I’m registering how you kicked me on that icy day in the parking lot. Let’s see how you like it in a few years.

A selection of 10 links for you. Spread to taste. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple threatens to ban iPhone, iPad accessory makers that design based on leaks » 9to5Mac

Jordan Kahn:

Apple is working to step up the secrecy surrounding future iPhone and iPad models by targeting a frequent source of leaks: third-party accessory makers. 9to5Mac has learned that in fall 2014, just before the iPhone 6 launched, Apple demanded that a number of leading accessory makers sign agreements barring them from seeking out information about future Apple devices, according to four sources with first-hand knowledge of the matter.

On one hand, the agreement dangled the loss of “future business opportunities that Apple and/or its affiliates may present to you” as a potential consequence of violating or not signing the agreement.

Ah. This would explain why, when I was interviewing companies for my piece about the size of the iPhone accessory market after its launch, they were very quick to deny any suggestion that they based their designs on leaked prototypes – even though there seemed no other explanation.


Introducing Spot » YouTube

Boston Dynamics (owned by Google) shows off its quadruped robot, Spot (in the video at the top of the post). Notable how the back legs have the same hinging mechanism as horses and other quadrupeds – though the front ones do too. And it can withstand being kicked and keep its balance on icy ground.

Scary. Imagine one of these chasing you over open ground or through a forest.


A remedy for your health-related questions: health info in the Knowledge Graph » Official Google Blog

Product manager Prem Ramaswami:

this stuff really matters: one in 20 Google searches are for health-related information. And you should find the health information you need more quickly and easily.

So starting in the next few days, when you ask Google about common health conditions, you’ll start getting relevant medical facts right up front from the Knowledge Graph. We’ll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is — whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more. For some conditions you’ll also see high-quality illustrations from licensed medical illustrators. Once you get this basic info from Google, you should find it easier to do more research on other sites around the web, or know what questions to ask your doctor.

We worked with a team of medical doctors (led by our own Dr. Kapil Parakh, M.D., MPH, Ph.D.) to carefully compile, curate, and review this information. All of the gathered facts represent real-life clinical knowledge from these doctors and high-quality medical sources across the web, and the information has been checked by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

That doesn’t mean these search results are intended as medical advice.

If I were a family doctor, I think I’d read this with a sense of foreboding, in the expectation of seeing many more hypochondriac patients quite soon.


Chinese hackers attack blue-chip groups via Forbes website » FT.com

Sam Jones and Hannah Kuchler, in a piece that is basically a roundup of “who got hacked today” (also separately including Twitter’s CFO and Newsweek’s Twitter account):

Visitors to Forbes who worked for defence companies and banks were those who were subsequently targeted most, Mr McBride said.

“An attacker would choose to use a major publisher because it is a legitimate website that earns the trust of users who visit on a regular basis with confidence,” said Oren Falkowitz, a former NSA employee who runs Area 1 Security, another cyber security firm. “What they want is a platform with a large audience so they can get the users that they want in that pool and then be very discriminating about who they want to go to the next stage with.”

The attack was launched through Forbes’ “thought for the day” pop-up screen that welcomes visitors to the site and is run using Adobe software.

Codoso, the Chinese hacking group, was able to exploit the pop-up because of a loophole they had discovered in Adobe’s software. A second loophole then enabled them to bypass security on Microsoft operating systems that would ordinarily have blocked the attack.

I’ve never had Flash on my phone, and I’ve removed it from my laptop. Its only real purpose now is as an avenue for malware.


Samsung considers withdrawing smartphone business from Japan » BusinessKorea

Jung Suk-yee:

Samsung Electronics chose Japan as the first country in which to release the Galaxy Note Edge in October 2014, where YOUM technology was used on both sides of the phone. The company made its bid to increase its share of the Japanese market, the world’s largest premium market, through the new model. However, the results were not good. 

According to industry sources on Feb. 9, Samsung is in a quandary over its struggling smartphone business in Japan. Some in the company are reportedly saying that continuing the business only causes losses rather than profits. 

The Korean tech giant accounted for 4% of the Japanese smartphone market as of December of last year, which put the firm in 6th place. Samsung was kept out of the top 5 for two years, and its share decreased from 17% to 4%. 

Apple topped the list, and Sony and Sharp followed. The Galaxy Note Edge only sold tens of thousands of units for four months after its launch.

Not clear if those tens of thousands of sales are for Japan, or worldwide. But it feels like it makes sense to withdraw from a market that only causes you pain and loss. Samsung already pulled out of the TV business in Japan back in 2007 – and that hasn’t hurt its position as the biggest TV maker in the world.

But it’s getting into the withdrawing habit a bit. Pulled out of PCs in Europe.. smartphones in Japan.. what next?


About that UK digital biz renaissance? Not so fast » The Register

Marcus Gibson:

The Tech City quango last week claimed to conduct the “first national” survey of the UK’s digital businesses, covering 2,000 companies, according to a report in the Financial Times. The quango’s survey drew on a youthful database firm DueDil, run by US-born, Groton-educated Damian Kimmelman, and it makes a number of questionable methodological assumptions.

Although Kimmelman does not list it as a source, the report appears to be based on the number of new companies being registered at Companies House. This is a dangerous move, and one that is avoided by experienced trend-watchers. Why? Many firms give the address of their accountant or lawyer, or the owner’s home address – not their office address. (The Register is based in London, but its administrative address for Companies House purposes is in Southport).

Secondly, tens of thousands of foreign-born individuals have registered themselves as companies in order to buy UK homes and avoid stamp duty. DueDil’s own survey of immigrant-founded startups a few years ago listed more than 600 new firms in the Reading-Bracknell area started by German nationals – though we couldn’t find any evidence of any dramatic surge in new companies there. It makes geographic surveys hazardous if not impossible.

Bear this in mind for the next time you’re told there’s “documentary evidence” of London being a super-amazing explosive site for tech company creation. It might be, but this isn’t the proof that’s needed.


Cyanogen tapping tech giants to build war chest for a non-Google Android » Re/code

Ina Fried:

Beyond who ends up signing up for the round, Cyanogen’s valuation is significant, especially for a company that has yet to show how it can make significant revenue from its efforts. As with Google’s flavor of Android, the core of Cyanogen’s offering — CyanogenMod — is free and open source. Cyanogen the company, meanwhile, could make money by bundling other services and software on top of the open source core.

In theory, it could put together a flavor of Android that bundled together services from, say, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, in much the same way the Google version of Android bundles YouTube, Chrome, Gmail and the Google Play store, among other services.

The company’s most significant deal is one to provide its software on phones sold by India’s Micromax. It has also made a number of high-profile hires in the last year as it expands both its technical and business ranks.

I wonder if Google is at all worried by this. The Micromax deal is important, because that’s now the largest smartphone OEM in India.


The rumoured Google MVNO: what’s likely & unlikely? » Disruptive Wireless

Dean Bubley on “those rumours”, which he mostly downplays:

One possibility for Google could be a unique form of pricing rather than standard “monthly plans” – perhaps part-subsidised by itself or others, perhaps customised on a per-user basis. (My idea from a couple of years ago was insurance-style pricing for mobile data). A “freemium” model could also work. This could be adjusted based on the balance of WiFi vs. cellular access, whether the user tended to consume advertising-rich apps, and so on. 

All that said, unless this is just another Google small-scale experiment, it would be extremely tough for it to scale to millions or tens of millions of users, without huge investments in sales and support infrastructure.

Instead, perhaps a likelier option is that this is – like Apple’s SIM – a tablet-oriented service rather than a smartphone-based one. This gets around two problems – firstly, it doesn’t need a conventional numbered “phone service”, and secondly it can be pitched to the operator partners as a way of adding extra cellular devices to the market, rather than competing for market share of existing ones. Data-only connections also don’t come with lots of the traditional perceptual baggage of being a “monthly plan”.

Remember how excited everyone got over the Apple SIM? Notice how it’s had virtually zero impact? And take note of Bubley’s “what not to expect” list (which is long).


TurboTax temporarily suspends e-filings on fraud concerns » WSJ

The largest online tax-software company in the U.S. temporarily halted electronic filing of all state returns after more than a dozen states spotted criminal attempts to obtain refunds through its systems.

Intuit Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif., said Friday that its TurboTax unit stopped transmitting state e-filing tax returns Thursday after seeing attempts to use stolen personal information to file fraudulent returns for tax refunds.

Intuit wasn’t hacked, but there have been so many breaches of systems that US usernames and passwords are easy to come by – they’re like air for criminals.


Tablet vendors taking new strategies to rekindle sales in 2015 » Digitimes

Apple’s shipments of iPad devices in 2014 also highlighted the falling momentum of tablets, said the sources, noting that shipments of iPad devices slid 14% on year to 63.4 million units in the year.

Additionally, consumers’ enthusiasm over iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 launched in October 2014 has not been strong, said the sources. Shipments of other tablets, including those from Xiaomi Technology and HTC (the Nexus 9) have also been lower than expected.

Apple’s strategy of launching the anticipated 12-inch iPad aims to create a new application market to revive the declining trend, the sources commented.

Notebook vendors, including Asustek Computer, Acer and Lenovo, are expected to reduce their R&D projects for tablets although they will continue to roll out tablets in order to maintain their bargaining chips for the purchase of related parts and components, as well as their brand images, said the sources.

I’ve heard from an industry source that HTC shipped fewer than 100,000 Nexus 9s in the fourth quarter. I’d really love to see some stats for usage of Android tablets with Android apps (ie not YouTube or simple web browsing). I suspect it’s really low despite how well Android tablets sell.)