Start up: Apple’s Sonos rival?, Nokia’s smartwatch, three-ton Twitter, Netscape in the NHS, and more

Sunday Times sourcing? Photo by DrJohn2005 on Flickr

A selection of 8 links for you. Why not? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple Music’s missing link: how Beats Electronics fumbled its Sonos killer (EXCLUSIVE) » Variety

Janko Roettgers:

Beats was looking to build a premium product that would mimic and compete with wireless speakers produced by Sonos. Like Sonos, Beats wanted to give consumers the option to place speakers in multiple rooms of their house, and then have them all play the same music synchronously. And like Sonos, Beats was looking to introduce a bigger, more powerful speaker for the living room first, and then follow up with a smaller, more affordable product for the kitchen and bedroom.

However, Beats wasn’t just looking to copy Sonos. The company was also working on combining Bluetooth with Wifi and NFC to allow for seamless handovers, effectively making it possible to launch music playback as soon as you’d enter the room, said a source familiar with technical details of the project. And thanks to its premium brand, Beats wasn’t looking to undercut Sonos — quite the contrary: Word has it the company was looking to sell its bigger Wifi speaker for as much as $750.

1) wouldn’t have been a Sonos killer
2) this is utterly random, but my next-door neighbour works in the (legal) pharma industry, and four months ago told me the story of going to a party in San Diego where “people from Apple” were talking about exactly this device. So I’m inclined to believe it, weirdly. Also, my neighbour’s reaction: “I said, so you’ve reinvented the boombox?” Probably why it was canned.

Apple’s WWDC keynote: issues with structure, approach, direction » Mobile Forward

Hristo Daniel Ushev on the messy Apple WWDC keynote:

Ultimately, the issues above are symptoms of weak (or hand-cuffed) direction. Not just in the form of what to do (e.g., don’t have Eddy Cue focus on the app) but also in terms of what not to do – i.e., editing. Editing in this context: shortening the list of presenters, directing them to use fewer slides (at one point, they flashed by like pages in a flip book), and saying no to distracting uses of humor and movement. When viewed through this lens, I think this keynote lacked a director. Or at least one that could effectively influence the senior executives and the choices they made. (Believe me, I’m not saying any of this is easy.)

Will all this impact the products’ success? Not directly. Indirectly, however, key influencers of consumers (developers, fans, and journalists) may get a fuzzier picture of Apple’s intent or advantage.

The music segment was terrible. The rest, fine.

Sunday Times Snowden story is journalism at its worst » The Intercept

Glenn Greenwald on the Sunday Times’s story – its front-page lead (aka “splash”) claiming that UK intelligence agencies “had to move” agents and that Russia and China “had cracked” the files (here’s text of the print version; try reading it first):

how could these hidden British officials possibly know that China and Russia learned things from the Snowden files as opposed to all the other hacking and spying those countries do? Moreover, as pointed out last night by my colleague Ryan Gallagher – who has worked for well over a year with the full Snowden archive – “I’ve reviewed the Snowden documents and I’ve never seen anything in there naming active MI6 agents.” He also said: “I’ve seen nothing in the region of 1m documents in the Snowden archive, so I don’t know where that number has come from.”

Greenwald is furious, and rightly so. The Sunday Times story is clearly hung on a single quote from a UK intelligence agency source, but one which doesn’t support the story’s claims. The Snowden archive is vast, but putting a number on it is surprisingly difficult, because it has interrelated files – there’s an almost wiki-like quality to some parts.

Given that the UK (and US) intelligence agencies don’t claim to know what’s in the Snowden files, they can’t know what the Russians or Chinese know from it – if for the sake of credulity we believe that the Russians and Chinese have cracked the encryption, which I seriously doubt.

When I used to work Sunday shifts as a news reporter at The Independent, I often had to “follow up” stories that appeared in the Sunday Times. The problem was, as soon as you began trying to establish the facts they claimed, the stories fell apart – the claims didn’t match reality. This is another example, although that hasn’t stopped the BBC repeating it (though an analysis by Gordon Corera in the middle of this straight-up followup rather backs away from the Sunday Times claims).

Microsoft Moonraker was Nokia’s smartwatch before it was killed » The Verge

Tom Warren:

Nokia’s Moonraker smartwatch never made it to market primarily because Microsoft was anticipating its wearable Band. While the Moonraker had a number of sensors to allow you to lift your arm to read texts or drop it to turn off the display, Microsoft opted for the Band as it had more functionality. Nokia took the familiar “Metro” interface from Windows Phone and paired it with simple email, phone, and messaging apps on its smartwatch. There was even a camera remote feature to take pictures on a smartphone from the watch. Facebook and MixRadio integration was also built-in, alongside customizable watch faces and different colored straps.

It’s unlikely that the “Moonraker” will ever make it to the market, but given time Microsoft may want to bring some of the more fashion-related aspects of it over to the Band in the future. Microsoft is now working on the second generation of its Band. While the software platform on the upcoming Microsoft Band 2 will remain largely the same, the look and feel of the device will improve. Microsoft is expected to launch its next-generation Band later this year after Windows 10 is available broadly.

The UI looks unfinished in the photos. And would it have worked only with Windows Phone? If so, it was dead already.

The Twitter of the three-ton nail » Medium

Zeynep Tufekci on Twitter’s “metric-driven” approach to please Wall Street:

if you set up an absurd game, as Wall Street often does, ruled by the incentives of those who set the rules (their quarterly bonus calculations depend on chasing growth for the sake of growth), people will, naturally, game the system and produce the results you want, just as absurdly.

At the moment, sadly, Wall Street is not solely a representative of market dynamics, but also a collective madness imposed upon us by the distorted over-accumulation of capital in the hands of too-few people. This “elite failure” has repercussions beyond my beloved platform: from global warming to revving up global growth (you can’t grow demand if people don’t make money) but in a sustainable manner (because the annual bonus is not the right time-frame). We are paying the price for having surrendered our economy to a game that is not about some independent logic of the market, but the absurdity of accumulating more zeroes in a bank account (which you cannot spend in any reasonable lifetime).

If you’re not following @zeynep, you should. She’s so incisive.

Misunderstood or inappropriate mobile benchmarks are hurting the industry and consumers » Forbes

Patrick Moorhead:

Because of the creation, use and promotion of these inaccurate, misunderstood, and/or gameable  benchmarks, we are seeing smartphone manufacturers and SoC vendors dedicating time and engineering resources to ensuring that their performance in these benchmarks is up to expectations. After all, if so many people are using or mischaracterizing AnTuTu and Geekbench, it lends them credibility even when it shouldn’t.

Or vendors are adding features that make the misrepresentative benchmarks look better, like by adding more CPU cores beyond what any piece of software can use to improve the experience outside of battery life.

Additionally, because so many reputable tech blogs don’t run ANY benchmarks at all, they are essentially giving the ones that do more credibility when they show AnTuTu and other benchmarks.

I trust Anandtech (as does Moorhead), but most other benchmarks strike me as crap because they tell you nothing about experience. Google’s Project Butter (smoother scrolling) and Project Volta (longer battery life) and focus, in Android M, on standby life tells us that benchmarks tell you barely anything about real-life use.

Exclusive: BlackBerry may put Android system on new device: sources » Reuters

Euan Rocha:

BlackBerry is considering equipping an upcoming smartphone with Google’s Android software for the first time, an acknowledgement that its revamped line of devices has failed to win mass appeal, according to four sources familiar with the matter.

The move would be an about-face for the Waterloo, Ontario-based company, which had shunned Android in a bet that its BlackBerry 10 line of phones would be able to claw back market share lost to Apple’s iPhone and a slew of devices powered by Android.

The sources, who asked not to be named as they have not been authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the move to use Android is part of BlackBerry’s strategy to pivot to focus on software and device management. BlackBerry, which once dominated smartphone sales, now has a market share of less than 1%.

Rocha is based in Toronto. I’d trust his sources. Can’t see why BlackBerry thinks this is a good idea though. It’s losing money on handsets; this would be a way to get commoditised out of the solar system, and lose its faithful buyers too.

NHS browser statistics » LinkedIn

Mark Reynolds:

Have you wondered what technology the NHS uses? We gather anonymous statistics on those using NHSmail and so have a good picture of technology across healthcare in England and Scotland.

88% of users access the service via Windows, with 8% on Macs and 3% on Linux. Amazingly we have a user browsing NHSmail using their Wii, which suggests dedication to the cause or spoofing the browser data. 65% of users are on Windows 7, followed by XP (20%) and Vista (3%). Windows 8 usage is too low to register. 

Microsoft Internet Explorer dominates browser statistics at 73%, followed by Chrome (13%), Safari (7%), Mozilla (5%) and Firefox (2%). 0.9% of traffic comes from Netscape! Internet Explorer 7 and 8 account for 61% of the traffic, with IE 11 too low to register.

Two things: Netscape > Windows 8. Also: XP > Vista + Windows 8. That’s inertia.

Worth comparing with stats for web browsing.

Start up: Chromebooks beat iPads, Netscape’s growing pains, OnePlus’s India problem, Nexus 9 before and after, and more

The inside of Peter Morgan’s eye.

A selection of 12 links for you. Clean regularly. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter – observations and links welcome. (Note: I’ve tweaked – I hope – the font size on each link entry. If the spacing seems off, suggest a better CSS for it. I’m all ears, having twiddled with it to little satisfaction.)

Google overtakes Apple in the US classroom >>


Apple has lost its longstanding lead over Google in US schools, with Chromebook laptop computers overtaking iPads for the first time as the most popular new device for education authorities purchasing in bulk for students.

Google shipped 715,500 of the low-cost laptops into US schools in the third quarter, compared with 702,000 iPads, according to IDC, the market research firm. Chromebooks, which sell for as little as $199, have gone from a standing start two years ago to more than a quarter of the market.

It marks the first time Google has outsold its rival and consolidates a lead it opened up over Apple this year in the broader education market, which includes higher education establishments, as it closes in on Microsoft Windows, the market leader.

The multibillion-dollar education market has become a battleground for hardware makers trying to win the loyalties of the next generation of consumers. It has traditionally been dominated by Windows devices, which have a decades-long head start on iPads and Chromebooks, but schools are increasingly turning to lower-cost alternatives.

A $500m schools contract in Los Angeles was going to be all-iPad – and then the deal hit the rocks, and LA went for Chromebooks instead.

Peek Retina >> Indiegogo

What is Peek Retina?
It’s a clip-on camera adapter that gives high quality images of the back of the eye and the retina. This helps us to diagnose cataracts, glaucoma and many other eye diseases, ready for treatment.

It has been developed by an award-winning team of experts in eye care, engineering and technology.

Peek Retina combines both a traditional ophthalmoscope and a retinal camera in a mobile phone, providing a portable, affordable and easy way to carry out comprehensive examinations.

It sits neatly over the top of the device allowing a healthcare worker to easily take high-quality images of the back of the eye. It feels much less intrusive for the patient too.

The aim is to bring it to the millions of people who need affordable eye care in poorer regions. A donation would make a great Christmas gift. Or buy one for yourself.

A letter to our Indian users >> OnePlus Blog

This week, we announced that the OnePlus One will finally launch in India on December 2, 2014. This has been a long time coming both for our Indian fans, who have been incredibly patient, and everyone behind the scenes who have been working towards this moment since June.

OnePlus and all of our partners, including Cyanogen, have put countless hours of work into making this launch a success. Just last month, on October 7, Cyanogen released the 38R OTA update which included SAR values inside phone settings to comply with Indian regulations. Therefore, it was surprising and disappointing to hear from Cyanogen on November 26 that they had granted exclusive rights in India over the Cyanogen system to another company. Prior to this, OnePlus and Cyanogen have successfully cooperated to release the OnePlus One or carry out commercial operations in 17 countries and regions (including India). It is truly unfortunate that a commitment we both made to our Indian users will now not be upheld.

Cyanogen’s exclusive partner in India: home-grown Micromax. OnePlus’s solution: set up physical places where it will flash peoples’ OnePlus phones to the newest system. That’s going to be expensive.

Smartphones to commoditise like PCs; margins to contract >> Fitch Ratings

The margins of Asian smartphone makers are likely to contract in the medium term amid heightened competition and product commoditisation, says Fitch Ratings. The slowing pace of hardware development, and more manufacturers achieving a threshold level of build quality and functionality, means that the rapid growth of lower-cost smartphone producers will challenge market-leading incumbents and reduce profitability.

The smartphone industry runs the risk of following the cycle seen in PCs, where device-makers’ share of the value chain was squeezed by competition and where operating systems and applications software have become more important to consumers than hardware from a specific manufacturer. The dominance of Microsoft’s operating systems and applications enabled this trend in PCs. In smartphones, this trend may be facilitated by the Android operating system and the open environment for third-party application developers…

…Fitch expects that Samsung’s credit profile will remain solid, given its technology leadership, integrated structure and wider product range. Apple too is relatively well positioned owing to its strong brand value and ecosystem. Outside the big two, established brands such as LG Electronics, Sony, HTC and Nokia, will face stiffer competition from low-cost Chinese vendors.

It’s the value trap all over again.

Uber Josh Mohrer: New York’s general manager is facing disciplinary action over privacy violations >> Slate

Uber said Friday that it has concluded an investigation of New York City general manager Josh Mohrer for alleged privacy violations and has “taken disciplinary actions” against him.

Uber began looking into Mohrer 10 days ago after BuzzFeed’s Johana Bhuiyan reported that Mohrer had accessed her Uber travel data without her permission on multiple occasions. In one instance earlier this month, Bhuiyan arrived for a meeting with Mohrer at Uber’s New York headquarters in Long Island City to find him waiting for her. “There you are,” she recalled him telling her. “I was tracking you.”

Reached Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Uber declined to comment on any specifics of the “disciplinary actions” or discuss what might have prompted them other than the BuzzFeed report.

Somehow unsurprising that Uber would go for undisclosed self-regulation on this.

The best travel gear of 2014 >> Co.Design

If you need an unusual present for someone who’s always in and out of airports, or rides a bike, or needs an umbrella, here you go. Some great ideas in here.

Is Monument Valley overpriced? Yes. >> Terence Eden’s Blog

We live in times of desperate austerity. When you say “well, it’s only the price of a cup of coffee!” you utterly fail to realise that for many people Starbucks represents an unobtainable level of decadent spending.
People have hard lives. After working two jobs, slumped on an endless night bus home, they want relief from the pain and tedium of the working day. Pulling out an old phone – perhaps a hand-me-down, or one bought in happier times – they want to spend what little disposable income they have wisely. Something that gives them bang for their buck.

Renting a movie, like Transformers, works out at £1.30 per hour of enjoyment. Twice as cheap as Monument Valley.

Reading a book, knitting, chatting on the phone with a friend – all cheaper.

As the reviewer [quoted earlier in the post] said – there are many games which are just as good looking as Monument Valley, with far longer play times. Often for free.

This is a classic “functional pricing” argument, which I find is much more widely made (especially over PCs and smartphones and tablets, where “measurement” seems superficially easy – x GHz processor, y RAM, z hard drive storage). It’s also meaningless. I wouldn’t rent Transformers; you could offer it to me free and I wouldn’t watch it. Why? Because in my view it’s crap. Therefore no (non-negative) price is sufficiently low for me.

By contrast, I find Monument Valley to be fascinating, clever, unexpected, memorable – all those things that for me Transformers is not. As for other games that have longer play times and are free – sure, but is Doodle Jump or Angry Birds as memorable as Monument Valley?

I don’t often disagree with Eden, but this seems to me a classic case of mistaking price and value. Equally, it’s one that lots of people make when it comes to apps – which is the problem app makers face.

An Interactive Scale of the Universe Tool

From the teeny tiny to the gianty–… anyway. Terrific way to feel small. (Via Jake Davis.)

The BlackBerry Passport enigma: TCOB-machine or “worst designed thing, ever” >> Ars Technica

Sean Gallagher:

When viewed in the right light, the Passport ends up looking pretty. It was unexpectedly the best smartphone we’ve ever used from the perspective of taking care of business. Yes, it benchmarks somewhat below phones in its price range on the tests that would run in the BlackBerry 10 OS. And there’s still a significant “app gap” between the Passport and competing devices. But that’s all background noise when you use the Passport as it’s intended—as an information and communications machine, designed for people who still live and die by the e-mail inbox rather than iMessages and Hangouts and Snapchats.

Unlike this one, most reviews of the Passport miss its point – it’s not a general-purpose smartphone. It’s a BlackBerry.

The baffling and beautiful wormhole between branches of math >> WIRED

Lee Simmons, capitalising on the fact that “wormhole” is a key phrase at the moment (because of Interstellar) and hey, maybe this is new! But it isn’t. If you don’t know Euler’s identity equation, you’re in for a treat though:

the weirdest thing about Euler’s formula — given that it relies on imaginary numbers — is that it’s so immensely useful in the real world. By translating one type of motion into another, it lets engineers convert messy trig problems (you know, sines, secants, and so on) into more tractable algebra—like a wormhole between separate branches of math. It’s the secret sauce in Fourier transforms used to digitize music, and it tames all manner of wavy things in quantum mechanics, electron ics, and signal processing; without it, computers might not exist.

Nexus 9 made on Thursday vs before launch buttons comparison >> Nexus9

Poster “Sebianoti” posted a picture of his old and new Nexus 9 tablets, and commented:

Today my new Nexus 9 arrived, it was manufactured last week, it was shipped to me on Friday from Taiwan and it arrived today. It’s my replacement to my faulty one with extreme light bleed and buttons that are almost impossible to press, as you can see that’s one issue that’s been fixed. This may be the first Nexus 9 in white that has the buttons fixed, at least that’s what HTC’s AVP told me. Light bleed is still present however it’s nowhere near as bad as before.

Seems like damning with faint praise. The LTE version has apparently been delayed. HTC isn’t covering the Nexus name with glory here (and replacements aren’t going to help its bottom line).

Excerpts from my diary of early days at Netscape >> Jamie Zawinski

Here are some excerpts from my diary during the first few months of the existence of Netscape Communications (All Praise the Company), back when we were still called Mosaic. Back when there were only 20 or 30 of us, instead of however-many thousands of people there are today. Back before we had any middle managers.

This is the time period that is traditionally referred to as “the good old days”, but time always softens the pain and makes things look like more fun than they really were. But who said everything has to be fun? Pain builds character. (Sometimes it builds products, too.)

So you want to go work for a startup? Perhaps this will serve as a cautionary tale…

The first one starts at 4am. SGI hardware, Irix 5.3… but the same frustration that will be recognisable to many startups. It starts in July. By September:

We’re doomed.

We’ve finally announced a public beta to the net, and there are loads of bugs, and they’re hard bugs, sucky, hardware-dependent ones. Some of our private beta testers crash at startup on some SunOS 4.1.3 systems, and I’ve got what seems like an identical system here and it doesn’t crash. And scrolling text doesn’t work with the OpenWindows X server, though it works fine elsewhere.

(Via Steve Werby.)