Start up: Facebook’s real origin, Apple’s political underspend, Samsung’s unbranding, the electric oil crisis, and more

Nintendo’s 3DS: not propping up sales so well as in the past. Photo by Ian Muttoo on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cratering portable sales can’t prop up Nintendo’s business anymore » Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

»A new revision to Nintendo’s projected earnings, released [on Friday], sees Nintendo reducing its expectations of Nintendo 3DS sales for the full fiscal year, which ends in March. Nintendo now expects to sell 6.6m 3DS units during the 12-month period, a 13% drop from previous projections and a 24% decline from the year before. That drop (and the accompanying drop in 3DS software sales projections) is a big reason why Nintendo is now also saying that its annual profits will be 50% lower than it had projected, though the company blames some of that decline on the weakening Japanese yen.

You might think this kind of decline is natural for a system like the 3DS, which is, after all, approaching its fifth birthday. But previous Nintendo handhelds have looked much more robust at this point in their lifecycles. The Nintendo DS was still near the peak of its hardware sales dominance in its fifth and sixth years, selling a whopping 31.18m units in the 2009 fiscal year (and a healthy 27.11m the next year). Game Boy Advance sales were still near a steady peak in the 2005-2006 period, bouncing up and down in the 15m to 18m annual sales range, thanks in part to the successful Game Boy Advance SP hardware refresh.

The 3DS, on the other hand, seems to have peaked earlier and lower than other Nintendo handhelds.

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In short, Nintendo is predicting that its revenues in FY2016 will be lower than its profits in FY09. It’s taken a while, but smartphones are beginning to undermine it. (Might it be that those who had a Nintendo handheld in 2009 are now updating with a smartphone?)
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The true story of how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook » Business Insider

Biz Carson:

»In the Hollywood-stylized version, a Harvard student needed a tool to date girls.

The real version couldn’t be further from the truth, Mark Zuckerberg told Mathias Döpfner in an interview with “Die Welt am Sonntag.”

At the time, he already had a girlfriend — Priscilla Chan, now his wife — and he was obsessed with the internet. Google was great for searching for news and Wikipedia was great for searching for reference material, but there was a gap.

“There was no tool where you could go and learn about other people. I didn’t know how to build that so instead I started building little tools,” Zuckerberg told Döpfner.

He built a small tool called Coursematch where people could list what classes they were taking. He did build the Facematch tool, as seen in “The Social Network,” but that was just a prank, he says.

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Rewrite of an interview with Die Welt am Sonntag (The World On Sunday).
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Here’s how electric cars will cause the next oil crisis » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Tom Randall:

»In the next few years, Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan plan to start selling long-range electric cars in the $30,000 range. Other carmakers and tech companies are investing billions on dozens of new models. By 2020, some of these will cost less and perform better than their gasoline counterparts. The aim would be to match the success of Tesla’s Model S, which now outsells its competitors in the large luxury class in the U.S. The question then is how much oil demand will these cars displace? And when will the reduced demand be enough to tip the scales and cause the next oil crisis?

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A crisis in the form of a glut.
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When the “Apple Encryption Issue” reached Piers Morgan » mobilephonesecurity

David Rogers does mobile phone forensics and teachers a mobile systems security course. Piers Morgan (who used to edit the Daily Mirror, which has apologised to some people for phone hacking) did however claim that he could take the FBI/Farook iPhone “to Tottenham Court Road [an electronics mecca in London) and they’d get into it” – suggesting that he might have confused carrier unlocking with PIN unlocking. Here’s Rogers on the tricky rapids to be navigated in deciding if we can force companies to unlock encrypted devices:

»Remember, someone who has actually committed a crime is probably going to say they didn’t do it. The phone data itself is usually more reliable than witnesses and defendant testimony in telling the story of what actually happened and criminals know that. I’ve been involved with digital forensics for mobile devices in the past and have seen first-hand the conviction of criminals who continually denied having committed a serious crime, despite their phone data stating otherwise. This has brought redress to their victim’s families and brought justice for someone who can no longer speak.

On the other side of course, we’re carrying these objects around with us every day and the information can be intensely private. We don’t want criminals or strangers to steal that information. The counter-argument is that the mechanisms and methods to facilitate access to encrypted material would fall into the hands of the bad guys. And this is the challenge we face – there is absolutely no easy answer to this. People are also worried that authoritarian regimes will use the same tools to help further oppress their citizens and make it easier for the state to set people up. Sadly I think that is going to happen anyway in some of those places, with or without this issue being in play…

…This is the same battle that my colleagues in the mobile world fight on a daily basis – a hole is found and exploited and we fix it; a continual technological arms race to see who can do the better job. Piers Morgan has a point, just badly put – given enough time, effort and money the San Bernadino device and encryption could be broken into – it will just be a hell of a lot. It won’t be broken by a guy in a shop on Tottenham Court Road (see my talk on the history of mobile phone hacking to understand this a bit more).

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Apple’s $120M jury verdict against Samsung destroyed on appeal » Ars Technica

Joe Mullin:

»Apple’s second high-profile patent win against Samsung was appealed, just as the first was. And in an opinion (PDF) published today, a panel of appeals judges entirely wiped out Apple’s victory and its $120 million verdict.

The new decision found that out of three different patents Apple became famous for winning with, one wasn’t infringed and two of them are invalid.

The ‘647 patent described how to turn phone numbers and other software “structures” into links, allowing users to take actions like calling a number with one “click” rather than copying and pasting. The jury awarded Apple $98.7 million based on that patent, but the appeals judges today held that the patent wasn’t infringed at all. They held that “Apple failed to prove, as a matter of law, that the accused Samsung products use an ‘analyzer server’ as we have previously construed that term.”

Appeals judges also invalidated one of Apple’s most consistently ridiculed patents, the ‘721 “slide to unlock” patent. Jurors awarded $3 million based on infringement of that patent, but the appeals panel said the patent is invalid because of prior art.

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This whole patent thing ends up as Bobby in the shower. “Patent trials? What patent trials?”
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Six Hot Media Startups to Watch in 2016 » Al Jazeera America

Sadly this piece by @ProfJeffJarvis (in reality Rurik Bradbury) was deleted by Al Jazeera, which either didn’t recognise its satirical slant ahead of publication, or did and then got cold feet. But it’s still here at the Internet Archive, with gems like this:

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The New Republic

The oldest startup here, it went through a significant reboot with its March 2012 purchase by Chris Hughes, tech mogul and co-founder of Facebook. It has since innovated so quickly that it is about to be re-rebooting under even newer ownership (name TBD), a great example of the rapid iteration that is characteristic of the best startups.

Instead of the old questions about subjective, qualitative measures, Chris Hughes brought in Yahoo! wartime consigliere Guy Vidra to ask fresh questions, such as: How well did this piece travel? And does this meme even lift our metrics?

I’m excited to see the New New The New Republic, and hope they re-embrace Walter Lippmann’s original mission of nextifying the bewildered herd using hot takes.

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Nextify your thinkfluencing.
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(UPDATE: China, too!) Korean Galaxy S7 to go without Samsung branding on front » AndroidAuthority

Matthew Benson:

»Carrier branding is arguably the bread-and-butter of free promotion: crudely referred to by some as a so-called “tramp stamp” these images tend to irritate customers who would prefer their devices to be free of all superfluous clutter. Even so, manufacturer branding tends to crop up most everywhere, be it the infamous HTC “black bezel bar” or the ever-visible under-the-earpiece location that companies like Samsung opt for.

Strange then, that Samsung’s South Korean website has pictures of its new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge…devoid of such a front-facing claim to fame. Take a look:

The front Samsung logo is clearly missing from the image. In fact, it’s missing from all the renders pictured, yet the rear logo is clearly present, as can be seen above.

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Subtle messaging: Samsung really does seem to be getting rid of the visible “Samsung” name on the front of the device in China, Japan and Korea. In the first two, it has struggled recently to keep sales up in the face of competition. But why Korea? And is this an evolution of its branding (more confident) or is it concern?
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Invisible porn-clicking trojans invade Android’s Google Play store » Tripwire

Graham Cluley:

»many bogus versions of a wide range of apps (ranging from Toy Truck Rally to Subway Surfers 2 to GTA San Andreas and Tinder) have been distributed by fraudsters who wish to use your bandwidth to earn themselves affiliate income by clicking on adverts for pornographic websites.

Of course, if the apps popped up a copy of the Chrome browser to click on the X-rated ads then chances are that you would notice something unusual was afoot. Criminals have learnt from experience that announcing their presence so obviously only hinders their money-making plans.

So, in the case of “Porn Clicker”, the apps spin up an invisible browser window – meaning that any ad-clicking is invisible to the naked eye. And then, a minute or so later, it clicks again.

The money soon begins to earn cash for the criminals – which is a truth especially evident when you consider that some of the bogus apps have been downloaded thousands of times.

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Android is following exactly the same malware growth path as Windows did on the desktop.
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Android phones are easier for police to crack than iPhones » CNN

Jose Pagliery:

»A Google spokesman said that encryption is now required for all “high-performing devices” – like the Galaxy S7 – running the latest version of Android, Marshmallow. But only 1.2% of Android phones even have that version, according to Google.

By comparison, most Apple products are uniformly secure: 94% of iPhones run iOS 8 or 9, which encrypt all data. Apple makes its devices, designs the software, and retains full control of the phone’s operating system.

“If a person walks into a Best Buy and walks out with an iPhone, it’s encrypted by default. If they walk out with an Android phone, it’s largely vulnerable to to surveillance,” said Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

New York City’s top prosecutor, Cyrus Vance, has noted that Android phones have been easier to crack in the past, especially because Google can reset passcodes on older models.

Android is running on 105 million Americans’ smartphones — slightly more than the number of iPhones in the United States, according to industry trackers at comScore.

But there are ways in which an Android phone could actually be made more secure than an iPhone.

Android software can be tweaked to add all sorts of security features, like a password for a particular messaging app.

Google’s operating system also starts up only after the phone’s owner enters a passcode. That’s not true for the iPhone, which starts up as soon as you hit the power button. That’s an important detail: When confronted with a locked iPhone, police can take it to a trusted Wi-Fi connection and potentially copy the phone’s contents to iCloud on Apple’s computer servers, where investigators can then comb through the data.

Android phones won’t back up to the cloud until they’re unlocked.

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Has Apple been neglecting politics? » tofias dot net

Michael Tofias:

»To understand Apple’s efforts at persuading legislators of various issues, I compiled a measure of political footprint which combines a company’s own federally registered lobbying expenditures from 2015 with the campaign contributions they made during the 2013-14 election cycle from their corporate PAC as well as any employees who made campaign campaign contributions (and listed their employer). This data comes from the Center for Responsive Politics.

In 2015, Apple spent $4.48m on lobbying efforts and while they don’t maintain a PAC for campaign contributions, Apple employees gave a combined $130,579 in FEC-regulated campaign contributions. This adds up to a $4.61m political footprint.

In contrast, Apple’s main rival in the market for smartphones, Google, spent $16.7m on lobbying in 2015, gave $1.65m in campaign contributions via its PAC, and another $2.25m via employees during the 2013–14 election cycle for a combined $20.5m political footprint – over four times the size of Apple’s.

Apple’s political footprint is also on the small side when compared to other large companies (as measured by market capitalization on on December 31, 2015 as reported by YCharts).

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Platforms, postcodes and pushing services live: a year in the life of our platforms team » UK Ministry of Justice Digital

»Many of our services need info about postcodes, such as what addresses they cover, where they are on the map and what admin areas they fall under.

A year ago each team had used a different commercial solution, with different charging models, so our first platform was a postcode lookup service.

This combines Ordnance Survey and government data to provide one authoritative way for our applications to look up information for any postcode.

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Astonishing. This already exists in the outside world, with APIs so you don’t have to laboriously enter things by hand. And this was thought a good use of anyone’s time?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none specified.

Start up: life as an “Invisible”, why use adblocking?, how Spotify’s eating your drive, and more


BlackBerry has been a loser as smartphones have taken off in Africa. Photo by shizhao on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Surprise your friend by tweeting an inline link. Follow The Overspill on Twitter to get updates on what’s posted here. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I was an Invisible Girlfriend for a month » Fusion

Kashmir Hill tried being one of the workers who texts (but never, never sexts) with people who want not-really-just-virtual-but-real boyfriends or girlfriends:

Over all, the number of users who seemed to really want companionship outnumbered the skeptics. The founders say one user told them she was going through chemotherapy and that her real-life boyfriend had dumped her. So her invisible boyfriend had become a serious emotional support while she fought cancer.

I didn’t encounter anyone like that. Instead, I met a guy in his late 20s who wanted to have an extended conversation with his “lovingly nerdy, best-friend-turned-girlfriend” about taxidermy. He said that if he were a taxidermist, he would sew a cat to a dog. I texted, “Would you put a cat head on a dog body or a dog head on a cat body?” But I didn’t get to see his response, nor find out if the conversation was about to go to a darker place that might warrant alerting authorities.

It’s hard to put a price on love. But Crowdsource did. It’s worth a whopping five cents. That’s how much I got paid to write each of these texts.

If I spent an hour answering texts, and took the full five minutes to write each one, I’d be making 60 cents an hour, far below the minimum wage. This is legal because all the workers on the platform are classified as independent contractors rather than employees.

But of course. She’d get $5 for answering 100 texts; the service charged $15-$25 for the same.

Also, this is frighteningly reminiscent of Her, whose central character’s job is writing cards for people too busy to write cards.
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Why I’ve started using an adblocker » Three Dot Lounge

Chuq von Rospach:

The problem for me is not actually the ads. I understand sites need to pay the bills and that advertising is how many sites do that. But so many of the ads today have gotten so aggressive about hiding content from me or blaring unrelated crap into my eyes or in my ears that I have finally had it.

Beyond that, an even bigger problem for me is that more and more networks are using these advertising inclusions to install trackers and beacons to watch me as I wander around the net, and these trackers and beacons are in almost all cases things I have no way to opt out of, have never agreed to use and cannot see what’s being collected and sold about me along the way.

That is why I have finally installed an ad blocker. The ads are in many cases intrusive and annoying, but the growing trend of tracking without my permission and without any way to opt out of the tracking is abusive of me, my privacy and my online experience. And because of that, I’m now blocking the trackers and beacons that do this, and as a side effect the ads have gone away as well. This may hurt the sites that depends on the advertising, and I’m sort of sorry for that — but they are also the sites that have allowed these networks to install these tracker systems onto them, and so they are indirectly complicit in that way.

I don’t see this ending well for small or medium sites reliant on ads; the word about adblocking is going to spread relentlessly, and if it makes sites more pleasant to read then it’s going to snowball. Large sites may be able to shrug off the lure of the crud ads. Smaller ones won’t; you’re already seeing (elsewhere) the effects of the race to the bottom.
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Spotify’s swallowing your disk space – and you can’t stop it » Expert Reviews

Barry Collins:

The streaming service stores a local cache of music on users’ PCs, normally containing their most recently played tracks or music they’ve requested to be stored offline (a feature only available to Premium subscribers).

An update to Spotify earlier this year removed the option to determine where this cache was stored and to limit its size, leaving users who run the software on laptops or tablets with limited capacity SSDs fuming. “I’ve unsubbed yesterday because of this,” wrote one user on the Spotify forums. “I can’t believe how incompetent your software engineers or whoever thought of this idea to take away KEY functionaliites like cache variability and installation paths.”

“Like everyone, I have an SSD as my primary drive and [it] has a very limited space in it,” writes another customer. “With all my music save [sic] offline, Spotify is eating up almost 30% of my SSD space without my knowledge!”

An update to Spotify last week returned the feature that allowed people to select an external drive as the location for the cache. But the option to limit the size of the cache remains missing in action.

Slightly wonkish, but one to properly annoy the wonks.
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Artist arrested on suspicion of ‘abstracting electricity’ to charge iPhone on London Overground train » London Evening Standard

Tom Marshall and Laura Proto:

An artist has criticised transport police after he was arrested for using a plug on a London Overground train to charge his iPhone.

Robin Lee was handcuffed and put into a police van after using the power socket on a train from Hackney Wick to Camden Road on Friday, July 10.

The 45-year-old, who lives in Islington, said the whole episode was “ridiculous” and was first confronted on the train by a police community support officer who said he was taking the electricity illegally.

He was arrested on the platform after getting off at Camden Road. “She said I’m abstracting electricity,” he said. “She kept saying it’s a crime. We were just coming into the station, and there happened to be about four police officers on the platform. She called to them and said ‘This guy’s been abstracting electricity, he needs to be arrested’.”

The plugs say “Cleaners’ use only”. Maybe he should have said he was a cleaner. (He was arrested, and then “de-arrested”.)
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Middle East and Africa smartphone market to top 155m units in 2015 as sub-$200 segment surges » IDC

Featurephone sales fell 20%, smartphone sales grew 66% to hit 36m, or 63% of total regional phone shipments in Q1, driven by cheap Android phones:

almost half of all the smartphones shipped across Africa (45.1%) in Q1 2015 were priced below $100, while almost 75% fall under $200. Low-priced smartphones are also having a considerable impact in the Middle East, with the $100–200 price band accounting for the market’s biggest share. 

“This price bracket seems to be the sweet point for most vendors launching in the region, as well as for established vendors looking to increase their shares by targeting the lower end of the market,” says Nabila Popal, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Phone Tracker in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “This has resulted in phones priced under $200 accounting for about 36% of the Middle East smartphone market, while at the other end of the spectrum the $450+ price band has seen its share fall from 25% in Africa and 48% in the Middle East a year ago, to 14% and 34% today.”

Nigeria and South Africa contributed significantly to the overall growth seen in Africa, with the countries experiencing year-on-year growth of 135% and 56%, respectively. Nigeria accounted for 14% of all smartphone shipments across the continent during Q1 2015, while South Africa was responsible for 12%.  Samsung, Tecno, and Apple were the leading smartphone vendors in Africa during the quarter, with Huawei being ousted from the top three. The three leading vendors accounted for a combined 55% share of Africa’s smartphone shipments in Q1 2015.

Losers in this: BlackBerry (hit by BYOD) and Microsoft (both the Nokia and Lumia models).
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Nintendo president Satoru Iwata dies of cancer » FT.com

Leo Lewis makes an important point:

however dismally its successor has fared, the original Wii console, released in 2006 as the defining management feat of Mr Iwata, was revolutionary.

Even as Nintendo’s celebrated games designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, was receiving the plaudits for the Wii’s groundbreaking controllers and gameplay, the management hand of Mr Iwata was evident.

Three titles of which Mr Iwata was executive producer — Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Wii Play — were games that sold more than 130m units between them and changed not only the physical way that games were played, but the demographic universe of gaming.

In the global list of best selling video games, Nintendo reigns supreme. Of the top 40 games that have sold or been downloaded more than 15m times, 12 were released under the presidency of Mr Iwata.

One has to hope Nintendo had a really solid succession plan in place.
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Satoru Iwata was Nintendo » The Verge

Sam Byford on Nintendo’s chief executive, a skilled programmer who has died of cancer at 55:

everything Iwata did was driven by an unshakeable belief in what Nintendo is and what it stands for. Nintendo is sometimes late to certain parties, but when it does do things that people have long clamored for, like mobile games or an online service, it does so on its own terms. Iwata passionately stood against the devaluation of games, for example, which is why you won’t see ports of existing Nintendo titles on phones. And his forward-thinking perspective extended to how he ran the company on an operational level. “If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, employee morale will decrease,” he told an investor who was calling for heads to roll in 2013. “I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world.” The exchange sums up Iwata’s leadership — empathetic on a human level, yet grounded in a firm perspective that it was the right thing to do for business…

…”Trust your passion, believe in your dream,” Iwata said in an inspiring speech at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. “For 25 years, game developers have made the impossible possible. So I ask you, why would we stop now?”

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Facebook’s security chief calls for Adobe Flash to be killed off » HOTforSecurity

Graham Cluley:

Amongst those who would be happy to see the back of Adobe Flash is Alex Stamos, Facebook’s newly-appointed security chief.

In a tweet this weekend, Stamos – who is a respected member of the security community who is credited for improving the security stance of Yahoo at his previous job – said that it was time for Adobe to announce when Flash would be killed off, and for browsers to assist by dropping support at the same time.

“It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day.”

In a followup tweet, Stamos said that Adobe’s death date didn’t have to be today or tomorrow – but a date had to be set in stone for systems to be made more secure:

“Even if 18 months from now, one set date is the only way to disentangle the dependencies and upgrade the whole ecosystem at once.”

Yup. Stake through the heart. Only way.
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Apple’s share of smartphone industry’s profits soars to 92% » WSJ

Shira Ovide and Daisuke Wakabayashi, quoting a Canaccord Genuity report:

One key to Apple’s profit dominance: higher prices. Apple’s iPhone last year sold for a global average of $624, compared with $185 for smartphones running Android, according to Strategy Analytics. In its fiscal quarter ended March 28, Apple sold 43% more iPhones than a year earlier, at a higher price. The average iPhone price in the quarter rose by more than $60 to $659, on the strength of the larger-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models.

As the smartphone market matures and growth slows, it is starting to resemble the personal-computer business in some ways. Average PC prices have plunged, and most manufacturers struggle to eke out profits. But Apple captured more than half of industry profits last year, even though its Mac line accounted for only about six of every 100 computers sold, according to Bernstein Research.

Despite the changing leader boards of the past decade, some industry veterans say Apple’s profit crown looks more secure.

“The dominance of Apple is something that is very hard to overcome,” said Denny Strigl, former chief operating officer of Verizon Communications Inc. “Apple has to stumble somehow or another, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

That’s pretty much how I showed it in my latest examination of the PC industry. However, that “92%” figure is misleading; the negative amounts by Microsoft, BlackBerry and others shouldn’t really be included. Otherwise, with Microsoft’s giant $7bn+ writedown on Nokia negating all Samsung’s profit and a chunk of Apple’s, you’ll have a situation in Q2 where Apple makes 150% of industry profits. Clearly not realistic.
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