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

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

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

Losses point to bleak future for music streaming services »

Robert Cookson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swift is open source » Hacker News

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

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

Dina Bass:

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

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

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

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

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

Lukas Alpert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alistair Charlton:

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

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

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

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

Jon B Carroll:

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

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My favourite Apple Watch myths » Horace Dediu

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

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

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

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

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Start up: FTC rebuts critics, Mars One or Capricorn One?, failures of tech criticism, how open is ResearchKit?, and more

Flooded view in Oxford. Photo by the.approximate.photographer on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. None includes Jeremy Clarkson or One Direction. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Statement of Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, and Commissioners Julie Brill and Maureen K. Ohlhausen regarding the Google Investigation » Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission conducted an exhaustive investigation of Google’s internet search practices during 2011 and 2012. Based on a comprehensive review of the voluminous record and extensive internal analysis, of which the inadvertently disclosed memo is only a fraction, all five Commissioners (three Democrats and two Republicans) agreed that there was no legal basis for action with respect to the main focus of the investigation – search. As we stated when the investigation was closed, the Commission concluded that Google’s search practices were not, “on balance, demonstrably anticompetitive.”

Contrary to recent press reports, the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.

Some of the FTC’s staff attorneys on the search investigation raised concerns about several other Google practices. In response, the Commission obtained commitments from Google regarding certain of those practices.  Over the last two years, Google has abided by those commitments.

I’d just like the full report published. Or reports – there seem to have been one from the competition bureau and one from the economic bureau.

Winter testing of the Oxford Flood Network » Nominet R&D blog

Bryan, who helped build it:

It’s been an extremely useful period for us all and in particular we’ve learnt a great deal about deploying devices in real conditions.

There are the hardware considerations: dull but important issues such as fixings become all important; how exactly do you fix a sensor to a disused 60cm cast iron pipe? (see photo below for the answer)

There are the radio considerations: how do you realistically achieve a 250m connection across wooded areas?

There are system deployment considerations: how do you remotely reboot a Raspberry PI gateway that is held securely in someone else’s property?

And there are some basic user interface considerations: how big do the buttons on a mobile app need to be when your fingers have gone numb from standing in a wet muddy field in December? 

The key thing to remember about the Internet of Things is that it is where the physical world meets the digital world. The physical world is complex and messy. A warm, protected office (where applications are inevitably built) can hide that messy world.

I find this enormously encouraging. Flood level and river data is the one key public dataset that the Environment Agency still won’t make publicly available for free commercial reuse; it’s been a sticking point for the Free Our Data campaign (nine years old this month, but pretty much sorted since 2010). Let’s get it sorted.

Mars One finalist speaks out, says Dutch non-profit likely scamming its rubes » Ars Technica

Megan Geuss:

there was an insidious side to the dream that Mars One put forward. So much of it didn’t add up. The $6 billion budget seemed ridiculously low, and the company was light enough on details and partnerships to suggest that something was either very secret or very suspect.

[Joseph] Roche [a professor at Dublin’s Trinity School of Education, with a PhD in physics and astrophysics, and a Mars One finalist] now seems to think it’s the latter, saying that not once did he ever meet with someone from Mars One in person, despite the fact that he was selected to be one of the “Mars One Hundred”—the lucky 100 people who advanced to the next level in the competition over spaceship seats.

The professor told Keep that ranking within Mars One is points-based; when you are selected to advance through the application process, you join the “Mars One Community,” and you are given points as you move through each next level. The points are arbitrary and have nothing to do with ranking, but “the only way to get more points is to buy merchandise from Mars One or to donate money to them,” Roche told Keep. So, in essence, people are likely paying their way to a final round.

Even so, that’s not going to raise $6bn, unless they’ve got Bill Gates aboard. (Have they?)

BlackBerry is about to hit bottom » Quartz

Dan Frommer:

BlackBerry’s turnaround strategy—focusing on software as its smartphone business has declined—has not been pretty. But the worst may be here.

When BlackBerry reports its fourth-quarter results on Mar. 26, it could post its lowest revenue number in nine years. That’s the warning from RBC analyst Mark Sue in a research note this week.

Sue predicts that BlackBerry’s fourth-quarter sales could drop to $661m, down 32% year-over-year and well below the Wall Street consensus of around $800m. BlackBerry hasn’t reported revenue that low since 2006, just as the smartphone industry was set to explode.

But after you hit bottom, you rise. At least that’s what RBC is forecasting, along with 1.3m phones shipped and perhaps a little profit in the future. (BlackBerry’s results are on Friday.)

The Taming of Tech Criticism » The Baffler

Evgeny Morozov reviews Nick Carr’s new book “The Glass Cage”, and makes many insightful points about how much technology criticism (including, he argues, Carr’s) can’t see the wood for the trees:

Take our supposed overreliance on apps, the favorite subject of many contemporary critics, Carr included. How, the critics ask, could we be so blind to the deeply alienating effects of modern technology? Their tentative answer—that we are simply lazy suckers for technologically mediated convenience—reveals many of them to be insufferable, pompous moralizers. The more plausible thesis—that the growing demands on our time probably have something to do with the uptake of apps and the substitution of the real (say, parenting) with the virtual (say, the many apps that allow us to monitor kids remotely)—is not even broached. For to speak of our shrinking free time would also mean speaking of capital and labor, and this would take the technology critic too far away from “technology proper.”

It’s the existence of this “technology proper” that most technology critics take for granted. In fact, the very edifice of contemporary technology criticism rests on the critic’s reluctance to acknowledge that every gadget or app is simply the end point of a much broader matrix of social, cultural, and economic relations. And while it’s true that our attitudes toward these gadgets and apps are profoundly shaped by our technophobia or technophilia, why should we focus on only the end points and the behaviors that they stimulate? Here is one reason: whatever attack emerges from such framing of the problem is bound to be toothless—which explains why it is also so attractive to many.

I think Morozov has by far the better perspective on this than Carr, because he isn’t grounded in an American social view.

ResearchKit and open source » Rusty Rants

Russell Ivanovic looks more closely and queries where the “open source” bit is:

ResearchKit, just like most other iOS frameworks, is a set of tools for building an iOS app that simplifies some of the things you’d need to do to collect patient data. The intention of open sourcing this part of it seems to be to encourage developers to build modules for it which would all be iOS only as well. Apple states as much in their technical document:

…developers are encouraged to build new modules and share them with the community

So, currently at least, there’s no open source server components, no open format for exchanging data and an iOS only open source framework that Apple want developers to build modules for. Don’t get me wrong, this still sounds like a huge step forward for medical research data collection. What it doesn’t sound like though is Apple’s altruistic gift to the world from which they receive no benefits.

China market buoying iPhone shipments » Digitimes

Cage Chao and Jessie Shen:

In China, sales of Apple’s iPhone 6 reached 15-20m units in the fourth quarter of 2014, the sources noted. China-sales of the 6-series are set to remain at similar levels in the first quarter of 2015, the sources said.

Judging from current order visibility, the sources estimated that 45-50m iPhone 6 devices would be shipped worldwide in the second quarter of 2015 with China contributing one-third of total shipments…

…While sales of Apple’s iPhone 6 series have been strong since launch, sales of Android-based smartphones have not picked up, according to industry sources. Except Samsung Electronics, which has started to enjoy growth in sales of its recently-announced Galaxy S6, other Android phone makers have seen their sales thus far in 2015 lower than a year earlier, the sources indicated.

Sources at Taiwan-based IC design houses have revealed that orders placed by their Android device customers have been weaker than expected which may affect their sales performance in the first quarter. The IC design houses said they are also cautious about orders placed by Android phone makers for the second quarter.

The iPhone figures feel like lowballing – Apple will probably pass 50m units for the quarter. It’s the part about Android phones that is intriguing. Is it just the Taiwan IC houses feeling the pinch?

What happened, and what’s going on » AllCrypt Blog

Read this, and feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck:

We are not sure if AllCrypt was targeted, or if it was a “fortunate” thing for the hacker. Our hypothesis is this: The user’s email account was breached, and in looking through the emails, saw that he had some admin rights for In that account were emails from myself and our MD. After playing on AllCrypt for some time, the hacker tries to do a WordPress password reset for all of the allcrypt related emails he sees. My personal email was not the email for the main admin blog account, and either was the user who’s email was breached. Our MD, however, did use his personal email. A password reset was issued, and sent to the MD.

The massive screwup that led to the loss of funds is when the MD forwarded that email to myself and the tech team member. He forwarded the password reset link. To the breached email account.

The hacker reset the MD’s password, and had administrative access to the blog. Access which allows uploading of new files/plugins for WordPress.

The hacker first uploaded a file, class.php. After we examined it, we discovered that it grants web-based command line access to any files the web user has access to. Namely, the entire http tree. Quick looks through the web source files is all it takes to see the hostnames, login names, and passwords for the database. The database credentials WERE protected in a ‘hidden’ file in a non-www accessible directory, however, anyone smart enough to read code can find the include lines that point to that file. The www user must have read access to that file, so the class.php the hacker uploaded also had read access.

Then, using WordPress, he uploaded adminer.php – a web based database management tool similar to PHPMyAdmin. It was a simple task to then query the database.

The hacker created a new user account on AllCrypt, used adminer.php to UPDATE userbalances SET balance=50 WHERE userid=whatever AND symbol=BTC to set his balances to whatever he wanted. Then he began to issue withdrawals. Lots of them.

You hosted WordPress and your bitcoin exchange on the same server. Also includes “Angry questions and contrite answers” section.

Samsung beaten by local smartphone brand in the Philippines » Tech In Asia

Judith Balea:

Philippine budget phone maker Cherry Mobile beat South Korean giant Samsung as the leading smartphone brand in the Philippines in 2014, IDC said today. It was the second straight year that Cherry has whipped Samsung in the nation.

According to the research firm, Cherry cornered 21.9% of the Philippine market in terms of volume of smartphones shipped in 2014, overtaking Samsung, whose share declined further to 13.3%.

Cherry has held the spot as the number one smartphone vendor in the Philippines since 2013. That year, it captured 24.3% of the market, and Samsung held 19.9%, based on data provided by IDC to Tech in Asia.

However, the smartphone market expanded by 76% yoy (from 7.2m to 12.6m), so Samsung’s shipments actually increased by 17.6% (from 1.42m to 1.68m). Big headline, but pretty much a rounding error for Samsung.