Start up: Apple v Samsung redux, Twitter hacks, hating Trump, zombie phones?, and more

Wichita roads don’t necessarily go in straight lines endlessly. Photo by fables98 on Flickr.

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

Samsung’s patent loss to Apple is appealed to Supreme Court » The New York Times

Steve Lohr:

On Monday, Samsung, the Korean electronics company, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that the legal framework for design patents — at the center of the suits between the companies — is outdated for the modern digital world. The issue at stake, Samsung says, extends well beyond the courtroom skirmishes of the two large corporations.

The case, if heard, could have far-reaching implications for design patents, which cover how a product looks, and the sort of financial penalties allowed under the law. Design patents are far less common than utility patents, which cover how a product functions.

The legal framework for design patents, according to Samsung, some other major technology companies and legal experts, is largely shaped by a 19th-century law intended to protect the designs of carpets, fireplace grates and ornamental spoons.

Back then, the design was the heart of such products, so seizing most or all of the gains of a copycat — known as the “total profit rule” — was justified. But today, a complex product like a modern smartphone is a dense bundle of intellectual property with more than 100,000 patents conceivably laying claim to some small aspect of the phone.

This strikes me as a nonsensical argument. Carpets, fireplace grates and spoons have technologies that you can’t see embedded in their design and production; cutlery, for instance, often consists of welded pieces, with plating. But it’s how it looks (and to a lesser extent feels) that affects purchasing decisions. If someone copies the wasp-waisted shape of a Coke bottle for their non-Coke product, buyers will grab it off the shelf without caring about the industrial processes by which the contents were made. But Coke’s design patent (should it have one) on the bottle shape is still infringed.

Samsung got dinged because it intentionally made its phones look like Apple’s. How the phones functioned is essentially invisible to users; it isn’t queried at the point of sale, and literally nobody has the expertise to query the differences between the functional differences of two similar-looking products from different companies. (If you have a persuasive counter-argument, please make it in the comments.)

It will be good to hear a Supreme Court decision, though. But it won’t even decide whether to hear the case before February 2016.
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Slow business: Samsung Electronics unlikely to recover in operating profits until Q1 next year » BusinessKorea

Jung Suk-yee:

Samsung Securities Co. said on Dec. 13 that it trimmed Samsung Electronics’ operating profit forecast for the fourth quarter by 300 trillion won (US$253.91m) to 6.8 trillion won (US$5.76bn) from the previous 7.1 trillion won (US$6.01bn) estimate due to sluggish sales in its component business. Hwang Min-sung, an analyst at Samsung Securities, said, “With a slump in the semiconductor and display businesses from falling demand for PCs, Samsung Electronics is likely to show sluggish growth in its component business. Its growth in profits, which remained low in the third quarter last year, will slightly decrease.”

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State Sponsored Attack: Twitter member list » Jens Kubieziel

StateSponsoredAttack2015: A public list by Jens Kubieziel. Several Twitter users got a warning from @twitter about a state sponsored attack in late 2015.

See if you can figure out any link between these people. I only know one of them, Runa Sandvik, directly. They were all warned that “state sponsored” hackers may have tried to break into their Twitter accounts.
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Asustek, Gigabyte motherboard shipments to drop 10% in 2015 » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

With demand for PC remaining weak, Asustek Computer and Gigabyte Technology are both expected to see their brand motherboard shipments drop 10% on year, each shipping around 17 million units in 2015, while other small players will see much worse declines in the year, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS), Micro-Star International (MSI) and Biostar are seeing losses from their motherboard businesses, while China-based Onda reportedly will gradually phase out from the industry in 2016. The sources believe the global motherboard shipments will drop another 10% on year in 2016, forcing more motherboard players to quit.

When you see stories about falls in PC shipments, you often get comments that “that’s because everyone’s building their own”. That requires motherboards. If motherboard shipments are falling, clearly that’s not what’s happening. Motherboard shipments seem, in total, to be equivalent to about 15% of PC shipments for the year, but that ratio has remained pretty much the same for years; and shipments are falling in line with those of PCs.

So colour me unconvinced that PC shipments are falling because “everyone” is building their own PC.
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The curious case of the curious case » Daring Fireball

John Gruber on Apple’s “pregnant” iPhone battery case:

Patents, by the way, are a non-issue regarding the Smart Battery Case’s design. A well-placed little birdie who is perched in a position to know told me that Nilay Patel’s speculation that the unusual design was the byproduct of Apple trying to steer clear of patents held by Mophie (or any other company for that matter) are “absolute nonsense”. This birdie was unequivocal on the matter. Whether you like it, hate it, or are ambivalent about it, this is the battery case Apple wanted to make.

Well, that’s that one shot down. Notice how a source at Apple would talk to Gruber, but not to Patel (who did ask Apple for comment; he got no response on or off the record). This either means better-cultivated sources or favouritism by Apple. Discerning the difference between the two is pretty much impossible from the outside, but if you were Patel, senior editor at The Verge – which takes itself seriously as a “technology news” website – you’d wonder why (and be frustrated that) your contacts weren’t better.
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iOS Shortcomings » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks has a few gripes with iOS, but this one, about Profile Pictures, seems like the one that would be the most useful:

You know how 90% of your contacts, probably more, don’t have a profile picture assigned to them? And you know how iOS thinks this is a pretty important part of life? We need to fix this, and that shouldn’t mean I have to go through my contacts and assign pictures, or snap pictures of people when I am out and about. I got away with that in 2007 when the iPhone was new, but now it is just creepy.

Sure I could sync with Twitter, or Facebook, but why should I have to give them control of my contact data just to do this? I would love for iOS to have a button inside my contact details to “request profile pic from contact” this would be a system level feature where once the other user approves it, the contact picture currently assigned to themselves is sent back and put in place. Boom, done. One tap from me, one tap from them, and we can move on with our lives.

It would also be neat if the first time you contacted this person, you sent an approval request then to get your profile picture and they approve right then. This would be less odd — “oh, Ben got a new iPhone I see, now he wants pictures from everyone…”

Profile pictures are surprisingly effective; we recognise faces almost at once when they’re familiar, which isn’t the case with text – and iOS abbreviates them to initials anyway which take a lot of decoding.
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Why rural roads sometimes have mysterious detours » Travel + Leisure

Geoff Manaugh:

When the Dutch photographer Gerco de Ruijter arrived earlier this year for an artist’s residency at Wichita’s Ulrich Museum of Art, he noticed something strange while driving to a friend’s house outside of town. At several points, the rural road he was on came to an abrupt halt at a T intersection in the middle of nowhere, requiring a quick zigzag to continue on the same road. The detour could be anywhere from a few dozen yards to nearly half a mile, but, in every case, there was no visible reason why the road should shift at all. This wasn’t the urban street grid of Wichita, throwing a few random twists and turns de Ruijter’s way. It was the large-scale grid of the country itself—those huge squares of agricultural land visible from airplanes—seemingly gone haywire.

De Ruijter soon learned that these kinks and deviations were more than local design quirks. They are grid corrections, as he refers to them in a new photographic project: places where North American roads deviate from their otherwise logical grid lines in order to account for the curvature of the Earth…

…“It did not take long for legislators to understand that a township could not be exactly six miles on each side if the north-south lines were to follow the lines of longitude, which converged, or narrowed, to the north,” explains landscape architect James Corner in Taking Measures Across the American Landscape. “The grid was, therefore, corrected every four townships to maintain equal allocations of land.” This added up to a detour every 24 miles, from sea to shining sea.

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Attacks on Trump just make these voters like him more » The Washington Post

David Weigel:

Over three hours Wednesday in Alexandria, Luntz lobbed dozens of Trump-seeking missiles. All 29 in the group had voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. All either supported Trump or had supported him earlier in the year. To [Republican media consultant Frank] Luntz’s amazement, hearing negative information about the candidate made the voters, only a few of whom gave their full names to the press, hug the candidate tighter.

“Normally, if I did this for a campaign, I’d have destroyed the candidate by this point,” Luntz told a group of reporters when the session ended. “After three hours of showing that stuff?”

If Republican strategists struggle to understand the mechanics of this… it begins to look like a virus of the mind. But the point might have a more general relevance: what happens when you have people whose demonstrably wrong ideas (ie, that Trump’s claims have any basis in truth – which is easily verifiable) are fixed such that appeals to both reason and emotion fail to change them?
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Massive DDoS attack on core internet servers was ‘zombie army’ botnet from popular smartphone app » IB Times

Anthony Cutherbertson:

“There are smartphone apps with more than 100 million users that are known to be spying on us,” [John] McAfee [yes, THAT John McAfee] tells IBTimes UK. “It is trivial to build a free app which gets its ideas from a central source. As to who may have done this, I always look to those who have the most to gain or who have the largest axe to grind. The majority of the domain servers are controlled by U.S. interests – three are controlled by the US government. Who has the largest axe to grind? Isis. Who has the most to gain? Isis. Isis certainly has the technical capability to write a popular app. But I have no direct evidence.

“If there were 100 million users of an app, only 0.1% of the phones would have to be activated in order to achieve the effects that we saw. I have not yet identified the app, and it may be multiple apps. But this is as serious as it gets. We have absolutely no defenses in place to counter this threat. If the perpetrators had activated a mere order of magnitude more phones we would have lost the internet.”

I think it’s more likely that the DDOS (5m queries per second, 50bn queries in two days) was caused by poor configuration somewhere – whether of a hugely popular app, or a timeserver, or an app trying to ping a timeserver – than ISIS/IS/ISIL/Daesh trying to bring down the internet.
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“By my ATM skimmers!” » YouTube

My Russian is nonexistent, but this is reckoned to be someone who builds ATM skimmers touting for work. See for yourself. Also, it’s scary how hard it is to spot.

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In what conditions would you expect a power-law distribution curve to emerge? » Quora

Just following on from my 90:9:1 speculation, this is about what and how power laws distributions (and log-normal distributions, which are almost but not quite the same) emerge.

This by Justine Moore from Facebook seems pertinent:

When I think of the difference between power-law and log-normal (and take this with a grain of salt, I’m no expert), I think of log-normal as a bunch of independent simple factors combining to drive a final outcome, where in a power-law, the factors feed on themselves (a big city draws people in, making it bigger).

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

Start up: Samsung pays on patents, smartphone sales slow, Toshiba to sell PC arm?, and more

“Madam, I’m afraid that following the Galactic Depression I can’t give you a mortgage no matter what clothes you wear.” Photo by leg0fenris on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

LVMH’s TAG Heuer to step up smartwatch production to meet demand » Bloomberg Business

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer will increase production of its smartwatch in coming months after receiving requests from retailers, agents and subsidiaries for some 100,000 timepieces, according to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE’s watch chief.

TAG Heuer aims to make 2,000 pieces per week, up from a current 1,200, Jean-Claude Biver said in an e-mailed response to questions. Online sales of the Connected Watch will be suspended probably until May or June to give priority to physical stores, he said.

At $1,500 each, that’s revenue of $150m.
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The economics of Star Wars: Modeling and systems risk analysis suggest financial ruin for the Galactic Empire »

Erika Ebsworth-Goold:

First, [Zachary] Feinstein [PhD, assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis] modelled the galactic economy by estimating the price of both Death Stars, using the most recently completed aircraft carrier in the American fleet as a measuring stick.

Comparing the price ($17.5bn) and size (100,000 metric tons of steel) of the USS Gerald Ford with an estimated size of both Death Stars, the price tag for the Empire was astounding: $193 quintillion for the first version; $419 quintillion for the second, though manageable in comparison to the $4.6 sextillion Galactic economy.

In the movies, both Death Stars are destroyed within a four-year time span, which would have been a staggering economic blow to the Imperial financial sector. To prevent a total financial collapse would require a bailout of at least 15%, and likely greater than 20%, of the entire economy’s resources.

“The most surprising result was how large the economic collapse could be,” Feinstein said. “Without a bailout, there was a non-negligible chance of over 30% drop in the size of the Galactic economy overnight—larger than the losses from the Great Depression over four years (from peak to trough).

“Episode 7: A New Quantitative Easing”.
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Samsung announces payment of $548m to Apple but reserves right to seek reimbursement » FOSS Patents

Florian Müller (who has been following all the zillions of patent rows forever):

on Thursday afternoon local California time, Apple and Samsung filed a joint case management statement with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in which Samsung says it has “has made arrangements to complete payment to Apple.” It is now waiting for Apple’s original invoice, and if that payment arrives before the weekend by Korean time, it will send $548m to Apple by December 14.

So, approximately four months before the fifth anniversary of its original complaint, Apple will physically receive money from Samsung.

Not in nickels, either.
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Worldwide smartphone market will see the first single-digit growth year on record » IDC

According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC ) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker , 2015 will be the first full year of single-digit worldwide smartphone growth. IDC predicts worldwide smartphone shipments will grow 9.8% in 2015 to a total of 1.43bn units. IDC updated its previous forecast to reflect slowing growth in Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), Latin America, and Western Europe. The slower growth is expected to intensify slightly over the 2015-2019 forecast period and is largely attributed to lower shipment forecasts for Windows Phone as well as “alternative platforms” (phones running operating systems other than Android, iOS, and Windows Phone)…

…”With the smartphone market finally slowing to single-digit growth, maintaining momentum will depend on several factors,” said Ryan Reith , program director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “The main driver has been and will continue to be the success of low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. This, in turn, will depend on capturing value-oriented first-time smartphone buyers as well as replacement buyers. We believe that, in a number of high-growth markets, replacement cycles will be less than the typical two-year rate, mainly because the components that comprise a sub-$100 smartphone simply do not have the ability to survive two years. Offering products that appeal to both types of buyers at a suitable price point will be crucial to maintaining growth and vendor success.”

“As shipment volumes continue to slow across many markets, consumers will be enticed by both affordable high-value handsets as well as various financing options on pricier models,” said Anthony Scarsella , Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phones team.

Say it again: “the components that comprise a sub-$100 smartphone simply do not have the ability to survive two years”.
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Review: Microsoft’s Surface Book » iTnews

Juha Saarinen:

GeekBench 3 rated the single core processor score at 3480 and the multicore equivalent at 7165. This is quicker than the iPad Pro, which managed 3220 and 5442 in the single and multicore tests respectively, but a comparison between the two is difficult due to different processor architectures and Windows 10 and Apple iOS 9.1 being very dissimilar in how people use them: Windows 10 for instance allows full file system access, but iOS 9.1 doesn’t.  

You won’t be disappointed with the performance of the Surface Book in the vast majority of scenarios.  

You will, however, pay a premium for the tablet/laptop functionality: my AUD$4199 review unit is a good chunk’o’change. You could buy a top of the range 13-inch MacBook Pro with similar specs as the Surface Book and have change left for an iPad mini 4 as a companion tablet. 

Staying on the Microsoft side of the fence, the Surface Pro 4 top dog model has the same 512GB sized storage, 16GB RAM, is lighter, has a Core i7 processor but a slightly lower resolution PixelSense screen and no secondary graphics card – it costs $3580 with the Type keyboard cover, and runs Windows 10 just fine.

I thought Saarinen had transposed the numbers in that price, then saw the following paragraph. The prices translate to US$3,040 for that review unit and US$2,590. Clearly Microsoft doesn’t want to lose money on hardware any more. But at those prices, it’s really not going to sell in any appreciable numbers.
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Access denied » The Awl

John Herrman on the problem for various media that follows the way “access” to big stars, and politicians, and everyone, is being short-circuited by social media:

As did pundits with Trump coverage, [Kotaku’s Stephen] Totilo diagnoses the specific problem correctly, I think: Ubisoft and Bethesda were probably upset about Kotaku leaking or being critical of their products, and cut off access as a result. This is, in his words, “the price of games journalism.”

But the post’s secondary conclusions—that Kotaku rejects the idea of a games press that is a “servile arm of a corporate sales apparatus” and that this change in some way vindicates its prescient and recently implemented plan to “embed” reporters in games, rather than treating the games as objects to be reviewed—hint at a bigger worry. It’s not just that game companies might be mad at Kotaku, it’s that at the same time, they need it less than ever. What good is a complex website with a few million viewers spread across hundreds of games in a world where a company can just release a couple hours of gameplay footage of its own, or hand over a title to a YouTuber or a Twitch celebrity who’ll play nicely in front of millions of viewers?

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Transformation at Yahoo foiled by Marissa Mayer’s inability to bet the farm » The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

Yahoo’s fumbled foray into TV only highlights Ms. Mayer’s strategic failure. Instead of making a single big bet [of buying Netflix in 2012 when its share price was one-tenth its present level] that might have focused the company on something completely different and potentially groundbreaking, Ms. Mayer staked out a lot of small and midsize positions, rarely committing to anything early enough to make a difference. For Ms. Mayer, original programming was just one of dozens of products in a portfolio that remains too complex to understand.

So, too, were other projects that could have been at the center of Yahoo’s new mission. In the time that Ms. Mayer has been at the helm, Facebook has invested heavily in messaging apps that could define the future of communication. Google and Apple, anticipating the eventual decline of text-based search queries, have tried to create predictive, voice-based search engines that also catalog all the content inside apps. Pinterest is pioneering a new kind of online commerce, while Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are working on new ways to tell collective narratives through video.

Under Ms. Mayer, Yahoo has had a hand in many similar initiatives, but it hasn’t led in any of these areas.

“Inability” should probably have been “unwillingness” (Manjoo won’t have written the headline), but the analysis is spot-on.
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Japan’s Toshiba, Fujitsu in talks to merge loss-making PC units – sources » Yahoo Finance UK

Makiko Yamazaki and Reiji Murai of Reuters:

The emergence of tablets and other devices as well as fierce competition has pushed Japanese PC divisions into the red. At the same time, Toshiba is under pressure to restructure in the wake of a $1.3 billion accounting scandal while Fujitsu has seen PC profitability slip away as a weaker yen has inflated the cost of imported parts.

Combining PC operations would create a company with around 1.2 trillion yen ($9.8bn) in sales and give greater economies of scale that would help with procurement costs. But analysts see prospects of a return to past days of thriving sales as slim given that the two account for just 6 percent of global PC sales.

“It is uncertain whether or not the new integrated company could recover international competitiveness,” said Takeshi Tanaka, senior analyst at Mizuho Securities.

A combination would come on the heels of Sony Corp hiving off its PC business into unlisted Vaio Corp last year. Some domestic media reported that Vaio would also be part of the new venture but a spokeswoman for the company denied it was in talks with any firm about its PC operations.

That $9.8bn is an annualised revenue figure for both companies’ PC divisions – though there may be other products in there. (Their accounts don’t split out PC revenues directly.) For comparison, Asus and Acer each had annualised PC revenues of $8.5bn in 2014.
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Design: meet the internet — Figma Design » Medium

Dylan Field:

When we started working on Figma, we knew it was possible to build a fast and stable graphics tool in the browser, but we had no idea how hard it would be. From vector rendering to font layout to a million performance edge cases, getting here hasn’t been easy. Designers have high expectations for a tool they rely on every day! After dogfooding Figma internally for the past eighteen months and working closely with alpha customers, I’m confident we’ve reached this high bar.

While the technical achievement of building a vector based UI design tool in the browser is exciting, I’m even more excited by the collaborative possibilities we’re starting to unlock. Whether you’re sharing a design with a link, giving contextual feedback or setting shared brand colors for your team to use, Figma makes it easy to work with your team.

If you can do it in a browser it isn’t real work, of course.
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Wearable technology in the car » Canadian Automobile Association

Mark Richardson:

Jeffrey Macesin says he was changing the music playing through his car speakers when the Montreal police officer pulled him over and charged him with distracted driving.

The music was coming from his iPhone and wired into the car’s stereo, but the phone was tucked away in his bag, out of sight. In fact, he was using his Apple Watch to change the track, another potential new distraction in a world increasingly crowded with them.

Macesin says he was astonished by the ticket, which carries a $120 fine in Quebec and four demerit points.

“I understand (the officer’s) point of view,” he told CTV in May, “but the fact is, he thought I was using my phone and I wasn’t using my phone – I was using my watch. I tried explaining this to the guy and he just ignored me. I told him I’d see him in court.”

I sent Macesin numerous requests for a chat but he didn’t respond – maybe his lawyer told him to keep quiet. But he acknowledged in outtakes to CTV that his left hand was on the wheel – the same arm that wears his new Apple Watch – and he was tapping on the watch dial with his right hand to change tracks when the officer saw him from an overpass. The Apple Watch was connected wirelessly to his iPhone and controlling its functions.

The actual charge is that he “drove a road vehicle using a hand-held device equipped with a telephone function,” and his argument against it, he said, is that a watch is not “hand-held” – it’s worn on the wrist. “That’s where it gets really controversial,” he said to CTV. “Is it? Is it not? But I think this needs to be talked about.”

Similar to the Google Glass driving ticket case (which was dismissed)?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Microsoft and Google make up, the social network paradox, adblocking v disability, and more

Samsung Pay in action. Photo by TheBetterDay on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google, Microsoft resolve global patent fight over phones, Xbox » Bloomberg Business

Susan Decker and Dina Bass:

Google and Microsoft have agreed to end their long-running patent feud over smartphones and video game systems, dropping about 20 lawsuits in the U.S. and Germany.

The two companies, which didn’t disclose financial terms, have been litigating over technology innovations for five years. Google’s former Motorola Mobility unit had been demanding royalties on the Xbox video-gaming system, and Microsoft had sought to block Motorola mobile phones from using certain features.

The companies pledged in a statement to work together in other ways related to intellectual property, including development of a royalty-free, video-compression technology to speed downloads, in an initiative that also involves Inc. and Netflix Inc. They will also lobby for specific rules on a unified patent system throughout Europe.

So all the patent wars of the past five years are pretty much done – aside from Samsung-Apple, which is limited now to the US but still putters along.
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The social network illusion that tricks your mind » MIT Technology Review

Network scientists have known about the paradoxical nature of social networks for some time. The most famous example is the friendship paradox: on average your friends will have more friends than you do.

This comes about because the distribution of friends on social networks follows a power law. So while most people will have a small number of friends, a few individuals have huge numbers of friends. And these people skew the average.

Here’s an analogy. If you measure the height of all your male friends. you’ll find that the average is about 170 centimeters. If you are male, on average, your friends will be about the same height as you are. Indeed, the mathematical notion of “average” is a good way to capture the nature of this data.

But imagine that one of your friends was much taller than you—say, one kilometer or 10 kilometers tall. This person would dramatically skew the average, which would make your friends taller than you, on average. In this case, the “average” is a poor way to capture this data set.

Exactly this situation occurs in social networks, and not just for numbers of friends. On average, your coauthors will be cited more often than you, and the people you follow on Twitter will post more frequently than you, and so on.

Basically, it can mean that minority views espoused by those with many followers can be accepted easily as “widely true”. Which of course it isn’t. Sure you can think of many examples.
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How ad-blocking software could revolutionise disabled people’s lives » The Guardian

Anna Bawden:

For people with photosensitive epilepsy, frequently flashing or flickering images could trigger or increase the risk of a seizure, while automatic advertising can be distressing for those with learning disabilities because it hinders concentration and therefore comprehension of the content they are trying to consume.

Blind and visually impaired people can also have problems. “If you are blind or visually impaired and using text to speech software on your device, autoplaying animations or video that includes music or audio makes some web pages all but impossible to access,” says Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at charity AbilityNet, in his latest blog. “The audio that automatically starts playing completely obscures the speech of the screen reader. This means that blind people can’t hear the screen reader and therefore they can’t navigate to the ‘stop’ button to stop the noise.”

Shall we call them disability unblockers?
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Digicel first mobile group to block ads in battle against Google »

Robert Cookson:

Mobile operator Digicel has started blocking advertisements on its networks in the Caribbean as part of a plan to force internet companies including Google, Yahoo and Facebook to pay to access its customers.

The company is controlled by Denis O’Brien, Ireland’s richest man, and is the first mobile operator to deploy the blocking technology against big Silicon Valley groups that rely on advertising.

Digicel suggested that if those companies want to unblock their ads, they should contribute to the costs of the mobile telecoms infrastructure required to deliver them.

“Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook talk a great game and take a lot of credit when it comes to pushing the idea of broadband for all — but they put no money in,” said Mr O’Brien. “Instead they unashamedly trade off the efforts and investments of network operators like Digicel to make money for themselves.”

This feels wrong – if the countries where it’s done have any sort of view on net neutrality, they would have to intervene over this.
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Review: Samsung pays where Apple can’t » WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

Samsung Pay is just as easy to use as Apple Pay and Android Pay—you don’t have to dig deep into your phone or type any long passwords. To launch it, even when your phone screen is dark, flick up from the bottom and place your finger on the fingerprint reader.

But Samsung Pay faces an unusual hurdle: awkwardness. Attempting to use it for the past few weeks, I got the stink-eye from many merchants, as if I were some kind of con artist or hacker. Here’s a typical encounter at a downtown San Francisco bakery:

Me: “I’m going to pay with my phone.”

Clerk: “Sorry, we don’t have Apple Pay.”

Me: “This isn’t Apple Pay. It’s like a credit card on my phone.”

Clerk: “We don’t have that.”

Me: “It’s something new called Samsung Pay. It will work.”

Clerk: “No, it won’t.”

It did, but the US is still stuck somewhere in the 20th century when it comes to banks, cards and payments. (Among other things.) Samsung’s hybrid solution, which works with terribly insecure swipe card readers, but securely as Apple or Android Pay, is a good in-between. The US is meant to be implementing chip/sign (it was too cowardly to do chip/PIN) from October; let’s see how that goes.
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The state of JavaScript on Android in 2015 is… poor » Discourse Meta

Jeff Atwood:

In a nutshell, the fastest known Android device available today – and there are millions of Android devices much slower than that out there – performs 5× slower than a new iPhone 6s, and a little worse than a 2012 era iPhone 5 in Ember. How depressing.

We’ve done enough research to know this issue is not really specific to Ember, but also affects Angular and most other heavy/complex JavaScript on Android. Why?

Part of it is indeed Chrome/V8 JavaScript optimization issues on Android as you can see from this AnandTech Galaxy S6 review. Note the browser used:

It’s also partly because single core performance on Android is falling way, way behind iOS. Notice that the flagship Android device barely has the single core grunt of an old iPad Mini based on the old A7 core. Compare single core Android GeekBench versus single core iOS GeekBench:

It seems the Android manufacturers are more interested in slapping n slow CPU cores on a die than they are in producing very fast CPU cores. And this is quite punishing when it comes to JavaScript.

This is becoming more and more of a systemic problem in the Android ecosystem, one that will not go away in the next few years, and it may affect the future of Discourse, since we bet heavily on near-desktop JavaScript performance on mobile devices. That is clearly happening on iOS but it is quite disastrously the opposite on Android.

I am no longer optimistic this will change in the next two years, and there are untold millions of slow Android devices out there, so we need to start considering alternatives for the Discourse project.

Attwood’s suggestions include just focussing on iOS users. A native Android app is too time-consuming/expensive, and the problem he’s seeing with Discourse-based sites running slowly comes despite sending only half as much page content to Android phones compared to iOS.

Lots of frustration expressed by others in the comments too. Though as one says, if you’ve never tried the other OS, you’ll never know (or care) what you’re missing – good or bad.
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Apple Watch India launch delayed due to lack of interest » India Today

Sahil Mohan Gupta:

Sources in the supply chain have revealed to that the delay is more to due to lack of interest in Apple’s channel partners in India. They aren’t convinced about the product and no one is willing to take on a massive inventory for a product, which belongs to a category that’s not yet developed in India.

As per the IDC, Apple has shipped 3.6m units of the Apple Watch in the last quarter trailing only FitBit which shipped 4.4m units. IDC estimates that the Cupertino-based company will ship around 22 million units of the product in the calendar.  

Apple is tailed by Chinese start-up Xiaomi, which shipped 3.1m units of its Mi Band. The wearable market is expected to be the next growth category for technology companies. 72.2m wearables will be shipped in 2015, estimates IDC, which will be massive 173% jump over 26.4m units in 2014.

Apple faces stiff competition from Android Wear based wearables which after a recent update also work with the iPhone.

In India, the wearable market hasn’t taken off.

So that’s stiff competition from products in a market that hasn’t taken off?
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What it means to be great » Asymco

Horace Dediu:

Looking at new features like 3D Touch, Live Photos, and better cameras, one can observe how easily acceptable and desirable they are to those who first see them. As were Siri, FaceTime, Touch ID and iCloud, making something meaningfully better is a sign of sustaining innovation which does not over-serve.

Paradoxically, the improvements are not usually things that users ask for. Surveys always show that consumers want “better battery life” or a “bigger screen” but delivering something else entirely which nevertheless leads to mass adoption shows an uncanny insight into what really matters. Indeed, those who deliver only what customers ask for end up marginalized and bereft of profit.

To see improvements which lead to ever-increasing success in the marketplace year after year proves that this is not a transient event. This is no flash-in-the pan. This is not a stroke of genius. This is a process, a factory, a machine. The consistency and relentlessness of success is evidence of something at work that is more permanent.

There are lots of OEMs which offer better battery life than the iPhone (Apple rolled the potential into the iOS 9 software update) and have offered bigger screens for longer than Apple has. And there are OEMs which have offered new functions, yet not integrated into an overarching view of how the device will function now and in the future.
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In schools, Google’s laptops will soon outnumber all other devices combined » BuzzFeed News

Molly Hensley-Clancy and Matthew Zeitlin:

There will be more Google Chromebooks in American classrooms by the end of the year than all other devices combined, Google said today at a company event in San Francisco.

The figure is a striking indication of how quickly, and thoroughly, Google has come to dominate the massive education technology market. In 2012, Chromebooks made up just 1% of devices in American schools; iPads had a more than 50% market share. But by 2014, according to market research firm IDC, Chromebooks were outselling iPads in education.

About 30,000 Chromebooks have been activated every day since the beginning of the school year this September, mostly in schools, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the event. In schools, “by the end of this year, there will be more Chromebooks than every other device combined,” Pichai said.

Chromebooks were able to overtake iPads in education because they’re far cheaper — sometimes under $200 — have keyboards, and don’t require additional software because they only run Google’s Chrome browser.

If Pichai is correct (note: don’t rely on Google to give correct information in public statements) then a hell of a lot of Windows PCs must have been junked, along with a ton of iPads and Macs.

I’m dubious. In 2008, there were 15.4m PCs in schools, rising by about 1m every year. In August, the NYT Bits blog said 13.2m systems were shipped in 2014, up 33% on 2013, with Chromebooks making up about a third of them.

On that basis, unless every school is dumping their Windows PCs and iPads for Chromebooks since August, I don’t see how Chromebooks will make up more than 50% of the installed base by January. They might be over 50% of the ongoing sales, though.

That’s not to say they aren’t perfect for schools; only that installed base and sales (market) share are two very different things.
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Start up: the Samsung conflict, Google Analytics v Edge, Windows 95 v 10, Android woes and more

A smart cap could tell you if your milk had gone off – so much more accurate than someone’s nose. Photo by alisdair on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Because you can take it. (You’d better, I’m taking a three-week holiday break.) I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Samsung’s profit center » Asymco

Horace Dediu:

Phone operating margins [at Samsung] peaked in Q1 2014 at 20% but are half that level today. These margins have dropped to levels Samsung had in 2009, before the Galaxy launched and before they had any substantial revenues from smartphones.

In contrast, the semiconductor group is growing both revenues and margins. Margins and operating profits are both 50% higher than those of devices.

We also know that Apple is Samsung Semiconductor’s single biggest customer. We can’t be sure how much of the total revenue/profit comes from Apple but if the pattern continues then Apple could be the greatest contributor to Samsung’s profitability in the near future.

How could this be? Wasn’t Samsung supposed to “disrupt” Apple?

The reality is that Samsung’s own smartphones are being disrupted by good-enough Android devices, typically made by Chinese brands. This low-end disruption is also affecting LG, another phone maker and Apple supplier.

Unlike Samsung and LG, Apple is less susceptible to low-end disruption. What Apple offers is a brand promise, an ecosystem, associated products and services and what amounts to a new market. It’s this parallel value network that competes with Android/Google, rather than with Samsung.

I’ll add another data point: the “phone operating margins” actually cover the IM [IT & Mobile] division, which includes PCs and (I believe) cameras. In the latest quarter, the non-phone revenue in the IM division was below US$500m, for the first time in at least four years. That suggests we’re very close to seeing the true profit margin of Samsung’s phone business, as the non-phone business probably doesn’t perturb the very much larger (US$22bn, ie over 44x larger) phone business.

And read Dediu’s post for the killer payoff line.
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Google loses bid to overturn low-cost patent licenses to Microsoft » Reuters

Andrew Chung:

In a setback for Google, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Thursday that the low licensing rate Microsoft pays to use some of Google’s Motorola Mobility patents had been properly set.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a lower court judge properly determined the patents’ value even though the royalty rate was only a fraction of what Motorola had asked for. Google sold the Motorola handset business to Lenovo last year but kept its patents.

The court also upheld $14.5m awarded to Microsoft for Motorola’s breach of contract to license its patents fairly.

Patents at issue being standards-essential; Motorola kicked it off demanding $4bn per year. Judge James Robart put the royalty rate at $1.8m per year.
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BT hands £129m back to after beating rural broadband targets » The Register

Simon Rockman:

Both BT and the Ministry of Fun – or the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, if you prefer – have spun BT’s toeing-the-line-of-a-contractual-obligation as unbridled generosity towards taxpayers.

A statement from the Minister of Fun, John Whittingdale, said:

It’s fantastic to see that the rollout of superfast broadband is delivering for customers and for the taxpayer. The Government was clear from the start that as levels of people taking up superfast broadband went beyond our expectations in areas where we invested public money, BT would reimburse the taxpayer for reinvesting into further coverage across the UK. This now means that BT will be providing up to £129m cashback for some of the most hard to reach areas.
The funding was part of a Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project which has the aims of:

• provide superfast broadband coverage to 90 per cent of the UK by 2016
• provide basic broadband (2Mbps) for all by 2016
• provide superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017
• explore options to get near universal superfast broadband coverage across the UK by 2018
• create 22 “SuperConnected Cities” across the UK by 2015
• improve mobile coverage in remote areas by 2016

Speaking as someone who keeps finding themselves somehow forever in that “it’s coming in a couple of years, honest” part of the country (which seems to be a lot larger than 5%), I’d prefer Whittingdale to be lighting a fire under BT, and for Ofcom to demand that BT Openreach (which does the infrastructure) be split from the rest of BT.

After all, power generators don’t own the power lines, rail operators don’t own the track; why does BT own the phone lines?
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Enterprises retake lead in tech adoption » Deloitte CIO – WSJ

Apparently a sort of chief information officer-focussed niche of the WSJ, this has the entertaining premise that:

many believe this trend of consumer-originated innovations entering the workplace, dubbed the consumerization of IT, will become the dominant model going forward. But there is strong evidence that the pendulum is swinging back to enterprise-first adoption, with organizations likely to capture more near-term value than consumers in the following four technology areas:

Which areas? Let’s see: wearables; 3D printers; drones; Internet of Things. Not a chance on wearables – enterprise adoption and value will lag far behind consumers (already does). On 3D printing, businesses are already ahead through prototyping, so no contest. On drones, again, armies got there first, so not really at issue. And IoT? It’s such a pain at present for most people that again, it’s left to businesses which have the time and patience to deploy. But I’d bet once IoT stuff becomes prevalent enough, it will be widely used by the ordinary folk.
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The challenge of tracking Microsoft’s new Edge browser in Google Analytics » GeekWire

Even though Edge is now in the wild, tracking usage and adoption of the browser is going to be problematic for many web developers and site owners because tracking for Edge is not yet supported in Google Analytics.

Web developers and designers frequently consult Google Analytics to answer important browser usage questions for their website. Answers to questions like “Do we need to still support IE8?” or “Are there enough users affected by this particular Chrome bug to implement a hack to fix it?” are usually answered by running a browser usage report in Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides an easy way to break down a website’s readers by their OS, browser and browser version, except in the case of Edge.

Taking a look at Google Analytics reports for Operating System Version in Windows, you’ll notice that there is no version 10 listed.

WTH, Google? (Via Richard Burte.)
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UC Berkeley engineers devise 3D-printed ‘Smart Cap’ to check safety of milk, juice » Food Safety News

The “smart cap” has an embedded inductor-capacitor tank as the wireless passive sensor and can monitor the quality of milk and juice wirelessly, the article stated.

“A quick flip of the carton allowed a bit of milk to get trapped in the cap’s capacitor gap, and the entire carton was then left unopened at room temperature (about 71.6 degrees F) for 36 hours,” according to a university news report.

The result shows a 4.3% resonance frequency shift from milk stored in the room temperature environment for that period. This work establishes an innovative approach to construct arbitrary 3D systems with embedded electrical structures as integrated circuitry for various applications, including the demonstrated passive wireless sensors, the article explained.

The Berkeley folk are saying “hey, people will print them out at home!” while everyone else is saying “this would be so useful in mass-produced containers”.

So here’s a picture of the 3D printer that the UC Berkeley people think you’ll want to print out milk carton tops with.
UC Berkely 3D printer
Yeah, I’ll have two – you never know when you might need a spare.
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The fastest-growing mobile phone markets barely use apps » Quartz

Africa and Asia, the two fastest growing mobile markets, aren’t very big on apps.

The overwhelming majority of mobile internet activity in the regions is spent on web pages, according to a report released on 28 July by Opera Mediaworks. In Asia and Africa, websites made up 90% and 96% of mobile impressions, respectively, in the second quarter.

Their habits are a sharp contrast to the US, where apps accounted for 91% of impressions. Globally, there’s a more even distribution, with apps making up 56% of mobile impressions and websites comprising the remainder…

…“A big portion of the mobile audience in mobile-first regions like Africa and [Asia-Pacific] are still using low-end feature phones because of the cost factor,” a spokesman tells Quartz. “This therefore compels them to use the mobile web more than apps, which are usually dominant on smartphones.”

Today’s challenger for the “well duh” prize.
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Windows 10 launched so quietly you may have missed it » The Guardian

Some two-bit hack blathering about a new version of Windows:

Windows 10’s biggest new feature? It’s free if you download it within the next year, and will install on machines running Windows 7 or Windows 8. Its second biggest feature? It isn’t Windows 8, which was released in 2012 and created widespread puzzlement by submerging the traditional desktop interface beneath big, bright “tiles” and getting rid of the familiar, popular Start menu.

That puzzlement soon turned to anger, forcing the ejection of the man who had led Windows 8’s development, Steve Sinofsky, and the introduction of Windows 8.1, which, while it didn’t bring the Start menu, did at least let you start off in desktop mode.

Now, Microsoft breezily says, “the familiar Start menu is back”, as though it had been on holiday rather than unceremoniously dumped.

On reflection, the biggest feature of Windows 10 is that it isn’t Windows 8. Being free is its second-biggest.
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August 1995: A window we will all want to open » The Independent

Some two-bit hack blathering about a new version of Windows:

Microsoft’s computer program lines up with a number of other classic products: the Biro, aerosols, the Sony Walkman, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the Mini and the compact disc. It is a piece of technology which has arrived at just the right time to satisfy people’s wants.

Like those other classic products, Windows 95 enhances our personal independence and autonomy, and makes our lives more convenient. It draws everyone deeper into the existence of the “me” generation. Thus, aerosols let you manage your hair, your hygiene, your cleaning as you choose: convenience in a can. A Biro can write for far longer than a fountain pen, and when it’s finished you simply throw it away. The Mini, costing £400 in its first incarnation, made car ownership possible for the young and relatively poor, not just the comfortably well-off. The Walkman provided everyone with their own personal environment: the music (or noise) that you want at the volume you choose.

But like those earlier products, Windows 95 also exemplifies a wider economic and cultural trend. Just as globalisation gives corporations multinational reach, their products link physically and culturally diverse peoples, homogenising aspects of our lifestyles and, literally, connecting us up. Software can be “shipped” over a telephone line across borders; Windows 95 will be the same in Australia or the Arctic.

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CNET’s early coverage of Windows 95, back in 1995 » YouTube

CNET’s first impression of Windows 95 was that it would create a huge impact, what with the long file names, taskbar and a recycle bin for unwanted files. Check out this vintage review along with Microsoft’s own promotional video that went with the launch.

Here’s the video:

(The presenter is Richard Hart.)

How far we’ve come. No, don’t disagree. Look at that video of the Fonz.
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The security flaw Google built into Android » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Google can’t push you an update for Android. It hands out the operating system to device manufacturers for free. They get to tinker with it to add features or apps of their own and are the only ones—along with cellular carriers in some cases —that can push updates to the devices they sell. Google does bind companies that use Android with some restrictions (for example to do with using its app store) but doesn’t require them to push out security updates quickly.

That leaves users of Android devices unable to avail themselves of what security experts say is the most important strategy for staying safe, at least according to researchers at none other than Google itself. They reported last week on a survey that asked computer security pros how they stay safe. Applying security updates emerged as the experts’ number one priority.

Google has lately come up with workarounds for Android’s flawed security model. It has shunted many key functions into apps that it can push updates to via its app store. But that doesn’t cover all of Android, and the app store doesn’t have a way to signal to you whether an app wants to update for security reasons or just to add new features.

The text message vulnerability revealed today can’t be fully fixed by upgrading apps. And it’s not unlikely that most vulnerable phones will never get the security patches for Android that Google has developed and will offer up to manufacturers and cellular operators.

Android has done spectacularly well, but one feels that it’s overdue its Blaster moment.
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Start up: bitcoin’s price spiral, Siri gets smarter, Samsung + BlackBerry?, the truth about Google’s 20% time, and more

Is bitcoin’s price heading down this way? Photo by Christopher Chan on Flickr.

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

As bitcoin’s price slides, signs of a squeeze »

Sydney Ember:

the [bitcoin mining] industry is starting to feel the effects of the sustained decline. Some mining companies that invested heavily in resources when the price of Bitcoin was rising are struggling to keep their operations open.

“It obviously makes the environment for Bitcoin businesses difficult,” said Jonathan Levin, a digital currency consultant.

Bitcoin miners are computers that run Bitcoin’s open-source program and perform complex algorithms. If they find the solution before other miners, they are rewarded with a block of 25 Bitcoins — essentially “unearthing” new Bitcoins from the digital currency’s decentralized network. Such mining operations, though potentially lucrative, are also expensive, requiring huge amounts of equipment and electricity.

Now, these miners, who had bet on a higher price of the virtual currency to pay for resources, are selling their Bitcoins to keep their electricity running and return money to their lenders.

“People have these very real fiat-based liabilities that they have to pony up for, and to do that, they’re going to have to sell Bitcoins,” Mr. Schvey of TradeBlock said. These sales could in turn be driving down the price further.

This seems to me the best explanation for why bitcoin’s price is falling (along with Russia cracking down on exchanges there, which would also force sales). That in turn suggests a lower long-term price – some miners will be driven out permanently. (You can see the real-time price at – $172 as I write, below any level since October 2013.)

Bitcoin ponzi CryptoDouble disappears with at least 2233 bitcoins » CryptoCoinsNews

Bitcoin scams are back. CryptoDouble, a website founded on the promise of doubling its users’ deposits within 100 hours, ceased all its operations. At least 2233 BTC (about $500,000) have been cashed out on BTC-E, leaving thousands of customers out of pocket.

The service gained a significant popularity on Bitcointalk, where customers first testified about the service and its supposed effectiveness.

Despite several warnings from advanced Bitcoin users and previous Bitcoin Ponzi scams, a significant number of users have been attracted by the website’s promises and its investment possibilities.

Stories like this continue to demonstrate that bitcoin users aren’t somehow smarter than the rest of us.

Apple, Ericsson clash on LTE patents » Light Reading

Apple, however, appears to have initiated legal proceedings, filing a lawsuit in a US court on January 12 to prove that it has not infringed a subset of Ericsson’s patents and should pay lower royalties than the networks giant has demanded.

The device maker believes royalties should be based on the cost of the chips used in its devices, according to Reuters, but says Ericsson has been calculating licensing fees as a percentage of the value of the whole device.

Ericsson defended its approach in an email sent to Light Reading.

“Our view is that royalties should be based on the value that the technology in the device brings to the end-user,” said an Ericsson spokesperson. “The price of the chip-set has nothing to do with the value the technology brings to the end-user.”

Ericsson has also called on US legal authorities to determine whether its licensing offer to Apple is fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Possibly the previous deal was set up when Ericsson still had a mobile phone unit (with Sony), which led to prices being bargained down via patent swaps. Now, Ericsson just makes network kit – so there’s nothing for Apple to bargain against.

Alternatively, Ericsson is demanding a ton of money.

This is what happens when you create an online community without any rules » The Washington Post

Caitlin Dewey:

8chan, the more-lawless, more-libertarian, more “free” follow-up to 4chan, disappeared from the internet under predictable circumstances Monday: Multiple people complained to 8chan’s registrar that the message board hosted child porn.

8chan has since resurfaced at a new URL,, and purportedly recovered its original domain. But that doesn’t erase the inevitable lesson of the matter: When you create an Internet community with virtually no rules, things are bound to go down the drain.

The response of the denizens of 8chan: dox Dewey.

Exclusive: Samsung approaches BlackBerry about buyout – source » Reuters

Jennifer Ablan and Liana Baker:

Samsung Electronics recently approached BlackBerry about buying the smartphone maker for as much as $7.5bn in a play for its patent portfolio, according to a person familiar with the matter and documents seen by Reuters.

South Korea’s Samsung proposed an initial price range of $13.35 to $15.49 per share, representing a premium of 38% to 60% over BlackBerry’s current trading price, the source said.

Executives from the two companies, which are working with advisers, met last week to discuss a potential transaction, the source said, asking not to be identified because the conversations are private.

It remains unclear whether Blackberry, which has regained some of its lost swagger under CEO John Chen over the past year or so, was open to the approach. Representatives for the company declined to comment.

BlackBerry’s patents have for some time seemed like the only thing with ongoing value that it has. Its corporate and government customers might be happy enough with Samsung buying it.

For my analysis of BlackBerry’s most recent results, read There must be a horse in there somewhere.

360 Security climbs Google Play chart to top Tools and Free App categories » 360Safe

An excited press release from the company:

It’s safe to say that the third version of 360 Security, which we’ve just announced, is off to an explosive start.

On Tuesday 360 Security climbed to the top of the Google Play charts, peaking at No. 1 among Android Tools in 20 countries and counting. 360 Security has also broken into the Top 3 among all free Android apps in the U.S.

We knew heading into the development of 360 Security that the awareness surrounding smartphone threats and performance were low. Topping the Google Play chart means that the general audience in not only the US but also around the world are increasingly attentive today of the vulnerabilities and performance problems that may lurk within their devices.

I find this depressing.

Mayer: Google’s ‘20% Time’ does not exist » Business Insider

Nicholas Carlson (who has written a well-received book about Yahoo, and Marissa Mayer’s tenure there so far:

I learned that in the spring of 2013, Mayer stood up on stage during an all-employee meeting at Yahoo and debunked the 20% time myth.

Mayer was announcing something called the CEO Challenge — an initiative where teams that came up with cool new product ideas would get spot bonuses of $250,000. Mayer warned Yahoo employees not to work on CEO Challenge products instead of doing their regular work.

“It’s funny,” she said. “People have been asking me since I got here, ‘When is Yahoo going to have 20% time?'”

“I’ve got to tell you the dirty little secret of Google’s 20% time. It’s really 120% time.”

As in, work them into the ground. Play on their insecurities about what they can get done compared to those around them. Lots of companies do it.

As Blinkbox sold, just 4% in UK use the service monthly » GlobalWebIndex

Blinkbox, bought by TalkTalk and soon to be shut down, was reported to be making Tesco a considerable loss – and it’s easy to see why. Only 4% of UK online adults used Blinkbox last month. Even when we extend this to those who have used the service ever, the figure rises to just 14%.

Like most VOD services, Blinkbox could claim peaks among younger consumers. But these numbers were still low – 7% of 16-34s in the UK used the service monthly.

Perhaps most significantly, almost a fifth of UK internet users say they have never even heard of Blinkbox. In an industry where Netflix is grabbing Emmy awards, brand recognition problems of this type are pretty telling.

In fact, Netflix can boast a 22% usage rate in the UK – with almost 4 in 10 UK internet users saying they have used Netflix at some point.

Tesco is big, but I’m not that surprised about Blinkbox. Launched in 2007, Tesco bought into it in 2011, but it was still a hard sell: Tesco might have pushed it, but it had other distractions at the time. (Even so, 14% is creditable.)

Samsung returns to roots in components as phones stall » Bloomberg

This is from 8 January, so a week old – but I find it interesting for the analyst estimates:

Operating profit from semiconductors was probably 2.7trn won in the fourth quarter on sales of 10.8trn won, according to the median estimate of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. That would be a 35% increase in earnings from a year earlier.

Samsung and Globalfoundries Inc. are teaming up in the made-to-order chip business, an alliance aimed at winning orders from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co In October, Samsung said it would spend 15.6trn won building a chip plant south of Seoul.

“Samsung’s main business is now shifting back to semiconductors,” Peter Lee, a Seoul-based analyst at NH Investment & Securities (016420), said in a Jan. 2 report. The annual operating profit from the chip business this year will outpace that of the mobile unit, he said.

Operating income at the phone division probably fell to 1.6trn won on sales of 27trn won, according to the analyst survey. That would be the unit’s smallest quarterly profit in almost four years as Samsung faces increasing competition in China and India, the world’s two biggest smartphone markets.

Fewer shipments and higher marketing spending for new models during the quarter curtailed profit growth and limited the benefits of the September release of the large-screen Note 4, said Lee Seung Woo, an analyst at IBK Securities Co. in Seoul…

…Samsung probably shipped 75 million smartphones worldwide in the last three months of 2014, after selling 78.7 million units in the third quarter, according to HMC’s Roh.

Doonesbury Collection: the Newton

From August 1993. I was on a tour of Silicon Valley not long after, and visited companies including General Magic – whose staff included Andy Rubin, who went on to Danger and of course to found Android, and you know the rest there. I can’t remember if I met him or not. But I do remember that these strips were stuck beside doors as an Awful Warning.

Contrast that to now…

Quick thoughts: on Apple’s subtle machine learning improvements » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson, following up on reports that Apple’s Siri has quietly got faster, notes that it has also got smarter about telling him how long it would take to get to his basketball game:

What Apple’s machine learning engine did here was (as far as I can guess 1):

• Note that I had an item called “Basketball” in my calendar for that morning
• Make a connection with past appointments on Saturday mornings also called “Basketball”
• Look up past location behavior in its location database to connect a particular location with past instances of “Basketball” in my calendar
• Look up this address and calculate driving time between my current location and this destination
• Present it to me at a relevant time in the Today screen.

Again, Apple has talked up some functionality around using calendar locations explicitly entered in your calendar to provide these sorts of alerts, but I’m not sure it’s ever talked about the deeper machine learning stuff in evidence here. I’ve never seen exactly this sort of extrapolation from past behavior again since this occasion, but I have received other notifications on this screen that it’s time to leave for appointments where I’ve explicitly entered a location in my calendar, based on heavy traffic (it happened to me this past week at CES, for example).

Siri got a stuttering start, rather like Maps. Both function sufficiently well now; it’s the under-the-hood things that Apple is working on, slowly but surely.