Start up: Pono Pogued, Jawbone money hassles?, car hacking, Apple Watch ahoy!, and more

Apple Watch v the rest. Photo by Martin uit Utrecht on Flickr.

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

Neil Young’s PonoPlayer: The emperor has no clothes » Yahoo News

David Pogue idly kicks a hornet’s nest:

The Pono Player, once just a Kickstarter prototype, is now a product that anyone can buy, for $400. To hear the magic, you’re supposed to buy all new music—high-resolution audio files—from Pono’s new music store (, and load them onto your Pono using a new Mac or PC loading-dock program (Pono World). Albums cost about $25 each.

You’ve got to admit it: The argument for the Pono Player sure is appealing — that we don’t know what we’ve been missing in our music.

Unfortunately, it isn’t true.

I’m 51 and a former professional musician. I know how to listen. But when I bought Pono’s expensive remastered songs and compared them with the identical songs on my phone, I couldn’t hear any difference whatsoever.

He carried out an A/B test , but – DOOM! – used a Radioshack switch to do it. This has people saying that the switch is the reason why people couldn’t tell the difference. Uh, no. It’s electricity, not witchcraft.

BMW fixes security flaw in its in-car software » Reuters

Edward Taylor:

BMW said officials at German motorist association ADAC had identified the problem, which affected cars equipped with the company’s ConnectedDrive software using on-board SIM cards – the chips used to identify authorised users of mobile devices.

BMW drivers can use the software and SIM cards to activate door locking mechanisms, as well as a range of other services including real-time traffic information, online entertainment and air conditioning.…

…cybersecurity experts have criticized the automotive industry for failing to do more to secure internal communications of vehicles with network-connected features.

The danger, they say, is that once external security is breached, hackers can have free rein to access onboard vehicle computer systems which manage everything from engines and brakes to air conditioning.

They fear it is only a matter of time before hackers might break into wireless networks on cars to exploit software glitches and other vulnerabilities to try to harm drivers.

Charlie Miller, ex-NSA, is very interested in hacking cars – just to see what can be done. He was the person who showed publicly how to hack the iPhone back in 2009. So what he’s thinking, the NSA – and many others – probably are too.

Waze and the politics of public spaces » NYMag

Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

To let Waze pick your route is to feel a kind of surrender. The presence of all those other users in the system (50 million worldwide, dutifully flagging accidents and vehicles stopped on the side of the road and police cars up ahead) means that you never know whether you are being directed by the machine algorithm or the human ghost within it. You could imagine that my Dobbs Ferry detour was a kind of hiccup in the Waze mapping algorithm, or the consequence of someone driving up the Saw Mill ahead of me and mistakenly flagging an accident when they were trying to text. Or, if you are open to more devious possibilities, you might imagine an unscrupulous coffee-shop owner in downtown Dobbs Ferry continuously reporting phantom accidents on the Saw Mill, hoping to divert customers off the road and past his counter…

…The promise of Waze is that it occupies public spaces while subverting the public’s control of that space — the cops, whose speed traps are flagged by passing Wazers, and the arterial systems by which we funnel traffic away from residential neighborhoods. I think this explains that strange little feeling you get, both a bit anxious and a bit excited, when Waze starts sending your car on some manic sprint away from traffic

An odd feeling, and that’s just from traffic routing. Wait until it’s deciding what you do with your day all the time.

Let’s ignore each other together » Medium

Leigh Alexander:

Recently I was out to dinner with a big group of colleagues, chatting while we waited to be seated in a restaurant. I didn’t notice the sudden lull that had come over the group until someone commented, “So we’re all doing this, huh?”

Most of us were looking at our phones. And resigned in the act, too — no pretense of apology, no genuine sense that it was inappropriate or impolite. Once acknowledged, more people took phones out, and we all began concentrating on them in earnest rather than guiltily, enjoying the permission to indulge in the few minutes of relief we all knew we all wanted.

Despite the finger-wagging modern etiquette pieces, the obligation to provide your full attention to any one person or thing for a sustained period of time is becoming more difficult to meet.

Er.. is this a generational thing? If I’m out for dinner with people, then sure I’ll have put my phone away. It’s pretty easy really. But sure, you have to want to talk to people who are there.

The whole piece is an interesting take on Ringly, a ring that does notifications which I think is a novel approach to the topic.

One word sums up Google’s problem: Facebook » Seeking Alpha

Dana Blankenhorn (who owns Google stock) enunciating a view that is becoming increasingly widely held among industry analysts:

While Google Plus is a failure, Facebook is super-sticky, and acquisitions like Instagram and WhatsApp are designed to make it even stickier. While a 40-something Google user might be in-and-out in seconds, a 20-something Facebook user may spend hours on that site. Over the last year, Facebook is up 40% while Google stock is down 10%.

This doesn’t mean Google is dead. Google has an enormous global infrastructure, it has lots of smart people and it has enormous resources with which to address its problems. But YouTube isn’t or Netflix, as a studio it’s nowhere.

Google has always described its business as search, but what happens to customers when they find? This is something the company’s products have never answered. They’re the conduit, not the destination.

“Stickiness” matters; if people spend time on a service, that matters. Though you could ask “what about people looking at Facebook on Android phones?” But the ability to monetise mobile is where Facebook clearly shines – and outshines Google.

How ‘precarious’ are Jawbone’s finances? » Fortune

A lawsuit suggested the wearables company was a long way behind paying some debts, Adam Lashinsky explains:

One reason why Jawbone, a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, is having trouble paying its debts is that it isn’t profitable. What’s more, it has had trouble raising additional funding, despite having collected more than $400m in debt and equity over the course of its 16-year existence. As previously reported, Jawbone agreed with financial firm Rizvi Traverse early last year to an investment round of $250m. Yet over the course of 2014 not all the investment materialized. According to the Flextronics suit, in late June Jawbone agreed to a five-month payment plan with Flextronics. “Jawbone advised Flextronics that it would be receiving additional funding that would assure Jawbone’s ability to make the payments,” the suit says.

According to the suit, Jawbone again failed to make a payment deadline, prompting the suit, which was promptly settled. Jawbone, surprised the lawsuit documents were publicly available, issued the following statement: “The fact that the lawsuit was so quickly dismissed after it was filed shows that this business dispute was really more of a miscommunication between two partners.” According to multiple sources, Jawbone repeatedly has been late on payments to various vendors over the course of its corporate history.

Jawbone seems to pervasive to fail, and yet it’s the sort of thing that can happen. Who would buy it if it hits the rocks?

I spotted an Apple Watch on the train this morning, and now I’m a believer » VentureBeat

Mark Sullivan:

As the train stopped in a tunnel, the man apparently received a reminder on his wrist, and when he raised his wrist I got a clear view. No, it wasn’t one of the knockoffs they were selling at CES. This thing looked like a luxury item, and it had the now familiar “bubbles” Watch user interface.

I saw a text reminder on the screen, and then, briefly, a map. It appeared that the guy had been using the Watch for some time and was pretty used to it. The product is supposed to go on sale in April, but Apple gave Watches to a number of its employees to gather feedback and fix bugs.

On this guy, at least, the Watch looked proportionate to his wrist. The polished metal watch band looked very traditional, and, it seemed to me, made the Watch itself seem less out of the ordinary. It’s very much within the wristwatch paradigm, and doesn’t scream for attention.

One thing that disturbed me slightly about the device?

Like other blockbuster Apple products, when you see it, something somewhere in the corner of your mind clicks on, and then you realize:

You want one.

The commenters are enthralled. Well, that might be the wrong word. Obviously, they’ve all seen one and… no, hang on.

Cyanogen spurns Google acquisition interest, seeks $1bn valuation » The Information

Amir Efrati, in October 2014:

Billions of new customers will buy phones powered by Android before the end of the decade. Already there are hundreds of millions of Android phones that don’t run Google’s version of the software, but that group is highly fragmented. Cyanogen investors believe the company can consolidate a chunk of the non-Google-controlled Android market and build its own “ecosystem” of hardware and app partners.

As Google requires Android phone manufacturers to pre-install more Google-owned apps, much to the chagrin of Google’s rivals and some of those manufacturers, Cyanogen sees an opportunity to create an “open” platform that rewards the best services and applications based on what device owners choose. That’s closer to the original vision of Android co-founder Andy Rubin, who sold his startup to Google and developed the Android operating system there, before stepping aside for Mr. Pichai last year.

A Google spokesman did not have a comment. Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen’s CEO, acknowledged the startup is “talking to many potential partners including software makers and hardware manufacturers.” Existing investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Redpoint Ventures, Benchmark Capital and Chinese Web-services giant Tencent.

If Microsoft is investing, things become more interesting – and Cyanogen could be the route out of China for lots of software and services companies that otherwise can’t get onto Android handsets.

Why solar costs will fall another 40% in just two years » Renew Economy

Deutsche Bank notes that total module costs of leading Chinese solar companies have decreased from around $1.31 a watt in 2011 to around $0.50/W in 2014. It says this was primarily due to the reduction in processing costs, the fall in polysilicon costs and improvement in conversion efficiencies.

That represents a fall of around 60% in just three years. Deutsche Bank says total costs could fall another 30-40% over the next several years, with the greatest cost reductions are likely to come from the residential segments as scale and operating efficiencies improve.

It sees a precedent for this in the oldest major solar market in the world – Germany. “Costs today are well below costs in the United States and other less mature markets, and total installed costs have declined around 40% over the past three years in the country. The exact drivers behind cost declines may vary between countries, but we believe the German example continues to prove that overall system costs have yet to reach a bottom even in comparatively mature markets.”

Make a note: even with the plunging oil price, solar is going to be a sensible power source in the longer term.

Start up: Google Ventures investment in focus, Apple Watch controls in view, don’t buy Pono!, and more

Genes. Picture by Libertas Academica on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Do not use on exposed skin. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The man investing Google’s billions says we shouldn’t be afraid to live forever » The Verge

Ben Popper:

Google Ventures, the investment arm tasked with spending the search giant’s billions on exciting new companies, released its annual report last night. Interestingly, the majority of its money did not go into the areas of consumer internet services, mobile apps, and enterprise software that Google is best known for. Instead, of the $1.6bn it has under management, it put a whopping 35% of its new bets in 2014 into the category of life sciences and health, way up from less than 10% in the two years prior.

Google’s PR in action again. Life sciences and health have been attracting colossal amounts of investment for years now; there’s nothing magical about Google Ventures putting money into it. For comparison, VC funding in life sciences increased by 15% in 1Q 2014 to $1.7bn – up from $1.4bn in the same period a year before.

Note that we’re not told how much of the $1.6bn in Google Ventures has gone into life sciences. But it’s got Google’s name, and there’s an offer of a phone interview with someone who runs it and enthuses mightily about living forever – he was behind Project Calico, based on the idea that “no one was studying ageing at the genetic level”. I feel pretty certain that’s false, based on the many scientific researchers I spoke to between 1995 and 2004 at The Independent; just search for news stories about “telomeres” from 2000 onwards. Even so, this not-important announcement gets a big credulous doggie slurp – and doesn’t even get the comparative context I just gave you about investment levels.

And we call this journalism?

Apple Watch iPhone ‘Companion’ app revealed w/ new Watch features, monograms » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman (yes, him again – Mr 12in Powerbook):

Yesterday, we reported that the latest iOS 8.2 beta reveals that an Apple Watch application for the iPhone is in the works. Now, we have some more details. Within Apple, the application is currently called the Apple Watch “Companion” app for iPhone. This application manages settings for Apple Watch applications, as well as settings for iPhone/Watch interactivity. The Companion app’s settings reveal some novel new functions that are coming to the Apple Watch. Below, we highlight some of the most interesting new features and settings.

Looks, well, like some settings. Not sure about the notifications, unless you can choose which ones you get on the watch – who needs to know they’ve received an email?

The ‘Internet of Things’ now belongs to the product managers » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jay Goldberg:

the real business of building ecosystems is beginning. It will not be one ‘industry’ but new products and features in many industries.

I think this was best on display at the Lowe’s booth [at CES]. Lowe’s is giant hardware retailer, and I only stopped in their booth by accident, a friend of mine had just bought some locks for his home and saw a new model on display. Lowe’s was promoting its Iris ecosystem of connected devices. Beyond locks, this also included thermostats, sprinklers, windows, alarms and a whole range of other products you could expect to see on their shelves. I do not know much about Iris. It is a freemium service that sends sensor alerts for free and charges a monthly subscription of $10 if you want to apply more detailed rules to that (e.g. alerts when a window opens after 10pm). But they had a whole booth filled with partners. They are not relying on Nest or Apple or AT&T, but Schlage, Pella and other hardware suppliers. Traditional tech industry wisdom holds that eventually there will be one common platform that dominates. That is the economics of software. I think this may not happen in the home IoT segment. The market is just too big, with too many players. We could very well see multiple ecosystems thriving.

How many is “multiple”, though? Mobile just about supports three (iOS, Google Android, AOSP), with two also-rans (BlackBerry, Windows Phone). Would, or could, the IoT have more?

Sony CEO eyes options as pressure mounts on weak TV, mobile » Reuters

Ritsuko Ando:

As he prepares the latest revival plan ahead of the new business year, [chief executive Kazuo] Hirai, 54, must decide what to do with the financially weak operations that have already been subject to heavy cost cuts.

He told a small group of reporters at the Las Vegas show that his reforms have succeeded “in some parts but not in others”.

“Electronics in general, along with entertainment and finance, will continue to be an important business,” he said. “But within that there are some operations that will need to be run with caution – and that might be TV or mobile, for example.”

Yet cost cuts and a focus on high-end phones, a strategy led by Hiroki Totoki, the new chief of Sony’s mobile division, aren’t enough, said Citigroup analyst Kota Ezawa.

“The mobile and TV businesses both require a drastic overhaul,” he said. “Without drastic reforms such as joint ventures or alliances, they will both be in the red three years from now.”

Exiting the TV business would mean heavy restructuring costs and lost sales. Potential buyers might not want all the division’s assets, let alone at a high premium.

Sony only bought the half of the mobile business from Ericsson in 2012; already it’s looking distinctly peaky.

How Amazon tricks you into thinking it always has the lowest prices » Re/code

Jason Del Rey:

a study conducted by a startup called Boomerang Commerce reveals that Amazon’s pricing strategy is much more nuanced than simply undercutting the competition.

Boomerang, founded by Amazon veteran Guru Hariharan, makes software that tracks prices on shopping sites that compete with its clients, then recommends price changes dynamically. Those changes are based on rules its clients set about which products to match prices on and which to boost higher or drop lower than a competitor’s to boost profits or sales, respectively.

The study of Amazon’s pricing uncovered some interesting tactics. First, Amazon doesn’t have the lowest prices across the board, which may not surprise industry insiders but might surprise Amazon shoppers.

Instead, according to Boomerang’s analysis, Amazon identifies the most popular products on its site and consistently prices them under the competition. In one example, Boomerang observed Amazon testing price reductions on a $350 Samsung TV — one of the most popular TVs on Amazon — over the six months leading up to Black Friday. Then, on Black Friday, it dropped the price to $250, coming in well below competitors’ prices.

But when it comes to the HD cables that customers often buy with a new TV, Amazon actually pushed up the price by 33 percent ahead of the holidays.

Don’t buy what Neil Young is selling » Gizmodo

Mario Aguilar:

Though Young and Pono have failed to produce double-blind studies on the benefits of high-rate audio or their music player, inquiring minds have taken the time to do it. In a 2007 paper published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Brad Meyer and David Moran outline the results of a study in which they presented a large sample of “serious” listeners with a double blind test comparing 44.1 kHz audio from “the best high resolution discs we could find.” The goal was not to show which was better, but simply to find out if people could even tell the difference.

“None of these variables have shown any correlation with the results, or any difference between the answers and coin-flip results,” they write in their conclusion. Later they note, “Further claims that careful 16/44.1 encoding audibly degrades high-resolution signals must be supported by properly controlled double-blind tests.”

There are proponents of high-quality audio, and with really good systems – as in multi-thousand pound/dollar speakers and master tapes – you can definitely hear the difference; I’ve experienced it myself on visits to hi-fi companies, most recently Meridian. But outside listening rooms, out in the real world? You’ll be lucky to notice any difference between an MP3, AAC and CD.

May 2013: Microsoft and Google working together on new YouTube Windows Phone app » The Verge

Tom Warren:

Google is announcing today that it’s working together with Microsoft on a new YouTube application for Windows Phone. Following a fight with Microsoft over its unauthorized YouTube app, the pair appear to have resolved some of their differences. Google demanded that Microsoft should remove its app by May 22nd, but Microsoft issued an update to address some of Google’s concerns earlier this week. Google says “Microsoft and YouTube are working together to update the new YouTube for Windows Phone app to enable compliance with YouTube’s API terms of service, including enabling ads, in the coming weeks.”

January 2015: still nada. Some weeks have more trouble arriving than others. In fact, relations between Google and Microsoft have if anything gotten even worse of late.

AILW: Beta 4 Documentation Changes » David Smith

Smith is a third-party developer who has been doing a lot of work on Apple Watch app development:

I’ve set up a script to go out to download and normalize the WatchKit Programming Guide and Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines. Nothing fancy but it means that when a new Beta has been released I can easily diff between the old and new to look for relevant, interesting changes.

As you’d expect there are a bunch of little changes — Typos, rewordings, etc. I’m not interested in those for the purpose of this. Just material changes that will affect how I build apps.

They are shown below. Text in green (with an alternate background) is new. Struckthrough text was removed.

Start up: digging into Samsung’s numbers, Pono launches, a billion tablets!, a CES wearables binge, and more

These, but multiplied by a big number. Photo of tablets by Martin Voltri on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Contains small parts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I tried on 56 wearables today. Here’s a photo of every single one of them » VentureBeat

Harrison Weber:

I just tried on every single wearable I could find at CES 2015, and yes, I’m freaking exhausted.

The total count (so far) totals to 56 wearables across every category you can think of, from clip-on trackers to full-fledged Android and Linux-powered wrist computers. Heck, I even wore a smart sweatband.

Really worth scrolling through this lot.

Tablet users to surpass 1 billion worldwide in 2015 » eMarketer

More than 1 billion people worldwide will use a tablet in 2015, according to new figures from eMarketer, representing nearly 15% of the global population and more than double the number three years ago. By 2018, the number of tablet users in the world will reach 1.43 billion.

This is the first time eMarketer has made projections for the number of tablet users worldwide. The key takeaway is that growth in the global tablet-using population will slow dramatically in 2015 and continue to taper off.

That’s almost as many tablets as PCs; and that 2018 figure surely is. The slowing growth in sales of tablets doesn’t mean people are giving up on tablets – just that they’ve sold in amazing numbers already.

The truth about 4K and curved TVs » Business Insider

Let Henry Blodget walk the floor of CES and tell you it like it is:

true: 4K TVs do look sharper than regular high-definition TVs. But they do not offer anywhere near the same leap in sharpness and enjoyment as the jump from regular def to high-def did. So don’t prepare to be astounded.

As I was getting my first look at 4K TVs, I asked myself how much the 4K feature would be worth to me.

I concluded that if both TVs were the same price, I’d take the 4K. Why not? It’s sharper.

I concluded that if the 4K were maybe 10% or 20% more than the HD, I might even shell out that much extra for the 4K.

But there is no way I would pay two times the premium that 4K TVs are commanding.

Wait until you hear what he thinks of curved screens, too.

Samsung’s mobile moment of Truth – The Information

Jessica Lessin:

The world’s largest consumer electronics company showed off a giant television, a slew of “Internet of Things” connected devices and an oven that cooks two dishes at once. (Don’t all ovens do that?)

But the spectacle was all a sideshow for what really matters for the hardware company. That is how it plans to remain relevant in the area of technology that will end up controlling these futuristic connected devices: smartphones…

…Most at risk is Samsung’s mobile chief J.K. Shin. While he survived a management shakeup at the end of last year, people who work at the company say he may only have one more chance to prove he can stabilize the business. He will fire that shot in the spring with the launch of the latest version of Samsung’s Galaxy phones, the hotly anticipated S6…

…Unfortunately for Mr. Shin, according to those people [in his mobile group] there’s little about the device that could help restore Samsung’s momentum. While company executives have been internally praising its slick design, reported images leaked online show a device that is little different from the most recent Galaxy phone.

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Samsung earnings hint at recovery » WSJ

Jonathan Cheng, on the pre-announcement announcement from Samsung Electronics that Q4 2014 revenues will be down about 12%, and operating profit down about 37% (to a margin of 10%):

In the third quarter of 2014, Samsung’s mobile profit margins dropped to just 7.1% from nearly 20% at the beginning of the year.

In the fourth quarter, the mobile division likely suffered a drop in handset shipments compared with the third quarter, even as the company rolled out its new Galaxy Note 4 smartphone-tablet hybrid, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The company is already beginning to look beyond smartphones for growth. Earlier this week, Samsung co-chief executive B.K. Yoon said in a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that by 2020, “every single piece of Samsung hardware will be an IoT device, whether it is an air purifier or an oven.”

I’ve tried modelling how many handsets Samsung shipped, based on this small amount of data; the “drop in handset shipments” suggests fewer than 78.5m.

The only way I could get that is (1) mobile revenues are about 45% of total revenues and (2) average selling price (ASP) is $300-$325, substantially ahead of the $230 ASP of Q3. That would give a range of 72-78m. A lower ASP or higher proportion of revenues could easily push it to 80m. We’ll see.

Yahoo’s US share on Firefox quadruples after deal » Computerworld

Gregg Keizer, with more fine-grained detail that I wondered about yesterday:

As of Jan. 6, Yahoo’s search usage share on Firefox 34 was 32.2%, or more than four times the 7.5% that Yahoo had on Firefox 33 on the same day.

The Yahoo increase in Firefox 34 came at the expense of Google, which had a 60.8% share in that version, significantly lower than the 86.1% in Firefox 33. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, at 5.5% in Firefox 34, was only slightly up from the 5.4% in Firefox 33.

On Jan. 6, StatCounter’s search provider usage shares for all browsers in the US were 75.3% for Google, 12.4% for Bing and 10.5% for Yahoo. In other words, Firefox 34 users were more than three times likelier to reach a destination page from a Yahoo search than the US average because of the new default.

Now wondering how much value that yields to Yahoo, and whether it will have to detail the financial arrangement in its next quarterly filing.. this month.

Palm makes a comeback! China’s TCL to ‘recreate’ the brand » Facebook

Lynn Hill Fox, a PR, noted the CNet story about this and wondered what Ed Colligan – who ran Palm – thought of it. Colligan popped up to comment:

I think it’s amazing these companies think they can buy a brand and stick some crappy products under it, and somehow they will get the benefit of the brand. The reason the brand was strong is we built compelling products that delighted our customers over 15 years. The word Palm is still a great name for mobile products, but they’ll have to actually build great products and be a great company to instill brand value in it again. Good luck to them.

I think that last sentence actually means the opposite of what he said.

PonoMusic store launches with album prices up to $27.49 » Musically

Stuart Dredge:

The store’s launch provides an answer to one of the key questions about PonoMusic: how much it would charge for its high-definition albums. More than regular downloads, yes, but how much more? Judging by the music available at launch, individual tracks are going for between $1.99 and $2.99, while albums can range from $17.99 up to $27.49 – although admittedly the latter is for the deluxe version of Led Zeppelin IV.

The obvious comparison is with vinyl rather than iTunes. However, there may be some concerns over fragmentation on the PonoMusic store, not just in terms of price but in terms of audio quality.

Pono has a “music quality spectrum” infographic showing that music will be available in four separate tiers of quality: from 16-bit 44.1KHz up to 24-bit 192Khz, with an “audio resolution” bar showing which each album falls into. It is difficult to imagine, say, Apple following a similar path rather than standardising a quality level for its suppliers.

This will sink straight off the slipway.