Start up: Asus’s router screwup, slower smartphones, Ek speaks, the FBI’s other iPhones, hi – it’s Sony, and more

What if you reduced novels to their punctuation? How would they look? Photo by Jilligan86 on Flickr.

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

ASUS settles FTC charges that insecure home routers and “cloud” services put consumers’ privacy at risk » Federal Trade Commission

»Taiwan-based computer hardware maker ASUSTeK Computer, Inc. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that critical security flaws in its routers put the home networks of hundreds of thousands of consumers at risk. The administrative complaint also charges that the routers’ insecure “cloud” services led to the compromise of thousands of consumers’ connected storage devices, exposing their sensitive personal information on the internet…

…ASUS marketed its routers as including numerous security features that the company claimed could “protect computers from any unauthorized access, hacking, and virus attacks” and “protect [the] local network against attacks from hackers.” Despite these claims, the FTC’s complaint alleges that ASUS didn’t take reasonable steps to secure the software on its routers.

For instance, according to the complaint, hackers could exploit pervasive security bugs in the router’s web-based control panel to change any of the router’s security settings without the consumer’s knowledge…

…In February 2014, hackers used readily available tools to locate vulnerable ASUS routers and exploited these security flaws to gain unauthorized access to over 12,900 consumers’ connected storage devices.

«

Swingeing fine? No – just “a comprehensive security program subject to independent audits for the next 20 years.” Pfft.
link to this extract

 


Session with Daniel Ek / Feb 16, 2016 » Quora

Lots of questions and answers from Spotify’s founder/chief. I found this one interesting:

»

Q: How will you compete as Amazon, Google (incl. YouTube), Apple, etc. strengthen and expand the scope of their respective lock-in?

A: I believe in focus. All of the companies you mention have music as a hobby, a very small part of their overall business. We do one thing and try to do it really well. This means we have a company 100% dedicated to finding the right content, personalizing it for you and serving it up with partners who are specialized in what they do. The big platform companies don’t generally like partnering. We do. This opens up lots of doors. To put it another way, we are really focused on delivering the best possible music experience you can find. I’m not saying we don’t think about the competition – of course we do, it would be crazy not to. But we think about them more in terms of how to make Spotfy so easy, so fun, and so relevant for our users that whether you wait on lines for every new Apple device, get your groceries from Amazon Prime, or use every Google mail and workplace app, you still want to listen to music on Spotify because it’s the best experience there is.

«

link to this extract

 


Pirated App Store client for iOS found on Apple’s App Store » HelpNet Security

Zeljka Zorz:

»The app hasn’t been flagged as potentially dangerous by Apple’s strict code reviewers, most likely because the app was made to look like a simple app for learning English if a reviewer (or user) accessed the app from anywhere outside China, and showed its true face only for those located in China.

Also, it’s coded in the Lua programming language, and this allows the developers to update the app remotely and repeatedly without triggering Apple’s app review process.

The app was available for download in the App Store for over three and a half months (since October 30, 2015 to the end of last week), but has now been removed.

The researchers haven’t discovered any actual malicious functionality in the app, but given its capabilities, it should definitely be considered risky to use. They dubbed it ZergHelper, and discovered over 50 enterprise-signed versions of the app being distributed in the wild through alternative channels.

«

Enterprise certificates are still the biggest weak point for getting apps onto iPhones. This one was clever too in using geolocation, and Lua.
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Justice Department seeks to force Apple to extract data from about 12 other iPhones » WSJ

Devlin Barrett:

»The letter, written last week from an Apple lawyer to a federal judge, lists the locations of those phone cases: Four in Illinois, three in New York, two in California, two in Ohio, and one in Massachusetts.

The letter doesn’t describe the specific types of criminal investigations related to those phones, but people familiar with them said they don’t involve terrorism cases. The 12 cases remain in a kind of limbo amid the bigger, more confrontational legal duel between the government and the company over an iPhone seized in the terror case in California, these people said.

«

How surprising that the other cases where the Department wants to do exactly the same aren’t about a high-profile mass shooting that has been framed as “terrorism”.

On another note, this story has prompted some excellent reporting. Such as the next one…
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Secret memo details US’s broader strategy to crack phones » Bloomberg Business

Terrific scoop by Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson:

»In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The approach was formalized in a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” tasking government agencies with developing encryption workarounds, estimating additional budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark” problem: investigators being unable to access the contents of encrypted data stored on mobile devices or traveling across the Internet. Details of the memo reveal that, in private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.

«

link to this extract

 


Bitcoin miners back proposed timeline for 2017 hard fork » CoinDesk

Stan Higgins:

»A group of bitcoin miners constituting close to 80% of the network hashrate, as well representatives from exchanges, service providers and contributors to the Bitcoin Core development project, have proposed a development timeline for scaling the bitcoin network.

The statement’s release comes after a more than 18 hour-long meeting in Hong Kong that drew participants from China’s bitcoin mining community and members of the Bitcoin Core team.

Some of the letter’s signatories were party to a previous statement that voiced opposition to any “contentious hard fork” to the bitcoin network.

According the proposed timeline, Bitcoin Core contributors Matt Corallo, Luke Dashjr, Cory Fields, Johnson Lau and Peter Todd will produce and recommend code for a hard fork to the bitcoin network that would feature a block size increase. The code for this proposal is expected to be made available by July.

«

The picture accompanying the article shows that the group comprises 21 people. So much for bitcoin being decentralised: this group decides which way everything moves.
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Punctuation in novels » Medium

Adam Calhoun:

»When we think of novels, of newspapers and blogs, we think of words. We easily forget the little suggestions pushed in between: the punctuation. But how can we be so cruel to such a fundamental part of writing?

Inspired by a series of posters, I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words.

Here’s Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner.

«

A lovely idea. Hemingway turns out to be a radical.
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Sony worms way into Ear with Xperia headset-cum-virtual assistant » Ars Technica UK

Mark Walton:

»As it dawns on smartphone makers that—after years of healthy upgrades—consumers are perfectly happy with their existing phone, they’ve started to pile on the features instead. LG has its wacky upgradable G5, Samsung has its Gear VR headset, and Sony… well, it’s got the Xperia Ear, a Bluetooth headset-cum-virtual assistant that it hopes will take away the need for everyone to keep pulling their smartphones out of their pockets.

You can take calls with Xperia Ear, send messages, get the latest traffic updates, and it’ll even send you directions using GPS (via the phone it’s paired with). None of that is particularly innovative as such, but the Ear’s USP is the way its packaged up into a neat, and arguably more reliable package that your traditional virtual assistant along the lines of Siri or Google Now. For instance, when a call comes in and you pick up the Ear, it has a proximity sensor that automatically answers the call and flings it to your earlobe.

If you’re stuck for the perfect cupcake recipe or want to know who invented the Burrito (sorry, I have the MWC hunger), the Ear can find that stuff out too via voice activated Internet searches. Again, this is functionality most people already have access to via their phone, but Sony hopes that by removing the need to pull out their phones altogether, and instead reach for the Ear, people will won’t be quite as shut out from the outside world.

OK, so the concept is clearly a strange one, and there’s evidence to suggest that such devices—like the similar Motorola hint—have struggled to find a market.

«

Can’t imagine why. You make it sound so… useful.
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Google to shut down Google Compare products in US and UK on March 23 » Search Engine Land

Ginny Marvin:

»The company only recently began rebuilding the Compare product from the ashes of the Advisor program in the US. The single piece left standing from that initial effort was the credit card offering — savings accounts, CDs and mortgages had all discontinued. Compare for Auto Insurance launched just last March, starting in California. Then Google relaunched Compare for Mortgage quotes in November with Zillow and Lending Tree among the launch partners. Both of those relaunches had limited roll outs. In the UK, Google Compare has been running since 2012 for car insurance, mortgage rates, credit cards and travel insurance.

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that while searches on these queries remained high, the product didn’t get the traction it hoped for and revenue was minimal. That’s in part due to the limited availability of the products in both the US and the UK.

«

Another one for the graveyard.
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Double-digit smartphone market growth is over » Kantar Worldpanel

»Feature phone owners across markets are challenged in finding smartphones that offer what they consider a good value for money spent. They are unlikely to upgrade to a smartphone until they can no longer rely on their current device. While looking year over year might not be enough to see a clear trend, examining the past three years makes it clear that smartphone life cycles are getting longer.

In mature markets, the profitable high end of the market is saturated. In the US, the high-end segment, devices with an unsubsidized price of more than $500 represented 48% of sales in 2015, growing a mere 9% over 2014. In the EU5, where the high-end segment represented just 27% of sales, growth was commensurately lower than in the US, coming in at 6%.

What should the industry expect for 2016? According to Milanesi, 48% of smartphone owners in the EU5 are currently planning to upgrade their smartphone over the next 12 months. This number decreases to 46% in the US, and 28% in urban China. Consumer brand preference for their next device varies a little by region, but two brand names that remain prominent are Apple and Samsung.

«

link to this extract

 


Google + GSMA announcement on RCS is no gamechanger » Disruptive Wireless

Dean Bubley:

»From the announcement: “Operators have agreed to transition toward a common, universal profile based on the GSMA’s RCS specifications and an Android RCS client provided by Google.”

It’s belatedly throwing various independent RCS app providers under the bus, trying to make disparate RCS implementations actually work together. As with VoLTE, RCS has suffered a wide range of non-interoperable versions to date, which is rather embarrassing for an application that was mainly standardised for the purpose of interoperability, rather than user-utility.

That it’s failed to actually be interoperable, as well as failed to be useful & well-designed, is just another eaten brain in the 8-year zombie catastrophe of RCS.

What’s interesting is what’s not in the statement:

– No mention of messaging-as-a-platform, despite that being hinted at previously in RCS presentations I’ve seen. Given that WeChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and others are shifting to commerce/advertising “streams”, that’s a surprising omission.
– No current usage numbers for RCS. There’s vague pronouncements about “towards a billion users”, but no baseline of current DAUs/MAUs for “proper” RCS usage, not just SMS-replacement texting.
– It doesn’t mention the new RCS client being made mandatory in future Android builds. It just says it’s available. The PR is very operator-centric, which doesn’t seem to suggest that all OEMs will automatically implement it in new devices, especially where they’re sold through open-market channels.
– No reference to whether the client will be appearing on WiFi-only tablets, or other Android devices (cars, watches, Chromebooks etc)
– No mention of AT&T or Verizon in the press release, although there’s an AT&T speaker at MWC on stage with them apparently (link)
– No clear timelines or wholehearted commitment by Google “an important step forward in bringing a better messaging experience for Android users everywhere”
– No mention of Samsung, which also happened to have Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook keynoting its big press conference yesterday. Given Google is trying to wrest back control of Android from its OEMs’ influence, that’s not a good sign for Samsung+RCS
– No reference to the South Korean operators ditching Joyn recently.

It’s also still unclear exactly what the future RCS business/revenue model might look like. Although it references the Jibe platform for MNOs, it doesn’t rule out my previous hypothesis of “Android iMessage” either.

«

link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: sexism in funding, Powa struggles, China’s smartphone rat race, Apple software, and more

Good password on paper

A bit dated? Doesn’t matter, password crackers are after you. Photo by Simon Lieschke on Flickr.

It’s a secret, but you can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Tell no one.

A selection of 9 links for you. Plaited in plaid. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

VCs- don’t compare me to your wife, just don’t » Medium

Sarah Nadav:

Investors, you should know that the only thing that I have in common with your wife is a vagina. You need to know that because the women who are sitting in front of you to pitch are Entrepreneurs – and we are a totally different breed of human being than just about anyone else.

Your wife may or may not be an entrepreneur. But the extent to which she is founding a company is the extent to which I have something in common with her.

When you ask me about having it all, or how am I going to manage my kids, I seriously think that you are insane. Because in my head, I can’t imagine a scenario where you trust someone with millions of dollars to run a business but think that they don’t know how to deal with childcare.

Oh, but you have to read the message exchange with one venture capitalist about A Woman’s Place. According to him it definitely isn’t in the boardroom.
link to this extract

 


China smartphone market sees its highest shipment ever of 117.3m in 2015Q4 » IDC

Shipments grew 8% year-on-year in the quarter:

“Xiaomi, Huawei and Apple are the top smartphone players in 2015. This is a stark contrast to the top players in 2013, which was Samsung, Lenovo and Coolpad – with Samsung clearly dominating other players. With operators reducing smartphone subsidy and given the volatility of consumers’ brand preference in the market, the smartphone scene has changed significantly since then,” says Tay Xiaohan, Senior Market Analyst with IDC Asia/Pacific’s Client Devices team.

“Xiaomi entered the market at a time when the China smartphone market was still growing, and was able to capture a significant market share with its disruptive sales model. Huawei, with its investments in R&D, strong products, branding and channel connections, saw it having significant growth in 2015. Apple, on the other hand, continues to be a strong and desirable brand in the eyes of the Chinese consumers. With the Chinese market now slowing down, it is unlikely that we will see any new players making a big impact on the smartphone market compared to the way Xiaomi did in the previous years,” adds Ms. Tay.

So the door is shut to new entrants. Remember that scene in Skyfall where Javier Bardem is describing rat removal to James Bond? (Here’s the link if you’d forgotten.) The smartphone business in China now turns into that scenario.
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The superhero of artificial intelligence: can this genius keep it in check? » The Guardian

Clemency Burton-Hill on DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis. The interview with him is OK – though mostly dead-bat responses from him – but I thought this was more indicative of the challenge, and potential for the company:

Upstairs, wrapping the original building, is a modern open-plan structure featuring a deck with undeniably magnificent views of London’s rooftops.

It’s up here, on Friday nights, that the DeepMinders gather for drinks. One employee describes the ritual to me enthusiastically as a way “to end the week on a high”. Socialising is an intrinsic way of life: I’m told of the DeepMind running club, football team, board games club. (“That one gets pretty competitive.”) A wall chart with moveable photographs indicates where everyone is hot-desking on any given day. It’s aggressively open-plan. The engineers – mostly male – that I pass in the corridors shatter the stereotype of people working in the nerdier corners of human endeavour: these guys look fit, happy, cool. A certain air of intellectual glamour, it has to be said, vibrates in the atmosphere. And no wonder. The smartest people on the planet are queuing up to work here, and the retention rate is, so far, a remarkable 100%, despite the accelerating focus on AI among many of Google’s biggest competitors, not to mention leading universities all over the globe.

“We’re really lucky,” says Hassabis, who compares his company to the Apollo programme and Manhattan Project for both the breathtaking scale of its ambition and the quality of the minds he is assembling at an ever increasing rate. “We are able to literally get the best scientists from each country each year. So we’ll have, say, the person that won the Physics Olympiad in Poland, the person who got the top maths PhD of the year in France. We’ve got more ideas than we’ve got researchers, but at the same time, there are more great people coming to our door than we can take on. So we’re in a very fortunate position. The only limitation is how many people we can absorb without damaging the culture.”

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Powa Technologies missed staff and contractor payments » FT.com

Kadhim Shubber and Murad Ahmed:

Powa has raised about $175m, mainly from Boston-based investment fund Wellington Management, which the company says values it at $2.7bn.

Its headquarters are spread over two floors in what Mr Wagner called in one of the videos “the opulent surroundings” of Heron Tower, a skyscraper in the heart of City of London. A person with knowledge of the matter said that Powa could be paying as much as £2.5m a year.

When Powa was founded in 2007, it planned to develop a mobile payments system. More recently it has focused on its PowaTag product, a mobile platform that allows people to buy and order a product by photographing an image of it with their mobile phones.

Mr Wagner has predicted that the business will be bigger than Google or Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce group. “What we’re building here is the biggest tech company in living memory,” he told the Financial Times in April last year.

But in the video to staff, Mr Wagner said that the company was “basically pre-revenue”, a term that refers to a lack of sales. “As we go forward from here that revenue will start to flow in meaningful ways but right now it isn’t,” he said.

link to this extract

 


Dan Lyons’ HubSpot book ‘Disrupted’: a few predictions » BostInno

Kyle Alspach on the forthcoming book from “Fake Steve Jobs”, aka Lyons, who worked for a while at Hubspot:

• The book is going to accuse HubSpot’s management of being hypocritical—touting how the company is making a positive difference in the world when in reality, according to Lyons at least, they’re not much better than spammers. We already knew this from the shorter description that was posted previously, but the superlatives from other authors suggest just how central the theme will be to the book:

– “Dan Lyons goes deep inside a company that uses terms like ‘world class marketing thought leaders’ to show us how ridiculous, wasteful, and infantile tech start-ups like this can be.”―Nick Bilton (author of “Hatching Twitter”)

– Disrupted “just might tell us something important about the hypocrisy and cult-like fervor inside today’s technology giants.”―Brad Stone (author of “The Everything Store”)

– “Disrupted explores the ways in which many technology companies have come to fool the public and themselves.”—Ashlee Vance (author of “Elon Musk”)

• Some HubSpot executives will definitely be singled out. Such as: “Dan’s absentee boss sent cryptic emails about employees who had ‘graduated’ (read: been fired).”

Waiter! Popcorn!
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Password cracking attacks on Bitcoin wallets net $103,000 » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

Hackers have siphoned about $103,000 out of Bitcoin accounts that were protected with an alternative security measure, according to research that tracked six years’ worth of transactions. Account-holders used easy-to-remember passwords to protect their accounts instead of the long cryptographic keys normally required.

The heists were carried out against almost 900 accounts where the owners used passwords to generate the private encryption keys required to withdraw funds. In many cases, the vulnerable accounts were drained within minutes or seconds of going live. The electronic wallets were popularly known as “brain wallets” because, the thinking went, Bitcoin funds were stored in users’ minds through memorization of a password rather than a 64-character private key that had to be written on paper or stored digitally. For years, brain wallets were promoted as a safer and more user-friendly way to secure Bitcoins and other digital currencies, although Gregory Maxwell, Gavin Andresen, and many other Bitcoin experts had long warned that they were a bad idea.

Here’s a paper about what happened; to crack the wallets, tables with as many as billions of potential passwords may have been deployed against them. Yes, billions.
link to this extract

 


New finding may explain heat loss in fusion reactors » MIT News

The expectation by physicists for more than a decade had been that turbulence associated with ions (atoms with an electric charge) was so much larger than turbulence caused by electrons — nearly two orders of magnitude smaller — that the latter would be completely smeared out by the much larger eddies. And even if the smaller eddies survived the larger-scale disruptions, the conventional thinking went, these electron-scale whirls would be so much smaller that their effects would be negligible.

The new findings show that this conventional wisdom was wrong on both counts. The two scales of turbulence do indeed coexist, the researchers found, and they interact with each other so strongly that it’s impossible to understand their effects without including both kinds in any simulations.

However, it requires prodigious amounts of computer time to run simulations that encompass such widely disparate scales, explains Howard, who is the lead author on the paper detailing these simulations.

Accomplishing each simulation required 15 million hours of computation, carried out by 17,000 processors over a period of 37 days at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center — making this team the biggest user of that facility for the year. Using an ordinary MacBook Pro to run the full set of six simulations that the team carried out, Howard estimates, would have taken 3,000 years.

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Apple’s elephant in the room » Medium

Alexandra Mintsopoulos on the meme about Apple’s “declining” software quality:

If the biggest example that can be pointed to is iTunes or its back-end (which seem to generate the most criticism) then there isn’t any validity to the idea that Apple’s software quality is declining. iTunes has been the target of complaints for as long as anyone can remember and it seems clear that it will be reworked much like Photos, iWork, or Final Cut have been (and likely receive the same backlash for missing functionality). The reason it hasn’t been done sooner is obvious: it has hundreds of millions of users and transacts billions of dollars in sales, revamping it from the ground up is akin to fixing an airplane while it’s in flight and won’t be done lightly.

There is a massive disconnect between enthusiasts and Apple’s broader customer base on the perception of Apple’s software quality. That is a PR problem for Apple to solve, not a software one.

I thought it was pretty clear in Eddy Cue’s appearance on John Gruber’s podcast (linked here yesterday) that Cue said iTunes is being redesigned, but you don’t do that sort of thing in an afternoon. The vast majority of iTunes-on-desktop users are not using Apple Music. The problem that then needs to be solved is to what extent iTunes could, or should, be broken into multiple apps.
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My Telltale heart: From Monkey Island to the Walking Dead – games matter » The Malcontent

Mic Wright, arguing (on yesterday’s point) that yes, video games are a cultural product:

Most of the brain trust from LucasArts ended up in a berth at TellTale games, where the rabbit and pooch P.I team of Sam & Max and Guybrush Threepwood, the protagonist of the Monkey Island games, also ended up.

Preempting a question I have just imagined Charles – who commissioned my first ever piece for The Guardian – asking, Telltale/LucasArts has also delivered more serious and dramatic gaming experiences. The Game of Thrones and Walking Dead games developed by the studio drop the player into storylines where moral and tactical decisions are at the heart of the gameplay.

In the branching narratives, you’re forced to decide which friends or allies to sacrifice among other pretty gut-wrenching choices. Both sets of titles fundamentally dive into the nature of what it is to be a human in society and, through your choices, end up making you think about your real life character and behaviour.

Of course lots of games are just games, but then what does the average Adam Sandler movie or Dan Brown novel tell us about the human experience?

Touché on that last one. I remain sceptical; I’m not saying that video games cannot be cultural, emotional experiences. However, I don’t think they’ve generally achieved that yet. The question is whether they will continue to remain at the Sandler/Brown end of the spectrum, where I think they are.

After all, very few “games” (chess, squash, football) achieve “cultural event” status. The only ones I can think off immediately are the 1972 Fischer-Spassky chess match (west v east, a cold war fought with chess pieces) and 1997’s chess match of Kasparov v Deep Blue (humans v machines – disappointing outcome). Wimbledon finals, World Cup finals, some Olympic events do manage a “where were you when..?” status, but that’s not quite the same as having cultural impact – i.e. showing us something about where we really are. Any other suggestions?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Apple on software, 1970 reporting, Microsoft leaves ICOMP?, cycling’s new doping scandal, and more

Voters at the Iowa caucus were profiled and tracked via their phones – perhaps without knowing. Photo by ellenmac11 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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

(To help formatting on the email, I’ve added » and « on the blockquotes to make it clearer what is quoted, and what is my commentary.)

The Talk Show ✪: Ep. 146, with very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi » Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»
Very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi join the show. Topics include: the new features in Apple’s upcoming OS releases (iOS 9.3 and tvOS 9.2); why Apple is expanding its public beta program for OS releases; iTunes’s monolithic design; how personally involved Eddy and Craig are in using, testing, and installing beta software; the sad decline of Duke’s men’s basketball team; and more.
«

This is, what, the second or third time I’ve recommended a podcast? This is an hour, and fascinating (with data points: iMessage peaked at 200,000 per second, there are 782m iCloud users – v 1bn devices in use, so do the maths – and 11m Apple Music subscribers, up from 10m in December).

Federighi’s point about how they tracked Bluetooth keyboard use for the Apple TV, and which calendar week it dwindled to zero, made me laugh aloud.

You can consider *why* Apple made Cue and Federighi available to Gruber, and it’s pretty obvious: they’re aiming to get their message out about Apple’s software and services quality, after all sorts of criticism lately. And that performance turns out to be pretty impressive – hundreds of millions of users who turn them on straight away that it goes live, such as iOS 9.0, iCloud Drive, and so on. Are they perfect? No. But they iterate to improvement pretty fast, given their scale.
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Cycling’s mechanical-doping scandal » Business Insider

Daniel McMahon:

»
In the days that followed, the UCI said it had tested more than a hundred bikes at the world championships — and that it would be testing a lot more going forward:

»
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has taken the issue of technological fraud extremely seriously for many years. It has been clear for some time that the equipment exists to enable people determined to cheat to do so by installing devices hidden in bikes. That is why we’ve invested considerable time and financial resources in organising unannounced tests at races and have recently been trialing new methods of detection. We’ve also been using intelligence gathered from the industry and other information given to us. We tested over 100 bikes at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder and will continue to test large numbers of bikes at races throughout the season.
«

And sure enough, on Friday, February 12, the UCI announced it had tested another 90 bikes for motors, but this time at a road race in France.
«

This is weird. Motors in bicycles is A Thing. A Doping Thing.
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64-bit iPhones and iPads get stuck in a loop when set to January 1, 1970 » Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»
Take a 64-bit iOS device—iPhone 5S or newer, iPad Air or newer, iPad Mini 2 or newer, sixth generation iPod touch or newer—laboriously set its date to January 1, 1970, and reboot. Congratulations: you now have a shiny piece of high-tech hardware that’s stuck at the boot screen, showing nothing more than the Apple logo… forever.
«

From the highest-rated comment on the comments below the story:

»
It appears to solve itself when the internal clock is allowed to advance normally to a point when «current time» minus time zone is greater than zero.

(This may be why people are seeing a battery drain fix it or see it fixed when inserting a SIM card that supports carrier time information)
«

Versions of Bright’s story, all written from the same YouTube video, are all over the web. More informed (and stupider) comments can be found beneath them (where they allow comments). The more informed ones point out the errors.

It’s quite the problem for journalists: news editors clamour for the story now, but it’s hard to check all the details, and especially the causes. This isn’t a “forever” bug. But you need to get the story written. That lack of time to research and check erodes trust in outlets which have been quick to follow a YouTube video. It’s not “permanent”, it’s not “bricked”, it’s not “forever”.

Though they then get a second bite of the cherry with “how to fix” articles. (Answer: let the battery run down.)
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This company tracked Iowa caucusgoers through their phones » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»
What really happened is that Dstillery gets information from people’s phones via ad networks. When you open an app or look at a browser page, there’s a very fast auction that happens where different advertisers bid to get to show you an ad. Their bid is based on how valuable they think you are, and to decide that, your phone sends them information about you, including, in many cases, an identifying code (that they’ve built a profile around) and your location information, down to your latitude and longitude.

Yes, for the vast majority of people, ad networks are doing far more information collection about them than the NSA–but they don’t explicitly link it to their names.

So on the night of the Iowa caucus, Dstillery flagged all the auctions that took place on phones in latitudes and longitudes near caucus locations. It wound up spotting 16,000 devices on caucus night, as those people had granted location privileges to the apps or devices that served them ads. It captured those mobile ID’s and then looked up the characteristics associated with those IDs in order to make observations about the kind of people that went to Republican caucus locations (young parents) versus Democrat caucus locations. It drilled down farther (e.g., ‘people who like NASCAR voted for Trump and Clinton’) by looking at which candidate won at a particular caucus location.
«

Deeply disturbing. You can bet that tons of those people had no idea that they were being profiled, or that their data was even being shared in that way.
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Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m thinking it may be good to be off social media altogether’ » The Guardian

»
Ian Tucker: What do you find most objectionable about the kind of economy that technology appears to create?

Douglas Rushkoff: What’s most pernicious about it is that we are developing companies that are designed to do little more than take money out of the system – they are all extractive. There’s this universal assumption that we have to turn working currency into share price.
«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft looks to be retreating from EU antitrust fight against Google » Ars Technica

Quite a scoop from Kelly Fiveash:

»
Ars has learned that members including UK-based price comparison site Foundem—the original complainant in the antitrust case against Google—resigned from ICOMP after Microsoft backed away from what had been a dogged campaign against its search rival in Europe. ICOMP was founded in 2008 to fight for an “online competitive marketplace.”

One source told us that Microsoft had agreed to prop up ICOMP’s food, travel, and accommodation expenses without having any active involvement in the group.

In a letter from Foundem to ICOMP—seen by Ars—the company said: “In our view, an ICOMP that is prohibited from commenting on Google’s immensely damaging business practices is an ICOMP working against, rather than for, the interests of a fair, competitive online marketplace.”

Foundem added in its December 2 missive: “As a leading complainant in the European Commission’s ongoing competition investigation into Google’s search manipulation practices, Foundem cannot be a member of an organisation that has turned its back on such an important issue.”

Ars asked Microsoft to comment on this issue to confirm claims that its fight against Google on search in the EU was effectively over. It did not respond directly to that question, however. Instead we were told that Microsoft’s complaint against Google in the European Commission had not been withdrawn.
«

Fiveash has been covering the Google/Microsoft proxy battle for years since she was at The Register. But it sounds as though Satya Nadella, having gotten rid of the vicious ex-political lobbyist Mark Penn, is dialing down the quiet lobbying.
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How to gain unauthorized fingerprint access to an LG V10 » AndroidAuthority

John Dye:

»
If this person isn’t running Nova Launcher, the game’s up here. This vulnerability is only known to work on this particular launcher so far, so if your quarry is operating Google Now then they are safe from your malicious intent. However, if they are running Nova Launcher, you can tap the Home button while on the main home screen, then tap the Widgets option. Add a Nova Action widget to the home screen, and then choose the activity “com.lge.fingerprintsettings.”

Pause here for a second, because this is where the vulnerability exists. Through the normal Settings menu, it’s impossible to access this particular activity before going through a security checkpoint and confirming either a fingerprint or PIN. However, since Nova is able to ignore the normal menu flow that leads to this screen, it creates a situation where a user can add their own fingerprint to the list of allowed fingerprints without ever proving that they have authorized access to the device.

The widget on the homescreen will now lead directly to fingerprint settings, and you can add your own fingerprint before deleting the widget, leaving little trace of your actions.
«

Nova Launcher presently has more than 10m downloads, so it’s possible you’d find it on a high-end phone. Commenters suggest it can be done on a Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 too.

Sure that this will be all over news sites in a day or so of course with hundreds of comments. No?
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Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge » ScienceAlert

»
A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles – almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published – freely available online. And she’s now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court – a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

“Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them,” Elbakyan told Torrent Freak last year. “Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal.”…

… She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. “All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold,” she said.
«

The journals’ argument is that they add value by getting papers peer-reviewed, and edited, and choosing the important ones to publish. The existence of free unpeered sites such as Arxiv hasn’t noticeably dented their business.

But it always feels wrong when publicly funded research in particular ends up behind giant paywalls. If the public pays for the research, the public should be able to see its fruits.
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Evidence suggests the Sony hackers are alive and well and still hacking » WIRED

Kim Zetter:

»
According to new data released this week by Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, senior security researcher with Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team, and Jaime Blasco who heads the Lab Intelligence and Research team at AlienVault Labs, the hackers behind the Sony breach are alive and well…and still hacking. Or at least evidence uncovered from hacks of various entities after the Sony breach, including South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator, suggests this later activity has ties to the Sony case.

“[T]hey didn’t disappear…not at all,” Guerrero-Saade said during a presentation with Blasco this week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Spain.

If true, it would mean the hackers who demonstrated an “extremely high” level of sophistication in the Sony attack have been dropping digital breadcrumbs for at least the last year, crumbs that researchers can now use to map their activity and see where they’ve been. The clues include—to name a few—re-used code, passwords, and obfuscation methods, as well as a hardcoded user agent list that showed up repeatedly in attacks, always with Mozilla consistently misspelled as “Mozillar.”
«

link to this extract

 


So who’s going to buy Pandora? » Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»
the US public company has reportedly begun talking to Morgan Stanley about finding a potential buyer.

As we stand, Pandora, for all its historical global licensing issues and growing annual net losses, looks a little like a bargain.

The company has lost $7bn in market cap valuation over the past two years. It’s currently sitting at $1.9bn – less than a quarter of Spotify’s latest private valuation.

However, there are other reasons why possible acquirers may cool their jets on Pandora – not least the fact that its active listener base is dropping, down year-on-year in Q4 2015 to 81.1m.

In addition, the firm’s acquisition of Rdio’s assets means an entry into the hugely competitive space of interactive music streaming is an inevitability, while it paid a scary $450m to buy Ticketfly last year – a sister operation that contributed just $10m to the bottom line in Q4.

So who might cough up and buy Pandora if (and it’s a big if) its shareholders agree to push for a sale?
«

Suggestions: Google, Apple, IHeartMedia, Samsung. Can’t honestly see any of them wanting it, rather than just waiting for it to vanish.
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Why mobile is different » The Economist

Anonymous, as ever with The Economist:

»
the combination of personalisation, location and a willingness to pay makes all kinds of new business models possible. Tomi Ahonen, head of 3G Business Consulting at Nokia, gives the example of someone waiting at a bus stop who pulls out his Internet-capable phone to find out when the next bus will arrive. The information sent to the phone can be personalised, reflecting the fact that the user’s location is known, and perhaps his home address too; so bus routes that run from one to the other can appear at the top of the list, saving the user from having to scroll and click through lots of pages and menus. A very similar service, which allows users to find out when the next bus is due by sending a text message from a bus stop, is already available in Italy.

Would-be providers of mobile Internet services cannot simply set up their servers and wait for the money to roll in, however, because the network operators—who know who and where the users are, and control the billing system—hold all the cards. This has changed the balance of power between users, network operators and content providers. On the fixed Internet, the network access provider acts as a “dumb pipe” between the user’s PC and, say, an online bookstore or travel agent. The access provider will not know how the connection has been used, and there is no question of claiming a commission. Mobile network operators, on the other hand, are in a far more powerful position. “Wireless is a smarter pipe,” says Chris Matthiasson of BT Cellnet. This means that operators are much less likely to be disintermediated.
«

The sharp-eyed will have started in the second sentence; others, in the second paragraph. That’s because this piece is from October 2001. It took a while, but the operators are pretty thoroughly disintermediated now.
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TfL social media: adapting to Twitter’s changes » TfL Digital blog

Steven Gutierrez of Transport for London, which runs London’s buses and underground services:

»
in the last few years, Twitter has introduced various changes to the way it serves content to its users, and these have impacted upon our ability to reliably deliver these real-time status updates to our followers.

Now selected content on Twitter is shown out of sequence, we will reduce the amount of minor alerts and focus on providing up-to-the-minute alerts for major issues, as well as a renewed focus on customer service across our various accounts.

Our teams will continue to work day and night to support customers including First Contact who take care of the Tube line Twitter feeds as well as CentreComm and LSTCC who have access to everything from iBus (our system for tracking London Buses) to police helicopters monitoring London from above.
«

Wow: you think Twitter is a static thing, but these changes really do affect what happens. The point about image search shows it’s not trivial either.
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Artificial intelligence offers a better way to diagnose malaria » Technology Review

Anna Nowogrodzki:

»
For all our efforts to control malaria, diagnosing it in many parts of the world still requires counting malaria parasites under the microscope on a glass slide smeared with blood. Now an artificial intelligence program can do it more reliably than most humans.

That AI comes inside an automated microscope called the Autoscope, which is 90 percent accurate and specific at detecting malaria parasites. Charles Delahunt and colleagues at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory—the research arm of Nathan Myhrvold’s patent licensing company Intellectual Ventures in Seattle—built the system with support from Bill and Melinda Gates through the Global Good Fund. The Autoscope was tested in the field at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit on the Thailand-Myanmar border during malaria season in December 2014 and January 2015. The results were published in December.
«

If I’m reading the results correctly, it got about 95% accuracy. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

My own forecast is that “an [AI] algorithm for..” will be the “listen to this!” phrase of 2016, and utterly commonplace in 2017.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: None noted.

Start up: smartwatches’ app gap, games and VR, smart luggage risks, Apple’s China rivals, and more

Uber aims to dominate – but is that because governments no longer can? Photo by afagen 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 11 links for you. Don’t put them anywhere Kanye West wouldn’t. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Smartwatches need to get smarter » Re/code

Walt Mossberg:

I don’t think the smartwatch needs one “killer app,” but I do believe it needs a capability more compelling than what’s out there so far. It needs to do something, all on its own, that’s useful, quick, secure and cool.

I have no crystal ball on this question, but I believe that one way to make the smartwatch indispensable is to make it a sort of digital token that represents you to the environment around you.

For instance, while the phone often is faster and easier for, say, using maps, the watch is much better positioned for communicating with smart items in your home, or even your car. It’s likely to be on your person more than your phone is, it knows who you are and it can be secured to be used by only you. So, with your permission, it could open your door, tell your thermostat you’re home, maybe even start your car remotely.

With your permission, it could open your door, tell your thermostat you’re home, maybe even start your car remotely.

In stores, you could opt in to letting the watch not just pay for items, but order frequent purchases automatically, as you approach. These tasks can be set up and customized on a bigger screen once, and then just happen, effortlessly and often, with the watch.

It’s the proximity thing – which Apple sort-of talked about with a hotel door that could be opened by the Watch when it was first unveiled. Then again, this model relies on the much-vaunted Internet of Things, and we know how swimmingly that’s going.
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Cheap cab ride? You must have missed Uber’s true cost » The Guardian

Evgeny Morozov:

To put it bluntly: the reason why Uber has so much cash is because, well, governments no longer do. Instead, this money is parked in the offshore accounts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms. Look at Apple, which has recently announced that it sits on $200bn of potentially taxable overseas cash, or Facebook, which has just posted record profits of $3.69bn for 2015.

Some of these firms do choose to share their largesse with governments – both Apple and Google have agreed to pay tax bills far smaller than what they owe, in Italy and the UK respectively – but such moves aim at legitimising the questionable tax arrangements they have been using rather than paying their fair share.

Compare this with the dire state of affairs in which most governments and city administrations find themselves today. Starved of tax revenue, they often make things worse by committing themselves to the worst of austerity politics, shrinking the budgets dedicated to infrastructure, innovation, or creating alternatives to the rapacious “platform capitalism” of Silicon Valley.

Under these conditions, it’s no wonder that promising services like [Finnish startup offering an “Uber of public transport”] Kutsuplus have to shut down: cut from the seemingly endless cash supply of Google and Goldman Sachs, Uber would have gone under as well. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Finland is one of the more religious advocates of austerity in Europe; having let Nokia go under, the country has now missed another chance.

Morozov nails so much of the fake mystique around these companies, but how many people are really listening?
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GDC: 16% of game developers are working on VR, up from 7% a year ago » GamesBeat

Dean Takahashi:

Virtual reality has the attention of game developers. A survey by the Game Developers Conference shows that 16 percent of all developers are working on VR titles for 2016, compared with just 7 percent a year ago.

In its fourth annual state of the industry survey, the GDC — the big game developer event that draws about 26,000 people to San Francisco in March — found that PC and mobile games are still the top platforms for developers, but VR is growing fast.

The survey was organized by UBM Tech Game Network, the owner of the GDC, and it is based on the feedback of 2,000 game developers from around the world. The GDC 2016 takes place from March 14 to March 18 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

“This year, VR is the thing that more developers want to do,” said Simon Carless, group executive vice president of UBM Tech, in an interview with GamesBeat. “It hasn’t taken over, but it has grown fast.”

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Xolo sees slumping sales, triggers employee exits » Times of India

Xolo, a sub-brand of homebred handset maker Lava International, has fallen on tough times, with slumping sales triggering a restructuring and employee exits. Its performance has been a drag on the parent, which, some estimates show, has dropped two positions since last year to the No. 5 spot in the fiercely competitive Indian market.

Marketing and sales teams at Lava and Xolo have been merged as part of a group-level restructuring aimed at reducing duplicate roles and bringing in efficiencies, several people close to the development told ET. Over the past few months, quite a few marketing and sales employees from Xolo have joined competitors, while some have been absorbed by Lava, one of them said. The company has shifted retail sales of Lava-branded devices exclusively to offline channels and Xolo to online platforms.

The Indian smartphone market is going through the same crunches as the broader market, but speeded up about fivefold.
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How Bluesmart’s connected luggage nearly got me kicked off a flight » The Next Web

Natt Garun:

[The TSA security officer] began sorting through my clothes when I looked up at the X-ray monitor and noticed a square around where the luggage’s battery pack would be. Realizing the potential issue, I explained to the officer what he might have been looking for.

“Can you get it out?” he asked. Unfortunately, it was underneath the lining of the interior, so I couldn’t unless I was willing to cut the bag open and break the plastic box.

At this point a second officer shows up to give me the inevitable pat down, and she starts looking through my luggage. They swab it as part of an Explosives Trace Detection test and the bag alarms.

“Miss, where are you headed?”

“Las Vegas – I’m going to CES and I’m actually reviewing this bag for the event.” I explained the concept of the bag and tried to show them the booklet that came with the luggage. The second officer warns me not to touch the bag while she’s inspecting.

At this point my flight was boarding in 40 minutes, and I asked the officers if I’d make my flight.

“I’d be more concerned about your bag than making the flight right now,” she responded.

And so she took out the entire contents of my bag, patting each section as I stood there mortified that my bras and underwears were laid out for all of Chicago O’Hare to see.

Once the bag was empty, the officer pulled apart a velcro strip at the fold of the bag.

My body turned cold.

Really terrible design. And – a “smart case”? Dumb.
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Outsiders’ chance » The Economist

Without divine intervention, it is hard to imagine Americans electing either of the Republican front-runners to be president. The lesson the party drew from Mitt Romney’s failure to dislodge Mr Obama in 2012 was that, in an increasingly diverse society, the Grand Old Party needed to widen its appeal. Mr Cruz’s target audience, white Christians, represent less than half the population. The obvious solution was to woo Hispanics, one of America’s fastest-growing electoral groups, who hold some conservative views, though only 27% of them voted for Mr Romney.

That was why, in 2013, a handful of Republican senators, including Marco Rubio, who is running third in the primary contest, joined a bipartisan, and ultimately fruitless, effort to legalise the status of millions of illegal immigrants. “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you…if they think you want to deport their grandmother,” declared Mr Rubio, a son of poor Cuban immigrants, at the time. It is even harder when you call them rapists. Mr Trump is easily the most disliked candidate of either party; 60% of voters disapprove of him.

There is a consolation for the Republicans. The Democrats could nominate someone even less electable.

In case you’d forgotten that the Iowa caucuses – where about 250,000 people can begin to decide who gets to be that nominee – begin on Monday.
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GPS glitch caused outages, fuelled arguments for backup » Inside GNSS

Dee Ann Divis:

Less than a month after Europe switched off most of its Loran transmitters, a problem with GPS satellite timing signal triggered alarms across the continent and caused an unknown number of outages, including the disruption of some features of critical infrastructure.

The GPS problem was caused by an error in ground software uploaded January 26 as system operators removed space vehicle number (SVN) 23 from service. The long-planned deactivation of SVN 23, the oldest of the GPS satellites, clears the way for a new satellite, the last GPS Block IIF, which is to be launched February 4.

The software problem, however, threw GPS’s coordinated universal time (UTC) timing message off by 13 microseconds, which affected the timing data on legacy L-band signals and the time provided by GPS timing receivers, said 50th Space Wing spokesman James Hodges. The problem did not appear to have affected the GPS systems’s ability to provide positioning and navigation service…

…”Every support contract that we have that involves GPS timing receivers called in to say, ‘We’ve got a problem. What’s happening?’ [Charles] Curry [of Chronos Technology] told Inside GNSS.

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The future is near: 13 design predictions for 2017 » Medium

Chase Buckley:

With UX Evangelists like Tobias van Schneider, Jennifer Aldrich and Chase Buckley behind the wheel, we are steering towards a brighter future. A future where little big details bring about user delight at every corner, where device agnostic pixel perfection is the norm, and where simple day to day experiences engage, excite, and stimulate users in new and innovative ways.

So where do you fit into all of this? To architect the experiences of tomorrow, you must first design the interactions of today. It is not enough to look in front of you; 2016 is already here. You must look ahead, to the future — to 2017 — where the real paradigm shifting trends of tomorrow lie in wait.

This introduction does feel like something from The Office (Chase Buckley referring to himself in the third person? “Architect” as a verb?) but the ideas, especially “failure mapping”, are great.
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Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo: the challengers leading China’s charge against Apple » The Guardian

My contribution to the wider wisdom on the topic:

China’s phone market, which accounted for a third of all smartphone sales worldwide in 2015, is already slowing as the number of first-time phone buyers declines and people delay replacement purchases. A year ago, phones were being replaced on average after just 13 months; now that period is lengthening. According to Woody Oh, an analyst at research group Strategy Analytics, total Chinese smartphone sales in October-December actually fell by 4%, to 118m; Apple sold 15.5m phones there, up from 13.5m a year before, while its worldwide sales remained flat at 74.4m.

But that was only enough to make Apple the third-biggest supplier behind local firms Huawei (pronounced “Hoo-wah-way”) and Xiaomi (“she-yow-mee”), which each sold nearly 18m units. And just behind Apple were two more local rivals, Vivo and Oppo.

China’s smartphone market was 438m overall in 2015. That’s about 30% of the entire market.
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Qwerty Looks Set to Stay on Smartphones » CCS Daily Insight

George Jijiasvlii:

I’ve been learning to touch type using the Dvorak keyboard on my laptop for about a month, practising for about 30 minutes per day. I find the Dvorak layout more comfortable, but still can’t type anywhere near as quickly as I can with qwerty. Made-for-smartphone keyboards are similarly more logical, accurate and faster in theory, but require the dedication of enough time to become proficient in using them. The problem lies in this commitment: changing something that’s become second nature is a difficult task.

Qwerty appears here to stay on physical keyboards and smartphones alike, as I don’t expect new designs will win over the masses or disrupt qwerty’s huge installed base any time soon. But the future of mobile communication might not be about taps, swipes or gestures after all.

Our latest multi-country wearables end-user survey found that about 70% of smartphone owners now use voice commands at least once a week, with 20% using the feature on a daily basis. The past few years have seen intelligent personal assistants like Cortana, Google Now and Siri becoming an integral part of the mobile experience, and I won’t be surprised if we revert back to the most rudimentary manner of communication: speech.

Hadn’t seen that voice data anywhere else. A data point in the desert.
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Windows Phone is dead » The Verge

Tom Warren:

With Lumia sales on the decline and Microsoft’s plan to not produce a large amount of handsets, it’s clear we’re witnessing the end of Windows Phone. Rumors suggest Microsoft is developing a Surface Phone, but it has to make it to the market first. Windows Phone has long been in decline and its app situation is only getting worse. With a lack of hardware, lack of sales, and less than 2% market share, it’s time to call it: Windows Phone is dead. Real Windows on phones might become a thing with Continuum eventually, but Windows Phone as we know it is done.

Did not think the app situation could get worse on WP, but that links shows that yes, it can. I wrote about why Microsoft keeps Windows Phone (perhaps soon to be rebranded Surface Phone) going. And that remains the reason: it’s not about phones.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple stalls, Japan’s zombies, Samsung on iOS?, the truth about terror, and more

But what are your respective ratings? Photo by ChrisGoldNY 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.

Apple’s iPhone growth era comes to an end » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

Total revenues for Apple’s fiscal first quarter ending in December rose by just 2% to $75.9bn, a marked slowdown compared with 30% growth in the same period a year earlier, as iPhone sales in the US and Japan declined.

Apple increased net profits to $18.4bn, beating its own record set a year ago for the most profitable quarter in US corporate history, with earnings per share up 7% to $3.28, in line with expectations.

However, iPhone unit sales for the holiday quarter were less than 0.5% higher than the same period a year ago at 74.8m, despite chief executive Tim Cook’s firm insistence three months ago that the iPhone “will grow” in the most important period in the Apple calendar.

Wall Street’s fears that the March quarter would see iPhone sales drop for the first time since its 2007 debut were confirmed by Apple’s revenue guidance, which was below analysts’ consensus of around $55bn.

According to a note by RBC Capital Markets before the release of the results, $50bn in sales would imply iPhone unit shipments of 45m, down 26% on the same period a year earlier.

Sic transit gloria mundi. Like many premium smartphone makers, Apple is now hitting the point where the slowing market, combined with the slowing economy, creates a ceiling for sales. Apple legitimately blamed currency, but that’s hurting everyone.
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Japan must let zombie companies die » Bloomberg View

Noah Smith:

Imagine that you’re a Japanese 26-year-old with big dreams. You graduated from Waseda University, an elite private school, with a degree in electrical engineering. You and your college buddies used to hang around your apartment, watching anime on your LCD television, which was made by Sharp Corp. — the world’s 10th-largest LCD TV manufacturer. Even then, you had ideas about how to improve the product.

Now, after graduating and working for four years in the research division of an LCD manufacturer, you’re sure that you have figured out how to make LCD panels more cheaply, at higher quality. You also believe that you could market these TVs more effectively to young people with cool, fun designs. Instead of giving the idea to the higher-ups in your giant corporation — which, knowing Japan, might get you little more than a pat on the head — you decide to leave your job and start a business with your college buddies. You just know that you can beat lumbering, struggling incumbents like Sharp.

Sharp, which is perennially struggling. But is to be bailed out by the Japanese government. Which makes it a zombie which is blocking progress.
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I found out my secret internal Tinder rating and now I wish I hadn’t » Fast Company

Austin Carr:

Referred to inside the company as an “Elo score,” a term the chess world uses to rank player skill levels, Tinder’s rating system helps it parse its user base in order to facilitate better matches…

…Tinder CEO Sean Rad confirmed the scoring system to me while I was reporting Fast Company’s recent profile of the company. Rad, who tells me his Elo score is “above average,” stresses that the rating is technically not a measure of attractiveness, but a measure of “desirability,” in part because it’s not determined simply by your profile photo. “It’s not just how many people swipe right on you,” Rad explains. “It’s very complicated. It took us two and a half months just to build the algorithm because a lot of factors go into it.”…

…Rad teased me about it several times over dinner one evening, gauging what my score might be as he swiped through a slew of Tinder profiles on my phone. It was one thing to know my Uber rating, but did I really want to know my Elo score on Tinder? When I asked whether he could look up my rating, Rad responded, “Do you want me to do it now?” All he needed was my email address.

But of course Sean Rad is above average. And that’s not a worrying security hole. Is it?
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Exclusive: Samsung plans to bring almost all its apps to iOS » SamMobile

Asif S:

We’ve recently received information from our trusted insiders that Samsung is planning to bring most of its apps (if not all) to Apple’s iOS platform later this year.

According to the information that we’ve received, Samsung is working on Gear Fit Manager for iOS. This will allow people who own the Gear Fit to pair it with an iPhone. To compliment the Gear Fit Manager and Gear Manager apps, Samsung will also release the S Health app for iPhone. S Health app can be used to log daily activity, workouts, food intake, and sleep.

In terms of home entertainment, Samsung is bringing iOS support for the Galaxy View. The company is developing the Remote Control and Family Square apps for the iOS, which can be used to remotely control the Galaxy View using an iPhone and allow different users to stream content to the movable display. There are plans to release the Level app for Samsung’s Level audio devices as well, which will enable iPhone users to use these devices and make use of various effects and an official way of control.

Looks like a way of expanding the total addressable market (TAM) for its peripherals and other products to iPhone users. Sensible.
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The Google Pixel C Review » Anandtech

Brandon Chester and Joshua Ho were really, really unimpressed:

On top of the issues with this specific Android build, Android itself is simply too far behind the competition as far as functionality and apps are concerned. I have commented on this in several Android tablet reviews, but the fact that Google is shipping their own tablet makes it important to go over it once again. Quite frankly, I still have yet to see a single app that has an UI that is both optimized for tablets and is as fluid as its iPad counterpart, and with the iPad offering multitasking while Windows offers an entire windowing system, there’s absolutely no way for the Pixel C and other Android tablets to be competitive. This applies just as much to Google’s own apps as it does to third party ones, and it’s really not a stretch to say that they behave like you’re using a blown up smartphone. In the past few years both Apple and Microsoft have stepped up their games with their respective tablet OSes go, but it feels like Android has never really advanced past the first generation of tablet OSes, which leaves Android badly lagging the competition.

Statements from Google engineers make it clear that Google has some changes coming to Android in the future to bring features like multitasking, but at this point it seems to me that either nobody Google really understands what a tablet should be, or they are unable to come to a consensus to get something developed. Adding multitasking doesn’t do anything to fix the fundamental issue with application quality, and Google doesn’t want to take the first step in making proper applications so that other developers can follow.

Note too that Chester points to terrible graphics transitions – and yet in the GPU benchmarks, the Pixel C beats everything else. Another case where benchmarks don’t tell the whole story.
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Unpacked: global ad blocker usage on smartphones » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin (on a paywalled piece, hence no diagram below) has data much the same as Global Web Index:

over 20% of the global internet audience is already using an ad blocker on their smartphone. 16.1% have not begun using an ad blocker but are interested in doing so. Just over 30% haven’t used an ad blocker and aren’t interested in going through the trouble to install one.

In light of what Matt and I discovered, I decided to slice the answers by demographic to see how different age groups answered the same question.

In line with the discovery Matt [Richman] and I made, ad blocking is most common among the millennial demographic. I can’t stress enough how valuable this demographic is from an advertising standpoint. As ad blocking becomes more the norm with this group, on smartphones and on PCs, it will require significant adjustment. What is also interesting is many of these ad blocking services are not free. Currently over 25% of millennials using an ad blocker paid for it. This has massive consequences for this with advertising-supported business models.

I’ve articulated before my conviction that free-with-ads business models may become things of the past. They certainly are no longer viable in emerging markets.

The point about emerging markets is important: India is a big source of adblocking on mobile, for example.
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OPPO sold 50m smartphones in 2015 » Gizmochina

OPPO’s R7, R7S and R7 Plus constituted 15m units in sales alone which is an incredible figure. Specifically speaking the smartphones priced between 2000 Yuan [£210,$300] to 3000 Yuan [£320,$450] segment were highest selling smartphones.

That’s up 67% year-on-year. That would put it around fifth in the world, nudging LG and Sony and behind Xiaomi, Huawei, Apple and Samsung. The big Chinese name nobody in the west has heard of.
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The threat is already inside » Foreign Policy

Rosa Brooks (formerly a senior advisor at the US State Department):

By now, the script is familiar: Terrorists attack a Western target, and politicians compete to offer stunned and condemnatory adjectives. British, Chinese, and Japanese leaders thus proclaimed themselves “shocked” by the Paris attacks, which were described variously as “outrageous” and “horrific” by U.S. President Barack Obama; “terrible” and “cowardly” by French President François Hollande; “barbaric” by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; “despicable” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; and “heinous, evil, vile” by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who possesses a superior thesaurus.

The Paris attacks were all these things. One thing they were not, however, was surprising.

Occasional terrorist attacks in the West are virtually inevitable, and odds are, we’ll see more attacks in the coming decades, not fewer. If we want to reduce the long-term risk of terrorism — and reduce its ability to twist Western societies into unrecognizable caricatures of themselves — we need to stop viewing terrorism as shocking and aberrational, and instead recognize it as an ongoing problem to be managed, rather than “defeated.”

Politicians don’t like to say any of this. But we’re not politicians, so let’s look at 10 painful truths.

Essential reading, really.
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Xavier Niel explores move to enter UK mobile market » FT.com

Niel set up Free, a French mobile network which has been a great hit, as Daniel Thomas explains:

Interest from Mr Niel’s telecoms group in the British market will worry rivals, given its record of offering low prices that deeply undercut existing offers.

The launch four years ago of Free, Iliad’s mobile offering in France, disrupted the market, leading to an intense price war that slashed profits among the existing three operators. Orange’s proposed acquisition of Bouygues Telecom is an attempt to reverse the effects of the introduction of the low-cost rival.

A similar deal is being proposed in the UK with the purchase of O2 by Three, the UK’s smallest mobile group, which is owned by Hong Kong’s CK Hutchison. If the deal were to go through, it would reduce the number of competitors from four to three.

However, the deal is set to be challenged in the next week by the European competition regulator, which will set out a range of objections given the potential loss of competition for customers as well as third-party mobile providers that use the two networks under wholesale contracts.

The UK mobile market really is very competitive. Adding Free would shake it up even further.
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Internet of Things security is so bad, there’s a search engine for sleeping kids » Ars Technica

JM Porup:

Shodan, a search engine for the Internet of Things (IoT), recently launched a new section that lets users easily browse vulnerable webcams.

The feed includes images of marijuana plantations, back rooms of banks, children, kitchens, living rooms, garages, front gardens, back gardens, ski slopes, swimming pools, colleges and schools, laboratories, and cash register cameras in retail stores, according to Dan Tentler, a security researcher who has spent several years investigating webcam security.

“It’s all over the place,” he told Ars Technica UK. “Practically everything you can think of.”

We did a quick search and turned up some alarming results [of a sleeping baby in Canada, kitchen in Spain, classroom in China, someone’s house].

The cameras are vulnerable because they use the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP, port 554) to share video but have no password authentication in place. The image feed is available to paid Shodan members at images.shodan.io. Free Shodan accounts can also search using the filter port:554 has_screenshot:true.

Shodan crawls the Internet at random looking for IP addresses with open ports. If an open port lacks authentication and streams a video feed, the new script takes a snap and moves on.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: weather-forecasting phones, MPs v BT, Google’s UK tax row, Apple Street View?, and more


Smartphones are transforming life in Myanmar. Photo by Timothy Neesam on Flickr.

All the cool kids 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. Not sure if they’re viral or bacterial. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Facebook-loving farmers of Myanmar » The Atlantic

Craig Mod:

For six weeks last October and November, just before Myanmar [formerly Burma] held its landmark elections, I joined a team of design ethnographers in the countryside interviewing forty farmers about smartphones. A design ethnographer is someone who studies how culture and technology interact. A common mistake in building products is to base them on assumptions around how a technology might be adopted. The goal of in-field interviewing in design ethnography is to undermine these assumptions, to be able to design tools and products aligned with actual observed use cases and needs.

Myanmar is especially fertile ground for this kind of work. Until recently the military junta had imposed artificial caps on access to smartphones and SIM cards. Many of the farmers we spoke with had never owned a smartphone before. The villages were often without running water or electricity, but they buzzed with newly minted cell towers and strong 3G signals. For them, everything networked was new.

Fascinating points: brands, how the price of data has dived, apps, and how mobile shops have become pivotal.
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Clever app turns everyone into a roving weather reporter » WIRED

Tim Moynihan:

With a free app for iOS, Sunshine wants to be the gold standard for weather accuracy. It hopes to achieve this ambitious goal by using altogether different meteorological instruments: People, iPhones, algorithms, and the draw of community and gamification. The app needs your location to work correctly, but the tradeoff is receiving hyper-local weather reports—Sunshine calls them “Nowcasts”—and becoming part of the data-aggregation process.

Using crowdsourced reporting, readings from the barometric pressure sensor in the iPhone 6 and latest iDevices, and predictive algorithms that overlay all that information on a map to deliver 18-hour forecasts, Sunshine generates what Stroponiati calls “weather forecasting at the street level.”

“It’s a weighted scheme of a user’s experience, community appreciation [you can upvote other users], and how much activity,” Stroponiati says. “Users that update often but also get a lot of upvotes get more weight. There is a whole gaming scheme behind it with local leaderboards and titles … As you get more points, you change titles and climb higher on the leaderboards.”

Was liking it until the gamification stuff. (Perhaps that’s necessary?) When she was still at Google in July 2009 I interviewed Marissa Mayer, who put forward exactly this sort of idea as what smartphones would enable.
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Can DCMS safely ignore over 120 MPs protesting over constituency broadba[n]d » Computer Weekly

Philip Virgo:

The British Infrastructure Group report publicised in the Daily Telegraph today uses available data (assembled by the House of Commons Library) but puts on it a rather different interpretation to that recently used by BDUK to boast of its achievements to date and thsoe in the pipeline. The consequent call for action is backed by 120 MPs. Whether the break up of BT is the right action is another matter. If it were to be the right “answer” that raises the more interesting questions of whether “merely” separating out Openreach would achieve the objective of stimulating BT to invest in infrastructure (back haul as well as local loop) as opposed to content (alias subsidising premier league football) and whether that would be enough.

Can BT afford the scale and nature of investment necessary to build the communications infrastructure needed to underpin a “smart society”? A ‘smart society” is one in which everything is interconnected: from smart phones, TVs, toys and consumer goods, through smart meters, cars, buildings, telecare and telemedicine to smart grids and cities. It is also one in which those dependent on on-line medical devices (for example) may die when networks go down.

It is not just that BT has not maintained its previous rate of investment in recent years – it does not appear to have plans to increase it in the future and may find it hard to do so.

The BIG report, and others that have come out over the weekend, do make it seem like Openreach is very unloved, not just by customers but also by legislators.
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How to save Wikipedia: Start paying editors … or write for machines » The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

Imagine that one giant manufacturer dominated the car market. The cars it made weren’t very good, but they were much cheaper and easier to buy than cars from anyone else, so the car company had ended up dominating the market.

These cars would often break down, spew noxious gasses, and a lot of the time, didn’t go where you wanted them to go.

Car travel was unreliable and sometimes even dangerous. People kept using them hoping that the crashes would happen to somebody else, and the health consequences of the pollution wouldn’t hit them for years.

For us, it isn’t difficult to imagine a better world, a world of reliable and safe cars.

Wikipedia at 15 is the monopoly car company of digital knowledge.

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Apple Maps vehicles » Apple

Apple is driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps. Some of this data will be published in future Apple Maps updates.

We are committed to protecting your privacy while collecting this data. For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication.

As Benedict Evans points out, the blurring and publication mentions immediately point to a Street View competitor. (Microsoft also has a Street View product, as I recall, which even came before Google’s.)
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Keeping up with Tim Cook’s Apple » Delusions Of Grandeur

Rob Rhyne:

Apple is moving at a blistering pace. Everywhere you look, a bearded neck slams Apple’s software quality. I agree that Apple has shipped some terrible bugs the past few years, but what did you expect? Apple is shipping software at an absurd rate.

When you consider the amount of technology they’re putting out to support new hardware and the number of people who use their software, it’s a mathematical reality that bugs will get out. Some of them can be nasty.

Those assailing Apple’s software quality fail to recognize the particulars of what Apple has shipped and how they have to ship it. If you take time to understand the problems facing a platform vendor and consider Apple’s scale, you might wonder how more bugs haven’t slipped out.

What Apple has accomplished in the past few years is astonishing, but you need to understand the details of how software frameworks are developed and shipped before you can truly appreciate it.

What we need is a graphic of how the hardware and software frameworks have expanded over the past few years. There really isn’t a company that is doing this much on so many fronts at such scale.
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How Larry Page’s obsessions became Google’s business » NYTimes.com

Conor Dougherty:

Many former Google employees who have worked directly with Mr. Page said his managerial modus operandi was to take new technologies or product ideas and generalize them to as many areas as possible. Why can’t Google Now, Google’s predictive search tool, be used to predict everything about a person’s life? Why create a portal to shop for insurance when you can create a portal to shop for every product in the world?

But corporate success means corporate sprawl, and recently Google has seen a number of engineers and others leave for younger rivals like Facebook and start-ups like Uber. Mr. Page has made personal appeals to some of them, and, at least in a few recent cases, has said he is worried that the company has become a difficult place for entrepreneurs, according to people who have met with him.

Part of Mr. Page’s pitch included emphasizing how dedicated he was to “moonshots” like interplanetary travel, or offering employees time and money to pursue new projects of their own. By breaking Google into Alphabet, Mr. Page is hoping to make it a more welcoming home for employees to build new businesses, as well as for potential acquisition targets.

It will also rid his office of the kind of dull-but-necessary annoyances of running a major corporation. Several recently departed Google staff members said that as chief executive of Google, Mr. Page had found himself in the middle of various turf wars, like how to integrate Google Plus, the company’s struggling social media effort, with other products like YouTube, or where to put Google Now, which resided in the Android team but was moved to the search group.

Observation by Above Avalon’s Neil Cybart (former Wall Street analyst): “The continued lack of focus is noteworthy.”
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Yes, Google’s UK back-tax payment is derisory. Here are the numbers that show it. » The Overspill

I used the public data to do some calculations:

The UK is the only region besides the US for which Google breaks out revenue in its quarterly earnings, because – for whatever reason – the UK represents 10% or more of Google’s total revenue. (Public companies are generally obliged to cite countries or regions which generate more than 10% of revenue in their results.)

Google doesn’t, however, break out profits for any region; it just gives a single figure for operating and net profit.

But what if we were to try to estimate how much profit Google has made in the UK, and then compare that to the tax it has paid, and the tax that it recently paid in a settlement with the UK’s tax authorities, HM Revenue & Customs?

This article from The Register is good background too.

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Google’s 2.5% UK tax rate » ITV News

Robert Peston:

Google and HMRC would of course argue that for taxable purposes my calculation of its UK profits is wrong.

They would say that there is a global convention that the profits in the UK should be measured as a margin or increment on top of what it would cost Google to operate here if all its operations were subcontracted to a third party.

Those notional taxable profits would appear to be a bit more than a couple of hundred million quid for for the 18 months to the middle of last year.

And the British taxman would want credit for increasing that margin or increment in its latest negotiations with Google, to capture (in a way that I freely admit I don’t understand) a new assessment of the maturity of its UK business and the low risk of operating here.

They would argue that it would be wholly inappropriate to tax Google on profits measured as I suggested, because most of the costs and business risks of developing Google were taken in the US – and therefore it is only fair that the bulk of the taxable profit of this global giant should be attributable to the US.

In other words, the British taxman and Google would both insist that the Chancellor and the Exchequer are getting quite as much tax as they deserve – perhaps even more – given that multinationals conventionally pay most tax in their homeland (or America in this case).

Here is the punchline. George Osborne, who is struggling to reduce the government’s deficit and needs every penny of tax he can lay his hands on, would seem to concur that he is not being short-changed by mighty Google.

Peston’s calculations are the same as mine.
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Google paid Apple $1bn to keep search bar on iPhone » Bloomberg Business

Joel Rosenblatt:

The revenue-sharing agreement reveals the lengths Google must go to keep people using its search tool on mobile devices. It also shows how Apple benefits financially from Google’s advertising-based business model that Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has criticized as an intrusion of privacy.

Oracle has been fighting Google since 2010 over claims that the search engine company used its Java software without paying for it to develop Android. The showdown has returned to U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco after a pit stop at the U.S. Supreme Court, where Google lost a bid to derail the case. The damages Oracle now seeks may exceed $1 billion since it expanded its claims to cover newer Android versions.

Annette Hurst, the Oracle attorney who disclosed details of the Google-Apple agreement at last week’s court hearing, said a Google witness questioned during pretrial information said that “at one point in time the revenue share was 34 percent.” It wasn’t clear from the transcript whether that percentage is the amount of revenue kept by Google or paid to Apple.

It’s a good point: if Apple is so critical of Google’s business model, why is it happy to take money to let it run that business model on iOS? True, Safari blocks third-party cookies (including DoubleClick, the ad network Google owns) – until you sign in to Google. But still a point of contradiction, rather like iAds.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted (though tax manoeuvres are notoriously complicated, so I’m expecting feedback on that).

How close was my forecast for HTC’s 4Q? Only 3.4% out

Back on 5 November I gave a forecast for HTC’s fourth-quarter (October-December) revenues, based on its October revenues. HTC hadn’t deigned to give on, but using historical figures I had a stab.

My forecast, then: NT$26.64bn, with a 10% error either way, giving a range of NT$23.9bn-29bn.

And how did I do? HTC published its monthly revenue figure for December, which was pretty dramatically down on the previous year, by 57%. In fact the December revenues were its lowest since at least 2005 – my data doesn’t go back further than 2006.

Here’s the graph of my forecast and the reality:

HTC's monthly revenues - actual v forecast

HTC’s 2015: pretty terrible, actually

The total revenue for the fourth quarter: NT$25.75bn, which comes in at 3.4% less than my midrange forecast. Thus making the point that if you collect enough data about the past, you might have a chance of getting close to a prediction about the future.

At the end of the third quarter its “cash and equivalents” were US$1.3bn; that’s getting eaten away by its losses. (In aggregate, it hasn’t made a penny in net profit since the third quarter of 2012 – all its profits in nine quarters of that time have been eaten by four quarters in which it made losses.) Its inventories, meanwhile, were 97% of revenue in the third quarter. That’s an excessive amount; you’d normally want those to be as low as possible, since money sunk into inventory is an opportunity cost: you could be spending it on something else, like marketing.

Gross profit at 18% will be NT$4.63bn, so the operating loss will probably be the same as I forecast, at around NT$4bn (US$125m). Full results later this month. Update: HTC announced (PDF) fourth-quarter operating losses of NT$4.1bn; gross margin was 13.9%.

In other words, HTC will never make a profit again in smartphones. Notice too how everyone has forgotten about the HTC Re camera.

Chief executive Cher Wang, interviewed by the Telegraph, doesn’t quite deny that the company might fold the smartphone tent:

“Yes, smartphones are important, but to create a natural extension to other connected devices like wearables and virtual reality is more important… We have a vision of smartphones with different types of form factors, it won’t always look like this,” she says.

So now its attentions turn to virtual reality, with the Vive, which seems likely to be priced around $1,500, with preorders starting on 29 February. (That should give the first-quarter numbers a boost, anyway.)

I’ll go out on a not very long limb here. The Vive’s specifications are high-end: you need to buy not only the headset, but also to have a really high-spec PC to do anything useful, and applications are thin on the ground. It’s going to have a tiny audience at first. Even there it’s competing with bigger and better-funded rivals, including Oculus (owned by Facebook – has a bit of cash) and Samsung (has a bit of cash) and Sony (has cash and installed base of gamers). Ignore specs, because actually buyers mostly will: what’s the reason to buy VR kit? For the experiences. If Valve doesn’t really come through on this, HTC is really going to have a serious problem.

Update 25 January: given the power of this attempt, I’ll have a stab at forecasting HTC’s January 2016 revenues, based on December 2015. The average of the nine years since 2006 suggests that January generates revenues 83.96% as large as December, with a standard deviation of 15.3%.

HTC’s December revenues were NT$6.52bn. Using those, the data suggests HTC’s January 2016 revenues will be NT$5,472m, with a potential range (on one standard deviation) of NT$4.47bn to NT$6.46bn (which is about 18% either way, so quite a large range; the key point is that the forecast suggests January’s revenues will be less than December’s). The first figure is less than US$200m at present exchange rates. We’ll find out the correct number in a week or two.

Post-update: HTC’s January 2016 revenues were NT$6.477bn – just over the top end of my forecast, but still less than December’s (just) and down 47% year-on-year. It’s less than US$200m per month.

Start up: UK encryption doubletalk, Netflix VPN crackdown, Apple’s iAd retreat, and more


A Nest thermostat: malfunctioning, but what about privacy? Photo by Elvert Barnes 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.

No backdoors but UK government still wants encryption decrypted on request… » TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

During the committee session [in the UK Parliament] [home secretary Theresa] May was asked to clarify the implications of the draft bill’s wording for encryption. Various concerns have been raised about this — not least because it includes a clause that communications providers might be required to “remove electronic protection of data”.

Does this mean the government wants backdoors inserted into services or the handing over of encryption keys, May was asked by the committee. No, she replied: “We are not saying to them that government wants keys to their encryption — no, absolutely not.”

However the clarity the committee was seeking on the encryption point failed to materialize, as May reiterated the government’s position that the expectation will be that a lawfully served warrant will result in unencrypted data being handed over by the company served with the warrant.

“Where we are lawfully serving a warrant on a provider so that they are required to provide certain information to the authorities, and that warrant has been gone through the proper authorization process — so it’s entirely lawful — the company should take reasonable steps to ensure that they are able to comply with the warrant that has been served on them. That is the position today and it will be the position tomorrow under the legislation,” said May.

Completely contradictory.
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Evolving proxy detection as a global service » Netflix

If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or “unblockers” to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in. We are making progress in licensing content across the world and, as of last week, now offer the Netflix service in 190 countries, but we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.

Over time, we anticipate being able to do so. For now, given the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories, the TV shows and movies we offer differ, to varying degrees, by territory. In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.

Shorter version: we’re going to block your VPN.
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Five years later, Thunderbolt is finally gaining some traction in PCs » Ars Technica UK

Andrew Cunningham:

For many years, it looked like Thunderbolt was destined to be a modern version of FireWire: faster and smarter than contemporary USB interfaces, but so rare outside of Macs that there isn’t a very wide range of accessories beyond adapters and external hard drives. Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 are available in most Macs sold between 2011 and now, but it has been included in just a handful of PC laptops and high-end motherboards.
Thunderbolt 3 is turning that around. The port is suddenly beginning to show up in high-end offerings from just about every major PC OEM, starting with some Lenovo workstation laptops and Dell’s new XPS lineup and continuing in laptops and convertibles from HP, Acer, Intel, and others.

We’ve been talking to the PC companies at CES about this sudden turnaround, and their answers have all been in more or less the same vein. The increased speed of Thunderbolt 3 combined with all the benefits of USB Type-C (including driving displays via Alternate Mode and charging laptops via Power Delivery) has finally made Thunderbolt convenient enough to be worth the trouble.

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David Maisel’s geometric geographies » The New Yorker

Marcia Bjornerud:

David Maisel’s aerial photographs of Toledo, Spain, and the surrounding La Mancha region, some of which will be on view at Haines Gallery, in San Francisco, through March 12th, can make Earth’s surface look more alien than terrestrial. Parts of the area that Maisel focussed on are underlain by light-colored alkaline rocks, which formed through the evaporation of an ancient body of water. The silvery soil of plowed fields almost shimmers, like a ghostly memory of that long-vanished sea.

Things like this, and more, in the gallery of images.


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Germany launches smartphone app to help refugees integrate » The Verge

Amar Toor:

The German government has launched a new smartphone app to help asylum seekers integrate in their new country. Known as Ankommen (“Arrive”), the Android app is available for free on the Google Play Store, and will launch on iOS soon, according to its website. Ankommen was jointly developed by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the Federal Employment Agency, the Goethe Institute, and Bayerischer Rundfunk, a public radio and TV broadcaster.

The app is available in Arabic, English, Farsi, French, and German, and does not require an internet connection. It includes a basic German language course, as well as information on the asylum application process and how to find jobs or vocational training. The app also provides information on German values and social customs, with tips from other non-Germans who live in the country.

Note the underlying assumption: refugees will have a smartphone. So far the app has fewer than 1,000 downloads.
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Apple to disband iAd sales team » BuzzFeed News

John Paczkowski:

six years after launching iAd, Apple is stepping back from it. Multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans tell BuzzFeed News that Apple is getting out of the advertising-sales business and shifting to a more automated platform.

While iAd itself isn’t going anywhere, Apple’s direct involvement in the selling and creation of iAd units is ending. “It’s just not something we’re good at,” one source told BuzzFeed News. And so Apple is leaving the creation, selling, and management of iAds to the folks who do it best: the publishers.

Apple is phasing out its iAd sales force entirely and updating the iAds platform so that publishers can sell through it directly. And publishers who do so will keep 100% of the revenue they generate. It’s not clear what this means for Rubicon Project, MediaMath, and the other ad tech companies that had been overseeing programmatic, or automated, demand-side ad buying on the platform, but it doesn’t look good. Since everything can be done directly through the updated iAd platform, it’s likely that most of it will. “The big publishing groups will just fold programmatic buys into the stuff they’re selling across all their properties,” one source explained. iAd sales team members will be offered buyouts and released into the wild. The move is coming soon, perhaps as early as this week.

Advertising industry sources familiar with Apple’s new self-serve plan for iAds seem intrigued by it. “I think this is going to be great for publishers,” said one. “It gives them direct dialogue with their customers as opposed to forcing them to go through an Apple middleman. Access will be more plentiful and easier to manage — theoretically.”

How long will it be until the first malvertising via iAd? And what happens after that? I still feel iAd is a bad fit for Apple’s business model.
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Developing for wearables: from shrunken smartphone to wearable-first and beyond » VisionMobile

Stijn Schuermans:

In a previous post, we called the Internet of Things the peace dividend of the smartphone wars, and IoT developers the baby boomers of that period. In other words, smartphone innovation made hardware technology abundant. It’s no longer the bottleneck. IoT breakthroughs will happen not by making more powerful processors or larger memories, but by identifying new applications for the sensors, devices and connectivity. This certainly seems to be the case for wearables, which arguably started with the first Fitbit in 2008 and boomed after the launch of the Pebble and Android Wear in 2013 and 2014. Those were the days of the wearables hype.

That hype has now died down. Developers in particular are getting more cautious about wearables. Between Q4 2014 and Q2 2015, the percentage of IoT developers targeting wearables dropped from 28% to 21%. Developers have not turned their back on wearables entirely – many still plan to develop for wearables in the future – but the initial enthusiasm is making way for realism, and a search for truly valuable uses for these new devices.

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New study highlights privacy gap between consumers and tech vendors » WSJ Digits blog

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

The Pew Research Center has found in recent years that users of mobile and desktop computers are anxious about online privacy. The nonprofit’s latest study, published on Thursday, aimed to learn whether consumer anxiety waxed or waned in specific scenarios.

Conclusion: It does.

Although users often accept the implicit bargain of the online world — receiving free services in exchange for personal data — service providers can’t take users’ comfort with the arrangement for granted. Privacy concerns are more “case-by-case than driven by broad principles,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, Science, and Technology Research.

The report revealed a gulf between the public and the tech industry, Mr. Rainie said, judging by the plethora of data-gathering gadgets on display at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For instance, Nest seeks to connect items in the home–smart thermostats, light bulbs, garage doors and so on — into a system that would collect data to coordinate their operations; switching on lights, for instance, when the garage door indicates that an occupant has returned home in the evening.

The January 2016  report suggests that public attitudes could limit such plans.

Sure that Paul Graham will get right onto this and set the tech industry straight.
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Nest thermostat glitch leaves users in the cold » The New York Times

Nick Bilton:

“Woke up to a dead nest and a very cold house,” a commenter wrote on the company’s forum. “Not good when you have a baby sleeping!”

“Mine is offline,” another customer tweeted. “Not enough battery (?) I’m traveling. Called nest. Known problem. No resolution. #nest #fail.”

Admittedly, this may strike some as a quintessential first-world problem: a thermostat that can’t connect to the web. But for some users, it posed genuine issues.

For those who are elderly or ill, or who have babies, a freezing house can have dire health consequences. Moreover, homeowners who installed a Nest in a weekend home, or who were on vacation, were also concerned that their pipes could freeze and burst, causing major damage.

Matt Rogers, the co-founder and vice president for engineering at Nest, blamed a software update from December. “We had a bug that was introduced in the software update that didn’t show up for about two weeks,” Mr. Rogers said apologetically. In January, devices went offline, and “that’s when things started to heat up.”

The question is, will we look back on events like this as just teething problems – a bit like some of the cloud outages of, say, 2007 – or will they just multiply as more systems interact with slightly jury-rigged ones?

And as Bilton also points out, the contracts these gizmos/services are provided under use “arbitration” clauses which hugely favour the company, not the consumer; one lawyer tells him that Nest’s terms of service “are inherently unfair to consumers”. Not biased; inherently unfair.
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Google scamming consumers and screwing publishers with “Contributor” » LinkedIn

Mike Nolet is former CTO of AppNexus:

When I first heard of Google Contributor in early November I thought… this is exactly what the ad-industry should be doing, go Google! For those not familiar with the service, Contributor allows users to contribute a certain sum of money and opt-out of bandwidth hogging ads. The service “bids” on the users behalf, and if successful the user can choose to either collapse the unused space or upload their own messages – ingenious!

I immediately signed up, dialed my contribution up to$15/mo and started browsing. I configured my contributor account to show me messages from the new wellbeing starutp I’m working on and instead of ads I started seeing all sorts of positive messages. Cool!

A few months have since past and I figured it was time to review where my money was going. Boy, did my opinion change.

Looking at reports, it turns out I contributed $4.77 to remove 977 ads on websites since I signed up and Google charged me $29.67. The ~$5-CPM paid out seems generous, but I’ll accept that.  

The  $30 CPM and whopping 83% margin is downright theft. Google is keeping 83% of the money.

Who knows, maybe something is broken, but as it stands this is a service is a scam.

But he could dial down his contribution, surely? In a world though where adblockers are free, it seems somewhat worthy. Also, I calculated how much news sites (well, The Guardian) probably gets per browser per year from ads: $1.14.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: SATs (Standard Aptitude Tests) are very useful, apparently.

Start up: smartphone v cars, Oracle v Android, Korea’s browser problem, flat design woes, and more


Sony’s Project Morpheus in action. But how many PCs can run this stuff? Photo by wuestenigel 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.

Fun fun fun ’til her daddy takes the iPhone away » ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

“A smartphone can get you a ride but a car can’t get you a date,” blogged venture capitalist Fred Wilson, revealing a remarkable ignorance of the entire modern history of youth culture. “The smartphone wins.”

Wilson’s words were inspired by a November 2013 interview with another prominent VC, Marc Andreessen. America’s love affair with the automobile is over, Andreessen declared. As evidence he pointed to a putative sea change in young people’s attitudes toward cars: “Today, ask kids if they’d rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There’s a huge social behavior reorientation that’s already happening.” I’ve never found financiers to be reliable guides to what kids are up to, but in this case Andreessen was just recycling a view that has achieved meme status in recent years: Americans are losing their taste for driving, and that trend is particularly  pronounced among the young.

At about the same time Andreessen was opining about how young folks love their tech but don’t give a crap about their wheels, MTV was launching an extensive survey of the attitudes of millennials. The network interviewed nearly 4,000 people between 18 and 34. One of the topics discussed was cars and driving.

Now, guess whether the survey – of thousands of real people – backed up Wilson’s opinion.
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Education and underemployment in the age of machine intelligence » Brookings Institution

Daniel Araya (a researcher and advisor to the US government):

what is the role of education in the age of machine intelligence? Even a cursory analysis of educational reform in the United States reveals a deep concern with transforming the education system in the face of systemic economic and social change. It has become painfully clear, for example, that our current education system is not equipped to mitigate the scale of labor dislocation we may soon face. In my view, the most obvious problem with U.S. educational reform today is a misplaced focus on mobilizing systems of measurement and conformity in an era that demands risk and experimentation. The underlying problem is that “factory schools” have evolved from older institutions designed for a different era.

Beyond the bureaucratic systems of the Industrial Age, students must be better prepared to leverage autonomous creativity to solve real-world problems. Beyond basic numeracy and literacy, advanced competencies that build on network collaboration, digital fluency, and entrepreneurial innovation are now foundational to economic mobility. The real challenge today, in other words, is to transform the institutional and pedagogical structures that constitute schooling. Rather than framing educational reform in terms of the needs of a mass industrial society, educational policies must now adapt to the needs of a highly disruptive computational economy.

Sure, but who’s going to tear Americans away from their block-rote testing?
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Few computers are powerful enough to support virtual reality » Bloomberg Business

Ian King:

Virtual reality has a very real problem. With several technology giants preparing splashy introductions for the first VR headsets in 2016, few people own hardware capable of fully supporting Facebook’s Oculus Rift or other systems.

Just 13m PCs worldwide next year will have the graphics capabilities needed to run VR, according to an estimate by Nvidia, the largest maker of computer graphics chips. Those ultra-high-end machines account for less than 1% of the 1.43bn PCs expected to be in use globally in 2016, according to research firm Gartner.

And yet IHS estimates that 7m VR headsets will be in use by the end of this year. Seems like a high penetration of those 13m PCs. (And I don’t hold out much hope for HTC/Valve’s effort to save HTC, given its $1,500 price.)
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Oracle sinks its claws into Android » Andreas Gal

Gal is the former CTO at Mozilla, and was involved in its efforts with Firefox OS, so he knows his stuff:

While I am no longer working directly on mobile, a curious event got my attention: A commit appeared in the Android code base that indicates that Google is abandoning its own re-implementation of Java in favor of Oracle’s original Java implementation. I’ll try to explain why I think this is a huge change and will have far-reaching implications for Android and the Android ecosystem.

This quickly gets very complicated, hinging on the variations between the GPL, LGPL, GPLv2 and Apache licences. Read alongside this piece at Venturebeat, which has comments from Google.

Upshot seems to be: Oracle gets to dictate some future direction of Android’s Java; app developers who don’t update could see more crashes.
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Issue 693 – TrendMicro node.js HTTP server listening on localhost can execute commands » Google Security Research

Tavis Normandy, on the security mailing list:

When you install TrendMicro Antivirus on Windows, by default a component called Password Manager is also installed and automatically launched on startup.

http://www.trendmicro.com/us/home/products/software/password-manager/index.html

This product is primarily written in JavaScript with node.js, and opens multiple HTTP RPC ports for handling API requests.

It took about 30 seconds to spot one that permits arbitrary command execution, openUrlInDefaultBrowser, which eventually maps to ShellExecute().

This means any website can launch arbitrary commands, like this:

x = new XMLHttpRequest()
x.open("GET", "https://localhost:49155/api/openUrlInDefaultBrowser?url=c:/windows/system32/calc.exe true);
try { x.send(); } catch (e) {};

(Note that you cannot read the response due to the same origin policy, but it doesn’t matter – the command is still executed).

Trend Micro reacted quickly, but it turns out this is only the first layer of a stinky security onion.
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Pray to Microsoft: Google, Microsoft to stop technical support for older operating systems, browsers » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-Young:

Google announced on January 11 that it would stop providing security for the Chrome browser on the older versions of the Windows including the Windows XP and the Windows Vista. Earlier, Microsoft said that its technical support for the older versions of the Internet Explorer would be stopped soon. Under the circumstances, Web users in Korea are getting more and more nervous.

At present, more than 80% of them are using Microsoft’s PC operating systems and 30% to 40% of them are using the older versions of the Internet Explorer. Besides, a number of public organizations in Korea are still heavily dependent on the IE, which means they are very vulnerable to security threats. In order to be free from the concerns, users of the Windows 7 and above are required to upgrade their IE to IE 11 or use the other browsers including Chrome, FireFox and Safari.

Problems are complicated for Windows XP and Windows Vista users though. The Chrome browser is unavailable on these operating systems from April this year since Google is going to stop its security update from that month.

People think of South Korea as super-sophisticated because it has really fast broadband. But it relies on absolutely ancient browsers which are vulnerable to all sorts of malarkey. This is going to cause some big problems as they’re either forced to shift or get hacked to hell and back.
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Long-term exposure to flat design: how the trend slowly makes users less efficient » Nielsen-Norman Group

Kate Meyer:

To know where they can click on a website, users need signifiers: perceptible clues that help them understand how to use interfaces. Blue underlined text is an example of a traditional signifier of a clickable link that even the least experienced web users understand.

In the old days of rampant skeuomorphism and realism in web design, users were generally able to rely on obvious — but often ugly — signifiers of clickability (such as glossy, raised effects on buttons, or inset shadows that made input fields appear empty). Even though these signifiers varied from site to site, users could usually rely upon two assumptions:

• Elements with strong signifiers were probably clickable.
• Elements without strong signifiers were probably not clickable.

Flat design increased the popularity of designing clickable elements with absent or weak signifiers. Linked text styled as static text is an example of an absent signifier. A ghost button (text with a thin border and no background color) is an example of a weak signifier — a subtler version of a traditional clickability signifier.

Younger users are better at figuring this stuff, but this doesn’t mean it’s good design.
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A driverless car saved my life – no, really » Forbes

Joann Muller took a ride in Delphi’s model on the Vegas roads during CES:

One of the first things I noticed was how polite the self-driving car was. It always stayed under the speed limit, and always drove a safe distance behind the car in front of us. It was kind of annoying, frankly, in frenetic Las Vegas, where 170,000 heavily caffeinated tech freaks converged for CES, the big three-day consumer electronics show.

At a busy four-way intersection, the Audi navigated itself into a left-turn lane behind five or six other cars stopped at a traffic light. I thought the gap between us and the car ahead seemed excessive, but that’s how the car is programmed to behave. If I were driving, I would have inched way up behind the other guy’s bumper.

The traffic arrow turned green, and as the cars ahead started moving, so did we. Just as we approached the intersection to make the left turn, the arrow turned yellow and our car stopped abruptly. My Delphi guide, Nandita Mangal, explained that because the car detected stopped traffic on the other side of the intersection it did not feel it was safe to proceed on yellow, even though most drivers (myself included) are probably more aggressive and would have tried to make the light.

That point was driven home just a few minutes later when our car, now first in the left turn lane, got a green arrow to proceed. The Audi drove forward and started turning left, when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw not one, but two cars come speeding through the intersection from the right, running the red light. I wanted to yell “Look out!” but before I could even get the words out, the Audi slammed its brakes as the bad drivers swerved around us. If the self-driving car hadn’t detected what was about to happen and stopped, we likely would have been T-boned on the right side, and I might not be here to write this story.

It will only take a few cases like this for SDCs to be hailed at the best thing since sliced bread. Will the bad drivers (like those running the light) get them first, though? (Note too: this isn’t a Google car.)
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China’s Xiaomi under pressure to prove value to investors » WSJ

Eva Dou on Xiaomi, valued at $46bn in its last round, which looks to have missed its 80m phone sales target for 2015 (revised down from 100m):

“The competition in China’s smartphone market has intensified tremendously this year,” said a Xiaomi spokeswoman, who declined to comment on the company’s valuation or say whether it met its 2015 sales target. She said Xiaomi sales were “within expectations” and its flash sales are primarily for new phones when production ramps up.

The lack of its own high-end chip technology also proved to be a competitive disadvantage for Xiaomi last year. When early versions of Qualcomm Inc.’s Snapdragon 810 processor were reported to have overheated, it dampened sales of Xiaomi’s most expensive handset yet, the 2,299 yuan ($349) Mi Note, analysts said.

Xiaomi couldn’t fall back on an in-house developed chip to get around the problem as Huawei and Samsung did.

Xiaomi and Qualcomm declined to comment on the processor. Analysts say the problems have been fixed.

Overseas growth also has been slow for Xiaomi, with the percentage of its smartphones sold overseas in the first nine months of 2015 rising to 8%, compared with 7% in the 2014 calendar year, according to Canalys. Moreover, Xiaomi’s thin patent portfolio became a hurdle as it sought to expand in markets such as India. A lack of patents led to a court ruling that crimped its access to the crucial India market.

Hard to see now how Xiaomi isn’t Just One More Android OEM.
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Education – Preview » Apple

This is interesting: coming in iOS 9.3, Apple’s classroom efforts (which in the US are being invaded by Chromebooks) let pupils log into any iPad “and make it their own”, use a “Photo ID” where “each student’s picture appears on the iPad they’ve been using” and younger students can access via a four-digit PIN.

Teachers meanwhile can see what’s on any screen, launch apps across a class, and reset passwords “without calling IT”.

Fraser Speirs (who’s big on education and iPads) points out that it’s going to need some hefty space – a 32GB iPad will be able to cater for 3 users, 64GB for 8, and 128GB for 16.

Wouldn’t mind having some of these for a home setting. (Via former Windows guy Steve Sinofksy.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: the smartphone slowdown, AirBnB ‘racism’, malware Bibles, Google lobbies and more


No longer big in Japan. Photo by Chris Blakeley on Flickr.

I know, you could sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. But we’ll all be dead in 200 years, so why bother?

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

Revealed: how Google enlisted members of US Congress it bankrolled to fight $6bn EU antitrust case » The Guardian

Simon Marks (Brussels correspondent) and Harry Davies (special investigations correspondent):

• Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page met the then European commission chief privately in California in spring 2014 and raised the antitrust case despite being warned by EU officials that it would be inappropriate to do so.

• Officials and lawmakers in Brussels say they have witnessed a significant expansion of Google lobbying efforts over the past 18 months as the company faces increased scrutiny of its business activities in Europe.

• Google has employed several former EU officials as in-house lobbyists, and has funded European thinktanks and university research favourable to its position as part of its broader campaign.

Capitol Hill’s aggressive intervention in Brussels came as the European parliament prepared to vote through a resolution in November 2014 that called on EU policymakers to consider breaking up Google’s online business into separate companies.

Republican and Democratic senators and congressmen, many of whom have received significant campaign donations from Google totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaned on parliament in a series of similar – and in some cases identical – letters sent to key MEPs.

Lobbying is entirely fair play; it’s only stupid not to do it. Microsoft is certainly behind lobbying efforts against Google in the US and Europe. It’s the extent, and the subtlety, that’s so striking here.
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Apple names Jeff Williams chief operating officer » Apple

Apple today announced that Jeff Williams has been named chief operating officer and Johny Srouji is joining Apple’s executive team as senior vice president for Hardware Technologies. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, will expand his role to include leadership of the revolutionary App Store across all Apple platforms. Apple also announced that Tor Myhren will join Apple in the first calendar quarter of 2016 as vice president of Marketing Communications, reporting to CEO Tim Cook.

Interesting on lots of levels:
– Jeff Williams has been COO-in-waiting for some time now; this simply cements it.
– Srouji has been on the chip side; elevating him like this shows the importance of chip design to Apple’s future
– putting Schiller in charge of the App Store looks like the end of a mini-power struggle inside Apple. As Rene Ritchie of iMore pointed out on the Blerg podcast (you listened, right?) responsibility for the App Store was effectively split among three people – Schiller, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi.

Ritchie has a writeup on this change – definitely worth reading.
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Cyber sacrilege at Christmas: Android malware hiding in Bible (and Quran) apps » Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Security company Proofpoint isn’t revealing which exact Android apps are doing bad deeds, as it is going through the process of disclosure with the affected developers and vendors. It is instead revealing data on the number of malware or aggressive adware targeting the Google operating system. Proofpoint analyzed over 5,600 unique Bible apps (4,154 for Android and 1,500 for Apple’s iOS), including 208 that contained known malicious code and 140 were classified as “high risk” based on their behavior, all for the Android platform. Apple is evidently doing a good job of keeping out dangerous Bibles.

Kevin Epstein, VP of threat operations at Proofpoint, said those apps with known malicious behavior let attackers steal information from mobile devices, exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, possibly jailbreak or “root” a device, pilfer login credentials and communicate with IP addresses previously linked with rogue activity.

How is it that Apple is keeping out the dangerous ones, though? You’d assume it would be targeted just the same.
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Discrimation against Airbnb guests » Ben Edelman

In an article posted today, Michael Luca, Dan Svirsky, and I present results of a field experiment on Airbnb. Using guest accounts that are identical save for names indicating varying races, we submitted requests to more than 6,000 hosts. Requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names. The difference persists whether the host is African American or White, male or female. The difference also persists whether the host shares the property with the guest or not, and whether the property is cheap or expensive.

Discrimination is costly for hosts who indulge in it. Hosts who reject African-American guests are able to find a replacement guest only 35% of the time.

On the whole, our analysis suggests a need for caution. While information can facilitate transactions, it also facilitates discrimination. Airbnb’s site carefully shrouds information Airbnb wants to conceal, such as hosts’ email addresses and phones numbers, so guests can’t contact hosts directly and circumvent Airbnb’s fees. But when it comes to information that facilitates discrimination, including name and photo, Airbnb offers no such precaution.

You can read the draft paper. I’ve seen no coverage of it at all. Update: I overlooked The Verge’s coverage of the paper. Apologies. (Recall the similar paper studying discrimination by buyers on eBay from the other day too.)
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A botnet has been stealing billions through digital ads aimed at fake audiences » Social Media Today

Aaron Miles:

According to a recent report from ad-fraud prevention firm Pixalate, a sophisticated botnet has been leeching money from digital advertisers by serving up real ads to faked, highly-prized audiences. The botnet, nicknamed Xindi after some Star Trek bad guys, has, by Pixalate’s calculations, rung up something like 78 billion ad impressions so far. According to George Slefo of Adweek, Xindi “could cost advertisers nearly $3 billion by the end of 2016.”

The ingenious thing about the Xindi botnet is who it targeted. The infection was aimed at Fortune 500 companies, university computer networks, and other groups whose users are usually very sought-after by advertisers. Because the advertisers thought that they were reaching such a valuable audience, they were willing to pay much more, $200 per thousand impressions for some, which compounded the cost of the fraud and made things much more lucrative for the fraudsters.

The botnet also uses some sophisticated techniques to trick the protocols that normally check for ad fraud (see image below) and cover its tracks.

Billions of dollars. The scale is astonishing; and so is the ingenuity in how it evaded detection.
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Emojis are no longer cool in Japan » Slate

Matt Alt:

The very first emojis appeared on a handset sold by the company J-Phone (now Softbank) in 1997, but high prices kept it out of the hands of average citizens. The direct ancestors of the emoji we know and use today debuted in Japan in 1999. And now? “The emoji boom is over here in Japan,” says Shigetaka Kurita, the man widely credited with creating the adorable little runes. “They’re still around, they’re still pervasive, but they aren’t a fad anymore,” he says in his Tokyo office. He ventures that when Obama mentioned emojis on the White House lawn, “I suspect most Japanese people’s response was, ‘wow, emoji are still popular over there!?’ ”

Extra irony: lack of emoji stalled interest in the iPhone in Japan too. Now it’s one of its best markets.
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Elon Musk’s billion-dollar AI plan is about far more than saving the world » WIRED

Cade Metz:

We can’t help but think that Google open sourced its AI engine, TensorFlow, because it knew OpenAI was on the way—and that Facebook shared its Big Sur server design as an answer to both Google and OpenAI. Facebook says this was not the case. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. And Altman declines to speculate. But he does say that Google knew OpenAI was coming. How could it not? The project nabbed Ilya Sutskever, one of its top AI researchers.

That doesn’t diminish the value of Google’s open source project. Whatever the company’s motives, the code is available to everyone to use as they see fit. But it’s worth remembering that, in today’s world, giving away tech is about more than magnanimity. The deep learning community is relatively small, and all of these companies are vying for the talent that can help them take advantage of this extremely powerful technology. They want to share, but they also want to win. They may release some of their secret sauce, but not all. Open source will accelerate the progress of AI, but as this happens, it’s important that no one company or technology becomes too powerful. That’s why OpenAI is such a meaningful idea.

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The smartphone lifetime challenge » Bob O’Donnell

In a recent survey of over 3,000 consumers across five countries (US, UK, Germany, Brazil and China) conducted by TECHnalysis Research, consumers said they expected to replace their smartphones every 1.8 years. Now, on the surface, that seems fine, and probably in line with what people have done in the past. The problem is, in response to the same question about notebook PCs, people said they expected to replace those devices every 2.5 years.

In reality, however, notebook PC replacements occur closer to 5 years. In other words, people clearly aren’t good at estimating how long they plan to keep a device. To be fair, I don’t think smartphone replacement times will be double the 1.8-year lifecycle that they responded with, but I am certain they will be longer. And that is the crux of the challenge for the smartphone market.

As we saw first with PCs and then with tablets, once a market reaches the saturation point, then future growth becomes nearly completely dependent on refresh rate and lifecycle—how quickly (or not) you choose to upgrade what you have.

Things are going to get tight in the next few years in mature markets.
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Xiaomi plays down sales target » OmniFeed

Gillian Wong ad Eva Duo:

“This target [of 80m shipped in 2015, given earlier this year is not the No. 1 priority for us,” Mr. Lei said on the sidelines of the World Internet Conference on Wednesday in the Chinese city of Wuzhen, when asked if Xiaomi could reach its smartphone sales target. “What we care about the most is the rate of customer satisfaction.”

Mr. Lei played down the sales target, saying he was “constantly pushed by everyone” to give the figure earlier this year.

He said in a statement in July that Xiaomi sold 34.7m smartphones in the first half of the year. Xiaomi sold 61.1m smartphones in 2014 and 18.7m in 2013.

The “80m” number is actually a reduction from the 100m or so that Xiaomi was hoping for back in March.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: