Start up: Theranos’s last days?, Samsung’s water-unproof S7 Active, the Pokemon Go craze, and more


Planning a crewed lunar mission? There’s some code for you on Github! Photo from Nasa Goddard Space Research Centre 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 12 links for you. Apply topically. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Theranos dealt sharp blow as Elizabeth Holmes is banned from operating labs • WSJ

John Carreyrou, Michael Siconolfi and Christopher Weaver:

»Silicon Valley startup Theranos Inc. is fighting for its life after regulators decided to revoke its license to operate a lab in California because of unsafe practices and to ban founder Elizabeth Holmes from the blood-testing business for at least two years.

The sanctions were laid out in a letter to Theranos released Friday by the agency that oversees US labs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Theranos said it is still seeking to resolve its issues with the regulator.

One sanction, a monetary fine of $10,000 a day until all deficiencies have been corrected, goes into effect July 12. The most serious sanctions, such as the ban of Ms. Holmes, won’t go into effect for 60 days.

If it fails to reach a settlement with the government, Theranos’s options are limited. Almost any course it takes will dramatically reshape the company that Ms. Holmes founded in 2003 as a Stanford University dropout and grew to a valuation of more than $9 billion in a 2014 fundraising round.

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The first version of this that I saw at 0643 BST (0143 EST) Friday had a single byline (Siconolfi’s) and began more tamely: “US federal health regulators dealt a major blow to Theranos by banning founder Elizabeth Holmes from operating a blood-testing laboratory for at least two years and pulling regulatory approval for the company’s California lab.”

Clearly, the addition of two reporters and 18 hours sharpened up the intro (“lede” in the US; first paragraph to everyone else) quite a bit. And gave them time to put a very spooky picture of Holmes at the top.

And Theranos indeed looks cooked.
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DNA sequencing costs plotted over time • National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

»

To illustrate the nature of the reductions in DNA sequencing costs, each graph also shows hypothetical data reflecting Moore’s Law, which describes a long-term trend in the computer hardware industry that involves the doubling of ‘compute power’ every two years (See: Moore’s Law [wikipedia.org]). Technology improvements that ‘keep up’ with Moore’s Law are widely regarded to be doing exceedingly well, making it useful for comparison.

In both graphs, note: (1) the use a logarithmic scale on the Y axis; and (2) the sudden and profound outpacing of Moore’s Law beginning in January 2008. The latter represents the time when the sequencing centers transitioned from Sanger-based (dideoxy chain termination sequencing) to ‘second generation’ (or ‘next-generation’) DNA sequencing technologies. Additional details about these graphs are provided below.

These data, however, do not capture all of the costs associated with the NHGRI Large-Scale Genome Sequencing Program. The sequencing centers perform a number of additional activities whose costs are not appropriate to include when calculating costs for production-oriented DNA sequencing. In other words, NHGRI makes a distinction between ‘production’ activities and ‘non-production’ activities. Production activities are essential to the routine generation of large amounts of quality DNA sequence data that are made available in public databases; the costs associated with production DNA sequencing are summarized here and depicted on the two graphs.

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We’re good at sequencing, but less good at understanding what genomes tell us. That hasn’t improved as quickly.
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Samsung Galaxy S7 Active fails Consumer Reports water-resistance test • Consumer Reports

Jerry Bellinson put not one but two successive Galaxy S7 Actives into the equivalent of five feet of water for 30 minutes. They didn’t make it:

»For a couple of days following the test, the screens of both phones would light up when the phones were plugged in, though the displays could not be read. The phones never returned to functionality.

Samsung says it has received “very few complaints” about this issue, and that in all cases, the phones were covered under warranty.

“The Samsung Galaxy S7 active device is one of the most rugged phones to date and is highly resistant to scratches and IP68 certified,” the company said in a written statement. “There may be an off-chance that a defective device is not as watertight as it should be.” The company says it is investigating the issue.

The Active is one of three versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7, and it was the only one to fail our water-immersion test.

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Could be two lemons, but that doesn’t speak well to the quality control. Waterproofing seems to be a popular feature with testers, at least, because you can.. test it.
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Teen playing new Pokémon game on phone discovers body in Wind River • County 10

»Shayla [Wiggins] tells County 10 that she woke up this morning and began playing a game on her cell phone called Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that encourages the user to capture as many Pokémon as possible. “The Pokémon are all over Riverton,” she said. Shayla showed County 10 the game on her cellphone which displayed a map of Riverton where these Pokémon are located.

“I was trying to get a Pokémon from a natural water resource,” she explained. She said that she jumped over the fence to go towards the river in search of a Pokémon.

“I was walking towards the bridge along the shore when I saw something in the water,” Shayla said. “I had to take a second look and I realized it was a body.” She said the figure was floating about three feet from the shore and it looked like an average size male body. She reports that she thinks the man was native, but she can’t be certain. She saw a black shirt and black pants. All of the body was reportedly submerged except for part of his back and butt.

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This game is taking people into bizarre situations. There are even reports of people setting up armed robberies (unproven) and using it while on patrol against Isis with Kurdish militias (verified). I’m amazed; Pokemon seems to me so transparently stupid – a set of Top Trump cards – that I’m amazed anyone over the age of 12 indulges in it. And yet…
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A malicious ‘Pokémon Go’ app is installing backdoors on Android devices • Motherboard

Joshua Kopstein:

»wannabe Pokémon masters should take heed: amid high demand for the game as it slowly rolls out across the globe, security researchers have discovered a malicious version of the Pokémon GO app floating around that installs a backdoor on Android phones, allowing hackers to exploit Poké-hype to completely compromise a user’s device.

The security firm Proofpoint discovered the malicious application, or APK, which was infected with DroidJack, a remote access tool (RAT) that compromises Android devices by silently opening a backdoor for hackers. The malicious app was uploaded to an online malware detection repository on July 7, less than 72 hours after Nintendo released the game in Australia and New Zealand.

To install it, a user needs to “side-load” the malicious app by disabling an Android security setting that normally prevents the installation of unverified third-party apps from “unknown sources.”

This is potentially a huge deal, since the game’s slow roll-out to different regions has led some impatient players to download the app from third-party websites instead of waiting for the official release on Android’s Play store, which requires side-loading to install. Proofpoint notes that several major news outlets have even provided instructions on how to find and install the app from a third party.

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Original Apollo 11 Guidance Computer (AGC) source code • Github

Lots of people are cloning it and improving it – just in case they, you know, need to pilot a lunar lander mission.
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We need to talk about AI and access to publicly funded data-sets • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas with a hugely important analysis:

»DeepMind says it will be publishing “results” of the Moorfields research [on eye disease] in academic literature. But it does not say it will be open sourcing any AI models it is able to train off of the publicly funded data.

Which means that data might well end up fueling the future profits of one of the world’s wealthiest technology companies. Instead of that value remaining in the hands of the public, whose data it is.

And not just that — early access to large amounts of valuable taxpayer-funded data could potentially lock in massive commercial advantage for Google in healthcare. Which is perhaps the single most important sector there is, given it affects everyone on the planet. If you don’t think Google has designed on becoming the world’s medic, why do you think it’s doing things like this?

Google will argue that the potential social benefits of algorithmically improved healthcare outcomes are worth this trade off of giving it advantageous access to the locked medicine cabinet where the really powerful data is kept.

But that detracts from the wider point: if valuable public data-sets can create really powerful benefits, shouldn’t that value remain in public hands?

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Yes. Exactly. This is a key point which is being ignored: data is the necessity for Google and the British government is not seeking sufficiently clear repayment for it.
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AI, Apple and Google • Benedict Evans

Quite a long musing on where we are with AI – which typically never quite arrives, because every time it does something smart (understands speech, identifies faces) we say “oh, that’s just computing“:

»A common thread for both Apple and Google, and the apps on their platforms, is that eventually many ‘AI’ techniques will be APIs and development tools across everything, rather like, say, location. 15 years ago geolocating a mobile phone was witchcraft and mobile operators had revenue forecasts for ‘location-based services’. GPS and wifi-lookup made LBS just another API call: ‘where are you?’ became another question that a computer never has to ask you. But though location became just an API – just a database lookup – just another IF statement – the services created with it sit on a spectrum. At one end are things like Foursquare – products that are only possible with real-time location and use it to do magic. Slightly behind are Uber or Lyft – it’s useful for Lyft to know where you are when you call a car, but not essential (it is essential for the drivers’ app, or course). But then there’s something like Instagram, where location is a free nice-to-have – it’s useful to be able to geotag a photo automatically, but not essential and you might not want to anyway. (Conversely, image recognition is going to transform Instagram, though they’ll need a careful taxonomy of different types of coffee in the training data). And finally, there is, say, an airline app, that can ask you what city you’re in when you do a flight search, but really needn’t bother.

In the same way, there will be products that are only possible because of machine learning, whether applied to images or speech or something else entirely (no-one at all looked at location and thought ‘this could change taxis”). There will be services that are enriched by it but could do without, and there will be things where it may not be that relevant at all (that anyone has realised yet). So, Apple offers photo recognition, but also a smarter keyboard and venue suggestions in the calendar app – it’s sprinkled ‘AI’ all over the place, much like location. And, like any computer science tool, there will be techniques that are commodities and techniques that aren’t, yet.

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Exclusive: why Microsoft is betting its future on AI • The Verge

Casey Newton got to meet lots of people at Microsoft who are working on bots and AI:

»I meet with Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of marketing for Office. He shows me a range of ways where intelligence is making Office easier to use. In September 2014 Microsoft introduced Delve, a kind of Fitbit for productivity that is included with Office 365. The app analyzes how much time you spend in email and in meetings, and highlights times on your calendar where you have extended periods of time to do more complicated, meaningful work. It tells you what percentage of people you sent an email to actually read it, and how quickly. It will suggest reaching out to colleagues that you haven’t emailed in a while. It even shows you response times for your colleagues, and for yourself.

If your organization lives in Google Apps, as do many big Silicon Valley companies, browsing Delve felt like a revelation. You don’t have to be a numbers nerd to find this kind of information useful. If you’re a manager, Delve can tell you at a glance how much time you’ve spent with each of your employees over the past week. This kind of intelligence isn’t as sexy as a general AI that anticipates your every need — but it’s here today, it works, and it makes Google Apps look like a neglected backwater by comparison.

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1) Google Apps pretty much is a neglected backwater
2) would love to know if the statistics gathered by Delve actually have any meaning in the real world, or are just numbers collected because they can be.
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Security Flaw in OS X displays all keychain passwords in plain text • Medium

Brenton Henry:

»This afternoon, a friend learned the hard way that you don’t let an unofficial company take control of your computer to provide “support”. However, it was what I learned that shocked me the most.

There is a method in OS X that will allow any user to export your keychain, without sudo privileges or any system dialogs, to a text file, with the username and passwords displayed in plain text. As of this writing, this method works in at least 10.10 and 10.11.5, and presumably at the least all iterations in between.

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I tried his method; I had to click an “Allow” dialog for every single item in my keychain, which wasn’t a trivial number. So this exploit isn’t one to think deeply about. More to the point: what happened to his friend? Was it keychain-related?
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How the Feds use Photoshop to track down paedophiles • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»The most innocent clues can crack a case. In 2012, a holiday photo of a woman and child holding freshly caught fish ended up being a key lead in a child pornography investigation.

Found within a cache of illegal, explicit material, the photo would eventually point detectives to a outdoor camping site in Richville, Minnesota, and result in the victims’ rescue, and suspect’s conviction in December 2012.

But first, detectives had to determine where the photo was taken. To do that, they cropped out the fish, sanitized the image, and sent it to Cornell University for identification, Jim Cole, the National Program Manager for Victim Identification at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), recalled to Motherboard in a phone call.

The university determined the species of fish, which was found in a particular region. Investigators then edited the suspect and victim out of the photo, Cole said, and distributed it to advertisers for camping grounds in the area, one of which recognized the location.

When detectives arrived, the same photo was on the wall of the camping office, Cole added.

“It’s all about making the haystack smaller, so we can find the needle,” he said.

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A logo on a sweatshirt? A bottle of pills in the background? It can all contribute to cracking the case
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Exclusive: Google is building two Android Wear smartwatches with Google Assistant integration • Android Police

David Ruddock has a strong and detailed rumour:

»The inevitable question with these Google smartwatches is “why?” I’m afraid I don’t have a concrete answer for you. But I can speculate. As Android Wear has evolved, manufacturer interest in it has not skyrocketed as Google likely hoped it would. At best, it appears to be holding steady. Once considered Wear’s strongest partner, LG has announced no new mainstream Wear device since the old Urbane last spring (the LTE is unashamedly niche with limited availability, and was heavily delayed). The number of new Wear OEMs announced lately has been modest, aside from a few niche fashion products that are unlikely to have a major impact on Wear’s distribution.

By building its own smartwatches, Google can implement exactly the hardware and features it believes will best demonstrate Android Wear’s capabilities.

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Good luck with that. The OEMs aren’t doing it because they aren’t selling. (Unless they’re selling in China, in which case Google will have trouble too.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: the Meeker explosion, Saudi women on Uber, GCHQ on MPs, Windows goes Holographic, and more


Imagined interfaces can make a difference to our existing ones in surprising ways. Photo by Sherif Salama on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each weekday’s Start Up post by email.

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

Tech’s best barometer? Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report has ballooned from 25 to 213 slides • VentureBeat

Chris O’Brien:

»Way back in 2001, Meeker was working for Morgan Stanley covering Internet companies. And, like many people who rode the first dot-com bubble to become Internet famous, she was just beginning to try to make sense of the wreckage and ask: What’s next?

That year, Meeker appeared at a conference for a magazine called “The Industry Standard.” For you kids who were born after 2001, a “magazine” is a publication printed on glossy paper with lots of shiny pictures. The Industry Standard was a tech magazine that was briefly a big deal and had lots of cool parties but then imploded when the dot-com bubble went poof!

In any case, that first slide deck was a mere 25 slides and was entitled: “The State of Capital Markets And An Update On Technology Trends.”

Over the years, Meeker’s Internet Trends reports have become a thing.

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Great graphic:

The associated problem being that Meeker is just prolix now. (Also: what was so special about 2006?) I met her once, back in the late 1990s: she insisted that the internet would mean that news organisations would splinter, and you’d be left with individual journalists who people picked and chose from. Has happened, but also hasn’t.
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This is what Saudi women think of their country’s massive investment in Uber • BuzzFeed News

Hayes Brown:

»A massive $3.5bn investment in Uber from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shocked the tech world on Wednesday, but has left women inside the country skeptical about any huge boon for them.

Hassah Al-Qabisy, 44, works as a security guard at a hospital in Riyadh and believes that “Uber is a business like any other business.” But will it overturn the country’s unofficial ban on women driving? Unlikely.

“Most of the clients will be ladies,” she continued, a feeling that Uber’s own stats bear out: 80% of its customers in Saudi Arabia are women, the company claims. “We as women can’t drive. If you know that we have been fighting for years to drive our own cars — and the state doesn’t allow that — what makes you think that Uber will change anything?”

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This is what I think of headlines that don’t tell you anything but indicate they will have something you want to read: I can’t wait to build a parsing robot to kill them.
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A conversation about fantasy user interfaces • Subtraction.com

Khoi Vinh:

»As a user interface engineer at Google, Kirill Grouchnikov brings real world UIs to life, but he devotes a considerable portion of his free time exploring the world of fantasy user interfaces—the visual design work that drives screens, projections, holograms (and much more exotic and fanciful technologies) in popular films and television shows. At his site Pushing Pixels, Grouchnikov has logged an impressive number of interviews with the designers who have created fictitious interfaces for “The Hunger Games,” “The Martian,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” and many more. Each conversation is an in-depth look at the unique challenges of designing in support of fantastical narratives.

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Now he turns the tables by interviewing Grouchnikov. Here’s the video of the sorts of things he looks at.


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MPs’ private emails are routinely accessed by GCHQ • Computer Weekly

Duncan Campbell and Bill Goodwin:

»The intelligence agency in Cheltenham has been able to harvest traffic details of all parliamentary emails, including details of the sender, recipient and subject matter, for at least three years. As a result, details of private email correspondence between MPs and constituents are being collected by GCHQ as a matter of routine.

GCHQ documents classified above top secret, released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also reveal that the spy agency has the capability to scan the content of parliamentary emails for “keywords” through an established cyber defence network that is connected to commercial software used to filter spam emails from MPs’ inboxes.

The disclosures, which come as the House of Commons prepares for the Third Reading of the government’s controversial Investigatory Powers Bill on Monday 6 June, raise new questions over the sweeping powers to be granted in the bill to police and the security services.

The controversial decision by Parliament to replace its internal email and desktop office software with Microsoft’s Office 365 service in 2014, means that parliamentary data and documents constantly pass in and out of the UK to Microsoft’s datacentres in Dublin and the Netherlands, across the backbone of the internet.

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How ya like them apples?
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Microsoft wants Windows Holographic to power all VR devices, not just HoloLens • PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

»Think of virtual reality devices as PCs and you’ll better understand what Microsoft wants to do with Windows Holographic: establish it as the de facto operating system for augmented reality and virtual reality devices.

At Computex on Tuesday night, Microsoft executives said the company had opened up Windows Holographic to all devices, and had begun working with HTC’s Vive team to port the Windows Holographic Windows 10 interface to it. According to Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Device Group at Microsoft, “Windows is the only mixed reality platform.”

Myerson showed off a video (below) where a HoloLens user was able to “see” the avatar of an Oculus Rift user, and vice versa. The two, plus an additional HoloLens user, were all able to collaborate on a shared project, passing holographic assets back and forth. Two employees did the same on stage, digitally painting a virtual motorcycle that was seen by both a HoloLens as well as an HTC Vive.

“Many of today’s devices and experiences do not work with each other, provide different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals, and content,” Myerson said. Microsoft intends to solve that problem with Windows 10 and Windows Holographic.

Microsoft’s announcement shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the Rift and the Vive are tethered to a Windows 10 PC anyway. Microsoft boasts that more than 300m devices today run Windows 10, but an additional 80m VR devices could be sold by 2020, all of which Microsoft covets as potential Windows 10 devices.

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Who’s missing? Oculus – owned by Facebook, in which Microsoft owns a chunk of stock. So that could still happen.
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The playlist that’s helping Spotify win the streaming music battle • Vocativ

Cassie Murdoch:

»Every Monday, Spotify delivers a new Discover Weekly playlist to all its listeners. The weekly arrival of a fresh 30 songs has become a widely-anticipated event for many of Spotify’s 75 million active users and serves as a sign that Spotify has nailed a very tough assignment. Personalized engagement has long posed a challenge for all the big streaming services, but new data released this week signals that Spotify may have already won the battle against some very fierce competition.

Since the launch of Discover Weekly in July of last year, it has streamed nearly five billion tracks, and some 40 million subscribers have used the feature. For comparison, Apple Music—Spotify’s main competitor—only has 13 million subscribers total. Tidal has just three million.

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Dear Stephanie: you don’t understand the difference between these offerings at all. You’re comparing paid subscribers (Apple, Tidal) with the mix of paid and unpaid subscribers who use Spotify (30m paid subscribers, 90m unpaid). Discover Weekly is good, clearly, and keeps customers there. But “already won the battle”? This battle is going to go on and on, and (in case you hadn’t noticed) retaining users hasn’t made Spotify profitable. Possibly it can’t.
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Windows 10 nagware: You can’t click X. Make a date OR ELSE • The Register

Gavin Clarke:

»Recently, Microsoft’s policy had been to throw up a dialogue box asking you whether you wanted to install Windows 10.

If you clicked the red “X” to close the box – the tried-and-tested way to make dialogue boxes vanish without agreeing to do anything – Microsoft began taking that as permission for the upgrade to go ahead.

Now Microsoft is changing gears.

It has eliminated the option to re-schedule a chosen upgrade time once you’ve confirmed it while also removing the red “X” close option from the screen. One Reg reader grabbed the below screenshot from a relative’s PC on Windows 7.

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Clearly thinks that nobody will bother to pay for the upgrade when it comes up. Seems too that Samsung PC users (not a giant group, but a few million) have problems with Windows 10 too.
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2013: Who owns all these empty shops? • BBC News

Following the collapse of chain store BHS, this is relevant about what happens when shops fall vacant:

»Jamie Stirling-Aird works for Black Stanniland, which provides services to individuals who own shops.

“We recently marketed a shop in Bradford that had been empty for three years for a client who owns 20 or 30 shops,” he says. Its previous tenant, a jeweller, had been paying £93,000 a year rent. It has now been let to a pawnbroker for £65,000.

“In a place like Bradford, there will be 10 or 15 suitable vacant properties for any retailer to choose from,” Mr Stirling-Aird says. “I’m sure there are a lot of landlords struggling at the moment. There is reasonable demand for shops in decent locations, but there are shops in really bad locations for which there is never going to be demand.”

It is owners of these shops with so-called structural vacancy who are having to consider extreme measures.
It is easy enough to sell a large shop in a good location with a tenant on a long lease, but vacant shops have been fetching low prices at auction. “I suspect we’ll end up selling it to a developer who might be able to convert it into flats,” says Stirling-Aird.

“Demolition or alternative use is the only option for the vast majority of these ‘surplus to requirement’ shops,” says Matthew Hopkinson from the Local Data Company

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Going to be a lot of these over time.
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Bloomberg just hired 22-year-old Apple scoop machine Mark Gurman • Recode

Noah Kulwin:

»Over the last few years, Mark Gurman has made a name for himself as the go-to guy for Apple product scoops. And now he’s taking his talents to Bloomberg.

Gurman has broken stories on the iPad, Siri and almost every other device in the Apple catalogue. Tech Insider reported earlier today that Gurman was leaving his perch at 9to5Mac. According to a memo sent to Bloomberg staff from editor Brad Stone, he will be joining Bloomberg to cover consumer products, including those made by Apple rivals like Google and Amazon.

Gurman graduated from the University of Michigan last month, and he will be based in San Francisco.

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Gurman richly deserves this, but experienced media types *cough* await with interest how he fares inside a big smoothly oiled media machine with a lot of hypercompetitive journalists who have been there a long time, rather than on a niche (and closely attended) news blog.
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Smartwatches: I hate to say ‘I told you so’. But I told you so • The Register

Andrew Orlowski thinks the smart watch (whether from Apple or an Android OEM or Samsung) is a dead end:

»Nothing in Android Wear 2.0 hints at a new use case, and the UX is complicated further with a greater reliance on physical controls and a quite wacky swipe keyboard.

There’s no getting away from it, these expensive watches are clunkers. And I’ll make a new prediction: they always will be. The whole kitchen-sink platform approach to wearables looks mistaken. The strategy presumed that if you threw enough electronics into the watch it would eventually find a use case, and over time that would reach a mass market price point. But not all electronics fit that neat narrative.

Think about the small but useful bits of electronics, like a TV remote or wireless car keys, that are fantastically useful at one thing, but don’t merit a standalone market, because they are always bundled with something else. (Try buying a TV or a car without one of these). Only fitness wearables, with limited functionality and the ability to do one thing really well, have shown much promise in the wearable category, and I don’t see joggers with a £99 necessarily making the leap to a clunkier multipurpose £299 gadget because it’s the same brand.

Perhaps a wearable will only ever be something that’s bundled with a smartphone in the future? I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s smartwatches will be the last we see for a very long time.

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Android Wear is already a zombie, I’d say: sales have flatlined. Personally I like the Apple Watch, and find it useful all the time. The key to wider adoption might be price – or it might be battery life.
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India’s Micromax plans to sell smartphones in China, go public • WSJ

Sean McLain:

»The company plans to go public to generate cash to fund the acquisition of companies that will help Micromax build a network of services to help its phones stand out in the crowd of competitors. “The company can’t do that without more cash coming in,” Mr. Jain said. Micromax hasn’t decided whether to list in India or the U.S., he added.

The announcement is a sign that India’s smartphone market won’t save a struggling global smartphone industry. Shipments of handsets to India have declined over the past six months, according to IDC data. That is a sign that unsold phones are piling up in Indian warehouses, said IDC in a report. Most of the unsold merchandise are priced below $100 and aimed at first-time smartphone buyers, who account for much of Micromax’s sales.

However, China might not be the answer for the smartphone maker, analysts say. “I’m not sure why they’re doing this,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst at IDC. “The Chinese market is not growing and it’s really competitive. I don’t know how they will survive there.”

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Translation: Micromax is running out of runway and it’s hoping a cash infusion from the public market will get it out of the snakepit of less well-funded rivals.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Android Wear activations might hit 5 million by October… if things go well

It seems buyers aren’t either. Photo by jonmasters on Flickr.

It was early November when I last looked at how Android Wear was faring. According to my methodology, at that time there had been 2.74m Android Wear devices activated. (That post also explains my methodology, so I won’t repeat it.)

I’d expected that the Christmas period would see a dramatic rise in that figure; traditionally it’s the time for gifts, even (or especially) for the geek in your life, so I thought that there would be a rapid uptick in the number of Android Wear downloads, each new one of which indicates an activated device.

And yet. The download figure for Android Wear remains stubbornly stuck in the “1m – 5m” band, which it crossed into in mid-February 2015.

Patience

Twelve months on, and what has happened in the meantime? Apple launched the Apple Watch, which various estimates reckon shipped 4m units in its first quarter (April-June 2015) alone, and then topped it off with slightly better quarters each time.

And Android Wear? My latest calculation puts the number activated at between 3.35m and 3.45m – see the graph below. (The variation arises from whether you assume that comments proceed strictly in line with downloads, or that people are less likely to comment as time goes on.)

Is that bad? Well, since the start of the year, it has been adding activations at around 40,500 per week. In the four weeks before the New Year, it was 46,000 per week, with one particularly notably peak in a mid-November week of nearly 79,000.

You’d expect that: big rush before Christmas, slowdown afterwards. But at that rate, it’s going to take a long time for the ticker to go past 5 million on Google Play. In my November post, I thought we’d already be there now.

How reasonable is my estimate? We can definitely say that it has taken more than a year to rack up fewer than 4m activations – which makes sense, because to add 4m takes a consistent run rate of nearly 77,000 activations per week. Android Wear appears to be nowhere near that.

According to my calculations, at the present activation rate, it will take until October before total Android Wear activations pass the 5m mark.

Android Wear activations are well short of 5 million

Android Wear estimated activations: presently just short of 3.5m, and with a long road ahead

So what’s wrong with Android Wear?

There’s no shortage of Android Wear devices. They were ahead of Apple in introducing the concept of the “smart watch”. They were ahead of Apple in arriving: LG, Motorola, Huawei, pretty much every big Android OEM except Samsung and HTC got in there. Samsung isn’t there because it prefers its own Tizen OS – because that allows the flexibility to do what it wants. HTC backed off the idea, which was smart given the financial problems it has. Google has introduced an app to make them work with iOS. Hasn’t changed things.

If people aren’t buying these devices, there’s a problem in the story around them. “Why would I want a smartwatch? For that price? And look at how BIG it is!” (The latter is a pretty consistent reaction to the giant wheels people are expected to strap on their wrist. Actually, maybe that’s our answer.)

Given the gigantic addressable market for Android Wear – pretty much every Android user, which is a lot of people – it seems like we’re seeing both the “premium effect” (iPhone users tend to spend more) and the “huh? Why?” effect.

Quite possibly smartwatches are going to remain a niche – a sort of technological diversion, a bit like games consoles, which have a devoted and upgrading audience, but aren’t actually that pervasive when you look closely at the numbers (particularly when you note how many buyers of one console then add another).

One thing’s for sure, though – the makers of Android Wear devices need a good selling line, and soon.

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: BB Priv sales figured, Google drives to Ford, Samsung’s culture shock, and goodbye 2015


“Shot and processed on iPhone 6Plus”. Photo by andrewXu on Flickr.

This is the last Start Up of 2015. Thanks all so much for reading, and for your feedback. It will return on Monday 11 January.

A selection of 9 links for you. Freely given. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

BlackBerry sold under 50,000 Priv units, Play Store data suggests » AndroidAuthority

Matthew Benson:

Because the Priv apps can only be installed on the Priv itself, this offers a very good indication of the kind of sales numbers BlackBerry has achieved. At worst, there are possibly 10,001 sold, and at most, there are possibly 50,000. For the sake of argument, there is the possibility that the statistics on the Play Store are not accurate. Even assuming that installs are double that which is reported, that would still give a range between 20,002 and 100,000 units.

It is difficult to make heads or tails of this presumed purchase point. Considering that BlackBerry sold approximately 700,000 total handsets in Q3, it would mean the Priv was not a major seller. Granted it was only available for 2 weeks before the end of Q3, but many devices typically see the highest sales in the initial release window.

Nah, it’s pretty easy really. People had already worked out that BlackBerry shipped (as in, “recognised revenue on”) about 125,000 Privs. (You can figure it from previous average selling prices, and the ASP in the past quarter.) These figures show how many have actually reached peoples’ hands; it wouldn’t be too hard to look at the trend in installs and figure it out pretty exactly.

The difference between the 125,000 and the 50,000 (max) is down to “sell-in” (what BlackBerry can persuade carriers and other vendors to take) and “sell-through” (what people have actually bought). Time will tell how quickly the two come into line. If they don’t, then BlackBerry’s handset business is surely, finally, come on now, done.
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Fossil Q Founder review: good watch, mediocre smart watch » Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

The screen looks nice, but there is that flat tire [cut-off strip at the bottom of the screen] to contend with. It’s lame that we’re still putting up with this design quirk, but on the upside you get an ambient light sensor. So, I guess it’s not all bad. You’re either willing to tolerate this or you despise it.

Fossil dropped the ball with the software. The few exclusive faces included with this watch are mostly boring with strange design decisions, and the companion app is almost useless. The watch itself also has some bugs that need to be worked out. I don’t expect a smart watch to necessarily be as stable as a mechanical one, but when I have to reboot because the time froze 30 minutes ago, that’s a problem. The reboots certainly don’t help the battery life, which is mediocre right now. If it gets any worse as the watch ages, then you’d probably have trouble making it through a full day away from the charger.

Have to say that since Apple’s Watch got Watch OS 2.1, the only time I’ve run down to 10% in a day from a 6.30 start has been when I did 3.5 hours of workout on the day. Otherwise, it has lots of charge left.

Android’s still looking for a winner in this category; the Huawei watch (compared in the piece) looks like the best so far.
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Google pairs with Ford to build self-driving cars » Yahoo

Justin Hyde and Sharon Carty:

Google and Ford will create a joint venture to build self-driving vehicles with Google’s technology, a huge step by both companies toward a new business of automated ride sharing, Yahoo Autos has learned.

According to three sources familiar with the plans, the partnership is set to be announced by Ford at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. By pairing with Google, Ford gets a massive boost in self-driving software development; while the automaker has been experimenting with its own systems for years, it only revealed plans this month to begin testing on public streets in California.

Effectively the Model T – or T-Mobile G1? – of this emerging class.
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Home broadband 2015 » Pew Research Center

Three notable changes relating to digital access and digital divides are occurring in the realm of personal connectivity, according to new findings from Pew Research Center surveys. First, home broadband adoption seems to have plateaued. It now stands at 67% of Americans, down slightly from 70% in 2013, a small but statistically significant difference which could represent a blip or might be a more prolonged reality. This change moves home broadband adoption to where it was in 2012.

Second, this downtick in home high-speed adoption has taken place at the same time there has been an increase in “smartphone-only” adults – those who own a smartphone that they can use to access the internet, but do not have traditional broadband service at home…

…many “smartphone-only” users say that the reason they do not have broadband at home is because their smartphone lets them do all they need to do online, underscoring the device’s utility for those without a home high-speed subscription.

The same pattern is happening in China: fixed broadband has stalled (or is just replacing dialup) while mobile broadband is exploding.
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Your smartphone camera should suck. Here’s why it doesn’t » WIRED

Tim Moynihan:

The sensor simply senses light and converts it into an electrical signal. To use an analogy, it buys the groceries. Someone else cooks dinner. So while a high-quality sensor helps, it’s hardly the most important component. The lens is important, of course, but the biggest difference between a great camera and a good camera is the image signal processor—the secret sauce to any smartphone camera’s features and performance.

Hung says that the image sensor isn’t the only thing feeding information into the ISPs. A modern smartphone has several sensors at its disposal. “The gyroscope has evolved in terms of image stabilization,” he says. “A lot of the ISPs now can take the input from the gyroscope (and) combine that input with the image sensor to provide image stabilization. It’s a new kind of digital stabilization system.”

Apple and Samsung use their own image signal processors for the iPhone and Galaxy phones, respectively. However, many high-end Android handsets use the integrated image signal processors in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon system-on-a-chip, which keeps camera features relatively consistent from phone to phone. As good as it is, the company says the next-gen processor arriving early in 2016 will improve noise reduction, artifact correction, autofocus, and color reproduction.

That last point explains a lot about so many Android phones. I wonder how many people Qualcomm has working on its ISP systems.
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Judge, siding with Google, refuses to shut down Waze in wake of alleged theft » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar:

Google, the owner of the traffic app Waze, has managed to beat back a copyright lawsuit filed by lesser-known rival PhantomAlert.

Back in September 2015 PhantomAlert sued Google over allegations of copyright infringement. Google purchased Waze in June 2013 for over $1bn. PhantomAlert alleged that, after a failed data-sharing deal between itself and Waze collapsed in 2010, Waze apparently stole PhantomAlert’s “points of interest” database.

In a judicial order filed earlier this month, the San Francisco-based federal judge found that PhantomAlert could not allege a copyright claim on simple facts of where different places actually are.

As Michael Love observed on Twitter, doesn’t this mean that Apple (or whoever) could simply steal Google’s, or Waze’s, POI database? The judge also dealt with the question of whether organising those facts meant they attracted copyright: he decided PhantomAlert hadn’t done enough to merit that.

PhantomAlert can file an amended complaint within two weeks, and says it will.
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Humans are slamming into driverless cars and exposing a key flaw » Bloomberg Business

Keith Naughton:

“It’s a constant debate inside our group,” said Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”

Last year, Rajkumar offered test drives to members of Congress in his lab’s self-driving Cadillac SRX sport utility vehicle. The Caddy performed perfectly, except when it had to merge onto I-395 South and swing across three lanes of traffic in 150 yards (137 meters) to head toward the Pentagon. The car’s cameras and laser sensors detected traffic in a 360-degree view but didn’t know how to trust that drivers would make room in the ceaseless flow, so the human minder had to take control to complete the manoeuvre.

“We end up being cautious,” Rajkumar said. “We don’t want to get into an accident because that would be front-page news. People expect more of autonomous cars.”

Turns out, though, their accident rates are twice as high as for regular cars, according to a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Driverless vehicles have never been at fault, the study found: They’re usually hit from behind in slow-speed crashes by inattentive or aggressive humans unaccustomed to machine motorists that always follow the rules and proceed with caution.

“It’s a dilemma that needs to be addressed,” Rajkumar said.

Well, strictly it’s the humans who are at fault. The “key flaw” is that lots of humans drive badly, but they also have expectations of how the car in front will behave – so it’s a “theory of mind” problem too.
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Culture shock: Samsung’s mobile woes rooted in hardware legacy » Reuters

Jeremy Wagstaff and Se Young Lee:

Interviews with former and serving employees paint a picture of confusion and overlap between competing divisions, where the short-term interests of promoting hardware trump long-term efforts to build platforms that would add value for customers and increase their loyalty to the brand.

One said he only learned from someone outside the company that the hands-free app his team was updating for the upcoming Galaxy S4 launch had competition — from inside Samsung. For the manager, who has since left the company but declined to be identified because his present employer does business with Samsung, it was one of many examples of the low priority the hardware-minded company placed on software, which was treated as little more than a marketing tool inside the firm.

“Samsung’s upper management just inherently doesn’t understand software,” the former employee said. “They get hardware – in fact, they get hardware better than anyone else. But software is a completely different ballgame.”

As a result, critics say, initiatives involving software or services languish and often fail.

Despite being pre-installed on Galaxy phones, Samsung’s ChatON messaging service gained few adherents and closed without fanfare in March, while the Milk Video app, a high profile project run by newly hired US executives, lasted a year, closing in November.

Knox (hardening security) has been a qualified success (though it’s unclear how many extra sales it has generated); jury still out on Samsung Pay.
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Trends 2016: adblocking is here to stay » Global Web Index

Jason Mander:

Adblocking has captured a lot of headlines in recent months, despite the fact it’s still just 28% of online adults who say they are deploying one of these tools.

The heaviest consumers of the internet, 16-24s, are at the very forefront of the trend, with over a third of them blocking ads. But that presents something of a paradox: older groups are the most concerned about their privacy and personalized recommendations/ads and yet are the least likely to be blocking ads.

That’s surely a symptom of awareness; currently, older groups are the least likely to know what ad-blockers are. As such tools become more mainstream, there can be little doubt that usage levels will creep upwards and show fewer variations by age. It’s certainly telling that 55-64s are already about as likely as 16-24s to be deleting cookies on a regular basis, an action which is rather more established and well-known among internet users.

In light of these trends, trying to resist the spread of ad-blocking feels rather futile.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erika Ebsworth-Goold:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juha Saarinen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farhad Manjoo:

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

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

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

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

Makiko Yamazaki and Reiji Murai of Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan Field:

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

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

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

Mark Richardson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you think the Apple Watch is a ‘flop’, try this estimate for Android Wear device sales


Got an LG Watch Urbane? Congratulations – you’re part of a pretty exclusive club. Photo by Janitors on Flickr.

Back in February I tried to estimate how many Android Wear devices were activated in 2014, following Canalys saying that 720,000 had shipped that year.

The figure I got, based on the page on Google Play, where one can track not just downloads but also comments and average rating for the Android Wear app (which you need to control your shiny new Android Wear device), was 700,000.

Android Wear: all the numbers

Put it together, and we have about 560,000 Android Wear activations by the end of 2014, and 700,000 to mid-February.

Progress, or the lack of it

OK. So what about progress since then? I’ve kept noting the progress of the number of downloads, and the number of comments, on the Google Play page, helped from time to time by the Internet Archive (it’s wonderful. Donate).

My previous estimate worked on the basis that the number of comments was proportional to the number of downloads. I don’t see any reason to change that assumption.

So how does it look now? The number of comments keeps going up:

Android Wear: number of reviews

Steady growth suggests steady download, and hence sales, figures

(One point to note: the average review score has been trending down steadily. You would expect this for a new technology: the keen people who forgive anything are first in, and are followed by those who got it as a gift, or an experiment, or whatever. Notably, some of the recent low ratings come from people complaining about updates; that would suggest that the installs/comments ratio is actually falling.)

Whichever, the precise value of the average review has fallen from a comfortable 4.83 (out of 5) to dip to 3.98 at the end of October, recovering to 4.00 last week.

And now we try to fit the number of installs – using the points that we have, which isn’t a lot – to that graph, assuming downloads are directly proportional to comments.

According to Google’s stats, Android Wear is now past the 1m download point, but not the 5m download point.

So I’ve tried to fit the graph as best I can. And this is what I get:

Android Wear sales estimate: 1.9m in November

Fitting known waypoints to the number of comments suggests that 1.9m Android Wear devices have been sold

That’s the figure I get: 1.9m downloads in total, suggesting that since February there have been a total of 1.2m more installations of Android Wear.

So again we ask: is that bad or good? There are now 1.4bn Android devices in use, according to Sundar Pichai. Only those running Android 4.3 upwards can use Android Wear, which means we’re potentially talking about 67.8% of devices according to the very latest figures from the Android Dashboard. (That’s up substantially from 47.6% back in February.)

The penetrant question

Back in February, I guessed at 1.2bn Android devices in use (which seems close enough – 1bn announced at Google I/O in 2014, 1.4bn this time). So back then the potential market was
1.2bn * 0.476 = 571.2m devices, of which 700,000 had Android Wear: that was a penetration of 0.12%.

Now we have a potential addressable market for Android Wear of
1.4bn * 0.678 = 949.2m devices. Of which it seems 1.9m, or 0.2%, have bought. (This doesn’t allow for people owning multiple devices, but the incidence will be very low compared to the 949m devices available.)

Conclusions and thoughts

• The absolute number of Android Wear devices in use is still really low.
• A total of 1.2m have been sold since February
• It’s tiny compared to any estimate of the number of Apple Watches sold since the launch in April, which varies by analyst; Canalys estimates that it has shipped 7m in two quarters, which compares to 1.2m Android Wear sold
• These may be the lull before the storm of purchases on Black Friday/Christmas, but abandonment could be a problem
• Android Wear, despite being first to market, suffers from a lack of brand visibility, and visibility overall. Kantar ComTech released a survey in October based on a study from August which found that in the US,

Among panelists who knew what a smartwatch or smartband was, 92% connected Apple to the category, far more than any other brand. This was followed by Fitbit in second place with 47%, with Google (34%) edging out Samsung (33%) for third place.

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for others, at least in the US buyer’s mind.

I’ll keep tabs on Android Wear, absent Google releasing any figures. But for now, this is starting to look like an interesting question: can a device category succeed if it doesn’t have a successful Android version?

Start up: Google to merge Android and ChromeOS, tablets dwindle, online ad scams, and more


E-reader ownership has dropped significantly in the US. Photo by Simply Bike 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alphabet’s Google to fold Chrome OS into Android » WSJ

Great exclusive by Alistair Barr:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google plans to fold its Chrome operating system for personal computers into its Android mobile-operating system, according to people familiar with the matter, a sign of the growing dominance of mobile computing.

Google engineers have been working for roughly two years to combine the operating systems and have made progress recently, two of the people said. The company plans to unveil its new, single operating system in 2017, but expects to show off an early version next year, one of the people said.

Also says that Chromebooks will be renamed, but Chrome the browser will retain its name. So this would leave Apple, with the iOS-OSX split, as the only one with separate OSs. It seems Android will get primacy on the desktop. What, though, does that mean for Chromebooks and the progress they’re making in the education market?
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Tablet shipments decline by 12.6% in the third quarter as many vendors get serious about moving from slate offerings to detachables » IDC

At the close of 2014, IDC estimated the installed base of tablets to be 581.9m globally, which was up 36% from 2013 but slowing quickly. With mature markets like North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific well past 100m active tablets per region, the opportunities for growth are getting fewer. 

“We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world. However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear. With shipment volumes slowing over four consecutive quarters, the market appears to be in transition.”

In response to these challenges, the industry is seeing growing interest from vendors in new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming a clear focus for many. While detachable tablets have held just a single digit percentage of the overall tablet market, IDC expects this share to increase dramatically over the next 18 months. However, the shift toward detachables presents some new challenges. In particular, the mix of traditional PC OEMs that are evolving their portfolios to include detachables will face pressure from the traditional smartphone OEMs, many of which have become accustomed to delivering extremely low-cost products.

Apple is kinda-sorta doing the detachable thing with the iPad Pro, but the detachables market really looks like one where Windows devices are best placed. So will IDC start calling them PCs or tablets?
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The online ad scams every marketer should watch out for » Harvard Business Review

Ben Edelman has a collection of subtle and less subtle ways that you could spend far too much. This is the first, and in some ways the most obvious:

A first manifestation of the problem arises in sponsored search. Suppose a user goes to Google and searches for eBay. Historically, the top-most link to eBay would be a paid advertisement, requiring eBay to pay Google each time the ad was clicked. These eBay ads had excellent measured performance in that many users clicked such an ad, then went on to bid or buy with high probability. But step back a bit. A user has already searched for “eBay.” That user is likely to buy from eBay whether or not eBay advertises with Google. In a remarkable experiment, economist Steve Tadelis and coauthors turned off eBay’s trademark-triggered advertising in about half the cities in the U.S. They found that sales in those regions stayed the same even as eBay’s advertising expenditure dropped. eBay’s measure of ad effectiveness was totally off-base and had led to millions of dollars of overspending.

Others include retargeted display ads, affiliate cookies and adware.
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Microsoft Band 2 review: An identity crisis on your wrist » The Verge

Tom Warren Lauren Goode:

after wearing the newest version of Microsoft Band for the past three weeks, I can’t help but think that the real answer [to why Microsoft made it at all] is that Microsoft isn’t in it for the hardware. Instead, my best guess is that it hopes to get people using the Microsoft Health software — and maybe get some other hardware makers to make stuff for its platform. Despite welcome improvements over last year’s Microsoft Band, this new Band sort of baffles me.

It’s been redesigned, but is only slightly less clunky than before. It’s a fitness tracker, but with the short battery life of a smartwatch. It works with surprisingly great software, but good luck syncing your data to said software. On top of that, it’s more expensive than last year’s Microsoft Band — $249, up from $199 — and more expensive than a lot of other step-counters. The argument there is that it’s not as costly as a smartwatch or a high-powered dedicated fitness watch, but considering that at this point it could be perceived as an also-ran, you’d think Microsoft would aim for a more appealing price point.

It all leaves me wanting to like the Microsoft Band, but I can’t say I’d spend $249 on it.

So pricey, clunky, battery life comparable to things that do more.. what’s not to love?
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US smartwatch market not ready for prime time yet » Kantar Worldpanel

Smartwatches have been on the market for several years. The Pebble Smartwatch debuted in 2012, establishing the category as it is known today. Yet, only 1% of the current smartwatches now in use in the U.S. were purchased in 2013, and 14% were bought in 2014.

Smartwatch ownership follows the classic early adopter profile – more than two-thirds of smartwatch early adopters are male, and one out of three are between the ages of 25 and 34. Vendors like Apple use greater attention to design and personalization to appeal to non-tech lovers. The results of those efforts have not yet completely materialized.

“Looking at where smartwatches have been purchased, the channels preferred by buyers have more in common with other consumer electronics goods than with jewelry,” said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “33% of smartwatch buyers got them online, 17% bought them from a consumer electronics store, and 11% of owners received their smartwatch as a gift.”

Survey conducted in August, but the principal complaint among non-buyers was price. Meanwhile, 92% of those intending to purchase associate Apple with the category. Thin times for Android Wear.
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U.K. government: no end-to-end encryption please, we’re British… » TechCrunch

Speaking during a debate on encryption in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Shields, the Minister for Internet Safety and Security — and a former European VP at Facebook — dubbed the rise of end-to-end encryption as “alarming”.

“There is an alarming movement towards end-to-end encrypted applications,” she said. “It is absolutely essential that these companies which understand and build those stacks of technology are able to decrypt that information and provide it to law enforcement in extremis.”

Shields’ comments came in response to a question which made direct reference to the use of messaging app WhatsApp by ISIL extremists.

“The Prime Minister did not advocate banning encryption; he expressed concern that many companies are building end-to-end encrypted applications and services and not retaining the keys,” added Shields.

Despite reiterating Tory attacks on end-to-end encryption, Shields did specify that it is not, in fact, government policy to push for the creation of backdoors in services.

Joanna Shields used to be in charge at AOL Europe too. And we wanted more people with experience of tech to be in government? Doesn’t seem to be making any difference to the general level of knowledgeability.
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Line app in big trouble as active user growth stalls » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

The company behind Line this morning revealed that the messaging app has grown to 212 million monthly active users (MAUs). Of those, 65% are in Line’s four core markets – Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Although the number is going up, it’s actually terrible news for the messaging app. It’s already failed to topple the dominance of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and now Line’s MAU count is growing very slowly – it’s up just 10 million in the past six months. It went up only one million in the three months from June to September.

WhatsApp added 100 million MAUs in the five months from April to September and now stands at 900 million.

Twitter has a similar problem in the US. Is growth the only answer for messaging apps?
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Android and the Innovator’s Dilemma » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies:

Once the market embraces good enough products, the innovator can no longer push premium innovations as their value is diminished once a good enough mentality sets in. Android devices in the $200-$400 range are good enough for the masses leaving Samsung’s $600 devices and above stranded on an island.

One of the most interesting observations about all of this is the innovator’s Dilemma was supposed to impact Apple. This was a fundamental tenet of most bull cases. When the market for smartphones became filled with good enough devices at very low prices, why would anyone buy an iPhone? Yet this is impacting Samsung exactly according to the guidebook — but not Apple. The fundamental lesson to learn here is the innovator’s dilemma, in this case, only applies to Android land because all the hardware OEMs run the same operating system. As I’m fond of saying, when you ship the same operating system as your competition you are only as good as their lowest price. This is the curse of the modular business model.

This is also why Samsung had hopes for Tizen. They actually knew this was coming. I know this because I discussed it with them in 2013 and was convinced they understood this was their fate if they continued to sell out to Android. Unfortunately, Android was their only option given its momentum. I’ll make a prediction. Samsung will be out of the smartphone business within five years.

Emphasis there Bajarin’s own (and that’s a pretty notable prediction). The article is subscriber-only; you can get one-off logins for particular articles or buy a subscription for more.
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American demographics of digital device ownership » Pew Research Center

Smartphones owned by 68% (notably less in rural areas), tablets owned by 45% (statistically unchanged from 42% in 2014), games consoles owned by 40% (unchanged since 2010), portable games consoles by 14% (unchanged from 2009), 40% have MP3 players (barely changed from 43% in 2013).

Here’s the drama:

Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%).

The Kindle is flickering out.
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Flipboard, once-hot news reader app, flounders amid competition » WSJ

Douglas Macmillan:

Flipboard, once hailed as the best iPad app by Apple Inc., now is fighting for survival in a sea of competition that includes Apple itself.

In recent weeks, the news reader app’s co-founder, Evan Doll, and its chief technology officer, Eric Feng, have left, adding to the talent drain in the past year that includes the heads of finance, product and revenue.

The exodus comes as Flipboard’s investors, which bet $210 million on the company, have put more pressure on co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mike McCue to revive the business model or find a buyer, according to people familiar with the matter.

What’s Flipboard’s USP? It says that it has 80m users, up from 41m at the start of the year. That’s impressive – but Apple News is likely to eat it by default.
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BBC iPlayer app coming to Apple TV ‘in coming months’ » BBC News

Leo Kelion:

The BBC has confirmed that its iPlayer service is coming to the new Apple TV.

The catch-up app is not ready to launch alongside the revamped set top box when it goes on sale this week, but the broadcaster signalled it would be soon.

iPlayer was absent on earlier Apple TVs, despite the fact it is on other platforms including Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Sky’s Now TV box and several video game consoles.

One analyst said the move should aid sales of the new kit in the UK.

“Available on over 10,000 devices, BBC iPlayer is one of the biggest and best on-demand video services in the world, and has transformed how UK audiences watch programmes online,” said the BBC’s director-general Tony Hall.

The BBC wasn’t going to, but then two developers in Bournemouth demonstrated that it was damn easy to write the app. For non-UK readers, the BBC iPlayer is the biggest source of legitimate streaming TV viewing (live or catchup) in the UK; the lack of an iPlayer icon on the old Apple TV hobbled it terribly. (Yes yes Airplay but that ties up your device.)
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Start up: can Google accelerate publishers?, DuckDuckGo profitable, 3D Touch coming to Android?, and more


Antennagate, Bendgate, and now – Transistorgate? It’s the regular iPhone two-weeks-after-launch news cycle. Photo by khaiphotoart on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not legal in Delaware. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google speeds up news article downloads on mobile devices » BBC News

Leo Kelion:

Dozens of leading news organisations, including the BBC, are taking part in a scheme that will allow their web-based articles to load more quickly on smartphones and tablets.

Leaders of the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative promise that the stripped-back versions of the pages will be “lightning fast” to load.

The move has been led by Google, which is providing use of its servers.

Participants believe it may discourage the use of ad-blocking plug-ins.

AMP works by simplifying the technical underpinnings of the pages involved.

Much of the Javascript code used on normal webpages is absent, meaning articles should not only appear faster but use less battery power.

Publishers can continue to tap into the same ad networks as before, but they will not be able to display some types of adverts including pop-ups and “sticky” images that move as users scroll down a page.

Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and WordPress have said they also intend to make use of the technology.

Facebook is a notable exception. The social network recently launched an alternative programme called Instant Articles, which speeds up the delivery of third-party content by hosting it on its own platform.

Less Javascript, eh? Notable that “participants” (in the test) think it will discourage adblocking. I don’t see why they think that. It might forestall some people from using them. But people who visit pages that aren’t on AMP will get the same dire experience; they won’t know if they’re on AMP pages or not, will they? And then they search for “adblocker”…
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Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages – a quick reaction (no js) » Kevin Marks

Marks has long open source experience. He’s not that impressed by Google’s new offering with publishers:

Specifically, they replace img, audio, video with their own versions implemented as custom elements and so requiring javascript to appear. They ban loaded style sheets, requiring inline styles, but oddly allow font-face, one of the slowest things on the mobile web. They also replace the Twitter embed fallback markup with a custom type made up by themselves, which combined with the iframe ban means that you need their blessing to extend the web.

This means that if javascript is not loaded, images will disappear.

They also require a lot of arbitrary weird markup (like emoji in the html element, which violates content encoding), a weird style incantation that makes the page opaque, and require the proprietary schema.org markup.

Now, my site is not very complex; indeed it loads very fast on mobile already, but it does use a few javascript enhancements: fragmention to let you link to a phrase; webmention injection for comments as seen below, and the twitter embed enhancement javascript. Without these, the page still renders and makes sense, and it is parseable as microformats. This is known as progressive enhancement; AMP looks more like graceless degradation.

Ow.
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Does your iPhone have a good or bad A9 CPU? » Engadget

Abdul Dremali:

There’s a little drama brewing less than two weeks after Apple released it’s brand new line of iPhones. As reported by Anandtech, the A9 processor of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were dual sourced from Samsung and a company called TSMC. The differences between these chips was not evident for some time as fans assumed the smaller 96mm² by Samsung would be the superior chip. Users are conducting tests and reporting the results via forums on Reddit and Mac Rumors which have resulted in the conclusion that the TSMC A9 has approximately 2 hours better battery performance than the Samsung.

It recommends an app you can download to check which make you have. Can we call this Transistorgate? (It’s going to be quite a thing if there really is that big a difference. Though when Apple introduced the retina MacBook Pro, it sourced screens from Samsung and LG; the LG ones were worse. It’s a coin flip..)
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Thank HN: for helping me get traction with DuckDuckGo and Traction book – AMA » Hacker News

Gabriel Weinberg, who set up the DuckDuckGo search engine, took the slightly unusual step of doing an AMA (ask me anything) on Hacker News, rather than Reddit, because he credits HN with getting it all off the ground. He also has a book about how his startup(s) got traction to sell. And this nugget:

DuckDuckGo is actually profitable! It is a myth you need to track people to make money in Web search. Most of the money is still made without tracking people by showing you ads based on your keyword, i.e. type in car and get a car ad. These ads are lucrative because people have buying intent. All that tracking is for the rest of the Internet without this search intent, and that’s why you’re tracked across the Internet with those same ads.

(Disclosure: I use DDG as my default. I like it. You can copy a link from the results without it being stuffed with Google obfuscation.)
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I used an Android watch with my iPhone — and I hate it » Business Insider

Matt Weinberger:

Now, after more than a week wearing a Huawei Watch provided by Google,  I can say that I don’t care for it very much. It doesn’t actually fulfill the mission of helping me look at my phone less.

It’s not really Huawei’s fault. Not entirely. Apple is notoriously protective of the iPhone’s ecosystem, and it’s a minor miracle that an Android watch can sync with an iPhone at all.

But as it stands, the only real superpower that using an Android Wear watch has going for it is that it pushes your phone’s notifications straight to your wrist with a little buzz. If you actually want to do anything about those notifications, you have to take your phone out of your pocket anyway.

But it was good for telling the time. There was that. Looks like the expectation that Android Wear being able to link to iOS would bring a boom in competition (and sales) was overblown.
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Sony may consider options for smartphone unit if no profit next year » Reuters

Reiji Murai:

Sony Corp’s chief executive flagged next year as a make-or-break year for its struggling smartphones, saying it could consider other options for the unit if it failed to turn profitable.

After years of losses, Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai has engineered a successful restructuring drive at Sony, with recent results showing improvement thanks to cost cuts, an exit from weak businesses such as PCs, as well as strong sales of image sensors and videogames. But its smartphone business has been slow to turn around.

“We will continue with the business as long as we are on track with the scenario of breaking even next year onwards,” Hirai told a group of reporters on Wednesday. “Otherwise, we haven’t eliminated the consideration of alternative options.”

Told you: trying to go upmarket in Android is not a smart move, but that’s the strategy Sony tied itself to without having any clear differentiation.
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Press release: Synaptics announces ClearForce technology for smartphones » Synaptics

Synaptics, the leading developer of human interface solutions, today announced broad sampling of its ClearPad® ClearForce™ force-sensing solutions. ClearForce enables OEMs to differentiate smartphones by providing customers with new dimensions in user interfaces such as speed scrolling, zoom, gaming, and text or photo editing by applying variable force with a finger or stylus. Synaptics® has been working closely with leading global OEMs and LCMs to deliver this new dimension in touch with force-enabled smartphones expected to ship in early 2016.

With a rich history in force technology dating back to 1996, including over 60 granted and pending patents worldwide, Synaptics’ third-generation force-sensing solution, ClearForce, enables global OEMs and LCMs to differentiate smartphones — with tablet, wearables, and automotive manufacturers to follow. Variable force creates numerous opportunities to invent new user interface capabilities and increases productivity for touchscreen applications.

“ClearForce”. Unlike, say, Force Touch or 3D Touch. What’s the betting that Samsung’s Galaxy S7 includes this? Question is, will it only be for Samsung apps, or will other app developers (even Google?) take advantage of it?
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Twitter’s Moment » Stratechery

Ben Thompson is excited about the fact and the potential of Twitter’s new Moments service:

When you first tap the Moments tab at the bottom of the Twitter app you’re dropped into the ‘Today’ view that lists a mishmash of stories that, well, happened today.

• Touch any of the stories to get a curated list of tweets that tell the story in question through videos, images, and sometimes just text. It’s a really great experience, and I found the sports stories with their combination of highlights and tweeted reactions particularly enjoyable

• For any Moment in progress, you can tap a button to add tweets about that Moment to your main timeline. Crucially, though, those tweets only persist for the duration of the event in question; the ‘Unfollow’, which is the most essential action when it comes to building a Twitter feed you actually read, is done for you

• Finally, in what was probably the biggest surprise in the product, there is a carousel at the top leading to more focused categories:

Each of these categories includes not only ‘News’ or ‘Entertainment’ Moments that just happened, but also more timeless content, particularly in ‘Fun.’ Look carefully at those category titles, though — they sure look familiar:

That’s right, Twitter just reinvented the newspaper. It’s not just any newspaper though — it has the potential to be the best newspaper in the world.

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Japan’s Murata sees slowdown in global smartphone market growth » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Reiji Murai:

Global demand for smartphones is likely to slow in the next fiscal year due to weaker demand from the world’s biggest market China, the head of Japanese smartphone component maker Murata Manufacturing Co told Reuters on Wednesday.

Chief Executive Tsuneo Murata said growth for the fiscal year starting April 2016 would be in the high, single digits, below the 12 percent growth forecast by the company for fiscal 2015/16.

Murata, however, said this slowdown was unlikely to hurt the company’s business because demand for the high-end phones it provides parts for is expected to remain robust.

“Everyone seems to be worried about the future of the smartphone market, but there should be no change to growth in demand for high-speed and high-performance handsets,” said Murata, one of the sons of the Kyoto-based company’s founder.

“Such high-end handsets need to use more of our products.”

IDC is forecasting overall growth at about 10% for this year compared to 2014; Murata sees that slowing after January.
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iOS hits twelve-month low in US ahead of iPhone launch » Kantar Worldpanel

“Across Europe’s ‘big five,’ Android continues to struggle, with only the heavily prepaid markets of Italy and Spain registering a year-over-year share growth,” said Dominic Sunnebo, business unit director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe. “In Great Britain, Samsung, the undisputed Android leader, dropped market share both period-over-period and year-over-year, while Sony and LG were the only two Android vendors able to grow share over the last year and over the three months ending in July 2015.”

Europe’s “big five” markets are Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

“In the US, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 grew its share of smartphone sales but did not threaten the iPhone 6 leadership position,” [research director Carolina] Milanesi added. “In April through August 2015 – the months following the launch of the new flagships – only 29% of the Samsung smartphone installed base were upgraded to new devices. Among those who upgraded, 23% changed to a Galaxy S5, 4% to a Galaxy S6, and 1% to a Galaxy S6 Edge.”

Android is hardly “struggling” in Europe; in some countries such as Spain it has nearly 90% sales share. On that last point – this means that of the total US Samsung smartphone installed base (52m according to separate data from ComScore), 29% (15.1m) upgraded; of those 23% (3.4m) got last year’s S5, 4% (0.6m) got an S6 and 1% (150,000) got an Edge. That’s a pretty dramatic preference for the S5; does price alone explain it?
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Verizon’s zombie cookie gets new life » ProPublica

Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson:

Verizon is giving a new mission to its controversial hidden identifier that tracks users of mobile devices. Verizon said in a little-noticed announcement that it will soon begin sharing the profiles with AOL’s ad network, which in turn monitors users across a large swath of the internet.

That means AOL’s ad network will be able to match millions of internet users to their real-world details gathered by Verizon, including — “your gender, age range and interests.” AOL’s network is on 40% of websites, including on ProPublica.

AOL will also be able to use data from Verizon’s identifier to track the apps that mobile users open, what sites they visit, and for how long. Verizon purchased AOL earlier this year.

The decision came after a ProPublica article revealed that an online advertiser, Turn, was exploiting the Verizon identifier to respawn tracking cookies that users had deleted. Read the story.

Privacy advocates say that Verizon and AOL’s use of the identifier is problematic for two reasons: Not only is the invasive tracking enabled by default, but it also sends the information unencrypted, so that it can easily be intercepted.

Or you can opt out (and hope it sticks).
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Finished here? 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. (Unless you’re reading it on email, in which case well done. Saved yourself a click.)

Start up: a shorter rounder Pebble, VW v DMCA redux, Lenovo’s other spyware, IAB defends ads, and more


This bloke’s car might offer some clues about Apple’s future offering. Photo by Konabish 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Pebble debuts its first round smartwatch with the Pebble Time Round » TechCrunch

Greg Kumparak:

Pebble is thus far known for its solid battery life; in a world where most smartwatches last a day or so at best, Pebble’s lightweight OS and e-ink display traditionally let it crank on for closer to a week.

Curiously, though, the Pebble Time Round has shaved off a fair bit of that signature battery life in favor of a lighter, slimmer design — instead of five or six days of battery life, Pebble Time Round promises two days. A quick charge feature lets you add 24 hours of juice with just 15 minutes on the charger — but you won’t be taking this one for week long camping trips.

Less battery life?
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You have the right… to reverse engineer » getwired.com

Wes Miller:

This NYTimes article about the VW diesel issue and the DMCA made me think about how, 10 years ago next month, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) almost kept Mark Russinovich from disclosing the Sony BMG Rootkit. While the DMCA provides exceptions for reporting security vulnerabilities, it does nothing to allow for reporting breaches of… integrity.

I believe that we need to consider an expansion of how researchers are permitted to, without question, reverse engineer certain systems. While entities need a level of protection in terms of their copyright and their ability to protect their IP, VW’s behavior highlights the risks to all of us when of commercial entities can ship black box code and ensure nobody can question it – technically or legally.

Miller advised Russinovich on whether he could publish. The VW case is surely going to lead to a lot of questions about the DMCA and engine control unit (ECU) software – as highlighted yesterday.
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What will the Apple Car look like? Jony Ive’s taste for Bentleys and Aston Martins could influence design » IB Times

David Gilbert:

So what will Apple’s car look like? By talking to the people in the industry and those who know Ive and his work, IBT gleaned some idea.

“If you look at the Apple philosophy of less is more, then apply that to a car then you would have an Apple product,” said Chris Longmore, founder if U.K.-based automotive design consultancy Drive. Longmore, who has worked with Ford, Nissan and Rolls Royce who believes it is a huge benefit for Apple to be starting with a blank sheet of paper. “If you take the iPhone and move into different areas, because the building blocks would be common throughout that, the DNA would be common across all the products and that’s how they should be looking to do it,” he said.

That too is the view of Ive’s former boss, Martin Darbyshire, CEO and founder of London-based design company Tangerine, who worked with Ive for 18 months before he moved to Apple.

“Sometimes coming at something with a fresh perspective is fundamental to finding something new and developing a paradigm shift. Of all the design teams in the world one would expect Apple to do something interesting and different,” Darbyshire told International Business Times.

Smart move asking Darbyshire. When you look at all the fan-generated renders of the “iWatch”, you realise the gulf between what people wish for and what Apple really does.
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Lenovo collects usage data on ThinkPad, ThinkCentre and ThinkStation PCs » Computerworld

Michael Horowitz:

The task that gave me pause is called “Lenovo Customer Feedback Program 64”. It was running daily. According to the description in the task scheduler: “This task uploads Customer Feedback Program data to Lenovo”.

I have setup my fair share of new Lenovo machines and can’t recall ever being asked about a Customer Feedback program.

The program that runs daily is Lenovo.TVT.CustomerFeedback.Agent.exe and it resides in folder C:\Program Files (x86)\Lenovo\Customer Feedback Program.

Other files in this folder are Lenovo.TVT.CustomerFeedback.Agent.exe.config, Lenovo.TVT.CustomerFeedback.InnovApps.dll and Lenovo.TVT.CustomerFeedback.OmnitureSiteCatalyst.dll.

According to Wikipedia, Omniture is an online marketing and web analytics firm, and SiteCatalyst (since renamed) is their software as a service application for client-side web analytics.

So, while there may not be extra ads on ThinkPads, there is some monitoring and tracking.

Lenovo confirms in a support note that it does this, but says it’s non-personal. It seems the purpose is to see which applications, service and offers you go for during system setup. Which says something about the parlous state of crapware on Windows PCs in its own right.
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The Apple bias is real » The Verge

Vlad Savov, bravely:

The next time you read an iPhone review, keep all these biases in mind. The iPhone is the favored tech product of a vast swathe of our planet’s population, serving both utilitarian and aspirational purposes. It is the catalyst for and sole supporter of entire ancillary industries. It is the nexus where communication and commerce blend most easily, and it is the surest harbinger of the future that is to come. Any review that doesn’t account for all of these factors might be considered technically objective and ubiased, but it would also be frightfully uninformative. Assessing an iPhone against a blank canvas is akin to describing Notre Dame or Sagrada Família as old, large, religious buildings.

Apple bias exists in reviews because it exists in the real world. The company’s track record with the iPhone and other products like it — characterized by a great deal more right decisions than wrong ones — encourages optimism about its riskier new ventures today. The Apple Watch is credited with greater potential than the Samsung Gear S2 because of the two companies’ different histories. The Huawei Mate S has Force Touch similar to the iPhone 6S, but only Apple’s phone is expected to turn that technology into a transformative new mode of interaction.

That’s justified bias. That’s relevant context derived from history and experience. Without it, we’d be reciting facts and figures, but no meaning. Megabytes and millimeters matter only after they’ve been passed through the prism of human judgment, and we shouldn’t pretend that it can, or should, ever be unbiased.

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Functioning ‘mechanical gears’ seen in nature for the first time » Phys.org

Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears – essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.

The gear teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together like those in a car gear-box, ensuring almost complete synchronicity in leg movement – the legs always move within 30 ‘microseconds’ of each other, with one microsecond equal to a millionth of a second.

This is critical for the powerful jumps that are this insect’s primary mode of transport, as even miniscule discrepancies in synchronisation between the velocities of its legs at the point of propulsion would result in “yaw rotation” – causing the Issus to spin hopelessly out of control.

“This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required,” said lead author Professor Malcolm Burrows, from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

“By developing mechanical gears, the Issus can just send nerve signals to its muscles to produce roughly the same amount of force – then if one leg starts to propel the jump the gears will interlock, creating absolute synchronicity.

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Ad blocking: the unnecessary internet apocalypse » Advertising Age

Randall Rothenberg is president and chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau:

Let’s take these challenges in order. Advertising (as everyone reading these words knows well) pays for the ability for nearly anyone around the world to type in any URL and have content of unimaginable variety appear on a screen. Advertising also subsidizes the cost of apps, which can take hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, but are often free or low-priced.

Without advertising, digital content and services either will vanish, or the cost for their production and distribution will come directly from consumers’ wallets.

Of even greater importance is the impact on the economy itself. Advertising represents $350 billion of the U.S. gross national product, and consumers depend on it to help make $9 trillion of annual spending decisions. “Advertising helps the economy function smoothly,” said Nobel Laureate economists Kenneth Arrow and George Stigler. “It keeps prices low and facilitates the entry of new products and new firms into the market.”

Ad blocking disrupts this engine of competition. I wish I were crying wolf, but I’m not. Some websites, particularly those with millennial audiences, are already losing up to 40% of their ad revenue because of ad blocking. Our own IAB research found at least 34% of U.S. adults use ad blockers.

Good grief, where to start?
(1) Content was online long before advertising shoved its sweaty arse in front of us;
(2) Advertising doesn’t pay for smartphones, PCs or internet connectivity;
(3) advertising doesn’t subsidise the production, it subsidises the presentation of many apps – but substantial numbers are simply paid-for (think of UsTwo’s Monument Valley);
(4) the cost of content etc already comes from our wallets, because the cost of advertising is a factor in any company’s costs and so its products
(5) adblocking isn’t going to kill the whole advertising industry, just the bit that behaves unreasonably online
(6) adblocking actually intensifies competition, because it creates a new space where would-be advertisers have to figure out how to get their message across
(7) wouldn’t it have been good to notice that your members were pissing people off before desktop adblocking had been adopted by a third of one section of your audience, Mr Rothenberg?
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Shut Up: Comment Blocker » iOS App Store

Richard Romero:

Shut Up spares you from Internet troglodytes by hiding all comment sections when browsing the web in Safari. You can even set your favorite websites to show comments by default.

This stuff is only just getting started.
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Malware with your news? Forbes website victim of malvertising attack » FireEye Inc

From Sept. 8 to Sept. 15, 2015, the Forbes.com website was serving content from a third-party advertising service that had been manipulated to redirect viewers to the Neutrino and Angler exploit kits.  We notified Forbes, who worked quickly to correct the issue.

This type of malicious redirection is known as malvertising, where ad networks and content publishers are abused and leveraged to serve ads that redirect users to malicious sites.

I promise that FireEye is not paying for its position here or in the next links. It’s just on top of the relevant news. Also: pretty good case for desktop adblocking there.
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Protecting our customers from XcodeGhost » FireEye Inc

Immediately after learning of XcodeGhost, FireEye Labs identified more than 4,000 infected apps on the App Store. FireEye has since updated detection rules in its NX and Mobile Threat Prevention (MTP) products to detect the malicious apps and their activity on a network.

FireEye NX customers are alerted if an employee uses an infected app while the iOS device is connected to the corporate network. It’s important to note that, although the CnC servers have been taken down, the malicious apps still try to connect to them using HTTP. This HTTP session is vulnerable to hijacking by other attackers.

FireEye MTP management customers have full visibility when a mobile device is infected in their deployment base. End users receive on-device notifications of malware detection and IT administrators receive email alerts of the infection.

Four thousand is a lot. Does Apple have any means to killswitch those apps? It can’t kill them based on the developer certificate, because there are lots of developer certificates involved – it’s not a single malicious developer, it’s a single malicious library (or set of libraries) used by many developers.
Apple also has an FAQ up about the exploit.
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Guaranteed clicks: mobile app company takes control of Android phones » FireEye Inc

FireEye Labs mobile researchers discovered a malicious adware family quickly spreading worldwide that allows for complete takeover of an Android user’s device. This attack is created by a mobile app promotion company called NGE Mobi/Xinyinhe that claims to be valued at more than $100M with offices in China and Singapore.

The malicious adware uses novel techniques to maintain persistence and obfuscate its activity, including installing system level services, modifying the recovery script executed on boot, and even tricking the user into enabling automatic app installation. We have observed over 300 malicious, illegitimate versions of Android apps being distributed, including: Amazon, Memory Booster, Clean Master, PopBird, YTD Video Downloader, and Flashlight…

…has infected 20 different versions of Android from 2.3.4 to 5.1.1. Victims with 308 different phone models from more than 26 countries and four continents have been infected.

Another day…
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