Start up: thin those CDs!, U2’s many listeners, IT price hikes coming?, YouTube’s zero profit, and more


These guys just get everywhere. Photo by Dunechaser on Flickr.

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

Kantar data on free U2 album consumption by Apple device users » Kantar

Annoyed as some Apple customers may have been over being “force-fed” U2’s new album last fall, the impact of the free release is still visible five months later: 23% of all music users on Apple’s operating system listened to at least one U2 track in January-more than twice the percentage who listened to the second-placing artist, Taylor Swift (11%).

Quite a few of those who complained to me about the U2 album weren’t iTunes users at all. This seems to back up the suspicion that a lot of this noise was just commentariat chatter. (Link via Neil Cybart.)


MELTDOWN: Samsung, Sony not-so-smart TVs go titsup for TWO days » The Register

Shaun Nichols:

Samsung smart TVs have been turned into dumb goggle boxes for the past two days – after the devices have been unable use the internet. Coincidently, Sony smart TVs are also having troubles using the web.

A Samsung spokesperson told The Register it is investigating reports that some of its web-connected tellies and Blu-Ray players are unable to stream video from YouTube, iPlayer, Netflix and other sites. The issue appears to affect Samsung D and E series TVs worldwide.

The televisions’ Smart Hub software, which helps people find stuff to watch and apps to use, is refusing to work – in fact, any software on the sets that tries to use the internet just simply won’t work, Reg readers have told us.

Problem seems to be DNS-related – the IP address at the far end has moved and the TVs can’t figure out how to find it. A dress rehearsal for the Internet Of Broken Things.


EFF unearths evidence of possible Superfish-style attacks in the wild » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

It’s starting to look like Superfish and other software containing the same HTTPS-breaking code library may have posed more than a merely theoretical danger to Internet users. For the first time, researchers have uncovered evidence suggesting the critical weakness may have been exploited against real people visiting real sites, including Gmail, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, and Gpg4Win.org, to name just a few.

I wonder how much feverish activity there is in other PC OEM headquarters as they check all their third-party install apps and contracts.


YouTube: 1 billion viewers, no profit » WSJ

Rolfe Winkler, with one of the tightest, hardest-hitting intros [ledes, for American readers] you’ll see this week:

Google nurtured YouTube into a cultural phenomenon, attracting more than one billion users each month. Still, YouTube hasn’t become a profitable business.

The online-video unit posted revenue of about $4bn in 2014, up from $3bn a year earlier, according to two people familiar with its financials, as advertiser-friendly moves enticed some big brands to spend more. But while YouTube accounted for about 6% of Google’s overall sales last year, it didn’t contribute to earnings. After paying for content, and the equipment to deliver speedy videos, YouTube’s bottom line is “roughly break-even,” according to a person with knowledge of the figure.

By comparison, Facebook Inc. generated more than $12bn in revenue, and nearly $3bn in profit, from its 1.3 billion users last year.

Google would like people to turn to YouTube as though it were TV. To which an analyst retorts that “there’s a lot of junk” and that it needs investment to get TV ad budgets. That’s been tried before, though.

Also, just 9% of viewers account for 85% of page views. It’s the “whale” model used by games like Candy Clash – not the “many watching a bit all the time” of TV.


Why I’m saying goodbye to Apple, Google and Microsoft » Medium

Dan Gillmor has renounced Those Three and is using Linux and a phone running CyanogenMod:

The tools I use now are, to the extent possible, based on community values, not corporate ones.

I’m not acting on some paranoid fantasies here. I’m emulating, in the tech sphere, some of the principles that have led so many people to adopt “slow food” or vegetarian lifestyles, or to minimize their carbon footprint, or to do business only with socially responsible companies.

Nor do I intend to preach. But if I can persuade even a few of you to join me, even in some small ways, I’ll be thrilled.

I know and like Dan, though one has to pause a bit: the PC is a Lenovo (made in China, home of a not-at-all oppressive government). He doesn’t specify who made the handset. I fear his quest is quixotic; even Taiwan-owned companies manufacture in China. So is China’s government better or worse than Google, Microsoft or Apple?


Exclusive: Sundar Pichai on Google’s vision, mobile revenue, Apple and China » Forbes

Miguel Helft tries hard, but this is largely a snoozer because people like Pichai provide answers that are so vague and distant – and won’t give a hard statistic for anything. This seems a relevant point, though:

Q: Messaging outside of email has become huge, as proven by things like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. Does Google need a play there to be competitive?

A: We think about it at two levels. We build platforms. We don’t expect Google as a first party service to provide all the answers. Part of the reason a platform is successful is because there are very very important things from other companies and other developers on top of the platform. Things like WhatsApp are a great example of success that others have had on Android, which we see as welcome innovation on the platform. It’s great for users, it’s great for our platform and I think it’s a virtuous cycle. In the aggregate, we also care about building great services for people. At that level, we view communications as an important area. But that doesn’t mean the answer is always a vertical service. We do have products like Hangouts which we will invest in and evolve. But we also care about the platform in these areas, how we evolve the platform so we support others to do these innovations as well. It’s a more nuanced answer. It’s a more complicated approach. I think we are comfortable with where we are.

Also covers Google+, Android, and China. Doesn’t have a truly interesting insight on any of them; you have to work it out from what isn’t said (he doesn’t emote about Android at Home; won’t talk about how enterprise is going).

Of course various blogs have filleted it for comments about Apple, but that’s a snooze too.


Weak euro puts pressure on hardware pricing » InCONTEXT

Marie-Christine Pygott is senior analyst at the research company:

Towards the end of January, the euro hit a new low against the US dollar. Having lost 11% of its value between July and the end of December last year, the Eurozone currency was down by another 6.8% against the US dollar in January after the new year opened with a series of events that led to increased pressure on the currency.

For the large, non-European IT manufacturers, this has been bad news; where components are sourced in US dollars and revenues generated in euros, the devaluation has meant a significant increase in production costs and a strain on margins. Our distributor pricing data shows a 7% rise in the euro cost of components in the few months between July and December last year, despite a small decline in dollar terms. While prices did not go up to the same extent in real life, it is only a question of time before pricing shifts will show in our Channel data.

And show, it will. It is clear that IT vendors cannot just simply absorb the recent rise in costs.

List prices are already rising for PCs, it seems. That’s going to be a problem. Will smartphones be affected too?


High End Produkte und feinmechanische Geräte » Audiodesksysteme Gläß

The tuning of a CD with the CD Sound Improver is incredibly easy and takes barely a minute. The tungsten carbide blade is automatically set at the right angle during manufacture of the unit. A test CD is included in the delivery package. All following CDs are bevelled under exactly the same conditions. Shavings are removed via the vacuum cleaner link.

Shavings! It’s trimming your CD!


Starting out on Android » iA Writer team

iA Writer (it’s a writing app) has been ported to Android, which was a learning experience for the team who’d previously written for iOS:

The core APIs offered by the Android SDK have proven to be very stable. Lollipop is at its core a completely new OS with a new VM philosophy, but when we updated our first device, the app just continued to work. That’s an amazing feat. Whenever the iOS people took a break from laughing at the stack of test devices, they were toiling away updating their app to work with one iOS upgrade after the other.

Whatever madness has flown into the Android core APIs, it’s there to stay. That can be seen as the reverse side of the coin. Hanging indents are not rendered correctly? Yep, since 2011 — it’s a feature by now. Want to handle a text larger than a few 1000 characters? Sorry, the guy who wrote the SpannableString Builder class is now enjoying early retirement in Malibu. The Android APIs are stable, but sometimes we’d have wished them to be less stubborn.

Via Russell Ivanovic, who cites this as evidence that (in his words) 2015 will be the year of Android. However, this doesn’t show anyone going Android-first; quite the opposite. It’s more that, having wrung the market pretty much dry on iOS and the Mac, they’re now targeting the Android market, which must have a high end who will want to use this.

It’ll be interesting to follow up with iA and see how sales/installs/piracy goes on Android and compares to iOS.


Start up: Siri’s smart sibling, testing Magic Leap, more Superfish flaws, Cook the CEO, reviving Wallet, and more


The 2014-15 Louisville Leopard Percussionists rehearsing Kashmir, The Ocean, and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin.
The Louisville Leopard Percussionists began in 1993. They are a performing ensemble of approximately 55 student musicians, ages 7-12, living in and around Louisville, Kentucky. (Or watch it on YouTube.)

A selection of 10 links for you. If you love them, set them free. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Viv, built by Siri’s creators, scores $12.5m for an AI technology that can teach itself » TechCrunch

Broadly, the same idea as what Google-purchased Deep Mind is working on – a system that can learn (Deep Mind’s learning applies to games). This was an interesting data point though:

Siri investor Gary Morgenthaler, a partner at Morgenthaler Ventures, who also invested personally in Viv Labs’ new round, agrees.

“Now 500 million people globally have access to Siri,” he says. “More than 200 million people use it monthly, and more than 100 million people use it every day. By my count, that’s the fastest uptake of any technology in history – faster than DVD, faster than smartphones – it’s just amazing,” Morgenthaler adds.

As for Viv, it

can parse natural language and complex queries, linking different third-party sources of information together in order to answer the query at hand. And it does so quickly, and in a way that will make it an ideal user interface for the coming Internet of Things — that is, the networked, everyday objects that we’ll interact with using voice commands.

Wonder if Apple will add this to its shopping list.


What it’s like to try Magic Leap’s take on virtual reality » MIT Technology Review

Rachel Metz certainly sounds impressed, and this is the first description of how this method works that I’ve seen:

while Oculus wants to transport you to a virtual world for fun and games, Magic Leap wants to bring the fun and games to the world you’re already in. And in order for its fantasy monsters to appear on your desk alongside real pencils, Magic Leap had to come up with an alternative to stereoscopic 3-D—something that doesn’t disrupt the way you normally see things. Essentially, it has developed an itty-bitty projector that shines light into your eyes—light that blends in extremely well with the light you’re receiving from the real world.

As I see crisply rendered images of monsters, robots, and cadaver heads in Magic Leap’s offices, I can envision someday having a video chat with faraway family members who look as if they’re actually sitting in my living room while, on their end, I appear to be sitting in theirs. Or walking around New York City with a virtual tour guide, the sides of buildings overlaid with images that reveal how the structures looked in the past. Or watching movies where the characters appear to be right in front of me, letting me follow them around as the plot unfolds. But no one really knows what Magic Leap might be best for. If the company can make its technology not only cool but comfortable and easy to use, people will surely dream up amazing applications.


Superfish vulnerability traced to other apps, too » PCWorld

Lucian Constantin:

it gets worse. It turns out Superfish relied on a third-party component for the HTTPS interception functionality: an SDK (software development kit) called the SSL Decoder/Digestor made by an Israeli company called Komodia.

Researchers have now found that the same SDK is integrated into other software programs, including parental control software from Komodia itself and other companies. And as expected, those programs intercept HTTPS traffic in the same way, using a root certificate whose private key can easily be extracted from their memory or code.

Some users have started compiling lists with the affected software programs, their certificates and their private keys. Those affected products include Keep My Family Secure, Qustodio and Kurupira WebFilter.

“I think that at this point it is safe to assume that any SSL interception product sold by Komodia or based on the Komodia SDK is going to be using the same method,” said Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at CloudFlare, in a post on his personal blog.

Rogers says:

this means that those dodgy certificates aren’t limited to Lenovo laptops sold over a specific date range. It means that anyone who has come into contact with a Komodia product, or who has had some sort of Parental Control software installed on their computer should probably check to see if they are affected.

This problem is MUCH bigger than we thought it was.


Tim Cook and contradicting the founder-CEO » The Information

Jessica Lessin:

Since Cook first took over in August 2011, I have been asking Apple employees about how he has been leading the company. I often expect anecdotes revealing a numbers-driven management style, reinforced in profile after profile discussing how he climbed Apple’s ranks by squeezing pennies from its suppliers.

But employees consistently paint a different picture. In meetings over topics like how to fix Apple Maps or which features to include in the first Apple Watch, he takes the approach of asking the bigger questions like “Is this the Apple Way? Is this how we do things? Is this a product we can be proud of?”

That sounds to me like someone who sees his role as trying to provide some spiritual leadership at the company.

(Subscription required. I do wish The Information wrote better headlines.)


Wikipedia and the oligarchy of ignorance » Uncomputing

Remember that guy who went through Wikipedia editing out any occurrence of “comprised of” on the grounds that it was ungrammatical? He was wrong. David Golumbia widens the search:

Henderson’s work connects to the well-known disdain of many core Wikipedia editors for actual experts on specific topics, and even more so for their stubborn resistance (speaking generally; of course there are exceptions) to the input of such experts, when one would expect exactly the opposite should be the case. (As a writer in Wired put it almost a decade ago, “The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: ‘Experts are scum.’”)

Can any connection be drawn between Wikipedia’s general approach and the hostility of Jimmy Wales (from whom a fair bit of Wikipedia culture derives) to the ECJ ruling on the right to be delisted?


Texas Hold’em odds visualization » Chris Beaumont

You can think of the full dataset of probabilities as a 4D hypercube (one dimension for each of the four cards dealt between two players). The panel above is a 2D slice through this 4D cube; it is a detailed view of the strength of one particular hand.

Amazing visualisation of the possibilities in the 1.3 trillion hands of heads-up Texas Hold’em.


App developers bailing on Fire Phone, in new challenge for Amazon » GeekWire

Tricia Duryee:

It’s no secret that Amazon’s first smartphone was a flop with consumers, but behind the scenes, the Fire Phone is also struggling with another key group: app developers.

Several developers who made apps for the first Fire Phone — investing significant time and money to support its unique features, without a major payoff in revenue or customer adoption — tell GeekWire that they aren’t planning to build apps for future versions of the device.

This creates an additional challenge for Amazon as the company tries to recover from the Fire Phone’s lackluster debut, because apps remain a key driver of consumer interest in smartphones.

It’s really, really, really dead, Jeff. (And yes, I was the first person to point out how poorly Fire Phones were selling, and put a number on it.)


To revive Wallet, Google tries to wrangle unruly partners » WSJ

Alisair Barr:

Persuading Android partners and financial-service companies to support its payment service requires Google to “herd the many cats involved,” wrote Tim Sloane, a payments analyst at Mercator Advisory Group, in a January research report. “It’s a mess,” he added in an interview.

Still, Google has to aim for success, because Apple Pay could become a draw for people to buy iPhones, instead of Android phones. Mr. Cook said last month that Apple Pay accounted for $2 of every $3 spent using contact-less payments on the largest payment networks.

Apple Pay “has changed the dynamics” of mobile payments, said Marc Freed-Finnegan, a former Google Wallet executive who is chief executive of retail-technology startup Index Inc. “If payments become a standard feature of phones, Google has to have a service on a par with Apple or better.”

Carriers in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) are more willing to listen to Google, because Apple doesn’t give them anything in Apple Pay, but any concessions Google makes to them means it gets even less than zero. And Samsung’s move acquiring Loop is a definite “no thanks” to Wallet.


The CD was dying, and Starbucks just killed it » Fusion

If you’re a person born after 1995 who’s gone to Starbucks lately, you may have seen some strange objects for sale near the cash register. Thin, rectangular, with pictures on the front and shiny circles inside. Believe it or not, these things weren’t decorative coasters for your flat white—they were some of the last surviving specimens of a music distribution technology known as the “compact disc,” or CD.

Now, you’ll no longer be confused by these odd items, because Starbucks is quitting the CD business. According to Billboard:

Starbucks, the coffee giant with over 21,000 retail stores throughout the world, will stop stocking and selling physical compact discs, Billboard has confirmed, with the CD clean-out due to start next month.

“We will stop selling physical CDs in our stores at the end of March,” a rep for the Seattle-based company tells Billboard, adding: “Starbucks continually seeks to redefine the experience in our retail stores to meet the evolving needs of our customers.”

CD sales are hitting an all-time low, and it’s hard to see them ever rising again. This is a tipping point, again.


Android malware hijacks power button, empties wallet while you sleep » The Register

Iain Thomson:

“After pressing the power button, you will see the real shutdown animation, and the phone appears off. Although the screen is black, it is still on,” said AVG’s mobile security team in an advisory.

“While the phone is in this state, the malware can make outgoing calls, take pictures and perform many other tasks without notifying the user.”

Once the malware is installed by the user – it’s typically bundled within an innocent-looking app, but AVG isn’t naming names – it asks for root-level permissions and injects code into the operating system’s system server. Specifically, it hijacks the mWindowManagerFuncs interface so it can display a fake shutdown dialog box when the power button is pressed – and display a fake shutdown animation too. It then blanks the screen and to make the mobe look like it’s switched off.

The malware is then free to send lots of premium-rate text messages and make calls to expensive overseas numbers. The code shown by AVG appears to contact Chinese services.

Another day, another system-level hijack; but as with the vast majority, this is limited to China so far.