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 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.

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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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