Windows Phone, in five tweets

US installed base of smartphones

Data from ComScore of US installed base of smartphones

Don’t expect this situation to change.

Putting iOS and Android apps on Windows 10 is a white flag to rivals – and a red flag for developers


We just need some firmware in here and everything will be fine. Photo by 4nitsirk on Flickr.

Microsoft announced at its BUILD conference that it will be providing a way for iOS and Android developers to port – sorta kinda – their mobile apps to Windows 10, so they don’t have to rewrite them from scratch in its coding language.

As Peter Bright described it at Ars Technica:

[In “Project Islandwood] Microsoft has developed an Objective C toolchain and middleware layer that provide the operating system APIs that iOS apps expect. A select group of third parties have been using the Islandwood tools already, with King’s Candy Crush Saga for Windows Phone being one of the first apps built this way. King’s developers had to change only a “few percent” of the code in order to fully port it to Windows Phone.

For Android, there is Project Astoria. Rumors of Android apps on Windows have been floating around for some time, and in Windows 10 Microsoft is delivering on those rumors. Astoria will allow Android apps to run in Windows. Specifically, Windows Mobile (and yes, that’s now officially the name for Windows on phones and sub-8 inch tablets) will include an Android runtime layer that’ll let them run existing Android apps (both Java and C++) unmodified.

Bright then followed up on Monday last Friday (thanks Walt) with an analysis which goes much more deeply into the mechanics of how it will be done, but also points to two examples where companies have tried to make up for the lack of apps on their platform by enabling others effectively to run on them: IBM’s OS/2 platform, and BlackBerry’s BB10.

The point about OS/2 is well-remembered, delving back into PC history when Windows was young and IBM was trying to keep control of the burgeoning PC platform. It failed, because IBM couldn’t update OS/2 fast enough to keep compatibility with the fast-expanding Windows 3.x API base; but also, developers didn’t want to get distracted by having to look after more than one platform.

Indeed, when it comes to porting, Bright observes that “neither OS/2 nor BB10 has made a success of this capability”. He could also have added Amazon’s Android fork, and the Nokia X, which used AOSP (Android Open Source Platform) and tried to replace Google services with Microsoft ones.

We surrender to your platform

The trouble with “compatibility mode” is that it’s so evidently a white flag on the part of the company that enables it. In effect, the company is saying: we can’t attract enough developers to write natively for our platform, so we’ll try to piggyback on the more successful one.

But that’s also a giant red warning flag to developers on that platform. By effectively telling them that other platforms are more successful, it calls into question the future of the development tools on the platform, and the user base; it accepts that there are both more users and more developers elsewhere.

I don’t think Islandwood and Astoria will work. Not because they technically won’t work – Microsoft has scads of smart people who can do clever things with code – but because this is a technical solution to a business problem.

Even worse, it’s a technical solution that makes the business problem worse. If you subscribe to the idea of “moats and castles” (that businesses aim to surround themselves with an advantage that rivals can’t cross), then effectively dumping your own developer kit on mobile so that you can lure people from rival platforms strengthens the rivals’ moats – their loyal cohorts of third-party developers. Why would anyone write first for mobile on Windows, given these two projects?

The business problem

Microsoft’s user base for Windows Phone is around 70m-80m worldwide, out of a total smartphone user base of around 2 billion. Superficially this sounds like the late 1990s, when Apple was just about able to eke out an existence by having around 50m-60m out of 1.5bn PCs.

The crucial difference though is that Apple had the high-end users, who were willing to pay a premium for Apple’s qualities (principally in desktop publishing and graphic design, and lots of consumers in the US). Windows Phone occupies the low end. Its users don’t monetise well. That means developers don’t concentrate on them. A little experiment for you: today, when you see an ad for an app, notice how many mention availability on Windows Phone. If you get above zero, you’re lucky (or browsing a Windows site).

The category error

But, say the the Windows diehards, the access to 1.5 billion PCs and, ahem, Windows Phone will prove irresistible to all those developers currently writing for iOS and Android. All those PCs! Who wouldn’t want to be on those?

This is wrong, for two reasons: context and support costs.
1) apps written for mobile do not, in the main, translate to the desktop/laptop. What would Snapchat on the desktop be like? Or Uber? Apps that rely on the camera or geolocation don’t make sense; others can in general be done in the browser (example: Facebook). John Kneeland pointed this out back in February, before we knew about these initiatives. What he wrote remains true:

The most interesting developers and companies today aren’t shrinking down desktop experiences. They are building entirely new experiences that wouldn’t make any sense — or even be possible — on a PC.

2) the cost of “writing” the app is only the start; after that you have support, updates and compatibility. Imagine an iOS developer who has written an app for iOS 8 (presently covering 81% of users) considering this.

If they’re sensible, they’ll look first at monetisation via Android – after all, it’s the far bigger market, which has a premium (= willing to pay) segment that rivals iOS in size. So they do that. And then clean up, perhaps, with the iPad market too.

Now – Windows Phone via compatibility mode or Android tablets? If they write for “Windows Phone compatibility” they’ll have a product that will need special tweaking on a new platform where because of the comparatively low number of users, a few bad reviews could spell doom. Even if they get it right, Apple will introduce iOS 9 in the autumn, which might or might not tweak or twerk the existing APIs, and will surely kill off some of the older ones. How long will it take Microsoft to update to those? One thing’s for sure – iOS new version adoption will run ahead of Microsoft’s ability to update. This means there are now two versions of the app, on slightly different APIs, not entirely compatible.

When iOS 9 comes out, the iOS developers’ attentions will be on bugfixing and customer support there. This means (because people are finite) less time to attend to the Windows Phone customers. Things don’t get fixed there, bad reviews get left, the app sinks down the store, and.. what was the point of writing for this thing again?

As for Android developers – if we assume that they haven’t already done an iOS version, then do you think they’d want to write something for a platform with over 500m mobile devices in use, or one with 1.5bn users… except that for almost all of those 1.5bn, their app will make no sense at all (if they’re even able to load it – for don’t forget that about half of those PCs are in businesses, and probably locked down)?

Again, this isn’t hard to figure out.

A good try, but doomed

Microsoft had to do something, and people who like clever technical solutions are delighted by this clever technical solution to the fact of developer indifference and incompatible software. But it doesn’t change the fundamental truth: Windows Phone (v10 or whatever) is too small to matter in platform terms on mobile.

Microsoft is surely interested in keeping the mobile side going, as much as anything because of all the lessons it teaches you about things like power management, chip integration, sensor management, and a multitude of other things that are important.

History tells us that software compatibility is a losers’ move. Far better to move the fight to a new battleground and win there – as Apple did, first with the iPod and then the iPhone and then the iPad and then (thus far) the Apple Watch. Seems like a working strategy.

Update: some responses on Twitter have been along the lines of “Oh, no, really, developers will love it!”

Why, I ask? “Azure! The developer environment! Access to Xbox! It’ll get people to switch to Windows!”

In order:
• developers don’t need Windows 10 to use Azure. Vesper, which is resolutely iOS-only, uses Azure, for instance.
• if there’s one thing developers likely don’t want to get accustomed to, it’s yet another developer environment if the payback is small. Also, is there any developer who hasn’t heard that Windows (desktop) has a lot of users? The point is that Windows 10 is not magically going to make those desktop users into mobile users, for the reasons discussed above. iOS and Android have 95% of pretty much any market that’s worth squeezing developer money from. If anyone wants to tell me which niches monetise better on Windows Phone than on iOS and/or Android, I’m all ears.

• Xbox access isn’t worth much. There are about as many Xbox users as Windows Phone users (of the order of 70-80m; Xbox One is replacing Xbox 360, and any new buyers are balanced out by those abandoning as they get older). Games are notoriously difficult to write well; developers need to write “close to the metal”. Porting mobile games to the Xbox isn’t a sensible strategy.

• people do switch to Windows Phone from other platforms. However, just as many (if not more) flow back to the other two platforms because they aren’t happy with the app situation. And if this works, then what’s the reason for switching to Windows? So that you can get the apps that you already had on the smartphone platform you were on before? That doesn’t make sense.

I’m happy to be proved wrong, of course – if those who say I’m going to be wrong are willing to put up some solid numbers here (in the comments) that we can refer back to in a year or so, such as forecast Lumia sales, or Lumia installed base, or forecast length in 2016 of the app gap between other platforms and Windows Phone/10.

I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Say hi or leave a comment.

Oh, and also: Microsoft’s warning it might write down the mobile division


Got anything you want to dump? “Goodwill” by Editor B on Flickr.

Did you read my piece about the negative per-handset margins of Microsoft’s Lumia phones? Oh, you should, it’s great.

Bearing that in mind…

Spotted in Microsoft’s 10-Q (that’s the full quarterly writeup of everything going on in the business is this rather important couple of paragraphs. (“Goodwill” is accounting talk for “stuff that you can’t drop on your foot but honestly, it’s worth something, that’s why we paid so much for the company”). I’ve added some emphasis:

We determined that none of our reporting units were at risk of impairment as of our most recent annual goodwill impairment testing date. The valuation of acquired assets and liabilities, including goodwill, resulting from the acquisition of NDS, is reflective of the enterprise value based on the long-term financial forecast for the Phone Hardware business. In this highly competitive and volatile market, it is possible that we may not realize our forecast.

Considering the magnitude of the goodwill and intangible assets in the Phone Hardware reporting unit (see Note 8 – Business Combinations of the Notes to Financial Statements), we closely monitor the performance of the business versus the long-term forecast to determine if any impairments exist in our Phone Hardware reporting unit.

In the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, Phone Hardware did not meet its sales volume and revenue goals, and the mix of units sold had lower margins than planned.

We are currently beginning our annual budgeting and planning process. We use the targets, resource allocations, and strategic decisions made in this process as the inputs for the associated cash flows and valuations in our annual impairment test.

Given its recent performance, the Phone Hardware reporting unit is at an elevated risk of impairment. Declines in expected future cash flows, reduction in future unit volume growth rates, or an increase in the risk-adjusted discount rate used to estimate the fair value of the Phone Hardware reporting unit may result in a determination that an impairment adjustment is required, resulting in a potentially material charge to earnings.

And how much goodwill is there? In Note 8, we find that there’s an allocation of $5,456m to “goodwill” for the acquisition of Nokia Devices and Services (NDS). Five and a half billion dollars of “no, honestly, it’s worth this much in the long term, just watch”.

Or as the 10-Q puts it, “The goodwill was primarily attributed to increased synergies that are expected to be achieved from the integration of NDS.”

Now it seems those synergies maybe aren’t happening.

Sony in September wrote down the expected value of its phone business by £1bn. And it has a mobile business that competes quite well at the high end.

Microsoft’s writedown could be much, much bigger. Perhaps not as big as the $6.2bn writedown of aQuantive in 2012 (it wrote off the whole value of the acquisition), but potentially quite a lot.

Microsoft’s per-handset profit, or the lack of it – and its impact on Windows Phone’s future


How much did this Lumia 920 cost to make? And will it have a successor? Photo by Whatleydude on Flickr.

In case anyone was in any doubt, Microsoft’s results last week demonstrated once more what we’re coming to know about the mobile handset industry: it’s damned hard to make any money in it. When I published a fairly simple analysis of the state of the top-end Android handset market (with a comparator to Apple’s iPhone profits), people were apparently flabbergasted by how thin the per-handset operating margins were on these devices which sold for hundreds of dollars.

Estimated Android handset operating profit Q4 2014

See the original post for more detail and caveats.

But Microsoft showed that it’s not even able to generate gross margin while selling millions of handsets. (Gross margin is the difference between how much it costs you to make the item – usually factory costs and distribution costs – and what you get for it. Gross margin normally excludes R&D and sales & marketing costs; to get the operating profit, you subtract those costs too, so operating profit is always less than gross margin.) My analysis of Android handset makers looked at operating profit.

Negative gross margin takes some doing; spending more making stuff than you take in for it is exceptionally bad business. But Microsoft Mobile did, officially: take a look at Microsoft’s 10Q for the calendar first quarter of 2015.

Microsoft phone hardware revenues, Jan-Mar 2015

It says

Phone Hardware revenue was $1.4bn in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, as we sold 8.6m Lumia phones and 24.7m non-Lumia phones. We acquired NDS in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2014. Phone Hardware gross margin was $(4) million in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015. Phone Hardware cost of revenue, including $147m amortization of acquired intangible assets, was $1.4bn.

For those unversed in accountancy notation, that “$(4) million” means “minus $4 million”. Accountants use brackets rather than a minus sign because it’s easy to overlook a minus sign and create a horrendous hash in your calculations.

For the nine months,

Phone Hardware revenue was $6.3bn in fiscal year 2015, as we sold 28.5m Lumia phones and 107.3m non-Lumia phones. Phone Hardware gross margin was $805m in fiscal year 2015. Phone Hardware cost of revenue, including $401m amortization of acquired intangible assets, was $5.5bn.

This does take some untangling. In my analysis, I’m going to ignore the writeoffs (amortisation) of intangible assets – essentially, goodwill (“how much more we paid than the physical assets are worth”) being written down. This actually makes the gross margin look better – as in, in positive territory. That’s a start.

Pause for history

Some brief history. When Nokia made phones, it used to provide wonderfully detailed results, in which it would tell you how many featurephones and smartphones it had sold, and at what average selling price (ASP). This made it easy to see how its business was going. It didn’t give you gross margins – only operating margin for the whole phone business. In general, though, we knew its featurephone business was profitable, and that once it moved to the Windows Phone Lumia range, the smartphone side lost a ton of money.

Enter Microsoft, buying Nokia’s phone business – including featurephones – for €5.4bn, which was completed on April 25th 2014. That’s when the featurephone and Lumia sales start showing up in Microsoft’s results, and we shift to the “gross margin” measurement. (Microsoft does this because Steve Ballmer reorganised it to an Apple-style “apportion all cost across the board”, rather than making each division its own profit-and-loss fiefdom.)

Given the Lumia ASP and sales figures at Nokia, you could work out the ASP of featurephones, and their contribution to revenues. What I’ve done in the table below is use Nokia’s featurephone and Lumia ASP (converted from euros to dollars at the prevailing rate at the end of each quarter) and try to carry that forward to estimate the recent ASPs of Lumia handsets under Microsoft’s ownership, and their contribution to revenues.

Featurephone and estimated Lumia ASPs

If you estimate the ASP for featurephones based on the Nokia numbers, you can figure out those for the Lumia phones at Microsoft.

A few things to note: I’m assuming that featurephone ASPs are falling. Even with that, there’s a clear fall in the ASP of the Lumia phones – from (a really quite high) $238 in the second calendar quarter of 2014 to the present. There hasn’t been a flagship phone released in that time, so perhaps not surprising.

Also, smartphone revenue has flipped from being the minority source at Nokia to being the majority source now (even at $20 featurephone ASP, it’s still like that) because featurephone sales are collapsing, while those of smartphones are remaining fairly static – like this:

Estimated split of smartphone and featurephone revenue at Microsoft

Based on ASP assumptions, you can figure out how much revenue smartphones and featurephones generate. That’s not profit, though.

Now we move on, to seek out gross margin. There’s no data from Microsoft about the separate gross margins of the featurephones or Lumias. We don’t know how much they cost to build, or which might be profitable. So we have to use estimates and what people tell us.

Fortunately, we do have some indication of how profitable Nokia featurephones were. In an interview in April 2013, Nokia’s director of platform and content said that the profit margins on the $20 Nokia 105 were the same as those on the Lumia phones. How much might that be? Again, we don’t know, but it can’t be a lot. Putting it at $5 seems reasonable.

We have the figures for total gross margin; we also have the intangibles writeoff in the financials. So that gives us a “real” gross margin (ie the day-to-day gross margin for the quarter, excluding accountancy writeoffs):

Gross margin, excluding intangibles

Microsoft gives quarterly figures for intangible writeoffs; subtracting that gives the hardware gross margin.

Now we make assumptions about featurephone gross margin. I’ve gone for $5, falling to $4 as the average price of the handset falls from $20 to $15.

From this, and from the data we’ve got about total phone shipments, it’s quite simple to back-calculate to come out with figures for the total contribution to gross margin by featurephones and Lumias.

Progress! GM and profit gives Lumia data

If we assume per-handset profit on featurephones, we can use that with the GM data to figure out how much Lumias cost to make. And we have the ASP..

Which tells us what? The CQ2 figure is anomalous – Microsoft mentions an intangibles writeoff in that period, but doesn’t specify how much (unlike other periods). It’s likely the total gross margin was larger if you ignore that, which would put the gross margin per Lumia into the black.

What we also see is that even if we allow a miniscule per-handset gross margin for each featurephone, we see a rapidly falling gross margin for the Lumia line. Here’s an alternative scenario, if we think that the featurephones have a $8 gross margin, falling to $6 in the latest quarter:

What if featurephones have higher profit?

Giving a per-handset profit of $8 for featurephones makes the Lumia business look much worse. It’s unlikely, though.

On this higher profit for featurephones, the Lumia gross margin goes into negative territory. You can argue that’s too high a margin for a featurephone. Doesn’t matter though – the direction of travel is clear: the Lumia barely washes its face.

And this, don’t forget, is before you include the costs of sales and marketing – all those Lumia ads! – and research and development. Here’s the R+D impact:

Three months ended March 31, 2015 compared with three months ended March 31, 2014: Research and development expenses increased $241 million or 9%, mainly due to increased investment in new products and services, including NDS expenses of $212 million.

For the nine months:

Research and development expenses increased $694 million or 8%, mainly due to increased investment in new products and services, including NDS expenses of $815 million. These increases were partially offset by a decline in research and development expenses in our Operating Systems engineering group, primarily driven by reduced headcount-related expenses.

A little digging shows the R+D costs for the NDS (Nokia Devices and Services) segment by quarter. That gives us a sort of “halfway” operating profit once you deduct R+D, which shows that the division has moved into the red even before you consider sales and marketing costs.

R+D by quarter for Microsoft's mobile business

R+D numbers are mentioned in the quarterly 10Q. To get towards the operating profit (or loss), we need to subtract that.

That’s not profit

To figure out whether the handset division makes an operating profit we’d have to know the sales and marketing costs. It’s pretty improbable that those were anything less than $300m per quarter (that’s $10m per day, worldwide). Which means that Microsoft’s handset division has been loss-making since it took it over, despite those profitable featurephones, and ignoring the writedown of intangibles.

On a per-handset basis, if you allow $300m per quarter for sales and marketing (into which we’ll also roll administration), then you get a clear picture: Lumia handsets don’t make an operating profit at all.

Estimated per-handset loss for Lumias

Don’t forget, this relies on assumptions around featurephone profitability and price.

But hey, you say, that’s all assuming that featurephones are making $5 per handset. What if it’s $0? No problem – that’s the fun of spreadsheets. You can play with assumptions:

What if featurephones make $0?

Lumias still show a per-handset loss. (Remember this is with featurephone pricing of $15 in the latest quarter.)

OK, dammit – what if featurephones lose $5 per handset? Lumias still plunge into operating loss in the latest quarter – and remember, this is ignoring intangible writeoffs, and allowing just $10m per day worldwide for sales and marketing:

What if featurephones lose money?

Even at a $5 loss per featurephone, Lumias aren’t moneymakers at the operating level (on my assumptions).

You might have thought that Android handset makers had it tough, but at least – at the top end – they’re ekeing out something.

(Yes, these numbers are based on assumptions about featurephone pricing and margin, but I’d defend them as all being reasonable based on what we know about the business in the present and past.)

Update: thanks to Vlad Dudau of Neowin, who pointed me to Microsoft’s discussion of its results, where they say

We have made significant progress in reducing the operating expense base in the Phone business, moving from an annualized rate of $4.5bn at acquisition to a run rate under $2.5bn.

Opex is R+D plus sales+marketing and things like general+administration; an annualised run rate of $2.5bn is $625m per quarter – which is slightly more than I was allowing there. That would make the Lumia margins worse.

Microsoft adds:

That said, the changing mix of our portfolio to the value segment and the significant negative headwind from FX [foreign exchange rates] will impact our ability to reach operational break even in FY16.

So, no good news in the offing. (/Update.)

Why carry on, then?

Why, then, does Microsoft persist with Windows Phone? It can’t really think that it’s somehow going to come good and suddenly take off to challenge iOS and Android. The idea (which some outside Microsoft cling to) that the introduction of Windows 10, where apps can be written for both desktop and mobile, will suddenly lead to a huge uptake (by businesses?) is pie in the sky. Mobile and desktop have different design demands. Corporations with mobile needs haven’t been sitting on their hands for the past five years waiting for Windows Phone to reach a sort of maturity; they’ve been hiring people who can hook into their systems using iPhones and Android phones. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has recognised this, offering Office and other key software on rival platforms to capture (or retain) users and revenue.

You can’t justify it on “they’ll make it back in profits on services”; the 80m or so Lumia owners around the world aren’t the high-end users, but low-end ones who are less likely to spend on apps, or pricey Microsoft products.

So why? Two clear reasons. First, it’s important to keep playing in this space; Microsoft needs to have a mobile offering because it’s impossible to say where in the future a mobile-focussed offering might be key.

Secondly, though, is that more simple one: pride. Couple that with the inertia of a big organisation, and the fact that in the scheme of Microsoft’s profits the losses from the mobile division (about $500m, ignoring intangibles, over the past three quarters) are piffling, and there’s no reason to stop.

However, things could change. I’ve argued previously that Nadella should just give up on Windows Phone, and move to an Android fork. Not long after I argued that, Nokia (then still Finnish-owned) introduced the Nokia X, using Microsoft services and AOSP (Android without Google services on top). Microsoft rapidly killed it.

But now Microsoft is preinstalling its apps on the Samsung Galaxy S6 – and more importantly, has a “strategic partnership” with Cyanogen. The latter is a huge, and smart, move: it seems to me the easiest way for Microsoft to make a real impact on mobile.

If the Cyanogen move takes off, though, I could see Windows Phone withering. Why bother with loss-making hardware when you can piggyback on the world’s most successful mobile OS (that’s Android/AOSP) for the pure gravy of services profit? I wouldn’t.


Other posts you might find interesting:
Android OEM profitability, and the most surprising number from Q4 2014

Why Google’s struggles with the EC – and FTC – matter

How Gresham’s Law explains why news sites are turning off online comments


Start up: iPhone sales visualised, stopping VR sickness, Canon lurches downward, mobile design and more


Not so many of these being sold. Photo by lonelysandwich on Flickr.

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

iPhone sales by quarter » Bare Figures

Have a play with this excellent site, which shows financial data for all sorts of companies. Notable: iPhone sales in the just-gone quarter of 61.2m, up 39.9%. That really is a lot. And the revenues too.


How to reduce VR sickness? Just add a virtual nose » WIRED

Liz Stinson:

Eliminating simulator sickness is a major interest of the burgeoning VR industry, but so far there hasn’t been a clear answer. Home remedies include drinking alcohol, while companies like Oculus Rift are exploring better positional tracking and improved display resolution. But researchers at Purdue University believe they’ve found a way to reduce the negative physical effects of virtual reality by using something that’s right in front of your face.

“We’ve discovered putting a virtual nose in the scene seems to have a stabilizing effect,” says David Whittinghill, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s Department of Computer Graphics Technology.


Windows Phone and Prepaid in the US » Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

based on the combination of AdDuplex and Comscore data, it’s likely Cricket has between 1 and 1.5 million Windows Phone devices in its base, which is a fairly significant chunk of Cricket’s overall base, perhaps as much as 25%. Secondly, remember the overall Windows Phone growth numbers we looked at earlier? There was net growth of about 1 million Windows Phone handsets in the base during that same nine month period or, in other words, the difference between those that left the platform and joined it was 1 million. Given Cricket likely added around 1 million during that period, it’s possible it accounted for the vast majority of that net growth.

Cricket isn’t the only prepaid brand where Windows Phone is big, though. It’s hard to get a full postpaid/prepaid breakdown from the AdDuplex numbers because, for the major carrier brands, the two aren’t separated. But even if we just focus on MetroPCS, Cricket and a phone only available on AT&T’s GoPhone prepaid service, these three add up to around 40% of the total base in the US. Add in a few percentage points for other prepaid sales on the major carriers and we could be getting close to half the Windows Phone base on prepaid, compared with about 25% of the total US phone base on prepaid. In this sense, Windows Phone is the anti-iPhone, with the iPhone well underrepresented in the prepaid market, just as Windows Phone is well over-represented.

(The full article is via subscription – monthly or one-off.)


The hidden politics of video games » POLITICO Magazine

Michael Peck:

Sim City lets you indulge your wildest fiscal fantasies. Banish the IRS and set taxes to zero in Teapartyville, or hike them to 99 percent on the filthy rich in the People’s Republic of Sims. Either way, you will discover that the game’s economic model is based on the famous Laffer Curve, the theoretical darling of conservative politicians and supply-side economists. The Laffer Curve postulates that raising taxes will increase revenue until the tax rate reaches a certain point, above which revenue decrease as people lose incentive to work.

Finding that magic tax point is like catnip for hard-core Sim City players. One Web site has calculated that according to the economic model in Sim City, the optimum tax rate to win the game should be 12% for the poor, 11% for the middle class and 10% for the rich.

In other words, playing Sim City well requires not only embracing supply-side economics, but taxing the poor more than the rich. One can almost see a mob of progressive gamers marching on City Hall to stick Mayor McSim’s head on a pike.

The subtle reinforcing effects of such models isn’t much thought about. Philip K Dick did, for his short story War Game.


Canon first-quarter profit drops as compact camera demand collapses » Reuters

Thomas Wilson:

Japan’s Canon Inc reported first-quarter net profit that fell by almost a third on Monday, grossly undershooting expectations, citing a collapse in demand for compact digital cameras.

Profit at the world’s largest camera maker fell to 33.93bn yen (£188 million) in January-March, compared with the 53.64bn yen average estimate of 5 analysts according to Thomson Reuters data.

The result comes as the world’s No.1 camera maker contends with a shift in consumer preference toward increasingly capable smartphone cameras. That shift has dragged Canon’s compact sales down nearly 70% since the market’s peak in 2008 – the year after Apple released its game-changing iPhone.

“Sales volume for low-end (digital camera) models declined due to the ongoing contraction of the market in all regions from the previous year,” said Canon in its earnings release.

Revenues down 1% year-on-year; operating profit by 20%. Also cut this year’s forecasts for compact sales by 23% and for higher-end cameras by 9%.


Telecom act to stifle sales of LG G4, Galaxy S6 » Korea Times

Bahk Eun-ji:

LG Electronics will release its latest smartphone, the G4, on Wednesday and seek to steal customers from its bigger rivals Samsung Electronics and Apple. LG is betting big on the new smartphone to gain fresh momentum in its earnings.

However, it faces a bigger obstacle than Samsung and Apple in the domestic market ― the Telecom Act that caps handset subsidies.

Two weeks ago, the KCC [Korean Communications Commission] raised the maximum amount of subsidy that customers can receive when buying a new handset to 330,000 won [£203/$304], from 300,000 won [£185/$268]. However, the maximum subsidy is possible only for those who choose the highest monthly phone bill rate. For most consumers, the actual subsidies available for them are insignificant. That’s why they are not buying new handsets.

The government has drawn criticism for the enforcement of the Telecom Act from all interested parties, including consumers, telecom companies and retail shop operators.

In particular, retail handset dealerships have condemned the act as their handset sales plunged after the Mobile Distribution Act took effect in October. Under the current law, when consumers buy Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and select a highest phone bill rate, they can receive up to 330,000 won in subsidies.

Normally, retail shop owners get rebates from telecom companies when they sell new handsets, but if customers do not buy the devices at the shop, the owners will not get the rebate.

Besides, if customers cancel their contracts before six months, the shop owners have to pay a 200,000 won [£123/$184] penalty to the telecom companies.

This probably explains the low reported sales of the Galaxy S6. The purpose of the subsidy cap is to prevent carriers and handset makers colluding to lure customers from rivals in South Korea’s saturated market. In 2014, Samsung lobbied to raise the subsidy ceiling. Not hard to work out why.


Racist Camera! No, I did not blink… I’m just Asian! » Flickr

Jared Earle offered a followup to the story on Kodachrome from Monday, pointing to this photo and commentary from 2009:

We got our Mom a new Nikon S630 digital camera for Mother’s Day and I was playing with it during the Angels game we were at on Sunday.
 
As I was taking pictures of my family, it kept asking “Did someone blink?” even though our eyes were always open.

Surprising, to say the least, that Nikon would have this problem.
Time picked up the story about a year later, and pointed out more strange examples where systems seemed to have built-in prejudices.

Of course, you can blame “the algorithms”. But they don’t write themselves.


Obvious always wins » LukeW

Luke Wroblewski, on how using menu controls (especially “hamburgers” and similar) can create big problems, even though the screen looks “simpler” (and so “better”, right?):

In an effort to simplify the visual design of the Polar app, we moved from a segmented control menu to a toggle menu. While the toggle menu looked “cleaner”, engagement plummeted following the change. The root cause? People were no longer moving between the major sections of the app as they were now hidden behind the toggle menu.

A similar fate befell the Zeebox app when they transitioned from a tab row for navigating between the major sections of their application to a navigation drawer menu. Critical parts of the app were now out of sight and thereby out of mind. As a result, engagement fell drastically.

[By contrast] When critical parts of an application are made more visible, usage of them can increase. Facebook found that not only did engagement go up when they moved from a “hamburger” menu to a bottom tab bar in their iOS app, but several other important metrics went up as well.


Start up: Chrome v Safari, designing Windows Phone, Apple Watch value, S6 battery life and more

Remember? That’s when Instagram for Windows Phone was last updated. Photo by Theen Moy on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Really, they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Roomba for lawns is really pissing off astronomers » WIRED

Davey Alba on how the automated method of mowing lawns (using beacons to guide the mowers) could be a hassle for the star-struck:

the system requires special permission from the FCC due to its restrictions on fixed outdoor infrastructure. In a nutshell, the FCC doesn’t want people creating ad hoc networks of transmitters, which could interfere with existing authorized services like cellular and GPS systems. In its filings, iRobot says it should be exempt because it doesn’t set out to establish a broad communications network — its lawnbot networks would be tightly contained.
Astronomers say that’s not good enough. The frequency band proposed for the lawnbot (6240-6740 MHz) is the very same one several enormous radio telescopes operate on. Astronomers want the FCC to protect their share of the radio spectrum so their telescopes continue observing methanol, which abounds in regions where celestial bodies are forming.


Chrome is still a threat to your MacBook’s battery » The Verge

Vlad Savov on the comparative battery life of MacBooks using the Chrome browser, and Apple’s Safari:

It’s not just the distance you can go with Chrome that’s an issue. The speed and quality of the ride are also compromised. The widely used SunSpider browser benchmark clocks the MacBook Pro in at 203ms when using Chrome. Safari scores 30% better with a time of 144ms. Same machine, very different outcomes. You’d think YouTube would be a spot where Google collects an easy win, but that’s been another cause of distress: the new 4K 60fps videos that YouTube now supports are playable on the MacBook, but only — you guessed it — when using Safari and not Chrome. Google’s own browser chokes while playing back video from Google’s own video service.

Chrome’s problem is that it sets every page up as a virtual machine, demanding its own chunk of memory. Safari.. does it differently. The difference in battery life, though, is huge. Commenters weighing in seem to agree (while also liking the convenience of Chrome).


Apple Watch: an overnight multi-billion dollar business » carlhowe.com

Carl Howe used to analyse this sort of stuff for a living. Here he helps you think of the supply chain issues involved in the Apple Watch by likening it to producing a million origami lobsters:

Now let’s make this a little more realistic. As it turns out, we really want a million lobsters of two different sizes. Further, ordinary paper tears too easily and is the wrong colour for Origami lobsters, so we’ve decided to make our own paper; that will require its own process. We also need to be able to deliver some of the lobsters with glitter and others with hand-painted decorations; we’ll need to plan to supply and apply those materials too. Oh, and we want to make a few thousand out of two colors of pure gold leaf instead of paper. You’ll have to manufacture the paper for that too.
What’s your plan look like now?
There’s no rush; you can deliver your million lobsters any time during the month, provided that you don’t mind people complaining that you are way too slow at getting this done. Oh, and you’ll be criticized in the international press for every failure to produce perfect lobsters.
And now, imagine this same plan, except with this twist: no one has successfully folded this particular type of Origami lobster before, so you really don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. And your reward if you are successful will not be praise, but demands that you build even more next month.

This is such a wonderful post for wrapping your head around supply chain issues – as good in its way as Greg Koenig’s commentary about the amazing mechanics of how the Apple Watch is made.
Howe has a number for how many Watches have been sold, but you need to read his piece to find out. He’s probably right. (He also notes in an update that there’s only one module – that is lobster – so the Watch is even more profitable.)


Galaxy S6 Edge battery life – 4 days later » Android Authority

Let’s revisit Nirave Gondhia and see how he’s getting on with his series:

Another day of 13 to 16 hour battery life suggests that with my usage pattern, this is the most I can expect from the Galaxy S6 Edge. However, considering that the average user works approximately eight hours per day, it’s clear that the Galaxy S6 Edge will last a full working day, allowing you to charge it overnight and rely on it until you get home after work.
Another thing to take away is that using your phone at 50% brightness or less adds several hours to your battery life. I’ve done further testing on this and it’s certainly a key factor. The octa-core processor drives over 3.6 million pixels and if the brightness is set to full, it draws a large amount of power. Reducing to around 50 to 60% could increase your screen-on-time by over 50%.

16-hour battery life would certainly take you through a lot of the day.


Ex-Microsoft designer explains the move away from Metro » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott filleted an AMA by the designer of the new version of Office for Windows Phone so you don’t have to wade through the original. Fascinating bits, including:

Why is the hamburger menu in the top left of the display? It’s hard to reach, etc. I actually argued for top right. The issue with top right is that no one else does [it]. Being a special unique snowflake works for art but not design. Design should be invisible, so people shouldn’t be thinking ‘oh that’s odd. I’ve never seen this button used like this. I wonder if it does the same thing?’ … The industry decided top left. So to go against it you need to earn it. You need to be far, far better or else it just stands out awkwardly.”
But people need to be able to use it with one hand. “What the research is showing is that people aren’t actually as wedded to one handed use as we used to believe they are. Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly a tradeoff. Frequently used things have to be reachable, even one-handed. But hamburgers are not frequently used, and one-handed use is not ironclad. Combine those two factors together and you see why the industry has settled on this standard. It wasn’t random … And, sorry. But the hamburger has some real issues, but ‘I can’t reach uncommon things without adjusting my hand on my massive phone and that annoys me because it reminds me of the dominant OS on earth” [is not one of them].
But the bottom is better. “It turns out bottom is not better. You’d think that something 3 pixels from your palm would be easier to reach than something in the middle of the phone. But nope.

This really is a terrific post with so much about comparative user experience; this is the link you really should read today.


It has been one year since Instagram was last updated for Windows Phone » Neowin

Brad Sams:

It was on 3.22.14 that the Instagram beta was last updated and the app has remained unchanged since that day. In essence, this app represents the exact issue Windows Phone fans have expressed tirelessly over the years: It’s not the lack of apps, it’s the lack of support for the apps that do exist.
Twitter is another good example. While this app is updated more frequently, it lacks features of its iOS and Android counterparts. By all accounts, Twitter’s Windows Phone app is a distant second-thought for the company and while it is semi-frequently updated, when it does get new features, it’s months or years after the other apps.
Microsoft is aware of this, to no surprise, and they do hope that their universal apps will help to remedy this situation but it will not be an overnight fix.

It’s nice to hope. Has anyone pointed out yet that Instagram isn’t a desktop app, but is mobile-only, so the big Windows desktop installed base doesn’t matter at all to the company? Let me be the first then. Same for Snapchat, Uber.. the list goes on.


Here’s how much a Samsung Galaxy S6 replacement battery (and screen) costs » PC Mag

Sascha Segan:

According to a Samsung spokesperson in touch with the company’s support team, the Galaxy S6 battery has a one-year warranty. If its maximum capacity drops below 80% of its initial level during that year, your replacement is free (although you still have to pay for shipping.) At any other time, the replacement costs $45, plus shipping, though Samsung did not detail shipping costs.
That’s less than the $79 Apple charges for an iPhone battery replacement, but more than the official $29.99 price for a Galaxy S5 battery…
Samsung has walk-in repair centers in Los Angeles and Plano, Texas that don’t require shipping and do same-day battery swaps, the company said. Samsung is looking to establish those centers in more cities.
Screen replacements, meanwhile, cost $199 for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. That’s more than the $109 Apple charges for iPhone 6 screen repair, but less than the $299 Apple charges for repairs that involve more than the screen. Samsung screen replacements also have a one-day turnaround.


Apple Pay plans to launch in Canada this fall » WSJ

Rita Trichur and Daisuke Wakabayashi, who note that Canada has lots of iPhones (30% installed base of smartphones) and lots of NFC-capable payment systems:

Canadian banks want Apple Pay to work in a way that requires a “secondary authentication” to verify customer information before cards can be used with the phones. That means that a consumer could be required to enter a PIN, log-on to a mobile banking app or use a one-time passcode sent via text message before cards can be used on Apple Pay, those people said.

Fair enough. Seems sensible given the problems US banks saw in letting people add cards without authentication. But then it carries on:

The trouble with that approach, however, is that it creates a clunky experience for consumers who expect mobile payments to be seamless—similar to tap-and-go credit cards that are already in wide use in Canada.

I checked this with the writers – surely the banks just want to authenticate initially, not every time? – but Trichur assured me she was hearing that the banks are considering a per-transaction authentication. Sounds bonkers to me.


This is why daddy drinks » Rusty Rants

Russell Ivanovic has been a dedicated disliker of Samsung phones since the S2 because “they often represented the worst possible Android experience you could have”. But they needed to have an S6 in the Shifty Jelly offices (which do Android app development):

The first thing that struck me was the build quality. It’s really good. The next thing that struck me was the screen. It’s amazing. Bright, super high density (far higher than the iPhone and Moto X I’m used to) and so beautiful. Then I was struck by the speed…this thing is fast…like really fast. Then I took a few test photos, and damned if they didn’t look better than all the same photos I was taking with my iPhone 6. In short I had a ‘huh?’ moment. Was it possible this was a good phone?


Start up: Zane Lowe joins Apple, Windows Phone five years on, Google closing Helpouts, and more


Oh yeah? Well I would say it’s a terrible rating. Photo by rynsms on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Yes, I’ve tweaked the CSS for blockquote. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Zane Lowe to leave BBC Radio 1 for Apple » The Guardian

Vanessa Thorpe:

Zane Lowe, the BBC Radio 1 DJ , is leaving the network for Apple’s new iTunes radio service.

New Zealander Lowe, credited with helping to make the name of British music stars such as Arctic Monkeys, Adele and Ed Sheeran, is moving to America with his wife and two sons to work at Apple.

His final show in the prestigious evening slot will go out on 5 March. Lowe, who joined the station from XFM in 2003, said: “I want to thank everyone at Radio 1 for their support and friendship.

“The station has allowed me to share incredible music with the country’s best music fans – I’ve loved every minute of it. Exciting times lie ahead.”

This is fascinating. US readers probably won’t have any idea how influential Lowe is, but those few famous names are just an indicator – and he has continued his enthusiasm for decades. (I was listening to him when he was on London’s XFM 15 years ago, when he presented a nightly chart of new music.) Obviously, he’s going to be something to do with Beats Music as it gets rebranded.

That Apple is hiring him suggests it’s getting really serious about music content; and I hear it’s getting serious about expanding its public presence in other forms of content too.


Five years later, a full-on retreat from what made Windows Phone special » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced Windows Phone 7 Series at Mobile World Congress on February 15, 2010. “This is really about the phones and how the consumer will react to these devices,” he said during his introductory speech, setting the stage for the first big change: Microsoft was focusing Windows Phone 7 Series on the same high-end consumer smart phone market as the iPhone, and not on the traditional business market.

“We design for life maximizers,” a Microsoft representative told me at the time. “Windows Phone 7 Series is not about information workers.”

What’s a life maximizer, you ask?

“They’re 38 years old, 76 percent of them are employed, and 73 percent are in partnered relationships,” I was told. “They do care about work email. But what’s important to this audience is not feeling overwhelmed, balancing priorities, growing personally and professionally, and living life to the fullest.”

Yes. Really. And to spare Microsoft further embarrassment, I won’t get into the “personas” they created to show how Windows Phone was going to make everyone’s life better.

An object lesson in how you should not design your product to a tightly imagined demographic. It’s a fascinating article, full of reminders of things Windows Phone used to do but has now largely given up on. I still wonder what Microsoft gets out of Windows Phone, the platform, since it’s effectively the only company making handsets for it.


Privacy error “Your connection is not private” Google chrome » YouTube

Unintentionally (on the part of the video maker) hilarious, but also depressing: he’s being told by Google Chrome that OKCupid’s SSL certificate isn’t entirely valid, and it blocks him from going there. So what does he do? He sees the problem as “my browser is mispelling it ‘https’ instead of ‘http'”, and why won’t it let him to go the site when Firefox will?

Point to bear in mind: it’s not the user who’s stupid here, it’s the people writing the error messages and associated jargon. (Though you can also make a separate determination about the user based on his videos.)


MIT uses patent from 1997 to sue Apple over chips » Gigaom

Jeff John Roberts:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a patent lawsuit against Apple and its suppliers this week, claiming that semiconductor wafers found in the company’s computers and mobile devices infringe on a patent obtained by two academics more than 15 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Boston federal court, claims that Idaho-based Micron Technology knew about a laser-cutting method described in the patent, but used it all the same when supplying DRAM semiconductor devices for products like iPhones, iPads and MacBook Airs.

The patent itself was issued to Joseph Bernstein, who is now an engineering professor in Israel, and a co-inventor, Zhihui Duan. MIT claims it controls the right to the patent, which has a 1997 filing date and was issued in 2000. The school says it’s entitled to damages and to royalties on all Apple products that contain chips using the laser method in question.

Seems that this is a lawsuit for Micron, not Apple, though MIT claims Apple commits contributory infringement by importing and selling equipment containing specific Micron products.


Apple’s Titan Car Project to Challenge Tesla » WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Ramsey, following up on the FT report by Tim Bradshaw and Andy Sharman:

Apple may decide not to proceed with a car. In addition, many technologies used in an electric car, such as advanced batteries and in-car electronics, would be useful to other Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad. Apple often investigates technologies and potential products, going as far as building multiple prototypes for some things that it won’t ever sell. Any product would take several years to complete and obtain safety certifications.

But the size of the project team and some of the people assigned to it indicate that the company is serious, these people said. Apple executives have flown to Austria to meet with contract manufacturers for high-end cars including the Magna Steyr unit of Canadian auto supplier Magna International Inc.

What needs to be improved in cars? What can be improved in cars? This sets up a fascinating scenario, given Google’s semi-position in this game.


How Apple keeps the competition whipped » Tech.pinions

Steve Wildstrom (who is, happily, recovered from brain surgery):

Apple has an interest in autos, but that certainly is for developing systems for cars–support for the iPhone is already common and is likely to be expanded–but not designing or building cars. Although cars are increasingly wheeled computers, everything about their manufacture — their regulation, their sales, their ownership — is dramatically different from anything Apple knows.

The car business also violates Apple’s core move that new products should quickly be profitable. Tesla is in its fifth year and its losses are growing at about the same rate as its sales. CEO Elon Musk admits profits are still quite a distance away. Apple could afford to buy Tesla in the extremely unlikely chance Musk was interested in selling it but it simply does not fit its approach to business. Starting a new car company would be even more complex, more expensive, and less practical.

Even with the report over the weekend of Apple hiring a team with car expertise, his point about buying Tesla is an excellent one. Apple doesn’t buy lossmaking established businesses – with one exception: NeXT Computer in 1996.


Google is shutting down Google Helpouts, its expert video chat service » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

The idea with Helpouts has been to leverage Google’s identity tools, payment technologies and online video service in order to provide web users with both free and paid advice and support sessions covering a range of topics. Today, the Helpouts website continues to work, offering sessions on topics like Photography, Parenting, Fashion and Beauty, Cooking and much more. Unfortunately for Google, much of this sort of advice is already available for free on its other video site, YouTube. While YouTube videos may not connect you with a live person in real-time, they can often give you the answers you’re looking for, and YouTube’s advertisements help the videos’ creators generate additional income.

Google’s Helpouts service has not been without its challenges on the monetization front, either. A couple of months ago, Google had to shut down paid Helpouts in the EU thanks to changing tax laws. Today, the website advises providers from the U.K. and Ireland that they may only offer free Helpouts, and EU customers may only take free Helpouts. That’s likely been a blow to the service’s ability to attract providers and consumers in these markets.

Survival: 531 days. “It hasn’t grown at the pace we expected,” Google says. Note also the first comment on Hacker News from when it launched.


October 2014: Google’s product strategy: Make two of everything » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo in a piece from October 2014 that is very relevant in that light:

Judging by Google’s messy and often-confusing product line, it’s something the company takes to heart. Google likes to have multiple, competing products that go after the same user base. That way, if one product doesn’t work out, hopefully the other one will.

The most extreme case of this has been Google’s instant messaging solutions. At one point there were four different ways to send a text message on Android: Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, Messaging (Android’s SMS app), and Google Voice. Google Hangouts came along and eventually merged everything into a single instant messaging platform.

Mercifully, Google has a single, unified instant messaging program now, and all further IM efforts will be poured into this, right? Wrong. A report from The Economic Times of India says that Google is working on a fifth instant messaging program. This one reportedly won’t require a Google account and will be aimed at Whatsapp. In KitKat Google removed the stock SMS app and used Hangouts for SMSes, but in Lollipop it is adding back an SMS client, so soon we could potentially be back up to three texting clients. The unified Hangouts update also added a second dialer app to Android, so now there is the main Google Dialer that was introduced in KitKat and a new Hangouts Dialer that makes VOIP calls. Users went from needing IM unity, having it, then chaotically clamoring for dialer unity.

At the price of annoying and/or confusing the users, of course. Notable that it has never felt the need to A/B its front search page.


Samsung’s Microsoft deal and Cyanogen » Beyond Devices

After the rumours of that Microsoft-Samsung app deal, Jan Dawson comments:

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least some flavor of Cyanogen devices in future come with Microsoft apps and services where the Google ones would normally be. We won’t see Microsoft launching another Android-based line of devices, but rather an Android-based line of devices that puts Microsoft’s services and apps front and center. That, after all, is the real goal here: getting Microsoft’s services in front of as many customers as possible, integrated into the platform in a way that makes them the default options for key tasks, and which provides benefits across the platform. Windows Phone has been the only platform where that’s been true, but Cyanogen could easily become a second. Quite what Cyanogen’s current customer base would make of that is unclear, but then Cyanogen’s future depends on broadening its appeal way beyond the hackers and tinkerers who flash alternative ROMs on their Android devices, and Microsoft could be a great fit there.

Yes. Absolutely. This is a terrific solution for both Cyanogen and for Microsoft – but a looming problem for Google if Microsoft can begin to impose its services on millions of phones.


Steam Review Watch » Tumblr

” Just don’t,don’t even,just please no…DON’T BUY IT ! 🙂 ” – 999.8 hours played.

” *****DONT LET MY HOURS FOOL YOU!!**** This is probably the most terrible game of all time. ” – 239.7 hours played.

And many more reviews from the toughest (and most entitled?) audience ever. (Via @daveverwer of iOS Dev Weekly.)


Start up: Google buying Softcard?, examining Uber’s numbers, why Windows 10 can’t fix Windows Phone, examining Samsung’s loss in China, and more


Does more Uber mean less of this? Photo of Toyota manufacturing in the UK by Toyota UK on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Tested on humans for irritancy. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google is in talks with mobile payments company Softcard » TechCrunch

The price may be under $100m, according to our sources. That is either a huge bargain or a testament to Softcard’s difficulties as an enterprise: sources tell us that AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — the three carriers that started Isis in 2010 — have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the joint venture.

Softcard earlier this month laid off about 60 employees and has been in a consolidation phase.

Softcard says it has 200,000 merchants in the US able to use its app, which isn’t available on iOS (but is on Android and Windows Phone). Sounds like morale there has been rock-bottom. But Apple Pay has brought it all back to life. At least, it ought to.


Gabe Rivera on tech media: ‘A lot of intellectual dishonesty’ » Digiday

Gabe Rivera is in charge of Techmeme, and so looks at lots and lots of sites’ stories:

On the down side are a lot of things you’ve heard already. Like the pervasiveness of churnalism, and how writers at news publications aren’t nearly as knowledgeable as they should be to cover their beat. These are real problems, but hard to counter given the tight supply of good writers. Another problem: lying by omission, hyperbole and other forms of intellectual dishonesty are creeping into more tech reporting.

Q: Is that a digital media problem or a tech reporting problem?
A: Intellectual dishonesty has plagued media even in the decades and centuries before digital, but I think it’s seen a big increase in tech reporting in just the last couple of years. As more reporters and commentators turn their attention to the flourishing tech industry, an increasing number are relying on bogus arguments to cut through the din.


Estimating G+ User Activity » Ello

From #Dredmorbius:

This is an analysis which estimates active G+ users, defined as those who’ve made a post to G+, not simply commented on a YouTube video, in the month of January, 2015. It’s based on pulling Google’s on Profile sitemaps and sampling profile pages based on them. You should be able to replicate the process yourself (or with a hackishly-minded assistant) using the methods described.

Summary of findings:
• There are about 2.2 billion G+ profiles total.
• Of these, about 9% have any publicly-posted content.
• Of those, about 37% have as their most recent activity a YouTube comment, another 8% profile photo changes (45% of all “active” profiles).
• Only 6% of profiles which have ever been publicly active have any post activity in 2015 (18 days so far).
• Only around half of those, 3% of active profiles, are not YouTube comments.

That is, 0.3% of all G+ profiles, about 6.6 million users, have made public G+ post in 2015. That’s ~367,000 users posting daily if each posts only once (the actual post frequency will vary somewhat).

This doesn’t include non-public posts or comments, or lurkers, but it’s a pretty clear indication of the level of publicly visible activity on G+.

One wag asks in the comments how this compares to Ello. More to the point, though, you could work through this data pretty easily given a suitably large system. A big data problem, but not a hard one.


Uber’s claim to be a Euro jobs-creator is full of Volkswagen-sized holes » PandoDaily

Michael Carney:

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (EAMA), the auto industry employs 12.9 million people across the continent, representing 5.3% of the total workforce. What’s more, the industry’s high-skilled manufacturing jobs represent a full 10% of such jobs in the EU. The auto industry also represents 6.9% of the EU GDP. So the question is, what would happen if Uber eliminated the need for 400,000 of these vehicles?

It’s a complicated question that belies a straightforward answer. But if we make the admittedly simplistic assumption that a one percentage point reduction in autos demand equates to an equal one percentage point reduction in employment within the sector, the impact of Uber’s expansion begins to look much less positive.

Those 400,000 vehicles eliminated represent approximately 2.4% of the 16.2m vehicles (cars, vans, trucks and buses) produced per year in the EU. Applying this percentage to the employment within the sector and we get approximately 320,000 jobs. So, while Uber is making headlines with promises of creating 50,000 new jobs – low-skill, low-stability “jobs” at that – behind the scenes, the company is threatening more than six-times as many jobs in one of Europe’s most critical industries.

No love lost between Pando and Uber. But the logic here is pretty straightforward. I’m dubious about the benefits of privatising taxi regulation to a single private company which can dismiss people (and ban would-be riders) at its own whim, with no recourse.


Samsung loses connection with Chinese consumers in 2014 » Caixin

Lots of data about percentage share (and some shade, as they say, thrown on Samsung’s TouchWiz), but this is the key part:

Chinese smartphone makers grabbed market share from Samsung by improving the design and quality of their products, the industry analyst said. Many devices sell for less than 1,000 yuan. For 1,500 yuan a consumer could get a Xiaomi model called the Mi 3 that has similar specifications as the Samsung Galaxy S5, which costs about 3,000 yuan.

Chinese smartphone makers, such as Xiaomi, were also trying to improve the Android operating system and provide more apps so users had a better experience, improvements Samsung was not making, the analyst said.

Samsung usually set the prices of its phone high, then brings them down, one of its dealers said. He mentioned the Galaxy Note 3, whose price was slashed by 500 yuan within a week of it launch, something that would annoy people who bought the device early.

Chinese smartphone makers took a different approach. They start out with low prices, and months later unveil upgraded versions of the phones for the same price, a strategy that seems to agree with Chinese consumers.

(500 yuan = £50 or so.)


Why Windows 10 can’t fix Windows Phone » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson has a bucket of ice water for those who think the opposite:

First, the theory: in Windows 10, Microsoft is creating a single operating system which will run across different form factors, with much of the underlying code shared and the rest tweaked by device type and size. This will allow developers to create apps which run 90% of the same code, with just some customizations for different device types and sizes. This, in turn, will allow Microsoft to tap into the vast number of Windows PC developers, who will now be able to port their apps to Windows Phone will very little additional work, which will drive a large number of new apps to the mobile platform, reducing the app gap relative to iOS and Android.

However, there’s a fundamental flaw in this argument, which is that the apps Windows Phone is missing simply don’t exist as desktop apps on Windows. Just think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize it’s empirically obvious.

But he goes beyond the thought experiment, and actually examines what’s available on the app stores, and on Windows. Not just empirically obvious, but empirically demonstrated.

And now look at this next link.


February 2011: How can Nokia get enough app developers to work on Windows 7 Phone versions of their products? » Quora

The question is from February 2011, and Horace Dediu offered this answer – which remains true, and can be expanded to other “ecosystem” questions (cough *wearables* cough):

There’s a persistent assumption that ecosystems are based on economic logic. That’s analogous to suggesting that acting talent is attracted to Hollywood because every aspiring actor calculates their expected income based on odds of success minus the cost of living there and the cost of learning to act.

This logic also implies that alternative film-making hubs may try to re-create the attraction of Hollywood by subsidizing actors, providing acting classes and offering discount agencies.

These methods are unlikely to work. They only signal to actors that the film industry in that hub is ineffective.

Talent is attracted to a platform because of that platform’s potential to solve the job that the talent is seeking to hire it for. They want to be stars. A platform needs to offer the opportunity for stardom. That’s not something money can buy.

As we now know the answer to this one (it couldn’t), the answer becomes illuminating. The other responses are worth reading too – especially one by Mark Dagon Hughes, who writes for iOS.


Ambiq Micro has made a chip that consumes 10 times less energy » Tech News and Analysis

Stacey Higginbotham:

Ambiq manages these lower wattages by never going above a certain voltages when sending power through the chip. Most chips send their signalling information, which determines if it is sending zeros or ones, at between 1 and 1.8 volts, but the Ambiq chip sends its information 0.5 volts. That means it uses much less energy overall. Ambiq has built out this technology on about $30 million in funding.

It does this without requiring fancy changes in manufacturing or a new way of writing software, which means it can be designed into existing products easily. Ambiq CEO Mike Salas says he expects to see Ambiq microcontrollers in shipping products by the middle of the year. Its microcontrollers will compete with those already on the market from Atmel, ST Microelectronics and other large chipmakers.

Here’s the press release from Ambiq explaining how it does it:

“Ambiq Micro’s SPOT platform operates transistors at subthreshold voltages (less than 0.5V), rather than using transistors that are turned all the way “on” at 1.8V. It uses the leakage current of “off” transistors to compute in both digital and analog domains.”

Intrigued about how it runs transistors on leakage current, which is something that designers generally try to reduce.


This is how Xiaomi keeps the cost of its smartphones so low » TechCrunch

Jon Russell spoke to Hugo Barra, who explained:

“A product that stays on the shelf for 18-24 months — which is most of our products — goes through three or four price cuts. The Mi2 and Mi2s are essentially the same device, for example,” Barra explained. “The Mi2/Mi2s were on sale for 26 months. The Redmi 1 was first launched in September 2013, and we just announced the Redmi 2 this month, that’s 16 months later.”

That’s important because the longer runway for devices gives Xiaomi leverage to secure better component deals with its suppliers.

“The reason we do these price cuts is because we’ve managed to negotiate component cost decreases [with our suppliers] over time, which ends up leaving us with a bigger margin than we’d like to have, so we do a price cut,” Barra added.

Ben Thompson did a similar (and I’d say better) interview with Barra, which is on Stratechery; subscriptions are cheap and recommended.

In Thompson’s interview, he ranges over the problems for rivals of channel conflict, what Apple has done with Android’s ideas, and handset profitability. I’d say Thompson’s interview is better than Russell’s – in part because it doesn’t use the grandstanding tone that so many trade papers tech blogs do; Thompson assumes intelligence in his readers. Thus:

Barra: Component prices, like if you look at a chipset today, if you want to buy the same chipset a year from now, the price would have dropped much more than 50%, sometimes the price will have dropped 90% for that same component. So the bill of materials for a product will fall dramatically over time.

Thompson: How much? What percentage?

HB: Well, the Mi 2 S started selling at ¥1999, and the last time we were selling it before we had to take it off the market because we could no longer source components otherwise we would have kept making it, was ¥1299. So the price dropped substantially, what are we talking about here, 40%. The [bill of materials] dropped a lot more than that.

BT: Ballpark?

HB: I don’t know.

BT: But at ¥1299 it was more profitable than at ¥1999.

HB: Yes, certainly, at least ¥1999 at the beginning.


Bought our Samsung Smart TV two months ago, now… » Tumblr de Chartier

David Chartier:

Bought our Samsung Smart TV two months ago, now it’s showing popup ads for apps and services. To clarify: what you see is my Apple TV in the ‘background’ (running a photo screensaver) and a Samsung ad for Yahoo Broadcast Interactivity popping up on top of my Apple TV.

A POPUP AD ON MY TV.

Under no circumstances, scenarios, case studies, fictional situations, or boardroom fantasies is this acceptable. None. No, if you think you have an argument or a circumstance under which these ads are acceptable, you are wrong and there’s a great chance you are not a very good person.

Best part so far: I couldn’t use Samsung’s clunky touchpad remote to uncheck the “prompt me for interactive features” option, and now I can’t find the “SyncPlus App” in the Smart Hub to shut them off. I could be missing it, but so far it’s just not there, and these options aren’t anywhere in Settings.

Solution turns out to be easy: search the Samsung Smart TV App Store for SyncPlus and install that and turn off the ads. Voilá! Or perhaps just don’t connect the smart TV to the internet? That works for me. (UK readers say they haven’t seen this. Yet.)


Start up: how much (little) ‘Happy’ earned on Pandora, Sony hack spills on, ‘inception’ mobile hack, QNX trumps Microsoft, and more


Ford MyTouch, powered by Microsoft. Well, not in the future. Photo by HighTechDad on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Choking hazard in children under 3. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Project Goliath: Inside Hollywood’s secret war against Google >> The Verge

What is “Goliath” and why are Hollywood’s most powerful lawyers working to kill it?

In dozens of recently leaked emails from the Sony hack, lawyers from the MPAA and six major studios talk about “Goliath” as their most powerful and politically relevant adversary in the fight against online piracy. They speak of “the problems created by Goliath,” and worry “what Goliath could do if it went on the attack.” Together they mount a multi-year effort to “respond to / rebut Goliath’s public advocacy” and “amplify negative Goliath news.” And while it’s hard to say for sure, significant evidence suggests that the studio efforts may be directed against Google.

The Sony hack is laying bare huge amounts of the entertainment industry’s thinking. Read on for more.


Nation-backed malware targets diplomats’ iPhones, Androids, and PCs >> Ars Technica

Researchers have uncovered yet another international espionage campaign that’s so sophisticated and comprehensive that it could only have been developed with the backing of a well resourced country.

Inception, as the malware is dubbed in a report published Tuesday by Blue Coat Labs, targets devices running Windows, Android, BlackBerry, and iOS, and uses free accounts on Swedish cloud service Cloudme to collect pilfered data. Malware infecting Android handsets records incoming and outgoing phone calls to MP4 sound files that are periodically uploaded to the attackers. The researchers also uncovered evidence of an MMS phishing campaign designed to work on at least 60 mobile networks in multiple countries in an attempt to infect targeted individuals.

“There clearly is a well-resourced and very professional organization behind Inception, with precise targets and intentions that could be widespread and harmful,” the Blue Coat report stated. “The complex attack framework shows signs of automation and seasoned programming, and the number of layers used to protect the payload of the attack and to obfuscate the identity of the attackers is extremely advanced, if not paranoid.”


Ford dumps Microsoft for BlackBerry infotainment system >> CNN

Ford is upgrading its infotainment system to make it more like a smartphone or tablet – and it is dumping its longtime software provider Microsoft as part of the change.

Instead, Ford (F) will use BlackBerry’s QNX operating system for the new Sync 3 infotainment system. Ford Sync allows drivers to navigate, listen to radio and music, make phone calls and control the car’s climate through touch or voice commands.

Among Sync 3’s improvements will be the ability to expand or shrink the display with pinch-to-zoom gestures. Customers will also be able to swipe the screen’s display, as they do on a smartphone or tablet.

Wonder if it’s anything to do with the glitches in MyTouch that surfaced in 2011, when it said it “will send memory sticks to 250,000 customers in the US offering a software upgrades for its glitch-prone MyFord Touch system, which replaces the standard dashboard knobs and buttons with a touchscreen.”

A win for BlackBerry’s QNX, though unlikely to be a dramatic money-earner for a while, if ever.


Pharrell made less than $3,000 from 43 million Pandora streams of “Happy” >> Fusion

Through the first three months of 2014, “Happy” was streamed 43m times on Pandora, while “All Of Me” was played 55 million times on the service.

But how much money did all those streams make for the artists involved in creating the tracks?

According to an email from Sony/ATV head Martin Bandier obtained by Digital Music News’ Paul Resnikoff, “Happy” brought in just $2,700 in publisher and songwriter royalties in the first quarter of this year, while “All Of Me” yielded just $3,400.


Windows Phone wobbles: why users are losing heart >> Tim Anderson’s ITWriting

Unlike Ed Bott and Tom Warren I still use a 1020 as my main phone. I like the platform and I like not taking a separate camera with me. It was great for taking snaps on holiday in Norway. But I cannot survive professionally with just Windows Phone. It seems now that a majority of gadgets I review come with a supporting app … for iOS or Android.

Microsoft is capable of making sense of Windows Phone, particularly in business, whether it can integrate with Office 365, Active Directory and Azure Active Directory. On the consumer side there is more that could be done to tie with Windows and Xbox. Microsoft is a software company and could do some great first party apps for the platform (where are they?).

The signs today though are not good. Since the acquisition we have had some mid-range device launches but little to excite. The sense now is that we are waiting for Windows 10 and Universal Apps (single projects that target both phone and full Windows) to bring it together. Windows 10 though: launch in the second half of 2015 is a long time to wait. If Windows Phone market share diminishes between then and now, there may not be much left to revive.

Windows 10 and unified development won’t be Windows Phone’s saviour; mobile apps aren’t shrunken mobile apps (just look at a desktop website shrunken down to a mobile screen to realise that).

And the very first comment is from someone who has given up on Windows Phone. These are not good signs.


With WebRTC, the Skype’s no longer the limit >> Reuters

WebRTC, a free browser-based technology, looks set to change the way we communicate and collaborate, up-ending telecoms firms, online chat services like Skype and WhatsApp and remote conferencing on WebEx.

Web Real-Time Communication is a proposed Internet standard that would make audio and video as seamless as browsing text and images is now. Installed as part of the browser, video chatting is just a click away – with no need to download an app or register for a service.

WebRTC allows anyone to embed real-time voice, data and video communications into browsers, programs – more or less anything with a chip inside. Already, you can use a WebRTC-compatible browser like Mozilla’s Firefox to start a video call just by sending someone a link.

A terrific desktop browser technology that feels like it’s five or six years too late in reaching a standard. Video calling is on mobiles now, in a variety of different (incompatible) protocols, some cross-platform, some not.


Furious Google ended MPAA anti-piracy cooperation >> TorrentFreak

The leaked emails reveal that Google responded furiously to the perceived slur [in a press release put out by the MPAA in reaction to Google’s press release about its changes to its algorithm].

“At the highest levels [Google are] extremely unhappy with our statement,” an email from the MPAA to the studios reads.

“[Google] conveyed that they feel as if they went above and beyond what the law requires; that they bent over backwards to give us a heads up and in return we put out a ‘snarky’ statement that gave them no credit for the positive direction.”

In response to the snub, Google pressed the ‘ignore’ button. A top executive at Google’s policy department told the MPAA that his company would no longer “speak or do business” with the movie group.

In future Google would speak with the studios directly, since “at least three” had already informed the search engine that they “were very happy about the new features.”


Tablet Ownership is Growing Faster than Ownership of Any Other Connected Device, According to The NPD Group

Tablet ownership among US consumers is on the rise, and growing at a faster rate than that of any other connected device. According to The NPD Group’s Connected Intelligence, Connected Home Report, as of the third quarter of 2014 (Q3 2014) there were 109m tablets in use, up 35m from last year.

“Now that the tablet market is unmistakably past the early adopter stage we are able to gain visibility into what the user base is still doing with their devices, and in this case it’s often video focused activities,” said John Buffone, executive director, Connected Intelligence.

More than half, 55%, of tablet users report leveraging a video feature of their device. This includes video calling; taking, posting, and uploading videos; as well as watching video from a streaming service or app from a TV channel or pay TV provider. Video feature usage is even more prominent among younger consumers. Two-thirds (67%) of tablet users aged 18-34 use these video features compared to 53% of 35-54 year olds, and 45% of users age 55 and older. Further, watching video from a streaming service or TV channel app is the most common video focused behaviour.

By contrast, there are 176m smartphones in use, for the same population. You wonder why tablet sales are slowing at the high end (Apple)? Because the high end is saturated, and tablets probably have a four-year, not two-year, replacement cycle.

And video usage is going to suck the life out of the networks.


Workflow for iOS aims to simplify automation of complex multi-step tasks >> Apple Insider

Examples of tasks that can be accomplished with Workflow, as noted by developer DeskConnect, include:

• Add a home screen icon that calls a loved one

Make PDFs from Safari or any other app

Get directions to the nearest coffee shop in one tap

Tweet the song you’re listening to

Get all of the images on a Web page

Send a message including the last screenshot you took

Once an automated task has been created within Workflow, users can launch them from within the app, or via other apps using a Workflow Action Extension, in addition to the aforementioned home screen shortcut.

There are location-aware actions, and you can create a homescreen shortcut to call someone (that was the first one I created). Wonder if this – with its capability of putting shortcuts on the homecreen – will fall foul of Apple’s hokey-cokey app store policies.


Google shuts down Russian engineering office >> The Information

Amir Efrati:

Google launched engineering operations in the country in 2006, and its programmers, including a top coder named Petr Mitrichev, work on Web-search quality, developer tools and the Chrome browser, among other projects. It has a sizable Moscow office. Sales operations are expected to continue in some form.

It’s unclear exactly why Google is making the move now, but it is likely related to the Russian government’s decision to require Web companies, starting in 2016, to keep data related to its citizens within Russia as opposed to data centers outside the country. There also was an alleged recent raid by authorities of a high-profile foreign e-commerce firm in Moscow that sent shockwaves throughout the tech community.

Google’s flight from Russia follows similar moves by other well-known firms including Adobe Systems. Western venture and private equity firms also have pulled back their activities in Russia.

I think Efrati had the scoop on this; the WSJ followed it up.


Start up: goodbye Windows Phone, Panic get iCloudy, Google’s long deal, how the cyberwars started, and more


Stormy weather ahead for Windows Phone? Picture by MacBeales on Flickr.

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

Transmit iOS 1.1.1 [Updated] >> Panic Blog

UPDATE 12/11/14: After a considerate conversation with Apple, Transmit iOS 1.1.2 has been released with restored “Send To” functionality.

While the process feels less-than-perfect, this resolution is a nice reminder that, just as we thought, there are good people at Apple who will push hard to do the right thing. We hope you enjoy Transmit iOS 1.1.2.

I wrote about the strange back-and-forth that seems to be going on inside Apple over iOS 8 functionality for The Guardian. Developers are, to put it mildly, puzzled.


Apple contract loss could hit Google search revenue big time >> Investors.com

Google has potentially $9.4bn in gross revenue at risk if it’s unable to renew a contract with Apple for mobile Safari toolbar searches, says a Citigroup report, which says potential losses depend on how many Apple customers stick with Google’s search engine.

Google stock had fallen 3.5% as of Wednesday’s close since the Information reported on Nov. 24 that Google’s default search agreement with Apple might be in peril. Google stock, though, was up a small fraction in early trading Thursday.

That report said the Apple-Google deal is set to expire in 2015, possibly as soon as January. Apple’s iPhone 6 sales have been stronger than projected, increasing the potential impact.

Citigroup analyst Mark May estimates that 60% of Google’s 2014 mobile search revenue will come from its default search deal with Apple.

60% is a big number. I was previously wrong about what would happen in the Firefox search deal (Google was expected to renew; Yahoo got the deal in the US), so I’ll stand off this. But the intimation I’ve heard from Apple is that it still thinks Google offers the best search experience.


** A Letter to Indian Mi Fans ** >> Hugo Barra on Facebook

Dear Mi fans,

We have been committed to continue our sales of Redmi Note and Redmi 1S devices in India. In the last 2 days alone, we received about 150,000 registrations for Redmi Note on Flipkart and the momentum has been terrific.

However, we have been forced to suspend sales in India until further notice due to an order passed by the Delhi High Court. As a law abiding company, we are investigating the matter carefully and assessing our legal options.

One way or another, Xiaomi’s going to have to pay up, and that’s going to hit its bottom line unless it comes up with its own patents.


FRAND-ly injunctions from India: has ex parte become the “standard”? >> Spicy IP

Following up on the injunction given against Xiaomi in the Indian high court blocking further sales of the Chinese handsets over standards-essential patents owned by Ericsson:

given that Ericsson sued Indian telecom companies in the past, one needs to carefully reflect on the impact that these patent wars are likely to have on national interest and the growth of the Indian telecom industry. While there are plenty of writings in the pharma space (the various tussles between MNC’s on the one hand and the local generic industry and public health/affordable medication on the other), we haven’t focussed much on the telecom terrain. The time is now ripe to focus on this technology sector as well!

See this ET article from Soma Das and Anandita Singh, which speaks of the latest order in the Ericcson vs Micromax dispute (covered by Rupali on SpicyIP) and reflects a bit on this oft-neglected “national interest” dimension:

“The Delhi High Court has asked homegrown handset maker Micromax to pay a royalty that amounts up to 1% of the selling price of its devices to Ericsson for using the Swedish equipment maker’s patents on technologies that are essential to manufacture the products. The interim order holds until December 31, 2015, the deadline set by the court to conclude the trial…

Apparently China sets a ceiling of 0.017% of adjusted sale value of handsets for the total SEP payout. India might be closer to that, but other countries won’t be. Xiaomi is going to have a problem.


Mysterious 2008 Turkey pipeline blast opened new cyberwar era >> Bloomberg

Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley:

The pipeline was outfitted with sensors and cameras to monitor every step of its 1,099 miles from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. The blast that blew it out of commission didn’t trigger a single distress signal.

That was bewildering, as was the cameras’ failure to capture the combustion in eastern Turkey. But investigators shared their findings within a tight circle. The Turkish government publicly blamed a malfunction, Kurdish separatists claimed credit and BP Plc (BP/) had the line running again in three weeks. The explosion that lit up the night sky over Refahiye, a town known for its honey farms, seemed to be forgotten.

It wasn’t. For western intelligence agencies, the blowout was a watershed event. Hackers had shut down alarms, cut off communications and super-pressurized the crude oil in the line, according to four people familiar with the incident who asked not to be identified because details of the investigation are confidential. The main weapon at valve station 30 on Aug. 5, 2008, was a keyboard.

Surprising. Stuxnet followed not long after.


Because reading is fundamental >> Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood:

Let’s say you’re interested in World War II. Who would you rather have a discussion with about that? The guy who just skimmed the Wikipedia article, or the gal who read the entirety of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich?

This emphasis on talking and post count also unnecessarily penalizes lurkers. If you’ve posted five times in the last 10 years, but you’ve read every single thing your community has ever written, I can guarantee that you, Mr. or Mrs. Lurker, are a far more important part of that community’s culture and social norms than someone who posted 100 times in the last two weeks. Value to a community should be measured every bit by how much you’ve read as much as how much you talked.

So how do we encourage reading, exactly?

You could do crazy stuff like require commenters to enter some fact from the article, or pass a basic quiz about what the article contained, before allowing them to comment on that article. On some sites, I think this would result in a huge improvement in the quality of the comments.

Though he thinks that’s sub-optimal. See what he does suggest. This is such a terrific post. Read it all.


Benedict Evans on Twitter: “The end of SMS http://t.co/0n9hCi9uJJ”

Graph sourced from IHS/ industry data/ Ofcom showing that SMSs per head peaking in 2011 for a wide range of countries (except, strangely, France). Over-the-top services are taking over.


I’ve given up on Windows Phone >> The Verge

Tom Warren is The Verge’s Microsoft correspondent; he started Winrumors.com (which is part of how he got the job at The Verge). He’s been using Windows Phone since 2010, along with other platforms. Now he’s going to stick with an iPhone 6:

I’ve always been slightly frustrated at the lack of Windows Phone apps, but as the gaps have been gradually filled, a new frustration has emerged: dead apps. Developers might be creating more and more Windows Phone apps, but the top ones are often left untouched with few updates or new features. That’s a big problem for apps like Twitter that are regularly updated on iOS and Android with features that never make it to Windows Phone. My frustration boiled over during the World Cup this year, as Twitter lit up with people talking about the matches. I felt left out using the official Windows Phone Twitter app because it didn’t have a special World Cup section that curated great and entertaining tweets, or country flags for hashtags.

That same sense of missing out extends elsewhere with Windows Phone. I rely on apps like Dark Sky on iPhone to give me a weather warning when it’s about to rain, or Slack and Trello to communicate with colleagues at The Verge. All three aren’t available on Windows Phone, and Dark Sky is particularly useful when you’re at a bar and it pings you a notification to let you know it’s going to rain in your location for the next 30 minutes. It lets you decide whether to grab another beer (tip: always grab another beer) or risk getting wet. It’s an essential app to me personally, and it’s a good example of how apps are changing the world.


Sites certified as secure often more vulnerable to hacking, scientists find >> Ars Technica

The so-called trust marks are sold by almost a dozen companies, including Symantec, McAfee, Trust-Guard, and Qualys. In exchange for fees ranging from less than $100 to well over $2,000 per year, the services provide periodic security scans of the site. If it passes, it receives the Internet equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval that’s prominently displayed on the homepage. Carrying images of padlocks and slogans such as “HackerProof,” the marks are designed to instill trust in users of the site by certifying it’s free of vulnerabilities that hackers prey on to steal credit card numbers and other valuable customer data.

A recently published academic paper discovered an almost universal lack of thoroughness among the 10 seal providers studied. For one thing, the scientists carried out two experiments showing that the scanners failed to detect a host of serious vulnerabilities. In one of the experiments, even the best-performing service missed more than half of the vulnerabilities known to afflict a site. In another, they uncovered flaws in certified sites that would take a typical criminal hacker less than one day to maliciously discover.

Well isn’t that so disappointing.


​Why have I given up on Windows Phone? Blame Verizon >> ZDNet

Ed Bott – Ed Bott – has finally given up on Windows Phone. Not because of any faults in the platform itself, but because of the lock that carriers have in the US:

I’d love to leave Verizon behind completely and switch to another carrier, but I don’t have that luxury: Where I live and work, Verizon is the only carrier with a reliable signal.

After waiting in vain for months, I’ve finally given up. I used the Nokia Software Recovery Tool to restore the factory software to my Lumia Icon and put it on the shelf until Microsoft and Verizon figure things out. In the meantime, I’ve switched to an iPhone 6 Plus.

I’m probably not the only one.

And as long as US-based carriers, including the biggest of them all, Verizon, are able to drag their feet and ignore Windows as a mobile platform, it’s unlikely that anything Microsoft can do will be able to make a dent in its market share in the United States.

This highlights the real problem in the mobile phone market: it is carriers which are the “customers”, while people like you and I are “users”. The same disconnect existed with PCs in business (and particularly enterprise apps). There’s no simple solution, though. (Don’t say “Wi-Fi networks!”)

The decision by both Warren and Bott may be seen by some as canaries in the coalmine. Their reasons are slightly different – but both blame Microsoft. That feels significant.