The 2Q 2016 smartphone scorecard: players searching for an exit

Exit. Who’s next? Photo by Today is a good day on Flickr.

There comes a time in every former top-ranking sports player’s career when they have to accept reality: they’re not up to it any more. They keep getting beaten by people whom they once would have trampled; what should have been easy wins are now struggles, or upsets. Eventually, they accept the reality everyone else has already seen: it’s time to exit.

And now we’re seeing that happen in the smartphone market. This isn’t really about sales of iPhones being down year-on-year – though they are, for the second quarter in a row, and though in the previous quarter Apple managed to keep its handset ASP (average selling price – calculated by total handset revenue divided by the number of handsets) up, in this quarter it was substantially down, below $600 for the first time since 2Q 2014.

But more generally, this is the quarter where China really began to muscle into the top ranks of Android OEMs – and all the players who used to be the big names there are inching towards the exit. The problem for the big-name Android OEMs is that, because it’s Android, they’re replaceable. Android on one handset is quite a lot like Android on another. But an Apple device, and its integrated software, is sui generis.

Numbers for all

So here are the numbers showing how that replacement is going. The list below is all in diminishing size of handset shipment volume. Other data sometimes has to be estimated, and in the case of Huawei, OPPO and vivo you’d have to be in one of the big analyst camps to know what their ASPs and hence revenues are, and you might have to be at the companies to know whether they’re profitable.

Standout elements from the quarter: Sony made a profit! (Even as it dwindled.) Lenovo kept shrinking; Apple’s ASP fell; Samsung trundled on; LG made more losses (the G5 flagship essentially sank); Microsoft barely turned up.

Q2 2016: the smartphone scorecard

* denotes estimate: explanations below

Company Handsets
Revenues Handset
% profit/loss
Samsung 77.0 $22.61bn $275.64* $3.75bn $48.66* 16.59%
Apple 40.4 $24.05bn $595.26 $6.71bn* $166.09* 27.9%*
Huawei 32.1 $7.06bn* $220 positive? positive? positive?
OPPO 22.6 $4bn?? $177* positive? positive? positive?
vivo 16.4 $3.7bn?? $225.60* positive? positive? positive?
ZTE 14.7 $2.5bn?? $170* ?? ?? ??
Xiaomi 14.5 $2.28bn* $150 negative? negative? negative?
LG 13.9 $2.88bn $207.52 –$177m –$12.73 –6.15%
11.3 $1.71bn $150.97 –$163m –$14.42 -9.53%
Sony 3.1 (not a misprint) $3.64bn $582.26 $4.03m $1.30 0.11%
HTC 2.3* $0.5bn* $217.39* –$128.50m –$55.87* -25.7%
1.2 (not a misprint either) $0.23bn* $190.80* –$45m* –$38* –19.56%
Everyone else 135.4m

Samsung: 6m tablets sold for $175 ASP at zero profit; 11.4m featurephones sold for $15 ASP at zero profit. (For every $1 fall in featurephone price, smartphone ASPs rise by $0.14 – so with zero featurephones and 6m $175 tablets, smartphone ASP would be $277.84. For tablets, every $5 rise in ASP lowers smartphone ASPs by $0.38 – so if tablets were free and there were no featurephones, smartphone ASPs would be $291.37. It isn’t a huge difference; tablets and featurephones are together generate about $880m, or less than 5% of overall mobile revenues.)

Apple: operating profit calculated at the historic figure of 27.9% (derived from multiple financial analysts). Might have been lower or higher – the 6S range maybe costs more to make than the 6 range, but there’s the SE range which might be cheaper because less retooling needed.

Huawei, OPPO, vivo, ZTE, Xiaomi: ASP figures all estimated, based on their perceived market power

How do I calculate the revenue figures (and hence ASPs) for OPPO, vivo, Xiaomi? According to According to Strategy Analytics,

Global Smartphone Industry revenues declined by -5% YoY in Q2 2016, due to softening of volumes. Apple was followed by Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and vivo from a revenue perspective. The report also captures the Wholesale Average Selling ASP’s for all major vendors across six regions. ASP’s in the quarter declined by -6% globally.

So if Oppo and vivo were bigger than Sony, they must have done more than 3.64bn. (Xiaomi must have been less than them too.) I’m guessing they weren’t that much bigger. For Huawei, which like those two doesn’t release revenue figures, I’ve estimated an ASP (up from the previous quarter) and generated the revenue figure from that.

LG: assume tablet sales were minimal, and had zero profit.

HTC: given that it now sells the Vive headset too, though not in large numbers (certainly not millions), it only takes a small adjustment from the overall revenue.

Microsoft Mobile: Microsoft gave figures for featurephone sales, of 9m; assuming an ASP of $15 for those and gross margin of $5 each (as before) gives the featurephone revenue. Assume the same manufacture cost as before, and you get zero gross margin; even with zero sales/marketing and R+D, you get a negative margin.

Rampant deflation

Everyone’s seeing price declines, which is what you’d expect in a growing market where you also have Moore’s Law and scale coming into play. But this is barely a growth market. Smartphone shipments were up just 0.26% year-on-year. When you look at the trend over the past nine years, we’ve really hit a wall here:

Smartphone growth year-on-year.png

The red line shows the four-quarter moving average, and that’s clearly down. What that suggestion of slowdown doesn’t quite tell is how the market is diverging. The premium end was long ago saturated: people who could buy expensive phones did so, but now there’s no new market to sell into in the developed countries – and consequently the US, China and western Europe are expected to see slowdowns, and even reductions in volume, this year (per IDC). The action, such as it is, will be in emerging markets such as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America – though even they will only see growth of about 5.6%.

In such a world, the companies which initially made Android a Huge Thing are beginning to head for the exit. HTC built the first Android phone. Sony had to go Android (as Sony Ericsson) because it was losing money hand over fist. LG had to figure out how to make smartphones quickly, because its featurephone business was being destroyed.

Now though they’re seeing those be destroyed all over again. You can see the numbers above. And here’s a graph of how pretty much everyone is seeing sales growth compared to the smartphone market turn negative (so if the market grows 10% and they grow 5%, they’re falling behind):

Smartphone OEMs: growth against the overall market

Year-on-year shipment growth measured against the overall market

But I’ve been collecting the revenue and profit/loss numbers too (and publishing them) going back to Q4 2014. That’s seven quarters. What if you add that up?

Seven quarters of hurt

Here’s the lineup when you calculate it over seven quarters:

Seven-quarter smartphone scorecard covering Q4 2014 to Q2 2016 inclusive

(all estimate elements as above)

Company Handsets
Revenues Handset
Total operating
% profit/loss
Samsung 555.4 $158.70bn $285.74 $17.95bn $32.32 11.31%
Apple 401.07 $263.59bn $657.22 $73.62bn* $183.56* 27.92%
Xiaomi 116.92 $18.62bn* $159.25 ? ? ?
LG 102.75 $21.58bn $210.02 –$428.39m –$4.17 –1.98%
121 $17.44bn $144.13 –$1,114m –$9.26 –6.39%
Sony 47.8 $17.13bn $358.37 –$908.33m –19.00 –5.30%
HTC 26.1 $6.45bn* $247.13 –$717.51m –$27.49 –11.12%
41.3 $5.76bn $139.47 –$2,621m –$63.46 –45.50%
(Huawei, OPPO, vivo and ZTE aren’t included because I don’t have figures for them over the period; and there aren’t any financials for any of them.)

This bears out a truth that is borne out again and again by analyst reports into best-selling handsets, brand loyalty, and customer satisfaction: these days it’s a two-horse race, Apple and Samsung.

Xiaomi is an unknown, financially. But all the rest are losing money hand over fist, and as Vlad Savov wrote in a terrific piece entitled “Android OEM death watch: Sony, HTC and LG edition“, you do wonder why they soldier on:

The Android ecosystem has never been more diverse than it is today, but I suspect that what we’re witnessing now is a peak from which the basic economics of a maturing smartphone market will rapidly drag us down. Niche players like Nextbit, Vertu, and BlackBerry might survive thanks to their low volume of sales and correspondingly limited costs. But the big names we’ve known for so long, the Sonys and HTCs of this world, seem fated to fade from view.

I think this is absolutely right. Look at those numbers: why is LG putting up with a division that has lost money, and shows no sign of stopping? Although Sony made money this quarter, it’s fading from view. Lenovo’s ASP is so woefully low that it’s an obvious target for every up-and-coming Chinese OEM. (I was recently contacted by Meizu, which is launching into the Asian market: yet another rival for the uncommitted phone buyer.)

It isn’t even as if these struggling companies have scale: Sony has only sold 12% as many phones as Apple over the period (and 8.6% as many as Samsung, which might be the better comparison); LG has managed a more respectable 18.5% of Samsung’s number, but it’s losing money on them, over seven quarters.

Sure these companies have a lot invested in this business; you can’t just shut down a smartphone business like closing a corner shop. There are contracts, staff, distribution deals. But you can edge out, which is what Sony seems to be doing as its range and distribution shrinks. Will LG follow, or is its rivalry with Samsung in Korea just too strong to let it ever let go?

I’m honestly puzzled by companies which tot up millions in red ink and decide it’s fine to carry on. Microsoft is clearly getting out (who wouldn’t, looking at those margins) but how can Sony or Lenovo look at their returns and feel they’re OK? That’s the puzzle here.

Sure, there’s lots else going on: Apple’s falling ASPs and falling sales point to the saturation of the markets. Equally, the cheap hardware is getting really good – the Shenzhen effect, as volume of production means that the only distinguishing thing is software and, to a lesser extent, chip design ability. (Apple, Samsung and Huawei stand alone here.) I’m certainly impressed by Huawei, which offered a dual-lens camera on the new P9 which has a neat refocus/re-aperture effect, well ahead of Apple.

(Huawei’s problem is it doesn’t have a coherent strategy: it offered “3D Touch” before Apple too – as did ZTE – but hasn’t followed through; only the latest P9 still has it. Will the dual lens offering spread to the rest of its offerings, or fall by the wayside as happened with HTC’s dual system on the M8 in 2014?)

In search of the lost profits

What then happened to all the profits that HTC, Lenovo, and Sony used to earn? Simple: eaten by Samsung, Apple, and Chinese rivals. The growth of companies like OnePlus, Meizu, and of course Huawei, vivo and OPPO and (less so) Xiaomi means the potential for scale falls away from those already in the market.

However it can take a while for these effects to become visible. HTC’s sales peaked in 2011; LG’s, Sony’s and Microsoft’s in the second half of 2014. From around that time, all the Chinese OEMs began growing rapidly, first in their home market, and then India; and in Huawei’s case, Africa, Europe and the US.

Late exit

Apple looks to have peaked in 2015 – but it has a solid ecosystem and so many users that any erosion would take a long, long time. That’s in stark contrast to every Android OEM, which (as even Xiaomi is finding out) is disposable and replaceable.

But it can take a long time. BlackBerry’s handset sales peaked in 2010, and yet it’s still going. (Though will John Chen finally announce the company is getting out of hardware at the quarterly results on September 28? One to watch.) HTC has been ebbing for a while, for example. Sony has begun withdrawing to Asia. LG is being pushed aside in Europe by Huawei.

The only question is when some of the executives at these companies will finally ask why they’re still trying to play a losing hand. There comes a time for the players to leave the game. When is it?

Start up: fibre’s horsemeat moment, AMD in new Apples?, Sony’s troubled cameras, Xiaomi sales slow, and more

A discredited voice recognition system was used in scores of secret court cases which are now being disputed. Photo by Lotus Carroll on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. But is that 10 in base 10? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Quality woes a challenge for Tesla’s high-volume car » WSJ

Mike Ramsey:

»Anne Carter had her Tesla Motors Inc. Model X sport-utility vehicle for a few days before the $138,000 electric vehicle suffered a mechanical malfunction.

On a recent morning, the car’s falcon-wing doors wouldn’t open as she prepared to drive her children’s carpool to school. “It’s a bummer; you spent all this money…and the doors won’t open,” she said in an interview while waiting for the Model X to be picked up for repairs. She expected some issues, but feels embarrassed that friends might think: “Look at the Carters—they spent all this money and the doors don’t work.”

During a very critical time for the pioneering electric-car maker, its well-to-do customers are confronting not only problems with the Model X’s rear doors but other issues, including a seat latch the company has recalled.


Making cars seems to be really pretty difficult.
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Nvidia creates a 15bn-transistor chip for deep learning » VentureBeat

Dean Takahashi:

»Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang announced that the company has created a new chip, the Tesla P100, with 15 billion transistors for deep-learning computing. It’s the biggest chip ever made, Huang said.

Huang made the announcement during his keynote at the GPUTech conference in San Jose, California. He unveiled the chip after he said that deep-learning artificial intelligence chips have already become the company’s fastest-growing business.

“We are changing so many things in one project,” Huang said. “The Tesla P100 has five miracles.”

Nvidia previously launched its Tesla M4 and Tesla M40 deep-learning chips, and those chips are selling fast. Now the Tesla P100 is in volume production today, Huang said.

“We decided to go all-in on A.I.,” Huang said. “This is the largest FinFET chip that has ever been done.”


Maybe Intel could focus on GPUs instead of CPUs? Seems to be where the business is heading.
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AMD Radeon 400 series ‘Polaris’ GPUs land major Apple design wins » WCCF Tech

Khalid Moammer:

»From what we’ve been hearing Polaris is no exception. In fact our sources have confirmed that the major OEM design win that we had reported on last year is indeed for Apple.

The Sunnyvale, California based chip maker secured wins for both of its upcoming Radeon 400 series 14nm FinFET graphics chips, Polaris 10 and Polaris 11. Previously known as “Ellesmere” and “Baffin”, both of which are Arctic Islands. The chips have since been renamed to Polaris 10 and 11 respectively, in line with AMD’s newly adopted Astronomy based architectural code naming scheme which Koduri had instated after the Radeon Technologies Group was established last year.

The Polaris 10 and 11 chips will go into new desktops and notebooks from Apple, which the company plans to bring to market later this year. And although these Apple design wins may not be significant volume contributors they are very profitable.


That’s going to make for an interesting WWDC in June, then. These Radeon GPUs would be capable of VR work, apparently.
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Two thirds ‘misled’ by fibre broadband advertising, experts compare situation to horsemeat scandal »

»Research by has revealed that two thirds of fibre broadband customers on BT’s Openreach network – which services around 80% of the UK’s total broadband customer base – are unaware their so-called ‘fibre’ service arrives at their home through a standard copper telephone line.

This is important, because the speeds available over copper reduce drastically over distance, severely limiting both current speeds and future upgradability.

Experts, speaking to, labeled the way the term ‘fibre broadband’ is widely used in the UK ‘misleading’ and compared the situation to the horsemeat scandal.

This comes just days after the Broadband Infrastructure Group (BIG), a cross-party group of MPs led by Grant Shapps, demanded an end to what it described as a “mis-selling” scandal potentially bigger than PPI and Volkswagen’s emissions tests.


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On the road to recap » Above the Crowd

Noted venture capitalist Bill Gurley:

»While not obvious on the surface, there has been a fundamental sea-change in the investment community that has made the incremental Unicorn investment a substantially more dangerous and complicated practice. All Unicorn participants — founders, company employees, venture investors and their limited partners (LPs) — are seeing their fortunes put at risk from the very nature of the Unicorn phenomenon itself. The pressures of lofty paper valuations, massive burn rates (and the subsequent need for more cash), and unprecedented low levels of IPOs and M&A, have created a complex and unique circumstance which many Unicorn CEOs and investors are ill-prepared to navigate…

…Perhaps the seminal bubble-popping event was John Carreyrou’s October 16th investigative analysis of Theranos in the Wall Street Journal. John was the first to uncover that just because a company can raise money from a handful of investors at a very high price, it does not guarantee (i) everything is going well at the company, or (ii) those shares are permanently worth the last round valuation. Ironically, Carreyou is not a Silicon Valley-focused reporter, and the success of the piece served as a wake-up call for other journalists who may have been struck by Unicorn fever. Next came Rolfe Winkler’s deep dive “Highly Valued Startup Zenefits Runs Into Turbulence.” We should expect more of these in the future.


Every VC I watch on Twitter has gone bananas about this post, which warns that “the game has changed”. Meanwhile, notable that the two articles Gurley points to were in the paywalled Wall Street Journal.
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Sony disposal beckons » Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»In a surprise announcement, Sony cut a further 59.6bn yen [£372m, $533m] from the value of the devices unit, citing camera modules as the culprit, wiping a net 30bn yen from full-year operating income:


“Due to a decrease in projected future demand, Sony has revised its Mid-Range Plan for the camera module business in the Devices segment from the period beginning with the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.”


How the star performer morphed into one of Sony’s biggest drags can’t be fully explained by external factors. For sure, the global mobile market is slowing, but smartphones are still posting growth, especially at the high end, as consumers are prepared to pay more for quality components such as cameras. Declines in the PC and digital still camera markets can’t account for the sudden reversal in fortunes, either: That’s been a theme for a few years.

That leaves internal factors. If this truly is a macro problem, then the sudden writedown bears a whiff of incompetence. If, on the other hand, Sony lost a key client, that says something about its ability to retain big customers, or its dependence on too few.


Feels like it must have lost a key client in the smartphone space. But who, and to which rival?
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Secretive legal committee buries ruling against Theresa May »

Ian Dunt:

»The case also saw Dr Harrison, an expert in voice recognition, dismantle the claims about fraud – and their ability to test for fraud – made by the Home Office and ETS, the firm who ran the test. What he said was equally applicable to all the other cases where people had been wrongly accused of fraud. The evidence the Home Office relied on was identical in all cases, so knocking it down for one should knock it down for all.

But it won’t, because the reporting committee is refusing to report it. The decision means that the case cannot be cited, except under very strict and laborious conditions, in other appeals. It means many thousands of people who have been unjustly deported will not even know of its existence. The decision makes the ruling against Theresa May legally useless. It’s as if it never happened. The reporting committee has taken a damning judgement against the home secretary and buried it.


Dunt only refers in passing to the voice recognition stuff. ETS apparently had a contract with the UK government to find impersonation – but it “decided not to renew the contract” after the BBC exposed evidence of fraud at two of UK-based centres using the software. ETS blamed “dishonest activities of third-party contractors”. It seems the expert witness blamed ETS.
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Postscript: Bill Campbell, 1940-2016 » The New Yorker

Ken Auletta looks back on Campbell’s life as a mentor and advisor, which includes this fascinating tidbit:

»Google relied on Campbell to sort out tempests caused by imperial engineers burdened by oversized egos that prevented them from collaborating. This happened with Andy Rubin, the entrepreneur who created Android and built it into a resounding Google success. The Android team under Rubin was massive. But, as I learned through numerous interviews while writing a book about the company and in later conversations with Google executives, Rubin tended to trust only members of his élite team, and fought with other top executives, including such original Google employees as Salar Kamangar, who supervised YouTube, and Alan Eustace, the head of engineering. The weekly meetings of senior Google executives were filled with tension and discord. Executives became so dispirited by what they saw as Rubin’s dominance that they threatened to quit. Campbell advised Larry Page to make a choice, and to the relief of senior executives Page chose to remove Rubin. Campbell had earlier warned Page that Marissa Mayer, the talented engineer who went on to become the CEO of Yahoo, had a similar my-way-or-the-highway approach, which also led to her demotion to a position where she no longer reported to the CEO. Campbell knew that a lack of empathy often translated into an inability to listen.


Campbell had an outstanding ability to listen, as Auletta shows. Clearly he will be sorely missed.
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Opera now has a totally free and unlimited built-in VPN » Gizmodo

Jamie Condliffe:

»The new feature is available in the latest developer version of the Opera browser for Windows or OS X. You just go to Settings on Windows or Preferences on a Mac, then toggle the VPN on in the Privacy & Security section. Bingo, you’re browsing over a virtual private network and you mask your IP address to dodge firewalls so that you can view content that you’re unable to from your current country or office. As well as all the other responsible things that a VPN can help you with.


“Virtual locations” only in the US, Germany and Australia at first. Which means this will become the “Netflix browser”, until Netflix blocks the Opera VPN IPs.

Even so, I have to wonder: what’s the catch? How does Opera benefit from this? Running VPNs isn’t free, or trouble-free. Am I the only person who has this reaction when free stuff is proffered?
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Xiaomi sees sales shrink in Q1 2016 » Tech In Asia

Erik Crouch:

»Xiaomi sold 14.8m smartphones globally in the first quarter of 2016, a notable decline from 17.5m in the last quarter of 2015.

The new figure comes from research by IHS Technology, and the Q4 number from Strategy Analytics. Tech in Asia reached out to Xiaomi about these numbers, and the company declined to comment.

The number shows that Xiaomi’s slowing growth in 2015 is turning into its worst nightmare in 2016: falling sales.

Xiaomi sold 70 million smartphones last year.

These aren’t official Xiaomi statistics, and reports compiled by research firms are best treated as estimates. But even providing for a hefty margin of error – and keeping in mind that Xiaomi has said it wants to move away from “goals such as smartphone sales” and isn’t likely to publish Q1 stats – the figures show a company that will need to improve its numbers if it aims to grow its smartphone department at all this year.


Sequential quarter comparisons (especially from 4Q to 1Q) are rarely meaningful, but the year-on-year comparison is still down: Xiaomi shipped 15.3m in Q1 2015, from the figures I have.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Xiaomi’s money trouble, instructing Alexa, the App Store problem, Uber’s sick loophole, and more

The final position of AlphaGo’s third win in a five-game match Lee Sedol, the top Go professional. But what does that mean for human competition? Screenshot by kenming_wang on Flickr.

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A selection of 15 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I stayed in a hotel with Android lightswitches and it was just as bad as you’d imagine » mjg59

The “switches” were Android tablets. He hooked up an Ethernet connection to see what was going on:

»wireshark revealed that [the data protocol] was Modbus over TCP. Modbus is a pretty trivial protocol, and notably has no authentication whatsoever. tcpdump showed that traffic was being sent to, and pymodbus let me start controlling my lights, turning the TV on and off and even making my curtains open and close. What fun!

And then I noticed something. My room number is 714. The IP address I was communicating with was They wouldn’t, would they?

I mean yes obviously they would.

It’s basically as bad as it could be – once I’d figured out the gateway, I could access the control systems on every floor and query other rooms to figure out whether the lights were on or not, which strongly implies that I could control them as well. Jesus Molina talked about doing this kind of thing a couple of years ago, so it’s not some kind of one-off – instead, hotels are happily deploying systems with no meaningful security, and the outcome of sending a constant stream of “Set room lights to full” and “Open curtain” commands at 3AM seems fairly predictable.

We’re doomed.


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MIT unveils 3D solar arrays that produce up to 20 times more energy » 3tags

»Intensive research around the world has focused on improving the performance of solar photovoltaic cells and bringing down their cost. But very little attention has been paid to the best ways of arranging those cells, which are typically placed flat on a rooftop or other surface, or sometimes attached to motorized structures that keep the cells pointed toward the sun as it crosses the sky.

Now, a team of MIT researchers has come up with a very different approach: building cubes or towers that extend the solar cells upward in three-dimensional configurations. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.


They’re not pretty, but they are efficient.
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Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Olympic Stadium Montreal) » YouTube

Bloody cold (snow all over the ground) and they must have been shooting the video for at least five hours, judging by the clocks you can see at various points. This is shorter than that. The first use of the polyphonic synthesiser (able to play more than one note at a time) in a rock song. Farewell, Keith Emerson.
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Listen up: your AI assistant goes crazy for NPR too » KWBU

Rachel Martin (in a transcript from her radio program on NPR:

»OK. Go ahead and turn up the volume because this update is for you, Alexa. Last week, we talked about Alexa, the voice-activated assistant that operates on a speaker sold by Amazon called the Echo. The technology is Amazon’s way of connecting to your home as part of a future where you walk into your house and you say – out loud – turn off the alarm. Dim the lights. Preheat the oven. Well, some of you out there already own an Amazon Echo, and our story activated your Alexas. I guess her ears were burning.

Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alex heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this – let’s just say we both enjoyed the story. So Alexa, listen up – we want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?


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Xiaomi – hard life » Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor is a sceptic about the prospects of the venture capitalistis’ starry-eyed kid:

»Xiaomi owns 30% of Xunlei and has incorporated its acceleration technology into its ecosystem from MIUI6 (2014) going forward. As a result of this, the performance of Xunlei’s advertising revenues gives some indication of how usage is faring within Xiaomi’s ecosystem and the numbers are not encouraging.

Xunlei’s Q4 2015A revenues declined 1.1% to US$35m however within that online advertising revenues were $1.7m growing 24% YoY with mobile advertising making a contribution for the first time.

Xiaomi claims to have 170m MIUI users all of which have the Xunlei technology but if Xunlei can only generate $1.7m from those users, difficult questions have to be asked with regards to engagement. This makes me concerned that although Xiaomi devices register strong usage, much of that usage may be occurring within the services of its rivals rather than its own…

…if all Xiaomi is doing is providing nicely specified devices at rock bottom prices then it is in fact helping its competitors rather than itself. This is exactly the same problem that other Android handset makers have outside of China. These handset makers slash each other’s throats to put better and better devices in the hands of users but it is Google that reaps all of the benefit from the subsequent usage increases.


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Yahoo announces plans to kill off Games, Livetext, Boss, and more regional sites » VentureBeat

Eil Protalinski:

»Yahoo today announced its Q1 2016 progress report, highlighting the closure of several products and regional sites. As shared in its last earnings call, the company wants to focus on just seven core consumer products: Mail, Search, Tumblr, News, Sports, Finance, and Lifestyle.

First off, the company is shutting down its Yahoo Games site (first launched in 1998!) and publishing channel on May 13, 2016. This impacts all territories: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.

Starting March 14, 2016, users will no longer be able to make in-game purchases on the Yahoo Games site. Yahoo says it has reached out to game publishers and asked them to develop a transition plan for players who have made in-game purchases.

Next, Yahoo Livetext is being shut down at the end of March 2016. The company launched the silent video chat app in July 2015 — we weren’t crazy about the app when we tried it out. As you might expect, Yahoo says Livetext let the company “experiment with new user experiences and features,” which it will try to incorporate into its existing products. Specifically, the company said Yahoo Messenger will have the most to gain here.


It’s also closing Yahoo Astrology in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and India. I’m sure they saw it coming though. As for Yahoo, its fate seems to be to pare off more and more of its sites until there’s just a nameplate on an office somewhere in Delaware.
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A typo stopped hackers siphoning nearly $1bn out of Bangladesh » The Register

John Leyden:

»At least 30 transfer requests were made on 5 February using the Bangladesh Bank’s SWIFT code, out of which five resulted in successful transfers, AP reports, citing Bangladeshi newspaper reports.

If all the transfers were effected thieves would have made off with $950m. However, a spelling mistake in the name of one recipient led Deutsche Bank, which was involved in routing funds, to raise a query. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York flagged up the unusual transfer of funds to private accounts to the Bangladesh central bank at around the same time.

“Four requests to transfer a total of about $81m to the Philippines went through, but a fifth, for $20m, to a Sri Lankan non-profit organisation, was held up because the hackers misspelled the name of the NGO, Shalika Foundation,” Reuters reports.

The crooks misspelled “foundation” in the NGO’s name as “fandation”, prompting the query from Deutsche Bank.


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How would you fare at the global negotiating table? » World Economic Forum

Donald Armbrecht:

»You’re a great negotiator at home, but how would you fare on the world stage? Strong negotiating skills in one culture can actually be a disadvantage in another, according to Erin Meyer, author of Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai and Da.

Some cultures are emotionally expressive, even in the meeting room. Laughing, raising your voice or physical contact beyond a handshake can be considered normal in countries such as Italy and Spain. Whereas in the United States there’s a level of friendliness with limits. Meanwhile, business cultures in countries like Germany and Japan can find such behaviour inappropriate or unprofessional.


Also needs “what do phrases actually mean?” – given that when a Briton says “really?” they usually mean “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”.
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What no indie developer wants to hear about the App Store » iMore

Rene Ritchie:

»I hate hearing it as much as I hate writing it. It’s far easier to simply blame platform owners for failing to pull levers and influence economies; for treating Facebook or HBO better than they treat the 76th Notes app to launch this year.

If the absolutely capricious and often maddening [Apple App STore] review process and lack of attention really did chill innovation, though, it should be easy to point to Google Play and its over half-a-decade of relatively lax approval policies, and see year after year of ground-breaking, platform-making, device-selling apps that would never come to market on the App Store.

That would be the fastest way to get Apple to change review policies — force them to scramble into recovery mode, show the company rather than tell. But there’s nothing to show. Google Play isn’t full of universe-denting mobile software that iPhone and iPad owners simply can’t get. It has a few things like custom launchers, but those remain incredibly niche.

All the truly important apps of the last few years, from Instagram to Uber, all work just fine on the iPhone. In fact, they often work sooner and better.

If Apple did provide for trials and upgrade pricing and allowed more direct customer relationships, it’s uncertain how much that would really change things either. We live in an age of venture capital and mega corporations who can easily afford to release high-quality apps frequently and for free.


It is an unbeatable riposte to “trials would make all the difference” to say “well, it hasn’t for developers on Android”. Now read on..
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Life and death in the App Store » The Verge

Casey Newton:

»Last month, Apple announced it had paid $40 billion to developers since the App Store opened, saying the store was responsible for “creating and supporting” 1.9 million US jobs. More than half a million iOS developers have created apps; the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference is so popular that tickets have to be distributed via a lottery. “[Apple] made our company,” Sykora says. “If Apple didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have a company at all.” And the market for apps is growing: between iOS, Android, and smaller platforms, apps could generate $101 billion annually by 2020, according to market research firm App Annie.

But the App Store’s middle class is small and shrinking. And the easy money is gone.

For a time, Pixite was a shining example of the businesses made possible by the app economy. Like thousands of other developers, Pixite’s founders took what had been a side project and turned it into a full-fledged career. But the company’s recent financial problems illustrate a series of powerful shifts in the industry toward consolidation and corporatization.


The death of the middle class here reflects wider changes in the outside world – but with evolution speeded up thousands of times. In passing, this article by Newton, and the interview below by Sam Byford, are two excellent pieces of journalism: as long as they need to be, well-researched, intimate, illuminating.
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Artificial intelligence: Google’s AlphaGo beats Go master Lee Se-dol » BBC News

»A computer program has beaten a master Go player 3-0 in a best-of-five competition, in what is seen as a landmark moment for artificial intelligence.

Google’s AlphaGo program was playing against Lee Se-dol in Seoul, in South Korea.
Mr Lee had been confident he would win before the competition started.

The Chinese board game is considered to be a much more complex challenge for a computer than chess.

“AlphaGo played consistently from beginning to the end while Lee, as he is only human, showed some mental vulnerability,” one of Lee’s former coaches, Kwon Kap-Yong, told the AFP news agency.


This is what people overlooked in thinking that Se-dol would be able to pull things back even if he lost the first game. There’s no emotion in the machine; it just slogs on (and like chess, Go gets easier to compute towards the end). The human feels the pressure of being behind, and the pressure to win. The machine won’t blunder. The human can. I’m certain it will be a 5-0 result.
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DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future » The Verge

Sam Byford, in a terrific wide-ranging, intelligent interview:

»SB: So let’s move onto smartphone assistants. I saw you put up a slide from Her in your presentation on the opening day — is that really the endgame here?

DH: No, I mean Her is just an easy popular mainstream view of what that sort of thing is. I just think we would like these smartphone assistant things to actually be smart and contextual and have a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do. At the moment most of these systems are extremely brittle — once you go off the templates that have been pre-programmed then they’re pretty useless. So it’s about making that actually adaptable and flexible and more robust.

SB: What’s the breakthrough that’s needed to improve these? Why couldn’t we work on it tomorrow?

DH: Well, we can — I just think you need a different approach. Again, it’s this dichotomy between pre-programmed and learnt. At the moment pretty much all smartphone assistants are special-cased and pre-programmed and that means they’re brittle because they can only do the things they were pre-programmed for. And the real world’s very messy and complicated and users do all sorts of unpredictable things that you can’t know ahead of time. Our belief at DeepMind, certainly this was the founding principle, is that the only way to do intelligence is to do learning from the ground up and be general.


This is a must-read; Hassabis is thinking so far ahead, but also so clearly. (I’ve previously said that I think the AI capabilities of phones will feed into the next pervasive thing – a bit like the selfie.)
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What do games tell us about intelligence? » Medium

Johan Ugander is an assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. The whole essay is terrific – he describes AlphaGo as “moving past the horizon of human Go ability” (chess programs have long since vanished over it) – but this part really makes you think:

»Imagine organizing a “Turing tournament” where all the subjects were human, but an interrogator was told that half of the subjects were machines. Tasked to determine which subjects were human and which were machine, the interrogator would be forced to choose which subject was “more human.” As a result, it is therefore possible to measure “how human” each human is. Or at least: how well each human performs human intelligence.

The next natural step is that there’s no reason to believe that computer programs can’t “out-human” us, achieving Elo ratings in the imitation game much higher than any human. This observation is particularly true if the interrogator in the game is human; the natural next step would be to put in place a machine interrogator, who would probably be able to discern the difference between subjects better than any human. As a first step in this direction, research on CAPTCHAs targets precisely this task of discriminating between machines and humans.

But beyond CAPTCHAs, at what point can a machine no longer tell the difference between a human and a machine?


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One of the greatest art heists of our time was actually a data hack » Ars Technica

You already knew that it wasn’t a guerrilla 3D scan with a Kinect, because you read it here last week. Annalee Newitz has a neat followup, though:

»the true story of how the artists got their scan might actually be more revealing than the Kinect hoax. [Cosmo] Wenman [who has used high-quality photos to create scans] points out that many museums have high-quality scans of their artwork that they refuse to release to the public. He writes:


I know from first-hand experience that people want this data, and want to put it to use, and as I explained to LACMA in 2014, they will get it, one way or another. When museums refuse to provide it, the public is left in the dark and is open to having bogus or uncertain data foisted upon it.

Museums should not be repositories of secret knowledge, but unfortunately, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Neues is not alone in keeping their scan data to themselves. There are many influential museums, universities, and private collections that have extremely high quality 3D data of important works, but they are not sharing that data with the public.


He lists dozens of high-quality scans that are being hoarded by museums, from famous Rodin and Michelangelo sculptures, to Assyrian reliefs that are thousands of years old. If the artists behind The Other Nefertiti would come clean about where their scan came from, they might inspire other artists to force museums to open up their archives and allow many other artworks to return home— or come into our homes, making art part of our everyday lives.


There’s the scent of a novel in this. Which is real, the scan or the “original”?
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Uber riders say they were charged massive cleaning fees for messes they never made » BuzzFeed News

Leticia Miranda:

»Uber customers are warning others to be wary of using the ride-hailing app after they say they were charged hundreds in vehicle cleaning fees for messes they claim they never made.

Jordan Hunter, a 22-year-old senior at University of Texas, says she and a group of friends were left stunned after a six-mile Uber ride in Austin left them with a triple-digit bill for what Uber said were cleaning purposes.

The group of six friends took an Uber home early on Saturday, Feb. 7, Hunter told BuzzFeed News. The friends were irritated by the surge pricing, but were willing to cough up the $68 it would cost to get home safely.

After arriving home, the friends were shocked to see they had been charged an additional $100 for a cleaning fee.


Sounds like drivers figuring out a way to make some extra cash on the side. If there’s a wrinkle, people will find it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Facebook v Brazil, HTC Vive sells out, unsticky Cardboard, iPhone 7 rumours, and more

Everyone assumed it would be a hit, after it was a hit. Insiders like Tony Fadell remember it differently. Photo by janeko on Flickr.

Go on – sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Unless you already did.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not legal in Kansas. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter (and now on Medium too). Observations and links welcome.

Facebook executive arrested in Brazil for refusal to provide user info » New York Post


»Police in Sao Paulo have arrested Facebook’s most senior executive in Latin America in the latest clash between Brazilian authorities and the social media company its refusal to provide private information about its users to law enforcement.

A Tuesday news release says that Facebook’s vice president for Latin America, Diego Dzodan, was arrested on an order from a judge in the northeastern state of Sergipe. Dzodan is accused of ignoring a judicial order in a secret investigation involving organized crime and drug trafficking.

The decision by Judge Marcel Montalvao follows the company’s refusal to surrender user information from the WhatsApp messaging service, an application Facebook bought in 2014.


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HTC sold 15,000 Vive VR headsets in less than 10 minutes » Mashable

Raymond Wong:

»Doing the math based on the $800 U.S. price (the Vive will cost £689 in the UK and €899 in Europe), HTC made $12m off those 15,000 headsets. HTC may be struggling to sell smartphones, but it already looks like its gamble on virtual reality may have been worth it.

HTC’s early success is good news for the budding VR industry, which is projected to worth $70bn by 2020, according to TrendForce, a technology market research company.

Facebook-owned Oculus VR will launch its highly anticipated Oculus Rift on March 28 to the first pre-orderers. At $600, the Rift costs $200 less than the Vive. The Rift, however, doesn’t come with the Vive’s wand-like VR controllers and ships instead with an Xbox One controller.


Could have priced them higher. Honestly. Money left on the table. However…
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Google’s VR app not hooking users » The Information

Reed Albergotti and Peter Schulz:

»7Park tracks app usage for more than two million Android smartphone users in the U.S. Its data show that 0.42% of those, or about 8,400 people, were monthly active users of Cardboard as of Jan. 16, up from 0.06% in September, or 1,200 people. The proportion who were daily active users was only 0.02% in January; it had fluctuated between zero and 0.01% in the preceding months. The spike in monthly active users likely reflects the New York Times’ mailing of Cardboard devices to its print subscribers last November, which coincided with the Times’ launch of its virtual reality app.

Byrne Hobart, an analyst for 7Park, suggested that the apparent “failure to keep users engaged” reflects a lack of good content made for the technology. The Cardboard app has only a little content, including demonstrations such as a VR version of Google Earth with cities like Marseille and Chicago and landmarks like Bryce Canyon. Another demo, called “Tour Guide,” is essentially 3D photos inside the Palace of Versaille narrated by a tour guide—not the kind of thing that best showcases the technology.


Google Cardboard has between 5m and 10m downloads on Google Play – respectable numbers for an early-stage tech.
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OS X blacklist accidentally disables Ethernet in OS X 10.11 » Ars Technica UK

Andrew Cunnigham:

»The culprit is an update for System Integrity Protection, the El Capitan feature that protects some system folders and keeps unsigned or incorrectly signed kernel extensions (or “kexts,” roughly analogous to drivers in a Windows or Linux machine) from loading. In this case, the kext used to enable the Ethernet port on Macs was blacklisted—if you restarted your Mac after applying this update but before your computer had a chance to download the quickly issued fix, you’ll find yourself without an Ethernet connection.

This blacklist isn’t updated through the Mac App Store like purchased apps or OS X itself. Rather, it uses a silent auto-update mechanism that executes in the background even if you haven’t enabled normal automatic updates. Apple uses a similar mechanism to update OS X’s anti-malware blacklist, a rudimentary security feature introduced in 2011 following the high-profile Mac Defender malware infection and occasionally used to push other critical software updates.


Apple Support Article to help those who are reading this… offline? Fixing this seems like a real chicken-and-egg problem for those who only used Ethernet. If a Mac desktop user you care for has been offline for some days, visit them with the download on a USB stick.
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Do we really even need an app drawer in Android? » AndroidAuthority

Kris Carlon on rumours that the next version of Android will remove the “app drawer”:

»By removing the app drawer, Android would not only look more like iOS, it would also add more steps to launching apps you don’t have on your main home screen. It seems reasonable that widgets, shortcuts and so on will still function as we know them to, but using them would actually add steps to the app launching experience rather than making everything simpler.

Think about it: you’d have Google Now to the left, your primary home screen next, perhaps a calendar and email widget on the next two screens and then several pages of app icons. So rather than a single tap on the home screen to access your full apps list you’d have to swipe several times to get to it. Adding a primary home screen shortcut to the start of your app list would simply reproduce what the app drawer shortcut already does.

To Android users this setup feels terribly slow and laborious. The argument for doing it this way seems to be that it is simpler and more intuitive than the app drawer because the two-layer system is confusing and people don’t know where to find the apps they install or how to remove them. Perhaps this is true for novice users or those new to the platform, but considering Android has had an app drawer for forever, that’s a difficult pill to swallow.

Anyone that has ever had any contact with an Android phone would understand it has an app drawer in exactly the same way as Android users understand that iOS doesn’t or that automatic vehicle owners are aware of manual transmissions, even if they’ve never driven one.


I don’t think Carlon has ever watched someone who isn’t fully familiar with Android try to navigate their phone: they struggle with the way that apps are hidden away in the drawer, and don’t follow how you change the default layout. I know, because I have watched them. (Try it on your commute.)
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Latest iPhone 7 rumor suggests thinner 6-like body, flush camera, stereo speakers, thinner Lightning port » 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:

»Corroborating a report from KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo from last September, Macotakara reports this evening that the iPhone 7 is expected to be 1mm thinner than the iPhone 6s. Furthermore, the report adds that the device will visually be similar to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, retaining the same metal design with the same height and width, and will not be waterproof.

For comparison’s sake, the iPhone 6s is currently 7.1mm thin, so if this report comes to fruition, the iPhone 7 will be just 6.1mm thick. The iPod touch is also 6.1mm thick.

As has been rumored in the past, though, the report notes that the camera bump on the back will now be flush with the device’s casing and that the device will not feature a 3.5mm headphone jack in an effort to reduce the thickness of the device.

Next, the blog reports that the iPhone 7 will feature stereo speakers, making it the first iPhone to do so. In the past, all iPhone models have only featured a single mono speaker, so the addition of a second speaker should greatly improve the device’s sound quality.


The rumours are rolling off the production line, right on schedule, six months ahead of the actual unveil.
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Nest CEO Tony Fadell on the iPod, iPhone, and the importance of shipping products » VentureBeat

Truly fascinating, long interview with Fadell by Kevin Surace; Fadell points out that with hindsight everyone thinks the iPod was fated to succeed – at a time when “The company had $500 million in debt, $250 million in the bank, and less than 1% US market share. There was nothing left to sell”:

»Everybody in the futurephone world was trying to crank out as many phones as they could every year. Samsung had a different model of phone every day. Each carrier had its own set of rules. It wasn’t about the consumer. It was about what you could sell to the carriers. The Motorola ROKR E1 was poorly designed. There was no way we could work with another company and get the right experience.

We started out by making an iPod phone. It was an iPod with a phone module inside it. It looked like an iPod, but it had a phone, and you would select numbers through the same interface and so on. But if you wanted to dial a number it was like using a rotary dial. It sucked. We knew three months in that it wasn’t going to work. Steve said, “Keep trying!” We tried everything. We tried for seven or eight months to get that thing to work. Couldn’t do it. We added more buttons and it just became this gangly thing.

That was the iPod phone. At the same time, we were trying to build a touchscreen Mac. We were also trying to do better video on an iPod. We had a real screen, but people didn’t like to watch videos on their iPod. So how can we get a really big screen, but not have the click wheel involved? Instantly, we knew we needed a virtual interface on top of a phone. We wanted to make this touch Mac, and we knew the iPod phone wouldn’t work, but we knew we needed to make a phone.

Steve’s like, “Come over here!” I didn’t know about this at the time, but he showed me a ping-pong table that was the first multi-touch screen. It was a ping-pong-sized table. It had a projector of a Mac on top of it, and you could interact with it. He said, “We’re going to put that in an iPod!” “Steve, it’s the size of a ping-pong table!”

In the end it was clear that we needed to build a phone, and we needed to build a touch screen company on top of it.


This doesn’t quite gel with the alternative tales of Fadell building an “iPod phone” and Scott Forstall building a “touchscreen Mac phone”, but it’s a great read from start to finish.
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Fifth of UK adults block ads »

»Ad blocking in the UK is growing at the rate of roughly one percentage point a month, as new figures reveal 22% of UK adults are currently using ad blocking software, up from 18% in October.

The data comes from the latest wave of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK’s Ad Blocking Report, conducted online among 2,049 adults by YouGov.

The highest level of ad blocking occurred amongst 18-24 year olds (47%), while 45-54 year olds were the least likely to block ads (16%), along with women (14%).

Publishers are adopting a variety of strategies to address the problem, and it appears that, in the UK at least, a straightforward request to turn off can frequently have the desired effect.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents who had downloaded ad blocking software said they received a notice from a website asking them to turn it off. And over half (54%) said that, in certain situations, they would switch off their ad blocker if a website said it was the only way to access content. And this figure rose to nearly three-quarters (73%) of 18-24 year olds.


One percentage point per month. Wonder what it’s like on mobile.
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Xiaomi – All mod cons. » Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor, noting that the Xiaomi Mi5 has had 16.8m registrations to buy – unsurprising, given that it’s a bargain-basement price for a high-spec phone, and that there had been nothing comparable from Xiaomi for a year:

»the company has said that it has passed 170m users but there is no sign of monetising them. One of the main reasons for this is that a large proportion of its users are not using a Xiaomi device. [I] calculate that at the end of Q4 15A, that there were 103.2m users with a Xiaomi device leaving 66.8m that have used one of the 69 or more mods that are available to put MIUI on a non-Xiaomi device. I believe that the vast majority of these ‘mods’ are outside of China where Xiaomi has no ecosystem and instead pushes Google.

This means that the effective user base from which it could potentially make money is actually around 100m. Xiaomi has chosen the hardware route of monetisation but unlike Apple, the ecosystem is clearly not exclusive to the device. Consequently, should Xiaomi’s ecosystem become popular, it will be unable to put its prices up because users will be able to download a ‘mod’ and get the ecosystem for free.

This is why I think that Xiaomi will have to either shut down the ‘mods’ or start charging for them to begin the monetisation of its ecosystem. This is still a long way in the future, and the Xiaomi ecosystem still needs an awful lot of work before it gets to the point where it can begin to make money for its owner.


He values Xiaomi at $5.9bn (compared to the $45bn of its last funding round). You have to say his argument is tough to refute.

But if Xiaomi can satisfy those orders for the Mi5, it would rival Samsung for the best-selling premium Android phone.
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Report: Huawei, Vivo and Xiaomi to release phones using Samsung’s Dual Edge display » AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs:

»News sources from China report that Vivo is preparing to launch its XPlay5 handset on March 1st, which will feature Samsung’s Dual Edge display. The phone is also said to be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 and 6GB of RAM, so it’s clearly aimed at the very high-end of the market. A picture of the handset (below) was recently uploaded to Weibo and clearly shows off a curved display. However, the image was not uploaded by an official Vivo account or by a company representative, so we should treat it as unconfirmed.

Industry insiders are also suggesting that Huawei and Xiaomi are preparing to release handsets packing the same display technology from Samsung, although there don’t appear to be any other rumors to hint at potential specifications or release dates. We initially heard that Huawei may be purchasing curved displays from Samsung back in September last year.


Is this Samsung’s display division undercutting any advantage that its handset division might have had from the curved edge display? Or has it decided that volume is more important than a USP? Or has Samsung management decided that curved edges aren’t really a USP? The latter would be odd, given that demand for the “curved edge” design was reputedly higher than for the plain version last year.

Odd too, since Display’s operating margins are about 5%, against 9% for mobile. Maybe this is a way to improve the former’s margins.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Android root attacks, Silicon Valley doesn’t click ads, Wikimedia tries search, videogames v culture, and more

Is Twitter a polluted pool? Stephen Fry thinks so. Photo by Dee West on Flickr.

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

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

Android malware spread via porn websites to generate fake ad revenue »

David Bisson:

»Researchers have spotted a new type of mobile malware that roots Android devices with the purpose of generating fraudulent ad revenue for its operator.

Earlier this month, Andrey Polkovnichenko and Oren Koriat, two members of the Check Point Research Team, wrote in a blog post about how they detected the malware, which they have named “HummingBad,” as part of a drive-by download attack served by porn websites against two customers’ Android devices.

Curious, they decided to dig into the malware and figure out what makes it tick.

As it turns out, HummingBad is a complex rootkit whose components are encrypted, in an attempt to avoid being flagged by security solutions as malicious.«

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Knowledge Engine: Wikimedia Foundation takes aim at Google with $3.5m search project » ABC News

»Online encyclopedia Wikipedia is preparing to tackle Google’s dominance of internet search with the launch of a $3.5 million program to build a “Search Engine by Wikipedia”.

Wikipedia’s parent organisation, the Wikimedia Foundation, had in September been awarded a $US250,000 ($A350,000) grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, but only publicised the grant in the past week.

The grant is to be used “To advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia,” the Knight Foundation’s grant letter to the Wikimedia Foundation read.«

Table stakes for a search engine back in 2003 were $100m (that’s what Microsoft put into it), though maybe they’ve come down a little since then.

Come back in a year or two and see the wreckage.
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Too many people have peed in the pool » Stephen Fry

Fry made a sarcastic quip at the Baftas about someone (who turned out to be a friend of his); he then got hell on Twitter; he then deleted his account:

»let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know. It’s as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined. It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same. It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view. I’ve heard people shriek their secularism in such a way as to make me want instantly to become an evangelical Christian.

But Stephen, these foul people are a minority! Indeed they are. But I would contend that just one turd in a reservoir is enough to persuade one not to drink from it. 99.9% of the water may be excrement free, but that doesn’t help. With Twitter, for me at least, the tipping point has been reached and the pollution of the service is now just too much.

But you’ve let the trolls and nasties win! If everyone did what you did, Stephen, the slab-faced dictators of tone and humour would have the place to themselves. Well, yes and they’re welcome to it. Perhaps then they’ll have nothing to smell but their own smell.«

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People in Silicon Valley don’t click on ads » Medium

Rob Leathern:

»Using Facebook’s Audience Insights tool (free to anyone who buys Facebook ads), I compared people from San Francisco and Palo Alto/Mountain View to those in New York City, Boulder/Denver and the nation as a whole.
In short, San Francisco / Silicon Valley people don’t click on ads…

San Francisco, California Activity Profile (Source: Facebook)

The average user in the United States has a value of 12 for “Ads Clicked” whereas a San Francisco user has only clicked 1 ad. Similarly, they appear not to be commenting or liking posts as frequently as the median national user. The story is very similar for the Mountain View / Palo Alto audience.«

This is like those people who work at junk food companies who would never eat their own output – they know what goes into it. (Leathern is working on a new approach to web advertising at
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Take video games seriously! Yes, they’re fun, but they matter culturally too » The Guardian

Naomi Alderman:

»Why do video games receive so little coverage in mainstream cultural media? It’s a question that’s troubled me for years – I even made a programme about it for Radio 4. Games are the largest entertainment medium in the world. And yet newspaper culture pages tend not to cover them (pace Observer Tech Monthly). Cultural programmes on TV and radio do a fun segment about games once a quarter at best while reserving discussion and analysis for interpretive dance or experimental opera.

It’s very weird for me: my novels, which sell tens of thousands of copies, are shortlisted for prizes that appear on the news. My games, which have sold millions of copies, don’t make the news. Film and TV Baftas are a news story. Games Baftas are an industry event.

I think this is a shame. It affects the way people think about the medium.«

OK, I’ll bite: a reason games aren’t treated as mattering culturally is because they have very little to tell us about our culture. Take a film like The Big Short or The Revenant or The Martian (the latter perhaps closest, in plot, to a video game).

Besides the mechanics of plot, each takes us into another person’s, or other peoples’, experiences: Steve Carrell’s character in Big Short is consumed by loathing of the vile business, yet unable to withstand the desire to profit from the dumb money. Leonardo Di Caprio’s holds onto life to avenge a death; Matt Damon’s goes through the emotions of loss, resignation, elation, and near-resignation. And like life, each film surprises us but tells us about the human experience.

And where’s the game that could evoke the same emotional reaction as ET – made in 1982 (that’s 34 years ago)?

Just because games sell in large numbers and generate lots of money doesn’t mean they have equivalent status as cultural artefacts as films. Fishing is the most popular (as in “has the most participants”) sport in the UK. Yet you don’t see it reported in newspapers (Fishing Times apart), whereas tennis is.
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Why Xiaomi, Lenovo, and Huawei can’t compete with Apple » Tech in Asia

Charlie Custer:

»Chinese handset makers did quite well in 2015. But can they climb that cliff? Could they actually beat out Apple?

No. At least not in the sense of eating into Apple’s specific chunk of the market.

Why? For one, they don’t share a clear target market with Apple. Say what you will about Apple – and I’ve said some bad things in the very recent past – but it knows its market. And so do you, probably. Quick, picture an iPhone user. You’re probably picturing somebody young-ish, urban. Somebody who likes a simple user experience that doesn’t change much from model to model. Somebody who admires good industrial design, and who has the money to fit a $600-$800 phone into their budget.

Now, picture a Huawei user. It’s much harder because they’re all over the place. The prices range quite a bit, and the company offers dozens of different handset models. Lenovo is pretty similar. Even once-simple Xiaomi now offers three different major product lines with a confusing assortment of models in each line (do I want the Mi 4 or the Mi 4i or the Mi 4c?).

That’s not to say that none of these devices have clear target markets, of course, but none of them really overlap with the iPhone market. All three companies offer lower-priced devices, and because of their split focus they really can’t hope to compete with Apple’s single-minded focus when it comes to the iPhone market. They may be able to boost their numbers by picking up more users in developing regions, but none of the three is likely poaching any of Apple’s market anytime soon.

Plus, they’re not competing in the same ecosystem. Technologically speaking, there’s nothing on the iPhone that you can’t get on a dozen Android handsets except for one thing: iOS. And while I’ve argued that a lot of the native iOS apps are getting worse, there’s still no doubt that once a user buys into an ecosystem, it’s difficult to get them out of it.«

link to this extract


2017 to be the year of dual-lens cameras, says Sony » Android Authority

John Dye, noting that Sony has started a separate platform to support dual-lens cameras on phones:

»This seems to line up with some recent rumors trickling through the grapevine that the iPhone 7 Plus will be using a dual-lens camera module. However, Sony was quick to point out that they don’t believe this new form of camera will be anything close to mainstream for at least a year. The high-end smartphone market is slowing down globally. As a result, the demand for smartphone components is slackening, so Sony is banking on this new technology getting a start a little later than we may prefer. Chief financial officer Kenichiro Yoshida put it this way:

»Well, for next year, our so-called dual lens – dual camera platform will be launched by, we believe, from major smartphone players. However, as I said previously, recently, our smartphone market is growing and particularly, our high-end smartphone market is now slowing down. So, that may impact the demand or production schedule of dual camera smartphones by the major smartphone manufacturers. So, we believe the real start, the takeoff of smartphone with dual lens camera will be in the year of 2017.«


I read that “takeoff” as meaning “phones that aren’t iPhones”. Fingerprint sensors weren’t mainstream in 2013, but the iPhone 5S had one. And so on. (Though ZTE has a dual-lens camera on its top-end Axon phone, released last year.)
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Verizon will now let users kill previously indestructible tracking code » ProPublica

Julia Angwin:

»Verizon says it will soon offer customers a way to opt out from having their smartphone and tablet browsing tracked via a hidden un-killable tracking identifier.

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

Two days after the article appeared, Turn said it would suspend the practice of creating so-called “zombie cookies” that couldn’t be deleted. But Verizon couldn’t assure users that other companies might not also exploit the number – which was transmitted automatically to any website or app a user visited from a Verizon-enabled device – to build dossiers about people’s behavior on their mobile devices.

Verizon subsequently updated its website to note Turn’s decision and declared that it would “work with other partners to ensure that their use of [the undeletable tracking number] is consistent with the purposes we intended.” Previously, its website had stated: “It is unlikely that sites and ad entities will attempt to build customer profiles.”«

Not quite a commitment not to track the hell out of you, though.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none supplied.

Start up: writing clickbait, search v the law, IAB disses AdBlock Plus, Android’s future in 2010, and more

Bitcoin: a failed experiment, or still going strong? Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The resolution of the Bitcoin experiment » Medium

Mike Hearn:

Why has Bitcoin failed? It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system.

Hearn’s article – in which he describes how he has gone from being an enthusiast and believer who left a safe job at Google to work on bitcoin – points to a looming problem: Chinese miners control over 50% of mining capability (the level where fakery becomes possible) and new proposals on fee payments could lead to transaction reversals.

I haven’t seen any adequate rebuttals of Hearn’s post (there are lots of ad hominem “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” responses, or others saying “everything’s GREAT, shuddup”), though this by “Bit Credit” makes a vague attempt. It also contains this passage:

from an economic interest it makes no sense to undermine bitcoin by fracturing it. And so surprise, suprise, bitcoin participants are making rational economic decisions. Bitcoin is not a democracy where 51% rules. In fact that is Bitcoin in a state of attack.

Bitcoin isn’t a democracy, in that its rules are determined by the core developers. But it is a democracy in that if 51% of miners start mucking about, bad things happen. And “attack”? Odd choice of word.
link to this extract


How Peach onboards new users » User Onboarding

Peach is the darling of the app world right now, and their onboarding has been heralded as one of the best ever from a newcomer. Care to see why?

Without further ado, here is…

How Peach Onboards New Users

Well, it has sort of fallen out of “darling” status, but any app designer will learn from this – especially the “what is this? What does that word mean? Am I saying this to the whole world? HELLPPP!” It is 120 slides, but easy to click through.
link to this extract


‘Shocking celebrity nip slips’: secrets I learned writing clickbait journalism » Broadly

Kate Lloyd:

Laura, another celebrity journalist who has worked online for popular tabloids, explains there are other times when she has had to sex up stories about celebrity women who weren’t even trying to be especially provocative. “You could do a red carpet round-up of ‘all these women look great in these dresses’ but you’d change it to ‘plunging necklines’ or ‘high splits,'” she explains. “Marriage announcements would be sexed up with ‘cleavage enhancing’ or ‘revealing’ outfit descriptions. You’d add in words like ‘nip slip’ even if nipples are nowhere near having a slip because that’s what people are searching for. It was literally just for SEO, and it was soul destroying.”

One journalist told me she worked on a site where every picture of a female celebrity — including those in full coverage outfits — was tagged with the word ‘panties.’

While you’re groaning at clickbait “shows her ex what he’s missing in tiny bikini” headlines, there’s a whole new level of trickery that lurks behind them. For example, a female celebrity recently posed for a tasteful set of nude photos with a glossy magazine, who published the story with an empowering, “you go girl!” headline. The page’s URL, however, was a chain of sexy keywords that simply ended with “nude-photos.” Things get especially murky once you delve even deeper into the behind-the-scenes sorcery. One tabloid journalist told me she worked on a site where every picture of a female celebrity—including those in full coverage outfits—was tagged with the word “panties.” I’ll also admit to using the phrase “nearly-naked” in headlines just to hit the search term “naked”.

And just when you’re wondering what the world would look like if women were in charge of search engine algorithms:

…Tabloid journalist Laura explains that while the amount of sexualized content about women isn’t decreasing, she’s starting to produce more sexualized content about men.

link to this extract


A few keystrokes could solve the crime. Would you press enter? » Just Security

Jonathan Zittrain:

Suppose a laptop were found at the apartment of one of the perpetrators of last year’s Paris attacks. It’s searched by the authorities pursuant to a warrant, and they find a file on the laptop that’s a set of instructions for carrying out the attacks.

The discovery would surely help in the prosecution of the laptop’s owner, tying him to the crime. But a junior prosecutor has a further idea. The private document was likely shared among other conspirators, some of whom are still on the run or unknown entirely. Surely Google has the ability to run a search of all Gmail inboxes, outboxes, and message drafts folders, plus Google Drive cloud storage, to see if any of its 900 million users are currently in possession of that exact document. If Google could be persuaded or ordered to run the search, it could generate a list of only those Google accounts possessing the precise file — and all other Google users would remain undisturbed, except for the briefest of computerized “touches” on their accounts to see if the file reposed there.

A list of users with the document would spark further investigation of those accounts to help identify whether their owners had a role in the attacks — all according to the law, with a round of warrants obtained from the probable cause arising from possessing the suspect document.

So, if you’re the person receiving the search request at Google, should you run it? Zittrain takes you around the back-and-forth, which is subtle.
link to this extract


The Long Goodbye » Anne Wheaton dot Com

Anne Wheaton:

I chose to be on Twitter. I am not a celebrity. I am a middle-aged woman who’s a retired hairdresser who now runs a non-profit, is on the Board of Directors at Pasadena Humane Society, has a house FULL of rescue animals, and has two wonderful boys. I do not have a job I need to promote, nor am I looking for a job to take on. I have a full life with an amazing husband and family, wonderful friends, and a successful business I run. If something I choose to do on the side isn’t fun, I need to walk away from it because my free time is pretty scarce. Twitter used to be the fun thing I did on the side, and for the most part, it just isn’t fun anymore, so I need to walk away from it and that’s okay.

I deleted my Twitter account last night and immediately felt relieved.

She’s married to Wil Wheaton, who has been anti-Gamergate, on the basis that reasonable people don’t abuse women and other people pointlessly and unceasingly. Increasingly, Gamergate strikes me as Twitter’s id; untrammelled raging male idiocy, which is never reined in by any form of superego (such as “is this really a good idea?”). And the concern is that that superego will never arrive. (Another thought is that with American politics becoming increasingly polarised, Gamergate backers are more aligned with the extreme Republican line of thinking, and certainly with its refusal to engage with any other viewpoint.)

Read her post from April on how quickly just “being a woman on Twitter” turned into “being someone at whom people post random, vicious, worrying things for no other reason than to be vicious and worrying.”
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Web-based OAuth is a security nightmare for apps » Terence Eden’s Blog

You know those apps where you go in and it asks you to authorise it using Twitter or whatever? Eden doesn’t like them:

In Periscope’s case, the user has to trust that the app hasn’t just ripped-off the Twitter website. There’s absolutely no way to verify that it is a genuine and secure login page.

Even if you have 2-Factor Authentication (where Twitter texts you a login code) you’re not safe. Why? Because if the app is intercepting your username and password, it can also intercept your 2FA code. Sure, it can only use it for a minute or so (with some restrictions) – but that’s enough time to completely take over your account.

As software developers, we have to stop encouraging this anti-pattern. Periscope is teaching users that it’s OK to type their password into any box which looks like it’s authentic.

link to this extract


IAB dis-invites us, disses compromise and buries dissent » Adblock Plus

Ben Willians:

Adblock Plus has some very good relationships within the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), which is the trade organization that represents advertisers and publishers. We coach many IAB members about our Acceptable Ads guidelines for reasonable, nonintrusive ads, and we have spoken on some IAB panel discussions (especially in the UK).

Unfortunately, the top brass at the US IAB don’t want us coming to their Leadership Summit next week in Palm Desert, California. We attended last year, and we signed up again for their 2016 meeting … including paying the hefty entrance fee. We were fully confirmed and they even listed us on their website as a participant.

Then this week we got one of those sudden emails that land in your inbox innocently, then floor you with something weird, unbelievable or ridiculous when you click on them. This one came from an unfamiliar IAB address, and it informed us that our registration for the summit was canceled and our fee refunded.

The IAB hasn’t said anything about why, as of the time of this post. Apart from a statement which said that “The IAB Annual Leadership Meeting is for serious conversation among important digital industry stakeholders.” Does it think adblocking isn’t serious, or isn’t important?
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There are no secure smartphones » Devever

Hugo Landau:

There are no secure smartphones.

This is a simple fact which is overlooked remarkably often.

Modern smartphones have a CPU chip, and a baseband chip which handles radio network communications (GSM/UMTS/LTE/etc.) This chip is connected to the CPU via DMA. Thus, unless an IOMMU [input-output memory management unit] is used, the baseband has full access to main memory, and can compromise it arbitrarily.

It can be safely assumed that this baseband is highly insecure. It is closed source and probably not audited at all. My understanding is that the genesis of modern baseband firmware is a development effort for GSM basebands dating back to the 1990s during which the importance of secure software development practices were not apparent. In other words, and my understanding is that this is borne out by research, this firmware tends to be extremely insecure and probably has numerous remote code execution vulnerabilities.

Thus, no smartphone can be considered secure against an adversary capable of compromising the radio link (called the Um link). This includes any entity capable of deploying Stingray-like devices, or any entity capable of obtaining control of a base station, whether by hacking or legal or other coercion.

It would, in my view, be abject insanity not to assume that half a dozen or more nation-states (or their associated contractors) have code execution exploits against popular basebands in stock.

Question then is how far up the stack you can get from the baseband.
link to this extract


August 2010: Android’s pursuit of the biggest losers » Asymco

Horace Dediu, writing back in the days when Nokia and Sony Ericsson made handsets, and BlackBerry was big, noting that LG and Motorola and Sony Ericsson had lost money, though Samsung was doing OK:

how likely are these disrupted ex-giants to recover and take Android forward? My bet: slim to none. Android does not offer more than a lifeline. It is not a foundation for long-term profitability as it presumes the profits accrue to the network and possibly to Google. Profit evaporation out of devices to Google may be a possibility at some time in the future, but only if the devices don’t need too much attention to remain competitive. But because they’re still not good enough (and they won’t be for years to come), it’s certain that attention to detail is what will be most important to stay abreast of Apple.

So here we have the real challenge to Android:  partnership with defeated incumbents whose ability to build profitable and differentiated products is hamstrung by the licensing model and whose incentives to move up the steep trajectory of necessary improvements are limited.

In other words, Android’s licensees won’t have the profits or the motivation to spend on R&D so as to make exceptionally competitive products at a time when being competitive is what matters most.

He also points out that Windows Mobile had the same problem, seven years earlier.

Five years later, the point about long-term profitability and R+D is being borne out. Only Samsung has managed to stay profitable – because of its components businesses.
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Xiaomi finally releases 2015 sales stats » Tech in Asia

Erik Crouch:

The case of the missing phone statistics has finally been solved – today, Xiaomi revealed that it sold 70m smartphones in 2015, a number below even their most modest predictions.

It’s been apparent for a while that something went wrong for Xiaomi in 2015. In 2014, the company predicted that they would sell 100m phones in the coming year – an estimate that was promptly bumped down to 80m last March.

When late 2015 rolled around, and China’s techies eagerly awaited the company’s sales report, they were met with silence. CEO Lei Jun talked in December about how the company “does not emphasize goals such as smartphone sales anymore,” which certainly didn’t build anyone’s confidence that the company had met its targets.

As Crouch notes, 2016 could be make or break. With China’s smartphone market slowing down, it really needs to find something fresh.
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Delicious changes » The Official Delicious Blog

Delicious was the original bookmarking service (admit it, you thought it had just vanished):

My name is Tony Aly, and I’m the CEO of Delicious Media, a new company formed in alliance between my company, Domainersuite, and Science, the company that has managed Delicious since 2013. Science has transitioned control of Delicious to our new entity so that my team and I can dedicate ourselves to the long-term success and stability of this wonderful, useful, trailblazing site.

As part of this transition, over the next few weeks, we will be a making a few fairly prominent changes to the site.

The first big change you’ll notice is our transition from the javascript front-end framework that has been powering the content at The engineers who crafted this version of the site are incredibly talented, and their code is amazing. It’s beautiful and powerful, but it has posed several significant challenges for us. For example, the search engines have a real problem reading our content, hindering users’ efforts to use Google or Bing to find what they’re looking for on Delicious.

Translation: “damn engineers.” Except what’s the point of search engines indexing a bookmarking site? Delicious has been through so many changes of ownership – bought by Yahoo in 2005, then sold to YouTube’s founders, then sold on and on. Never quite manages to regain momentum. I use Pinboard – reliable, cheap, doesn’t mess about. And has a terrific Twitter feed.

For what might have been, read Bobbie Johnson’s article from 2005 about Yahoo buying Delicious.
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Wikipedia: an old-fashioned corner of truth on the internet » Telegraph

I wrote about Wikipedia’s 15th birthday (on Friday), and largely I have nothing but applause for its approach that anyone could write or edit, and its pursuit of the “neutral point of view”, and (especially) its ad-free ethos. Though:

That’s not to say it’s without faults. There are plenty, some deeply ingrained. Most of its editors are male, meaning topics relevant to women are underrepresented. As the site (and each editor) ages, it becomes harder to attract new editors as the existing clique becomes embedded. With no overall editor determining its direction or content, the topics and content can vary enormously. The world probably doesn’t need zillions of explanatory articles about the Japanese video game franchise Pokemon – but perhaps could do with some of the articles about less-simple concepts being rewritten to a more novice-friendly standard. That’s what the Encyclopaedia Britannica had that Wikipedia doesn’t: consistency.

But that’s also the web revealing our real character. Those who can be bothered to create are more interested in Pokemon than explaining maths or science. We peer into Wikipedia, and see ourselves peering back.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Carr:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian King:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tavis Normandy, on the security mailing list:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trend Micro reacted quickly, but it turns out this is only the first layer of a stinky security onion.
link to this extract

Pray to Microsoft: Google, Microsoft to stop technical support for older operating systems, browsers » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-Young:

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

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

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

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

Kate Meyer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start up: farewell Steve Wildstrom, PS4 = 30m, cooling on Xiaomi, Google crunches Yelp, and more

Which slogans do you actually remember, from which ads? Mad Men icon reimagined by p3liator on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. Simpler than talking to your relatives. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Wildstrom, tech journalist, dies after battle with brain cancer » TechCrunch

John Biggs:

Born in Detroit, Wildstrom went to the University of Michigan and began writing for BusinessWeek in 1972 where he served as news editor in BusinessWeek’s Washington bureau. He was also active in the Children’s Chorus of Washington.

“Steve Wildstrom at Business Week was hands-down the best person in the 1990s-2000s to explain to a broad nationwide audience what tech meant to them in their personal and business lives,” wrote Bill Howard, an editor at PC Magazine. “Steve put his effort into researching, analyzing and writing rather than building the Brand of Wildstrom.”

Very sad news. Wildstrom’s “Tech and You” column in BusinessWeek was an inspiration to me. Certainly all the phone and other reviews on tech sites now owe what they’re doing in part to Wildstrom.
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Sony’s PlayStation 4 scores more than 30m sales » WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki:

Sony Corp. said Wednesday that it has sold more than 30.2 million PlayStation 4 videogame consoles, two years after the launch of a system that the company says has sold faster than any of its predecessors.

“We are sincerely grateful that gamers across the globe have continued to choose PS4 as the best place to play since launch two years ago,” said Andrew House, President and Global CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.

The latest total, as of Nov. 22, is up from more than 20m in March, when Sony provided its most recent update on PlayStation 4 sales. Sony has said it aims to ship more than 17.5m units during the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2016.

Wii U at 10.7m, and Xbox One estimated at about 15m. Sony has crushed its rivals this time round. Yet there will probably be another console generation for virtual reality – is 2018 too soon?
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The worst app » Allen Pike

App maker Pike started getting angry support emails. Problem was, they weren’t for his app. But the creator of a scam app had put his company’s contact email in its “report a problem” link. So you contact Apple and get them to take it down, right?

Now, the App Store review process is a mixed bag. While it definitely has some problems, its fickle nature has an upside. When an app is in egregious violation of common sense and decency, Apple can simply pull it from the store. All you need to do is contact Apple about the app.

Unfortunately, one does not simply contact Apple about an app. The official way to complain about an app is via the “Report a Problem” link from when you buy the app. Of course, I’m not going to buy this scam app just to complain about it, so I dug up an alternate form to report a problem. Maddeningly, one of the required fields on that form is an order number – the one you receive when you buy the app. Stalemate.

It gets worse. And then, happily, better. The power of a blogpost.
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‘Outsiders’ crack 50-year-old math problem » Quanta Magazine

Erica Klarreich:

The proof, which has since been thoroughly vetted, is highly original, [Assaf] Naor [a mathematician at Princeton] said. “What I love about it is just this feeling of freshness,” he said. “That’s why we want to solve open problems — for the rare events when somebody comes up with a solution that’s so different from what was before that it just completely changes our perspective.”

Computer scientists have already applied this new point of view to the “asymmetric” traveling salesman problem. In the traveling salesman problem, a salesman must travel through a series of cities, with the goal of minimizing the total distance traveled; the asymmetric version includes situations in which the distance from A to B differs from the distance from B to A (for instance, if the route includes one-way streets).

The best-known algorithm for finding approximate solutions to the asymmetric problem dates back to 1970, but no one knew how good its approximations were. Now, using ideas from the proof of the Kadison-Singer problem, Nima Anari, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Shayan Oveis Gharan, of the University of Washington in Seattle, have shown that this algorithm performs exponentially better than people had realized. The new result is “major, major progress,” Naor said.

Abstruse yet with lots of implications for real-world problems involving processing, signalling and networks. It’s the Kadison-Singer problem, if you want to airily mention it over your latte.
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Axel Springer goes after iOS 9 adblocker in new legal battle » TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

German media giant Axel Springer, which operates top European newspapers like Bild and Die Welt, and who recently bought a controlling stake in Business Insider for $343m, has a history of fighting back against ad-blocking software that threatens its publications’ business models. Now, it’s taking that fight to mobile ad blockers, too. According to the makers of the iOS content blocker dubbed “Blockr,” which is one of several new iOS 9 applications that allow users to block ads and other content that slows down web browsing, Axel Springer’s WELTN24 subsidiary took them to court in an attempt to stop the development and distribution of the Blockr software.

Final ruling on 10 December; court seems likely (based on preliminary hearing) to side with Blockr.
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How the Mad Men lost the plot »

Ian Leslie (a former Mad Man):

[Professor Byron] Sharp’s first law [in his book “How Brands Grow”] is that brands can’t get bigger on the back of loyal customers. Applying a statistical analysis to sales data, he demonstrates that the majority of any successful brand’s sales comes from “light buyers”: people who buy it relatively infrequently. Coca-Cola’s business is not built on a hardcore of Coke lovers who drink it daily, but on the millions of people who buy it once or twice a year. You, for instance, may not think of yourself as a Coke buyer, but if you’ve bought it once in the last 12 months, you’re actually a typical Coke consumer. This pattern recurs across brands, categories, countries and time. Whether it’s toothpaste or computers, French cars or Australian banks, brands depend on large numbers of people — that’s to say, the masses — who buy them only occasionally, leave long gaps between purchases and buy competing brands in between.

If you work for a brand owner, the implications are profound. First, you will never increase your brand’s market share by targeting existing users — the task that digital media performs so efficiently. The effort and expense marketers put into targeting their own customers with emails and web banners is largely wasted; loyalty programmes, says Sharp, “do practically nothing to drive growth”. What seems like a prudent use of funds — focusing on people who have already proved they like the brand — is actually just spinning wheels.

Second, and paradoxically, a successful brand needs to find a way of reaching people who are not in its “target” (in the sense of “people who are predisposed to buy it”) market…

…Marketers consistently undervalue consistency. Diageo recently carried out an audit of all the endlines that it had attached to one of its biggest brands, Guinness, and were embarrassed to discover it had used more than 20 different slogans in 15 years. What’s more, when it asked people to recall an endline, the only one they remembered was “Good things come to those who wait”, which hadn’t run since 1999. Vast sums of money had been spent on campaigns which probably had short-term effects but barely left a trace in consumer memories.

Long piece, but eminently worth finding a way to read. Sharp’s book sounds worth a read too.
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Apple has acquired Faceshift, maker of motion capture tech used in Star Wars » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

[Faceshift’s] main focus, so to speak, was on visual effects in areas like gaming and film. In a world where animation technology can be costly and time-consuming to implement, the startup’s main product was marketed a game changer: “Faceshift studio is a facial motion capture software solution which revolutionizes facial animation, making it possible at every desk,” according to the company.

Even so, the technology is also making an appearance at the highest level of wow: it’s used in the latest Star Wars film to make non-human characters more human-like in their expressions.

Apple itself already has patents and assets across motion capture, facial recognition and augmented reality, partly by way of three other European acquisitions, respectively PrimeSense, Polar Rose and Metaio. Faceshift could complement and expand Apple’s capabilities in these areas going forward.

Seems like Apple miiiight be looking at the virtual reality space, though it’s hard to see quite how this fits into anything we recognise in its portfolio.
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Xiaomi’s $45bn valuation seen ‘unfeasible’ as growth cools » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan saves the best for the last line in this story about Xiaomi rowing back on its aims even of 80m handset shipments this year, while it tries to expand “ancillaries” such as air purifiers and scooters:

The ancillary businesses are still relatively small, with the company expecting the services units to account for just $1bn of its $16bn in projected revenue this year, Barra said in a July interview. Sales of smartphones outside China accounted for just 7% of its total in the third quarter, according to Strategy Analytics.

Xiaomi has struggled partly because competitors Huawei, Lenovo Group Ltd. and Gionee – among others – quickly copied its business model with ultra-thin devices, glossy websites and lower prices, allowing consumers to easily switch to the hippest new phone.

“Xiaomi was very popular because it was the first brand that marketed its phones as being limited edition,” said Chen Si, a 25-year-old real estate worker in Beijing who bought the Mi 3 after its 2013 release, citing its cool design. “I wouldn’t say I am loyal to Xiaomi, I just think that a phone should be affordable and easy to use. If not, then I’ll just change.”

A year later, she switched to the iPhone 6.

*mic drop*
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O2 explores ad blocking across its network » Business Insider

O2 is one of the UK’s four big carriers, with about 25m customers:

O2 executives told Business Insider the company is actively testing using technology that can block mobile ads at a network-level before they even get served. In addition, the company is considering whether to offer customers easy access to ad blocking apps and browser extensions. O2 is also working with advertisers to improve the standard of mobile advertising.

The hope is that the carrier can help customers filter out bad advertising that interrupts mobile browsing, eats up consumers’ data allowances, and ultimately puts a strain on its own network infrastructure. One ad blocking company estimates that ads are gobbling up between 10-50% of customer’s data plans each month.

This comes after EE, the biggest UK carrier, said it was looking at the same thing. Notice that “working with advertisers to improve the standard of mobile advertising”: no doubt such work has a price.
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Google claims mobile search result impacting Yelp, TripAdvisor is ‘a bug’ » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Over the weekend, executives from public Internet companies Yelp and TripAdvisor noted a disturbing trend: Google searches on smartphones for their businesses had suddenly buried their results beneath Google’s own. It looked like a flagrant reversal of Google’s stated position on search, and a move to edge out rivals.

Nope, it’s a bug, claims Google. “The issues cited were caused by a recent code push, which we’re working quickly to fix,” a Google spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, the “issues” may be diverting tons of traffic from Google’s competitors. Some, particularly Google’s longtime rival Yelp, are not pleased. “Far from a glitch, this is a pattern of behavior by Google,” said its CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

Have there been many – or any – occasions where these code pushes have accidentally buried Google’s products?
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I’m leaving Android for iOS, and I blame late games » Polygon

Ben Kuchera reluctantly swapped his Galaxy Note 4 for an iPhone 6S Plus:

You can argue about install base and walled gardens until you’re blue in the face, but the reality is you’ll be waiting for games if you use an Android device. I caught up with Barry Meade, whose studio created The Room series, to ask why the game launched first on iOS. His answer is a common one.

“It’s the same reason everybody has — Android takes way longer to test for due to the diffusion of devices,” Meade told Polygon. “With iOS you only have to test maybe eight to 10 devices, and that’s only because we choose to support pretty old devices, many don’t. With Android you’re looking at hundreds of devices off the bat, each with different hardware/screen set-ups.”

The other side of this is that the iOS players are kind of testing the game for the eventual Android players.

“So with an iOS-first strategy you can release the game to many users with only a small chance of bugs arising due to differences in hardware, which means that when a bug does arise on iOS it’s likely unconnected to the hardware and by fixing it, you are also fixing that bug for any future Android build,” Meade continued. “What Android users forget is that because their versions come later they get the least buggy, higher performance version of the game because iOS users are, in an indirect way, guinea pigs for the other releases.”

I hope that makes Android players feel better, but I’m just so tired of waiting.

The comments – including the (polite) argument between two game developers – are worth reading too.
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Secure Messaging scorecard » Electronic Frontier Foundation

In the face of widespread Internet surveillance, we need a secure and practical means of talking to each other from our phones and computers. Many companies offer “secure messaging” products—but are these systems actually secure? We decided to find out, in the first phase of a new EFF Campaign for Secure & Usable Crypto.

Surprising how poorly BBM and Google Hangouts score on this; and also how many other services actually get perfect scores. One, called Mxit, whiffs every line, though – not even encrypted in transit. (Via Benedict Evans.)
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Google and the shift from web to apps, indexing app-only content, streaming apps » Stratechery by Ben Thompson

From Ben Thompson’s subscriber-only update, looking at Google’s streaming apps effort:

To be sure, streaming apps will be a worse experience than natively installed apps, at least for the foreseeable future. In fact, the effort is so nascent that Google is launching the initiative with only nine apps and only in the Google App on recent Android devices and only over Wifi. You have to start somewhere, though, and betting on the continued expansion of broadband and Moore’s Law goes hand-in-hand with Google’s brute force approach. And, as for the experience, everything is relative: a streamed app is better than having to download an app just to see a search result, and more fundamentally, a streamed app is better than not having access to the information at all.

As for iOS devices, while I’ve criticized Google in the past for its insistence on always launching Android first, I suspect there are real technical and legal challenges that come with streaming iOS apps in a similar fashion; it’s here that Google’s misguided insistence on competing with Apple head-on really hurts. I don’t see anything in this initiative that is necessarily threatening to Apple beyond the fact that app streaming helps Google. Ergo, were Google not a direct competitor (a la Microsoft today), Apple might be willing to lend a hand to ensure iOS customers had a better search experience.

Danny Sullivan also has a writeup of app streaming (which is a clever implementation: apps run inside virtual machines), and points out how awful it would have been if every site was its own app.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Google open-sources machine learning, Adele v streaming, Facebook’s Belgian problem, and more

Steve Reich’s Piano Phase, as a video, by Alexander Chen.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. Made without nuts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Preserving security in Belgium » Facebook

Alex Stamos works on online security for Facebook, while a Belgian court has ruled that the “datr” cookie it uses is not legal. Stamos isn’t happy:

The reason I’m bullish on the datr cookie is because for at least the last five years we have used it every day to defend people’s accounts through the following actions:
• Preventing the creation of fake and spammy accounts
• Reducing the risk of someone’s account being taken over by someone else
• Protecting people’s content from being stolen
• Stopping DDoS attacks that could make our site inaccessible to people

If the court blocks us from using the datr cookie in Belgium, we would lose one of our best signals to demonstrate that someone is coming to our site legitimately. In practice, that means we would have to treat any visit to our service from Belgium as an untrusted login and deploy a range of other verification methods for people to prove that they are the legitimate owners of their accounts. It would also make Belgian devices more attractive to spammers and others who traffic in compromised accounts on underground forums…

The datr cookie is only associated with browsers, not individual people. It doesn’t contain any information that identifies or is tied to a particular person. At a technical level, we use the datr cookie to collect statistical information on the behavior of a browser on sites with social plugins, such as the Like button, to help us distinguish patterns that look like an attacker from patterns that look like a real person.

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Why streaming doesn’t really matter for Adele » Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

Looking at mid-year 2015 consumer data from the US we can see that music buyers (i.e. CD buyers and download buyers) are still a largely distinct group from free streamers (excluding YouTube). While this may seem counter intuitive it is in fact evidence of the twin speed music consumer landscape that is emerging. This is why ‘Hello’ was both a streaming success (the 2nd fastest Vevo video to reach 100m views) and a sales success (the first ever song to sell a million downloads in one week in the US). These are two largely distinct groups of consumers.

As a reader of this blog you probably live much or most of your music life digitally, but for vast swathes of the population, including many music buyers, this is simply not the case. Given that the mainstream audience was so key to ‘21’s success we can make a sensible assumption that many of these will also fall into the 27% of consumers that buy music but do not stream.

This is also why it was so tricky for Apple to move into streaming: lots of iTunes users simply don’t. And also why Adele’s audience and prospects are very different from Taylor Swift’s.
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Facing pressure in China, Xiaomi also stalls in India » The Information

Amir Efrati:

the domestic Chinese market has slowed, while Xiaomi has dropped to No. 2 there after Huawei Technologies in terms of market share for the third quarter of this year, according to research firm Canalys.

The results in India seem to bear out the bear thesis on Xiaomi’s expansion plans: that it will be harder to succeed outside of China because it would have to work within the bounds of Google’s version of Android, where it can’t customize the software—and run an app store—the way it does inside of China, where Google mobile apps are almost completely absent.

In India, Xiaomi is “just another low-cost phone hardware company,” says one rival executive.

One Indian e-commerce executive whose firm sells smartphones says Xiaomi has “stagnated” online and that sales of Samsung and Motorola phones were much stronger during a recent period of online promotions known as “Big Billions Days.” Xiaomi, bucking its traditional practice of selling phones only online, has been willing to sacrifice some margin and sell phones through some retail stores in India.

If you have to offer Google Mobile Services, in the end your differentiation will be whittled away.
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Tim Cook: Apple CEO on the company’s latest venture – the iPad Pro » The Independent

David Phelan bagged an interview while the Apple chief was in London:

The iPad Pro is the most expensive tablet yet, £679 and up. At a time when iPad sales are flat, was he tempted to do as some competitors have done and released, say, a £50 tablet? “No, there are no good £50 tablets. We’ve never been about making the most, we’ve been about making the best. This was a way of making a product that people can do a lot of things with. I think it will attract a lot of PC users and people who are not currently using Apple products. And I think it will be a reason for people to upgrade who love iPad and who have been waiting for something very different and now here it is.”

Along with the Pencil, there’s a keyboard cover. Cook says it’s different from rival keyboards because with none of those would you say it “came from the same parent” as the tablet itself. “Now all of a sudden you have a keyboard that has been perfectly designed for the iPad, it’s integrated and then you’ve got the software with split view and it’s inherently very productive. I’m travelling with the iPad Pro and other than the iPhone it’s the only product I’ve got.” 

You have to love Cook’s rejection of “why did you do a stylus?” “It isn’t a stylus, it’s a Pencil.” Hear the capital. And his description of his youth as a trombone player is hilarious.
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DTEK by BlackBerry » Android Apps on Google Play

Interesting move by BlackBerry: DTEK looks at how often and to what extent other apps have been accessing your location, contacts and so on:

In this world of interconnected apps and networks, controlling what is shared and who it’s shared with can be a challenge. BlackBerry® DTEK for Android™ allows you to view and improve your privacy level and monitor application access to your camera, microphone, location and personal information. Take control with DTEK by BlackBerry.
Key Features:

• Monitor – Know at a glance the overall security rating for your device, as well as for specific security features. You can identify whether or not you need to take any action to improve the security of your device.

And so on. For Android 5.0 and up; seems like it would be a useful app for anyone on Android. Certainly some of the folk at UTB blogs found Facebook taking amazing liberties – such as Facebook accessing the phone location 561 times in 60 hours. That’s roughly every 6 minutes. You were asking about your battery life? (Apparently there’s a version coming for iOS too.)
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TensorFlow: smarter machine learning, for everyone » Official Google Blog

Sundar Pichai:

It’s a highly scalable machine learning system—it can run on a single smartphone or across thousands of computers in datacenters. We use TensorFlow for everything from speech recognition in the Google app, to Smart Reply in Inbox, to search in Google Photos. It allows us to build and train neural nets up to five times faster than our first-generation system, so we can use it to improve our products much more quickly.

We’ve seen firsthand what TensorFlow can do, and we think it could make an even bigger impact outside Google. So today we’re also open-sourcing TensorFlow. We hope this will let the machine learning community—everyone from academic researchers, to engineers, to hobbyists—exchange ideas much more quickly, through working code rather than just research papers. And that, in turn, will accelerate research on machine learning, in the end making technology work better for everyone. Bonus: TensorFlow is for more than just machine learning. It may be useful wherever researchers are trying to make sense of very complex data—everything from protein folding to crunching astronomy data.

No quibbles: this is excellent news. Main site is Written in Python; binaries available for Linux and Mac. I’m sure there’s another desktop OS, isn’t there?
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David Heinermeier Hansson (he usually goes by “DHH”), who founded Basecamp which – yawn! – is just mildly and continually successful:

it’s hard to carry on a conversation with most startup people these days without getting inundated with odes to network effects and the valiance of deferring “monetization” until you find something everyone in the whole damn world wants to fixate their eyeballs on.

In this atmosphere, the term startup has been narrowed to describe the pursuit of total business domination. It’s turned into an obsession with unicorns and the properties of their “success”. A whole generation of people working with and for the internet enthralled by the prospect of being transformed into a mythical creature.

But who can blame them? This set of fairytale ideals are being reinforced at every turn.
Let’s start at the bottom: People who make lots of little bets on many potential unicorns have christened themselves angels. Angels? Really?

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Piano Phase » Alexander Chen

This site is based on the first section from Steve Reich’s 1967 piece Piano Phase. Two pianists repeat the same twelve note sequence, but one gradually speeds up. Here, the musical patterns are visualized by drawing two lines, one following each pianist.

The sound is performed live in the browser with the Web Audio API, and drawn in HTML5 Canvas.

This is really wonderful. Chen is a creative director at Google Creative Lab – he has done lots of other visualisations of music.
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The consumerization of the automobile supply chain » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Greenberg:

Last week I saw an interesting post on Venture Beat about Acer Launching an Electric All-Terrain Vehicle [quad bike, for UK readers]. This struck a chord because Taiwan-based Acer is a manufacturer of PCs and other consumer electronics (CE) devices. Acer is one of the most prominent companies in Taiwan’s CE complex, which builds almost all of our consumer gadgets. They are closely tied to some of the industry’s most important ODMs, component vendors and contract manufacturers. It is not that surprising to see a consumer electronics giant diversify into higher priced devices as they move up the value chain. However, if you don’t look at Acer as an device maker, but instead view them as a flagship of the Taiwanese electronics industry, the announcement has broader implications.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none reported.

Start up: Adblock Plus v Axel Springer, Apple’s Wi-Fi problem, Xiaomi’s shortfall, sell that Priv!, and more

(Just over) 14 years ago… evolution, revolution or just another MP3 player? Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. Yes, I know if you’re reading this in the US it’s an hour earlier than usual – that’s because we’ve finished British Summer Time before you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Adblock Plus and (a little) more: Smells like censorship, Big Brother » AdBlock Plus

Eyeo, which runs Adblock Plus, has been accused of behaviour tantamount to blackmail by saying it will allow “acceptable ads” from some sites that pay it money. Axel Springer in Germany, meanwhile, decided to institute an “non-paywall” which would prevent people using an adblocker from seeing its content on etc. Then:

One of the independent moderators of our free and open forum discussed a workaround to the blockade, because they still wanted to access the site. Basically, they just talked about how to write a specific filter that users could add to their ad blocker to get around “Axel’s Wall.”

Last week, Axel Springer demanded that we take down those forum posts, in effect demanding that we censor what people had written on our own forum. Our response basically channeled former basketball player/current journalist Jalen Rose: Nah … not gonna be able to do it.

Just a few minutes ago, a court in Hamburg served us with papers FORCING us to remove these specific forum posts. Apparently Axel Springer felt so strongly that they went to a court to get people to stop saying things they didn’t like. This is not without precedent: this week they sent a YouTuber a similar order after he decided to make a video describing how to circumvent …. the Wall.

Damn you, Internet Archive.
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October 2001: Apple’s New Thing (iPod) » MacRumors Forums

Fabulous comment thread from Macrumors, including those calling it “Cube 2.0” (the Cube computer was killed after a year), and this from “WeezerX80”:

This isn’t revoltionary!

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!

Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!

Tons more fun to be had. Sadly, Weezerx80 stopped posting there the same day, so we’ll never be able to ask him what he thought of the outcome. (Via Greg Koenig.)
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Wi-Fi Assist: a $5 million mess » Medium

Alf Watt, developer of iStumbler, worked on the Mac OS Wi-Fi client user experience at Apple from 2007-12:

During my last few years I spent a lot of time working closely with AppleCare on customer Wi-Fi and networking issues: poring over user trouble reports, sitting down at call centers and listening in on calls, and generally doing everything I could to improve the user experience of Wi-Fi for Apple users.

I failed. It may have been possible to succeed, but the structure of the various teams working on Wi-Fi and networking at the time made it a seemingly insurmountable challenge. This current situation makes it clear to me that there are still forces inside of Apple which prevent any kind of real, comprehensive solution from being implemented. Balkanization, poor management and some uninformed decisions by executives contributed to the problem; and as I’m all to human, my own limitations and personal struggles played a large part. But it didn’t have to happen this way, and it doesn’t have to continue.

Lots of fascinating nuggets in this, including

“when a user calls the vendor of their Wi-Fi access point, nearly the entire profit margin for that box is destroyed by the end of the call.”

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Xiaomi won’t hit its smartphone sales targets this year » TechInAsia

Charles Custer:

Last year, Xiaomi gave itself the goal of selling 100m phones in 2015. That seemed ambitious, but not outside the realm of possibility, especially after the fast-growing company finished 2014 having shipped more than 60m units after having originally projected only 40m sales.

2015 has not gone nearly as well, though. By March, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun had revised this year’s goal to 80m to 100m units. In July, the company announced that it had sold 34.7m smartphones in the first half of the year, putting it on track to possibly miss even the lower end of Lei Jun’s revised target.

Now, there are additional signs that even 80m might be optimistic. Taiwan-based research firm Trendforce just released a report suggesting that Xiaomi is on track to sell around 70m smartphones this year. Meanwhile, research firm Canalys is saying that Xiaomi’s sales in the third quarter of this year actually dropped year-on-year, the first time that has happened.

What’s disrupting Xiaomi? Probably just the slowdown in the Chinese market, which is happening faster than its ability to expand into new markets. Hence it offering products such as a cheap 4K TV (China only, sadly).
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We applied to Google’s €150m journalism fund – here’s what we sent in » The Register

The Register’s Kieren McCarthy filled out the form, which has questions such as:

Q Please provide a brief overview of the project. (max 1200 characters)

The project would use a combination of traditional news gathering skills and modern communication tools to gather data around a range of practices performed by internet search engine giant Google, in an effort to expose potential wrongdoing or abuse of market power.

In particular, the project would focus on:

• The skewing of search results.
• The tracking of right-to-be-forgotten requests performed by Google.
• The size, breadth, and impact of Google’s news service on online news sites, looking in particular at the phenomenon of stories written specifically to gather Google News traffic and any possible negative impact on quality journalism due to biases in the Google News algorithm.
• A logging and policy-tracking service to discern the impact of Google lobbying activities on policies and laws developed in Washington DC.
• An open source complaints system focused on gathering early warning signs of abuse of market power by Google.
• A “revolving door” service that specifically tracks current and former Google employees to identify how informal social networks may be used to influence public policy.

Looking to fund three staff. One to watch for sure.
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Should we trust the young Turkers? » Tim Harford

The FT’s ‘undercover economist’:

“The majority of papers presented at the conferences I go to now use [Amazon’s Mechanical] Turk [which lets you hire people online to complete tasks],” says Dan Goldstein, a cognitive psychologist at Microsoft Research. Goldstein, an academic who has also worked at London Business School and Columbia University, has used MTurk in his own research, for instance, into the impact of distracting online display ads.

This stampede to MTurk has made some researchers uneasy. Dan Kahan of Yale Law School studies “motivated reasoning” — the way our goals or political opinions can influence the way we process conflicting evidence. He has written a number of pieces warning about the careless use of the Amazon Turk platform.

The most obvious objection is that Turkers aren’t representative of any particular population one might wish to examine. As an illustration of this, two political scientists hired more than 500 Turkers to complete a very brief survey on the day of the 2012 US presidential election. (Tellingly, the entire survey cost the researchers just $28 and the results arrived within four hours.) The researchers, Sean Richey and Ben Taylor, found that 73% of their Turkers said they had voted for Barack Obama; 12% had voted for “other” — compared with 1.6% of all voters. Mitt Romney polled vastly worse with the Turkers than the US public as a whole. Relative to the general population, Turkers were also more likely to vote and be young, male, poor but highly educated. Or so they claimed; it is hard to be sure.

There are all sorts of reasons not to trust Turk-sourced studies, and only a few in favour of them.
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Microsoft’s quarter looks worse this way » Business Insider

Julie Bort:

Microsoft rolled out a new way to report earnings with its first quarter, 2016 earnings on Thursday.

This new reporting structure consolidated Microsoft’s businesses into three new units.

The previous structure had two major units (commercial and consumer) and broke out a few different businesses in each of those.

As you can see, under the old scheme, all business units shrunk except two:

Phone hardware down 54% to $1.1bn, computing and gaming hardware (Xbox, essentially) down 13% to $2bn; only “Device and Consumer Other” (Bing, MSN, Office 365, video games, app store) and “Commercial Other” (cloud services) showed growth. The puzzling thing is how Microsoft’s shares would move up on something like this.
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Android, iPhone divergence: mid-price smartphones disappearing from Korean market » BusinessKorea

Jung Suk-yee:

The polarization between high-end and mass market products in the Korean smartphone market is expected to accelerate with the iPhone 6S’s local debut.

At present, few smartphones ranging from 400,000 to 700,000 won (US$353 to $617) in price are available in the domestic market, except for the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and LG V10. This is because the prices of existing high-end handsets have been reduced to 400,000 won or less by a cut in factory price and an upward adjustment of the subsidies. The prices of the Galaxy Note 5 and the V10 are predicted to be lowered in the near future, too.

This is certainly a trend – most Android phones are getting cheaper and cheaper, but Apple and a few others, are holding on to top-end pricing. South Korea is the sort of “end state” of the smartphone business; it’s super-saturated.
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Shop BlackBerry Priv Stock good or bad Sales? » CrackBerry forums

“So this was interesting. I started entering 999 QTY for the Priv at 10am today, and it told me they only have 965 available.

checking right now (12:25p), it says 840. so is that good or bad? what do you guys think..”

Later they figure out that it has sold 206 in six hours. Guys, is that good or bad?
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