Start up: who knows what about you?, smartphone tracking, slim your iPhone photos!, Xiaomi’s razor margins, and more

An iPad Air 2 being charged, apparently from a bicycle pump. Photo by LoKan Sardari on Flickr.

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

Amazon’s Echo is a good listener but a wretched assistant >> Gigaom

Stacey Higginbotham:

Never has the gap between a flawless technology experience and a closed ecosystem loomed as large as the gap between the Amazon Echo and the Ubi personal computer. While Amazon’s Echo works beautifully and is a gorgeous cylinder that is ready to hear and (attempt to) obey my every command from pretty much anywhere in the room, it fails because its abilities to connect with a variety of web services are very limited.

Meanwhile, the Ubi, a voice-activated computer that is older and, yes, much more painful to use, wants to do the same thing. Like a teenager, though, it isn’t adept at listening to my commands, sometimes awkwardly interrupting my conversations, and its music playback is not nearly as graceful as the Echo’s.

Pays money, takes choice (or don’t spend the money at all).

Android Vs. iOS start experience >> LukeW

Luke Wroblewski:

How times change… Today’s new iPad Air 2 experience consists of 23 or more steps and no less than three iCloud services (iCloud, iCloud Drive, & iCloud Keychain). In contrast, today’s new Android Nexus experience consists of only 8 steps but with a mandatory 234MB update (some things don’t change). Here’s both start experiences in detail.

You can argue this lots of ways. Apple offers TouchID, Apple Pay, Find My iPad, iMessage – and asks about using location services. Google stuffs many of those into a single screen. Wroblewski doesn’t give a “time taken” for the setup; that might be as useful.

People finding their ‘waze’ to once-hidden streets >> Associated Press

Great piece on a smartphone tragedy of the commons, by John Rogers:

Killeen said her four-mile commute to UCLA, where she teaches a public relations class, can take two hours during rush hour. “The streets on the west side are no longer a secret for locals, and people are angry,” she said.

That’s because the app can’t be outsmarted, Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler said.

“With millions of users in LA, fake, coordinated traffic reports can’t come to fruition because they’ll be negated by the next 10 people that drive down the street passively using Waze,” she said.

Besides, Mossler added, “people are inherently good,” meaning most wouldn’t really screw with the app, no matter what they might say.

Indeed, of all the angry people interviewed for this story, none would admit doing so, although most said they heard someone else had.

One does have to wonder a little why Killeen doesn’t walk, cycle or get a motorbike for that four-mile commute.

It may be crushing Samsung in China, but Xiaomi barely makes a profit >> Forbes

Parmy Olson:

Chinese smartphone upstart Xiaomi, which this year grabbed Samsung’s No. 1 spot in China with its low-cost smartphones, revealed startlingly-low profits in a filing to the Shenzen stock exchange on Monday, Reuters reported.

The company earned $56m in net profit in 2013, on sales of $4.3bn. That’s an operating margin of just 1.8%, razor-thin when compared to Apple’s operating margin (which was 28.7% in 2013) or even Samsung’s (18.7%), which are being forced down by low-cost Indian and Chinese vendors like Xiaomi.

Eyebrows now raised at the WSJ report from earlier which said Xiaomi made a profit ten times that in 2012. Either the WSJ had the wool pulled, or Xiaomi is expanding dangerously fast. A spokesperson for Xiaomi said this “didn’t represent the whole company”, which somewhat contradicts its filing.

Sales of smartphones grew 20% in third quarter of 2014 >> Gartner

Lots to digest here (two months after the end of the third quarter): the continuing, rapid drop in featurephone sales, which particularly hurt Samsung; the growth of Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi; that BlackBerry is still bumping along, managing 2.4m sales “to end users” in that period by Gartner’s numbers.

Boxed In >> Platformonomics

Charles Fitzgerald:

To own Box stock, you have to believe they will retain their customers for a really long time to pay back the acquisition costs and/or significantly increase their revenue per customer. It is hard to make this case and Box notably doesn’t make much of an effort.

How will Box extract significantly more revenue per customer? They have neither moat nor unique technology (unless you count their “which one of these things isn’t like the others” participation in the Linux Foundation’s Dronecode Project). They don’t have an operations at scale cost advantage. Their “platform ecosystem” is superficial at best. They face giant competitors like Apple, Google and Microsoft with untold billions in the bank who are happily giving cloud-based storage away as a complement to their other services, as well as Dropbox which continues to ooze into the enterprise with a bottoms-up strategy which has dramatically lower customer acquisition costs. Box is still doing the same thing it always has, even as the market has evolved. They no longer have the luxury of just highlighting SharePoint’s inadequacies. Some argue Microsoft’s refusal to support Android and iOS has been the singular Box value proposition – obviously, that is a window that has closed.

Fitzgerald isn’t an optimist on Box.

iCloud Photo Library beta FAQ >> Apple Support

Q :How does iCloud Photo Library save space on my device?

A: If you turn on Optimize [device] Storage, iCloud Photo Library will automatically manage the size of your library on your iOS device, so you can make the most of your device’s storage and access more photos than ever. iCloud Photo Library stores the original, high-resolution photos and videos in iCloud and can keep lightweight, device-optimized versions on each of your devices. As long as you have enough storage, recent photos and videos that you access the most will stay on your device at full resolution.

You can turn on Optimize [device] Storage from Settings > iCloud > Photos or Settings > Photos & Camera > iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You need an Internet connection to access an original photo or video that’s stored only in iCloud.

As Mark Rogowsky points out, this is the way to free up space on iOS devices while also letting you see the photos you’ve taken.

Who’s Watching You?

You probably know that Google and Facebook are tracking you, but did you know your car is too? Take this test to find out how tracked you are.

Faintly depressing.