Start up: AI for your app, quantum computing works?, Yahoo’s future, Watch watch, and more


Firefox OS: heading rapidly for the exit. Photo by Wojciech Szczęsny 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How predictive APIs simplify machine learning » ProgrammableWeb

Louis Dorard:

App developers are always looking for ways to make the lives of their users easier and for ways to introduce innovative features that help users save time. For this reason, Machine Learning (ML) has been increasingly popular in app development. Classical examples include spam filtering, priority filtering, smart tagging, and product recommendations. Some people estimate that Machine Learning is now being used in more than half of a typical smartphone’s apps. Because of the new functionality gained by these apps, we can talk of “predictive apps,” a term coined by Forrester Research which refers to “apps that provide the right functionality and content at the right time, for the right person, by continuously learning about them and predicting what they’ll need.” 

If you’re writing an app that would fit that description, this is a great primer.
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Mozilla will stop developing and selling Firefox OS smartphones » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

Firefox OS was first unveiled in 2013, with the aim of targeting the developing world and late adopters with low-cost handsets.

To differentiate from Android and iOS, Mozilla and its carrier partners focused on a web-first platform, with no native and only web apps. Sales, however, were always poor and the devices themselves failed to ignite a lot of consumer interest, and a number of OEMs cornered the market with a flood of cheap handsets. In a business that depends on economies of scale, it was a failure.

Mozilla has been on a streamlining track lately. Last week it announced that it would be looking for alternative homes for its Thunderbird email and chat client. The aim is for the company to focus more on its strongest and core products and reputation.

Came really late to the game, and never made table stakes – an app ecosystem – because it didn’t think that that table was right. Apps trump the mobile web.
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Drones save over two hundred people in Chennai floods » DRONELIFE

A senior officer of the Chennai police said that the force has deployed drones in several of the most unreachable neighborhoods, and have been able to locate as many as 200 people, rescuing all of them.  The search and rescue operation sends drones up from a control vehicle.  The aerial images obtained are then sent to a control room, where staff reviews footage and pinpoints affected homes and people.  When a rescue site is identified, the control room communicates with teams of volunteers nearest to the location through wireless walkie-talkie, sending rescue workers to retrieve victims stranded in their homes.

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Controversial quantum machine bought by NASA and Google shows promise » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Hartmut Neven, leader of Google’s Quantum AI Lab in Los Angeles, said today that his researchers have delivered some firm proof of that. They set up a series of races between the D-Wave computer installed at NASA against a conventional computer with a single processor. “For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up,” said Neven.

Google posted a research paper describing its results online last night, but it has not been formally peer-reviewed. Neven said that journal publications would be forthcoming.

Google’s results are striking—but even if verified, they would only represent partial vindication for D-Wave. The computer that lost in the contest with the quantum machine was running code that had it solve the problem at hand using an algorithm similar to the one baked into the D-Wave chip. An alternative algorithm is known that could have let the conventional computer be more competitive, or even win, by exploiting what Neven called a “bug” in D-Wave’s design. Neven said the test his group staged is still important because that shortcut won’t be available to regular computers when they compete with future quantum annealers capable of working on larger amounts of data.

Been a long time coming, but this is just starting to look promising. Hell, even if it’s off by a few orders of magnitude, it’s amazing.
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What’s going on at Yahoo? Here are seven things worth knowing » BuzzFeed News

Mathew Zeitlin draws up the list, in which No.1 and No.5 are the important ones:

Here’s the deal. Yahoo’s current market value is about $32.9bn.

This is much less than the value of the things it owns. Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $32.4bn, and its stake in Yahoo Japan is worth about $8.7bn. It also has $1.3bn in cash and about $5.5bn in other securities, and $1.2bn in debt. All that adds up to around $46bn.

So if the market values Yahoo at $33 billion, does that imply the actual Yahoo business — the websites, the apps, the digital advertising tech — is worth less than zero?

Not quite — and here is where those tax issues come into play. Yahoo’s investments in Japan and China have all gained value massively over the years, and all that is subject to taxes if it’s sold. Hedge fund Starboard Value estimates the tax bill on Alibaba shares put their true value to shareholders at around $19.6bn; the Yahoo Japan stake would be worth around $5.3bn.

Once you take those taxes into account, it looks more like Yahoo investors are valuing its actual business at a little over $2bn. That’s a figure that has been promoted by activist investor Starboard Value, as well as analysts at Nomura and Pivotal Research.

And now No.5:

There may be cooler kids on the block these days, but Yahoo still has a massive presence on the web.

According to ComScore, Yahoo has a global audience of 618 million — the fourth largest of any company, behind only Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. In the U.S., Yahoo’s 211 million desktop and mobile unique visitors make it the third biggest destination, behind Google and Facebook.

“Our overall network including Tumblr continued to serve a global user base of more than 1 billion monthly active users,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a recent earnings call. Facebook, in comparison, has over 1 billion daily active users. In terms of headcount the two are comparable: Yahoo has 10,700 full-time employees, while Facebook has about 12,000.

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Android returns to growth in Europe’s big five Markets » Kantar Worldpanel

Carolina Milanesi:

“As the holiday season approaches, it appears smartphone upgrades are on Santa’s list, with 14% of EU5 smartphone owners planning to replace their current device with a new one in the next three months,” Milanesi said. “Among those consumers, 25% said they prefer Apple, while 38% said they prefer Samsung. Among Apple owners in the EU5 planning to upgrade over the next three months, 79% said they prefer Apple, while 62% of Samsung owners planning to upgrade say they prefer Samsung.”

High retention rate for Apple; less so for Samsung. But Samsung has more users overall, because it sells more phones. (Leaky buckets.)

What’s not visible is the general trend; iPhone sales, on this data, are trending faintly upwards in the mature markets such as the EU5 and US and China.
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Time ticks on chances of the Apple Watch catching on » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

The pollsters quizzed 1,017 Britons over the age of 15. They found 66% were aware of smartwatches. Awareness was down to 60% among respondents aged 35 and older, and to 57% among the lowest three social and economic groups.

Only 2% said they owned a smartwatch, down to 1% among those over 35. The poll showed 43% believed people did not need a smartwatch; but that doesn’t mean 57% of people believe you do need one.

Similarly, 24% saw a smartwatch as a gimmick, but that’s not an indication that 76 per cent regard it as a life necessity.

Possibly the glummest news for enthusiasts was that only 6% of the smartwatch-aware were likely to buy one in the next year.

So, unless I’m reading the figures wrongly, enthusiasm for this kind of wearable technology is several degrees below lukewarm.

Wearable technology, in general, hasn’t proven its worth to the general population. Then again, smartphones didn’t prove their worth to the general population for quite some time either – about three years from the launch of the iPhone. I’d love to see a comparative study from that time. (Links welcome.)
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Apple’s secrets about the iPhone were revealed during Samsung lawsuit » BGR

Yoni Heisler looks back to what came out in the 2012 trial during the discovery phase, particularly in the documents revealed to either side. How about the kickstand idea for the original iPad?

Yeah, perhaps you can guess how long Steve Jobs would let that one live.
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June 2015: Which phone has the best battery life? 5 top smartphones tested and compared » Trusted Reviews

Andrew Williams, in June 2015:

For every phone we review, we perform battery tests. There are benchmarks, and just using the phone to see how long it really lasts in daily use. This combo gives you a good idea of how long any phone will stay awake between charges.

But it’s fallible.

All sorts of things can affect battery life, especially when you’re out and about using the thing. So we decided to get all the big phones of 2015 together and give them a thorough going-over with some real-life-related tests to see which phone really is the longest-lasting.

Which phones? We’ll be checking out the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4 and HTC One M9. After all, they’re the most desirable phones of the year.

Remarkable results (on video loops, web browsing, film over Wi-Fi, music in the background). Enjoyable comments too saying “but the battery is reporting it wrong!” Which might, actually, be correct. But probably isn’t. (Via Ian Betteridge.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Samsung pays on patents, smartphone sales slow, Toshiba to sell PC arm?, and more


“Madam, I’m afraid that following the Galactic Depression I can’t give you a mortgage no matter what clothes you wear.” Photo by leg0fenris 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.

LVMH’s TAG Heuer to step up smartwatch production to meet demand » Bloomberg Business

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer will increase production of its smartwatch in coming months after receiving requests from retailers, agents and subsidiaries for some 100,000 timepieces, according to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE’s watch chief.

TAG Heuer aims to make 2,000 pieces per week, up from a current 1,200, Jean-Claude Biver said in an e-mailed response to questions. Online sales of the Connected Watch will be suspended probably until May or June to give priority to physical stores, he said.

At $1,500 each, that’s revenue of $150m.
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The economics of Star Wars: Modeling and systems risk analysis suggest financial ruin for the Galactic Empire » Phys.org

Erika Ebsworth-Goold:

First, [Zachary] Feinstein [PhD, assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis] modelled the galactic economy by estimating the price of both Death Stars, using the most recently completed aircraft carrier in the American fleet as a measuring stick.

Comparing the price ($17.5bn) and size (100,000 metric tons of steel) of the USS Gerald Ford with an estimated size of both Death Stars, the price tag for the Empire was astounding: $193 quintillion for the first version; $419 quintillion for the second, though manageable in comparison to the $4.6 sextillion Galactic economy.

In the movies, both Death Stars are destroyed within a four-year time span, which would have been a staggering economic blow to the Imperial financial sector. To prevent a total financial collapse would require a bailout of at least 15%, and likely greater than 20%, of the entire economy’s resources.

“The most surprising result was how large the economic collapse could be,” Feinstein said. “Without a bailout, there was a non-negligible chance of over 30% drop in the size of the Galactic economy overnight—larger than the losses from the Great Depression over four years (from peak to trough).

“Episode 7: A New Quantitative Easing”.
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Samsung announces payment of $548m to Apple but reserves right to seek reimbursement » FOSS Patents

Florian Müller (who has been following all the zillions of patent rows forever):

on Thursday afternoon local California time, Apple and Samsung filed a joint case management statement with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, in which Samsung says it has “has made arrangements to complete payment to Apple.” It is now waiting for Apple’s original invoice, and if that payment arrives before the weekend by Korean time, it will send $548m to Apple by December 14.

So, approximately four months before the fifth anniversary of its original complaint, Apple will physically receive money from Samsung.

Not in nickels, either.
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Worldwide smartphone market will see the first single-digit growth year on record » IDC

According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC ) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker , 2015 will be the first full year of single-digit worldwide smartphone growth. IDC predicts worldwide smartphone shipments will grow 9.8% in 2015 to a total of 1.43bn units. IDC updated its previous forecast to reflect slowing growth in Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), Latin America, and Western Europe. The slower growth is expected to intensify slightly over the 2015-2019 forecast period and is largely attributed to lower shipment forecasts for Windows Phone as well as “alternative platforms” (phones running operating systems other than Android, iOS, and Windows Phone)…

…”With the smartphone market finally slowing to single-digit growth, maintaining momentum will depend on several factors,” said Ryan Reith , program director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “The main driver has been and will continue to be the success of low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. This, in turn, will depend on capturing value-oriented first-time smartphone buyers as well as replacement buyers. We believe that, in a number of high-growth markets, replacement cycles will be less than the typical two-year rate, mainly because the components that comprise a sub-$100 smartphone simply do not have the ability to survive two years. Offering products that appeal to both types of buyers at a suitable price point will be crucial to maintaining growth and vendor success.”

“As shipment volumes continue to slow across many markets, consumers will be enticed by both affordable high-value handsets as well as various financing options on pricier models,” said Anthony Scarsella , Research Manager with IDC’s Mobile Phones team.

Say it again: “the components that comprise a sub-$100 smartphone simply do not have the ability to survive two years”.
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Review: Microsoft’s Surface Book » iTnews

Juha Saarinen:

GeekBench 3 rated the single core processor score at 3480 and the multicore equivalent at 7165. This is quicker than the iPad Pro, which managed 3220 and 5442 in the single and multicore tests respectively, but a comparison between the two is difficult due to different processor architectures and Windows 10 and Apple iOS 9.1 being very dissimilar in how people use them: Windows 10 for instance allows full file system access, but iOS 9.1 doesn’t.  

You won’t be disappointed with the performance of the Surface Book in the vast majority of scenarios.  

You will, however, pay a premium for the tablet/laptop functionality: my AUD$4199 review unit is a good chunk’o’change. You could buy a top of the range 13-inch MacBook Pro with similar specs as the Surface Book and have change left for an iPad mini 4 as a companion tablet. 

Staying on the Microsoft side of the fence, the Surface Pro 4 top dog model has the same 512GB sized storage, 16GB RAM, is lighter, has a Core i7 processor but a slightly lower resolution PixelSense screen and no secondary graphics card – it costs $3580 with the Type keyboard cover, and runs Windows 10 just fine.

I thought Saarinen had transposed the numbers in that price, then saw the following paragraph. The prices translate to US$3,040 for that review unit and US$2,590. Clearly Microsoft doesn’t want to lose money on hardware any more. But at those prices, it’s really not going to sell in any appreciable numbers.
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Access denied » The Awl

John Herrman on the problem for various media that follows the way “access” to big stars, and politicians, and everyone, is being short-circuited by social media:

As did pundits with Trump coverage, [Kotaku’s Stephen] Totilo diagnoses the specific problem correctly, I think: Ubisoft and Bethesda were probably upset about Kotaku leaking or being critical of their products, and cut off access as a result. This is, in his words, “the price of games journalism.”

But the post’s secondary conclusions—that Kotaku rejects the idea of a games press that is a “servile arm of a corporate sales apparatus” and that this change in some way vindicates its prescient and recently implemented plan to “embed” reporters in games, rather than treating the games as objects to be reviewed—hint at a bigger worry. It’s not just that game companies might be mad at Kotaku, it’s that at the same time, they need it less than ever. What good is a complex website with a few million viewers spread across hundreds of games in a world where a company can just release a couple hours of gameplay footage of its own, or hand over a title to a YouTuber or a Twitch celebrity who’ll play nicely in front of millions of viewers?

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Transformation at Yahoo foiled by Marissa Mayer’s inability to bet the farm » The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

Yahoo’s fumbled foray into TV only highlights Ms. Mayer’s strategic failure. Instead of making a single big bet [of buying Netflix in 2012 when its share price was one-tenth its present level] that might have focused the company on something completely different and potentially groundbreaking, Ms. Mayer staked out a lot of small and midsize positions, rarely committing to anything early enough to make a difference. For Ms. Mayer, original programming was just one of dozens of products in a portfolio that remains too complex to understand.

So, too, were other projects that could have been at the center of Yahoo’s new mission. In the time that Ms. Mayer has been at the helm, Facebook has invested heavily in messaging apps that could define the future of communication. Google and Apple, anticipating the eventual decline of text-based search queries, have tried to create predictive, voice-based search engines that also catalog all the content inside apps. Pinterest is pioneering a new kind of online commerce, while Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are working on new ways to tell collective narratives through video.

Under Ms. Mayer, Yahoo has had a hand in many similar initiatives, but it hasn’t led in any of these areas.

“Inability” should probably have been “unwillingness” (Manjoo won’t have written the headline), but the analysis is spot-on.
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Japan’s Toshiba, Fujitsu in talks to merge loss-making PC units – sources » Yahoo Finance UK

Makiko Yamazaki and Reiji Murai of Reuters:

The emergence of tablets and other devices as well as fierce competition has pushed Japanese PC divisions into the red. At the same time, Toshiba is under pressure to restructure in the wake of a $1.3 billion accounting scandal while Fujitsu has seen PC profitability slip away as a weaker yen has inflated the cost of imported parts.

Combining PC operations would create a company with around 1.2 trillion yen ($9.8bn) in sales and give greater economies of scale that would help with procurement costs. But analysts see prospects of a return to past days of thriving sales as slim given that the two account for just 6 percent of global PC sales.

“It is uncertain whether or not the new integrated company could recover international competitiveness,” said Takeshi Tanaka, senior analyst at Mizuho Securities.

A combination would come on the heels of Sony Corp hiving off its PC business into unlisted Vaio Corp last year. Some domestic media reported that Vaio would also be part of the new venture but a spokeswoman for the company denied it was in talks with any firm about its PC operations.

That $9.8bn is an annualised revenue figure for both companies’ PC divisions – though there may be other products in there. (Their accounts don’t split out PC revenues directly.) For comparison, Asus and Acer each had annualised PC revenues of $8.5bn in 2014.
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Design: meet the internet — Figma Design » Medium

Dylan Field:

When we started working on Figma, we knew it was possible to build a fast and stable graphics tool in the browser, but we had no idea how hard it would be. From vector rendering to font layout to a million performance edge cases, getting here hasn’t been easy. Designers have high expectations for a tool they rely on every day! After dogfooding Figma internally for the past eighteen months and working closely with alpha customers, I’m confident we’ve reached this high bar.

While the technical achievement of building a vector based UI design tool in the browser is exciting, I’m even more excited by the collaborative possibilities we’re starting to unlock. Whether you’re sharing a design with a link, giving contextual feedback or setting shared brand colors for your team to use, Figma makes it easy to work with your team.

If you can do it in a browser it isn’t real work, of course.
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Wearable technology in the car » Canadian Automobile Association

Mark Richardson:

Jeffrey Macesin says he was changing the music playing through his car speakers when the Montreal police officer pulled him over and charged him with distracted driving.

The music was coming from his iPhone and wired into the car’s stereo, but the phone was tucked away in his bag, out of sight. In fact, he was using his Apple Watch to change the track, another potential new distraction in a world increasingly crowded with them.

Macesin says he was astonished by the ticket, which carries a $120 fine in Quebec and four demerit points.

“I understand (the officer’s) point of view,” he told CTV in May, “but the fact is, he thought I was using my phone and I wasn’t using my phone – I was using my watch. I tried explaining this to the guy and he just ignored me. I told him I’d see him in court.”

I sent Macesin numerous requests for a chat but he didn’t respond – maybe his lawyer told him to keep quiet. But he acknowledged in outtakes to CTV that his left hand was on the wheel – the same arm that wears his new Apple Watch – and he was tapping on the watch dial with his right hand to change tracks when the officer saw him from an overpass. The Apple Watch was connected wirelessly to his iPhone and controlling its functions.

The actual charge is that he “drove a road vehicle using a hand-held device equipped with a telephone function,” and his argument against it, he said, is that a watch is not “hand-held” – it’s worn on the wrist. “That’s where it gets really controversial,” he said to CTV. “Is it? Is it not? But I think this needs to be talked about.”

Similar to the Google Glass driving ticket case (which was dismissed)?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Adele v pirates, Alphabet’s challenge, Mayer’s end? and more


The authentic feel of everything from Shaft to.. everything else. Photo of a wah-wah pedal by Kmeron 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. Handle with care. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Burma gives a big thumbs-up to Facebook » Foreign Policy

Christian Caryl:

As the vote count draws to a close, it’s clear that Burma’s long-suffering opposition has scored a landslide victory in Sunday’s historic national election. And the leader of that opposition knows whom to thank. As she was explaining the reasons for her party’s remarkable triumph in an interview with the BBC this week, Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said this: “And then of course there’s the communications revolution. This has made a huge difference. Everybody gets onto the net and informs everybody else of what is happening. And so it’s much more difficult for those who wish to commit irregularities to get away with it.”

She could have been a little more specific, though. When people here in Burma refer to the “Internet,” what they often have in mind is Facebook — the social media network that dominates all online activity in this country to a degree unimaginable anywhere else.

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Inside the problem with Alphabet » The Information

Amir Efrati and Jessica Lessin:

[Larry] Page unveiled Alphabet in August as a way to empower entrepreneurs and strong CEOs to build new companies “with a long term view.” Mr. Page had already been creating new companies under Google, like Calico, the secretive life-extension startup that former Genentech CEO Art Levinson is leading.

Some of those companies wanted more autonomy from Google and its bureaucracy, on issues big and small; [Arthur] Levinson [in charge of Calico], for instance, bristled when Google’s food services staff tried to apply Google’s nutritional guidelines to dining areas that served Calico employees, according to several people Mr. Page told about it.

Many details about the new structure have yet to be figured out. They include whether and how Alphabet companies can raise outside capital; who will control the IP they create, especially if they borrowed some from the old Google; and how they will use Google’s technical infrastructure.

If Google’s world-class cybersecurity software extends to the new Alphabet companies and those companies are later spun out or sell a significant chunk of themselves to another party, will those companies still get to use the Google software? Does it make sense for people at an Alphabet company to get Alphabet stock as part of their compensation, given that the performance of Alphabet will be heavily influenced by the performance of Google Search ads?

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Wireless carriers are favouring the iPhone » The Motley Fool

Sam Mattera:

The gradual decline of contract plans has sparked a wave of innovation in the U.S. wireless industry. In the past, consumers mostly signed two-year agreements in exchange for heavily subsidized handsets. Today, they have a vast array of choices, including installment options and leasing programs. Most of these plans reduce upfront costs by doing away with down payments, and give consumers the ability to upgrade their smartphones more often.

But some of these plans – the most advantageous, in fact – are only available to buyers of Apple’s iPhone.

I could have sworn that the hot take on the end of subsidies (aka contract plans) was that it meant dire trouble for Apple.
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The last days Of Marissa Mayer? » Forbes

Miguel Helft goes into detail and finds many of the same stories we’ve been hearing for the past couple of years:

Mayer hired some executives without fully vetting them with her team, and some of those decisions proved costly. One of her first big hires was Google sales executive Henrique De Castro, brought on as chief operating officer. De Castro failed to meet sales goals and Mayer fired him after 15 months, but not before he reportedly pocketed as much as $109 million in compensation and severance. Mayer also spent a year without a chief information officer after her IT operations chief David Dibble quit for personal reasons in 2013. In August 2014 Mayer finally announced to her executive staff that she had found the right person in Netflix executive Mike Kail, who came recommended by her husband, the investor Zachary Bogue. Three months later Netflix sued Kail for fraud, after he allegedly collected kickbacks from vendors. Yahoo quietly let him go in May.

Mayer’s propensity for micromanaging also exasperated many of her executives. By her own admission, Mayer spent an entire weekend working with a team of designers to revamp the Yahoo corporate logo, debating such details as the right slant for the exclamation point (9 degrees from vertical). Mayer also insisted on personally reviewing even minor deviations from a compensation policy she had instituted. When managers wanted to give top performers a bonus or raise above the parameters she had set, they had to write her an e-mail explaining the circumstances and wait for an approval or denial. Some managers dispute that this was a hard-and-fast rule. Mayer also insisted on reviewing the terms given to hundreds of contractors and vendors on a quarterly basis, whether they were engineers or writers or makeup artists. “She would go line by line and decide on what date a contract should end,” says a senior executive. Adds another: “It was a colossal waste of time.”

There’s detail, and then there’s detail that doesn’t merit a chief executive’s very expensive time.
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EE proposes restrictions on mobile adverts » Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

EE, Britain’s biggest mobile operator, is considering introducing technology that will hand smartphone users the power to control the advertising they see online, in a clampdown that would cause major upheaval in the £2bn mobile advertising market.

Olaf Swantee, EE’s chief executive, has launched a strategic review that will decide whether the operator should help its 27 million customers to restrict the quantity and type of advertising that reaches their devices, amid concern over increasingly intrusive practices.

The review will look at options for creating new tools for subscribers that would allow them to block some forms of advertising on the mobile web and potentially within apps, such as banners that pop up on top of pages or videos that play automatically. EE customers could also get the ability to control the overall volume of advertising.

Mr Swantee told The Sunday Telegraph: “We think it’s important that, over time, customers start to be offered more choice and control over the level and intensity of ads on mobile.

“For EE, this is not about adblocking, but about starting an important debate around customer choice, controls and the level of ads customers receive.”

It’s about adblocking. And potentially creating a whitelist.. in paid-for manner?
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Syria’s climate-fuelled conflict, in one stunning comic strip » Mother Jones

I would hotlink to the strip directly, to embed it, but that would probably take more scrolling room than you want to bother with here. However, it makes a crucial point: the Arab Spring wasn’t caused by some abrupt realisation among the peoples of the Middle East that democracy would be nice; instead, it was driven by the rising cost of staple foods and rural displacement to cities, which created huge tensions – which authoritarian regimes couldn’t handle without causing more unrest.

Thus when people snigger at Prince Charles saying that the refugee crisis is a result of climate change, he’s not the one who’s wrong; they are.
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Adele is NOT No.1 on this chart (and it’s a really important one) » Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

The Pirate Bay’s regularly-updated Music chart shows the 100 most popular torrents on the service in the past 48 hours.

The shock news: [Adele’s new album] 25 is nowhere. Literally nowhere.

Below, you can see the 25 most popular music files on TPB as of yesterday morning (November 22) UK time – two days after the astonishingly successful release of Adele’s new LP.

Not only does 25 not feature in the tracks we’ve featured above – it didn’t feature in the entire top 100.

It was the same story on Saturday (November 21) – a day after release – and it’s the same story this morning.

Adele did briefly claim a position on the TPB chart yesterday, MBW noticed – at No.63, with her previous release 21 – but she’s since disappeared.

Speaks again to the different generations interested in Adele. If it had been, say, a new Nine Inch Nails album, it would have been all over the pirate sites.
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I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died » Vox

Dennis Perkins makes the point that a lot of it is about choice and curation:

It was a point of pride that we had everything and could turn people on to some obscurity we knew would appeal. A video store had sneaky cultural punching power — movies championed by our staff got watched. They stayed alive. You know, as long as we did.

By contrast: Netflix routinely adds and removes films at a whim based almost exclusively on licensing agreements. These agreements just don’t mean that movies any respectable video store would have remain “unavailable for streaming,” but that a substantial portion of Netflix’s (rather small) 10,000 film inventory is garbage: direct-to-DVD movies (or movies that bypass DVD for streaming entirely) accepted as part of package deals to get the rights to titles somebody might actually want to see. Although not everything you might want to see. As of this writing, you can’t watch Annie Hall, Argo, The Exorcist, This Is Spinal Tap, Taxi Driver, Schindler’s List, The Muppet Movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Fight Club, or Frozen on Netflix. You can, however, stream Transmorphers or Atlantic Rim, two suspiciously titled low-budget knockoffs of the movie you meant to watch.

His other key point: you had to choose to go to a video store. Netflix and its kin generally offer “let’s settle for this” content.
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How LSD microdosing became the hot new business trip » Rolling Stone

Andrew Leonard:

“Ken” is 25, has a master’s degree from Stanford and works for a tech startup in San Francisco, doing a little bit of everything: hardware and software design, sales and business development. Recently, he has discovered a new way to enhance his productivity and creativity, and it’s not Five Hour Energy or meditation.

Ken is one of a growing number of professionals who enjoy taking “microdoses” of psychedelics – in his free time and, occasionally, at the office. “I had an epic time,” he says at the end of one such day. “I was making a lot of sales, talking to a lot of people, finding solutions to their technical problems.”

A microdose is about a tenth of the normal dose – around 10 micrograms of LSD, or 0.2-0.5 grams of mushrooms. The dose is subperceptual – enough, says Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, “to feel a little bit of energy lift, a little bit of insight, but not so much that you are tripping.”

This will become the new go-to explanation for crazy startup ideas.
link to this extract


The invention of the wah-wah pedal » Priceonomics

In 1965, in a small back room of a Los Angeles facility, Thomas Organ’s engineers began to build Vox amplifiers. Among these engineers was a bright-eyed 20-year-old by the name of Brad Plunkett.

Plunkett was given a challenging task by Thomas Organ’s CEO: he was to take apart a Vox AC-100 guitar amp and find a way to make it cheaper to produce while still maintaining the sound quality.

“The first thing I noticed,” he recalls in the documentary Cry Baby, “was this little switch [on the amp] entitled ‘MRB.’”

This switch, invented by British engineer Dick Denney and installed on all Vox AC-100 amps at the time, stood for “middle range boost.” When flicked on, it would highlight the middle sound frequencies of the guitar (notes between 300 and 5,000 hertz); in doing so, it would tame the extremes (very high and very low pitches), and produce a flattened, smoother sound. Plunkett realized that he could replace this pricey switch with a potentiometer – essentially an adjustable knob that divided voltages and acts as a variable resistor – and achieve the same effect.

“The switches were very expensive, about $4 each,” Plunkett continues. “The potentiometer would only cost about 30 cents.”

After a few days of fiddling around with spare parts, Plunkett succeeded in designing a circuit that could change the frequency of notes by simply rotating a potentiometer. Then, something unexpected happened.

(This makes an hour-long video.)

Patented as “foot controlled continuously variable preference circuit for musical instruments”. The patent came too late. Everyone could figure it out. Still, should the wah-wah pedal be added to the list of serendipitous discoveries, along with vulcanized rubber and Post-It notes?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Euler programs, adblocking wars redux, Android M’s security measure,


At last: HTML5 iPlayer on the desktop. Only a beta for now.. Photo by Julie70 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

(No, there aren’t any links about the new Google offerings – two phones and a tablet – because I couldn’t find any useful analysis of them beyond “they’re phones” and “it’s a tablet with a keyboard”. If you do want to know about them, try “The nine most important things from Google’s Nexus event” from The Verge.)

About » Project Euler

What is Project Euler?
Project Euler is a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve. Although mathematics will help you arrive at elegant and efficient methods, the use of a computer and programming skills will be required to solve most problems.

The motivation for starting Project Euler, and its continuation, is to provide a platform for the inquiring mind to delve into unfamiliar areas and learn new concepts in a fun and recreational context.

Who are the problems aimed at?
The intended audience include students for whom the basic curriculum is not feeding their hunger to learn, adults whose background was not primarily mathematics but had an interest in things mathematical, and professionals who want to keep their problem solving and mathematics on the cutting edge.

The first problem should feel pretty easy if you’ve done any programming. If not, give yourself a little time to solve it. (A different sort of programmer hacked its database in August.) They’re presently up to problem 527; No.528 is up on October 3.
link to this extract


IAB enters publicity, engineering war against ad blockers – Special: Advertising Week 2015 » Advertising Age

Nat Ives:

The IAB has come up with code, for example, that it said will help small publishers detect consumers who show up with ad blocking activated. “We believe this script will actually help enable them in their fight just by enabling their ability to detect,” said Scott Cunningham, senior VP at IAB and general manager of the IAB Tech Lab, at a press conference during the annual IAB Mixx conference, which coincides with Advertising Week.
Related Stories

Some publishers that see ad-blocking visitors arrive greet them with dialogue boxes encouraging a change of heart or, failing that, perhaps becoming paid subscribers. But the open architecture of many web pages has allowed ad blockers to hide even those dialogue boxes, Mr. Cunningham said. The IAB is recommending that publishers switch to more secure protocols to prevent that.

Going to war with people because they’re not your customers isn’t the way to persuade them to become your customers.
link to this extract


Medium: PR Newswire revisited » Business Insider

Biz Carson:

“With this [$57m funding] round we aim to make Medium the dominant pipeline for connecting quality content and conversation,” Andy Doyle wrote. “We don’t focus on page views, unique visitors, or click metrics. We don’t litter the platform with ads that are low-quality, high-clutter.”

That part is true. There are no ugly ads that flash advertising before crashing your browser.

Instead, everyone from San Francisco’s local supervisors to the White House are publishing articles, essays, and press releases, surrounded by the same swaths of white and clean fonts. The bylines are tucked away in the top left corner.

Companies may call this “content.” A lot of it looks like advertising.

And let’s face it: Medium has become a dumping ground for a different generation’s press releases.

Seems harsh, but Carson has a point. Then again, that makes Medium a pretty good “native advertising” supplier; there’s lots of other non-advertising, desirable, readable content in there. I keep finding links to it.
link to this extract


New HTML5 Player beta trial for BBC iPlayer » BBC Internet Blog

James East, product manager for media playout:

Although we’ve been using HTML5 to deliver video to iOS devices for some time, until recently we felt that the consistent experience and efficient media delivery offered by Flash outweighed the benefit of moving to HTML5 on the desktop. However, we’ve been regularly evaluating the features offered by the most popular web browsers and we’re now confident we can achieve the playback quality you’d expect from the BBC without using a third-party plugin.

To opt in, visit our HTML5 Player beta page. This will allow you to set a cookie in your browser so you can access our HTML5 player on BBC iPlayer. If you clear your cookies or switch browsers, you’ll have to return to this page to re-enter the trial. You can also visit this page if you want to opt out and return to our non-beta player.

At last. Alternatively, do what I do: uninstall Flash and invoke the “developer” option in Safari (Preferences » Advanced » “Show Develop menu in menu bar”), and when you visit the BBC and it wants Flash to play a video, change the user-agent to “iPad”. (Via Stef Pause.)
link to this extract


Android Marshmallow’s best security measure is a simple date » The Verge

Russell Brandom:

Android security has always faced a daunting challenge — scrambling to get users, manufacturers, and carriers in sync — but the new Marshmallow operating system has a small feature that could make a big difference in that fight. You’ll find it in the Settings menu, a header titled “Android security patch level,” followed by a date. As of that day, your device is protected with all known Android patches.

Championed by Adrian Ludwig, Google’s head of Android security, the date represents a public bet on the industry’s ability to keep Android devices updated. “It should make it really simple for users to understand the state of the device,” Ludwig says, as part of Android’s larger push toward “making sure that security information and patch level information is available to users.”

That’s going to be a good one to watch.
link to this extract


You can now turn off ads on Techdirt » Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

We’ve even been approached by multiple companies who claim to offer a form of ad blocker blocker, that will either insert new ads even when users have ad blockers, or otherwise pester users with ad blockers turned on.

This seems like the exact wrong approach. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the way the RIAA and MPAA reacted to the internet challenging their business models. Rather than listen, recognize what the public wanted and adapt, they whined, screamed about ethics and went to court. And how’s that worked out for everyone? We’ve always said that those who adapt to these challenges are likely to do better, and part of that means actually listening to your fans and helping them do what they want. So that’s what we’re doing: if you choose to disable ads, you just need to go to your preferences and click a button and that should do it.

Such a smart move. Masnick has built a strong community at Techdirt, and so offering this – while pointing out gently that it costs money to run the site, and there are ways to donate – is a terrific way forward.
link to this extract


The dark, scammy history of JustFab and Fabletics » BuzzFeed News

Sapna Maheshwari:

while JustFab has revenue streams befitting a unicorn, its predecessor companies were less ethereal beasts. For more than a decade, starting at MySpace’s parent company, [Adam] Goldenberg and [Don] Ressler’s customers have frequently complained of getting tricked into recurring credit card charges and fooled by deceptive advertising and misleading promises — promises the FTC said sounded “like magic pixie dust” in a warning to consumers regarding the diet product Sensa. It made more than $300 million in sales before the federal regulator intervened.

The ugly hallmarks of those past enterprises live on in JustFab: The company and its affiliates, for all their happy customers, have often been accused of deceiving shoppers who think they’re making a single purchase into signing up for a subscription that automatically charges them each month unless they opt out within a five-day window. The sites use terms like “VIP Membership” instead of “subscription,” and JustFab and Fabletics in particular downplay the options for avoiding charges each month; cancellations require lengthy phone calls.

Ugh. Inertia marketing – such a horrible, scummy business model, and doomed to failure once customers get wise. The only question is how long that will take.
link to this extract


Axel Springer buys Business Insider » Re/code

Peter Kafka:

The deal values Business Insider at $442m — we had previously told you it would peg the site’s value at $560m — but Springer already owned 9% of the company, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who had previously put his own money into the company, will leave it in there. When factoring out the cash still on the books, the value comes down to $390 million. Springer will end up writing a check for $343m when the deal closes; it says Business Insider has 76 million readers and 325 employees worldwide.

However you count it, the deal sets a new mark for native digital publisher sales, previously held by the Huffington Post, which AOL acquired for $315m in 2011. While several big digital publishers have taken on financing that values their companies above Business Insider’s sale price, none of them have actually sold at those levels yet.

That’s a big vote of confidence in people carrying on reading content online. 76 million readers is substantial.
link to this extract


Marissa Mayer’s take on ad blocking: ‘It hurts the Web experience’ » Digiday

Ricardo Bilton:

The Yahoo CEO told an Advertising Week audience that ads, particularly those tied to people’s interest and browsing history, actually improve the experience of using the Web rather than hurt it.

“I think that for anyone that uses their browser’s incognito mode and starts getting untargeted ads or no ads at all, the experience on the Web becomes a lot less rich. I personally think it’s a mistake to install ad blockers,” she said at an IAB event during Advertising Week in New York City on Monday. “If I have friends or family members asking if they should install them, I tell them ‘please don’t because I think that your experience on the Web will get worse’.”

As Bilton then points out, Yahoo was responsible for serving malware to millions of people through its ads for nearly a week in August. Those using adblockers will have been fine.

But, you know, tell people what they want to hear.
link to this extract


Start up: Yahoo’s mobile trouble, BLARPing, Galaxy S6’s slow start?, killing iOS, and more


Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. You OK hun? Photo by jdlasica on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Count them, I dare you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Office role-play? Meet the people who pretend to work at an office together » Fast Company

Justine Sharrock:

You’re stuck at an office all day, deleting all-staff emails and futzing with the office printer. But imagine if you were also part of an online group, pretending that you were in an office all day.

That’s what’s happening at one of the latest cult Facebook Groups, Generic Office Roleplay. Over 2,500 members from around the world fill its virtual pages with posts that mimic office-wide emails. There are passive aggressive notes about food stolen out of the fridge, mandates about office dress and office supplies, and tips for improving synergy. Think TV’s The Office meets David Rees’s clip Art cartoons, My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable meets live action role play (LARP), all happening on Facebook.

The term of choice for its practitioners is BLARPing—business live action role-play.

This is just wonderful.


‘No iOS Zone’ Wi-Fi zero-day bug forces iPhones, iPads to crash and burn » The Register

Darren Pauli:

Adi Sharabani and Yair Amit have revealed a zero-day vulnerability in iOS 8 that, when exploited by a malicious wireless hotspot, will repeatedly crash nearby Apple iPhones, iPads and iPods.

The Skycure bods say the attack, dubbed “No iOS Zone”, will render vulnerable iOS things within range unstable – or even entirely unusable by triggering constant reboots.

“Anyone can take any router and create a Wi-Fi hotspot that forces you to connect to their network, and then manipulate the traffic to cause apps and the operating system to crash,” Sharabani told the RSA security conference in San Francisco today.

“There is nothing you can do about it other than physically running away from the attackers. This is not a denial-of-service where you can’t use your Wi-Fi – this is a denial-of-service so you can’t use your device even in offline mode.”


 
The denial-of-service is triggered by manipulating SSL certificates sent to the iOS devices over Wi-Fi; specially crafted data will cause apps or possibly the operating system to crash.

Fix in the works. Somewhere.


Galaxy S6 smartphones suffer weaker than expected sales in S. Korea » Yonhap News

Samsung Electronics Co.’s newest high-end smartphones – the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge – are seen drawing less than expected attention from consumers, industry data showed Wednesday, casting clouds over the market’s upbeat sales estimate of over 50m units for 2015.

South Korea’s No. 1 tech giant had sold a little over 200,000 units of the two smartphones here as of Sunday since their launch on April 10, sharply falling short of the 300,000 preorders, according to the data, indicating that earlier sales forecasts may be exaggerated…

…industry watchers have been painting rosy pictures of the gadgets, with Hong Kong-based industry tracker Counterpoint suggesting the two will sell more than 50m units this year, while some researchers even gave a 70m-unit forecast.

But some industry watchers say the 10-day sales figure is not alarming, given that South Korea’s already saturated smartphone market is currently dented by the country’s regulations on subsidies.

Korea may be a special case (and the story says carriers are pushing harder on subsidies). But I think Samsung might find the top end saturated. This is going to be fascinating to watch play out.


Does a higher bill mean a better 4G service? » OpenSignal blog

Kevin Fitchard, guest-posting:

The U.S. has the highest average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) of the 29 countries sampled in the analysis at about $59. Yet as far as network speed goes, the U.S. ranks 26th out of 29, supplying an average connection of 7 Mbps. Meanwhile the lowest ARPU in the sample, $3, belongs to the Philippines, yet its two LTE operators deliver average speeds of 8 Mbps, ranking the country above the U.S.

The fastest LTE performance can now be found in Northern Europe, Spain, France, Hungary and South Korea, where speeds between 16 and 18 Mbps are the norm. But the differences in ARPU between them are huge. In Denmark, ARPU is around $19 a month. In Norway that number is $34, which is more in line with South Korea’s ARPU of $33 than it is with Norway’s neighbor just over the North Sea.

Within countries, the pattern – or lack thereof – was the same. In the U.K., EE has the distinction of having the fastest speeds (17.8 Mbps), seemingly justifying the $2 to $6 more it collects in ARPU over its competitors Vodafone and O2. But in the U.S. the opposite is true. T-Mobile has by far the fastest speeds (10 Mbps) compared to Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, but its ARPU is $49, undercutting its next cheapest competitor by $8 a month.

US 4G is more like European HSDPA+. But you try telling them that… (I’m a customer of Three in the UK, which offers 4G for free. I like it.)


Tesla: It’s a battery! » MarketWatch

Claudia Assis:

At the event [on 30 April], Tesla “will explain the advantages of our solutions and why past battery options weren’t compelling (OK Elon said “sucked”),” Tesla’s IR manager Jeff Evanson wrote in an email to analysts and investors early Wednesday. “Sorry, no motorcycle…but that was a creative guess.”

Shares of Tesla rose nearly 5%. A close around those levels would be Tesla’s highest in two weeks. Tesla shares have gained 9% in the past three months, but lost 1.4% in the last 12 months. That compares with gains of 2% for the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.27%  in the past 12 months.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said Tesla was working on a battery for homes and business back in February, when the company announced fourth-quarter results. Last month, Musk tweeted about a new “major product line” to be unveiled on April 30, saying only it was not a car.

Regular readers have known this since 3 April.


How Timehop was created » Business Insider

Maya Kosoff on Timehop, which has 19 staff but 15m registered users (of whom 7m check in every day) to see what they were doing exactly a year ago on social media:

When Jonathan Wegener and Benny Wong started Timehop in 2011, they were working on a completely different project: a Craigslist replacement. Wong and Wegener — self-proclaimed “Foursquare fanboys” — participated in Foursquare’s first-ever hackathon, and they ended up building out a product on top of Foursquare’s API that showed users where they checked in on Foursquare a year ago.

They appropriately called the product, which they built in eight hours, 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo.

“The original inspiration for it was the ghost in Mario Kart, where you get to race yourself in time trials after you’ve done a race,” Wegener says. “We thought it would be really interesting to do that with your Foursquare checkins.”

First time that a useful idea has taken inspiration from a game concept?


Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer on Q4 2014 results – earnings call transcript » Seeking Alpha

This is from January, where Mayer was asked whether Yahoo would try to knock Google off iOS as the search default (as it has on Firefox in the US – because Google didn’t bid, I understand):

I will take the question on the Safari deal. The Safari platform is basically one of the premiere search engine in the world, if not the premiere search engine in the world. We are definitely in the search distribution business. I think we stated that really clearly in the past and I think with Mozilla and also in addition we brought Amazon and eBay onboard with smaller distribution partnerships in Q4, we are in search distribution business and anyone who is in that business needs to be interested in the Safari deal.

The Safari users are among the most engaged and lucrative users in the world and it’s something that we would really like to be able to provide. We work really closely with Mozilla to ultimately bring to their users an experience that they designed and that they feel really suit those users and we welcome the opportunity with any other partner to do the same, particularly one with Apple’s volume and end user base.

I think when she said “the premiere search engine in the world”, she meant “one of the most-used browsers to access search engines”. Statcounter data suggests Safari was used for half of US smartphone and tablet use in March; if Mayer crazy enough to try to buy that search deal when it comes up later this year? (There’s no mention of it in the Q1 earnings transcript.)


AdBlock Plus proves it’s not illegal » Betanews

So hated is AdBlock Plus, in fact, that a case was brought against the tool to try to prove that it is illegal.

Now a court in Hamburg has come to a decision, and ruled that AdBlock Plus – in case there was ever any doubt – is entirely legal. The plaintiffs in the case alleged that AdBlock Plus should not be permitted to block ads on the websites it owns. The judge presiding over the case disagreed.

The court ruled that AdBlock Plus is well within its rights to provide the option to hide advertisements on websites. The company sees this as setting a precedent and is taking this moment in the spotlight to reach out to content creators to work together to “develop new forms of nonintrusive ads that are actually useful and welcomed by users.”

ABP’s Ben Williams enjoys his Nelson Muntz moment on the company blog.


Start up: Yahoo buying 4sq?, keyless car breakins, smartphones in Africa, and more


Power amplifier widgets mean criminals don’t need to do this to your keyless car. But the alarm won’t go off either… Photo by Bekathwia on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. And only you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Sources: Yahoo in talks to buy Foursquare » TechCrunch

Yahoo has been busy rebuilding its business around mobile under CEO Marissa Mayer, and soon it could make one of its biggest bets yet on the platform. We have heard perennially that the company has been looking to buy Foursquare, the New York startup behind the eponymous local search app and location-based social “check-in” app Swarm. The latest rumour we are hearing is giving the deal a price tag of around $900m.

It must be hell going shopping with Marissa Mayer. “Let’s buy THAT!” “Marissa, it’s way overpriced.” “WANT IT!”

So, is this hideously overpriced? Let’s see…


An analysis of Foursquare’s popularity after removing checkins » Junkyard Sam

Matthew Cox:

In May 2014 Foursquare removed check-ins and transformed the app into a lesser imitation of Yelp (using the accumulated reviews from Foursquare’s loyal audience.)

Foursquare’s users felt betrayed that their reviews were used but what they once loved about the app was removed.  Here’s how that worked out:

So, not well. Lesson: don’t change a winning formula.


Europe is targeting Google under antitrust laws but missing the bigger picture » The Guardian

Julia Powles:

As Maryland law professor Frank Pasquale writes in his acclaimed new book, The Black Box Society: “Google is not really a competitor in numerous markets, but instead serves as a hub and kingmaker setting the terms of competition for others.” For Pasquale, the solution lies in greater transparency. “Google’s secrecy keeps rivals from building upon its methods or even learning from them,” he writes. “Missing results are an ‘unknown unknown’: users for whom certain information is suppressed do not even know that they do not know the information.” The irony of the situation is that Google knows so much about us, and we know so little about it.

Let that thought roll around your head a little.


Feb 2009: Google joins Europe case against Microsoft » NYTimes.com

Miguel Helft, in February 2009, as Google applied to become a complainant in the EC’s case against Microsoft over illegal tying of Internet Explorer to Windows:

“Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users,” Sundar Pichai, a vice president for product management, wrote in a Google blog. “This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft’s dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers.”

Google declined to make anyone available to discuss its announcement. By becoming a party to the case, it would participate in the proceedings and gain access to the confidential “statement of objections” that European regulators sent to Microsoft last month. Google could also argue for remedies it prefers.

This seems like a bad move, in retrospect. Google had just launched Chrome, and Android was just beginning to make its first moves. You’d have to be smart to see how mobile was going to grow (but aren’t the people at Google meant to be smart?), but angering Microsoft – as this surely did – meant that Microsoft was always going to seek revenge. Which it is now getting.


Keeping your car safe from electronic thieves » NYTimes.com

Nick Bilton is keeping the (electronic) key to his Toyota Prius in the freezer to stop people getting into his car. Here’s why:

Mr. Danev specializes in wireless devices, including key fobs, and has written several research papers on the security flaws of keyless car systems.

When I told him my story, he knew immediately what had happened. The teenagers, he said, likely got into the car using a relatively simple and inexpensive device called a “power amplifier.”

He explained it like this: In a normal scenario, when you walk up to a car with a keyless entry and try the door handle, the car wirelessly calls out for your key so you don’t have to press any buttons to get inside. If the key calls back, the door unlocks. But the keyless system is capable of searching for a key only within a couple of feet.

Mr. Danev said that when the teenage girl turned on her device, it amplified the distance that the car can search, which then allowed my car to talk to my key, which happened to be sitting about 50 feet away, on the kitchen counter. And just like that, open sesame.

BRB. Move aside, ice cubes.


Cellphones in Africa: communication lifeline » Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project

Cell phones are pervasive in the region. In 2002, roughly one-in-ten owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. Since then, cell phone ownership has grown exponentially. Today, cell phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States. Smartphones (those that can access the internet and applications) are less widely used, though significant minorities own these devices in several nations…

…Roughly a third of South Africans (34%) and about a quarter of Nigerians (27%) say that their device is a smartphone, i.e. one that can access the internet and apps, such as an iPhone, Blackberry or Android device. Smartphone ownership is less common in the other nations surveyed, and in Tanzania and Uganda it is still in the single digits. By comparison, 64% in the United States owned a smartphone as of December 2014.

But those who are more likely to own them are young, educated and English-speaking. I’d love to see some data on whether it has an economic effect to own one – though splitting that from the “educated” benefits would be tough.


The self-driving car revolution’s unintended consequence: lots of puking passengers » Co.Exist

According to a report from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, 6% to 10% of American adults will get motion sickness—with nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and so on—in fully self-driving cars either most or all of the time. Another 6% to 12% of American adults will get moderate to severe motion sickness in a self-driving vehicle at least some of the time. That’s a fairly high percentage of potentially ill riders.

If you’ve ever been a passenger in a car driving down a windy road, feeling like you’re going to puke while the driver is perfectly fine, this shouldn’t be too surprising. As the study’s authors, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, explain, motion sickness is usually caused by two factors: a “conflict between visual and vestibular inputs” (like facing the side of the car instead of looking straight ahead) and a lack of ability to anticipate movements or a loss of control of movement. Since drivers have more control over where the vehicle is moving, they get motion sick less often than passengers.

And what makes it worse? Reading, texting or watching movies. Might as well just drive.


Samsung, LG Electronics have 99.2% of global TV monitor market » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-young:

TV monitors, which are monitors for PC that can also receive TV signals via an onboard TV tuner, are very popular among single households who have trouble having a separate TV and monitor.

Recently, this convenience in daily life is growing with the coming-out of new monitors equipped with an enlarged screen mainly for watching TV and those that allow users to watch TV on one half and work on their PC on the other half simultaneously. With this, the portion of TV monitors is continuously growing and is expected to make up to 6.5% of all monitors sold this year, growing from 5.8% last year.

Just a guess, but are most of those sales in Asia?


Taiwan supply chain makers hope for increased adoption of force touch solutions » Digitimes

Ninelu Tu:

With Apple’s adoption of force touch technology onto the trackpad of its new MacBook, related component makers hope the trend will prompt other notebook vendors to adopt the solutions for their products, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Since technologies adopted by Apple’s products have been usually able to set new trends for its competitors to follow suit, related component suppliers are hoping the force touch technology will be the same. Many Taiwan suppliers are already able to supply related solutions, the sources noted.

The sources also pointed out that brand vendors including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell and Lenovo and ODMs such as Quanta Computer, Compal Electronics and Wistron are all able to incorporate the solutions into their notebooks, but they had been reluctant to feature the technology in their products.

Why does it need Apple to make a song and dance about it for this to happen? There’s a similar story about USB-C – Dell and Asus are going to offer products with it. None of the PC ODMs likes to jump first, it seems. But that means Apple scoops the publicity.


Start up: smartwatches are go!, tablets shrink, bitcoins all spent?, Yahoo keeps growing in search, and more


What’s Apple up to with its privacy drive? Photo by dmelchordiaz on Flickr.

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

Pebble has now sold over 1 million smartwatches » The Verge

While Google and Apple have been getting the lion’s share of attention for smartwatches lately, indie darling Pebble has been quietly soldiering on, improving its product and selling watches. In an exclusive interview, CEO Eric Migicovsky revealed that the company shipped its one millionth Pebble on December 31st of last year. That’s more than double what Pebble reported in March, indicating that price cuts and new feature additions later in the year successfully boosted sales figures.

Pebble’s biggest and most visible competitor so far has been Google’s Android Wear, which launched in the middle of 2014 and is found on devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony, and Asus. Google has yet to reveal how many Android Wear watches have been sold in the six months or so it has been on the market, so it is difficult to determine if the platform is a success or not.

Google’s silence speaks volumes; it must know, surely? Also, how many of its employees are still wearing their LG smartwatch Christmas gift? A million is good going for Pebble. Seems like the smartwatch market will split three ways: Apple, Android, Pebble. (I have a Kickstarter Pebble, and recently rediscovered its usefulness through its step-and-sleep counting Misfit app.)


Worldwide tablet shipments experience first year-over-year decline in the fourth quarter while full year shipments show modest growth » IDC

Worldwide tablet shipments recorded a year-over-year decline for the first time since the market’s inception in 2010. Overall shipments for tablets and 2-in-1 devices reached 76.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2014 (4Q14) for -3.2% growth, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Although the fourth quarter witnessed a decline in the global market, shipments for the full year 2014 increased 4.4%, totaling 229.6m units.

“The tablet market is still very top heavy in the sense that it relies mostly on Apple and Samsung to carry the market forward each year,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst, worldwide quarterly tablet tracker.

Apple, Samsung, Asus, Amazon, all lost share and sales; only Lenovo, third-largest, grew (by 0.3m), which may have been mainly in 2-in-1s. Amazon’s dropoff is dramatic in both the Q4 and full year. But remember that tablets are principally going to consumers, have saturated their market, and have a replacement period of around four years. Compare that to PCs, which go to companies and consumers, and were at some times replaced as rapidly as every two years.


New findings suggest nearly 90% of all bitcoin holdings already spent » CoinSpeaker

Nearly 90% of those who have purchased or mined Bitcoin may have already cashed out their holdings, it emerged this weekend. Before now, it was thought that just 36% of bitcoins had currently been spent or sold, an argument often used by both advocates and their adversaries to support the fact that Bitcoin is both likely and unlikely to succeed as an asset class over the long term.

The findings were posted by Reddit user intmaxt64 and are being revealed in the Bitcoin press for the first time here at Coinspeaker…

…the findings may indicate that the Bitcoin price has suffered directly as a result of the major holders of Bitcoin liquidating their holdings while claiming the opposite. Many of the potential sellers appear to be the same individuals and organizations who got buyers to purchase during 2011-2013, since the large quantities of unit exchanges happened during this time.

Very deep implications to this, including the potential to corner the market.


Yahoo gains further US search share in January » StatCounter Global Stats

January saw Yahoo further increase the gain it made in US search share last month, according to the latest data from independent website analytics provider, StatCounter. Google fell below 75% in the US for the first time since StatCounter Global Stats began recording data [in June 2008].

StatCounter Global Stats reports that in January, Google took 74.8% of US search referrals followed by Bing on 12.4% and Yahoo on 10.9%, its highest US search share for over five years.

This is desktop-only, of course, and it’s not a giant change. But US users are surely the most valuable ones. Take Firefox out of the equation, and Google’s share remains where it was (despite Google’s attempts to win them back)

So what sort of people use Firefox and don’t change their search engine back to Google? Well, there’s Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of the Guardian’s US operation. Did she notice the change?

So why’s she sticking with Yahoo?


How new versions of Android work » Rusty Rants

Russell Ivanovic of Shifty Jelly, which makes Android and iOS apps:

People are often quick to mis-interpret these numbers. “iOS 8 adoption is at 64%, but Android 4.4, a version that’s years old isn’t even at that!”. There’s two things wrong with these kinds of comments. Firstly there are roughly 6-8x more Android devices than iOS devices in the world, depending on which market share numbers you use. This means that if a version of Android achieves 39% adoption, that’s a huge deal, and you could develop just for that platform and address a larger user base than targeting iOS 8 with its 64%. Secondly people confuse overall numbers, with actual numbers of people who buy apps. Here for example are the version breakdowns of people who buy Pocket Casts on Android:

So while Android 5.0 has less than 1% adoption in the overall Android ecosystem, 23% of our customers already run it. This makes sense when you put a bit of thought into these numbers. People that have the money to buy apps, and are passionate about Android, have up to date phones.

I find Ivanovic a necessary counterpoint to a lot of what one reads about Android and iOS. He’s sincere, and expresses his views directly. (He’s Australian, so..) One point about Pocket Casts is that it’s a podcast player. There are paid-for podcast players on iOS (Marco Arment, obviously) but it seems to me the opportunity is much larger because there’s no OS-level podcast app on Android as there is for iOS.

That said, Ivanovic’s points are still valid. It’s install base x amount paid that really matters for developers (and, to some extent, users, as they benefit from the availability of apps, driven by the size of the ecosystem). Also, he wrote this piece before today’s data about Lollipop share – 1.6% of all Google Play installs as of 2 February.


Apple on privacy, security and identity » Benedict Evans

Evans tries to connect the dots that Apple has left around, on the basis that products it has now – such as Apple Pay – are obvious in retrospect (TouchID + Passbook). With that in mind, why Apple’s focus on “privacy”, he asks:

it may also be that as our phones go from sharing pictures to unlocking our front doors, privacy becomes a much more valuable selling point. This might be one reason why Nest is being kept semi-detached at Google. Worrying that Google knows what you search for has always seemed to me rather like worrying that your bank knows how much money you have, but Google knowing when you get out of bed or unlock your front door might be different (though of course it gets a fair bit of this through Android). So, perhaps Apple is talking about privacy not because of its current products, but because it thinks privacy will be a real competitive advantage for future ones. Not the iPhones, but the Watch, or other wearables, or the connected home. There’s an interesting question here – is the big data dividend worth the privacy implications? Is it better to let Google know when you flush the loo for what it can tell you about your bowels, or would people really rather not? 


Why I’ve found that online communities on media sites always seem doomed to fail » Martin Belam

I used to work with Martin at The Guardian (he’s now at the Daily Mirror); he’s got great insights into how communities fail or work. His key points – “The behaviour of the regular users becomes self-limiting for the community as a whole” and “The community believes they are representative of the primary audience” are, to me, the essence of the problem.

As a reminder, I did a pseudo-economic analysis of why comments on media sites just don’t work, which comes down to “the crap drive out the good”. I think that’s what Martin’s saying in his first point, only more nicely. Also, as he notes:

At the moment we don’t have comments on the Mirror site where I work, and I must confess it is a slight relief not to be immediately called a twat every time I press publish, but equally I find sites without comments don’t feel as alive. You know an article has had an impact when it has generated hundreds of comments.

I’d disagree on that latter point. You know an article has generated hundreds of comments when it generates hundreds of comments. But if you read them, you might find there’s no actual impact at all – as in, the comments haven’t added to the sum of human knowledge in the slightest.


Apple Watch sightings picking up ahead of official launch » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

Due to the large number of employees testing the device, Apple Watch sightings in the wild have become more common over the course of the last few weeks. On the MacRumors forums, readers are aggregating photos and stories of device sightings, giving us an in-use look at the device that will be attached to many of our wrists in just a few short months.

One of the first major Apple Watch sightings occurred several weeks ago, when Vogue Editor Suzy Menkes snapped a photo of someone wearing the device. Rumors and speculation have suggested the arm in the photo could belong to Marc Newson, the designer who now works at Apple part time alongside Jony Ive.

The forums aren’t that helpful (lots of vague discussion); James Cook at BusinessInsider has wrapped the (few) pics together.

Though the iPhone was announced before its public release, the only person I recall ever being seen in public using it ahead of that was Steve Jobs. This quiet seeding and testing is quite different.

Of course – and ponder this for a moment – everyone’s got an internet-connected camera now. Maybe there were tons more iPhones in public testing in 2007. We just didn’t hear about them.


Start up: bitcoin’s price spiral, Siri gets smarter, Samsung + BlackBerry?, the truth about Google’s 20% time, and more


Is bitcoin’s price heading down this way? Photo by Christopher Chan on Flickr.

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As bitcoin’s price slides, signs of a squeeze » NYTimes.com

Sydney Ember:

the [bitcoin mining] industry is starting to feel the effects of the sustained decline. Some mining companies that invested heavily in resources when the price of Bitcoin was rising are struggling to keep their operations open.

“It obviously makes the environment for Bitcoin businesses difficult,” said Jonathan Levin, a digital currency consultant.

Bitcoin miners are computers that run Bitcoin’s open-source program and perform complex algorithms. If they find the solution before other miners, they are rewarded with a block of 25 Bitcoins — essentially “unearthing” new Bitcoins from the digital currency’s decentralized network. Such mining operations, though potentially lucrative, are also expensive, requiring huge amounts of equipment and electricity.

Now, these miners, who had bet on a higher price of the virtual currency to pay for resources, are selling their Bitcoins to keep their electricity running and return money to their lenders.

“People have these very real fiat-based liabilities that they have to pony up for, and to do that, they’re going to have to sell Bitcoins,” Mr. Schvey of TradeBlock said. These sales could in turn be driving down the price further.

This seems to me the best explanation for why bitcoin’s price is falling (along with Russia cracking down on exchanges there, which would also force sales). That in turn suggests a lower long-term price – some miners will be driven out permanently. (You can see the real-time price at coindesk.com/price – $172 as I write, below any level since October 2013.)


Bitcoin ponzi CryptoDouble disappears with at least 2233 bitcoins » CryptoCoinsNews

Bitcoin scams are back. CryptoDouble, a website founded on the promise of doubling its users’ deposits within 100 hours, ceased all its operations. At least 2233 BTC (about $500,000) have been cashed out on BTC-E, leaving thousands of customers out of pocket.

The service gained a significant popularity on Bitcointalk, where customers first testified about the service and its supposed effectiveness.

Despite several warnings from advanced Bitcoin users and previous Bitcoin Ponzi scams, a significant number of users have been attracted by the website’s promises and its investment possibilities.

Stories like this continue to demonstrate that bitcoin users aren’t somehow smarter than the rest of us.


Apple, Ericsson clash on LTE patents » Light Reading

Apple, however, appears to have initiated legal proceedings, filing a lawsuit in a US court on January 12 to prove that it has not infringed a subset of Ericsson’s patents and should pay lower royalties than the networks giant has demanded.

The device maker believes royalties should be based on the cost of the chips used in its devices, according to Reuters, but says Ericsson has been calculating licensing fees as a percentage of the value of the whole device.

Ericsson defended its approach in an email sent to Light Reading.

“Our view is that royalties should be based on the value that the technology in the device brings to the end-user,” said an Ericsson spokesperson. “The price of the chip-set has nothing to do with the value the technology brings to the end-user.”

Ericsson has also called on US legal authorities to determine whether its licensing offer to Apple is fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Possibly the previous deal was set up when Ericsson still had a mobile phone unit (with Sony), which led to prices being bargained down via patent swaps. Now, Ericsson just makes network kit – so there’s nothing for Apple to bargain against.

Alternatively, Ericsson is demanding a ton of money.


This is what happens when you create an online community without any rules » The Washington Post

Caitlin Dewey:

8chan, the more-lawless, more-libertarian, more “free” follow-up to 4chan, disappeared from the internet under predictable circumstances Monday: Multiple people complained to 8chan’s registrar that the message board hosted child porn.

8chan has since resurfaced at a new URL, 8ch.net, and purportedly recovered its original domain. But that doesn’t erase the inevitable lesson of the matter: When you create an Internet community with virtually no rules, things are bound to go down the drain.

The response of the denizens of 8chan: dox Dewey.


Exclusive: Samsung approaches BlackBerry about buyout – source » Reuters

Jennifer Ablan and Liana Baker:

Samsung Electronics recently approached BlackBerry about buying the smartphone maker for as much as $7.5bn in a play for its patent portfolio, according to a person familiar with the matter and documents seen by Reuters.

South Korea’s Samsung proposed an initial price range of $13.35 to $15.49 per share, representing a premium of 38% to 60% over BlackBerry’s current trading price, the source said.

Executives from the two companies, which are working with advisers, met last week to discuss a potential transaction, the source said, asking not to be identified because the conversations are private.

It remains unclear whether Blackberry, which has regained some of its lost swagger under CEO John Chen over the past year or so, was open to the approach. Representatives for the company declined to comment.

BlackBerry’s patents have for some time seemed like the only thing with ongoing value that it has. Its corporate and government customers might be happy enough with Samsung buying it.

For my analysis of BlackBerry’s most recent results, read There must be a horse in there somewhere.


360 Security climbs Google Play chart to top Tools and Free App categories » 360Safe

An excited press release from the company:

It’s safe to say that the third version of 360 Security, which we’ve just announced, is off to an explosive start.

On Tuesday 360 Security climbed to the top of the Google Play charts, peaking at No. 1 among Android Tools in 20 countries and counting. 360 Security has also broken into the Top 3 among all free Android apps in the U.S.

We knew heading into the development of 360 Security that the awareness surrounding smartphone threats and performance were low. Topping the Google Play chart means that the general audience in not only the US but also around the world are increasingly attentive today of the vulnerabilities and performance problems that may lurk within their devices.

I find this depressing.


Mayer: Google’s ‘20% Time’ does not exist » Business Insider

Nicholas Carlson (who has written a well-received book about Yahoo, and Marissa Mayer’s tenure there so far:

I learned that in the spring of 2013, Mayer stood up on stage during an all-employee meeting at Yahoo and debunked the 20% time myth.

Mayer was announcing something called the CEO Challenge — an initiative where teams that came up with cool new product ideas would get spot bonuses of $250,000. Mayer warned Yahoo employees not to work on CEO Challenge products instead of doing their regular work.

“It’s funny,” she said. “People have been asking me since I got here, ‘When is Yahoo going to have 20% time?'”

“I’ve got to tell you the dirty little secret of Google’s 20% time. It’s really 120% time.”

As in, work them into the ground. Play on their insecurities about what they can get done compared to those around them. Lots of companies do it.


As Blinkbox sold, just 4% in UK use the service monthly » GlobalWebIndex

Blinkbox, bought by TalkTalk and soon to be shut down, was reported to be making Tesco a considerable loss – and it’s easy to see why. Only 4% of UK online adults used Blinkbox last month. Even when we extend this to those who have used the service ever, the figure rises to just 14%.

Like most VOD services, Blinkbox could claim peaks among younger consumers. But these numbers were still low – 7% of 16-34s in the UK used the service monthly.

Perhaps most significantly, almost a fifth of UK internet users say they have never even heard of Blinkbox. In an industry where Netflix is grabbing Emmy awards, brand recognition problems of this type are pretty telling.

In fact, Netflix can boast a 22% usage rate in the UK – with almost 4 in 10 UK internet users saying they have used Netflix at some point.

Tesco is big, but I’m not that surprised about Blinkbox. Launched in 2007, Tesco bought into it in 2011, but it was still a hard sell: Tesco might have pushed it, but it had other distractions at the time. (Even so, 14% is creditable.)


Samsung returns to roots in components as phones stall » Bloomberg

This is from 8 January, so a week old – but I find it interesting for the analyst estimates:

Operating profit from semiconductors was probably 2.7trn won in the fourth quarter on sales of 10.8trn won, according to the median estimate of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. That would be a 35% increase in earnings from a year earlier.

Samsung and Globalfoundries Inc. are teaming up in the made-to-order chip business, an alliance aimed at winning orders from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co In October, Samsung said it would spend 15.6trn won building a chip plant south of Seoul.

“Samsung’s main business is now shifting back to semiconductors,” Peter Lee, a Seoul-based analyst at NH Investment & Securities (016420), said in a Jan. 2 report. The annual operating profit from the chip business this year will outpace that of the mobile unit, he said.

Operating income at the phone division probably fell to 1.6trn won on sales of 27trn won, according to the analyst survey. That would be the unit’s smallest quarterly profit in almost four years as Samsung faces increasing competition in China and India, the world’s two biggest smartphone markets.

Fewer shipments and higher marketing spending for new models during the quarter curtailed profit growth and limited the benefits of the September release of the large-screen Note 4, said Lee Seung Woo, an analyst at IBK Securities Co. in Seoul…

…Samsung probably shipped 75 million smartphones worldwide in the last three months of 2014, after selling 78.7 million units in the third quarter, according to HMC’s Roh.


Doonesbury Collection: the Newton

From August 1993. I was on a tour of Silicon Valley not long after, and visited companies including General Magic – whose staff included Andy Rubin, who went on to Danger and of course to found Android, and you know the rest there. I can’t remember if I met him or not. But I do remember that these strips were stuck beside doors as an Awful Warning.

Contrast that to now…


Quick thoughts: on Apple’s subtle machine learning improvements » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson, following up on reports that Apple’s Siri has quietly got faster, notes that it has also got smarter about telling him how long it would take to get to his basketball game:

What Apple’s machine learning engine did here was (as far as I can guess 1):

• Note that I had an item called “Basketball” in my calendar for that morning
• Make a connection with past appointments on Saturday mornings also called “Basketball”
• Look up past location behavior in its location database to connect a particular location with past instances of “Basketball” in my calendar
• Look up this address and calculate driving time between my current location and this destination
• Present it to me at a relevant time in the Today screen.

Again, Apple has talked up some functionality around using calendar locations explicitly entered in your calendar to provide these sorts of alerts, but I’m not sure it’s ever talked about the deeper machine learning stuff in evidence here. I’ve never seen exactly this sort of extrapolation from past behavior again since this occasion, but I have received other notifications on this screen that it’s time to leave for appointments where I’ve explicitly entered a location in my calendar, based on heavy traffic (it happened to me this past week at CES, for example).

Siri got a stuttering start, rather like Maps. Both function sufficiently well now; it’s the under-the-hood things that Apple is working on, slowly but surely.


Start up: digging into Samsung’s numbers, Pono launches, a billion tablets!, a CES wearables binge, and more


These, but multiplied by a big number. Photo of tablets by Martin Voltri on Flickr.

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I tried on 56 wearables today. Here’s a photo of every single one of them » VentureBeat

Harrison Weber:

I just tried on every single wearable I could find at CES 2015, and yes, I’m freaking exhausted.

The total count (so far) totals to 56 wearables across every category you can think of, from clip-on trackers to full-fledged Android and Linux-powered wrist computers. Heck, I even wore a smart sweatband.

Really worth scrolling through this lot.


Tablet users to surpass 1 billion worldwide in 2015 » eMarketer

More than 1 billion people worldwide will use a tablet in 2015, according to new figures from eMarketer, representing nearly 15% of the global population and more than double the number three years ago. By 2018, the number of tablet users in the world will reach 1.43 billion.

This is the first time eMarketer has made projections for the number of tablet users worldwide. The key takeaway is that growth in the global tablet-using population will slow dramatically in 2015 and continue to taper off.

That’s almost as many tablets as PCs; and that 2018 figure surely is. The slowing growth in sales of tablets doesn’t mean people are giving up on tablets – just that they’ve sold in amazing numbers already.


The truth about 4K and curved TVs » Business Insider

Let Henry Blodget walk the floor of CES and tell you it like it is:

true: 4K TVs do look sharper than regular high-definition TVs. But they do not offer anywhere near the same leap in sharpness and enjoyment as the jump from regular def to high-def did. So don’t prepare to be astounded.

As I was getting my first look at 4K TVs, I asked myself how much the 4K feature would be worth to me.

I concluded that if both TVs were the same price, I’d take the 4K. Why not? It’s sharper.

I concluded that if the 4K were maybe 10% or 20% more than the HD, I might even shell out that much extra for the 4K.

But there is no way I would pay two times the premium that 4K TVs are commanding.

Wait until you hear what he thinks of curved screens, too.


Samsung’s mobile moment of Truth – The Information

Jessica Lessin:

The world’s largest consumer electronics company showed off a giant television, a slew of “Internet of Things” connected devices and an oven that cooks two dishes at once. (Don’t all ovens do that?)

But the spectacle was all a sideshow for what really matters for the hardware company. That is how it plans to remain relevant in the area of technology that will end up controlling these futuristic connected devices: smartphones…

…Most at risk is Samsung’s mobile chief J.K. Shin. While he survived a management shakeup at the end of last year, people who work at the company say he may only have one more chance to prove he can stabilize the business. He will fire that shot in the spring with the launch of the latest version of Samsung’s Galaxy phones, the hotly anticipated S6…

…Unfortunately for Mr. Shin, according to those people [in his mobile group] there’s little about the device that could help restore Samsung’s momentum. While company executives have been internally praising its slick design, reported images leaked online show a device that is little different from the most recent Galaxy phone.

(Subscription required)


Samsung earnings hint at recovery » WSJ

Jonathan Cheng, on the pre-announcement announcement from Samsung Electronics that Q4 2014 revenues will be down about 12%, and operating profit down about 37% (to a margin of 10%):

In the third quarter of 2014, Samsung’s mobile profit margins dropped to just 7.1% from nearly 20% at the beginning of the year.

In the fourth quarter, the mobile division likely suffered a drop in handset shipments compared with the third quarter, even as the company rolled out its new Galaxy Note 4 smartphone-tablet hybrid, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The company is already beginning to look beyond smartphones for growth. Earlier this week, Samsung co-chief executive B.K. Yoon said in a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that by 2020, “every single piece of Samsung hardware will be an IoT device, whether it is an air purifier or an oven.”

I’ve tried modelling how many handsets Samsung shipped, based on this small amount of data; the “drop in handset shipments” suggests fewer than 78.5m.

The only way I could get that is (1) mobile revenues are about 45% of total revenues and (2) average selling price (ASP) is $300-$325, substantially ahead of the $230 ASP of Q3. That would give a range of 72-78m. A lower ASP or higher proportion of revenues could easily push it to 80m. We’ll see.


Yahoo’s US share on Firefox quadruples after deal » Computerworld

Gregg Keizer, with more fine-grained detail that I wondered about yesterday:

As of Jan. 6, Yahoo’s search usage share on Firefox 34 was 32.2%, or more than four times the 7.5% that Yahoo had on Firefox 33 on the same day.

The Yahoo increase in Firefox 34 came at the expense of Google, which had a 60.8% share in that version, significantly lower than the 86.1% in Firefox 33. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, at 5.5% in Firefox 34, was only slightly up from the 5.4% in Firefox 33.

On Jan. 6, StatCounter’s search provider usage shares for all browsers in the US were 75.3% for Google, 12.4% for Bing and 10.5% for Yahoo. In other words, Firefox 34 users were more than three times likelier to reach a destination page from a Yahoo search than the US average because of the new default.

Now wondering how much value that yields to Yahoo, and whether it will have to detail the financial arrangement in its next quarterly filing.. this month.


Palm makes a comeback! China’s TCL to ‘recreate’ the brand » Facebook

Lynn Hill Fox, a PR, noted the CNet story about this and wondered what Ed Colligan – who ran Palm – thought of it. Colligan popped up to comment:

I think it’s amazing these companies think they can buy a brand and stick some crappy products under it, and somehow they will get the benefit of the brand. The reason the brand was strong is we built compelling products that delighted our customers over 15 years. The word Palm is still a great name for mobile products, but they’ll have to actually build great products and be a great company to instill brand value in it again. Good luck to them.

I think that last sentence actually means the opposite of what he said.


PonoMusic store launches with album prices up to $27.49 » Musically

Stuart Dredge:

The store’s launch provides an answer to one of the key questions about PonoMusic: how much it would charge for its high-definition albums. More than regular downloads, yes, but how much more? Judging by the music available at launch, individual tracks are going for between $1.99 and $2.99, while albums can range from $17.99 up to $27.49 – although admittedly the latter is for the deluxe version of Led Zeppelin IV.

The obvious comparison is with vinyl rather than iTunes. However, there may be some concerns over fragmentation on the PonoMusic store, not just in terms of price but in terms of audio quality.

Pono has a “music quality spectrum” infographic showing that music will be available in four separate tiers of quality: from 16-bit 44.1KHz up to 24-bit 192Khz, with an “audio resolution” bar showing which each album falls into. It is difficult to imagine, say, Apple following a similar path rather than standardising a quality level for its suppliers.

This will sink straight off the slipway.


Start up: Monumental confusion, obligatory (useless) 4K, drone cost surprise, Yahoo’s search inroad, ereaders stall, and more


However, it’s rather difficult to define quite what constitutes “piracy” in some situations. Photo from robotson on Flickr.

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Mobile game piracy isn’t all bad, says Monument Valley producer (Q&A) » Re/code

Remember the remarkable “95% unpaid installs on Android, 60% on iOS” stat from Us Two Games? Here’s a followup:

Re/code: First off, how was that 95 percent statistic determined?

Dan Gray: Five percent are paid downloads, so the ratio is 9.5 to 1, but a portion of those are people who have both a phone and a tablet, people who have more than one Android device with them. So a small portion of that 95 percent is going to be taken up by those installs.

Q: Do you know how big that portion is?

A: It’s impossible for us to track that data. The only thing we can do is, two bits of data: One, how many purchases we have and, two, how many installs we’ve got. And we just leave people to draw conclusions from that as they wish, because we can’t clarify any further than that…

…When you compare the most affluent regions, obviously that kind of slants it toward developing markets and Android devices, where people are less inclined to spend $4 on a game. Let’s say you take U.S. only: those paid rates for Android and iOS are actually considerably closer. They’re closer than five and 40%.


The TidBITS Wishlist for Apple in 2015 » TidBITS

Though Apple fulfilled many user wishes in 2014, there is still more to be done. Here are some of what the TidBITS crew would like to see from Apple in 2015. We’ll circle back to this article at the end of the year to see what changed.

Tidbits is a longstanding online Mac weekly newsletter/site, and all the points made here – too many to enumerate briefly – are spot-on. This ought to be circulated within Apple.


4K TVs are coming for you, even if you don’t want them » Yahoo Tech

Rob Pegoraro, pointing out that manufacturers are pushing 4K resolution as hard as they can, despite the lack of bandwidth to transmit it or content to show. And there’s another thing:

Will you see that added resolution from your couch? You will on the CES show floor, where the crowds force you to within a few feet of sets that span from 50 to more than 100in across. From that perspective, 4K TVs almost always look spectacular.

Things change when you’re gazing at a 4K screen smaller than 55 inches (Samsung’s start at 48 inches and Sharp’s at 43 inches) from across the living room. In many cases, your existing set already shows all the resolution you can discern with 20/20 vision.

How close will you need to sit to see all those extra pixels? A Panasonic rep said the company recommends a viewing distance of 3.5 feet for a 50in 4K set, the smallest it will sell this year. That’s cozy even by Manhattan-apartment standards.

The average screen size has crept up — the NPD Group says 50 to 64in now represents the mainstream of the market — but the math of visual acuity suggests that to get sufficient benefit from 4K, you’re best off buying at the upper end of that scale.

I’ve seen the point made repeatedly that you won’t get any benefit from 4K across the average living room. This isn’t going to prevent a spec-based marketing push though.


The privacy tool that wasn’t: SocialPath malware pretends to protect your data, then steals it » Lookout Blog

Lookout recently discovered SocialPath, a piece of malware that advertises itself as an online reputation management tool. It claims that it will alert its users any time their photo is uploaded somewhere on the Internet. Instead, it steals the victim’s data.

We found one variant associated with this family in Google Play. We alerted Google to the malware and it has since been removed. This app offers a slightly different service — it promises to act as a backup service saving your contacts. It says it will also soon add features for saving your photos, videos, and other data “so if you lose your phone, you will not lose its contents.”

SocialPath targets Sudan predominantly — a region that has been rife with political unrest since the country split when an oil-rich South Sudan seceded.

Unclear whether it’s a nefarious government scheme – seems unlikely, but just possible. However then we come to Lookout’s advice:

You should always:
• Download apps from trusted developers — read reviews, research the developers, make sure you’re choosing a trustworthy product, especially if this tool is promising to help you protect sensitive information
• Don’t download apps from third party marketplaces

But this was on Google Play, at least in one variant. How do you decide in that situation?


Can drones deliver? (PDF) » IEEE Xplore

A guest editorial on the economic viability (or otherwise) of Amazon’s drone delivery, by Rafaeillo D’Andrea, formerly of Kiva:

A high-end lithium-ion battery costs roughly $300/kW h, and can be cycled about 500 times, resulting in a cost of roughly 0.8 cents per km for a 2 kg payload. The total cost of batteries and power is thus 1 cent per km for a 2 kg payload.

So, is package delivery using flying machines feasible? From a cost perspective, the numbers do not look unreasonable: the operating costs directly associated with the vehicle are on the order of 10 cents for a 2 kg payload and a 10 km range. I compare this to the 60 cents per item that we used over a decade ago in our Kiva business plan for the total cost of delivery, and it does not seem outlandish.

This seems surprising, and it would be helpful to know what proportion of Amazon deliveries are 2kg or less. There’s a non-PDF version with more discussion at Robohub.


Xiaomi’s Ambition » stratechery

Ben Thompson, explaining how demographics and non-renting in China works in Xiaomi’s favour as it expands its portfolio with super-keen fan buyers:

This, then, is the key to understanding Xiaomi: they’re not so much selling smartphones as they are selling a lifestyle, and the key to that lifestyle is MiUI, Xiaomi’s software layer that ties all of these things together.

In fact, you could argue that Xiaomi is actually the first “Internet of Things” company: unlike Google (Nest), Apple (HomeKit), or even Samsung (SmartThings), all of whom are offering some sort of open SDK to tie everything together (a necessity given that most of their customers already have appliances that won’t be replaced anytime soon) Xiaomi is integrating everything itself and selling everything one needs on Mi.com to a fan base primed to outfit their homes for the very first time. It’s absolutely a vertical strategy – the company is like Apple after all – it’s just that the product offering is far broader than anything even Gene Munster [proponent for years of a TV set from Apple] could imagine. The services Lei Jun talks about sell the products and tie them all together, but they are all Xiaomi products in the end.

Just bear in mind that there are about a billion people in China, and the one-child rule is being relaxed, and you begin to glimpse how big Xiaomi could be. “A computer on every desk”? Pah. A Xiaomi device in every room in all of China and beyond, more like.


“Best” Apple Mac mini (Late 2014) 2.8GHz review » Macworld UK

Andrew Harrison:

one thing we don’t ordinarily expect is for a newly revised computer to appear which computes more slower than the model that it replaces. Particularly when there’s been not one but two long years between the now-obsolete and shiny new editions.

That’s exactly what’s happened with Apple’s 2014 model of the Mac mini though. Today’s 2014 Mac mini range is in many respects slower than the 2012 range it replaces. Read: 2014 Mac mini v 2012 Mac mini comparison review.

Utterly amazing. It doesn’t offer a quad-core option, the RAM is soldered in place, and changing the disk drive is nigh on impossible. It’s like the worst sort of con job that Apple used to pull when Steve Jobs was in charge. I’d love to hear the reasons for these changes-that-aren’t-improvements.


Yahoo achieves highest US search share since 2009 » StatCounter Global Stats

In December Yahoo achieved its highest US search share for over five years according to the latest data from StatCounter, the independent website analytics provider. Google fell to the lowest monthly share yet recorded by the company*. These December stats coincide with Mozilla making Yahoo the default search engine for Firefox 34 users in the US.

StatCounter Global Stats reports that in December Google took 75.2% of US search referrals followed by Bing on 12.5% and Yahoo on 10.4%.

If you allow that StatCounter’s numbers are correct, Yahoo moved from 8.2% of US search in November 2014 to 10.4% in December. How many Firefox users does that represent? How many have yet to move to version 34? How many have/will switch their default from Yahoo back to Google? One to watch.


Kindle sales have ‘disappeared’, says UK’s largest book retailer » Telegraph

Waterstones, which expects to break even this year. plans to open at least a dozen more shops this year as the ebook revolution appears to go in reverse.

Amazon launched the Kindle, which is now in its seventh generation, in 2007. Sales peaked in 2011 at around 13.44m, according to Forbes. That figure fell to 9.7m in 2012, with sales flat the following year. It is estimated that Amazon has sold around 30m Kindles in total.
At the same time, British consumers spent £2.2bn on print in 2013, compared with just £300m on ebooks, according to Nielsen.

London bookstore Foyles has reported a surge in sales of physical books over Christmas.
US book giant Barnes & Noble is looking to spin off its Nook ereader business, which is estimated to be losing $70m a year. Meanwhile, core sales, excluding Nook, rose 5pc in the most recent quarter.

It seems that e-readers had a natural ceiling on adoption, which was far short of 100% (or even 90%). That in turn means that ebooks aren’t going to take over the world. Physical books, meanwhile, are pretty much guaranteed a readership somewhere. Now the challenge for publishers is working out the correct balance of effort and investment to put into ebooks and physical ones.


A&E in crisis: a special report » Daily Telegraph

Robert Colville:

here’s where I’m going to start: in a small green-painted room off one of the main corridors of that same hospital, where 10 women and two men are studying the spreadsheet projected on the walls and firing jargon back and forth.

“Four in urology with a decision to admit.” “306 is gone, 728 still waiting.” “With all that agreed, does that give you any ITU capacity?” “They’re desperate to bring the liver over from Worcester.” “Time to be seen is at 1hr 54.”

This is the “Ops Centre” of one of the country’s biggest hospitals, where I am spending the week as a fly on the wall. At this and other daily bed meetings, the senior nurses and managers get together to work out who is in the hospital, and where they need to go next.
They go through, ward by ward, listing spare beds and allocating them to the people in A&E. They can see who’s been waiting longest, where the pressure points are, and what needs to be done to resolve them.

This, then, is the story about the NHS that I want to tell. It’s the story of the NHS as a system – a system that takes millions of patients through from the GP surgery and A&E department to treatment, recovery and discharge.

This is a tour de force from Colville, in a piece so long and deep it could have come from the New Yorker (of the 1980s). If you want to understand the pressures on the UK’s NHS emergency services – which are clearly shown here not to be just about “money” – this is the single article to read.


Reporting on cyberattacks: the media’s urgent problem » Medium

Dave Lee is a (terrific) BBC technology writer, here writing in a personal capacity about the impossibility of knowing what’s really going on in some stories:

Let’s take an active story. The hack on Sony Pictures raises many issues about the reporting of hack attacks, and the coverage so far carries worrying implications.

Experts are queueing up to dispute the FBI’s confident claim that it was North Korea — mainly because the evidence pointing the finger at Kim Jong-un is either a) flakey at best or b) top secret, and therefore not open to scrutiny, journalistic or otherwise.

The result of this political back-and-forth is far-reaching, and one that from here on in is being reported on without anyone having any real clue whether the basis of the story — that it was North Korea — is in any way accurate.

We simply don’t know who did it — and yet the atmosphere created by the coverage means the US is considering reclassifying North Korea as a terrorist state. That move would open the door significantly when it comes to what the US considers a “proportional response” to the attack on Sony.