Start up: Getty v Google, chatbotting spammers, Twitter’s costly stock, BlackBerry’s hard stop, and more


“Where’s the pig, though?” Photo by Dario-Jacopo Lagana’ 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.

Advocacy : where we stand • Getty Images


»

Today we’re campaigning to stop Google’s anti-competitive scraping of your imagery. By adding your name to both of the open letters below, you can lend your voice to the campaign and let US and EU anti-trust regulators know that it is not okay for Google to profit from your creativity and unfairly compete in the distribution of your images.

You do not need to be living in the United States or the European Union to sign these letters, nor do you need to be a Getty Images contributor. This affects the entire visual content industry and we are stronger together.

Click the links below to sign today.

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One aggregator fighting against another.
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Two years spamming spammers back • Medium

Brian Weinreich:

»

I created a bot to respond to these types of emails…

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“Sarah”: My husband dead two years ago and the family members wants to kill me and my children and seat on the inheritance he left for us with bank here l am now in a hiding with my kids and the documents of inheritance is with us…

Bot: Very nice! Where abouts are you located?

«

(Jump to mlooper.com to see how this conversation continued…)

^ that’s the Sp@m Looper. It’s a service I made that puts spammers (and scammers) in an email loop with a bot that regularly asks the spammer questions.

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Finally a real use for chatbots.
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Donate to OpenStreetMap • OpenStreetMap


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This year, we are raising money with a most important goal: our continued independence as a project.

OpenStreetMap is the largest open geographic database in the world, the data infrastructure for multitudes of mapping projects around the globe. Your donation to the OpenStreetMap Foundation will cover our core operational expenses in supporting the OpenStreetMap project: hardware costs, legal fees, administrative assistant and other expenses of our working groups and administration.

We currently run extremely lean for an operation for a project the size and importance of OpenStreetMap. The OpenStreetMap Foundation relies on revenue from individual and corporate membership dues, profits generated by the annual State of the Map conferences, and past donation drives (thank you so much for the support last year — GBP 60,000 for updating our server infrastructure). We must keep our income sources diversified, as these vary from year to year, but our modest needs stay the same. For this, we need your support.

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At the time of saving, they’re just over one-tenth of the way to a €70,000 goal. If you use, contribute. And maybe even if you don’t.
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Twitter’s steep premium: the cost of employee stock grants • The New York Times

Michael de la Merced:

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Buying Twitter would be a challenge for a number of reasons. Among the lesser-explored ones: The struggling social network pays out so much stock to its employees.

Even among its Silicon Valley peers, which have drawn closer scrutiny from investors recently because of their generous stock-based compensation practices, Twitter is notable for how much equity it doles out.

And those grants of restricted stock units or options, which would have to be covered to some degree by any buyer, simply add to the purchase price of any deal.

According to Twitter’s most recent annual filing, the company racked up $682m in stock-based compensation last year. By comparison, the company’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — which also excludes stock-based compensation — for the year was $557.8m.

Factoring in the payouts would have pushed Twitter well into the red for the year.

«

Someone did point out this fact about the ESOs to me on Twitter after I wrote about the possibility of it being bought, and I can only apologise that Twitter’s search is so poor for any period longer than 14 days that I couldn’t find it to link to that instead.
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Apple is developing hardware for the ‘iPhone 8’ in Israel • Business Insider

Sam Shead:

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Apple is using an office in Israel to develop hardware for the “iPhone 8,” which is expected to be released next year with a radical redesign, according to an employee at the site.

Details on the iPhone 8 are scarce at present but some reports, including this one from MacRumours, suggest that it will have an edge-to-edge display that removes the need for the top and bottom bezels where features like the fingerprint sensor and the front-facing camera are located.

Some hardware for the iPhone 8 is being created in Herzliya, Israel, according to a local Apple employee, who said employees in Israel work on all of Apple’s new products.

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Wow! Tell us more about this knowledgeable person.

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The employee, whose identity is being concealed by Business Insider, solders components for Apple.

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🤔
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Apple to create stunning new HQ at Battersea Power Station • London Evening Standard

Jonathan Prynn:

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Apple is to create a spectacular new London headquarters at Battersea Power Station in a massive coup for the developers behind the £9 billion project.

The iPhone and iPad maker will move 1,400 staff from eight sites around the capital into what it calls “a new Apple campus” at the Grade II* listed former electricity generator.

Its employees will occupy all six floors of office space in the brick “cathedral of power”, which is being painstakingly restored after 33 years standing derelict on the banks of the Thames.

In a statement to the Standard, Apple said it was looking forward to the 2021 opening of “our new London campus” as staff relocate to “this magnificent new development at one of the city’s best-known landmarks”. It added: “This is a great opportunity to have our entire team working and collaborating in one location while supporting the renovation of a neighbourhood rich with history.”

«

…though that history doesn’t include “building underground stations nearby”. The nearest is Vauxhall station, 20 minutes’ walk away. For staff used to the joys of Hanover Street and Covent Garden, Vauxhall might be something of a comedown. Perhaps they’ll walk to and from work listening to Pink Floyd’s “Animals”. (But “Dogs” or “Sheep”?)
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Google Car: sense and money impasse • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:

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With all of the Can You Top This? PR that surrounds driving automation, [Alphabet CEO Larry] Page’s stance [that an autonomous car must be fully autonomous] is an admirable injection of thoughtfulness, a sobriety check. The visionary statements and self-driving demos (cue demo jokes) blithely omit the “mere matter of implementation”. What’s the plan, the timeline? What are we going to do with the 235 million cars and trucks on US roads, some expected to last 20 years or more? How will manufacturers negotiate the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Automated Vehicles Policy? Sometimes, the last 5% of a project takes 200% of the time and money.

Then we have another unanswered Google Car question: The path to money.

Personally, I think a company needs one really good idea every ten years, so for a company as rich as Google, a few billion dollars for a new breakthrough looked eminently affordable…for a while. But there is such a thing as too much, such as Google barges and many other puzzling pursuits that fall into the Because We Can category.

In May 2015, Ruth Porat left Morgan Stanley where she was Executive VP and Chief Financial Officer to become Alphabet’s CFO. The story is that her appointment had been heavily encouraged by investors who were concerned about Alphabet’s runaway “moonshot” projects. As expected, Porat set out to improve financial discipline and, for many projects, to demand a path to profitability. Highly speculative research, such as the Calico project’s quest to extend human life by 20 to 100 years, doesn’t entail huge financial outlays, but a grand and realistic endeavor such as developing the Google Self-Driving Car will require billions to reach its destination and raises business model questions as a result.

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The years when Google could pile into lots of “because we can” – about five years ago? – feel distant now. As the presidential debate of some years went, echoing the fast food outlet advert, “where’s the beef?”
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Facebook and Google: the most powerful and secretive empires we’ve ever known • The Guardian

Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles:

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Characterizing Facebook or Google as powerful media organs – even the most powerful – actually understates their power. Marshall McLuhan, 60 years ago, gave us another, fuller understanding of media. Electric light is a medium “totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized” that appears to us as media only when constituted into video content. Electrical current itself completely changes our relationship to the world and, in the process, reconstitutes us. A medium is not merely something that feeds us content. It is a condition like air or water, through which we move without noticing.

The analogy captures part of what is happening, but goes even further. Facebook and Google are not only carrying us, but constituting us. We are, in fact, their media. Geared as they are to sharing, clicking and eyeballs, these media do not measure and do not value solitary contemplation, reflection and disconnection. They thrive and pulse on popularity, not veracity. They feed on extremes, not common causes.

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BlackBerry bails on building its own phones • CNET

Roger Cheng:

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BlackBerry posted fiscal second-quarter results on Wednesday that saw it swing to a loss of $372m, or 71 cents a share, from a year-ago profit of $51m, or 24 cents a share. Revenue fell by a third to $334m.

Analysts, on average, forecast a loss of 5 cents a share and revenue of $394m.

[CEO John] Chen confirmed on a call with analysts that BlackBerry will have little to do with future hardware efforts, and will only collect a royalty fee on any phone sold by its partners.

BlackBerry had previously teased a second Android phone to come, but that’s unlikely to show up.

It’s unclear whether future phones from the partnership will make their way to more mature markets like the US, where the carriers have been lukewarm on carrying the devices. But there is still a small, but dedicated, base of users who appreciate the physical keyboard and focus on security.

Chen teased other interested companies looking to strike similar partnerships around the world, but didn’t provide any names. He also hinted there would be high-end devices focused on security.

BlackBerry plans to complete the shutdown of the internal hardware business by the end of this fiscal year.

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Sic transit gloria mundi. Microsoft next, then Sony?
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Defending against hackers took a back seat at Yahoo, insiders say • The New York Times

Nicole Perlroth and Vindu Goel:

»

In 2013, disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, showed that Yahoo was a frequent target for nation-state spies. Yet it took a full year after Mr. Snowden’s initial disclosures for Yahoo to hire a new chief information security officer, Alex Stamos.

Jeff Bonforte, the Yahoo senior vice president who oversees its email and messaging services, said in an interview last December that Mr. Stamos and his team had pressed for Yahoo to adopt end-to-end encryption for everything. Such encryption would mean that only the parties in a conversation could see what was being said, with even Yahoo unable to read it.

Mr. Bonforte said he resisted the request because it would have hurt Yahoo’s ability to index and search message data to provide new user services. “I’m not particularly thrilled with building an apartment building which has the biggest bars on every window,” he said.

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These things build up over time. But eventually they take their toll.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Lenovo guts Motorola, print PDFs on iOS 10!, Nadella on AI, BlackBerry’s halt?, and more


Nice planet. Let’s go there. Photo by Kevin M Gill 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Elon Musk’s Mars mission: all the news from the big announcement • The Verge

Russell Brandom:

»

On September 27, Elon Musk announced a bold new plan to establish a permanent human habitation on Mars with his company SpaceX. It’s one of the most ambitious schemes Musk — or humanity in general — has ever attempted, relying on huge advances in both rocketry and spaceship construction. Follow along here for the latest news about the project, and whether Musk can succeed in his longheld dream of bringing humanity to Mars.

Developing. Check out our SpaceX Mars Colonization liveblog for the latest updates and our storystream for all the news!

«

Sometimes I think that The Verge is actually one of those fake news sites that you see in films, announcing some new plot exposition. All it’s missing is the spinning headline.

(Sure, Musk announced all this stuff. It’s interesting. But it’s a long way to Mars. Matt Damon can probably sleep easy, without fear of abandonment, for now.)
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Facebook ordered to stop harvesting data on WhatsApp users in Germany • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

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Facebook has been ordered to stop harvesting the data of WhatsApp users in Germany.

The move follows the latter’s shock announcement last month that it would start sharing user data with its parent company, Facebook, including users’ phone numbers and last seen time in the app. Stated uses for the data includes marketing/ad targeting.

Shock because, back at the time of the $19BN acquisition, WhatsApp’s founder publicly stated that nothing would change for users of the ad-free messaging platform as a result of selling to the social network giant. Full marks if you didn’t believe a word of it at the time.

But reneging on such public statement looks to be what’s got the two into hot water in Hamburg now, with the city’s data protection authority describing the resulting situation as both misleading for users and a breach of national data protection law.

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No doubt in a couple of years the UK’s Data Protection Registrar will decide the same, neatly shutting the stable door after the horse has moved to the next town and sent its kids to university.
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B2G OS and Gecko Annoucement from Ari Jaaksi & David Bryant • Google Groups

Julie McCracken, senior engineering program manager at the Mozilla foundation:

»

By the end of 2015 Mozilla leadership had come to the conclusion that our then Firefox OS initiative of shipping phones with commercial partners would not bring Mozilla the returns we sought. We made the first of a series of announcements about changes in the development of Firefox OS at Mozilla.  Since then we have gradually wound down that work and, as of the end of July 2016 have stopped all commercial development on Firefox OS. This message recaps what transpired during that period of time and also describes what will happen with the Firefox OS code base going forward.

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Without a smartphone presence, the future for Mozilla looks unclear. The desktop is becoming less important, and it isn’t the default browser on any platform. Of course, that was the case when Firefox rose to prominence on the desktop too.
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Ordinary punters will get squat from smart meters, reckons report • The Register

Kat Hall:

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Smart meters will benefit suppliers nearly twice as much as consumers in terms of cost savings, according to an assessment by the late Department for Energy and Climate Change.

The government’s £11bn smart meter project will require energy suppliers to offer 53 million meters to homes and small businesses by 2020. Smart meters are being rolled out in two phases.

The mass rollout phase is expected to begin next month, after several major delays. There are now more than 3.6 million smart meters in operation.

A Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee “evidence check” of smart meters noted that “although the scale and durability of such savings is contested and it would appear that the rollout could alter consumption levels by 2–3%.”

DECC’s assessment of the cost savings, contained in the evidence check, found that overall consumers in the UK would save £4.3bn, while suppliers would save nearly £8bn by cutting site visits and reduced inquiries.

Nick Hunn, CTO of WiFore Consulting, told the committee he was sceptical of the extent to which consumers will change their behaviour for a relatively modest financial reward, arguing that “£26 a year or 7p a day is not a big incentive”, and that “there are far cheaper ways of achieving savings”.

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The decline of Stack Overflow • Hackernoon

This is from 2015, but nothing is reckoned to have changed: Stack Overflow – like so many sites which have user-generated content and user-policed content – has been overrun by people who love to be in control. So, asks John Slegers:

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Are there any alternatives?

Quora might seem like an obvious choice, but it shares many of the issues common at Stack Overflow, albeit in a less obvious manner. For example, downvoted answers are cleverly hidden from the eyes of most users and it’s not uncommon for answers to be deleted without any explanation or notification and/or without a visible trace to anyone but the answer’s author. Quora is giving some users completely anonymous powers to edit the site as they see fit, yet almost nobody seems to know about it.

So while Quora may seem more democratic and reasonable, this is really only at the surface. Trolling and plain petty authoritarianism from privileged users is no less common on that site. For many of the same reasons Huxley’s dystopian A Brave New World is more creepy and disturing than Orwell’s dystopian 1984, Quora is more creepy and more disturbing as a Q&A community than Stack Overflow.

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Premium commoditization • CCS Insight


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Apple and Samsung have made $650 the standard starting point for flagship smartphones in the US. Each year these leading manufacturers up the specs with their new generation products while maintaining the price, but at some point in time, this cycle is bound to break down. This could be starting now.

We believe that consumer behaviour is showing a shift that’s starting with the younger generation of users who better understand device pricing and product features. On social media platforms and at several leading online retail sites, some smartphones are trending — an important indication of a growing awareness of value.

In particular, there is a trinity of budget premium smartphones making $400 a new standard price for value buyers. Huawei’s Honor 8, the OnePlus 3 and ZTE’s Axon 7 are attention-grabbing phones and it’s difficult to believe that devices like these won’t have a longer-term effect on the overall global market.

Huawei’s Honor 8 is a 5.2in phone with 32GB of storage, a 12-megapixel rear camera, USB Type-C and 4GB of RAM. It has a fingerprint sensor and NFC as well as an octa-core HiSilicon processor (Huawei’s in-house chipset brand). ZTE’s Axon 7 is a 5.5in phone running Android on a Snapdragon 820 with 4GB of RAM, a 20-megapixel rear camera, and 64GB of on-board storage. It also has a fingerprint sensor and NFC reader. The OnePlus 3 is also a 5.5in phone running on a Snapdragon 820 processor, but comes with 6GB of RAM. It’s also loaded with the same sensors and readers and USB-C.

For consumers who are less brand-conscious and interested in separating their phones from their operator payments, such devices are proving to be appealing.

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$400 is the new $650.
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The tao of Notch beyond Twitter • The Escapist

Brad Glasgow interviews “Notch” – aka Markus Persson – who became fabulously wealthy when he sold Minecraft to Microsoft:

»

You’ve talked on Twitter about feeling isolated and you mentioned that it is difficult to tell who is your friend and who is there for the money. You’ve talked about how you like Vegas because you know everyone is there for your money.

MP: This was like a year ago or something?

BG: Right.

MP: Since then I’ve basically come completely out of it. Because I also realized that I’m really an introvert. So I think I kind of had this problem before, always, for my entire life. I didn’t necessarily want to have a lot of friends. And then once you sell your company and have a lot of money there’s not much else to do than continue learning or meet friends and exploring the real world, which is really fun, but it has been kind of a jarring change. I got to play it off, all of it, as just being a weird, eccentric Swedish guy, so it was easier to stop being social.

TE: It seems that it created an image online where people think you are this lonely, depressed rich guy with nothing to do.

MP: Well yeah, that’s the cultural idea of who I am, that I’ve become that.

TE: Is it accurate?

MP: I mean, I spend a lot of time alone, but it’s not as if I’m lonely, because that’s how I feel the most productive and happy. Generally if I’ve been alone programming for a couple of months then yeah I’m going to want to go out and see friends. So I kind of go back and forth, spend some time just programming and learning, you know, playing around with WebGL. And then I spend like a month doing a lot of social stuff like partying. I love partying. And a lot of dinners. I’m trying to learn how to appreciate red wine, which is impossible. I like red wine but I never remember any of it, like names of the old French chateaus.

«

It’s an eight-page interview (90 minutes of Skype chat). You can put the idea of Persson as some sort of gloomy bloke sitting in an empty mansion to bed.
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Blackberry phones face thumbs down • FT

Nic Fildes:

»

For many, a decision to close the unit would be an inevitable consequence of BlackBerry’s downward spiral since the ill-fated BlackBerry 10 launch in 2013. Then, its creative director, the singer Alicia Keys, unveiled the new handsets on stage, before continuing to tweet from an iPhone in the following days.

The latest industry data make grim reading for [BlackBerry CEO John] Chen as he considers whether to abandon making phones and go all in on software and security technology.

Smartphone sales figures from Gartner, the research company, show BlackBerry had a pitiful market share of 0.1% in the second quarter. That represented shipments of only 400,400 phones — less than a third of what it achieved the year before and a fraction of the 15m it sold in a quarter six years ago when at its peak.

Annette Zimmermann, an analyst with Gartner, said BlackBerry has sold only 1m phones this year. “That is not a sustainable business,” she said. “I don’t see any upside in trying to return it to a better state. It is the end of the story.”

There is still hope that a much smaller, more focused BlackBerry could succeed as a niche player and companies such as the rejuvenated Nintendo have proved that persistence can pay off. In April, Mr Chen hired Alex Thurber, a former McAfee executive, as his new head of device sales, suggesting he had not given up.

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“Creative director”. Oh yes. And yet Chen boasted at the previous quarterly results that phones were near to gross margin breakeven. (Long way from operating profit though.) BlackBerry announces its quarterly results today, Wednesday.
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Satya Nadella on Microsoft’s new age of intelligence • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

»

“In the long arc of time, I learned from our own history that you can’t assume any high-volume device will be at the center of all activities for all time to come,” [Satya] Nadella adds, implying that just as Windows didn’t rule the world indefinitely, it’s not a given that iOS and Android will reign forever.

In the time since Nadella began making cloud-first, mobile-first into a mantra, it’s become clear that it involves a lot more than just making sure that Microsoft’s best-known apps are available in capable versions for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Earlier this year, for instance, the company acquired SwiftKey, a third-party keyboard for Android and iOS that, in its Android incarnation, now utilizes neural network technology to power its guesses about what you’re really trying to type. “We’ve proved that the keyboard is not associated with the device, it’s associated with you,” says Nadella. “That’s a fundamental shift in computing.”

Nothing is more core to Microsoft’s AI vision than the way it treats Cortana as an agent that—with your consent—can know quite a bit about you, and then share it with specialized bots on a need-to-know basis. (The service currently has 133 million active users across Windows iOS, and Android.) As Nadella explains it, “it’s your data, as opposed to something that’s going to be used for advertising or conflated with other data or transferred over to other apps without your consent.”

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That “long arc of time” phrase is a good one (Tim Cook uses it to insist iPad sales will recover); the numbers for Cortana are surprisingly high to me. (Presume most of those are on Windows 10 PCs and Xbox.) Would love to know what the daily user numbers are.
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Motorola goes through yet another massive layoff (updated) • Droid Life

“Kellex”:

»

According to two sources close to the matter, Lenovo just laid off hundreds of employees at Motorola, potentially more than 50% of the remaining workforce at the mobile device maker. One source actually pegged the number at 700+ out of 1200 remaining who will be told that they no longer have a job within the next day. 

At least one now-former employee took to Facebook to confirm the news (we’ve decided not to include a link to preserve his privacy), saying that he has been with the company for over 20 years and his last day will be this Friday. He mentioned that Lenovo was moving more operations to China, which one of our sources said has been the increasing pattern over the past two years. That source also thinks (according to the internal rumor mill) they may just relocate some remaining Chicago-based staff to North Carolina where Lenovo US is based. EDIT: Motorola denies this rumor and says they plan to keep their HQ in Chicago.

«

Lenovo confirmed to Droid-Life that the total number affected would be “less than 2% of the 55,000 employed by Lenovo globally” – which puts it at up to 1,100.

An executive at a US company once said to me that Google’s disposal of Motorola to Lenovo was a shocking act – the destruction of a longstanding American brand which was a pioneer in the mobile phone business. Now the staff are out too – on brutally short termination periods.
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Print to PDF on iOS 10 • Devonian Times


»

iOS 10 comes with a great but somewhat hidden feature: Print to PDF. It allows you to save any document that you can print as a PDF and send it by email or clip it to DEVONthink To Go.

In the Share sheet from any app choose Print. The print preview dialog appears. Now instead of printing “pinch” on the print preview like just as if you’d want to enlarge it. It opens — now as a PDF — in a separate dialog. Choose Share again and send it anywhere you like.

«

Who on earth thinks of doing the “zoom out” action and discovers this? But thank god someone did. Equally, though, was it put in intentionally by Apple, or is it some byproduct of how iOS 10 renders content (PDF is at the base of all display on OSX, and by extension iOS)?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Twitter and… Disney?, BI’s paywall plan, Google’s AI balloons, eight years of Android, and more


Mobile phone sales have peaked. Peaked! Geddit? Photo by jd_hiker 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 11 links for you. But fact-check it if you like. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

UK Mobile Consumer Survey • Deloitte


»

This year’s report will likely mark the end of the smartphone growth era, and the start of its consolidation. A mere nine years after the launch of the first full touchscreen smartphone, adoption is nearing a plateau, at 81% of UK adults, and 91% of 18–44 year olds.

The smartphone user base is approaching an unprecedented peak. No other personal device has had the same commercial and societal impact as the smartphone, and no other current device seems likely to.

While the base may plateau, relentless innovation continues at device and network levels. Devices are likely to incorporate more functionality and get even faster.

Biometric sensors, particularly fingerprint readers (this year’s cover image), are likely to see widespread adoption. Over a quarter of smartphones now have a fingerprint reader, of which three quarters are in use.

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The mobile phone market has peaked • CCS Insight


»

CCS Insight’s latest global forecast for mobile phones confirms that the market has peaked at about 2 billion units per year after decades of growth.

The research firm expects than in 2016 shipments of mobile phones will slip 1.3% from their level in 2015, with most markets experiencing a difficult year. A notable exception is China, where the market is recovering from a very weak 2015; however, echoing the global trend, total shipments in the country are expected to stabilise at about 450m units a year until 2020.

Marina Koytcheva, Director of Forecasting at CCS Insight, noted, “After years of analysts and commentators talking about mobile phone market peaking within the visible horizon, it has now reached that point”.

CCS Insight’s forecast shows that smartphones remain the powerhouse of mobile phone shipment volumes. They continue to grow as a proportion of the total market and will account for almost three-quarters of the market in 2016, rising to nearly 90% in 2020. In 2016, 1.42bn units are forecast to ship, up 4.1% from 2015.

However, CCS Insight believes the pressure on smaller phone makers is increasing. Koytcheva continues, “As growth is depleting, competition is intensifying and it comes as little surprise that margins are being squeezed harder than ever. Companies without the scale advantages of manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple or Huawei will find it much harder to make money”.

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Those without scale will lose money because of component price rises. Winter, of a sort, is coming.
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Business Insider testing paywall and an ad-blocking response • AdAge

Jeremy Barr:

»

Business Insider, according to co-founder and CEO Henry Blodget, has long harbored ambitions to create a dual-revenue business model, buoyed by both advertising and subscriptions.

The company plans to test those ambitions, starting this week, with a “small,” randomly selected group of readers, who will be prompted to subscribe to Business Insider. As is standard with so-called metered paywalls, the readers selected for this test will get an allotment of free articles. Multiple meter levels will be tried, starting at 10 free stories. For those impacted, the meter will re-start every 30 days.

These selected users will see the subscription message three times, at the beginning of the test, at the mid-point of their free story allotment, and with one story remaining…

…Also starting this week, readers that have installed and enabled an ad blocker will be told to either whitelist Business Insider’s website or pay up for a subscription, the same one offered to the small group of paywall-testers. (The New York Times is experimenting with a similar, whitelist-or-pay approach, which CEO Mark Thompson said in June is seeing results.)

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Given that BI is frequently rewrites of paywalled or free articles (though also does original content), what is it offering that is worth a subscription?
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Google’s internet-beaming balloon gets a new pilot: AI • WIRED

Cade Metz:

»

Project Loon’s navigation system does not use deep neural networks. It uses a simpler form of machine learning called Gaussian processes. But the basic dynamic is the same. And it underlines the little acknowledged reality that deep learning is just part of the AI revolution. Over the course of Project Loon, the company has collected data on over 17 million kilometers of balloon flights, and through those Gaussian processes, the navigation system can start predicting what course the balloon should take, when it should move the balloon up and when it should move the balloon down (which involves pumping air into a balloon inside the balloon—or pumping the air out).

These predictions aren’t perfect—in large part because of the weather up in the stratosphere is so, well, unpredictable. The stratosphere sits above a lot of the weather, but according to Candido, the balloons have encountered far more uncertainty than the team expected. So, they’ve also beefed up the navigation system with what’s called reinforcement learning.

«

Would have been helpful if Wired could just to link to the Wikipedia page on Gaussian processes; essentially, they assume that events occur somewhere on a Gaussian (bell curve) probability distribution. So it’s like “dumb AI”.
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Microsoft: Windows 10 now on 400 million devices • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

»

Windows 10 is now running on 400 million active devices as of today, September 26, Microsoft officials said.

That’s up from 300 million as of May 5, and 207 million at the end of March. “Active devices” mean devices than have been active in the past 28 days, Microsoft officials have said. The figure includes not only Windows 10 installed on PCs, tablets, and phones, but also on Xbox One consoles and HoloLens, Surface Hubs.

Microsoft’s original goal was to have Windows 10 running on one billion devices by 2018, but execs recently conceded they wouldn’t make that number until some unspecified time after that.

«

Microsoft Windows 10 installs growth

Strangely enough, the graph based on Microsoft’s publicly stated numbers (above, by me: blue line is the polynomial, not straight line, trend) suggests that it’s presently nicely on course to hit a billion by mid-2018. That could change depending on PC sales, though, as those are the main source of new Windows 10 activations.
link to this extract


Disney is working with an adviser on potential Twitter bid • Bloomberg

Alex Sherman and Sarah Frier:

»

Disney, if it decides to make a bid, would be able to help the company further its video-streaming media strategy. Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Twitter, is also on the board of Disney.
Twitter shares reversed previous declines on the news of interest from Disney, rising as much as 2%. The shares were trading at $22.83 at 2:02 p.m. in New York. The stock soared 21% Friday following reports of the talks with Salesforce. Disney shares fell, dropping as much as 2% to $91.40.

“It’s a video distribution play,” said James Cakmak, an analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. “What Disney has to think about is what is its place in a post cord-cutting world. They are investing in technology for distribution — and this would give them the platform to reach audiences around the world.”

Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger has developed a reputation as a strategic thinker with an appetite for bold bets such as the $7.4bn acquisition of animation studio Pixar just months after he became CEO.

«

Hmm, OK – that has some strategy to it, at least.
link to this extract


New Samsung Note 7 battery issues surface with recall replacements • Patently Apple

Jack Purcher:

»

According to News Channel YTN, “The new handset still has battery issues. A Galaxy Note 7 buyer, surnamed Choi, had received a new Note 7 through the tech firm’s recall program, which began on Sept. 19 in Korea. His new phone, however, had a battery that drained quickly, with its battery level dropping almost 1% every second. It also overheated easily. Even when the Note 7 was being charged, the battery drained quickly.”

The report further noted that “After the battery level dropped to 1 percent, the battery did not get charged above 10 percent. And a technician at Samsung’s after-sales service center disconnected the charger as soon as he found out the power draining issue, probably because he was concerned about a possible explosion,” Choi was quoted as saying.

In a videotaped charge test of Lee’s defective Note 7, the handset showed the battery going from 75% to 49% in 39 minutes.

Another Galaxy Note 7 user, surnamed Lee, also claimed that the new phone he received through Samsung’s recall program had similar battery issues.” So it appears to not be an isolated problem.

«

This just seems to go on and on.
link to this extract


Android and its first purchasable product, the T-Mobile G1, celebrate their 8th birthdays • Android Police

Richard Gao:

»

Eight years – that’s how long Android has been available to the public for. September 23rd, 2008 marked two huge events in Android’s history: T-Mobile’s release of the G1, the first Android device available to the masses, and Google’s release of the Android 1.0 SDK. Happy birthday, Android!

The T-Mobile G1, also known as the HTC Dream and Android Dev Phone 1, was the first Android device that the public could actually purchase. Reading through T-Mobile’s press release is pretty hilarious; things like touchscreen functionality, 3G, Gmail, and the Android Market seemed so futuristic back then, but pretty much every Android device has them now. We don’t have full QWERTY keyboards anymore, though.

Equally hilarious is the G1’s spec sheet – this chunky device sported a 3.2-inch 320p display, a 528MHz Qualcomm chip, 192MB of RAM, 256MB of internal storage, and a 3MP camera. Oh, and there wasn’t a headphone jack; remind you of any modern phones?

«

I usually detest “anniversary journalism” (five years ago today.. seventeen years ago..) but this is one worth marking. Android has transformed the world. You can cavil about whether it took ideas from Apple, but the key point is that it let let OEMs make affordable handsets for billions of people – and made entire new industries possible on a broad front. We’re only just beginning to see the benefit of the Shenzhen ecosystem on the wider economy.
link to this extract


Why Oculus Rift will struggle at its UK launch • Midia Research

Zach Fuller, noting that the HTC Vive is reckoned to have already sold five times more devices than Oculus:

»

Sony will also be launching their Playstation VR headset next month, with the device holding the distinct advantage of being instantly adaptable to the 3 million PS4 consoles that have already been sold in the UK (as well as retailing at £200 pounds less than the Rift). With content also a pressing issue, with a multi-billion chasm between investment in VR Hardware and actual experiences, it helps that Playstation VR will be arriving alongside several well known game titles, with acclaimed series such as Star Trek and Resident Evil making their Virtual Reality debuts alongside the release. Coupled with brand recognition and Sony’s refined experience at distributing gaming products, this will likely give the Japanese conglomerate at the minimum a short-term lead in headset sales and disrupt momentum for the Rift.

By no means does this put Oculus out of the VR race. With Facebook’s support they are not only shielded by a financial advantage over HTC and Sony but are also invigorated by the ability to leverage their parent company’s mass influence over global consumers for the purpose of marketing.

«

Sony’s advantage in having gamers with compatible devices is huge, though.
link to this extract


The democratization of censorship • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

The Internet can’t route around censorship when the censorship is all-pervasive and armed with, for all practical purposes, near-infinite reach and capacity. I call this rather unwelcome and hostile development the “The Democratization of Censorship.”

Allow me to explain how I arrived at this unsettling conclusion. As many of you know, my site was taken offline for the better part of this week. The outage came in the wake of a historically large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which hurled so much junk traffic at Krebsonsecurity.com that my DDoS protection provider Akamai chose to unmoor my site from its protective harbor.

Let me be clear: I do not fault Akamai for their decision. I was a pro bono customer from the start, and Akamai and its sister company Prolexic have stood by me through countless attacks over the past four years. It just so happened that this last siege was nearly twice the size of the next-largest attack they had ever seen before. Once it became evident that the assault was beginning to cause problems for the company’s paying customers, they explained that the choice to let my site go was a business decision, pure and simple.

Nevertheless, Akamai rather abruptly informed me I had until 6 p.m. that very same day — roughly two hours later — to make arrangements for migrating off their network.

«

Krebs’s progress, from a writer on the Washington Post who covered security, to a full-blown expert on the underside of the web – with the attendant problems. He migrated his site with the help of Google’s Project Shield, which is a free program “to help protect journalists from online censorship”. It’s a Jigsaw project – one of the ones I mentioned last week. The source of the attack seems to have been hacked “internet of things” devices: CCTV cameras, video recorders, and so on.

Krebs also notes Bruce Schneier’s comment that “someone is learning how to take down the internet” (also noted here last week). There’s a worrying undercurrent here, as Krebs notes; the biggest problem is that ISPs in particular don’t act to solve it. (And there are ways they could.)
link to this extract


Some cities are taking another look at LED lighting after AMA warning • The Washington Post

Michael Ollove:

»

If people are sleepless in Seattle, it may not be only because they have broken hearts.

The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a warning in June that high-intensity LED streetlights — such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and elsewhere — emit unseen blue light that can disturb sleep rhythms and possibly increase the risk of serious health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The AMA also cautioned that those light-emitting-diode lights can impair nighttime driving vision.

Similar concerns have been raised over the past few years, but the AMA report adds credence to the issue and is likely to prompt cities and states to reevaluate the intensity of LED lights they install.

«

*looks at LED lights around house* Oh.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

How to recover when Apple Numbers says a file “can’t be opened for some reason”

Do not use this as an error message
Ever wondered what the worst error message you could encounter might be? This ranks pretty highly.

Prologue: backup

First of all, remember how people always told you to take backups, rather as you were advised to wear sunscreen? Well, they were right. Bear that in mind as I take you through on a journey of mild technology pain.

The high: Sierra

Having not seen any reports of gigantic showstopping bugs in the upgrade to Mac OS Sierra, I took the plunge the other day. Things were going fine. Everything worked. Nothing had crashed. Then I updated Numbers from 3.6.2 to 4.0, whose “new” features are apparently collaboration – and nothing much else.

Having done that, I tried to open one of my most-used spreadsheets, into which I have poured years of experience and hours of analysis. I’d had it open before the update, but (I think) had closed it before updating. (Whether it was open or not is immaterial; some other spreadsheets were open before the update and opened fine afterwards; some were closed before the update and opened fine afterwards; some were closed before and wouldn’t open afterwards.)

I was met with this response:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 06 13

The low: Numbers

The spreadsheet can’t be opened “for some reason”?? What sort of error message is that??

But at least it offers the option to “Browse all versions”, which should be stored in iCloud, where the spreadsheet itself is stored. You then go into a Time Machine interface, and get this:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 07 23

It’s “unable to open version”. This happens no matter how far back you want to go. You can try with lots of “versions”. Or you can realise you’re onto a lost cause and give up. At which point the “Time Machine” interface resolves itself into a rectangle, in which you find this message:

Screenshot 2016 09 24 20 57 46

Well, thanks a lot. “For some reason.” How this ever got past any sort of quality assurance I cannot imagine. Did the engineer/s assign an out-of-bounds error code to the problem, and the operating system can’t decide what to say and so falls back to “for some reason”?

This is a giant screwup

Whichever; it’s a terrible, terrible experience for the user. You’re left unable to open the file, with no idea what has gone wrong, and no clues how to progress. If you had really valuable stuff in here, and no means of rolling back, you would be absolutely furious – justifiably so – with Apple.

Tracing the error

What has gone wrong here? You can dig into iWork files (Numbers, Pages, Keynote). They’re “packages”, which means that they’re folders disguised to look like files. Control-click on the file and you can “view package contents”, which in the case of this spreadsheet looks like this:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 34 49

Turns out that all the meat is in “index.zip”. I made a copy on my Desktop and unzipped it:
Screenshot 2016 09 26 15 36 43

That’s only a few files; the “Tables” folder contains 523 items. Which of these hundreds of items is at fault? One? Two? Two hundred? There’s no way of knowing. Given that none of the previous versions will load under this version of Numbers, it doesn’t matter how many of the files are screwed. You can’t get there from here.

Why you love your backups

I did try to get around this. Believe me. On an iPad (which hadn’t updated to the equivalent newer version of Numbers) I tried opening the original spreadsheet.

Opened fine.

Oh. So I tried AirDrop to send the can-be-opened-from-iCloud spreadsheet from the iPad to the Mac. The AirDrop worked, but the Mac wouldn’t open it – same message as before. On the iPad, you can also export the file: your options are Numbers, Excel, PDF, or CSV.

Export in Numbers and AirDrop? Didn’t work.
Export in Excel and AirDrop? Worked – except that the various tables that had been on a single sheet were split out into separate sheets. Non-ideal.

So the iPad route wasn’t quite right.

But I wasn’t finished yet. Did you notice how I mentioned backups? Before upgrading, I had made a backup of my hard drive using SuperDuper! (highly recommended).

So I plugged in my backup drive – I’m always careful not to overwrite it until I’m confident a big OS update hasn’t screwed anything – and dug around for the old version of Numbers (v 3.6.2), and put that back in.

Open Numbers 362, try to open spreadsheet.

It opens. No muss, no fuss.

Worse than error messages: no error messages

In many ways, this is even worse. What’s the situation here? We have a newer version of Numbers on the Mac which cannot open an untouched version of a spreadsheet that the older version can open.

Together with the colossal stupidity of “for some reason” as an error message, a new version that randomly can’t open an old spreadsheet (but is fine with many others), even while the old one can, makes one think that whoever is in charge of Numbers, or iWork, isn’t getting it right.

A lot of it is down to the error message. If it said “because two of the files are corrupt” you might begin to understand. But of course it can’t be that, because the old version can read it. “Some reason” sounds vague – is vague – but in a sense, it’s accurate. Whatever the reason for being unable to open this file is, it’s quite elusive. I had initially thought that it was something to do with picture embeds, but the problem persisted when I got rid of those. (There’s nothing in the Console app about it, so Numbers clearly doesn’t want to share whatever its discomfort is with the file/s.)

Anyway. Having got the old version of Numbers installed, I could now open the old spreadsheet. Fine. I’ll stick with that, I thought.

The morning after the night before

Problem over, you think? Not at all. On returning to the iPad the next day, I found it had updated to the newer version of Numbers – the one with collaboration.

Guess what? That’s right: the iPad version no longer opened the old spreadsheet.

Computing often has these moments – when you feel as though you’re standing on a very rickety rope ladder across a gigantic chasm, halfway from each side, with little prospect of reaching either side safely, yet obliged to go in one direction or the other. The previous day I could open the spreadsheet on the iPad, but I couldn’t get it safely back to the Mac. Now I could open it fine on the Mac, but I couldn’t get the iPad to read it. Not really the world of device-independent operation that one dreams of.

But but but! There is a solution on the Mac. You can load the file on the old version of Numbers, and then in the File menu there’s the option to export it to a Numbers ’09 format. (No idea what’s so great/terrible about that.) Notice that that export option wasn’t available on the iPad.

Here’s what it looks like:

Screenshot 2016 09 26 16 14 52

Worth a try, I thought. And indeed it was. I named the files created that way with an “09” suffix, and suddenly they opened on the iPad – with all the tables and charts intact.

Teachable moments

This is one of the biggest WTF moments in an episode replete with them. I’ve reinstalled an older version of Numbers, and exported to an even older file version, in order to open the file on the newest version. It’s beyond bizarre.

Thankfully, it seems that there aren’t too many people having this problem; my own searches on the phrase “can’t be opened for some reason” turned up pretty much nothing. If we’re all lucky, then nobody will land on this page via a web search; you’ll all just be reading it for abstract interest, wondering how an operating system and a QA team can ever let “can’t be opened for some reason” be signed off as “OK for public consumption”. Apple puts a premium on its products and prides itself on its user interface; this, though, is one that got away, badly.

But what if you haven’t kept that backup of the Numbers app? In that case, I’m not able to offer any help. Perhaps you can find a friend who has a copy of the older version. Perhaps there’s a trustworthy download site. Perhaps you can get one by finding a Mac that hasn’t been updated and sending the version there. Perhaps you can rummage around in your Time Machine backup and reanimate the old version. Maybe you have a CD in your house with an older version. (Clutching at straws here, but I recognise that spreadsheets carry a lot of our lives nowadays.)

The simplest solution is not to update Numbers, which of course always feels like admitting defeat. The pragmatic solution is to export all your spreadsheets to the 09 format. The belt-and-braces solution (since this might be an iCloud problem) is to duplicate your spreadsheets on your hard drive, and export each into the 09 format – then you have three copies of them.

Whichever – I hope it goes well. And I hope never ever to run into “some reason” as the explanation for why an essential piece of content can’t be accessed. Fix it, Apple.

Start up: rogue algorithms, Luckey unlucky for Oculus, Snapglasses!, robots that see, and more


Always wondering who might be buying it. Photo by Chris Corneschi on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. No debate there. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Kansas couple who live in a ‘digital hell’ sue mapping company MaxMind • Fusion

Kashmir Hill (who wrote the original story about how a family was being hassled by police and others claiming their house was the location shown on a map of Bad Things):

»

“At that time, we picked a latitude and longitude that was in the center of the country, and it didn’t occur to us that people would use the database to attempt to locate people down to a household level,” MaxMind co-founder Thomas Mather told me earlier this year. As with Pokémon Go, the company didn’t realize its digital map of the country would have consequences for the people located at the real-world coordinates.

When I wrote the first story, I spoke with Joyce Taylor, the 82-year-old owner of the property, who also suffered from the digital fall-out. Her renters, the Arnolds, did not talk with me, because as their lawyer Randall Rathbun explains, “they are very private people.”

In their lawsuit, the Arnolds say that MaxMind’s conduct “placed them in a false light and invaded their privacy,” resulting in “great emotional distress, fear for their safety, and humiliation.” The damages amount to at least $75,000. Rathbun estimates that it will take at least a year for the case to go to trial.

MaxMind did not respond to a request for comment. But after my story, they changed the default location for the U.S. in their database. It is now conveniently located in a nearby lake.

«

link to this extract


At Twitter, who makes decision to sell? • The Information

Martin Peers and Steve Nellis:

»

reports on Friday of bidding interest in Twitter could be speculation stirred up by investment bankers looking for a deal. But the question of who decides remains crucial.

Is it Mr. Dorsey’s call? He only owns about 2% of Twitter stock, after putting about a third of his stake into an employee equity incentive program this past spring, securities filings show.

That ranks him well below several other people, including co-founder Evan Williams, who owns 6.2%, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who has said he owns about 4% and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia who owns another 4.99%, according to filings. Twitter doesn’t have a dual-class voting structure, so Mr. Dorsey doesn’t have supervoting shares that would inflate his voting power.

What he surely does have, however, is influence on the board. And it’s the board, not shareholders, that will consider any offer that comes in. Nearly half of the directors now serving are those who agreed to put Mr. Dorsey back into the CEO Job last September. The other half, including BET CEO Debra Lee and Pepsico CFO Hugh Johnston, have joined since then. It’s a good bet, therefore, that Mr. Dorsey has the loyalty of much of the board

«

link to this extract


Apple offers mixed signals on auto strategy • FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

»

[Last] week, it emerged that Apple had approached McLaren Technology Group, the British supercar engineer and Formula 1 team owner, about a potential investment or acquisition over the summer. While McLaren has denied that any talks are still in progress, the news follows reports in the German press that Apple had previously tried to strike partnerships with BMW and Daimler.

Traditional automakers might be comforted that Apple felt unable to break into their industry without the help of an established manufacturer — albeit the maker of expensive sports cars.

Nonetheless, in Silicon Valley, the car market is seen as ripe for disruption. “The analogies between what happened to the phone industry and what is going to happen to cars are very close at every piece of the value chain,” says Benedict Evans, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “The differentiation became the design and then all the value moved into software.”

Even as it is rethinking its strategy, Apple’s commitment to entering the automotive industry seems undiminished. Its annual R&D budget has doubled to $10bn in the three years since Project Titan started hiring hundreds of employees.

“Something has changed but I don’t think there is a lack of interest in the car business at Apple,” says Horace Dediu, a tech industry analyst who writes at his site Asymco.

«

link to this extract


‘Rogue algorithms’ and the dark side of big data • Knowledge@Wharton


»

In the wake of a financial crisis that was at the very least exacerbated by loose credit, banks are understandably trying to be more rigorous in their assessment of risk. An early risk assessment algorithm, the well-known FICO score, is not without its problems; but for the most part, [author of “Weapons of Math Destruction” Cathy] O’Neil writes, it is an example of a healthy mathematical model. It is relatively transparent; it is regulated; and it has a clear feedback loop. If default rates don’t jibe with what the model predicts, credit agencies can tweak them.

In recent years, however, a new, pseudoscientific generation of scoring has proliferated wildly. “Today we’re added up in every conceivable way as statisticians and mathematicians patch together a mishmash of data, from our zip codes and internet surfing patterns to our recent purchases.” Crunching this data generates so-called “e-scores” used by countless companies to determine our creditworthiness, among other qualities. Yet unlike FICO scores, they are “arbitrary, unaccountable, unregulated, and often unfair.”

A huge “data marketplace” has emerged in which credit scores and e-scores are used in a variety of applications, from predatory advertising to hiring screening. In this sea of endless data, the author contends, the line between legitimate and specious measures has become hopelessly blurred. As one startup proclaims on its website, “All data is credit data.”

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link to this extract


Personal blogging has declined in popularity but it will never be obsolete • The Pool

Emma Beddington:

»

the trend is clear: I delete, regretfully, another voice lost, and I almost never add. What about my own blog, eight years old and still staggering on? My posting is sporadic at best and the traffic reflects that.  When I don’t post for weeks, the pressure to write something “good enough” to make up for my absence feels paralysing, so I dither and feel guilty. Why do I bother – who reads blogs now anyway? Is it time to pull the plug? 

Blogging is dead: I’ve been reading about its demise for years. The blogs that are thriving have become businesses: “lifestyle websites”, carefully curated, monetised and cross-channel promoted. Mommy blogging – the kind with giveaways and reviews – is still alive and kicking too, but old-school personal blogs – visually unlovely, text-heavy – are an endangered species, heading towards extinction.

«

Emma’s a friend, who our family got to know through her wonderful blog; you can tell a lot about someone from their blog. (Pause for reflection.) Blogs have been endangered since they stopped growing, but something about her sort of blog – intimate, funny, personal – feels eternal.
link to this extract


Developers ditching Oculus over Luckey’s pro-Trump memes • Tom’s Guide

Andrew Freedman:

»

On social media, indie developers are denouncing Luckey and his involvement, with some threatening to drop Oculus Rift support from games until Luckey steps down or is removed from his job.

Polytron, the makers of the hit indie game Fez, put out a statement on Pastebin and on Twitter that it won’t support the Oculus Rift with its new game, SuperHyperCube due to Luckey’s funding the pro-Trump group.

“In a political climate as fragile and horrifying as this one, we cannot tacitly endorse these actions by supporting Luckey or his platform,” the team wrote.

“Hey @oculus, @PalmerLuckey’s actions are unacceptable. NewtonVR will not be supporting the Oculus Touch as long as he is employed there,” developer Tomorrow Today Labs wrote on Twitter. NewtonVR is a free physics-based tool for VR developers, and Oculus Touch is the VR company’s upcoming controllers to support its Rift headset.

Developer Scruta Games also voiced discontent on Twitter: “Until @PalmerLuckey steps down from his position at @oculus, we will be cancelling Oculus support for our games.”

Late Friday night, Luckey released a statement on Facebook:

“I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners,” he wrote. “The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views.”

He claimed to have contributed $10,000 to Nimble America, which he said he wrote “had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards.”

«

So yup, he used his money to contribute to pro-Trump propaganda. He says his vote is going to neither, which almost feels like it makes it worse.
link to this extract


Snapchat’s 10 second video glasses are real and cost $130 • TechCrunch

Fitz Tepper:

»

Snapchat’s long-rumored camera glasses are actually real. The startup’s first foray into hardware will be a pair of glasses called “Spectacles” and will go on sale this fall for $129.99, as first reported by The WSJ and confirmed to TechCrunch by the newly rebranded Snap Inc..

The glasses will only come in one size, but will be available in three colors – black, teal and coral.

To start recording you tap a button on the side of the glasses. Video capture will mimic Snapchat’s app, meaning you can only capture 10 seconds of video at once. This video will sync wirelessly to your phone, presumably making it available to share as a snap.

«

I think Tepper meant to write that the glasses are “actually in prototype”. It’s a long road to sales in volume. The Wall Street Journal’s Seth Stevenson had the scoop, which says that “Spectacles’ camera uses a 115-degree-angle lens, wider than a typical smartphone’s and much closer to the eyes’ natural field of view. The video it records is circular, more like human vision.”

I’ve never thought of my field of vision as circular, to be honest. More like a broad oval. Also, Spiegel looks like Brains from Thunderbirds in those glasses. (Also, you can get glasses that do something like that from Amazon already.)
link to this extract


Doubts about digital ads rise over new revelations • WSJ

Suzanne Vranica and Mike Shields:

»

Despite their reservations, marketers will have little choice but to keep increasing spending on digital ads, especially on mobile devices, if they hope to reach consumers spending more time away from traditional media.

In Facebook’s case, the company disclosed that the metric it reported for two years for the average time users spent watching videos was artificially inflated, because it only factored in video views of more than three seconds. Big ad agencies pressed Facebook for more details and ad buyer Publicis Media, a division of Publicis Groupe SA, was told that the Facebook error likely overestimated average time spent viewing videos by 60% to 80%, The Wall Street Journal reported.

On Friday, Facebook apologized for the erroneous video metric. “While this is only one of the many metrics marketers look at, we take any mistake seriously,” said David Fischer, vice president of business and marketing partnerships, in a Facebook post.

«

Here’s, by contrast, is what one Overspill reader who works in marketing told me about the Facebook video stuff:

»

Facebook video ads. They are amazing, and here’s why.

It’s true a lot of views are for barely seconds as most user scroll by. A view on Facebook seems be be costing me between 0.1p to 2p. If views were as expensive as YouTube ads (which are cheap, but far from this cheap), it would be terrible.

In practice, I’m getting a bunch of people scroll past, and a minority watching a sensible amount. Two things happen:

1. We still get to identify a great audience for a great price. I had a video over five minutes for one client, and when you look at the cost per view for people watching 95% of the video, it worked out at just under 30p per view. That’s an amazing price for getting someone to sit down and hear the ‘pitch’ from the business owner for five minutes. And everyone who watches less than 95% is, in this scenario, effectively a free view,

2. We can ‘retarget’ people who watch a certain length (10 seconds, 25%, 50%, 75%, 95%, and 100%). This is huge.

This means video lets me create a quality engaged audience for a great price. Our real advertising starts when we’ve built a retargeting audience using the awesomely cheap video ads at the start of this funnel.

So yes, viewability is pathetically low on Facebook, but the goal isn’t to get everyone to watch. It’s to get our real audience to identify themselves by showing an interest.

«

link to this extract


UK news publishers say digital news ‘not sustainable’ because of Google and Facebook and urge Government action • Press Gazette

Freddy Mayhew:

»

The News Media Association has called on the Government to protect news publishers who are investing in original online journalism from those who capitalise on the content without sharing the expense.

In a briefing to ministers, the news publishers’ association detailed what it saw as the threat to news media organisations from ad-blocking and the industry’s “relationship” with digital giants Facebook and Google.

The NMA said the existing model was “not sustainable”, adding: “The value chain of digital news has become wildly out of step with the contribution that each player makes”.

“Significant value is being captured by companies who do not invest in original journalism at the expense of those who do,” it said.

According to figures from the Advertising Association, the “internet” took 43% of the overall UK ad spend last year, up 17.3% year-on-year, while the share of this going to newspapers and magazines declined.

«

BAD “the internet”.

»

the NMA highlighted the news media’s role as a creator of “highly sought after news content” which “can be counted on to provide the subject matter of the country’s democratic conversation”.

[The NMA] added: “The online news environment is characterised by aggregation of news stories by third party players who repackage, serve, link to and monetise that content.

“In particular, Google dominates these activities in search and Facebook dominates in social.

“There are potential benefits for news publishers in working with them, not least in terms of reaching new audiences. However, the situation is far from win-win and significant value is being captured by companies who do not invest in original journalism at the expense of those who do.”

«

Perhaps related: Guardian US lost $15.85m on revenues of $15.5m in the 12 months to April 2016 (that is, spent $31.35m – two dollars spent for every dollar of revenue).

Also worth reading: The comments on Roy Greenslade’s article about this topic – Google saying it doesn’t have ads on Google News (true, except search drives more stories), and a commenter saying that they found all sorts of copyrighted content illicitly uploaded to YouTube, being monetised by Google, and:

»

“If I was doing this on bootleg DVDs or offering these through my own website what would happen to me? Why does Google seem to have a get out of jail free card?”

«

link to this extract


How to build a robot that “sees” with $100 and TensorFlow • O’Reilly Media

Lukas Biewald:

»

Running tensorflow/contrib/pi_examples/label_image/gen/bin/label_image on an image from the camera will output the top five guesses. The model works surprisingly well on a wide range of inputs, but it’s clearly missing an accurate “prior,” or a sense of what things it’s likely to see, and there are quite a lot of objects missing from the training data. For example, it consistently recognizes my laptop, even at funny angles, but if I point it at my basket of loose wires it consistently decides that it’s looking at a toaster. If the camera is blocked and it gets a dark or blurry image it usually decides that it’s looking at nematodes—clearly an artifact of the data it was trained on.

Finally, I connected the output to the Flite open source software package that does text to speech, so the robot can tell everyone what it’s seeing.

Here are my two homemade robots running deep learning to do object recognition.

From 2003 to 2005, I worked in the Stanford Robotics lab, where the robots cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and couldn’t perform object recognition nearly as well as my robots. I’m excited to put this software on my drone and never have to look for my keys again.

«

link to this extract


Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers – sources • Reuters

Yoshiyasu Shida:

»

n a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

Under those deals, surplus stock of older iPhones is kept out of the market and sent to overseas markets, such as Hong Kong, according to industry sources.

The carriers, locked in a costly battle to win consumers who covet iPhones, also bulk purchase the Apple smartphones and sell them at a discount, which gives the U.S. company an advantage over rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co, according to the two government officials and an industry source.

Both iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 edge model sell for 93,960 yen ($932) under Docomo’s main service package without any contract, but the cost for the iPhone drops sharply to 38,232 yen with a two-year contract, while the Galaxy falls to 54,432 yen.

«

There have been similar rumblings about Apple and carriers in Europe, though so far it has come to nothing.
link to this extract


Yahoo! This is personal • Joe Leech

The aforementioned Joe Leech:

»

Yahoo was the first website I ever visited. My first real email was a Yahoo! email address. In 1997 I loved Yahoo! and everything it did. For many years it was the #1 company I wanted to work for.

Then somehow I pissed Yahoo! off and it became personal.

My very first website in a friendly welcoming place called Geoctities. I loved Geocities, I made lifelong friends there. Yahoo! learned this and bought it in 1999 taking their time, playing with me but eventually shutting Geocities down in 2009.

The crusade against me had started.

Yahoo! 1-0 mrjoe

«

It’s a match of rather more than one half.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: AirBnB’s race problem, solar prices crater, modern porn, AirPods teardown (sorta), and more


“All I did was say my name was Jennifer Null.” Photo by Random McRandom on Flickr.

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

Response to Airbnb’s report on discrimination • Edelman.org

(Professor) Ben Edelman:

»

This month Airbnb released a report (PDF) investigating discrimination by its hosts against guests (including racial minorities and others), assessing the evidence of the problem and evaluating proposed solutions. The accompanying announcement offers lofty principles—”creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere.”

In contrast to the company’s prior denials, Airbnb now admits the problem is urgent: “discrimination must be addressed”; “minorities struggle more than others to book a listing”; “some members of the community did not receive the timely, compassionate response they expected and deserved when they reported instances of discrimination”; Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy was not widely known, within or outside company. This much is beyond dispute.

While Airbnb’s report is a step in the right direction, it does little to address the crucial subject of how to actually fix the problem of discrimination. Indeed, the report proposes actions of uncertain or unproven effectiveness.  At the same time, the report quickly dismisses a simpler alternative response—removing guest photos and names from booking requests—which would be far more likely to succeed. Meanwhile, the report completely fails to defend the legal gamesmanship by which Airbnb avoids litigation on the merits when consumers complain about Airbnb, and the report equally fails to defend Airbnb’s continued prohibition on users conducting research to uncover and measure discrimination for themselves.

This article offers my critique.

«

Edelman is good at critiquing the subtle discrimination that big and small tech companies do. He pointed out the racial discrimination among AirBnB lettors back in December 2015; it’s still valid.
link to this extract


New record low solar price in Abu Dhabi – costs plunging faster than expected • Ramez Naam


»

The price of solar power – in the very sunniest locations in particular – is plunging faster than I expected. I’ve been talking for years now about the exponential decline of solar power prices. I’ve often been called a wide-eyed optimist. Here’s what those projections (based on historical learning rates) look like.

In fact, if anything, my forecasts were too conservative. The solar prices I expected have been smashed by bids in the Middle East and in Latin America. I will need to update the model above in a future post.

The latest record is an incredibly low bid of 2.42 cents/kwh solar electricity in Abu Dhabi. That is an unsubsidized price.

«

If there’s anything to give us a little hope, it’s this: allied to electric cars, the almost unlimited supply of silicon (sand is plentiful), you could get towards a future where we use a great deal less fossil fuel.

Equally, this puts the crazily high price that the UK government has agreed to buy electricity from the new Chinese-built Hinkley C nuclear reactor – 9p per kWh, or about 12 cents/kWh – into perspective. It would almost be cheaper just to pay for solar panels on all the UK’s household and factory roofs.
link to this extract


These unlucky people have names that break computers • BBC Future

Chris Baraniuk:

»

Jennifer Null’s husband had warned her before they got married that taking his name could lead to occasional frustrations in everyday life. She knew the sort of thing to expect – his family joked about it now and again, after all. And sure enough, right after the wedding, problems began.

“We moved almost immediately after we got married so it came up practically as soon as I changed my name, buying plane tickets,” she says. When Jennifer Null tries to buy a plane ticket, she gets an error message on most websites. The site will say she has left the surname field blank and ask her to try again.

Instead, she has to call the airline company by phone to book a ticket – but that’s not the end of the process.

«

And you thought “Robert’); DROP TABLE Students;” was a made-up name. (Of course the XKCD cartoon is worth the second hit of its alt text.)
link to this extract


Apple still leads in smartwatch sales; sector growth slow • Kantar Worldpanel


»

“In the three months ending July 2016, 47% of wearable sales in the US occurred in the smartwatch category, versus the more basic fitness bands,” said Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “Apple continues to dominate this segment with a 33.5% share, although that lead shrank slightly in the last three months as the market awaited the Apple Watch Series 2 announcement. The EU4 countries show a similar trend, with 38.6% of all sales coming in the smartwatch category, with Apple leading at 31.8%.”

“Looking ahead, 9.3% of the US-based non-owners we surveyed said they intend to purchase a wearable in the next 12 months, which came in slightly below the 11.3% figure from Great Britain,” Guenveur continued. “September 7th’s unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 2 showed Apple addressing the key considerations cited by those planning to buy, including GPS, one of the most-desired functionalities, and waterproofing, the most-desired feature.”

«

link to this extract


Making sense of modern pornography • The New Yorker

Katrina Forrester:

»

The majority of the world’s [porn] tube sites are effectively a monopoly—owned by a company called MindGeek, whose bandwidth use exceeds that of Amazon or Facebook. Its C.E.O. until recently was a German named Fabian Thylmann, who earned a reported annual income of a hundred million dollars; he sold the company while being investigated for tax evasion.

The millions of people using these sites probably don’t care much about who produces their content. But those who work in porn in the United States tend to draw a firm line between the “amateur” porn that now proliferates online and the legal adult-film industry that took shape after the California Supreme Court ruled, in California v. Freeman (1989), that filmed sex did not count as prostitution. Since then, the industry has been based in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley, where its professional norms and regulations have mimicked its more respectable Hollywood neighbors. In “The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford), Shira Tarrant explains how that industry works in the new age of Internet porn, and sets out to provide neutral, “even-handed” information about its production and consumption.

It’s not an easy task.

«

But hey, someone’s got to do it. At least it was even-handed rather than.. ok, I’ll stop.
link to this extract


Airpods – a speculative teardown • LinkedIn

Nick Hunn is chief technology officer of WiForce:

»

Companies have developed a number of proprietary ways to ensure [sound signals, especially music, in separate Bluetooth earbuds] are synchronised. The first was from Cambridge Silicon Radio (now part of Qualcomm), who developed a method where one chip receives the stereo signal, then separates out the left and right and resends one of the channels to a Bluetooth chip in the other earbud. They included synchronisation signals, so that the audio output of both chips could be coordinated in time. You also need to do this if one earbud is a music player, streaming data to the other ear, which is a particularly difficult use case. Others have streamed over Bluetooth A2DP to both earbuds and tried to use Bluetooth low energy to send synchronisation signals between the ears. Others have done the same thing using Near Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI). Some have even attempted to stream audio between earbuds using NFMI.

The problem with all ear-to-ear communication is that the head is remarkably effective in blocking 2.4GHz radio propagation. Designs which fit snugly within the ear have real problems in getting a signal across. The bigger the earbud, the easier this is, as you can include a bigger antenna, but the best solution is to put the antenna outside the ear. Apple’s design does exactly that. By locating the antenna in the long white battery and microphone boom, it moves it closer to the jaw where there’s a lot less attenuation from one side of the head to the other. So I surmise they’re using A2DP to stream audio from the phone to each Airpod and probably using BLE control signals between them to synchronise the audio rendering. So there’s no need for NFMI…

…So why would Apple make [the W1] chip? Developing a wireless chip with this spec isn’t cheap – it will probably cost at least $10m with a similar amount going on the stack. It is just a peripheral chip, which will never go into a phone, so the volumes are not that high. But it is interesting that Apple emphasised that this is their first wireless chip, in a tone suggesting it won’t be the only one. My guess is that Apple wants to incorporate Bluetooth and Wi-Fi into their next generation of processors, as that’s what their competitors are doing. Wireless can be difficult, so it’s a big step to do that in one go. Far better to design the wireless chip and evaluate it in an entirely new product category, as well as forcing one of your subsidiaries to use it. That way you get to test the chip as well as getting useful feedback for your next generation of earbuds.

«

This is the smartest thing you’ll read all week, and it contains a great deal about Bluetooth technology that wouldn’t be obvious. And he’s right – the longer tabs of the AirPods mean they can communicate through flesh (your neck) rather than bone (your skull).
link to this extract


Yahoo is expected to confirm massive data breach, impacting hundreds of millions of users • Recode

Kara Swisher:

»

While sources were unspecific about the extent of the incursion, since there is the likelihood of government investigations and legal action related to the breach, they noted that it is widespread and serious.

Earlier this summer, Yahoo said it was investigating a data breach in which hackers claimed to have access to 200 million user accounts and was selling them online. “It’s as bad as that,” said one source. “Worse, really.”

The announcement, which is expected to come this week, also possible larger implications on the $4.8 billion sale of Yahoo’s core business — which is at the core of this hack — to Verizon. The scale of the liability could be large and bring untold headaches to the new owners. Shareholders are likely to worry that it could lead to an adjustment in the price of the transaction.

«

Turns out it was 500 million account details in 2014 by a suspected “state-sponsored actor”. Hard to defend against that. I’ve been getting malware emails from hacked Yahoo accounts for months now. No idea if it’s connected.
link to this extract


The Galaxy Note 7 recall has nothing to do with removable batteries • SamMobile

“Deidre R” on the biggest of the Samsung-watching sites:

»

The batteries being shipped in the Galaxy Note 7 are faulty (at least some of them are; Samsung has never said that all the currently-shipped phones have faulty batteries, though mass hysteria can never be contained, unfortunately). The batteries are faulty because of issues within the battery itself. Nothing has been said to confirm that Samsung’s “sealing” the battery itself, or the battery and the phone together, are causing the conflict that is resulting in explosions worldwide. The issue has been found within the battery cells, an issue that mandates using a different, non-faulty battery that doesn’t suffer from the same defect.

This is the issue, but removable battery fanboys are switching topics, throwing out the real issue and planting a smokescreen from a different discussion. The topic concerns the batteries being defective, but removable battery fanboys want to get you off topic because they still can’t accept that removable batteries are going the way of the dodo and that, contrary to what they like, the old way of battery charging has been replaced with newer, more sophisticated methods of doing so.

«

“Removable battery fanboys”? Truly we have begun to segment the world into ever-smaller niches. What I find fascinating here, though, isn’t the fake row about whether the fault is removability (obviously, it’s in manufacture) but how what used to be near-religious dogma among, uh, boosters of Android devices (removability of batteries trumps the iPhone’s non-removability) has morphed into one where of course you don’t want to be able to swap the battery out.

But then, we have always been at war with Eastasia. Ever since the Galaxy S6.
link to this extract


Mode Media collapse: the inside story • Business Insider

Nathan McAlone and Eugene Kim:

»

From the winding freeway that links Silicon Valley with San Francisco, the giant Mode Media sign gracing the company’s headquarters was a hard-to-miss proclamation alerting passing drivers to an internet success story with a rich, $1bn valuation.

But on the 11th floor of the gleaming building last week, the mood among employees was sour.

Those gathered in the office and patched in through a crackly teleconference suddenly learned that they had no more jobs, no more health insurance coverage, and no more access to the company email system. Mode Media, founded in 2003 and once known as Glam Media, was shutting down. Oh, and please hand in your laptops on the way out.

People were stunned and shocked, and the management team’s final Q&A session with the troops didn’t help.

Someone asked about severance, one former Mode employee recounted. John Small, the COO, simply responded: “There is no severance. There is no Cobra. There is no company.”

«

Great reportage – though there’s a lot of fingerpointing every which way about quite what went wrong. Programmatic advertising (aka adtech) seems to have been a key element in the downfall.
link to this extract


You’re not alone: 51% of Amazon Echo owners have it in the kitchen • Recode

Jason Del Rey:

»

Amazon’s Echo voice-controlled speaker can perform more than 3,000 skills today thanks to its Alexa technology, but the most common use case is still simply setting a timer, a recent survey of early adopters found.

And that makes sense when you consider that about half of Amazon Echo owners — 51%, to be exact — surveyed place the device in their kitchen. The second most popular location for the smart speaker is the living room, with about one out of three using the device in that gathering space.

The findings come from a survey of about 1,300 smartphone owners who have used voice-controlled virtual assistants from companies like Apple, Google and Amazon. Of that group, 180 respondents — or about 14% — said they own an Amazon Echo. The survey was a partnership between Experian and the market research firm Creative Strategies.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Google Now not, the price of Oculus, Dropbox hack blocked, Amazon pricing re-examined, and more


Christmas bokeh! Look forward to finding out who got an iPhone 7 Plus under the Christmas tree. Photo by Chris Loyd Photography 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. Non-binary. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google Now is dead: latest beta of Search app erases references to Google Now • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

It was never clear how Google Now would fit in alongside assistant, as both products were initially pitched as being about giving you contextual and predictive information before you knew you wanted it. But assistant is clearly the way forward, while Google Now is over four years old. But Now On Tap was a fair bit younger, having been announced at Google I/O 2015. This probably means the decision to de-brand Now was fairly recent. Given that Now On Tap’s reception among many users has been less than fantastic, and its recent redesign, it seems likely that the feature never really caught on in the way Google wanted it to.

Assistant would make far more sense as an umbrella term for all the various features Now has come to embody over the years, and Google’s use of the assistant branding in apps like Inbox and Photos made it look as though the “Now” name would never really break out of the Search app. Today, that seems essentially confirmed.

«

The problem with Now On Tap was that it was hard to find, surely – plus it required Android Marshallow? You have to hold the home button (or spot where the home button would be), let the OS figure out what’s on the screen and do a Google Now search on it. (Typical breathless Verge piece explaining it.)

Now On Tap couldn’t be backported. It never reached anything like the majority of Android devices.
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Hands on with the iPhone 7 Plus’ crazy new Portrait mode • TechCrunch

Former professional photographer Matthew Panzarino:

»

I’ll just refer back to my iPhone review to set the scene for how Apple is making Portrait mode work:

The depth mapping that this feature uses is a byproduct of there being two cameras on the device. It uses technology from LiNx, a company Apple acquired, to create data the image processor can use to craft a 3D terrain map of its surroundings.

This does not include the full capabilities of the Primesense chip Apple purchased back in 2013 (we have yet to see this stuff fully implemented), but it’s coming.

For now, we’re getting a whole host of other benefits from the two cameras, including “Fusion,” Apple’s method of taking image data from both the wide angle and telephoto lenses and mixing them together to get the best possible image.

We’re also getting Portrait mode, which launches today in developer beta and later this week in public beta.

The Portrait mode, which prominently displays a beta notification on first launch, resides to the right of the standard photo mode in your camera app. There is no zooming, digital or otherwise, in Portrait mode. Instead, the Portrait mode exclusively uses the 56mm lens to shoot the image and the wide angle lens to gather the perspective data that allows it to generate a 9-layer depth map.

«

So you can pick any spot in a photo to be the “focus”, but unlike Huawei’s implementation you can’t then control the level of bokeh. But Panzarino is very impressed with this first pass. I wasn’t able to examine Huawei’s output (on a P9) in any detail; it looked clever on screen.
link to this extract


New report suggests Oculus Rift could be a tad pricey for the UK • T3

Dom Reseigh-Lincoln:

»

“CONTEXT’s latest insight into the market shows that 34% of UK gamers are willing to spend up to £500 for their first VR headset,” says retail MD, Adam Simon. “However, this figure drops sharply to only 3% for the £500- £600 bracket. This is also mirrored by general consumers, of whom only 2% would meet Oculus’ asking price.”

“CONTEXT has been tracking the rapidly growing VR sector and recently conducted a huge European-wide consumer survey about attitudes towards the new technology, including opinions on Oculus and other manufacturers in the space,” he adds.

However, while that price point might be a little alienating for early adopters, Simon does agree the decision will ultimately work in Facebook and Oculus’ favour, adding: “By keeping the price out of reach of most of the general public, and focusing on the most committed Oculus fans, they are able to closely monitor demand, and control their supply chain accordingly.”

«

link to this extract


Inside Google’s Internet Justice League and Its AI-powered war on trolls • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Now a small subsidiary of Google named Jigsaw is about to release an entirely new type of response: a set of tools called Conversation AI. The software is designed to use machine learning to automatically spot the language of abuse and harassment—with, Jigsaw engineers say, an accuracy far better than any keyword filter and far faster than any team of human moderators. “I want to use the best technology we have at our disposal to begin to take on trolling and other nefarious tactics that give hostile voices disproportionate weight,” says Jigsaw founder and president Jared Cohen. “To do everything we can to level the playing field.”

Conversation AI represents just one of Jigsaw’s wildly ambitious projects. The New York–based think tank and tech incubator aims to build products that use Google’s massive infra structure and engineer ing muscle not to advance the best possibilities of the Internet but to fix the worst of it: surveillance, extremist indoctrination, censorship. The group sees its work, in part, as taking on the most intract able jobs in Google’s larger mission to make the world’s information “universally accessible and useful.”

Cohen founded Jigsaw, which now has about 50 staffers (almost half are engineers), after a brief high-profile and controversial career in the US State Department, where he worked to focus American diplomacy on the Internet like never before. One of the moonshot goals he’s set for Jigsaw is to end censorship within a decade, whether it comes in the form of politically motivated cyberattacks on opposition websites or government strangleholds on Internet service providers.

«

“End censorship”. But also “take on trolling and other nefarious tactics”. Are those two congruent? And also, doesn’t one man’s censorship look like another man’s removal of revenge porn/paedophile material/fomenting of radicalisation?
link to this extract


Microsoft will ‘solve’ cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus, says company • Independent.ie


»

Microsoft says it is going to “solve” cancer in the next 10 years.

The company is working at treating the disease like a computer virus, that invades and corrupts the body’s cells. Once it is able to do so, it will be able to monitor for them and even potentially reprogramme them to be healthy again, experts working for Microsoft have said.

The company has built a “biological computation” unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer.

In the nearer term, the unit is using advanced computing research to try and set computers to work learning about drugs and diseases and suggesting new treatments to help cancer patients.

«

Hmm. Well. From January 2004:

»

Spam will be a thing of the past in two years’ time, Microsoft boss Bill Gates has promised.

Spammers – senders of bulk e-mail that mostly offers dubious products or pornography – were innovative, he said.

However, a three-pronged strategy would soon stamp out the problem, he said in remarks at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

«

Remind me, is spam still a thing that we have to deal with? Asking for a friend. On the other hand…
link to this extract


Artificial intelligence reveals mechanism behind brain tumor • Scienmag


»

Researchers at Uppsala University have used computer modelling to study how brain tumours arise. The study, which is published in the journal EBioMedicine, illustrated how researchers in the future will be able to use large-scale data to find new disease mechanisms and identify new treatment targets.

The last ten years’ progress in molecular biology has drastically changed how cancer researchers work. Instead of almost exclusively using different biological models, like cells, today large-scale statistical analyses are increasingly used to understand tumour diseases and find new therapies.

Researchers at Uppsala University, together with colleagues at the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology and University of Freiburg, have developed a new algorithm, aSICS, that uses large amounts of data to suggest hypotheses about “what causes what” in a cancer cell.

«

link to this extract


Dropbox hack blocked by Apple in Sierra • AppleHelpWriter

Phil Stokes previously explained how Dropbox uses a sneaky hack to get accessibility access, rather than the system dialog:

»

With the release of the latest version of the Mac operating system, 10.12 macOS Sierra, it’s pleasing to see that Apple have fixed a bug I reported against El Capitan in October of last year, and wrote about on this blog here and here.

The TCC.db is now under SIP, which means hacking the Accessibility preferences is no longer possible.

The bug basically allowed anyone to circumvent the authorisation warning to place an app in the list of Accessibility apps in System Preferences > Security & Privacy. It still required sudo, but an app (Dropbox being the most high profile offender), that got your admin credentials in other ways could insert itself into Accessibility and make it almost impossible for the user to remove.

Users can still alter Accessibility in the normal way (through Sys prefs GUI), but trying to hack the sql database via Terminal now returns “Error: attempt to write a readonly database.”

«

link to this extract


Is Amazon really ripping off consumers by promoting more expensive versions of products? • IB Times

Mary-Ann Russon:

»

We found no evidence that Amazon UK was trying to make us pay more money for any product, no matter how popular or expensive, and in some cases, when the product was niche, it would only list the seller that had the product. Because it was rare, the user would need to pay whatever the seller chose to charge for shipping.

However, when it came to Amazon US, we had a completely different experience. We logged both accounts into Amazon US and proceeded to perform tests on the same products we searched for in the UK. There was no difference between the prices offered to Prime users and the prices offered to non-Prime users.

We tried to search for “Loctite super glue”, which was the example used by ProPublica as evidence of Amazon pushing for consumers to spend more money. We found that ProPublica was accurate in their assessment, in this case.

«

Excellent bit of actual “let’s check it first” journalism. This is great work.
link to this extract


Google backs off on previously announced Allo privacy feature • The Verge

Russell Brandom:

»

Like Hangouts and Gmail, Allo messages will still be encrypted between the device and Google servers, and stored on servers using encryption that leaves the messages accessible to Google’s algorithms.

According to Google, the change was made to improve the Allo assistant’s smart reply feature, which generates suggested responses to a given conversation. Like most machine learning systems, the smart replies work better with more data. As the Allo team tested those replies, they decided the performance boost from permanently stored messages was worth giving up privacy benefits of transient storage.

The decision will also have significant consequences for law enforcement access to Allo messages. By default, Allo messages will now be accessible to lawful warrant requests, the same as message data in Gmail and Hangouts and location data collected by Android. The messages might not be there if the user had previously deleted them, or if the conversations took place in Incognito Mode — but in most cases, they will be. That leaves Google with much less danger of the kind of legal showdown Apple faced in San Bernardino and WhatsApp currently faces in Brazil.

«

Allo is iOS-only at present. It’s meant to be a sort of “smart assistant”, though early reviews have been lukewarm. (Aren’t all of them these days?) Google’s position on repressive regimes is hard to square with its reluctance to take a hands-off approach to user data.
link to this extract


The Coalition for Better Ads is destined for a glorious failure • Marketing Week

Mark Ritson is a columnist:

»

The main reason people block advertising is not because of poorly conceived creative or annoying, data-heavy executions. It is because they hate advertising and prefer their media without it. In a recent survey of British ad blockers by KPMG, for example, almost half the sample (46%) said they would use an ad blocker because – and I quote – “they do not like advertising at all”.

In contrast, the Coalition believes that “better” advertising will reduce the adoption of ad blockers. They say that because they are all marketers and marketers are the only people on the planet that think people like advertising. They think that because of what psychologists call ‘post-hoc rationalisation’, or what we might also call ‘how the fuck could I go to work each day if I really admitted how much people hate what I do?’.

So you can see how this one will play out. The Coalition spends several million quid creating inane legislation that slightly improves online ads. At which point consumers, who still have their ad blocking software up in the right hand corner of their screen, completely ignore the whole charade and keep blocking ads. They will do that not because the Coalition will fail to improve online advertising, but because the only good ad for most consumers is the one they do not have to download and be distracted by while they consume digital media.

None of this is digital’s fault by the way. If consumers had a similar opportunity to block TV ads, they would jump on it. Oh, hang on, they do and they have.

«

Ritson seems pretty good at hitting nails on the head.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Google’s Pixel leak, Porat profiled, Skittles photo row deepens, hacking Teslas, and more


How would you rate it? How much did you pay? Photo by William Christiansen on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Would you eat a handful? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Non-blurry photos of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL leak • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»

Today is apparently Pixel leak day. After getting some new details on pricing and spotting the phone in a Nest ad, some actual photos of the phones have emerged. The image above (and another below) show both phones side-by-side. This marks the first time we’ve actually seen the phones in the flesh—er, metal. Whatever.

The images show both phones in the aluminum finish, which does look very light above. I think that’s down to the harsh lighting. The top of the rear panel is clearly lighter and smoother (it’s glass). The fingerprint sensor is up there as well. There are some IDs and markings obscured for obvious reasons.

The front has that same sensor layout we’ve seen before, and the bezels are a little big. Feel free to complain about that in the comments. 

«

Er.. is it just me, or do those really look like iPhones?
link to this extract


Donald Trump Jr tweet: ‘I’m a refugee’ says Skittles photographer • BBC News

Patrick Evans:

»

Donald Trump Jr’s tweet comparing Skittles to refugees has caused a furore on social media. In a new development, the man who took the photo of the Skittles has revealed himself to be a former refugee.

David Kittos, 48, from Guildford, UK, woke up to find an image he had posted to Flickr in January 2010 had become embroiled in a political controversy.

“This was not done with my permission, I don’t support his politics and I would never take his money to use it,” Mr Kittos told the BBC.

«

Astonishing. The tweet used the photo, with the caption: “If I had a bowl of skittles [sic] and I told you just three would kill you. [sic] Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

Within hours it had been demonstrated that the “handful” would actually be 10 billion containing three solitary poisonous ones.

And the photo clearly says “All rights reserved”. That’s utterly egregious on the part of Trump. I hope he gets sued, or that he pays compensation which is then given – for annoyance – to Clinton’s campaign.
link to this extract


Worldwide smartwatch market will see modest growth in 2016 before swelling to 50m units in 2020 • IDC


»

Apple’s WatchOS will stay atop the smartwatch platform list throughout the forecast. The Series 2 Watch addresses some of the shortcomings of its Series 1 predecessor, but the lower price on the Series 1 (starting at $269 USD) may end up driving more volume in the upcoming holiday season. Still, these will be enough to keep watchOS the overall market leader, and future iterations of the Watch with new body styles, materials, and cellular connectivity will help cement the company’s spot later in the forecast.

Android and Android Wear will see the fastest growth of any platform on the list, and by 2020 will challenge watchOS for the top position in the worldwide smartwatch market. Support from OEMs both inside and outside of the IT industry will adopt Android Wear as the cornerstone of their smartwatch strategy, and in the process will address gaps in the product portfolio to lure new users.

«

Related: Is Android Wear going to make Google create the next Zune? Shameless self-promotion, on the point at which Android Wear has just passed 5m activations after 30 months on the market – and Apple has passed 16m sold.
link to this extract


Hackers hijack Tesla Model S from afar, while the cars are moving • The Register

Darren Pauli:

»

Chinese hackers have attacked Tesla electric cars from afar, using exploits that can activate brakes, unlock doors, and fold mirrors from up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) away while the cars are in motion.

Keen Security Lab senior researchers Sen Nie, Ling Liu, and Wen Lu, along with director Samuel Lv, demonstrated the hacks against a Tesla Model S P85 and 75D and say their efforts will work on multiple Tesla models.

The Shanghai, China-based hacking firm has withheld details of the world-first zero day attacks and privately disclosed the flaws to Tesla.

The firm worked on the attack for several months, eventually gaining access to the motor that moves the driver’s seat, turning on indicators, opening the car’s sunroof and activating window wipers.

Keen Security Lab’s attacks also appear to compromise the touch screen that controls many of a Tesla’s functions.

«

link to this extract


Who cares about the new iPhone camera? The real change is Apple Pay • WIRED

Cade Metz:

»

Apple’s not talking about it. Tim Cook and company are too busy trumpeting a new iPhone that’s pretty much like the old iPhone (except there’s — gasp — no headphone jack!). But if Apple’s not talking about it, that probably means it’s far more interesting — and far more important. And indeed it is.

This week, with the arrival of the new iPhone operating system, Apple Pay now works inside web browsers. Yes, that’s more interesting than no headphone jack. And its importance will only grow in the next few weeks as Apple Pay, the company’s digital payments service, reaches the web on Macs as well as iPhones.

«

He has a point.
link to this extract


Global handset revenues on a steady decline • Strategy Analytics


»

Apple and Samsung together captured 57% of the Global Handset Revenues in Q2 2016, per our latest report from the Handset Country Share Tracker (HCST) Service.  Global Handset industry revenues declined by -5% annually in Q2 2016.

Apple led in four of the six regions but has been on a steady decline globally. Samsung though led by volumes retained the second position by revenues. Apart from Huawei, Oppo, vivo, ZTE and Meizu most of the other vendors tracked witnessed an annual revenue decline.

«

That would put total revenues at $81.9bn, of which about $75bn (92%) was contributed by the top 10 OEMs.
link to this extract


The Wall Street veteran who’s helping Google get disciplined • Fortune

Leena Rao with a long profile of former Wall Street banker Ruth Porat, aged 58, who is now chief financial officer at Google:

»

One source close to the company says it’s now difficult for Other Bets [the non-Google companies inside Alphabet] to get new hires approved. The Bets are also being told to be self-sufficient administratively: They can rely on Alphabet for functions like legal counsel, human resources, and public relations, but only if they pay Alphabet for the services. (One Other Bets subsidiary was billed $500,000 for a year’s worth of PR help.) If these units were independent companies, of course, they’d be shouldering these costs on their own. But within Alphabet, they represent unfamiliar constraints, and for some, a signal that the culture Google was built on— focusing on innovation over profits—is dissipating.

Google executives reject that assertion. Schmidt, the chairman, acknowledges that the focus is new but says it allows Alphabet to invest more efficiently in its winners. Alphabet has been aggressively hiring engineers for cloud-computing and artificial-intelligence projects, for example. “The cost cutting is real, and it’s the right thing to be done, and it’s driven by [Porat],” Schmidt says. “Before she was there, we had lost discipline.”

But is discipline really the problem? In the most recent quarter, Other Bets lost an ugly $859m on $185m in revenue. Still, when you consider that Alphabet generated $7bn in free cash that quarter, the losses seem like something the company could easily absorb. Cost cutting, says Rob Enderle, the analyst, “is like taking painkillers when you are sick. At some point you are going to have to address what is making you sick.” The real issue at Alphabet, he adds, is that “what they are spending money on isn’t successful.”

«

It astonishes me to say it, but Enderle has a point.
link to this extract


What matters for Apple: line length or average selling price? • BTIG Research

Walter Piecyk:

»

Despite the lack of lines [outside stores when the new iPhones were released], we expect Apple to grow iPhone units in the December quarter to 77.5m units (3.6% y/y growth). This is the primary driver in our expectation of a return to revenue and EPS growth for Apple in fiscal 2017. We assume an iPhone ASP decline of 6% in the December quarter. If there is a mix shift to iPhone 7+ purchases, Apple could deliver upside to our revenue estimate, which is already above consensus. The increase in the memory of entry level phones to 32GB from 16GB is compelling, however 128GB could also attract some upward migration to the mid-level phones which could help also ASP.

«

Includes lots of photos of no people queueing. Still, there’s a first for your predictions on iPhone sales in the next quarter. Seems an ambitious target.
link to this extract


Google Trips is a killer travel app for the modern tourist • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

Google today announced Trips, a new app that serves as a trip planner and travel guide for anyone who is exploring a new place. The free app, which is available on Android and iOS, will organize your plane tickets and hotel reservations, offer editorial guides to more than 200 cities, and make personalized recommendations based on your Google history. Best of all, it works offline: you can download everything to your phone before you leave, including maps and walking directions — sparing you from having to use an expensive international data plan.

Trips is the culmination of more than two years of work on improving Google’s travel products, said Richard Holden, a vice president of product management at the company, in an interview. In recent months Google introduced Destinations, a travel-planning feature inside mobile search, and revamped its hotel and flight search features.

Now the company is introducing an app that it hopes will become the default way for travelers to organize trip information ahead of their travels and get around town once they have arrived. “We’re doing a great job on the planning stages, but we really need to help consumers when they’re actually at their destination,” Holden said.

«

More aggregation by Google (see ridesharing yesterday – which as Sameer Singh pointed out, labels the ridesharing services as Ads, which means it’s both getting people to use its apps *and* getting paid). It is very noticeable how focussed it has become on leveraging its strengths (search, aggregation, brand) to get people using its apps on mobile in the past few months.
link to this extract


Statement from Sunlight Foundation’s board chairman • Sunlight Foundation Blog

Mike Klein:

»

We are aware that the robust maturation of technology over the past decade has — happily but substantially — reduced the urgency of Sunlight’s early role as a leading transparency innovator. In addition, the board had to recognize that Sunlight’s initiating objective— to build support for better legislation against and regulation of the power of money in politics— has been significantly limited by the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision.

Those factors required a rethinking of what, if anything, can most effectively be done with the resources available to continue the technology/transparency cause and Sunlight’s role in it. We’ve done that work, and here is what we have determined.

The board has not found a candidate for executive director who persuaded us of both a compelling new strategic vision and of their capacity to lead Sunlight to its achievement. Accordingly, we have determined to explore alliances with other organizations similarly motivated, perhaps merging with one of them, in an arrangement that advances and preserves Sunlight’s mission and identity with increased efficiency and effectiveness.

During this time period, we will deliver on all existing obligations to funders and partners, making certain that we continue the great work we’re doing in the What Work Cities initiative, for instance. We are making necessary adjustments to staff in accordance with this direction.

We will discontinue our tool building and database maintenance activities, and encourage others to continue our most promising projects. The decision to retire OpenCongress is an example.

«

Wait, so – you’re shutting down your services and closing up shop? Why not say so in the headline?
link to this extract


Analysis of 7m Amazon reviews: customers who receive free or discounted item much more likely to write positive review • Review Meta


»

If you’ve read reviews on Amazon within the last few years, you’ve surely noticed a disclaimer at the bottom of many that look like this:

“I received this product for free or at a discount in exchange for my honest, unbiased review”
 
At ReviewMeta, we call these “Incentivized Reviews”.

Consumers have growing distrust and even disdain for incentivized reviews, especially when it seems every single one is a glowing 5-star review.  We wanted to confirm or deny this seemingly anecdotal opinion, so we analyzed 7 million reviews.  

After looking at over 7 million reviews, here’s what we see
We found that reviews containing language that would indicate the reviewer received the item for free or at a discount in exchange for a review (incentivized reviews) on average rate the product .38 stars higher than reviews that did not contain this disclosure (non-incentivized reviews).

«

It’s not a huge difference, but it’s consistent, and it means you’re being misled by reviews. And that’s before one considers all the glowing reviews put there by people paid via Amazon Turk by the product makers.
link to this extract


Amazon says it puts customers first. But its pricing algorithm doesn’t • Pro Publica

Julia Angwin wanted to buy something:

»

In an instant, Amazon’s software sifted through dozens of combinations of price and shipping, some of which were cheaper than what one might find at a local store.

TheHardwareCity.com, an online retailer from Farmers Branch, Texas, with a 95% customer satisfaction rating, was selling Loctite for $6.75 with free shipping. Fat Boy Tools of Massillon, Ohio, a competitor with a similar customer rating was nearly as cheap: $7.27 with free shipping.

The computer program brushed aside those offers, instead selecting the vial of glue sold by Amazon itself for slightly more, $7.80. This seemed like a plausible choice until another click of the mouse revealed shipping costs of $6.51. That brought the total cost, before taxes, to $14.31, or nearly double the price Amazon had listed on the initial page.

What kind of sophisticated shopping algorithm steers customers to a product that costs so much more than seemingly comparable alternatives?

One that substantially favors Amazon and sellers it charges for services, an examination by ProPublica found.

«

I know, you’re shocked. The deeper question is: how does one discover that this is going on?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Is Android Wear going to make Google create the next Zune?


This isn’t an Android Wear watch, but there are similarities. Photo by David Lee King on Flickr.

Once upon a time there was a Big Software Company, and it wrote some Software for a Task, and that Software could run on Devices made by Other Companies. However, the Big Software Company didn’t want to get into the Devices business in any serious way; it much preferred to let the Other Companies deal with the (low-margin) hardware side of business, and stay principally on the high-earning Software side. (The Big Software Company did make some hardware, but it really didn’t make much money on it. In fact it even made a loss at times.)

Meanwhile Apple also began offering a thing for the Task, competing with both the Big Software Company and the Other Companies’ Devices. Except that Apple wrote its own software and built its own devices, which meant that it could extract profit from whichever part of the value chain it could, and subsidise the bits that weren’t profitable by its end pricing. If writing Software was a cost (which it is), it could make up for that by screwing down suppliers by buying up in volume, or raising prices subtly. The relationship between the Big Software Company and the Other Companies didn’t allow for that dynamic.

Pretty soon, Apple dominated sales of devices dedicated to the Task. This didn’t please the Big Software Company, which decided that the Other Companies needed someone to show them how to do it properly, and set about building its own Devices using its own Software to do the Task.

At this, the Other Companies looked askance at the Big Software Company, and essentially told it to go screw itself.

Not a moment too Zune

Reading this, you may – if your memory is long enough – have thought “oh, it’s the story of Microsoft, the MP3 makers, the iPod and the Zune.” And that story certainly fits. Microsoft wrote the Windows Media Player and controller software, which then had to synchronise with the music stores and with the music players made by OEMs, all with the intention of giving the customer the most delightful experience.

The reality was rather different – it was so hard to keep all the software and hardware synchronised that you never knew who to blame. Did your player not work because the OEM had been lazy in implementing Microsoft’s software, or because Microsoft had somehow screwed things up?

There was also the problem of marketing and advertising: despite having a powerful brand, Microsoft couldn’t really favour one OEM over all the others, so they all had to fight for themselves. You got different devices, different sizes, and no clear story about what to do.

Apple, meanwhile, came through the middle, launching into the MP3 player market just as it was ready to expand (in 2001, when MP3 was big on the desktop but not in the pocket) with a clearly identifiable design and really easy-to-use software. (Yeah, yeah, I know, you hate iTunes. Believe me, there was a time when it wasn’t overloaded.)

The rise of the iPod left other MP3 makers floundering; they just couldn’t get traction, because they couldn’t have a single message (they needed to differentiate themselves from each other) and they often didn’t update in sync. Apple, meanwhile, ruthlessly exploited advertising gaps, celebrity endorsement and an interested media (which ran endless “iPod killer” stories, the first in October 2002 – it was attached to a Creative Technologies player).

This went on from 2001-2006, by which time Microsoft decided that it had had enough of these messups – Steve Ballmer, then CEO, was particularly annoyed by Apple’s dominance – and so it made its own, the Zune. The project started in March 2006 and launched in November that year. You can guess that the timing wasn’t fortuitous; the Zune arrived as the MP3 player market was going into decline. It’s often overlooked that in the same January 2007 video where Steve Ballmer dissed the iPhone, he also talked up the prospects of the Zune:


(Jump to 1’00” for the iPod discussion)

(You can read more about the whole Microsoft/Windows Media/iPod/Zune debacle in my book Digital Wars. Also has chapters about search, smartphones, tablets and China. UK Amazon paperback, UK Amazon Kindle, US Amazon paperback, US Amazon Kindle, iBooks.)

Not only but also: Android Wear

However, you could read the above story and replace “Microsoft” with “Google”, the Task with “smartwatches”, and all the OEMs with… the OEMs who have struggled to sell Android Wear watches.

And it is a struggle. Last week, Android Wear finally passed 5m downloads on Google Play. As I understand it (from sources), each download is an activation of an Android Wear device.

Here’s how the download figure, using the waypoints on Play, has progressed since the release at Google I/O 2014, when all the attendees got one:

Android Wear downloads/activations by week
Android Wear downloads, definite waypoints; the polynomial fit is pretty good, according to the correlation coefficient (R-squared: 1 = perfect correlation, 0 = none).

That’s actually quite encouraging: it seems to suggest that after a slow start, sales are just beginning to take off.

And now here’s how it looks if you also include the number of reviews for the app on Google Play. The trend there suggests that reviews led downloads – that is, the ratio of reviews to downloads wasn’t steady, and has shifted down, so that over time fewer people who download the app leave a review. (I use that approach in my modelling to estimate download growth.)

Android Wear downloads v reviews
Android Wear downloads, and reviews left on the app page. (Some data for reviews missing.)

So, 5m sold in 115 weeks (just under 30 months). Here’s the problem, though: those 5m have been divided up between LG, Motorola, Huawei, Asus, Acer and the various other bit players in the Android Wear space.

Enter the Watch

But that’s before we consider Apple’s offering here. Apple doesn’t release official figures for individual sales of the Watch (“competitive reasons” is the line, and they’re sticking to it). According to Canalys though in its first two quarters of availability – April-October 2015 – it sold 7m. That was probably split 4m + 3m, given the estimates for a 4m first quarter.

And for the Christmas quarter, estimates (again, necessarily) put sales at 5.1m. And then for the first quarter of 2016 they were estimated (again) at 1.5m – a long way down, for certain, but not surprising for something which isn’t a necessity (like, say, a phone in the modern age) but more of a gift. A bit like iPods used to be, in fact.

So that takes us to 13.6m by March. Since then there have been two more quarters – well, we’re nearly through September. In the second, Apple was reckoned to have sold another 1.6m amid a widespread decline in smartwatch sales. Probably sales during this current about-to-end quarter have been similar, or even lower.

That’s a total so far of around 16.5m in five quarters. Those aren’t iPad-style numbers – that achieved 28.7m sales in its first five quarters – though it’s better than the iPhone (6.1m) over the same time from launch. (The iPod did 0.6m in its first five quarters, but they were different times.)

Here though is where Apple Watch/Android Wear starts to look like iPod/MP3 players. Apple gets all the revenue from the Watch, and it controls the software, and it decides how it’s going to move the business along. That’s why Apple’s trajectory looks a lot stronger at present:

Apple Watch sales v Android Wear activations
On cumulative sales, Apple Watch is outpacing Android Wear by a substantial margin.

By contrast the Android Wear OEMS don’t even get to personalise Android Wear; they just make the product, and still have the software support costs (those driver updates don’t write themselves) without getting any sort of side benefit. It’s not even as if using one model ties people to that brand of phone; interchangeability is the model with Android, unlike Apple. For the consumer who wants to pick and mix, it’s fine, but as a business model it brings some pain.

That’s clearly why, as Roger Cheng found out at CNet (by the shocking tactic of Asking People), the big Android Wear OEMs are going to hold fire for now:

LG, Huawei and Lenovo’s Motorola unit will not release a smartwatch in the waning months of the year, the companies confirmed to CNET. While LG launched a watch in the first half, it’ll have been more than a year since Huawei and Motorola offered an update on their wearables.

That marks a reversal from last year, when all three companies launched Android Wear smartwatches at the early September IFA trade show in Berlin in what was supposed to be a resurgence of the platform. At this year’s show, Chinese maker Asus was the only major tech company to return with a new Android Wear watch.

That’s perhaps a bit discouraging, since aside from chip companies, you’d struggle to see other OEMs in the big list on the Android Wear site:

Android Wear partners
Not many of these are selling Android Wear watches as their primary business. Or even secondary business.

According to Wareable, there are somewhere between 10 and 21, perhaps 24, Android Wear watches to choose from. (Its guide is pretty handy.) You can also get an idea of pricing, which tends to be around £200; again, that’s quite a bit less than Apple’s Watch used to be, though since the introduction of the new version the price for last year’s model has fallen to £269.

Altogether, Android Wear vendors have taken in a total of 5m x £200 = £1bn ($1.3bn). That’s spread across multiple vendors – let’s assume four of them – over 30 months. It’s not a great return on investment; it’s about $10m per month each, or $120m per year. Apple, in the meantime, has probably taken in $350 x 16.5m = $5.7bn.

(Sanity check: Tim Cook said Apple was second only to Rolex in watch revenues for 2015, and Rolex did $4.5bn in sales in 2015, and the sales estimate above is 12.1m; at $350 each that’s $4.2bn. That’s also ahead of Fossil, which did $3.2bn. So this all fits with what we know.)

This is the inherent weakness, for a device that needs to be personal, in the modular business model: OEMs can’t control enough of the story around it. Samsung’s decision to go its own way with Tizen looks sensible; its use of the watch bezel for a control is an inspired little bit of UX.

See you zune?

In the face of indifference by the OEMs, though, what’s a Big Software Company to do? Well, perhaps what Big Software Companies do: roll its own. Google is said to be working on not one but two Android Wear watches of its own, set for release very soon. One is big and one is smaller, and it’s reported (by Android Police) that the larger one will have LTE connectivity as well as GPS and a heart rate sensor, and be a “do-all device that will allow Google to demonstrate Wear’s most robust capabilities, including the announcement at Google I/O that Android Wear 2.0 will support standalone apps”.

The smaller one, meanwhile, won’t have LTE or GPS and maybe not even a heartrate sensor. Price unknown.

If they’re going to happen, then they’ll come with the October 4 announcement of the new Pixel phones. Google has already indicated that it’s going to try to move beyond the Nexus line (something which has occasionally annoyed its Android OEMs; that’s part of why the Nexus phone line has never been big in sales terms). Perhaps it has decided the same for smartwatches. I guess we’ll find out zune enough.

Start up: Google buys more AI, iTunes’s overload, how SoftRAM fooled the world, Google Maps v Uber, and more


What makes a good chatbot? Photo by reynermedia 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 11 links for you. Not for resale in Kansas. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Prices of low-end smartphone panels hit new historical highs in september as demand outpaces supply • TrendForce

Julian Lee is an analyst at research company Trendforce:

»

strong demand is pushing up prices of LCD panels for smartphone displays of the lower resolution specs. With demand for high-end device models falling short of expectations, smartphone brands are now relying on low-end devices with bargain-priced panels to boost their product shipments. However, limited supply and increasing demand have caused prices of 4-inch WVGA and 4.5-inch FWVGA panels to reach new highs in September, with monthly increases at over 50%, respectively. Looking ahead, prices of lower-end smartphone panels are expected to keep rising in the fourth quarter.

WitsView’s latest analysis indicates that this year’s high-end smartphone models have not been well-received by consumers due to various reasons, such as the lack of innovations, unclear product positioning and even serious product quality issues. Adjusting to the market conditions, smartphone brands are now stepping up shipments of mid-range and low-end devices to achieve their annual shipment targets. Though lower-end smartphone panels are not actively promoted by suppliers due their weak product margins, their demand has soared recently as smartphone brands need them to sustain their overall device shipments.

«

That bit about “annual shipment targets” – and the miss on the high end (and the “various reasons”) – is notable.
link to this extract


Common bot misconceptions • Medium

Amir Shevat, head of developer relations at Slack:

»

With every new technology and paradigm, there are a lot of misconceptions, but I’ll try to set the record straight about the most common ones concerning bots.

1. “Bots are AI”

Wrong, most bots do not currently use AI, a lot of them will never need to use AI.

Some bots use Natural Language Processing/Understanding to map what the user is saying to the bot to an actual intent. For example, there are many ways to say you want to book a ticket to a movie — “I wanna book a ticket for later this evening”, “I want to go to the movies tonight”, “book me a ticket to a movie after 8pm”- all of these mean more or less the same, but for a developer it is quite hard to map these into an intent to book a ticket this evening. That is the most common use of AI today in bots, this is not what most people think about when they say artificial intelligence.

In addition, AI is not limited to bots – bots are by far not the only use case for AI. There are great AI solutions, for example image recognition or finding the right song you want to hear right now — solutions that uses AI but does not require bots.

«

And there’s more.
link to this extract


Google acquires natural language understanding startup Api.ai • VentureBeat

Jordan Novet:

»

Google today said that it’s acquired API.ai, a startup with tools for speech recognition and natural language understanding. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

In addition to its developers tools, Api.ai offers a conversational assistant app with more than 20 million users.

Google did not disclose its plans for integrating the startup’s technology. That will be important, as Google already has tools for natural language understanding and speech recognition, and it has unveiled a Google Assistant that will be available through text messaging interface and the Google Home smart speaker.

“API.AI has a proven track record for helping developers design, build and continuously improve their conversational interfaces,” Google vice president of engineering Scott Huffman wrote in a blog post. “Over 60,000 developers are using Api.ai to build conversational experiences, for environments such as Slack, Facebook Messenger and Kik, to name just a few. Api.ai offers one of the leading conversational user interface platforms and they’ll help Google empower developers to continue building great natural language interfaces.”

«

Just a guess, but might they use it for conversational AI?
link to this extract


iTunes will never work well • Medium

Firas Durri:

»

At this point, whatever the causes of the product problems with iTunes and related iOS apps — feature scope, management, team structure, etc. —we can be pretty sure that the only ‘solution’ will appear when this software achieves end-of-life, the same way that the mystery of how to set recording time on VCRs was finally solved by their obsolescence.

«

iTunes used to be really simple, because it didn’t have a great deal to do: play music stored on your computer, through your computer. Then it had to sync with an iPod. Then it had to sync with an iPhone and its apps. Then with video content which might be rented. Then with an iPad and its apps. Then with a cloud library. Then with a music streaming service. No wonder its UI looks exhausted; its functions have been split into separate apps on iOS (Podcasts, App Store, iTunes Store, Music).

And yet it’s still widely used.
link to this extract


Snake oil software – or how SoftRAM hoodwinked the world • Digital Trends

Brad Jones:

»

When Windows 95 launched in August 1995, there was only one piece of software available that was specifically written for the brand new operating system. SoftRAM 95 was a utility intended to double a system’s memory without the need for a hardware upgrade, and it was in stock at retail locations around the country as consumers ventured out to make the jump from Windows 3.1.

There was only one problem. SoftRAM 95 didn’t work.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t common knowledge. No one knew until after the software had become a best-seller across the globe. Back in the 1990s, SoftRAM hoodwinked hundreds of thousands of people. But that was before the age of widespread internet connectivity. Today, we’re more informed and harder to fool — right?

“The reason that it got as much attention and publicity as it got was that on the day that Windows 95 launched — August 24, 1995 — it was the only Windows 95-specific software available,” recalled Larry Seltzer, then a technical director for PC Magazine.

“Someone told me that they had been testing this, and that their claims are full of crap,” Seltzer continued. “I had already been involved in test labs for a long time, and the people involved with those labs talked with each other, so there was a lot of behind-the-scenes chatter about it.”

Despite these rumors of wrong-doing, SoftRAM was a hit with the general public.

«

It took a while to tear down (much longer, oddly, than the real problem with Intel’s flawed multiplication a year before) and prove false. But as Jones points out, “placebo” is still around today – you just don’t pay for it with money.
link to this extract


Samsung unloads tech shares as it braces for Galaxy Note 7 recall costs • WSJ

Kwanwoo Jun:

»

Over the past decade, Samsung has used its massive manufacturing scale to expand into smartphones, televisions and components such as displays and semiconductors. But top executives believe that those markets are no longer able to generate the huge growth returns Samsung has seen in the past. In the smartphone market, Samsung is currently facing Chinese and Indian upstarts that are offering high-spec phones at cheaper prices. Meanwhile, Apple Inc. on Friday launched its newest iPhone, matching Samsung’s waterproof and advanced camera phones.

In a statement Sunday, the South Korea-based tech giant said it sold off its entire 4.2% stake in Seagate Technology and its whole 4.5% stake in Rambus, both based in California. Samsung also confirmed the previously reported sales of half of its 2.9% stake in ASML Holding and its full 0.7% stake in Sharp.

A person familiar with the stake sale told The Wall Street Journal last week Samsung was selling about half of its stake in ASML for €606m ($676m). Samsung’s stakes in Rambus, Seagate and Sharp were valued at more than $500m combined, based on Friday’s closing prices.

«

The Note 7 recall costs will be an exceptional item, so won’t affect operating profits (except they couldn’t sell any more), but will affect the bottom (net) line. This sale near quarter end thus looks like an effort to keep the dividend up by having cash on hand.
link to this extract


Exclusive: Google may face over $400m Indonesia tax bill for 2015 – government official • Reuters

Gayatri Suroyo and Eveline Danubrata:

»

Most of the revenue generated in the country is booked at Google’s Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. Google Asia Pacific declined to be audited in June, prompting the tax office to escalate the case into a criminal one, [Indonesian tax affairs chief Muhammad] Hanif said.

“Google’s argument is that they just did tax planning,” Hanif said. “Tax planning is legal, but aggressive tax planning – to the extent that the country where the revenue is made does not get anything – is not legal.”

The tax office will summon directors from Google Indonesia who also hold positions at Google Asia Pacific, Hanif said, adding that it is working with the Indonesian police.

Globally, it is rare for a state investigation of corporate tax structures to be escalated into a criminal case.

«

link to this extract


Hailing more ride service options in Google Maps • Google Maps blog


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Back in March, we introduced a new way for people to find and compare the fastest ways to get around town by adding a new ride services tab when searching for directions in Google Maps. Today, we’re adding two more partners in the U.S., Lyft and Gett. Now Google Maps will display options from 9 ride-sharing partners in over 60 countries, allowing you to compare the fastest, most affordable ride near you, without having to download and open multiple apps.

Say you’re looking to get from the High Line to Times Square in Manhattan. When typing these locations into the Google Maps app, you’ll see a ride services tab appear alongside driving, transit and walking directions. Just tap the icon and you’ll find fare estimates and pick up times from multiple ride service partners, depending on driver availability. We’ll also show various types of services offered by each partner— for instance Lyft may also show options for a Lyft Line ride.

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Ben Thompson pointed out this blogpost in his daily Stratechery update, suggesting that it creates a threat for Uber because it will now be priced directly against other services.

My first thought though was: this is Google trying to get people out of non-Google apps, and back onto its own ones. If you order your Uber in Google Maps, it can (potentially) show you an ad.

The question now is: does Uber mind this use of its API? If it does, can it afford to block it, or would the lost business be too great? (I suspect “no” and “perhaps”.) So far, then, a win for Google.
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Microsoft lays off hundreds of employees this week, largely in Redmond, London • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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The Financial Times reported on September 16 that Microsoft is planning to shut down Skype’s London offices. A Microsoft spokesperson with whom I spoke today characterized the London cuts as a consolidation of some engineering positions that affected both Skype and Yammer. The spokesperson said about 220 jobs would be eliminated as a result.

Microsoft cut about 300 additional people globally this past week, the company spokesperson confirmed, with the majority of those cuts affecting those working in the Puget Sound, Wash., area. I saw a few people cut from various teams in Redmond earlier this week post about the cuts on Facebook.

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Sony Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact won’t have fingerprint scanners in the US • Phone Arena

Florin T:

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Sony’s brand new Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact are coming soon to the US. In case you’re planning to buy any of them, you should first know this: unlike their European counterparts, the US-bound Xperia XZ and X Compact do not feature fingerprint scanners. This is confirmed by Sony Mobile’s US website, where full specs for both phones are available (see the source links below), and there’s no mention of fingerprint scanners whatsoever.

The non-US Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact have fingerprint scanners embedded in their power buttons, but Sony decided to remove them from the devices that will be shipped in the States. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Sony did the same with the Xperia X Performance, Xperia Z5, and Xperia Z5 Compact. As for why this is happening, there is no official explanation.

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Perhaps I can help? HP has a patent in the US on fingerprint scanners in power buttons. Filed in 2009, published in 2012, and I’d guess that HP wants some good money for it – which Sony’s money-losing mobile division really can’t afford given the tiny volumes in the US.

The patent is also published (hence valid?) through WIPO, Europe and China – but maybe Sony thinks it’s worth paying there. Though one would think it would move to a different design, to avoid the patent.
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Has the UK got Tech Talent? • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:

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Across BBC News outlets this week, under the banner Tech Talent, we are asking whether the UK can compete in the global technology industry – and why we haven’t produced a tech giant on the scale of Google or Apple. Here are my thoughts on those questions.

In the last ten days I’ve met the founder of a British games company which is still independent after a quarter of a century, and about to launch one of Sony’s first virtual reality titles.

I’ve attended a celebration to mark the extraordinary success of the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer created in Cambridge to teach children to code, which has now achieved global sales of ten million.

And I’ve had a demo of the latest products from a fledgling company called Chirp, created by a University College London scientist to transmit data via an audio signal.

All of these are examples of a thriving British technology landscape. So why, over nearly 20 years of covering the tech scene, do I keep getting asked the same thing – where is the UK’s Google?

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What isn’t mentioned in the piece, but seems relevant, is that Google, Apple, Facebook and so on can count on scale: the US is largely homogenous and can be largely covered using a single language (add Spanish and you’re pretty much at 100%). The UK is part of Europe (presently) but crucially you can’t reach all its users with a single language, plus there are cross-border differences in business practice.

That said, the UK has produced lots of top-flight tech companies. We just tend to overlook them until they get bought.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday we linked to Ars Technica’s piece about the 2003 Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP, which didn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Guess what? Every model after that did have a headphone jack. (Bet the iPhone 7’s successors won’t.)