Remember that graphic that circulated many years ago, showing the internet as bundled tiers? It drove home the stakes of net neutrality. Nothing inspires hatred quite so much as cable companies, and seeing a mockup of an internet that runs closer to their model is frightening.
Dieter Bohn thinks we’re reaching a point where that graphic is becoming a reality. Not because of ISPs shaking down Netflix, but because of “assistants” like Siri and Cortana:
These intelligent assistants are great. I use them every day and expect I will continue to use them for, well, ever. But there’s a problem that’s built into them: they only seem to work with certain parts of the web and — here’s the real rub — certain apps. […]
You can get Yelp results in Siri, OpenTable in Google, TuneIn radio from Alexa. But you can’t get everything, fairly and transparently ranked, the way that Google changed search on the web.
It’s a compelling first read, comparing the way search is expected to function with how it actually works in proprietary assistant software. Moreover, comparing it to discussions about net neturality — as Bohn does a little in the article — is an argument I hadn’t considered.
It would be great if there were a way for third-party developers to integrate with personal assistants. I’d love to be able to ask Siri “what’s interesting around me?” and see results from Inquire, or tell it to “play my weekly discovery playlist” and have Spotify start. There are, of course a host of UI considerations — deciding how an intelligent assistant knows which app to use for a given phrase, for example — but it would be pretty rad if it all worked right.
Upon second read, though, Bohn’s argument is, quite simply, bullshit.
Comparing assistant software to Google search? Is Bohn serious? Their search algorithms are anything but “fair and transparent”. You know: their top secret, frequently-changing algorithms that they won’t patent because then Google would have to disclose how they work? Yeah.
Bohn digs deeper into this angle:
That’s all great, but did you know that there’s no universal way for app developers to make their apps’ content readable to every company? Instead, each app maker has to create an index that Google can read, an index that Apple can read, another one for Microsoft, and so on. I’ve been told by people at multiple companies that we’re getting closer to a universal standard that will make creating these indexes less of a burden on developers, but we’re not there yet.
Web searches like Google and Bing claim to be based on impartial algorithms, not backroom deals. But the way that OpenTable and Yelp and Hotel listings appear in Siri and Google Now is much more opaque.
Okay, having to appease different companies with proprietary stuff sucks. Got it.
But remember Google’s failed “authorship” experiment, which was supposed to give a rankings boost to websites that linked their authors’ Google Plus profiles within the site’s source?
Or what about their current pitch to business owners? They’re encouraged to set up a Google Local Business page — basically, a Google Plus profile, but with business-ey things like hours of operation and industry. The business is then ranked against their competitors in that weird local search results box based on a bunch of signals, such as their Google Plus activity and how long they’ve had a Google profile. How much weight these and other factors have is, of course, a complete mystery because Google is even more cagey about how they rank local listings than they are about their website rankings.
With Google’s Pagerank, there’s at least a nominal sense that users are picking the winners and losers. I couldn’t tell you what makes app results appear inside these assistants. So far, nobody’s saying publicly how their apps figure out what to show you. I’d like to trust that none of these companies are picking favorites based on backroom deals (the kind of paid placement that led people to distrust the AltaVista search engine 15 years ago), but I’d much rather just know how Siri and Alexa and Cortana make those choices.
Google may not be picking favourites based on third-party backroom deals, but they sure were based on backroom deals internally:
One way Google favored its own results was to change its ranking criteria. Google typically ranks sites based on measures like the number of links that point to a site, or how often users click on the site in search results.
But Marissa Mayer, who was then a Google vice president, said Google didn’t use click-through rates to determine the ranking for its own specialized-search sites, because they would rank too low, according to the staff report. […]
Instead, Google would “automatically boost” its own sites for certain specialized searches that otherwise would favor rivals, the FTC found. If a comparison-shopping site was supposed to rank highly, Google Product Search was placed above it. When Yelp was deemed relevant to a user’s search query, Google Local would pop up on top of the results page, the staff wrote.
There’s more, too. Google says that you can’t buy your way to the top of their rankings, but some experts believe that domains with Google AdWords accounts get a little boost. Again, we’re dealing with Google’s “fair and transparent” ranking system here, so who knows?
… there’s a very real chance that these bots are going to become our primary interface to the internet, the medium through which we get our information and our sweet, sweet content. So I think we should demand that the companies that helped us fight the ISP bundle don’t end up becoming purveyors of bundles themselves. We should hold them to the standard of openness that made the web so vibrant in the first place.
Sure, but why not regulate search engines at the same time? Google web search represents a gigantic share of U.S. search engine traffic, and they were found to abuse their monopoly position in anticompetitive ways. Search engines are most people’s primary interface for the web today; don’t these arguments apply similarly to them, too? I’d argue that they do. But I also wish to stress that advocating for the regulations of intelligent assistants by holding them to the standards of Google’s web search is disingenuous and callous.
Microsoft only sold 4.5 million Lumia devices in the recent quarter, compared to 10.5 million at the same time last year. That’s a massive 57 percent drop. Even a 57 percent increase wouldn’t be enough to save Windows Phone right now.
Microsoft and Nokia have sold a total of 110 million Windows Phones compared to 4.5 billion iOS and Android phones in the same period. IDC recently reported that 400 million phones were sold in the recent quarter, meaning just 1.1 percent of them were Lumia Windows Phones.
Windows Phone has long been my favourite non-iOS platform. It may have no app ecosystem, but it had some of the most refined thought and consideration into the way we actually use smartphones. It’s really too bad — though totally unsurprising — that Microsoft could never get Windows Phone to catch up with its competitors.
If you have a USB 3 peripheral and are experiencing Bluetooth or WiFi troubles, you’re not alone. According to Intel (via Rosyna Keller), this is a known issue:
[The] noise from USB 3.0 data spectrum can be high (in the 2.4–2.5 GHz range). This noise can radiate from the USB 3.0 connector on a PC platform, the USB 3.0 connector on the peripheral device or the USB 3.0 cable. If the antenna of a wireless device operating in this band is placed close to any of the above USB 3.0 radiation channels, it can pick up the broadband noise. The broadband noise emitted from a USB 3.0 device can affect the SNR and limit the sensitivity of any wireless receiver whose antenna is physically located close to the USB 3.0 device. This may result in a drop in throughput on the wireless link.
Intel’s white paper on this issue is nearly four years old now, so this may be old news to some of you; I, however, would never have thought to try unplugging USB devices as a troubleshooting step for poor WiFi performance.
Apple has determined that, in very rare cases, the two prong Apple AC wall plug adapters designed for use in Continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Argentina and Brazil may break and create a risk of electrical shock if touched. These wall plug adapters shipped from 2003 to 2015 with Mac and certain iOS devices, and were also included in the Apple World Travel Adapter Kit.
I’ve managed to dodge every Apple recall up until this point, but my World Travel Adapter Kit is affected by this. I’m hoping that the two two-pin adapters (European/Korean and Brazilian) are better-differentiated in the new kits, too.
We have a difficult announcement to make. Beginning today we’re winding down the Parse service, and Parse will be fully retired after a year-long period ending on January 28, 2017. We’re proud that we’ve been able to help so many of you build great mobile apps, but we need to focus our resources elsewhere.
According to their brag page,1 Parse’s customers included some of the biggest and most popular apps on both iOS and Android. Uniqlo, Eventbrite, Plenty of Fish, Lululemon, and more all used Parse. Stubhub? Parse. Vevo? Yep. Zoosk? HopStop? The fucking White House? Their apps used Parse. Heck, even that shelved new app Panic was working on used it.2 Developers can rely upon third-party infrastructure so long as it’s never acquired, the company never “pivots”, and there’s a reliable business model in place.
Speaking of Medium, Dave Winer thinks you shouldn’t publish there for lots of good reasons:
If Medium were more humble, or if they had competition, I would relax about it. But I remember how much RSS suffered for being dominated by Google. And Google was a huge company and could have afforded to run Google Reader forever at a loss. Medium is a startup, a well-funded one for sure, but they could easily pivot and leave all the stories poorly served, or not served at all. I’m sure their user license doesn’t require them to store your writing perpetually, or even until next week. […]
We all point to tweets, me too, because it’s too late for competition. And YouTube videos. SoundCloud MP3s. Do we really want to bury something as small and inexpensive as a web page? Is it necessary that a Silicon Valley tech company own every media type? Can we reserve competition in the middle of the web, so we get a chance for some of the power of an open platform for the most basic type of creativity — writing?
Medium is an attractive choice for lots of people — from average users to the most tech-savvy writers — because it’s straightforward and has few options, but also because it has become the platform du jour. Momentum has inherent value — just ask Google about how they tried to compete with Facebook.
I really wish there were a more turnkey solution for owning your writing. Winer advocates publishing on Tumblr, for example, but I don’t see how that’s much better. If anything, its Yahoo ownership makes me worry about its future. Even if you have a self-hosted weblog, as I do, its longevity is partly determined by which web host you choose and how their future prospects look. I don’t know what the solution is — especially for non-technical writers — but I do know that while throwing your hat in the ring with big, well-funded startups has a history of mixed results, siding with small yet noble companies often doesn’t end well.
Oracle’s Dalibor Topic sounds really bitter about it:
By late 2015, many browser vendors have either removed or announced timelines for the removal of standards based plugin support, eliminating the ability to embed Flash, Silverlight, Java and other plugin based technologies.
Cry me a river. I’m sure Oracle loves it when people think of Java and malware in the same context, though, to the extent that anyone still thinks about Java.
With modern browser vendors working to restrict and reduce plugin support in their products, developers of applications that rely on the Java browser plugin need to consider alternative options such as migrating from Java Applets (which rely on a browser plugin) to the plugin-free Java Web Start technology.
Java Web Start is basically a way to wrap a Java-for-web app in a desktop application frame. Gross. The sooner this thing dies, the better.
The New York Times’ Nick Bilton had weird experience recently:
I was sitting in my home office, working on this very column about neighbors getting into arguments over drones, when I heard a strange buzzing sound outside. I looked up, and hovering 20 feet from my window was a black drone with a beady-eyed camera pointed at me.
At first, I was upset and felt spied upon. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the opposite conclusion. Maybe it’s because I’ve become inured to the reality of being monitored 24/7, whether it’s through surveillance cameras or Internet browsers. I see little difference between a drone hovering near my window, and someone standing across the street with a pair of binoculars. Both can peer into my office.
This reminds me a lot of the legal and ethical questions surrounding Arne Svenson’s exhibition “The Neighbors”, as described by David Walker for Photo District News:
The New York photographer who provoked controversy by photographing his neighbors through their apartment windows and exhibiting the images in a show has fended off lawsuit for invasion of privacy.
New York State court judge Judge Eileen A. Rakower dismissed the claim against photographer Arne Svenson, ruling that the photos in question were protected by the First Amendment. She also ruled that the images did not violate New York State civil rights laws, as the plaintiffs had claimed.
There’s clearly something very uncomfortable about the idea of being photographed by someone else while in your own home, where the expectation of privacy is far greater than in almost any other space.
However, in parts of the United States, it’s generally legal to photograph almost any space if it’s visible publicly, especially if the subject cannot be identified (though this is not legal advice — I am not a lawyer). Someone inside their home has a reasonable expectation of privacy, but if they leave their curtains open, there is an implicit sense of permission granted. Per the court’s opinion in Foster v. Svendson:
To be sure, by our holding here — finding no viable cause of action for violation of the statutory right to privacy under these facts — we do not, in any way, mean to give short shrift to plaintiffs’ concerns. Undoubtedly, like plaintiffs, many people would be rightfully offended by the intrusive manner in which the photographs were taken in this case. However, such complaints are best addressed to the Legislature — the body empowered to remedy such inequities. […] Needless to say, as illustrated by the troubling facts here, in these times of heightened threats to privacy posed by new and ever more invasive technologies, we call upon the Legislature to revisit this important issue, as we are constrained to apply the law as it exists.
I’m not advocating voyeurism here; I don’t think you should take pictures of your neighbours, because that’s pretty creepy, and quite possibly illegal in your region. But Bilton’s article and Svenson’s work and associated court case raise captivating questions about the nature of our expectations of privacy, and the implicit permissions we give others.
Shelving a New App. One of our interesting app experiments — an app to share and discover music — was 95% done, had a beautiful interface and some interesting ideas, plus a complete server-side component… then got shelved. It wasn’t an easy decision. It was mostly worries about revenue — it doesn’t seem possible that you can charge money for a social app in 2016, since mass adoption is critical.
I cannot imagine getting that close to a finished product only to axe it. That’s a decision that’s impossible to make lightly. I hope Panic can find a compelling business model to ensure its release — it sounds like something I’d be interested in.
iOS Revenue. I brought this up last year and we still haven’t licked it. We had a change of heart — well, an experimental change of heart — and reduced the price of our iOS apps in 2015 to normalize them at $9.99 or less, thinking that was the upper limit and/or sweet spot for iOS app pricing. But it didn’t have a meaningful impact on sales.
More and more I’m beginning to think we simply made the wrong type of apps for iOS — we made professional tools that aren’t really “in demand” on that platform — and that price isn’t our problem, but interest is.
This is a recurring comment from developers and power users alike. The iOS App Store continues to be a race to the bottom.
In a nut, Apple is a really big company getting even bigger. Federico Viticci and the rest of the MacStories team have full coverage:
Apple has just published their financial results for Q1 2016 for the quarter that ended in December 2015. The company posted revenue of $75.9 billion. The company sold 16.1 million iPads, 74.8 million iPhones, and 5.3 million Macs, earning a quarterly net profit of $18.4 billion.
iPhone sales were basically flat, with Mac sales down a hair and iPad sales down about 25% compared to the year-ago quarter. However, revenue from services — iTunes, App Stores, iBooks, Apple Music, Apple Pay, and so on — is up dramatically, as is revenue from the “other” category, which includes the Apple Watch. Though sales were flat for the iPhone, the average selling price actually shot up.
This is the first Apple earnings report that I can remember which includes “supplementary material” (PDF). It’s a lot of non-GAAP stuff that illustrates the impact that currency fluctuations have had on the reported figures. Depending on whether you’re writing for Forbes or AppleInsider, the report makes Apple look like they performed better than they did, or the currency fluctuations make it look as though Apple did worse than reality. Whatever the case, it seems to have placated investors — after-hours trading is basically flat.
For the past few months, the social media company has stopped displaying ads, or has dramatically reduced the number of ads it displays, to a small group of some of its most prominent and active users. […]
Twitter sources say the company doesn’t select the no-ad or low-ad group purely by star power, but by a variety of criteria, including the volume and reach of the tweets they generate.
I have about 70,000 followers, and I appear to be in the no-ad group. So does my boss, Kara Swisher, who has more than a million followers.
People don’t simply dislike ads — I think people specifically dislike Twitter’s ads. Considering the way they squeeze advertising into every nook and cranny, I’m not surprised.
Happily, I have been enjoying Twitter’s ad-free experience. Am I secretly a Twitter celebrity? No. I am merely one of Twitter’s many Very Unimportant Persons, but you, too, can enjoy the ad-free life by using any number of third-party apps. I like Tweetbot.
Last week, Mark Gurman published what he’s heard about the forthcoming “iPhone 5SE” (I’ve trimmed his list):
Sources have provided the following list of “iPhone 5se” upgrades over the 5s:
The chamfered, shiny edges have been replaced with curved glass like on the iPhone 6 and 6s lines
The same 8 megapixel rear camera and 1.2 megapixel front camera systems from the iPhone 6
The A8 and M8 chips from the iPhone 6
Live Photos from the iPhone 6s
This seems like a strange blend of features, like the lovechild of all three iPhone model lines currently on sale. Rounded edges mixed with the 5S’ existing hardware seems a little weird, as does the inclusion of Live Photos — perhaps the iPhone 6 could see a software update that enables Live Photos for it, too.
We’ve now learned that the iPhone 5se is more likely to include variants of the A9 and M9 chips instead of the A8 and M8 lines.
Because the iPhone 7 will include a faster chip potentially known as the A10 processor, Apple likely does not want its new 4-inch iPhone to fall two processor generations behind in just six months. Another benefit of the M9 chip from the iPhone 6s is always-on Siri activation. This feature allows a user to say “Hey Siri” and launch Siri on their iPhone without the device being plugged in. Given the large performance leap, we are told that the “5se” will likely replace the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the iPhone lineup this fall when the iPhone 7 is introduced.
This sounds decreasingly like an upgraded iPhone 5S and more like a scaled-down 6S. I’m not surprised that a refreshed four-inch iPhone is rumoured, but this spec sheet is peculiar. Not unlikely, but not what I was expecting.
I don’t know anyone who bought any of these special edition iPods, aside from one friend who bought a U2 one because it was the only way to get a black iPod at the time. I imagine that only a handful of any of them were produced.
As best I can tell, the celebrity engraved set of iPods were all made available only around Christmas in 2002. But Apple didn’t give up on limited editions with those ones, or the Harry Potter ones, or even the U2 model. The most recent special edition iPod that I can find is the stainless steel Shuffle, released in 2009. And if you have one of those and kept it in good condition, you can sell it for a mint on eBay — I’m seeing prices starting at nearly $800 Canadian. For what it’s worth, that’s about a seven-fold return on investment, performing about twice as well as Apple’s stock in the same timeframe.
Last month, Kickstarter hired Mark Harris to investigate the circumstances around the failure of the most-funded European project in their history: a drone called Zano to be built by a company called Torquing. It’s the evergreen story of a lack of understanding conflicting with the ambition and creeping scope of the product:
On 18 November, the axe fell. Torquing announced via a Kickstarter update that it was entering a creditor’s voluntary liquidation, the UK equivalent roughly of an American “Chapter 7” bankruptcy filing. It appointed a liquidator who would bring its business operations to a close and attempt to sell the company’s remaining assets to pay its outstanding bills. Legal documents show that Torquing had not only burned through the £2.5m from its Kickstarter campaign, it had run up another £1m in debt. It was Kickstarter’s most spectacular flame-out to date.
No more Zanos would be made or sent out. Staff were sent home, and Torquing’s supercomputer was switched off and would be sold for parts. Because the Zano drone checks in over the internet with Torquing’s servers each time it powers up to retrieve calibration data and updates, the few drones in the wild were instantly and permanently grounded, like a dastardly robot army foiled in the last reel of a bad sci-fi film. After an abrupt final post on Kickstarter, Zano’s creators retreated offline and refused to engage with either backers or Kickstarter itself, contrary to the platform’s policies for failed campaigns.
It’s long — Medium estimates a 53 minute read time — but it’s worth spending some time with. Terrific reporting and storytelling make for a compelling autopsy.
From an older Apple support article titled “Earth‘s Magnetic Field Affects Performance” (via Michael Tsai);
Monitors based on cathode-ray tube (CRT) technology, including those found in iMac computers, use precisely controlled magnetic fields to direct the flow of electrons to the red, green, and blue light emitting phosphors on the monitor. The earth’s magnetic field varies in intensity throughout the world, which can affect the path of this electron beam. During manufacturing, CRT-based monitors are aligned in special areas called helmholtz cages that simulate the magnetic field the monitor is being aligned for. Monitors are typically aligned for the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere, and sometimes for the equatorial region.
A CRT-based monitor purchased in the Northern Hemisphere may not perform correctly if it is moved to the Southern Hemisphere. The reverse is also true because the earth’s magnetic fields are not the same in each hemisphere.
I had no idea this was the case. I have no reason to post this, other than it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve read all week. I couldn’t find any photos of a helmholtz cage as used for manufacturing a CRT display, but they lookpretty wild.
From a near-perfectly calibrated display to monstrous SoC performance, the iPad Pro seems to be in a league of its own. The Pencil, in particular, is extremely impressive:
After a few trials I measured an approximate latency for the iPad Pro of roughly 49ms or 3 frames of delay, while the Wacom Cintiq in this configuration had roughly 116ms or ~7 frames of delay. It’s worth mentioning here that the camera I used was recording at 240 FPS, so these figures could be off by around 4ms even before accounting for human error. Although the Cintiq 22 HD does have higher latency, I wouldn’t put too much into this as it’s likely that a more powerful computer driving the display would narrow, if not eliminate the gap entirely. […]
To give an idea for how much the application has an effect on latency, the Apple Notes app has roughly 38 ms or around 2 frames of latency from when the stylus tip passes over one point to when the inking reaches the same point.
Caveats aside, 38 milliseconds of latency is astonishing, and something you can really feel. The hardware, then, is extremely impressive; the software, on the other hand, still leaves a lot to be desired.
Rebecca Blumenstein and Jason Anders, Wall Street Journal:
Congress, not companies, should determine U.S. policy on access to encrypted data on cellphones and other devices, AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said in an interview.
“I don’t think it is Silicon Valley’s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do. I understand Tim Cook’s decision, but I don’t think it’s his decision to make,” Mr. Stephenson said Wednesday in an interview here with The Wall Street Journal at the World Economic Forum.
At the moment, the laws that require access for law enforcement only apply to telecommunications services; iMessage and FaceTime do not fit the description established by those laws. As a result, any Silicon Valley firm can make that decision, unless the law is changed.
The AT&T chief said his own company has been unfairly singled out in the debate over access to data. “It is silliness to say there’s some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T,” he said, adding that the company turns over information only when accompanied by a warrant or court order.
It’s not a conspiracy theory. AT&T and the NSA love each other so much that they literally got a room.
Apple received $1 billion from its rival in 2014, according to a transcript of court proceedings from Oracle Corp.’s copyright lawsuit against Google. The search engine giant has an agreement with Apple that gives the iPhone maker a percentage of the revenue Google generates through the Apple device, an attorney for Oracle said at a Jan. 14 hearing in federal court.
A billion dollars a year represents only a tiny portion of Google’s revenue. However, if they’re also splitting what is presumably advertising revenue, that could be a significant amount — Goldman Sachs estimated that 75% of Google’s 2014 mobile search revenue came from iOS devices, and the share of their revenue coming from mobile is only growing.
I only have my own anecdotal experience, but I’ve been using Spotlight far more since iOS 9 was released. Between the functionality on the home screen and suggestions provided in Safari, I’ve gone days without seeing a Google search results screen.
If this pattern holds for more people and Apple keeps improving their ability to index the web, it’s a classic move. Not only are they attempting erode Google’s revenue, they’re cannibalizing some of their own. Not much, probably, but some. And they’re protecting users’ privacy along the way.