Thursday, April 24, 2014

Google+ creator Vic Gundotra is leaving Google - Computerworld

A high-level Googleplex departure

"Gundotra worked at Google for nearly eight years, spearheading the development of Google+, as well as Google I/O, the company's annual conference for developers. For a time Google's mobile apps also fell under his purview, including services like turn-by-turn directions. "I have been incredibly fortunate to work with the amazing people of Google," he said in a Google+ post announcing his departure.

He did not say exactly why he was leaving. A Google spokesman said the change takes effect immediately."
Google+ creator Vic Gundotra is leaving Google - Computerworld

Understanding Why Tim Cook Says iPad Sales Weren’t as Bad as It Seems | Re/code

So perhaps not the beginning of the end for the iPad after all...

"In the early part of 2013, Apple was shipping a lot of iPad minis into the retail channel in an effort to catch up to demand for the newly introduced tablet. Cook said that build-up of inventory made for unfavorable comparisons in the current March quarter.

Cook noted that Apple significantly reduced channel inventory — products sold by Apple but not yet in the hands of customers — over the course of the just-completed quarter and makes the case that consumer demand was actually roughly similar to a year ago. Purchases of iPads by customers, he said, were actually 1.3 million more than Apple’s reported sales figure during the quarter. Taking that into account, sales to consumers were off only about three percent from a year ago."
Understanding Why Tim Cook Says iPad Sales Weren’t as Bad as It Seems | Re/code

With Launch of Pantry, Amazon Thinks Prime Members Will Pay for Some Deliveries | Re/code

A handy option for ordering snacks when you're binge-watching stale HBO content for which Amazon is reportedly paying $100M/year

"Amazon Prime is synonymous with free (two-day) shipping for those who pay for the annual membership. But with a new service called Prime Pantry, Amazon is betting that Prime customers will agree to pony up and pay for shipping for items such as 12-can packs of Coke or a six-roll paper towel pack.

The service gives Prime customers the ability to order as much canned foods, cereal, snacks, beverages and everyday household items as can fit in a four-cubic-foot box that holds up to 45 pounds. No matter how packed or empty the box is, it costs $5.99 to deliver it. As customers add Pantry items to their online shopping cart, they are told what percentage of the box is full."
With Launch of Pantry, Amazon Thinks Prime Members Will Pay for Some Deliveries | Re/code

IBM Opens Chip Architecture, in Strategy of Sharing and Self-Interest - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

Another interesting milestone in IBM's fading hardware business

"IBM and Google are the key strategic players in the foundation. IBM’s Power systems hold the largest share of the market for server computers running the Unix operating system. But the Unix server market is withering. Sales of IBM’s Power systems fell 31 percent last year.

“For the Power technology to survive, IBM has to do this,” said Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, a research firm. “It needs to find new markets for Power.”"
IBM Opens Chip Architecture, in Strategy of Sharing and Self-Interest - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

Amazon's Deal Makes HBO Shows Free to Prime Subscribers - Businessweek

An ongoing battle of attrition in paying for access to premium content and, perhaps inevitably, pipes (see, e.g., F.C.C., in a Shift, Backs Fast Lanes for Web Traffic -- NYT)

"The race among Internet television services is measured largely by what you can watch on them. Before dropping its HBO bombshell, Amazon’s primary distinction was its increased focus on video games. But it has also been producing its own shows and grabbing further exclusives for Prime subscribers. Amazon is competing in two areas here: It wants people to buy Fire TVs, rather than Rokus, and for viewers to value Prime more than Netflix (NFLX). The HBO deal puts Amazon ahead of Internet TV companies that make devices, and it constitutes the company’s first big coup as it tries to distinguish itself from Netflix, which doesn’t offer any of HBO’s current content. Still, Amazon is still far behind Netflix on streaming selection, as this clever analysis by Lifehacker shows."
Amazon's Deal Makes HBO Shows Free to Prime Subscribers - Businessweek

Apple Sold 20 Million Apple TVs, Which Are Now Far From A Hobby | TechCrunch

In other Apple news...

"“I’m feeling good about this business and where it could go,” Tim Cook said, further revealing that the company stopped calling the product segment a hobby once it pulled in $1 billion in revenue in 2013. “It didn’t feel right to me to refer to something that brought in a billion dollars as a ‘hobby,’” he said.

“We’ve got a pretty large installed base there,” Cook said, speaking to competitors. He feels the Apple TV stands “extremely favorable” against other streaming devices like the new Amazon Fire TV."
Apple Sold 20 Million Apple TVs, Which Are Now Far From A Hobby | TechCrunch

Windows Phone 8.1 Finally Catches Up to Its Rivals - NYTimes.com

An excerpt from the most positive Windows Phone review I recall reading; still tbd if Microsoft will be able to claw its way into a sustainable third-place position, however

"I spent the last week or so with the recently released Windows Phone 8.1, and let me put it this way: I wouldn’t give up my iPhone for Windows Phone, but I might give up my Android.

Windows Phone is now — to use what may sound like faint praise — good enough. It’s good enough to replace Android, especially since the operating system is a lot more upfront about how it’s going to use my information, where and when it’s gathering it, and why."
Windows Phone 8.1 Finally Catches Up to Its Rivals - NYTimes.com

App-Controlled Hearing Aid Improves Even Normal Hearing - NYTimes.com

Hear different

"IPhone-connected hearing aids are just the beginning. Today most people who wear hearing aids, eyeglasses, prosthetic limbs and other accessibility devices do so to correct a disability. But new hearing aids point to the bionic future of disability devices.

As they merge with software baked into our mobile computers, devices that were once used simply to fix whatever ailed us will begin to do much more. In time, accessibility devices may even let us surpass natural human abilities. One day all of us, not just those who need to correct some physical deficit, may pick up a bionic accessory or two."
App-Controlled Hearing Aid Improves Even Normal Hearing - NYTimes.com

Facebook Profit Tripled in First Quarter - NYTimes.com

Evidently the most recent round of Facebook eulogies was premature...

"As Facebook reported another quarter of strong revenue and profit growth on Wednesday, its executives made one thing very clear: The company’s money machine has just begun to spit out the cash.

Two out of three of Facebook’s 1.28 billion monthly users log in to the social network every day, the company said. Americans spend about one-fifth of their time on mobile phones checking Facebook, according to comScore, a research firm."
Facebook Profit Tripled in First Quarter - NYTimes.com

Apple’s Profit Still Climbs, but Pressure is Growing - NYTimes.com

Apple provides fodder for a case study in realistic expectations and context-setting/framing

"The company sold 43.7 million iPhones — up from 37.4 million in the same period last year. But sales of its iPads, at 16.35 million, were slightly down, from 19.5 million last year, despite a major redesign for one of the iPads introduced in the fall.

It was almost certain that Apple’s stratospheric rise, largely on the back of the iPhone, would plateau. It’s the law of large numbers.

“If Apple grew the next five years like it did the previous five years, it would be approaching the G.D.P. of Australia,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein."
Apple’s Profit Still Climbs, but Pressure is Growing - NYTimes.com

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Here’s an unlikely bestseller: A 700-page book on 21st century economics

Supply and demand

"The unlikely bestseller, clocking in at nearly 700 pages, is already serving as an interesting case study for modern book publishing.
One of the hallmarks of the book's success is that it is sold out on Amazon, even though there is a digital version available on Kindle, too. (Disclaimer: The Washington Post is owned by Amazon's founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos.)
"You can have it on your e-book reader, but that's not the same as having the book," said Donnelly. "I'm not saying this book is a Tiffany's bag, but nobody goes to Tiffany's and buys something and doesn't get that little blue bag. I think there's still some of that about books.""
Here’s an unlikely bestseller: A 700-page book on 21st century economics

Why Apple Is Like a Movie Studio | Re/code

Walt Mossberg assesses potential opportunities for Apple to move beyond "sequels;" on a related note, see With FuelBand exit, Nike signals the limits of tech's appeal (CNET)

"But the most exciting possibility is monitoring and managing health, using an app on Apple’s current devices and possibly a new wearable product or products. Cook has hinted strongly that the company is very interested in some sort of wristband — but only if it could be compelling and go well beyond what’s out there.

Health, sensors and wearables would fit the Apple pattern: Taking products that already exist, but aren’t very good or coherent, and turning them into something that is at the same time practical, aspirational and desirable, and that can be part of a larger platform."
Why Apple Is Like a Movie Studio | Re/code

Boundless wants to do to textbooks what Wikipedia did to encyclopedias | BetaBoston

Taking on a textbook oligopoly

"Boundless, however, is not looking to take on Wikipedia. The company actually has its sights set on a different target: the multi-billion dollar college textbook industry.

“In five to 10 years, I think people will look back at textbooks the way we look back at encyclopedias,” Ariel Diaz, chief executive and co-founder of Boundless, said. “The notion of carrying around this antiquated textbook will become very quaint, very quickly.”"
Boundless wants to do to textbooks what Wikipedia did to encyclopedias | BetaBoston

If a Bubble Bursts in Palo Alto, Does It Make a Sound? - NYTimes.com

Excerpt from a timely reality check

"If it is a bubble, one thing that sets it apart is its relative dearth of retail investors. The dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and the economic collapse of 2008 still loom large, for investors and executives alike. “In the 1990s, as time went on, skeptics started to see Porsches in their neighbors’ driveways,” said Lise Buyer of the Class V Group, a consultancy for firms looking to go public. “Time beat back the skepticism.” It resulted in a disaster on the Nasdaq and the end of the Clinton boom. But now, she said, there is fresh memory of how badly things can go, and how quickly. For evidence, she pointed to the fact that 10 of the 19 technology companies that went public this year are trading below their offering price. “That isn’t the kind of performance that drives most folks to bet the mortgage money on the next hot wonder company,” she said. “Sanity prevails.”"
If a Bubble Bursts in Palo Alto, Does It Make a Sound? - NYTimes.com

As WhatsApp Hits 500 Million Users, CEO Jan Koum Preaches Focus | Re/code

More impressive numbers from WhatsApp

"While waiting to hear whether European regulators will clear its $19 billion acquisition by Facebook, the mobile messaging app maker WhatsApp hit a big milestone yesterday: It has 500 million active monthly users. They are sharing 700 million photos and 100 million videos per day.

What’s the company going to do to celebrate? “We’re going to get our engineers together and fix a lot of bugs,” said WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum."
As WhatsApp Hits 500 Million Users, CEO Jan Koum Preaches Focus | Re/code

Supreme Court hears case challenging Aereo’s right to stream network TV broadcasts to paying consumers - Business - The Boston Globe

Decision expected in June

"Several justices grilled the attorney representing Aereo, asking him to justify how the company’s services could possibly be legal when its competitors must pay fees, but also conveyed a sort of grudging admiration.

“All I’m trying to get at, and I’m not saying it’s outcome determinative or necessarily bad, I’m just saying your technological model is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don’t want to comply with, which is fine. I mean, that’s — you know, lawyers do that,” said Chief Justice John Roberts."
Supreme Court hears case challenging Aereo’s right to stream network TV broadcasts to paying consumers - Business - The Boston Globe

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Amazon and the Future of the Superhero : The New Yorker

Tangentially, see The plight of newspapers in a single chart (Reflections of a Newsosaur)

"Being part of a large and aggressive corporation like Amazon could accelerate the growth of ComiXology, and help get more digital comics onto more devices. When Amazon expanded the market for e-books with the Kindle, sales of print books suffered. But there are reasons to believe that Amazon’s impact on the print comic-book world may not be felt as suddenly or as deeply. ComiXology has always worked closely with comic-book stores; today, it even partners with them to sell digital comics through retailers’ Web sites. The company also offers a service that helps customers locate shops in their area. If Amazon chooses to deepen these relationships, rather than cutting retailers out completely, it is possible that print and digital comics may continue to grow together—at least in the short term. Amazon does have some incentives to do this: in comic retailers, the company may find an untapped opportunity to sell its Kindle devices."
Amazon and the Future of the Superhero : The New Yorker

The Economist explains: The backlash against big data | The Economist

A succinct summary via @datameer

"The criticisms fall into three areas that are not intrinsic to big data per se, but endemic to data analysis, and have some merit. First, there are biases inherent to data that must not be ignored. That is undeniably the case. Second, some proponents of big data have claimed that theory (ie, generalisable models about how the world works) is obsolete. In fact, subject-area knowledge remains necessary even when dealing with large data sets. Third, the problem of spurious correlations—associations that are statistically robust but only happen by chance—increases with more data. Although there are new statistical techniques to identify and banish spurious correlations, such as running many tests against subsets of the data, this will always be a problem."
The Economist explains: The backlash against big data | The Economist

Apple has a green dig at Samsung in new ad - CNET

Compete different

"They just can't help themselves, can they? Apple's new environmental ads highlighting renewable energy include a dig at Samsung: "There are some ideas we want every company to copy." Ouch -- solar power burn!

To coincide with Earth Day today, Apple has launched a green-themed marketing campaign, and expanding its recycling programme to cover any Apple product or device. But it's also used the environmentally friendly adverts to take another less-than-friendly pop at Samsung, with which Apple is locked in a bitter legal battle over alleged imitation."
Apple has a green dig at Samsung in new ad - CNET

The most expensive lottery ticket in the world | Felix Salmon

Final paragraph of a No Exit (a 48-page, $1.99 Kindle book) review; tangentially, see ‘Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind’ by Biz Stone (The Washington Post); note that a subset version of No Exit is also (freely) available via Wired

"Founding a Silicon Valley startup, then, is a deeply irrational thing to do: it’s a decision to throw away a large chunk of your precious youth at a venture which is almost certain to fail. Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley ecosystem as a whole will happily eat you up, consuming your desperate and massively underpaid labor, and converting it into a few obscenely large paychecks for a handful of extraordinarily lucky individuals. On its face, the winners, here, are the people with the big successful exits. But after reading No Exit, a different conclusion presents itself. The real winners are the happy and well-paid engineers, enjoying their lives and their youth while working for great companies like Google. In the world of startups, the only winning move is not to play."
The most expensive lottery ticket in the world | Felix Salmon

Companies Built on Sharing Balk When It Comes to Regulators - NYTimes.com

A regulatory reality check for the sharing economy

"In the newfangled sharing economy, questions about safety, taxes and regulation have tended to be an afterthought. That has helped propel companies like Uber, Airbnb and Lyft into the stratosphere.

But regulators as well as some elected officials across the country are increasingly questioning the presumptions and tactics of these start-ups, especially the notion that laws do not apply to them."
Companies Built on Sharing Balk When It Comes to Regulators - NYTimes.com

Monday, April 21, 2014

Apple's environmental push includes free recycling of company's devices - San Jose Mercury News

Leading by example

"Apple is offering free recycling of all its used products and vowing to power all of its stores, offices and data centers with renewable energy to reduce the pollution caused by its devices and online services.

The iPhone and iPad maker is detailing its efforts to cultivate a greener Apple in an environmental section on the company's website that debuted Monday. The site highlights the ways that the Cupertino company is increasing its reliance on alternative power sources and sending less electronic junk to landfills."
Apple's environmental push includes free recycling of company's devices - San Jose Mercury News

Moore’s law gives way to Bezos’s law — Tech News and Analysis [GigaOM]

The new law of the cloud? (via @Kellblog)

"If you need a refresher, Moore’s Law is “the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” I propose my own version, Bezos’s law. Named for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, I define it as the observation that, over the history of cloud, a unit of computing power price is reduced by 50 percent approximately every three years.

I’ll show the math below, but if Bezos’ law reflects reality, the only conclusion is that most enterprises should dump their data centers and move to the public cloud, thus saving money. Some savings occur over time by buying hardware subject to Moore’s Law, plus the fixed cost of maintenance, electrical power, cooling, building and labor to run a data center. In the end, I’ll show how prices are reduced by about 20 percent per year, cutting your bill in half every three years."
Moore’s law gives way to Bezos’s law — Tech News and Analysis

Cloak: The Antisocial-Media App : The New Yorker

Sign of the times

"[...] The app’s tagline is “Incognito mode for real life,” and it offers its users the ability to “avoid exes, co-workers, that guy who likes to stop and chat—anyone you’d rather not run into.” (Facebook’s newly announced Nearby Friends feature does essentially the same thing, though a spokesperson suggested that the app could be used “to make last-minute plans to meet up with a friend who happens to be in the same place you’re headed to.”) Cloak works by linking with your Instagram and Foursquare accounts to uncover the locations of these undesirables and revealing their avatars on a map, thereby empowering you to give them as wide a berth as possible; in this sense, it’s like a contemporary urban version of those maps from the Middle Ages, with their admonitory illustrations of dragons and sea monsters: “Here Be Vague Acquaintances.”"
Cloak: The Antisocial-Media App : The New Yorker

Next-Generation Hearing Aids Tune In to the iPhone | Re/code

Hear different

"Starkey’s Halo hearing aids, and its companion TruLink app, allow the assistive devices to connect directly with the iPhone via Bluetooth without the need of any intermediary device, such as a telecoil or wireless accessory.

The app allows people to easily adjust the sound settings to the environment. The geotagging feature uses the iPhone’s integrated GPS to trigger customized settings whenever the wearer returns to familiar places — a favorite restaurant, the movie theater, etc."
Next-Generation Hearing Aids Tune In to the iPhone | Re/code

Aereo Case Will Shape TV’s Future - NYTimes.com

Context-setting for a preview of Aereo's Supreme Court hearing this week; for more extensive analysis, see Argument preview: Free TV, at a bargain price? (SCOTUSblog)

"But more and more, many of the splashy business victories are going to companies that find a way to put a new skin on things that already exist. Uber does not own a single cab, yet it has upended the taxi industry. Airbnb doesn’t possess real estate, yet it has become a huge player in the lodging market. WhatsApp remapped texting on existing telecommunications infrastructure and — thanks to its acquisition by Facebook — has as much as $19 billion to show for it. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Since 2012, Chet Kanojia has been building a business, backed by the media mogul Barry Diller, with ambitions to join that cohort. His start-up, Aereo, uses tiny remote antennas to capture broadcast TV signals and store them in the cloud, where consumers can watch them on a device of their choosing — no cable box, no cable bundle and most important, no expensive cable bill."
Aereo Case Will Shape TV’s Future - NYTimes.com

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friends, and Influence, for Sale Online - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

Money can buy you likes

"This past week, I bought 4,000 new followers on Twitter for the price of a cup of coffee. I picked up 4,000 friends on Facebook for the same $5 and, for a few dollars more, had half of them like a photo I shared on the site.

If I had been willing to shell out $3,700, I could have made one million — yes, a million — new friends on Instagram. For an extra $40, 10,000 of them would have liked one of my sunset photos.

Retweets. Likes. Favorites. Comments. Upvotes. Page views. You name it; they’re for sale on websites like Swenzy, Fiverr and countless others."
Friends, and Influence, for Sale Online - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

The iPad Is a Tease | Monday Note

Summary of another timely Jean-Louis Gassée Apple reality check. Read the full post and then ponder a few possible scenarios, e.g., an iPad Pro (see here for some related speculation) and/or a keyboard-optional touchscreen MacBook Air...

"As Apple is about to release its latest quarterly numbers, new questions arise about the iPad’s “anemic” growth. The answer is simple – but the remedies are not."
The iPad Is a Tease | Monday Note

Taking on Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) - NYTimes.com

Also see Why We’re in a New Gilded Age (Paul Krugman review in The New York Review of Books)

"In his new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (Harvard University Press), Mr. Piketty, 42, has written a blockbuster, at least in the world of economics. His book punctures earlier assumptions about the benevolence of advanced capitalism and forecasts sharply increasing inequality of wealth in industrialized countries, with deep and deleterious impact on democratic values of justice and fairness."
Taking on Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) - NYTimes.com

In the Battle for Best Smartphone, Apple Still Beats Samsung - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

Check the full article for more details and an inevitably heated comment thread

"In other words, how does the Galaxy S5 compare to the iPhone 5S, Apple’s six-month-old flagship device and the champion to beat?

The answer: Not very well. I’ve been using the new Samsung for about three weeks, and while I do think it is the best Android phone you can buy, it sure isn’t the best phone on the market. By just about every major measure you’ll care about, from speed to design to ease of use to the quality of its apps, Samsung’s phone ranks behind the iPhone, sometimes far behind. If you’re looking for the best phone on the market right now, I’d recommend going with the iPhone 5S."
In the Battle for Best Smartphone, Apple Still Beats Samsung - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com