Internet of Things or Internet of Sh__?

Wearables as a category has not met the (perhaps unfair) expectations of the technology sector. Smart home products have had issues and consumers have rightly been concerned about the implications of ‘cloud with everything’. Here is what some of Silicon Valley think

My decade of the iPhone

Last week has seen people looking back at the launch of the iPhone. At the time, I was working an agency that looked after the Microsoft business. I used a Mac, a Nokia smartphone and a Samsung dual SIM feature phone.  At the time I had an Apple hosted email address for six years by then, so I was secure within the Apple eco-system. I accessed my email via IMAP on both my first generation MacBook Pro and the Nokia smartphone.

Nokia had supported IMAP email for a few years by then. There were instant messaging clients available to download. Nokia did have cryptographic signatures on app downloads, but you found them on the web rather than within an app store.

At the time BlackBerry was mostly a business device, though BlackBerry messaging seemed to take off in tandem with the rise of the iPhone.  The Palm Treo didn’t support IMAP in its native email application, instead it was reliant on a New Zealand based software developer and their paid for app SnapperMail.

Microsoft had managed to make inroads with some business users, both Motorola and Samsung made reasonable looking devices based on Windows.

The iPhone launch went off with the characteristic flair you would expect from Steve Jobs. It was a nice looking handset. It reminded me of Palm Vx that I used to have, but with built in wireless. Whilst the Vx had a stylus, I had used my fingers to press icons and write Graffiti to input text. It looked good, but it wasn’t the bolt from the blue in the way that others had experienced it.

But in order to do work on the Palm, I had a foldable keyboard that sat in my pocket.

By the time that the iPhone launched, I was using a developer version of the Nokia E90 which had an 800 pixel wide screen and a full keyboard in a compact package.

Nokia e90 and 6085

I had Wi-Fi, 3 and 3.5G cellular wireless. I could exchange files quickly with others over Bluetooth – at the time cellular data was expensive so being able to exchange things over Bluetooth was valuable. QuickOffice software allowed me to review work documents, a calendar that worked with my Mac and a contacts app.  There was GPS and Nokia Maps. I had a couple of days usage on a battery.

By comparison when the iPhone launched it had:

  • GSM and GPRS only – which meant that wireless connectivity was slower
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth (but only for headphone support)
  • No battery hatch – which was unheard of in phones (but was common place in PDAs
  • No room for a SD, miniSD or microSD card – a step away from the norm. I knew people who migrated photos, message history and contacts from one phone to another via an SD card of some type

I wasn’t Apple’s core target market at the time, Steve Jobs used to have a RAZR handset.

As the software was demoed some things became apparent:

  • One of the key features at the time was visual voicemail. This allowed you to access your voicemails in a non-linear order. This required deep integration with the carrier. In the end this feature hasn’t been adopted by all carriers that support the iPhone. I still don’t enjoy that feature. I was atypical at the time as I had a SIM only contact with T-Mobile (now EE), but it was seemed obvious that Apple would pick carrier partners carefully
  • There was no software developer kit, instead Apple encouraged developers to build web services for the iPhone’s diminutive screen. Even on today’s networks that approach is hit-and-miss
  • The iPhone didn’t support Flash or Flash Lite. It is hard to explain how much web functionality and content was made in Adobe Flash format at the time. By comparison Nokia did support Flash, so you could enjoy a fuller web experience
  • The virtual keyboard was a poor substitute for Palm’s Graffiti or a hardware keyboard – which was the primary reason that BlackBerry users held out for such a long time
  • The device was expensive. I was used to paying for my device but wasn’t used to paying for one AND being tied into an expensive two year contract
  • Once iPhones hit the street, I was shocked at the battery life of the device. It wouldn’t last a work day, which was far inferior to Nokia

I eventually moved to the Apple iPhone with the 3GS. Nokia’s achilles’ heel had been its address book which would brick when you synched over a 1,000 contacts into it.

By comparison Apple’s contacts application just as well as Palm’s had before it. Despite the app store, many apps that I relied upon like CityTime, MetrO and the Opera browser took their time to get on the iPhone platform. Palm already was obviously in trouble, BlackBerry had never impressed me and Windows phone still wasn’t a serious option. Android would have required me to move my contacts, email and calendar over to Google – which wasn’t going to happen.

 

SaveSave

I watched Apple WWDC so you didn’t have to

There was a mix of hardware and software updates. Apple put a lot of focus on  virtual reality, augmented reality and prepping their operating systems for handling larger amounts of data.  There was work done to further optimise video and photo usage on device.

The event offered bad news for online advertisers and a number of consumer electronics manufacturers. Online advertising using retargeting or autoplay video is going to be blocked in Safari. The new HomePod speaker took aim at ‘casual hi-fi’ like Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins and Bose.

Apple is working very hard to try and understand user intent, which is one of the first pieces it needs to put in place to develop the experience of a truly programmable world. What do I mean by a programmable world? A ‘web of no web’ where device intelligence behaves as if it understands user intent like a good valet. It is moving in a stepwise manner towards this.

What was more surprising is how Apple has gone big on VR and AR creation and consumption. Whilst video post-production houses probably have the most to complain about when it comes to Apple’s Pro equipment, they are not name checked. Apple has started to move to address their concerns. The external graphics support in macOS implies that a furture Mac Pro will have the software to match hardware.

More details by platform:

macOS

The name High Sierra implied an OS update that might seem incremental to consumers, but has major technology changes under the hood.

  • Data – Apple File System as default (many features similar to Sun Microsystems’ ZFS). Faster for file swaps and giving a faster computer experience
  • Video – better quality video algorithms with smaller file sizes and integration with
  • Graphics – upgraded Metal API – Apple had been using it on machine learning applications within the OS. Metal 2 has been used to accelerate system level graphics and provides access to app developers. There is OS support for external graphics accelerators. The external graphics developer kit is based on AMD Radeon card.
  • MacOS supports VR through Metal for VR. Steam, Unity and Unreal supporting VR on the Mac. Apple seems to believe that VR and AR content is the desktop publishing of the 21st century, they have gone hard on making the best creators platform that they can
Safari
Focus on being the fastest browser experience, even in comparison to Chrome
  • Autoplay blocking – which will impact advertising network video views
  • Intelligent tracking prevention – positioned to target advertising retargeting and cross-site tracking
Mail
Productivity refinements including a split screen view
Photos
  • Uses machine learning to improve searching and photo recognition and integration with photo-editing

tvOS

  • 50 media partners integrated into TV app
  • Amazon is coming to Apple TV. Interesting move of detente between Apple and Amazon

iOS

iOS 11 – focus on underlying technologies:
  • Machine learning APIs – to help adoption of CoreML on device for third party apps
  • ARKit – to aid AR in apps. Clever work done on scaling and ambient light. This about providing a market for the content which which would be created on the Mac
  • Chinese specific features: including support for QRcodes, SMS spam filtering. Chinese users have a particular set of contexts and these innovations could become popular in the west
  • Interface tweaks in control centre and the lock screen.
Messages
  • Improving discoverability of app stickers and apps – much needed
  • Automatic synchronisation of Messages across devices, delete once, delete across all devices
ApplePay
  • Person-to-person payments as an iMessage app. Obvious competitor would be WeChat in China and PayPal in the west
Siri
  • Improved expressive nature of the voice.
  • Follow-up questions, presumably to improve context
  • Provides translation services
  • Siri integration into a wide range of apps including WeChat and OmniFocus They’ve tried to use on-device learning to try and improve context and being helpful. Siri knowledge is synched across devices. Uses web history to improve Apple News and custom dictionary spellings
Apple Maps
  • Indoor navigation for airports
Photos
  • Better image compression to save space on device. New depth API that can be accessed by 3rd party apps
  • Video autorotates a la Snapchat / Snap glasses
App Store
  • Apps now reviewed in less than 24 hours
  • First app redesign in nine years. Tweaks to improve discoverability and merchandising of apps including in-app sales
 watchOS
  • The biggest feature in watchOS 4 is the Siri-powered face. The Siri-powered watch face provides contextual information on the ‘home screen’. It takes into account past habits, time, location etc. Apple’s language around this was interesting, they described it as an ‘Intelligent proactive assistant’.

More details by hardware

Mac hardware
  • iMac – improved displays, brighter and support for 1 billion colours. Moving to Kaby Lake Intel processors. Up to 64GB of RAM on the iMac and 2TB SSD. Discrete Radeon graphics cards on larger iMacs. – big focus on VR development.
  • MacBook – Kaby Lake processors. Pro machines get updated graphics as well. The MacBook Air gets a processor boost.
  • iMac Pro – single piece machine with workstation specification including 10Gbit Ethernet. Presumably as an interim measure until the Mac Pro arrives next year. How upgradeable would the iMac Pro be, which is a key consideration for workstations
iPad hardware
  • iPad Pro – 20% bigger screen, 120Hz screen refresh rate. Doubling default memory sizes up to 512GB
 
Apple HomePod
Apple is going after Sonos and brown goods companies like Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen. The Siri functionality is a hygiene factor rather than a serious competitor to Amazon Echo. There was a big emphasis on the privacy functionality of Siri in HomePod
Further reading

WWDC 2015: you know the Apple news, but what does it mean?
48 hours with the Apple Watch
Eight trends for the future: web-of-no-web
Eight trends for the future: contextual technology

Quote of the day

I think the future of television is more fragmentation, the bundle has no more elasticity in it.” – Barry Diller.

This explains everything from ManUnited TV to the new channels that Amazon has launched as Prime add-ons in the UK and Germany yesterday. Media has been driving an increasing share of household spend over the past 15 years.

In a time of stagnating economic growth and declining incomes (in real terms) that middle won’t hold. Much of it becomes discretionary spending.

Barry Diller

The mobile and telecoms industry and it’s progress

Just over 11 years ago I watched Charles Dunstone talk about Carphone Warehouse and the state of the industry at the LSE.

Sir Charles Dunstone at Huawei Ascend P6 launch

I came across the post by accident the other evening and wondered how well Dunstone’s view held up over the past decade or so.

On VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol)…

I think that the difference between Europe (particularly the UK) and the US is that VoIP will be very big in businesses, in residential homes you can’t have broadband without having an exchange line: that’s the way the regulator has decided it wanted to make sure that BT can make a living. If you’ve got broadband, if if you don’t want it, if you pick your phone up you’re going to get a dial tone that you can make a phone call from. Once you’ve got broadband unbundling, once you’ve got a connection from the exchange to the home it doesn’t cost you anything to connect a call whether its over broadband or you pick the normal phone up.

So suddenly a normal phone has the exact same economics as Skype, so I think what will happen, what you will see people like us do is offer VoIP-priced services on your normal phone at home without you having to put a headset in your PC or mess around and do all that kind of stuff. There are some people who will find reasons to do it and things that they want to do within it. The majority of people with a fixed-line are people with a family, over 30 years old, 50 per cent of it is there home alarm and ring people, 50 per cent of it is that they want to be able to ring the fire brigade if the house catches fire in the middle of the night. You won’t get them to use their mobile or use VoIP as they want to sit by their bed, get a dial tone and dial 999.

So I think in residential its not going to have a massive impact, in businesses its a different thing, with VoIP you can have multiple lines over one exchange line and that’s going to completely revolutionise business telephony.

Vonage is already more expensive than we are for your phone service and we’re not even using an unbundled broadband line on it. The economic difference is very different here than it is in the US.

Dunstone clearly didn’t have an idea about rise of wi-fi and devices using Skype as a client, though he clearly saw the business case of Skype for business. This made sense as by the late 1990s UK call centres were using VoIP complete with integration with customer records. Just under just over a year later 3 launched its dedicated Skype handset and Skype became available on the Symbian mobile operating system for download. There was resistance to OTT VoIP from T-Mobile in particular.

Now FaceTime, Skype, WeChat voice-and-video and Google Hangouts are ubiquitous. The voice call has been replaced by visual and text messaging on OTT services similar to the instant messaging clients of yore.

On where mobile phones are going…

I don’t have a clue where things will be in ten years. A few predictions on mobile phones, it is a unique device because the last 15 years have changed the world, more than it had changed for 500 years before that. 15 years ago, no one left their home without their money and their keys, now no one leaves home without their keys money and mobile phone and its taken a part in peoples lives that no other product has for hundreds and hundreds of years.

That relationship is so powerful that if a producer wants to gets content to you, they can guarantee it if they can get it to a mobile phone, so that’s why we see cameras, now everyone carries a camera and a mobile phone. Soon everyone will be an iPod and a camera and they’ll keep getting better and better. By next Christmas you’ll be able to buy cameras with flashes, zoom all this kind of stuff. I think that video is going on mobile phones, I think that payment is coming, payment systems is coming onto them and Carphone Warehouse is the largest retailer of digital cameras in the UK by accident. We didn’t mean to sell one of them, they just come in the products that we sell as standard and its just that everyone else’s business is morphing into ours because of the unique relationship the product has.

My final prediction on phones on the next year to two is that fashion is about to become a big thing in phones, at the moment they are driven by technology. We had an extraordinary experience this Christmas with a pink V3 we brought out. We’ve done some analysis that absolutely blew us a way, you’re starting to see the manufacturers talk to the big brands about putting things into phones and people spend stupid money on pens and watches and shoes and clothes. I think that all that madness is also going to end up in mobile phones as its such a public personal accessory.

Dunstone smartly limited his predictions to the next few years rather than looking forward a decade and his view of the camera as a key function driving purchase is still proved right. At the moment the intra-Android handset feature battle on premium handsets is fought on camera technology. Huawei and its Leica partnership, LG and Samsung with their respective double cameras and Sony with their powerful sensors.

The iPhone 7 is also sold in a similar way as Apple’s Shot on an iPhone marketing campaign shows.

Dunstone also saw the smartphone as a media device and for many years  content has been side loaded on to phones. Sony Ericsson had launched the Walkman-braned W800 the previous year. As SD card capacity increased, it wasn’t too much of a leap to assume that the mobile phone could replace lower end flash memory MP3 devices.

Nokia would be launching its multimedia focused N-series phones just a month after this talk. I remember seeing Christian Lindholm in the lift at Yahoo! with a Nokia N93. The phone looked like a chimera between a flip phone and camcorder.

Ten years later and video recording and editing technology is available across both Android and iOS handsets. One of the last projects I was involved in at Yahoo! was co-launching the N73 with Nokia which featured the Flickr photo app on the phone as standard. 11 years later and my iPhone still has flickr on it.

Dunstone believed that the phone would become a fashion item. At the time LG had partnered with Prada.  Vertu had been established seven years previously by Nokia. Today premium handsets have established themselves as as fashion items. TAG Heuer has experimented with its own smartphone, Porsche Design worked with BlackBerry.

On the flip side smartphones have become commoditised; Android manufacturers have seen their margins hollowed out. Huawei made a big push into the premium space with its P series phones yet sees declining handset prices as the medium tier handset segment eats into premium sector sales.

Dunstone’s predictions about mobile payments were too optimistic. There were various technology options explored by mobile carriers. Handset mobile payments did take-off in Japan. SMS based payments took off in East Africa. Smartphone hosted wallets have developed slowly however. Card payments are still pre-eminent in the western world at the moment.

On the competiton…

I’ve basically got two types of competition: people like Phones4U and The Link who are trying to do what we do and we just get up early and try and do it better and try and beat them up every day. And we have a team, we meet at 8 am every single morning and look at everybody else’s prices and reprice based on what happened that day its that brutal. We fight, fight, fight.

My other competition is the network stores which is a combination of wanting to have some direct impact with customers and a certain amount of vanity about wanting their brand on the hight street. They don’t compete with us in terms of the volumes of sales that they do, as the market gets more fragmented I think that its less likely that the customer is going to say I just want to go and see the world according to Orange today, rather than even going to one of my normal competitors. In reality it will be let me go and compare Orange with everybody. I think that its going to change but there’s not a very strong economic rationale for them in the first place.

Dunstone didn’t seem to realise how precarious the independent mobile phone shop was as a business. Network shops are now showrooms and service centres for when things go wrong as consumers go to the web. Carphone Warehouse adapted by becoming a triple play carrier in its own right as well as selling other networks mobile plans. Dunstone’s peer John Caudwell had the good sense / luck to sell Phones4U on to private equity providers just six months after this interview.

The mobile carriers didn’t have it a lot easier; O2 was spun out of BT in 2002 and bought by Telefonica of Spain just prior to this interview. T-Mobile and Orange merged their UK operations to form EE. EE was then acquired by BT, some 12 years after BT had spun out O2. 3UK has made an unsuccessful bid for O2, the UK competition authority shut the bid down.

On the transition of phones to computers…

Absolutely they’re changing into computers, they start to have bugs, they start to have all kinds of usability issues. Our job is very simple and I think the worst thing that could have happened for me is that there could have been one mobile phone network and one really simple phone and the people understand it so that they did not need anyone to help them set it up and work out which one to buy. So we absolutely love complex markets as this gives us something to offer and something to do we have to keep changing. I just watch in delight as Microsoft come into the marketplace because that’s not going to work is it? Its going to have lots of bugs and crash and do all these sorts of things that needs tons of support. Lots of competing systems Symbian and others, so its another level of complexity alongside all the complexity of the operators, all the complexity of the tarrifs – Bring it on.

Dunstone realised that smartphones would bring complexity to the mobile phone industry. He seemed to think it would be closer to the PC industry in terms of complexity. He saw what I suspect was a different opportunity in that – particularly building client relationships. In retrospect, he underestimated this disruption.

More information
Dunstone on…. | renaissance chambara
Nokia debuts N series trio | The Register

Throwback gadget: Danger Hiptop

Years ago I read an article which talked about the collective memory of London’s financial district being about eight years or so. Financiers with beautifully crafted models in Excel would be doomed to make the same mistake as their predecessors.
Hiptop
Marketers make the same mistakes, not being able to draw on the lines of universal human behaviour when it meets technology. Today’s obsession with the ‘dark social’ of OTT messaging platforms is very reminiscent of the culture that grew up around the Danger Hiptop. The  Hiptop drove a use of instant messaging platforms (Yahoo!, Aol and MSN) in a similar way to today’s use of Kik, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp by young people.

Heritage

Danger was started back in 1999, by veterans from Apple, Philips and WebTV.

Back then mobile data was very primitive, email was slow and the only people I knew who used mobile phones on a regular basis were press photographers, sending images back from early digital SLRs using a laptop connected up to their phone. At this time it was still sometimes easier to bike images over. 3G wireless was on the horizon, but there wasn’t a clear use case.

Apple was not the force it is now, but recovering from a near death experience. The iMac, blue and white G3 tower units and ‘Wall Street’ laptops reignited belief in core customers. Mac OSX Server 1.0 was released in March that year and pointed to the potential that future Macs would have.

WebTV at the time was a company that felt like it was at the apex of things. Before the internet took off, companies like Oracle and BT had tried providing interactive TV services including CD ROM type experiences and e-commerce in a walled garden environment. This was based on having a thin client connected to a TV as monitor. WebTV took that idea and built upon the internet of the mid-1990s. It wasn’t appreciated how commoditised the PC market would become over time. They were acquired by Microsoft in 1997,  later that year they would also buy Hotmail.

At the time, Philips was a force to be reckoned with in consumer electronics and product design. The company had a diverse portfolio of products and a reputation for unrewarded innovation including the compact cassette, interactive CD media and audio compact discs. Philips was the company that the Japanese wanted to beat and Samsung still made third-rate televisions.

Some of them were veterans of a failed start-up called General Magic that had spun out of Apple. A technology super-team of engineers and developers came up with a wireless communicator device that failed in the market place.  It’s name became a byword for a failed start-up years later.  Talent was no predictor of success. General Magic was the silicon valley equivalent of Manchester United getting relegated and going bankrupt in a single season. So it is understandable that they may have been leery of making yet another wireless device.

The device

The Hiptop was unapologetically a data first device. It was a thick device with a sliding screen which revealed a full keyboard and four-way directional button to move the cursor. On later devices this became a trackball. The screen was a then giant 240 x 160 pixels in size. It became available in colour during the device’s second iteration, later devices had a screen that was 854 pixels wide.

I was large enough provide a half decent browsing experience, read and write messages and email. It was held in landscape arrangement and the chunky frame worked well in a two handed hold not that different from a games console controller, with thumb based typing which worked better than the BlackBerry keyboard for me.  Early devices allowed you to move around the screen with four-way rocker switch. Later devices had a trackball. This keyboard rather than touchscreen orientation made sense for two reasons:

  • Touchscreen were much less responsive than they are now
  • It enabled quick fire communication in comparison to today’s virtual smartphone keyboard

Once the device went colour it also started to have LEDs that lit up for ringing and notifications, providing the kind of visual cues enjoyed by Palm and BlackBerry owners.

The Hiptop had a small (even by Symbian standards) amount of apps, but these were held in an app store. At the time, Symbian had signed apps as a precaution against malware, but you would usually download the apps from the maker’s website or the likes of download.com or TUCOWS and then side load on to the device from a Mac or PC.

The Hiptop didn’t need the mediation of a computer, in this respect it mirrored the smartphones of today.

Product life

When Danger was launched in 2002, carriers had much more sway over consumers. The user experience of devices was largely governed by carriers who usually made a mess of it. They decided what the default applications on a device and even the colour scheme of the default appearance theme.

Danger’s slow rise to popularity was because it had a limited amount of channels per market. In the UK it was only available via T-Mobile (now EE).

In the US, the Hiptop became a cult item primarily because IM had grown in the US in a similar way to SMS usage in Europe.

Many carriers viewed Hiptop as a competitor to BlackBerry and refused to carry it in case it would cannibalise sales.

Danger was acquired in 2008 and that is pretty much when the death of the Hiptop set in as Microsoft acquired the team to build something different. An incident with the Danger data centres losing consumers data and taking two months to restore full service from a month-old back-up didn’t help things. It was a forewarning of how dependent on cloud services that users would become.

Danger held much user data and functionality in the cloud, at the time it made sense as it kept the hardware cheaper. Danger devices came with a maximum of 2GB internal memory.

Even if Microsoft hadn’t acquired Danger it would have been challenged by the rise of both Android and iOS. Social platforms like Facebook would have offered both an opportunity and a challenge to existing messenger relationships. Finally the commoditisation of hardware would have made it harder for the Hiptop to differentiate on value for its millennial target market.

 

 

 

The Yahoo! Data Breach Post

Yahoo! had a data breach in 2014, it declared the breach to consumers on September 22. This isn’t the first large data breach breach that Yahoo! has had over the past few years just the largest.

In 2012, there was a breach of 450,000+ identities back in 2012. Millions of identity records were apparently being sold by hackers in August 2016 that the media initially linked to the 2012 breach. It would be speculative to assume that the records for sale in August was part of the 2014 raid.

The facts so far:

  • 500 million records were stolen by the hackers. Based on the latest active email account numbers disclosed for Yahoo! many of these accounts are inactive or forgotten
  • Some of the data was stored unencrypted
  • Yahoo! believes that it was a state sponsored actor, but it has offered no evidence to support this hypothesis. It would be a bigger reputational issue if it was ‘normal’ hackers or an organised crime group
  • There are wider security implications because the data included personal security questions

The questions

Vermont senator asked the following questions in a letter to Yahoo!:

  • When and how did Yahoo first learn that its users’ information may have been compromised?
  • Please provide a timeline detailing the nature of the breach, when and how it was discovered, when Yahoo notified law enforcement or other government authorities about the breach, and when Yahoo notified its customers. Press reports indicate the breach first occurred in 2014, but was not discovered until August of this year. If this is accurate, how could such a large intrusion of Yahoo’s systems have gone undetected?
  • What Yahoo accounts, services, or sister sites have been affected?
  • How many total users are affected? How were these users notified? What protection is Yahoo providing the 500 million Yahoo customers whose identities and personal information are now compromised?
  • What steps can consumers take to best protect the information that may have been compromised in the Yahoo breach?
  • What is Yahoo doing to prevent another breach in the future?
  • Has Yahoo changed its security protocols, and in what manner?
  • Did anyone in the U.S. government warn Yahoo of a possible hacking attempt by state-sponsored hackers or other bad actors? When was this warning issued?

Added to this, shareholders and Verizon are likely to want to know:

  • Chain of events / timing on the discovery on the hack?
  • Has Yahoo! declared what it knew at the appropriate time?
  • Could Yahoo! be found negligent in their security precautions?
  • How will this impact the ongoing attrition in Yahoo! user numbers?

Additional questions:

  • How does Yahoo! know that it was a state sponsored actor?
  • Was there really Yahoo! web being sold on the dark web in August?
  • Was that data from the 2014 cache?
  • How did they get in?

More information
An Important Message About Yahoo User Security | Yahoo – Yahoo!’s official announcement
UK Man Involved in 2012 Yahoo Hack Sentenced to Prison | Security Week
Congressional Leaders Demand Answers on Yahoo Breach | Threat Post

Thoughts on the Apple event of September 7

Style

  • The presentation was telling a hard story to an audience that were likely to be underwhelmed. Phil Schiller rather than Tim Cook carried the most difficult parts of the keynote.
  • The piano finish device was an obvious attempt to provide a style angle to the new iPhone and mask the aerial sections. However it is a class action waiting to happen as it will dull over time with micro-scratches
  • The story that the audience was told didn’t feel right. Lets talk about the headphone jack. The double camera only appears in the Plus, so the requirement for room isn’t a credible argument on its own, other vendors have managed to waterproof handsets with headphone jacks. I suspect that Apple isn’t sure that its backing the right horse. Its the least aggressive change they’ve made in a while. The inclusion of an adaptor shows that their user aggression still isn’t as high compared to when they got rid of: SCSI, Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), iPod 30 pin port (still pissed about that one), AppleTalk, floppy disks or optical disk playback and storage – I suspect that they are fearfully waiting to see what the pre-order numbers will be like and they should be. A straw poll of AdAge readers (core Apple user demographic) showed overwhelming disappointment
    AdAge readers on new iPhone
  • There is a lot of really nice features in iOS 10 – I’ve been using it for a while, why didn’t they make more of this and macOS Sierra?

Substance

  • Innovation in the smartphone category has flattened out. The iPhone 7 provides reasons for laggard iPhone users to upgrade, but nothing for 6 and 6S series users. There are few if any innovations for the likes of Huawei to ape in their new models
  • Innovation in smartwatches has plateaued. Apple is coalescing around fitness and dedicated products are much more cost effective for consumers. In China Xiaomi’s fitness band sells for about £15, for many consumers it would be enough. Fitbit is doing well – Apple’s wrist computer (alongside Samsung Gear etc) looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut
  • Apple have done nothing to address the latent demand for new laptops amongst consumers (I am still happy with my 13″ Retina MacBook Pro). There was no replacement for the Cinema display (again, I am happy with my current set-up, but where is the pro-user love)
  • Apple abandoned its flirtation with luxury by discontinuing the gold Watch. They are still holding out to be viewed as stylish by doubling down with Hermes and a white ceramic device – it would work on the opposite wrist to a Chanel J12
  • It was curious that Apple moved away from talking about security and privacy; the collaborative document working using iWork which could be seen as a potential attack vector on to the desktop. The Air Pods that sync seamlessly with a device without visible security precautions.  iPhone security was addressed in the James Corden car karaoke skit at the beginning of the show rather than woven through the materials.
  • The speech about the app store was to try and bolster developer support, I suspect that services will shore up the Apple financial numbers over the next 12 months
  • The Nike branded Apple Watch was part of a broader move reposition the Apple Watch 2 as a fitness device.

Mobile payment mania

I use my Apple Pay as a stopgap measure for when I have left my wallet on my desk rather than as a main form of payment. I use PayPal mainly because eBay doesn’t allow other options.
London
So I find it puzzling that the likes of Tesco really thinks that this payment app (and others like it) would stand a chance of succeeding. The reason why Visa, MasterCard and Amex work is because of their near universal acceptance.

Impressions of Spain

It has been a while since I have travelled and got to spend more than a flying visit. I got to spend some time in Madrid.
Madrid & Toledo
Spain prior to the great recession was a country on the rise. It had invested in modern infrastructure that would shame the UK, from its buses to its high-speed trains. They are all still in place. The trains have airport-style baggage scanners prior to boarding and the buses are curiously devoid of advertising.

All of the transport system provided digital signage and mobile apps to keep passengers informed and on the move.

When you look beyond the processes and systems things start to get more interesting. QRcodes feature on advertising of all sorts. I saw an ‘erotic massage’ service on a traffic light using them on its fly poster and FMCG brands in railway station adverts. Part of the reason might be handsets in the Spanish market.

Looking around by what I saw people use on the street, in public transport and shops, the handset environment was very different to the UK. Well off people had the latest iPhone, everyone else seemed to have a mid-tier Android handset up to four years old. The likely lack of memory in the handset meant that the mobile web is a more viable option than apps.

There seemed to be a corresponding lack of m-payments a la ApplePay. Adverts for the Huawei P9 were amongst the most prominent ads that I saw running in out-of-home placements, but I only saw Huawei phones in use one, running ordering software in a restaurant.

A failure of stock markets or innovation?

In the past the Silicon Valley dream was relatively simple. Hard graft with a possibility of a reward in terms of a stock market listing or a buyout by a larger technology company eager for the new, new thing.

Now things are different, businesses like Google, Uber and Facebook held out for as long as possible to go public. Technology companies from Apple to Zynga have been punished repeatedly in the market for real and perceived mis-steps. Activist investors charge around Silicon Valley in a similar manner to the way they bullied the S&P index in the 1980s.
160704 - private equity & the tech sector
Now technology companies are making up almost half of private equity LBOs. An LBO is a leveraged buy out; its where a prospective owner uses a mix of loans and their own money to purchase a company. The company usually has a steady cash flow that is used to pay down the loans and associated interest. These businesses are generally discounted because they are no longer perceived as being high growth companies.

The private equity owner looks to either flip the company to another purchaser, or flip parts of the company to pay down the loan. Either flipping or piecemeal sales are designed to raise more value than the original price paid.

Since these businesses are servicing large amounts of debt, they are vulnerable to fluctuations in their business conditions or interest rate rises. For example, Irish telecoms network Eircom defaulted on corporate bonds in 2012, having been through a couple of LBOs in the previous decade.

There always has been some LBOs in the Valley, Computer Associates bought up rivals and ran them as part of a conglomerate, with a focus on maximising the business cash flow rather than market share growth. General Atlantic Partners and Cerebus Capital Management had specialised for a long time in LBOs of mature ‘also ran’ business software companies with regular support customer support contracts. But the recent growth in LBOs is unprecedented for the technology sector.

*January, 1 2016 – July 1, 2016.

More information
Private Equity Has a Crush on Tech | WSJ – paywall
What are the major reasons behind Yahoo’s drastic downfall?
Barbarians in the valley

WWDC – what did it all mean?

I watched the few hours of keynotes at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. I also read some of the resulting analysis and wondered if we’d been watching the same event.
Cómo ver la WWDC 2016 en vivo en iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV
So thought I would think about the event carefully and come up on my take of what it all meant. This is a bit later than I originally planned to publish it.

Firstly, there was no change in direction for Apple from a strategic point-of-view. Apple has been clear about its direction, it is the ‘how’ which is the mystery.

Over the past few years, Apple has focused on the integration of its devices. The reason why there isn’t one OS*, a la Windows 10, is that the different form factors have different contexts. Cross-pollination of services only takes place where it makes sense, which is why Siri has taken a while to roll out.

The first big thing is APFS – a new file system for all of Apple’s devices. This builds on upon a feature set of ZFS which was a file system developed by Sun Microsystems for its Solaris UNIX operating system. Solaris runs on large enterprise computers where the prevention of data corruption and handling a large amount of file changes simultaneously is very important. Like ZFS, APFS supports encryption, granular time stamping, fast file management and has improvements in data integrity. When it’s fully finished it should make encryption on devices easier to manage and provide the user with more control. It should also help with syncing data across devices and the cloud.

The interesting thing is how this technology will scale over time handling multiple devices and form factors working seamlessly from a common database. Like many of there other technologies this is an extension of Apple’s Continuity offering and future integration with a wider IoT offering.

When Steve Jobs launched Mac OSX 10.0 in 2001 he described it as being the OS for the next 15 years. At the time the original MacOS was showing its limits. The UI was colour but hadn’t really moved on that much since System 7.5. The operating system wasn’t multi-tasking. The internet felt kludgy even though it performed well on the hardware at that time. Looking at OSX / macOS now, the operating system it feels fresh. The tweaks and changes under the hood keep the performance hub and the features comparable with the rest of the Continuity eco-system. macOS also doesn’t seem to be seriously threatened by iOS ‘pro’ devices.

iOS 10 was important to me for its embrace of messenger-as-a-platform. Apple innovates within its own Messages apps with some UI gimmicks. More importantly, notification real estate that was once the exclusive preserve of the Apple dialer. This allows you to accept calls from the likes of Skype, WeChat or Slack from the lock screen. This follows Apple’s model of using it’s own apps to work things out and then open up the function once it is mature. Apple’s own Messages app includes a number of features including:

  • Simple chat bot-like functionality
  • Swipe to read on messages to prevent shoulder surfers from reading messages
  • Messages app takeover emotions
  • More emoji / sticker like icons

Apple Pay roll-out – continued geographic roll-out makes sense. Apple Pay isn’t about building a rival payment system a la PayPal. Instead, Apple is trying to build more touch points with the user. The level of usage doesn’t matter too much from that perspective. Geographic roll-out to Hong Kong and more European countries makes sense. The more exciting development is two-factor authentication for e-commerce payments on compatible sites using the Apple Pay infrastructure. This is big for shopping on both Mac and iOS-powered devices.

Thinking differently about intelligence. Unless you have been living under tech industry equivalent of a stone, you’ll be aware of cloud companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Baidu using artificial intelligence techniques to drive device function. Apple hadn’t been as visible in this space up to WWDC. The reason for this is due their rigorous approach to user and device privacy.  There were two approaches to this:

Having the mobile devices GPU to perform relatively simple neural-network computing. This can learn user preferences or intent over time and be more helpful

Making Siri more intelligent by looking at the behaviour of users encrypted, salted with false data and aggregated up. Differential Security is the process of acquiring this data. In the second world war, the Allies cracked the cryptography derived from the Enigma machine. But that was only the first part of the challenge. In order for it to be useful the Enigma team used statistics to hide any usage of the intelligence hiding reactive activity in the midsts of statistically expected ‘normal’ behaviour.

Differential security is kind of similar to this. All the data is encrypted, the phone sends a mix of false data and real data. When Apple looks at aggregated data they can see the false data as being false, but can’t tell which users data is false at a given time.

Apple’s WatchOS 3 is interesting because of the performance boost it gives the wearable. The difference is really noticeable. The boost in performance is due to Apple having more memory to use than it had originally allowed for. This provides a more refined experience. Much of the UX enhancements were focused on fitness.

From a developer perspective there were a few things missing:

  • Apple had no new pro-level hardware announcements
  • Apple later walked away from Thunderbolt displays, saying that 3rd parties were now making great displays. This reminded me of when Apple stopped making printers, it felt permanent, though there is a lot of speculation about a forthcoming Apple 5K display – we’ll see
  • Apple still needs to do more work on integrating its Swift programming language throughout its OS’
  • Given Twitter’s peak in growth, Apple didn’t show how Siri would cope in a post-Twitter world

Finally the two-hour keynote was a love letter to China. At every opportunity Tim Cook mentioned the Chinese market, support for China-specific items like language and called out Chinese apps like WeChat.

* From a technical point-of-view; tvOS, iOS, and macOS all share underpinnings based on NetBSD and a Mach micro-kernel.

More information
Apple Pay supporting banks | Apple Support Documents
Apple finally opens Siri to third-party developers | TechCrunch
Apple rolls out privacy-sensitive artificial intelligence | MIT Technology Review
What is Differential Privacy? A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering
Digging into the dev documentation for APFS, Apple’s new file system | Ars Technica
Apple File System Guide | Apple Developer documentation
Mac & iOS Continuity | Apple

Throwback gadget: SnapperMail

At the end of 2001, I started to prepare of leaving my job at Edelman. This meant upgrading my home IT set up. I picked up an iBook. The iBook was Apple’s consumer-orientated laptop made from 1999 to 2006. Mine was a second generation ‘Snow’ laptop with a G3 processor, dual USB sockets and a combo drive which allowed me to watch DVDs and burn  CDs.

I used the move to go on the first version of OSX. The move also meant that I got a new email account, my default account to date. It had two key attributes:

No adverts, so it looked professional in comparison to having a Yahoo! or Hotmail email address and it wasn’t tied to an ISP.

IMAP support which allowed me to use my email account across different devices that all sync across the devices. POP3 downloads the  emails from the server to the device

My iBook was my only source of email access whilst I left Edelman and then eventually joined Pirate Communications. My first smartphone was a Nokia 6600, which I used alongside a Palm  PDA – l got this sometime around the end of 2003. The 6600 supported IMAP out of the gate, it was slow, but I was connected.

The 6600 was eclipsed by Palm’s Treo devices which were a better device. I moved from the 6600 and a Palm Tungsten T3 combo to a Treo 600 smartphone in January 2005.

The process wasn’t smooth. The Treo was sufficiently fragile that I got a translucent silicon jacket that worked surprisingly well with the keyboard and screen protector to look after the touchscreen. Software wise the Treo 600 was a step back from the Tungsten T3 PDA. The screen was smaller and the software felt sluggish in comparison. I had deliberately chosen the 600 over the 650 because I had previously worked agency side on the Palm account and been a long-suffering device owner so knew how crap they were at bug fixes.
snapperfish limited
Unfortunately Palm had not been as progressive in comparison to Nokia with its default email client. The software didn’t support IMAP. Fortunately I used to follow Mitch Kapor’s blog and he had recommended an app from a small New Zealand company SnapperFish.

SnapperMail was a compact modern email client. It has a number of features that we would expect now:

  • It supported IMAP
  • It supported SSL client to mail box encryption*
  • it was really easy to use
  • You could work with attachments including zipped files**
  • There was no restriction on the file size of attachments, the only restriction was your email account rather than your email client

This looks like the kind of technology you would have thought Palm should have done. At the this time Palm were competing against Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003, BlackBerry 6200 series, 7100 series and early 8700 series. Yet the default email client was back in the 1990s.

*The full-fat application cost US$39.99

**SnapperMail came bundled with HandZipper Lite which handled the compressed files and JPEGWatch Lite image viewer

I used this alongside MetrO – a public transit directions app and QuickOffice Pro – to read Office documents as part of my modern smartphone experience. It wasn’t just me that loved SnapperMail, it was praised by Walt Mossberg back when he wrote at the Wall Street Journal.

SnapperMail won two Palm Source (Palm’s software licence business) Powered Up awards in 2003. It was recognised as Best Productivity and Best of the Best Solution.

More information
SnapperMail Has Solid Software For Savvy Mobile E-Mail Users | WSJ
QuickOffice
MetrO – open source mass transit application
PalmSource Welcomes Developers with Awards, New Tools; Announces New Licensees | PalmSource press room

I/O and Google’s viewpoint on technology

Google I/O happened on May, 18 – 20.  There had been a lot of pieces of coverage about the different products and services released. But I wanted to spend a bit of time reflecting on what I/O tells us about Google’s viewpoint on technology.

Giving apps a second chance

Google knows as well as anyone that the app moves towards a maturity model where consumers stick with the core apps that they want and then don’t go any further.
apps
Data shows that consumers use their top five apps 88 per cent of the time. So why would Google care when it knows that 60 percent of the top apps on the Android platform?

The reasons for an expanded app usage include:

  • A proportion of Google’s advertising (like Facebook) is derived from the promotion of app downloads
  • Android devices are reaching market maturity in many markets, growth is likely to come from new uses – at least some of which will be derived from third party platforms
  • Google has staked its ambition in the PC sector on its Chrome operating system being able to run apps from the Android eco-system. In order for that to happen there needs to be a healthy community of developers
  • In the same way that DoubleClick’s ad network greatly expanded the inventory of Google’s advertising business, third party applications offer Google an additional source of usage for its own services. If you want to see the future of Google Apps look at the the way the likes of Baidu and Tencent allow third-party integration with their own tools

Streaming or ‘instant’ apps is part of Google’s efforts to encourage consumer trial of new apps and enhance relationships with developers. Firebase, it’s new analytics platform for mobile developers helps them have a better relationship with their installed user base allowing them to use data to target notifications and campaigns.

More faith in wider area networks (WANs) than personal area networks (PANs)

Android Wear’s updates were interesting. Put simply Google has more faith in data being delivered in a timely manner over cellular or wi-fi networks than it does for inter device transfers over variants of Bluetooth. Both the Apple Watch and Android Wear products suffered from performance lags when the watch was a thin client of a phone. Having a cellular radio on board the phone presents challenges with battery life, but speeds up real world performance.

The original design failure wasn’t down to network performance, but is likely to have implications for personal area network technology like Bluetooth in its different variants or ZigBee. These technologies are all about scale, lose a scale advantage and it poses a problem for future adoption by others. This can happen in a virtuous way. Apple’s adoption of USB benefited the standard greatly and drove interest in peripheral development for both Mac and PC. Apple’s abandonment of FireWire and the 3.5″ diskette marked their decline.

Lots to be concerned about from a privacy point of view?

Google Home moved yet another pair of Android powered ears into our environment. It was obvious from Google’s description of services that a paid marketing model to be the ‘car booking’ or equivalent service of Home could be very lucrative for the search giant. How this device could be used for market research, tracking brand mentions or government surveillance also poses some conundrums moving beyond smartphones to brown goods.

Android N features file based encryption rather than treating the whole device as an encrypted disk. This raises questions around the comparative ease of access from a privacy perspective. Secondly, SafetyNet allows Google to reach into a phone to remove pre-existing applications without user permission. There is no explanation if they also have write privileges to the phone as well. If so, expect law enforcement and intellectual property owner interest. From the way it reads this would affect apps and content that have been side loaded as well as got from an app store.

Android is giving the high ground to Apple on privacy presumably because it considers its own customers don’t care about it that much.

Reference designs in VR to drive adoption and commoditisation 

Google’s Daydream project looks to provide standardisation in hardware. By going down this route, Google hopes to spur on the sensor market required for improved AR experience and drive uptake. These will likely be a very different experience to the computer workstation powered Occulus Rift. Driving this technology into the smartphone market may combat the current stagnation in phone sales growth.

More information
Google I/O 2016 event page
A16hz on Google I/O 2016
Everything Google just announced at its I/O conference
Palm, Apple, Google and the whole mobile device thing
The Limits of Google
If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple – Marco.org
ISIS’s Mobile App Developers Are in Crisis Mode | Motherboard