Snap: smartphones give dedicated digital cameras a run for their money

9:39AM | Friday, 25 September

Apple’s recent offering of new tech toys includes the latest iPhone – available in stores from Friday – and it boasts some mighty camera power.   Looking at the 12-megapixel (MP) still image size and 4K video in the iPhone 6S, we need to wonder if this is the only camera/video recorder you’ll ever need? In fact, how long will we continue to call these digital pocket-size computers “smartphones”, since the ability to use them as a phone seems less important that other functions?   But can a smartphone camera outsmart the more traditional digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) or the mirrorless cameras favoured by enthusiasts and professional photographers?   The new iPhone is getting plenty of reviews this week, but let’s take a deeper a look at what Apple is offering in the camera department.   The leap from 8MP to 12MP is not that great and far from the 24MP of a typical DSLR. The Conversation (Background image: Flickr/Reto Fetz), CC BY-NC-SA   It’s worth examining the megapixel arms race a bit more clearly and you can see the jump from iPhone 5’s 8MP to 12MP is not that great. So before you run off to update your iPhone or Android device, keep the pixel count in mind.   So a 12MP image on the new iPhone is not that much bigger, especially when compared to some of the typical DSLRs on the market at the moment. These can take images up to 24MP and even higher, some even pushing 50MP.   Those iPhone publicity photographs we are seeing displayed on large billboards are a bit of a stretch. We view billboards from great distances and they are generally printed at 50 to 150 DPI. We should be just as impressed with the actual printer quality and how it handles the data, rather than the data sent to the printer from the iPhone.   Shot on an iPhone – the billboard campaign by Apple to showcase photos taken on iPhones. The Conversation, CC BY-NC-ND   If we were to put a two-metre-wide photographic quality print made from a good-quality DSLR camera, such as a Nikon or a Canon, next to a print made from an 8MP iPhone in a gallery setting, the quality of the DSLR’s image would be obvious, especially when you can walk up to the print and look into the detail.   So if your images need to live as print, as well as on screen, then the DSLR is still the way to go. But if your images are only going to live on a screen of some sort, then maybe you never need to use a DSLR again.   DSLR vs the smartphone   Of course there are plenty of things to consider other than just the megapixels, such as image sensor size, zoom and focus options, low light conditions and other functions and options.   This globally networked lens can also expose the less friendly corners of the planet via apps such as eyeWitness to atrocities, developed by the International Bar Association.   The app permits sound, video and photo recording, locks the data so it can’t be manipulated and sends it to a secure cloud. The data can then be verified and distributed to global media.   So when it comes to deciding which camera to use, I feel it’s about intent. Most of the time photographers will go for the device that gives then the ability to best craft an image.   Control of light, depth of field, quality of focus, bokeh, focal length, framing and that crucial capturing of the moment in time and space are all second nature to many photographers.   A photographer will also make good use of a smartphone when needed. Benjamin Lowy’s iPhone photos have made it onto the cover of Time magazine. He also found the iPhone made him less of a target in war zones such as Libya. Using an iPhone, he could move quickly and blend with the crowd unencumbered by camera bags.   “It’s a fast little camera and I do like that on a tough assignment,” he said. Although he added that the “pros will push me aside”, assuming he is a tourist or an amateur.   The choice is yours   One thing new smartphones have yet to address is the issue of batteries. Many years ago traditional cameras did not have batteries, so they never suffered from a flat battery. Today’s digital cameras do need batteries but their life can far exceed that of a smartphone, lasting many weeks compared to about a day on a smartphone.   There was a time when cameras were purchases for life; they were handed down from generation to generation. No need for a megapixel count, they were resolution-independent. They just relied on good film and quality lenses.   Today’s smartphones and digital cameras will never be handed down to a new generation, unless they are digital archaeologists.   In the end, no matter what device you choose to use, it’s who’s behind the technology that counts. And if you wait around long enough we may see the best apps of the smartphone and the best qualities of a DSLR converge and then what will we call it?   This article was first published on The Conversation.

Apple App Store hacked for first time

9:44PM | Monday, 21 September

Hackers have carried out a major attack on Apple’s App Store for the first time.   After cyber security firm Palo Alto Networks reported that nearly 40 apps up were infected with malicious code, Apple acknowledged the hack and said it had been resolved, as Reuters reports.   The hack seems to be targeted at China, with hackers providing an infected version of Apple’s software, known as Xcode, for creating iOS apps to developers.   The apps that were made with this software could open other websites to spread the virus and create pop-up screens asking for personal information like passwords.   An Apple spokesperson tells Reuters the App Store is now safe.   “We’ve removed the apps from the App Store that we know have been created with this counterfeit software,” the spokesperson says.   “We are working with the developers to make sure they’re using the proper version of Xcode to rebuild their apps.”   It’s the first time there has been a major breach of Apple’s apparently stringent review process, and although there doesn’t seem to have been any real damage caused by the attack, it’s a sign of its vulnerabilities.   “Developers are now a huge target,” Palo Alto Networks director of threat intelligence Ryan Olsen tells Reuters.   Some developers in China download the app-making software from other sources as it can take a long time through Apple.   The hack led to many very popular apps being infected, including Chinese ride-sharing startup Didi Kuaidi and global instant-messaging service WeChat.   The malicious code seems to be removed when the apps are updated.   Palo Alto Networks’ Claud Xiao says in a blog post that these are “unprecedented attacks”.   “The techniques used in this attack could be adopted by criminal espionage-focused groups to gain access to iOS devices,” Xiao says.   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help

Rest in Peace: Popular ad blocking app taken down as debate rages

9:32AM | Monday, 21 September

In just two days, Marco Arment’s app had flown to the top of the App Store charts.   Then he decided to take it down.   Arment’s ad blocking app Peace proved to be an immediate hit, soaring to the top of the paid charts, but due to moral problems with the practice, he made the tough and financially detrimental decision to pull it from the store.   The ad blocking debate has been reignited this month, with Apple allowing for developers to incorporate the software with the new iOS 9 updates.   With iOS 9, apps can now be easily created that facilitate ad blocking on the Safari app and in just a week, many have sped to the top of the App Store charts.   “Ad-blocking is a kind of war with damage hitting both sides,” Arment says in a blog post explaining his decision.   “Even though I’m ‘winning’, I’ve enjoyed none of it. That’s why I’m withdrawing from the market.   “Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.”   It’s the fact that blocking software allows for blanket bans of all ads that most worries Arment.   “Peace required that all ads be treated the same – all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white,” he says. “This approach is too blunt.”   “If we’re going to affect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app.   “I don’t feel good making one and being the arbiter of what’s blocked.”   Pouring fuel on the ad blocking fire   The advent of ad blocking on iPhones has poured fuel on the fire that is the debate surrounding this technology and how developers and publishers should react.   It was a big move from Apple in allowing the software, but seems like a well-thought out one for them. With no skin in the online advertising game, it’ll likely to hit Google hard and leave in-app advertising unscathed.   But it will have severe and widespread repercussions, as pointed out by Arment. It’s already something that has come to a head in terms of desktop web browsers; with ad blocking becoming a much more mainstream practice in the last few years.   According to a study conducted by Pagefair, ad blocking on desktops was responsible for $US22 million in lost revenue, with an estimated 198 million users worldwide actively blocking advertisements.   With the immediate demand for iOS ad blocking, it seems there will be very similar problems with mobile advertising.   Rattling the advertising industry   Co-founder of advertising agency BigDatr Avrill D’Costa tells StartupSmart the changes are likely to “rattle” the advertising industry.   “Publishers will have to face Apple’s decision,” D’Costa says. “This change will deny publishers advertising revenue in the tune of millions, whilst still allowing users to access their content ad-free.”   “It wouldn’t surprise me if those publishers running on tight margins and relying on advertising revenue as the sole income stream throw in the towel and call it quits.”   Power to the users   But Paul Chan, the CEO of online marketer PureProfile, says it could force advertisers to innovate and create more user-friendly ads.   “Pureprofile is an advocate of anything that allows publishers to improve advertising,” Chan says. “We believe advertising has a genuinely useful place in people’s lives, but it needs to be less intrusive and more relevant, particularly when it comes to video content.   “There should be other mechanisms that do not interrupt the content experience and provide high-value advertising interactions.”   It’s about giving users more control, perhaps to the detriment of advertisers and publishers, Chan says.   “We truly support anything that puts the user in control and gives them the settings to exercise their right to choose how they consume content, including advertising,” he says.   As well as a push to produce better ads, some websites have been publishing messages directly to users asking them to remove the ad blocker or sign up.   In a move that many are saying isn’t coincidental in the slightest; Apple also launched its new default News app with iOS 9.   Apple News will use RSS feeds to get content from publishing partners, and perhaps a new means of revenue for publishers.   It’s a debate with many technical and moral intricacies, and one that’s likely to only become fiercer in the coming months.   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help

Apple provides a technology "spritz" keeping their products fresh but familiar

9:24AM | Friday, 11 September

 Apple’s latest product announcements came as little surprise as most of the announcements had been leaked prior to the event.   With all Apple events however, especially those that are seen as unveiling largely incremental changes, the interest focuses on the details, and in this set of announcements, there were a great deal of those.   So what did Apple announce? The table below outlines their In a nutshell:   Apple Announcements   Investors, it seems, were relatively unimpressed with the release although given the leaks, it is not clear what they may have been expecting. Apple’s share price traditionally drops by an average of 0.4%. It dropped nearly 2% after this announcement.   From a global consumer perspective, their reaction will ultimately determine how this release is perceived. From the iPhone perspective, the sales are largely determined by the telecommunication companies’ upgrade cycles. The iPhone 6S will definitely be attractive to users who are still using the iPhone 5S.   The iPad Pro on the other hand, is targeted at the professional market and was possibly inspired by the glimmers of success that Microsoft has had with its Surface Pro 3. It made $713 million in 2014 from sales of the device. In fact, Microsoft appeared during the Apple keynote speech to talk about its software running on the tablet. The technology incorporated into the iPad Pro and in the Pencil are fairly impressive. Whether it finds a significant market however is yet to be seen.   The wild-card in the pack is going to be the Apple TV. Providing access to the app store opens the device up to a range of new (and possibly unforeseen) uses. The obvious new use for the device will be as a games console. Although this is clearly not going to compete against an Xbox One or Sony PlayStation 4, it does make the device more attractive when compared against other standard media players. With access to the app store, there will be a large number of apps appearing specifically built for the device. Since the release of the Apple Watch, 10,000 apps are now availble for that device despite its relatively low overall sales.   The incorporation of Siri into the Apple TV with specific types of commands that are tailored to its use may change the way consumers interact with the device. Voice activated personal assistants are getting better but it will take time for this mode of interaction with devices to become natural and ingrained.   3D Touch may well be something that does alter the way people interact with their phones on a regular basis. Slight pressure on messages and emails offers previews which expand into the full message by pressing harder. 3D Touch adds a similar capability to hovering and the right click action on the mouse or trackpad.   Nothing that Apple announced this week was revolutionary but they have continued to improve their products just enough to persuade consumers to continue to buy them.   David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple News could change the news business - will readers win?

9:11AM | Friday, 11 September

 In the early days of Web 2.0, the arrival of blogs and similar sites heralded an explosion in the number of news feeds we could follow. But such abundance also came at a price: it became increasingly difficult to keep up with all this content without having to browse at length from site to site every day.   In response, a friendly acronym briefly flourished: Rich Site Summary, better known as Really Simple Syndication or RSS. Coupled with a feed reader tool, RSS enables users to quickly scan the headlines and click through only to those stories that pique their interest.   Feed readers were never widely popular, though – they remain the domain of news junkies and other power users. Adding all those RSS feeds to track takes time, and often requires some technical skills. And internet user practices have changed. Reader loyalty to specific news sites has declined, and many now receive a constant stream of news from diverse sources through the social filtering activities of their Facebook and Twitter contacts instead.   As a result, feed readers have fallen out of fashion. Market leader Google Reader was discontinued in 2013 as a result of its declining user base, and while other tools (such as Feedly) have replaced it, they remain speciality products by comparison.   An advertising nightmare News publishers, incidentally, might have breathed a sigh of relief. Scanning the news headlines in a feed reader necessarily reduces revenues from online advertising. Feed reader users click through to the news site (and thus trigger ad impressions) only for a fraction of all headlines. But then, most modern browsers use some form of ad blocking, so even loyal website visitors no longer reliably generate ad impressions.   Publisher attempts to overcome the limited returns from online ads have also involved a number of other revenue-raising approaches. These include full or partial content paywalls, or subscription- or advertising-supported apps for smartphones and tablets. Neither of these options represent guaranteed success.   Unless the paid content is unique, paywalls tend to drive users to the competition (such as the news sites of public service media). News apps may look great, but often fail to offer the convenience and flexibility of reading news on the web. Plus, users may end up having to switch between half a dozen news apps from different sources.   Apple loves simplicity This messy state of affairs looks set to be disrupted by Apple News, a new default app to be provided with the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, on September 16.   Until Apple’s own Apple News Format standard becomes available, the new app will use RSS feeds to retrieve content from its publishing partners. It will serve, in essence, as a modern take on the feed reader, providing a standardised interface to the latest content from news and other online publishers.   But while users of RSS tools can add the feeds they want, Apple News will offer only the content of those publishers it has signed up to the service. This creates a walled garden of news sources, and eventually perhaps an opportunity for Apple to request a payment from publishers seeking to be included. Pre-release information indicates that joining Apple News as a publisher is free, but there is no guarantee it will remain so.   For ordinary users interested in mainstream news sources, this may not matter much, but it does position Apple as the ultimate gatekeeper of publishers. Apple will be able to censor content, as it also does in the App Store – and it remains to be seen how the company will exercise that role.   Power shift Down the track, the proprietary Apple News Format is set to offer more fully featured news experiences than RSS itself is able to do. In particular, while it remains possible to click through to an original article on a publisher’s site, users can also choose to read it, reformatted to fit their screen, within the app itself.   If the majority of users choose to remain within the app, this further reduces the publishers’ takings from on-site ads, of course, but in return also enables them to generate revenue from any in-app advertising they might choose to run. This, however, also means that Apple itself, through its iAd advertising service, positions itself as a quasi-monopolist advertising provider for news content delivered through Apple News – a position of considerable power if Apple News becomes widely popular.   Given the popularity of iOS devices, minor publishers might even be tempted to forego the web altogether. They could push their content exclusively to Apple News, in the same way many iOS (and Android) apps are no longer scaled-down versions of desktop software, but stand-alone products designed to utilise the native affordances of these portable hardware platforms. Such exclusive content could become a major drawcard for Apple News, but also makes these publishers entirely dependent on Apple’s platform.   Ultimately, Apple News constitutes a powerful play at the online news market, by a company with the resources to pull it off. At the same time, we would do well to remember that Apple’s own apps have at times failed to compete with third-party offerings. Many iOS users still haven’t forgiven the company for the disastrous shortcomings of the original Apple Maps app, for example, and are quickly replacing Apple’s own apps with more appealing alternatives as they upgrade from one iOS version to another.   If Apple News can escape that fate and become popular with iOS users, though, it could thoroughly upset the prevailing but unstable balance of relationships between publishers, readers, and advertisers.   Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Spotlight on Aussie startups at Apple’s product launch

9:35PM | Thursday, 10 September

Two Australian-made apps took centre stage at Apple’s new product launch conference this morning.   Endless arcade game Crossy Road and fitness app Zova are both launch partners for the new Apple TV App Store, which will feature on the fourth generation TV announced at the event.   The Aussie apps will be available for purchase and use on the new Apple TV, which doesn’t have an official launch date yet . A proud moment Crossy Road is made by Melbourne-based startup Hipster Whale, and co-founder Andy Sum demoed the app on stage.   “As a small indie studio from Melbourne we’re thrilled to be able to bring our game to the living room,” Sum said at the launch.   “We’re super excited to be here today to show all of you just how fun it is to play Crossy Road on the Apple TV.”   Crossy Road was launched in 2014 and has now been downloaded over 40 million times through the App Store and recently received an Apple design award.   Sum also announced a new multiplayer version of the game on stage, making use of the new Siri remote control and the ability to use an iPhone as a controller as well.   “Every day we hear stories of players laughing together with Crossy Road, so today exclusively on the new Apple TV we’re announcing multiplayer,” Sum said.   “Now you can truly play Crossy Road with family and friends.”

Labor 2.0: why we shouldn't fear the 'sharing economy' and the reinvention of work

9:48AM | Monday, 7 September

Uber suffered a legal blow this week when a California judge granted class action status to a lawsuit claiming the car-hailing service treats its drivers like employees, without providing the necessary benefits.   Up to 160,000 Uber chauffeurs are now eligible to join the case of three drivers demanding the company pay for health insurance and expenses such as mileage. Some say a ruling against the company could doom the business model of the on-demand or “sharing” economy that Uber, Upwork and TaskRabbit represent.   Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely to reverse the most radical reinvention of work since the rise of industrialization – a massive shift toward self-employment typified by on-demand service apps and enabled by technology. That’s because it’s not a trend driven solely by these tech companies.   Workers themselves, especially millennials, are increasingly unwilling to accept traditional roles as cogs in the corporate machinery being told what to do. Today, 34% of the US workforce freelances, a figure that is estimated to reach 50% by 2020. That’s up from the 31% estimated by the Government Accountability Office in a 2006 study.     Many aren’t ready for the on-demand economy that Uber represents, such as these taxi drivers in Brazil. Reuters   Rise of the gig-based economy In place of the traditional notion of long-term employment and the benefits that came with it, app-based platforms have given birth to the gig-based economy, in which workers create a living through a patchwork of contract jobs.   Uber and Lyft connect drivers to riders. TaskRabbit helps someone who wants to remodel a kitchen or fix a broken pipe find a nearby worker with the right skills. Airbnb turns everyone into hotel proprietors, offering their rooms and flats to strangers from anywhere.   Thus far, the industries where this transformation has occurred have been fairly low-skilled, but that’s changing. Start-ups Medicast, Axiom and Eden McCallum are now targeting doctors, legal workers and consultants for short-term contract-based work.   A 2013 study estimated that almost half of US jobs are at risk of being replaced by a computer within 15 years, signaling most of us may not have a choice but to accept a more tenuous future.     Robot suit via   The economic term referring to this transformation of how goods and services are produced is “platform capitalism,” in which an app and the engineering behind it bring together customers in neat novel economic ecosystems, cutting out traditional companies.   But is the rise of the gig economy a bad thing, as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton suggested in July when she promised to “crack down on bosses misclassifying workers as contractors”?   While some contend this sweeping change augurs a future of job insecurity, impermanence and inequality, others see it as the culmination of a utopia in which machines will do most of the labor and our workweeks will be short, giving us all more time for leisure and creativity.   My recent research into self-organized work practices suggests the truth lies somewhere in between. Traditional hierarchies provide a certain security, but they also curb creativity. A new economy in which we are increasingly masters of our jobs as well as our lives provides opportunities to work for things that matter to us and invent new forms of collaboration with fluid hierarchies.   Sharing into the abyss? Critics such as essayist Evgeny Morozov or the philosopher Byung-Chul Han highlight the dark side of this “sharing economy.”   Instead of a collaborative commons, they envision the commercialization of intimate life. In this view, the likes of Uber and Airbnb are perverting the initial collaborative nature of their business models – car-sharing and couch-surfing – adding a price and transforming them from shared goods into commercial products. The unspoken assumption is that you have the choice between renting and owning, but “renting” will be the default option for the majority.   Idealists take another tack. Part of the on-demand promise is that technology makes it easier to share not only cultural products but also cars, houses, tools or even renewable energy. Add increasing automation to the picture and it invokes a society in which work is no longer the focus. Instead, people spend more of their time in creative and leisurely activities. Less drudge, more time to think.   The “New Work movement,” formed by philosopher Frithjof Bergmann in the late 1980s, envisioned such a future, while economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin imagines consumers and producers becoming one and the same: prosumers.   From self-employment to self-organization Both of these extremes seem to miss the mark. In my view, the most decisive development underlying this discussion is the need for worker self-organization as the artificial wall between work and life dissolves.   My recent work has involved studying how the relationship between managers and workers has evolved, from traditional structures that are top-down, with employees doing what they’re told, to newer ones that boast self-managing teams with managers counseling them or even the complete abolition of formal hierarchies of rank.   While hierarchy guarantees a certain security and offers a lot of stability, its absence frees us to work more creatively and collaboratively. When we’re our own boss we bear more responsibility, but also more reward.   And as we increasingly self-organize alongside others, people start to experiment in various ways, from peer to peer and open source projects to social entrepreneurship initiatives, bartering circles and new forms of lending.   The toughest tension for workers will be how best to balance private and work-related demands as they are increasingly interwoven.   Avoiding the pitfalls of platform capitalism Another risk is that we will become walled in by the platform capitalism being built by Uber and TaskRabbit but also Google, Amazon and Apple, in which companies control their respective ecosystems. Thus, our livelihoods remain dependent on them, like in the old model, just without the benefits workers have fought for many decades.   In his recent book “Postcapitalism,” Paul Mason eloquently puts it like this: “the main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial.”   To avoid this fate, it’s essential to create sharing and on-demand platforms that follow a non-market rationale, such as through open source technologies and nonprofit foundations, to avoid profit overriding all other considerations. The development of the operating system Linux and web browser Firefox are examples of the possibility and merits of these models.   Between hell and heaven Millennials grew up in the midst of the birth of a new human age, with all the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. As they take over the workforce, the traditional hierarchies that have long dictated work will continue to crumble.   Socialized into the participatory world of the web, millennials prefer to self-organize in a networked way using readily available communication technology, without bosses dictating goals and deadlines.   But this doesn’t mean we’ll all be contractors. Frederic Laloux and Gary Hamel have shown in their impressive research that a surprisingly broad range of companies have already acknowledged these realities. Amazon-owned online shoe retailer Zappos, computer game designer Valve and tomato-processor Morning Star, for example, have all abolished permanent managers and handed their responsibilities over to self-managing teams. Without job titles, team members flexibly adapt their roles as needed.   Mastering this new way of working takes us through different networks and identities and requires the capacity to organize oneself and others as well as to adapt to fluid hierarchies.   As such, it may be the the fulfillment of Peter Drucker’s organizational vision: … in which every man sees himself as a “manager” and accepts for himself the full burden of what is basically managerial responsibility: responsibility for his own job and work group, for his contribution to the performance and results of the entire organization, and for the social tasks of the work community. Bernhard Resch, Researcher in Organizational Politics, University of St.Gallen This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple's mobile ad blocking will hasten the death of online advertising

8:07AM | Thursday, 27 August

 Apple is about to open a new front in the ongoing war against online advertising. The new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9, will support ad blocking by Safari, its mobile web browser.   A study by Adobe and pro-advertising company PageFair finds that the popularity of ad blocking extensions in desktop web browsers is responsible for US$22 billion in lost revenue to the websites that host ads.   They estimate that there are now 198 million users worldwide actively blocking ads. Amongst 400 users surveyed by the report’s authors, the main reasons cited for using ad blocking software were avoiding privacy abuse by targeted advertising as well as the number of ads encountered when browsing.     A typical message from a website about the use of any ad blocking. screen grab   The practice of trying to guilt users into switching off their ad blocking software when visiting sites doesn’t appear to be working and the display of messages to ad blocking users by web sites has diminished.   Ad blocking apps that will be available for Safari on iOS 9 are already being made available to beta testers. One such app, Crystal, not only blocks ads but experiments by the developer has shown that using this ad blocking software speeds up web pages loading in the browser by four times. This also results in a significant reduction in data being used, which is significant on a mobile device using cellular data.   Another ad blocking app Purify that is also in beta testing appears to also block ads on YouTube.     The stand out, and that’s precisely why so many people block them. Pascale Kinchen Douglas/Flickr, CC BY-SA   Ad blocking on mobile is not completely new Ad blocking has been available for some time on Android for users of the Firefox mobile browser and for Google Chrome. In the case of blocking ads by Google Chrome, an app needs to be installed which is not from the Google Play app store.   Ad blocking has also been available on Apple devices but have worked by blocking access to certain domains that serve up the ads. AdBlock for example works by pretending to be a virtual private network (VPN) connection and filters out access to specific sites. This of course only works if the list of sites to block is up-to-date. It also doesn’t allow for “whitelists”, which are sites that are allowed through because they are deemed “acceptable”.   However, the move by Apple is going to boost ad blocking on mobile dramatically because it is going to make the process of doing so that much easier. This has advertisers, and sites that make money from advertising, increasingly worried because it raises their costs in terms of creating ads that are less intrusive and deemed more acceptable (although this may still not convince the public to view them).     Apple’s iOS 9 is due to be released later this year and will include content blocking. Apple   For Apple, though, the move to allow ad blocking gives iPhone users a better browsing experience at no cost to Apple. Apple makes no money from online advertising through mobile browsing. And, of course, its own ads that are served up through apps are unaffected by ad blocking software.   As a bonus to Apple, the company who is most affected by ads being blocked is Google, which derives 90% of its revenue from advertising.   Apple is able to increase the level of privacy it offers its customers without directly getting involved itself and risking annoying companies that rely on revenues from advertising.   The advertisers' dilemma   Many ads can be deliberately deceptive. Create Meme   It is hard to feel sorry for the advertisers and the sites that resort to displaying targeted invasive ads, such as those sold by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others.   These ads are designed to target individuals based on information gathered about them as they use the internet. So not only are they annoying, but they are exploiting people’s privacy. Adding insult to injury, the inclusion of ads slows down web page loads and potentially ends up costing end-users money by using their data allocation.   The argument that content providers are only able to provide content based on the exploitation of their visitors is not a good one because it implies that those visitors signed up to an agreement to view ads in exchange for the content. Of course, users generally do no such thing. And given the explicit choice, might easily opt simply not to visit the site.   Most users don’t necessarily mind being provided with information that allows them to make a reasoned choice about a product when they have decided to buy it. But advertising that tries to persuade a consumer to buy something they weren’t considering buying is a different matter.   Once advertisers do more of the former and less of the latter, perhaps ad blocking will no longer be necessary. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Windows 95 turns 20 – and new ways of interacting show up desktop's age

8:14AM | Tuesday, 25 August

 The arrival of Microsoft Windows 95 on August 24 1995 brought about a desktop PC boom. With an easier and more intuitive graphical user interface than previous versions it appealed to more than just business, and Bill Gates’ stated aim of one PC per person per desk was set in motion. This was a time of 320Mb hard drives, 8Mb RAM and 15” inch CRT monitors. For most home users, the internet had only just arrived.   Windows 95 introduced the start menu, powered by a button in the bottom-left corner of the desktop. This gives a central point of entry into menus from which to choose commands and applications. The simplicity of this menu enables users to easily find commonly used documents and applications. All subsequent versions of Windows have kept this menu, with the notable exception of Windows 8, a change which prompted an enormous backlash.     We take these intuitive graphic interfaces for granted today, but earlier operating systems such as DOS and CP/M allowed the user to interact using only typed text commands. This all changed in the 1970s, with Ivan Sutherland’s work with Sketchpad and the use of lightpens to control CRT displays, Douglas Engelbart’s development of the computer mouse, and the Xerox PARC research team’s creation of the Windows Icon Menu Pointer graphical interfaces paradigm (WIMP) – the combination of mouse pointer, window and icons that remains standard to this day. By the early 1980s, Apple had developed graphical operating systems for its Lisa (released 1983) and Macintosh (1984) computers, and Microsoft had released Windows (1985).   DOS - these were not good old days. Krzysztof Burghardt Imagining a desktop All these interfaces rely on the central idea of the desktop, a comprehensible metaphor for a computer. We work with information in files and organise them in folders, remove unwanted information to the trash can, and note something of interest with a bookmark.   Metaphors are useful. They enable users to grasp concepts faster, but rely on the metaphor remaining comprehensible to the user and useful for the designer and programmer putting it into effect – without stretching it beyond belief. The advantage is that the pictures used to represent functions (icons) look similar to those in the workplace, and so the metaphor is readily understandable.   Breaking windows But 20 years after Windows 95, the world has changed. We have smartphones and smart televisions, we use the internet prolifically for practically everything. Touchscreens are now almost more ubiquitous than the classic mouse-driven interface approach, and screen resolution is so high individual pixels can be difficult to see. We still have Windows, but things are changing. Indeed, they need to change.   The desktop metaphor has been the metaphor of choice for so long, and this ubiquity has helped computers find a place within households as a common, familiar tool rather than as specialist, computerised equipment. But is it still appropriate? After all, few of us sit in an office today with paper-strewn desks; books are read on a tablet or phone rather than hard-copies; printing emails is discouraged; most type their own letters and write their own emails; files are electronic not physical; we search the internet for information rather than flick through reference books; and increasingly the categorisation and organisation of data has taken second place to granular search.   Mouse-driven interfaces rely on a single point of input, but we’re increasingly seeing touch-based interfaces that accept swipes, touches and shakes in various combinations. We are moving away from the dictatorship of the mouse pointer. Dual-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom are new emerging metaphors – natural user interfaces (NUI) rather than graphical user interfaces.   What does the next 20 years hold? It’s hard to tell but one thing that is certain is that interfaces will make use of more human senses to display information and to control the computer. Interfaces will become more transparent, more intuitive and less set around items such as boxes, arrows or icons. Human gestures will be more commonplace. And such interfaces will be incorporated into technology throughout the world, through virtual reality and augmented reality.   These interfaces will be appear and feel more natural. Some suitable devices already exist, such as ShiverPad, that provide shear forces on surfaces that provide a frictional feel to touch devices. Or Geomagic’s Touch X (formerly the Sensible Phantom Desktop) that delivers three-dimensional forces to make 3D objects feel solid.   Airborne haptics are another promising technology that develop tactile interfaces in mid-air. Through ultrasound, users can feel acoustic radiation fields that emanate from devices, without needing to touch any physical surface. Videogame manufacturers have led the way with these interfaces, including the Microsoft Kinect and Hololens that allow users to use body gestures to control the interface, or with their eyes through head-mounted displays.   Once interaction with a computer or device can be commanded using natural gestures, movements of the body or spoken commands, the necessity for the Windows-based metaphor of computer interaction begins to look dated – as old as it is. Jonathan Roberts is Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Bangor University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will the elderly rely on the Internet of Things to look after them?

8:22AM | Tuesday, 18 August

 We are facing the “silver tsunami” of an ageing society that within a few years will see for the first time, more people over the age of 65 living on this planet than those under 5 years of age. Apart from the increased burden of chronic diseases that accompanies old age, the biggest impact of an increasingly ageing population will be felt in the numbers of people with dementia, and in particular Alzheimer’s Disease. In Europe, around 7% of the population over 65 have dementia. This rises dramatically with age and nearly 50% of women and 30% of men over the age of 90 will suffer from the condition.   The Internet of Things For many of us, there is the desire to “age in place”, that is to remain in our homes and stay as active and independent for as long as possible. One possible way of achieving this is to use technological assistance, and in particular use connected smart devices that are collectively called the “Internet of Things” that are rapidly becoming a reality in the home.   The Internet of Things can communicate with each other and with software running in the cloud. These devices can act as sensors, monitoring what is happening in the environment and, in particular, with elderly people themselves. They can also process information and take actions, such as controlling heating and air conditioning, locking doors and windows and reminding people to take medications or encourage them to be active, or simply go for a walk.   Data collected through the Internet of Things in the home can be used to provide an overall assessment of “observations of daily living”. These observations form a pattern of everyday life from which any deviations can create triggers of that change to alert those living in the home, their family or their health carers.   The challenges to letting the Internet of Things do the caring Despite all of the possibilities of these devices helping the elderly to stay independent and active, there are some significant obstacles that need to be overcome before their full potential becomes a reality. The first is acceptance by the elderly themselves. They may see remote monitoring devices as an intrusion on their privacy. They may also see any outward signs of using this technology as a public symbol of their age and frailty and so avoid their use for that reason. They may be concerned about not being able to use the technology properly, in particular triggering false alarms. Finally, the devices may not be considered affordable, or at least, too much of a luxury to spend money on.   Dressing up the Internet of Things Some of these obstacles can be addressed by the design of the devices themselves. A US company, Live!y has created a smartwatch, not dissimilar to one from Apple or Samsung, that provides alerts and reminders and also can be used to summon help and communicate with a monitoring service. It also measures activity by counting steps, and usefully, tells the time. The watch acts in concert with a range of sensors that monitor medication use, access of the fridge and movement in various rooms. The watch can also detect falls and automatically call for help.   By making the device seem like an everyday watch, it reduces at least some of the potential barriers to the elderly in its use.   Sensing the state of their health Telehealth is another field of care of people in the home that utilises connected smart devices. Not only are we facing a rapidly increasing aged population, but a major proportion of that population have one or more chronic conditions. By using remote monitoring of weight, blood pressure, pulse and ECG, problems can be detected without a visit to a GP and more importantly, avoiding the hospital.   The smart devices can sense, make decisions locally, and act on that information. Ultimately, if this is to be of any use, the directions originating from these devices need to be followed by those that the technologies are caring for. This is still the most challenging aspect of the entire process. Reminding someone that they have failed to take their medication may be of no use if that person has decided simply that they don’t want to take it. What the health profession can do about the elderly not taking medications as they are intended is a still a major problem and having reminders is not the entire solution.   Because a solution does not work for everyone is not a reason for not adopting it for those that it will help. Before we see widespread adoption of the Internet of Things in the home however, we will need to see cheaper, more attractive, affordable, and useful devices that integrate with smartphones and computers and the apps that are running on them. The best chance for this happening are the initiatives from Apple and Google. Although Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Brillo are aimed at everyone’s homes, their popularity may see the next generation of the elderly already prepared for their help in staying independent and active for longer.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Technolog: Lawyers argue phone encryption helps criminals and blame Apple and Google

8:43AM | Friday, 14 August

  Three lawyers and a police commissioner from the US, France, England and Spain have used an opinion piece in the NY Times to hold Apple and Google to account for providing their customers with unbreakable encryption of their mobile devices.   Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (Manhattan District Attorney), François Molins (Paris Chief Prosecutor), Adrian Leppard (Commissioner of the City of London Police) and Javier Zaragoza (Chief Prosecutor of the High Court of Spain) have argued that the inability of law enforcement to access a user’s phone has, in their view, been directly responsible for disrupting investigations. They cite that in the 9 months to June of this year, 74 iPhones running iOS 8 could not be accessed by investigators in Manhattan and that this affected investigations that included “the attempted murder of three individuals, the repeated sexual abuse of a child, a continuing sex trafficking ring and numerous assaults and robberies”.   They claim that encrypting the phones provides no security for the customer against the type of wide-net surveillance carried out by the NSA, nor would it prevent “institutional data breaches or malware”.   How the authors of this piece could be so confident that the investigations they give as examples would have had different outcomes with access to the phones is not clear.   What is abundantly clear however, is that the encryption of these devices did exactly what it was supposed to do, it stopped someone other than the owner of the phone from gaining access to the contents. The authors didn’t mention the fact that this alone prevents criminals from accessing the content of the phone if it is stolen or lost. Given that 3 million phones were stolen in the US in 2013 and that the majority of people would go to extreme lengths to recover the data on their lost devices.   The opinion piece goes on to declare the benefits “marginal” and the consequences to law enforcement is the inability to guarantee the “safety of our communities”.   The lobbying by senior law enforcement officials in the press against the use of encryption is becoming a common occurrence. The NY Times piece follows FBI Director James Comey’s declaration that unstoppable terrorism was the consequence of allowing encryption to be used by consumers.   All of the rhetoric used in these arguments make so many leaps of faith as to undermine any credibility in their claims. The suggestion for example that criminals/terrorists would not seek to cover their tracks in their phone use, or execute care over what incriminating evidence they kept on their phones is not realistic. The further suggestion that any evidence that the phone itself revealed would be critical in an investigation is likewise, suspect.   Remember that police still have access to phone records, and also to all data communication carried out through the device. Both France and the UK have enacted extensive data retention laws. The police can also continue to get access to cloud services used by the phone’s owner, also social media and location data, and a host of other information leaked through the use of the device that continues to be unprotected in the same way as the device itself.   Perhaps this is really what is being fought over? The obvious next step in consumer privacy which is putting the encryption of all cloud-based resources in the hands of the consumer so that companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are unable to hand over information to Government security and law enforcement agencies.   The Internet Architecture Board, a committee of industry, academic and government specialists concerned with the functioning of the Internet has declared that they “strongly encourage developers to include encryption in their implementations, and to make them encrypted by default.”   Ultimately, it will be society as a whole that determines the appropriate balance of privacy against the wishes of governments and agencies to surveil-at-will. The rights to privacy are stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it will take more than the alleged inconvenience it causes legal officials to give up those rights.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Forget the Silicon Valley revolution: the future of transport looks remarkably familiar

8:32AM | Friday, 7 August

 From autonomous vehicles and the rapid rise of Uber to the global diffusion of bike-sharing schemes, transport is changing. Developments in information technology, transport policy and behaviour by urban populations may well be causing a wholesale shift away from conventional cars to collective, automated and low-carbon transport.   Yet there are still many uncertainties in technology development, finance and trends in user practices and expectations about the scale of these changes may well be inflated.   Perhaps the most significant development is “peak car” use – the stalled growth or modest decline in car ownership and use since around 1990 across the developed world. As well as economic reasons and the returning popularity of city living, this seems to be driven in part by a move away from pro-car planning. Metropolitan governments in particular are increasingly reallocating road space away from private cars and concentrating office and housing developments around public transport stations.   They are even supporting a wide range of innovations in local transport, including self-driving pod cars called up by a smartphone app. All these initiatives aim to reinvent “old” transport systems – metro, tram and cycling – as efficient, fashionable and healthy, enabling both economic growth and a better quality of life.   Public transport problems However, public transport still faces significant challenges. Research consistently shows that satisfaction with tripmaking is lower on bus and rail than on other forms of transport. The industrial-era logic of only offering services at particular stops or stations at specific times sits uncomfortably with the changing rhythms of work, shopping, care-giving and leisure in post-industrial societies.   These service provision problems are particularly acute in suburbs (and of course rural areas) where the flexibility afforded by private cars continues to be the norm. Yet, even in the densest parts of cities, public transport only meets everyone’s needs when there are more flexible options as well. This is why greater public transport use is linked to, and to some extent triggers, increased use of cycling and, more recently, smartphone-enabled taxi services.   These forms of transport are available (almost) everywhere at all times – and therefore better compatible with the individualised lifestyles of people accustomed to the convenience that private car use epitomises. But even bike and car-sharing schemes with fixed docking stations and parking bays suffer from some of the same limitations as public transport does. The future may well be brighter for smartphone-dependent “free-floating” schemes, whereby cars can be picked up and left at any location within a designated zone that stretches across a city or parts thereof.   Pod to the future. Department for Transport/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND   There are also big obstacles to a public transport revolution in the form of entrenched government patterns and vested interests. Past planning decisions, in particular, constrain current and future changes in transport systems. This is because the construction of road infrastructure, sprawling suburbs, car-dependent retail/leisure complexes and mono-functional business areas since the 1950s is largely irreversible, at least for the coming decades.   Industry fightback The car industry remains powerful and does not sit still. In many countries, car manufacturing continues to be important to the national economy and can therefore count on considerable support from local, national and supranational (EU) governments. This is exemplified by the UK government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles which was set up to stimulate the uptake of electric and other low-carbon vehicles.   Car manufacturers may now be experiencing competition from powerful technology companies such as Google and Apple, but this is catalysing their own development of innovations. The Google driverless car may be the most famous but the first such vehicles from conventional manufacturers are expected to hit the market by 2017-2018.   Many hurdles still need to be overcome. The technology needs substantial refining, major issues around insurance and liability need to be resolved, it is not clear how adaptations to road infrastructure will be financed, and public opinion is divided. Based on experiences with electric and fuel cell cars in recent decades, current expectations about commercialisation and consumer uptake are (vastly) over-optimistic.   Unexpected and unforeseeable events may radically reshape current development trajectories, but there are good reasons to expect that transport systems in 30 years will not be drastically different from today.   Tim Schwanen is Associate Professor in Transport Studies and Director of the Transport Studies Unit (from September 2015) at University of Oxford.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Technolog: Forget fixed broadband: Large phones and 4G drive UK over mobile tipping point

8:25AM | Friday, 7 August

 UK communications regulator Ofcom has released a report that gives a fascinating snapshot of digital society in the UK. It highlights the dominance of mobile, and the centrality of social media in social interactions and relationships. The change has been brought about, not by improvements in fixed broadband but by the availability of larger, more capable phones and faster 4G mobile networks. Phones and 4G are in turn facilitating communication through a variety of channels, especially social media.   Bigger phones allow people to do more In terms of the importance of mobile, 33% of UK residents now view their smartphone as the most important device to connect to the Internet compared to 30% who chose their laptop. This switch in preference has come about because of the general increase in the size of phones. The release of Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6S in response to the popularity of Android phones of the same size has helped cement the larger form-factor as a standard. People can now comfortably carry out many of the tasks that would have normally been reserved for a laptop, PC or tablet.   4G is the other key enabler of move to mobile The second reason has been the increase in speed of the average smartphone connection. 45% of UK smartphone users have access to 4G networks, a 28% increase on the previous year. The faster speeds have not only resulted in greater use of mobile data generally but has shifted what users will do with their phones. 4G users are more likely to use their phones to access audio-visual content(57% 4G users compared to 40% non-4G users). They are also more likely to use their phones to make online purchases and use online banking.   Faster fixed broadband plays a smaller part What is interesting is that the changes brought about by the increased use of smartphones have had more impact than the increase in speeds of fixed broadband services to the home. 83% of UK premises are able to receive broadband speeds of 30 Mbit/s or higher. 30% of homes have connected to broadband at these higher speeds. Mobile 4G users were less likely to use their home wireless than those not on 4G showing a general trend to “cutting the cord” even in the area of Internet access.   Changing communication and social media UK Internet users believe that technology has changed the way that they communicate and that these new forms of communication have made life easier. Traditional forms of digital communication such as email and text messaging are still dominant but 62% of online adults use social media and 57% instant messaging to communicate regularly with family and friends. Technologies such as Skype, Facetime and Google Hangout are also used by 34% of adults.   In terms of social media use, Facebook is by far the dominant platform with 72% of adults having a social media profile and 97% of those having one on Facebook. Although teenagers are likely to use other social media platforms, 48% of social media users use Facebook exclusively.   People are also spending greater amounts of time on Facebook than any other service. In March of 2015, users spent 51 billion minutes on Facebook’s website and apps compared to 34 billion on Google’s. YouTube was also watched by more people via mobile devices than on desk/laptops.   Change, but not in productivity Although digital technologies have brought about a major change in society in the UK, this hasn’t been reflected in any changes in productivity in the UK economy. The UK continues to rate behind France, Germany, US and even Italy in terms of worker productivity.   The results of surveys such as these enable several important points to be underscored. The first is that investment in fixed broadband infrastructure is not necessarily as important as investment in universal high speed wireless access in terms of its impact on society. Second, although we may see radical changes in social norms through the use of digital technologies, it won’t show up in increased productivity. The last point has to be qualified however. It may well be that existing businesses do not show any improvements in productivity but new forms of industry and business are enabled by a mobile economy which may well bring about radical changes in productivity. Uber, Airbnb, and other industries as part of the so-called “gig economy” threatens to disrupt industry and this will only be possible through the use of mobile phones and high speed wireless.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Windows 10 is not really free: you are paying for it with your privacy

8:18AM | Tuesday, 4 August

Windows 10, it seems, is proving a hit with both the public and the technology press after its release last week. After two days, it had been installed on 67 million PCs. Of course, sceptics may argue that this may have simply been a reflection of how much people disliked Windows 8 and the fact that that the upgrade was free. For others, though, it is the very fact that the upgrade is free that has them concerned that Microsoft has adopted a new, “freemium” model for making money from its operating system. They argue that, while Apple can make its upgrades free because it makes its money from the hardware it sells, Microsoft will have to find some way to make money from doing the same with its software. Given that there are only a few ways of doing this, it seems that Microsoft has taken a shotgun approach and adopted them all.   The question is whether it’s really ‘free’. Microsoft   Free upgrade Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer, has declared that Microsoft’s strategy is to “acquire, engage, enlist and monetise”. In other words, get people using the platform and then sell them other things like apps from the Microsoft App Store.   The trouble is, that isn’t the only strategy that Microsoft is taking. Microsoft is employing a unique “advertising ID” that is assigned to a user when Windows 10 is installed. This is used to target personalised ads at the user.   These ads will show up whilst using the web, and even in games that have been downloaded from the Microsoft App Store. In fact, the game where this grabbed most attention was Microsoft’s Solitaire, where users are shown video ads unless they are prepared to pay a US$9.99 a year subscription fee.   The advertising ID, along with a range of information about the user, can be used to target ads. The information that Microsoft will use includes: […] current location, search query, or the content you are viewing. […] likely interests or other information that we learn about you over time using demographic data, search queries, interests and favorites, usage data, and location data.   It wasn’t long ago that Microsoft was attacking Google for similar features it now includes in Windows 10. Internet Archicve   It was not that long ago that Microsoft attacked Google for doing exactly this to its customers.   What Microsoft is prepared to share, though, doesn’t stop at the data it uses for advertising. Although it maintains that it won’t use personal communications, emails, photos, videos and files for advertising, it can and will share this information with third parties for a range of other reasons.   The most explicit of these reasons is sharing data in order to “comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies”. In other words, if a government or security agency asks for it, Microsoft will hand it over.   Meaningful transparency In June, Horacio Gutiérrez, Deputy General Counsel & Corporate Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, made a commitment to “providing a singular, straightforward resource for understanding Microsoft’s commitments for protecting individual privacy with these services”.   On the Microsoft blog, he stated: In a world of more personalized computing, customers need meaningful transparency and privacy protections. And those aren’t possible unless we get the basics right. For consumer services, that starts with clear terms and policies that both respect individual privacy and don’t require a law degree to read.   This sits in contrast to Microsoft’s privacy statement, which is a 38 page, 17,000 word document. This suggests that Microsoft really didn’t want to make the basic issues of its implementation absolutely clear to users.   Likewise, the settings that allow a user to control all aspects of privacy in Windows 10 itself are spread over 13 separate screens.   Also buried in the privacy statement is the types of data Cortana – Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri or Google Now – uses. This includes: […] device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device. Cortana also learns about you by collecting data about how you use your device and other Microsoft services, such as your music, alarm settings, whether the lock screen is on, what you view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more.   Note that the “and more” statement basically covers everything that you do on a device. Nothing, in principle, is excluded.   Privacy by default It is very difficult to trust any company that does not take a “security and privacy by default” approach to its products, and then makes it deliberately difficult to actually change settings in order to implement a user’s preferences for privacy settings.   This has manifested itself in another Windows 10 feature called WiFi Sense that has had even experts confused about the default settings and its potential to be a security hole.   WiFi Sense allows a Windows 10 user to share access to their WiFi with their friends and contacts on Facebook, Skype and Outlook. The confusion has arisen because some of the settings are on by default, even though a user needs to explicitly choose a network to share and initiate the process.   Again, Microsoft has taken an approach in which the specific privacy and security dangers are hidden in a single setting. There is no way to possibly vet who, amongst several hundred contacts, you really wanted to share your network with.   There are steps users can take to mitigate the worst of the privacy issues with Windows 10, and these are highly recommended. Microsoft should have allowed users to pay a regular fee for the product in exchange for a guarantee of the levels of privacy its users deserve.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

'Windows 10 on everything' is Microsoft's gambit to profit from its competitors

7:46AM | Friday, 31 July

Microsoft’s aim to make Windows 10 run on anything is key to its strategy of reasserting its dominance. Seemingly unassailable in the 1990s, Microsoft’s position has in many markets been eaten away by the explosive growth of phones and tablets, devices in which the firm has made little impact.   To run Windows 10 on everything, Microsoft is opening up.   Rather than requiring Office users to run Windows, now Office365 is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. A version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s key application for programmers writing Windows software, now runs on Mac OS or Linux operating systems.   Likewise, with tools released by Microsoft developers can tweak their Android and iOS apps so that they run on Windows. The aim is to allow developers to create, with ease, the holy grail of a universal app that runs on anything. For a firm that has been unflinching in taking every opportunity to lock users into its platform, just as with Apple and many other tech firms, this is a major change of tack.   From direct to indirect revenue So why is Microsoft trying to become a general purpose, broadly compatible platform? Windows' share of the operating system market has fallen steadily from 90% to 70% to 40%, depending on which survey you believe. This reflects customers moving to mobile, where the Windows Phone holds a mere 3% market share. In comparison Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure platform Azure, Office 365 and its Xbox games console have all experienced rising fortunes.       Lumbered with a heritage of Windows PCs in a falling market, Microsoft’s strategy is to move its services – and so its users – inexorably toward the cloud. This divides into two necessary steps.   First, for software developed for Microsoft products to run on all of them – write once, run on everything. As it is there are several different Microsoft platforms (Win32, WinRT, WinCE, Windows Phone) with various incompatibilities. This makes sense, for a uniform user experience and also to maximise revenue potential from reaching as many possible devices.   Second, to implement a universal approach so that code runs on other operating systems other than Windows. This has historically been fraught, with differences in approach to communicating, with hardware and processor architecture making it difficult. In recent years, however, improving virtualisation has made it much easier to run code across platforms.   It will be interesting to see whether competitors such as Google and Apple will follow suit, or further enshrine their products into tightly coupled, closed ecosystems. Platform exclusivity is no longer the way to attract and hold customers; instead the appeal is the applications and services that run on them. For Microsoft, it lies in subscriptions to Office365 and Xbox Gold, in-app and in-game purchases, downloadable video, books and other revenue streams – so it makes sense for Microsoft to ensure these largely cloud-based services are accessible from operating systems other than just their own.     The Windows family tree … it’s complicated. Kristiyan Bogdanov, CC BY-SA   Platform vs services Is there any longer any value in buying into a single service provider? Consider smartphones from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft: prices may differ, but the functionality is much the same. The element of difference is the value of wearables and internet of things devices (for example, Apple Watch), the devices they connect with (for example, an iPhone), the size of their user communities, and the network effect.   From watches to fitness bands to internet fridges, the benefits lie in how devices are interconnected and work together. This is a truly radical concept that demonstrates digital technology is driving a new economic model, with value associated with “in-the-moment” services when walking about, in the car, or at work. It’s this direction that Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 10, focusing on the next big thing that will drive the digital economy.   The revolution will be multi-platform I predict that we will see tech firms try to grow ecosystems of sensors and services running on mobile devices, either tied to a specific platform or by driving traffic directly to their cloud infrastructure.   Apple has already moved into the mobile health app market and connected home market. Google is moving in alongside manufacturers such as Intel, ARM and others. An interesting illustration of this effect is the growth of digital payments – with Apple, Facebook and others seeking ways to create revenue from the traffic passing through their ecosystems.   However, the problem is that no single supplier like Google, Apple, Microsoft or internet services such as Facebook or Amazon can hope to cover all the requirements of the internet of things, which is predicted to scale to over 50 billion devices worth US$7 trillion in five years. As we become more enmeshed with our devices, wearables and sensors, demand will rise for services driven by the personal data they create. Through “Windows 10 on everything”, Microsoft hopes to leverage not just the users of its own ecosystem, but those of its competitors too.   Mark Skilton is Professor of Practice at University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Microsoft wants to win back your support with Windows 10

7:35AM | Wednesday, 29 July

The latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system will begin rolling out from Wednesday (July 29). And remarkably, Windows 10 will be offered as a free upgrade to those users who already have Windows 7 and 8.1 installed.   That the upgrade is free is an interesting move and comes off the back of much criticism over Windows 8. Interestingly, the software giant has also skipped over any planned version 9 of Windows.   So what does this mean for Microsoft and the 1.5 billion people it says use Windows every day? Can the company restore some of the consumer and user confidence it has lost in recent years?   Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft is transforming itself into a “productivity and platforms company”. This is a bold re-invention of the company as it seeks to secure its future in a market moving steadily towards cloud-based services and mobile devices powered by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.   Nadella sees it as necessity to broaden the company’s scope of operations beyond its current family of products and conventional modes of delivery. The market does not leave him with much choice if the company is to stay in the game, if not be a leader.   After Windows 10 it’s just Windows For decades, the latest release of Windows has been a major event in itself. But that is set to end.   Windows 10 will be the last numbered version of the operating system. After Windows 10, it will simply be known as Windows. And you will get your updates incrementally from from the cloud via a subscription service.     Many Windows users will have noticed the upgrade notification appearing on their taskbar. Microsoft   In what it is calling a “platform convergence strategy”, Microsoft is creating a unified operating environment for phones, tablets, ultrabooks, laptops, desktop computers and Xboxes. All will be integrated by Windows 10, and increasingly so with the later Windows.   The platform convergence strategy allows the creation of universal applications that can run on any platform with Windows 10.   Surprisingly, applications that have been developed to run on Android and iOS devices will also be able to run on Windows 10, albeit once they have been converted to make them compatible. Still, this will open up a vast number of potential applications to run across Windows platforms.   Focus on gaming Microsoft’s acquisition last year of the hit game Minecraft for US$2.5 billion is a measure of how seriously Nadella and his strategists take mobile gaming.   Minecraft is a hugely popular open world game that gives players the freedom to create create and manipulate an on-line world made of Lego-like blocks. The move will establish Microsoft in the booming world of mobile games as well as further popularising the Xbox gaming console.   But the question on many people’s minds is whether the personal computer itself is dead, and along with it Microsoft?   It’s not the first time we have heard such dire predictions. It is true that PCs are today part of a more complicated personal computing environment, but it is a stretch to declare the PC dead.   There is only so much you can do with a phone or a tablet. For serious work or fun, a full-spec laptop or desktop is still the machine of choice and will remain so. For example, I am writing this article using a laptop.   Microsoft’s latest upgrade of Windows will be free for many users. Flickr/Eric Li, CC BY-NC   The new digital economy The Internet of Things is expanding, with embedded sensors and data gatherers becoming pervasive.   Open platforms and operating environments that feed data into the cloud and allow people to derive value will be an important part of the new digital economy. With traditional jobs under threat from automation and artificial intelligence, imagination and creativity will be more important than ever.   Microsoft’s strategy to diversify and integrate its platform offerings and move its services to the cloud while opening itself up to using its competitor’s apps would seem to be a bold but rational response to the current challenges; one that stands a good chance of succeeding.   There will no doubt be loud complaints from those who claim to speak for all of us. But in the end if a computing environment delivers value and allows people to live their lives as they please, then that platform is likely to succeed, particularly when it has the muscle and know-how of a well-established company behind it.   How Google and Apple respond will be very interesting, but competition is a good thing.   David Tuffley is Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Socio-Technical Studies, School of ICT, at Griffith University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons from the Apple e-book case

7:37AM | Tuesday, 21 July

The Court of Appeals in the US has ratified Apple’s guilt in the e-book case. It was a two-to-one decision by the three judges on the Court. And it provides two lessons for Australia.   First, when industries are being disrupted, incumbents may collude with entrants to prevent competition.   Second, those who are calling for changes to our competition laws need to read the dissenting judgement. It shows how easy it is to confuse protecting competition and protecting competitors.   The background Before 2010, Amazon dominated e-books. It set the price at US$9.99 per book, which was less than the wholesale price that Amazon paid to the publishers. The reason was simple. Amazon was loss leading on the e-books in order to encourage consumers to purchase its Kindle reader.   Amazon had achieved a significant market share, selling around 90% of all e-books in the US. But the publishers hated the Amazon model. Cheap e-books meant that the publishers sold fewer (highly profitable) hard and soft backs. The publishers also feared that Amazon could evolve as a peer-to-peer platform that would “allow authors to publish directly with Amazon, cutting out the publishers entirely” (Court of Appeal at 14).   When Apple entered, it offered a different business model. The publishers controlled the retail price of each e-book on the ibookstore, with Apple taking a 30% cut. This is not unusual. Apple uses a similar model for Apps. And by itself, Apple’s agency model was not illegal.   However Apple and the publishers also agreed to a ‘most favoured customer’ clause. Under this clause, the publishers had to ensure that the price they set on the ibookstore was no more than the price for the same e-book on any other site – such as Amazon. Effectively this meant the publishers had to go to Amazon and require that Amazon raise its prices. And the data shows that prices went up.   The agreement between Apple and the publishers breached the anti-collusion laws in Section 1 of the US Sherman Antitrust Act.   The incumbents fight back When industries are disrupted, whether by Amazon, Uber or Airbnb, the incumbents will fight back.   In the case of Uber, this has been through existing taxi laws, labour laws and government assistance.   In June 2015 the California Labor Commission ruled that an Uber driver should be treated as an employee. Uber is appealing. But fear of both labour and taxation laws have led a number of peer-to-peer providers, such as Shyp (a packing and shipping service) and Instacart (a grocery delivery company) to shift informal contract workers to full time employees.   On May 1, 2015, the Uber offices in Guangzhou, China, were raided and closed down. The municipal government then announced plans to launch its own online taxi App which would cover incumbent taxi services.   For Airbnb, the incumbents have fought back through zoning laws and takeovers. Hyatt hotels revealed in May 2015 that it is investing in Onefinestay, a competitor to Airbnb. Similarly, Wyndham hotels has invested in Love Home Swap, a UK home swapping site.   The Apple case illustrates how incumbents can fight back by using dirty competitive tactics. Fortunately, in the Apple case, the competition regulators were ready to act. But we can expect incumbents in other sectors to similarly push the legal boundaries to protect their profits.   Protecting competitors or protecting competition? The Apple case also highlights the problem of leaving the interpretation of abuse of market power laws to the Courts.   The US Sherman Act provides little guidance to the Courts. However, the US has a long history of sorting out ‘good’ behaviour from ‘bad’ behaviour. The ‘rule of reason’ approach adopted by the US Courts is similar to the approach under Australia’s current abuse of market power laws. In Australia, a firm with market power only breaks the law if it ‘takes advantage’ of that power. The US Courts similarly ask whether or not the impugned conduct is really pro-competitive, not anti-competitive, behaviour. Both approaches try and ensure the law fosters competition rather than protecting individual, potentially inefficient, competitors.   Unfortunately, the recent Competition Policy Review recommended changing our laws. The new laws will take out the ‘take advantage’ test and leave it to the Courts to sort out the behaviour. But even in the US, with more than 100 years of legal cases, the Courts can get this wrong.   The dissenting judgement in the Apple decision illustrates the confusion. The dissenting judge concluded that Apple’s behaviour, that raised prices for e-books, was unambiguously and overwhelmingly pro-competitive. By raising prices, the cartel made it easier for new businesses to enter the market!   On this basis, all cartels would be good. If you raise prices and profits then the businesses benefit. This encourages new entry, but harms consumers. It is the classic confusion between competition (which benefits consumers) and collusion (which benefits businesses but hurts consumers).   Fortunately, two judges in the Apple case avoided this confusion. But protecting competitors can be tempting for a court – particularly when the industry is rapidly changing through innovation and disruption. In the Apple case it was tempting enough to have one judge dissent. And in Australia, we risk throwing the courts in at the deep end, if the legal changes recommended by the Competition Policy Review go ahead. Stephen King is Professor, Department of Economics at Monash University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Technolog: Apple Watch sales stall, Microsoft ditches phones, Reddit's unhappy users

7:52AM | Friday, 10 July

This week brought news of the challenge that Apple faces with dwindling sales of the Apple Watch. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also pulled the plug on its smartphone business purchased from Nokia with the announcement of 7,800 job layoffs and writing off US$7.6 billion in assets. Another beleaguered CEO was Reddit’s Ellen Pao. After Reddit’s shutdown earlier this week, a petition calling for her resignation passed the 212,000 signature mark.   Apple Watch sales reportedly fall sharply in the US   This week Slice Intelligence reported that Apple Watch sales in the US had dropped to 15% of their levels in April, with only 5,000 watches selling per day. Selling large numbers of the Apple Watch was always going to be a big ask. Even for something that actually does function better than its competitors in this space, the price of the Apple Watch and its accessories, is going to be a disincentive for many.   The generalised adoption of the smartwatch as a technological category will rely on changing behaviours that have become ingrained over the past 20 years as we have adapted to using mobile phones. The last 10 years has seen smartphones become a real general computing device on which we are prepared to spend a great deal of time.   Apple has done a good job with the interface on its watch, but the small screen is always going to limit its capabilities. It will take take time before people decide what can be done on the watch and what they need to get the phone out for and ultimately that will determine the value they are likely to place on having that type of functionality on their wrist.   It is early days, however, and this is only version 1 of the watch. Until Apple release worldwide sales figures, it isn’t going to be possible to decide whether this has been a financial success from Apple’s perspective.   (Ed's note: AppleInsider has a good piece on the questionable nature of the Slice Intelligence research. In short: the stats also show that the Apple Watch is the most succesful smart watch by a considerbale margin.)   Microsoft repeats history and writes off its smartphone business In what is the final act of the tragedy that has been Nokia’s decimation, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft would be laying off a further 7,800 staff and writing down US$7.6 billion in assets associated with its smartphone business.   It could be argued that Nokia, like BlackBerry, would have struggled to survive in the smartphone business in any event. It had already chosen the wrong side by deciding to focus on using Microsoft’s operating system for its phones instead of embracing Android. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made an equally bad decision to buy the company in order to stop Nokia from changing its mind and abandoning Windows and adopting rival Google’s platform.   Microsoft has a history of making poor acquisitions. In 2012 it booked a US$6.2 billion charge for its acquisition of digital marketing company aQuantive. Driven again by wanting to compete against Google in the online advertising space, Microsoft was unable to make its online business profitable.   A year later, Microsoft took a US$900 million charge on poor sales of the Surface RT a line of devices that lost Microsoft US$2 billion in the first two years of sales.   If nothing else, the experience with Nokia should have finally convinced Microsoft that it is not ever really going to succeed as a devices company. For the moment, this is what CEO Satya Nadella seems also to have accepted. It is a pity that so many people should have had to lose their jobs for Microsoft to learn that lesson.   Reddit CEO Ellen (Chairman) Pao clings on to the role The shutdown of parts of Reddit earlier this week eventually came to an end. But a belated apology from CEO Ellen Pao hasn’t satisfied the moderators who took this action. Two moderators involved in the earlier action wrote in the NY Times that the company leaders still hadn’t fully explained their actions in removing staffer Victoria Taylor, a move that triggered the users’ protest.   It seems a very large number of the Reddit community are also still unhappy with the CEO’s response to this crisis, and a petition asking for her to stand down has passed the 212,000 signatures mark.   Ironically, the skills a CEO would need to possess to be able to recognise when they should go are similar to those that would have made them a good CEO in the first place. Bad leaders, by definition, aren’t able to take the the best decision for the sake of a company and leave when they should. So far, nobody in a position to tell Pao that it is time to move on has surfaced.   In Reddit’s case, and also an indicator of poor governance, there seem to be only two board members. Alexis Ohanian, a founder of the company and arguably not any better at handling the company than Pao, and Samuel Altman, who is involved with startup incubator Y Combinator. In the absence of a board to manage the CEO, it will be left to Reddit’s users to decide if it is worth sticking around to find out what she will eventually do.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Magic Leap is launching an augmented reality developer platform

6:33PM | Tuesday, 2 June

Augmented reality startup Magic Leap has announced it is launching an augmented reality developer platform, according to TechCrunch.   Last year Google invested more than $600 million in the company, which says it can project light and graphics into the human eye alongside what it sees naturally.   Speaking at the MIT EmTech Digital conference, Magic Leap chief executive Rony Abovitz said the company was ready to start training developers.   “We’re out of the R&D phase and into the transition to real product introduction,” he said.   “There is no off-the-shelf stuff that does what we’re describing.”   Native Americans and domestic violence survivors protest Facebook’s naming policy   Native Americans, domestic violence survivors, drag queens and others have come together to protest at Facebook’s headquarters in response to the company’s policy of only allowing people to use their “real” names.   Fairfax reports more than 50 protesters held up picket signs and chanted outside Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.   Facebook says people need to use their real names in order to prevent instances of bullying or inappropriate behaviour on the social network, but has softened that position after complaints from the LGBTIQ community.   However, the protesters said they wanted Facebook to do more by not putting the onus on vulnerable groups to prove their identity.   Apple chief lashes out against companies that compromise customer privacy   Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has lashed out at companies that make a trade-off between customer privacy and security, according to TechCrunch.   Speaking at the EPIC Champions of Freedom event in Washington, Cook said people have the fundamental right to privacy.   “I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” he said.   “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 28.43 points, falling 0.16% to 18,011.94. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.72 US cents.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Coupa Software raises $US80 million, landing a $1 billion valuation

6:32PM | Monday, 1 June

Spending management company Coupa Software has raised $US80 million, making the cloud startup the latest fast-growing businesses to land a valuation of more than $1 billion.   The found was led by T Rowe Price along with Iconiq Capital, the firm managing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s personal investments, according to Re/code.   The latest capital injection is the startup’s seventh investment round, bringing the total capital raised to date to $US169m. Microsoft buys German startup for more than $100 million Microsoft will purchase the German startup behind the Wunderlist to-do list app for more than $100 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.   The acquisition is part of a bid to improve Microsoft’s mobile, email and calendar applications.   The Berlin-based 6Wunderkinder GmbH is backed by US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and other VCs. Apple to launch music streaming service Apple is launching its own music streaming service to compete with Spotify, according to The Wall Street Journal.   The new Apple service will reportedly cost $10 a month; however, unlike Spotify, the company will not allow users to stream its entire catalogue.   The move represents a significant shift away from the downloading model that helped Apple revolutionise music a decade ago. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 29.69 points, rising 0.16% yesterday to 18,040.37. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 76.08 US cents.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.