Sunday 28 June, 2020

Quote of the Day

In 1990, the top three carmakers in Detroit had a market capitalization of $36 billion and 1.2 million employees. In 2014, the top three firms in Silicon Valley, with a market capitalization of over $1 trillion, had only 137,000 employees.


A family outing

A scene from our walk yesterday evening. Think of it as my homage to John Constable! The Canada geese goslings have grown at an extraordinary rate. And it was very considerate of them and their parents to swim in such a straight line.

Click on the image to see a larger version.


Is it payback time for Apple as the EU goes after its licences to print money?

This morning’s Observer column:

On 16 June, the European commission opened two antitrust investigations into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices. The first investigation will examine whether Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies. The second investigation is into whether restrictions imposed by Apple on the near field communication (NFC) capability of its iPhone and Apple Watch mean that banks and other financial institutions are prevented from offering NFC payment systems using Apple kit.

Let’s take the App Store first. When Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007, it created an amazing new opportunity for software developers and, of course, for Apple itself. Because the new phone was basically a powerful handheld computer, that meant it could run smallish programs, which came to be called apps. And because it had an internet connection those programs could be efficiently distributed across the net. From this came the idea that Apple should set up an App Store to which developers could upload their programs. Apple, being a control-freak corporation, would vet those apps before they appeared on the store and would levy a 30% commission on sales. It seems like a great idea…

Read on


Thinking of moving to the US? Listen to this first

Stunning The Daily podcast on what’s been going on in Texas.

Made me realise I didn’t know the half of it.


Anne Case and Angus Deaton interviewed by Der Spiegel

Link. Interesting throughout. For example:

DER SPIEGEL: What has caused this mass-despair in white, middle-class life?

Deaton: Look at the labor market, at wages. Life-time jobs and the meaning that comes from a life like that is very important. Roles for men and women are defined by it, as is their place in the community. It’s almost like Marx: Social conditions depend on the means of production. And these means of production are being brought down by globalization, by automation, by the incredible force of health care. And that’s destroying communities.

DER SPIEGEL: Yet where there are losers, there should be winners as well. Who is to blame for this development?

Deaton: Many people have said that there are two ways of getting rich: One way is by making things, and the other is by taking things. And one of the ways of taking things is to make the government give you special favors. Those special favors don’t create anything, but they can make you rich, at the expense of everybody else.

Case: For instance, the pharma companies get a law passed that Medicare has to pay for drugs at whatever price the pharma companies choose. Or the doctors’ lobby doesn’t allow as many people to go to medical school, which helps to keep doctors salaries up. That’s one of the reasons why doctors are the largest single occupation in the top 1 percent.

DER SPIEGEL: Would you argue that those in the top 1 percent are peculiarly prone to rent seeking?

Deaton: No, but many people are in the 1 percent because of rent seeking. This mechanism is creating a lot of very wealthy people who would not be wealthy if the government hadn’t given them a license to rip off the rest. We’re not among the people who think of inequality as a causal force. It’s rent-seeking opportunities that create inequality.

DER SPIEGEL: How do the losers of this development react politically?

Deaton: Well, many of them like Donald Trump (laughs)!

I’ve just got their book.


If you thought that the Pizzagate conspiracy theory was dead and buried (I did), then think again.

Astonishing — and depressing — NYT story.

Sigh.


Quarantine diary — Day 99

Link


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Apple, the App Store and monopoly

This morning’s Observer column:

Because Apple has always specialised in control freakery and doesn’t allow anybody else to use its iOS platform without prior approval, the App Store was from the beginning owned and controlled by Apple. If you wanted to create an app for the iPhone (and later the iPad), it had to be approved by Apple and sold on the App Store. And if a developer wanted to charge for the app, then Apple took a 30% cut on the price.

So, in relation to the App Store, Apple is definitely a monopolist. The question underlying the supreme court hearing was: is it an abusive monopolist? And if so, are customers of the App Store entitled to damages? Does the operation of the store give rise to consumer harm and thereby trigger redress under US antitrust law?

The case goes back to 2011…

Read on

No matter what you get up to in bed, there’s an app for it. Apparently.

This morning’s Observer column about the obsession with ‘datifying’ our bodies.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are obsessed with the datafication of their bodies and those who are not. I belong to the latter category: the only thing that interests me about my heart is that it is still beating. And when it isn’t I shall be past caring. But if the current craze for wearable devices such as fitness trackers is anything to go by, I may soon find myself a member of a despised minority, rather like cigarette smokers, whisky drinkers and followers of David Icke…

Read on

The new Holy War — and its collateral damage

This morning’s Observer column:

The novelist Umberto Eco wrote a deliciously insightful essay in 1994, in which he argued that the Apple Mac was a Catholic machine, in contrast to the PC, which, he argued, was clearly a Protestant device. How so? Simply this: the Mac freed its users/believers from the need to make decisions. All they had to do to find salvation was to follow the Apple Way. When the Mac was launched, for example, a vigorous debate broke out among user-interface geeks about whether a computer mouse should have one or two buttons. Some were critical of the fact that the Macintosh mouse had only one button. But when queried about this, Steve Jobs – then, as later, the supreme pontiff of the Church of Apple – was adamant and unrepentant. Two buttons would undermine the rationale of the Mac user interface. He spoke – as his Vatican counterpart still does – ex cathedra, and that was that.

In contrast, Eco pointed out, the poor wretches who used a PC had, like the Calvinists of yore – to make their own salvation. For them, there was no One True Way. Instead they had to choose and install their own expansion cards and anti-virus software, wrestle with incompatible peripherals and so on. They were condemned to an endless round of decisions about matters that were incomprehensible to them but on which their computational happiness depended.

Spool forward 21 years to today and nothing much has changed, other than that the chasm between computational Catholics and Protestants now applies to handheld computers called smartphones, rather than to the desktop machines of yore…

Read on

Planet of the apps

This morning’s Observer column.

You know the problem: you’re sitting there reading an email from a friend on your smartphone or tablet and there is a link in the message to what looks like an interesting website. So you tap on it and the web page begins to load. And then suddenly up pops a dialogue box with text that looks like an escapee from the MySpace museum saying something like: “Hey! Why not download our cool new App?”, an invitation helpfully translated by the wonderful XKCD site as: “Want to visit an incomplete version of our website where you can’t zoom?”

Welcome to appworld. Personally, I blame Steve Jobs. He understood that since smartphones were really small computers then they could also run programs. So he set up the Apple’s app store to make this happen, and in the process ensured that the firm took 30% of everything sold on it.

It was significant also that on the day that Jobs revealed this insight to the world, standing next to him on the stage was John Doerr, one of Silicon Valley’s smartest investors, who was there to announce the setting up of a $100m investment fund for app developers.

Which is how we got to where we are now – awash with smartphone and tablet apps, more than 90% of which are crap…

Read on

The Chatwin syndrome

This morning’s Observer column:

Bruce Chatwin has a lot to answer for. Specifically, he’s responsible for a forthcoming initial public offering (IPO) on the Italian stock market. It all goes back to something he wrote in his book The Songlines. He had arrived in Australia and was setting up a work space in a caravan. “With the obsessive neatness that goes with the beginning of a project,” he wrote, “I made three neat stacks of my ‘Paris’ notebooks. In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: ‘moleskine’, in this case, being its black oilcloth binding. Each time I went to Paris, I would buy a fresh supply from a papeterie in the Rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.”

Chatwin goes on to relate how the notebooks were made by a small firm in Tours, the owner of which had died and whose heirs had sold the business. So he assumed that the source of his beloved notebooks had dried up. What he didn’t know was that the business had been bought by a Milanese stationer who eventually began producing the notebooks again. And what he could not have known was that the business would one day be floated on the stock market (3 April, to be precise). The IPO could value the company at up to €560m (£473m)…

It’s the ecosystem, stoopid

Thoughtful ZDNet piece by Jason Perlow arguing that the fact that the iPad mini is more expensive than the Nexus 7 is actually irrelevant. Why? Because it’s not just about comparing hardware. It’s really about comparing apps and content ecosystems. As someone who runs both a Nexus and an iPad, I’m afraid that I have to agree with him.

No matter how much hardware you stuff into a device at less cost than your competitor, if your ecosystem is inferior, and your apps just aren’t as good, then it doesnt matter what you put in that pile of silicon, plastic and metal.

As a device manufacturer, the ecosystem that you are capable of offering to your customers is worth more than all of your component integration, period. 

However, it just so happens that Apple’s component integration is also better than the Nexus 7. Don’t believe me? I own a Nexus 7 and I’ve been travelling with it as my only tablet device since the device was released.

Also Read: Nexus 7, Push comes to shove, I prefer my iPad

I also own an iPad 3 and an iPhone. The only reason why I own a Nexus 7 is that I like to travel with at least one current generation iOS and Android device at any time, because I actually write about this stuff.

But as a consumer? If I had to choose between the Nexus 7 and and iPad mini, I’d much rather have an iPad mini. And I’m a real bona fide, certified geek, a Linux and open source evangelist, and a professional technologist that actually works as one for a living. I don’t just play one on TV, folks.

It’s true that on paper that the 8GB version of the Nexus 7 is only $199 (the 16GB version is $249, and the iPad mini starts at with 16GB at $329) and has some theoretically better components in it, such as a quad core processor, more integrated RAM, and a higher resolution display. It also has a similar resolution front-facing camera.

Have you ever actually USED most Android apps on a Nexus 7 versus an iPad 2, which shares the same SoC and screen resolution as the iPad mini? No? Well I have.

Despite the fact that the Nexus 7 has more horsepower and more memory, the iOS apps on balance are better, run faster, and are more stable.

The Skype implementation on Android is a joke, the video rendering and capture is pathetic and the audio transcode is horrendous, so if you plan to do video chats with that 720p camera, fuhgeddaboudit. And Google Video Chat on G+ is even worse.

Worth reading in full.

Normal technology, ergo incremental change

Thomas Kuhn portrayed scientific research as long periods of “puzzle-solving” based on an accepted paradigm, with occasional bouts of revolutionary upheaval during which one paradigm is replaced by another. (See my extended essay on Kuhn, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his great book.) Much the same goes on in technology, IMHO. At the moment, we’re in a phase of “normal” technology with everything based around the paradigm of a smartphone laid down by Apple with the iPhone. This graphic (from CultOfMac) makes the point well.

This NYTimes piece starts to make the same point, but then gets a bit lost. Still, good in parts.

The iPhone 5 that Apple introduced last week with only incremental changes seemed to signal that the industry has entered an era of technological bunny hops.

Faster chips, bigger screens and speedier wireless Internet connections are among the refinements smartphone users can count on year after year in new models, most of them in familiar rectangular packages. They are improvements, to be sure, but they lack the breathtaking impact the first iPhone had, with its pioneering fusion of software and touch screens.

“Since then, it has been kind of incremental,” said Chetan Sharma, an independent mobile analyst. “It does not feel like there is a big shift.”

Yep. See also this Observer column about how we’re stuck in an app-centric rut for the time being.