Apple strategy in ‘smart home’ race threatened by Amazon

Stephen Nellis, comparing Apple and Amazon’s approaches to the smart home market:

In less than a year, Amazon’s combination of the Echo speaker system and the Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant has come close to delivering on the elusive promise of easy-to-use technology that can control gadgets in the home with a few spoken words.

Yet Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) surprise success sets up a long-term battle with Apple Inc. (AAPL.O) and Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O) for primacy in the connected household. And the contours of that competition are following a classic tech industry dynamic.

Amazon is pursuing an open-systems approach that allows quick development of many features, while Apple is taking a slower route, asserting more control over the technology in order to assure security and ease-of-use.

The strategic importance of the “connected home” niche looms large: Amazon wants a way to own its customer interactions -mainly shopping online – without an Apple phone or a Google Web browser as an intermediary.

Apple needs to keep the iPhone at the center of customers’ lives, and has built a whole home automation architecture, called Homekit, into its smartphone.

Google, for its part, is investing heavily in both intelligent assistant software and home-automation devices like the Nest thermostats and, more recently, the Google Home speaker. But Google is behind in the race, with its speaker only hitting the market in November and compatible with a handful of gadgets beyond Nest and Dropcam, which the company also owns.

“When the iPhone rolled out in 2007, everyone developed [software] for that. Right now, everyone is developing for the voice-activated Internet,” said Mark Mahaney, an analyst and managing director with RBC Capital Markets.

Mahaney estimates Amazon sold as many as 10 million Alexa-enabled devices over the holiday season. Google hasn’t disclosed sales for its Home speaker. Apple has declined to comment on reports that it has a voice-activated speaker in the works.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said the company is leading the industry by being the first to integrate home automation into a major platform with iOS 10. “The number of HomeKit-compatible accessories continues to grow rapidly with many exciting solutions announced just this month,” she said.

For the smart home, the key developer partners are the makers of household devices ranging from lighting systems to refrigerators. There are currently about 250 devices that are certified to work with Alexa, and Amazon has encouraged rapid development of third-party applications with its open-systems approach and even financial incentives for some partners.

Apple’s Homekit, by contrast, has about 100 certified devices. And the reasons behind that gap show both the risks and the potential rewards of Apple’s approach.

[..]

To be Homekit-certified, gadget makers must include special chips to work with Apple’s system. Developers that order small volumes of the chips say they can cost an 50 cents to $2, though prices are lower for larger buyers. Apple also requires developers to buy specific WiFi and Bluetooth networking chips that cost more than competitors.

The devices have to be made in special factories that are certified by Apple. A confidential Apple document obtained by Reuters lists more than 800 of these factories, but only a few specialize in home automation products.

Apple’s approach is slower, but gives us more robust and secure devices. When you look at things like the Mirai botnet attack last year, then that’s a good thing, as we want devices that can’t be hacked that easily.

But at the same time, this approach could lead to less people buying into the HomeKit ecosystem – especially if devices end up costing more.

I’ve mostly use HomeKit so far, and I love it, but that’s mostly because Amazon Echo isn’t really available in Canada easily. But I can see the appeal for Echo and it’s cheaper devices.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-amazon-analysis-idUSKBN15B1AG

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Apple CEO Tim Cook on Immigration Executive Order: ‘It is Not a Policy We Support’

Tim Cook, in a company-wide email:

I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support.

There are employees at Apple who are directly affected by yesterday’s immigration order. Our HR, Legal and Security teams are in contact with them, and Apple will do everything we can to support them. We’re providing resources on AppleWeb for anyone with questions or concerns about immigration policies. And we have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company.

Source: http://www.macrumors.com/2017/01/28/tim-cook-on-immigration-order/

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Sam Altman: Time to Take a Stand

It is time for tech companies to start speaking up about some of the actions taken by President Trump’s administration.

There are many actions from his first week that are objectionable.  In repeatedly invoking unsubstantiated conspiracy theories (like the 3 million illegal votes), he’s delegitimizing his opponents and continuing to damage our society.  So much objectionable action makes it hard to know where and when to focus, and outrage fatigue is an effective strategy.

But the executive order from yesterday titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” is tantamount to a Muslim ban and requires objection.  I am obviously in favor of safety and rules, but broad-strokes actions targeted at a specific religious group is the wrong solution, and a first step toward a further reduction in rights.

In addition, the precedent of invalidating already-issued visas and green cards should be extremely troubling for immigrants of any country or for anyone who thinks their contributions to the US are important.  This is not just a Muslim ban.  This is a breach of America’s contract with all the immigrants in the nation.

This administration has already shown that they are not particularly impressed by the first amendment, and that they are interested in other anti-immigrant action.  So we must object, or our inaction will send a message that the administration can continue to take away our rights.  

In doing so, we should not demonize Trump voters—most of them voted for him for reasons other than the promise of a Muslim ban.  We need their eventual support in resisting actions like these, and we will not get it if we further isolate them. 

The tech community is powerful.  Large tech companies in particular have enormous power and are held in high regard.  We need to hear from the CEOs clearly and unequivocally.  Although there is some business risk in doing so, there is strength in numbers—if everyone does it early this coming week, we will all make each other stronger.

Well said.

Source: http://blog.samaltman.com/time-to-take-a-stand

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Steve Jobs saved Apple and Nike with the same piece of advice

Quartz:

When Nike named Mark Parker their CEO in 2006, one of the first things Parker did was call Apple CEO Steve Jobs for business advice. It might not have seemed it, but at the time Nike was struggling.

Yes, they had a successful brand. But they were failing to fit their digital strategy into their line of literally hundreds of thousands of products.

During their call, Steve Jobs gave one piece of advice that stuck with Parker.

Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after.

But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

“He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”

This advice fits into our personal lives very well too, not just business.

Source: https://qz.com/884489/steve-jobs-saved-apple-and-nike-with-the-same-piece-of-advice/

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Apple blamed again for another distracted driving traffic crash

Ars Technica:

Weeks ago, Apple was sued on accusations that its FaceTime app contributed to the highway death of a young girl in Texas. The girl’s family claims that the iPhone maker should have deployed technology to prohibit motorists from using the app.

Now there’s another lawsuit targeting Apple’s decision not to deploy a lock-out mechanism. This one—from an injured Southern California motorist—concerns locking out drivers from texting.

This lawsuit from accident victim Julio Ceja, who was rear-ended by a texting driver, does not seek any monetary damages. Instead, it demands that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge block Apple from selling iPhones in the Golden State until the devices are updated to include Apple’s patented technology to lock drivers out of their phones while driving.

Seriously, the fault in these accidents lie in the distracted drivers, not in Apple. If you ignore both common sense and the law (distracted driving carries a huge fine here in BC), then that’s your fault, not your phone’s fault or the makers of your phone.

Source: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/01/apple-sued-again-for-not-deploying-iphone-tech-to-block-distracted-driving/

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Samsung says bad batteries and rushed manufacturing doomed the Galaxy Note 7

Samsung has finally released the results of the inquiry it commissioned into exactly what went wrong with the Galaxy Note 7, an acclaimed smartphone that had to be pulled from the market entirely last year after widespread reports of fires caused by the device.

The company says there were two separate flaws with the Galaxy Note 7’s batteries. The first battery had a design flaw in the upper right corner that could cause a short circuit, according to Recode, while the second battery — used for replacement units — had a manufacturing issue that could lead to fires because of a welding defect. Some units of the second battery were also missing insulation tape.

Samsung conducted an investigation with 700 dedicated staff testing 200,000 phones and 30,000 extra batteries, also commissioning three outside firms — UL, Exponent and TUV Rheinland — that ended up finding similar results.

Source: http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/22/14353686/samsung-galaxy-note-7-recall-reason-report

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Here’s why you don’t want to download Meitu

CNET:

Meitu is a viral sensation. Who wouldn’t want to instantly give themselves or their favorite politicians and celebs a Japanese-anime inspired makeover, and share the hilarious results with the world? That’s why the face-recognizing photo app is currently rocking the charts.

But before you zip on over to the App Store or Google Play to grab your free copy, there’s something you should probably know: Meitu is asking for an awful lot of your data in exchange for the lolz — and the app also seems to contain some rather suspicious code.

The app creates some really bad photos, which made me want to stay away from it as it was, but the security implications mean no one should download or use this app ever.

Source: https://www.cnet.com/news/meitu-app-privacy-issues-why/#ftag=CAD590a51e

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Nintendo’s Switch won’t run ‘Zelda’ at 1080p

If you’re the proud owner of a Wii U, you might be wondering whether the Switch is worth a day one purchase. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is coming to both, so what’s the rush, right? Well, the two versions have a few key differences.

In a statement provided to IGN, Nintendo confirmed that the Switch game will run at 900p on your TV, while the Wii U version will be stuck at 720p. Switch owners will also benefit from “higher quality environmental sounds,” covering water, grass and ornate steps. These will be “more realistic and enhance the game’s open air feel,” apparently.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/18/zelda-breath-wild-switch-wii-u-differences/

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The Problem With AMP

Kyle Schreiber:

The largest complaint by far is that the URLs for AMP links differ from the canonical URLs for the same content, making sharing difficult. The current URLs are a mess. They all begin with some form of https://wwww.google.com/amp/ before showing a URL to the AMP version of the site. There is currently no way to find the canonical link to the page without guessing what the original URL is. This usually involves removing either a .amp or ?amp=1 from the URL to get to the actual page.

Make no mistake. AMP is about lock-in for Google. AMP is meant to keep publishers tied to Google. Clicking on an AMP link feels like you never even leave the search page, and links to AMP content are displayed prominently in Google’s news carousel. This is their response to similar formats from both Facebook and Apple, both of which are designed to keep users within their respective ecosystems. However, Google’s implementation of AMP is more broad and far reaching than the Apple and Facebook equivalents. Google’s implementation of AMP is on the open web and isn’t limited to just an app like Facebook or Apple.

I’ve played with AMP, Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles work great, mostly using RSS feeds and not needing many changes to your look. But that’s not my biggest issue with AMP.

My biggest problem with AMP is not having to do special webpage layouts that include inline CSS.

My issue is canonical URLs. With things like Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News, the canonical URL for each story remains on the originating website. While with AMP, the canonical URL is on google.com.

Source: https://80×24.net/post/the-problem-with-amp/

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Threaded messaging comes to Slack

Slack is finally pushing threaded conversations.

Say someone posts a message in Slack that you want to follow up on, but the deeper conversation doesn’t apply to everyone. Now, you can kick off a detailed discussion on that particular topic by hovering over the message and clicking Start a thread. The right sidebar in Slack will open, and you can add your reply.

About time, as this feature was promised over a year ago.

Source: https://slackhq.com/threaded-messaging-comes-to-slack-417ffba054bd#.9c4yimrna

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