Saturday, October 4, 2014

Boot up: Android One arrives, baseband attacks, what if ApplePay succeeds?

Eddy Cue introduces ApplePay. Eddy Cue introduces ApplePay. Photograph: /Apple

A burst of 10 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

Amid the noise from the relentless stream of expensive flagship smartphones that have been launched in recent weeks by Apple and others, Google has been quietly setting its sights on a much larger market of consumers who have yet to buy their first smartphone.

The US technology group will this week set out to establish the smartphone standard for the next billion mobile phone users in emerging markets by launching a low-cost platform in partnership with local manufacturers.

In New Delhi on Monday, Google will reveal the first handsets to be produced as part of the initiative that has become a personal project for Sundar Pichai, the Chennai-born boss of its operating system Android.

We've been testing and applying structural time-series models for some time at Google. For example, we've used them to better understand the effectiveness of advertising campaigns and work out their return on investment. We've also applied the models to settings where a randomised experiment was available, to check how similar our effect estimates would have been without an experimental control.

Today, we're excited to announce the release of CausalImpact, an open-source R package that makes causal analyses simple and fast. With its release, all of our advertisers and users will be able to use the same powerful methods for estimating causal effects that we've been using ourselves.

Our main motivation behind creating the package has been to find a better way of measuring the impact of ad campaigns on outcomes. However, the CausalImpact package could be used for many other applications involving causal inference. Examples include problems found in economics, epidemiology, or the political and social sciences.

The CausalImpact R package implements a Bayesian approach to estimating the causal effect of a designed intervention on a time series. Given a response time series (e.g., clicks) and a set of control time series (e.g., clicks in non-affected markets, clicks on other sites, or Google Trends data), the package constructs a Bayesian structural time-series model with a built-in spike-and-slab prior for automatic variable selection. This model is then used to predict the counterfactual, i.e., how the response metric would have evolved after the intervention if the intervention had not occurred.

Nancy Gohring:

the Catapult GPS device produces 350 columns of data for every exercise the players do in practice. Tenney and Ramineni use that data plus others to create three metrics for each player after each practice, measuring what Tenney calls velocity load, body load, and heart rate. Velocity load shows speed and distance the player runs and body load shows the twisting and turning and changing direction.

The result is a simple visual that the coaches can look at to determine how hard the players worked in practice that day. If they see that a particular player's heart rate was a lot higher than the others during a particular exercise, they might learn that the player needs more training in that kind of exercise or should do less of that exercise in the days before a game, based on the optimal heart rate the coaches want the players to reach during that time.

The data has helped Tenney convince the coaches that it's not a good thing when players stay after practice to work longer.

Rob Waugh:

Despite its secure OS, Les Goldsmith of the handset's US manufacturer ESD found that his personal Android security handset's firewall showed signs of attack "80 to 90" times per hour.

The leaks were traced to the mysterious towers. Despite having some of the functions of normal cellphone towers, Goldsmith says their function is rather different. He describes them as "interceptors" and says that various models can eavesdrop and even push spyware to devices. Normal cellphones cannot detect them – only specialized hardware such as ESD's Android security handsets.

Who created the towers and maintains them is unknown, Goldsmith says.

"Interceptor use in the US is much higher than people had anticipated," Goldsmith says.  "One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found eight different interceptors on that trip.  We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas." [Editor's note: Goldsmith has asked us to stress that the tower was actually in the vicinity of the casino, not within the casino itself.]

Their existence can only be seen on specialised devices, such as the custom Android security OS used by Cryptophone, which includes various security features – including "baseband attack detection."

Baseband hacking? Worrying.

Let us assume that Apple Pay does succeed and the business model plays an important role in it. Since all previous attempts have failed, this will set the standard for mobile payments. Merchants and credit card companies will expect new entrants to abide by store-no-data policies that are similar to Apple Pay.

Google will naturally have a hard time with this. Accepting a store-no-data policy directly conflicts with their basic business model. It will be interesting to see how Google will manage the situation.

If Google hesitates to provide a store-no-data policy mobile payment solution, other companies might step in. For example, Samsung might add a mobile payment feature to their Samsung Wallet app. Samsung has a large share of the high-end Android market, and hence has access to a large proportion of the customers who are attractive for a mobile payment scheme. They can also incorporate specialised hardware (secure enclaves and/or biometric sensors) which will enhance security.

Moreover, Samsung has no business model conflict in adopting a store-no-data mobile payment scheme. Like Apple, Samsung makes money by selling phones. They make money when their phones are better and have more meaningful features than the competition. In fact, Samsung would very much like to differentiate itself from the Android competition by including any compelling features that Google will hesitate to provide. If they can make money while doing this, that's wonderful for them.

Now that would be something.

A group of Uber drivers, who say they number about a thousand, are attempting to organize a strike against the booming taxi company over complaints of falling fares and unfair working conditions.

The drivers, who are mostly comprised of SUV and black car drivers, have planned a protest outside of the Long Island City Uber Office on Monday morning after refusing to drive for the service — and in some cases, switching to rival Lyft — Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This is the second protest the group, called Uber Drivers Network NYC, will be staging in a week against the company.

Travis Kalanick shrugged.

China UnionPay and Apple have agreed to cooperate to bring the US tech company's new smartphone payment option to China, a source with knowledge of the matter says.

On Tuesday, Apple unveiled its new line of smartphones — the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus — and a payment option linked to the devices called Apple Pay. The source said UnionPay, a state-backed bank-card association that runs a settlement system for cards bearing its logo, has already agreed to let Apple Pay link to its cards.

If the companies follow through on the deal, iPhone users in China could connect their bank cards to the devices and complete transactions at stores…

A deal between China UnionPay and Apple Pay will intensify competition with third-party payment companies like Alipay, an industry insider said. That competition also involves two rival technologies: the near-field communication (NFC) type Apple uses versus quick-response (QR) codes, which have suffered a setback in China…

A source close to UnionPay said the company and its partners studied different types of payment models but held off from using QR codes because of fraud concerns. UnionPay has also tried to use NFC technology in cooperation with China's Xiaomi Inc. and South Korea's Samsung Group, to no avail.

A deal between UnionPay and Apple could work, considering the large number of iPhone users in China, the industry insider said.

…tablets are expected to sell mostly within the enterprise segment. Karan Thakkar, senior market analyst at IDC, forecasts tablet sales to grow in India over the next two quarters, helped by festive buying and enterprise projects, including a few big government projects in education that are in the pipeline.

However, for the year, tablet sales are expected to fall in India. Shah of Counterpoint said his firm expects tablet shipments to drop 2% in 2014 compared with a 37% rise last year. The Indian tablet market recovered in Q2 of 2014 with shipments rising 9% sequentially at 0.86m units, after a 33% plunge in the previous quarter.

Worth re-reading; Bruce Tognazzini, who long ago worked at Apple, was one of the first people - perhaps through little murmurs? - to suggest Apple was working on a smartwatch. Much of it is dead-on, though others - such as charging, battery life and "no buttons" - aren't. Not bad for two years ahead of release, though.

Ali Al-Qudsi:

we can confirm that Microsoft will be completely dropping the "Nokia" branding from their devices, leaving "Lumia" as the hero brand for upcoming devices. In fact we understand that the Lumia 830 and Lumia 730 will be the final two devices to launch with "Nokia" branded on the phone.  Future devices will most likely carry the "Microsoft" name along with "Lumia".

Smart move.

Furthermore the document also reveals that Microsoft is shying away from placing the Windows Phone logo next to their devices in promotions and advertisements, and will instead place the standard Windows logo alongside them (sans the  "Phone"). In fact we understand, from a source with knowledge of the plans, that this is part of the preparation to leave the "Windows Phone" logo behind, as part of a gradual phase out of the Windows Phone name (and OS) which will merge with the desktop version of Windows in the upcoming updates (i.e. no Windows Phone 9).

Less smart. "Lumia" works like "Xbox": it lets the device succeed by itself, not be held back by the "Windows" brand.

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