Sunday, November 16, 2014

Boot Up: Samsung's Android tithe, HP's split plan, booming dark markets

A delightful bisque of 11 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

So we knew Microsoft's Android-patent-licensing business was big. But it's even bigger than many had estimated. Thanks to a filing unsealed on 3 October in the Microsoft vs. Samsung US District Court patent-royalty case filed in early August 2014, we now know that Samsung paid Microsoft $1bn in 2013 for a single year's worth of patent-licensing royalties. Samsung agreed in 2011 to pay Microsoft a then-undisclosed amount for licensing patents upon which Android allegedly infringed. That agreement was structured as a cross-licensing and business-collaboration agreement. According to the unsealed filing, Microsoft is contending that "(U)nder the License Agreement, Samsung agreed to make patent royalty payment to Microsoft for a period of seven fiscal years, in exchange for the right to use patented Microsoft technology in Samsung smartphones and tablets that use the Android operating system."

Samsung is only one - though probably the biggest - of Microsoft's Android licencees. (There are over 20.) Without doubt, Microsoft gets more money from Android than Google. But Google gets the data.

Hewlett-Packard plans to split into two separate companies, a personal-computer and printer business, and corporate hardware and services operations, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The company will announce the move tomorrow, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public. The breakup will be a tax-free distribution of shares to shareholders next year, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the split-up of Hewlett-Packard. The separation of Hewlett-Packard into two businesses has been floated as an idea before. In 2011, Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman ended efforts by her predecessor Leo Apotheker to spin off the PC unit.

David Graeber:

the spread of information technologies and new ways of organizing transport -- the containerization of shipping, for example -- allowed those same industrial jobs to be outsourced to East Asia, Latin America, and other countries where the availability of cheap labor allowed manufacturers to employ much less technologically sophisticated production-line techniques than they would have been obliged to employ at home. From the perspective of those living in Europe, North America, and Japan, the results did seem to be much as predicted. Smokestack industries did disappear; jobs came to be divided between a lower stratum of service workers and an upper stratum sitting in antiseptic bubbles playing with computers. But below it all lay an uneasy awareness that the postwork civilization was a giant fraud. Our carefully engineered high-tech sneakers were not being produced by intelligent cyborgs or self-replicating molecular nanotechnology; they were being made on the equivalent of old-fashioned Singer sewing machines, by the daughters of Mexican and Indonesian farmers who, as the result of WTO or NAFTA-sponsored trade deals, had been ousted from their ancestral lands. It was a guilty awareness that lay beneath the postmodern sensibility and its celebration of the endless play of images and surfaces.

Not a short essay, but very worthwhile.

There's no denying that Silk Road was an unseemly place. But it was also a centralized one. And in the year since the site's shuttering, the darknet market has fragmented as various new players have attempted to take Silk Road's place, making an already sketchy scene all the more shady. According to a directory of darknet markets on Reddit, more than a dozen are currently operating. And unsurprisingly for markets in which anonymity is vital and nearly every purchase is very much illegal, scams and outright theft have plagued many of the upstarts. In fact, the list of darknet markets not to be trusted is longer than the list of which ones Redditors have deemed reliable.

Mark Mulligan:

It looks like the Tyranny of Choice isn't just an issue for the mainstream fan. Look at this quote from the Spotify Insights blog that discusses the rise of Mr Probz in the US:

"What's clear is that the 'lean back' mechanism of curated playlists (as opposed to the 'lean forward' method of search which drove European streams) led to the early success of Mr Probz in the US"

Even in Spotify, the global home of the engaged music aficionado, curated lean-back experiences are coming to the fore. The access services are stealing some of the clothes of listen services. This is no bad thing but it does highlight the importance of this 4th phase of the digital music market, the 'Curation Era'. Spotify gave consumers access to all the music in the world, now it - and others - is trying to help make sense of it all.

John Graham-Cunning, CEO of CloudFlare:

From the moment CloudFlare turned on our Shellshock protection up until early this morning, we were seeing 10 to 15 attacks per second. In order of attack volume, these requests were coming from France (80%), US (7%), Netherlands (7%), and then smaller volumes from many other countries. At about 0100 Pacific (1000 in Paris) the attacks from France ceased. We are currently seeing around 5 attacks per second. At the time of writing, we've blocked well over 1.1m Shellshock attacks.

Marriott will cough up $600,000 in penalties after being caught blocking mobile hotspots so that guests would have to pay for its own Wi-Fi services, the FCC has confirmed today. The fine comes after staff at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee were found to be jamming individual hotspots and then charging people up to $1,000 per device to get online. Marriott has been operating the center since 2012, and is believed to have been running its interruption scheme since then. The first complaint to the FCC, however, wasn't until March 2013, when one guest warned the Commission that they suspected their hardware had been jammed. An investigation by the FCC's Enforcement Bureau revealed that was, in fact, the case. A Wi-Fi monitoring system installed at the Gaylord Opryland would target access points with de-authentication packets, disconnecting users so that their browsing was interrupted.

In case you thought Marriott's IT staff were l33t hax0rs, it's simply a function of the enterprise Wi-Fi systems the chain had installed.

This essay from Leigh Alexander dates from August, but it's a terrific distillation of three decades of the evolution of gaming and the commerce around it:

While video games themselves were discovered by strange, bright outcast pioneers - they thought arcades would make pub games more fun, or that MUDs would make for amazing cross-cultural meeting spaces - the commercial arm of the form sprung up from marketing high-end tech products to 'early adopters'. You know, young white dudes with disposable income who like to Get Stuff. Suddenly a generation of lonely basement kids had marketers whispering in their ears that they were the most important commercial demographic of all time. Suddenly they started wearing shiny blouses and pinning bikini babes onto everything they made, started making games that sold the promise of high-octane masculinity to kids just like them. By the turn of the millennium those were games' only main cultural signposts: Have money. Have women. Get a gun and then a bigger gun. Be an outcast. Celebrate that. Defeat anyone who threatens you. You don't need cultural references. You don't need anything but gaming. Public conversation was led by a games press whose role was primarily to tell people what to buy, to score products competitively against one another, to gleefully fuel the "team sports" atmosphere around creators and companies.

After selling 2m iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses during the first six hours of preorders in China, the train has kept on rolling. Now, according to Tencent Digital, Chinese consumers have preordered more than 4m of the devices. That number does not include preorders from Apple's website or China's Apple stores, which will not begin accepting preorders until 10 October. It does include the numbers from the preorder events of China's three major telecom providers as well as smaller virtual telecoms, retail electronics chains like Suning, and ecommerce sites like JD.

Worth repeating that China is Apple's largest iPhone installed base, ahead of the US.

For sure, iOS 8 is highly ambitious. I have long been an advocate for many of the features that iOS 8 brought: extensions, interoperability and so on. Sadly, complexity has brought with it fragility. We have seen problems with apps not being updated in a timely manner. We have seen issues with crashing, devices rebooting, rotation glitches, keyboards playing up, touch screens not responding. Indeed I'm typing this while babysitting the full restore of an iPad that one pupil "broke" - through no fault of their own - while updating to iOS 8. In times past, I was happy to let students update their OS as they saw fit, since it was generally a highly reliable operation and a safe thing to do. No more.

Growing feeling that Apple is straitjacketed by its annual phone release cycle into an annual phone software release cycle - where expectations of bigger and bigger bangs is bringing concomitant problems.

To build out a brand to the size of Mickey Mouse or Star Wars, two franchises that Rovio likes to invoke when outlining its vision for the future, one needs a strong narrative economy. But in laying out the core values of its design, including the need for wordless game play, Rovio has ultimately limited its ability to tell a story. Stories are what provides depth to characters, allows players to establish an emotional connection to their avatars and the rules of their universe. Releasing a never-ending stream of new levels and expansions is, of course, a great way to stay on the radar, but even that is likely to turn stale in the face of the equally never-ending influx of new content. Because of its broad appeal, mobile gaming caters to a wide audience. Taking a wide approach, then, makes sense. But after an initial phase in which people surprise themselves by figuring out that "they're gamers now!", this same group will also start demanding more challenging and more sophisticated content. The same happened to social games, and the same is now happening in mobile.

Creating a narrative is something Nintendo and Sega have done to great - and lasting - effect.

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