What it means to be great

Horace Dediu wrote about what it means to be great.

What makes a product great? I struggle with this question because being great is not just being better than good. Greatness is to goodness as wisdom is to smarts. Just like getting smarter and smarter may never make you wise, getting better and better does not mean ever becoming great.

Greatness is transcendental. It’s hard to pin down. It inspires debate. It divides as much as it unites. It creates emotions as much as thoughts. It builds legends. It engages and persists. It lives in memory and penetrates culture. It implants itself in our consciousness persistently, to linger and dwell in our minds while we are bombarded with stimuli.

[…]

In the absence of any measurement of greatness, how do we spot it?
It may just be down to “knowing when we see it”. But not everybody does.

This quandary came to mind when looking at the performance of the latest iPhone, the 6S. Observing it closely, we lose sight of it. We see only minute changes between versions; marginal changes which can’t be weighed. And yet these changes have a more important attribute: they are absorbable. A change that is ignored is not only valueless, it may actually destroy perception of value. It creates clutter and confusion. A change that is absorbable is valuable. It is meaningful.

[…]

Paradoxically, the improvements are not usually things that users ask for. Surveys always show that consumers want “better battery life” or a “bigger screen” but delivering something else entirely which nevertheless leads to mass adoption shows an uncanny insight into what really matters. Indeed, those who deliver only what customers ask for end up marginalized and bereft of profit.

Great piece by Horace Dediu. Not everyone can recognise and appreciate greatness when it first appears.

The state of JavaScript on Android in 2015 is… poor

Jeff Atwood wrote about The state of Javascript on Android in 2015.

It seems the Android manufacturers are more interested in slapping n slow CPU cores on a die than they are in producing very fast CPU cores. And this is quite punishing when it comes to JavaScript.

This is becoming more and more of a systemic problem in the Android ecosystem, one that will not go away in the next few years, and it may affect the future of Discourse, since we bet heavily on near-desktop JavaScript performance on mobile devices. That is clearly happening on iOS but it is quite disastrously the opposite on Android.

The iPhone 5S from two generations ago outperforms the latest Samsung Galaxy devices.

Seth Godin on Ad blocking

Seth Godin wrote about ad blocking.

This reinforces the fundamental building blocks of growth today:

  • The best marketing isn’t advertising, it’s a well-designed and remarkable product.
  • The best way to contact your users is by earning the privilege to contact them, over time.
  • Making products for your customers is far more efficient than finding customers for your products.
  • Horizontally spread ideas (person to person) are far more effective than top-down vertical advertising.
  • More data isn’t the point. Data to serve explicit promises is the point.
  • Commodity products can’t expect to easily build a profitable ‘brand’ with nothing but repetitive jingles and noise.
  • Media properties that celebrate their ads (like Vogue) will continue to thrive, because the best advertising is the advertising we would miss if it was gone.

We have become so numb to advertising that most of us unconsciously ignore the ads when we browse website. Ad blockers just help us save bandwidth by not loading the ads and protects our privacy by blocking tracking by ad networks.

The iPhone S years

John Gruber on the Daring Fireball about the iPhones 6S.

The glaring downside to this tick-tock schedule is that we as a culture — and particularly the media, both on the tech/gadgetry side and the business side — are obsessed with “new”. And, well, the S-model iPhones don’t look new. This year there is a new rose gold aluminum finish, but at a glance, the iPhones 6S look like last year’s iPhones 6. Every year is an iterative improvement over the previous one, whether it’s an S year or not. But it’s hard not to see the S years as more iterative, less impressive, updates, simply because they look the same.

I think that’s a trap — a way to be fooled by your eyes. If you put aside what the phones look like, the S model years have brought some of the biggest changes to the platform. The display changes came in non-S years, of course — the iPhone 4 going retina; the iPhone 5 expanding from 3.5 to 4 inches diagonally and changing the aspect ratio; and of course last year’s 6/6 Plus expanding to 4.7 and 5.5 inches and higher display resolutions. But it was the 3GS that first improved on CPU performance and gave us the first improvements to the camera. The 4S ushered in Siri integration and a much faster camera. The 5S was Apple’s first 64-bit ARM device, years ahead of the competition, and was the first device with Touch ID. For a typical iPhone user on a two-year upgrade cycle, I think the S years are the better phones, historically.

Something that Matt and I agree with and often talk about.

Google’s own researchers challenge key Google PR on Android

Ars Technica reported on Google’s own researchers challenging key Android security talking point.

Throughout the resulting media storm, Google PR people have repeatedly held up the assurance that the raft of stagefright vulnerabilities is difficult to exploit in practice on phones running recent Android versions. The reason, they said: address space layout randomization, which came to maturity in Android 4.1, neutralizes such attacks. Generally speaking, ASLR does nothing to fix a buffer overflow or similar software bug that causes the vulnerability in the first place. Instead, the defense vastly decreases the chances that a remote-code-execution attack exploiting such bugs will succeed. ASLR does this by loading downloaded scripts in a different memory location each time the operating system is rebooted. If the attacker can’t locate the malicious code, the exploit results in a simple crash, rather than a game-over hack.

On Wednesday, Project Zero researchers tested a home-grown stagefright exploit on a Nexus 5 device running an Android 5.x version. The results showed that at best, ASLR will lower the chances their exploit will succeed. Meanwhile, Joshua Drake, the security researcher who first disclosed the critical vulnerabilities in the code library, said Android ASLR does even less to prevent a new custom exploit he has developed from working.

CNET blocks content from people who block ads

Dave Mark wrote on The Loop about CNET blocking content from readers using ad-blockers.

One more reason not to visit CNET.

Secondly, that they would make such a move speaks a lot about the amount of traffic that iOS brings to their site.

How to hack an Android phone

Business Insider reported on hacking an Android phone by typing in a really long password.

The vulnerability, discovered by John Gordon, is easy to exploit: simply open the phone’s “Emergency Call” feature, type a few characters and the repeatedly copy-and-paste them. The pasted text becomes longer and longer — Gordon’s reaches over 160,000 characters — and, as such, harder for the phone to handle.

Next, open the camera app which causes the phone to ask for a password into which the 160,000 character string is pasted. After a few minutes the phone restarts, booting straight to the unlocked home screen.

Apple’s iPhone keeps going its own way

Farhan Manjoo wrote on the New York Times about how Apple’s iPhone keeps going its own way.

You can expect Apple’s proportion to grow. As analysts at Credit Suisse explained in a note last week, only about 30 percent of the world’s 400 million iPhone users have upgraded to the large-screen models Apple introduced last year. Apple is bound to reap more money as the majority of its users inevitably jump to big phones over the next few years. In other words, for the foreseeable future, Apple stands virtually alone: It may be the only company making any money selling phones.

What’s driving the iPhone’s escape from the trap of commodity hardware is that it is more than a hardware device. Instead, an iPhone is a tightly integrated mix of hardware, great software, and several pretty good services rolled into a single gadget.

Something for the Apple naysayers to ponder upon.

How Apple built 3D Touch

Bloomberg reported on how Apple built 3D Touch.

But in lieu of the usual polite deflection, Federighi picked up an iPhone 6S and explained one of 3D Touch’s simpler challenges: “It starts with the idea that, on a device this thin, you want to detect force. I mean, you think you want to detect force, but really what you’re trying to do is sense intent. You’re trying to read minds. And yet you have a user who might be using his thumb, his finger, might be emotional at the moment, might be walking, might be laying on the couch. These things don’t affect intent, but they do affect what a sensor [inside the phone] sees. So there are a huge number of technical hurdles. We have to do sensor fusion with accelerometers to cancel out gravity—but when you turn [the device] a different way, we have to subtract out gravity. … Your thumb can read differently to the touch sensor than your finger would. That difference is important to understanding how to interpret the force. And so we’re fusing both what the force sensor is giving us with what the touch sensor is giving us about the nature of your interaction. So down at even just the lowest level of hardware and algorithms—I mean, this is just one basic thing. And if you don’t get it right, none of it works.”

Long but good read.

Microsoft is downloading Windows 10 to PCs, even if you don’t “reserve” a copy

Ars Technica reported on Microsoft downloading Windows 10 to PCs, even if you don’t “reserve” a copy.

According to The Inquirer, the situation was first reported by an anonymous reader who claimed to have discovered a hidden directory called $Windows.~BT on his computer, despite not opting in for a free upgrade to Windows 10. The directory weighed in at “3.5GB to 6GB,” according to the reader.

“I thought Microsoft [said] this ‘upgrade’ was optional. If so, why is it being pushed out to so many computers where it wasn’t reserved, and why does it try to install over and over again?” he told the outlet.

Aggressive.