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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 19th Oct 2016

It's shaping up to be a good week for Google's parent company, Alphabet.

Following a bunch of glowing reviews for Google's first smartphone, the Pixel, Alphabet's stock reached all-time highs Tuesday, reaching up to $801 per share.

The Pixel, which is available this week, is just the first device of a slew of new hardware products from Google. In a few weeks, it'll release the Google Home connected speaker, a new router called Google Wifi, and a new version of the Chromecast that works with 4K TVs.

It's still too early to judge whether Google's new emphasis on hardware can match the scale of companies like Apple and Samsung. It'll be years before that happens. But the company is off to a good start.

Before Google announced the hardware, some analysts predicted the stock would go all the way to $1,000.

Alphabet reports earnings on October 27.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 19th Oct 2016

Start your commute on the M25, London’s aging orbital highway, and your license plate will be registered before the exit you take is recorded. As you park, a CCTV camera will watch you buy a parking ticket. Head to a tube station and your Oyster card swipe will be logged and recorded. Wander through the labyrinth of interconnected tunnels that makes up the oldest subway system in the world and you will be tracked using facial recognition software.

Welcome to London, the city that never sleeps because it’s too busy watching you.

“Mass surveillance is a prominent part of counter terrorism strategy with the use of CCTV and other forms of monitoring,” says Lee Marsden, head of politics at the University of East Anglia. “In a city like London, with a dynamic, diverse, and multicultural community, this challenges social cohesion, particularly where it leads to mistrust and is seen as being targeted at certain ‘suspect’ communities.”

That challenge has arrived at a unique moment in England’s political and social history. Since June’s referendum vote for Britain to leave the European Union, the incidence of hate crimes in London has risen by 164%. In the wake of the Brexit decision, Theresa May — arguably the country’s most vocal and dedicated supporter of video surveillance and mobile phone tracking — has risen to the role of Prime Minister.


Since London’s riots in summer 2011, private contractors have been brought in by the city’s Metropolitan Police force to systematically link and index surveillance footage across all devices in the capital. The aim is to build a comprehensive database of all public movements. Images from CCTV, social media, and body cameras worn by police are being archived and made searchable at the click of a button.

This CCTV camera sends mixed messages.

This CCTV camera sends mixed messages.

Whether or not the system functions effectively, it represents a shift in the relationship between the governed and the government.

“I think the underlying issue with surveillance is that you don’t trust people,” says Jim Killock, director of campaigning organization Open Rights Group. People who are placed under surveillance, or think they are being placed under surveillance, are effectively being told that they are not worthy of trust. That’s a big problem.”

In this culture of mistrust, everybody becomes a suspect. Even garbage cans have been modified with chips that identify and record data from pedestrian’s smartphones as they wander by. Eavesdropping devices known as IMSI-catchers have been detected across key areas in the city, including Britains parliament. These surveillance tools pose as telecommunications towers in order to intercept data, phone calls, and messages — yet nobody is allowed to know who’s operating them, or even that they exist.


The justification for the surveillance measures is threefold: national security, to enforce the law, and to benefit the “economic well-being of the UK.” That last one is particularly pernicious in a city that is still, ostensibly, the financial capital of Europe. Using technology for state-backed corporate espionage has become a new norm.

“On the back of over-emphasizing the terrorist threat, the government are able to increase control over the population through increased surveillance. This is accepted when threats are perceived as credible, and enables authorities to seek to reduce other criminal behavior and civil disturbance,” says Marsden. “In a society where lives are lived out in the glare of social media sharing, self-surveillance desensitizes populations to increasingly invasive mass surveillance by the state.”

Big Ben, poster child for facial recognition.

Big Ben, poster child for facial recognition.

London is also a city of vast and growing inequality. Increasingly, it is the wealthy that support greater measures for surveillance, both because of the enormous amount of profit companies stand to gain from commodifying data, and the perceived safety that it affords those who can afford a stake in the game.

“It’s not all black and white, but there’s a sense in which if you think the institutions are likely to understand your predicament, you’re less likely to fear the result of arbitrary intervention of data,” Killock explains. “People who tend to be in favor of surveillance tend to be very much those with the most to lose. Polling suggests that people who are relatively well-off trust the government on these issues more than those on the lower end of the spectrum.”

Ten NGOs have filed a lawsuit against the UK government claiming that the country’s surveillance practices breach European Human Rights. Within a month of being appointed prime minister, Theresa May confirmed plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, which binds the UK government to the European Convention of Human Rights.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, it could represent the last time European laws can be used to hold the British government to account over invasions of privacy. So what does this mean for London’s surveillance epidemic?

As Killock puts it: “There’s potential for things to get a lot worse.”

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, Sputnik News, NASA

Source: inverse.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 18th Oct 2016
  • Web page codeImage copyrightMACIEK905

Image captionThe attackers injected obfuscated code that copied payment details

Almost 6,000 web shops are unknowingly harbouring malicious code that is stealing the credit card details of customers, suggests research.

The code has been injected into the sites by cyberthieves, said Dutch developer Willem De Groot.

He found the 5,925 compromised sites by scanning for the specific signature of the data-stealing code in website software.

Some of the stolen data was sent to servers based in Russia, he said.

Costly mistake

In a blogpost, Mr De Groot said the attacks exploited known vulnerabilities in several different widely used web retailing programs. Mr De Groot is co-founder and head of security at Dutch ecommerce site byte.nl

Having won access, the attackers injected a short chunk of obfuscated code that copied credit card and other payment information. Stolen data was being sold on dark web markets at a rate of about $30 (£25) per card, he said.

His research found nine separate types of skimming code on sites, suggesting many different crime groups were involved.

Mr De Groot said he had been investigating skimming since his own card details were stolen. His work revealed the first sites harbouring the malicious code in late 2015 but further research showed the skimming started in earnest in May 2015. By the end of that year about 3,500 sites had been compromised.

Since then, he said, the number of sites had grown to 5,925 with some harbouring skimming code for almost 18 months. Victims included carmakers, fashion firms, government sites and museums.

The code used to steal data steadily became more sophisticated and now makes efforts to hide itself and tackle more types of payment systems.

"New cases could be stopped right away if store owners would upgrade their software regularly," wrote Mr De Groot. "But this is costly and most merchants don't bother."

Mr De Groot said some stores had taken action to flush out the skimming code and patch their stores after he published a list of compromised sites.

"I would recommend consumers to only enter their payment details on sites of known payment providers such as Paypal," he told the BBC. "They have hundreds of people working on security, the average store probably has none."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 18th Oct 2016

The UK's new information commissioner has called for the country to adopt forthcoming EU data protection laws, despite its plan to leave the Union.

"I don't think Brexit should mean Brexit when it comes to standards of data protection," Elizabeth Denham told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

She added she would press WhatsApp over plans to share data with Facebook.

The new EU data protection regulations are designed to strengthen the rights individuals have over their data.

The idea is to make companies take the issue of data protection far more seriously.

The rules make it mandatory for large companies to employ a data protection officer and data breaches must be reported within 72 hours.

The legislation will take effect in 2018 and will apply to any company that handles EU citizens' data, even if that company is not based in Europe.

"The UK is going to want to continue to do business with Europe," Ms Denham told the BBC's Chris Vallance.

"In order for British businesses to share information and provide services for EU consumers, the law has to be equivalent.

"The UK was very involved in the drafting of the regulation - it will likely be in effect before the UK leaves the European Union - so I'm concerned about a start and stop regulatory environment."

Analysis by Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology correspondent

She's another Canadian in a high profile job as a UK regulator and - like Mark Carney at the Bank of England - Elizabeth Denham is now showing she's not afraid to step into tricky political territory.

The new information commissioner made it clear that, in her view, leaving the EU did not mean leaving behind European regulation when it came to data protection.

To use such an explicit phrase as "I don't think Brexit should mean Brexit" in the context of data laws could be seen as courageous - or perhaps foolhardy.

But consumers will take more notice of her warning about WhatsApp's sharing of data with its parent Facebook.

She's shown she sympathises with the public's anger on this issue - now let's wait and see if she will back that up with action.

Ms Denham also told the BBC she had questions to ask of web giant Yahoo, which has admitted 500 million user accounts were breached in what it suggested was a state-sponsored attack.

It is thought eight million accounts belonged to UK users.

Yahoo logoImage copyrightEPA

Image captionYahoo's breach is the largest ever publicly disclosed

"This data breach is unprecedented. The numbers are staggering," she said.

"Why did it take so long for Yahoo to notify the public of the breach? It looks like it happened two years ago. What can these account holders do to protect themselves?

"I'm asking those questions on behalf of UK citizens."

Ms Denham also said she would probe WhatsApp's controversial plan to share more of its users' data with its parent company Facebook.

"We are told the data is not yet being shared," she told the BBC.

"We have launched an investigation into the data sharing, remembering that in 2014 when Facebook bought WhatsApp, there was a commitment made that between the two companies they would not share information.

"We are in a dialogue with Facebook and WhatsApp. It's an active and important investigation. You will hear from us very shortly."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 18th Oct 2016

Streaming box advertisement

Image captionSome traders advertise set-top boxes that can access subscription content for free

Tackling the use of Kodi and other set-top box software to stream pirated videos is now the top priority for rights-holders, a report says.

Some boxes or "TV sticks" support software add-ons that can stream subscription movies, sport and TV channels over the internet for free.

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) said about half of its current investigations concerned the devices.

It said boxes configured to receive premium content for free were illegal.

The statements were made in the annual crime report of the government's intellectual property office (IPO).

What are Kodi boxes?

Kodi is free software, built by volunteers, that is designed to bring videos, music, games and photographs together in one easy-to-use application.

Some shops sell set-top boxes and TV sticks known as Kodi boxes, preloaded with the software.

The developers behind Kodi say their software does not contain any content of its own and is designed to play legally owned media or content "freely available" on the internet.

KodiImage copyrightKODI

Image captionKodi turns compatible devices into a "media centre"

However, the software can be modified with third-party add-ons that provide access to pirated copies of films and TV series, or provide free access to subscription television channels.

"Streaming boxes have steadily increased in popularity in recent years," said Ernesto van der Sar, from the news site Torrent Freak.

"Most use the entirely legal Kodi software, but some are augmented with illegal third-party add-ons.

"They are seen as convenient, as the set-top box format is ideal for the living room.

"Nowadays people often prefer to stream pirated content instead of using traditional torrent sites.

"They see streaming as more convenient and less cumbersome than downloading."

Fact said set-top boxes configured to receive premium content for free were "an emerging threat to the audiovisual industry".

"This is becoming an epidemic," Kieron Sharp, director general of Fact, told the BBC.

"If you are not paying for Sky, BT or one of the pay-TV providers for your subscription channels, you are clearly in possession of an illegal box."

The IPO said the increased availability of such devices presented a "significant challenge".

"We are aware that set-top boxes, while perfectly legal in their own right, are frequently adapted by criminals to illegally receive TV channels protected by intellectual property rights," a spokesman told the BBC.

"The government is working with its partners in industry and with police forces across the country to target criminals looking to profit from this activity.

"We are also working closely with our international partners to target the cross-border infrastructure that underpins illegal streaming."

In August, an investigation by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu) led to the arrest of three men who are accused of retransmitting subscription television channels online.

What do the makers of Kodi say?

Some traders sell so-called "fully-loaded Kodi boxes", which are preloaded with third-party add-ons that can access pirated content. These are currently the subject of a legal case.

The developers behind Kodi have said they do not support "piracy add-ons" and have criticised those who advertise "fully-loaded" set-top boxes for sale.

The group said it would maintain a "neutral stance on what users do with their own software", but would battle those using the Kodi trademark to sell a "fully-loaded Kodi box".

Discussions about "pirated content" and add-ons that provide access are removed from its message board.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 18th Oct 2016

Panicking businesswomanImage copyrightTHINKSTOCK

Image captionThat moment when you realise you've just sent a million pounds to a fraudster by mistake...

What would you do if you received an email from your boss like this?

"Hi, are you busy? I need you to process a wire transfer for me urgently. Let me know when you are free so I can send the beneficiary's details. Thanks."

Many of us would jump to it, eager to please.

But this message has all the hallmarks of CEO fraud, one of the most common forms of business email fraud targeting thousands of companies around the world every day.

Last year, Barbie manufacturer Mattel sent more than $3m (£2.3m) to a fraudulent account in China, after a finance executive was fooled by a message supposedly sent by new chief executive Christopher Sinclair.

Mattel eventually got its money back from China - where the company has significant business interests - but most companies usually have to take the hit after falling victim.

Earlier this year, for example, Austrian aerospace parts maker FACC fired its president and chief financial officer after losing a thumping €42m (£36m) in a business email fraud.

Models posing with Barbie dollsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionBarbie doll maker Mattel nearly lost $3m to invoice fraud last year

Some smaller companies targeted have gone bust as a result.

"Criminals have realised that hitting businesses rather than individuals can mean much bigger wins," says Orla Cox, director of security response at cyber security specialist Symantec.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says CEO fraud has shot up by 270% since January 2015 and has cost businesses around the world at least $3bn (£2.3bn) over the past three years.

Out of control

Simply tricking companies into sending invoice payments to the wrong people costs UK companies about £9bn a year, according to research from invoicing company Tungsten Network.

And procurement fraud - charging for stuff that was never delivered; taking a bribe for awarding a contract to a particular supplier; or encouraging suppliers to charge over the odds then creaming off the difference - accounts for 88% of total UK fraud losses.

Philip Letts, Blur Group CEOImage copyrightBLUR GROUP

Image caption'Procurement fraud is becoming a big problem' says Blur Group's Philip Letts

"Procurement fraud is becoming a big problem, with at least 20% of corporate spend categorised as 'unmanaged'," says Philip Letts, chief executive of enterprise services platform, Blur Group.

'Unmanaged' means there is insufficient monitoring of the tendering process and whether the terms of the contract have been fulfilled, for example. Quite often smaller jobs are given to suppliers without any written contract at all and paid for cash-in-hand.

"This puts businesses at high risk of procurement fraud," says Mr Letts.

Someone holding over hundreds of dollarsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionCash-in-hand payments for undocumented services are ripe for fraud

Lots of such payments add up to a big amount of cash potentially lost down the back of the corporate sofa.

Blur's platform helps companies find vetted service providers and manage the entire contract from pitch to payment, theoretically making invoice fraud easier to spot and harder to perpetrate.


Most business email fraud is relatively lo-tech, relying on psychological manipulation and people's willingness to get the job done.

But Jim Wadsworth, managing director at Accura, the data analysis arm of payments giant VocaLink, believes his company's hi-tech solution could prove the best way to combat it.

Called Accura Invoice Payment Profiling, it is an anti-fraud analytics system that uses VocaLink's massive store of payments data to identify and flag fraudulent payments before the money is even transferred.

"We are working with one of the country's largest banks to prevent these frauds by scanning transactions and contacting the bank directly when we see something suspicious," Mr Wadsworth says.

Jim Wadsworth, Accura MDImage copyrightACCURA

Image captionAccura's Jim Wadsworth believes invoice scanning software could reduce fraud

In effect, the system looks for unusual characteristics in the invoice, such as a destination bank account number that has never been used before, atypical payment amounts, or false purchase order numbers.

"Every time a business pays an invoice a trail of information is left behind," he says. "By using this data, and overlaying it with cutting-edge data science techniques, Accura is now able to identify and flag suspected incidents of these types of fraud before the money leaves the account."

The system, which went live a few months ago, has already prevented a number of invoice redirection frauds, says Mr Wadsworth. And he hopes that many more crimes will be prevented as the system evolves.

"We recently saved a public sector organisation £100,000 by foiling an attempt at invoice redirection fraud," he says.

"As CEO fraud has very similar characteristics to invoice redirection fraud, we should be able to use the system to help companies avoid being taken in by this scam, too."

Spotting the fakes

But are there ways of intercepting bogus emails in the first place?

"The emails used in this kind of fraud can slip through spam filtering systems because they are not sent to multiple users, and are written to appear innocuous," says Orla Cox.

"However, Symantec's cloud-based email security technology looks for key words such as 'transfer' or 'payment' and also flags up messages from sender domains that are very similar to the target company's.

orla Cox, SymantecImage copyrightBERNARD WALSH

Image captionSymantec's Orla Cox thinks email keyword scanning could help spot fraudulent emails

"If an email seems suspicious, the system will then block it and inform the company to check whether it is genuine or not."

She believes that a combination of email security software and transaction analytics could be the best way for businesses to fight this kind of fraud.

But staff also need to be trained to look out for tell-tale signs in emails, such as domain names that differ very slightly from their company's, she believes.

"A fraudster might, for example, switch the 'm' and the 'n' in Symantec when setting up a fake domain," she says.

Businesses can also protect against email fraud by ensuring staff question any messages requesting actions that seem unusual or aren't following normal procedures.

"Employees should be encouraged to doublecheck everything they do," says Steve Proffitt, deputy head of Action Fraud, the UK's reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 12th Oct 2016

Windows 10 Hero

This week, Microsoft pushed out another cumulative update and reports of installation problems are widespread. While I don’t know how many users are impacted, based on comments sent to me, it’s certainly widespread enough that this is well beyond an isolated issue.

The update that is causing the problem, KB3194496, is not installing correctly for users. The update, when it does fail, is causing some machines to restart, often multiple times, as Windows 10 attempts to remove the failed update. Worse, after a restart, the file will attempt to install again resulting in the loop of failed install, reboot, re-install and failure again.

Some users have reported that the cumulative update did install correctly on the second or third attempt while others have said that it fails every time.

As you can imagine, having this happen to your machine is not a fun experience but what is perplexing about this is that the issue was reported by those who are in the ‘release preview’ ring ahead of the wider-scale release; we know this as it was reported in the Microsoft’s support forums.  If the bug was reported, why did Microsoft go ahead and release the patch if the feedback indicated there was an issue?

I would bet that Microsoft will say that the telemetry suggested that for most users, the update installs correctly. But, seeing how many reports are being mentioned on Twitter and other places, it’s clear that a significant number of users are impacted.

If you do have this problem, there isn’t a workaround at this time but if you do find a solution to update problem, make sure to let us know so we can pass it on to those who are impacted by this bug.

Microsoft is pushing the idea that you should always patch your machine on the day the update is released as they often release security patches that fix vulnerabilities. But, until the company can get a handle on their quality control issues, such as the Anniversary update breaking millions of webcams, it feels like every time you run Windows update you are rolling the dice.

Source: thurrott.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 12th Oct 2016

Using this exoskeleton in a virtual environment, a baseball feels firm, and an egg light and fragile.

The Dexmo glove, with its gleaming white carapace and jet-black connecting joints, looks much like a prop stolen from a Stanley Kubrick film set. On your hand, it gives you a cartoonish silhouette, as if some kind of humorous cheat code had been applied to reality to grant humans oversized, clod-like paws.

In fact, Dexmo’s world-altering properties are focused in the virtual realm. Used alongside compatible virtual-reality software, the Dexmo exoskeleton allows its wearer to touch, grasp, and feel virtual objects as if they were real. A virtual baseball feels firm in the hand, an egg fragile. Pick up a digital rubber duck while wearing the Dexmo, and it can be squished pleasingly between the fingers.

The exoskeleton, designed by a team of seven young roboticists and engineers, uses five custom-built force-feedback units to apply torque to your fingers. These motors dynamically alter the direction and magnitude of the force in order to simulate a specific virtual object’s stiffness. In this way they provide light resistance when handling a soft object like a sponge or a piece of cake, and heavy resistance for a denser object, like a pipe or a brick. Tiny motors also provide haptic vibrations to your fingertips that simulate the impact of tapping a keyboard, or running your finger along a piece of rough concrete. The glove’s resistance is so powerful that it will physically prevent your fingers from penetrating through objects in VR.

The Dexmo glove lets users feel objects as though they're actually in their hand.

Aler Gu, the young roboticist who invented the glove and cofounded the company behind it, Dextarobotics, says VR’s sensory expansion into the realm of touch has the power to revolutionize the medium. “The maximum level of feedback current VR controllers give is a gentle rumble using vibration motors,” he says. “But vibration alone isn’t enough to fool the brain. The moment you detect anomalies in how objects feel, your sense of immersion is broken.”

Dexmo’s applications reach far beyond video games, according to Gu. The glove can work in any simulated 3-D environment and is compatible with all of the major VR headsets currently on the market. He also believes that the device will be useful in CAD design, allowing engineers to disassemble rockets and feel the size of each component, or in medical training, where trainee surgeons can perform more realistic operations. It could prove invaluable in training bomb disposal experts and help drastically reduce costs in mechanical maintenance training by providing students with access to otherwise prohibitively expensive parts that they can feel in their hands.

Sam Watts, head of operations at Make Real, a software company that has worked on a variety of VR applications for military clients as well as consumer game publishers, agrees that the current crop of motion-tracked controllers that are sold alongside the major virtual reality headsets “only give the first stage of sensations of touching and interacting with virtual objects.”

The Dexmo glove has potential applications well beyond gaming.

The HTC Vive Wands, for example, are held snugly in the hands, like handgun grips. A digital representation of the controller is seen at all times within the virtual world, twisting and moving in perfect sync with your hand motions. “This is fine for games and many forms of training simulation, but for real industrial and engineering adoption of VR, much more realistic and precise feedback is required to accurately convey the sense of touching, using, and manipulating objects together.”

However, Watts says, he needs to see more testing and evidence of consumer adoption of the device before including support for the Dexmo in Make Real’s products.

While the price of a consumer version of the Dexmo is yet to be set, Gu is optimistic that the glove will be something that “eventually everybody should be able to afford.” For now, however, the Dexmo is a tool restricted to the hands of early adopting software developers like Watts, those who will ultimately decide what impact such devices will have on both sides of the screen.

Source: technologyreview.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 12th Oct 2016

It’s notable that Apple chose not to ship its Bluetooth AirPods in the box with new iPhones, even though its vision for the future is a wireless one.

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

Tech reviews and broad tech industry media coverage are often about the cutting edge of technology, and as a result can be very critical of anything seen as less than stellar. But the reality is that many ordinary people regularly use technology that could be much more accurately described as “good enough” rather than bleeding-edge. The vast majority of us aren’t using the latest and greatest technology, not least because that often costs more than we’re willing (or able) to spend, and yet we do just fine. This creates an odd disconnect between how real people use technology and how the experts talk about that same technology.

EarPods and defaults

Every iPhone ever shipped has come with a pair of Apple-provided earbuds in the box, just as iPods did before them. These earbuds have never been at the forefront of headphone technology — they’re small, relatively cheap to manufacture and make no claim to be anything more than they are. But Apple nevertheless made them part of its early ad campaigns for the iPod, and they became a fashion statement of sorts. In a recent survey conducted by Tech.pinions editor Ben Bajarin, more than half of those surveyed said they used the headphones that came in the box.

For many people, the basic option is just fine, and they’ll never look beyond it.

The fact is, defaults are powerful. Many people use those defaults, especially when they’re good enough. That’s not to say there aren’t better options out there for audiophiles, or those who want noise-canceling or over-ear options, but it is to say that, for many people, the basic option is just fine, and they’ll never look beyond it. This is obviously important in the context of the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack on the new iPhone 7. Apple is banking on the fact the majority of people who buy one of these new phones will use the new Lightning-based EarPods, just as they have always used their 3.5mm predecessors. Those who don’t will use the free adapter with their existing headphones, or start or continue using wireless options.

Deciding where good enough is enough

It’s notable, however, that Apple chose not to ship Bluetooth earbuds in the box, even though its vision for the future is a wireless one. Why is this? I think there are two reasons. First, as a practical financial matter, “good enough” in a Bluetooth headset costs significantly more than in wired earbuds, and Apple didn’t want to either raise the price or lower the margins on new iPhones to accommodate that increased cost.

But I think the other reason is that there is a dividing line between products that can afford to be simply good enough and those that can’t. Apple wants to evangelize wireless technology, and you don’t sell a vision based on “good enough” products. You make the very best to sell the story and then, over time, you supply options which are good enough to meet needs further down market. When the perception of a product affects the perception of your brand, you can’t just do “good enough” (unless that’s the brand identity you’re going for, as with Amazon’s Basics line of electronics).

Hence, Apple’s very different focus with its AirPods, which are on par with Apple’s hero products in terms of the positioning, marketing and, yes, pricing. This marks a departure for the Apple brand in the headphone space, although, of course, the acquisition of Beats brought higher-end headphones into the company under a separate brand. That, in turn, signifies something about the broader significance Apple expects the AirPods to take on over time, something others have written about here and elsewhere, and which I’ll likely tackle separately soon.

The challenge of premium

One of the biggest challenges for consumer electronics brands is targeting the premium segment while also serving lower segments of the market. One of Apple’s strengths is it has never really strayed from its premium positioning, even as it has brought several of its major product lines down in price over time. Conversely, other smartphone vendors looking to target the high end have also served the mid-market, and have struggled to associate their brands with premium positioning. This becomes particularly challenging when the same brands put out “good enough” and premium products in the same product category, like smartphones.

Part of Apple’s genius has been carefully separating the categories where it provides premium products from those where it participates at a good-enough level, and not allowing the two to mix or converge. The fact that Motorola and Samsung produce both high-end flagships and very cheap low-end smartphones doesn’t help their attempts to compete with Apple for the premium customer, and Motorola has arguably largely abandoned the very high end in the last year or two. In the car market, this problem is solved with sub-brands (think Lexus versus Toyota, or Cadillac versus Chevy), but we haven’t yet seen that approach play out in the consumer technology market in the same way.

Disruption theory and jobs to be done

Clayton Christensen’s Disruption Theory comes into play here, too — when companies insist on providing only a premium version of certain products, they risk low-end disruption from competitors catering to the needs of those who feel over-served by the current options. However, despite repeated predictions that the premium smartphone market would eventually be disrupted in this way, it hasn’t happened. Yes, low-end Android smartphones have become increasingly capable and cheap, but that’s disrupted almost entirely other Android smartphone vendors rather than Apple.

Products that have strong personal associations — smartphones, cars, clothing and other luxury goods — are stubbornly resistant to low-end disruption.

I believe there’s something about products that have strong personal associations — such as smartphones, cars, clothing and other luxury goods — which make them stubbornly resistant to low-end disruption. Our use of these products says something about us, and using cheaper imitators may not convey the message we want. The job to be done of smartphones and other similar products, then, goes beyond their obvious functions, and is another reason why “good enough” isn’t good enough for at least some buyers who can afford to be more discriminating. This continues to be one of many fascinating aspects of the smartphone market that separate it from the rest of the consumer electronics industry and continue to make it such an interesting one to follow.

Source: recode.net
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 11th Oct 2016

Galaxy Note 7 explodes while charging

Samsung stops Note 7 sales


Samsung has halted production of the Galaxy Note 7 following reports that more replacement handsets have caught fire.

Korean news agency Yonhap said on Sunday that the company has ceased production of the Galaxy Note 7, and Samsung has since confirmed in a statement given to V3that it will "temporarily" stop making the explosion-prone smartphones.

"We are temporarily adjusting the Galaxy Note 7 production schedule in order to take further steps to ensure quality and safety matters," the firm said.

This drastic step follows reports that several replacement Galaxy Note 7 handsets exploded over the weekend.

One of the incidents involved Michael Lering of Kentucky, who woke up to find his bedroom filled with smoke and his replacement Galaxy Note 7 on fire. He was taken to hospital with acute bronchitis and smoke inhalation. 

"The phone is supposed to be the replacement, so you would have thought it would be safe," Klering told WKYT. "It wasn’t plugged in. It wasn’t anything. It was just sitting there."

Another incident, reported at The Verge, involved a new Note 7 fire catching fire in Houston, Texas. Daniel Franks was having lunch with his wife and daughter when a replacement handset caught fire on the table. It had been replaced at a Best Buy store in late September.

Related: Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 fiasco could make smartphone market interesting again

This comes just days after Southwest Airlines was forced to evacuate a plane after a Galaxy Note 7 caught fire and burned a hole through the aircraft's carpet. 

Samsung said on its website on Friday in response to the recent reports that the company "understands the concern of our carriers and consumers".

"We continue to move quickly to investigate the reported case to determine the cause and will share findings as soon as possible. If we conclude a safety issue exists, we will work with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to take immediate steps to address the situation," the firm said.

As if Samsung wasn't having enough of a PR meltdown, US carriers AT&T and T-Mobile have revealed that they will no longer replace Galaxy Note 7 devices, while the latter said that it will halt all sales of the phone.

"While Samsung investigates multiple reports of issues, T-Mobile is temporarily suspending all sales of the new Note 7 and exchanges for replacement Note 7 devices," T-Mobile said on its website.

It's unclear whether UK carriers plan to suspend sales of the Galaxy Note 7, but we've been in touch with the big four operators and will update this article if we hear back.


Source: v3.co.uk
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