Digital Digest 72
So I am sure that by now everyone has heard and has a plan for what of the latest wave of i-brand gadgetry (sorry Apple Watch) they will be lusting after this Autumn.
There are two big things to pick out of the announcements: Apple’s pricing strategy on the iPhone 8 and X models, and the revolutionary addition of an electronic SIM to the Apple Watch, of which the benefits are quite clearly increasing.
Let’s start with the mystery of Apple’s now staggering lineup of devices. As of November, you will be able to buy the iPhone SE, iPhone 6S, iPhone 7, iPhone 8, and iPhone X (plus all the plus/standard models in between). The critical factor here is that the latest and greatest iPhone announcement, the 8, isn’t actually the greatest phone. Though it will come out a full month earlier, it will be quickly superseded by the phone in the spotlight, front and centre of Apple’s store, the X.
If you watched the keynote it was almost as if the last twenty minutes of X reveal made you forget all about the supposed wonder of the 8, as you lost yourself in features unavailable: the gestures of the screen, the dual-front-camera’s face ID and animoji, and that incredible display.
By comparison the upgrades over the 7 to the 8 look rather modest (and you get them all in the X anyway): a bump in processing. true tone display, and on the plus, portrait lighting. That seems marginal as to be disappointing had we not seen the X at the end of the show.
The last time Apple deliberately launched an inferior device sales slumped: the iPhone 5C was not successful, and as an Apple product felt week and neutered. The 8 is supposed to be a flagship, but standing against the X it looks like the past already. How many users will agree and skip the cycle? How many will plump up the extra money for the X?
Secondly, the Apple Watch finally gets independence from a pocketed iPhone with the addition of LTE connectivity, and is introduced by two health-driven promotions that sell the vision of it better than anything else: work from Apple to detect heart arrhythmias from Watch users, and an advert of real customers reading letters to Apple on how the Watch has helped their fitness in severe situations.
The LTE addition itself is practically unrelated, but greatly increases the potential of the product, particularly when paired with earpods for the potentially revolutionary future of wearable computing.
Google will be next on the prowl anyway, and they are going to need some seriously cool stuff in October to be able to compete with the hype train that is the iPhone X. Given most of the new Pixel has been leaked anyway, and it is generally uninspiring in terms of hardware (though par for the course I guess), software has to be where Google can make the dent.
And it’s in items like Google Assistant where they currently have the advantage. Apple just cannot compete (and it seems sometimes like they just don’t want to) with the level of data and understanding Google gets from mining you and everyone around you. Vogue have written a short interaction with Assistant, which you can try on any Android device that supports it, along with the Home. As measly as the actual ‘skill’ is (is there a universal term yet?) the blog post cites some good thinking and looks to the future of voice at Conde Nast.
Medium membership now includes a curated selection of paywalled (and unpaywalled) content from leading publishers such as the FT, Economist, and New York Times. Medium staff will pick the stories, which will appear on the site as part of your personalised feed. You can follow publications you are interested in here.
Google made a big thing of Play Protect, a service on the Play store that was said to protect your phone from malware embedded in apps by scanning their activity. It is therefore a shame that it has missed a small app with only 20 million installations that has about as much malware as there can possibly be in an app. ‘Lovely Wallpaper’ requests internet and SMS permissions to sign you up to premium rate SMS services, and fetch and retrieve data from a command and control server that then executes on the device.
Double hit for Facebook this week as they remove instant articles from their Messenger app (likely short term as they reintegrate with their new paid-for subscription support), and it is revealed by a Yale survey that those ‘fact checking’ teams and ‘disputed’ flags they were adding to posts actually increased the believability of fake news. Users found that, given Facebook’s inability to fact-check everything, posts without the disputed flag, even if their content was equally inaccurate, appeared more trustworthy for not being flagged.
The Pirate Bay experimented recently with a new form of monetisation: forcing its users to mine bitcoin for them. Coin Hive is a cloud wallet service that allows you to hijack users’ CPU power in order to generate coinage. Unethical? Probably. Killing your mobile battery? Most certainly. You can try it in your own browser on Coin Hive’s official site here. As horrendous as this is for actually generating coins, proof of work systems could be useful for spam checking, verifying identities, or rate limiting.
And finally, just a short line urging you to read this brilliant ESPN piece that is part of the drive to take esports into the realm of real journalism: profiling a young South Korean woman who is competing in an internationally sexist gaming world, whilst becoming a national star for feminism in patriarchal Korean society.