30 December 2014

Co.Design: “Microsoft can now Turn Any Space into The Holodeck”

Last year, Microsoft Research revealed Illumiroom—which used projectors to stretch the image on your TV to take over a whole wall. Now comes the sequel. Called RoomAlive, this new system can turn every surface in a room—from the floor to the couch cushions to your own skin—into a glowing screen that reacts to your movement. It’s as if your whole analog world has been digitized. And that digital world can see where you’re looking, pointing, and touching, and adapt itself accordingly.

Video games are the most obvious use cases, but beyond that application, the research team is exploring RoomAlive’s potential for the business world, like advanced telepresence and augmenting conference room meetings with digital information.

Mark Wilson

Amazing concept, far better than virtual reality helmets like Oculus Rift or ’s awkward home-made Cardboard. Now, let’s see if New Microsoft can transform this into a successful product. I distinctly recall a similar concept touch-screen-table called Surface years ago (not to be confused with the Surface tablet) that hasn’t taken off – in fact, you could say delivered a much better implementation of touch screens in a compact format, the .

29 December 2014

Time: “The Secret Language of Girls on Instagram”

Close up of teenage girl texting on mobile in bedroom
Getty Images

Instagram lets users share their photos, and “like” and comment on their friends’. The competition for “likes” encourages creativity in young users, who can use filters and other devices to spruce up their images. And its simplicity – it’s just pictures, right? — comforts parents haunted by the cyberbullying they hear about on Facebook and Twitter.

But Instagram’s simplicity is also deceiving: look more closely, and you find the Rosetta Stone of girl angst: a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame”, as one young woman calls it). They can obsess over their friendships, monitoring social ups and downs in extreme detail. They can strategically post at high traffic hours when they know peers are killing time between homework assignments. “Likes”, after all, feel like a public, tangible, reassuring statement of a girl’s social status.

Rachel Simmons

Even more fascinating than the dozens of alternative uses for Twitter favs!

Some speculation about the 2015 iPhone lineup

After forecasts backed by historical data and mathematical models, I think a bit of speculation about the next iPhone models couldn’t hurt. It’s a common practice, starting basically the day after launch: “What will Apple do next?”. I’ll try to be reasonable and work with some previous trends:

  • An obvious trend these past years was launching a new design every two years, alternating with models keeping the same design with improved specs and features. We had the ‘same design, better specs’ in 2011 (iPhone 4S) and 2013 (iPhone 5S); and new designs in 2010 (iPhone 4), 2012 (iPhone 5) and 2014 (iPhone 6). It’s safe to assume that in 2015 we will see – again – the same design refreshed with higher specs.
  • Another, more recent, pattern is to increase the number of models per launch: every year until 2012 we had one new device per year, but since then there were two: in 2013 the flagship iPhone 5S and the ‘cheaper’ 5C; and in 2014 two large-screen flagships, 6 and 6 Plus. I think it’s entirely possible to see three different models launched in 2015.

So, with this in mind, how will the next lineup look like?

Predicting Apple sales for the next year

After writing the article about the iPad and the ‘post-PC’ era, another idea came to my mind. I already gathered the data about sales for the last three years from their public financial statements, why don’t I try to forecast the sales for the next year? In theory it should be pretty straightforward: sales of Apple devices follow a clear seasonal cycle, with higher sales in the first quarter (ending with the Christmas holidays) and lower sales in the following periods. There are statistical techniques for calculating the seasonal factors and trend and using these components to forecast the next quarterly sales.

27 December 2014

Quanta Magazine: “A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life”

Wilson Bentley

If a new theory is correct, the same physics it identifies as responsible for the origin of living things could explain the formation of many other patterned structures in nature. Snowflakes, sand dunes and self-replicating vortices in the protoplanetary disk may all be examples of dissipation-driven adaptation.

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant, England said.

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong, he explained. On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.

Natalie Wolchover

In other words, life as direct consequence of one of the fundamental laws of physics! If this theory is validated, it could drastically improve the likelihood of finding life on other planets, maybe even inside our own solar system, on Europa or Titan.

26 December 2014

The New Yorker: “The Quiet German”

The historian Fritz Stern calls the era of reunification “Germany’s second chance”—a fresh opportunity to be Europe’s preëminent power, after the catastrophic period of aggression that began a century ago. Merkel seems perfectly matched to the demands of this second chance. In a country where passionate rhetoric and macho strutting led to ruin, her analytical detachment and lack of apparent ego are political strengths. On a continent where the fear of Germany is hardly dead, Merkel’s air of ordinariness makes a resurgent Germany seem less threatening.

Merkel’s commitment to a united Europe is not that of an idealist. Rather, it comes from her sense of German interest—a soft form of nationalism that reflects the country’s growing confidence and strength. The historic German problem, which Henry Kissinger described as being too big for Europe, too small for the world, can be overcome only by keeping Europe together. Kurbjuweit said, She needs Europe because—this is hard to say, but it’s true—Europe makes Germany bigger.

George Packer

Great profile of Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, covering a lot, from her childhood and early life in the former East Germany, to the quiet and calculated rise inside the party and the recent years as the most powerful woman leader in the world – including the relationship with Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama. What I found most interesting was how her character was influenced by the Communist era and her work as scientist, and how she managed to transform apparent weakness into strength and strategy. Highly recommended.

23 December 2014

Facebook Year in Review - 2014 edition

As it has done last year, at the end of 2014 offers a summary of your most important moments throughout the year. There are some interesting differences though: true to the commitment of building everything ‘mobile-first’, this time the experience is heavily optimized for mobile users. I am biased maybe because I discovered this year-in-review for 2014 in my iPhone app, but it looks considerably better on a smartphone screen (navigation by swipe-gesture, full-screen sections) than on desktop (a single, rather narrow column, overlaid on the rest of the site). On the downside though, I don’t see the year-in-review featured anywhere in the mobile app or on the web site. Maybe Facebook wants it to spread virally, from one friend to the next, but it feels a bit strange not to receive some sort of notice. If you want to build it directly, the old web address is still available: facebook.com/YearInReview.

22 December 2014

The New York Times: “YouTube’s Chief, Hitting a New ‘Play’ Button”

Ms. Wojcicki runs a media company that has been valued at $40 billion, yet her office has none of the expected trappings — no bronze statuettes or pictures of her posing with movie stars. On her bookshelf is a photograph of her oldest son’s recent bar mitzvah and a small box filled with her various business cards from Google. (She was employee No. 16.) She flipped through the cards nostalgically, remembering an early task as the company’s first marketing manager: redesigning Google’s logo. (She changed the typeface and removed an exclamation point.)

Jonathan Mahler

The difference between a booming business and a struggling one: knowing when to drop the exclamation mark!

The New York Times: “What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs”

Marissa Mayer at Yahoo
Illustration by Matt Dorfman. Photographs by Getty Images

Mayer saw her plan as a return, in a sense, to Yahoo’s original mission. Yahoo grew in popularity and value during the late 1990s, when it was the most user-friendly way to peruse the World Wide Web. Now, Mayer believed, it could ride the shift from P.C.s to smartphones and make the mobile web-browsing experience more user-friendly too. Yahoo, in other words, would need to become a really great apps company. Mayer wanted to narrow its product portfolio down to approximately a dozen from more than 100. She and her C.M.O., Kathy Savitt, did some market research and found a list of common user activities on mobile devices. She called this list the “Daily Habits”, and they included news-reading, checking weather, reading email and photo-sharing. Mayer was determined to ensure that Yahoo had the best mobile app for each.

Nicholas Carlson

A story of good intentions, and the not so good places where they lead. My favorite part: when Marissa Mayer started to read from a children’s book in front of her employees…

In retrospect, focusing on apps was not such a smart idea. As numerous developers can testify, it’s difficult to build a business on someone else’s platform. The successful apps either come from massive social platforms (, and co.), create unique experiences (like Paper for iPad) or access already established services (productivity apps like Evernote or Office). Unfortunately for Yahoo, they offer neither. It’s even harder if you target ‘daily habits’, because the competition is especially diverse, differentiation is low, and people can readily switch whenever a new app comes along. The result: looking at the recent Homescreen study, no Yahoo apps made it in that top…

21 December 2014

Anchee Min - Azaleea Roșie

in Bucharest, Romania
Anchee Min - Azaleea Rosie

A te îndrăgosti este ceva atât de puternic, încât te face să uiți de aproape orice altceva, chiar și de realizarea revoluției. În loc să vrei să lupți și să distrugi, vrei să‑ți găsești pacea și să faci din viață o sărbătoare continuă. Deoarece Partidul știe că oamenii îndrăgostiți nu mai sunt complet sub controlul său, liderii săi au simțit întotdeauna o teamă profundă față de iubire.

Anchee Min

M‑am întâlnit prima dată cu scriitoarea Anchee Min citind romanul Împărăteasa Orhidee, pe care l‑am luat cu împrumut de la bibliotecă cu patru-cinci ani în urmă, înainte de a trece la cărțile în format electronic. Pe lângă subiectul exotic, pătrunzând între zidurile misterioase ale Orașului Interzis din Beijing, am fost impresionat de modul ei personal, direct și natural de a povesti. Romanul de față este cu atât mai personal, deoarece redă povestea autoarei însăși, de la copilăria în Shanghai până la evadarea în Statele Unite, cu ajutorul actriței Joan Chen. Urmărind etapele acelei tinereți în mijlocul Revoluției Culturale inițiate de Mao, cartea este structurată în trei părți, acoperind întâi anii de școală, plini de entuziasm pentru doctrină și Partid, apoi repartizarea obligatorie la ferma Focul Roșu, care erodează încet, dar sigur, încrederea ei în infailibilitatea sistemului, și în final selectarea drept posibilă actriță principală într‑o operă sponsorizată de Partid, „Azaleea Roșie”, care se dovedește o sarcină la fel de ingrată ca munca nesfârșită la câmp.

19 December 2014

The New York Times: “Millions of Fake Instagram Users Disappear in Purge”

This week, we got a look at just how many junk accounts there really are on Instagram, the four-year-old photo and video sharing service owned by Facebook. In what has been called the “Instagram Rapture”, the company is deleting all the accounts it had previously designated as “spammy” from the follower counts of its users. And for some high-profile accounts, a lot of users have been vaporized.

No account has lost more users than Instagram’s own main account. More than 29 percent of Instagram’s followers, or 18.9 million users, disappeared from Wednesday to Thursday, according to a graphic of the top 100 Instagram accounts compiled by Zach Allia, a software developer.

Vindu Goel

A necessary process to keep the network healthy; fighting against spammers and abuse is a constant struggle for any online community, from age-old email to and . But it does put some of the recent reports of better engagement in a different light. After all, the top 100 accounts lost on average 7.7% of their followers, some even 50 to 60%! You have to wonder how many of the likes and comments were fake as well.

17 December 2014

Above Avalon: “Apple Watch Sales and Earnings Projections”

Apple Watch

I extrapolate Apple’s addressable market for Apple Watch from iOS adoption rates. I use the share of iOS devices that upgraded to the latest iOS release by the end of the first full day after release as a proxy for Apple’s most loyal customer base. I classify these users as a fair approximation of Apple’s initial addressable market for an Apple Watch. Using a 2.4-year iPhone replacement cycle, I estimate there are approximately 400 million iPhones in use today. Since there are older devices resold or passed down to children and relatives, I would label the 400M data point as a base case estimate.

Using the average between Mixpanel and Fiksu, I arrive at 13%, however Mixpanel has historically tracked closer to Apple’s reported adoption rates, therefore I increased the 13% average to 15% to reflect a greater weighting for Mixpanel. I then multiplied that percentage by the 400 million iPhones out in the wild to arrive at approximately 60M core iPhone users that serve as a prime target to sell Apple Watch (which requires an iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus).

Neil Cybart

Wow, I can’t decide if this estimate is pure genius or absolute bullshit!

16 December 2014

Five Hundred Words: “Hacking The Tweet Stream”

More recently, there’s been a trend with a similar goal (to increase the 140-character limit), but immensely better execution and flow: appending screenshots of text to tweets.

Speaking of context, this is an extremely useful trick to share something without having to break (or re-work for 140-characters) the context of what you’re sharing. It often makes the experience of sharing something better.

M.G. Siegler

Twitter on iPhone with text screenshotI’ve seen this trend on as well and I’m very annoyed by it. It may be easier to share for those who post the screenshots, but as a follower I frequently can’t read the shared text because the image is too small on a smartphone screen or too compressed, making the letters fuzzy and pixelated. It’s like sending someone a scanned PDF file instead of a text reply by email: rude and completely wrong! Why not share that text snippet on tumblr, if Twitter is too restrictive for you? This way people actually have more context, because they can read the original article as well, instead of simply absorbing your self-centered opinion on it. I might have to start unfollowing people who make this a habit.

As for the engagement other people are seeing, of course it’s higher, people don’t have any other place to go without a link, they have to stare at that poor quality picture of text. And would you rather people engage with your blog, where you might run ads or get them to subscribe, or with a random tweet with no connection to your other work?

15 December 2014

Wired: “Instagram Is Getting So Good at News, It Should Scare Twitter”

Instagram owes its growing role as a news service to the rise of photos as a form of communication. They’re faster to take and often easier to decode. I think we’re at the stage right now where exchanging simple text-based messages on a social platform seems antiquated, says Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with eMarketer who has been covering social media and realtime marketing for more than a decade. Twitter of course carries photos, too, but, she says, The platform is still very heavily text.

Jessi Hempel

It’s an interesting idea, except…

  • first of all, Instagram is missing a key ingredient to allow news to spread fast and reliably, namely a Share button to compete with ’s Retweet feature. Right now, if someone posts a breaking-news picture on Instagram, his followers can either like or comment, but not spread the word to their own circles about it. Other users can only discover the shot if algorithms decide to show it in the ‘Explore’ section – and even then it’s stuck there, because they can’t share it further. As I noticed in a previous article, and this one happily acknowledges further down the line, the main focus of Instagram is entertainment; ‘serious’ news makes for poor entertainment.
  • it’s quite a longshot to spin a couple of pictures of stormy weather into a news phenomenon. I checked the Instagram profile featured in the article: it has one(!) picture of the storm, the rest are interior shots and graffiti pics, completely irrelevant as ‘news’.
  • opinions from a co-founder are largely irrelevant, now that (and through it Mark Zuckerberg) completely controls Instagram.

11 December 2014

TechCrunch: “Instagram Hits 300 Million Monthly Users To Surpass Twitter”

It’s no fad. Just nine months after hitting 200 million users, Instagram now says 300 million people use its photo app every month, with 70% of them coming from outside the US. That makes Instagram officially bigger than Twitter, which had 284 million active users as of six weeks ago.

Josh Constine

I saw the same argument repeated elsewhere, but I think comparing straight up user numbers is a bit misleading here. It’s like comparing the news business to the entertainment industry – the parallel being, evidently, that is the news center of the real-time era, while dominates shallow entertainment and quick communication. At the end of the day, people will consume both news and entertainment, and they will both be viable sources of revenue, but they will reach different audiences, depending on personal tastes.

08 December 2014

What’s new in Chrome 40

Despite the round number, this version of is relatively light on updates. The most important are aimed at developers, as highlighted in the official announcement. Service Workers are likely the most relevant long-term, a new API enabling web applications to use functionality normally reserved for native apps, like rich offline experiences, periodic background syncs and push notifications. You can read a more comprehensive description of the technology in this introductory article on HTML5 Rocks. Unfortunately, support is currently limited to browsers using the Blink rendering engine (Chrome on desktop and Android, ) and ; without a commitment from on Safari, service workers will have a limited impact on the development of mobile apps.

01 December 2014

On Spotify’s strengths and challenges

Since I wrote a couple of articles about Spotify and streaming recently, I gave the company and business some more thought. To better summarize them, I compiled a SWOT matrix for Spotify, a tabular analysis listing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats a business is likely to face in the future. These will apply to some extent to any other streaming service.