Pick of the week
A fascinating and insightful Apple Insider look at the origins of Swift hinting at the painstaking unglamorous long-term engineering work that is needed behind the scenes to bring a new programming language into existence. In the case of Swift, Apple’s hiring of Chris Lattner, the creator of LLVM, in 2005 was key to its development. His online resume highlights his now critical role within the company: “In January , I took over management and leadership of the entire Developer Tools department at Apple (> 100 people). In addition to compilers and low-level tools, I am now responsible for the Xcode IDE, Instruments performance analysis tool, Apple Java releases, and a variety of internal tools. Xcode 5 is the first result of this work, though much of the feature planning and implementation was complete before I took over. I drove convergence and defined a few key features that were released at WWDC.” The end result according to Apple “is the first industrial-quality systems programming language that is as expressive and enjoyable as a scripting language” which is some claim. This snippet provides a glimpse at some of the evidence by showing lineage of array allocation from old style Objective-C in Xcode 4 up to Swift:
Xcode 4: NSArray *names = [[NSArray alloc] initWithObjects: @"Tom", @"Dick", @"Harry", nil]; Xcode 5: NSArray *names = @[@"Tom", @"Dick", @"Harry"]; Swift: let names = ["Tom", "Dick", "Harry"]
- How iOS and Android smartphones have utterly disrupted Japanese camera manufacturers in one startling image:
- Indoor GPS is now closer to reality on iOS8 with the addition of IPS (indoor positioning system) support: “iOS 8 adds the M7 processor and iPhone motion sensors to the CoreLocation API, handing off location tracking to those elements from GPS, cell and Wi-Fi tower broad location detection used for outdoor navigation when a user arrives at a venue.” IPS handoff appears distinct from the other Indoor GPS enabler Apple is pushing, namely iBeacon technology.
- In another sign of OEM attention shifting to innovative use of sensor technology to aid user experience, one of the features announced by Apple in iOS8 was OCR scanning of credit card numbers: “Buying stuff on your iPhone is about to become easier: Apple has added a feature to Safari in iOS 8 that uses the iPhone’s camera and optical character recognition to scan your credit card number instead of typing it in.”
- Again, in similar vein, “Earables” (audio specific wearable tech) seem to be a thing right now with speculation that Apple’s acquisition of Beats may result is some interesting products which offload processing capability from headset to handset. Around MWC, Sony talked up the same feature in their innovative Xperia Z2 noise cancelling headphones.
- Microsoft are also seeking to differentiate Windows Phone with Kinect-like sensors to support a range of unique gestural controls: “At least one device, codenamed McLaren, will debut on a range of US carriers later this year with features that let you hover your finger over the screen to interact with games and applications without ever touching the display. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the technology, known internally as 3D Touch or Real Motion, has been developed by Nokia over a number of years. “
- Several positive in-depth reviews of the new LG Android flagship G3. Engadget put LG’s differentiating software including a simplified camera app, Smart Notice phone assistant and LG Health pedometer app through their paces. The Verge were enthusiastic about the product but a little down on the plastic metal cover. Both praised the industry-first infrared laser fast image focussing system used by the camera and the stunning QuadHD screen. Interestingly, the G3 is significantly outselling the Samsung Galaxy S5 in South Korea in the first few days since launch: “And the situation is very good indeed for LG. The G3 has been averaging around 25,000 to 30,000 units sold per day since its release, compared to just 7,000 to 8,000 for the Galaxy S5. That’s quite a difference, more than a 3-to-1 ratio in fact.”:
- Unwired View picked up on a hint that the next ZTE flagship Android device, the Z7 is coming soon and suggest it: “should sport a 5-inch 1080p Full HD touchscreen, a 16 MP rear camera with optical image stabilization, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, 3 GB of RAM, and it will feature Nubia UI 2.0, the latest from ZTE on this front.”
- The kernel source for the OnePlus One Snapdragon 801 based Android smartphone running Cyanogen Mod has been released and is available for inspection on github.
- This could be the highest feature/$ ratio product out there today – a sub-$200 octocore 3G phablet running KitKat:
- KitKat is now on 14% of Android phones.
- Meantime, the latest KitKat 4.4.3 update is out positioned as an incremental, minor update. The reality from inspecting the source is of a cumulatively significant amount of change across many different AOSP components. To which you can add silicon vendor changes to the mix.
- According to AndroidPolice, there’s an upcoming Google Now feature called Nearby that will let devices “interact with other devices and places nearby”. It sounds like Google’s response to Apple iBeacon and could be unveiled as early as Google IO. It’s possible it builds on Google’s acquisition of the popular cross-platform Bump app late last year. The privacy implications for any such feature are profound given Google’s reach and are sure to be closely scrutinised. These are purported to be actual screenshots:
- Google Maps Easter Eggs include 21 minutes to travel by dragon from Snowdon to the Brecons:
- SwiftKey is now free for Android.
- Europe is over from a smartphone growth perspective. APAC is where future growth will happen:
- Helping validate that trend, this IDC report highlights smartphone adoption in India happening faster than anywhere else in APAC aided by migration from a vast existing feature phone base. The biggest beneficiary is Samsung and the primary loser Nokia: “India was the highest growing market in Asia Pacific with a year-on-year smartphone shipment growth of over 186% in 1Q 2014. The vast majority of the country’s user base migrated to smartphones from feature phones and as a result Indian smartphone market outshone other emerging markets like China which registered a year-on-year growth of 31% in 1Q 2014.”
- Umeng is the largest mobile app analytics platform in China and they’ve just released some interesting mobile usage stats for Q1 highlighting the importance of China’s third tier cities which are now at the heart of the Chinese smartphone battleground:
- The fierce competition between Samsung, Apple and Xiaomi has led to something of a market share Mexican standoff between the three as highlighted by this recent Baidu data:
- Business Week published a profile of Xiaomi “the world’s fastest growing phone maker” covering the background to the company, its international expansion plans and driven work culture. They were granted access to Xiaomi offices to take this picture:
- InfoQ posted an article on Kafka, the publish-subscribe messaging system used at LinkedIn and later absorbed within Apache. The article outlines Kafka’s plus points in comparison with AMQP.
- The FT’s latest Cyber Security report highlights how regulators are being outgunned by criminals and state-sponsored attackers. A section on car hacking highlights the sobering number of ways into a vehicle for a determined attacker as a result of the inclusion of technologies of convenience.
- Sherlybox is the latest crowd-funded “personal cloud” Kickstarter NAS proposition. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi: “It works like a cloud, but data stays on your own drives. Make a folder and invite friends to share it”.
- Google has released an early alpha for an end to end Chrome encryption plugin focussing on the security of email as it transits the Internet: “The “End-to-End” extension is intended to make the “Pretty Good Privacy” (or PGP) encryption standard super simple to use. “End-to-End” refers to data that remains encrypted until the recipient decrypts it. In this case, it would apply to messages sent from your browser and decrypted in the recipient’s browser.” Meanwhile, the FSF, who presumably don’t approve of Google’s approach, compiled a proactive technical user-oriented piece on how to go about proper email defence.
- Product Hunt is a curated social news site for tech products that is read by a lot of influential people involved in VC for instance. It started off as a mailing list that expanded out into a monetized service.
- Passpoint looks like an interesting proposition for the “next wave of WiFi” helping tie up the likes of iPass and Boingo to operator infrastructure: “You may not have heard of Passpoint, but it’s the next big thing in Wi-Fi, and soon you’re going to see it everywhere.”
Big Data/Machine Learning
- Extensive mainstream media reported about Eugene Goostman, a computer program “that convinced humans that it was a 13-year-old boy” from the Ukraine and in so doing “has become the first computer ever to pass the Turing Test.” Many more technically astute commentators however including Ray Kurzweil disagreed. Kurzweil provided the transcript of his conversation and this pithy assessment: “I chatted with the chatbot Eugene Goostman, and was not impressed. Eugene does not keep track of the conversation, repeats himself word for word, and often responds with typical chatbot non sequiturs.” You can talk to Eugene online but the site appeared to be hosed after the announcement:
- The advent of HealthKit in iOS8 could spell trouble ahead for the native apps of wearable manufacturers like Fitbit who may find themselves disintermediated by Apple’s creation: “HealthKit supports direct wireless device connections over Bluetooth LE. That means the Fitbit I currently wear (see disclosure below) could speak directly to the Health app in addition to, or instead of, the Fitbit app I have on my iPhone.” In order to succeed, according to a TNW post from a medical IT expert HealthKit must: a) suggest ways to improve core health, b) integrate siri as a personal health coach, c) learn over time.
- More iWatch in October rumours this time with claims of a curved OLED screen.
- Google Glass is going to be huge over the coming couple of years in spite of its many detractors because of the sheer number of “killer” use cases involving surveillance and the enterprise environment.
- Docomo “has announced what it describes as the world’s first SIM-based authentication device“. Operators will need to address the coming IoT landscape and this is one possible direction.
- Smokio is an “e-cigarette” proposition looking for an irreverent place on the health IoT stage. “It works by hooking the device up to an app on your smartphone which captures your vitals every time you vape, even when your phone is out of sight. The app tracks how often you smoke and how much nicotine is currently in your body.”
- Neoji is a crowd-funded smart home security hub proposition with ambitious goals: “The device has built-in movement sensors, a microphone, voice recognition tech and machine learning algorithms so it can alert the user to unusual activity in the home.”
- The Japanese network operator SoftBank is moving into robotics with the announcement of Pepper, an “emotionally mature” robot which will go on sale in its stores from February 2015. Pepper “uses an ‘emotional engine’ developed by SoftBank, which is powered by a cloud-based artificial intelligence system. Each robot provides feedback from its experiences into the cloud AI, in a process designed to help them collectively improve their intelligence and awareness.”
- Tetris, created in the Soviet Union during the Cold War era in 1984, is 30 years old:
- Modio is an interesting iOS app aimed at kids with iPads that “allows you to build Lego-like creatures that snap together and can be printed in multiple colors” using a 3D printer.
- Swift is inevitably getting a lot of coverage with Facebook’s Parse cloud app development platform announcing support for the language. It’s not all totally positive however – some have noted that Swift doesn’t support exception handling properly. The full language specification published by Apple is worth exploring to understand more about how Swift works with types, control constructs, classes and functions. Also, InfoQ have published a really helpful compendium of resources for anyone wanting to get started with the language. It’s important to understand the full picture and Mark Wilcox wrote a more balanced assessment: “while the language may be beginner friendly, it makes it fairly easy to write code that leaks memory”
- Why Python is a great first programming language from a non-technical background perspective.
- A look at the UK government’s “Future Fifty” UK companies: “Announced in late 2013, the Future Fifty, a selection of the finest 50 tech companies the UK has to offer, is a government initiative to create a “solid pipeline of British tech IPOs”. The majority are eCommerce-related, fintech (financial technology) or fashion propositions:
- Eye contact is good but too much is creepy and to avoid that you should apparently “triangulate” between eyes and mouth. Useful to know the next time you spot someone doing it.
- Content Loop on creating a culture of innovation: “An innovative culture begins with the organizational attitude of accepting that the world really has changed. It’s about cultivating a mindset to learn to see the world in new ways.”