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charlesarthur : hardware   35

Google hardware: paging Dr. Porat • Radio Free Mobile
Richard Windsor thinks Ruth Porat, Google's CFO, is going to run her knife over its hardware division, particularly for the Pixel phones:
<p>Samsung has done a much better job at taking on Apple given its scale, brand, distribution and the fact that its core competence is to take the innovations of others and make them smaller, better and cheaper.

In exactly the same vein, I have also argued that Samsung’s investments in Bixby and software and services represent different symptoms of the same affliction.

This is why I have argued that Samsung and Google should stop wasting money on each other’s core competence and throw their lot in together.

The problem for Google hardware is that the days of underperforming businesses hiding under the skirts of the giant search cash machine are coming to an end. We have already seen this as in March, the Pixel Slate and Pixelbook team was cut back due to the lacklustre sales of the product. The three versions of the Google Pixel have sold in paltry volumes with market share never reliably exceeding 0.3% with 4.5m units sold in 2018.

Given the low volume, I would estimate the gross margin of this product is around 20% in the best instance which after product development costs and marketing leaves very little if anything left over.

This is not the kind of performance that Google is used to which combined with an apparent inability to really get the hardware right means that Dr. Porat will be asking some very hard questions of this division this year. Consequently, I think that Google needs to see a significant step up in performance with the Pixel 4, otherwise, it too may fall under the surgeon’s knife.</p>

Remember, you heard it here first. Unless you get his newsletter, which is often provocative.
google  pixel  hardware 
6 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Appl still hasn’t fixd its MacBook kyboad problm • WSJ
Joanna Stern (with Elliot Bentley):
<p>Nop, I havn’t fogottn how to wit. No did my dito go on vacation.

You s, to sha th pain of using an Appl laptop kyboad that’s faild aft fou months, I could only think of on ida: tak all th bokn ltts out of my column. Thn I alizd that would mak th whol thing unadabl. So to...

Why is th baking of my MacBook Ai kyboad so insanly maddning? Lt’s tak a tip down Mmoy Lan...

Apil 2015: Appl Inc. lass th all-nw MacBook with a “buttfly” kyboad. In od to achiv xtm thinnss, th kys a much flatt than old gnations but th buttfly mchanism undnath, fo which th kyboad is namd, aims to plicat th bounc of a mo taditional kyboad.

Octob 2016: Th MacBook Po aivs with a scond-gnation buttfly kyboad. A fw months lat, som bgin to pot that ltts o chaacts don’t appa, that kys gt stuck o that ltts unxpctdly pat.

That’s why I’d lik to off you th oppotunity to…</p>

Eugh. I wonder if Apple will finally, finally, <em>finally</em> listen to this. When you get stories like this in international papers from well-respected writers, it destroys your reputation. This has gone on for years now and it still isn't fixed. I've never known Apple to be so indifferent to a serious problem that has gone on for so long across an entire product line.
apple  keyboard  hardware 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Google tells dozens of employees on its laptop and tablet division to find new jobs at the company • Business Insider
Nick Bastone:
<p>Google has moved dozens of employees out of its laptop and tablet division, scaling back the size of its in-house hardware group as it re-assesses product plans in the fiercely competitive computer market.

Dozens of Google employees working on the company's "Create" team - an internal hardware division responsible for developing and manufacturing Google's laptop and tablet products - have been told to find new projects within Google or its parent company Alphabet, amid what sources describe as "roadmap cutbacks."

Among the affected employees who were given notice of the cutbacks in the last two weeks are hardware engineers, technical program managers, and those who support program managers. Sources say projects have been canceled within the laptop and tablet division, prompting the changes, but that team members have been instructed to find new roles temporarily within the Google or Alphabet organization.

By asking employees to seek temporary, rather than permanent, new roles, Google may be leaving itself flexibility to boost staffing on the Create hardware team in the future. Already, these "floating" employees have been seeking roles within the company's smartphone division, Pixel, and other Alphabet companies, sources say.</p>

Thin margins, high-priced hardware that probably doesn't sell; it's not surprising.
Google  laptop  hardware 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
The cloud is just someone else's computer… but what if it were your computer? • Coding Horror
<p>Given the prevalence and maturity of cloud providers, it's even a little controversial these days to colocate actual servers, but we've also experimented with colocating mini-pcs in various hosting roles. I'm still curious why there isn't more of a cottage industry for colocating mini PCs. Because … I think there should be.

I originally wrote about the scooter computers we added to our Discourse infrastructure in 2016, plus my own colocation experiment that ran concurrently. Over the last three years of both experiments, I've concluded that these little boxes are plenty reliable, with one role specific caveat that I'll explain in the comments. I remain an unabashed fan of mini-PC colocation. I like it so much I put together a new 2019 iteration…

…Let's break this down and see what the actual costs of colocating a Mini-PC are versus the cloud. Let's assume a useful life of say, three years? Given the plateauing of CPU speeds, I think five years is more realistic, but let's use the more conservative number to be safe.

$880 mini-pc 32GB RAM, 6 CPUs, 500GB SSD<br />$120 taxes / shipping / misc<br />$29 × 12 × 3 = $1,044<br />That's $2,044 for three years of hosting. How can we do on Digital Ocean? Per their current pricing page:

32GB RAM, 8 vCPUs, 640GB SSD<br />$160/month<br />$160 × 12 × 3 = $5,760</p>

Colocation is quite a thing.
cloud  hardware 
february 2019 by charlesarthur
Google devices like Pixel are a hobby and likely to stay that way • Bloomberg
Shira Ovide:
<p>In 2017 and the first half of this year, Google shipped about 5 million Pixel smartphones worldwide, according to the research firm IDC. Apple sells as many iPhones in about eight days as Google did in 18 months — and even Apple has a relatively small minority market share in smartphones. 

Small numbers aren’t confined to Google, either. Journalists like me can’t stop talking about the “runaway success” of the Echo devices, Inc.’s rapidly expanding lineup of voice-activated home doodads. Amazon sold about 3.6m of the two most popular Echo models from April to June, Strategy Analytics estimated. Fitbit, a company that journalists like me stopped talking about long ago, sold 2.7m motion-tracking gadgets in the same period. 

Yes, Amazon’s hardware sales are growing and Fitbit numbers are shrinking, but you get the point. For most software or internet tech empires, hardware is a niche hobby, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. 

That leaves the question of why tech companies that built fortunes on areas other than computing hardware are bothering at all. I wasn’t sure about Microsoft’s Surface line for a long time, but I have been convinced that the company successfully spurred new ideas in what a computer could and should be, even as Microsoft sells relatively few personal computers on its own. I’m not completely sold on the strategic merits of Amazon’s Echo gadgets, but it’s clear that the company wants a pole position if computers controlled by voice become the prevalent form of human interaction with machines. 

As for Google, I was unsure of the merits of the company jumping into hardware with both feet when the Alphabet unit unveiled its first self-branded smartphone two years ago, and I’m still not sure what the company is doing.</p>

Indeed, if Google doesn't spread the Pixel computational love to the rest of the Android OEMs, what is the point? Experimentation?
google  amazon  hardware 
october 2018 by charlesarthur
How Triplebyte solved its office Wi-Fi problems • Triplebyte Blog
Mike Robbins:
<p>Our team just moved to a larger office in downtown San Francisco. On moving day, I was shocked to discover a bundle of rough-cut unterminated ethernet cables on one end, ripped-out punch-down jacks on the other, no uplink, and no Wi-Fi!

There’s no IT team at startups, and as software engineers, we might be called on to step up in a pinch. Here’s a smorgasbord of suggestions — some well-known and others obscure — that helped me get a reliable network running fast.</p>

These are all fascinating discoveries - especially about how to get the same Wi-Fi network to appear to be all over the office.
internet  wifi  hardware  ethernet 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
Hacker finds hidden 'God mode' on old x86 CPUs • Tom's Hardware
Paul Wagenseil:
<p>The backdoor completely breaks the protection-ring model of operating-system security, in which the OS kernel runs in ring 0, device drivers run in rings 1 and 2, and user applications and interfaces ("userland") run in ring 3, furthest from the kernel and with the least privileges. To put it simply, Domas' God Mode takes you from the outermost to the innermost ring in four bytes.

"We have direct ring 3 to ring 0 hardware privilege escalation," Domas said. "This has never been done."

That's because of the hidden RISC chip, which lives so far down on the bare metal that Domas half-joked that it ought to be thought of as a new, deeper ring of privilege, following the theory that hypervisors and chip-management systems can be considered ring -1 or ring -2.

"This is really ring -4," he said. "It's a secret, co-located core buried alongside the x86 chip. It has unrestricted access to the x86."

The good news is that, as far as Domas knows, this backdoor exists only on VIA C3 Nehemiah chips made in 2003 and used in embedded systems and thin clients. The bad news is that it's entirely possible that such hidden backdoors exist on many other chipsets.

"These black boxes that we're trusting are things that we have no way to look into," he said. "These backdoors probably exist elsewhere."</p>

It's almost certain, isn't it? If it's not the software or the firmware or the hardware, it's the software/firmware/hardware that <em>controls</em> the hardware.
security  hacking  intel  cpu  backdoor  hardware 
august 2018 by charlesarthur
Apple engineers its own downfall with the Macbook Pro keyboard • iFixit
Kyle Wiens runs iFixit, which offers guides to fixing devices of all kinds:
<p>Ask any Touch Bar owner if they would trade a tenth of a millimeter for a more reliable keyboard. No one who has followed this Apple support document instructing them to shake their laptop at a 75 degree angle and spray their keyboard with air in a precise zig-zag pattern will quibble over a slightly thicker design.

This is design anorexia: making a product slimmer and slimmer at the cost of usefulness, functionality, serviceability, and the environment.

A repairable pro laptop is not an unreasonable ask. Apple has a history of great keyboards—they know how to make them. There are very successful laptop manufacturers who consistently earn 10/10 on our repairability scale. Apple fans are already making noise about the dearth of new Macs, especially upgradable options for professionals. Fortunately, Apple seems to be listening with their new warranty program.

Which brings us back to the point. Why did it take so long, and so many complaints, for the repair program to be put in place? Why do you need to send your MacBook Pro away for upwards of a week for a repair? That’s easy: because Apple made their product hard for them to repair, too. Apple’s new warranty program is going to cost them a lot of money.

Apple’s profit on every machine that they warranty under this new program has been decimated. There is a real business impact caused by unrepairable product design. Samsung recently had a similar experience with the Note7. Yes, the battery problem was a manufacturing defect. But if the battery had been easy to replace, they could have recalled just the batteries instead of the entire phone. It was a $5bn design mistake.

But this isn’t just about warranty cost—there is a loud outcry for reliable, long-lasting, upgradeable machines. Just look at the <a href="">market demand for the six-year-old 2012 MacBook Pro</a>—the last fully upgradeable notebook Apple made. I use one myself, and I love it.</p>

The point about the cost is a good one. This is going to wipe out a lot of profit (the keyboards are glued to the battery, or vice-versa). Perhaps one day the full story of this engineering screwup will be told.
apple  keyboard  mac  hardware  butterfly 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
Two Keyboards at a Bar • Rands in Repose
<p><em>APPLE EXTENDED II sits at the bar nursing a Macallan 18. Next to him is MACBOOK PRO who has not taken a sip of his glass of water.</em>

APPLE EXTENDED II: Lonely times, man. Lonely times. First, it was scissors then butterflies. Do you want to know what I miss? Electric Alps switches. That was the dream, right?

MACBOOK PRO (nervous, staring at the bar, napkins in both hands): Did you clean up before I sat down? It looks clean, but…

APPLE EXTENDED II (interrupting): Kids today. They don’t appreciate the reliable, credible haptic feedback of a single healthy keystroke. It’s all hunt, peck, and swipe swipe swipe.

TOUCHBAR (arrives): Hey! Nobody told me we were going out to drinks . This is great!

APPLE EXTENDED II: Wait, who invited him?

MACBOOK PRO: Sorry, we’re a package deal. It’s not…</p>

Brilliant. Stemming, of course, from John Gruber's wonderful <a href="">"The iTunes 5 Announcement From the Perspective of an Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal User Interface Theme"</a>, <a href="">"iLife ’06 From the Perspective of an Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal Interface"</a> and <a href="">"An Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal Interface Theme Shows Up for the WWDC Preview Build of Mac OS X Leopard"</a>, from 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively.
apple  hardware  keyboard  anthropomorphism 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
Spotify is ‘on its way’ to creating its first hardware according to job ad • Musically
<p>The role? “You will define and manage Distribution, Supply, Logistics, fulfillment and Customer Service for Hardware Products and work with partners to deliver the optimal Spotify experience to millions of users.”

Based in Stockholm, this isn’t a job about managing integrations with third-party devices: among the job’s duties is to “manage the supply chain, demand and forecast & inventory”.

Separate ads for a Senior Project Manager: Hardware Production and Project Manager: Hardware Production & Engineering are also indications that Spotify’s hardware plans are ramping up.

Many people will leap to ‘smart speaker’ as the assumption about what the first Spotify-branded hardware product will be. Which begs the question: if so, where will its voice assistant – its equivalent of Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – come from?</p>

We <a href="">last heard about this in April 2017</a> and still there's no word of what this might be. Wearable? Smart speaker? Dumb speaker? Wait for production to start in the Far East, then I give it a couple of weeks to a leak.
Spotify  hardware 
february 2018 by charlesarthur
The best laptop ever made •
Marco Arment:
<p>Apple has made many great laptops, but the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro (2012–2015) is the epitome of usefulness, elegance, practicality, and power for an overall package that still hasn’t been (and may never be) surpassed.

Introduced in 2012, less than a year after Steve Jobs died, I see it as the peak of Jobs’ vision for the Mac.

It was the debut of high-DPI Macs, starting down the long road (which we still haven’t finished) to an all-Retina lineup. And with all-SSD storage, quad-core i7 processors, and a healthy amount of RAM all standard, every configuration was fast, capable, and pleasant to use…

…I recently returned to the 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro after a year away.

Apple still sells this model, brand new, just limited to the integrated-only GPU option (which I prefer as a non-gamer for its battery, heat, and longevity advantages), but I got mine lightly used for over $1000 less.

I thought it would feel like a downgrade, or like going back in time. I feared that it would feel thick, heavy, and cumbersome. I expected it to just look impossibly old. It didn’t.

It feels as delightful as when I first got one in 2012. It’s fast, capable, and reliable. It gracefully does what I need it to do. It’s barely heavier or thicker, and I got to remove so many accessories from my travel bag that I think I’m actually coming out ahead.

It feels like a professional tool, made by people who love and need computers, at the top of their game. It’s designed for us, rather than asking us to adapt ourselves to it. It helps us perform our work, rather than adding to our workload.

This is the peak. This is the best laptop that has ever existed.</p>

I'm typing this on a 2012 model. Recently got the battery replaced; Apple cleaned the whole thing. Like having a brand new machine.
apple  laptop  hardware  macbookpro 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
Apple at its best • Stratechery
Ben Thompson found himself delighted - that's the word - with the iPhone X, and reflects on where Apple's sustainable advantage exists in the smartphone world of hardware and services:
<p>smartphones are increasingly replacing PCs, but even then most use is additive, not substitutive. In other words, there is no reason to expect that the arrival of artificial intelligence means that people will no longer care about what smartphone they use. Sure, the latter may “recede into the background” in the minds of pundits, but they will still be in consumers’ pockets for a long time to come.

There’s a second error, though, that flows from this presumption of zero-summedness: it ignores the near-term business imperatives of the various parties. Google is the best example: were the company to restrict its services to its own smartphone platform the company would be financially decimated. The most attractive customers to Google’s advertisers are on the iPhone — just look at how much Google is willing to pay to acquire them — and while Google could in theory convince them to switch by keeping its superior services exclusive, in reality such an approach is untenable. In other words, Google is heavily incentivized to preserve the iPhone as a competitive platform in terms of Google’s own services; granted, Android is still better in terms of easy access and defaults, but the advantage is far smaller than it could be.

Apple, meanwhile, is busy building competing services of its own, and while its easy — and correct — to argue that they aren’t really competitive with Google’s, that doesn’t really matter because competition isn’t happening in a vacuum. Rather, Apple not only enjoys the cost of switching advantage inherent to all incumbents, but also is, as the iPhone X shows, maintaining if not extending the user experience advantage that comes from its integrated model. That, by extension, means that Apple’s services need only be “good enough” — there’s that phrase! — to let the company’s other strengths shine.</p>

Worth it for the GIF he includes of unlocking for notifications. For all the (plentiful) moaning about Apple, In the past year, both AirPods and the iPhone X have really delighted people who begin using them expecting "just another" product. The iPhone X, in particular, has had rave reviews from customers.

What's the last product you used that utterly <em>delighted</em> you?
apple  services  hardware 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
Examining the malaise of bargain basement virtual reality • Anandtech
Ian Cutress went for a wander around IFA (back in September, but this is still valid), to look for the crappy VR headsets, to see how bad "bad" might be and still be on sale:
<p>So here’s the thing: the Skyworth headset is essentially a smartphone under the hood that you can’t take out. So what makes it better than a Samsung VR headset where the smartphone can be attached / detatched? One would assume it’s a price thing, and we were told the price for the headset could be $400 to $800. I remarked that it was a pretty large range, but was told that the Skyworth headset is still a work in progress, with exact specifications to be decided later. If it was $400, it might be more palatable, but for $800 then it might be easier to go the smartphone route.

This brings us around to the problem with VR right now. Everyone wants in on the bandwagon, and in a keynote at the event it was pointed out that in order for triple-A style games and film studios to start making content in these new formats, there needs to be more potential sales out there. Current estimates put 500k headsets in the market (of varying degrees of power) with another 2.7 million by the end of 2017. No game studio or film studio, working on the next FPS or Avatar, will make a massive piece of content for only 3.2 million people – it needs to be in the hands of tens of millions to even start to make sense, and we won’t be at that point for a number of years.

All that being said, you have a choice – investing in a premium VR headset to be able to experience the best will cost $700+, in terms of the headset itself plus any extra hardware you need to power it. The easiest way to enter the VR space with some clout is the smartphone or all-in-one route, but that is still a hefty cost. Then there is a large, long gap to the segment of very basic all-in-one virtual reality headsets as shown at IFA this year.

For $100, or the rough price of the Samsung headset without any internal hardware, you get a basic quad-core Rockchip design with limited functionality. I’m half inclined to suggest that a bucket be provided as well, just in case nausea takes over. But it shows what a state VR is in, when the hardware is still so expensive. In order to get a base experience that can truly be called VR, such as with the Skyworth headset, it might be as much as a high-end smartphone anyway. For mass market adoption, the cost to enter has to be low, but not so low we’re scraping the barrel for basic frame rates.</p>

I can't see how VR gets to there from here.
virtualreality  hardware  malaise 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
The downfall of Doppler Labs: inside the last days of a hardware startup • WIRED
David Pierce has followed Doppler Labs since it thought it had something special happening in late 2016:
<p>Suddenly, [Doppler's Bluetooth earbud offering] Here One was on pace to beat Apple's AirPods to market. "Not only did we have an inbound offer, but we were ahead of the curve," [co-founder Noah] Kraft says.

Armed with an awesome demo and what they believed was a real offer from a tech giant, Kraft and his team started to think about selling the company. "Before this revolution happens, maybe somebody's going to take us out to win the race," Kraft thought. The team set up shop in the gorgeous offices of the Universal Music Group in downtown San Francisco, a wide-open space with spacious views of the Bay Bridge. Through October and November [2016], they hosted a parade of potential investors and acquirers from all over the Valley, including all of the big five. Kraft, [co-founder Fritz] Lanman, and some high-level Doppler engineers took each group through the company's technology and vision, and gave them a demo of Here One.

Looking back, both Kraft and Lanman say they should have approached the process differently. "We were definitely irrationally confident," Lanman says. Kraft is more blunt: "We thought we were the shit." He won't share Doppler's actual asking price, but compares its fortunes to Dropcam, which sold to Google for $555m in 2014. "We were signaling that we're not desperate at this point, so if you want us, it has to be proactive." That might be why, at the end of the meetings, everyone responded the same: Investors love your tech, but wanted to see Doppler actually mass-produce and sell a product

By the end of November it was clear the best thing for Doppler to do was prove that Here One could be a success. That presented its own challenges. They'd switched manufacturers, and a longer-than-expected wait for a component pushed mass production back from fall of 2016 to February of 2017. That meant Here One wouldn't beat AirPods to market, or capitalize on the all-important holiday sales rush. And Doppler had to raise another $10m just to get the product out the door.</p>

Kraft, when asked what their real mistake was, says it was starting a hardware business. "We shouldn't have done that." Now it's finished. A cautionary tale: hardware is expensive and failure is common.
headphones  hardware 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
Google defends Pixel 2 XL screen, promises updates for audio issues • Ars Technica
Ron Amadeo:
<p>The end result of the complaints (and news articles) is that every Pixel 2 and 2 XL will come with a two-year warranty, and Google will push out some software updates to alleviate some of the other Pixel problems.

LG is far behind Samsung when it comes to producing quality OLED panels for smartphones, but for some reason Google still chose to slap an inferior component onto its flagship smartphone. Here are the most common complaints we've seen out there as a result:

• The display is grainy or "dirty" looking at low brightness.<br />• It experiences image burn-in after just a few weeks.<br />• There's a blue shift to the display when looked at off-angle.<br />• The colors are "dull." (This one is more of a personal preference.)

Mario Queiroz, Google Hardware's VP of product management, <a href="!topic/phone-by-google/FRyoLZZjXvo">said on the Pixel forums</a> that while he thinks the Pixel 2 XL display is "beautiful," Google is taking some steps to address some of these issues.

For the display burn-in, Queiroz says Google's investigation found that "the Pixel 2 XL display shows that its decay characteristics are similar to OLED panels used in comparable products" and that "the differential aging is in line with that of other premium smartphones and should not affect the normal, day-to-day user experience of the Pixel 2 XL."</p>

Well, this has been a whole saga during the past week. LG-made p-OLED panels on the Pixel XL seem to show burn-in (many reviewers bore this out). And people complain they look dull. The former seems to be down to LG not being great at OLED (its V30 drew similar complaints); the latter, to not trying to have oversaturated colours on the OLED.

Given the small numbers the Pixel 2 sells in, comparatively, this is hardly a great start.
pixel2  google  hardware 
october 2017 by charlesarthur
Apple is working on a dedicated chip to power AI on devices • Bloomberg
Mark Gurman:
<p>Apple devices currently handle complex artificial intelligence processes with two different chips: the main processor and the graphics chip. The new chip would let Apple offload those tasks onto a dedicated module designed specifically for demanding artificial intelligence processing, allowing Apple to improve battery performance.

Should Apple bring the chip out of testing and development, it would follow other semiconductor makers that have already introduced dedicated AI chips. Qualcomm Inc.’s latest Snapdragon chip for smartphones has a module for handling artificial intelligence tasks, while Google announced its first chip, called the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), in 2016. That chip worked in Google’s data centers to power search results and image-recognition. At its I/O conference this year, Google announced a new version that will be available to clients of its cloud business. Nvidia Corp. also sells a similar chip to cloud customers.

The Apple AI chip is designed to make significant improvements to Apple’s hardware over time, and the company plans to eventually integrate the chip into many of its devices, including the iPhone and iPad, according to the person with knowledge of the matter. Apple has tested prototypes of future iPhones with the chip, the person said, adding that it’s unclear if the component will be ready this year.</p>

Gurman says it's known internally as the "Apple Neural Engine". Makes perfect sense to put it on the phone - leave the GPU and CPU alone where possible.
apple  ai  hardware  chip  neural 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
Spotify to launch hardware, cites Alexa and Snapchat • Zatz Not Funny!
Dave Zatz:
<p>A trusted source indicates that Spotify, the highly regarded music streaming service, will soon follow in Snapchat’s footsteps with a foray into hardware. While details on the upcoming “wearable” were not provided, several job listings seemingly provide clues.</p>

Job 1: sr product manager - hardware:
<p>join the Platform & Partner Experience team working to build frictionless and creative Spotify experiences via fully-connected hardware devices. You will be leading an initiative to deliver hardware directly from Spotify to existing and new customers; a category defining product akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles. You will define the product requirements for internet-connected hardware, the software that powers it, and work with suppliers/manufacturers to deliver the optimal Spotify experience to millions of users.</p>

Job 2: product manager - voice:
<p>responsible for the strategy and execution of Spotify’s voice efforts beyond our core apps. Our tribe is responsible for all Spotify consumer experiences outside of Spotify’s core iOS and Android applications. We focus on areas like desktop, TVs, speakers, cars, wearables, headphones and partner application integrations to make Spotify available wherever our users are.</p>

I'm tempted to say that Spotify has decided to find more ways to lose money, but hardware could actually be a clever way to lock people in to the ecosystem. Worked for Apple.
music  hardware  spotify 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Intel on the outside: the rise of artificial intelligence is creating new variety in the chip market, and trouble for Intel • The Economist
<p>This unipolar world [of Intel processors] is starting to crumble. Processors are no longer improving quickly enough to be able to handle, for instance, machine learning and other AI applications, which require huge amounts of data and hence consume more number-crunching power than entire data centres did just a few years ago. Intel’s customers, such as Google and Microsoft together with other operators of big data centres, are opting for more and more specialised processors from other companies and are designing their own to boot.

Nvidia’s GPUs are one example. They were created to carry out the massive, complex computations required by interactive video games. GPUs have hundreds of specialised “cores” (the “brains” of a processor), all working in parallel, whereas CPUs have only a few powerful ones that tackle computing tasks sequentially. Nvidia’s latest processors boast 3,584 cores; Intel’s server CPUs have a maximum of 28.

The company’s lucky break came in the midst of one of its near-death experiences during the 2008-09 global financial crisis. It discovered that hedge funds and research institutes were using its chips for new purposes, such as calculating complex investment and climate models. It developed a coding language, called CUDA, that helps its customers program its processors for different tasks. When cloud computing, big data and AI gathered momentum a few years ago, Nvidia’s chips were just what was needed.

Every online giant uses Nvidia GPUs to give their AI services the capability to ingest reams of data from material ranging from medical images to human speech. The firm’s revenues from selling chips to data-centre operators trebled in the past financial year, to $296m.</p>
intel  nvidia  hardware 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Google reveals its servers all contain custom security silicon • The Register
Simon Sharwood:
<p>Revealed last Friday, the document outlines six layers of security and reveals some interesting factoids about the Alphabet subsidiary's operations, none more so than the disclosure that: “We also design custom chips, including a hardware security chip that is currently being deployed on both servers and peripherals. These chips allow us to securely identify and authenticate legitimate Google devices at the hardware level.”

That silicon works alongside cryptographic signatures employed “over low-level components like the BIOS, bootloader, kernel, and base operating system image.”

“These signatures can be validated during each boot or update,” the document says, adding that “the components are all Google-controlled, built, and hardened. With each new generation of hardware we strive to continually improve security: for example, depending on the generation of server design, we root the trust of the boot chain in either a lockable firmware chip, a microcontroller running Google-written security code, or the above mentioned Google-designed security chip."</p>

This is in Google's <a href="">Infrastructure Security Design Overview</a>. Google is paranoid about people penetrating its security because it relies on peoples' trust; without that it would be Yahoo.
google  security  hardware 
january 2017 by charlesarthur
Total nightmare: USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 • Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat
<p>The core issue with USB-C is confusion: not every USB-C cable, port, device, and power supply will be compatible, and there are many different combinations to consider. The newest, most full-featured devices (such as Apple’s brand-new Touch Bar MacBook Pro) will support most of the different uses for the USB-C port, but typical older devices only support basic USB 3.0 speed and (if you’re lucky) Alternate Mode DisplayPort.

And it gets worse. Many USB-C peripherals are limited in various ways as well. Consider a simple USB-C HDMI adapter: It could implement HDMI over USB 3.0 or it could use Alternate Mode (native) HDMI. It could even (theoretically) implement HDMI over Alternate Mode Thunderbolt using an off-board graphics chip! Of these options, only the newest computers, like the MacBook Pro, would support all three. Can you imagine the consumer confusion when they purchase a “USB-C HDMI adapter” only to find that it doesn’t work with their MacBook or Pixel or whatever?</p>

The capability for USB-C to screw things up really emanates from two things: all the legacy things that USB used to do; and all the display capabilities that USB-C is trying to incorporate. It also reminds me of the early days of Wi-Fi, when IBM was trying its damndest to push 5GHz 802.11a, while all the consumer-facing money was in 2.4GHz 802.11b.

"Standards", eh. However, what USB 1.1 and Wi-Fi couldn't do was this:
<p>the issue of incompatible cables is even more serious. Many companies, including my go-to source, Monoprice, are building USB-C cables of various quality and compatibility. If you’re not careful, you can neuter or even damage your devices by using the wrong cable. Seriously: <a href="">using the wrong cable can damage your machine</a>! This should not be possible, but there it is.</p>
usb  thunderbolt  usb-c  hardware 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
Microsoft schedules its autumn hardware event for October 26 • ZDNet
Mary Jo Foley:
<p>The theme of the event this year is news around "the next chapter in the Windows story". I assume this means there will be news around Windows 10 Redstone 2. Sources also are saying to expect OEM devices, Microsoft Surface device news, and some gaming-related updates at the event.

A number of us Microsoft watchers are expecting the company to launch a Surface All-in-One type device - likely with a Surface keyboard and mouse - at the event. I've also heard Microsoft will be highlighting a bunch of its OEM partners' Windows 10 devices there.

Will there be a new Microsoft Band or a Microsoft-branded phone launched on Oct. 26? No and no…my sources continue to say no new Microsoft phones of any kind are coming this year, either.</p>

Microsoft is going after smaller and smaller markets. The market for all-in-ones is smaller even than that for premium laptops.
microsoft  hardware 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
BlackBerry bails on building its own phones • CNET
Roger Cheng:
<p>BlackBerry posted fiscal second-quarter results on Wednesday that saw it swing to a loss of $372m, or 71 cents a share, from a year-ago profit of $51m, or 24 cents a share. Revenue fell by a third to $334m.

Analysts, on average, forecast a loss of 5 cents a share and revenue of $394m.

[CEO John] Chen confirmed on a call with analysts that BlackBerry will have little to do with future hardware efforts, and will only collect a royalty fee on any phone sold by its partners.

BlackBerry had previously teased a second Android phone to come, but that's unlikely to show up.

It's unclear whether future phones from the partnership will make their way to more mature markets like the US, where the carriers have been lukewarm on carrying the devices. But there is still a small, but dedicated, base of users who appreciate the physical keyboard and focus on security.

Chen teased other interested companies looking to strike similar partnerships around the world, but didn't provide any names. He also hinted there would be high-end devices focused on security.

BlackBerry plans to complete the shutdown of the internal hardware business by the end of this fiscal year.</p>

<em>Sic transit gloria mundi.</em> Microsoft next, then Sony?
blackberry  hardware 
september 2016 by charlesarthur
‘Created’ in China: Shenzhen is making hardware like Silicon Valley makes apps • Fusion
An Xiao Mina:
<p> Lei Gao is part of this new generation that uses the internet’s agility to augment what the city has to offer. Within days, he had what he needed to experiment with his idea. It took just 10 yuan—about 1.50 USD—and an account on Taobao, an eBay-like e-commerce site run by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, to purchase an exercise gripper shipped from Fujian, a province about a nine hour drive up the coast. Alibaba’s efficient payment and shipping system saved him a trip, and he already had the other parts and pieces he needed from previous projects. After the gripper arrived, he and his team tinkered with code and a Bluetooth trigger, and they created a prototype: a “smart gripper” to interact with your phone. It was perfect for games like Flappy Bird.

<img src="" width="100%" />

Gao and his team make up Imlab, one startup amongst over a million small and medium-sized companies in Shenzhen. Hardware startups across the city can readily pull together a working prototype in a day, test it, and quickly figure out where to go next. Gao’s company is based at Emielab, a coworking space and hardware incubator modeled after successful ones in San Francisco.</p>
china  hardware 
september 2016 by charlesarthur
IDC estimates that Macintosh sales slipped at nearly twice the market rate • Pixel Envy
Nick Heer:
<p>Of the current lineup, fully half of all Macs — the Mac Pro, the Retina MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air — are the most stale that those products have ever been.1 I’m not counting the non-Retina MacBook Pro as part of the Mac lineup because Apple seems to be winding down their promotion of the product. For the record, though, it would be the most stale product in Apple’s lineup by far: it hasn’t been refreshed in 1492 days, or just over four years.

The Mac Pro hasn’t been substantially updated since the new cylindrical model launched in December of 2013. The pro Macintosh situation is so dire that some designers and developers, like Mike Rundle and Sebastiaan de With, have opted to deal with the moderate hassle of building a “hackintosh” in order to get the performance they need for their work. Critical products like the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro are well over a year old, too.</p>

The incredible age of these products, and Apple's apparent indifference to that ageing, is flummoxing and astonishing. Who is in charge of the Mac line, and don't they care about this?
apple  hardware 
july 2016 by charlesarthur
The WRT54GL: a 54Mbps router from 2005 still makes millions for Linksys • Ars Technica
Jon Brodkin:
<p>In a time when consumers routinely replace gadgets with new models after just two or three years, some products stand out for being built to last.

Witness the Linksys WRT54GL, the famous wireless router that came out in 2005 and is still for sale. At first glance, there seems to be little reason to buy the WRT54GL in the year 2016. It uses the 802.11g Wi-Fi standard, which has been surpassed by 802.11n and 802.11ac. It delivers data over the crowded 2.4GHz frequency band and is limited to speeds of 54Mbps. You can buy a new router—for less money—and get the benefit of modern standards, expansion into the 5GHz band, and data rates more than 20 times higher.

Despite all that, people still buy the WRT54GL in large enough numbers that Linksys continues to earn millions of dollars per year selling an 11-year-old product without ever changing its specs or design.

<img src="" width="100%" />

"To be honest, it somewhat baffles my mind," Linksys Global Product Manager Vince La Duca told Ars. But production won't stop any time soon as long as Linksys' suppliers, including chipmaker Broadcom, keep selling the parts needed to build the WRT54GL. "We'll keep building it because people keep buying it," La Duca said.

Linksys doesn't bother promoting the WRT54GL much. But La Duca mentioned the continued production of the WRT54GL recently when I interviewed him for a story on Linksys' project to let users install open source firmware on new routers without breaking the latest FCC anti-interference rules. The WRT54GL was the first wireless router I ever purchased about a decade ago; I was surprised that Linksys still produces them, so I asked the company for more details.</p>

A lovely piece of journalism and writing, where Brodkin puts his inspiration - the discovery it still sells - out front and then digs in. There's even a cameo from Bill Gates. By the way, in my house there's nothing "just" about 54Mbps. More like "if only our broadband could saturate our router, but it's only managing 5%."
hardware  history  wifi 
july 2016 by charlesarthur
How big an issue is the nausea problem for virtual reality products? • Quora
Steve Baker is ex-Rediffusion Simulation, Hughes Aircraft, L3 Simulation:
<p>I've been working with helmet mounted displays in military flight simulation for several decades - I am an expert in the field.

IMHO - these devices should be banned - but that may not be necessary because after the first wave of early adopters I think it’ll go the way of 3D televisions. But that’s just my opinion. Let me explain why.

Everyone thinks these things are new and revolutionary...but they really aren't. All that's happened is that they dropped in price from $80,000 to $500...and many corners have been cut along the way.

There are several claims that the nausea problem has either been fixed, or will soon be fixed, or that application design can be used to work-around the problem.

The claims that it’s been fixed are based on the theory that the nausea is caused by latency/lag in the system, or by low resolution displays or by inaccurate head motion tracking…all of which can (and are) being fixed by obvious improvements to the system. Sadly, the $80,000 googles we made for the US military had less latency, higher resolution displays, and more accurate head tracking than any of the current round of civilian VR goggles…and they definitely made people sick - so this seems unlikely.</p>

He has plenty more to say too about focal lengths and depth perception, and aftereffects. Worth considering.
3d  hardware  health  vr 
may 2016 by charlesarthur
The End of Hardware? » LinkedIn
Bob O'Donnell:
<p>Whether it’s PCs, tablets, smart watches or now, even smartphones, the outlook for most major hardware device categories is not looking good, particularly here in the US.

The issue is that both consumers and businesses have already bought a lot of these devices. Plus, they’re hanging on to their purchases longer than they used to, and longer than many people originally thought they would.

Many companies, including both Intel and Qualcomm, have been forced to make some painful employee reductions as a result of these challenges, and there are likely more from other vendors still to come.

So, does this signal the end of hardware as we know it?

On one hand, yes, we are arguably at the peak of these key hardware categories, particularly when you add them all together. As a result, we are likely to see modest declines in unit shipments from this point forward. After a 30+-year run of growth, that’s tough news to take.

But there is hope in hardware-land. It just requires thinking about the market in a different way.</p>
april 2016 by charlesarthur
Xiaomi finally releases 2015 sales stats » Tech in Asia
Erik Crouch:
<p>The case of the missing phone statistics has finally been solved – today, Xiaomi revealed that it sold 70m smartphones in 2015, a number below even their most modest predictions.

It’s been apparent for a while that <a href="">something went wrong for Xiaomi in 2015</a>. In 2014, the company predicted that they would sell 100m phones in the coming year – an estimate that was promptly bumped down to 80m last March.

When late 2015 rolled around, and China’s techies eagerly awaited the company’s sales report, they were met with silence. CEO Lei Jun talked in December about how the company “does not emphasize goals such as smartphone sales anymore,” which certainly didn’t build anyone’s confidence that the company had met its targets.</p>

As Crouch notes, 2016 could be make or break. With China's smartphone market slowing down, it really needs to find something fresh.
xiaomi  hardware 
january 2016 by charlesarthur
Macbook charger teardown: the surprising complexity inside Apple's power adapter » Righto
The wonderful Ken Shirriff, who does electronics teardowns of fabulous sophistication and insight:
<p>The Macbook 85W charger costs $79 from Apple, but for $14 you can get a charger on eBay that looks identical. Do you get anything for the extra $65? I opened up an imitation Macbook charger to see how it compares with the genuine charger. From the outside, the charger looks just like an 85W Apple charger except it lacks the Apple name and logo. But looking inside reveals big differences. The photos below show the genuine Apple charger on the left and the imitation on the right.

<img src="" width="100%" />
<em>Inside the Apple 85W Macbook charger (left) vs an imitation charger (right). The genuine charger is crammed full of components, while the imitation has fewer parts.</em>

The imitation charger has about half the components of the genuine charger and a lot of blank space on the circuit board. While the genuine Apple charger is crammed full of components, the imitation leaves out a lot of filtering and regulation as well as the entire PFC [Power Factor Correction] circuit. The transformer in the imitation charger (big yellow rectangle) is much bulkier than in Apple's charger; the higher frequency of Apple's more advanced resonant converter allows a smaller transformer to be used.</p>

Also included: a microprocessor with as much power as the original Mac.
apple  design  hardware 
november 2015 by charlesarthur
Why the floppy disk is still used today » Digital Trends
Brad Jones:
<p>Today, there’s a pleasing sense of nostalgia to the business model that mimics the product that [Tom Persky's company] sells — while half of orders come via the web store, the other half are typically completed over the phone.

This allows Tom to build up a rapport with his customers, something that typically can’t be found at Staples or OfficeMax. Speaking to the men and women buying his wares also allows Tom to keep track of just how floppies are used circa 2015.

“There are people who love floppy disks,” he tells me, giving the example of a court reporter who uses the format for sheer convenience and force of habit. “There’s a large embroidery company that does 500 jobs a day,” he goes on. “They could do that on a hard drive — except their machinery doesn’t work with a hard drive.”

Therein lies the biggest reason that floppy disks are still in demand in some corners of industry. “In the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of industrial machines were built around floppy disks, which were high-tech of the time,” he tells me. “They were built to last fifty years.”

But floppy disks were not.

Replacing the machines would seem the logical option, but many of them are too valuable to scrap, or can’t be easily replaced by a modern equivilent. Tom lists the aforementioned embroidery machines, as well as ATMs, and some aviation tech as prime examples of devices that still have a need for data introduced through a floppy drive.

The reach of the floppy disk today goes further than you might expect. If the thought of vital flight equipment using a floppy for input seems far-fetched, then you may well be surprised to hear that the format is still in use by the United States Department of Defense.</p>

End date uncertain; owning a million is too many, thinks Persky, but half a million is too few.
floppy  hardware 
october 2015 by charlesarthur
Nanotec Systems NESPA #1 » 6moons audio reviews
The procedure is simple. Place a CD or DVD inside the black box, secure the disc with the magnetic puck and rock the switch. The disc will start spinning and the light will flash 120 times in a 2-minute period. After that, the disc will stop spinning and voila, the disc is finalized.

The flash applied is rated at 1000mW/sec, has a temperature of 5500K and light intensity of one million Lux. So in fact the disc is exposed to sunlight without destroying it.

So marvellous. (Via <a href="">Peter Bright</a>.)
audio  hardware  review  audiophile 
july 2015 by charlesarthur
After raising $1 million, the super-thin CST-01 watch won't make it to Kickstarter backers » The Verge
Jacob Kastrenakes:
The project has run into quite a few issues, but the broadest one is that the watches just aren't easy to make. Little more than half of them are fully working after assembly, according to the two engineers behind CST-01, which means that the costs to make them are effectively doubled unless they can resolve the underlying issues. At this point, they can't. As they explained in an earlier update, their project is basically out of money. One of their engineers supposedly went as far as sleeping in a van outside of the production factory so that he didn't have to pay for a hotel.

Hardware is difficult.
kickstarter  hardware 
june 2015 by charlesarthur
High profile tech start-up Ninja Blocks goes bust » The Age
Rose Powell:
Ninja Blocks built and sold home automation systems that allowed users to control electrical devices through their smart phone. It managed both the software and also manufactured a range of sleek hardware products.

The company was launched three years ago and sustained its growth through sales and a series of successful crowdfunding campaigns: $103,000 in 2012 and $703,000 in 2013. Both brought in double or triple their original goal. It also raised $2.4m in three funding rounds, which included leading Australian tech investors Square Peg Capital, Blackbird Ventures, Atlassian founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar as well as Sing Tel's Innov8.

Crowdfunding campaigns require significant, ongoing public communication. The company went quiet in April as their latest product, the Ninja Sphere, ran over time and over-budget.

In a <a href="">blog post</a>, the team wrote the fact it was receiving "far below what they would expect to get somewhere else" their burn rate could not be sustained.

Unclear if the dollar amounts are Australian or US, but shows that hardware remains a tough business in which to succeed. (Side note: Powell's byline describes her as "journalist". Helpful.)
iot  business  hardware 
may 2015 by charlesarthur
The SSD endurance experiment: they're all dead » The Tech Report
Geoff Gasior:
I never thought this whole tech journalism gig would turn me into a mass murderer. Yet here I am, with the blood of six SSDs on my hands, and that's not even the half of it. You see, these were not crimes of passion or rage, nor were they products of accident. More than 18 months ago, I vowed to push all six drives to their bitter ends. I didn't do so in the name of god or country or even self-defense, either. I did it just to watch them die.

Technically, I'm also a torturer—or at least an enhanced interrogator. Instead of offering a quick and painless death, I slowly squeezed out every last drop of life with a relentless stream of writes far more demanding than anything the SSDs would face in a typical PC. To make matters worse, I exploited their suffering by chronicling the entire process online.

Brilliant idea for an article, spread over nearly two years, which also provides really useful info. Those things really last ages.
hardware  ssd  storage 
march 2015 by charlesarthur
BlackBerry courts career builders with all-touch Leap smartphone » The Globe and Mail
Shane Dingman for Reuters:
The Leap is a buttonless touchscreen smartphone that looks like a lot of other mobile slabs on the market. Expected to be priced at around $275 (U.S.) without a subsidy, with an industry-standard five-inch display, a 2800 mAh battery promising 25 hours of use and a processor that first shipped in 2012, it’s a budget device designed for the mid-market.

But if it’s targeting a “volume opportunity,” Ryan Reith, research director for mobile devices at IDC, said BlackBerry’s Leap will find tough competition in Motorola or Huawei hardware with similar specifications.

“That’s directly where they are aiming, but they are still priced outside of that spectrum,” warns Mr. Reith, who said middle-market devices are selling for under $200. The Z3, unveiled at last year’s MWC, was also pegged as an emerging-market touchscreen device, but failed to gain traction. “In terms of moving commoditized handsets, this is a dying part of [BlackBerry’s] business.”

CEO John Chen has said that if BlackBerry can’t sell 10 million phones a year, it shouldn’t be in the hardware business. Mr. Reith said IDC projects BlackBerry will sell seven million or eight million devices in 2015.

Hard choices lie in BlackBerry's near future. Chen is clearly trying to shift the BlackBerry software over to other platforms so that he can extricate the company from the loss-making hardware business while keeping customers in valuable software and service contracts.
blackberry  chen  hardware  phone 
march 2015 by charlesarthur

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