As promised at WWDC with the changes around sandboxing, under the hood changes along with Apple changing how much of a cut they received from subscriptions that were paid through the App Store from within the application downloaded off the store vs. the customer go to said organisations website and doing it manually, Microsoft has finally delivered Microsoft Office to the Mac App Store (link). What that will mean is that each application is downloaded as a separate piece of software and all updates will be distributed through the store rather than the situation of having to have a ‘Microsoft Office Update’ daemon running in the background. I’ve given it a try and everything is working well – no differences as far as I see it when compared to Office 365 that is downloaded from the store.
Just before I start, I’m going to put some ideas out there – not in a ‘here is a grand unified theory’ but rather a collection of observations that I’ve come across and I’ll let you decide what are worth considering vs. worth throwing away.
Not too long ago I wrong an article (link) and I was heading back home tonight having an internal debate in my mind regarding the issue of privacy particularly when you consider how businesses like Facebook, Twitter, Facebook and others rely on collecting user telemetric data to then use it to deliver services, target ads etc. Just before I start I have to disclose the fact that I use separate logins for all my services with the only link existing between accounts are between this WordPress account and Twitter so that when I make a post on WordPress that it is automatically syndicated to Twitter so all my followers can also see what I’ve just recently blogged about. Other than that sort of arrangement I keep all my accounts separate which stops the sort of situation in the case of Facebook and third party access hence the reason why Apple doesn’t allow such integration with iCloud and why Microsoft stopped doing it a few years ago back in the days of Microsoft Passport.
Apple have carved out a niche for themselves over many years as the company that cares about your privacy (side note, I’ll be writing a blog post tomorrow about Apple and their sales decline and what their new direction appears to be vs. what direction they should take) as a point of differentiation when compared to an organisation such as Google whose primary source of revenue is the collection and monetisation of data. Apple talking about privacy isn’t new given that Steve Jobs talked about the importance of asking the customer for permission before getting access to sensitive data and for the customer to know what they’re signing up for ‘in plain English’.
From a pragmatic point of view it is easy for Apple to play the privacy card as a point of differentiation given that the primary engine of their business model isn’t the accumulation of data and the monetisation of that data but rather selling physical products along with services such as Apple Music, upgrades to iCloud storage along with sales of software and subscriptions via the App Store where each transaction Apple takes a cut so there is no need to do what Google or Facebook does.
This strict approach however, as some have argued, has resulted in Siri lagging behind the competition because it restricts the ability to use large data sets stored in the cloud where as Apples approach is to do as much of the processing on the device itself and keep the least amount of data in the cloud. In the case of Google it allows the AI system too not only learn from the information for that specific user but to also use learn using data from all the users that use the particular service which allows the AI to be refined by feeding it more information. Then with that more information then you have demographic such as sex, age, location etc. that can can be used to predict not only based on your own patters but also the patters of people of similar backgrounds and behaviours as well.
So at the moment there is a tug of war between sticking firm to the idea that AI can be completed locally without compromising user privacy but will it always lag when compared to an AI system sitting in the cloud that is able to suck up huge amounts of data and learn at a faster pace simply by the share volume of information? I ask that because customers have a strange habit of saying in surveys that they care about something but when push comes to shove, what they say is important isn’t necessarily translating to a change in behaviour. For example, scandals surrounding Facebook where in the United Stats the number of daily active users has flatlined at 185 million users and in Europe there has been a modest decline from 282 million down to 279 million but that doesn’t include its other ‘properties’ that it owns such as WhatsApp and Instagram, so if there is a concern about privacy it certainly isn’t translating into a major drop off in users (disclosure: I’m on WhatsApp – I’d prefer to use something else like iMessage but my brother and mum use Android phones so here we are). I guess only time will tell to see whether it pays off in the long run – will consumers be happy to sacrifice the the strengths of Google’s approach to AI learning for the sake of privacy or is the whole concern over privacy something that is created by the media (clickbait, column inches and headlines on television) rather than genuine concern beyond “I’m shocked but I’m going to go back to what I was doing before”.
With that being, things may end up start tipping in favour of Apple especially if governments start cracking down on the very behaviours that impact their business model but are concerning to privacy activists. Personally I think that in the case of Google, the impact would be disruptive but Google does have the benefit of having something beyond simply collecting data to serve up ads to provide a given service. For example, there is Google Cloud platform (aka ‘utility computing’ as it was referred to back when Sun Microsystems was talking about it being the future of computing) which recorded a 29% growth in the most recent quarter then add on top of that there is G-Suite, YouTube Premium, the newly launched Google One and I’m sure if Google wanted to then I could imagine them turning other services into subscription – $50 for a wall to wall ad free experience from search through to video etc. would make for an interesting conversation as to how far users on the internet are willing to pay for services if it means zero ads and companies collecting less data for the sake of monetisation. There is also the various other divisions such as selling physical products such as the Pixel phone, tablet, laptop etc. with the capacity to push sales harder than they are especially with the availability to run Linux applications on Chromebooks which opens up the possibility to third party applications thus making them more widely useful.
Facebook however is going to have a tougher time – yes, they have a corporate collaboration platform called ‘Workplace by Facebook” that is $3 per month per user but I don’t see it gaining much traction in the enterprise marketplace. That being said, as of November 2017 there was a filing with the SEC that Facebook was generating $5 revenue per user so that makes me wonder whether there is the capacity for Facebook to offer a privacy centric ad free version for maybe NZ$10 per month butMark Zuckerberg, when asked by members on the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees about the idea of having a paid for ad free version – he avoided answering the question by making a statement that was irrelevant to the question then later admitted that it could be possible. The Washington Post claims (link) that the cost would be closer to $18.75 which is even more stupid because it assumes that a paid version would have the same overhead costs as a free version where the platform service is not only delivered but also all the cost of delivering ads along with the analytics that occur behind the scenes. Wouldn’t it be better to generate less revenue but at a higher margin from regular paying customers than higher revenue with lower margins involving the very things that’ll bring your company under scrutiny and make life for you more difficult in the long run?
Tim Cook has talked about delivering more services this year so it’ll be interesting to see what they are and whether they’re going to be services that are open to all platforms or whether it’ll require an entry point to the platform via owning an Apple device of some sort (such as in the case of setting an iCloud account with an email address). It’ll also be interesting to see how Apple monetise them – will they be happy by having a small subscriber count if it means that it is a more profitable venture (see Apple Music and the direction of preferring paid only options rather than the ad supported model that Spotify use as a gateway to pump up the user base numbers) without the privacy worries? Time will I guess.
Sigh, one of those times when you wish the weekend was longer given how nice the weather is – windows and door to the backyard open with a nice refreshing breeze going through the house whilst listening to the album ‘Stop making sense’ from the band ‘Talking Heads’. It is one of those albums that can’t but want to listen from start to finish – no interruptions, enjoying the music as it was intended.
In the mean time I’m giving Chrome a try on my iMac, MacBook Pro and iPhone to see how it performs but so far I am pretty damn happy and they’ve finally addressed the issue where spell checking wouldn’t work when using Twitter, WordPress and other websites – I don’t know what they did to fix it but it is now working.
Why am I giving Chrome a go? I’ve started doing my tweeting via the twitter website because unfortunately Twitter moved to a new API that, unless you pay for the full featured API set, the experience for those using third party applications is less that ideal when one compares to using the website. Chrome has the best PWA integration and I have found that Safari tends to really lag especially if you’ve loaded up a long list of tweets and doubly so if there are animated gifs and videos too.
The trend I am noticing with the move towards progressive web applications (PWA) is either the killing off of API’s that third parties can use to create locally/offline clients or if they are continuing that the API’s are either crippled or they offer a full featured API only if you’re willing to pony up with the money to get exclusive access to it along with the engineering support that comes with it (I assume that the amount charge is in part to cover the engineering costs of maintaining a public API that remains compatible with the various client that may use it).
I wonder to what extent the long term goal for these organisations is to eventually move to PWA’s so that there is a uniformity between their mobile application and what the end user uses on their computers web browser along with not having to create and maintain API’s which free them to make changes behind the scenes without having to worry about the downstream consequence to third party applications.
Tim Cook wrote an opinion piece in Time (link) talking about the need for greater regulation as well as a data brokerage service where consumers have the ability to find out who is using and selling their personal information along – greater transparency across the board. I have to admit, I like the idea of greater transparency because although Steve Jobs did talk about ensuring that customers give permission when an application wishes to access personal data or use a piece of hardware that can capture information (GPS, camera, microphone etc) the problem is there is little in the way of answering the question of what happens to the information after one gives permission. It is one thing to give permission but without the context of what the vendor is actually going to do with the information not to mention having some sense of control after the organisation gets the information makes the dialogue a tick box rather than something that is actually empowering.
With all that being said, I wonder to what extent the publicly actually do have concern regarding privacy and the use of private information given the public’s willingness to keep using Facebook (along with WhatsApp and Instagram) even after the avalanche of revelations came out over the last few years. You’d think that after all the revelations and even more revelations which turned out to be in some cases worse than the prior ones that people would start closing their Facebook accounts but alas here we are almost 2-3 years later and nothing has happened – people still have their Facebook accounts and new accounts are being opened all the time which makes me wonder whether people are genuinely concerned about privacy or is it noise and protest all for show but behind closed doors people don’t actually care.
I think the larger question is whether certain services can and should be treated as natural monopolies due to the higher barriers entry such as high initial start up costs, the years of running at a loss before either breaking even or becoming part of a larger organisation not to mention trying to bring ‘stars’ over to said platform which make the platform useful to end users – in much the same way that a mobile platform is only useful based on the applications that are available to end users on said platform. This goes back to the question about de-platforming – if the number of platforms are limited and the possibility of setting up new platforms is next to impossible then do those entrenched natural monopolies have a responsibility in much the same way that within the European Union a monopoly has a greater responsibility to ensure that the the monopoly isn’t entrenched (see EU demanding that Microsoft open up various protocols and file formats for better interoperability) and free speech isn’t stifled due to the lack of available platforms now that the internet has become ‘speakers corner’/’the village square’.
That all being said, I think the inherent nature of capitalism with its capital accumulation (and concentration) which leads to political capture (the capturing of politics by those with money) will make any meaningful change impossible resulting in any legislation being passed being half assed and watered down to the point of being useless in much the same way the Dodd-Frank never addressed ‘too big to fail’ by not only breaking up the banks (investment separated from retail banking) but actually turning these banks into credit unions which would undermine the whole concentration of power (the reality is that there are a small number of people/organisations that own the majority of the shares). Who benefits after all this? Apple because they’re already ahead of the curve – “see, we can be trusted because we go beyond what the law requires”.
Well, it is pay day today so I’ve paid all my bills and bought my fortnightly groceries on the way home – generally I tried to avoid having ‘top ups’ because any visit to the supermarket always ends up resulting buying more things that I had planned. It is one of those things where you go into the store but you end up leaving with more than you wanted – the problem being made worse if you’re hungry at the time so you end up not only buying more you end up buying food that isn’t all that healthy to begin with.
All the bills are paid but I think what I’m going to do over the next few months is keep putting $50 per fortnight into my power account so that I can build up a good nest egg so when winter comes along I can keep paying the same amount in there without having to worry about topping it up more because I’m using more electricity than during summer.
Anyway, I better get going to sleep.
Work has been great but it has been crazy with recent changes which has impacted customers so I’ve opted in to doing some overtime for the last couple of days (2 hours on Friday and Saturday) and I was tempted to go an extra hours on Sunday but I was completed stuffed by the end of my Saturday shift that I really need a good night sleep. Although my job isn’t physically exhausting it is very mentally exhausting – although I can deal with interacting with people I find it mentally exhausting and thus I need at least 1-2 days off to recharge my batteries which is where I stay at home, chill out, go for quiet walks by myself etc.
After a few months of quietness it appears that the developers over at Ubiquiti has picked up steam with the recent updates to Unifi USG, Unifi Switch and Unifi AC AP HD – they’ve delivered 5GHz 160MHz channel support (I’ve stayed with 80MHz since none of my hardware supports 160MHz channels). It’ll be interesting to see what the next version of the Unifi Controller will be like – maybe ipv6 support will be ready or at least moved out of alpha stage at the moment but that being said, given that Spark is still on ipv4 with no disclosed time period for ipv6 I’m in no great hurry other than the geek cred of having the latest and greatest.
I’m still thinking about putting together a ‘once a week’ podcast – if I use a service then I’ll probably sign up for libsyn but I’ll see how it all turns out.
I had a great weekend with the finale being today where I bought some Silver Fern Farms lamb and it is so perfect with mint sauce – nothing special in terms of proportion other than taking the meat out of the packaging, Himalayan rock salt and cracked better on both sides then left there to rest before putting it into the oven for around 25 minutes – came out wonderfully medium rare resulting in the full flavour of the meat shining through. I ended up finishing off the night with a G & T – something refreshing with the door to the back porch open to allow the fresh air to come through. With that all being said, I am tempted to finally make some investment into outdoor furniture out the back along with some giant pot plants – maybe a lemon and a lime tree? A few planter boxes with flowers etc? Right now it is just concrete and it really lacks the homely feel that I would like to give it although I really want to do something about the fence along the back because it is slowly falling to pieces – I think a colour steel with a good rails mounted on some concrete posts not to mention that I also want to sort out the door on the shed as well.
I finally got my act together to give the place a top to bottom clean and with that also meant fresh sheets on on the bed and airing the duvet on the line. Always good, when there is fine weather, to give the house a good airing along with hoovering and washing everything that can be washed.