The Jolly Teapot

Freshly brewed links, served by Nicolas Magand

My name is Nicolas Magand and I live in Paris, France. I work as a social media and engagement editor at the Global Editors Network, a non-profit aimed at promoting innovation and sustainability in the news industry. Here I blog mostly about tech and media, but many other topics can face my enthusiasm.

Filtering by Tag: google

The Fitbit acquisition is the easy way for Google to appear relevant in wearables

If you need to read one article about the acquisition of Fitbit by Google, look no further than Neil Cybart’s detailed and inspired take on Above Avalon:

How did Fitbit go from being considered the wearables leader to viewing a $2.1B acquisition as its best hope for shareholders to recoup any value? What led Fitbit to run out of options as an independent company? Two words: Apple Watch.

Today the Apple Watch is bigger than the iPod ever was.

Many manufacturers a few years ago looked at the Apple Watch and probably thought “we can do this,” and many observers keep thinking more or less that “since the iPad, Apple hasn’t come out with anything new and innovative.” Truth is, it is very hard to compete with Apple in wearables.

When it comes to miniaturisation of computers, design, and user experience, it is nearly impossible to follow Apple, as very few brands control both the hardware, the software, and the services on top of it as much as Apple does. Cybart writes:

Fitbit was squeezed as the company had no viable way to compete directly with Apple Watch. Fitbit’s existing business wasn’t profitable enough for management to ramp up R&D in an effort to go up against Apple. Fitbit had generated just $200M of free cash flow over the past five years. Apple spends that much on R&D in a few days.

Samsung is trying something interesting with Tizen on its smartwatches, and maybe Google will reboot its wearable strategy with Fitbit. But for now, when it comes to true smartwatches, nobody really competes with Apple in terms of revenue, profit, market share, and most importantly for Apple: customer satisfaction.

It is interesting to see how late Amazon is on consumer wearables, and how Microsoft just gave up a long time ago. Both are now tiptoeing towards the wearables market through wireless headphones and earbuds,1 but guess who is already there, crushing everyone else? I cannot spend one day, take one subway train, or sit in one subway car without seeing someone wearing AirPods. 2 

With the release of AirPods Pro, Apple is putting another smart foot in the door of wearables: I wouldn’t be surprised if we witness another Fitbit-like acquisition in the coming months from one of the other big names left in the dark. Bose? Jabra? Plantronics? Your guess is as good as mine, but I see this happening rather sooner than later. 3 

  1.  Google too with the Pixels buds, and you can see how a Pixel smartwatch – with Fitbit’s cred – could fit in their line-up; doesn’t mean it will be any good or succeed. ↩︎
  2.  I won't even mention another big player in the field: Apple's Beats. ↩︎
  3.  Good to know that Harman International, owner of harman/kardon, JBL, Mark Levinson, AKG, and Bang & Olufsen, was acquired by Samsung in 2016 for US$8 billion. ↩︎

Night mode is à la mode

On Tuesday, it was Apple's turn to unveil a "night mode" for its iPhone, a few months after nearly all its competitors. During last year, Google's latest Pixel sort of introduced the world to the power of computational photography ; its own version of night mode, the well-named Night Sight, looked like a superpower. A few months later, Huawei showed the industry that it wants to be considered as the leader of mobile photography. The P30 Pro demoes were a good argument for the company's ambitions, and they did so especially with, you guessed it, an impressive night mode.

The tech scene was understandably very impressed and I was too. What would have looked like an obscure dark shape now looked like a brightly lit scene. Shots of cities at night looked so bright that it almost looked the pictures were Photoshopped.

Knowing this feature is just a mode, meaning you can decide not to use it for a regular night picture, I never really liked the results of it. Technically the pictures are impressive. Sure. But something felt a bit off about them.

This morning, I had a "yes, exactly how I feel" moment when I read John Gruber's take on the Apple keynote, and more precisely the part where he compares Apple's take on night mode (where it is not really a "mode") with Google's, where you have to select "Night Sight" for the night mode to kick in:

My guess has been that Google made Night Sight its own mode because Night Sight images, though often amazing, are also often quite unnatural. It’s so effective that it often makes nighttime scenes look like they were shot in daylight — like an old Hitchcock movie where they shot day-for-night.

Speaking of movies, the iPhone 11 Pro video samples played at the event featured a lot of night scenes and the results were absolutely stunning.

What happens to web traffic patterns when Facebook goes down

Chartbeat's Josh Schwartz, on the Nieman Journalism Lab, sharing what the web analytics company found when Facebook went down for 45 minutes in August 2018:

What did people do? According to our data, they went directly to publishers’ mobile apps and sites (as well as to search engines) to get their information fix.

Publishers must be happy about this : it means most users did not — after all — forget about them. It simply means they prefer to wait for their Facebook feeds to show them some news rather than visiting websites individually.

The users' blind trust or naïveté in the news feed is what has been problematic in the last couple of years: How accountable must algorithms be when it comes to news and informing the public, especially when we know that is how most people get their news?

This is a whole other debate, but then :

Google Chrome Suggestions, a personalized news feed built into Chrome’s mobile browser, is up 20×.

Facebook is the biggest fish in this pond and it — understandably — gets most of the attention but Google is right there, and this Chrome "personalized news feed" should also be questioned, along with YouTube, Google search results, and Google News.

Another interesting part:

Mobile traffic has seen double-digit growth and surpassed desktop, which saw double-digit declines.

Smartphones have definitely replaced PCs as the main — and sometimes only — computing device.

European nations and their wish of not becoming "digital colonies"

Clothilde Goujard, writing for WIRED:

Although relatively novel, the concept of “digital sovereignty” can be roughly summarised as a country’s push to regain control over their own and their citizens’ data. On the military side, it includes the ability for a state to develop cybersecurity offensive and defensive capabilities without relying on foreign-made technology; on the economic side, it encompasses issues spanning from taxation of big tech to the creation of homegrown startups.

Seems a bit late for our governments to care about "digital sovereignty" when you look at the worlds of Google, Facebook, WeChat, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and how Europe has been lagging behind for years. How many of the big tech companies are European today? How many European companies will be part of that group in the next 10, 20 years?

Refusing to become a "digital colony" is one thing – and a totally reasonable thing to be concerned about – but switching the governent's default search engine from Google to Qwant is the digital equivalent of switching from semi-skimmed milk to skimmed milk for your morning coffee in your overall diet: It may make you feel better at the start of a new day, and… that's pretty much it.