A security researcher has released a tool that can steal the login details and two-factor authentication key for the popular LastPass password manager, leaving users potentially exposed.
LastPass, like many other password managers, stores user’s passwords in the cloud in an encrypted vault protected by a single username and password. The vault can also be protected using various forms of two-factor authentication.
The tool allows hackers to mimic the look and feel of the LastPass browser plugin and site, owing to the way the password manager uses browser pop-up boxes or banners called “viewports” to request a user’s password and two-factor authentication key.
Sean Cassidy, chief technology office for Praesidio, presented the attack at the hacker convention ShmooCon in Washington. He said: “I call this attack LostPass. LostPass works because LastPass displays messages in the browser that attackers can fake. Users can’t tell the difference between a fake LostPass message and the real thing because there is no difference. It’s pixel-for-pixel the same notification and login screen.”
The attack relies on a user visiting a malicious website or one that has been compromised with a malicious advert or code. It will detect if the browser is using LastPass, mimic a LastPass notification, remotely log-out the user and request their password and two-factor authentication key.
The hacker would then be able to gain full access to every password stored in a LastPass user’s vault, change settings, remove a user’s access or hide their access leaving the user none-the-wiser.
Catching even the most careful of users
Cassidy notified LastPass about the phishing attack, which has not yet been recorded as being used in the wild, in November. The company implemented a system to alert users when they type their LastPass master password on a site that is not run by the password manager, but Cassidy said that hackers can easily block that notification.
Cassidy said: “The attack works best against the Chrome browser because they use an HTML login page. Firefox actually pops up a window for its login page, so it looks like whatever operating system you’re on.”
The attack is not a vulnerability bug within LastPass itself, but highlights a major problem that could catch even the most careful users out, tricking them to give the attackers their login credentials.
LastPass said in a support document about phishing: “The [email] verification process significantly reduces the threat of this phishing attack. The attacker would need to gain access to the user’s email account as well, which could also be mitigated by two-factor authentication for their email account. Should a user see a verification request that they did not initiate, they can safely ignore it.”
LastPass has also implemented a fix that prevents the malicious website from logging a user out of their LastPass account. Neither changes prevent the attackers from stealing a user’s LastPass login details, but could prevent them from using those details to access the user’s password manager.
The company also said it would be revisiting its notification approach to make it harder to mimic and petitioned Google in 2012 to enable Chrome extensions to notify users beyond the scope of a browser viewport.
Young people in the UK and other developed nations are much more concerned about the level of their technological skills than their counterparts in emerging economies, a report suggests.
The report also says that 40% of young people across all countries polled were concerned about their jobs being automated in the next decade. The proportion is highest in Britain, with 45% believing technology will imminently replace what they are doing.
Future Foundation polled nearly 9,000 people in nine countries (about 1,000 per country) on behalf of IT consultant Infosys and found that 54% of Britons aged between 16 and 25 rated their confidence as at least seven out of 10 that they had the skills needed for a successful career.
Young people in Brazil (77.9%), India (77.6%), South Africa (67.3%) and China (67.1%) show more confidence than Brits, who are nevertheless ahead of those in France (53%) and Australia (50.6%).
Indians are the most confident about their IT skills. As with all countries, there was a split between genders in India, with 81% of men judging themselves to be skilled in IT compared with 70% of women, but Indian women are still more confident than those in any other country.
Only 37% of those polled in France felt they were highly qualified in IT. In fact, three-quarters of young French people believe they have worse job prospects than their parents, compared with half of those in India.
In the UK and Australia, 77% of people said they had to learn skills they needed for their jobs by themselves since their schools or universities did not prepare them, compared with 66% in India. While 45% of young Americans said their education was “old-fashioned” and did not teach them the technical skills needed to pursue their career goals.
More than two-thirds of young people polled across all the markets were prepared to learn a new skillset to get a new job, with more than three-quarters in Brazil and South Africa saying they were willing to do so.
The young workforce also understands that most jobs now ask employees to be flexible about learning new skills as they go along. Eighty-five per cent of Brazilians polled think that on-the-job learning is the most important and are prepared to retrain if they are asked to. Both communications and on-the-job learning were viewed as a higher priority than pure academic achievement in all the countries.
Dr Vishal Sikka, the chief executive and managing director of Infosys, said:“To empower these young people to thrive in this great digital transformation, our education systems must bring more focus to lifelong learning, experimentation and exploration – in addition to bringing computer science and technology more fundamentally into the curriculum.”
Methodolgy: the Future Foundation research agency on behalf of Infosys polled 1,000 people aged between 16 and 25 in Brazil, China, India, Australia, France, Germany, the UK, and the US. In South Africa, 700 people were polled.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has experienced another example of “rapid unscheduled disassembly” – which is Musk jargon for “my rocket exploded”.
The spaceflight company has been testing a re-usable version of its Falcon 9 rocket, the sub-orbital rocket which it uses, among other things, to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (it started in 2012, making it the first private company to visit the ISS).
Rockets are expensive, with a standard launch on the Falcon 9 costing m, but those costs can be reduced if the bottom stage of the rocket, which contains most of the engines, could be re-used.
To that end, SpaceX has been attempting to land the rockets back safely on a stable surface, rather than letting them drop into the ocean as is typical for launches. It has a purpose-built unmanned “drone ship” built for the purpose (named “Just Read the Instructions” in honour of the science fiction author Iain M Banks) and the rockets are armed with small thrusters to control their descent.
This year’s landing went much better, relatively speaking. The rocket landed vertically, and three of the four legs were successfully locked into place. Unfortunately, the fourth did not. Musk shared a video of the landing and subsequent explosion, adding: “Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn’t latch on one [of] the four legs, causing it to tip over post landing. Root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff.”
Although the company hasn’t managed to land the rocket on the ship, it did successfully land on solid ground in December.
Adobe Photoshop Mix (Free) This is partly for fun, and partly for pro designers: an app to edit and share your mobile photographs, but also to transfer them to the Photoshop CC software on your main computer for further work if needed. It ties in to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription.
Kamcord – Game Screen Recorder (Free) Twitch is all the rage for sharing live streams of gameplay on all platforms, but Kamcord is a different take on the idea. It focuses purely on recording your Android game sessions then sharing them with the world – on a not-live basis.
Monster Mingle (£2.29) Freshly ported from iOS, this is a colourful, quirky children’s app designed for pre-schoolers. It involves building monsters by swapping in body parts littered around its landscape, while exploring the skies and ocean.
Dash Radio (Free) Getting out into the app stores ahead of Apple’s new streaming music service, Dash Radio wants to reinvent, well, radio. It’s a collection of more than 60 stations programmed by DJs (Snoop Dogg included), with the promise of no ads. Read our recent interview for more details.
Flipd – Remove Distractions (Free) Flipd is an Android app for people with no self-control (i.e. the majority of smartphone owners) when it comes to using their device. It’s a productivity aid that literally locks your phone so you can concentrate on something else for a while.
Lumo Lift (Free) Released in beta, this is a “digital posture coach” that also tracks your activity – you’ll need its companion gadget strapped to your clothing – with the ability to vibrate to warn you not to slump like a less-grumpy schoolteacher.
Popcorn Buzz (Free) “The app that lets you talk with up to 200 people at the same time, for free”. Because this is something we have all been kicking ourselves about being unable to do, right? Oh. But this new app from social network Line could be useful for chatting to smaller groups of friends and family.
APUS Browser (Free) The big selling point for this new web browser is its tiny footprint on your device: it’s just 0.6MB in size. Maker APUS is claiming that it’s not just small though: it’s pretty nippy too. It’s most useful if you’re on a cheaper smartphone and a slow connection, although Opera Mini is a tough rival there.
Ramadan Legacy (Free) Muslims are preparing for the month of Ramadan, which begins on Wednesday 17 June. Here’s a new app that aims to be a companion for the annual event: a mixture of planning, information and social tools to complement the month ahead.
Webmaker Beta (Free) Finally, something interesting from Firefox maker Mozilla: a tool that “transforms web users into web makers”, whether they’re creating photo galleries, scrapbooks or memes. Yes, this kind of stuff is handled by no end of other social apps, but the goal here is to make something more open.
Tiki Taka Soccer (Free + IAP) If you, like me, grew up on the Sensible Soccer games, Tiki Taka Soccer’s pixelly graphics will give you a bolt of nostalgia. Thankfully, this is a worthy successor in gameplay too: an inventive touchscreen football game with light management features.
You Must Build a Boat (£1.99) There’s a lot of buzz building around You Must Build a Boat, and justifiably so: it’s brilliant. A sequel to the fun 10000000, yes it does involve building a boat – but also battling monsters, recruiting a crew and wielding magic by matching tiles – with no in-app purchases in sight.
Hitman: Sniper (£3.99 + IAP) This is the latest game based on the Hitman console brand: and unsurprisingly, it’s all about the long-range shooting. There are more than 150 missions to snipe through, bagging new rifles as you go. A neat companion to the excellent Hitman Go game.
Angry Birds Fight! (Free + IAP) The latest freemium Angry Birds game takes its cues from mobile hits like Puzzle & Dragons and Best Fiends, as you match birds in the bottom half of the screen to battle enemies at the top. It may sound cynical, but actually this is good fun.
AlphaBetty Saga (Free + IAP) Saga? Yes, this is the latest from Candy Crush publisher King, and as the rest of its title implies, this is a word game. Your job is to link letter-tiles to make words as you work through more than 100 levels – with the familiar system of boosters and in-app purchases for when you get stuck.
Final Fantasy Tactics (£10.49) Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions to give this its full title – a mobile port of Square Enix’s PSP game from 2007 which was itself a port of a 1997 PlayStation game. This is still an excellent turn-based strategy game, as you marshal your team and make the most of their special abilities.
Terminator Genisys: Revolution (Free + IAP) Glu Mobile has had a huge hit with its Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game, but now it’s turning its attention to another aspect of Hollywood: killer robots from the future. This tie-in to the new Terminator film is an entertaining, guns-blazing third-person shooter.
Robbery Bob 2: Double Trouble (£1.99 + IAP) The original Robbery Bob was a clever mix of action and strategy, as you snuck around a bunch of houses trying to burgle them without being caught. This sequel is just as fun: 60 new levels and lots of new gadgets to help you avoid the long arm of the law (or the sharp teeth of the dog).
Alpha Squadron 2 (Free + IAP) If you’ve a yen for a space-shooter, Alpha Squadron 2 is an essential download. It looks good, feels fast, and presents you with plenty of varied enemies and environments to take on with your starfighter. Tutorials and its first mission is free, before you stump up to unlock the rest.
Brickies (Free + IAP) In an app store awash with Candy Crush and Clash of Clans clones, developers taking inspiration from older arcade hits can feel fresh. That’s certainly the case for Brickies: a neat reworking of the classic Breakout / Arkanoid formula, as you smash bricks with a paddle and ball.
That’s my choice, but what Android apps and games have you been enjoying this week? The comments section is open for your recommendations.
We’re doing a load of work on the house and that gives me the opportunity to install an electronic infrastructure. The question is: should we install Ethernet and co-axial cabling, or just Ethernet? Inputs to the house will be FM, DAB, two satellite dishes, and broadband via BT landline.
I’m installing Cat6 Ethernet network cable with a network switch in the cellar and sockets in every room where we could have TV and audio equipment. I’m installing the network (and the BT incoming cable) in 20mm flexible tubing so that the cabling can be upgraded at a later date (eg to fibre) if required. I’m also taking the co-ax feeds from the FM and DAB aerials, and from the two satellite dishes to the cellar, but I’m not sure what to do with these signals.
Do I need to run co-ax to every place where I could have TV and audio equipment or will I be able to deliver the signals coming from co-ax sources to the TV and audio locations via the Ethernet network? Chris Wilson
In the old days, you’d have installed a co-axial cable to distribute the audio and video signals to each room. At some time in the future, you might have an IP (Internet Protocol) network server that will distribute TV over Cat5e or Cat6 Ethernet cable to internet-capable smart TV sets. (Internet radio already offers far more choice and often better sound quality than the UK’s antique DAB.)
But at the moment, I think that either the future either doesn’t work well enough, or costs too much, or both. I would therefore install at least two co-ax cables along with two Cat5e or Cat6 cables to each room where you want both TV and internet access (bearing in mind that, technically, FM/DAB should be should be 75 Ohm co-ax). As it happens, there is a relatively painless way to do multi-format wiring….
“Structured cabling” seems to be growing in popularity, particularly in the US. The basic idea is that you lay a single cable that contains multiple cables: typically two co-ax and two Cat5e cables. This makes the installation simpler and helps people not to worry about whether they have picked the right mix. Adding one or two of these “siamese cables” to your planned Cat6 cable would give you more capacity and more flexibility at (I hope) an affordable cost.
The market is confusing because the UK is different from the US, and because people don’t always distinguish between the cable and the signal.
Co-axial cables were installed in many US homes to carry cable TV and satellite signals, and both the Ethernet and Token-Ring business computer networks were originally designed to run over co-ax as well. That changed with the arrival of the 10BaseT standard, which enabled Ethernet to run over the much cheaper four-wire Cat cables that became ubiquitous in the 1990s. Most of us now call them “Ethernet cables”.
More recently, as the cost of copper has increased, good co-ax cables have become more expensive. However, some users (particularly in the CCTV industry) have found that they can use cheaper screened Cat5e cable to carry video instead, by soldering three RCA plugs to each end, and sometimes by adding Baluns. Meanwhile, Americans who had already installed co-ax cables found the could convert a TV port into an internet port by using a network bridge such as the Netgear MCAB1001 MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapter Kit (contains “two MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapters, two RG-6 Coax cables, two Ethernet cables, two power adapters, installation guide, and setup CD”).
In sum, you can run Ethernet over co-axial cable and you can run video over Cat5e, but the signals are still different. People who are “running video over Ethernet” are usually running video over Cat5e cable, which isn’t the same thing.
If you decide to run video over Cat5e or Cat6, you can buy a distribution hub that looks like an Ethernet router. You will still have two separate networks, but they’ll be using the same type of Cat5e cabling. This leads to the idea of installing lots of Cat5e (or Cat6) and deciding how to use it later.
I don’t really disagree with Vint Cerf’s oft-quoted slogan for the internet: “Everything over IP, IP over everything.” I also appreciate that there are plenty of point-to-point (or even multi-point) solutions that range from the old Windows Media Extenders and things like Slingbox through to network media servers. However, the simplest way to connect a video source to a TV set is to use a co-axial cable, and if they are in different rooms, to use a long cable.
One day, this assertion may well be wrong, but I remain to be convinced that it’s wrong today.
The new electric car prototypes are built from the ground up as autonomous vehicles making them different to Google’s fleet of modified self-driving Lexus sports utility vehicles, which have been driving around 10,000 miles of public roads a week.
The two-seater pods will run the same software as the modified Lexus cars, however, and will be capped to a top speed of 25mph. They were originally shown and have been tested on private roads without a steering wheel and typical car controls, instead operated by a touchscreen and a start-stop button.
Google recently acknowledged that its self-driving car fleet had been involved in 11 minor traffic incidents, having collectively driven 1m miles autonomously on public roads since the company began experimenting with the technology six years ago.
“Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,” Chris Urmson, director of Google self-driving car project said. “Even when our software and sensors can detect a sticky situation and take action earlier and faster than an alert human driver. Sometimes we won’t be able to overcome the realities of speed and distance. Sometimes we’ll get hit just waiting for a light to change.”
US telecoms giant Verizon announced on Tuesday it is buying AOL in a deal worth $4.4bn.
The all-cash deal will give Verizon access to AOL’s advertising and content businesses such as Huffington Post, MovieFone and TechCrunch as it attempts to build its online video business.
If successful the acquisition will end AOL’s independence six years after the company was split off from media conglomerate Time Warner.
Time Warner’s ill-fated purchase of AOL in January 2000 has often been described as the worst merger in history and was a pivotal moment in the last tech boom. The deal was valued at $350bn but just a year later Time Warner had to mark it down by $99bn and AOL continued to struggle for over a decade as the phone subscribers who made up the bulk of its business drifted away to cable.
Under chief executive and chairman Tim Armstrong AOL has built an advertising platform and bought content companies including Huffington Post. The price is high compared to content rivals like Vice, now valued at $2.5bn.
But the company is still heavily reliant on fees from dial-up internet subscribers who last year contributed about a quarter of AOL’s sales.
Verizon’s offer values AOL at $50 a share, a 23% premium over the company’s three-month average price. AOL shares rose sharply in pre-market trading to $50.27. Verizon shares dipped slightly.
In a statement Armstrong said he would remain at his position once the deal is finalized.
“Verizon is a leader in mobile and OTT [over the top – ie video services like Netflix and Hulu] connected platforms, and the combination of Verizon and AOL creates a unique and scaled mobile and OTT media platform for creators, consumers and advertisers,” Armstrong said.
The former Google executive, who took over as AOL’s chief executive in 2009, told staff that “AOL is back and now we are joining forces with Verizon to build the best media technology company in the world. Let’s mobilize.”
“AOL has once again become a digital trailblazer, and we are excited at the prospect of charting a new course together in the digitally connected world,” Verizon’s chief executive, Lowell McAdam, said in a statement.
Are smartwatch apps squeezed-down versions of smartphone apps, or more wrist-worn remote controls for the software running on the device in your pocket? Marco Arment thinks it’s the latter.
Arment, who first came to prominence with read-it-later app Instapaper on iOS, is now focusing on his podcasts app Overcast, including its Apple Watch app. Which, just a few weeks after Apple’s smartwatch went on sale, has already been redesigned.
“I originally designed the Apple Watch app for my podcast player, Overcast, with a scaled-down version of the iPhone app’s structure. This seemed like a sensible adaptation of my iOS app to the Apple Watch. In practice, it sucked,” wrote Arment in a blog post outlining the lessons he’s learned so far.
Why did Overcast’s app suck? Arment cites the load times of Apple’s WatchKit software as one reason, describing it as “frustratingly unreliable” when communicating with the parent iPhone over Bluetooth.
“Apps or glances will sometimes just spin forever instead of loading, and even when everything’s working perfectly, apps still take so long to load and navigate that the watch’s screen often turns off before you’ve accomplished anything,” he wrote.
The redesigned version of Overcast on Apple Watch focuses on its “now playing” screen, rather than mirroring the three-level navigation of its iOS version, with Arment advising developers not to underestimate the importance of the device’s glances interface, which people access by swiping up on its main watch face screen.
“Trying to match the structure of the iOS app was a mistake. For most types of apps, the Apple Watch today is best thought of not as a platform to port your app to, but a simple remote control or viewport into your iPhone app,” wrote Arment, whose blog has become an influential voice in the app development scene.
“My initial app was easier to conceptualize and learn, and it closely matched the iOS app. But it just wasn’t very good in practice, and wasn’t usually better than taking out my phone … It’s unwise and futile to try to shove iPhone interfaces and paradigms into the Apple Watch. Instead, design for what the Watch really is.”
That’s a principle that applies to all smartwatches – Android Wear and Pebble models included. “The Watch seems to fit on a continuum somewhere between the iPhone and, say, a Bluetooth headset — part peripheral, part computer — and it will likely stay there,” he added.
“Not every computing device should or will become a general-purpose platform.”
The European anti-trust action against Google uses a silly rubric to get at a serious underlying problem.
The nominal issue is that Google preferentially directed comparison shoppers to its own e-commerce sites even when they weren’t the cheapest option. This would be sleazy if true. What’s certainly true is that Google’s shopping site has always sucked, is barely used, and is the least worrisome competition question raised by Google’s online dominance. Busting Google for sleazy e-commerce search results is like taking down Al Capone for tax-evasion.
The 21st-century has a competition problem. As we lurch toward the Piketty-complete apocalypse, every industry grows more winner-takes-all, dominated by titans with unthinkable market power, whose transgressions are largely unpunishable, because every one of them ends up being too big to fail.
The internet is no exception, though it might be. Other industries have intensive capital needs. Once a firm has globalised and amassed its war-chest of billions, an upstart doesn’t stand a chance. The thing that made the internet such a harbinger of disruption was the relatively small capital demands needed to start a service that competes with those behemoths. When you can start a payment processor, online marketplace or publisher without a fortune in furnished offices, manufacturing apparatus or mass-scale advertising, the fact that the incumbents needed to pay for all these things worked to your advantage. When you could show an ad and take an order from anywhere in the world as cheaply as you could serve a customer next door, the fact that yesterday’s colossuses had gone to the expense of opening offices on five continents give you the superior financial picture.
As the internet giants grew, so did states’ interest in their business practices. YouTube was started by three people with a garage, a pile of hard-drives and an unhealthy interest in video. In the years that followed, YouTube has acquiesced to a mounting compliance regime – spending hundreds of millions on its Content ID system for automated copyright enforcement, filling buildings with expensive lawyers and specialists to police obscenity, libel and other potential sources of liability, working out how to comply with the complex legal requirements of different jurisdictions, from the Thai royal family’s insistence on the right to remove videos that criticised the monarchy to the UK government’s insistence on the right to police videos advocating anything it unilaterally characterises as violent Islamism.
Starting up as a competitor to YouTube today is a daunting prospect. With more than 128 hours of new video every minute, it’s hard to imagine how you’d amass a competing catalogue. But of course, plenty of people chafe at YouTube’s strictures and its business model, and of course, when YouTube kicked off, it was hard to imagine how it could ever compete with cable TV.
One thing is certain: three people in a garage with a pile of hard drives could not disrupt YouTube anymore,. Anything hoping to compete with YouTube would have to find the money to replicate all those compliance systems. Today it takes more than a pile of hard drives. It takes a pile of hard drives, a building full of lawyers, and hundreds of millions worth of Content ID.
The capital requirements for starting a competitor to the internet giants, from Facebook to Google to Apple, are so intense that they effectively only compete with each other. I dearly love the privacy-oriented search engine DuckDuckGo, but the only really big competitor to Google’s search product is Microsoft’s Bing: not a spunky startup, but a blue-chip company that was until recently the most profitable in the history of the world.
It’s not like Facebook, Apple, Google or the other giants conspired to shut out the spunky startups. They didn’t need to. If David Cameron wanted to use Facebook to spy on people, or wanted to dictate how Google presents search results for movies, the parties who would participate in that negotiation are Google, Facebook, the security services and the entertainment industry. The internet companies bargain hard to ensure that the new rules will not destroy their business, and the regulators and spies meet them there – it’s inconceivable that a regulator would tell Google that it must change its search business so fundamentally that it had to go out of business altogether.
Not at the table: spunky startups. A startup, after all, is a series of near-fatal disasters followed by failure (usually) or soaring success (very rarely). To be a spunky startup is to be in a state of perpetual emergency. You can’t hire lawyers to mooch around Number 10 all day trying to make sure that your business model (which might change tomorrow anyway) emerges intact from the negotiations.
Also not at the table: tomorrow’s spunky startups. Firms that don’t even exist yet can’t participate in these negotiations (by definition).
Google and Amazon and Apple don’t actively negotiate to make it impossible to be a spunky startup. They simply don’t negotiate to make it possible. Google wants to make sure that the YouTube of 2015 is viable. They don’t care about the YouTube of 2005. If today’s rules make that YouTube impossible, that’s not their problem any more.
There’s no better example of this than the VATMOSS VAT mess. Amazon, Google, Apple and other e-commerce giants claimed to be headquartered in Luxembourg in order to avoid VAT. This made everything they sold 20% cheaper than the products offered by high-street companies and small startups that couldn’t afford a presence in Luxembourg, which is quite a commercial advantage.
To solve this, the EU passed a regulation saying that anyone who sold goods in the EU would have to figure out who they were selling to, collecting two pieces of non-contradictory information about each purchas and retaining them for 10 years (meaning that every small and medium-sized enterprise [SME] has suddenly become a long-lived reservoir of indifferently secured Europeans’ sensitive financial information), and charge the local rate of VAT on those goods. There’s no minimum amount: if you sell a single 50p item in Bulgaria and collect 1p in VAT, you have to prepare and file a return so that Bulgaria gets its penny.
Amazon, Apple and the other tech giants were at the table when this was negotiated. It’s a pain in the ass for them, but not unbearable. They have whole buildings full of programmers and accountants who will simply update their tax filings to make sense of it.
For SMEs and sole traders, it’s been a disaster. I have a small business selling my own audiobooks through my website. This first VATMOSS quarter, I collected GBP18.76 in VAT from five EU nations. I spent over GBP700 in custom software, accountancy fees, and a new, specialist e-commerce fulfilment service in order to collect and remit this GBP18.76. Everyone I know who sells ebooks or digital audiobooks is in the same position.
Indeed, if you’re trying to sell digital goods in the EU today, there’s really only one cost effective way to do it: use Amazon. Because the rules aimed at weakening Amazon’s unfair market dominance were negotiated with Amazon’s business-case in mind, they can be readily borne by Amazon. Because the rest of us weren’t taken into consideration, we must all now pay rent to Amazon forever, or be bankrupted by the red-tape that it (and only it) can handily dispense with.
I’m not making the case against regulation here. I’m making the case against bad regulation. If we want to weaken the grip of these internet incumbents through competition, our regulations must target them to the exclusion of SMEs, not without regard to them.
Smart watches are attempting to break into the mainstream. The massive marketing machines of Apple, Google and Samsung are trying to push their appeal beyond geeks and early adopters and get everyone wondering whether there’s a smartwatch for them.
Smartwatches have existed, in various incarnations, for 10 years or so. Last year saw Pebble launch the second iteration of its successful smartwatch; Samsung unveil its fourth, fifth and sixth smartwatches; and Google enter the game with Android Wear.
But as with the tablet, the smartphone and the MP3 player before it, the launch of Apple’s first smartwatch has thrown the whole technology into the spotlight.
Before the Apple Watch, only 2% of the British public was aware of smartwatches, despite their being available in store and online, and few people were convinced of their need for such a thing, according to data from Ipsos Mori.
Apple’s marketing around the watch focuses heavily on two things: health and fashion. With a plethora of straps, watch faces and case combinations, it is, in Apple’s words, its “most personal technology yet”.
But at its heart a smartwatch is all about putting notifications on the wrist, transporting them from a buzzing phone to an at-a-glance location more readily available during the day.
They are inherently for the notification-obsessed. If you don’t feel the urge to reach for your phone the moment it demands your attention, then a smartwatch is likely to add little value to your life.
Even Google’s head of design, Matías Duarte, agrees, recently telling Bloomberg that “the smartwatch is like an electric can opener”: often bigger, more complicated, and ultimately not necessary.
If, however, your life revolves around the constant ping of emails, texts and notifications, which sees you reaching for a phone every two minutes, then a smartwatch could save you time.
You could argue that something is wrong if you’re that glued to the constant happenings of a smartphone. Do you really need to know about everything? Can’t it wait? Is it even healthy?
But the truth is I am that obsessed and there are many like me. By moving the ping, bing and bong to the wrist you can remove at least some portion of phone-digging.
For email you can immediately archive with a swipe, evaluate what needs attention and only break out the smartphone if necessary. That effort saving increases with the size of the phone. Today’s smartphones are significantly larger than even a few years ago. The average screen size of a new smartphone in 2007 was 3in; last year it was just under 5in. Now it’s not uncommon to be using a larger screen. Even Apple now sells a phablet – a smartphone with a screen 5.5in or bigger.
As the screen size grows, so does the difficulty in storing the device. Where should it be kept? Does it fit in a pocket? And if so, can you actually get it out again? Invariably the answer is a bag or a deep pocket, which means actually getting to a big phone is difficult.
In the adoption of the Apple Watch, one interesting anecdotal observation is that women are often the most appreciative of it, as they don’t have to fish it out of a bag.
You could argue that without needing to have pocketability, maximising screen size for consumption of content is the logical next step.
For those who are notification-obsessed, smartwatches can also act as a filter, with the ability to restrict which apps send alerts to your wrist, the types of notifications that can come through and who you allow to contact you. You can tailor an experience where only important notifications disturb you.
The same thing can be done on most smartphones, but the slow creep of notifications has meant many people have yet to restrict them. Notifications on the wrist can feel more like an invasion of privacy than those on a phone, and so the impetus to actually do something about it is greater.
So who is a smartwatch for? Anyone with the money to spend on something totally unnecessary, an arguably unhealthy obsession with notifications and the will to tolerate the daily annoyance of charging yet another device. Is it for anyone else? Probably not.