Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Google's Mysterious 3D Project And The Humongous Business Appetite For Imaging

Google is working on mobile devices capable of taking and reproducing 3D images – reportedly including a tablet – which could help satisfy the insatiable business appetite for better imaging, experts have said.
Development is being kept well under wraps and is taking place under the codename Project Tango, and while Google has already talked of working on a prototype smartphone with 3D imaging capabilities, it has not commented  on reports this week that it is developing 3D capable tablets.

3D technology is not new, but the potential commercialization by a company with the reach of Google – at an affordable price point – could transform its adoption. Consumer tablets and phones running the Android operating system are already highly popular in the enterprise.

Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of IT industry association CompTIA, tells Forbes that if Google were to develop “really compelling” technology, it would find uses in “video and image heavy fields like medicine, real estate and engineering and some retail markets like automotive.”

Many of these industries already use imaging technology heavily, and are looking for the next stage. In medicine, doctors, pharmaceutical companies and researchers are always attempting to improve the ways they can assess, see and understand human health. In other industries, uses can be as diverse as showing a property to prospective buyers, or examining a design scenario for a city center construction, major utility site, or road project.

“Imagine sectors like construction, mining, or warehousing,” says Bryan Ma, vice president of client devices research at IDC. “Being able to see where things should be [in terms of 3D and augmented reality technology], without them being physically obvious to the unaided eye could help significantly accelerate processes and efficiency.”

Other industries, including manufacturing and design, can also see the benefits of the technology in assessing potential plans. And retail will be sure to play a part: consumers could take an image of their living room before going furniture or decor shopping, for example, and see what would fit well from within the store, with retailers further enhancing the experience.

A number of companies already work with more sophisticated systems including virtual reality – such as Ford, which uses Facebook’s Oculus VR systems to help it visualize and experience designs before producing them. But many organizations do not have that level of budget and are looking for a less expensive, more standardized type of technology to begin with.

In terms of Google’s own announcements, the company has already said on its Project Tango website that applications for 3D technology could include changing customer and citizen experience, as well as gaming.

“What if you could walk into a store and see exactly where that thing you need to buy is, or play hide-and-seek in your home with that character from your favorite game, or help the visually-impaired navigate that place they have never been able to to go on their own?” Google says on the site. “We believe the possibilities are vast.”

A Google 3D tablet could have a seven-inch screen and two back cameras, infrared depth sensors and 3D capture software, sources familiar with the plans told the Wall Street Journal.

While the official details remain unclear, one thing is for sure: Google is taking the development seriously. For Project Tango, Google has said it is “working with universities, research labs, and industrial partners”, across nine countries, in order to “concentrate the past 10 years of research in robotics and computer vision” into its mobile technology.

Partners on the project include major businesses such as manufacturer Bosch, as well as key organizations including the Open Source Robotics Foundation and the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.. Ma at IDC says Google is deliberately working with these companies and developers across sectors because it “won’t know all of the possibilities on its own without partners who understand deep industry processes”.

Google’s multi-faceted business may help make the 3D project a business and consumer success, according to Thibodeaux at CompTIA. Google is “probably one of a very small number of companies who could bring the pieces together”, he says, adding: “They have the dominant GPS technologies. They have a rich platform like YouTube and the challenge is something their engineers would eat up.”

Monday, September 1, 2014

LG and Samsung announce new smartwatches ahead of Apple's anticipated 'iWatch' reveal

In a possible bid to get word out before an expected Apple iWatch announcement sucks the air out of the room, LG on Wednesday took the wraps off a circular display-toting G Watch R, while Samsung touted a new cellular 3G-equipped Gear S smartwatch.
LG's announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise given the company just this weekend teased the G Watch R in a YouTube video touting the device's circular display and supposed reveal at this year's IFA, which is set to kick off on Sept. 5.

According to Engadget, the G Watch R boasts a full 360-degree 1.3-inch, 320-by-320-pixel Plastic OLED (P-OLED) display and case styling more in line with classic wristwatches than modern smartwatch products like Pebble or Samsung's Galaxy Gear lineup. 

The wearable is meant to complement LG's existing offerings, including the current square-screened G Watch that was first announced in March. Interestingly, the upcoming version takes cues from Motorola's Moto 360 that was announced alongside the original G Watch as one of the first devices to run Google's Android Wear operating system.

LG is touting the G Watch R's unique circular form factor as a main selling point, poking fun at the Moto 360's "flat tire" design in this past weekend's video. The Moto 360's display is not a complete circle, having a bottom slice cut out to house an ambient light sensor and screen control circuitry. 

Aside from the format change, however, the G Watch R appears to be a repackaged version of the original G Watch model. Both run a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset with 512MB of RAM, include 4GB of flash storage and come with interchangeable straps. The new version does feature a heart rate monitor built into the case back, as well as a physical power button that doubles as the watch's crown, much like the Moto 360.

LG's G Watch R is expected to see limited release in the fourth quarter, meaning it will face stiff competition from the likes of Motorola, Samsung and possibly Apple.

Samsung on Wednesday also announced a new smartwatch called the Gear S, which features a curved two-inch Super AMOLED display, heart rate sensor, turn-by-turn navigation via Nokia's HERE and two days of battery life. One of the more novel capabilities is 3G cellular connectivity, which supports both voice calling and data transfer when phone tethering is not available.

A report earlier today claimed Apple is planning to announce its own highly anticipated entry into the smartwatch segment at a special event on Sept. 9, which is also expected to feature the next-generation iPhone lineup. 

Update: This story has been updated to include Samsung's latest Galaxy Gear entry that was also announced on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Apple announces Sept. 9 event for expected 'iPhone 6' & 'iWatch'

Apple on Thursday confirmed that it will hold a media event on Sept. 9, with a teaser sent to members of the media showcasing the date and a teasing tagline that reads: "Wish we could say more."

In a change from years past, Apple's 2014 September event will be held at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, Calif. Apple typically holds its annual iPhone event at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, but this year's venue is closer to the company's corporate headquarters and can also accommodate three times as many people.

The Tuesday event will begin at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. AppleInsider will be there with full, live coverage.

In addition to the "iPhone 6," Apple is also expected to unveil a brand new wearable device at this year's event. The hardware is rumored to be a wrist-worn accessory that has come to be known as the "iWatch."
Word of the anticipated inclusion of the "iWatch" at the event leaked this week and is somewhat of a surprise, as it was originally expected that the device would be unveiled later this year. The Sept. 9 event date was first reported by Re/code earlier this month.

Unsurprising, however, is the likely unveiling of the "iPhone 6," as the event will come almost exactly one year after the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c were revealed. This year's iPhone upgrade is rumored to come in two screen sizes of 4.7 and 5.5 inches with a faster next-generation "A8" processor.
 If Apple follows its usual release schedule, the new iPhone would find its way into the hands of consumers starting the following Friday, Sept. 19. With a plethora of parts leaks surfacing in recent weeks, particularly for the purported 4.7-inch model, it's believed that Apple is already ramping up production of the "iPhone 6."

Less certain, however, is when the "iWatch" might become available. As of yet, there have been no parts leaked for the expected wearable accessory, and rumored details about the device's design have been inconsistent on everything from shape to screen size.

It's also likely that iOS 8, Apple's next-generation operating system, will launch to the public not long after the Sept. 9 event. If the company follows the same pattern as last year, iOS 8 would become available to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

California’s Embrace of Anti-Theft Technology in Smartphones Puts a Squeeze on Thieves

It will soon get a lot harder for smartphone thieves to sell stolen iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones and Windows phones on the black market.
A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown of California on Monday will require that all smartphones sold in the state after July 2015 include a so-called kill switch, which lets an owner remotely deactivate a phone after it has been stolen.

If the history of security technology is any indication, the kill switch could have a significant impact on phone theft. The introduction of sophisticated mechanisms, like GPS tracking and engine immobilizer systems that make it nearly impossible to start a car without its ignition key, for example, has led to a steady decline in car theft in the United States.

The F.B.I. reported a 3.2 percent decrease in motor vehicle thefts in the first half of 2013 compared with the first half of 2012. In 2009, car theft dropped nearly 17 percent from the year before. And in New York City, auto theft has gone out of fashion. Last year, the city recorded 7,400 reported auto thefts. In 1990, 147,000 autos were stolen.

Other factors may also contribute to a drop in auto theft, but few disagree that anti-theft tools have played a role.

Some figures also suggest that home burglaries dropped after home security systems became more widely adopted. A study by the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice found a link between a decrease in home burglaries in Newark between 2001 and 2005 and an increase in the number of homes installing burglar alarms.

Police say the kill switch should make it more difficult for criminals to resell stolen smartphones, their typical aim. Organized gangs with technical know-how often snatch phones from victims, wipe existing data, and resell the phones online or even in flea markets.

The kill switch is a strong disincentive to that illicit business. Once it is triggered, the only way a phone can be reactivated is with a correct password or personal identification number.

There is already some indication that the switch is effective. Cellphone theft appears to be dropping after the introduction of a kill switch from Apple for its iPhone, the best-selling smartphone in the country. Apple’s iPhone has offered kill switch technology since September, and law enforcement statistics for several major cities show a significant decline in thefts of devices after the introduction of the anti-theft feature.

Comparing data in the six months before and after Apple released its anti-theft feature, police said iPhone thefts in San Francisco dropped 38 percent, and in London, they fell 24 percent.

That is a big shift from previous trends. About 3.1 million devices were stolen in the United States in 2013, nearly double the 1.6 million stolen in 2012, according to Consumer Reports.

Unlike laws already on the books in some other states, the California measure requires the kill switch to activate automatically as soon as a phone is turned on. Retailers who sell phones that do not comply with the law will be subject to fines of as much as $2,500 a sale.

Though the new law applies only to California, it will probably push the handset makers to install the tool on all their new smartphones. Samsung has already added a kill switch to the newest version of its top-selling Galaxy S phone and is expected to add it to others in the coming months.

George Gasc√≥n, San Francisco’s district attorney, has urged cellphone businesses for years to help fight theft with smarter technology to thwart criminals. But only recently did many of the industry’s biggest players, including AT&T, Google and Microsoft, say they supported the idea, amid talk of a bill that would require the feature in smartphones by law.

Google is adding a kill switch to the next version of its Android smartphone operating system — used by many phone makers — and Microsoft said it would do something similar with its Windows Phone software.

Jan Dawson, an independent telecom analyst for Jackdaw Research, said it would have been better if the phone makers had come up with a voluntary solution sooner to the theft problem. But since most of them dragged their heels, it should not be a surprise that lawmakers acted.

“The phone makers, to some extent, only have themselves to blame,” he said. “Phones have long been one of the most-stolen items out there, and a kill switch should make theft much less common."

Critics of the anti-theft law, including CTIA, a trade group that represents the wireless industry, have raised several concerns, among them that the kill switch solution could create more security risks. The association noted that hackers could potentially hijack smartphones and disable them for customers, including the phones used by officials in the Defense Department and in law enforcement.

Those concerns, said Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer of Lookout, a mobile security company, are “extremely valid.” But, he said, the kill switch solution so far, at least the one that Apple offers, is a safe and effective tool to stop casual thieves.

He added that he was optimistic that the phone companies would also strengthen their own anti-theft tools over the next few years.

“We do think that all these technologies coming together can really put a big dent in the phone theft problem,” he said.

Intel Launches Tiny 3G Modem for IoT Devices

The "world's smallest standalone 3G modem" is part of Intel's increasing investment in the market for connected home appliances and wearables.

Intel on Tuesday launched what it's calling the "world's smallest standalone 3G modem" as part of its increasing investment in the Internet of Things (IoT) market for connected home appliances, industrial systems, and wearable technology.

The new XMM 6255 chipset is just 300 mm squared in size and leverages Intel's new Power Transceiver technology, a design which represents the "industry's first design to combine transmit and receive functionality with a fully integrated power amplifier and power management, all on a single chip," according to the company.

Intel is positioning the XMM 6255 for consumer products like wearables, as well as for various sensors and meters that are being built into connected industrial equipment and home appliances as the IoT market expands.

And the chip giant is especially bullish on IOT prospects going forward, citing recent research that projects explosive market growth for connected products in areas ranging from consumer wearables to security devices to in-vehicle systems, to the tune of literally billions of new devices being sold in the next five years.

"Today, we commercially launched the XMM 6255 to provide a wireless solution for the billions of 'smart' and connected devices that are expected in the coming years," Intel said in a blog post.
The company is strongly pushing its new modem as a solution for smaller devices like smartwatches.
"Devices with a small form factor like a smartwatch or a sensor may not have enough space for a normal-sized 3G antenna, which can affect connectivity quality and reliability," Intel said. "The XMM 6255 modem is specially designed for such devices and delivers great 3G connectivity even with small volume antennas not meeting conventional mobile phone quality standards."

The XMM 6255 modem incorporates Intel's new SMARTI UE2p radio frequency (RF) transceiver layered onto a 3G power amplifier that delivers up to 7.2 Mbps download speeds and 5.6 Mbps upload speeds, Intel said. The modem is included in the u-blox SARA-U2 Module Intel is now making available to partners, which includes the X-Gold 624 baseband processor, a memory chip, and an isoplexer for antennas in a package that is narrower than a penny.

Intel has baked some power management features into the SARA-U2 Module, including a PA DCDC converter and direct-to-battery power, the company said. The result is "a smaller modem that helps manufacturers minimize their build of material costs" while also protecting "the radio from overheating, voltage peaks, and damage under tough usage conditions, which is important for safety monitors and other critical IoT devices."
The XMM 6255 provides some nice benefits in less-than-optimal conditions, according to Intel. For example, the modem can provide "reliable communication" in low-signal zones—think a parking garage or the basement of a home.

Monday, August 25, 2014

LG to put 'the first 4K OLED TVs' on sale in September

LG has announced plans to sell televisions that incorporate both 4K ultra-high definition resolutions and OLED panels.

The firm said a curved 65in (165cm) set would go on sale in Europe, South Korea and North America in September.

It calls the move a "first" since other firms sell models that offer either one or the other technology, but not both.

But while LG described it as a "game changer", one expert said the move "did not make economic sense".

Sony and Panasonic showed off their own prototype 4K OLED (organic light-emitting diode) sets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2013, but have opted not to put them into production.

The two companies offer 4K sets based on synthetic LED tech instead.

The difference is that OLED makes use of a carbon-based compound that emits light when struck by an electric current.

This allows TVs to do away with a backlight, meaning that pixels can offer deeper blacks when they are not in use, allowing manufacturers to boast improved contrast ratios - similar to what used to be available via plasma screens before they were discontinued.

Samsung - the world's bestselling TV maker - did release two of its own OLED sets in 2013, but they both had 1080p resolution, offering about four times less definition than 4K. Its website says both are "no longer available".

Samsung does, however, offer a wide range of 4K models using synthetic LED panels.

In January, Samsung's visual display division chief, HS Kim, told USA Today that it was proving difficult to manufacture OLED TVs, which in turn was making them too expensive for the vast majority of consumers. He added that this was unlikely to change for "three to four years".
LG's forthcoming set will cost 12m won ($11,765; £7,095), which is about two to three times the price of existing 4K LED sets of a similar size.

That may limit its appeal, but the firm is focusing on what the launch represents, calling 4K OLED "a new paradigm".

"OLED TVs are expected to overtake LCD [Liquid Crystal Display] in sales within a few years and no company is better prepared for this than LG," added Hyun-hwoi Ha, president of the company's home entertainment division.

'Lack of content'
One industry watcher agreed that LG's should offer best-in-class quality.

"OLED technology delivers the most vibrant and natural on-screen display that can be currently done with available technology," said Chris Green, principal technology analyst at the Davies Murphy Group consultancy.

"Combine that with 4K - which takes us to a new level of definition and sharpness - and you suddenly have a television that is pretty much like looking out of the window."

However, he added that the lack of 4K content coupled with the new set's price would prove a major deterrent.

"There's a lack of a compelling reason for you to go out to buy one tomorrow," Mr Green said.

"And in most of the world the broadband isn't there to deliver a 4K stream to many people's TVs.

"Other firms aren't going to want to commit to tooling up a line to build a TV that they're not going to be able to shift in enough volume to make viable."

While the BBC and Sky Sports have internally tested 4K broadcasts, neither is ready to announce a date the facility will be extended to the public.

Sony does sell a 4K media player - which downloads films from the internet - but it has only been released in the US and requires a Sony TV.

Samsung sells a hard drive loaded with five 4K movies and three documentaries, but this costs $300.

Netflix offers a limited amount of ultra-high definition TV shows- including House of Cards and Breaking Bad - but notes that the service depends on subscribers having access to a 15 megabits per second internet connection.

Otherwise, 4K content is currently limited to downloading clips via YouTube and Vimeo or playing back material shot on high-end smartphones, digital cameras and camcorders.

LG has also announced plans to release a 77in (196cm) 4K OLED model at an unspecified date.

It added that it would show the new sets off at the IFA tech show in Berlin next week.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Microsoft to Reveal Windows 9 on September 30

Microsoft's follow-up to Windows 8 could make its debut as early as next month, according to reports.
The Verge, citing unnamed sources familiar with Microsoft's plans, reported today that the software giant is gearing up to unveil the updated operating system at a special press event tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30. That information corroborates a recent ZDNet report from veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley claiming that Microsoft is planning to preview a new version of Windows by late September or early October.

Previous rumors indicated that the OS - codenamed Threshold but likely to be named Windows 9 - was being developed as part of Redmond's "One Windows" strategy and slated for release in the first half of 2015.

For its part, Microsoft is keeping tight-lipped on the matter. The company has not made any public statements about the next version of Windows. When contacted by PCMag on Thursday, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the reports, saying "We have nothing to share."

Meanwhile, recent rumors indicate that the successor to Windows 8 will reintroduce the Start menu and further chip away at differences between Redmond's flagship PC platform and the software running the Xbox One and Windows phones. Other rumored changes include: Metro-Style applications on the desktop, virtual desktop functionality, and Cortana integration, according to ZDNet.

For more, check out PCMag's review of Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update.