Sunday, October 5, 2014

HP to split into two businesses - report

Hewlett-Packard plans to separate into two businesses, one focused on PCs and printers, the other on corporate products and services, The Wall Street Journal reports. Hewlett-Packard may be ready for a breakup.
HP, the world's second-largest PC vendor behind Lenovo, plans to separate its PC and printer businesses from its corporate hardware and services operations, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing "people familiar with the matter." The company could announce the move as early as Monday, according to the Journal's sources. HP declined to comment.

The split is apparently one HP and its investors have been contemplating for a long time, said the Journal. HP's printing and personal systems group, which includes PCs, tablets, printers and other accessories, pulled in revenue of $55.9 billion during the company's 2013 fiscal year, almost half of its total revenue.

If true, the split could in part be an attempt to help HP move quickly to regain its position atop the global PC market -- it fell to the No. 2 spot behind Chinese computer maker Lenovo last year -- as the decline in that market shows signs of slowing.

"We're gradually shaping HP into a more nimble, lower-cost, more customer- and partner-centric company that can successfully compete across a rapidly changing IT landscape," CEO Meg Whitman said after the company's second-quarter earnings were released in May. Whitman had previously said the company is seeing renewed interest in traditional PCs over tablets in business.

Even so, HP as currently constituted doesn't have "enough focus on any one area to really dominate," wrote Larry Dignan at CNET sister site ZDNet, in a look at why a breakup of HP would be a good move. Meanwhile, he continued, the "printer and PC division [are] fighting for innovation spending with the enterprise side of the house. That's a lot of hands in an R&D pie that equates to about 3 percent of revenue."

Whitman will be chairman of the new PC and printer business and chief executive of the separate "enterprise company," one source told the Journal, while board member Patricia Russo will be chairman of the enterprise company. Don Weisler, the current executive vice president of HP's printing and personal systems group, will step in as CEO of the PC and printer business, according to the Journal.

This isn't the first time HP has attempted to jettison its PC business. In 2011, former Chief Executive Leo Apotheker tried to spin off the company's PC-making division. Investors rejected the move, and Apotheker was forced out. Whitman reversed the decision when she took over as CEO and began a "multiyear journey" to revive HP.

The 11.6-inch 1,366x768 display is bright and has decent off-axis viewing angles, but the edge-to-edge glass over the front surface invited glare (but also adds to the system's sharp look). Having a touchscreen on the N20p has uses, but at the same time, Chrome OS is not designed with touch in mind in the same way that Windows 8 is (or Google's other OS, Android). It will be interesting to see how Google or Chromebook makers try and adjust the OS to make better use of touch. I found myself primarily using it for webpage scrolling and closing Chrome windows.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Microsoft rolls out new plans for Office 365 users

Designed for small and midsize businesses, the three new subscription plans offer more features and flexibility than their predecessors, says the company.

Microsoft has launched new plans for subscription-based service Office 365 that the company says are designed to better meet the needs of business users.
Available as of Thursday, the three new plans are called Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium. As described in a Microsoft blog post, the new plans are geared toward businesses with anywhere from one to more than 250 employees and replace the previous Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business plans with more options.

The goal was to simplify and beef up the plans available by cutting prices on one of the plans and increasing the number of users allowed on two of the plans. Microsoft also tried to incorporate more options for social networking, mobile devices and cloud-based services. Since unveiling Office 365 in 2011, the software giant has been trying to push more users, especially business users, to adopt the service as an alternative to the traditional desktop Office suite.

"We made these changes to the existing Office 365 plans in response to feedback from our customers, and as part of our longstanding commitment to bring the benefits of cloud-based productivity to every SMB" (small and midsize business), Microsoft said in its blog.

Office 365 Business Essentials offers Office Online, OneDrive for business with 1 terabyte of online storage, Exchange-based email with contacts and shared calendars, online meetings via Web conferencing and instant messaging, Sharepoint-based team collaboration and Internet portals, and a private social network via Yammer. The version costs $5 per user per month on an annual basis and $6 per user per month on a monthly basis. It replaces Office 365 Small Business, which also cost $5 per user per month.

The next level, Office 365 Business, includes the full Office suite (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher), OneDrive for Business, and Office Online. Users can also access and share documents across a variety of platforms, including Windows on PCs and tablets, Windows Phone, Mac OS X, and the iPad. Priced at $8.25 per user per month on a yearly basis and $10 per user per month on a monthly basis, the version replaces Office 365 Small Business Premium, which cost $12.50 per user per month.

The third level, Office 365 Business Premium, combines the other two plans, so you get access to everything included in Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Business. This one will cost you $12.50 per user per month annually and $15 per user per month each month and replaces Office 365 Midsize Business, which cost $15 per user per month.

Those who opt for the new Business Essentials and Business plans will also see the maximum number of users they can add raised to 300 from 25. The Business Premium plan already carries over the 300-user maximum from the Midsize Business plan. Microsoft is also promising greater flexibility if your business grows. As you add more employees, you can easily switch to a different business plan, opt for an Enterprise plan, or add specific applications such as Microsoft Project or Microsoft Visio.

In a previous blog, Microsoft also explained the options for switching to the new plans. Existing Office 365 business customers can stick with their existing plans if desired and need to do nothing until their first renewal after October 1, 2015. Following that date, you'll need to select one of the three new plans when your next renewal kicks in.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Apple patent application reinvents remote control for the smartphone age

The tech giant considers shrinking down the user interface on your TV and putting it on your phone as a way to navigate Apple TV. Apple says today's remote control is outdated.
The numbered buttons on the remote were great when channels had numbers, but now many streaming services instead use graphic interfaces to show off channels, movies and TV shows. Also, searching for something to watch by repeatedly typing in 1s and 2s can be cumbersome.

With that in mind, Apple laid out in a patent application published Thursday a new kind of digital remote control for its Apple TV set-top box that uses icons and pictures, similar to those graphic interfaces on TV, but shrunken down and customized for a smartphone or tablet computer. Apple filed the application with the US Patent and Trademark Office last March.

Apple already recreated the physical remote control, offering up a slim remote for the Apple TV with only a few buttons to navigate videos and music. The new patent application shows the company could one day remake the physical controller again by doing away with it completely. Such an idea would be similar to Google's Chromecast, a dongle with no physical remote that's controlled using a mobile devices.

The concepts in the patent application go a step further than the current Remote app from Apple, which lets people navigate Apple TV with a program that's similar to the mobile iTunes library interface. Instead, the new interface appears to be much more complex, with more graphics and features, and can be used on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

An Apple representative didn't respond to a request for comment.

The $99 Apple TV, which connects to televisions to stream video over the Internet, has been less of a focus for the tech giant than its primary moneymakers, the iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet. More than two years have passed without a hardware update to Apple TV. Apple has also been slow to add channels to the device, especially when compared with competitors such as Roku, which has hundreds more channels. A software update, such as the new interface mentioned in the patent application, could increase interest in Apple TV, though the device still remains well behind in content partners.

    

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

iOS 8 bug could delete your iCloud Drive documents

Tapping the option to Reset All Settings vaporizes some iCloud Drive files, say a handful of iOS users.

An alleged bug in iOS 8 appears to be deleting documents stored in iCloud Drive without the user's permission.
Discovered by MacRumors after complaints surfaced from users of the blog site's forums, the bug is triggered by the option to Reset All Settings.

Found in the Reset screen under the General category in Settings for iOS 8, the Reset All Settings option is supposed to simply reset your iOS settings but leave your data and media untouched. Yet several forum users say that's not the case as certain iCloud documents also vanished after they reset all settings.

Based on user comments, the bug seems to be specific to documents from iWork apps, such as Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, MacRumors said. One user reported that his iWork documents were deleted after resetting all settings, but other data files remained in iCloud.

"HELP," one user wrote. "Because iOS 8 was so sluggish on my iPad 3 I reset all settings (No data or media will be deleted) and sped it up BUT deleted my iWork data! Then promptly synced and deleted it in iCloud."

"I just had this happen to me," another forum user wrote. "I had a bit of weird behaviour on my iPad, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to just reset all settings. For the hell of it, I did it on my iPhone as well. ALL DOCUMENTS LOST! How on earth does resetting settings (with a clear notice that data will not be lost) wipe out iCloud drive? It's embarassing."

Apple's Time Machine feature is supposed to automatically back up your files so you can restore any that are lost. A couple of users said they checked Time Machine but were unable to retrieve the lost iCloud Drive files. However, a third person reported success with Time Machine, at least running the beta of OS X Yosemite. Several of the affected users say they've contacted Apple support personnel, who are investigating the issue.

MacRumors ran its own test on the bug and reported the following:

In our own testing, using "Reset All Settings" deleted all iWork documents stored in iCloud Drive on the iPhone and on iCloud.com. After allowing time for syncing to a Mac running OS X Yosemite, all of the documents disappeared from that machine as well. Preview and TextEdit documents, which cannot be accessed on the iPhone, remained untouched on the Mac.

iCloud Drive is Apple's answer to Google Drive, Microsoft's OneDrive, and other cloud-based storage services. Beyond just syncing your files between your iOS devices and iCloud, you can directly store and retrieve documents and other files on iCloud Drive just as you can store and retrieve them locally.

Surprise! Microsoft jumps to Windows 10

Forget Windows 9. In an unexpected twist, Microsoft will be going straight to double digits from Windows 8 as it faces a challenging future for its operating system.

Microsoft just said no to 9. The follow-on to the current Windows 8 operating system will be known as Windows 10.
Originally codenamed Windows Threshold, the new operating system essentially does away with the dependency on the tiled "Metro" user interface that Microsoft had attempted to implement across its entire device line, from desktop PCs to Surface tablets and Windows Phone devices. In its place is a combination of the so-called live tiles, present in areas like the new Start Menu, and a more classic Windows experience that aims to please both touch and keyboard-and-mouse users.

Windows 10 is such a substantial leap, according to Microsoft's executive VP of operating systems, Terry Myerson, that the company decided it would be best to skip over Windows 9, the widely expected name for the next version.

Microsoft has spent the better part of two years, since Windows 8's debut in October 2012, responding to criticism over the direction in which it took the operating system that has long dominated traditional PCs. Windows 8 introduced the touch-prioritized Metro design with live tiles and removed key elements of Windows 7, disrupting the familiar look and feel for long-time Windows users. The changes were representative of an overall acceleration of Microsoft's unification of its touch-enabled mobile devices with its desktop and laptop software.

Those changes found many critics and detractors.

Windows 8.1, released last year, attempted to address those complaints with the revival of core Windows design and usage properties, such as the Start button. Now, with Windows 10, Microsoft is not quite hitting the reset button on touch, but wants to make sure it does not repeat history in its attempt to take Windows forward.

"We believe that, together with the feedback you provide us, we can build a product that all of our customers will love," Myerson said. "It will be our most open collaborative OS project ever."

Taking the stage after Myerson's introduction was Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of operating systems and the current public face of Windows and Windows Phone design and development. He gave attendees a live demo of an early build of Windows 10. Belfiore, too, put the emphasis on a great leap forward.

"We want all these Windows 7 users to have the sentiment that yesterday they were driving a first-generation Prius," he said, "and now with Windows 10 it's like we got them a Tesla."

Windows 10 combines elements of Windows 8's forward-thinking design and the familiarity and functionality of Windows 7, still the most popular Microsoft OS. According to Web traffic-tracking firm Net Applications, Windows 7 could be found on 51 percent of desktop PCs in August, compared with just over 13 percent for versions 8 and 8.1 combined.

"It's easy to say, 'Oh it's Microsoft giving up on touch,'" Belfiore said, pointing out the most obvious criticism of the scaled-back Metro interface. "We're absolutely not giving up on touch. We have a massive number of users who know Windows 7 well and a massive, but smaller, number of people who know Windows 8 well."

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Google strikes back at News Corp.'s antitrust complaint to EU

Amid a tangle with EU regulators over how it displays search results, Google gets into a war of words with Rupert Murdoch's media giant. Google has some pointed words for Rupert Murdoch, founder of the media giant News Corp.
Last week, News Corp. wrote an open letter to Joaquin Almunia, the European Union's competition commissioner, criticizing the search giant for its business tactics. Robert Thompson, News Corp.'s chief executive, wrote that Google is a "platform for piracy," and said the company "routinely configures its search results in a manner that is far from objective."

The public spat took another turn on Thursday, when Google published a blog post aimed not at Thompson, but the face of News Corp., entitled "Dear Rupert."

In a point by point response to News Corp.'s specific claims, Rachel Whetstone, Google's senior vice president of global communications, said "Google has done more than almost any other company to help tackle online piracy."

The feud between Google and News Corp. comes amid a four-year antitrust investigation by European regulators into Google's practices around surfacing search results . In February, Google reached a tentative settlement with the commission over complaints that the company allegedly favors its own products and services over those of competitors in search results. As part of the settlement proposal, Google agreed to display search results for its own services in the same way as those for rival companies, but did not have to pay a fine.

Google's proposed settlement has come under fire after widespread criticism and complaints, including from European politicians, competitors like Microsoft,and publishers like News Corp. The media giant owns a handful of European outlets, including The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Times and The Sun. On Tuesday, Almunia told Google that if it did not improve its settlement proposal, the company would face formal charges from the commission.

Both companies declined to comment beyond their respective letters. "We're letting the letter speak for itself," a News Corp. spokesperson said.

In Whetstone's post, Google touted its role in shoring up traffic to publishers, noting that it drives 10 billion clicks a month to 60,000 publishers' websites. The company mentioned the local listings service Yelp and travel accommodations site Expedia -- who have both criticized the way Google displays competitors' search results -- as brands Google has helped in terms of revenue and traffic.

As for News Corp.'s claim that Google enables piracy, the company said it took down 222 million websites in 2013 that infringed on copyrights, and that the company "downgrades" repeat offenders in Google searches. The average take-down time for copyright violators is six hours, Whetstone noted.

Google's post was also tongue-in-cheek at times. In response to the idea that Google favors YouTube videos over others, the company said a search for "videos of Robert Thomson News Corp" brings up BBC and The Wall Street Journal content above YouTube.

"We only show YouTube results when they're relevant to a search query," wrote Whetstone.

News Corp.'s letter last week also said that the once "shining vision" put in place by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- who famously coined the mantra "Don't be evil" -- has been replaced by "cynical management." Whetstone pointed to the pairs' involvement with ambitious projects including driverless cars and Wi-Fi-beaming balloons.

"Larry Page and Sergey Brin are still very much at the helm of Google," she wrote.

The company also took a final dig at the media giant toward the end of the post, linking to a crude cover of the News Corp.-owned tabloid The Sun in response to the claim that Google's behavior toward publishers helps "lead to a less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lenovo N20 review: Lenovo's N20p Chromebook is half a hybrid

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Good - The Lenovo N20p has good battery life, a touchscreen and a better keyboard than most other Chromebooks. The half-hybrid hinge offers additional flexibility for presenting videos or slideshows.

Bad - Many other basic Chromebooks cost less, and the 300-degree hinge here seems needlessly limited, considering how many similar systems fold back a full 360 degrees.

Bottom Line - Lenovo's N20p is long-lasting touchscreen Chromebook with a design on the nicer side of budget, but its semi-hybrid hinge feels like a half-measure.
The recently reviewed Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook received high marks from us for its sturdy hybrid design and for pairing a touchscreen with Google's Chrome OS. But, that was a laptop intended for educational use. Built to withstand the rigors of the classroom, it was just too heavy and bulky for casual everyday commuting (and much more expensive than other Chromebooks).

The Lenovo N20p is a consumer-friendly alternative, and Lenovo's first Chrome OS not aimed at either business or education buyers. It's a slim, lightweight ultraportable laptop that takes the central idea of a Chromebook -- a low-cost, simple clamshell for online use -- and adds better keyboard and touchpad than Chromebook users may be used to.

At $330 for a configuration with an Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and a 16GB SSD, the N20p is still more expensive than many other Chromebooks, which usually run $250 to $300. For that extra investment, you get a touchscreen, still a rare feature for Chromebooks, and a hinge that's less flexible than Lenovo's Yoga line, but more so than a standard laptop.

The system will be coming to the UK as well, and is listed on Lenovo's UK site, but without price or availability information, but converted pricing would be about £200. As for Australia, no price or release information was available, but converted pricing would be about AU$370.

Much like the Windows laptop line Lenovo calls IdeaPad Flex, the hinge on the N20p folds back past 180 degrees. Unlike fold-back hybrids, it doesn't go all the way back a full 360 degrees, allowing you to use it as a tablet. Instead, like the Flex, it stops, somewhat abruptly, at 300 degrees. That allows you to fold the screen back for use in what we call a kiosk mode, with the screen facing out and the base, keyboard facing down, as a kind of kickstand. It's marginally useful, more so if you're playing videos or presenting PowerPoint presentations, but unlike the Yoga hinge, it's probably not a system-selling feature.

Despite the trick hinge that might not get much use, the N20p is one of the better Chromebooks we've tested. The body is well-made and slim, the keyboard and touchpad are excellent for a budget-priced ultraportable, and the touchscreen, while not as useful in Chrome OS as in Windows 8, is still an occasionally handy extra. Yes, you could pay less for a Chromebook, but you'll be getting less, too.

The 11.6-inch 1,366x768 display is bright and has decent off-axis viewing angles, but the edge-to-edge glass over the front surface invited glare (but also adds to the system's sharp look). Having a touchscreen on the N20p has uses, but at the same time, Chrome OS is not designed with touch in mind in the same way that Windows 8 is (or Google's other OS, Android). It will be interesting to see how Google or Chromebook makers try and adjust the OS to make better use of touch. I found myself primarily using it for webpage scrolling and closing Chrome windows.

Connections, performance, and battery

Even a few years into the USB 3.0 era, we're still seeing a lot of slower USB 2.0 ports. In this case, you actually get one of each, which is better than some other ultraportables, and with only 16GB of internal SSD storage, it's not like you're likely to need fast data transfer speeds anyway. Having faster 802.11ac WiFi is a plus, but the idea of fishing out a dongle or special cable every time to use the micro-HDMI port doesn't appeal to me.

We've seen some differences in Chrome OS performance over the past year between systems with Intel Celeron processors, such as this one, slower ones with ARM chips such as the Samsung Exynos and faster ones with Core i3 CPUs. Nvidia and Acer upended the apple cart a little but with the recent Acer Chromebook 13, which uses the Nvidia K1 processor for average overall performance scores, but excellent 3D scores (as one might expect from Nvidia).

The N20p was middle-to-top of the pack in most tests, but keep in mind that much of your Chrome OS experience is going to be based on using online tools, most of which are pretty lightweight and easy to run. The N20p felt faster and easier to use than some other Chromebooks, but a lot of that also comes from the better-than-average keyboard and touchpad, making interaction less of a hassle.

One area where the system did especially well is our online video streaming playback test. The N20p ran for 8:19, just a few minutes longer than the Nvidia-powered Acer Chromebook 13, and well ahead of Lenovo's own Yoga 11e Chromebook, which ran for 5:36 on the same test.

Conclusion

Chromebooks have become common enough that shoppers can now expect either a rock-bottom price or one or more special features. The Yoga 11e has a hybrid hinge that transforms into a tablet, the Acer Chromebook 13 does mainstream-quality graphics, and the Acer C720p (a long-time favorite) packs a touchscreen into a very inexpensive system.

The N20p straddles that line. It's not the least-expensive, not the most expensive, and it adds a touchscreen and decent design. But its main calling card, a semi-hybrid 300-degree hinge, is of dubious practical use. Much like the IdeaPad Flex line of Windows 8 PCs that preceded it, the N20p still stands on its own as a very good clamshell laptop, even if you'll never use its fold-back hinge.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Apple's new campus to be 'greenest' on Earth?

With 7,000 trees and buried parking lots, CEO Tim Cook expects the new headquarters to be a major statement of Apple's environmental push.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Monday offered up the heady goal of making his company's new headquarters the most environmentally friendly building there is out there.
"We're building a new headquarters that I think will be the greenest building on the planet," he said during the Climate Week NYC conference. "It'll be a center for innovation, and it's something clearly our employees want and we want."

The building, which has been likened to a spaceship, is now under construction in Cupertino, Calif., and expected to be completed in 2016. When done, it will take up 2.8 million square feet and be doughnut shaped.

Apple has said that the headquarters will be 80 percent landscape with more than 7,000 trees. Parking lots will be buried underground, and the campus will include one of the largest onsite corporate solar energy installations in the world. The facility will be able to accommodate over 14,000 employees, more than five times the number Apple's current Cupertino headquarters can fit.

With the headquarters as a prime example of what Apple hopes to do to fight climate change, Cook said at the conference his company will focus on making its supply chain greener, as well. The company in 2012 faced criticism after The New York Times published a series on Apple's Chinese suppliers, which spotlighted questionable labor and environmental practices. Apple has since worked to improve those conditions.

Cook said the effort to make the supply chain more environmentally friendly was "dirty" and "detailed" work, but he reinforced Apple's commitment to making improvements.

"We know that we will not make enough of a difference if we only solve our little piece of the world," he said. "We need to be one of the pebbles in the pond that creates the ripple."

Connections, performance, and battery

Even a few years into the USB 3.0 era, we're still seeing a lot of slower USB 2.0 ports. In this case, you actually get one of each, which is better than some other ultraportables, and with only 16GB of internal SSD storage, it's not like you're likely to need fast data transfer speeds anyway. Having faster 802.11ac WiFi is a plus, but the idea of fishing out a dongle or special cable every time to use the micro-HDMI port doesn't appeal to me.

We've seen some differences in Chrome OS performance over the past year between systems with Intel Celeron processors, such as this one, slower ones with ARM chips such as the Samsung Exynos and faster ones with Core i3 CPUs. Nvidia and Acer upended the apple cart a little but with the recent Acer Chromebook 13, which uses the Nvidia K1 processor for average overall performance scores, but excellent 3D scores (as one might expect from Nvidia).

The N20p was middle-to-top of the pack in most tests, but keep in mind that much of your Chrome OS experience is going to be based on using online tools, most of which are pretty lightweight and easy to run. The N20p felt faster and easier to use than some other Chromebooks, but a lot of that also comes from the better-than-average keyboard and touchpad, making interaction less of a hassle.

One area where the system did especially well is our online video streaming playback test. The N20p ran for 8:19, just a few minutes longer than the Nvidia-powered Acer Chromebook 13, and well ahead of Lenovo's own Yoga 11e Chromebook, which ran for 5:36 on the same test.
Conclusion

Chromebooks have become common enough that shoppers can now expect either a rock-bottom price or one or more special features. The Yoga 11e has a hybrid hinge that transforms into a tablet, the Acer Chromebook 13 does mainstream-quality graphics, and the Acer C720p (a long-time favorite) packs a touchscreen into a very inexpensive system.

The N20p straddles that line. It's not the least-expensive, not the most expensive, and it adds a touchscreen and decent design. But its main calling card, a semi-hybrid 300-degree hinge, is of dubious practical use. Much like the IdeaPad Flex line of Windows 8 PCs that preceded it, the N20p still stands on its own as a very good clamshell laptop, even if you'll never use its fold-back hinge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sony sees $2.1B loss for fiscal year as mobile woes take a toll

The situation is so bad that Sony is suspending its dividend -- the first time it won't be making a payout since it listed in 1958. Sony's envisioned comeback in the mobile business has hit a snag. A big snag.
The Japanese electronics conglomerate warned Wednesday that it will post a loss of 230 billion yen ($2.1 billion) in its fiscal year that ends March 31, 2015. It also suspended its dividend -- the first time it won't be making a payout since it listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1958.

The company blamed the "competitive environment of the mobile business." Sony has been hammered by competition and an inability to find distributors in key markets such as the US. While its line of high-end Xperia smartphones have been praised for their design and waterproof bodies, they continue to fall under the shadow of giants Apple and Samsung. Sony's problems underscore the hyper-competitive environment that smartphone makers face -- with similar struggles facing HTC and others.

Sony said the losses are a result of a writedown of 180 billion yen ($1.67 billion) in its mobile business and will result in the overall company's fifth annual loss in six years. It also marks a rough year for CEO Kazuo Hirai, who took the reins in 2012 with a vow of turning the business around.

Sony plans to change its mobile strategy by concentrating its efforts in "certain geographical areas, premium lineups and reducing the number of models in its mid-range lineup," the company said in a statement (PDF).

The company had reported a net profit of around 25.7 billion yen in the April-to-June quarter due to blockbusters such as the "Amazing Spider-Man 2" and strong sales of the PlayStation 4 console.

But going into the critical holiday-shopping season, there remain a lot of questions about Sony's mobile business. While its Xperia Z3 flagship is making its way into the US through T-Mobile, Sony doesn't have any other US partners for distribution. The company has resorted to selling unlocked versions of its smartphones through its retail stores and website. Beyond T-Mobile, Sony only sells its Z2 tablet through Verizon Wireless.

While Sony plans to focus on its premium lineup, there are questions about whether the company can compete in that category. Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are launching on Friday, and Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 is set to hit stores in October. Beyond Apple and Samsung, rivals such as HTC and LG are also fighting for a share of the high-end pie with their respective flagship smartphones. On top of that, companies such as Google and Microsoft are laying out plans to broaden their reach into the emerging markets with more affordable smartphones -- the fastest growing segment of the business.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When it comes to digital games, Microsoft's not playing around

Many on Wall Street thought Microsoft ought to exit the game business, but since taking over as CEO, Satya Nadella has taken the opposite tack. Here's why.
Long before Microsoft announced Steve Ballmer's replacement, some on Wall Street were already advising the incoming CEO to dump the company's Xbox business.

"Microsoft is trying to do too much, and these assets add no clear value to the overall business," Nomura's Rick Sherlund said at the time. He sounded a view that was popular in some financial circles that gaming was at best a sideshow, at worst a distraction. Microsoft would serve shareholders far better by focusing on its bread-and-butter enterprise business, many reasoned.

But Microsoft had other ideas.

"Gaming is a top activity spanning devices, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile, with billions of hours spent each year," CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement on Monday after the company confirmed its $2.5 billion purchase of Mojang AB, the Swedish makers of Minecraft.


"Minecraft is more than a great game franchise -- it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about," Nadella said.

Nadella's PR handlers must have had to arm-wrestle their boss not to add his now-signature "mobile-first, cloud-first" mantra into the press release, but the line wouldn't have been out of place with the worldview he has repeatedly articulated since his appointment as chief executive last February.

Nadella also sees what he describes as the "digital life category" as strategically important to Microsoft. In his -- July letter to employees, he talked at length about the technology benefits "flowing from our gaming efforts into our productivity efforts -- core graphics and NUI in Windows, speech recognition in Skype, camera technology in Kinect for Windows, Azure cloud enhancements for GPU simulation and many more." At the time, it was all about Xbox. Now Microsoft is adding a much-coveted property that ranks asthe third best-selling game of all time behind Tetris and Wii Sports -- for the price of a veritable rounding era. Microsoft, which ended the June quarter with some $86 billion of cash on the balance sheet, also gets a Trojan Horse that it will presumably use to introduce younger people to more Microsoft products other than Xbox.

Until now, Minecraft has not been available on Windows Phone. That's obviously going to change as Microsoft seeks to become a more important player in the mobile game business, both for smartphones and tablets. No doubt, Microsoft's keen on getting more people to use its mobile hardware products. And if Minecraft introduces enough users to the panoply of higher-margin software products that Microsoft sells, such as Office 365, then Nadella will have the last word in the argument. For the record, Microsoft expects the acquisition to be break-even sometime in its fiscal 2015 year.

Could Microsoft still screw this up? Sure. And the departure of co-founders Markus "Notch" Persson, Carl Manneh, and Jakob PorsÈr once the deal closes means it's going to be up to Xbox boss Microsoft's Phil Spencer to manage the transition successfully. For now, he's saying all the right things about supporting the Minecraft franchise across platforms -- including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC. (Minecraft is available on Xbox One.)

But Microsoft is getting the Minecraft franchise and little more. In a note commenting on the deal, Cowen and Company's Gregg Moskowitz wrote that there's no sign that other potential hits are in Mojang's product pipeline. In other words, Microsoft appears to be buying the game and 40 developers, but effectively nothing else.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tim Cook to talk iPhone 6, Beats and Steve Jobs on Charlie Rose

In a two-part interview, Apple's CEO expounds on the company's past, present and what lies ahead.

It's been a busy week for Apple. The company unveiled several new products -- including a plus-size iPhone and an Apple Watch -- and now CEO Tim Cook is sitting down with PBS' Charlie Rose to discuss what's been going on and the road ahead.
In a two-part series, Cook hits on topics including Apple TV, the company buyout of Beats and Steve Jobs' legacy. The first part of the interview airs Friday night and the second part can be viewed on Monday. PBS shared a transcript of the interview with CNET. Here are some tidbits:

Apple Watch

Apple isn't the first company to come out with a smartwatch. Nevertheless, the Apple Watch debuted with much fanfare on Tuesday. It comes in several different styles, interacts with an iPhone and doubles as a fitness monitor. Cook implied that even though it's not the first smartwatch on the market, he believes it will still have commercial success.

"The Apple Watch is the most personal device we've ever created," Cook said. "We explored many different things and as the product came to fruition, it became not only the timepiece that you would expect, but a device that can do many different things, including, really, a whole new way of communicating and connecting with people."

iPhone

Cook called the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus "the biggest advance in iPhone history" and the "best iPhones we've ever done." When Rose asked if the larger-size phone was created to battle Samsung's Galaxy S5, Cook said "we could have done a larger iPhone years ago. It's never been about just making a larger phone. It's been about making a better phone in every single way."

Apple television set

It's been rumored for years that Apple has been working on a TV set. Cook didn't clarify if this is actually in the works, but he did say television "is something we have great interest in." He said viewers' current TV experience is "stuck in the '70s" and it "almost feels like you're rewinding the clock and you've entered a time capsule, and you're going backward."

Beats

Apple agreed to buy Beats, the company behind the street-fashionable headphones as well as a subscription streaming music service, for $3 billion in May. Cook told Rose that he made this decision because he saw talent in Beats' team and was impressed by its subscription service. He called Beats founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine "creative geniuses" and said they've "done a fabulous job with the brand."

Steve Jobs

"I think about Steve every day," Cook told Rose. "He is deep in Apple's DNA. His spirit will always be the foundation of the company." In fact, Cook said, the company has left Jobs' office exactly as it was, with his name still on the door.

When Jobs picked Cook as his successor, Cook said, he was surprised but trusted Jobs' decision. "He knew, when he chose me, that I wasn't like him, that I'm not a carbon copy of him. And so he obviously thought through that deeply, about who he wanted to lead Apple," Cook said.

"I've never had the objective of being like him, because I knew, the only person I can be is the person I am," he told Rose. "I've tried to be the best Tim Cook I can be."

Down the road

While Cook stayed tight-lipped on what Apple is dreaming up next, he did say "there are products we're working on that no one knows about, yes. That haven't been rumored about yet."

"We know we'll only do our best work if we stay focused," Cook said. "The hardest decisions we made are all the things not to work on."

In the full interview, Cook also talks about Apple's recent deal with IBM, social networking and much more. It airs on PBS on Friday and Monday evening, viewers should check local listings for details.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yowza! Yahoo once faced $250K in daily fines from US government

Declassified documents related to Yahoo's challenge of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion are now out. But the company doesn't see it as an all-out victory.
Yahoo previously petitioned to have a slew of secret files unsealed more than a year ago, and the findings lean toward the technology company's favor as far as the public eye might be concerned.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, D.C., has released more than 1,500 of previously classified pages, including a never-before-seen 2008 FISC opinion that Yahoo challenged on appeal.

The most astounding point of interest, as emphasized by Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell in a blog post on Thursday, was that the U.S. government threatened to levy $250,000 in fines per day if Yahoo refused to comply to demands for user information from its online services.

In June 2013, it was revealed Yahoo was one of the nine Silicon Valley giants tapped by NSA's secret data-mining program Prism, which came to light through documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Many of the tech giants (notably Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft) have publicly denounced the Prism program, but Yahoo took things a step further by petitioning the FISC to declassify documents from these cases in 2008.

According to the San Jose Mercury News last summer, Yahoo argued those files would reveal that the technology company "objected strenuously" to federal demands for consumer data, thus demonstrating its interest in defending user privacy above all else.

The FISC granted the motion in the search giant's favor, but Yahoo didn't score an all-out victory because, as Bell lamented, "portions of the documents remain sealed and classified to this day, unknown even to our team."

Nevertheless, Bell still touted the turn of events as "an important win for transparency," promising it will make all of the 1,500 pages available to the public via Tumblr soon.

"A decision to open FISC or FISC-R records to the public is extremely rare," Bell wrote. "Now that the FISC-R has agreed to unseal the proceedings at our request, we are working to make these documents available."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Google buys Lift Labs, maker of spoon for Parkinson's tremors

The search giant takes another step into biotech, snapping up a device maker focused on neurodegenerative diseases.
Google on Wednesday announced that it's buying Lift Labs, a biotech company that developed a special spoon designed to make it easier to eat for people with diseases like Parkinson's or essential tremor. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

The team will join Google X, the part of the company that executes its most ambitious projects, deemed "moon shots" in Google parlance. Other X initiatives include driverless cars and Wi-Fi beaming balloons. Specifically, Lift Labs will join Google X's Life Sciences division.

Lift's product, called Liftware, vibrates to stabilize tremors, countering the movements of a patient's hand as he or she raises the spoon to the mouth. The company will continue to make and sell the product after it joins Google's team in Mountain View, Calif.

The search giant has increasingly delved into life sciences recently. Last year, it backed Calico, short for the California Life Company, a firm dedicated to developing medication with the overarching mission of expanding the human life span. Last week, the company -- run by former Genentech CEO and current Apple Chairman Arthur Levinson -- announced a partnership with the biopharmaceutical firm AbbVie to pour up to $1.5 billion into a research facility focused on fighting age-related diseases.

Google X has also developed a smart contact lens, which measures glucose levels in tears for people with diabetes and other conditions. In July, the company partnered with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to produce the contacts.

Also in July, Google unveiled another Google X project, Baseline, a volunteer-based program in which the company will intimately study the workings of the human body, with the goal of finding breakthroughs in disease prevention.

As The New York Times notes, the push to fight neurodegenerative diseases may also be a personal cause for Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who spends much of his time on Google X projects. Brin's mother has Parkinson's, and he's said he has a genetic mutation that gives him a higher chance of developing the disease himself.

A Google spokesperson said Lift Labs' "tremor-canceling" technology could "improve quality of life for millions of people." The company also said it is looking for new ways to use an "understanding and management" of neurodegenerative diseases. The Lift team wrote that joining Google will allow it to grow its operations.

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 Gascón, 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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

HTC One Now Comes in a Windows Phone Version

HTC has just announced a Windows Phone version of its flagship smartphone, the One.
The HTC One for Windows is new in terms of platform only: It’s a spitting image of the beautiful brushed-aluminum HTC One Android phone released earlier this year. The Windows Phone version is only available on Verizon, and the price looks good: It’ll be $100 with a two-year contract.

Like the Android version, it’s being referred to as the M8, a nickname given to the 2014 model of the HTC One to avoid confusion with older models. So while it’s an old face, it’s still one of the nicest pieces of Windows mobile hardware we’ve seen to date—camera notwithstanding, of course (the high-end Nokias have it beat in that regard).

The Windows Phone version of the One has the same crisp 5-inch, 441 pixel-per-inch, 1080p display, the same zippy Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core SoC, the same MicroSD expansion slot, the same better-than-most stereo speakers, and the same 2600mAh battery. All of these are good things. 

Unfortunately, the Windows Phone version of the M8 also has the same camera as the Android M8. It’s nowhere near as good as the superb 41-megapixel shooter in the Nokia Lumia 1020, which still holds the camera crown in the Windows Phone world. While the spec sheets for both versions of the HTC One are nearly identical, I was able to find one difference: The Windows Phone version doesn’t appear to have a barometer sensor, unlike the Android M8. So if that makes a difference to you, be wary.

Otherwise, be excited. Windows Phone now has a proven, refined flagship phone that, unless you’re a discerning mobile photographer, many would say the platform has been lacking.

Top 10 New Car Technology Blunders

We’ve come a long way from the seat-belt-interlock system of 1974. That system required every occupied seat to have the belt fastened before a car would start, and as you can guess this short-lived example of safety technology was an overbearing intrusion consumers didn’t like. As a former 1974 Pontiac Firebird owner I can confirm how annoying this particular “safety enhancement” was every time I had to move the car a short distance on the driveway or in a parking lot. Forty years later the level of automotive technology inhabiting today’s cars is far more sophisticated, with no such annoyances to be found, right? Right?
Sadly, no. Four decades of quantum leaps in automotive technology have not always been accompanied by similar leaps in wisdom regarding the use of said technology. In fact, today’s cars pay testament to Scotty’s famous quote in Star Trek III: “The more they overthink the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain.”

Don’t get me wrong, technology has put the overall performance and safety level of modern cars in a place few would have believed in 1974. It’s also introduced plenty of 21st Century versions of the seat-belt-interlock system, with all their associated annoyances. Here are my Top 10 New Car Technology Blunders for 2014.

1. Fake Exhaust Noise: Modern carmakers work hard to create the right exhaust note. Some brands have been doing it for decades, but today every performance car sounds amazing…including the BMWs that use speakers instead of explosions to power their exhaust roar. They do this because modern cabin insulation effectively blocks engine noise and/or because the vehicle in question (in this case the 3-cylinder i8) doesn’t have an engine capable of producing a powerful exhaust note. Routing an engine’s actual exhaust note through different baffles is an alternative many automakers use to solve the problem, which is fine. But creating exhaust noise from scratch and enhancing it with the car’s audio system is technology at its worst.

2. Idiotic Idiot Lights: A friend of mine recently took his 2013 Ford Escape on a road trip. It performed flawlessly on the 2000-mile drive from Denver to Florida, but as he rolled into his destination every warning light on the dashboard — ABS, Traction Control, Airbag — lit up. A message stating “hill climb assist not available” also came up. After thinking the drivetrain might have fallen out he took the car to a local Ford dealer. The problem? A faulty airbag wiring harness. Did that issue really require half-a-dozen warning lights? Our cars are supposed to be smarter than ever, with diagnostic ports that tell mechanics exactly what’s wrong. Why can’t they tell us, too, with a simple (and accurate) message in the display screen?

3. Virtual Buttons for Critical Functions: Today’s ubiquitous touchscreen displays let automakers clean up the dashboard control interface. With so many features that didn’t exist 20 years ago (stability control, sport modes, dual-zone climate control, hands-free phone operation, navigation, etc.) a touchscreen can literally replace dozens of hard buttons that would otherwise clutter the cabin. That’s fine, but when Tesla’s Model S makes basic functions, like the rear hatch release and charge port access, dependent on these digital buttons it sets up a potential nightmare if (when?) the display screen fails. Note to automakers: virtual buttons are cool, but dedicated hard buttons should be used for critical functions.

4. Electric-Powered Doors: Like touchscreen buttons, automakers have begun using electronic relays to replace the mechanical door release in cars like the Chevrolet Corvette. As with most high-tech features, this system usually works fine, popping the door open at the touch of a button. But — what happens when the battery dies and the car loses all electrical power? Thankfully, automakers are required to offer mechanical alternatives for these occasions, though the process can be far more involved and far less intuitive than pushing a button. Imagine you’re in an accident that damages the electrical system while also starting a fire. Recalling the mechanical door release process might not be top of mind at that moment.

5. Misplaced Keyless Start: The idea of not having to twist a key, or even touch a key, when starting or shutting off your car sounds great. Now imagine you’ve driven to the airport with your significant other, who proceeds to get out of the car and onto a plane bound for the other side of the globe. Only after you’re halfway home do you realize the car key is in your partner’s pocket. These systems are supposed to have sensors that warn you when the key isn’t in the cabin. And more than a decade after this technology was introduced the majority of cars I test still make the airport scenario plausible. Automakers need to make these systems fool-proof, which means accurate sensors that immediately identify when the key isn’t present.

6. Idle Stop — and Shimmy: Hybrid vehicles have featured idle-stop technology for years to save fuel and reduce emissions when stationary. Soon every car will follow as automakers work to meet rising EPA standards. While the theory makes perfect sense the reality can be fatiguing. Starting most cars causes a lot of noise and vibration. Doing it 30 times during a relatively short trip will make your commute feel twice as long. I was in a diesel Mercedes-Benz E-Class in England last month, and it felt like a paint mixer every time the engine fired up, which was several times a minute in city driving. Automakers must reduce the noise and vibration associated with starting a car if they expect this technology to be widely embraced.

7. No More Manuals: Today’s automatics are now absolutely, positively, and without a doubt better than a traditional stick shift, which is why you can no longer get a modern Ferrari or Porsche GT3 with three pedals. Of course, a Toyota Camry is a more cost-efficient way to move people around compared to any sports car, so let’s just stop making Ferraris and Porsches altogether, right? Look, I’m a huge fan of modern, dual-clutch transmissions. I have no desire to deal with a third pedal as a Southern California resident. And I still think it’s criminal for an increasing number of modern exotic sports cars to not even offer a manual transmission option. And don’t give me the cost argument. When a car’s price crosses six figures there’s adequate profit margin for manual transmission R&D, even if only a sliver of buyers ever chooses it. For shame guy.

8. Restricted Access to Features: Distracted driving is a serious issue car companies must address. They also need to leverage existing technology in obvious, no-brainer ways to maximize feature access when it’s safe. Yes, as a driver I shouldn’t have full access to navigation and phone features when the car is moving. But my passenger should. Is it really that difficult to use the airbag and seatbelt sensors in every modern vehicle to allow my wife to program a street address while I’m driving? Forcing me to pull over and stop in this circumstance might present its own set of dangers, depending on my location. At the very least it’s hugely frustrating to have a passenger ready and willing to safely use these systems when the car won’t let them.

9. Dumb Display Screens: Back-up cameras are common today, and by 2018 they will be required by law on every vehicle sold in the U.S. This is a good example of technology making cars safer, particularly for young children who are often the victims of low-speed accidents when a car backs up. The problem is the implementation of the camera’s view, which takes over the central display whenever a car is put in reverse — at the exclusion of all other functions. Need to turn the blasting heater fan off? Is someone calling and you want to answer? If your car has a back-up camera and is in reverse you can’t do either, or anything else controlled through the screen. These displays need to get smarter about combining functions when it makes sense.

10. Reduced Car Control: Have you ever turned the steering wheel rapidly to avoid a collision? How about squeezing between two cars in an adjacent lane to keep from hitting a disabled vehicle or clueless pedestrian suddenly blocking your lane? Sometimes we’re forced into less-than-ideal maneuvers to avoid a more destructive and deadly situation, right? Lesser of two evils and all that. Well, that option is slowly evaporating. For the past 10 years I’ve watched stability control systems exert greater influence over driver input in the name of “safety.” The issue? Sometimes the system doesn’t recognize a threat that’s obvious to a human driver. Turning the wheel so quickly that I risk a moderate skid or colliding with a parked car is acceptable when I’m doing it to avoid a kid chasing a ball. But what happens when the computer disagrees and overrides my ability to control the vehicle.