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Panasonic On The Hunt For Acquisition Targets

March 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Japanese electronics giant Panasonic Corp said it is gearing up to spend 1 trillion yen ($8.4 billion) on acquisitions over the next four years, bolstered by a stronger profit outlook for its automotive and housing technology businesses.

Chief Executive Kazuhiro Tsuga said at a briefing on Thursday that Panasonic doesn’t have specific acquisition targets in mind for now. But he said the firm will spend around 200 billion yen on M&A in the fiscal year that kicks off in April alone, and pledged to improve on Panasonic’s patchy track record on big deals.

“With strategic investments, if there’s an opportunity to accelerate growth, you need funds. That’s the idea behind the 1 trillion yen figure,” he said. Tsuga has spearheaded a radical restructuring at the Osaka-based company that has made it one of the strongest turnaround stories in Japan’s embattled technology sector.

Tsuga previously told Reuters that company was interested in M&A deals in the European white goods market, a sector where Panasonic has comparatively low brand recognition.

The firm said on Thursday it’s targeting operating profit of 430 billion yen in the next fiscal year, up nearly 25 percent from the 350 billion yen it expects for the year ending March 31.

Panasonic’s earnings have been bolstered by moving faster than peers like Sony Corp and Sharp Corp to overhaul business models squeezed by competition from cheaper Asian rivals and caught flat-footed in a smartphone race led by Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics. Out has gone reliance on mass consumer goods like TVs and smartphones, and in has come a focus on areas like automotive technology and energy-efficient home appliances.

Tsuga also sought to ease concerns that an expensive acquisition could set back its finances, which took years to recover from the deal agreed in 2008 to buy cross-town rival Sanyo for a sum equal to about $9 billion at the time.

 

 

USB 3.1 To Arrive With New Desktops Later This Year

March 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

The emerging USB 3.1 standard is on track to reach desktops as hardware companies release motherboards with ports that can transfer data twice as fast as the previous USB technology.

MSI recently announced a 970A SLI Krait motherboard that will support the AMD processors and the USB 3.1 protocol. Motherboards with USB 3.1 ports have also been released by Gigabyte, ASRock and Asus, but those boards support Intel chips.

USB 3.1 can shuffle data between a host device and peripheral at 10Gbps, which is two times faster than USB 3.0. USB 3.1 is also generating excitement for the reversible Type-C cable, which is the same on both ends so users don’t have to worry about plug orientation.

The motherboards with USB 3.1 technology are targeted at high-end desktops. Some enthusiasts like gamers seek the latest and greatest technologies and build desktops with motherboards sold by MSI, Asus and Gigabyte. Many of the new desktop motherboards announced have the Type-C port interface, which is also in recently announced laptops from Apple and Google.

New technologies like USB 3.1 usually first appear in high-end laptops and desktops, then make their way down to low-priced PCs, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst of Mercury Research.

PC makers are expected to start putting USB 3.1 ports in more laptops and desktops starting later this year.

 

 

 

Research Reveals Hundreds Of Android, iOS Apps Remain Vulnerable To FREAK

March 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Hundreds of Android and iOS apps remain vulnerable to a dangerous attack revealed weeks ago that can compromise encrypted data, according a security vendor’s research.

The apps have not yet been patched against the FREAK attack, short for Factoring attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys, which was revealed by researchers on March 3.

The unpatched apps, which were not identified, are in categories including finance, communication, shopping, business and medicine, computer security company FireEye said in a blog post Tuesday.

The findings highlight how even some of the most publicized and severe flaws can take quite a bit of time to get fixed. That poses risks for people using apps whose developers are not quick to patch them.

Researchers revealed earlier this month that many software programs and browsers were vulnerable to FREAK, which is a flaw that can allow an SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Security Layer) encryption key to be downgraded to 512 bits — much weaker than the 2,048-bit keys typically used today.

The flaw is a legacy of U.S. government export restrictions in the 1990s that banned selling software products overseas with strong encryption keys. Many products can still be forced into using weaker keys, which can be cracked by running mathematical software on a public cloud service.

FREAK is unique in that a wide variety of products need to be upgraded to fix the problem. Apple and Google have patched their mobile operating systems, but many apps compatible with those devices must also be upgraded. FireEye found many examples where, as of last week, that hadn’t happened.

It found 1,228 Android applications in Google Play that are still vulnerable, of the 10,985 they analyzed. All the apps had been downloaded more than a million times. On the iOS side, FireEye said 771 of 14,079 apps it looked at were vulnerable, though in most cases only if they were running on iOS versions prior to 8.2, which patched the issue. Only seven apps were still vulnerable on iOS 8.2.

 

 

Facebook Adding Send Money Feature To Its Messaging App

March 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc announced that it will be adding a new feature to its messaging app that will allow friends to send and receive money through it.

Users can tap or click a dollar icon in a new chat window to send money to their friends, after they link a Visa or MasterCard debit card issued by a U.S. bank to their accounts.

The free feature will roll out over the next few months for users in the United States who access Facebook Messenger through desktop computers or Google Inc’s Android and Apple Inc’s iOS operating systems on mobile devices.

Users can create a PIN or enable Touch ID if they have an iPhone to add a level of security to the payments.

Snapchat had launched a similar service last November, called Snapcash.

The mobile messaging company partnered with online payments company Square to allow Snapchat users to link their debit cards to their account and quickly send money to a contact by starting a chat on a smartphone.

 

Apple Holding Discussions With Broadcasters To Launch TV Service

March 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc’s frequently mentioned TV service may soon become a reality as the iPhone maker is having discussions with programmers to offer a slimmed-down bundle of TV networks this fall, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The service would have about 25 channels, anchored by broadcasters such as ABC, CBS and Fox, and be available across all devices powered by Apple’s iOS operating system, including iPhones, iPads and Apple TV set-top boxes, the newspaper said.

Apple has been talking to Walt Disney Co, CBS Corp, and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc and other media companies to offer a “skinny” bundle with well-known channels like CBS, ESPN and FX, leaving out the many smaller networks in the standard cable TV package, the Journal said.

Apple, which is aiming to price the new service at about $30 to $40 a month, plans to announce the service in June and launch it in September, the newspaper said.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said the company does not comment on rumor and speculation. Fox and CBS declined to comment.

Several media companies are considering joining streaming-only services, or launching their own like HBO and CBS, to attract young people who do not subscribe to traditional pay TV packages. But programmers also fear the packages could become so popular that they undercut current, more profitable deals with cable companies.

In January, Dish Network Corp unveiled its long-anticipated video streaming service, named Sling TV, targeted at younger consumers who shun pricey cable and satellite subscriptions.

 

Apple Launches First Ever Public Beta For iOS

March 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple has launched a first-ever public beta for iOS, offering some iPhone and iPad users a chance to test iOS 8.3, a still-under-development edition that has been in developers’ hands for more than a month.

The program, first reported two weeks ago by9to5mac.com, followed the debut of a similar program last year for OS X Mavericks. The Mac beta was later extended to include Yosemite, the current OS edition.

It was unclear  whether Apple is allowing anyone to register with the iOS 8.3 beta, is rolling out the program gradually, or is limiting access to those who had previously received invitations via the Cupertino, Calif. company’s AppleSeed preview program.

Computerworld staffers who had previously registered for the Yosemite beta were unable to access the iOS version. They were not alone, as discussion threads filled with questions from people who wanted to know why they could not find the preview.

For one Computerworld reader, that might be just as well.

“With all beta software on a computer, users are generally discouraged from testing a beta operating system on their main computer, or a computer used for critical work,” noted Eric Jacobs in an email last month after news circulated about a possible iOS public preview. “For Mac users, that’s easily doable with a second computer, with an external hard disk, or a partitioned hard drive. Users can hop back and forth between the beta OS and the current OS.

For those who do try iOS 8.3, Apple recommended that they first back up their iPhone or iPad to their PC or Mac using iTunes — not to iCloud through an over-the-air backup — so that they can, if necessary, restore the device to its pre-beta state.

 

 

BlackBerry Debuts Secure Tablet

March 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Seeking to extend its range of secure mobile devices, BlackBerry Ltd said it will offer a high-security tablet, developed with International Business Machines Corp and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

The SecuTABLET, based on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 10.5 and being presented by BlackBerry unit Secusmart at tech fair CeBIT 2015 in Germany, reflects the Canadian company’s stress on secure connections for governments and businesses as it seeks to preserve a niche market after a drubbing in recent years at the hands of emerging smartphone makers such as Apple Inc.

“Security is ingrained in every part of BlackBerry’s portfolio, which includes voice and data encryption solutions,” said Dr. Hans-Christoph Quelle, chief executive officer of Secusmart GmbH, in a statement on the new device.

The device was undergoing certification by the German Federal Office for Information Security for secure rating, the statement said, adding that the new tablet used the same security technology as the Secusmart Security Card.

“Working alongside IBM and Samsung, we have added the last link in the chain of the Federal Security Network. Subject to certification of the SecuTABLET, German government agencies will have a new way to access BlackBerry’s most secure and complete communications network in the world,” Quelle said.

 

Poll Reveals Most Americans Not Interested In Buying Apple Watch

March 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc’s new smartwatch may face headwinds wooing consumers, with 69 percent of Americans indicating they are not interested in buying the gadget, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

However, the survey also showed limited awareness of the watch. The poll was taken after Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook debuted the product last week, and only about half of respondents said they had heard news of the timepiece in the last few days.

Also, in an encouraging sign for Apple, roughly 13 percent of survey respondents who did not own an iPhone said that they would consider buying one in order to buy an Apple Watch, which needs an iPhone to work fully.

Apple overcame skepticism about the iPad and iPod when they first debuted, but the survey suggests that the world’s largest technology company has work to do to make the watch ubiquitous.

The new watch, a test of Cook’s leadership, is the company’s first new product in five years, and it hits stores on April 24.

It allows users to check email, listen to music and make phone calls from their wrist. Apple will sell various versions, from a $349 ‘sport’ edition to a $17,000 18-karat gold timepiece.

Ipsos surveyed 1,245 Americans online between March 9 and March 13. The data was weighted to reflect the U.S. population and has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the poll.

More than half of respondents, 52 percent, agreed with the statement that smartwatches are a “passing fad.”

One-quarter of respondents said they were interested in purchasing the Apple Watch, but 69 percent said they had no desire, and 6 percent said they were unsure.

Initial demand for the watch is expected to come primarily from existing iPhone users, but its wider success is seen depending on whether developers create enticing apps tailored to the device, so-called killer apps.

 

 

Can Linux Ever Succeed On The Desktop?

March 16, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Every three years I install Linux and see if it is ready for prime time yet, and every three years I am disappointed. What is so disappointing is not so much that the operating system is bad, it has never been, it is just that who ever designs it refuses to think of the user.

To be clear I will lay out the same rider I have for my other three reviews. I am a Windows user, but that is not out of choice. One of the reasons I keep checking out Linux is the hope that it will have fixed the basic problems in the intervening years. Fortunately for Microsoft it never has.

This time my main computer had a serious outage caused by a dodgy Corsair (which is now a c word) power supply and I have been out of action for the last two weeks. In the mean time I had to run everything on a clapped out Fujitsu notebook which took 20 minutes to download a webpage.

One Ubuntu Linux install later it was behaving like a normal computer. This is where Linux has always been far better than Windows – making rubbish computers behave. I could settle down to work right? Well not really.

This is where Linux has consistently disqualified itself from prime-time every time I have used it. Going back through my reviews, I have been saying the same sort of stuff for years.

Coming from Windows 7, where a user with no learning curve can install and start work it is impossible. Ubuntu can’t. There is a ton of stuff you have to upload before you can get anything that passes for an ordinary service. This uploading is far too tricky for anyone who is used to Windows.

It is not helped by the Ubuntu Software Centre which is supposed to make like easier for you. Say that you need to download a flash player. Adobe has a flash player you can download for Ubuntu. Click on it and Ubuntu asks you if you want to open this file with the Ubuntu Software Center to install it. You would think you would want this right? Thing is is that pressing yes opens the software center but does not download Adobe flash player. The center then says it can’t find the software on your machine.

Here is the problem which I wrote about nearly nine years ago – you can’t download Flash or anything proprietary because that would mean contaminating your machine with something that is not Open Sauce.

Sure Ubuntu will download all those proprietary drivers, but you have to know to ask – an issue which has been around now for so long it is silly. The issue of proprietary drives is only a problem for those who are hard core open saucers and there are not enough numbers of them to keep an operating system in the dark ages for a decade. However, they have managed it.

I downloaded LibreOffice and all those other things needed to get a basic “windows experience” and discovered that all those typefaces you know and love are unavailable. They should have been in the proprietary pack but Ubuntu has a problem installing them. This means that I can’t share documents in any meaningful way with Windows users, because all my formatting is screwed.

LibreOffice is not bad, but it really is not Microsoft Word and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.

I download and configure Thunderbird for mail and for a few good days it actually worked. However yesterday it disappeared from the side bar and I can’t find it anywhere. I am restricted to webmail and I am really hating Microsoft’s outlook experience.

The only thing that is different between this review and the one I wrote three years ago is that there are now games which actually work thanks to Steam. I have not tried this out yet because I am too stressed with the work backlog caused by having to work on Linux without regular software, but there is an element feeling that Linux is at last moving to a point where it can be a little bit useful.

So what are the main problems that Linux refuses to address? Usability, interface and compatibility.

I know Ubuntu is famous for its shit interface, and Gnome is supposed to be better, but both look and feel dated. I also hate Windows 8′s interface which requires you to use all your computing power to navigate through a touch screen tablet screen when you have neither. It should have been an opportunity for Open saucers to trump Windows with a nice interface – it wasn’t.

You would think that all the brains in the Linux community could come up with a simple easy to use interface which lets you have access to all the files you need without much trouble. The problem here is that Linux fans like to tinker they don’t want usability and they don’t have problems with command screens. Ordinary users, particularly more recent generations will not go near a command screen.

Compatibly issues for games has been pretty much resolved, but other key software is missing and Linux operators do not seem keen to get them on board.

I do a lot of layout and graphics work. When you complain about not being able to use Photoshop, Linux fanboys proudly point to GIMP and say that does the same things. You want to grab them down the throat and stuff their heads down the loo and flush. GIMP does less than a tenth of what Photoshop can do and it does it very badly. There is nothing that can do what CS or any real desktop publishers can do available on Linux.

Proprietary software designed for real people using a desktop tends to trump anything open saucy, even if it is producing a technology marvel.

So in all these years, Linux has not attempted to fix any of the problems which have effectively crippled it as a desktop product.

I will look forward to next week when the new PC arrives and I will not need another Ubuntu desktop experience. Who knows maybe they will have sorted it in three years time again.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Google Opens First Retail Store In London

March 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Opening its first store-in-a-store in London this week, Google is looking to raise its global profile.

That’s the word from industry analysts after Google announced that it’s opening what is going to be called the Google Shop in Currys PC World, a well-known electronics store in London.

“This is about marketing, not selling,” said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “While Apple’s stores are real stores with huge volumes, this is about building the brand and exposing people to Google who don’t know about all the Google offerings.”

The Google shop is set up to offer customers the chance to see and try out Google’s range of Android phones and tablets, Chromebook laptops and Chromecast streaming-media devices, as well as learn about how they work together, according to the company.

Store visitors also will be able to try out Google’s software tools and apps, using a series of immersive features, like a Chromecast Pod that allows users to play movies and YouTube videos, as well as an immersive surround-screen installation called Portal, designed to let users seemingly fly through any part of the planet using Google Earth.

“It’s more an amusement park than a shop, which is what, I think, Google intends,” said Gottheil. “Google is doing a very good job with its brand, but it can always be better. You can’t be too rich, too thin or have good enough marketing.”

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, noted that as popular as Google’s products, like Android, and services, like Google Maps and Google Earth, are, there’s always room for improvement.

“I think that Google sees the need to make their products even more accessible and sees the store as one method to explore,” he added. “However, they have to realize that these are going to be loss leaders. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to measure the actual value of the stores to Google’s bottom line… If I were them, I’d look at store traffic as the major metric. If they’re getting people into the store, then it’s a win.”

 

 

 

HBO Streaming Service To Launch On Apple Devices In April

March 11, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

HBO’s standalone streaming service will launch on Apple Inc devices in April, ahead of the season premiere of hit series “Game of Thrones,” the network said, a move to reach millions of viewers who do not subscribe to pay television packages.

The new HBO Now service will cost $14.99 a month. It will include the network’s past, present and future series plus its lineup of Hollywood movies, HBO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler said at an Apple event in San Francisco.

It is the first time the premium network will be available to people with Internet access who shun traditional TV bundles with dozens of channels. Other media companies including CBS Corp and Dish Network Corp also are taking steps to reach those audiences.

“This is a transformative moment for HBO,” Plepler said after an introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The move by Time Warner Inc’s HBO could threaten the video businesses of cable and satellite companies, which are fighting to keep customers from dropping their TV packages. It also amps up competition with streaming services such as Netflix Inc. HBO’s library of hits includes “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”

Starting in early April, HBO Now will be available through the Apple TV box and on iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch. The fifth season of “Game of Thrones” premieres April 12.

Apple will be the exclusive digital provider of HBO Now for three months. The network also is aiming to convince traditional TV distributors to offer the service as early as April.

 

 

 

Fuel Cells Could Offer Hope For Smartphone Batteries

March 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

While processors, memory and other components have advanced in leaps and bounds, progress in smartphone battery technology has been much slower over the last couple of decades.

All those people you see charging their phones at airports, coffee shops and other public places are a testament to how often batteries die out during the day. So while engineers are fighting against basic chemistry and physics to improve current Lithium Ion cells, is there a better way to recharge?

One answer might be fuel cells, which generate electricity through a chemical reaction and provide instant power anywhere. Unlike portable battery packs, they don’t need to be charged in advance. You just need a fuel cell cartridge.

The promise has been there for some time. A few years ago, electronics companies tried to popularize fuel cells based on methanol but they failed to take off. This time around, the focus is on hydrogen.

As hydrogen gas enters the fuel cell through a membrane, the electrons are stripped off and travel through an external circuit — that’s the flow of electricity. Upon exiting the fuel cell, the electrons are recombined with the ionized hydrogen and oxygen from the air, so the only by-product is water.

There’s already one hydrogen fuel cell on the market, with another promised for this year. Both were on show at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The main difference between them is in how the hydrogen is packaged so it’s safe to handle.

Intelligent Energy’s Upp stores it in a metal hydride compound that’s contained in a cartridge that snaps onto the fuel cell with magnets. Each cartridge is good for about 5 recharges of a smartphone and once exhausted should be returned to an exchange station for a fresh one.

The fuel cell, which is already on sale at Apple Stores in the U.K., costs £149 (US$228) and each cartridge is £6 (US$9). One downside: its heavy. The fuel cell and cartridges weigh 620 grams (1.3 pounds), and that’s not something you want to carry in your bag all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook, Other Apps Fine Tune Apps Before Apple Watch Launch

March 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc  has allowed some of the more popular firms to test their apps on its yet-to-be-launched Apple Watch and adjust the tools to the watch’s design, Bloomberg reported.

Facebook Inc, United Continental Holdings Inc, BMW AG  and others have spent weeks at Apple’s headquarters, working with the smartwatch to test and fine-tune apps that will debut alongside the device, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the process.

The watch, which will let consumers check their email, pay for goods at retail stores and monitor personal health information, will be Apple’s first major product launch since the iPad in 2010.

The company has scheduled a special event in San Fransisco on March 9 where it is expected to showcase Apple Watch, which will be launched in April.

Apple uses extreme measures to keep its work secret – Internet access is blocked inside the rooms and no outside materials can be brought in, Bloomberg reported, citing a person who attended the tests.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller and Facebook spokeswoman Johanna Peace declined to comment. Reuters could not immediately reach United Continental and BMW for comment outside regular business hours.

German carmaker BMW said on Thursday its talks with Apple did not involve developing or building a car, denying a German magazine report.

 

Study Projects Self-driving Cars Could Generate Billions In Revenue

March 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Self-driving cars could yield billions of dollars a year in sales from mobile internet services and products, even if occupants spend only a small portion of their free time on the web, according to a new study by McKinsey & Company.

The study, released Thursday, also projects that widespread adoption of self-driving cars could lead to a 90 percent reduction in U.S. vehicle crashes, with a potential savings of nearly $200 billion a year from significantly fewer injuries and deaths.

In addition, the McKinsey study warns of several risks to established companies, including vehicle manufacturers, dealers and even insurance companies.

McKinsey projects that future owners of self-driving cars could save up to 50 minutes a day, some of which is likely to be spent surfing the web.

The consulting firm estimates the additional free time in the car could generate about $5.6 billion a year in digital revenue for each additional minute that vehicle occupants spend on the internet – as much as $140 billion if half their free time in the car, or roughly 25 minutes, is devoted to daily web surfing and shopping.

The revenue may be divided among the vehicle manufacturers, their major hardware and software suppliers and web-based providers of goods, information and services.

In the future, “people will be able to shop for services or products from their mobile devices or from embedded systems in the vehicle,” said Hans-Werner Kaas, senior partner and head of McKinsey’s automotive practice.

McKinsey said that while traditional automakers, especially premium brands such as Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG’s  Audi, already are beginning to implement advanced driver assistance systems on their cars, they face new challenges in fielding fully autonomous cars from “attackers,” non-traditional companies that do not have legacy vehicle platforms or sales and service networks.

Those outside challengers include such newcomers as Tesla Motors Inc, as well as tech giants such as Apple Inc and Google Inc, both of which are poised to build self-driving cars.

The gradual shift to self-driving cars, which may automakers don’t expect to accelerate until after 2025, could trigger other profound changes in the auto industry.

 

 

BMW Denies Rumors Of Car Building Partnership With Apple

March 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

German luxury automobile maker BMW said on Thursday its talks with technology giant Apple did not involve developing or building a car, denying a German magazine report.

Auto Motor und Sport said in its March 4 edition that the two firms were discussing possibilities for cooperating on the development of a passenger car.

Apple was impressed with BMW’s carbon-fiber electric cars, the magazine said, citing a “high ranking BMW manager.”

The BMW spokesman said: “We are in regular talks with companies from the IT and telecommunications sector, including Apple, concerning topics like connected vehicles. Developing or building a car is not a topic of these discussions.”

An Apple spokesman said the company did not comment on rumor or speculation.

Auto Motor und Sport said Apple cars could be sold in Apple stores and serviced at BMW dealerships.

Among the issues that needed to be resolved was whether BMW would allow Apple to develop an operating system for its i3 model, a step that would require BMW to reveal details of its own vehicle software to the technology giant, the magazine said.

Last month, a source told Reuters that Apple was looking beyond mobile devices to learn how to make a self-driving electric car, and was talking to experts at carmakers and automotive suppliers.