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Verizon, Others Push For Greater Cell Phone Records Privacy

August 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

More than a dozen high technology giants and the biggest wireless carrier in the United States, Verizon Communications Inc, have called on the U.S. Supreme Court to make it harder for government officials to access individuals’ sensitive cell phone data.

The companies filed a 44-page brief with the court on Monday night in a high-profile dispute over whether police should have to get a warrant before obtaining data that could reveal a cell phone user’s whereabouts.

Signed by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Snap and Alphabet’s Google, the brief said that as individuals’ data is increasingly collected through digital devices, greater privacy protections are needed under the law.

“That users rely on technology companies to process their data for limited purposes does not mean that they expect their intimate data to be monitored by the government without a warrant,” the brief said.

The justices agreed last June to hear the appeal by Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 in a series of armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Ohio and Michigan.

Federal prosecutors helped place him near several of the robberies using “cell site location information” obtained from his wireless carrier.

Carpenter claims that without a warrant from a court, such data amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. But last year a federal appeals court upheld his convictions, finding that no warrant was required.

Carpenter’s case will be argued before the court some time after its new term begins in October.

The case comes amid growing scrutiny of the surveillance practices of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and concern among lawmakers across the political spectrum about civil liberties and police evading warrant requirements.

Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Carpenter, said the companies’ brief represented a “robust defense of their customers’ privacy rights in the digital age.”

The companies said in their brief the Supreme Court should clarify that when it comes to digital data that can reveal personal information, people should not lose protections against government intrusion “simply by choosing to use those technologies.”

Will The U.S. ITC Really Investigate Apple

August 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The International Trade Commission has announced that it will launch an investigation into Apple following allegations from Qualcomm that its devices violate six of its patents.

The move, arguably procedural, means that the ITC will formally investigate Qualcomm’s complaint, rather than dismiss it outright.

“The US International Trade Commission has voted to institute an investigation of certain mobile electronic devices and radio frequency and processing components thereof,” the ITC said.

“The products at issue in the investigation are mobile electronic devices – such as the iPhone 7, and specific components for such

Qualcomm’s complaint alleges that iPhones, which are made in China, should not be allowed to be brought into the United States if they infringe on its patents, and if the chipmaker has its way, the ITC would ban imports and sales of Apple’s handsets.

At the heart of the matter is Apple’s use of cellular baseband processors made by Intel, with Qualcomm arguing that iPhones Intel’s 4G wireless chips are effectively using six Qualcomm patents “unfairly” and “unlawfully”.

Unsurprisingly, Qualcomm said it is “pleased” with the ITC’s decision to investigate Apple.

“Qualcomm is pleased with the ITC’s decision to investigate Apple’s unfair trade practices and the unauthorized importation of products using Qualcomm’s patents,” said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm.

“We look forward to the ITC’s expeditious investigation of Apple’s ongoing infringement of our intellectual property and the accelerated relief that the Commission can provide.'”

Apple, when asked for comment, pointed to this prior statement from June: “Qualcomm’s illegal business practices are harming Apple and the entire industry.

“They supply us with a single connectivity component, but for years have been demanding a percentage of the total cost of our products – effectively taxing Apple’s innovation.”

Last month, Intel filed its own statement with the ITC, claiming that Qualcomm’s request for the regulatory agency to intervene was “a transparent effort to stave off lawful competition from Qualcomm’s only remaining rival.”


Microsoft’s Surface Tablets Not So Reliable, Says Consumer Reports

August 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

The breakage rate for Microsoft Corp’s Surface devices significantly outpaces that of other manufacturers’ laptops and tablets, Consumer Reports said, adding that it was removing its “recommended” designation for Surface products.

The non-profit publication surveyed 90,000 tablet and laptop owners and found that an estimated 25 percent of those with Microsoft Surface devices would be presented with “problems by the end of the second year of ownership,” according to a study published on Thursday.

“If you are very concerned about how long your products are going to last, it might be better for you to go with a brand that has a higher predicted reliability,” Jerry Beilinson, electronics editor at the consumer goods testing publication, said in an interview.

Microsoft disputed the study, saying the company’s return and support rates differ significantly from the Consumer Reports study.

“We don’t believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners’ true experiences or capture the performance and reliability improvements made with every Surface generation,” the company said in a statement.

According to the Consumer Reports survey responses, the Microsoft devices were found to freeze, unexpectedly shut down or have issues with their touchscreens, Beilinson said.

Altogether, the reliability issues made Microsoft a statistical outlier compared with other brands. Apple Inc had the most reliable devices, Beilinson said.

Microsoft entered the hardware market with its first Surface tablet in 2012. Since then, the company has released a series of new Surface tablets and laptops, including the well-reviewed Surface Pro, which launched in May.

The Surface devices serve as a face for the company and exemplify how Microsoft’s manufacturing partners can build hardware around the Windows 10 operating system. However, Surface is a small part of Microsoft’s overall revenue, and Surface revenue has declined year-over-year for the past two quarters.

Google’s Chrome Exploring Strengthen Of Ad-blocking In Browser

August 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has included a built-in ad blocker to earlier version of Chrome, signaling that it will assume responsibility for barring some online ads in the polished product as early as October.

The ad blocker appeared in some users’ copies of the “Canary” build of Chrome last week; Canary is the name Google gives to the preliminary version of the browser, one that is updated nightly and precedes the three-step release process of “Dev,” “Beta” and finally “Stable” code.

Chrome’s ad blocker was present only in Windows’ Canary build; it was AWOL from the macOS edition.

Reports of Google’s ad-blocking plans first surfaced in April, shortly after the Coalition for Better Ads announced a set of online ad types that users in the U.S. and Europe said were the most annoying and disruptive. Google was a founding member of the coalition. Two months ago, Google confirmed that it would introduce ad blocking to Chrome, saying then that the target timetable was next year.

“We plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018,” Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, a product management executive, wrote in the Google post.

On the desktop, Chrome will block pop-up advertisements; ads that automatically begin playing both video and audio; “prestitial” ads accompanied by a countdown clock that appear before content is shown; and what the coalition dubbed “large sticky ads,” those that account for more than 30% of the screen space and which remain in place no matter how much the user scrolls.

Those and other types of ads will also be blocked by Chrome on Android- and iOS-powered mobile devices.

Ads will be blocked by site, not by individual advertisement. In other words, Google will craft a list of websites it contends “tend to show intrusive ads,” and then block the ad categories that violate the coalition’s “standards.” A stray “bad” ad displayed by a site not on the list, however, will not be blocked.

While Google has pegged 2018 as the launch of the baked-in ad blocker, the tool may debut sooner. The current Canary of Chrome is version 62, which according to the release schedule, will release in final form as the Stable build on Oct. 17 for personal computers, Oct. 24 for mobile.

LG’s New Smartphone To Debut OLED Display

August 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

LG’s next flagship smartphone, rumored to be the V30, will mark the electronic’s giant first OLED phone since 2015. Announced August 3 in Seoul, South Korea, the phone will come with a 6-inch screen, but unlike the company’s previous OLED phone, the LG G Flex 2, it will not be flexible.

“Expertise in OLED has long been a core competency of LG, and the technology has always been seen as a potential value-add for smartphones,” said Juno Cho, president of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company, in a statement. “With competition in the global smartphone space fiercer now than ever, we felt that this was the right time to reintroduce OLED displays in our mobile products.”

The successor to last year’s V20, the screen is bigger, but the size of the bezel has been reduced, making the new phone smaller than the V20. Still, the screen will have amazing resolution, the company said, coming in at 1,440×2,880 (4.15 million total) pixels.

The phone will be officially announced and unveiled at the IFA Berlin trade show at the beginning of September.

Was Apple Profits Really As Good As The Wall Street Spin

August 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Apple managed to convince the world’s press it was doing ok despite falling iPhone sales, declines in China and a fall in profits by 14.6 per cent.

Apple appears to have also fobbed off concerns about delays of its new iPhone by revealing a marginal increase in sales of its existing effort.

The launch of the latest iPhone could potentially move to October or November, instead of September, due to production issues, but Apple did not want to talk about that. Instead it claimed that its sales of the current iPhone were higher than expected.

It told the press that phone sales were staggering 1.6 per cent, or 41.03 million higher in the third quarter.

The Tame Apple Press went mental, and long with averts for the coming iPhone sent the company’s sales up 6 per cent. To put this figure in perspective a 1.6 per cent difference in predictions is well below a three percent accounting margin of error.

To make matters worse the figures confirm that the iPhone cash cow is still dying. This is the the second quarterly drop in iPhone sales in its third quarter earnings.

The new sales figures include its most recent phone, the iPhone SE, a cheaper four-inch display phone. Considering the iPhone takes up nearly two-thirds of the company’s revenue, this isn’t good.

All that is different is that the drop was expected by analysts.

The real truth of the figures is that Apple reported revenue of revenue of $42.36 billion, down 14.6% year-over-year, and an earnings per share of $1.42.

Apple’s fourth quarter generally includes first-weekend sales of the company’s latest devices so the delay in the new phone is crucial.

The company said iPhone sales rose 1.6 per cent to 41.03 million in the third quarter ended July 1, above analysts’ average estimate of 40.7 million units, according to FactSet StreetAccount. Apple sold 40.4 million iPhones a year earlier.

The company’s net income rose to $8.72 billion, or $1.67 per share, in the three months ended July 1, from $7.80 billion, or $1.42 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose to $45.41 billion from $42.36 billion in the quarter, typically the company’s weakest. Analysts on average had expected $44.89 billion.

Other warning signs for Apple is that that its Chinese sails are going down the toilet. Apple needs China to keep its growth. Apple’s revenue from the Greater China region fell 9.5% to $8 billion in the latest quarter, as consumers switched to newer domestic offerings.

Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri did a good job spinning this news too. He said China sales appear to have stabilized after several quarters of much larger declines. In fact the region saw a 21.6% jump in the company’s services business – which includes the App Store, Apple Pay and iCloud – to $7.27 billion.


Amazon Halts Sales Of Blu Phones Over Privacy Concerns

August 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Amazon has halted sales of budget phone maker Blu devices.

The online retailing giant told CNET that it was suspending sales of phones from Blu, known for making ultra-cheap Android handsets, due to a “potential security issue.”

The move comes after security firm Kryptowire demonstrated last week how software in Blu’s phones collected data and sent it to servers in China without alerting people. Blu defended the software, created by a Chinese company called Shanghai Adups Technology, and denied any wrongdoing. A company spokeswoman said at the time it “has several policies in place which take customer privacy and security seriously.” She added there had been no breaches.

Blu said it was in a process of review to reinstate the phones at Amazon.

The issue of privacy and how data is collected is a hot topic thanks to a year’s worth of reports about Russian hacking and its intrusion into the 2016 presidential race, as well as news in the last few months about ransomware attacks that hijack people’s computers, to be unlocked (if you’re lucky) for a fee.

Amazon, for one, wasn’t taking any chances.

“Because security and privacy of our customers is of the utmost importance, all BLU phone models have been made unavailable for purchase on until the issue is resolved,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon directed customers to contact Blu’s customer support.

Blu may not be a household name like Apple or Samsung, but the company found success selling phones at a fraction of the price of an iPhone. The Blu R1 HD sold for $60, compared with the starting price of $650 for Apple’s flagship phone.

Blu was one of the key participants in Amazon’s “Prime Exclusive Phones” program, which offered steep discounts on phones to its members in exchange for ads on their lockscreen. Blu is no longer listed on the page.

Blu cited Krytopwire executive Tom Karygiannis as saying the company didn’t do anything wrong, although Karygiannis later told CNET that he didn’t authorize Blu to make a public statement on his behalf. He confirmed that he spoke to Amazon to give the retailer data on his findings.

Russia Bans VPNs

August 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Russia has decided to follow in China’s footsteps by being the latest country to declare war on VPNs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation that prohibits the use of virtual private networks and anonymizers, Reuters reported Sunday. The new law is intended to prevent access to websites banned by the Russian government.

The law has already been approved by the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, and will go into effect November 1, Reuters reported.

The move comes as Russian neighbor China continues its crackdown on VPNs, which allow web users to evade government blocks on news sites and social networking tools. On Saturday, Apple said it would remove VPN apps from its China App Store.

Other countries that have blocked use of VPNs in the past include Iran and Iraq.


Will Apple Drop Samsung

July 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

The iPhone 8 is expected to be the iPhone with an OLED display and that will be using Samsung’s finest.

But a report mill suggests that the inner circle of the Apple cult is worried about being dependant on Samsung and wants to create its own OLED panels.

ET News  -South Korea – reports the company has already acquired some chemical vapour deposition (CVD) machines that’ll play a role in OLED production.

Apple will need a major supply of OLED panels and it will have a year to do it.

Digitimes claims that Apple’s move will “break the dominant position” held by Canon Kokki in the CVD machinery market.

Canon Kokki supplies its machines to Samsung and LG, the only significant current OLED makers, but Apple got its machines from Sunic System.


eBay Developing Shopping By Picture App

July 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

In the near future eBay will allow consumers to shop on its app by snapping pictures.

The e-commerce company announced that it is developing two new image recognition tools for its mobile app. They’ll only be available in the US and are set for release this fall, with a desktop version arriving later.

The first feature, simply called Image Search, will let you take a photo of a pair of sneakers or a handbag (or an existing photo in your phone’s library) and use it to search eBay to find similar listings. The other, called Find It On eBay, lets you tap images on any online site and “share” to eBay to get a list of similar-looking items.

“We want to make the entire internet shoppable by the image,” Mohan Patt, eBay vice president of buyer experience, said.

The new features might be used on the street or in a store when an item of clothing or piece of furniture catches your eye and you want to see if something like it is available on eBay, hopefully for less. The features also show eBay is now one step closer to a concept offered by CEO Devin Wenig earlier this year, in which people can take pictures of stuff they want to sell and eBay automatically fills titles, descriptions, listing information and even prices.

The new tools could also help eBay catch up to Amazon, which has been offering image-recognition tech in its mobile app for several years. eBay last year bought up three AI-focused companies in hopes of rolling out features like these, so customers should expect more in the future.

Demoing the new features, Patt used a picture he snapped in a magazine of knee-high black boots, fed it to eBay and immediately retrieved more than 500 live listings of the same kind of boots. The intent wasn’t to get the identical item, but provide a range of similar looks and prices for customers, he added.

eBay said it will store images shared with the company and corresponding search results to evaluate the relevance of the results and provide users with their past searches.

The tools will be available across categories on eBay, but the company will develop its AI models most on soft goods like clothes and furniture that often don’t include a bar code. (You can already search by bar code using eBay, Amazon and Walmart’s apps.)

When the new tools launch, Image Search will be available on both Android and iOS and Find It On eBay on Android, but an iOS version is expected later.

PC Shipments Still Declining

July 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Personal computer shipments slipped between 3% and 4% in the June quarter from the same period last year, a pair of research firms said after releasing their latest diagnoses of the industry’s health and well-being.

According to IDC, PC makers shipped a total of 60.5 million systems in the year’s second quarter, a downturn of 3.3%. That was somewhat better than the firm’s earlier forecast of a 4% decline for the period.

Rival Gartner, which also calculates shipments — but uses different criteria for what is, and what is not, a personal computer — pegged the year-over-year drop at 4.3% for the June quarter, adding that manufacturers shipped 61.1 million PCs in the three-month span.

More than 90% of the PCs were equipped with Microsoft’s Windows; the remainder were Macs running macOS and a smattering of systems with Linux pre-installed.

Gartner pointed out that the year-over-year performance was the 11th consecutive quarterly decline, and the lowest volume for a three-month period since 2007 — more signals, if any were necessary, that the business is mired in a depression of historic proportions and has made only feeble motions toward growth.

Both research firms blamed parts shortages, especially of memory chips and SSDs (solid-state drives), for pushing up costs, if not prices. Some manufacturers absorbed the increases, while others passed them along to buyers.

“In the business segment, vendors could not increase the price too quickly, especially in large enterprises where the price is typically locked in based on the contract, which often run through the quarter or even the year,” Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement.

IDC analyst Linn Huang painted the big picture for PCs. “The continued erosion of the consumer market is the drag on the industry,” said Huang in an interview, referring to the extended depression. The only thing keeping the business from a complete collapse, Huang added, is the ongoing need for corporate PCs.

Both IDC and Gartner agreed on how the world’s PC makers rank in shipments for the June quarter. Each had Hewlett-Packard as the leader, with Lenovo, Dell, Apple and Asus following, in that order. Both research firms said HP posted the highest growth rate for the quarter compared to the same period the year prior, and that Asus’ and Lenovo’s shipments declined by the greatest percentages.

Is Intel Accusing Qualcomm Of Being A Monopoly

July 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Intel has buddied-up with Apple in its legal fight against Qualcomm and has slammed the firm for abusing its position in the industry. 

Intel, no stranger to an abuse of chip monopoly, claims it’s the only remaining competitor for Qualcomm in the mobile market, and by suing Apple, Qualcomm is trying to deliberately squeeze Intel from the baseband modem market.

“Qualcomm did not initiate this investigation to stop the alleged infringement of its patent rights; rather, its complaint is a transparent effort to stave off lawful competition from Qualcomm’s only remaining rival,” Intel said in a statement.

“This twisted use of the Commission’s process is just the latest in a long line of anticompetitive strategies that Qualcomm has used to quash incipient and potential competitors and avoid competition on the merits.”

Intel goes on to argue that fulfilling Qualcomm’s request “would cause significant harm to the public interest,” arguing that a victory for the company would “severely damage competitive conditions in the United States economy by reinforcing Qualcomm’s hold on the premium LTE modem merchant market.”

The statement, filed with the US International Trade Commission (ITC, comes in response to Qualcomm’s complaint alleging patent infringement by certain Apple devices, in which it asked the ITC to ban the import of Intel-powered iPhones. 

This ain’t Intel’s only problem with Qualcomm. The chipmaker also argues that Qualcomm has engaged in other monopolistic and anti-competitive practices. These practices include forcing manufacturers to pay “exorbitant” royalties for every device they sell even if they don’t contain Qualcomm technology, and offering Apple lower licensing fees for using its chips exclusively.

“These arrangements foreclosed rivals like Intel from competing for Apple’s vital business,” Intel said. 

Earlier this year, Intel kicked off at Qualcomm over its partnership with Microsoft to bring ARM-based Windows PCs to market this year, threatening that emulation doesn’t mean that copyright battles are off the table. 

“There have been reports that some companies may try to emulate Intel’s proprietary x86 ISA without Intel’s authorization,” Intel’s chief lawyer Stephen Rodgers and Director of Intel Labs Richard A. Uhlig said:

“We do not welcome unlawful infringement of our patents, and we fully expect other companies to continue to respect Intel’s intellectual property rights.” 


Is Virtual Reality Diverging

July 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Last week, Bandai Namco opened the world’s largest VR arcade in Tokyo – specifically in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, a rapidly gentrifying red-light district that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s played games in the Yakuza series.

VR Zone Shinjuku, as the huge facility is called, is set to operate for at least two years; it follows a more short-lived VR arcade popup on the other side of the city last summer. Bandai Namco reckons the new facility can handle about 1500 visitors per day, and while tickets are somewhat expensive (approaching $50 for a pass that lets you play a handful of games), the impressive line-up of Japan’s most beloved pop culture IP that the company has built its VR experiences around means it won’t want for customers. Mario Kart, Evangelion, Gundam, Ghost in the Shell and Dragonball Z are among the properties with unique VR versions at the arcade – catnip for both Japanese customers and many tourists alike.

Only a few days later, another development at quite the other end of the VR scale; hand-tracking technology firm Leap Motion received a fresh investment of $50 million, which will fund further development of hardware and software designed to translate precise hand and finger movements into virtual space. Leap Motion’s existing hardware can be used essentially in two ways – as a small box that creates a virtual space above a desk in which hand movement is tracked, or stuck to the front of a VR headset to track a user’s hand movements wherever they turn.

“We’re rapidly heading back into territory the games industry hasn’t been in for more than two decades – a situation where the kind of experiences that can be provided in an out-of-home arcade setting are materially, significantly different from those you can have at home”

What’s interesting about these two news stories – otherwise related only by the VR buzzword – is the divergent paths they imply, at least in terms of the scale of the VR experience.

VR Zone is a big building (dwarfed admittedly by nearby hotels and the gigantic Toho Cinema complex across the square) whose games take up a lot of space; each is room-scale at minimum, with custom controllers, special rigs to sit in or attach yourself to, and in the case of its Ghost in the Shell game, an expansive play area for players to move around in that’s all wired up for VR. The vast majority of the experiences you’ll have in VR Zone (which Bandai Namco hopes to roll out in other cities and countries eventually) are experiences that the vast, vast majority of consumers will never have on a home VR setup of any kind.

Leap Motion, on the other hand, is building technology that’s suggestive of a different future. It’s not that their technology couldn’t be integrated into room-scale VR in some fashion; rather, it’s that it strongly hints at a future where VR hardware is far more small-scale and far less intrusive. One can think of Leap Motion’s hand tracker as being ideal for “desk-scale VR”, where the objective is to manipulate objects (for work or play) in a VR or AR space that’s pretty much fixed to within a square metre or so; or for “sofa-scale VR”, experiences that see the player staying pretty much still apart from head and hand motions. It’s pretty much the far end of the spectrum from the “room-scale VR” people will queue up for at VR Zone, or even the “arena-scale VR” offered by the Ghost in the Shell combat game.

Recognizing the divergence between these scales is important, I think, for a realistic understanding of where VR is headed and how it can fit alongside the rest of the industry. There’s been a lot of fuss and noise around room-scale VR setups ostensibly aimed at the home – but it’s extremely hard to see these ever being anything more than an absolutely tiny niche within a niche. Room-scale VR requires rigging sensors around a dedicated space, and even as the technology improves and eliminates wires, it’s going to run into the same essential problem that Kinect had in all of its iterations – most people, especially outside US suburbs, do not have enough space in their home for this kind of setup, let alone enough space to devote an area to VR on a regular enough basis to make it worthwhile. Even those who do will only be getting a bare-bones version of the kind of experiences VR Zone and its ilk will provide; one interesting thing about those experiences is just how much custom hardware is set up for each individual game.

In other words, we’re rapidly heading back into territory the games industry hasn’t been in for more than two decades – a situation where the kind of experiences that can be provided in an out-of-home arcade setting are materially, significantly different from those you can have at home. The sort of games you’ll be playing with a Leap Motion equipped headset, or a PlayStation VR rig, are simply not going to be the same as the sort of games you’ll be playing in arcades; the physical difference between these settings is going to ensure that games are not simply ported across from one to the other, but developed explicitly with a target “scale” in mind. There will in essence be two different VR platforms, not in the sense that Vive and Oculus are different platforms, but in a much more fundamental sense; out-of-home and in-home VR will share some technology but develop along divergent lines.

It’s even possible that we’ll see one thrive while the other withers; it’s worth noting that even with the relative success of PSVR, the existence of a major home market for VR remains largely hypothetical, and the paradigm of being “something you go to do with friends” rather than “something you do in your living room” could easily be the one that takes off. Meanwhile, desk-scale VR/AR tech like Leap Motion could well turn out to be more suited, in commercial terms, to workplaces than to entertainment.

“If VR Zone Shinjuku’s initial two-year run is a success, the company may indeed have a formula that will achieve something long thought impossible – a revival of interest in arcades and a boost for the commercial fortunes of out-of-home gaming”

The rapid pace of change and advancement in VR technology – the displays and the various motion tracking, control and feedback systems which surround them – made it somewhat inevitable that there would be a settling process as the market figured out what to actually do with all this new tech. That’s what we’re in the middle of right now; VR exists, it works and it’s really pretty impressive – now we have to work out in what contexts people want to experience it and, arguably even more important, what they’re willing to pay for. High-powered gaming PCs with expensive headsets and room-scale sensor rigs are not a viable market; the question is to what extent you have to scale down that ambition to get to something commercially sensible, and further, in what contexts you can actually use all that cool tech to build something different.

PSVR looks like the sensible answer to the former question, for now, though what Leap Motion and other players are doing is also very interesting, and the question of whether it’s workplace applications, entertainment applications or both that will drive small-scale VR is still an open one.

Meanwhile, Bandai Namco is the company making the most interesting attempts to answer the latter question. If VR Zone Shinjuku’s initial two-year run is a success, the company may indeed have a formula that will achieve something long thought impossible – a revival of interest in arcades and a boost for the commercial fortunes of out-of-home gaming. Even in Japan, arcades have largely been on life support, giving over more and more of their floor space to UFO Catcher crane games and sort-of-kind-of gambling games each year; VR Zone could be the most important shot in the arm for the sector in two decades.

No doubt other players in the VR space will be watching its fortunes closely; how it fares will help to define the commercial shape of the VR industry for years to come.

iRobot Wants To Sell Data It Collects From Mapping Homes

July 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

iRobot, maker of the Roomba, plans to sell the data the house-cleaning robot collects when it maps your house. Potential buyers include smart home device manufacturers, such as Amazon, Apple and Google.

iRobot’s business strategy hinges on regular updates and understanding the floor plan of your home, according to Reuters.

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” iRobot CEO Colin Angle said.

Roombas have been mapping homes since 2015 using a camera and sensors or visual localization and cloud-connected app control. The Roomba uses these maps to avoid toppling over lamps and ramming into your furniture. It was made compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March.

iRobot said it could reach a deal with Amazon, Apple or Google in the next couple of years.

State Farm Files Lawsuit Againt Apple Over iPhone Fire

July 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

We live in an age of exploding cell phone batteries, apparently.

In a new case, indeed, insurer State Farm and one of its customers, Wisconsin resident Xai Thao, allege that one of Apple’s older iPhones had a defective battery that led to a fire last year.

A lawsuit filed by both State Farm and Thao claims that her iPhone 4S “failed” and “started a fire at Thao’s home.”

The lawsuit further claims that “preliminary investigations show evidence of a significant and localized heating event in the battery area of the iPhone.” It also declares that there were “remnants of internal shorting, indicating that an internal failure of the iPhone’s battery caused the fire.”

Thao insists that she had not done anything to the battery at all.

The lawyers involved did not respond to a request for comment about who’d performed these preliminary investigations. Apple likewise didn’t respond to a request for comment. A State Farm spokesman, meanwhile, told me: “State Farm rarely comments on pending litigation and in this case has nothing to share. Our filings speak for themselves.”

But do they? It’s unclear from the lawsuit, for example, whether the phone was being charged at the time and, if so, what charger might have been used. It’s also unclear whether Apple was ever given the chance to examine the phone.

In a number of incidents of exploding or overheating phones, the devices had been charging at the critical moment.

But not in all cases. In 2015, a New Jersey man claimed that an iPhone 5C exploded in his pocket and caused third-degree burns.

The State Farm lawsuit says that Thao’s iPhone was “in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition” when she bought it in 2014.

The suit is claiming in excess of $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit says that Thao had to pay a proportion of the the damages out of her own pocket.

Skeptics might wonder why the phone allegedly caught fire at that moment, two years after it was bought. The iPhone 4S hasn’t been linked with major incidents of fire hazard since in launched in 2011.

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