It’s unknown whether Microsoft discounted the Surface 2 to clear inventory before it discontinues the tablet, in preparation for a successor, or simply to move a slow-selling product.
A clue may be in the length of the limited-time sale: Microsoft said that the reduced prices were good from Aug. 24 to Sept. 27, or “while supplies last,” and set the maximum number of devices per customer at a generous five.
Intriguingly, Microsoft is to host a press event on Sept. 30 to unveil the next edition of Windows, code named “Threshold” but perhaps officially to be called “Windows 9.” Rumors have circulated that Windows RT will also be revamped to drop the desktop mode and/or to add support for the pen bundled with the Surface Pro 3.
If those claims are accurate, the Sept. 30 event would be a perfect time to tout a revamped Windows RT and unveil replacements for the Surface 2.
Microsoft cut prices by $100 for each of the three Surface 2 models it sells: two Wi-Fi only tablets with 32GB or 64GB of storage, and a 64GB device that can connect to a cellular data network at LTE speeds.
The lowest-priced 32GB Surface 2 is now priced at $349, a 22% discount, while the 64GB tablet now costs $449, an 18% reduction. The sole LTE model, now $579, received a 15% price cut.
Microsoft’s Surface 2 is powered by Windows RT 8.1, the touch-centric, tile-interface that runs only “Modern,” nee “Metro,” apps. Windows RT cannot handle legacy Windows applications.
The Surface 2 was the follow-up to the disastrous Surface RT, the tablet which sold in such small volume — and which Microsoft built in such large numbers — that the company was forced to take a $900 million write-off in mid-2013.
Although the Surface Pro 2, which went on sale alongside the Surface 2 in October 2013, was updated to the Surface Pro 3 in May of this year, the Surface 2 has not been refreshed since its launch.
At its new price, the 32GB Surface 2, which boasts a 10.6-in. display, costs less than Apple’s entry-level 16GB iPad Mini with a 7.9-in. Retina-quality screen. That iPad Mini lists at $399.
Microsoft is selling the re-priced Surface 2 on its online store.
The operating system, which Xinhua did not name, will be initially offered on desktop PCs, with the plan to later extend it to smartphones. The news service cited a report in the People’s Post and Telecommunications News, a trade paper run by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the agency responsible for, among other things, the regulation and development of China’s software industry.
“We hope to launch a Chinese-made desktop operating system by October supporting app stores,” Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the trade paper, according to a translation by Reuters on Sunday.
Ni leads an official operating system development alliance established in March by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
According to the People’s Post and Telecommunications News, Ni cited the end of Windows XP support and the ban on Windows 8 on government computers as giving domestic OS developers an opening.
Earlier this year, China officials banned the use of Windows 8 on government computers, a move triggered by the end of Windows XP’s support in April. Before that, authorities had blasted Microsoft for halting security updates to the 13-year-old OS.
Historically, China has been a stronghold of Windows XP, in large part because of massive piracy of Microsoft’s software.
China has long been at odds with foreign technology firms, particularly Microsoft and Google — but also at times with Apple — over their impact and influence in the country. But that animus increased significantly last month when government antitrust regulators raided several Microsoft offices, seizing computers and documents in a first step of an investigation. The probe had been prompted by complaints lodged since July 2013 about how Windows and Microsoft Office are bundled, about Windows-Office compatibility and about other unnamed concerns.
The People’s Post and Telecommunications News‘ story (Chinese language version) cited by Xinhua ran on Thursday, and provided more detail about the domestic OS plans.
Ni spelled out a timeline that could replace foreign operating systems on the desktop in one to two years, then in three to five years expand to mobile devices. Private industry, Ni added, may co-fund development of the home-grown OS.
“Creating an environment that allows us to compete with Google, Apple and Microsoft, that is our key to success,” Ni said.
China has worked on a its own OS before: In 2000, Red Flag Linux, which was funded in part by the government’s Ministry of Information, was released. Later that year, Red Flag was mandated as the replacement for Windows 2000 on all government PCs. Tensions at the time between China’s government and Microsoft were at the root of that order.
Tablets with low-resolution screens are already selling for $45 on Amazon, many of which have single- or dual-core processors from a Chinese chip company called Allwinner.
But the prices could fall under $35 when Allwinner ships its “fully formed” quad-core A33 chip for only $4, said analyst firm Linley Group in a newsletter this week.
The chip’s quad-core processors will deliver better performance than older chips, and be capable of supporting 1280 x 800 displays, the analyst group said. The chip is based on ARM’s Cortex-A7 design and has a Mali-400MP2 GPU, which is capable of rendering high-definition video.
The cheap tablets will likely come from no-name vendors in China, and won’t offer the bells and whistles of Samsung or Apple tablets, but they could increase price pressure on brand names like HP and Acer, which have entry-level tablets priced around $100.
They’ll be most suited to first-time buyers or users who aren’t picky about hardware or software but certainly not power users, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. That’s because they’ll likely have limited memory, storage and fewer ports than more expensive devices.
“Users eventually will move up in performance,” McGregor said.
The tablets would almost be disposable items, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.
And they could be here soon.
Mass production of the chip has already begun and prototype tablets have already been built.
A lot would come from Shenzhen, China, where a bulk of the device development is taking place, said Brookwood.
“This Shenzhen ecosystem, it’s absolutely scary what they are doing,” he said. “They operate on very thin margins. The kind of margins that no U.S. vendor can think about running on.”
The no-name tablets usually don’t come with customer support, and some may not have the Google Play store.
YouTube appears to be readying a paid premium music service that would cost US$9.99 a month, called YouTube Music Key. Roughly a dozen purported screenshots of the service were recently published online on the blog Android Police, possibly showing how it would work. The images showed exclusive content such as remixes or cover songs, offline access to entire albums or concerts, and personalized playlists.
A YouTube spokesman declined to comment, but rumors of a paid music service from the Google-owned video site have been circulating for some time now. An earlier report in the Financial Times claimed YouTube was blocking or penalizing independent labels that were not signing up for the yet-to-launch paid service. Earlier this month, YouTube head Susan Wojcicki confirmed the company was working on some kind of subscription music service, in aRe/code interview.
So it looks likely that a premium version of YouTube just for music is on the way. The free version of YouTube works well for many right now, but a premium version might let Google monetize some new content and lead users to the company’s other digital media services.
The amount and diversity of content already available free on YouTube is massive, and the advertisements don’t interrupt the listening experience like those on Spotify or Pandora do. Plus, Google already offers Google Play All Access, a paid music service that syncs across devices and lets people listen offline, for $9.99 a month.
“Premium” might be the draw for a paid music service. The special content might include exclusive recordings of professional artists’ cover songs, or unreleased tracks similar to iTunes exclusives.
To do that, Google would probably have to strike new licensing deals with music labels. But if YouTube could convert just a tiny fraction of its billion-plus monthly users into paying customers, that might be a win for Google, argues Mark Mulligan, co-founder of the music and technology research firm Midia Consulting.
YouTube claims viewers watch more than 6 billion hours of video each month on its site — almost an hour for every person on Earth — and that 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. That catalogue is peerless, Mulligan said, but Google probably wants to do more with it in order to take on streaming services like Spotify, Rdio or Beats Music.
“YouTube has the ability to offer so much more than anyone else, with video the killer component,” he said.
The storage of user data in China represents a departure from the policies of some technology companies, notably Google Inc, which has long refused to build data centers in China due to censorship and privacy concerns.
Apple said the move was part of an effort to improve the speed and reliability of its iCloud service, which lets users store pictures, e-mail and other data. Positioning data centers as close to customers as possible means faster service.
The data will be kept on servers provided by China Telecom Corp Ltd, the country’s third-largest wireless carrier, Apple said in a statement.
“Apple takes user security and privacy very seriously,” it said. “We have added China Telecom to our list of data center providers to increase bandwidth and improve performance for our customers in mainland china. All data stored with our providers is encrypted. China Telecom does not have access to the content.”
A source with knowledge of the situation said the encryption keys for Apple’s data on China Telecom servers would be stored offshore and not made available to China Telecom.
Apple has said it has devised encryption systems for services such as iMessage that even Apple itself cannot unlock. But some experts expressed scepticism that Apple would be able to withhold user data in the event of a government request.
“If they’re making out that the data is protected and secure that’s a little disingenuous because if they want to operate a business here, that’d have to comply with demands from the authorities,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Danwei.com, a research firm focused on Chinese media, internet and consumers.
“On the other hand if they don’t store Chinese user data on a Chinese server they’re basically risking a crackdown from the authorities.”
Goldkorn added that data stored in the United States is subject to similar U.S. regulations where the government can use court orders to demand private data.
A spokesman for China Telecom declined to comment.
SMS Audio’s BioSport In-Ear Headphones, announced at an event will tell you. The headphones are good for people who work out as well as those who just want to check their heart rate, said Brian Nohe, president of SMS Audio, which was founded by rapper 50 Cent, who is the majority owner.
50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, wanted headphones with top-quality audio, fit, form and functionality, Nohe said. The rapper, along with New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who is the minority owner of SMS, were scheduled to appear at the event.
The headphones have sensors to measure the heart rate of users, drawing power from a smartphone through an audio jack. No batteries are required. SMS Audio is using technology from Intel in the headphones.
“Open the box, plug it into your smartphone device and it works,” Nohe said.
The earphones will ship worldwide in the fourth quarter this year. The price will be announced later.
The headphones will work with RunKeeper, a popular Android and iOS fitness application that assembles and tracks fitness data.
“The general marketplace is ripe for having more products in this area,” Nohe said. “We understood what was happening with wearable technology and what was going on with biometrics.”
The engineering challenge for Intel was how to draw power and transfer data through an audio jack. Intel also had to figure out the frequencies at which to handle data transfers. The goal was to deliver accurate heart-rate readings.
“It’s a seemingly easy thing to explain, but hard to implement,” said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of the New Devices Group at Intel.
Intel didn’t want to use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies to transfer data, Bell said. Those technologies would require batteries and not fit well within the small size of headphones.
“The best technology is invisible. It’s as much form as it is function,” Bell said. “That’s the road we’re going down.”
Beyond tracking heart rate, headphones could also be enabled to capture more health information, the executives said. Other opportunities are being explored by SMS Audio and Intel.
“You don’t start a strategic alliance and become a one-trick pony,” Nohe said.
The headphone space has gotten attention lately because of Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats Audio, founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.
What a difference a year makes. Motorola sold 8.6 million smartphones in the second quarter, up from 6.5 million in the first three months of the year, and more than double what it sold in the same quarter a year earlier, according to ABI Research.
The figures pale in comparison with those of Apple and Samsung, which sold 35.2 million and 75 million phones last quarter, respectively. But Motorola is in a position few thought it would reach just a year ago.
“The resurgence has slightly surprised me, to be honest. I didn’t expect to see Motorola come back in a meaningful way, but it actually has,” said Nick Spencer, senior practice director at ABI Research.
Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight, agreed.
“If you’d asked me about Motorola a year ago, I would have said it was on a distinct trajectory towards oblivion,” he said.
Motorola’s turnaround can be attributed only in part to Google, which announced it would buy the handset maker three years ago this week. The deal gave Motorola a new lease on life, but Google operated Motorola largely at arm’s length, and it now plans to sell the division to Lenovo.
It took more than two years after the Google deal for Motorola to release a phone that resonated with consumers. Its first device was the high-end Moto X, but not using the latest components and relying on software features to attract buyers turned out to be a miscalculation.
But thanks to the Moto G, the LTE version of that phone and the Moto E, Motorola’s sales have turned a corner. The company apparently hit on a winning formula, offering phones at lower prices but with features good enough to please many consumers.
“As the market for flagship smartphones has softened and a lot of people are looking at buying devices without a contract, Motorola’s Moto E and G seem to have really captured the moment,” Wood said.
Apple, which was at the forefront of creating the tablet market in 2010 with its first iPad, has seen growth plummet from 2012, as larger phones became more popular and people delayed replacing their tablets.
Mass production of the iPad with a 9.7-inch (24.6-cm) screen has already started, and it is likely to be unveiled by the end of current quarter or early next quarter, Bloomberg said, citing two people familiar with the matter.
A new version of the 7.9-inch iPad mini is also entering production and is likely to be available by the end of the year, Bloomberg said.
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment on the report.
International Business Machines Corp said in July it would partner exclusively with Apple to sell iPhones and iPads, which could rejuvenate the tablet’s sales by entering into a largely untapped corporate market.
Apple shipped 13.2 million iPads in the June quarter, 8 percent less than a year earlier. Sales of the devices, which accounted for 15 percent of revenue, fell short of Wall Street’s expectations for the second quarter in a row.
A California judge has rejected the proposed settlement in a lawsuit over no-hire agreements used by top Silicon Valley tech firms, saying the amount being offered to compensate workers is too low.
The remaining defendants in the case — Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems — had reached a deal with the worker’s lawyers to settle the case for US$324.5 million, but Judge Lucy Koh of the federal district court in San Jose, California, said that amount is too low.
After subtracting the fees for the workers’ lawyers — they’re allowed to keep up to a quarter of the award, or $81 million, as well as other money — each worker would be left with an average of only $3,750.
“The Court finds the total settlement amount falls below the range of reasonableness,” Koh wrote in her order, issued Friday.
She said she was troubled that the workers would get less money than under a previous settlement with companies that settled earlier in the case, even though the case has been progressing in the workers’ favor since then.
Last year, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar settled with the workers before the case came to trial.
All of the companies were accused of striking secret deals to not poach each others’ workers, a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act that reduced the workers’ potential to earn higher wages.
An expert hired for the case has estimated that the workers’ should receive damages of $3 billion, for wages they could have earned if the no-hire agreements hadn’t been in place.
Directr is an app that businesses can use to shoot videos for marketing purposes, then upload them to Facebook and YouTube, for instance, or embed them in newsletters.
The app provides help with things like frame selection and building a storyboard, to provide “point-and-shoot moviemaking” on a smartphone.
The app was priced at between US$25 and $400 a month, depending on the features and amount of usage. Directr says the app will now be free, though it’s unclear how long it will exist in its current form.
“For now, everything you love about Directr is staying the same and we’ll continue to focus on helping businesses create great video quickly and easily,”Directr said on its website.
“One immediate bonus: Directr will soon be all free, all the time. Thanks, YouTube!”
The 2-year-old company is joining YouTube’s video ads team.
The app is offered today for Apple’s iOS. Google didn’t immediately say if it will build a version for Android, though it seems likely, assuming the app is to continue.
In another dose of bad news for Samsung Electronics, the Korean tech giant has lost its ranking as China’s top smartphone vendor, after holding onto the position for two straight years, according to research firm Canalys.
In this year’s second quarter, Chinese company Xiaomi overtook Samsung to become the country’s largest smartphone maker with a 14 percent market share. Samsung held on to the second spot, with a 12 percent share, slightly ahead of third place Lenovo, outshipping it by 200,000 units.
The Korean electronics giant had been China’s leading smartphone maker since 2012′s first quarter, said Wang Jingwen, an analyst with Canalys. At the time, the company’s market share was 22 percent.
In China, Samsung sells a large range of handsets, from high end to low, and benefits from a strong brand and a vast reseller network. But its Chinese rivals are increasingly putting pressure on the company, especially when it comes to selling lower-end phones, Wang said.
“In the mid-to-low end segment, Samsung devices have not represented great value for money in China,” she said. The country’s largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, is also partnering more with domestic handset makers to launch phones built for its new 4G network, Wang added.
Xiaomi, on the other hand, has been growing fast, largely by selling feature-packed smartphones at just above cost price. This marks the first time the Chinese company has taken the top spot in China, after only starting to sell phones three years ago.
Xiaomi’s low-end series of phones, known as Redmi, are driving the company’s shipments in China, which reached almost 15 million in the second quarter, according to Canalys. The Redmi phones can start as low as 699 yuan (US$113) when bought without carrier subsidies.
Xiaomi’s aggressive pricing is leading the company’s success, Wang said. The company has already sold 26.1 million phones in this year’s first half, with the goal of selling a total of 60 million by the end of this year. Although not a big name outside of China, Xiaomi is expanding to ten foreign markets this year.
BlackBerry Ltd announced its popular messaging system BBM, or BlackBerry Messenger, would now be open to those using the Windows phone platform, a move that potentially makes the messaging service more appealing to its enterprise clients.
BlackBerry, which is seeking to reinvent itself as a more software and services driven company as its smartphone market share has dwindled, has been lately touting new BBM features in a bid to make it a more viable messaging tool for clients such as corporations and government agencies that are on the lookout for a secure messaging service.
The company, last year, opened the service to phones powered by Google Inc’s wildly popular Android operating system and Apple’s iOS platform. The rollout to the Windows phone platform means the service is now available on all major smartphone platforms, making it a more viable option for those clients that are considering using it as a communication tool.
BBM was a pioneering mobile-messaging service, but its user base has failed to keep pace with those of WhatsApp and other rivals, in part because BlackBerry had long refused to open the program to users on other platforms.
While the messaging service still has over 85 million active users, BlackBerry in a bid to boost its relevance and cater to the needs of its core enterprise audience is now marketing it as a secure communications tool for government agencies and regulated sectors, such as financial services.
Last month, BlackBerry began to roll out BBM Protected, a secure messaging service tailored specifically to the needs of companies in regulated sectors.
The move is part of a broader push that has also seen BlackBerry widen its device management capabilities to include devices that are powered by the Android, iOS, and Windows platforms.
Signal comes from Open Whisper Systems, who also created RedPhone and TextSecure, both Android applications that encrypt calls and text messages.
The application is compatible with RedPhone and eventually RedPhone and TextSecure will be combined in a single Android application and called Signal as well, according to a blog post.
Signal is notable for two reasons. First, it’s free. There are many voice call encryption products on the market for various platforms, most of which are not cheap and are aimed at enterprise users.
Second, Signal is open source code, meaning developers can look at the code and verify its integrity. That’s important because of concerns that software vendors have been pressured into adding “backdoors” into their products that could assist government surveillance programs.
The beauty of Signal is its simplicity. Setup requires verifying the device’s phone number through a one-time code that is sent by SMS. Signal displays only the contact details of the other user who has it installed.
It provides end-to-end encryption of voice calls over a data connection. Signal displays two words on a screen during a call, which are meant to be verified with the party on the other end to ensure a man-in-the-middle attack isn’t underway.
Signal adds to a growing number of mobile encryption offerings from software vendors. Silent Circle, based in Washington, D.C., offers encrypted calling and texting services for a monthly subscription, and is a partner in Geneva-based SGP Technologies which makes the BlackPhone, a security minded device released last month.
Facebook has confirmed that it will be deleting the messaging feature from its mobile app over the next few days, and requiring people to use its standalone Messenger app instead.
The change follows through on a plan announced in April and for now affects Facebook’s mobile app on iOS and Android. You’ll be able to send and receive messages on the desktop as before.
“In the next few days, we’re continuing to notify more people that if they want to send and receive Facebook messages, they’ll need to download the Messenger app,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an email.
The company’s goal is to make Messenger the best mobile service for messaging, she said, and avoid any confusion that might arise from having two mobile products for the same thing.
The move may also greatly increase the number of people who use Facebook Messenger.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on the company’s earnings call last week that Facebook was looking to turn Messenger into an important business.
Messenger has more than 200 million monthly active users — just under a fifth of Facebook’s total user base. As well as sending text messages, it can handle Internet-based voice calls, group chat, and exchanging photos and short videos.
Facebook started the switch to Messenger a few months ago in a handful of countries, mostly in Europe, and the results have been positive, it said.
Still, it’s unclear how the change will sit with people who’ve grown accustomed to using the main Facebook app for messaging. You’ll still be notified in the Facebook app when you receive a message, but you’ll have to open Messenger to view it and respond.
Facebook says the change will help improve the performance of both the apps over time. It’s already working to improve Messenger; the company recently hired former PayPal president David Marcus as part of a push to build new capabilities for Messenger, possibly including payments.
A bill that allows consumers to unlock their mobile phones for use on other carriers passed its last hurdle in Congress last week, opening the way for it to become law once it is signed by President Barack Obama.
Senate Bill 517 overturns a January 2013 decision by the Library of Congress that ruled the unlocking of phones by consumers fell afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It had previously been permitted under an exception to the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA, which are generally aimed at cracking of digital rights management technology.
Cellphones and smartphones are typically supplied to consumers with a software lock that restricts their use to a single wireless carrier. Removing that lock — the process of “unlocking” the phone — means it can be used on the networks of competing carriers. In the U.S., this is most often done with handsets that work on the AT&T or T-Mobile networks, which share a common technology, but is also popular with consumers who want to take their phones overseas and use foreign networks rather than roaming services.
The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act has made fast progress through Congress. It was passed by the Senate on July 16, just a week after it was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and on Friday by unanimous vote in the House of Representatives. It now waits to be signed into law.
In addition to making the unlocking process legal under copyright law, the bill also directs the librarian of Congress to determine whether other portable devices with wireless capability, such as tablets, should be eligible for unlocking.
“It took 19 months of activism and advocacy, but we’re finally very close to consumers regaining the right to unlock the phones they’ve legally bought,” said Sina Khanifar, who organized an online petition that kicked off the push to have the Library of Congress decision overturned. The petition attracted more than 114,000 signatures on the White House’s “We The People” site.
“I’m looking forward to seeing this bill finally become law — it’s been a long road against powerful, entrenched interests — but it’s great to see citizen advocacy work,” he said in a statement.