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China Drops Big Technology Brands From State Purchase Lists

February 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

China has removed some of the world’s most popular technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more home grown products, in what some say is a response to revelations of widespread Western cybersurveillance.

Others put the shift down to a protectionist impulse to shield China’s domestic technology industry from competition.

Chief casualty is U.S. network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc, which in 2012 counted 60 products on the Central Government Procurement Center’s (CGPC) list, but by late 2014 had none, a Reuters analysis of official data shows.

Smartphone and PC maker Apple Inc has also been dropped over the period, along with Intel Corp’s security software firm McAfee and network and server software firm Citrix Systems .

The number of products on the list, which covers regular spending by central ministries, jumped by more than 2,000 in two years to just under 5,000, but the increase is almost entirely due to local makers.

The number of approved foreign tech brands fell by a third, while less than half of those with security-related products survived the cull.

An official at the procurement agency said there were many reasons why local makers might be preferred, including sheer weight of numbers and the fact that domestic security technology firms offered more product guarantees than overseas rivals.

China’s change of tack coincided with leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in mid-2013 that exposed several global surveillance programs, many of them run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecom companies and European governments.

 

Google Continues Wooing Enterprise Users With Android For Work Launch

February 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google Inc rolled out an initiative  to make smartphones running its Android software more appealing to corporations, a move that could help extend the Internet technology giant reach into workplaces.

Google said on its official blog that its Android for Work program will provide improved security and management features for corporations that want to give their employees Android smartphones. Smartphones supported by the new initiative will be able to keep an employee’s work and personal apps separate, and a special Android for Work app will allow businesses to oversee key tools such as email, calendar and contacts.

Google said it is partnering with more than two dozen companies including Blackberry Ltd, Citrix Systems Inc, Box Inc.

Google’s Android software is the world’s most popular mobile operating system, but many corporations, which have significant security and device management requirements, give their employees smartphones made by Blackberry or Apple Inc.

 

 

Chrome Browser Now Has Early Warning Alert

February 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has added an early warning alert to Chrome that appears when users try to access a website that the search giant believes will try to trick users into downloading suspicious software.

The new alert pops up in Chrome when a user aims the browser at a suspect site but before the domain is displayed. “The site ahead contains harmful programs,” the warning states.

Google emphasized tricksters that “harm your browsing experience,” and cited those that silently change the home page or drop unwanted ads onto pages in the warning’s text.

The company has long focused on those categories, and for obvious, if unstated, reasons. It would prefer that people — much less, shifty software — not alter the Chrome home page, which features the Google search engine, the Mountain View, Calif. firm’s primary revenue generator. Likewise, the last thing Google wants is to have adware, especially the most irritating, turn off everyone to all online advertising.

The new alert is only the latest in a line of warnings and more draconian moves Google has made since mid-2011, when the browser began blocking malware downloads. Google has gradually enhanced Chrome’s alert feature by expanding the download warnings to detect a wider range of malicious or deceitful programs, and using more assertive language in the alerts.

In January 2014, for example, Chrome 32 added threats that posed as legitimate software and tweaked with the browser’s settings to the unwanted list.

The browser’s malware blocking and suspect site warnings come from Google’s Safe Browsing API (application programming interface) and service; Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox also access parts of the API to warn their users of potentially dangerous websites.

Chrome 40, the browser’s current most-polished version, can be downloaded for Windows, OS X and Linux from Google’s website.

 

 

Google Acquiring Softcard’s Mobile Wallet Technology

February 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google announced it has reached a deal with three of the country’s major cellular carriers to acquire “technology and capabilities” from Softcard, a competing mobile wallet app created jointly by the telecom operators. But the deal appears to be less about technology and more about branding.

The biggest immediate change is that Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile will begin pre-installing Google Wallet on new Android smartphones later this year — something that had been blocked before in preference for the Softcard app.

At their heart, both apps are based on the same contactless payment technology as Apple Pay and a new generation of payment cards from banks and credit unions. They use NFC (near-field communication) to complete a transaction once a payment card or phone is brought within a few centimeters of a terminal.

Apple Pay brought the technology widespread recognition when it launched late last year, but Google Wallet has been around since 2011. However a lack of support from carriers, retailers, card issuers and Google itself had relegated the technology to the sidelines.

While Google Wallet and Apple Pay share a technology base, there are key differences in how they work. Perhaps the biggest is that in Google Wallet, all transactions are routed through Google before being charged to the customer’s credit card.

That gives Google even greater insight into the lives of its users. In contrast, Apple doesn’t see any details of purchases made on its system.

Getting the Google Wallet app in front of more consumers could help reduce confusion over the different brands — an important consideration when the biggest Android phone maker is making moves of its own in mobile payments.

 

 

 

Visa Europe Announces New Mobile Payments Method

February 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Visa Europe has announced a new, more secure way for consumers to pay retailers usinng their mobile phones,a move that could set the stage for Apple’s  Apple Pay and rival mobile payment services to be introduced into Europe in the coming months.

Visa Europe said on Tuesday it would introduce to member banks by mid-April a “tokenization” service which substitutes random numbers for a user’s credit card details when a merchant transmits transaction data, reducing the risk of online theft.

Similar security from Visa Inc ,the former parent of Visa Europe, and rival card issuers MasterCard and American Express has been key to the success of Apple Pay since it was introduced in the United States last year, according to industry experts.

Apple Pay allows iPhone users to store their credit card details on their phones, then pay at the tap of a button. In its first three months, more than $2 out of every $3 which U.S. consumers spent using speedy new “contactless” systems at the three major credit card networks was done via Apple Pay, the company said last month.

Visa Europe’s move is one of several new services the London-based credit card giant is unveiling as it battles to retain its role as a middleman connecting banks and consumers in a fast-moving payments landscape being shaken up by major technology firms including Apple, Google  and eBay’s PayPal, as well as scores of ambitious start-ups.

These include a way for card customers to send money overseas to other Visa users via their social media profiles on sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Steve Perry, Visa Europe’s chief digital officer, said in an interview his association’s plan for secure credit card data transmission parallels what Visa Inc offers in the United States. But he declined to comment on whether Apple Pay had agreed to use his organization’s version in European markets.

 

Apple Wants In On Car Batteries?

February 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

A year and a half ago, Apple Inc applied for eight patents related to car batteries. Recently, it has added a slew of engineers, just one of whom had already filed for 17 in his former career, according to a Thomson Reuters.

The recent spate of hires and patent filings shows that Apple is fast building its industrial lithium-ion battery capabilities, adding to evidence the iPhone maker may be developing a car.

Quiet, clean electric cars are viewed in Silicon Valley and elsewhere as a promising technology for the future, but high costs and “range anxiety”, the concern that batteries will run out of power and cannot be recharged quickly, remain obstacles. Those challenges could also be seen as opportunities to find solutions to take the technology mainstream.

The number of auto-related patents filed by Apple, Google Inc, Korea’s Samsung, electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc and ride-sharing startup Uber tripled from 2011 to 2014, according to an analysis by Thomson Reuters IP & Science of public patent filings.

Apple has filed far fewer of these patents than rivals, perhaps adding impetus to its recent hiring binge as it seeks to get up to speed in battery technologies and other car-building related expertise.

As of 18 months ago, Apple had filed for 290 such patents. By contrast, Samsung, which has been providing electric vehicle batteries for some years, had close to 900 filings involving auto battery technology alone.

The U.S. government makes patent applications public only after 18 months, so the figures do not reflect any patents filed in 2014.

Earlier this month, battery maker A123 Systems sued Apple for poaching five top engineers. A search of LinkedIn profiles indicates Apple has hired at least another seven A123 employees and at least 18 employees from Tesla since 2012.

The former A123 employees have expertise primarily in battery cell design, materials development and manufacturing engineering, according to the LinkedIn profiles and an analysis of patent applications.

A123, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012 but has since reorganized, supplied batteries for Fisker Automotive’s now-discontinued hybrid electric car.

“Looking at the people Apple is hiring from A123 and their backgrounds, it is hard not to assume they’re working on an electric car,” said Tom Gage, Chief Executive of EV Grid and a longtime expert in batteries and battery technology.

Apple is building its own battery division, according to the A123 lawsuit. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

 

Samsung Moving Toward Mobile Payments With LoopPay Acquisition

February 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has acquired U.S. mobile wallet startup LoopPay, signaling its intention to launch a smartphone payments service to compete with rival Apple Inc.

Mobile payments have been slow to catch on in the United States and elsewhere, despite strong backing. Apple, Google, and eBay Inc’s PayPal have all launched services to allow users to pay in stores via smartphones.

The weak uptake is partly because many retailers have been reluctant to adopt the hardware and software infrastructure required for these new mobile payment options to work. These services also fail to offer much more convenience than simply swiping a credit card, Samsung executives said on Wednesday.

LoopPay’s technology differs because it works off existing magnetic-stripe card readers at checkout, changing them into contactless receivers, they said. About 90 percent of checkout counters already support magnetic swiping.

“If you can’t solve the problem of merchant acceptance…, of being able to use the vast majority of your cards, then it can’t really be your wallet,” said David Eun, head of Samsung’s Global Innovation Center.

Injong Rhee, who is leading Samsung’s as-yet-unannounced payments project, said the Asian giant will soon reveal more details of its envisioned service. He would not be drawn on speculation the company may do so during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

He said new phones such as the upcoming, latest Galaxy would support the service.

Apple Pay, launched in September, allows iPhone users to pay at the tap of a button. Executives have lauded its rapid rollout so far, including the fact that more than 2,000 banks now support it and the U.S. government will accept Apple Pay later this year.

But Apple Pay requires retailers to install near-field communication and some have been reluctant. In addition, many retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and CVS Health Corp, back their own system, CurrentC.

Samsung had invested in LoopPay, along with Visa Inc and Synchrony Financial, before its acquisition. Terms of the deal, which Samsung negotiated over several months, were not disclosed.

It’s unclear how else Samsung could differentiate its service versus Apple’s or other rivals.

 

 

BlackBerry Files New Patent Complaint Against Typo

February 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

BlackBerry ramped up its battle with Ryan Seacrest’s Typo Products LLC, filing a new complaint that accusing the company’s new keyboard case for the iPhone of also infringes on its patents.

Last March, the Waterloo, Ontario-based smartphone pioneer won an injunction against the first iteration of the Typo case made for some of Apple’s iPhone devices. BlackBerry is now seeking another injunction to halt sales of the redesigned Typo 2 case as well.

BlackBerry, in a new complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday, alleges that the company’s redesigned Typo 2 case for the iPhone 5, 5s and iPhone 6 models, also infringe on its patents, disputing the start-up’s claims to the contrary.

Earlier this month, the court ordered Typo to pay BlackBerry $860,600 in sanctions, plus attorneys’ fees and costs as it said that Typo had blatantly violated the court’s initial injunction.

At the time, a spokeswoman for Typo said the court order had no impact on its TYPO 2 product currently in the marketplace, or its other planned product releases.

Typo was not immediately reachable for comment on the latest complaint. BlackBerry declined to comment on the matter.

“Just as they did with the Typo Keyboard, defendants have again copied numerous proprietary BlackBerry designs and patents in the Typo2 Keyboard,” said BlackBerry in its complaint.

 

 

Will Sony Exit TV, Mobile Phone Markets?

February 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp hopes to increase operating profit 25-fold within three years by growing its camera sensors and PlayStation units, its chief executive said, laying out a strategy that could see the company exit the ultra competitive TV and smartphone markets.

CEO Kazuo Hirai said on Wednesday the Japanese consumer electronics firm would no longer pursue sales growth in areas such as smartphones where its has suffered competition from cheaper Asian rivals as well as industry leaders like Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.

Sony would instead focus its spending on more profitable businesses such as camera sensors, videogames and entertainment as it seeks to return to growth after forecasting for this financial year its sixth net loss in seven years.

“The strategy starting from the next business year will be about generating profit and investing for growth,” Hirai told a briefing, adding that Sony’s units would be given greater autonomy to make their own business decisions.

Asked about the TV and mobile phone units, Hirai said he would not “rule out considering an exit strategy”, Sony’s clearest statement to date about the possibility of selling or finding partners for these struggling units.

Sony is in the midst of a restructuring that has so far seen it sell off its personal computer division and spin off the TV business. It has also axed thousands of jobs.

Sony shares have risen more than 80 percent over the past year as investors applauded the restructuring, which accelerated since Hirai appointed Kenichiro Yoshida as his chief strategy officer in late 2013.

 

 

Ford Wants To Partner With Tencent For Hi-tech Drivers In China

February 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Ford Motor Co  wants Tencent Holdings Ltd to customize its popular chatting app for the firm’s cars in China, as automakers in the world’s largest market woo drivers that care about high-tech features as much as engine size.

Rivals including Daimler and Nissan Motor Co Ltd are also looking at ways to give drivers safe, hands-free access to mobile apps in China, home to the world’s largest number of smartphone users. WeChat is China’s most prevalent chatting app, with about half a billion active monthly users.

“There’s a demand from our customers,” David Huang, a senior engineer who heads Ford’s Asia Pacific connected services unit, told Reuters. “People want to stay connected, stay informed and stay entertained all the time, even when they’re driving.”

Ford is in talks with Tencent over the business aspects of putting the app in its cars, Huang said. Tencent declined to comment.

Cars are becoming a key battleground for technology industry giants, including Google Inc and Apple Inc, as they seek to develop a market where drivers will be online while on the road. China could be on the front line of that battle as predominantly first-time car buyers in the country are also early adopters who understand more about technology than engine specifications.

Huang said Ford envisages drivers syncing their phone to the car’s software system and controlling specific WeChat functions, chosen by Tencent and then certified by Ford as safe, through voice commands or limited use of buttons.

Making WeChat and other apps convenient, safe and legal to use while driving could help automakers gain market share in China, especially as auto sales growth eases in a slowingeconomy. Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, said connectivity was a key deciding factor for Chinese customers buying a car.

 

 

Will Samsung Release A 14nm Octa Processor?

February 18, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung has announced an updated version of its Exynos 7 Octa processor. Last year it announced a 64-bit, ARMv8 processor based on a 20nm design, but these new chips will be 14nm processors.

The big news is that Samsung says mass production of the first chips developed with a 14nm FinFET process is underway. It looks like the Exynos 7 Octa processor will be the first to see the shift from 20nm to 14nm. Samsung says the technology will be used in additional products later in 2015.

This could be good news in terms of efficiency and performance. Samsung says the new chips could be up to 20 percent faster while using 35 percent less power. Thing better performance and longer battery life.

Intel’s Broadwell chips are also based on 14nm designs. But those processors are designed for desktops, notebooks, and tablets, while Samsung’s ARM-based chips are aimed at mobile devices, primarily smartphones.

Like we said last week, Samsung has beaten Intel, Apple and Qualcomm in the race for the first 14nm phone SoC – and now it’s in mass production to boot. We are just weeks away from Samsung shipping the Exynos 7 inside the Galaxy S6.

Courtesy-Fud

Flip-Phones Oddly Increasing In Popularity In Japan

February 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Japanese shipments of traditional flip-phones picked up pace in 2014 for the first time in seven years while smartphone shipments dropped, highlighting Japanese consumers’ tenacious attachment to the familiar and typically less expensive older models.

Nicknamed “Galapagos” phones because they have evolved to meet unique Japanese standards and tastes, flip-phone shipments rose 5.7 percent to 10.58 million in 2014, data from market researcher MM Research Institute Ltd shows. Smartphone shipments fell 5.3 percent to 27.70 million, down for a second year.

Users in Japan pay some of the highest smartphone fees among developed nations, the telecommunications ministry says, while flip-phone rates are among the lowest. Many Japanese accustomed to years of deflation are content with old-style flip-phones offering voice calling, email and in most cases basic Internet services.

Japanese electronics companies Panasonic Corp and NEC Corp have pulled out of the consumer smartphone business, unable to compete with dominant brands Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. They still make flip-phones, though, competing in a crowded market with Fujitsu Ltd and Sharp Corp, among others.

But with a mobile penetration rate of 98.5 percent, or 125 million subscriptions, there is little scope for significant overall growth in Japan’s mobile market, MM Research said. “Smartphones are also peaking in terms of functionality and they tend to last a long time as well, so there are fewer renewals,” said MM Research Executive Analyst Hideaki Yokota. He said 2014 was a particularly strong year for renewals in the subscription cycle for flip-phones, suggesting that last year’s growth may not be repeated this year.

 

 

Apple Wooing Windows Users With Free iWork For iCloud

February 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Apple has opened the beta of its iWork for iCloud application suite to Windows-only users, letting people without an iOS device or OS X-powered Mac create an Apple ID needed to access the Web apps.

Apple in mid-2013 launched iWork for iCloud — the browser-based versions of its productivity apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote — requiring an Apple ID for access. Apple IDs are normally associated with an Apple-made device, such as an iPhone, iPad or Mac. Consumers who owned a Windows PC but also, say, an iPhone, had an Apple ID and thus were able to access iWork for iCloud.

This latest change gives anyone, including those without a stake in the Apple ecosystem, access to iWork for iCloud.

iWork for iCloud, which has been in beta for more than a year and a half, is Apple’s productivity answer to Microsoft’s Office. Starting in the fall of 2013, Apple began giving away the iOS and OS X iWork apps to new buyers of iPhones, iPads and Macs; iWork for iCloud is the browser-based side of those apps.

The availability of iWork for iCloud will tempt few if any Windows-only consumers: They have free access to Microsoft’s own Web apps, dubbed Office Online.

 

 

Google Pulling The Plug On Helpouts Video Service

February 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google is has decided to shutter Helpouts, the company’s service to provide answers and advice by connecting information seekers with experts via live video.

With Helpouts, Google sought to provide an information platform built around live tutorials rather than clickable search results or links. The goal of the service, launched in 2013, was to let people connect with experts to get information about practically anything, whether it be photography, cooking, fitness or home improvement. Google took a 20 percent transaction fee from most types of paid sessions. A desktop version was offered, as well as mobile apps.

But Helpouts never took off. “The Helpouts community includes some engaged and loyal contributors, but unfortunately, it hasn’t grown at the pace we had expected,” Google posted Friday to the Helpouts website. Google will shut down the service on April 20. Users can download their Helpouts history with the Google Takeout service until Nov. 1 of this year, the company said.

The Helpouts mobile apps appear to already have been removed from the Google Play and Apple App stores.

Google didn’t provide any additional comment on the reason behind the shutdown. Helpouts’ main competitors may have been Google’s other products, including its web search engine.

For example, Google now displays relevant information in response to people’s queries via its Knowledge Graph feature at the top of the search results page, in addition to the traditional website links. The feature now covers a range of topics including public figures, places and nutrition data, with health information being the latest addition.

Google did not charge a transaction fee on health-oriented Helpouts.

 

 

 

 

 

Apple Expresses Interest In Self-Driving Cars

February 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Technology giant Apple exploring how to make a self-driving electric car and is having conversations with experts at carmakers and automotive suppliers, an automotive source familiar with the talks has said.

The Cupertino, California-based maker of phones, computers and watches is exploring how to make an entire vehicle, not just designing automotive software or individual components, the source said.

“They don’t appear to want a lot of help from carmakers,” the source, who declined to be named, said.

Apple is gathering advice on parts and production methods, the source said, adding that Apple appeared not to be interested in combustion engine technology or conventional manufacturing methods.

An Apple spokesman in London on Saturday declined to comment on “rumors or speculation”.

Rival software maker Google has developed a prototype self-driving vehicle, while startup rival Tesla Motors  has produced a successful electric sports car.

In addition to building a car, there is money to be made from the software operating system for a self-driving vehicle, as well as the services associated with autonomous driving, such as high-definition mapping, car-sharing and electric car recharging services, the auto industry source said.

“It’s a software game. It’s all about autonomous driving,” the source said.