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Apple Acknowledges Issue With iPad Pro

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Some iPad Pro owners have reported strange behavior in their new 12.9-inch tablets. Normally when you charge a device, unless the battery has completely died, the screen remains responsive. But some iPad Pros are completely freezing, then dying, after a recharge. The problem appears to be widespread — Apple’s support communities are filled with complaints about the issue.

Apple knows about the problem, but hasn’t said why it’s happening. There doesn’t seem to be a real fix for it, either — at least not yet. The company published a support document on Thursday advising Pro users to force restart their tablets to bring them back to life, but that’s not really a long-term solution, because the issue is ongoing.

“When I connect my iPad Pro to the charger for more than an hour, it goes dead,” one iPad Pro owner reported in the Apple support forum. “It takes multiple hard resets to bring it back to life.”

MacRumors first reported the iPad Pro issue last Monday, just days after the supersized tablets began shipping, and even experienced the problem with one of its own tablets. Apple employees are reportedly advising a range of solutions, from using iTunes to restore settings to performing a hard restart, as Apple is now officially recommending.

We’ll update this story when Apple pushes out a fix for the problem.


Huawei Unveils Fast-charging Battery For Smartphones

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Huawei has designed and developed a prototype smartphone battery that can be recharged to half its capacity in just five minutes.

The battery is based on the same lithium ion chemistry used in cellphone batteries today but gets its advantage from atoms of graphite bonded to the anode, Huawei said on Friday at an industry conference in Japan.

That change means faster charging but not at the expense of usage life or a sacrifice in the amount of energy that can be stored in each battery, it said.

It was developed by Huawei research and development subsidiary Watt Lab and the company showed off two prototypes in videos posted online.

One of the two batteries has a capacity of 3,000mAh (milliampere hours) — about equivalent to the batteries in modern smartphones — and can be charged to 48 percent of capacity in five minutes. The second has a much smaller capacity of 600mAh but reaches 68 percent of capacity in just two minutes.

The batteries have undergone repeated testing and the fast charging isn’t a one-time deal, the company said.

Huawei didn’t say when the fast charging might make its way into commercial products.

The announcement is one of a number this year that all point toward faster charging or longer battery life. Advances in battery technology have lagged other areas of technology and battery life remains a limiting factor for gadgets such as phones and larger products like electric vehicles.



Ghost Push Malware Giving Android A Hard Time

October 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Put your Android whatever back in its sand bucket. It is facing another threat. This one is spooky sounding and has been dubbed Ghost Push by Yang Yang and Jordan Pan of the Trend Micro security labs outfit.

The threat presents itself to people who download things from untrusted third-party stores, which is not everyone, and seems to behave in a way that is sophisticated – unlike perhaps people who download things from untrusted sites. Ghost Push is not new and neither is this method of infection.

“Halloween is still a month from now yet Android users are already being haunted by the previously reported Ghost Push malware, which roots devices and makes them download unwanted ads and apps. The malware is usually packaged with apps that users may download from third-party app stores,” said Yang and Pan.

“Further investigation of Ghost Push revealed more recent variants which, unlike older ones, employ routines that make them harder to remove and detect.”

Pan and Yang said that there are some 20 variants of Ghost Push in the wild, and that the threat has been active since April. It has ramped itself up during September and is presenting the worst side of itself in India and Indonesia, where 32 and 24 percent of infected devices can be found.

Trend does not think that this ghost theme is related to the XcodeGhost malware that bothers iOS users, but it does think that someone quite sophisticated is behind the attacks.

“It is likely that a team of cyber criminals are behind Ghost Push and they are not exactly new to the malware creation industry,” the researchers wrote.

“This group has already published 658 different malicious applications (1,259 different versions) in third-party app stores unrelated to Ghost Push. One of these apps has infected more than 100,000 devices, two more than 10,000 and seven more than 1,000.”

Third-party download sites are the reason for most of the affected devices and applications, but Yang and Pan said that a couple made it through to the official Google Play store.

“We also found two legitimate apps unrelated to Ghost Push that the same creators published on Google Play, which have since been removed,” they said, explaining that these apps accumulated some 10,000 downloads before being pulled.

“These show that this group possesses ample technical knowledge to effectively victimise thousands of devices and evade detection,” Yang and Pan said.

Once a device is infected the malware can launch other applications and services and steal personal information.


Researchers Explore Humans As Networks For Wearable Devices

September 4, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

People who wear networked gadgets all over their bodies could possibly become a network themselves.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have found a way for wearables to communicate through a person’s body instead of the air around it. Their work could lead to devices that last longer on smaller batteries and don’t give away secrets as easily as today’s systems do.

The proliferation of smartphones, smart watches, health monitoring devices and other gear carried close to the body has led to so-called personal area networks that link the gadgets together and provide a path to the Internet through one that has a Wi-Fi or cell radio. Today, those PANs use short-range over-the-air systems like Bluetooth.

But radio technologies like Bluetooth can’t transmit well through the body itself, so they have to go around it. Bluetooth signals can travel as far as 10 meters (30 feet) which increases the chance of eavesdropping and leads to high “path loss,” an effect that weakens signals on the way to their destinations, the researchers said.

A team led by Professor Patrick Mercier of the university’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has discovered a way to use the body itself as the medium for data transmission. It uses magnetic fields and shows path loss that’s 10 million times lower than what happens with Bluetooth.

This could make the magnetic networks much more efficient, so devices don’t have to work as hard to communicate and can have smaller batteries — or get longer useful lives with the same size batteries. The team hasn’t actually tested the system’s energy use yet. They envision the technology being used for networks of health sensors that monitor many parts of the body.

Wireless technologies like Bluetooth radiate electrical and magnetic waves, which a human body tends to absorb, Mercier said. By contrast, his team’s network transmits data over magnetic fields that are created between two coils. Those fields can easily travel through the body. The system works like NFC (near-field communications), but at a slightly longer range.




Intelligent Energy Tests Hydrogen Powered iPhone 6

August 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

A British company rumored to be working closely with Apple has created a hydrogen fuel cell for an iPhone 6 that allows the smartphone to last a week without recharging.

According to reports, Intelligent Energy has created a working iPhone 6 prototype that looks no different from any other iPhone 6 except for tiny vents in the rear that allow  imperceptible amounts of water vapor to escape.

The prototype contains both a rechargeable battery and its own hydrogen fuel cell, according to a report in the Telegraph.

Hydrogen fuel cells generate energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen; the only emission from the process is water.

Fuel cells supply hydrogen to a negative anode (an electrode through which electrical current flows), releasing electrons. The electrons then flow to a positive cathode (another electrode) to generate electricity. In addition, after releasing electrons, the hydrogen becomes a hydrogen ion moving to positive cathode and bonding with oxygen in the air, forming water.

Hydrogen is the simplest and most common molecule known to exist. Because of that, it is a part of almost every other substance, such as water and hydrocarbons. Hydrogen is also found in biomass, which includes all plants and animals.

Intelligent Energy has produced more than 2,000 patents related to fuel cells, which it has used to create batteries for cars and a portable recharger called the Upp. The Upp is a mini-hydrogen fuel cell that charges any USB-compatible mobile device, including smartphones, tablets, portable gaming consoles or digital cameras.

Like any fuel cell, the one in Intelligent Energy’s iPhone requires recharging with hydrogen gas. Intelligent Energy said that could be done through an adapted headphone socket.

Intelligent Energy is now working on a commercial version of the smartphone fuel cell that would be in the form of a small cartridge that fits into the bottom of a phone. The cartridge would supply power for a week and could be discarded after use.





Japanese Engineer Develops ‘Car in a Bag’

August 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

A Japanese engineer has put together a portable transporter small enough to be carried in a backpack that he says is the world’s first ‘car in a bag’.

Twenty-six-year-old Kuniako Saito and his team at Cocoa Motors recently unveiled the lithium battery-powered “WalkCar” transporter, which is the size of a laptop and resembles a skateboard more than a car.

The slender WalkCar is made from aluminum and weighs between two and three kilograms (4.4 to 6.6 pounds), depending on whether it is an indoor or outdoor version.

Saito expects to see many other uses for his transporter, as he says it has enough power to help people push wheelchairs with ease. The lightweight aluminum board is stronger than it looks, and can take loads of up to 120kg (265 pounds).

It reaches top speeds of 10 kilometers per hour (6.2 miles per hour), for distances of up to 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) after three hours of charging.

Its developer says it’s also extremely simple to ride. Once the rider stands on it the WalkCar starts automatically, while simply stepping off stops the vehicle. To change direction, the user just shifts their weight.

Best of all, there is no need to find a parking space, because it fits into a small bag when not in use.

Saito said his studies in electric car motor control systems sparked the idea for the new kind of ride.

“I thought, “what if we could just carry our transportation in our bags, wouldn’t that mean we’d always have our transportation with us to ride on?” and my friend asked me to make one, since I was doing my masters in engineering specifically on electric car motor control systems,” he told Reuters.

Saito says he is confident that WalkCar goes beyond bulkier devices such as the Segway or Toyota’s Winglet.



Workhorse Wants In On The Drone Delivery Business

July 30, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Workhorse, a truck maker based in Loveland, Ohio apparently wants in on the drone package delivery business.

Workhorse isn’t as high profile as Amazon or Google, but it demonstrated an eight-rotor delivery drone designed to work with its electric trucks and use some of the same battery technology.

“Our concept is, you have a package-delivery drone that rides on top of a truck as the driver goes about his day, and helps to pick off outliers on his route to help cut down on the cost of delivery per package,” said Elliot Bokeno, a mechanical engineer with Workhorse, who demonstrated the drone at a conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

If a driver had four deliveries in one part of town but only one in another, the drone might be able to handle that single, less convenient delivery.

The technology combines autonomous and manual control.

GPS is used to determine the delivery location, and the drone flies there without any human input, Bokeno said. But when it gets to the address, a downward-pointing camera switches on and an operator at a remote center takes over.

The operator guides the drone down, making sure to avoid people and obstacles, and releases the package. The drone then resumes autonomous flight and makes its way back to the truck.

In tests, the drone has flown as fast at 55 mph and has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes. The company is working with Panasonic, which provides batteries for Workhorse’s electric vehicles, on more advanced battery technology that will increase flight times to 45 minutes.

Bokeno said his company has already talked to several package delivery companies about using its technology.

For now, tests of the technology over relatively short distances continue. Workhorse is collaborating with the University of Cincinnati and hopes to begin multi-mile delivery tests soon.






FCC Wants Telecom Carriers To Alert Customers Of Switch To IP Phone

July 14, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is backing a requirement that the country’s telecom carriers warn residential and business customers about plans to retire copper telephone networks for IP-based systems.

A proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would also require telecom carriers retiring their copper networks to offer customers the option of purchasing battery backup systems so that they don’t lose voice service during an electrical power outage, officials said Friday. IP-based voice service depends on working Internet service, which, in turn, requires electricity.

The old copper-based phone service works without electrical service available at the customer’s address, and a loss of voice service during power outages is one of the major concerns of consumer groups as major telecom carriers move to retire their decades-old copper networks.

Wheeler’s proposal, likely to be voted on by the commission during its Aug. 6 meeting, would require telecom providers that are retiring copper to make battery backup systems with eight hours of standby power available to affected customers, either through the carriers themselves or for third-party retailers. Voice customers would have to pay for the battery backups, which now cost $40 and up, but they could choose whether or not they want the backup.

Most consumers and consumer groups in contact with the FCC wanted the option to purchase battery backup from sources other than carriers, an FCC official said. Requiring battery backup systems during VoIP installs could have discouraged customers from signing up for the service, he added.

Within three years, carriers would have to offer a battery backup option with 24 hours of standby power, under the rules proposed by Wheeler.

Telecom carriers retiring their copper would also have to alert customers that their old telephone service was going away. Telecom carriers currently aren’t required to notify customers, but under the proposed rules, residential customers would get a three-month warning, and business customers would get a six-month warning, agency officials said during a press briefing.

Telecom carriers would also have to notify interconnecting carriers of their copper retirement plans, and competitors using the existing copper to provide business voice and Internet services would be eligible to receive similar pricing deals from the large incumbent carriers, the FCC said.




Hyundai Betting On Hydrogen Fuel Cells

July 3, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Despite minimal market adoption, Hyundai Motor Co. said that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles represent the future of eco-friendly cars more than all-electric vehicles.

Hyundai, the largest carmaker in South Korea, began selling its Tuscon Fuel Cell SUV last year, but only 273 out of a target 1,000 vehicles were purchased or leased.

Most of the Tuscon Fuel Cell vehicles, which retail for $76,000, were purchased in Europe and California, according to reports confirmed by Hyundai America.

Over the next four years, Hyundai plans to invest another $10 billion in hybrid cars, electric battery vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell models.

Fuel cell vehicles, however, represent a better opportunity for growing sales — even over electric vehicles — because there is less market competition, according to Kim Sae Hoon, general manager at Hyundai’s fuel cell engineering design team.

The hydrogen vehicles also offer grater flexibility for designers, in that they can scale in size from small cars to buses, Hoon said.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are already being used in trucks and buses. That’s an advantage for hydrogen vehicles since all-electric engines don’t perform as well in larger vehicles, which require bigger batteries that need more charging, according to Devin Lindsay, IHS Automotive’s senior analyst.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit only water vapor as exhaust. They also have remarkable advantages over all-electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model S, in that they can travel 300 miles on a tank of fuel and can refuel in just five minutes. By comparison, a Tesla using the company’s so-called “Superchargers” requires at least 20 minutes to achieve a half-charged battery. A full charge will provide a range of up to 265 miles.

High prices and the dearth of fueling stations are barriers to sales of fuel cell vehicles. Hyundai said it will be another 10 years before hydrogen cars start gaining wider acceptance. Today, hybrid cars and electric vehicles are dominating the green-vehicle market.

As was the case with all-electric vehicles when they first emerged in the mid-2000s, high prices and the lack of fueling stations have stifled uptake of fuel cell vehicles. In a statement, Hyundai said it will take another decade before hydrogen cars gain wider acceptance.





Mercedes-Benz Challenging Tesla With Battery Of Its Own

June 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

On the heels of Tesla announcing a home and commercial battery product line, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its own brand of energy storage products for those with solar systems to store surplus power.

The Mercedes-Benz energy storage plants for private use are available for order now and are expected to ship in September.

The batteries were first developed for cars, but Mercedes-Benz said the energy storage units “meet the very highest safety and quality standards” for home use.

Up to eight battery modules with an energy capacity of 2.5 kWh can be combined into an energy storage plant with a capacity of 20 kWh.

“Households with their own photovoltaic systems can thus buffer surplus solar power virtually free of any losses,” the carmaker said in a statement.

What wasn’t announced by Mercedes-Benz was information about the size of or pricing for the new batteries.

In May, Tesla announced its Powerwall batteries for home use and its Powerpack batteries for commercial use. Today, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced his company would double the power output of the Powerwall batteries but keep their prices the same.

Tesla’s Powerwall batteries will go from having a two-kilowatt (kW) steady power output and 3.3kW peak output to a 5kW steady output and 7kW peak output, Musk said. The price of the batteries will remain the same: $3,000 for the 7kW/hour (KWh) daily cycle version and $3,500 for the 10kWh backup UPS version. Total installation cost will run around $4,000, according to Musk.

Up to nine Powerwall battery units can be daisy-chained together on a wall to provide up to 90kWh of power.

The average U.S. household uses about 20 kWh to 25 kWh of power every day, according to GTM Research.

Tesla Energy’s new commercial-grade battery is called the Powerpack, and will sell in 100kWh modules for $25,000 each. Musk said the Powerpack can scale infinitely, even powering factories and small cities.

Mercedes-Benz’s batteries, being produced by subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive, are its first industrial-scale lithium-ion units, and they’ve already been tested “on the grid,” the company said.




Ossia Unveils Wireless Charging For Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Signals

April 3, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

A wireless charging start-up announced that it has developed a chipset that easily integrates with mobile devices to allow them to charge from existing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth transmitters.

Ossia originally announced its Cota wireless charging technology, in 2013, saying the antenna and chipset could receive power from wireless transmissions up to 30 feet away.

The company announced that mobile device makers can now integrate its Cota chipset into mobile products without adding additional antennas; the chip simply uses the antenna that comes with the mobile device to receive power.

Ossia’s Cota remote wireless power receiver uses a mobile device’s existing antenna, eliminating internal coils needed by magnetic induction wireless charging systems that dominate the market today.

“Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas can perform double duty as both data and Cota wireless power receivers,” the company said in a statement.

Hatem Zeine, CEO of Ossia and inventor of the Cota system, said the technology addresses internal mobile device “real estate” that limits what can be placed, not only inside smartphones and tablets, but also more compact wearable devices, all of which are increasingly thinner and lighter.

Additonally, the Cota chipset can be used in stationary technology, such as in smoke detectors or even AA or AAA batteries, to keep them fully charged.

The Cota technology consists of two parts: a charger and a receiver. The internal Cota receivers charge batteries and send out omnidirectional beacon signals. Once the Cota charger receives these beacons, it returns thousands of targeted signals that build pockets of energy at only the precise locations of the beacons’ origins.

“This pinpoint precision targeting of energy safely and efficiently powers all Cota-equipped devices and batteries within its effective radius, even as they move around the room,” Cota said in its marketing material.

Cota claims its technology is “inherently safe.” Its tracking beacons use only about 1/10,000th the signal power of Wi-Fi, which itself is a low-power signal.

Ossia hopes to begin shipping its Cota technology to equipment makers this year.






LG, Huawei Soon To Offer High-end Smartphones

March 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

HTC and Samsung Electronics impressed Mobile World Congress attendees with new high-end smartphones, but they won’t be the only game in town for long: LG Electronics and Huawei Technologies are gearing up to announce new devices next month.

The shortage of new flagship smartphones at the show was a bit of a disappointment. But for those who weren’t entirely convinced by the HTC One M9, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 or the Galaxy S6 edge, more devices are on the way for buyers who aren’t afraid of pricier products.

The most highly anticipated is the successor to the LG G3, which unsurprisingly is expected to be called the G4. LG has so far kept quiet on when the smartphone will be unveiled, but an event is expected to take place in April. To steal some of Samsung’s thunder, the company would do well to at least start posting teasers before April 10, which is when the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge go on sale.

In light of the growing focus on design at Mobile World Congress, it wouldn’t be surprising if LG uses better materials for the G4 than it did for the G3. But don’t necessarily bet on a nice high-end, all-metal design or a metal frame combined with a glass back (which the Galaxy S6 has).

The G3 might be made of plastic but it looked much better than the Galaxy S5. So, LG isn’t under as much pressure as Samsung was to update the looks of its flagship. Also, sticking with plastic allows the company to keep the price down.

The specifications for LG’s new smartphone are the subject of multiple rumors, and include a screen with a 1620 x 2880 pixel resolution. But I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 5.3-inch screen that keeps the G3′s 1440 by 2560 pixel resolution.

That would mean shrinking the screen size from 5.5 to 5.3 inches, which might seem like a strange move, but to me the G3 feels a bit too wide. Also, LG has shown it isn’t averse to the concept: the G Flex2 has a 5.5-inch screen instead of the 6-inch screen on the G Flex.

While LG is quiet on its plans for the G4 launch, Huawei has started to post teasers for an event on April 8. The date likely isn’t a random pick, since the company is expected to present the P8. It also comes before the Samsung ship date.



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.







Apple Watch To Replace Car Keys, Says Cook

March 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Watch will take the place of car keys and its battery will last the whole day, so says Apple Inc’s Chief Executive Tim Cook in an interview with the Telegraph.

The watch is designed to replace car keys and the clumsy, large fobs that are now used in many vehicles, Cook told the newspaper.

Its battery will last the whole day, and will not take as long to charge as an iPhone, the report quoted Cook as saying.

Apple Watch will also work as a credit card through Apple Pay, Cook told the paper, but did not mention how user verification will work with the watch.

The rollout of the watch might pose a challenge for Apple’s stores, which may involve “tweaking the experience in the store,” the Telegraph said, citing Cook’s conversation with the staff at Apple’s Covent Garden store in London.

Last March, Apple unveiled CarPlay, which lets drivers access contacts on their iPhones, make calls or listen to voicemails without taking their hands off the steering wheel.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the iPhone maker is looking at making a self-driving electric car, and is talking to experts at carmakers and automotive suppliers.

In the interview, Cook said that the Apple Watch will operate a special rewards system, track the user’s activity and “be correct to 50 milliseconds”.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

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



Android Malware Fake Shuts Down Phones To Steal Data

February 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Next time you turn switch off your Android mobile phone, you might want to pop the battery out as an extra precaution.

Security vendor AVG has spotted a malicious program that fakes the sequence a user sees when they shut off their phone, giving it freedom to move around on the device and steal data.

When someone presses the power button on a device, a fake dialog box is shown. The malware then mimics the shutdown animation and appears to be off, AVG’s mobile malware research team said in a blog post.

“Although the screen is black, it is still on,” they said. “While the phone is in this state, the malware can make outgoing calls, take pictures and perform many other tasks without notifying the user.”

The malware requires an Android device to be “rooted,” or modified to allow deep access to its software. That may eliminate a lot of Android owners who don’t modify their phones.

But some vendors of Android phones ship their devices with that level of access, potentially making it easier for the malware to get onto a device.

This malware is unlikely to show up in Google’s Play Store, since Google tries to block applications that have malicious functions. But it could be a candidate for one of the many third-party app stores with looser restrictions.