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Facebook Debuts ‘Rooms’ App For Chats

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is going old school, with a stand-alone app for discussion boards geared towards allowin users to talk about shared interests without having to use their real names.

The company released Rooms on Thursday, its answer to the craze around posting and sharing anonymously. People can use any name they want and don’t need a Facebook account. The app contains rooms geared around various topics, all of which require an invite link to enter. Providing an email address is optional, for the purposes of having accessed rooms restored if the user deletes the app.

The app is only available on iOS. Plans for other platforms like Android or Windows Phone were not disclosed.

The app is not just about anonymity. With it, Facebook hopes to provide a discussion board-type platform where users can chat about shared interests outside of their usual social circles. It’s a concept that has been super popular since, oh, the web’s been around.

“One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.

“From unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies, to personal finance and health-related issues — you can celebrate the sides of yourself that you don’t always show to your friends,” the company said.

But the app’s ability to succeed likely depends on the number and diversity of rooms created by its users, and whether the app’s focus on visuals and photos appeals to them. There’s also no desktop version.

The app was developed as part of Facebook’s Creative Labs project, which has also released stand-alone apps like Slingshot and Paper.

Facebook stresses that Rooms will let users create a unique identity separate from their Facebook account. Your name can be “Wonder Woman” in the app, Facebook said.

I tried out the app, and was even able to use “Mark Zuckerberg” as my name. (A short “hello” post of mine then immediately generated several “high fives.”)

Facebook, however, may share information about Room users within the companies and services operated by Facebook, which would include Facebook itself and other apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the Rooms terms of service.

 

 

Google Continues Artificial Intelligence Expansion, Partners With Oxford U.

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Inc is growing its artificial intelligence area, hiring more than half a dozen leading academics and experts in the field and announcing a partnership with Oxford University to “accelerate” its efforts.

Google will make a “substantial contribution” to establish a research partnership with Oxford’s computer science and engineering departments, the company said on Thursday regarding its work to develop the intelligence of machines and software, often to emulate human-like intelligence.

Google did not provide any financial details about the partnership, saying only in a post on its blog that it will include a program of student internships and a series of joint lectures and workshops “to share knowledge and expertise.”

Google, which is based in Mountain View, California, is building up its artificial intelligence capabilities as it strives to maintain its dominance in the Internet search market and to develop new products such as robotics and self-driving cars. In January Google acquired artificial intelligence company Deep Mind for $400 million according to media reports.

The new hires will be joining Google’s Deep Mind team, including three artificial intelligence experts whose work has focused on improving computer visual recognition systems. Among that team is Oxford Professor Andrew Zisserman, a three-time winner of the Marr Prize for computer vision.

The four founders of Dark Blue Labs will also be joining Google where they will be will be leading efforts to help machines “better understand what users are saying to them.”

Google said that three of the professors will hold joint appointments at Oxford, continuing to work part time at the university.

 

Pandora’s Listeners Decline

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Pandora Media Inc, owners of the leading Internet radio service, reported a lower-than-expected increase in listeners in the third quarter, sending the company’s shares down 6 percent in extended trading on Thursday.

Pandora said it had 76.5 million active listeners as of Sept. 30, an increase of 5.2 percent from a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected 76.7 million, according to market research firm StreetAccount.

Total listener hours rose to 4.99 billion from 3.99 billion, but again fell short of the average estimate of 5.02 billion.

Pandora’s profit and revenue both beat market expectations, however, as more people listened to streamed music on their mobile phones.

Mobile revenue increased 52 percent to $188 million, while local advertising revenue rose 118 percent to $41.8 million.

Despite its huge user base, Pandora faces stiff competition from Spotify, Apple Inc’s Beats online streaming service, Google Inc, and Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing music streaming business.

 

 

U.S. Government Investigating Medical Device Hacking Threats

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking into about two dozen cases of suspected cybersecurity flaws in medical devices and hospital equipment that officials believe could be exploited by hackers, a senior official at the agency told Reuters.

The products under review by the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT, include an infusion pump from Hospira Inc and implantable heart devices from Medtronic Inc and St Jude Medical Inc, according to other people familiar with the cases, who asked not to be identified because the probes are confidential.

These people said they do not know of any instances of hackers attacking patients through these devices, so the cyber threat should not be overstated. Still, the agency is concerned that malicious actors may try to gain control of the devices remotely and create problems, such as instructing an infusion pump to overdose a patient with drugs, or forcing a heart implant to deliver a deadly jolt of electricity, the sources said.

The senior DHS official said the agency is working with manufacturers to identify and repair software coding bugs and other vulnerabilities that hackers can potentially use to expose confidential data or attack hospital equipment. He declined to name the companies.

“These are the things that shows like ‘Homeland’ are built from,” said the official, referring to the U.S. television spy drama in which the fictional vice president of the United States is killed by a cyber attack on his pacemaker.

“It isn’t out of the realm of the possible to cause severe injury or death,” said the official, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of his work.

Hospira, Medtronic and St Jude Medical declined to comment on the DHS investigations. All three companies said they take cybersecurity seriously and have made changes to improve product safety, but declined to give details.

 

 

Google Launches Two-Factor Security Key

October 23, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has added account authentication via USB stick to its two-step verification process, offering users a more convenient way to sign in to their accounts in a secure manner.

As detailed in a Google security blog post, a compatible USB Security Key can now be used to log-in to Google accounts with two-step authentication.

The addition of the USB Security Key, Google claims, ensures that the log-in website is an actual Google website and not a fake.

Two-step authentication normally asks the user to enter a secret code sent to their phone in addition to entering their password online.

This process prevents potential attackers using passwords that might have been stolen or guessed in order to impersonate account holders, as presumably they won’t have the user’s phone to enter the code.

The USB Security Key adds another layer of protection to the process. Instead of entering a secret code, the user can simply insert their USB Security Key in their computer and tap when prompted in Google’s Chrome web browser.

Google said: “When you sign into your Google Account using Chrome and Security Key, you can be sure that the cryptographic signature cannot be phished.”

The USB Security Key implements the open Universal 2nd Factor protocol promoted by the FIDO Alliance, which means it can be used by other web browsers in addition to Chrome and other websites in addition to Google’s.

Google has recently enhanced the level of security it provides, and the extension of two-step authentication to include a physical security key is simply another step.

Courtesy-TheInq

Microsoft Releases First Windows 10 Update

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has issued the first update for Windows 10 Technical Preview, launching its fast-paced release strategy.

The update, designated as Build 9860, followed the Oct. 1 release of the preview, which Microsoft has offered businesses and technology enthusiasts to give potential customers a look at the work in progress and collect feedback during development.

The Oct. 1 version of Windows 10 was labeled Build 9841.

“Sometimes [updates] will be more frequent and sometimes there will be longer gaps, but they will always be chock full of changes and improvements, as well as some bugs and things that are not quite done,” wrote Gabe Aul, of Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group on a company blog.

Aul said that Build 9860 had been handed to his group only a week ago, and repeated earlier warnings by other Microsoft managers that the preview remains incomplete and unpolished.

Although rapid iterations are nothing new to preview or beta software, Microsoft plans to accelerate the delivery of updates — ones that will include not only security patches and performance fixes, but also new features — once Windows 10 officially ships in mid-2015.

Updates will ship as often as monthly for consumers, while businesses will be able to choose between that and two additional tempos that Gartner has tagged as “near-consumer speed” and “long-term servicing.” The former will roll up the “consumer-speed” updates every four to six months to versions that fast-acting enterprises will test and deploy, while the latter will remain feature- and UI-static for as long as two to three years, receiving only security updates.

Other analysts have contended that Microsoft is pushing frequent updates to Windows 10 Technical Preview as much to test the process — both the back-end Windows Update service and the Windows 10 clients’ ability to absorb the changes and smoothly install the updates — as for the company’s stated reasons of gathering feedback and offering users an early look.

“Changes in Windows Update were put in place to make this possible,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in an interview earlier this month. “The biggest question for Microsoft is how the updating process works with the Technical Preview.”

In the preview, customers have an update frequently choice of only “Fast” or “Slow.”

Build 9860 will be delivered automatically to most PCs running Windows 10 within days, but users can manually initiate the process by going to “PC Settings,” choosing “Update and recovery” and then “Preview builds,” and finally clicking the “Check Now” button.

Aul said that the download would weigh in at between 2GB and 2.7GB, and that the reboot, the reconstruction of the OS’s search index, and the syncing of OneDrive would take “longer than normal” and “some time.”

Microsoft will ship a second consumer-oriented preview in early 2015, but it’s virtually certain that the firm will provide more-or-less-monthly updates to the Technical Preview between now and then.

 

 

 

Mobile Phone Growth In U.S. Continues To Slow Down

October 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

The overall mobile phone market in the U.S. will fall off this year by 1% even as many emerging countries around the world see robust growth.

After several years of accelerated growth, the U.S. market is feeling the effects of market saturation and smartphone ownership that’s lasting longer than once expected, Ramon Llamas, an analyst IDC, said in an updated forecast.

IDC’s five-year forecast issued for October significantly undercuts its April forecast, dropping expectations for U.S. smartphone and feature phone shipments by manufacturers to retailers. IDC now expects 1.7 million fewer phones shipped in 2104 than it had expected in April; it predicts 174 million phones will ship this year, with that figure declining gradually to 169 million in 2018.

Smartphone shipments alone will grow just slightly through 2018 in the U.S., but about 5% less than earlier expected, rising from 150 million in 2014 to 160.5 million in 2018. Feature phones shipments have dropped off faster than earlier expected.

Llamas said the signs of decline started in late 2011, prompting carriers in the past year to try to get customers to replace phones more often with easy trade-in plans and relaxed contracts.

It’s too soon to say what effect the early trade-in plans will have on the market, Llamas said. The life of an average smartphone still lasts about two years, but that could be changing.

Paying on installment plans “could really change the market,” Llamas said in an interview. “But if people pay off their devices and then realize they don’t have to pay the carrier as much [at the end of the payoff period] and only pay for wireless service, they might just hold onto their phones. I think people will hold onto their phones as long as they can after they are paid off. If this plays out and they hold on and don’t update, we’ll see flattening of sales volumes year after year, or even declines, all in the name of saving money.”

Realizing what’s happening in the U.S. and among other major economies, both Apple and Samsung have concentrated heavily on selling their new smartphones in China and other areas where smartphone sales are still strong.

 

 

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Goes WiGi

October 22, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The WiGig standard has been around since 2009, but we haven’t really seen it hitting that many retail devices. Back at IDF 2014, Intel demonstrated WiGig 802.11ad video, peripherals, 4K video transfer and it promised that Skylake based laptops will come out of the box with the technology.

WiGig will let you transfer up to 7Gbpps of audio, video or data via 2.4, 5 or 6GHz bands and is as fast as eight-antenna 802.11ac and nearly 50 times faster than highest 802.11n rate. It is backward compatible with WiFi standards, but due to its high frequency it is limited to short distances, usually up to 10 meters, cannot really penetrate walls but it can propagate by reflecting off of walls, ceilings or objects using beam forming.

Now Qualcomm showcased this technology for the first time and promised it inside Snapdragon 810 based devices. Qualcomm demonstrated peer-to-peer connection and transfer of 4K video between two 20nm Snapdragon 810 based tablets. One of the tablets was the sync side and it was connected directly to a 4K TV and it was clear that you could play a content from one tablet and sync it to the second one.

WiGig’s 7Gbps translates to 875MB per second in the best case scenario. The Qualcomm demo shows a Plutonium MSM8994 based tablet hitting up to 187MB a second (1.5 Gbit per second) available for data transfer, with 4K multi-device streaming on the side. WiGig can possibly get to external storage, enabling faster NAS systems, future peripherals such as keyboard and mouse and on a longer run it can completely eliminate the necessity for docking stations. It will take some time but this is the grand idea.

It remains to be seen when we will be able to buy first Snapdragon 810 device with 802.11ad WiGig abilities. Qualcomm mentioned 2015 a number of times, but there’s nothing more specific than that. A potential problem for this standard might be the speed of flash storage that is used in tablets and phones today. According to Androbench, the HTC One M8 can sequentially read 92.29 MB/s, sequentially write only 17 MB/s, while Nvidia’s Shield tablet can sequentially read 67.75 MB/s, and write only 14.09 MB/s.

The performance gets even less impressive with smaller files, but with numbers we are getting from latest 2014 devices, the flash has to increase speed up to 10 times in order to be ready to write files at 150MB. For theoretical maximum of ridiculously fast 875 MB/s we need about 50 times faster memory that the 14-17MB/s write speed available in the current generation of high end mobile devices.

Courtesy-Fud

Amazon, Simon & Schuster Sign Deal Over E-books

October 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Online book retailer Amazon.com Inc revealed that it has signed a multi-year deal with Simon & Schuster Inc, the second Big-Five book publisher, on the future price of e-books.

Amazon, which had been in discussions with Simon & Schuster since July over pricing, confirmed the deal first reported by the Business Insider news blog that the two had reached an agreement.

Amazon had been locked in a months-long standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group, the fourth-largest U.S. book publisher owned by France’s Lagardere, over digital book pricing. That has led to numerous issues for authors.

Industry experts had expected other publishers eventually to be drawn into negotiations as well, as the Internet retailer tries to set new benchmarks for the e-book market.

Negotiations with Simon & Schuster took about three weeks and closed two months before Amazon’s contract expired, according to Business Insider.

Simon & Schuster made its original offer and an agreement was reached after a few changes by Amazon, the source told Business Insider.

 

 

Twitter To Allow Users To Stream Music

October 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc  will allow users to play podcasts, music and other audio clips direct from their timelines, or message feeds, by using a  new feature designed in partnership with Berlin-based audio-streaming service SoundCloud.

The online messaging service introduced what it dubbed “Audio Card,” through which users can listen to a variety of content whilst browsing their timelines.

For starters, Twitter has promised audio from SoundCloud’s partners, which include such diverse sources as NASA, the Washington Post, CNN, David Guetta, Coldplay and Warner Music.

But it’s trying to snag more content partners in future, Twitter said in a recent blog posting.

Twitter didn’t say how Audio Card might evolve, except to stress that it offers musicians a chance to post exclusive clips.

“Many more musical artists and creators will be able to share exclusive, in-the-moment audio to millions of listeners on Twitter,” the company added.

Twitter’s new feature comes after rivals from Apple Inc to Google Inc have jumped into the business of music-streaming, considered the fastest-growing segment of a music market dominated by iTunes.

Twitter had reportedly been in discussions to acquire audio-sharing website SoundCloud, which has been called the Youtube of music, as far back as June.

 

IBM Launches BlueMix For The IoT

October 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM has announced its approach to marketing Bluemix cloud services for the Internet of Things (IoT) with its IBM Internet of Things Foundation service based on its Smarter Planet initiative.

The firm claims that its IBM Internet of Things Foundation service “makes it possible for a developer to quickly and easily extend an internet-connected device such as a sensor or controller into the [IBM Bluemix] cloud”, and then “build an application [for] the device to collect the data and send real-time insights back to the developer’s business”.

IBM promotes its Bluemix cloud services as an open standards cloud platform for building, managing and running all types of applications for the web, mobile, big data and smart devices.

Big Blue says its Internet of Things Foundation service “delivers rapid access to, and provides valuable insights from, IoT device data coming from billions of internet-connected sensors and controllers”.

The firm cited IDC estimates that there are already nine billion IoT devices in the world, and that there will be as many as 28 billion IoT devices by 2020.

IBM foresees that by providing IoT devices connectivity in cloud services, “equipment and asset manufacturers can use IoT to provide remote service and monitoring to residential and commercial customers, oil and gas companies can remotely monitor and provide predictive maintenance to critical equipment, and logistics companies can track and monitor the condition of goods in transit”, as just some of the industrial, consumer services and financial applications of IoT-enabled systems.

“Think of the IoT Foundation as an extremely fast on-ramp to the cloud for the millions of intelligent IoT devices that are now being shipped, and the billions already internet connected,” said IBM Internet of Things VP John R. Thompson.

IBM said it plans to enlist partners for its IoT efforts, which it expects will include ARM, B&B Electronics, Elecsys, Intel, Multi-Tech Systems and Texas Instruments. Along with these partners, it plans to develop a set of certified instructions, or “recipes” for connecting IoT devices, sensors and gateways.

IBM Bluemix cloud services are already available for developers worldwide, and the IBM Internet of Things Foundation will be available from 21 October. You will need an IBM account to participate, of course.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

MasterCard Testing A New Card With Fingerprint Reader

October 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

MasterCard is trying out a contactless payment card with a built-in fingerprint reader that can authorize high-value payments without requiring the user to enter a PIN.

The credit-card company showed a prototype of the card in London on Friday along with Zwipe, the Norwegian company that developed the fingerprint recognition technology.

The contactless payment card has an integrated fingerprint sensor and a secure data store for the cardholder’s biometric data, which is held only on the card and not in an external database, the companies said.

The card also has an EMV chip, used in European payment cards instead of a magnetic stripe to increase payment security, and a MasterCard application to allow contactless payments.

The prototype shown Friday is thicker than regular payment cards to accommodate a battery. Zwipe said it plans to eliminate the battery by harvesting energy from contactless payment terminals and is working on a new model for release in 2015 that will be as thin as standard cards.

Thanks to its fingerprint authentication, the Zwipe card has no limit on contactless payments, said a company spokesman. Other contactless cards can only be used for payments of around €20 or €25, and some must be placed in a reader and a PIN entered once the transaction reaches a certain threshold.

Norwegian bank Sparebanken DIN has already tested the Zwipe card, and plans to offer biometric authentication and contactless communication for all its cards, the bank has said.

MasterCard wants cardholders to be able to identify themselves without having to use passwords or PINs. Biometric authentication can help with that, but achieving simplicity of use in a secure way is a challenge, it said.

 

Will TSMC’s FinFet Chips Show Up In Early 2015?

October 20, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

TSMC has announced that it will begin volume production of 16nm FinFET products in the second half of 2015, in late Q2 or early Q3.

For consumers, this means products based on TSMC 16nm FinFET silicon should appear in late 2015 and early 2016. The first TSMC 16nm FinFET product was announced a few weeks ago.

TSMC executive CC Wei said sales of 16nm FinFET products should account for 7-9% of the foundry’s total revenue in Q4 2015. The company already has more than 60 clients lined up for the new process and it expects 16nm FinFET to be its fastest growing process ever.

Although TSMC is not talking about the actual clients, we already know the roster looks like the who’s who of tech, with Qualcomm, AMD, Nvidia and Apple on board.

This also means the 20nm node will have a limited shelf life. The first 20nm products are rolling out as we speak, but the transition is slow and if TSMC sticks to its schedule, 20nm will be its top node for roughly a year, giving it much less time on top than earlier 28nm and 40nm nodes.

The road to 10nm

TSMC’s 16nm FinFET, or 16FinFET, is just part of the story. The company hopes to tape out the first 10nm products in 2015, but there is no clear timeframe yet.

Volume production of 10nm products is slated for 2016, most likely late 2016. As transitions speed up, TSMC capex will go up. The company expects to invest more than $10bn in 2015, up from $9.6bn this year.

TSMC expects global smartphone shipments to reach 1.5bn units next year, up 19 percent year-on-year. Needless to say, TSMC silicon will power the majority of them.

Courtesy-Fud

FCC To Explore Next-Generation Wireless Networks

October 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, on Friday, stated that U.S. regulators will look “to infinity and beyond” to harness new technology that can help build a new generation of mobile wireless connections.

The FCC on Friday voted unanimously to open a so-called “notice of inquiry” into what it and the industry can do to turn a new swath of very high-frequency airwaves, previously deemed unusable for mobile networks, into mobile-friendly frequencies.

The FCC’s examination would serve as a regulatory backdrop for research into the next generation of wireless technology, sometimes referred to as 5G and which may allow wireless connections to carry a thousand times more traffic.

“Today we’re stepping in front of the power curve,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Friday at the meeting.

In question are frequencies above 24 gigahertz (GHz), sometimes called millimeter waves, that have previously been deemed technically unweildy for mobile connections, though have the potential to carry large amounts of data and give the promise of lightning-fast speeds.

Millimeter waves work best over short distances and have required a direct line-of-sight connection to a receiver. They are now largely used for point-to-point microwave connections.

The FCC said it will study what technologies could help get around the technological and practical obstacles and what kind of regulatory regime could help a variety of technologies to flourish on those airwaves, including the potential for services other than mobile.

The U.S. wireless industry continues to work on deploying the 4G connections, though some equipment manufacturers, such as Samsung are already testing data transmission on the higher frequencies.

 

 

Tablet Sales Growth Dropped Drastically

October 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The news about tablet sales isn’t good.

Gartner and IDC both recently dramatically lowered their tablet shipment and sales estimates for 2014 and coming years, citing primarily the longer-than-expected time customers keep their existing tablets. (That phenomenon is called the “refresh rate.”)

Gartner said it had originally expected 13% tablet sales growth for the year globally; it has now lowered that growth rate to 11%. IDC’s forecast change was even more dire: In June, it predicted shipment growth this year would be 12.1%, but in September it cut that number to 6.5%.

In the U.S., things are worse, because more than half of households have a tablet and may hold onto it for more than three years, well beyond analysts’ earlier expectations.

IDC said in its latest update that tablet growth in the U.S. this year will be just 1.5%, and will slow to 0.4% in 2015. After that, it expects negative growth through 2018. Adding in 2-in-1 devices, such as a Surface Pro with a keyboard, the situation in the U.S. improves, although overall growth for both tablets and 2-in-1′s will still only reach 3.8% in 2014, and just 0.4% by 2018, IDC said.

“Tablet penetration is high in the U.S. — over half of all households have at least one — which leads to slow growth…,” Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner, said in an interview. “A smartphone is a must-have item, but a tablet is not. You can do the same things on a laptop as you do with a tablet, and these are all inter-related.”

Tablets are a “nice-to-have and not a must-have, because phones and PCs are enough to get by,” added Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel.

In a recent Kantar survey of 20,000 potential tablet buyers, only 13% said they definitely or probably would buy a tablet in the next year, while 54% said they would not, Milanesi said. Of those planning not to buy a tablet, 72% said they were happy with their current PC.

At IDC, analyst Tom Mainelli reported that the first half of 2014 saw tablet growth slow to 5.8% (from a growth rate of 88% in the first half of 2013). Mainelli said the meteoric pace of past years has slowed dramatically due to long device refresh cycles and pressure from sales of large phones, including the new iPhone 6 Plus. That phone has a 5.5-in. display, which is close to some smaller tablets with 7-in. displays.