Alexa is the cloud-based system that controls the Amazon Echo, a speaker system launched by Amazon in 2014 that has emerged as a surprise hit. “Alexa” is the name the device responds to when users make requests, such as “turn on radio.”
Amazon and TrackR declined to comment on the size of the investment.
Like Apple Inc’s Siri and Google’s Google Now, Alexa is designed to answer questions or take other actions in response to simple voice queries.
Unlike its rivals, Amazon allows non-Amazon devices to integrate Alexa technology. The investment in TrackR came through Amazon’s $100 million “Alexa Fund,” which invests in and supports technologies that broaden Alexa’s abilities.
Santa Barbara, California-based TrackR uses Bluetooth technology to help track lost items. Users put a small chip on an item, such as a wallet or TV remote, and can order those products to make a sound through their phone so that they can be found.
If a TrackR customer loses an item out of Bluetooth reach, any TrackR user can connect to the device using the company’s network to alert the owner of the lost item.
The Alexa partnership will give the TrackR service a voice response capability and will also integrate in the other direction and enable people to find their lost items via the Echo.
“The ability to bring on more partners and realize that you are building an entire ecosystem – I think that is what was really important for us,” said Chris Herbert, who co-founded TrackR with friend Christian Smith in 2009.
TrackR raised $8.7 million last year in a Series A round led by Foundry Group.
Amazon has made roughly 15 investments so far through the Alexa Fund, including The Orange Chef, which helps connect kitchen prep devices, and Garageio, which makes a connected garage door opener.
The smartphone market has hit a bit of a lull. Sure, they’ve got bigger and faster (that’s what she said) but it’s been hard to get really excited about new phones recently beyond the fact that, well, they’re new.
The iPhone 7 may – or may not – change this, but it’s more likely to be a new design, a slightly faster processor and maybe a new iOS version.
But what if we look further into the future, say 2020 or 2021, and devices like the iPhone 9 or Galaxy S9? What will hit the market then to get excited about? Mind-control text capabilities? Full 360-degree video filming? Bendable screens? Week-long battery life?
Well, let’s start with the battery. Sadly, week-long battery life on a smartphone seems unlikely even by 2020, as Dr Kevin Curran, reader in Computer Science at Ulster University and a senior member of the IEEE, explained to the INQUIRER.
“On average, we only see improvements in capacity of six per cent per annum. So by 2020 we can only really expect a 25 per cent improvement in battery life,” he said.
However, while 25 per cent may sound good, Curran warned that these improvements tend to be offset by the fact the battery has to work harder as devices get more powerful and have higher density pixel displays.
Headlines proclaim major breakthroughs with battery technology, but Curran believes it’s unlikely that battery life will improve significantly, although there is work being done to change this.
“There are promising breakthroughs with regards to lithium-sulphur, supercapacitors, hydrogen fuel cells, solid state batteries and others, but history should tell us to be cautious about any new dramatic claims in having solved the problem of packing energy into a battery,” he said.
OK, so forget battery life. Surely there must be other new and exciting features to look forward to? Well, one technology is thermal imaging.
This was actually unveiled recently on the Cat S60 (pictured below), and Curran believes that other manufacturers will add this to their phones in time.
“This allows for a multitude of use cases, including detecting heat loss around windows and doors, spotting moisture and missing insulation, identifying over-heating electrical appliances and circuitry, and seeing in complete darkness,” he explained.
“This additional sensor allows much better control and depth in the photos you can take,” Curran added.
Meanwhile, analyst house CCS Insight has predicted that wireless charging will be standard by 2020, given that Apple is likely to include this technology in the iPhone 7. That should save scrabbling around for charging points.
Qatar National Bank has confirmed that its systems were hacked but said that the information released online was a combination of data picked up from the attack and from other sources such as social media.
The incident will not have a financial impact on the bank’s customers, whose accounts are secure, the bank said — without providing details of how its systems were hacked, the possible identity of the hackers and what information was harvested.
The announcement Sunday by one of the leading financial institutions in the Middle East follows the posting online last week of leaked documents. The attack targeted only a portion of Qatar-based customers, the bank said, claiming the hack attempted to target the bank’s reputation rather than specifically its customers.
“QNB Group’s Risk Team monitored abnormal activity in our system environment; this was immediately communicated to relevant authorities,” the bank said in a statement. “We also took immediate steps and our systems are fully secure and operational.”
The 1.4GB trove of documents leaked online included both financial information such as customer transaction logs, personal identification numbers and credit card data. But on closer scrutiny the data was found to have folders with detailed profiles on specific individuals, including what appeared to be files on members of the Qatari royal family, employees of media outlet Al Jazeera and people listed as working for the British MI6 and some other intelligence agencies, security firm Trend Micro said on Wednesday.
The attackers used an open-source SQL injection tool to extract all of the customer data they needed, wrote Simon Edwards, cyber security expert at Trend Micro. SQL injection is used against against websites that use SQL (structured query language) to query information from a database server.
The log file suggests that the attack could have started about nine months ago in July last year, Edwards said.
QNB said Tuesday that it would not comment on reports in social media of “an alleged data breach,” but sought to assure all concerned that there was no financial impact on the bank or its clients.
“To ensure we can deliver the integrated search experience designed for Windows 10, Microsoft Edge will be the only browser that will launch when you search from the Cortana box,” said Ryan Gavin, general manager of search marketing, in a post to a Microsoft company blog.
The Cortana search box — at the lower left of the Windows 10 desktop — relies on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
Gavin defended the move by saying that “some software programs circumvent the design of Windows 10 and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana.” When that happens, Gavin said, users get a “compromised experience that is less reliable and predictable.”
While Gavin didn’t name names, Mozilla’s Firefox modified Windows 10 so that when that browser was made the operating system’s default, Firefox’s selected search provider generated results from in-Cortana queries, with the ensuing pages appearing in Firefox, not Edge. Other browsers, such as Google’s Chrome, did not go that far, but third-party extensions available in the Chrome Web Store did.
The changes won’t affect the basic functionality of non-Microsoft browsers, Gavin pledged: Chrome, Firefox, Opera and others will continue to work as before and will still default to their set search providers when queries are made from within those browsers.
But the Cortana search box is now Bing-and-Edge-only territory.
Microsoft has good reason for staking out Cortana as its exclusive turf, and not simply because of the disruption to Cortana’s delivery of personalized results that Gavin mentioned. The Redmond, Wash., company has bet that Windows 10 will generate revenue outside the traditional licensing fees that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) pay.
Not only does Microsoft want to push users toward Edge as much as possible, but it’s expecting new revenue from increased use of Bing, which is tightly integrated with Windows 10. The Cortana-Bing scenarios that Gavin cited — buying concert tickets, clothes and pizzas — presumably produce revenue for Microsoft.
Google’s attempts to safeguard the Android app store — Google Play — are far from perfect, with malicious apps routinely slipping through its review process. Such was the case for multiple phishing applications this year that posed as client apps for popular online payment services.
Researchers from security firm PhishLabs claim that they’ve found 11 such applications since the beginning of 2016 hosted on Google Play, most of them created by the same group of attackers.
The apps are simple, yet effective. They load Web pages containing log-in forms that look like the target companies’ websites. These pages are loaded from domain names registered by the attackers, but because they are loaded inside the apps, users don’t see their actual location.
In some cases attackers registered domain names that are similar to those of the impersonated online payment services, PhishLab Security Threat Analyst Joshua Shilko said in a blog post.
More recently, attackers used domain names similar to those of cryptocurrency companies, suggesting that the cryptocurrency industry is also targeted.
PhishLabs did not name the exact payment card companies and online payment services whose users were targeted by these fake apps. However, most of those companies provide links to their official mobile applications on their websites and users should always use those links instead of manually searching for them on the Play store.
“In one case, a targeted company explicitly states on their website that no mobile application exists for their company and that users should be wary of any mobile application using their brand,” Shilko said.
The danger is that if phishers manage to routinely bypass Google’s review process and upload such apps to the Google Play store, their attacks might extend to other industries in the future.
Another problem is that even when these apps are detected by third-parties and reported, it can take several days for Google to remove them from the app store, leaving a sufficiently large window of opportunity for attackers. It’s not clear how attackers promote these fake apps or if they rely only on users finding them themselves, but in general phishing attacks are most effective during the first several hours after they’re launched.
There more evidence that tablets were never the game-changer that Steve Jobs tried to peddle them as, and were just the keyboardless netbooks we said they were.
IDC siad that for the first quarter of 2016, overall worldwide tablet shipments fell to 39.6 million, a 14.7 percent drop from the same period a year ago, However the only part of the segment which did ok were tablets with keyboards – or as we used to call them, netbooks.
IDC said that the decline of ordinary tablets was partly due to traditional first-quarter slumps but also a complete lack of interest on the part of customers.
Traditional tablets accounted for 87.6 percent of all tablet shipments. But tablets that come with detachable keyboards increased of more than 4.9 million units last quarter. That was a gain of 120 percent from the same period last year and an all-time high for tablets with detachable keyboards.
Tablets are dying because more people are buying big-screened phones as an alternative. You remember Fablets? They were what Steve Jobs claimed would never work because they prefered smaller smartphones or bigger tablets. In fact he was talking rubbish and was trying to keep his keyboardless netbook idea going.
IDC said that the newer tablets don’t offer enough new features to entice people to upgrade. After all tablets were always looking for an app which made them useful, which never arrived.
To counteract the downturn, more manufacturers are turning to tablets with detachable keyboards that can thus serve as laptops – on otherwords returning to the netbooks that the Tablets were said to replace.
“With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables,” IDC senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani said in a statement.
Apple saw its shipments and market share drop but remained in first place. Apple’s latest 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the new 256GB storage option for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro are “healthy additions” to the lineup, IDC said. Samsung also saw its shipments and market share decline. Though the Samsung Galaxy Tab lineup is still popular, its detachable TabPro S is dead in the water thanks to its $900 price tag.
Amazon has found success with its starting-at-$49 Fire, showing that consumers will still buy bargain-priced tablets. Missing from the list was Microsoft in spite of the popularity of its Surface Pro products, which start at $900.
“The Surface line is great. But it’s tough to drive volume in the first quarter. Prices of Surface products are fairly high, but Microsoft is in the top five list for tablets with detachable keyboards. The top five for tablets as a whole is a tougher nut to crack given the large slate volumes compared to detachables.”
It’s an interesting move for a man who in 2014 said artificial intelligence, or A.I., will pose a threat to the human race.
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,” Musk said about a year and a half ago during an MIT symposium. “If I were to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. In all those stories with the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, and he’s sure he can control the demon. It doesn’t work out.”
Today, Musk is moving to help programmers use A.I. and machine learning to build smart robots and smart devices.
“We’re releasing the public beta of OpenAI Gym, a toolkit for developing and comparing reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms,” wrote Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s CTO, and John Schulman, a scientist working with OpenAI, in a blog post . “We originally built OpenAI Gym as a tool to accelerate our own RL research. We hope it will be just as useful for the broader community.”
The OpenAI Gym is meant as a tool for programmers to use to teach their intelligent systems better ways to learn and develop more complex reasoning. In short, it’s meant to make smart systems smarter.
Musk is a co-chair of OpenAI, a $1 billion organization that was unveiled last December as an effort focused on advancing artificial intelligence that will benefit humanity.
While Musk has warned of what he sees as the perils of A.I., it’s also a technology that he needs for his businesses.
The OpenAI Gym is made up of a suite of environments, including simulated robots and Atari games, as well as a site for comparing and reproducing results.
It’s focused on reinforcement learning, a field of machine learning that involves decision-making and motor control.
According to OpenAI, reinforcement learning is an important aspect of building intelligent systems because it encompasses any problem that involves making a sequence of decisions. For instance, it could focus on controlling a robot’s motors so it’s able to run and jump, or enabling a system to make business decisions regarding pricing and inventory management.
Two major challenges for developers working with reinforcement learning are the lack of standard environments and the need for better benchmarks.
Musk’s group is hoping that the OpenAI Gym addresses both of those issues.
Television stations have agreed to sell off 126MHz of premium wireless spectrum to mobile carriers in an ongoing U.S. Federal Communications Commission auction, potentially bringing higher speeds and more reliable networks to customers.
The 126MHz of spectrum was the highest amount anticipated by the FCC in the so-called incentive auction, agency officials said Friday. In most areas of the country, the agency will be able to auction 10 blocks of 10MHz to mobile carriers and other interested bidders.
This low-band spectrum, in the 600MHz band, is highly coveted by mobile carriers because it can cover long distances and penetrate walls and other obstacles. Mobile carriers have pushed for more spectrum as their customers’ network use keeps growing, and the low-band spectrum will help carriers roll out faster 5G service, supporters say.
FCC officials didn’t release the number of TV stations that agreed to give up their spectrum, but they said the number was significant. Participating TV stations can either move their over-the-air signals to other spectrum or go off the air in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds. The auction could raise $60 billion, according to some estimates.
“Robust broadcaster participation is key to the success” of the auction, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Today’s announcement reflects the voluntary decision by many broadcasters that this auction truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The auction will lead to “vast economic and consumer benefits,” Wheeler added.
Mobile trade group CTIA applauded the amount of spectrum that will be available. The trade group is “is encouraged to see so much interest in the FCC’s incentive auction, which will play a critical role in making spectrum available for 4G LTE and 5G technologies,” CTIA president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement.
The reverse-auction phase, in which TV stations will solicit bids for their available spectrum, begins May 31.
TiVo has cloud-based technology for integrating live, recorded, on-demand and Internet television into one user interface, with search, discovery, viewing and recording options from a variety of devices. Its technology has been deployed by operators including Virgin Media and Vodafone Spain.
Rovi announced in March that Sharp’s new Aquos TVs would include its G-Guide electronic programming guide.
The combined company is forecast to have more than $800 million in revenue in the current year. More than 10 million TiVo-served households are expected to be added to the current base of about 18 million homes that use Rovi guides. The new entity will serve nearly 500 service providers worldwide, the companies said.
The deal between Rovi and TiVo, besides creating a large media and entertainment technology company with complementary products and services, will also lead to the setting up of a company with a worldwide portfolio of more than 6,000 issued patents and pending applications worldwide.
The two companies have a strong licensing business and have also sued key players like Comcast for patent infringement in the past. The companies said they have more than $3 billion in combined IP licensing revenue and past damage awards.
The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter and the combined company will use the TiVo name. Tom Carson, CEO of Rovi will be the chief executive of the new company.
After five years, it seems that Apple is back to loving Samsung’s NAND flash memory again.
According to ETNews, Samsung will be back inside the iPhone 7 after five years. While many thought that the reason that Apple pulled Samsung out of the iPhone 6s was pettiness over the trademark battle over who invented the rounded rectangle, it turns out that Apple’s wanted electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding requirements or special coatings on the memory packages.
Apple was looking to individually shield more parts inside its devices so it could dispense with discrete metal shielding components, which could ultimately save on logic board space and allow more room. At the time Samsung’s use of ball grid array (BGA) packaging put it at a disadvantage to competing products that use land grid array (LGA) package contacts, which allow the package to sit flush with the printed circuit board.
Samsung’s existing sputter coat EMI shielding technologies were insufficient for Apple’s performance requirements, becuase of the shielding gaps created by the raised BGA contacts. However new, cheaper spray techniques for ultra-thin coats of metal shielding has changed all that. Also Samsungs 3D V-NAND memories offering up to 256 Gb densities on the market currently.
Samsung is also set to start supplying Apple with OLED panels for future iPhones. All up it means that a big chunk of your iPhone is a Samsung. Still you get what you pay for. Anyway, with the acception of Foxconn, being an Apple supplier is a kiss of death in the long term. Maybe Apple thought it was better to score its revenge on Samsung by making it a partner.
Lenovo owned Motorola has been slapped with a $5m class action lawsuit over allegations of shoddy customer service and not honoring warranty policies.
News of the lawsuit comes via Trusted Reviews, which learned this week that the complaint was filed against Motorola on 21 April in Illinois, accusing the company of “unfair, unscrupulous, immoral and oppressive” business practices.
The lawsuit’s main plaintiff, Douglas Lynch, decided to take legal action after a long-drawn out battle over a Moto 360 repair. He contacted Motorola for a replacement after the backplate of his smartwatch cracked, and was informed that a replacement would take four days to reach him.
The replacement failed to arrive, and Lynch was eventually sent a Moto 360 two months later that was a cheaper model than the one he had purchased.
Lynch isn’t alone in having a bad experience with Motorola. Girard Gibbs LLP, one of the law firms handling the case, told Trusted Reviews that Motorola owes “thousands of people” compensation.
This is evident on Reddit, where pissed off Motorola customers have flocked to tell similar stories.
One Redditor said: ”I have had some of the worst support from them on my Moto G 3rd gen I bought last year.
“I tried to buy an extended warranty plan they supposedly offered, but their website was so jankedy that even after a few escalations over a FEW MONTHS to various higher ups in their support department with no resolution to the problem I finally just gave up and decided to never buy a Motorola phone again.”
Another added: “Wish someone would do the same in the UK as they wouldn’t replace my 6 month old 360 and I ended up having to pay about £120 to get it fixed when it was a hardware problem.”
Esfand Nafisi, an attorney at Girard Gibbs LLP, explained that the actual compensation owed is “likely higher” than the $5m referred to in the original filing, adding: “We want these issues to be resolved for all consumers.”
Motorola said in a statement: “Motorola has a long history of providing exceptional products and services to its customers. We are aware of the lawsuit, and are investigating the claims, which we believe to be without merit.”
The year-over-year downturn in Mac sales was the second straight down quarter, and excepting a brutal 22% drop at the end of 2012, the largest since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007.
Analysts at IDC and Gartner earlier this month pegged the continued contraction of the PC industry at 11.5% and 9.6%, respectively. Both also missed the actual Mac number for the quarter in their forecasts for Apple, overestimating by 11% to 13%: IDC had tapped shipments at 4.5 million, while Gartner said it was 4.6 million.
Apple had been on an extended streak of besting the PC average, with sometimes-impressive gains during the four-years-and-counting slump of the overall market. But the March quarter’s results put an end to the years-long run, which the Cupertino, Calif. company often touted.
Neither CEO Tim Cook or CFO Luca Maestri mentioned the end of the streak in Tuesday’s earnings call with Wall Street.
“It was a challenging quarter for personal computer sales across the industry,” said Maestri, stating the obvious.
Cook said that Mac sales “met our sell-in expectations” and added that he remained optimistic about Apple’s computer business, a sentiment a CEO is duty-bound to share. “We’re confident in our Mac business and our ability to continue to innovate and gain share in that area,” Cook said.
But Mac-generated revenue for the quarter was $5.1 billion, 9% lower than the same period in 2015, and the smallest amount recorded for the line in almost three years.
Macs accounted for 10.1% of Apple’s total revenue of $50.1 billion, but the computer group slipped to No. 3 on the company’s list, behind — by a country mile — the iPhone (accounting for 65% of all revenue) and, for the first time, the relatively new Services category, which contributed 11.8% of all incoming dollars.
Intel this week unveiled plans to make an upgraded USB Type-C connector that would enable audio input and output, potentially replacing the long-standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack used in today’s electronic devices.
Intel, which revealed its plans during a lecture at its Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in Shenzhen, China, also believes USB Type-C would simplify connections of multi-channel audio equipment to various devices.
Unlike the traditional 3.5mm analogue audio jack, a USB Type-C interface could charge a device in addition to transmitting sound and data. For example, it could transfer health and fitness data from a mobile device.
The USB Type-C connectors are reversible, so orientation isn’t an issue when plugging something into a device. The USB 3.1 Gen1 specification offers up to 5Gbps of data throughput; the Gen2 specification offers up to 10Gbps.
USB Type-C cables and connectors would replace the last analog receptacles on computers and mobile devices. Intel’s strategy was first reported by AnandTech.
In Intel’s presentation, it described USB C-Type connectors as being able to support both analog and digital musical content. But the upgraded connector would “promote” a changeover from analog to digital as users would see “improved digital headset features.”
A USB Type-C connector that supports audio feeds would also enable new form-factors, improve user experience and “provide a future path for USB technologies,” Intel said in the presentation.
Nintendo has confirmed that its next-gen console, the Nintendo NX, will launch in March 2017.
Causing many to screw up their Christmas lists, the company told shareholders during its earnings call on Tuesday: “For our dedicated video game platform business, Nintendo is currently developing a gaming platform codenamed ‘NX’ with a brand-new concept. NX will be launched in March 2017 globally.”
Probably also causing some to cancel a trip to Los Angeles, Nintendo said that the NX will not be demonstrated at the upcoming E3 video games conference in June, despite speculation that Sony plans to show off its so-called PlayStation 4.5 console.
Nintendo’s keynote at the games show will focus instead on the next Legend of Zelda game, which will launch simultaneously on the Wii U and Nintendo NX in 2017. Rumour has it that Smash Bros 4, Splatoon and Super Mario Maker are all set to receive an NX makeover too.
A launch is now less than a year away, but we still don’t know much about the Nintendo NX, which Nintendo confirmed this week is just a codename for the incoming console. However, rumour claims that it will arrive as a hybrid between a home console and a mobile games console to sit alongside the New Nintendo 3DS.
Nintendo president and CEO Tatsumi Kimishima reiterated in December last year that the company is “not building the next version of Wii or Wii U” and that the device will be something “unique and different”.
News of the Nintendo NX’s launch date no doubt came as the firm looked to play down the fact that its profits fell 61 per cent year over year. Worked, didn’t it?
The company announced the first technical preview of Skype for Business for Mac on Tuesday, giving users of Apple computers an easy way to connect to meetings they have scheduled through Microsoft’s professional audio and videoconferencing software.
When users sign into the app, they’ll see their Skype for Business meetings for the current day and the following one, and will be able to easily join in with the other people invited.
Skype for Business is the successor to the company’s venerable Lync product, which is still available for Mac during this transition.
The final release of the Mac version of Skype for Business is slated for the third quarter. Between now and then, Microsoft has two additional beta phases planned for the app. The second beta phase will include instant messaging, presence indicators and access to a user’s contacts.
In the third beta phase, Microsoft will bring along support for telephony and other advanced features supported by other versions of the product. That’s important for businesses that have paid for advanced Skype for Business features like the ability to place phone calls from the application over a traditional phone line.
This beta push is part of Microsoft’s ongoing strategy to extend the reach of its products to a wide variety of platforms, including the Mac.