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Will Microsoft Debut A Lumia Business Phone Next Year?

November 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Microsoft surprised the world when its new phone range failed to contain anything to interest business users – now it seems it is prepared to remedy that.

Microsoft promised that its Lumia range would cover the low end, business and enthusiast segments but while the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 650 should cover the low-end segment as well nothing has turned up for business users.

This was odd, given that business users want phones that play nice with their networks, something that Redmond should do much better than Google or Apple.

Microsoft’s CFO Amy Hood told the UBS Global Technology Conference that business versions of the Lumia were coming. She said:

“We launched a Lumia 950 and a 950 XL. They’re premium products, at the premium end of the market, made for Windows fans. And we’ll have a business phone, as well.”

There were no details, but we have been hearing rumours of a Surface phone being sighted on benchmarks. It was thought that his would be a Microsoft flagship, but with the launch of the Lumia 950/950 XL, it is possible that this Surface phone could be aimed at the business user. The word Surface matches nicely with Microsoft’s Surface Pro branding.




Samsung Boots Two-Thirds Of It’s R&D Staff

November 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung Electronics is about to decrease personnel at its Samsung Seoul R&D Campus by as many as two-thirds in order to restructure its business model and operations

A new report from ChosunBiz said that Samsung originally aimed to house around 10,000 personnel on the site. However the majority of the decreases will be applied to Samsung’s Digital Media & Communication (DMC) and Media Solutions Centre (MSC).

The campus will instead house about 3,500 staff who have master and PhD degrees and specialise in software, design and digital media development.

The move is odd as it is coming at a time when Samsung is really desperate for killer innovation to steal the march on the competition. However reading between the lines it looks like it is reducing work in its content creation side.

We are surprised that it is doing anything with its Media Solutions centre. Originally, it was established to operate as a Korean version of the App Store. But the company announced on December 10 last year that it was dissolves the organisation.

At the time it was admitted that the content business has not been as successful as the hardware business. Moreover, the worsening performance of the smartphone business arising from the increasingly saturated market forced the company to speed up the break-up process.



Mobile OS Sailfish Continues To Struggle, Layoffs Loom

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

With Android and iOS controlling most of the mobile operating system market, it’s tough going for alternatives like Sailfish, now in survival mode as its maker, Jolla, moves to lay off a large part of its workers.

The first smartphone with the Linux-based OS shipped at the end of 2013. Adoption of Sailfish has been weak, however, and Jolla is selling only one smartphone model, via the company’s website, for about $303. It’s a Jolla-branded phone, made by a third-party contract manufacturer. A tablet is also available for preorder.

Jolla is restructuring debt in its home country, Finland, after a round of funding fell through. The company announced Friday that it will lay off “a big part” of its staff, without giving many details of future plans. The company did say it would be tailoring the OS to fit the needs of different clients, and that it has several “major and smaller potential clients.” It also said Sailfish is stable and ready for licensing.

For analysts, Jolla’s collapse wasn’t a surprise. In a copycat market, Sailfish offers cool customization features, for example. But it doesn’t have the backing of device makers or carriers, which is crucial for survival.

The China market was a big focus for Jolla, but Xiaomi took the country by storm with end-to-end offerings including OS, user interface and hardware, along with the creation of a developer ecosystem, said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Many alternative mobile OSes like Ubuntu, Firefox, WebOS, Blackberry and others are in the same boat as Sailfish, trying to find a niche in a market ruled by Apple and Google. The biggest competitor to Android and iOS is Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which had just a 1.7 percent market share in mobile handsets, with 5.87 million units shipping during the third quarter this year, according to Gartner.

A Gartner analyst said Windows Phone could find adopters in the enterprise market. But Jolla doesn’t have the resources of Microsoft, of course, and this raises questions about the future of Sailfish.





Facebook Testing Work Chat App For Businesses

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was developing a work-focused version of its social networking tools to try and convert its consumer success into a new stream of revenue from businesses.

On Friday, the company continued that push by quietly launching its new Work Chat app for Android, which lets users message workmates using an interface that’s almost identical to Facebook Messenger. Users can send messages to individuals or groups of co-workers, and include cute stickers to punctuate their point.

Work Chat also lets users place voice calls to colleagues in their network. As with Messenger, those calls use Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection rather than the telephone network, but it should connect coworkers without requiring them to use a shared telephone directory or make international calls.

The app is available for download on the Google Play Store, but people can only log into it if they have a Facebook at Work account. The only way to have one of those is to work for a company that Facebook has allowed into the private testing of its new enterprise-focused tools. According to an article from TechCrunch, 300 companies are testing the enterprise social network, and the company plans to launch it officially by the beginning of next year.

Facebook at Work will be a major entry by the social networking company into the crowded space of business collaboration. It’s going head-to-head with established players like Microsoft’s Yammer and upstarts like Slack.



Google+ Re-designed and Re-focused

November 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google  hasn’t given up on running a social network. The company gave Google+ a redesign focused on people getting together around shared interests.

When Google+ launched in 2011, it was designed as a competitor to Facebook, focused on connecting people with their friends through a series of “circles.” That proved unsuccessful, but people started using the service to discuss things that they’re passionate about, like books and astronomy. Google has built its new design around promoting both its Community groups and its Collections of user-curated posts about specific interests.

Users can opt into the new design (which appears to be rolling out gradually) by signing into the service on the Web and responding when they get a prompt that offers it. Luke Wroblewski, a product director at Google, said in a post to the social network that Google+ apps for iOS and Android will be out in the near future.

The redesign doesn’t have all the features of the old Google+, so people who rely on things like Events will have to stay on the old design (which they can flip back to with the press of a button). It’s not clear whether Google will bring all of the social network’s functionality forward into the new design, but Wroblewski said the company isn’t done developing the product.

All of this comes as Google has been demoting the social network from its previous place at the center of the company’s products. Earlier this year, it brought cloud-based photo editing and storage capabilities that previously were tied to Google+ into Google Photos, a standalone service. Hangouts, the chat system that used to be tied to Google+, now has its own website.



Russia’s Search Giant Yandex Wants EU To Investigate Google’s Android

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Russia’s dominant search site Yandex said it has asked the European Commission to investigate Google’s practices in relation to its Android mobile operating system in the European Union.

The new complaint could strengthen the case against Google, possibly giving enough ammunition to EU antitrust regulators to eventually charge the company with anti-competitive business practices, on top of accusations related to its Google Shopping service.

The formal request was filed in April 2015 and largely mirrors the Russian company’s claims against the U.S. company in a Russian anti-monopoly case that Yandex won.

Russia’s competition watchdog ruled in September that Google had broken the law by requiring pre-installation of its search application on mobile devices running on its Android operating system.

“We think that the Russian finding of abuse of dominance is instructive, and is a conclusion that can readily be adopted in other jurisdictions, including the EU,” Yandex said.

Yandex is one of the few companies to publicly complain about Android.

It joins U.S. tech firm Disconnect, Portuguese app store Aptoide, and lobbying group FairSearch whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and French price comparison site Twenga.

Yandex, which rivals Google in Turkey as well as Russia and several other former Soviet republics, said its business development in Europe would depend, among other factors, on the outcome of the European Commission’s investigation.

“We hope the European Commission … offers their help in restoring fair competition and ensuring equal opportunity to pre-install mobile applications on Android-based devices not only for Google, but also for other developers,” it said.

Yandex is ahead of Google in Russia with a search market share of around 60 percent, but it has been slow expanding abroad – a position it flagged when selling shares in a $1.3 billion initial public offering on Nasdaq in 2011.



Apple Pulling The Plug On Beats Music

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple is dropping the ax on Beats Music on Nov. 30, shortly after launching the beta of an Android app for its Apple Music streaming service.

The company is now encouraging both Android and iOS users of Beats Music to transition to the Apple Music streaming service, which was launched by the company in June.

After the launch of the Apple Music app for Android phones, it has become easier for Apple to do the inevitable – shut down Beats Music, transition Android users and focus on Apple Music.

“All the pros that curated music for you are still crafting more amazing experiences,” wrote executive Dale Bagwell on a Beats support page. “Plus, on Apple Music, you’ll get even better recommendations based on music you already listen to and love, 24/7 global radio with Beats 1, exciting material from your favorite artist, and more.”

Beats Music subscriptions will be cancelled on Nov. 30, but users have the option to move their picks and preferences over to Apple Music, he added.

The company also provided detailed instructions for users moving from Beat Music to Apple Music on the support page. Apple had said earlier it was no longer accepting new subscriptions for Beats Music and recommended to users to move their current Beats subscriptions over to Apple Music.

Apple unveiled in June the subscription music service, which is priced at US$10 a month with a family service also available for up to six family members for $15 per month. The subscription rates vary in some countries.

The service offers a three-month free trial. Unlike some of its rivals, Apple Music doesn’t offer free music supported by advertisements.



Google Open Sources TensorFlow

November 13, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has announced the open-sourcing of its machine learning engine TensorFlow.

Despite sounding like a sanitary product, TensorFlow is in fact behind some of Google’s biggest recent advances, such as the improvements in speech recognition that have allowed Google Now to expand.

Originally developed by the Google Brain team, as a successor to its preview machine learning platform DistBelief, it has been an internal tool up to now, but as the website explains: “TensorFlow is not complete; it is intended to be built upon, improved, and extended.

“We have made an initial release of the source code, and are currently moving our internal development efforts over to use a public repository for the day-to-day changes made by our team at Google.

“We hope to build an active open source community that drives the future of this library, both by providing feedback and by actively contributing to the source code.”

Everything you need is included, from the source code itself, development kits, Apache 2.0 licenced examples, tutorials, and sample use cases.

Earlier this year, a Tensorflow project made the news when Google’s Deepdream showed us what computer’s dream about. It turns out that when you show them Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, they dream about some quite terrifying stuff that takes it to a whole other level.

The Google Research blog explains: “Today we’re proud to announce the open source release of TensorFlow – our second-generation machine learning system, specifically designed to correct these shortcomings.

“TensorFlow is general, flexible, portable, easy-to-use, and completely open source. We added all this while improving upon DistBelief’s speed, scalability, and production readiness – in fact, on some benchmarks, TensorFlow is twice as fast as DistBelief.”

It’s now available in version 2.0, for absolutely no beans whatsoever.


T-Mobile Announces Free ‘Binge On’ Video-streaming Service

November 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

T-Mobile announced that it will begin offering free streaming of wireless video to certain T-Mobile customers for services such as HBO, Hulu, Netflix and 21 others.

The service, called Binge On, will be available starting Sunday at no extra charge to T-Mobile’s Simple Choice customers paying for 3GB of data. In addition, the carrier said it doubled the LTE data caps at every level in Simple Choice at no extra cost.

“T-Mobile is un-leashing entertainment and giving customers exactly what they want,” CEO John Legere declared at an event in Los Angeles that was webcast.

He also said that neither the 24 video-streaming services involved nor T-Mobile customers will pay for the service. Binge On is powered by new technology built into T-Mobile’s network, which optimizes video for mobile screens and minimizes data consumption.

In an online FAQ, T-Mobile said its Binge On video quality “looks great” on a phone. The explanation says the service optimizes video quality for smartphone screens and minimizes buffering and maximizes quality.

Analysts had predicted the free video service would be announced today, but some were skeptical that T-Mobile could afford to offer it without leading to widespread LTE network congestion.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said T-Mobile would be using a compression algorithm that reduces video streams to one-third of their original size. Binge One won’t work with encrypted data, such as that from Google and Facebook, he said.

To be eligible for one line with sufficient data to use Binge On, a user would pay $65 a month. That cost would include $50 for one line that includes 2GB of data, but a customer would need to add 4GB more for $15 a month to get above the 3GB minimum for Binge On.


No More Chrome Updates For Windows XP And Vista

November 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Windows XP will be getting even less secure next year, when Google will discontinue updating Chrome for users of Microsoft’s elderly operating system.

The company just announced that PCs running XP and Vista will be able to keep using Chrome after April 2016, but Google will cease providing updates to its browser, including security-focused patches. That same deal goes for Mac users running OS 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8.

Google said it was turning off the updates because the makers of all five OSs had stopped providing official support for them.

“Such older platforms are missing critical security updates and have a greater potential to be infected by viruses and malware,” Chrome Director of Engineering Mark Pawliger said in a blog post announcing the decision.

Google said earlier this year that it planned to stop supporting old operating systems, and called out XP in particular as a problem. Microsoft’s operating system, while more than a decade old, is still clinging to life on computers in homes and organizations large and small. Microsoft ended support for XP last year, but some organizations (including the U.S. Navy) haven’t completely made the jump yet.

This is also especially bad news for people who want to keep old Macs with PowerPC processors running. Those computers are stuck on OS 10.6.8, because it’s the last version of the OS that Apple put out which is compatible with those processors. That said, people still love their PowerBooks and Power Macs, and this change is likely going to hurt for those folks who want to keep browsing like it’s 2005.

It’s a tough spot to be in, but come April, there won’t be much of a choice for those people who want their old computer to still have a secure version of Chrome. Either they update their hardware, or they get left behind.




Google Mostly Victorious In Browser Tracking Lawsuit

November 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A U.S. appeals court upheld the dismissal of federal claims and let stand two California state law claims accusing Google of invading computer users’ privacy by enabling the placement of “cookies” in their browsers to track their Internet use.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on Tuesday rejected claims in a proposed class action lawsuit that Google violated federal wiretap and computer fraud laws by exploiting loopholes in Apple Inc’s Safari browser and Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer browser.

Four computer users accused the Mountain View, California-based unit of Alphabet Inc of bypassing their cookie blockers, helping advertisers target potential customers.

But in a 60-page decision on behalf of a three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes said the plaintiffs did not show they suffered “damage” or “loss” from the tracking of their computer use.

Fuentes nonetheless said Google’s alleged contravention of cookie blockers it publicly promised to respect could lead a reasonable jury to find it engaged in “egregious” conduct that violated users’ privacy rights under California law.

Google agreed in 2012 and 2013 to pay a combined $39.5 million to settle civil charges by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 37 states and Washington, D.C. that it tracked Safari users’ Internet use without their knowledge. It did not admit wrongdoing.

Jay Barnes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, declined to comment. Google declined to comment.

Tuesday’s decision largely upheld an Oct. 2013 dismissal of the case, including other state law claims, by U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson in Wilmington, Delaware.



Is The Apple Watch Really A Success?

November 10, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The Apple Press is doing its best to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat over the failure of the iWatch to meet the hype.

Today the papers are full of stories claiming that Apple is the “King of the Smartwatch” because it has sold more than its rivals put together. The figure quoted is a speculative seven million .

We are not saying that figure is bad. In fact many smartwatch sellers would only dream of selling that many but it is simply nowhere near what was expected. When Apple announced it was “inventing” the smartwatch the Tame Apple Press confidently predicted 42 million of the things would ship in the first year.

As Apple failed to get the product to market and others popped up analysts started to drop the figures down. At the launch, when it became obvious that the Apple Watch was not shipping with nearly enough functionality, people like an analyst who previously predicted Apple would sell 24 million devices during 2016 has significantly reduced this figure – to 21 million – following the lukewarm reaction. Later, Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves made the predictions in a research note to clients.

He said: ‘Anecdotal evidence suggests Apple Watch demand is slowing quickly’ and predicted sales for 2015 will reach 10.5 million – 500,000 less than his initial estimates.

It can be seen on this basis that seven million is hugely disappointing and it is not surprising that Apple is desperately trying to keep the actual numbers secret.

We estimate that seven million is roughly the same figure of hardcore Apple fanboys who will buy anything the company buys even if they don’t need it. Apparently they are so stupid that they have bought a watch that runs out of battery in 12 hours or have not realized they just need to take their phone out of their pocket to get the same functionality.

Again the Tame Apple Press has another cunning plan to keep people focused on the smartwatch.

It is talking about how more people will flock to the smartwatch when Apple releases all the functionality it promised for the smartwatch the first time.

However they are also ignoring the fact that Apple might equally lose customers because those who saw the first one thought it was complete pants and swore they would never buy another.



Google Seeking Test Pilots For Drone Delivery Service

November 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google is looking test pilots for its Project Wing drone delivery project and Project Titan airborne Internet service.

The jobs, both posted on Google’s website, are additional signs of the rapid pace of research and development into aerial automation going on at the Mountain View, California, company. Google recently said it hopes to start commercial drone delivery operations in 2017.

For Project Wing, the company is looking for an expert remote-controlled aircraft pilot who “will act as chief test pilot that will help the team execute flight tests on custom UAS platforms.”

“We’ve built a prototype to show how such a system can work and are now developing the next generation to be ultra reliable and ready for service,” the job posting says. “We tackle performance, autonomy, costs, security, reliability, and above all, safety.”

U.S. law heavily restricts the type of drone flight that can be conducted by companies. One of the stipulations in all drone flight licenses is that a human operator must remain in control and the drone must be within his or her sight at all times.

Project Titan drones operate at altitudes higher than commercial aircraft and aren’t bound by the same human-operator rules, but Google needs a flight test pilot for that project too.

Candidates should have “extensive experience in flying prototype air vehicles” including unmanned and electric aircraft, and could end up in one of several roles including air vehicle operator, external pilot, observer and chase pilot, the job posting says.

The two job postings also expose a difference in the level of technology and research taking place within the two projects. While the delivery drone project is open to anyone, the Titan project job ad hints at requiring a government security clearance “to access the technical and defense data necessary for this job” and is restricted to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.




AT&T Begins Sales Of BlackBerry’s Android-Based Priv Phone

November 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

AT&T began sales of BlackBerry’s first Android-powered smartphone, a slider called the Priv, on Friday for $250 with a two-year contract, a price that could entice buyers who are reluctant to pay BlackBerry’s own $699 off-contract price.

Pre-orders for the slider smartphone with a 5.4-in. display, started two weeks ago. A BlackBerry spokeswoman declared in an email that pre-orders for the Priv “far surpassed” pre-orders for BlackBerry’s Classic and Passport phones, but she declined to offer any numbers.

While her statement sounds positive for Priv, it might not mean very much. Both earlier smartphones, which run on the BlackBerry OS, were “not tracking anywhere close” to what BlackBerry expected, according to Morgan Stanley analysts in March.

BlackBerry hasn’t broken out sales figures for any of its devices, but the company recently said it generated revenues from shipping just 800,000 phones in the quarter that ended Aug. 29, down from 2.1 million a year earlier.

Its dwindling smartphone sales left BlackBerry with just 0.3% of the total global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to IDC. Presumably,selling an Android phone could help BlackBerry, because Android is now positioned at 83% of the global market.




Microsoft To Block SHA-1 Hashing

November 9, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Software Giant Microsoft has joined Mozilla and will consider blocking the SHA-1 hashing algorithm on Windows to keep the US spooks from using it to spy on users computers.

Redmond had earlier said that Windows would block SHA-1 signed TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificates from January 1, 2017, but is now mulling moving up the date to June.

There have been concerns about the algorithm’s security as researchers have proven that a forged digital certificate that has the same SHA-1 hash as a legitimate one can be created. Users can then be tricked into interacting with a spoofed site in what is called a hash collision.

In October, a team of cryptoanalysts warned that the SHA-1 standard should be withdrawn as the cost of breaking the encryption had dropped faster than expected to US$75,000 to $120,000 in 2015 using freely available cloud computing.

Programme manager for Microsoft Edge Kyle Pflug wrote in his blog that Redmond will coordinate with other browser vendors to evaluate the impact of this timeline based on telemetry and current projections for feasibility of SHA-1 collisions.

Mozilla said in October that in view of recent attacks it was considering a cut-off of July 1, 2016 to start rejecting all SHA-1 SSL certificates, regardless of when they were issued, ahead of an earlier scheduled date of January 1, 2017.