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Qualcomm Introduces New LTE Platform For Wearables

February 12, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Wearables today, by necessity, are mostly tethered to smartwatches. Qualcomm wants to change that by bringing LTE connectivity to wearables with its new Snapdragon Wear platform.

With the Wear platform, Qualcomm wants to drive the development of sleek wearables like smartwatches, smartbands and smartglasses that offer long battery life. With Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and LTE, Qualcomm is enabling more ways for wearables to connect and transfer data over the Internet, other than using the smartphone as an interface.

At the core of the new wearable platform, available now, is the Wear 2100 chip to which an LTE module can be attached. It is the first in a new family of chips the company will release for wearables.

LG Electronics said it would launch smartwatches and other wearables with the Wear 2100 chip by year end. LG last year announced the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, but scrapped the product due to hardware issues. That product could be launched with the Wear 2100 this year.

There are already wearables with cellular connectivity, but most have 2G/3G connectivity. LTE modems tend to be power hungry, and using the 2G/3G network is a more power-efficient way to transfer data using a cellular connection.

But Qualcomm over time has reduced the size of its LTE modems while making them more power efficient. The chip maker is now confident it can pack an LTE modem into a wearable like a smartwatch without hurting battery life.

Around 65 smartwatches with Android Wear already use Qualcomm chips. The Qualcomm Wear platform will also include software tools and reference designs for customers to develop devices.

The Wear 2100 chip is a smaller version of the Snapdragon 400 chip, which is currently used in smartphones. It is also more power-efficient, which could allow for longer battery life.

The chip has a sensor hub and algorithms so it can process data on the device before it is sent to the cloud. The on-board intelligence could help limit the amount of data sent over a cellular network, which could preserve battery life in a wearable.

Qualcomm is following the path of Intel and MIPS, which are offering developer boards for wearables. Intel’s Edison and Curie modules have been used in smartwatches, fabrics, helmets and other wearables, while MIPS offers the small Creator boards for enthusiasts to make wearables at homes.

 

 

Regulators Deem Google Car’s Computer As A Legal ‘Driver’

February 11, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. vehicle safety regulators have stated the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car may be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, of its decision in a previously unreported Feb. 4 letter to the company posted on the agency’s website this week.

Google’s self-driving car unit on Nov. 12 submitted a proposed design for a self-driving car that has “no need for a human driver,” the letter to Google from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said.

“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” NHTSA’s letter said.

“We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.”

Major automakers and technology companies such as Google are racing to develop and sell vehicles that can drive themselves at least part of the time.

All participants in the autonomous driving race complain that state and federal safety rules are impeding testing and eventual deployment of such vehicles. California has proposed draft rules requiring steering wheels and a licensed driver in all self-driving cars.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst for the Kelley Blue Book automotive research firm, said there were still significant legal questions surrounding autonomous vehicles.

But if “NHTSA is prepared to name artificial intelligence as a viable alternative to human-controlled vehicles, it could substantially streamline the process of putting autonomous vehicles on the road,” he said.

If the car’s computer is the driver for legal purposes, then it clears the way for Google or automakers to design vehicle systems that communicate directly with the vehicle’s artificial pilot.

 

 

 

Edge Continues To Weaken Microsoft’s Browser Standing

February 9, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

The inability of Microsoft’s Edge to gain new users from the Windows 10 operating system has contributed to the company’s overall decline in browser share, analysis of recently-published data shows.

According to several metrics sources, Edge’s share of the global Windows 10user base was significantly lower in January than was Internet Explorer’s (IE) share of all Windows users, signaling that Microsoft has not been able to maintain the historical — or even current — percentages of Windows customers on its newest browser.

Last month, Edge’s share of all Windows 10 users was 26% in U.S.-based analytics firm Net Applications’ estimate. That was a decrease of two percentage points from December, and 10 points lower than in September.

In comparison, Net Applications’ IE-only share of all Windows users was a much more substantial 48%, or nearly double that of Edge on Windows 10. In other words, almost half of all Windows users ran a version of IE last month, while just over one-fourth of Windows 10 users ran Edge.

Because Edge works only on Windows 10, and IE only on Windows, it’s relatively easy to calculate the percentages. That’s not the case with other browsers, including Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox, which run on multiple editions of Windows and on rival operating systems, such as Apple’s OS X.

Other measurement sources portrayed the same situation: Edge has not held up its side of the bargain for Microsoft.

Irish vendor StatCounter, for example, pegged January’s Edge global share of Windows 10 at 13%, while IE’s share of all Windows was a more substantial 19%.

A third source, the Digital Analytics Program (DAP), tagged Edge’s share of Windows 10 for January at 24%, up one point from December. According to DAP, the IE-only share of all Windows traffic was 40%.

 

 

 

BlackBerry Eliminates 200 Jobs, Trims Costs

February 9, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

BlackBerry Ltd  plans to cut 200 jobs at its hometown headquarters in Ontario and in Florida in order to trim costs, as the smartphone maker moves to turn around its fortunes and put more emphasis on its enterprise software business.

“As BlackBerry continues to execute its turnaround plan, we remain focused on driving efficiencies across our global workforce,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The company declined to comment on what percentage of its workforce is affected by the cuts. According to a filing, the company had 6,225 employees as of Feb. 28, 2015.

The layoffs will affect 75 manufacturing jobs in Sunrise, Florida, a state government website showed.

The company also confirmed that Gary Klassen is one of the people who has departed in the latest round of cuts. Klassen was one of its longest-tenured employees and the inventor of its BBM messaging service.

One source familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said many of the Canadian cuts were people working on its BB10 handset software at its Waterloo, Ontario, headquarters.

A spokeswoman for BlackBerry declined to comment on which divisions will be affected by the cuts, but said the company stood by its commitment to release further updates on its BB10 software.

Last September, the company laid off roughly 200 staff, who had worked on the hardware and design of the BB10 devices. The company began releasing the BB10-based devices in January 2013, but despite positive reviews the smartphones failed to win back market share from Apple Inc’s iPhone, and the slew of Android-based devices that dominate the global market.

In a final attempt to revive its handset business BlackBerry released its first Android-based device in November. It has stated it plans to release at least one more Android-based phone this year.

BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen has said he will make a decision on whether the company’s handset business is viable in the financial year beginning in late February.

 

 

 

Will ARM Servers Get Google Support?

February 8, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google is set to announce that it is working with Qualcomm to design servers based on ARM processors, in a move which could give the British chip designer some street cred in the data centre market.

Google is apparently going public with its backing for Qualcomm’s chips at an investor meeting next week. It is saying that if the chips meet certain performance goals, Google will commit to using them.

It is too early to say if this is going to be the sort of support to ARM and snub to Intel that Qualcomm hopes for. Google tries lots of different technology out there to reduce its huge server costs. At this point it is uncertain if the current effort has ticked all Google’s boxes either.

Two years ago, Google supported for IBM’s Power processor and it even built its own Power server board. Nothing has been said about it since. Google last year made vague statements that it’s keeping its options open.

Google will test Qualcomm’s server chips, just as it tested IBM’s, because it wants to shave costs off of running its expensive infrastructure. It will be important if Google decides to put a new architecture in production.

More importantly it forces Intel reduce its prices and to develop new, more power-efficient parts.

Urs Holzle, who’s in charge of Google’s data centres, once published a paper on the topic titled “Brawny cores still beat wimpy cores, most of the time.” However things have moved on a bit since 2010 when he wrote that.

It would be a surprise if Qualcomm could bag Google as a customer this early on in the game. Derek Aberle, Qualcomm’s president, told investors last week that shipments would begin “probably within the next year or so.” But he suggested significant sales are still “out a few years.”

Courtesy-Fud

 

Twitter Shuts Down 125,000 Terrorism-related Accounts

February 8, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc has suspended more than 125,000 terrorism-related accounts since the middle of 2015, most of them linked to the Islamic State group, the company said in a blog post on Friday.

Twitter has said it only takes down accounts when they are reported by other users, but said that it has increased the size of teams monitoring and responding to reports and has decreased its response time “significantly.”

Twitter’s announcement comes as many tech companies – led by Facebook – have taken stronger steps to police controversial content online in the face of threats from legislators to force the companies to report “terrorist activity” on their sites to law enforcement.

Silicon Valley has been wary of engaging with government officials, concerned about endless demands for similar action from countries around the world as well as fears about being perceived by consumers as tools of government.

The announcement was also notable because Twitter has said little about its efforts to combat Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and similar groups even though it has been criticized for not doing enough.

Islamic State, which controls last swathes of Iraq and Syria, has heavily relied on the 300 million-person site, as well as others, to recruit fighters and propagate violent messages.

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s program on extremism, said Friday’s report showcased an “impressive number” of takedowns, but said that Twitter still appears to police extremist content in a mostly “episodic” way.

Many extremists have migrated toward smaller, less monitored platforms in recent months in response to major Silicon Valley firms stepping up their content policing, Hughes added.

In January, a delegation of top national security officials met tech industry leaders from Twitter, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc, and Google parent Alphabet Inc, but most companies, including Twitter, did not send their chief executive officers.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, called Twitter’s announcement a “very positive development,” but said more was needed.

“Addressing the use of social media by terrorists will require a sustained and cooperative effort between the technology sector, the Intelligence Community, and law enforcement,” he said.

Still, Twitter said in a blog post that it has cooperated with law enforcement when appropriate.

 

Google Adds Australian Accents And Slang To Its Software

February 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Internet search giant Google has finally added Australian slang and language recognition to its applications, addressing complaints that its software had difficulty in understanding thick local accents and complex place names.

Long accustomed to having their distinctive slang misunderstood, Australians can now substitute “footy” for football, “arvo” for afternoon and find directions to Mullumbimby or Goondiwindi, a spokesman told Reuters.

The extended vocabulary came after Google, which is now part of holding company Alphabet Inc, added an Australian accented voice to its Google Maps and search applications last week.

“People are starting to talk to their phones much more regularly now. Mobile voice searchers have doubled in the last year,” Google Australia spokesman Shane Treeves said.

“Particularly all those tricky Aussie place names, they just sound much better in an Aussie voice that can get them right.”

Google and its chief competitor, Apple Inc, have saturated the United States and Western Europe with their devices, leaving foreign language markets as some of the prime places to grow.

In December, Apple released a version of its virtual personal assistant, Siri, for Arabic speakers in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Google’s Android phones’ search function already offered some support in Arabic.

Google’s Android operating system was used by roughly 54 percent of mobile devices sold in Australia in December, placing it ahead of Apple iOS at 38 percent, according to data published by research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

The addition of Australian language features to Google’s software could carry with it a sense of vindication for local users, who have long groused about its inability to understand them.

 

Is Samsung Going To Starting A Rental Phone Service?

February 2, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung  is rolling out a rental phone service which will replace a phone that is been used for a year with the latest model.

The system is similar to the rental model which was introduced by Apple in September of last year. Samsung will bring the service out in March in South Korea but it is also in talks with  Bright Star, which is a business that specializes in distribution of mobile in the US so it is pretty likely to be tried over the pond too.  We have not heard about it talking to any EU distributor but it is also fairly likely.

Under the deal you replace your old phone with a new phone every year if you make a two year contract and pa a year worth of instalments. The company then makes a bit of dosh flogging the used phones.

The first phone to be rented will be the Galaxy S7 that happens to be being released in March. It will also have a higher resale value as a used model.

Officially Samsung is saying nothing as the Galaxy S7 is not even in the shops yet.

Mobile telecommunication businesses such as SK Telecom, LG Uplus and others are also preparing to release similar services. This is not the first time they have had a crack at programs likes this there were operations like Zero Club, Free Club and others in the past which operated in a similar way. It should make the introduction of the rental phone service using Apple’s model a doddle.

If it takes off it could be a change in distribution model for phones. As mobile markets are saturated and as subsidies for mobiles disappear, rental phones are seen as an alternatives that will create new demand.  Much of the success however depends on the resale value of the older phones.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Harvard Study Refutes Arguments Against Encrypted Devices

February 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

A new study from Harvard largely debunks claims that wider use of encryption by indivduals will hamper investigations into terrorism and crime.

The study predicts that the continued expansion of Internet-connected devices — such as smart TVs and vehicles, IP video cameras and more — will offer fresh opportunities for tracking targets.

“Law enforcement or intelligence agencies may start to seek orders compelling Samsung, Google, Mattel, Nest or vendors of other networked devices to push an update or flip a digital switch to intercept the ambient communications of a target,” it said. “These are real products now.”

The study comes from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet Society and was signed by well-known figures, including security expert Bruce Schneier, Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School and Matthew G. Olsen, former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

All are members of the Berkman Center’s Berklett Cybersecurity Project, which studies surveillance and cybersecurity issues.

The technology industry has come under increasing pressure from some government officials in the U.S. and U.K., who contend that bolstering data security, primarily through encryption, will diminish their capabilities to fight terrorism and crime, and will result in those sources “going dark.”

While law enforcement can gain access to data held by service providers through warrants, some systems have been designed in a way that the service providers can’t provide any information at all.

These so-called end-to-end encryption systems leave users in sole possession of the decryption keys. Without a password, law enforcement would have to use other means to try to decrypt data.

The study, titled ”Don’t Panic: Making progress on the encryption debate,” does acknowledge encryption will poses challenges in some instances but by no means will dictate the landscape of future technology products.

“To be sure, encryption and provider-opaque services make surveillance more difficult in certain cases, but the landscape is far more variegated than the metaphor suggests,” it said. “There are and will always be pockets of dimness and some dark spots — communications channels resistant to surveillance — but this does not mean we are completely ‘going dark’.”

 

 

 

Microsoft Goes Deep With Underwater Data Center

February 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Technology giants are finding some of the strangest places for data centers these days.

Facebook, for example, built a data center in Lulea in Sweden because the icy cold temperatures there would help cut the energy required for cooling. A proposed Facebook data center in Clonee, Ireland, will rely heavily on locally available wind energy. Google’s data center in Hamina in Finland uses sea water from the Bay of Finland for cooling.

Now, Microsoft is looking at locating data centers under the sea.

The company is testing underwater data centers with an eye to reducing data latency for the many users who live close to the sea and also to enable rapid deployment of a data center.

Microsoft, which has designed, built, and deployed its own subsea data center in the ocean, in the period of about a year, started working on the project in late 2014, a year after Microsoft employee, Sean James, who served on a U.S. Navy submarine, submitted a paper on the concept.

A prototype vessel, named the Leona Philpot after an Xbox game character, operated on the seafloor about 1 kilometer from the Pacific coast of the U.S. from August to November 2015, according to a Microsoft page on the project.

The subsea data center experiment, called Project Natick after a town in Massachusetts, is in the research stage and Microsoft warns it is “still early days” to evaluate whether the concept could be adopted by the company and other cloud service providers.

“Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud datacenter solutions that offer rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable,” the company said.

Using undersea data centers helps because they can serve the 50 percent of people who live within 200 kilometers from the ocean. Microsoft said in an FAQ that deployment in deepwater offers “ready access to cooling, renewable power sources, and a controlled environment.” Moreover, a data center can be deployed from start to finish in 90 days.

 

 

Samsung Profits Hit By Weak Demand For Smartphones

January 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Weak demand for smartphones and display panels weighed down Samsung’s profits last quarter, and the company doesn’t expect much improvement this year.

Revenue for the fourth quarter was 53.3 trillion won (US$45.5 billion), up just 1 percent from a year earlier, Samsung announced Thursday in Seoul. Net profit plummeted 40 percent to 3.2 trillion won.

A day earlier, Samsung’s biggest rival, Apple, said it too was seeing weaker than expected demand for handsets. The Cupertino company reported iPhone sales that were almost flat and forecast its first quarterly revenue drop since 2003.

Samsung isn’t expecting much better. It sees a difficult environment in 2016 characterized by slowing IT demand.

“It would be a challenge to maintain 2016 operating profit levels,” said Kim Sang Hyo, Samsung’s vice president of investor relations, in a conference call with analysts.

A weak macro economy around the world will hurt business in the first half, but things should get better in the second half, the company said.

Sales in Samsung’s key mobile division fell 10 percent in the quarter to 24 trillion won. That was the result of an earlier pile up of unsold phones at retailers, and the fact that Samsung sold fewer high-end phones and more that were lower priced.

Samsung doesn’t divulge the number of smartphones it sells, preferring to announce total sales of all phone types. That figure was 97 million last quarter, with smartphones accounting for around 85 percent.

For 2016, it expects the mobile business will see single-digit growth due to tepid demand for new smartphones and tablet PCs.

Samsung’s semiconductor and display panel operations — it’s second-biggest business area — was the only good performer last quarter. Sales rose 11 percent year-on-year to 19.7 trillion won thanks to healthy demand for flash memory chips and continued demand for mobile and server DRAM.

 

 

 

 

 

Movidius Chip To Bring Deep Learning To Android Phones

January 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Android mobile devices could get a whole lot smarter soon, thanks to a new partnership between Google and chip maker Movidius that promises to bring machine intelligence directly into smarphones.

Movidius specializes in machine vision, and it has already worked with Google on the Project Tango computer-vision platform. Now, through the new collaboration, Google will use Movidius’ flagship MA2450 chip to bring deep learning to Android handsets.

Deep learning is a branch of machine learning often applied to image recognition that uses algorithms to learn in multiple levels corresponding to different levels of abstraction. It typically relies on complex neural networks.

Movidius’ MA2450 chip is built for extreme power efficiency, making it eminently well-suited for running neural-network computations locally on smartphones. By deploying its advanced neural computation engine on those chips, Google could give devices the ability to recognize images such as faces and street signs in real time, without relying on an Internet connection and algorithms in the cloud.

Such capabilities could be particularly valuable for vision-impaired users, for example.

“Our collaboration with Movidius is enabling new categories of products to be built that people haven’t seen before,” said Blaise Agϋera y Arcas, head of Google’s machine intelligence group.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, nor were details about any specific product plans.

“Google is rapidly expanding their smartphone business into new areas — this is just one of them,” said wireless and telecom analyst Jeff Kagan.

The potential is exciting, but “Google typically throws ideas against the wall all the time,” Kagan added. “They wait to see what sticks and then build on that.

Everything Google does is not successful.”

 

 

 

Mozilla Debuts Push Notifications With Firefox 44

January 28, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Mozilla has released Firefox 44, following in rival Chrome’s footsteps by adding push notifications to the browser.

The update to version 44 lets users opt in to receive notifications from websites even when a site’s tab has been closed or never opened.

Google added the same functionality to Chrome in April with version 42.

Both Chrome and Firefox rely on the W3C’s (Worldwide Web Consortium) under-construction “web push” protocol, and the associated Push API (application programming interface) for the feature.

Other changes in Firefox 44 include deprecation of support for the RC4 decipher over HTTPS connections safeguarded by TLS (Transport Layer Security), a move announced in September by all browser makers, who promised to drop RC4 support in 2016. The action was prompted by research that showed RC4 was easily cracked.

Google dropped RC4 with the update to Chrome 48 last week; Microsoft has said it will do the same for Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge at some point “in early 2016.”

Firefox 44 also added support for the Google-created “Brotli” compression algorithm, which is up to 25% more efficient in squeezing files delivered to browsers, resulting in faster page loading times and reduced data consumption for those on capped connection plans.

More information about Firefox’s push notifications can be found on Mozilla’s website.

 

 

 

Will Toshiba Totally Focus On NAND?

January 27, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Toshiba is getting out the processor business so that it can concentrate on making memory as it tries to recover from its $1.3 billion accounting scandal.

The Japanese press has suggested that Toshiba has  interest in part of its chip making business from the Development Bank of Japan. The state-owned bank has already invested in Seiko’s semiconductor operations.

Toshiba is keeping its  NAND flash memory operations and will chuck some of the money it has not got into improving production.

What will be sold is its LSI and discrete chips, which are widely used in cars, home appliances and industrial machinery.  In fact it is one of the few companies trying to get out of the automotive industry.  Some of this is because Tosh has not made much money out of it. This division lost $2.78 billion in the year ended March 2015.

Following the accounting scandal, Toshiba has been focusing on nuclear and other energy operations, as well as its storage business, which centers on NAND flash memory chips.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Microsoft Updates Sway App, Adds Recycle Bin

January 26, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Users of Microsoft’s new Sway presentation app no longer have to worry about their work getting accidentally deleted, thanks to a set of new features the company recently released.

When people delete a Sway that they’re working on, it’s sent to the service’s Recycle Bin, where it can be recovered for 30 days, rather than disappearing forever right off the bat. It’s good news for people who put hours of work into creating presentations using Sway, only to have them disappear in the blink of an eye when users clicked or tapped the wrong button.

People who are sure that they want to delete things in the Recycle Bin can choose the Empty Recycle Bin button to permanently delete all of the Sways that are on the chopping block.

People who use Chromebooks and Office 365 also have an easier way of getting access to Sway, which is now available from the Chrome Web Store. That makes it easier for Chrome OS users to get access to Sway Online from their Chrome browser homepage and the Chromebook launcher, and is particularly valuable for educators and students who use Google’s operating system but have access to Office 365 through their institution.

Microsoft also made it easier for folks who are already tied into its Office ecosystem to create Sway presentations with a new beta Add-in for the PC version of OneNote that automatically generates a Sway based on a OneNote page. All users have to do is click a button in OneNote, and Sway will generate a presentation for them based on the content of their notes.

It’s an interesting competitive move that puts Sway and OneNote on par with Evernote, which also supports creating a presentation from a note or group of notes.

Sway for Windows 10 also now supports dragging and dropping images from the file explorer into a presentation. It’s a feature that makes it easier for users to take pictures that they’ve found online or shot themselves and turn them into a part of the presentation that they’re building.

The app also now supports natively viewing presentations in full screen, something that previously required people to use a browser that’s capable of entering full screen mode.