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Xiaomi Becomes World’s Third-Largest Smartphone Vendor

October 31, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

China’s Xiaomi Inc has nudged it’s way into being the world’s third-largest smartphone vendor just three years after first hitting the market, trailing only Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc, according to a new industry study.

Strategy Analytics said Xiaomi accounted for 6 percent of all 320 million smartphones shipped during July-September. Samsung made up 25 percent, down from 35 percent a year earlier due to rising competition from several directions.

Apple’s share also fell slightly to 12 percent.

“Xiaomi was the star performer,” Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston said in a statement.

“Samsung continues to face tough competition from Apple at the higher-end of the smartphone market, from Xiaomi and Huawei in the middle-tiers, and from Lenovo and others at the entry-level.”

Xiaomi has been the top seller in its home market of China and recently entered India, where it sells phones exclusively through e-commerce site Flipkart.

Vice President Hugo Barra told Reuters in Bangalore last month that the company aimed to sell 100,000 phones a week in India in October when the country celebrates Diwali.

 

 

Microsoft Debuts $199 Fitness Device

October 31, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft Corp introduced a device called “MicrosoftBand” that will allow users to monitor their fitness and exercise regime, marking the world’s largest software company’s foray into the wearable technology market.

The wrist-worn device has sensors that monitor pulse rate, measure calorie burn and track sleep quality, Microsoft said in a blog post. Microsoft said the device will be available in the United States in limited quantities from Thursday for $199.

Apple Inc unveiled a smart watch on Sept. 9 that will combine health and fitness tracking with communications and will go on sale in early 2015, while Samsung Electronics Co unveiled its Galaxy Gear smart watch in September 2013. The Apple Watch will be priced at $349.

Microsoft also launched a health app called “Microsoft Health” that includes a cloud service for users to store and combine health and fitness data.

The Microsoft Health app will collect data from the fitness band and will work on iPhones and Android smartphones, as well as its own Windows Phone.

 

 

Google Developing Nanoparticles To Aid In Cancer Fight

October 30, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google is focusing attention on tiny magnetic particles that could aid in cancer detection as well as other health problems by coursing through a patient’s bloodstream.

Andrew Conrad, head of the Google X research lab’s Life Sciences Team, told the WSJ.D Live conference that the particles can be directed toward different parts of the body by applying wearable magnetic devices to the skin.

The wearable would be able to count the particles and possibly compile information about what potential medical conditions they detected.

“Nanoparticles are the nexus between biology and engineering,” Conrad said in an interview at the conference, which was excerpted in a video. “We can make these nanoparticles behave in ways that we want them to do.”

The so-called Nanoparticle Platform comes in the form of pills that are covered with “antibodies or molecules that detect other molecules,” he added.

The particles would be less than one-thousandth the size of a red blood cell and would attach to molecules, proteins and cells in the body. The nanoparticles could help detect arterial plaque or high sodium levels, and might replace standard blood tests to detect early signs of disease, according to Conrad.

Conrad said Google would license the technology to other companies and it would not be responsible for managing information collected through nanoparticle monitoring.

Implementing the nanoparticles could take more than five years, The Wall Street Journal said in reporting the interview with Conrad.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

Google’s Nexus 6 Unlocked Device To Cost Significantly More

October 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google’s new Nexus 6 smartphone will be offered at $649, unlocked, when pre-orders begin on Oct. 29. The price is almost twice the $349 starting price charged for the Nexus 5 a year ago.

Google didn’t elaborate on the price increase after announcing the Nexus 6, but several analysts said Google may be intending to push the Nexus as a premium brand that can compete with the iPhone 6 and other high-end phones.

Google originally developed Android to be inclusive and global, and indeed, it is the world’s largest OS by far. The company developed the Nexus line in 2010 to show Android phone manufacturers, and the public, how a pure Android phone could look and feel without the added features and bloatware installed by phone makers.

Meanwhile, the four national carriers are expected to sell the Nexus 6 with a subsidized price of as low as $200 with a two-year contract, and separate pricing for installment plans. AT&T will be a Nexus provider for the first time, and Verizon Wireless will carry the phone despite a spotty history with the Nexus line.

Such a carrier push to sell Nexus 6 phones with a subsidy seems to indicate that Google is intent on spreading wider adoption of its pure Nexus line that it so far hasn’t achieved. Google has long described Android as an operating system for all, but Google also wants to promote a more refined Android device, which it is trying to do with its Nexus line.

The $649 Nexus 6, which will run Android 5.0 Lollipop with support for 64-bit architecture, is a better phone than the $349 Nexus 5 that runs Android 4.4 KitKat. Nexus 6 also starts with 32 GB storage, double the capacity of its predecessor the Nexus 5. (A 64 GB Nexus 6 will run $699 unlocked on Google Play.)

But all the enhancements in the new Nexus 6, including its 5.96-in. Quad HD display and Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, still don’t fully account for the 86% increase in starting price for the unlocked model, analysts said.

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android at Google, noted in a blog post that wireless carriers will offer the Nexus 6 on monthly contracts or installment plans. A number of industry sources predicted the two-year contract price will start at $200, a common industry price for high-end smartphones, including the new iPhone 6.

The four major carriers, Google and Motorola, which is the  Nexus 6 manufacturer,  all refused to discuss the prices that carriers will charge. They also would not disclose the November release date.

 

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.

 

nVidia Shield To Get Android Update

October 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Although has not been publicly confirmed that Google’s latest Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to its Nvidia Shield tablet, Nvidia was pretty quiet about the Shield Portable handheld console, so we asked around. It appears that the update will indeed be coming to Shield Portable as well.

The first devices on the list to receive the Android 5.0 Lolipop update will be Google’s own Nexus devices, starting with the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 2012 and Nexus 10 as the oldest devices, followed by Google Play Edition devices and LTE-enabled products. Most smartphone and tablet manufacturers have also confirmed that the new Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to their recent devices.

One of the companies on the list is also Nvidia, which has announced that it “ultimate tablet for gamers” also known as the Nvidia Shield Tablet will be getting the Android 5.0 Lolipop update soon. The update for Shield Tablet does not come as a surprise considering that it is based on the speedy Tegra K1 32-bit chipset.

While it did not give out any details regarding Android 5.0 Lolipop update for the Shield Portable handheld console, we sent out a quick email to Nvidia and managed to confirm that the update will indeed be coming to the Shield Portable as well. Unfortunately, Nvidia did not give any precise date for this device either.

Courtesy-TheInq

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.

 

 

 

Will Smartwatches Hit The 100 Million Sales Mark By 2019?

October 17, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

With so much hype surrounding smartwatches and wearables in general, one could hardly be blamed for thinking the industry is about tap a new goldmine, but the numbers are not encouraging.

Juniper Research now estimates smartwatch shipments will hit 100 million by 2019. The firm expects several high-profile products to launch over the next year or so, helping boost mainstream awareness.

However, the figures are anything but encouraging.

The report, titled ‘Smart Watches: Market Dynamics, Vendor Strategies & Scenario Forecasts 2014-2019′, expects growth will decelerate from 2016 onwards. The first batch will ride the hype, but moving forward it won’t do much for mainstream adoption.

However, the forecast also examines the possibility of sustaining 2014-2015 growth in the long term.

If consumers discover a ‘key use case’ or cases for smartwatches, backed by more product releases on the back of higher demand, higher growth could be sustained. In plain English, if people actually find a use for smartwatches, they will see more growth.

Unfortunately the case is hard to make at this point. Smartwatches face a number of hardware limitations and software support is still limited, which means they are not very useful at the moment. Juniper expects more vendors to integrate GPS, NFC and other technologies, but the downside is that smartwatches are not expected to become very cheap. The firm estimates premium branding and high functionality to keep prices at $200+ until the end of the decade.

Europeans not too keen

One possible application that could generate more demand comes in the form of mobile payments. Apple Pay is coming to the Apple Watch, but the service will be limited to the US for quite a while and Apple won’t have an easy time launching it in other markets, where it enjoys a much lower market share.

The problem with mobile digital wallets is that they have not taken off yet. What’s more, new research indicates that Europeans are not sold on the idea of smartwatch wallets.

The survey, carried out by German market research firm GfK, found that just 20 percent of Germans and 27 percent of Britons are interested in contactless payments built into a watch. However, Chinese and American consumers are more open to the idea, with 40 and 54 percent saying they are interested.

Most consumers said they are interested in health applications and many said they would store identification data on their smartwatches.

Courtesy-Fud

Google Exploring Ultra Fast Wireless Internet

October 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Google Inc is gearing up to test new technology that may provide the foundation for a wireless version of its high-speed “Fiber” Internet service, according to telecommunication experts who scrutinized the company’s regulatory filings.

In a public but little-noticed application with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Monday, Google asked the agency for permission to conduct tests in California across different wireless spectrums, including a rarely-used millimeter-wave frequency capable of transmitting large amounts of data.

It is unclear from the heavily redacted filing what exactly Google intends to do, but it does signal the Internet giant’s broader ambition of controlling Internet connectivity. The technology it seeks to test could form the basis of a wireless connection that can be broadcast to homes, obviating the need for an actual ground cable or fiber connection, experts say.

By beaming Internet services directly into homes, Google would open a new path now thoroughly dominated by Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and other entrenched cable and broadband providers. It could potentially offer a quicker and cheaper way to deliver high-speed Internet service, a potential threat to the cable-telecoms oligopoly, experts said.

“From a radio standpoint it’s the closest thing to fiber there is,” said Stephen Crowley, a wireless engineer and consultant who monitors FCC filings, noting that millimeter frequencies can transmit data over short distances at speeds of several gigabits per second.

“You could look at it as a possible wireless extension of their Google Fiber wireless network, as a way to more economically serve homes. Put up a pole in a neighborhood, instead of having to run fiber to each home,” said Crowley.

Craig Barratt, the head of the Google Access and Energy division leading the effort to offer high-speed fiber networks in Kansas City and other locations, signed off as the authorized person submitting Google’s FCC application.

The world’s No.1 Internet search engine has expanded into providing consumers with services such as Internet access. The company said it wants to roll out its high-speed Internet service to more than 30 U.S. cities, and in 2013 it struck a deal to provide free wireless Internet access to 7,000 Starbucks cafes across America.

Earlier this year, technology news website The Information reported that Google was exploring ways to offer a full-fledged wireless service, with voice and Internet access, in markets where the company already offers its Fiber service.

 

 

Google Adds More Cities To Shopping Delivery Service

October 16, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Inc announed that it would be expanding its same-day shopping delivery service to three additional U.S. cities and start charging customers for the service, which competes with Amazon.com Inc.

The Google Express service, which was earlier only available in certain parts of California and New York City, will be expanded to Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C., Google said in a blog.

Membership for the service, which was earlier called Google Shopping Express, will cost $95 a year, or $10 a month.

Online retailer Amazon’s same-day delivery service, called Prime, charges customers $99 per year, after a free one-year trial.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, at a public speech made in Berlin on Monday, called Amazon its “biggest search competitor”, the Financial Times and other media reported.

“Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” the FT quoted Schmidt as saying.

Schmidt said internet users are likely to go directly to the retailer if they are shopping.