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New Toshiba Sensor To Improve Mobile Device Photos

September 2, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Toshiba has created a new image sensor for mobile phones and tablets that promises better image resolution for run-of-the-mill smartphones when it goes into mass production.

The T4KA7 is a 1/2.4-inch, 20-megapixel backside illuminated sensor with a 1.12 micrometer pixel size, which provides for a smaller sensor size overall.

The sensor allows for a lower module height of under 6 millimeters compared to the current 20-megapixel, 1.2-micrometer sensors, the company said.

“T4KA7 is the first 1.12-micrometer, 20-megapixel sensor on the market with a high frame rate of 22 fps at full resolution,” a Toshiba spokeswoman wrote in an email.

The frame rate is 1.8 times the speed of Toshiba’s previous 20-megapixel sensor, the T4K46.

When zooming digitally, the sensor provides crisper images compared to 13- and 16-megapixel sensors, which are resolutions widely adopted in recent smartphones, she added.

Announced earlier this year, Samsung’s camera-phone hybrid Galaxy K zoomhas a 20.7-megapixel image sensor that is supposed to perform well when taking photos in low-light settings.

Without a specific measurement for comparison, it’s hard to say whether the T4KA7 would do any better in low-light shooting situations than other sensors, the Toshiba spokeswoman said.

“We think we are providing top-class sensors in terms of pixel performance,” she added.

Toshiba is producing samples of its new sensors now, with mass production of up to half a million units per month to begin in November.

Higher-end smartphones already featuring 20-megapixel cameras include the Sony Xperia Z1, the Nokia Lumia 930 and 1520.

Announced last month, the Nokia Lumia 1020 sports a camera designed for photographers — it has a sensor with 41-megapixel resolution.

 

 

Tablet Sales Still Up, But Growth Slowing

September 2, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Tablet sales worldwide will continue to grow this year, but not at the pace previously expected, according to a recently released forecast.

After four years of double- and triple-digit growth, worldwide tablet shipments this year will grow by just 6.5% over last year, according to IDC. The research firm had previously forecast 12.1% growth.

The tablet market is maturing and long-term trends are becoming clearer, said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets.

More money is being spent on cheap laptops, smartphones or wearables, and people are keeping tablets longer than expected, Bouchard said.

“We originally thought the [ownership cycle] was two years. We realized it was closer to three years,” he said.

In addition, users aren’t discarding older tablets and are instead handing them down to their kids.

Meanwhile, laptop prices are also coming down fast, and putting pricing pressure on tablets, especially in Europe, Bouchard said.

In the last month a plethora of sub-$250 tablets running Microsoft Windows 8.1 with Bing started shipping. Microsoft is helping PC makers build cheap laptops to battle threats from Chromebooks, Android and iOS and is offering the OS royalty free.

Interest is swaying in the direction of smaller-screen tablets, and those looking for larger screens are moving to laptops, Bouchard said.

“As you move up in screen size, you move towards productivity. The keyboard is becoming more important,” Bouchard said.

Tablet shipments will continue to grow in emerging markets, at a 12% rate, driven by small screen, low-cost tablets from Chinese companies. Shipments in mature markets, where buyers are moving to larger-screen devices, remain flat.

Buyers are increasingly considering wearables and smartphones versus tablets, but more data generated by small-screen devices could ultimately help tablet shipments, Bouchard said.

“Long to medium term, it’s a positive thing, it creates a halo effect, it will generate more data, and you’ll need more screen to visualize the data,” Bouchard said.

IDC’s tablet forecast also accounts for 2-in-1 devices, which can be used as laptops or tablets.

 

 

 

 

Microsoft Begins Purge Of Dubious Apps In Windows App Store

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft has started getting rid of sham Windows Store apps that try to dupe users into paying for free software, the company has announced.

“Most of the developers behind apps that are found to violate our policies have good intentions and agree to make the necessary changes when notified,” said Todd Brix, general manager for the Windows Store, in a blog post yesterday. “Others have been less receptive, causing us to remove more than 1,500 apps as part of this review so far.”

The Windows Store is the official source of Windows 8′s (and 8.1′s) “Modern,” née “Metro” apps, the touch-based programs designed for tablets and touch-enabled notebooks.

Earlier this year, Brix’s team changed Windows Store apps’ certification — the process under which apps are admitted to the market — to require newly-submitted programs be clearly named, properly categorized and appropriately identified with an icon. Those modifications were made, said Brix, to “better ensure that apps are named and described in a way that doesn’t misrepresent their purpose.”

The same requirements have now been extended to apps already in the store.

The timing of Brix’s blog and Microsoft’s efforts to cleanse the Windows Store was no coincidence: More than a week ago, How-To Geek described its probe of the store in a piece titled ”The Windows Store is a Cesspool of Scams — Why Doesn’t Microsoft Care?”

In the story, How-To Geek pointed out worthless apps, some as expensive as $8.99, that did little more than point users to links for downloading Apple’s iTunes (free), Mozilla’s Firefox (also free) and VideoLAN’s VLC Player (yes, free). The publication also found fake — and paid — versions of Adobe’s Flash Player, Google’s Picasa, King’s Candy Crush Saga and Mojang’s Minecraft.

How-To Geek blamed Microsoft for the scam-app pollution. “Here’s one of the most shocking parts of this. People from Microsoft are actually examining each of these scammy apps, checking their content, and approving them,” the site said, pointing out pertinent parts of Microsoft’s certification process.

The apps How-To Geek fingered have been removed from the Windows Store, presumably as part the 1,500 Brix claimed had been bounced out.

How-To Geek’s story was widely cited by other websites, blogs and publications last week, reigniting charges that the Windows Store was packed with junk.

A quick look at MetroStore Scanner, which tracks each day’s new and updated apps, showed that Brix and his team have their work cut out for them. On Tuesday, according to MetroStore Scanner, 12 copies of the free KMPlayer, a media player owned by a Korean TV streaming company, were published to the Windows Store. However, the dozen KMPlayer copies — all using the transparently copycat name of “KM* 5.1 Player” but each with a different icon — were priced at either $0.99 or $1.99.

The real KMPlayer is currently at version 3.9.

MetroStore Scanner’s tally of the number of apps in the Windows Store was approximately 172,000 as of late Wednesday, meaning that the apps removed so far represented less than 1% of the total in the e-mart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samsung Unveils First Of Its Kind Smartwatch, Mobile Phone Not Required

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd on Thursday debuted what it said was the first smartwatch capable of making and receiving calls without a mobile phone nearby, in the South Korean firm’s latest effort to find a new growth driver.

The world’s biggest smartphone maker has been pushing hard to develop the wearable devices market as it looks to counter slowing earnings in its mobile division, which led to weaker-than-expected second-quarter earnings.

Samsung is hardly alone in pushing wearables, which have yet to catch on with consumers. Rival Apple Inc is expected to launch its own device this year and LG Electronics Inc on Thursday announced its new G Watch R smartwatch featuring a circular plastic OLED screen, a stainless steel frame and leather strap.

Samsung’s new smartwatch, called the Gear S, differs from its predecessors with a bigger 2-inch (5 cm) curved display and offers features like WiFi connectivity, pedestrian navigation and a built-in GPS. This device will run on Samsung’s nascent Tizen operating system.

Samsung said the Gear S will start selling from October. It did not give details on pricing or where it will be available.

LG said its G Watch R will launch in key markets in the fourth quarter, without indicating a price.

 

 

VMWare Releases Workplace Suite

August 29, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

VMware has released its Workplace Suite — a combined platform to deploy and manage applications and desktops from the cloud to laptops, smartphones, tablets, or whatever. The suite comes as part of a partnership with Google and NVIDIA, VMware has been showing the world the ability for VMware Workplace Suite to stream even graphics-intensive Windows applications to Google Chromebooks.

VMware is billing this as an initiative to bring data and applications closer to the places users actually want to access them. VMware CTO Ben Fathi said that the new VMware Workplace Suite takes advantage of three existing VMware products: Tools for application, device, and content management as well as secure cloud file storage that comes from the January acquisition of enterprise mobile management company AirWatch. It also has bits of VMware Horizon for desktop-as-a-service; and the acquisition CloudVolumes for app delivery.

VMware claims it can deliver a consistent experience across platforms with a single sign-on for end-users across as many apps as IT wants to administrate. VMware is pushing the hybrid cloud model hard, and is talking about deployment across a company’s internal data centre and the vCloud Air platform.

The net benefit of a hybrid deployment would be to keep your VMware Workplace Suite closer to any on-premises data silos like SharePoint or SAP while still getting cloud scalability. The target of the software would be the health industry, where a doctor may have to move between offices and hospitals without access to their same application.

Google and Nvidia takes advantage of a Chromebook’s internal Nvidia GPU and the grid graphics cloud. VMware also showed off something called Project Meteor, which the company claims is an industry first, “next generation” solution for delivering a full virtual desktop-as-a-service to any HTML5 browser. This will mean you can have the same desktop across multiple devices.

Courtesy-Fud

Apple To Go Big With iPad Next Year

August 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

First there was the iPad at around 10 inches and then there was the iPad Mini that is closer to 8 inches. Now Apple Inc is gearing up to roll out a larger, 12.9-inch version of its once dominant iPad for 2015, with production set to begin in the first quarter of next year, Bloomberg cited people with knowledge of the matter as saying on Tuesday.

The report comes as Apple struggles with declining sales of its tablets, which are faltering as people replace iPads less frequently than expected and larger smartphones made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd  and other rivals have taken a bite out of its sales.

Apple has been working with its suppliers for over a year on larger touch-screen devices, Bloomberg cited the sources as saying.

It is expected to introduce larger versions of its 4-inch iPhone next month, although the company has not publicized plans for its most important device.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

Apple Replacing Some iPhone 5 Batteries Free Of Charge

August 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple has agreed to replace some iPhone 5 batteries free of charge, claiming that “a very small percentage” of the smartphones needed to be charged more often and that those charges were quickly exhausted.

The program, which was announced last week, only in a support document published on Apple’s website, offered free battery replacements for iPhone 5 devices that “suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently.”

According to Apple, the affected phones were sold between September 2012 and January 2013, and “fall within a limited serial number range.” The Cupertino, Calif. company also said that only “a very small percentage” of iPhone 5 devices were impacted.

Computerworld‘s experience was different. Out of an admittedly small sample — three iPhone 5 phones bought during the stretch in question, each several weeks apart — two were eligible for the battery replacement. Neither of the two that qualified, however, had required more charging than was normal for a nearly-two-year-old iPhone, nor did their batteries drain any faster than the third, ineligible, device.

Apple started selling the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21, 2012. It retired the model last year when it was replaced by the iPhone 5S and 5C.

This was not the first time that Apple has dealt with iPhone battery issues. In October 2013, the company confirmed that it was contacting a “very limited” number of iPhone 5S owners and offering them a replacement phone.

In both 2009 and 2011, iPhone users also reported battery-draining problems with their iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S devices, respectively.

Customers can check their iPhone 5 for battery replacement eligibility onApple’s website by entering their device’s serial number. That can be found under Settings/General/About.

Until Friday, Aug. 29, the replacement deal will be available only in the U.S. and China; on that date, other countries will come online.

 

 

 

Microsoft Slash Prices On Surface 2 Tablets

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft has lowered the prices of its Surface 2 tablets by as much as 22%, dropping the entry-level Windows 8.1 RT device to $349.

It’s unknown whether Microsoft discounted the Surface 2 to clear inventory before it discontinues the tablet, in preparation for a successor, or simply to move a slow-selling product.

A clue may be in the length of the limited-time sale: Microsoft said that the reduced prices were good from Aug. 24 to Sept. 27, or “while supplies last,” and set the maximum number of devices per customer at a generous five.

Intriguingly, Microsoft is to host a press event on Sept. 30 to unveil the next edition of Windows, code named “Threshold” but perhaps officially to be called “Windows 9.” Rumors have circulated that Windows RT will also be revamped to drop the desktop mode and/or to add support for the pen bundled with the Surface Pro 3.

If those claims are accurate, the Sept. 30 event would be a perfect time to tout a revamped Windows RT and unveil replacements for the Surface 2.

Microsoft cut prices by $100 for each of the three Surface 2 models it sells: two Wi-Fi only tablets with 32GB or 64GB of storage, and a 64GB device that can connect to a cellular data network at LTE speeds.

The lowest-priced 32GB Surface 2 is now priced at $349, a 22% discount, while the 64GB tablet now costs $449, an 18% reduction. The sole LTE model, now $579, received a 15% price cut.

Microsoft’s Surface 2 is powered by Windows RT 8.1, the touch-centric, tile-interface that runs only “Modern,” nee “Metro,” apps. Windows RT cannot handle legacy Windows applications.

The Surface 2 was the follow-up to the disastrous Surface RT, the tablet which sold in such small volume — and which Microsoft built in such large numbers — that the company was forced to take a $900 million write-off in mid-2013.

Although the Surface Pro 2, which went on sale alongside the Surface 2 in October 2013, was updated to the Surface Pro 3 in May of this year, the Surface 2 has not been refreshed since its launch.

At its new price, the 32GB Surface 2, which boasts a 10.6-in. display, costs less than Apple’s entry-level 16GB iPad Mini with a 7.9-in. Retina-quality screen. That iPad Mini lists at $399.

Microsoft is selling the re-priced Surface 2 on its online store.

 

 

 

 

Will Activision Launch An Entertainment Group?

August 25, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Sources are suggesting that Activision is planning to launch an entertainment division that would be responsible for creating movies and TV shows based on Activision intellectual properties. The move might leave many scratching their heads if true since so many others have failed at trying to turn video game IP into gold.

Word is that CEO Bobby Kotick is taking to folks in an effort to secure the right talent to make this happen. Kotick has to be aware that this has not gone well for its competitors, but he apparently thinks that Activision IP is different and they will have no problem giving the people want they want.

Our take on this is that we will wait and see what happens, but it will not be easy to be successful, regardless of the IP that you have in your stable. The bigger question might be is it really worth the money and effort to try and make it work?

Courtesy-Fud

Ready For Tablets Priced At $35 Or Lower?

August 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Generic Android tablets with 7-inch screens and quad-core chips that deliver decent performance could soon make it to market for $35 or less.

Tablets with low-resolution screens are already selling for $45 on Amazon, many of which have single- or dual-core processors from a Chinese chip company called Allwinner.

But the prices could fall under $35 when Allwinner ships its “fully formed” quad-core A33 chip for only $4, said analyst firm Linley Group in a newsletter this week.

The chip’s quad-core processors will deliver better performance than older chips, and be capable of supporting 1280 x 800 displays, the analyst group said. The chip is based on ARM’s Cortex-A7 design and has a Mali-400MP2 GPU, which is capable of rendering high-definition video.

The cheap tablets will likely come from no-name vendors in China, and won’t offer the bells and whistles of Samsung or Apple tablets, but they could increase price pressure on brand names like HP and Acer, which have entry-level tablets priced around $100.

They’ll be most suited to first-time buyers or users who aren’t picky about hardware or software but certainly not power users, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. That’s because they’ll likely have limited memory, storage and fewer ports than more expensive devices.

“Users eventually will move up in performance,” McGregor said.

The tablets would almost be disposable items, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

And they could be here soon.

Mass production of the chip has already begun and prototype tablets have already been built.

A lot would come from Shenzhen, China, where a bulk of the device development is taking place, said Brookwood.

“This Shenzhen ecosystem, it’s absolutely scary what they are doing,” he said. “They operate on very thin margins. The kind of margins that no U.S. vendor can think about running on.”

The no-name tablets usually don’t come with customer support, and some may not have the Google Play store.

 

SMS Audio Introduces Biometric Headphones

August 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Want to monitor your heart rate while running and listening to music?

SMS Audio’s BioSport In-Ear Headphones, announced at an event will tell you. The headphones are good for people who work out as well as those who just want to check their heart rate, said Brian Nohe, president of SMS Audio, which was founded by rapper 50 Cent, who is the majority owner.

50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, wanted headphones with top-quality audio, fit, form and functionality, Nohe said. The rapper, along with New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who is the minority owner of SMS, were scheduled to appear at the event.

The headphones have sensors to measure the heart rate of users, drawing power from a smartphone through an audio jack. No batteries are required. SMS Audio is using technology from Intel in the headphones.

“Open the box, plug it into your smartphone device and it works,” Nohe said.

The earphones will ship worldwide in the fourth quarter this year. The price will be announced later.

The headphones will work with RunKeeper, a popular Android and iOS fitness application that assembles and tracks fitness data.

“The general marketplace is ripe for having more products in this area,” Nohe said. “We understood what was happening with wearable technology and what was going on with biometrics.”

The engineering challenge for Intel was how to draw power and transfer data through an audio jack. Intel also had to figure out the frequencies at which to handle data transfers. The goal was to deliver accurate heart-rate readings.

“It’s a seemingly easy thing to explain, but hard to implement,” said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of the New Devices Group at Intel.

Intel didn’t want to use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies to transfer data, Bell said. Those technologies would require batteries and not fit well within the small size of headphones.

“The best technology is invisible. It’s as much form as it is function,” Bell said. “That’s the road we’re going down.”

Beyond tracking heart rate, headphones could also be enabled to capture more health information, the executives said. Other opportunities are being explored by SMS Audio and Intel.

“You don’t start a strategic alliance and become a one-trick pony,” Nohe said.

The headphone space has gotten attention lately because of Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats Audio, founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.

 

Is Motorola Making A Comeback?

August 13, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Motorola Mobility has made a surprising comeback thanks to its popular Moto G and Moto E smartphones, but increased competition and its looming acquisition by Lenovo make the future far from certain.

What a difference a year makes. Motorola sold 8.6 million smartphones in the second quarter, up from 6.5 million in the first three months of the year, and more than double what it sold in the same quarter a year earlier, according to ABI Research.

The figures pale in comparison with those of Apple and Samsung, which sold 35.2 million and 75 million phones last quarter, respectively. But Motorola is in a position few thought it would reach just a year ago.

“The resurgence has slightly surprised me, to be honest. I didn’t expect to see Motorola come back in a meaningful way, but it actually has,” said Nick Spencer, senior practice director at ABI Research.

Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight, agreed.

“If you’d asked me about Motorola a year ago, I would have said it was on a distinct trajectory towards oblivion,” he said.

Motorola’s turnaround can be attributed only in part to Google, which announced it would buy the handset maker three years ago this week. The deal gave Motorola a new lease on life, but Google operated Motorola largely at arm’s length, and it now plans to sell the division to Lenovo.

It took more than two years after the Google deal for Motorola to release a phone that resonated with consumers. Its first device was the high-end Moto X, but not using the latest components and relying on software features to attract buyers turned out to be a miscalculation.

But thanks to the Moto G, the LTE version of that phone and the Moto E, Motorola’s sales have turned a corner. The company apparently hit on a winning formula, offering phones at lower prices but with features good enough to please many consumers.

“As the market for flagship smartphones has softened and a lot of people are looking at buying devices without a contract, Motorola’s Moto E and G seem to have really captured the moment,” Wood said.

 

 

 

YouTube Acquires Directr Video App

August 8, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google’s YouTube division has purchased the Directr movie-making app for smartphones and will offer it free of charge.

Directr is an app that businesses can use to shoot videos for marketing purposes, then upload them to Facebook and YouTube, for instance, or embed them in newsletters.

The app provides help with things like frame selection and building a storyboard, to provide “point-and-shoot moviemaking” on a smartphone.

The app was priced at between US$25 and $400 a month, depending on the features and amount of usage. Directr says the app will now be free, though it’s unclear how long it will exist in its current form.

“For now, everything you love about Directr is staying the same and we’ll continue to focus on helping businesses create great video quickly and easily,”Directr said on its website.

“One immediate bonus: Directr will soon be all free, all the time. Thanks, YouTube!”

The 2-year-old company is joining YouTube’s video ads team.

The app is offered today for Apple’s iOS. Google didn’t immediately say if it will build a version for Android, though it seems likely, assuming the app is to continue.

 

Activision Blizzard Depends Heavily On Digital

August 7, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Activision Blizzard reported its financial results for the quarter ended June 30 today, revealing an unprecedented reliance on digital revenues.

The publisher reported revenues of $970 million in sales on a GAAP basis, 49 percent of which came from digital channels. On a non-GAAP basis (excluding the impact of changes in deferred revenues), the digital percentage was actually 73 percent of the company’s $658 million in sales. Activision attributed the digital strength to Blizzard’s lineup of titles (World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Diablo III), combined with digital sales for Call of Duty.

However, not all of those digital sales drivers posted strong numbers for the quarter. World of Warcraft in particular lost about 800,000 subscribers over the period, and as of the end of June was down to a paying player base of 6.8 million gamers. However, Activision Blizzard characterized this decline as a “seasonal” dip in advance of the next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, which is set to launch later this year. The publisher likened the downturn to the subscriber losses that happened in 2012 ahead of the Mists of Panderia launch.

On a GAAP basis, Activision Blizzard revenues were down nearly 8 percent, with net income down 37 percent to $204 million. However, the publisher still beat its previous guidance. On a non-GAAP basis, revenues were up about 10 percent to $658 million, while non-GAAP net income was reported at $45 million, down 50 percent year-over-year.

The quarter’s performance gave Activision Blizzard enough confidence to update its previous guidance for the full year. For calendar year 2014, the publisher had previously forecast total GAAP revenues of $4.22 billion, but moved that up to $4.24 billion today. The company also projected earnings per share of $0.91, up from $0.89.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Xiaomi Takes Samsung’s Position As China’s Largest Smartphone Vendor

August 5, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

In another dose of bad news for Samsung Electronics, the Korean tech giant has lost its ranking as China’s top smartphone vendor, after holding onto the position for two straight years, according to research firm Canalys.

In this year’s second quarter, Chinese company Xiaomi overtook Samsung to become the country’s largest smartphone maker with a 14 percent market share. Samsung held on to the second spot, with a 12 percent share, slightly ahead of third place Lenovo, outshipping it by 200,000 units.

The Korean electronics giant had been China’s leading smartphone maker since 2012′s first quarter, said Wang Jingwen, an analyst with Canalys. At the time, the company’s market share was 22 percent.

In China, Samsung sells a large range of handsets, from high end to low, and benefits from a strong brand and a vast reseller network. But its Chinese rivals are increasingly putting pressure on the company, especially when it comes to selling lower-end phones, Wang said.

“In the mid-to-low end segment, Samsung devices have not represented great value for money in China,” she said. The country’s largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, is also partnering more with domestic handset makers to launch phones built for its new 4G network, Wang added.

Xiaomi, on the other hand, has been growing fast, largely by selling feature-packed smartphones at just above cost price. This marks the first time the Chinese company has taken the top spot in China, after only starting to sell phones three years ago.

Xiaomi’s low-end series of phones, known as Redmi, are driving the company’s shipments in China, which reached almost 15 million in the second quarter, according to Canalys. The Redmi phones can start as low as 699 yuan (US$113) when bought without carrier subsidies.

Xiaomi’s aggressive pricing is leading the company’s success, Wang said. The company has already sold 26.1 million phones in this year’s first half, with the goal of selling a total of 60 million by the end of this year. Although not a big name outside of China, Xiaomi is expanding to ten foreign markets this year.