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Tesla, Panasonic Join Forces On Battery Factory Deal

August 1, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Panasonic Corp confirmed on Thursday it would invest in U.S. electric autombile maker Tesla Motors Inc’s planned $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant in the United States.

The Japanese company, which already supplies batteries for Tesla, said it was analyzing the demand for batteries before deciding on an amount to invest in the joint venture. It had earlier said it would invest in stages and that any expenditure this year would be small.

“We have not yet decided exactly how much we will invest and when,” said Chief Financial Officer Hideaki Kawai.

“However, Tesla is a very important partner to us and discussions are continuing. We need to look very carefully at auto demand and respond appropriately so of course that means taking a step-by-step approach to investment,” he added.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that Panasonic would initially invest around 20 to 30 billion yen ($200-300 million) into the factory and would ultimately invest about $1 billion.

Demand for batteries from the U.S. premium eco-car maker has been a boon for Panasonic as it tries to expand its business as an industrial supplier, especially to the auto sector, and reduce its reliance on volatile consumer markets.

Under the agreement, Tesla will prepare, provide and manage the land while Panasonic will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and invest in the equipment, machinery and other manufacturing tools, they said in a joint statement.

Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk has said that he expected Panasonic to become the main partner in the Gigafactory, which the company says will be able, when fully operational in 2020, to make more lithium-ion batteries in a year than were produced worldwide in 2013. It is currently looking at three new sites to locate the plant.

 

Several Countries Now Have More Wireless Devices Than People

July 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Wireless broadband subscriptions now outnumber people in seven countries as consumers continue to add smartphone and tablet devices to their personal electronics arsenal, according to a new report.

Finland, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, South Korea and the U.S. had wireless broadband penetration of more than 100 percent as of December 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday. That means there was more than one wireless broadband subscription per person, usually because consumers have more than one mobile device that can go online. The U.S. just barely crossed the bar, while Finland led the group with more than 123 percent penetration.

Across all 37 OECD countries, wireless broadband penetration rose to 72.4 percent as total subscriptions grew 14.6 percent. The group spans North America, Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe, as well as Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Israel, Mexico and Chile. It’s sometimes treated as a barometer of the developed world.

Wired broadband subscriptions also grew in 2013, reaching an average of 27 percent penetration. That means there was just over one wired subscription per four people: Wired broadband services, such as cable and DSL (digital subscriber line), typically are shared. Switzerland led in that category with 44.9 percent penetration, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark. The U.S. had just under 30 wired subscriptions per 100 people, while Turkey came in last with just over 11.

DSL still makes up a majority of wired broadband subscriptions, at 51.5 percent, followed by cable with 31.2 percent. Fiber-optic grew to a 16.7 percent share, gradually replacing DSL services. Fiber more than doubled its share of the market in the U.K. and also gained strongly in Spain, Turkey and France. While those countries still have relatively low fiber penetration, Japan and Korea continued to lead the OECD for that technology. Nearly 70 percent of all wired broadband in Japan goes over fiber, and almost 65 percent in Korea.

The OECD has compiled some of its broadband statistics on a portal page. For all the technologies it tracks, the group uses a generous definition of broadband as a service capable of at least 256K bits per second downstream.

 

 

Sony Wants To Capitalize On The ‘Selfie’ Boom

July 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp said that it has plans to invest 35 billion yen ($345 million) to increase production of image sensors for smartphones and tablets, as the company courts handset makers to get more orders for front-facing camera sensors, used to take selfies.

The Japanese firm said it will increase production of stacked CMOS sensors at two factories on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, while completing work on a factory in northwestern Japan it bought from Renesas Electronics Corp for a total investment of 35 billion yen.

Sony, which currently supplies image sensors for the main camera in Apple Inc’s iPhone said the investment will allow it to raise production by 13 percent to 68,000 wafers a month by August 2015, a step closer to its mid-term goal of 75,000.

Imaging sensors are an area of strength for Sony, which leads the market ahead of Omnivision Technologies Inc, whose sensors are mostly used in front-facing smartphone modules that typically have lower specifications than the main rear camera.

Sony told Reuters in March that it was looking to supply more sensors for front-facing cameras as smartphone makers were looking to improve their quality in response to consumers taking more ‘selfies’, or self-portraits, as well as video calls.

Of the total investment, 9 billion yen will be spent this year, which will come out of the 65 billion yen capex budget for semiconductors announced in May. The remaining 26 billion yen will be spent in the first half of the fiscal year starting next March.

 

Lenovo Says It’s Still In The 8-in. Windows Tablet Game

July 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Lenovo on Friday said it would continue selling sub-10-in. Windows tablets in the U.S., backing away from statements it made the day before, when it said it was pulling the ThinkPad 8 from the North American market and had discontinued offering a model of the Miix 2.

“We will continue to bring new Windows devices to market across different screen sizes, including a new 8-inch tablet and 10-inch tablet coming this holiday,” Lenovo said in a press release published on its website Friday.

“Our model mix changes as per customer demand, and although we are no longer selling ThinkPad 8 in the U.S., and we have sold out of Miix 8-inch, we are not getting out of the small-screen Windows tablet business as was reported by the media (emphasis in original),” the statement continued.

On Thursday, the IDG News Service — like Computerworld, owned and operated by IDG – reported the withdrawal of the ThinkPad 8 and the 8-in. Miix from the U.S. market. The ThinkPad 8 had debuted in January at prices starting at $449, and the similarly-sized Miix had launched in October 2013.

Lenovo told IDG News that it was diverting remaining stocks of the ThinkPad 8 to other countries, including Brazil, China, and Japan, where demand was stronger for smaller Windows 8.1-powered tablets.

The China-based company, which has made impressive gains in the global market — it was the world’s largest personal computer seller during the second quarter, ahead of Hewlett-Packard and Dell, according to IDC — did not say exactly when it would return with an 8-in. device. If it begins selling the unnamed device in October, typical of OEMs that seed the channel then for the holiday sales season, it will have been absent from the market for two or more months.

 

 

Sony’s FeliCa Smartcard Chip Is Gearing Up For Wearables

July 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

If you’re waiting for that multi-functional smartwatch of your dreams, Sony is working to add contactless payments to wearables with a new chip.

The electronics giant’s FeliCa Networks subsidiary is modifying its FeliCa contactless card technology, widely used in Japan for public transit and e-money payments, for wearables.

The company is designing a low-power chip that could be used in wearables such as smartwatches and smart bands, giving them contactless e-money or transit functions or access to restricted areas.

That would allow users to board a train or bus simply by waving a smartwatch near a chip reader, eliminating the need for a separate smart card.

“The wearables field is just beginning so we’re considering what users will want with this functionality as well as what degree of compactness and power savings it will have,” a spokeswoman for FeliCa Networks said.

The company is also developing FeliCa smartcards with small LCD screens and a touch interface that can display information when users swipe their fingers across the cards.

This “interactive FeliCa card,” still in the prototype stage, can show the remaining balance of money stored in the card, for instance, or payment history.

While about 45 million Android smartphones in Japan have had the FeliCa chip since 2012, iPhones do not support it. The LCD smart card could link with iPhones via Bluetooth so users could check their balances on their phones.

FeliCa Networks hopes to introduce the LCD smartcards in the year to April 2016.

One in two people in Japan has a mobile phone with NFC FeliCa phone functions, according to FeliCa Networks.

The company has shipped more than 236 million of its Mobile FeliCa chips as of December 2013, while Suica, a FeliCa-based smartcard for railways in the Tokyo area, can be used in 230,000 stores.

 

 

Nearly 1M Fake Apps Are Targeting Your Mobile Devices

July 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Fake apps purposely masked to look like official ones but actually designed to steal user data are increasingly targeting Android phone users, according to a study by Trend Micro.

The company looked at the top 50 free apps in Google’s Play Store and then searched Google’s app store and others to see if fake versions existed. It found fake versions existed for 77 percent of the apps. The fake apps are often made to look like the real ones and have the same functions, but carry a dangerous extra payload.

“We’ve been tracking the activity of malicious or high-risk apps for nearly five years,” said JD Sherry, vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro. “The potential for people to slip things past the gate and appear legitimate is much easier.”

Tokyo-based Trend Micro, which makes antivirus and antimalware software that guard against such risks, said it cataloged 890,482 fake apps in a survey conducted in April this year. More than half were judged to be malicious of which 59,185 were aggressive adware and 394,263 were malware.

The most common type of fake app purports to be antivirus software — targeting users who think they are protecting themselves from such problems. In some cases, the apps ask users to approve administrator privileges, which allow the app wider access to the phone’s software and data and make it more difficult to remove.

While many of the fake apps exist on forums or third-party app stores where security is either weaker than Google’s Play Store or nonexistent, fake apps can also invade the official Google store.

“A more recent example of a rogue antivirus app known as “Virus Shield” received a 4.7-star rating after being downloaded more than 10,000 times, mostly with the aid of bots,” Trend Micro said in its report.

Cheekily, scammers charged $3.99 for the fake app, which promised to prevent harmful apps from being installed. It was removed by Google after a few days, but not before it fooled thousands of users and even became a “top new paid app” in the Play Store. Trend said it was “perplexing” how the app achieved “top” status.

Attackers sometimes play on hype for apps.

When the “Flappy Bird” game was taken off the Play Store, fake versions appeared, some of which sent premium text messages. And before BlackBerry released its BBM messenger app for Android, a number of fake versions appeared that were downloaded more than 100,000 times.

Trend Micro’s report was published on the same day Google said it had formed a security team to go after so-called “zero-day” exploits in software that allow attackers to target users before software companies issue patches.

Sherry said he thought Google’s announcement was “ironic” considering the large number of problems Trend Micro found in Google’s own backyard.

 

Will Microsoft Launch A Smartwatch Before Apple?

July 2, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple is so far behind on its iWatch vapourware that even Microsoft is going to beat it to market.

Word on the street is that Redmond is releasing a smartwatch in the autumn. Another deep throat also told Tom’s Hardware claims that will be in October, which is the suspected launch date of the Apple iWatch. Microsoft’s watch looks vaguely interesting. It will have 11 sensors and will apparently not be much like any of the LG or Samsung smart watches which have been released.

The position of the screen is said to be on the inside of the wrist rather than the outside like a normal watch and more like a Nike Fuelband. What is more interesting is that the watch will have open APIs and cross platform capability, which will mean that it can talk to Android phones. This will make it a lot more flexible than Apple’s closed source model and will mean that Apple will depend on its marketing to make the watch popular. Not that it has done it any harm so far.

Apple convinced the world that Microsoft’s keyboardless netbooks were the way forward when there was an Apple logo on them and people were convinced they had been invented by Steve Jobs.

Courtesy-Fud

Sony Believes TV Business Will Swing To Profitability This year

July 1, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp believes its TV division will swing into the black this financial year after a decade in the red, even if it falls short of its volume sales target, the head of the newly independent division said on Monday.

Masashi Imamura told a media round table that the TV business, which will become a separate subsidiary of Sony Corp on July 1, had reduced fixed costs during the last financial year, and profitability was now in sight.

He said Sony this year would be able to absorb the impact of any fluctuations in emerging market currencies, a factor he blamed for the unit’s failure to make a profit last year.

Sony has forecast an 18.5 percent rise in TV sales to 16 million units this year from 13.5 million units a year ago, an increase that analysts said was well above the industry’s average growth forecasts.

Imamura said the sales target was achievable, but added that the TV business would still turn a profit even if sales fell short of this goal.

Sony’s TV division will be split off from the parent company on Tuesday, a move aimed at boosting transparency and accountability in a bid to achieve and maintain profitability.

Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said at a corporate strategy meeting last month that the company had not ruled out an equity tie-up for the TV business, which is to be known as Sony Visual Products Inc, although nothing had been decided on the matter.

Sony’s TV business has seen relatively rapid turnover at the top over the past decade with six different chiefs, although Imamura has had the longest tenure, serving since August 2011.

Sony’s shares are down 8 percent so far this year, in line with the benchmark Nikkei average’s 7 percent drop.

 

Apple’s iWatch Will Have Multiple Screens, Designs

June 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc plans to introduce smartwatches with multiple screen sizes and designs this fall,  according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Taiwan’s Quanta will begin mass production of Apple’s first smartwatches from July, in time for an October launch, several sources familiar with the matter told Reuters last Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday also cited sources saying Quanta would manufacture the device.

One of the sources told Reuters on Thursday that Apple expects to ship 50 million units of the so-called iWatch within the first year of the product’s release, although these types of initial estimates can be subject to change.

The smartwatch will come with a slightly rectangular display that likely measures 2.5 inches diagonally, the source added. The watch-face will protrude slightly from the band, creating an arched shape, and feature a touch interface and wireless charging capabilities, according to the source.

Another source told Reuters that LG Display Co Ltd is the exclusive supplier of the screen for the gadget’s initial batch of production.

The iWatch will also contain a sensor that monitors a user’s pulse. Singapore-based imaging and sensor maker Heptagon is on the supplier list for that feature, two sources said on Thursday.

Apple’s smartwatch will follow similar devices by Samsung, Sony Corp, Motorola and LG Electronics Inc – gadgets that tech watchers say have not been appealing or user-friendly enough for mass adoption.

But the market is growing fast. Data firm IDC estimates that worldwide shipments of wearable computing devices, including smartwatches, will triple this year over 2013.

 

Mobile Messaging App Tango To Begin Delivering Media Content

June 12, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Tango, the popular mobile messaging app, said that it has reached agreements with media companies including AOL and Vevo to distribute content in a new effort to differentiate itself in the hotly contested mobile messaging sector.

Tango said its 200 million users worldwide will be able to browse new “Channels” for entertainment, news, sports and other categories to discover articles, videos and songs. Content providers so far include music streaming service Spotify, AOL properties including the Huffington Post and Dailymotion, the video repository.

For Tango, the media partnerships are critical for its ambitions to become an online media hub – and a differentiating feature from other messaging services such as Whatsapp, the startup acquired by Facebook Inc in a $19 billion deal this year.

Whatsapp, for instance, has focused exclusively on improving its text-based messaging service, while China’s Tencent Holdings service WeChat touts the games it offers.

Tango co-founder Eric Setton said having unique and rich content would provide a unique draw for users. At the same time, Tango’s messaging service provided the ideal platform to distribute content for media companies, he argued.

“People realize that less and less time is spent on Web browsers, and all of the rest of the time is in apps,” Setton said in an interview. “We have a role to play here, in the distribution of content and the discovery of content because content producers need a way to get into bigger and bigger apps.”

Facebook’s Whatsapp acquisition in February – the largest in history for a venture-backed company – cast a spotlight squarely on the promise and potential value of mobile messaging apps.

Tokyo-based Line Corp, one of Asia’s fastest growing messaging services, is considering an initial public offering this year, according to media reports.

Tango has been watched closely in Silicon Valley circles particularly after it received an investment exceeding $200 million from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd in March, effectively cementing its ties to the Chinese e-commerce giant.

 

DoCoMo Introduces Wearable SIM Cards

June 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Instead of always storing them in phones, Japanese mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo wants people to start wearing their SIM cards.

It has developed a SIM card that can wirelessly connect smartphones and tablets to networks and the Internet simply by waving one’s hand. The card can also transmit a user’s number and other info, separating connectivity from mobile devices themselves.

Unveiled Tuesday, DoCoMo announced a pocket-sized prototype of the technology that it’s calling Portable SIM. Subscriber identities can be instantly transmitted to mobile devices with the prototype. That means users don’t have to physically insert SIM cards into phones as they do now.

Aside from linking to phones or tablets via Bluetooth and NFC, the SIM contains a user’s phone number, usernames and passwords. DoCoMo said it’s the world’s first SIM-based authentication device that can provide wireless network access.

The prototype, currently 8 cm long, 4 cm wide and weighing 20 grams, will be shrunk so it can fit into a bracelet-style wearable computer, DoCoMo said. Earlier this year, the carrier announced a health-monitoring wristband and smart clothing.

In a series of demonstrations at DoCoMo headquarters in Tokyo, a staffer held the prototype Portable SIM near a SIM-less phone. By linking the two through an app, the phone could receive a call to the number registered on the Portable SIM.

The process, which took a few seconds, was then repeated with a different SIM-less phone.

In another demo, the Portable SIM was used to link different phone numbers to the same phone — first a number for personal use, and then one for business. The idea is that the same smartphone could be used with different phone numbers in the SIM depending on the time of day, and each number would also trigger certain apps or other custom settings.

“We were considering what comes next after the smartphone and we zeroed in on what functions were essential to customers,” Akira Shibutani, manager of the Advanced Technology Group at DoCoMo’s Communication Device Development Department, said in a briefing on the device. “We felt that this boiled down to authentication.”

The SIM might also be used to connect to other devices too, including PCs, in-car information systems, public phones or bathroom scales. Travelers, for instance, could leave their smartphone at home but get online by waving their Portable SIM in front of a hotel TV, he said.

 

Cyber Crime Costs Hits $445 Billion A Year

June 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Cyber crime costs the global economy about $445 billion every year, with the damage to business from the theft of intellectual property exceeding the $160 billion loss to individuals from hacking, according to a recent study.

The report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said cyber crime was a growth industry that damaged trade, competitiveness and innovation.

A conservative estimate would be $375 billion in losses, while the maximum could be as much as $575 billion, said the study, sponsored by security software company McAfee.

“Cyber crime is a tax on innovation and slows the pace of global innovation by reducing the rate of return to innovators and investors,” Jim Lewis of CSIS said in a statement.

“For developed countries, cyber crime has serious implications for employment.”

The world’s biggest economies bore the brunt of the losses, the research found, with the toll on the United States, China, Japan and Germany reaching $200 billion a year in total.

Losses connected to personal information, such as stolen credit card data, was put at up to $150 billion.

About 40 million people in the United States, roughly 15 percent of the population, has had personal information stolen by hackers, it said, while high-profile breaches affected 54 million people in Turkey, 16 million in Germany and more than 20 million in China.

McAfee, owned by Intel Corp, said improved international collaboration was beginning to show results in reducing cyber crime, for example in the takedown last week of a crime ring that infected hundreds of thousands of computers known by the name of its master software, Gameover Zeus.

 

Apple Plans On 3-5 Million Smartwatches Monthly Beginning In October

June 9, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc is gearing up to sell its first wearable device this October, with plans to produce 3 million to 5 million smartwatches a month in its initial run, the Nikkei reported on Friday, citing an unidentified parts supplier and sources familiar with the matter.

Specifications are still being finalized, but the devices are likely to sport curved OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays and sensors that collect health data from blood glucose and calorie consumption to sleep activity, the Japanese news service cited industry sources as saying.

The industry has long expected Apple to unveil some sort of smartwatch, following the release of Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Gear watches.

Wall Street is hoping to see a new Apple product this year to galvanize the former stock market darling’s share price and end a years-long drought of ground-breaking devices. CEO Tim Cook has promised “new product categories” in 2014.

Apple declined to comment.

 

Personal Robots Going On Sale Next Year, Says SoftBank

June 6, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Japan’s SoftBank Corp said on Thursday it will begin selling human-like robots for personal use by February, expanding into a sector seen key to addressing labor shortages in one of the world’s fastest ageing populations.

The robots, which the mobile phone and Internet conglomerate envisions serving as baby-sitters, nurses, emergency medical workers or even party companions, will sell for 198,000 yen ($1,900) and are capable of learning and expressing emotions, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son told a news conference.

A prototype will be deployed this week, serving customers at SoftBank mobile phone stores in Japan, he added. The sleek, waist-high robot, named Pepper, accompanied Son to the briefing, speaking to reporters in a high-pitched, boyish voice.

“People describe others as being robots because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions,” Son said.

The robots were developed by French robotics company Aldebaran, in which SoftBank took a stake in 2012, and will be manufactured by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd.

They will use cloud computing to share data that can develop their own emotional capabilities. Son said they would not share an owner’s personal information.

Japan’s population is one of the most rapidly ageing in the world and the government hopes companies can offset a decline in the labour force by utilizing robotics.

Several Japanese technology manufacturers are targeting robotics for growth. Panasonic Corp and robotics research subsidiary ActiveLink Co Ltd this week showcased robotic suits and vests to assist in arduous manual tasks such as carrying heavy loads or picking fruit from trees. Personal or household robots, such as the Asimo robot that Honda Motor Co has been developing for more than a decade, are seen as potential elderly care providers.

 

 

Is Sony’s Next Move To Kill The PSP?

June 6, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Word we are hearing is that Sony is planning to discontinue the PSP (or PlayStation Portable) and will end shipments later this year. If this ends up coming to pass, the handheld console which was a first for Sony, was launched way back in 2003 at E3, but it took some time for Sony’s first portable console to be available worldwide.

The PSP has gone through several revisions including the removal of the Universal Media Disc (UMD) and the release of a revised version known as the PSP Go which was a download only version that was a total failure and quickly killed off in 2011. A very popular revision of the console known as the slim and lite version known as the PSP-2000 sold quite well and it was followed by the PSP-3000 version which was tweaked and available in several special edition versions.

Since PSP games can be played on the PS Vita that came from the PlayStation Store, that also had to factor into the company’s decision as well. Word is that the decision to end the sales of the PSP does not and will not have any effect on the PlayStation Vita which will continue on as Sony’s portable gaming platform. Due to the included streaming gaming support that is included with the PlayStation 4 using the PS Vita, it is unlikely that Sony will be planning to discontinue the PS Vita anytime soon, but a lower cost hardware revision is likely in the cards at some point in the near future, sources tell us.

Total sales of the PSP in all of the console revisions is over 80 million consoles worldwide according to a number of sources.

Courtesy-Fud