The veteran tech pioneer, which long ago lost the mantle of the world’s most inventive company, is making a bold play to regain that title in the face of stiff competition from Google Inc and Apple Inc.
Virtual or enhanced reality is the next frontier in computing interaction, with Facebook Inc focusing on its Oculus virtual reality headset and Google working on its Glass project.
Microsoft said its wire-free Microsoft HoloLens device will be available around the same time as Windows 10 this autumn. Industry analysts were broadly excited at the prospect, but skeptical that it could produce a working model at a mass-market price that soon.
“That was kind of a ‘Oh wow!’ moment,” said Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner who tried out the prototype on Wednesday. “You would expect to see a relatively high-priced model this year or next year, then maybe it’ll take another couple of years to bring it down to a more affordable level.”
Microsoft does not have a stellar record of bringing ground-breaking technology to life. Its Kinect motion-sensing game device caused an initial stir but never gripped the popular imagination.
The company showed off a crude test version of the visor – essentially jerry-rigged wires and cameras pulled over the head – to reporters and industry analysts at a gathering at its headquarters near Seattle.
It did not allow any photographs or video of the experience, but put some images on its website.
Microsoft Researchers have worked out a way that means you will never have to plug in your phone again.
Yunxin Liu, Zhen Qin and Chunshui Zhao from Microsoft Research’s Beijing campus have developed a new system they call AutoCharge.
The researchers’ paper said that “wireless power methods have several disadvantages, preventing them from being used in our targeted usage scenarios”
Electromagnetic radiation of wireless power is much higher than wireless communications (Wi-Fi or 3G). Thus, safety to human bodies is a big issue in wireless power. As a result, wireless power is usually used only in extreme scenarios such as in outer space, for military purposes, or in very short ranges.
Radio frequencies used in wireless power are much lower than the frequencies of light, it is hard to emit the radio waves within a straight beam. This causes energy waste if the receiver is not large enough and makes it hard to ensure safety.
The current crop of wireless charging solutions for smartphones typically require special phone cases and ‘charging pads’, and work using electromagnetic induction. Power is transmitted only over a few centimetres.
However the researchers came up with a way of using solar power techniques to charge smartphones.
Indoor surrounding light is usually much than the sunlight and thus cannot be used to charge a smartphone but instead of relying on the sun, the team built a prototype charger that can be mounted on a ceiling and automatically locate a smartphone lying on a table, then charge it using a directed beam of light.
The light charger has two modes. In the ‘detection’ mode, it uses a camera and image recognition software to detect objects with the size and shape of a smartphone lying on a table. The charger will rotate until it detects an object that looks like a smartphone.
The device then enters charging mode and turns on its light. The prototype used an UltraFire CREE XM-L T6 Focusing LED Flashlight.
CCS Insight has said that, while Microsoft’s share of the tablet market is expected to grow, Windows 10 will have “little impact” before the end of 2016.
CCS has cast its eye over tablet sales, and said that while the market saw minimal growth in 2014, sales are likely to increase by 28 percent in 2015.
The growth will largely be driven by Android, thanks to affordably priced tablets running Google’s software, while Apple is expected to continue to woo those in the market for a high-end device.
Apple will also grow its position in the business tablet market, CCS expects, thanks to its partnership with IBM.
However, CCS stressed that Microsoft should not be overlooked. Sales of Windows-based tablets won’t see huge growth this year, but will gain a bigger share of the market.
Marina Koytcheva, CCS director of forecasting, said: “We expect Android to continue dominating the low-end and mid-range market, with Apple taking the lion’s share of the high-end.
“But Windows is gaining a bigger slice of the pie, albeit from a very low level, and should not be overlooked.”
Koytcheva added that Microsoft’s decision to scrap its licence fee for Windows devices under 9in is a major factor.
“It has given Windows fresh impetus, as it has spurred manufacturers to produce a better range of devices at a variety of prices, as low as $99 for HP’s Stream 7, for example,” she said.
Windows 10 is expected to make its debut on 21 January, but isn’t likely to have much of an impact, according to CCS.
“Microsoft still runs the risk of failing to convert the wide availability of cheaper Windows tablets into strong growth in unit sales before 2017,” Koytcheva said.
“Windows 10 will take time to make its mark, and developers will need a few months to perfect applications for the new platform. We expect Windows 10 to have little impact on tablet sales before late 2016.”
China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , the world’s biggest e-commerce company, is piloting a mobile messaging app geared toward merging social networking with business, an Alibaba spokeswoman said, as the company expands its enterprise services.
The app, called DingTalk, was quietly made available in December and is still in beta testing, according to its website.
Capable of carrying conference calls and group messaging, DingTalk targets small- and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are already Alibaba’s customers. The company has 8.5 million active sellers on its various e-commerce platforms, according to Alibaba’s initial public offering prospectus.
It is not Alibaba’s first stab at a mobile messaging app and others have become hot property in the tech sector. The company’s arch-rival, Tencent Holdings Ltd, operates WeChat, known as Weixin in China, which has 468 million monthly active users and was estimated to be worth as much as $64 billion by brokerage CLSA.
Underscoring the appeal of such apps, Facebook Inc in October completed its $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.
But Alibaba’s previous attempt at a mobile messaging app, Laiwang, is seen by many analysts and industry observers as a dud, with the Chinese market dominated by Tencent’s WeChat.
By going for smaller companies, DingTalk is chasing a target audience that already includes many Alibaba clients. This fits with its broader enterprise strategy, including the Alibaba Cloud Computing business, which also serves Alibaba’s merchants as well as other companies.
“DingTalk is a versatile mobile communications app that fills a gap in the market for corporate mobile messaging,” the Alibaba spokeswoman said.
HP is about to put out two tablets later this year.
The names are expected to be the HP Pro Slate 10 EE G1 and HP Pro Tablet 10 EE G1 and they were found on the world wide wibble by Notebook Italia,.
Both tablets are powered by an Intel quad-core Bay Trail Atom Z3735F processor. Accompanying the processor package is 2GB of RAM, as well as 32GB of internal storage. Both the Pro Slate and Pro Tablet come with 10.1-inch displays, as well as 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC.
The Pro Slate sticks with Android, while the Pro Tablet opts for Windows 8.1. The tablets mean they will each come with a stylus, but it would appear that the stylus is just a stand in for your finger, rather than doing anything useful.
Pro Slate will set you back $400.00 and Pro Tablet cost $499.
HP has yet to officially announce either device.
While not an entirely unique concept, a new decentralized service is beta testing a peer-to-peer network that would “rent” unused space from your PC’s hard drive as part of a cloud service to store files from other users.
The service, called Storj, uses the network and end-to-end encryption to allow the transfer of data to and from your computer’s drive. Your hard drive is literally used to store other people’s data.
During a crowdsourcing campaign last year, Storj garnered 910 Bitcoins valued at $461,802, according tothe CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index.
Users who rent out space on their hard drives earn “Storjcoin X” (SJCX), a form of currency that can be used to purchase capacity on Storj’s “Driveshare” service.
Users earn the SJCXs by selling excess hard drive space with DriveShare, or use it to purchase space on the Storj Metadisk network using the company’s file sharing app.
Users who want to store files on the peer-to-peer network simply drag and drop them into the Metadisk app, where they’re then listed for viewing or retrieval. If a user wants to share a file with someone else, they simply click on a “copy URL” icon and send along the resulting URL.
The peer-to-peer cloud storage network allows users to transfer and share data without relying on a third-party data provider. Storj claims that by removing any form of central controls, it eliminates most traditional data failures and outages, “as well as significantly increasing security, privacy and data control.”
The service works by first uploading a file-sharing application onto a user’s computer then breaking file data into small 8MB or 32MB blocks, or “shards,” as Storj calls them. Each block of data is encrypted with a unique hash, and then the pieces are distributed throughout the cloud network, according to a white paper the company published on its peer-to-peer storage technology.
The file blocks get distributed throughout the network on nodes called “DriveShares” located all over the world.
Storj uses hash chains or Merkle Trees, as they are sometimes called, to verify the contents of a file after it has been broken up into blocks or “leaves” off of a master or root hash.
Storj periodically cryptographically checks the integrity and availability of a file, and offers direct rewards to those maintaining the file.
Employees are eager to integrate wearable devices into their daily routines but aren’t convinced the technology will make their jobs easier. They also want employers to cover the costs, according to a survey from IT staffing firm Modis.
“The utility of them in the workplace is probably what’s causing the hesitation to want to dip into their own pocket and actually pay for them,” said Bobby Knight, senior vice president of strategic sales and delivery at Modis, which conducted the survey to gauge worker sentiment around using technology, especially wearables, in the office.
The survey found that professionals are keen on using wearables at work. Ninety percent of the 603 professionals polled responded that they’re interested in receiving a wearable device from their employer to complete work tasks and 60 percent said they would be extremely interested in using such a device at work. But only 37 percent believed that wearables could make their jobs easier.
“I think the utility of it probably has to mature a little bit in the workplace for companies and employees to widely adopt it,” Knight said.
The survey noted that some employees don’t see useful workplace applications for wearables, with 19 percent calling the technology irrelevant to their jobs and 12 percent labeling the devices as a distraction.
Some businesses would be receptive to purchasing wearables for their employees, said Knight. Wearables are encountering the same enterprise use questions tablets faced when they debuted. Now, mobile technology is purchased by businesses to help workers instantly access data. Wearables could follow a similar path once their role is better defined, he added.
“Creative employees will figure out how to leverage that for their benefit,” Knight said.
Workers picked smartwatches as the wearable they’re most interested in using, with 63 percent of respondents naming those devices as their top choice. This technology also has the most practical applications, Knight said. With a smartwatch, workers can leave their smartphones at their desk, attend a meeting and still have access to emails, calls and text messages.
The brief onstage demo for reporters and analysts indicated a new direction into wearable technologies for BlackBerry. At the same time, it showed that BlackBerry, long a stronghold of business users, expects business people to begin buying smartwatches for quick wrist-based alerts and longer communications that don’t require digging into a pocket or purse for a smartphone.
BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) for Android Wear smartwatches like the Moto 360 or the Samsung Galaxy Gear S should be available in about two months, said Jeff Gadway, director of enterprise products for BlackBerry.
He demonstrated how a BBM user could take a brief text and voice interaction with another worker from the Galaxy Gear S smartwatch. The smartwatch was connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone kept in his pocket.
With enterprise-class BBM Protected, its end-to-end encrypted messaging service, BlackBerry also able provides the higher level of encryption that businesses need to keep communications secure, he added.
BlackBerry says it has 90 million active users on BBM, and the service is growing.
“The smartwatch is great for me if I’m in a meeting and get a notice on my wrist, then I can swipe right and hit a pre-set to send back a response, ‘Why don’t we connect once we’re done?’ ” Gadway said. Google Now can also be used to enable voice connections.
Gadway said that companies, such as in warehouse operations, might choose to buy line workers $200 smartwatches to monitor workflows, which would be much less than the cost of most smartphones and laptops. Workers could receive alerts on the smartwatch to start or change a task or learn when a problem occurred.
“It’s early for smartwatches, but BlackBerry decided its definitely worth exploring,” he said. “This is our move beyond smartphones to wearables.”
The lightweight drives have capacities of up to 1TB and are small enough to fit in your pocket. They’re significantly more expensive than magnetic hard drives, though, which come in capacities of up to 6TB.
Samsung’s 250GB external SSD is priced at $179.99, a 500GB drive is $299.99, and a 1TB drive is $599.99. By comparison, a 1TB magnetic drive can be acquired for under $100.
External storage is mostly used for data backup. But demand for external drives is growing as users download and store more multimedia and programs. Storage is also limited in Chromebooks and lightweight Windows laptops and hybrids, so users have to revert to external storage to preserve files.
But Samsung’s portable SSDs will be faster and more power-efficient than external hard drives, said Richard Leonarz, senior marketing manager.
SSDs are faster at reading and writing data than hard drives. SSDs also don’t have spinning disks, which are prevalent in hard drives and can draw a lot of power when reading and writing data.
The Portable SSD T1 drives will connect to a PC’s USB 3.0 port. The SSDs have sequential read and write speeds of 450MBps, random read speeds of 8,000 IOPS (input/output per second) and random write speeds of 21,000 IOPS.
Samsung already makes internal SSDs, which are widely used in laptops and have up to 3.2GB in storage capacity. The external SSDs are based on the same advanced 3D V-NAND technology that gives its internal SSDs speed and durability. The 3D V-NAND SSDs have storage units stacked on top of each other, much like a skyscraper, which is a more power-efficient and speedy structure compared to the planar structure used in most SSDs today.
Samsung is now taking on the likes of Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba, which largely sell external hard drives and hybrid SSD-hard drive products.
Facebook Inc has purchased a company that makes voice recognition technology for wearable devices and Internet- connected appliances, the latest sign of its goal to extend its reach beyond computers and smartphones.
Facebook said it acquired wit.ai on Monday, without providing a price for the deal. The 18-month old company, based in Palo Alto, California, makes software that can understand spoken words as well as written text phrased in “natural language.”
A Facebook representative declined to provide details on how Facebook planned to use the technology or with which group within Facebook the wit.ai team would work.
The deal comes as technology companies are racing to bring Internet connectivity to a new crop of devices, from watches to washing machines. Voice recognition, the technology that helps power services such as Apple Inc’s Siri, is considered a key building block for the new devices to earn mainstream consumer appeal.
Facebook, the world’s largest Internet social network, with 1.3 billion users, is increasingly looking beyond the PCs, tablets and smartphones currently used to access its service. In March, it acquired virtual reality headset maker Oculus VR for $2 billion.
The deal for wit.ai is likely to have been significantly smaller. Wit.ai announced in October that it had raised $3 million in a funding round led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
The Chromebook 15 is also the first device in the category with a processor based on Intel’s latest Broadwell circuit design. Starting at $249.99, the laptop will offer eight hours of battery life and be among the fastest chromebooks available.
Most chromebooks today have 11.6- or 13.3-in. screens, and are considered adequate for those who do most of their computing online. The Chromebook 15 will provide more screen space to read documents or watch movies.
An Internet connection is needed to run a majority of chromebook applications, but some can be used offline. Intel’s Broadwell-based Celeron processor will crank up the performance of both offline and online applications.
The Chromebook 15 will also deliver better graphics and video, which could be beneficial when watching movies. But the graphics quality won’t match that of Acer’s Chromebook 13, which has an Nvidia Tegra K1 chip that is capable of processing 4K video.
Chromebooks today are equipped with either ARM or Intel processors, and the fastest models have Intel’s Core i3 processors based on the Haswell microarchitecture. Broadwell is the successor to the Haswell microarchitecture. Intel is launching new Broadwell chips at International CES in Las Vegas, starting Jan. 6.
At 4.8 pounds, Acer’s Chromebook 15 could be a lighter and cheaper alternative to Windows desktop replacement laptops. The Chrome OS has built-in security features and will automatically update itself on a regular basis.
The Chromebook 15 has an unconventional design, with speaker bars placed next to the keyboard. The laptop supports up to 4GB of DRAM and 32GB of solid-state drive storage, much like the smaller-screen chromebooks. Other features include a webcam, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and SD card reader. The laptop also has USB 3.0, USB 2.0 and HDMI ports.
Acer said the Chromebook will be available in different regions. It will ship in the U.S. next month. The company will show the new Chromebook at CES.
At an event in Las Vegas ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show, Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang said the Tegra X1 chip would provide enough computing horsepower for automobiles with displays built into mirrors, dashboard, navigation systems and passenger seating.
“The future car is going to have an enormous amount of computational ability,” Huang said. “We imagine the number of displays in your car will grow very rapidly.”
The Tegra X1 has twice the performance of its predecessor, the Tegra K1, and will come out in early 2015, Nvidia said.
An upcoming platform combining two of the X1 chips can process data collected from up to 12 high-definition cameras monitoring traffic, blind spots and other safety conditions in driver assistance systems, Huang said.
Combined with next-generation software, the chips can help detect and read road signs, recognize pedestrians and detect braking vehicles, he said.
Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia in recent years has been expanding beyond its core business of designing high-end graphics chips for personal computers.
After struggling to compete against larger chipmakers like Qualcomm in smartphones and tablets, Nvidia is now increasing its focus on using its Tegra mobile chips in cars and is already supplying companies including Audi, BMW and Tesla.
Dealing with a decline in the mail it has been delivering since the days of America’s Revolutionary War, in 2012 the U.S. Postal Service began aggressively targeting e-commerce and lapsed customers as the way to salvage its slumping business.
“Really it started almost at the level of cold-calling, talking to people who really hadn’t spoken to us in a long time,” said Nagisa Manabe, who joined the USPS in May 2012 as chief marketing and sales officer from Coca-Cola Co after a career in the private sector. “And really trying to persuade them to consider us as a very viable alternative in the shipping market.”
With further drops in its traditional bread-and-butter products ahead, the USPS wants to capitalize on e-commerce, which consulting firm Detroit LLP has predicted should grow 14 percent this holiday season alone. But industry experts question whether the USPS has enough space in its delivery vans and whether its unionized work force can handle a greater proportion of the e-commerce market.
Over the past two years the USPS has rolled out real-time scanning for packages, a vital tool for online retailers and consumers alike to track their packages. It is also upgrading all of its delivery workers’ handheld scanners.
The rise of the Internet has taken a heavy toll on first-class mail, the USPS’s most profitable product. That falling business played a significant role in the USPS’s fiscal 2014 loss of $5.5 billion, its eighth consecutive year in the red.
From 2009 to 2013, the volume of first-class mail deliveries dropped more than 20 percent. In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, USPS deliveries declined to 155.4 billion pieces from 158.2 billion. First-class deliveries accounted for 2.2 billion pieces of that decline.
But package deliveries rose to more than 4 billion pieces from 3.7 billion, accounting for $1.1 billion of the USPS’s revenue growth of $1.9 billion. In the run-up to Christmas, the USPS has been doing Sunday deliveries for Amazon.com Inc in a number of cities. Manabe adds that the agency will handle the online retailer’s push into same-day and next-day deliveries “in many markets.”
EBay Inc is another major customer and Manabe says “pretty much anyone who’s in the e-commerce space at least does some volume with us.”
On Monday, Oracle agreed to purchase Datalogix for an undisclosed sum, saying that together the companies will provide marketers with a richer understanding of what consumers do, say and buy, allowing them to measure the effectiveness of their different campaigns and advertising channels.
Oracle plans to link the Datalogix service, which provides the spending data to customers through a cloud-based tool, to its other cloud-based services via Oracle Identity Graph. This, it said, will allow it to connect consumer identities to build better profiles that can be used to personalize online and mobile services — and even to target them offline and via the TV.
It made no commitment to maintain the existing Datalogix product roadmap, saying that it was still reviewing its plans. The companies set no timeline for completing the deal, which they said must meet customary closing conditions including obtaining regulatory approval.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will render a decision on whether to establish rules regarding hotels’ ability to block personal Wi-Fi hotspots inside their buildings, a practice that recently earned Marriott International a $600,000 fine.
In August, Marriott, business partner Ryman Hospitality Properties and trade group the American Hotel and Lodging Association asked the FCC to clarify when hotels can block outside Wi-Fi hotspots in order to protect their internal Wi-Fi services.
In that petition, the hotel group asked the agency to “declare that the operator of a Wi-Fi network does not violate [U.S. law] by using FCC-authorized equipment to monitor and mitigate threats to the security and reliability of its network,” even when taking action causes interference to mobile devices.
The comment period for the petition ended Friday, so now it’s up to the FCC to either agree to Marriott’s petition or disregard it.
However, the FCC did act in October, slapping Marriott with the fine after customers complained about the practice. In their complaint, customers alleged that employees of Marriott’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville used signal-blocking features of a Wi-Fi monitoring system to prevent customers from connecting to the Internet through their personal Wi-Fi hotspots. The hotel charged customers and exhibitors $250 to $1,000 per device to access Marriott’s Wi-Fi network.
During the comment period, several groups called for the agency to deny the hotel group’s petition.
The FCC made clear in October that blocking outside Wi-Fi hotspots is illegal, Google’s lawyers wrote in a comment. “While Google recognizes the importance of leaving operators flexibility to manage their own networks, this does not include intentionally blocking access to other commission-authorized networks, particularly where the purpose or effect of that interference is to drive traffic to the interfering operator’s own network,” they wrote.