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Is Sharp Making A Comeback?

October 24, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Troubled Japanese television manufacturer Sharp is expecting significant improvement in annual profit due to restructuring with its new owner Foxconn.

Shares in the outfit soared more than 10 percent after the Nikkei business daily reported that Sharp forecasts operating profit of about $385 million for the business year through March which was much better than expected.

Meeting the forecast would mark the first operating profit in three years for Sharp, which is rebuilding under Taiwan’s Foxconn which bought two-thirds of the telly maker in August.

Sharp slashed about 6,000 jobs in the last financial year through early retirement and an operations overhaul including withdrawal from its money-losing North American TV set business.

Sharp said it expected profit to improve but revenue to fall. Its shares subsequently jumped nearly 11 percent to their highest price in about six months, far outperforming the benchmark Nikkei average share price index.

However the prospects of Sharp’s mainstay display panel business are not that hot. The global panel market is on the cusp of improvement as a production cutback resolved a supply glut.

But Sharp still has to find ways to compete with Chinese peers rapidly expanding capacity, and with South Korean makers far ahead in next-generation technology.

Sharp said it would provide a full-year earnings forecast on 1 November when it announces its second-quarter results.

Courtesy-Fud

Amazon Launches $3.99/Monthly Music Streaming Service

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

amazon-music-unlimited-150x150Amazon.com Inc has officially launched a full-fledged music streaming service with subscriptions as low as $3.99 per month for owners of its Amazon Echo speaker, accelerating the industry trend toward more flexible pricing after years of sticking to $9.99 subscriptions.

The new streaming service, called “Amazon Music Unlimited,” lets users access a vast catalog of songs on demand, similar to Spotify and Apple Music. Subscriptions to play music on the Echo cost $3.99 per month; for access beyond that device, subscriptions cost $7.99 a month for members of Amazon’s Prime shipping and video service and $9.99 for non-members. Amazon will continue to offer Prime members a limited streaming service for free.

As it plunges deeper into the crowded streaming field, Amazon is counting on the Echo, a smart speaker that responds to voice commands, to set it apart. Released broadly last year, the Echo has become a surprise hit, prompting many to predict that voice will become a key way users interact with technology – and music is central to the device’s appeal.

Amazon has built an elaborate system of voice controls for listening on the Echo. The company believes such smart home devices will be a key source of growth for the music industry, said Steve Boom, vice president of Amazon Music.

“The first phase of growth (in music streaming) was driven almost entirely by smartphones,” he said in an interview. “We believe pretty strongly that the next phase of growth in streaming is going to come from the home.”

The low price for Amazon’s streaming service is consistent with the company’s reputation for undercutting the competition and signals the music industry is beginning to accommodate consumers who are unwilling to pay $9.99 per month. Having watched revenues plummet from the CD era, label executives have been reluctant to budge on price, but they have come under pressure as streaming accounts for more of the pie.

Boom said he is optimistic that the new prices will expand the market.

“We’re moving music away from a one-size-fits-all approach,” Boom said. “We are the ones who have been pushing this the hardest.”

Streaming services must pay a majority of their revenues to rights holders, a business model that has left Pandora and Spotify struggling to turn a profit. But Amazon can afford to take a loss on music streaming, and the boost to Prime is well worth it, analysts say.

The premium music service, following the release of a standalone video service, suggests Amazon will increasingly offer basic media options through Prime while selling additional subscriptions for consumers who want to go deeper, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

 

Sony Joins The Virtual Reality Race With New VR Headset

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

sony-vr-headset-150x150Sony Corp jumped into the race for virtual reality (VR) dominance with the $399 PlayStation VR, a headset the Japanese electronics group hopes will beat pricier rivals and revive its reputation as a maker of must-have gadgets.

Emerging from years of restructuring, Sony is reshaping itself to focus on lucrative areas such as video games, entertainment and camera sensors – rather than televisions or smartphones where demand is flat, competition acute and margins thin. The games unit is now the single largest profit contributor for the group.

The PlayStation VR headset, Sony’s first major product launch since it declared its turnaround complete in June, will put the company back on the offensive and test its ability to compete in one of the most talked-about spaces in the industry.

Rival offerings in virtual reality headsets include Facebook Inc’s $599 Oculus Rift and HTC Corp’s $799 Vive.

Sony hopes to lure in customers with its more modest price tag and by tapping the 40 million existing users of its flagship consoles – the headset is designed to plug into PlayStation 4, rather than requiring new equipment.

“Sony is well-positioned to build an early lead in the high-end VR headset race,” market researcher IHS Technology said in a report, forecasting sales of 1.4 million units in 2016.

Sony, developer of the Walkman portable cassette player and maker of the first compact disc player, hopes the headset will be a springboard to pull ahead of rivals in VR, gelling with the content portion of its business, specifically music and film.

In an interview with Reuters in September, Andrew House, Sony’s gaming division chief, said he was already in talks with media production companies to explore possibilities for Sony’s VR headset.

“We are talking about years into the future, but these are interesting conversations to start having now,” House said.

Sony, however, will compete in a crowded market. Nomura analysts expect cumulative shipments of all VR headsets to expand more than 20 times to 40 million by 2020, which along with accessories and other non-game content could be worth $10 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said last week the Oculus business will spend $500 million to fund VR content development and is working on an affordable standalone VR headset not tethered to personal computers or consoles.

Amazon Partners With MediaTek

October 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The first-generation Echo device is a voice-activated household digital assistant that can be used to play music, read audiobooks, answer questions about the weather, traffic and latest news, or control IoT-connected light switches and thermostats, among other useful utilities. The device launched in November 2014 and features a Texas Instruments single-core ARM Cortex A8, along with 256MB of LPDDR1 memory and 4GB of storage capacity.

The new Echo Dot will be launching later this month with a MediaTek SoC, while the report suggests shipments of the chip are expected to peak between October and November. The chip is expected to improve the device’s ability to hear a user ask a question from any direction, though this will likely be tested when reviews are posted in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, Amazon will continue sourcing from Texas Instruments to produce Cortex A8 chips for its existing Echo device.

Amazon been purchasing chips from MediaTek since at least 2014 for use in Kindle Fire HD tablets and OTT devices, and now wants them to be part of the smart home device market as well.

In September, the company announced it would release a software update to support Echo Spatial Perception between existing Echo and newer Dot devices, allowing a single device to answer a voice command based on nearest proximity to the user. Of course, Amazon wants its customers to buy at least half a dozen of these assistants to scatter around the house, with bulk discounts available on six and twelve packs at $49 and $99 price reductions, respectively.

The Echo Dot will go on sale October 20th and is currently available for pre-order on the product page for $49.

Courtesy-Fud

Ford To Link Some Cars To Amazon’s Alexa Home Voice System

October 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

ford-logo-150x150Some Ford owners will soon be able to control features in their home from their cars using Amazon’s Alexa voice service or start their vehicles from their desks using the same system.

Ford Motor Co said that three models, the Focus Electric, Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi, by year’s end will be able to communicate with smart home devices using Alexa by pressing a voice recognition button on the steering wheel.

Consumers can send instructions to their Ford vehicles from home by using Amazon’s Echo smart home device and Alexa, an “intelligent assistant,” similar to Apple’s Siri, that enables users to access Internet services and interact with devices using voice commands. Vehicle owners also will be able to send simple commands via Alexa to smart home appliances and systems.

The Ford-Amazon partnership was announced at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January. Production plans were shared last week with Reuters during a demonstration of the service at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California. A Ford spokesperson said the service has entered a final phase of testing with Amazon before its planned release at the end of the year.

Among the functions that Alexa can provide are the ability to preset temperature in the home, check the security system or turn on the outside lights from the car. Using an Echo device in the home or office, Alexa users can start the vehicle, lock or unlock their doors and check the range between charges, after providing a security code.

Alexa also can be used to update shopping lists, get weather reports, check appointments and cue up music in the car.

Some of the in-vehicle services through Alexa will be rolled out to other Ford models starting early next year, according to Ford spokesman Alan Hall.

 

Sharp Goes All-In On OLED

October 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Japan’s Sharp is to spend $570 million on its OLED screen business in one of the first major investments since it was taken over by Foxconn.

While the figure sounds large, if you have ever tried to get a mortage, it is actually rather small compared to what Sharp’s South Korean rivals are spending on OLED development.

Sharp said it will invest in pilot production lines at its plants in Osaka and in Mie prefecture, western Japan, which are due to start between April and June 2018.

New CEO Tai Jeng-wu has previously said that Sharp will work with Japan Display on OLED displays. Foxconn took control of Sharp last month in a deal that gives its access to the Japanese firm’s advanced screen technology. That move was probably to squeeze more cash out of its major client Apple. But it is pretty clear that something has to be done with OLEDs.

Research firm IHS has forecast that shipments of OLED smartphone panels will overtake LCDs in 2020.

Courtesy-Fud

ILDOCK Gear Brings Analog Headphone Jack Back To iPhone 7

October 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

ildock-adapters-150x150Los Angeles start-up ildockgear has designed and created a Lightning adapter that allows iPhone 7 users to charge their device and listen to music over analog headphones at the same time. The device is about the size of a U.S. quarter.

The company began a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter  for its ILDOCK, and it has already garnered more than $20,000, four times its original goal.

In addition to the basic ILDOCK adapter, which contains a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Lightning charging port, the company has also produced an ILDOCK Plus, which adds an SD card slot, a microSD slot and USB ports.

Users can connect up to a 128GB flash card with ILDOCK Plus or connect to any size USB drives, the company states in its marketing material.

Early-bird backers can reserve an ILDOCK for a pledge of $5 and currently can get two ILDOCK Plus adapters for $18. (A $15 single ILDOCK Plus offer has already sold out.)

The ILDOCK and ILDOCK plus come in four iPhone 7-mimicking colors: Silver, gold, rose gold and “space” gray.

In addition to compatibility with the headphone jackless iPhone 7, the ILDOCK also works with any iPhone or iPad with a Lightning port.

The ILDOCKs are expected to begin shipping in November.

Did Apple Really Drop The HeadPhone Jack To Gain Space?

September 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

It seems that Apple did not remove the headphone jack to allow it to provide more space after all.

When Apple killed off the speaker jack its CEO Tim Cook said, “that jack takes up a lot of space in the phone, a lot of space. And there’s a lot of more important things we can provide for the consumer than that jack.”

OK fair enough, so what did Apple do with the extra space? Well it turns out that the latest tear down carried out by iFixit found that Apple was doing nothing with the extra space it gained from getting rid of the headphone jack.

It wrote that in place of the headphone jack, is a component that seems to channel sound from outside the phone into the microphone. In other words, Apple has not put anything into the space at all, just some acoustics holes, which lead nowhere and molded plastic.

We somewhat cynically suggested that the reason that Apple got rid of the headphone jack was nothing to do with providing new functions on the iPhone 7. Instead we see it as a way to prop up its wireless headphone business .

It does appear that the tear down confirms this as it is unlikely that the iPhone 7 needed this fake plastic grill and acoustic holes. It appears to be a rather costly feature for the user who will now have to fork out a fortune for new headphones.

Courtesy-Fud

Twitter Launches New Video Streaming Service

September 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

twitter-jack-dorsey-150x150Twitter Inc rolled out a new video streaming application for Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc TV platforms, as well as Microsoft Corp’s Xbox One gaming console as it brings its video content to the forefront.

The application will also be available for users of these devices without a Twitter account or a pay-TV subscription, the company said.

The application will feature video content from a number of Twitter’s partners, including the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, as well as curated tweets and shorter video from its Vine and Periscope services.

The news comes a day ahead of the first of the 10 NFL Thursday night games that Twitter obtained streaming rights for in April.

Jack Dorsey-led Twitter has made a significant push into video, signing deals with several media companies and sports organizations to stream major events.

Will Samsung Ditch The Headphone Jack Too?

September 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-heaphoneaThe Apple Press is telling the world that Samsung is so impressed with Jobs’ Mob’s “brave move” to purge the headphone jack it is set to copy it.

However the basis of the story is one written by Digital Music News which interviewed some unnamed sources.

“News of Samsung’s strategic planning was supplied to Digital Music News this week from a pair of sources operating out of South Korea, both of whom are involved in the broader supply chain of Samsung’s smartphones. Both requested total confidentiality and limited identifying information, fearing sharp reprisals from Samsung, whose power within the South Korea technology and broader community is considerable and widely feared.”

The sources feared Samsung’s hit men so much that they declined from offering details on the actual proprietary ports and jacks under consideration.

But what they appear to be talking about is something connected to the development of the USB-C jack, which is already present on Motorola’s Moto Z and Moto Z Force devices. Those devices do not have a 3.5mm jack, and are far thinner. They also don’t have the problem of being wireless.

The cunning plan is that Samsung’s proprietary jack would be designed with all Android manufacturers in mind, with easy and cost-free (or extremely low-cost) licensing to encourage adoption.

This claims Digital Music News will kill off Beats and Apple because both would be too proprietary to be useful. Samsung’s phones would be proprietary but would see a greater adoption.The article does not mention that Samsung is going to go all wireless, in fact it does not appear to imply that it is copying Apple at all.

Courtesy-Fud

Intel Envisions A Big Market For Mixed Reality Headsets

September 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

intel-project-alloy-150x150Intel believes untethered headsets may be a new class of computers in the future, and the company may develop chips dedicated to those devices.

The chipmaker previewed its virtual and augmented reality plans last month with Project Alloy, a Microsoft HoloLens-type headset that can mix images from real and virtual worlds. Project Alloy will be available for PC makers to replicate, but Intel may also see a market for mixed reality headset chips.

Project Alloy is a prototype headset running on Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform, and it could support other VR and AR platforms in the future.

The Alloy design and specifications will be open-sourced early next year. PC makers have expressed interest in making headsets based on the design.

Just like it has done with PCs, Intel is trying to provide guidance to device makers on how to design headsets, integrate hardware, and resolve camera issues, as well as provide ideas on production and productizing, said Venkata Renduchintala, president of the client and internet of things businesses and the Systems Architecture Group at Intel.

Mixed reality can generate a new class of VR/AR products and will probably generate “a custom piece of silicon built on the PC platform to exemplify and amplify the use case,” said Renduchintala, nicknamed Murthy.

The Project Alloy headset has a Skylake laptop chip, but as of now, the company has no dedicated chip for headsets that are also self-contained computers. Intel recently announced new 7th Generation Core PC chips code-named Kaby Lake but has no specific chip for all-in-one headset computers in that lineup.

VR is already catching on quickly, with products like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — which need to be wired to PC with high-end GPUs — getting a lot of attention.

Spurred by HoloLens, there are efforts to develop untethered PC-style VR and AR headsets, but the makers need to address problems related to wireless connectivity and battery life. Mobile VR — in which smartphones are placed in headsets — is taking off with products like Samsung’s GearVR.

Analyst firms are projecting headset shipments to grow, and it makes sense for Intel to have VR-specific chips. IDC is projecting VR/AR headset shipments to reach 9.6 million units this year, and 110 million units by 2020.

Intel is backing more PC-style mixed reality experiences over mobile VR. Project Alloy provides a powerful mixed reality experience, and that’s the kind of market Intel wants to develop, Renduchintala said.

 

Pandora, Amazon Both To Launch New Music Streaming Service

September 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

amazon-music-150x150Amazon.com Inc and Pandora Media Inc are gearing up to roll out new versions of their streaming music services in coming weeks, the New York Times has reported, citing several anonymous people with knowledge of the matter.

Pandora could announce its plans this to expand its $5-per-month platform this week, with possible features including skipping more songs or storing several hours of playlists, the newspaper said. The company plans to launch a full-fledged on-demand platform by Christmas. Such a platform, priced at $10 a month, would compete with Spotify and Apple Inc’ Apple Music.

Amazon, meanwhile, is expected to reveal a platform with a large catalog of music for $10 per month or about half that amount for customers using its Echo voice-activated speakers, according to the Times.

Both companies are close to completing months of negotiations for deals with record companies and music publishers that will allow them to offer the new services, the Times reported.

Amazon was preparing to launch a standalone music streaming subscription service at $9.99 per month, in line with major rivals, Reuters reported in June, citing sources.

Amazon so far has not responded to a request for comment. Pandora declined to comment.

Intel Goes Deeper Into A.I. With Nervana

August 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Intel has acquired artificial intelligence (AI) startup Nervana Systems in a bid to future-proof its data centre business and shift focus away from the flailing PC market.

Intel hasn’t revealed the financial details of the deal, but Recode reported that the company paid “more than $400m”, citing an anonymous source.

Nervana, a 48-person firm based in San Diego, California led by co-founder Naveen Rao, a former Qualcomm researcher, was founded in 2014 and offers a fully optimized software and hardware stack for deep learning.

The firm’s cloud-based service allows businesses to build and deploy applications that make use of deep learning, and Nervana has developed a custom processor, known as an ASIC, especially for deep learning.

Intel is looking to the firm to bolster its own deep learning credentials, betting big on the fact that AI represents the next big shift in corporate data centres. The purchase also sees the firm moving away from the PC market, which hasn’t been going too well for Intel lately.

Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Centre Group, said: “I’m excited to announce that Intel signed a definitive agreement to acquire Nervana Systems, a recognized leader in deep learning.

“Their IP and expertise in accelerating deep learning algorithms will expand Intel’s capabilities in the field of AI. We will apply Nervana’s software expertise to further optimise the Intel Math Kernel Library and its integration into industry-standard frameworks.

“Nervana’s engine and silicon expertise will advance Intel’s AI portfolio and enhance the deep learning performance and TCO of Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi processors.”

Rao added: “The semiconductor integrated circuit is one of humanity’s crowning achievements and Intel has the best semiconductor technology in the world.

“Nervana’s AI expertise combined with Intel’s capabilities and huge market reach will allow us to realize our vision and create something truly special.”

Intel’s acquisition of Nervana comes just days after Apple scooped up an AI startup called Turi. The firm handed over £150m for the Seattle-based firm, according to reports.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Online Video Streaming Biting Into Dish Network Customer Base

July 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

U.S. satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp reported an unexpected loss in pay-TV subscribers as more consumers increasingly opt for online video-streaming services.

Dish said it lost 281,000 net pay-TV subscribers in the second quarter ended June 30, missing the average analyst estimate of a loss of 91,000 subscribers, according to market research firm FactSet StreetEstimate.

However, average revenue per user rose to $89.98 from $87.91, helped by price increases for its video service.

Dish raised its 2016 video service rates in January.

To offset losses in its core pay-TV business, the company last year launched a cheaper $20-per-month Sling TV online streaming service that offers a slim bundle of channels, including live programming from networks such as ESPN.

Net income attributable to Dish rose to $410 million, or 88 cents per share, in the three months ended June 30, from $324 million, or 70 cents per share, a year earlier.

Net revenue rose to $3.84 billion from $3.83 billion.

 

Was The Rise Of The Machines A.I. Contest A Success?

July 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

The Winograd Schema Challenge is a competition intended to reward technologists who can build a system that understands the kind of ambiguous sentences humans come out with all the time, but which are simple for other humans, even stupid ones, to understand.

Get it right 90 per cent of the time and $25,000 is up for grabs. And with things like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant, the Winograd Schema Challenge must surely be as good as obsolete by now.

Right? Wrong.

The best two entrants at the event this week achieved correct scores only 48 per cent of the time, little better than randomly guessing the meaning of the sentences they were supposed to crack.

This is despite a decade of advances in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), which has barely shifted since the late 1950s, according to some.

The Challenge posed a series of ambiguously worded sentences to the entrants such as:

The trophy would not fit in the brown suitcase because it was too big (small). What was too big (small)?

The town councillors refused to give the demonstrators a permit because they feared (advocated) violence. Who feared (advocated) violence?

There is an ambiguity in the above examples, read literally, about what is too big (or small) and exactly who is fearing violence, although a semi-intelligent human should be able to work it out with ease.

The problem, according to Gary Marcus, a research psychologist at New York University, who acted as an advisor for the Challenge, is that computers lack common sense, and programming it into them is incredibly difficult.

Indeed, the MIT Technology Review said that most of the entrants in the Challenge used a combination of hand-coded grammatical understanding and a ‘knowledge base’ of facts. It still didn’t help much, though.

However, one of the two best-placed systems, led by Quan Liu, a researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, together with researchers from York University in Montreal and the National Research Council of Canada, used neural network-based machine learning in a bid to train their computer to recognise the many different contexts in which words can be used.

Liu claimed that after fixing a problem in the AI, he was able to achieve a success rate closer to 60 per cent, which is still a long way from being able to go home with a cheque for $25,000.

The Challenge is deliberately designed to be different from the Turing Test, which tests only whether a human can be fooled into thinking that an AI program is human.

The trouble with this is that there are more than enough idiots who could be fooled into helping an AI system to pass that test. The language test, in contrast, provides a more objective test of genuine AI, argued Marcus.

The failure of the AI programs in the Challenge highlights how far chatbots and other supposedly revolutionary AI-based machines still have to go before humans can clock-off for the last time and leave running the planet to computers.

Some experts have claimed that its development will spark the next industrial revolution, while others, such as Apple co-founder and pontificator Steve Wozniak, suggest that we’ll be adopted as pets by robots.

Google, Microsoft and Facebook didn’t bother entering, perhaps because they feared outright humiliation.  Maybe next year.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

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