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AT&T To Offer Smartwatches This Year

April 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Smartwatches for use on AT&T’s network will be out this year, so says one of the company’s executives.

“I think you’ll see wide-area, high-bandwidth [smart]watches this year at some point,” said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T, in an interview.

The company has a group working in Austin, Texas, on thousands of wearable-device prototypes, and is also looking at certifying third-party devices for use on its network, Lurie said.

“A majority of stuff you’re going to see today that’s truly wearable is going to be in a watch form factor to start,” Lurie said. If smartwatch use takes off — “and we believe it can,” Lurie said — then those devices could become hubs for wearable computing.

Right now smartwatches lack LTE capabilities, so they are largely reliant on smartphones for apps and notifications. With a mobile broadband connection, a smartwatch becomes an “independent device,” Lurie said.

“We’ve been very, very clear in our opinion that a wearable needs to be a stand-alone device,” Lurie said.

AT&T and Filip Technologies in January released the Filip child tracker wristwatch, which also allows a parent to call a child over AT&T’s network. Filip could be improved, but those are the kind of wearable products that AT&T wants to bring to market.

Wearables for home health care are also candidates for LTE connections, Lurie said, but fitness trackers may be too small for LTE connectivity, at least for now.

Lurie couldn’t say when smartglasses would be certified to work on AT&T’s network. Google last year said adding cellular capabilities to its Glass eyewear wasn’t in the plans because of battery use. But AT&T is willing to experiment with devices to see where LTE would fit.

“It’s one thing if I’m buying it to go out for a job, it’s another thing if I’m going to wear it everyday. Those are the things people are debating right now — how that’s all going to come out,” Lurie said. “There’s technology and there’s innovation happening, and those things will get solved.”

Lurie said battery issues are being resolved, but there are no network capacity issues. Wearable devices don’t use too much bandwidth as they relay short bursts of information, unless someone is, for instance, listening to Pandora radio on a smartwatch, Lurie said.

But AT&T is building out network capacity, adding Wi-Fi networks, and virtualizing networks to accommodate more devices.

“We don’t have network issues, we don’t have any capacity issues,” Lurie said. “The key element to adding these devices is a majority of [them] aren’t high-bandwidth devices.”

AT&T wants to make wearables work with its home offerings like the Digital Life home automation and security system. AT&T is also working with car makers for LTE integration, with wearables interacting with vehicles to open doors and start ignitions.


Kingston Goes HyperX

April 11, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Kingston’s HyperX division has announced the launch of new HyperX FURY memory lineup aimed at entry-level gamers which will replace the current HyperX blu memory lineup. With an asymmetric and aggressive heatspreader and offering automatic overclocking, the new HyperX FURY lineup should be perfect for those looking to build their own budget-oriented systems.

To be available in 4GB and 8GB single modules as well as 8GB and 16GB kits, the new HyperX FURY is fully Plug and Play (PnP) and it automatically overclocks within the system speed allowance without any manual BIOS tuning. The HyperX FURY lineup will be avialable in 1333MHz, 1600MHz and 1866MHz frequencies with CL 9 and CL 10 latencies at 1.5V voltage.

It will be available in four heatspreader color choices, blue, black, red and white, and features a black PCB which will go well with many custom builds, according to Kingston. Kingston also announced that the HyperX FURY memory lineup will be soon joined by the Hyper FURY SSD.

The entire lineup is backed by a lifetime warranty but Kingston did not shed any light on their price or the availability date.



Fusion-IO Adds Compression To SSD Storage

April 4, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Fusion-IO has increased the potential capacity of its SSD storage subsystems in MySQL database environments by performing data compression on the fly.

Non volatile memory (NVM) data compression has always been a feature of MySQL, however it has always come at the price of significant performance degradation.

The Fusion-IO NVM interface has overcome this performance issue to increase potential SSD capacity, in some cases doubling it, while reducing I/O activity and significantly increasing SSD drive longevity.

NVM is fully compatible with the company’s existing Atomic Writes interface, which is designed to write simultaneous in-out transactions as a single instruction. The two used in tandem can boost I/O speeds and reduce data I/O workloads by up to 80 percent, according Fusion-IO VP of Product Gary Orenstein.

Speaking to The INQUIRER ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, Orenstein said, “We’re breaking new ground, no doubt. And it’s not just about MySQL – we are interested in increasing Flash awareness.

“Many applications are still based on the assumption by programmers that they will be writing and reading a physical disk. By showcasing the differences possible by working directly with Flash we hope to provide even more innovation in the future.”

Fusion-IO is working with Percona, MariaDB and Oracle on the rollout and possibilities to pursue further work in the field.

“We believe it could be a much bigger trend,” said Orenstein. “There’s the possibility to optimize the whole stack.”

SSD storage in data center environments is becoming more mainstream as the Internet of Things takes off. Also on Tuesday, Sandisk announced four enterprise grade SATA SSD drives for data center use.


Amazon Shoots Down Rumors Of Free TV Service

March 31, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics Inc has no plan to provide a free streaming TV service, a spokeswoman said on Friday after a report that the online retailer might enter the streaming arena to challenge Netflix and Hulu.

Speculation about Amazon’s plans for its TV service, including the possibility that it could launch its own streaming device, has increased ahead of a news conference in New York next week.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the online retailer was considering a free, add-supported streaming TV and music service. Amazon spokeswoman Sally Fouts said no such plan was in the works.

“We have a video advertising business that currently offers programs like First Episode Free and ads associated with movie and game trailers, and we’re often experimenting with new things,” she said in an e-mail on Friday. “But we have no plans to offer a free streaming media service.”

Amazon’s streaming TV service currently comes included as part of its popular $99-a-year Prime service, which offers unlimited two-day shipping among other perks.



Will SSD Pricing Fall Even More?

March 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

SSD sales are growing like topsy and will increase even more in 2014 thanks to falling NAND flash prices, according to Transcend.

Peter Shu, chairman of memory module maker Transcend Information expects the prices of SSDs are expected to decline another 20-30 per cent in 2014 after falling 30 per cent last year. Shu thinks that demand for 256GB SSDs will surge if their average price falls to below $100.

Transcend has increased its SSD shipments to 100,000 units a month. Industrial and consumer models each accounting for half of total shipments, Shu said. Meanwhile Transcend is seeing its share in the global flash memory card and flash drive segments continue to expand in 2014. A number of small-scale operators have died or withdrawn from the market, Shu said.

DRAM and NAND flash prices will continue to slowly fall in 2014 due to oversupply, Shu added.


Apple, Comcast Discuss Possible Streaming TV Deal

March 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc is having discussions with Comcast Corp to enter into a deal for a streaming-television service that would allow Appleset-top boxes to bypass congestion on the web, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The discussions are in early stages and there are a lot of hurdles to be crossed before a definitive agreement could be reached, the Journal said.

Apple, which wants its TV service’s traffic to be separated from public internet traffic over the “last mile” for faster transmission, is looking for special treatment from Comcast’s cables to bypass congestion, the report said.

Comcast and Apple declined to comment on the report.

Apple has been in talks for a faster TV set-top box with Time Warner Cable Inc, which recently agreed to be bought by Comcast.

Apple’s $99 TV box competes with similar streaming devices from Roku and Google Inc.

Netflix agreed last month to pay Comcast Corp for faster speeds, throwing open the possibility that more content companies will have to shell out for better service.

The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of drafting a new “net-neutrality” bill that would ensure that network operators disclose exactly how they manage Internet traffic and that they do not restrict consumers’ ability to surf the Web or use applications.


Pandora Raises Monthly Fee For Ad Free Music

March 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Pandora Media Inc will raise fees for its ad-free service by $1 a month to almost $5 a month in May, a move to cover the increasing cost of licensing tunes that may annoy some longtime fans of the popular music-streaming service.

The company, which streams music from virtual radio stations to mobile devices such as Apple Inc’s iPhone or Google Android smartphones, said in an earlier blog post that royalties paid to artists had risen 53 percent over the past five years and will rise another 9 percent in 2015.

The increase of $1 to $4.99 a month takes effect for new subscribers in May. Existing monthly subscribers will not be forced to accept the higher charges for now, it said without elaborating.

Annual subscriptions will be discontinued however. Yearly subscribers paying $36 a year currently will move to a monthly, “loyalty” $3.99 plan once their memberships expire.

Pandora said the fee hikes should affect an estimated 3.3 million listeners, out of 250 million registered users, the bulk of whom tune in to the free, ad-supported service.

“The costs of delivering this service have grown considerably,” Pandora said in a blog post on Tuesday. “We hope that you understand why we have taken these steps. Our goal is to continue to be your go-to internet radio destination.”

Pandora is already one of the world’s most popular streaming music services though it has plenty of competitors, including Spotify and Apple Inc’s iTunes Radio. It’s also aggressively investing in local sales forces to sell ad spots and on expanding its four-year-old service.

The company said that active listeners in January fell to 73.4 million from 76.2 million in December, due to normal seasonality.

However, year-over-year active users were up 12 percent.


Fashion Apps Using Image Recognition Technology To Aid Shoppers

March 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Shoppers envious of clothing, shoes and accessories worn by strangers or seen on websites can turn to new apps for hassle-free buying to locate similar items.

Like the music app Shazam, which identifies songs based on sound clips, new fashion apps use photos and image recognition technology to find similar clothing.

“People see items they like on the street but can’t really go up to the person wearing them and ask where they got them,” said Daniela Cecilio, the chief executive of London-based startup Asap54.

“Or they might see items they like on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter, but can’t really click through to buy them,” she added, referring to the social media websites.

With the Asap54 app for iPhone, which was launched last month, users take a photo of an item, or upload an existing one, and describe what it is to help the app identify it. The app recommends something similar from more than 150 retail partners across the United State, Europe and other countries.

The Style Eyes app for iPhone and Android also uses a photo to find the desired or a similar item, which can be purchased from its catalog of 600 retailers in Britain and 300 in the United States.

Mark Elfenbein, chief digital officer of Toronto-based start-up company Slyce, said its image recognition technology integrates with retail brands so shoppers can find things by taking a photo with their iPhone or scanning an image from their desktop.

“The way brands are trying to communicate with customers is changing. Historically, they would lure customers to their stores or websites, but now we’re seeing that brands want to create transactions in other places too,” Elfenbein said.

The technology recognizes information such as how far apart buttons are, and fabric and stitching to help power visual searches.

But image recognition is still inexact and depends on the quality of the photo and other factors, such as lighting. To overcome the drawbacks Elfenbein said, Slyce uses a mix of technology and crowdsourcing to improve its search results.

Other apps making shopping easier include Pounce for Ios, created by Tel Aviv-based company BuyCode Inc. It allows consumers to buy items directly from retail advertisements from stores such as Lord & Taylor and office supply company Staples, Inc by hovering their smartphone camera over an image.

With the eBay Fashion iPhone app users in the United States and Britain can upload an image to find similar items available for sale on eBay.

For consumers more interested in renting than buying, Rent the Runway’s iPhone app uses a photo of an item seen in a store to find something similar that customers can rent instead.


Do Chip Makers Have Cold Feet?

March 17, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

It is starting to look like chip makers are having cold feet about moving to the next technology for chipmaking. Fabricating chips on larger silicon wafers is the latest cycle in a transition, but according to the Wall Street Journal chipmakers are mothballing their plans.

Companies have to make massive upfront outlays for plants and equipment and they are refusing, because the latest change could boost the cost of a single high-volume factory to as much as $10 billion from around $4 billion. Some companies have been reining in their investments, raising fears the equipment needed to produce the new chips might be delayed for a year or more.

ASML, a maker of key machines used to define features on chips, recently said it had “paused” development of gear designed to work with the larger wafers. Intel said it has slowed some payments to the Netherlands-based company under a deal to help develop the technology.

Gary Dickerson, chief executive of Applied Materials said that the move to larger wafers “has definitely been pushed out from a timing standpoint”


AT&T Slashes Pricing For No Contract Customers

March 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

AT&T Inc said that it is lowering wireless data charges for individual customers who have no annual service contract, as the No. 2 U.S. mobile operator attempts to better compete with rival T-Mobile US Inc.

Customers having one smartphone with no annual service contract will now pay $65 per month instead of $80 for a plan that includes 2GB LTE wireless data, unlimited talk and text messaging, unlimited international messaging and 50 GB cloud storage. Customers with two smartphones will now pay $90.

The latest plan follows price cuts AT&T announced last month for families and customers who share large data plans, as well as its offer of a $200 credit to customers who switch to its network.

AT&T has been fiercely competing with smaller rival T-Mobile U.S. after T-Mobile spent several quarters directly marketing to AT&T customers. T-Mobile, a long-time industry straggler, was able to report three full quarters of customer growth after four years of losses.

Separately on Friday, T-Mobile said it was doubling to 1GB the amount of LTE wireless data it was providing with its flagship Simple Choice plan, which costs $50 a month, and also includes unlimited talk and domestic and international text messaging.

AT&T previously said that T-Mobile’s efforts only concerned the most cost-conscious customers, who are not its or market leader Verizon Communications Inc’s primary targets.

All four U.S. wireless providers, including Sprint Corp, have made price adjustments as they attempt to sustain growth in a mature market built on stealing growth from competitors.

While discounts are always welcomed by consumers, the intensifying competition is a new challenge to a U.S. industry long used to imposing its will on consumers, and analysts fear it could result in the loss of billions of dollars of revenue.


FCC Urged To Release More Wi-Fi Spectrum

March 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should advance plans to open up new 5GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi as consumer demand for wireless bandwidth skyrockets, a member of the commission said Friday.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called on the agency to “seize this opportunity” and act on a year-old proposal to make an additional 195MHz of spectrum in the 5GHz band available for Wi-Fi. The FCC now allows wireless devices to operate in 555 megahertz of spectrum in the 5GHz band, but the agency has set limits on how some of that spectrum can be used.

With some analysts estimating that 50 percent to 70 percent of mobile phone traffic is now offloaded onto Wi-Fi networks, the longtime Wi-Fi band at 2.4GHz is “getting mighty crowded,” Rosenworcel said during a speech before WifiForward, a new group set up to push for more unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum. Members of the group include Google, Microsoft, Best Buy and Comcast.

“Let’s start by leaving behind the tired notion that we face a choice between licensed and unlicensed airwaves, because good spectrum policy requires both,” she said. “Moreover, I think this kind of division is a simplistic relic from the past. ”

Some mobile carriers and congressional Republicans have questioned whether the FCC should carve out unlicensed spectrum in lower bands coveted by the carriers, but carriers don’t see a licensed use for the 5GHz band. Satellite firm Globalstar uses part of the 5GHz band, however, and has raised interference concerns about new Wi-Fi services there.

Cisco Systems predicts that by 2017, a majority of the Internet’s traffic will be carried on Wi-Fi. About 90 percent of the tablets now sold in the U.S. have Wi-Fi-only connections, added Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information. Counting several factors, including the cost for mobile infrastructure that would be needed without Wi-Fi, the annual value of Wi-Fi to the U.S. economy is about US$220 billion, Katz said at the WifiForward event.

In addition, part of the 5GHz band is targeted for use by smart automobile technologies, and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and other auto groups have also backed opening that part of the band to Wi-Fi. The FCC may act on part of the 5GHz band as soon as its March 31 meeting.

Parts of the 5GHz band present a “terrific near-term opportunity” to add Wi-Fi spectrum, Rosenworcel said. “We should move beyond old dichotomies that pit licensed versus unlicensed spectrum,” she said. “Because across the board we need to choose efficiency over inefficiency and speed over congestion. Because we can take steps that inspire innovation and meet the growing demand for wireless services — or we will fall behind.”

Rosenworcel also called on the FCC to consider opening up parts of lower bands to unlicensed Wi-Fi, including parts of the 600MHz band now controlled by U.S. television stations. That spectrum, eyed by carriers as some of the best available for mobile broadband service, is scheduled to be auctioned by the FCC in mid-2015.


Samsung Debuts Milk, New Free Music Service

March 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has high hopes for its new Milk streaming service.

The radio service, announced last Friday, is available for free, with no ads, and users don’t need a log in to use the service, said Daren Tsui, vice president of music at Samsung Media Solutions.

The Milk application is available through the Google Play store, and will initially work with Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and tablets. The company is, however, thinking about expanding its use to competing mobile devices, Tsui said.

The service will initially be available in the U.S., and will be expanded worldwide at a later date. It has 200 radio stations and 13 million songs, and in addition to functioning as a jukebox, allows users to create customized stations based on artist or genres.

Milk is targeted at competing music service like Apple’s iTunes Radio service, which is available for free with ads and ad-free for $24.99 via the iTunes Match service. Samsung is not yet providing an option to buy music, but Tsui said that idea is being researched. Meanwhile, the service could be one way to sell more tablets and smartphones. The app works with the AllShare feature, which allows streaming of music to TV sets and other Samsung devices.

Samsung worked with popular radio service Slacker — which is ad-based and has a database of 10 million songs — to develop the service. Samsung will also compete with other ad-supported free music streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify.

Milk covers a range of genres and songs, and has an interface designed to make it easy to find songs, Tsui said.

The Milk interface is centered around a dial — which looks much like the software version of dials found on Apple’s iPod Classic and Shuffle — which can be customized to include favorite genres. The dial can’t fit all 17 genres provided in the app, so users can select up to nine genres to fit on the wheel. The dial can be turned around to switch on a music stream from a specific genre such as dance, electronica or indie.

Users can also customize radio stations by searching for songs or artists. Samsung has music licensing deals directly with labels, Tsui said.




Apple’s Hands-Free CarPlay Coming To Automobiles

March 4, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple is introducing its next move in hands-free smartphone technology for drivers when it rolls out a new, integrated iPhone voice-control system at the Geneva Motor Show later this week.

The U.S. company’s CarPlay makes its debut in Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles at the show, demonstrating the software system that allows drivers to control their iPhones via touch and voice, Apple revealed on Monday.

Carmakers have already enabled some access to smartphones via Bluetooth technology, but Apple’s latest offering aims to integrate iPhone functionality more seamlessly with dashboard-mounted display and speaker systems.

CarPlay enables drivers to access to contacts stored on the iPhone, make calls, return missed calls or listen to voicemails without taking their hands from the steering wheel.

Drivers can also use maps, listen to music and access messages “with just a word or a touch”, Apple said. Drivers will also be able to read messages and dictate responses via Apple’s voice-activated Siri software.

Apple said that CarPlay will also be available in cars from manufacturers including BMW,Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota Motor Corp.



Amazon Seeks Customer Feedback On New TV Shows

February 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics Inc released its second round of TV pilots on Thursday and asked for customer feedback to help determine which of the 10 shows to continue producing for its video streaming service.

The company is investing in original content to attract customers to its $79-a-year Amazon Prime service, which competes for online viewers with services such as Netflix and Prime also includes free two-day shipping for Amazon products.

The new pilots include three comedies and two dramas for adults, plus five children’s shows. Amazon will make a decision on how many to put into development after customers have their say by leaving online comments and ratings.

Malcolm McDowell stars in the comedy “Mozart in the Jungle,” a story about “sex, drugs — and classical music,” an Amazon statement said.

A science-fiction show, “The After,” was written and directed by “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter.

Amazon chose the pilots after looking at the genres that are popular with its customers, said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios.

“Customers have responded really well in the past to sci-fi,” Price said in an interview. “We start with some areas that customers are responding to and try to develop shows that fit in there.”

Other pilots include “Transparent,” a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family that stars Jeffrey Tambor and Judith Light, and “Bosch,” based on best-selling novels about a Los Angeles homicide detective.

The new pilots are available for a month in the United States on and through the Amazon Instant Video app, and in Britain through Amazon’s Lovefilm streaming service.

Last year, Amazon released two comedy series, “Alpha House,” starring John Goodman as a senator, and “Betas,” about a tech start-up, after considering customer input on 14 pilots.

Three children’s series also were selected during that process, which brought in thousands of customer reviews within a few days, Price said.



Is The Pirate Bay Making A Browser?

January 8, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The Pirate Bay is working on a censorship-avoiding P2P web browsing experience.

The website is reacting to pressures from rights holders. It is very unpopular among media firms and in the UK, at least, most ISPs are blocking access to it and some other websites like it.

The Pirate Bay has made a number of changes already, most recently having to do with its domain name and address, and it has also been working behind the scenes on a system that makes the website and its Bittorrent links available to users.

“The goal is to create a browser-like client to circumvent censorship, including domain blocking, domain confiscation, IP-blocking. This will be accomplished by sharing all of a site’s indexed data as P2P downloadable packages, that are then browsed/rendered locally,” said a Pirate Bay insider to the Torrentfreak website.

“It’s basically a browser-like app that uses webkit to render pages, Bittorrent to download the content while storing everything locally.”

The Pirate Bay already has its own web browser and that has acquired some 2.5 million users. Released on the 10-year anniversary of the filesharing website, it promised a TOR-based browser bundle. Again, as now, that was pitched as a solution for security and content aware web users.

“Piratebrowser is a bundle package of the TOR client (Vidalia), Firefox Portable browser (with foxyproxy addon) and some custom configs that allows you to circumvent censorship that certain countries such as Iran, North Korea, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Italy and Ireland impose onto their citizens,” it explained.

“While it uses TOR network, which is designed for anonymous surfing, this browser is intended just to circumvent censorship – to remove limits on accessing websites your government doesn’t want you to know about.”