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Google Unveils A.I. Challenger To Amazon’s Alexa

May 20, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Alphabet’s Google Inc  introduced us to its answer to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant along with new messaging and virtual reality products at its annual I/O developer conference on Wednesday, doubling down on artificial intelligence and machine learning as the keys to its future.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai introduced Google Assistant, a virtual personal assistant, along with the tabletop speaker appliance Google Home.

He also unveiled Allo, a new messaging service that will compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger products and feature a chatbot powered by the Google Assistant. Allo, like WhatsApp, will also have end-to-end encryption when it is rolled out this summer.

Amazon’s Echo, a surprise hit that has other tech giants racing to match it, uses a virtual assistant called Alexa, a cloud-based system that controls the Echo speaker and responds to voice-controlled commands by users.

Like Alexa, Google Assistant can search the internet and adjust your schedule. However, Pichai said Google Assistant can use images and other information to provide more intuitive results.

“You can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google who designed this and it will understand in this context that the name of that designer is Anish Kapoor,” said Pichai, pointing toward a photo of Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture.

For Google Home, the Google Assistant merges with Chromecast and smart home devices to control televisions, thermostats and other products. Google did not offer a specific release date or pricing for Google Home, saying only that it will be available later this year.

 

 

Is There A ‘For Sale’ Sign In Pandora Music’s Future?

May 18, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Corvex Management LP disclosed that it owns 9.9 percent of Pandora Media Inc and urged the internet music streaming company to consider being sold instead of pursuing a “costly and uncertain business plan.”

Corvex, a hedge fund run by Keith Meister, a protégé of billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, said it had met with the company’s management and had withdrawn a plan to replace some of its board members. However, it now believes Pandora should hire an investment bank to help the company explore its strategic options including a sale.

“We believe there is likely to be significant strategic interest in the company at a substantial premium to the company’s recent stock price,” Corvex said, adding that large internet companies, handset makers and media companies could be potential buyers.

Pandora’s shares are down more than 25 percent in 2016 and more than 45 percent year-over-year. Corvex owns about 22.7 million shares in the company, making the hedge fund Pandora’s largest shareholder.

Pandora said in response that it is in constant dialogue with shareholders and committed to achieving long-term value for them.

“Pandora has a profitable core business, combined with a strong balance sheet. We are confidently investing to fully capture the massive opportunity ahead of us,” the company said in a statement.

Oakland, California-based Pandora has faced tough competition from music-streaming rivals such as Spotify, Apple Inc , Alphabet Inc’s Google and Amazon.com and has failed to turn an annual profit as a public company.

Analysts have said Pandora, which had a market capitalization of $2.29 billion on Monday, could be an acquisition target for larger media or internet companies looking to beef up their online music offerings.

Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren, a former musician who spearheaded Pandora’s music algorithm technology, returned to the company March 28 to become CEO, squashing some investors’ hopes the company could be sold.

Westergren told Reuters on April 15, “If you want to sell a company, you don’t do that by spending half a billion on acquisitions and hiring a new CEO.”

 

 

VeVo Hits 17 Billion While Calling Goof The Devil

May 3, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Vevo might be the new MTV for millennials, who might not know MTV that played music a few decades ago. Vevo CEO Erik Huggers had an interview at a Hunter Walk blog talking about YouTube, subscription base and the future.

Vevo CEO, ex Intel and ex BBC executive Erik Huggers mentioned that the Vevo will get a subscription based service but for the time being the company will stay with add supported content. Huggers first worked first on the iBBC player and later at Intel OnCue, then Verizon before getting the Vevo CEO.

The company has announced a new Apple TV, iOS and Android applications for people who like to watch the content on the TV console or their tablets and phones. Huggers mentioned that Vevo was getting 17 billion unique views per month. He said that if you are musician you will prefer Spotify for audio streaming and Vevo to YouTube, and here is why.

Peter Mensch, the manager of bands including Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse  told a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the music business:

“YouTube, they’re the devil. We don’t get paid at all.”

The BBC quoted him saying that YouTube was killing the record industry.

There is now way you can say it better than this, Mensch obviously knows what he is talking about. When we dug a bit deeper into the issue, bands have issues with complete albums being uploaded to YouTube. The big bands don’t get paid at all, at least according to Peter Mensch.

Vevo might turn its back to YouTube, despite its current business model where the company uses YouTube to distribute its videos. We see a big change coming. Artists are obviously not happy as people are ripping their stuff and not paying.

Online publishing was an area where big mistakes were made 20 + years ago. Online magazines usually rely on marketing, same as YouTube, but it seems that YouTube, Facebook and other big social based website make a lot of money and giving YouTubers and artists pennies.

Huggers believes Vevo can offer a tailored experience which is personalised for individuals who love music videos via various channels including Apple TV or mobile applications. Imagine if Vevo starts offering exclusive concert footage of your favourite bands, this would probably be worth of a few bucks a month, wouldn’t it?

Courtesy-Fud

 

Intel’s Updated USB Type-C Designed To Replace Headphone Jacks

April 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Intel this week unveiled plans to make an upgraded USB Type-C connector that would enable audio input and output, potentially replacing the long-standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack used in today’s electronic devices.

Intel, which revealed its plans during a lecture at its Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in Shenzhen, China, also believes USB Type-C would simplify connections of multi-channel audio equipment to various devices.

Unlike the traditional 3.5mm analogue audio jack, a USB Type-C interface could charge a device in addition to transmitting sound and data. For example, it could transfer health and fitness data from a mobile device.

The USB Type-C connectors are reversible, so orientation isn’t an issue when plugging something into a device. The USB 3.1 Gen1 specification offers up to 5Gbps of data throughput; the Gen2 specification offers up to 10Gbps.

USB Type-C cables and connectors would replace the last analog receptacles on computers and mobile devices. Intel’s strategy was first reported by AnandTech.

In Intel’s presentation, it described USB C-Type connectors as being able to support both analog and digital musical content. But the upgraded connector would “promote” a changeover from analog to digital as users would see “improved digital headset features.”

A USB Type-C connector that supports audio feeds would also enable new form-factors, improve user experience and “provide a future path for USB technologies,” Intel said in the presentation.

 

 

 

EU Seeks Greater Transparency In Web Search Results

April 18, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The European Union’s digital chief wants search engines such as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft’s Bing to be more transparent about paid ads in web search results but ruled out a separate law for web platforms.

European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, who is overseeing a wide-ranging inquiry into how web platforms conduct their business, said on Friday the EU executive would not take a horizontal approach to regulating online services.

“We will take a problem-driven approach,” Ansip said. “It’s practically impossible to regulate all the platforms with one really good single solution.”

That will come as a relief to the web industry, dominated mainly by big U.S. tech firms such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, who lobbied hard against new rules for online platforms and what they saw as an anti-American protectionist backlash.

“We praise the Commission for understanding that a horizontal measure for all platforms is practically impossible,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, director of the Computer & Communications Industry Association which represents the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon.

“While a lot of online platforms enable economic growth, their business models differ widely.”

However Ansip said he was worried about how transparent some search engines are when displaying ads in search results.

The Commission is also looking into the transparency of paid-for reviews as well as the conditions of use of services such as Google Maps, Apple Inc’s IoS mobile operating system and Google’s Android.

“Maybe it’s not too much to ask for more transparency talking about search engines,” Ansip said.

The EU executive is looking into making rules on taking down illegal content clearer and more effective without making hosting websites such as YouTube directly liable.

“Now musicians ask, please, take it down and keep it down,” Ansip said. “We want to make those rules more clear.”

But the Commission will not change a provision where websites such as Amazon, eBay and Google’s YouTube are not held liable for illegal content that is uploaded on to their systems. They do, however, have a responsibility to take it down once they are notified of it.

The Commission will publish a communication detailing its plans on web platforms in June.

 

 

Microsoft Wants Windows 10, Cortana At Center Of Home Automation

April 4, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft’s long term goal is to make home automation a breeze in Windows 10, and the company featured several related Internet-of-things announcements at its ongoing Build conference.

Windows 10 will work with a wider range of devices and appliances by integrating new Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) protocols, scheduled to be released in 2017. Additionally, Cortana will allow users to easily automate tasks using a Windows PC, mobile device, Xbox console or Raspberry Pi 3.

Users will be able to program ”actions” so Cortana can be used to switch on lights, air conditioning or even unlock cars. For example, users will be able to speak, “lights” to their smartphones, and the bulbs will turn on.

Or even better, users can tell Cortana to “unlock home door,” which will open the door and trigger a series of additional actions like switching on the lights and the air conditioning. A command like “party” could switch on the music and the disco lights.

Actions can also be based on the time of day or on information from connected sensors. The actions can be attached to specific profiles in Cortana like “activate smart home.” The connected devices will need to be discovered by Windows 10 and be on a list of approved devices, much like how the OS discovers and lists wireless printers and other hardware.

But Windows doesn’t support all devices right now, and the OS works with only those based on the AllJoyn protocol. Support for a wider range of devices will come with the integration of protocols established by the OCF, which will unite the disparate IoT standards under one umbrella.

Until the integration is complete, Microsoft released an “open-source” bridge to connect OIC tools, called IoTivity, with the AllJoyn APIs. It will help AllJoyn devices talk to OIC-compatible IoT devices.

 

 

NAND Pricing Rapidly Falling

March 15, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Contract prices of NAND flash memory chips fell by nine to 10 per cent in the fourth quarter due to oversupply conditions.

Beancounters at analyst outfit TrendForce report that the prices of eMMC and SSD products also fell by 10 to 11 per cent quarterly due to weaker-than-expected shipments of OEM devices such as smartphones, tablets and notebooks.

Overall fourth-quarter worldwide NAND flash sales were down 2.3% sequentially, the research group added.

Sean Yang, research director at DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce said that besides facing rapidly falling prices, the manufacturers have also reached a bottleneck in their process technology migration.

Memory makers that are developing or producing 3D-NAND flash are encountering yield rate issues, with Samsung being the sole exception. As the cost reduction advantage associated with technology migration diminishes, branded NAND flash suppliers posted significant quarterly declines in both their revenues and operating margins for the fourth quarter of last year.

Samsung was one of the few manufacturers that experienced revenue growth in the fourth quarter of 2015 on account of its lead in 3D-NAND flash development and the rising sales of its high-density eMMC, eMCP and SSD products. In the fourth quarter, Samsung’s NAND flash business registered a quarterly bit shipment growth of 15% and a 10 to15% quarterly slide in the average selling price. The memory maker thus saw a quarterly revenue growth of 4.2 per cent as well as a slight decrease in its operating margin.

Toshiba’s NAND flash business was affected by market oversupply as well. Compared with the prior quarter, the memory maker’s average selling price was 13 to 14 per cent lower in the fourth quarter of last year. Toshiba only recently began the trial production of 3D-NAND flash. Moreover, the Japanese memory maker has found that its 15nm process offers limited cost reduction advantage. Thus, the company’s NAND flash business registered a decline in its operating margin for the fourth quarter.

SanDisk’s product mix adjustments have paid off as client and enterprise grade SSD sales make up an increasing share of the company’s total revenue. SanDisk also saw a 10 per cent quarterly drop in both the average selling price and the average unit cost of its NAND flash chips in the fourth quarter of 2015. As a result, SanDisk’s gross margin reached 43% in the fourth quarter – on par with the previous quarter.

Compared with the third quarter, SK Hynix’s fourth-quarter NAND flash revenue fell by 9.3 per cent to $841 million. The South Korean memory supplier also saw a 4 per cent bit shipment growth and a 15 oer cent slide in the average selling price. As tablet and smartphone shipments from strategic clients are expected to suffer a huge drop in the first quarter, DRAMeXchange projects SK Hynix to post a 10 per cent quarterly decline in bit shipments as well.

Set against the previous fiscal period, Micron’s bit shipments for the first fiscal quarter of 2016 (from September to November last year) registered a 6% quarterly increase, while its average selling price dropped by 7 per cent and unit cost fell by 6 per cent. Micron’s revenue for the first fiscal quarter of 2016 therefore arrived at $1.15 billion, up 1.9 per cent from the prior fiscal quarter.

Intel’s major Enterprise-SSD customers pulled inventory in advance during the third quarter. Consequently, Intel’s bit sales grew 10 per cent quarterly in the fourth quarter of 2015. However, the oversupply in the fourth quarter resulted in a steeper decrease in the average selling price, causing Intel’s revenue fall slightly by 0.2 per cent quarterly to $662 million.

Courtesy-Fud

 

T-Mobile Riding High, Triple Profits

February 18, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

T-Mobile US Inc’s profit nearly tripled during the recent holiday quarter as aggressive price reductions and offers helped it lure customers away from competitors.

T-Mobile added a net 2.1 million customers in the three months ended Dec. 31.

The company’s average revenue per postpaid user fell marginally to $48.05 in the fourth quarter from $48.26 a year earlier, mainly due to promotions.

T-Mobile said it expects to add a net 2.4 million to 3.4 million branded postpaid customers in 2016, compared with the 4.5 million it added in 2015.

T-Mobile has rolled out a series of initiatives in the past three years to attract customers from bigger rivals Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, including free music and video streaming and lower-priced plans with phone leasing and data rollover offers.

T-Mobile said in November it would give customers a new option to stream video from services such as Netflix Inc , on their mobile devices without having it count against their data plans.

Net income nearly tripled to $297 million, or 34 cents per share, in the quarter from $101 million, or 12 cents per share, a year earlier.

Total revenue rose 1.1 percent to $8.25 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $8.20 billion.

 

Will Toshiba Totally Focus On NAND?

January 27, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Toshiba is getting out the processor business so that it can concentrate on making memory as it tries to recover from its $1.3 billion accounting scandal.

The Japanese press has suggested that Toshiba has  interest in part of its chip making business from the Development Bank of Japan. The state-owned bank has already invested in Seiko’s semiconductor operations.

Toshiba is keeping its  NAND flash memory operations and will chuck some of the money it has not got into improving production.

What will be sold is its LSI and discrete chips, which are widely used in cars, home appliances and industrial machinery.  In fact it is one of the few companies trying to get out of the automotive industry.  Some of this is because Tosh has not made much money out of it. This division lost $2.78 billion in the year ended March 2015.

Following the accounting scandal, Toshiba has been focusing on nuclear and other energy operations, as well as its storage business, which centers on NAND flash memory chips.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Verizon Announces Sponsored Data Program

January 21, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Verizon has announced a sponsored data service named FreeBee Data, which offers mobile users toll-free data either via gigabytes or on a per-click basis.

One of the models, called FreeBee Data 360, is available in beta starting Tuesday. Under the plan, content providers can give some or all their mobile content to consumers via an app or mobile website on a per gigabyte basis without using up a consumer’s data plan.

The other model of FreeBee Data, which goes into beta on Jan. 25, allows a content provider to sponsor specific consumer actions, such as watching a mobile video clip, listening to an audio stream or downloading an app. Content providers are charged on a per-click basis, but the data is free to users. The broad outline of the service is described for businesses on Verizon’s website.

Verizon said per-click participants so far include Hearst Magazines, AOL and Gameday. They will sponsor some free mobile content for 1,000 test subscribers. A commercial version is coming later in 2016.

Verizon described the advantages to content providers as offering the ability to build smarter mobile marketing campaigns. For consumers, access to content and other data, either per click or for an entire app or website, will be free.

AT&T announced a similar sponsored data program in October called Data Perks, which allows customers the ability to accumulate up to 1 GB of free data per billing period. Customers accumulate free data by clicking on special offers from companies like Fandango, Hotel Tonight, Rosetta Stone and others.

The concept of sponsored data has raised concerns from net neutrality supporters who question whether the services violate the spirit of an open Internet. However, supporters of sponsored data say it won’t cost anything to explore the marketing offers and claim the sponsored traffic is not prioritized over other Internet traffic.

 

 

Mark Zuckerberg Turns Focus To Building AI Assistant

January 5, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Mark Zuckerberg intends on building an artificially intelligent assistant in 2016 to help run his home and assist him at work, the Facebook Inc  founder and chief executive said on Sunday.

Zuckerberg, who commits to a new personal challenge every year, revealed his plan in a Facebook post.

“You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man,” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to an artificially intelligent butler who appears in the Marvel comic books and movies.

Zuckerberg will start the project by exploring existing technology, he wrote. He will then begin teaching the technology to understand his voice so that it will learn to control everything in his home, such as music, lights and temperature.

His plans also include teaching the assistant to let friends into his home by looking at their faces when they ring the doorbell, Zuckerberg wrote. The assistant will visualize data to support Zuckerberg at work, he wrote.

“This should be a fun intellectual challenge to code this for myself,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn over the course of the year.”

Other challenges Zuckerberg has taken on in recent years have included reading two books every month and learning Mandarin.

 

 

Will Samsung Make Chips For AMD?

December 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Samsung will make chips for AMD, if rumors circulating in Seoul are anything to go by.

A report in South Korea’s Electronic Times, which cited unknown sources, said that Samsung Electronics will start making new chips for AMD sometime next year.

The paper’s contacts claimed that the deal will see Samsung’s foundry business and California semiconductor foundry GlobalFoundries join forces to start producing a central processing chip as well as a graphics processing chip using 14nm technology.

Samsung and AMD were not available for comment.

Samsung already makes chips for Apple and Nvidia, but extending its services to AMD would give its components businesses a boost in an attempt to offset the earnings decline in recent quarters for the firm’s smartphone division.

Samsung has been busy building up its chip business this year in an attempt to make it stronger in other areas rather than just consumer tech. The firm revealed earlier this year that it will soon begin production of a 10nm FinFET node, and that the chip will be in full production by the end of 2016.

The 10nm process targets a wide range of markets and will deliver “significant power, area and performance advantages” when it hits devices, according to Samsung.

This is expected to be at around the same time as rival TSMC. More detailed specs regarding the chips are unknown at this stage.

“This is one of the biggest positive steps for the industry in the last few years. It shows that Samsung sets these very aggressive goals, and may not hit them exactly but will be very close,” said Handel Jones, CEO at analyst firm International Business Strategies.

He added that it will be “hugely disruptive” if Samsung can achieve 10nm.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Apple Shutters Twitter Data Analzying Service Topsy

December 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Apple Inc has decided to shutter its Topsy Labs unit, which specialized in analyzing Twitter data and providing insights into current sentiment on a variety of topics, and the move prompted an outcry from many of its users.

The website for the platform www.topsy.com currently directs users to an Apple support page. On Tuesday night, Topsy sent out its last tweet from its ‏@Topsy account: “We’ve searched our last tweet.”

Apple acquired Topsy in December 2013 for more than $200 million, an unusual purchase for a hardware-focused company that has made few forays into social networking. An Apple spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

San Francisco-based Topsy was one of Twitter’s early partners, enjoying direct access to the messaging service’s billions of tweets over several years. It has indexed them all to make them readily and rapidly searchable.

“What the heck! Gone too soon,” wrote Twitter user Doyan Wilfred (@ThinkDoyan) on Wednesday.

Adrian Parker (@adrianparker), another Twitter user, wrote: “Heartbreak. Topsy was my secret Twitter weapon (Tweapon?)”

Former employees of Topsy also took to social media to express their sadness.

“RIP (rest in peace) Topsy” Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (@r2g2), one of the four founders of the company, tweeted on Tuesday night.

Topsy employee Paul Gerard Porter (@paul_g_porter) tweeted: “What an incredible run we had – I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Topsy team #endofanera.”

Before the Topsy acquisition, Apple’s main effort in social media had revolved around Ping, a music-centered social sharing network that was at one point integrated into the company’s iTunes app. The service, which lets users post music tracks they liked to a news feed, did not catch on and was shut down.

 

Soundbrenner Debuts Wearable Devices For Musicians

December 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Soundbrenner is a company born directly from the music scene. A company made up of musicians, Soundbrenner came together to explore what wearable technology would look like when applied to the music industry.

What they came up with was the Soundbrenner Pulse, a deceptively simple device that musicians wear on their body to replace the need for a metronome. At its simplest, the Soundbrenner Pulse is a wearable that enables musicians to feel the desired beat on their skin. Like the old-fashioned metronome, this allows musicians to play a steady, pre-defined tempo. But unlike a metronome, the Pulse isn’t an audible device, and neither is it constrained to a still and quiet environment. Because the Pulse works by transmitting a vibration to the wearer, it works within the context of a noisy rock concert just as well as it does in a practice room.

The Soundbrenner team went to China to design the device and managed to find some high-performance haptic vibration motors that they say delivers haptic feedback up to six times stronger than vibrational alerts commonly found in today’s smartphones and smartwatches. First launched as a crowdfunding campaign, Soundbrenner raised $500,000 in seed funding and plans to have commercial delivery of units by early next year.

But Soundbrenner is more than just a vibrating wearable — it is also a truly connected and connectable device. The Bluetooth-enabled wearable can be paired with smartphones, tablets and Macs to offer multi-player synchronization and to program advanced rhythms. In a concert setting, all band musicians can wear a device that has the exact same tempo, and they can ensure they all play perfectly in time.

The company is distributed with production and logistics in Hong Kong to tap into Chinese manufacturing resources. Software development continues in Berlin while a new Los Angeles office is designed to create an entry point into the all-important U.S. music scene.

 

 

Is Toshiba Going To Split?

December 1, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Troubled Japanese outfit Toshiba is considering splitting off part of its chip business in a bid to help it raise the cash it lost on its accounting scandal.

Toshiba needs a restructuring after revealing a number of unprofitable businesses which were hidden by some creative accounting. It agreed in October to sell its image sensor business to Sony. However it has been placed on a Tokyo Stock Exchange watch list and the outfit faces difficulty raising funds through the sale of shares or bonds.

Chief executive Masashi Muromachi told a news conference he was considering flogging every asset possible. NAND flash memory chips was a core business and would not be sold, which effectively leaves system LSI and discrete chips as options to split off.

The semiconductor business requires continuous investment to maintain its competitiveness against rivals such as Samsung Electronics and the thought is that when the bank manager is not returning your calls it is best to cut back on it. Some of Toshiba’s chips end up under the bonnet of the smartphones designed by the fruity cargo cult Apple.

Tosh already announced that it was flogging of its Malaysian chip assembly unit to US-based Amkor Technology as part of its strategy to consolidate chip operations. At the time it hinted of a big restructuring, but not an actual sell off its chipmaking empire.

Courtesy-Fud