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U.S. Commerce Department Removes ZTE From Trade Blacklist

March 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Department of Commerce has agreed to remove Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp  from a trade blacklist after the company pleaded guilty to violating sanctions on Iran and agreed to pay nearly $900 million, the agency said in a notice.

Removal from the list marks the end of a tense period for ZTE, which faced trade restrictions that could have severed its ties to critical U.S. suppliers.

“By acknowledging the mistakes we made, taking responsibility for them … we are committed to a ZTE that is fully compliant, healthy and trustworthy,” said ZTE Chief Executive Zhao Xianming said in an emailed statement.

Last year, the U.S. Commerce Department placed export restrictions on ZTE as punishment for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. The restrictions would have prevented restricted suppliers from providing ZTE any U.S.-made equipment, potentially freezing the Chinese handset maker’s supply chain.

Over the past 12 months, as ZTE cooperated with U.S. authorities, the U.S. Commerce Department temporarily suspended the trade restrictions with a series of three-month reprieves, allowing the company to maintain ties to U.S. suppliers.

Earlier this month, ZTE agreed to pay a total of $892.4 million and pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions by sending American-made technology to Iran and lying to investigators.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday it would impose severe restrictions on former ZTE CEO Shi Lirong, whom the agency accused of approving efforts to skirt sanctions and ship equipment to Iran.

The Commerce Department said Shi approved a systematic, written business plan to use shell companies to secretly export U.S. technology to Iran. Reuters could not immediately reach Shi for comment.

The U.S. investigation followed reports by Reuters in 2012 that ZTE had signed contracts with Iran to ship millions of dollars’ worth of hardware and software from some of America’s best-known technology companies.

U.S. authorities have said the size of the financial penalty against ZTE also reflects the fact that the company lied to investigators when executives were approached about the allegations.

As part of the deal, ZTE will be under probation for three years and agreed to cooperate in the continuing investigation.

Return Of The Samsung Galaxy Note 7?

March 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Tech giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has announced that it plans to offer refurbished versions of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, the model pulled from markets last year due to fire-prone batteries.

Samsung’s Note 7s were permanently scrapped in October following a global recall, roughly two months from the launch of the near-$900 devices, after some phones self-combusted. A subsequent probe found manufacturing problems in batteries supplied by two different companies – Samsung SDI Co Ltd and Amperex Technology Ltd.

Analysis from Samsung and independent researchers found no other problems in the Note 7 devices except the batteries, raising speculation that Samsung will recoup some of its losses by selling refurbished Note 7s.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters in January that it was considering the possibility of selling refurbished versions of the device or reusing some parts.

Samsung’s announcement that revamped Note 7s will go back on sale, however, surprised some with the timing – just days before it launches its new S8 smartphone on Wednesday in the United States, its first new premium phone since the debacle last year.

Samsung, under huge pressure to turn its image around after the burning battery scandal, had previously not commented on its plans for recovered phones.

“Regarding the Galaxy Note 7 devices as refurbished phones or rental phones, applicability is dependent upon consultations with regulatory authorities and carriers as well as due consideration of local demand,” Samsung said in a statement.

South Korea’s Electronic Times newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said on Tuesday Samsung will start selling refurbished Note 7s in its home country in July or August and will aim to sell between 400,000 and 500,000 of the Note 7s using safe batteries.

Samsung said in a statement to Reuters the company has not set specifics on refurbished Note 7 sales plans, including what markets and when they would go on sale, though noting the phones will not be sold in India as some media reported earlier this year.

The firm said refurbished Note 7s will be equipped with new batteries that have gone through Samsung’s new battery safety measures.

“The objective of introducing refurbished devices is solely to reduce and minimize any environmental impact,” it said.

Apple Wins Patent Dispute In China

March 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

A Chinese court has ruled in favor of Apple in design patent lawsuit between the Cupertino, California company and a domestic phone-maker, overturning a ban on selling iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus phones in China, Xinhua news agency reported.

Last May, a Beijing patent regulator ordered Apple’s Chinese subsidiary and a local retailer Zoomflight to stop selling the iPhones after Shenzhen Baili Marketing Services lodged a complaint, claiming that the patent for the design of its mobile phone 100c was being infringed by the iPhone sales.

Apple and Zoomflight took the Beijing Intellectual Property Office’s ban to court.

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court has revoked the ban, saying Apple and Zoomflight did not violate Shenzhen Baili’s design patent for 100c phones.

The court ruled that the regulator did not follow due procedures in ordering the ban while there was no sufficient proof to claim the designs constituted a violation of intellectual property rights.

Representatives of Beijing Intellectual Property Office and Shenzhen Baili said they would take time to decide whether to appeal the ruling, according to Xinhua.

In a related ruling, the same court denied a request by Apple to demand stripping Shenzhen Baili of its design patent for 100c phones.

Apple first filed the request to the Patent Reexamination Board of State Intellectual Property Office. The board rejected the request, but Apple lodged a lawsuit against the rejection.

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court on Friday ruled to maintain the board’s decision. It is unclear if Apple will appeal.

British Telecom Fined $53M For Not Installing Business Internet Fast Enough

March 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Britain’s BT has been fined a record 42 million pounds ($53 million) by the regulator for failing to install high-speed lines for business customersfast enough, in an error that is likely to cost the company around 300 million pounds in compensation.

BT, which runs Britain’s major telecoms network, misused the terms of its contracts to reduce compensation payments to other providers for failing to deliver Ethernet services on time between January 2013 and December 2014, regulator Ofcom said on Monday.

Ofcom’s Investigations Director Gaucho Rasmussen said dedicated high-speed lines, which are used by large businesses to transmit data, were a vital part of Britain’s digital backbone.

“We found BT broke our rules by failing to pay other telecoms companies proper compensation when these services were not provided on time,” he said.

“Our message is clear – we will not tolerate this sort of behavior.”

BT is obliged to provide access to its Openreach network to rivals such as TalkTalk and Vodafone, but they have long complained about the service they receive from the former monopoly.

Ofcom was considering making BT spin off Openreach in order to remove any possible incentive for the unit to favor BT over other providers.

It stopped short of forcing a full split, however, last month when it agreed that a legal separation was sufficient.

Analysts at Bernstein said on Monday that the resolution of Openreach’s structural future felt like ancient history.

“We expect investors to react with disbelief and dismay at this arguably avoidable controversy at BT,” they said.

“The fall out is staggering. By its own admission, BT is expected to compensate its competitors to the tune of 300 million pounds, although this is a preliminary figure.”

BT’s Chief Executive Gavin Patterson, who recently vowed to improve the service BT delivered to customers, said Openreach had fallen well short of the standard it had set itself.

“We take this issue very seriously and we have put in place measures, controls and people to prevent it happening again,” he said.

Will Gigabit LTE Smartphones Take Off This Year?

March 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

It has been quite some time since Qualcomm announced Snapdragon X16, the world’s first Gigabit LTE modem. The same GigabitLTE Snapdragon X16 modem is now part of the Snapdragon 835 – a 10nm SoC that is about to debut in a dozen high end phones.

Many people who are not close to the matter are having a hard time to understand why it’s important to get faster modems in an everyday device. Many moan that the speeds they are getting from their carriers are not even touching the Cat 4 maximum speed of 150 Mbps on a download but they are forgetting that these are the best case scenario speeds for Cat 4. What happens is that the average speed increases with new technology as most carriers are now using the Cat 6 300 Mbps maximum speed network.

Today, Telstra in Australia, Sprint in the USA, EE in the UK and a few others have announced or have already deployed their versions of the Cat 16 category GigabitLTE capable of sub 1 Gbps speeds.

It’s a typical technology cat and mouse game. We need faster phones to get the faster internet from carriers. What many people need to understand is that they won’t really get 1 Gbps download speeds as this is a maximum, but the average speed might increase for many.

If you are getting – let’s say – 30 to 60 Mbps today with Cat 6, a Gigabit LTE could increase your speeds to 60 Mbps to 120 Mbps. In our case, in Vienna Austria, we see around 80 Mbps to 100 Mbps, and GigabitLTE could double the speed to 160 Mbps to 200 Mbps. You would need a GigabitLTE phone as well as a GigabitLTE capable network to get to the GigabitLTE speeds. There are two options – the Snapdragon 835 powered phone or the Samsung Exynos 8895. They both support GigabitLTE speeds and the launch of GigabitLTE phones will speed up the deployment of this technology worldwide.

Don’t forget that Samsung Galaxy S8 is likely to ship with both Exynos 8895 and Snapdragon 835, both supporting GigabitLTE speeds.

With the mass introduction of the Snapdragon 835 and Exynos 8895 phones starting with the Samsung Galaxy S8, followed by GigabitLTE deployment by the carriers, we expect that the average download and upload speed will increase, enabling the next generation of content and applications. It looks likely that AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are already committed to the GigabitLTE, likely coming this year. Worldwide, there are 15 companies who plan to launch GigabitLTE this year.

If you are one of the skeptical ones that say we don’t need faster internet on the phone, I can remember one very rich man that goes by the name of Bill Gates who wasn’t convinced in the success of the internet. That definitely doesn’t mean that he was right about it, as now even Gates and the rest of the world have the capability of 100s of Mbps speeds on a smartphone device, something that didn’t really exist just a decade ago.

The same performance delta can be associated with internet speed as 3G stopped at 3.6 Mbps / 7.2Mbps. Speed eventually got to 21.6 Mbps with HSPA+. That was some ten years ago and today it is normal to have a Cat 6 LTE 4K network capable of 300 Mbps and, in some cases, advanced carriers get to 600 Mbps, and in the case of Telstra, it even gets to 1Gbps speeds. Qualcomm is planning to ship Snapdragon X20 with 1.2 Gbps maximum speeds in early 2018 and it is already sampling a modem that exceeds GigabitLTE’x magical number.

GigabitLTE with 1Gbps speed is just an introduction to 5G speeds, and it can be viewed as a gateway to 5G. 5G is a new communication technology that will enable a huge technology leap. One of the things that may become a reality is 4K or even 4K 360 video as the default. This will push the need for more and higher resolution VR capable Head Mounted Devices (HMD) and enable new games and applications that we cannot even imagine today.

Think about Facebook live with 360 VR capabilities? We don’t think that this is far off.

Courtesy-Fud

Nearly Seventy Five Percent Of Android Devices Lack Latest Security Patches

March 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Nearly seventy five percent of Android devices on the five biggest U.S. carriers are running on security patches that are at least two months old, putting them at greater risk of being hacked.

That finding was made in an analysis published by Skycure, a mobile threat defense vendor.

The report also found that the city of Boston has had the biggest recent increase in smartphone and other wireless device threats — including malicious attacks — among 11 major U.S. cities. Incidents in Boston climbed by 960% in the fourth quarter of 2016. The analysis is based on millions of readings from network sensors that Skycure monitors globally.

Unlike Boston, several cities saw a flattening in the number of network incidents. San Francisco experienced a slight decline in the fourth quarter. Skycure didn’t explain why Boston increased so drastically, but indicated that rates of incidents can vary widely, with some cities increasing while others hit a plateau.

While the company’s analysis pointed especially at Boston and other cities seeing increasing numbers of attacks, mobile threats are generally on the rise. There is plenty of blame to go around, including the length of time it takes wireless carriers to pass along security patches and whether users install patches in a timely manner.

Skycure found that 71% of Android devices are running on security patches that are at least two months old — too old to be considered secure.

Devices with known vulnerabilities that are unpatched are more susceptible to breach, Skycure noted. That’s the same advice that many independent security and mobile practitioners and analysts have offered.

That figure is also in line with a Google security report stating that half of all Android devices had not received a security update in the past year.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, agreed that smartphone users need to quickly load security patches onto their phones. Many smartphone users have told Computerworld via email that operating system updates, sometimes including security patches, have slowed the performance of their phones and so they are reluctant to allow the updates to load.

Twitter Mulls Subscription Based Model

March 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc is weighing whether to build a premium version of its popular Tweetdeck interface aimed at professionals, the company has announced, raising the possibility that it could charge subscription fees for some users for the first time.

Like most other social media companies, Twitter since its founding 11 years ago has focused on building a huge user base for a free service supported by advertising. Last month it reported it had 319 million users worldwide.

But unlike the much-larger Facebook Inc, Twitter has failed to attract enough in advertising revenue to turn a profit even as its popularity with U.S. President Donald Trump and other celebrities makes the network a constant center of attention.

Subscription fees could come from a version of Tweetdeck, an existing interface that helps users navigate Twitter.

Twitter is conducting a survey “to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck,” spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca has said in a statement.

She went on: “We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people’s Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we’re exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals.”

There was no indication that Twitter was considering charging fees from all its users.

Word of the survey had earlier leaked on Twitter, where a journalist affiliated with the New York Times posted screenshots of what a premium version of Tweetdeck could look like.

That version could include “more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker,” according to one of the screenshots posted on the account @andrewtavani.

The experience could be ad-free, the description said.

Other social media firms, such as Microsoft Corp’s LinkedIn unit, already have tiered memberships, with subscription versions that offer greater access and data.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Twitter posted the slowest revenue growth since it went public four years earlier, and revenue from advertising fell year-over-year. The company also said that advertising revenue growth would continue to lag user growth during 2017.

LastPass Rushes Out Fix To Password Flaw

March 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Developers of the popular LastPass password manager rushed to roll out a patch to fix a serious vulnerability that could have allowed attackers to steal users’ passwords or execute malicious code on their computers.

The vulnerability was discovered by Google security researcher Tavis Ormandy and was reported to LastPass on Monday. It affected the browser extensions installed by the service’s users for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge.

According to a description in the Google Project Zero bug tracker, the vulnerability could have given attackers access to internal commands inside the LastPass extension. Those are the commands used by the extension to copy passwords or fill in web forms using information stored in the user’s secure vault.

If the extension’s binary component is installed, the “openattach” command can be used to run arbitrary code on the computer, Ormandy said on the bug tracker.

The LastPass developers deployed a workaround on their server to prevent exploitation and plan to include a full fix in new versions.

On Tuesday Ormandy reported another vulnerability in the Firefox extension that, according to the LastPass developers, was related to the first one. That vulnerability was fixed in a new version of the Firefox extension, 4.1.36a, that was released Wednesday.

“We have no indication that any of the reported vulnerabilities were exploited in the wild, but we’re doing a thorough review at this time to confirm,” the LastPass developers said in a blog post. “No password changes are required of users at this time.”

Are NAND Prices Jumping Due To Supply Issues?

March 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Client-grade SSDs of mainstream capacities continue to see rising contract prices in the PC-OEM market during this first quarter.

Beancounters at DRAMeXchange have added up some numbers and divided by their shoe size and worked out that average, contract prices of MLC-based client-grade SSDs are projected to go up by 12-16 percent compared with the fourth quarter of last year, while prices of TLC-based products are expected to increase by 10-16 percent sequentially.

Second quarter, end device sales are anticipated to be relatively flat. Furthermore, PC-OEMs are reaching their limits on SSD costs. While the average prices of mainstream client-grade SSDs will keep climbing, the increase in the second quarter will likely be more moderate.

Alan Chen, senior research manager of DRAMeXchange said that the average contract prices of client-grade SSDs in the PC-OEM market are rising this first quarter because not only PC clients are aggressively stocking up their inventories, smartphone clients are also maintaining strong demand for storage components.

“At the same time, the industry-wide transition to 3D-NAND and 2D-NAND TLC production has sharply reduced the supply of Flash memory of the 2D-NAND MLC type. Thus, the price increase of MLC-based SSDs is outpacing that of TLC-based SSDs.”

Chen added that SSDs are increasingly preferred by consumers due to having faster read/write speed than HDDs, so PC-OEMs will keep up their SSD purchases despite tight supply for NAND Flash and SSDs. In the global notebook market, the SSD adoption rate is estimated to arrive at 45 percent this year.

Additionally, the growth in the notebook SSD adoption will be higher in the consumer-class notebook segment than the business-class segment. On the other hand, the tight NAND Flash supply and sharp price hikes for SSDs will likely discourage PC.

OEMs from raising storage capacity. Therefore, the storage specifications for mainstream PC-OEM SSDs are expected to remain in the 128GB and 256GB options”.

Shipments of client-grade SSDs will drop by seven to eight percent sequentially in the first quarter.

Courtesy-Fud

Wireless Performance Still Not So Great In Big Cities Of LA, NYC

March 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

The two biggest cities in the U.S. — New York City and Los Angeles –still fall below many smaller U.S. cities in overall wireless performance, according to millions of field tests performed by RootMetrics in the second half of 2016.

The New York metro area, with 18 million people, ranked just 66th in the latest round of tests of the nation’s largest 125 metro areas. Meanwhile, L.A., with 12.1 million people, ranked 49th. In testing done by RootMetrics in the first half of last year, New York finished 59th, L.A., 99th.

L.A. improved in two of six measurements: call and data performance. New York’s drop was largely driven by a “steep decline” in network speed and data performance, RootMetrics said.

The reasons for New York’s decline — and declines in other cities — depend on multiple factors. “These metro rankings are relative; the most common reason for a ranking drop is not that performance is declining in a particular city, rather than performance is improving faster in other cities,” said Annette Hamilton, director at RootMetrics.

RootMetrics evaluates the nation’s four largest carriers using actual phones the carriers sell in tests conducted outdoors and inside buildings. Sometimes a carrier will temporarily take down service in a cell tower while improvements are made; also, a recent increase in the number of users and the rich video content they download could burden a cell tower’s capacity and affect performance. As some cities improve in overall performance, they can displace other top-ranked cities.

“While mobile performance is generally strong across most areas of the country, our data shows that not all metro areas are created equal when it comes to network performance,” RootMetrics said in a report.

Besides New York, other large metro areas dropped in several categories from the first half of 2016. Boston, the 10th largest in population, fell from 17th to 97th, finishing in the bottom on network reliability and call performance. Miami, fourth in population, dropped from 84th to 89th, due to a decline in network reliability and call performance.

Both Atlanta and Chicago declined from their top five finishes in early 2016. Chicago finished 8th overall in the latest tests, and dropped to 65th in text performance. Atlanta dropped from third to 23rd, with declines in all six categories that RootMetrics measures: overall performance, network reliability, network speed, data performance, call performance and text performance.

Hamilton said while Atlanta placed 23rd, it had a “stellar reputation for speed and data performance” with Verizon showing the fastest median download speed of 37.7Mbps. Further, while Boston came in 97th, three of the four wireless carrier there clocked median download speeds above 20Mbps, which she described as “more than fast enough to easily complete typical mobile tasks.”

In 2017, she added, “We expect to see metro rankings shift again as carriers continue to deploy new capabilities to meet mobile demands.”

Houston, the seventh-largest metro area, improved — moving from 51st to 18th. RootMetrics reported that all four carriers showed “superb” rates of getting connected and staying connected to the network during data reliability testing and saw a big leap in call performance.

The top five metro areas by overall performance were Indianapolis; Richmond, Va. ; Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis. The bottom five of the 125 measured were Hudson Valley, N.Y., in 121st place, descending to Springfield, Mass.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Worcester, Mass.; and Omaha.

Apple’s New Video App Clips Challenges Facebook, Snapchat

March 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

With the release of a new video app called Clips, Apple Inc continues its move towards fully engaging in the messaging world, where its huge base of iPhone users could help it compete with Snap Inc’s Snapchat and Facebook Inc’s Messenger.

Clips, which will hit Apple’s App Store in April, lets customers take videos and add animated captions and titles, complete with colorful emoji symbols. The app also makes it possible to stitch together multiple video clips and add speech bubbles and filters.

The functions closely resemble those that drive Snap’s wildly popular Stories feature. With Stories, Snap users string together photos and videos, embellish them and then post them to their feeds.

Apple’s new Clips lets users post their video to Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and more. But if users post them to Apple’s own Messages app, Apple will recommend whom to share it with based on which friends are in the videos and whom the user frequently contacts – the kind of predictive social features Facebook excels at.

Apple has a huge number of users for Messages, the flagship app for short notes that is built into the iPhone’s iOS 10 software. Apple does not say how many people use the app, but it does say that there more than 1 billion iOS devices on the market and that 79 percent of them run iOS 10.

Apple also says that Messages is the most commonly used app on iOS devices, giving the company potentially up to 800 million users for its latest messaging platform. Snap, by contrast, has 161 million daily active users. While Apple’s Clips competitor will technically be a separate app from Messages, it will be tied closely to it for the ability share Clips videos with other Apple users.

Facebook has more than 1 billion users for both Messenger, which was split off from the main Facebook service in 2014, and for WhatsApp, which it acquired for $19 billion the same year.

Apple has been steadily matching the features of Facebook’s Messenger. But Apple is also walking a fine line with other messaging players, cooperating with them often as it competes with them. For example, it has opened up the iPhone’s dialer app, long closed off to developers, so that iPhone users could place and receive Skype and WhatsApp calls through the device’s native interface.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp have been scrambling to get into the game, too. Google has more than a half dozen messaging apps, including Allo, its latest. Microsoft has tried to integrate chat into its Skype app, and Microsoft-owned LinkedIn is a popular tool for business notes.

But tech giants obsess over messaging because it is where users are headed, according to analyst firm Gartner. Between 2015 and 2016, the percentage of U.S. and UK smartphone owners who used social media apps dropped from 85 percent to 83 percent while messaging apps jumped from 68 percent to 71 percent, a trend Gartner expects will continue.

Was Intel’s Purchase Of MobileEye A Good Move?

March 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Technology

Intel has just written a $13.5 billion cheque buying its Jerusalem-based partner MobilEye.

MobilEye is one of the largest players in autonomous vehicle tech and hit the headlines recently when it had a spat with Tesla following a fatal Model S crash in Florida. However, it recently teamed with Intel on BMW’s iNext self-driving platform, which the automaker aims to put into service by 2021.

Intel and MobileEye’s cunning plan is to build a “scalable architecture” that can be used by any automaker, especially if they don’t want to build their own tech from scratch.

It could become a huge money maker for both Intel and MobilEye, which may help explain the huge acquisition price. The deal is one of the largest acquisitions of an Israeli-based tech company ever.

Compared to PC hardware autonomous cars, are one of the sexist things in tech, with virtually every automaker, tech company and even peripheral firms like Uber and Lyft working on (and fighting about) something.

Intel’s acquisition of Mobileye was officially confirmed this morning, and it will mark a huge investment in self-driving cars for the chip company. Intel previously said it will spend $250 million over the next two years toward the development of autonomous vehicles, but a $15 billion deal is far more significant.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the acquisition of Mobileye brings together the assets of Intel’s Xeon processors, FPGAs, 3D XPoint memory, and 5G modems with the world leader in automotive computer vision.

“This acquisition essentially merges the intelligent eyes of the autonomous car with the intelligent brain that actually drives the car.”

Intel’s interest in Mobileye could help it against competitors like Nvidia and Qualcomm. Both chip makers have been investing in vehicles, and Intel appears to be paying a premium to catch up and push forward with its autonomous vehicle plans.

Courtesy-Fud

Samsung Reveals More Details About Personal Digital Assistant ‘Bixby’

March 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung has revealed that Bixby, an intelligent voice assistant, will run on the Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone scheduled to be announced March 29 in New York.

Bixby will be activated using a special physical button on the side of the phone, differentiating it from some other assistants that rely on a trigger word, like “Alexa” or “Siri.” Samsung also said Bixby will eventually work on millions of Samsung-made devices, potentially including TVs and washing machines.

The S8 will come with a subset of preinstalled apps that are Bixby-enabled, according to Injong Rhee, executive vice president of software and services for Samsung Electronics. Over time, this set of apps will expand; Samsung will release a software toolkit to allow third-party developers to Bixby enable their apps and services.

“Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone,” Rhee said.

Gartner analyst Werner Goertz said Bixby is a late-comer to the digital assistant game, arriving two years after Amazon’s Alexa and behind Google Assistant, which already have rich databases of voice inquiries and searches to add context to queries.

Alexa is well known for working with Echo room units. However, just last week, Amazon announced that Alexa works in its Amazon app on iOS devices.

Bixby is going to be playing catch up,” Goertz said. “Samsung faces a complete greenfield with its knowledge base.”

Even Alexa is in its “very early stages” in terms of how well a user can get an answer to a complicated question. “Everybody has a good time trying to trick these digital assistants, but if you bring in Bixby it’s going to be even easier to trip up Bixby.”

The functions of converting speech to text with digital assistants “works relatively well unless you trip it up with accents and background noise,” he said. The more critical issue is the knowledge base needed to find accurate information.

Still, Samsung argued that Bixby will offer a “deeper experience.” The company said that the feature in a Bixby-enabled app will support almost every task the app is capable of performing, including touch commands. By comparison, most agents currently only support a few selected tasks, which can confuse users about what works by voice command in an app.

Samsung also said Bixby will know the current context and state of an app to allow users to carry out work in progress. Users will be able to weave touch with voice interactions, depending on what they like.

And Bixby will also be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information to the best of its knowledge, then ask for more information. “This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use,” Rhee added.

Even though Samsung is getting a late start with Bixby, Goertz said it stands to gain traction quickly, partly because Samsung is so large.

 

 

BlackBerry’s Secusmart To Roll Out Updated SecSuite Smartphone Product

March 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Secusmart, a BlackBerry subsidiary, plans to introduce a version of its SecuSuite security software that will be compatible with Samsung Electronics’ Knox platform later this year.

That means that organizations looking for smartphones offering government-grade security will be able to buy the Samsung Galaxy S7 or, soon, the S8 rather than the now-discontinued BlackBerry OS smartphones.

In addition to encrypting communications and data stored on the device, the new SecuSuite also secures voice calls using the SNS standard set by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Organizational app traffic is passed through an IPsec VPN, while data from personal apps can go straight to the internet. Encrypted voice calls go through a different gateway, not the VPN.

When it goes on sale, likely around July, an S7 running SecuSuite for Samsung Knox will cost around €1900, said BlackBerry Secusmart managing director Christoph Erdmann. That’s the same price as the existing BlackBerry 10 version, and includes the phone, a microSD smartcard to secure the encryption keys, and the first year of service.

Secusmart is demonstrating the new system on its stand at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany this week.

This is not Secusmart’s first collaboration with Samsung: Two years ago at Cebit, in conjunction with IBM, the companies unveiled an ultrasecure (and ultra-expensive) version of the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 tablet, called the Secutablet. It cost $2,300.

Users of SecuSuite for Samsung Knox will see the icons of applications managed by their employer tagged with a small padlock. When these applications are launched, they will ask for a PIN to authorize use of the encryption keys in the microSD card. Without these, neither the app nor its associated data can be accessed.

Other applications, including popular messaging platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, can be installed in accordance with the employer’s security policies: Some organizations, like the German government, will allow only limited whitelists, while others may allow full access to the Google Play Store.

The controls are imposed by the organization’s MDM (mobile device management) and MAM (mobile applications management) servers, typically BES 12 and EASE respectively.

Even if a user inadvertently downloads and installs one of the malicious apps that occasionally sneaks into the Google Play Store, data in the work-related apps is still securely protected, said Erdmann.

“Every good OS has to have a way to stop processes reading other processes’ memory,” he said, adding that the Android OS is one of the ones that does.

So far, only a couple of Android manufacturers offer devices with secure boot systems: Samsung, and TCL, the company that now manufactures BlackBerry-brand Android phones under license.

“There’s great potential” for running SecuSuite on non-Knox Android phones, Erdmann said, but it won’t happen right away.

IBM Launches Blockchain Service For Developers

March 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

International Business Machines Corp has unveiled a service that will allow businesses to build applications on its cloud using blockchain code from the Hyperledger Project, the cross-industry group led by the Linux Foundation.

The U.S. technology company said on Monday its new product called IBM Blockchain was the first service for developers to build enterprise-grade technology using Hyperledger Fabric, the first code set to be released by the open source group.

The Fabric blockchain can process more than 1,000 transactions per second and has the necessary features to be used by large enterprises to build their applications, IBM said.

It added it was working with technology company SecureKey Technologies and a group of Canadian banks to build a digital identity network using its new blockchain services.

The network, set for launch later this year, is aimed at making it easier for consumers to prove their identities when accessing services such as new bank accounts, driver’s licenses or utilities. Banks involved include Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Blockchain, which emerged as the system running cryptocurrency bitcoin, is a digital shared record of transactions that is maintained by a network of computers on the internet, without the need of a centralized authority.

Big businesses, including many of the world’s largest banks, have been increasing their investment in the technology in hopes it can help them reduce the complexity and costs of some of their most burdensome processes, such as the settlement of securities or international payments.

Technology companies and professional services firms have also been ramping up their investment in blockchain, as they race to capture the nascent market.

IBM has been one of the most aggressive large technology companies on blockchain and has several large clients developing applications with the technology, including Northern Trust Corp, Wal-Mart Stores Inc and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation.

IBM said it had also tested a blockchain-based asset management platform for carbon assets with Chinese company Energy-Blockchain Labs. The companies aim to release the platform, built using the new IBM Blockchain, later this year.

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