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Facebook Debuts ‘Rooms’ App For Chats

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is going old school, with a stand-alone app for discussion boards geared towards allowin users to talk about shared interests without having to use their real names.

The company released Rooms on Thursday, its answer to the craze around posting and sharing anonymously. People can use any name they want and don’t need a Facebook account. The app contains rooms geared around various topics, all of which require an invite link to enter. Providing an email address is optional, for the purposes of having accessed rooms restored if the user deletes the app.

The app is only available on iOS. Plans for other platforms like Android or Windows Phone were not disclosed.

The app is not just about anonymity. With it, Facebook hopes to provide a discussion board-type platform where users can chat about shared interests outside of their usual social circles. It’s a concept that has been super popular since, oh, the web’s been around.

“One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.

“From unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies, to personal finance and health-related issues — you can celebrate the sides of yourself that you don’t always show to your friends,” the company said.

But the app’s ability to succeed likely depends on the number and diversity of rooms created by its users, and whether the app’s focus on visuals and photos appeals to them. There’s also no desktop version.

The app was developed as part of Facebook’s Creative Labs project, which has also released stand-alone apps like Slingshot and Paper.

Facebook stresses that Rooms will let users create a unique identity separate from their Facebook account. Your name can be “Wonder Woman” in the app, Facebook said.

I tried out the app, and was even able to use “Mark Zuckerberg” as my name. (A short “hello” post of mine then immediately generated several “high fives.”)

Facebook, however, may share information about Room users within the companies and services operated by Facebook, which would include Facebook itself and other apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the Rooms terms of service.

 

 

Twitter Launches Fabric SDK

October 24, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Twitter has introduced Fabric, a modular mobile platform that the firm claims will make it easier for developers to build great apps.

Twitter is looking to embrace the developer community after having alienated it in 2012 when it tightened API rules governing third-party app developers.

The company said during its first developer conference that Fabric is a ‘modular mobile platform’, or developer toolkit, which brings together tools and services from a mixture of outfits already under the Twitter wing.

This will make it easier to build, integrate and monetise applications, according to the firm.

“Fabric was built with ease of use in mind. Installation takes just minutes, and most features only require a few lines of code – so you spend less time managing SDKs and more time building the best experience for your users,” Twitter said.

“It combines the services of Crashlytics, MoPub, Twitter and others to help you build more stable apps, generate revenue through the world’s largest mobile ad exchange, and tap into Twitter’s sign-in systems and rich streams of real-time content for greater distribution and simpler identity.”

The Introducing Fabric blog post leans heavily on the system’s ease of use, claiming that the modular kits can be installed and set up in minutes.

Developers can choose from a range of modular kits depending on how they want to use them. They do not need to have an obvious benefit to Twitter, it seems, and the MoPub kit offers tools for ad placement in apps.

The Crashlytics Kit is designed to help developers strip bugs out of applications and limit the number of times they crash. It should also help improve usability.

“In just the past 30 days, Crashlytics identified over 5.5 billion crashes. And beyond just identifying them, Crashlytics is able to isolate the root cause down to the exact line of code, reducing the time it takes for you to fix the bug and submit an update,” said Twitter.

“The Fabric Crashlytics Kit – Crashlytics, Beta and Answers – helps you ship high-quality, stable apps and gives you a 360-degree, always-on picture of the health of your app.”

The move is a real change for Twitter which traditionally had a hands-off relationship with third parties and would cut off their access to its APIs.

When Twitpic closed down in September the firm blamed Twitter for its demise.

“Twitter contacted our legal [department] demanding that we abandon our trademark application or risk losing access to their API,” said Twitpic founder Noah Everett at the time.

“This came as a shock to us since Twitpic has been around since early 2008, and our trademark application has been in the USPTO since 2009.

“Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours. Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.”

Courtesy-TheInq

Pandora’s Listeners Decline

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Pandora Media Inc, owners of the leading Internet radio service, reported a lower-than-expected increase in listeners in the third quarter, sending the company’s shares down 6 percent in extended trading on Thursday.

Pandora said it had 76.5 million active listeners as of Sept. 30, an increase of 5.2 percent from a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected 76.7 million, according to market research firm StreetAccount.

Total listener hours rose to 4.99 billion from 3.99 billion, but again fell short of the average estimate of 5.02 billion.

Pandora’s profit and revenue both beat market expectations, however, as more people listened to streamed music on their mobile phones.

Mobile revenue increased 52 percent to $188 million, while local advertising revenue rose 118 percent to $41.8 million.

Despite its huge user base, Pandora faces stiff competition from Spotify, Apple Inc’s Beats online streaming service, Google Inc, and Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing music streaming business.

 

 

Survey Reveals Workers Using Personal Devices For Job-related Tasks

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Many workers use their personally owned smartphones and other technology devices for job tasks, but a new survey reveals a big percentage are doing so without their employer’s knowledge.

Market research firm Gartner surveyed 4,300 U.S. consumers in June who work at large companies (with more than 1,000 employees) and found 40% used personally owned smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops as a primary or supplemental business device.

That 40% might not be unusual, but more surprisingly, Gartner found that 45% of workers not required to use a personal device for work were doing so without their employer’s knowledge.

“Almost half [are using their device] without their employer’s awareness,” said Gartner analyst Amanda Sabia in an interview.

“Are those without employer’s awareness violating a rule? That would depend on the employer,” Sabia added. “The point is that some CIOs are underestimating [the number of] employees using their devices and should be prepared for this.”

The Gartner survey found the most popular personally owned device used for work was a desktop computer, at 42%, closely followed by a smartphone, at 40%, a laptop, at 36%, and a tablet, at 26%.

“The lines between work and play are becoming more and more blurred as employees choose to use their own device for work purposes whether sanctioned by an employer or not,” Sabia said. “Devices once bought for personal use are increasingly used for work.”

 

 

U.S. Government Investigating Medical Device Hacking Threats

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking into about two dozen cases of suspected cybersecurity flaws in medical devices and hospital equipment that officials believe could be exploited by hackers, a senior official at the agency told Reuters.

The products under review by the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT, include an infusion pump from Hospira Inc and implantable heart devices from Medtronic Inc and St Jude Medical Inc, according to other people familiar with the cases, who asked not to be identified because the probes are confidential.

These people said they do not know of any instances of hackers attacking patients through these devices, so the cyber threat should not be overstated. Still, the agency is concerned that malicious actors may try to gain control of the devices remotely and create problems, such as instructing an infusion pump to overdose a patient with drugs, or forcing a heart implant to deliver a deadly jolt of electricity, the sources said.

The senior DHS official said the agency is working with manufacturers to identify and repair software coding bugs and other vulnerabilities that hackers can potentially use to expose confidential data or attack hospital equipment. He declined to name the companies.

“These are the things that shows like ‘Homeland’ are built from,” said the official, referring to the U.S. television spy drama in which the fictional vice president of the United States is killed by a cyber attack on his pacemaker.

“It isn’t out of the realm of the possible to cause severe injury or death,” said the official, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of his work.

Hospira, Medtronic and St Jude Medical declined to comment on the DHS investigations. All three companies said they take cybersecurity seriously and have made changes to improve product safety, but declined to give details.

 

 

Google Launches Two-Factor Security Key

October 23, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has added account authentication via USB stick to its two-step verification process, offering users a more convenient way to sign in to their accounts in a secure manner.

As detailed in a Google security blog post, a compatible USB Security Key can now be used to log-in to Google accounts with two-step authentication.

The addition of the USB Security Key, Google claims, ensures that the log-in website is an actual Google website and not a fake.

Two-step authentication normally asks the user to enter a secret code sent to their phone in addition to entering their password online.

This process prevents potential attackers using passwords that might have been stolen or guessed in order to impersonate account holders, as presumably they won’t have the user’s phone to enter the code.

The USB Security Key adds another layer of protection to the process. Instead of entering a secret code, the user can simply insert their USB Security Key in their computer and tap when prompted in Google’s Chrome web browser.

Google said: “When you sign into your Google Account using Chrome and Security Key, you can be sure that the cryptographic signature cannot be phished.”

The USB Security Key implements the open Universal 2nd Factor protocol promoted by the FIDO Alliance, which means it can be used by other web browsers in addition to Chrome and other websites in addition to Google’s.

Google has recently enhanced the level of security it provides, and the extension of two-step authentication to include a physical security key is simply another step.

Courtesy-TheInq

Microsoft Releases First Windows 10 Update

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has issued the first update for Windows 10 Technical Preview, launching its fast-paced release strategy.

The update, designated as Build 9860, followed the Oct. 1 release of the preview, which Microsoft has offered businesses and technology enthusiasts to give potential customers a look at the work in progress and collect feedback during development.

The Oct. 1 version of Windows 10 was labeled Build 9841.

“Sometimes [updates] will be more frequent and sometimes there will be longer gaps, but they will always be chock full of changes and improvements, as well as some bugs and things that are not quite done,” wrote Gabe Aul, of Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group on a company blog.

Aul said that Build 9860 had been handed to his group only a week ago, and repeated earlier warnings by other Microsoft managers that the preview remains incomplete and unpolished.

Although rapid iterations are nothing new to preview or beta software, Microsoft plans to accelerate the delivery of updates — ones that will include not only security patches and performance fixes, but also new features — once Windows 10 officially ships in mid-2015.

Updates will ship as often as monthly for consumers, while businesses will be able to choose between that and two additional tempos that Gartner has tagged as “near-consumer speed” and “long-term servicing.” The former will roll up the “consumer-speed” updates every four to six months to versions that fast-acting enterprises will test and deploy, while the latter will remain feature- and UI-static for as long as two to three years, receiving only security updates.

Other analysts have contended that Microsoft is pushing frequent updates to Windows 10 Technical Preview as much to test the process — both the back-end Windows Update service and the Windows 10 clients’ ability to absorb the changes and smoothly install the updates — as for the company’s stated reasons of gathering feedback and offering users an early look.

“Changes in Windows Update were put in place to make this possible,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in an interview earlier this month. “The biggest question for Microsoft is how the updating process works with the Technical Preview.”

In the preview, customers have an update frequently choice of only “Fast” or “Slow.”

Build 9860 will be delivered automatically to most PCs running Windows 10 within days, but users can manually initiate the process by going to “PC Settings,” choosing “Update and recovery” and then “Preview builds,” and finally clicking the “Check Now” button.

Aul said that the download would weigh in at between 2GB and 2.7GB, and that the reboot, the reconstruction of the OS’s search index, and the syncing of OneDrive would take “longer than normal” and “some time.”

Microsoft will ship a second consumer-oriented preview in early 2015, but it’s virtually certain that the firm will provide more-or-less-monthly updates to the Technical Preview between now and then.

 

 

 

Mobile Phone Growth In U.S. Continues To Slow Down

October 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

The overall mobile phone market in the U.S. will fall off this year by 1% even as many emerging countries around the world see robust growth.

After several years of accelerated growth, the U.S. market is feeling the effects of market saturation and smartphone ownership that’s lasting longer than once expected, Ramon Llamas, an analyst IDC, said in an updated forecast.

IDC’s five-year forecast issued for October significantly undercuts its April forecast, dropping expectations for U.S. smartphone and feature phone shipments by manufacturers to retailers. IDC now expects 1.7 million fewer phones shipped in 2104 than it had expected in April; it predicts 174 million phones will ship this year, with that figure declining gradually to 169 million in 2018.

Smartphone shipments alone will grow just slightly through 2018 in the U.S., but about 5% less than earlier expected, rising from 150 million in 2014 to 160.5 million in 2018. Feature phones shipments have dropped off faster than earlier expected.

Llamas said the signs of decline started in late 2011, prompting carriers in the past year to try to get customers to replace phones more often with easy trade-in plans and relaxed contracts.

It’s too soon to say what effect the early trade-in plans will have on the market, Llamas said. The life of an average smartphone still lasts about two years, but that could be changing.

Paying on installment plans “could really change the market,” Llamas said in an interview. “But if people pay off their devices and then realize they don’t have to pay the carrier as much [at the end of the payoff period] and only pay for wireless service, they might just hold onto their phones. I think people will hold onto their phones as long as they can after they are paid off. If this plays out and they hold on and don’t update, we’ll see flattening of sales volumes year after year, or even declines, all in the name of saving money.”

Realizing what’s happening in the U.S. and among other major economies, both Apple and Samsung have concentrated heavily on selling their new smartphones in China and other areas where smartphone sales are still strong.

 

 

Sprint Cuts Jobs At Its Headquarters, More To Follow

October 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Sprint recently eliminated more than 400 jobs from its headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., an amount that equals about 6% of the 7,500 workers there.

The company is expected to make more job cuts this month, including from other locations in the U.S., further lowering the ranks of its 33,000-person work force. Since January, the company has cut its ranks by about 5,000, from 38,000.

The latest headquarters cuts were in IT and portfolio management and Sprint’s network, technology and product areas, according to a statement by spokesperson Roni Singleton. Some employees will work their last day on Nov. 7 and others will finish Nov. 14.

“Sprint is focused on competing aggressively in the marketplace,” Singleton said. “We want our customers to pay less for a better value on a new networks. As part of this plan, we have to more closely align our cost structure with that of our competitors.”

CEO Marcelo Claure signaled there would be job cuts in August shortly after taking on his new role. Claure also inaugurated a round of pricing reductions.

Even so, analysts expect the company to lose more subscribers and fall into fourth place among the nation’s top carriers, behind T-Mobile.

An earnings call is expected in late October, although the date hasn’t been scheduled, Singleton said.

Sprint’s more than 5,000 job cuts in 2014 put it behind Cisco, with 6,000 job cuts (8%) announced for the year and Microsoft, with 18,000 job cuts (14%) planned for the year.

 

Will Google’s Algorithm Change Stop Piracy?

October 22, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Nosey Google has updated its search engine algorithms in an attempt to restrict piracy web sites appearing high in its search rankings.

The update will mean piracy sites are less likely to appear when people search for music, films and other copyrighted content.

The decision to roll out the search changes was announced in a refreshed version of a How Google Fights Piracy report, which was originally published in September 2013.

However, this year’s updated report features a couple of developments, including changes to ad formats and an improved DMCA demotion search signal.

The move is likely to be a result of criticism received from the entertainment industry, which has argued that illegal sites should be “demoted” in search results because they enable people to find sites to download media illegally.

The biggest change in the Google search update will be new ad formats in search results on queries related to music and movies that help people find legitimate sources of media.

For example, for the relatively small number of queries for movies that include terms like ‘download’, ‘free’, or ‘watch’, Google has instead begun listing legal services such as Spotify and Netflix in a box at the top of the search results.

“We’re also testing other ways of pointing people to legitimate sources of music and movies, including in the right-hand panel on the results page,” Google added.

“These results show in the US only, but we plan to continue investing in this area and to expand it internationally.”

An improved DMCA demotion signal in Google search is also being rolled out as part of the refresh, which down-ranks sites for which Google has received a large number of valid DMCA notices.

“We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week,” Google said, adding that it will also be removing more terms from autocomplete, based on DMCA removal notices.

The new measures might be welcomed by the entertainment industry, but are likely to encourage more people to use legal alternatives such as Spotify and Netflix, rather than buying more physical media.

Courtesy-TheInq

Amazon, Simon & Schuster Sign Deal Over E-books

October 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Online book retailer Amazon.com Inc revealed that it has signed a multi-year deal with Simon & Schuster Inc, the second Big-Five book publisher, on the future price of e-books.

Amazon, which had been in discussions with Simon & Schuster since July over pricing, confirmed the deal first reported by the Business Insider news blog that the two had reached an agreement.

Amazon had been locked in a months-long standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group, the fourth-largest U.S. book publisher owned by France’s Lagardere, over digital book pricing. That has led to numerous issues for authors.

Industry experts had expected other publishers eventually to be drawn into negotiations as well, as the Internet retailer tries to set new benchmarks for the e-book market.

Negotiations with Simon & Schuster took about three weeks and closed two months before Amazon’s contract expired, according to Business Insider.

Simon & Schuster made its original offer and an agreement was reached after a few changes by Amazon, the source told Business Insider.

 

 

Twitter To Allow Users To Stream Music

October 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc  will allow users to play podcasts, music and other audio clips direct from their timelines, or message feeds, by using a  new feature designed in partnership with Berlin-based audio-streaming service SoundCloud.

The online messaging service introduced what it dubbed “Audio Card,” through which users can listen to a variety of content whilst browsing their timelines.

For starters, Twitter has promised audio from SoundCloud’s partners, which include such diverse sources as NASA, the Washington Post, CNN, David Guetta, Coldplay and Warner Music.

But it’s trying to snag more content partners in future, Twitter said in a recent blog posting.

Twitter didn’t say how Audio Card might evolve, except to stress that it offers musicians a chance to post exclusive clips.

“Many more musical artists and creators will be able to share exclusive, in-the-moment audio to millions of listeners on Twitter,” the company added.

Twitter’s new feature comes after rivals from Apple Inc to Google Inc have jumped into the business of music-streaming, considered the fastest-growing segment of a music market dominated by iTunes.

Twitter had reportedly been in discussions to acquire audio-sharing website SoundCloud, which has been called the Youtube of music, as far back as June.

 

nVidia Shield To Get Android Update

October 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Although has not been publicly confirmed that Google’s latest Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to its Nvidia Shield tablet, Nvidia was pretty quiet about the Shield Portable handheld console, so we asked around. It appears that the update will indeed be coming to Shield Portable as well.

The first devices on the list to receive the Android 5.0 Lolipop update will be Google’s own Nexus devices, starting with the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 2012 and Nexus 10 as the oldest devices, followed by Google Play Edition devices and LTE-enabled products. Most smartphone and tablet manufacturers have also confirmed that the new Android 5.0 Lolipop will be coming to their recent devices.

One of the companies on the list is also Nvidia, which has announced that it “ultimate tablet for gamers” also known as the Nvidia Shield Tablet will be getting the Android 5.0 Lolipop update soon. The update for Shield Tablet does not come as a surprise considering that it is based on the speedy Tegra K1 32-bit chipset.

While it did not give out any details regarding Android 5.0 Lolipop update for the Shield Portable handheld console, we sent out a quick email to Nvidia and managed to confirm that the update will indeed be coming to the Shield Portable as well. Unfortunately, Nvidia did not give any precise date for this device either.

Courtesy-TheInq

IBM Launches BlueMix For The IoT

October 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

IBM has announced its approach to marketing Bluemix cloud services for the Internet of Things (IoT) with its IBM Internet of Things Foundation service based on its Smarter Planet initiative.

The firm claims that its IBM Internet of Things Foundation service “makes it possible for a developer to quickly and easily extend an internet-connected device such as a sensor or controller into the [IBM Bluemix] cloud”, and then “build an application [for] the device to collect the data and send real-time insights back to the developer’s business”.

IBM promotes its Bluemix cloud services as an open standards cloud platform for building, managing and running all types of applications for the web, mobile, big data and smart devices.

Big Blue says its Internet of Things Foundation service “delivers rapid access to, and provides valuable insights from, IoT device data coming from billions of internet-connected sensors and controllers”.

The firm cited IDC estimates that there are already nine billion IoT devices in the world, and that there will be as many as 28 billion IoT devices by 2020.

IBM foresees that by providing IoT devices connectivity in cloud services, “equipment and asset manufacturers can use IoT to provide remote service and monitoring to residential and commercial customers, oil and gas companies can remotely monitor and provide predictive maintenance to critical equipment, and logistics companies can track and monitor the condition of goods in transit”, as just some of the industrial, consumer services and financial applications of IoT-enabled systems.

“Think of the IoT Foundation as an extremely fast on-ramp to the cloud for the millions of intelligent IoT devices that are now being shipped, and the billions already internet connected,” said IBM Internet of Things VP John R. Thompson.

IBM said it plans to enlist partners for its IoT efforts, which it expects will include ARM, B&B Electronics, Elecsys, Intel, Multi-Tech Systems and Texas Instruments. Along with these partners, it plans to develop a set of certified instructions, or “recipes” for connecting IoT devices, sensors and gateways.

IBM Bluemix cloud services are already available for developers worldwide, and the IBM Internet of Things Foundation will be available from 21 October. You will need an IBM account to participate, of course.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Yahoo To Lay Out Cost-cutting Efforts

October 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo Inc is expected today  to reveal cost-cutting efforts and give details of how it is evaluating possible acquisitions as it faces mounting pressure from an activist investor, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person who was briefed on the plan.

Yahoo is considering purchasing one or more large technology startups with some of the $5.8 billion it made from the initial public offering of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the newspaper said.

Representatives at Yahoo did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment outside regular U.S. business hours.

Last month, activist investor Starboard Value LP publicly pressured Yahoo to cut what it referred to as a “bloated” cost structure.

Starboard, the second activist investor to target Yahoo in the last three years, also said the company should quickly “monetize” its Asian assets, which exceed the enterprise value of its actual business.

Earlier this month, Yahoo said it is reducing the size of its operations in Bangalore, India, the Internet company’s largest engineering facility outside its California headquarters. It is also closing its office in Jordan.

Yahoo is “streamlining” its operations in foreign offices, which might involve a combination of closing offices, cutting jobs and moving workers to its Sunnyvale, California, headquarters, the Journal said.