The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced Bluetooth 4.1, the first version of Bluetooth to lay the foundations for IPV6 capability.
The first hints of what the Bluetooth SIG had planned for this new version were revealed to The INQUIRER in October during our exclusive interview with Steve Hegenderfer at Appsworld. There, he revealed his aspirations for the Bluetooth protocol to become integral to the Internet of Things.
At the front end of Bluetooth 4.1, the biggest change for users is that the retry duration for lost devices has been increased to a full three minutes, so if you wander off with your wireless headphones still on, there’s more of a chance of being able to seamlessly carry on listening upon your return.
Behind the scenes, devices fitted with Bluetooth 4.1 will be able to act as both hub and end point. The advantage of this is that multiple devices can share information between them without going via the host device, so your smartwatch can talk to your heart monitor and send the combined data in a single transmission to your smartphone.
This sort of “pooling” of devices represents an “extranet of things”, and the technology can therefore be applied to a wider area in forming the “Internet of Things” too.
The other major additions are better isolation techniques to ensure that Bluetooth, which broadcasts on an unregulated band, doesn’t interfere either with itself or with signals from other protocols broadcasting at similar frequencies, including WiFi.
The Bluetooth protocol has retained complete backwards compatibility, so a new Bluetooth 4.1 enabled device will work seamlessly with a Bluetooth 1.0 dongle bought in a pound shop.
In addition, Bluetooth 4.0 devices can be Bluetooth 4.1 enabled through patches, so we should see some Bluetooth 4.1 enabled hardware arrive early in 2014.
The two companies didn’t offer many details, only saying that users will be able to see Twitter messages on the homescreens of selected Android-based smartphones sometime next year. The collaboration will initially cover Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Greece and Croatia, the operator said in a statement.
For Twitter the partnership is about increasing its user base, while Deutsche Telekom wants to add value to its devices and remain relevant as subscribers choose to communicate using means other than text messages and phone calls, according to Paolo Pescatore, director at market research company CCS Insight.
As of mid-November there were 230 million Twitter users globally, and 76 percent accessed the service on a mobile device, according to Twitter.
Twitter isn’t the first social networking vendor to work directly with operators and handset makers. Facebook has been the most aggressive, but has struggled to make an impact with smartphones featuring physical Facebook buttons; the most prominent phone integration with Facebook, the HTC First, was not a success.
Pescatore doubts that Twitter will succeed where Facebook struggled. Most users will likely just continue to use existing apps, he said.
Last month, Twitter updated its mobile apps for both Android and Apple’s iOS devices to give users better search tools.
The company also expanded options for marketers, allowing them to choose what smartphone models and OS versions they want to target with advertising.
Deutsche Telekom didn’t comment on plans for working with Twitter on operating systems other than Android.
The phablet cannibalization trend is so significant that IDC lowered its long-term tablet forecast. The research firm slightly lowered its previous 2013 forecast from 227.4 million tablet shipments worldwide to 221.3 million.
IDC lowered its 2017 tablet forecast even further, pegging shipments at 386.3 million, down from the previous 407 million units.
In some markets, especially the Asia Pacific region, consumers have already decided to buy a large smartphone rather than a small tablet, IDC analysts said. Tablet purchases in South Korea have declined while larger smartphone purchases have increased. IDC researchers there are forecasting that 2013 tablet shipments will drop below 2012′s figures.
“Korea is a unique case, but it could very well be the precursor to that happening in more countries and regions,” said Tom Mainelli, an IDC analyst.
“People in some countries have limited money to spend, so they tend to go for a large phone because they can call and browse on it and read email, as opposed to getting a small phone and a tablet,” added IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani. The phablet becomes the “jack of all trades.”
The cannibalization of tablets is less of a concern in the U.S. and Canada where expendable income is more available. In North America, analysts are more worried about market saturation, with tablets bought up in huge numbers going back to 2010. The market is set to turn from high growth to “mostly a replacement market,” Mainelli said.
IDC also found that tablets in emerging countries aren’t as popular as phablets because there is less Wi-Fi at home and less traditional home PC usage. “We think many of those cheap whitebox tablets being used in emerging markets are essentially replacing DVD players, with the content side-loaded onto them from various sources,” Mainelli said. “Also, larger smartphones took off there first.”
In addition to large smartphones’ cutting into tablet sales, Mainelli said IDC believes that wearable devices and other new computing categories will temper tablet growth in coming years. He didn’t estimate by how much, however.
As large phone use rises, Mainelli said it’s possible that the tablet market will shift back to larger tablets in a reversal of the recent trend toward sub-8-in. tablets. “I tend to think that is what will happen in the U.S.,” he said. One example is the new iPad Air, with a 9.7-in. display.
IDC predicts about 220 million tablets with screens that are under 8 inches will ship globally in 2017, with another 145 million tablets shipping that are between 8 inches and 11 inches, and about 20 million with screen sizes of more than 11 inches.
Analyst firm Canalys said in November that phablets larger than 5 inches accounted for 22% of all smartphones shipped in the third quarter.
The phablets, made mainly by Samsung and running the Android operating system, include the 6.3-in. Galaxy Mega and the 5.7-in Galaxy Note 3. Apple’s new iPhone 4S and 4C are still 4-in. devices, but the company launched a smaller tablet, the iPad mini, with a 7.9-in. screen in November 2012.
Canalys recently predicted that tablet shipments will reach 285 million units in 2014, about 15 million higher than IDC’s forecast for 2014 of 270.5 million.
Also in 2014, Canalys said tablets will almost outship all PCs combined, a category including desktops and laptops.
The program, dubbed “Student Advantage,” was unveiled in mid-October, when Microsoft promised that it would debut Dec. 1.
Educational institutions, whether K-12 school districts or those in higher education, that license Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office 365 ProPlus — the former is traditionally-licensed software while the latter is a subscription — can now also hand Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions to students, free of charge.
Schools and universities must have licensed Office for staff and faculty institution-wide, according to Microsoft, to be eligible for the student give-away. When students graduate, their Office 365 subscription expires.
Office 365 ProPlus includes rights to download and install copies of the newest Office desktop applications on up to five Windows PCs or Macs owned by the student, as well as rights to run the iPhone or Android editions of Office Mobile.
Students, faculty and staff at universities that do not equip employees with Office can instead pay a flat $80 for a four-year subscription to Office 365 University. That subscription program allows Office 2013 to be installed on up to two PCs or Macs, and Office Mobile on as many as two mobile devices.
The first group of around 11,000 phones will leave the factory on Dec. 23, and will be sent to people who bought them during the pre-order campaign, CEO Bas Van Abel said in a blog post. Fairphone will then ship a second batch on Jan. 10 to “everyone else who joined us along the way.”
“We know it’s been a long journey (it feels quite long for us too!), and so we’re really excited we’re coming into the final stretch to deliver phones to our most committed supporters. Thanks again for your patience,” Abel wrote.
The company’s original goal was to ship the 25,000 phones it has sold this year, but in the end that wasn’t possible due to manufacturing and administrative issues. These included capacitors that got stuck in customs; a month-long wait for a certificate needed to transport batteries by airplane; and a major mix-up by a supplier that accidentally sent Fairphone’s order to someone else.
The struggles highlight how difficult it is for a small vendor to make its way in a sector that’s dominated by big companies like Apple and Samsung. But it isn’t alone. Last week Geeksphone killed its Firefox OS-based Peak+ smartphone because of problems with components and its manufacturing partner.
For its first smartphone, Fairphone has sourced conflict-free tin and tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company is still working on a way to make sure the tungsten as well as all the gold it uses is conflict free, according to a spokeswoman. Fairphone’s low volumes make it difficult to ensure that all the gold used in the printed circuit boards is conflict free. But the company is working to change that, she said.
The dual-sim Fairphone has a 4.3-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 960 by 540 pixels, an 8-megapixel camera and quad-core 1.2GHz processor from Mediatek. There is also 16GB of integrated memory and 1GB of RAM. The smartphone costs $440 before taxes.
On the software side, the phone runs a customized interface on top of Android 4.2. An upgrade to Android 4.3 will arrive soon after the phone has shipped, according to Fairphone.
Terms of the deal, which was announced Monday, were not disclosed. SkyPhrase’s team has joined Yahoo’s Labs business unit in New York City, a Yahoo spokeswoman said.
Yahoo Labs is a science and research division of Yahoo focused on next-generation products and services. The division is active in a number of areas — human computer interaction, mobile and personalization are just a few — and it’s unclear into which areas specifically SkyPhrase’s technology might be integrated.
What’s clear is that Yahoo wants to make its services smarter at understanding natural language. By joining Yahoo Labs, both companies can “continue to work on our shared vision of making computers deeply understand people’s natural language and intentions,” SkyPhrase said in its announcement of the acquisition. SkyPhrase could not be immediately reached to comment further.
A cached version of the startup’s website offers a clue: sports. In addition to Web analytics, SkyPhrase’s business at one point included technology for National Football League statistics. The technology could be integrated into Yahoo’s Sports services, which include stats, real-time scores and breaking news, and also Yahoo’s Fantasy sports apps.
There are some obvious areas of Yahoo’s Fantasy sports apps that could benefit from SkyPhrase’s technology. The company’s Fantasy Sports Football app, for instance, lets users pick players, chat with others and check message boards. Providing a suite of mobile products focused on personal experiences is a stated goal for Yahoo, so it would make sense for the company to try to improve its services there.
Natural language processing is also a hot area of search critical to the success of Yahoo’s biggest competitors like Facebook and Google. Facebook is working on its own natural language search engine with Graph Search, which was announced earlier this year. And Google is constantly working to improve its search algorithms to better understand more complex queries. Its latest search ranking system, “Hummingbird,” was designed for precisely that.
The issue was discovered by Bogdan Alecu, a system administrator at Dutch IT services company Levi9, and affects all Android 4.x firmware versions on Google Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4 and Nexus 5. Alecu demonstrated the vulnerability at the DefCamp security conference in Bucharest, Romania.
Class 0 SMS, or Flash SMS, is a type of message defined in the GSM specification that gets displayed directly on the phone’s screen and doesn’t automatically get stored on the device. After reading such a message, users have the option to save it or dismiss it.
On Google Nexus phones, when such a message is received, it gets displayed on top of all active windows and is surrounded by a semi-transparent black overlay that has a dimming effect on the rest of the screen. If the message is not saved or dismissed and a second message is received it gets placed on top of the first one and the dimming effect increases.
When such messages are received, there is no audio notification, even if one is configured for regular incoming SMS messages. This means that users receiving Flash messages won’t know about them until they look at the phone.
Alecu found that when a large number of Flash messages — around 30 — are received and are not dismissed, the Nexus devices act in unusual ways.
The most common behavior is that the phone reboots, he said. In this case, if a PIN is required to unlock the SIM card, the phone will not connect to the network after the reboot and the user might not notice the problem for hours, until they look at the phone. During this time the phone won’t be able to receive calls, messages or other types of notifications that require a mobile network connection.
According to Alecu, a different behavior that happens on rare occasions is that the phone doesn’t reboot, but temporarily loses connection to the mobile network. The connection is automatically restored and the phone can receive and make calls, but can no longer access the Internet over the mobile network. The only method to restore the data connection is to restart the phone, Alecu said.
On other rare occasions, only the messaging app crashes, but the system automatically restarts it, so there is no long term impact.
A live test at the conference performed on a Nexus 4 phone with the screen unlocked and running Android 4.3 did not immediately result in a reboot. However, after receiving around 30 class 0 messages the phone became unresponsive: Screen taps or attempts to lock the screen had no effect. While in this state, the phone could not receive calls and had to be rebooted manually.
A second attempt with the screen locked also failed to reboot the phone because only two of over 20 messages were immediately received. This may have been caused by a network issue or operator-imposed rate limiting. The messages did arrive later and the phone rebooted when unlocking the screen.
Alecu said that he discovered this denial-of-service issue over a year ago and has since tested and confirmed it on Google Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 phones running various Android 4.x versions, including the newly released Android 4.4, or KitKat.
Around 20 different devices from various vendors have also been tested and are not vulnerable to this problem, he said.
A recent upgrade to its developer tools has reduced the amount of work required to get an Android app working on the BlackBerry 10 operating system, and changes coming in early 2014 will allow some Android apps to run directly without any changes.
BlackBerry 10 is based on a real-time operating system called QNX but has had a level of compatibility with Android since it was launched earlier this year. A “runtime” on the phones provides an environment in which Android apps can run, but not all Android features are supported.
The latest version, 10.2.1, was introduced in early November and added support for Android Jellybean 4.2.2, Bluetooth, maps through Open Street Map, sharing of content with other applications in the phone, and the spell checker.
As long as the Android features that a given app needs are supported in BlackBerry’s Android runtime, the app needs minimal repackaging to run on BlackBerry smartphones.
It’s about to get even easier.
Early next year, BlackBerry will push a software update to users that will bring the ability to directly run “.apk” Android packages on phones, with no repackaging, as long as features required by the apps are supported. That should make it easier for companies to offer Android applications to BlackBerry users.
On Dec. 4, the company will run a series of webcasts specifically aimed at Android developers. The “BlackBerry Jam Direct Android Virtual Conference” will include speeches from BlackBerry engineers and third-party software developers.
“This event is designed to help you understand how theA BlackBerry Runtime for Android A apps 10.2.1 release supports your development efforts and helps you get your apps in front of BlackBerry users faster,” the company says on a website.
BlackBerry has attracted 130,000 apps to its BlackBerry 10 platform, but the company’s new phones haven’t managed to grab the attention of many users.
BlackBerry had a 2.8% share of the global smartphone market in the third quarter of 2013, according to data from IDC. That puts it behind Windows Mobile at 3.1%, Apple’s iOS at 16.6% and Android at 69.2%.
The phone is a variant, though not an outright successor, of the Lumia 520, and helps Nokia offer Windows Phone at a more accessible price to a larger number of users, a spokeswoman said via email.
The smartphone will go on sale before the end of the year in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Singapore and Russia. In China, it is priced at 1099 yuan ($180) before taxes and subsidies. It will then go on sale in Australia, New Zealand, Ukraine, Khazakstan and parts of Africa during the first quarter of next year, according to Nokia.
During the third quarter, Lumia sales increased by 19 percent quarter-on-quarter to 8.8 million units, reflecting strong demand particularly for the Lumia 520, Nokia said. The Lumia 525 and the expanded distribution it brings, then, is important to Nokia.
Other than 1GB of RAM, rather than 512MB, the specs of the Lumia 525 are identical to what users get with the Lumia 520. That includes a 4-inch screen with a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels, a 5-pixel camera and dual-core 1GHz processor. There is also 8GB of integrated memory and a microSD card slot.
The market for sub-$200 smartphones is at a crossroads, mostly thanks to Google’s efforts. The recently announced Moto G from Google-owned Motorola Mobility costs as much as the Lumia 525, but is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and has a 4.5-inch 720p screen.
Even though the Lumia 520 has helped increase the popularity of Windows Phone, Nokia and Microsoft can’t afford to rest. Their main priority should now be to bring down the cost of Windows Phones to below $100 without a contract, said Pete Cunningham, principal analyst at Canalys.
Nokia shareholders last week voted to approve Microsoft’s acquisition of “substantially all” of the company’s Devices & Services business. The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of next year.
The Galaxy Grand 2 has a number of hardware improvements over the first Grand, which was announced last December. The Grand 2′s processor has four cores, twice as many as its predecessor’s, but runs at the same speed, 1.2GHz. Its screen measures 5.25 inches across the diagonal and can display HD video with a resolution of 1280 by 720 pixels, an improvement on its predecessor’s 5-inch, 800-by-400-pixel screen.
To power those performance improvements, Samsung has increased the battery capacity from 2,100 mAh to 2,600 mAh. The bigger battery and screen has had little effect on the size and weight of the Grand 2 compared to its predecessor. It is one gram heavier and a couple of millimeters longer and wider. The thickness is virtually the same at 8.9 millimeters versus 9.5 millimeters, according to Samsung’s spec sheets.
The Grand 2 has the same resolution and basic processor configuration as the recently announced Moto G from Google-owned Motorola Mobility, which set a new performance benchmark for devices costing around $180 without a contract.
Like its predecessor, the Grand 2 has an 8-megapixel camera, while the Moto G only has a 5-megapixel camera. Neither device supports LTE. For storage, Samsung has stuck with 8GB of integrated storage and a microSD card slot, while the Motorola device is available with 8GB or 16GB of built-in storage, but no card slot.
Both devices run Android 4.3, but while Motorola has said it will upgrade the Moto G to version 4.4 in January, Samsung is mum on its upgrade plans. Samsung also isn’t saying what the Grand 2 will cost, so for now its hard to say which is the better value.
Chip Designer Mediatek has unveiled the first octa-core system on chip (SoC) for mobile devices.
The MT6592 is an ARM based processor capable of running all eight cores at up to 2Ghz and offers a scheduling algorithm to ensure that all eight cores are being managed effectively to control power draw and temperature.
The chip uses its Heterogeneous Computing (HC) architecture to act as foreman, distributing tasks to the best processor for the job, covering CPU, GPU, DSP, and multiple connectivity, multimedia, camera and display engines, including navigation, and sensor cores.
The chip is equipped with Mediatek Clearmotion for automatic upscaling of standard 24/30 frames per second video to high-quality 60fps video. Also onboard is support for 802.11n WiFi, Miracast, Bluetooth, GPS and FM tuner functions. It is also capable of running Ultra HD H.264 and new video standards including H.265 and VP9.
Mediatek Smartphone Business Unit general manager Jeffrey Ju enthused, “The MT6592 delivers longer battery life, low-latency response times and the best possible mobile multimedia experience. Being the first to market with this advanced eight-core SOC is testament to the industry-leading position of Mediatek.”
The prospect of octa-core mobile devices could have huge ramifications for the buying public. Although most everyday web surfers will probably not notice the difference, gamers and multimedia users are likely to find that the next generation of gadgets that have octa-core processors offer an experience on a par with their desktop cousins.
The MT6592 is expected to appear in Android 4.4 Kitkat devices in early 2014, though as yet no manufacturers have announced that they will be using it in their products.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has released a smartphone app that will allow consumers to measure the speed of their mobile broadband connection, while providing aggregate data to the agency for measuring nationwide mobile broadband network performance.
The FCC will in turn provide consumers, starting from early next year, with maps and other information on mobile broadband performance, which will assist consumers in comparing the performance of their service providers.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expects such information will boost service quality. A 2011 report on home broadband performance created an incentive for lower-ranked Internet service providers to boost network performance, he said in a statement. The FCC also expects the app to be an important tool for the agency as the feedback is expected to provide the “facts” the FCC needs for its decisions.
Released as open-source software on Thursday, the free FCC Speed Test App is available for Android smartphones, with a version for the iPhone also planned. It will test network performance for parameters such as upload and download speed, latency and packet loss.
The app is currently in its “public beta” version, and the agency will collect feedback from the public on how to improve it, apart from the FCC’s own plan for improvements.
Once installed, the app will automatically run the mobile broadband tests in the background when the smartphone is not in use, with a manual option for on-demand testing also available.
The data collected through the app will be aggregated and anonymous, and will help the FCC’s Measuring Broadband America program. The FCC said that it would not collect personal or uniquely identifiable information.
At his first meeting after taking charge as chairman, Wheeler also served an ultimatum to carriers, asking them to make it easier for subscribers to get their mobile phones unlocked for use on other networks after the end of their contracts, or face FCC regulation.
Thousands of YouTube users have petitioned against the forced Google+ commenting system that recently appeared on the video sharing website.
Google’s forced Google+ commenting system first appeared on Youtube earlier this month in a bid to stop anonymous commenters from trolling about videos, and no doubt add more subscribers to Google’s not-so-popular social network.
It seems that Google’s plan has backfired somewhat, however. A petition has been launched calling for the new Youtube commenting system, which means users need a Google+ account to comment on videos on the website, to be reverted back to what it was before.
At the time of publication, the petition has over 113,000 signatures.
The petition reads, “Google is forcing us to make Google+ accounts and invading our social life to comment on a youtube video and trying to take away our anonymous profile. They are also trying to censor us unless we share the same worldview as they do.”
This online petition isn’t the only place that angry Youtube users are voicing their opinions on the revamped service. On the Youtube blog, where word of the new Google+ commenting was first announced, there are almost 2,000 comments from people who were not very pleased with the news.
One not very happy customer wrote, “Great, now I can’t laugh at the idiocy of trolls, converse in intelligent conversations, positively criticize, and not have to be forced to have Google+ to do anything. Seriously Google, shove this new comment system up your rear end.”
Another person who wasn’t pleased with the new commenting system is Youtube co-founder Jawed Karim, who broke the eight-year silence on his personal account to ask, “Why the fuck do I need a Google+ account to comment on a video?”
App counts recorded by MetroStore Scanner showed that after five months of double-digit growth in the Windows Store’s app count, gains decelerated in August, September and October to single digits, ranging from 3% to just under 5%.
In June, for example, developers added more than 19,000 new apps to the Windows Store. The number fell to about 12,000 in July but plunged to 5,400 in August and fell further in September, to 5,100 new apps.
The Windows Store gained 7,300 new apps in October.
Sameer Singh, an analyst who covers mobile technology at Tech-Thoughts, thought he knew the reason for the slump in the app count growth.
“Most Windows 8 devices are bought as PCs, not tablets,” said Singh in a Monday post to his website. “Slapping a tablet interface or a touchscreen onto a PC doesn’t address this problem. Most users would spend very limited time in the Metro interface and switch back to [the] desktop for the jobs they needed the PC to accomplish.”
Developers may be sitting on new apps, waiting to publish them closer to the holiday sales season — which in the U.S. unofficially kicks off on Nov. 29, Black Friday — and contributing to the sluggish gains. MetroStore Scanner’s data hinted at the possibility. So far this month, an average of 245 new apps have been added to the store, slightly more than October’s average of 236. But the tracking site logged 512 new apps for today, more than double the monthly average.
And Windows Store’s grow has stalled before, only to pick up in later months. After an early explosion in late 2012, new app gains slowed in January and February, then began climbing in March.
The company announced in a Google+ that it’s rolling out a new voice command that will let users call up songs or tracks to listen to on Google Glass. In the next few weeks, Google will update Glass prototypes with the ability for users to pull up music simply by saying, “OK, Glass, listen to…”
“You can access your tracks from Google Play Music, including the millions of songs on All Access,” the company wrote in its post. “To all our Glass Explorers, sit tight. You’ll be able to dive into music on Glass soon. Look for an email in the next few weeks with more details.”
The company also unveiled stereo earbuds that have been designed specifically for Glass. Google is billing the earbuds as lightweight and “uniquely engineered” to give users quality sound, while also letting them hear their surroundings.
While earlier this year Google, which has been getting ready to launch a Glass app store, had been saying Glass would officially ship later this year, they’re now saying the computerized eyeglasses will ship next year.
A product like Glass needed to have a music feature, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “Music is just a given for all mobile devices,” he added. “It’s not an advantage, but lacking it is a disadvantage.”
This latest announcement is just part of the process of getting Glass ready to ship in 2014.
“Well, they’re still building the product,” said Gottheil. “It’s not ready for prime time but it’s getting there… Google is still experimenting with Glass.”
Google announced late last month that it plans to increase the number of people testing the Glass prototypes by inviting current users to invite three friends to do the same.
The new users will have to pay the $1,500 price tag for the computerized eyeglasses, but they’ll be able to join the original 8,000 Glass testers.