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FAA Task Force To Police Drone Registration

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A Federal Aviation Administration task force submitted recommendations for registering drone operators on Saturday, setting the stage for regulators next month to propose regulations intended to help reverse a surge in rogue drone flights.

A final version of the panel’s recommendations was expected to receive approval from 25 task force members on Friday. It would signal broad agreement among stakeholders, including drone makers, pilots, hobbyists and regulators, on a free and user-friendly registration process for recreational users of unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.

Registration is one of several steps the FAA and other government agencies are considering to address a disturbing rise in reckless drone use this year, including near-misses with commercial airliners near airports.

Officials are concerned that safety and security risks could rise in coming years as drone sales continue to soar, with more than 1 million drones expected to be sold in the United States this year.

The task force report was not expected to be released to the public until next week, according to people familiar with the matter. But they said the recommendations would require drone operators to register on a website or via a phone app, if they own UAS weighing as little as 8.8 ounces (250 grams), and attach their registration number to their drones.

“On Saturday, the task force will deliver its report to the Federal Aviation Administration,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a blog posted to a federal website on Friday.

“We will consider their recommendations and the public comments as we develop an interim final rule on registration, which will likely be released next month and go into effect shortly thereafter.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who announced the registration initiative last month, had charged the task force with completing its work by Friday.


Qualcomm May Be Facing Anti-Trust Issues Abroad

November 23, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Qualcomm can’t really get a lucky break anywhere. The chipmaker has just confirmed that it is facing an anti-trust probe in South Korea.

The company said it had recently received the Korea Fair Trade Commission’s staff-generated case examiner’s report (ER), which starts a process that allows Qualcomm to defend itself.

It seems that the allegation is that the company’s practice of licensing patents only at the device level and requiring that its chip customers be licensed to its intellectual property violate South Korean competition law.

“The ER alleges, among other things, that we do not properly negotiate aspects of our licenses,” Qualcomm said in a statement.

The investigation by the South Korean authorities was first reported in February, but no one confirmed it.

Qualcomm has faced investigations about its business and licensing practices in the U.S. and in the European Commission. It said in February it had settled with China’s National Development and Reform Commission in connection with the agency’s investigation of Qualcomm under the country’s anti-monopoly law.

In China Qualcomm had to pay a fine of $975 million and not condition the sale of baseband chips on the chip customer signing a license agreement with terms that the NDRC found to be unreasonable.

Qualcomm would also offer licenses to its current 3G and 4G essential Chinese patents separately from licenses to its other patents, and present a patent list during negotiations. Under the deal, the company also agreed to calculate royalty fees on 65 percent of the net selling price of the device.

The company on Tuesday defended device-level licensing as an industry norm worldwide and said its patent licensing practices were “lawful and pro-competitive
Samsung, LG and Pantech are key Qualcomm customers in South Korea.

The KFTC in 2009 ordered Qualcomm to pay $208 million for allegedly charging discriminatory royalties and offering conditional rebates in connection with its CDMA technology.



Russia’s Search Giant Yandex Wants EU To Investigate Google’s Android

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Russia’s dominant search site Yandex said it has asked the European Commission to investigate Google’s practices in relation to its Android mobile operating system in the European Union.

The new complaint could strengthen the case against Google, possibly giving enough ammunition to EU antitrust regulators to eventually charge the company with anti-competitive business practices, on top of accusations related to its Google Shopping service.

The formal request was filed in April 2015 and largely mirrors the Russian company’s claims against the U.S. company in a Russian anti-monopoly case that Yandex won.

Russia’s competition watchdog ruled in September that Google had broken the law by requiring pre-installation of its search application on mobile devices running on its Android operating system.

“We think that the Russian finding of abuse of dominance is instructive, and is a conclusion that can readily be adopted in other jurisdictions, including the EU,” Yandex said.

Yandex is one of the few companies to publicly complain about Android.

It joins U.S. tech firm Disconnect, Portuguese app store Aptoide, and lobbying group FairSearch whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and French price comparison site Twenga.

Yandex, which rivals Google in Turkey as well as Russia and several other former Soviet republics, said its business development in Europe would depend, among other factors, on the outcome of the European Commission’s investigation.

“We hope the European Commission … offers their help in restoring fair competition and ensuring equal opportunity to pre-install mobile applications on Android-based devices not only for Google, but also for other developers,” it said.

Yandex is ahead of Google in Russia with a search market share of around 60 percent, but it has been slow expanding abroad – a position it flagged when selling shares in a $1.3 billion initial public offering on Nasdaq in 2011.



Apple Pulling The Plug On Beats Music

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple is dropping the ax on Beats Music on Nov. 30, shortly after launching the beta of an Android app for its Apple Music streaming service.

The company is now encouraging both Android and iOS users of Beats Music to transition to the Apple Music streaming service, which was launched by the company in June.

After the launch of the Apple Music app for Android phones, it has become easier for Apple to do the inevitable – shut down Beats Music, transition Android users and focus on Apple Music.

“All the pros that curated music for you are still crafting more amazing experiences,” wrote executive Dale Bagwell on a Beats support page. “Plus, on Apple Music, you’ll get even better recommendations based on music you already listen to and love, 24/7 global radio with Beats 1, exciting material from your favorite artist, and more.”

Beats Music subscriptions will be cancelled on Nov. 30, but users have the option to move their picks and preferences over to Apple Music, he added.

The company also provided detailed instructions for users moving from Beat Music to Apple Music on the support page. Apple had said earlier it was no longer accepting new subscriptions for Beats Music and recommended to users to move their current Beats subscriptions over to Apple Music.

Apple unveiled in June the subscription music service, which is priced at US$10 a month with a family service also available for up to six family members for $15 per month. The subscription rates vary in some countries.

The service offers a three-month free trial. Unlike some of its rivals, Apple Music doesn’t offer free music supported by advertisements.



Facebook Tests Disappearing Messages Feature

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook has confirmed that it is conducting a small test of a Snapchat-like feature, enabling users to send messages that will automatically disappear.

“We’re excited to announce the latest in an engaging line of optional product features geared towards making Messenger the best way to communicate with the people that matter most,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “Starting today, we’re conducting a small test in France of a feature that allows people to send messages that disappear an hour after they’re sent. Disappearing messages gives people another fun option to choose from when they communicate on Messenger.”

This should sound familiar to Snapchat users who are accustomed to their messages disappearing shortly after they’re sent.

Users can turn the Facebook feature on by tapping an hourglass icon in the upper right corner of the Messenger screen. Tap the hourglass again to turn it off.

Facebook is testing disappearing messages for iOS and Android users in France only. While the feature may be available in more countries over time, Facebook didn’t have any current plans to share.

This may be a good defensive move for the social network.

Facebook has been struggling to retain, or even attract, younger users who are being lured away by apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

To deal with this problem, Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for a reported $3 billion in late 2013. The offer was turned down, though.

Then in early 2014, Facebook tried to go after Snapchat’s users by unveiling a new mobile app called Slingshot. The app was designed to enable users to instantly share photos and videos with multiple friends.

Now that Facebook is taking a different tack, the question is whether it can steal away Snapchat’s user base.






Huawei Unveils Fast-charging Battery For Smartphones

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Huawei has designed and developed a prototype smartphone battery that can be recharged to half its capacity in just five minutes.

The battery is based on the same lithium ion chemistry used in cellphone batteries today but gets its advantage from atoms of graphite bonded to the anode, Huawei said on Friday at an industry conference in Japan.

That change means faster charging but not at the expense of usage life or a sacrifice in the amount of energy that can be stored in each battery, it said.

It was developed by Huawei research and development subsidiary Watt Lab and the company showed off two prototypes in videos posted online.

One of the two batteries has a capacity of 3,000mAh (milliampere hours) — about equivalent to the batteries in modern smartphones — and can be charged to 48 percent of capacity in five minutes. The second has a much smaller capacity of 600mAh but reaches 68 percent of capacity in just two minutes.

The batteries have undergone repeated testing and the fast charging isn’t a one-time deal, the company said.

Huawei didn’t say when the fast charging might make its way into commercial products.

The announcement is one of a number this year that all point toward faster charging or longer battery life. Advances in battery technology have lagged other areas of technology and battery life remains a limiting factor for gadgets such as phones and larger products like electric vehicles.



Google Open Sources TensorFlow

November 13, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has announced the open-sourcing of its machine learning engine TensorFlow.

Despite sounding like a sanitary product, TensorFlow is in fact behind some of Google’s biggest recent advances, such as the improvements in speech recognition that have allowed Google Now to expand.

Originally developed by the Google Brain team, as a successor to its preview machine learning platform DistBelief, it has been an internal tool up to now, but as the website explains: “TensorFlow is not complete; it is intended to be built upon, improved, and extended.

“We have made an initial release of the source code, and are currently moving our internal development efforts over to use a public repository for the day-to-day changes made by our team at Google.

“We hope to build an active open source community that drives the future of this library, both by providing feedback and by actively contributing to the source code.”

Everything you need is included, from the source code itself, development kits, Apache 2.0 licenced examples, tutorials, and sample use cases.

Earlier this year, a Tensorflow project made the news when Google’s Deepdream showed us what computer’s dream about. It turns out that when you show them Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, they dream about some quite terrifying stuff that takes it to a whole other level.

The Google Research blog explains: “Today we’re proud to announce the open source release of TensorFlow – our second-generation machine learning system, specifically designed to correct these shortcomings.

“TensorFlow is general, flexible, portable, easy-to-use, and completely open source. We added all this while improving upon DistBelief’s speed, scalability, and production readiness – in fact, on some benchmarks, TensorFlow is twice as fast as DistBelief.”

It’s now available in version 2.0, for absolutely no beans whatsoever.


T-Mobile Announces Free ‘Binge On’ Video-streaming Service

November 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

T-Mobile announced that it will begin offering free streaming of wireless video to certain T-Mobile customers for services such as HBO, Hulu, Netflix and 21 others.

The service, called Binge On, will be available starting Sunday at no extra charge to T-Mobile’s Simple Choice customers paying for 3GB of data. In addition, the carrier said it doubled the LTE data caps at every level in Simple Choice at no extra cost.

“T-Mobile is un-leashing entertainment and giving customers exactly what they want,” CEO John Legere declared at an event in Los Angeles that was webcast.

He also said that neither the 24 video-streaming services involved nor T-Mobile customers will pay for the service. Binge On is powered by new technology built into T-Mobile’s network, which optimizes video for mobile screens and minimizes data consumption.

In an online FAQ, T-Mobile said its Binge On video quality “looks great” on a phone. The explanation says the service optimizes video quality for smartphone screens and minimizes buffering and maximizes quality.

Analysts had predicted the free video service would be announced today, but some were skeptical that T-Mobile could afford to offer it without leading to widespread LTE network congestion.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said T-Mobile would be using a compression algorithm that reduces video streams to one-third of their original size. Binge One won’t work with encrypted data, such as that from Google and Facebook, he said.

To be eligible for one line with sufficient data to use Binge On, a user would pay $65 a month. That cost would include $50 for one line that includes 2GB of data, but a customer would need to add 4GB more for $15 a month to get above the 3GB minimum for Binge On.


Is Qualcomm Sinking?

November 11, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Last week’s Qualcomm results confirmed what Wall Street had suspected for a while – Qualcomm is in trouble.

For years Qualcomm has had a licence to print money and had done all the right things at the right time. This put it in a position where almost every smartphone made around the world had Qualcomm somewhere in its insides – especially in Korea and China.

But a string of quarterly financial reports, which indicate a sharp decline in the company’s revenue growth, from 30 per cent three years ago to -14 per cent now.

One of Qualcomm’s biggest problem is MediaTek which has caught up to it and the fact its major customer, Samsung, has begun to use its own chips for new smartphones.

Qualcomm has had difficulty collecting royalties in China and was fined close to $1 billion by the Chinese government for its royalty collection methods.

In fact it looks like some companies that are holding out because China’s smartphone market saturated and they want to defer royalty payments until 2016.

Qualcomm has put a brave face on it. It said that it believes that certain licensees in China are not fully complying with their contractual obligations to report their sales of licensed products.
Meanwhile Qualcomm has been unable to come up with much that is new. It still has $21 billion in cash in the bank but is having to put a great deal of it into R&D to replicate and sustain its competitive advantage.

But its biggest problem will be competition by MediaTek MediaTek is spending a lot of money to catch up. It opened R&D offices in Bangalore, Finland and San Diego. In a year MediaTek’s LTE modems is expected to competitive with Qualcomm’s.

Its new line of chips for higher-end Helio phones will work with most carrier networks in other countries. Right now MediaTek is going through the certification process with telecoms Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile so it can sell its phones on their LTE networks in the U.S.

Until 2013 Qualcomm controlled 95 per cent of the market. But last year its share was down to 66% of the $22.1 billion market, with MediaTek next at 17 per cent.

Next year MediaTek aims to capture more than 40 per cent of the LTE market in China, and many of China’s high-end phonemakers will switch from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series to MediaTek’s offerings.

However MediaTek will also be raining on Qualcomm’s parade in the US and Europe as the much awaited flood of cheaper and well speced smartphones roll into the first world.
The most likely candidates are Xiaomi, Huawei, OnePlus, Lenovo and Coolpad, and most of these have plans to enter the US market soon, if they’re not already there in some limited fashion. MediaTek will be piggy backing on them.

Emerging markets such as India and Africa also present opportunities for MediaTek, but the potential profits are less than what the U.S. could produce.

But Qualcomm must be worried. Any phone with a MediaTek chip inside it is another nail in its coffin. Already there are muttering amongst its shareholders that the company should flog off its chipmaking business while it can, and just concentrate on making cash out of its patents.



Tag Heuer Joins The Smartwatch Market

November 11, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

LVMH’s Tag Heuer has become the first Swiss watchmaker to offer a “smartwatch” to customers that combines Swiss design with U.S. technology, seeking to tap a growing market for wearable devices amid flagging sales of traditional watches.

Co-developed with Google and Intel, the “Tag Heuer Connected” will cost $1,500. One thousand units are immediately available in 15 stores across the United States, with Britain, Germany, and Japan following in the coming days.

With its titanium casing, black rubber strap and digital watch hands, it is designed to look like a classical watch.

But Connected houses an Intel Atom processor beneath its touchscreen that lets wearers connect to the internet, stream music and run applications via Google’s Android Wear platform, from existing favorites such as Google Fit and Google Maps to customized lifestyle and sports apps.

The watch, which electronically tethers to a phone, responds to voice commands and finger swipes. It can give the weather, set up a calendar reminder or tell the wearer how many steps she or he has walked that day, for instance.

The Connected will compete in part against Apple Inc’s Apple Watch, which has breathed life into the smartwatch category. With prices of $350 to $17,000 it competes with some traditional luxury timepieces.

Tag Heuer Chief Executive Jean-Claude Biver described the Connected watch as a way to get new customers and warm them up to traditional watches.

“The Apple Watch will never be eternal,” Biver said at an event in New York. “Our watch will. It’s a big advantage.”

Customers can swap their smartwatch for a mechanical one at the end of a two year warranty if they pay $1,500 more, a strategy Biver said allows the company to protect its traditions and cater to younger clientele who might be tempted by Apple.




Read more at Reuters


Snapchat Daily Video Viewing Business Booming, Closing In On Facebook

November 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The number of videos viewed each day on Snapchat has tripled since May to 6 billion as the messaging app is erasing the gap with social media giant Facebook Inc, according to a report in the Financial Times that cites people close to the company.

The Financial Times said that Snapchat confirmed the 6 billion figure but had declined to comment further.

Facebook said last week that it had doubled daily video views to 8 billion from 4 billion in April, according to the report, which notes that social networking groups are vying for eyeballs in the fast-growing video segment.

Facebook’s daily video viewing number is made up of both desktop and mobile views while Snapchat’s is entirely made up of smartphone users, the report notes.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said in May that the company plans to have an initial public offering but did not specify when that would happen. In 2013, Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook to acquire the company.


Ericsson And Cisco Join Forces In Network Partnership

November 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Mobile equipment maker Ericsson and U.S. networking company Cisco Systems Inc announced that they have agreed to a business and technology partnership that should generate additional revenues of $1 billion for each company by 2018.

Ericsson, whose like-for-like sales are down 7 percent so far this year and were roughly flat over the previous three years, said the partnership means new areas of revenue as it will boost its addressable market, mainly in professional services, software and the resale of Cisco products.

“We are the wireless No. 1 in the world,” Ericsson Chief Executive Hans Vestberg told Reuters.

“Cisco is by far the No. 1 in the world when it comes to IP routers. Together we can create innovative solutions.”

The companies said in a statement they would together offer routing, data center, networking, cloud, mobility, management and control, and global services capabilities.

“The strategic partnership will be a key driver of growth and value for the next decade, with each company benefiting from incremental revenue in calendar year 2016 and expected to ramp (up) to $1 billion or more for each by 2018,” they said.

Ericsson expects full-year cost synergies of 1 billion Swedish crowns ($115 million) in 2018 due to the partnership and said it would continue to explore further joint business opportunities with Cisco.




AT&T Begins Sales Of BlackBerry’s Android-Based Priv Phone

November 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

AT&T began sales of BlackBerry’s first Android-powered smartphone, a slider called the Priv, on Friday for $250 with a two-year contract, a price that could entice buyers who are reluctant to pay BlackBerry’s own $699 off-contract price.

Pre-orders for the slider smartphone with a 5.4-in. display, started two weeks ago. A BlackBerry spokeswoman declared in an email that pre-orders for the Priv “far surpassed” pre-orders for BlackBerry’s Classic and Passport phones, but she declined to offer any numbers.

While her statement sounds positive for Priv, it might not mean very much. Both earlier smartphones, which run on the BlackBerry OS, were “not tracking anywhere close” to what BlackBerry expected, according to Morgan Stanley analysts in March.

BlackBerry hasn’t broken out sales figures for any of its devices, but the company recently said it generated revenues from shipping just 800,000 phones in the quarter that ended Aug. 29, down from 2.1 million a year earlier.

Its dwindling smartphone sales left BlackBerry with just 0.3% of the total global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to IDC. Presumably,selling an Android phone could help BlackBerry, because Android is now positioned at 83% of the global market.




YouTube’s Android App To Support Virtual Reality

November 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

YouTube unveiled two new features for its Android app that expand the video site’s use of virtual reality, giving the new technology its biggest platform yet.

The app now supports VR video – a format that gives viewers what the company says are more realistic 360-degree perspectives of films.

To view it, a user would call up a virtual reality video on the YouTube app, click a button on the video for VR mode, and place the phone in Alphabet Inc’s “Cardboard” device, a handheld gadget made from the standard box material that creates a VR viewing experience.

Makers of virtual reality content can upload VR videos compatible with the Cardboard viewer directly to YouTube. YouTube said there are about a dozen VR videos, including one stemming from the “Hunger Games” movies.

YouTube also announced that viewers can see its vast library of videos with a more limited virtual reality experience, also using Cardboard. YouTube said that the videos will resemble what a viewer would see on an IMAX theater screen.

Neil Schneider, executive director of VR trade organization Immersive Technology Alliance, noted that YouTube introduced 3D video in 2009 and was also an early adopter of high-definition video.

“It’s not surprising they would take the angle of adding virtual reality,” he said.

Schneider said the public can expect to see an explosion of high quality content, but said amateur content might be more difficult to come by because the gear to create VR content is typically expensive.

But Jay Iorio, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers who is experimenting with creating films for Cardboard and Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, said he would not be surprised to see VR recording capabilities on smartphones.

“The equipment I have right now, people will probably have on their phones in a couple years,” he said.

Oculus Rift is scheduled for release next near and is expected to cost between $300 to $350. Cardboard costs between $5 and $50.




Sprint Confirms Thousands Of Jobs To Be Cut

November 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Sprint Chairman and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has confirmed that job cuts at Sprint will be “in the thousands” as part of a restructuring plan.

His comments came as SoftBank, which owns more than 70% of Sprint, reported its quarterly earnings.

“Sprint is now in the position to increase the pace of user acquisition while cutting costs,” Son said, according to Bloomberg and other news sources. “We will also cut staff. The cuts will be in the thousands.”

Son’s comments are not out of line with things Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has been telling Sprint workers for months.

On Tuesday, Sprint’s stock price sagged downward after an earnings report included a statement saying that the carrier plans to cut $2 billion or more in operating expenses for its 2016 fiscal year, which begins in April.

Son also said the $2 billion is a “minimum target” and should be the amount slashed annually, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The company now has more than $25 billion in annual costs.

Sprint has been investing in attracting new customers — an effort that has been costly but effective. On Tuesday, Sprint reported it gained 237,000 postpaid phone customers in its second fiscal quarter, which ended Sept. 30. It was the first time the company had showed gains on that measure in two years. It also reported its lowest customer cancellation rate in company history.

In November 2014, Sprint had said it would cut 2,000 jobs as part of $1.5 billion in cost reductions. That announcement came after Sprint had cut 5,000 jobs from January through September 2014. The company had 31,000 workers at the start of its current fiscal year on April 1.