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Apple Pulls The Plug On Thunderbolt Display

June 27, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple announced that is will discontinue its Thunderbolt Display, the high-resolution external display that users of the MacBook and other Macs could use to get a better picture and work with more apps.

The company said Thursday that the 27-inch widescreen display with LED backlight technology will be available on Apple’s online store, in Apple retail stores and from authorized resellers while supplies last.

The Thunderbolt Display currently retails on the Apple online store at $999. It has a 2560 x 1440 resolution.

It isn’t clear whether Apple plans to follow with newer versions that use 5K resolution displays at 5120 by 2880 pixels, which is the display technology Apple uses on its high-end iMac. There was speculation earlier that a new version would be announced at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference this month.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Apple planned to offer a refresh to the display.

Apple said in an emailed statement that “there are a number of great third-party options available for Mac users.”

 

 

Napster Brand Making A Comeback

June 17, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The Napster name, once widely known for illegal music sharing, is now respectable enough to carry the flag for one of the oldest names in paid music streaming.

Rhapsody will soon change its name worldwide to Napster, the listening service has announced. It already uses the Napster brand in Europe.

“Napster is coming,” the post said. “No changes to your playlists, favorites, albums, and artists. Same music. Same service. Same price. 100% the music you love. Stay tuned!”

The name change in the U.S. could be another attempt to catch up to Spotify, which recently passed 30 million subscribers. Rhapsody said late last year it had about 3.5 million.

Napster began in the late 1990s as a service for sharing and downloading mp3 music files and quickly attracted a large following, especially among college students. The Recording Industry Association of America sued the company for copyright infringement in late 1999 and won an injunction that shut down Napster in 2001.

A series of acquisitions by companies including music publisher Bertelsmann and retailer Best Buy put Napster on a path to respectability, but it also faded amid the growth of legal music stores like iTunes and then streaming services like Spotify.

Rhapsody, which has been around since 2001, bought Napster in 2011 and set out to replace Napster’s brand with its own in the U.S. Later it bought Napster International to expand into Germany and the U.K., where it decided to keep the Napster brand.

With the latest change, that moniker has won out. A formerly infamous brand now seems to carry more clout than one that once was almost famous.

 

 

Apple Pay Being Updated To Allow Online Purchases

June 15, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Consumers will soon be able to make purchses with Apple Pay over the web from a Mac desktop or laptop, with the transaction being authenticated via a buyer’s fingerprint scan on their iPhone or a touch on their Apple Watch.

The new Apple Pay capability will be released as part of the free, rebranded (from OS X) macOS Sierra upgrade coming sometime this fall, Craig Federighi, Apple senior vice president of software engineering, announced at the Worldwide Developer Conference held in San Francisco on Monday.

Currently, shoppers can pay for merchandise using Apple Pay via an app on an iPhone or Apple Watch at hundreds of thousands of point-of-sale merchants in the U.S. and five other countries — Canada, the UK, Australia, China and Singapore. Hong Kong, France, Spain and Switzerland are getting the service soon, Apple said recently.

Although a leader in mobile payments, Apple Pay, as well as other other mobile payment technologies, have not caught on as well as expected.

Putting Apple Pay on Mac computers will greatly expand the number of purchases made with the service, analysts said. It will also put Apple in competition for web payments with companies like PayPal.

“Extending Apple Pay to the web is a really big deal because up to this point, there have been no secure methods to buy over the web that used biometric technology without sending your credit card information to the e-tailer,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

To use the service, an Apple Pay on-screen button will be available at a participating online retailer when a person shops via a Safari browser, Apple said in a statement. Apple showed dozens of participating retailers on a slide during the WWDC presentation.

 

 

Amazon To Get Join The Already Crowded Music Streaming Business

June 13, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc is gearing up to launch a standalone music streaming subscription service, placing it squarely in competition with rival offerings from Apple Inc and Spotify, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The service will be offered at $9.99 per month, in line with major rivals, and it will offer a competitive catalog of songs, the sources said. Amazon is finalizing licenses with labels for the service, which likely will be launched in late summer or early fall, the sources said.

Amazon, which offers a free streaming music service with a limited catalog to subscribers of its Prime shipping and video service, did not respond to a request for comment about the new, full-fledged music plan.

Although it will be a late entrant to the crowded streaming space, Amazon believes a comprehensive music service is important to its bid to be a one-stop shop for content and goods, the sources said.

The new music offering also is intended to increase the appeal of the Amazon Echo, its home speaker, which searches the Internet and orders products from the retailer with voice commands.

“A music service will further increase the daily interactions between Amazon and its customer base,” said former music executive Jay Samit when told about the company’s plan.

The new Amazon effort will compete directly with Apple Music and Spotify, which boast more than 30 million songs. Apple launched its service last year in one of the highest profile signs that listeners wanted subscription services, rather than paying for individual songs or albums.

The service also will diversify Amazon’s subscription offerings and be another step away from a single, annual subscription. Amazon recently began allowing subscribers to Prime to pay monthly, for instance.

Silicon Valley titans such as Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google have muscled into music streaming in recent years, aiming to weave themselves more tightly into their customers’ daily routines and drive device sales.

Amazon similarly hopes its new service’s tight integration with the Echo will help it stand out and reinforce the speaker’s appeal, the sources said.

Released broadly last year, the Echo has become a surprise hit that rival Google is now seeking to emulate with a speaker of its own.

The move suggests that Amazon will increasingly offer basic media options through Prime while selling additional subscriptions for consumers who want to go deeper. The company recently launched a standalone video service.

The new music service is unlikely to steal many customers from Spotify, but it could pose a threat to other players, said David Pakman, a partner at Venrock who headed early Apple music efforts, when informed of the move.

 

 

CurrentC Mobile Payment Pilot Ends, Future Uncertain

June 10, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) has ended a Columbus, Ohio, pilot of its CurrentC mobile payment service this week.

The company said on its website that it has “not determined the future timing of CurrentC” although some analysts have said for a while they doubted the service would continue due to pressure from Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and others.

In an emailed statement, an MCX spokesman said, “We removed CurrentC from the app stores to coincide with the scheduled end of our Columbus, Ohio beta at the end of June. We’ve not announced future timelines or plans around the app but we’re looking forward to analyzing and learning from the data we gleaned throughout the beta.”

On its website, CurrentC added: “We want to say a special thank you to everyone who participated in our CurrentC Beta test” in Columbus, Ohio. “We will be concluding our Beta on June 28. Please stay tuned for new information on CurrentC as our future plans evolve.”

On a separate website, MCX still lists 63 companies including Target and Walmart as merchants that accepted CurrentC, which relied on the free CurrentC smartphone app. The idea was to centralize merchant loyalty rewards and payment accounts, and automatically apply coupons and promotions to use at checkout with the various merchants.

But CurrentC in its latest form in the pilot was not seen as a full competitor to Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or others that pair a virtual credit or debit card with an NFC or magnetic technology payment to a payment terminal in a store. Late last year, Walmart set up its own related service with Walmart Pay.

While there has been growth in mobile payments since 2014, it has been slower than first expected.

 

 

 

Apple Rolls Out A Revamped App Store

June 10, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple Inc announced a series of long anticipated enhancements to its App Store, but the new features may not ease concerns of developers and analysts who say that the App Store model – and the very idea of the single-purpose app – has seen its best days.

The revamped App Store will let developers advertise their wares in search results and give developers a bigger cut of revenues on subscription apps, while Apple said it has already dramatically sped up its app-approval process.

The goal is to sustain the virtuous cycle at the heart of the hugely lucrative iPhone business. Software developers make apps for the iPhone because its customers are willing to pay, and those customers, in turn, pay a premium for the device because it has the best apps.

The store is now more strategically important than ever for Apple as sales of the iPhone begin to level off and the company looks to software and services to fill the gap. Apple CEO Tim Cook said on a recent conference call that App Store revenues were up 35 percent over last year.

But the store is also a victim of its own success. Eight years after its launch, it is packed with more than 1.9 million apps, according to analytics firm App Annie, making it almost impossible for developers to find an audience – and increasingly difficult for customers to find what they need, as some 14,000 new apps arrive in the store each week.

“The app space has grown out of control,” said Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of the internet and now a vice president at Alphabet Inc’s Google, who was speaking at a San Francisco conference on the future of the web on Wednesday. “We need to move away from having an individual app for every individual thing you want to do.”

 

 

Walmart Aims To Boost Online Sales With Tech Investment

June 7, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Wal-Mart Stores Inc executives touted the technology investments the world’s No. 1 retailer is making to boost online sales, during the annual shareholder meeting last week.

Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon spoke about initiatives like online grocery pick up, the retailer’s two-day shipping program and its mobile wallet, Wal-Mart Pay. His comments capped off a week-long media event where the company displayed drones in warehouses and announced a partnership with Uber to deliver online groceries.

“We get to reimagine retail again, and that’s what we are going to do,” McMillon said. He also said changes to boost e-commerce sales will take some time to show results.

Wal-Mart onlines sales growth has sharply decelerated for five quarters even though its overall performance has been better than most competitors.

In the first quarter, online sales growth was 7 percent, down from 8 percent, 10 percent, 16 percent and 17 percent in the previous periods. In 2015, Wal-Mart’s online sales rose 12.3 percent to $13.7 billion, which was less than the jump of more than the 16 percent for market leader Amazon.com Inc, to $92.4 billion.

The meeting at the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetville, 30 miles from the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, was packed with 14,000 people, including workers from around the world and shareholders. Keeping with its practice of showcasing celebrities at the annual event, the meeting was hosted by talk show host James Cordon. Singers like Katy Perry, Andy Grammar and Nick Jonas also performed on stage.

The enthusiastic atmosphere momentarily turned somber after two shareholder proposals demanded higher wages, better treatment of employees and an independent chairman. The proposals did not get adequate votes.

Wal-Mart in February 2015 said it will lift its base pay to $10 an hour in 2016, a step it has implemented this year. Labor groups feel this is not enough.

 

 

Apple Pay Struggling To Gain Traction Outside U.S.

June 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Over a year ago after Apple Pay took the United States by storm, the smartphone giant has made only tiny ripple in the global payments market, hindered by technical challenges, low consumer take-up and resistance from banks.

The service is available in six countries and among a limited range of banks, though in recent weeks Apple has added four banks to its sole Singapore partner American Express; Australia and New Zealand Banking Group in Australia; and Canada’s five big banks.

Apple Pay usage totaled $10.9 billion last year, the vast majority of that in the United States. That is less than the annual volume of transactions in Kenya, a mobile payments pioneer, according to research firm Timetric.

And its global turnover is a drop in the bucket in China, where Internet giants Alibaba and Tencent dominate the world’s biggest mobile payments market – with an estimated $1 trillion worth of mobile transactions last year, according to iResearch data.

Anecdotal evidence from Britain, China and Australia suggests Apple Pay is popular with core Apple followers, but the quality of service, and interest in it, varies significantly.

To use Apple Pay, consumers tap their iPhone over payment terminals to buy coffee, train tickets and other services. It can be also used at vending machines that accept contactless payments.

Apple Pay transactions were a fraction of the $84.5 billion in iPhone sales for the six months to March, which accounted for two-thirds of Apple’s total revenue.

Apple has leveraged its huge U.S. user base to push Pay, but has met resistance in Australia, Britain and Canada where banks are building their own products.

“Payments in general is such a complicated system with so many incumbent providers that revolutionary change like this was not going to happen very quickly,” said Joshua Gilbert, an analyst at First Annapolis Consulting.

The upshot: Apple has rolled out Pay in a dribble, adding countries and partners where it can – Hong Kong is expected to be added next – resulting in an uneven banking landscape with users and retail staff not always sure what will work and how.

 

 

 

Salesforce Acquiring Demandware For $2.8B

June 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Cloud-based software maker Salesforce.com Inc that it will be acquiring Demandware Inc, whose software is used by businesses to run e-commerce websites, for about $2.8 billion.

The deal will help Salesforce open a new front as it look to take away more market share from traditional software providers such as Oracle Corp and SAP AG, both of which already offer cloud-based e-commerce services.

The e-commerce market has been growing at a blistering pace as retailers expand their online presence, boosting demand for software that helps manage functions such as payment processing and inventory management.

Salesforce’s cash offer of $75.00 per share represents a 56.3 percent premium to Demandware’s Tuesday closing.

Demandware’s shares, which have fallen about 21 percent in the past year. Shares of Salesforce, considered a barometer for the cloud-computing industry, slipped 2 percent.

Demandware, whose customers include Lands’ End Inc, L’Oreal SA and Marks and Spencer Group Plc, has reported sales growth of more than 30 percent for the last 10 quarters.

Global spending on digital commerce platforms is expected to grow over 14 percent annually to about $8.5 billion by 2020, Salesforce said, citing research firm Gartner.

The deal, slated to close in Salesforce’s second quarter ending July, is expected to increase the company’s 2017 revenue by about $100 million-$120 million.

Salesforce had forecast fiscal 2017 revenue of $8.16 billion-$8.2 billion in May.

BofA Merrill Lynch is Salesforce’s financial adviser for the deal, while Goldman Sachs is advising Demandware.

 

Chromebook Outpacing Mac Notebook In U.S. Sales

May 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

More personal computers powered by Google’s Chrome OS shipped in the U.S. during the first quarter than those built on Apple’s OS X in the same period, IDC  has confirmed.

“Chrome PCs overall, including Chrome desktop units like the Chromebox, out-shipped all Apple personal computers, desktop plus notebook, in the U.S. for Q1,” said Jay Chou, one of several IDC analysts who track device shipments, in an email reply to questions.

Chromebooks, the inexpensive notebooks that run Chrome OS, also out-shipped Apple’s MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro notebooks in the U.S. The first-quarter battle wasn’t even close, according to the notebook-only shipment numbers Chou provided.

Apple shipped an estimated 1.17 million Mac notebooks in the U.S. during the first three months of 2016; IDC said 1.6 million Chrome OS notebooks shipped in the same span.

In other words, 37% more Chromebooks shipped than Mac notebooks.

Last week, Tom Warren of The Verge reported that Chrome OS hardware had out-shipped OS X-equipped Macs after speaking with one of Chou’s colleagues. Subsequently, numerous other outlets, including blogs and mainstream media websites, picked up Warren’s report.

IDC’s shipment data for Chrome OS and OS X systems were estimates generated using information from vendors and Asian component suppliers. Google, which developed Chrome OS, does not reveal shipment numbers: Most Chromebooks originate from third-party OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), including Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo. And although Apple disclosed global Mac sales in its April 26 earnings call with Wall Street, it did not break down that figure by geographic region.

That IDC’s numbers were estimates only was clear when comparing the research firm’s forecast to Apple’s stated sales for the first quarter. Prior to April 26 — when Apple said it had sold 4.03 million Macs worldwide – IDC had projected global Mac shipments at 4.47 million, or about 10% too high.

 

 

 

Are Transparent Displays On The Horizon?

May 25, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Almost every sci-fi telivision program has tablets and monitors which are transparent and it seems that Samsung has finally build them. The only problem is that they are not that great to use.

Samsung unveiled the first commercial installation of its cutting-edge mirror display at an upscale hair salon in Seoul, South Korea. The 55-inch display units act as a mirror while playing media over the mirrored image.

The display represents a (90%) transparent layer over an underlying mirror, and is a genuinely transparent display. The Planar LookThru OLED Series offered something similar but cost too much for the great unwashed to use.

Using Intel 3-D camera technology, Samsung’s displays can also show customers in different hair styles, colors and trends, allowing the hairdressers at the Leekaja Hairbis’ Jamsil salon to provide customized, interactive consultations with their clients. Samsung expects mirror displays to be used in retail, interior design, furniture and fashion markets in the future. Similar 55-inch Samsung mirror displays will be available for purchase worldwide in fall 2016.

The Samsung mirror display ML55E provides 90 per cent  transparency and 55 per cent reflectivity, designed to minimize visual distraction and provide clarity, both in the reflective mirror surface and in the media content overlays.   It has been suggested that the technology could be a money spinner –  one study shows the market for plastic and flexible OLED displays is expected to rise to $16 billion by 2020, with TV and industrial/professional use to make up half of the market share.

But the tech is still pretty expensive. One unbranded transparent OLED screen will set you back $1190.00. But there is another problem. Transparent OLED displays might work in sci-fi movie directors, but that is because they allow the camera to interact better with actors in a hard to film situation. Practically though see-through displays which have no touch capability are all really only useful in the exhibition sector.

Courtesy-Fud

 

In-Home Tech Support Companies HelloTech, Geekatoo Merging

May 24, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Los Angeles-based startup HelloTech and rival in-home tech support company Geekatoo announced that they have merged, in a sign of consolidation in the hotly competitive on-demand sector.

HelloTech will combine its network of about 150 college students who provide on-demand tech repair to Southern California consumers with Geekatoo’s U.S. network of about 5,000 technicians, the companies said in a joint statement.

The merger connects HelloTech with Geekatoo’s national market and provides Geekatoo with more access to venture capital funding, HelloTech co-founder Richard Wolpert said in an interview.

HelloTech, which launched about a year ago, has raised $17 million from investors, while 5-year-old Geekatoo has raised close to $3 million.

“You could either use capital to expand really quickly or you could merge with a company like Geekatoo that had already spent money doing this,” said Mark Suster, managing partner at Upfront Ventures, which backed HelloTech.

The new company keeps the HelloTech name and will be led by Wolpert. He said the deal was a stock transaction, rather than a cash payment, but declined to provide further details.

Both companies dispatch in-home tech support within hours of a request to fix a wonky printer, install a new TV or troubleshoot WiFi problems, among other services.

HelloTech hit a few bumps last year after launching, with some negative customer feedback that its workforce of predominantly college students was unprofessional.

Wolpert said the company has worked out the glitches. HelloTech has a five-star rating on customer review site Yelp.

Geekatoo Executive Chairman Christian Shelton saw demand for tech services rising as more people add internet-connected devices – such as the smart thermostat Nest or WiFi camera Dropcam – to their homes.

The U.S. tech support industry makes about $30 billion in annual revenue, according to research by Parks Associates, a consulting firm.

“The opportunity is massive,” Wolpert said.

The company’s main competition is Geek Squad, a tech support service founded in 1994 and owned by big-box retailer Best Buy.

HelloTech targets baby boomers with disposable income to spend on new gadgets and someone to help get them up and running.

“There is enormous wealth in the baby boomer generation,” Suster said, and their “digital lives are becoming increasingly complicated.”

 

 

Amazon To Launch Private Label Products Soon

May 17, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc is gearing up to launch several new lines of its private-label brands in the coming weeks, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The new brands with names like Happy Belly, Wickedly Prime and Mama Bear will include nuts, spices, tea, coffee, baby food and vitamins, as well as household items such as diapers and laundry detergents, the newspaper reported.

Amazon will only offer these labels to its Prime subscribers, the Journal reported, adding the first of the brands could begin appearing at the end of May or early June.

“We don’t comment on rumors or speculations,” a company spokeswoman said in an email.

Last week, Amazon launched Amazon Video Direct for users to post videos and earn royalties with them, setting it up directly against Alphabet Inc’s YouTube.

 

 

Walmart Picks A Fight With Visa Over PIN-Based Transactions

May 11, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Wal-Mart Stores Inc filed a lawsuit against Visa Inc, accusing the payments network operator of resisting the use of personal identification numbers (PINs) by customers for purchases made on debit cards at its stores.

Wal-Mart and other U.S. retailers have pushed their payment partners to allow customers to use PINs instead of old-school signatures in a bid to prevent counterfeit card fraud.

However, banks and payment network operators are favoring the use of chip cards verified by signatures and see no need to invest further in the more expensive PIN technology.

Wal-Mart also said it pays Visa more for signature-based transactions rather than those made using PINs, according to the lawsuit.

“Walmart believes Visa’s position creates unacceptable risk to customers and its actions and rules are inconsistent with federal law,” Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in a statement.

Visa declined to comment.

 

 

What Can We Expect From Smartphones In The Future?

May 4, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

The smartphone market has hit a bit of a lull. Sure, they’ve got bigger and faster (that’s what she said) but it’s been hard to get really excited about new phones recently beyond the fact that, well, they’re new.

The iPhone 7 may – or may not – change this, but it’s more likely to be a new design, a slightly faster processor and maybe a new iOS version.

But what if we look further into the future, say 2020 or 2021, and devices like the iPhone 9 or Galaxy S9? What will hit the market then to get excited about? Mind-control text capabilities? Full 360-degree video filming? Bendable screens? Week-long battery life?

Battery life
Well, let’s start with the battery. Sadly, week-long battery life on a smartphone seems unlikely even by 2020, as Dr Kevin Curran, reader in Computer Science at Ulster University and a senior member of the IEEE, explained to the INQUIRER.

“On average, we only see improvements in capacity of six per cent per annum. So by 2020 we can only really expect a 25 per cent improvement in battery life,” he said.

However, while 25 per cent may sound good, Curran warned that these improvements tend to be offset by the fact the battery has to work harder as devices get more powerful and have higher density pixel displays.

Headlines proclaim major breakthroughs with battery technology, but Curran believes it’s unlikely that battery life will improve significantly, although there is work being done to change this.

“There are promising breakthroughs with regards to lithium-sulphur, supercapacitors, hydrogen fuel cells, solid state batteries and others, but history should tell us to be cautious about any new dramatic claims in having solved the problem of packing energy into a battery,” he said.

OK, so forget battery life. Surely there must be other new and exciting features to look forward to? Well, one technology is thermal imaging.

This was actually unveiled recently on the Cat S60 (pictured below), and Curran believes that other manufacturers will add this to their phones in time.

“This allows for a multitude of use cases, including detecting heat loss around windows and doors, spotting moisture and missing insulation, identifying over-heating electrical appliances and circuitry, and seeing in complete darkness,” he explained.

“This additional sensor allows much better control and depth in the photos you can take,” Curran added.

Meanwhile, analyst house CCS Insight has predicted that wireless charging will be standard by 2020, given that Apple is likely to include this technology in the iPhone 7.  That should save scrabbling around for charging points.

Courtesy-Fud