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Google Offer Phone Trade-in Policy In Time For New Pixel Device

September 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

With the Google Pixel 2 gearing up to launch in about two weeks, you may be ready to retire your current phone in anticipation.

All signs point to Google trying to make the process smoother. The company launched a trade-in program (scroll down on the right-hand side of the page for details) for those who send in their old phone when buying a new Google Pixel(here’s our review of the first Pixel). Even though this comes ahead of the Pixel 2 launch, it’s likely Google will extend this deal to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL (if those turn out to be their final names) when those phones become available for preorder.

For the full list, head to the Google Store.

It’s common for carriers and phone manufacturers to offer trade-in deals when new phones are released, and Google offers a wide range depending on the phone’s current condition. Whether you get $61 or $363 for an iPhone 7 is a big difference, but keep in mind that a phone in good working order is far more valuable than one with a cracked screen.

Still, if you’re serious about trading in your old phone you may want to check additional options like Gazelle or NextWorth for some perspective. You may be able to get a little bit more — for example, Gazelle will give you up to $390 for an iPhone 7, while NextWorth’s prices top out at around $350). Or if your phone is in good enough condition and you have the patience, you may want to try your luck on eBay, where popular phones typically fetch higher prices.

Google doesn’t currently assign a trade-in value for the original Pixel, but that may change when the Pixel 2 is announced. Google did not respond to a request for comment, but stay tuned to CNET when the Pixel 2 becomes official on Oct. 4.

Skype, WhatsApp Calls Allowed Again In Saudi Arabia

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The Saudi government has rescinded its ban on calls made through online apps on Thursday but will monitor and censor them, a government spokesman said.

All online voice and video call services – such as Microsoft’s Skype, Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger, and Rakuten’s Viber – that satisfy regulatory requirements were set to become accessible overnight.

However, on Thursday morning, Viber appeared to remain blocked inside the kingdom, and WhatsApp worked only when connected to a wireless network.

 Adel Abu Hameed, a spokesman for telecoms regulator CITC, said on Arabiya TV on Wednesday that new regulations were aimed mainly at protecting users’ personal information and blocking content that violated the kingdom’s laws.

Asked if the apps could be monitored by the authorities or companies, he said: “Under no circumstances can the user use an application for video or voice calling without monitoring and censorship by the Communications and Information Technology Commission, whether the application is global or local.”

Fake ‘E-coins’ Shut Down By Switzerland

September 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Switzerland’s financial watchdog has shut down what it said was the provider of a fake cryptocurrency and is investigating around a dozen other possible fraud cases, in the latest clamp-down on the risks involving virtual money.

The move by the FINMA watchdog comes on the heels of Chinese authorities’ ordering Beijing-based cryptocurrency exchanges to stop trading and immediately notify users of their closure.

Virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, which are issued and usually controlled by their developers and not backed by a central bank, are hailed by their supporters as a fast and efficient way of managing money.

But regulators and traditional banks are increasingly concerned about the risks of fraud in the burgeoning online cryptocurrency underworld.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon last week said Bitcoin, the original and still the biggest cryptocurrency, “is a fraud” and will eventually “blow up”.

 The QUID PRO QUO Association shut down by FINMA had provided so-called E-Coins for more than a year and had amassed funds of at least 4 million Swiss francs ($4.2 million) from several hundred users, FINMA said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This activity is similar to the deposit-taking business of a bank and is illegal unless the company in question holds the relevant financial market license,” FINMA, Switzerland’s Financial Market Supervisory Authority, said.

E-Coin was not like “real cryptocurrencies”, FINMA said, because it was not stored on distributed networks using blockchain technology but was instead kept locally on QUID PRO QUO’s servers.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach Zurich-based QUID PRO QUO for comment.

Trello Add Native Desktop Project Management App

September 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Trello subscribers can now access the project management tool directly from their desktop after the launch of native Windows and Mac apps.

The software had previously been browser-based only, meaning that Trello boards could easily get lost amid a multitude of browser tabs.  The company said in a blog post that the desktop app should make the software simpler to use, since Trello has added a navigation sidebar to help keep track of boards in a similar fashion to channels on collaboration tools such as Slack.

Other features include “more granular” keyboard shortcuts and desktop notifications. Those using the latest Mac Book Pro laptops will also be able to open boards and create new cards from the Mac’s Touch Bar.

A desktop presence is an important option for collaboration or productivity tools, said Gartner research director Larry Cannell. “To be successful, workers need to be using them on a day-to-day or minute-by-minute basis,” he said.  “Why should Outlook and a web browser be the only apps open on a desktop? For teams using Trello, this will be a welcomed addition.”

The company also announced Wednesday that Trello boards and cards can now be embedded in separate applications, including Bitbucket, Dropbox Paper and Confluence Cloud.

“By embedding Trello cards and boards inside the apps you use to plan, work, and communicate, teams can stay connected and see who’s doing what (and what needs to get done) without switching apps,” the company said in a blog post.

According to Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research, the addition of features such as the desktop app shows how Trello’s technology has evolved since its acquisition by collaboration software provider Atlassian for $425 million earlier this year.

“The big picture here is how Trello – and the entire Atlassian portfolio for that matter – is evolving,” said Castañón-Martínez.

“The company is enhancing its products with new features that allow users to be more effective with their work; for example, interacting with other users across other Trello boards and across other applications. This enables them to get more work done in one place rather than jumping around between applications.”

He called creation of the desktop app a “natural progression” for Trello.

“It is evolving from an application into a workspace,” he said. “The benefit for the end user will be that it enables them to work with less distractions. Jumping between applications is a productivity-killer.”

Google Disable Offensive Keywords

September 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google announced that it has disabled a “majority” of the offensive keywords that BuzzFeed found could be used by advertisers to target people searching for racist and anti-Semitic topics.

Google, the world’s biggest advertising platform, not only allowed advertisers to target searches such as “Why do Jews ruin everything” but also suggested the user to run ads next to searches such as “the evil jew” and “jewish control of banks”, a campaign by BuzzFeed discovered.

The ads were visible when such keywords were searched for and Google’s ad buying platform tracked the ad views, according to the internet media company’s report based on the campaign.

Google disabled the keyword searches used in the campaign after BuzzFeed’s inquiry, except an exact match for “blacks destroy everything”, the report said.

“We’ve already turned off these suggestions and any ads that made it through, and will work harder to stop this from happening again,” Google’s senior vice president of ads Sridhar Ramaswamy said in an email.

The news comes a day after Facebook Inc said it was temporarily disabling the ability of advertisers to target based on people’s self-reported education and job information after a report that those features allowed targeting based on anti-Semitic topics.

Is Virtual Reality Poised To Take Off

September 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Virtual reality may be growing at a slower pace than many would like, but its enthusiastic supporters remain staunch in their belief that VR is still going to take off. Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and a Carnegie Mellon professor, is one such person. His studio’s VR puzzle title I Expect You To Die (IEYTD), which launched last December, just recently passed the $1 million revenue mark. GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Schell following the news to learn more about his VR development experiences and to gain some perspective on where he sees the VR/AR business headed.

“We’ve learned so much. The experience has confirmed our theories that making games specifically designed for the strengths of the medium is absolutely the right thing to do,” he says.

“IEYTD works because we focused on protecting player immersion as much as possible: making sure in-game and out of game player body poses are proprioceptively aligned, ensuring there is a depth of interactive sound effects, and playtesting much more than for a normal game, so that you can respond to everything that players try to do in the game. The best part is that our experience confirmed for us that VR is amazing, and that people want great experiences in it.”

IEYTD is one of a handful of VR success stories, but even “success” at this stage in VR’s infancy when installed bases are so low, doesn’t mean profitability is guaranteed. Schell is not deterred, however.

“We don’t generally share specifics of internal budgets, but it was more than a million — so, not quite profitable yet on a pure cash basis, but when it comes to lessons learned, and some of the other projects this has brought our way, this has been a very profitable project indeed,” he explains.

During GDC 2016, Schell gave a talk outlining his 40 predictions for VR/AR, and one of those was that by 2017 we’d see 8 million high-end VR headsets sold, with Oculus Rift at 3 million, PSVR at 4 million and Vive at 1 million. Clearly, the actual numbers are going to fall way short of these predictions, and a big part of that is a result of price. Even with the price cuts we’ve seen this year so far on the respective headsets, the devices are too expensive for many. It’s only a matter of time before that changes, though, and then Schell sees the market really picking up. He likens it to the early computer era.

“The numbers are slower than I anticipated, and this is partly because prices are higher than I anticipated. But the growth is absolutely happening,” he says. “What will create a tipping point will be a combination of price drops with a hit title, probably a social multiplayer title.

“We are in a time like when home computers first arrived in 1978. At that time, we had the Atari 800 and the Apple II, and they each cost over $1,000, and people said, ‘Yeah, pretty cool, but too expensive — these home computers will never take off.’ A few years later, and we had the Commodore 64 at $299, and it sold ten times the number of units as the Apple II. Price will really be the driving factor. There are already hundreds of great studios making interesting content. When the prices get low enough, we’ll see the growth curve take off.” While a number of Schell’s other predictions will undoubtedly not hold up, there are some that the designer is not afraid to double down on. The social ramifications of VR is one of those.

“My confidence in the power of social VR continues to grow,” he notes. “Games like Rec Room are proving that out, and social VR is now the prime focus for our next wave of VR titles. The sense of physical proximity to a real person while you hear their voice and see their body language is powerful in a way that no other medium can touch.”

Schell is also still a believer in Nintendo doing something in the space. Thus far, publicly at least, the house of Mario has avoided committing to VR/AR, but Schell thinks that Nintendo is working on a standalone device behind closed doors. And if a company with Nintendo’s weight gets behind VR, that can only help make the technology more mainstream and more accessible. That said, it’s not vital for Nintendo to get in the game for VR to succeed.

“With Nintendo’s passion for invention, they must be working on a VR device with a unique Nintendo spin,” Schell muses. “Certainly they can help make VR more mainstream, but they don’t need to. There are already dozens of headset manufacturers, and more on the way, and exciting tech and price breakthroughs are being announced every few weeks.”

While many people have predicted a far larger and more impactful market for augmented reality, especially as companies like Apple and Google get involved, the differences between the related technologies are beginning to blur. Additionally, when it comes to pure gaming use cases, Schell stresses that VR will remain the better tech for hardcore gamers.

“One prediction I am definitely rethinking is my prediction that VR and AR headsets would remain very separate entities. I am coming to believe that as VR headsets start to sport stereo cameras, that having video pass-thru AR experiences on VR headsets will actually become the dominant form of AR, because it will be cheaper and have a wider field of view,” he says.

“When it comes to games, I more and more think that VR is to AR as console is to mobile… That is to say, VR will be more for the hardcore gamers who want deep, immersive experiences, and AR will be more for casual gamers who want lighter, less immersive experiences. AR may have more users in the long run (provided it can find some killer apps), but VR will be where the best gaming experiences are.”

The unfortunate state of actual reality, when you consider global politics, terrorism, climate change and more, could also be a factor in virtual reality’s favor. As Schell says, “In troubled times, people are always looking for places to escape to. The Great Depression was the best thing that ever happened to Hollywood. When people are frustrated with how the news cycle makes them feel, their appetite for fantasy experiences vastly increases.”

As VR does become more popular in the mainstream, Schell thinks the media may start drumming up stories to point fingers at the tech in much the way that news outlets blamed video game violence for real-world crimes. “The media likes to scare us about anything that is new, because we always want to know about the dangers of new things, so it is good business to feed our fears. I can’t say I’m worried about it, but it is certainly inevitable. Horror movies about VR gone wrong will be a hot ticket in the summer of 2019,” he says.

One area of the VR industry that is hard to predict is the arcade or location-based segment. Vive has made a big push with its Viveport Arcade, particularly in China, but VR arcades may not necessarily be a more natural fit than VR in the home, as some have said.

“There is room for VR in arcades; I am sure of this because I helped developed the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet VR experience that ran continuously at DisneyQuest in Walt Disney World for nineteen years! However, VR in arcades has many challenges,” Schell says. “The systems are hard to keep clean, and are often too fragile for that environment. These are solvable problems, but not trival ones. Ultimately, people expect a VR arcade experience that is a radical step up from the home experience, and that is expensive to create, especially because there is an expectation of multiplayer gameplay at VR arcades, because people go to arcades to be in social groups. So, developing VR arcade content is very expensive. Arcades are a great intro to the experience while the tech is new, but as the tech matures, it will be much more at home, uh, at home.”

Getting into VR development is not for the faint of heart. Game makers may have to endure some hard times, but the pay off will ultimately be worth it, Schell believes.

“If you are looking for a short-term win, or to just port the same games you’ve been playing for 20 years to VR, go do something else. But if you are ready to invent the most important medium of this century, and you can afford to be a little patient as the rest of the world catches up with your futuristic visions, this is your time,” Schell says.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Microsoft Updates Teams Collaboration Software

September 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has added enhancements to its Teams collaboration software, including guest account access and beefing up security and management capabilities for IT admins.

The guest access means that Office 365 users can now add people from outside their company to a team, enabling third-party users to participate in chats, join meetings and collaborate on documents.

The new feature means that IT staff will now be able to centrally manage guest accounts, enabling them to add, view or, if necessary, revoke access.

“This is a very significant milestone for Teams, as up until now it was only available for internal use,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “Now customers will be able to collaborate with people outside of their firewall, opening up a much broader range of use-cases.”

Anyone with an Azure Active Directory account can be added as a guest in Teams.

Microsoft said that there are currently more than 870 million Azure Active Directory user accounts.

While guest users must have an Azure Active Directory account to use Teams, there are plans to allow anyone with a Microsoft Account to be added as a guest. If a guest doesn’t have an existing Microsoft Account, they would have to create a free account using their email address, whether they use Outlook or other email providers such as Google’s Gmail.

Guest user access will fall under the same compliance and auditing protection as the rest of Office 365, the company said.

Security is an important factor when enabling guest access for users. With this in mind, Microsoft said that guest accounts will be added and managed within Azure Active Directory via Azure AD B2B Collaboration. Azure Active Directory provides features such as conditional access policies for guest users as well as machine learning algorithms to detect anomalies and suspicious incidents, and it can automatically trigger security processes such as multi-factor authentication when required.

The addition of guest access brings Teams in line with competing messenger tools such as Slack and Cisco Spark, which also enable external access, as well as Microsoft’s own Yammer collaboration software.

“It is encouraging that Microsoft is rolling out the ability to allow external users to collaborate in Teams, but it is a feature most collaborative applications have had for a while,” said IDC research director Wayne Kurtzman.

“To be a serious contender in the collaboration applications market, has to catch up with the market on a lot of features and functions,” he said.

In addition to the new features, Microsoft offered insights into how Teams is faring six months after its launch. According to the company, 125,000 organizations have now used the Slack competitor, compared to 30,000 back in January. That leaves plenty of room for growth, of course; Microsoft claims there are currently around 100 million Office365 users globally.

Is The Market For A.I. Chips Getting Hot

September 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

It is starting to look like the AI chipmarket is going to be a battle ground for chip development.

The AI market will be worth an estimated $59.8 billion by 2025 — up from just $1.4 billion last year. Nearly all major players in the IT industry have joined the race to develop AI chips and applications with the aim of establishing an early presence.

Currently mainstream products in the AI chip markets are those applied to machine learning and deep neural networks, including ASICs, GPU, FPGA and CPU chipsets. These have involved Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and IBM, Samsung, Huawei, Baidu and Tencent.

Nvidia is doing rather well with its GPU chipset series and has its foot on the development of a larger slice of development architectures. This includes Tesla Accelerator applied to cloud and supercomputers, Jetson fitted in robots and drones, and Drive PX adopted in automobiles. All of them share the same architecture to enable algorithm acceleration for deep learning.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said that his company has kept improving the design, system architecture, compiler and algorithm of its GPU solutions, and the deep neural network velocity has been already boosted by 50 fold within three years as a result, much faster than the time frame set by the Moore’s Law.

Intel is stepping up its AI blueprints ranging from network edges to datacenters, with AI chip platforms including Xeon, Xeon Phi processors and EPGA accelerators supporting the optimization of specific data load. The company has completed tests of its Lake Crest AI chipset designed to perfect neural network operation to improve deep learning efficiency.

Intel has its Myriad X, which can be applied to drones, smart cameras or AR (augmented reality) devices to sense and understand fast-changing external environments and facilitate interactions and learning.

The other force is Qualcomm with its newly released its Neural Processing Engine (NPE), with its software development kit (SDK) able to help developers optimise the AI performance on the firm’s Snapdragon 600, 800 series processors and support such AI architectures as Tensoflow, Caffe and Caffe 2.

NPE can manage image recognition, scene detection, camera filtration, and photo retouching. Facebook now uses it to accelerate the execution of the AR function of photos and real-time films through smartphone apps.

Google has its Tensor Process Unit (TPU) chipset for deep learning and algorithm, targeting AI developers and open for commercial and academic users through cloud services. Huawei has recently unveiled its Kirin 970 SoC, which is claimed to be the world’s first AI mobile chip fitted with neural processing unit (NPU).

The firm’s new-generation flagship smartphone models Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, set to hit the market in October, will carry Kirin 970 chipset, marking Huawei’s official entry into the AI arena. Baidu and Tencent are also actively developing customised AI chips.

AMD meanwhile has Vega to run cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning tasks—the kinds that fuel Siri and Alexa and are used by corporate giants like GE to analyze “big data” streams.

While investors are certainly optimistic about AMD, there’s little proof that the company can overtake NVIDIA in the AI at the moment. NVIDIA is already a self-driving car tech leader, is the go-to GPU maker for many AI servers, and has a clear understanding of its market potential in the AI space.

Courtesy-Fud

Deezer Takes On Giants Of Music Streaming

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

From Brazilian gospel to Puerto Rican reggaeton and Dutch hip-hop, music streaming company Deezer is making waves all over the globe looking for markets where it can survive and thrive against Spotify and Apple.

The French firm has little hope of success going toe-to-toe with its far bigger rivals in the mass-market realms inhabited by the likes of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran.

Instead, it is focusing on local music genres in fast-growing, often non-English language markets, areas where it believes it can steal a march. It is targeting local listeners while also looking to position itself for a global audience as a “cool”, non-mainstream alternative.

As part of this strategy, launched this year and called Deezer Next, it is dispatching local teams of “editors” to identify talent in niche genres and create original content, Netflix-style.

The aim is not only to differentiate its catalog but also to reduce its reliance on the record labels that take the lion’s share of streaming services’ revenue. It has 40 editors globally and is looking to recruit more.

Deezer Chief Executive Hans-Holger Albrecht said he would target selected markets in Latin America, Asia, and Africa where Spotify was not already predominant. They include Guatemala, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.

“I strongly believe in the localization of content,” he told Reuters. “While Spotify is mainly playlist-focused, we are betting on local differentiation, and this has helped us become number one in gospel in Brazil.”

But finding a path to profit represents a formidable task for the loss-making company.

It has a similar “freemium” to market leader Spotify, whereby it attracts users by offering advert-supported free access and charges a monthly fee of about $10 for the full service. However, it has only 12 million active users – about 9 million paying – compared with Spotify’s 60 million paying subscribers, and brings in just a tenth of the Swedish firm’s $3 billion annual revenue.

Deezer, controlled by billionaire investor Len Blavatnik, is nonetheless sinking tens of millions of euros into this local music drive. Its strategy is based on a bet that music streaming will continue to grow rapidly to eventually eclipse all other forms of music listening.

The paid streaming market is expected to grow 16 percent to $28 billion by 2030 in terms of annual revenue, according to Goldman Sachs

“Streaming is a very young market, with just about 10 percent penetration globally, so there is a lot of potential still,” said Albrecht.

Qualcomm Develops New Chipset For Autonomous Cars

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Qualcomm has introduced a new Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) chipset and reference design that aims to bring automakers one step closer to deploying the communications systems necessary for fully autonomous vehicles.

Ford, Audi, the PSA Group and SAIC are all endorsing the new chipset which means that it will get out there. 

Qualcomm says that the 9150 C-V2X chipset will be available for commercial sampling in the second half of 2018, and is based on specs from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). This is a collaboration between groups of telecommunications associations.

Qualcomm’s C-V2X reference design will feature the 9150 C-V2X chipset, an application processor running the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) V2X stack, as well as a Hardware Security Module (HSM). C-V2X technology encompasses two transmission modes: direct communications and network-based communications. It’s key for both safety features and for implementing autonomous driving capabilities.

Its direct communications capabilities improve a vehicle’s situational awareness by detecting and exchanging information using low latency transmissions. Relying on the globally harmonized 5.9 GHz ITS band, the 9150 C-V2X chipset can relay information on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) scenarios without the need for a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), cellular subscription or network assistance. On top of that, C-V2X network-based communications – designed for 4G and emerging 5G wireless networks – supports telematics, connected infotainment and a growing number of advanced informational safety use cases.

Courtesy-Fud

Atlassian Launches New Enterprise Product Stride

September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Collaboration software maker Atlassian has unveiled a new enterprise product that provides text, voice, video, file sharing and other workplace collaboration tools that allow portions of group text threads to be set aside as sidebar tasks to be completed later.

Atlassian, which already offers a collaboration platforms such as Confluence and HipChat, referred to its new Stride offering as a product built “from the ground up” exclusively for corporate use.

As with HipChat, which the company bought in 2012, Stride will be offered in a freemium model, with additional features that require companies to pay $3 per user per month.

The Stride software was built to scale from startups with 10 employees to enterprises of more than 10,000, and includes security features such as secure file sharing and two-factor authentication.

 The free version of Stride will provide messaging between unlimited users, chat rooms, group video and audio. The paid tier introduces dial-in features, screen sharing and remote desktop control.

Group text or voice chat meetings can also migrate to video chats, with team members able to be instantly notified of the change so they can get the full context of the conversation that was in progress.

Like HipChat, Stride will offer file sharing, video and voice calling, the ability to search previous messages and the ability to view images, which can also be annotated. Stride will also offer screen sharing, and remote-control access across multi-platform devices, including iOS, Android and Chrome.

While both HipChat and Stride are enterprise communication products, Stride brings together video/audio conferencing and collaboration tools “to offer the most complete communications tool on the market,” said Steve Goldsmith, general manager at Atlassian.

 

Best Buy Latest To Halt Sales Of Kasperky Products

September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Best Buy Co, the No.1 U.S. electronics retailer, is halting sales Kaspersky Lab’s cyber security products, both in stores and online, amid concerns that the Moscow-based firm may be vulnerable to Russian government influence.

Best Buy felt there were “too many unanswered questions” and so decided to discontinue selling the antivirus products, said U.S. newspaper StarTribune, which first reported the retailer’s decision, citing a source familiar with the matter.

A Best Buy spokeswoman confirmed the report but declined to provide further details.

A U.S. Congressional panel had asked government agencies to share documents on the cyber security firm, saying its products could be used to carry out “nefarious activities against the United States”, Reuters reported in July

The U.S. administration had in July removed Kaspersky from its lists of approved vendors used by government agencies to purchase technology equipment.

Kaspersky, which has denied ties with any government, said on Friday the companies had suspended their ties.

Is Mixed-Reality A Big Move For Microsoft

September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

2017 is shaping up to be perhaps the most important year ever for Microsoft’s ambitions as a consumer technology company.

The firm, which in recent years has struggled to balance its commitment to business solutions and cloud services against the often conflicting demands of being a consumer tech firm, is set to launch two major product lines this year – an update to the Xbox One console that is, in essence, an entirely new home console device, and a range of “Mixed Reality” headsets, controllers and certified PCs, which are being manufactured to Microsoft’s specs by some of the industry’s leading hardware firms.

Both of these are big launches, and each of them deserving of attention. On the surface, you might expect that Xbox One X – the new console – would be a far more mainstream prospect than a range of VR headsets, especially given how niche VR remains in spite of the buzz that’s been built up around it. Yet all of the signs point to Mixed Reality being Microsoft’s really big launch for 2017, and the one that may have the most impact on the company – and the whole technology industry – down the line, while Xbox One X is being positioned both by commentators and by the company itself as something of a niche device for a specific and limited audience.

In a sense, the direction being taken with these two devices is entirely different. Xbox One X takes an established platform (albeit one running a distant second behind Sony’s dominant PS4) and essentially creates a high-end “premium” version, with price tag to match. It doesn’t so much represent a turning point in Xbox strategy (there’s no surge in first-party software or major service launch to accompany it) as an appeal to the slim but high-value slice of the market for whom constant talk of 4K HDR screens and Dolby Atmos sound systems says “this is the best you can get,” as distinct from “this isn’t for the likes of you.”

On the other hand, Mixed Reality is all about the democratisation of a technology that’s often seemed inaccessible to average consumers. Its hardware specification calls for headsets with inside-out tracking (so no external cameras or sensors) which mount cameras on the front of the headset to track motion controllers – again, removing external sensors from the setup – while its business model aims to create a range of low-cost headsets by leveraging competition between manufacturers like Dell and Asus. The PC specs being certified for use with the headsets also promise relatively low cost of entry to consumers interested in VR.

In essence, Mixed Reality (which is a bit of a misnomer, as these first-generation headsets are not the bridging of VR and AR promised by the “Hololens” concept; they are VR headsets, pure and simple) is an extremely well-designed and technologically impressive mixture of the best parts of many VR approaches we’ve seen so far. It’s about as affordable as Sony’s PSVR and just as easy to set up (in fact, slightly more so, since PSVR still requires a single camera); yet it offers a technological fidelity that’s surprisingly close to that of Oculus and HTC’s pioneering headsets.

Working with firms like Dell ensures ubiquity, while Microsoft’s control of the Windows ecosystem ensures compatibility and ease of use, and the firm’s highly open approach with the standards it’s promoting – including supporting content from Steam from day one – is an enormous bonus. As the only console VR platform out there, and with Sony’s content support behind it, PSVR will continue to have a market, but anyone picking winners in the VR space right now is likely favouring Microsoft’s play in the long run, especially given its potential for non-gaming applications (which may yet turn out to be VR’s “killer app”). It’s notable that Sony’s small PSVR price-drop came this week just as Mixed Reality gear was being lauded at IFA in Berlin, though also notable that the company’s promised restocking of PSVR hardware into retail channels has still not come to pass.

The elephant in the room here needs addressing; why, given two hardware launches that seem so complementary, isn’t Xbox One X supporting Mixed Reality headsets out the gate? The door seemingly remains open to that possibility down the line, but thus far Microsoft’s two big consumer tech efforts of 2017 remain frustratingly separate. On paper, you’d imagine that launching the most powerful console ever with the ability to drive high-quality VR experiences through a range of new headsets would be a far more exciting prospect than simply updating the Xbox One to take advantage of some very, very expensive televisions; even if VR is more niche than console gaming right now, the prospects for growth in VR are huge and the chance for a firm like Microsoft to establish and own the standards that define an entire sector for years to come is surely too important to pass up.

Microsoft’s own position seems to express that sentiment; while Xbox One X is rolling out with very few major software releases to support it (essentially copying the low-key rollout of PS4 Pro), the upcoming slate of software supporting Mixed Reality is being talked up significantly and includes a Halo title from 343 Industries. For an Xbox console to launch without a Halo title in support, or even officially on the slate (though one will inevitably be forthcoming), while a different Microsoft product has a Halo title being talked up, is actually rather eye-opening.

The reason for Xbox One X not supporting Mixed Reality at the outset may be quite prosaic; Microsoft’s strategy for its headsets involves cooperation with hardware manufacturers who want to use Mixed Reality as a way to sell PCs. Those partners might be far cooler on being involved with this initiative if they felt that their PCs were going to have to compete with a partially-subsidised console being sold by Microsoft itself, and the exclusion of Xbox from the Mixed Reality ecosystem may (this is all speculation) have been a condition of the likes of Asus throwing full-throated support behind the new headsets.

If so, it may be a timed exclusion, with headset support coming to Xbox One X down the line; or it may be that this helps to explain why so much of Microsoft’s software approach for Xbox One appears to have shifted to being about well-optimised One and One X versions of Windows 10 software rather than console exclusives. This would potentially allow people with high-end home theatre setups to enjoy the best possible version on Xbox One X, while VR fans can enjoy the same software as optimised for Mixed Reality, and those with Xbox Ones or gaming PCs would enjoy their own tailored version. That fits well with Microsoft’s vision both for a contiguous ecosystem and for how cross-platform development should work, the inability to plug a headset into an Xbox being only a small wrinkle in this cloth.

While in the long run not a big deal, in terms of this year alone, the separation of headsets from console creates an odd tension in Microsoft’s line-up; Xbox One X may even find itself competing for Christmas dollars from the same set of consumers who are considering a Mixed Reality setup. With Switch also riding high in customer’s mindshare and PS4 continuing to steamroller ahead of the competition – not to mention major consumer electronics launches outside the gaming space, like Apple’s iPhone Pro or whatever they’re going to call it – this winter is going to be one of the most competitive ever in consumer technology, and Microsoft is entering the game with a hell of a strong hand.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 Moving Into The Camera Space

September 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon enables 360-degree 4K video capture and live-streaming, spatial “surround-sound” audio recording.

When launched in 2013, the Ricoh Theta was the world’s first 360-degree, single-shot camera, which easily let users capture and express themselves in new and unique ways. 360-degree still photos and videos redefined photography by giving the viewer the ability to control what he or she sees in a scene. In addition, the resulting 360-degree images were easily shared with others, allowing them to virtually experience a scene.

Today, Ricoh Imaging announced its latest update in the 360-degree camera line, the Ricoh Theta V camera, offering 360-degree 4K video capture and live-streaming, spatial “surround-sound” audio recording and high-speed image transfer.  The Theta V can connect to and be controlled by any Android or iOS-based smartphone or tablet using the Theta S app. The first type of connection is either via Bluetooth low energy (BLE), which enables an “always on” connection between a camera and phone.  The second uses Wi-Fi.  Supporting two connections allow for  greater flexibility in how they wirelessly control the camera and upload images through the Theta S app. The processor powering the camera is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, and makes use of the Qualcomm Connected Camera Platform.  There is 19GB of built-in storage which allows for up to 4,800 stills and approximately 40 minutes of 4K (H.264) video to be stored.

In addition to standard features, the Ricoh Theta V is the first Street View Mobile Ready camera to be certified by Google. This distinction means that Ricoh Theta V owners will be the first to experience the all-new auto mode, which lets you create Google Street View imagery while you walk, bike or even drive.

The Ricoh Theta V is available for pre-sale today for $429.95 at www.us.ricoh-imaging.com and retail outlets in the USA. The 3D Microphone TA-1 is also available today for $269.99, and the Underwater Case TW-1 will be available in October for $199.95.

Courtesy-Fud

Waze Carpool App Looks To Aid Hurricane Harvey Victims

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Texans and Louisiana residents affected by Hurricane Harvey can now help each other get around for free with the Waze Carpool app.

Waze announced its carpool app, which usually connects commuters heading to work with a ride, will be available in parts of Texas and Louisana that were affected by Hurricane Harvey. If people have a car with an open seat available, they’ll be able to offer it to other Waze Carpool users who are heading in the same direction. Similarly, people without transportation can request a ride, and they’ll be matched up with an empty seat.

Waze has also set up a Facebook Group to help work together to overcome the loss of 1 million cars and 60,000 damaged structures. Waze is also asking app users to assist their real-time editors in keeping the map up-to-date by calling out road closures, hazards and traffic as it occurs.

Julie Mossler, a spokesperson for Waze, said it’s too early to know if it’s necessary or possible to open up the carpool app in Florida for Hurricane Irma.

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