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Flickering Hard Drive LED Can Be Used By Hackers

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

The mostly ignored blinking lights on servers and desktop PCs may give away secrets if a hacker can hijack them with malware.

Researchers in Israel have come up with an innovative hack that turns a computer’s LED light into a signaling system that shows passwords and other sensitive data.

The researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev demonstrated the hack in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. It shows a hacked computer broadcasting the data through a computer’s LED light, with a drone flying nearby reading the pattern.

The researchers designed the scheme to underscore vulnerabilities of air-gapped systems, or computers that have been intentionally disconnected from the internet.

Air-gapped systems generally carry highly confidential information or operate critical infrastructure. But the researchers have been coming up with sneaky ways to extract data from these computers, like using the noise from the PC’s fan or hard drive to secretly broadcast the information to a nearby smartphone.

Their latest hack leverages the LED activity light for the hard disk drive, which can be found on many servers and desktop PCs and is used to indicate when memory is read or written.

The researchers found that with malware, they could control the LED light to emit binary signals by flashing on and off. That flickering could send out a maximum of 4,000 bits per second, or enough to leak out passwords, encryption keys and files, according to their paper. It’s likely no one would notice anything wrong.

“The hard drive LED flickers frequently, and therefore the user won’t be suspicious about changes in its activity,” said Mordechai Guri, who led the research, in a statement.

To read the signals from the LED light, all that’s needed is a camera or an optical sensor to record the patterns. The researchers found they could read the signal from 20 meters away from outside a building. With an optical zoom lens, that range could be even longer.

It wouldn’t be easy for hackers to pull off this trick. They’d have to design malware to control the LED light and then somehow place it on an air-gapped system, which typically is heavily protected.

They’d also need to find a way to read the signals from the LED light. To do so, a bad actor might hijack a security camera inside the building or fly a drone to spy through a window at night.

However, the danger of an LED light being hijacked can be easy to solve. The researchers recommend placing a piece of tape over the light, or disconnecting it from the computer.

Google’s Jigsaw Rolls Out Initiative To Combat Online Abuse

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google and subsidiary Jigsaw rolled out a new technology to aid news organizations and online platforms  in identifying abusive comments on their websites.

The technology, called Perspective, will review comments and score them based on how similar they are to comments people said were “toxic” or likely to make them leave a conversation.

It has been tested on the New York Times and the companies hope to extend it to other news organizations such as The Guardian and The Economist as well as websites.

“News organizations want to encourage engagement and discussion around their content, but find that sorting through millions of comments to find those that are trolling or abusive takes a lot of money, labor, and time. As a result, many sites have shut down comments altogether,” Jared Cohen, President of Jigsaw, which is part of Alphabet, wrote in a blog post.

“But they tell us that isn’t the solution they want. We think technology can help.”

Perspective examined hundreds of thousands of comments that had been labeled as offensive by human reviewers to learn how to spot potentially abusive language.

CJ Adams, Jigsaw Product Manager, said the company was open to rolling out the technology to all platforms, including larger ones such as Facebook and Twitter  where trolling can be a major headache.

The technology could in the future be expanded to trying to identify personal attacks or off-topic comments too, Cohen said.

Perspective will not decide what to do with comments it finds are potentially abusive; rather publishers will be able to flag them to their moderators or develop tools to help comment understand the impact of what they are writing.

Cohen said a significant portion of abusive comments came from people who were “just having a bad day”.

The initiative against trolls follows efforts by Google and Facebook to combat fake news stories in France, Germany and the United States after they came under fire during the U.S. presidential vote when it became clear they had inadvertently fanned false news reports.

The debate surrounding fake news has led to calls from politicians for social networks to be held more liable for the content posted on their platforms.

The Perspective technology is still in its early stages and “far from perfect”, Cohen said, adding he hoped it could be rolled out for languages other than English too.

Linux To Support Virtual GPUs

February 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

pen source’s Mr Sweary Linus Torvalds announced the general availability of the Linux 4.10 kernel series, which includes virtual GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) support.

Linus wrote in the announcement, adding “On the whole, 4.10 didn’t end up as small as it initially looked”.

The kernel has a lot of improvements, security features, and support for the newest hardware components which makes it more than just a normal update.

Most importantly there is support for virtual GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) support, new “perf c2c” tool that can be used for analysis of cacheline contention on NUMA systems, support for the L2/L3 caches of Intel processors (Intel Cache Allocation Technology), eBPF hooks for cgroups, hybrid block polling, and better writeback management.

A new “perf sched timehist” feature has been added in Linux kernel 4.10 to provide detailed history of task scheduling, and there’s experimental writeback cache and FAILFAST support for MD RAID5.

It looks like Ubuntu 17.04 will be the first stable OS to ship with Linux 4.10.

Courtesy-Fud

New Qualcomm, Intel Modems Boasts LTE Speeds Greater Than 1Gbps

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

With every new generation of smartphone, LTE connections gain more speed. That’s because the devices have faster modems that can transfer data at previously unheard of download speeds.

The top modem providers are Intel and Qualcomm, whose cellular chips are used in the iPhone. Both have announced modems that will push LTE connections to speeds well over those of regular home internet connections.

Qualcomm unveiled the X20 LTE chipset, which can transfer data at speeds of up to 1.2Gbps. Intel announced the XMM 7560 LTE modem, which can download data at speeds of up to 1Gbps.

However, cellular networks aren’t yet designed to handle such fast speeds. One exception is Telstra, an Australian telecommunications company, which has launched a gigabit LTE service for commercial use in that country.

Gigabit LTE will slowly start appearing in mobile devices and networks this year, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“This is making 4G what it was intended to be — a true wireless broadband solution,” McGregor said.

These performance bumps are important as users handle more data,  McGregor said.

“We’ve seen this with microprocessors for years,” McGregor said.

Qualcomm said its Snapdragon X20 modem will become available next year, and McGregor estimated it will be in devices soon after. Intel said its XMM 7560 is ready, but couldn’t say when handsets would come out.

Most users may not need LTE speeds of 1.2Gbps, especially when using apps like Uber, Snapchat and WhatsApp. But more PCs are getting LTE connectivity, and could use the speed for high-end applications.

Qualcomm, a modem pioneer, is trying to stay a step ahead of Intel in the rat race to rev up LTE modems. Intel is speeding up modem development as wireless connectivity becomes an essential part of computing, said Aicha Evans, senior vice president and general manager of the Communication and Devices Group at Intel.

he new modems are also a stepping stone to 5G, the next-generation cellular network technology that Evans estimated could deliver speeds of more than 45Gbps. Beyond mobile devices, 5G will be used for machine-to-machine communications and will be a standard feature in a wide range of devices including PCs, robots, drones and internet of things devices.

The Snapdragon X20 LTE chipset is a CAT 18 modem and supports a wide range of cellular technologies that could make it work in most countries worldwide. The chip supports carrier aggregation and data transfers over multiple streams. It works with 40 cellular frequency bands and supports technologies like Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and LTE broadcast.

Intel’s XMM 7560 is a CAT 16 modem and supports carrier aggregation across multiple spectrums. The chip maker has already readied its first 5G modem, and the company now says it has silicon ready for that chip.

Facebook Pursuing Deal To Live Stream MLB Baseball Games

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is currently negotiating with Major League Baseball to live stream one game per week during the upcoming season, which could be a key win as the social media platform works to offer more live sports, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Facebook has pushed to sign deals with owners of sports rights to live stream their games, going after an audience that competitor Twitter Inc is also trying to capture, according to sports media consultants.

For social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, live streaming sports is key to attracting people since sports is one of the few types of content that people still watch live.

“Facebook is aggressively going after sports content and they are now one of a number of competitors to traditional media outlets that are going after sports programming,” said sports media consultant Lee Berke. “It makes perfect sense that they would be going after name brand properties like the MLB.”

The companies were in advanced talks, according to one source. It was unclear which games MLB would live stream on Facebook. A representative for Facebook and MLB declined to comment.

By partnering with Facebook, MLB would get access to a young audience at a massive scale, consultants said.

The size of Facebook’s reach was a big reason Univision Communications Inc decided to use Facebook Live to live stream Mexican soccer matches in English, said Tonia O’Connor, chief commercial officer and president of content distribution at Univision.

Under that deal, Facebook will live stream 46 matches by Mexican soccer league Liga MX in 2017. Terms were not disclosed.

Over the past few months, Facebook has live streamed global basketball and soccer matches and table tennis.

Is The Independent Game Developers Future Bleak

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Never more than a stopgap that was hugely inadequate to the gap in question, Steam Greenlight is finally set to disappear entirely later this Spring. The service has been around for almost five years, and while it was largely greeted with enthusiasm, the reality has never justified that optimism. The amassing of community votes for game approval turned out to be no barrier to all manner of grafters who launched unfinished, amateurish games (even using stolen assets in some cases) on the service, but enough of a barrier to be frustrating and annoying for many genuine indie developers. As an attempt to figure out how to prevent a storefront from drowning in the torrent of rubbish that has flooded the likes of the App Store and Google Play, it was a worthy experiment, but not one that ought to have persisted for five years, really.

Moreover, Greenlight isn’t disappearing because Valve has solved this problem to its satisfaction. The replacement, Direct, is in some regards a step backwards; it’ll see developers being able to publish directly on the system simply by confirming their identity (company or personal) through submission of business documents and paying a fee for each game they submit. The fee in question hasn’t been decided yet, but Valve says it’s thinking about everything from $100 to $5000.

The impact of Direct is going to depend heavily on what that fee ends up being. It’s worth noting that developers for iOS, for example, already pay around $100 a year to be part of Apple’s developer programme, and trawling through the oceans of unloved and unwanted apps released on the App Store every day shows just how little that $100 price does to dissuade the worst kind of shovelware. At $5000, meanwhile, quite a lot of indie developers will find themselves priced out of Steam, especially those at the more arthouse end of the scene, or new creators getting started out. Ironically, though, the chances are that many of the cynical types behind borderline-scam games with ripped off assets and design will calculate that $5000 is a small price to pay for a shot at sales on Steam, especially if the high fees are thinning out the number of titles launching.

It’s worth noting that, for the majority of Steam’s consumers, the loss of arthouse indie games and fringe titles from new creators won’t be of huge concern. Steam, like all storefronts, sells huge numbers at the top end and that falls off rapidly as you come down the charts; the number of consumers who are actively engaging with smaller niche titles on the service is pretty small. However, that doesn’t mean that locking out those creators wouldn’t be damaging – both creatively and commercially.

Plenty of creators are actually making a living at the low end of the market; they’re not making fortunes or buying gigantic mansions to hang around being miserable in, but they’re making enough money from their games to sustain themselves and keep up their output. Often, they’re working in niches that have small audiences of devoted fans, and locking them out of Steam with high submission costs would both rob them of their income (there are quite a few creators out there for whom $5000 represents a large proportion of their average revenue from a game) and rob audiences of their output, or at least force them to look elsewhere.

Sometimes, a game from a creator like that becomes a break-out hit, the game the whole world is talking about for months on end – sometimes, but not very often. It’s tempting to argue that Steam should be careful about its “low-end” indies (a term I use in the commercial sense, not as any judgement of quality; there’s great, great stuff lurking around the bottom of the charts) because otherwise it risks missing the Next Big Thing, but that’s not really a good reason. Steam is just about too big to ignore, and the Next Big Thing will almost certainly end up on the platform anyway.

Rather, the question is over what Valve wants Steam to be. If it’s a platform for distributing big games to mainstream consumers, okay; it is what it is. If they’re serious about it being a broad church, though, an all-encompassing platform where you can flick seamlessly between AAA titles with budgets in the tens of millions and arthouse, niche games made as a labour of love by part-timers or indie dreamers, then Direct as described still doesn’t solve the essential conflict in that vision.

In replacing publishers with a storefront through which creators can directly launch products to consumers, Valve and other store operators have asserted the value of pure market forces over curation – the fine but flawed notion of greatness rising to the top while bad quality products sink to the bottom simply through the actions of consumers making buying choices. This, of course, doesn’t work in practice, partially because in the real world free markets are enormously constrained and distorted by factors like the paucity of information (a handful of screenshots and a trailer video doth not a perfectly informed and rational purchasing decision make), and more importantly because free markets can’t actually make effective assessments of something as subjective as the quality of a game.

Thus, even as their stores have become more and more inundated with tides of low quality titles – perhaps even to the extent of snuffing out genuinely good quality games – store operators have tried to apply algorithmic wizardry to shore up marketplaces they’ve created. Users can vote, and rate things; elements of old-fashioned curation have even been attempted, with rather limited success. Tweaks have been applied to the submission process at one end and the discovery process at the other. Nothing, as yet, presents a very satisfying solution.

One interesting possibility is that we’re going to see the pendulum start to swing back a little – from the extreme position of believing that Steam and its ilk would make publishers obsolete, to the as yet untested notion that digital storefronts will ultimately do a better job of democratising publishing than they have done of democratising development. We’ve already seen the rise of a handful of “boutique” publishers who specialise in working with indie developers to get their games onto digital platforms with the appropriate degree of PR and marketing support; if platforms like Steam start to put up barriers to entry, we can expect a lot more companies like that to spring up to act as middlemen.

Like the indie developers themselves, some will cater to specific niches, while others will be more mainstream, but ultimately they will all serve a kind of curation role; their value will lie not just in PR, marketing and finance, but also in the ability to say to platforms and consumers that somewhere along the line, a human being has looked at a game in depth and said “yes, this is a good game and we’re willing to take a risk on it.” There’s a value to that simple function that’s been all too readily dismissed in the excitement over Steam, the App Store and so on, and as issues of discovery and quality continue to plague those storefronts, that value is only becoming greater.

Whatever Valve ultimately decides to do with Direct – whether it sets a low price that essentially opens the floodgates, or a high one that leaves some developers unable to afford the cost of entry – it will not provide a panacea to Steam’s issues. It might, however, lay the ground for a fresh restructuring of the industry, one that returns emphasis to the publishing functions that were trampled underfoot in the initial indie gold-rush and, into the bargain, helps to provide consumers with clearer assurances of quality. A new breed of publisher may be the only answer to the problems created by storefronts we were once told were going to make publishers extinct.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is The U.S. Tech Industry Headed In A Downward Spin?

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Layoffs at computer, electronics, and telecommunications companies rose by 21 percent last year.

Beancounters at the global outplacement outfit Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that more than 96,017 US jobs were cut in 2016, compared to 79,315 the prior year.

Tech layoffs accounted for 18 percent of the total 526,915 US job cuts announced in 2016.

Of the 2016 total, some 66,821of the layoffs came from computer companies, up seven percent year over year.

Challenger attributed much of that increase to cuts made by Dell which merged with EMC. In preparation for that combination, layoffs were instituted across EMC and its constituent companies, including VMware.

But Dell was not entirely to blame Intel, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft all saw the mighty HR axeman coming down the corridors.

For example, Chipzilla’s move to axe 12,000 people or 11 percent of its workforce—was made because the company has struggled in the mobile device market.

John Challenger, chief executive of the outplacement firm added that the networking giant Cisco cut 5,500 jobs or 7 per cent of its headcount to better compete with cloud competitors like Amazon Web Services.

It does not look like things are going to get much better either. The industry is gutting itself as companies shift focus to cloud-based computing and mobile systems, Challenger warned.

Courtesy-Fud

Are Low Profile Radeon RX 460 Forthcoming?

February 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

MSI has unveiled yet another HTPC-friendly graphics card, the low-profile Radeon RX 460 that will comes in both 2GB and 4GB versions.

Featuring a dual-slot, low-profile, dual-fan cooler and a low-profile PCB to match, both the MSI RX 460 2GT LP and 4GT LP graphics card will be working at reference 1090MHz GPU base and 1200MHz GPU Boost clocks with GDDR5 memory working at 1750MHz on a 128-bit memory interface.

It also comes with single DVI and one HDMI display outputs.

In case you missed it, the Radeon RX 460 is based on AMD’s Polaris 11 GPU with 896 Stream Processors, 48 TMUs and 16 ROPs and should pack enough punch for a decent casual gaming experience.

Unfortunately, the price or the availability date have not been revealed but we are sure these two will appear in retail/e-tail soon at around US $100/€100.

Courtesy-Fud

Toshiba Wants Nearly $9B For Memory Chip Business

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Japan’s Toshiba Corp wished to receive at least 1 trillion yen ($8.8 billion) by selling most of its flash memory chip business, seeking to create a buffer for any fresh financial problems, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The beleaguered conglomerate was pressured to abandon an initial plan to sell just under 20 percent by its main creditor banks which are worried about potential writedowns that may come on top of $6.3 billion hit to its U.S. nuclear unit, financial sources also said.

Toshiba said last week it is now prepared to sell a majority stake or even all of its chip business, the world’s biggest NAND chip producer after Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, also rocked by the emergence of fresh problems at its Westinghouse unit that have delayed the release of earnings.

The company has not decided on the size of the stake to be sold, preferring to focus on the amount that can be raised but would like to retain a one-third holding as that would give it a degree of control over the business, the source with direct knowledge said.

Its willingness to relinquish so much of the unit underscores not only the depths of its financial woes but also resignation on the part of management to becoming a much smaller company.

The sale “is the best and the only way Toshiba can raise a large amount of funds and wipe out concerns about its credit risk,” said the source, adding that the sale should be completed by the end of March next year.

It wants to restart the sale process as soon as possible and may sell to multiple buyers rather than one bidder with interest already received from investment funds, other chipmakers and client companies, he also said.

A separate person with knowledge of the matter said Toshiba will outline terms of the sale by the end of February, conduct a first round of bids in March and aim to have chosen a preferred bidder or bidders by the end of May. The person also said Toshiba valued the chips business at around 1.5 trillion yen.

A Toshiba spokeswoman said the company cannot comment on the specifics of the sale process. Sources declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

EU Data Protection Advocates Still Unhappy With Windows 10 Privacy Settings

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

European Union data protection watchdogs are indicating they are still concerned about the privacy settings of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system despite the U.S. company announcing changes to the installation process.

The watchdogs, a group made up of the EU’s 28 authorities responsible for enforcing data protection law, wrote to Microsoft last year expressing concerns about the default installation settings of Windows 10 and users’ apparent lack of control over the company’s processing of their data.

The group – referred to as the Article 29 Working Party -asked for more explanation of Microsoft’s processing of personal data for various purposes, including advertising.

“In light of the above, which are separate to the results of ongoing inquiries at a national level, even considering the proposed changes to Windows 10, the Working Party remains concerned about the level of protection of users’ personal data,” the group said in a statement which also acknowledged Microsoft’s willingness to cooperate.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment.

A number of national authorities have already begun enquiries into Windows 10, including France which in July ordered Microsoft to stop collecting excessive user data.

The EU privacy group said that despite a new installation screen presenting users with five options to limit or switch off Microsoft’s processing of their data, it was not clear to what extent users would be informed about the specific data being collected.

Microsoft uses data collected through Windows 10 for different purposes, including advertising, the group said in its statement said.

“Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes. Without such information, consent cannot be informed, and therefore, not valid.”

TransferWise Users Can Now Send Cash Via Facebook Messenger

February 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Money transfer company TransferWise debuted a new service that allows users to send money internationally through Facebook Inc’s chat application, as competition in the digital payments landscape intensifies.

The London-based startup said on Tuesday that it had developed a Facebook Messenger “chatbot”, or an automated program that can help users communicate with businesses and carry out tasks such as online purchases.

TransferWise’s chatbot enables customers to send money to friends and family to and from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and Europe from Facebook Messenger. It can also be used to set up exchange rate alerts.

Facebook already allows its users to send money domestically in the United States via its Messenger app, but has not yet launched similar services internationally. TransferWise said its service will be the first to enable international money transfers entirely within Messenger.

Facebook opened up its Messenger app to developers to create chatbots in April in a bid to expand its reach in customer service and enterprise transactions.

Chatbots have become a hot topic in enterprise technology over the past year because recent advances in artificial intelligence have made them better at interacting. Businesses, including banks, are hoping that they can be used to improve and reduce the cost of their customer service operations.

One of Europe’s most well-known fintech companies, TransferWise was launched in 2011 by Estonian friends Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann out of frustration with the high fees they were being charged by banks for international money transfers.

The company, which is valued at more than $1 billion, is backed by several high profile investors including Silicon Valley venture fund Andreessen Horowitz, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, and PayPal co-founders Max Levchin and Peter Thiel, through his fund Valar Ventures.

Customers in more than 50 countries send roughly $1 billion through its website every month.

While the TransferWise chatbot is now only available in Facebook Messenger it can be adapted to work with other popular chat services, Scott Miller, head of global partnerships for TransferWise said. He said the service would eventually be extended to work in other countries and money transfer routes that the company operates in.

Alibaba Goes Deeper Into Brick-and-mortar Retail

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd announced that it has  formed a strategic partnership with Bailian Group, the largest retailer by store numbers to join the e-commerce giant’s drive to use big data to improve and profit from brick-and-mortar sales.

The deal, which does not include any financial investment in Bailian, is the latest in Alibaba’s still nascent efforts to capture a bigger share of the retail market as online sales growth slows.

It has also spent $4.6 billion on a minority stake in appliances retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, is leading a $2.6 billion bid to take department store and shopping mall operator Intime Retail Group Co Ltd private and has bought a stake in grocery chain Sanjiang Shopping Club Co Ltd.

News of the agreement sent shares in Bailian Group firms surging but analysts cautioned it may take several years before returns from using big data can make a significant difference to earnings.

“There is a big push right now across brands to try and figure out how to mix physical and online shopping but gains so far have been limited,” said Shanghai-based retail analyst Ben Cavender at China Market Research Group.

The two firms will initially cooperate on supply chain technology using Alibaba’s big data capabilities and will integrate Alipay payments with Bailian Group’s existing membership program.

Bailian operates 4,700 outlets in 200 cities including supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies – more than double the stores owned by Suning, Intime and Sanjiang combined.

An Alibaba spokesman declined to comment on how many stores will be involved in the new partnership. A Bailian spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Alibaba, which has an active user base of around 500 million, has said it wants to tap China’s entire $4.8 trillion retail economy by developing data-driven management tools for retailers and brands.

China’s e-commerce market is expected to average around 18 percent annually until 2020, according to consultancy Bain & Company, compared with an average rate of 35 percent during the preceding four years.

And while e-commerce has seen phenomenal growth in China, brick-and-mortar sales still accounted for 84 percent of total retail sales in China last year, Bain said.

Among Bailian Group firms, shares in Shanghai Bailian Group Co Ltd were up by the 10 percent daily limit in afternoon trade. Lianhua Supermarket Holdings Co Ltd rose 7 percent and Shanghai Material Trading Co Ltd climbed 5 percent.

Snapchat Wants In On Hardware Development Too

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Snap Inc hit the roads of London on Monday promoting its initial public offering with a daring proposition: that it can build hot-selling hardware gadgets and ad-friendly software features fast enough to stay one step ahead of Facebook.

No longer just a purveyor of a smartphone app for disappearing messages, Snap has hired hundreds of hardware engineers, built a secretive product development lab and scoured the landscape for acquisitions as it pursues its newly stated ambition to be “a camera company.”

These efforts, which are aimed at developing hardware and so-called augmented reality technologies, are central to the strategy of a company that is seeking a valuation of up to $22 billion in its early March IPO despite heavy losses and the specter of stiff competition for advertising dollars with a far-larger Facebook.

It is a big gamble and the odds against Snap are long.

There is little precedent for a company with its roots in software and social networking succeeding in the notoriously difficult consumer hardware business. Few U.S. firms aside from Apple have made big profits on hardware, and camera and wearable gadget makers have much lower valuations than Snap is seeking. Once-hot camera start-up GoPro  is a cautionary tale: its stock sits 61 percent below its 2014 IPO price.

More broadly, creating new products and features that have mass-market appeal and cannot be readily mimicked is a huge challenge, analysts say.

“It’s worrisome,” said Paul Meeks, chief investment officer at Sloy, Dahl & Holst, which manages more than $1 billion in assets. “Snapchat is going to have to continue to be really innovative and distinctive. It’s going to be very tough to trump Facebook.”

Snap declined to comment for this story.

Snap first signaled its new focus with the September reveal of Spectacles, funky sunglasses with an embedded video camera for posting to the Snapchat app. The company spent $184 million on research and development last year, nearly half its revenue.

 

GM To Partner With Lyft, Will Deploy Thousands Of Self-driving Bolt Cars

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

General Motors Co plans to add thousands of self-driving electric cars in a series of test fleets in partnership with ride-sharing affiliate Lyft Inc, beginning in 2018, two sources familiar with the automaker’s plans said this week.

It is expected to be the largest such test of fully autonomous vehicles by any major automaker before 2020, when several companies have said they plan to begin building and deploying such vehicles in higher volumes. Alphabet Inc’s Waymo subsidiary, in comparison, is currently testing about 60 self-driving prototypes in four states.

Most of the specially equipped versions of the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle will be used by San Francisco-based Lyft, which will test them in its ride-sharing fleet in several states, one of the sources said. GM has no immediate plans to sell the Bolt AV to individual customers, according to the source.

The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because GM has not announced its plans yet.

GM executives have said in interviews and investor presentations during the past year they intend to mass-produce autonomous vehicles and deploy them in ride services fleets. However, GM officials have not revealed details of the scale of production, or the timing of the deployment of those vehicles.

In a statement on Friday, GM said: “We do not provide specific details on potential future products or technology rollout plans. We have said that our AV technology will appear in an on-demand ride sharing network application sooner than you might think.”

Lyft declined to comment.

PC Pricing Continue To Rise, Highest Increase Since 2011

February 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

PC prices are headed upward due to a shortage of a number of components, and the situation isn’t expected to change in the coming quarters.

A shortage of DRAM, SSDs, batteries, and LCDs have conspired to drive up PC prices, Gianfranco Lanci, corporate president and chief operating officer at Lenovo, said during an earnings call last Thursday. It’s difficult to pin a number on the price increase because of the number of PC configurations available.

The cost of purchasing these components is going up, which is triggering PC prices to also rise, said Lanci, a PC industry veteran. The shortage of components like memory will continue, Lanci said.

As component supplies shrink, PC prices will rise, said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. Moreover, PC makers are raising prices to squeeze more profits out of the shrinking PC market, Kitagawa said.

The PC buyer profile is also changing, with gamers and millennials willing to spend more money on PCs.

That’s changing the mix of laptops, desktops, and 2-in-1s being shipped by PC makers, who are focused on selling higher-priced products that can deliver better margins.

But low-cost PCs won’t go away, Kitagawa said. There will always be cheap laptops available, though those markets aren’t growing and not attractive to PC makers.

Basic configurations of PCs remain affordable, but some PC makers are limiting customization, forcing users to buy additional components in certain configurations.

 

A chart shown at an Intel investor conference last week showed PC selling prices reaching its highest since 2011, when a decline in PC shipments started.

Intel is also selling chips at higher prices, which is adding to PC costs. Intel PC chip prices went up by 7 percent in 2016, but the company also sold more Core i7 chips as sales of gaming and VR systems increased.

Analyst firm TrendForce predicted SSD prices would go up in the first quarter of this year, continuing a trend from the previous quarters. SSD adoption, as a replacement for hard drives, is growing, but the supply of NAND flash has tightened, which is driving up prices.

The price of DRAM is also going up because of shortages. Memory is a boom-or-bust market and extremely volatile with prices falling drastically when DRAM floods the market.

PC DRAM prices went up by 30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to the third quarter, TrendForce said in a statement this week.

TrendForce is predicting that DRAM prices may increase by up to 40 percent in the first quarter, due to undersupply. The news isn’t any better looking forward.

“Rising prices are expected for the second quarter as well,” said Avril Wu, research director of DRAMeXchange, which is a part of TrendForce and tracks component pricing.

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