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Is Virtual Reality Diverging

July 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Last week, Bandai Namco opened the world’s largest VR arcade in Tokyo – specifically in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, a rapidly gentrifying red-light district that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s played games in the Yakuza series.

VR Zone Shinjuku, as the huge facility is called, is set to operate for at least two years; it follows a more short-lived VR arcade popup on the other side of the city last summer. Bandai Namco reckons the new facility can handle about 1500 visitors per day, and while tickets are somewhat expensive (approaching $50 for a pass that lets you play a handful of games), the impressive line-up of Japan’s most beloved pop culture IP that the company has built its VR experiences around means it won’t want for customers. Mario Kart, Evangelion, Gundam, Ghost in the Shell and Dragonball Z are among the properties with unique VR versions at the arcade – catnip for both Japanese customers and many tourists alike.

Only a few days later, another development at quite the other end of the VR scale; hand-tracking technology firm Leap Motion received a fresh investment of $50 million, which will fund further development of hardware and software designed to translate precise hand and finger movements into virtual space. Leap Motion’s existing hardware can be used essentially in two ways – as a small box that creates a virtual space above a desk in which hand movement is tracked, or stuck to the front of a VR headset to track a user’s hand movements wherever they turn.

“We’re rapidly heading back into territory the games industry hasn’t been in for more than two decades – a situation where the kind of experiences that can be provided in an out-of-home arcade setting are materially, significantly different from those you can have at home”

What’s interesting about these two news stories – otherwise related only by the VR buzzword – is the divergent paths they imply, at least in terms of the scale of the VR experience.

VR Zone is a big building (dwarfed admittedly by nearby hotels and the gigantic Toho Cinema complex across the square) whose games take up a lot of space; each is room-scale at minimum, with custom controllers, special rigs to sit in or attach yourself to, and in the case of its Ghost in the Shell game, an expansive play area for players to move around in that’s all wired up for VR. The vast majority of the experiences you’ll have in VR Zone (which Bandai Namco hopes to roll out in other cities and countries eventually) are experiences that the vast, vast majority of consumers will never have on a home VR setup of any kind.

Leap Motion, on the other hand, is building technology that’s suggestive of a different future. It’s not that their technology couldn’t be integrated into room-scale VR in some fashion; rather, it’s that it strongly hints at a future where VR hardware is far more small-scale and far less intrusive. One can think of Leap Motion’s hand tracker as being ideal for “desk-scale VR”, where the objective is to manipulate objects (for work or play) in a VR or AR space that’s pretty much fixed to within a square metre or so; or for “sofa-scale VR”, experiences that see the player staying pretty much still apart from head and hand motions. It’s pretty much the far end of the spectrum from the “room-scale VR” people will queue up for at VR Zone, or even the “arena-scale VR” offered by the Ghost in the Shell combat game.

Recognizing the divergence between these scales is important, I think, for a realistic understanding of where VR is headed and how it can fit alongside the rest of the industry. There’s been a lot of fuss and noise around room-scale VR setups ostensibly aimed at the home – but it’s extremely hard to see these ever being anything more than an absolutely tiny niche within a niche. Room-scale VR requires rigging sensors around a dedicated space, and even as the technology improves and eliminates wires, it’s going to run into the same essential problem that Kinect had in all of its iterations – most people, especially outside US suburbs, do not have enough space in their home for this kind of setup, let alone enough space to devote an area to VR on a regular enough basis to make it worthwhile. Even those who do will only be getting a bare-bones version of the kind of experiences VR Zone and its ilk will provide; one interesting thing about those experiences is just how much custom hardware is set up for each individual game.

In other words, we’re rapidly heading back into territory the games industry hasn’t been in for more than two decades – a situation where the kind of experiences that can be provided in an out-of-home arcade setting are materially, significantly different from those you can have at home. The sort of games you’ll be playing with a Leap Motion equipped headset, or a PlayStation VR rig, are simply not going to be the same as the sort of games you’ll be playing in arcades; the physical difference between these settings is going to ensure that games are not simply ported across from one to the other, but developed explicitly with a target “scale” in mind. There will in essence be two different VR platforms, not in the sense that Vive and Oculus are different platforms, but in a much more fundamental sense; out-of-home and in-home VR will share some technology but develop along divergent lines.

It’s even possible that we’ll see one thrive while the other withers; it’s worth noting that even with the relative success of PSVR, the existence of a major home market for VR remains largely hypothetical, and the paradigm of being “something you go to do with friends” rather than “something you do in your living room” could easily be the one that takes off. Meanwhile, desk-scale VR/AR tech like Leap Motion could well turn out to be more suited, in commercial terms, to workplaces than to entertainment.

“If VR Zone Shinjuku’s initial two-year run is a success, the company may indeed have a formula that will achieve something long thought impossible – a revival of interest in arcades and a boost for the commercial fortunes of out-of-home gaming”

The rapid pace of change and advancement in VR technology – the displays and the various motion tracking, control and feedback systems which surround them – made it somewhat inevitable that there would be a settling process as the market figured out what to actually do with all this new tech. That’s what we’re in the middle of right now; VR exists, it works and it’s really pretty impressive – now we have to work out in what contexts people want to experience it and, arguably even more important, what they’re willing to pay for. High-powered gaming PCs with expensive headsets and room-scale sensor rigs are not a viable market; the question is to what extent you have to scale down that ambition to get to something commercially sensible, and further, in what contexts you can actually use all that cool tech to build something different.

PSVR looks like the sensible answer to the former question, for now, though what Leap Motion and other players are doing is also very interesting, and the question of whether it’s workplace applications, entertainment applications or both that will drive small-scale VR is still an open one.

Meanwhile, Bandai Namco is the company making the most interesting attempts to answer the latter question. If VR Zone Shinjuku’s initial two-year run is a success, the company may indeed have a formula that will achieve something long thought impossible – a revival of interest in arcades and a boost for the commercial fortunes of out-of-home gaming. Even in Japan, arcades have largely been on life support, giving over more and more of their floor space to UFO Catcher crane games and sort-of-kind-of gambling games each year; VR Zone could be the most important shot in the arm for the sector in two decades.

No doubt other players in the VR space will be watching its fortunes closely; how it fares will help to define the commercial shape of the VR industry for years to come.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Will WhatsApp Face Competition From Amazon

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Just when you thought the messaging app market couldn’t get any more crowded, along come the rumors that Amazon wants a piece of the action.

According to AFTV News, Amazon has begun surveying customers about the new messaging service to gauge which features are most important them.

Called Anytime, the rumored app will apparently be a one-stop-shop focused on voice and video calls, alongside a photo sharing feature with @mentions, as well as some highly-original real-time filters for photos and video with “special effects and masks.”

So yes, that will almost definitely mean more basic dog-eared AR seflies *eyeroll emoji*.

If the rumors are true, the service would also keep chats private and allows users to “encrypt important messages like bank account details”, allowing them to converse with businesses, make reservations, and – in true Amazon style – virtually shop until they drop.

“Based on the images I’ve been provided, Anytime by Amazon seems to be an all-in-one feature rich service that could even rival social networks,” the AFTV report stated. “[It] will also provide tasks that can be done in groups, like playing games, listening to music, and ordering food.”

There’s no word on how long the app will take to get into the phone-wielding hands of the masses, but a customer said the survey implied it was “a ready product”.

Are you surprised that Amazon is making a move on the messaging app market? We’re certainly not. The firm is desperate to get in on any kind of action these days in its plan to take over the world and be the go-to for everything.

Don’t be shocked when the company launches its own dating service, where we would expect you could get a dinner date with Alexa as part of a Black Friday deal.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Virtual Reality To Expensive For The Masses

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The current generation of virtual reality is not dead, but it’s not exactly full of life, either. What once was a pulsating buzz has faded into the background of an industry, not because there are newer, shinier toys to play with, but simply because for all the newness and shine of VR, there has been little evidence that a significant audience exists for the experiences we can deliver at this time.

Earlier this week, Oculus instituted a temporary $200 price cut of the Rift, dropping the headset and its Touch controllers to a $400 bundle that comes packed with seven free games (including Lucky’s Tale, Medium, Toybox, and Robo Recall) and an Xbox One controller for good measure. That’s in addition to the $200 price cut Oculus rolled out in March for the headset and Touch combo, meaning the company has slashed the price by 50% in just four months.

On its own, this could actually be an encouraging sign, but taken in context of the rest of the news coming out of the VR sector, it’s more concerning than convincing. For one, Oculus looks to be bringing up the rear among the three major high-end VR options on the market, despite being a first mover and having the significant financial backing of Facebook. Through the first half of this year, tracking firm Superdata put the Rift’s installed base at just 383,000 units, compared to HTC Vive’s 667,000 units and PlayStation VR’s 1.8 million.

Even ignoring its relative sales position, Oculus is already in a tough spot in the enthusiast VR fight, technologically a step behind the more expensive Vive, but still more expensive (when considering the cost of a VR-capable PC) and less mass market than the PSVR. That’s a difficult problem for marketing anything, doubly so when what you’re selling is an experience that by its nature needs to be experienced to be fully understood, triply so when you’re drastically scaling back the number of demo units in retail locations where interested customers could get their first taste of VR.

I also question Oculus’ decision to shutter its in-house Story Studio, which was set up with Pixar veterans to show how VR could shift the medium of film as much as it could games. The studio’s Henry won an Emmy in 2016. Its follow-up, Dear Angelica, premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews and has been submitted for Emmy consideration at this year’s awards, which are still a few months away. In short, Story Studio was exactly the sort of investment in a potentially disruptive medium you would expect a company with long-term ambitions to keep. Instead, they cut it loose, with head of content Jason Rubin essentially saying it was time for external filmmakers to pick up the narrative VR ball (albeit with some $50 million in funding from Oculus).

There’s a bit of a theme there. Just a couple months before closing Story Studio, Rubin pointed out for GamesIndustry.biz at GDC that Facebook–and by extension, Oculus–isn’t a content creation company.

“Facebook’s not a media company,” Rubin said. “So there may be a day where Facebook says we’re going to head towards our core competency… That’s why I don’t have internal teams. I have exactly one group of three people besides Story Studios because that didn’t exist outside.”

Facebook didn’t pay $2 billion for Oculus in 2014 because it wanted to make games. It wanted VR to be a popular thing it could leverage for its social network. If HTC Vive or Sony or Microsoft can make VR work better than Oculus, that still gets VR where the social network wants it to be. That’s not ideal for Facebook, but after the Rift’s slow start, the hundreds of millions it already owes in court judgments, the hundreds of millions more it might be made to pay in the future, and seeing the face of the VR revolution leave under a cloud of controversy, one could understand if the company’s commitment to VR began to waver.

Speaking of the competition, I’m not terribly optimistic with what they’re bringing to the table. Sony’s PSVR is leading the pack, but I’m still skeptical whether the company’s interest in the hardware will be any longer lasting than its support for Vita, or Wonderbook, or PlayStation TV, or Move, or EyeToy, or stereoscopic 3D. Sony’s E3 conference featured some promising games in Polyarc’s Moss, two titles from Until Dawn developer Supermassive, and Skyrim VR, but little that stands out as a system-seller the way that Resident Evil 7, or even the prospect of last year’s Batman and Star Wars VR experiences might have. When asked at E3 about whether that lineup would boost PSVR adoption, Sony’s Jim Ryan was unsure.

“I think we are still really just learning about VR,” Ryan said. “When hopefully we meet in a year’s time, I will be able to give you a better answer to this question. It still won’t be a perfect answer, but I’ll know more.”

That’s not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence from PlayStation’s chief marketer. I’m not sure I want to bet the future health of VR on Sony’s continued support for a market that is (for now, at least) peripheral to its core business.

The situation with HTC and the Vive underscores another issue when trying to establish an emerging field like VR. Vive launched at the cutting edge, but since then has rolled out object tracker peripherals and a wireless adaptor, respectively giving developers more options and addressing a key complaint around high-end VR. In both cases, they would be better served as being part of the core hardware package rather than optional add-ons for what is already the most expensive option on the market. For the next generation of VR, perhaps they’ll be standard.

But who will invest in the next generation of enthusiast VR–on either the consumer side or the manufacturer side–if this generation disappoints? How long does a VR generation need to be before someone who spent $800 on a Vive (not to mention the cost of a VR-capable PC) feels they got their money’s worth and would re-up for a successor? How many great games does it need to have? How many generations does an HTC or Facebook need to take a bath on before the business turns around and justifies the continued investment?

Then there’s Microsoft, which will enter the fray this holiday season with its “mixed reality” VR headsets for Windows that are cheaper and require less of a set up than Oculus or Vive, but appear to make compromises on the technical side to get there. It’s telling that even with Microsoft launching the high-end, VR-capable Xbox One X this year, it is foregoing any sort of console VR push and relying on higher resolutions and better frame rates for Xbox One games as the sales pitch for a One X. Phil Spencer told us at E3 that VR was still years away from the mainstream for gamers, suggesting the company was waiting to launch its console VR until it had a proper wireless solution ready.

At this point, it seems more likely to me that the current enthusiast VR market is an expensive R&D exercise that won’t produce successful systems, but will lay the groundwork for the actual mass market VR, which will instead evolve both in audience and use-cases from the mobile VR world. (We call it mobile VR, but I don’t think I’m alone in having never once seen someone using a mobile VR headset on the subway, in the security line at the airport, or in the waiting room at a dentist.)

A number of the VR developers I’ve spoken to have mentioned wires, price, system-selling software, and installed base as key issues VR needs to tackle to become truly mainstream. As Google Daydream and the Oculus-powered Gear VR have shown, the first two are all but solved problems in mobile VR thanks to the use of existing smartphones. As for the other two, when your system is only $100 or so, the definition of a system-seller changes dramatically, which then has plenty of beneficial implications for the installed base. (Promotions like Samsung giving away Gear VR with new Galaxy phone purchases don’t hurt, either.)

All mobile VR really needs are better interfaces and more powerful phones. The Gear VR motion controller is a good first step for the former, and the latter is improving all the time. If VR is really going to go mass market, doesn’t it make more sense for it to grow not from the high-end early adopter market who would have dropped $600 on a PS3, but from the masses who made a compelling novelty like the $250 Wii a phenomenon?

Courtesy-GI.biz

Toshiba Launches 4-bit NAND Flash Memory

July 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Toshiba has announced the latest generation of 3D flash memory, the 4-bit-per-cell, quadruple-level cell (QLC) technology NAND flash memory.

Thanks to the QLC technology, which features a 64-layer stacked cell structure, Toshiba managed to hit the world’s largest die capacity of 768Gb/96GB. This also enables a 1.5TB (terabyte) device with a 16-die stacked architecture in a single package, which is also a 50 percent increase in capacity per package compared to the earlier generation.

Since QLC NAND flash suffers from the same, if not worse issues as the MLC NAND, which is how to push data into a single cell without affecting the reliability and performance, it remains to be seen if SSDs based on QLC NAND flash memory will actually hit the cost/performance sweet spot.

We suspect that these drives will mostly be focused on data centers, where lower power consumption and footprint are a premium, but eventually we will see it in other markets.

According to Toshiba, samples of the QLC device started shipping earlier in June to SSD and SSD controller vendors for evaluation and development purposes while further samples will be showcased at the upcoming Flash Memory Summit 2017 in August.

Courtesy-Fud

Microsoft’s Edge Browser Continues Its Free Fall

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft’s browsers last month continued their downward spiral, again shedding a significant amount of user share, an analytics company reported today.

According to data from California-based Net Applications, the user shareof Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge — an estimate of the proportion of the world’s personal computer owners who ran those browsers — fell by nearly a full percentage point in May, ending at a combined 23.2%.

May’s decline was the largest since January, and could signal a resumption of the precipitous plunge IE and Edge experienced in 2016, when the browsers lost more than 22 percentage points, almost half their total share at the start of that year, and ceded the top spot to Google’s Chrome.

Microsoft’s problem, as it has been since mid-2015, stemmed from two factors: A persistent decline in the demoted-to-legacy IE, which was expected after the launch of Windows 10, and the inability, to put it mildly, for Edge, 10’s default browser, to make up the difference. The second was certainly not in Microsoft’s projections.

In the last 11 months, IE’s share dropped by 41%, while Edge’s increased by only 11%. On its own, IE has been under the 20% mark since January, and fell to a new low of 17.6% in May. Meanwhile, Edge stayed flat for the fourth month in a row at 5.6%. All of those ingredients cooked up a debacle.

Projections of the IE + Edge combination hint at an even uglier future. IE and Edge could fall under 20% as soon as this month, and likely by no later than December, according to the 12- and three-month trends in the data.

Although Microsoft has aggressively touted Edge, the effort has not yet paid off. Last month, just 21% of all Windows 10 users ran Edge as their primary browser, down from 29% a year earlier. Some analysts, however, expect Edge to turn toward a larger share of Windows 10 once enterprises seriously start migrating corporate PCs to the new OS, and, more importantly, when they divest themselves of the legacy web apps and intranet sites that require workers to run IE alongside a “modern” browser, like Edge.

May’s biggest beneficiary was Chrome, which added four-tenths of a percentage point to its user share, reaching a record 59.4%. Computerworld‘s forecast — again using the trends in Net Applications’ data — puts Chrome over the 60% bar by August at the latest.

Mozilla’s Firefox, which in the first quarter of 2017 lost four-tenths of a percentage point, recouped half of that last month, climbing to 12%, its highest mark since December.

Net Applications estimates user share by sniffing the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients’ websites, then tallying the various browsers and operating systems. It also weights each country’s data by the size of its online population to account for areas, such as China, where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

 

Samsung To Delay Bixby Voice Assistant Again

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

The consumer electronics giant announced to the Korea Herald that the English version of its digital assistant will be delayed — again — because it lacks enough big data to teach it to work properly. Bixby Voice was supposed to launch in late April before it was pushed back to “later this spring” and then to June. It’s unclear when Bixby will launch.

Samsung did launch parts of Bixby in April in the US, including the “Vision, Home and Reminder” components that offer features like image recognition and home controls. But the central part of the service — enabling a person to use voice to control and navigate Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 phone — is still only available in Korean.

The delayed launch of Bixby comes at a time when virtually all of the major tech companies are rolling out their own voice-activated digital assistants. Everyone from Apple to Google to Amazon sees speech as the next significant way to interact with your devices and is keen to develop a relationship with you. The hope is your loyalty to an assistant like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Samsung’s Bixby will better tie you to their products and services.

Samsung faces entrenched competition. Amazon leads the market with nearly 71 percent share, thanks to its family of Echo speakers with Alexa, according to eMarketer. Google is No. 2 with almost 24 percent share due to its Google Home speaker with Google Assistant.

Creating a digital assistant that actually, well, assists you takes a lot of data and examples of human interactions. These assistants get smarter with only time and experience, and Samsung’s delays underscore how complicated creating one can be.

Amazon has flooded the market with cheap Alexa-infused speakers over the past couple of years to get more people using its digital assistant. In its attempt to catch up, Google is relying on its treasure trove of data from billions of search queries to power Google Assistant. Microsoft’s strategy is to add its Cortana digital assistant to all Windows 10 devices.

Six years after Siri launched on the iPhone 4S, Apple is just starting to make it more useful but the company has a base of millions of iPhone users to instantly tap.

Samsung doesn’t have that luxury. When the Galaxy S8 phone launched in the US in late April, Bixby was notably missing, especially considering the time Samsung spent talking it up during the launch presentation. The Korea Herald said that early beta tests with US consumers showed mixed results.

“Samsung is continuing to dominate hardware, but once again its shortcomings in software and particularly artificial intelligence are laid bare for all to see,” said Richard Windsor, an analyst at Radio Free Mobile.

The Korea Herald report, citing unnamed sources, also said that the complexities of US engineers communicating with management in Korea has led to slower progress than with the Korean-language version.

A spokesman for Samsung wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Is The High-End PC Market The Most Profitable

July 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Acer has been focuing on flogging high-margin PCs including gaming notebooks, ultra-thin models and 2-in-1s, and it appears to be paying off.

Acer CEO Jason Chen said that each segment has been doing well this year. Acer’s revenues from its gaming PC business reached $300 million in 2016 and Acer has been outperforming the market average in many product lines.

Chen said that during the first five months of 2017, Acer’s gaming PC sales went up 80 per cent  from the same period a year ago, while the market’s average was only around 30 per cent. Acer is also seeing the same trend for its Chromebook business with first-five-month sales growing 80 per cent from a year ago. In this case the market’s average growth was only 20 per cent.

Acer’s strategy since falling from the peak of its operations three and half years ago, has been focusing on maintaining its profitability. Currently, Acer’s product ASP is up 14 per cent from before and gross margins reached 10 per cent in 2016, the highest in the past 10 years, Chen detailed.

Acer also sees gold in  virtual reality (VR), content and artificial intelligence (AI). Acer has partnered with Starbreeze to establish a joint venture for VR applications and has started seeing profits since the second half of 2016. The company’s high-performance PC for AI applications also recently acquired procurement orders from Thailand, and the company has already received a total of seven related procurement projects for 2017.

Acer’s VR arm is  focusing on gaming- and movie-related content and is also looking to merge the two concepts. Acer recently partnered with ZeroLight to develop high definition car VR solutions. The company has also been pushing its VR technologies into industries such as real estate, aerospace and training.

Courtesy-Fud

Will Imagination Technologies Be Acquired

July 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Imagination Technologies, which lost 70 per cent of its value after Apple dumped it earlier this year, has announced that it’s putting itself up for sale.

Imagination said back in April that Apple planned to stop licensing its designs within ’15 to 24 months’ in favor of developing its own graphics chips, which came as a blow to the company that relies on the iPhone maker for about half of its revenue.

After announcing plans to flog its two of its businesses, its embedded processor technology MIPS division and mobile connectivity unit Ensigma, Imagination said on Thursday that “it has received interest from a number of parties for a potential acquisition of the whole group.”

“The board of Imagination has therefore decided to initiate a formal sale process for the group and is engaged in preliminary discussions with potential bidders,” the firm said in a statement.

“There can be no certainty that any offer will be made for Imagination, nor that any transaction will be executed, nor as to terms of any such offer or transaction.”

Since the announcement, shares in Imagination have risen 20 per cent. 

In its statement, Imagination said that it remained in dispute with Apple, after last month claiming that it doubted Apple could make its own chips for the iPhone and iPad without violating its patents. The New York Times reports that analysts believe lawsuits are likely.

Back in May, Imagination warned: “Imagination has been unable to make satisfactory progress with Apple to date regarding alternative commercial arrangements for the current licence and royalty agreement.”

“Imagination has therefore commenced the dispute resolution procedure under the licence agreement with a view to reaching an agreement through a more structured process. Imagination has reserved all its rights in respect of Apple’s unauthorized use of Imagination’s confidential information and Imagination’s intellectual property rights.”

Apple currently holds an 8 per cent stake in Imagination Technologies, and this time last year speculation was rife that the firm was planning to purchase the chip maker, with the deal said to have been in the “advanced stages.”

Courtesy-TheInq

Young Star Helps Astronomers Solve Stellar Mystery

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Astronomers using the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile have precisely measured the rotating fountains of gas flowing out from a massive newborn star, revealing the complex interplay between the star’s magnetism and centrifugal forces.

Astronomers are still puzzled by the way massive stars form in interstellar space, the new study’s researchers said in a statement. When a massive rotating cloud of gas collapses under gravity, stellar fusion becomes possible, and a baby star is born. As angular momentum is conserved while the cloud shrinks, the resulting baby star should be spinning very fast, according to the laws of physics. 

To get a better idea of the conservation of angular (or rotational) momentum, imagine a spinning ice-skater. As ice-skaters spin with their arms outstretched, they spin slowly; when they bring their arms close to their bodies, they spin faster. Physics dictates that this concept should hold true for a shrinking cloud of star-forming gas: As it shrinks, it should spin faster.

But astronomers have found that stars in our galaxy spin much more slowly than the laws of physics predict they should. Therefore, there must be some mechanism that’s dissipating angular momentum from stars soon after they are born, the researchers said.

In the new work, published online June 12 in the journal Nature Astronomy, astronomers observed a massive newborn star called Orion KL Source I in the Orion Nebula and used ALMA to reveal the rotation of its powerful stellar winds. 

“We have clearly imaged the rotation of the outflow,” Tomoya Hirota, an assistant professor at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and SOKENDAI (the Graduate University for Advanced Studies) and lead author on the paper, said in the statement. “In addition, the result gives us important insight into the launching mechanism of the outflow.”

Hirota’s team noticed that the outflow of stellar gases is rotating in the same direction as the star and that it emanates from Source I’s hot gas disk, and not from the star itself. This finding agrees with a theoretical “magnetocentrifugal disk wind model,” the researchers said.

In this model, gas is ejected from the rotating disk and is forced to move outward. Like a spinning lawn sprinkler, propelled by centrifugal forces, the water spirals outward, away from the sprinkler head, siphoning some of the star’s angular momentum. But in the case of this star, the spinning gases leaving the disk are also directed up and down along magnetic-field lines to create the spinning outflows that ALMA has detected. And the researchers believe that these flows are dissipating rotational energy from the baby star, slowing down its rotation, and therefore possibly explaining why stars in our galaxy rotate more slowly than expected.

“In addition to high sensitivity and fidelity, high resolution submillimeter-wave observation is essential to our study, which ALMA made possible for the first time,” Hirota said. “Submillimeter waves are a unique diagnostic tool for the dense innermost region of the outflow, and at that exact place, we detected the rotation.

“ALMA’s resolution will become even higher in the future,” Hirota added. “We would like to observe other objects, to improve our understanding of the launching mechanism of outflows and the formation scenario of massive stars with the assistance of theoretical research.”

Courtesy-Space

Microsoft Continues Windows XP Patches Over ‘WannaCry’ Concerns

June 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft is following May’s unprecedented release of security updates for expired operating systems, including Windows XP, by issuing another dozen patches for the aged OS.

The Redmond, Wash. company cited fears of possible attacks by “nation-states,” a label for government-sponsored hackers or foreign intelligence services, for the updates’ release. “In reviewing the updates for this month, some vulnerabilities were identified that pose elevated risk of cyberattacks by government organizations, sometimes referred to as nation-state actors, or other copycat organizations,” said Adrianne Hall, general manager, issues and crisis management, for Microsoft.

The updates for Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003 — which were retired from support in April 2014, June 2016, and July 2015, respectively — made it two months running that Microsoft has delivered fixes for bugs in obsolete software.

In May, Microsoft broke with policy and practice by offering patches to protect the same trio of operating system versions from the fast-spreading “WannaCry” ransomware campaign. This month’s move was taken for a reason less concrete.

“As part of our regular Update Tuesday schedule, we have taken action to provide additional critical security updates to address vulnerabilities that are at [heightened] risk of exploitation due to past nation-state activity and disclosures,” wrote Eric Doerr, general manager of the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC), in a post to a company blog.

Hall was somewhat more explicit. “Due to the elevated risk for destructive cyber-attacks at this time, we made the decision [to issue updates for older versions] because applying these updates provides further protection against potential attacks with characteristics similar to WannaCrypt,” she wrote in a separate post to a company blog. Hall also noted that the additional updates were distributed to all versions of Windows, not just those previously retired.

Microsoft tagged last month’s malware as “WannaCrypt;” most settled on the alternate “WannaCry” as the name.

Although owners of unmanaged Windows XP and Windows 8 systems must manually retrieve the updates from Microsoft’s download website or the cumbersome Update Catalog, enterprises and organizations using WSUS (Windows Server Update Services), SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) or another patch management platform can automate the downloading and installation of the older editions’ updates as if they were for editions still in support.

Can Apple’s HomePod Compete With Amazon’s Alexa

June 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Back in May, we wrote that Apple was preparing to release a Siri-based smart home speaker that would take on competition from Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo series, Google Home, and Harmon Kardon’s recently announced Cortana-based smart speaker.

On Monday during the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller took the stage and introduced the device as the Apple HomePod. On the surface, the name sounds almost nothing like a high-fidelity music device, but under the hood the unit features a number of multitasking commands all natively powered by Siri’s voice control algorithms.

Based on reports from the WWDC show floor, the HomePod’s audio output has been described as “full, wide, and heavily sculpted” and “amazingly loud for such a small speaker”. The company has tuned its speaker profile to provide deep thumping bass, bright vocals, and absent of any flats or distortions. We are guessing that Apple has tuned into the expertise it gained from its acquisition of Beats back in May 2014, which was intended to raise its competitive outlook in the music streaming business. This time around, it has developed a smart hub speaker that will not only raise the stakes in the voice assistant category, but seems to perform in the upper tier category for an audio product.

“It’ll sound right to lots of people,” says Wired’s David Pierce.

As it stands, Microsoft is the only company in the voice assistant market that has placed an emphasis on balanced, richer sound with the Invoke, manufactured by Harmon Kardon. That device is likely to include a propriatory DSP audio technology that delivers a similar 360 degrees of room filling sound, complete with echo and noise cancellation features.

Spatial awareness, Apple Music integration, daisy-chaining support

The HomePod measures under seven inches tall and features a large, Apple-designed woofer, a custom array of seven beamforming tweeters. Just as Amazon supports daisy-chaining multiple Echo devices together in multiple rooms, Apple will let users wirelessly connect multiple HomePods together to create a whole home surround system, only using Siri instead of Alexa. Each HomePod uses spatial awareness to sense its location in a room and automatically adjust the audio levels, providing more directional control that doesn’t require repositioning several times to hear every tonal pitch from an originally mastered audio track.

The speaker, it’s claimed,  is  compatible with the entire Apple Music library and will be able to answer advanced Siri questions, including the ability to look up drummers and pianists. Of course, the device’s Echo-like features will allow users to send text messages, access sports and weather, and close the curtains without any music interruptions.

HomeKit compatibility

The HomePod is compatible with Apple’s smart home platform HomeKit, which lets users operate their thermostats, dim the lights, set sprinkler timers, and perform routine appliance switching functions. To make this possible, however, all connected HomeKit devices will need to have a special MFi (Made for iDevices) chip installed for machine-to-machine security. This is Apple’s way of not only getting partners to stump up royalty fees, but ensuring that any home automation products can’t be tampered with from the neighbor’s smart hub device a few blocks down the street.

Apple’s HomePod will not come cheap, with a price of $349 (£270 / AU$465) when it releases it later in December in the US, UK and Australia. By contrast, Amazon’s Echo has been selling at $180 since its introduction in 2014, while Google’ Home sells for $130 and the Harmon Kardon Invoke will likely debut at or below $200 to stay competitive with Google and Amazon. Now that Apple has made its announcement, however, Microsoft may change its price structure, depending on how it views the HomePod in relation to its own premium audio offering.

Courtesy-Fud

Are PC Makers Rushing To Make Windows On ARM Devices

June 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

HP, Asus and Lenovo will be the first hardware makers to churn out ARM-based Windows 10 PCs.

Qualcomm says the three vendors will be making PCs with its Snapdragon 835 SoC (system-on-chip) and its X16 LTE chipset for wireless broadband connectivity.

The chipmaker said that all the models will be fanless and will offer all-day battery life.

Qualcomm has previously said it expects the ARM PCs to hit the market by the end of the year, and getting HP, Asus and Lenovo on board early means that there will be products in the shops fairly soon.

Qualcomm executive VP Cristiano Amon said that consumers experience mobility in nearly every aspect of their lives and they’ve come to expect more from their PCs than legacy computing models are able to provide.

“With compatibility for the Windows 10 ecosystem, the Snapdragon Mobile PC Platform will enable Windows 10 hardware makers to develop next-generation modern device form factors and deliver unparalleled anything, anywhere creation experiences with up-to-Gigabit Class LTE connectivity.”

Each of the devices is set to run custom versions of Windows 10 that Microsoft has been developing for ARM chips.

The vendors are supposed to be interested because the ARM PCs will offer a longer battery life and require less cooling than traditional x86 processors.

This will mean that they will be thinner and with smaller form factors and do what most users want, rather than providing extra computing power which can’t be used.

Asus CEO Jerry Shen said the Snapdragon Mobile PC Platform will mean that users now can take advantage of new always on, always connected experiences available to them.

Courtesy-Fud

Will The PC Market Really Show Growth Starting In 2019

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Divination experts from IDC have been shuffling their Tarot cards and consulting the entrails of a particularly annoying toddler and reached the conclusion that the PC market will start growing again in 2019.

According to an Oracle from IDC’s latest Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker, the firm believes the PC market is set for a growth period a few years from now.

Detachable tablets such as Microsoft’s Surface line and Apple’s iPad Pro will lead the growth as consumers have turned away from laptops in favour of these more versatile computing devices.

Last year, 21.5 million of these devices were shipped and the number of units sold could reach as high as 45.9 million in 2021.

Notebook computers and mobile workstations are another category that will see continued growth with shipments rising from 156.8 million units in 2016 to 163.7 million by the year 2021.

Desktop computers are still decreasing in popularity and that trend is likely to continue with their sales predicted to decrease by 15 million a year leading up to 2021.

Courtesy-Fud

HTC Says Vivo Virtual Reality Headset Will Work With Apple’s New OS

June 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Taiwanese consumer electronics giant HTC Corp has confirmed that its virtual reality (VR) headset will be compatible with Apple Inc’s High Sierra operating system (OS), which is scheduled for release later this year.

HTC’s Vive headset works in conjunction with Valve’s SteamVR virtual reality system, and Apple is working with Valve to make SteamVR compatible with its new OS, the U.S. tech firm said in a separate statement on Monday.

Compatibility with Apple’s Macintosh computers would greatly expand HTC’s VR reach, having so far focused on personal computers such as ones powered by Microsoft Corp’s Windows 10.

HTC has also worked in VR with Intel Corp and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

“With this, Apple brings support for HTC Vive and SteamVR to the 100 million active Mac users,” said David Dai, a senior analyst of Asian Emerging Technologies at researcher Sanford C. Bernstein. “That’s certainly good for the company.”

Apple used the Vive headset in a demonstration at the Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, the first day of a five-day event, a HTC spokesperson told Reuters.

 

Tablet Shipments Continue Their Downward Spiral

May 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The death of the “game changing” keyboard-less netbook continues as Digitimes Research predicts that only 35 million tablets will be shipped globally during the second quarter of 2017.

This is a 5.7 percent fall compared to last quarter and 13.7 percent on the year.

Apple, which is responsible for the technology fad, will sell only a quarter of the world’s tablets. Tablets launched or to be launched by other international vendors for 47.3 percent and white-box units for 27.3 percent.

Following Apple is Samsung with 15.1 percent, Amazon with 7.4 percent , Huawei Technologies with 6.6 percent, Lenovo with 6.6 percent, Asustek Computer with 3.3 percent, TCL with 1.7 percent, Microsoft with 1.5 percent and Acer with 1.3 percent.

Taiwan-based ODMs and OEMs will together ship 11.5 million tablets in the quarter, slipping 3.4 percent on the quarter and 16.1 percent on the year.

The real winner from tablet sales is Foxconn Electronics which makes 73.1 percent of all tablets while Compal makes 11.4 percent.

Courtesy-Fud

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