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Apple shifts gears with CarPlay, its response to Google Now

With Apple’s new integration into automobiles, the company wades into the complex waters of predictive services.

Apple CarPlay in Volvo dashboard

One of the great boons that Google had long-reserved specifically for Android users was access to Google Now, the popular artificial intelligence platform that anticipates a person’s actions based on contextual information like location or personal data such as e-mails or appointment reminders.

There is, of course, now a watered-down version of Google Now for iOS users. And there are some bifurcated iOS apps that try to replicate the experience, but so far, nothing officially from Apple.

Until now. And it doesn’t come on a handset. At the Geneva International Motor Show on Monday, Apple unveiled CarPlay, an integration that ties Apple’s mobile operating system into automobiles, allowing for voice-enabled and touch-screen control of things like maps, driving directions, and music. Previously dubbed “iOS in the Car,” the service supports third party music apps like Spotify and iHeartRadio, and will be available in cars from manufacturers like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Volvo.

But perhaps the most interesting bit of the announcement was a few innocuous details about CarPlay’s artificial intelligence capabilities. The software will be able to scan through a user’s data, such as his or her calendar or e-mails, to try to pull up relevant destinations and driving directions. And with that, Apple has made its biggest push into predictive services. (The company, of course, already has had its personal assistant Siri since the release of the iPhone 4S, but thus far, the service hasn’t had an emphasis on technology based on the user’s context.)

The announcement obviously wasn’t billed as a Google Now competitor — CarPlay’s predictive functionality certainly isn’t as robust — but it’s a clear step in that direction. Maynard Um, an analyst with Wells Fargo,wrote that the artificial intelligence aspect of CarPlay is a “potential future key” in making the product stand out.

Noting that other apps already do predictive services and do them well, Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski said Apple’s decision to introduce the technology on car dashboards rather than the iPhone was rooted in giving the technology a specific use.

“This type of intelligence and pro-activeness helps to address one of the key safety aspects: minimizing distracted driving,” said Koslowski, who covers automotive technology.

The technology also adds another element to Apple Maps, which had a difficult start, mired with bugs and spotty navigation. If the service is so quick to offer up directions that a user thinks, “well, it’s already on my screen, I might as well use it,” then Apple wins goodwill from a user, and more importantly, a trove of driving data from another customer. That data also goes into making the Maps product better.

“My calendar knows where I am all the time. But when I get into my car, I still have to input a location into my GPS,” said Thierry Donneau-Golencer, co-founder of Tempo, a personal assistant app focused specifically on the calendar. He said he thinks Apple’s race to put predictive technology into automobiles is just one part of the puzzle in the company trying to make iOS prevalent at all times. (Donneau-Golencer said Tempo, for its part, also has been approached by three major auto manufacturers for car integrations since the company launched last year.)

Of course, when we talk about predictive technology in automobiles, there must be mention of the moon shot of an end goal: driverless cars, which obviously takes the idea of predictive road navigation to the next level. But even before the company gets to that point, Google has already begun to make software inroads with automakers. The company announced the Open Automotive Alliance in January, a partnership with carmakers General Motors, Audi, Honda, and Hyundai, as well as with chipmaker Nvidia, to bring Android to car dashboards in 2014.

Anytime a company is sifting through your data, there is always concern regarding security and privacy. The unique challenge here, Koslowski said, is in the way people think about their cars. He argues that unlike a phone, which is as personal a device as ever but is still impersonal enough to be subsidized by a cellular carrier, the car is still much more private. “It’s like your cocoon,” he said. “You close your door and turn up the music,” he said, adding that people would be more outraged than normal to have their privacy invaded regarding their driving habits.

Still, getting a customer hooked on the technology in the car means that the company can eventually expand on it out of the vehicle, especially in the arenas of wearables and home appliances. Google beat Apple to the punch with Google Now, a stellar predictive product. “But the car is a good place to start,” said Donneau-Golencer.

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Could this iPhone 6 concept be a new, cheaper model?

While the iPhone 5C has largely been a bust, one designer has an idea for how Apple could improve on the notion of a new, inexpensive iPhone offering.

Pretty, but is it practical?

In the great tradition of new iPhone concepts just because comes the below take on what a new iPhone 6 could look like. But we’re not talking about just any iPhone 6. This is the iPhone 6C series, the follow-up to the inexpensive, colorful iPhone 5C that appealed to… um, I’ll get back to you on that part.

And yet, designer Joseph Farahi has mocked up a very nice-looking plastic iPhone here that certainly has more appeal than the actual iPhone 5C.

And given the rumors that the next iteration of the iPhone will come in multiple sizes, a design similar to this could actually be in the works. It just seems very unlikely that it will be touted as a follow-up to the 5C.

Specifically, Farahi imagines an inexpensive iPhone 6 with a 4.7-inch “retina” display, 8-megapixel camera, Touch ID, and a thinner and lighter profile than the 5C.

Check out the video below and let us know in the comments if you think it makes any sense for Apple to take another whack at a new, inexpensive iPhone.

Get Titanfall for free when you buy an Xbox One

Microsoft to bundle a download code for Titanfall with Xbox One hardware purchases, while stocks last.

Microsoft will release a limited edition Titanfall Xbox One bundle when the game launches on May 11, the company has announced.

Included in the bundle is a standard black Xbox One, the Kinect, a wireless controller, wired headset, a download code for Titanfall, and a one month Xbox Live Gold subscription.

The included controller is not, however, the limited edition Titanfall controller. But the machine does come in some fancy Titanfall packaging.

“To celebrate the launch of Titanfall, we wanted to do something special,” said Xbox exec Yusuf Mehdi. “For those of you who are already fans of Xbox One, we hope this will encourage more of your friends to join you on day one for Titanfall on Xbox One. If you’ve been waiting for the biggest game of the generation before purchasing your Xbox One, this special, limited time offer is perfect for you.”

The bundle will be sold at the same price as the Xbox One: $499, €499, and the machine’s new UK price of £399.

Supplies of the machine will be available while stocks last, and preorders for the machine will go live today.

Titanfall will launch for Xbox One and PC on March 11. An Xbox 360 version is also in the works.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Makes Top 10 Début in UK All-Format Charts

The highest new entry of the week

After being pushed back from a Holiday season release, Retro Studio’s Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze arrived in Europe and North America on 21st February. The UK chart results covering its opening weekend of sales are in — reflecting physical retail purchases only — and the platformer has managed to swing a positive start.

The UK all-format charts have DK’s adventure coming in 9th place, a decent performance in the face of many multi-platform games; it was the highest new entry of the week. In the single format chart it actually secured 4th position, behind two iterations of The LEGO Movie Videogame and Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition. LEGO was a dominant theme — back in the all-format results — too, with an extraordinary nine titles in the top 40; it’s also worth noting that of the latest movie title’s iterations the 3DS version was third behind those on Xbox 360 and PS3 (a solid result) while the Wii U SKU came in behind the PS4 but above the Xbox One.

In terms of further exclusives duking it out in the all-format chart, a number of the evergreen 3DS releases have dropped out of the top 40; just Pokémon X & Y remain, with X in 27th place and Y in 30th.

Considering the all-format and individual format results together, it’s been a solid opening salvo for Retro’s platformer; perhaps as expected it hasn’t defied the odds and stormed to the top, but it’s keeping company with franchises and multi-platform releases still selling strong numbers.

Let us know your thoughts on these results, and whether you picked up Tropical Freeze in its launch weekend, in the comments below.

Hacking Group Claims To Have Discovered Wii U Homebrew Exploit

The Wii U Hax HQ, yesterdayHack to the future

Every piece of gaming tech is potentially hackable, but so far the Wii U has proven to be a tough nut to crack. There have been attempts of course, but according to Nintendo these have come to nothing.It would now appear that the situation has dramatically changed. A hacking group known as “Wii U Hax” has revealed that it has found an exploit to access the Wii U hardware — through the Wii mode, at least — and is proudly claiming that this is beginning of the Wii U homebrew scene.

It’s not known if the hack grants full access to the hardware, but Wii U Hax believes that the exploit can’t be patched by Nintendo without releasing a new hardware model of the console.

System integrity has always been a key aim for Nintendo — especially after the piracy-packed days of the DS and Wii — and the company has clearly made things harder with the 3DS and Wii U. System updates can be effectively employed to block any potential weaknesses, but if what this group of hackers is saying is correct, this is one hole that may be impossible to plug.

Apple, Samsung fail to make nice in settlement talks over patent case

It looks like we may well have another California trial between the two mobile-gadget giants, as efforts to reach a deal fall flat.

Bust out your Samsung pennant, your Apple foam finger, or your Jony Ive bobblehead doll — it looks like we’re in for another patent trial.

In a legal filing Friday, the companies said that during the first week of February, Samsung mobile chief Shin Jong-Kyun and other execs from the South Korean consumer-electronics giant met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and a clutch of his cohorts for a full day of mediated negotiation talks. The companies also spoke with the mediator by phone several times after the face-to-face.

“Notwithstanding these efforts,” however, the filing reads, “the mediator’s settlement proposal to the parties was unsuccessful.”

That means the trial may well go ahead as scheduled, starting March 31, though the filing also says the companies “remain willing to work through the mediator.”

This would be the second big California trial between the two mobile-gadget behemoths. A dramatic 2012 jury case handed Apple a legal victory over Samsung, to the tune of about $930 million in damages.

This time around, different products would be on the dissecting table, such as Samsung’s hitGalaxy S3 smartphone, a fact that could increase the size of a damages award should Samsung again be found guilty of infringement, sources told The Wall Street Journal.

But that might be cold comfort for Apple. Stanford Law School professor Mark A. Lemley toldBloomberg that “even though Apple seems to be winning across the board” in court, “they’re not winning in the marketplace” and that pro-Apple verdicts and even bans on the sale of Samsung gadgets “don’t seem to be slowing Samsung’s momentum very much.”

Where do Apple rumors come from? Digitimes explains

Digitimes Research sheds some light on the the Apple supply chain — the source of many a rumor — before the release of the product.

Mock-up by Brooke Crothers based on iPhone 5S

With a large-screen iPhone 6 possibly showing up this year, Digitimes Research provides some insight into where and when Apple rumors likely originate.

In an article posted Friday titled Explaining the Chaiwan Model for the Mobile Supply Chain, Digitimes Research talked about, among other things, timing.

“We may provide shipment data for Apple 1-2 months before [the product] even begins selling in the market, because that is when the supply chain delivers it to Apple,” Digitimes Research said.

That may explain the crush of relatively reliable rumors that typically hit about a month before the product appears.

But there are stages before that. “When Apple is getting a product ready for the market, the product is in the supply chain pipeline 6-9 months before Apple even announces its launch,” Digitimes Research said.

That assertion about a product being at suppliers but still going through changes six to nine months before release sheds light on some of the more dubious rumors that appear early on.

And where does the process begin?

“A brand like Apple or Samsung controls everything in the process of bringing their products to market…For example, it starts with the key component provider, which in the case of smartphones is the application processor.”

So, a chip, like the Apple A7, or rumored A8 — generally referred to as application processors — may play a big part in the early stages of the product.

In a related discussion, Digitimes Research also notes that there “has been a seismic shift” in the design and manufacturing of products.

If you look at [processor] provider MediaTek, the company no longer follows a strict roadmap. It simply reacts to what the market wants. In 2013, for example, MediaTek sometimes went a couple of months without releasing a new product and then would release two products in the same month. They weren’t following a roadmap, they were chasing demand.

Finally, Digitimes Research also spells out how Apple (and Samsung) have a different approach to mobile (smartphones and tablets) as opposed to laptops.

Huge brands like Apple and Samsung…continue to pursue a vertical integration strategy whereby they can control more of the design…in order to give them differentiation…However, this is a much different business model than that seen in the notebook industry, where ODMs provide designs to the brands and choose their own components. ODMs do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of product development, while EMS firms simply provide manufacturing services. The brands have much more control over the overall design and component choice.

Early Apple rumors, like the concept video above of an “iPad Pro,” are usually pure speculation.

Apple promises to fix OS X encryption flaw ‘very soon’

The iPhone and iPad maker on Friday issued a fix for its mobile devices, but left its Mac lineup unpatched. But not for long, Apple says. 

Apple said it will fix a bug “very soon” that allows hackers to spy on financial, e-mail, and other personal data on computers from its Mac desktop and notebook lineup.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant confirmed in an e-mail to Reuters that it was aware of the issue and already has a software fix that will be released likely in the next few days.

The severity of the bug was significant enough for Apple to issue an iterative update to its more popular iOS 7 software — version 7.0.6, released on Friday — instead of waiting for a larger update as the company does with minor or insignificant design changes.

But its desktop and notebook range of Macs was left vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, which could allow a hacker to snoop and surveil sensitive data due to a bug in the security layer.

Such attacks would undermine the encryption between the user and a Web site, allowing financial or password data to be collected and used against the individual.

The bug, disclosed by security researchers shortly after the iOS update, drew suspicion from the hacker community for being a simple mistake.

Some believed the bug was either indicative of poor quality assurance on Apple’s part, or in the age of US government surveillance disclosures perhaps a result of infiltration or creating a deliberate weakness.

Similar attacks were reportedly used against Belgium’s largest telecom provider, Belgacom, which was exploited by the US National Security Agency (NSA) through faked LinkedIn and Slashdot pages.

The bug fix, which will be pushed through OS X’s automatic update facility, will likely be issued this week to address the issue. The flaw has been present for months, according to researchers who tested earlier versions of the desktop and notebook operating system.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, an Apple expert and insider, questioned in a blog post on Saturday whether or not this had been exploited by the NSA.

He suggested there was “purely circumstantial” evidence to suggest the NSA had access to secure data through the controversial leaked PRISM program, to which Apple was “added” in October 2012, just one week after iOS 6 — the first version of the mobile software that contained the bug. “But the shoe fits,” he added.

Matthew Green, a cryptography teacher at Johns Hopkins University, is “sure the Apple bug is unintentional,” he wrote on Twitter on Friday. “But man, if you were trying to sneak a [vulnerability] into SSL, this would be it,” he added.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes contains just a fraction of the world map which will be available in The Phantom Pain

“Ground Zeroes has a relatively small field compared to the main game, which is hundreds of times larger,” franchise creator Hideo Kojima said on Twitter, as translated by Siliconera.

If you’re worried this means Ground Zeroes is small, the developer has said in the past that The Phantom Pain has “enormous volume”, so it could still be pretty hefty.

Kojima offered a few other snippets of information, noting that Ground Zeroes if both a prologue to Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and a tutorial to Metal Gear Solid in general, which is ‘transitioning to a sneaking simulator’.

Ground Zeroes does not include the real-time effects of The Phantom Pain, but does contain a variety of missions set at different time of day, he added, and featuring different play styles. It’s due on PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One at the end of March, and is a budget release designed to give fans something to chew on while The Phantom Pain’s lengthy next-gen development continues.

Microsoft to give 100GB free OneDrive storage to early birds

Once the promotion kicks off Wednesday, the first 100,000 people to sign into their OneDrive accounts get the heaping helping of free storage.

OneDrive users who sign in fast enough can score plenty of free storage for the next year.

Microsoft will dole out 100GB of extra space to the first 100,000 people who sign onto their OneDrive accounts once the new promotion gets off the ground sometime on Wednesday. The extra space comes on top of your existing OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) storage, but is good just for one year.

Angus Logan, the group product marketing manager for OneDrive, confirmed the promotion to CNET but didn’t reveal a specific launch time. OneDrive users who want to vie for the free storage should check Microsoft’s OneDrive Twitter feed for the latest news.

“We aren’t announcing a time in advance. We’re telling people to monitor [the OneDrive Twitter account] for clues about the promotion and how they can be part of the 100,000,” a Microsoft representative told CNET.

On Wednesday, Microsoft officially opened the doors to OneDrive, the rebranded version of its SkyDrive cloud-based storage service. To further mark the occasion, Microsoft offers the first 7GB of storage for free and up to 5GB split among you and other users you refer to the service. Take advantage of OneDrive’s camera backup feature, and you get 3GB more.

Those who fail to snag the free 100GB of storage and need more space can tack on an extra 50GB for $25 a year, 100GB for $50 a year, and 200GB for $100 a year.