Category Archives: News of Company

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.

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.

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.

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.

Microsoft building an ‘Xbox Reading’ app for Windows 8

xbox logo (verge stock)

Microsoft has already built Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps for Windows 8, but the next target is books. A recent Microsoft job listing, discovered by Chinese Microsoft blog LiveSino, notes that the software giant is looking to hire a software design engineer to build “a groundbreaking interactive reading app on Windows, which incorporates books, magazines, and comics.” Potential candidates would join the same Music, Video, and Reading (MVR) team that has already shipped two built-in Xbox branded apps for Windows 8.

It’s not immediately clear why Microsoft is building another reading application, but The Verge has confirmed with one source familiar with the company’s plans that Microsoft is planning to build the new app. Microsoft already ships a separate “Reader” app for Windows 8, so it’s possible that the company is planning to redesign and rebuild it with Xbox branding. The existing Reader app is a fairly basic viewer with support for PDF, XPS, and TIFF files. Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps run across Windows 8, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, but it’s not clear from the job posting whether Microsoft is also porting the new reading app to its Xbox consoles.

MICROSOFT’S OFFICE TEAM ALSO BUILDING A READER APP

Microsoft’s Office team is also developing its own separate “Office Reader” app for Windows 8. Office Reader is designed to be a cross-format tool for consuming different types of content, including PDFs and textbooks. Microsoft’s Office Reader app is being developed by the Office team at the company, not the Music, Video, and Reading team. Microsoft’s Kirk Koenigsbauer demonstrated the Office Reader app during an employee-only company meeting last year. Both the “Xbox Reading” and Office Reader applications have not been announced yet, but Microsoft is expected to ship its Office Reader app later this year.

The promise of books, magazines, and comics integration suggests this upcoming Xbox-branded reading app could be the first full example of Microsoft’s Nook investment. The software-maker partnered with Barnes & Noble for a $300 million investment in late 2012, but Microsoft has not yet integrated the Nook services into its own apps in any meaningful way. Aside from a Nook Windows 8 app, the promise of accelerated “e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices” has not yet come to fruition.

Microsoft could give you $250 in credit for your phone or tablet

Good for another month, the deal can earn you a hefty amount of store credit but naturally imposes certain conditions.

Microsoft has surfaced with a new trade-in deal.Microsoft has surfaced with a new trade-in deal.

Microsoft has a new trade-in deal designed to get you to shop at its retail stores.

Running from February 2 through March 2, or while supplies last, the trade-in offer promises up to $250 in Microsoft Store credit for a mobile phone or tablet. The offer seems open to any device though it has to meet certain criteria.

The device must power on and be fully functional. No broken or missing parts or cracks on the screen or housing. No liquid damage. No password protection. (Hmm, that one seems like a no-brainer.) And it must include all of its original accessories. Microsoft will determine the actual trade-in value, so you may or may not be able to snag the full $250 in credit.

Any other conditions? Of course. The offer is good only at Microsoft Store retail outlets. The trade-in is limited to one per customer and is final.

Still, the deal could be a good way to unload an old but working phone or tablet, especially if you’re looking for a certain Microsoft product. The company’s promo page naturally touts theSurface 2 as a tablet worthy of your consideration. The Surface 2 starts at $449, so the full store credit would cut the price to just $199.

Sony SmartWatch 2 Review

sony-smartwatch-2-ap-635-01.jpg

Sony’s new SmartWatch 2 doesn’t get as much attention – and doesn’t do as much – as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear computerized wristwatch. But for the things it does, Sony’s version performs better.The SmartWatch 2 is also 33 percent cheaper, at about $200, and works with a variety of Android phones, not just Sony’s. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear sells for $300 and is compatible only with a handful of high-end Samsung phones.

(Also seeSony SmartWatch 2 launched in India for Rs. 14,990)

That said, neither company has made a compelling case of why people need a smartwatch this holiday season.

These wrist-bound gadgets are supposed to free you from constantly pulling out your phone to check for messages. But I found myself checking the watch more often than I would pull out a phone. That proved more distracting – and less private – over dinner, for instance.

The SmartWatch 2 is worth considering primarily if you want to be among the first with the latest technology.

What Sony’s watch does
Think of the watch as a companion to your phone. The phone needs to be within Bluetooth wireless range, or about 30 feet (9 meters).

You install a free Smart Connect app on the phone to manage what gets sent to the watch, be it messages or call notifications. You give the watch functionality by adding watch apps to Smart Connect one by one. Smart Connect fetches the watch apps from Google’s online Play store.

For example, I installed Sony’s Messaging app to get texts on the watch. I get full texts and can reply with emoticons or pre-written responses such as “I’ll get back to you.” There’s no keyboard on the watch to type individual replies, given that its screen measures just 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) diagonally.

The Facebook watch app lets me check the latest posts and endorse some with “likes” right from the watch. With Twitter, I can read the latest updates, retweet them or mark some as favorites. But I’m limited to text on the watch. I can’t access photos and other links that are often embedded into tweets.

Getting too much? Through the phone, I can choose specific friends and accounts to get notifications for, though I can’t simply add “family” and other groups I had already created on Facebook.

The watch can act as a remote control for your phone, but calls themselves are made through the phone. For the watch to be useful, you need a Bluetooth wireless headset linked to the phone.

When calls come in, you can reject the call, with or without a canned text reply. If you have a Sony phone, you can answer calls from the watch as well. With any phone running at least Android 4.0, you can initiate calls from the watch using its dialpad or your Android contacts list. But again, the calls go through your phone. You can control volume, but it took me a while to figure out how.

There are nearly 250 other apps you can add, many coming from outside app developers.

I particularly like a 99-cent app called Fake Call. Tap on the watch to make your phone ring with a phantom call. Use that to get you out of whatever sketchy situation you might find yourself in.

A free app called GPS Maps sends a map to your watch with surrounding blocks. The map moves as you move, though I don’t get directions.

sony-smartwatch-2-colours-ap-635.jpgHow it compares with Samsung’s device
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear wins on style: The watch has a metal frame and straps in six colors. It can work as a fashion accessory, at least for men. It’s on the larger side, with a 1.6-inch screen matching Sony’s. The SmartWatch 2 from Sony feels cheap, by comparison, though the straps are replaceable with other 24-millimeter watch straps if you’re really buying this for fashion.

The Gear also wins on features: Sony’s watch doesn’t have a speaker or a microphone. It doesn’t have a camera. The Gear has all that, which means you can make phone calls through the watch itself, without a Bluetooth headset. The camera produces low-resolution images, but it beats missing the shot because your phone is in the pocket.

But I don’t believe these features are worth an extra $100. The speakerphone doesn’t offer much privacy or work well in noisy environments. The speaker allows you to reply to text messages using voice dictation, but the transcriptions are slow and error-prone.

Where the SmartWatch 2 outperforms the Gear is in delivering messages.

The Gear gives you full texts, but that’s about it. Get a Facebook or Gmail notification? You have to return to the phone to read the message. The watch is supposed to reduce the need to pull out your phone, but not if you keep getting notifications urging you to check.

And while I got about 2.5 days on the SmartWatch 2 on a single charge, the Gear dies in a day. You can charge Sony’s watch with a standard micro-USB charger, while the Gear needs its own. The Gear’s watch face also goes dark so it could last just a day. With Sony’s watch, you can see the time even in a low-power mode.

Sony’s SmartWatch 2 also has many more apps to choose from – more than three times as many.

Do you need it?
Maybe one day, smartwatches will truly be smart. They need to be better at filtering the important notifications from the noise, and they need to do more than tell you to go back to the phone to complete a task.

For now, we’re in an era of experimentation. Sony’s SmartWatch 2 advances the field with a just-the-basics smartwatch, but I’ll wait at least a year or two for even more advances before buying one myself.

Apple will need to address low-end phones, ARM exec says

Antonio Viana, an executive from one of the Apple’s partners, says Apple will feel pressure from not selling cheaper devices.

A woman uses a mobile phone as she walks past an Apple store in Beijing on January 17. China Mobile, the country’s biggest wireless provider, that day started selling Apple’s iPhone to millions of customers nationwide, ending a six-year wait in a crucial market for the US technology giant.(Credit: Getty Images)

Apple needs to do something to address the slowdown in the high-end smartphone market and the rise of cheap phones, an executive from one of the company’s partners said.

Antonio Viana, president of commercial and global development and executive vice president at ARM Holdings, said the premium segment of the smartphone market will grow much slower than the other areas — only about 4 percent each year through 2018 versus 14 percent annual growth for mid-range devices and 17 percent annual growth for low-end phones. The high-end market will grow more in North America, he said, but Apple still will have to cope with the flood of lower priced phones that will hit markets around the globe.

“They are going to feel pressure,” Viana told CNET. “They’re going to have to do something.”

Meanwhile, Viana said that Apple’s chief rival, Samsung, “does an exceptional job of really spreading itself pretty widely in terms of the technology it puts into the marketplace.”

We’ve contacted Apple for comment and will update the report when we have more information.

ARM Holdings develops chip technology that’s then licensed by companies such as Samsung and Qualcomm. The vast majority of mobile devices use ARM-based chips, and even Apple’s line of processors, such as the A7, use ARM architecture.

In developed markets like the US, almost everyone who wants a smartphone has one. And thetablet market is maturing as well. That means Apple, Samsung, and all others in the mobile industry have to look to emerging regions like China for growth. Apple now has a bigger presence in that country with its China Mobile partnership, but it could take some time for sales to really take off on the world’s biggest network with three-quarters of a billion subscribers.

And even with that partnership, Apple doesn’t make phones that address the vast majority of customers in emerging markets. Customers in the US typically pay a subsidized price for smartphones by buying them on two-year contacts through carriers. Most people in emerging markets and even Europe, however, pay full price for their devices. Shelling out $800 for an iPhone someplace like China limits the device to only the most wealthy or the biggest Apple fans.

Meanwhile, ARM on Tuesday reported it swung to a loss of $10.1 million for the fourth quarter on higher operating costs. Its revenue climbed 15 percent. Shares fell as the company’s royalties came in lower than what analysts had been expecting. ARM makes money from licensing its chip technology but then generates a royalty from each device that uses the processor.