Archive for Technology
It’s that time of the year again, time to celebrate Apple’s annual “12 Days of Gifts” giveaway. This has been a regular feature in Apple’s yearly calender, though surprisingly, the offer wasn’t applicable in the US. That’s all changed, and Apple fans in the US can now take part in the giveaway this year. Other regions that have been included are Japan, Canada, Europe, and a few other countries.
The “12 Days of Gifts” app will offer apps, songs, movies, games, or books for free for twelve days starting Dec 26 through Jan 6 for iPads and iPhones, although it is not known what freebies Apple has lined up this year. The 12 Days of Gifts can be downloaded for free from the Apple iTunes Store and can also be set to ping you whenever new gifts become available. The gifts will only be available for 24 hours, though Apple has also stated not all of the goodies will be relevant in all countries.
Some front line companies such as Samsung and Philips along with the biggest electronics retailer in Europe, Media Saturn, had to deal with unannounced guests from the European Commission. Neither of the companies divulged any details of the raid, though they did confirm their premises were subjected to scrutiny on suspicions of an unfair collusion to limit the sale of devices to jack up prices. The companies will be liable to pay 10 percent of their global earnings if found guilty by the EU Anti-trust Regulator. No charges were pressed though and it’s not known either if any incriminating evidence were found against any of the parties involved. The raid comes at a time when retailers are having a hard time keeping themselves relevant against online operators such as Amazon, Otto, Staples and the likes. The three companies have, however, pledged all support towards completion of the investigation.
Over the course of 2012 and 2013 tablet sales have been steadily increasing with 45.2 million units being shipped out in Q1 2013 alone. The growth may be coming to an end as major display production companies are shifting their manufacturing might to smartphones.
Taiwan-based makers together will ship 242.72 million smartphone touch panels and 51.81 million tablet touch panels in 2014. This increases the smartphone production segment by 11.7% and decreases the tablet market by a whopping 29.4%.
It seems from sources we have talked to Asus that the market will be eroded in 2014 as basically “anyone who wants a tablet already has one.” Dell, HP, Barnes and Noble and Acer have all scaled back on their product offerings for most of 2013 and the trend will continue.
None had expected the UK based supermarket chain Tesco to come up with a tablet offering of its own; and if that wasn’t enough, the company has now stated they are planning a sequel for launch soon. All of it started with the Hudl, whose biggest feature has been its affordable price tag. Tesco is claiming the Hudl, which went on sale for £119 (roughly around 195 USD), sold in numbers significant enough to warrant coming up with a sequel. The Hudi went on to notch up sales figure of more than 35,000 within the first few days of its launch, while around 300,000 have been sold in the two months since. That is the entire shipment they had expected to sell through the end of 2013.
As for the upcoming Hudl 2, almost the entire thing remains cloaked in secrecy and the only thing we know of the upcoming device is that it will sport enhanced specifications. That’s hardly surprising considering every sequel is designed to be better than its predecessor. However, it remains to be seen just how much of an improvement Hudl 2 comes with without disturbing the affordability factor which is believed to be Tesco’s trump card.
Aldi’s decision to follow suit with an even cheaper tablet, one that costs just £80, may be a competing point for the Hudl. Dubbed the Medion Lifetab Android tablet or just Lifetab, the tablet comes with features that can be considered befitting the price tag, though a reported four hour run time will be a real pain. Nevertheless, the tablet offers compatibility with the Google Play Store where it will have access to over 850k Android apps. The tablet also comes pre-loaded with quite a few apps such as Drawing Pad, a media player, and a month long free trial of Kaspersky Tablet Security.
As such, there seems to be a new battle brewing in the ultra-low cost tablet segment where the Hudl may have taken an initial lead, though competition is hot on its heels.
The US Apple App Store has crossed one important milestone, that of playing host to over a million live apps for the first time ever. The above feat has been achieved in around five years’ time since the app store first came into being in July 2008. Apple had announced its worldwide app store has made it past the million approved app mark almost a year ago though back then; it’s about 700k apps that were live. Now with over a million live apps, the number of approved apps now stands at a staggering 14 million. Of the more than million apps now live, more than half of these are specific to the iPad while around 900k app apply to the iPhone. In comparison, the Google Play Store now has 881k live apps of the 1.17 million that has been approved.
However, there has been no official statement issued highlighting the above feat. This is surprising as this is the kind of news that anyone will like to go around town trumpeting such an achievement. It was the app discovery site Appsfire that first spotted such a development, something that has been confirmed by Macrumors own app discovery site AppShopper which lists the number of apps available for download being 1,006,557.
Apple has just had a bumper November for sales, which saw demand for its products rise 19 to 20 percent month over month. This is much higher than the normal six percent increase in sales during Novembers over the past several years. Sales are usually robust during the month which marks the onset of the holiday shopping season, though demand for Apple products seems to be exceptionally high this year. This prompted Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White to declare this year’s performance to be the best so far.
Much of the demand can be attributed to the new range of Apple devices. These include the new iPad Air, which comes with a new design that has made it among the thinnest and lightest tablet in the world, and a new iPad mini with Retina Display that has been in short supply, prompting buyers to lap up the first gen iPad Mini which continues to flourish. The new iPhone, which incorporates a fingerprint scanner, has also been selling in record numbers. The iPhone will get a further boost in sales if the deal with China Mobile to launch the iPhone in that country has indeed gone through as expected.
“With approximately 97 percent of the sales now accounted for in our Apple Barometer, we estimate sales in November rose by approximately 19-20 percent month-over-month, and well above the November average of up 6 percent over the past eight years,” said White. “As such, we believe this November will prove to be the strongest in the history of our Apple Barometer.”
The good performance no doubt will lead to a much better showing during the holiday quarter, even after taking into account a 10 percent drop in sales during December. “If we assume an average MoM sales decline of 10% in December, we estimate our Apple Barometer will grow sales by 28% QoQ in 4Q:13, or more than double the average increase of 13% over the past eight years,” said White in a research note to investors.
Apple’s Barometer is a measure of sales achieved by the company based on data compiled from the Taiwan based companies that supply the components that goes into the making of the Apple devices.
The YotaPhone breaks a lot of new ground with its dual display design, opening up a lot of new opportunities for users. With a regular LCD display on one side and an e-ink panel of equal size on the other, the YotaPhone could well be the ultimate smartphone device for many out there; well, theoretically at least. The device isn’t exactly cheap either, having already gone on sale in select European countries for a cool 499 Euros, though it’s not known when it’s going to land in the US.
One question that is on top of everyone’s mind is whether the YotaPhone is as good as it claims. The device comes close, but leaves some space for improvement. To begin with, the device lacks the sleek shine of many of its ilk. Instead, the YotaPhone comes across as a chubby device with thick bezels that give it somewhat of a budget smartphone look.
The lack of the typical Android set of buttons along the front makes things look clean and interesting, though it also requires the user to use a few swiping actions to get going. A right swipe is needed to reach home, while a left swipe accomplishes what the back button does. To see recent apps, one will have to double tap on the display. Similarly, a swipe down using two fingers will take a screenshot of the display and transfer it to the rear display. The gesture controls might be a little disappointing to Android loyalists, which is further amplified by the fact that the swipe pads can be unresponsive at times.
This takes us straight to the most interesting aspect of the device, the secondary e-ink panel along the rear. Unfortunately, being used to the likes of the Amazon Kindles, the rather low 640 x 360 pixel e-ink panel leaves a lot to be desired. Text can be fuzzy to hardly readable at times on the display that has been fetched from the front LCD panel.
However, reading ebooks can be satisfactory, though not the best. The biggest issue here is that the e-ink panel is bogged with ghost images, with a faint image of the previous display lingering. If that is not enough, the lack of adequate ebook reading apps can be telling. While popular ebook reading apps such as Kindle or Kobo can be downloaded on the device, the same won’t work with the e-ink display. Instead, those who’d like to read books will have to make do with the Bookmate app, and it suffers from a very limited collection. There aren’t many apps currently available that can make the most of the e-ink panel, though the notepad that the device comes with can be pretty handy.
These issues however cannot dent the biggest advantage that the e-ink panel has to offer, that of its power saving credentials. The display can hold an image all day long without draining the battery and the rear e-ink panel can also be handy for checking email, notifications, and incoming messages without having to wake up the phone, thus saving power. The e-ink panel also allows for reading just as comfortably in bright sunlight conditions as it would indoors, adding tremendous flexibility to the device.
As for the front LCD 1,280 x 720 pixel display, things are pretty much the same as can be expected of a device running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean except that its controls require getting used to. The dual core chip rated at 1.7 GHz does a good job at keeping things quick and peppy though it doesn’t have the more advanced quad core chips.
In the end, what can be said is that it’s still a work-in-progress. The YotaPhone needs to be fine-tuned before it can deliver a complete and enriching user experience. While the device as a whole needs a fresh and thorough once over, the rear e-ink panel will definitely benefit from more third party apps being developed to make the most of it, something that is practically non-existent right now. As things stand right now, there isn’t much that can be done with the e-ink side of the YotaPhone even though it does have the potential of being a pretty handy ebook reading device.
There has been no dearth of prototypes of some form or the other showcasing displays exhibiting varying degrees of flexibility. However, it’s only now that bendable display technology seems to have matured enough to make the transition to a commercial entity. Both Samsung and LG have come up with smartphone which they claim to incorporate flexible displays. Of course Samsung isn’t just stopping with the Galaxy Round smartphone device but has announced flexible displays will form a major chunk of their product portfolio starting 2014 onwards.
Unfortunately, Samsung isn’t revealing all its cards which leave a lot of questions unanswered. The broad picture that has emerged is that Samsung will be relying on transparent displays and touchscreen metal mesh panels for its future smartphones and tablets. The company is also reported to have filed a patent application for a transparent display that will have touch based controls both at the front and the rear. These apart, Samsung has also been showing off flexible and even bendable display quite regularly. This makes us wonder if the future Samsung device will in reality be bendable or flexible.
Meanwhile, LG has released a video showing just how flexible their G Flex smartphone really is. Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Round that bends vertically, the LG G Flex bends horizontally along the center. Also, with the G Flex, it is not just the display that is flexible but the entire smartphone device which is flexible. LG is claiming the device can even withstand forces of up to even 32 kilos directly on its rear before returning back to its original curved shape. What this means is that it is not the display alone but the entire smartphone construction that incorporates flexibility. Even the rear has been shown to be self-healing, having the ability to regain its original texture within minutes even after having been scratched vigorously.
As such, what is amply clear is that it is not just devices with flexible displays that are going to win the race but devices that as a whole exhibits flexibility, including the display. As for the benefits of such devices, there are many with the prime being that these are much better off in handling stress and strain. Theoretically, such a device will be able to withstand stress much longer than conventional LCD based devices though it also depends on the design and build of the specific device. Another advantage with flexible as seen on the Galaxy Round or G Flex is that they will have less glare on the eyes. Even Apple is believed to be considering incorporating flexible displays for its forthcoming iPhone 6 though its more wrap around in nature.
Other challenges that manufacturers will have to take in their stride is to come up with economic means of producing flexible devices in enough quantities. Currently the Galaxy Round has only been released on a limited scale which has seriously limited its wider availability. Let’s just hope such issues have been sorted out before companies takes to launch device with flexible displays.
Jolla, the Finland based company that developed the Sailfish operating system has stated they wish to see the operating system being installed on Android smartphone devices now being used. The company further stated Sailfish is compliant with Android apps which should provide the impetus for individuals to port Sailfish on their devices, which again, as per the Company CEO Tomi Pienimäki is fairly easy to accomplish.
Jolla as a company came into being only in 2011 and was set up by a group of ex-Nokia employees with the aim of further developing the MeeGo mobile software that Nokia has been working on before switching over to Windows full time. It’s good to see all of the efforts that has gone into the development of the MeeGo mobile platform not going to waste and has culminated into what has come to be known as the Sailfish. However, with Jolla yet to strike deals with existing smartphone makers into developing a device based on Sailfish, the best way for the operating system to be provided mass proliferation is to allow it to be ported on existing Android hardware dotting the world mobile landscape.
However, Sailfish right now is only available developed for use in a smartphone device though the company behind it has stated they wish to see the platform transcend to other areas of computing as well. This should include tablet devices though not specifically mention by Jolla; neither do we know when the platform could be seen invading the tablet scene.
Meanwhile, the company has just come up with its own hardware running the Sailfish OS. The device was handed out to 450 people who had pre-ordered the device. Zdnet’s Jo Best got to spend some time with the new device running the new OS and came out with mixed feelings. The OS does seem to hold a lot of promise though there also are just too many bugs and other deficiencies out there for the OS to be deemed as half baked as of now. Understandably, app store is still in the early stages of its development while the apps too seem to be not yet ready for prime time action.
However, the platform itself comes with some inherent qualities though it can be a topic of debate if those can be termed positive or otherwise. For instance the OS requires few tabs to be operated while there isn’t a back button either. The latter can be sorely missed if someone ends up in a situation that wasn’t intended and needs to back out. Also, the home screen houses a set of icons along the top left which intimates the user of any notifications such as missed calls or unread messages. However, none of these can be reached directly from the home screen and the user will have to navigate further to attend to these. A few tabs saved in the home screen but several more needed in the end.
However, a positive aspect of the OS is the ‘peek’ functionality that it provides which allows the user to swipe up from the bottom to keep themselves abreast of any recent notifications. This can be invoked even while working on any app while lifting the thumb will let go of the notification zone.
Also, another interesting aspect of the smartphone Jolla has come up with is the interchangeable ‘other half’ casing that can be snapped on to the set. However, it’s far from being of just cosmetic value to the user even though it’s going to be available in several exciting color options. Instead, they can also be used to add specific or distinct functionality to the device using NFC. Jolla believes the concept can be picked up by third party players such as an ‘other half’ inspired by a football team or a particular company for their employees and so on. These in turn will add the desired ‘look and feel’ to the device.
However, what can be said in the end is that both the hardware as well as the platform still needs some serious polishing efforts to make them shine in the already crowded smartphone segment. The hardware costs a quite high $399 while fielding mid-range specs and a below average camera while the Sailfish still needs more work to make it look and feel sophisticated.
Microsoft announced free access to its Student Advantage program for all school and educational institutes that already have subscribed to Office 365. This makes the program to be available in over 35,000 schools which will now be eligible to use Office Professional Plus for free. Microsoft explained the move as a means to enhance the student’s prospect of landing up a job, claiming those having proficiency with MS Office tools stand a greater chance in the job market. Microsoft also took the opportunity to take a dig at Google claiming in its blog: “Microsoft Office skills were sought after five times more than any other productivity tools. Even Google’s own job postings require competency with Microsoft Office tools.”
Of course there are other reasons for Microsoft to make special mention of Google as the latter’s free productivity services such as Google Drive has proved to be a cause of worry for Microsoft. Under the circumstances, its best for Microsoft to offer its Office Pro Plus software tool for free which in turn will help it retain their contracts with the schools.
The MS 365 Office Pro Plus suite comprises of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, Access, and Lync.
One of Amazon’s greatest strengths has been the massive expansion of their warehouses and fulfillment centers all over the world. They are spread out geographically so when you order a product, its shipped from the nearest one in your State or one close by. Shipping out packages quickly and effectively has won the Seattle based company acclaim and one of the benefits of a $79 per year Prime membership is free two day shipping. In the near future, customers may get packages 30 minutes after ordering them with their futuristic program called Prime Air.
Amazon is employing a new fleet of aerial drones that are similar to the quad helicopters we see on the consumer level. The intention is to have the drone pick up a package at a fulfillment center and navigate the city or country via advanced GPS, right to your door.
CEO Jeff Bezos channeled the showman spirit of Steve Jobs when announcing this new initiative to the show 60 minutes. ”The hardest challenge in making this happen is demonstrating to the standards of the FAA that this is a safe thing to do. This is years of additional work at this point,” Bezos said.
Amazon is betting on the future of shopping to be delivered by drones. They fly above the city streets, do not get stuck in traffic and go right from the conveyer belt to your front door. ”I know this looks like science fiction — it’s not,” Bezos said. “It will work and it will happen. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
During the holiday season Amazon is processing over 300 orders a second. The drone based delivery could be operational by 2015, but it is firmly up to the FAA to approve for the use of drones in the public sector.
Google has come up with a new app aimed at optimizing the use of tablets in classrooms in sync with its Google Play for Education program, introduced earlier in the month. The Google Edu Device Setup app is meant to be used exclusively by the administrators to help them make the most of the Nexus tablets in the classroom. Also, the app is compatible with the Google Education purchase program and it is imperative for the user to have an administrative account at Google Play for Education.
The new app will guide the user in connecting to the school wi-fi network, as well as offer child-appropriate values for key settings, among others. Administrators will also have the option to enable or disable particular groups from receiving content from Google Play For Education.
Tokyoflash Japan is the newest entrant to the rapidly emerging smartwatch segment. However, the Kisai Rorschach smartwatch is unlike any other smartwatch currently available in the market. While the others in the game are busy wooing buyers with tech bits or the unique features that their smartwatch devices are capable of, the Kisai Rorschach stands out miles away from the rest in the way it accomplishes its most basic function, that of displaying time. Those in the knowing may have already picked up the scent though the majority out there is least likely to be aware of what or who Rorschach refers to.
To begin with, Hermann Rorschach has been a Swiss psychologist and had developed the Rorschach inkblot test in 1921. Sometimes often referred to as just the inkblot test, it has been described in Wikipedia as a “psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both.”
However, no matter how weird the display might look like which seems to be the farthest it can be from depicting the current time, it actually is quite easy to read the time once explained. The top left portion of the marking depicts the hour while the bottom left portion shows the minute. The rest are just reflections of the hour and minute readings which in turn gives rise to the inkblot effect.
The Rorschach bit apart, the smartwatch comes with an e-ink display which means the display can be on at all times. It is powered by the standard CR2016 watch battery which again is user replaceable. Further adding to the power saving credential of the smartwatch is the ‘Sleep Mode’ feature that it offers. As is self explanatory, this mode when invoked will draw just the minimum from the battery. Also, the Sleep Mode is designed to come in effect from 12 AM to 7 AM, a time period when everyone is supposed to be fast asleep. Company sources announced the smartwatch can remain in operation for three years at a stretch on a single battery with the Sleep Mode enabled.
Unfortunately, the Kisai Rorschach is exclusive to Japan, at least for the time being. No word on when it can be seen on foreign shores.