Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Google Buys Nest -- Maker Of The 'Smart Thermostat' -- For $3.2 Billion

OK, Google: Turn down the temperature in the living room, won’t you?
On Monday afternoon, Google announced via press release that it had agreed to acquire Nest Labs, maker of a critically-acclaimed “smart thermostat” and “smart smoke detector,” for $3.2 billion. The move gives Google ammo in a new battle over home electronics, being waged by several companies both large and small, to reinvent familiar gadgets within the home as smartphone-controlled, Internet-connected devices.

The Nest Learning Thermostat — Nest Labs’ first and most well-known product, released in 2011 — was widely praised for its beautiful design, intuitive interface and so-called "smart" features: Programmable via your smartphone, the Nest Learning Thermostat could educate itself about the temperatures you prefer at certain times of day; sense when you weren't at home and shut itself off; and perform other functions designed to save you money and keep you comfortable.

Nest followed up its 2011 "smart thermostat" with 2013's Nest Protect, a "smart smoke detector" which can also be controlled via smartphone, which sends alerts to your phone, and which interacts with other Nest smoke detectors throughout the house.

The CEO and Co-Founder of Nest Labs is Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who is often referred to as the godfather of the iPod. Fadell is widely credited with bringing the simplicity of Apple design to an unloved appliance with both the Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect.

The $3.2 billion deal for Nest Labs represents a little over 5 percent of Google's available cash-on-hand, and is the second-largest in Google's history; only its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola came in higher. Nest will continue to operate as its own distinct brand after the close of the deal, Google said, which should come in the next few months, pending regulatory approval.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Apple's New Mac Pro

The new Mac Pro is an insanely powerful, expensive computer ($3,000 and up — way up). It’s designed for high-end tasks: video, photo and music editing, for example. Medical work. Scientific simulations. Designers who want to connect five or six screens.

And it has the most Applish design Apple has ever done. It’s an out-there, controversial, very brave trashing of everything we ever knew about desktop computer shapes.

It’s not beige. It’s not plastic. It’s not even rectangular. Instead, it’s a small, silvery-black aluminum cylinder, about 10 inches tall and 6½ inches across, completely featureless except for a panel of connectors on the back.

Ask people what they think this futuristic-looking object is, and you’ll hear a lot of “ashtray,” “vase,” “trash can” and “espresso machine.” Occasionally: “the love child of Darth Vader and R2-D2.”
In the typical obsessive Apple fashion, this computer doesn’t even have a power brick; the power transformer is concealed inside for sleeker looks. All that snakes out to the wall outlet is a single black cord. (It’s worth noting, too, that this computer is manufactured in the United States. No worries about Chinese sweatshops.)

With the slide of a lock switch on the back, you can lift the shell off of the Mac Pro, revealing the crazy sci-fi guts inside (and making it easy to install more memory).

The labels for the connectors glow white for a few seconds when you move the computer — a lovely, helpful touch, especially in a dimly lit video-editing suite.

But come on: a cylinder! That’s so Apple, isn’t it? This is, after all, the company that made a transparent computer (the iMac), a computer with no keys (the iPad) and a phone with hardly any buttons.
Sometimes, Apple’s radical designs come at the expense of usability. You know, like how the MacBook Air laptop is astonishingly thin — but doesn’t let you insert a DVD or swap batteries.
That, then, is the question on the Mac Pro: Is it so artsy that it’s less useful?

In some ways, the compact, stunning cylinder is a huge improvement on the hulking, 20-inch-tall, 40-pound design of the previous Mac Pro model. The new one is desktoppable and one-hand carryable. And the cylindrical design creates an efficient chimney effect that keeps the circuitry cool but amazingly silent. (There’s only one fan — not eight, as in the old Mac Pro — and you really have to strain to hear it.)
On the other hand, the whole point of the Mac Pro has always been expandability. The old Mac Pro’s cavernous interior could accommodate added hard drives, optical drives, expansion cards and so on.
But in its embrace of the cylinder, Apple has turned its Pro computer inside out. There’s no room for anything new inside. You can’t insert a hard drive, a circuit board or a DVD burner.

You can add all of those components — externally — if they have Thunderbolt connectors. Those are tiny jacks, incredibly fast, wildly versatile; the Mac Pro has six of them. Unfortunately, there aren’t many Thunderbolt gadgets yet. (This directory lists about 150 of them, in all the usual categories — storage, video capture, chassis that can hold specialized cards, multichannel audio boxes and so on.)
So is that it, then? Apple expects you to buy the world’s most breathtaking, compact workstation and then surround it with a tangle of mismatched, cluttery, external peripherals?

Apple says that misses the point. The world is changing, it says. The “everything crammed into one computer” model is going away. Nowadays, professional creative companies install centralized storage — shared network hard drives tucked away in a server closet somewhere. That arrangement gets the bulk, heat and noise away from you, the creative genius.

Apple also points out that the old Mac Pro had room for four hard drives, two DVD drives and four expansion cards, but those were arbitrary numbers. It was far too much wasted capacity for some people, not enough for others (like video editors who need many terabytes of storage). In response, Apple designed the new Mac Pro to be only the brain, with all of its organs external, so that you can build precisely the system you need.

You might buy those arguments; you might not. And even if you agree with Apple’s assertion that external expansion is the future, you might not like it. It might mean replacing a lot of gear you’ve already invested in, or finding adapters that accommodate their new, external status.

It all boils down to whether you need what the Mac Pro offers: ridiculous horsepower. You can read all about it here, but the point is that every wire, every circuit, every chip has been designed for speed. Intel’s new Xeon processors. Up to 64 gigabytes of memory. Four USB 3.0 jacks. Two gigabit Ethernet jacks (you can connect to two office networks at once). An HDMI jack so you can connect a TV directly (a big deal for video editors).

No SD memory-card slot, though. No traditional spinning hard drive, either. Instead, the main “hard drive” is made of flash memory, of the sort inside MacBook Airs, tablets and phones. Saving files and opening them are ridiculously fast — this flash drive is 10 times faster than most hard drives. But even if you max it out to 1 terabyte ($800 more), that’s not much storage for video editors; again, external storage is going to be part of your future.

The Mac Pro’s ace in the hole is two top-of-the-line graphics cards. In the olden days, these circuit boards were dedicated to the task of displaying images on your screens. Now, though, they’re screamingly fast computers in their own right — and the Mac Pro is designed to assign them some of the work the main processing chip would normally do. Many hands make light work, you know.
So it must come as a shock to learn that the Mac Pro isn’t especially fast at many everyday tasks. Macworld’s benchmark testing found that the new Mac Pro is actually slower than an ordinary iMac in iMovie, iTunes, Aperture, Parallels and the desktop.

Yet in tests of high-end, data-crunchy apps like Final Cut Pro X, Photoshop, iPhoto, HandBrake and Mathematica, the Mac Pro was faster than any Mac ever tested. These, of course, are precisely the kinds of programs that professionals use. For them, time is money, and the Mac Pro can save both.
In fact, the latest Final Cut version, 10.1, has been specially rejiggered to exploit the Mac Pro and its dual graphics cards. Apple says that it can manipulate and process 4K video — a new standard of video with four times the picture resolution of HDTV — fluidly and easily, without stuttering or lagging. I tried that, using a drive full of 4K video footage, and it turns out to be true. (A MacBook, on the other hand, can’t handle that 4K footage without gasping.)

You’ll be encouraged to buy a 4K TV in the next couple of years, but I’m not sold on it; when you sit at a normal viewing distance from your TV, the additional resolution is invisible to your eye. 4K may fizzle just the way 3D TV did.
But that’s just it: The Mac Pro, in every possible way, is a bet on the future.

Apple watchers should be used to this routine: Apple predicts a change in the technological tide, builds computers accordingly and enrages the masses who’ll have to adapt to (and pay for) the new ways of doing things. (See also: the time Apple eliminated dial-up modems, the time it killed off floppy drives and the time it eliminated DVD drives.)

But here’s the really maddening part: Apple almost always turns out to be right.
True, maybe those tech trends come about, or at least get accelerated, because Apple throws its weight behind them.

To justify buying a Mac Pro, it helps to have a job that calls for the Mac Pro’s kind of horsepower — like 4K video editing. And to have software that exploits its multicore processor and those high-speed graphics processors. And to have add-ons with Thunderbolt connectors. And to work at a company that uses centralized storage.

Fortunately, all of that will start coming faster now. That is, the future imagined by the Mac Pro will arrive sooner because of the Mac Pro. In the end, the Mac Pro isn’t just a shiny cylinder that’s built for the future; it’s also a nifty bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sharks in Australia begin using Twitter to warn surfers and swimmers of their presence

More than 300 tagged sharks automatically send tweets when they swim within a kilometer of beaches on country's the dangerous west coast

Large sharks off Western Australia are now doing their part to keep surfers and swimmers safe–by sending tweets warning of their presence.
Scientists have fitted 320 sharks, many of them great whites, with transmitters that automatically issue warnings to the Surf Life Saving Western Australia’s Twitter feed when the tagged sharks approach within a kilometer of the coast’s popular beaches.
For example, a tweet sent early Saturday in Australia reads: “Fisheries advise: tagged Bronze whaler shark detected at Garden Island (north end) receiver at 06:0700 AM on 27-Dec-2013.”

sharktweet.jpegThe twitter feed has more than 14,000 followers and the real-time warnings, it’s hoped, will help people make more informed decisions when choosing to venture into the ocean.Large sharks off Western Australia are now doing their part to keep surfers and swimmers safe–by sending tweets warning of their presence.Scientists have fitted 320 sharks, many of them great whites, with transmitters that automatically issue warnings to the Surf Life Saving Western Australia’s Twitter feed when the tagged sharks approach within a kilometer of the coast’s popular beaches.For example, a tweet sent early Saturday in Australia reads: “Fisheries advise: tagged Bronze whaler shark detected at Garden Island (north end) receiver at 06:0700 AM on 27-Dec-2013.”
Chris Peck, from SLSWA, told Sky News that this system will reach beachgoers before alerts issued via traditional media, such as radio and newspapers.
“You might not have got some information until the following day, in which case the hazard has long gone and the information might not be relevant,” Peck said. “Now it’s instant information and really people don’t have an excuse to say we’re not getting the information, it’s about whether you are searching for it and finding it.”
Six people have been killed by sharks off Western Australia in the past two years. The latest victim, Chris Boyd, 35, was fatally bitten while surfing in November.
The government has been under tremendous pressure to make the waters safer and the Tweeting program comes after a decision to allow professional hunters to kill large sharks sighted in certain areas.
Premier Colin Barnett recently told reporters: “The safety of human life, the safety of beach goers using our marine environment must come first.”
The shark-culling effort, however, has been highly criticized as a program that will only lend a perception that the waters are safer after a shark or several sharks are removed.
So far, nobody has tweeted in opposition to shark’s using Twitter to announce their arrival. To be sure, it seems like the more rational of the two plans.

By Pete Thomas

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

iPhone 6 and Galaxy S5 will both lack the latest trendy smartphone feature

The iPhone 6 and Galaxy S5 will reportedly not have flexible displays, as some people may have expected, unnamed “industry sources” told The Korea Herald. Apparently Samsung is unable to mass-produce curved displays in sufficient numbers for its upcoming flagship device. “The current capacity for flexible panels is not high enough for the Galaxy S5, which will be rolled out early next year.” Eugene Investment & Securities analyst Kim Jong-hyun said. “Curved ones will be unveiled late next year as a Galaxy variant rather than as a flagship model.”

Because Samsung and LG are the only two companies producing curved displays, and because they can’t yet meet Apple’s volume requirements, it’s believed that the iPhone 6 that will launch next year will also lack a curved display. Other Chinese handset makers are not expected to make use of the technology either. “Apple is a very difficult client. Suppliers must disclose every cost and detail and reap little profit,” an unnamed source said. “Chinese companies may not stand it at least for now.”

Samsung is currently producing up to 500,000 flexible displays for Smartphones, with a 30 percent yield, and production could go up to 1 million units in late 2014. However, Samsung’s first flexible display Smartphone will reportedly only sell 50,000 units in South Korea – the Galaxy Round is not available in other markets. LG also makes curved displays for the LG G Flex handset, which is available in South Korea and other markets. LG is reportedly producing fewer curved screens than Samsung each month, while Japan Display “is even further behind.”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Qualcomm Picks Insider as New Chief Executive

SAN FRANCISCO — Qualcomm, the wireless technology company that is one of the largest chip makers in the world, said on Friday that its chief operating officer, Steven M. Mollenkopf, would become its new chief executive.

The company said its board chose Mr. Mollenkopf, 44, as chief executive in a unanimous vote. In March, he will succeed Paul E. Jacobs, who will become executive chairman.
Mr. Mollenkopf, an electrical engineer with deep experience in semiconductors, has worked his way up the ranks at the company for the last 20 years. In recent years, he oversaw the $3.1 billion purchase of the chip maker Atheros Communications, the company’s largest acquisition ever, before becoming chief operating officer in 2011.
As a member of Qualcomm’s executive committee, Mr. Mollenkopf helped to guide Qualcomm’s global strategy. The company says his technical and business leadershiphave been critical to its success.
“With today’s announcement, we enable a smooth transition to a proven executive in Steve Mollenkopf,” Sherry Lansing, presiding director of Qualcomm’s board, said in a statement.
Qualcomm, a company based in San Diego with a market capitalization of about $123 billion, receives most of its revenue and profit from technology for cellphones to communicate with wireless networks. The cellphone and network technology, including CDMA chips and cellular networks, are used by Sprint andVerizon Wireless. Qualcomm also makes mobile processors that run the software of many smartphones, including those made by Samsung Electronics, Sony, Nokia and BlackBerry.

“I look forward to working with our executive team and our employees in driving growth for our company and the entire mobile ecosystem as it transitions to 4G and beyond,” Mr. Mollenkopf said in a statement.

Qualcomm is trying to expand more aggressively in the lucrative mobile industry. Last month, the chip maker joined the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, along with BlackBerry’s co-founders, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, to prepare a bid for BlackBerry, the struggling smartphone maker, according to people briefed on the process.

While Qualcomm is enormously successful, it has run into some problems in China, its biggest market. The company said in November that it faced an antitrust investigation by the Chinese government for reasons that have been kept confidential. In the financial year that ended in September, Qualcomm earned $12.3 billion in revenue from China, or 49 percent of the company’s total revenue; a portion of the revenue attributed to China came from phones assembled in the country and sold in foreign markets.

Many analysts speculate that the antitrust investigation could be related to China Mobile, the largest wireless network in China with more than 750 million subscribers, which is preparing to introduce its faster fourth-generation network later this month. China Mobile’s new 4G network will most likely rely on technology used by Qualcomm. Analysts say they believe that is why the Chinese government started the antitrust inquiry, as a way to gain leverage ahead of royalty negotiations with Qualcomm.

China Mobile is also widely expected to reach a deal with Apple to carry its iPhone. While Apple designs its own processors, the iPhones rely on Qualcomm’s networking chips to connect to newer 4G networks.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Best Health Apps To Get Fit

There does come a time when we look down at our own flabby self and give ourselves a break from all the Angry Bird craziness ensuing on our smartphone screen and go for a jog. We decided to give you the much-needed motivational nudge and combine the mundane exercise routine with some gizmo and gadgetry!
Here are a bunch of health and fitness apps that you can download for your smartphone that will help you get back in shape, or keep yourself fit the right way!

1. WebMD

We tend to get worried about frivolous things regarding our health and well-being time and again and since we’re too embarrassed to visit the doctor for everything, a sudden urge to google the symptoms swells up. In such a case, WebMD offers the perfect solution in which all you need to do is add some personal detail and narrow down our symptoms and the app does the rest. It gives you a rough diagnosis of what might be wrong with you and even offers treatment for the same. Oh, and it can be highly resourceful during a First-Aid emergency.

2. Sleep Cycle

Getting rudely awakened from our deep sleepby an annoying alarm clock is the worst way to kickstart a morning. And the only cure to all of that is the Sleep Cycle. This app smartly clubs itself to your phone’s accelerometer and tracks your movement in your sleep. And whenever it senses that you’re sleep is the lightest, it’ll ring the bell! Don’t worry though, it’ll wake you up around a 30-minute window frame of your set time so that your schedule doesn’t get messy.

3. Fitness Buddy

Fitness Buddy is a fitness buddy in the truest sense, and a smart one at that. Usually we get confused about which workout to execute to flex our muscles the right way and Fitness Buddy does just that! All you need to do is set a fitness goal and it will map a fitness regime for you to achieve! It offers more than 1,700 exercises and 1,000 videos for guidance.

4. MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker

Today’s calorie conscious beings create a huge fuss regarding the amount of calorie that goes into their tummy, and the amount they burn. But that would seem like a worry of yesterday, all thanks to MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker. This app keeps a track on the amount of calories that you have consumed and the amount that you have burned through exercising or your daily routine. Perfect for fitness freaks.

5. RunKeeper

RunKeeper combines the power of your phone’s GPS and accelerometer and assists you in all the walking and jogging that you do on a daily basis. It tracks your running time, the distance covered, your pace, and the amount of calories burned during the process. It even comes preloaded with running regimes and workoutsto help you in scheduling your runs accordingly! It’s in-built audio cues help in giving you the much-needed motivational nudge if you’re slowing down or stopping.