Smartphones going modular


A near-final prototype of Google’s Project Ara. – Photo : ©Google ATAP

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/Mo4GeSil9fU

There has been much talk of modular smartphones this spring, after LG released its G5 handset and Google presented a near-final version of its Project Ara.

Modular smartphones differ from regular mobiles thanks to their “building block” design, made up of various interchangeable modules containing different hardware components. These can be switched quickly and easily to boost performance or replace faulty parts.

The current wave of modular smartphones draws on a concept created by a Dutch designer, Dave Hakkens, whose Phonebloks mobile is based on a set of small modules (processor, hard disk, camera, etc.) that can be easily changed and updated.

Once assembled, they form a smartphone with varying levels of performance and functionality, a bit like a desktop PC. As well as making savings for users, a modular design can also help counter planned obsolescence in smartphones.

This idea inspired Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), who went on to develop Project Ara. Initially presented as a similar project to Phonebloks, comprising almost as many modules as a smartphone has components, the handset evolved, little by little, into a slightly less ambitious prototype presented at the last Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California.

It now takes the form of a smartphone with just six interchangeable modules, including a second display, a camera, memory, a speaker, etc. The screen, processor and RAM are all grouped together in one core block that cannot be modified. A developers’ kit is due to be released in the fall ahead of a planned consumer launch in 2017.

Another smartphone based on the same idea hails from Finland. However, the PuzzlePhone hasn’t been the focus of anywhere near as much media attention as Google’s concept.

This modular mobile only has three interchangeable blocks: one for the display, another for the battery and one main system block housing the processor, memory and camera. It should go on sale before the end of 2016.

The only modular smartphone currently available to buy is the LG G5, unveiled at the 2016 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, back in February.

This handset has a slide-out bottom for changing the battery in just a few seconds. As well as its removable battery, additional interchangeable elements can be added to the phone, such as camera and audio modules. The LG G5 is out now priced at around $650.

Check out Project Ara in this video below:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/aWW5mQadZAY
Sources: AFP – RelaxNews

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One phone to rule all; Fintech, the healthy disruptors of …

 Apr 16, 2016 That belongs to the realm of politics and education, which is another story. Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.
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Smartphone handset: build it yourselves


Build-your-own Google handset reconstructs smartphone

Barcelona (AFP) – With a smartphone that slots together piece by piece like Lego, US Internet giant Google is trying to reinvent the mobile as most phone makers are honing sleeker handsets.

The company aims to challenge its rival Apple’s thin iPhones with the Google Ara project, giving smartphone aficionados the option to build their phone themselves.

Analysts say tech boffins will love it but remain cautious about how popular it may be compared to polished conventional smartphones that sit snugly in the palm.

Google says the Ara phone is part of its bid to widen Internet access to users in developing countries and could create a new industry for assembly-ready handset parts.

Google’s associate, US firm Yezz, presented a prototype of the build-your-own device this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world’s biggest wireless telecom trade fair.

The phone consists of a base structure on which various square, magnetic modular parts can be attached: screen, battery, camera, speakers and more. Google plans to release it in three sizes.

Build-your-own Google handset reconstructs smartphone

Ara would allow users to replace individual components rather than throwing the whole thing away and buying a new handset. It says the base unit will last at least five or six years.

“That is good for the environment,” said Annette Zimmermann, a telecom specialist at German consultancy Gartner.

– Emerging markets –

Ara “could reshape the mobile landscape,” said Paul Eremenko, director of the Ara Project, in a presentation to experts in January.

He said it aimed to gain six billion potential clients — the current billion people who currently use smartphones “and five billion future users”, most of them in emerging markets.

Google says a mid-range Ara phone could cost between $50 and $100 to produce, but has not given details of the likely sales price, leaving questions marks over how sustainable such a product would be.

“Google is not looking to make money directly with Ara,” said Jerome Colin, a telecom expert at French consultancy group Roland Berger.

“It is basically looking to spread smartphones in countries with low purchasing power, and to unify the telecom world around its Android system.”

– ‘Paradox of choice’ –

Tech fans and bloggers queued up to see the prototype presented in Barcelona, but analysts were sceptical.

“The trend in mobile phones is to have small, thin, really integrated products. If you make a product modular it immediately means that you’re going to have to make compromises on that,” said Ben Wood, head researcher at consultancy CCS Insight.

“The other question mark I have is: beyond geeks, who really knows” about components? he added.

“If I said to you, which processor do you want in your smartphone, I think you could stop people in the street and they’d just look at you like you’d landed from Mars.”

Eremenko acknowledged that consumers risked being overwhelmed by too many technical options when it comes to choosing components.

“We need to resolve the paradox of choice,” he said in January.

Google plans a test launch of the device in Puerto Rico by the end of this year.

“We will have to see if the public takes to it,” said Zimmerman.

Google dominates the world of Internet searches and its Android operating system can be used on 80 percent of the world’s smartphones. It also holds a large market share in wireless tablet devices.

Its senior vice-president Sundar Pichai said in Barcelona on Monday that it was in talks with telecom companies about possibly using their networks to operate its own mobile phone services in the United States.

AFP

2013 the year of Internet innovation


Smartphone_Ed SnowdenA man uses his smartphone to take a picture of a person wearing a mask of former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a protest in Berlin, July 4, 2013.

As the year comes to a close, we need to reflect on what are the most important things that have affected our lives in 2013.

The Internet continues to transform our world. The most significant Internet event in 2013 was not the listing of Facebook, which priced the company at $104 billion (almost Bt3.4 trillion), but Edward Snowden’s July revelations of Internet surveillance, which revealed that Big Brother, friend or foe, is really watching. Since my smartphone is smart enough to track me even in the toilet, there is really no privacy left in this world.

On the plus side, Singles Day – November 11 – garnered 35 billion yuan (Bt187 billion) in online sales on one day in China. Since China already accounts for one-third of the smartphones in the world, and they can make and sell smartphones at one-third the price of Apple or Samsung, it is not surprising that e-commerce in the Middle Kingdom is set to overtake even the US in volume next year.

Online business is here to stay.

What the combination of the Internet and smartphone means is that a person in the remotest part of Indonesia can sell his or her product to buyers worldwide, and collect over the smartphone, which was impossible to imagine even 20 years ago.

Amazing also are the apps downloaded in their millions to maximise personal efficiency. Ease of personal communication, meanwhile, has been taken to a new level with apps like WeChat. Such free Internet services are rising so fast that even revenue from SMS text messages is slowing down.

On the other side, after Snowden, what must consider the proper role of the government in the Internet and how it should behave to encourage Web innovation and growth?

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz was one of the first to tackle the subject, in “The Role of Government in a Digital Age” (2000), with Peter and Jonathan Orzag. Their report recommended 12 principles. The first three cover the state’s proper role in the affairs of the Internet:

1.Provide public data and information.

2.Improve efficient government services.

3.Support basic research.

The next six principles are areas where the government should exercise caution. These include:

4.Adding specialised value to public data and information.

5.Providing private goods only under limited circumstances.

6.Providing services online where private services are more efficient.

7.Ensuring that mechanisms exist to protect privacy, security, and consumer protection online.

8.Promoting network externalities only with great deliberation and care.

9. Maintaining proprietary information or exercising rights under patents or copyright.

The report also signalled “red light” areas of state intervention in the Internet:

10.Governments should exercise substantial caution in entering markets in which private sector firms are active

11.Governments (including government corporations) should generally not aim to maximise net revenues or take action that would reduce competition.

12.Government should only be allowed to provide goods or services for which appropriate privacy and conflict-of-interest protections have been erected.

The Stiglitz-Orzag report was written for the US market, but the general principles are useful guides for all states. The trouble is that Snowden showed that the US government might have failed to follow some of these guidelines. We do know that governments are becoming increasingly intrusive on the Internet, and that such intrusion inhibits competition and innovation.

Because the Internet is evolving very fast, the role of government in Web affairs also needs to evolve. Businesses are becoming even more service and information-oriented, with increasing numbers going digital and in the “Cloud”. This means that governments are struggling with three major issues: protecting private privacy, ensuring a level playing field in competition, and taxing online activities.

Governments must also sort out jurisdictional duties and powers, because the Cloud is global, and taxation and regulation is not only national, but departmental. It is as if each small part of the bureaucracy is trying to regulate the whole Cloud. We can all touch and feel its power, but there is no overall central authority that can control the Cloud.

An island nation in the Pacific might pass a law on the Cloud, but could it enforce it?

Individual privacy is being threatened by the practice of hacking, and the biggest hackers are not bedroom-bound nerds, but governments everywhere.

The second problem of a level playing field is a serious one. If Google has maps and can monitor everything I do through my smartphone, does that information belong to Google or to me? If it belongs to the large platforms, does that not confer a huge informational advantage on them? How can governments ensure that there is a level playing field between these massive online platforms and the small businesses that have no such information or may have to pay the platform for it?

The third area is taxation. Online commerce has escaped the tax radar because it is new. In contrast, bricks-and-mortar shops have rents, create jobs and pay value-added taxes. If everything moves online, the government loses the ability to tax, and bricks-and-mortar retail shops will complain they are losing out to larger and larger platforms. Bookshops around the world are closing in droves now that everyone can order through Amazon.

There are no easy answers to these tough questions. The interdependent and interconnected nature of the Internet means that regulatory or government action in one part may affect the system as a whole. In other words, government action or non-action creates a shadow system – the business moves offline, offshore or into cyberspace.

What we need is better transparency, better education, wider access and also some key principles of fair competition that should be enforced for online business to innovate.

Finally, a year-end reminder: use your smartphone in the toilet, and someone (not Snowden) can hear you flush. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to all.

Contributed by Andrew Sheng, President of the Fung Global Institute.

NSA secretly hacks, intercepts Google, Yahoo daily


NSA

The United States’ National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers worldwide. That’s according to documents released by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, The Washington Post reports.

Video: NSA intercepts Google, Yahoo traffic overseas report | The National
http://shar.es/IxZIJ

Google hacked by NSAAccording to the documents, the agency and its British counterpart GCHQ, through a project called MUSCULAR, collected data stored on Google and Yahoo servers. That allowed both governments access to hundreds of millions of user accounts from individuals worldwide.

“From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants,” RT cites the Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani.

A January 9th document says that in the preceding 30 days, collectors had processed over 181 million pieces of information, including both metadata and the actual contents of communications.

The government can already request information from phone or data through the FISA Amendments Act but this data collection would ostensibly take place without Google and Yahoo even being aware of it.

When you send email or store files with an internet company, that data is regularly shared among servers around the world, in order to ensure quick access to your information from wherever you happen to be. Google and Yahoo run customized private networks to shuttle that information around, passing between and within countries, as the Post indicates in a graphic. To move that information, the companies use fiber optic connections, light-speed networks running over thin glass cables. According to the Post, it’s those connections that the NSA is able to monitor. None of Yahoo’s inter-server traffic is encrypted. Not all of Google’s is either.

The MUSCULAR program, according to Wednesday’s leak, involves a process in which the NSA and GCHQ intercept communications overseas, where lax restrictions and oversight allow the agencies access to intelligence with ease.

“NSA documents about the effort refer directly to ‘full take,’ ‘bulk access’ and ‘high volume’ operations on Yahoo and Google networks,” the Post reported. “Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner”.

The Post points out that company staffers were surprised and angry to hear that their their networks had been compromised. Google said that it was “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers”.

The report comes amid a storm of protest about NSA surveillance both at home and overseas of phone and Internet communications.

On Tuesday, US officials said reports that American spy agencies snooped on millions of Europeans were false.

Alexander told lawmakers that in many cases European spy agencies had turned over phone records and shared them with US intelligence.

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Don’t be ‘that’ person on social media: tips and best practices


Social media get noticed not blocked_Twitter
BE MORE COURTEOUS: Following someone on social media is a lot like dating, therefore one should follow certain rules of etiquette. — AFP

For me, following someone on social media is a lot like dating. I like to learn a little about them first before going all the way.

When I follow someone, it’s because I liked what they were sharing or appreciated what they had to say.

But not everyone is follow material. Some people are boring, annoying and predictable. And some make mistakes that leave us scratching our heads in sheer bewilderment.

So here are a few tips and best practices to not only get you more followers, but to get you noticed instead of blocked.

• May I have your attention? Please!   

Instead of telling me what you’re doing, tell me what has your attention. Way back when Twitter had that new car smell, it got a bad rap because everyone was posting that they were eating. Or thinking about eating. I don’t care about that, but I might care if you have photos of an amazing gourmet meal. In other words, what has your attention vs. the obvious.

As Doc Brown said in the Back to the Future movies, “Marty! You’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally!” Thinking fourth-dimensionally makes social media fun.

• Not everyone cares about your schedule: Scheduling tweets or Facebook posts isn’t the worst thing you can do, but scheduling something at an inopportune time is.

There are countless examples of brands and people that had tweets set up during tragedies such as the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings. I had an e-mail exchange with someone after Boston who defended it with, “Oh, I had that set up loooooooong before it happened.” Well, you know what? That’s not a valid excuse. You are responsible for every message you send, whether it’s automated or not. Also, scheduling tweets that far in advance can be a recipe for trouble. Be aware of what’s going on around you at all times, and make sure the message you are sending is the right one.

• Let me be direct — or not: One of the things that annoys me most on Twitter is the automatic direct message.

You know, when you follow an account and you get a tweet immediately that goes something like this: “You are awesome. Let’s be awesome together. Tell me the things that make you happy.” Besides the fact that no one talks like this and I have little interest in talking about what makes me happy with someone I just met, the automatic direct message is lazy and it’s not social.

The real-life equivalent is screening a call and letting it go to voicemail. One is more convenient, but the other is appreciated. This is social media, folks. Show me the real you, not some watered-down version. Be social.

Keeping these three things in mind when you share on social media can be the difference between being just another follow and a superstar

By SCOTT KLEINBERG . — McClatchy-Tribune Information Services 

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Facebook profit plunges 79%, revenues gain 40%


Fb-logoSan Francisco — Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) reported a plunge in fourth-quarter profit on higher spending Wednesday, even while it made long-awaited progress luring advertisers eager to reach mobile- device users.

Net income fell 79 percent to $64 million last quarter as operating expenses jumped 82 percent, Facebook said. That outpaced a 40 percent revenue gain to $1.59 billion and raised concerns that margins will come under pressure.

The stock fell 2.8 percent in German trading, paring a drop of as much as 11 percent in late U.S. trading as investors weighed near-term lower profit against the prospect of future growth.

Still, the company delivered fourth-quarter results above Wall Street’s expectations and sought to show that it has finally transformed into a “mobile company” after rising to dominance as a Web-based social network.

Facebook-q412

“Everything was slightly better than expected,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. “I don’t see anything here that would make me want to sell the stock.”

The world’s largest social media company earned $64 million, or 3 cents per share, in the October-December period. That’s down 79 percent from $302 million, or 14 cents per share, a year earlier when it was still a privately held company.

Revenue rose 40 percent to $1.59 billion from $1.13 billion, surpassing analysts’ expectations of $1.51 billion.

Advertising revenue grew 41 percent to $1.33 billion, increasing at a faster clip than in the third quarter, when it climbed 36 percent to $1.09 billion.

Excluding special items, mainly related to stock compensation expenses, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook earned 17 cents per share in the latest quarter. Analysts polled by FactSet expected lower adjusted earnings of 15 cents per share.

Nonetheless, Facebook’s stock fell $1.11, or 3.6 percent, to $30.13 in after-hours trading following the earnings report.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg plans to increase expenses, excluding certain costs, 50 percent this year to hire staff and roll out new tools for advertisers. That’s more than the 33 percent increase projected by Pacific Crest Securities LLC, and it underscores the urgency of capturing a bigger slice of the $6.97 billion U.S. mobile-ad market. Done right, the added investment will translate to profit growth, said Adam Schneiberg, a portfolio manager at BTR Capital Management.

“Wall Street tends to be forgiving of higher spending during high-growth periods when new products are being built,” Schneiberg said. “As long as eyeballs tune in and revenue keeps growing, the Street will believe that at some point the company can flip the switch on profitability.”

Facebook shares had advanced 1.5 percent to $31.24 at the close in New York just ahead of the earnings announcement, leaving them up 76 percent from a record low close on Sept. 4.

Mobile-Ad Push

Facebook’s increased investment is designed to help the company grapple with rising competition from larger rivals in the U.S. market for mobile advertising, predicted by EMarketer Inc. to surge 82 percent this year. Google Inc. is projected to grab 57 percent of that market, and Facebook will remain a distant No. 2 with 12 percent, EMarketer estimates.

“More mobile revenue means way more spending on the operations of selling ads,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group LLC, who has a hold rating on the stock. “This is an expensive company to run.”

Mobile contributed 23 percent of total advertising revenue, or about $306 million, according to Facebook. That compares with 14 percent in the third quarter. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. predicted mobile would contribute $384.2 million, or 27 percent of ad revenue, in the latest quarter.

Facebook’s engineers are making improvements to mobile applications, including those for Google’s Android software, Zuckerberg said on a conference call. Better mobile services can boost user engagement, he said.

‘Big Transition’

“We made this big transition, where now there are more people using Facebook on mobile every day than on desktop,” Zuckerberg said. “More people are starting to understand that mobile is a great opportunity for us.”

Facebook is investing in new products to attract users and keep them on the site longer. Earlier this month, the company announced a revamp of its search service that lets members find information on people, places, photos and interests. The company also has upgraded its mobile applications with new versions for phones running Google’s Android software and Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

“We’re investing heavily because we see big opportunities ahead for the company,” David Ebersman, Facebook’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “So, we’re trying to invest to build the most valuable company we can for the long term and to really invest in areas that can drive engagement.”

Narrower Margin

Zuckerberg also said that he expects to hire aggressively, causing expenses to grow at a faster rate than sales in 2013. The company had 4,619 employees at the end of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Facebook’s fourth-quarter operating margin declined to 33 percent from 48 percent a year earlier, while costs rose to $1.06 billion from $583 million.

Facebook reached 1.06 billion users during the fourth quarter, up from 1.01 billion in the third quarter. The number of mobile users was 680 million, up from 604 million in the third quarter.

Analysts had been pushing up ratings amid growing optimism for accelerated revenue growth. The proportion of analysts covering Facebook with a buy rating has risen to 65 percent from 52 percent on Oct. 23, when Facebook posted third-quarter sales that beat estimates, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“A lot of these products are pretty new,” said Scott Kessler, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ, who rates the stock a hold. “It’s just going to take some time.”

– The AP and Bloomberg

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Google hit with $AUD200k defamation damages


Ad giant’s own witness confessed removing dodgy search results is easy

An Australian man defamed by links on Google that associated his name with images of and articles about a criminal has been awarded $AUD200,000 damages.

Melbourne man Michael Trkulja argued that searches on his name, which brought up references to criminal Tony Mokbel, constituted defamation.

Trkulja asked for those references to be altered. Part of Google’s defence suggested he had not properly completed forms that would have seen the ad giant alter its search results, but the end result was that Trkulja’s name continued to appear alongside references to a nasty gangster called Tony Mokbel. A jury agreed that those results equated to defamation, and Supreme Court Justice David Beach today decided it was $AUD200,000 worth of defamation.

The judgment paints a fascinating picture of Google’s response to the complaint, noting that a Google US employee, a ‘Mr Madden-Woods’, appeared on the stand but that the ad giant did not call anyone to the witness stand involved in handling the original complaint from Mr. Trkulja.

That became important because one piece of evidence offered by Mr. Trkulja was an email from help@google.com stating:

“At this time, Google has decided not to take action based on our policies concerning content removal. Please contact the webmaster of the page in question to have your client’s name removed from the page.”

But the existence of the mail from help@google.com, Justice Beach writes, means the jury could easily “… infer that … Google Inc was well aware of what was being requested of it” and that a more nuanced response was almost certainly a sensible option.

Making matters worse, Justice Beach writes that Madden-Woods “ … conceded the obvious (perhaps somewhat begrudgingly) that it would not take very much effort to work out, from the page of photographs supplied to Google Inc, the identity of the website that linked the plaintiff’s name to Mr Mokbel and Mr Tanner. All one had to do was click on one of the images (the text beneath each image showing that the one web page was involved). At that point it would have been open to Google Inc to block the URL of that page from Google Inc’s searches, in compliance with the plaintiff’s former solicitors’ request.”

The amount of damages awarded seems to have been calculated in two ways.

Trkulja had already succesfully sued Yahoo! over the same matter and been awarded $AUD225,000, but that search engine had published nasty links for longer and that those links stated he was “so involved with crime in Melbourne that his rivals had hired a hit man to murder him”. Google’s results stated only that Trkulja “was such a significant figure in the Melbourne criminal underworld that events involving him were recorded on a website that chronicled crime in Melbourne”.

Justice Beach declares that a lesser imputation, but then tried to weigh the number of times each statement would have been read given the respective user bases of the two search engines.
His argument makes for interesting reading:

“While there was debate before me as to the relative popularity of Google and Yahoo search engines, neither side made any attempt to lead evidence of the precise number of publications brought about by a Yahoo search engine as compared to a Google search engine. That said, as was noted by counsel for the plaintiff, in support of a submission that I should find that there were more Google publications than Yahoo publications, while the word ‘Googling’ has entered the vernacular, there is no corresponding word in respect of Yahoo’s products.”

By Simon Sharwood, APAC Editor
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