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Google Glass: Freaky, geeky tech toy aims to save lives

Developers are hard at work making Google Glass more than a tech toy


SAN FRANCISCO - Walk around this tech capital and you'll spot someone wearing Google Glass, a device that spawns everything from envy to eye-rolling as debates rage over the wearable computer's pros (hands-free tool) and cons (distracting privacy invader).


But don't smirk too fast: one of those early adopters could wind up saving your life. Around the country, coding-capable fans of the device are quietly taking it upon themselves to leverage Glass's futuristic properties for good.


In Michigan, a programmer is developing software that allows Glass to monitor a driver's eyes and send visual and auditory alerts at signs of drowsiness. In North Carolina, a fireman has spent his own time and money to develop an app that routes incoming 911 calls and the locations of fire hydrants to his Glass. And in Texas, a health care entrepreneur is working with anesthesiologists to make their rounds safer and more efficient.


'Things are getting interesting,' says Thad Starner, Google's technical lead on Glass, which is expected to go on sale commercially this year. It's now in the hands of tens of thousands folks who purchased the $1,500 device after writing a successful pitch to Google.


'There are enough devices out there that we're beginning to see things we didn't expect,' says Starner, a longtime augmented reality expert at Georgia Tech. 'People are figuring out how to use Glass to solve problems that interest them.'


Often those problems aren't critical. Some of the apps produced so far target popular pastimes, such as cooking (AllTheCooks Recipes places that info in your peripheral vision), golf (GoftSight projects hole distances and other details) and fitness (Strava's Glass app lets weekend warriors monitor their progress while working out).


But Jake Steinerman is adamant that Glass's uses should go beyond mere entertainment. When the New York native wound up in Michigan for college, he went from being a non-driver to exploring the backroads of his adopted state, 'often driving so much that I found I would get dangerously drowsy.'


Steinerman, 23, of Midland, Mich., felt strongly that Glass was not only less distracting than his smartphone but that it could potentially help drivers. DriveSafe for Glass, which launched in January and is free for Glass owners, uses built-in infrared and tilt sensors to detect when the head or eyelids drop and triggers a voice alert ('You're falling asleep, pull over') and a visual message that directs the wearer to tap Glass for directions to the nearest rest area.


'The idea is to help combat distracted driving of any kind,' says Steinerman. He says he's considering adding a gaming component to the app which would reward safe driving with points 'depending on where your head is focused. There's a lot of negative talk about Glass being distracting, but I find it safer than using a phone.'


In North Carolina, firefighter Patrick Johnson, 34, has created another innovative and altruistic use for Glass.



Patrick Jackson, a fireman from North Carolina, has designed an app for Google Glass that projects the location of upcoming fire hydrants(Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Jackson)


'Time is critical in what we do,' says Jackson, who fights fires for the city of Rocky Mount, N.C. 'What I've developed is a work in progress, but I'm convinced it is something that will be very useful.'


Jackson has spent nights and days off programming an app that brings key information to his heads-up display, including turn by turn directions, hydrant locations, and soon even building blueprints and car diagrams that indicate the most effective way to use hydraulic rescue tools to free a trapped motorist.


'For years, firemen had to try and memorize all these things, or just learn them on the fly,' says Jackson, who also has a part-time job coding remotely for a Michigan company, Team (EverMed), which is working on a Glass app that provides real time CPR guidance.


There are few professions where safety matters more than medicine, and when Glass was first announced in 2012 Kyle Samani's 'eyes lit up, I thought 'a hands-free computer, there has to be a way to use that in health care.''


Samani, 23, of Austin, Texas, had already worked for an electronic medical records company for a few years before rounding up investors for his idea to make a Glass app that shared patient information between doctors within a given hospital.


'Everyone needs help, whether it's the patient or ER docs doing triage,' says Samani. His Pristine EyeSight is compliant with HIPAA, the federal patient privacy act. 'Any video streams (of patient care from a doctor's Glass) are encrypted until they're rendered on download. It's a novel form of telemedicine.'


Samani's prototype invention has been tested by Leslie Garson, associate clinical professor of anesthesiology at the University of California at Irvine. He says using EyeSight is like leaping out of the Stone Age.


'Believe it or not, we still walk around with pagers, and if a resident anesthesiologist needs my help that thing buzzes, I walk to a phone, ask to speak to the resident, who tells me I need to come to his operating room and sometimes when I arrive the question has been answered,' says Garson.


(The Glass app) EyeSight offers 'a remote pair of eyes and eyes into that other (operating) room.'


Leslie Garson, anesthesiology professor at UC-Irvine

Instead, EyeSight offers 'a remote pair of eyes and eyes into that other room,' he says. 'With a tap of his Glass, it alerts my pair that something is up, and I can immediately look at what he's looking at and determine what to do.'


Garson adds that Pristine is working on having Glass help with 'critical events,' such as an air embolism or hemorrhage, 'which require specific procedures but are so uncommon that we wind up going to manuals, which is slow. With EyeSight, you'd just say 'Critical Event' and 'Cardiac Arrest' and you'd be told what to do.'


More such Glass innovations are likely to follow, says Henry Lowood, curator of the History of Science and Technology Collection at Stanford University.


'We're increasingly encountering tech inventions that are open and flexible,' he says, noting that Google has facilitated Glass inventions by users via GDK, its Android-based Glass Development Kit.


Lowood notes that in the '90s, a Marine sergeant who also was a fan of the video game Doom wound up building a training simulator, Marine Doom, for the military, while in the 2000s a group of students created an orchestra for smartphones dubbed the Stanford iPhone Orchestra.


'We no longer buy technologies and use them as intended,' he says. 'We expect them to do more, and we're empowered to see that that happens.'


Microsoft may sell Windows 8.1 for cheap — or even give it away

Microsoft really wants to get Windows 8.1 in consumers' hands.


To boost the number of folks using the operating system, Microsoft is reportedly considering giving it away for free or selling it at a very low cost, according to The Verge.


If slashes the price tag of Windows (and Windows Phone OS) to zero, the Redmond-based company may look to service add-ons - like additional OneDrive cloud storage - to pick up some of the slack. Microsoft is also positioning Bing as a platform it can monetize in the future.


It makes sense, then, that the SKU at the center of Microsoft's monetization experiment is 'Windows 8.1 with Bing,' a new version of the upcoming Windows 8.1 update revealed by Windows leaker WZor (and reported by ZDNet).


If Microsoft indeed chops its OS licensing fee for Windows device makers, as some recent reports have suggested, Microsoft will have to make a tough choice. It currently bundles a bunch of services with Windows: OneDrive, various Bing services, Xbox music streaming, the core Office apps (for RT users). Will it begin charging for those services to make up a more substantial amount of lost revenue for OS sales, or just eat the cost?


Either way, Microsoft's Windows experiments reflect a change of thinking in Redmond. Its search platform is being perceived differently, as a sort of engine powering Windows and Windows Phone. That's a bit less surprising when you consider that former Bing chief Satya Nadella is now heading the company.


Microsoft experimenting with free version of Windows 8.1


Microsoft is currently experimenting with a free version of Windows 8.1 that could boost the number of people using the operating system. Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans tell The Verge that the company is building 'Windows 8.1 with Bing,' a version that will bundle key Microsoft apps and services. While early versions of the software have leaked online, we understand that Windows 8.1 with Bing is an experimental project that aims to bring a low-cost version of Windows to consumers. ZDNet first reported some Windows 8.1 with Bing details earlier this week.


Designed as a free or low-cost upgrade for Windows 7 users

We're told that Microsoft is aiming to position Windows 8.1 with Bing as a free or low-cost upgrade for Windows 7 users. Any upgrade offers will be focused on boosting the number of people using Windows 8.1. This Bing-powered version of Windows 8.1 may also be offered to PC makers as part of recent license cuts for devices under $250. It's not clear how committed Microsoft is to these plans, but the experiment is part of a number of initiatives designed to push and monetize Microsoft's cloud services and apps. Microsoft is increasingly betting on Bing as a platform it can monetize in the future. Microsoft is also considering low-cost or free versions of Windows Phone, and the company is working towards merging its Windows RT and Windows Phone software into a single version designed for ARM-based chipsets.


Bing-powered apps are currently bundled into Windows 8.1, and a leaked version of 'Windows 8.1 with Bing' does not appear to reveal any significant changes yet. Microsoft recently unveiled its Windows 8.1 spring update, and the company is expected to further detail the update at its Build developer conference in April. Additional details around the merging of Windows RT and Windows Phone are also expected to be shared at the Build conference.


Nokia: Imaging SDK set for Android Nokia X Platform


BARCELONA: NOKIA HAS REVEALED to The INQUIRER that its Imaging software development kit (SDK) likely will come to its Nokia X platform, enabling developers to build high-end photography apps for its low-end, Android-based smartphones.


Nokia's Imaging SDK allows developers to create imaging apps for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.1, such as Nokia's own Creative Studio app that it boasts was built using the developer kit.


However, Windows Phones didn't feature heavily at this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC), as Nokia instead focused on showcasing its Android-based Nokia X smartphone line, comprising the Nokia X, Nokia X+ and Nokia XL.


While you'll find some of Nokia's usual apps onboard, such as Music and Here maps, there are none of the high-end camera applications found on the Nokia Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1020 handsets, due to the Nokia X devices' low prices. However, Nokia said that its Imaging SDK might appear on the Nokia X range 'when the time is right'.


During an interview with The INQUIRER, Amit Patel, VP of developer relations at Nokia, said that the firm hopes to open the Imaging SDK to developers working on Nokia X apps, with imaging still a 'key differentiator' for the firm.


Patel said, 'On the hardware side, it's bill of materials, so you may not get a Nokia X handset with a 41MP camera. However, the important thing will be the software manipulation and imaging features, which is going to be something that we can bring down to the low end when the time is right.


'A lot of those software techniques are actually portable from the high end to the low end. If you've got a reasonable processor in the device, you can run a lot of those capabilities. Imaging is of course one of the key differentiators, not just on the Lumia side, but in the affordable smartphone space as well.'


During our interview, Patel also spoke about what developers can expect when submitting apps to the Nokia X Store, promising that the firm will carefully vet apps before they are approved. Thanks to this thorough apps validation process, he added that out of 100,000 Android apps tested for the Nokia X, nine percent were found to contain malware. ยต


Google's Verify Apps security updating to always scan for threats


Android security has always been a hot topic in the media media. The way people talk about it, you'd expect reports of malware-infected phones every day. But thanks to Google, Android is very safe and secure from malware. Even when new malware does surface, Google makes sure nearly all Android devices are safe as quickly as possible.


Google has two systems to fight malware. The first is Verify Apps, a local system that scans each app when it's sideloaded. It'll scan for malicious actions, like SMS abuse or malware spreading, and will warn you if it finds anything dangerous. The second is the server side system on Google Play, which scans all apps on the Play Store for safety and security. Anywhere you install apps from, Google has you covered.


Remember the 'Master Key' vulnerability that people got pretty mad about? It was publicized one day, and Google rolled out protection from it the next. Verify Apps was updated with the security measure a few weeks later, long before devices would've gotten software updates to protect them. Google claims that there were no exploit attempts on a device before the security was put in place. It shows how safe Android really is, and a lot of it is thanks to Google (and the rest is common sense).


Now Verify Apps is getting a significant change in the next Google Play Services update. Instead of scanning apps as soon as they are installed, the service will scan apps continuously to check for suspicious actions that weren't detected initially. This update will be rolling out to every device with Android 2.3 and higher in the next couple of weeks. And as always, Verify Apps is an opt-in service, so you can disable it at any time.


Security isn't a big issue on Android and it hasn't been for a long time. An open market can be done well, and Google has proven that time and time again. Of course, you should still practice common sense and not install suspicious apps or app files from sources that you don't trust. If you accidentally do, though, know that Google has you covered.


Dima Aryeh is a Russian obsessed with all things tech. He does photography, is an avid phone modder (who uses an AT&T Galaxy Note II), a heavy gamer (both PC and 360), and an aspiring home mechanic. He is also an avid fan of music, especially power metal.

Sony finally puts full weight behind Xperia phones

Sony executives tell CNET how they feel about Samsung taking its own marquee feature -- a dust and water-resistant body -- and putting it in the Galaxy S5.




(Credit: Andrew Hoyle/CNET)


BARCELONA, Spain -- You would think Sony's mobile executives would be even a little nervous.


After all, for more than the past year, they have been touting one unique feature for a premium smartphone: the ability to withstand dust particles and be dunked underwater.


So there must have been some cause for concern when Samsung said its flagship Galaxy S5 -- unveiled just hours after Sony's own flagship phone and tablet announcement -- would also be resistant to water and dust, right?


Not really.


'We started the waterproof trend,' Ravi Nookala, head of Sony's US mobile division, told CNET in an interview. 'We're not worried about it.'


Bold words from what amounts to the new kid on the block for smartphones. While Sony is still a force to be reckoned with in areas such as televisions, video games, and cameras, it has struggled to make a name for itself when it comes to phones.


But Sony hopes that will change, particularly in the US market, where the company believes it can more fully take advantage of its heft and influence in the consumer electronics market to push its smartphones.


Nookala called the Xperia Z1S, currently being sold in the US by T-Mobile, a turning point for the company and the first time Sony has brought its full resources behind the device. The company, for instance, is specifically targeting T-Mobile customers who are also PlayStation fans, knowing there's already a brand affinity there, and offered discounts on the phone for anyone who purchased a PlayStation 4. The Xperia Z1S also came preloaded with the Sony PlayStation app, and some customers who bought the phone got a one-year membership to PlayStation Plus.


A new 'One Sony' While Sony has famously been siloed in the past -- with different businesses and units working without any coordination or knowledge of what the others are doing -- Nookala said he is on the phone with the PlayStation team at least once a month, talking not only about the products, but common marketing strategies.


'[CEO Kaz Hirai] talks about One Sony, and it's starting to become a factor,' he said.


The next big campaign is the FIFA World Cup, the world's largest sporting event where Sony just happens to be a sponsor. Nookala pointed to June as the next potential catalyst to spark sales and boost the perception of the company.


'It's a good way to bring this into the mainstream,' said Calum MacDougall, director of product marketing for the Xperia franchise, in the interview.


Sony Xperia Z2; a 4K shooting, waterproof powerhouse

The sales pitch for the Xperia Z1S isn't just the hardware, but also the media content and family of accessory devices that are created by Sony itself, Nookala said. Whether they are Bluetooth speakers and headphones, those sorts of accessories are rarely made by the smartphone vendor themselves.


In addition, Nookala explained that the company had initially wanted to focus on locking down the Japanese and European markets. Now that there is stability in those areas, it is bringing its eyes back on to the US.


Nookala said he was pleased with how well the Xperia Z1S has performed at T-Mobile, noting the carrier was happy with it as well. Sales of the phone have exceeded expectations, with sales of the Xperia Z1S 25 percent above its predecessor, the Xperia Z.


MacDougall said that the awareness of Sony's brand in connection to smartphones has grown significantly over the last 18 months.


Lingering questions Not everything is rosy for Sony. While it appears to have a strong relationship with T-Mobile, it doesn't yet have other partners, a big no-no at a time when a true flagship phone launches on virtually every carrier in the US.


In addition, Sony's focus on the show wasn't on the recently launched Z1S, but the newly unveiled Xperia Z2, which represents a step up in terms of specifications and includes video recording features from its Handycam unit. But the Xperia Z2 won't be coming to the US anytime soon because the Z1s just launched earlier this year.


Nookala declined to comment on timing of availability or who would carry the phone, but it's likely that the Z2 could launch in time for the World Cup to take advantage of the media attention.


He added he was working on shortening the window between the device announcement and when it actually hits the market, and said he was talking with some of the other carriers.


MacDougall said that Sony has a goal of being No. 3 in the world and offering consumers a legitimate alternative to Apple and Samsung.


But that looks increasingly tough as the Chinese vendors appear ready to dominate with superior scale and the ability to reach both the ultra high and low end of the market.


Even in the US, Nookala conceded that Sony's share was 'significantly low.' A company like ZTE, meanwhile, has shown faster growth by supplying a number of carrier partners with affordable phones.


CNET's full coverage of Mobile World Congress

Sony doesn't seem interested in pursuing the low end. While the company unveiled a mid-tier phone in the Xperia M2, it doesn't want to go too cheap and damage the brand.


'Our focus is to secure value, not volume,' MacDougall said.


He argued that the M2 would be a competitive device in emerging markets, where the Sony brand remains strong.


Start of a dialogue Going back to the Galaxy S5, both MacDougall and Nookala expressed confidence that the overall rise in interest in dust and waterproof phones will benefit Sony and the Xperia Z line.



(Credit: Andrew Hoyle/CNET)


'It starts a dialogue for waterproof and helps us tell our story,' MacDougall said.


There are currently water tanks in 700 T-Mobile stores where salespeople can demonstrate how the Xperia Z1S can be dunked in and still function, including taking underwater photos. T-Mobile salespeople are aware that the phone is waterproof, and Nookala expressed confidence that it will be brought up when customers ask about the Galaxy S5 and its own waterproof nature.


Nookala understands the importance of a well-educated sales force, and said he has a staff of 30 people tasked with visiting T-Mobile stores to provide training and to ensure its products are well maintained and front and center.


Otherwise, waterproof or not, Sony's Xperia line risks getting swept away when Samsung's Galaxy S5 arrives.


App updates you should know: WeChat comes to Mac, Hangouts for iOS ...

It's been a rather busy week for apps with some getting new features, new clients and new platforms and some shutting down. Have a look at some app stories you cannot afford to miss this week.


Facebook Messenger for Windows desktop:

The desktop client of Facebook Messenger is shutting down come March 3. The app has started showing a link saying, 'We're sorry, but we can no longer support Facebook Messenger for Windows, and it will stop working on March 3, 2014. We really appreciate you using Messenger to reach your friends, and we want to make sure you know that you can keep chatting and view all your messages on http://www.facebook.com.' The move comes only days after it was announced that Facebook Messenger was coming to Windows Phone soon.



Goodbye, desktop. Hello, mobiles


WeChat gets a Mac client:

Cross platform messaging app WeChat is stepping up its game, and how. After completely revamping its Android client, WeChat has introduced a Mac app, available both in English and Chinese. WeChat had been available for use on the web earlier, by way of scanning a QR code, but this is the first time a native app has been unveiled. There's a good chance that a Windows client could be released next. Get hold of the WeChat Mac client here.


Line will let you sell your own stickers:

Speaking of cross platform messaging apps, Line has now announced a new platform called the Line Creators Market. Starting April, you will be able to sell your own stickers on the app. You can make sets of 40 stickers at 100 yen, but you will need Line to approve it. The app will keep a 50 percent cut of all your sticker earnings.



Sell your own Line stickers soon


Skype-Microsoft Integration complete:

Updates galore! Skype has not only updated its Windows Phone app to support Microsoft accounts, it will also let you sign up for its services using a Microsoft account. Essentially, you won't need to remember multiple IDs and passwords for your services, and get an optional two-step verification from Skype. Win-win?


Google+ for Android:

The Android version of Google+ has received a nifty little update that will improve your photo experience on the app. Now if you start editing a picture on one device, you can continue doing so on another one. Essentially back up full-resolution pictures and then edit them from wherever you have.


Along with this, Google has pushed out some new filters inspired by Snapseed and tools like better crop and rotate too. There's also a new 'All' view display for your entire photo library as well as browse them by date. Get the Google+ update for Android here.



New and improved Hangouts for iOS


Google Hangouts for iOS:

Not just Android, Google's showing some love for iOS too! The newest version of Hangouts for iOS is bringing along a brand new look and feel, and easy navigation. You can now sent animated stickers to your contacts, record and send short video messages as well share your location. The app is now also optimised for the iPad.


Of course, it will still allow you to make all those free voice and video calls. There are also some major performance improvements. Head on to the App Store to download Hangouts 2.0 for your iOS devices.


Oggl for iPad:

Hipstamtic's photo editor Oggl is now available for iPad. Which, of course, means being able to edit and view your images a lot better on the bigger screen. The app does not look like an oversized version of the iPhone app, which is a good thing.



The app also brings along a new SurfMode on Air Play, which you can use to present an Oggl feed onto an Apple TV and have a live photo stream running. The Surf Mode works well on just the iPad too. There's now a notifications ticker, that pretty much gives you information on all the love and reposts your pictures get on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and more. Get the Oggl for iPad app from the App Store.


Tags: app updates, Facebook Messenger, Facebook Messenger for desktop, Google+ for Android update, Hangouts for iOS, Line Stickers, Oggl for iPad, Skype, Skype for Windows Phone, Skype Microsoft


Google Now, Google's new Android launcher, lifts off

OK, Google: 3... 2... 1... Now.


Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) finally opens up its new Android launcher. Albeit for Nexus and Google Experience devices, for now.


In IT Blogwatch, bloggers start apps slightly differently.


Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment.


I met Ron Amadeo on a Monday and my heart stood still:


When KitKat launched, Google made the odd decision to make [the] a brand-new launcher, exclusive to the Nexus 5. [It's] actually a merging of the standard home screen with the Google Search app. ... Today, Google finally released the new launcher on to the Play Store for other devices. Owners of older Nexus devices and any Google Play Edition device can update. ... Will the company soon open this up to other devices? Will Google eventually package it...into the licensing requirements for the Play Store? It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. MORE


And Darrell Etherington sheds a tear:


It's perhaps a little sad for users outside the 'stock' experience pool. ... You'll see a different dock...as well as other slight visual tweaks. But there are some significant changes in the way the OS works...for instance, saying 'Ok Google'...on the home screen will initiate a Google search. ... Also, swiping left from your 'main' home screen (the one which used to be your central one) will now open up Google Now. ... Hopefully, Google sees fit to expand this to other Android handsets in the future, too, if only because...always on voice commands are genuinely pretty useful. MORE


But Ryan Whitwam sounds frustrated:


Devices running custom ROMs based on KitKat (like CM 11) may also be compatible. A future version might open it up, but we'll have to wait on Google to chime in. ... Also note the Nexus 10 still doesn't get transparent bars, so stop asking. MORE


Greg Sterling has been living with it for a few months:


Google Now was initially a novelty [but] I've come to rely on it for certain kinds of information: weather, sports scores, travel information...calendar entries and news content. ... I suppose the rationale behind expanding distribution of the 'launcher' is to pre-empt another party from taking control of the Android home screen. ... I'm thinking specifically about recent Yahoo acquisition Aviate. ... The notion of 'intelligent assistant' has become a kind of metaphor for a next-generation 'search' experience. MORE



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Google postpones add

Gives extension developers until May 1 to put their work in the Chrome Web Store; new policy will probably take affect with Chrome 35

Computerworld - Google yesterday gave Chrome extension developers another two months to register their work with the browser's online store, after which the company will throw a 'kill switch' on most add-ons that were installed from other sources.


The deadline extension means that Google won't implement the new policy on the 'stable' version of Chrome for Windows -- one of three build channels the company maintains, and the most polished of the trio -- until after May 1. The beta of Chrome 33 for Windows, which launched mid-January, already has the policy in place.


'Some developers have requested more time to complete this transition, so we've decided to extend the window until May 1 before we start enforcing this policy for the Windows Stable channel,' said Erik Kay, director of Chrome engineering, in a Wednesday blog.


Under the new rules, only extensions -- also called add-ons -- that originate from the Chrome Web Store, Google's official distribution channel, can be installed in the Windows browser. The change does not affect the OS X or Linux versions of Chrome.


Google first promised the extension blocking in November, when Kay cited 'our continuing security efforts' for the change, and stated, 'We believe this change will help those whose browser has been compromised by unwanted extensions.'


According to Google, unauthorized and sometimes downright dangerous extensions are a leading complaint from users, and a prime cause of problems.


Google has been tightening the screws on third-party add-ons since July 2012, when it first required that add-ons move to the Chrome Web Store. In other subsequent steps, it blocked sneaky add-on installations.


Those stricter policies had driven some purveyors of adware to try an end-around by buying the rights to established add-ons already in the Chrome Web Store, then modifying them to bombard users with advertisements.


Starting with Chrome 33 Beta on Windows, Google is closing the remaining loopholes: Extensions that had been installed locally or by businesses internally must be published to the Chrome Web Store. Businesses can hide their extensions on the store from the public at large -- or continue to use group policies to offer the add-ons to their workforce from their own servers -- and developers will still be able to initiate 'in-line' installs from their website, assuming the add-on is also in the Chrome Web Store.


Only add-ons that were installed via such enterprise policies or by developers from their websites or software can avoid the automatic 'hard disable' that Google mandated. 'Hard disable' means that users will not be able to re-enable the extensions.


By forcing add-on developers to publish their work in the Store, Google moved another step closer to a 'walled-garden' market, the kind popularized by Apple's mobile app ecosystem. That allows Google to vet the extensions and yank those that turn out to be malicious or do something without user approval, like access other parts of the PC or mine personal information.


Because of the May 1 deadline for developers, the stable version of Chrome for Windows probably won't throw the kill switch on non-Chrome Web Store extensions until version 35 at the earliest. Google just promoted Chrome 33 to the stable channel a week ago, and typically takes five to six weeks between each version number.


Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.


See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about Internet in Computerworld's Internet Topic Center.


Court says it's legal to look at map on phone while driving


Talk or text you may not, but it is legal for drivers to look at maps on their cellphones while on the road, a California appellate court ruled Thursday.


The 5th District Court of Appeal sided with a Fresno man who received a $165 ticket when he consulted a map application on his phone, looking for an alternate route around a traffic jam. Steven Spriggs had unsuccessfully fought the ticket in traffic court and later in Superior Court, arguing that the law only prohibited talking on the phone, not looking at a map.


Judges on the appellate court reversed the lower court, writing that the law was not intended to impose a blanket ban on any use of a cellphone. They noted that when the law was enacted in 2006, no one used their phones for much other than conversation. (The first iPhone debuted in 2007.)


Attorneys for the state argued that the law, which prohibits 'using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking,' makes any 'hands-on' use of a phone illegal.


The judges disagreed, writing that such a broad interpretation of the law would lead to 'absurd results.'


'Then it would be a statutory violation for a driver to merely look at the telephone's display,' they wrote in the 18-page opinion. 'It would also be a violation to hold the telephone in one's hand ... and look at the time or even merely move it for use as a paperweight.'


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Google Barge, $35 million and counting

Even though the famous floating showroom is leaving Treasure Island for Stockton, it's still far from ready for prime time -- and Google is still on the hook for half a million dollars in rent.




(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)


Google Barge is about to be on the move, relocating from its current berth alongside Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay to Stockton, a delta city about 80 miles west.


But what does that mean for the future of the project, expected to be a floating showroom for Google X products and concepts like Glass, driverless cars, and more?


It's hard to say for sure, because no one in the know is talking. What is known is that the $35 million project, made out of dozens of shipping containers, and intended to float from location to location around the San Francisco Bay and beyond, is unfinished and not ready for prime-time. As of this writing, it is sitting idle in the middle of San Francisco Bay, covered in scaffolding and black netting, with little or no work having been done on it since late October, shortly after CNET uncovered the project's ties to Google.



(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET)


Although Google has barely spoken on the matter, it seems probable that its decision to move to Stockton, which CNET was first to report, is based on a desire to avoid being assessed with penalties by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a California state agency that manages bay waters. Earlier this month, BCDC -- which had been for some time investigating whether Google needed a construction permit to complete the project at Treasure Island -- said that Google either needed to get such a permit, move elsewhere, or begin accruing fines that would top out at $30,000. The agency gave Google a 35-day grace period.


Google did not respond to a request for comment for this story.


According to Mirian Saez, director of Island operations at the Treasure Island Development Authority, which manages leases there, Google plans on leaving by next week, weather permitting. Because Stockton is outside BCDC jurisdiction, that would mean that Google would escape paying the penalties altogether. And while $30,000 is a pittance for a company with a market cap of $409.7 billion, it surely wants to avoid being in violation of state laws meant to preserve and protect the San Francisco Bay.


As of yesterday, Port of Stockton director Richard Aschieris said he had yet to be contacted by Google or any of its representatives, so it's not known precisely where in Stockton the barge will end up, and who will do the construction work required to finish the project. Nor is it clear how long that work will take. As CNET reported in December, the project was officially put on hiatus at some point after an October inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard, which was said by BCDC to have had issues with the structure's interior design.


But while construction work done in Stockton would exempt Google from needing a BCDC permit, that would not be the case if it wants to bring the floating showroom back into San Francisco Bay waters once its done and ready for public visitation.


Presumably, though, Google will indeed want to bring the project back into San Francisco. Original plans for the project, officially called the ' San Francisco Studio,' according to documents Google submitted to the Port of San Francisco, suggested that the company's intention was to move it between a number of maritime locations in San Francisco. The documents alluded to the idea that those potential spots had 'already been permitted for the mooring of vessels and that no additional BCDC permitting would be required.' But Larry Goldzband, BCDC's executive director, said last fall that the agency hadn't issued any permits to Google for the project, and that it wouldn't do so until it was convinced that the barge would not be considered 'fill in the bay,' a term meaning a vessel moored there for too long.


Of course, the 'San Francisco Studio' documents also suggested that the project would be finished and formally unveiled by November, 2013, and would be circling the San Francisco Bay until November, 2014. Clearly, Google is months behind that schedule, and it's unclear how that delay will impact its long-term plans for the floating showroom.


What's equally unknown is the fate of a second unfinished Google floating showroom project that has been sitting idle in Portland, Maine, since early October. That structure is expected to be taken into New York City in order to evangelize Google's products there. But a Coast Guard representative said late last year that the belief in Portland is that no additional work will be done there until the 'San Francisco Studio' is completed. All told, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Google has spent $35 million on the entire project, which is also thought to include a third barge intended for Los Angeles.


Regardless, even after the barge has sailed off of Treasure Island, Google will still be responsible for six more months of rent in and around the massive Hangar 3 there that was used for much of the project's then-secret construction. According to the lease for the property, Google is on the hook for monthly rent of $79,000 through August 31, totaling $474,000. However, the document does appear to give Google the ability to vacate the premises with 30 days' notice.


Report: British spy agency collected millions of Yahoo users' images


A British intelligence agency reportedly intercepted and stored millions of images from Yahoo users' video chats.


Under a program code-named Optic Nerve, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, would collect still images in bulk from users when they chatted with others via webcam through Yahoo, the Guardian reported on Thursday. The report cited documents provided by U.S. surveillance program leaker Edward Snowden.


During a six-month period in 2008, the GCHQ collected images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo users through the Optic Nerve program, the report said. Most of the users were not suspected of any wrongdoing.


PHOTOS: 10 ways to use the sharing economy

The point of the program was to capture pictures of users' faces that could be stored in a database. The database could then be used to search for terror suspects or criminals.


'Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for 'mugshots' or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face,' one of the GCHQ documents said, according to the Guardian. 'The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.'


However, the still images taken by Optic Nerve were not limited to users' faces, the report said. The Guardian reported that a number of images taken from the Yahoo video chats were sexually explicit. The GCHQ documents said that between 3% and 11% of the pictures contained 'undesirable nudity.'


'Unfortunately ... it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,' one of the documents said.


The GCHQ collected the images with the help of the U.S.'s National Security Agency, the report said. It was unclear how much access the NSA had to the British agency's database of collected images.


Yahoo said it was not aware of the program and did not condone it.


'This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent,' the company said in a statement.


ALSO: Snakebyte Vyper functions as tablet, smart TV and game console Has Occupy movement come to Silicon Valley? Vandals strike Atherton Google hopes to deliver $50 customizable modular phones by early 2015

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Volvo Concept Estate Revealed for Geneva Show


The wagon might just come back in style, and no surprises here, we've got Volvo to thank. The Swedish automaker will show the Concept Estate, the final of three concept cars previewing Volvo's future design direction, at the 2014 Geneva auto show. The Concept Estate carries the same modern design language as the previous Volvo Concept Coupe and Concept XC Coupe, and its subtle, refined take on the classic Volvo wagon is sure to make waves at Geneva.


When we first saw the Concept Coupe at last year's Frankfurt show, design editor Robert Cumberford called it, 'undoubtedly the prettiest Volvo ever shown.' Volvo's new design language struck us as not truly retro, but it did draw inspiration from the 1960s Volvo P1800 coupes. After years of more boxy and business-like designs, Volvo's future style is according to Cumberford, 'elegantly beautiful, even if there's nothing innovative about it.' The Volvo Concept Estate falls right into this characterization, combining the strikingly simple appeal of the Concept Coupe with the slightly taller and more purposeful proportions of the Concept XC Coupe.


'The 1800-models are iconic Volvos, renowned for their beautiful forms and detailing,' says senior vice president of design Thomas Ingenlath. 'However, using elements from their exterior and interior has nothing to do with being retro. We are using these subtle links to a glorious past to create a future in which sheer beauty becomes a recognized part of Volvo's identity.'


Preview of what's to come

The three-door Volvo Concept Estate features the same floating grille, T-shaped headlights, and angular front intakes as the previous two concepts. Its long, flowing roofline terminates in a sporty roof spoiler, which leads into the bracket-shaped LED taillights. We'll most likely see these elements in production form when the next-generation XC90 launches later this year, but seeing how gorgeous they look on a bonafide wagon, we can't wait for this style to come back on other cars, perhaps a new V70.


As classically beautiful as the Volvo Concept Estate looks on the outside, there is a distinctly modern design for the interior which starts with the central tablet-like touchscreen. Taking a page out of Tesla's book, the center touchscreen supposedly replaces all buttons and knobs, except for a few essentials like volume and hazard light controls. Although the new tech helps Volvo consolidate all functions into a single entity, which contributes to the cabin's overall clean-and-cool Scandinavian feel, we'll have to see for ourselves whether the interface is as intuitive as it is attractive. A massive panoramic glass roof helps complete the bright-looking interior, alongside a checkered wool headliner and wood trim that Volvo says is meant to evoke a Scandinavian living room.


Good sign for new architecture

We've got high hopes for Volvo's new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), given that each of the brand's three concepts represent major steps forward in technology as well as design. Although there's no word on what powers the Concept Estate, the Concept Coupe employs a plug-in hybrid powertrain with a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine, as well as an electric motor mated to the rear axle for a total of 400 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque.


With a new generation of turbocharged Drive-E engines on the way, Volvo is finally catching up to the rest of the luxury market in terms of efficiency and technology. If the Volvo Concept Estate's graceful lines and premium feel find their way into future production vehicles, Volvo will have set itself up nicely to come back as a viable luxury brand here in the U.S. and abroad.


Check back for more coverage on the Volvo Concept Estate when it premieres at the 2014 Geneva auto show on March 4.


Moov fitness tracker actually tells us how to fix ourselves

A powerful, low-cost device that 3D maps whatever it's strapped to could seriously shake up fitness-oriented wearable tech.




(Credit: Moov)


The complaints with wearable fitness trackers are routinely uniform. If a device is slim and sleek, it tends not to provide very useful data beyond counting steps and telling you when you rolled around in your sleep. If it's powerful, on the other hand, it's typically bulky and designed at the expense of looking like something you'd actually want to wear in public.


The team behind Moov, originating from a partnership between a former Apple engineer and two veterans of sensor research at Microsoft, is trying to change that paradigm. They're offering a device that they say is not only as well-designed as competing gadgets, but also one that can tell us what we're doing wrong -- and how to fix it -- in real time by identifying and then 3D mapping the object it's attached to.


That makes Moov, with its companion mobile software that acts as a personalized fitness coach, possibly one of the first wearable trackers geared at both workout beginners and advanced health nuts that offers up actionable data and suggestive behavior changes, not just graphs and numbers we tend to ignore when they paint a lazy picture.


Moov launched Thursday with a crowdfunding campaign on its Web site aimed at raising $40,000 for an initial release this summer. It has declined to disclose its source of funding thus far. The company is selling one of its trackers for $59 and two for $99 for the first 30 days. It expects to retail the device for $120.


(Credit: Moov)


Fixing us, using data with a human element Moov looks very much your standard wearable tracker -- imagine Misfit's Shine affixed to a Fitbit Flex strap. It's meant to be worn on your ankle or wrist, but can be modified for activities like cycling to read data from your bike pedal and later, the company hopes, be compatible with things like golf clubs and baseball bats.


Though it's not radical in appearance, the device differentiates itself in both the capacity of its light-weight hardware and the power of its software. Moov contains not just an accelerometer and gyroscope for detecting movement in space and the force of that motion, but a magnetometer to pick up on rotation.


'It is akin to a Leap Motion because it uses a combination of those sensors to map an object in 3D space,' said co-founder Meng Li, a Microsoft Research sensor expert who formed Moov last year with co-founders Nikola Hu and Tony Yuan. All three saw wearable tech as ripe, new territory to bring their sensor expertise to market.


Yuan is also a former Microsoft Research member who now specializes in Moov's hardware efforts. Hu is a former member of Microsoft's Halo team since Halo 2 in 2002 to the last of the Bungie-developed titles, Halo Reach, in 2011 where he worked on graphical applications. He moved on after that to be an iOS frameworks engineer at Apple.


All three met at Microsoft Research more than a decade ago where they developed sensor-based gaming technologies before Hu moved on to Halo. 'People at that time told me that the first tablet-sensor game was made by us,' Hu said. 'At that time, sensors were very raw and expensive. Tony gave me the latest hardware from last year, and the latest sensors are totally different. Day and night different.'


(Credit: Moov)


With Moov, those sensor advancements are used in conjunction with corresponding algorithms to match the activity type and then monitor your actions. Moov tells you in real time with a Siri-sounding voice when, for instance, the rate of your stride is too slow and the force of your foot hitting the ground too high, potentially causing stress on knees.


Through its companion iOS app -- Android will be available three months after launch, the company said -- Moov can be toggled to track any one of five different activities: cycling, swimming, running, weight training, and boxing. Running and cycling give you real-time feedback via audio, while weight training and boxing have video components with professional coaches -- all of whom wore Moov throughout their recording so that your movements can be matched to theirs -- that give personalized feedback that learns how to tailor itself as you progress.


Users can choose from a group of coaches for the video-enabled activities, and those activities are gamified with high scores and competitive social sharing elements. 'It's like Guitar Hero,' Li said, showcasing on an iPad screen the ways in which the pair of Moovs on Hu's wrists were attempting to match those of the on-screen boxing coach, signaling to Hu in a sidebar stream of mismatching colors when he was performing a jab with poor form.


Asked why coaching with an artificial intelligence aspect was an integral push for Moov, Hu and Li said it came from personal experience. 'There's an energy in working with a coach,' said Li, an avid runner who believes in the inspiration, but also reinforcement, a coach can provide. 'When I cheat, she yells at me, but it's still fun. I don't have a lot of time to do that now, especially doing a startup, so I wanted a coach with me 24/7,' she added.


Hu sees value in coaches from the perspective of not just creating a more engaging experience with software as a human replacement, but in also creating an environment where one can reap the most benefit from a situation in which a real-life, costly coach is not an option for most people. 'The best sport I can do is snowboarding. Why? Because I had a coach from the beginning,' explained Hu. 'So why not bring a coach to everybody?'


(Credit: Moov)


The company is hoping to expand the native components of its app into activities like martial arts, golfing, and yoga, but is also releasing an SDK for developers to create their own add-ons to Moov.


At the end of each workout, stats are readily available on performance, calories burned, and data-based comparisons to previous efforts. There's not a Web dashboard yet like you get with Jawbone or Fitbit devices, but the final product that is expected to ship to the first preorder customers will incorporate a robust report system for each of its different workout sectors.


Still, the deep-diving capability is there. On an iPad, Hu showed off the different ways the team experimented with perfecting the device's ability to monitor running technique and stats by comparing a Stanford runner with a professional coach and experimenting with different levels of intricate data the Moov can glean from workouts. The team spent its first months with no clear goal in sight, wrapped up in research and development, eventually incorporating biomechanics research from Harvard, sports science research from University of Cape Town, and ergonomics research from Stanford to inform all aspects of Moov.


That kind of data is very raw, Li and Hu admit, but 'in the future, it will be more user-friendly,' Hu said. 'It'll be for advanced users, but for normal users -- it's there if they want to see,' he added. 'Otherwise, the coach will tell them everything.'


Where Moov fits in among the new breed of fitness trackers



(Credit: Moov)


Like competing devices, Moov is water-resistant, so it can be worn in the shower, and performs the basic functions like monitoring one's daily sleep and step count independent from any exercising. What it doesn't contain are some of the more standard features of pricier wearables like the recently unveiled Samsung Gear Fit.


Moov does not have a heart-rate monitor -- the company is considering it for future releases -- and no screen with which to transmit information like time of day or steps walked, a feature established wearable-maker Fitbit found imperative when expanding upon its Flex wristband to design the Fitbit Force last year. And a data-displaying screen has been present in the Nike FuelBand since its launch in 2012.


Where Moov thinks it can surpass its current competitors is its ability to be better than Fitbit and Jawbone's devices, while also being cheaper than the slew of upcoming, high-quality trackers trying to bring more powerful tech to wearable fitness. Effectively, that means a low-cost device that does more than what we've come to expect from a $100 tracker that will appeal to both the hardcore fitness community and tech-savvy exercise newbies.


To us, it's not that useful, step counting. It's just a number.' --Meng Li, Moov co-founder


After all, the team behind Moov, which is currently less than 10 people, is certainly not the first group to postulate that a fitness tracker could be more than a fancy-looking pedometer. Products pushing the ability to tell us what to do and how to change, instead of just tracking and spitting out useless data, are sprouting up left and right.


The Atlas fitness tracker -- a futuristic-looking wrist-worn device with a protruding perpendicular screen -- is currently up on Indiegogo with more than $500,000 in funding and 11 days to go, having surpassed its $125,000 goal long ago. Amiigo, a company making a device with the power of Moov and Atlas but in as slim a form factor as possible, last year performed very much the same on Indiegogo as Atlas is performing now.


(Credit: Atlas)


Both are capable of identifying exercises and adjusting the tracking accordingly, monitoring your heart rate, and giving real-time feedback. Amiigo even purports to measure your body temperature, and wants users to use its two sensors simultaneously, one for your wrist and one for your ankle, for even more accuracy. And then there's Flyfit, which launched on Kickstarter earlier this month and forgoes some of the flashier, more expensive elements like heart-rate monitoring and a display, but still aims to give real-time feedback and identify different activities.


Moov is a bit of an outlier here, relying not on Indiegogo or Kickstarter, setting a modest funding goal, and selling at an initial preorder price far lower than its crowdfunding companions. Atlas hopes to retail its device for $225 and has a current pledge price of $169, while Amiigo's lowest price for one of its units was $89 with a hike to $125 at retail. Flyfit is offering one device now for $99 as a Kickstarter pledge tier with an expected retail price of $139.


Furthermore, Moov wants to deliver by this summer, an incredibly ambitious time frame, though the company claims its suppliers are simply waiting for the call to get going on manufacturing. Atlas, on the other hand, is promising December of this year, and Amiigo, which funded successfully in January of 2013, has run into a series of now-standard manufacturing hurdles that most crowdfunded hardware projects run into. Flyfit is shooting for August.


Still, the perspective of Moov's co-founders is very much in line with what most are thinking about wearable tech these days. 'We think all the wearable devices in the market were wrong,' Hu said. 'To us, it's not that useful, step counting,' Li added. 'It's just a number.'


Whether or not Moov will be the device to break the mold is uncertain -- the amount of high-quality competition is seemingly endless these days -- and there's no way to know for certain that the team will be able to move faster than any of the competing companies vying to be the first to deliver true next-gen fitness trackers. But Hu and his team sound less concerned with competition than with unlocking the potential of fitness trackers that do more than count steps.


'These sensors capture really, really rich data,' Hu said. 'There's a lot more we need to explore.'



EU to Apple, Google: Free game apps? Yeah, right

European regulators fret that free downloads deliver games that aren't actually free to play, and that children are especially vulnerable to costly in-app purchases.




(Credit: Apple)


Apple and Google will be among the organizations to talk to the EU this week about the impact 'freemium' apps are having on the industry.


In a statement on Thursday, the EU's European Commission said that it wants to investigate in-app purchases on games that can be downloaded for free. The Commission argues that while games can be downloaded for free, they essentially compel customers to pay for add-ons that bring functionality to the title, and that belies the idea of truly playing a game for 'free.'


So-called 'freemium' games and apps have become increasingly popular in mobile marketplaces. The titles can be downloaded at no cost, but come with a wide range of in-app purchases that help the developer, who might have spent thousands on developing the title, to generate a return on that investment.


According to the EC, one big issue with 'free' games and apps is that they often target children, who then spend money to buy in-game downloads.


To start rectifying things, the EC says, it will meet with several consumer watchdog organizations across the EU. Apple, Google, and other companies involved in the distribution of apps will also be asked to comment on the topic.


Apple certainly has some experience in the matter. Last month, it reached a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission that requires it to refund at least $32 million to consumers over in-app purchases made by children. In that case, the issue wasn't the added costs of 'freemium' per se, but rather kids' ability to make in-app purchases without their parents' consent.


When the European conversations take place on Thursday and Friday, the EC will specifically assert that free games 'should not mislead consumers about the true costs' and 'not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items.' The Commission would also like the see the industry stop automatically debiting from on-file credit cards and have developers provide a contact e-mail address in the event there are are any complaints from users.


The EC was quick to note, however, that there has yet to be any action taken, and it's unsure right now whether it will move forward on forcing companies to adhere to those standards.


Sony finally puts full weight behind Xperia phones

Sony executives tell CNET how they feel about Samsung taking its own marquee feature -- a dust and water-resistant body -- putting it in the Galaxy S5.




(Credit: Andrew Hoyle/CNET)


BARCELONA, Spain--You would think Sony's mobile executives would be even a little nervous.


After all, for more than the past year, they have been touting one unique feature for a premium smartphone: the ability to withstand dust particles and be dunked underwater.


So there must have been some cause for concern when Samsung said its flagship Galaxy S5 -- unveiled just hours after Sony's own flagship phone and tablet announcement -- would also be resistant to water and dust, right?


Not really.


'We started the waterproof trend,' Ravi Nookala, head of Sony's US mobile division, told CNET in an interview. 'We're not worried about it.'


Bold words from what amounts to the new kid on the block for smartphones. While Sony is still a force to be reckoned with in areas such as televisions, video games, and cameras, it has struggled to make a name for itself when it comes to phones.


But Sony hopes that will change, particularly in the US market, where the company believes it can more fully take advantage of its heft and influence in the consumer electronics market to push its smartphones.


Nookala called the Xperia Z1s, currently being sold in the US by T-Mobile, a turning point for the company and the first time Sony has brought its full resources behind the device. The company, for instance, is specifically targeting T-Mobile customers who are also PlayStation fans, knowing there's already a brand affinity there, and offered discounts on the phone for anyone who purchased a PlayStation 4. The Xperia Z1s also came preloaded with the Sony PlayStation app, and some customers who bought the phone got a one-year membership to PlayStation Plus.


A new 'One Sony' While Sony has famously been cut siloed in the past -- with different businesses and units working without any coordination or knowledge of what the others are doing, Nookala said he is on the phone with the PlayStation team at least once a month, talking not only about the products, but common marketing strategies.


'(CEO Kaz Hirai) talks about One Sony, and it's starting to become a factor,' he said.


The next big campaign is the Fifa World Cup, the world's largest sporting event where Sony just happens to be a sponsor. Nookala pointed to June as the next potential catalyst to spark sales and boost the perception of the company.


'It's a good way to bring this into the mainstream,' said Calum MacDougall, director of product marketing for the Xperia franchise, in the interview.


Sony Xperia Z2; a 4K shooting, waterproof powerhouse

The sales pitch for the Xperia Z1s isn't just the hardware, but also the media content and family of accessory devices that are created by Sony itself, Nookala said. Whether they are Bluetooth speakers and headphones, those sorts of accessories are rarely made by the smartphone vendor themselves.


In addition, Nookala explained that the company had initially wanted to focus on locking down the Japanese and European markets. Now that there is stability in those areas, it is bringing its eyes back on to the US.


Nookala said he was pleased with how well the Xperia Z1s has performed at T-Mobile, noting the carrier was happy with it as well. Sales of the phone have exceeded expectations, with sales of the Xperia Z1s 25 percent above its predecessor, the Xperia Z.


MacDougall said that the awareness of Sony's brand in connection to smartphones has grown significantly over the last 18 months.


Lingering questions Not everything is rosy for Sony. While it appears to have a strong relationship with T-Mobile, it doesn't yet have other partners, a big no-no at a time when a true flagship phone launches on virtually every carrier in the US.


In addition, Sony's focus on the show wasn't on the recently launched Z1s, but the newly unveiled Xperia Z2, which represents a step up in terms of specifications and includes video recording features from its Handycam unit. But the Xperia Z2 won't be coming to the US anytime soon because the Z1s just launched earlier this year.


Nookala declined to comment on timing of availability or who would carry the pone, but it's likely that the Z2 could launch in time for the World Cup to take advantage of the media attention.


He added he was working on shortening the window between the device announcement and when it actually hits the market, and said he was talking with some of the other carriers.


MacDougall said that Sony has a goal of being No. 3 in the world and offering consumers a legitimate alternative to Apple and Samsung.


But that looks increasingly tough as the Chinese vendors appear ready to dominate with superior scale and the ability to reach both the ultra high and low end of the market.


Even in the US, Nookala conceded that Sony's share was 'significantly low.' A company like ZTE, meanwhile, has shown faster growth by supplying a number of carrier partners with affordable phones.


CNET's full coverage of Mobile World Congress

Sony doesn't seem interested in pursuing the low end. While the company unveiled a mid-tier phone in the Xperia M2, it doesn't want to go too cheap and damage the brand.


'Our focus is to secure value, not volume,' MacDougall said.


He argued that the M2 would be a competitive device in emerging markets, where the Sony brand remains strong.


Start of a dialogue Going back to the Galaxy S5, both MacDougall and Nookala expressed confidence that the overall rise in interest in dust and waterproof phones will benefit Sony and the Xperia Z line.



(Credit: Andrew Hoyle/CNET)


'It starts a dialogue for waterproof and helps us tell our story,' MacDougall said.


There are currently water tanks in 700 T-Mobile stores where salespeople can demonstrate how the Xperia Z1s can be dunked in and still function, including taking underwater photos. T-Mobile salespeople are aware that the phone is waterproof, and Nookala expressed confidence that it will be brought up when customers ask about the Galaxy S5 and its own waterproof nature.


Nookala understands the importance of a well-educated sales force, and said he has a staff of 30 people tasked with visiting T-Mobile stores to provide training and to ensure its products are well maintained and front and center.


Otherwise, waterproof or not, Sony's Xperia line risks getting swept away when Samsung's Galaxy S5 arrives.


DataStax Brings In


(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)


Web and mobile applications are getting bigger and people are as impatient as ever. These are two factors hastening the use of in-memory technology, and DataStax on Wednesday became the latest database management system (DBMS) vendor to add in-memory processing capabilities.


DataStax Enterprise is a highly scalable DBMS based on open source Apache Cassandra. Its strengths are flexible NoSQL data modeling, multi-data-center support, and linear scalability on clustered commodity hardware. Customers like eBay, Netflix, and others typically run globally distributed deployments at massive scale.


[Want more on recent in-memory moves? Read VoltDB Steps Up In-Memory Analytics.]

With the DataStax Enterprise 4.0 release announced on Wednesday, the vendor is adding an in-memory option whereby developers can move new or existing database tables into memory to ensure ultra-fast performance. The move comes in response to growing numbers of DataStax customers who have been deploying in-memory products such as Memcached or Redis alongside Cassandra in order to handle low-latency processing needs.


'Instead of having to use two different databases, customers tell us they'd like to have it all under one umbrella,' said Robin Schumacher, DataStax's VP of products, in an interview with InformationWeek.


Use cases for the new feature include scenarios in which semi-static data experience frequent overwrites. Examples include sites or apps with top-10 or top-20 lists that are constantly updated, online games with active leader boards, online gambling sites, or online shopping sites with active 'like,' 'want,' and 'own' listings.


DataStax is following in familiar footsteps, as lots of DBMS vendors are adding in-memory features. Microsoft, for example, has extensively previewed an In-Memory OLTP option (formerly project Hekaton) that will be included in soon-to-be-launched Microsoft SQL Server 2014. And Oracle has announced that it, too, will add an in-memory option for its flagship 12c database. General release of that option isn't expected until early next year.


The NoSQL realm already has in-memory DBMS options such as Aerospike, which is heavily used in online advertising. But Shumacher said DataStax tends to show up in much higher-scale deployments than Aerospike.



In-memory DBMS vendors MemSQL and VoltDB are taking the trend in the other direction, recently adding flash- and disk-based storage options to products that previously did all their processing entirely in memory. The goal here is to add capacity for historical data for long-term analysis. As in the DataStax case, the idea is to covering a broader range of needs with one product.


DataStax's in-memory feature is supported by new management features introduced in OpsCenter 4.1, which was also introduced on Wednesday. This visual monitoring and management console for DataStax Enterprise lets you track and forecast database table size and memory usage over time. Bad things can happen when in-memory tables or DBMSs run out of memory, so OpsCenter lets you set limits and alerts on memory usage. It's also used to specify whether tables are assigned to spinning disks for normal demands, solid state disks for lower latency, or all-in-RAM for fastest-possible retrieval and processing speeds.


Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.

Last year Teradata introduced an Intelligent Memory feature that does all this shifting of data to the most appropriate storage speed automatically based on workload demands. You can expect this stort of automation to show up in the next wave of in-memory enhancements.


Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio


15 percent of Internet users think the Web is bad for society, Pew says

The web turns 25 this year. Its birthday, however, may not be celebrated by everyone.


Fifteen percent of Internet users said it has been bad for society, according to the Pew Research Center, in the first of several reports commissioned to look at the rise of digital technologies. Six percent of users said it was bad for them personally, based on data from telephone interviews with roughly 1,000 adults, according to findings released Thursday.


What's driving those icky feelings? The Washington, D.C.-based think tank says it did not follow up with respondents about their answers, but the research group has seen a number of issues over the years that tend to gnaw at people about online life, said Lee Rainie, director of the center's Internet and American Life Project.


Chief among them: An increasing digital divide between 'haves' and 'have-nots'; online bullying; using the web to communicate only with like-minded people; its ability to spread misinformation; the loss of privacy; and narcissism.


And, the loss of real human contact in favor of virtual interactions.


The good outweighs the bad

To be fair, 76 percent of respondents said the Internet was good for society. Ninety percent said it was good for them personally. And though it may be bad for some, that hasn't stopped the majority of people from logging in. Nearly 90 percent of American adults now use the Internet, Pew said, a new high and up from 66 percent in 2005, and a mere 14 percent in 1995.



The world wide web is thought to be conceived by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, who introduced the concept of a 'distributed hypertext system' which could link files together in an expanding network. The web is different from the Internet, which is the underlying network or infrastructure that the web sits on top of.


Many of the activities the people report to Pew involve the web, the group said, even if respondents do not necessarily know that is the layer of the Internet they are using.


The Internet, and the Web built on top of it, has radically altered the way many people live their lives, partly by making information access and interpersonal connections easier. Perhaps irrevocably so.


But assessing the technology's 'good-ness' or 'bad-ness' is subjective, because different people use the Internet for different purposes, and they view the trade-offs differently.


The pipes are like a car

It can help people become more productive, but the Internet can also be addictive, said Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates, who studies market issues related to the Internet.


Kay compared the Internet to driving a car. It can be liberating, but also confining, he said, if people cannot pull themselves away, like being stuck in a car in traffic.


And it's a double-edged sword. Social media channels like Twitter have been credited for helping to support political activism during events like the Arab Spring protests, but Reddit also came under fire during last year's Boston Marathon bombing for spreading false information about suspects.


Despite concerns over the Internet's ability to bring out the worst in people, Pew found the online world to be more friendly than menacing. Seventy percent of Internet users said they had been treated kindly or generously by others online. And roughly two-thirds of people said online communications has strengthened their relationships with family and friends.


Though the way it is accessed will continually change, the Internet is likely here to stay. Just over half of Internet users said the Internet would be, at a minimum, very hard to give up, Pew found, compared with 38 percent in 2006. Respondents also said it would be harder to give up the Internet than to give up TV.


Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S specs comparison

SAMSUNG UNVEILED its Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone at Mobile World Congress (MWC) this week, and it's no doubt hoping its specifications will tempt buyers away from Apple's iPhone 5S.


While the two smartphones have similar names, they have different hardware and software, and are both looking to win the affections of punters in the market for a top-end smartphone.



We have lined up the two smartphones head to head on paper to find out which one comes out top in terms of specifications.


Design, measurements and weightiPhone 5S: 124x59x7.6mm, 112gSamsung Galaxy S5: 142x73x8.1mm, 145g


With the Apple iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5 having 4in and 5.1in screens, respectively, it's clear which one is going to attract buyers after a compact, pocketable smartphone.


The iPhone 5S is both thinner and lighter than Samsung's Galaxy S5, measuring 7.6mm thick and tipping the scales at 112g. The Galaxy S5, in comparison, measures a slightly chunkier 8.1mm thick and weighs 145g.


The smartphones are very different when it comes to design, too, and it's likely that most buyers will have their favourite. The iPhone 5S is made entirely of aluminium, giving it a top-end look and feel, and it features an angular, boxy design. It's also available in three colours - black, white and gold.



The Samsung Galaxy S5, on the other hand, has a fully plastic casing, which Samsung has perforated on the back to make the device comfortable to hold. The flagship smartphone is available in four colours - black, white, blue and gold.


Interestingly, both devices feature a fingerprint sensor in their respective home buttons, and are the first two smartphones that do. This adds a layer of security to both the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5, and makes the devices quicker to unlock.


While they both feature a fingerprint scanner, the Samsung Galaxy S5 trumps the iPhone 5S with its IP67 certification, which means that unlike Apple's flagship smartphone, it is resistant to dust and waterproof. The Galaxy S5 also has a heart rate monitor on the back, a feature that likely will interest fitness fanatics.


ScreeniPhone 5S: 4in 640x1136 resolution IPS LCD Retina display, 326ppiSamsung Galaxy S5: 5.1in 1920x1080 resolution Super AMOLED display, 432ppi


The iPhone 5S features a display that's identical to that of its predecessor, the iPhone 5, and this was long regarded as the best screen you could get on a smartphone. Measuring 4in, the display features 640x1136 resolution and a pixel density of 326ppi, and thanks to its IPS technology it is among the best when it comes to viewing angles. However, with smartphone screens becoming larger all the time, some might consider the display too small.


Those that do might be pleased by the display on the Samsung Galaxy S5 - a 5.1in 1920x1080 resolution Super AMOLED screen with a higher pixel density of 432ppi.


Next: Performance, operating system.


Cloud security concerns are overblown, experts say

RSA panel compares enterprise fears of cloud security to early, now eased, concerns about virtualization technology

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- Security concerns should not deter enterprises from using public cloud technologies when it makes business sense.


A panel of practitioners said at the RSA Security Conference here this week agreed that if cloud providers are vetted properly, most enterprise workloads and data can be safely migrated to cloud environments.


Any lingering questions by IT security pros about data security and privacy of cloud computing will be allayed just as concerns about virtualization were in the past, they said.


'The horse is largely out of the barn,' said John Pescatore, director of research at the SANS Institute. 'There is no debate about whether we are going to use the cloud,' he said.


Today, though, security concerns are still the major inhibitor of cloud adoption at many large companies. The concerns are most significant among those IT executives considering a cloud migration. Those who have already made the leap appear mostly satisfied with cloud security, the panel agreed.


An Intermap survey of 250 decision makers at medium and large companies found that 40% of those who described themselves as 'cloud-wary' cited security as their biggest impediment to adoption. In contrast only about 15% of 'cloud-wise' respondents felt the same way.


Intermap said its analysis of the findings determined that cloud-wary companies are likely substantially overestimating the security risks substantially. This group is less concerned about the performance and cost challenges cited by companies that have moved to the cloud.


Bruce Schneier, a panelist and CTO at Co3 Systems Inc., a vendor of incident response technologies, suggested that companies first consider the level of security offered by the provider.


Cloud vendors provide different levels of security, he said. 'The basic issue is, do I trust that other legal entity that has my data on their hard drive?' Schneier said.


Making that leap of faith shouldn't be too difficult for IT executives, he said. Just like they had to learn to trust hardware, software and outsourcing vendors, enterprise IT executives will one fay have to start trusting cloud vendors.


The popular perception that the cloud is inherently insecure is wrong, said Wade Baker, managing principal of research and intelligence at Verizon. 'It seems to imply this relationship with the cloud is untrustworthy or higher risk.'


Despite all the fears about cloud security, there are few instances where enterprise data was compromised because it was moved to the cloud, he said. In fact, a vast majority of enterprise breaches involving cloud providers, stemmed from enterprise failures and not cloud provider faults, added Pescatore.


The issue of how to deal with government requests for data in the cloud is still only being worked out, the panelists noted.


Larger cloud providers like Google and Microsoft have already taken steps to foster great transparency. Such firms are well equipped to legally to fight government requests for data access than individual companies, the panelists said.


'The cloud is not an all or nothing strategy,' said Eran Feigenbaum, director of security for Google Apps. By properly classifying data and moving public and sensitive data to the cloud, companies can do a better job protecting the really critical information internally, he said.


Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.


Read more about Cloud Security in Computerworld's Cloud Security Topic Center.


Skype now lets you sign up with a Microsoft account, updates its Windows ...


It's been a long time coming, but Skype's revealed that folks can finally sign up for service using a Microsoft account. Skype believes this feature is perfect for users who perhaps want the least amount of logins possible, and it also points to Microsoft's two-step verification as a benefit for having such an account. Meanwhile, the Windows Phone app has been updated with a number of security improvements, plus an indicator which lets you know when the person on the other side is typing. As part of the integration with its parent company, Skype will now require a Microsoft account (like the one used to set up your WP device) when registering for a new account through the application. This new version is only available for Windows Phone 8, however -- as you might recall, support for the app on earlier versions of the OS was cut off months ago.


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