Category: Hardware

Microsoft tweaks Surface already

Software giant Microsoft has issued a firmware update for the Surface RT tablet to fix a few problems which appeared after the launch.

According to My ITForum, the update, enables the Surface to run a lot smoother and App transitions seem snappier

A report and a blog post here  also mention performance improvements when launching apps.

The firmware release is to fix a problem that some reviewers complained about which seemed to slow down the Tablet.

Fixes listed under a “cumulative update” include performance improvements “when you wake the computer and when the computer is asleep, in order to improve battery life” and a patch for “an issue that may prevent Windows Store Apps from being installed fully”.

It was expected that there would be a few hiccups with the Windows Surface RT. It was the first time that a version of Windows 8 written for ARM processors was released.

Earlier this week we reported that sales of the tablet were a lot slower than Microsoft expected  and some analysts think that it will take until the middle of next year to sell what Vole wanted to sell by Christmas.

Microsoft missed a chance with the Surface. Initially it was thought that Vole was going to issue a subsidised tablet which would have blazed its way into the market. However what it ended up doing was selling a tablet for the same price as most of the rest of the market with no compelling features other than its Windows operating system. As a result it is expected to perform on a par with others in the market. Nothing to see here, move on please. 

Suppliers say Surface RT falling way below targets

Whispers among upstream component suppliers in Taipei suggest that Microsoft’s great tablet hope, the Surface RT, is more likely to meet just 60 percent of the company’s sales forecast by the end of the year.

Shy and retiring CEO Steve Ballmer recently admitted that Surface sales so far have been modest. Digitimes’ unnamed sources would agree, pointing out that the Surface RT has no advantage in terms of price and performance, while the lack of legacy software compatibility is also putting off consumers. Nor are they, the sources added, keen to use the Windows Store.

It’s also expected, according to Digitimes, that the device won’t be able to outperform the competition during the end of year holiday period, traditionally a goldmine for vendors with winning products. Instead, all the attention seems to be on the three-way battle for lower-end tablets between Google, Amazon, and Apple – itself caught on the back foot and forced to compete.

However, the sources claimed it is only Microsoft’s flagship device that is suffering – and that they expected Windows 8 tablets from vendors to benefit from the weaker than expected sales.

Manufacturing partners were left in the dark when Microsoft insisted on transforming itself from a software company to a hardware company with the Surface RT.

Although there was some hope for the product when details began leaking, the high retail price has led Redmond to repeat history: that is, the last time it tried to challenge Apple at hardware was with the ill-fated Zune MP3 player.

Microsoft will have another pop with an Intel-powered flavour of the Surface in early 2013.

China crisis hits Sharp end

The fact that Japan is not giving back some islands it borrowed from China in World War II is causing some problems for TV maker, Sharp.

Troubled Sharp had been hoping that China Electronics would come to the party and save its bacon with a planned cooperation pact.

The pair would align to make the world’s most advanced LCD panels.

But the state owned China electronics chairman Rui Xiaowu told Reuters that while the cooperation on the production of the 10th generation LCD panels has already obtained approval from China’s top economic planning agency, everything has been put on hold by the purchase of the islands by the Japanese government.

Japan’s move to nationalise two disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese, triggered violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products across China.

Sharp’s former President Mikio Katayama has confirmed that cooperation with China Electronics had stalled because Chinese authorities were only prepared to approve a 10th generation plant rather than the 8th generation facility earlier agreed.

Sharp only wants to give away some of its more elderly LCD technology.

Sharp is not the only one which is suffering from the island crisis. Japanese car makers have reported a slide in sales in China. 

Cray releases new supercomputer

Cray announced a XC30 supercomputer capable of high-performance computing (HPC) workloads of more than 100 petaflops which is pretty floppy considering it relies on Intel Xeon processors and Aries interconnect chipset technology.

Originally dubbed “Cascade,” the system uses Cray’s integrated software environment and processors from the Intel Xeon E5-2600 family, with the ability to scale up to one million cores.

Cray claims that the XC30s can use a wide variety of processor types and it is looking at Intel’s Xeon Phi and Nvidia Tesla GPUs based on the Kepler GPU.

According to Slashdot, Cray has signed up a few supercomputer centers for the XC30. These include the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Lugano, Switzerland, and the Academic Center for Computing and Media Studies (ACCMS) at Kyoto University.

The systems should be available in the first quarter of 2013.

There is lots of competition in the supercomputer market at the moment. Cray only built 5.4 percent of the systems on the Top500 list, compared to IBM with 42.6 percent and Hewlett-Packard with 27.6 percent. 

US Patent Office grants Apple oblong dominion

Apple’s dedicated bloodletting in the courts – following the late Steve Jobs’ diktat of ‘thermonuclear war’ against Android devices – has long looked more like a squabble over basic geometry and debating the rightsholder to the rounded rectangle.

Now, the US Patent Office has granted Cupertino a broad, broad patent that on first glance appears to deem Apple the rightful owner.

Apple has been granted patent no. D670,286, the Verge reports, which is about as vague as it gets for a design patent. 

The long running Cupertino-provoked skirmishes between Apple and its rivals, most notably Samsung, have brought up some odd talking points in the courts. Samsung argued that it was actually Stanley Kubrick, in the late 60s, who created the archetypal tablet and Apple has no claim to the rather obvious design of a rectangle with smoothed over corners. 

Regardless, the following shape is now the property of Apple. Cupertino holds dominion over this rectangle:

Churlish though Apple’s cases may appear, it’s not a difficult leap of logic to argue the company is – legitimately – worried about other players entering the tablet space and stealing even more of its share of a product category it hasn’t significantly contributed to since the iPad 2.

Hyundai, Kia in $millions lawsuit over fuel fib

South Korean auto manufacturers Kia and Hyundai have found themselves on the unpleasant end of a $775 million lawsuit after they admitted significantly inflating fuel economy figures on some of their cars.

Both admitted that they inflated the efficiency figures for over 1 million sold and owned vehicles in Canada and the United States.

Although they agreed to pay car owners the bill on extra fuel costs, 23 Hyundai and Kia customers filed a lawsuit in the District Court for Central California which argues the compensation is just not good enough.

Hyundai and Kia’s proposed plan, Reuters reports,  is a debit card customers can carry that will reimburse them for the difference in fuel economy, as well as an extra 15 percent to say sorry about the hassle. From the customers’ point of view, the value of their vehicles has considerably reduced value of their vehicles, and they want reimbursement for that too.

A similar lawsuit has been filed in the Southern District of Ohio. 

Hyundai is keeping schtum. However, the company was sued by Consumer Watchdog earlier this year over claims it misled customers about fuel efficiency on the 2011 and 2012 Elantra models.

Hyundai shares have dropped seven percent since the lawsuit whispers began, while Kia’s stock has dropped five percent since last week.

Apple shares start to slide

Apple CEO Tim Cook might have to reverse the polarity on the neutron flow of his company’s reality distortion field as it appears that people are realising that the company is over valued.

Shares of Apple slid almost four percent yesterday to a five-month low as investors became more worried about its ability to fend off unprecedented competition and untangle a snarled iPhone 5 supply chain.

According to Reuters, Apple’s slide was more than double the 2.4 percent the day after the US election. Currently you can buy a second hand Apple share for $558. 

Apple has lost 20 percent, or $130 billion of its market value, since September.

Since Jobs took over the company, the share price has risen on the expectation that the company is going to do something ground breaking. However, Apple lately has been recycling its products and not added much that was new. Its rivals have been able to match it, or even out class it. The iPad mini, for example, was released using technology which was much worse than rival products and at a higher price.

Wall Street was worried after Cook ousted veteran mobile software chief Scott Forstall which was seen as the loss of one of the company’s most valuable assets.

Apple also reported that its margins will shrink this quarter as new products have become more expensive to build.

Quarterly results have failed to meet Wall Street’s expectations.

What is a little alarming is that the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street have been sticking all their cash into Apple because it has been one of the few companies which has been making money in tough economic times. So if Apple starts to fall then a lot of pension schemes will go the same way.

Profits at Apple’s rivals, such as Samsung, have been slowed by other areas of their business. In the case of Samsung its TV business has been its albatross.

The company may be able to hold its value, but what is clear, unless it can innovate, Apple’s days of mega share growth are coming to an end. 

Lenovo clocks weak profit growth

Even as it heads to become the world’s top PC maker, Lenovo has recorded its weakest quarterly profit growth in more than two years.

Lenovo reported a net profit of $162 million in the July-September period, compared with $143.9 million a year earlier.

The company had made a number of acquisitions in the United States, Japan, Germany and Brazil over the past few years which has strengthened its hand.

Lenovo derives nearly half of its sales from homeground China where sales are strong. However it appears that it is losing cash in areas such as the United States, and Europe due to the economic problems in those regions.

Lenovo shares are up 28 percent since the start of this year. It is doing much better than other PC makers, such as HP, Dell and Acer.

Reuters trotted out the mantra that the real reason is that people are no longer using PCs and are buying mobile toys instead. However, anyone who has tried to do any real work on a tablet will tell you that is not happening – and besides, the reduction in PC sales only seems to apply to the economic stricken regions of the EU and US.

Lenovo has launched its own mobile gear too. Its LePhones have gained traction in China with the PC maker ranking second in terms of market share in the second quarter, behind Samsung. 

Foxconn boss admits iPhone supply struggle

Foxconn’s zoo keepers must be feeling the pinch since the world began frowning on the company’s habit of using suicidal teenagers to glue together Apple products, as controversial boss Terry Gou acknowledged the smartphone factory oligopoly is struggling to churn out enough iPhones.

As Reuters reports, Gou told a business forum that it’s not easy to make iPhones, although presumably he hasn’t been lending a helping hand on the factory floor.  “We are falling short of meeting the huge demand,” he admitted.

There are other rumours that work had been shifted on to Foxconn International Holdings, a separate subsidiary, because of supply worries at the traditional Apple plants. Gou would not comment.

Perhaps crackdowns on Foxconn’s labour practices combined with the delays will offer Gou some confirmation of his personal philosophies – that a “harsh environment is a good thing”, “hungry people have especially clear minds”, and “work itself is a type of joy”.

FIH shares rose on a Citigroup advisory that the company would begin manufacturing iPhones this year.

As ChannelBiz UK notes, FIH traditionally builds products for other vendors, such as Nokia and Huawei.

As for Apple, its website is still reporting shipping delays of up to five weeks, although availability is often staggered following flagship launches. We were staggered too when we heard reports of fans desperately trying to sell on the third iPad because they had just bought an iPad mini “which was better”.

Creepy Microsoft patent filing turns Kinect into 1984-style monitor

Microsoft has registered a patent with the USPTO which could turn the Kinect into a spying device that regulates viewing content based on how many users are in a room.

Microsoft’s bizarre idea would essentially turn a gaming device into a Big Brother-style monitoring screen discretely spying on users and making licensing calls on behalf of big content.

In summary 0004, the patent filing suggests presenting the user with licensing options when they plan to view content. Basically, another way to squeeze cash from the customer. 

The Kinect would then monitor the “number of users consuming the content during the performance” – essentially an extreme conclusion to the notices at the beginning of VHS tapes that told the user movies were for individual consumption only, and not for unauthorised screenings. Who would have thought that gripe was still irking content industry bigwigs? 

Creepily, ‘Processing unit 191’ may include chips that specifically recognise and execute facial, object, and voice recognition. “Facial recognition may be used to detect the face of a particular person,” the patent ays, adding that particular faces, voices, sounds, and objects could be stored in memory.

Theoretically, this patent, Gizmodo notes, could also turn the Kinect into an age verification unit, which would be a lofty presumption for Redmond to make considering the billions of unique faces here on Planet Earth.

We would hope Microsoft’s not insane enough to actually bring this patent into real world use. Although privacy is increasingly being taken away from users online, it’s hard to imagine the consumer buying the idea of giving Ballmer and his voles access to your living room.