Category: Mobiles

Bloke builds his own open saucy self-driving car

A self-driving car does not have to cost you a fortune if you can get away from the car industry, according to a University of Nebraska student.

According to MIT Technology Review Brevan Jorgenson used open source software to convert his Honda Civic into a high tech self-driving car,

His homemade device in place of the rear-view mirror can control the brakes, accelerator, and steering, and it uses a camera to identify road markings and other cars.

Jorgenson built the lot using plans and software downloaded from the internet, plus about $700 in parts.

He started his project after George Hotz of Comma.ai, a San Francisco startup that was developing a $999 device that could upgrade certain vehicles to steer themselves on the highway and follow stop-and-go traffic.

Hotz was forced to cancel plans to launch the product after receiving a letter asking questions about its functionality from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In November, he released the company’s hardware designs and software for free, saying he wanted to empower researchers and hobbyists.

The whole thing is powered by a OnePlus 3 smartphone equipped with Comma’s now-free Openpilot software, a circuit board that connects the device to the car’s electronics, and a 3-D-printed case. Jorgenson got the case printed by an online service and soldered the board together himself.

Subsequent tests revealed that the Neo would inexplicably pull to the right sometimes, but a software update released by Comma quickly fixed that. Now fully working, the system is similar in capabilities to the initial version of Tesla’s AutoPilot.

Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, says that federal and state laws probably don’t pose much of a barrier to those with a desire to upgrade their vehicle to share driving duties. NHTSA has authority over companies selling vehicles and systems used to modify them, but consumers have significant flexibility in making changes to their own vehicle, says Smith, who advises the US Department of Transportation on law and automation.

Apple’s App store is the kiss of death for sales

For a long-time, developers have been forced to bend over backwards to satisfy the fruity cargo-cult Apple’s controls so that they can be granted entry to its App store.

While developers admit that Apple is a nightmare to work for, the belief is that they can be sure of getting money back by being involved in the store.

However, developers are starting to question the wisdom of their Apple involvement and are discovering that pulling apps from Apple’s store do them no harm at all.

Techcrunch spoke to Dash creator Bogdan Popescu who thought he was in trouble when Apple pulled his Dash app off of the App Store. In the 100 day period since the move, Dash maintained and even increased revenue and found that its users didn’t care which platform they were using.

More than 84 per cent of the customers simply moved over to the independent app license from the App Store license and Popescu found that he did not have to deal with Apple anymore. He had full control over his business and did not have any App Store installation/updating/purchasing issues.

Paul Kafasis tried something similar. When he pulled his Appl a year ago he found that the 50 per cent of sales which went through the App Store turned into direct sales through his website.

“It appears that nearly everyone who would have purchased Piezo via the Mac App Store opted to purchase directly once that was the only option,” he said.

It appears that the Mac App Store was not driving sales to developers it was driving sales away from our own site, and into the Mac App Store.

Maintaining the app for the app store is costly and much of his revenue went to paying the App Store a commission. Moving to a direct model was much better than trying to obey Apple’s channel rules.

Basically, developers are discovering that having more than one sales channel is also massively important.

Many developers are considering setting up a system where they exist on the App store but charge more for the product. Smarter customer will go to the website where they can get it cheaper, but the lazier types will effectively end up paying Apple’s tax.

ZTE fears US action could hit results

Chinese telco outfit ZTE fears that penalties it expects to incur for allegedly breaking US sanctions against Iran will be a kick in the bottom line.

In March, the US government hit ZTE with some of the toughest-ever US export restrictions for the alleged breaches. It has since issued temporary reprieves on the curbs, which are now due to take effect next month.

ZTE said in a filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange said that it had been actively cooperating and communicating with relevant U.S. government departments to reach a conclusion of the investigation.

“The outcome of the settlement issues still remains uncertain but will likely have a material impact on the financial conditions and operating results of the company.”

Measures it has taken to placate Washington include a management overhaul and the appointment of a new chief export compliance officer based in the United States.

If no settlement or reprieve extension were reached before the deadline, US suppliers would be banned from doing business with ZTE, which could cut off much of the Chinese company’s supply chain. ZTE relies on US suppliers for about one-third of its components.

Nokia does better than expected

Gold-Rush-Eating-boots-N_54Former rubber boot maker Nokia has reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit thanks mostly to the fact it bought Alcatel-Lucent and slashed its costs.

Nokia and its rivals, Ericsson and Huawei, are not having a good time as telecom operators’ demand for faster 4G mobile broadband equipment has peaked, and upgrades to next-generation 5G equipment are still years away.

Fourth-quarter group earnings before interest and taxes fell 27 percent from a year ago to $1.01 billion, but about 25 percent better than the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street predicted.

The networks unit’s sales in the quarter fell 14 percent, more than expected, but its operating margin came in at 14.1 percent, ahead of a market forecast of 11.7 percent.

Nokia said that while networks sales were set to decline further this year, profitability could improve from a 2016 margin of 8.9 percent.

Chief Executive Rajeev Suri said in a statement that he was disappointed with Nokia’s topline development in 2016, he expected its performance to improve in 2017. He saw potential for margin expansion in 2017 and beyond, as market conditions improve and sales transformation programmes gain traction.

Still in the current market, Nokia’s results are strong.  Nokia bought Alcatel-Lucent last year in response to industry changes and is currently axing thousands of jobs as it seeks to cut 1.2 billion euro of annual costs by 2018.

Nokia was caught out by the rise of smartphones and ended up selling its handset business to Microsoft in 2014, leaving it with the networks business and a portfolio of technology patents.

EU clears final global roaming hurdle

EU and country flags - Wikimedia CommonsThe European Union sorted out a preliminary deal early to cap wholesale charges telecom operators pay each other when their customers use their mobile phones abroad, paving the way for the abolition of roaming fees in June.

The caps were the last sticking point to abolish retail roaming charges as of June 15, 2017, crowning a decade of efforts by Brussels to allow citizens to use their phones abroad without paying extra.

Wholesale charges for data – which were the most controversial given the exponential use of mobile internet – will be capped at 7.7 euros per gigabyte from June 2017, going down to 2.5 euro per gigabyte in 2022.

Caps for making calls will decrease from five euro cents per minute to 3.2 euro cents per minute, while those for sending text messages will halve to one euro cent from two euro cents on June.

“Goodbye roaming,” tweeted Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, the EU lawmaker who steered the law on behalf of the European parliament.

The European Commission – the EU executive – will look at the wholesale caps every two years and propose new ones if necessary.

Wednesday’s deal still needs to be confirmed by the full European Parliament and member states but it is likely to be accepted.

The move was being important to show the great unwashed, er ordinary EU citizens, that it looked after their interests and not just those of French and German businesses.

After the agreement to abolish retail roaming charges in June this year, policymakers grappled with the challenge of who would foot the bill as telecom operators still need to pay each other to keep their customers connected abroad.

Countries in northern and eastern Europe where consumers gobble up mobile data at low prices favoured lower wholesale caps to avoid companies raising prices in their home markets, effectively making poorer customers subsidize frequent travellers.

However, places which depend on tourists such as the south, were worried that their operators could be forced to hike domestic prices to recover the costs of accommodating the extra tourist traffic.

EU roaming charge agreement crucial

Europe with flags - Wikimedia CommonsThe European Union’s digital chief has said that failure to solve the last remaining barrier to abolishing mobile roaming charges across the bloc would lead people to question its ability to deliver on promises.

EU lawmakers and member states are set to hold a third round of talks today on where to set caps for the wholesale roaming charges telecom operators pay each other when their customers call, send texts or surf the web abroad.

It has taken Brussels a decade to reach the point where its citizens will be able to use their phones abroad without paying extra.

European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip said that it was important to get the agreement sorted out because Brussels has sought to show it works for ordinary citizens.

He called on the negotiators to start showing some “significant flexibility” to achieve a final agreement

The two sides remain far apart on where the wholesale caps for data should be set, with the European Parliament pushing for an initial cap of 4 euros ($4) per gigabyte while member states want it to start at 8.5 euros per gigabyte.

Ansip wrote that if no political compromise can be achieved, people will rightly question its common will and ability to deliver on its promises.

“That is a risk we should not run,” Ansip wrote.

The split on wholesale roaming caps stems from wide differences in domestic prices and travel patterns across the bloc.

Countries in northern and eastern Europe with low domestic prices and generous packages favour lower wholesale caps to avoid companies raising prices in their home markets, effectively making poorer customers subsidize frequent travellers.

Countries in the tourist-magnet south worry that their operators could be forced to hike domestic prices to accommodate the seasonal tourist traffic. They also fear operators will put off investment in networks if foreign operators can gain cheap access to their infrastructure and undercut them domestically.

BT losing a pizza the action after Italian accounting scandal

banner_pizza_The BT Group is facing two shareholder lawsuits in the United States, after a fifth of the telecommunications company’s market value was wiped out in a single day amid a growing accounting scandal in Italy.

The lawsuits accusing the British company and three top executives of securities fraud were filed in the US District Courts in Manhattan and in nearby Newark, New Jersey.

Both lawsuits were brought by individuals seeking class-action status, and named Chief Executive Gavin Patterson, his predecessor Ian Livingston, and Finance Director Tony Chanmugam as defendants.

A spokeswoman for BT declined to comment on behalf of the defendants. BT had launched an internal probe into its Italian business after a whistleblower flagged concerns.

The price of BT’s shares in London and American depositary receipts in New York fell nearly 21 percent.

BT wrote-down its Italian division to £530 million from £145 million after Patterson expressed disappointment with the “inappropriate behaviour” uncovered.

BT reported slowing demand from government and corporate customers following last June’s vote by Britons to leave the European Union. It said that slowdown, together with the accounting problems, would weigh on results for two years.

But the lawsuits accuse BT of having concealed or made misleading statements about the accounting practices in Italy, causing it to inflate earnings and its stock price.

Companies are frequently sued in the United States after releasing negative news that investors say they did not expect.

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Samsung blames the battery for Note 7 fiasco

samsung-galaxy-note-5Samsung Electronics has ruled out design flaws as the reason why its Note 7 caught fire and blamed the two battery makers.

The outfit has delayed its Galaxy S smartphone as it attempts to enhance product safety following an investigation into the cause of fires in its premium Note 7 devices.

The investigation has taken months and Samsung seems convinced that it was someone else’s problem despite smart money being on the fact the phone was too thin to take any battery safely.

Samsung initially blamed battery faults in batteries made by its subsidiary and swapped them for batteries made by another supplier which also caught fire.

What is curious then was Samsung’s obsession with getting the Note 7s off the market when customers were ignoring the recall. After all it would have been easier to issue them with a new battery and had done with it.

Samsung mobile chief Koh Dong-jin said procedures had been put in place to avoid a repeat of the fires, as investors look to the launch of the South Korean tech giant’s first premium handset since the Note 7, the Galaxy S8, some time this year.

“The lessons of this incident are deeply reflected in our culture and process,” Koh told reporters at a press briefing. “Samsung Electronics will be working hard to regain consumer trust.”

However Koh said the Galaxy S8 would not be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show in Barcelona, which begins on February 27, the traditional forum for Samsung premium product launches. He did not comment on when the company planned to launch the new handset.

Again if the problem were the battery then this action would be unnecessary. Samsung and its suppliers would have worked out a way to track the fault. However, if it really were a design problem then Samsung would have have to rethink the new phone too.

Another odd part of the story is that Samsung said it accepted responsibility for asking battery suppliers to meet certain specifications and did not plan to take legal action against them.

AT&T kills off first iPhone

apple_iphoneIn an end of an error (surely era Ed.), AT&T has shut down its 2G service and finally killed off the first-generation iPhone.

The 2G shutdown has been planned for a few years  and judging by the lack of outcry from Apple fanboys when the network stopped working there can’t be many people still able to get Steve Jobs’ pivotal shiny toy to go. To be fair it is ten years and Apple normally expects people to replace their phone after one.

AT&T notes that the 2G shut down will free up resources and spectrum bandwidth for the network to use for future rollouts of more advanced wireless solutions like 5G down the line.

Of course, the Apple fanboy could move to Blighty, where 2G is still going. In fact some remote areas are only covered by 2G because it is reasoned that some coverage is better than nothing.

Even within more urban and populated areas that have substantial 3G coverage, there is still a large dependence on the reliability of 2G.

Nokia gets back into smartphones

 

wellington-bootFormer rubber boot maker Nokia is back in the smartphone game and launched a mid-range smartphone for the Chinese market.

The Nokia 6 is an Android smartphone and is being made by HMD which owns the rights to use Nokia’s brand on mobile phones.

The Nokia 6, which runs the newest version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android Nougat, sports a 5.5-inch full HD (1920×1080 pixels) display. With metal on the sides and a rounded rectangular fingerprint scanner housed on the front, the Nokia 6 seems reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S7.

It is powered by a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor and will compete with the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy A series models and other mid-end smartphones. The smartphone is manufactured by Foxconn.

On the face of it there is not much to see there, but really there is not much to see in many mid-range smartphones anywhere. It does have dual amplifiers which it claims can deliver a louder sound but the innovation seems to stop there.

The Nokia 6 will exclusively sell in China through ecommerce giant JD.com for $250. HMD says it will launch more products in the first half of this year.

“China is the largest and most competitive smartphone market in the world,” the company said in a press note, justifying why its long-anticipated smartphone is limited to the Chinese market. “Our ambition is to deliver a premium product, which meets consumer needs at every price point, in every market.”

The idea is to get its brand into China where it can be noticed. The price point of Nokia 6 is very close to the average selling price offered by the top three Chinese players. The mid-end smartphone market is growing 12 percent year-on-year.