Tag: Kindle

Microsoft wants to control your lift

Software giant Microsoft has been using a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to inspire its R&D and hit upon the idea of having intelligent lifts.

The software in a Microsoft lift can now determine if the person walking by is about to board, then open its doors to let them in.

Vole has installed its Xbox motion-detecting camera, the Kinect, in the ceiling above the elevator, then had it monitor people for months, determining what behaviour predicted whether they’d board the elevator or not.

If it is not sure whether someone is going to get on, it will move its doors until the person motions to tell it to wait or not.

The project is the brainchild of Eric Horvitz, the co-director of Microsoft’s research lab which houses some of the company’s 1,100 scientists and engineers. Horvitz’s team has begun a second phase of the project experimenting with human-like interactions between elevators and the people riding them.

But already some of the language which is building around the project does sound suspiciously like that of the Sirius Cybernetics company

“We build systems that adore people and that by design come to enjoy and work and support people and nurture them,” Horvitz told the Washington Post. It is only one small step to “share and enjoy” and the lift will be refusing to leave the basement because it can predict the future. Then someone will re-invent the staircase and make a fortune. 

Brits give up on SMS

The UK is giving up on SMS and turning to trendier messaging services like Whatsapp, Snapchat and mobile email.

Telecoms analyst Deloitte says the number of SMS (standard messaging service) text messages sent last year was down by seven billion to 145 billion.

It is the first time that texting, created in 1992, has fallen in popularity and experts claim it is a sign that the technology is on its way out.

Paul Lee, Deloitte’s head of telecoms research, says the heyday of the text message is over and it had reached a tipping point.

Use of mobile phones was stronger than ever and trillions of instant messages will be sent in place of a text message.

Part of the problem is that SMS is stupidly expensive, costing 10p a pop.

Smartphone apps like Whatsapp allow whole groups of people to communicate at the same time and enable users to send photos and videos and costs 60p a year to use it.

“iMessage is free with an iPhone. Snapchat is accumulating users rather than charging them, whereas text messaging costs money.”

Deloitte predicts the number of texts sent will fall to 140 billion this year, but the number of instant messages sent in the UK is expected to rocket to around 300billion.

The UK has a close relationship with SMS. The first text message was sent from Vodafone’s headquarters in Newbury in 1992 by engineer Neil Papworth, and in 1993 the first mobile phone capable of texting was produced by Nokia, with the UK sending a billion texts a month by 2001. 

Half of Britons have a tablet

Latest figures in from the bean counters at Deloitte show that half of Britons are now using the keyboardless netbooks known as tablets.

Apparently there were more than 12 million tablets sold in the UK in 2013. By adding up the numbers and dividing by their shoe size this means that by the end of January, half of Britons will own or have access to a tablet, up from 36 percent from last summer.

Deloitte believed the tablets’ growth had been driven by the value end of the market, which had made the touch-screen devices available as children’s gifts and for those unwilling to pay for more expensive models.”

The numbers were helped by the rise of budget tablets including Amazon’s Kindle Fire, for which prices start at £199, Tesco’s Hudl and Argos’s £99 tablet. The last, as we reported, is now unavailable.

Paul Lee, Deloitte’s head of technology, media and telecoms research, said that tablets had gained popularity with extraordinary speed, and manufacturers will have to work hard to stay on top of the evolution of the market.

It seems that people are finally starting to listen to Bill Gates who argued that that there were shedloads of uses for tablets. Now there appear to be more users and use cases for tablets than many had imagined, he said.

The key turned out to be getting the balance of form, function and price right.

Online retailers have been slashing prices and promoting e-books to appeal to those who received tablets for Christmas. 

Amazon releases new Kindles

Amazon has started selling faster and lighter Kindle tablets with a video helpdesk feature. Kindle Fire HDX tablets have a “Don’t Panic” feature for users to call technical support if things go pear-shaped.

A representative, who can see the screen, will help troubleshoot by even navigating the device remotely.

The service is free for HDX customers and is being touted as a way that Amazon can appear different from similar devices.

Amazon wants a 15-second response time for its Mayday service and is training “thousands” of reps in time for the Christmas rush.

Chief executive Jeff Bezos said that the system being established will make Amazon more efficient. It is not clear what people will think about Amazon staff nosing around their tablets, or if the NSA will be able to use the service to snoop on people.

The latest Kindles run the newest version of Amazon’s own Google Android-based operating software codenamed Mojito.

The tablets, one with a 7-inch (18cm) screen and one with an 8.9-inch screen, are lighter and have a more powerful chip than the last Kindle HD line. The HDX tablets come in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB storage sizes.

The smaller Kindle Fire HDX tablet starts at $229 and the bigger tablet starts at $379, both for 16GB wi-fi only models. By comparison, Apple’s 16GB wifi iPad mini starts at $329, and its 16GB full-sized wi-fi iPad starts at $499.

So far, Amazon is taking pre-orders for wi-fi only models, with shipping scheduled for October for the 7-inch tablet and November for the 8.9-inch tablet.

Wireless 4G versions of both will also be available, for $100 extra, later this year.

Amazon is selling an updated version of its Kindle Fire HD for $139, down from $199 for the last generation. 

Tesco to bet on content with Everyday Value tablet

British supermarket mega-chain Tesco is planning to enter the hardware space with its own tablet.

Details are thin at the moment, but it is understood Tesco wants to take advantage of its heavy customer base to sell on digital content through its own branded hardware. In doing so, it will directly compete with the likes of Amazon and Apple with its own “iPad-like” tablet.

Tesco’s tablet is expected to be sold at a budget friendly £100, the Sunday Times reports, with Tesco’s Blinkbox content delivery platform pre-installed. The company will hope this sees it increase its presence in content streaming, challenging existing companies like Netflix and Amazon’s Lovefilm.

Content is notoriously tricky to sell because of regional restrictions that differ between networks and the countries they are being sold in. But it sounds like Tesco thinks, if it takes a hit with hardware, it will be able to entice customers into paying for Blinkbox.

The founder of business and IT analyst house Quocirca, Clive Longbottom, told TechEye that, essentially, a Tesco tablet will be a means to an end.

“It will be the vehicle for extending the presence of Blinkbox, and Tesco will go heavily for it as a hub for all sorts of media,” Longbottom said, “so expect Blinkbox to include more songs and to include books as well”.  

“I’d be surprised if it is not Android based so as to make the most of the apps store,” he said. “The big question is whether Tesco will go for a very shiny top spec and sell at a loss to make money on content, or a bare bones one where it won’t have to sell much on top”.

Tesco recently said it will be stepping away from selling consumer electronics – but perhaps it meant electronics that are not its own. 

Amazon re-releases its big Kindle

Amazon has surprised the world by bucking the trend on big e-readers by putting its 9.7-inch Kindle DX back in stock 

The huge version of the Kindle was pulled from the shelves last year as people appeared to be favouring smaller tablets.

Amazon has brought back the DX for $299, reflecting the price drop for eReaders which was brought in late last year.

The Kindle DX was apparently discontinued back in October when Amazon announced the backlit Kindle Paperwhite e-reader and a new line of Kindle Fire tablets.

Amazon’s vice president Jay Marine said Amazon had pretty much done with the Kindle DX. It was designed for the text book market which largely fell to 10 inch tablets.

In a statement Amazon has confirmed the e-reader’s return, but there are hints that the move could be temporary. In fact some think that the online bookseller might have found a warehouse of them that it had forgotten about and wants to clear the backlog.

It could equally be a test. Currently interest in the bigger tablets has fallen which means that text book users might still need a cheaper and bigger screen. 

Barnes & Noble sticks Google Play on Nook tablet

Barnes & Noble is trying to make its Nook tablet a bit more competitive by offering unrestricted access to Google’s Play Store.

The Nook launched to relatively positive reviews and it offers good value for money, but the lack of Play Store support was a turn off for many. The addition of Google Play will increase the number of apps available on the Nook from just 10,000 to 750,000. It’s quite baffling that Barnes & Noble didn’t do it a while ago, as its closed approach clearly wasn’t working well.

“This deal is about plugging that gap. Consumers told us they wanted more apps,” Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch told Reuters.

Amazon does not appear to be abandoning its walled garden approach.

Although Kindle tablets are outselling Nooks, the lack of proper Google Play access could blunt Amazon’s edge and force it to open up the floodgates to thousands of Google Play apps.

FAA under pressure to let flyers keep electronics on

We would cautiously put forward that accidentally leaving your phone on doesn’t frequently make planes fall from the sky, but now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reportedly considering letting passengers keep their electronics on.

Turning off electronics is generally more of an inconvenience to airline staff who are bound by their jobs to prod stubborn passengers, but the FAA may save them the trouble by the end of the year. According to a group that works with the FAA, rules may be relaxed on reading devices only – so you’ll still have to switch your phone off.

A member of this group and an FAA deepthroat, under anonymity, told the New York Times that the agency is “under tremendous pressure” to either allow passengers to use reading devices or at least to scientifically explain why they can’t.

Bookish frequent flyers are increasingly using electronics for reading, like the Kindle or the iPad, because they’re often lighter than a book and can store plenty of them on a single device. Although they can’t compete with the old fashioned charm of a well thumbed paperback, you can’t play non-literary anti-classics like Fruit Ninja on a bestseller.

The industry working group tasked with a solution includes Boeing, the Association of Flight Attendants, the Federal Communicatiosn Commission, and aircraft makers – tellingly it also has on its roster the Consumer Electronics Association and Amazon.

According to a summary document from the group, seen by the New York Times, as well as letting passengers read prod-free, it also wants to stop flight attendants from having to be the “social police”.

It’s hoped the existing regulations will be replaced by a concise, single new approach.

As the NY Times points out, as the wearable electronics trend looks to be on the up-and-up, flight attendants won’t be keen to tell passengers to turn off their glasses or shut down their watch.

Samsung Galaxy brand trumps Android in popularity contest

Samsung’s Galaxy brand is slowly becoming more popular than Android.

According to blogger Benedict Evans and a bit of Google Trends number crunching, an increasing number of people are associating Samsung’s own brand with all Android phones. Evans puts it this way: “Android is over – normals call It Galaxy.” 

In terms of brand recognition, Galaxy has already met Android and plenty of consumers simply don’t know the difference. The trend is hardly surprising, as Samsung is the top Android handset maker worldwide. Furthermore, the Korean outfit almost never mentions Android in its marketing and it spends billions on marketing every year. It is bad news for Google, as Samsung is becoming synonymous with Android phones. However, Samsung does not use vanilla Android on its Galaxy phones. It uses a heavily skinned version of its own, with the tacky TouchWiz user interface on top.

Google reps often try to make a distinction between pure Android devices like Nexus phones and Android-based devices, which run a heavily customised version of Android, like Samsung’s Galaxy gear, Amazon tablets, HTC smartphones and so on. However, since Google never did a very good job at marketing Nexus products, few consumers even know what vanilla Android is supposed to look like.

According to the Brand Keys 2013 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, Samsung is now the market leader is most categories, although it ties with Apple in some. In the past, Apple enjoyed a clear lead in brand loyalty. Brand Keys founder and president Robert Passikoff said Samsung’s success is a big turnaround.

“Samsung was always strong, but this is a bit of a switchover. It was a surprise. I guess it shouldn’t have been. I’ve been watching their advertising, and I thought it was really good,” Pasikoff told Marketing Daily. “I think they’re making real inroads.”

Pasikoff also pointed out that Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are starting to make their presence felt, due to solid brand value and integration. More and more consumers are trading in their e-readers for Amazon tablets, helping Amazon grow the Kindle Fire brand. This could be more bad news for Google, as an increasing number of consumers start to associate inexpensive Android tablets with Amazon, despite the fact that Google spent the last three quarters pushing its own Nexus tablets. What’s more, Amazon uses an even more customised version of Android than Samsung.

So, when it comes to “normals,” all Android-based devices could become Galaxies, while most if not all small Android tablets will be viewed as Kindles. For some reason Google failed to properly promote its Nexus brand, or even meet demand for some products, such as the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10. Although many people heard of the Nexus brand, very few consumers even know what the real advantages of Nexus gear are. 

iFixit pulls apart Microsoft's Surface

iFixit’s team of screwdriver-touting enthusiasts got its hands on Microsoft’s tablet contender, the Surface, and laid bare the components for the world to see.

Delving into the device, iFixit staff discovered that although a quirky internal design, far removed from the iPad and the Nexus 7 or Kindles, the machine doesn’t rate well on repairability. The team gave it a 4 out of 10, only just beating the iPad.

According to iFixit, the Surface is made so you can open it up without shattering the display, but even so, it is not simple: and you have to dig underneath the entire device to get to the glass. 

The battery is easier to remove than the iPad, and although it is glued in, cutting it loose was not a headache for the iFixit team. It’s a 7.4 V, 31.5 Wh Samsung battery putting it inbetween the iPad 2’s 25 Wh and the iPad 3’s 42.5 Wh.

Because there’s no multi-megapixel rear facing camera, Microsoft, iFixit suggests, either was factoring in cost as a concern or simply didn’t expect customers to use the Surface as their main camera. Both 720p cameras were almost identical.

Under the bonnet, iFixit discovered an Nvidia 1.4 GHz Tegra 3 processor, 32 GB of Samsung NAND Flash, 2 GB of DDR3 SDRAM from Micron, a power management IC from Texas Instruments, wireless MIMO SoC from Marvell, a Wolfson low power audio codec, and a Cypress Semiconductor capacitive touchscreen controller.

There are four touchscreen controllers in the machine overall, three Atmel MXT154E devices and one Atmel MXT1386. iFixit noted the 1280×800 display looks like it came from Samsung.

More pictures and the full tear down is available at iFixit here