Monday, November 25, 2013

Fly Or Die: Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

In early October, we brought you our thoughts on the seven-inch Kindle Fire HDX, of which John is a huge fan.
Today we bring you the seven-incher’s big brother, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.
In terms of Amazon’s evolution as a hardware (and specifically tablet) company, the Fire HDX 8.9 is a markedly improved device from previous generations. It’s thinner, lighter at just 13 ounces, and more powerful with a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor and improved software.
But how does it match up to the competition this holiday season?
John seems to think that this next-gen Kindle Fire has finally achieved “productivity status,” moving from a reader on steroids to a full-fledged computing device. I’m not as convinced, but I also haven’t been able to spend quite as much time with these Fire HDX tablets as him.
Would either of us save $100 and choose the HDX 8.9 over an iPad Air? Probably not, based almost entirely on the iPad’s ecosystem and App Store.
However, both of us feel that the smaller size tablets are a better idea for the average consumer.
Unless you require a larger screen for reading, or use the tablet almost exclusively to watch movies and TV, a smaller device like the seven-inch HDX or the iPad mini with Retina are more portable and comfortable options.

Qualcomm Toq smartwatch now available for pre-order, $349.99 price tag

Qualcomm Toq smartwatch
Qualcomm announced back in early September that it would be joining the ever-growing group of manufacturers that are working on a smartwatch with a device known as the Toq. The Toq features a 1.55-inch Mirasol display that Qualcomm says is “clearly visible” in sunlight and helps the watch to run for days without needing to plug in for juice. Fast-forward to today, and we’re getting near the Toq’s December 2 launch date. But Qualcomm announced today that anyone who’s interested in its smartwatch can pre-order one right now.
Qualcomm is now taking pre-orders for the black Toq, which includes the smartwatch itself as well as Qualcomm’s WiPower LE wireless charger, an AC adapter and USB cable. The entire package will set buyers back $349.99, and Qualcomm says that it expects to begin shipping units out to buyers in 1-3 weeks. Anyone interested in the white Toq will have to put their wallets away for now, as it’s currently listed as “Coming Soon.”
The Qualcomm Toq uses Bluetooth to pair with Android devices running 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher. Once the Toq and a user’s phone are buddy-buddy, the Toq can be used to view calls, messages and other alerts from your Android device on your wrist. While its $349.99 price tag may be a tad high for some, Qualcomm has said that the Toq is meant to be more of a demonstration of what its tech can do rather than a mainstream product that appeals to all consumers. For folks that nerd out about mobile tech like many of us do, Qualcomm’s promises of sunlight readability and multi-day battery life may make that price a bit easier to swallow. The Toq is now available for pre-order at the Qualcomm link below.

Phonebloks: Motorola Partners With 3D Systems For Modular Smartphone Future In 'Project Ara’

Google Motorola Phonebloks 3D Systems DDD GOOG Moto X Modular Smartphone
Motorola (GOOG) will partner with 3D Systems (DDD) for manufacturing a "phonebloks"-like device. 3D Systems (DDD)
Motorola will partner with 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) to develop Project Ara, a line of modular smartphones that it says will be easily upgraded by consumers. Rather than throwing out a smartphone when a must-have feature comes out on a new model, such as an upgraded camera, Project Ara promises to allow smartphone users to purchase Phonebloks, and swap out components like Lego bricks.
3D Systems, specialists in the printing process also known as additive manufacturing, will work with Motorola on the 3D printing production of the "Phonebloks" which it calls Project Ara. 3D Systems sells the Cube line of consumer 3D printers, and also works with manufacturers in aerospace and other industries.
Motorola Project Ara Phonebloks 3D Systems Printing Modular Smartphone Goog DDDMotorola has released concept images of Project Ara, which it says it had been developing for "over a year" when the Phonebloks video went viral in Sept.  Motorola Mobility
“With Project Ara, we asked the question, ‘How do we bring the benefits of customization and an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people?’ That is our driving application. It requires technical advances in areas such as material strength and printing with conductive inks for antennas,” Regina Dugan, head of Motorola’s Advanced Technology & Projects group said in a release. “And those advances must support production-level speeds and volumes, which is a natural partnership with 3D Systems.”
3D Systems says it will expand its program for printing multiple materials, focusing on creating components that conduct electricity. The two companies previously partnered for MakeWithX, a cross-country promotional tour where users were able to design and create cases for the Moto X smartphone using Cube 3D printers.
3D Systems Motorola 3D Printing Moto X Case Project Ara PhonebloksMotorola (GOOG) previously partnered with 3D Systems for a promotional tour where consumers were able to design and print cases for the Moto X.  Motorola Mobility
Phonebloks was an idea developed by design student Dave Hakkens, who made a YouTube video featuring the “open-source hardware” that went viral this past September. Hakkens said at the time that Phonebloks would consist of a “made-to-last” base, with easily replaceable parts, or bloks, that connected to a main board (and transferred data and electicity) via a pin system.
The original Phonebloks video has over 18 million views as of this writing. When the video made it big, Motorola announced Project Ara, claiming that it had been under development for over a year.
What Hakkins called the main board, Motorola had been developing as an endoskeleton it called an endo. Project Ara featured a similar design to Phonebloks, but appears to lose the pin system of connecting to the main board in favor of sliding metal contacts.
Motorola invited Hakkens to work alongside Project Ara on a social community to support the project. Hakkens agreed and is seeking donations to keep the Phonebloks community independently-funded and distinct from Google and Motorola’s Project Ara.
Hakkens said in a video follow-up that he and Motorola agreed that phones developed by Project Ara would be “modular, open-source, designed to last and made for the entire world. Motorola “is committed to developing their modular hone in the open,” Hakkens said, and will be “listening to the Phonebloks community” to find out “our suggestions, ideas and what we want from a new kind of phone.”
Motorola Project Ara Phonebloks 3D Systems DDD GOOGMotorola said earlier that it will release a "phonebloks" style kit to developers this winter, so that Project Ara could start 3D printing soon.  Motorola Mobility
Motorola announced that it would attempt to release a modular developer’s kit this winter, to allow smartphone developers to begin tinkering with the “hackable” hardware.
“We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software,” Paul Eremenko, Motorola VP of advanced technology said when Project Ara was announced. “Create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines."
Motorola promises that Project Ara will be “built on an open platform”, but has toned down the original video’s other lofty goal – that Phonebloks will reduce the waste that accompanies electronic devices in an upgrade-obsessed, throwaway culture; including a more consumer-friendly second-hand market for phone parts.

ZTE To Launch Their Own Smartwatch; Exclusive to ZTE Devices

In what can only be described as an “intriguing” move, ZTE will soon enter the smartwatch arena. However, their smartwatches will only work with their own devices, which at first sounds like a pretty bad idea but, ZTE is thinking of their home market here. The Wall Street Journal is running a piece on the Chinese company looking to get in on the smartwatch game by offering a device similar to this year’s Galaxy Gear from Samsung. On the surface, it’ll feature many of the same things but, come in at a lower price-point.
Talking to the WSJ in an interview, Lu Qianhao, head of the Shenzhen-based company’s handset marketing strategy, said that they were trying their best to hit the mainstream market. Which, for a very China-centric company like ZTE, means that the price needs to be right. It’s debatable that the Galaxy gear is just too expensive for the wearable market of today. The same thing happened with Android tablets, the Nexus 7 was a hit because of its price more anything and since then, prices of tablets have risen just a little bit but, users are still happy with what they’re paying for.
What seems like another smartwatch mistake to us is that ZTE’s watch would only work with their own devices. It’s hard not to see why, after all it could boost their brand presence and it could certainly give their phones a boost at home in China. However, the smartwatch is likely to be built on top of Android – as most others are – and so we see no reason why the device can’t work with all Bluetooth-enabled devices. Sony’s SmartWatch 2 for instance works with pretty muchany Android smartphone, which instantly widens Sony’s net of potential customers. When we’re talking about a still very small customer-base, capturing as much of it as possible is important.
Make no mistake, smartwatches aren’t going anywhere and now that Samsung has thrown their hat into the ring with the Gear, we’re only going to see more and more of them. CES 2014 is going to be an interesting event and we’re sure smartwatches will feature heavily.

NSA slapped malware on 50,000+ networks, says report

The US National Security Agency placed malicious software on more than 50,000 computer networks around the world, says a report based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

A new slide culled from the trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden shows where the NSA placed malware on more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide, according to Dutch media outlet NRC.
The NSA management presentation slide from 2012 shows a world map spiderwebbed with "Computer Network Exploitation" access points.
Like all the NSA slides we've seen so far, this one is unlikely to win a Powerpoint beauty pageant anytime soon.
Not that this should distract anyone from the profoundly disturbing implications of this US government malware map that's being reported by a Dutch news agency -- an outlet to which the US government gave a "no comment."
Translated from Dutch:
The American intelligence service -- NSA -- infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information.
Documents provided by former NSA employee Edward Snowden and seen by this newspaper, prove this.
(...) The NSA declined to comment and referred to the US Government. A government spokesperson states that any disclosure of classified material is harmful to our national security.
An NSA Web page that outlines the agency's Computer Network Operations program describes Computer Network Exploitation, or CNE, as a key part of the program's mission and says CNE "includes enabling actions and intelligence collection via computer networks that exploit data gathered from target or enemy information systems or networks."
In late August, The Washington Post reported on the NSA's "hacking unit" called Tailored Access Operations (TAO).
The Post wrote:
According to a profile by Matthew M. Aid for Foreign Policy, it's a highly secret but incredibly important NSA program that collects intelligence about foreign targets by hacking into their computers, stealing data, and monitoring communications.
(...) Dean Schyvincht, who claims to currently be a TAO Senior Computer Network Operator in Texas, might reveal the most about the scope of TAO activities.
He says the 14 personnel under his management have completed "over 54,000 Global Network Exploitation (GNE) operations in support of national intelligence agency requirements."
This is one letter away from being exact.
On the NSA's network ops page, there is no program with the acronym GNE -- only CNE and,
Computer Network Attack (CNA): Includes actions taken via computer networks to disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy the information within computers and computer networks and/or the computers/networks themselves.
Computer Network Defense (CND): Includes actions taken via computer networks to protect, monitor, analyze, detect, and respond to network attacks, intrusions, disruptions, or other unauthorized actions that would compromise or cripple defense information.
Across the newly published slide top and bottom a stripe reads, "REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL."
These are the  so-called Five Eyes nations -- the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand -- that share intelligence.
Last week, the very same Five Eyes nations moved to oppose the United Nations' anti-surveillance, right-to-privacy draft resolution called "The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age."
Security researchers online are speculating that telecoms were the most likely targets for the malware.

They may not be too far off the mark.
NRC cites an example of Britain's NSA counterpart, GCHQ, being found to use spoofed LinkedIn pages to install surveillance malware on target computers in Belgium telecom, Belgacom (translated):
One example of this type of hacking was discovered in September 2013 at the Belgium telecom provider Belgacom. 
For a number of years the British intelligence service -- GCHQ -- has been installing this malicious software in the Belgacom network in order to tap their customer's telephone and data traffic. 
The Belgacom network was infiltrated by GCHQ through a process of luring employees to a false Linkedin page.
NRC concludes its article by telling us that the Dutch government's intelligence service has its own hacking unit, but that it's prohibited by law from engaging in the type of operations that the CNE slide suggests the NSA carried out.

Twitch archiving planned for PS4, being considered for Xbox One

Sony has reaffirmed to Joystiq it's "planning to add [Twitch] livestream archiving in the future" to PlayStation 4. The company couldn't detail an estimated time it would unlock the feature or what the quality level would be set at. PS4 Twitch streams are not currently in high definition.

Setting up Twitch streaming has never been easier than it is on PS4. In under five minutes, every console owner can stream their gameplay on the broadcasting platform. The one major drawback about Twitch on consoles (compared to PC) is a lack of archiving, which has Twitch automatically save the gameplay stream for later viewing and editing. Currently, all PS4 Twitch streams can only be watched live.

"We find archiving to be an exciting part of the broadcast experience, especially since broadcasters and their viewers love to be able to revisit and share some of their most memorable moments," Twitch's VP of Marketing Matthew DiPietro told Joystiq. "It's up to our partners to determine if it's a feature set they want to offer as part of their Twitch integration, so we encourage them to keep this functionality top of mind."

As for Microsoft, which surprised everyone earlier this week by saying it wouldn't have Twitch streaming support until 2014, a spokesperson tells us, "We're always listening to our fans' feedback, and this is certainly something we'd consider adding. We look forward to bringing Twitch broadcast to Xbox One early next year and will share more details on features in the future."

Tech stocks: Apple up slightly after PrimeSense deal

Apple shares are up slightly in pre-market trading Monday after the company confirmed it was acquiring 3-D sensor company PrimeSense for $350 million.
PrimeSense confirmed the deal on Monday. Apple has also confirmed the acquisition, according to All Things D.
The company's technology is available in more than 24 million digital devices, most notably featured in Kinect, Microsoft's motion and voice sensor used with its Xbox video game consoles. The device lets users perform tasks with gestures or voice commands.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry shares are down more than 1% following a report that the company's chief marketing officer and COO are leaving.
According to The Globe And Mail, chief operating officer Kristian Tear and marketing chief Frank Boulben are departing, while James Yersh has been named the company's new chief financial officer.
Earlier this month, BlackBerry announced it was taking itself off the market, receiving a $1 billion investment from Fairfax Financial Holdings, the firm once reported to have reached a deal to acquire the struggling smartphone maker.
BlackBerry also announced CEO Thorsten Heins would step down. Former Sybase CEO John Chen will take his place on an interim basis.

Why Million-Console Debuts Don't Guarantee Success for Xbox One and PS4

The first customers to pick up their Xbox One consoles at Best Buy Theater in Times Square, New York, on Nov. 22
Photograph by Charles Sykes/AP Photo
The first customers to pick up their Xbox One consoles at Best Buy Theater in Times Square, New York, on Nov. 22
Microsoft has followed Sony’s million-console launch with one of its own, but the big numbers for these next-generation debuts leave unanswered the big questions about the mainstream future of game consoles.
Worldwide sales of the Xbox One topped 1 million in the first 24 hours of availability, the company reported over the weekend, and most stores completely sold out supplies of the devices. The XBox sales haul seems likely to have come in behind Playstation’s, since the Microsoft (MSFT) console counted 13 countries in its tally rather than Sony’s (SNE) North America-only debut figure. In both cases the first-day performance surpassed the level of sales for the last generation of consoles.
What has yet to be seen is whether happy launch numbers translates into lasting success. Many people who follow gaming question whether the best times for video game consoles are behind them, given the threat from mobile games and other, cheaper forms of digital distraction. And the factors that led to a booming opening weekend aren’t necessarily the same ones that will convince skeptics that the PS4 and XBox One have a secure place in our digital lives. In large part, this holiday season is about not messing things up. There hasn’t been a new Playstation since 2006 or a new XBox since 2005, so the pent-up demand among serious gamers is significant. The major challenges have been delivering the consoles on time, making sure that developers have big-name titles ready, and avoiding any major technical problems.
On those scores, neither launch was perfect. Not every major title was ready to go. There have been some technical problems—a writer for gaming blog Kotaku said he had received 150 e-mails from gamers about problems with the XBox One’s disc drive by Saturday night—but this was probably inevitable given the size of the undertaking.
Still, enough went well for both companies to declare victory. Analysts expect that they’ll each sell about 3 million consoles over the holiday season, while Sony has put its estimates for PS4 sales as high as 5 million.
Microsoft and Sony seem to be avoiding the fate of Nintendo (7974:JP), which last year saw things go quickly off the rails with its Wii U console due to a dearth of new games and lack of consumer interest. Nintendo hadn’t hit 1 million sales even a month after the launch and was forced to admit that it wasn’t going to meet its goals.
But the concern over the next-generation gaming consoles from Microsoft and Sony was never that early adopters wouldn’t be standing in line in November—the question instead is whether the devices can expand beyond a core group of enthusiasts. In part, the companies are betting that people will be willing to pay a large premium for much more powerful, cinematic gaming experiences. But they’re also packing in digital entertainment options that extend beyond gaming. The idea is that to justify a price tag of $400 (Playstation) or $500 (XBox One), people will need something that also serves as a portal for Internet video. This could be a challenge, given that the most popular video streaming devices cost less than $100.
In an interview on the night that the PS4 was launched, John Koller, Playstation’s vice president for marketing, said that getting nongamers to buy consoles will be a big test for the company. “We as a company need to bring in the later adopter at the right time,” he said. “That’s probably earlier than this last generation.” Whether that plan will work remains as much an open question now as it was two weeks ago. Koller expects to have a good idea whether it’s working by Thanksgiving—of 2015.

New dinosaur species found in Utah was a Tyrannosaurus rival

Tyrannosaur rival S. meekororum ruled the western U.S. in the late Cretaceous

Meet the rex wrecker, a 3-ton competitor to tyrannosaurs who stoked a family rivalry over millions of years in western North America.
The fossil find in central Utah, dubbed Siats meekerorum,was from the Allosauroid family, weighed around 3 tons, was as long as a boxcar and roamed what now is the intermountain West of the United States around 98 million years ago, according to a study of the find published online Friday in the journal Nature Communications.
S. meekerorum probably competed alongside members of the tyrannosauroid mega-family before it faded away, opening up the evolutionary niche that allowed for new, massive species including Tyrannosaurus rex, the authors suggest.
The novel genus and species helps fill part of a 70-million-year gap in dinosaur history during the late Cretaceous period, a crucial time of local environmental change spurred by an encroaching inland sea that would eventually isolate what now is the western United States, according to North Carolina State University paleontologist Lindsay E. Zanno.
“This is a good case study in how ecosystems change over time, and honestly that’s very poignant for us,” said Zanno, who directs the paleontology laboratory at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. “This is a time when we see temperatures rising, we see sea levels rising – there’s actually a shallow seaway encroaching onto the continent of North America at this time that will go on to divide North America into several island land masses in the late Cretaceous.”
During that time, the ancestors of T. rex were relatively diminutive, about the size of a Great Dane, and then rapidly evolved into the well-known monsters that are stars of museums and movies.
“We know that the tyrannosaurs were the dominant predators for the last 15-20 million years of the Cretaceous, and prior to that, we know that the precursors toTyrannosaurus rex were much smaller animals,” said fellow paleontologist and coauthor Peter J. Makovicky, associate curator of dinosaurs at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.
“So just when they went from being mid-sized to very large dominant apex predators is unknown, and why they shifted their ecological role is also something we haven’t had a lot of clarity on,” Makovicky said.
Fossils of tyrannosauroids also have been found in the same central Utah sedimentary deposits explored by the pair, suggesting that S. meekerorum lived alongside its rivals near the lush and humid shoreline of ancient Laramidia during the last 20 million years of the Cretaceous.
The expeditions did not uncover any skulls or teeth, but they collected and studied enough vertebrae, limbs and foot bones from two individuals to establish that they represented a novel genus and species of meat-eating allosauroids.
Paleontologists have scoured the region, near the San Rafael swell and not far from Interstate 70, but have focused on microfossils and small vertebrates, according to Zenno and Makovicky.
“For the most part, they just step over the dinosaurs,” Zenno said. “We’re the first really concerted effort to go back year after year and systematically try to dig up the dinosaurs from this area.”