Monday, June 30, 2014

Microsoft Surface Pro 3:???? (ZDNet)

New hardware but the same old questions remain

Summary: The Surface Pro 3 has refined Microsoft's hybrid vision again, but does it really fit in with our usage of tablets and PCs?
Image: Microsoft
Microsoft's latest tablet PC, the Surface Pro 3, went on sale earlier this month (in the US at least — it doesn't reach the UK until August). With every iteration the Surface Pro improves; this latest version ups the battery life and improves the kickstand to make it easier to type on your lap. And it's great to see Microsoft injecting new energy and thinking back into the PC market again (just don't try to take it apart).
This time around, Microsoft's marketing made the bold move ofexplicitly putting the Surface Pro 3 head-to-head with Apple's MacBook Air — a brave move, considering that, generally, the Surface hasn't come off very well in many comparisons.
Updating the hardware is good, and Microsoft's continued commitment to the Surface format is likely to make consumers and businesses more comfortable about buying them. The much-rumoured Surface Mini would make a nice addition to the family too.
But for many people, Surface still says more about Microsoft's needs than the needs of its customers: Microsoft needs to make Windows work on tablets, but customers still need convincing that they need to work on Windows tablets.
That's because the way people use tablets is a bit more complicated than just as a straightforward PC replacement. Pitting the Surface Pro 3 against the MacBook Air — and against laptops in general — highlights Microsoft's difficulty in positioning it.
Here's how I think the PC/tablet market is developing.

Consumers: no need for a laptop replacement?

Consumers want multiple screens to use in different ways. For many, tablets are almost (but importantly, not exact) PC replacements. Even a basic tablet will allow consumers to do most things, via a browser or an app. Consumers don't do much word processing or spreadsheet work, but when they do, they've almost certainly still got a PC or laptop somewhere about the place that they can dust down and boot up.
So, for consumers, a tablet that does some but not all of the things a PC can do is perfect — because they've already got a PC. The absence of standard PC features from a tablet is not a limitation, but a selling point (sure, consumers will still buy a laptop at some point, but the refresh cycle will get a lot longer as these devices will be used much less regularly).
The situation is complicated for businesses, too. Many of the tablets in use are brought from home (iPads and Kindle Fires are popular options), but that's accepted because tablets remain additional devices, used for a bit of note taking or the odd presentation.

Professionals: not enough of a laptop replacement?

Windows tablets are undoubtedly attractive to enterprise buyers because these devices will fit in with rest of Windows-powered corporate estate. However, it's unclear how many of those corporate buyers there are these days.
Business users may be happy to use a tablet as an additional screen, but I doubt that the concept Microsoft is pushing, of swapping your laptop for a Surface Pro 3, will appeal to the majority. Read Mary-Jo Foley for a good comparison between the Surface Pro 3 and a Windows 8.1 laptop (spoiler alert: the laptop wins).
If business users don't want to swap their laptop for a Surface, that means Microsoft's hybrid laptop/tablet slips into the category of an additional device. A hybrid tablet that can truly replace a laptop has a decent market to attack. However, a device that will be an expensive additional screen will be a much harder sell.
So where is the use case for something like the Surface Pro 3, and how does it differ from the laptop use case? This is the trickiest part of the problem. Is the ideal user someone who needs a tablet and a laptop, and Windows? Someone who can make notes with a digital pen and do a certain amount of work on a keyboard, but not so much that they need an integrated keyboard? To me, that seems like a relatively limited subset of people (oddly, it matches journalists pretty well). 

Market upheaval

Then again, the existence of Surface is itself a reflection of the ongoing upheaval created by the arrival of tablets, which have forced the PC to evolve, mutate and splinter. Nobody has quite figured out how to respond, which is why we'll see plenty more of these hybrid devices over the next few years. But I don't think the idea of trying to combine a tablet with a laptop is entirely the answer.
At the same time, our use of these devices is evolving. One group that Microsoft has been targeting with the Surface range is students, which makes sense. Students don't have the same desktop PC and laptop heritage as older users, so perhaps, freed from the memories of computing past, they will be more willing to embrace a hybrid PC future.
Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of

Friday, June 27, 2014

Google launches Android One... (ZDNet)

Google launches Android One, eyes emerging markets

Summary: Android One is an initiative to define reference platforms so original equipment manufacturers can more easily build phones that'll sell for less than $100.
Google on Wednesday outlined plans for Android One, a version of the search giant's mobile operating system with hardware reference designs aimed at emerging markets such as India.
The effort, outlined by Android chief Sundar Pichai, is aimed at getting the next 1 billion Android users the platform. The catch is that price for devices and software need to come down. In a nutshell, Android One is an initiative to define reference platforms so original equipment manufacturers can more easily build phones.
Google's approach is similar to what it does with the Nexus devices. "The software comes from Google, just like Nexus and Google Play initiative phones," said Pichai. Google has more control over the platform yet allows for some customization. Micromax, an India smartphone player, will offer a device with a dual SIM, SD card, 4.5 inch screen and FM radio. Spice and Karbonn Mobiles are also hardware partners.
The devices will go or less than $100. 
Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lossless Audio System...and Wireless!

Sharp Wireless Audio
Sharp today revealed its upcoming home entertainment products, which continue to focus on big-screen HDTVs, with new ultra high definition (UHD, or 4K) screens coming this fall. But it also unveiled a new wireless audio device for high-end sound systems.
The Sharp SD-W1000H Wireless High Resolution Audio Player is what Sharp claims to be "the world's first high resolution audio solution." It uses the Wireless Speakers and Audio (WiSA) standard to transmit 7.1 channels of 24-bit, 96kHZ uncompressed audio to a receiving device without wires. It uses the 5.2-5.8GHz band, separate from Wi-Fi, to reduce interference when transmitting such dense data streams. It can also transmit high-definition video wirelessly over Intel's longer-established WiDi standard.
The SD-W1000H can read a wide variety of digital and physical media, including FLAC, WAV, MP3, and DSP file formats and CD, SACD, and Blu-ray optical discs. It can access files through USB hard drives and networked computers. Smartphone and tablet users can control the player with iOS and Android apps.
Sending uncompressed 7.1-channel audio wirelessly isn't cheap, though. The SD-W1000H will retail for $4,999 when it ships this September, and the accompanying VR-WR100U Wireless Bridge will retail for $999.
Sharp also announced its newest line of Aquos 4K HDTVs, the UD27 series. It features four HDMI 2.0 ports, HEVC (H.265) compatibility for streaming 4K content, and Netflix 4K support. Sharp also expects the line to get THX 4K certification, which is currently pending.
The UD27 line will be available in a 60-inch model for $2,999 and a 70-inch model for $4,499. Both models will ship this September.
Sharp's popular 650 series of 1080p HDTVs is also getting an upgrade. The new Sharp Aquos 600 line features Sharp's new SmartCentral 3.0 smart TV platform and a thinner, 0.4-inch bezel. It will also ship in September, with retail prices of $1,199 for the 60-inch model and $1,999 for the 70-inch model.

LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live on Sale Today (PCMagazine)

The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live go on sale today; expect the Moto 360 later this summer.

Samsung Galaxy Gear Live
Google on Wednesday announced that the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, the first two devices to incorporate the search giant's Android Wear operating system, will be on sale later today.
The Moto 360 from Motorola, meanwhile, will arrive later this summer, Google announced at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco. Pricing was not discussed.
LG has already provided a peek at its smartwatch - which features a square watchface available with either a white or black band. The company said the device is water resistant and will always be on. Pre-orders start today and it officially arrives on July 7 for $229.
And while Samsung was confirmed as an Android Wear partner when the OS wasfirst announced in March, today was the public debut of the Android Wear-based Samsung device, the Gear Live.
Samsung's Gear Live can pair with any Android device running Android 4.3 or higher. The $199.99 device is available today for pre-order on the Google Play Store, and officially arrives on July 7, when it will also be sold on Amazon and at Best Buy.
LG G Watch
The Gear Live sports a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED, 320-by-320 display. It runs a 1.2GHz processor and includes 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal memory. It supports Bluetooth v4.0 LE, and is dust- and water-resistant. The Gear Live allows for standard notifications (SMS, email, etc), includes a heart rate monitor and changeable straps in black or wine red.
Google showed off Android Wear running on these devices. Users can get alerts - like upcoming travel or weather - but also talk to the device like they can with the Chrome browser on the desktop, among other features.

The announcement that the Moto 360 would not arrive until this summer elicited chuckles from the I/O audience. At the moment, Motorola Mobility is in flux, as Google is in the process of selling the company to Lenovo.
Stay tuned for more details about the devices. Until then, check out Android Wear Smartwatches Still Have a Lot to Prove.

Google Challenges Apple's CarPlay With Android Auto (PCMagazine)

Google said that over 25 car brands have signed up to ship Android Auto, which will be in cars by year's end.

Google's Android Auto

Google today unveiled Android Auto, which will let users connect their Android phones to a car and cast the Android experience to a vehicle's touch screen.
During a demo at Google I/O in San Francisco, a Google employee connected his Android phone to the car, which synced the device to the touch screen. He could then control alerts using the steering wheel buttons, the display, or the car's knobs.
The first thing the driver sees is an overview screen with things like reminders, contacts, and music. One tap and he's navigating to a destination or listening to music.
Using the "OK Google" command, meanwhile, the driver can also ask the car questions, whether it's driving directions or hours of operation for a nearby museum.
Nextcar Bug art
Android Auto comes out of the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), a collaboration between Google, Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Nvidia designed to accelerate in-car tech innovation. Today, the OAA added a number of new members (above), including Volvo, Volkswagen, FIAT Chrysler, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and more.

Google said that over 25 car brands have signed up to ship Android Auto, and the first cars with it installed will roll out of dealer lots by year's end.
Google is also releasing an Android Auto SDK "soon," with full APIs for audio and messaging apps, the company said at I/O. The Android Auto experience will be available to users with public launch of the next-gen Android, dubbed L-release, later this year.
Google rival Apple has a similar offering, dubbed CarPlay. For more, see PCMag's hands on with CarPlay from WWDC earlier this month.
Also check out the video below, in which Dan Costa and Sascha Segan break down all the big Google I/O annoucements.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hell no, we won't pay: How technology transformed our perception of value (ZDNet)

Summary: What does this culture and technology of anti-spendism mean for the future consumption and valuation of goods and services?

By  for Tech Broiler |

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Google I/O looms: We need an Android revamp, facelift (ZDNet)

Summary: Android has market share, global domination and an army of developers, but is starting to look tired and clunky relative to other platforms. Can Google refresh Android and herd its partners to create a more integrated experience?

Google I/O, the search giant's annual developer powwow, kicks off Wednesday and expectations are for a heaping of wearables, smart home and health hooks, something resembling a cloud strategy, design and Android, which is the glue for the whole shebang. The problem: Android is looking tired.
Sure, Android has all the market share. Yes, Android dominates in emerging markets. It's hard to knock Android's success. But Android requires too much tinkering. Android is harder than the other mobile platforms. And hardware partners screw with Android too much. Android's biggest reason for adoption shouldn't be because it happens to power smartphones with 5-inch screens. 
Add it up and Android is a bit of a miracle, but has become splintered into varying user experience approaches. How happy are you with Android? Well that answer largely depends on what device you have, how fast updates come and whether you like dabbling in settings from time to time. Android does everything. It's good at some things.
Simply put, Android is the old Windows---a multi-purpose tool that has market share, but not a lot of love.
Consider recent events:
  1. Amazon launches its Fire Phone. I have serious questions about how the device will do, but Amazon's Firefly is innovative. There's a bit of envelope pushing with a customized Android.
  2. Windows Phone gets a lot of crap---and still lacks the one or two must have apps I need to even consider it---but the experience is more coherent than Android's in many spots.
  3. Apple's iOS is being refreshed and if you use both an iPhone and Android device (iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S4 for me) it's jarring how clunky Google's platform feels at times. Both platforms annoy me in uniquely different ways for what it's worth. Apple CEO Tim Cook has gone directly after the Android experience
Google's I/O agenda reveals the following themes:
  • Android and what's new.
  • Web development.
  • Wearables.
  • Cloud.
  • Design.
Before Google runs off and yaps incessantly about the wearable push and Android powering everything, the core mobile experience needs a bit of time. What I'd like to see:
  • More Google Now throughout Android and less app icons and swiping. I know the app icons are the standard, but cards are much more appealing.
  • Android needs to reach out. You hand Google all your data and it's useful in spots with Maps and geo targeting. The Android experience overall needs to be helpful.
  • Better integration. The Android experience is lumpy and doesn't get you to where you want to go fast enough.
  • Updates. Google needs to herd cats to deliver the latest advances. I get it. But I don't care. Herd the damn cats already. 
Google needs to lead the way, but the gut feel is that Android is resting on its market share a bit. Hopefully, Google I/O will change that equation.
Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The IRS's E-Mail System Looks Crazy, and Not Only to Republicans (BusinessWeek)

The mystery of the lost IRS e-mails is getting deeper. The agency has been unable to locate e-mails from seven employees, including Lois Lerner, the former head of the office that determines tax exemption status and the woman at the center of inquiries into whether the Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party and other political groups.
The IRS says it is unable to recover about two years of Lerner’s e-mails, from 2009 to mid-2011, when her computer suffered a hard-drive malfunction. Agency technicians were unable to recover the e-mail data stored on that computer, the agency told Congressional investigators in a letter Friday. Another IRS worker whose e-mails have allegedly vanished because of a computer malfunction is Nikole Flax, who served as chief of staff to Steven Miller, the agency’s former acting commissioner. Miller resigned 13 months ago amid the investigation.
The reasons for this e-mail imbroglio stem from what appear to be some peculiar e-mail practices, in an age when data storage costs have dropped. The IRS hasMicrosoft’s (MSFT) Outlook for its 90,000 workers and gives them 500 megabytes of space for mail, or about 6,000 per inbox, up from 150 MB before the summer of 2011. If you reach the limit, the system generates an alert that space needs to be freed up for continued e-mail use. Plenty of U.S. companies have a similar practice.
Here’s where it seems to get murky: When an IRS employee’s e-mail account is full, he or she needs to decide what is an official work record and must be archived, in compliance with the Federal Records Act and other pertinent regulations. The archive is maintained on the employee’s computer—not on a corporate server—and is not part of the daily systemwide mail backup, which covers about 170 terabytes of e-mail data the IRS stores at three data centers. Before May 2013, those backups were stored for only six months; the data are now retained, which costs $200,000 per year, the IRS said. “An electronic version of the archived e-mail would not be retained if an employee’s hard drive is recycled or if the hard drive crashes and cannot be recovered,” the agency said in a June 13 letter to the Senate Finance Committee.
Fishy? Congressional Republicans certainly think so. “Plot lines in Hollywood are more believable than what we are getting from this White House and the IRS,” Representatives Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) said in astatement Tuesday. Perhaps even odder than that system, the IRS requires e-mail that qualifies as an official record to be printed and filed. Oh, and if the e-mail system doesn’t include the official send/receive data on the e-mail, write that on the paper copy.
The agency said it has also spent nearly $10 million having more than 250 employees respond to “hundreds of Congressional requests for information.” In all, the IRS said it will have 67,000 e-mails for Congress to peruse, part of 750,000 documents related to the inquiries.
When e-mails go missing, it’s easy to conjure nefarious political conspiracies. Democrats did the same in 2007 when the George W. Bush White House said it lost or erased millions of e-mails related to the administration’s dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, which Congress was investigating. The Clinton Administration had a similar issue with missing e-mail in 2000, leading NPR to quip that the Washington e-mail problem appears to recur every seven years.

Bachman is an associate editor for