Today Samsung has announced the iPhone 3G Galaxy Ace Plus. The phone looks exactly like the iPhone 3G, and clearly illustrates Samsung’s game plan moving forward. Samsung’s product plan for 2012? Become an official Apple counterfeiter, and care not one iota about doing it.
It’s official, Samsung is a honey-badger and couldn’t care less what the courts say, what international law says, or even what Apple claims. Samsung is completely content with stealing designs, commercials, and other creative from its competitors. Sadly, I say this while I sit here looking at my Samsung television, wondering exactly who they ripped off for that design. I guess my next TV will come from LG or Sony, or any other company not named Samsung.
Having taken Samsung four years to pull off an iPhone 3G, one would think that they wouldn’t have bastardized the original design so much. I guess that’s giving Samsung too much credit, considering they copy to begin with.
This rumour is not new, nor is it particularly earth-shattering. However, with Windows Phone 7 failing to make a dent in the market place, and Nokia's Lumia 800 not making huge waves either, the rumour's been taken out of the shed again: Microsoft is supposedly acquiring Nokia's smartphone division later this year. Stephen Elop will resign from Nokia shortly afterwards.This time around, the rumour's being rekindled by Eldar Murtazin, the Russian editor-in-chief of Mobile-Review.com. He has a pretty good track record regarding Nokia, and has often had very, very early access to device prototypes and other information. However, as always, a firm pile of salt should be readily available at all times when reading this.
"Steve Balmer, Andy Lees and Stephen Elop, Kai Ostamo will meet in Las Vegas to finalize agreement about Nokia smartphone unit," he tweeted. The deal is apparently so that Microsoft also gets a few manufacturing plants, and, of course, an extensive patent portfolio. The Nokia name is set to disappear from the Microsoft smartphones that would follow from this acquisition.
It would leave Nokia with its feature phone business, networking equipment, and an assortment of other activities. While many think this would mean the end of Nokia, I highly doubt it will be - the company is 140 years old, has survived multiple crises and product transitions (they started out as a paper company, after all). Nokia will survive, even without smartphones, but that doesn't make it any less tragic.
This deal certainly wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. It's becoming ever more clear that all those naysayers were right, back when the Microsoft-Nokia deal was announced. Stephen Elop is a mole, with only one goal: to drive Nokia into the ground, so that Microsoft can swoop in and acquire the interesting parts for a relatively low price. The N9 demonstrated that Nokia did have an option besides the failing Windows Phone 7, and that the deal with Microsoft wasn't a necessity at all.
We'll have to see how it all pans out over the course of 2012, but this doesn't seem like a crazy prediction. Sad.
Roku media player shrinks again -- to an HDMI dongle
Roku announced a tiny dongle version of its Linux-based streaming player device, designed to plug directly into a TV's HDMI port. Due to ship in the fall, the "Roku Streaming Stick" will send its signals to -- and accept power from -- Mobile High Definition Link-enabled televisions, including some of Best Buy's Insignia models.
Only six months after shrinking its Linux-based Roku media player boxes to 3.3 x 3.3 x 0.9 inches with the Roku 2, Roku has cranked up its miniaturization machine again to produce an even smaller, simpler model.
Although Roku does not list the dimensions for the Roku Streaming Stick, it is said to be the size of a USB flash drive. Instead of being built around a USB port, however, it offers an HDMI port that plugs directly into its counterpart on an HDTV, says Roku.
Roku Streaming Stick
The Wi-Fi enabled device appears to lack any other ports, such as the microSD slots that grace all the Roku models except the latest, cheapest, $50 Roku LT. It's unclear whether the Roku Streaming Stick also sacrifices the Bluetooth connection, as does the LT model.
Roku has accomplished its remarkable shrinking act by requiring TVs that have HDMI ports equipped with the new MHL (mobile high-definition link) technology. MHL lets the TV supply power to peripheral devices over HDMI in an approach similar to Power over Ethernet (PoE).
Roku Streaming Stick ready to power up via an MHL-enabled HDMI port on an Insignia HDTV
According to the MHL Consortium, MHL features a single HDMI cable with a five-pin interface, supporting 1080p HD video and digital audio transport while simultaneously powering mobile devices. The technology potentially "enables the TV remote to control ... [a] mobile phone and access its contents."
MHL has been "adopted" by nearly 100 hardware and manufacturing vendors, according to Roku. These are said to include the MHL Consortium's joint founders: Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba. MHL is already supported by over a dozen devices, primarily Android smartphones, including the HTC Rezound, according to a list posted on Wikipedia.
However, it might be easier finding an MHL-enabled smartphone than an MHL-ready TV. The possibly dated Wikipedia story says that only the Toshiba Regza WL800A LED TV and Samsung's UN55D8000YF and UN55D6300SF LED TV range are currently shipping with the technology.
Some of Best Buy's Insignia brand TVs, however, will be available with MHL by the time the Roku Streaming Stick ships this fall, says Roku. The Roku device will be offered with the Insignia TVs, presumably as an extra-cost option.
According to Roku, the Roku Streaming Stick can help TV manufacturers and their consumers keep up to date with "smart TV" functionality. While TVs generally have a lifespan of six to eight years, IPTV technology changes much more rapidly. Manufacturers who integrate such technology in their TVs run the risk of rapid obsolescence, argues Roku.
"By moving the streaming platform to a stick that's easily replaceable, consumers no longer have to worry about their large-screen Smart TV becoming obsolete before its time," says the company.
This would suggest that the Roku Streaming Stick will be at least as affordable as its manufacturer's current systems -- the $50 Roku LT is pictured at right, dwarfed by its remote controller. Roku, however, has not released pricing or other technical details.
Like the other Roku devices, the Roku Streaming Stick will feature free, automatic software updates and channel enhancements, says Roku. Roku's lineup now incorporates more than 400 channels, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Angry Birds, and most recently, HBO GO.
The $50 Roku LT, announced in October, joined three revised Roku 2 boxes released in July. Like the Roku LT, the $60 Roku 2 HD is limited to 720p playback. The Roku 2 XD ($80) moves up to 1080p, and the Roku 2 XS ($100) adds USB and Ethernet ports as well as a motion-control remote and Angry Birds. Presumably, the Roku Streaming Stick will support 1080p, although this was not made clear in the announcement.
Stated Greg Peters, vice president at Netflix, "Roku is taking streaming innovation to the next level and giving consumers a seamless Smart TV experience. The Roku Streaming Stick allows us to deliver the Netflix experience found on the Roku platform to potentially any TV."
Stated Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates, "The Roku Streaming Stick is a game changer for the Smart TV market. It takes the leading streaming platform and integrates into the TV in a way that no one has been able to do."
The Roku Streaming Stick will be available this fall, both bundled with an Insignia TV in retail or sold separately for consumers to use with their own MHL-enabled TVs, says Roku. More information should eventually appear at Roku's website.
[h=2]Asus reveals first 7" tablet with four cores, at "magic" $249 price[/h]
At yesterday's NVIDIA press conference here at CES, Asus took the stage to talk about using NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3 mobile processor in its tablets. Fans of Asus's Tegra 3-powered Transformer Prime tablet will be thrilled to know that the 10-inch device will have an Android 4 ("Ice Cream Sandwich") update pushed out beginning Wednesday.
But the real news came when ASUS CEO Jerry Shen showed off an upcoming 7 inch tablet dubbed the EeePad Memo (pronounced "MEE-moh"), which runs Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tegra 3 processor, has an "incredible" rear-facing camera, and features a "magical" price. That price? $249.
[h=3]Different strokes[/h] NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang talked a lot about how the many form factors in the Android ecosystem is a distinct advantage over the competition (read "iPad.") "Though the Camry is the most popular car, we don't all drive one," he said. "One size doesn't fit all; different strokes for different folks."
The fragmentation of the Android platform has been largely overcome by Android 4.0, according to Huang. Being able to run on smartphones, folios, tablets, and "transformers" will create "one enormous installed base for developers," he said. "We expect this to be a big shift in how people think about Android devices."
Huang said that Asus's Transformer Prime tablet running ICS is his "favorite tablet, and my favorite computer." Though the tablet launched with the tablet-only version of Android known as "Honeycomb," Huang said that Asus and NVIDIA engineers have been working around the clock for weeks to build a version of ICS for the Transformer Prime and that Google gave the release a "thumbs up" on Tuesday. An Asus representative told Ars that the update should begin rolling out as an OTA update on Wednesday, slightly ahead of schedule.
Asus CEO Shen, whom Huang credited with creating the modern motherboard market as well as the netbook and transformable tablet form factors, then pulled out an early sample of what Asus is calling the EeePad Memo. The 7 inch, 16:9 widescreen tablet includes a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, the "best" tablet camera, and will ship with Android 4.0.
The price? "We want to achieve magic price—$249!" Shen said. A firm ship date wasn't announced, but the tablet should be available in the first half of 2012.
Fierce competition on the road to the $1,000 genome
Although the focus on CES is on consumer technology, it's not unusual to see announcements for products that companies will use to provide services to consumers. Even by that standard, one of the announcements made at the show this year was rather unusual, since it was for a consumer service that's not quite there yet: personal genomics. Right now, two companies are pushing hard to become the first to be able to produce a human genome for $1,000.
The first is Ion Torrent, now part of the Life Technologies conglomerate. We covered their sequencing technology back when they were a startup. In short, it copies DNA one base pair at a time and registers which base was added by a silicon chip. Each chip is an array of sensors, with each sensor reading the results from a small population of identical DNA molecules. (The use of a population is important, because it cuts down on the noise and error rate. Things can go wrong with one molecule, but the problem will be swamped out by the signal from all the molecules that do the right thing.)
Ion Torrent has a few big advantages. It's compact, since most of the action takes place on a chip, and we know how to make very small chips. It's cheap, since the hardware only has to feed reaction materials to the surface of the chip. And it's fast, since the chip reads all of the reactions in parallel. The net result is that its hardware is about the size of laser printer and costs in the $50,000-$150,000 range, depending on the model. That's on the edge of affordability for individual research labs, and it's cheap enough that a medical practice might consider getting one. That latter market is what Ion Torrent has been targeting, offering kits that will produce a sequence from a few hundred genes associated with human diseases or cancers.
The company's literature claims it can benefit from Moore's Law in order to keep producing more sequences from the same hardware, but that's a bit of a marketing white lie. Ultimately, the size will be limited by the fact that each sensor on the chip has to be linked to a single population of DNA molecules that are fed reaction materials. All of that will take up space, so ultimately, the chips will have to get bigger in order to run more reactions in parallel. Right now, the company is upping its capacity by both increasing the chip size and increasing the density of reactions on the chip.
The chip that will bring Ion Torrent close to the $1,000 genome goal will only run on the company's newer, larger, and more expensive hardware. And that hardware is being released with a lower capacity sensor at the moment. There's a chip planned for early next year that will do a draft quality version of a human genome in less than a day. The best an Ion Torrent machine can currently offer is about a Gigabase (one billion base pairs) per run, which is only about a third the size of the human genome, and 60 times less than what's need for a draft genome.
Right now, however, Ion Torrent is well behind the market leader, Illumina, when it comes to cost and throughput. Illumina's technology works somewhat differently, as it relies on the addition of bases carrying a fluorescent tag to a small population of DNA molecules. After each base is sent through the chamber containing the DNA molecules, everything grinds to a halt while lasers scan the entire area. This has to happen four times (once each for A, T, C, and G) to read a single base pair on a DNA molecule. Completing this for a single, 200 base pair read literally takes days. On the plus side, Illumina packs more reads into a single machine than anyone else.
The support equipment for this is pretty significant—about the size of a typical closet—and expensive. Most of Illumina's machines cost well over $500,000, limiting them to dedicated DNA sequencing facilities. But the initial investment pays off in that a single Illumina run can provide massive amounts of data at a lower cost than Ion Torrent. While the newest Ion Torrent chips promise a Gigabase in a few hours, Illumina has announced hardware that produces 120 times that in just over a day. Let it run for several days, and it will extend that out to 600 Gigabases. (The human genome is about 3 Gigabases long.)
This time last year, Illumina introduced a smaller piece of hardware that was priced and sized about the same as the newest Ion Torrent hardware. It's still much slower, but its capacity has now been upped to 7 times that of the Ion Torrent machine—still not enough to even produce a draft-quality read of the human genome.
A few things seem clear. The first $1,000 human genome will almost certainly be done on a large Illumina machine, but the capacity of the machine will be so large that a dozen or more additional genomes will be done at the same time. The more interesting competition, in the long term, will be in the table-top hardware, where lower cost and higher speed mean that they can be used in a lot of additional contexts, like hospitals and medical practices.
There are two wildcards in all of this. One is that there are a couple of companies out there with radically different sequencing technologies. Right now, they either have no hardware on the market, or the hardware they do have isn't competitive. But the very different nature of the technology makes future progress difficult to predict. The other wildcard is storage and processing time. Six hundred Gigabases every week means filling up a 3TB drive in a month, and the price per Gigabase has been dropping much more quickly than the price per Gigabyte for several years now. Plus, all that data has to be heavily processed before it can be used for any sort of medical or biological analysis. In the end, the price of computing and storage may start putting a floor on the plunging cost of sequencing.
Apple is slated to announce the fruits of its labor on improving the use of technology in education at its special media event on Thursday, January 19. While speculation has so far centered on digital textbooks, sources close to the matter have confirmed to Ars that Apple will announce tools to help create interactive e-books—the "GarageBand for e-books," so to speak—and expand its current platform to distribute them to iPhone and iPad users.
Along with the details we were able to gather from our sources, we also spoke to two experts in the field of digital publishing to get a clearer picture of the significance of what Apple is planning to announce.
So far, Apple has largely embraced the ePub 2 standard for its iBooks platform, though it has added a number of HTML5-based extensions to enable the inclusion of video and audio for some limited interaction. The recently-updated ePub 3 standard obviates the need for these proprietary extensions, which in some cases make iBook-formatted e-books incompatible with other e-reader platforms. Apple is expected to announce support for the ePub 3 standard for iBooks going forward.
[h=3]GarageBand for e-books[/h] At the same time, however, authoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter. The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand.
Our sources say Apple will announce such a tool on Thursday.
And Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis agrees that such a move would be very likely. MacInnis previously worked on education projects at Apple before leaving the company in 2009 to pursue his own ideas about creating interactive digital books. Inkling currently offers a variety of digital textbooks with interactive features, including the ability to share notes with classmates and instructors, via an iPad app.
"When you think about what Apple is doing... they are selling tens of thousands of iPads into K-12 institutions," MacInnis told Ars. "What are they doing with those iPads? They don't really replace textbooks, because there's not very much content on offer," he said.
Don't expect that content to come directly from Apple, however. "Practically speaking, Apple does not want to get into the content publishing business," MacInnis said. Like the music and movie industries, Apple has instead built a distribution platform as well as hardware to consume it—but Apple isn't a record label or production studio.
But what Apple does provide is industry-leading tools for content production, such as Logic or Final Cut Pro, to help create content. The company also produces tools like GarageBand or iMovie that make such production accessible to a much wider audience.
Will Apple launch a sort of GarageBand for e-books? "That's what we believe you're about to see," MacInnis told Ars (and our other sources agree). "Publishing something to ePub is very similar to publishing web content. Remember iWeb? That iWeb code didn't just get flushed down the toilet—I think you'll see some of [that code] repurposed."
[h=3]Mobile, social learning[/h] Technology-in-education expert Dr. William Rankin also believes digital books will expand with tools that will enable social interactions among textbook users. Rankin, who serves as Director of Educational Innovation of Abilene Christian University and has extensively researched the use of mobile devices in the classroom, was one of three authors of a white paper on the effects of digital convergence on learning titled "Code/X," published in 2009.
In that document, Rankin and his colleagues laid out their vision for the future of learning, which included an always-on, always-networked digital device called a "Talos." That device turned out to be very similar to the iPad that Apple announced just six months later.
"What we saw coming was a change in the kinds of places that learning would happen," Rankin told Ars. Since the device would always be with the student, it would give her access to information anytime and anywhere. "For that, you need a different kind of book."
Such digital texts would let students interact with information in visual ways, such as 3D models, graphs, and videos. They would also allow students to create links to additional texts, audio, and other supporting materials. Furthermore, students could share those connections with classmates and colleagues.
"What we really believe is important is the role of social networking in a converged learning environment," Rankin told Ars. "We're already seeing that in Inkling's platform, and Kno's journaling feature. Future digital texts should allow students to layer all kind of other data, such as pictures, and notes, and then share that with the class or, ideally, anyone."
Exactly how what Apple announces on Thursday will impact digital publishing isn't certain, however.
"Think about how meaningful simply authoring and publishing to an iPad will be for K-12," MacInnis said. "However, it might not be great for molecular biology."
MacInnis sees Apple as possibly up-ending the traditional print publishing model for the low-end, where basic information has for many years remained locked behind high textbook prices. Apple can "kick up dust with the education market," which could then create visibility for platforms like Inkling. This could then serve as a sort of professional Logic-type tool for interactive textbook creation complement to Apple's "GarageBand for e-books."
"There will be a spectrum of tools and consumers, and we will continue to fit on that spectrum," MacInnis opined. "I don't know if the publishing industry will react to it with fear or enthusiasm."
[h=3]Steve Jobs' pet project[/h] We know that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was working on addressing learning and digital textbooks for some time, according to Walter Issacson's biography. Jobs believed that textbook publishing was an "$8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction."
According to our sources close to his efforts, however, Jobs' personal involvement was perhaps more significant that even his biography purports. Jobs worked on this project for several years, and our understanding is that the final outcome was slated to be announced in October 2011 in conjunction with the iPhone 4S. Those plans were postponed at the last minute, perhaps due to Jobs' imminent death.
Despite the delay, however, ACU's Rankin believes the time is right for a change to happen in the field. "We're headed toward a completely digital future at ACU," he told Ars. "A recent study showed that 82 percent of all higher education students nationwide will come to campus with a smartphone. We need to have resources and tools ready for these mobile, connected students."
Before being shut down by the feds today, the file-sharing site Megaupload was extraordinarily popular with home Internet users—so much so that the file downloading habit was spilling over into the workplace in a significant way.
The shutdown of the site—and the arrests of four of Megaupload's leaders today in New Zealand—are bound to have major consequences in the file sharing market. Although Megaupload's presence in the corporate world may not have matched its overall share of Internet usage, its consumption of bandwidth was outpacing Dropbox and numerous other business-focused file-sharing services, according to a new study. BitTorrent is also quite popular in the workplace, and some people are even installing Tor clients on their work machines to conceal details of their Internet usage, the study found.
The data comes from security vendor Palo Alto Networks, which used its technology to monitor a week's worth of traffic traversing the Internet gateway at 1,636 businesses around the world, mostly at medium to large businesses with at least 2,500 users. The eighth version of the resulting report, published every six months, came out this week.
"The key point is that this is real network traffic, it's not a survey. It's not speculation on anyone's part," said Matt Keil, Palo Alto senior research analyst.
We spoke with Palo Alto prior to today's news that Megaupload.com was taken down by the FBI, with the Justice Department unsealing an indictment that charges seven people associated with the site with "widespread online copyright infringement." We were planning to report on the data anyway—and today's news makes it even more interesting.
Megaupload usage was found on the networks of 57 percent of the 1,636 organizations in the study. That's quite a bit less than the 76 percent of networks with Dropbox traffic, and equal to the 57 percent of networks that have Box.net traffic. However, in terms of bandwidth, Megaupload accounted for 20,405 gigabytes, compared to 17,573 for Dropbox and just 86 gigabytes for the business-focused Box.net. The Dropbox numbers, indicating lots of traffic but a smaller average file size, suggest a mix of personal and work usage. Another consumer-oriented service accounting for a chunk of traffic was Filesonic, which appeared on 52 percent of networks and consumed 4,058 gigabytes.
Overall, Palo Alto tracked 76,225 gigabytes worth of traffic being used up by some 65 browser-based file sharing applications (including Dropbox, even though the Dropbox service can be used outside the browser). Counting only Web-based file-sharing, then, Megaupload accounted for more than a quarter of corporate traffic.
However, Web-based file sharing is still just a small part of overall Internet usage in corporations. Looking at all types of applications and use cases, Palo Alto found 10.9 million gigabytes of consumption across the 1,636 companies. In fact, the BitTorrent peer-to-peer service alone accounted for much more traffic than all browser-based file-sharing applications combined, with 177,513 gigabytes of bandwidth consumed, or less than 2 percent of all corporate Internet traffic.
Proportionally, BitTorrent and Megaupload likely have a much greater share of the Internet as a whole than they do in corporate networks. One previous study by Envisional pegged BitTorrent as taking up 13.5 percent of peak bandwidth usage in the US and 28.4 percent in Europe, and also said downloads from cyberlocker sites such as Megaupload, Rapidshare and HotFile take up 7 percent of all Internet traffic.
Still, when Palo Alto reports back to customers on the usage of Web-based file sharing, the reaction is usually "I knew I had some of these applications on my network, but I didn't realize I had so many," Keil said.
Although Dropbox seems to straddle the line between personal and business use, in most cases there's usually a clear distinction between "tools that help me get my job done and tools that help us stay entertained," with business-focused services usually transferring smaller files, Keil said. Yousendit, for example, is mostly used for productivity and was found in 51 percent of networks, but accounted for just 423 gigabaytes.
Megaupload clocks in with big numbers because of the types of files being shared. "Of the top-20 file downloads found on December 5th, 2011, six of the files were software applications, eight were games or game demos, and six were movie trailers," the Palo Alto report states.
Interestingly, Tor client software for encrypting a user's traffic was found on 13 percent of corporate networks. Palo Alto didn't detail this usage in its report because of how low it was, accounting for 0.077 percent of bandwidth. Companies with a Tor presence might have it on just one or two machines. But certainly, it's something any IT security pro will want to locate and get rid of.
Tor "is not really that trivial of a tool to use," said Wade Williamson, Palo Alto senior security analyst. "Tor is kind of a pre-requisite tool if you're going to be a hacker. If I'm going to attack someone's network i'm definitely going to use Tor or something like it so people can't follow my footsteps and see where they come from." Palo Alto's research didn't determine what exactly people were using Tor to do. "It's hard to say if they're hackers," Wade said. "Someone could have heard this is the best way to anonymize yourself. We're not saying all these are hackers, but there is definitely a security issue there."
It turns out that Tor's presence has remained steady in the 13 to 14 percent range in all of Palo Alto's previous reports, the company said. Megaupload traffic also hasn't changed much recently. But it will, if the site stays shut down for long.